‘kalybapita’ is my attempt to translate ‘cottage pie’ into Greek with the help of this English-Greek dictionary. It’s probably wrong. A recipe:

Chop and sweat down a couple of onions, a leek, three sticks of celery, a bulb of fennel and three cloves of garlic. Brown two pounds of minced beef and add to the pan of vegetables. Deglaze with red wine and add that to the pan as well, along with half a pint of fresh beef stock. Add salt, pepper, lots of fresh thyme and rosemary, a squirt of tomato puree, some Worcestershire sauce, and a little West Indian chilli sauce; simmer for an hour or so.

At the same time, thinly slice a couple of aubergines, sprinkle with salt and leave for half an hour. Dry the slices and fry or grill them. Also, make enough mashed potato to cover the top of the whole thing, with lots of cheese and butter in the mash.

Layer up, in a big dish, some meat sauce, then the aubergines, then more meat, then the potato. Put in a 220C oven until bubbling and brown. It’s a kind of moussaka/cottage pie compromise, but none the worse for that.

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pasta in three cheese sauce

It’s just turned cold and autumny here over the past few days, which may have been what persuaded me that pasta in cheese sauce was a good idea, since it’s an Italian equivalent to cheese on toast – comfort food.

Anyway. I cooked some penne, chucked in butter, olive oil, chopped stilton, chopped dolcelatte, grated parmesan and a pinch of smoked paprika, then stirred it until it formed a sauce. At which point the tubes of pasta looked like sections of artery clogged with fat. Tasted good, but very rich indeed and a touch salty.

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I went to Abeno for lunch, near the British Museum. It claims to be the only specialist okonomiyaki restaurant in Europe. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese omelette-y thing that is cooked in front of you on a hot-plate at the table. I had one with pork and kimchee (spicy Korean fermented cabbage), which was topped with dried bonito flakes. It was nice, though not as good as the rice dish I ordered – rice with green tea poured over it and dressed with nori. Yum. And then I had that flaked ice dessert the Japanese do – in maccha flavour (i.e. the powdered tea used for the tea ceremony).

I recommend it if you’re going to the BM.

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Bob Denver & Americana

Bob Denver, the star of Gilligan’s Island, has died. Gilligan’s Island is one of those bits of Americana which feel familiar but I actually know entirely via hearsay. It’s one of the most frequently used pop culture references in other US pop culture – they mentioned it on House just last night – but I’ve never actually seen an episode because I don’t think it’s been shown on British TV in my lifetime (ever?).

Similarly, when I went to the US I felt it was very important to eat a Twinkie, to try and find out what it was about this confectionary that made it iconic. Answer – well, it’s certainly different. Bizarrely artificial and liable to send you into diabetic shock. The O. J. Simpson trial was odd, too. The whole thing was covered in detail in the UK news, partially because they tend to follow big US news stories anyway, and partially because the moment he was chased down the freeway on TV, it was a great story. But somehow, the whole point of the thing was missing; the premise of the story was that a Very Famous Man was accused of murdering his wife – but in a country where few people care about American football, he wasn’t actually famous before the trial. He’s famous now, but famous for being accused of murder.

I’m back.

I’ve come back from Perigord to the grim news from New Orleans. I don’t really have anything to say about that, for the moment.

I did manage to listen to the cricket on Radio4 LW via a buzzy little radio. I ended up having to hold it out of an upstairs window and nearly had a heart attack when I thought the Aussies were going to win the thing. Fingers crossed for the Oval. I have a ticket for the fifth day, so my ideal result would be an England win on Monday. But I’d also accept five days of rain.

Not much on the bird front in France; a distant hoopoe was the best bird. The swallows and martins are gathering on the telephone wires and in the treetops. They take off in great twittering flocks and flutter around chasing insects before settling again somewhere else. It’s such an evocative sign of the changing seasons; one which I generally miss, living in London. One day soon they’ll take off and head for Africa.

Swallowtail, tiger swallowtail, lots of butterflies. My favourite insects though were the hummingbird hawkmoths, which I could happily watch for hours. Minutes, anyway.

Lots of booze, lots of food – duck carpaccio, duck paté, confit of duck gizzards, duck pizza. A morning of very hung-over canoeing, which made me feel like I was going to die. We visited a C12th church carved out of the face of a cliff, complete with a necropolis, a C9th font for total immersion baptism, and a reliquary modelled on the tomb Joseph of Aramathea had built for Christ in the Church of the Sepulchre in Jerusalem – as seen by one of the local nobles who’d been there on the Crusades. It even had a temple to the Roman god Mithras which they found under the main church. So that was pretty fab. We played the Lord of the Rings edition of Risk, as well. There may be something in life that makes you feel more geeky than saying “I’m going to invade Fangorn” and then pushing a little plastic orc onto your opponent’s square and rolling a dice to see who wins. But I don’t know what it is.

I finished The Victorians by A. N. Wilson, which is OK. One volume isn’t really enough to deal with a 70 year period, and his opinionated comments sometimes seem a bit dubious, but it’s readable enough. I was more impressed by The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, which was last year’s Booker winner. The central character is a gay PhD student writing about the style of Henry James while living in the house of an up-and-coming Tory MP in the 1980s; he (the student) becomes involved with a wealthy coke-snorting playboy who eventually dies of AIDS. It is in fact something of a satire of that period, but it’s handled with a much more sensitive and nuanced touch than that summary would suggest. Hollinghurst is an impressive prose stylist himself.

Duck with cassis

Joint some duck legs into drum-sticks and thighs. Brown them (you can do this is a dry frying pan; you’re really not going to need any extra fat). Transfer the duck to a casserole, just saving enough to brown some sliced onion. Put the onion in with the duck. De-glaze the pan with sherry, and add some chicken stock and a generous slug of cassis to the casserole before cooking it at 170C for about an hour and a half.

It’s very rich – sweet and fruity – but nice, and not overpoweringly blackcurranty.

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christmassy barbecued pork

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, there’s nothing much less christmassy than a barbecue, and it would take more than marinading some pork in sweet sherry, Cointreau, soy and mixed spice to change that. But that’s what I’m calling it.

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smoked mackerel and fennel pate

This is a theoretical recipe. I made some mackerel pate and was eating it with raw fennel salad. I think it would be worth actually incorporating them into one dish, but I haven’t tried it yet.

The normal mackerel pate recipe is just smoked mackerel blended with enough creme fraiche to make a pate consistency, and lemon juice and parsley for flavour. Because it’s such a strong flavour, you could probably add really quite a lot of raw fennel. Quite coarsely chopped, I think, for a bit of crunch and a rustic quality.

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iced tea

Iced tea is a habit I picked up in Japan. Not the revolting canned stuff with added sugar and lemon they sell in this country – just chilled tea. It works quite well to put some tea leaves in a jug of water and leave it in the fridge for a few hours. You end up with a very light tea – scented water, really. It’s the perfect soft drink for grown-ups. I’ve been using things like oolong, green tea, and jasmine tea, but I daresay you could use any tea. Or indeed something like rooibos. I wonder if herbal things would work. I might try verveine (lemon verbena).

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barbecue stuff

Flatbreads cooked on the barbecue worked OK, though it might be easier to just do them in a frying pan or under the grill. A simple sauce for fish: juice of one lemon and a little olive oil blended with a bunch of tarragon.

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chicken and bean stew

A stew with chicken and beans. There’s nothing very original here but it worked well, so I thought I’d write it down:

Soften some finely-sliced onion (I used a banana shallot and a smallish red onion) with a couple of cloves of crushed garlic.

Just before it starts browning, a couple of chopped tomatoes cooked with it. Put the onions and toms into a casserole.

Get two chicken legs, divided into thighs and drumsticks. Season them and brown them in the same pan. Put the chicken into the casserole and deglaze the pan with white wine.

Add a tin of canellini beans, a pot of fresh chicken stock, a generous quantity of fresh thyme (don’t need to chop it), a bay leaf, and some parsley stalks. And some salt and half a teaspoon of West Indian chilli sauce.

Bring to a simmer and cook in the oven at 160C for 2h 30m. You don’t want it to be too wet but obviously make sure it doesn’t dry out and burn.

Serve with some chopped parsely for colour.

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chipotle, goat’s cheese and red onion pizza

It’s a pizza with chipotle, goat’s cheese and red onion.

I simmered down a tin of tomatoes with three chopped chipotles for the sauce, and topped the pizza with a mix of mozzarella and goat’s cheese, some sliced red onion, and dried thyme. Yummy.

And while I’m here – I made ‘spotted rooster’ the other day, which is a Costa Rican rice and beans dish, and Madhur Jaffrey mentioned that in CR it would be serve with some kind of hot sauce, possibly a tamarind-based one. So I mixed up tamarind oncentrate with West Indian hot pepper sauce, and it was delicious. About two parts tamarind to one part chilli sauce.

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Sam Pepys’s diary today

I was just going to post the food reference from today’s entry at Pepys’ Diary, which tickled my fancy, but actually the whole thing is great. It completely sums up why Pepys is such a joy – the combination of frankness, interesting historical detail, and lively prose style.

“Up early. This being, by God

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An improvised meatloaf that was good enough to try and record the recipe.

400g minced beef
50g breadcrumbs soaked in 4tbs milk for about 30 mins
1 egg
2 cloves of garlic
1 finely chopped onion
1 baby orange pepper (perh 1/2 of a normal pepper)
about 2/3 of a sainsbury’s box of chestnut mushroms (150g?)
1 chopped tomato
a squidge of tomato puree (1 tsp?)
1 chopped anchovy
a sprinkle of Cool Chile Co. dried chillis
a v. small amount of fresh sage – about 1 leaf
a generous amount of fresh rosemary and basil
a splash of balsamic vinegar
a handful of freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper

(I think that’s everything)

mix and put in an oiled loaf tin, spread a bit of oil on top

cook for 35 mins at 200C

pour off the juice and reserve

It was a bit wetter than I intended, so it didn’t slice very well. Tasted good, though. I poured a bit of the reserved juice over each serving to keep the flavour.

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ratafia ice-cream

Last night I served up sweetmeat cake, which is an egg-based tart with candied peel and chopped roasted hazelnuts in it. The recipe isfrom Jane Grigson’s English Food. To go with it I made ratafia ice cream – whipped cream mixed with crushed ratafia biscuits and some cointreau, and frozen. I meant to use Archers rather than cointreau, but didn’t have enough. The ice cream was nice, but rather too strongly flavoured for the tart. I might make it again and serve it with something else, though.

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what to do with a slab of German smoked ham?

Found it in the freezer. Too big to snack on or easily use in sandwiches once it’s defrosted, but very strongly-flavoured and salty for cooking. Hmmm.

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crusty shepherd

I embarked on shepherd’s pie yesterday only to find I had no potatoes. So I topped it with bread.

An onion, two sticks of celery, a left-over bit of fennel, a red pepper and a carrot chopped and cooked together in a frying pan until starting to brown slightly.

A kilo of minced lamb, browned a bit.

Put the veg, the meat, plenty of garlic and rosemary, and some beef stock in a pan and simmer for an hour or so.

Put the sauce in a shallow oven-proof dish, then top with slices of bread (I used multi-grain) spread with French mustard, mustard-side down. Put in the oven, 180C until bubbling and looking brown and crunchy on top. Yummy.

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amaretto and ratafia

All these food posts are of course displacement activity to stop me getting on with any actual poetry.

I’ve made a cheesecake (haven’t tried it yet) from Jane Grigson’s English Food. The recipe originally comes from The London Art of Cookery, and Housekeeper’s Complete Assistant, by John Farley (1783). It’s flavoured with, amongst other things, crushed macaroons. I used Italian ratafia biscuits. What I was thinking was: it’s curious that almost everyone you ask thinks that Amaretto (the liqueur or the biscuits) is made from almonds, whereas, like my ratafias, it’s actually made from apricot kernels. Now, if Georgette Heyer is to be believed, ratafia (a drink – I’m not sure whether alcoholic or not) was a popular choice for genteel young ladies in the Regency period. So when did the taste of apricot kernels drop from Britain’s collective memory?

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onion and cabbage with sage, rosemary and cider

A bit of improvisation I was quite pleased with.

I was doing roast pork, and I’m not a big of classic apple sauce, so I thought I’d make a sauce by cooking onions with a bit of sage (cos its traditional) and rather more rosemary, and putting some cider in it for the appliness. And I had a third of a cabbage in the fridge.

Fry 4 smallish red onions with a few leaves of sage and a handful of chopped fresh rosemary.

When the onions are soft and just browning slightly, slosh in some cider (i.e. alcoholic cider, for any Americans reading). I used quite expensive cider, because the cheap stuff is revolting. Simmer.

When the cider has mainly evaporated, mix in a shredded third of a cabbage. Stir until the cabbage is a bright green colour.

I thought this was a bit of a success, although no-one who ate it commented on it.

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I made kedgeree today. I’m intrigued by Anglo-Indian food like kedgeree and mulligatawny soup. Even more so, those things like Worcester sauce and brown sauce which are so deeply imbedded into the British consciousness that no-one even thinks of them as Indian any more.

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roast chicken with cinnamon and allspice

Rub a chicken with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of ground allspice, salt and pepper. Roast it.

Recipe from the excellent Tamarind and Saffron, a Middle Eastern cookery book by Claudia Roden. I thought it might be too overpoweringly spicy, or a bit puddingy (because those spices are traditionally used in sweet food in this country), but it was nice.

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duck cassoulet

recipe du jour: cassoulet made from left-over duck and sausages.

I had most of a roast duck left over, so I’m making a cassoulet of duck with a couple of sausages and a bit of bacon. No haricot blanc at the Italian deli, so it’s borlotti beans.

Soak the beans overnight.
Simmer with a bouquet garni, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, and an onion studded with cloves for 1 hour 45. Save the cooking liquid.

Layer up the beans, meat, some chunks of tomato and chopped thyme and parsley (mostly parsley in my case), finishing with a layer of beans. Pour over the bean liquid mixed with a little tomato paste (I also added some duck stock, since I’d just made some from the carcasse) then a layer of breadcrumbs.

Stick in an oven at 170C for an hour and a half.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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