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food peste

#Peste 6: Lockdown Cooking

I’ve got 15 hours a week of commute back since lockdown. I’ve been working just as hard, but that’s still meant I’ve had more time to read, relax, drink and cook. So for the benefit of my future self, here’s a cooking/eating diary. Warning, nothing interesting about supply chains or observations on how to source ingredients or anything. It’s just photos of stuff I’ve cooked.

First up was prior to lockdown, but was going into the Joy Luck restaurant in Chinatown. Doesn’t tend to be one of the ones better attended by western tourists (though a fair few of East Asian tourists). On the basis of the London Eater recommendation, I go there for the Wuhan Dry Noodles, which are wonderful. On this occasion I also went in out of solidarity with the Chinese restaurant community – business had plummeted in the early days of Covid awareness in the UK (this was 7th March).

I went into the restaurant and the staff were sitting round a table with chins in hands, chatting. I was clearly the first customer they’d had for ages. They sat me in the window, which was perhaps a mistake. The Wuhan Dry Noodles were as good as ever, which as they are also hot, meant I was sweating and snuffling over them for the entertainment and enlightenment of everyone going past.

I don’t really cook Ottolenghi as much as I should, but this recipe for a hot confit of mushrooms with a butterbean mash is one of the best vegan recipes I know. Hot, substantial, and delicious.

Rather a dull looking, but very nice Barnsley chop.

AH, now we’re talking. Minestrone, in this case Marcella Hazan’s spring vegetable soup, is a miracle. I would strongly recommend cooking it, then leaving it a day, but it’s one of the most restorative recipes I know, and freezes ok for a quick sense of vitality and boost on days when you simple cbf’d.

I’m not actually sure what the pasta is here, but the spinach is first lightly cooked as per usual, and then mixed into olive oil in which a couple of lightly crushed garlic cloves have been cooked and then removed. And then squeeze some lemon over it. I remember this being extremely satisfactory.

This next looks rather grey, but it was wonderful. Elisabeth David’s Roman Beef Stew, or Stufatino alla Romana from Italian Food. With some stewed celery and some sourdough from the Aries Bakehouse on Acre Lane. One of those dishes that I think only has about three ingredients in – shin of beef, some pancetta or bacon, and tomato puree. Highly recommended.

So I live in Herne Hill, which these days is pretty bougie, and with the consequence that it has a very good but expensive deli-cum-butchers – the sort where it’s impossible to buy cheap cuts of meat. Also the sort of place it turns out that in lockdown has queues of people willing to stand around for two hours to get what they want. (I don’t know about anyone else, but although this was in part because I wanted to cook more, I also found myself *buying* a lot more. In theory that was to reduce the amount I needed to go out, but I think it was actually more about a changed context for buying food and cooking. I was practicing more what the person responsible for the domestic shopping would do in the past – buying stuff for multiple meals ahead – rather than popping into the supermarket during or after work to pick up a couple of ingredients for tea).

ANYWAY, to avoid the queues, I went to the very good Jones the Butchers down the road – an older type of butchers, and amongst other things bought a chicken. Annoyingly, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the expensive deli chicken, with the consequence that this roast, although very pleasant, looks better than it tasted, I think.

I did also do Marcella Hazan’s two lemon self-basting roast chicken recipe, which I periodically try, because she absolutely swears by it, but it never really quite works for me, and I should here have stuck to my more orthodox chicken dressed with thyme, garlic, lemon and good butter.

Ah BUT. pasta col tocco d’arrosto – pasta with ‘a touch of the roast’ is one of the very finest things. And of course this is now asparagus season. The roasting pan you cooked the chicken in should be full of fat and lemon and juices, which after a day will have turned into a sort of jelly. Cook your pasta, as usual reserve some of the cooking water. Then tip the cooked pasta into the roasting pan over a high heat, and grate a fuckton of parmesan in. Stir until you go ‘bavosa‘ like the chef here. (This is incidentally the best recipe for carbonara).

The last of the chicken, I thought I’d do a pilaf. I could only find brown rice and had forgotten or possibly never knew that this abomination takes twice as long to cook, with the result that the first attempt at this was inedible and the second attempt was rendered extremely mediocre by me being a-holed.

This asparagus risotto (Marcella Hazan again), was AMAZING. AMAZING.

Good Friday iirc. The super easy Belgian dish Waterzooi – very very good indeed, hard recommend.

A rather careless spaghetti bolognese or ragù or what have you. VERY NICE ALL THE SAME.

Fuck I’ve eaten so much Ritter sport. This is the best. It is the best.

I do think at least once or twice a week you should cut it out and just have a snack or an olive in the evening. Aubergines are wonderful, griddle them and eat with garlic.

Oh! And I bought some South African pears from the excellent grocers near me. Stewed them with cloves in red wine. I think that’s marscapone or creme fraiche. Very good. Don’t normally do deserts.

😬 The cornflake one wasn’t as interesting as it looked?

For some reason the roasted potatoes here look rather grey, but this sirloin steak, asparagus and roasted potatoes was pitch perfect. Absolutely wonderful. A strand throughout this generally is that the less interesting it looks, the better it was.

eg – this lancashire hotpot (scrag end from the proper butchers) was delicate and lovely. One of those dishes close enough to a provençal daube to make you realise that our own simple cooking, done well, has as much room for excellence and delicacy as the more garlanded continental versions of peasant cookery (and they are very nice). Has to be scrag end. Not enough fat/flavour otherwise.

Puy lentils with garlic, parsley and lemon and an omelette. A favourite.

This salad looks great, but it was in some respects A Mistake, namely the presence of asparagus in it. It would have been much better for both asparagus and salad for them to be presented separately. I was taking my lead from the excellent Richard Olney who encourages experimentation and thought in his cooking, on the basis that this is the way you will learn, and he’s right. I learned not to put asparagus in a salad with fennel in. The flavours confused each other. It was still very good.

I started baking! I hadn’t baked for about 18 years, since I made a loaf denser than a black hole. Following the fantastically fucking irritating but really very good Bake with Jack, I came up with these two wonderful wholemeal loaves. They were excellent and I felt so proud I kept on going in to look at them cool.

Ok, the Sicilian classic of sardines, with fennel, pine nuts, raisins, saffron etc, with bucatini. Except I didn’t have any bucatini at the time so I did it with spaghetti. The sardines were the quite expensive Ortiz tinned sardines worth every penny.

Another sirloin steak and some roasted peppers.

THIS is one of the best recipes. Inexplicably not had it before – Marcella Hazan’s Aubergine with chilli and tomato. The heat works very well with the aubergine, and is slightly surprising as it perhaps looks like ratatouille. Really great.

Couldn’t be fucked to cook other than to do the asparagus with a dressing of boiled egg and vinaigrette. Some good italian salami which I absolutely STUFFED MY FACE with.

When I did the lancashire hotpot it reminded me how much I liked this recipe for Provençal daube – the key ingredients for me are the orange peel and the cloves, both of which give it a light and slightly strange taste – troubadours and venice and southern france rivers and abbeys. Like so many stews it is approximately 100 times better left a day before eating. NOTE PLEASE home baked bread.

A poor photograph of a childhood favourite this: smoked mackerel and potato salad from Jane Grigson’s incomparable cookbook Good Things.

I burned da bloomer. My oven thermometer was giving me bogus info.

This bloomer was better but had bust out at the side, i assumed because I had underproved it.

A very welcome delivery from the excellent Grappin Wines, providers to some of the best restaurants and drinking holes in London. Saving the premiere cru from when I can have a guests round. Won’t invite them. Will just drink the bottle.

Fresh trout with an order from Pesky Fish – direct from fisherman to home they say. I hadn’t read the order properly, and was hoping for a whole trout, to do in a beurre blanc or meunière. As it was a fillet, I poached in a court bouillon, which I strained and then whisked some… far too much actually… butter and some as you can see not at all properly chopped sorrel. This was very nice, but the bouillon sauce was fucking rich innit.

This was supposed to be an artisanal loaf. I think this time it was underproved?

Mussels with my fish order. An attempted moules marinière. The mussels were meagre, end of season farmed mussels, very tasteless, and I hadn’t done enough of them in the broth to flavour it properly so it tasted overmuch of wine.

And throughout, where would I have been without my Canopy Beer order?

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