Bonfire night completely passed me by. I was in, ignoring it, the fire crackling, snuggled up on the sofa with Red. She, like other lurchers I’ve known, is quite chilled about all the banging and flashing of lights, having lived with building work from a young age. The fireworks continue all week and there were several dead rockets by the wayside as I cycled along the towpath for lunch at Sam’s a great new place on the river at Hammersmith. My other excitement was making plum and orange jam which turned out really well so recipe coming soon to Recipes.
The Barrister is off at dawn, heading to Gatwick to catch a plane back to Trinidad for the next leg of his long case there. I get up too, faff around and then take the dog through Chiswick House to the Farmer’s Market. Buy a chicken, more liver for the freezer and sausages for supper. Decide I need serious comfort food so it’s bangers and mash. I liven up the mash with slivers of membrillo shaved over the top; this works well for any accompaniment from chicken to chops. The sausages are actually chipolatas, bought because they cook very quickly and are surprisingly meaty for turning into ragu (see Beyond Bangers and Mash in Recipes) for the grandsons.
Make Caspar and Jago’s favourite ragu-type soupy sausage supper which has turned into ‘if-it’s-Monday-it-must-be..’ because they love it so much. Each version is slightly different but I’m in trouble if I run out of orzo, the little rice-shaped pasta that is such a versatile ingredient, perfect for quick faux-risotto and soup dishes like theirs. Felt exhausted and lazy after the little boys and their dad (my son) left, so decided my own supper is diamond jacket potatoes piled with chunks of cold butter squashed into the diamonds, grated Cheddar and a couple of poached eggs. I love suppers like this. Minimal work, maximum flavour and it’s ready in 35 minutes, demolished in less than half that.
As I pottered about in the kitchen, I half listened to a Rad 4 Food Programme about Bonfire Night food and got very nostalgic about the bonfire nights of my childhood. We lived right on the edge of Chislehurst Common behind the Tiger’s Head. People from the other nearby houses plonked their garden rubbish in the middle of the common and every year my dad turned it into a bonfire that roared into life on the Saturday closest to Bonfire Night. As soon as the fire was crackling happily, he began the firework display, firing up Catherine wheels on the special stand he’d knocked up and sending rockets from milk bottles he’d planted on the Common. Our family made the guy and my mum advance baked trays of jacket potatoes to pop back in the oven for a 10-minute revival as required. There was a buffet of grated Cheddar, butter, sausages hot from the oven and baked beans to pile over the potatoes and paper plates so we could eat around the bonfire. It was a gentle affair, our neighbours around the green coming out with their own sparklers and fireworks. Tonight, though, I wasn’t in the mood for a proper meal and I’d had baked potatoes yesterday, so snacked on nuts – gorgeous flat Marcona toasted almonds – slivers of Manchego on toast spread with membrillo instead of butter and last year’s pickled onions. With a glass of red wine. Perfect home alone supper.
Head into Covent Garden in good time to meet friends at Dalla Terra (www.dallaterra.co.uk) wine bar, tucked off Long Acre in Slingsby Place. This is a great place to know about, useful for a quick glass of wine with or without a snack. Their menu is useful for every occasion but both wine bar and restaurant are always busy. Usefully, there is almost as much space outside and it merges into inside thanks to big plate glass windows. It’s cosy yet modern with an L shaped bar and another opposite, with tables and low-slung, mini-version of a merging of two Charles Eames chairs, the prime places in front of an faux log fire. It’s a very attractive place with very attractive though sometimes inattentive staff. We snacked on their fantastic toasted almonds, plump juicy Cerignola green olives and very good hummus to scoop up with Sardinian Carasau crisp bread (also known as carte de musica). We had much to chat about, reminiscing about years ago when we all worked in Kings Cross for Time Out prompted by the untimely death of David (Daisy) May. More wine and then we share a grande artisan antipasto board with various cured meats and cheeses which comes with sourdough toast. We also share a bowl of their very, very good chips. The 600-strong wine list is daunting but I can recommend their vinhjo verde Alvarinho.
Huge changes down on the river at Hammersmith Bridge where the new Riverside Studios Arts Centre, apartment blocks, cafes, restaurants and bar has transformed what was something of a backwater. The latest opening is Sam’s Riverside and it’s a very welcome arrival. It’s bang on the main drag adjacent to the river but there aren’t exactly riverside views. On sunny days, I suspect, there will be tables all around the glass fronted and sided restaurant with its large central bar and well-spaced tables. We were lucky to get one of the banquette tables with riverside views to the left and the whole restaurant and bar in front of us. Eventually it will link directly into the Arts Centre which, at the moment, is still work in progress and the restaurant shares school-style loos.
So who is Sam? I was first aware of him when he opened a Brasserie in Chiswick with Rufus Wykham, a friend’s son, as chef. I went to an opening party and had supper there a couple of times. Sam opened a similar place, Harrison’s in Balham, then sold both to the Hawksmoor group. I heard on the grape vine that he once worked for Rick Stein in Padstow and clearly has good connections because Rowley Leigh is culinary director with Harvey Trollope running the kitchen. A girlfriend and I went for lunch soon after it opened on 4 Nov. We chose from the £17.50 two course set menu and loved the food. Celeriac and apple veloute was almost overwhelmed by cream but went down well on a bright chilly day, particularly as there was very fresh Hedone brown (I asked) to dunk. We both had braised ox cheeks, mashed potato and carrots, which was top drawer; very tender meat in a rich, dark gravy with properly good mash and a few chunky, pleasingly plain boiled carrots. I could eat this every day but the menu is my kind of food and there is much I want to try. We had a glass of wine each and a coffee and were very pleased with our meal and planned to go back pronto. Too late to say hello, I clocked Nick Smallwood (one of the bosses of Kensington Place) on his way out but no sign of Rowley. Highly recommended.
Sizzling finely sliced onions in olive oil with a pinch of salt is always a promising smell. This morning it’s the start of onion and red wine gravy to go with lambs liver and mash for supper tonight. It takes longer than you think to soften onions properly, so I’m starting as I contemplate a cup of coffee with Woman’s Hour on in the background. I’m making a start on the mash too, because that is something else that can be revived later and means this becomes a very quick Dinner Tonight. I’m having a mini crush on liver at the moment, craving it and love thin pieces quickly fried so they are only just cooked through, still with a hint of pink. While I’m at it, I prep sprouts, pop them into a plastic bag to stash at the bottom of the fridge. Once the onions are sloppy, shrunken and lightly coloured, I dust them with a little flour, stir in a splash of balsamico and then the dregs of a bottle of red wine – about a glass. Simmered for a few minutes and let down with chicken stock if it’s too thick on reheating, it can be kept on hold (cooled first) in the fridge in a poly box for several days. I’ll be adding slivers of membrillo to my buttery mash with Dijon mustard on the side. Talking of mustard, son Henry reminded me of a story his dad was very fond of telling. He went to school with a child of the Colman’s mustard family and aged 14 he paid his own school fees. This boy used to say that the mustard left on the plate was their profit. Think about it; we all take too much mustard, I know I’m guilty of that.
Waiting for me in the kitchen is a carefully collected number of ingredients ready for jam making. It’s a recipe I made many times when I had an allotment and a plum tree that became prolific beyond even my love of glut cooking. It’s very simple, just plums, orange zest and juice, lemon juice and sugar. Getting a set is always the worry with jam making, that and avoiding the sugar sticking and burning, so constant vigilance. I did several crinkle tests – spooning a little jam onto a cold plate, then pressing with the side of a finger to see if it makes ripples thus proving it’s set – and eventually gave up and potted it anyway in hot, sterilized jars having let the jam sit briefly first. This, for some reason, helps ‘hold’ the chunky pieces of skin and plum that hasn’t melted through the jam rather than rising to the surface. Outside it was cold and wet as my kitchen filled with steam and gorgeous jammy smells took over from onion. Once potted, the finished jars went out on the garden table to cool. Later, still raining and now dark, it was the moment to turn a jar to see if it had set. Bingo it had and the jam looked more like jelly. Very pleased.
Made another big soup to use up chickpeas and do me for supper. I love chickpeas with plenty of well-softened onion, potato and garlic, this time finished with spinach and using a light chicken stock. This becomes a meal with a splash of olive oil and garlicky bruschetta and very thin scraps of chorizo fried to a crisp.