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March 2003

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A Touch of Love, Jonathan Coe
Paris two days away!

Monday 31st March

I could develop quite a taste for these extravagantly egged sauces. A bit of eager whisking produced sauce béarnaise - an emulsion of white wine and vinegar infused with tarragon and shallots, and egg yolks. It is one of the classic things to serve with steak. I served it with fish, which was lovely, but I can see why it is best with something more robust to counter its richness. On the other hand, steak would have meant chips, if not goose-fat-sautéed potatoes, and the lemony cannelloni bean purée we had instead was a good earthy balance.

Friday 28th March

Instant polenta is such a great invention. It's just so... instant. (This does mean that you need to be a little bit prepared. It's no good trying to grate parmesan into it once it's done and is volcanoing at you.) Similarly, if you leave it to cool for a minute, it will solidify - which isn't disastrous at all, if you have spread it out on a baking sheet, because you can crisp it up under the grill and use it as a bread substitute: to pave the roof of a pie, hold bruschetta toppings, or as pizza base. Mmmmm, pizza - red onions, portabello mushrooms (big flat steaky ones, fried until they cry) and some gorgeous spring-fresh goat's cheese - does that make it sound like room freshener? Trust me, it's not like room freshener. It's like sitting on the grass watching wispy little clouds. It's baby-soft goat's cheese.

Wednesday 26th March

Yesterday I fried some little strips of beef with garlic, chilli, cumin, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and probably other stuff, as I was pretty much throwing in whatever fell out of the cupboard... There was tomato puree in there, and orange juice (from an orange, that is) - anyway, the main thing was the chilli. I also fried some onion rings, strips of red pepper and slices of mushroom, with some oregano. Then we we had one of those nice DIY suppers with a plate of meat, a bowl of vegetables, a bag of salad, a tub of guacomole, a carton of sour cream, and a packet of tortillas.

Monday 24th March

When we were very young, one of the things our parents wouldn't even try to make us eat, but would save for grown-up suppers à deux, was chicory. Baked chicory in cheese sauce. So I thought it would be worth trying, and I tried it (wrapped the chicory in bacon, braised in white wine, made cheese sauce with gruyère), and what do you know, I'm obviously not ready for grown-up food, because yuk. And C said so too, so it's not just my unsophisticated English taste buds. Frankly, a vegetable that can't be redeemed by cheese sauce is no friend of mine.

Friday 21st March

This is a bit similar to the smoked salmon pasta last week, but it had the same advantage of being quick to throw together when got in - ok, maybe just a wee bit tipsy. It was tagliatelle (but I wish I'd had some linguine, much sexier) with prawns, lemon, cherry tomatoes, crème fraîche, and lots and lots of flat leaf parsley. I think this really is the best of all possible worlds. Seafood is light and springlike (oooo, good point, a tray of mixed - with some mussels and scallops and things - would have been even nicer than the prawns), and cooking a few halved cherry tomatoes, instead of opening a tin, even more so: but pasta is comforting enough to eat in front of the (increasingly depressing) TV. Don't you know there's a war on?

Thursday 20th March

I made parsnip and parmesan soup yesterday, making, I might add, rather a rushed job of it. I wanted to roast the parsnips, because it makes them so sweet and nutty, but I also wanted the whole thing to be basically ready before I went out at 7:15 - well, I should have gone at 7:05, but there's the Archers to consider, and who ever heard of a choir concert starting on time? They were roasted for a bit, but not really long enough. So I put some honey in to compensate, a squeeze of orange juice, two potatoes for bulk, the chicken stock, and an old parmesan rind. That was as far as I could get before I had to run, so it still needed to simmer for about half an hour when I got back in. After that I rescued the rind (mmmm, chewing gum), stripped a stalk of rosemary in, and whizzed laboriously until smooth and thick. Finally I grated in a good sized chunk of parmigiano and served with plenty of black pepper. And that, I think, is the last of that! No more thick, hot, root vegetable comfort soups - I'm ready for summer now, please.

Tuesday 18th March

I bought some nice fat, shiny mackerel yesterday, and baked them for half an hour on a layer of thinly sliced onion and lemon, with a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar sprinkled over. All those sharp things cut through the oiliness of the fish and it was very simple and fine. Admittedly potatoes sautéed in goose fat slightly negate the omega-whatever healthiness of the fish...

Monday 17th March

Phew... I fed seven yesterday, and despite a longish post-prandial walk, I don't think anyone left hungry. These people were C's old house-mates, so he made the mousse (maybe that's The Mousse...) - so really, what was I worried about? After all, two courses times seven is fewer than three courses times five, which I do all the time. Anyway, what I made was greek salad, with cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta, and greekish lemon and oregano chicken with avgolemono sauce (lemon juice and the winey juices from the chicken, with eggs to make a sort of savoury custard). Then I braised some baby lettuces and glazed some baby carrots with a little honey and mustard - well, if I can't serve baby veg in early spring, when can I? The only thing that didn't really work was the roast potatoes, which I don't really understand because I had some lovely goose fat which I thought was good and hot - but maybe I was just trying to do too many in too small a dish. Surely with so many physicists in the house we could have worked that one out...

Thursday 13th March

Yes, this was what I had been wanting. A moderate plateful of egg tagliatelle, with crème fraîche, lemon zest, a little lemon juice, dill, black pepper and smoked salmon. There are daffodils everywhere - I've even seen primroses - and there is nothing so luxuriously springlike as fresh, sharp, no-cooking-required food.

Tuesday 11th March

More than any other carbohydrate, the purpose of pasta is to stretch meat when you'd really rather have more meat. And the purpose of pasta sauce? To hide vegetables. Admittedly I don't actually need to hide vegetables in my pasta sauce, as I am only cooking for happy, vegetable-loving adults - but what the hell, Archie, it's all good practice. (I realise that if I carried this argument to its logical conclusion, all my meals would feature smiley-faced Annabel Karmel-type food. Don't worry, I may be broody, but I'm not actually insane.) And it saves me thinking of sensible things to do with leftover cabbage if I slice it up small and put it in my sausage/rosemary/red wine sauce. The trick to sausage sauce for pasta is to slice them raw, and brown the slices before you start: the round, cut faces get more caramelised and delicious than the skin-covered edges, IYSWIM.

Monday 10th March

Sick to death of leftovers, my goodness yes. How much nicer to whip up a nice gooey tortilla with wild mushrooms and taleggio. Why are mushrooms so good with eggs? This was good early springtime food, warm and comforting, but fresh as well, with a salad, the first slice hot and oozing melted cheese, but the second and third, progressively cooler slices just as good.

Thursday 6th March

So in honour of Mardi Gras I think I may have made more excessive amounts of food than ever before. No, that can't be right. But it felt that way. We had crêpes - not the 'pancake day' jif-jam-and-tossing sort, but a concession to the day - as if the other lard-laden courses weren't... Anyway, crêpes with roasted cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and chèvre. A little watercress. Main course: cassoulet. So that's duck confit: tick! I will think of something even more ambitious to replace it on the 'things I will learn to make one day' list - but not until I've finished eating my leftover beans in goose fat. Finally and fatally, petits pots au chocolat, prompted by the suggestion that Shrove Tuesday ought to involve bathing in chocolate, and of course by my so-cute china cups shaped like crumpled plastic cups. It is only that I haven't the will power to resist the cute, the yummy, the french, and the overabundant. I'm not really fattening you up like foie gras geese, I promise.

Monday 3rd March

Vietnamese chicken and mint salad - yes, that woman again, I'm sorry. This is shredded chicken, cabbage, carrot, red onion and mint with a dressing of lime juice, chilli, fish sauce, etc etc. So, temple food, but surprisingly yummy and indeed, as she says, you could pick at it very satisfactorily over an evening of gossip.