For the first time in ages, the fish kettle came down from its perch above the kitchen window, it’s layer of grime scrubbed clean, ready to balance over two burners half filled with herby, acidulated water. There it simmered gently, poaching a splendid Cornish sea trout, its eyes sparkling brightly before they turned cloudy as it cooked. Sea trout from Cornwall is in season now, and mine was ordered specially from Newlyn by Johny, my Newlyn fishmonger at Covent Garden Fishmongers in Turnham Green Terrace. The poaching liquid – a classic mix of water, splash of white wine and white vinegar, a few bay leaves, sliced carrot, black peppercorns and parsley stalks with a few slices of lemon – simmered for 20 minutes before the cleaned, scaled and trimmed whole fish was lowered into the court bouillon, returned to simmer, simmered for 8 minutes then left to cool in the kettle. It was served tepid on a white platter, the skin peeled back to reveal its beautiful pale pink flesh. Instead of the usual mayo or hollandaise, I made broad bean tzatziki with creamy Neal’s Yard yoghurt flavoured with lemon and olive oil but no garlic. Along with roughly grated cucumber and chopped mint, I added my first broad beans of the season, bought at huge expense from the occasional Kitchen Garden sale at Chiswick House. No potatoes this time but a dish of snappy, super-fine green beans.
Monday is when I collect my two grandsons from school and give them supper. For some time, the two favourite meals are what Jago calls My (his) Soup and Pizza Express Margherita, the latter a treat (on the days when I can’t be bothered to cook). Jago’s Soup is actually a way of getting him to eat carrots and tomato, both grated into softened onion and crumbled sausage then simmered in stock. The secret ingredient is Heinz tomato ketchup although this time I made it with leftover roast tomato halves and omitted the squeeze of ketchup and it was voted the Best Ever. It looks like a sloppy risotto when it’s finished, as it’s stirred with separately boiled orzo, the rice shaped pasta. My supper, a Cricket Dinner at the Garrick in Covent Garden, was altogether more sophisticated: Montgomery Cheddar Souffle, herb-crusted rack of Devon Lamb with pea and broad beans a la Francaise followed by summer pud with elderflower syllabub. Another triumph from chef Clive Howe.
I couldn’t believe my luck to be seated next to David Gower. He’s a deeply impressive speaker (without notes and without mentioning the Tiger Moth jape that ended his career) and very charming with it.
I spent a happy morning flaking the rest of the salmon trout to make herby fish cakes (see Recipes). There was plenty of fish so they ended up big and plump, perfect for dipping in beaten egg and breadcrumbs to fry briefly, just until crisp and golden. To go with them I made a quick and simple pea puree with mint from the garden and full-fat, totally gorgeous Neal’s Yard crème fraiche. The trick for this useful puree that suits being served cold, is lengthy liquidizing to break down the surprisingly fibrous skins.
Lovely day out in Bath for a wedding celebration at www.whitehorsetwerton.co.uk. The whole pub was given over to the wedding feast; champagne in the pretty beer garden, the pub festooned with flowers echoing the colourful paintings that line the walls, tables hunker-munker with family and friends. This is my second visit to the White Horse (the landlord is The Barrister’s cousin and it was his wedding) and the food has been special. The starter was a pretty sea bass ceviche with a gargantuan pancetta-wrapped guinea fowl supreme with pea and broad bean risotto and an amazing soft-yolked deep-fried crisp egg. Lemon tart with raspberry sorbet and berries for pud.
Picked leaves from my flourishing vine to make dolmades (see Recipes) for eldest son’s birthday. This lot were made with minced pork, dried oregano from Greece, lashings of coriander and Iranian green sultanas from much-loved recently re-opened Saffron (248 Kings Street near Ravenscourt Park, the Iranian food shop wiped out by mega burst pipes 18 months ago).
Joined an old friend for lunch in the gorgeous garden at Chelsea Arts Club. I stuck with the bargain Artists Menu: tomato and mozzarella slices with diced pickled red onion sprinkled over the top, followed by a light and elegant tomato tart over a slippery mess of sautéed oyster mushrooms, endive, rocket and parsley. Made chicken kebabs to cook on the barbecue for supper with a humungous crisp salad of heritage tomatoes, endive and John Hurd’s proper watercress that comes in big beefy sprigs and a strong mustardy tang. New packaging though. It might protect the leaves more efficiently but severely reduces the amount you get.
Finally managed to nail Rodney at Macken Brothers, my fantastic local butcher in Turnham Green, to arrange a trade account for charity dinner next week taking place around the corner from the shop and hosted by the dynamic www.cookbookfestival.org (this year’s Festival 12-16 September; my dem is on Sat 14, around noon and I’m featuring sausages, with help from Rodney). I left with neatly trimmed pork fillet ear-marked for a bbq tonight. It was cut in smaller than usual kebab size pieces and marinated with lemon, olive oil, masses of crushed garlic and rosemary, served alongside meaty Italian sausages flavoured with fennel seed (an idea ear-marked for my dem and a Festival Sausage from Mackens). With a simple green salad of peas, Cos lettuce, quickly pickled cucumber and mint with creamy vinaigrette. This was the perfect end to a busy week. The Barrister ordered lobsters from Newlyn (www.fishforthought.co.uk) for a weekend treat.
Usual breakfast of berries with a spectacular melon and strawberries from a pot in my miniscule front garden (see Writings/An Urban Veg Plot) and favourite creamy, live sheep’s yoghurt (Woodlands) followed by an attack on the garden. The Barrister went food shopping and came back with freshly baked Hedone brown bread, home made Scotch eggs, another melon, and a big jar of el Navarrico Judion, lare Spanish butter beans. I turned the beans into salad with a mayo and Dijon mustard base, juicy chicory, more quickly pickled cucumber and finely chopped watercress. Delicious! We ate it with a jar of our favourite tuna (Ortiz Bonito del Norte) bathed in olive oil.
Dinner was lobster with mayo, jersey royals and another crisp green salad. Boy it was good but next time I won’t forget to ask for the claws to be cracked.