Pages

Friday

The House Guest

There are many things I am not good at.  I cannot ride a bicycle, or drive a car.  I’m not very good at remembering faces, or names, or my keys.  My hearing is awful, as are my eyes.  I’m awful at packing, I’m not very good at planning things, thinking ahead, gardening.  I am in no shape or form funny, I cannot tell a joke. And, of course, I’m not very good at roasting meat. These are things I have mostly accepted, and resolved to try harder to improve on.  There’s one thing that I do find very tricky, and I don’t mean to portray myself as a social outcast, but I’m not very good at talking to people.  In general, I’m a pretty awkward person; this obviously isn’t helped by my bad hearing, poor eyesight, and inability to make someone laugh.  I’d like to be charming and charismatic, but in reality, well, it just doesn’t turn out like that.  I’m always nervous, not often relaxed, and I’m scared of most things.  This is something I do try and work on, but it’s not something that changes easily.

We had a houseguest staying for a few days.  He was a friend of my brother, and after the second night he had been staying with us, I realised I hadn’t had a proper conversation with him.  This wasn’t entirely due to my conversational inabilities.  We were both at work all day, and I’d been out both of the evenings he had been staying.  The only words we’d shared were goodnight, as I wandered into the sitting room where he was sleeping one night, forgetting that he would be in there (did I mention my awful memory?).

So on the third day of his stay, I could think of no reason not to cook dinner for us all, sit down and finally talk.  Because although I’m no socialite, something happens when I’m sat at a table laden with food I have cooked that makes me relaxed.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m more worried about a person liking my food than liking me, it takes the pressure off me socially.  Plus, if it’s a dinner party, there are people around who aren’t me.  So I invited one of my friends.

All in all, it was a success, aided in part by the bottles of wine and cider littering the table, but also by the kind of table laden with homely, unpretentious food.  I say that like I could cook a dinner that would seem pretentious. Maybe I could.  But when I’m cooking for someone who I’d like to know better, a simple tart and a vegetable stew is, in my mind, the perfect way to strike up a conversation.


Tomato Tart
For six (it’s good for lunch the next day too)
1kg tomatoes
200g mascarpone
75g Gruyere, grated
100g Parmesan, grated
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
two big handfuls of basil
salt and pepper
500g puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 200°c
Roll out the pastry, place on a floured baking sheet, and put in the fridge until you’re ready to layer it.
In a bowl, mash the mascarpone with the garlic, add the grated cheeses and the basil leaves, and stir until all mixed together.  Season with salt and pepper.
Slice the tomatoes.
Spread the mascarpone mixture onto the pastry leaving a finger space around the edge.
Layer the tomatoes on top, they will overlap, and it might not look beautiful, but you want as many slices as you can possible fit on.
Sprinkle over a bit of salt and pepper.  Some thyme leaves wouldn’t go amiss if you fancied.
Put in the oven for 30 minutes.
Turn the oven down to 150°c and leave the tart for another 35 minutes.


 Summer Vegetable Stew
For four
500g charlotte potatoes, or other small waxy potatoes, halved lengthways
Four or five shallots cut into wedges
3 leeks cut into chunks
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 bulbs of fennel cut into wedges
6 big tomatoes, chopped
700ml vegetable stock
pinch of saffron
3 thyme sprigs
4tsp tomato puree
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
lemon juice
grated gruyere (optional)

Sauté the potatoes, leeks and onions with the garlic for about 15 minutes.
Add the stock, the saffron, thyme, cayenne and tomato puree.  Season with salt and pepper, then bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are just becoming tender.
Add the fennel and the tomatoes.  Cook for another 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are cooked.
Add the lemon juice and cook for one more minute before serving with some crusty bread.  If you want some grated cheese on top, it is good, but we only had it because there was some left over from the tart.


Monday

Chutney

I smashed my phone just over a week ago, and it started something within me that I am finding hard to overcome.  True, when I first sent it away to get fixed, I was nervous about how I was going to cope without it.  I’ve had an iPhone for years now, and I’d begun to be accustomed to the immediate access it gives me to everything I thought I needed.  But by the end of the weekend, I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom.  After a few more days I realised I hadn’t checked my email in over two days and that my blog was neglected. I bought a real newspaper, instead of checking the new online.  I spent my mornings with a cup of coffee and a book, I spent my lunch breaks doing the crossword, and my evenings knitting, with nothing but the radio in the background and a cup of fresh mint tea. I went back to Bristol for a few nights, left my laptop in London, and didn’t miss it one bit.

Which brings me to now, and my current predicament, which is best summed up by the fact that I am going to buy a typewriter tomorrow.

I want to make some bread.  I want to smoke my own bacon, cure some ham, some salmon.  I want to make cheese, yoghurt.  I want to get a couple of dogs and a goat.  Perhaps a cow. I want to climb a mountain and go swimming in the sea.  I want to see some cliffs.  Some real cliffs.  I want to eat fish and chips with my legs dangling off a harbour wall, with one eye peeled for greedy seagulls.

Is this a natural reaction to living in London for a while?  Perhaps I’m just tired.  I’ve been spending a lot of time doing London things, the kind of things I usually try to avoid.  Like Soho on a Friday night.  Or Oxford Street on a Saturday morning, and the central line at five o'clock.  It's enough to make anyone want to run away.

So that's exactly what I did: I ran away to Bristol, and more specifically, my parents’ kitchen.  I picked some tomatoes in the garden.  I walked the dogs in the woods and came so close to a cow I could’ve touched it.  I went to the farmers market in St. Nicks, bought some more wool and knitting needles.  I walked the dogs in the woods again, in the heaviest rainstorm I've seen for a long time.  And then I settled down with the radio playing, and made some chutney.

Making chutney is something I have never done before.  I have trouble with the idea of making something that I cannot eat immediately.  Plus I rarely have enough of anything to make chutney, or jam, or anything traditionally used for preserving those lovely gluts of delicious things. I'm developing a real chip on my shoulder about not having space to grow anything edible, which is only heightened by the fact that as I write this from my flat, I can see my neighbours picking cherries off their tree and debating when the apples will be ready.  Salt in the wound, I tell you.  But anyway, I love chutney.  When there's some in the flat, I eat it on most things, but a jar never lasts more than a couple of days around here.  There are some really good chutneys around, which is another reason why I've never really made any.  Duchy Originals tomato is one of my favourites, but the Toast rhubarb chutney is something very special indeed (from a company called Toast, how could you expect anything less?). I didn't have a recipe to hand, so I raided the fridge, ate a lot of cheese and chutney as research, put some things in a big pan and hoped for the best.  No one's going to eat it until next year, so I can't tell you whether it's nice or not.  But it was so worth making, just for that delicious sense of calm.



Tomato Chutney
makes three big jars or four little ones
750g tomatoes
four onions, chopped
four cloves of garlic, finely chopped
two carrots, finely chopped
two sticks of celery, finely chopped
100g raisins, roughly chopped
300ml of white wine vinegar
300g light brown muscavado sugar
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds



Cook the onion, garlic, carrots and celery over a low to medium heat
Add the mustard seeds
Add the chopped tomatoes, raisins, sugar and vinegar
Cook for an hour, maybe more, until it is chutney-ish
Spoon into sterilised jars and leave to cool before storing for a few months.








































































Thursday

Cooking for my Folks

These recipes are from a while ago, when it was still somewhat warm and sunny in the Bristol area. They don't seem really relevant looking at the rain outside, but they do make me think of those days, when it was warm.  Remember those?  Hopefully the idea of cooking these and eating them outside, without a cardigan, or umbrella, will jog the memory.

I hadn’t been home to see my parents in far too long, so, knowing they would be out all day, I offered to cook dinner for them.  It was an offer that they took me up on, and I instantly regretted.  I had to walk home, which takes around an hour on a good day, with all my bags.  I’m an awful packer, and usually choose bags for style rather than practicality.  This means they dug into my shoulders, hit my thigh in such a way that when I got home there was a purple bruise the size of a fist and, oddly, the shape of a pigs head, and generally made for a hideously uncomfortable hours walk.  Except now, I had to stop at the greengrocers, butchers, deli and bakers on my way home, to buy the ingredients for the Spanish feast I had in mind.  I had thought to myself how nice it would be to wander round Clifton village, steadily filling up a bag with delicious ingredients.  My train, however, didn’t get in until half four.  So if I had walked home and back, all the shops would have closed, and we’d be eating cheese and biscuits for dinner.

And so, my already overflowing bags were stuffed further with chicken thighs, three different kinds of chorizo, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots.  By the time I got home I ached all over, and was far too hot.

But the best thing about tapas, is they really don’t take long to cook, and all I really needed to do was some chopping, and there’s nothing I like more than some good chopping to calm me down.  So I started my chicken, put my stew in the simmering oven, prepped all my dishes, and still had some time to run round the woods with the dogs.

The dinner that followed was eaten slowly while we caught up, before we all collapsed, well fed and relaxed, in front of a bad film.



Chorizo and Tomato Salad
For four
five large tomatoes
four spring onions
oilive oil
sherry vinegar
100g fresh chorizo, chopped into chunks.

Fry chorizo in some olive oil, you can add a tsp of smoked paprika to it if you like it a bit spicier.
Leave chorizo to cool in a bowl with the cooking oil.
Slice tomatoes and arrange in a bowl, or individual bowls.
Chop spring onions and scatter over the tomatoes, followed by the chorizo.
Mix the cooking oil with the sherry vinegar until you have a vinagrette you’re happy with. You might want to add more olive oil.
Dress the salad and serve.

Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Parsley
For four
Eight chicken thighs
Juice of three lemons
Four to five cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A big handful of parsley
Salt

Preheat the oven to 180°c
Salt the chicken thighs before browning them in a hot pan.  This is best to do in batches.
Place in an ovenproof dish with the garlic and cook fro 30-40 minutes, till the juice runs clear.
Remove thighs and leave to rest.  Drain most of the oil, reserving two or three tablespoons as as much of the garlic as you can
Over a medium heat, warm the oil, add the lemon juice and parsley, warm for a minute, and spoon over the chicken.
Serve.

Lettuce Salad
For four
Two or three lettuce hearts
4 tablespoons of single cream
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
pecans, roughly chopped
white wine vinegar
olive oil
salt

Marinade the lettuce hearts in the oil and vinegar for up to an hour.
Mix the cream with the mustard.
Pour over the hearts, scatter the pecans, season with salt and serve

Garlic Mushrooms
For four
1kg white mushrooms
three to four garlic cloves, finely chopped
parsley
nine tablespoons olive oil
salt

Preheat the oven to 180°c
Season mushrooms with salt, add garlic and oil
Bake for five minutes
Turn oven up to 220°c and leave for another 5-10 minutes.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Chickpea and Chorizo Stew
For Four
A glass of red or white wine (red is nice in winter, white is good for a warmer day)
400g can of chickpeas, drained
three garlic cloves, finely chopped
one onion, finely chopped
two carrots, chopped
400g chorizo
250g smoked back bacon
five tomatoes
parsley

Preheat the oven to 180°c
Sweat the onion for around five minutes, before adding the garlic and then the carrots.  Give it all a good stir and leave to soften.
Add the bacon and chorizo, followed by the glass of wine.  Leave to bubble for a bit, before adding the chopped tomatoes, and perhaps a glug of water.
Add the chickpeas and put in the oven for forty-five minutes.

This, as with all stews, is better the day after.  You’d think with all the other things we ate, there would be some left over for the next day to test that theory.  But greed is a trait that runs in my family, so we managed to polish this particular feast off very well indeed.

Tuesday

Out

I had a birthday recently, and I made a resolution that I would stop eating prepared meals.  Too often I’d stop at the supermarket on my way home, buy a carton of soup, not be able to eat it all, and forget the other half, sitting lonely in the fridge until it made its inevitable trip to the bin.  I knew it was stupid.  I’ve got a freezer.  I like making soup, and it’s really not that hard to make extra for the freezer.  On the face of it, it is a flawless plan.  Not that I just eat soup, but having a selection of things in the fridge to make a quick salad, a stir fry, some tahini-dressed rice, really isn’t that hard.  I’m good at planning meals, mainly because I think about food a lot, so it seemed to make sense.

But, as with the case with most of my plans, sometimes it just doesn’t work out like you mean it to.  However, the determined sort of girl that I am refuses to go back on this resolution, and so I’ve managed to stay away from the soup counter.  It does mean that occasionally, I eat a whole pack of oatcakes with hummus and cheese, or chocolate hobnobs.  But I do need real food every once in a while, and sometimes I just have to go out.

I don’t want to be a restaurant critic, but luckily, with the places that I have eaten in the past weeks, I have nothing to criticise.

First, there was NOPI for lunch.  Then there was Fino for dinner.  Then the Drapers Arms for chips and starters to accompany a bottle of rose, and most recently, the Modern Pantry for supper.  All have made me want to cook more, and made me want to cook better.  After NOPI I rushed out and bought Plenty.  I’ve been looking at it for a long time, but have decided, for the time being, that anything I cook out of it will disappoint me, because that lunch at NOPI was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.  There was the most delicious burrata, miso quail, pig’s cheek, aubergine, prawns and sea bass, brought to our tiny (and overflowing) table to be met with ever-mounting excitement.  Towards the end my stomach was actually aching, but, not wanting to miss out on pudding, we still shared chocolate with peanut brittle.  I have one warning about NOPI, you have to go with someone you trust, because there is an overwhelming temptation after the first bite of one of the dishes, to eat it all and not to share any of it.  Of course, this is not the ethos of the restaurant, and is mean.  But I’m just saying it’s very hard to share something that delicious.


Oh, and I can’t write about going to NOPI without mentioning the bathrooms.  I won’t say anything more. Just go, and go to the bathroom.  Almost as good as the food.  Almost.


Fino for tapas was a similar eating experience, in the way that there were small sharing dishes, but there was a very different feeling to it.  Fino is refined and slightly more reserved.  It was delicious, but perhaps slightly less memorable than NOPI.  But really, they are not comparable.  Fino was amazing.  Pimientos de padron, a meat plate, a platter of manchego and quince jelly, quail, and the tomato and chorizo salad is something that I will continue to attempt to recreate; I’ve tried once, and it was good, but not Fino level.  Perhaps I need to go back again, just for one more taste.

The Drapers Arms is always good for food.  I am sad that the oysters have been taken off the bar menu, as I still don’t understand why oysters have seasons.  If anyone can give me a definite answer on that I’d be most grateful, unless anyone tells me they migrate, because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that oysters can’t swim.  We thus ignored the bar menu, and just ordered a couple of starters and a bowl of chips, along with a really lovely bottle of rose.  It really was good.  But anyway, the food.  We had razor clams and beetroot cured trout, and, of course, the chips.  The perfect chips.  Fat, crispy but not dry, and the best level of salty.  I love the fact that there is a pub so close to my work that does food this good.  So often I end up at a pub, not having had time to eat, and sometimes I want something more than crisps.  Or even olives.  And the Draper’s, well, what more could you want from a pub?


So, finally, The Modern Pantry.  The restaurant was full, so we ate in the cafĂ©, which was perfect.  St John’s square was full and bustling, and it was so lovely to be able to watch the world going by with a good friend.  I had the scallops, the most delicious scallops, but I also stole a chip from my good friend (while he was distracted by the bustling square…) and, although the drapers arms chips were fantastic, that chip, well, it could have been the perfect chip.  I think they might have been fried in dripping, because they tasted deliciously meaty.  And, the very best things about them, is that they had a crust.  I don’t know how it was done, but they had an almost roast potato crust, but on a chip, with fluffy juicy insides.  If I could’ve stolen another, I would’ve stolen another, but unfortunately said friend enjoyed them as much as I did, and next time I looked at his plate, they’d all disappeared.  Overall, it was a really great supper, and the modern pantry definitely warrants a return visit.  Or five.


I will return to cooking soon, but for the time being I am very much enjoying being fed.  

Thursday

Timing

As a cook, it would be sensible to know your timings.  With most things; stews, soups, cake, my timings are usually good.  I am familiar with these things.  I know when they look right, taste right, and are ready to eat.  And so, I trust my instinct.  When it comes to roasting meat, however, timing scares me.  I have many goals when it comes to cookery, and one of my most ambitions, and perhaps extravagant, is that one day, some day, I’d like to buy a whole fillet of beef, and roast it, and know, or trust, that when I take it out of the oven, I’ll know it’s perfect.

Until then, I am trying, really trying, to become confident in roasting meat.  I live with a vegetarian, so if I buy meat, I know I’ll have to eat it all myself.  It’s not often, therefore, that I get a piece of meat big enough to roast.

It is fortunate for me, therefore, that a friend of mine, a keen meat eater, has recently moved to London, and was free for a Sunday supper.  It is unfortunate, however, that my work schedule means I have to work until six in the evening every Sunday this month, so the perfect roast still eludes me., but a rack of lamb, well, it doesn’t take too long to cook, does it?

I read somewhere (probably nigel slater) that summer lamb is an often-ignored treat.  When I think about it, that makes a lot of sense.  I am the type of girl who prefers a rump steak to a fillet.  I appreciate a tender piece of meat, and, through a rudimentary knowledge of biology and butchery, I understand that the tenderest meat is that which hasn’t done much work.  I also understand that tougher meat has more flavour.  So although the lamb of summer is not as tender as those little baby lambs of spring, it has more flavour.  And, at my butcher’s at least, is it infinitely cheaper.

So, there I was on Sunday afternoon.  My rack of lamb had been marinading whilst I was out, I got home and preheated the oven, let my lamb warm up a bit out of the fridge, and, well, I’d never roasted a rack of lamb before.

In conclusion, my timing was off.  I had to put my lamb back in the oven not once, not twice, but three times.  When it came out the final time, however, it was delicious.  Honestly, I was surprised.  I think we were both surprised.  I’m not sure I learnt any lessons about roasting meat, because my rack of lamb was probably in the oven for around 25 minutes, which seems like an awfully long time for a mere pound of lamb.  It came out pink, tender, and tasting like lamb.  So, I will post the recipe, and emphasise that most people are probably better at this that me, and so will know how long their own rack of lamb will take in their own oven. 

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb
For two
A rack of lamb
Dijon mustard
For the marinade
Olive oil
Tablespoon of Dijon mustard
Thyme, finely chopped
Rosemary, finely chopped
Parsley, finely chopped
two cloves of garlic, finely chopped
For the crust
Breadcrumbs
Parsley
Thyme
Rosemary
Parsley
3 cloves garlic

Let the lamb marinade, preferably all day, but for at least an hour
Preheat the oven to 200°C
Get the lamb out of the fridge around half an hour before cooking.
Shake off the marinade, and sear the meat in a hot pan.
Let the lamb rest for 5-10 minutes.
For the crust, process garlic and herbs until they are all well-combined and mix with the breadcrumbs.
Brush the lamb with mustard, roll in the crust until it is coated.
Put in the oven for however long a rack of lamb takes.


Tomato and Fennel salad
For two
Six to eight cherry tomatoes
1 bulb of fennel
1 courgette, sliced
thyme
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

preheat the oven to 170°C
lay most of the tomatoes, cut in half, on a lightly oiled baking tray, scatter with a few thyme leaves and some salt and put in the oven for around half an hour, or until semi dry.
Cut the fennel into wedges and cook in a pan with a little water and a knob of butter.
When soft, add the courgette.
Add the dried tomatoes and the rest of the fresh tomatoes.
Dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some salt and black pepper.

So that was the main, but what would a sunday lunch be without a crumble? And what would a summer lunch be without some cherries?  And so a cherry crumble was the perfect end.

Cherry and Almond Crumble
For four
600g cherries, stalks and stones removed
two tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of cornflour
4 tablespoons of water
juice of half a lemon
120g plain flour
85g butter
3 tablespoons caster sugar
4 tablspoons ground almonds
4 tablespoon flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C
In a pan, heat the cherries over a low heat with the water and sugar for around ten minutes.
Take out two teaspoons of juice from the pan and mix with the cornflour until it is completely dissolved, and then add back into the pan.
When the syrup thickens, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice
Rub the butter and flour together in a big bowl until it resembles very small pebbles  Add the sugar and the ground almonds and stir in.
Scatter on top of the cherries, followed by the flaked almonds.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the crumble has browned slightly and the fruit is bubbling.
Serve with cream.

Monday

It's a Cake

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to bake a cake.  It was baking that really made me want to cook.  When I was younger, baking was so incredibly fashionable, and, obviously the young impressionable girl I was, I bought into it whole-heartedly.  At school we’d take the train to London simply for the Hummingbird Bakery’s red velvet cupcakes.  When I was in New York the only place I insisted we visit was the magnolia bakery.  I devoured the baking books from both these institutions, and soon was obsessed with that feeling of presenting people you loved with something you’d made, and enjoy it with them.

That feeling soon came to be joined with all the things I made; there were cakes, brownies and biscuits, and later bread, stews, soups, casseroles and pies.  At some point along the line I realised it wasn’t just that feeling I was looking for anymore, it was simply a love for cooking.  It doesn’t matter who I’m cooking for, and I’ll take as much pleasure from cooking for a group of friends than a solitary supper, it’s the cooking, and of course the eating, that makes me happiest now.  Of course it still feels nice to place a meal in front of friends and family that they really enjoy, but I’ve moved on from being a feeder, to being a cook.

But it has been too long since I baked a cake.  I’ve been trying to avoid eggs, as since I moved to London we haven’t really got on with each other.  But my flat has been really lacking in a cake to snack on, and I've decided that as long as I steer clear of too much raw cake mixture, things will be fine.

It is strange, however, how, since not having cake in so long it’s not the sweet stodgy cupcakes I’m after.  I want something that’s a little more, well, savoury.  I’m not about to bake a broccoli cake (although there is one in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea that I’ve been eyeing up for some time now) but something with lemon, pistachio and polenta made my mouth water just enough to convince me to bake it.

I like to make my cakes by hand, with a wooden spoon.  I don’t know why, but I always have.  I think the nerd in me just like to watch everything going on, or maybe it’s just a mild arm ache makes me feel entitled to more cake.  I have nothing against mixers, but the one in the cupboard remains untouched. I also like to beat my butter before adding the sugar, but I’m not sure if this makes any difference at all, it’s just something I do.

Just one more note on the cake; if made in a big tin, it has a tendency to sink in the middle.  I’d recommend using two 6x4 inch loaf tins.  Or eight of the little 2.5x6 inch ones, if you happen to have them lying around.  Plus, this cake seems to get better with a little age.  I think it's better on the second day, and it will stay good for around five days - it's a very moist cake, so it's nice to have around the house.  Perhaps a little dangerous if you live on your own...

Lemon and Pistachio Polenta Cake

Serves 8-10

500g unsalted butter
450g caster sugar
the zest of four lemons
the juice of one lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 eggs
400g ground almonds
240g polenta
150g coursly ground pistachios
2 tsp baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 160°C

Line your chosen baking tins with greaseproof paper.

Cream butter and sugar until they’re very pale

Add lemon zest, juice and vanilla extract

Add eggs, one at a time, with lots of beating in between each one

In a separate bowl, mix polenta, almonds, pistachios, baking powder and salt, and then fold gently into the egg mixture.

Spoon into tins (it should be very thick) and bake for 35-40 minutes for little tins, around an hour for bigger ones, or until a knife comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tins until completely cool.

Ice with lemon fondant and scatter chopped pistachios on top.

Wednesday

A Perfect Picnic

The picnic I went to on Saturday was, I think, the perfect picnic. Usually, my favourite kind of picnic is the one that starts with a couple of beers in the park on a sunny afternoon.  In my experience the best picnics are the impromptu ones, that start with a few people and a few drinks, and end up with a whole array of hastily put together snacks and invitations given to everyone we know within a three mile radius.  But yesterday’s picnic was different.  It was a birthday picnic, and planning had taken place.  It was a very different affair, but it was perfect.

I arrived late, after a lot of hapless wandering around Battersea Park, but as I approached the assembled party I was lucky to get the full affect of a very pretty picnic.  We were all dressed up, there were floating dresses and some very elegant tailoring.  There was a beautiful rug, a straw mat, tin plates, mugs, there was a collection of champagne-filled jam jars, and a crystal jug full of gin and tonic with pink grapefruit.  The sun was filtering through the trees, we had plates of meat, cheese and olives, a delicious spinach tart, strawberries and chocolate.  The picnic rug was near-overflowing with an array of beautifully presented, and tasting, food.

Word is spreading among my friends that I like to cook, so when asked to bring some food, I was a little nervous. It is hard when people know you like to cook, and yet they’ve never tasted your food.  That first time is always nerve-racking, so I made a dish that has never got a bad review, and, I think, is the perfect picnic salad.  Lentils are a really good picnic dish, anyway you cook them.  They travel well, and they enjoy a little time soaking in the dressing.  My only tip for lentils that have to travel is don't overcook them.  Left with a little bite, when they are finally unveiled, they have a firm texture that is hard to beat.  Plus, when they're served in a big bowl,  all you need is a spoon. 

The tomato dish is an odd one.  Not quite a salad, and leaning towards a dip.  I was going to make a panazella, but, although I do love a really good panazella, there was something about soggy bread at an English picnic that didn’t seem quite right.  So I simply made the base in a big bowl, and served it with a beautiful loaf of sourdough, which we broke into chunks and used to scoop the tomatoes and their juice in to our mouths, and quite often, down our fronts.  It would’ve been nice spooned over some garlic toasts in a bruchetta style affair, but it did taste delicious, and im looking forward to making again the very next picnic I attend.

Lentil and Bacon Salad
for six
a cup of green lentils
one large onion, studded with six to eight cloves
two or three carrots, peeled and cubed
200g smoked bacon, cubed
two sticks of celery
a handful of coriander leaves
a handful of chives, chopped
two shallots
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Fry half of the bacon until it has crisp edges, and add one of the shallots, peeled and finely chopped.
When the shallots are cooked, transfer the whole lot into a bowl.
Cook the lentils, carrots and the rest of the bacon in boiling water with the clove-studded onion for 15-20 minutes.
Drain and rinse, removing the onion, and place in the bowl with the fried bacon and shallot.
Chop the celery, and add to the lentils.
Finely slice the shallot and add to the bowl.
Scatter the herbs and dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper.

Tomatoes with lots of juice
for six
six big tomatoes
a handful of cherry tomatoes
a big handful of basil
two garlic cloves
white wine vinegar
olive oil
salt
a pinch of sugar
crusty bread to serve

Roughly chop all the tomatoes and put them in a big bowl, trying not to leave too much juice on the chopping board.
Tear off the leaves of the basil and throw them in.
Crush the garlic cloves into the bowl.
Add a sprinkling of sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a little white wine vinegar.
I'm not a huge fan of raw garlic, so if it tastes too harsh, a pinch of sugar in the juices should balance it out.
Eat with plenty of bread and lots of napkins.

Monday

An Interlude

Before I get posting on my recipes from the weekend, I just wanted to share these photos from the most incredible market stall in Majorca.  Growing up in cities I've always found markets a little...I don't think frightening is the right word, but maybe untrustworthy.  It's just hard for me to forgo the pre-packaged, ready to eat vegetables and meat that I am so familiar with.  I know as someone who is interested in food I should be exploring all the great London markets, but, it's hard.  I think I have trust issues when it comes to food.


Markets in Europe, however, are a different matter altogether. For some reason, when it's warm and busy and noisy, I am more tempted to buy things.  Plus, I feel like more like a continental European, and less like and English person abroad, although when I'm ordering by pointing at thinks with an apologetic grin, I'm sure I look even more English.  The food market in Venice was probably my favorite place in the city,  I could've gone every day I was there.  In fact, I wish I had.


But on a trip to Majorca, I was older and wiser and strode into each market with a more focused agenda: buy what looks delicious and see whether I can get it home.  Usually it was eaten in the car on the way back.  Especially those little flour covered sausages.  I am sure my vegetarian brother looked on in disgust as we ripped them from the bag and demolished them in the manner of, well, I think the only way that can adequately describe us, is by comparing us to the apes in the first part of 2001: Space Odyssey.

I don't know why those kind of lunches are only limited to holiday.  The lunches where you just buy a loaf of soft bread, make a big salad, get some cheese, some cured meats and sit around for hours.  Perhaps it's to do with the amount of time they take, and the crisp white wine that is an essential accompaniment.  If I have one resolution for this summer though, it is to have more of those lunches.  They are so utterly simple, and never fail to be delicious.  Plus, it's a reason for me to hunt down some more good markets. The Brindisa Shop in Borough Market is definitely top of the list at the moment. 

Another thing I feel I've been missing out on this summer, is the barbeque.  I've only got a tiny patio, and I don't have a barbeque, although I am lusting after one of those big fire pits. Anyway, my sister and her fiance were on holiday with us in Majorca, and they lived in Chile for over a year which, in my mind, makes them the king and queen of barbeque.  We had the best barbeque I've ever eaten.  Nothing was burnt, nothing was tough, everything was cooked.  I know that's not a particularly high criteria to judge a barbeque on, but in my experience, that's what makes one good.  This barbeque, however, was spectacular.  Tiny spicy sausages in bread, pork fillets and steak, all slathered in the most delicious pebre, something I'd never heard of before, but I am told is the chilean answer to chimichurri, and really is delicious.  All washed down with beer and rose made for a really great barbeque.

There are thousands of different recipes for pebre out there, and it is one of those things you make to your own taste.  This is the combination we used.  As for amounts, I think it's really up to whoever is making it.

Pebre

a few hot chilies
a handful of coriander
1 onion
olive oil
lemon juice from one lemon
white wine vinegar
two big tomatoes
two cloves of garlic

Chop the tomatoes, chilies, onion and coriander finely and put in a bowl.
Crush the garlic into the bowl
Generously dress with olive oil, white wine vinegar and lemon juice
Eat with barbecued meat.