28 March 21

A week that ends with the Easter bank holiday weekend but began with the beginning of the end of Lock Down 3. So Monday is lunch in the garden with friends. We feasted on prawn cocktail, smoked haddock risotto and roast rhubarb cocktail. What a joy to sit across a table with friends and then at the weekend to feast with family. Superb Secret Smokehouse d cut smoked salmon on Hedone brown sourdough toast in my photo.


Clocks have gone back but my household is ahead of the game as we’ve been up at 6.30 every morning for the past week. Anyway, we go for a mega walk, a lovely walk around the backstreets of Holland Park and Notting Hill, segueing into Hyde Park and all around that, back to Notting Hill where we parked the car. 17000 steps! Lunch is an impulse starving hungry purchase from Italian deli Speck, quarters of 3 pizzas and a mix of roast vegetables. The pizza was wolfed down, good thin base and toppings that survived a blast in my hot oven (prosciutto over something creamy was my favourite) and we were too full for the veg. Later, I turned the muddle of red pepper, aubergine and courgette into soup with prized duck stock from the freezer. It liquidized to an unappetising looking taupe colour that was delicious with a squeeze of lemon and crumble of feta. Supper was more stodge, delicious Nduja Baked Beans with Poached Eggs and Grated Cheddar piled over toast. Yum.


First day of slackening Lock Down controls, so I have my girlfriends, The Blondes, who date back to Time Out days way back when we were footloose and fancy free, for lunch. The weather is supposed to be a sea change from yesterday’s bluster and chill and by 9.30am I have the table laid outside in the garden but it is too windy for the awning. It promptly went back in 5 minutes after I’d put it out. I bluster about poaching prawns for Classic Prawn Cocktail and smoked haddock for Smoked Haddock Risotto with Parmesan and Chives. I made Marie Rose sauce, prep diced cucumber, shredded lettuce and chopped spring onions for the PC salad and get cracking on the risotto, taking it to half way stage, so it will only take 10 minutes or so to finalise. None of the Blondes knew that risotto could be so accommodating when I explained my opus operandi. Although my recipe calls for chives recipes past, I used flat leaf parsley for the final garnish and now think it is preferable. For pud, I roasted 1cm thick slices of forced (pale, lanky) rhubarb, lined up cut-side down on foil-lined roasting sheet. I squeezed over the juice of half a juicing orange and dusted the rhubarb with icing sugar. Roasted at 220C/gas mark 7 for about 10 minutes, no more, possibly less, it keeps its shape but is soft and molten. Trimmings are simmered with more orange juice and a spoonful of honey briefly until soft then forced through a sieve to make a small amount of thick rhubarb cream to glaze the roast rhub. It was piled over Neal’s Yard Greek yoghurt with a few pats of their crème fraiche. The lemony, creaminess of both was delicious with the slightly tart rhubarb and slipped down very nicely. A lovely quick and easy pud.  The B kindly donated a bottle of Whispering Angel rose, so we toasted him and our good fortune sitting under a cloudless sky and pretended it was warmer than it actually was. But a brilliant lunch all round. Made a late, last minute supper of Orecchiette, Roast Peppers, Tomatoes and Spinach with Halloumi. Orecchiette is the pasta that looks like little oriental straw sun hats and gathers sauces and sloppy pile-ups like roasted tomatoes and pepper with soft spinach beautifully. Delicious though this is on its own, I served it with slices of halloumi fried in a smear of hot oil until crusty and golden, delicious with a squeeze of lime.


For the second night running we were going to have a take away, The B picking it up on the way home from Chambers. Both nights he worked late, not home much before 9, so plans changed. Tonight I start making Halloumi and Herb Patties at about 6.30, leaving them to chill and firm in the fridge until whipping them out for their quick fry. The recipe dates back several years, remembered because I’m having a bit of a halloumi fest. I once went on a trip to Cyprus to watch it being made and love it’s dense texture and salty, minty flavour. I’d bumped into a neighbour rushing to buy 12 halloumi to take to France so she could make what she called halloumi burgers. In haste she garbled a recipe. Intrigued I had a go, later discovering she might have got the idea from Gordon Ramsey (Ultimate Home Cooking). It seems a strange collection of ingredients – carrots, courgette, mint, flat leaf parsley and eggs with the halloumi – but boy are they good. Serve them hot with a squeeze of lemon or lime . I served ours with home made oven chips made by blanching batches of frite-shaped sliced potatoes in plenty of boiling water, draining and cooling them on kitchen paper, then mixing with a spoonful of vegetable oil, spreading on a shallow roasting pan and roasting at 220C/gas mark 7 for 25 minutes or so until crisp and golden. A chilli hot salsa or crisp salad would go well. They are delicious cold, cut in slices and piled over salad.


Spent a happy morning cooking, making a big vat of pork ragu for the freezer, so I can give myself some time off. I follow the same routine, starting by softening onion, browning the meat with thyme from the garden, a dusting of flour then red wine bottle dregs, stock, tomatoes, a good seasoning of salt and pepper, then leave it to simmer very gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for at least 45 minutes but until most of the liquid has disappeared into the ingredients and the ragu is thick and creamy rather than sloppy wet. Once the seasoning is corrected with salt, pepper and a hint of lemon, it’s cooled then boxed up for the freezer. I used more minced pork to make Ginger and Lemon Pork Patties for supper, kept covered in the fridge to firm. I served them with the remains of a 800g jar of Spanish Navarrico brown lentils warmed through and topped with lightly cooked green beans, the first of the season. Highly recommended.


Most of the day spent trying to get ahead with lunch for eldest son Zach and family tomorrow, Good Friday. Poached prawns and made Marie Rose sauce for Classic Prawn Cocktail, so good earlier in the week. Main course is a humungous fish pie which I’m calling Family Easter Fish Pie and then – by request – Treacle Tart with Rhodda’s Cornish clotted cream. The fish pie turned out particularly well and was made with two of the diced fish mix from www.rickstein.com Fresh Fish Box Large. I’d also frozen half a dozen scallops and added them to the mix but that was a special treat, separating the corals from the scallop. I usually include smoked haddock in fish pie but that wasn’t in the mix and no-one missed its salty flavour.

Supper was one of the best ever Pizza Express pizzas; the thin, Romano base cooked to within an inch of its life, the topping American Hot with extra peperoni. A real treat.


We kicked off the Good Friday family lunch with a jug of bloody Mary made with Clamato (highly recommended) with a generous dash of Tabasco, stir of creamed horseradish and squeeze of lemon and plenty of black pepper. Made by son and very good indeed, perfect before prawn cocktails then fish pie with peas then treacle tart with clotted cream interspersed with ‘can we have the Easter egg hunt now…’. It was a lovely day and we drank superb rose, the stunning Whispering Angel.


Another lovely family lunch with The B’s family, this time starting with smoky London cure smoked salmon from the Secret Smokehouse (www.secretsmokehouse.co.uk) on crusty, toasted blinis with crème fraiche and chives from the garden. Again, with Whispering Angel rose to drink although we moved on to a light red with the main course. Roast leg of lamb laid over chopped onion with the lions share of a bottle of white wine, with small, very crusty roast potatoes, peas and slim, small carrots and gravy made with the copious juices was a triumph. The onions, though, were really, really delicious; soft and winey. Since one of my sons told me I never made enough roast potatoes (Henry), I start preparations with what I think is the right amount, double it and add a bit more. I thought we had a humungous amount for this lunch but we ate the lot. Goodness they were good (King Edward, the king potato for roasties – par-boiled and roughed up, cooked in goose and duck fat). Pud was Little Chocolate Tarts, a fiddle to make but easy enough requiring you to trust me. The recipe works and the little tarts will ‘hold’ overnight, the puff pastry staying crisp, the chocolate remaining bouffant. This lunch went on long into the afternoon. A visiting dog, the darling little Winston, ate or hid a grey brush but is forgiven.