this week I shall be mostly eating . . . couscous salad with houmous and spiced lamb

lovely lunchbox salad
So in best Jesse from The Fast Show stylee, This week I 'ave mostly been eating . . . (pause) . . . couscous salad with houmous and spiced roast lamb. Actually this was last week and the pullover and wellies were optional!

Last Sunday, we had a wonderfully aromatic slow roasted spiced lamb shoulder. I had bought a far larger piece of meat than I needed to feed us, but with the knowledge that the leftovers would be put to good use . . . a creative lunchbox meal to save me from myself. I spend far too much money at sandwich bars. While some of them are very nice, it makes sense to save a little money if I can: (by my reckoning I saved about 20 quid last week, which can go on other important things in life . . . such as red wine!).

weekend pleasures: a posh fish (finger) sandwich

a fish (finger) sandwich
One of the worst culinary horrors I had ever experienced was a well-known fast food joint's fish sandwich. Words fail me. Vile. As a result, I had always had an aversion to the idea of breaded (or even battered) fish in a sandwich. So when a few years ago the fish finger sandwich appeared on trendy gastropub menus, a knowing nod to fashionable 30-somethings, I couldn't understand why many of my friends were so thrilled. What do you mean? You never had a fish finger sandwich at university? Um, well . . . no. Clearly my uni experience was somewhat lacking and I didn't feel like broadening my education any time soon.

pasta with wild leeks and roasted tomatoes

spaghetti with wild leeks and roasted tomatoes
The cupboard was a bit bare but with store cupboard ingredients including dried pasta, garlic and mi cuit tomatoes and handfuls of fresh herbs including my latest discovery of wild leeks, which are very similar to wild garlic, I had supper ready in minutes.

slow roast shoulder of lamb with middle eastern spices

slow roasted lamb shoulder
with middle eastern spices
Have you ever brought a meal to the table, expecting a few happy exclamations and maybe a small rapturous reception, only to be sadly disappointed?

I learned this the hard way when it turned out that my lunch guests did not like roasted lamb tender and slightly pink the way that I do. Their cries of horror and revulsion were definitely not music to my ears. I was forced to shove the "underdone" meat back into the oven to cremate it just they way they liked it. The spuds were rock hard, the vegetables soggy. but my guests were happy. I managed to salvage a pink piece of meat about the size of a postage stamp and nearly wept.

herb and tomato salsa

herb and tomato salsa
Sunday lunch today was a shoulder of roast lamb marinated in a fragrant mix of middle eastern spices. I wanted a sauce to accompany the slow roasted lamb that combined the elements of traditional British mint sauce, which is typically a combination of mint, vinegar and sugar, with fresh Mediterranean flavours.

chocolate and cherry loveliness: black forest cupcakes

black forest cupcakes
I like to forage, mostly in green open spaces across London, although recently discovering new treasures at the bottom of my own garden. But I have also been known to forage in other people's kitchen cupboards, ferreting out interesting tins and jars that have languished forgotten, gathering dust and exceeding their use-by dates.

Some years ago I had spotted a jar of black cherries soaked in kirsch at my beloved papa's pad. Typically while visiting Henry there will be some point when I rearrange his kitchen shelves and cupboards (putting like things with like things, so that he doesn't end up with 17 jars of opened olives, for example) and I root through his fridge, binning anything that looks as if it might be about to launch a bid for freedom - items that are unusually blue or furry.

better than fairies at the bottom of the garden: wild garlic pesto

wild leek pesto
While some people delight at the fairies at the bottom of the garden, I am entranced by the swathes of what has turned out to be "three-cornered leeks" or allium triquetrum, (which is also a form of wild garlic). This invader from the south western Mediterranean has acclimatised over the past hundred years or so, often found on verges in southern England. It is very pretty, very like a white bluebell. Unfortunately, when it gets out of hand it does have a slight tendency to overwhelm anything around it, although it does die back by late spring, so it isn't necessarily competing with native fauna. Fortunately the bottom of my garden is a wild area (fairies not withstanding) and I am enthralled by a free supply of wild garlic flavoured leaves. 

weekend pleasures: a hash in the pan! (perfect corned beef hash)

corned beef hash
Corned beef hash is one of my guilty pleasures; I tend to make it when I have leftover spuds. While it is relatively frugal, my version tends to be less than virtuous. I have found that using leftover potato salad or dauphinoise, makes a brilliant hash. (Although the mayonnaise in the spud salad and the cream in the dauphinoise can make this hash greasy, so you will need to use less cooking fat.) Still delicious.

leftover easter egg brownies

leftover Easter egg brownies with
dried fruit and spices
I was given some chocolate eggs as Easter gifts. I am really grateful for the kind thought (it would be churlish not to be), but frankly there is just so much Easter egg I can eat. More of a nibble really. I am loath to say that they are wasted on me, but fortunately I had a good way of using up the chocolate.

roast breast of lamb stuffed with spiced couscous

spiced couscous
Unlike that nice child, Charles Augustus Fortescue, I have always had an aversion to fatty meat, while he "would beg them if they did not mind, the greasiest morsels they could find". In my persuit of thrift and frugality I have avowed to change my ways - although I am unlikely to ever live in Muswell Hill (or marry someone called Fifi!)

While Easter may be a time of celebration, I am trying to be frugal and am interested in cooking some of the less popular cuts of meat, which are often the least expensive ones too. Breast of lamb, which is the lamb equivalent of pork belly, has fallen out of favour, probably because it is quite fatty and needs long, slow cooking. However, its fattiness is actually part of the charm of lamb breast, which encompasses thin layers of lean meat, sandwiched between layers of fat. Long cooking renders out the fat, leaving the sweet intense flavour of lamb meat.

almost easter biscuits

knobbly Easter biscuits
Well it's it not yet Easter and these are not entirely traditional Easter biscuits. I like the symmetry. 

These spicy, fruited biscuits were traditionally eaten in England at Easter, very likely originating in the West Country. In theory, they should be flattened and regular shape, with a fluted edge. Unfortunately, my rather lumpy looking biscuits are as a result of not flattening them out, not using a fluted biscuit cutter and realising at the last minute that I didn't have any currants and subsituting my never-ending Christmas mincemeat. Again.

not quite simnel cake

not quite simnel cake
Simnel cake has its origins in medieval times, traditionally served at Easter and on Mothering Sunday. It is a light and fragrant fruit cake, topped with a layer of marzipan as well as balls of marzipan. However, the myths that surround this cake (the balls are said to represent the apostles, less Judas) are sadly sheer taradiddle. The Victorians were great reinventers of history and folklore and it would seem that the traditions supposed to surround this cake are a fabrication. Which is why I don't feel quite so bad about making a Simnel cake that is somewhat lacking in one of the key ingredients - marzipan.

what's in season: april

wild garlic in my
back garden
Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
Robert Browning, 1812-1889 


April is known as a "cruel month", not least because it is rather lean in terms of seasonal British produce. Stores of British fruit and vegetables are coming to an end and the new crops of vegetables are not up to maximum strength yet. Fortunately spring greens are beginning to appear, such as lettuce and watercress as well as spinach and broccoli, so it’s not all doom and gloom. I have just discovered a whole load of wild garlic in my garden, which makes me very happy, as you can imagine. I shall be making soup in the very near future.