It’s worse than back to school in my house, it’s Diet Week; no booze, no potatoes, no pasta, no rice, no bread, no cheese and Small Portions. I decide to give up breakfast, having read Anna Murphy, the Times fashion supremo, claiming she lost a stubborn half stone by doing just that. My breakfast is always the same; fruit salad of berries and/or seasonal fruit, always with an orange and always with sheep’s milk yoghurt. We enjoy our last meal before the misery begins; roast lamb with roast potatoes, roast onions and runner beans.
The Barrister does his second weekend work shift and I shuffle about laying the table for lunch with son and daughter-in-law and my darling (not-so) little grandsons. The lamb goes in in good time, potatoes are blanched, scratched with a fork to ruffle their edges for a good crusty finish, beans are sliced, old-fashioned-style, on the slant in long, thin pieces, mint is picked and turned into mint sauce (finely chopped, scalded with a hint of boiling water, stirred with generous pinch sugar, topped up with cider vinegar). I halve plums lengthways and simmer, covered, with a splash of white wine, juice of an orange, cup of water and couple of tablespoons of caster sugar, cooking just long enough to make them soft. Then, and this is a neat trick, scoop the plums into a bowl, leaving all the juice behind. It is then simmered gently with another tablespoon of sugar until reduced to about a third. This syrupy juice is poured over the plums and as it cools, it sets in part like jelly. I left the stones until the plums were cool before pulling out any stubborn stones. I served the jellied plums cold with almost chewy Italian vanilla ice cream (from www.ducilondon.com). Supper of leftovers; cold lamb with mint sauce (wishing I had some redcurrant jelly) and crisp green salad. Yum, almost better than hot.
Day One of the Eat Less/No Booze begins, as usual with a mug of boiling water with a spoonful of honey and another of cider vinegar. It tastes particularly good today. I ignore serious hunger pangs but at coffee time, decide to give up milk another day. I need something to eat. I settle on one brown ryvita (I’m turning into my mother; she had them for lunch every day), half spread with Marmite, the other with my home made marmalade. Heaven. Lunch is an itsu miso-easy soup sachet in a mug of boiling water. They come in a pack of five sachets and are useful in all sorts of ways as dressings, marinades and flavour boosters but make a great hunger assuager. I used to do this with Marmite but miso flavour is far subtler and takes a multitude of add-ons from leftover peas to scraps of chicken or prawns, changing the flavour with a splash of Tabasco or soy. I made a small salad of leftover runner beans, cherry tomatoes from my inexplicably prolific garden plants and a crumble of Greek feta cheese. I actually felt full.
Supper was a new favourite in my house, a memory from The Barrister’s childhood; smoked haddock poached in milk, sauced with some of the milk, peas and a couple of poached eggs. I found a large fillet of smoked haddock in my freezer, sent up in one of my mega-buys from www.trelawneyfish.co.uk, my fishmonger when I’m in Cornwall at the Fish Store in nearby Mousehole but they do mail order, everything from crabs to mackerel and cod, filleted, if required, and individually wrapped sous-vide style.
Another painful morning; no breakfast, no mid-morning Hedone brown toast with Marmite and marmalade, no lunch to speak of but spent an hour or so making supper. I stripped all the meat leftover from our Sunday lunch leg of lamb, thinking I’d do a twist on an old fashioned shepherd’s pie without the mashed potato topping. I followed the same route, softening onion, adding boiled sliced carrots, a stock cube and some of the carrot water, thickening the juices with flour and adding a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper and lots of chopped flat leaf parsley, before adding chopped lamb. While that was going on, I roasted two aubergine, halved lengthways first and cut with a 1cm deep lattice with a smear of olive oil. They took 25 minutes at 200C to soften. Added slices of feta, allowing them to melt slightly in the heat and piled over the lamb. Yum. A great way of making another hot meal out of roast lamb. Recipe coming to Recipes section of website.
Went into town for a haircut mid-morning and spent a frustrating hunger hour missing my tube stop on way back (twice; grrr, why doesn’t the Piccadilly line stop at Turnham Green?), so was ready to eat anything by the time I got back at nearly 3pm. Wolfed down several brown ryvita with ham and thin slivers of Cheddar wishing I was eating fresh crusty Hedone bread. Still hungry, so had what I should have eaten for breakfast; fresh fruit salad and yoghurt. Annoyance further compounded by twisting my ankle, so taking the dog out was painful. Was supposed to be going to a dinner to celebrate the lunch of The Cobra Collective (@CobraBeer) at www.refettoriofelix.com an initiative at St Cuthbert’s Centre, which grew out of chef Massimo Bottura’s non profit making organisation Food For Soul founded to encourage chefs, artists, designers and food suppliers to collaborate building and sustaining community projects. St Cuthbert’s Centre, incidentally, is a 30 year old charity with an open door policy and impact grounded in the power of a shared meal of outstanding quality made with 100% surplus food. I particularly wanted to go because the Chiswick Book Festival www.cookbookfestival.org (happening this weekend, with me demonstrating alternatives to bangers and mash at 11pm on Sat 14 Sept) supports www.felixproject.org and so do I.
The Barrister put himself in charge of supper and popped into www.bayley-sage.co.uk for inspiration. He bought two packs of big, delicious-looking smoked haddock fish cakes which I cooked as per the instructions. They were so awful; claggy with a taste and texture of packet sage and onion stuffing with only a few scraps of fish and the pieces were hard and horrid. They were so bad, I dug out this old @thetimes Dinner Tonight recipe which I plan to make again.
SMOKED HADDOCK FISH CAKES
I’ve just unpacked a huge order of Cornish fish from Trelawney opposite Newlyn fish market (orders tel 01736 332043), all neatly bagged for the freezer. Spankingly fresh bass, cod, immaculately trimmed monkfish fillets, hake, haddock, sole and smoked haddock. First up is smoked haddock, perfect for superior fish cakes. Make them any size you like; I made 12 decent-sized cakes from the quantities given. Coating them in egg and breadcrumbs is extra faff but worth the effort; biting through a crisp carapace onto the soft, oozing fishy mash is bliss. Failing that, a dusting of flour gives good results too.
Prep: 30 min
Cook: 30 min
425g smoked haddock
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
30g bunch dill
flour for dusting
100g fresh breadcrumbs
oil for shallow frying
Peel, chunk, rinse and boil the potatoes until tender. Drain, mash and whip smooth, preferably passing through a Mouli-legumes or using a ricer. Meanwhile, place that fish in a pan that can hold it in a single layer. Cover with water and gently simmer for 4-5 minutes until cooked through. Lift out of the pan onto a plate. Cool slightly, then flake the flesh. Whip the mustard into the mash then fold in half the flaked fish with the chopped dill, mixing thoroughly. Now fold in the remaining fish. Break off handfuls of the mix and form into round cakes about 2cm thick. Dust lightly with flour and chill for at least 20 minutes to firm. Whisk the eggs in a bowl and spread the crumbs on a plate. Flour your hands and dip the cakes in egg then press into the crumbs to cover. Cook now or later, fried in oil for 3-4 minutes a side until golden brown.
Made watercress soup for tomorrow’s Blondes lunch. There’s four of us blondes; we all worked together years ago at Time Out. Two are best friends and all of us inter-link separately and together. Two are journalists like me, the other is a movie buff who does stints at the Lexi independent cinema in north London. We’ve always gone to the movies and shared meals but a few years ago a fortuitous freebie on an estate in Apulia has led to an annual week away together, so far in Morocco and Spain and shortly we are off to Montenegro. Lunch is a planning meeting and I’m cooking. I roasted then pureed tomatoes which I simmered with stock and honey to make a thick ketchup-cum-paste to serve as a dollop on the thick, very dark green soup (recipe coming to Recipes but 2 bunches watercress, few boiled potatoes, cupful of petits pois and chicken stock briefly simmered then blitzed thoroughly and seasoned to taste). Cooled and then chilled in containers, it will taste even better tomorrow. Next course, eggs mayonnaise with anchovy and flat leaf parsley, roasted Romano pointed red pepper salad with capers, coriander and a crumble of Greek feta, swirl of peppery olive oil and balsamico, the last of our green beans in a shallot mayo and smoked mackerel pate. Everything went down very well and I’ll post recipes soon. I had a couple of lamb neck fillets in the fridge and a few plums in need of eating up and the result was lamb Khoresh with plums and coriander, an old favourite Iranian stew. Here’s the recipe:
LAMB KHORESH WITH PLUMS AND CORIANDER
Khoresh is Iranian stew, generally made with lamb and seasonal fruit, with humungous amounts of gently softened onion and fresh herbs. Plums proved a good choice with lamb neck fillet flavoured by saffron with a small bunch of coriander. It sounds unlikely, but the slight sourness of British plums with intense coriander (or mint) back flavour is extremely good with saffron lamb. Serve with cous cous or rice to mop up the gorgeous juices, adding a top-knot of creamy yoghurt for luxury.
Prep: 30 min
Cook: 75 min
4 onions, approx 500g in total
800g lamb neck fillet
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ (quarter) tsp saffron threads
1 small lemon
300ml chicken stock
500g British plums
25g coriander or 25 mint leaves
450g thick yoghurt (optional)
Halve, peel and finely slice the onions. Soften gently, stirring occasionally, in butter with ½ (half) tsp salt, covered, in a lidded casserole. Slice the meat in 2cm thick medallions. Quickly brown the meat in olive oil in a frying pan. Add meat and saffron to the sloppy, hardly coloured onions. Add juice from half the lemon and the stock. Cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and lemon to taste. Slice the plums off the stones in big pieces. Add to the pan with most of the chopped herbs. Simmer uncovered for a further 20 minutes. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and the last of the herbs.
Blondes lunch was a huge success; the soup and the smoked mackerel hummus-cum-pate were particularly rated and the bread. I’d nipped out to get a very fresh brown Hedone loaf from www.bayley-sage.co.uk. Lucky me got gifts; a lovely bunch of white flowers from M&S, a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, a Conran flower pot complete with white plant and tiny little ginger grater (‘bet you don’t know what this is…’ but I did) from www.kitchenprovisions.co.uk (a website and shop well worth visiting) at Coal Drop Yard, Kings Cross.
Out for supper; a grouse dinner with friends at the Garrick. Thank you chef Clive Howe; it was perfectly cooked, the bacon garnish crisp, the waffle-cut game chips delightful and the bread sauce and gravy plentiful. Broke the fast and drank deeply.
Feeling a bit hazy today after terrific game supper, so tucked into breakfast before schlepping over to Sloane Square in the hope of finding a folding, portable fan a friend had recommended at Peter Jones. Bought a new telly instead and new duvet cover. Grilled sardines for lunch proceeded by Blondes lunch leftovers; must make that watercress soup again. Wonderful smells perculating around my part of Chiswick as Pub in the Park got underway in Chiswick House. Had a date with the TV but first tucked into crab, freshly picked by me, the claws so big, thick and hard, it must have been a male crab. Mixed the brown with generous splash of red wine vinegar and decent seasoning of salt and pepper, served it with chips, mayo and crisp green salad with quickly pickled cucumber.