The Lea Valley Walk

For my next London walk, I took on the Lea Valley Walk – which, in terms of London, is just over 13 miles (I judged the ‘London’ part to extend as far as the area in which one can use an Oyster card, meaning it ends in zone 7 at Waltham Cross, although the walk itself does in fact go all the way to Luton). I had a great time – plenty of wildlife to be seen in a variety of habitats along the river and its canalised part (35 bird species!), plus I’ve found that walking along canal towpaths can be a lot of fun in terms of what you can see and encounter on the way. One of the really good things about this one was the number of stations along the way, meaning that the Lea Valley Walk can be as long, or as short, as you want it to be. Full details can be found here:


The Pymmes Brook Trail

My latest ‘walks’ article for Londonist took me along the little-known Pymmes Brook Trail, a ten-mile trek across North London that begins in the almost-rural surroundings of Cockfosters, cuts through the suburban parks of East Barnet and Palmers Green, crosses the North Circ and winds its way through urban Edmonton before ending amid light industry and narrowboats at Pickett’s Lock on the Lee Navigation. The contrasting nature of these locales is perhaps reflected in the fact that I managed to notch up 30 (yes, thirty) different bird species sighted on the course of the walk – among them two types of wagtail, a blackcap, a chiffchaff and a little egret. The write-up can be seen here:



Something fishy...

To Southwold once again, where on our last day we drove down to the harbour for lunch before heading home on the A12. Located about a mile south of the town, Southwold Harbour is home to the local fishing fleet and a variety of huts that appear a little ramshackle at first glance. Don’t be fooled, though; one of these is home to the Sole Bay Fish Company which, in addition to having a fantastic fish counter where you can buy fish directly from the people who caught them (and in some cases smoked them too), has its own fish restaurant that’s only open at lunchtime.

Lunch was really good – although we were told before we even ordered that we couldn’t order anything from the giant fish-tank which contains North Sea fish! After oysters and crevettes (large prawns) for starters, we went for fish and chips, served on wooden platters with the chips in a metal container, in contrast to the mixed selection of plates on the table that we had used for the starters (I had the Dover sole, while Allison went for the lobster!). A lovely little restaurant, and full of character – we’ll be going there again, I have no doubt.

Although this was the first time we’ve eaten there, we have popped into the Sole Bay Fish Company for fish-buying purposes before – last time we were there, we got some very reasonably-priced Dover soles which we took home and, after consulting our recipe books, used to make sole meunière as laid out in Rick Stein’s Seafood (which also had instructions for skinning and pan-frying a flat fish; nice touch). This time, we had a look at the counter and picked up a smoked mackerel and a monkfish tail; fancy, that last one, but no doubt it would be delicious. They were kind enough to put a bag of ice in with the fish for the journey home.

Back home, there was one thing to do with the magnificent-looking smoked mackerel and that was to make the smoked mackerel paté in Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Collection that’s been a favourite of mine for years (usually, we just use supermarket-bought fillets for it); quite simply, the ingredients – mackerel (suitably filleted), cottage cheese, crème fraiche, lemon juice – all get blitzed in a food-processor, with some pepper, salt and nutmeg mixed in.

And what of the monkfish? That was clearly another question for our cookery book collection, and I found the answer (once again) in Rick Stein’s Seafood – roast monkfish with crushed potatoes, olive oil and watercress; something of a less-is-more approach which I have come across in Rick Stein’s recipes before. For him, the fish is very much the main event here, with no need for too much extravagance to back it up. I like that.

The tail required filleting – an easy enough task (I speak as someone who’s done a seafood cookery course at Billingsgate Market and owns a suitably thin and suitably sharp fish-cutting knife); it was then salted and left for 15 minutes while I boiled up some new potatoes. The fish was fried in olive oil before being popped in the oven – the intention was to brown it although mine were still white after the recommended frying-time.

While the fish cooked, I sorted out the potatoes. Rick Stein’s recipe said to add watercress to the potatoes once they’d been crushed but we didn’t have that; we did have some rocket, though, so I improvised – the rocket was wilted in the frying-pan I’d used for the fish, and when I’d drained and crushed the potatoes with some olive oil (with a fork, as suggested!) the rocket was mixed in.

I must admit I was a bit sceptical – this sounded a little bit too easy. Also, the fish hadn’t exactly browned in the frying-pan, and they were still most definitely white when they came out of the oven. So after slicing them I quickly did them in the pan on a high heat for a couple of minutes to give them some colour. Oh, and some olive oil and balsamic (I am not a fan of vinegar but I went along with that) were drizzled on the side.

The result looked pretty fancy; which, I suppose, is what comes from serving the main event on top of the potatoes rather than next to them, and drizzling oil and balsamic around the sides. More to the point, it tasted very good too.


Leftover lamb pilaf

Our shoulder of lamb that we made for Easter left us with some leftover lamb, but what could we do with it? We rather like the challenge of what to do with leftovers, and it so happened that we had a lamb pilaf recipe clipped from an old food magazine that specified “lamb leftovers” – so why not? We didn’t stick to the recipe in its entirety, though, as we made our own stock using the bones and the leftover jus (plus parsley and, in order to give it some colour, the skin of the onion that we chopped up for the recipe) rather than using stock cubes as the recipe advised.

Pilaf works on a similar principle to risotto – the rice is cooked in a stock or broth, usually with everything else in the same pan. This one-pot meal (or variants thereof) can be found cuisines all over the world, from the Balkans to Central and South Asia as well as East Africa and Latin America.

Our recipe was fairly simple - we fried an onion (chopped) in a large pan, and once that was translucent we added garlic (two cloves, chopped) and some spices (two cloves, four crushed cardamom pods, a teaspoon of turmeric and a cinnamon stick). To this were added around 300g of leftover lamb, 250g of basmati rice (brown basmati in this particular case) and the stock we’d made (around 900ml). This was brought to the boil and the simmered until the rice was more-or-less ready. This was enough for three portions (we’d more or less halved the recipe), so in the event we even had leftovers of the leftovers!



Honeyed shoulder of lamb with flageolet beans

What to have for Sunday dinner at Easter? There are several options; if you look up suggestions for an Easter Sunday roast online you’ll find options involving pork, beef and chicken. However, the meat that is most traditionally associated with Easter is lamb. It’s closely associated with spring, and the religious symbolism – the Last Supper having been a Passover meal, and lamb being the meat most associated with the Passover – is a strong one.

It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that while British lamb isn’t as intensively farmed as (say) beef and pork, lamb for the “ever-reliable” Easter market comes from flocks specially managed for autumn lambing, according to The River Cottage Meat Book (most flocks would be lambing in the spring if left to their own devices). Specifically, we opted for shoulder – which, according to Hugh F-W in the above book, is “wrongly thought of as the poor man’s leg … plenty of tender meat, albeit in a form that is not easy to carve.”

We already had a recipe for lamb shoulder that we’ve used before, and liked – and it’s a bit different, as the main accompaniment is flageolet beans (“a high-class variation of the haricot, and quite delicious”, according to Delia Smith) rather than roast potatoes. We’re not entirely sure how we came to have this recipe (it was clipped from a magazine called Good Taste which apparently promotes food from Lincolnshire, not a county that Allison and I have visited – so goodness knows how we got hold of it). It’s also not the best-written of recipes, as it calls for lemon juice and zest in the ingredients but doesn’t mention what to do with the zest in the instructions, while oil (type and quantity unknown) is omitted from the ingredients but mentioned in the instructions. We also didn’t have all of the required herbs in ‘fresh’ form so we did what we could, and what’s presented here is a somewhat modified recipe.

Mix the juice and zest of a lemon with two tablespoons of honey, two tablespoons of olive oil and a couple of generous pinches of dried oregano. Cut a head of garlic in half (horizontally) and place both halves in a lined roasting tin; place a 1.4kg (3lb) shoulder of lamb on top of this and rub it with the mixture. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the lamb, and place sprigs of rosemary and thyme – four or five of each – atop and beside it. Add 150ml of stock (chicken or vegetable will do) to the tin, and stick in an oven pre-heated to 180°C (or 400°F, or gas mark 6).

Cook for 2½ hours, and allow to rest for 30 minutes after that. In the meantime, melt 30g butter in a sauté pan, then add one chopped onion and two or three finely-chopped cloves of garlic. When these have been sweated for 5-10 minutes, add the (drained) contents of two tins of flageolet beans and approximately one teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary leaves. After coating the beans, add 100ml of stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for three minutes. Add three tablespoons of double cream and bring to the boil again; season with salt and pepper.

Once the lamb has been transferred from the roasting tin to the carving-plate, strain the liquid, syphon off the fat and thicken the liquid if required to serve as an accompanying jus.

We served ours with pan-fried kale. Delicious – another winner!

As it happens, we actually used a somewhat larger shoulder than specified in the recipe, so we modified the cooking time accordingly. This left us with a fair amount of leftover lamb meat, as well as the bones. What to do with those? Stay tuned…