Newer Entries
Gourmet Cooking On Boats
Away again on Erin, we are doing a couple of feeder races to take the boat down to Blyth for East Coast Sailing Week, and there's only the four of us this time with a guaranteed overnight stop in the safety and comfort of Eyemouth harbour so I've carefully planned a gourmet meal within the strict constraints of Erin's onboard cooking rules.
I was going to include a Lime Thyme Risotto, but decided that was a bit too much trouble and risked violating rule 1, so went with the safer mashed potato option.

In the end no one had room for a baked dessert and only managed to squeeze in tiny petits filous instead.
I shall leave you to guess where I hid the bacon.

Main Course
Duck Breasts in a Cherry Sauce
Buttered Leeks
Lime Thyme Mashed Potato
Side Salad
A rocket salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette

Baked Bananas with Rum and Lime
For a lightweight finish :)

Duck Breasts in Cherry Sauce
main fowl nautical
Pan-fried duck breasts in a cherry and port sauce
It seems that every chef has a different preferred way of cooking duck breasts, from roasting them skin-side down all the way in the oven, through frying them skin-side down only and finishing them off in the oven, to flipping them frantically from skin to flesh side à la Heston Blumenthal.
Some slap into a hot pan, some cook slowly from cold. Some don't seem to think a bout in the oven is necessary at all.
I guess you pays your money, you takes your choice.

Personally I find it hard to get duck breasts' done-ness just right.
They usually seem to be too thick to cook through properly in the frying pan without drying them out too much, so finishing off will probably be required.
You can either do this in the oven as I do, or you can simmer the breasts in the sauce you are about to make.

The best bet for getting your ducks perfectly cooked for all concerned is to use a meat thermometer. For wild breasts (not those intensive salmonella-farmed ducks) and bearing in mind that the temperature will carry on rising a little after you remove the meat from the heat:
  • 120-130°F/49-54°C for rare
  • remove at 122°F/50°C for karl, letting the final internal temperature rise to 125°F/52°C
  • 135-145°F/57-63°C for medium
  • more than 155°F/68°C for well done
Otherwise you'll have to cut open a breast or two to check their colour on the way.

Whichever method you choose, be sure to leave the breasts for a few minutes rest and relaxation between cooking and serving.

Serves 4

  • 4 duck breasts
  • 200g cherries, stoned, halved or 50g dried cherries
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • 1 cup/300ml port
  • 1 glass berry-flavoured Genever
  • pinch thyme
  • 20g cold butter, cut into cubes
  • minced onion/shallot/garlic optional
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.

Cut the cherries in half, discarding their stones or put your dried cherries to soak in port or red wine if you fancy that.
Put the chicken stock in a small saucepan and reduce it to about a third so that it starts to thicken up slightly.
Throw in a few strands of stripped thyme leaves, and the cherry halves and set to one side.

Score diamond-pattern slashes into the skin of the duck breasts with a sharp knife, without cutting down to the flesh.
Rub the breasts all over with salt and pepper.
Place the breasts skin-side down in a cold heavy frying pan or skillet over a medium heat.
Starting the (room-temperature) breasts in a cold pan is a chef's tip for rendering out more fat from the skin.
I've also seen it suggested that you do this on a very low heat for 20-30 minutes, occasionally draining off excess fat, before turning the heat up high to crisp the skin, then flipping the breasts to cook the other side.
It's possible this method will cook the breasts well enough all the way through that they won't need more cooking in the oven before resting and serving.
But you'd have to check.
Allow the breasts to fry in the pan for 10 minutes or until most of the fat has rendered out and the skin has crisped and turned golden-brown.
Drain off some of the oil and save for roasting potatoes, then turn the breasts and cook for a further 4-5 minutes until lightly browned and the flesh feels springy.
At this point the duck is probably still rather too rare for most tastes, (especially the skipper's if you're cooking this on a boat). So you will have to continue cooking until all signs of pinkness have gone sigh.
Put the breasts skin-side up uncovered in the oven for 5-8 minutes or until they are cooked to your satisfaction, then set aside covered in foil to rest for 2-4 minutes before serving them.

Meanwhile finish the sauce -
Lightly fry the shallots if you are using them in the duck pan until colouring, then deglaze the pan with the Genever and the port, simmer 5 minutes until the alcohol is reduced and beginning to thicken, then add the stock and cherries and simmer for another 5 minutes until nicely thickened. Add back any juices that have drained out of the duck while it was roasting and resting. Whisk in a few lumps of cold butter to make the sauce glossy.
Slice the duck diagonally (if you can be bothered) and serve over a drool of the sauce.

This was absolutely delicious, though my sauce was slightly too thin (it didn't seem to want to go any thicker - possibly because I was using ready-made stock), and the duck was overcooked for my taste (though probably not the skippers!).
I think you might consider adding a little cherry jam or conserve to get the sauce that bit thicker, or try reducing the stock harder before adding the cherries (you don't want the cherries actually disintegrating).

Buttered Leeks
side veg nautical
Simple but delicious leeks.
A simple, traditional, and delightful way to cook leeks. You could also use it for cabbage with a little extra stock.

Serves 4

  • 2 leeks
  • a 30g/1oz wedge of butter
  • thyme optional
  • salt and white pepper
  • cream optional
Cut away the root, dried-up outer leaves and anything too green from the leeks.
Slice into fat rounds about 1" or so wide.
Wash the leeks thoroughly, drain, and put in a pan with a healthy knob of butter, a generous sprinkling of thyme leaves and season enthusiastically with salt and white pepper.
Stir the butter through and cook, covered, over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until meltingly soft.
You can cook them uncovered towards the end if they're looking a bit soggy, and you can stir through a little cream before serving for an extra rich version.
So easy. So tasty!

Baked Bananas with Rum and Lime
dessert veg nautical
Bananas baked with sugar, rum and lime.
Serves 4

  • 6 firm bananas
  • zest of 1 lime
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 3 tablespoons dark-brown muscovado sugar
  • 50ml/2 fl oz rum

  • To Serve:
  • juice of ½ lime
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • ice cream or whipped cream
Peel the bananas and halve lengthways.
Sprinkle the lime zest, half the juice and half the sugar into a shallow baking-dish.
Lay the bananas on top in a single layer.
Pour on the rest of the lime juice and all of the rum, and add the remaining sugar.
Put in an oven preheated to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7 and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the bananas are soft.
Stick the dish under a hot grill until bubbling — about three minutes.
Drizzle on more lime juice and rum and serve immediately with ice cream or whipped cream.
I didn't actually try this, since everyone was too stuffed with duck breasts and cherry sauce, but it looks like a convenient alternative to Erin's more usual Flaming Rum Bananas.
Emptying The Freezer
Slowly but surely my, or rather my cute landlady Aline's, fridge-freezer is dying.
It started with one of the shelves cracking and breaking, scattering broken glass and jam all over the floor, then I noticed that my gin is no longer coming out of the freezer compartment as syrupy as I like it, and that my beers aren't cooling quickly enough while I wait for my baths to run. Then the freezer failed to make sorbets for the Hobbes' crew's Mexican Meal, and now it's all dark in there.
It might be the lightbulb, or it might be the little button which is supposed to pop out to turn the light on when you open the door, but is all cracked and broken on my fridge, and sometimes pops out, and sometimes just gives you an electric shock when you accidentally touch the exposed metal terminals inside.
Well, at least it still has power!

So I'm in the process of inventing ways of using up all my frozen food before the fridge turns itself off or explodes.

Broad Bean Couscous
main veg
A hot broad bean salad with cucumber, peas and mint
Since I'm clearing out my freezer I happened to have whipped up some yoghurt sauce earlier to eat with one of my fabulous frozen Spicey Cottage curries. I added a dozen sliced finger chillies (rolling out their seeds first) to the curry before microwaving it so I really needed the yoghurt sauce.
I basically whizzed up
  • juice of half a lemon
  • half a red onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • teaspoon or two of tamarind concentrate
  • teaspoon mint sauce
  • teaspoon amchoor (mango powder)
  • teaspoon or two garam masala
  • half teaspoon ground cumin
  • half dozen green chillies, seeds removed
  • half teaspoon chilli powder
  • large bunch coriander, stalks removed, leaves washed
  • salt and ground mixed peppercorns
and then mixed it into a large pot of yoghurt.
I know it sounds like I added a lot of chilli to what ought to be a cooling sauce, but I just kept throwing stuff in until I liked the taste. So I like it hot. So sue me!

But now I have a tasty yoghurt sauce that I thought might go well with couscous, and some broad beans...

Serves 1 greedy bastard

  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • couple bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • couple handfuls frozen broad beans
  • couple handfuls frozen peas
  • bunch mint, chopped
  • 1 cucumber
  • couscous to taste
  • yoghurt sauce that you happen to have lying around!
Roughly chop the white onion though I'm sure spring onion would do, but you probably wouldn't want to boil those so much and set it to simmer with the bay leaves in a little water.
Peel, crush then chop up the garlic.
Add the garlic to the pot, followed by the broad beans, followed by the peas.
Peel, deseed and chop a cucumber and add it to the pot.
Cook everything together briefly until the cucumber starts to soften and the beans are tender.
Add the chopped mint, season and stir the mixture into your couscous.
Add enough boiling water to just cover the couscous and leave to stand for 10 minutes until the water is absorbed. to be honest I just chucked mine on top, but I think this would leave less juice behind
Fluff the couscous, season and stir through a little walnut or avocado oil and serve with a yoghurt sauce.
Not too bad.
I decided to try out just boiling the onions, rather than frying them up for a change. The result was slightly anaemic-tasting, but quite delicate and summery.
I think it would work just as well chilled as a salad, though with probably a bit less boiling of the onion, cucumber and mint.

Beef Tagine
main meat
A quick and dirty stewing steak tagine
Since I am emptying the freezer, the meat and the mixed veg came right out of frozen packages. Otherwise I might have been inclined to add chickpeas, flaked almonds, squash, maybe prunes.
I was deliberately trying to stay away from tomatoes though.

You'll need couscous (feel free to throw some onions and herbs into it) and a yoghurt sauce with this too.
Here's another perfectly tasty yoghurt sauce I made earlier (though really, it's hard to go wrong!):
  • 1 clove garlic
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 green chillies, deseeded
  • 1 teaspoon mint jelly
  • 1 scant teaspoon dried mango powder (amchoor)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • generous handful coriander leaves and some stalks
  • yoghurt
  • salt
Whisk up the non-yoghurty ingredients first, then stir into the yoghurt.

Serves 4

  • half head garlic
  • 1lb stewing steak, cut into 2" pieces
  • juice of a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon concentrated tamarind
  • mixed vegetables
  • thin slices preserved lemons
  • 2-3 kaffir lime leaves that you found in the bottom of the freezer
  • coriander/mint leaves

  • Rubbing Spices:
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • pinch chilli powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • a generous grind mixed peppercorns
Rub the steak all over with the spices and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight or longer.
Since my cheap frozen stewing steak was already in thin slices, I didn't bother cutting it up before seasoning, but you might want to.
Heat some oil in a large pan, fry the meat until it is browned, add garlic fry briefly, add lemon juice and tamarind, add the mixed vegetables and lime leaves. Cover tightly and cook on low for a couple of hours until tender.
Towards the end, add some chopped herbs and thin slices of preserved lemons.

Serve with couscous.
It was all a bit too tamarindy for my taste (I used 2 or 3 teaspoons of tamarind concentrate), but it was easy enough, and I think I could make something nicer out of it.
Actually, on a second try with a batch I had frozen, and with the addition of some more frozen mixed veg, I've decided it is really rather nice!
Cooking On Boats
I'm just back from a loooooong 10 days voyage onboard Erin. We started out with the race to Orkney, which we abandoned in favour of getting on with our holiday due to boredom and a general lack of wind, putting in to Wick harbour for a night of rest, relaxation and scallops. Or rest and relaxation anyway. Aidan scored two dozen great big fresh scallops straight off an unloading fishing boat for a tenner, and I learnt how to open them by holding them with the flat shell uppermost, getting your sturdy sharp knife into a handy gap and cutting the flesh away from the top shell, slicing from the scalloped edge inwards, until the shell opens at the hinge (unlike opening an oyster where you crack open the hinge first). Then you can use your thumbs to pop away the skirt with any grit and black organs to leave the meaty white muscle and the orange/grey coral, which you can cut free and quickly rinse.

Unfortunately I also learnt that you should never attempt a barbecue without using just as much charcoal as it will physically hold.
So we will speak of half-barbecued, leathery scallops no more.

Next stop Stornoway where we picked up our holiday supply of Charles McLeod's most succulent and delicious black pudding. We were a bit worried after a previous disappointing experience with a Stromness butcher's dry and tasteless Orkney black pudding but we needn't have worried. The black pudding of Lewis fully earned its reputation.
I had been charged with the task of developing Erin's signature West Coast dish, and rather fancied attempting a stack of
  • black pudding,
  • caramelized apple rounds, or possibly baked parmesan disks
  • pancetta (BACON!),
  • scallops
  • lime-butter or Mornay sauce
We now had the black pudding, the apples, the limes and of course the bacon, but totally failed to acquire any more fresh scallops on our trip, so this dish is still just a distant dream!
In any case, wouldn't Erin's true signature dish be rather more Dolmio oriented?

Luke and Karl

And so we munched our way around the Outer Hebrides:
- Lunching on Stornoway hot-smoked salmon whilst anchored off the Shiant Islands where we watched Guillemots harrass Golden Eagles attempting to feast on their children.

- Visiting Tobermory and enjoying both the deep-fried scallops from the (quite rightly) Les Routiers award-winning Fish and Chip Van on Fisherman's Pier and the night life at the Mishnish (Hi Alyson Filth! If that's your real name. That's the name I have in my phone anyhow.)

- Stopping off in Lismore to visit Luke's Grandparents and have an idyllic barbecue (using enough coals this time), giving me the chance to snag a bunch of Grandad's herbs and (thanks Luke!) Grandma's fennel kedgeree recipe, and giving Judith a chance to completely block their toilet with an enormous poo.

- Finishing up in Oban, on the sunniest day I've ever seen there, we lunched at EE-USK whose shellfish is just fabulous (More Scallops!), accosted a nice girl heading off to Belfast on the Jubilee Trust's Lord Nelson rust bucket, er, schooner (Hello Emma! If that's your real name).
We finally got the hell out of Dodge in Gus's (if that's his real name) shiny new BMW, sadly constrained by the number and speed of trucks, lorries and FUCKING CARAVANS.

I naturally did my fair share of cooking onboard, getting quite inventive with lime (there are always limes aboard - for the GinAndTonics don't you know) and bovril, foolishly attempting a roast dinner and finally making a nice beef stew on time, so I can now pass on Erin's simple shipboard cooking rules:
  1. All food must be ready to eat the instant the crew is hungry.
  2. There shall be no food ingredients used onboard unknown to Dolmio. A small jar of mixed herbs provides all the adventure cuisine requires.
    1. Corollary: Dishes too Eastern, too Southern, too vegetarian or just too bloody foreign are not to be trusted. Irish stews, stroganoffs, goulashes and (certain) pasta dishes are acceptable, curries, tagines, and kebabs are not.
      Beans (unless of the baked variety when they are compulsory) and, bizarrely, flour are largely frowned upon.
      Spice is a terrifying prospect to be treated with extreme caution.
  3. Each meal is required to include a goodly portion of meat.
    Meat consists of beef, chicken, pork or sausages.
    Lamb, duck or venison are dubious alternatives.
    Mutton, veal, horse, whale, emu or any kind of offal are not meat and are prohibited.
    1. Corollary: Vegetarians must bring their own food.
    2. Corollary: Seafood is prohibited aboard the boat. (I know, boats float above a convenient and endless supply of fish, lobsters and scallops. Go figure.)
  4. There is no possible higher culinary achievement onboard than chicken with peppers and onions in a jar of Dolmio sauce. This may be served over rice or pasta.
  5. Crunchy, firm, Al Dente, tangy, zesty and tart are all terms synonymous with undercooked.
  6. All dishes must contain bacon.
Actually the bacon one is my personal rule, I find a generous supply of bacon in their diet acts much like Valium on the crew mood. Or it did before the VEGETARIAN arrived! (Hi Maggie! If that's your real name)
Despite these explicit restrictions, it is sometimes nice to break out of the Dolmio straitjacket, smuggle some garlic, balsamic vinegar, flour or (shudder) spices on board and just go wild. So for those moments of madness I give you my recommendations for an easy life Cooking On Boats:
  • The pressure cooker is your friend
    You can reduce the cooking times for stews or root vegetables by a factor of three or four. It isn't enough to simply have dinner ready for a planned time; once the skipper notices that you have started cooking he will expect dinner in the time it would take to warm Dolmio sauce. Therefore either start cooking while everyone's busy so they don't see what you're up to (and prepare to field questions such as What's that awful smell?) or COOK FAST.
  • Keep It Simple Stupid.
    The Dolmio principle - one big pot of protein and another of starch is the place to start; stew and boiled potatoes, sauce and pasta, goulash and rice kind of thing. Make sure that what you're making can be abandoned at any stage, to put up a spinnaker for example, or will happily wait for the crew to come to table if they are delayed by circumstances well within the skipper's control. Over-boiled potatoes make perfectly acceptable mash by the way, if mixed with enough butter.
    Once you're feeling adventurous, go for an extra side pot of green vegetables. But make sure you boil the fuck out of them. Crunchy vegetables are not to be trusted.
  • Treat It Tidily Stupid
    Organise your dishes so that everything cooks sequentially going into pots, pans or the oven as you prepare the ingredients - so choose recipes wisely. This avoids the disaster of an unexpected tack (unexpected to the cook, obviously everyone on deck knows perfectly well what is going on, but to them you slave in an invisible magic kitchen) dumping all your bowls of lovingly prepared components into the bilges.
    The best way to arrange this is to have one large pot for browning/crisping/frying and a large warming dish securely lodged in the sink. Cook each batch of ingredients as soon as they are prepared in this pot, then decant to the warming dish when done, freeing the pot for the next batch. Return everything from the warming dish to the pot at the end for their final simmering/stewing/burning.
  • Too much visible effort is not to be trusted
    Cook food you can prepare, set cooking then leave alone while you clean up, do the washing and set the table for an unhurried and effortless final delivery.
  • The oven is not to be trusted
    It is useful for keeping things warm, baking sausage rolls or pastries or even cooking things securely wrapped in tin foil but don't even think about using it to roast a dinner.
    Something I learnt on this last trip - if the skipper randomly brings aboard a bunch of parsnips, telling you he enjoys them roasted and is a particular connoisseur of their quality, lose them overboard at the first opportunity.
    It takes an hour to successfully roast par-boiled vegetables even in a reliable oven, and your ship's oven will randomly half-burn both you and the vegetables and cover the galley in a thin film of grease.
    The skipper will certainly notice both the grease, and the fact that his dinner was not ready two hours ago, but will completely fail to notice the quality of your parsnips.
  • The sea is not to be trusted
    On days which show any sign of getting rough, cook a big pot of stuff early and set it to one side so you can quickly reheat and serve it in less time than it takes to become ill.
  • Be inventive
    The ingredients (officially) on board to cook with are very limited, so be adventurous with what you have. Fruit will enhance most dishes and is surprisingly undetectable, and those bottles of port and blackberry Genever that've been hanging around since the last New Year jolly can be smuggled into sauces quite easily. But be warned, flambéing is STRICTLY PROHIBITED. If seen.
  • Salt is your friend
    This one's for Aidan (that IS his real name). Who hates and fears salt.
On the whole, I quite enjoy cooking within the restraints of a small galley, challenging conditions and limited resources, but that enjoyment is not always shared by my crewmates.

I'm hoping there will be photos to follow - as usual I failed to bring a camera of my own.
C'mon crewmates - send me your piccies!

Roast Pork Chops Dinner
main side meat nautical
A roast dinner for unreliable ovens on boats.
This dinner will take at least 1½ hours to prepare, more like 2½ hours if you have to hoist spinnakers half way through boiling your veg. On the plus side, once everything is roasting in the oven there isn't a lot to do.

Serves everyone. Eventually.

  • 1 pork chop per person
  • apple sauce
  • garlic
  • mustard
  • olive oil, lots of olive oil
  • carrots
  • potatoes
  • parsnips
Heat the oven to whatever approximates Gas 6, put in a roasting tray with a generous amount of olive oil and a couple of slices of bacon see rule 6 above. Peel your vegetables and par-boil them. Drain. Cut into roasting-sized pieces. Add them to the roasting tray. During this process you will burn yourself, burn some of your veg, and if you are really lucky slip and spill boiling oil all over the floor.
Leave them to roast for an hour, basting regularly, or until the proportion of burnt vegetables exceeds the proportion of undercooked vegetables.

Meanwhile get on with the pork:
Line an oven tray with tin foil, fry the pork chops in batches in a little olive oil over a high heat just to give them a little colour. You can skip this step if you don't care that your pork looks slightly anæmic or your crew are vampires.
Add each fried batch to the oven tray.
Peel and finely slice some garlic cloves.
Season the pork chops, smear with mustard and scatter over the garlic.
Tightly cover with tin foil and put into the oven.

Make your apple sauce, which will keep for as long as required.
Serve when the veg is ready.
Don't try this at sea folks.

Savoury Apple Sauce
sauce veg nautical
A nice apple sauce for cooking on boats. That have limes for GinAndTonics.
The onion is an unusual addition, but seemed to work nicely for a slightly savoury sauce to go with pork chops.

Serves 6 on the side.

  • 1 smallish onion, grated
  • 2 apples, peeled, chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • sugar
  • butter
  • salt
Peel and finely grate the onion into a small pot and set to simmer gently with a generous knob of butter.
Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and cut into pieces. Add these to the pot.
Add the juice of a lime (or to taste).
Season the sauce, add sugar as desired - maybe a tablespoon - demerara if you have it, and leave to simmer until the apple breaks down and the sauce thickens.
Anne particularly enjoyed this sauce, she likes it tart though, and I hadn't added any sugar.
This is a good shipboard sauce since once it is cooked you can cover and set it aside for as long as needed.
Gently reheat before serving.

Lime and Caper Chicken
main fowl nautical
A one-pot tangy chicken cacciatore for cooking on boats.
You must have limes aboard - otherwise how can you drink your GinAndTonics?

Serves a crew of 6

  • 6 pieces of chicken, preferably with skin on
  • peel and juice from 2 limes
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 2-3 teaspoons capers, crushed
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ teaspoon mixed herbs
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 slices smoked bacon
  • olive oil
  • 2 onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • starch to serve
Cut deep gashes into your chicken pieces, skin on would be best.
Grate the peel and squeeze the juice from 2 limes, Roughly crush a couple of teaspoons of capers. Mix everything together, add half a teaspoon of mixed herbs and season with salt and pepper.
Set aside to marinate for half an hour or so.

Fry a few chopped up slices of smoked bacon in a little olive oil to extract the fat, and when the meat is shrivelled and hard scoop it out and discard.
Shake the chicken pieces free of marinade and fry in the bacon fat until nicely browned.
While the chicken is frying, roughly chop the onions. Then set the fried chicken aside in the warming dish, reheat the pot adding more oil if required and fry the onions until lightly browned.
While the onions are frying, de-seed and roughly chop a couple of bell peppers, add the cooked onion to the serving dish, reheat the pot, add more oil if required and fry the peppers gently until they soften.
While the peppers are frying, peel and slice a few cloves of garlic and throw them in to the pot too.
When the peppers are ready, add everything from the warming dish back to the pot, add any leftover marinade, add the juice of an orange, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has evaporated and sufficiently thickened.

Serve with rice, or potatoes, or mash or pasta or even couscous. I suppose.
A bit tangy for some tastes, perhaps, but a nice change from Dolmio!

Bovril Broccoli
side nautical
Broccoli. Now with added Bovril. Perfect for cooking on boats.
Got a spare Bovril (or Oxo) cube on board? Don't waste it - add it to your broccoli!

Serves a crew

  • 1 Bovril (or Oxo) cube
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 large head broccoli
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Mix the Bovril cube with just enough boiling water to dissolve it into a thick black sludge.
Separate the broccoli into florets and halve or quarter them as necessary.
Juice the orange.
Put everything in a small pot, add a generous grind of pepper, bring to the boil, cover, simmer until the broccoli is overcooked.
Drain off all evidence of Bovril.
Remember crew - shipboard vegetables must be cooked until limp and disintegrating or they are poison.
By the way, when you are cooking up a pot of mushrooms in butter for breakfast or as a side dish it's quite nice to just crumble a stock cube over them for extra flavour.

Oxo Mushrooms
side nautical
Mushrooms. Now with added Oxo. Perfect for cooking on boats.
Still not finished up all the Oxo?
Use the rest to give your mushrooms a deliciously deep and rich flavour.
Other stock cube varieties are also available.

Serves a crew

  • carton of button mushrooms, wiped
  • ½ an Oxo cube
  • generous knob of butter
Wipe the mushrooms and cut in half or quarters if they're large. Pop them in a pan with a generous knob of butter, crumble over an unseemly amount of Oxo cube, cover tightly and let them simmer up gently until the mushrooms begin to collapse.
Excellent with breakfast.

Beef Bourguignot
main meat nautical stew
Like Beef Bourguignon. But not. A quick beef stew with port for cooking on boats.
Like Beef Bourguignon, but not. A very straight-forward, but tasty stew, and a good way to use up some of that left-over port you have washing around on board.

Serves a crew of 6

  • 1 large pressure cooker
  • olive oil
  • ½ kg smoked bacon, sliced into lardons
  • 2kg stewing steak, cubed
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 leeks, quartered, chopped
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, cut into eighths
  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly sliced
  • 6 button mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 carrots, peeled, sliced, or a tin of carrots
  • 6 potatoes, peeled, cut in eighths
  • 1 cup port
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • salt and pepper
Heat a pressure cooker pot over high heat. Cut the bacon into lardons and fry with a little olive oil until they release their fat. Scoop out the cooked (but not shrivelled) bacon, leaving the fat, into a large warming dish and set aside.
While the bacon is frying, cut the stewing steak into reasonable chunks, about 1". Reheat the pot. Brown the steak in batches in the pot reheating and adding more olive oil as required. Set each batch aside into the dish when it is browned or starts leaking water like a steam engine.
While the steak is browning, roughly chop the onions, reheat the pot, add more oil and fry them next.
While the onions are turning glassy and beginning to caramelise, wash and quarter the leeks and chop into rough pieces, add the onions to the dish with the meat and start frying the leeks.
While the leeks are frying, peel the apples, cut them into eighths and remove the section of core. add the leeks to the dish, reheat the pan, add more oil as necessary and caramelise the apples.
While the apples are caramelising, peel and roughly slice the garlic, then add to the pot with the apples until they start to release their aroma.
Deglaze the pan with the port, let it bubble for a while and scrape off any browned bits from the pot then add back the contents of the warming dish.
Whilst the pot is reheating, peel and chop your carrots into chunks (or open the tin) and add to the pot.
Peel the potatoes, cut into eighths and add to the pot.
Wipe the mushrooms, cut into quarters and add to the pot.
Add a teaspoon or two of mustard, season to taste, add a little water if necessary which you can use to rinse the warming dish, I think you could also add a squeezed orange or two and some soy sauce if you have any I wanted an inch or two of liquid in the bottom, but not too much - and certainly not to cover. Put the lid on the pressure cooker, get it up to temperature and leave to cook for 30 minutes.
Give it a good shake every ten minutes to make sure nothing is sticking and burning.
Wash everything up, clean the surfaces, set the table.
Serve the stew. It won't need anything extra (though I did consider couscous - quick and easy) - the potatoes will have started to break down nicely and it should be rich and thick.
There was none of this leftover - which is definitely a good sign.
I've been crewing on a terrific little Projection 762 called Hobbes for Kip Regatta and Scottish series, and for Kip I had to wheedle myself two separate B&B's to stay in since the tiny town fills up apparently considerably earlier than I thought to book accomodation.
Anyhoo, since I have no full-length mirrors in my flat (I hold them in the same regard as TV) I was horrified to discover as I caught sight of my reflection heading for my shower in the Langhoose, that I have mysteriously developed Man Boobs.
Time for a diet methinks.

See that Raw Food Diet? I invented that. They stole it from me.
Waaaay back in the 80s, before everyone and their daughter had jumped on the raw food bandwagon, I invented the raw food diet on the simple principles that:
  1. Cooked or processed food is effectively pre-digested. It must take more energy, and more time to digest raw food. The longer it takes to digest your food, the longer it will take to get fat on it. The more work you have to do to digest it, even raising it to body temperature (don't sneer) the less energy there is to make you fat.
  2. All the stuff I like to overindulge requires cooking.
    It's just not possible to overfill on potatoes, butter or even cream without the sausages, bread and cake to go with them. Honest. Thus eating only raw food also enforces a balance of diet.
and it really did work for me, the only downside being that it takes several weeks to see the effects.
To be fair though, that may have something to do with the fact that I also allowed myself
  • pasteurised milk (well, you try finding untreated milk these days - our society is terrified of cows. They're mad you know!)
  • cheese (hmm, debatable - cheese could be made without cookery)
  • alcohol (yeah, that's just cheating)
  • and according to Doctor Jenny, Pringles (c'mon everyone knows they're raw)
as part of my temperature-controlled diet.

So normally, I'd be right back on the salads, but these boobs look like they might actually require exercise to eradicate, so since I'm taking the next two weeks off work to get in all my year's unused holidays before the rollover, I will be adopting a strict regimen of fruit juice, soup, exercise and NO BEER.
Expect bad-tempered posts to follow.

First, though, I need to use up all the goodies in my pantry, suffer one of Erin's incredibly filling barbecues, and finish up all the leftovers.

FYI - the regimen lasted for two weeks, and it was definitely working. Before I joined Erin's Gin tour of the Outer Hebrides.

Butternut Squash Soup
soup veg
I've given my idealised recipe here.
It's not quite what I actually made but I was just using up a bunch of leftovers, which is why I threw in quite a lot more celery, used red onion rather than white (though it came out fine). I only had beef stock (no chicken), and I had a pot of yoghurt to use up (but I would have gone with sour cream if I'd had any). The soup kept me going for days with a variety of toppings!
I added the lime on day 2.

Serves 6

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 3 red onions, chopped
  • ½ head celery, chopped
  • 1 head garlic
  • 2 cardamoms
  • 1 stick cassia bark
  • 1 green chilli, chopped
  • chicken or vegetable stock
  • juice and grated peel of 1 lime
  • yoghurt or sour cream
  • topping of your choice

  • The topping of your choice:
  • toasted walnuts
  • toasted pine nuts
  • crispy bacon pieces
  • fried sage leaves
  • a drizzle of herb oil
  • flakes of smoked haddock
Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with olive oil and honey and roast at Gas 6 for 1 hour until cooked. Add the head of garlic for the last 20 minutes until it is soft too.
Heat olive oil in a heavy pan and fry the cardamom and cassia with a grinding of mixed peppercorns until they release their aroma, then add a generous wad of butter and add the onions to soften, then the celery to soften, then the green chilli (if you like).
If you have any wine, add it now and reduce it a little before adding in the stock, the scooped out the flesh from the squash and the squeezed garlic cloves.
Add the juice and grated peel of the lime, some cream if you have it and mix it all together then blend it until smooth.
Reheat gently and serve with a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream and the topping of your choice.

You can whizz up some basil or chervil leaves with olive or nut oil to drizzle over, or grill and flake some smoked haddock - which goes nicely with butternut squash.
I think you could usefully leave out the chilli to be honest, and it might benefit from reducing a glass of white wine with the onions and some cream. Also, the flavour of mustard goes nicely.
But it's a tasty enough soup.

Oriental Chicken Salad
salad fowl
A simple salad with Chinese lettuce and chicken strips marinated in soy sauce and rice vinegar
We had one of yacht Erin's fabulous barbecues over the weekend, and because the high winds had blown away all the other boats who might have joined in, I ended up with quite a lot of chicken to use up. So I tried out this salad (apparently one of our Nation's Favourites) together with an extra couple of chopped tomatoes.

Serves 6

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 4 tbsp clear honey
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2.5cm/1in piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 1 large carrot, cut into fine matchsticks
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, shredded
  • ½ cucumber, peeled, halved, de-seeded and cut into matchsticks
  • ½ Chinese lettuce, finely shredded
Cut the chicken into strips and mix with the honey, vinegar and soy sauce. Leave to marinate in a glass bowl for about 30 minutes.

Toast the sesame seeds for a few minutes in a dry frying pan until they just begin to colour.
Mix the vegetables, herbs, seeds, garlic, ginger in a large bowl.

Drain the chicken pieces from the marinade, heat the sesame oil in a wok or frying pan and fry the chicken over high heat for about 5 minutes until nicely glazed and cooked through. Keep the chicken moving. Set the chicken aside.
Add the remaining marinade and cook gently but thoroughly then add to the chicken.
Deglaze the pan with more soy sauce, rice vinegar and some chopped tomatoes (if you like), and add to the chicken.

Toss the warm chicken and remaining sauce with the vegetables and serve. You can also chill the chicken in its sauce to serve cold with the salad the next day.

Quite a tasty salad, surprisingly the raw ginger and garlic are fine in the salad, as long as you don't overdo them.

Banana 99s
dessert sweet veg
Barbecued bananas with a chocolate centre
These went down well on one of yacht Erin's barbecue-based sailing trips. The Camping Cookbook suggests wrapping them in tin foil, but that didn't seem to be necessary.

Serves 2 per banana

  • 1 banana
  • 1 Cadbury flake
Throw the (unpeeled) banana on the barbecue, turning occasionally until the skin is charring and the flesh is going soft and squishy. This works best if the barbecue has died down a bit. Cut the banana in half at the middle, break the flake in half and shove the flake halves down into the banana flesh. Put the banana back on the barbecue for a few minutes just to melt the chocolate.
Serve with a teaspoon so the guests can eat them by scooping out the chocolate banana from the (mostly intact) skin.
Dinner Without Flora
So for her last night on earth, er I mean in my flat, Flora demanded a warming stew for dinner at 9 pm. Precisely at 9pm. On the table.
So I made a nice beef daube for 9pm. Precisely. Too bad she didn't turn up.
Other plans apparently. Though she did offer me a present. I hope it's not another fucking duck.

Oh, just one thing worth noting -
Despite how marvellous it tastes this casserole gives me the most astonishing squits. Strange really - it was definitely properly cooked and everything, but there seem to be certain combinations of fat which just give me the runs. Probably you'd be fine. Probably Flora would have been fine.
I have the same problem when I make real French Mayonnaise with egg yolks and virgin olive oil. Straight through me!
If I use whole egg, or add in some other oil then everything's fine.
It's probably just me.

Beef Daube
main meat
Beef Brisket Daube style stew with star anise, soy sauce and fish sauce
Now this stuff is rich. And I'm talking black treacle, crude oil, and Marmite rich. So you won't eat much of it and you will need something starchy and absorbent to contain it.
I made up some dumplings with mine, but a good dose of mashed potato really helps.

It's also bloody salty. And I'm talking Tom Kitchin salty. So despite what John Torode says, given the richness of the sauce I really don't think you need to add any more salt. To anything. Though perhaps the fact that I couldn't find a pig's trotter and had to use a smoked hough didn't exactly help.

The brisket is pretty damn gorgeous though.
The whole thing takes about 3 hours to cook, 4 hours to make.
Which is long enough to fiddle around trying out a new Beetroot Rösti version to go with.

Serves 6

  • 2kg brisket no, really cut into good 2" cubes
  • salt and pepper well, pepper anyway
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 2 sticks celery chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 100ml port
  • 400ml red wine
  • 1 pig's trotter or maybe just a smoked hough
  • 300ml beef stock
  • 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1x440ml can Guinness or Murphy's stout!
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce !
  • dumplings if you like
Preheat the oven to 190°C (Gas 5). Trim excess fat from the brisket then cut it into big chunks, at least 2" cubes. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan or casserole dish and fry in batches (without filling the pan) until well browned.
Set aside.
John suggests seasoning the beef really well first, but I think you could skip the salt. I also used flour for the seasoning and I was happy with the result, but the sauce is already pretty rich - do you really need it?
Chop the vegetables into not too-large pieces, maybe ½".
Heat some more oil in the casserole. Add the star anise, the onions, then the carrots, then the celery and fry until just soft. Add the crushed garlic, stir through, then add the port and the red wine. Bubble the liquid until it is reduced by half.

Add the brisket and the pig's trotter to the casserole and cover with the stock. Return to the boil, skim if necessary, then add the soy sauce, stout and fish sauce.
Cook covered in the oven for 2 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Take out the casserole now, and strain it. Return the liquid to the casserole together with the trotter, and reduce it until the sauce thickens. Adjust the seasoning.

Lift out the trotter and keep the meat (apparently it goes well on toast). Return the other ingredients to the sauce, add the dumplings (if using) and return the casserole to the oven for a final 30 minutes.
Serve with mashed potatoes.
The brisket really does turn meltingly soft, but it shrinks quite a lot so don't be afraid to cut big cubes, and you really can use 2kg!

side ingredient
Old fashioned suet dumplings. Perfect for stews. Good with a hint of herbs.
Dumplings. Old school.
Pick your herbs.

Makes 8 smallish dumplings

  • 6 oz (175g) self-raising flour (or plain flour with baking soda)
  • 3 oz (75g) shredded suet
  • 1-3 tablespoons chopped parsley or other herbs or none!
  • seasoning
  • water to mix
Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the suet, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Gradually add sufficient water and mix with a knife to form a soft, pliable dough. Divide and shape into 8 balls using floured hands.
Add the dumplings to your stew, cover (though you don't have to in the oven, but you'll get crispier dumplings if you don't) and cook for a further 20 minutes, or until the dumplings are swollen, light and fluffy.
I have made these with butter before when I didn't have any suet. They weren't quite as good, but maybe I need to work on the proportions - I used 50/50 chilled butter to flour.
You can use any herbs you fancy; sage, thyme, tarragon or lovage maybe.
Whilst you can use wholewheat flour (with baking soda) I personally don't think they taste very good.
Feeding Flora With Chicken Pie But No Cake
Girls are funny. They need instant feeding. INSTANT.
So it's a pity Flora wasn't here last week when I made Jenny's birthday cake to take to her Birthday Dinner at The Tail End Fish Bar. But Jenny took care of the leftovers from that!
Fortunately Flora is mostly happy to nibble on cheese while I work. Which has been known to take some time...

This time I was working on a Chicken and Leek Pot Pie recipe from Delia, partly 'cos I fancied a chicken pie, and partly 'cos I needed a chicken carcass to make stock to add to my collection. (I already have a very good beef stock in the fridge from the bones from my last dinner)
Of course then I needed a dish to use up those leftover legs too.

Chicken and Leek Pot Pie
main fowl
A Chicken, Leek and Mushroom pot pie with a puff pastry crust.
Not a bad Delia recipe - though it needs garlic!
Delia reckons you'll need a 1½ pint (7"x2½") casserole dish, but I used one about twice that capacity, though I did blind-bake a puff pastry casing into the dish before filling it. I like the soggy sauce-drenched pastry.
I didn't bother with the parmesan, and just went for 2oz mature cheddar in the sauce instead.

Serves 4

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, skin on
  • 1 medium leek
  • half-dozen button mushrooms
  • or another leek
  • 10 fl oz (275 ml) dry cider
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch (3 mm) slices
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 8 oz (225g) block of fresh or frozen and defrosted puff pastry or more for a lining
  • a little flour for dusting
  • 1 small egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan, for sprinkling
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper

  • The Sauce:
  • 10 fl oz (275 ml) milk
  • 3/4 oz (20g - 2 tablespoons) plain flour
  • 3/4 oz (20g) butter
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper and no more than a pinch - you're not making chilli here
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1-2 oz (25-50g) mature Cheddar, grated
  • 1/2 oz (10g) Parmesan, finely grated
  • a little freshly grated nutmeg
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).

First, pour the cider into a medium saucepan, along with the carrots, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme and freshly milled black pepper. If you're using a lot of thyme, you should tie it up, or put it in a small muslin bag so you can retrieve the sprigs after - they're not nice to get caught in your throat! Bring to simmering point, then cover with a lid and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Now take the tough green ends off the leeks, slice them in half lengthways and chop into 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices. Wash thoroughly to remove any hidden grit and drain them. If you are using mushrooms (and you should) wipe them down and cut them into eighths. Add the chicken and leeks to the pan and simmer, covered, for a further 15 minutes until the mushrooms begin to wilt and the chicken is cooked through.

If you want extra crust in your pie, then line the baking dish with pastry, cover with greaseproof paper or tin foild and fill it with baking beans and bake it blind for 15-20 minutes until browned - it can be still a little soggy though - it will cook more the second time around.

For the sauce, all you do is place the milk, flour, butter, garlic and cayenne pepper into a medium saucepan and place it over a gentle heat. Then, using a balloon whisk, begin to whisk while bringing it to a gentle simmer. Whisk continually until you have a smooth, glossy sauce, and simmer very gently for 5 minutes. I went the more traditional route and cooked the flour in the butter first, but perhaps this would give a whiter sauce? Then add the cheeses and whisk again, allowing them to melt. Then season with salt, freshly milled black pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg. Next, drain the chicken and vegetables, reserving the liquid, but not the bay leaf and thyme. Now pour the liquid back into the pan, bring it to the boil and reduce to about 2 tablespoons.

Meanwhile, skin the chicken and cut it into bite-sized strips. Now stir the cheese sauce into the cider, bring to a simmer, and stir the chicken, carrots and leeks into the sauce, before transferring the whole lot to the dish.

Next, to make a lid, roll the pastry out thinly on a lightly floured surface. Cut out a 9 inch (23 cm) round, then roll out the trimmings and cut a 1/2 inch (1 cm) strip. Now dampen the edge of the dish with water and press the strip of pastry around the rim. Dampen the strip and carefully lift the pastry lid over the top. Press it firmly over the edge to get a good seal all round, then trim, using a knife.

Finally, gather up the trimmings and re-roll them to cut into leaf shapes. Brush the surface of the pie with beaten egg, and arrange the leaves on top.

Now, brush the leaves with beaten egg, sprinkle with Parmesan and bake on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
A straight-forward tasty pie!
I liked my extra crust, but I suppose then it's not really a pot pie - just a regular pie.
The sauce is surprisingly green - but I used a reasonable amount of the green parts of the leeks, I hate to see all that perfectly good leek go to waste!

I think you could try something other than carrots as the root vegetable - they're a bit dull really. Maybe try Jerusalem artichokes or parsnips?

Roast Chicken Legs with Tomatoes
main fowl
A simple dish of roast chicken legs with herbs and tomatoes
Quite a nice way of using up any leftover chicken legs. And meaty wings.
It's a bit fiddly to eat, but simplicity to turn out.
I added sliced potatoes to my dish, but it's good to have something else to soak up the juices. I baked some garlic bread, but a nice farmhouse loaf, lemon rice or couscous would work too.

Serves 2

  • 2 chicken legs, jointed
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a medium bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
  • a big handfuls of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved, and ripe plum tomatoes, quartered
  • half a bulb of garlic, broken up into cloves
  • 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
  • olive oil
  • 2 new potatoes, sliced
Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Season your chicken pieces all over and put them into a snug-fitting pan in one layer. Throw in all the basil leaves and stalks, then chuck in your tomatoes. Scatter the garlic cloves into the pan with the chopped chilli and drizzle over some olive oil. Mix around a bit, pushing the tomatoes underneath. Place in the oven for 1½ hours, turning the tomatoes halfway through, until the chicken skin is crisp and the meat falls off the bone.

If you fancy, you can add some drained cannellini beans or some sliced new potatoes to the pan and cook them with the chicken. Or you can serve the chicken with some simple mashed potato. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins before serving. You could even make it part of a pasta dish - remove the chicken meat from the bone and shred it, then toss into a bowl of linguini or spaghetti and serve at once.

I'm not sure about his fondness for unpeeled garlic cloves - it's true that they seem to end up more nicely softened and sticky when left in the skin than their peeled brethren, and although it's not too much of a faff to squeeze out your own cloves while you eat the dish, (especially given how fiddly eating the chicken is anyway) it would certainly be too much of a pain to do it before serving. And you'd better warn your guests about them.
He's wrong about the pasta though - the chicken makes a rubbish pasta sauce. Too heavy.
And why would you bother just using the chicken in, say, a cream sauce?
What - would you just throw all the other stuff away?

Jenny's Best Birthday Cake
sweet veg
Nigella Lawson's sponge birthday cake recipe with buttercream filling and chocolate icing.
A fairly straight-forward cake from Nigella, though nothing particularly stunning.
It's slightly unusual in its use of custard powder, but it seemed to work.

Serves a birthday party

  • 200g plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons Bird's custard powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 eggs 225g soft butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk

  • For The Buttercream Filling:
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 4 teaspoons Bird's custard powder
  • 75g soft unsalted butter
  • 11/2 teaspoons boiling water

  • For The Chocolate Icing:
  • 60ml water
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 125g caster sugar (or use 50g if using milk chocolate)
  • 175g good quality dark chocolate (or milk)
  • 1 pot hundreds and thousands or other decoration
Make sure everything you need is at room temperature before you start. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C, and butter and line two 20cm sandwich tins.
I think you really only need to line the bottoms - it's a fiddle to line the whole tin, and you should be able to free the cake from the sides easily enough.
Put all of the above ingredients except the milk, into a food processor. Process to a smooth batter, and then add the milk a tablespoon at a time to make a soft dropping consistency. Divide between the two cake tins and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes will have risen and feel spookily puffy; this is because of the cornflour in the custard powder.
Let the tins sit on a cooling rack for 5 minutes and then turn them out on to the rack, peeling away the paper.

For The Buttercream Icing
Process the icing sugar and custard powder to get rid of any lumps, and then add the butter, processing again to make the buttercream come together. Feed the boiling water down the funnel with the motor running to make the filling easier to spread. Then sandwich the cooled sponges together with the custardy buttercream.

For The Chocolate Icing
Combine the water, syrup and sugar in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve over a low heat.
Let it come to the boil and then take it off the heat.
Break up the chocolate into small pieces if you are not using chocolate buttons and then add to the pan, swirling it around to cover in the hot liquid. Leave to melt for a few minutes, and then whisk the icing to make it smooth and shiny. Pour over the buttercream filled cake, letting it drip down the sides, and then sprinkle generously with the hundreds and thousands or whatever decoration you fancy before the icing sets.

Stud with the appropriate number of candles. Light. Bask in the glow.
Well, it's a cake, it didn't go wrong and the icing is pretty cool - it sets firm (though not hard) and tastes pretty fine!
But really I prefer my cake soaked with alcohol à la Tiramisu or at least stickily moist, so this wasn't really my thing.
Still, Jenny seemed to enjoy it. Which is the important thing with birthdays - look at Eyore's balloon.
Prime Rib With Annick
Annick enjoying her steak.
Annick very kindly invited me to help paint anti-fouling onto the hulls of the Port Edgar Yacht Club's 707s, and since she seemed underwhelmed by my peace offering of a bacon roll as I sailed merrily off into the river in my Laser, I decided to pop into my favourite butcher in nearby Uphall and score another of their delicious prime ribs for an apologetic dinner.

The nice butcher man trimmed me a beautiful 2kg (4lb 4oz to be exact) single prime rib for a mere £24.80 with a nice length of protruding bone for ease of handling (and a generously filled a bag of shin bones for stock).

Being a bit pressed for time, I decided to cheat a little with the chips (steak needs chips!) and deep-fry some potato wedges from par-boiled potatoes, which turned out pretty damn fine I have to say, so after after rushing home with my shopping I put some small unpeeled King Edwards on to par-boil whilst I threw together a mushroom salad, and started to prepare a fairly quick side dish of lemony green beans.
I also made up the reduction for a half-quantity of béarnaise sauce (chips need béarnaise sauce!), preheated the oven, cut the par-cooked potatoes into quarter wedges, and started warming up some clarified butter that I had rather fortunately made earlier. So things were nicely underway by the time Annick arrived.

Unfortunately, things went slightly downhill after that - women are sooo distracting - I'm not even sure they should be allowed in the kitchen.
Sorry Annick - you were very helpful actually - doing all that washing up and helping out with the bean prep and table-laying. Thanks :)
I got the steak frying nicely and set off all the smoke detectors, then once the rib was in the oven I managed to curdle the béarnaise sauce by rushing it (probably I shouldn't have bothered trying to get it nice and warm in the double boiler after whisking in the melted butter and should have been satisfied with the result I had), but managed to rescue the situation by whisking up a new egg yolk over the boiling water in a clean bowl and whipping the curdled mixture back in.
The result was just fine though - I would have challenged anyone to tell the difference.

I stuck the sauce in a warmed thermos, put a pan of groundnut oil and a pan of water on to heat then when the oil was hot enough did the first round of deep-frying.
I was determined to get the meat as rare as I like it this time, and decided to ignore official temperature recommendations (and the guides on my meat thermometers) that claim beef is rare at 140°F/60°C (which is fucking nanny-state nonsense by the way) and aim for a more realistic ruby-red temperature of 120°F/50°C. Yumsk!

Once the steak was cooked and resting I got the beans on and did the second round of potato wedge frying whilst Annick waded in and laid the table.

And everything arrived together!
Though the mushrooms were a bit over-garlicked and I forgot to add oil to the beans, the fat chips were magnificent, the sauce was delicious and the steak - oh the steak - was bliss on a bone.

Annick asked me if I had mustard - so I introduced her to my meager collection of 7 varieties (I have a shelf in the fridge and a compartment of my cupboards devoted to mustards), but once she tasted the béarnaise sauce the pot stayed closed.

So there's validation for you.

Prime Rib
main meat
The most succulent of steaks, pan-fried on the bone then finished off in the oven.
This is just about the best hunk of steak on the cow - a single prime rib or forerib from between the 6th and 12th ribs - perfect for 2-3 people.
It's too massive a lump of meat to fry all the way through, so it needs to be finished off in the oven.
2 or 3 of the ribs make a truly excellent roast too.

Feeds 2 gloriously

  • 1 prime rib with the bone still in (4lb)
  • olive oil
  • salt
And off we go...
Prepare the meat
Make sure to take the meat out of the fridge in good time so it is at room temperature when you start.
Rub it all over with salt and olive oil.
Preheat the oven
Put a roasting tin in the oven (unless you can fit in your skillet) and get it up to 230°C/450°F/Gas 8
Pan Sear
Close your kitchen door, open all your kitchen windows and turn the extractor fan up full.
Fire up your cast iron griddle (you won't have access to Rachel's Le Creuset skillet since you broke up with her) and leave it until it is too hot to hold your hand near, then sear each side of the monster joint until nice and crisped - about 5 minutes per side and don't forget the edges.
Oven Roast
Put the skillet in the oven if it will fit, otherwise transfer the steak to the hot roasting tin and stick it back in the oven.
Turn the oven down to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and cook the beast until the internal temperature of the meat reaches your target temperature (not forgetting it will continue to cook for a while afterwards).
Which means:
  • 50°F - 90°F for bleu
  • 90°F - 120°F for rare
  • 130°F - 135°F for medium rare
  • 140°F - 145°F for medium
  • 150°F - 155°F for medium well
  • 160°F and up for well done. Or as I call it: burnt.
It took my 68oz steak 30 minutes to reach 120°F, which looks like about 5 minutes per lb.
Everyone agrees your meat needs a nice rest after all that hard cooking. 15 minutes covered with foil out of the oven while you make your chips.
OMG Steak!
Although the steak was fucking magnificent, I've since come across some interesting ideas for first cooking a decent hunk of beef (4lb is a decent hunk!) in the lowest possible oven until rare (110°F/43°C - 3/4 hours), resting, and only then searing in the hottest possible oven setting until crisped (6-10 minutes) just before serving.
Must give that a shot...

Mushroom Salad
salad raw veg vegan
A mushroom salad a bit like raw Mushrooms à la Grecque
This is a bit like a raw Mushrooms à la Grecque that Rachel's Dad's partner Joyce used to make. Don't overdo the garlic though - it is possible to have too much!

Serves 4

  • a dozen or so button mushrooms, quartered
  • bunch curly parsley, chopped

  • Dressing:
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • equal volume olive oil
  • 1-2 crushed garlic cloves
  • salt to taste
Clean and quarter the mushrooms, shake up the dressing and mix everything together. Let the mushrooms marinate for a few hours before serving (if possible).
Not bad. Don't overdo the garlic.

Green Beans with Lemon and Capers
side veg
Hot Green Beans flavoured with lemon peel and capers
Serves 4

  • 300g green beans, topped and tailed
  • grated peel from 1 lemon though orange might be nice too lime is definitely good!
  • 2-3 teaspoons capers
  • olive oil or melted butter
  • maybe: some crushed anchovies
  • maybe: a splash light soy sauce
  • maybe: a little crushed garlic
Top and tail the green beans and cut them into bite-sized pieces if you prefer.
Cook the beans briefly in salted, boiling water. Drain.
Crush the capers slightly with the lemon peel and mix into the beans with the oil or butter.
Not bad. Makes a nice addition to a leftover salad for the day after too.

Deep-Fried Potato Wedges
side staple veg vegan
Quick and dirty fat chips
I used King Edwards, just because I already had some, but I'm sure Maris Piper or other chip-centric potatoes would do the job.
They're pretty tasty so allow 3-4 potatoes per person - they'll get eaten!

  • small potatoes - King Edwards are fine
  • groundnut oil for deep-frying though I'm sure sunflower would work
  • sea salt
Par-boil the unpeeled potatoes until they are tender, but not too soft (about 10-15 minutes).
Drain and cool them in cold water.
Cut them into quarters or sixths to make decent-sized wedges
Heat a deep pan of groundnut oil to 140°C/285°F and fry the wedges until cooked through and starting to colour but not browned.
Lift out the wedges and reheat the oil to 190°C/375°F. Fry the wedges until browned and crispy.
Shake the wedges dry and serve in a basket generously scattered with freshly-ground sea salt.
These turned out really well - it's awfully difficult to get chips just right if you don't (yet) have a wire chip basket, but with fewer, larger wedges you can get them out with a slotted spoon before the last ones burn up.

Steak Salad
salad main meat
Grilled steak pieces and crumbled blue cheese on a salad of watercress, red onion and tomatoes with a balsamic dressing.
Not only a tasty way of using up all your leftover steak, but healthy too.
It must be healthy - it's a salad right?

  • leftover chunks of prime rib
  • ripe St. Agur

  • Salad:
  • Watercress
  • tomatoes, chopped
  • red onion sliced

  • Dressing:
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
Mix the salad ingredients, together with any handy leftover cold green beans with lemon and capers, and toss with the dressing.

Grill or roast the leftover steak, slice into bite-sized pieces or strips and scatter over the salad. Crumble the St. Agur over the top.
Pretty nice, you need to serve it pretty quickly while the steak is still a bit sizzly.
If you want you can grill the cheese on the steak too so it's all melty.
A Haggis For All Seasons
Two weeks after Burn's night and I'm almost out of Haggis.
Thank Christ.

Haggis Curry Dinner It seemed that my Haggis dinner made no recognisable impression in the massive quantity of haggis I turned out this year, so I've pretty much been living on it ever since.
I adapted a very nice keema recipe to get rid of a pound or so of the haggis, and invented a couple of nice curries to use up the leftover mashed neeps and tatties, which took me through a couple of dinners.
I also extended my curried neeps to use up a leftover half-turnip from the dinner in a tasty chunky turnip curry, and of course no blistering leftover curry meal would be complete without a yoghurt sauce to cool it off.

All of which means that after freezing a lump of haggis to send to my brother, and persuading Jenny to take a gift box of haggis away with her, I am now left with only another ten pounds or so to get through myself.

So here are some other ideas you might want to try to use up your leftover haggis:

Based on a Pat Chapman Punjabi Keema recipe
Haggis Punjabi Masala
curry main meat
Serves 4

  • 1½lb haggis
  • 6fl oz vegetable oil
  • 4 teaspoons/6 gloves garlic purée
  • 3 teaspoons/2" ginger purée
  • 6fl oz/1 medium-sized onion purée
  • 2 tomatoes chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 1 tablespoon coconut milk powder
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
  • dozen green chillies, chopped into chunks, deseeded
  • salt to taste

  • Spices:
  • insides of 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas 5.
Purée the onions in a food processor with some of the oil as necessary, grate the ginger and press the garlic.
Grind the whole spices and cardomom seeds, then mix all the powders together with some hot water to make a paste.

Heat the oil and fry the onion purée for 5 minutes, or until it softens and the oil starts to separate,
add the ginger purée and fry for a couple more minutes until the oil begins to separate,
add the garlic puré and fry for a minute until the oil begins to separate,
add the spice paste and fry for about 3 minutes until the oil begins to separate,
add the tomato puré and fry for a minute until the oil begins to separate.

Finally add the tomatoes, coconut milk powder and then the minced lamb.

Stir and place in a lidded casserole dish in the oven for 15 minutes.

Chop the green pepper, not too large, and slice the chillies into chunks about the same size, rolling them to squeeze out the seeds.

Stir, add a little water if necessary, add the lemon juice, the chopped green pepper, the chopped green chillies and salt to taste, then return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Serve with rice and yoghurt sauce.
A pretty good use of leftover haggis. You could probably do it all on the stove top if you don't have a casserole. Or an oven.

Chilli Mashed Potato
curry side veg
Alex tells me that his local Indian takeaway does a very mean mashed potato curry, so I thought I should do one too.

Serves about 4 as a side dish

  • 1lb/2 cups potatoes mashed with butter
  • 1 tablespoon ghee
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons gram flour
  • dozen green chillies, deseeded and chopped
  • large handful/25g coriander leaves, stalks removed, washed, sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
First cook your potatoes and mash them with butter or ghee.
Separate the coriander leaves from their stalks, wash and slice them.
Deseed and mince the green chillies.

Gently fry the spices in a tablespoon of ghee until the oil begins to separate, then add the gram (chick pea) flour and continue to fry for a couple minutes more, then add the mashed potato and stir through.
Add the lemon juice and the chillies and stir round until warmed through.
Fold in the chopped coriander leaves and season to taste just before serving.
Not a bad mashed potato - a bit on the dry side though, you could definitely add water or more lemon juice.
It might work with cream or yoghurt instead of lemon juice either.

Curried Mashed Turnip
curry side veg
Quite a tasty, mild mashed-turnip curry, though apparently not worth photographing! Might be worth expanding into a full-blown turnip curry.

Serves 4

  • mashed turnip, maybe 2 cups/1lb
  • generous plug grated ginger
  • 1-2 tablespoons ghee

  • Spices:
  • the seeds from inside 6 green cardamoms
  • 1 teaspoon red and black peppercorns
  • a grinding of nutmeg or mace would probably work too
Grind together the spices.
Fry the grated ginger in ghee until the oil separates, add the spices and fry again, then add the mashed turnip until heated through.
Not bad, for leftovers.

Turnip Curry
curry side veg
Well, I haven't come across turnip curry before, so this seems like a nice addition to the armoury.

Serves 4

  • ½ turnip, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, puréed
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • golf-ball sized plug fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tablespoons creamed coconut, grated
  • half a dozen or so whole green chillies
  • water

  • Spices:
  • seeds from a dozen green cardamoms
  • seeds from 3 brown cardamoms
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon mixed peppercorns optional
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg/mace optional
Purée the onion with enough vegetable oil to lubricate it, then fry this with more oil, as necessary, until the oil separates don't skimp on this - fry thoroughly or the result will be bitter
add the crushed garlic and fry
add the grated ginger and fry
grind the spices together, add them to the pan and fry until the oil separates
chop the turnip into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan
chop the carrot into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan
add the whole green chillies to the pan
add the grated creamed coconut, and a little water to lubricate.
simmer very gently until the vegetables are meltingly soft.
Quite a nice little invention. Super mild of course. And quite sweet.
You could try using a tin of coconut milk instead of the creamed coconut/water mixture for simmering.
I did try adding some avocado into the mix (a first attempt to find a good indian-style avocado dish) - both puréed into the sauce and as pieces cooked in the curry, but it just made the dish thick and oddly bitter.

A Quick Yoghurt Sauce
sauce veg curry
  • yoghurt
  • mint jelly or sauce
  • amchoor (dried mango) powder
  • chilli powder
  • garam masala powder
  • finely chopped coriander leaves
  • a splash of cider or white wine vinegar
Mix it all up to together and serve it as a curry side dish.
A perfectly acceptable yoghurt sauce, even if it isn't quite up to professional standards

Haggis Mushrooms
starter meat
Serves 1 person per mushroom

  • Portobello (large) mushrooms
  • leftover haggis
  • drizzle of Worcestershire sauce
  • mozzarella if you like
Preheat the oven to Gas 6.
Cut the stalk out of the mushrooms and fill them with leftover haggis. Drizzle with a little Worcestershire sauce and top with Mozzarella cheese (if you like).
Might have been a bit nicer cooked slower for longer, but to be honest the flavours didn't really blend.

Chicken Balmoral
main fowl meat
I found this idea online whilst searching for ideas to get rid of my leftover haggis and I thought it sounded nice, though I didn't get around to trying it.

Serves 2

  • haggis
  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 rashers or so bacon

  • Sauce:
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 2 tblsps whisky
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1 tblsp Dijon mustard
  • 20g butter
Cut a pocket into the chicken breasts without going all the way through and fill with haggis, wrap in bacon, then pan-fry to brown and stiffen the bacon then put in the oven to cook through.

Meanwhile deglaze the pan with the stock and the whisky (feel fry to fry some shallots first), reduce to about half, add the cream and mustard (or just peppercorns), finally whisk in the butter to thicken.
Serve the breasts with the sauce poured over.

Haggis Ravioli
starter main meat pasta
When I made these I just rolled out two pasta sheets, spooned filling into small piles on one of them, then pressed the other sheet over and cut around the filled lumps.
I'm sure it would have been better to cut out nice pasta shapes first, then fill them and press them together.
Make sure you re-roll the scraps left over from the cutting to make more shapes.
I filled some of the raviolis with chopped cooked beetroot and sour cream, which were alright, though the cream coagulated a lot during cooking. I'm sure you could do better.

  • fresh pasta
  • haggis
  • beetroot and sour cream is nice too

  • Salad:
  • rocket salad leaves
  • olive oil, lemon juice, capers and caper vinegar dressing
  • chopped cooked beetroot
  • sour cream
Make your pasta dough and roll it out very thinly - you should be able to (faintly) see the outline of your hand through it when you hold it up to the light.
Cut shapes from the pasta sheets using a tumbler as a template or a cookie cutter. Place a pile of filling in the centre of each, then cover with another shape and seal the edges.
I have read that you should use beaten egg to make the join. Pressing the edges with a fork looks quite nice.
Simmer for about 10 minutes until the pasta is cooked.
Serve with a nice rocket salad, or with Joyce's salad of beetroot mixed with yoghurt or sour cream and a dash of horseradish.

I made my usual pasta dough using semolina, but to be honest it was a bit too grainy for ravioli and tended to tear and leak during cooking. I think using just flour or mainly flour for the dough would be better here.
I also made up a couple of ravioli using chopped beetroot and sour cream, which weren't bad. I imagine ricotta or mascarpone or soft goats' cheese with the beetroot would be nice too.
Beetroot does go well with the haggis.
Babysitting With Tradition
Traditional Sweets
Well, it's time to roll up my regular babysitting visits to Rachel's house, they have been becoming quite a habit, if not exactly a tradition.
And it seems like now would be a good time to put a bit of a brake on them, what with the family just about to trek off to Mexico to catch up with their absent father and all.
Not that I'm never going to see them again or anything. Just not on such a regular footing. In fact I already had my arm twisted to promise Georgina another stuffed chicken dinner and a sushi evening for Sophie, but I did extract from them the price of getting their Dad's famed ceviche recipe.

It seemed pretty appropriate to end on a traditional note so we whipped up a batch of Scottish tablet, and a tray of Scottish shortbread.
They both turned out edible enough, but since it was my first attempt at both recipes, the could definitely have been done better.
The tablet not quite as mouth-wateringly smooth as most Scottish Grannies seem to manage, and the shortbread definitely undercooked.
I'll get them next time!

One disturbing thing I noticed as I stirred up the tablet, was the appearance of lots of little black dots in the bubbling mixture.
They turned out to be bits of Le Creuset's non-stick coating, which seems to be now non-sticking to the pan.
This, obviously, is hugely disappointing in a pot which is only a year old. And by no means cheap.
A call to Le Creuset might be in order, eh Rachel?

sweet veg
There's a terrific guide to making tablet on the interwebs which illustrates the process much better than I could.
It pretty much went as described, except that at the end when stirring the mixture off the heat like a madman it didn't really start to feel "gritty", though it did stiffen and cohere. I think you're better pouring it as soon as you feel the mixture thicken.

Makes TONS

  • 1kg white cane vanilla granulated sugar
  • 1 tin (approx. 400g) sweetened condensed milk
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • a little more than ½ cup fresh milk to damp sugar
Butter a 10"x20" baking tray. I found 8"x10" to be more than adequate.
You can use plain or vanilla sugar for this (just leave a vanilla pod in the bag for a week or two). Or other flavours I suppose.
Damp the sugar with enough milk to moisten it. About ½ cup. It doesn't matter if you add more milk, it will just take longer to boil off, but too little and you might burn the sugar.
Add the butter and melt it in over a low heat then add the condensed milk and turn the heat up reasonably high.
Stir the mixture for about 10 minutes until it comes to a foaming boil (it will almost double in volume), then turn the heat down low to keep it simmering. If you start to get brown streaks then turn the heat down, or stir more frequently.
Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally until it darkens to a nice caramel colour - about 20 minutes or so.
It's a bit up to you how well-cooked and strongly-flavoured you like your tablet apparently, but you can tell when it's ready to set by plunging a teaspoon of mixture into a cup of cold water for a minute or two after which the mixture should form a soft ball which oozes slowly off the spoon.

Now you can take the pan off the heat and stir the mixture vigorously until you feel it start to thicken slightly - it starts to cohere at this stage and hold together a bit more as you stir it, coming away more cleanly from the sides of the pan.
Make sure you keep scraping the excess off the sides back into the mixture as you stir.
Now it's ready to pour into the buttered baking tray.
Once it's poured you can score the surface where you will be cutting into squares later, and then you have to leave it to set completely before turning it out. Preferably overnight, though it's hard to wait that long :)
Well, all that stirring at the end made my wrist hurt, and the result looked like tablet, smelt like tablet and tasted like tablet but crumblier and slightly too crystalline. Not smooth enough.
I had the feeling that I might have waited too long before pouring the mixture out and it didn't take on that slightly translucent appearance in the baking tin that I expected from shop-bought varieties.
Next time I'd try pouring it out as soon as the mixture starts to stiffen and cohere. I also might add a little more milk at the start to try and get the sugar to dissolve into smaller crystals, but maybe that would make no difference.
A good effort nonetheless.
Second time around I appear to have made the smoothest tablet ever!
It's interesting how often it takes a couple of goes at these things to get the right feel for what needs doing. This time I added a little more milk to the sugar to start, and once off the heat and stirring vigorously, I poured the tablet out as soon as I felt it start to thicken up - probably a minute or two.
The mixture was still quite liquid and almost translucent at that stage.

Traditionally Nigella!
Vanilla Shortbread
sweet veg
We followed a straightforward Nigella recipe for this from her Forever Summer collection.
She managed to leave out enough instructions like how large a baking tin to use, and whether or not it should be greased to make the result slightly unsatisfactory.
It will probably be a lot better the second time around.

Makes 12 fat fingers

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cornflour
  • 200g very soft, unsalted butter
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • vanilla or ordinary caster sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas mark 3
Lightly butter a 13"x10"x½ swiss roll tin and sieve icing sugar into it.
I don't know if you really need to do this if it's non-stick, but it seemed like a good idea

Put the icing sugar, plain flour and cornflour into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a double-bladed knife and give them a quick blitz. Nigella reckons this works instead of sieving the powders. Cut the vanilla pod in half, then slice each half open lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife. Add these and the butter to the bowl and process until the soft mixture coheres and begins to form a ball, loosely clumping around the blade.

Turn the dough out into the baking tin and press it in to form an even layer. Use your fingers, and finish off by rolling a small glass across the top.
I'm not sure how hard you should be pressing here, but since ours ended up a bit crumbly, with the top separating, I suspect harder than we did.
I think you should be aiming for a thickness of about ½"

Make cuts to mark out the fingers you'll want to eat, and then use a fork to press holes into each finger. I think you might have to go deeper in with these holes than I did - they should stop the shortbread rising up in the centre as it cooks. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the shortbread is still pale but starting to turn pale gold and feels firm in the centre.
Remove from the oven and when it's cool, prise out the marked pieces with a palette knife, sprinkle with sugar and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.
We used a smaller baking tin and ended up with shortbread that was about 1" thick. This didn't cook right through and was still doughy in the middle using the timings and temperature above - it would probably be better to go for about half that thickness, or adjust accordingly.

For some reason the top of our shortbread peeled off like a thick skin - maybe I didn't press hard enough or prick deeply enough?
Nigella suggests cutting out the shortbread fingers 10 minutes after they come out of the oven, but they did seems still soft and delicate at this stage.
Delia, on the other hand, suggests marking out the fingers once the shortbread is out of the oven, but then leaving to cool completely before cutting them out of the tin.
Might be worth a shot next time - they tasted like the recipe could work pretty well if I get the cooking times right.
Don't bother, Shirley Spear's recipe is much better.
Babysitting With Cookies
I have discovered that babysitting goes better with cookies.
It certainly beats trying to force-feed them fish (yeuch!), olives (yeuch!) or anything you wouldn't find in a jar of Dolmio pasta sauce.
Or at least, it does once the sugar rush has worn off.

Mum bought Rachel's girlies a cookbook for Christmas, and the girls were keen on the recipe for American brownies, so we had a stab at it. Went pretty well I thought.

Chocolate Chip Brownies
sweet veg
Makes about a dozen

  • 6 oz walnuts/pecans or raisins crushed
  • 4 oz plain chocolate chocolate
  • 6 oz butter
  • 12 oz caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 oz plain flour
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • 1 baking tin 9"x12"x1"
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 I set Rachel's fan-assisted oven to 160°C

Grease the baking tin and line the bottom with parchment.
Crush the nuts, break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and stand over simmering water.
Cut the butter into pieces and stir them into the chocolate until everything melts.
Pour the chocolate mixture into a bowl and stir in the sugar and the vanilla. Whisk the eggs then beat them into the chocolate mixture with a wooden spoon.
Sift in the flour and the baking powder, add nuts we used a half-dozen marshmallows instead and mix well.
Pour into the baking tin, smooth the top and bake for 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes or so.
Leave until cool enough to handle, cut into squares and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Very nice!
We skipped the nuts, but added a handful of marshmallows and some broken Yorkie bar instead.

From a cookie recipe on
Astoundingly Good Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
sweet veg
Georgina requested an evening of chewy American-style chocolate chip cookies, so I went online and discovered a suitable-looking Nigella recipe.
Only it wasn't Nigella - it was just a submission to her web-site by someone called "Norm".
What a swizz.
Good job it turned out to be bloody fantastic - or I'd have been coming for you "Norm"! If that's your real name.

Georgina did all the work, since Sophie was busy making dresses. Sigh. They grow up so fast!.
It's a fairly easy recipe for a youngling to manage, though the dough is quite stiff to stir, and I did melt the butter for her and lift the cookies in and out of the oven. But she is at least as competent at setting the oven temperature as her mother.

The dough itself is delicious by the way, so you need to supervise the final stages to make sure it doesn't all disappear before it gets into the oven, but Georgina went mad for the finished product too.
Not literally mad, obviously.
That would be an entirely inappropriate thing to say about a 10-year-old.
Just metaphorically mad.

Makes about 24 cookies

  • 2/3 cup (150ml) melted butter
  • 2 cups (500ml) lightly packed brown sugar not too brown or it will colour the cookies
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of hot water
  • 2 2/3 cups (650ml) all-purpose (ie plain) flour
  • 1 tsp (5ml) baking powder
  • 1 tsp (5ml) baking soda (ie bicarb)
  • 1/4 tsp (1ml or a 'pinch') salt
  • 1 package (270g) Hershey's Chipits milk chocolate chips or other quality chocolate chips - you could also use white/dark or butterscotch chips.
Preheat oven to 375F/190C.
I used 180°C for Rachel's fan-assisted oven, which seemed about right - the top shelf of cookies took 8 minutes, the middle shelf 12 minutes and the bottom shelf 15

Mix together melted butter, brown sugar, eggs and hot water. Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mixture will form into a stiffish dough. Stir in chocolate chips until well distributed throughout the dough.

The dough tastes pretty delicious raw , but try not to eat it all. Drop the dough from a spoon onto 3 or 4 ungreased cookie sheets. The mixture will make a couple of dozen reasonably sized cookies. Leave a reasonable amount of room for spreading.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until just turning golden brown from white. Don't allow them to brown too much. Eat a few whilst still warm - that's when they're at their best. Store in an airtight tin for as long as you can resist guzzling the lot.
Absolutely delicious - but they can be tricky to prise away from the cookie sheets. I'm not sure why "Norm" says not to grease them - I would have thought a thin buttering would have helped.
The second time of making, in my own oven, the cookies had a distinctly cakey texture, and were noticeably thicker than the first lot.
Possibly my (gas) oven wasn't set hot enough since they seemed to take quite a bit longer than 10 minutes.
Older Entries