Monday, 11 May 2020

Lockdown diary - part 2

The second instalment of my adventures in the kitchen during the COVID19 lockdown.

2020-04-21 Cheese scones with wild garlic

Riverford sent me wild garlic this week. This is the Bero recipe for cheese scones with the addition of a handful of chopped wild garlic leaves.

2020-04-21 Tagliatelle with lardons, spring greens, and wild garlic

The petit salé makes great lardons, a nice addition to pasta and greens.

Quiche Lorraine

The last of the petit salé went into a quiche.

2020-04-23 Beer!

By now I had got through my stockpile of beer, but local brewery Calverley"s came to the rescue with a timely next-day delivery.

2020-04-25 Rhubarb chutney

Last week's rhubarb went into a crumble, so something different this week: a spicy chutney that also used up some of the onions I had accumulated from recent Riverford deliveries.

2020-04-27 Wild garlic pesto

2020-04-27 Parsnip loaf

Following a trusted recipe from "Leith's Baking Bible"

2020-04-27 Sausage, potatoes, cauliflower cheese

Riverford suggested adding the green leaves from the cauliflower to the cauliflower cheese: I second that, it works well.

2020-04-29 Chicken and mushroom lasagne

Using up some leftover roast chicken, alternating layers of chicken and mushrooms in a creamy sauce with wild garlic pesto.

2020-05-02 Roast Lamb

2020-05-04 Scottish morning rolls

The original recipe from Andrew Whitley's "Bread matters"

2020-05-04 Asparagus risotto with a soft poached egg

The first asparagus of the year from Riverford. Following a tip from Angela Hartnett, I used the asparagus stems to make a purée to stir through the risotto and enhance the flavour.

2020-05-05 Lamb curry

I had set aside a portion of the leg of lamb from the weekend before roasting it, diced and ready to go into a curry. Served here with spring greens sautéed with chilli and coconut, following a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's "Eastern Vegetarian Cooking".

2020-05-07 Lamb curry (again)

This time with cauliflower and potatoes with fenugreek, fennel and cumin, another recipe from the Madhur Jaffrey book.

2020-05-07 Savoury carrot flapjacks

I am always looking for ways to use up carrots, which appear in the veg box almost every week. This recipe for savoury flapjacks is from Riveford; it's dead straightforward and the result is very tasty, definitely something I'd make again. I threw in a handful of sunflower seeds to the mix.

Lockdown diary - part 1


I've been doing a bit more cooking than usual during lockdown, and have been keeping a photo log throughout. Here's some of what I've been up to.

2020-04-05 Chocolate Almond Cake

I've been meeting some of my London friends for a virtual afternoon tea on Sundays. We have to provide our own tea and cakes; this is the chocolate almond cake with chocolate fudge icing from "Leith's Baking Bible"

2020-04-05 Steak with spring greens, Parmesan-crusted parsnip chips, and wild garlic pesto.

2020-04-06 Leek risotto with wild garlic pesto and salmon fillet

2020-04-08 Salmon fillet with spring greens, sautéed potatoes, tartare sauce

2020-04-07 Rice pudding

Plain and simple: vanilla-infused rice pudding, recipe from Jane Grigson's "English Food".

2020-04-08 Granary rolls

Using the recipe for Scottish morning rolls from Andrew Whitley's "Bread Matters", but replacing the white and wholemeal flours for the main dough with granary. The granary flour seems to absorb less water, but reducing the quantity of water by 20ml gets the consistency of the dough about right.

2020-04-08 Sausage and mash with onion gravy


2020-04-09 Pizza with cauliflower, chorizo and caramelised onions



2020-04-10 Conchiglie with purple sprouting broccoli in tomato sauce

2020-04-10 Petit salé

This is the beginning of a dry-cured pork belly from Jane Grigson's "Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery". The cure is a mixture of salt, sugar, bay, thyme, peppercorns and juniper. The pork is cured for at least 5 days before cooking.

2020-04-11 Carrot bhajis

A great way to use up surplus carrots and most of the spices you can find in the cupboard.

2020-04-11 Twice-cooked pork belly

Served here on a bed of puy lentils and leeks with a mustard vinaigrette, and a side of spring greens.

2020-04-20 Smocked mackerel kedgeree with a hard-boiled egg

2020-04-20 Petit salé with boiled potatoes and spring greens

The petit salé was finally ready to cook, gently simmered in a large pan of water for about 45 minutes. This felt like a flash-back to the seventies, not unpleasant, but definitely a meal where you looked forward to dessert.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Lalli's carrot top dal

If you get a veg box at this time of year, one of the things you might find in it is bunched carrots complete with their leafy green tops. Treated right, these are quite delicious, so it's a shame to throw them away if they arrive in good condition. My go-to recipe is Riverford's carrot top pesto, but my friend Lalli suggested something quite different on one of our recent CTC rides together: adding the carrot tops to a lentil dal. Here is the recipe she related to me.

Lalli's Carrot Top Dal
1 bunch carrot tops, finely chopped
2 cups red lentils
1 onion, finely chopped
1" fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 tomato, cut into small dice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
salt and black pepper
a few sorrel leaves, finely sliced

Start by rinsing the carrot tops in two changes of water, then pick the leaves, discarding the tough stems. Chop very finely. I ended up with about 1 1/2 cups of carrot tops once they were prepared.

Rinse the lentils, place in a saucepan, and add enough water to cover. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan. When it is almost smoking, add the cumin seeds and let them pop. Then reduce the heat and add the onions, giving them a good stir. Adding salt at this stage will draw some water out of the onions and help them to cook without burning. Give the onions a few minutes head-start before adding the ginger, garlic and chilli. Give everything another good stir and cook for a further 2-3 minutes before adding the ground spices. When the onions are soft, stir in the diced tomato and let it all cook gently until the lentils are done.

When the lentils have been cooking for 20 minutes, add the carrot tops and let them simmer together for another 5 minutes. Add the spiced onions and tomato to the lentils, and stir in the sorrel leaves. The sorrel adds a little bitterness; if you don't have any to hand,  you could add a squeeze of lemon instead. Check the seasoning and it's ready to serve!


I served mine with some plain boiled rice, but this would also make an excellent side dish as part of a bigger meal.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A thorny issue

The gooseberry bushes in my garden have given quite a good crop this year, so I'm looking forward to cooking a few gooseberry recipes.


The simplest thing to start with is just to poach them in a light sugar syrup, which will also help preserve them. To make the syrup, put 100g sugar and 200g water in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then  simmer for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, top, tail and rinse the gooseberries. When the syrup is ready, add the gooseberries, reduce the heat, and cook gently for a few minutes. The idea is to cook them until they are soft but still keep their shape. Allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator - they should be fine for a week or two.

If you want to preserve them for longer, you can pack the topped-and-tailed gooseberries into a sterilized Kilner jar, cover completely with the sugar syrup (leaving 1/2cm or so at the top of the jar to prevent spillage during cooking) and cook in the pressure cooker. Put the lid on the jar before cooking, tighten, then unscrew 1/4 turn to allow for expansion. Place the jar on a trivet in the pressure cooker, add 3/4 litre boiling water, put on the lid and bring slowly to low pressure (5lb). Cook for 1 minute then remove from the heat and let the pressure drop naturally. When cool enough to handle, tighten the lid. Check the seal after 24 hours. They will keep unrefrigerated for a year.

I like to serve them with a buttermilk panna cotta.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
300ml double cream
300ml buttermilk
50g sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
3 leaves gelatine (see note below)

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile warm the cream to just below boiling point. Stir in the sugar and vanilla. Squeeze out the gelatine leaves and add to the cream, stirring until dissolved. Stir in the cold buttermilk, check for sweetness (you might want to add more sugar), then pour into moulds and chill until set (about 2 hours). Note that gelatine sheets come in different sizes and may have different setting properties. The packet I used said that 12 sheets would set 1 litre of fruit jelly, but I used proportionately less to set 600ml of buttermilk and cream.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

It doesn't travel well

I was invited to a garden party at the weekend, the hosts were providing savoury food and guests were asked to bring drinks and something for dessert. English strawberries are in season right now, delicious and sweet, so I thought I'd take along a strawberry tart. This is a simple thing: a sweet shortcrust case filled with crème patissière and fresh strawberries. I rustled one up on Sunday morning, and the finished product looked like this:
The garden party was in a small village on the other side of Cambridge, a gentle 8-mile cycle ride away. By the time I got there, the tart looked like this:
Rather embarrassing, but the hosts were very understanding. Next time I'm cycling somewhere with dessert, I'll make sure it's something more robust.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Roasted romanesco with chilli and soy

This makes a nice side dish, or can be served with rice for a quick mid-week supper. The vegetables take about 15 minutes to cook, which is just long enough to get some water on and cook the rice. The recipe (Annie O'Carroll's Roast Calabrese with Chilli and Soy) appears in the Riverford Farm Cook Book and works equally well with romanesco.

Cut the romanesco (or broccoli) into florets, toss in olive oil, and roast in a 200℃ oven. After 10 minutes, add 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, a hot red chilli, finely chopped, and a teaspoon of sesame seeds. Roast for a further 5 minutes, remove from the oven, season generously with soy sauce, and serve immediately.

I find this works best with smaller florets (so you get more crunchy bits). If the vegetables aren't cooked enough for your taste, you could increase the initial cooking time to 12-15 minutes, but don't cook for more than 5 minutes after the garlic has been added as it will burn and become bitter.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Book review: Cooking for Geeks

My shelves are groaning under the weight of cookery books, but there aren't many I've read from cover to cover. "Cooking for Geeks" is one of those gems that is both an excellent reference manual and a good read. While this book does contain some recipes (100 or so), it's not the one to buy if you're looking for a recipe book. Recipes give you quantities of ingredients and step by step instructions for transforming those ingredients into great meals. This book goes some way to explaining the whys and wherefores of each of those steps. Once you have an understanding of the processes involved in cooking and preparing food - and the science behind them - you can start adapting recipes and inventing new ones. You'll know when an ingredient can be substituted, and what with. You'll know when a step in a recipe can be skipped. You'll start to spot - and correct for - mistakes in published recipes.




The book encourages us to treat our kitchens as our own personal chemistry lab, and it builds the confidence we need to start experimenting.  Most important of all, it encourages us to have fun with our cooking. A geeky humour runs throughout the book, with the title of the first chapter, "Hello, kitchen," setting the tone. Of course there’s some serious stuff in here too, including an essential section on food safety and foodborne illness.

I'm surprised at just how much information has been packed into the 400 pages of this book. Want to know how to pasteurize an egg? The temperature collagen starts to break down when you cook meat? Where to find enzymes that will do the same job? It’s all in here. (See http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596805890/ for the full table of contents.)

There are also plenty of helpful tips along the way. I now cook pancakes without any fat in the pan. You need a good non-stick pan to do this, but they cook more evenly this way. And on the gadget front, I’m looking out for a compressed gas cream whipper so I can try foamed scrambled eggs and instant chocolate mousse.

As expected, the chemicals used to make the foams, spheres, and heat-stable gels of molecular gastronomy make an appearance, and the book gives a good introduction to sous vide cooking. This is where food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag (the "sous vide" part) and cooked in a temperature-controlled water bath, a method of cooking used extensively in top restaurants where consistency is key. Sous vide is gaining popularity in domestic kitchens, with the first water bath aimed at the domestic consumer arriving on the European market just a couple of months ago. My friends thought I was crazy when I spent almost a month’s salary on a water bath and vacuum packing machine earlier this year, but once you’ve tried fillet steak cooked sous vide (a perfect medium rare throughout) and confit pork cheeks (cooked gently in goose fat for 36 hours), there’s no turning back.

If you’re really interested in the science of cooking, you’ll want Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” on your shelves and perhaps “The Science of Cooking” by Peter Barham. But you can’t have too many cookery books, and “Cooking for Geeks” is a very readable introduction to the subject with plenty of light-hearted diversions to keep it from getting too dry.  I particularly enjoyed the interviews and guest appearances by some of my favourite food bloggers -  it was like having old friends around.

The author sums up my feelings brilliantly in the afterword:

"Curiosity and the joy of discovering how something works are two of a geek's defining characteristics. I can think of very few other things that have brought me as much joy as learning to cook and providing for others. It scratches the same neurons that solving a puzzle or producing a brilliant piece of code does, but tastes better and often takes less time - not to mention that you can do it for other people and make them happy too!"

Some of my geek friends might find a copy in their seasonal festive stockings this year. Now, back to the kitchen.

This review appeared in the December 2010 issue of news@uk, the newsletter of UKUUG, the UK's Unix and Open Systems User Group.