little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: recipe book

A dinner of the many and a dinner of the few


Of the many

Tonight’s dinner was a good one, a stir fry in which the experience of 20 years, a well-seasoned wok, the good sense of Nigel Slater and a pleasing selection of raw ingredients came to delicious fruition.

We met as student vegetarians, one of us with a wok and the other with an aptitude for slicing vegetables, and so the stir fry was an early feature of our culinary relationship. We learnt some tricks early — get the chopping done before turning on the heat, slice thinly and with an eye for the elegant line, wash the rice well before steaming it, do not peak at the rice while it’s cooking, keep the seasonings simple, come to the table hungry. Others took long to learn — use pretty bowls, use good knives, go for a variety of textures, crank the heat as high as possible.

But it is the latest lesson that has been most revolutionary. Cook each ingredient separately. For this, we have Nigel to thank. I hope he wouldn’t mind the first name, for it is how we refer to all our favourite food writers. “What would Nigel do?” we say, confronted with a spartan cupboard, a new vegetable, a cut of meat. We get our answers from other writers too, but Nigel’s pretty damn reliable. Anyway, he points out that the wok works best when it is not overcrowded, when things can move and flash and the sauce coats but does not pool.

So, that’s our new trick. I put the rice on and get everything sliced, then Ian takes over the frying. One ingredient at a time, a shake of soy for some, oyster for others, teriyaki for the meat. Bowls on the table, happy children, some leftovers for lunch tomorrow, a warm feeling in the tummy.


Of the few

dscn0400Strangely, the meal reminds me of another good one we had recently. We didn’t get our potatoes planted this year, or we haven’t yet, I suppose there is still time, but some came up anyway, the scattered progeny of the ones we missed last year.

I watched the plants grow without thinking much about it, making the mistake of thinking something accidental would be of limited value, and then we dug them up to make room for the spreading zucchinis. Well, what a joyous surprise that was! Red, white, purple, some whoppers, some tiddlers, all with the fine, earthy skin of the newly dug and a gloss when scrubbed like polished stones, curved amber, oiled wood. I weeded, Ian dug, the Cat took photos, the Rabbit harvested, the chickens ate the weeds, Stella kept us company.dscn0377

That night, I made a simple potato salad, nothing more than boiled potatoes, slivered green beans, a torn anchovy or two, a handful of capers and a mustardy lemon oil dressing. It was magnificent.
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Tomato and feta salad

P1090736I really should wait until I have photos, but how about I just write the damn post and promise to take photos next time I make this little beauty? (Edit: done.)

Tomatoes are my go-to feel-better food. Mum said that as a small child all I would eat was boiled potatoes chopped up with tomatoes. Now I turn to thick tomato sauces, vine tomatoes roasted with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and olives, shakshuka, that sort of thing. They cure sadness, lethargy, over-indulgence, bugs and illnesses, stress, grumpiness, the lot.

And with the weather warming up, the nights lengthening and barbecue season starting, I’m hauling out my long-term favourite: tomato salad. This recipe is adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s; it’s easy, quick, cheerful and life-giving. Get into it! I can’t find her recipe online, but it’s in this book.

P1090733Tomato and feta salad

tomatoes (various shapes, colours and sizes if possible)
red or spring onion
olive oil
salt and pepper
lemon zest
fresh basil

P1090724You know this is basically an assembly job, right? I make this on a flat plate or platter with a raised rim to catch the juices. I’m a ceramics fiend, so I have a few to choose from — just use something that makes you happy. This dish is all about the happy.

P1090725To cut the tomatoes, you will need a small, sharp, serrated knife. You will also need to remove the stalky bits. If you’re okay with those two requirements, my friend, I’m coming for dinner. This is a good opportunity to get a little bit creative and cut different kinds of tomatoes into different shapes — slices, wedges, dice, whatever. I would prefer that you are consistent within varieties, i.e., all the cherry tomatoes should be cut the same way, as should all the romas. But they can be different from each other. Also, don’t do anything too fancy. I’m a bit fussy about knife work in the kitchen. I know, I know, y’all thought I was really relaxed and not in the least bit uptight or picky. Being an editor and all. Sorry to burst that bubble. When you’ve sliced the tomatoes, jumble them on the plate, more or less in a single layer.

P1090727That’s the hard bit done. Now very finely slice a small amount of red onion or a larger amount of spring onion and scatter it over the tomatoes. I like red onion, but I cannot stand large slices of it. I don’t know why people do that. You’re eating a nice salad or a deeply satisfying salmon and cream cheese bagel and then there’s these enormous half moons of sharp onion in your mouth. It’s horrible. I would use about one-sixth or less of a red onion (a wedge) or pretty much a whole small spring onion. I have to say that I like the spring onion more at the moment. I think it’s really lovely with the feta.

P1090728Next, pour some olive oil over the tomatoes and onion. Praise the lord, I have no strong feelings about the quality or type of olive oil, but keep a light hand and get the olive oil on before the rest of the ingredients. It provides a nice base for everything else to adhere to, and I think it starts to mollify the onion a bit.

P1090730Then it’s just a matter or scattering on some (or a lot of, if I’m in charge) feta, freshly ground salt and pepper, lemon zest and ripped-up basil. Let it sit for a little while, perhaps, then eat.

P1090732I don’t think the prettiness of this salad can be overstated. And it just gets prettier as you add each ingredient. It’s good as leftovers too, although it won’t last beyond the next day.

Have fun!


French night

P1070366A few weeks ago, we decided to institute French night. Ian and I get to hankering for Paris every now and then, and the boys like any event that involves planning, participatory preparation, and eating.

P1070371We started by getting out recipe books and my old French course books. The boys wrote out French food words and stuck them to the kitchen wall where — I now realise — they remain. We scoured fridge and pantry to work out what we could cook with what we had, and we thought about what we could watch as after-dinner entertainment.*

P1070391I took on potato galette, cauliflower in olive oil and lemon juice, and a lamb, olive and preserved lemon stew. Ian made apple tarte tatin and put out bread and olives for starters. The boys made a salad and the Cat picked flowers.

When it all got too much, the Cat ran a soccer academy in the hallway for the Rabbit. In the middle of everything, we shifted firewood from the driveway to the side of the house, and I think we cleaned the bathroom and vacuumed, although God only knows when or why.

P1070405Predictably, it was all both more wonderful and less relaxed than the event I had in mind when I first broached the idea. My vision of us talking quietly with each other while slowly eating our way through a well-paced and elegant little feast was tempered by a few scraps, a bit of mess, some ratbaggery, and the usual appalling table manners, but it was a celebration of our own making — a wordy, colourful, mayhem-adjacent, not-too-fancy, delicious little party.

* We ended up with a Top Gear episode set in France, which culminated with a bridge that set off my vertigo big time. One day, we’ll be classy.

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Writing in the present

It’s el cheapo Christmas in our household this year, so I’m making my boys some wordy presents, and it got me thinking — what other presents could I make with a few dollars, a laptop, and a printer? I’d love to get more suggestions in the comments.


Recipe book

For the Cat, I’m making a recipe book. I’ve got a large notebook with ruled lines and divider cards, which I’ll use to divide the book into a few sections (snacks and salads, soups and stews, etc). I’ve used a photo of the Cat as the base for the cover, and I’m typing up his favourite recipes to stick in the first few pages of each section (spaghetti bolognaise, raw fish salad, chicken noodle soup, etc). I hope that as he gets more into cooking, he will add his own recipes in the blank pages.


Alphabet book

For the Rabbit, I’m making an alphabet book. I’ve got a folder with clear plastic sleeves, and for each letter of the alphabet, I’ll do a cover page with the letter in upper and lower case. Then I thought I could find pictures of animals and other Rabbit-friendly things for each letter. I’ll print out the pictures and stick them on bits of coloured card, which can slot into the appropriate sleeves. At this stage, the wee one will just pull out the pictures and look at them, but as he grows, he can start to learn which pictures go with which letters.


Bird migration map

This is not so wordy, but the Cat and I are working on a present for a little cousin. We’ll get a map of the world and trace the migration paths of different birds on it. We thought we could put pictures of each bird at their winter and summer homes.


Children’s books

The Cat likes to think big, and he’s writing a chapter book to give to friends and family. I’m not sure how it will turn out, but so far there’s bug collecting, animals, fancy equipment, and some very unusual names.


Homemade calendar

One of our best Christmas presents was a calendar illustrated with bird paintings done by the Cat. We photographed the paintings and imported them into a calendar-making application. Although I have to say that it didn’t work out all that cheap by the time we paid for the printing and binding.


Scrappy poem

The Cat and I are making poems out of words and phrases cut from magazines. The first poem is a little… odd. Maybe we need to up the quality of our source material?

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