Recipes for Summer Rentals: III

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Not a great beauty, but so delicious.

The slummocking is going very well. A khol eye pencil languishes untouched at the bottom of my makeup bag and the mascara’s chances of remaining in daily rotation are looking increasingly perilous. The Babyliss Big Hair thing has been pushed rudely to the edge of the dressing table to make way for a jam jar of flowers from the garden. I am a breath away from going to the village shop in my slippers.

In London, I often make Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk, or variations of it. Rather like the Tuscan dish, arista al latte, or pork cooked in milk, slowly simmering the bird in milk ensures it’s so tender it’s pull-apart easy to carve.

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My holiday larder is bare of a few of the things in Jamie’s recipe – sage, cinnamon – and even if I climbed the steep hill to the village shop (in my slippers), I doubt they’d have them either so I ditched them. I did add a bay leaf and sauté a sliced onion in the fat before returning the chicken to the pot. The milk curdles into cloudy little lumps, which you can spoon over the chicken, or pass them through a sieve and reduce to make a smooth, thick sauce. I also stirred some chopped chives into the sauce – if you wanted you could use parsley, chervil, tarragon, chives, alone or in combination, whatever you have.

Essentially, for tender, easy, holiday chicken, brown a whole, seasoned bird in butter, pour in enough milk to come about halfway up the pot, add some lemon zest and the seasonings you like. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover tightly and cook either over a very low heat or in the oven at 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5 for an hour and a half, basting if you remember. Leftovers are great in salads and sandwiches the next day.

Today’s pictures from the beach…

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It’s sometimes hard to tell who’s exercising whom.

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Beach bum

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Tiny mussels clinging to the rocks like iron filings.

Today’s holiday reading:

The grocer had been a Socialist all of his life, and his chief pleasure now was for Sarge to come in at tea-time and sit on the empty biscuit tins, chewing a handful of currants, and asking his advice. The young people upstairs were wonderful to him and he would have joined the Communist Party now, at his age (“What, at my age?” he would chuckle, measuring out sago into blue bags) but that he feared Sarge would then stop arguing with him. “My young people upstairs,” he would boast at his daughter-in-law’s, where he lived now his wife was dead. “Of course they walk in and out of the shop when they like. They’ve got their keys, and how else are they to come and go?” Then he would wait for the inevitable expression of doubt, so that he could add proudly: “We are not landlord and tenants. We are Communists and trust one another.”

People were always coming and going up the stairs. He came to know most of them; Chris, for instance, and then Eleanor. It was different from his daughter-in-law’s, where people only came to tea on Sundays and dinner must be early because of it and scones made first and tempers lost.

From At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor, 1945

Orage-ously good chicken

Orage-ously good chicken

Agde has been hot – the kind of humid heat that interferes with sleep, melts make up, frizzes hair. On the terrace of the Café Plazza, as tinny, consumptive Peter Gabriel or Police wheezed out from the speakers, locals muttered about ‘un orage’ over tiny cups of coffee and breakfast beers.

Well today the orage came, splashing, running, pelting down from the skies, spilling from the gutters, filling the age-smoothed grooves in the basalt terrace like tiny rockpools. It was a day to remain behind the wooden door.

Rain in Agde

Splashing rain in AgdeRain splashing on the basalt terrace.

Almost the very second we were due to leave London, the car rammed to the rafters with towels and straw hats, proper pillows, paperbacks and favourite knives, the postman delivered a parcel, a birthday present from my sister-in-law. It was Dorie Greenspan’s lovely  Around My French Table. It was my companion throughout our 17 hour journey, especially during the boring bits before you get to Clermont Ferrand where France begins to roll downhill to the south.

I gave the book to my nephew Angus to look at and told him we could make what he liked. He’s going to university in the autumn (biochemistry – what the hell?) and wants to learn to cook a bit. His mother’s from a Spanish Basque family so his heart, appetite and genes lead him to Dorie’s Chicken Basquaise, a colourful jumble of peppers, chillies, tomatoes and chicken, a perfectly sunny dish for an extravagantly rainy day.

Dorie Greenspan’s Chicken basquaise

Chicken basquaise in Agde

If you’re keen on French food, you really need to buy Dorie Greenspan’s book. Probably today, if it’s not too much trouble. In her introduction, she says ‘This is elbows-on-the-table food, dishes you don’t need a Grand Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu to make’. ‘Elbows-on-the-table food’ is a pretty good description of the food I love and so many of my favourites are here, a whole banquet of rillettes, gratins, daubes and gougères, but also couscous and tagines, escabeches and ceviches, reflecting France’s more recent influences and passions.

Around My French Table is the kind of book you want to work your way through, devouring every carefully, cheerfully, deliciously constructed recipe. The recipes use American measurements, but you can buy cup measures all over the place now so that’s hardly an obstacle to enjoyment.

Serves four

For the pipérade:

2 big Spanish or Vidalia onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 green peppers, peeled if you like
2 red peppers, peeled if you like
3 mild chillies (or another red pepper)
6 tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2-4 garlic cloves, to taste, split, green germ removed and minced
2 teaspoons sea salt or more to taste
Pinch of sugar
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
¼ – ½ teaspoon piment d’Esplette or chilli powder
Freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken:

1 large chicken, about 1.8kg, preferably organic, cut into 8 pieces, or 8 chicken thighs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup/190ml dry white wine
White rice, for serving
Minced fresh basil and/or cilantro/coriander, for garnish (optional)

To make the pipérade: Cut the onions in half from top to bottom. Lay each piece flat-side down and cut in half again from top to bottom, stopping just short of the root end: cut each half onion crosswise into thin slices.

Put a Dutch oven or large, high-sided frying pan with a cover over medium heat and pour in 2 tablespoons of oil. Warm the oil for a minute, then toss in the onions and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.

Meanwhile, cut the peppers and chillies in half, trim the tops, remove the cores and remove the seeds. Cut the peppers lengthwise into strips about ½ inch/1cm wide. Thinly slice the chillies.

Add the remaining tablespoons of oil to the pot, stir in the peppers and chillies, cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook and stir for another 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are quite soft.

Add the tomatoes, garlic, salt, sugar, thyme, bay leaf, piment d’Esplette or chilli powder, and freshly ground pepper to taste, stir well, cover and cook for 10 minutes more. Remove the cover and let the pipérade simmer for another 15 minutes. You’ll have a fair amount of liquid in the pot, and that’s fine. Remove the thyme and bay leaf. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or piment d’Esplette if you think it needs it.

If you would like to make the pipérade with eggs (see below), use a slotted spoon to transfer 2 cups of the pepper mixture into a bowl. Spoon in a little of the cooking liquid, and refrigerate until needed (you can pack all of the pipérade in an airtight container and keep it refrigerated for up to 4 days).

To make the chicken: Pat the chicken pieces dry. Warm the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy casserole over a medium-high heat. Add a couple of chicken pieces, skin-side down (don’t crowd the chicken – do this in batches), and cook until the skin is golden, about 5 minutes. Turn the pieces over and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer the pieces to a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and continue until all of the chicken is browned.

Discard the oil, set the pot over a high heat, pour in the wine, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits that might have stuck to the bottom. Let the wine bubble away until it cooks down to about 2 tablespoons. Return the chicken to the pot, add any juices that have accumulated in the bowl, and spoon in the pipérade. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat so that the pipérade just simmers, cover the pot, and simmer gently for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Serve over white rice, sprinkled with basil and/or cilantro/coriander, if using.

Pipérade and eggs

Pipérade and Eggs in Agde

The traditional way to make pipérade and eggs is to heat the pipérade, stir beaten eggs into the mixture, and cook until the eggs are scrambled. Inevitably and invariably the egs curdle, but no one (at least no one Basque) seems to mind. If you’d like uncurdled eggs, warm 2 cups of pipérade in a saucepan. Meanwhile beat 6 eggs with a little salt and pepper in a bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large, non-stick pan over a medium heat, and when the bubbles subside, pour in the eggs, Cook the eggs, stirring, until they form soft curds. Spoon the pipérade into four shallow soup plates and, with the back of a spoon, make a little well in the centre of each. Fill each well with some scrambled eggs. Drizzle the eggs and pipérade sparingly with olive oil, dust with minced basil or coriander, if you’d like, and serve immediately, with slices of warm toasted country bread rubbed with garlic and moistened with oil.

Parks and dogs and sausage rolls

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I’ve been to grander parties, it’s true. This is a long way from silver trays of canapés in elegant hotels, premier cru in posh houses fragrant with pine Diptyque candles and money, or carefully constructed cocktails in private members’ clubs.
But this is the party I look forward to as soon as I flip the calendar over to December. Every Christmas, those of us who walk our dogs in Clissold Park assemble in the breath-misting morning chill to swap stories, drink, eat.

Rachel put together her camping stove for the mulled wine and the graffiti’d picnic table quickly disappeared beneath foil-wrapped and plastic-boxed Christmas treats, thermoses of coffee, paper napkins and plastic cups.

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It’s a very Stoke Newington affair. Mince pies and Christmas cake sit alongside Phil’s home-smoked cheese, Riccardo and Alastaire Spanish cinnamon cookies and Cat’s spanakopita.
It was -2ºC, so I perked up a cup of Lee’s hot chocolate with a nip of rum from Alastaire’s hip flask. Dogs barked, sniffed, made covert and not-so-covert attempts to raid the table. Toddlers nibbled chocolate brownies as a few feet above their heads, adults discussed favoured routes to Devon and Denmark, snow warnings and the misery of Oxford Street. People swapped cards and invitations, exchanged hugs, kissed.

By 11am I was at my desk, trying to nudge my rum-warmed brain to focus on my last feature of the year. But what I was really thinking was that it would be a good thing for the happiness of the nation if there were more parties where it was entirely acceptable to wear your gardening shoes.

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Polly looks hopeful.


Chorizo sausage rolls

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There are so many sweet offerings at the dog walkers’ Christmas party, I always try to make something savoury to balance the early morning sugar rush. Sausage rolls filled with River Cottage’s  Tupperware chorizo have a fiery kick, appropriate for a morning when ducks skid across thick ice on the pond and walkers swaddled in Gore-tex and wool tread gingerly on frosty pavements.

The chorizo is easy to make – you just squish it all together – but you need to refrigerate it for at least a day for the flavours to develop.

Makes about 30 small sausage rolls

For the chorizo:
750g pork shoulder, coarsely minced
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp hot smoked paprika
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp fine sea salt
1½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
50ml red wine
Freshly ground black pepper

A little oil for frying
3 sheets of ready-roll all-butter puff pastry, about 35cm x 22cm
An egg beaten with a little water


Put all the chorizo ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands, squishing the mix through your fingers to distribute the seasonings evenly. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, break off a walnut-sized piece of the mixture, shape into a tiny patty and fry for a few minutes on each side, until cooked through. Taste to check the seasoning, remembering that the flavours will develop further as the mixture matures.
Cover the mixture and store in the fridge for at least 24 hours before using; this will allow the flavours time to develop. It will keep for about 2 weeks.

When you’re ready to make the sausage rolls, unroll the pastry and give it a gentle going over with a rolling pin to increase its size slightly. Cut it in half lengthways, make the chorizo into a long snakes about 2cm thick and lay them down the middle of the pastry rectangles. Brush one long edge of the pastry lightly with the egg wash, roll the other edge over the top to join and press the edges together firmly. Trim with a sharp knife so you have an even edge (if you like – wonky sausage rolls are also incredibly delicious). Cut them into 4cm pieces and place them on baking sheets lined with baking parchment, keeping them about 2cm apart as they will expand a bit. Chill for about 30 minutes.

Brush the sausage rolls with the egg wash. I also ground some black pepper and sprinkled a bit more sweet paprika over the top but that’s not essential. Place them in a hot oven, 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6, for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the pork cooked through. If you can, eat them warm.

Silver linings

Pork with apricots
In June, you don’t expect the sky over Agde to be as dark as the sombre basalt slabs that form its pathways and quayside. The grey stones undulate like ripples on the Hérault river, worn smooth by centuries of footsteps and pockmarked with ancient volcanic bubbles.
No matter. We’re holed up behind the heavy wooden door of our rented house with books and food and cheap rosé and coffee. Beyond the courtyard door, I can hear the clip clip clip of the gypsy women’s heels and the chatter of their clouds of children as they walk from the rue Haute to the rue du Quatre Septembre. Inside, I’m lost in Bury Me Standing, Isabel Fonseca’s dazzling history of European gypsies.
One of the good things about stormy weather (If you have spent more than five minutes on this blog, you may have noticed I am the Queen of the Silver Lining) is that it gives me a chance to make the kinds of warming, cosy dishes I rarely cook during our summers here, when we live on salads and grilled fish and fruit.
The other day it was cold. Windows and doors rattled and strained against the wind. Shutters creaked. The air filled with the shrieks of seagulls, their wings the only bright flashes in the basalt sky as they circled overhead. It was also my lovely dad’s birthday, so I asked him what he would like for dinner, even though I knew he would say pork. When asked he always says pork, even though he greets everything I put in front of him as though it’s exactly what he wants to eat at that very moment. Sometimes even the least demanding souls should have exactly what they want, especially on their birthdays.
Pork with apricots

I found a great recipe for rôti de porc aux groseilles in the May-June edition of Elle à Table, but I didn’t have redcurrants, or several other ingredients listed in the recipe. So I made my own version, using apricots, and then, a second time, cherries, both of which worked well. At least the birthday boy didn’t complain. But then, he wouldn’t.
1 boneless, rolled pork loin or shoulder
2 tablespoons olive oil
A couple of bay leaves
A sprig or two of thyme
250g apricots (halved and stoned), cherries (stoned) or redcurrants
10 sage leaves, roughly chopped
2 onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 biggish glass of rosé, white wine or cider
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Season the pork well with salt and pepper. Warm the olive oil over a medium high heat in a large casserole and brown the meat all over, then remove it from the pan and set it aside. Reduce the heat, add the onions with the bay leaves and thyme and sauté until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another couple of minutes, then add the sage, honey, soy sauce, balsamic and wine or cider. Give it all a good stir, then tip in the fruit and return the pork to the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover with a tightly fitting lid and cook gently over a low heat for about an hour and a quarter. Keep an eye on it. You might need to splash in a little more booze or water halfway through, though I didn’t. Serve the pork cut in thin slices with the sauce spooned over. The pork is also excellent the next day, cold, and sliced into salads or sandwiches.

Pork belly, and a very British competition…

Slow roast pork belly from Canteen: Great British Food Slow roast pork belly from Canteen: Great British Food

You could be forgiven for thinking that the clocks haven’t just gone forward an hour, but leapt, galloped, sprinted forward several months, given today’s rather autumnal offering of roast belly pork with apples and red cabbage.

But it was a chilly, overcast sort of day on Friday and I had lots of work to catch up on, so that most forgiving, delicious and inexpensive of cuts, pork belly, ticked all kinds of boxes for our supper for six that evening.

I’d been sent Great British Food, the first (and, I sincerely hope, not last) cookbook by Cass Titcombe, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton-Malone, the trio behind the four Canteen restaurants dotted around London serving classic British dishes such as steak and kidney pie, Lancashire hotpot and apple brandy syllabub to the gratefully, nostalgically nourished masses. Their Slow-roast pork belly with apples was calling my name…

My grease stained copy I’ve already managed to get a grease spot on the spine.
It’s love, see.

Lots of lovely pictures too It’s filled with impossible-to-resist deliciousness.

I love this book. I’m going to cook from it a lot. It will become spattered, battered, creased and stained in the Licked Spoon kitchen. Pencil marks will blemish its artfully designed pages. I like the feel of it in my hands, with its brown cover and reassuringly sturdy typeface. Inside are 120 recipes for everything from spicy mutton pie, bubble and squeak, devils on horseback and coronation chicken to steamed syrup pudding, marmalade and piccalilli. I have no doubt it will become a modern classic. So… drum roll… I want to share it. If this is your kind of food, I have an extra copy to give away. Leave a comment below about what your favourite British dish is and why and I’ll announce my favourite response here next Saturday, 3 April.*

We had a lively dinner. Howard brought white roses and French cheeses, Lady de B  brought two kinds of chilly treat, home made mango ice cream and mango and lime sorbet, Victoria and Helder brought delicious wine and even more delicious gossip. I can’t think of a better way to launch a weekend.

* If you register a profile before leaving your comment, this will make it easier for me to get in touch with you, but it’s not essential. Just check in next Saturday to discover the winner, and I’ll work out a way of getting it to you if you’re the lucky person. This competition is open to readers outside of the UK too, so get commenting!

Slow roast pork belly with apples

The recipe calls for pork belly on the bone, but my pork shopper in chief, Séan, came back from the butcher with a boned piece. It worked really well too.

Slow roast pork belly with apples

Serves 6-8.

1 piece of pork belly, weighing about 2.5kg (on the bone)
1 tsp ground fennel
1 garlic bulb, separated into cloves
20g fresh sage leaves
500ml dry cider
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 Cox’s apples
50g butter
Ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 150˚C/300˚F/Gas mark 2. With a sharp knife, score the belly across the skin at 2cm intervals (or get the butcher to do it for you). Season the meaty side of the belly with the ground fennel, 1 tsp salt and some black pepper.

Fennel Fennel, in the mortar

Sage & garlic Sage and garlic

Yum, seasoned pork Seasoned pork, how could it not be delicious?

Bash the unpeeled garlic cloves and place them in a metal roasting tin with the sage. Set the pork belly on top. Pour over the cider and sprinkle the surface of the belly with 1 tsp of salt. Cover tightly with foil and roast for two hours. Remove from the oven and turn the oven up to 200˚C/400˚F/gas mark 6.

Drain the liquid out of the tin into a pan. Put the pork belly back into the tin and return to the oven, uncovered, and roast for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour until the skin is crisp. If I doesn’t become crisp enough, remove the pork from the oven, cut off the skin and put it back into the oven to continue cooking until it resembles proper crackling. Meanwhile, cover the pork and keep it warm.

Meanwhile, prepare the apples. Cut them in half and remove the cores. Butter a metal baking tray and place the apples in it cut-side down. Dab a little butter on top of each and sprinkle with a little allspice Put in the oven with the pork and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Transfer the pork belly to a carving board, placing it fat-side down. Slide a knife under the rib bones and cut them off, keeping the knife against the bone. Set aside the meat and bones in a warm place.

Skim off any fat from the cooking liquid, then bring to the boil.

Cut the pork into thick slices and serve with the baked apples, the cooking juices and the ribs.

An independent sort of lunch

Spring Spring is here.

On Sunday, I arranged to meet Katy at the flower market at 11 and I’d invited a few friends to join us for lunch afterwards. I needed an independent sort of recipe, one that would allow me maximum bouquet bothering time, something I could nudge into being with a little light prep and then bung in the oven to become lunch all on its own.

Seven hour leg of lamb is a good candidate on such occasions. I’ve been wanting to try the one from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook for ages. (I have a weakness for a bad boy with a batterie de cuisine and he has to be the very best of that genre.)

The ingredients

Now if you try this recipe, don’t do what I did and buy a joint so big it won’t fit in your largest pot, thus requiring your husband to go around to the neighbours’ to borrow a hacksaw. ‘You doing a bit of DIY?’ asked Kev. ‘No, sawing through bones,’ said Séan. ‘Oh right, we’ve got plenty of black bags if you need any later.’ I love living next door to a very, very dry Scot.

Along with the lamb, I needed a side dish with an equally self-sufficient spirit. Step forward, AB’s gratin dauphinoise. The oven time is shortened because he simmers his potatoes in cream to part cook them first, so all I had to do when we got back from the market was pop the potatoes simmered in cream (it makes me happy just typing those four words) into the oven with the lamb while we sipped chilly glasses of fizz, nibbled olives, salami and roast cauliflower, read the papers and swapped gossip.

Mel Mel asks ‘Just how big is the leg of lamb?’

Judy Judy, surrounded by the papers.

Tom, Beth & Richard Tom, Beth and Richard

Cauliflower Roast cauliflower

Salami Salami

Barney Barney sat on Stuart’s lap to make sure he didn’t miss anything.

Tom checks his iPhone Tom and Stuart

PS A huge, huge thank you to those of you who sent me first anniversary good wishes. I had no idea when I began my blog how much fun it would be. Pressing ‘publish’ for the first time was a strange feeling, much stranger than seeing my work in a magazine or newspaper. More intimate, somehow, and much more personal. But I’ve loved it. I love the quirky imperfection of it. And I love it most of all when you share your own stories, too.

Gigot de sept heures

Gigot de sept heures Plated up

Look, it’s not going to win any beauty contests but it’s tender, intensely flavoured and delicious.

Serves 8

1 leg of lamb, about 2.7kg/7lbs
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, plus 20 whole garlic cloves
55ml/1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 small onions, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled
1 bouquet garni
250ml/1 cup dry white wine
225g/1 cup plain flour
250ml/1 cup water, though I think you need less (see below)

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas mark 2. Using a paring knife, make many small incisions around the leg. Place a sliver of garlic into each of the incisions. Rub the lamb well with olive oil and season it all over with salt and pepper. Place it in a Dutch oven or large casserole and add the onions, carrots, bouquet garni, unpeeled garlic cloves and wine. Put the lid on the Dutch oven.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and water to for a rough ‘bread dough’, mixing it well with a wooden spoon. Now, Anthony B suggests an equal amount of flour and water which was a bit too sloppy to stick to my pot. Just add enough water to make a rough paste – don’t worry you’re not going to eat it. Use the dough like grout or caulking material to seal the lid onto the pot so no moisture can escape. Put the pot in the oven and cook for 7 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven, break off the dough seal and breathe. It’s intoxicating. At this point, you will be able to carve the lamb with a spoon – not for nothing do the French sometimes call this dish ‘gigot d’agneau à la cuillière’.

Gratin dauphinoise

I must have made hundreds of dauphinoises in my life, but never one like this, where you simmer the potatoes in the cream before putting them in the dish. I rather like it – great if you’d like to do all the chopping and simmering ahead and just slip it into the oven an hour before lunch. I added the Gruyère, as instructed, and though it was good I think I prefer it in its naked, unadorned, uncheesy state. Obviously, leaving out that 115g of Gruyère almost makes it into health food.

Serves 4 – so I doubled the quantities here.

8 Yukon gold potatoes (I couldn’t get hold of these so I used Desiree), peeled and cut into 6mm/1/4 inch slices
500ml/2 cups double cream
5 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
Salt and white pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg (go easy)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
115g grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Place the potatoes in a large pot and add the cream, 4 of the garlic cloves and the herbs. Season with salt, white pepper and a little nutmeg. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. After 10 minutes of simmering, remove from the heat and discard the garlic and herbs.

Use the remaining garlic clove to rub around the inside of the gratin dish. Butter the inside of the dish as well so that is evenly coated. Transfer the potatoes and cream to the gratin dish and sprinkle the top with the cheese. Place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes, or until the mixture is brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Flipping snow the bird

Ready to eat

Look, I’m not even going to mention the ‘s’ word. It’s not so much the snow (oh, how quickly those January resolutions vanish) I mind, nor the cold, nor the wet, but now, after the first few postcard-y weeks, it’s the absence of colour that’s doing me in. I’m enveloped in a gloomy new palette that runs the gamut from smoke, to mouse, lead pipe and speculum (A lifetime ago when I worked for an interiors magazine, I ordered two litres of emulsion for a shoot in a stylish grey, called ‘speculum’ on the paint chart. I kid you not. Very Dead Ringers). It requires a more subtle level of connoisseurship than I posses to appreciate.

Colourful spices

So I retreat to the comfort of my kitchen Crayola box, more specifically to my spice drawer, and its soul-feeding riot of reds, yellows and rich ochres. I had a brace of pheasant that needed using up and combining the bounty from a chilly Scottish moor with the heat of far away spice markets seemed like the perfect two finger salute to slush, ice and grimy, gritty pavements.

Pheasant chitarnee

Pheasant chitarnee

This recipe is from The Game Cookbook  by Johnny Scott and the entirely life-enhancing, gloom-banishing Clarissa Dickson Wright, only very slightly adapted by me (I had no fresh ginger so used dried, and I added some mustard seeds and saffron, just for the sunniness of it). I’m sure it would be delicious with chicken too.

6 onions, finely chopped
3 tbsps olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsps fresh coriander, chopped
6 green cardamom pods
1-2 red chillies, finely chopped
Pinch of saffron
2 pheasants, cut into serving portions
1x400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve: basmati rice, yoghurt, more coriander

Warm the oil over a medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Cook the onions gently in the oil until they are golden. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, mustard seeds, coriander, cardamom, chillies and saffron and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Add the pieces of pheasant to the pan and sauté, turning occasionally for about 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and vinegar and cook for 30 minutes until the pheasant is well coated with the thickened sauce. If the dish is a little too sharp, add a pinch of sugar. Serve with basmati rice with yoghurt and coriander over the top.