Thursday, 29 April 2010

A garden on the edge

Ok so again these might be somewhat indulgent but when Ma and Pa’s garden is trembling on the edge of summer, it’s an amazing sight.


The pond


Their daffodils are still going strong



The rockery and waterfall


Sam – just about – having a good roll



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Chickens and dogs…


There has been much distress in the parental homestead this last few weeks. A fox and then a suspected cat has been ravaging their chicken population, causing much consternation both to MCD and Joey, both of whom have an almost untowardly obsession with the eggs sent down on occasion and to Ma and Pa, who took the trouble to ring-fence an entire acre field and provide numerous safehouses for the chickens, only for said chickens to prefer spending the night up a tree perched just on the fence border… let no-one say they don’t live by the seat of their pants.

So this week Pa took himself off to Chicken Market (apparently these still exist and one is going strong in Melton Mowbray) and came back with 5 Rhode Island Red ladies, all of whom are incredibly tame, inordinately fond of bread in a way that suggests  their diet has been a  little too carb-based in a previous life and all in all, most attractive. Now they just have to hope they lay the eggs for which they were bought. 28042010012












And – because he was so completely unperturbed by the new additions and because he is so ravishingly handsome – a couple of entirely gratuitous pictures of Sam



More Spring pictures – to get us through the rain…


I know I’ve already posted some pink blossom pictures below but bear with me. I beg forbearance because firstly with all the bank holiday weather they’re threatening us with, we may lose all the fantastic colour out there overnight and we may need to look back fondly and remember; and secondly because someone clearly needed to indulge themselves similarly as on my way to t’bookshop I noticed that a forward-thinking aesthete had placed a rather nice looking chair under the blossom.


I can only think it was so positioned so they could see this.


And why not?

Monday, 19 April 2010

The first asparagus


At Brixton farmers’ market yesterday, rootling around in the sunshine for something other than cabbage and kale, I spotted, much like a pointer, bunches of the first early English asparagus. I had, I have to admit, been a little sceptical when they announced on Saturday Kitchen that the first asparagus was available; what with the long winter and the tiny problem of a volcanic cloud of ash blighting our skies, I hadn’t expected to be living off much more than greens and turnips for another couple of weeks, but hey, what do I know.

At £3.50 a bunch – not cheap, but hello it’s not cabbage – you have to be determined to make the most of it. I had, for reasons now unfathomable in hindsight given the weekend weather reports, defrosted a sirloin of beef for roasting for Sunday dinner; with the asparagus to bear in mind the whole had to become instantly spring-like. I roasted the joint of beef rare – you do have to bear leftovers in mind and who in their right mind can bear overcooked cold beef?, roasted some par-boiled Pink Fir Apple potatoes in rosemary and garlic and olive oil, briefly boiled some purple sprouting and tossed it in butter and melted anchovies and put together a tomato salad, dressed in nothing but olive oil and salt with some sorrel from the garden and wild garlic snipped up and scattered on top. The asparagus I did our favourite way and roasted it in the oven with a little oil and salt and then shaved a tiny bit of Parmesan over.

With the leftover beef, I had planned to make, to quote Nigel Slater, a ‘knife-sharp, groovy’ green sauce, but I came across the following from Rose Prince this morning and I shall make this dressing to drizzle over the beef, some leftover potatoes cubed and sauté ed until crisp like croutons, pea shoots, fennel, tomatoes and sorrel for this evening.

A winter sauce: (quantities don’t have to be exact but it needs to be consistency of double cream)

Mix together a couple of tbsp mayonnaise, 2-3 tbsp chicken stock to thin, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and a good dollop of mustard to taste and season.

Dorothy Parker's poetry

A lovely piece, courtesy of Arts and Letters Daily, on the poetry of the acerbic and ever-delightful Dorothy Parker.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

A few glorious spring pictures



Having discovered Windows Live Writer, I can now do very funky things within the blog. Anyway, momentarily stunned by the very outrageousness of their spring stance, the blossom caused me to stop and stare in the prosaically-named Norwood Recreation Park that I traverse on my way to Palace.

The picture of the red blossom is from my garden. It’s quite stunning every spring, but I have no idea what it is, although it makes my heart leap when the flowers appear.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A recipe for cornbread

It's probably not something one makes terribly often, but cornbread is terribly easy and an incredibly useful thing to have hanging around once you've finished devouring warm slices of it with the BBQ rabbit as below or spare ribs.

1 tbsp caster sugar
150g cornmeal (you'll most probably find it as polenta)
250g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
50g softened butter
A handful spring onions, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
150g yoghurt
300ml milk

I use a standard loaf tin which I grease and line with greaseproof paper, for extra non-stick.
Preheat the oven to 160C.

Then put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl, add the butter and spring onions and stir together. Whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and milk and add to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Spoon into the loaf tin.

Bake on a baking sheet for 45-60 minutes until golden and risen. The timing is a little imprecise but you just have to keep testing with a skewer and seeing if it comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

You can also add loads of different ingredients: grated cheese, chopped chillies, herbs... It's whatever you want it to be.

A Bonus Recipe for Leftovers:

The picture doesn't really convey the sunshine beaming out of the breakfast dish above, but take my word for it, it can make you very happy indeed. I happened to have some leftover rhubarb poached in orange juice and honey from the day before, which I reheated and added in some chopped fresh pineapple sauteed in a little butter. I warmed the cornbread in the oven - it's too fragile to toast - and then spooned over the hot fruit. I topped it with a little Greek yoghurt and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Easter Bunny... Barbecue style

Easter was for us this year a rather timid affair; both of us working at various points throughout yet we still managed to get the allotment dug over and planted up with potatoes (Duke of York), onions, shallots, garlic, broad beans and rocket; borage, lovage and oregano went into my herb pots and seed trays now adorn the kitchen windowsill filled with the potential of tomatoes of every hue and size.

Thus the dinner menus were also a tad subdued. Usually I go overboard with great legs of lamb and new spring greens but lamb is tricky to track down and I didn't have that much time. Easter Sunday turned out to be a roast chicken, but with goose fat-roasted potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli and the last few tiny baby leaves of kale from the allotment sauteed with garlic and a sauce made from pan-deglazing, white wine, crème fraiche, tarragon and halved green grapes.

But it was Saturday's quick meal that was really the highlight of the weekend. My freezer is chock-full of meat, mainly due to my inability to just say 'no' at the amazing cuts of beef at the farmers' market. However at the back was a whole jointed wild rabbit - of course - the Easter bunny, just waiting to be lovingly consumed at this appropriate junction. However, I didn't want to do the KFB recipe and I started thinking about the Deep South and barbecue.

Now, I know rabbit, with its tendency to dryness and its physical layout ain't that similar to pork ribs but I had a yearning for smoky barbecue sauce, coleslaw, cornbread and so on. SO:
Either the day before or in the morning, concoct a rub for the rabbit, mixing together a good slug of 3 of olive oil (helps keep the rabbit moist) with a tablespoon of paprika, ground ginger, cumin, a little (or a lot of) chilli powder, salt and pepper and a touch of mace or nutmeg if you haven't any. Leave the rabbit to marinate.

For the barbecue glaze, mix together English mustard, ketchup, cider vinegar, sugar, starting with a tablespoon of each and double the amount of ketchup and then tasting as you go. I added a dollop of barbecue sauce and a little of the smoky chipotle Tabasco I seem to have hanging around. You want it to be sweet, smoky, punchy with mustard and ultimately finger-licking.

Heat the oven to 180C and tip your now rather angrily-red bunny into a roasting tin, paint with half the glaze and whack in the oven for 15 minutes. Then remove from the oven, paint with the rest of the glaze (cover the tin with foil if you think it's burning a little with the sugar) and put back in for another 10 minutes. At this point the rabbit is cooked, but you may want to give it 5 minutes with the foil off to enhance the stickiness.

We had this with own-made cornbread (recipe to be posted), coleslaw and a garlicky, lemony baby spinach and tomato salad.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Ponte Nuovo, Crystal Palace

We're not short of places to eat on the Triangle. And most of them are blessedly good, but we've never had a half-decent Italian, in my humble opinion. Lorenzo's is quite bog-standard but always startlingly busy; Il Ponte (as was) tried to be slightly more upmarket and only managed to be marginally more bog-standard. So to see Il Ponte become Ponte Nuovo meant a dinner out was on the cards.

The new owners have either scaled down the size of the restaurant inside or decorated it to make it look more intimate in cool slate tones; either way it works. The menu has undergone a complete renovation too. Think bottarga alongside calamari fritti, melanzane Parmigiana and that curiously beloved insalata tricolore (which I've never really understood the appeal of, especially in any month outside July and August). There's a good but not overwhelming choice of soups, pasta and risotto dishes which can be had as a primo piatto or secondo, a really excellent choice of fish and meat dishes and a tempting list of side orders. Looking good so far.

Our starters consisted of the calamari fritti, a generous portion, although to my mind the batter wasn't delicate enough and might even have been frozen; that insalata tricolore which looked fine but where the tomatoes had come from is anyone's guess; and the melanzane which came in a perfect-sized portion, bubbling hot, non-greasy and rich without being just too much.

Mains were more successful: my linguine with clams was again a well-judged portion, swimming in clams and a sharp-sweet cherry tomato sauce. The risotto marinara was full to bursting with a variety of seafood with rice just al dente and not too soupy, but the triumph belonged to the gamberoni with chilli garlic butter. As the plate was put down, I have to admit I genuinely thought they'd given' Joey' (for our purposes here he shall henceforth be known as Joey) a small lobster, also on the menu but a good tenner dearer. No, they were indeed 2 large succulent langoustines with a firework chilli dressing, butterflied and chargrilled for maximum flavour. The sides weren't the least of it either - chips (why do boys feel chips are de rigeur at every single meal?) were crisp, golden and moreish; buttered spinach was not reduced to a puddle of slime, but fresh and green and the zucchini fritti were fresh out the fryer in a tremulous batter that barely veiled their modesty but crunched pleasantly between the teeth.

Desserts were what you might expect. We were quite full but MCD and I, ever the troupers, had a creme brulee between us. The brulee was fine, but the creme was fridge-cold which is never particularly pleasant; I like mine to retain a vestige of warmth from the cooking. The wine list was reasonably comprehensive and well-priced - nothing outrageous and all good value. The bill in total for 3 of us, including a beer, bottle of wine, sparkling water and a glass of white came to just under £100 which we felt was ok value, considering it had barely been open a week and yet managed to deliver on both food and service.

NB: Next door Pizza Fresca has become Fresco, a pizzeria-cum-takeaway. I saw a sign last week advertising breakfast, but there's no hint of it on the menu. Reports come back that the pizza remains as good as ever, although the eat-in menu isn't as long as the take-out menu, but other dishes are disappointingly average and they're threatening to do Sunday roasts for which, my informant tells me, they were chastised for trying to do too much not well enough by one engaged customer.