1 Dec 20

I rarely succeed but aim to get everything under control in advance when there are guests coming for a meal and Sunday’s lunch party was no exception. I prepped then made the main course – Boeuf Bourguignonnein advance so flavours had a chance to mature and decided against making a pudding in favour of cheese. The starter is smoked salmon blinis with a glass of champagne to toast the rare event of seeing friends. Those of us in tier 2 of Covid Strange Times have to entertain outside with a maximum of 6, so the weather becomes crucial and this morning, despite our beautiful yellow awning and brand new super-hot infrared heaters attached to the pergola, there is risk. One of the heaters is on the blink so I have to move the table advantageously and it means both The B and I are trapped in tight corners which is a pain for getting in and out with bowls etc and keeping everything hot. A big outside mop-up is now an essential part of this new entertaining, wiping down the table and chairs, the coal bunker surface that acts as a side table, not to mention the actual heaters before they’re turned on. I shouldn’t moan because it all works brilliantly and the rain just about holds off for our party.  My picture, incidentally, shows my quick jacket potatoes – recipe link at end – which are halved lengthways, etched with a lattice, smeared with oil and a pinch of salt and baked over tinfoil in a very high oven, done in 30 minutes.


I can’t remember who tipped The B off about www.hebrideansmokehouse.com but it’s so fine that he orders regularly. The company has been using their special peat and beechwood smoke for locally caught salmon and sea trout for over 30 years and the website quotes Prue Leith as saying theirs is the best. I completely agree, it really is exceptional and everyone notices and comments. I pile it on little blinis which I bake for a few minutes on both sides, let them cool before they are loaded, with a crème fraiche and chive garnish. I make a big platter using one of my new tray-size doilies (thanks www.nisbets.co.uk) and they go down a storm. To go with the Boeuf Bourguignonne I decided on boiled potatoes – lovely Natoora Russet Burbank which are a cross between a floury King Edward and waxy Ratte – rather than mash, thinking they’d be easier to keep warm and less hassle to get right despite having a couple of plate warmers (also from Nisbets) which jerk the table back to dinner parties of past times. Peas and carrots also get their own lidded Le Creuset and everything stays hot for second helpings. All but the tiniest scrapings of BB are left. I did far too many potatoes but they will be a godsend for other dishes later in the week. Our party ends before the heavens open and Red gets a rainy walk before we slump in front of the fire with the Sunday papers. Cheese on toast – thin slices of Montgomery’s Cheddar (thanks www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk) laid over Dijon mustard-smeared, buttered toast – for supper.


Loads of leftover potatoes so it prompted two recipes; cottage pie with fried cocktail sausages added – my new favourite add-on to cottage and shepherd’s pie – and Potato Soup with Chorizo Chips. The latter is an old favourite and a great soup to remember when the cupboard is bare. This version was made with 600g boiled potato added to a finely diced onion softened in butter and oil with a chopped garlic. I started the cooking by frying thin slices of chorizo without fat, whipping them of the pan to make way for the onion, resting on a fold of kitchen paper to drain and crisp, so their fat colouring and flavouring the onion that followed. I made stock with a chicken stock cube, serving each bowlful with a spoonful of crème fraiche, then chorizo chips and finely chopped coriander. Do try this, it’s a very good, very easy, inexpensive store cupboard soup that is spicy and cheering.


I have one last whole fillet of cod from Newlyn (retail@trelawneyfish.com) in my back-up/overflow deep freeze (that lives in my ivy-clad shed), so out it comes to defrost for Dinner Tonight. I cut the de-frosted fillet into 4 portions, knowing we’ll only eat 2 tonight but with thoughts of fish cakes made with the leftovers. As I happened to have a few tomatoes in need of eating up (dark in colour and slightly squashy), plenty of onions, some garlic and a small red pepper, I decided to make a little stew with them, adding black olives and a hint of flat leaf parsley. This was delicious spooned over roast cod, the flakes firmed and standing up proud after a short dusting of salt. I gave a similar recipe for Cod with Tomatoes, Peppers and Black Olives in the seafood section of Just One Pot (Octopus Books, paperback £12.99) but in this version, the cod is roasted. Usefully, the ‘sauce’ can be made in advance and reheated as required, the fish ready after 10 minutes or so in a hot oven.


It dawned on me as I started assembling ingredients to make Cod and Crab Cakes with Cucumber Relish that I needed mashed potato. Oh no you don’t I ‘heard’ myself thinking. Use breadcrumbs instead. I’ve done it before and it works very well, producing delicate but firm cakes with a crusty surface achieved with egg and breadcrumbs. A dollop of mayo with a little carton of brown crab meat helps gel the mixture and a small red chilli, Thai fish sauce and coriander give the fishcakes a hint of Thai flavours. Another advantage of this recipe, is that the fishcakes are baked in the oven rather than fried over direct heat. They are very good with home made (or bought) oven chips, pickled cucumber (pickled with lime juice, red chilli and coriander) and a dollop of mayonnaise.


Rootling round in the deep freeze taking stock of what we have and ending up defrosting and cleaning the wretched cold coffin, I came across half a shoulder of lamb. It looked a bit sad but when defrosted, it looked very meaty and worthy of roasting rather than slicing off all the meat for a stew or curry. I did the wet roast technique, resting it over chopped onion and rosemary, adding a squeezed lemon and couple of glasses of white wine. It only took 40 minuts in a hot oven and rest for 10 before carving. The meat was sweet and tender, a real mid-week roast treat, lovely with roast pots (par-boiled, fork-scratched to make shaggy ridges), sprouts and tinned French peas, gravy made from the juices in the roasting tin. No mint to make mint sauce but redcurrant jelly instead (the best I can buy locally is from www.mackenbrothers.co.uk, who I’m happy to flag up, will deliver locally. Another very good brand comes from Fortnum&Mason).


First job this morning, the sort of morning I love, is cooking for lunch on Sunday. Before I got going, I made a rush-round-my-food-stores soup for Saturday, when I have the young family (son Zach, wife Jez and two sons Caspar and Jago) coming for quick lunch after a walk in Richmond Park.  I’d bought two packets of boiled beetroot (no vinegar) from my favourite fruit and veg stall on Chiswick High Road, only bought because they’d run out of fresh. Into the pot went 10 squashy cherry tomatoes, a (Big, Bad) Bramley (apple), 1 small red pepper, bunch spring onions, 2 garlics and a litre of stock. The result was Beetroot and Bramley Apple Soup. While out shopping I bought a kilo of Cumberland cocktail sausages to pop in the oven the minute we get back. Next I made a mega croc of spicily, interesting Carrot Borscht, then prepped everything for Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons and made Saffron Lemon Cous Cous, let it cool and then boxed it up and stashed it in the fridge where it will keep happily for several days. For The B, it is another late back from Chambers, now at the end of Week One of a Two Week case held on Zoom, American time. We have a late supper in front of the fire, a steaming bowl of Spag Bol with Parmesan, or Lamb Ragu as we call it now.


Woke up ridiculously early and decided to get up and out with my shopping list arriving at a deserted Turnham Green Terrace by 8.10. What a pleasure it was to shop at that time. The butcher, fishmonger, deli and several other shops were all lit up, their window displays immaculate. Didn’t see another customer and bought a kilo bag of frozen peeled raw prawns for the freezer, 2 Hedone white and 2 Hedone brown loaves plus several packs of Peter’s Yard sourdough crisp, dry round cheese crackers and my favourite crème fraiche (Neal’s Yard Dairy). While The B took himself off to an emergency appointment for an erupting thumb (he announced last night it had been troubling him all week and I hadn’t noticed), I headed for Richmond. His thumb was quickly sorted and drugs prescribed, arriving home just as we did from a lovely walk in Richmond Park. Lunch in the garden, the heaters on full beam and awning above us, was delightful. Everyone loved the thick and creamy borscht-style soup with a guessing game about the ingredients (curiously no-one guessed beetroot, although it was the dominating ingredient; that’s package cooked beets for you) followed by two overflowing bowls of crusty golden-brown cocktail sausages to wrap in buttered crusty fresh bread (more comments on how delicious Hedone bread is) with smears of Dijon mustard for the grown ups. Little mince tarts hot from the oven (thank you Blonde friend who brought a pot of her home-made mincemeat when last round for lunch with the other Blondes – there are 4 of us, all ex-Time Outers from the early days of the mag). Lovely lunch and surprisingly filling, so dinner was a lazy feast of crusty Diamond Jackets (my diamond-etched jacket potatoes), chilli and lemon-laced mushrooms and poached eggs, with a greedy topping of grated Cheddar and chopped flat leaf parsley.

The reference to Big, Bad Bramleys, incidentally, relates to an Elizabeth David Essay in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. So worth a read.