Beautiful morning, so walked through Chiswick House to the Farmer’s Market just off the A316 to Richmond before Chiswick Bridge. I particularly wanted to buy a £1 bag of little Ergemont Russet apples from Ringden Farms, who’ve been cultivating their orchards since 1949 on the Kent/Sussex borders. They also have bags of my other favourite apple; Cox’s Orange Pippin which my mother used to shake to hear the pips rattle. The latter is perfect for a family-size tarte Tatin. They were also selling raspberry and strawberry jams and always have apple juice made using traditional pressing methods and slow pasteurisation, to preserve the real flavour of their wonderful English apples. The other thing I buy regularly is their apple cider that comes with a mother, so could be topped up to make your own. Failed to get a copy of the Observer food mag devoted to Christmas with Simon Hopkinson cooking the Christmas dinner.
Felt in need of a healthy lunch, so heated up the last of my pea, potato and spinach soup and slurped it Thai-style whilst eating a healthy salad of avo, tomato, feta and the last minute addition of pomegranate seeds from a dried up old fruit on my window ledge. With a splash of olive oil and squeeze of lime this was delicious with a coriander garnish. Note: even when pomegranate skin is dried and shrunken looking, chances are the seeds inside will still be in perfect nick.
Decided to tackle a job I hate, de-frosting the freezer above my fridge (I have another coffin-style one elsewhere but this is the one I use on a regular basis, almost daily). Once the defrosting is done, it’s actually quite nice to bring order to the cold cupboard, stacking meats on one side, fish on another, with frozen peas and spinach keeping them apart, my stash of breadcrumbs and sliced bread, butter and cheese (yes! cheese freezes perfectly, even Stilton) on the top shelf. I defrost the chicken I’d bought from Macken’s for supper. Still in my healthy mode, I decide to roast it and serve some with Greek/Turkish style beetroot. Turkish Beetroot is a very simple and very successful idea. Made another batch of Plum and Orange Jam and delighted to say, another success; I’m sure adding the microplaned zest of half a lemon and all its juice really helps the setting process.
Lunch on the hoof, smashed avocado on pitta toast with a splash of Tabasco, slivers of feta and a squeeze of lime. Stuck indoors trying to catch up on paperwork with a bit of cooking thrown in. Strip remaining chicken from the carcass and bones and make stock with a couple of chopped carrots and onion, small bunch of parsley and few crushed garlic cloves. The smell is probably driving my builders mad, in fact they are full of compliments for what I’m cooking; the grandsons favourite sloppy pasta dish, that begins by softening onion, adding finely diced carrot, then stock, simmering, covered, until the carrot is tender, adding a dusting of flour, stirring until disappeared then adding scraps of chicken and the rice shaped pasta (orzo) which has been boiling while I do all the other bits.
Lucky boys have fresh mango and vanilla ice cream for pudding. My supper is the remains of the stew, tenderstem broccoli and a baked potato. The stew remains are low on meat, high on mushrooms with plenty of gravy. It reminded me of my childhood stews when leftovers were better than the original portion as far as I was concerned; the thick, rich gravy, grainy with meaty scraps piled over a thick doorstep of very fresh crusty white bread. Finish unpacking the Ocado delivery: cooking salt and shallots and the wrong sort of vinegar for pickling onions plus some of the necessary for Christmas puddings.
Prepare pickling liquid for my super-strong pickled onions ready for Christmas. For the second year running, I’ve failed to find pickling onions on sale at this time of year so it’s small shallots again. I can’t decide if they are more of a pain to peel than little onions, they certainly often have a natural breaking apart spot. I go into huge detail about making Pickled Onions in The Fish Store. I always make them in plenty of time so they get a chance to mature for Christmas.
Cheese on toast with grilled tomatoes for lunch and decide on a gratin for supper. I don’t want to go shopping again and all I have to go with leftover chicken is frozen petits pois. This is actually a very good combination, the sweet peas a good contrast of colour, flavour and texture with chunks of chicken in a Dijon flavoured, white wine sauce with slippery onion and a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley and mint at the end. There needs to be plenty of sauce so the gratin isn’t dry under its golden carapace of breadcrumbs and finely grated Gruyere (or Emmental; both make the best gratinee topping). Watched the third episode of Rick Stein’s Secret France (Tues BBC2 9pm) and it made me want to go everywhere he went and eat (almost) everything he enjoyed. His programmes are so much more than just about food but he makes it so accessible and reminds us of old favourites and lesser known regional specialities. Fantastic.
Part two of pickling onions. They’ve been salted overnight, the pickling liquid made, so now it’s the second smelly job of rinsing off the salt and packing them into sterilized kilner jars. The next bit is my favourite; trickling the spices down between the onions/shallots, tucking in bay leaves and extra little dried red chillies and topping up the jars with the vinegar. This year I’ve filled one large and one medium kilner jar and they are now tucked away in a dark cupboard to mature.
Skip off to Notting Hill to see Le Mans 66 at the Gate. No food apart from the odd floppy looking white bread sandwich in this movie but it is so worth seeing. And you don’t have to be a petrol head to enjoy it. At all.
I’m defrosting a big cod loin fillet for supper, planning to roast it with lemon and olive oil. I’ve specially bought carrots and butternut squash to make an orange flavoured mash that son Henry told me about. He was at Charity (www.charity.uniquehomestays.com) miles from any shops, so the store cupboard always has to be well-stocked and fresh food thought about. Recently, he told me, friends invited themselves over for supper. It was a Jacob’s Join meal and they brought sausages, butternut squash and carrots. There is a chef in the family, so this recipe might originate there but Henry was so impressed by the flavor that I had to make it myself. It’s very easy; just approximately equal quantities of peeled, seeded squash and scraped carrot chopped and gently fried (covered) in butter, adding juice from an orange and enough stock or water to just cover. Simmer, covered, adjusting the heat, so veg cook and absorb most of the liquid then coarsely mash. Amazing. I urge you to try it. It went well with the cod and its lemony juices but good too with sausages, pork or chicken.
Having a toast with everything kind of day. Toast and marmalade for breakfast, cheese on toast for lunch with some of last year’s pickled onions and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and chives stirred through it with toast for supper. The toast, I should point out, is made with Hedone brown. The best sourdough in London.
Small fruit salad for breakfast and small sandwich for lunch today as I’ve been busy darting around doing odd jobs and trying to save myself for supper. The Blondes (four of us who worked together years ago at Time Out) are having supper at The Delaunay (www.thedelaunay.com) just around the corner from where we used to work in Southampton Street, Covent Garden. We drink at the bar before a fabulous supper at one of their banquette tables ranged along a wall. Everything excellent, from the crusty bread and individually wrapped pat of butter, to the prettily presented Dorset Crab three of us had, to my beautifully cooked little spatchcock chicken and French fries. Scallops with black pudding and sauté potatoes also got the thumbs up and the chicken schnitzel the other two ordered was sufficient to feed an army. The joint was hopping and everything went like clockwork. High recommended. Oh yes, the Rioja Blanco is a very good wine choice.
Bit of a hangover today but I’m up and busy, down at Waitrose to pick up a click-and-collect, so do the last bit of shopping for Christmas pud making. At 3.30 son Henry arrives and we head off for Hampton Court where lovely family friend Martha, her family and friends, my other son Zach and his family are celebrating her birthday in the outdoor ice skating rink. We have a nasty journey, it begins to rain so we decide to head directly to Martha and Cameron’s house for the after party. Amazingly, most people are there before us and before long a huge technicolour birthday cake smothered in Smarties is being cut and we are all singing Happy Birthday and toasting Martha and her darling little daughter Lyra. Wine is drunk from little flowery tea cups (originally bought I think as part of her wedding day celebrations in a series of marquees in a field in Cornwall; that was a horrid day too), beer from the neck and a wonderful smell of hot food seeps out from the kitchen. Next thing we know, huge dishes of lasagne are ready to be dished out with various salads and herby, garlic bread. The tiniest tots are tucking in with relish. It’s a great party.