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November 2002

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Thursday 28th November

Ah, budget shopping: remember to check that the food the supermarket is selling cheaply because it has today's date arbitrarily stamped on it is actually edible. If so, you too can feed two people for 70p - on, for instance, smoked mackerel (name three countries which have no letters in common with the word mackerel...) and watercress mash (I didn't really cook the watercress - just chopped it up and stirred it into the hot potatoes with some butter). Current advice on oily fish may be deeply contradictory, but watercress is ever so healthy. My mother says so, so it must be true.

Wednesday 27th November

Really almost one of those solid English meat-and-two-veg meals... except that rice seemed quicker than potatoes, and the broccoli was sautéed (à la française, bien sûr) rather than boiled to death. But pork chops with honey and mustard: that's a dish you could serve to your granny.

Tuesday 26th November

How did people keep warm all winter before they started importing chilli? Two winter wonderland meals: Jane Grigson's curried parsnip soup, a strange greenish-yellow colour admittedly, but really deep and comforting. Some proper Indian flatbreads would have been nice. And from the other side of the world, richer and sweeter, a Cuban black bean stew, cooked for hours in chilli, garlic, cumin, coriander and orange juice, with sour cream stirred in at the last minute. If I left out the spicy sausage we had with it, I could serve that to the veggies, couldn't I? Tastier than a chamberful of Quidditch players.

Monday 25th November

Only a month to Christmas, panic now! Part of my general feeling-old early winter broodiness is the strong conviction that I could make something wonderful out of Christmas dinner. Sadly I have so many parents that it is likely to be some years before the opportunity presents itself. But can it be right that in twenty-five years I have never eaten goose? Blasted turkey-bird. I have made puddings in previous years, though nothing was stirred-up yesterday. The recipe is an old family one, and includes several unlikely root vegetables; assorted varieties of stout; and the instruction that every individual raisin should be cut in half. The consolation is that it makes eight puddings, which keep forever: so however generous you are with them, it needn't be an annual ritual.

Friday 22nd November

I know, I'm a terrible slacker. Don't hold it against me. The one good thing about being ill, as everyone knows, is that it is totally permissable - almost compulsory - to watch bad daytime television. Which is how I came to be watching Ready Steady Cook; and I can only blame my fevered mind for the fact that I concluded it would be a good idea to make fish quenelles, fry them like sausages and serve them with mango salsa. At least I learnt to make quenelles, which may be useful at some point (you can never have too many uses for spare egg whites).

Tuesday 19th November

Look, I'm sorry, I'm not well, ok? But I can tell you that a) my pear tart needed more ginger - I'm thinking that next time I might either make a ginger pastry, or (and?) use whole pieces of stem ginger in the custard. Needs thought; b) the Doctor is still a fabulous cook... and if I praise his divine saltimbocca he won't mind me hesitating to agree with the fan who judged the (admittedly perfect) meringue of his mont blanc 'better than sex'; and c) chicken portions with root veg, roasted in honey, garlic and chilli, are a pretty good cold cure. Try it some time.

Friday 15th November

Let me just reassure myself that I know what I'm doing tonight. I have broth, and Nigella's reassurance ringing in my ears that if it is tasty and I call it brodo, it will seem trendily Italian rather than plain or old-fashioned. I have a tart case resting in the fridge and I have convinced myself that I will poach the pears a little before filling it. The fridge is full - oops, must chill some wine - last weekend's newspaper has been squeezed of every last drop and thrown away; I've even had my hair cut. Not that that will contribute much to tonight's dinner, or indeed to the smoothness of a rather busy weekend - but it's all to the good. And it makes me smile every time I remember the words of my (trainee) hairdresser's supervisor: "It's rather transient at the back." Unlike that permanent haircut I had last time, then...

Wednesday 13th November

What very strange things supermarkets do. I bought a couple of tuna steaks last night, and because they were cheaper that way than loose, I bought them in a glitzy packet which claimed you could bung the whole thing in the microwave straight from your shopping basket. 'With a lime and coriander dressing,' it said, which seemed like a nice idea for a quick little weekday dinner with some rice. Obviously I had no intention of microwaving it. Two tuna steaks, right? How could they make those non-grillable? More to the point, why would they want to? What they'd done is cover them in gunk. Leftover Halloween slime, perhaps? I scraped it off, and luckily I had a lime of my own to balance the artificial sweetness. But I don't understand. How does gunk contribute to microwave cookery? Or would it have been equally disgusting if I'd obeyed orders? They were obviously trying for something beyond my technical comprehension: the instructions, neatly printed on the bottom of the packet, read 'keep right way up'.

Tuesday 12th November

After a week of not bothering to do much, and a weekend of not needing to, it was blissful to get back to basics and fill the fridge with food. I made good old reliable spaghetti bolognaise - it is enormously satisfying to cook something I've done so many times before, so that I'm on auto-pilot for the pattern of it and can concentrate on the detail. Slowly my house fills up with the warm, rich, deep smell of supper.

Monday 11th November

A quieter weekend. Dinner, eventually, in the deepest suburbs: it makes the chocolate mousse quest feel even more holy grail-like when one actually gets lost on the way to it. The rest of the weekend I could indulge myself eating strange things at strange times - noodle soup, tinned mackerel, porridge...

Friday 8th November

I keep dreaming about food, this week: last night I was in a castle under seige. Mostly I was hoarding oranges so the kids wouldn't get scurvy. How responsible. Dreaming about food ought to, but doesn't seem to, translate into more imaginative cooking whilst awake. Last night I made roasted peppers and onions pasta sauce (roast slices of red pepper and onion, add balsamic vinegar), and then in a desperate attempt to have something other than a bowl of pasta with red sauce, shoved it in a dish, grated cheese over the top and baked it.

Thursday 7th November

There's nothing like sitting around in wet clothes to make you really hate your job, however much you like it the rest of the time. Having finally regained the sanctuary of my flat, I just about managed to put the chicken bones on to boil. Coming home to find me firmly ensconsed on the sofa, C managed to turn the stock into a firey noodle broth. Yes, I know, we're eating a lot of soup this week. But it's cold! At least the lunches are good: we have nearly finished my first attempt at chutney making, a teeny jar of Nigella's Spiced Apple. It is nothing like either her description or the picture, but it is yummy. It may yet be home-made Christmas pressies all round, this year...

Wednesday 6th November

Bonfire night! I can see the fireworks from my window, so no need to go out in the cold: I can stay in and gnaw on devilled chicken with no loss of opportunities to oooo and aaah. The number of ingredients in barbeque sauce is huge, and considering all you do when they are mixed together is pour them over chicken before roasting it for three quarters of an hour, they taste pretty disturbing raw. Still, the old alchemy works somehow, and they come out sticky and sweet and crimson.

Tuesday 5th November

You'd have to call this peasant soup, I think. The cupboard was really, really bare, so I made soup from an onion; a couple of bits of bacon; a handful of pearl barley; the remains of a head of garlic, roasted; and a liberal spoonful of dried herbs. That was satisfactorily warm and tasty, and just to make sure we were really truly full and toasty all the way through, I grilled some muffins with cheese. Result, two very happy peasants!

Monday 4th November

To quote the lovely Jill Dupleix, writing in The Times, yesterday's dinner was 'the Chinese equivalent of spaghetti bolognaise': a beautifully simple noodle dish of minced pork and black bean sauce. The blessed thing about Chinese cookery (at least, chez moi) is that it's so quick - not only does everything cook fast and hot, but everything comes out of jars! At least, I don't have a recipe for making hoi sin sauce sauce from scratch, and I'm not sure I'd be convinced of the need to if I did... PS: RIP M. Poilâne. Very sad news.

Friday 1st November

Well yes, the Hallowe'en pumpkin soup was nice. All I did was purée the leftover roasted pumpkin, and thin it out with stock. I did sieve it as it seemed a bit stringy, but the texture was fine in the end - I think I used about the same volume of stock as purée. I suppose it wouldn't have been very exciting without the addition of grated gruyère; stringy melted cheese is always a good way to substantialise a soup.