Sunday, 29 November 2009

Comforting food for miserable days

With a swathe of basics and baking stuff ordered online, and due to arrive tomorrow, I can look forward to baking tomorrow evening – stollen and lebkucken, which I haven't got around to today.

In the meantime, I've stuck with a fairly easy menu this weekend, but it's comforting food that it's perfect food for facing down yet more miserable weather.

I did a little hopping on Thursday evening and picked up a couple of poussin – in essence, small, young chickens – as I remembered a Jamie Oliver recipe I haven;'t done for years.

Par boil some potatoes until they're about five minutes from being cooked. Drain well and mix with loads of sage leaves, olive oil, peeled garlic cloves and salt and pepper. Now stuff your birds (one per person) with as much of the mix as will go. Pop the rest of the mix in a roasting tin with the stuffed birds. Roast at 220˚C for 30 minutes. Then take some streaky bacon and cover the birds and carry on roasting for a further 15 minutes.

Take the birds out and leave them to rest. Remove as much fat as possible from your roasting tin, then pop in a glass of white wine while it's on a hob, and deglaze.

Serve. I just did some simple carrots with it.

That followed a River Café Easy Two soup at lunchtime, of tomato, butternut squash and potato, seasoned with crushed fennel seeds (and I added celery salt), which is then served with a drizzle of virgin oil, grated Parmesan and a dollop of Mascarpone.

Tonight's grub is marinading. Two hulking pork chops are sitting in a bowl with lemon juice, torn lemon skins, rosemary, peeled and smashed garlic and around 10 glugs of olive oil. I'll give it another hour and then peel and slice some potatoes, core and quarter some pears and scrub and quarter some parsnips. Then everything goes in a roasting tin – meat, veg, marinade – and cook at 220˚C for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the chops (mine will take an hour, I should think).

In the meantime, take some white bread, remove the crust and chop it up. Then blend chopped mint leaves, some medium mustard and wine vinegar until you have a sauce. Or cheat, as I do, and add decent ready-made mint sauce, plus mustard, to the bread.

It's brilliantly tangy to serve with the pork.

Both those Jamie Oliver recipes came from The Return of the Naked Chef – one of the first two cookery books I bought, around nine years ago when I started cooking. I've added more of Oliver's stuff to the shelf over the years, and I keep returning to them. I've used his stuff to learn to make risotto and even bread.

So much of his food is simple – often one dish dishes – without being pernickety. He doesn't, for instance, tend to write that you need half a teaspoon of some finely chopped herb or other: it's more likely to be a handful of something – roughly torn, if anything. And the results are the sort of bursting-with-flavour dishes that, back all those years ago, I could scarcely believe that I could produce.

Oliver gets slagged off by a number of Brits: which I find odd. No, you don't have to like him, but the vitriol seems strange for someone with genuine talent, who has served a real apprenticeship (he actually worked, amongst other places, at the River Café) and has gone on to make good food easy and approachable, to campaign for schools to feed children proper food and not chips and turkey twizzlers and to launch a series of restaurants that aim to give young people from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to get a career in food.

Is it his very success that some people dislike? Perhaps it really does tie in to a rather British thing of building people up and then, when they succeed, trying to knock them at every opportunity. Depressing, though.

Well, at least the food is far from depressing.

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