Follow my cookery efforts to produce twenty-one meals a week for my family and various visiting friends. I draw inspiration from historical and modern cookery writers and add dollops of poetry and prose to seek a higher purpose from the sheer monotony of it all.
"Come; give us a taste of your quality” Hamlet (to a Player).
This one is from memory, very simple and it’s quite nice as it doesn’t use coconut milk. Finely chop an onion and sweat in oil or butter in a frying pan that has a lid. Once the onion is slightly cooked, add the pork and seal/ brown the meat for a couple of minutes each side. In a separate bowl dissolve three table spoons of peanut butter in approx 300ml of chicken stock. It does actually dissolve and goes a lovely thick consistency. Then add to the pork, cover the pan and simmer for approx 20 minutes. I made the sticky rice in the Aga and served the pork and sauce on top in a large dish. I dislike serving portions to people, particularly adults, preferring to let them help themselves – we’re eating at home here and not in a restaurant. I sprinkled some chopped coriander on the top and served it with steamed green beans and sweetcorn. The pork and peanut sauce is also good served with noodles. You could garnish with whole or bashed peanuts.
As Beatle fans will know; if a Liverpudlian asks you ‘four a
fish n’ finger pie’; they may not be referring to lemon sole goujons.
Back to basics this evening; an embellished version of a
classic comfort dish.The secret of a fish
finger butty (sandwich) is the bread must be white, soft and spread with real
butter.The fish fingers should be
chunky as possible and straight from the oven so they melt the butter and
contrast with the bread.A handful of
something green adds some posh and it all starts to get a bit gastro-pub.I used watercress which was ideal for adding
a peppery crunch.
A homemade tartar sauce lifts the whole thing up a notch and
is just a simple variation on mayonnaise.Add finely chopped shallot or onion, chopped gherkins, capers, fresh
parsley and lots of lemon juice and seasoning.As on this occasion, it can often be pulled together from store cupboard
ingredients.I rarely make my own
mayonnaise, and I don’t think that would work for this use either – too
buttery.I only added shallot, lemon
juice and chopped watercress to tartar this evening and it was a last minute
addition.Keeping it simple worked just
fine.Serve tartar straight from the
fridge as it needs to be cold to contrast with the warm fish. Kids and husband loved it.Also served a bowl of peas and chopped watercress
mixed in, which everyone ate.
‘Do not do unto others as they would do to you; their tastes may not be the same’, George Bernard Shaw. (Painting - Polenta Makers - by Pietro Longhi (1751).
I’ve always been on friendly terms with polenta, but my enthusiasm for bringing it to the supper table as dinner guest hasn’t always been so warmly greeted by my nearest and dearest. Polenta is a way of life in northern Italian, and has been for generations (see painting of polenta makers from 1751), so surely we can find room in our hearts for a little?
Uncooked, polenta is a grainy, bright yellow maize.I think it’s beautiful’; it actually sparkles and glitters.I usually make up the stuff in a sauce pan from the grain, stirred and then bake it and cut it up into shapes to embellish.The advantage of this is that you can add stock or herbs to the base.However, it does then become a three part process – make it up on a stove, bake it and then re-bake or fry it for your dish; for something so, well, utility, it can seem a little over laboured.I bake mine in parchment lined roasting trays. I’ve never tried to spread it on a cheese cloth like in Pietro Longhi’s painting, but this does look fun.Once cooled, I’m sure you could build gingerbread style polenta houses with it, as it becomes quite architectural.Unfortunately, on this occasion, I could only buy pre-cooked slabs of it in the supermarket, which was disappointing, but in hindsight, as I was feeding twelve, a few shortcuts was actually helpful.It sliced easily into neat rectangles and I placed them on buttered parchment on a baking tray.
Meanwhile, I fried some mushrooms in butter. We are rather sold short on mushrooms in the UK as there are hundreds of different types of edible types of mushrooms, but only around ten types are grown commercially and therefore make it to our tables.They are good high source of vitamin B & D and treated gently, have unique, delicate flavours that are lost when they are so often drowned in unimaginative (usually cream) sauce.sI used firm Crimini mushrooms (they look like button mushrooms, but with a pale brown skin) that retain their shape after frying.I drained some of the liquid off as I didn’t want them soggy.I also added some fresh sage to the frying pan.I then drizzled olive oil over the polenta and put spoonfuls of mushrooms and fresh sage onto the polenta rectangles.I baked the trays in the oven until the polenta started to brown and sizzle.It all went and the kids ate it.I did tell them it was a kind of pizza (true).Husband was sceptical, but the taste won him over.I served the polenta with a warm beetroot, orange, feta, cucumber and lettue salad.What’s the point of having family and friends over for supper if you can’t inflict your taste on them?My adventures will polenta will continue and I pledge to go mushroom foraging with an expert at some point.
“April is the cruellest month”, TS Eliot’s The Wasteland,
1922. There is almost nothing in the fridge and I cannot face
going to the shops on a sunny day during the school holidays.I’d pulled some casserole beef from the
freezer last night and after a little flicking through some cookery books,
decided to make this simple Genoese stew from Elizabeth David’s Italian
Cookery:Slice up onions and sweat in
melted butter in a large casserole dish for about five minutes ( I used four
medium sized onions). While the onions
are cooking; prepare garlic, a thinly sliced carrot (sliced, not diced), celery
and a couple of skinned tomatoes.The
easiest way to skin a tomato is to score it with a knife, put it in a mug and
then cover it with boiling water straight from the kettle for a few minutes.It might seem a slight faff, but it makes a
subtle difference to the texture of the dish and barely takes a couple of
minutes.You’ll then be able to peal the
skin off the tomato easily. When the onions are translucent, add the beef to brown for a
few minutes until the meat is sealed and the garlic.Elizabeth David says to put the beef in as whole
steaks, but I preferred to slice ours.Then
add the carrots, celery, tomatoes and some basil (dry, or fresh chopped) and
stir for a few minutes. Ideally you’ll have some fairly inexpensive dry wine
for cooking, rather than raiding the wine store and using a rather fine Pinot
Grigio, as I did.Add one large glass, just
enough to just cover the ingredients.Once it is all simmering, slam on the casserole dish and bung in the
oven for 2-3 hours.I actually left mine
to slow cook in our Aga for about 6 hours.
Once cooked, the smell of onions and wine is divine.I also like the subtle use of tomato in this
stew.The secret of this dish is not to
use more wine than is necessary so it becomes a dense stock rather than the
other ingredients swimming in the wine.I
sprinkled some chopped fresh basil over the top before taking to the table.
I was going to serve it with a sweet potato gratin but to be
honest, the sweet potatoes were looking slightly after their ‘best before’ and
I was done with chopping.Instead, I
kept it simple; I cooked up some fusilli pasta with olive oil and a bowl of
peas with a knob of butter.Husband was
happy with an opened bottle of Pinot Grigio and enjoyed the stew.He was less impressed with pasta and peas
which he felt let the stew down. I was
tempted to invoke the words of John Lennon “give peas a chance” but he had a
point.However, I felt the fusilli was
in the Italian spirit and would please the kids who enjoyed trying to say ‘Stufato
Eliot’s ambiguous opening line; “April is the cruellest
month” probably meant that April is an in between time, a pause, as the seasons
change.There is the promise of Spring
without it’s treasures being in full bloom. I have been reading the Wasteland
backwards the last few days, to see if makes any more sense. It is still beyond me.