I've been slightly out of commission for a week or so and I come back to find my world turned upside down. Barack Obama, quiet, resolute and determined, finally passed his 'Obamacare' bill (and I still can't get my head around the counter-arguments so we'll leave that to the more politically astute like Tania K), Sophie Dahl stopped being a model and started being a cook, albeit not in her own kitchen (would anyone actually ever put their own kitchen on TV? see above), and Marco Pierre White lost the plot completely and started batting for Bernard Matthews' turkeys - although not literally; perhaps he leaves that to their employees. India Knight wrote a terrific, typically funny piece on it last Sunday.
Meanwhile I have been cooking and pottering. Last Thursday I was down in Hastings for a spring day by the seaside, coming home loaded with home-cured bacon, gooseberry & sloe gin jam (particularly good on toasted muffins topped with ricotta) and a gloriously verdant pot of wild garlic pesto which seems to find its way into nearly every meal - including breakfast (try smothered on hot toast topped with roasted tomatoes) at the moment.
And I have spread my baking wings a little further. Nigel's Demerara Lemon cake from Kitchen Diaries was such a triumph I baked it two weekends in a row. This weekend I am making the dessert wine-based bread & butter pudding I made at Christmas, but instead of using panettone, I am using Columba, an Easter cake similarly spiced that I found in the Polish shop. More on that treasure trove in a mo.
But finally finally the irresistible pull of spring has begun in earnest. Venturing to the farmers' market for the first time in 3 weeks, my heart beat a little faster at the sight of Pink Fir Apple potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli and spring greens. I thought I'd just make a note of a couple of the more seasonally-apt dinners we've had that hint at the change in season.
Tuesday night: 2 enormous pork chops baked in the oven with a little seasoning and lemon juice accompanied by chicory braised in 1/2 cup of chicken stock, lemon juice and Parmesan until tender and a salad of those Pink Fir Apples, boiled until just tender, halved and tossed in a dressing of cider vinegar, olive oil, spring onions and plenty of salt and pepper.
Wednesday night: Lamb chops, again baked in the oven, with a little cherry tomato salad. I added moutabal - an aubergine puree that couldn't be easier. Bake an aubergine, slit all over, in a hot oven until wrinkly and collapsed - 45 minutes should do it. Scrape out the flesh and beat with a tsp or so of tahini, plenty of lemon juice, a crushed clove of garlic and season. I had thought I might make a chickpea mash to go with it, but I'm re-reading Nigel's Tender Vol 1 (another sign of spring) and used his recipe for chickpea patties. Whiz a can of chickpeas with an egg, parsley, garlic, mint, paprika, salt and pepper, ground cumin and coriander until almost smooth but with a bit of texture. (At this point next time I might add a scarce spoonful of yoghurt to add a touch more moisture). Shape into patties and rest in the fridge until you're ready to cook them. Heat some olive oil in a pan, slide in the patties and leave for a good few minutes to form a solid golden crust. When that's happened turn them over and do the other side. If you don't leave them alone, they'll fall apart. Serve the whole lot with a yoghurt dressing, made with olive oil, mint and perhaps some grated cucumber if you have any.
Thursday: Ah well it's raining, so I thought I might have a tinker with some of the goodies from the Polish shop. I brought home some 'country bread' which is a mixture of rye and sourdough (and was 50p!!! 50p!!!) and will be perfect with Ma's cucumber pickle, some Polish herrings, a schmear perhaps of Philadelphia and a little salad for lunch. Later there will be platters of pierogi - dumplings stuffed with potato and cheese - and pancakes, again stuffed with cheese. The pierogi, according to the shop assistant, are best not boiled as stated on the packet but fried until golden and served with fried onions. The pancakes are also fried until crisp. My feeling is they might welcome a dressing of sour cream and paprika and a side order of purple sprouting for the health. The assistant was slightly horrified when I suggested it, pointing out the sour cream would be better with the fruit filled pierogi. I shall trample Polish tradition underfoot and try both and let you know how it goes.