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December 2002

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The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory
Sheep may safely graze
Twelfth Night

Friday 20th December

And so I leave you with news of some fairly uninteresting stuffed peppers (mushrooms, couscous, feta). C made some harissa to liven them up, and I'd love to be able to tell you how, but to tell the truth I wasn't watching. And now I'm off for Christmas, and once I've made a soufflé out of all the odd bits of cheese and egg left in the fridge, I won't have to cook until next year. So I'll speak to you then - happy Christmas.

Thursday 19th December

It's a myth, you know, that romance equals lack of appetite. But then this, at Em's, was irresistable: meze; cod with puy lentils and watercress, and let me tell you those lentils, with pancetta and rosemary, were - technical term here - scrummy; and apples stewed with lemon juice, nutmeg and vanilla. Very rustic chic, very frosty night indoors by the fire!

Wednesday 18th December

I wanted something Thai before all the turkey and stodge sets in, so I made green curry… Chicken portions marinated in soy sauce, lemon grass, lime juice etc, then browned with an onion, one sweet pepper, one chilli pepper and a handful of mushrooms. It's a bit imprecise but I use Thai green curry paste, the remaining marinade, a little brown sugar and nam pla fish sauce (possibly tautologous, anyone speak Thai?) and add a bit more of everything until it tastes right. Right at the end I stirred in some coconut milk so everything was luscious, all smooth and beige: and threw a few chopped cashew nuts over the top. Yes, that's right, if you were doing this you'd have had some fresh coriander.

Tuesday 17th December

A warming roasted tomato soup to remind the summer to come back. A very good use for the punnet of tomatoes I bought in an optimistic plan to make chutney - forgetting that it is the week before Christmas and frankly, there's enough to do already. Tomatoes roast for about an hour on a low heat, with some slices of onion, all rolled around in a bit of olive oil. Towards the end of the hour start frying the rest of the onion, and when it is soft add a spoonful of sugar (tra la) and finally tip the contents of the roasting pan into the saucepan. Oh, the skins will have loosened on the tomatoes so it doesn't actually take long to pull them off, if you're so inclined. Anyway, assess the quantity of soup. My punnet of tomatoes (750g I think) made two fair portions of soup: if there are more of you you can either start with more tomatoes or add some stock at this stage. Either way the crucial ingredient is a good glug of balsamic vinegar. Season, vibrate, tear in some basil: slurp.

A Christmas gift for my devoted readers: I have a feeling some of them are in the mood for something insanely cute...

Monday 16th December

Mushroom tartlets: a handful of leftover mushrooms from the bottom of the fridge, sautéed with a generous chopping of onion and a couple of pre-soaked dried porcini (literally a couple, I thought that was plenty sufficient for supper), seasoned, herbed, and finally allowed to have some madeira, m'dear. The above piled up on two squares of puff pastry and adorned with the oozy scrapings of a petit langres (a cheese of the stinky, liquid kind, utterly delicious but of course substitutable). Glaze the edges with egg, if you can be bothered, and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted, the pastry risen and everything golden. Do not burn your hand on the edge of the oven and throw the tarts in the air...

Thursday 12th December

One of the first proper meals I used to cook for people was chicken and mozarella wrapped in prosciutto. Dead easy. Good with lots of basil in the summer, and you can sit it on tagliatelle with a sort of sauce of sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts for the full 1990s-Islington experience. More modernly (erm, not deliberately trendy, just in an out-of-pasta way) last night we had it with lentils. From Umbria. And goat's cheese - from the farm of the aunt of my companion (which is larger than the pen of my uncle....)

Tuesday 10th December

The leftover venison spread quite well to feed us both. I made a basic red wine sauce by frying off the meat with plenty of chopped onion, quartered chestnut mushrooms and a few juniper berries, stirred a spoonful of flour into the fat, then added a good slug of red wine and topped it up with a herby stock. A sauce that is mostly red wine has a bit of an edge - and is disconcertingly purple. Both problems can be resolved by the addition of a squeeze of tomato puree and a dollop of redcurrant jelly. While that was bubbling away, I made cheat's pie lids - just circles of puff pastry baked in the oven - to sit on it. Somehow, even the illusion of pieness made me feel cleverer than casserole!

Monday 9th December

Well, not too much to say, thankfully! The venison steaks worked pretty well en croute, though I need more practice at making pretty parcels... and the fat I had rendered from the duck earlier in the week made some rather delicious roast potatoes (beginner's luck, I'm sure). My vaguely thought-out Christmas tiramisu, with chocolate-ginger cake and Cointreau, was nice in itself but further proof of my weakness in menu-planning: after onion soup, chevreuil en croute and cheese, it was a bit much. I shall write out a hundred times: too much food...

Friday 6th December

You know the drill by now. Tonight my musical chums will be delighting the folks of Jesus College with a selection of carols. After that the undergrads (bless 'em) will proceed to Christmas Formal Hall (yes, turkey and all the trimmings three weeks early - at least this year it does actually fall in the right month) and those with more discerning tastes (that's a very moderate Friday smugness, I'm only comparing myself with college catering, after all) sit down to four courses of grown up food chez moi. Having said that, now I have to go home and cook the damn stuff. I console myself with the thought that the wronger it goes, the more I'll have to write on Monday!

Thursday 5th December

Waste not, want not. Leftover red wine sauce + duck bones + alphabetti pasta (that's teeny weeny letter shaped dried pasta, not tinned in tomato sauce like we all grew up on!) = tasty Italian duck broth.

Wednesday 4th December

I cooked duck last night, a bit of a treat. I haven't found a foolproof way to cook duck yet - maybe because I'm so addicted to confit, home cooking never seems quite right. Still, last night I made a sort of bourginon, cooked it for a couple of hours in plenty of red wine, and it was pretty good. Slumped on top of some speedy polenta, with buckets of reduced winey sauce, it was right rustic.

Monday 2nd December

Here's a lovely thing I ate this weekend, which would grace any party at which so much champagne is served that you need some serious nibbles as ballast: surprise bread - the surprise is that when you take the upper crust off it is full of layers and layers of perfectly ickle sandwiches of paté de foie gras and raisins. Mmmm mmmm...