Legitimate Displacement Activity in the Time of Covid

Lockdown Lethargy – what a yawn. Right now, I am ignoring the siren call of the ironing board and the growing mountain of clothes begging for attention from me and my deft hand with an iron. Definitely not on today …

The weather is such that comfort food is necessary and provides a legitimate displacement activity. Especially the eating thereof. Last night, I resurrected a dish I made eons ago, not quite when I was a school with God and his friends and the nuns. It proved a great hit with That Man who declared I could ‘make that again, any time.’ Praise indeed.

Jocelyn Dimbleby, the first food writer (later everyone jumped on the bandwagon) to remind me of the watermelon salads I enjoyed in the Middle East as a child, produced a book entitled Marvellous Meals with Mince. Courtesy of her generosity, dear reader, I share this recipe which has nothing to do with watermelon.

I didn’t have the minced pork detailed and used minced veal. Minced chicken or fish (a flavoursome variety) would work well too.

Savoury Pudding with Red Peppers and Green Peppercorns – with thanks and  apologies to Jocelyn Dimbleby.

serves 4 -6 depending on appetites

400g /14oz. minced veal (or pork, beef, chicken, fish. The recipe calls for 500g/17 ozs/1lb but the pack in my freezer contained 400g …)

1 or 2 leeks, depending on size, (not in JD’s recipe, but I like them) sliced not too thinly. (Or ‘slicedly thin’, as I have been known to malaprop.)

2 good-sized red peppers, halved and grilled or oven roasted till charred

2 dessertspoons green peppercorns

2 large cloves of garlic (Not in the original recipe, but I like garlic, too.)

Handful breadcrumbs (Not in the original recipe, but I used sourdough crumbs)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons red pesto (the recipe called for tomato purée. I didn’t have any. Your choice.)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Greek yoghourt – full fat (essential fatty acids to feed the endocrine system which supports the hormone cascade.)

When the peppers are charred (what wouldn’t I give for a gas hob!), shove them into a bag or wrap in greaseproof paper and leave for a couple of minutes. (You can make this a faster job by using peppers in a jar … cheat by adding smoked paprika to achieve the smokiness of charred peppers.) Then skin the pieces and chop quite small. I got fed up chopping them last night, so I chopped two-thirds and then lined the bottom of the steaming bowl with the other pieces.)

Soften the leeks in butter or olive oil

Chuck the mince in a bowl, grate in the garlic (don’t mess around with garlic presses, you waste time and garlic) mix in the breadcrumbs, the green peppercorns, sea salt and black pepper. Mix in the chopped peppers, leeks and the eggs. Add more breadcrumbs if liked, to absorb some of the juices as it cooks.

Butter or (olive) oil a pudding basin –I lined the bottom of the bowl with red pepper pieces – tip in the veal mix, cover with greaseproof paper and then aluminium foil (note the correct spelling, USA readers!) Put on an upturned saucer or special stand so the pudding bowl doesn’t crack in the saucepan, pour in boiling water to seven-eighths of the way up the bowl. Cover with the lid.

Steam for one hour, making sure to top up with boiling water throughout. You may, of course, cook it in a loaf tin or round cake tin and bake for a similar time, in a medium to hot oven.

Upend into a flan dish or serving dish with sides, wider than the pudding – there will be juices – top with two or three dollops of Greek yoghourt and plenty of fresh coriander or parsley. (Jocelyn Dimbleby recommends green peppercorns but I had used them all in the pudding. Improvisation is all – and I love coriander.) The colours of the savoury pudding, red peppers, white yoghourt and green herbs look so appetizing.

Serve with jacket potatoes (make sure the skin is crunchy!), rice or bird’s eye pasta (orzo) or polenta. Spinach provides a good contrast, as does kale (kalettes are my latest fave green vegetable), cavolo nero, green beans, mange tout, courgettes or a salad.

Take care in these covid days – don’t ignore sensible precautions. I have friends who have been dangerously ill with it and two who have died. It’s worth the effort to stay well: it will annoy the hell out of your enemies.


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Leni Sorensen

“More and more my work as a foodways teacher and historian leads me deeper into the importance of food production, gardens, farming, issues of food justice, cooking, and rural life skills. I’ve named my Indigo House farmstead work ‘home provisioning’; by that I mean not only providing for oneself but visioning what it will take for everyone to have the security of food. It may be an urban myth but I once heard that the average family does not have three days’ worth of food in their homes should there be an emergency! That’s scary and I want what I do to help change that!”


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Collops, Pancakes, Fish Pie – Lent is here

Well, that’s another year that I forgot about pancake day – Shrove Tuesday. Not popular with the folks and not enough milk and eggs to knock up a batter.

Also forgot about Collop Monday and Ash Wednesday. (Hangs head in shame.) All of which means I feel there is no need to give up wine o’clock for 40 days, excluding Sundays, which would make 46 days.  (Roll on wine o’clock.)

Collop Monday was the last day for eating meat before Lent started, along with luxuries such as eggs and butter.  Any meat in the household would be sliced into collops (Scandinavian word meaning ‘a slice of meat’ – that was a surprise, wasn’t’ it?), salted and preserved until Maundy Thursday, when Lent ends. Collops and eggs were a traditional meal on this Monday.

Beef Collops – serves 4 – 6

1lb/500g steak, thinly sliced

2ozs/40-50g butter (I prefer unsalted)

Small onion, finely chopped or grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated

¼  pint/125ml well-flavoured brown stock

some slugs of red wine – optional

a little flour to thicken – not too much as it can affect the flavour of the sauce

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, fresh parsley and other fresh herbs of choice.

Melt the butter, sweat the onions and garlic (Do not burn the garlic or you’ll have to throw the onion and garlic away and start again – burning makes the garlic bitter.)

Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or so.

Add the beef slices, stock and wine and cook till tender. The time depends on which type of steak you have chosen; fillet will take 15 minutes or less. Season to taste.

Serve with fried, poached or scrambled eggs, triangles of toast and lots of fresh herbs. Carrots and a green vegetable work well with it.

Shrove Tuesday was traditionally a day for fun – after making confession and being absolved, or shriven, by the priest – with football games, truancy, cockfighting, skipping (yes, skipping) and general excess consumption of ale and other alcohol!

Pancakes were introduced as a way of using up eggs and butter before Ash Wednesday kicked off Lent. Pancake races and pancake tossing are still popular games in the UK.


4ozs/100g plain flour, sifted two or three times to aerate

pinch fine sea salt

1 egg

½ pt/250ml milk or half milk, half water.

Generous tablespoon (25+ml) of special ingredient …

Sling the lot in a blender or processor till smooth and bubbly. Or use a whisk and a large bowl to combine the ingredients.

Blend in the secret ingredient – a generous tablespoon of brandy or whisky or sherry or marsala or … this will ensure light, lacy, crisp pancakes.

Make the batter in the morning and leave to rest till needed for the evening meal – or make the day before if you want them for breakfast or lunch. This allows the starch grains to soften.

Use a good pancake skillet or a solid, thick-based frying pan. Heat the pan, melt a little butter till hot. Hold your hand over the pan – when you feel the heat, it is ready to tackle the batter. Pour in a little batter and swirl around the pan to cover. Cook till you see brown through the batter and toss to cook the other side. If you don’t want to toss, use a palate knife to lift and turn. I gave up tossing after wasting umpteen pancakes.

I suggest you have two pans on the go to keep up with demand.

Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze, and sugar. Or anything you like!

These pancakes are also good for savoury dishes. Try them stuffed with wilted spinach and sautéed mushrooms, in a tasty cheese sauce. Lots of nutmeg helps. So does garlic …

Leeks and smoked fish in a white wine sauce are good. As are chickpeas, chorizo, red pepper and a spicy sauce. Leftover chicken and sweetcorn in a well-seasoned white (wine) sauce is good too. In truth, you can make a filling for pancakes from anything that takes your fancy – ratatouille, curry, savoury mince, sausages (skinned and forked down to a mince) with grated carrots, prawns, veal and blue cheese – anything.

Divide filling of your choice between the pancakes, roll up and lay in a buttered/olive oiled ovenproof dish, coat with extra sauce, some grated cheese and bake in the oven. Make lots – there are never enough.

These pancakes are marvellous for crêpes Suzette too. Oro hot cherries and ice cream. Add the ice cream just before you roll the pancakes and serve.

Ash Wednesday signals that Lent has arrived – 40 days of abstinence and fasting. It used to be that only one meal a day was eaten and no meat, eggs or dairy produce. Ash was sprinkled on the heads of penitents, which later changed to the priest marking foreheads with a cross with the ash kept from the burnt palms of the previous year.

Fish pie is the traditional meal for this day. Everyone has a favourite recipe – unless they don’t eat fish!

Fish Pie – serves 4

1lb/500g mixed cubed fish – white fish, smoked fish, salmon or pink trout

6oz/150g shelled prawns – nice and juicy and plump

several chopped cornichons (small pickled cucumbers), depending on size and taste

1-2 tbls/25-50g rinsed and chopped capers

1 tbls green peppercorns, crushed

2 sliced red peppers – either charred and peeled, or use those that come in a jar. Much quicker, especially if you don’t have a gas hob.

Lots of chopped fresh herbs

½ pint/300ml fish stock

¼ pint/150ml milk or cream

dry white or dry rose wine – optional

sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, spoonful paprika (smoked, if you like it)

Some flour or cornflour


1lb floury potatoes, sliced, peeled or not as you see fit.

A thinly sliced onion

Extra milk or cream

Toasted pistachio nuts

Chopped herbs – dill if you like it – to scatter on top to serve

Cook the potato and sliced onion in the extra milk or cream or milk and water till just tender, in a saucepan. Takes too long in the over and sometimes the potato refuses to soften.

Mix the cubed fish with the prawns, cornichons, capers, green peppercorns, red pepper, herbs and seasoning and put in a deepish ovenproof dish.

Mix the fish stock, milk or cream in a pan. Add flour and some butter and cook till thickening.

Pour over the fish.

Cover with the almost-cooked potato slices and onions. Add the cooking cream or milk if there is not enough sauce in the dish. (I like lots of sauce.)

Dot with butter. Grated cheese if you wish.

Bake for 25-30 minutes 200C/400F/Gas 6 – adjust accordingly. Everyone knows the foibles of their ovens in terms of temperature and timing – until the fish is cooked and the potato browned.

Toast some pistachios in a hot dry pan.

Sprinkle the nuts over the potatoes to serve, along with some paprika and herbs for colour.

Good with spinach, broccoli, courgettes, baby sprouts, spring greens, mange tout or beans.

It’s not a traditional plain fish pie but it is tasty!

Enjoy.  And roll on the Easter egg hunt.




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Post Stress Comfort Food – How to Cope When the Partying is Over.

‘After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.’   – Oscar Wilde

After the excesses of the Silly Season, everyone seems to be jumping on the Dry January bandwagon. Personally, I will fight to the death to keep wine o’clock on the agenda. (‘I drink no more than a sponge.’ – Rabelais.) But it is cold! I love salads and eat one for lunch every day but oh, how I love comfort food when the temperature drops after dusk and I am hungry and snug in the warm sanctuary of my home.

Macaroni Cheese is an all-time favourite – everyone knows how to make this – with the addition of fresh, grated garlic to the cheese sauce and lots of chopped parsley thrown in before grilling (broiling) to crisp the top.  Chunks of sautéed spicy chorizo are good too. Served with a mixed green salad or just-wilted spinach – yum.

Risottos hit the spot  – a colourful one with beetroot will cheer any flagging spirit.

Beetroot Risotto – enough for two, or eat it all yourself …

Bunch of spring onions (green onions or scallions), sliced on the diagonal, using both white and green parts

500ml/1 pint  stock – your choice of homemade vegetable, chicken or beef – hot and ready to use

250g/8oz cooked beetroot, coarsely grated

1 large clove garlic, grated (I’d use more …)

150g/6oz Arborio rice/risotto rice

100ml/4fl.oz red wine

heaped tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan

large handful freshly chopped herbs – dill, parsley, basil, celery leaves – whichever you prefer. Herbs are wonderful chelating agents and should be consumed daily to help counter the pollution we encounter from cars driving past, planes flying over.

50g/2ozs soft goat’s cheese

Add half the beetroot to the heated stock and keep warm.

Heat some olive oil, 1-2 tablespoonsful, and gently cook the spring onions without browning.

Add the garlic to the onions and cook for a minute or so, without browning. (Burnt garlic is horrid and you will need to throw away the onions too and start again …)

Stir in the rice and cook for a minute, stirring to coat the rice – add more olive oil or butter if needed.

Pour in the wine, increase the heat until the wine sizzles.

Lower the heat and gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, waiting for the rice to absorb each ladleful before adding another.

When you have added almost all the stock, stir in the rest of the grated beetroot.

Add the remaining stock, cooking gently until the risotto is creamy and still moist, without being sloppy.

Taste for seasoning – I prefer to add sea salt when I eat it (I find most people add too much salt), but I do add fresh black pepper.

Stir in the Parmesan and half the herbs, divide between two bowls, top with the remaining herbs, pieces of goat’s cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Have extra Parmesan on the side.


Chicken lends itself to comfort food – try an organic/farmer’s chicken rather than the standard supermarket (tasteless?) alternative.

Chicken in Beer – serves 4

1 free-range chicken 1.5kg/3lbs approx.

olive oil/grapeseed oil  and unsalted butter

50g/2ozs chopped shallots

200g/8ozs mushrooms – small – portabello, giroles, or button, thinly sliced

2+ tablespoons brandy (works with whisky too)

1/3 litre/just over ½  pint of beer, dark is best. Not lager!

teaspoon/5g brown sugar

200ml/1/3 pint double (thick) cream. (I send to use crème fraiche, soured cream or full-fat Greek yoghourt – less cloying on the palate.)

50g unsalted butter, sea salt and fresh black pepper

Fresh herbs to serve.

Oven temperature: 220C/Gas 7/425F/200C in a fan-assisted oven.

When the oven is at temperature, smear the bird with butter and chosen oil, then lay in a roasting dish on its side.

Roast for +/- 40  minutes – basting and turning the chicken regularly – to the other side, on its back and lastly breast up.  Remove the bird to a plate to rest, breast down.

Discard the fat from the pan, add some butter, and sweat the shallots over a low heat. Do not burn.

Add the mushrooms. Stir in and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the brandy or whisky and use a wooden spoon to mix in the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan.

Reduce to less than half, add the beer and sugar. Reduce again to about half.

Add the cream and reduce again to a pleasing coating consistency.

Cut  50g butter into small pieces and whisk into the sauce to give it a nice sheen.

Season to taste.

Serve the chicken in the sauce.

Scatter liberally with fresh herbs.

N.B. You can also use chicken portions – adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Bird’s eye pasta is a good accompaniment as is a crunchy salad or al dente green beans with toasted, flaked almonds.


Tandoori Chicken – serves 4-6

Prepare 24 hours in advance – or six hours minimum.

Marinade 1

1.5kg-2kg/3-4lbs chicken portions, skinned, and scored deeply.

5g/1 teaspoon fine sea salt

juice of one lemon

Rub the salt and lemon juice into the portions and set aside for 20 minutes.

Marinade 2

450ml/ 15fl.oz plain yoghourt. (I prefer full-fat Greek yoghourt)

I small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, at least, grated.

small green chilli – if you are worried, just use half , chopped

15ml/1 tablespoon cardamom seeds, crushed

thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated

thumb-sized length of cinnamon stick

5ml/1 teaspoon cumin seeds

ditto cloves

ditto black peppercorns

1 whole nutmeg

30ml/2 tablespoons yellow food colouring, mixed with 15ml/1tablespoon red food colouring.

Put the cardomon seeds, cinnamon, cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns and nutmeg into a coffee grinder and whiz till fine. |You could use powdered spices, but the seeds taste so much better.

Use 2 teaspoons/10ml for this marinade; store remainder in a small jar.

Mix the onion, garlic, chilli, 2 teaspoons spice mix into the  yoghourt – or sling the lot into a processor/blender and blitz – and pour into a large bowl or roasting tin.

Paint the chicken pieces with the food colour.

Pour remainder of food colouring into the yoghourt.

Put the chicken pieces into the yoghourt marinade, cover and leave for 24 hours.

Set oven to the highest setting and bake the chicken for 25 minutes – charred pieces are obligatory!

Scatter with LOTS of fresh coriander – remember the chelation factor.

Serve with Basmati rice and spicy cucumber, (cut cucumber into wedges, sprinkle with salt, pepper, roasted cumin, cayenne and fresh lemon juice), shredded lettuce with sliced red onions and lemon wedges.


Whilst I would hope to follow with treacle tart, rhubarb fool, chocolate pie, pear and ginger pie, I wouldn’t, in truth, be able to eat any, more’s the shame. Instead, I’d opt for something light – a fruit salad of fresh lychees, mangoes and blueberries would be good.


Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.’ – Guy Fieri








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