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 :)

Friday, 11 October 2013

Blackberry days are over

October 11th. The day that the devil urinates (or spits) on blackberries and we have to leave this wonderful free wild food to the birds. Old British folklore says that on this day, Lucifer was thrown from Heaven and landed in a bramble bush. Every year, on this anniversary, he spits or urinates on the brambles turning the fruit sour and unfit for human consumption.

We have had a good year for blackberries. We have a thornless variety (with plenty of thorns ??) growing against the fence in our front garden which provides us with a plentiful supply of large blackberries from late August until now. These are best eaten fresh from the bush as you walk past or with a little ice cream. This year we also grew a plant called a fourberry (  which produces a large blackcurrant like fruit that is sweeter and juicer than a blackcurrant. This new, tart berry ripens around the same time and compliments the blackberry well,

Although the home grown blackberries get eaten fresh we love to pick wild blackberries from time to time as there are two favourite preserves I make to keep the memory of late summer days and the flavour of blackberries going through the rest of the year. You will need to pick a fair few but it is worth it.

Blackberry Brandy

This is so simple and simply delicious in a hip flask on a cold winters day watching rugby. Take enough washed blackberries to half fill a 2 litre Kilner jar. Add a litre of brandy (don't go using the best, a reasonably priced supermarket brand is ideal). Shake and place in an easy to reach cupboard as you will need to take it out every few days for a week or two to shake it. After two or three weeks, place it in a dark cupboard and leave it for about three months. You now need to strain it through a couple of layers of muslin. I normally strain it into another clean Kilner jar and leave it for a few more weeks (months is better as time improves the flavour) so that any remaining fruit sediment sinks to the bottom. Carefully pour off the blackberry brandy and sweeten with stock syrup to taste (I prefer mine without sweetening). Bottle and store in a dark place until you need a reminder of summer.

For the impatient, get yourself a sous vide. Place enought  blackberries to fill a 1 litre ziplok cooking bag. Add as much brandy as you can get in to the bag and place in the sous vide at 60C for at least 2 hours. Strain, sweeten and bottle. Not as good as the one made in the traditional way but it might satisfy your taste until the three or 4 months of waiting for the good stuff are over.

Blackberry Jelly

First place a saucer in the fridge. Take at least two kilograms of washed blackberries and juice them. Weigh the juice and for every kilogram of juice add a kilogram of jam sugar (with pectin added) and the juice of 2  lemons. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 1 hour. Increase the heat to just under 220C. Check the set of the jelly on the saucer. It will be a very soft set but should crease when pushed. Bottle and store. I find this keeps really well until opened when it needs to be kept in the fridge.

This soft jelly is a perfect accompaniment for lamb or a good steak, seasoned with pepper and salt, seared in a very hot pan, rested and then drizzled with a teaspoon or two of this velvet sauce. It is also an easy way to lift a sauce or jus destined for a red meat course. Just add a teaspoon to the sauce to develop a rich and subtle fruit edge.

One final comment on this great free fruit. In Shakespear's day Lawyers were known as brambles. They catch you and hold on to you until they draw blood :)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Five Blind Mice

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of attending a restaurant that challenged the taste buds and the sense of smell but left everything to the imagination with regards to presentation. A restaurant where you cannot chose the dishes you eat, the wine that you drink or the cocktails you can chose to enjoy. This choice is left to the serving team who are responsible for everything from the moment you place your trust in them until you ask to leave.

We arrived at the restaurant and were asked to deposit all of our mobile phones, cameras, bags etc. into a secure locker. We were then asked about allergies etc. and were told to chose a meat, fish, vegetarian or surprise menu. We were then led to our table and this is where the fun began.

We went through a set of curtains into a dimly lit area and introduced to our over we were instructed to place a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us, the front person placing their hand on the shoulder of the waiter and we walked through more sets of curtains into total darkness.

We had decided to experience the pleasures of a restaurant chain called 'Dans Le Noir' ( ). This restaurant adds an edge to the eating experience, clever menus, well chosen wine and fun cocktails are assembled and presented to you in complete darkness.

Having had our safety talk and been led to our table we settled into our seats and tried to familiarise our self with our surroundings. Feeling around the table I found my knife, fork, napkin and glass. The waiter poured us a glass of water and we watched as our brains played tricks. faint lights and patterns danced in our brains until we became used to there being no light. Around this point the starters emerged and the smell was stunning. With no visual clues, our noses worked overtime picking up hints as to what was being delivered. Our party consisted of five people. Each of us was a little quiet at first in these unfamiliar conditions. Once the starter courses had arrived and we had settled down a little then the fun began.

Eating in the dark will be easy I though. Oh how wrong I was. Without the visual clues just trying to find the food on the plate with a knife and fork was challenging enough. Once located I then had to cut a piece that was small enough to eat, get it on the fork and get this to my mouth. I failed a few times but soon began to feel the hard or soft reaction as I located food or plate. Identifying what I was eating was more of a challenge as I had ordered the 'surprise' menu. I knew there appeared to be seasoned and dressed raw fish in my starter but could I be sure that was what I was eating.

Main course was easier, steak. But then there were three or four flavours of steak. One was clearly beef but I correctly identified another as Zebra but it was not until the menu revelation after the meal that this was confirmed and the other items became apparent.

This is not a place to go for a romantic meal for two. In my opinion you need a group of friends who enjoy a bit of fun. By the end of the meal, bread baskets had been placed on heads. Ice cold hands courtesy of the cocktail were placed on bare necks and backs, glasses were moved and at least one member of our party managed to scoop part of their meal onto the table only to find it later . This place is great fun. An education in the difficulties faced by those with poor or no vision and the additional pleasure they gain from heightened sensitivity to sound, texture, taste and smell that we ignore as we devour the visual presentation. I cannot wait to go again.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Summer memories

Having found my compact camera (I have a nice SLR but it is a pain to carry at times) I uploaded it's memory onto my laptop. As I scanned through the collected photographs I got to a point where I was transported back to a very warm walk at the port in Dubrovnik back in August this year. It was my wife's birthday and we were on a nice long cruise to Venice and back. On her birthday we were going to be in Dubrovnik, a port we have been  to before. Great for a simple lunch but this had to be something special.
A little research on-line revealed that good food was easy to find but great food....

I eventually found recommendations for a little place a stones throw from the cruise port. Good reviews on TripAdvisor but best of all was a recommendation from the Turkey Twizzlers arch nemesis, Mr Jamie Oliver. A little place called Amfora. A restaurant, bar and hotel on the cruise terminal.I contacted them on Facebook and requested a lunchtime booking. A day or so later I received a reply. Having confirmed the booking and informed them it was my wife's birthday the level of service became evident when they asked if a cake might be appropriate.

The big day approached. The previous day I had ordered a romantic breakfast on out balcony as we sailed in to Venice. This would have been the perfect start to a few days of celebration if P&O had not managed to screw up and deliver champagne breakfast very late just as we were ready to go ashore rather than as we pulled in to the centre of Venice. No pressure now, romantic breakfast a farce, the big day had to go like clockwork.

I was a little worried that we might end up being the 'lucky ship' and get to enter Dubrovnik by launch. That would involve a complication of a taxi to the restaurant. Fortunately, we steamed right into port and moored just around the corner from the Amfora. We strolled ashore in a cool 40C and pottered up the road to the restaurant. Having eventually found it (never trust GPS on walking mode) we were very warm and in need of a cold beer.

We entered the restaurant and I approached the barman to explain we had a reservation praying he spoke English. Within a second our future waitress stepped in, confirmed we had a table and provided us with two ice cold beers in the bar area so we could cool down before going through to the restaurant.

Once we had returned to normal temperature, we were led through to our table. The menu arrived along with the wine list and I knew we had struck gold. The restaurant is right next to the kitchen, you can watch as your fare is prepared and presented to your table. The menu is exciting, as is the wine list. Local produce and wine served to perfection without the empty feeling in the wallet. As we discovered later, this is a bar, restaurant and hotel so I guess longer stays and deeper dives into the menu are on the cards.

As to the day, I started with a local cheese, not dissimilar to mozzarella but far creamier served in a beautiful basil and olive oil dressing. Simple but stunning. Their use of local produce really tells.

Next was caramelized octopus served with fennel in a Dalmatian Parsley and Garlic sauce. The Octopus had been cooked in a sous vide and then caramelized in honey and sesame seed. This was a stunning way to serve what can be a bland sea food.

We were offered dessert but reminded that a cake was on its way. I was expecting the usual excuse for a celebration cake I have seen at a number of establishments. Our local Indian has come out tops with a well made Victoria sponge with a candle in the top compared to the worst unmemorable splurge of cream on a pastry something with a candle and 'Happy Birthday' scrawled in chocolate sauce. That was until now. we decided to forego the dessert and went for the cake. Were we disappointed ? you decide..

This stunning chocolate mousse cake was light and absolute heaven for chocolate lovers. My wife was delighted and so was I. Fantastic service. Great food. Exciting local wine. Great cocktails. We must go back

In case you were wondering where to find this hidden gem if you happen to be passing near Dubrovnik, here is their Facebook page  .Seek them down and contact them on Facebook and I am sure they will go out of their way to look after you.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Two Sheds Brown

Sorry guys. No real post today. Dead on my feet having spent the last three days clearing the end of the garden. removing the old summer house. Carrying out a war of attrition against the colony of false widow spiders that appreciated my last build (some fourteen years ago) and proofing the new build against easy colonisation of the new building.

Thanks to for providing such a perfect DIY build. Apart from the odd 'what the hell does this mean' with regards to the door construction and a remembrance of the pine helter skelltersI enjoyed as a kid  (I got up onto the new pine roof and found it was rather slippery. Managed to hang on to the ridge by my fingertips until my wife had footed the ladder again)  it went up in no time. Joints slotting together like a well made puzzle. We will spend the next few weeks preserving and painting the wood but at around 17:00 BST today I threw the hammer off the roof having fastened the last shingle to the roof and descended the ladder. Once it was secure, I made my way to the front of our new summer house to be met with a glass of Piper Heidsieck and a packet of Wotsit ( We know how to live.

Knowing that today would be the culmination of a three day trial to clear the area, construct the log cabin and make it weatherproof ready for the British Autumn, I had put some nice lamb shoulder shanks in the sous vide on Friday. 48 Hours plus at 62.5 C that turned the shanks into a buttery treat infused with the fresh thyme sprigs and olive oil they had been cooked in.

With my last ounces of strength I hoisted a good sized cast iron skillet onto the stove. Heated it to a searing temperature and popped the lamb shanks onto it. The meat was too tender to brown the shank but sufficient was caught on the pan to crust the bottom with a promise of a fine sauce. I threw in some very finely sliced onion and a clove of garlic before de-glazing the pan with a little Rioja and a touch of balsamic vinegar. I added the jus from the sous vide bag and reduced it whilst removing the jacket potatoes that my wife had put in the oven at 200C an hour earlier from the oven, serving with butter and a good measure of peas I had just steamed.

I plated this simple supper up and transported it to the new summer house where my wife had located a small Paris table and chairs and served a good Languedoc white from Sainsburys (Yes I know red is nice with lamb but not when you are up at 6:30 tomorrow).

Sorry, no photos but after all the toil and nothing to eat since the boiled egg and soldiers to gird the loins ready for the task at hand at 9:15 am the last thing on my mind was a camera. I did prepare a second batch of shanks for later in the week so watch this space.

We sat and enjoyed our hard work. Ate our well planned supper, and planned the rest of our week around wood preserving, lighting and networks. Now I am enjoying a good Armagnac (for medicinal purposes) and am looking forwards to an early night to enjoy my aches and pains in the certain knowledge of a job well done both on the future location of meals and the meal to christen our hideaway at the end of the garden.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Preparing for the future

This may well be a very short entry. I took the day off work today to clear off the old summer house from the top of the garden and to cut back the hedges etc. ready for the new summer house to go up over the weekend.

Since it looks like we are in for a busy few days I thought I would get Sunday dinner ready. To satisfy this there are two good lamb shanks sat in the sous vide, packed with olive oil and fresh thyme, cooking through at 62C for 48 hours or so. i'll let you know on Sunday what else happens.
We only have a small garden but it is big enough for a 12' x 8' log cabin and a fire pit (a steel hemisphere and stand my Mum bought me). I have adapted it so the it has three sockets on the edge that will take a Lodge tripod for the 18" Lodge dutch oven I own (want one, look here ) . In addition, on a visit to a garden centre earlier this year I saw a £25 barbecue (on sale) that consisted of a weak and shallow pan on three legs to burn charcoal and a great tripod with a chain pulley and grill. The charcoal part was recycled and the tripod is now a great part of my garden food cooking equipment.

After a very long day ripping down the last of the old summer house and cutting it into 8" to 12" chunks. Cutting back very mature shrubs and hedges and shredding same I was just a little peckish and more than a little tired. Enter the fire pit, a blowlamp and a little tinder. Hell, I'm Welsh so fire starting is in our blood so in very short order a good fire was devouring bits of the old summer house.

While my wife and I hauled the debris to the shredder and bagged it ready for composting the fire built up a good bed of hot ash and charcoal. As the light faded to a point where we could just about see to put the tools away we lit the torches (oil) in the garden, moved the tripod and grill over the glowing fire pit and toasted off some corn on the cob, pork burgers and chicken skewers, the chicken having been marinated in a chili and lime sauce.

With the last of our energy we ate our October barbecue, quenched out thirst on Aspall's Premier Cru cider ( )and wondered if we will be able to get out of bed in the morning to start phase 2. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Prize Beef Joint

Last Friday I pottered up to my local social club with my wife for a well deserved beer to end a busy week. Having delivered me a good pint of London Pride, the landlord asked if we wanted to enter the weekly meat raffle so we handed over £3 and were presented with 3 tickets. Thirst sated and reminded that we were to be at the club the following day for an end of season drunkards v the pro's bowling match. 

The following morning we strolled up to the club to find we had won the top prize, a good piece of beef. After the bowling where we demonstrated our skills and came joint last, we picked up this rather fine joint of beef which, I am sure you will all agree, was a bargain at £3

 There is only the two of us and we were not in the mood for guests having spent the rest of the weekend pulling down the old summer house in preparation for the delivery of a new one later this week. This in mind, I decided to cut the joint into three.

We don't have beef very often as it is not my wife's favourite meat so, to date , I had not tried cooking a joint in the sous vide. Since this had cost us so little I thought I would give it a try. All three pieces were vacuum packed. Two for the freezer and one for supper.

Though I like my beef blue, my wife prefers her meet slightly cooked so I set the sous vide to 56.5C to cook the beef to medium rare and once it had reached temperature I submerged the meat in the sous vide for five hours. On removing it, it looked like this.

After removing the vacuum bag the meat looked cooked but very uninteresting as you can see.

I was not worried at this point. Anyone who uses a sous vide knows that you need to brown meat  before or after cooking to caramelize the outside and add that necessary something to the flavour. To this end I had a very hot cast iron skillet ready. I seasoned the beef and treated it to a short but very hot sear in the pan. This made the beef much more interesting. Once rested, I carved it and served it with roast potato cooked in goose fat, broccoli, peas and a jus made by de-glazing the pan with red wine and adding from the juices from the vacuum bag. 

As you can see, cooking meat in the sous vide enables you to get a constant level of cooking through the joint, A sear in a very hot oven, or my preference, a very hot pan or barbecue and you have a perfectly cooked joint that looks great when carved and served. I had confidence that this meat would be tender but I could have left the beef in the sous vide for 10 hours. This would have broken down the collagen in the meat and made it even more tender without cooking it any more than medium rare.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Bad day, bad day

Sorry guys. In Jackie Chan speak - ' Bad day, Bad day' . Too much hassle and fuss so I returned home with one intention my local Thai restaurant. Great fresh food cooked a little 'English' for the faint at heart but good enough for Thai nationals to turn up for a dish tailored to their palate that would make the bravest phaal eater break into a cold sweat.

Tamarind duck, Thai fish cakes, coconut rice, a rather warm green curry and the dish I fight to keep to myself, chili mushrooms. An evil and addictive dish that transforms a simple fungus into a drug. Their chef manages to season with both sugar and salt, a light batter that compliments fresh chopped red chili  to the point of seduction. My thirst (can't be the right word) for a chili burn and the taste of fresh herbs and spices (nothing beats the bite of fresh green pepper) sated I have returned home to enjoy a relaxing Armagnac in front of the TV. The coq au vin ready for this evening will live another day in the fridge and this gives me time to contemplate rhubarb, in Sauternes or with lemon and vanilla seeds (then again, why not both).

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Holidays are coming

I guess I have to admit that another summer has bitten the dust. I have just a few weeks to put together a few treats for friends and family. I know a lot of people feel like a cheapskate if they give a home made item as a gift but, trust me, I find that people just love a home made preserve or liqueur.

A few weeks ago, I dragged my sous vide up to a local restaurant at the request of the owner to demonstrate it's abilities. That afternoon I knocked up a batch of quick limoncello for them. I took some tuna and some sea bass and wowed them with three simple recipes that I will share with you at some point.
     While I cocked the tuna (in a fennel seed, coriander and white pepper rub) in the sous vide, we sampled the limoncello and I explained the ease with which this great after dinner drink could be made. A new chef had joined the team fresh from Italy and seemed suitably impressed with both the taste and the speed that this could be produced. He mused over other potential treats and suggested an orange version. That stuck away in a little dark corner of my mind until last weekend when I found oranges on offer at my local supermarket.

    The oranges lodged in my basket, I set off to find some white caster sugar and a bottle of the stores own vodka. There is little point in using the best vodka for this (far better to buy a bottle of the good stuff along with the cheap stuff and store it in the freezer with a couple of thick shot glasses to warm you up on a cold night)

    Ingredients obtained, I headed off home. Next, I kick started the sous vide and loaded it with water from the hot tap to speed up the heating process. In case you are not familiar with sous vide cooking then take a look here . In essence a hot water bath with a thermostat accurate to 0.5C. These used to be stupidly expensive but in the last few years companies like hve started to knock them out at sub £300 prices. To make best use you will also need a vaccum sealing machine but it can save you a fortune.
    Back to the recipe. I set the sous vide to 60C and left it to warm through. I used a good potato peeler to remove the orange skin, taking care to avoid the pith (if you to peel to deep then you can use a sharp knife to remove it from the peel).

I placed all the peel in a 1 Litre cooking quality ziploc bag and added a litre of vodka. Unless you want to spend at least £800 on a chamber vacuum sealer then this is the best solution for cooking liquids in a sous vide. You can use the Archimedes method ( to remove the air from the bag or zip around 90% of the seal and gently squeeze until the liquid is just above the seal (and there is no visible air at the seal) and then close the bag. I then popped this into the sous vide for about 4 hours (2 will do but the longer the better until the peel is pale)

While this cooked out I mad a simple stock syrup. I measured 1 litre of water into a pan and added 1Kg of white caster sugar. I placed this on the stove and heated it until it started to bubble and the liquid was clear. This disolves all of the sugar into the water creating the syrup. this can now be cooled and stored.

Once the orange and vodka had cooked out I removed the bag from the sous vide and left it to cool while still sealed. The beauty of the sealed bag is that non of the alcohol vapour escapes.

As you can see, the vodka has taken on the colour, and trust me, the flavour of the orange peel. Once the vodka was cool I strained it into a large jug and added 600ml of the stock syrup to the vodka (if you try this then alter the amount according to your own taste but remember it will not taste as sweet the warmer it is). I then bottled this ready for Christmas gifts (and the chefs perks too :) )

No, I did not waste the oranges. They were juiced and ready for breakfast. An alternative would be to replace some of the water in the stock syrup with filtered juice add a sweet orange taste.