Is it an inevitable part of growing older that everything becomes shite?
Take this stainless steel vacuum flask. Alright, it's not a Thermos™ - it's a Tescos,
and OK it didn't cost me £20 it cost me £3. But still, you'd like to think it would actually work. For keeping soup hot and stuff.
Well, you'd be disappointed. Like all modern products, it works about a half-dozen times, then breaks. Or dies.
And you have to throw it away and buy a new one.
Time was, you would buy a vacuum flask and expect to pass it on to your children. Of course that was a proper Thermos™.
But then when I look at Amazon's reviews for proper Thermos™ flasks a disturbing number of people say that theirs
stopped working after about a half dozen goes and had to be thrown away.
It's actually getting so that I accept this state of affairs. I plan on things being shite, and having to throw them away in a few months.
I buy them by the dozen to compensate. I calculate my return on investment between buying one thing that isn't shite and buying twenty that are,
and usually come out with the shite ones. It's just less risk.
Particularly when most of the stuff I buy these days is sight-unseen off of the internets.
But I ask you - is this any way to run a civilisation?
Make everything as cheaply as possible in the Far East so it has to be used once then thrown away?
No wonder we're running out of resources, and money.
When everything's shite.
Malvern is one of those quietly decaying ancient spa towns which still reek of Victorian self-assurance and which were once not shite.
The place is still quite proud of being where they build Morgan sports cars - the epitome of quality artisanal discomfort.
Enormously expensive, hugely durable but vastly time-consuming roadware whose components are each carefully hand-crafted things of beauty
but which somehow fail to all properly fit together,
like the Land Rover they had the reputation of being, well, a bit shite.
Nevertheless, on the back of such pumping, pounding, pistoning shite was our empire built.
Shite that lasted.
In 1994 we sold Jaguar Land Rover to the Germans, then on to the Americans in 2006 and finally the Indians in 2008.
We had an empire once. Now we can't even make our own bicycles. Isn't it a fucking disgrace?
Anyway, I recently drove down to Malvern to visit my old friend Niel of Raha for his 50th Birthday
and it turned into a right old curry
I dropped in on my brother on the way down which mandated our traditional
Spicey Cottage curry
and again on the way back up when we were obliged to consume another round of Karahi Goshts so that I could bring a couple back home to freeze.
I booked into the handily-placed Foley Arms Wetherspoon Hotel in the centre of Malvern - handily-placed for the pub downstairs anyway -
where I met up with my dear old college chums Chris and Cathy Hardly-Home.
Robin and Marion Tart were there too and we all went out ... for a curry
at the very good,
but unadventurously titled Bengal Brasserie
[may now be closed down] opposite.
Next day at Niel's place, his wife Roz laid on a very tasty curry
buffet for lunch before we hiked up the
for a geography lesson over a plastic of Cava.
Then back down for an evening of curry
at another local restaurant, followed by Port and the Matrix.
Couldn't have been better.
In honour of his birthday I added a new vegan category to my recipe indexer - did you notice?
HAPPY BIRTHDAY NIEL!
Anyhoo, I actually wanted to talk about salads: as Shakespeare tells us -
these are our salad days, the days of spring and early dawns
Bikini weather is fast approaching and suddenly I have several days of solid curry
ing to shake off.
Once famed for its restorative spring waters, nowadays Malvern is stuffed with bookshops, charity stalls and tat emporia
for the visiting cardigan-and-pipe brigade, not to mention those curry
but it also happens to be host to a quite reasonable Farmers' market in the Priory grounds where I couldn't resist buying
freshly-picked local asparagus
from the Vale of Evesham
and a pot of garlicky green olives
to turn into salads when I got them home, though by then the asparagus was
starting to turn just a little bit leathery :(
Flora came round to enjoy the asparagus salad
with some simple fresh grilled sardines
Quoth the redhead: The sardines taste great - but I just can't be arsed with all the bones
I had to invest in a couple of avocados for the salad dressing, but they developed into a very reasonable
strawberry-mayonnaise-dressed avocado salad
of their own,
on which I used up the last of my poached eggs as a topping.
I mean I used up the last of my eggs. Obviously they weren't poached when they started.
They were just raw; I imagine the chicken would be very upset to lay poached eggs. Especially if they were boiling hot at the time.
Maybe the chicken I poached for my Coronation Chicken
would have laid one. If it wasn't DEAD.
Coronation Chicken is a salad right?
Like soup. That's a salad too.
So I made a couple of those.
I used the stock leftover from poaching my Coronation Chicken to make an extremely good
Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Red Lentil Soup
or Dark Chicken Stock
Then I asked Rachel, my ex-partner partner in our defence of the Burnside trophy
what kind of soup she'd like me to bring.
In my shiny new
shite Tescos flask.
That's Port Edgar Yacht Club's Alastair Burnside memorial two-handed trophy yacht race
that we won last year.
And again this year
as it happens. I blame the damn fine
cauliflower and blue cheese soup
And that's it.
Wow, it's been a LOOOONG spring!
Grilled Sardines with Lemon Salsa
Makes enough salsa for a dozen sardines.
Sardines are baby pilchards and they're delicious when they're nice and fresh but they don't keep and they don't freeze.
They rot quickly due to their oily composition so look for fish that are clean-smelling and whole.
Avoid bruised fish or ones with belly burn
whose bellies are broken with their guts protruding.
A few small bones are more-or-less unavoidable, but you can remove the largest of these by butterflying
If you're really cartilogenophobic. Otherwise you'll just have to do the best you can drawing the flesh away from the spine as cleanly as possible.
The skin is quite delicate when cooked and peels off easily when you lift or turn your fish,
so you might find the best grilling results by using a metal oven tray under a broiler or in a very hot oven with the door propped open
and avoiding turning the fish at all.
Thanks to Nigella
for the recipe,
though I've corrected her assessment of the number of sardines the salsa quantity will provide for.
- sardines, gutted
- 2 lemons
- 1 large red onion
- 1 small bunch fresh parsley
- 1 small bunch fresh mint (or coriander)
- 125 ml extra virgin olive oil
- juice of ½ lemon
- sea salt & pepper
Gut the sardines and cut off their heads if you don't like them looking at you.
Preheat the grill (or a barbecue) to the hottest it will go.
Peel the lemons by cutting the tops and bottoms off and then sit upright on one end,
and cut away the zest and pith from top to bottom with a sharp knife, turning it with your non-cutting hand as you go,
then chop them roughly and chuck them in a bowl.
Now chop the red onion, parsley and mint (or coriander) either by hand or in the processor (but carefully).
Mix the oniony herby mixture with the chunks of lemon in the bowl and stir in the olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Sometimes, I have to say, I add some crumbled dried red chilli pepper (or a finely chopped fresh green or red chilli) as well.
Leave the salsa to macerate while you cook the sardines.
When they're really fresh, they scarcely need much time: just blitz them under a hot grill,
transfer them to a waiting plate, sprinkle with Maldon salt and take to the table with the summer-sharp lemon salsa in its bowl alongside.
Damn Fine Cauliflower and Blue Cheese Soup
For Rachel as requested - a damn fine cauliflower and blue cheese soup.
This did take me a really
long time to make, though I was experimenting with different flavours and quantities along the way.
I rather hoped that using the cauliflower/celery juice rather than simply simmering them up whole to make a stock would produce a more intense flavour.
The flavour was
pretty damn intense - so maybe it did?
I had considered roasting my cauliflower (say, spread out on a baking sheet, drizzled with oil and scattered with herbs and garlic)
but didn't bother in the end. I think that approach would be terrific for a purely cauliflower soup, but didn't seem appropriate for a cheesy one.
I went with a very tasty Gorgonzola dolce from Valvona & Crolla
as my blue cheese since it tasted really nice, and they didn't have any Roquefort.
You do have to sieve the soup though - those blue veins don't dissolve properly.
Once I'd got the basic soup made, I tried adding:
* May not be fine.
- ... a touch of lime juice.
- ... a dash of truffle oil.
- ... a splash of pine liqueur.
- ... caviar.
- ... hazelnuts.
Makes about 1½ litres
- 2 cauliflowers
- 100g butter
- olive oil
- about 10 celery sticks
- 2 leeks
- 30g hazelnuts
- hazelnut oil
- 150g smoked bacon , chopped
- 200g Shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, chopped
- herbs - rosemary, lemon thyme, bay leaves
- zest of 1 lime, grated
- 2 smallish potatoes
- 4 banana shallots
- 4 cloves new season garlic
- 150-200ml crème fraîche
- 350g Gorgonzola, roughly chopped
- rye bread
- hazelnut oil
Separate the leaves and stalks from the cauliflower heads.
Split off 2-3 cups of choice florets to use as a garnish.
Make up a beurre monté
by gradually whisking 100g of butter cut into cubes into a small amount of boiling water.
Now gently poach the cauliflower florets in the butter emulsion until they are nicely softened.
Strain them, and reserve the butter to use making the soup.
Run the cauliflower stalks, about half a cauliflower head and a few sticks of celery through a juicer to extract enough liquid to make the stock.
Halve the leeks, slice the white part, wash thoroughly and drain.
Grind the hazelnuts with a little hazelnut oil to make as smooth a paste as you can manage
(adding some almonds can help). Set aside.
Dice the smoked bacon (I used streaky) and fry in a little olive oil until it gets near the point of crisping.
Wash and dice the Shiitake mushrooms and add them to the bacon; fry until their aroma deepens.
Add any stalky bits of cauliflower and a few chopped celery stalks.
Once they're well coated and starting to collapse throw in the cauliflower leaves,
any other leftover vegetable parts (like washed green leek),
add a sprig of rosemary, a few sprigs of lemon thyme, a few bay leaves, and cover with the cauliflower and celery juice.
Bring to the boil and barely simmer for an hour.
Strain thoroughly through muslin, extracting as much liquid as you can.
Peel and dice the potato and set frying in half butter half olive oil
(you can use the strained beurre monté).
Finely slice the shallots and add to the potatoes, fry until softened but not brown.
Add the sliced leeks, fry until softened.
Add 2-3 sticks chopped celery, fry until wilting.
Slice 4 cloves of new season garlic and add, frying until softened.
Add the grated zest of a lime.
Add the remaining cauliflower (about 1½ heads) and stir to coat well.
Cover with the stock and simmer gently until the cauliflower has softened.
Whizz up in a blender.
Return to the pot, stir in the crème fraîche, then add the Gorgonzola, roughly chopped and heat through, stirring,
until the cheese melts.
Mix in the hazelnut paste, taste, season and adjust quantities of cheese and nuts as necessary, and then push the soup through a sieve.
Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Cut slices of rye bread
as thinly as you can manage with a sharp chef's knife,
drizzle with hazelnut oil, lay on an oven tray and bake until crisp and golden.
Serve the soup garnished with a drizzle of hazelnut oil and the poached florets, hazelnut toast on the side,
in teeny tiny cups, 'cos the flavour is SO intense.