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Christmas Sea Lights
Christmas Sea Lights

I almost didn't make it home for Christmas this year thanks to the unexpected (to me!) Metro train drivers' strike.
Living in Newcastle is a bit like living in the 1970's!

We managed an almost flawless Christmas dinner this year - we've really got it down now. Famous last words :)
Even the children were prepared to eat this yuletide's festive starter (we told them they were chicken nuggets).

Kurt got the roasties perfect - he brought the cooking water to a boil before adding the potatoes and threw in some bicarbonate of soda too which really seemed to help. Thanks Serious Eats!
Also he didn't boil the fuck out of them this time.
If I have one complaint; the bread sauce just didn't taste quite right. Perhaps it needed longer cooking. Like the mysteriously sticky Christmas pud it says two hours right there in the recipe!. Well it wouldn't be Christmas without having something to complain about - right Kurt?

Unusually this year Kurt dragged the fambly to a Christmas Eve carol service in the village church (to much wailing and gnashing of teeth) which turned out to be really fun. The vicar was young, enthusiastic and female it was all very Vicar of Dibley and the kids got the chance to set fire to themselves and their neighbours with lighted kristingles (nope, me neither). They even joined in the singing.
It's a Christmas miracle!

Now here are the things no Christmas is complete without:



Merry Christmas Yawl!

Haggis Bon Bons with Whisky Marmalade Sauce
meat starter
You just need enough flour, egg, and breadcrumbs to coat the haggis balls you roll.
I made my breadcrumbs by pulsing crust-free bread quite finely in a blender, then toasting these crumbs in the oven until lightly browned. You could probably use fresh breadcrumbs, or crush the dried crumbs further if you'd like a finer bon bon coating.

Alternative sauces you might consider:
  • a brose of double cream simmered with whisky
  • mayonnaise flavoured with mustard and whisky
  • whisky flavoured demi-glace
  • a sweet chilli dressing or a quick mix of sweet chilli sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 200g haggis
  • 50g seasoned flour
  • 1 egg
  • 100g dried breadcrumbs

  • For the Sauce:
  • 4 tbsps whisky
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 6 tbsps marmalade
Method
Set out three bowls with seasoned flour, whisked egg, breadcrumbs.
Remove the haggis skin, break the haggis up into pieces and form each one into a rough ball about the size of a lychee or a small plum.
Roll each ball in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs to coat well.
Put the balls in the fridge to chill for an hour or until needed.

Make the sauce by melting the marmalade and stirring in the lemon juice and whisky. Adjust the balance of ingredients to taste. You may also need to add a little sugar.

Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 170°C and fry the balls for 2-4 minutes until golden brown.
Drain and serve drizzled with whisky marmalade sauce and a small side salad. If you're not cooking Christmas dinner for Philistines.
Not a bad starter. Well, the kids didn't hate them!
They wouldn't touch the sauce though.
The Wanderer Returns. Then Quickly Leaves Again!
Rainbow over Port Edgar Marina.

Featuring my triumphant return to Port Edgar Marina.
And the sad realisation that it's the same inhospitable, badly managed, poorly maintained, swell-ridden shithole that I sailed away from almost exactly three years ago :(

It's very disappointing to report that whilst the lucrative properties around the marina - the shops and restaurants - have been improved immeasurably whilst I was away, the infrastructure and facilities of the marina itself have not gained in the slightest. The pontoons are every bit as rotted and holed, the cleats as loose and unreliable and if anything there is even less tyre barrier and even more uncomfortable swell than when I left!
Not only that but the old amenities have completely evaporated, with the marina now offering a single men's toilet and two miniaturised shower stalls to be shared not only between all the berth holders but also the marina staff and even some of the local shop workers.
And all only a short cycle distance away from the pontoons!

The sooner they build this fancy new marina down in Leith to offer some real competition on the Forth the better for everyone I reckon.

From the very start Port Edgar management were unwelcoming - I hurried to the marina office to announce my glorious return after 3 years of travelling the high seas and their reception troll sourly informed me that "You're not allowed to receive mail here" whilst handing me a 'Welcome Home' card that some kind soul had inadvertently sent me in the post (thanks Flora xx).
I explained my plans to live onboard the yacht until I found a flat and was told that the marina policy was to allow no-one to stay aboard for more than two weeks and that I would have to leave after that. How a marina can function without allowing visiting folks to stay on their boats more than two weeks I simply don't understand but there you have it.

I've only come across two or three other marinas which were in the least bothered by the idea of paying customers actually using their marina, and they were only concerned about people spending more than two or three months living aboard. Mind you, those marinas didn't feel as if they might break apart and wash out to sea. Well, excepting Holyhead that is :)

I tussled with the reception troll over whether this two week period was consecutive or cumulative (apparently the inflexible marina policy is entirely at the troll's discretion) and we finally agreed on my being kicked out at the end of the month. Just time to dry out on the slip and restore Harmony's anti-fouling (badly needed), and to do all my laundry (for free - since Port Edgar management isn't competent enough to maintain the coin boxes on their washers and dryers).
Silver clouds eh?

To take a break from Port Edgar's inadequate toilet facilities, if only for a few days, I moved in with Flora and Marco.
Whilst there, in-between doing house repairs, I cooked a couple of traditional British roast dinners for Marco, who's from Italy and therefore completely ignorant about good food.

Flora has been wanting to try out a fancy starter she'd recently eaten and which I thought sounded like a good contender for my family's Christmas dinner: figs with goats cheese and basil. So she prepared them to kick off our classic roast beef dinner; featuring yorkshire puddings, boiled potatoes, horseradish sauce, some over-cooked asparagus and a rich gravy.
The gravy was absolutely delicious - if I say so myself.
I persuaded the nice Stockbridge butcher to chop me up a big bag of bones which I boiled up into stock to bulk out the typically meager roasting juices so we could have a decent amount of gravy.

Unfortunately the centre-piece beef was disappointingly tough and dry. I presume a combination of a relatively poor joint (butcher's fault), and an unsuitable roasting method (my fault). Since the butcher's sirloin was dauntingly expensive I had gone for a cheaper rolled topside (or was it silverside?) and roasted it at a moderate temperature (around 180°C) for a couple of hours.
Perhaps the joint would have more suited longer cooking at a much lower temperature, say 100°C possibly in a little liquid? And it also might have benefited from being sliced much more thinly than I managed?
Still, the failure of the meat was more than made up for by the magnificence of the Yorkshires, which exploded out of their muffin tins like miniature aliens, and the richness of the gravy.
Did I mention the gravy?

All was not lost with the chewy beef though since Marco used the leftovers to treat us to some fine Italian meatballs called Plopettes - justa lika his Mamma useda to makea :)

Fortunately we made up for this partial culinary success with a very fine lamb dinner beginning with a surprisingly tasty turnip soup (possibly because it was mostly sweet potato) and finishing with a classic bread and butter pudding. Served with a not-so-classic vanilla ice cream.
The roast leg of lamb was absolutely gorgeous. Perhaps because, as Flora never resisted reminding us, it was extraordinarily expensive.
We cooked it at a very high heat with a ton of garlic à la Keith Floyd (though without the anchovies) and served it with salsa verde, creamed leeks, some green beans with lemon, capers, garlic and anchovies and the usual roast potatoes and parsnips.
Flora turned down my offer of bread sauce :(

Every so often Flora gets a care package from some French friends, and I was lucky enough to be there when the latest one arrived. She suggested we attempt to make a meal out of one of the cans of mystery meat, which turned out to be some kind of tinned French haggis.
Quelle horreur!
I won't even attempt to describe the smell. Or the texture. Or the taste.
I'm not generally a fussy eater but take my advice - if anyone ever offers you some delicious French haggis; Run! Run Fast!


The eventual return of Flora's Mum meant I got kicked back to Port Edgar (getting kicked out seems to becoming something of a pattern) since she can only handle one awkward house-guest at a time, but I didn't leave empty-handed. Flora kindly gifted me a bottle of weird Czech liqueur called Becherovka for flavouring vegetables, and cleaning toilets.

And now my two Port Edgar weeks are up, so I'll be setting off on my nautical wanderings again - I'm heading down the coast for Newcastle's Royal Quays Marina where I fancy spending the winter. In preparation for which I'll be soon making up some aromatic Christmas stock for our fabulous Christmas gravy.
Sigh.
I shall miss having a real kitchen.

Crumbling Port Edgar Pontoon.

The Currants of Wrath
Cape Wrath

Moving right along.
From Kinlochbervie marina, around Cape Wrath at the North West corner of Scotland, along its short Northern coast and then into the Pentland Firth. It's a strangely empty stretch of coastline and not a good place to be caught out by bad weather. Kinlochbervie is the last homely house before the Wrath and the ideal leaping off point for the trip around the top of Britain - if you can find space on their limited but popular pontoons.

It used to be a busy fishing port, but these days you will struggle even to find someone to sell you diesel there.
Lobsters, on the other hand, are a deal easier - you can just hail one of the many passing lobster boats and offer them a tenner for one of their living catch. If the weather is accommodating then just pop the lobster in a bucket of seawater (you might want a lid) and anchor for free around the corner in Loch Clash. It's a pleasant, sandy bay with what used to be Kinlochbervie's main pier, and a fine anchorage when the wind isn't from the west.
Hang your barbecue from the stern guard-rails, slice your squirming lobster in half, slather with garlic butter and get grilling.
Yumsk!
On an unrelated note, I've now come to the firm conclusion that all the time, trouble, mess and cleaning involved in barbecuing for one on a boat is just not worth it :(

Cape Wrath itself is a well-titled horribly exposed rocky headland which has notoriously lethal tides and overfalls that any amount of rough weather can quickly roil up into a small-boat-eating maelstrom. Despite approaching the cape in settled mellow, if misty, weather a surprisingly strong wind whipped up around the headland and there was enough churning washing-machine tidal action to encourage me to keep well away from the rocky coastline. Which left me with little to see in the persisting sea fog over the whole of the next two days.

In fact I arrived at the charmingly named port of Scrabster, at the eastern end of the north coast of Scotland, in a complete pea-souper barely able to see my anchor in front of my bow. Thank goodness for my GPS chart plotter, and for Scrabster harbour's radar operator letting me know about the giant fishing boat also inbound.

I was so pleased with this blog title The Currants of Wrath that I just had to invent a recipe to go with it. It would have been appropriate if I'd made it during my sail around the Wrath, but I didn't have any currants. Or raisins. Fortunately there's a Local Fucking Supermarket™ on the outskirts of Thurso which does.

After a couple of days banging off the filthy tyres fending the Scrabster harbour wall (like Kinlochbervie, Scrabster has limited but popular pontoon space), I set off across the Pentland Firth for Orkney.

I'd been in two minds about skipping the northern Scottish islands completely and just continuing on around the coast to Wick. There's a lot of up north up north. I could easily spend weeks sailing around Shetland and the Orkneys but I was running out of year. Also, to be honest, I was quite nervous about the whole thing; the Orkney islands are bedevilled by fearsome tidal streams, and north of Fair Isle is getting disturbingly remote. Still, it seemed a shame not to do the whole circumnavigation thing properly, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place and sailed north. With good weather, careful planning and a good bit of luck I made my way through Scapa Flow to Stromness (handy for picking up fresh mackerel from neighbouring yachts who are much better fisherman than I), then up the west coast of Orkney and on to Fair Isle. After a rough night tied alongside the Fair Isle ferry Good Shepherd IV in the north harbour (and I have the blue paint marks to prove it!) I finished the leg up to Shetland. Probably the worst crossing of the three year voyage :(

But the next day dawned clear and sunny and I spent the week visiting Scalloway (where I learned the wonder of reestit mutton) and happily meandering around the west coast of Shetland, before making my way back south to Orkney.
I had such a good return crossing that I was able to skip Fair Isle completely and make landfall at North Ronaldsay. What a difference the weather makes! Unfortunately several days of storms were forecast, so I picked up one of Orkney's handy free mooring buoys for a few days - in Elwick Bay, behind the picturesque island of Shapinsay across the sound from Kirkwall marina..
And there I saw the sea monster. An honest-to-God actual sea monster. It happened like this...

About three days in, fairly late in the evening as the light was failing, I had finished my dinner and was just starting in on the whisky and happened to glance out of the cockpit. I noticed a puff of smoke, as from an engine exhaust, so I popped my head up to take a look (you never know when you might be on for some free fish).
I heard a cough from the engine and could clearly see the smoke drifting over the low-lying island in towards the shore, but could see no sign of the boat.
Wait, what low-lying island? And how come that low-lying island is drifting? Moving?? Swimming???
And so I watched in astonishment as a vast oily black behemoth oozed its way past my boat just an arms-length off in the gloom, glistening and puffing with barely a ripple just a great dark hump showing, the damn thing easily the length of my boat. And as it disappeared off into the twilight I was left in a strange mixture of excitement and terror.
And it was at that point that I ran for my camera.

Which is why I have no photographic evidence, honest! Anyway it was already pretty dark, and I'd only have ended up with Loch Ness Monster quality photos. Though I'm pretty sure it was actually a basking shark.

After that, re-crossing the Pentland Firth back to mainland Scotland was something of an uneventful letdown!

Edinburgh here I come...
St. Fucking Kilda!
Harmony at St. Kilda

So I finally lived the dream - the secret dream of all British sailors: To make the passage out to the UK's nautical El Dorado, its salty Shangri La, its xenobathic Xanadu - the fantastically remote island archipelago of St. Kilda.

Not that St. Kilda is really all that far - it's only about 50 miles from the nearest safe anchorages on Harris, but still it is an exposed voyage out into the raw Atlantic with its risk of sudden changes in weather and seas. Plus you are starting from somewhere that's already pretty remote - the outer side of the Outer Hebrides.
'Tis a wild and lonely place, ye ken.

My sail out there wasn't entirely straightforward, it ended up being a two day beat (natch), the first leg taking me massively southwards to the almost equally remote low-lying Monach Islands, where I anchored overnight, before finally being able to lay St. Kilda on the second day. And an exciting relief it is to finally see those sheer rocky cliffs rearing out of the empty ocean with their promise of a sheltered loch.
I anchored in the well-protected Village Bay, some distance off the old pier and the new slipway. The bottom is clean sand and I eventually got Harmony firmly secured, even though the convenient shallows were congested by a host of small buoys, and rowed ashore.

The St. Kilda radio operator was very welcoming, but asked me if I'd mind moving my yacht from where I'd anchored between the marker buoys which guide in their delivery ferry, landing building materials onto the slip. I declined, opining that they would probably manage to work around me.
She then gave me a fine introduction to the island and its surprisingly large population of birdwatchers, sheep taggers, archaeologist and the remaining small MOD contingent (as they dismantle the old barrack buildings). And to the excellent museum set up on the single street of drystone black houses where the original (and ancient) Kildarians resided in medieval squalor before the last 34 of them were shipped off to the mainland in 1930. Probably not a moment too soon - a funny-looking bunch of inbreds they were and the creepy old photographs in the museum still give off a very Wickerman vibe.

Then I spent a few pleasant evening hours hiking up the rocky hillsides and investigating the drystone cleats (St. Kilda is rich in stones) where the islanders used to dry their seabirds, eggs, bits of stringy goat and their peat. And used to live! at least in the bigger ones.
Apparently they managed surprisingly little fishing due to the inhospitality of the local seas. Or possibly not so surprisingly.
And so to bed. I did ask if there was a pub. There wasn't :(

During the night the wind kicked off pretty enthusiastically quickly reaching a (un-predicted) Force 7 and bringing astonishingly fierce gusts down the steep mountain sides into the bay, spinning my little boat right round its anchor and keeping me awake worrying most of the night. Fortunately the holding was good, and Harmony survived but I left at first light the next morning for the looooong, wet, horrible 12-hour sail back to South Harris.

And no time for cooking :(

Some Day This Rain's Gonna End
Arisaig

I came in to pick up a mooring in Loch Nan Ceall off Arisaig over a week ago to be safe during some predicted southerly gales.
As often happens the predicted high winds failed to materialise but heavy rain did. (Amazing isn't it, that a meteorological service unable to predict regional weather 48 hours ahead is convinced of its unerring capacity to predict the climate of the entire planet for the next 48 years?) So I moved off the mooring buoy (saving £12 a night) and anchored off to wait it out. I'm on holiday dammit - I don't need to sail in no rain.
And here I am still waiting.
Meantime I bought a very-reduced-price pack of celery from the local Spa, and had to think of things to do with it. Here they are.

Chicken and Celery Stew
nautical fowl main
A surprisingly bland stew, though handy as a one-pot boat dish. I thought it might be tastier than it was.

Serves 6

Ingredients
  • 1 chicken
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 lb potatoes
  • 1 head celery
  • black peppercorns
  • dried oregano (thyme or marjoram)
  • bay leaves
  • epazote
  • 1 lemon
  • olive oil
Method
Joint the chicken, debone and cut the chicken flesh into large pieces (I left the skin on). Season the chicken generously with ground black pepper and brown in oil in a large pan, in batches if necessary. Set aside.
Peel the onion, slice lengthwise into eighths. Brown in the pot with a sprinkling of dried oregano. Add to the chicken.
Peel or scrape the potatoes and cut into large chunks (unless small). Fry to brown a little. Add to the chicken.
Chop the celery into fat chunks. Grate the lemon zest. Fry together briefly in the pan to coat in the remaining fat, then add a little wine or water to clean the pan and add to the chicken.
Make a simple stock from the chicken bones and carcass - fry briefly to brown in a large pot, just cover with water, add whole peppercorns and bay leaves, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock into the reserved chicken.
Add epazote to the chicken mix, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until everything is tender. Season.
Mix the juice of the lemon with about the same volume of olive oil and pour over the stew, or offer as a dressing on the side.
Serve with white rice (the best option), mash or couscous.
Not very interesting unfortunately, though I would have added beans or chickpeas if I'd had any.
I tried serving it with a sprinkling of tarragon vinegar - no improvement. I could try it with a little sour cream?
Or perhaps it would have been better spiced up with chorizo and smoked paprika?

Slow Braised Celery and Tomato
Sedano e Pomodori Brasati
side meat
This caught my eye linked from an interesting article by Lesley Porcelli praising soft (read long)-cooked vegetables and decrying how we no longer cook through the bitter, sulphurous stage of stewing green vegetables out to the delightfully unctuous collapsing uplands. Too much bright green crispness preserved in blanching and ice.

I didn't want to use only part of a tin of tomatoes to make this, so I substituted a couple of tablespoons of tomato purée and tomato juice instead, frying the purée in the fried onion, then adding the celery and juice.

I also substituted chorizo for the pancetta, frying slightly less weight of chorizo matchsticks (the flavour is more intense than pancetta) into the fried onion but then leaving it to cook in the sauce with the celery rather than removing to add back later.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
  • 3 oz pancetta or perhaps 2oz chorizo, cut into 1" matchsticks
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut in half, cored, and very thinly sliced
  • 2 lb celery stalks, trimmed and diagonally cut into 2" lenghts
  • ¾ cup whole, peeled canned tomatoes with juice, crushed by hand or a combination of tomato purée and juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Method
Put pancetta in a 6-qt. saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until its fat renders, about 12 minutes. (If the pancetta begins to brown too fast, reduce the heat to medium-low.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to paper towels to drain, and set aside.
If using chorizo, just fry it up after frying the onion and then leave it in the pan.
Add the olive oil to the pan, and return to medium-high heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and light brown, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, tomatoes, and ¼ cup water, and season with salt and pepper.
Fry the tomato purée a little after the onion if using before adding the tomato juice.
Cover pan with lid, and cook, stirring occasionally adding additional water if necessary, until celery is very tender, about 1½ hours.

Divide the celery with its juices between serving bowls, and sprinkle with the reserved pancetta. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Rather tasty: it is amazing how soft and silky the celery becomes, but be sure to cook it for long enough to dissolve the stringy parts. Taste a few different pieces to be certain - they tend to have varying degrees of stringyness.

Makes an excellent foil for a strata.
Muck and Brass and Curry
Muck

The rather picturesque Wee Isles off the south of Skye consist of Muck and Brass, Eigg and Chips, Rum and Coke, and Canna [insert your own joke here]. I visited while working my way through a series of curries. Or at least I started with Muck, and then the wind came and then the rain came. So that's as far as I got for a while. Scottish summer eh?

Bit of a funny old place, Muck. Incredibly busy when I was there, but I suspect populated almost entirely by visitors. As far as I saw there was a tea room, but not a single shop.
Very pretty views though.

Palak Murgh
Spinach and Chicken Curry
main fowl curry
I adapted Maunika Gowardhan's recipe by adjusting the spices and adding some lime pickle. I might be inclined to try it without the pickle next time though :)

I had only 500g of spinach, but frankly more would have been better - perhaps double.

Serves 6

Ingredients
  • 1 medium chicken, jointed
  • 500g spinach
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • a stick of cassia or cinnamon
  • 8 cardamoms
  • 2 largish onions, puréed
  • 2" piece of ginger, peeled puréed
  • a head of garlic, peeled, puréed
  • 2 tbsps tomato purée
  • a few tablespoons of thick cream

  • For the Marinade:
  • 300g yoghurt
  • 2-4 teaspoons lime pickle
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsps coriander seeds, coarsely crushed

  • Options for Garnish:
  • a handful of dried fenugreek leaves, crushed (kasoori methi)
  • slivers of ginger
  • small bunch coriander, chopped
  • dry-roasted cashew nuts
Method
Roughly grind the coriander seeds in a mortar. Mix into the yoghurt with the other marinade ingredients: lime pickle, salt, turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala. Joint the chicken into 8 pieces (breasts, thighs, legs, wings), leaving the skin on. Deeply score the pieces and mix with the marinade. Leave in the fridge overnight.

Set aside a handful or two of spinach (for texture) later. Blanche the rest of the spinach in boiling water for a few seconds then drain, and purée.
Purée the onion, and then the garlic and the ginger together, reserving a few slices of ginger cut into slivers for garnish.

Heat a generous quantity of ghee or oil in a large pan and fry the bay leaves, cassia and cardamoms until they fizz, then taking a few pieces of chicken at a time, scrape off excess marinade and fry them until lightly browned and set aside. Do this in batches until all the chicken is done. Scrape out the bits and spices from the pan and add to the chicken.
This will be a long, slow process generating a lot of spitting and burning. But if you want to leave the skin on, without it ending up too pale and fatty it seems necessary.
The alternative would be to skin the chicken, and then just fry up the marinated pieces after the onion, garlic and ginger without looking for much browning.
Reheat the oil, adding more if necessary, and fry the onion paste until cooked and the oil beginning to separate, then add the garlic and ginger paste and fry until it too smells cooked and the oil separates.
Stir in the tomato paste and cook again until the bitter smell cooks off and the oil separates.
Scrape in the leftover marinade and stir well, then add back the chicken, bring to a simmer (add a little liquid if too dry), cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is tender.
Add the spinach purée, the handful of chopped spinach and cook through, season to taste, then stir through a swirl of cream.

Garnish with crushed dried fenugreek leaves, ginger slivers, coriander leaves and/or toasted cashew nuts. As you like.
Serve with rice or chapatis and more lime pickle on the side.
Not too dusty.
The lime pickle adds a nice hint of citrus zestiness, but don't overdo it.
Feel free to pep it up with some sliced green chillies though.

Cauliflower, Potato and Pea Curry
veg main curry
I combined a number of similar yoghurty cauliflower curry recipes and incorporated the potatoes and peas I had to hand.

Serves 6

Ingredients
  • 2 tsps panch poran
  • ½-1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 500g potato, cubed
  • 1 cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 2 tsps ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger maybe?
  • salt
  • 2 tsps dried fenugreek leaves, crushed
  • 4 chopped tomatoes
  • a few tablespoons of yoghurt
  • 500g peas
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • bunch fresh coriander
Method
Heat oil or ghee in a large pan.
Fry the panch poran and the chilli flakes until they pop and release their aroma.
Add the potato cubes and fry to colour.
Add the cauliflower florets and fry to colour.
Throw in the ground spices (except the garam masala) and the salt and fry, stirring to prevent burning the spices, until the oil begins to separate.
Add the dried fenugreek leaves and the chopped tomatoes. Cover and cook until the tomatoes collapse.
Add the peas and warm through (if frozen) or cook until tender (if fresh).
Stir in yoghurt and heat through.
Serve dressed with a sprinkling of garam masala and coriander leaves.
S'alright. Like all the other yoghurt-based cauliflower curries :)

Green Beans Curry with Coconut
veg vegan curry side
I had a go at currying a bag of reduced-price green beans.
To go with the other curries I had on the go.
The results weren't too awful.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 250g green beans, sectioned
  • oil or ghee for frying
  • 1 tsp onion seeds
  • 2" ginger root, minced
  • 6 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 2 tbsps coconut milk powder

  • Spices:
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsps ground coriander
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1½ tsps ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
Method
Top and tail the green beans, then cut them into 2" sections.
Heat oil or ghee in a saucepan until shimmering, add the onion seeds and fry until they fizz and pop.
Peel and mince the ginger and add to the pan, frying until it colours.
Peel the garlic, slice thinly lengthwise and add to the pan, frying until it begins to colour.
Mix the ground spices and salt with enough water to make a thick paste and add to the pan, fry until the harsh aroma has cooked off and oil begins to separate.
Add the chopped tomato and stir through.
Add the green beans and stir through.
Mix the coconut water with enough hot water to make a thin paste then add to the pan. Mix thoroughly, adding more water if necessary and cook until the beans are tender.
A perfectly acceptable, if slightly underwhelming, mild curry.
GastrObanomy
Harmony off the Brandystone, Oban

A big shout-out to those who took up my invitation to catch up in Oban (hi Rosy!).
And a boo-hiss to those who promised to do so but failed - you know who you are, Callum.
I even bumped into old sailing colleagues unexpectedly, which was a bonus.
Rosy's dad John the fashion model has a mooring off the Brandystone (somewhat unmaintained and weighed down with loch life, it must be said) and she was kind enough to loan it to me for a few days on his behalf (thanks Rosy). Mind you, I'm still waiting for his seafood chowder recipe.

Anyway what with the proximity of Ogden's fine seafood stall (no anchovy paste though - what the hell?) and various well-provisioned Local Fucking Supermarkets™ (also no anchovy paste) I was able to roll up a breast of lamb with oysters for a nicely lubricated Dinner with Rosy and concoct a few other bits of surprisingly haute cuisine.
For living on a boat.

I moved across to the marina on Kerrera for a few days after to take advantage of the electricity and the WiFi (they give good WiFi, as long as you pick a berth next to the transmitter) and use up some of my precious anchovy paste that I hadn't been able to replace in Oban.
Mostly, and slightly oddly, in recipes involving cauliflower...

Off the Sauce
Lagavulin Distillery
Oyster Sauce

My pilotage book describes Loch Tarbert on Jura as The wildest and most remote loch south of Ardnamurchan and the Inner Loch is currently providing me with a welcome respite from some fiersome Atlantic storms, and from the heavy whisky lunches of the distilleries of Islay. Though sadly not from this bottle of oyster sauce so far out-of-date as to demand being used up now, now, now!

Port Ellen on Islay, in whose small marina I was previously berthed, sits at the head of a 4-mile whisky trail linking three of the island's current impressive total of eight whisky distilleries - Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.
I recommend the whisky tasting tour at the Lagavulin distillery, though I doubt you'll get the treatment I did. True story:

Usually their tours are booked up, especially over Easter it seems, but when I turned up for an introduction to whisky making at Lagavulin and the promise of three drams at the end (for a three-dram price) the day after booking it I was still the only guest. So after a very informative stroll around the factory, my guide and I repaired to their tasting room and she brought out the three tasting bottles, poured me three measures, one in the glass I was to be allowed to keep, bored herself dry telling me all about their various ages and characters and left me to finish them off alone with the invitation to take my time.
Left me with the drams.
And left me with the tasting bottles.
So I tasted all three, then poured myself another. Looked round, poured myself another. And I kept on pouring myself taster measures until I physically couldn't drink any more whisky without being sick, staggered outside back to the whisky trail and found a bench to relax on for a couple of hours. Much to the amusement of passing fellow enthusiasts.
Best. Tour. Ever.

Pinned down here in Loch Tarbert I'm now rapidly running out of palatable alcohol, and since you really shouldn't give up the drink all at once, I've invented a new cocktail to keep me going - Tequila (well, Mezcal) and Bitter Lemon. It ain't half bad, though I say so myself.
Cheers!


Pork and Cabbage in Oyster Sauce
meat main oriental
So I've had this bottle of Gold Plum Premium Oyster Sauce in my boat locker since I set sail, and since it expired in 2014 I figured it was time to use it. I wonder if it always used to be this thick?

A couple of glugs of Vermouth goes surprisingly well too. Feel free to thicken the sauce with some cornflour mixed into cold water, if it seems a little thin.

Serves 8

Ingredients
  • 1.25kg boned pork shoulder, skinned, cubed
  • lard or olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, cut into wedges
  • a head of garlic
  • half a dozen fist-sized potatoes, scrubbed, quartered
  • 1-2 cups of Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine) or sherry
  • 1-2 cups bottled oyster sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • juice of a lemon or lime
  • 1-2 tablespoons mild chilli sauce or chilli bean paste
  • ½ savoy cabbage, de-stalked, sliced
Method
Remove skin (and bone if necessary) from the pork, cut into hefty 1" cubes. Heat lard or olive oil in a large casserole. Brown the pork in batches as necessary to avoid overfilling the pan. Set aside and season with a little salt and generous grinding of mixed peppercorns.

Cut the onions into wedges, keeping the wedges joined at the root. Add more lard to the pot if necessary. Fry the onions over high heat until caramelised at the edges. Add to the meat.

Peel a head of garlic, halving any large cloves, fry until beginning to brown, add to the meat. You can do this by adding them towards the end of the cooking time of the meat or onion.

Add a little more lard to the pot of necessary. Scrub the potatoes, quarter and fry a little in the casserole, then add a cup or two of Chinese rice wine or sherry. Allow to bubble up and scrape the bottom to dissolve all the browned crusts.

Add back the reserved meat, garlic and onions to the casserole on top of the potato (don't stir). Pour in 1 or 2 cups of oyster sauce, a few tablespoons of soy sauce, the juice of a lemon or lime, a couple of tablespoons of mild hot sauce (to taste) I used some Frank's Hot Sauce, but any chilli sauce such as Sriracha would work, or chilli bean paste even better. Add a little water or stock or Vermouth! to come two-thirds of the way up the pan, cover and simmer for 45 minutes until the meat is tender.

Halve a savoy cabbage, wash the outer leaves and remove any thick stalks. Slice the half cabbage not too thinly - about 1cm thick. Lay on top of the meat in the casserole, re-cover, simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the cabbage is just cooked.

Serve with rice or couscous.
Excellent.
I recommend a decently matured Oyster Sauce.

Potatoes Boulangere Orientale
fish staple
The last dish in my quest to use up my out-of-date oyster sauce. It turned out rather delicious, but very strongly flavoured. I have no idea what to recommend you eat it with.

Serves 6

Ingredients
  • 2 kg waxy potatoes, sliced ¼"
  • 2 large onions, sliced thinly
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • ½-1 cup oyster sauce
  • 1-2 cups Vermouth
  • butter
  • hazelnut oil
  • salt & ground mixed peppercorns
Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Press, puré or thinly slice the garlic.
Peel the potatoes or not, as you like. Slice the potatoes evenly and thickly - about ¼". Simmer 5-10 minutes until just cooked and changing colour, but still firm. Drain, set aside.
Slice the onions very thinly and fry slowly in a generous amount of butter until evenly caramalized. Deglaze the pot with Vermouth.

Pour a puddle of hazelnut oil into a casserole dish, and line with a third of the potatoes. Drizzle over more hazelnut oil. Season with ground mixed peppercorns and a little salt. Smush half the onions on top and spread over half the garlic.

Repeat with another layer of potato, then onion and garlic, then a final layer of seasoned potato.
Loosen the oyster sauce with Vermouth and pour over to almost cover the potato. Drizzle with hazelnut oil.

Bake for 1-1½ hours until crisped on top and easily penetrated with knife. Cover if the top begins to burn before the potato is tender.
Rather nice. The flavour is pretty intense though. Almost a meal in itself!

'Twixt the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
The deep blue sea

It was time to return to scenic Greenock and my wee yacht Harmony. Before Kurt kicked me out.

Fortunately, between Bradford and the mud-green sea of the Clyde was Sam Peckers 50th birthday - she of Dufour charter fame.
The deal was fancy dress beginning with "S", so avoiding the obvious Sailor trap, and dodging being a giant Shit about it, it came down to a toss up between Stan, Satan's drunker younger brother, or a Sausage.
It was the devil costume's red muscle chest that really clinched it for me though.

A drunk time was had by all (HAPPY BIRTHDAY SAM!) - I really hope you got all that red facepaint cleaned off the furnishings!

It's been something of a cookery dessert, er desert in Bradford since Christmas though. I roasted up some of Angela's pork and I used the tub of ricotta cheese I had bought to try in our Christmas starters, which Kurt mysteriously stored in the freezer, to make a Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne. But I spared Kurt the blue cheese, since he hates it, and I'd already made him eat those stilton panna cottas.
I didn't even get around to trialling things to do with all the tapioca flour I brought off the boat. It's all back aboard now, sigh - a project for another day I guess.
In the end I stayed in Bradford just long enough to finish off the Christmas baking (2 months - maybe I overdid the mince pies?) good job the stuff keeps :)

I've paid for berthing fees in James Watt Dock marina, Greenock up until the end of March, after which their rates start to rise quite steeply, so I'll need to be sailing on in early April, weather permitting. Just time for a bit of boat maintenance, and to decide whether to sail back out around the Kintyre peninsula, or cut up through the Crinan canal, saving about 100 miles but meaning I would miss out on Islay and Jura.
And that's nine whisky distilleries right there!

Angela's Slow Roasted Ginger Pork
meat main
Though I made this with a 1kg piece of rolled pork leg, and used lime juice rather than vinegar, the result was quite good - if slightly overcooked (it's the way Kurt likes it!).
Substitute ginger powder if you have no fresh, and you can add a touch of cinnamon powder to the paste too if you like, which imparts a quite novel flavour. Careful not to overdo it though.

Keep some of the glazing paste to smear over for the last high temperature roasting.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
  • 1 shoulder of pork weighing approximately 4kg/8lb 2oz skin scored
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4cm/1½inch piece fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp white wine vinegar
Method
Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas mark 7.

Place the pork skin-side up on a rack over a roasting tin. Put a little water in the tin to prevent initial burning. If you have no rack you can lift the joint out of the tin slightly with a layer of sliced vegetables - onion, carrot, etc. Place the garlic and ginger in a pestle and mortar or food processor and pound or process until you get a rough paste then mix in the oil and vinegar. Season the paste well. Rub about half the paste all over the scored skin of the pork. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove the pork from the oven, reduce the temperature to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2. Turn the pork over with the skin side down on the rack and return to the oven and cook for 4-5 hours.
Much less for a smaller joint - say 20-30 minutes/lb. I'm also unsure about the turning considering how the rack will scrape away the glaze, but as you like...
Remove from the oven and turn up to the highest setting 220°C/425°F/Gas 7.
Turn the pork over to the crackling side on the rack smear the joint with the rest of the paste and roast in the hot oven for the final 20 minutes to crisp up the crackling. Leave to stand for 10-15 minutes before carving.

To serve, cut away the crackling with a sharp knife and break it up into pieces then carve the meat. It should be very tender and succulent.
Good luck getting the crackling to crackle, but the rest will taste good. I'd be inclined to cut the skin off from the very start and rub the paste into the fat.
Hmmmm, delicious fat.

Slow Roast Potatoes in Olive Oil
side staple veg vegan
I recall first cooking these when I lived with my mad Scottish girlfriend Karen McLoony in a flat in Morningside, Edinburgh. The place was owned by a restaurateur and had a particularly well-equipped kitchen. In fact I suspect it was he who suggested cooking roast potatoes this way.
You don't parboil the potatoes first, nor do you even need to peel them (though they then have a tendency to become slightly leathery) - just cook them long and slowly in olive oil. You can flavour the oil with garlic or herbs of your choice - rosemary, thyme or sage will work well.

Unlike regular roasties you don't need to use a floury variety; they won't come out crispy, but they have bags of flavour, a juicy texture, and aren't particularly sensitive to oven temperature.

Ingredients
  • potatoes, preferably waxy
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • garlic or sturdy herbs of choice (rosemary, thyme, sage...)
Method
Peel the potatoes, or just scrub them if you prefer, cut into a uniform (around golf-ball) size and lay in a single layer in an oven tray. Tuck in peeled garlic cloves and a bunch of herbs if you like, give a good grating of salt & pepper and pour over olive oil until it comes at least half way up the potatoes.
Roast at a low or moderate temperature until you can easily pierce the potatoes with a knife.
Greasy but delicious.
How long they take depends entirely on the oven temperature. If you cook them at Gas 6-7 they'll actually just turn out like badly roast potatoes, crisping and burning outside before cooking through while any garlic will be incinerated. So don't do that.
Around Gas Mark 4 though - they'll be ready in 2-3 hours, or you can leave them overnight in a low oven.
A Very Panna Cotta Christmas
A very Panna Cotta Christmas

A very successful Christmas dinner this year - possibly our best yet. Everything was ready on time (well, at the same time) and we managed not to burn any of it! Now if I can only find that perfect starter...

As is now traditional, Flora joined Kurt, myself and his delightful children for the Big Day. Though this year she arrived sans oysters. Tut. We just had to make do with extra rounds of bloody marys instead. The pain!
She did make up for it by not forcing me outside for a walk through the woods to the pub on Boxing Day this year - I suspect she was just too hungover. Which meant I didn't get out of my pyjamas for a whole month. Much to Kurt's neighbours discomfort. Well really - what else is Christmas for?

Things we got right this year:
  • When the goose is cooked to your brother's satisfaction remove it from the Gas Mark 3 oven, cover thoroughly in tin foil, and leave in a warm place. It will keep its heat for a good hour, which means you can now fill the oven with potatoes and parsnips to roast perfectly at their preferred high temperature without burning the goose to a cinder.
  • You should also use the time to scoop the stuffing out of the goose into an oven dish to give it a lovely crunchy finish on the bottom shelf.
  • Just six hours from kickoff to chowdown for our 6kg goose.
  • We wisely decided, despite my careful warm-up exercises, not to attempt anything more demanding with the sprouts than steaming them. So they came out quite edible. If dull.
Back to my cold, damp boat now I suppose. Sigh.
Roll on next Christmas.


Stilton Panna Cotta with Balsamic Glaze
starter veg
Following the failure of my jerusalem artichoke soup to impress, I decided to go with blue cheese panna cottas for this year's starter.
Stilton seemed appropriately Christmassy, though other softer blue cheeses are also available. And perhaps preferable!

The flavour is pretty intense - so ideally you want to make them quite small, perhaps about the size of an egg cup. Feel free to play with the proportions of cheese to cream. I had the idea of incorporating ricotta into the mix too, but I didn't like the resulting graininess.

A tablespoon of powdered gelatin (one packet), equivalent to 4 gelatin sheets, should be enough to soft-set 1 pint of liquid. Meaning 1 sheet should set 120ml, so I figured that 1½ sheets should be good to set 180ml, leaving ¼ sheet for the glaze.

Makes 180ml - about 3 egg cups.

Ingredients

  • For the Panna Cotta:
  • 1½ sheets gelatine
  • about 130ml of cream
  • 50g stilton
  • sugar to taste

  • For the Glaze:
  • ¼ sheet of gelatine
  • 1 tblsp of (brown) sugar
  • 1 tblsp of port
  • 2 tblsps of balsamic vinegar
Method
Set the gelatine sheets to soften in cold water. Squeeze them out before using.

Put the sugar, port and balsamic vinegar in a small pan and simmer until reduced by about half, then add about ¼ sheet of gelatine and stir to dissolve.
Pour this into the bottom of your egg cup, ramekin, or other mould.

Mash the stilton with a fork. Bring the cream almost to a simmer, stir in 1½ sheets gelatine until they dissolve, then blend in the stilton. Add a little sugar if you like.
Allow to cool off before carefully filling your mould without disturbing the balsamic glaze too much a little mixing is fine - the cream should float on top anyway.
Put in the fridge to set.

To serve: dip the mould briefly in boiling water to loosen, then turn out onto a plate. Serve with a small salad, and perhaps some figs or pear slices.
I rather liked them, but fair to say they weren't popular with the Philistine Family. They were also a bit on the massive side - about the disturbing size and shape of a pork pie, due to the limited range of moulds on offer. Still better than last year's starter though :)
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