Truth compels us to assert our conviction of the superior wholesomeness of bread made in our own homes - Eliza Acton

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Wednesday 28th February

Recently I've been making a lot of soups and stews - things that I can make a large batch, or a couple of different batches, of on a day when I have some spare time, and which will then sit happily in the fridge until the day (which is never far off) when I don't. One night last week I had two different soups bubbling away at the same time as whatever we were going to eat that day. This one was new and a bit pot-luck: it was the feta I really wanted, so I made the soup almost as a canvas for it - not completely blank, but plain in a good, homespun way. I like the way it worked.

Potato and feta soup

Soften a chopped onion in olive oil. Add half a teaspoon of cumin, chilli flakes, and two large pototoes chopped into rough chunks. Stir and soften for a couple of minutes. Add 700ml or so of vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, simmer for twenty minutes or until the potato is soft. Add half a tin of rinsed chickpeas. Just before serving, add black pepper and 60g crumbled feta. Serves two.


Saturday 24th February


This was entirely accidental. I'd hardly thought about what kind of pie to make for this month's Waiter, There's Something in my Pie! before hostess Jeanne of Cook Sister! fame, and Xochitl (who Cooks) came round with their respective spouses last weekend to taste the wines we'd shortlisted for our wedding reception. So as not to spoil the surprise for any of our guests, let's just say we were very impressed with the wines from St John's list, and found some spot-on matches to my very approximate attempt at St John's menu. Of course conversation touched on the latest must-do event, and we ran over the rules again: a covered pie, whether the cover be pastry, polenta, potato or pizza crust.

Put it down to the seven bottles (divide by seven people and seven hours and it doesn't sound so bad), but when the next day I came to throw the leftovers together with store cupboard ingredients to make a quick supper, the connection never entered my mind: until the husband-to-be, when called to the table, walked into the kitchen and exclaimed "Pie!" Bingo. Yes, if fish pie is pie and shepherd's pie is pie, then this is too. It's simpler than either but by using leftovers and pre-cooked ingredients, you get fantastic strength of flavour with no extra effort.

Mackerel and shallot pie

Leftover roasted shallots, about ten to twelve, peeled and roughly chopped. You could roast them freshly for this, but it takes about 45 minutes.
One packet, about 200g, smoked mackerel.
Leftover boiled potatoes, probably the equivalent of two large potatoes - again, you could boil them now, if you're that excited about making pie. Give them 15 minutes in boiling salted water.
Large tablespoon crème fraîche
10g butter

Break up fish and mix with shallots over the base of an ovenproof dish. Mash potatoes with crème fraîche and spread over fish. Dot top with butter and bake for 40 minutes until piping hot.



Thursday 22nd February


You don't need an awful lot of free time to make a flapjack. And the gratitude of your colleagues is directly proportional to your mutual over-workedness.

Chocolate flapjacks

200g oats
140g butter
50g brown sugar
5tbs golden syrup
150g hazelnuts
85g dark chocolate

Makes enough for a 23cm square tin, or 16 small square flapjacks.

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together. Stir in the oats and press into the pre-lined tin. Scatter nuts and chunks of chocolate over the top. Bake for 30 minutes at 180C. Allow to cool completely before cutting up.


Friday 2nd February


It was great to see such a huge response to the Waiter There's Something In My Stew thing and fun to spot the clusters. I certainly wasn't the only person to take a North African bearing. Even more interesting and useful were the many variations on goulash: Hungarian from Dinner For One, traditional Austrian from The Passionate Cook and even vegetarian, from Chili & Vanilia. For some reason I rarely think of goulash when I'm planning stew - unless it's snowing. Yes, rather odd, but the two are strongly linked in my culinary mind. Now, of course, snow is not that frequent an occurence in London these days - the picture was taken from our back window a couple of weeks ago but the snow was gone again within 24 hours and since then spring is definitely showing signs of being on the way. So between the changeability of the weather and my own inflexibility, I'm rather out of practice with the old goulash and the inevitable snowy day attempt (falling just before WTSIM...) came out, erm, wrong, for my taste at least. The searing heat of the Hungarian pepper paste (received in my last-but-one EBBP parcel) hit me just after I'd added a huge dollop to the pot, and no amount of sweet paprika, plain potatoes or sour cream could take the edge off. But Gerda, Johanna and Zsofi's careful and authentic recipes are all now bookmarked: the kind of preparation that could almost make me wish for another turn in the weather...