~ pertelote ~

August 2002

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Friday 30th August

Mmmm, this was lovely: I have forgotten where I found my recipe for lemon chicken, but this is how it goes. Marinate some chicken in the juice and zest of two lemons, lemon grass, root ginger and a dollop of honey, for as long as it takes to phone your mother. Finely slice a couple of onions - well, two would be enough but I do three or four - and fry them for ages with a spoonful each of soft brown sugar. Pour off most of the marinade and put the chicken in the oven. When the onions are very sweet and mushy, add the reserved marinade (baste the chicken with a little more of it, too) and let it reduce. This is good with rice, plain or with something green in it to contrast with the sweet stickiness of the onions.

Thursday 29th August

Hurrah, I'm back. Easy when you know how. And the same goes for end-of-the-month tart. This is what this Mother Hubbard had in the fridge on help-no-money-can't-shop day: your mileage may vary... Shortcrust tart case: butter and flour, or ready-made of course - here, let Delia show you... Three onions, sliced and cooked in oil and a teaspoon of brown sugar until very soft. Add a handful of halved cherry tomatoes and the dregs of the balsamic vingar, and let the tomatoes soften. Spread this across the base of the tart case. Follow with a layer of crumbled cheese - I had feta; a crumbly goat's cheese would be equally good. In a bowl, beat together one whole egg, one yolk and 200ml of double cream or crème fraîche with whatever looks healthy on the windowsill (my life is a constant battle with the basil plant), season with salt and black pepper and pour over the cheese. Finish with a little grated parmesan, if there's a lump looking miserable at the back of the fridge, and cook for half an hour until the surface is golden, as the real chefs say. The tart will still wobble a bit. Serve hot or warm with salad, if you're organised enough!

Wednesday 28th August

What is wrong with this page? I know, it's not the page, it's me: Netscape hates me. Anyone know which tag it is that contains the secret <invisible> command? Anyway, nevermind that, à table. So, I had a big bunch of coriander that wasn't going to last much longer, and I remembered this article, and decided to make 'a New World fusion kind of thing'. Oh dear. When will I learn? Two cloves of raw garlic might be lovely if you can get sweet, young, fresh garlic. But I can't. So my pesto was a little overwhelming... I have a friend who insists that coriander tastes like rancid pondweed and who suffers from hallucinations after eating garlic, and last night I saw her point. Tomorrow, edible food. I promise.

Tuesday 27th August

Continuing the quest for the best chocolate mousse. I like the kind of quest that involves no effort beyond choosing from a restaurant menu, don't you? This was Chocolate and Star Anise Mousse with Hazlenut Ice-Cream. Interesting flavour, pleasant consistency: C diagnosed butter and egg yolks. He has an interest as currently his mousse holds the title (butter, egg yolks and stiff whites, and only ever French chocolate). It's not that I want to find one better than his, you understand. But we have to keep them on their toes.

Monday 26th August

Bank Holiday baking: blue cheese biscuits. These were loosely based on a Nigella Lawson recipe - well, it's always nice to feel like a Domestic Goddess! - but obviously I didn't have blue cornmeal and Cashel Blue lying around the kitchen so I made do. They were fantastic anyway. Basically cheese, butter and flour, with an egg yolk, so they are a bit pastry-ish, flaky and savoury and very nibble-able. So they will do nicely for a party - it can't be until term has begun but I do love to have a plan!

Friday 23rd August

C cooked bangers and mash. He had found some really tasty pork and stilton sausages, and bashed up some new potatoes. And there was spinach. He finishes work later than I do, which is the only reason I cook more often: he's much better, really. More natural. I know, lucky me: how these women found enough men who could cook to write a whole book about them I'll never know...

Thursday 22nd August

Well, not quite so successful. Sometimes what's in your head just never makes it to the plate... I had a papaya, and I was thinking of something tropical, mostly raw, with chilli and ginger, a bit like a warm salsa but with little bites of fried salmon in. I had a Jill Dupleix recipe open beside me, and if I'd stuck to that I might have had more success! Instead I produced something rather mushy and alarmingly orange. I think I mis-categorised the papaya: I was anticipating mango and what I got was melon. But it was close enough not to discourage me. Watch this space: I will try this again...

Wednesday 21st August

One of the magazines that appears randomly in the coffee room at work from time to time is The New Yorker: and the latest edition is, fabulously, all about food. A lovely article about taste memory prompted me to turn again to Madhur Jaffrey's book. So together with thousands of people across Britain, last night we ate chicken tikka masala, with plain basmati rice and a new side dish: chickpeas in a garlicky, gingery, tomato sauce (see, I did get round to soaking them. And, oh, it's worth it - even in such a flavourful sauce they were superior to tinned). C liked the curry so much he ate the left over yoghurt marinade 'for dessert'.

Tuesday 20th August

Just salad, again - maybe I'll get more inspired later in the week. But it was nice: herb salad, goats' cheese and a raspberry vinegar dressing, which livened it up a bit. We might almost have been back in France.

Monday 19th August

Sunday night pasta: finely dice one bulb of fennel (hang on to the dill-like leaves at the top); sweat in olive oil until soft. Add a handful of sliced mushrooms. Splosh in some white wine if it's open, otherwise wine vinegar of either colour - just enough to deglaze the pan and make sautéd vegetables start to look like sauce. When the pasta is cooked, stir in a dollop of crème fraîche and some black pepper; serve over the pasta, with the fennel fronds scattered over the top. Nice enough to prevent me feeling nostalgic for toast and marmite - the habitual Sunday night supper when we were little, coming home sleepily after evensong.

Friday 16th August

Last night was hot, heavy and humid, with thunder in the air... sometimes there's nothing like a mild feeling of threat to give a girl an appetite. I thought about tuono e lampo - 'thunder and lightning' - the Italian for pasta with chickpeas, but as I hadn't had the foresight to soak any chickpeas, that might have taken rather too long. Instead I made a mozarella salad: just fresh buffalo mozarella sliced and scattered with grilled peppers (darling baby orange ones), basil and olive oil. Certainly the prettiest supper I've had in a while, and utterly delicious too.

Thursday 15th August

For the second night in a row I was cooking with stock - chicken stock, this time, from Saturday's leftovers - but I'd do it every day if I could (I suppose it would actually have to be every other day, as part of the pleasure is making something so good from leftovers). It looks off-puttingly pale and wobbly as it comes out of the fridge, but once it's bubbling away, ready to be spooned a little at a time into a pan of slowly swelling arborio, it's ambrosia. Jamie Oliver talks good risotto. Usually I totally agree with him on the need for cheese (though I rather like lemon risotto, too, really sticky and sharp, with lots of fresh herbs), but last night, as the stock was so good, we ate it plain as can be.

Wednesday 14th August

I softened a chopped onion. I browned bacon with it and stirred in two crushed cloves of garlic. I added lentils and when they were glistening and sighing I ladled in the gorgeously savoury lamb stock which the leftovers from Friday night had - as if by magic - turned into. And we ate lentil soup, described by the divine Nigel Slater as deep, dark, earthy and swamp-like.

Tuesday 13th August

Just a salad last night, as the sun was shining for once: rocket, avocado, bacon. There's not much to say about that! It took about three minutes. Much more exciting was finding the first Discovery apples of the season, which always brings back memories of childhood holidays - we would go to Norfolk usually, in the middle of August, and towards the end of the fortnight we'd switch from strawberries, raspberries, and cherries to these sweet, rosy apples: a sure sign, like new school uniforms and swallows lining up on the wires overhead, that autumn was on its way.

Monday 12th August

Advertisement voice: bread baskets are the hot new trend among young Cambridge professionals... Well, it's what I'm working on, anyway. We were delighted in Paris (at Les Parisiennes, on Place Igor Stravinsky) to be served our lunchtime salads in baskets made of bread, and vowed to reproduce them chez nous. Thus Friday's starter was a salade niçoise in little cups of herby bread - made with olive oil for flavour since I chickened out and made them unleavened. Next time I'll see what effect yeast will have. The originals were more like pizza base dough, and I think they had been rather more carefully constructed than my circles-draped-over-upsidedown-tumblers... Other highlight of the weekend: at last the new supermarket has opened, complete with fresh fish counter! So supper last night was skate wings, with a beurre noir sauce of browned butter, red wine vinegar, capers and parsley - classic.

Friday 9th August

Well, it's Friday, so in the traditional manner, and despite it being August (ie Cambridge is empty of people and full of tourists), I have managed to find people who are prepared to come to dinner. The terrine is in the freezer, the wine is in the fridge, and there are piles of vegetables on the kitchen table waiting to be scrubbed, sliced, diced, boiled, baked and somehow transformed into something astonishing. The plan involves a Persian recipe I picked up at the Aldeburgh Cookery School - a layered cake of thinly sliced (from the bottom) onions, garlic, aubergines, apples, sweet potatoes, courgettes, tomatoes and potatoes, baked slowly in a tomato and cinnamon sauce and decorated with dried apricots and pistachio nuts. Sadly I will be omitting the optional dried rose petals.

Thursday 8th August

Hmmm, not much to tell today. Except that I made some ice cream that hasn't really worked very well. It doesn't taste right, and it doesn't feel right. OK, it's not exactly ice cream, it's a frozen chocolate praline terrine thing, and I shouldn't tell you about it really, as there are people out there who are going to have to eat it tomorrow... But it's annoying, because I followed the recipe, and I've just defrosted the so-called freezer so it isn't that. More chocolate next time, I think. I suppose I'll make some chocolate sauce to serve with it - that should help.

Wednesday 7th August

Not that I spent the whole week cruising from one fabulous venue to another, you understand. The first day we were there I did a buffet lunch for friends. It was baking hot so we had salad, bread and cheese, and a big bowl of tabouleh, as I had lovely juicy organic lemons from the farmers' market on Rue de Raspail (lemon juice, olive oil, parsley and mint - then whatever you like, tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions: not very authentic but I could live on it all summer!) Later in the week I took the plunge and roasted a chicken - those lemons again, garlic and tarragon. I bought a bird from Bon Marché, labelled with its farm of origin and diet as Patricia Wells' book promises (though sadly not its name). It worked pretty well; I suppose you can't go far wrong with good-quality meat, simple seasoning and a hot oven... Also in the neighbourhood is the famous bakery Poilâne, so we had apple tarts for dinner, too - crispy, buttery and gooey in all the right places.

Tuesday 6th August

So I'm just going to talk about France all week, if that's ok with you? As nothing I cook this week will be half so interesting (example: last night's chore was defrosting the freezer. So we ate some sausages I'd excavated and some rather end-of-season broad beans. Mind you, C knocked up rather a good red wine sauce...) But onward: or rather, backward. I was going to tell you about a couple of places in Paris. Three of the nicest little restaurants in our neighbourhood are related: Le Bistrot d'Opio (Provençal food, ie cooked in olive oil); Bergamote (more modern and 'restauranty' - their signature dish is chicken with bergamot, for instance) and La Boussole, where last week I had pastilla for the first time - a moroccan chicken pie, basically, made with sweet filo pastry. Gorgeous. And then there's Berthillon, which doesn't have a site of its own, but takes up plenty of space nevertheless (for example) - as it deserves to, being the best ice cream shop in the world... I ate my sweet, summery mûres de framboisier sorbet on the banks of the Seine. Can I mention him just once more, to tell you that he recommends the white chocolate and passion fruit?

Monday 5th August

Salut! Back from Paris, well-rested and very well-fed... Loads to tell you, if I can organise my thoughts! A typical day: wake late, wander over the road to the boulangerie to buy fresh croissants; make coffee... some light sight-seeing, cultural pursuits... lunch of salad (lovely 'mâche' leaves with dijon-y vinaigrette), une baguette, camembert, wine... a siesta, a stroll, an apperitif - perhaps a glass of port with some finely sliced saucisson - and out to one of the hundreds of tiny local brasseries, where I order whatever seems most exotic - usually fish - and C orders duck, or veal: things you can find cooked to perfection in the most ordinary French restaurant. Then perhaps a leisurely dessert, or a crêpe from a stall on the corner, or, best of all, a cocktail at La Rhumerie. Our penultimate night was spent there, drinking dangerously moreish cocktails ('Un Zombie': rum, cassis, grenadine and orange juice. 'La Marie Galante': rum and passion fruit. 'Un Chocolat Créole': rum and chocolate ice cream!) and eating spicy, deep-fried seafood: Creole cuisine goes on the list for further investigation...