Boris has spoken, told us about his road map out of Lock Down and it’s long and slow. Easter is off, the country unlocked for UK holiday rentals the following week, 11 April. Sadly, our Easter in Rye is not going to happen but happily we have a trip to Mousehole looming. The weather is all over the place but spring is around the corner. We hope.
Unusually for us, we have Sunday lunch today, just the two of us, a proper roast. It’s a very late lunch and comes after a long walk, so we fall upon roast topside with roast potatoes cooked in goose fat, roast carrots and buttered cabbage. I set the table, picking a few miniature daffs from the garden for a tiny vase for the table and we feast. Supper is leftovers; no spuds but plenty of beef thinly sliced and piled up with creamed horseradish in very fresh Hedone brown. A wonderful sandwich. We have enough leftover topside for another meal.
I have lamb fillet, big blousy tomatoes, several long, slim red peppers and a couple of big red onions waiting in my ready-to-cook, mise en place basket, destined, I thought, for a stew. The weather is uncharacteristically bright and deceptively summery, so much so I’ve put my washing on the line and I’m down to shirt-sleeves. I foolishly think I’ll be able to cook supper outside on the bbq. Needless to say, as the light begins to go, the air takes on a wintry chill and I end up roasting the veg and realise I have the making of roast peperonata, a lovely muddle of soft, gooey Mediterranean vegetables that I love with soft-poached eggs. Oh, well, I change course and marinate the lamb fillet cut in dice and later thread it on kebab sticks, the kebabs cooked on a griddle over the hob instead of on the bbq in the garden. The vegetables are quickly reheated together, piled in the middle of 2 warmed plates, topped with bright green petits pois with crusty, garlicky lamb kebabs on the side. I couldn’t resist a few frites too. Roast Peperonata, Peas and Lamb Kebabs was terribly good.
Decide to turn Sunday’s leftover topside into a richly flavoured cottage pie, using up leftover red wine. It begins, as these pies always do, by softening onion, adding chunks of carrot, then when both are cooked, adding a sifting of flour to thicken the ‘gravy’, then red wine and stock, simmering gently for a few minutes before the meat is folded in and then a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley before it’s left to cool. I intend to top it with mashed potato, which I did, adding a generous squeeze of lemon to lift the flavour, topping it with a thin gratinee finish (Parmesan and fine sourdough breadcrumbs). I called it Beef, Onion and Carrot Pie and it went down very well with buttered white cabbage liberally tossed with lemon and nutmeg. I’d needed to go out to buy potatoes for the mash and was tempted by particularly fine, big bunches of cavolo nero. Perhaps I’ll make a thick, chunky soup with it tomorrow.
Rang the fishmonger to find out whether he’s been able to get me a couple of Cornish sole, the fish formerly known as megrim. No, but he will try again for tomorrow. He ordered some in a couple of weeks ago, rare to see megrim in London, and they sat in the window, their rather insipid beige mottled skin not inspiring sales. John (I call him Johnny) worked down in Newlyn, so knew all about megrim, how good it was, how cheap and how the Cornish that eat fish (many don’t, particularly fishermen’s families) prefer it to lemon sole, which it resembles. I agree. So lucky Johnny, took several home. What’s going on down in Cornwall now, I don’t know, but pre-Brexit almost all the catch went to Spain. I make soup. Cavolo Nero and Bacon Soup was inspired by humungous bunches of this beautiful bobbly long, thin leafed black cabbage piled up under the canopy at one of my local fruit and veg stalls. I couldn’t resist it although I have 3 different cabbages awaiting my pleasure at home. Cavolo Nero went into a chunky vegetable soup with a hint of chilli and scraps of bacon, just the sort of soup one dreams of on these chilly, dull, wintry days. I’m slightly lost on what we might have for supper as I’d been banking on megrim and the only seafood I have in the freezer is prawns. I decide to make a simple curry with tomatoes and butternut squash (might not mention the latter when I describe what we’re eating as I think it’s second to celery in The B’s veg hate list). With lime, a gentle curry hit and tomatoes, he might be kidded into liking it. He was, Prawn, Butternut and Tomato Curry with basmati rice was a huge hit. So much so, I might be making it again.
Took Red to the vet for her six monthly check-up and I’m told she’s put on a few pounds and I should reduce her food. She’s like me and has Lock Down tummy syndrome. In her case, it’s too many treats and not enough walks, so she’s on a modest diet and increased exercise. It means I’m up and out early, back to our old schedule of two walks a day instead of Lock Down one. Instead of pet shop treats, she gets a carrot (amazingly, dogs love raw carrot) and I roast a load of them with quartered onions, adding ras al hanout for the last few minutes of cooking, to create Moroccan Roast Carrot Soup. Get a call from Johnny at the fish shop. My megrim coming tomorrow and I ask him to leave the heads on and trim the ‘skirt’. Tonight it’s my idea of a no-cook supper. Duck confit in the oven until the skin turns crisp and thin, frites cooked at the same time and Cassegrain petits pois (280g tin is perfect size for 2). Heaven.
I am taking a jar of Moroccan Roast Carrot Soup with me on a walk with darling friend Martha and her adorable nearly-two little daughter Lyra. When she was born we gave hera soft toy dog that looks a bit like Red. She calls it Red and it’s a favourite at the moment. When Red goes to stay with her friend Wilbur, Martha’s lurcher, Lyra likes to sit next to her, stroke her and talk to her. It is a mutual love affair and Wilbur doesn’t seem to mind. I’m also taking M a jar of my marmalade which I’m very happy to say is particularly good this year. I collect my two megrim (Cornish sole), head-on, fringe/skirt trimmed, ready to be given the feb (flour, egg and breadcrumb) treatment for lunch tomorrow. The B has treated us to a River Café vegetarian box for dinner tonight, so it will be megrim tomorrow. Out of the big box of goodies from the River Café, we have a meal composed of 4 beautifully trimmed Violetta artichokes cooked alla Romana, over cannellini beans with slow-cooked, sloppy roast tomatoes. Light and gorgeous. We had a slice from a whole RC lemon tart (one of the best) with a scoop of crème fraiche (also spectacularly rich and tasty; once again, must agree that RC ingredients are the best).
Lunch is my attempt at the way of cooking megrim/Cornish sole that I saw Phil Vickery demonstrate last week on This Morning on ITV. What intrigued me was his method of opening the top fillets of the fish like a book, then cutting the fish carcass in 3 places, saying it could be lifted out of the fish after cooking. I followed his instructions (photo and method can be found by googling Phil Vickery’s Cornish fish supper), so the fish ends up looking like a boat with slices of parsley and garlic butter melting in the middle. Oh my, I won’t be attempting that again. It’s quite a palaver in a domestic kitchen but the flavour at the end was amazingly delicious. I will, though, be asking my fishmonger to get me more megrim and ask him to remove the fillets so I can fry them in egg and breadcrumbs and serve then with quickly made garlic butter. This recipe would work with any flat fish, say plaice or lemon sole but I do urge you to get to know megrim; order it specially. It is a bargain and absolutely gorgeous, very similar to Lemon Sole. Megrim Fish Fingers with Garlic Butter is going to become a regular in my house and there are many other recipes for the fish now known as Cornish Sole in my book The Fish Store. Tonight we will watch Meeting Jim, the tribute to Jim Haynes, my old boss in the late Sixites, when I had just moved to London and shared a huge flat on the Chelsea fringes with a load of my then boyfriend’s friends from Hampshire. I was 18, I think, and shared a room with Tessa (best pals ever since, although for years based in Sydney) and borrowed a car from one of the guys in the flat to drive to the Arts Lab in Drury Lane, Covent Garden to work for Jim. There are many stories to tell about that period of my life, but that’s for another time, suffice to say that Jim took me sometimes to one of the oldest Pizza Express restaurants in nearby Coptic Street (the first, in Wardour Street, opened in 1965). I’d never eaten pizza before but learnt how to roll wedges (from the point to the outside) and eat it fast before it turned rubbery. Jim could eat two while I struggled with one. Anyway, we decided on Pizza Express pizzas for supper tonight before we watched Jim.