'Orrible Oysters, Poisoned Poussins or the Salmonella Salad?
Flora's sister's partner Ferran does good business at parties and soirées as
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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
stuffing recipes, the perfect stuffing would be one of the simplest?
Starting with a traditional Irish potato recipe
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:
A firm goat's cheese
Selles Sur Cher
A half soft goats cheese with mouldy rind
Another soft Chevre
The beautiful Italian creamy blue cheese
Brie de Meaux
A hard-hearted goat from Edinburgh Shepton Mallet
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:
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.
Fruit Curry - choose from mango/pineapple/lychee/coconut
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.
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™.
Braised Pheasant with Cider and Apples and Celeriac
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.
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
6 juniper berries, crushed
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
Bake until phyllo is golden and crisp on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, garnish with additional dill, and serve warm.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Flora wants to expand her repertoire to include Toads in the Holes,
so I consulted Nigel Slater
for ideas for enhancing my Mum's traditional version such as by wrapping the sausages in fancy hams or adding splashes of mustard.
We actually made a bit of an experiment of it and put a variety of sausages in the same hole - some plain, some skinned and wrapped in ham, and some in bacon.
We must have hit the Perla del Mar pretty hard though,
'cos I have little memory of the outcome - I think we agreed the bacon ones were the least good. I'm not sure if we thought the pancetta was a worthwhile faff. Perhaps Flora remembers?
I thought a creamy version of my apple-mustard sauce
would make a good accompaniment hence no need to add mustard to the batter, together with roast potatoes and green beans.
Toad In The Hole
Sausage in Yorkshire pudding
you get a tastier batter if you mix half milk and half beer, and a tablespoon of wholegrain mustard helps too.
It's almost universally agreed that you need to let the batter sit for (at least) 15 minutes before you use it.
It should have the consistency of double cream - so adjust the liquid accordingly.
For a bit of variation you can skin the sausages and either turn them into little patties with the addition of herb or spices,
or you can wrap the skinned sausages in ham or bacon before laying them in the batter.
You might want to fry or roast the bacon-wrapped ones first, though.
300ml milk or half-milk, half-ale
3 tablespoons dripping or lard
thinly sliced prosciutto, Serrano ham, pancetta or thin streaky bacon optional
1 tbsp grainy mustard optional
salt & pepper
Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Whisk in the eggs and mustard if you like
and continue to whisk until just smooth. Gradually add the milk and a pinch of salt and whisk to a smooth batter.
The consistency should be that of double cream, but no thinner.
You might need to pour the batter through a strainer if it's still lumpy.
Leave to rest for at least 15 minutes.
Heat half the fat in a frying pan over a medium heat and brown the sausages on all sides.
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
Put the remaining fat in a roasting tin and leave it in the oven until it is smoking.
With the roasting tin sitting over a low heat pour in the hot fat from the sausage pan, followed by the batter
- it will sizzle softly in the hot fat - then arrange the sausages in the batter.
Transfer the tin back into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden.
Traditionally served with peas and a rich onion and Madeira gravy.
Creamy Apple and Mustard Purée
The perfect accompaniment to toad in the hole.
You're on your own with the quantities though :)
onion, peeled, diced
apple, cored, chopped
a little brown sugar optional
water or wine
Heat the butter in a saucepan and sweat some chopped onion, apple and sugar if using until soft.
Add a little water or wine and bubble until the apple collapses, then blend to a smooth paste
or not if you prefer it chunky.
Return to the pan and stir in some cream, mustard and season to taste.
Yachtmistress Anna Whitewater offered a weekend on her boat the Zanzara
in exchange for a flattering submission to Port Edgar Yacht Club's yearly cruising log competition.
And a cooked dinner.
I chose a delicious belly pork, chorizo and chickpea stew as the foody bribe.
A good use of some lovely leftover hog roast stock too.
Ken Mud selflessly volunteered to author an entirely fictional log of our weekend
- carefully censoring any mention of drink, drugs or nautical stupidity.
Anna was so impressed she agreed to take us through the notoriously deadly
Ancient mariners speak softly of the Corryvreckan and the sea monsters which lurk there
- the whirlpools with their deadly currents eager to suck a boat to its water grave,
the terrible storms which whip up in an instant and dash vessels to pieces on the cruel rocks,
and the sunken wrecks waiting to snare unwary vessels seeking safe anchorage.
Fortunately none of those things are true.
Well, except for the last one, as we found out to our cost when we tried to raise our anchor
after a very comfortable night in the beautifully sheltered bay just south of Oban with the unpronounceable name of Puilladobhrain
(Pool of the Otter).
Handy also for the famous Bridge over the Atlantic and nearby 18th century Tigh an Truish pub.
It seemed we'd hooked a heavy chain from an old fishing boat mooring and despite wrecking the anchor windlass
succeeded in raising the anchor no more than a foot off the bottom.
After much straining and grunting (on my part), and swinging of the boat and chain (on Anna's part)
Ken finally remembered that he had brought aboard a waterproof, submersible camera
for just such occasions and he managed to lower it down to get pictures of the cause of our predicament.
Once understood it was just a matter of persuading Anna to dive into the freezing jellyfish-infested waters to hook a line through the mooring chain
so we could tie it off and hold the massive links up while we dropped our anchor free of it.
Then it would be just a matter of hauling up the anchor and its ludicrously heavy chain past the busted windlass and sailing off. Simples.
All power to the skipper - she took to the task like a seal,
and we finally set off for the vreckan only 4 hours later than any possible calculations of the tides allowed for us to make it there in time.
The problem is, the tide flowing through the corryvreckan is so strong (8½ knots at springs, perhaps 4 knots at neaps)
that there is no way to pass through against it, and our anchorage was Pig's Bay (Bagh nam Muc) just out the other side.
Undaunted we pressed on - even hoisting the dusty spinnaker (to Anna's horror) to capture every last ounce of wind,
and surprised ourselves by arriving at the very slackest of the tide.
So much for our calculations!
As we motored through the gulf the tide beneath us swung madly between 2 knots with us to 2 knots against us,
it was a little nerve-racking but we made it through.
So safe and sound for another night at anchor, a row ashore, and a knotty clamber to a fine view of the whirlpools, which are real.
After a Karl Special breakfast, a gentle sail saw us back to Oban the next day
and apologies to Anna's dad for wrecking the windlass and snapping the dinghy oar.
Well, at least Ken didn't set the outboard on fire this time!
400g tin chickpeas or other beans e.g. butter, drained and rinsed
fresh chopped parsley
Heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3.
Heat the oil in a casserole dish with a lid and fry the fennel seeds until sizzling.
Add the belly pork and spend a good 10 mins browning the pork on all sides in batches, scooping it out to set aside as it's done.
Next fry the chorizo and sizzle for a minute. Scoop out and add to the pork.
Add the carrots, then chilli flakes, then onion, then herbs and cook for about 5 mins until the vegetables are soft and just starting to colour.
Sprinkle over the sugar, add the garlic and paprika and cook a little.
Stir in the tomato purée then splash in the sherry and the vinegar and bubble for a moment.
Tip in the tomatoes and a can of pork stock (say, from a hog roast carcass) or water.
Stir the meat and juices into the sauce, season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.
Cover the dish with a lid and place in the oven for 2 hours, checking occasionally and if the sauce becomes too thick add a splash more stock.
Remove the pan from the oven and stir in the chickpeas and return to the oven for 15 mins.
Remove again and leave to cool slightly so it's not scorching hot then stir through the parsley.
Taste for seasoning and serve with crusty bread or boiled or mashed potatoes.
My neighbour Nancy and her allotment keep me well supplied with vegetables. And the occasional fruit. Thanks Nancy!
Since her glut of beetroot and rhubarb, I've been inventing things to do with beetroot and rhubarb. And carrots.
Getting some courgette flowers to stuff made a nice change.
Rhubarb and Beetroot Fool
Yes that's right - a rhubarb and beetroot fool!
Partly because I had a lot of beetroot and rhubarb to eat up, partly because it seemed like they might just work together, partly just 'cos they were there...
Heat the oven to 180-200°C, put the whole unpeeled beetroot on an oven tray and bake until it is soft and easily pierced with a knife (up to 2 hours).
Roughly chop the rhubarb, scatter with a little sugar (perhaps a dessertspoon), moisten with a little apple juice, liquor or water and cook gently in a covered pot until the rhubarb begins to collapse.
Check the sugar level and set aside to cool.
Whip the cream until it begins to thicken, but is still pourable.
Peel and finely grate the beetroot and mix with the rhubarb. Lightly stir together the cream and rhubarb mixture (so they form distinct swirls)
and serve with a drizzle of fruit coulis.
My neighbour Nancy had a glut of beetroot and rhubarb in her allotment this year. So I thought I'd try ways of combining them.
This is Yotam Ottolenghi's idea, and I think it works better than my fool. But you could always have a meal with both!
Set the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Wrap the beets individually in foil and bake for 40-70 minutes, depending on size.
To check, push a sharp knife through to the centre of each one - it should be soft all the way through.
Set aside to cool, then peel and cut into a rough 2cm dice.
Toss the rhubarb with the sugar, spread it over a foil-lined oven tray and roast for 10-12 minutes, until soft but not mushy. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, molasses, maple syrup, oil, allspice and some salt and pepper.
Add the onion, set aside for a few minutes to soften, then add the parsley and beets.
Stir to combine, season to taste and, just before serving, gently fold in the rhubarb, its juices and the cheese.
So this dish went a bit wrong - I shaved the coconut using a vegetable peeler along the coconut edge,
due to the following confusing suggestions of my cute landlady Aline:
2 medium beetroots
1 medium carrot
1 green chili, chopped
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 green chili
10-12 curry leaves/kadi patta
a pinch of asafoetida/hing
a pinch of turmeric/haldi
1 tbsp oil
3-4 tbsp shaved coconut shaved is Indian for grated apparently
salt as required
Rinse, peel and chop the beetroots and carrot very finely, the more fine, they faster they will cook.
You can also grate the veggies if you prefer.
Fry till the mustard seed make a popping sound and the urad dal get maroonish golden. make sure you don't burn them.
Add the green chilies, curry leaves, turmeric powder and asafoetida. Fry for 10-12 seconds.
Now add the chopped veggies. sprinkle salt and stir. Cover and let the veggies cook till they are done.
Sprinkle some water if the moisture dries in the pan. Keep on checking during intervals and sprinkle water whenever required.
When the veggies are cooked well, lastly add coconut and give a stir.
Before adding the coconut, if there is moisture in the pan, then dry it by simmering on an open flame for a few minutes.
Sprinkle the coconut and then switch off the flame and cover.
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and urad dal.
curry veg vegan side
So here's the very nice Cabbage Thoran that Aline's friend Laly from Kerala made.
If you have a coconut shaving tool, now's the time to dust it off. Otherwise use a fine cheese grater.
oil for frying
1 cabbage, finely grated
½ coconut, finely grated
2 tsp mustard seeds
½ onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp turmeric optional
fresh green chillies, chopped
Crack open the coconut, remove the brown skin with a vegetable peeler (though you can eat it), and finely grate the white flesh.
Add the roughly chopped onion and fry over high heat until they are quite browned around the edges.
Add the turmeric, if using.
Add the grated cabbage, grated coconut, grated ginger, chopped chilli and a little salt,
cover, lower heat and leave to steam stirring occasionally until cooked through (20-30 minutes).
Heat the oil and fry the mustard seeds until they pop.
Stuffed Courgette Flowers
starter snack veg
The male flowers may have a short stalk on them, but the females can have small courgettes attached.
It's difficult, though, to cook flower and the attached courgette the right amount, so attractive as they may be,
probably better just to cook the flower.
If you're serving lactose intolerants you can probably work up something of the right stuffing consistency with yoghurt and some kind of tofu.
soft cheese (cream/ricotta/goat's)
a little hard cheese, grated optional
flour and egg, milk or water batter mixture
Carefully open up the flowers, check for bugs, and pinch out the stem at the base of the flower.
Give them a clean if necessary.
Mix your chosen soft cheeses with some chopped herbs (basil, parsley, mint, etc), a grating of stronger cheese like Parmesan or hard goat's cheese
and grate in some lemon zest.
Spoon the mixture into the flowers, then fold them back up giving a little twist at the tips to hold them closed.
Make a light batter - I like a tempura-style version with 50/50 regular flour (or rice flour) and cornflour
with a sprinkling of bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt,
mixed to the consistency of thick cream with really cold sparkling water.
Heat half an inch or so of oil in a pan.
Roll the flowers in the batter to coat them lightly, then fry quickly in the hot oil, turning to make them golden all over.
If the filling starts to ooze out it's a sign they're done.