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2013 in review

5 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog and I thought I’d share it with you… read on, if you’re interested.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,200 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Janssen’s Temptation

5 Jan

You’ll have heard of this recipe before, you may even have eaten it, and made it.

For me, it’s one of those go-to recipes when I’ve bought cream for something and then either forgotten what it was I bought it for, or just have loads left over. Or changed my mind. After all, what would be nicer than fillet steak with creamy potatoes? And brussels sprouts? OK, you might not all agree with the addition of the brussels as a side dish, but I’ve learned to love the wee critters. My spiced pickled red cabbage on the side would have created perfection on a plate, but I forgot it when I was serving up. I forgot to turn the oven off too.  So, it could have been the second time in 24 hours the house nearly burned down.

Yes, it’s been an eventful time.

We were relaxing in front of the fire (with a cheese board and some vintage port) when we noticed a car drawing up outside (we live far from anywhere, but beside a road, so notice these things on the rare occasions they happen). Then there was a knock at the gable window, beside where I was sitting. I couldn’t see who it was in the dark blackness outside. The Captain went out to investigate and asked if I was cooking anything when he went through the kitchen… but no, I wasn’t. And then we discovered that the kind stranger had stopped to inform us our wheelie bin (right beside our boiler and the side of the house) was on fire. It was seriously on fire, with flames shooting out of it and 3/4 of the bin now melted away. It was cold and dark and windy, with a drizzly rain spattering down on us. The boys pulled out the hose (not melted by the heat of the fire) and we spent the next half hour making sure the bin had no chance of bursting into flame again.

We’ll never know for sure what caused the fire, but suspect it may have been our house guest who had lit a fire earlier in the evening and burned lots and lots and lots of paper. The next morning she asked if it had been because she’d put hot ash in the bin. As I say, we’ll never know for sure.

Anyway… the next evening I attempted (yet again) to use up some more of the ingredients I’d bought in for the Christmas season, and it was time to finish that enormous pot of cream. I much prefer savoury to sweet (despite the huge number of recipes for sweet homebaked goods on this site) so decided on Janssen’s Temptation, that delicious potato gratin dish, baked in the oven till it’s all oozingly unctuous.

Janssen’s Temptation

  • A large pot of double cream
  • About the same amount of milk
  • A few large potatoes
  • An onion (or several if you are feeding the five thousand)
  • Anchovy fillets (although I’m reliably informed that this is WRONG and that it should be sprats, it’s just that we are a bit rubbish at translating Swedish and have translated ‘ansjovis’ which means sprats into anchovies… well, you would wouldn’t you?)
  • Some veg stock (or a cube, crumbled)
  • Seasoning
  • Some butter

I know, I know, I’ve not been too precise on the quantities here, but since I only ever make it when I’m using up what’s left int he fridge, how would I really know?

Preheat oven to 220C/400F/GM6

  1. Slice your onion (I always slice it in half long ways, and then put it on it’s flat side and slice it into thin crescent slices)
  2. Pop a dod of butter into a large heavy based frying pan and gently fry the onion over a low heat, till they are sort of soft-ish
  3. Butter a gratin dish. You choose the size, depending on the number you intend to feed and how many potatoes/onions you have
  4. If you’ve got a mandolin, slice your potatoes nice a thin. If you haven’t then you’ll take a bit longer over this bit, doing it with a sharp knife. If you don’t have a sharp knife or a mandolin then don’t even think about trying this recipe.  Go and buy a decent knife and a knife sharpener and then come back and get started
  5. Chop up some anchovy fillets. A whole tin if you’ve got it, or if you’ve got them in a big jar in the fridge, then chop as many as you fancy – you’ll need to add a few to each layer (see below)
  6. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of your gratin dish
  7. Add a think layer of onions
  8. And some anchovies and freshly ground black pepper
  9. Repeat this layering another one or two times, ending with a layer of potatoes
  10. Mix your cream with milk, roughly half and half. Add some veg stock if you have it, otherwise crumble in a veg cube
  11. Pour most of this over your potato layers, so it’s roughly half way up the side…
  12. Pop it in the oven and leave it for a good 20-30 minutes. Pour yourself a cocktail. You probably deserve it.
  13. Take it out of the oven and wonder ta how tasty it smells and looks. Pour the rest of the cream mixture over it. And pour yourself another cocktail.
  14. Leave it in the oven for another 20-30 minutes, till it is soft all the way through when you poke it with a knife. You may need to turn the oven down a bit and leave it longer if you’re enjoying the cocktails too much and haven’t put your steak on yet. Or if you were sensible you would have made a stew the day before which just needs re-heating and no further cooking would be required.

And that’s it. Tastiness on a plate. You’d have photos if I hadn’t had cocktails.

I could give you a photo of the melted wheelie bin, but really, it would put you off all your meals in 2014.

Happy New Year everyone.

 

 

 

 

#LGBTearth

27 Nov

lgbtearth

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.

Barry, through lgbticons, is organising a new kind of Pride march. We’re in 2013, so it’s a digital Pride.

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.

 

 

 

 

Better than Patatas Bravas

20 Oct

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)

Based on a recipe from Sophie Grigson in her wonderful book, Spices.

  • 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
  • seasoning
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Reduce the heat, and add all the other ingredients
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, but being careful not to break up the potatoes too much.
  7. 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
  8. 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.

 

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday

9 Oct

Wordless Wednesday

Valley treats

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Autumn evenings in the Valley

6 Oct

Autumn evenings in the Valley

Autumn evening in the Valley

Wordless Wednesday

25 Sep
Viennese Whirls

Viennese Whirls

The best mayonnaise (and tartare sauce) and it’s easy peasy too

21 Sep

There are far too many cookery programmes on TV these days.

This statement may surprise you, as I’m clearly somewhat obsessed with food and cooking. But cookery has become entertainment, and in my world it’s not the cooking itself that should be entertainment, but the resulting food. Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the sociability and enjoyment of cooking alongside other people, but that isn’t what most of these programmes are about. There are too many competitive cookery programmes where the point of the programme is to see people mess up, to see a souffle flop; a bread become a brick; a sauce split.

But I do watch cookery programmes, usually ones I can learn from.

And I’ve been surprised this last week to find myself enjoying The Hairy Bikers Best of British. Yesterday afternoon I learned how to make a Pease Pudding, something I’d never really thought of as a real food before, just a line in a song. So sometime in the future I’ll be making Gammon with Pease Pudding and Mustard Sauce – warming food for the winter months.

This weekend I made scampi, with tartare sauce. And ate it in front of the TV, in homage to the 70s. It was divine. The tartare sauce was particularly lush, and I share it here.

Luscious mayonnaise

Luscious mayonnaise

 

Start off by making your own mayonnaise. If you’ve not made mayonnaise before then you might have an idea that it’s incredibly tricky. It’s not. And it doesn’t take long either, so long as you have a hand held beater, or muscles like Pop-Eye and a balloon whisk.

 

Mayonnaise

  • 2 free range egg yolks
  • 1 TBsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard (smooth would be best, but my cupboards dictated I had 1 tsp smooth, 1 crunchy and it was fine)
  • 1/4 tsp caster sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 50ml olive oil
  1. Place the egg yolks, vinegar, mustard, sugar and salt in a bowl and start whisking. I recommend you use an electric beater. Keep whisking till the mixture is smooth
  2. Keep whisking
  3. Add the oil drop by single drop
  4. Keep whisking
  5. The oil will emulsify with the yolkie mixture, and after a wee while you can start adding the oil in a slow trickle
  6. Keep whisking
  7. If you’re feeling brave, start pouring the oil in (still relatively slowly, but steadily)
  8. Keep whisking
  9. Once all the oil is added, you should have some thick, smooth and luscious mayonnaise.
Making mayo

Making mayo

 

Put half the mayonnaise in a jar in the fridge and use within the next week. It is amazing on a wholemeal roll with smoked ham. Or with warm boiled new potatoes folded into it. Or on a white bread fish finger sandwich,

But you’re going to make tartare sauce with the other half that is still in the bowl.

Making tartare sauce

Making tartare sauce

 

Tartare Sauce

  • Half quantity of the mayonnaise you have just made
  • 2 TBsp capers, dried on kitchen roll and then roughly chopped
  • 4 cornichons, dried and cut in half lengthwise and then sliced finely
  • 1 large TBsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 small TBsp chopped fresh tarragon
  1. Gently stir all the ingredients together
  2. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste

Eat with scampi. Or fish goujons. Or go and buy a fish supper and eat it with your own fresh tartare sauce, and feel proud.

A bowl of perfect tartare saue

A bowl of perfect tartare saue

 

 

 

 

Trust your mother

14 Sep

You should always trust your mother; she knows best.

I know this to be true. It’s always been thus.

So why did I ignore her advice a couple of weeks ago?

We had gone home for a day at the end of August – it was a couple of days after my birthday, and I always want to see my parents around then. As a bonus it was the Gatehouse Flower Show. We used to enter flowers, and plants, and vegetables, and preserves and homebaking, and in the old kitchen at 29 Fleet Street we had a large display of winners tickets pinned to the wooden beam, proof of our successes. I haven’t even attended the Flower Show for too many years, most recently because working at Edinburgh summer Festivals meant I didn’t have the time off, and before that I was living in London and had too much of a London-head on me to make the effort. Shame on me!

And this year although we were attending, we didn’t enter anything. As Mum says, “That means we can confidently go around and say, Oh I could have won a prize in that category, without the contrary evidence of the judges’ decisions”.

I’m confident I would have won a prize in the wholemeal bread category (there were only 2 entries) and also the cheese scone category (my scones are exceptionally good). But I’m not allowed to enter all the categories – only people living locally are allowed to enter most categories, except for some random things like lemon curd (which I’m quite good at) and three hen’s eggs.  Or it might be three hens’ eggs, who knows? And I suspect the judges would never know either.

Anyway, while I was home I was telling Mum about the great apple harvest we were looking forward to this year. Mum bought me two apple trees three years ago: a Galloway Pippin and a Cambusnethan Pippin. The first year they didn’t really fruit, of course. Last year we had a couple off each tree. And this year we have an enormous harvest – the poor wee trees are quite laden down with the weight of the crop.

And here comes the advice bit.

Mum recommended I pick some of the fruit off the heaviest branches straight away, or the branches may break with the weight of fruit.

I didn’t.

The next day a wind whipped up, after weeks of relatively balmy and calm weather. The inevitable happened and the wind ripped a branch from the tree. A branch with over 30 apples on it.

We now have many jars of apple chutney, and there will be cinnamon apple jelly by the end of the weekend. They are also deliciously good with a chunk of mature cheddar.

Recipes and pictures will follow.

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Wordless Wednesday

31 Jul

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