26 Jan 20

Marmalade making dominates my week using the last licks in the pan to marinate chicken for chicken and mango biryani. Cooked the first curried parsnip soup of the winter and was so pleased I did, it’s such a wonderful soup. Really pleased, too, with a chicken and sausage gratin-cum-pie made with leftovers from Sunday’s roast chicken dinner. Beef ragu was very successful with a hint of spicy nduja but the highlight of my cooking week was revisiting Eggs Masala.


A bright, cold morning summons us from our beds and out for a walk in Richmond Park. It’s very wet underfoot after all the torrential rain, so it’s slipping and sliding, me hanging onto The B fearful of a fall. If I fell at this point, in my post injection torn meniscus knee state, it would be a travesty. We turn into a wooded part of the Park, en route for The Victoria, a favourite walk-and-pub-lunch spot tucked away in a Sheen backwater. We both have a very good wild mushroom soup served with a swirl of truffle oil and a hunk of lightly toasted but noticeably stale focaccia. The soup is thick and fluffy, a cappuccino colour with soft, creamy little nuggets of chestnut at the bottom of the bowl, a delicious combination which I scoop greedily with my bread. We share freshly cooked little squiggles of crispy squid to drag across a little bowl of mild wasabi and lime mayo and a stupendous platter of artisan charcuterie, pickles and more toasted focaccia, this time fresher and altogether better. Roast chook and all the trimming for supper, cooked ‘wet chicken-style’ with half a bottle of white wine and lemon. Plenty of cloves in the milk seasoning for bread sauce.


Lovely relaxed morning of cooking; first Curried Parsnip Soup, one of my all-time favourites, then sausages for another version of sausage ragu for the grandson’s supper and a Skirt and Mushroom Stew for mine. Sliced a 500g piece of skirt steak in 5cm wide strips, dusted with seasoned flour and quickly browned in batches in hot oil, transferring to a Le Creuset pan as each batch is done. Add dregs of a bottle of red wine (about 150ml), slug of balsamico and 200ml stock, simmering gently giving the odd stir as the liquid thickens, knocking the flour off the meat. In a separate pan, fried a diced onion, adding thickly sliced large mushroom when the onion is slippery soft, tossing until the mushrooms begin to turn glossy. Mix onions and mushroom into the meat, cover with a sheet of parchment, pressing it to touch the food leaving an over hang (trimmed to 2cm) caught by the lid. Cooked in the oven at 150C for 2 hours (or until the meat is meltingly tender, the gravy thick and dark). Mash and sprouts with this.


Pick the remains of Sunday’s chicken off the carcass and decide I have plenty if it’s mixed with chunks of leftover sausage, softened leeks and onion to make a lovely gratin-cum-piewhich I called Cumberland Chicken Gratin Pie. All the ingredients are held in a lemony sauce and I leave the mix to cool before covering the middle section with leftover mash, edging it with slices of blanched potato. With a small amount of breadcrumbs mixed with Parmesan over the top, it emerges crusty, golden and irresistible. Good with peas.


Call early at the fishmonger (www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk) for supper inspiration and left with a net of clams, smoked salmon and a little pot of roll mops or marinaters, as we call them down in Mousehole, for lunch. I’m greeted with, ‘you’re the second foodie this morning, I’ve just had Rick Stein in here’. He bought (whole) smoked mackerel, one of the top favourites in the chill counter (along with equally exceptional Manx kippers) that fly out of the shop, so good they are worth crossing town for. I love stroking the meltingly slippery fish off the backbone onto fresh Hedone brown sourdough with unsalted butter and a good dollop of creamed horseradish. Get home and release the clams from their net and agitate in a big bowl of water until it runs clear. Will it be spaghetti vongole or something a bit different. Decide to consult Rick S on Spain and my every day Spanish bible, 1080 Recipes, by Simone and Ines Ortega (worth buying for the beautiful crayon drawings alone; in fact I wanted to model my Dinner Tonight book on it but the publisher deemed it to lengthy) and decided to adapt a favourite Spanish White Beans with Clams recipe.


Settle down to making the first batch of marmalade with recipe and tips posted On Making Marmalade. As the distinctive smell of oranges and sugar wafts around the kitchen I start to think about supper. My fridge is full of eggs; quite why I have 18 of them, I am not sure but suddenly curried eggs or Eggs Masala, to give it its proper name, pops into my head. This is a lovely recipe, an old friend I haven’t visited for years. It’s very simple and quite delicious, a curried onion and tomato gravy stuffed with halved hard boiled eggs. It’s a cheerful looking dish, yellow and white against a terra cotta coloured sauce, the colours and flavours pointed up with fresh coriander. I like this with boiled basmati, mango chutney and scoop of creamy yoghurt.


Second batch of marmalade is underway with the bonus of great Radio 4 on in the background. First up is the conclusion of Jackie Kay’s Trumpet that has been serialized all week, then Anne Enright on Desert Island Discs. She sounded such a great woman and I loved her choice of music, just perfect for my mood as I chopped, stirred, washed my hands for the umpteenth time, fretted over setting point and finally poured the golden nectar into sterilized jars. A Case of You by Joni Mitchell is classed D.I.D music and so is Leonard Cohen’s melodic drone Tower of Song. Finally, Mozart’s Soave di ail vento from Cosi fan Tutte. As is always the case every time I make marmalade and I remember both my mother and her mother faced the same dilemma, there is always some left in the pan but not enough to fill a jar. This time I made Marmalade Chicken Biryani with Mango, the chicken sliced and marinated in marmalade. It really was very good, something I shall return to and recommend you do too. This lovely cooking day also included making Nduja Ragu, the spicy, porky paste which is an increasingly popular Calabrian seasoning which adds a hint of heat and richness to ragu. It cooked long and slow with carrot, tomato and red wine, the beef melting into a thick, luscious terracotta coloured sauce for pasta. I froze it to take with us to West Wittering tomorrow.


Up early and off to West Wittering for a few days, my chill bag chilled and packed with emergency provisions (nduja ragu, pasta, smoked salmon, bread, wine, fruit, butter, lemons; you know the sort of thing), so we can avoid shopping for a day or two if we want. Our rental is charming, a delightful little cottage down a lane that runs parallel with the famous long, blustery beach, with inlets, boggy stretches of furze and constant murmurations so amazing they stopped us in our tracks. We dump our bags and head for the pub, The Old House At Home, which came highly recommended. The place was heaving, the bar more of a restaurant than a pub bar, packed, so we headed for what used to be called the children’s room. It too was busy with families. We weren’t in the mood for steak, fish and chips or a scampi kind of meal, so ordered chicken and bacon and cheese and chutney toasties with skin-on fries. Neither sandwich was great, in fact although the ciabatta bun was hot from the oven and very crisp, the cheese was so minimal it hardly featured. Good salad though. Despite our supplies, we headed for the butcher, Paul Tessier, also highly recommended and stocked up with sausages, pork tenderloin and a rib of beef plus cabbage, leeks, carrots and potatoes. Cooked the beef for supper with fluffy roast potatoes and shredded cabbage tossed with butter and lemon juice and made gravy with red wine and cabbage liquor. Very nice and we have plenty of beef leftover for sandwiches.