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Friday 28th September


You know how a word loses its meaning when you say, type or just look at it over and over again? For some reason the word 'chutney' does that to me much, much faster than any other. I've just typed it once there and once in the image tag, and already it looks like gibberish. I'm pretty sure this isn't just the Friday night effect...

Anyway, luckily the process of making and eating chutney continues to make perfect sense. This one is in aid of Waiter, there's something in my savoury preserves! - not a name that rolls easily off the tongue, true, but a very appropriate edition for the season. All over the Northern hemisphere this is the time for packing away the summer produce in whatever way will best preserve its flavour into the colder months. It'll need to be a long, hard winter before I feel nostalgia for the rain-sodden months that masqueraded as the summer of 2007, but one thing I will remember is that it was the summer we planted rather too many tomato plants and they took over the garden, sprawling across the flowerbeds (erm, and the patio) and inevitably falling prey to the snails - for whom this summer has been a golden, romantic, unforgettable year, believe me. Were I a more adventurous blogger, I suppose I would have seized the opportunity and offered you snail rilettes: instead I braved the rain to harvest a few of the riper tomatoes and cooked them up into this dark, smoky chutney. It's loosely based on a recipe of the Blessed Delia's - a few sun-dried tomatoes and a teaspoon of smoked paprika are the cheat's way of adding a savoury depth that I much prefer to the sweet and chunky chutneys often on offer. I'm not sure you need a recipe for chutney - the key ingredients are roughly half a dozen medium tomatoes, half an onion, forty grams of brown sugar and 70ml of red wine vinegar. Flavouring comes from garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, coriander and mustard seeds and smoked paprika, added modestly for this small amount. If you're preserving a more respectable crop than ours, multiply accordingly and be bold. And look out for the round-up at The Passionate Cook for more ideas...

...and between meals: Gossiping and star-spotting over pizza round the corner from Broadcasting House, after a recording of the News Quiz. The best bits are the stuff they can't broadcast, believe me.


Wednesday 26th September


The next experiment with the dill blossoms was to combine them with eggs, which felt like a good combination - though to be honest I have a fairly constant low level voice in my head saying "mmmm, what about eggs? Eggs are gooooood," which sounds worrying now I write it down. Nevertheless once in a while it has to be right - if only on the monkeys on typewriters principle - and this was one of those times. I sautéed some slices of golden courgette and tossed them with the tips of the flowers, softening everything slightly before cracking in a couple of eggs and creating a sort of frittata, very sunshiney with all its shades of yellow, and with a lovely subtle aniseed flavour.

...and between meals: Catching up with my younger brother in the King Edward VII - a surprisingly nice pub in the heart of Stratford.


Monday 24th September


The rest of my finds at the farmers' market combined to make lunch - Flour Power's lovely roast potato, rosemary and nigella bread, some soft Welsh goat's cheese and the icing on the cake, a tray of pea shoots, which I have seen everywhere this summer. Not that I'm complaining - I'm still greatly tickled by biting into a leaf and finding that it tastes of peas, so bring them on. Not really peas, actually, since the peas we eat most often are previously frozen, latterly cooked, à la français if C has anything to do with it. Pea shoots taste, of course, like raw peas: in other words, like the smell and taste and - whoosh! - whole madeleine-ish memory experience of podding peas in one's childhood back garden. Which is rather a smashing thing to have in one's deskbound lunchtime sandwich, wouldn't you say?

...and between meals: Cursing London Underground. Honestly, I have four or five alternative ways to get to work: why is it that they all break down on the same day?


Sunday 23rd September


Here's an interesting ingredient I picked up at the farmers' market today. Although it's labelled dill seeds, and no doubt does contain seeds, it would be more accurate to describe it as dill flowers - lovely starbursts of tiny yellow blooms with a similar flavour to the more familiar dill leaves. I've never seen these sold or served before, so I took a wild guess and used them to flavour and ornament a fennel risotto. When we were in Florence last month we ate zucchini flowers and saw various other edible flowers on sale in the market, so risotto seemed like a good place to start even though dill is more commonly associated with more Northern countries.

...and between meals: C off on the academic conference trail; Sunday chores done; holiday photos uploaded to Flickr; blogging resumed. Time to curl up on the sofa with a bowl of steaming risotto and Miss Marple...


Tuesday 7th August

Here, as promised, then, are the details of our visit over the weekend to Bacchus, which was good enough to convince me to return to this here rooftop in order to shout about it. It's a lovely place - an old pub on Hoxton Street, which is a very trendy part of town - serving the sort of exciting, molecular-ish gastronomy that you normally have to go much further upmarket for. Bacchus is affordable, accessible, bookable, and casual: if you're on a six-month waiting list (or a six-year saving plan) for a table at El Bulli/The Fat Duck/The French Laundry, this obviously isn't a substitute but it's a very pleasant diversion. The chef, Nuño Mende, has worked at El Bulli and it shows.

We started with cocktails - a Bloody Marvellous as they call it, in other words bloody mary made with tomato water (very finely strained juice), and a 'Bacchus Bubblebath' - a delicious cocktail of apple, lemongrass and vanilla (oh, and vodka) with an amazing tower of bubbles on top. Bubblebath is exactly what it looks like, and there is a distinct moment of cognitive dissonance when the liquid you slurp through them tastes neither soapy nor fizzy.

And so it went on. We took the Goldilocks option from the nine course menu, of which you can have three, six or all nine, and from the crisp bread on the table (tomato or walnut, with salted and unsalted butter) through to the shot glass of heavenly crema catalana among the petit fours, there was something exciting, playful or intriguing about every course. The amuse bouche, with its shard of dehydrated milk skin on the side of a cup of avocado soup topped with mushroom jelly. The salad of lightly cooked vegetables and raw pea shoots, sitting in a pool of intensely tomatoey broth. The rubbery sheet of soy milk wrapped around the breast of veal. We loved the prawn, served with pine nuts and olives on one side of the plate and pineapple and coconut milk on the other. Some things were odd: the rubble of oats that came with the monkfish, for instance, or the caramel disc on the skate and avocado. But everything was technically good, and carefully put together; and the overall effect was always thought-provoking, like a conversation with serious and well-informed people. Even when we didn't agree, we were glad we'd been asked. I'd be surprised if you could get six (or even three) more interesting plates of food for forty pounds anywhere else in London at the moment.


Tuesday 31st July


The trouble with an hiatus is that not blogging is so easy. It takes a mighty push to get me back to the keyboard. Luckily in this single-minded corner of the internet a mighty push needn't be a breaking-news story from the corridors of power, or even an hilarious anecdote about little Johnny's first steps: a decent meal will often do the trick, and since I did have one of those over the weekend, here I am.

I will have to keep you in suspense about that for a little while, however, as I find I have returned with just time to scrape in under the deadline for Waiter, There's Something in my Sauce! And who can resist that? My sauce is a raspberry dressing, and although such fruity offerings are no longer at the cutting edge of culinary fashion, I think they have their place in a summer as miserable as this one has so far been. Besides, fruit and cheese is a thoroughly canonical pairing, and while slices of fresh and creamy goat's cheese are a lovely thing to eat alone, for company it would be worth dressing it up a little. The thing is achieved by thinning and - if I may use an entirely made-up word - savourising a simple strained raspberry purée with oil and vinegar. In fact, here I have taken advantage of my overstocked store cupboard and used a peach vinegar and an argan oil, which I like to think was worth while: the oil in particular has a lovely nuttiness. Add salt and pepper, whisk until homogenised and serve, making sure there's some basil around somewhere if at all possible.