Week of catching up with this website, new recipes, new thoughts about how to make it better with help from Alex. On the cooking front, getting into a happy routine of good husbandry, making leftovers sing as completely different meals but still discombobulated by not having to come up with five new Dinner Tonight recipes from my much missed Times column. Happy outcomes for spatchcocked poussin, lamb ragu, devilled kidneys on toast and pheasant stew. On the restaurant front a very happy discovery that Six Portland Road has mastered the perfect potato confit recipe even though, with impressive understatement, they call it fried potatoes (at £4 a pop, a complete bargain). I wish this place was on my doorstep. It’s now firmly established as a very successful local restaurant and doesn’t need to worry about competition from the new Julies down the road at Clarendon Cross. They have a lot of catching up to do.
Took the train into Richmond to meet a friend for the 10.30am showing of The Marriage. I’ve heard so many good reports but been warned that it’s a serious weepie. It certainly is and not recommended if you have had a recent romantic bust up, particularly if there are children involved. It raked up a few past memories for me but fortunately life has moved on and all the bad stuff was long ago put to bed. Did some food shopping on the way home so I could have a late lunch sandwich and then head up to my study and the ever-hungry computer. Had just settled down to do some writing when a friend who’d been to a Christening near by popped in for a cuppa. We had a good old chin wag, then Red and I walked down to the tube with her. All thoughts of work now firmly gone, so light the fire and think about supper. I’d bought myself a poussin and some bacon on my shopping expedition, so spatchcocked the bird by cutting out the backbone with kitchen scissors, cracked it flat with the heel of my hand and spread it out over a bundle of thyme. A smear of oil, squeeze of lemon and splash of white wine and then into a hot oven for 20 minutes until the skin turned crisp and golden. I also peeled a couple of potatoes, cut them into chunky thin scraps and smeared them with oil to roast alongside, adding scraps of bacon for the last 10 minutes. With frozen petits pois and gravy made in the roasting juices, this was a lovely Home Alone feast with leftovers.
Up early to make Traditional Christmas Puddings, one of the many jobs I’d failed to do yesterday. The Sanderson family recipe (my mum’s) what I tend to make and there’s another favourite that includes mashed potato in my potato book, In Praise of the Potato. The bulk of the cooking is done immediately the puddings are made but they will go on maturing and darkening if left in a dark cupboard, the longer the better. There’s still time if you get cracking now.
Supper was one of those scrounge round the fridge and food cupboard and see what there is. Result? A delicious quick and simple pasta supper of crisp bacon scraps, leftover peas and remains of Sunday night’s poussin tossed with lemon juice all tossed together with buttery tagliatelle and masses of finely grated Grana Padano.
Going to see my old boss Tony Elliott for tea with another pal from Time Out days when she was managing editor and I was Sell Out editor. His kitchen, presided over by his wife Janey, is to-die-for. Two whacking great tables, one that can probably seat 20 and other almost as big and a happy dumping ground for kitchen stuff. Janey made tea is a very covetable bright green, glossy china tea pot and we drank our tea from dinky little floral tea cups with saucers. I had planned to make a chocolate cake to take but found out just in time that Tony is diabetic. Instead I took a beautiful amaryllis. Unknown to me, Tony has a doughnut weakness, so Suzie bought him a big gaudy one for the Christmas tree (not up yet I’m delighted to say) and three sugary edible ones oozing with jam. He was like a child in the sweetshop and got scoffing as we nibbled at a Mary Berry banana and caramel cake Janey had bought. We spent a lovely couple of hours reminiscing about old friends, dramas and carry-ons way back when Time Out was crammed into a house at the King’s Cross end of Grays Inn Road. There Jock the tattooist next door used to waddle in and chat up the ad department girls on the ground floor and various freelancers whizzed in roaring up the stairs to news and editors rooms on the first floor, studio and picture research on the next floor and little editorial rooms on the floors above. I used to share with sport and part of music. Afterwards, Suzie and had a debrief over several glasses of wine at the eccentric Swiss chalet-looking pub opposite Swiss Cottage tube and the Hampstead Theatre Club.
Before I set off to meet Suzie, I’d made a quick ragu with 250g minced lamb defrosted from the freezer while I dashed out to buy the amaryllis and walk the dog. Diced onion and garlic softened in a little oil, the meat browned then dusted with flour and vigorously stirred with a cup of cooking wine and enough stock to cover with diced carrot and chopped, peeled tomato. It simmered gently, covered, for 35 minutes and just needed a final 10-15 minutes uncovered cooking before it was ready to spoon over pasta. Managed to catch another episode of Rick Stein’s fabulous Secret France TV series. As usual I wanted to go everywhere he went and eat everything he ate.
Spent the morning doing a massive Desk Tidy, one of those that results in attacking various files that lead to new jobs undone, shuffling papers in a fit of boredom and ends with washing the desk. As is so often the case, I turn to food to cheer me up and made a simple leek and potato soup for lunch; the Richard Olney one from Simple French Food. It lives up to the book’s title and is basically equal quantities of chunked and rinsed peeled potato and chunkily sliced leeks simmered in water and finished with salt to taste and a big knob of butter. It never lets you down and is almost as quick as heating up a bought soup. I added chopped flat leaf parsley at the end but only because I had some.
I’d ear-marked yesterday’s ragu leftovers for supper but changed the flavour completely with chilli, fresh coriander and lime juice. Piled it over shredded quickly blanched cabbage tossed with butter and lemon juice. Recommended.
I love shopping lists, particularly food shopping lists and today I’m shopping for The B’s return. He’s requested devilled kidneys for lunch on Saturday and pheasant stew with sprouts and diamond jacket potatoes for supper. First stop the butcher for 10 lamb’s kidneys, two pheasant and a kilo of Macken’s superb Cumberland sausages to take as a gift tonight. Watched as Nick defly removed the pheasant breasts in one swift swipe with his super-sharp knife and then the legs. Back home I made stock with carcass and debris, chopped onion, carrot, garlic and bunch thyme before I went out. Pheasant makes wonderful stock and it’s virtually fat free. One of my favourite uses for it is Pheasant and Lemon Broth with Egg and Parmesan in The Trifle Bowl and Other Tales. It’s my spin on zuppa alla Pavese, an exquisite but simple soup from Pavia.
Nip up to Notting Hill and dinner at Six Portland Road. I’m being treated by Liz, the B’s mum. I arrive first and we sit at a table she’s specified at the back of the restaurant in a spacious patch opposite the little bar. I ask if they will pop my sausage gift in their fridge, which they do. I’m going to gloss over our starters because neither hit the spot with us but our main course was a beautifully cooked triangular fillet of turbot with a salty anchovy hollandaise under the fish. On the side was cimi de rapa (turnip tops), which both of us found too toothsome; tough and not cooked for long enough. The highlight though, which comes highly recommended, is their so-called fried potatoes. The recipe is actually far more complicated. I first came across these confit potatoes at Cora Pearl in Covent Garden and later discovered they originate from the Quality Chop House. After eating them at Cora Pearl I had a go at making them. They are a mission, cooked over two days but definitely worth it. Super-thin slices of potato are smeared with duck fat, layered up and roasted very slowly for 3 hours, then weighted over night and cutting into blocks and/or big fat chips, then deep-fried. The recipe is in The Quality Chop House; Modern Recipes and Stores from a London Classic and was developed by chef Shaun Searley way back in 2013 when William Lander took over this seminal place. I found the recipe on wine writer Fiona Beckett’s website www.matchingfoodandwine.com and have promptly sent it to both my sons.
My wonky knee has gradually been getting better and I thought was entirely repaired until I went to see Nick the chiropractor. He gave it his usual mega massage with a few clunk clicks, waving me off with the instruction to ice it when I got home. I was too busy making Pheasant Stew and hunting down my recipe for devilled kidneys to follow his instructions but by the end of the day the knee was up to its old tricks of being very annoying. Defrosted chicken thigh fillets to have with artichoke puree I’d bought at Bayley&Sage out of curiosity. Chicken Fricassee with Artichoke Puree turned out to be a typical Dinner Tonight recipe; onions softened in olive oil with thyme and diced smoked streaky bacon, then thick batons of chicken browned in the juices with boiled frozen petit pois added at the end, the fricassee served with a dollop of artichoke puree, swirl of best olive oil and flat leaf parsley garnish.
At last, after a month away, The B is back. He’s loaded up with papers from the Case, so we decide to immediately drop them off at his place in Covent Garden. I can’t wait to get cooking our lunch of Devilled Kidneys On Toast as specially requested all the way from Trinidad. I love the bouncy texture and rich flavour of lamb’s kidneys and cook them many ways, although this simple recipe is probably my favourite. You need about four each and they’re halved lengthways, the white, hard fatty centre removed, then dusted lightly with flour and cayenne and quickly fried, tossing as they bounce, plump and curl. You need toothsome toast to pile the kidneys over and it’s best to leave them in the pan for a minute or two so they weep slightly in a good way. Sourdough is the best choice and I think it is worth the effort of buttering both sides of the slices and toasting them on a hot griddle. This firms the toast so the juices don’t immediately soak through and make it gooey, but that’s a refinement. I finish the dish with finely chopped flat leaf parsley and serve it with Dijon mustard but these are other refinements. Our supper of Pheasant Stew was cooked yesterday, simmered in the oven and left there (turned off) overnight. Amazingly, the Le Creuset dish was still warm in the morning. The preparations were quite straightforward. I halved the breasts and legs, ending up with 16 pieces which were dusted with flour and quickly browned then added to onion, a hint of garlic, aromatic herb bundle, carrots and mushrooms with red wine and stock I’d made from the carcass. It simmered gently, covered with a buttered sheet of greaseproof holding in all the juices, for 90 minutes. It’s always best to make stews 24 hours in advance if possible. It means the flavours get a chance to mature and develop and this stew really was rich and gently gamey. It just needed a 20-minute reheat in the oven, a parsley garnish and that’s it. The gravy is thick, dark and rich, perfect with boiled sprouts and diamond jacket potatoes (see Lamb Chops, Diamond Jackets and Minted Pea Puree for recipe) although I’m already thinking mashed potato with the leftovers (I cooked two pheasant).