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The Long Spinach Friday
Because I'm trying to incorporate spinach and samphire into my ideas for a lemon risotto-stuffed squid dinner, this turned into a very spinach-oriented weekend! Starting with samphire and spinach, followed by samphire and spinach puree, then on to spinach soufflés, spinach crisps, then finally spinach oil.

We rounded off with a pretty enjoyable Spinach Lasagne from Delia Smith for light relief.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne with Pine Nuts

Serves 6

For the sauce:
1½ pints (850 ml) milk, or less
2 oz (50 g) butter
2 oz (50 g) plain flour
1 bay leaf
2½ oz (60 g) Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano)
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the lasagne:
1 lb 5 oz (600 g) young leaf spinach
8 oz (225 g) ricotta
12 fresh lasagne sheets (weighing about 9 oz/250 g)
2 oz (50 g) pine nuts
knob of butter
¼ whole nutmeg, grated
7 oz (200 g) Gorgonzola, Shropshire Blue or Cashel Blue cheese, crumbled
7 oz (200 g) Mozzarella, coarsely grated
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C).

Par-boil the lasagne sheets (yes, even the pre-cooked ones) in salted oiled water - about half the time recommended for cooking them, or 3-4 minutes - then drain the sheets and plunge into cold water. Carefully separate them and lay them out to one side hanging from a rack or sides of a pan or colander.

Now make the sauce, which can be done using the all-in-one method. This means placing the milk, butter, flour and bay leaf together in a saucepan, giving it a good seasoning, then, over a medium heat, whisking the whole lot together continually until it comes to simmering point and has thickened. Now turn the heat down to its lowest possible setting and allow the sauce to cook gently for 5 minutes.
Or you could make the sauce properly as I did!

After that, stir in 2 oz (50 g) of the Parmesan, then remove it from the heat, discard the bay leaf and place some clingfilm over the surface to prevent a skin from forming. This really works - you only need to put the cling film across the top of the pan too Now you need to deal with the spinach. First of all remove and discard the stalks, then wash the leaves really thoroughly in 2 or 3 changes of cold water and shake them dry. Next, take your largest saucepan, pop the knob of butter in it, then pile the spinach leaves in on top, sprinkling them with a little salt as you go. Now place the pan over a medium heat, put a lid on and cook the spinach for about 2 minutes, turning the leaves over halfway through. After that, the leaves will have collapsed down and become tender.

Next drain the spinach in a colander and, when it's cool enough to handle, squeeze it in your hands to get rid of every last drop of liquid. Then place it on a chopping board and chop it finely. Now put it into a bowl, add the ricotta, then approximately 5 fl oz (150 ml) of the sauce. Give it a good seasoning of salt and pepper and add the grated nutmeg. Then mix everything together really thoroughly and, finally, fold in the crumbled Gorgonzola. Now you need to place a small frying pan over a medium heat, add the pine nuts and dry-fry them for about 1 minute, tossing them around to get them nicely toasted but being careful that they don't burn. Then remove the pan from the heat and assemble the lasagne.

To do this, spread a quarter of the sauce into the bottom of the dish and, on top of that, a third of the spinach mixture, followed by a scattering of toasted pine nuts. Now place sheets of pasta on top of this - you may need to tear some of them in half with your hands to make them fit. Now repeat the whole process, this time adding a third of the grated Mozzarella along with the pine nuts, then the lasagne sheets. Repeat again, finishing with a layer of pasta, the rest of the sauce and the remaining Parmesan and Mozzarella. When you are ready to cook the lasagne, place it on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbling. Then remove it from the oven and let it settle for about 10 minutes before serving.
This went down pretty well with everyone, despite complaints that the pine nuts reminded them too much of maggots.
Goes nicely with a salad and freshly baked french bread. Personally I'm a big fan of lasagne or macaroni cheese with chips, but then I too have philistine tendencies.
Tagliatelle Carbonara For Philistines
Faces. Busily masticating.
After a tough but satisfying May Day bank holiday babysitting the girlies, this was their choice of dinner - and I must admit it went down a storm.
Ready in bare minutes (well O.K. an hour, but it was the first time we made it and Georgina did all the work), and chock full of creamy Philadelphian goodness - their busily masticating little faces say it all really.

Ideal for philistines,
this comes with a BIG Georgina seal of approval!
Tagliatelle Carbonara with Philadelphia Cream Cheese
main pasta
Thumbs Up

Serves 4

250g Tagliatelle (12 nests)
4 rashers (200g) thick-slice bacon
150g Philadelphia cream cheese
2 egg yolks
200ml boiling water with ½ chicken stock cube
3 cloves garlic
sun-dried tomatoes, sliced (for the sophisticated philistine)
Dissolve half a chicken (or vegetable) stock cube in 200ml boiling water.
Slice your bacon into bite-sized pieces
Peel and chop the garlic into chunks
Separate the eggs and blend the cream cheese with the yolks
Slice the sun-dried tomatoes if you're having them.
Boil a large pot of salted, oiled water for the pasta

Put the pasta in the boiling water and simmer until tender (8 minutes).
Meanwhile cook the bacon in a large oiled frying pan until starting to colour, add the garlic pieces, and fry until done. Set aside.

When the pasta is ready, strain it and set it on one side to drain.
Meanwhile return the pot to the hob and pour in the stock and add the bacon mixture.
Reheat, then add the pasta back in and stir through.
Finally, turn off the heat, add the cream cheese and egg yolk mixture, mix thoroughly and serve, dressed with side-salad, fresh tomatoes or anything else vaguely healthy that your children will contemplate eating for that warm five-a-day glow..

Add the sun-dried tomatoes, olives or anything else you fancy as a topping if you are adventurous!
Sit back and glory in the approval.
Another Oxo triumph!

Warm the plates first if you want to avoid the worst of the congealing sauce issues.
Baby's Got A Brand New Hob
In celebration of Rachel's Brand New Hob I made up a tasty Stir-Fry. It's something everyone will eat, which is a bonus, particularly if you don't add any
- chillies
- ginger
- mushrooms
- sweetcorn
- celery
- cabbage
- sprouts
- fish

In the dark days before HOB we really had to rely on our wits for feeding the family, and our invention of the waffle cake or pwaffle dates from those early times.

Stir-Fried Pork and Vegetables
oriental main meat
Serves 6

1 carrot, halved lengthways, sliced diagonally
1 courgette, halved lengthways, sliced diagonally
4 spring onions, sliced diagonally
½ head broccoli, stalks sliced, florets separated
3 cloves garlic, sliced
500g/1 lb pork tenderloin fillet
800g/2 lb Hokkien egg noodles
½ red pepper, sliced
8 asparagus spear tips, halved lengthways if thick, sliced diagonally

1 tablespoon shao hsing wine
1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon malt vinegar (which I completely forgot!)
1 Tablespoon white sugar
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 Tablespoons shao hsing wine
2 Tablespoon light soy sauce
juice 1 tangerine
3 teaspoons cornflour
Slice the pork fillet lengthways once or twice depending on thickness, then cut into ¼" (5mm) slices.
Mix up the marinade and cover the pork slices. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.

Cut the vegetables into half lengthways (unless they are quite thin) and slice into nice diagonals, about the thickness of pound coins. Keep the asparagus tips and brocolli florets whole. Put each pile of sliced vegetables aside in separate bowls.

Mise En Place Cooking With Dwarves Adding The Noodles
Drain the meat of marinade.
Heat the wok, add a splash of oil and fry the pork until browned and set aside. Do this in two batches if necessary to keep the wok hot. If you get a lot of water building up, scoop out the meat, pour the water off into the marinade, and start frying the meat again.
Mix together the left-over marinade and the sauce ingredients.

Keeping the wok hot, and adding oil as necessary, fry each of the vegetables, starting with those which will take the longest to cook. Set the vegetables aside in another large dish as the wok fills up and carry on frying.

Stir Fry Vegetables The Finished Product Georgina Seal Of Approval
When all the vegetables are done, clean out the pan, then re-fry the pork, then add the noodles and another generous splash of oil. Fry the noodles until warmed thoroughly, then add the sauce mixture. Stir the sauce through until it thickens around the noodles.

And Serve Poisoned Stir Fry Stir Fry On A Plate
Either throw the vegetables back in and stir everything until well mixed and piping hot. Or tip the noodle mixture out into a serving dish, reheat the vegetables and pile them on top.
If you wanted you could serve the noodles with the vegetables piled on top.
If you weren't cooking for wimps you would add chillies, ginger and probably a lot more salt to the sauce.

from those days before HOB
breakfast veg
Pwaffle with Chocolate Spread Georgina Likes Pwaffles Pwaffle Iron
Want pancakes but have only a George Foreman mini-grill or a toasted sandwich maker?
Not a problem, just make up your pancake mix as normal, chock up the grill to make it level and prevent the batter from just running out all over the table and Hey Presto One Pwaffle Iron™!
Now just fire it up and your pwaffle will be ready just before you smell burning.
Decorate as for pancakes and enjoy!
  • eggs
  • flour
  • milk
  • salt
  • butter
Dinner With Hussies
A lovely dinner with our friends the Hussies had two notable highlights - the Olive and Ricotta starter for me, and the Tiramisu for Rachel. Perhaps the level of Amaretto content coloured her judgement.

Sorry no photos. Although I recently bought myself a cool second-hand digital SLR Sony Alpha 200 from ebay, I've only just started playing around with it, and to be honest I thought it might seem a little importunate pulling it out at a dinner party, enormous beast that it is.

Olive and Ricotta Pâté

Takes 40 minutes.
Serves 6

450g/1 lb ricotta cheese
50g/2 oz parmesan, finely grated
2 medium egg whites, lightly beaten
190g jar lemon and mint marinated green olives
185g can pitted black olives, drained
4 sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only
bread and roasted whole vine tomatoes to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6/fan oven 180°C. Oil and base line a 20cm/8" sandwich tin. In a large bowl, beat together the ricotta, parmesan, egg whites and seasoning.

Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface with the back of a wet spoon. Press the olives, sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary into the surface and bake for 25-30 minutes until firm.

Turn out and remove the paper. Serve in wedges with bread and roasted tomatoes.
A gorgeous, firm, quiche-like pâté, with a deep rich flavour almost of goat's cheese.
You can serve it cold, with a small salad around the roast tomatoes, though I think it would go really well with a tomato sauce or oil.

To roast the tomatoes, you can place them whole on a non-stick backing tray, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes in the 200°C oven or until they start to split or blister. They look nice with their stalks still in.
Leftover Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday...
Leftovers. They're a blessing. And a curse.

After days of congealed béarnaise sauce-buttered Breakfast Bap sandwiches filled with leftover Roast beef, mayonnaise, dijon mustard, sliced red onion, tomato and rocket, I hit upon the Beef Wellingtonettes for using up the beef in a hurry.

Not only that, but I used up the spare mussels too. Hurray.

Spare Mussel Tagliatelle
main pasta fish
Something to make after you've drunk a good steaming bowl of mussel stock

It helps if either you thoroughly de-beard the mussels whilst you're cleaning them by wiggling the beards back and forth until the pull cleanly out of the shell, or you remove the tangled seaweedy mass as you shuck the mussel shells after making the stock.
Mouthfulls of chewy mussel beard in your tagliatelle are just yeuch.

Serves 4

olive oil
2 rashers smoked bacon. Probably not leftover. Unfortunately
24 leftover mussels, shucked and chilled
3 leftover shallots, minced
6 leftover garlic cloves, puréed
2-4 button mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cups leftover double cream
leftover chilli parsley butter
Put a pot of pasta water on to boil

Chop the bacon into relatively generous lardons. Fry in olive oil until cooked through, add the shallots and cook until soft, add the garlic and cook through, add the mushrooms (not too finely chopped) and warm through then add the cream.
Start the tagliatelle cooking
Now when the cream mixture has heated through, add the mussels, reheat then add the chilli parsley butter in small quantities and whisk in to thicken the sauce.
Drain the pasta and serve topped with the mussel sauce
It's pretty tasty, though the sauce could be thicker - maybe some flour cooked in before the shallots?

Beef Wellingtonettes
main meat
Beef Wellingtonette
Yum. Dig that leftover beef.
It's ok to use shop-bought puff pastry sheets: It's leftovers.

fist-sized chunks of leftover roast beef
puff pastry
6 button mushrooms
leftover shallots and garlic (optional)
dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6.

Blend the mushrooms to a paste in a food processor. Add a little shallot or garlic if you like On second thoughts, maybe not the shallots. You could add truffle or fois gras though, if you're feeling rich
Fry in a little butter until slightly reduced and the mushrooms will hold together.
Smear the steak chunks with mustard (or horseradish), then cover with the mushrooms and roll in the puff pastry.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until golden brown.
(though not too close together lest they merge into one big soggy Wellingtonboot, and the girlies pick at them listlessly complaining that they aren't properly cooked)

Eat with the leftover Sambuca mushrooms and Green Beans.
John's Massive Burgers
The first time Rachel and I met John socially was at a charity rubber duck race, where he was running a burger stall. As I recall, the burgers were rather nice, though obviously I was seriously distracted by all the rubber ducks swimming around unsupervised.
Little tarts.

Today he told me all about the rather nice burger he'd knocked up for dinner, and since the horseradish sounded interesting I thought I'd write it up, together with the stew he made the weekend before.
Breaking news:
It turns out that John confused horseradish with plain old radish.
Which doesn't sound quite so attractive.

John's Massive Burgers
main snack meat
Serves One Massive Burger Eater

tomato purée
grated horseradish (!)
a massive fluffy white bun
a slice of Jarlsberg
C'mon - you know what to do - it's a burger ffs.

I think I would have had to go with a slice of Muenster myself - it is the classic burger cheese.
That's American Muenster, note, not the original and infinitely more demanding Munster.
Which probably wouldn't go nearly so well on a burger.

John's Beef Stew
main meat stew
This recipe is written as dictated, so you will have to forgive the colloquialisms - the poor boy is a local you know.

some nice cubed stewing steak - big thick bits
baby pearl potatoes
loads of onions (two of the buggers)
wee bit of garlic (natch)
wee spot of Dijon mustard
a handful of wee button mushrooms
a wee touch of paprika for colouring
Brown the steak (with no flour) - adding a wee spot of mustard and just two cloves of garlic, crushed and wheeched back out - really just to flavour the oil a little.
Cut one of the onions in quarters, and the other very finely chopped to thicken the stew. Soften the chopped onion.
Add some beef shin stock, a dash of Chilean Merlot, paprika, mushrooms, onion quarters and the vegetables.
John also threw in some shitake mushrooms but noted that he thought you should use a bit less of the shitake - they didn't work too well as I only have them dried. I rehydrated them in on their own in the stock while I was bringing it up to temperature.
And that was really about it - except I put a couple of dumpling in in the last twenty minutes. Just suet and water, nothing clever. Not that much flour - about 30/70, and a wee bit black pepper.

John's Pulled Pork Rub
ingredient meat crockpot
John loves to pull his pork. Aye, and here's the rub...

  • 5 tbsp smoked hot paprika
  • 3 tbsp sea salt flakes
  • 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp ground fennel seeds
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp dry mustard powder
Rub pork.
Cook in slow cooker until meat falls apart at the slightest touch.

John's Tooth-Achingly Tasty Dessert
sweet veg
John also likes his sweet desserts. Now did he say it was tooth-achingly tasty, or just tooth-aching?

  • salted peanuts
  • caramel
  • fudge
In a baking tray spread a double layer of salted peanuts, followed by a pouring of caramel and a chill in the fridge.
Then make fudge, let it cool and roll it out to the shape of the tray and lay over the caramel.
Roll up with the peanuts outwards.
Slice and eat.
Just about my favourite breakfast. Providing it's washed down by a Bloody good Mary of course.

By way of comforting myself whilst Rachel and I are on our spring breakup (sigh!), I treated myself to my first attempt to make Eggs Benedict from the muffin up. Well, except for curing the ham and laying the eggs of course.

I chose a muffin recipe that uses yoghurt in with the water, which seemed to work perfectly well, Paul Gayler's workmanlike version of Hollandaise sauce, and crispy grilled Parma ham.
Being temporarily unencumbered by a car, I did all my shopping on Sunday at the local Asda, so was extremely limited as to the quality of ingredients. Although I was able to find some pre-packed super-thinly sliced Parma ham, I had to make do with their standard Sad Chicken brand of old eggs. I no more believe that their chickens are organic and free-ranging than I believe their pork products are naturally puce. More surprisingly, it was impossible to find semolina to dust the muffins, because their baking section is ludicrously small and ineptly disorganised over several unrelated aisles. This is either because Asda do not want their customers baking their own products, lest they discover how anaemic are the in-store goods on offer, or because Asda shoppers have lost their capacity to cook flour.

And the result?

A bit disappointing to be honest - I won't be giving those restaurant breakfasts a run for their money just yet.
I couldn't fault the muffins (misshapen and semolina-free as they were), but my Hollandaise was far too tart (Note To Self: Add the lemon juice cautiously and taste the sauce as you go) and the ham was just wrong.
Difficult to say quite why it was so wrong - perhaps it would have worked better if I hadn't grilled it and just laid it on raw, but somehow my mouth was expecting a thick juicy slice of "Canadian" smoked bacon, and what it got was a thin crispy layer of dry-cured Italian lard. Just plain wrong!

Also it's probably a good job I was only cooking for one, because turning out individually poached eggs is a painfully slow process. I do need to figure out a faster serving method for more customers.

Oh, and I didn't have any bloody Bloody Marys
Fish Soup. Or Stew. You choose.
Another Fabulous Failure.

This started as out as an inventive way to use up the enormous sack of (very large pieces of) dessicated coconut that we have cluttering up the kitchen, and all the bits of leftover vegetables from the bottom of the fridge.

But it started to go wrong in the supermarket when Rachel suggested that fish might be acceptable since Georgina had now started trying new things and would no longer only eat super noodles with ketchup on. I suppose I should have expected problems when the smell of my hot fish sauce dressing made everyone gip and completely ban it from the dining room. Even Rachel refused to have it anywhere near her bowl.

Georgina flatly refused to touch the soup.
"I won't eat fish" she said.
"I hate fish" she said.
"I hate the smell of fish" she said.
"You know I hate fish" she said.
"Why do you keep giving me fish" she asked.
"I even tried the Haggis, and I hate haggis" she said.
"I'm never going to eat fish" she said.

To cap it all off, even Sophie turned up her nose at it. And she likes fish. But apparently not the tomatoes or the mushrooms or the slop.
"It didn't really taste of anything, it was too lumpy and I didn't like all the UFO's in it" she said.
"The Unidentified Floating Objects" she said.

Bloody Philistines! I thought it was delicious.

Fish soup
soup fish
Fish Soup
Serves 6. Probably. If they all ate some.

1lb cod, haddock or coley, skinned and de-boned
12 new potatoes
1 small butternut squash
2 rounded Tablespoons flour.
2 pints milk, or as necessary
6 garlic cloves, pressed
1 large onion, diced
1 cup dessicated coconut. Soaked if you have the time.
baby sweetcorn
cherry tomatoes
carton button mushrooms

fishy dressing
2" ginger, finely grated or julienned.
2 Tablespoons fish sauce.
juice of 1 lime
Start the potatoes boiling in a large pot of water to soften them. No need to scrub or peel them, the pre-boil will take care of that.
Fry the flour in butter until cooked through, but not darkened. Add the garlic then the onions and the dessicated coconut. Fry until the onions soften, but don't brown them.
I fried the onions and coconut in butter separately, but I don't see why you couldn't do this all together.
Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to make up a thin roux of sufficient quantity. (set aside some of the mixture whilst continuing to dilute if it seems to be going to be too thick). Purée thoroughly in a blender then season, pour into a large pan and bring to a gentle simmer.
If you weren't cooking for philistines you might forget about blending the onion and chop it into reasonably chunky pieces to fry separately and add to the roux now. I think it makes quite a nice thickener though.
Add the pre-cooked potatoes to the roux.
Clean the mushrooms, cut up any larger ones and add to the sauce.
Cut the baby sweetcorn into nice bite-sized chunks diagonally and add to the pot.
Cut the mangetout diagonally into halfs or bit-sized slices and add to the pot.
Peel the butternut squash, cut into slices, deseed and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add to the pot.
Cut the courgette into bite-sized chunks and add to the pot.
Break the broccoli into florets and add to the pot
Cut the fish into bite-sized chunks and add to the pot
Add the cherry tomatoes to the pot and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the tomatoes are soft, but not popped.

Meanwhile make the dressing. Fry the ginger in a little vegetable oil until it begins to crisp and brown, then throw in the fish sauce and the lime juice. you might have to do this outside if you don't want to get the dressing banished forever, the smell is a little overpowering
If you have grated the ginger you will need to strain this dressing, if julienned you might be able to leave the ginger in.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle with a little dressing and serve.

Delicious. I thought. The dressing cuts the slightly cloying thickness of the soup.
Obviously if you weren't trying to make it acceptable to small tummies you could spice it up Thai styley.
If you prepare and add the ingredients in the right order they will all be perfectly cooked at serving time.
Georgina Likes Pizza
We followed the instructions for basic pizza dough in Susan Conte's pleasant little Pizza And Pasta book, dividing the dough into two balls to allow to rise.

We rolled out the pizzas using a rolling pin, but many sources suggest some kind of stretching process using your fists. Georgina gave something like that a try, but resorted to rolling after picking the bits up off the (fortunately recently-cleaned) floor. Maybe next time we could try a bit harder - here's a description from an interesting page claiming to offer the Best Pizza Dough Ever from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice:

Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift 1 piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208 This must be some illustration! If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn't as effective as the toss method.

Perhaps we didn't quite allow the balls to double in size, and we certainly didn't bother leaving the rolled-out pizzas to rise for 20 minutes before adding the topping and cooking them, but then the girlies were already STARVING, so we were pressed for time.

As a result, the crusts were probably a bit heavier than they ought to have been. It might have been nice to add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the water too.

The girls experimented tentatively with rolling the edges around some edam cheese to make a stuffed crust, but I think that has to go into the category of "Needs Further Investigation". Maybe it just needs a more robust cheese?
Breaking News...
After considerable persuading (don't ask!), Rachel gave the crust-stuffing a bit more enthusiasm (despite the conditions she had to work in) and made a series of cuts around the pizza so she could roll the whole edge in around sticks of Emmentaler (whose holes really impressed Sophie).
Although it seemed like a good idea, the result was just an especially dense and hard ball of crust at the pizza edge. I think we would need to make larger, looser rolls and try to avoid pressing the pastry too much during the process.
Due to the permanent uncertainty of what the girlies might deem acceptable food I brought three different sliced meats - chorizo, pepperoni and pancetta. Despite having requested pepperoni, this was judged to be too hot and the pancetta to be too fatty. Fortunately the chorizo was approved by everyone - so full marks to me for anticipating that difficulty!

It's fun getting everyone to decorate their section of pizza, but it can easily result in fights if you can't figure out who's portion is whose once the pizza is baked. Black olives are very useful for marking the edges if you can make sure all the kiddies bits are squeezed in-between the grown-ups.

And it's not everywhere you can get away with that!

Stuffing The Crust Stuffed Crust Stuffed Crust Close Up Tomato Sauce Pizza Decorated. Pizza In The Oven Pizza Cooked
(In case you were wondering - Rachel is having a stately pleasure dome extension built on to her kitchen, so cooking conditions somewhat resemble those at the Somme)

A BIG Georgina seal of approval
Pepperoni Pizza
main meat
Feeds 3 hungry girls - and me

1 portion pizza dough
1 onion, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
Tablespoon tomato purée
fresh or dried oregano or thyme. Or other dried herbs
olive oil
2 small cartons of passata or a tin of tomatoes
fresh Mozzarella, in ½" slices
sliced Pepperoni/Pancetta/Chorizo
black olives, sliced
Make your pizza dough and leave it to rise for an hour or until it doubles in size (if you have the patience).

Meanwhile, prepare the tomato sauce - gently fry the onion and garlic in plenty of olive oil until they are soft and translucent. Don't brown them.
Add the herbs once the onions have got going.
Add the tomato purée and fry until the oil begins to separate out (if no girlies are looking you can toss in a glass of white wine and reduce it too), then add the passata or tinned tomatoes and simmer until thickened to your taste.
I used only 1 carton of passata, but that made barely enough sauce for the two pizzas.
Also my sauce was a little bit over-sweet so I did add a splash of balsamic vinegar to tarten it up slightly.

Get your oven as hot as it will go (250°C/Gas 9in our case) and put in your pizza stone(s) to preheat.

Roll out (or spin out if you're brave) your pizza bases onto large floured plates or boards and leave to rise for 15-20 minutes if you are allowed. Spread them not too thickly with the tomato sauce, decorate with your choice of meat product and top with slices of mozzarella, and olives (anchovies etc.) if you're a grown-up.
You really don't want to spread the tomato paste too thickly here - as thinly as you can manage but still cover the surface is about right. Also the mozzarella spreads a lot when it melts, so cut the mozzarella as thin as you can manage - about the thickness of a pound coin.

This was really nice with some shredded chicken scattered on too, by the way. I just boiled up a chicken in water for an hour with a quartered onion, some bay leaves and peppercorns, (though you could obviously add any extra herbs and vegetables you have lying around because you'll be using the stock later won't you?) then separated off the flesh and shredded it with a fork.

Carefully slide the pizzas off the boards onto the hot pizza stone(s). I found a couple of fish slices came in really handy at this stage.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the crust browns and the toppings begin to bubble.

Slice, serve to all the wrong people and wait for the territorial battles to begin.
Happy Haggis Day
Birthday Haggis
Sunday the 24th is a happy combination of Rachel's Mum's birthday and the Day Before Burns Night, so it's Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more., or in my case, Once more into the offal: It's time to dust off my Haggis recipe.

I volunteered (if that's the right phrase for the situation where you won't take no for an answer) to make Haggis for the family Birthday Dinner at Rachel's sister's place. That's the one with all the pans, for those who have been following closely.
I'll be bringing Haggis and some sauce, Alan will be cooking the neeps and the tatties and I thought I might bring along a bottle of Grand Marnier for tarting up the neeps too. Or some of the neeps for the grown-ups at the feast.

I had to make the Haggis the weekend before, due to limited time this weekend, so I popped in to George Bower of Stockbridge - the best game butcher in Edinburgh - to order my sheep pluck, and then again to pick it up.

Fortunately for those of us who have to work for a living Bower opens at 8 a.m. which means I can buy quality meat during the week.
It never ceases to amaze me that any of these poxy high street shops that continue, moronically unaffected by modern life to open only 9 to 5, have survived.
Has it really not occurred to these stubborn jackasses that the reason their business traffic has pissed away to nothing has something to do with the fact that everyone who works for a living and therefore has money to spend can't shop between 9 and 5 because they are at work? Is it possible for a business to survive when it's only custom comes from single mothers?
Have they really not noticed that during daylight hours the only other people they see are Pensioners who can only afford to lick their produce, students who are only looking for work, chavs who only want to steal their stuff and drug dealers who want to sell them something?
I mean, for Christ's sake don't these people go to supermarkets themselves after they finish work so they can buy something for their own dinner?
They're absolutely heaving!
They're raking it in!
Yes, OK, it might have something to do with the convenience of having everything under one roof so that if you are the size of a small Welsh cottage you don't suffer the enormous inconvenience of having to step outside to move from aisle to aisle, but look at the tat they sell - it's wall to wall generic shite.
Give me a thriving High Street any day of the week.
But not, apparently, any evening.

Anyway, enough with the ranting. On to the Haggis...
I followed the same basic recipe as before, but the pluck I got from the butcher this time were a bit disappointing compared with the absolute monster I had last time around.
Either this chap was sadly undernourished, or the last one was a giant amongst sheep.

I didn't get the whole assemblage this time either - the organs had all been separated already, so there was no gullet, kidneys or tongue either, which was a bit of a shame.
I did buy some venison liver from the Castle Street Farmers' Market to bulk the liver quantity out, though for what it cost it was a pitiful quantity compared with even this miniature sheep's liver. It seems a complete venison haggis would be a different order of cost than a sheeps one.

Mind you - the difference in liver price does reflect the delicacy of flavour - I flash-fried a sliver of each of the livers for a quick taste test.
A liver sliver sample if you will.
The venison was absolutely exquisite with a delicate flavour and a fine texture, which made the lamb seem thick and dull by comparison. Probably it was something of a waste to add the venison to the haggis, and I don't think I could tell the difference in the end result.

The friendly butcher handed over some nice shin bones too, so this time I used the offal water to make up a nice dark beef stock for boiling the barley and moistening the mixture before stuffing.

The whole process took about 6 hours this time - quite a lot longer than I'd noted the last time I made them, despite the smaller pluck. Some of that might have been the time spent making the stock, and this time it was just me, whereas I think I managed to rope in a couple of unsuspecting assistants last time.

Hanging Haggis Gonads Hanging Haggis Gonads
This time I was also quite conscious of the need to keep these haggii for a week before cooking them, so I deliberately cooked the lights a little more than I would have done otherwise. I imagine this had some impact on their final flavour.

I decided the best way to keep the haggii without them rotting would be to hang them so that they stayed dry - the ceca get very moist if they are left in contact with any surfaces - so I arranged a piece of string in my fridge door and hung the double haggis like a pair of veiny giant testicles. This seemed to work pretty well: they dried out quite thoroughly, and even started to look a little shrivelled towards the end so then I wrapped them in muslin and put them on the fridge shelf.
I gave them a jolly good sniff every day just to make sure there was no hint of rot.

Since I figured the liver was about half the size of the last one (I should really have weighed it, but I reckon around 2lb), I used roughly half quantities of my previous recipe though this turned out to be a bit heavy on the spices. I bought some nice fresh cayenne pepper in preparation, and perhaps this was a mistake.
I also realised that before you over-spice the stuffing mixture you can taste it by frying up a little batch. Probably I should have realised that before I added all the ground up spices eh?
Anyway - the lesson learned is go easy on the cayenne and taste the mixture before you add all the spices in.

Ox Stockings
Although I bought 3 salted ox ceca (just in case) I only needed one of them, and you really don't need to soak them overnight. I just gave them a thorough rinsing in the bath: run water into them so they swell up like a balloon to really flush all the salt out.
I used them with the fatty veins on the inside, the way they arrive.

Knowing that the kiddies would balk at the taste of liquor in their sauce, I cast around for a child-friendly alternative to the Drambuie sauce to go with the haggii. I think they really need something creamy to smooth off their rather dry edge, and despite some difficult hot-cauliflower-related memories for Rachel, I plumped for a version of Heston Blumenthal's Cauliflower Purée with the addition of some fennel to lighten it up a bit. Unfortunately I wasn't really happy with the result, so I mellowed the flavour back down again by blending in some cashew nuts. The result was pretty nice, but I had foolishly forgotten about Sonny's nut allergies, so we had to make a new version sans nuts (and fennel). Although I seemed to be the only one to notice the slightly acrid flavour to the purée, the original version has the same taste, so I don't think it was due to my fennel addition after all.

Untrustworthy Haggis Suspicious Slaughter of the Haggis Ritual Slaughter Opening The Haggis Empty Haggis Husk
The verdict?
As I've intimated, I ever so slightly overspiced the mixture, but Alan still assured me that they were delicious, and I have to defer to his excellent taste. Though not quite as good as I remember the first ones being, they were still really good. At least as good as shop bought haggii, especially when smothered in the Drambuie sauce.
Despite my misgivings about the cauliflower 'gravy' the kids seemed to quite like it.
Everyone except the vegetarians had a good old dig at the haggis (yes, even Georgina), some of the kiddies even coming back for thirds (no, not Georgina), their empty skins lying like hollowed-out husks at the end of the meal were testaments to their popularity.

Although I was never completely sure about the cauliflower 'gravy', the kids seemed to like it.

Mostly a reprise of Haggis I
Haggis II
main meat
Serves Lots

  • Offal. Lots of offal!
Cover the offal with water in a large pot and boil it up until it's cooked through. Skim off any scum as it rises.
Because I knew I was going to be keeping the haggii for a whole week before eating them I decided to cook the ingredients somewhat more thoroughly than last time so they didn't go off.
Possibly this meant the result was not quite so succulent as last time, but hey - we didn't get food poisoning either!

Lungscape Pot Aux Lungs
Drain the offal and use the cooking water to make beef stock
Begin gently toasting the oatmeal in a heavy frying pan on the stove top until it turns golden and smells toasty(!), and start the barley simmering until tender in some of your rich beef stock

Pick through the liver, heart and lungs removing any tubes and stripping away the flesh. Grate the liver and blend the heart and lungs to a paste.
Stripping out the flesh from the lungs takes a really long time since it mostly consists of capillaries. For the amount of flesh you get I'm not at all convinced it's worth it, but it seems a shame to waste them, and I think if you just puréed it all up tubes and all, you would end up with an awful lot of gristly stringy bits. I found one or two as it was.
Mix all your ingredients (except the spices) together now and moisten with stock as necessary to get the mixture to cohere nicely. Add some of the spice blend now, but fry up a sample spoonful or two of the mixture to check the levels as you go to make sure you don't overdo it. Be especially cautious with the cayenne pepper(!).

Take an ox cecum sock and stuff the mixture in until you have a decent-sized package. 4-6 person sized haggii were a bit easier to handle than monster rugby balls.
Pack the mixture in quite firmly, and make sure to fill the stocking so as not to leave any air pockets.
An alternative view here - half fill the sock, squeeze out any air left inside, then tie off and carefully work the filling back out into the full length of the sausage.
Tie some string around the stocking in a couple of places when you are happy, then continue stuffing to make the next, connected, haggis ball.

You end up with a couple (or more I suppose if you like) giant maracas. I tied the final end of the stocking into a knot, tied string around it too for security, and then cut off the excess with scissors. You can wash off the mess you've made on the outside with a little water and hey presto. The finished product.

Drying Haggis Drying Haggis
I don't think I would have left the haggii in a bowl or bag for a week as the ox intestine seems to stay quite moist and slimy on contact with any kind of surface but it dries out quite nicely when hung up somewhere cool and dry. It's especially easy to hang them from the middle stretch of stocking if you've made a nice pair of haggii out of the one cecum.

Haggis In The Pot Wrapped Haggis
To cook the haggii, place them in a large pot of water and slowly bring to the gentlest of simmers. Simmer for 3 hours.
You need to keep a close eye on the fellows in case their skins split open, in which case you will need to wrap them in aluminium foil for the rest of their cooking.
Split Haggis Not So Split Haggis
If you prefer you could probably wrap them right from the start just in case.
These home-made haggii seem to have an annoying tendency to split, though one of the two we made this time did make it whole all the way to the table!
It is also been suggested that (watching hawk-like) you can pierce any air bubbles as they appear during cooking which might rescue the haggis and stop the split "running".
I'm not convinced - but feel free to give it a try before you whip out the tin hat.

Cauliflower, Fennel And Cashew Purée
side veg
Serves 4

1 medium
1 small fennel
50g unsalted butter
3 pierced cardamoms
10 strands saffron
handful cashew nuts
175-200ml semi-skimmed milk though I don't see why you couldn't use whole milk
Warm most of the milk with the cardamoms and saffron then set aside to infuse.

Trim the base off the cauliflower, break into florets.
Cook gently in a generous amount of butter until they start to colour (15 minutes or so).
Add the cashews
Halve and slice the fennel and add to the cauliflower then cook until they soften.

Strain the infused milk into the cauliflower and simmer for 5 minutes, then purée in a blender and pass through a sieve. Add extra milk as necessary to achieve a slightly sloppy consistency.

Season to taste
When I made this first, I thought the fennel had given it a slightly acrid edge, so I added the cashews to take some of the bitterness away.
However, when we made it again without the fennel (or cashews) the same edge was there - so I think it's from the cauliflower after all. Cooking for a little longer might take some of that away, but I have to say I was the only one who thought there was anything wrong, and the purée was quite popular with the girlies.

Another admission - I must have misunderstood my own reference to Fiona Becket's book, because I expected this to be something like a gravy substitute, but it definitely isn't. Once you accept that though, I did like the fennel/cashew addition. It rounded the purée out quite nicely.

Drambuie Sauce
sauce veg
4 minced shallots (optional)
300ml double cream
150-200ml Drambuie
2 tsps honey (optional)
If you fancy some shallot flavour (and tiny lumps) in your sauce, sweat the shallots in 30g butter until translucent.
Add the Drambuie and reduce by half, then add the cream and heat through.
If you want extra sweet, add some honey.

Serve hot.

side veg
Turnips. Or as we Southerners call them, Swedes.
Grand Marnier
Butter. Lots of butter
Have Alan mash up your neeps for you.
Add a generous splash of Grand Marnier and an unfeasibly large lump of butter.
Season well.

Take all the credit.
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