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Feeding Flora With Chicken Pie But No Cake
Girls are funny. They need instant feeding. INSTANT.
So it's a pity Flora wasn't here last week when I made Jenny's birthday cake to take to her Birthday Dinner at The Tail End Fish Bar. But Jenny took care of the leftovers from that!
Fortunately Flora is mostly happy to nibble on cheese while I work. Which has been known to take some time...

This time I was working on a Chicken and Leek Pot Pie recipe from Delia, partly 'cos I fancied a chicken pie, and partly 'cos I needed a chicken carcass to make stock to add to my collection. (I already have a very good beef stock in the fridge from the bones from my last dinner)
Of course then I needed a dish to use up those leftover legs too.

Chicken and Leek Pot Pie
main fowl
A Chicken, Leek and Mushroom pot pie with a puff pastry crust.
Not a bad Delia recipe - though it needs garlic!
Delia reckons you'll need a 1½ pint (7"x2½") casserole dish, but I used one about twice that capacity, though I did blind-bake a puff pastry casing into the dish before filling it. I like the soggy sauce-drenched pastry.
I didn't bother with the parmesan, and just went for 2oz mature cheddar in the sauce instead.

Serves 4

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, skin on
  • 1 medium leek
  • half-dozen button mushrooms
  • or another leek
  • 10 fl oz (275 ml) dry cider
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch (3 mm) slices
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 8 oz (225g) block of fresh or frozen and defrosted puff pastry or more for a lining
  • a little flour for dusting
  • 1 small egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan, for sprinkling
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper

  • The Sauce:
  • 10 fl oz (275 ml) milk
  • 3/4 oz (20g - 2 tablespoons) plain flour
  • 3/4 oz (20g) butter
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper and no more than a pinch - you're not making chilli here
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1-2 oz (25-50g) mature Cheddar, grated
  • 1/2 oz (10g) Parmesan, finely grated
  • a little freshly grated nutmeg
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).

First, pour the cider into a medium saucepan, along with the carrots, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme and freshly milled black pepper. If you're using a lot of thyme, you should tie it up, or put it in a small muslin bag so you can retrieve the sprigs after - they're not nice to get caught in your throat! Bring to simmering point, then cover with a lid and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Now take the tough green ends off the leeks, slice them in half lengthways and chop into 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices. Wash thoroughly to remove any hidden grit and drain them. If you are using mushrooms (and you should) wipe them down and cut them into eighths. Add the chicken and leeks to the pan and simmer, covered, for a further 15 minutes until the mushrooms begin to wilt and the chicken is cooked through.

If you want extra crust in your pie, then line the baking dish with pastry, cover with greaseproof paper or tin foild and fill it with baking beans and bake it blind for 15-20 minutes until browned - it can be still a little soggy though - it will cook more the second time around.

For the sauce, all you do is place the milk, flour, butter, garlic and cayenne pepper into a medium saucepan and place it over a gentle heat. Then, using a balloon whisk, begin to whisk while bringing it to a gentle simmer. Whisk continually until you have a smooth, glossy sauce, and simmer very gently for 5 minutes. I went the more traditional route and cooked the flour in the butter first, but perhaps this would give a whiter sauce? Then add the cheeses and whisk again, allowing them to melt. Then season with salt, freshly milled black pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg. Next, drain the chicken and vegetables, reserving the liquid, but not the bay leaf and thyme. Now pour the liquid back into the pan, bring it to the boil and reduce to about 2 tablespoons.

Meanwhile, skin the chicken and cut it into bite-sized strips. Now stir the cheese sauce into the cider, bring to a simmer, and stir the chicken, carrots and leeks into the sauce, before transferring the whole lot to the dish.

Next, to make a lid, roll the pastry out thinly on a lightly floured surface. Cut out a 9 inch (23 cm) round, then roll out the trimmings and cut a 1/2 inch (1 cm) strip. Now dampen the edge of the dish with water and press the strip of pastry around the rim. Dampen the strip and carefully lift the pastry lid over the top. Press it firmly over the edge to get a good seal all round, then trim, using a knife.

Finally, gather up the trimmings and re-roll them to cut into leaf shapes. Brush the surface of the pie with beaten egg, and arrange the leaves on top.

Now, brush the leaves with beaten egg, sprinkle with Parmesan and bake on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
A straight-forward tasty pie!
I liked my extra crust, but I suppose then it's not really a pot pie - just a regular pie.
The sauce is surprisingly green - but I used a reasonable amount of the green parts of the leeks, I hate to see all that perfectly good leek go to waste!

I think you could try something other than carrots as the root vegetable - they're a bit dull really. Maybe try Jerusalem artichokes or parsnips?

Roast Chicken Legs with Tomatoes
main fowl
A simple dish of roast chicken legs with herbs and tomatoes
Quite a nice way of using up any leftover chicken legs. And meaty wings.
It's a bit fiddly to eat, but simplicity to turn out.
I added sliced potatoes to my dish, but it's good to have something else to soak up the juices. I baked some garlic bread, but a nice farmhouse loaf, lemon rice or couscous would work too.

Serves 2

  • 2 chicken legs, jointed
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a medium bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
  • a big handfuls of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved, and ripe plum tomatoes, quartered
  • half a bulb of garlic, broken up into cloves
  • 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
  • olive oil
  • 2 new potatoes, sliced
Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Season your chicken pieces all over and put them into a snug-fitting pan in one layer. Throw in all the basil leaves and stalks, then chuck in your tomatoes. Scatter the garlic cloves into the pan with the chopped chilli and drizzle over some olive oil. Mix around a bit, pushing the tomatoes underneath. Place in the oven for 1½ hours, turning the tomatoes halfway through, until the chicken skin is crisp and the meat falls off the bone.

If you fancy, you can add some drained cannellini beans or some sliced new potatoes to the pan and cook them with the chicken. Or you can serve the chicken with some simple mashed potato. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins before serving. You could even make it part of a pasta dish - remove the chicken meat from the bone and shred it, then toss into a bowl of linguini or spaghetti and serve at once.

I'm not sure about his fondness for unpeeled garlic cloves - it's true that they seem to end up more nicely softened and sticky when left in the skin than their peeled brethren, and although it's not too much of a faff to squeeze out your own cloves while you eat the dish, (especially given how fiddly eating the chicken is anyway) it would certainly be too much of a pain to do it before serving. And you'd better warn your guests about them.
He's wrong about the pasta though - the chicken makes a rubbish pasta sauce. Too heavy.
And why would you bother just using the chicken in, say, a cream sauce?
What - would you just throw all the other stuff away?

Jenny's Best Birthday Cake
sweet veg
Nigella Lawson's sponge birthday cake recipe with buttercream filling and chocolate icing.
A fairly straight-forward cake from Nigella, though nothing particularly stunning.
It's slightly unusual in its use of custard powder, but it seemed to work.

Serves a birthday party

  • 200g plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons Bird's custard powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 eggs 225g soft butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk

  • For The Buttercream Filling:
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 4 teaspoons Bird's custard powder
  • 75g soft unsalted butter
  • 11/2 teaspoons boiling water

  • For The Chocolate Icing:
  • 60ml water
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 125g caster sugar (or use 50g if using milk chocolate)
  • 175g good quality dark chocolate (or milk)
  • 1 pot hundreds and thousands or other decoration
Make sure everything you need is at room temperature before you start. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C, and butter and line two 20cm sandwich tins.
I think you really only need to line the bottoms - it's a fiddle to line the whole tin, and you should be able to free the cake from the sides easily enough.
Put all of the above ingredients except the milk, into a food processor. Process to a smooth batter, and then add the milk a tablespoon at a time to make a soft dropping consistency. Divide between the two cake tins and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes will have risen and feel spookily puffy; this is because of the cornflour in the custard powder.
Let the tins sit on a cooling rack for 5 minutes and then turn them out on to the rack, peeling away the paper.

For The Buttercream Icing
Process the icing sugar and custard powder to get rid of any lumps, and then add the butter, processing again to make the buttercream come together. Feed the boiling water down the funnel with the motor running to make the filling easier to spread. Then sandwich the cooled sponges together with the custardy buttercream.

For The Chocolate Icing
Combine the water, syrup and sugar in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve over a low heat.
Let it come to the boil and then take it off the heat.
Break up the chocolate into small pieces if you are not using chocolate buttons and then add to the pan, swirling it around to cover in the hot liquid. Leave to melt for a few minutes, and then whisk the icing to make it smooth and shiny. Pour over the buttercream filled cake, letting it drip down the sides, and then sprinkle generously with the hundreds and thousands or whatever decoration you fancy before the icing sets.

Stud with the appropriate number of candles. Light. Bask in the glow.
Well, it's a cake, it didn't go wrong and the icing is pretty cool - it sets firm (though not hard) and tastes pretty fine!
But really I prefer my cake soaked with alcohol à la Tiramisu or at least stickily moist, so this wasn't really my thing.
Still, Jenny seemed to enjoy it. Which is the important thing with birthdays - look at Eyore's balloon.
Prime Rib With Annick
Annick enjoying her steak.
Annick very kindly invited me to help paint anti-fouling onto the hulls of the Port Edgar Yacht Club's 707s, and since she seemed underwhelmed by my peace offering of a bacon roll as I sailed merrily off into the river in my Laser, I decided to pop into my favourite butcher in nearby Uphall and score another of their delicious prime ribs for an apologetic dinner.

The nice butcher man trimmed me a beautiful 2kg (4lb 4oz to be exact) single prime rib for a mere £24.80 with a nice length of protruding bone for ease of handling (and a generously filled a bag of shin bones for stock).

Being a bit pressed for time, I decided to cheat a little with the chips (steak needs chips!) and deep-fry some potato wedges from par-boiled potatoes, which turned out pretty damn fine I have to say, so after after rushing home with my shopping I put some small unpeeled King Edwards on to par-boil whilst I threw together a mushroom salad, and started to prepare a fairly quick side dish of lemony green beans.
I also made up the reduction for a half-quantity of béarnaise sauce (chips need béarnaise sauce!), preheated the oven, cut the par-cooked potatoes into quarter wedges, and started warming up some clarified butter that I had rather fortunately made earlier. So things were nicely underway by the time Annick arrived.

Unfortunately, things went slightly downhill after that - women are sooo distracting - I'm not even sure they should be allowed in the kitchen.
Sorry Annick - you were very helpful actually - doing all that washing up and helping out with the bean prep and table-laying. Thanks :)
I got the steak frying nicely and set off all the smoke detectors, then once the rib was in the oven I managed to curdle the béarnaise sauce by rushing it (probably I shouldn't have bothered trying to get it nice and warm in the double boiler after whisking in the melted butter and should have been satisfied with the result I had), but managed to rescue the situation by whisking up a new egg yolk over the boiling water in a clean bowl and whipping the curdled mixture back in.
The result was just fine though - I would have challenged anyone to tell the difference.

I stuck the sauce in a warmed thermos, put a pan of groundnut oil and a pan of water on to heat then when the oil was hot enough did the first round of deep-frying.
I was determined to get the meat as rare as I like it this time, and decided to ignore official temperature recommendations (and the guides on my meat thermometers) that claim beef is rare at 140°F/60°C (which is fucking nanny-state nonsense by the way) and aim for a more realistic ruby-red temperature of 120°F/50°C. Yumsk!

Once the steak was cooked and resting I got the beans on and did the second round of potato wedge frying whilst Annick waded in and laid the table.

And everything arrived together!
Though the mushrooms were a bit over-garlicked and I forgot to add oil to the beans, the fat chips were magnificent, the sauce was delicious and the steak - oh the steak - was bliss on a bone.

Annick asked me if I had mustard - so I introduced her to my meager collection of 7 varieties (I have a shelf in the fridge and a compartment of my cupboards devoted to mustards), but once she tasted the béarnaise sauce the pot stayed closed.

So there's validation for you.

Prime Rib
main meat
The most succulent of steaks, pan-fried on the bone then finished off in the oven.
This is just about the best hunk of steak on the cow - a single prime rib or forerib from between the 6th and 12th ribs - perfect for 2-3 people.
It's too massive a lump of meat to fry all the way through, so it needs to be finished off in the oven.
2 or 3 of the ribs make a truly excellent roast too.

Feeds 2 gloriously

  • 1 prime rib with the bone still in (4lb)
  • olive oil
  • salt
And off we go...
Prepare the meat
Make sure to take the meat out of the fridge in good time so it is at room temperature when you start.
Rub it all over with salt and olive oil.
Preheat the oven
Put a roasting tin in the oven (unless you can fit in your skillet) and get it up to 230°C/450°F/Gas 8
Pan Sear
Close your kitchen door, open all your kitchen windows and turn the extractor fan up full.
Fire up your cast iron griddle (you won't have access to Rachel's Le Creuset skillet since you broke up with her) and leave it until it is too hot to hold your hand near, then sear each side of the monster joint until nice and crisped - about 5 minutes per side and don't forget the edges.
Oven Roast
Put the skillet in the oven if it will fit, otherwise transfer the steak to the hot roasting tin and stick it back in the oven.
Turn the oven down to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and cook the beast until the internal temperature of the meat reaches your target temperature (not forgetting it will continue to cook for a while afterwards).
Which means:
  • 50°F - 90°F for bleu
  • 90°F - 120°F for rare
  • 130°F - 135°F for medium rare
  • 140°F - 145°F for medium
  • 150°F - 155°F for medium well
  • 160°F and up for well done. Or as I call it: burnt.
It took my 68oz steak 30 minutes to reach 120°F, which looks like about 5 minutes per lb.
Everyone agrees your meat needs a nice rest after all that hard cooking. 15 minutes covered with foil out of the oven while you make your chips.
OMG Steak!
Although the steak was fucking magnificent, I've since come across some interesting ideas for first cooking a decent hunk of beef (4lb is a decent hunk!) in the lowest possible oven until rare (110°F/43°C - 3/4 hours), resting, and only then searing in the hottest possible oven setting until crisped (6-10 minutes) just before serving.
Must give that a shot...

Mushroom Salad
salad raw veg vegan
A mushroom salad a bit like raw Mushrooms à la Grecque
This is a bit like a raw Mushrooms à la Grecque that Rachel's Dad's partner Joyce used to make. Don't overdo the garlic though - it is possible to have too much!

Serves 4

  • a dozen or so button mushrooms, quartered
  • bunch curly parsley, chopped

  • Dressing:
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • equal volume olive oil
  • 1-2 crushed garlic cloves
  • salt to taste
Clean and quarter the mushrooms, shake up the dressing and mix everything together. Let the mushrooms marinate for a few hours before serving (if possible).
Not bad. Don't overdo the garlic.

Green Beans with Lemon and Capers
side veg
Hot Green Beans flavoured with lemon peel and capers
Serves 4

  • 300g green beans, topped and tailed
  • grated peel from 1 lemon though orange might be nice too
  • 2-3 teaspoons capers
  • olive oil or melted butter
  • maybe: some crushed anchovies
  • maybe: a splash light soy sauce
  • maybe: a little crushed garlic
Top and tail the green beans and cut them into bite-sized pieces if you prefer.
Cook the beans briefly in salted, boiling water. Drain.
Crush the capers slightly with the lemon peel and mix into the beans with the oil or butter.
Not bad. Makes a nice addition to a leftover salad for the day after too.

Deep-Fried Potato Wedges
side staple veg vegan
Quick and dirty fat chips
I used King Edwards, just because I already had some, but I'm sure Maris Piper or other chip-centric potatoes would do the job.
They're pretty tasty so allow 3-4 potatoes per person - they'll get eaten!

  • small potatoes - King Edwards are fine
  • groundnut oil for deep-frying though I'm sure sunflower would work
  • sea salt
Par-boil the unpeeled potatoes until they are tender, but not too soft (about 10-15 minutes).
Drain and cool them in cold water.
Cut them into quarters or sixths to make decent-sized wedges
Heat a deep pan of groundnut oil to 140°C/285°F and fry the wedges until cooked through and starting to colour but not browned.
Lift out the wedges and reheat the oil to 190°C/375°F. Fry the wedges until browned and crispy.
Shake the wedges dry and serve in a basket generously scattered with freshly-ground sea salt.
These turned out really well - it's really difficult to get chips just right if you don't (yet) have a wire chip basket, but with fewer, larger wedges you can get them out with a slotted spoon before the last ones burn up.

Steak Salad
salad main meat
Grilled steak pieces and crumbled blue cheese on a salad of watercress, red onion and tomatoes with a balsamic dressing.
Not only a tasty way of using up all your leftover steak, but healthy too.
It must be healthy - it's a salad right?

  • leftover chunks of prime rib
  • ripe St. Agur

  • Salad:
  • Watercress
  • tomatoes, chopped
  • red onion sliced

  • Dressing:
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
Mix the salad ingredients, together with any handy leftover cold green beans with lemon and capers, and toss with the dressing.

Grill or roast the leftover steak, slice into bite-sized pieces or strips and scatter over the salad. Crumble the St. Agur over the top.
Pretty nice, you need to serve it pretty quickly while the steak is still a bit sizzly.
If you want you can grill the cheese on the steak too so it's all melty.
A Haggis For All Seasons
Two weeks after Burn's night and I'm almost out of Haggis.
Thank Christ.

Haggis Curry Dinner It seemed that my Haggis dinner made no recognisable impression in the massive quantity of haggis I turned out this year, so I've pretty much been living on it ever since.
I adapted a very nice keema recipe to get rid of a pound or so of the haggis, and invented a couple of nice curries to use up the leftover mashed neeps and tatties, which took me through a couple of dinners.
I also extended my curried neeps to use up a leftover half-turnip from the dinner in a tasty chunky turnip curry, and of course no blistering leftover curry meal would be complete without a yoghurt sauce to cool it off.

All of which means that after freezing a lump of haggis to send to my brother, and persuading Jenny to take a gift box of haggis away with her, I am now left with only another ten pounds or so to get through myself.

So here are some other ideas you might want to try to use up your leftover haggis:

Based on a Pat Chapman Punjabi Keema recipe
Haggis Punjabi Masala
curry main meat
Serves 4

  • 1½lb haggis
  • 6fl oz vegetable oil
  • 4 teaspoons/6 gloves garlic purée
  • 3 teaspoons/2" ginger purée
  • 6fl oz/1 medium-sized onion purée
  • 2 tomatoes chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 1 tablespoon coconut milk powder
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
  • dozen green chillies, chopped into chunks, deseeded
  • salt to taste

  • Spices:
  • insides of 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas 5.
Purée the onions in a food processor with some of the oil as necessary, grate the ginger and press the garlic.
Grind the whole spices and cardomom seeds, then mix all the powders together with some hot water to make a paste.

Heat the oil and fry the onion purée for 5 minutes, or until it softens and the oil starts to separate,
add the ginger purée and fry for a couple more minutes until the oil begins to separate,
add the garlic puré and fry for a minute until the oil begins to separate,
add the spice paste and fry for about 3 minutes until the oil begins to separate,
add the tomato puré and fry for a minute until the oil begins to separate.

Finally add the tomatoes, coconut milk powder and then the minced lamb.

Stir and place in a lidded casserole dish in the oven for 15 minutes.

Chop the green pepper, not too large, and slice the chillies into chunks about the same size, rolling them to squeeze out the seeds.

Stir, add a little water if necessary, add the lemon juice, the chopped green pepper, the chopped green chillies and salt to taste, then return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Serve with rice and yoghurt sauce.
A pretty good use of leftover haggis. You could probably do it all on the stove top if you don't have a casserole. Or an oven.

Chilli Mashed Potato
curry side veg
Alex tells me that his local Indian takeaway does a very mean mashed potato curry, so I thought I should do one too.

Serves about 4 as a side dish

  • 1lb/2 cups potatoes mashed with butter
  • 1 tablespoon ghee
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons gram flour
  • dozen green chillies, deseeded and chopped
  • large handful/25g coriander leaves, stalks removed, washed, sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
First cook your potatoes and mash them with butter or ghee.
Separate the coriander leaves from their stalks, wash and slice them.
Deseed and mince the green chillies.

Gently fry the spices in a tablespoon of ghee until the oil begins to separate, then add the gram (chick pea) flour and continue to fry for a couple minutes more, then add the mashed potato and stir through.
Add the lemon juice and the chillies and stir round until warmed through.
Fold in the chopped coriander leaves and season to taste just before serving.
Not a bad mashed potato - a bit on the dry side though, you could definitely add water or more lemon juice.
It might work with cream or yoghurt instead of lemon juice either.

Curried Mashed Turnip
curry side veg
Quite a tasty, mild mashed-turnip curry, though apparently not worth photographing! Might be worth expanding into a full-blown turnip curry.

Serves 4

  • mashed turnip, maybe 2 cups/1lb
  • generous plug grated ginger
  • 1-2 tablespoons ghee

  • Spices:
  • the seeds from inside 6 green cardamoms
  • 1 teaspoon red and black peppercorns
  • a grinding of nutmeg or mace would probably work too
Grind together the spices.
Fry the grated ginger in ghee until the oil separates, add the spices and fry again, then add the mashed turnip until heated through.
Not bad, for leftovers.

Turnip Curry
curry side veg
Well, I haven't come across turnip curry before, so this seems like a nice addition to the armoury.

Serves 4

  • ½ turnip, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, puréed
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • golf-ball sized plug fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tablespoons creamed coconut, grated
  • half a dozen or so whole green chillies
  • water

  • Spices:
  • seeds from a dozen green cardamoms
  • seeds from 3 brown cardamoms
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon mixed peppercorns optional
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg/mace optional
Purée the onion with enough vegetable oil to lubricate it, then fry this with more oil, as necessary, until the oil separates don't skimp on this - fry thoroughly or the result will be bitter
add the crushed garlic and fry
add the grated ginger and fry
grind the spices together, add them to the pan and fry until the oil separates
chop the turnip into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan
chop the carrot into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan
add the whole green chillies to the pan
add the grated creamed coconut, and a little water to lubricate.
simmer very gently until the vegetables are meltingly soft.
Quite a nice little invention. Super mild of course. And quite sweet.
You could try using a tin of coconut milk instead of the creamed coconut/water mixture for simmering.
I did try adding some avocado into the mix (a first attempt to find a good indian-style avocado dish) - both puréed into the sauce and as pieces cooked in the curry, but it just made the dish thick and oddly bitter.

A Quick Yoghurt Sauce
sauce veg curry
  • yoghurt
  • mint jelly or sauce
  • amchoor (dried mango) powder
  • chilli powder
  • garam masala powder
  • finely chopped coriander leaves
  • a splash of cider or white wine vinegar
Mix it all up to together and serve it as a curry side dish.
A perfectly acceptable yoghurt sauce, even if it isn't quite up to professional standards

Haggis Mushrooms
starter meat
Serves 1 person per mushroom

  • Portobello (large) mushrooms
  • leftover haggis
  • drizzle of Worcestershire sauce
  • mozzarella if you like
Preheat the oven to Gas 6.
Cut the stalk out of the mushrooms and fill them with leftover haggis. Drizzle with a little Worcestershire sauce and top with Mozzarella cheese (if you like).
Might have been a bit nicer cooked slower for longer, but to be honest the flavours didn't really blend.

Chicken Balmoral
main fowl meat
I found this idea online whilst searching for ideas to get rid of my leftover haggis and I thought it sounded nice, though I didn't get around to trying it.

Serves 2

  • haggis
  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 rashers or so bacon

  • Sauce:
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 2 tblsps whisky
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1 tblsp Dijon mustard
  • 20g butter
Cut a pocket into the chicken breasts without going all the way through and fill with haggis, wrap in bacon, then pan-fry to brown and stiffen the bacon then put in the oven to cook through.

Meanwhile deglaze the pan with the stock and the whisky (feel fry to fry some shallots first), reduce to about half, add the cream and mustard (or just peppercorns), finally whisk in the butter to thicken.
Serve the breasts with the sauce poured over.

Haggis Ravioli
starter main meat pasta
When I made these I just rolled out two pasta sheets, spooned filling into small piles on one of them, then pressed the other sheet over and cut around the filled lumps.
I'm sure it would have been better to cut out nice pasta shapes first, then fill them and press them together.
Make sure you re-roll the scraps left over from the cutting to make more shapes.
I filled some of the raviolis with chopped cooked beetroot and sour cream, which were alright, though the cream coagulated a lot during cooking. I'm sure you could do better.

  • fresh pasta
  • haggis
  • beetroot and sour cream is nice too

  • Salad:
  • rocket salad leaves
  • olive oil, lemon juice, capers and caper vinegar dressing
  • chopped cooked beetroot
  • sour cream
Make your pasta dough and roll it out very thinly - you should be able to (faintly) see the outline of your hand through it when you hold it up to the light.
Cut shapes from the pasta sheets using a tumbler as a template or a cookie cutter. Place a pile of filling in the centre of each, then cover with another shape and seal the edges.
I have read that you should use beaten egg to make the join. Pressing the edges with a fork looks quite nice.
Simmer for about 10 minutes until the pasta is cooked.
Serve with a nice rocket salad, or with Joyce's salad of beetroot mixed with yoghurt or sour cream and a dash of horseradish.

I made my usual pasta dough using semolina, but to be honest it was a bit too grainy for ravioli and tended to tear and leak during cooking. I think using just flour or mainly flour for the dough would be better here.
I also made up a couple of ravioli using chopped beetroot and sour cream, which weren't bad. I imagine ricotta or mascarpone or soft goats' cheese with the beetroot would be nice too.
Beetroot does go well with the haggis.
Babysitting With Tradition
Traditional Sweets
Well, it's time to roll up my regular babysitting visits to Rachel's house, they have been becoming quite a habit, if not exactly a tradition.
And it seems like now would be a good time to put a bit of a brake on them, what with the family just about to trek off to Mexico to catch up with their absent father and all.
Not that I'm never going to see them again or anything. Just not on such a regular footing. In fact I already had my arm twisted to promise Georgina another stuffed chicken dinner and a sushi evening for Sophie, but I did extract from them the price of getting their Dad's famed ceviche recipe.

It seemed pretty appropriate to end on a traditional note so we whipped up a batch of Scottish tablet, and a tray of Scottish shortbread.
They both turned out edible enough, but since it was my first attempt at both recipes, the could definitely have been done better.
The tablet not quite as mouth-wateringly smooth as most Scottish Grannies seem to manage, and the shortbread definitely undercooked.
I'll get them next time!

One disturbing thing I noticed as I stirred up the tablet, was the appearance of lots of little black dots in the bubbling mixture.
They turned out to be bits of Le Creuset's non-stick coating, which seems to be now non-sticking to the pan.
This, obviously, is hugely disappointing in a pot which is only a year old. And by no means cheap.
A call to Le Creuset might be in order, eh Rachel?

sweet veg
There's a terrific guide to making tablet on the interwebs which illustrates the process much better than I could.
It pretty much went as described, except that at the end when stirring the mixture off the heat like a madman it didn't really start to feel "gritty", though it did stiffen and cohere. I think you're better pouring it as soon as you feel the mixture thicken.

Makes TONS

  • 1kg white cane vanilla granulated sugar
  • 1 tin (approx. 400g) sweetened condensed milk
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • a little more than ½ cup fresh milk to damp sugar
Butter a 10"x20" baking tray. I found 8"x10" to be more than adequate.
You can use plain or vanilla sugar for this (just leave a vanilla pod in the bag for a week or two). Or other flavours I suppose.
Damp the sugar with enough milk to moisten it. About ½ cup. It doesn't matter if you add more milk, it will just take longer to boil off, but too little and you might burn the sugar.
Add the butter and melt it in over a low heat then add the condensed milk and turn the heat up reasonably high.
Stir the mixture for about 10 minutes until it comes to a foaming boil (it will almost double in volume), then turn the heat down low to keep it simmering. If you start to get brown streaks then turn the heat down, or stir more frequently.
Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally until it darkens to a nice caramel colour - about 20 minutes or so.
It's a bit up to you how well-cooked and strongly-flavoured you like your tablet apparently, but you can tell when it's ready to set by plunging a teaspoon of mixture into a cup of cold water for a minute or two after which the mixture should form a soft ball which oozes slowly off the spoon.

Now you can take the pan off the heat and stir the mixture vigorously until you feel it start to thicken slightly - it starts to cohere at this stage and hold together a bit more as you stir it, coming away more cleanly from the sides of the pan.
Make sure you keep scraping the excess off the sides back into the mixture as you stir.
Now it's ready to pour into the buttered baking tray.
Once it's poured you can score the surface where you will be cutting into squares later, and then you have to leave it to set completely before turning it out. Preferably overnight, though it's hard to wait that long :)
Well, all that stirring at the end made my wrist hurt, and the result looked like tablet, smelt like tablet and tasted like tablet but crumblier and slightly too crystalline. Not smooth enough.
I had the feeling that I might have waited too long before pouring the mixture out and it didn't take on that slightly translucent appearance in the baking tin that I expected from shop-bought varieties.
Next time I'd try pouring it out as soon as the mixture starts to stiffen and cohere. I also might add a little more milk at the start to try and get the sugar to dissolve into smaller crystals, but maybe that would make no difference.
A good effort nonetheless.
Second time around I appear to have made the smoothest tablet ever!
It's interesting how often it takes a couple of goes at these things to get the right feel for what needs doing. This time I added a little more milk to the sugar to start, and once off the heat and stirring vigorously, I poured the tablet out as soon as I felt it start to thicken up - probably a minute or two.
The mixture was still quite liquid and almost translucent at that stage.

Traditionally Nigella!
Vanilla Shortbread
sweet veg
We followed a straightforward Nigella recipe for this from her Forever Summer collection.
She managed to leave out enough instructions like how large a baking tin to use, and whether or not it should be greased to make the result slightly unsatisfactory.
It will probably be a lot better the second time around.

Makes 12 fat fingers

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cornflour
  • 200g very soft, unsalted butter
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • vanilla or ordinary caster sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas mark 3
Lightly butter a 13"x10"x½ swiss roll tin and sieve icing sugar into it.
I don't know if you really need to do this if it's non-stick, but it seemed like a good idea

Put the icing sugar, plain flour and cornflour into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a double-bladed knife and give them a quick blitz. Nigella reckons this works instead of sieving the powders. Cut the vanilla pod in half, then slice each half open lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife. Add these and the butter to the bowl and process until the soft mixture coheres and begins to form a ball, loosely clumping around the blade.

Turn the dough out into the baking tin and press it in to form an even layer. Use your fingers, and finish off by rolling a small glass across the top.
I'm not sure how hard you should be pressing here, but since ours ended up a bit crumbly, with the top separating, I suspect harder than we did.
I think you should be aiming for a thickness of about ½"

Make cuts to mark out the fingers you'll want to eat, and then use a fork to press holes into each finger. I think you might have to go deeper in with these holes than I did - they should stop the shortbread rising up in the centre as it cooks. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the shortbread is still pale but starting to turn pale gold and feels firm in the centre.
Remove from the oven and when it's cool, prise out the marked pieces with a palette knife, sprinkle with sugar and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.
We used a smaller baking tin and ended up with shortbread that was about 1" thick. This didn't cook right through and was still doughy in the middle using the timings and temperature above - it would probably be better to go for about half that thickness, or adjust accordingly.

For some reason the top of our shortbread peeled off like a thick skin - maybe I didn't press hard enough or prick deeply enough?
Nigella suggests cutting out the shortbread fingers 10 minutes after they come out of the oven, but they did seems still soft and delicate at this stage.
Delia, on the other hand, suggests marking out the fingers once the shortbread is out of the oven, but then leaving to cool completely before cutting them out of the tin.
Might be worth a shot next time - they tasted like the recipe could work pretty well if I get the cooking times right.
Don't bother, Shirley Spear's recipe is much better.
Babysitting With Cookies
I have discovered that babysitting goes better with cookies.
It certainly beats trying to force-feed them fish (yeuch!), olives (yeuch!) or anything you wouldn't find in a jar of Dolmio pasta sauce.
Or at least, it does once the sugar rush has worn off.

Mum bought Rachel's girlies a cookbook for Christmas, and the girls were keen on the recipe for American brownies, so we had a stab at it. Went pretty well I thought.

Chocolate Chip Brownies
sweet veg
Makes about a dozen

  • 6 oz walnuts/pecans or raisins crushed
  • 4 oz plain chocolate chocolate
  • 6 oz butter
  • 12 oz caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 oz plain flour
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • 1 baking tin 9"x12"x1"
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 I set Rachel's fan-assisted oven to 160°C

Grease the baking tin and line the bottom with parchment.
Crush the nuts, break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and stand over simmering water.
Cut the butter into pieces and stir them into the chocolate until everything melts.
Pour the chocolate mixture into a bowl and stir in the sugar and the vanilla. Whisk the eggs then beat them into the chocolate mixture with a wooden spoon.
Sift in the flour and the baking powder, add nuts we used a half-dozen marshmallows instead and mix well.
Pour into the baking tin, smooth the top and bake for 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes or so.
Leave until cool enough to handle, cut into squares and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Very nice!
We skipped the nuts, but added a handful of marshmallows and some broken Yorkie bar instead.

From a cookie recipe on Nigella.com
Astoundingly Good Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
sweet veg
Georgina requested an evening of chewy American-style chocolate chip cookies, so I went online and discovered a suitable-looking Nigella recipe.
Only it wasn't Nigella - it was just a submission to her web-site by someone called "Norm".
What a swizz.
Good job it turned out to be bloody fantastic - or I'd have been coming for you "Norm"! If that's your real name.

Georgina did all the work, since Sophie was busy making dresses. Sigh. They grow up so fast!.
It's a fairly easy recipe for a youngling to manage, though the dough is quite stiff to stir, and I did melt the butter for her and lift the cookies in and out of the oven. But she is at least as competent at setting the oven temperature as her mother.

The dough itself is delicious by the way, so you need to supervise the final stages to make sure it doesn't all disappear before it gets into the oven, but Georgina went mad for the finished product too.
Not literally mad, obviously.
That would be an entirely inappropriate thing to say about a 10-year-old.
Just metaphorically mad.

Makes about 24 cookies

  • 2/3 cup (150ml) melted butter
  • 2 cups (500ml) lightly packed brown sugar not too brown or it will colour the cookies
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of hot water
  • 2 2/3 cups (650ml) all-purpose (ie plain) flour
  • 1 tsp (5ml) baking powder
  • 1 tsp (5ml) baking soda (ie bicarb)
  • 1/4 tsp (1ml or a 'pinch') salt
  • 1 package (270g) Hershey's Chipits milk chocolate chips or other quality chocolate chips - you could also use white/dark or butterscotch chips.
Preheat oven to 375F/190C.
I used 180°C for Rachel's fan-assisted oven, which seemed about right - the top shelf of cookies took 8 minutes, the middle shelf 12 minutes and the bottom shelf 15

Mix together melted butter, brown sugar, eggs and hot water. Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mixture will form into a stiffish dough. Stir in chocolate chips until well distributed throughout the dough.

The dough tastes pretty delicious raw , but try not to eat it all. Drop the dough from a spoon onto 3 or 4 ungreased cookie sheets. The mixture will make a couple of dozen reasonably sized cookies. Leave a reasonable amount of room for spreading.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until just turning golden brown from white. Don't allow them to brown too much. Eat a few whilst still warm - that's when they're at their best. Store in an airtight tin for as long as you can resist guzzling the lot.
Absolutely delicious - but they can be tricky to prise away from the cookie sheets. I'm not sure why "Norm" says not to grease them - I would have thought a thin buttering would have helped.
The second time of making, in my own oven, the cookies had a distinctly cakey texture, and were noticeably thicker than the first lot.
Possibly my (gas) oven wasn't set hot enough since they seemed to take quite a bit longer than 10 minutes.
It's Haggis Time. Again.
It's Tuesday. It's the 25th January. It's Crackerjack!

Haggis Dinner
OK, it's not Crackerjack, but it is Burn's Night, so time to wheel out the old Haggis recipe for one more spin.

It seems to be getting harder and harder to find all the bits of sheep you need to make the haggis these days.
This time I had to visit three different butchers before I had everything - no one seems willing or able to sell a complete pluck any more, then I thought the liver I got first was a bit skimpy so went back out for more, and then I had to fight to get hold of any lungs.
On the plus side though, whilst butcher hopping I did score a very nice extra lamb's heart for my aprés offal dinner that night.

Part of the problem with getting all the bits from different butchers (never mind different sheep) is that the quantities end up a bit unbalanced, and vary every time you make this stuff.
This time I had a huge kidney that looked like it might have come from a camel, and that extra tiny liver that I didn't really need.
Which is how come I ended up with a simply unbelievable quantity that was too big for any mixing bowl I possess this time around, and kept me in haggis for the next two weeks.

However I had an interesting discussion with my lung guy about whether he thought it was worth bothering with them at all: I told him how after I'd finished picking all the capillaries out there never seemed to be much left to eat, and he told me that he didn't have that trouble at all after boiling the lungs for 2 hours.
I thought that sounded a bit excessive - considering it might be nice to have some flavour left in the buggers, but I think he was probably right - I boiled mine for an hour this time (double that from last time) and there certainly was a great deal less picking out of capillary to be done. Just the main big fat ones really, and they pulled out a lot easier too.

So this time I simmered the hearts, liver and kidneys for about half an hour first, then took everything out and put the lungs into the same pan for an hour.
This left some offaly nice :) stock after straining which I used to cook the barley and to moisten the heart and lungs when I whizzed them up in the food processor to make mousse (which my food processor did not enjoy - indicating it's unhappiness with clouds of smoke). And in fact this time, I used up all of my cooking water. Probably because I didn't need so much of it cooking the lungs separately.

Though I got the spices better balanced than last time (frying up a sample to taste as you go saves the day), on the whole I didn't like the flavour as much, maybe because there was too much kidney?
Although the earliest Haggis-type recipes like the medieval For hagese, published in Liber Cure Cocorum in (probably) Lancashire around 1430 A.D. are happy to use kidney (and in fact, that recipe doesn't seem to have any liver), later references such as Gervase Markham's mention of haggas or haggus in his 1615 publication The English Huswife often seem to skip the kidneys, and it now doesn't seem to be all that common an ingredient.

Not that it tasted bad or anything - just a bit stronger than I like.

As usual I did my best not to over-pack the ox socks, firmly packing the end of the bag, then rolling the haggis back out again along the whole length so it was only half-stuffed, but as usual I failed, and once again my Haggis did not survive the boiling process un-split.
It's a real shame too - it made it right up to the third hour before finally going, but the trouble is when they split it happens in a real gush, so you don't have very long to rescue the situation and wrap them in tin foil. If you see the warning sign of a thinning patch, like a ladder in a stocking, or an actual hole, then don't hang about - wrap the haggis immediately in aluminium foil.
So back to the drawing board on my packing skills - I really must stop worrying about under-filling the casings no matter how limp they look, since the stuffing swells massively during cooking, and maybe I should think about double-wrapping the haggises in an extra ox cecum?

I actually remembered to weigh stuff as I worked this time so at least I have an idea of what went in - I think next time I would use a bit less liver maybe 2lb, and a lot less kidney - say 8 oz?
Oh, and this year's secret ingredient? Armagnac. Though I did wonder about adding a touch of mint. Those medieval recipes liked to use quite a lot of herbs, which seems like an idea worth resurrecting.

Mostly a reprise of Haggis I and some Haggis II
Haggis III
main meat
Feeds an army

  • 9oz/260g heart
  • 2lb 10 oz/1120g liver of which one single liver weighed 1lb/465g
  • 1lb 5oz/590g kidney
  • 1lb/450g kidney suet
  • 1 set of lungs
  • 2 cups pinhead oatmeal, which is ¾lb toasted
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 2 medium onions, chopped - about 2 cups
  • ½ head garlic, minced
  • a glass Armagnac
  • spices as for Haggis I
  • one or two ox ceca/bungs
Cook the heart, liver and kidneys for 30 mins, (picking out any smaller pieces if they are cooked through quicker), then take them out to cool and cook the lights (lungs) for 1 hour in the same stock.
You should probably skim off the brown foam which inevitably bubbles up during this process.
  • hand-grate the liver, removing any tubules
  • hand-grate the larger pieces of kidney
  • hand-grate the suet
  • dry pan-toast the oatmeal
  • cook the barley in twice its volume of offal stock
  • purée the lungs, heart and leftover kidney, removing any tubules
  • chop the onion, moderately finely
  • mince the garlic
and mix together with the Armagnac, enough stock to moisten so it clumps together and half the spices - add the rest only after you've fried up a little sample to have a taste.

Now you're ready to stuff the cecum - fill one half of the sock, then squeeze out any air, tie off the very end then roll the mixture back out so it half-fills the entire length. I'll definitely try double-bagging the sock next time!
I hung my haggis in a cool place for a day to dry off the somewhat spongey surface before wrapping it in cheesecloth and leaving in the fridge until it was needed, but maybe the hanging stage is unnecessary?
The haggis keeps just fine for at least a week this way.

Since you have just created a haggis far too large to fit in any of your existing pots, you will need to buy an extra-large oven tray to cook it in.
Just cover the haggis with warm water, put the oven-tray over a low heat and cover with tin foil.
Simmer for 3 hours until it is swollen and ready to eat - make sure you keep a close eye on it, especially towards the end, be prepared to wrap it in tin foil at the slightest sign of bursting.

Serve with neeps and tatties.

Oh Yeah.
We've been here before. You know it's good!

Edinburgh Fog
dessert veg
Apparently the original recipe used ratafia biscuits, but there don't seem to be any of those around, and today's macaroons with their coconut and chocolate coating seem like a completely different kettle of cookies, so I opted to use Amaretti biscuits instead.
Perhaps, though, they are not as moist as ratafias would have been?
The same website does have a recipe for them, but I couldn't be bothered to make them. Maybe next time.

The original also seems to have used Drambuie and bitter almond essence to flavour the fog, but I used Amaretto liqueur instead.

Makes enough for 4 desserts

  • Half pint double cream
  • around one ounce castor sugar
  • Two ounces Amaretti, crushed or more traditionally small macaroon biscuits
  • Amaretto liqueur or more traditionally almond essence and Drambuie
  • One ounce flaked almonds, toasted.
  • 3 or 4 raspberries per person, and some grated lemon peel to taste.
Whip the cream until it starts to stiffen, then add sugar to taste.
Crush the amaretti biscuits I pounded them through a colander with a rolling pin so they weren't too finely crushed and mix well with the cream.
Add a splash of Amaretto (or almond essence and Dramubuie, rum, whisky, brandy, or whatever) to taste.

Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan, put a few raspberries at the bottom of a glass or small serving dish, drizzle with Amaretto and a few gratings of lemon peel and pile on a heap of the fog.
Chill well and serve.

To be honest, I didn't like it much.
It's a bit greasy and has a rather cloying flavour. And I'm not sure it would have been any better with Drambuie either. Maybe it would be worth trying with a modern macaroon though, the amaretti vanished into the fog a bit.
One problem was that the fog was really dense, and would probably have benefitted from being whipped slightly less just to the point of it no longer pouring perhaps. Despite the original recipe instructing you to whip it until stiff.
Pants For Jenny
Jenny Loves Fanta
I lured Doctor Jenny over for dinner with the promise of food and Fanta (she loves Fanta, and is easily lured - especially when she's supposed to be studying),
and so eager was she that she rushed over without her toothbrush, her revision books or clean pants.
But she did stay for two meals!
Lucky me, I got to cook twice. And all it cost me was a pair of pants.
Jenny loves Fanta and boys' pants.

There was a very nice little seafood restaurant in Edinburgh called Sweet Melinda's now closed :( and I particularly remember a delightful combination of fried cod and black pudding that I had there. So I decided to have a go at it, and at the same time use up some quince I had left over from Christmas.
The combination of cod and black pudding was as nice as I remember it, although I think it would have been even better if my fillet still had some skin on to blacken up, but hey - you take what the fishmonger has.

Jenny arrived desperate for feeding, and in no mood to endure my usual ridiculous cooking time, so I made up a starter by slicing a grapefruit in two halves, sprinkling them with brown sugar and grilling them until the tops caramelised.
Quick and easy - though it would definitely have been easier to eat if I'd cut the fruit into segments and freed them from the peel before sugaring and grilling.

The main course was the Cod, Quince and Black Pudding stacked on a blob of Pea Purée and served with boiled potatoes dressed with chopped mint and butter.

For dessert I made Individual Chocolate Soufflés (which I overcooked slightly), but they had chocolate in them - so Jenny was happy.

The quince didn't really work with the cod and black pudding, but I thought it was worth trying.
The peas, on the other hand, went very nicely I thought.

Since I'd bought too much cod, and had a very nice thick chunk left over, I decided to try wrapping it in bacon and roasting it for dinner the next day.
Funnily enough both Jenny and I had exactly the same idea about how to cook it - as she says Anything I put in my mouth would be improved by wrapping bacon around it, though I must admit to being reluctant to take her up on her offer of a demonstration.

So we had Roast Cod Wrapped In Bacon with Potato and Celeriac Gratin and Steamed Savoy Cabbage with Caraway Seeds with crème fraîche, and a quick salad of spinach leaves with chopped tomato, capers and black olives in a lime juice and olive oil dressing.

The cabbage was something of a return of the favour Jenny did me by reminding me of it with her broccoli with caraway seeds.
Since she wasn't absolutely ravenous this time, she actually had time to enjoy the food, and agreed with me that it was a very tasty meal.
Even if she didn't have time to stay for a dessert.

Roast Cod in Bacon
main fish meat
  • a nice thick chunk of cod
  • bacon
  • Noilly Prat
Pre-heat the oven to Gas 4.
Debone and skin the cod fillet and wrap it in bacon slices.
Pan-fry the wrapped cod on all sides in olive oil until the bacon browns and stiffens up.
Deglaze the pan with a glass of the vermouth.
Put the cod onto a sheet of aluminium foil, pour over the deglaze liquid and wrap the cod in the foil.
Get out your trusty meat thermometer and bake the cod in a roasting tin for about 10 mins per inch of thickness until the inside reaches 65°C/145°F.
Slice into thick rounds and serve drizzled with the juices.
Very tasty.
I opened the foil for 10 minutes to finish off my 2½" thick fillet (until the inside reached 60°C) since it wasn't quite ready after 20 minutes.
I'm not really sure you need to wrap it in foil at all, though in that case you might not need to brown the top of the wrapped fillet or bother with the vermouth either.

I used unsmoked bacon, but smoked would probably be fine too.
You could season the cod with herbs or spices before wrapping with bacon if you wanted - Jamie Oliver has a recipe using rosemary and finely grated lemon peel, accompanied by asparagus and lemon mayonnaise.

Fried Cod with Quince and Black Pudding
main fish meat
The cod and the black pudding complement each other beautifully.
The peas go nicely too.
The quince not so much. You should leave that out!

Per Person:

  • 1 cod fillet
  • 1 slice black pudding
  • 1 slice quince
  • olive oil, or oil and butter
Peel the quince, core and cut across into ¼" rounds (or cut first, then remove the core).
Heat the oil in a frying pan, and fry the black pudding slices until they crisp a little, and the quince slices until the turn golden.
Set aside to keep warm and fry the cod fillets, skin side down (if they have skin) until they skin crisps and the fish is cooked (turns opaque) almost all the way through, then flip them over briefly until they are done.
If you have two frying pans, you can do all the frying at once, otherwise it's probably a good idea to clean the pan in-between or you'll find yourself choking your guest with all the smoke from the oozing quince juice left in it.

Serve in a stack of black pudding, quince then cod fillet skin-side up.
Place this stack on a ladleful of pea purée if you're making it.
Veery tasty - if you're not in too much of a hurry to appreciate it. Jenny!

Pea Purée
side veg
A classic combination.

Serves 2

  • ½lb peas
  • dozen or so mint leaves or basil leaves and ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons yoghurt
Blend the peas with the herbs and yoghurt, adding a little water if necessary.
I used (thawed) frozen peas, possibly if you used fresh ones you might want to blanch them first.
Heat the purée through gently in a pan just before serving.
Season to taste.
A lovely, fresh, sweet purée.
Leftover Quince
Well, Christmas is over and you've got a heap of quince to use up left over from your Christmas stuffing. This is a pretty nice way to do it.

Winter Sausages
main meat
Nigella's original recipe uses apple, but the quince is ideal. Firm and tart, just like Nigella.

Serves 2

  • 4 Pork sausages
  • 2 Large washed/brushed potatoes (or 3 small)
  • 2 Quince
  • 2 Onions
  • 3 Cloves garlic (or more or less depending on your taste - just don't leave it out completely)
  • Rosemary sprigs (or tbsp dried rosemary)
  • Little olive oil (or whatever oil you prefer) I preferred goose fat
  • Largish roasting tin
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Drizzle some oil into the tin and put it into the oven to get hot.
Peel the onions and then cut them into 8.
Cut the potatoes into 8 (or 4 if small).
Cut the sausages into 4.
When the oven's ready, put the sausages, onions and potatoes in.
Sprinkle over salt and pepper to taste. Add some of the rosemary. Stir it all around to coat everything.
Put it in the oven for about 20 minutes.
When the time's almost up, peel the garlic cloves and cut them in half.
Peel the quince, cut into 8 and take out the core bits. (Easier than coring the quince first).
Take out the tin, and turn the oven down to 180 C. Throw in the garlic, quince and the rest of the rosemary.
Stir them around to coat, and to unstick anything from the tin.
Put it back in the oven for about 30-40 minutes until everything is done (check after 30 minutes).
Nice collection of flavours, be sure to use a large oven tray though - it needs plenty of room or it will end up watery rather than roasty.
Needs some greens to go with. Something with a bit of juice. Courgettes maybe.
Also good with a sour cream or yoghurt sauce.
Christmas Dinner 2010
Merry Christmas Dinner
Back to a traditional Sourville family Christmas this year, goose and all. A bit of a retreat I suppose, but at least we didn't argue so much over the Christmas dvd's this year.

The 12lb goose turned out particularly succulent, cooked foil-wrapped, breast down at Gas 4 for 6 hours, though we didn't turn it over to crisp up the skin. Which we could have.

I made Quince and Hazelnut stuffing this year, following the recipe I used in my latest chumpkin,
with a bit less hazelnut (a scant cup of whole hazelnuts) more finely minced,
3 quince,
1 onion and
6 slices white bread crusts removed.

Though not too bad, I don't think I'd make it again, the hazelnuts make the stuffing just too grainy. I'd be happy to work more with quince though. It's a nice cross between tart apple and pear.

Port Poached pears with Stilton and walnuts
starter veg
Serves 4

  • 4 ripe pears
  • 1 x 75cl bottle good-quality port
  • 2 x 18cm/6 inch cinnamon sticks
  • 2 cloves or a few more
  • 100ml/3½fl oz clear honey
  • 100g/3½oz Stilton
  • scant 100g/3½oz toasted walnuts or pecans
Peel the pears and transfer them to a deep saucepan, just large enough to take them all snugly.

Cover the pears with the port and add the spices and the honey. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and leave the pears to poach over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes until they are tender.
It might take double the time if the pears aren't particularly ripe. You can drain the pears and keep them until they are needed once they're poached, overnight if necessary
Remove the pears from the liquid and, when cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthways with a sharp knife and hollow out the cores using a teaspoon or a melon baller. Slice a little off the rounded side of each pear half so they sit flat.

Return the pan of spiced port to the heat strain out the spices and leave to boil rapidly until there is only four tablespoons left. Set this aside.
You'll have more like half a cup (8 tablespoons) of syrup left, it's about ready at the point it starts to foam up in the pan. If you cook it until there are only 4 tablespoons you'll end up with a pot of glue
Preheat the grill to high.

In a food processor, blend together the Stilton and the nuts. process the nuts first to a gritty paste, then add the cheese Spoon some of the mixture into each of the pear halves and place them onto a baking tray.

Cook the pears under the grill for five minutes or until the cheese has melted.

Place one pear half or two onto each plate and spoon over a little of the port and spice sauce. or puddle it under the pears. You can slice a flat section under the pears if you want them to sit nicely on the plate.

Pretty yummy. It works better if the pecans (which I prefer) are ground pretty finely, though the cheese stuffing mixture doesn't really melt over the pears exactly, and remains a bit of a clump. Maybe it would be worth adding a softer cheese to the mix - mascarpone perhaps.
The sauce has a terrific Christmassy aroma - you can pretty much leave the spices in as long as you want, they don't overpower the sauce.

Traditional Eggnog
drink veg
www.eggnogrecipe.net used to be a comprehensive source of eggnog recipes, till it died :(
I chose this recipe 'cos we were in a bit of a hurry and this looked like the quickest, even compared with the site's Easy Eggnog recipe.

I made a quarter of the published recipe, and measured out the volumes in Imperial fluid ounces (worth 28.4ml - 20 per Imperial pint/10 per Imperial cup) since those were the marks on the jug I used.
However, since I assumed the recipe's cup sizes to be U.S. (worth 236.6ml) as opposed to Imperial (worth 284ml) I figured assuming the U.S. proportions of 8 fluid ounces per cup (16 per pint) would give me approximately the right quantities, even though Imperial fluid ounces (28.4ml) are slightly smaller than U.S fluid ounces (29.57ml).
Oh, and I didn't have bourbon, so I just used brandy.

Here are the quantities I used:
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 12 fl oz milk
  • 4 fl oz double cream
  • 5.5 fl oz brandy
  • 3 fl oz sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
It made enough for a couple of glasses for two of us.

Serves 8

  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 6 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy/ thickened cream
  • 2 cups bourbon
  • 1+ 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup brandy
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
In a large bowl and using a mixer or a fork!, beat the egg yolks together with the sugar for approx 10 minutes (you want the mixture to be firm and the colour of butter).
Very slowly, add in the bourbon and brandy - just a little at a time.
When bourbon and brandy have been added, allow the mixture to cool in the fridge (for up to 6 hours, depending on how long before your party you're making the eggnog). or stick the mixture in the freezer for half an hour if you're in a rush

30 minutes before your guests arrive, stir the milk into the chilled yolk mixture.
Stir in 1+ 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg.
In a separate bowl, beat the cream with a mixer on high speed until the cream forms stiff peaks.
In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
Gently fold the cream into the egg mixture.
After ladling into cups, garnish with the remainder of the ground nutmeg.
Makes a lovely thick, rich fluffy drink, but it's quite heavy going.
One glass will be enough.
OK, maybe two.

Red Onion Marmalade
pickle sauce veg
You really need a large stock or jam pan for this - I only had a pan just large enough to hold all the ingredients, which meant the reduction times were about double those advertised.

Fills about 4 jam jars

  • 2kg red onions or regular onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 140g butter
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 140g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
  • 75cl bottle red wine
  • 350ml sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 200ml port
Halve and thinly slice the onions, then thinly slice the garlic. This may take some time! Melt the butter with the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a high heat.
Tip in the onions and garlic and give them a good stir so they are glossed with butter. Sprinkle over the sugar, thyme leaves, chilli flakes if using and some salt and pepper. Give everything another really good stir and reduce the heat slightly. Cook uncovered for 40-50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Longer if you are using a smallish pan
The onions are ready when all their juices have evaporated, they're really soft and sticky and smell of sugar caramelising. They should be so soft that they break when pressed against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Slow cooking is the secret of really soft and sticky onions, so don't rush this part.

Pour in the wine, vinegar and port and simmer everything, still uncovered, over a high heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring every so often until the onions are a deep mahogany colour and the liquid has reduced by about two-thirds. It's done when drawing a spoon across the bottom of the pan clears a path that fills rapidly with syrupy juice. Leave the onions to cool in the pan, then scoop into sterilised jars and seal. Can be eaten straight away, but keeps in the fridge for up to 3 months.
Delicious in bacon sandwiches.
Also supposed to be good with cheese, patés or terrines.
Commercial versions seem to be sweeter and less vinegary than this one, but the flavour here has depth and character.
Candy Dog Poo

Candy Canes
sweet veg
Another babysitting night, another round of sweets.
The girls want to make up some care packages for their little friends, and last time we made some chocolate spoons for stirring cocoa with - dip plastic spoons in melted chocolate and then sprinkle them with crushed peppermint candy canes or hundreds-and-thousands so this time we made some candy dog poos to add to the packets.

We didn't set out to make candy dog poo - we were aiming for that quintissentially Christmas sweet Candy Canes. But we took a wrong turn somewhere, and what resulted looked more like poo than candy. In fact, it was so embarrassingly bad I didn't even take a photo. Bit of a shame on reflection...

There are a few recipes on the web for making candy or rock candy, but they all seem to be American and involve corn syrup, which is pretty much unavailable over here. A bit of reading suggested that the syrup mainly provides glucose to stabilise the hot sugar mixture and prevent it from crystallising, and since it seems that golden syrup is mainly glucose I figured that ought to work just as well, but the first recipe I tried out using it just didn't work at all.
Possibly because I wasn't quite sure what to expect or how to manage the taffy mix,
possibly because golden syrup isn't an exact substitute for corn syrup
possibly because my thermometer is a bit off
or possibly because the recipe was a pile of candy poo
but for whatever reason I failed to get the candy mix to "pull" at all.

Bless their little cotton socks the kids were willing helpers but as the candy failed and failed to pull out they gradually drifted off to the thrall of Misfits leaving me to throw most of the effort into the bin.

I did shape some of the coloured candy poo into cane shapes, but pulled it definitely wasn't and was more like tablet (Scottish for fudge) in texture.

So after the kids had gone to bed I watched a couple of online videos of people successfully pulling candy, so I could see what to expect, then I adjusted the recipe in ways that I thought it might have gone wrong
  • less golden syrup
  • more water to ensure the sugars dissolve before heating
  • a bit more cream of tartar to make sure it's doing its job
  • lower cooking temperature because it seemed like the first attempt was setting at a temperature too hot to handle.
and had another go.


Well, Partial Success!
The candy canes are still a bit limp, but at least they are made of glossy twisted coloured candy.

makes about a dozen 6" canes

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • scant 1/2 cup of golden syrup
  • 1/2 cup of water or more
  • 1/2 tsp. of cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp. of peppermint extract
  • 1 tsp. of red food coloring (or as required)
Preheat the oven to 200°F/95°C

Lightly oil two baking trays large enough to hold the cooked sugar mixture. Or better yet, have a marble surface standing by.

Take a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan and add the sugar, golden syrup, water and the cream of tartar and mix them very well. Heat gently and stir the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add more water if necessary.

Once the sugar has completely dissolved and the liquid is clear, wipe the sides of the pan clean of any sugar crystals, insert a candy thermometer and cook the mixture without stirring until the candy thermometer reaches 270°F/132°C, bearing in mind that it will continue to cook slightly once the heat is removed.

Pour half the mixture into each oiled baking tray and drop in the peppermint extract, then add the food colouring if using perhaps after a short wait to make sure the colour doesn't burn.
You are supposed to be able to keep one of the trays warm in the oven until you're ready to pull it if you need to - though I haven't tried that yet.
Leave the mixture until a skin starts to form on the surface, then work the mixture with a spatula folding the outside into the centre to start the pulling process. As you work the mixture it will begin to change colour, lightening slightly.

Lightly oil your hands to stop the candy sticking. Once the candy is cool enough to handle gather as much of it as possible up into a lump (I found I left quite a lot of candy mix stuck to the tin, spatula and anything else it had been in contact with). and start pulling the taffy.
Repeatedly stretch and twist into a loop, then fold back over itself.
The taffy will become stiffer and glossy, the clear taffy turning pearly white.

When each taffy is ready, stretch it into a 2" strand and leave in the oven until you are ready for it. It should stay soft and pliable, but don't leave it for too long or so hot that it melts. this works, but if the oven is much above 175°F/80°C the taffy tends to melt - maybe turn off the oven as soon as the taffy is cooked?

To make the canes, cut a 5" segment from the white and the red log, and place them next to each other. Begin to pull the candies together, twisting gradually to form the familiar candy stripes.
Actually it seems to be a bit easier to stick the two coloured taffy lumps together and then to gently tease out a twisted skein of taffy from the join of the colours, cutting lengths off to hand over for shaping to the rest of your team.
Once the twisted candy is the thickness you want, use oiled kitchen shears to cut them to approximately 8" lengths. Immediately form the hook at the top of the cane, and place it on a baking sheet to set at room temperature.

The candy canes should get very hard at room temperature, but will get soft and sticky if left out for too long, so wrap them in cellophane once they are set.
I've worked through this 4 times now, so I'm getting a bit slicker at it. But my canes are still not setting hard - firm but not hard - and will bend even when cooled.
I've varied my sugar cooking temperature down from 285°F soft crack I thought this was too hot - though it's possible that wasn't the main problem to 265°F hard ball still too soft then back up to 270°F but the canes are still not setting hard enough. Especially, it's worth noting, after the food colouring is added.

So next time I try this out, I'd increase the temperature still further (maybe back up to 285°F), and add the food colouring a bit earlier - while the mixture is still pretty hot so excess water evaporates off.
It seems to be critical to ensure all the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is clear before heating to your chosen candy stage. I also did this heating very slowly, though that may have not been necessary.
I might also be inclined to try other substitutes for corn syrup - maybe give liquid glucose a go?
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