A Home Alone week and I seem to have lost my appetite. Or, to be a bit closer to the truth, reverted to eating like someone who doesn’t live for food, so things on toast, jacket potatoes with grated cheese and poached eggs and bangers and mash. Storm Keira is raging, the wind whipping round the garden, shaking what I thought were my secure fences and icy rain lashing against the windows, so comfort grub, specially soup, is what I crave. A nasty dental session necessitated soft food so I bought one of those useful 50/50 fresh crab cartons planning to make my version of the River Café stalwart, Linguine with Chilli Crab.
Last week I discovered a very good smoked salmon at my fishmonger. www.goldsteinsalmon.co.uk has been at it since 1911, arguably the oldest London smoker. I like the London cure, not peaty but subtle yet distinctive, salty but not too salty. I also like the wafer-thin slices and reasonable price. Today I piled it next to slices of avocado over toast with scrambled eggs for late breakfast, early lunch. Brunch! Extremely lazy afternoon and lazy supper of poached eggs on diamond jackets with grated Cheddar and leftover iceberg lettuce salad.
When my youngest son Henry was 7 or 8, he’d come home from school starving. One of his favourite occupations was standing in front of the fridge with the door open, just staring into the void. The fridge would invariable be full, loaded with food waiting for me to transform it into recipes for my daily recipe column in the Evening Standard. One day, as I came into the kitchen, I heard him mutter, ‘why isn’t there ever anything to eat in this house?’ What he meant or hoped to see was a pile of Pizza Express pizzas just waiting to be popped in the oven. Often, though, there was leftover rice so I taught him how to make egg fried rice and he became a past master at making it with leftovers. I love leftovers and today I made a leftovers soup which I’m calling Two of Everything Soup. The key to its success, I think, apart from being loaded up with tasty morsels, is the background hint of caraway and ginger. Both unite to create a surprising aniseedy hot tang that takes a moment to untangle. Cous cous thickens the soup and otherwise it is made with every day veg: leeks, onions, tomatoes and frozen peas. For lunch I added a poached egg and for supper I followed with cheese on toast (cheese grated, toast spread thickly with Dijon mustard).
House full of intoxicating smells as I simmer the remains of my red wine leftovers bottle collection that clutter up the work surface. Into the pan with the wine go a few bay leaves from the garden, thyme, a few sliced shallots and black pepper. It simmers away reducing by about half, to make a marinade for chicken, eventually ending up as a version of Coq au Vin. When the wine is cooled it’s poured over the chicken (I diced chicken thigh fillets; would have preferred bone-in legs but that’s what I had) in a Tupperware box and tucked it away at the bottom of the fridge. Finished off my Two of Everything Soup, a very successful scrounge round the fridge, for lunch then set off to the tube for a spot of clothes shopping. Supper was in hand – pasta with crab – but later, when I took Red out, I popped into www.bayley-sage.co.uk for bread and was tempted by the selection of attractively packaged ready meals like fish pie and lasagne in the bottom of the chill counter. Fish pie (made by someone else) would do very nicely. Ingredients apart from fish included capers and broccoli. I don’t want either in a fish pie so put it back and bought some bacon lardons instead, thinking I’d rustle up carbonara (Gigli Carbonara) rather than pasta with crab. I knew I was egg rich. When I stayed in Rome last year, one of the dishes I was determined to try was spaghetti alla carbonara. I’ve been making versions of egg and bacon pasta (as some plebs call it) for years. It’s a useful store cupboard dish like macaroni cheese and garlic pasta but the Roman version I’d ordered was something else. It was so rich and eggy it required copious drafts of red wine to help it along. Since then, I’ve discovered the talented Rachel Roddy (who writes about cooking and living in Rome for the Saturday Guardian) and loved her coming to terms with cooking spaghetti alla carbonara which you can read on her website www.racheleats.wordpress.com.
It’s a smoked salmon on toast day. I ate very little else apart from breakfast fruit salad with yoghurt. Smoked salmon on toast for lunch, smoked salmon on toast for supper. I’d bought a couple of packs of a variety new to me, a new discovery for my fish monger too. It’s blessedly thinly sliced (www.goldsteinsalmon.co.uk) and I have a plentiful supply of my favourite brown sourdough (Hedone since you ask), that I didn’t want anything else. Oh, yes, except a few glasses of white wine in the evening. I’m running out of lemons.
My cooking day peaked with making Pea Soup with Bacon Croutons. This is another one of those super quick, super simple, never-lets-you-down soups which can be made entirely with store cupboard supplies. Frozen peas, a stock cube, spoonful of mint sauce if you fancy it and a few rashers of bacon if you have them. It’s comfort food, the peas sweet, the texture creamy and the garnish of very crisp bacon in perfect contrast. That was lunch. Supper was another lazy meal of baked pots with grated cheese and poached egg.
Spent the morning making Coq au Vin for tomorrow night. I want it done so I can spend tomorrow working and faffing but more importantly, flavours are always better if all stews are made 24 hours in advance. Set off for Golborne Road to meet son Zach for lunch. Take a jar of marmalade to give to my old friend Richard Adams who works alongside Zach in their basement design studio. We wander through the market, I buy oranges and rice at one of the Spanish shops down the Trellick Tower end of the Golborne Road and we slide into high stools at the bar of Tonkotsu (www.tonkotsu.co.uk) for lunch. This is a great place to have on your doorstep but it gets very busy and we were lucky to get places at the bar. The lunch special is a steal at £9.95 and we shared pork, ginger and garlic gyoza and shiitake and bamboo gyoza, breaded, deep fried prawns with various dips, then kakugiri home made noodles in a rich chicken and soy broth with chunks of marinated braised chunky pork pieces, bamboo shoots, spring onions and egg with a glorious soft, gooey yolk. With kirin beer, this was a feast. No real appetite for supper.
Although I’d sliced up chicken thigh for my version of Coq au Vin, taking the trouble to simmer red wine with herbs and using it to marinate the chicken really paid off. The dish was a triumph with The B, safely landed despite a rough ride, the skies churned up by Storm Dennis. He wants me to make it again soon and I will, this time with whole chicken legs. Serving it with a parsley garnish and separately cooked peas and carrots added with new potatoes, works very well as you can see in the picture.