It’s 6.30am, the sun is beaming down, the tomato plants have grown several inches overnight, the heatwave seems entrenched. We love it. Living outside is heaven. The bbq is fired, salads are made, cooking is quick and easy with emphasis on fish. Read on.
The B is working, up and out of the house not long after dawn. It’s my first day when I am not conscious of The Fall, my aching back inhibiting my walking. So, I’m happy to be off to the farmers market (www.thefoodmarketchiswick.com) and as always buy far too much and struggle back, stopping often with my heavy load. I buy a chicken and piece of butterflied shoulder of lamb from the excellent butcher at the market (www.marchhousefarm.com). They motor down from Melton Mowbray and for the first time in ages I buy one of their pork pies. Now if you want a good pork pie (and excellent sausages), remember them; their pork pies are like home made, very good home made. Indeed, they are home made. The pastry is eat-all, the pie swollen and well-filled with well-seasoned herby pork mix with delicious jelly around it. I’ll be buying more of them. My other favourite stall has pole position as far as I’m concerned, just at the entrance to the market. Greek olive oil, feta and other cheese, jars of crushed olives and other condiments, I love this stall. I buy a couple of packs of Greek feta and a jar of his Cretan olive tapenade with feta, oregano and thyme. This is delicious spread on toast or in a sandwich with slivers of feta and slices of tomato. For supper I roast the lamb over chopped onion with lots of rosemary and bay from the garden. It’s half a shoulder, not very large, so just 30 minutes in a hot oven, rest for 10 and slice chunkily, to serve with crushed, minted peas and green beans. Light, healthy and leftovers for salad.
Today I feel as if I’ve been released, at last free to drive and move about normally and I’m heading out for lunch with the Blondes in Hampshire. The sun is shining, it’s sleeveless dress weather and Jen’s garden is glorious. We sit under the pergola, Red sniffs every blade of grass in the garden and we tuck into a wonderful dip of smashed avocado followed by a thick slice of crab and prawn quiche with little roast pots mixed with the tang of salt-cured lemon zest (to remind us of our long-ago holiday in Essaouira) with carefully peeled broad beans. What a feast. I daren’t touch the rose – okay, then, a small glass – but tucked into a deconstructed Eton mess of meringue with plenty of chewy mouthfuls (to my mind the best thing about meringue) with berries and cream. It was so good to catch up with nothing very much but time melted away and we headed for home very late in the afternoon. Took Red for a whizz around Chiswick House and then poached a couple of fillets of smoked haddock, making a Dijon mustard sauce with milk from poaching the fish. This version of a lovely combination of flavours was prompted by leftover boiled new potatoes, which were sliced and arranged around the fish, the whole lot covered with sauce and prettied with chives. I would have topped the fish with a soft-poached egg but we’d run out, but would head you towards Smoked Haddock with Poached Egg and Dijon Mustard Sauce made with mashed potato rather than boiled new potatoes. Either works very well.
Up early again and as the sun beats down, my kitchen has everything possible open; the French doors onto the garden, side return door and all the windows, trying to create a draught as I start cooking. It’s actually a very good kitchen; cool in summer and easy to heat in winter but I’m after a breeze. I’ve chosen two favourite knives, one, a small paring knife, the other a normal chef-size, both sharpened to a ‘t’. I’ve assembled my ingredients ready to make ratatouille. As always I’m making Oven Ratatouille, a style of cooking this familiar French summer dish learnt from Cuisine Minceur, Michel Guerard’s seminal gourmet dieting book published over 40 years ago. Instead of fry/simmering all the finely sliced (rather than chunky-chopped) vegetables together, each one is briefly fried separately and then everything mixed and packed into a gratin-style dish, thyme and bay added, covered with foil and baked in the oven. The result is wonderful whether it is served hot, warm or cold (my favourite) and even tastier if left overnight. It is more like terrine than the slop ratatouille so often is. I am making it to have tonight and I’ll keep it covered and in the cool rather than in the fridge, so it is just tepid. I’m serving it with torn poached whole chicken that will have been simmered very gently with leeks and chopped onion, bay and parsley. That too will stay covered in the hot stock, so that tonight it too will be tepid. I will freeze-chill some of the stock, so I can remove the fat that will settle and firm on top and reduce it by half to concentrate the flavour and to serve warm over the chicken. I’ve also made pesto (for my recipe, see Hake with Pesto; a lovely dish to know about anyway), stirring in a spoonful of breadcrumbs to stop it splitting and will cook green beans at the last moment. Pudding will be strawberries and cream. This lovely garden supper is to share with The B’s mum and his nephew who is about to start a summer job at Regent’s Park Theatre.
This morning the Ocado delivery arrives and I distractedly agree that the replacement – there is always one – is acceptable. I didn’t catch what it was, in fact I thought she said mackerel but doubted that could be right. Anyway, when I unpacked I saw an alien pack of cod, two tiny fillets, one really tiny and billed as Atlantic cod fillets when the order had been for Cornish loin of cod. It is very rare for us to order fish from Ocado but a recent purchase of M&S cod loin had been so generous and good, perfect for Roast Loin of Cod with Prosciutto or Prosciutto-wrapped Hake with Pea Puree but not so good roasting with lemon juice and olive oil eaten with a dollop of pesto with roast tomatoes. The portions were positively mean, one just 4 or 5 mouthfuls the fish hard rather than flaking firmly but tenderly and jucily as we expect of cod.
I’m up early again and as the heat begins to swarm into the kitchen, I make pastry, inspired by lunch earlier in the week at my friend the writer Jennifer Selway’s house. I make my usual shortcrust learnt from my mum and always a winner. The secret is cold hands, cold butter with a small proportion of lard, using water rather than egg to bind fat and flour. I roast leeks and make a quiche style tart with smoked salmon scraps, chunks of leek and scraps of Perroche soft goat cheese with tarragon from the garden, the top burnished with finely grated Parmesan. Roast Leek, Smoked Salmon and Tarragon Tart emerged puffed and glorious from the oven but as always, the swell begins to deflate as it awaits the knife. Delicious with peas and fine green beans but salad or new potatoes would be good alternatives. This tart is even more delicious cold the next day. We love leftovers.
Supper out tonight, so no cooking for me although I marinate chicken for tomorrow’s barbecue. I make a mix of lemon, olive oil with crushed new season garlic, thyme and bay; the house mix I’ve been using for years as I always have everything needed. I’m a member of my local Soho House, here in downtown Chiswick – High Road House – and request my favourite table by a window with the scenic view of a plane tree (that makes me sneeze; high pollen count) and Metro bank. We kick off with a stunning looking prawn cocktail but the kitchen forgot the marie rose sauce, so it was a tad dull and far too much shredded lettuce, although actual prawns were beautifully cooked, juicy and bouncy. The B had a chicken wrap which looked gorgeous and I made the mistake of a healthy choice of salmon, which seemed very tempting at the time. It was dry and dull and very boring. Great chips though.
All week I’ve been making salads for The B to scoff in his Court lunch break, a welcome albeit short sojourn from his Big Case. They tend to be led by leftovers, so strips of steak went with beetroot, cherry toms and rocket and chicken with mayo, lettuce, Greek feta, black olives and roast tomatoes. Another day, when I had leftover poached chicken, he got peas, pesto, mayo, hard-boiled egg and feta and basil. Today he got leftover ratatouille with soft-poached egg; an absolute knock out made with Oven Ratatouille. Tonight The B is on bbq duty and I make a bulgur-heavy Lebanese Tabbouleh to go with it. As always, I had to keep muttering about white-ash-stage but this time it worked and nothing had that carcinogenic black finish.