Monthly Archives: September 2014

Roasted Leeks

Cost: £1 or so. Serves 6 as a side dish.

Ten years ago when I was in the Sixth Form, I remember looking in the common room fridge and being terribly impressed by our collective healthiness. It was filled with fruit, individually packaged salads, and low-fat yoghurt. I felt a few calories lighter from even looking inside. This lasted until I glanced at the bin, which contained only chocolate bar wrappers, crisp packets and fizzy drink cans.

Generally, I find it relatively easy to make good food choices in the supermarket. My husband is especially good at saying “no” to processed foods when standing in front of the chocolate aisle. I buy from the “bowl shops” at least twice a week – the temporary stands that sell fruit and vegetables in £1 bowls, the choice and quantities varying slightly according to whatever happens to be available at this time of year. It’s pretty good, because it sort-of encourages seasonal eating, and there are no non-fruit-or-vegetable items to provide temptation.

However, come the weekend, and the pantry/fridge is still full of vegetables, getting slightly past their best – and it’s a situation that does not tend to resolve itself with extended avoidance (my go-to method for problem solving). This happened the other day with some leeks which had been bought when they were squeaky-fresh, bursting with vitamins and flavour, and were languishing reproachfully on the vegetable shelf *cough* two *cough* weeks later.

Roasting is a great way of bringing out the flavour left in slightly tired vegetables. With leeks, they can easily dry out though, so they need a quick boil first before a blast in the oven to add a tinge of char and caramel, flavours brought out with olive oil, salt, balsamic vinegar and garlic.

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Little Chocolate Fondants

Cost: £2 or so, pretty much all storecupboard ingredients

If in any doubt about what to make if people are coming over, may I recommend this pudding? You can make it in advance – even the day before, and bake them from the fridge just before serving. Conversely, if you are surprised by unexpected guests (or expected guests, but you have forgotten to plan a dessert) then you can whip it up out of storecupboard staples and bake right away. My preference is to make them ahead and leave them in the fridge until we are clearing the plates from the main course. Normally, the oven is still warm so it doesn’t take much time to heat up, and as they cook we can take away the plates and set up for dessert.

Chocolate fondants have a reputation for being technically difficult, but it is totally undeserved. They are easier to make than a cake, and the only slightly tricky thing is getting the timing right – cooking them for long enough to give them some structural integrity, but not long enough for the centres to set. The truth is, it depends a bit on your oven and on the size of your ramekins (and thus depth of your puddings); these timings work for me but they might need a little trial and error. I like to serve them with some frozen berries and a dusting of icing sugar – so if the worst comes to the worst and they are insufficiently firm you can pass them off as warm chocolate mousses, which are gorgeous with the frozen berries, and if they are solid all the way through they are individual chocolate cakes. And nobody will ever know.

Chocolate fondant

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Quick Bramble Jam

or, Some Thoughts on Foraging

Cost: almost free, in this case, since it was made with foraged fruit and just a few spoonfuls of sugar.

I have to admit, for me a foraged meal would normally refer to a some kind of dish improvised out of incongruous leftovers or non-perishable ingredients, possibly both. For instance, after a particularly miscalculated barbecue at the weekend, the next night we “foraged” a pasta sauce made of caramelised onions and all the meat chopped into small pieces, cooked down with a bowl of cherry tomato salsa and half a bottle of leftover red wine. However, I understand that this would not be considered foraging in the classical sense.

We spent the recent Bank Holiday weekend in the Lake District, and perhaps through a combination of the recent heavy rain and dazzling sunlight, the hedges were heavy with brambles, ripe and ready for picking. Walking on the fells and on the paths along the river, I easily filled a sandwich bag with fruit, despite my eating almost as many as made it into the bag.

The wild fruit is smaller and more varied in taste than the blackberries on the supermarket shelves back in London. Some of them were subtly sweet, some were bitter and a few were mouth-puckeringly sharp. All of them were full of pips, which I love to crunch between my teeth, although I know not everyone is a fan.

Back at the cottage, I made this quick jam – the process speeded up by not adding water, which normally would take ages to boil off. It also uses much less sugar than most jam recipes, but could be adjusted for taste – the downside is that it doesn’t keep as long as normal jam, but I think it’s worth it because with less sugar and a shortened cooking time the delicate flavour of the wild fruit still shines through. It sets into a fairly loose jelly and keeps in the fridge in a sterilised jar for a few weeks.

We heaped the still-warm jam onto craggy homemade scones, and stirred spoonfuls into baked apples to make a crumble filling. It was also good the next day on toasted buns, and I have plans to make ice cream with the rest of the jar that we brought back. This is a great recipe – more of a method, really, for when you are on holiday and don’t have lots of equipment on hand. I make scones on holiday in much the same way – no recipe – and I can’t say they suffer for it.

Bramble Jam

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