Right. So here we are, properly back in the merry old land of Hackney and with a day to myself – so just what foodiness can be managed?
Broadway Market beckoned: I miss shopping there when I'm away for a weekend (well, unless I'm food shopping in France, of course), but I had the germs of a few ideas swimming around in my head and, even without taxing the culinary imagination at all, we needed fodder for this evening.
I'd got hold of some rhubarb yesterday and was wondering whether to try some mackerel with it – a nice combination. But I had other ideas too, largely influenced by the presence in the fridge of a large piece of black pudding.
Once in the fish shop, I faced choices. After mulling, I got half a dozen scallops and a mackerel, which I had filleted.
Back at home, I discovered that I'd missed a delivery. I wasn't expecting anything, so this was a bit of a mystery. Next door had taken the parcel in, so I popped around and collected it. It was a large, heavy rectangular box, covered in grey plastic. The mystery deepened.
Snipping the plastic open revealed a bright orange box – containing a Le Creuset roasting dish and rack. Memory surged back – this was the result of a prize draw that I come across on a bag of potatoes from Waitrose last year. I'd entered my contact details and a number that came on the bag, and submitted it. As simple as that. Since entries were not limited, I'd done it twice more when I'd had more bags of potatoes with the same promotion attached.
I am incredibly chuffed. A first-class bit of kitchen kit for free – and a thing of beauty too.
Although I'd forgotten about them since, the entries had been made with a reasonable confidence. Many years ago – well, 1988, to be precise – my parents and I had stopped off at a motorway service station for a break during a journey. The cafe was promoting a 'Best of British' prize draw – a draw that was taking place all around the country.
Since there was no limit on how many cards you could fill in, I did six and my mother did three. My father scoffed, said it was a waste of time and refused to play along.
Nicely and proportionately, my mother's three entries bagged her a set of Kenwood kitchen implements. My six produced a top-notch CD player and a canteen of cutlery. My father's zero entries produced, needless to say, nothing.
It was pretty clear that, unless we had been staggeringly lucky, few people had entered – presumably entertaining the same thoughts as my father.
Many people, buying those Waitrose potatoes, won't even have noticed the promotion. Others will, and will have thought it a waste of time. Others will have forgotten to do anything about it. And so forth.
So the moral of the story is never think it's a waste of time to enter free prize draws.
And now I have to think what to roast in it first.
But back to today.
For lunch, I grilled the mackerel fillets and served them with some borlotti beans, sliced courgette and red chili that I'd cooked in a little oil. Really easy and really tasty – and very healthy.
Tonight was hardly much more complex. I cooked and mashed some potatoes in late afternoon, adding butter and cream before letting it cool. Thinly sliced savoy cabbage was cooked briefly too, then drained and mixed into the potato. Here's the basis of that classic Irish dish, colcannon.
All you need to do after that is finely chop some onion or shallot and cook gently in butter (or lard or even goose fat), before adding the potato and cabbage, mixing it all together to warming thoroughly. Easy.
Then take some slices of black pudding and warm through. Sear the scallops for around two minutes a side maximum
There was a little pot of French onion confit that's been waiting to be opened for some months. It was the perfect accompaniment. And I went a bit posy and garnished with redcurrants because I'd spotted them at a local Turkish grocer – and because The Other Half likes them.
For dessert, it was a case of the Sarah Raven rhubarb syllabub again, although with slight tweaks: the rhubarb mix was infused with ginger instead of star anise and cardamom, while the sugar and cream were whisked up with a tiny tot of whisky.
That was it. Really not difficult.
It's funny to think what I now find as 'easy' on the food front. Certainly, what I've done today doesn't require any great skills. The recipe I took a cue from for the black pudding and scallops was a Waitrose one – and suggested using pre-made colcannon for the dish. So, a 450g packet of pre-made colcannon, costing £1.99.
Now the ingredients don't include anything that shouldn't be there – potato (67%), savoy cabbage (21%), onion, unsalted butter, white pepper – but it's hardly a rocket science dish to make and, when you do, it costs less. 225g would be a small portion. My version wasn't huge, but it was bigger – it included cream and it was still cheaper. The big con again, I'm afraid.
Elsewhere on the food front, I finally got around to calling the lady at Piccolino for a chat. She was actually off work, so will call me back on Monday when she has my comments in front of her. Wow. They're taking this seriously.
And then it was a case of organising a restaurant for Monday evening for The Other Half's birthday. In a display of no originality whatsoever, I've booked Bistrot Bruno Loubet again. There's a danger of going back to somewhere really quickly after you've been massively impressed – but somehow I just cannot see that happening in this instance.
So in other words, it was a bit of a win, win day on the old food front.