It's Wednesday night and I am standing in the kitchen with the garden doors open, turning a fillet of lamb over on the grill. The edges are charring nicely, the marinade of yogurt, ground coriander, red chillies and fresh mint seems to have worked its magic. I am suddenly aware of something moving on the steps and turn to find a fox cub about the size of a steamed pudding staring up at me. Behind him is his sibling, and for a brief moment I find myself talking to them as though they were puppies.
As cute as they are, their games of tag have been wrecking the potato patch and smashing down the broad beans. Last night they crept into the tunnel and squashed my precious carrot seedlings. (Early Nantes variety, since you ask.) The little foxes have so far ignored my attempts at encouraging them to go and live elsewhere, preferably away from an allotment or garden where someone is attempting to grow their own food. I find myself torn between inviting them in for a bit of lamb and picking up the shotgun.
The foxes leave their fast-food cartons all over the garden, and more recently several fluffy toys and a brand new pair of trainers. My guess is they're not fussy what they eat, though they seem pretty keen on my organic lamb. I would rather not eat meat at all than tuck in to some anonymous lump of protein; no piece of meat enters this house whose exact provenance I don't know. The good thing is that most decent shops are giving us more information about where our meat comes from - the farm and its location. Meat with a hazy past is probably something we can all live without.
I found a pair of lamb fillets yesterday who wore their upbringing proudly, and marinated them for a couple of hours before cooking them. Marinating meat causes considerably more smoke when it gets on the grill but the flavours that form in the crust are worth the eye-watering kitchen fog. I like turning meat on the grill to brown each sizzling side. The crucial point is not so much the turning as the ability to leave each side alone long enough to get a good colour and delicious-looking black edges.
But if we are to eat meat it seems more gracious to eat the whole creature than just the breast and fillets. I insist on buying poultry with its guts inside (although I know they are really some other bird's). Chicken livers are still a cheap eat even when you track down free-range ones. The livers are ready in a minute or two and cooked over a fierce flame form a delectable sticky crust but maintain a juicy pink interior.
I recently chucked some glossy pink livers in a pan with bacon, golden cherry tomatoes from the Isle of Wight and parsley to produce a cheap and cheerful supper. We bolstered its lack of substance by tipping both livers and the tomatoey pan juices on to thick, open-textured toast. Offal tends to be thought of as an autumn and winter ingredient but it responds well to a quick flash in a hot pan or a brief moment over the grill. You can thread kidneys, halved and cored, on to wooden skewers (soak them first so they don't burn). I marinate the kidneys in garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, then grill and serve them with a cracked wheat tabbouleh seasoned with extra lemon juice, coriander leaves and toasted cashew nuts. I'm not sure what the little foxes would have made of that.
Chicken Livers with Tomatoes and Bacon
Free-range chicken livers are larger and meatier, but even they shouldn't take more than a minute or two to cook. I never take them past the pink-in-the-middle stage as that is when they become tough. Serves 2.
a thick slice of butter
a single clove of garlic
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
8 large chicken livers
8 cherry tomatoes
a little coarsely chopped parsley
Peel and finely chop the onion. Melt the butter in a shallow pan, then let the onion soften until it starts to turn honey coloured. Peel and crush the garlic and add to the pan, along with the bacon, cut, if you wish, into short lengths. Then, just as the bacon starts to take on a little colour, drop in the livers and the tomatoes. Take care, partially covering the pan to prevent the livers from spitting at you, then season and add the parsley.
Continue cooking the livers at a high heat for a couple of minutes, by which time a glossy crust should have appeared. Divide between two hot plates or tip on to rounds of toast.
Grilled Lamb with Yoghurt and Spices
I have used lamb fillet here, but you could use any piece of meat suited to the grill. A free-range chicken breast would be good, as would a pork fillet or even pieces of rabbit. At a push you could leave the meat in the marinade overnight, but no longer. Serves 4.
a heaped handful of mint leaves
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 small, hot red chillies
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
a good glug of olive oil
2 lamb fillets
salad to serve
Put the yogurt into a bowl, then roughly chop and add the mint leaves. Crush the coriander seeds and tip into the yogurt with the lime zest and a grinding of salt and pepper. Reserve the zested lime. Slice the chillies in half, remove the seeds, finely slice them and stir into the yogurt with the peeled and crushed garlic, turmeric, cumin and olive oil.
Push the lamb fillets down into the yogurt marinade and leave for a good couple of hours, overnight if you wish, but no longer.
Grill the lamb on both sides till crusty outside and rose pink in the middle. Leave to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and dressing with the juice from the lime. Serve on a bed of salad leaves.
Hot salad of grilled mackerel and tomato
Strong, bright flavours here for a fish we can eat without worrying about its stock. I don't think there is any point in eating mackerel unless you are prepared to make the most of its strident notes and grill or roast it till the skin starts to singe. Make sure the thyme leaves are very young and tender. Serves 2.
2 whole mackerel, cleaned and filleted
4 ripe tomatoes
for the dressing:
1 tbsp young thyme leaves
a small garlic clove
4 tbsp olive oil
the juice of a large lemon
Salt and pepper the fillets, oil them lightly and lay them skin-side up on a grill pan. You can save a great deal of washing up by lining the tray with a piece of kitchen foil first. Put the mackerel under a hot grill and let its skin colour and catch a little. The smoky results will add to the robust flavours of the mackerel and thyme.
Put the thyme leaves in a pestle and mortar and pound them with the peeled garlic clove and a good fat pinch of sea salt. Mix in the olive oil and the lemon juice.
Slice the tomatoes thinly, then season with black pepper and a small amount of salt.
Check the fish for doneness, then lift on to warm plates. Pour the dressing over the hot fish and serve with the tomato salad.