I was legging it down Berwick Street on Saturday, on my way to an urgent appointment (with my hairdresser), when I was literally stopped in my tracks. The glorious sight that had me skidding to a halt was a market stall selling bowls of baby artichokes for £1.

As you may have realised about me, I get somewhat obsessed with certain ingredients at times, and artichokes is the one that’s doing it for me at the moment – so, there was no way I was going to pass up such a foodie bargain. The artichokes weren’t in the best condition, with many of the outer leaves going a bit brown. But, as those are discarded before cooking anyway, it didn’t really matter.

I’d already taken some pork mince out of the freezer, so decided to find a recipe that would combine it with the artichokes. What I found was a recipe on the BBC website for a pork loin with braised artichokes and courgettes, which inspired me to follow the recipe for the vegetable side of the dish, then combine this with a method of cooking mince that I picked up from Nigel Slater.

In a recipe of Nigel’s for baked marrow with pork mince, he suggests cooking the meat over a high heat until really crispy and caramelised – the crucial thing being not to break up the mince. It’s a fantastic way to cook it, and is a million miles away from the watery brown mush you may have experienced in the past. (If you ever ate lunch at a British school in the 1970s, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to…)

So, as I braised the artichokes and courgettes with lemon zest, thyme and lots of garlic, I fried the pork mince with the same flavourings. The end result is a great combination of fresh and zingy with hearty and meaty.

And, conveniently, I’d just made my latest batch of sourdough bread, so a hunk of that on the side mopped up the mouth-watering juices.

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Last night I had my little sister to stay – which is always an excuse to cook something special. As well as being my biggest fan, she is also my most honest critic, and I know she will always tell me if something is not quite right.

There was a recipe I’d cooked once before and had been meaning to try again for some time – a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dish he calls Tupperware Chorizo, which he cooks with purple sprouting broccoli and clams. Chorizo is one of my sister’s all-time favourite foods, so I knew this would be something she’d enjoy.

However, as is so often the case with me, I didn’t quite have all the right ingredients. So, on Sunday night, I took the combination of spices that Hugh uses for the chorizo – paprika, cayenne, fennel seeds, a splosh of red wine and salt – and added it to about 400g of pork mince, leaving it overnight (in, you may have guessed, a Tupperware box) for the flavours to develop.

What I did have to go with the pork was a fantastic cabbage from the Secretts Farm stall at Borough Market. It looked like a cross between a red cabbage and a Savoy, and was sweet and crunchy – a perfect foil for the intense smoky flavour of the meatballs.

Once I’d fried the meatballs, I removed them to a plate, and sautéed the shredded cabbage in the same pan, so the greens took on the spices of the pork. Meanwhile, to keep in with the Spanish theme, I made saffron rice with some paella rice. I made it in the same way as you would a risotto – frying an onion, then adding stock with saffron in it until the rice absorbs all the liquid.

So, over to you, Sis… How was it?

Chinese stuffed marrow

January 15, 2010

I was craving some Oriental flavours last night, so, with half a marrow left in my fridge and a small amount of pork mince in the freezer, I thought I’d do some experimenting.

I’ve only rediscovered marrows very recently. It was one of my few intense dislikes as a child. God knows why, as it isn’t particularly strong-flavoured. But when I saw some big fat ones at Borough Market last autumn for 80p each, the frugal cook in me decided I should give it another go.

I’ve been cooking this highly flavoursome Nigel Slater recipe of pork mince with baked marrow quite a lot, so used it as the basis of my meal last night. After hollowing out the end of the marrow, I filled it with a stuffing of pork mince, onion, mushrooms, grated carrot, garlic, chilli, ginger, soy sauce, fresh coriander and a dash of sesame oil, then put it in a casserole dish with a lid. A little liquid was added to the bottom of the pot, and, with the lid on, it was sort of steam-baked for about 20 minutes.

The result was a yummy combination of sweet marrow, fresh gingery herbiness and a good hot kick of chilli. Another success in the Bare Cupboard Laboratory!

A very British stir-fry

December 17, 2009

This is one of my favourite kinds of meals, because it’s infinitely adaptable in the ingredients you can use, and really simple to cook. Last night, I used up some pork mince, a leek and some fast-fading brussel tops to make what is essentially a stir-fry. I sautéed the sliced leek and chopped brussel tops in a little olive oil, added some garlic, sage, and salt and pepper, then once the vegetables were soft, chucked in the pork mince, raised the heat a little and stirred to break up the meat. Add a little water at this stage, if you don’t like it too dry. The mince takes barely five minutes to cook, so it really is as quick as any Chinese stir-fry. I had some boiled potatoes with it, but you can have pretty much any form of carb – rice, pasta, or some crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.

It’s one of those convenient meals where you can use anything that’s in your fridge. Simply adjust the herbs and seasoning to go with the vegetables and meat you’re using, and it’ll be really tasty every time.