Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year

We decided to avoid the bars and parties this year and to sit down for a nice meal to see out 2013 and to welcome in 2014.

Earlier this week I took some nice salmon fillets and prepared them according to recipe I had seen on TV just before Christmas. Nathan Outlaw had beetroot cured a side of salmon (  Having prepared a slightly smaller batch of the cure I placed the salmon fillets in the cure and put it in the fridge for 30 hours. I then removed it from the fridge, washed off the cure and dried the salmon. I then did my best to cut thin slices of the fish. I stored this in vacuum packed bags where it should keep for at least 3 weeks. This will provide a simple starter for tonight served with a little salad and some buttered brown bread.

Now on to the main course. I managed to get a nice pork joint earlier today at a bargain price. This has spent the last 4 hours roasting slowly at 120C. With about 50 minutes to go to serving I have turned the heat up to 220C to get a good crisp crackling.

I intend serving this with some carrots cooked off in orange juice, butter, a little sugar and a star anise. I will accompany this with red cabbage prepared according to another recipe I saw being prepared by Tom Kerridge ( and some roast potatoes and parsnip. I am duty bound to steam a few brussel sprouts for my wife.

As for the dessert, well there is plenty of cheese left over. Christmas pudding or lemon posset should we still have room.

Thank you all for the time you have taken to read my blog in 2013. I hope to bring you more of my food experiences in 2014 but until then I wish you all a Happy New Year

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Blind Menu

It has been a few weeks since my last post. With Christmas on the way there was a lot to do. Not least trips to see family, Christmas shopping, cooking and a short break in Brussels at one of my favorite hide aways abroad 'Be Manos'. More about that in a later post.

Finally, on the 20th December, with the Christmas shopping done what better way to relax before the big day than a short trip to Lille to take in the Christmas market and some good French cuisine? Off we set on Eurostar and in a short while we were in the city taking a short walk to the Lille Carlton ( . The hotel has some mixed reviews but from my point of view it is a nice hotel. Typically french. It is elegently furnished with a comfortable bed . What more do you need.

We had met up with my sister-in-law on the train as planned and once we had settled in and changed out of our travelling clothes into something a little more stylish we set out with her and her husband in search of sustenance. He was already in France and, as we were arriving mid evening, had taken the liberty of booking us a table so that we were guaranteed a good place to eat on our first night.

A short walk from the hotel in Rue de Barre was the Restaurant Au Gout Du Jour ( ). After a swift diversion to Fifi's Wine Bar opposite for a Christmas beer we ambled across the cobbles and into the restaurant. The menu was novel. A simple choice of one or two starters, a main course, cheese and/or dessert  The price started at around 40 euros and rose to 50 depending on the choices you made. We were asked if we had any allergies or foods we did not like and offered wine to match the as yet undisclosed food.

The amuse buche, a cauliflower soup both creamy and thick gave a hint as to theskills of the chef. Not a vegetable I often enjoy, this particular recipe was an exception. A well balanced and luxurious soup that took away the winter chill.

Next, our starter course arrived. Perfectly cooked sole that had been molded into a cylinder and poached. This was served on a creamy bed of chopped celery with a stunning onion marmalade. The marmalade had been pureed forming a delicious black paste to accompany the fish. The sole was dusted with dried caviar ( just prior to being eaten. The perfectly balanced flavours were complemented with a glass of white Languedoc wine.

Onto the main course. Another perfectly cooked fish dish consisting of a seared salmon trutta fillet (sewin or sea trout to you and me) on a parsnip puree with roasted parsnip and wild mushrooms. The crisp skin added a wonderful texture to this simple but delicius dish. The red cote du rhone that accompanied this was a touch too rich to be a perfect match but the reason for the choice became clear when the cheese course arrived. A smorgersboard of cheeses from the delicate through to the very pungent was served next. The wine was a great match to this.

Finaly the dessert course. An ellegant sounding white chocolate emullsion on top of a sweet potato mouse with clemantines. Another great flavour combination that was slightly marred by the clemantine segments that were still encased in their segment skin and accompanied by pips. A little more effort to remove these would have made for a perfect end to an excellent meal

Good coffee and petti four prepared us for our short walk home and the promise of more cullenary adventures in the comming few days, Best of all, a restarant menu that was a complete surprise that, at this seasonal time, did not include turkey or goose.

Friday, 6 December 2013

A solution to a lazy night

Earlier today I left my sick sofa ( posher than a bed) today after the ravages of man flu (a simple cold) with a hunger for something tasty that I didn't need to create. My wife and I progressed to the local Waitrose in search of  something to awaken our taste buds, As we strolled I suggested a curry having remember a package I saw on my last visit. My wife, used to the usual culinary delights, was up for 'a curry'. Imagine her despair when I picked up a packet marked Chicken Tikka Masala.  After a short discourse on the benefits of something simple for the feeble minded (me with my cold induced woolly brain) she agreed not to pester me for a home grown curry.

I had purchased some chicken thighs, the best cut for a good flavour, and had sufficient ingredients with regards to chutneys and naan breads to see us through. After a short sojourn to our local social club to welcome in the weekend with some London Pride, we retired to our little house.

I set the skillet to the heat and once it was searingly hot I placed the thighs and a little oil onto the iron. Once the meat had taken a good browning I added the masala paste into the pan. A good tip here. Score the flesh of the thighs before you start to cook it, with a sharp knife , down to the bone. At least three cuts to a thigh. This helps to soak up the flavour.

I cooked this off in the fabled iron skillet with a tight fitting lid.I had added the tin of coconut cream supplied in the 'cook me' pack. Over the next 20 minutes, over a low heat, I turned the chicken in the rich sauce. In the final few minutes I removed the lid, microwaved the rice (also supplied) and warmed the plates.

As the dish came together, I served the rice, placed the chicken upon it and spooned the thick and rich sauce over the chicken. Coconut flakes and rose petals (dried) had been supplied in the pack. I added these and served the dish with a Peshawar naan (I love these).

In short, superb. An excellent, cheats way of producing a good looking and tasty curry without dialing the local take away for 'red/brown something with rice'.

Sorry for the cheat but we all need one from time to time.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Salve, Salve, Salve Fallernum

Sorry for the long break. Trips to Wales and a damned head cold have left me more than a little un-creative but today, full of cold, I decided to fix myself. A little research and a bracing walk in a storm force wind to the supermarket for some ingredients.

1 litre white Bacardi rum
2 oz fresh ginger ( julienned )
15 cloves
10 allspice berries
2 star anise
zest of 5 limes

This all went into a ziplock bag then into the sous vide for 2 hours at 60C

I made a simple syrup with 2 cups of caster sugar to one cup of water. You can spend an age with a jar shaking the mixture until all the sugar dissolves or put the whole lot in a pan and bring it to the boil. Simmer until all the crystals are dissolved then cool.

I juiced the limes and, once the cooking was complete and cooled, I mixed the simple syrup, lime juice and sous vide flavoured rum together and bottled it. 1.5 litres or so of comforting, warming Fallernum cordial. A perfect salve for a cold and a great addition to a cocktail.

There are a lot of old recipes for cocktails with Fallernum cordial and a lot of recipes for the same cordial. This is mine. A friend who owns a cocktail bar got a taste and proclaimed it needed nothing more for a perfect drink. I think it would be great with crushed ice and soda water. Another taster reckoned on tonic water. All I say is try it. Perfect right from the bottle for a cold or mixed for an old style cocktail.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Stir in Sunday

It's that time of year again. The day people traditionally make their Christmas pudding. I no longer make my own since 1994 when I  discovered a guy from Devon who at the tender age of 18 spotted a gap in the market and started to make Christmas Puddings for sale at food fairs. Georgie Porgie'sPuddings  (  are a dream. No longer restricted to Christmas puddings his company produces a variety of excellent puddings all year round. This is why, on stir up Sunday, there is no pudding making in our house.

That does not, of course, mean that there is no stirring. Today, I made my Christmas cake ready for eating with a good bit of Stilton cheese on the big day. I decided on a traditional fruit cake recipe:

225g currents
225g sultanas
225g seedles raisins
150g cut peel
100g glace cherries
150g blanched almonds
225g slightly salted butter
225g dark brown soft sugar
300g plain flour
1 nutmeg freshly grated
1 tsp ground cinnamon
zest of one lemon
4 eggs
1 tbsp milk
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp golden syrup
200 ml brandy

The cake takes 5 hours to bake so to avoid over cooking the outside I wrapped an 8", round, deep cake tin in two layers of brown paper and lined the tin with baking parchment.

Firstly, mix all of the fruit and peel in a bowl and add the brandy. Leave this for at least an hour to soak. After soaking, pour off any remaining brandy and keep to one side.

Warm the oven to 150C.

Cream the softened butter and sugar together well. Lightly beat the eggs, syrup and lemon zest together. Slowly add the beaten mixture into the butter and sugar until it is all incorporated into a smooth consistency.

Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the cinnamon and the grated nutmeg and mix together. Add 4 tablespoons of this flour mix to the fruit and stir that.

Now it is time to bring the ingredients together. Add around a quarter of the flour to the egg and butter mixture and stir well. Next add around a quarter of the fruit mixture and stir that in. A final quarter of the remaining brandy and stir. Repeat this three more times until all of the ingredients with the exception of the milk and bicarbonate of soda are combined.

Take the milk and dissolve the bicarbonate of soda into it before adding this to the mixture. Stir well and then spoon into the baking tin. Form a hollow at the centre of the tin to allow for the cake to rise. They always rise more in the middle so the hollow helps to level the cake off.

Place in the warm oven on a newspaper to help prevent the bottom of the cake over cooking. After 90 minutes reduce the temperature to 140C for the remainder of the cooking time.

Friday, 22 November 2013

It works

Well with the Wales v Tonga match on in a few hours, it being a Friday and therefore a need to visit the pub, wanting to try the method for peeling garlic that I posted earlier in the week and finally a desire for a bit of a feast tonight there was only one thing to do.

Out with the bulb of garlic.,crushed under hand to break the bulb up into individual cloves and the cloves popped into one of the two matching steel bowls I have. Next, I shook the bowls for a minute or two and, shock horror, it works like a dream. Now what to do with a dozen or so cloves of peeled garlic.

Out came the Bamix. In went the cloves, a pinch of salt, some basil oil, a handful of parsley and the leaves from a small bunch of lemon thyme. A few minutes later I had a beautiful green paste.Then I rubbed the paste across the entire surface of an organic chicken. I popped a lemon into the cavity and then sealed the chicken into a roasting tin with foil. This then went into the oven at 170C for an hour and a half while I dealt with the visiting of the pub on a Friday night. In the meantime I had prepared some batter for herb Æbleskiver to accompany the pungent garlic and lemon chicken.

Back from the pub and I toasted off the  Æbleskiver  in the oven: served them with the chicken, some baked new potato and some corn. Served off with a nice gravy made with the jus and some blackberry butter and a little blackberry coulis. A nice rounding off of the evening.

The cooked and roasted  Æbleskiver  were good. but I want a lighter bite. I can see a little chemistry with tempura style batter and a few post cooking techniques emerging. Watch this space ;)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Just Desserts

I've been off the boil a little on the cooking front. I'm looking forward to the weekend and a little creativity but tonight I reaped the rewards of the new sous vide. I'll drop a line on  a review of the machine over the next few days but it's first outing was to cook off some asparagus and to create the perfect addition to ice cream (not the same dish :) ).

You will remember the cherry glut following the bargain prices at the local supermarket I mentioned. Well a few of the punnets ended their days stoned and drowned in a hot bath of French Brandy for 3 hours at 60C. A little simple sugar syrup and I now have a good supply of Cherry Brandy for the festive season. I used 1.3 litres of Brandy to about a kilo of cherries. The cherries now bask in the cool of the fridge in the 0.3 litres of brandy ready for gifts and, at the suggestion of my wife, as the core of some Æbleskiver (possibly dipped in chocolate).

Protestations from my wife saw two of the punnets cooked off in the new sous vide for 30 minutes at 80C in a cup of strong chamomile tea. Cooled off in the fridge and served with a good vanilla ice cream.... Delicious.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Bit of a Break

We decided to take ourselves away for the weekend. We didn't want to go far, just far enough to forget the housework so on Friday night we packed a bag and headed off to Winchester. We have a favourite haunt there called the Old Vine (
This 18th century Inn has everything we need for a weekend away. Shops, a great Saturday market, plenty of pubs serving good ale and food, lovely walks around the city that used to be the capital of England and has a history going back to about 150 BC. It reeks of history to the extent that stores like W H Smiths are located in beautiful listed buildings, in their case in the aptly named Parchment Street.
To add to the draw of this particular weekend, they hold an art and craft market in the main streets on the third Sunday of the month.
Having arrived. We took a quick trip down through the town before dinner to pick up a few Christmas gifts. returning to the Vine we were ready for a well kept pint of real ale before we popped up to our room (Zoffany) to get ready for dinner. The rooms here are wonderful. Each we have stayed in has a comfortable bed, a good TV, great coffee machine and so many extras (water, juice, fresh milk, ear plugs) that you just wish a few 4 and 5 star owners would try the place out to see what they are missing in their accommodation.
Refreshed and changed, we proceeded down to the restaurant for our evening meal. I tucked into a simple blue cheese and pear salad for a starter followed by perfectly cooked calves liver.A delicious winter berry pudding (a twist on summer pudding). Finally a platter of artisan cheeses topped off a very satisfying meal.
Now to the real reason for the Old Vine. Lunch and dinner are great here but there is nothing nicer than waking up. Opening the shutters to take in the view of the cathedral prior to sitting down, in your room, to a sumptuous breakfast served at table provided. A perfectly splendid way to start a day.
Fully relaxed, we returned home today to reality. Bulbs to be planted, cherry brandy to be made (more about this later) and dinner to be prepared. I did have the foresight to place a joint of beef in the sous vide on Friday at 49C to cook through ready for tonight. Perfectly rare and in need of just a sear in the skillet to finish it off before serving with a platter of roasted vegetables and sous vide asparagus made in the new sous vide (review later in the week when I have had a chance to put it through it's paces). I'll tell you about the dessert later in the week too :)
As to a photograph to jazz up the page. How about the beverage enjoyed during the bulb planting. There was a good fire in the fire pit so it seemed a shame not to throw a cast iron pan on the fire and warm through some mulled wine. A dash of Kirsch was all that was required to finish off this comforting little tipple. Well, why have winter drawing in if you can't enjoy the pleasures fire can bring :)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Wow - I have got to try this

Very quick one tonight. Saw this and just have to try it

I will let you know how it goes. All I need now is a chicken :)

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Making the most of what you have

We had guests due round for a meal on Friday. The main course was already sorted out. I was going to serve the Tuna with fennel and coriander rub I mentioned a few blogs back ( . I was a little stuck for a first course.

Every Friday my vegetable box turns up from Able and Cole ( . It always adds to the weekend fun not knowing what I am going to have to work with. In this weeks box were some beetroot. I knew I had a small piece of pork belly in the fridge so a simple starter of pork and beetroot came to mind. In order to spice things up a little I grabbed some mixed pepper corns, fresh ginger, garlic, some sugar and some balsamic vinegar.

Once the spices had met with the Bamix they formed a good looking paste to marinade the pork in for an hour or two prior to a long hot bath in the sous vide at 85C for 5 hours.

Now to deal with the beetroot. It could also be cooked for about 3 hours at the same temperature as the pork. First I had to spruce them up a bit. I managed to pick up a great pair of scrubbing gloves that are perfect for root or potatoes if you want to leave the skin intact.

Scrubbed up. Topped and tailed. Skin scored with a sharp knife to let the flavour in. They were ready to take a hot bath with some ginger and balsamic vinegar too.

Just in time for dinner I took the pork out of the sous vide and cut off small portions for the starter. I crisped the skin in a very hot skillet. While this took form, I toasted some sesame seeds off. Sliced the beetroot and got ready to plate up. I glazed the pork with a little crab apple jelly. A few fresh baby beetroot leaves for garnish and the dish looked sufficiently impressive.

I followed this dish with the tuna served with some sweet potato chips and asparagus. They were sufficiently photogenic.

The same cannot be said for the Æbleskiver. This time I used buttermilk and placed a kirsch pickled black cherry at the centre of each. Served with some cassis and a good vanilla ice cream they tasted great but more practice is needed to get an even colour fit for the camera.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

And Finally..... The Æbleskiver pan has arrived

Those of you who have been following for a while will remember I ordered an Æbleskiver pan. Well, after a very long wait it arrived today. I got home from work with this very heavy cast iron pan. Washed it in warm soapy water. Coated it in vegetable oil. Baked it for an hour at 180C (and did a couple of baked potatoes for supper too). Re coated and baked it again to season it well. Having eaten our supper it was time for the first adventure.

I tried my local stores for buttermilk but it is an acquired taste so it was a fruitless search. I will get some at the weekend but I couldn't wait until then to try this out so I tried it with ordinary milk.

 beat the whites of two eggs in a clean stainless steel bowl (It might be my imagination but nothing lifts cream or eggs faster than stainless steel). Soon I had soft peaks and moved my attention to the yolks, a tablespoon of sugar, a cup of semi skimmed milk, a cup of plain flour and two teaspoons of baking powder. The power of Bamix means I can throw these into a jug and just blitz them. I poured this mixture into a fresh stainless steel bowl and added the egg whites. Folding them in gently I soon achieved a foamy batter.

The Æbleskiver pan had been on the heat for a while. Recipes talk of anything from two teaspoons to a tablespoon of oil/butter in each dish. I am trying to keep the weight off so I tried a teaspoon of butter in each first. I let this melt then added a tablespoon of the batter to each cell of the pan. As this bubbled to a set I added a half teaspoon of strawberry jam to each cell and topped them up to the rim. Using two metal skewers I started to free and turn each of the 'cakes' until they had been completely turned over to form golden balls. I removed these and placed them in a pre-heated oven at 200C to keep hot.

I repeated the exercise with a half teaspoon of almond oil in each cell. This time I added a half teaspoon of chocolate spread. The finished Æbleskiver were added to those in the oven.

There was enough for two more so I experimented with some St Agur cheese. These savoury version were cooked off in olive oil and once completed, served first. The sweet versions were dusted with a little sugar and brought in for dessert. 

The results were not photogenic but were very tasty. Now I have had a play and have the hang of the heat required in the pan I will go ahead and play with a few ideas. Once these are fit for public consumption then I will publish the results here. In the meantime I will enjoy the experiments to myself (though my wife may have to get a few :) )

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Short Break in West Wales

Sorry there have been no posts for a few days. We had tickets to see Eddi Reader in concert in Cardiff on Saturday ( so took advantage of a few days break to travel down to see my Mum on the Wild West Wales coast before stopping in Cardiff on the way back. This did mean that I had the chance to visit the hidden gem I mentioned a few posts back (,Hammet House.

I dropped them a message on Facebook ( and made a reservation for Friday night. Four and a half hours of tedious driving down to the coast was lightly spiced with the thoughts of what pleasures Andy Beaumont would present on the dinner menu. Friday night soon came around and we jumped into a taxi (well the beer and the wine are good so the additional cost would be worth it).

We arrived at Hammet House and, after working our way through a delightful crowd celebrating a 40th or 50th Wedding Anniversary and a surprise engagement we made our way to the bar for some pre-dinner refreshment. My eyes were drawn to the clipboards on the bar presenting the bar and dinner menu. You are free to chose items from both. I hurriedly ordered drinks before reaching across to read the dinner menu:

Dinner menu November 2013

To begin

Lobster ravioli, slow cooked pork belly, pickled baby vegetables, lobster bisque

Scallops, razor clams, larva bread risotto, toasted hazel nuts

Pea panna cotta, raisin puree, wasabi, mint (v)

Foie gras, smoked duck, black truffle, apple

Cannelloni of Pembrokeshire crab & pickled cucumber, caviar, peach

Tart fine of chicken livers, caramelized wings, girolles, crab apples, sherry vinegar

 Main event

Steamed lemon sole, salsa verde, tomato gnocchi, black olive, brown crab, kaffir lime veloute

Fillet of Celtic pride beef, braised ox tongue, shallot & thyme puree, pak choi, globe artichoke

Guinea fowl, braised leg pithivier, fine beans, baby beetroot

Lamb rack, sweet breads, peas, smoked tomato, runner beans, black olive, crispy anchovies

Cod, bulgur wheat, courgette linguine, cauliflower, crispy cockles

Grouse, braised cabbage, bread sauce, game chips & blackberries

Wild mushroom risotto, truffle oil, rocket (v)

To finish

Set coconut cream, cinnamon beignet, honeycomb, berry sorbet

Chocolate textures

Rhubarb & custard; poached rhubarb, baked vanilla custard, rhubarb sorbet

3 counties cheeseboard, handmade crackers, chutney
5 or 8 cheeses as pre or post dessert
5 cheeses
8 cheeses (3.00 supplement)

It was going to take some serious decisions as to which of these exciting sounding selections I was going to make. After some deliberation my guests and I chose our starter and main course and some wine. We then waited to be called through for the feast.

Finally seated at our table, we were presented with the amuse bouche. A delightful bacon jelly encasing a pickled shimeji mushroom and a foam made from the same delicious mushroom.

 The salt jelly married well with the high notes of the pickled mushroom. I now knew the chef was on form and a few hours of pleasure had begun.

Soon the starters arrived. The pea panna cotta for my mother (I did get a small taste of this. It was stunning. Light and full of fresh, summer, pea flavour. )

Pea panna cotta, raisin puree, wasabi, mint (v)

The crab cannelloni for my wife

Cannelloni of Pembrokeshire crab & pickled cucumber, caviar, peach

and, finally, my foie gras. The duck added texture to a light mousse of foie gras that had the taste complimented with the black truffle . The Brioche and the apple sticks added the sweetness to lift the dish and punctuate the smooth and savory with sharp, sweet stabs of taste.

Foie gras, smoked duck, black truffle, apple

Stunned into silence by the starters we slowly recovered the conversation and awaited the entrance of the main courses. After much soul searching I had chosen the lamb. I am not as squeamish as some men and love the taste of sweetbreads. The thoughts of lamb complimented by the salt of anchovies (I love using 'Gentleman's Relish' on the skin of a nice roast shoulder of lamb) was the deciding matter. I was not to be disappointed when perfectly cooked and seasoned lamb arrived accompanied with runner beans to remind me of the summer that had just left the building.

Lamb rack, sweet breads, peas, smoked tomato, runner beans, black olive, crispy anchovies

My guests chose the venison not mentioned on the menu 

The unmentioned venison

and the grouse (I cannot comment of the taste as we each defended our dish from invading forks)

Grouse, braised cabbage, bread sauce, game chips & blackberries

Much as I love the main course and starters here, the desserts are the 'cherry on the cake'. Again the choice was a difficult one. I had experienced the rhubarb on my last visit but managed to resist. My wife had liked the look of the dish when I had it but was forbidden  a taste so she chose this.

Rhubarb & custard; poached rhubarb, baked vanilla custard, rhubarb sorbet

My mother chose the  coconut cream. 

Set coconut cream, cinnamon beignet, honeycomb, berry sorbet

Though I was envious. The true skill of a good pastry chef is always in the chocolate. A wonderful ingredient so easily spoiled. True to form, I was not disappointed. Perfect texture and taste (shame the wine caused the  photograph to blur a little. I'll have to go back and try again :) ).

Chocolate textures

My poor expanding waist was in for one more challenge. When trying to order dessert I happened to spot this:

I couldn't resist and so soon after the desserts had left the table, three plates and a cheese board to share came in to complete the meal. A wonderful night with the promise of many more visits to come ..

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The smoked mussel saga

I couldn't decide what to do with the smoked mussels over the weekend. I had designs on a taco filled with sour cream and avocado with the mussels but went off that. Last night, having used the last of the smoked langoustines, I decided to use the shells and made a quick bisque (without tomato). I simmered some carrot, some celery, and onion all finely chopped in a pint of fish stock for 15 minutes then used the blender to turn it into a smooth soup. I then added the broken shells and boiled them in the soup for about 3 minutes . I engaged the Bamix for a second time to smash the shells and recover any meat left behind. After another 2 minutes I  passed the entire mix through a sieve to remove shell etc. and added a shot of Dild Akvavit we had picked up in Copenhagen. I was left with a smooth, smokey fish sauce. 1/2 went to the freezer and the rest spent the night in the fridge.

Tonight I put the steamer on to warm up a large pan of water for some pasta. Popped some garlic bread in the oven. Chopped some spring onions and the back half of some fine asparagus and added this to the fish sauce from last night. I brought the sauce to the boil and simmered it for 4 minutes while the pasta cooked through and the mussels, asparagus and some broccoli gently steamed.

I strained off the pasta, added the sauce and the mussels. One good stir later and the mussels and pasta were spooned into a bowl, topped with the asparagus tips and broccoli and a good twist of black pepper. Accompanied by a hunk of garlic bread this now left for the dinner table along with a glass of French Sauvignon Blanc.

The smoked mussels were fantastic. For ease of eating I might remove the shells before tossing them in the pasta and sauce next time but then again ....

Monday, 28 October 2013

Dublin Bay Prawn = Langoustines

Tough weekend. I was skirting around a cold and needed Angostura Rum and Orange to give me the vitamin C and interest to see the virus out. A good supply of fish in and limited creativity. After a discussion up at the club it was decided the best fate for fresh, smoked, langoustines was to steam them and serve with a good garlic butter, some bread and a peppery green salad.

With all of the food events on in the area this weekend I popped down in the car to the artisan market and picked up a stunning onion bread from John the baker (sorry, you have to live in the area to understand this guys dedication to dough). Having dropped my wife off at the hairdressers it was off on Jin Chan (my pet 'golden toad' is a black Piaggio MP3 500 Sport ) to the farmers market and the loacal DIY store for nails to make sure the new summer house would survive the approaching Atlantic storm.

After a hard day completing the trunking and wire assembly for the summer house and ensuring storm braces and roof were ready (oh, and for my wife to get her hair just right [now I am in trouble :) ]) We migrated into the summer house for supper and wine.

I had steamed 6 good sized langoustines and served them up with a green salad, a damned fine garlic and green onion butter, some watercress and rocket salad a hunk or two of the stupidly fresh onion bread that would serve us well for the rest of the weekend.

As to the butter, this is so simple. Crush the garlic and a pinch of salt flowers with the back of a good chefs knife and mince to a fine puree. Pop this into a small pan in which you have heated a few drops of groundnut oil and butter (stops it burning). Reduce the heat and add some finely sliced spring onions. Simmer through until the onions are translucent. Add fresh parsley and pepper to taste.

I had provided an extra bowl for the shells. Waste not want not, as they say. As soon as the main course was over then the 'waste' went right back into the fridge ready to be added to a couple of softened and finely chopped shallots, some minced garlic, a few tail ends of asparagus, some fish stock and a date with a blender and a sieve. (Tonight they met their fate and I have a stunning stock ready to be added to cream to either metamorphose into a good bisque or to lift the smoked mussels to new heights.)

More about the haddock, the last two laungoustines and a few veg. later....

Friday, 25 October 2013

What to do....

A short post that may spawn more.

A friend told me about a fish supplier they had tried and suggested I may like to try them too. The town I live in has a poor supply of fish. The local supermarket has a fish counter and there is a stall in the market on a Saturday but if you want fresh fish (and know what fresh fish looks like) then you have to be lucky to get what you want.

I took a look at and fell in love with the idea of smoked langoustines, smoked mussles and kippers for Sunday breakfast. I know I was looking for 'fresh fish' but I love smoked fish. The langoustines were landed on Wednesday, hot smoked and with me today so they are definitely fresh.

The little treasure trove was sent out yesterday for delivery this morning. Packed in an insulated box with an ice pack, they arrived ice cold and were popped into the fridge just after this photograph was taken.

There is a farmers market and an artisan fair tomorrow so I have a chance to grab some additional fresh ingredients before I get round to creating something special. the big question now is 'what ?'. Watch this space and I'll tell you what these great ingredients end up in. With the exception of the kippers. Fresh kippers for Sunday breakfast are a given :)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Thursday is the new Friday

Came home after a bit of a stressful day (IT issues) and needed to be a bit creative but nothing too drawn out. Wandered up to the supermarket for a little inspiration and found some good looking organic king prawns (how the hell they can tell when a prawn is 'organic' I have yet to find out. NEWS FLASH King Prawn fails drug test ???)

Prawns..... Bacardi 151.... Garlic...... Brain ticked on a while longer and spotted Thai Basil. Soon after fresh ginger, parsley and some fresh pappardelle pasta hit the tills. Home with my spoils I started to plot.

A really sharp knife to chop the Thai basil (reduces the bruising) and the parsley. Edge of same knife to crush three or four cloves of garlic. A grater to reduce an inch of that ginger....... Dig in the fridge for some spring onions. Off to the fruit bowl for a lemon to zest and into the dark cupboard for a knob of coconut cream to tie the dish together. one thing missing, the Bacardi 151. Flame retardant lid for a reason, you can use less kicking rum but the flames will be a little bit less ready to flare (or to warm the chef up. Well you need to check it hasn't gone off).

I put a large pan of water on the heat ready for the pasta and got ready for a four minute cooking sprint to produce supper. Wok on the heat I waited for that nice stage when the pan of water forms small, pearl sized bubbles that form on the bottom of the pan. When they rise readily I know the pan is a minute or so off the boil so the spring onions hit the teaspoon or so of groundnut oil and a tablespoon of olive oil. a quick stir and the garlic and ginger go in.

The wok is hot enough to burn them so keep them moving and add the prawns (and the pasta to the now boiling water). 4 minutes to go (Mr Bannister, on your marks, set, go). They soon take on a slight blush.

Now add the Thai basil .

A glass of rum and about 1/2 the parsley (the rest is for garnish). Stand back and flame the rum to develop the sun burnt pink of the prawns.

Trust me, the flames were high. The better sighted among you will see the orange flame wisps in the photo above. The transformation...

Pasta into a readied sieve. Time to plate up, open the wine and look forwards to the weekend. Dreams of balmy breezes and warm sunshine (OK the reality is an amber weather warning for storm force or greater winds)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Winter draws on

Thunder. Lightning. Heavy rain. High wind. Leaves everywhere. OK. I accept it. It's the Autumn and we can look forwards to the oncoming frost, hail and snow. This in mind (and with the remainder of the beef shin to toss on a jacket potato tonight) I made my wife happy and cooked up the first cawl of the season.

The Welsh in my audience will know of cawl. Where I grew up, in West Wales, pubs would invite a night of culture with a 'Cawl a Chan' evening. The Landlady ( it was rare for men to be the cook back then) would prepare a cauldron of stew made with mostly root vegetables and cheap cuts of lamb. This was boiled for a few hours at least a day before the big night then served 'ail dwymo' (second heated) on the night. Enjoyed with a warmish pint of real ale, a good crusty hunk of bread and a lump of strong cheddar cheese, normally crumbled over the bowl of cawl. Mixed with a pianist and piano in the better establishments and a few key singers from the locale we would join in and sing for our suppers (and pay a few pence too). Now we get plastic 'German/Polish/Czech/Martian' lager, a poor dough smothered in cheap tomato sauce with so called 'Italian' meats sprinkled on top along with a few bits of onion and a cheese that has more in common with out car tires than a cow, a football match between two European towns we have never been to and/or a blast of the 'latest' pop music. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing but Hiraeth can only be understood from behind a bowl of cawl in front of a fire in your local back home.

Enough of the romance. This is a simple and delicious supper that can be prepared the day before and served after a hard day watching rugby etc. There are more recipes for cawl than there are Jones or Thomas in Wales but this is a simple 'poor man's food'. In my house I take about a pound of neck fillet of lamb cut roughly into inch chunks. These are fried in the bottom of a good and large saucepan (4-5 litres). Once browned, add three or four leeks cut into 1/2 inch slices. Add at least five thick carrots cut in thick (at least 1/4 inch thick). Use the same rough cut idea for two or three parsnips and 1/2 a swede. If you are feeling plush you can add celery, onion and cabbage. In short, if the veg are around then add them to fill the space. Add enough water and stock cubes to cover the vegetables and meat and bring to the boil then simmer for at least 90 minutes then remove from the heat. Traditionally a ham would be cooked and the water used to add to the cawl as a stock. Try it some time, decadent for a poor Welsh family but fantastic.

The real magic of Cawl comes the day after. I make enough for a few meals and have a damned good fridge to keep it fresh. Tomorrow I will take enough out to feed the two of us. Bring it back to the boil. Add a few potatoes. I like a few small new potatoes cut in two and cooked off in the liquor. This helps to slightly thicken it and adds a 'something special' to the taste. Spoon into the bowls and serve with a good crusty roll and a strong cheddar cheese. Just before you eat (and during) crumble the cheddar into the cawl. Heaven in a bowl.

If you try the recipe and you get it just right then try singing this little hymn (written round the corner from where I grew up). If you have it spot on then the tune will come naturally and you will find yourself joined by a heavenly choir. If this does not happen then head off to Wales and travel around a while (here is a great place to find accommodation with good food ) and you will get the hang of it.

Nid wy'n gofyn bywyd moethus,
Aur y byd na'i berlau mân:
Gofyn wyf am galon hapus,
Calon onest, calon lân.
Calon lân yn llawn daioni,
Tecach yw na'r lili dlos:
Dim ond calon lân all ganu
Canu'r dydd a chanu'r nos.
Pe dymunwn olud bydol,
Hedyn buan ganddo sydd;
Golud calon lân, rinweddol,
Yn dwyn bythol elw fydd.
Hwyr a bore fy nymuniad
Gwyd i'r nef ar adain cân
Ar i Dduw, er mwyn fy Ngheidwad,
Roddi i mi galon lân.
Alternative words:
Verse 1, line 3: Gofyn wyf am fywyd hapus
Verse 2, line 2: Chwim adenydd iddo sydd
Verse 3, line 2: Esgyn ar adenydd cân
Chorus, line 3: Does ond calon lân all ganu

Monday, 21 October 2013

Long awaited lamb

Saturday night, having spent the day in the summer house sorting out lighting and putting some skirting up, I had put the lamb on to cook. We were all set to sit down with a nice red and the meal when my wife remembered we had arranged to go out to a skittle evening. With that in mind we somewhat bolted what was a very nice meal. The good news is that there is another couple of portions in the fridge ready to repeat the exercise and enjoy at our leisure later in the week.
Returning home on Friday I spent a relaxing half an hour with a nice beer and a set of nutcrackers. Time to deal with the cob nuts.

Soon, the cob nuts were shelled and ready to chop.

Once chopped, I toasted them in a hot oven until they were nice and brown. I then let them cool while I prepared the lamb

First, I butterflied the loin out and gave it a little encouragement to lay flat with my tenderizer.

.Having blitzed a good handful of blackberries with some thyme and rosemary I spread the mixture across the meat.

I then rolled the meat back up. Placed it on a wide sheet of clingfilm. I rolled this up over the meat

Picking up the tails either side of the meat, I spun the meat in the clingfilm so that the tails wound up and compressed the meat into a tight roll.

Once the ends were tied off I placed the parcel into the fridge for 24 hours.
The next day I removed the loin from the clingfilm and placed it on a baking sheet. A teaspoon of Dijon mustard was spread across the skin and then the roasted cob nut chips were pressed into the mustard
I placed the loin in the oven at 180 C for about 25 minutes. In the meantime I steamed some broccoli and peas and boiled some small new potatoes.
After it had been in the oven for 25 minutes, I removed the meat and set it aside to rest for 10 minutes while I finished cooking the vegetables. Plated up the meat looked good. The tart blackberries and the herbs had added a richness to the lamb. The mustard an cob nuts adding a nice nutty counterpoint to the sharp fruit.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sumptuous Sunday Dinner

It's been a busy weekend so I didn't get a chance to post the lamb dish yet. I'll get that sorted out later in the week.

Having had rather a late night last night today was a slow starter. We were a little fed up with the weather. Thunder storms over night and heavy rain on and off through the day left us sitting indoors trying to entertain ourselves. We had a late Sunday breakfast, bacon and eggs, very traditional. The main reason was that in the inspiring shopping trip on Friday I picked up some vanilla cured bacon (Waitrose Heston Blumenthal range). This proved a delicious alternative to the traditional salt or sweet cure and one I would recommend.

After such a large breakfast we decided to miss lunch and so Sunday dinner became a focus as stomachs grumbled later in the day. Around 4 pm I started to prepare the beef shin. I put a large cast iron casserole pan on the stove and started to soften 2 chopped celery sticks, a chopped onion and 3 good sized chopped carrots. In a very hot skillet I started to brown the shin that had been marinading in 250ml of red wine since Friday. Once this was well browned I placed it on top of the softened vegetables in the casserole.

The red wine marinade was now added to the hot skillet to deglaze it. As it came to the boil I removed the scum from the top and then added this to the casserole along with 500 ml of beef stock and water to cover the meat and vegetables. I added 4 fresh bay leaves, white peppercorns, grated root ginger and a small bunch of thyme. Once this had come to the boil I popped the lid on and placed it in a preheated oven at 170 C for 2.5 hours. I did check on it from time to time and topped up the liquid when necessary with boiling water.

After 2.5 hours I strained the casserole and put the liquor into a small pan. The meat and vegetables were returned to the cast iron pan and the lid replaced to keep it warm but resting. I placed the marrow bone pieces into the liquor and brought it to a rapid boil to reduce it. in the meantime I cooked 5 sliced purple carrots in 200 ml of water with 3 star anise, a teaspoon of sugar, 10 grams of butter and a pinch of salt over a medium heat until they were tender. I then increased the heat and reduced the sauce that was forming until it coated the carrots. I heated up the wok and fried off some shredded green cabbage with a little butter and a few caraway seeds. I plated the meal up. placed the marrow bone on top of the meat and drizzled it with the rich, beefy sauce. A perfect Autumn Sunday supper thanks to a slightly modified recipe I found on the BBC website by Tom Kerridge ( )

Friday, 18 October 2013

It's Friday..... Fish

I pottered to the market today to pick up some fish. It's been a hectic week so I wanted to be a little creative.

 I had ordered some fish from a new supplier that had been recommended to me. smoked Langoustine, smoked muscles and some good kippers for Sunday breakfast were on the cards but I forgot to read the small print so they won't be delivered until next week (more about that then).

 Disappointed, I decide to go to the market and pick up fish from there. Another disappointment was at hand. 'Pete the fish man has left the market' read the sign on his old stall. Creativity almost crushed I remembered the new Waitrose just around the corner. In I went and discovered just what I needed for a weekend of fun. Shin of beef with marrow bone, Welsh lamb loin fillets, kiln baked salmon in a sticky barbecue sauce. English cob nuts, British blackberries, asparagus and some herbs.

Having got home I prepared the lamb ready for tomorrow (and you will have to wait until then to find out what I did). Now I needed something quick and tasty for tonight.

I put a large pan on the stove and softened three thinly sliced shallots and a finely minced clove of garlic in a tablespoon and a half of olive oil. After a minute or two I added a cup and a half of Arborio rice and  stirred it for a couple of minutes before adding the tail ends of the asparagus, coarsely sliced, and a cup of diced butternut squash.

 I then added enough water to cover the ingredients and a good pinch of salt. Brought it to the boil and simmered it for 10 minutes. I have a great stainless steel steamer that just happens to fit my large pan. I added more boiling water to the risotto to cover the swelling ingredients and placed the steamer on top. I put the asparagus tips in along with the salmon which I had placed in a little foil to prevent the sauce running off into the risotto. 5 minutes later I checked the water level and prepared to plate up. After another 2 minutes I took the steamer off the pan, turned off the heat and let it all rest for another 3 or 4 minutes.

Risotto seasoned to taste and spooned on the plate. Asparagus tips arranged and topped off with a little knob of butter before placing the salmon on top.

A nice Sauvignon Blanc (Romanian)  with enough citrus to cut through the rich salmon and....

Hello Weekend

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Reminiscences #1

Flicking through photographs while editing this the other day I found a number of shots from my birthday treats. As I mentioned, my wife decided to celebrate my birthday by visiting five of the Worlds best fifty restaurants ( I have loved each one for different reasons but the one I am writing about today was the most social.

In March this year I was dragged out of bed and told we were off to Paris. A quick shower and some rapid packing and we were soon on our way to St Pancras to catch the Euro-star to Paris. We both love the city and enjoy the simple food you can grab in most cafes though the price of beer does make us wince.

I was told we had time for a short relax in the hotel but that the particular restaurant we were off to only took bookings for 18:30. Refreshed after our journey, we left our hotel and walked the short distance to our destination. At this point it was revealed to me that we were going to L'Atelier Saint-Germain de Joel Robuchon ( As we arrived we met a few people stood at the door of the restaurant. It was around 18:15 so we were a little early. As 18:30 approached, more people arrived and it was clear that this was a popular choice. At the appointed hour, the doors opened and the maitre d' appeared, all very reminiscent of Willy Wonka but without the acrobatics.

As we had arrived early, we were near the front of the queue. This enabled us to chose to sit at the bar rather than at a table, something I would recommend. The view of the chefs preparing the food is just great:

My place setting told me I was in for something special.

After a short while the menu arrived and I chose a Salad Niçoise. I like this dish but the design and presentation of their take on this just blew me out of the water.

A wonderful tuna confit  on a heart of lettuce with perfectly prepared beans, eggs Niçoise olives, tomatoes and anchovies. The accompaniment of an excellent tapenade on toast was a great addition.

My main course was too good. I completely forgot to take a photograph as I plunged into the spit roasted, milk fed pig served with the signature mashed potato and braised cabbage. I tucked in and made it vanish with considerable enthusiasm.

The desert course was to be the chocolate cup. When it arrived it seemed a shame to eat such a work of art. You might recognise the image.

The gold and chocolate promised pure luxury. The little golden Smartie sitting like a wonderful full stop on the chocolate lid signifying that he pastry chef's artistry was complete and ready for consumption. Luxurious this was. Decision made, we will have to come back and also try the some of the other nineteen or so establishments this excellent chef has spawned around the world. I have never really fancied Las Vegas but the three Michelin star restaurant there may persuade me.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Too tired to post yesterday

I was a little tardy yesterday. After having to empty the loft in order to make way far a plumber to replace the power shower pump I lounged on the sofa bemoaning my aches and pains from dragging box after box of books down through the loft access. I decided to pop a small pork shoulder joint in the oven for supper and, after parboiling the potatoes for roasting a little later I noticed the rewards from my last bit of activity on the garden yesterday.

A few years ago I was bought a nice little crab apple tree for my birthday. It had a small but beautifully coloured crab apple crop. I had picked them last thing on Saturday ready to make the perfect pork accompaniment, crab apple jelly. It was these little treasures I spotted on the counter. I knew they would not last much longer so I had to knuckle down and make some jelly now.

I like my jelly soft and clear. You can go to the trouble of boiling the whole crab apple and straining the juice but there is always a chance of clouding it. I cheat a little here. I used my juicer to draw off the pink juice. All in all I managed to get 600ml of juice out of them. To this I added 600grams of jam sugar and the juice of one lemon. I popped the pips from the lemon into a little muslin bag and added this to the pan. I brought it slowly to the boil and simmered it for an hour before increasing the heat and getting the mixture to 220C. having cleaned the scum off the top I bottled the jelly and hid it away. The tree only fruits every other year so this hoard of golden jelly is just for us.

As the pork was resting I was about to wash the pan from the jelly when I noticed a little at the bottom.. Not wanting to waste any of the golden treasure, I carefully managed to get a teaspoon of the it from the pan and added it to the jus I had de-glazed from the meat roasting dish with a little white wine. Pork, sliced drizzled with this fruity jus and served with cauliflower cheese, peas and roasted potatoes. What better way to end a Sunday ?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A hard day needs a quick (but special) meal

Weekends seem to have become a period of toil lately. A few weeks of hard slog removing the old summer house and turning it into bite sized fire wood. Last weekend erecting the new summer house and then this weekend arrives with a damp patch on the ceiling. The shower pump has sprung a leak so I need to spend tomorrow clearing the attic so the plumber can fit a new one. Today we cleared up the back bedroom so the attic treasure horde can be moved there and found time to put another coat of preservative on the new summer house.

Now that the sun has set we are salving our aches and pains with a glass of bubbly while I plan the evening meal. We want something quick, easy but a little special as it is the weekend. In preparation I picked up a nice chunk of tuna.

 I have cut it into two thick steaks and have prepared a great rub I found on the web. I make it up in bulk as it is great on lamb, tuna and pork. The rub tub is empty so time for a new batch tonight. The recipe:

1/2 cup Fennel seeds
6 tbsp Coriander seed
2 tbsp White Pepper. 

Blitz for 30 seconds in the Bamix (you want it coarse ground)

The rub looks great and smells fantastic and will keep for a week or three in the fridge in a tightly sealed jar or container.

Next I add plenty of the rub to the tuna. Make sure you use plenty of rub. The natural moisture and protein on the tuna will grip it.

Now place it in a vacpac bag with a dash of olive oil before vacuuming, sealing and popping into a pre heated sous vide at 54C for 15 minutes.

While this cooks through I heat a cast iron skillet to a searing temperature. A steamer is loaded with some spinach, french beans and broccoli about 5 minutes before the tuna is ready for the next stage.

5 minutes have passed. The bag is quickly opened. A dash of groundnut oil into the very hot skillet (don't use olive oil or it will burn). In goes the tuna for about a minute each side just to sear the surface and toast the rub. Serve the vegetables. Take the tuna from the pan and slice into thick slices. Present and serve with a quick pinch of sea salt and black pepper and a dash of basil infused olive oil over the tune. 20 minutes and you have a great meal.

Service :)