Ribollita of Sorts

cavolo nero

Cavolo nero is such a beautiful vegetable. The dark textured leaves would look lovely in any garden, and it has a sophisticated shade of green that would be perfect on my dining room curtains – had my dining room been approximately 16 times more spacious than it is. It looks very grown-up and much less everydayish than its cousins cabbage and kale. For me, it’s also immediately associated with ribollita, the rich Tuscan stew-soup dish. And to the beginning of the end of summer.

On Saturday, after an early rise and some exercise, I felt entitled to go on a meat feast at Brockley market. I had a BLT breakfast, then bought a healthy portion of calve’s liver for dinner, and evidently could not resist a bag of homemade pork scratching for a pound. On the way home, through the much more down to earth Lewisham market,  the sight of cavolo nero made me want to cook something rich and warm for the first time in weeks.

Ribollita is made with dark greens, beans – usually cannellini – and stale bread. It’s the ultimate thrifty food – the name ribollita translates as re-boiled, and this dish should keep

Johnny the cat is surprised at my use of chickpeas

Johnny the cat is surprised at my use of chickpeas

going for days with no risk of waste. I quite fancied chickpeas in place of beans, which is why I’m a bit wary of calling this dish ribollita. Of all the people I’ve eaten with, Italians tend to be the most precious about even the slightest variations to their dishes. I once caused a never-ending squabble between a group of Italians at work when I asked one of them for his recipe of carbonara. Little did I know the question of using onions or garlic was such a contentious one, and to this day I can’t eat a plate of carbonara without the guilty feeling I’m betraying someone. So, please accept my apologies for having the nerve of calling this ribollita. Not only did I use chickpeas, I also chucked in the leftover parsley sauce that was lying around from the previous night’s dinner – a very nice aubergine pasticcio that successfully auditioned for a future supper club. The parsley sauce worked very well as a replacement to the final splash of olive oil before serving. Since we’re confessing to food heresy, here’s another one. The smell of freshly baked naan at my local Indian shop was too sweet and irresistible, so I grabbed a packet and used that instead of a more traditional crunchy, thick crust bread. I did eat half of it with the parsley sauce, so we’re lucky there was any of either left for my counterfeit ribollita.

If you want the real thing, the River Cafe’ blue Cookbook has an authentic recipe. And you can also find the most amazing Tuscan recipes at Jul’s Kitchen blog. For an approximation of ribollita, here’s the one I made. Comforting and just warm enough for the slightly cooler evenings of late August. Ideally, make it and wait to re-heat it a few hours later/next day. It will taste significantly better.

Calls Itself Ribollita

  • a large bunch of cavolo nero, chopped. About 500g / a colander full of chopped leaves and stalks
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 to 2 dried red chilies
  • 4 to 5 tomatoes, peeled and chopped. A tin of chopped tomatoes will work fine
  • 400g cooked chickpeas. Keep the cooking water. If you want to use ready cooked chickpeas, look for a good brand and large chickpeas. I find the ones in glass jars are always of considerably better quality than the tin ones.
  • 2 handfuls of stale bread pieces
  • a handful of parsley
  • 1 tsp capers, washed
  • extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. Chop all the vegetables. Chop the dry chilies very finely.
  2. Gently warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cooking pot
  3. Cook on low heat: cumin seeds, dry chilies, onions, celery, carrots, garlic. Let it sweat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is soft and well cooked, but not brown.
  4. Add the chopped peppers and tomatoes, turn the heat up to medium and bring it to the boil for a couple of minutes
  5. Add all the chopped kale and cover it for a couple of minutes so the leaves reduce in volume a bit.
  6. Mix well, then add the chickpeas and a couple of ladles of the cooking water.
  7. Season with salt and pepper, mix well, half cover half the pan and let it cook for 20 minutes on a gentle heat. If too dry, add a bit more of the cooking water. It should not be a soup, but more the consistency of a stew.
  8. After 20 minutes, check that the greens are well cooked and the liquid thick enough. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes more if needed. Add more liquid if needed.
  9. If you have time, leave the ribollita to rest for a few hours or up to the next day before reheating it and serving it.
  10. Chop the parsely and capers and add enough olive oil to cover them.
  11. Serve it in bowls and drizzle the parsley sauce over it.

ribollita_HungryLarder

Supper club night in the Magical Mystery Garden

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I’m still trying to work out if I imagined that summer house. As someone said next morning: I would not have been surprised had a fairy whizzed in, rustling her wings and granting wishes.

Our friend Lynne made it all happen. Lynne already hosts the regular Hither Green Wine Club at her You Don’t Bring Me Flowers shop in Hither Green. On Saturday, she opened her house and the secret garden for a night of caipirinhas, food, wine, music, and a lot of laughter. It was a very, very special night.

Changing the world, one caipirinha at a time.

Changing the world, one caipirinha at a time.

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Tammi Sioux

Again, a long list of Thank Yous: the Resident Vegetarian made the killer caiprinhas – equally appreciated by guests and cook. That wonderful port was courtesy of the Hither Green Wine Club. As was all the wine, of course. The free labour came from various sources, and we worked my beautiful niece and waitress particularly hard. Thanks to everybody who sensibly refused to give her wine. Our guests were beautiful, funny, charming and hungry!

And Lynne: your home is amazing and you’re the most generous host in history. I can only apologise if you find remaining guests hiding in the garden and refusing to leave. THANK YOU, and I can’t wait to do another one.

Talking of the next one: we’re planning the next supper club in September. With a Northern Italian menu, and inspiration and working title of: My Nonna’s Sunday Lunches. It would be great to see you there. To book a place, email me at hungrylarder@gmail.com

Port companions: lime cookies, brigadeiros, passion fruit meringues

Port companions: lime cookies, brigadeiros, passion fruit meringues

a healthy measure of Pimms

a healthy measure of Pimms

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Watermelon Pimms granita

Coriander and chickpea flour fish cakes

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What to do with leftover fish? The way my freezer is going, it’s best not to add to its overpopulation problem. Since I seem to have gone all Latina with the cooking lately, I decided to try my hand at these fish cakes I once lusted after for an entire summer.

A long time ago, along with a then inseparable friend, we took a bus to the Farol de Santa Marta beach in the South of Brazil and spent the summer holidays there. Rock’n roll that we were in our early 20s, we took: a pile of books, very little money, and the capacity to talk for hours and hours on end. I suspect that place is still quite remote today, but 20 years ago, and before mobile phones or the internet, we really were in the middle of nowhere. We spent some of the very little money to rent a little fisherman shack, which we thought was ever so delightful. It was, at least until the day it rained, and then it became delightfully flooded. And so we spent the weeks reading, walking on the beach, talking and laughing incessantly, I’m not quite sure at what. To this day, we hold the irritating habit of bursting into inexplicable laughter when we’re together.

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The lighthouse at Santa Marta
http://jackocampeche.blogspot.com

With the very little money, and the sad obsession of staying hot in those bikinis, we also didn’t eat a lot, cooking most meals at home. But every few days we’d treat ourselves to one of the local ‘restaurants’. (I’d also treat myself to the fantastic caramelised coconut sweets I soon found out about. Maybe she was a fairy or a vision, but there was this lady I would see sometimes in my early morning walk on the hill behind our shack, with a basket loaded with the little beauties. That lady made a lot of money that summer.) Now, Santa Marta is a fisherman’s village, and a surfers/hippie paradise. What we, with our students budgets and our dieters’ goggles on thought of as Michelin star was in reality someone’s front room, serving a one dish menu of rice, beans, toasted manioc flour, salad, and a choice of grilled fish or fish cakes. For what must have been about 50p. And those fish cakes became our nirvana. Our dream. A happy place in my mind to go back to in moments of stress. They were packed with flaky fish and parsley, with just a bit of crunch on the outside, and light and airy when you bit into them. So very tasty and moist. Apart from the famous and wonderful Portuguese cod cakes, I never had anything like that.

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We both grew up. We remain solid friends, even living an ocean apart. We revert to giggly idiots and still never stop talking for one second when we meet. I like to think our palates and pockets evolved a bit since then. But the taste of that fish cake was no illusion. Just thinking of it, I want to go back to the shack and order a whole wheelbarrow of the things.

IMG_1229With my leftover tilapia fish, I made my own version of them, from memory. It was one of those leftover everything numbers again: fish, onions, parsley, spring onions, green peppers, coconut milk, and 2 ingredients I don’t believe should ever be used parsimoniously: ginger and coriander. By the armful. I marinated the fish in the herbs for only a little while, then fried them in a little olive oil – instead of boiling them as in some fish cakes recipes I came across. The coconut milk just adds a hint of sweetness and keep the cakes moist, and is not overpowering at all. Because I’m going through a chickpea flour phase, I used some of it mixed with plain wheat flour, hoping to achieve a bit of depht, but fearful it would end up with a nutty rather than fresh taste. It didn’t. As soon as I tried the first batch, I knew I was onto a winner. And I kept frying. And frying. Boy, there were a lot of cakes! So a couple of neighbours were treated to bowls of free dinner last night. And this morning I had one of them at my doorstep, notebook on hand, asking for the recipe! Here it is:

Coriander and chickpea flour fishcakes:

  • 500g white fish: I used tilapia. What would also work: cod, sea bass or any white fish you like.
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 of a tin unsweetend coconut milk (300ml or 1 1/2 cups)
  • At least couple of handfuls fresh chopped coriander and parsley. Or more, according to taste. Don’t be too precious about removing the stalks; they taste good and add a nice crunch.
  • 1 to 2 tbps fresh ginger, very finely chopped.
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped, leaves included
  • 1 finely chopped green pepper
  • 130g / 1 cup all purpose flour.You may need to add a bit more or less to reach the right dropping consistency
  • 50 g /  1/2 cup chickpea flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • vegetable oil to fry (I used sunflower oil): enough to fill a large frying pan 2 inches high.
  • one lime or lemon

Method:

  1. in a big bowl, marinade the raw fish in all the herbs, onions, spring onions and ginger. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Leave the fish in the bowl for 5 minutes or more.
  2. in a large frying pan, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Tap the fish pieces clear of the herbs and onions (it’s fine if some remains on it) and fry them in the oil on a medium-low heat. Cover and leave until all the fish is just cooked. It’s fine to add them all at once and stir.
  3. Remove the fish from the heat and transfer it to a blender.
  4. Add to the blender: the eggs, green pepper, coconut milk, and all the marinade ingredients that were left in the bowl.
  5. Blend it just enough so it turns into a thick paste, but still has some bits to it. Look for the consistency of baby food.
  6. Turn the paste into the bowl and gradually add both flours and baking powder, mixing with a large spoon. Be careful not to add too much flour. The dough should not become thick enough to roll with your hands. It should be of a dropping consistency.
  7. In a large frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat until it is very hot. using a tablespoon, gently and carefully drop spoonfuls of the dough into the oil and fry on both sides until golden (about a minute on each side).
  8. Eat them fresh and MAKE SURE you eat them with a squeeze  of lime or lemon on them. It makes ALL the difference.
  9. Close your eyes and pretend you’re on a tropical beach.

The Green Door supper club has taken off!

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I can’t remember having been that excited since I was 8 and my mother would come back from work early on Christmas eve, ready for our long family summer holiday, with the Christmas hamper where I knew I’d find panetonne, torrone, and lots and lots of chocolate, eat the whole lot, and then be continuously sick during a 6 hour car journey on the way to my grandparents. Ah, fond childhood memories. My parents were lucky to have me.

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P1080768The measured start I had planned for the supper club, at home, with maybe 6 or 8 diners, somehow turned into a 35-guest evening hosted by the fabulous Café’ of Good Hope in Hither Green, South London. In a moment of folly, I agreed to join forces with the Hither Green Wine Club and deliver a feast of food, wine and live music to a lot of people. We called the evening The Wrong Side of The Tracks, hoping to rid North Londoners of the outdated notion that we don’t have fun south of the river.

So, how did it go? Well, the menu worked just as I had planned. We described it as a Latin American inspired dinner, and built a very summery menu. Not strictly Latin American, but then I am from Sao Paulo, and we had so many different food influences there that it would be impossible to be a purist about the menu. I went with the food I knew from growing up in a city built by, just to mention a few, Italians, Lebanese, Portuguese, and the migrants from the North of Brazil, with their rich African heritage.

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As I long suspected, the big winner of the night was the pao de queijo, the chewy Brazilian cheese bread, a bit on the lines of French gougeres, but with fresh cheese and a very Brazilian cassava starch. My poor niece serving the canapés kept rushing back to the kitchen to report that people were hunting her down for more. People also went wild for the bacon jam empanadas, and the watermelon Pimms granita went down well too, although it didn’t resist the heat for more than 2 minutes  – we had to serve it with straws in place of spoons.

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A very happy surprise was to have some guests bringing me flowers and small presents. Given that the evening was not free, I had not expected that – but hey, keep them coming! Presents are ALWAYS welcome! I like islands, gold mines and exotic animals.

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Scott Slocombe

So, was it like a dinner party, then? It was louder than even my dinner parties and certainly had better conversation and entertainment. That suited me very well, since I was able to revert to my natural bellowing voice and go completely unnoticed. How I enjoyed screaming SERVICE, PLEASE every 5 minutes! We also had the highly entertaining Matthew Robins with his band and stories in between courses. I won’t mention names, but there were a few tears in the room during his beautiful Wicker Cat tale. Musician Scott Slocombe kept the joyful atmosphere going with his acoustic guitar, soulful looks and dreamy voice.

Did it run like clockwork? Er, no. We were very lucky to have the most gracious bunch of mostly friends and family attending, and they all showed buckets of tolerance for the delays, for the fact that I forgot to introduce the menu properly, and for some other mistakes – every single one of them easily attributed to me. Generosity was the word of the day, and help just turned up before I even asked for it. In the end, we got all the food out, but only thanks to the many helping hands and a great improvised team. Judging from the constant chatter and laughter and an obviously happy atmosphere, we did deliver a fun night. For me, the great reward was to see clear plates coming back to the kitchen and people raving about the food. Now it’s a matter of ironing out the imperfections and making this better next time.

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Was it worth it? Hell, yes! Even though I was up at 06:00, did not stop once until I went to bed at 03:00, I couldn’t possibly describe it as hard work. I had the most fun time ever! I was on a high that still did not subside on Sunday morning, when my husband gently suggested I went for a walk to give him 5 minutes of peace and quiet reflect on the previous night.

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Quince swiss roll, a Shakespearean cake, and a guilty secret

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I love swiss roll. It looks so romantically pretty, and every bite offers an equal portion of light sponge, jam and cream. How not to like it? Growing up, my favourite one was filled with guava jam. Which brings me to another great love of mine: guava. On one of the many hours of my life I waste creating lists of top 5 best dishes, best ever desserts, or 5 ingredients I couldn’t live without (butter heads that list, thanks for asking), I recently asked myself what my Desert Island food would be. And I have almost decided it would be guava. Apart from the fact that it smells and tastes like a dream, it is also full of vitamin C – that’s that scurvy dealt with when I’m sailing away towards shipwreck. Considering the amount of time it takes to eat it, with all those millions of pits to spit out, and then the other many hours to get rid of the smaller pits stuck in your teeth, it’s the ideal fruit to keep me occupied at the island.

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IMG_3042Now I live in England and guava is so hard to come by, I am always on the lookout for alternatives. It was with that mother of all problems in the back of my mind that I came to the Flavours of Spain stall at my beloved Brockley Market. Amongst manchegos and serranos and ibericos and olives, they had this beautiful block of quince paste. In Brazil, aIMG_1102 popular use of the versatile guava is a paste called goiabada, which must be one of my favourite things on this earth. Relatives and friends visiting from Brazil, take note: goiabada always makes a wonderful present. Similar in looks to quince paste, it has a very concentrated guava flavour, a thicker and stickier consistency and, in typical Brazilian fashion, a ton of sugar in it. If you can’t feel the tooth decay advancing as you eat it, you’ve been robbed. A classic dessert in Brazilian cuisine is called Romeo&Juliet (how lovely is that?), and consists of a big fat slab of goiabada next to a slice of fresh cheese. You see where I’m going with this. What if I replace goiabada with quince paste,  add some cheese and fill a swill roll with it?

Reader, that is exactly what I did! But first, a confession: my love of swiss roll reaches someIMG_1197 dark corners of my appetite. I also love that cheap, industrialised one with synthetic strawberry flavour. The one only available in the worst corner shops, with the big yellow 99p price stamped on the packet and not an ounce of natural anything in it. I can’t help it. Now and again, I get a craving that will not be quenched by anything but the junk shop bought strawberry swiss roll. So, you see, in making the transfat-free quince swiss roll I was hoping to achieve something pure and beautiful and be free once and for all of this ugly addiction.

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The market attracts all sorts of punters

The market attracts all sorts of punters

Given that I was looking for Brazilian flavours, I went with a local recipe from the wonderful Brazilian food site Panelinha. Different from a classic British swiss roll, it does not use any raising agent. It relies on the stiff egg whites for volume. It also bakes for a shorter time. Along with a smaller quantity of flour, it uses potato starch. I’m not sure what the science behind this is, but I believe potato starch is a stronger and quicker thickening agent than flour, which helps keep the dough from breaking when you roll the cake. I think. Or if you know any different, please tell. I didn’t add any vanilla to the dough, as I wanted a neutral taste that would allow the quince to shine.

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IMG_1123The quince behaved like a star. Much less sweet, yet very marked taste even after baked.  And no, it does not taste anything like guava. I also looked it up, and they do not seem to be related, despite it looking so similar. I picked up a cheese called Rosary while I was still l at the market. It’s a goat’s cheese, but very fresh and did not taste savoury, but quite refreshing as a filling.

I’m still calling it Romeo and Juliet swiss roll because it’s too good a name to miss. And the good news is,  after eating this, I have not yet given the 99p variety a second thought!

Romeo and Juliet Quince Swiss Roll

adapted from Brazilian food site Panelinha

Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 4 tbps all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp potato starch
  • 5 tbsp caster sugar
  • 200g/1 cup quince paste + 2 tbps
  • 100g/ 1/2 cup fresh cheese: I used Rosary. What would also work: ricotta, cream cheese, Spanish queso blanco, mascarpone.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
  2. Grease and flour a small swiss roll or baking tray of 30x20cm /8×12 in
  3. Beat the eggs until soft peaks form
  4. Still beating, add the sugar, one tablespoon at the time
  5. Gradually add the egg yolks, beating well after each addition
  6. Stop the mixer, add the flour and potato starch gently with a large spoon and mix. Beat with the electric mixer only enough to incorporate the dry ingredients into the dough. Do not overbeat.
  7. You will have a lot of dough and it will look like too much for the small baking tray. It is not. The dough will fill the baking tray and won’t rise, but stay light and fluffy.
  8. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it starts to look golden. (mine took less than 20)

While it bakes:

  1. Dampen a tea towel and place it on a working surface. Sprinkle it generously with caster sugar.
  2. Make the filling: Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the quince paste and melt it in a small saucepan on low-medium heat. You can replace water by port or some other tipple of your preference. I was having a teetotal day. Remove it from the heat and add the cheese, mixing it well. I left a few white streaks of cheese to contrast it with the red of the quince.
  3. cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of quince into small cubes

Assemble:

  1. Remove the cake  from the oven and only allow it to cool for a couple of minutes before turning into the wet tea towel.
  2. Spread the filling over the cake. Distribute the remaining quince it over the filling.
  3. Hold on the tea towel and carefully roll the swiss roll. It really is quite easy. Make sure the cake is still warm and just roll it really slowly.

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My Week in Food: calf’s foot, bossa nova pizza and a cherry pick

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Seriously, stop it now. It was cute for a while, but now this heatwave is  beginning to crawl inside my very soul, making me slower and lazier by the minute. Yesterday, I had to leave the tube at Charing Cross and have a little Agua Fresca at Lupita before I could see straight again.

  • This has been a largely liquid week, partly to keep us all hydrated, but also in honour of  The Resident Vegetarian’s birthday. To celebrate, we had a splendid dinner at Locanda Locatelli, with passion fruit Bellini and mint limoncello to kick off the evening, a sommelier that read our tastes and pockets like a clairvoyant, and the bliss that is functioning air conditioning. Of course I was incapable of considering any other starter after spotting calf’s foot salad on the menu. It was a wise choice. The

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combination of tangy and bitter leaves broke the richness of the tiny and delicious gelatinous meat cubes, and then came the deep fried slices of more sweet calf, which I believe were put there purely to make me happy. Amazing, but rather a generous portion, which, along with my earlier binge at the grissini and the bread basket, prevented me from eating more than a fraction of the lobster linguine. And that worked very well: I am tucking into the linguine leftovers as I type this! Birthday boy had what he claims is the best burrata of his life, then ravioli filled with red onions, topped with salted buffala ricotta and a chianti reduction. Hardly summery, but still light and there was not a molecule of it left on the plate. Sadly, I had to pass on dessert, but we still got a Happy Birthday plate of Locatelli’s famous and unforgattable amaretti biscuits. Light and moist and tender and very, very good. Happy birthday, Salad Man!

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  • Next day, we visited South London’s latest pop up darlings, Van Dough pizza, who ran Catford’s new monthly supper club, at the unlikely location of Catford Broadway, right by the South Circular. We like to call it edgy. Cocooned inside a massive white tent, with very attentive service, cool bossa nova IMAG0933on the speakers and a flow of Brockley’s Micro Brewery‘s drinks, we quickly forgot the less than glamorous surroundings. If you don’t know Van Dough, you’ll be amazed to learn that their perfect pizzas come out of a wooden fire oven … inside a van! Yes, it is a mobile pizza van. I had had their pizzas before, and they’re consistently beautiful. The mozzarella, funghi and garlic seemed to be the chosen winner that night. What came as an added bonus was the stellar chocolate pecan pie. They were concerned that the hot weather had made the filling too soft, but for me it was the perfect consistency, not to mention the rich, top quality chocolate. It was very smooth, on the right side of gooey, with the slightest crunch of pecans when you bit into it. A great evening. My only tiny suggestion would be to include the humble (and in my opinion, the queen of pizzas) Margherita on the menu. But then again, they would have made it if only I had asked. They were happy to oblige when the vegan lady next to me asked for a tomato and garlic pizza.
  • On one of the hottest nights all I could come up with was potato salad, to which I added some roasted beetroots and rosemary, a couple of soft eggs, then sour cream and parsley. Very refreshing with some rocket on the side. No recipe today, but I recommend a go at this salad as a cold dinner.

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  • To crown the end of the week, I met Mr Hither Green Wine Club at the Catford Bridge Tavern for a double mission: a) to toast the fact that we sold out the 30 tickets for the inaugural Green Door Supper Club!,  and b) to go over the menu for the millionth time and make sure our shopping and To-Do lists are even longer now. Only a week to go and the excitement is making me louder and louder!
  • And a final thing: if you’d like to try my cherry brioche and butter pudding, you can select it from the 20 entries that made it to Food 52’s Community Pick on their latest contest pages. Just click on Test This Recipe. Very happy at seeing my dessert up there!

I hope you’re having cool and wonderful weekends.

HungryLarder_B&BCherries

Smoky dinner: paprika cod with spinach and bacon

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London is one giant barbecue at the moment. As part of the nationwide effort to squeeze every last drop out of summer, checkered picnic tablecloths cover every available patch of grass, and the permanent aroma of grilled meat permeates the air like a thick Victorian fog finding its way through the pores and crevices of the city.

On my commute back from work one evening last week, I looked like a cartoon character dreamily following the hypnotic t-bone shaped smell of deliciousness. It wasn’t going to be a salad dinner.

Midweek barbecues can be a hassle, though. Especially if your dining companion is vegetarian. What could be a matter of firing up the grill and throwing a couple of sausages on it becomes a ritual a bit like this: venture into the cellar and dust off the portable barbecue for the non-meat items; fetch some halloumi from the Turkish shop; think up a combination of peppers, onions and various other vegetables with simultaneous cooking time that can be stuffed into the same skewer; agonise at the supermarket over whether it is acceptable to buy a chicken thigh shaped tofu schnitzel.

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It’s not that I don’t like the halloumi, and the peppers, the onions, and the … sorry, no, the ready-made veggie burgers I really cannot abide. My point is that I believe there is a place and a time for vegetarian meals. Barbecues for me mean barely cooked red meat, fat dripping on the fire, hissing and releasing that irresistible smell that makes your stomach jump with excitement. Eating rich pork sausages while you wait for the really good stuff to get ready. Fresh fish just seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon, gently smoked. Ripping the meat off pork ribs with your bare teeth. Skewers of chicken hearts.  Not grilled halloumi.

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Checking the time and thinking up quick dinner ideas, I fantasised about sirloin. This is when I remember two facts:

1. The Resident Vegetarian had a work dinner that night.

2. I had no-one left to blame, and really was simply too lazy and too hot to start a barbecue just for myself.

smoked paprikaLooking at the red slices of chorizo at the deli counter, I thought they would be quite lovely fried with white fish. It would placate my craving for a smoky dinner. And the chorizo reminded me of one last important thing that day: sitting in my food bloggers’ weekend goodie bag was a tin of smoked paprika. I had been wondering how to use it. I grabbed the only decent fresh fish I could find at that time and went home to make cod, paprika, and whatever else I could find. Which was: some spinach, a bit of smoked bacon, and 3 (three) new potatoes. Hardly the stuff of dream banquets, but sometimes the lack of choice makes you use ingredients more wisely. To complete the smoky theme, I also found something else I had been meaning to try for a while, again buried in the goodie bag bounty: smoked salt.IMG_1059

I have one question left after last week: how come I haven’t been cooking with smoked paprika all my life? It is wonderful! I am forever hooked. I used the same big frying pan 3 times, for the bacon, the spinach and the cod, making a point of not washing it in between to make the best of all the tastes.

IMG_1081As for the potatoes, well, I wasn’t sure if I was meant to fondant new potatoes, but I thought I’d give it a go for the sake of experimentation. If nothing else, it would take no time at all to cook 3 small new potatoes. It did work rather well, actually, but they weren’t as pretty as perfectly cut proper fondant potatoes like King Edward or Maris Piper.  For flavour, I used sage, a tiny bit of fennel, and – God only knows how I had that – a herb called rock hyssop, which turned out to have a lovely spicy lemony taste.

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I started on a cold bottle of Portuguese vinho verde,  and by the 20 minutes it took to cook dinner, somehow the 1st glass had evaporated. It is shocking what the hot weather does to wine. Another 2 went with the fish.

I’m not sure if the photos do justice to the beauty that was this dish. A squeeze of lemon brought out the freshness of the fish and the spinach, and then with the first bite I got  a smoky punch of flavour. Three cheers for the latest ingredient to make it to my all-time favourites: paprika, you are my friend!

Fillet of cod with smoked paprika, spinach in bacon and fondant potatoes.

For 4 people

  • 4 fillets of cod
  • 3 tbsp olive oil + a bit to drizzle
  • 100g/ 3.5oz smoked bacon
  • 500g/ 17oz fresh spinach.
  • 4 medium potatoes: Maris Piper, King Edward or any baking potatoes. note: if you choose to use new potatoes, use 8 smaller ones instead of 4 and reduce the total cooking time to 20 minutes.
  • 100ml/ 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • a handful of fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, rocky hyssop, fennel.
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika + a little bit to season the fish
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • smoked salt; black pepper

Method:

Start with the fondant potatoes:

  1. Peel the potatoes.
  2. Using a cookie cutter, cut the potatoes into barrel shapes. They should be about 4cm/ 1.5 high. Or, if you’re using smaller new potatoes, just peel them.
  3. Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan.
  4. Over a medium heat, fry the potatoes on one side for 5 minutes, without stirring.
  5. Once they’re a dark golden colour, add the butter and the herbs.
  6. Turn the potatoes over and fry them for another 5 minutes.
  7. Very carefully add 4 tablespoons of the stock over the potatoes. It will sizzle and splurt and make a bit of a mess around the cooker.
  8. Reduce the liquid by half, then add the remaining stock.
  9. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Prepare the rest:

  1. Season the cod fillets on both sides with the paprika, salt and black pepper.
  2. Steam the fresh spinach just enough for the leaves to begin to wilt. If you don’t have a steamer: fill a large saucepan 3 inches high with water and boil it. Fill a metal colander with the spinach and place the colander on top of the boiling water, making sure the bottom of the colander does not touch the water. Cover the colander and let it steam for just about  minute. note: with young spinach, you don’t strictly need to do this, but it reduces the volume and makes it easier to fit the leaves in the frying pan later.
  3. Cut the bacon into small cubes.
  4. In a large frying pan, fry a third of the bacon cubes in only a drop of olive oil, over a medium heat. The bacon will continue to release more fat as it cooks.
  5. Fry until the bacon is translucent, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the cod fillets, skin side down, and let it cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Do not stir or touch the fish. You may need to do this in  batches if the frying pan is not large enough.
  7. Carefully turn the fish over, and add the sliced onions around the fish.
  8. Add the paprika to the onions and bacon, some salt and pepper, and stir.
  9. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, over a gentle heat, until the onions are soft and coated in red by the paprika.
  10. Check that the fish is cooked through. Remove from the heat, transfer the onions and bacon to a bowl and cover it. Transfer the fish to a warm plate, careful not to break them. Try to keep some of the cooking oil in the frying pan.
  11. Add a touch more olive oil and the remaining bacon to the frying pan and let it cook for about 4 minutes. Add the spinach, little by little. Season with salt and pepper and cook for only a minute or even less, until it reduces in volume and is coated in the juices from the pan. Do your very best not to overcook the spinach.
  12. Serve: place the spinach in the middle of the plate and squeeze a bit of lemon on it. Top it with the onions and bacon, then carefully place the fish on top of the spinach. Squeeze some more lemon on  the fish and drizzle a bit of olive oil. Add the potatoes to the side and pour some of the reduced stock over them.

IMG_1097PS: in what seems to be a tradition with my cooking, I realised long after eating that one ingredient had been left out. I meant to chop a couple of tomatoes to eat as a fresh salad on the side. You may want to give that a try.

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Banoffee Ice Cream

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What a rock ‘n’ roll of a weekend! I spent 3 days surrounded by food bloggers from all over the world, having an enormous amount of fun, learning, sampling good food and reaching for the prosecco on a regular basis. It was great to see people who have turned what I’ve been trying to do for 5 minutes into beautiful collections of recipes, stories, photographs, books, innovative food businesses, happy successful careers.HungryLarder

But apart from the food, another theme dominated the weekend: the heat. Humid, sweltering, oppressive heat. With all the excitement, over indulging, and hot weather, by Sunday afternoon I was exhausted and emotional, like an oversugared child at a birthday party. So I headed home, nearly staying on the air conditioned train for the rest of the day, just riding up and down the London suburbs in cool comfort. I made it home eventually and sat there, watching the nation celebrate Andy Murray’s triumph and trying not to move much.

IMG_1024Even though I had little energy left, 3 days listening to food stories had me itching for the kitchen. Away from the oven, and preferably working with ice. Since my husband was begging me to finally get rid of the pile of overripe bananas by now attracting a growing population of hungry flies, I considered them first. Now, not only am I a great believer in using leftovers for cooking, I’m also fairly flexible when it comes to use-by dates. In particular in the case of bananas, which have a earmarked destination in my kitchen: they always turn into the Rolls Royce of the banana cake world that is the rum and nuts version from the Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey cookbook – now, you try to come up with a cleverer name for a cookbook! Baking was out, though, and so I considered ice cream. And who knew that frozen blended banana magically turns itself into creamy ice cream? At least that’s what you’ll find in the first 2 pages of ‘banana ice cream’ results in Google. Even Jamie Oliver’s doing it. News to me, but a clear winner on parents forums, as a healthy summer snack with no added sugar, or any other ingredient, for that matter. Just bananas, frozen, blended, then frozen again.IMG_1028

I added some extras to mine, naturally. And turned it into a banoffee ice cream dessert. To make the ice cream, I followed the same freeze-and-blitz concept, but also added cream and golden syrup to it, then pralined pecans – both to use up the last of the African pecans, and for the toffee element of the banoffee. The biscuit base was replaced by a biscuit basket laced with golden syrup. It held the ice cream well and never lost its crunchiness. The caramel sauce has a bit of coconut milk added to it, which made the dessert a bit more refreshing.

So I did use the oven after all. But the biscuits only take 8 minutes to bake, and I had a man handing me cocktails to help me cope by then.

I made 2 versions: ice cream served in the biscuit case, with sauce over it. This one works for me. I like my ice cream on the semi-melted side, so I warmed the sauce a tiny bit, which did just the trick. I also shaped the biscuits into tubes – like cannoli – and filled them with ice cream. No sauce.

This was my first attempt at tuille type biscuits. For a more sturdy base, I opted for brandy snaps – minus the brandy, plus coconut for the crunch. It is a little tricky, but a bit of patience – and in my case, 2 attempts – did the job. Despite the very buttery dough, I still had to grease the baking parchment, as on my first attempt it got hopelessly stuck to the biscuits. Either that, or it’s time to invest on a silicone baking mat.

IMG_1029In the end, it all came together and we had a very cooling banoffee dessert to end a glorious weekend on a sweet note.

Banana Ice Cream In Crunchy Caramel Basket:

For the very creamy ice cream:

  • 4 very ripe bananas
  • 200 ml double cream (1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100 ml golden syrup (1/2 cup)
  • 150  pralined pecans (1 ¼ cup) – see recipe below
  1. Peel the bananas, cut them into 2 inch slices and freeze them for at least 3 hours until solid.
  2. Blend the frozen bananas for about a minute, until they achieve a crumbly consistency.
  3. Switch the blender off, add the vanilla and the cream, then blend again until you have a very creamy mixture. You may need to stop, scrape bits from the sides of the blender, then blend again.
  4. Spoon in the pralines and mix well.
  5. Pour the cream into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Or churn the ice cream manually, as I did:  pour the cream into a sturdy container and place it in the freezer, uncovered. Leave it for 40 minutes, then remove it and whisk it very well until you have the same creamy consistency throughout. Take it back to the freezer and repeat this process 3 times.

6. Remove the ice cream from the freezer a few minutes before serving.

For the pecan pralines:

  • 100g pecans (1 cup)
  • 420 g granulated sugar (2 cups)
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 100 ml single cream (1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  1. Line a working surface with baking parchment or foil. No need to butter it.
  2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, bicarb and cream.
  3. Cook on a medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, whisking frequently. You should end up with a golden brown shade and frothy consistency.
  4. Add the butter and pecans and mix well, until well combined and all butter dissolved – should not take longer than 2 minutes.
  5. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on the parchment paper and let it cool completely.

Biscuit case:

  • 70 g granulated sugar (1/3 cup)
  • 65g all purpose flour (1/2 cup)
  • 20 g shredded coconut (1/4 cup)
  • 50ml golden syrup (1/4 cup)
  • 5 tbsp butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)
  2. Cut 8 circles of parchment paper of 6 in diameter. Butter each circle and place them on a baking tray.
  3. Mix the flour and coconut in a small bowl.
  4. In a small saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and syrup.
  5. Cook for a couple of minutes, or until all the sugar has dissolved.
  6. Remove from the heat and add to the flour mixture.
  7. Mix well with a wooden spoon until you have a uniform batter.
  8. Drop spoonfuls of batter into each paper round and place the baking tray into the oven.
  9. Bake for 8 minutes, turning the tray halfway through.
  10. Remove the tray from the oven and let the biscuits cool for a couple of minutes, until they start to firm up.
  11. Start shaping them: for the baskets, carefully pick up one paper circle and wrap it around the bottom of a small cup/bowl. Let is set for up to a minute, until you feel it is firm enough to hold its shape. Transfer the basket to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the cannoli, use the same method, but wrap the hot dough around a whisk handle – or, more logically, a cannoli mould if you have one!

If the dough starts getting too cold and lose flexibility, place them in the oven again for just a few seconds until they’re soft enough again.

Coconut Caramel Sauce:

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 60g light brown sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 100 ml coconut milk (1/2 cup)
  1. Mix all 3 ingredients in a heavy based saucepan.
  2. On a medium heat, bring it to the boil and let it cook for about 4 minutes, until you have a thick golden brown sauce.
  3. Allow it to cool before serving.

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Smuggler’s Pecan Pie

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I just came back from 2 weeks work in Johannesburg, during which I had planned to blog about all the exotic and wonderful food experiences I was having. Sadly, the working hours were long, and I ended up either eating (dreadful) hotel food, or at bland mall restaurants every night. It was such a missed opportunity, as I’m sure an exciting city like Johannesburg has lots of amazing places to eat. I just didn’t have the chance to explore. The happy exception was the wine, invariably better than South African wines we have in the UK. I did, however – and because it would be impossible not to notice – stay there long enough to appreciate how warm and welcoming people were to me in South Africa. It is especially lovely to be greeted with big open smiles by people in big cities, where they have reasons to be grumpy and stressed out.

IMG_0677I could have used my weekend there to visit the many food markets I kept hearing about, and catch up on nice food, but once I heard the words baby and lion, all I could think of was to visit this place in Pretoria that a friend of mine recommended in ‘Do Not Leave South Africa Without Visiting It’ terms. Horseback Africa is indeed a place I cannot praise highly enough.IMG_0745

Part country lodge, part conservation project, it is a beautiful, peaceful, happy place. If you like horse riding, you can go on a mini safari and come very close to giraffes, baboons, springboks, warthogs. Yes, the lions are kept separately. As a friend worriedly noted: lions run faster than horses. So, don’t worry. You’re safe from lions during the horse ride. There are also trekking tours, or plenty of space by the pool where you can read a book and enjoy the company of the many oh so sociable resident dogs. In other words: it is heaven. And then if you are a very lucky person – as I am – you get the room by the cubs’ enclosure, and get to play with 2 month old lions all day long. And so I spent 2 days on a high that lasted well into the week, thanks to the cutest animals scratching my door in the morning so I’d come out and play. And yes, you do get a little bit bitten and bruised, but nothing serious. If you don’t mind the little pests stealing your shoes and growling at you when you dare demand them back.

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And whereas the barbecue by the campfire in the evening, by the light of a full (nearly super) moon was really nice, it was the pecans they had lying around the place that really became the food superstar of my weekend. The only pecans I knew were the supermarket variety – which I love anyway – , but what they had there was in another league altogether. I cracked a couple from a bowl they kept at reception for guests, and before I knew it, a mountain of pecan shells had been formed. Since they’re just wild pecans the family collects once a year, there wasn’t a lot of them, but seeing my equally uncultivated behaviour towards the nuts, they kindly offered me a bag to take home – probably wondering if we don’t have enough food in England. And thanks to the good folk at Heathrow, the bag of pecans made a successful entry back in London. Where I promptly selected a pie recipe to make the best of those babies.

IMG_0966Taken from the Back In The Day Bakery cookbook – now THAT was a food holiday to remember, with daily visits to this wonderful bakery in Savannah – , it has pecans, chocolate chips and bourbon in it. A Holy Trinity pie. The only change I made was to replace the recommended corn syrup by golden syrup – more easily available in the UK. I would have added some maple syrup too, but had none at home.IMG_0965

The dough is one of those very easy affairs, a bit like the cookie base for a cheesecake. No need to rest of roll out; you just press the crumbly crust onto a pie dish.

The result was a golden, deep flavoured, very sweet and yet not sickening pie. The buttery crust is only slightly crumbly and holds the treacly nutty filling perfectly. The nicest souvenir I could have brought from South Africa. Apart from the baby lions.

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Bourbon Pecan Pie – ever so slightly adapted from the Back In The Day Bakery cookbook

Easy Shortcrust Pie Shell:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (the recipe says you can also use granulated sugar, but why would I?)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted.

Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Slowly drizzle in the butter and stir with a fork until the mixture looks moist and crumbly.

Press the dough evenly over the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish.

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups golden syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon all purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 3/4 cups pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180C and position the rack in the lower third of the oven.

Stir together: both sugars, corn syrup, salt, flour and eggs. Whisk well for a couple of minutes until completely combined. Stir in the vanilla, bourbon and butter until well mixed. Fold in the pecans and chocolate chips.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie case. Place the pie dish over a baking tray lined with parchment.

Bake for 1:15h, or until the pie is firm around the edges and just a bit wobbly in the centre.

Remove it from the oven and cool for at least 1 hour on a wire rack before slicing it.  Mine did leave the over rather loose in the middle, so waiting for an hour is good advice.

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In Defence of Green Peppers

Or: my favourite hangover cure

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I have definitely read the words green peppers and least noble together in some food magazine I can no longer find. And I have Nigel Slater’s excellent book Real Fast Food right here in front of me, where he calls peppers magic, but before  embarking on a selection of recipes, warns his readers against the green pepper’s ‘failure to exude the same rich juices when heated.’

Even at the supermarket once (I do love a chatty checkout lady) I was told having a basket full of green peppers was most unusual, because nobody liked them.

Well, I am sorry, but a great injustice must be undone. Because green peppers are delicious. Yes, yellow peppers are sweet, and the orange ones really delicate, and the red ones look and taste great in a salad, but the greens have character, strong flavour, and in the words of my father, the liberal, it’s real men food!

IMG_0497For me, green peppers, minced beef and onions were born for each other. It is such a comforting combination! And it also has a quasi-miraculous curative property on hangovers. You wake up feeling a bit delicate, and may be tempted to have a greasy breakfast to help you face the world. But resist the urge and go for a plate of peppers gently cooked with onions and minced beef. No, make it a bowl. You want to eat this in a bowl, whilst wrapped up in a blanket. With some boiled potatoes, which you can gently mash with your fork. It will feel like a warm hug on your stomach and soul. If you can mince the beef yourself – or ask the butcher to do it – that will certainly make a difference. Choose a good quality cut with some fat in it, for flavour. Sirloin is a good option, and I hear neck also makes great mince. But depending on your state of ill health, ready minced beef may have to do. Invest in the best you can afford and look for some fat in the meat.

But it’s not all just prosaic homely food. I’ve been waiting for summer to try a cold soup I had last year in Italy that was a thing of beauty. It was glorious in the hellish heat of Ferrara’s summer: green peppers, almonds and saffron.  Even though this is a cold soup, it feels very different from drinking (or is it eating?) gazpacho. Equally refreshing, but not straight forward refreshing. It is velvety and cools you down bit by bit, as the different flavours keep turning up and bringing a smile to your face.

snack on potatoes while the peppers cook.

snack on potatoes while the peppers cook.

Today, I opted for the more humble recipe. Not that I was in need of sobering up, but a couple of stressful days at work called for the comfort of this dish. If you’re feeling under the weather, a bit down or in need of a cuddle, you’ll love this.

Say no to pepper discrimination. Bring a green pepper home today!

Green Peppers Hangover Cure

(For one. You will want this when you’re alone at home ignoring your phone.)

–          2 green peppers

–          1 onion, the sweetest you have. Red onions work well too.

–          3 royal jersey potatoes. Or a handful of new potatoes.

–          1 courgette

–          200g of minced beef.

–          a handful of parsley

–          extra virgin olive oil

–         salt, pepper, ground cumin

Start boiling the potatoes in plenty of salted water.

Chop the green peppers roughly. You want some big chunks of peppers rather than delicate bits.

Chop the courgettes into slightly smaller cubes.

In a large frying pan or sautee’ pan, warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions.

Cook the onions in a medium –low heat until translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the mince and let it get a bit of colour, always on a gentle heat.

After a couple of minutes, add the peppers and the courgette.  Add a little bit of water, about 3 tablespoons. The beef and the courgettes will release quite a lot of liquid anyway, but the extra water will ensure this is cooked really gently and not burn. Season it with salt, pepper and a tiny pinch of cumin.

Cook in a lowish heat for just under 10 minutes, covered. Don’t overcook the peppers. Check that the mince is cooked through, and leave it a few more minutes if needed, but stop while the peppers are still a little bit crunchy.

Drain and peel the potatoes. Either serve them whole, or cut into halves, depending on their size.

Serve the potatoes with the mince and peppers on the side. Mash the potatoes only slightly with your fork and pour some of the liquid from the mince on them. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the food, and add a little bit of olive oil too.

Eat in front of the trashiest daytime telly you can find, and feel yourself gradually coming back to life.

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