If I’m lucky, I write My Week in Food a week after it’s happened. I aim to be writing it on Monday or Tuesday but that doesn’t always work out for all manner of reasons. 13 June was a week of record weather, so hot to be very distracting but as I write, the mugginess has given way to thunderstorms and right now it’s pouring with rain and the air thin. I’m digging into the freezer for food to make simple suppers, inspiration to suit whatever the weather has to throw at us.
I’m what you might call a Court widow as The B is weekend working again, off to Chambers to contemplate a forest of papers about his on-going and very demanding Case. Lucky boy gets one of my lunchbox salads so he doesn’t have to waste time searching for a sandwich. Every day I think I should make two salads, because I end up not bothering for me, rarely even sitting down for my lunch. Anyway, today he’s got golden-yolked, hard-boiled egg over chunks of feta cheese with mint, folds of prosciutto cotto on leftover green beans and peas, shredded crisp lettuce and dollops of mayo. Not bad eh? I’m not sure what to do about supper. I have a large piece of smoked haddock in the freezer leftover from the whole fillet I bought to make Smoked Haddock with Dijon Sauce, Mash and Chives. Kedgeree is a very good dish to make when there is a paucity of smoked haddock, the dish bumped up with a creamy, curried sauce and several hard-boiled eggs. That’s it then. I get all the advance prep done – poaching the fish in seasoned milk, the beginnings of the sauce and rice and boil the eggs – so it’s a quick assembly job. As always seems to happen, I have leftover rice. I put it in a plastic box when it’s cooled down and stash it in the fridge.
I’m defrosting chicken thighs to make kebabs (Chicken Kebab with Moutabal) for a barbecue tonight, deciding I’m going to prove that a rice salad with leftover rice from Sunday’s kedgeree will be the perfect accompaniment. I’ve always hated rice salads. My mum used to think they were good for a family party and the pinnacle of excitement was adding chopped raw red pepper, which I still find indigestible. Anyway, I buy my first broad beans of the season, not for the first time regretting I let our allotment go, because we grew plenty there. Broad beans aren’t exactly value for money in the shops and though it is very pleasurable to pop the beans out of their white furry beds it’s always an expensive mystery how some pods are packed with beans and others have just one or two extra large beans. I am obsessive about blanching then peeling away their rubbery white sheaths and sit in a shady spot in the sunny garden to do this. I also cook peas and skinny green beans, dice tomato and lashings of herbs and am still not satisfied. It’s still too bland. As I gaze out of the kitchen window my eyes fall on a lemon, a half used head of garlic and a few sprigs of parsley in a canister on the window ledge. Ah, I know what will make this salad. It’s gremolata, that useful perk-up of finely chopped garlic, parsley and lemon zest. So, that’s it, I am happy with Green Rice Salad with Gremolata.
Oh dear, I get the news that eldest son has proved positive for the dreaded Covid. He is one jab down, so theoretically will get off lightly. So it’s back to home schooling and the fear that the rest of the household will succumb. Spend the morning making a huge vat of Pork Ragu for them and pack a bag of vital standby food with a few strong-smelling roses to put by his isolation bedside at the top of the house. They are lucky to have a self-contained unit with a small, very private balcony, so he can have the door and windows open during this steamy, hot weather. For our supper I make a version of crab pasta (Crab Casarecce with Tomato and Parsley) this time prompted by distractedly making the River Café-learnt trick of chopping up several chillies to immerse in olive oil, thus softening the flavour of the chillies and giving the oil a burst of energy. I often do this, both chillies and oil are so useful in so many dishes. I also have several roasted tomato halves boxed up in the fridge. This is another thing I make regularly that is even more useful. I slide the tomatoes off their skins and into the hot pasta, this time tubular penne. For a change, I flavoured the crab meat with masses of chopped coriander rather than the usual flat leaf parsley. This variation of an old favourite inspired by a River Café stalwart was so good I want to pass on the idea. Not very originally, I’m calling the recipe Penne with Crab and Roast Tomatoes.
Poor son now truly under the paralyzing grip of Covid and not interested in food, just wants to sleep. Soup, I thought, what can I quickly turn into soup so tempting he will have to eat it. Pea Soup with Bacon Croutons is an old family favourite dating back to when I was researching and writing my second cookbook, A Celebration of Soup. It’s such a useful soup to know because there are invariably frozen peas in the freezer and if there are a few spring onions and packet of lardons, that is the full ticket although I’ve made all manner of cheats and it’s always delicious. I’m defrosting a piece of skirt steak with thoughts of a healthy Thai Beef Salad for supper. The great thing about Thai salads is that they rarely include oil. This one has a small amount of toasted sesame oil mixed with soy sauce smeared over the slices of steak and it really makes the dish. There are leftovers, so The B gets to have that in his lunchbox with some of the pea soup. Both, I’m pleased to say, are a huge hit.
I’m defrosting two cartons of minced pork thinking I might make meatballs for us and for the Young Family. The question is, once made and mine are stuffed with soft onion, thyme, garlic, lemon zest and spinach, how shall I cook them. Fry, poach or roast, that is the question. I decide to look through my various Scandinavian cook books and find meatballs in curry sauce in the November section of Trina Hahnemann’s big, glossy Scandinavian Cookbook. I copy her idea of poaching meatballs in bay-flavoured broth, using the enhanced liquid to make a sauce with carrots and leeks (in my case), so it becomes a complete meal. I’ve made a note to cook Trina’s curried meatballs soon and will definitely make my Pork Meatballs in Lemon Gravy with Carrots and Leeks again. It really is a lovely meatball change.
What a treat to go out for supper, out to our favourite Club, the Chelsea Arts Club. The lovely garden is a Moorish tent city with various tents-cum-marquee dining rooms but I’m very glad The B elected to have an inside table. It was a very tempting menu and I loved my light and puffy twice-baked cheese soufflé with onion puree. It looked like a pretty, pale pudding, the neat little ramekin-size soufflé plump and even, sitting on its pale onion puree and dusted with pale cheese. It was angel food, tasting deliciously strongly, I suspect, of mature Cheddar. Very good indeed. The B had tiger prawn and smoked haddock fishcake with chilli jam and frisse. That too was delicious, a single, odd-shaped golden brown crusty carapace giving on to a firm, well seasoned mix of seafood with a sweet and spicy chilli jam and few curly salad leaves on the side. He had duck breast with Dauphinoise and roast chicory, roast cherry and orange sauce. Duck and potatoes disappeared quickly but he left two, limp and slippery chicory (which I would have loved but was too full to try and inveigle onto my plate). My choice of cod fillet with white bean puree and scraps of pancetta was perfect; the cod flaking apart, the skin crisp but not enough bean puree. The later was swiped in ‘arty’ swirls next to the fish; I would have preferred a good mound of it. The cauliflower was undercooked but pretty with its golden scorched surface. All in all, we loved it. And such a treat to sit across a table in civilized surroundings we both really love. A walk round the rain-soaked garden and back home in time for the news.
An early nip to the fishmongers (www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk) paid dividends and I bought enough cod and smoked haddock to make several fish pies, a stupendous boiled spider crab and nets of mussels and clams. At nearby www.bayley-sage.co.uk I stock up with treats for the Young Family, the household dynamic now changing as son Zach emerges from Covid but his wife is struck down. As their youngest son put it; ‘first it was mummy feeding daddy in bed and now its daddy feeding mummy in bed’. I buy home made-looking Pizza Margherita for the young boys, a canister of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) for Zed, Hedone brown sourdough and Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts) for both households. I drop all these goodies off at the Young Family, collect a couple of dishes for the fish pies I’m about to make them and head back past the flower shop to buy both households big, cheerful bunches of golden sunflowers. I make fish pie slightly different every time but the general rule is a generous proportion of smoked haddock with cod, prawns if I have them, hard-boiled egg, chopped flat leaf parsley and a well-seasoned béchamel sauce made with the fish poaching liquid. The topping is either mash or boiled, sliced potatoes dredged with finely grated Parmesan. There are several fish pies in Recipes, easy to find using the search engine but the closest to what I made this morning, is Family Easter Fish Pie. There was enough of everything to make two individual pies for The B and me for tonight following on from a few spider crab claws with mayo and a slice of super-fresh Hedone brown sourdough. Yum, yum, yum. The fish pie was fantastic but the spider crab totally disappointing, the hard-to-crack claws undercooked, so the meat was a slippery slop of pale pink. Not attractive at all. I try several and they are all the same. I plan to take it back on Tuesday when the shop is open again and want to know if they boiled them from live, or whether they were boiled in Cornwall and transported. Either way, I am expecting to get my money back. Really disappointed.