Friends – it is the weekend. The time of the week when I sit down to start contemplating food – as if I don't do it at other times! But there are fewer distractions over the coming days.
I managed to get back to Broadway Market on Friday before Henry Tidiman, our rather good, traditional local butcher, had closed, and thus have something fresh for the evening to get things going with a bang.
Otto, who enquired about the food question the moment I walked through the door, was sated somewhat with a tin of sardine and mackerel from Waitrose – she had to share it with Boudi and Loki, of course, but it made them all a tad calmer.
They mostly eat biscuit, but I have to give in to feline demands occasionally. And this particular example of tinned food always looks so good when you open it – no brown 'mush' – that I'm tempted myself.
That done, it was down to contemplating exactly what to do with the chicken thighs that I had bought.
The temperature is finally fallen to something closer to what you'd expect in January, so it's entirely fitting to feel that need for comforting food.
I know some of you don’t like the cold, but two things strike me: first, when we had the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, it was due in part to having had a number of mild winters in the preceding years. A proper cold spell is needed to kill of a number of nasty things.
And second, before the more recent series of wintery winters, The Other Half and I had spent a new year in Amsterdam.
We’d bought thermals for the purpose – and needed them. But among a number of weather-related memories from that trip, a walk in Vondel Park on New Year’s Eve in the morning stands out: with the small lakes iced over, everyone had come out to play.
There were children and adults on ancient skates and sleds. It might have been a grayish day – high cloud, however – but it was joyous.
And after four days, I returned to London feeling really refreshed and invigorated.
Now, the arrival of genuinely seasonal weather also makes the prospect of sitting down to browse assorted cookbooks even more alluring.
I skinned and boned the chicken – really easy – and then cut it into strips and browned these in a little lard.
Removing to a plate, a diced onion took the place of the meat. When that had been softened, plain flour was added, cooked for a minute or so, and then the pan was deglazed with white wine and white wine vinegar.
Once everything was blended, there was a substantial squirt of tomato purée, a good amount of black pepper, an even better amount of a smoked paprika and some chicken stock.
The chicken went back in the pan, together with some sliced mushrooms and the shredded remains of a cabbage from a couple of days previously. And it was all left to simmer away, under a lid, for half an hour or so.
Once everything was cooked, it simply remained to add a couple of dollops of sour cream, stir in gently and reheat just as gently – and the job’s a good one. Serve with rice.
Yesterday morning it was cold – not a namby pamby southern cold, but cold with real frost and beautifully blue skies.
Cheered enormously, and with a list in my pocket, it was time to head back to Broadway Market, which is slowly returning to normal after the break over new year.
With bags full, it was back home and into the kitchen – after a break to provide Otto with the second fuss session of the day.
In this weather, soup is perfection.
Yesterday, I decided to do a River Café one – rustic and chunky, and as comforting as a big woolly sweater.
Diced butternut squash, chopped garlic, a chopped potato and a tin of tomatoes are added to a pan, together with a little light stock and some crushed fennel seeds.
The recipe says tinned tomatoes are fine – but to drain and not use the juice in the can. Now to me, that’s daft. I tin the lot in and rinse out the remaining juice – I don’t have tinned tomatoes with any junk added anyway. And then I use a little less of any other liquid.
Then let it cook. When the potato is done, mash gently. Serve with a drizzle of good, virgin oil, a dollop of Mascarpone and some grated Parmesan. Lovely.
In the evening, it was a return to trying to improve my fish cookery. Cod again – and I came close to messing it up completely – it wasn’t over-cooked, but I seem utterly incapable of turning fish from the skin side to the non-skin side when it’s been cooked initially on the former.
It doesn’t make things any easier – and it made me a lot swearier – when the skin simply stuck to the pan or came off on my fish slice.
Was the pan hot? Yes. Was the oil (rapeseed) hot too? Yes! The fish was at room temperature and nice and dry. You’d really think that something like that would be so simple, wouldn’t you?
We had some leek, some fine beans (a very rare concession to something other than season, UK veg) and some plain, boiled spuds, with butter and good lemon.
But even my annoyance at the less-than-perfect fish presentation, it was warming, comforting food.
If this weather keeps up, there’ll be more where that came from.