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PittenMouth. Again.
Sunrise over the Isle of May

Another trip to Eyemouth that ended up in Pittenweem.
Seems to be something of a habit!

So once again we missed out on a nice dinner at the Churches Hotel, but we did get a decent fish supper from the Pittenweem fish shop. And to the naked chick who flashed me from that upstairs window - if you're really about 14, I'm sorry I looked. Otherwise I'll see you next year!
Due to tidal considerations we had to leave port at the crack of dawn, so we got a very nice sunrise over the Isle of May, and later a very nice steak lunch on the way back upriver.
Hmmmm. Steak.

Mind you, I think I'm figuring out why Scottish steak has always proved so very disappointingly inferior to American steaks.
It's because they're always so bloody thin! What's wrong with you people? Some of the best cow meat in the world and you slice it like you were re-soling flip-flops. I mean, I know that you Scots have a racial tendency to frugality, but the place is covered in cow meat. Cut it like you mean it for God's sake!

Having said that, the lardy effect of bucket-loads of American grain feed might also have something to do with it, pumping in all that delicious fatty marbling. Particularly as we Brits are now mortally afraid of hanging our lean meats to improve their flavour, preferring instead to wrap them in plastic as soon as possible.
Hmmmm. Plastic.

To cook up your very nice steak lunch, first get the steaks out of the fridge in plenty of time to bring them up to cabin temperature, then rub them with a pinch or two each of salt and leave to rest.
Chop the onions and start them caramelising for your peperonata, then lightly scrub some potatoes, quarter them as necessary, and set them to boil in heavily salted water in a pressure cooker.
Slice your mushrooms and get them sweating up for a nice mustard mushroom sauce, then begin heating up a dry frying pan as hot as you're skipper will let you to fry the steaks in. Pat the steaks dry and clean of salt, then rub them with pepper and olive oil.
When the potatoes come to the boil, put on the pressure lid and cook them for 10-15 minutes, while you fry the steaks for 1 minute per side, plus a minute for every centimetre of thickness. So twenty seconds per side for a good Scottish steak then. Don't overfill the pan.
Wipe the pan clean between batches so as to avoid asphyxiating the entire crew with the acrid burning smoke.
Set the steaks aside in tin foil to rest while you finish off the sauces and the potatoes.
Job Done.

Mustard Mushroom Sauce
sauce veg
Quite a nice simple sauce - though crème fraîche might be a good alternative to the cream, and you could add a dash of sherry to the mushrooms too, if you had any aboard.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced optional
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • a few tablespoons cream
  • 2 egg yolks optional
Method
Clean the mushrooms, and slice them into the thickness of 2 pound coins.
Sweat them gently in the butter with garlic and thyme,if you have any until their juice is drawn out, then stir through the mustard and add a generous amount of cream.
Simmer gently until the sauce thickens.
Season and serve.

If you like you can beat two egg yolks with a little cream and use these to thicken the sauce more. Don't overheat though, or you'll have Mustard Mushroom Scrambled Eggs.
Very tasty.

Skipper's Peperonata
Fried peppers, onions and tomatoes
side veg
A proper peperonata needs a good long, slow cooking so that the peppers and onions are soft enough to crush between your fingers. Unfortunately skippers rarely have time for such niceties, so I've speeded this recipe up. A bit.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • butter
  • a dash of sugar
  • 2 red/yellow peppers thinly sliced
  • a couple of pinches of dried herbs
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • orange juice
  • salt & pepper
Method
Peel and finely chop the onion, and leave gently frying in butter while you prepare the peppers. Give them the odd stir and don't let them burn, but you want them to caramelize nice and evenly. Add a pinch or two of sugar if you like to help things along.

Core and slice the peppers. When the onions are nicely browned add them to the pan along with some dried herbs. Oregano would be nice.
Fry until softened.

Chop the tomatoes quite small and add to the pan. Stir through until they collapse and their juice evaporates.
Lubricate with a splash or two of orange juice, season, and serve.
Quite a rich hot salsa, that's good with steak and potatoes.
Which is handy - because that's what I served it with.
Bleak House
Inside The Bleak House

On the way back from scattering Mum in the Borders we dropped in on Sara Worst at her isolated home The Bleak House. Since we were passing it seemed impolite not to.
Hi Sara!

Sara very kindly donated some of her less (though as it turned out not entirely un-) slug-infested vegetables from the enormous plot she cultivates out back, on the understanding that I replace my carnivorous home page photo. So a real treat for all you hervibores out there!
They also have a polytunnel, which is surprisingly big - for some reason I pictured them about knee-high. Just enough for a strawberry plant. Whereas this one would fit Jack's Beanstalk.

I used most of Sara's leaves in a deliciously mixed green salad, but gave the kale a stir-fry to accompany my milky beef. Very complementary as it turns out - they were both mediocre.
Enjoy!

Spicy Sauteed Kale with Lemon
veg side
An interesting idea I thought - obviously the honey is intended to offset the bitter lemon pith. It took a surprisingly long time to soften the kale into something approaching edibility though, so bear that in mind when you cook your lemon.

Serves 6

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 Thai or jalapeno chili and the rest, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed and slices quartered
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 bunches kale (1½ pounds), tough stems and ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
  • 6 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Coarse salt
Method
In a large skillet, heat oil and chili over medium-high heat.
Add lemon and honey and cook, stirring, until lemon begins to break down, about 2 minutes.
Add kale and cook, stirring, until just wilted, about 3 minutes.
Add scallions, season with salt, and cook 1 minute.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Meh, s'OK I guess. It needs work though. I probably overcooked the lemon, and the kale remained stubbornly tough. And the taste isn't really all that great either.
It helps if you cover and cook the kale for a bit longer, perhaps with a little added water. Uncover and cook dry before continuing.
The kale still ends up kind of chewy though.
Some kind of yoghurt dressing goes reasonably well, if you can be bothered.
Plough the Fields and Scatter
Teachings of the Buddha

So a weekend drive down to the Samye Ling Buddhist centre in the Scottish Wasteland Borders to meet up with Kurt and Karen and scatter our Mum.
We know it's what she would have wanted because she told us. She even told us exactly where - it's known as the Naga House - where the water spirits live, at the confluence of the river Esk and Moodlaw Burn. It's pretty there.

Mum really loved Samye Ling, visiting often - I've not quite worked out if she took the opportunity to visit me on her trips there or visa versa. But then, she used to visit me before she ever discovered Samye Ling - so I win!
It's a slightly unnerving place, incredibly peaceful, but just a little smug. Opulent, but at the same time tawdry. Beautiful but meretricious. It does deliver an overwhelming sense of peace though, carried on the astonishingly rich birdsong, the fluttering of prayer flags and the mellow ringing of wind chimes. I can see why Mum loved it so much - just her kind of thing.

My route there is through some of the best countryside that the Borders has to offer, not that I got to see much on the way there - according to Google Maps I needed to make up half an hour on their estimated time of arrival to get there on time, so I had to drive like a complete bastard. I needn't have bothered as it turns out; Kurt and Karen were an hour late - more than long enough for my front wheels to cool down sufficiently to touch.
Luckily the Tibetan Tea Room does an acceptable latté to sip on as I waited for them to randomly show up since there's absolutely zero phone signal anywhere nearby.

I wonder if it's a Buddhist plot?

The Milk of Bovine Kindness
Sauerkraut

Spherified sauerkraut - ever heard of it?
Well neither have I, but apparently Martin Wishart has. So:
  • Step one: Make sauerkraut.
  • Step two: Spherify it.
Leaving Step two aside for the moment watch this space... making sauerkraut is the easiest thing in the world, apart from the waiting, and once it's ready you can make yourself a sauerkraut salad with it. How good is that?

But about that milky beef.
Ah milk - streams of pearly goodness massaged from the teats of complicit ruminants. And what more appropriate liquor for boiling up their flesh than their own lactate?
Actually I was attempting to make saffron potatoes, and I wondered if gently poaching spuds in saffron-flavoured milk (with a dose of salt for flavour and sodium bicarbonate to retard curdling) would work.

Conveniently enough I've recently acquired a small crockpot from the back of Mum's cupboards and brought it back home with me after she died (silver linings eh?). I've got a slow cooker already, but this one is much smaller and despite being pretty old, looked to be in good shape and I thought it might work more effectively for smaller amounts. So I filled it up and set it off...

Turns out the recipe's a bust - the potatoes stubbornly resist flavouring (or softening) and the saffron adopts a rather harsh tannic taste from long simmering rather than the delicate aromaticism is that a word? I was hoping for.
Not only that, but it seems that small crockpots from the seventies aren't the models of efficiency you might have hoped - were they giving electrickery away free in those days? Unlike modern cookers which make at least some concessions to insulation, the entire aluminium casing of this Rima electric cooker heats up, which means that its main effect is to warm the kitchen (indeed - I could feel the crockpot as soon as I stepped foot into the room), and warming the ceramic liner occurs as something of a side effect. Making it the most inefficient slow cooker on earth I should imagine, unless the intention was always to use it as a space heater too?

Anyway, back to the cooker's disappointing contents;
Rather than waste the lot, and remembering something from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall about milk-braised pork, I just threw in a small silverside beef joint (cut up) and some vegetables and left it to get on with it.
It tasted reasonably foul after 12 hours, but a day later was actually quite palatable!
It seemed to go especially well with fruity flavours (I had some sun-dried tomato couscous in the cupboard to eat it with) so it might help to throw in some dried apricots or prunes.
Unfortunately due to the milk curdling (the onions will do that - if nothing else) it looks like a bowl of sick.
So I'm not sure I'll be making it again to find out.

Milk Braised Beef
main meat crockpot stew
Hmmmm milky beef.
Pity it looks like sick.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • milk
  • saffron
  • small silverside beef joint, cut up
  • small potatoes, peeled, quartered
  • red pepper, roughly chopped
  • garlic cloves, peeled
  • mushrooms, quartered
  • Dijon mustard
  • herbs and seasoning

  • Maybe:
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • dried prunes or apricots
Method
Grind the saffron up a bit with some milk in a mortar.
Cut the beef into generous chunks, de-seed and roughly chop the pepper, peel and quarter smallish potatoes, wipe and quarter mushrooms and fill your slow-cooker. Season with herbs, salt and pepper and a teaspoon or two of mustard.
Cover with the milk and turn it on.
Wait 24 hours, then eat it with your eyes closed.
It's not too awful, but it might look (and taste) better if you left the joint whole?
You can serve it with rice or couscous if you want.

Popular in Eastern Europe. Allegedly.
Sauerkraut Salad
salad raw veg vegan
This salad definitely benefits from being left to marinate for a while.

Feeds 8

Ingredients
  • 2 pints (2 pounds) sauerkraut
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, grated or chopped
  • 1 apple, cored, peeled, grated or chopped optional
  • 4 oz pimento or pickled chilli peppers, chopped optional

  • Dressing:
  • ½ cup oil
  • ¼ cup vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or to taste
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds optional
Method
Chop or grate the vegetables as you prefer. Add in chopped pickled chillies (jalapeño) or pimento, or just red bell peppers as you like. Mix them up with the sauerkraut.
Heat up the dressing ingredients in a in a small saucepan until the vinegar dissolves, allow to cool then mix with the salad. It's best to refrigerate this mixture overnight before serving to allow the flavours to meld.
Keeps for days in the fridge.
Not particularly impressive, but edible. American versions of this recipe seem to go absolutely mad on the quantities of sugar and oil - I've seen 1 cup oil to 1½ cup sugar and ½ cup vinegar!
Cooking With Mother No More
Sad

Mum died.

She was diagnosed with aggressive and widespread cancer back in March, and fell steadily downhill afterwards.
I'm grateful I had the chance to tell her You did good, Mum.

Mum wasn't much of a cook I'm afraid, though she did get better - I like to think with a bit of encouragement from yours truly :)
She was a genius for getting the dinner onto the table in time for the Archers though - every day growing up; sit down for dinner, on comes the Archers.
I have no idea how she did that!

While I don't honestly remember spending much time actually cooking with Mum (well until our famous joint Christmas dinners in recent years - she did the best Christmases), she was the one who first started me off cooking and always supported my cookery even back when it wasn't exactly fashionable for young boys to be spending too long in the kitchen. She bought me my first cookbook, shared all her best recipes, and most of all shared my deep love of food.
Apart from our mutual enjoyment of murder-mystery TV series like Marple or Poirot, the things we could most bear to do together without driving each other mad were watching episodes of MasterChef, and eating out in fine restaurants.

Most of my foody memories of Mum revolve around the kitchen of the house we moved into when I was twelve. The house I most remember growing up in. Mum's last house. The house we had to clear after she died.
It's particularly difficult for me to look at the photo of Mum proudly showing off her new cooker there - when we first moved in to the house the kitchen sported an old Victorian range, and much as I hated having to clean it out every day, riddle the ashes, and fetch coal from the yard to feed it I kind of missed Mum cooking on it when she finally got her real stove and had the range pulled out.
The cooker is still there though.
For now.

Mum's passing has left a hole in the world.
I know that eventually time's sand will fill it, but it will never quite disappear - there'll always be a hollow there.
Where my Mum used to be.
Bye Mum.
Cooking With Mother Through The Ages...
Coffee, Chocolate & Fishy Duck
Coffee Roasted Duck with Spinach and Samphire

The duck's not really fishy of course Wait a minute - is that an idea? Fishy duck? No. No, it really isn't. Of course not. As you were... it's just the first course that's fishy.
But the duck is coffee-ey and chocolate-ey.

There were quite a few inspirations for this meal - it's been such a long time since I did any cooking what with running up and down to visit poor old Mum in the hospice (Moominmamma - as my good friend Becky called her), that I suppose I've had a lot of these ideas rattling around in my head.
The fish course comes straight from The Star Inn (a handy watering hole on my trips South) where I had soused mackerel packed in a little jam jar with a beetroot relish.
Delicious.
It wasn't until I made the version below that I realised theirs was more like a raw pickling method than this cooked one, but mine was nice enough for all that.

My friend Doctor Jenny once rhapsodised about their braised radishes when she went to visit the venerable Peat Inn and I fancied having a go at them.
I also remember someone else banging on about baking salt-crusted vegetables - apparently it's all the rage on one of those ghastly cooking competition TV shows - Britain's Got Chefs or whatever, so I thought I'd have a go at those too.
But then that set me thinking about what else you might bake crusted in salt (chicken works apparently?), and then naturally onto what else you might use to pack around yer baking goods.

Now it just so happens that I've had a sack of coffee beans rolling around in the bottom of the freezer I've been trying to empty forever now (so I can get a new one), and needed something to do with them other than making coffee.
I'd thought of baking or steaming fish with them, and had more-or-less dismissed the idea of using duck or chicken, especially breasts, because of the problem of them drying out during the roasting.
I mean - who just roasts duck breasts? No one that's who. Well, until now.

The idea of using the coffee beans from frozen to stop the duck drying out seemed like a stroke of genius. Or madness.
Either way I grabbed onto the idea with both hands et voilà: coffee roasted duck breasts are born.

menu
Garlic Escape
Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are those eccentrically curly flowering stalks that grow out of garlic bulbs in the springtime - amusingly described as looking like a cross between a plant and an octopus.
If you're lucky you might come across bunches of them in a farmers' market. On the other hand, if you happen to have shuffled your Mum off to a respite hospice you might find them growing in one of their sheltered and well-tended gardens from where you can pluck a handful unobserved.

You can serve them up quickly cooked on their own as a side dish or starter, use them in pesto, soup, add them to a stir-fry, serve them with pasta or chop them into salads. They taste a little harsh raw, but the flavour mellows surprisingly when cooked.

When not stealing garlic scapes from Marie Curie, I've been popping into The Star Inn on my way to and from visiting Mum (though it turns out that Harome is not that close to the A1 and includes some pretty crappy roads).
I got to try their famous Black Pudding and Foie Gras combo and after complimenting him on the surprising crispness to his fried foie gras, that nice Mr Andrew Pern gave me a few pointers for getting my weeping, saggy livery pillows to turn out something more like his:
  • it's essential you begin with slices of fresh, high quality foie gras
  • get your pan blistering hot to seal the liver
  • let the slices gently cook through to completion at a lower temperature
Exactly how he both scorches the outside, but then continues to cook his foie gras slabs at a lower temperature I'm not sure - I wonder if he just slaps the liver into the pan, flips it, then leaves it to cook through off the heat? Most of the advice I've seen involves searing the liver in a smoking hot pan for only 30 seconds on each side then rest for 1 minute on paper towels before serving.
You might consider scoring the first side to cook too, or even dusting with flour to generate that extra crustiness.

Not only was his foie gras exquisite, but his accompanying reduced apple chutney was thinner, but crunchier than mine, suggesting that I'd reduced mine a little too hard. I wondered too if he might have added a second round of cubed apples after reducing, to maintain a level of fresh crispness whilst still managing to generate such plentiful rich jam?
To top everything off, Andrew's decorative apple slice was beautifully caramelised using a blowtorch too - rather than pan-frying as I had. I think that gives a better-looking result.

Anyhoo, I also had a fantastic Tournedos Rossini there for dinner, served with their own paté de foie gras, which inspired me to make up some of my own. With mixed results.
I'm going to have to do a lot better than this if I want to serve my own Rossini!

Charred Garlic Scapes
veg vegan starter side
You can griddle, fry, or grill these little fellows. Toss them in a little olive oil first then cook them until they char in spots - like a discerning man's asparagus.

Ingredients
  • garlic scapes
  • a little olive oil
  • salt & pepper

  • Dressing:
  • lemon juice and zest
  • or
  • balsamic vinegar
  • or
  • soy sauce
Method
Trim the scape ends if necessary and toss them lightly with olive oil and salt and pepper.
Fry or grill them, turning half way through, so they have a few charred spots and just start to wilt.

Serve them dressed with lemon juice and a little zest, or a drizzle of fine balsamic vinegar.
The balsamic vinegar I used was a little sweet - given how mild the cooked scapes are. I'd use an edgier one next time. Soy sauce might work too.

Paté de Foie Gras. Or is it a Terrine?
starter fowl
I decided to have a go at making my own paté (or more accurately terrine) of foie gras, with mixed results.
I combined a few different approaches that I found, especially the one in The Cook's Book, but there's quite a lot of variation of flavourings (onion/garlic/herbs/spices) and alcohol (Armagnac, calvados, Sauternes) as well as cooking techniques. One approach which might be a useful fallback since it offers a bit more temperature control poaches half the liver and passes it through a sieve then presses it into a layered terrine together with pan-fried slices of the other half.
Well it turns out I was doing it all wrong! But I've got it sorted now and on only the second attempt too! Good news for my wallet!

Makes about 500g

Ingredients
  • 1 forced duck or goose liver
  • 80ml port calvados or Sauternes are also popular
  • 80ml cognac
  • ½ tsp salt
  • grinding of pepper
  • a grating of nutmeg optional
Method
Pick of outer membrane and de-vein the liver.
I tried to do this by slicing one lobe horizontally into thirds (whilst chilled - dip your knife in hot water), then allowing it to come to room temperature in a bath of milk and chasing out the veins with a toothpick and my fingers. - I'd read that soaking in milk softened the liver.
I'm not so sure if the soaking, or the slicing really helped. Next time I think I'll try just gently prising the liver lobes open at room temperature to get at the veins.

Season the livers and arrange in a terrine, pouring the liquor over each layer. Use outer slices for the top and bottom layers. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 5-6 hours.
I packed the liver into a small loaf tin, pouring in a seasoned mixture of 80ml port and 80ml Armagnac as I went.
There was a lot of liquid washing around in my final pressed paté though, so I wonder if I should have drained the excess marinade away before baking.
I left mine marinating for 24 hours (due to force of circumstance), and the alcohol flavouring was far too strong. Also the paté took on a very unattractive, dark, speckled colour from the port.

Cook the terrine in a roasting pan half-filled with warm water in a preheated oven for 20-30 minutes.
OK, this is where things get confused - opinions vary about the cooking time and temperature. The Cook's Book suggests cooking at 150°C/300°F/Gas 2 for 20 minutes.
I thought this seemed a tad hot, so I experimented a little to find the gas setting which would hold a water bath at 70°C in my oven (middle shelf at the lowest setting). I then allowed my loaf tin to come up to room temperature, stuck a meat thermometer into the centre, placed it in the water bath and baked it for about 1 hour until the centre reached 65°C. (Actually I initially turned the heat up to Gas 2-3 for about 20 minutes to make sure the water came back up to temperature, before turning it back down to low. But I'm not sure that helped.)
Unfortunately about half of the liver had dissolved away when It came to take it out of the oven. Which seems a significant loss really. Perhaps I could try removing at 55°C? My online research suggest that most bacteria will be killed if the (final)temperature reaches 140°F/60°C
It wouldn't seem like it would work to run the oven hotter as it would only melt the outer liver away more before the centre reached safe temperatures, but maybe I should skip that initial turning up?

Remove from the oven and lay a piece of foil-wrapped card or plastic (the foie gras container seemed ideal) on top of the liver. Weigh down with tins or water-filled jam jars to press the paté firmly. Leave to set in the fridge for 24 hours, and up to a week.
I found that there was a lot of juice (and fat) in my terrine, which I drained off, separated the fat from it, then refilled the terrine with it to just cover the liver.
You can use the fat for roasting potatoes and the juices for stock.

OK, the things I've learned about making paté de foie gras:
Round One
  • My paté was still in quite separate chunks, and also running with liquid (probably mostly from the alcohol). It's clear that you need to use a lot more weight to press the paté than I used (a jam jar half-filled with water).
  • You might need to drain the paté off more thoroughly too before re-covering with fat.
  • While most of my paté had a pleasant texture and you could tell there was some decent flavour in there, the liquor infusion was much too strong - I'd definitely over-marinated it.
So better luck next time!
Sweet Sushi-Teen
Real wasabi root.

Sophie is sixteen - only two years away from being an adult!
In celebration she asked me to organise a sushi (and tempura) evening for her and 9, no 6, no 5 teeny friends. So I mostly did an extended re-run of the last sushi meal the Eldorado girlies helped to organise - except without Larry The (sadly eaten) Lobster.


Crispy Salmon Skins
fish ingredient
Crispy salmon skins are surprisingly tasty - and not too fishy either. You can use them in sushi rolls, or serve them cut into strips as a tasty snack.
Waste not, want not...

Ingredients
  • Salmon skin, probably still on the salmon!
  • seasoning
  • flour
  • oil for shallow frying
Method
Thoroughly de-scale the salmon fillets - for some reason, despite having the best tools for the job and complete fish to work with, fishmongers never seem to manage this basic job.
Carefully slice off the skin from your salmon fillets; lay the salmon skin-side down on a board and cut through horizontally using a see-saw motion with a very sharp, thin knife like a santoku. You can leave up to a ¼" of flesh on the skin.
Cut into ½" strips (if you like), season (you can be more adventurous than just using salt & pepper if you like Chinese five-spice, paprika, etc), and coat in flour.
Moderately heat about ½" vegetable oil in a frying pan, and fry the skins, starting skin-side down, until they puff and start to look crispy; 3-6 minutes.
Drain them on kitchen roll.
Serve with a soy sauce dip.
If you're making inside-out salmon skin sushi, then leave the skins whole to fry them and cut them down if necessary to fit the roll.

Be warned - although the skins are surprisingly odour-free they will make your kitchen (and the oil) stink of fish. Open the windows!

They don't keep very well, quickly going soft again, so use within a few hours.

Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce
oriental thai sauce
So this is the sweet chilli sauce recipe I based mine on - as made famous by Glen Simpson on on Come Dine With Me - one of the few TV programmes my Mum and I can bear to watch together :)

I used the minimal suggested amount of dried crushed chilli (though I did add half a sliced fresh red chilli too!) and the result was bloody hot. I thought it was excellent, but you might want to go easy if you're making it for softies.

I didn't have any actual sherry, so I used Madeira instead which was just fine, but I can't help thinking rice wine would be the way to go.

Incidentally, it makes a really good salad dressing for warm new potatoes, or a dip for fried potato wedges.

Makes a (generous) half cup

Ingredients
  • ½ cup rice vinegar (or substitute white vinegar)
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp. white sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. sherry (or rice wine)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ to 1 Tbsp. dried crushed chili (1 Tbsp. makes spicy-hot sauce) or thinly sliced fresh red chillies
  • 1½ Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 3-4 Tbsp. cool water
Method
De-seed and finely slice the fresh red chilli (if using). Place all ingredients - except the cornstarch-water mixture - in a sauce pan or pot. Bring to a rolling boil.
Reduce heat to medium and let boil for 10 minutes, or until reduced by half. (The vinegar will be quite pungent as it boils off!).
Reduce heat to low, stir the cornstarch-water mixture and add it. Stir to incorporate and continue stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens (about 2 minutes).
Remove from heat and taste-test. You should taste sweet first, followed by sour, then spicy and salty notes. If the sauce isn't sweet enough, add a little more sugar. If not spicy enough, add more chili. If it blows your head off, too bad! Pour sauce into a small bowl or jar and serve cold as a dip with chicken, fish or seafood, tempura or spring rolls. Also makes an excellent marinade for grilled chicken, fish, or seafood.
An excellent sauce - you might want to be a bit cautious with the amount of chilli and fish sauce (which can be slightly overwhelming) - taste as you go.
I think a dash of lime juice or some grated lime zest wouldn't go amiss either.

Giant Cookies
dessert veg
Sophie requested a dessert pizza to round of her sweet sushi-teen dinner, so I made a giant cookie for 10 people from a half recipe for this Basic Adaptable Cookie Dough (without halving the single egg yolk!), and dressed it up to look a bit like a (smallish) pizza.
Not sure if it entirely worked, but it all got eaten. I figure you can't go wrong with cookie dough :)

Makes 20 cookies, or two giant ones.

Ingredients
  • 225g (8oz) soft butter or margarine
  • 140g (5oz) caster sugar
  • 280g (10oz) plain flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract, or the juice and rind of 1 lemon

  • Optional Extras:
  • (Add about 50g of extra ingredients)
  • chopped mixed peel
  • finely chopped dried fruit
  • chocolate chips or grated chocolate
  • sugar cake decorations, e.g. hundreds and thousands
  • chopped or ground nuts
  • tiny mini-mini marshmallows
Method
Cream the butter and sugar together until they're light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolk and mix well. Then add the flour and salt, and vanilla extract or lemon.

Add about 50g of whatever other ingredients you like! Good combinations to try are dark chocolate and orange, white chocolate and lemon, and date and pecan. Hundreds and thousands mixed into the dough are really colourful and great for kids! I used chocolate drops - 'cos I'm boring

Mix the flour and your added extras until it all comes together to form a sticky cookie dough.
Put the dough onto a floured work surface, and roll into a thick sausage shape. The size of the sausage depends how big you want your cookies: make it long and thin to get the most out, but they'll be smaller.

Wrap the sausage of cookie dough in clingfilm and leave in the freezer for at least 1 hour. While it's in there, preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/Gas mark 6).
Take the sausage of cookie dough out of the freezer: it should be firmer and easier to cut. Use a sharp knife to slice it, as thick as you like, and put the cookie slices onto a baking sheet, spaced quite far apart. If you need to bake them in more than one batch, wrap the excess dough and put it back into the freezer so it doesn't go soft.
Actually - to make my giant cookie I just chilled the dough in a flattened ball shape for 15 minutes or so, then pressed it into a pizza shape. Not sure if the chilling is strictly necessary for the cooking process.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, then leave to cool. They're great plain, but you can spread each one with a teaspoon of coloured or flavoured icing.
So this worked pretty well for one giant cookie (though you might need to turn the oven temperature down a little and turn the giant cookie so it cooks evenly). I reduced some strawberries with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice to make a rich jammy strawberry sauce to paint on the top of the cooled giant cookie pizza (to look like tomato paste, see?), and decorated with thinly sliced strawberries and kiwis.

As made by Japanese mothers everywhere. Probably.
Leftover Sushi Soup
soup fish
You don't need a picture - it's soup. Mostly brown soup.

Serves you right for making too much!

Ingredients
  • leftover sushi
  • leftover tempura
  • leftover dipping sauce
  • leftover rice
Method
Yer takes all yer leftover sushi and tempura bits, including the dipping sauces, the rice, the cut up fishes, (but not the wasabi) and yer puts them in a pot and yer adds water and yer boils em up.
Nice with soy sauce, and a little dressing of mayonnaise!
Fatty Duck
Fatty Duck

Faced with the perpetual problem of what to cook for a mid-week dinner?
Just do what I did - crack open that jar of foie gras you brought back from your last French skiing holiday, stuff a couple of duck breasts and voilà - a quick meal for three. Assuming you already have a starter, some braised red cabbage, mango sorbet and creamy diplomats on hand.


Celery Parmesan Salad
Celery Parmesan salad with cannellini beans and toasted almonds
starter
The original recipe called for 8 celery stalks, but then the salad ends up being mostly celery so I've reduced the number. But feel free to add as many as you like.
Go easy on the currants, unless you really like them!
It takes quite a while to deeply toast the sliced almonds in a dry frying pan, so start that first. You just need to shake them occasionally as you prepare the rest.

If you want you can make your own celery salt by drying (baking) celery leaves until crispy then crumbling them up with regular salt.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
  • 5 large celery stalks, stripped of strings
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for topping
  • 1½ cups / 10 oz / 285g cooked cannellini or garbanzo beans, heated
  • 3 tablespoons currants (or golden raisins)
  • ½ cup / 1½ oz / 40g sliced almonds, deeply toasted
  • sea salt or celery salt
  • freshly chopped herbs (or herb flowers), or reserved celery leaves
Method
Slice the celery stalks quite thinly: 1/8-inch or so. Then, in a small bowl, make a paste with the olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan. Set aside. In a large bowl toss the heated beans with the olive-Parmesan mixture.
When well combined, add the celery, currants, and most of the almonds. Toss once more. Taste and add a bit of salt if needed.
Serve in a bowl or platter topped with herb flowers and/or celery leaves.
Not bad.
Best served at once while there is still some warmth from the beans. It gets a bit claggy when it cools down.
What Karl Cooked Next
Beetroot Salad

This week I will be mostly eating stuff from the back of the fridge.

...Where I found some Halloumi lurking. It had been lurking for quite a while (it's not my favourite cheese) so I invented an aubergine dish to use it up. It was so good I'd consider buying more Halloumi just to make it again!

Next to the Halloumi was the remains of a jar of home-made pesto that I'd once used to coat a slab of salmon so I decided to work on another taste sensation that I've got a hard-on for: peanuts and pesto. Having once been surprised at how well crushed peanuts worked on a salad dressed with pesto, I've been searching for other ways to combine the two. I had a go at grinding peanuts into that pesto crusted salmon nope!, then I thought I might just try pasta with peanuts and pesto.
I figured the nuts would need to be considerably less crunchy if they were going to be at all palatable on linguine, so I boiled up a small bag of roasted salted peanuts in stock (well, water with a spoonful of Marmite in it) for half an hour or so to soften them, then threw them on top of the pesto pasta.
Don't bother - the textures are just wrong - the slippery nuts fall through the pasta and all end up at the bottom of the bowl, plus they sit oddly with the soft pasta in the mouth.
I chucked the leftover softened peanuts into my Imam Kustu, so all was not wasted.

Meanwhile my temporary flatmate Doctor Jenny has been on holiday from her Edinburgh holiday, but returned briefly to collect her washing.
So I deep-fried the fatted calf for her dinner.

Well, of course, we didn't really have a fatted calf - my freezer isn't big enough for one, so we had deep-fried buffalo wings with ranch dressing instead and I baked some of the leftover barbecued spare ribs (sadly pre-barbecued and pre-packaged from Costco) that have been hogging space in the freezer since my Birthday Barbecue. Maybe I'll be able to get a calf into the new freezer, when I've finally emptied and replaced the one I've got?
As a break from all that fat, I bought a pack of four organic beetroots
These seem to be the only kind of uncooked beets you can buy these days - Tesco stock packets of something they call Traditional Fresh Cooked Beetroot which makes no sense to me. Surely Fresh and Cooked are diametric opposites? The only way that statement is even logical is if they are freshly cooked, and since they're lying in a vacuum sealed plastic packet in the vegetable aisle it blatantly ain't so. But I digress...
and mixed up a wasabi-flavoured version of Joyce's beetroot and horseradish salad which also went very nicely with the Imam Kustu as it happens.
To cook the beetroots I boiled them unpeeled in diluted white wine vinegar with some caraway seeds, rosemary and dill - since that's what I had lying around.
What beetroot I didn't use in Joyce's salad I grated over bowls of mixed salad greens dressed with a vinaigrette flavoured with bruised caraway seeds for a nice and simple salad that was also pretty tasty.

As if Doctor Jenny hadn't been pampered enough already, I also treated her to some experimental mashed potatoes with whisky-poached prawns which were enthusiastically received. Maybe that's what she's looking so excited about?

Later my ex-partner Rachel announced a short-notice visit by our mutual friend Mary Poweroff, or at least it was short-notice for me - I'm sure Rachel knew all about it in plenty of time. Anyway, it gave me the perfect excuse to use up the other Reblochon cheese I brought back from my recent French skiing trip. This time I decided to make a smoked salmon Tartiflette replacing the original bacon (though without the frying). I added a few tablespoons of sour cream which you could also serve as a topping - I think most of the extra liquidity actually comes from the fish rather than the cream (and some chopped dill) too - so it was a bit sloppier than the bacon version, but still delicious.
Rich, but delicious.
To go with I made Elizabeth David's courgette and tomato bake; there's a meatless theme here - can you tell? Rachel's eldest Sophie ate (and ate and ate) with us, and she's now joined the legions of the vegetarian - the horror! Between the four of us there wasn't a spot left either, so I must have done something right :)

Speaking of creeping vegetarianism; what with the astonishing indoctrination of the younger generation by today's militant and unashamedly political teaching profession, it's really only a question of time until meat is banned. You already see the steady terrorising of meat as horror stories about the dangers of bacon, sausages or cow flatulence persistently infiltrate our news media.

So, my question is: What will the world look like when the skills and abilities and (*shudder*) opinions of these brainwashed youngsters are valued above those of their elders?
Don't think that's gonna happen? Don't think that's already happening?
Ask yourself what capitalism most desires:
  • A gullible, undiscerning, painfully fashion-conscious consumer, vulnerable to advertising and peer-pressure.
    Read children.
  • Products which change rapidly, are highly obsolescent, and are indispensable to a certain lifestyle or peer group
  • Methods of production which are facile to implement, require little training, education or scholarship
then look around you.
All that's thwarting this consumerist nirvana is youth's lack of disposable income. And that's where you old geezers come in (apologies to any 'yoof' reading). Too set in your ways to continuously re-organise your lives around the latest fads, too reluctant to endlessly shell out for products that last no longer than the time it takes to unwrap them, you need to be divested of your assets so they can be redistributed to the young.
Expect a two-pronged attack:
  • Promotion of the young:
    • foster the view of children as small adults
    • develop resistance to the idea of disciplining or controlling children and invent syndromes that require recalcitrant children to be appeased not opposed
    • praise the maturity of 'modern' children and encourage their independence:
    • promote the idea that children require ever earlier sexual education sex sells really well
    • press for a reduction of the voting age and promote the political engagement of ever younger children
  • Demonising of the old
    • scaremonger an 'ageing population'
    • present the elderly as expensive and unproductive - an increasing drain on precious resources
    • represent the retaining of homes with unused rooms by the elderly as a form of squatting - and accuse them of preventing hard-working families from affording suitable houses.
    • introduce mechanisms by which the elderly can be forced to liquidate their assets to pay for their subsistence or their health-care.
So Sophie - in answer to your question do I think that the voting age should be reduced to 16?: Fuck You!

Fortunately, despite consumerism's best efforts to render obsolete any need for knowledge or experience, I know that ain't happening with cooking anytime soon (young Masterchefs of the year not withstanding) so my continuing utility is sinecured.
But the rest of you better watch out - you have been warned!

A work in progress
Mashed Potato with Whisky-Poached Prawns
side staple fish
I'm working towards two dishes here - I loved Andrew Fairlie's whisky-smoked lobster, but smoking seems a rather time-consuming business that I might get around to one day, so in the meantime I thought I'd see how just cooking in whisky turned out.
Obviously boiling a lobster in whisky is going to take a lot of whisky, so I started with something a bit smaller.
Not sure how much the whisky flavour actually penetrates the prawns, but fortunately it's all going to get smushed together shortly...

The other dish is lobster mash - which I've heard of being commonly served with steak, particularly in the States. It's more usually served with a herbed cheese, like Boursin, but I wanted to see how the whisky worked.

Serves 2

Ingredients
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 2 tiger prawns
  • glass of smoky whisky I used Bunnahabhain
  • butter
  • salt and pepper
Method
Put enough whisky to not dry out into a pan with a tight fitting lid. Rinse the prawns and put them in the pan. Heat the whisky, seal tightly, and steam the prawns until they are cooked through (about 3 minutes).
Remove the prawns, keeping the stock left in the pan, peel, de-vein and chop the prawn flesh. Set aside with the reserved cooking stock and an extra splash of whisky.

Make your mashed potatoes as normal - I baked my potatoes, but on reflection possibly they were a little dry for this dish.
Rice or mash them with plenty of butter until creamy. Season.
Stir in the whisky prawns.
Serve.
Quite nice - if a little on the stodgy side.
I did wonder if I should have loosened it a little with milk - I think that cream or sour cream would be too cloying.
Some herbs or roast garlic might work in there too - tarragon or parsley, chives or spring onions?
Not sure about a hint of lime - would that work with the whisky?
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