21 Feb 21

Here we are rattling towards the end of this short month and tomorrow Boris is speaking to the nation about his Lock Down road map. I suspect it won’t change my life much although my grandsons might be back in my life soon and WE can venture out, hopefully to a restaurant or two. Big question is will we be able to honour our Easter holiday in Rye.


I’ve seen a couple of articles recently about quick pickles but no mention of my latest discovery of pickling grapes. I can’t recommend it more highly, they are wonderful with cheese or cold cuts but an exciting wake up call in salads, like the one I made for lunch today. Tomato, cucumber, chunky slices of avocado with lettuce and lemony vinaigrette is seriously perked up with a few Pickled Grapes. Mine were black grapes and The B thought they were olives, commenting on how good the olives were. Tonight we are in for a treat, roast pork with crackling, Bramley apple sauce, sprouts and roast potatoes. Heaven. As always, I get ahead with the Apple Sauce (So Useful) and ponder the best way to ensure the scored skin that covers the top of the rolled joint will crisp into crackling. I decide to leave the joint out of the fridge uncovered for a couple of hours so the skin can dry before it’s oiled but not salted. The joint is small but lean, so I decide on a short, high temperature roast (220C/gas mark 7, 15 minutes a pound) and I’m delighted to check that the skin is bubbling nicely into perfect crackling. The joint is left to rest while the potatoes finish crisping. We eat the lot. No leftovers.


Boris speaks to the nation and reveals his long, slow route out of Lock Down. Nothing helps my household until the end of March, when we can have 6 people round for a meal in the garden. I immediately book a Blondes lunch on that first day 29 March. It will be fun planning the menu. Steak and kidney pie made with the leftovers from last week’s Steak and Kidney Stew with Mushrooms for supper, this time I use the Quo Vadis individual pie dishes which have a neat lip round the edge, perfect for pies topped with pastry rather than wrapped around the filling in the double pie tradition of my childhood. I serve the pies with small, par-boiled roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts and a tube of English mustard.


I feel in need of a gentle supper and as is often the case, have several leeks in the fridge. I love leeks, the versatile softy of the onion family. I also have a couple of packs of bacon lardons in the freezer and Arborio rice in my store cupboard, so it’s Leek and Bacon Risotto for supper. I have a busy afternoon planned and want to work into the evening, so do the preliminary cooking for the risotto, getting it up to adding rice and wine stage, so it will take 15 minutes or so to finish cooking. I really recommend this recipe, it’s an old favourite but this time is very heavy on leeks and the bacon is crisped then taken out of the dish, returned as a garnish with masses of freshly grated Parmesan. I also make one of those fridge tidy soups, carrot, onion, potato and spinach at the end gets a heft of flavour by starting the cooking with bacon lardons. Lock Down Soup with Lardons and Parmesan is really a template for using up whatever veg you have available to you. Peas or cabbage, for example, could be added towards the end of cooking and celery or celeriac would be good instead of or with carrot. It could be turned into a minestrone-style soup by adding short pasta or pearl barley.


I find it an quaintly old-fashioned luxury to be able to order meat from my butcher to be delivered to my door. While it’s a bit of a treat and they do it so well (www.mackenbros.co.uk), the whole operation painless and efficient, I miss my regular visits. Last week I ordered cocktail and full size Cumberland sauces for the freezer, stewing steak for a stew, kidneys to devil and add to steak and kidney pie and veal escalopes. Most of the sausages are still in the freezer – frozen individually on a plate in a plastic bag so they pack efficiently in the freezer and remain separate so I can defrost a few at a time but tonight it’s the turn of the veal escalopes. They are huge, well beaten but I want them thinner, so out with the rolling pin and sheets of baking parchment to sandwich them and I go for it. Not too viciously, steady and regular, increasing their size by about a quarter, so I cut them in half as I don’t have a pan large enough. The preparation is quick and simple and can be done in advance. First flouring the sheets of veal, shaking off excess, then passed through beaten egg so hide the flour then pressed into breadcrumbs, the egg working like glue to fix. Some people, egg and breadcrumb twice. I’ve never done that and don’t see the point. The escalopes can then be chilled (covered with a stretch of clingfilm). It’s wise to have everything cooked before you start on the escalopes because they are very quick, needing a brief frying in a small amount of hot oil, cooking for a couple of minutes a side until the crumbs are evenly golden. On this occasion I have very crisp frites (M&S cooked from frozen, the current favourite) and tinned French peas. With a wedges of lemon to squeeze over the top, this is a favourite meal of The Barrister.


As I listen to my Thursday morning R4 fix of Melvyn Bragg In Our Time, today about Marcus Aurelius and as always, fascinating, I make soup. It begins with mushrooms, dark chestnut mushrooms which I roast with lemon and olive and as they cook, I soften spring onion, adding torn stale sourdough bread, quickly frying it before spinach to wilt in the juices. Spinach and Roast Mushroom Soup is liquidized with a handful of coriander and tastes of all the ingredients at once, with a silky texture. I am also defrosting a side of pale naturally smoked haddock out of the freezer wondering how I’m going to cook it. I am in a mashed potato mood, so might turn it into a Dijon-flavoured fish pie with a mash topping with a thin gratinee finish. And that’s what happened, a fish-heavy, deep smoked haddock fish pie with hard-boiled egg and spinach. The B pronounced Smoked Haddock and Spinach Fish Pie the best fish pie he’s ever had.  As I check my phone, I see Jill Stein tweeting about a new Padstow restaurant she has under way with her chef son Charlie. Then I see a tweet from Rick, saying he’s on TV live from Padstow talking fish. Looking forward to that. I don’t think I’ve ever watched This Morning on ITV but it turns out that Phil Vickery is its chef. There he was in the studio kitchen with a long-legged, knobby, weird-looking spider crab and lemon sole lookalike megrim sole and the chat was all about renaming these Cornish stalwarts as Cornish crab and Cornish sole. I hope it brings popularity to them, the only possible reason for this unnecessary nomenclature, making more people aware of this fine seafood so abundant in Cornish waters (in particular). At the moment 85 and 90% respectively is shipped out to Spain where they can’t get enough of them. Chef Vickery did two simple delicious looking recipes and the one he did with megrim had me ordering some immediately.  Basically, the bony skirt around the fish is trimmed away, the head left on, then one side is opened up by slicing down the middle and underneath, scraping against the carcass, folding back these flaps. The fish is then floured, egg and bread-crumbed (panko, natch) then deep fried. The carcass, he said than then be deftly removed thanks to 3 cuts through the carcass he told us about (we didn’t actually see it happen), then the garlic butter added. It looked stunning, so I immediately ordered a couple of megrim from my fishmonger www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk, hopefully ready for collection on Wednesday.


If you’ve had trouble getting a table at The Wolseley, Soutine, Zedel or any of the other restaurants in the exemplary www.corbinandking.com chain, their homedining@corbinking.com, is a real treat and allows picking and choosing across the board for a home delivery meal. The dishes come neatly boxed in a plain brown box, delivered with an advance-advised one hour delivery slot (so helpful) with cooking instructions where necessary. Everything about the operation was seamless and carefully thought out. We chose duck terrine with apricot chutney and sourdough (£7.50) from The Wolseley and Coq au Riesling (£12.75) from Maison Soutine, with a lovely medley of lightly cooked seasonal green veg (£6) with a pat of herb butter and proper frites (£5) common to all the restaurants. The thick slice of terrine (out of the fridge for a hour before serving) had a wedge of pink duck in the middle and was beautifully seasoned and quite delicious, the apricot chutney a good accompaniment. Part-cooked jointed leg and thigh chicken just needed a quick blast in the oven with its creamy, baby mushroom-enriched sauce. This Coq au Riesling is one I could happily eat once a week. Check out the menu at www.thewolseley.com, deliveries Wed to Sat with 72 hours notice.


The generosity of the coq au Riesling portion from last night’s home supper delivery meant leftovers for our very late post-walk lunch. I made bruschetta with slightly stale bread splashed with a vibrant new season olive recommended by my friend Charles Carey who runs www.oilmerchant.co.uk. I’m trying the Extra Unrefined Olive Oil (£14, 500ml bottle from Waitrose) from Sindyanna of Galilee, a team of Arab and Israeli women following Fair Trade principles and channelling their profits back into Arab women’s education. I loved the fresh and vibrant yet creamy oil with its almost spicy, peppery finish. Super lazy supper of jacket potatoes hidden under a mound of grated cheese; Parmesan and Emmental.