Grilled mackerel

This week I started a part-time Masters in London Studies at Birkbeck College. At the tender age of 35 I find myself a student yet again. This is the fourth Masters course I’ve started, and hopefully, in 2 years time, it will be the third one I’ve finished.

The MA I dropped out of was in Modern British History at Hallam University, which I enrolled on back in ’95. At the end of the first term I was faced with the horrific prospect of writing a 3000 word essay on Britain’s pre-war tariff and trade policies. At that point I did the decent thing and fell on my academic sword, returning with relief to my job as second chef at Scottie’s Bistro.

My tutor on that course was a legendary climber, Paul Nunn, who died in a Himalayan avalanche the same year I quit. I only found out when I stumbled across his obituary in the paper. He was a lovely, funny, bearded northern bloke and I was very sad to hear the news. I hadn’t even known he was a climber. I learned later that he’d inspired an entire generation of British mountaineers, including Joe Simpson of Touching the Void fame.

So I am once again a slave to the reading list and the seminar schedule. The cash I save on cheap cinema tickets and 10% book discounts will go towards buying cartons of Bulgarian merlot and paying hefty library fines. After 6 cold hard years in the labour market, it’s good to be back in the warm fluffy bosom of academia. Whether I’ll have time to do much blogging over the coming months is another matter. I’ve already started another blog for recording my research ideas and course notes, but I can’t see that one crashing into Technorati’s Top 100 any time soon.

Which is a pretty long-winded way of introducing what I had for dinner tonight.

Grilled Mackerel with Swiss Chard and Carrot

This recipe came with the Riverford newsletter a few weeks ago, and I’ve made it several times since. It’s colourful, tasty, and makes you forget you’re eating carrots. Again.

1. Peel some carrots and slice thinly on an angle (about 3 carrots per person seems about right). Boil until al dente, then drain.

2. Take a big handful of chard per person and seperate the leaves from the stalks. Chop the stalks into 1 inch pieces and boil ’til tender. Drain. Now also boil the leaves and drain when cooked.

3. Chop a garlic clove or two and some red chilli finely. Heat some olive oil in a wok or saute pan and add the garlic and chilli. Stir a couple of times and add all the vegetables. Saute for a few minutes to let the flavours mingle. Season, and, if you like, dress with another glug of strong, peppery olive oil.

4. To serve with grilled mackerel: Get a nice plump shiny-eyed fish. Chop off ‘er head and gut ‘er. Make diagonal scores in both sides of the fish. Rub salt, pepper and oil into the scores, the skin and the cavity. Get the grill nice and hot and bung her under. 4 or 5 minutes each side should do the trick. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a learned article on the water supply in 16th century London to attend to.

Celery and Stilton soup

September 5, 2006

Slightly weary celery

Two things seem to me to be key to the success of the vegbox enthusiast: a settled domestic life, and a settled mind. Both of these have been at a premium in our humble Norf London household of late.

The incomprehensibility of Polish builders (I think that’s the collective noun) who’ve been dismantling and cack-handedly re-assembling our poor bathroom have plunged our quiet routine into chaos. The kitchen is coated with an asthma-inducing layer of plaster dust. Taking a shower is a major logistical challenge. At least the ceiling mushrooms have gone, for now.

On top of this , the post-holiday blues has led to one of those periodic existential crises of purpose. You know, like, what are we here for? What’s it all about? Should we move to Andalucia and start a tile-importing company or buy a Cornish guest house and revive the lost art of the cream tea (homemade jam, hand-churned yak butter)? Or customise an old gas board van and tour the Outer Hebrides for the next 5 years? Or move to Argentina and set up an organic ostrich ranch? Decisions, decisions.

So, all in all it’s taking some time to get back to that mild and placid contentment which is, I think, the optimum vegbox mindset. But perhaps the best thing is to stop whinging and start cooking, so…

Celery and Stilton soup

(OK, it’s a bit humdrum… baby steps, baby steps….)

1. Chop an onion and a small head of celery into smallish pieces. Put in a pan with a healthy slab of butter and sweat over a low heat for about 10 minutes.

2. Add a couple of teaspoons of flour, stir for a minute. Add stock or water, maybe 2 pints, you can always thin it down at the end if it’s too thick. I was lucky enough to have some good homemade chuck stock in the freezer (Hugh FW would be proud).

3. Simmer for a decent time, maybe up to an hour, to make sure the celery is good and soft. Blitz well. Pass through a sieve if you want a Wogan-smooth finish.

4. Mash the blue stilton, around 2oz or to taste, until it’s quite creamy. Add to the soup a bit at a time, allowing it to melt in. Make sure the soup is well off the boil at this stage or it will split. Season.

5. Serve with croutons and chopped parsley.

And now I’ve tipped my toe back in the vegbox pool it’s not so bad after all. In fact, I’m feeling mildly inspired again. Pass me the beetroot, mathschick.