It has been a fortnight of friends and fun in our littleCottage and elsewhere; rather a lot of eating, drinking, and putting the world to rights over late night chats and attempting to watch Meteor Showers (a few sighted: not as good as last year, sadly). Long walks to clear slightly foggy heads the next morning have helped matters, followed of course by more eating and a little bit of relaxing, papers and the Olympics, a few cricket balls in the garden, children building forts in the house and nagging to go on the iPad, and the dog insisting on pushing the guests off the sofa to reclaim his self-appointed rightful place. All I can say on this last matter is thank goodness we have understanding guests. What a pleasurable, happy few weeks it has been. I am in fact writing this post while listening to The Food Programme on Radio 4, and Diana Henry is making me long for an aperitif, particularly a glass of Fig Leaf Wine, with lots of ice and soda water. Have a listen if you can!
This weekend I relied on a few old favourites and tried a few new recipes too. Spiced Duck salad, that trusted reliable of mine inspired by my Cape Town aunt Siobhan; a green and vibrant platter, on which you liberally add toasted walnuts, grilled peaches, goat’s cheese and fragrant, beautifully pink duck. This was accompanied by my creamy sunblush tomato jalapeno lentils that I’ve posted before- the lentils remain one of my favourite little bowls to do- and are so, so easy. We have masses of green beans in the garden, so the barbecued, sliced ribeye steak (from our local butcher, the ones I rave about) was joined by tahini cauliflower (I probably wouldn’t pair these two again, I have to say) and a huge platter of lemony, garlic green beans sprinkled with toasted almonds- a real nostalgic number. I dipped into Stephanie Alexander’s writing, and made her Carrot Almond Cake with pine nuts, from The Kitchen Garden Companion. I adore Stephanie’s cooking and writing- if you haven’t read and cooked from her books, I urge you to do so. They are great, wonderful tomes, and will give you many hours of pleasure, both in the kitchen and on the table. I made a very simple (but very sweet) Turkish Delight Semifreddo from South African Tina Bester’s beautiful little book Comfort. The semifreddo was served with raspberries, which provided a slightly sharp contrast to the semifreddo- looking back, I would like to have macerated the fruit with a little basil, or mint: I think this would have worked well, and I may not have included the chopped delight, opting simply for the inclusion of Rose Water. The Almond Pine Nut Loaf was served with dollops of mascarpone and double cream that I had added honey and vanilla to- again, perhaps cinnamon would have been good with this too.
I may have mentioned before that my mother was Queen of Preserves and Pickles, and I shy away from making these as hers were so so good that I know I will never match Sandy’s output. However, I have always had a soft spot for Bread and Butter Pickle, and I decided to adapt one of her recipes, and came up with this one. It will keep in the fridge for ages, in sterilised jars for a few months, I reckon. Mum always poured liquid wax on top of her preserves and pickles, and then within the wax set a little wick, for easy removal. I will forever remember lifting those wax lids with my little fingers, desperate to reveal the jeweled contents of the jars- it was one of my favourite things to do in the kitchen, and preserves and pickles will always have a heady promise of pleasure for me.
We spent last night with more dear, dear friends- who just happen to be the most exceptional cooks, and I am still dreaming about that table of platters: smoked meats, salads and bowls of gorgeous vegetables, followed by an equally resplendent pudding table- Salted Caramel Chocolate Cakes, Rose Water Syllabubs, Ricciarelli, and Baklava- just to remember and name a few. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes wake up after a quite show-stopping meal, and curse myself for not having eaten more, wishing that perhaps the leftovers that now hide in the hosts’ fridge would in fact be resident in mine. I certainly felt like that this morning! I love telling Barnaby that we are going to see Alison and Frank. He adores them both, and when I told him we would be eating with them, he replied. “Oh GOOD. They are SUCH good cooks, they are. Remember the SALMON, mummy?” I love how his little food memory bank is being made, an amalgamation of family and friends’ cooking, love, and offerings, close times spent with people, and simply doing that thing we underrate so much these days: hanging out.
Friends, and being together. What could be better?
Have a wonderful week, everyone.
Bread and Butter Pickle
3 white onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and microplaned
10 small mini cucumbers, finely sliced
1 jalapeno chilli, chopped
1 red romano pepper, chopped
1 heaped tbsp table salt
1 1/2 cups white wine or cider vinegar
2 cups caster sugar
1 1/2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 heaped tbsp turmeric
1 tsp celery seeds
Good grinding black pepper
Sprinkle the salt over the chopped garlic, onions, cucumber and pepper. Cover and leave for 2 hours, and then squeeze the excess water out and discard the water.
In a large heavy based saucepan, heat the sugar and vinegar until it reaches a boil. Allow to boil for a few seconds, then add the spices, and stir on a simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strained, squeezed onion mixture to the spiced sweet vinegar, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. remove, and allow to cool. Please taste for seasoning. Serve immediately, or store appropriately.