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Three beautiful duck eggs on display at the Todmorden Agricultural Show

Cracking stuff: in praise of the duck egg…

Three green and one white duck egg

So that moveable feast, Easter, is well and truly behind us for another twelve months or so. It’s a time of the year which is synonymous with eggs – as a symbol of life, of change, as a treat or gift, and as the rebirth inherent during spring. Our modern Easter is a convenient, contradictory and sometimes conflicted mélange of pagan, Christian, and (increasingly) consumerist influences; and there’s plenty of scope for debate about the origins of many of the things we associate with this time of year. Sidestepping much of the ideology and etymology, I’d just like to talk about eggs…*

Actually, it’s hard to think of a more elemental, universal and iconic foodstuff than an egg. Considering eggs (and duck eggs in particular) are one of the favourite and most-used ingredients in my kitchen, it surprised me to realise we’ve never written a piece in praise of them.

They crop up in plenty of our recipes; they’re the first thing I buy when I go to the market each week; they’re my number one packed lunch item (the ultimate self-contained foodstuff). So this is a celebration of eggs, and especially the duck egg, which is indelibly wrapped up in my past memories and modern routines.

Three beautiful duck eggs on display at the Todmorden Agricultural Show

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Duck and scramble with huevos rancheros

It struck me earlier I don’t often blog about breakfast, which as we all know is the most important meal of the day. I’m a great fan of a hearty, lazy, savoury breakfast… something which isn’t normally possible with the bustling routine of the working day. So weekends are the time to reclaim the tradition of cooking up a proper breakfast.

Today I’m going to cover huevos rancheros (or raunchy eggs as my breakfast companion called them earlier).These ranch-style scrambled eggs have a bit of a kick to them. I’ve only made this dish once before, many moons ago, when a mate crashed over after a night on the beers, and we felt we needed something to counter the first signs of a hangover. I remembered it was delicious, but also a bit of a faff. Definitely the kind of low-intensity task best suited to lazy Sunday mornings with the brain switched to low power mode and some good tunes in the kitchen. Perfect for this morning, in fact.
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Frittata? That’d be lovely, ta…

Onion, potato and tomato frittata

“Frittata, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Free-ta-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Free. Ta. Ta.”*

A long time ago I was deeply influenced by the writing of Marcella Hazan. She was, and remains, one of my favourite food writers; not just for her playful tone and homely style, but also for her authoritative standing on all things Italian-American. Our family used to holiday regularly in Italy when we were growing up, so the palates of Miss South and myself were honed through years of exposure to appreciate in simple yet perfect Mediterranean staples and delicacies. A Marcella cookbook or two always stood, well thumbed, on the kitchen bookshelf, and I’ve upheld this tradition since living here in England. I was given “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” many moons ago, and almost immediately alighted on the chapter on frittate. I fell in love and I’ve not looked back since.

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ulster fry

It’s my party and I’ll fry if I want to…

The Ulster Fry is the national dish of Northern Ireland. It must never be referred to as a ‘fry-up’, but can be affectionately called a ‘heart-attack on a plate’ instead. It varies from the Full English by the judicious addition of soda bread and potato farls fried to golden crispness and a soft fluffy pancake to soak up the oozing yolk of a fried egg. The sausage can be beef or pork and it can be served with either black or white pudding if to your taste. No matter which way you serve it, an proper Ulster Fry is a vast plate of fried heaven that will keep even the biggest appetite sated all day.

I only eat a real Ulster Fry about once a year on my annual pilgrimage home. Anymore than that might kill me, but it’s also because there’s something special about a fry cooked by yer mammy. It always tastes that little bit better for that. Of course the other reason I don’t eat a fry too often is that it’s difficult for me to get my hands on potato or soda bread easily. Some branches of Marks and Spencer and Waitrose stock speciality Irish breads, but sadly I don’t live near any of them. Instead I stockpile farls brought by visitors from Belfast and save them for hungover days that need grease to get through them.

This St Patrick’s Day, fresh as a daisy from the fact it fell on a Wednesday and no one else wanted to celebrate on a school night, I have decided to take advantage of my clear head and happy liver and make my own potato bread and soda bread for a proper homemade fry. It will be delicious, if not slightly inauthentic as I tend to grill the bacon and sausage and don’t fry anything in bacon fat or dripping. It’s almost healthy… Read more

Hash up!

I do a big shop every month or six weeks online with Sainsbury’s. As a non-driver, it’s actually cheaper and easier than getting a taxi with my bulky essentials and I find it easier to stick to a budget and avoid impulse purchases this way. Occasionally though I discover I haven’t been paying full attention when filling my basket and get the odd surprise. This time it happened to be a random tin of corned beef…

I contemplated keeping it in the cupboard until needed in a post-apocalyptic scenario, but not wanting to encourage 2012 to be the end of the world, I decided to use it up. None of my cookbooks offered any advice (Can you imagine Nigel Slater telling you what to do with anything tinned?) so I turned to Google. Even allowing for the fact that corned beef is different in the US, there seemed to be only one recipe on the agenda. Corned beef hash it was then!

I diced some potatoes and put them on to par-boil while I fulfilled a rather dubious childhood ambition to open a can of corned beef with the key provided. This moment of giddy joy was immediately quashed upon realising I had basically unleashed a can of premium catfood. I hoped that the judicious addition of mustard and Lea & Perrins would break the association.

The potatoes and onions went into a hot pan to crisp up round the edges and looked pretty darned tasty. I added in the diced beef and turned my attention to frying an egg. The beef began to melt and coat the vegetables evenly even if it did remain an odd pinkish colour. I reminded myself that anything involving fried spuds is a good thing and plated up.

This was surprisingly palatable. The rich egg yolk bound it together nicely and the mustard gave it a tasty kick that disguised just how mind blowingly salty corned beef really is. (Yes, I know that the corns of the name relate to salt not grains, but it still surprises me). I enjoyed this as a hearty Saturday brunch far more than I expected, but think it would be better if the beef was less prevalent and more like a dressing on the crispy potatoes. This would make it an excellent dish to feed about 6 people heartily without costing more than pennies. I’m not sure I’d bother cooking it again unless this scenario arose. Sadly I still have half a can of corned beef to use up though. Maybe I’ll feed it to the squirrels…