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April 2003

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The Trick of It, Michael Frayn
Ice cream
A society wedding

Monday 28th April

I think this is an even better way to stuff onions. Remember, you have to halve them and scoop out the middles, then put them in the oven (covered, with a little liquid underneath) for almost an hour. Meanwhile you can chop the middles you scooped, and fry. This time I added minced lamb, which I browned off with cumin and smoked paprika, some chopped sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts (frying this lot only takes about ten minutes so start the onions before you even think about it). That goes in the hollows, topped with a little grated parmesan, and back in the oven (uncovered) for another twenty minutes. Really nice, simpler than the veggie version with feta, where the bulk of the stuffing was breadcrumbs, and of course more substantial.

Friday 25th April

Prawns: marinate in yoghurt mixed with harissa and a little lemon juice. (Prawns for two... two tablespoons of plain yoghurt and a teaspoon of harissa.) After a hour in the fridge these were scrummy, though they'd been pretty ordinary little prawns to start with. Need to refine the cooking process though - even just heating them through made them a bit chewy and noticeably less texturesome, though still very tasty with some spiced-up rice. I think the answer might be to dry them off and maybe grill them, at least that's what I'd do if they were nice big tiger prawns - but the idea of scraping marinade off a hundred odd defeats me, I'm afraid...

Wednesday 23rd April

Hey, I'm back! In Paris I found a fantastic little shop with sacks of rice and couscous and every other grain on the floor, and boxes of herbs and spices up the walls. So I bought za'atar, which I daresay you can get in the UK but certainly not on my daily round. It is a Lebanese spice blend of thyme, sesame seeds and sumac - which is itself pretty unobtainable. Anyway it is sharp and exotic, and yesterday I rubbed it onto lamb chops with some olive oil and grilled them; and made rice and a preserved-lemon salsa (onion, chilli, basil) on the side. Like I said, I'm back.

Thursday 10th April

And finally, fish and mushy peas. An extremely versatile dish which can be adjusted according to your budget: a nice piece of salmon, or some smoked trout, would go very nicely with mushy peas, but equally good is a bit of smoked mackerel - either vacuum packed or even out of a tin. No, honestly. The peas of course are not really mushy as such, just most of a packet of frozen, boiled briefly with a clove of garlic and whizzed up with crème fraîche and lots of black pepper. But enough of such things: I'm off to Paris.

Wednesday 9th April

Continuing our series on food I'm ashamed to admit to: I took rice with brie to my heart the first time I read Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food, and it has been a staple comfort food ever since - which is to say that it has got me through A levels, more A levels, Finals, three messy break-ups, the loss of five grandparents, three new jobs and eight new homes: not an unusual amount of early-adulthood angst by any means, but pretty good going for a dish with only two ingredients. Not that it needs to stop at two: raisins are good.

Tuesday 8th April

This week I am indulging in silly, instant, single-person meals. I'd like to think that if I actually had to go for any length of time cooking for one, I wouldn't let it stop me making 'proper' food - but just for a week, it's more fun to eat all the slightly strange things that remind me of being a student. So last night I made egg drop soup - that is, a sachet of miso dissolved in a bowl of boiling water, with broken-up noodles, and a beaten egg dropped in a teaspoonful at a time so it cooks instantly and in little pieces. Very comforting.

Monday 7th April

Could there be a better way to start a Monday morning than finding a video of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in your pigeonhole? Your work pigeonhole? Certainly makes me feel better about having to tell you that coffee risotto, which I was so excited about on Friday night, somehow didn't work. I think the coffee wasn't strong enough (adding to wishlist: espresso machine), I could have used more sugar, more booze, more something. And it is a bit stodgy after lentil soup and couscous-stuffed trout. The fish was good, though - I made the couscous up with dates, apricots, almonds and coriander. Truly Scrumptious, as you might say.

Wednesday 2nd April

The last few weeks have been so sunny that it's hard not to think of this as autumn, so it's back to casseroles. Having promised C to feed him things this week that he won't be able to get in France - a suggestion which left him strangely unenthusiastic - the best I could do was beef-on-the-bone, aka oxtail stew. This having been illegal during my formative years, I had never made it before, and I was impressed by the thickness and flavour that the marrow gave the gravy (made with half bitter and half water, with potatoes, onions, carrots and barley), though I'm not sure it compensates for the difficulty of getting at the meat.