We’re halfway through a few days staying in a brilliantly converted little cottage tucked away down a private road with views across inland waterways that lie parallel to the long, windy beach at West Wittering. It’s cold but the days start off bright, turning very, very cold, rainy and blustery by afternoon. Comfort food is the order of the day. Back home, the week went by in a flash but not before I’d come up with a fabulous cod and white bean dish and had a few thoughts on porridge.
Amongst the food I’d brought with us to West Wittering is the remains of the Curried Parsnip Soup which I’d frozen to bring with us. We had the last of it for lunch after a brisk, breezy walk, lashing with rain by the time we got back. A crisp salad and cheese with toasted sliced bread left by the owners assuaged our hunger. The bread was one of those loaves that look as if it’s a farmhouse but is actually more akin to Mother’s Pride. No matter, we were saving ourselves for bangers and mash with peas and red wine onion gravy after an afternoon watching England get thrashed in the rugby (by France).
Set off after breakfast for a long walk, leaving The Barrister to take a conference call to some distant land and shuffle his papers. Made So Simple Leek and Potato Soup for lunch, the simply simple one from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. It’s just leeks and potatoes, salt and a knob of butter at the end. Delicious, perfect lunch. It’s ages since I’ve chosen to eat iceberg lettuce but it was all we could buy locally and was actually rather nice (salad snob) in sandwiches. We discovered when we arrived that the deep freeze at the cottage wasn’t working. In fact it was positively hot and the fridge freezer made a lot of whooshing water noise. This morning we realized that the fridge wasn’t working either, so had to throw away the rest of the roast beef, a whole pork fillet and rest of the sausages. Decided that it was wise to chuck out most of our cheese too so off we trudged to the butcher and bought a chicken with a couple of sausages to roast alongside. Amazingly the chicken had giblets. Can’t remember the last time I bought a chicken that had giblets tucked inside. Cooked up the neck for stock to make gravy, then picked the meat off the bones for Red. She also got the liver, fried. Lucky dog. Had annoyingly restless night and at some point, when I’m not sure if I was asleep or awake, found myself thinking about spanakopita, that lovely flaky pastry, eggy spinach Greek tart-cum-pie. I asked myself to make a shopping list of everything I would need: filo pastry, olive oil, eggs, spring onions, spinach, Greek feta and Parmesan. I did it and was incredibly pleased with myself. (Why I can’t imagine; I’ve been making spanakopita for years and know the recipe inside out).
Big clear up and last walk, then final lunch by liquidizing the remains of the leek and potato soup – wonderfully creamy and somehow quite different – then chicken leftovers with more iceberg made into hefty, greedy sandwiches with mayonnaise and cherry tomatoes on the side. Pack up and leave for London. Arrive as the light begins to fade, The B pulling up near Waitrose, so I can nip in and load up with something for supper. I fancied fish and really wanted hake but made do with two (tiny) thick fillets of cod. My plan was to make a very quick and simple white bean lash-up with diced tomato and a pack of those little mezze chorizo sausages then steam the fish on top. Cod with Chorizo and Butter Beans was a triumph even though I say it myself. So simple to make and the perfect light and easy mid-week supper.
Busy with this and that so decided on a recce in my second freezer which is more of a store cupboard and not kept in the kitchen, looking to see what I could defrost for supper. Pulled out a small half leg of goat. As it defrosted pondered how to cook it, thinking it was probably best suited to a long, slow roast or better still, cut off the bone and turned into tagine or another kind of stew. I did e mail email@example.com who sold us the goat box but no-one replied, so I decided on a slow roast mainly because I fancied some roast potatoes and there were sprouts in need of eating up. The meat was tough but once you got used it, it didn’t matter because it was so richly flavoured. The roasties, cooked in goose fat were fluffy, crusty and gorgeous but it wasn’t my finest dinner.
Tomorrow The B is off at the crack of dawn, flying out to Dubai for 10 days on a big case, so he gets to choose what we have for supper. No surprise when he suggests veal escalope with home made oven chips and French tinned peas. As always at www.mackenbrothers.co.uk I ask whoever serves me for very thin escalopes, as thin as £1 coin I say. This time I’m served by the only woman who works there and she does me proud and pounds both to double their size, just as I like them. The escalopes end up so big, I cut them half before I get to work with f.e.b. I do this on the paper the escalopes are wrapped in to save on washing up. So it’s a lavish dusting of flour on both sides, shaking away excess, then swiped through beaten egg and pressed into home made (or bought panko) breadcrumbs. They can be prepared way in advance, laid out on a plate, covered with a stretch of clingfilm and stashed in the fridge. I’ve been known to do the preparations 24 hours in advance. The chips too can be started in advance. Just prepare the potatoes as if you were going to fry them in hot oil, but blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and spread out on a lightly oiled, shallow roasting tin, turning when cool or sprinkling a little more oil over the top. I roast them, attempting to turn half way through, for about 30 minutes, temp 200C. Chase the chips off the tin with a metal spatula and toss with salt and finely snipped chives. Yum.
Remembered my spanakopita shopping list and shopped for it intending to make it this afternoon. I’m ashamed to say I never got round to it and ended up throwing the spinach away a week later. I’ve been almost through the door at Henry Harris’s latest addition to his four-strong pub chain with Harcourt Inns, but it’s been hard to get a table and Christmas came along and then it went on the back burner. Today I’m having lunch with another old friend of Henry’s, another mate from the foodie world. The Crown is a famous landmark in Chiswick. It’s a huge redbrick building with an imposing wrought iron fence around it. I remember it as some kind of police station but a huge makeover turned it into an Italian joint called Carvosso’s. My old doctor had her retirement party there and it still smacked of its previous life. It’s emerged from this latest makeover far better placed to succeed. For a start it’s got Henry Harris (ex Bibendum, ex Fourth Floor at Harvey Nicks and most recently ex Racine, his wonderful French restaurant in Knightsbridge). It’s a pub at the front of the building with a comparatively small bar and snug bar to the left, then the main long narrow dining room to the right, giving onto another semi-private room and through Crittall windows, a similarly large outside space. There’s some interesting art on the walls and the look is comfortable and modern, tables ranged down each side. We were hoping Henry might be there but the food that emerged from the kitchen was very good indeed. We both had a passable duck liver and foie gras parfait with toasted sourdough (Hedone?) and red onion marmalade, then a superbly pan-roasted fillet of cod with pommes Anna and a clever mussel salsa. With a glass of wine each, the bill was surprisingly steep and we regretted there was no set lunch. If there was, we’d probably be back in no time at all. One bad point: there were only a few other customers and our order was taken first but our food didn’t arrive first and service, though pleasant, was very, very slow. Perhaps we were classed as Ladies Who Lunch.
At last I have respite from my knee injury giving me the first decent nights sleep in ages. Spent most of the morning dozing in and out of sleep with the radio on, forced out of bed by hunger. Had a change from my usual fruit salad and yoghurt with porridge. I’d forgotten how much I love it – the nutty Flahavan’s Irish porridge is the one for me – topped with a dollop of Bramley apple puree over an even bigger dollop of creamy, sheep’s yoghurt. It looks a bit like a soft fried egg. Having porridge again prompted A Few Thoughts on Porridge, a nice read even if you don’t like the stuff. Pottered about having one of those sessions when everything you do leads to a dreary household job. You know the sort of thing, you open a cupboard or a drawer in search of a particular item and the only way to find it is a full-on clear-out, clean and put back together. That happened to me with my oven tray cupboard. Nightmare but I open the cupboard regularly now, just to admire my work.
Before he set off for the Big Case in Dubai, I noticed in the fridge The Barrister had bought me a pack of fresh Italian pork sausages with fennel. I love these sausages and tonight I roast them slowly and ate 3 with apple and potato puree, the rest chopped up and later added to a two-of-everything-fridge-scrounge-soup I made later. There was a craze for flavoured mashed potato when I was a restaurant critic in the eighties and some of the best – and this is one of them – survived. Pureed, very slightly sweetened Bramley (cooking) apple folded into buttery mashed potato is a sublime combination, the apple lending a different fluffy texture. Another favourite is saff mash invented by Simon Hopkinson when he was starting out at Bibendum. That is stunning in a different way. It’s bright yellow! The first version was created with fish in mind, and you’ll find the fish version in my book In Praise of the Potato (page 40). Hake with Saff-Mash Chard is a classic in my house, the saff-mash also often used as a topping for fish pie.