Tomorrow is the start of post-Christmas and New Year celebrations fading into the background. I’m a grass widow for the next couple of weeks, quietly getting on with my own life as The B hits the deck at 6.30am and returns home at 9pm exhausted and hungry after eyes down on a big Case. It’s dreary, compounded by no booze. I’m still on half speed due to my knee problem but we are eating well. Cod tail is my latest crush; roasted first then turned into fishcakes. It’s a fishy week.
I’m up early by default but love getting to the Chiswick Farmers Market as it unfolds (at 10am), beating the Frenchies to the skirt steak from the butcher stall (www.marchhousefarm.co.uk). This once very cheap, shaggy, quick or very long and slow cook steak is butchered in good size pieces, bagged up sous vide-style, so ready for the freezer. I’ve always got a few pieces, usually around 500g, in my freezer ready for steak frites or Cornish pasties. It’s okay for stews but not the greatest. The butcher stall is in the centre of the market and a magnet for its often smoky bbq burgers and sausages. There is always a good choice of meat cuts, lots of lesser-knowns like Jacob’s ladder and always offal but today I’m after sausages, which are a speciality, a chicken and maybe mince. Sunday night is often roast chicken, bread sauce and roast potatoes, with sprouts or cabbage or whatever greens are good. Today I stagger home with a full and heavy ruck-sack with a sprout stalk over my shoulder swaggering along with Red, dragging her away from the pet food stall. Tonight I pop a few sausages (oiled and in their own pan) in the oven – always good with roast chicken – and roast parsnips instead of potatoes. I always peel parsnips for roasting, cut them into roughly same size lengths, taking the pointy end as a guide, so usually quartering the fat part lengthways, and boil for 5 minutes or so before roasting. I lay them out while still hot in a shallow roasting tin with a dab of butter and splash of veg oil smeared out the tin first. I like them nice and crusty, so turn after about 20 minutes.
Boringly bad knee day, so did very little and raided the freezer and the store cupboard for supper. I’d had a couple of ITSU miso easy soup sachets (useful pack of 5 sachets) for lunch and thought vaguely that I might make a noodle dish using another one for stock, adding raw prawns, peas and leeks and chilli with a mound of coriander. In the end I craved creamy food with comforting pasta, so decided to make a lemony béchamel sauce to poach raw prawns with a crumble of Greek feta cheese adding peas for their texture and sweetness. The result, Fusilli Prawns with Peas and Feta, is accompanied by a photo of the window of my fish shop (see below) because I forgot to take a pic of the dish.
Arrived late, just before closing at my fishmonger on Turnham Green Terrace. The website,
www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk, often crashes but I can tell you I’ve been going here since the shop opened, transferring from a market stall in Covent Garden’s Apple Market in the eighties. It’s had it’s ups and downs but is very good at the moment, the staff charming and helpful. There was hardly any fish on display when I arrived but a dig behind the scenes produced the last cod in the shop, a plump cod tail, plenty for 4 meals. I snapped it up although what I’d really wanted was a fillet of their un-dyed smoked haddock. A quick re-think. I decided to roast it and serve it with mayonnaise, green beans and chips. Rather than make chips, I managed to get the last pack of frozen chips at Waitrose; a 900g bag of Aunt Bessie’s crinkle chips. They were actually pretty good, although I’ve had much better. The fish cooked perfectly at 200C for 20 minutes seasoned only with a smear of olive oil and generous squeeze of lemon, given a 5 minute rest before peeling away the skin to reveal the glistening, pearly fillets. Lovely supper.
For supper tonight, I made 5 plump fish cakes with leftover cod and was lucky to have almost exactly the same weight of mashed potato in need of eating up. Mixed with an egg yolk, saving the white to whisk as part of the FEB (flour, egg and breadcrumb). I like giving fishcakes a ‘surface’; a word I forever associate with my mother in relation to strawberries; ‘I like a surface’, by which she meant caster sugar. The fishcakes were quickly fried in hot oil, then finished off in the oven, so plenty of time to make a Spinach Sauce flavoured with nutmeg to go with them (Cornish Sea Trout Fishcakes is a very similar recipe, easy to adapt). Even though there is potato in most fish cakes, it always seems vital to me to have chips too. Luckily, I still had half a packet of Aunt Bessie’s crinkle chips, and they were perfect with this lovely supper. 900g at £1.80 is quite a snip although d.i.y would obviously be cheaper and probably more satisfying.
Finally managed to buy some smoked haddock to make Smoked Haddock Soufflé, one of the best soufflés ever. I used my long time tried and tested recipe from The Fish Store book, also made a very Dark Mushroom Soup.
It is hard to beat the excitement of watching the soufflé rise and change colour from a pale fluffy mix to a crisp golden dome as it surges forth, bursting up the dish. The B wanted more chips and did better than me, making it to M&S for their very good triple cooked frozen chips. I used my second oven for the chips, turning it to the highest setting and managed to cut their cooking time in half so they were ready at the same time as the soufflé.
Time again for a Blondes catch up (old friends from early days of Time Out) and this time I’m hosting lunch. It’s cold and wintry, so wanted to start with a soup and settled on a sloppy onion soup to chase away colds and sniffles, and zizzed it up with pheasant stock from the freezer. It’s very simple to make, just an impossibly large number of onions, finely sliced and cooked very gently, stirring occasionally, until shrunken, lightly golden and very sloppy. A dusting of flour, small bundle of thyme, then stock stirred in, stirring as it comes to the boil then simmered gently for at least 15 minutes, seasoning adjusted with salt, pepper and lemon juice. I’d promised fish and chips and decided I’d roast another cod tail which we nailed with my home made Tomato and Capsicum Ketchup and big chunky chips (2 x 600g bags of triple cooked chips from M&S). I’d also promised treacle tart for pudding. There was a slight glitch as far as I was concerned, because I forgot to switch on the timer when I nipped upstairs to check e mails and it overcooked, so the top was on the crusty side of crusty. This has happened before, so I know that it can be solved by a quick warm in the oven. Actually it was quite wonderful, the usually soft, gooey tart had a crisp top layer complemented by thin crisp pastry. Seconds all round, perfect with the very good vanilla ice cream from Fouberts on Turnham Green Terrace www.fouberts.co.uk. Being a greedy sort of girl, I had plenty of room for a supper of veal escalope and tinned French peas.
When was the last time you had Aylesbury duck? In my case it was years ago, probably in my days as a restaurant critic. I bought one without realizing, having asked for duck at the butcher and it came out of the deep freeze, the only duck they had. It was huge and could easily have fed four but served us very well, first roasted (skin pierced thoroughly with a fork, placed in a rack within a deep roasting tin and roasted at 180C for 90 minutes, pouring off the rendered fat half way through) served with crisp little cubes of potato with bacon, cabbage and orange gravy, then leftovers turned into an exquisite orange-zest flavoured shepherd’s pie. The carcass made a vast amount of extremely rich and interesting stock. Oh yes, and that big bowl of fat on standby for roasting potatoes. The jewel at the bottom of the fat bowl, was a half inch thick layer of exquisite Bovril-like jelly.