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Curries To Bradford
Another of Flora's birthday parties

Like shipping coals to Newcastle, no one delivers curries to Bradford. But they bring them from there.
I had a familial visit recently, and they obliged by restocking my freezer's Spicey Cottage curry collection.

They insisted I cook them a proper meal, apparently those camping spaghetti bologneses don't count, so I took the opportunity to use up one of my frozen haggii, and do them a nice Burns Supper.
We kicked off with the oysters left over from Flora's birthday party the previous day. Happy 30th Flora!
I processed up some breadcrumbs with garlic, red onion and parsley, drizzled in enough melted butter to start them clumping then topped the oysters for grilling à les Halles.

During our scenic amble up the Water of Leith to visit Mary King's Close we had come across a profusion of wild garlic, so I picked a carrier bag full. Though they'd mostly gone to stalks and seeds leaving none of their usual salad-like leaves, they still smelled plenty garlicky and I managed to turn them into some quite tasty wild garlic tatties by chopping the stalks then simmering them briefly in a mixture of milk and cream to soften them up before mashing them into the baked potatoes. They went well with the traditional neeps (with carrots and Grand Marnier), and Drambuie sauce.
You can reheat your frozen haggis the way you made it in the first place:
Let it thaw out thoroughly first. Then bring a large pot of water to the boil, and turn off the heat. Ease the haggis into the pot, turn the heat back on and bring the water up to 98°C no hotter and then turn the heat off.
Now it's un-split and ready to eat when you are.

To finish off I made up a very Scottish raspberry cranachan. Can't believe I haven't made this before. Or maybe I have and just forgot to write about it. We rounded off the evening with far too many games of Pandemic and a good time was had by all.
At least I hope it was?

I've still got a lot of food to use up before I take to the seas in my beautiful pea-sized boat, so after they left I made a couple of curries to celebrate. After all, I wouldn't want to use up the last of my Spicey Cottages prematurely now, would I?

You get to choose your preferred type of oatmeal - pinhead is nice and crunchy, but you can use rolled if you prefer. Best not to use too smoky a whisky.

Serves 4

  • 75g oatmeal
  • 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 250g raspberries
  • 500ml crowdie or double cream
  • 4 tbsp honey, plus a little extra to drizzle
  • 4 tbsp whisky
Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the oatmeal and sugar and toast, stirring until the sugar has melted and the oatmeal smells toasty. Tip on to a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, puree 175g of the raspberries until smooth, then pass through a sieve (if you want to be fancy).

Whip the cream to stiffish peaks, then fold in the honey and whisky. Crumble the oatmeal and add three quarters of it to the cream with the puree to give a ripple effect.

Spoon into four dishes and top with the remaining raspberries, oatmeal and a drizzle of honey. Serve immediately.
A fine dessert, if a bit on the stodgy side, but hey - it's Scottish ;)

I Resign

To whom it may concern.

Since purchasing a small yacht, Harmony (a Hunter Legend 306) it's my intention to spend some considerable time on her sailing around the British Isles, and perhaps beyond.

Accordingly I'm now giving you 3 month's notice of my intention to leave PlebBox.

I'm grateful for the decade of work and experience Darxtar and PlebBox have provided me, and will of course render all possible assistance in preparing for my departure and organising my replacement.

... Karl Sourville
Random Meat

Another day, another meat dish. Or two.

I fed Flora cassoulet, in return for her generous gift of Kraky The Octopus - my new boat mascot. Did I mention I have a new boat?
Then she made a ginger cake from a kit. A kit. I didn't even know there were kits for cakes. She took the cake to work for her students to feast on, but that didn't stop her enjoying the icing.

If you have an enormous vat of cooked cassoulet and only want to heat up a single portion you can do worse than decanting some into a smaller pot, topping with a fresh batch of crispy breadcrumbs and baking that for a half hour at Gas Mark 5.

Have some random meat.

A meaty duck (or chicken) stew
main meat fowl stew
I had to make this to use up all the lovely stock I juiced out of my Christmas goose.
Had to - this being the end of February and all!
I also substituted my Christmas goose fat for the recipe's traditional duck.

A cassoulet is just a way the Gascons have of using up their preserved winter meats, so would usually contain duck (or goose!) confit, salt or cured pork, dried beans and possibly cured ham. Feel free to substitute what meat you like, I couldn't get any salt pork so I just used a (skinless) chunk of belly pork and some hunks of mildly smoked pancetta.
If you had a ham hock you might cook it with the beans then add the stripped meat to the stew.
You can shred the duck meat or add the pieces whole - but I actually went with chicken pieces (4 thighs and 3 drumsticks - a bit much really) which take on the lovely meaty flavours really well.
Smallish white beans seem to work best such as haricot or cannellini.
Locals would use a fresh garlicky Toulouse sausage, but I found a cooked Polish garlic sausage worked reasonably well, cut into chunks before frying.

A propercassoulet should also develop a delicious crust as it cooks - and you might want to enhance this with a layer of breadcrumbs. Either way you're supposed to stir the crust back in to the beans seven times to thicken it during cooking, but I thought twice was enough!
Felicity suggests drizzling the crusty stew with walnut oil to serve, but I found that a sprinkling of sherry vinegar more effectively highlights the flavours. Save the walnut oil for the salad.
You can do the final cooking in a slow cooker, but with a lid on you're not going to get the same crust development - even if it otherwise probably tastes just as good.

The secret to this (particularly un-breadcrumbed) crust is a good gelatinous stock. So if you haven't made your own which adopts a nice jelly-like consistency when reduced and cooled, then you'll need to add some gelatine to achieve the same effect.

This ridiculously meaty stew goes down well with crusty bread and perhaps a sharply-dressed green salad. Possibly one with gherkins or other pickles in it.
And red wine :)

Serves 6-8

  • 1 pound dried cannellini beans
  • 1 large onion, peeled, quartered
  • 2 carrots, washed, cut into 3-inch sections
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 3-inch sections
  • 1 whole head garlic plus 6 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sprigs of thyme
  • sprigs of parsley
  • 2 pints of good strong homemade chicken stock or goose!
  • or
  • 2 pints shitty commercial chicken stock with 2 packets (¾oz/20g/4tsp) unflavored gelatin
  • 6 tablespoons duck fat or goose!
  • 1 small, unsmoked ham hock, skin on optional
  • ½ pound or more! salt or belly pork cut into 1" cubes
  • ½ pound pancetta cut into 1" cubes
  • 6 pieces of chicken thighs and drumsticks, or 3 whole chicken leg quarters separated
  • or
  • 3 confit duck legs and their fat
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound garlicky Toulouse sausage (2 to 4 links depending on size) or other garlic sausage
  • a dozen small onions (about 300g)
  • couple of cloves optional
  • 2 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste 120g

  • For the (optional) topping:
  • 4 oz white breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp walnut oil or what about a drizzling of sherry vinegar?
  • good bunch of curly parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons duck fat
Cover the beans with water in a large bowl, add a pinch or two of bicarbonate of soda (to soften) and leave to soak overnight.

Place the stock in a large liquid measuring cup and sprinkle gelatin over the top if using. Set aside.
Peel the large onion and cut into quarters, held together by the root. Peel the small onions. Cut the carrot and celery into manageable pieces.
Drain the beans well and put in a large pan, cover with an inch of water then add the large onion, whole head of garlic, carrot, celery, the herbs, the ham hock if using and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam which rises (keep doing this until it stops), then cover and simmer gently for about 1½-2 hours until the beans are tender but not falling apart.
Allow to cool and drain (if very wet) retaining the cooking water, strip the meat from the ham hock, if using, and retain to add to the other browned meat, discard the vegetables, and herbs but squeeze the cooked garlic cloves from their skins, and set aside.
Crush the fresh garlic cloves with a little salt and a couple of cloves if you like to a paste, then mash in the reserved cooked garlic, 4 tablespoons of the duck fat and the sun-dried tomato paste.

Now cook the meats and onions in batches; avoid overloading the pan for each round - you may need to cook each ingredient in 2 or 3 steps. Make sure there's enough, but not too much fat in the casserole at each stage:

Heat a couple of tablespoons of duck or goose fat or a little oil in a large casserole over high heat until shimmering. Add salt or belly pork and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
Add pancetta chunks and cook, turning occasionally until browned all over. Transfer to the bowl with the pork.

Season chicken pieces (or the confit duck) with pepper (do not add salt) and place skin side-down in the casserole. Cook without moving until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip chicken pieces and continue cooking until lightly browned on second side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to bowl with pork.

Fry fresh garlic sausage whole, then cut into chunks afterwards, otherwise cut pre-cooked or cured garlic sausage into large chunks first. Add sausage to pan and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on both sides. Transfer to bowl with pork and chicken. If you want to, keep some slices of fresh sausage to use as a topping with the breadcrumbs..

Add whole, peeled, small onions to pot and cook over a lower heat, turning occasionally until golden and softening, about 10 minutes. Set aside with the meat. Drain excess fat from the pan.
Preheat the oven to 140°C/275°F/gas mark 1 or a little hotter - you need to get the breadcrumbs crusting up if using.

Over a low heat, grease the bottom of the casserole with the fatty garlic and tomato paste, then tip in the beans, the rest of the garlic paste and the meat. Stir, then top with the pieces of chicken skin-side up. Add enough stock and reserved bean water to just cover the beans.
Transfer to oven and cook, uncovered, until a thin crust forms on top, about 2 hours, adding more water by pouring it carefully down the side of the pot as necessary to keep beans mostly covered. Check for salt, but it will probably already be plenty salted from the meat.
If you like you can augment the crust with some breadcrumbs:
Mix the breadcrumbs with some chopped parsley (if you like), stir in a tablespoon or so of duck fat, then fry for a few minutes until they shrink and start to colour a little. Top the cassoulet with a thin layer of them, scatter over any reserved sausage slices, and bake for about two hours, keeping an eye on it - once a crust has formed, stir this back into the cassoulet, and top with some more of the breadcrumbs. By the end of the cooking time, you should have a thick, golden crust.
Drizzle with a little walnut oil or sherry vinegar!, and leave to cool slightly before serving.
A supremely good stew, but it is very meaty. And very, very, very filling. And more than a little flatulent.

We ate it with a salad of mixed green leaves, sliced gherkins, sliced red onions, chopped parsley, and a walnut oil and sherry vinegar dressing, which I thought was an excellent accompaniment.
Also, rather than Felicity Cloake's walnut oil topping, I prefer a sprinkling of sherry vinegar across the top of the stew - it really helps bring out the flavours.

Leftover Meat Stew
meat stew
main meat stew
This random stew made with all the meat left over from one of our sailing cruises was surprisingly tasty really. I think the pomegranate gives it an interesting kick.
You can make your own molasses by reducing pomegranate juice until it thickens to a syrup.

If you have acquired some Linie - the second-worst aquavit in the world - then here's a good opportunity to use some up. Coincidentally Norway's neighbour Iceland makes Brennvin a.k.a. svarti dauði, the Black Death - a caraway flavoured potato mash distillate, and the very worst aquavit in the world.

Serves a Ship

  • 2 star anise
  • 6 cloves
  • about 1kg loin chops
  • 500g gammon steaks
  • 2 carrots
  • ½ head celery
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2" ginger, in fat slices
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • glass of Norwegian Linie Aquavit
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 4 small beetroot, peeled, chopped
  • one orange and one green bell pepper I think, seeded, chopped
  • a few fresh runner beans, sliced
  • 2 handfuls butter beans, soaked
  • 2 handfuls flageolet beans, soaked
  • 2 potatoes, peeled, chopped
  • 10 prunes
  • salt & pepper

  • To Serve:
  • some pomegranate salad dressing with sliced red onion
Soak your choice of beans overnight (those above are suggestions only - it's your leftovers after all).
Heat some oil and fry the whole spices until they release their fragrance.
Fry up the meat to brown it and set aside.
Fry the onions until glassy, then add the celery, then the garlic.
Degrease the pan with a glass of Linie since you have more than a bottle of the stuff to get through! Add the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil, season and simmer until the vegetables are cooked.

Serve with a dollop of red onions marinated in pomegranate salad dressing.
Rather tasty - it freezes pretty well too.
An excellent way to reheat and serve it is to put it in a lidded casserole dish, lubricated with some beer and studded with a few parsley dumplings, and bake at Gas Mark 3 for an hour.
'Orrible Oysters, Poisoned Poussins or the Salmonella Salad?
Orrible Oysters

Flora's sister's partner Ferran does good business at parties and soirées as OYSTERMAN; his oyster-shucking performance alter-ego.
This means that every so often Flora mysteriously acquires sacks of well-sourced, but surplus-to-requirements oysters which arrive wrapped in soggy newspaper and need eating like immediately.

Monday was just such an immediate occasion, so I hustled over to help eat at least a score of oysters, and a couple of poussins which Flora wanted to use trying out a barbecue recipe she'd found online (she seems to have a thing for small birds does Flora). To be served with a red cabbage salad.
I brought the red cabbage.

We scarfed down the oysters with a selection of tempting (and wholesome) dressings - vinegar, lemon juice, vodka or perhaps it was gin?, though sadly no Tabasco, and I must have got through a dozen at least. Every one plump, delicious, firmly closed and swimming in plenty of its natural juices. All the signs of a good oyster.

Not having a broom handle to barbecue the poisons on, nor a barbecue, we roast them in the oven suspended by a bundle of soaked bamboo skewers.
Well roast too, I might add - their succulent cooked juices running perfectly clear.
Juices which delightfully complement a red cabbage salad whose only questionable component is the raw egg yolk emulsifying its dressing.
A super-fresh egg from a free-range local flock in Fife, moreover.

I tell you all of this because I want it to be clear that there was no obvious reason why I would have to leave work on Wednesday morning, a full 36 hours later, crippled by nausea and stomach cramps, to spend the next two days enjoying bouts of spectacular diarrhoea and occasional vomiting.
I finally got back to work on Friday, having shat myself only three times during the preceding 24 hours.

I figured with the symptoms and the incubation period it was most likely a norovirus infection from the oysters not uncommon, apparently - even among the best oysters, and the best restaurants but I was lucky enough to still have surplus poison and salmonella-dressed-salad in the fridge. So I was able to find out for sure by dining on the leftovers, once I'd sufficiently recovered my guts of course.
To no ill effect.

The 'Orrible Oysters - case closed!

Lemongrass Poussin
barbecued chicken
fowl main
James Martin cooks his birds strung on a broom handle over a barbecue, and I'm sure the recipe is ideally suited to that, but it's not the only way you can roast these critters.

Flora and I cooked these in a 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5 oven for about 40 minutes (we used a half-dozen soaked bamboo skewers to hold the poisons suspended over a deep casserole dish) and they were still very good. In fact, maybe they were better 'cos you get to pour all the delicious delicious juices collected by the dish over your red cabbage salad. Hmmm. Delicious.

Incidentally, the marinade is very good for smaller chicken pieces which can be left in it for days before roasting for 30 minutes at Gas Mark 6 on an oven tray (to catch all their delicious juices).
Or skewered over a barbecue, probably.

Serves 4

  • 2 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves removed, inner core finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 red chillies, finely chopped
  • 5cm/2in piece fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 limes, juice only
  • 50ml/2 fl oz vegetable oil or a little more
  • 4 poussins
  • red cabbage salad
Soak a large, unvarnished wooden stick (like a broom handle) suitable for cooking, in cold water, preferably overnight.

Light the barbecue and allow the flames to flare up and die down, until the coals are glowing red and starting to turn white.

In a bowl, mix together the lemongrass, coriander, garlic, chillies, ginger and lime juice until well combined. Stir in the vegetable oil, then add the poussin and turn to coat them in the marinade, scooping some inside each, too.

When the barbecue is ready, slide the poussins onto the stick, securing them with string.

Set the stick about 30cm/12in above the barbecue coals and cook for 30-35 minutes (depending on their size), turning every so often, until the poussins are completely cooked through and no trace of pink remains when the thigh meat is pierced in its thickest part with a skewer.

Serve the poussins whole with a pile of red-cabbage salad alongside.
The poisons are very tasty and fun to make. Even if you don't have a barbecue!

Red Cabbage Salad
salad veg
So first of all, you won't have any walnut vinegar, and you won't find any either, unless you live in the Dordogne. You can throw some walnuts into vinegar to make your own if you like, but it will take months. I'd suggesting using sherry vinegar and adding some walnut oil instead, since you might be able to find that!

Serves 4

  • 1 free-range egg yolk
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp walnut vinegar Ha! You'll be lucky.
  • 100ml/3.5 fl oz water or less
  • 300ml/9 fl oz vegetable oil or less
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small red cabbage, root removed, leaves very finely sliced
To make the dressing whisk the egg yolk, Dijon mustard, walnut vinegar and water together in a bowl until combined. Gradually whisk in the vegetable oil I used a bit less than 250ml. Just add until you get a nice thick foam., whisking all the time, until emulsified.
Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place the red cabbage into a large bowl, then pour over 100ml/3fl oz of the dressing and mix well.

Nice with lemongrass poisons
You can keep leftover dressing for a week in a sealed container in the fridge, if you have any:
I used about 100ml of water, and a bit less than 250ml of oil (I just added it until I got a nice thick foam), and used all the dressing on the cabbage.
Christmas Crackers
Christmas Cracker

Another traditional family Christmas with all the trimmings for just the two of us - my brother and I.
And no, there's really nothing remotely sad about a couple of aging geezers spending Christmas alone together Rachel. Nothing at all.
Kurt's extended non-family came over to visit on Boxing day as usual when they got to eat our many leftovers, which is all for the best - Christmas Day is just wasted on the young.
Especially the starters.

I'd had a practice run at making Smoked Salmon and Avocado Terrines for a cosy yachty get-together at Anna's (of Corryvreckan fame) at which they were well received, and then another go (mostly using the leftovers) for Flora's crack at Christmas when she practiced roasting her seasonal guinea fowl.

I also tried out a new stuffing recipe there, which somewhat unexpectedly, turned out to be the perfect Christmas Goose stuffing. Who'd have thought after all those years of trying various increasingly exotic stuffing recipes, the perfect stuffing would be one of the simplest? Starting with a traditional Irish potato recipe pacé Darina Allen of the Ballymaloe Cookery School I eschewed bread completely, substituted leeks for the more common onion, tried then abandoned including the orange peel for adding a bit too much flavour, larded it with a slice of bacon, liquored her up with a splash of Grand Marnier et voilà, the perfect Sourville Family Christmas Stuffing.
For best results, scoop the perfect stuffing out of the perfectly cooked goose and bake it in a dish to crisp up while the bird rests.

What with all that practicing, I had the stuffing, er stuffed, and those starters whipped up and in the fridge so early Christmas Eve we actually had time on our hands. Unheard of! So we slipped out for Krampus: a traditional Christmas horror movie to put us in the mood.

This year I made extra, extra bacon - curing three kilo hunks and this time it probably was enough. On the other hand I really made an effort to cut down on the cheeses, intending only to buy those in which Kurt might take an interest, and some blue cheese for me. How I ended up with quite so much goat (English for chevre), is hard to say. Nor does it explain why we ate not one single bite of Christmas cheese. Not even the Gorgonzola. We didn't manage any Christmas cake either. Are these facts related and could either be a result of having too much bacon?

My Christmas cheeseboard for 2015, and a surprisingly large amount of 2016:
  • Pyrenees Chevre
    • A firm goat's cheese
  • Selles Sur Cher
    • A half soft goats cheese with mouldy rind
  • Golden Cross
    • Another soft Chevre
  • Gorgonzola
    • The beautiful Italian creamy blue cheese
  • Brie de Meaux
  • Rachel
    • A hard-hearted goat from Edinburgh Shepton Mallet
  • Vacherin Fribourgeois
    • A soft Swiss cow's milk cheese
Thank goodness then for tartiflette - that magnificent user-upper of leftover Christmas cheese. In the spirit of the season here's a recipe from the back of a postcard Flora sent me from her latest and much later - apologies timeline purists ;) skiing holiday in Serre Chevalier:
La Tartiflette
Pour 6 personnes: 1 kg de pommes de terre cuites coupées en tranches épaisses, 1 Reblochon, 20 cl de crème fraîche, sel, poivre, thym, laurier, 1 oignon, 1 gousse d'ail, 150g de lardons en dés.
potatoes, Reblochon, crème fraîche, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, onion, garlic, bacon Gratter la croûte du reblochon et la couper en lamelles. Faire revenir dans une sauteuse l'oignon et l'ail émincés ainsi que les lardons, le sel, poivre, thym, laurier. Disposer le tout dans un plat allant au four en alternant avec les pommes de terre et le reblochon. Cuire au four chaud 25 mn. Ajouter la crème fraîche 10 mn avant la fin de cuisson. Servir avec une salade vert, de la charcuterie de montagne et un bon vin blanc.

So Kurt and I shared our regular 10lb goose, which if I'm honest I slightly undercooked this year. Oh it passed the safe-temperature test, but the flesh was too pink and a tiny bit chewy. I should have done the proper thing and pierced the bird between the body and thigh to examine the clarity of its juices. Bah Humbug to these new-fangled kitchen aids. Still, as ever, no one got poisoned.

As usual we split the baking - I filled this year's mince pies with a homemeade but not-quite-traditional suet mincemeat, and had a go at Lemon Slices - another of Be·Ro's Christmas baking recipes that turned out not to be one of those Mum used to make :(
I even went to the trouble of making real lemon curd (it ain't that hard) to dress them with.
At least that turned out right.

I made the mistake of leaving Kurt in charge of preparing the potatoes for roasting, who conclusively demonstrated that you really can't overboil them. Despite simmering the absolute shit out of those spuds, until they were on the point of disintegrating, they went on to make the best roast potatoes we've ever had! On the other hand, it turns out that you can't use squeezed together bits of collapsed potatoes to construct your roasties - they just dissolve into a greasy mush.

The things we learned this year:
  • Boiling the shit out of your potatoes won't do your roasties any harm - it might even improve them!
  • An out-of-date gingerbread house kit is fun to build, but not to eat.
  • A meat thermometer is all very well but you really can't beat piercing your bird and watching her juices run the old-fashioned way.
  • Even a very restricted cheeseboard can be too much cheese.
  • It may be possible to have enough bacon.
  • The perfect Christmas goose stuffing.
A very merry Krampus to one and all!

A Pleasant Pheasant, Flora's Foody Fancies and a Crack at Christmas
A Pleasant Pheasant

Cooking is a bit like sex. Everyone thinks they can do it, but most people are just crap at it.

On an unrelated note Flora has come up with some ideas for food she fancies having. And possibly having me cook. It seems to involve a lot of fruit:

Flora's Fun Foody Fancies
  • Starter:
  • Main:
    • Fruit Curry - choose from mango/pineapple/lychee/coconut
    • papayas
    • wild rice
  • Dessert:
    • Cucumber & Mint Sorbet
    • Whisky (Talisker?) Ice Cream
    • Avocado & Chocolate Ice Cream HEY - that's my idea
    • Toast (Brioche?) and Marmalade Ice Cream
    • Popcorn Ice Cream
    • Hazel Nut Ice Cream
    • Aidan's Nutty Ice Creams whatever they are :)
Meantime we've managed to actually cook some more mundane dishes together for our midweek dinners, while her partner Pete is away.
Regularly :O

Flora dressed her own farfalle salad while I gave her pheasant a pleasant seeing to.
A damn fine job we made of the pheasant too. We're teetotal at the moment, but figured a saucy cider wouldn't be breaking the pledge. Somewhere amongst the meals we shoved in some French baker's potatoes too, though I can't now remember what we ate them with. After a while all these meals start to run together...

Our latest dinner was perfectly memorable, though: an exploratory Xmas for both of us - I tried this year's seasonal starter and a novelty stuffing and Flora had a run through of her whole Guinea-Fowl-based Christmas dinner. I laid the wee bird on a bed of chopped onion, carrots and celery, stuffed her cavity with my spuds, and roast her at 160°C for about 1½ hours, maybe longer (which might explain the over-roasties), until the stuffing came up to safe eating temperature (70°C).
I also tried making a baked fruit compote, covered with foil in the bottom of the oven - using grapefruit, lemon and apple slices leftover from my Christmas baking, plus a dash of port, red wine, Cointreau and some sugar syrup left over from my candied peel. You know, for making my mincemeat. For my mince pies.
Flora tried it next day after I'd remembered about it and reported that it tasted burnt :(
The things we both learned:
  • Stock takes a good 10 minutes to defrost in the microwave.
  • Even with two ovens it's possible to overcook the roasties. I blame the oven. And the old, small, waxy potatoes. And the uncertain cooking time for the bird. Allegedly if you need to pull the roasties out early to keep warm you can get them crispy again by putting them back in a hot oven. But don't cover them with foil or they'll turn soggy. Suffice to say I didn't try it.
  • Oven-cooked Bread Sauce takes longer than the time necessary to cook a Guinea fowl, and is better made with a quality bread product.
  • Left-over red wine makes for a lovely gravy.
  • It's possible to add too much orange flavouring to the stuffing.
  • There may not be room for pudding!
The starters were very good - I'll be going with those. The stuffing was excellent - I had a dish of it to roast also for comparison, and both came out quite well, though I like the crispy bits from the dressing version. The internal stuffing was, as always, a little claggy. But if anything less so than bread-based versions. I think the best-of-both-worlds approach will be to scoop the stuffing out of the bird while it rests and finish it off in a roasting dish in the oven.
On the BIG DAY™.
Coming soon!

Braised Pheasant with Cider and Apples and Celeriac
main fowl
A very pleasant pheasant indeed.
I improved Blanch Vaughan's dish slightly by adding some root vegetables, and reducing the liquid a bit harder so the pheasant braises above the liquid rather than boils in it.
This dish goes so well with celeriac mash that I included it in the recipe. Obviously you don't have to.

Serves 2

  • 1 pheasant
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • 8 small onions or shallots, peeled, whole
  • 500ml dry cider
  • 1 small celeriac, peeled
  • 1 parsnip, peeled, sliced
  • bunch thyme, leaves only, roughly chopped
  • 100g smoked bacon lardons, or sliced thick rashers
  • chicken stock
  • 6 juniper berries, crushed
  • 2 potatoes
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Prick the potatoes and put on the top shelf of the oven to bake for mashing.
If you have two ovens you should bake the potatoes at 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 so they're ready in time!
Joint the pheasant into two legs and two breasts with wings attached. Leave them all on the bone. Have a good feel for lead shot, any bits of feather or bone and season well with salt & pepper. Heat a mixture of olive oil and butter in a heavy casserole until foaming and brown the pheasant all over. Set aside.
Peel the small onions quarter or halve any large ones, but leave them connected at the root and add to the casserole with slices of thick smoked bacon, or lardons. Stir to coat until they start to colour.
Peel the parsnip and slice into ½" rounds. Peel the celeriac, cut into quarters, cut a half-dozen ½" slices and set the rest aside. Add the parsnip and celeriac slices to the casserole with a half-dozen crushed juniper berries and stir until nicely buttered and taking on a little colour.
Remove the parsnip, then add the cider and stock and bubble off over high heat until enough is left to just cover the vegetables (about ½-1"). Throw in chopped thyme leaves, return the parsnips to the casserole then lay the pheasant pieces on top. The liquid should just reach them.
Cover tightly use a piece of tin foil under the lid for a good seal and cook in a Gas 4 oven for up to an hour until the pheasant is tender.
You can remove the breasts earlier and set aside if they cook quicker than the legs.

Peel the apples, core, and cut into fat slices or peel, slice then core, dress with lemon juice to prevent browning and set aside until needed.

Cut the rest of the celeriac into large chunks and set to simmer or steam until (very) tender; about 20 minutes. Mash or purée enthusiastically (it can be a bit lumpy) then scoop out the baked potato and add that in together with a generous amount of butter and spoonful or two of the crème fraîche.
Season and keep warm.

Warm a serving dish for the pheasant.
Heat some butter in a frying pan until foaming and put in the apple pieces in a single layer turning once until nicely browned all over. Resist moving them too much to avoid them breaking up.
Take the casserole out of the oven and remove the pheasant pieces to rest a few minutes. Scoop the vegetables and bacon out and layer in the serving dish along with the cooked apple. Place the pheasant pieces on top.
Reduce the sauce left in the casserole dish, if required, then whisk in a tablespoon or two of crème fraîche or to taste over a low heat. The sauce should thicken a little and be light brown coloured - don't allow it to boil hard lest it curdle.
Pour the sauce over the pheasant dish and serve with celeriac mash.
Most excellent.

Where Have All The Pumpkins Gone?
Carved Pumpkins

Into my spare room - mostly. In preparation for my annual Pumpkin Spectacular, because yup, it's that time of year again!
It's also close enough to my birthday to pretend that it could be my birthday party and demand presents. I got a balloon and everything.
Handily Kurt and Karen were up for a family visit at the same time - the whole gang's together again!
Perhaps that's why my schedule is a little sketchier than usual, three pairs of hands meant less meticulous planning was required.

I decided to break with tradition this year and forgo my usual roast chicken in a pumpkin, trying out a chicken casserole in a pumpkin instead. I used Tom Kerridge's recipe as my guide

the menu
Hors D'œuvres
Angels and Devils on Horseback. ON A PUMPKIN!
A little something to get things moving.

A Simple Greek Salad. IN A PUMPKIN.
Pumpkin Bread. FROM A PUMPKIN!
Cream of Cauliflower Soup with White Truffle Oil. IN A PUMPKIN!
Decorated with shavings from that jar of brined black truffles I've been keeping in the back of my fridge for years.

Chicken Casserole. IN A PUMPKIN!
Butter Braised Green Cabbage
Fondant Potatoes
All served with mashed butternut squash, though sadly not in a pumpkin :(

Pumpkin Pie
With squirty maple cream.

Have some pumpkins!

Hogwart's pumpkins All the pumpkins

Chicken Casserole in a Pumpkin
main fowl meat
There's a slight problem with my idea of cooking this casserole in a pumpkin - it takes forever. Plus you'll need a huge pumpkin - I've no idea what size casserole the guy uses. It must be one of those you see in westerns hanging from a tripod and full of enough beans to feed a herd of hungry cowboys.

I weighed the filled pumpkin, and then calculated the cooking time at 20 minutes per pound, plus an extra 20 minutes, but it wasn't quite long enough and though the chicken was excellent, the vegetables were a little al dente for my taste. Perhaps it would have helped if there'd been a little more room in the pumpkin, but I was quite determined to get everything I'd gone to the trouble of cutting up and preparing in there, and ended up having to ram in the last few pieces pretty hard.

It probably makes quite a difference not being able to bring the contents to the boil before it goes in the oven. If I try this again I might have to consider boiling in a casserole first, then decanting into the pumpkin. Bit of a faff though!

Serves 4-6

  • chicken 1 medium, about 1.5kg, giblets removed
  • 1 enormous pumpkin optional!
  • carrots 2, each cut into 4 pieces
  • celery sticks 2, tough strings removed with a vegetable peeler, each cut into 4 pieces
  • white cabbage 1 small, about 350g, quartered
  • leek 1, trimmed and well washed, cut into 6 pieces
  • celeriac , peeled and cut into 4 pieces
  • pickling onions or small shallots 8, peeled and halved
  • garlic cloves 8, peeled but left whole
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • cured garlic sausage 1, about 200g, cut into 1cm dice
  • smoked lardons 100g
  • thyme bunch
  • rosemary 1 bunch
  • fennel seeds 1 tsp
  • black peppercorns 1 tsp
  • star anise 1
  • chicken stock 700ml
Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3. Season the chicken cavity lightly with salt. Put all of the vegetables and the garlic into a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Toss to mix.

Scatter a layer of vegetables in the bottom of a large, heavy-based flameproof casserole Or a pumpkin! In which case cut out the lid leaving a guiding notch and a large enough hole to get the chicken through (!) and scrape out the innards. and place the chicken on top. Pack the remaining vegetables, garlic sausage and lardons around the chicken and tuck the thyme, rosemary, fennel seeds, peppercorns and star anise into the pot too.

Pour in the chicken stock. Put the casserole over a medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Place in the oven and cook for 1 hours. Remove from the oven and leave, covered, to rest for 20-30 minutes.
It's going to take quite a bit longer to cook if you've stuffed it in a pumpkin.

Carefully lift the chicken from the casserole and place it on to a baking tray. Use a cook's blowtorch, if you have one, to colour the skin until it's golden. (This isn't essential but it will add colour to the dish.)

Shred the chicken into large pieces and divide it and the vegetables between warmed deep plates. Ladle over some of the broth and pour the rest into a warmed jug to pass around the table.
So, a bit disappointing on first attempt - but my experience of in-pumpkin cuisine is that it takes a couple of goes to get right.


Inspired by recent Greek adventures, or perhaps just my natural genetic inclination, I quite fancied knocking up a tasty-looking but distinctly ersatz spanakopita. We ate quite a lot of lunch-time Greek spinach pies while we were sailing there, but made none of them; they came pre-packed in a sealed plastic containers from the fridges of every corner shop and grocers, but surprisingly good they were. Just stick them in the oven and you're good to go.
Don't think I've noticed them in this country, but I don't suppose we'd have the discernment required to force a supermarket to stock one worth eating in any case. Those foreigners have all the best food.

Super-Carrots make a fine accompaniment, and a Greek salad, obviously. Preferably dressed with the olive oil you brought back from your latest visit.
Perhaps one day I'll actually have a go at making my own filo pastry?

Creamy Garlic Chicken Spanakopita
main fowl
According to the font of all wisdom, Spanakopita is a Greek portmanteau term for spinach pie, so calling this a chicken spanakopita seems fair game. Scrunching up the filo (phyllo?) pastry topping gives a nice crunchy texture as well as making it look pretty.

The original recipe calls for baking the pie in the skillet used for cooking, but I used a separate casserole dish, and took the opportunity to line the bottom of it with extra filo pastry to soak up more of those lovely, lovely juices. Yum.

Serves 6

  • 1 pound fresh baby spinach leaves, washed
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1½ lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, chopped into 1-inch chunks
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 leek, sliced, washed
  • glass wine
  • ½ cup chicken stock or as required
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 6oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 scallions, white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 1 small bunch dill, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • 6 to 8 sheets phyllo dough, thawed and covered with a towel
Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add spinach, a handful at a time, until the pan is full; you may have to cook the spinach in batches to ensure that it cooks evenly. Turn the spinach often until just wilted, then transfer to a colander and press out as much water as you can. Continue until all of the spinach is wilted and pressed.
If you like you can keep the liquid to use as stock.
Pour off any excess water in the skillet and place back over medium heat. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the pan and add the chicken and a grind of pepper. Cook, turning once, until the edges are lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Fry the leek slices until they take on a little colour. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C/Gas Mark 7. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in same skillet and add garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then mix in flour. Stir together until the mixture forms a golden paste. Whisk in a glass of wine, if you have one. Whisk in ½ cup chicken stock with some of the spinach juice, if you like. Cook, stirring often, until mixture is thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Whisk in the cream.

Add feta cheese, scallions, and dill and stir, allowing the feta to melt. Return the chicken and spinach to the skillet, mixing well, bring back to almost simmering and remove from heat. If the sauce has thickened too much, add more chicken stock to reach the desired consistency, keeping in mind that the mixture will thicken even more when baking in the oven.
Season with salt and pepper.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Lay a sheet of phyllo on a work surface. Brush with melted butter, then scrunch up the sheet and set it on top of the spinach mixture in the skillet. Repeat with remaining phyllo until the skillet is completely covered.
If you're decanting to a casserole dish you can line the bottom too, even if it's just one layer.
Bake until phyllo is golden and crisp on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, garnish with additional dill, and serve warm.
Very good, though it's not quite a spanakopita.

Super Carrots
Carrots cooked in carrot juice
side veg vegan
I've read that carrots make excellent candidates for sous vide cookery, which method intensifies their flavour to great effect.
A super carrot if you will.
So I decided to attempt a poor man's super carrot by cooking them gently in their own carroty juices.
The result is pretty good actually, with the carrots retaining much more of their natural carroty goodness than steaming or water-boiling would achieve, but it is quite a lot more effort.
And takes a lot more carrot!

Serves Surprisingly Few

  • carrots
Select a few straight carrots of dimensions that will give you a uniform collection of cuboids.
Trim your selected carrots down to a rectangular core by slicing away four long sides, then cut the core into cubes.
Juice enough carrots to produce liquor to cover the carrot cubes (a lot!). Season lightly with salt and sugar.

Put the carrots and juice in a small pot, bring up to the boil then leave at the gentlest of simmers until the carrots are tender (perhaps half an hour). You may need to raise the pot over a gas ring, if that's what you're using, to avoid boiling.
Apparently your vegetables need to reach 84°C to break down their pectin.
Serve immediately, or leave the carrots to cool in the juice.
Because the carrot juice separates when cooked producing a suspension of orange flecks, you should quickly rinse the carrots with hot water to clean them before serving.
OK, it's an awful lot of faff (and carrots!) for a few carrot cubes. But damn they taste good. I think they'd taste even better dressed with butter, but it seems a shame to dilute their pure carrotyness, given the lengths gone to.
It's surely easier just to glaze them if buttery carrots is what you want.
Allahu Ak Bar

Is what Stuart reckoned would be a brilliant name for a restaurant. Picture that on a T-shirt. Perhaps with the & Grill bit on the back? Imagine the admiring looks :)
Oh oh - too late!

So I'm back from a terrific holiday sailing along the Peloponnese peninsula with Stuart, and others, on a very new Beneteau Oceanis 48 called Skiron (not Σκιρων, oddly) the Greek god of the northwest wind. Out from (a rather broken-down-looking) Athens to Poros (for an excellent Red Snapper dinner), then the sail to Spetses, where we lost the dinghy, and down to the fortress town of Monemvasia - the furthest point on our voyage. And where we broke the canopy with a pomegranate - long pirate story.
We returned via the surprisingly shallow Maggie's Inlet where we broke the outboard. It isn't really called that - it's just that it was our friend Maggie who told us about it. It seems to actually be called Limani Garakas.
Finally back to Athens via the truly fabulous port of Hydra, on the island of, er, Hydra. It's also tiny - and only due to the late time of year that we managed to get any kind of berth there. The island being as barren as it is, virtually everything has to be shipped in, which unfortunately doesn't explain the terrible food they served us - it being a lobster risotto. At least the music was entertaining.

Due to the abundant cafés, bistros, taverns and restaurants ashore everywhere we went, there was little need to cook anything onboard other than a bit of breakfast, and a light lunch. So I return with nothing more than my recipe for Monemvasia Daffodil Soup.
And some olive oil.
And some olives.
Walking With Vegesaurs

Had a visit from my ex-New York buddy Becky Knowall - who is still a vegetarian, despite my best efforts.
A fine opportunity to revisit those famous tourist sites of Edinburgh which I only ever see with, er, tourists, kicking off with the fabulous Forth and Clyde canal Kelpies, and the Falkirk wheel. Then toasting Greyfriars bobby, a particular Becky favourite, before that long haul up Arthur's seat which almost killed her.
Though she hid it well.
Stoic, Becky is.

We also hit all the top vegetarian foodspots - the usually-reliable Kalpna, which had unreliably run out of aubergines (for their excellent Baingan Bharta) and naan breads (for everything else).

And David Bann, unfortunately David too seems to be a victim of his success, The service was cursory, the food solid but uninspired, and I had to fight tooth and nail to get my chilli margarita properly chilled and served in a salted glass.
Becky scoffed down Thai fritters of broccoli and smoked tofu with banana chutney and plum dressing followed by Aubergine, chick pea and cashew koftas with roasted sweet potato in a spicy aromatic cocounut and courgette tomato sauce - you've got to admire her determinedly curried diet. The waitress was adamant that the fat slices of roasted sweet potatoes were in fact the pieces of sweet papaya from the salad promised in the menu.
We remain unconvinced.
I had a pleasant Ravioli parcel of artichoke, chickpea and basil succeeded by stodgy Mushroom strudel baked in Heather Ale wrapped in filo pastry served with creamed potato and roasted Mediterranean vegetables . Chick Pea Overload!

Fortunately the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was as dependable as ever, providing Becky with a fascinating view of Eduard Paolozzi's studio, plus Roman Standard aka bird on a pole - the only piece of work by Tracey Emin that's actually recognisable as art.
The walk up from Leith, along its waters, is a fine stroll made more entertaining by decorative stacks of stones piled ingeniously in the running water, more art, presumably. In the wild, so to speak.
Despite their appearance, these precarious piles were not held by glue or cement either - I know because I almost destroyed one of them by the merest touch of my finger.
If only more of Emin's art" were as fragile.

Back home I asked Becky what she might fancy as a homemade dinner, since we'd run out of vegetarian restaurants, and this suitably morel moral vegetarian mushroom risotto was the result. Well, vegetarian except for the distinctly beefy Monchega cheese.
Damn those cow's stomachs - they get in everything!

Mushroom, Carrot and Courgette Risotto
main veg
A delicious vegetarian* risotto made with a bunch of fortuitous leftovers I had lying around after a visit from my vegetarian friend Becky Knowall. Apologies for the use of the stock cube - feel free to make your own!

* May contain non-vegetarian cheese

Serves 3-4

  • 30-50g dried porcini mushrooms (cèpes)
  • 1 generous cup/250g/8oz Arboria risotto rice
  • about 75g soft goat cheese, or whatever you have left
  • about ½ cup grated Manchego cheese or vegetarian equivalent
  • plenty of butter
  • 4 banana shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 glasses white wine
  • vegetable stock cube or pot
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 courgette
  • pinch of dark sugar
  • pinch coriander powder
  • salt & pepper

  • Topping:
  • leeks, finely shredded
  • oil for frying
Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for 10 minutes or so, then drain and rinse thoroughly keeping the soaking liquid and the rinse runoff. Strain the soaking liquid carefully to remove any grit oh yes, there will be grit, set to simmering over a low heat and add a vegetarian stock cube or pot. Cut up any particularly massive soaked mushrooms and set aside.

Peel or scrape the carrots, cut into 1cm cubes and put in a pan with a tight-fitting lid together with a generous knob of butter, a pinch of dark sugar, salt, coriander powder and a splash of water. Sweat gently over a low heat, adding more water if the pot dries, until very tender - perhaps 30 minutes. Remove from the heat until required.

Peel away any thick skin from the courgette in strips, so it looks stripey, then cut into 1cm cubes. You should have about 2 cups each of carrots, courgette and onion.

Finely chop about 4 banana shallots (or more small, round ones) and fry in a generous amount of foaming butter until glassy.
Add a generous cup of Arboria rice and stir to coat thoroughly with the butter.
Add 3 minced garlic cloves and the soaked mushrooms, stir briefly, then add a glass of white wine and bubble to evaporate, then the second, evaporating again. Add the courgette you might add some or all the courgette a little later to preserve more of their texture, then add the rest of the stock one ladle at a time, bubbling off in between each round until the rice is cooked but still firm: 20-30 minutes.

Stir through another knob of butter and the grated Manchego until it melts. Season to taste. Add the carrots. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the soft goats cheese, leaving some streaks and swirls in the mixture to look pretty :)

Thinly slice a 3" section of white leek stalk, rinse and dry well. Heat some oil not too hot in a deep pot and fry the shredded leek until golden, drain on kitchen paper.

Serve the risotto decorated with more grated Manchego and the crispy fried leeks.
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