I have some amazing friends. Hey,what am I saying? All my friends are amazing.
But let me tell you about one of them, Barry.
No, I won’t tell you about him, I’ll tell you about something he’s doing. Then you can make up your own mind about whether or not he makes the grade of amazing.
I met Barry when I worked at the Fringe, the world’s largest (and greatest) arts festival, where he looks after the participants and their venues. He does it with style and panache, and occasionally some truly quality swearing. I know a lot of potty mouths, but his potty mouth is probably my favourite.
For the last few years he has also produced fundraising events for cancer charities. The Big C hasn’t just raised serious amounts of money but has also been one of the must-have tickets at the Fringe if you enjoy comedy. And who doesn’t?
But there’s more. He set up and manages a blogsite celebrating LGBT people of significant achievement, people who have championed equality, or have made a significant positive impact on the lives of LGBT people. He promises a hottie of the week too, so if the rest doesn’t interest you, then be shallow and follow lgbticons.com just for the hottie tottie.
So, you get the message? Barry is one of the world’s good guys.
But the best bit is yet to come.
Now, I don’t know if you are gay, straight, lesbian, bi, trans. And I really don’t care. But I hope whatever you are that you care that we are all treated equally, because until we are all equal none of us are.
So, join in with #LGBTearth, the digital pride march. All you have to do is take a picture and use the hashtag. Yup, really, it’s that simple. But don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for Barry (amazing as he is).
Do it because you care.
Potatoes. So versatile. What’s not to like about them? Well, apart from the fact that they are full of carbs and it’s oh so easy to fall into the trap of mashing them with lots of butter and/or cream or frying them oil or roasting them in goose fat. Yeah none of them will help reduce the waistline.
In Scotland we call them tatties. And this last week has been the tattie-howking holidays, although everyone I mentioned that to looked back at me blankly. I realise that we no longer put children to work in the holidays (and in fact in my childhood we were never put to work either) but still, surely kids should know that they traditionally get the week off at this time of year to help with the harvest, rather than just to give the teachers a much-needed break not two months after they’ve come back from their extended summer break.
So, in case I’ve lost you, tattie-howking means ‘digging up potatoes’.
What else can I tell you about tatties, before I move on to the recipe? Given that you’re about to get a Spanish recipe I could do a neat wee segue-way with some Spanish related history of the potato. It seems likely that the English word derives from the Spanish patata. It was the Spaniards who brought the potato to Europe, in the second half of the 16th century after conquering the Incas. Initially European farmers were sceptical about the crop, but by the mid 19th century it had become a staple food crop. However, very few varieties had been introduced to Europe and this lack of genetic diversity meant that in 1845 the fungus-like disease of blight could spread wipe out vast crops and cause the Irish Famine.
So, a diversity of species is important, not just for flavours and fun, but because it could prevent further famines caused by crops being wiped out. Put that in your GM pipe and smoke it.
We had the day off on Monday, and went into Glasgow to see the Vettriano exhibition which I loved. And I’m not ashamed to say I love his work – there were images we’ve all seen in countless reproductions. But the originals have more depth and the colours in some really zing out, while in others there is such a dark broody moodiness you can almost feel the sexual tension in the air. And then there were many many images I had never seen before: his lady in a black hat as a nod to Cadell; his self portrait taken from a photograph of himself when he was in a dark black place; his paintings of Campbell and the Bluebird about to attempt the world speed record: a series of nautical paintings, commissioned for some anniversary of some place in Monte Carlo or Monaco or some other such place dripping with money.
Afterwards I was hungry, and the cafe at the museum was full so we ended up at a (rather mediocre) tapas bar and ordered some plates to share. The Patatas Bravas was the stand out dish, full of flavour and punch with melt in the mouth potatoes and a strong tomatoey sauce.
I was inspired to make a tapas style meal the next day, and it had to include a Patatas Bravas element (and many many scallops after I found a bag of them reduced in my local supermarket, oh how I wish I had a decent fishmonger!). But I came across a recipe for Patatas a la Extremena which looked tasty and included nothing but ingredients I happened to have already in the fridge or cupboards. So that is what I made. They come from the Extramedura region of Spain and are flavoured with lots of smoky paprika (or pimenton). I added a good dose of ancho chilli too, because I love the layers of flavour you can get when playing with various spices.
I could tell you lots about paprika, but we’ll save that for another day. All you need to know for now is that it probably originated in South America, like those potatoes.
Patatas a la Extremena (which in my head I always call Extreme Potatoes)
- About 4oz / 250g chorizo sausage (the whole sausage kind, not slices), cut into wee chunks
- 3 or 4 large potatoes (or more medium ones, obviously), cut into about 1.5″ chunks
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into long strips
- 1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into long strips
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely, or smooshed up
- 1 TBsp smoky paprika
- 1-2 tsp ancho chilli flakes – get them from the Cool Chile Co
- 1 bay leaf
- Get your biggest heavy bottomed, high-sided frying pan you have. There must be a name for them, but I don’t know it. If you don’t have such a thing, then I’d suggest either using the largest frying pan you have combined with a roasting dish, or a large saucepan. Or reduce the quantities so everything will fit into the frying pan you have.
- Over a medium heat, fry off the chorizo until it’s lightly browned. Lots of fat will melt out of the chorizo, but if you feel you need to add olive oil, then do.
- Reduce the heat, and add all the other ingredients
- Stir around for a minute or two with a wooden spoon – try not to break up the veg, so use a sort of scooping motion, picking the veg from the bottom of the pan, and then folding it over onto the top of the pan. then moving around the pan and doing it again
- Pour in enough water to cover the veg, bring to the boil and simmer nice and gently. Now, if you’re using the smaller pan and the roasting tin, you should have tipped your veg into the roasting tin before adding the water on top, and then popped it all into a pre-heated oven.
- Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, but being careful not to break up the potatoes too much.
- Test that the potatoes are cooked, and make sure your sauce has reduced down enough so that it is thick enough. If it hasn’t, boil it down some more
- Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if it needs it. I pretty much never add salt, but like to add a good screw or two of black pepper.
Mop up the juices with sourdough bread, if you have any. Eat with other tapas type dishes: prawns, scallops, calamares, anchovies, tortilla, meatballs, cheese and ham. Or just have a plate of this on its own as a light lunch or supper.
- Tortilla de patatas (spanish omlette with potatoes) (thriftyeatsblog.wordpress.com)
Yesterday I made my own sort of a borscht. A beetroot soup, lightly flavoured with caraway seeds. It reminded me how much I love not only beetroots, but also caraway and this morning I woke with a hankering to make caraway biscuits.
You can learn a lot when you have a short obsession on a particular flavour. I imagine my childhood self leafing through recipe books (and failing to find anything I wanted, so making something up myself) and perhaps moving on to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and then getting so distracted with whatever else was on the same page, or something else related that it suggested I look at that the biscuits never got made. It’s all so much easier now, with a laptop and a warm fire. And even Radio 2 on in the background (I give up on Radio 4 after GQT on a Sunday). I also now have the sort of library of cookbooks and thanks to the wonder that is Eat Your Books I know that in my books there are 53 recipes which use caraway seeds, including poppy and caraway crackers and caraway vodka, both of which I will be trying soon.
You could find out everything you never wanted to know about caraway with a few quick searches too, but since I’ve done it already, I’ll share some of my findings with you.
Caraway is good for flatulence. When I say it’s good for flatulence I mean that it is reputedly good for the relief of severe flatulence. Anne Boleyn knew this and secured her place in Henry VIII’s heart by feeding him caraway comfits. That didn’t turn out so well in the end though, so don’t feel obliged to feed caraway to stinky partners.
Caraway seeds aren’t actually seeds; they are fruits.
Caraway is perhaps a flavour most associated with northern Europe, with southern Germany and Austria and with Scandinavia. The German word for caraway is Kummel, which I know better as a drink. German rye bread is heavily flavoured with caraway.
Many countries don’t have their own word for caraway, and simply call it ‘German cumin’, so if you see reference to caraway in any Middle Eastern or Asian cookbooks it is quite likely that it is an error in translation and its cumin that is needed.
So, that’s the educational bit over. Now you want the biscuits don’t you?
Then biscuits you shall have, but before I get to the recipe I should tell you another snippet of information: Caraway Biscuits are also known as Goosnargh Cakes. Goosnargh (pronounced Gooznar) is a small town in Lancashire, almost subsumed into Preston now where they have a tradition of making these caraway shortcake biscuits. They also feed caraway seeds to chickens and ducks to produce the Goosnargh Chicken and the Goosnargh Duck.
But the biscuits. There are a few versions online, but basically the Goosnargh Cake or caraway biscuits is a buttery shortcake biscuit with caraway and coriander seeds. Use a basic 6:4:1 recipe (6 parts flour, to 4 parts butter, to 1 part sugar) and you’ll be fine.
- 8oz softened butter
- 4oz caster sugar
- 12oz plain flour
- 2 TBsp caraway seeds
- 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- Cream together the butter and sugar
- Grind the caraway and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar
- Sift together the flour and the ground seeds
- Fold the spiced flour into the creamed butter and sugar and bring together to form a stiff dough
- Roll out the dough to about 1/2 cm thickness and cut into rounds
- Pop into the fridge for at least 30 minutes
- Sprinkle with caster sugar
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes – you don’t want them to turn colour much at all, although a light golden brown will be fine
- Move to a wire rack to cool, but sprinkle with a mix of caster sugar and caraway seeds while they are still hot.
Lovely with a cup of Earl Grey tea.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I love beetroots. I never used to, but as a child my only experience of beetroot was from a jar full of vinegar. Whenever I see fresh beetroot in my local farmshop or farmer’s market I buy it. And then it often sits in my fridge till the following weekend for me to do something with it (what could I do with a beetroot quickly on a weekday evening after a long day at work and the train journey home)?
So there was a bunch of beetroot in my fridge this morning, wasn’t there? Three large beetroot. They could have become a tart, or another jar of spiced beetroot relish. Or that salad with dill and shallots and oranges.
I don’t know if it really was borscht or not, I just made it up.
- A bunch of beetroot
- a large onion
- a couple of sticks of celery
- a knob of butter
- caraway seeds
- a chicken stock cube, or some chicken stock if you have some kicking about (use veg stock if you’re vegetarian, obviously!)
- a bay leaf
- Chop the onion and celery finely (ish) but don’t fret about it if it’s not all teeny wee chunkies
- Melt the butter in a heavy based pan and add the onion and celery; sweat them gently
- Peel the beetroot and grate it coarsely (if you don’t have a food processor then you might prefer to just cut it into wee chunks)
- Pop about 1 TBsp of caraway seeds into a pestle and mortar and smoosh them up a bit. They might have been even better if I’d quickly toasted them first
- When the onion and celery is looking slightly translucent add the caraway seeds and stir
- Then add the beetroot and stir again
- Add the bay leaf
- Cook it for a wee minute and then add the stock cube and hot water from the kettle. I added enough water to cover the beetroot plus an extra centimetre
- Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30-40 minutes
- Remove the bay leaf
- Use a handheld blender and zizz it all up (or pour it into a liquidiser and liquidise it that way)
- Ladle into bowls and add a swirl of cream, or a couple of basil leaves, or a swoosh of basil oil or some chopped dill sprinkled over it
Perfect lunch with a chunky slice of homemade bread (preferably sourdough).
And now I’ve made the borscht, I have a perfect quick supper for later this week. Perhaps with a poached egg on toast. Imagine that dark yellow yolk on a plate next to a bowl of dark beetroot soup. Lush.
- Falling for Borscht: Autumn Beet & Vegetable Soup (localizeyourfood.wordpress.com)
- Time for some beetroot soup! (loiselden.com)
- Bear Breaks Into Home In Russia, Eats Borscht Soup Before Residents Call Police (PHOTOS) (huffingtonpost.com)