Earlier Entries
It's Christmas!
'Tis the season.
Again.
Merry 2012 to one and all - what's left of it!
Here's everything which makes today such a special time:


Hopefully sometime in 2013 I'll find time to finish writing about my fabulous fiftieth birthday week OMG!
Pre-Christmas Dinner
Last chance to practice my Christmas Starter. Alex and his new inamorata Caroline were kind enough to volunteer this time. So I've zeroed in on the Zirbenz sausages with the pommes dauphine, and the red onion marmalade. This time I'll be serving them with a very satisfying stuffed artichoke starter, an excellent aromatic cauliflower, and some quick and easy mini Christmas puddings to finish.
Yummy!


Stuffed Roast Artichoke
starter
Artichokes stuffed with breadcrumbs and a creamy dip, then baked.
I had the idea of re-creating a favourite hot artichoke dip but using fresh artichokes and stuffing them with the dip mixture.
They make a great starter actually - the breadcrumbs add a nice crunchy texture whilst the mayonnaise mixture provides a pleasant tang.
You need to keep an eye on their baking and adjust the temperature so the artichokes are cooked when their tops are browned, covering them for a while if necessary.
It might also be possible to bake them all the way from raw without bothering to par-cook them first.

Serve one artichoke per person

Ingredients
  • artichokes
  • lemon

  • For the stuffing:
  • dried breadcrumbs
  • mixed dried herbs
  • half mayonnaise
  • half sour cream
  • pickled jalapeños, chopped
  • garlic, crushed
  • spring onions, thinly sliced
  • Parmesan, grated
Method
First you can make up an Italian-style breadcrumb mix. Dry some crust-less bread slices in the oven or grill. Process them to fine golden crumbs in a blender. Stir in your preferred mixture of dried herbs, any from
  • oregano
  • marjoram
  • thyme
  • basil
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • black pepper
Mix with about the same quantity of grated Parmesan.
Stir together half mayonnaise and half sour cream, and fold in some chopped pickled jalapeños from a jar, crushed garlic, and some shredded spring onion optional. Add enough of this mixture to the breadcrumb blend to make it cohere into clumps, but not so much that it becomes sloppy.
Set aside.

Now prepare the artichokes: cut off the stalks close to the body so the bulbs will stand up. Remove the darker, thicker, lower leaves (probably just one layer). Cut the top of the artichoke off about half an inch down taking off the top layer of leaves. Halve a lemon and rub the cut parts of the heads with the lemon, or drizzle with lemon juice. With a pair of scissors snip away the tips of all the remaining leaves to remove their hooked barbs, then take a teaspoon and carefully scoop out the hairy choke from the centre of the head. Drizzle in some more lemon juice.
You can do this when the artichokes are cooked if you prefer, or even not at all if your guests don't mind picking the hairy clumps out of their mouths.
Put the artichokes upright in a steamer or a tightly-closed pan with enough water squeeze in some lemon juice too and steam them for about 5 minutes to par-cook. They should have softened enough for a knife to penetrate their bottom, but not so much that they are fully cooked and falling apart.

Preheat the oven to Gas 4-5/180°C/360°F.
Once the artichokes are cool enough to handle, stuff them thoroughly with the prepared mixture, using a dessert spoon to prise open the leaves and force stuffing into every gap.

Arrange them upright in a baking tray or oven-proof dish, pour in enough water or white wine, stock or other poaching liquid you fancy to come about half-way up and bake them until the tops are golden and their leaves pull away easily.
Very nice!
I did try just stuffing an artichoke with the wet mixture (no breadcrumbs) and baking it wrapped in foil - to be more like the inspirational dip, but the above method is better.

Mini Christmas Puddings
dessert veg
Serve with a rum sauce, crème fraîche or brandy butter.
Or a creamy custard as I did.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 2½ oz (60 g) self-raising flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ rounded teaspoon ground mixed spice
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 oz (25 g) butter, softened
  • 1½ fl oz (40 ml) black treacle
  • 2 fl oz (55 ml) Irish stout or porter ;)
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1½ oz (40 g) Bramley cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely diced
  • ½ oz (10 g) chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • 3 oz (75 g) currants soaked in your choice of liqueur (mine was Amaretto) for a day
  • ½ x 400 g jar mincemeat
  • grated zest ½ orange
  • grated zest ½ lemon
  • 12 fresh cranberries, to serve
  • 1 tablespoon brandy, if flaming the puddings
Method
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C).

First sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a medium bowl, then add the egg and softened butter. After that, measure the treacle into a glass measuring jug, add the stout and rum and mix these together.
Next, pour this mixture into the bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, whisk everything very thoroughly together. Now add the apple, nuts, currants, mincemeat and, finally, the grated orange and lemon zests. Then mix everything together very thoroughly, and divide the mixture among 4 well-buttered 6 fl oz (175ml) pudding basins. Top each with a small circle of buttered baking parchment, followed by a 7 inch (18 cm) square of foil large enough to fold under the edges of the basins, making a pleat all the way round to seal.

Now place the basins in the tin and place the tin in the oven. Next pour in 1 inch (2.5 cm) of boiling water from the kettle and leave to cook for 45-50 minutes, or until the puddings are springy and firm to the touch in the centre. Then remove them from the oven and let them stand for 10 minutes before carefully running a small knife around each one to turn them out on to warm serving plates.

Garnish each pudding with 3 cranberries on top. If you want to flame the puddings as they go on the table, warm a ladleful of brandy over direct heat and as soon as the brandy is hot, ask someone to set light to it using a long match. Or light it from the gas flame like a normal person and not a craven, health-and-safety obsessed freak. Place the ladle, now gently flaming, on top of the pudding — but don't pour the brandy over until you reach the table. When you do, pour it slowly over the pudding, sides and all, and watch it flame to the cheers of the assembled company!

Note: If freezing the cooked and cooled puddings, defrost thoroughly, then place in a loose parcel of foil with a couple of tablespoons of brandy sprinkled over. Re-heat on a baking tray in an oven pre-heated to gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C) for 25 minutes.
Excellent, almost as good as the real thing and about 2 months quicker!
A Frozen Dinner
Frozen Lamb Chop

I kind of wondered if lamb chops would cook alright straight from frozen.
It turns out the answer is yes - a nice slow roasting works pretty well, though they need a bit of crisping up under the grill to finish, and the skin was still a tiny bit leathery.

I served them with a (unnecessary, as it turns out) onion and rosemary sauce and I also made a stab at some lovely filled potato gratins though you'll need a couple of griddle pans to prepare both dishes as served up during my birthday treat dinner at Andrew Fairlie's (thanks Doctor Jenny!). His were better!

Not that my dinner guest would have noticed - turning up late and chomping through the food like a starving navvy: You know who you are.
Really - I don't know why I bother sometimes.

A quick dinner attempt
Oven-Roast Frozen Lamb Chops
main meat
So it turns out you can make a reasonable fist of cooking lamb chops from frozen - even if they end up a tiny bit leathery. A good dose of herbs and spices help to cover that up though :)

Serves 3-4

Ingredients
  • half a dozen frozen lamb chops
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried mint
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
  • ½ teaspoon salt or celery salt
  • 1 tsp whole grain mustard if you like
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil
Method
Preheat the oven to Gas 2-3/150-160°C/300-325°F.
Peel the shallots and cut into eighths lengthways.
Peel and slightly crush the garlic cloves with the side of a knife.
Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a heavy griddle. Add the shallots, garlic, herbs, mustard and salt and set on the heat until the oil begins to sizzle. Take the frozen chops from the freezer, rub them around to thoroughly coat them in the pan contents on both sides, crushing up the garlic a little. Put the pan in the oven until the chops are cooked through (50°C/120°F in the centre - about half an hour), then crisp them up under a hot grill before serving.
Delicious, you need to be sure the chops are cooked through though - use a meat thermometer. If you take them out when the centres are rare (50°C) they should reach medium (60°C) by the time you serve them up.
You can use the delicious pan juices in the gravy.
I set my oven to Gas 3, but it was perhaps cooking a little quickly. The skin turned a little bit leathery - though that might just be a generic problem with the method. I don't know if it would be possible to crisp the skin of the frozen chops at the start. Probably not. At least, not without drying out the whole chop.

Individual Truffled Potato Gratins
side veg
As served at Andrew Fairlie's restaurant at Gleneagles. Though not as good.
I went with Gruyère cheese, but I don't think the flavour was quite right, a bit too pungent.
I mixed in some sour cream, since that's what I had - it was quite nice though.

Serve 2-4 potatoes per person

Ingredients
  • a medium floury baking potato
  • salad potatoes like Charlottes
  • truffle oil or other flavoured butter/oil if you ran out
  • cream or sour cream
  • salt and pepper
  • cheese in thin slices
Method
Steam or bake the floury potato for mash, pass through a ricer, then mix with truffle oil, a dab of cream and season.

Clean the salad potatoes and steam them until tender. Plunge into water to cool them off, then cut in half and scoop out the centres. It works best if you scoop out quite a lot, leaving a fairly thin shell. No need to peel them.
Season with salt and pepper.
Fill the potato hollows back up with the mashed potato mix and level off. Lay in a single layer on a griddle and cover each potato half with a slice of cheese.

Put under a hot grill until the cheese bubbles and turns golden.
Serve immediately.
Quite nice but nowhere near Andrew Fairlie's standards.
Firstly my truffle oil turned out to be old and exhausted and no longer tasting of truffle, so I added in some hazelnut oil.
Secondly the Gruyère was a bit pungent for the job really - I liked the nuttiness, but would probably tone it down a bit - maybe Emmenthaler or a Gouda?
Finally, the cheese didn't really stick to the potato, maybe another cheese would work better, or I could try a sprinkle of potato flour or something underneath?

Watercress and Cranberry Salad
salad raw veg vegan
A nice-looking salad, the flavours aren't too bad either. Considering that's what I had in the fridge.

Ingredients
  • watercress
  • cranberries, cut into quarters

  • Dressing:
  • balsamic vinegar
  • grain mustard
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
Method
Mix up the dressing ingredients. Use quite a lot of vinegar and about twice the volume of oil.
Chop up a few cranberries into quarters don't overdo them - they're fairly tart!, toss with the watercress and the dressing.
Surprisingly good with greasy chops.
Christmas Sausage Tryouts
Christmas Sausages

Time to try out my Christmas Sausage versions on a couple of unsuspecting guests.
Thanks Andy: long-suffering occasional flatmate, and Flora: longer-suffering butt of my blog!
It's a Sourville family tradition that I make the starter and the stuffing, Mum makes the main course and Kurt complains about the amount of washing up.
This year we've decided my starter will be homemade sausages with red onion marmalade (and not sure what else but I thought I'd try out some pommes dauphines), so today I'm auditioning a couple of different Christmassy flavours.
I'm going with ducky sausages seeing as it's quite seasonal and it isn't goose:
Sage and Onion: Solid, traditional flavour. Bit obvious though, plus I'm not a great fan of sage.
Cranberry and Zirbenz: Interesting. The cranberry adds a pleasant sweetness and a festive appearance, but the Zirbenz disappears without trace. Still, it's the principle of the thing!

Since I don't get home till 6 and Flora needs feeding at 7:30 I have a pretty tight dinner plan.
Fortunately I had some soup I made earlier from ham stock, leftover dried beans (cannellini and chick peas), leftover celery and a collection of leftover herbs. I call it leftover soup. Serve with extra freshly chopped herbs, lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • 18:00 Arrive home. Set the oven to gas 6
  • Put in the well-pricked potatoes
  • Put the white wine in to chill important!
  • Prepare the butter braised cabbage and put in the bottom of the oven
  • Make the port and redcurrant sauce, leave gently simmering
  • Make up the pâte-à-choux
  • 19:15 Mash the potatoes add to the pâte-à-choux
  • Put the leftover soup on to reheat
  • Put on the chip pan
  • Start the sausages frying
  • 19:30 Serve the soup
  • Fry the pommes dauphine
  • 19:45 Serve the main course
I'd planned to skip the soup course myself and prepare the main course while the guests were occupied, but due to their constant complaining about not having any bread (I forgot to put in one of those part-cooked baguettes), wanting more soup, then wanting some cheese 'cos there wasn't any more soup and they were still hungry and couldn't wait TEN MINUTES for the next course, it took a bit longer than expected.
Sigh.

Butter Braised Green Cabbage
side veg
Savoy cabbage braised with butter, sage and juniper
I wanted to make a cabbage dish as rich and delicious as buttered leeks.
I think I succeeded.
I suppose you could stir some cream through at the end if you wanted to, but it really isn't necessary. You could also throw in onions or garlic, but why mess with perfection?

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • a Savoy cabbage, sliced about 2cm
  • large hunk of butter, about 4 oz
  • about a tablespoon of finely sliced sage leaves
  • 10 juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 cups stock
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Method
Set the oven on low.
Cut away the stalk from the centre of thicker cabbage leaves, wash them thoroughly, then slice them crosswise into about 2cm strips.
Slice sage leaves finely crosswise until you have a generous tablespoon (or two if you like sage).
Lightly crush 10 juniper berries with the flat of a knife.
Heat a cast iron casserole and melt a generous hunk of butter until it foams, and covers the bottom of the pot to at least ½ an inch.
Throw in the juniper berries, swirl, then the sage leaves immediately followed by a handful of the cabbage. Stir the cabbage with a wooden spoon and add more handfuls when the pot is hot enough until it is all added and the cabbage is well coated.
Add a large glass or two of white wine and reduce it to a coating, stirring all the while.
Add the stock if you have any and reduce to a thick coating, stirring all the while.
Stir through a teaspoon of salt, put the lid on and leave in a low oven (or the bottom of a hotter one) for about an hour, until the cabbage is well cooked and meltingly tender.
OMG gorgeous!
I'm sure you could use any sturdy herb or spice. Caraway might be nice. Even lemon peel/juice.
Lots of butter is the key!

Port, Redcurrant Jelly and Orange Sauce
sauce veg vegan
I needed a sauce that wasn't too stock dependent since I only had some light vegetable bouillon. You really could make this without any stock at all.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 6 tablespoons (generous ¼ cup) port
  • 1 orange, peel and juice
  • 6 tablespoons (generous ¼ cup) of redcurrant jelly
  • ¼-½ cup stock optional
  • stick of cinnamon
Method
Gently reduce the port in a small pot with a stick of cinnamon.
When the port is reduced by about half add the stock if using and reduce again by half.
Pare the orange peel off in thin strips, use a lemon zester if you have one and add to the pot.
Juice the orange, and add the juice, then the redcurrant jelly and simmer until the jelly is melted.
Remove the cinnamon stick when you feel the sauce is cinnamony enough.
Season to taste.
Rather nice and Christmassy, but it's definitely a thin sauce not a gravy.
You might want to leave it gently simmering to reduce it further, or whisk in butter or beurre manié to thicken it before serving.
Goes well with gamey meat.

Pommes Dauphine
side veg
Choux pastry and mashed potato, deep-fried
Named after the wife of the Dauphin - heir to the French throne.
Although the recipe is American - and so their cups are ⅘ the size of ours - I didn't bother adjusting. It doesn't seem to be a problem.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 1 pound Yukon gold or other baking potatoes, scrubbed clean
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons (1½ oz/42g) unsalted butter, diced
  • Fine sea salt
  • ½ cup flour, sifted
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 medium eggs
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying
Method
Combine the potatoes and coarse sea salt in a large saucepan, and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender all the way through when tested with a knife. Drain and let stand until just cool enough to handle. Peel the potatoes and pass them through a food mill; this will yield about 2 cups of potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a medium baking dish with parchment paper. Spread the potatoes in the dish and bake for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through, to evaporate some of their moisture.
Or just prick the potatoes all over and bake them at Gas 6 for 1¼ hours as I did. That way they come out quite dry already, and tasty too!
Run them through a potato ricer, then let them steam off for a while before mixing with the egg.
Prepare the pâte-à-choux: combine the butter, ½ teaspoon fine sea salt and ½ cup water in a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Return to low heat and stir for 1 minute, until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Stir for 3 more minutes to evaporate some of the moisture.

Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and let cool for 2 minutes. Meanwhile add the first egg to the potato mixture and stir with a spatula until well blended. Set aside.
In a small bowl, beat the other egg lightly with a fork. Stir the beaten egg, tablespoon by tablespoon, into the pâte-à-choux adding just enough to make it smooth, shiny and elastic; the entire egg may not be needed.
You really need to work the pastry to get it as elastic as possible, in which case you will probably use up the whole egg. An electric whisk is best, but you can do it by hand with a spatula or wooden spoon. Good wrist exercise!
Add the potatoes to the pâte-à-choux, season with pepper and beat with a spatula to combine. (To store for up to 8 hours, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface, cover and refrigerate.)

Heat 4 inches of oil in a deep fryer or large saucepan until a candy thermometer registers 320 to 340°F. Line a medium baking dish with a double layer of paper towels. The first pomme dauphine will be a test of the seasoning and the oil temperature. Using 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture, shape a 1-inch ball or a quenelle - if you want to be classy! and drop it into the oil. It should fall to the bottom and bob up after a few seconds. (If it doesn't, the oil isn't hot enough.)

Fry until puffy, golden and crisp, about 3 minutes, flipping it from time to time with a mesh skimmer. Remove from the oil with the skimmer, transfer to the prepared dish and season with a pinch of salt. Shake the dish lightly so the paper towels absorb excess oil. Let cool for a minute, taste and adjust the seasoning of the potato mixture accordingly.

Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, frying the pommes in batches of 3 or 4 or 6 or 8 if you don't want to be at it all day and stirring them gently with a skimmer so they will not stick to each other. Keep warm in a 300-degree oven until all the batter is used. Serve immediately.
Excellent - you don't want them to be too large, or to cook too quickly in too hot oil though, or the centres will be a thick and heavy rather than light and puffy.
Thanksgiving Saturday
Cornbread with Cranberries and Jalapeno

It's Thanksgiving (recently), for Americans. It's Saturday for us. It's Thanksgiving Saturday for Becky - an American who lives with us!

So once again the Grecky partnership invited a bunch of us to celebrate their belated special day and pretend like they have a real American family. With which we are happy to oblige.
Although we aren't expected to bring anything I usually like to turn up with a dish or two, this year I had a go at a couple of fine American traditions: ranch dressing and a spicy novelty cornbread. Plus this year I got a special bonus - Nicky made me a birthday pot of delicious chilli chutney. After much prompting she admitted that it's actually a Jamie Bastard Oliver recipe, but it was so tasty I'll forgive her!

Happy Un-Holiday!

Skillet Cornbread with Cranberries and Roast Jalapeños
bread veg
Is it a griddle pan? Is it a skillet?
The Le Creuset one I bought calls itself a griddle pan, but it looks more like the dictionary definition of a skillet as a small frying pan.
Whatever - it makes damn fine cornbread.

Makes about 1½ pints - enough to fill a 10" skillet

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil for greasing the skillet
  • ½ cup plain flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
  • 4-5 jalapeño peppers (or to taste), roasted, finely chopped and pounded
  • 3-4 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander/cilantro
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, (or to taste) slightly bruised
  • 4 tablespoon honey
  • 3½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • about 15-20 turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • approximately 1 cup buttermilk (a little bit more or less; enough to make cake like batter)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5½ oz unsalted butter, melted or any cooking oil
Method
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/Gas Mark 6. Put in a 10" skillet to heat up.

In a bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and salt. Stir in the cornmeal.

Grill the peppers until their skins char, turning them so they don't burn. Put them in a plastic bag to cool. Then peel off the skin and remove the stems and seeds. Chop them.
Pound the jalapeños, black pepper and the fresh coriander leaves until it is coarse paste.

Bruise the cranberries a little so they are slightly broken, then add to the flour and toss them through.

Whisk most of the buttermilk, honey and eggs in a different bowl and stir in lightly with the flour mix.
Add the last of the buttermilk gradually to achieve a pourable cake-like batter.
Add the coriander and jalapeño paste.
Add the melted butter and stir just until blended.

Heat the cast iron skillet on the stove top or in the oven until it is really hot. When the dough is added it should sizzle loudly.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil or butter, then pour in the batter.

Transfer the skillet to the oven, turn down slightly I set it to Gas 5½ and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the center springs back when gently pressed.
The bread should be golden brown and crispy at the edges.

Turn the corn bread out onto a rack to cool and slice only when cooled.
Mine was just a little on the dry side, but pretty good nevertheless. Perhaps try cooking it a little less, adding less baking soda, or making the batter a little more runny?
I used 4 jalapeño peppers, and the bread had quite a bit of kick. You should probably use less if your guests are heat sensitive.
I wasn't sure whether the coriander would work, but it does actually.

I kid you not, that's what it's called :(
Jamie Oliver's Cheeky Chilli-Pepper Chutney
pickle veg vegan
Oooh a cheeky chutney! Mockney tosser.
S'alright though :(

Makes 500g

Ingredients
  • 8-10 fresh red chillies
  • 8 ripe red peppers
  • olive oil
  • 2 medium red onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 x 5 cm stick cinnamon
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 100 g brown sugar
  • 150 ml balsamic vinegar
Method
If you want your chutney to last for a while, make sure you have some small sterilised jars ready to go. Place your chillies and peppers over a hot barbecue, in a griddle pan or on a tray under a hot grill, turning them now and then until blackened and blistered all over. Carefully lift the hot peppers and chillies into a bowl (the smaller chillies won't take as long as the peppers so remove them first) and cover tightly with cling film. As they cool down, they'll cook gently in their own steam. By the time they're cool enough to handle, you'll be able to peel the skin off easily.

When you've got rid of most of the skin, trimmed off the stalks and scooped out the seeds, you'll be left with a pile of nice tasty peppers and chillies. Finely chop by hand or put in a food processor and whiz up. Then put to one side.

Heat a saucepan and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the onions, rosemary, bay leaves and cinnamon and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook very slowly for about 20 minutes or so, until the onions become rich, golden and sticky.

Add the chopped peppers and chillies, the sugar and the vinegar to the onions and keep cooking. When the liquid reduces and you're left with a lovely thick sticky chutney, season well to taste. Remove the cinnamon stick and the bay leaves. Either spoon into the sterilised jars and put them in a cool dark place, or keep in the fridge and use right away. In sterilised jars, the chutney should keep for a couple of months.
Yeah yeah. It's tasty.
Thanks Jamie.
OMG 50th Birthday Reunion
John looks out to sea

Ah the food, the wine, the company!
One day soon, or perhaps not so soon, I'll write all about it?

On the other hand, maybe I'll just load all the photos from my fabulous fun weekend at Eyemouth aboard yacht Erin, and hosted by The Churches Hotel, into one vast gallery and let you all just revel in the the glory that was:
Happy OMG 50th Birthday To Me!
Birthday Cards

Half a century!
In the words of my good friend H.G. No one would have believed in the last years of the 20th Century that Karl would survive this long.
Least of all me.

I once had hopes of going out spectacularly, in a blazing car wreck or drowned in my own vomit but then the third time I almost died was particularly disappointing - I got myself caught in a tumbling wave while surfing off Huntingdon Beach and nearly drowned.
How mundane!
Things seemed more promising the last time I tried to count the number of road accidents I've had and had to give up when I reached 50, but then I haven't had a serious crash for a decade now so that exit seems increasingly unlikely.

It's starting to look like the best I can hope for is my fall-back plan of making it through to the end of the world and getting to watch the apocalypse from a remote mountaintop on the reasonable basis that if I can't enjoy living any more no-one else should be able to.
But it better hurry up and get here - I'm not getting any younger.
Time to throw another baby seal on the Amazonian forest-fire I reckon.

I celebrated my 50th Birthday by going to work like a drone as normal. Well, it's not like Karl's OMG Birthday Week is a holiday or anything.
My colleague Dave has a good take on that subject - he figures everyone should be entitled to their own personal public holiday on their birthday. Which gets my vote.
My ex-colleague Dave that is. Unfortunately Dave left.
He used to be my boss at work, and a thoroughly decent manager he was too - assiduously protecting us underlings from the endless STUPID running rampant through the higher echelons of company command.
So of course he had to go.
Before he left, though, he recommended Zizzi's Seasonal Special Agro Dolce Pizza, which I offer for your amusement.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, my birthday.
Well, things picked up in the evening when Flora took me to dinner at the relatively new 21212. It's been open since 2009, but I've never been there before so I was really looking forward to it - it's one of the (currently) five Michelin starred eateries in Edinburgh.
Gotta catch 'em all :)

The first three courses were really quite good particularly their amusing novelty fruit leathers, it's just a pity we didn't make it to dessert before Flora disgraced herself in their bathroom and we had to leave. Hurriedly.
Some women just can't take their port!
Next!

Zizzi's Agro Dolce Pizza
main veg
As recommended by my (ex) colleague Dave in glowing terms, though how much of that has to do with him being a vegetarian I'll leave you to decide.

Zizzi's own advertising claims It really shouldn't work, but it does! I'd be inclined to endorse the first part ;)

Ingredients

  • toppings for half of the pizza:
  • mushrooms
  • thyme
  • mascarpone
  • mozzarella
  • a drizzle of truffle oil

  • toppings for the other half:
  • speck ham or artichoke for the meat intolerant
  • pumpkin, cooked, mashed
  • mascarpone
  • amaretti biscuit, crumbled
Method
Cook and mash the pumpkin to a thick sauce.
Make your favourite pizza dough, roll out the base and cover half of it with the first set of toppings, then drizzle it with truffle oil.
Top the second half, then crumble up amaretti biscuits and sprinkle over.
Cook
I dunno - sounds weird.
Might try it sometime though - Dave has made some sound recommendations in the past!
Bob's Birthday Burning, a Bonfire and a Barbecue
Glowing Pumpkins All In A Row

That's my birthday - not Bob's.
My 50th in fact. OMG.

I'm not a big fan of my birthdays as a rule. I'd much rather ignore them, or pretend they aren't happening. In fact usually my (girl) friends seem more interested in marking them than I do.
Girlies are always suckers for birthdays: Eldoradoes - I'm looking at you!

This year feels a bit different though - it would seem churlish not to mark the fact that I've made it to a half-century, against all expectations, plus to be honest I'm starting to feel some twinges of mortality - as if my body isn't really going to last forever. Grey hairs are now sprouting like pigs bristles from the most unlikely of places and my belly button seems to be determined to make a break for freedom.
So I figure I better make the most of this Birthday, in case the rest of them aren't much fun.
By booking a whole week of entertainment!

To kick things off I took the opportunity to ceremonially rid myself of the wooden albatross known as Bob - my dilapidated wooden dinghy. He's an old development-class Cherub once upon a time constructed by someone in their garage who had too much time and plywood on their hands, but he hasn't sailed on the open water for a couple of years now. He just sits on the tarmac at Port Edgar Marina soaking up hundreds of pounds in berthing fees every year.

Bob was once a fine figure of a boat and he has provided us with a fair amount of fun in his time - I have particularly fond memories of a three-men-in-a-tub expedition around the Beamer lighthouse in a raging storm with two heavyweight buddies (sorry buddies - you know it's true) which required as much bailing as sailing.
Unfortunately the last few times on the water have resulted in Bob having to be rescued from certain calamity, either because of important bits falling off, or because he simply started to sink.
So Viking funeral time.

It would have been nice to sail him off somewhere isolated and scenic, like Inchkeith Island but scenic, for his funeral pyre, but I was afraid that without an inordinate amount of time, energy, or money being spent on him he was depressingly unlikely to make it out of the harbour. Plus I couldn't find anyone stupid brave enough to come with me.

Fortunately my friends the Brians kindly offered their extensive property for a Bob Burning Party, plus a road trailer to get him there. So we made an event out of it, barbecue, fireworks, and pumpkin carving contest. The whole nine yards.
Thanks Brians! Wonder what they'll do with all those leftover pumpkins?


My first Birthday present being a handy Costco card (Thanks Alex!) I was able to get a reasonable deal on the barbecue meat, plus a vast bottle of Buffalo Sauce - and my favourite butcher provided the rest. He had some very decently priced wild boar belly so I made up a batch of wild boar and maple syrup sausages highly recommended, as well as 3lb of pork, sun-dried tomato, feta and rosemary sausages good - tastier than the last tomato round. Since the meat grinder was already out, I also had a bash at making some spicy lamb burgers (Thanks Tony Singh!).
The sausages were both well-received, and not to blow my own trumpet, delicious.
Unfortunately I had to hide the lamb burgers, since they were clearly never going to hold up through the grilling process. I had to take them home to fry in a pan! Really carefully.

I took a leaf out my American friend Becky's book and served up barbecued chicken wings with the bottle of hot sauce and freezer bags for people to dip them into à la Buffalo (Thanks Becky!), and I relearned something about organising a barbecue:
- Start it going at least an hour before people are due to turn up. That gives you half an hour to get the charcoal glowing and another half hour to have a stack of cooked meat ready to feed them with the instant they arrive. Expectant and starving.

And the winners of the Pumpkin Carving Competition are:

Sickly Pumpkin Scary Pumpkin Smiley Pumpkin OMG OLD Pumpkin
For inventive use of pumpkin innards For scare value. Wins the car grill look-alike prize. For age-appropriateness


Buffalo Wings
side snack fowl
It's hard to tell exactly which is the authentically original buffalo wing sauce.
My American friend Becky votes for the hard-to-find Original Anchor Bar Buffalo Wing Sauce , but on the other hand Costco stocks Frank's.
So Frank's it is!
Rumour has it that the original dressing was actually just Frank's (or any Cayenne hot sauce like Durkee's or Tabasco) and butter anyway.
Just like the recipe below.
Yeehaw!
If you're doing these on the barbecue then you can just hand out freezer bags with the bottled sauce so people can fill the bags and do their own dipping and coating.

Serves a bar-full

Ingredients
Method
Dry the chicken wings thoroughly. You can season them if you like, though this seems heretical to some.
Heat the oil to 375-400°F (190-200°C); a cube of bread will sizzle when dropped in.

Fry the chicken wings until crisp and golden: about 10 minutes.
You could also try double-frying the wings for extra crispiness, frying at a lower temperature (250°F/120°C) first until they are lightly coloured, then finishing in hotter oil.
Meanwhile heat up your favourite buffalo wings sauce with between half and an equal volume of butter until the butter melts.
I'd go with an equal volume :)
If you like you can also add extra seasonings (herbs, Worcestershire sauce, chilli powder, paprika, hot sauce, vinegar, garlic powder or anything else you fancy) and simmer the mixture for a while.
When the wings are ready toss them with the sauce in a bowl. You can also simmer them up in the sauce if you prefer.

It's traditional to serve the dip with a stick of celery. Go figure.
Porky Bellies
Belly Pork

It's long overdue, but last night I extruded my first sausage!
Last Christmas (is it only last Christmas??) Mum bought me a sausage machine.
Yes, I know I put it on my Christmas list, but then I put a yacht and a motorbike on my Christmas list, so I never expected to get one. I couldn't have been more surprised to discover it hiding under my Christmas Morning pile of goodies from Santa if I'd woken up with my head stapled to the pillow!
And now a mere 10 months later I've finally taken the beast out of its box and played with it - you know I don't like to rush these things.
It turns out that making sausages is an awkward, fiddly, messy pain in the backside. In other words it requires some practice and a little skill.

I went down to my favourite butcher to talk turkey, er sausages, and buy the casings. I've always been particularly fond of tomato sausages so I thought I should have a go at those to start with, using sun-dried tomatoes, some extra tomato paste (the butcher's suggestion) and adding some basil to the mix. The butcher recommended I try belly pork, rather than the more usual shoulder (cheaper, no need for extra fat though possibly less flavour), so I bought a massive slab and saved half of it to make one of Shane Osborne's starters that I've quite fancied trying for a while.

So it's not as easy as I might have hoped to get the sausage skins onto the feeder, like trying to roll on a metre long condom. Now I know why condoms are lubricated - a thorough soaking of the sausage casing in warm water really helps (it turns out). Then you have to fill the skins smoothly and evenly - not surprisingly I ended up with a lot of hamburger meat from splitting overfilled sausages, and a lot of pork mousse from over-mincing. But I'm sure I'll get better with practice, and even the mousse tasted quite nice, even if I was a bit cautious with the tomato flavour this time.

Flora was lucky enough to be the first to be invited to taste my sausage, and I made us a nice upmarket bangers and mash for dinner. We kicked off with that Crispy Pork Belly with Apple & Frisée Salad made with the pressed leftover sausage belly (delicious!), then those sausages with seasonal mash with pumpkin and red onion, cleansing green beans with lemon and black olives, and a slightly spicy chilli ginger tomato gravy.

In classic eating-for-the-end-of-days winter meal style we finished off with a massive baked toffee apple pudding consisting of mostly hot sugar.
From belly pork to a porky belly. Now bring on the apocalypse!

For what it's worth here's my dinner plan - it failed at the point of putting in the pudding though, since we had to watch some Big Bang Theory first while waiting for the sausage to settle.

Chilli Ginger Tomato Sauce
sauce veg vegan
This is a variation of a sauce I tried once before as an accompaniment to battered fish.
I think roasting the veggies works better than grilling them, plus you end up with a hot sauce.
Although I did finish off the tomatoes under the grill to char them up a little, you probably don't need to.
I served it up without the oil (which I forgot) and it made an excellent gravy with sausages and mash.

Sauce or gravy - you decide.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 8 medium vine tomatoes
  • 1-2 red chillies, deseeded
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly sliced
  • 1 small red onion or shallot, peeled, sliced
  • 2" piece root ginger, peeled, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • a few sprigs thyme, leaves only
  • pinch of salt
  • juice of about ½ lemon
  • 2 fl oz/50ml olive oil optional
Method
Lay a bed of the sliced vegetables in a casserole dish.
Scatter on the sugar and a pinch of salt.
Sit the tomatoes on top and cut small crosses in the top of each one.

Bake at Gas Mark 6 (or whatever you are using) until the tomatoes are collapsing or the vegetables are starting to caramelize. Finish off under the grill to char the tomatoes a little if you can be bothered.
Whizz up with a splash or two of lemon juice in a blender then pass through a sieve.
Taste, season with salt, pepper and more lemon juice.
Whisk in the olive oil if you like.
Serve dressed with chopped chives and lemon zest if you like.
A nice sauce/gravy for your sausage and mash without the oil.
It might even make reasonable a dipping sauce for battered fish, though it's quite thin.
You could add a red bell pepper to the mix - roasted would be good too - to thicken and add a touch of sweetness.

Green Beans with Lemon and Black Olives
side veg vegan
Simple enough - and quite a clean, fresh combination.

Ingredients
  • green beans, topped, tailed, halved or thirded Is that a word?
  • black olives, sliced I like the dry-cured ones
  • thinly pared lemon peel
  • garlic clove, pressed or mashed optional
  • olive oil
  • seasoning
Method
Cook the beans briefly in boiling water until cooked, but still snappy (5-10 minutes).
Drain. Stir through the olives and lemon peel, garlic (if using), a drizzle of olive oil and season.
Not a bad combination. Different from an earlier round with lemon and capers

Toffee Apple Pudding
dessert veg
An extremely sweet apple sponge
I wanted an apple-based dessert to mirror the apples in my starter, and this came up in Google. It sounded more interesting than just stuffing some apples with raisins and baking them, which was my backup plan, so I gave it a go.
I hadn't really appreciated until it came to eating it just how much sugar is involved - 250g - that's a half-pound of sugar in old money!

Death by diabetes indeed! Probably best not served to children, though I'm sure you could cut down on the sugar quantities - particularly in the sponge batter, and add more apple.

Serves 6

Ingredients
  • 85g/3oz butter, melted
  • 140g/5oz self-raising flour
  • 100g/3½oz golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder yes - a tablespoon
  • 200ml/7 fl oz milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • and maybe a dash of cinnamon?
  • 2 Bramley apples (or other cooking) apples, peeled, cored and sliced

  • For the topping:
  • 250ml/9 fl oz boiling water
  • 140g/5oz dark brown sugar I used a dark Muscovado
  • 50g/2oz pecans, roughly chopped though I used walnuts - to no ill effect
Method
Heat oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4.
Grease a 2-litre/3-pint ovenproof dish lightly with butter. Tip the flour, sugar and baking powder, along with a pinch of salt, into a large bowl.
Mix together the milk, butter, egg and vanilla extract and stir into the dry ingredients until you get a smooth batter.
My butter, and hence my batter, was a bit lumpy since I only softened it without melting, but it didn't seem to matter.
Arrange the apples in the dish, spoon the batter on top and smooth with a knife until the apples are covered.
I didn't cut my apples too thinly, which perhaps contributed to the extra cooking time.
Be sure to use tart apples - there's more than enough sweetness involved already.
For the topping, pour 250ml boiling water over the sugar and stir together until smooth. Pour the liquid over the pudding mixture, then scatter over the pecans.
This feels decidedly weird, but it all soaks through just fine.
I scattered the pecans first, which maybe gave them a better crispy coating.
Bake for about 40 mins until the pudding has risen and is golden.
Mine took an hour, and unless you used a really shallow dish I don't see it ever taking much less if you want the apples to be cooked - it's a big pudding. I also turned the oven down a little so as not to overcook the top.
Test the centre with a skewer. It should be hot, and the apples soft.
Use a big spoon to serve the pudding, making sure you get some of the gooey caramel sauce covering the bottom of the dish.
Oh yes, heaven forbid anyone should miss out on their diabetic overload!
Serve with pouring cream, warm custard or vanilla ice cream crème frâiche or perhaps a shot of insulin?.
It's pretty good actually and very simple, but a bit of a sugar overload.
And the gooey caramel sauce is really just sugary water.
101 Uses for Leftover Yoghurt Sauce
Coconut Pea Curry

Well, 2 uses for leftover yoghurt sauce at least.

Every so often I'm overcome with a nostalgic desire to get absolutely pissed and furiously consume one of the frozen Spicey Cottage Curries (Karahi Gosht - extra spic"e"y) that my Mum brings up for me from her (and once my) local curry shop.
It's a complicated ritual that involves laying in a stock of Marston's Strong Pale Ale (a fine brew which is both delicious and reasonably priced, not to mention 6.2% ABV, which possibly explains why they seem to no longer make it, the nannyist bollocks), making up a nice soothing pot of yoghurt sauce and running a bubbling foam bath in preparation for the evening's entertainment. This may seem a lot of effort, but it does have the benefit of cutting out the tedious need to spend the night pub-crawling through Wibsey trying to get loaded enough to really enjoy the curry at its source.

First I stick a few starter beers in the freezer, make up a vat of the yoghurt sauce du jour (they're all a bit random as to quantities and precise ingredients, but it's hard to go wrong), then I roll out the seeds from a half-dozen or two thin green chillies and slice them over the top of the frozen curry, put the lid back on the tin-foil container and pop it into the oven on its lowest setting. Then it's into the bath with some bubbles, the first beer and Radio4 Extra for company.

Luxury.

The curry is ready to eat when the mouth-watering smell of it fills the house, and you can't resist its call any longer.
Or you regain consciousness in a cold bath. Whichever comes first.

Usually I end up having to make too much yoghurt sauce for just the one meal, it being too hard to grind up fewer ingredients, so I have to think of things to do with the leftover.
Obviously I can make up more curries to eat with it, but it also makes a reasonable topping for a spicy soup if you happen to have a bunch of vegetables that need boiling hanging around and some trahana to bolster them with.

This time I thought I'd see what it's like as a marinade, so I poured the leftover sauce with a bit of extra garlic over a couple of pork chops and stuck them in the fridge for a day. I made up a quick curry with some frozen peas, a small pot of rice, and stuck the chops under the grill. Shake off excess sauce first - or it'll just burn.

To be honest the sauce isn't really rich or complex enough to impart all that much flavour to the pork, even if it does a reasonable job of tenderising the meat though it takes a day or two. Of course you can always add spices to boost its potency.
The peas were better than the pork :)

I used the rest of the sauce to whip up an Aloo Dom adding a bit of extra grated ginger root to fry up with the coated, par-boiled potatoes in a generous amount of oil to give some extra crispiness before adding the sauce (as was - except for a bit of extra salt and the obligatory extra chillies) and simmering until tender.
That worked pretty well.

Of course, now I've got leftover curries from the leftover sauce, which I need to make more curries to eat with, like this delicious achar gosht or these not-quite-so-successfull tandoori aubergines, and before you know it I've returned to the days of endless curries and the terrifying cycle repeats.

Coconut Pea Curry
curry side veg
Pea curry with coconut and curry leaves.
A quick and clean pea curry - that doesn't adulterate their freshness overmuch.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • ghee or oil
  • generous ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • generous ½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1lb/500g fresh or frozen peas
  • half-dozen spring onions
  • pinch or three of dried curry leaves
  • 2 tablespoons coconut powder or coconut cream
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • a little water
Method
Throw the curry leaves into a little boiling water to soften.
Dissolve the coconut powder in a half cup of water (mixing the water into the powder gradually) if using.
Chop the spring onions.
Heat the ghee or oil and fry the mustard seeds until they start to pop.
If you're using fresh peas throw the spring onions into the pot, quickly followed by the peas. If you're using frozen peas, just add them straight away and throw in the spring onions on top.
Stir in the coconut, salt, and the soaked curry leaves with their water.
Seal tightly and simmer gently for 5-10 minutes until the peas are cooked and the curry leaves softened.

Serve dressed with a little mustard oil.
Really rather tasty!
Leave the curry leaves softening in a little water for a while first if you have the time - it will save overcooking the peas.
I think a little grated ginger added just before the peas wouldn't go amiss.

Achar Gosht
Lamb and Pickle Curry
curry main meat
I've always liked this in the restaurants, but this is the first time I've had a go at making it. It's surprisingly simple. If your lamb is very lean you won't need to pre-fry it at all - I just do that to render any fatty pieces.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • ghee
  • 2 medium onions
  • half dozen garlic cloves
  • couple inches root ginger
  • chilli powder to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons vinegar I used sherry vinegar
  • couple tablespoons tomato purée
  • 1 aubergine cut into 1½" cubes
  • 1½ lb lamb, cut into 1½" cubes
  • 2-4 tablespoons lime or aubergine pickle, roughly chopped
  • 1 mango
  • a few tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
Method
preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas 5.
Purée the onion, garlic and ginger root together. Add a little water if necessary.
Cut the aubergine and lamb into decent chunks: 1"-2" cubes.
Mix the powders with enough vinegar to make a thick paste. I added half a teaspoon of chilli powder and also a teaspoon each of ground coriander, cumin and turmeric to freshen the curry powder. .
Heat a heavy casserole and lay in any fatty cubes of lamb, fat side down. Allow the fat to crisp up without drying out the meat, then scoop out the cubes with a slotted spoon and set aside with any uncooked lean cubes.
Add plenty of ghee to the pot and gently fry the purée until the bitter smell has gone and the oil begins to separate.
Add the spice paste and fry until the harsh smell has gone and the oil separates again.
Add the tomato purée and fry until the oil separates again.
Stir in the lamb to coat well, then add the aubergine. Add a couple of tablespoons of the pickle, roughly chopped. If you use aubergine (brinjal) pickle you can probably add more, but hot lime pickle is quite strong. Heat through, put on the lid and stick the casserole in the oven.

Cut the mango into 1" cubes and chop the coriander leaves.
After 20 minutes take out the casserole, stir and taste. Add more pickle if you like, and a little stock if it seems too dry, not too much though - you want it dry.
Put back in the oven and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the lamb is tender.
Stir in the mango and coriander, put the casserole back in the oven and turn it off. Leave for 10-15 minutes for the flavours to mature.

Serve with pooris or rice and a minty yoghurt sauce.
Bloody delicious!
Don't overdo the pickle - it can be a bit intense.
If you like you could fry some carrot chunks or cauliflower after the tomato purée or separately fry up some potato cubes and throw them in with the lamb too.
I made this again without bothering to pre-fry my (pretty fatty) lamb shoulder cubes - and it was just as lovely.
I made the curry powder from grinding
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • small stick cassia
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 tsps dried fenugreek leaves
  • 2 tsps dried curry leaves
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
Incidentally it's also excellent even without the addition of the mango, though it does lighten the dish considerably when properly warmed in.

Tandoori Aubergine
curry side veg
I made this since I had some spare tandoori paste that needed using up, and was grinding up some onion, garlic ginger paste for another dish. I doubt you would bother to grind up only a tablespoon otherwise.
I'm sure you could do the same thing with any other solid vegetable - cauliflower, courgette, potato, even onions

If you're going to skewer them you probably want hefty chunks of vegetable, rather than the slices below.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 2 aubergines
  • 2-3 tablespoons tandoori paste
  • 1 tablespoon yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon ground onion/garlic/ginger purée
Method
Grind up your tablespoon of onion, garlic and ginger(!)
Slice the aubergines lengthwise about 1" thick, salt and leave in a colander to drain for 15 minutes or so.
Pat dry, rinsing off excess salt if necessary, then coat with the tandoori paste mixture and leave to marinate for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to moderately hot - Gas Mark 5/190°C. Lay in a single layer in an oven tray, or thread onto skewers, drizzle with a little oil, and bake until golden. Baste with oil occasionally.
I baked mine layered in a Pyrex dish, and though they tasted good enough, they inside layers didn't crisp up at all, but looked a bit soggy and vaguely green.
Mind you I did also rub my aubergines with mango powder and turmeric before smearing on the tandoori paste, which may not have helped: I was a bit short of tandoori paste.
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