Advent 2017
Blackpool Sea Front

Finally safely harboured in Fleetwood marina near Blackpool for the winter. Don't ask me about Liverpool. Just don't.

Inside Thorntons Continental Advent Calendar Thorntons Continental Advent Calendar
Blackpool in mid (or early) winter is a bleak place, though probably no less tacky than it would be in summer.
The famous tower still dominates the landscape and would probably be great to visit if it wasn't so freakishly expensive, and their shoreline tram system is very efficient for getting in and out, particularly since it runs right out to the marina. Plus they run fabulous old heritage trams along the central section which are great entertainment.
At this time of year you can also still find remnants of the celebrated annual Blackpool illuminations. That you just missed. Anything related to Doctor Who clearly being the best.

It's obvious that the seafront has been heavily invested in recent times and is littered with uplifting sculptures and quirky landscaping though I can't help wondering if that money could not have been better spent on infrastructure or the local architecture which is mostly still quite brutalist and feels very run-down (Coral Island excepted). Mind you, I did discover there the best advent calendar in the world from Thorntons - with a delicious individual continental truffle for each day of Advent. So it's not all doom and gloom.
It's the true meaning of Christmas folks - yumsk!
Take note Thorntons - any sponsorship is gratefully received.

I spent a few days onboard practicing making Christmas tuiles, and using up more of my boat's barley supplies (see below), but then decamped to my brother's place in Bradford for the rest of the Christmas period. Handy for a helping hand with making up our Christmas red onion marmalade from the kiddies and getting all the Christmas baking done in a real oven. Sheer luxury.

I also felt the need to get a hair cut. First one of the year! Brrrrrr.

Barley with Peas and Mushrooms
veg side
I've been struggling to get through the surprising amount of barley I've accumulated on my boat.
Here's something I did with a cup of it. Like most barley dishes a little goes a long way.
Also, I've noticed that overcooked barley starts to take on an oddly bitter edge, so serve as soon as the grains have softened.

Serves 2-4

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and sweat the mushrooms until they begin to lose water, add the podded peas and set aside.
Heat another tablespoon of butter and sweat the onions, then add the garlic, cook until they are on the edge of colouring.
Add the barley, cover with stock and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the stock is absorbed.
Add the mushrooms.
Dress with a little extra butter and stir through.
Meh, s'OK.

Savoy Cabbage with Truffled Cheese
veg side
I was inspired to try making this by King's Lynn's Market Bistro, a true jewel of a restaurant. Richard and Lucy Golding's bistro is small but their food is remarkably thorough - well worth a visit if you're sailing by :)
Though sadly not any more since it seems to have closed :(

If you're lucky enough to have some truffled cheese, you should use it to make this dish. If not you can finely grate some truffle into ordinary cheese. Or if, like me, you have some good truffle oil on hand you can use that, but don't skimp on it, in quality or quantity - it completely makes the dish!

Forget the truffle flavoured oil you'll find at your Local Fucking Supermarket™, which contains no truffle. It's chemically flavoured with such ersatz organosulfur compounds as 2,4-dithiapentane.
If you don't want to make your own truffle oil (or truffle your own cheese) you could try Truffle Hunter's White Truffle Oil which does at least have the benefit of containing some actual truffle. And tastes pretty authentic too.

Serves 4

Halve the cabbage and cut out the stalky parts. Discard the other half. Though I suppose you could use it in another dish :)
Blanch for 1-2 minutes then drain.
Put into an ovenproof dish and slide under the grill until the outer leaves begin to char.
Drizzle with truffle oil, cover with the grated cheese and drizzle with a little more truffle oil.
Return to the grill until the cheese is nicely melted and beginning to brown at the edges.
I'm not sure what the best way to cook the cabbage will be for this dish - I par-boiled mine as above, then I tried baking at 200°C for 20 minutes to dry it out, but it didn't seem to be on the point of crisping enough to melt cheese, so then I put it under the grill instead. I must say it was excellent, if a little watery at the bottom, but I think you could skip the roasting step and go straight for the grilling. I'm not even sure the blanching is required; perhaps you could grill it the whole way?
Maybe I'll try it again and find out.

Chorizo, Cabbage, Beans and Barley Stew
meat main stew
Another step in the process of cleansing my boat of barley. Hurrah!

Serves 4

Slice the leeks into rounds, wash and drain if necessary, fry gently in a generous amount of olive oil until they begin to collapse.
Add a couple of teaspoons of crushed mixed peppercorns and allspice.
Peel the carrots, halve or quarter and slice. Add to the pan and fry a little.
Remove the chorizo skin, halve or quarter and slice. Add to the pan.
Peel and slice the garlic cloves. Add to the pan.
Add the tomato purée and fry gently to remove any bitterness.
Add the beer, barley, drained kidney beans, de-seeded and roughly chopped green pepper, bay leaves, a teaspoon of salt and bring to a simmer.
Throw in some green peppercorns or capers if you like.
Add the shredded savoy cabbage and cook until the barley softens and the cabbage is cooked.
I thought this was going to be severely under-flavoured but it's actually a surprisingly tasty stew.

Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Chorizo and Dolcelatte
pasta meat main
An ideal one-pot boat dish.

Serves 1

Boil the pasta until al dente in a small saucepan, drain and set aside.
Return the pan to the hob and heat a tablespoon of the sun-dried tomato oil then sweat the sliced garlic and chopped chorizo.
Add the capers or green peppercorns if you have any!, sund-dried tomatoes, dolcelatte, and sour cream.
Stir, warming until the dolcelatte begins to melt into the sauce.
Remove from the heat, stir in the mayonnaise and the pasta.
Most excellent. Quick, easy and just taste those calories!

Beans with Chocolate and Truffle Oil
veg vegan side
Bloody hell, you find quite a few recipes for white beans with truffle oil, but it actually looks like I might have invented this.
Go me!

Serves 4

Soak the beans overnight. Drain.
Cover with stock or water with an Oxo cube in it!, add salt to taste, bring to the boil and simmer covered for half to one hour until the beans are soft, then uncover and boil until they are almost dry.
Crush roughly using a potato masher, mix in the grated bitter chocolate, stir through a drizzle of quality truffle oil and serve with a spoon of sour cream.
Really good! Excellent balance of flavours, so good in fact that I just ate them on their own, but I think they'd go well with most meats or fowl.
I can now attest that these crushed beans do go well with fried pork chops, with a creamy mushroom sauce.

Stuffed Flank Steak
main meat
You might use large thin slices of skirt for this recipe (skirt is actually cut from the cow's diaphragm muscle).
Have your butcher thinly slice your flank steak from his giant hunk of flank. I'm a great fan of doing my meat cutting myself, but unless you have a hefty steak to cut into it's very difficult to get sufficiently even and thin slices for yourself. If your butcher doesn't have a hunk of flank find yourself another butcher.

The original Chunky Chef recipe slices up the rolled steak log into short segments (having first strategically tied loops of string around the log), then secures each of these pinwheels with a soaked cocktail stick. She then sears these rolls for 2-3 minutes top and bottom in a cast-iron griddle before roasting them at 350°F for about 10 minutes.
She also uses a mixture of parsley, sage and basil, which sounds quite weird to me.

Serves 4

Using a small blender or stick blender, purée the onion (or shallot), garlic and parsley other herbs are also available with enough olive oil to lubricate. Or you could just finely mince the whole lot.
Season with salt and pepper.
Place the steak in between two larger pieces of cling film and bash the hell out of it with a mallet or a rolling pin. Leaving a border at the edges, generously smear the steak with the onion purée (save any leftovers for your minty mung beans. Cover the herb mixture with overlapping paper-thin slices of prosciutto I used Serrano ham. Cover the ham with overlapping, thin, slices of provolone or other melty cheese I used Maasdam. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6, heat an oiled oven tray one with at least a small lip there will be juices. Roll up the steak into a log, arranged so that the meat grain will run along the length of the log. Tie the roll up with loops of string, if it doesn't look as if it will hold together as it is mine was fine, season the outside and dress with a little olive oil, lay on the oven tray seam-side down and roast for about 30 minutes until nicely browned and cooked through. Leave to rest tented in tin foil for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving with a balsamic glaze.
Very good use of flank steak, which can be a bit on the dry side.

Balsamic Glaze
veg vegan sauce
As might be used to glaze a stuffed flank steak.

Makes about a cup

Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil, stir until the sugar dissolves (adjust the sugar to (careful!) taste), and simmer until the glaze thickens and is reduced by about half.
Stir in a tablespoon of butter too, if you like.
Drizzle over your meat of choice. Or salmon. Or blue cheese. It goes well with blue cheese, like a rich gastrique. Or vegetables - it would probably go with vegetables too.

Minty Mung Beans
veg vegan side
Goes pretty well with a stuffed flank steak!

Cover the mung beans, bring them to the boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes until soft. No need to soak.
Blend the chopped shallot (or onion), garlic and parsley with enough olive oil to make a paste.
Boil off any excess water, stir in the shallot mixture and cook a little more.
Stir in the mint or mint concentrate (mint in vinegar) and serve.
Pretty good beans. I added the herb mixture because it was left over from the accompanying stuffed flank steak, but it seemed like a fortuitous addition.

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