Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chanukah Christmas doughnuts

This year Chanukah and Christmas have overlapped, so we have had our menorah and our advent candle burning at the same time. But why stop there? In the spirit of cultural fusion, I decided to fill some of my traditional Chanukah doughnuts with mincemeat to make a deep-fried Jewish alternative to mince pies. You could, of course, use jam or even just pop a square of dark chocolate into the middle.

for the dough
7g instant yeast
300ml warm milk
20g sugar
2 eggs
15g vegetable oil
500g plain flour
for the filling
mincemeat or jam or half a square of dark chocolate

  1. Mix the dough ingredients thoroughly with a spoon, leave to sit for 10 minutes, then work for 10 minutes on a non-porous surface until you have a nice smooth dough. (The dough will be quite wet at the start, so is best worked with the "stretch, swing and fold" technique shown here.)
  2. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic and leave to prove for about 2 hours.
  3. Transfer the dough to a well-floured and work it gently for a couple of minutes. Roll out to a thickness of about 0.5cm and cut into 5cm circles.
  4. To fill, place a teaspoon of mincemeat in the centre of half of the circles, brush the outside of the circle with a little water, place another round on top and crimp the edges together to seal. Transfer to a well-floured tray and leave to rise for about 30 minutes.
  5. Heat plenty of oil in a deep fat fryer or large saucepan until it is medium hot (about 170oC), and fry the doughnuts in batches for 3 minutes, before turning them over and frying for a further minute. Drain, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with brandy butter.
Kosher dilemma
My original plan had been to make jam doughnuts and mince pies, before I realised that the lard I use in my mince pie pastry with is made from pig fat and therefore not eligible for being served to my grandma. I did briefly consider going on a hunt for a kosher alternative before I hit upon the idea of combining the two in a sweet festive smorgasbord of Judeo-Christian cultural mestizaje. Needless to say, my grandma would have nothing to do with my carefully concocted mncemeat donuts, and insisted on jam.

Parsnip and ginger soup

Santa brought me the new River Cottage Veg every day! cookbook. I haven't seen the TV programmes yet, but the book looks great and I'm hoping it will inspire me to find new ways of turning my veggie box into delicious meals.

The first thing I cooked from it was this delicious parsnip and ginger soup. I've toned it down a bit as the version in the book was a little zingy, and left out the milk because the soup already seemed thick enough at that stage.

olive oil
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chilli powder
500g parsnips
800ml vegetable stock
2 tablespoons of flaked almonds

  1. Finely chop the onion, and gently sautee in plenty of olive oil. When it is just about done, add the finely chopped garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or so.
  2. Add the cardamom, cumin and chilli, fry for 30 seconds, then add the parsnips.
  3. Fry for a few seconds more, add the stock, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to minimum and simmer for 20 minutes until the parsnips are cooked.
  4. Allow to cool, then liquidise with a stick blender. Test for seasoning and add salt if necessary.
  5. Reheat, and serve with a sprinkling of the toasted almond flakes and some freshly ground black pepper.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Spanish beef stew with rosemary and olives

We've had roast goose for the last couple of Christmases but this year, as the date approached, none of us were really attracted by the stress of trying to coordinate timing the cooking of a large bird with the process of marshalling ten people to the dining table to eat it. So I decided to make a stew instead. I wanted something with plenty of flavour, with a nice thick sauce and with some hints of Spain. This was what I came up with. (The anchovies don't give a fishy flavour, but just help to intensify everything else.)

3 kg beef
1 bottle of red wine
50g fresh rosemary stalks
plain flour
1 head of celery
2 large onions
6 cloves of garlic
2 red peppers
3 tsps paprika
100g tomato puree
6 salted anchovy fillets
250g of olives, drained and rinsed


  1. Cut the beef into  chunks, and place in a large bowl. Add the rosemary, olives and wine, mix well and leave to marinade in the fridge overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the meat in a colander, reserving the marinading liquid, rosemary stalks and olives. Leave the meat to dry for a few hours if possible.
  3. Brown the meat in batches in hot olive oil (about 0.5 kg at a time, depending on the size of your pan). Dredge the last two batches (about 1 kg of the meat) in flour before frying. (This will help to thicken the sauce of the casserole.) Transfer the cooked meat to a bowl.
  4. Meanwhile, transfer the marinading liquid, rosemary and olives to a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by about 1/3. Remove the olives and rosemary. Set aside the olives to serve with the meat if you wnt to.
  5. Finely chop the celery, onions, garlic and red peppers, and sweat throroughly in plenty of olive oil in a large saucepan or flameproof casserole dish. When the vegetables are cooked, add the paprika and tomato puree, mix well, and add the reduced marinating liquid, the browned meat (together with any juices), and the finely chopped anchovy fillets.
  6. If cooking on the stove top, add 250 ml of water, bring to a very gentle simmer, cover and cook at a very low heat for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender. You will need to be careful that the flour does not burn, so you will need to keep a close eye on the stew, making sure you stir it from time to time, and adding a little extra water if necessary..
  7. If cooking in a casserole, preheat the oven to 150oC, cover the casserole dish and cook for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Victorian mulled wine

It annoys me when something old and traditional is repackaged and sold as if it is new and exotic, especially if the new version is inferior to the old one. Every year I go through Halloween trauma, when the shops are filled with garish orange pumpkins and plastic vampire teeth, and my suffering is only slightly relieved by being able to buttonhole the occasional American and lecture them on the Scottish origins of the festival and the joys of turnip carving. Last year I was lucky to have a resident American in the form of Kaya's dad Jordon to play this part, and this year the role has been filled by our new friends Beth and Josh. I apologies to all of you for making you the recipients of my curmudgeonly rantings.

With Halloween barely over it is German Christmas Market time in Edinburgh and just about everywhere else in the UK (or Weihnachtsmarkt as they call it in Frankfurt). I'm partial to the odd bratwurst myself and am quite happy to browse stalls loaded with little wooden Christmas ornaments, but I draw the line at their  gluhwein. The problem starts with inferior wine, and is then compounded by excessive sugar, heavy-handed spicing, and stewing the wine. The result is a mug of expensive cough medicine.

So I decided to make some traditional Victorian mulled wine. The sugar, spices and citrus should be identifiable without being overpowering or sickly, and preparing a syrup which is then strained and added to the wine, which is in turn gently heated, has a number of advantages. You don't get any of the nasty bitterness from leaving the spices and citrus sitting around in the wine, you are not at risk of choking on the whole cloves floating around in your drink and, last but not least, you don't reduce the alcohol content of the wine by cooking it off.

250ml water
175g brown sugar
6 cinnamon sticks
2-inch chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon of cloves
zest of 1 orange
2 bottles of red wine (I used a Chilean merlot)


  1. Combine the water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and orange zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until you have a thick syrup.
  2. Pour the wine into a large saucepan, strain the syrup into it, and heat well but take care not to boil or to allow it to simmer. Serve immediately or turn off the heat and cover the pan.
Photo credits
Together with my mulled wine, this photo features Gemma's handmade Scandinavian wooden advent calendar.

Monday, December 19, 2011


A glut of oranges appeared in our fruit bowl the other day. They had been acquired to make Christmas decorations out of (stuck with cloves and suspended around the house from festive ribbons) but there were plenty left over, so I made some marmalade. The recipe comes from Lynda Brown's Preserving Book.

(makes 4 small jars)
1 kg oranges
2 lemons
1.2 litres water
1 kg granulated sugar
2 tablespoons of whisky

  1. Halve and juice the oranges and lemons, set aside the juice, and tie the pith and pips from the juicer in a muslin square.
  2. Put the orange and lemon shells into a large pan, add the water and the muslin bundle, bring to the boil, and simmer with the lid ajar for 1 hour.
  3. Discard the muslin bundle, and strain the shells through a colander over a bowl to collect the liquor.
  4. Allow to cool, remove any mushy pith from inside the shells with a spoon and discard, then cut each shell into three segments, and slice each crosswise very thinly.
  5. Meanwhile, sterilise at least four 450g jars, together with their lids and any other equipment, and place a few saucers in the freezer to use for testing the set.
  6. Return the sliced peel to the pan, together with the reserved liquor. Add the fruit juice and the sugar, and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved.
  7. Bring to a fast boil and cook for between 5 and 20 minutes until you have achieved a set. (To do this, drip a few drops of the marmalade 'juice' onto the cold plate. Leave to cool for a few seconds. If it is ready, then the surface will wrinkle when you push the drop with your fingernail. Or you can just stick your finger in it and see if it has a slightly sticky, jammy consistency rather than a syrupy one. It may take a good 20 minutes of boiling to reach the setting point; keep testing at regular intervals and make sure you don't overcook it.)
  8. Once you have a set, turn off the heat, skim any scum from the surface, and allow the marmalade to sit for about 15 minutes. Add the whisky, stir well to make sure the peel (and the whisky) are evenly distributed, and transfer to your sterilised jars.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sri Lankan lamb curry

When we moved back to Edinburgh from Cadiz in July, I thought I would be cooking lots of Indian food and I also hoped I would be teaming up with Sammy and Carmela in the kitchen. It hasn't really worked out that way, as I've found myself getting to grips with the changing contents of our weekly veg box, discovering the joys of jam and chutney, rediscovering pickles, and continuing to perfect my sourdough. Sammy and Carmela, quite wisely, have preferred the charms of Harry Potter, the Wii and Phineas and Ferb to the dubious appeal of playing a walk-on part in my one-man kitchen drama.

(Head chef all cooked out and back watching some Phineas and Ferb on the internet!)

Today I finally managed to tempt them back into the kitchen, and we had a bit of a cookathon. Carmela made mincemeant for the first mince pies of the Christmas season and also helped me to make some great fish and beef won ton, and Sammy cooked up a Sri Lankan lamb curry, with me playing the role of sous chef. The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey's "100 Essential Curries", and I uncharacteristically planned and shopped before we made it.

whole spices
4 teaspoons of whole black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of whole peppercorns
6 teaspoons of whole coriander seeds
4 cloves
spice paste
1 small onion
2-inch chunk of ginger
6 cloves of garlic
small bunch of fresh coriander
1 red chilli
1 tsp ground turmeric
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
50 ml water
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
20 curry leaves
1 kg diced lamb
1 can of coconut cream

  1. Use a spice mill or pestle and mortar to grind the whole spices.
  2. Peel and chop the onion, ginger and garlic. Put into a measuring jug with the roughly chopped coriander, deseeded chilli, turmeric, lemon juice, salt and 50 ml of water, and whizz with a hand blender until you have a smooth paste.
  3. Heat a good glug of vegetable oil in a large pot. When hot, add the cinnamon, cardamom and curry leaves, fry for a few seconds and add the lamb. Fry for a few minutes until the meat is browned, then add the ground spice mixture and fry for another 30 seconds or so before adding the paste.
  4. Cook for 5 minutes, then add just enough water to ensure that the meat is covered. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to minimum and simmer for about 1.5 hours until the lamb is tender.
  5. Add the coconut cream and cook for another 5 minutes.
As the sous chef it was my job to grind the spices with the pestle and mortar. It was surprisingly quick, but that didn't stop me from going onto amazon and ordering an electric spice mill post haste.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


It's always reassuring to find there are other people out there with bigger problems than your own. Personally, if I felt a need to constrain my fried eggs with these 'egg rings' I would run screaming from my kitchen in search of the nearest therapist.

Using them to make your own crumpets, of course, is perfectly okay.

275ml milk
50ml water
7g instant yeast (1 sachet)
1tsp sugar
225g strong white flour

  1. Mix the milk, water and sugar in a jug. Heat until it is warm but not too hot. (It should feel pleasantly warm when you hold your finger in it - 1 minute or so on the medium setting in a microwave should do the trick.)
  2. Add the yeast, mix well, and leave to stand for 15 minutes until it has formed a good foamy head.
  3. Measure the flour into a mixing bowl, add the liquid and whisk together to make a smooth batter.
  4. Place the bowl inside a plastic bag, and leave to stand for 45 minutes.
  5. If you are using egg rings, oil them lightly. Oil a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat gently, and spoon about 1.5 tablespoons of batter into each ring. (It's best to have a glass of water next to the stove, and dip your spoon into it before spooning out the batter.)
  6. Cook on a low heat for about 4 minutes. Lift the rings off the crumpets (if they stick, just gently separate them fromLink the sides with a knife). Flip over and cook for a further minute.

Homemade vs. shop bought
I 'borrowed' this recipe from Delia Smith. She starts by saying "Although you can buy quite good crumpets, I do think they're fun to make." They're definitely fun to make (and very easy), but I can't say that I agree with her verdict on shop-bought crumpets. They are generally rubbery, and not a patch on the homemade version. My kids agree - they have always refused to eat the commercial version, but these ones disappeared immediately.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tomato juice

A glass of tomato juice with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a sprinkle of black pepper. It is 1975, I am 8 years old, wearing a denim suit from C&A, and running up a bar tab at the Holiday Inn in Belsize Park, London. Sophistication, as they say, doesn't come much more sophisticated than this.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pickled pears

I made these a couple of months ago, when we had a few more pears than we were able to eat. The result was really good, but I was slightly reluctant to post because I hadn't worked out what they would go with.

The other day, Gemma and the kids came back from Mellis cheese shop and I found the answer: cheese! Doing my best Wallace and Grommit impression, I ordered the kids to bring out the crackers and tried slices of pickled pear with durrus, taleggio and some blue stilton.

1 lemon
10 cloves
1 tsps black peppercorns
1 tsp allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
500g white wine vinegar
250g caster sugar
1 kg small pears

  1. Sterilize four 500g jars.
  2. Zest the lemon, and combine the lemon zest, cloves, pepercorns, allspice berries and cinnamon in a saucepan with the vinegar and sugar.
  3. Peel, and quarter the pears and remove the fibrous cores.
  4. Bring the liquid to a boil, simmer gently and stir well until all of the sugar has dissolved, then add the pears and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the pears from the liquid with a slotted spoon, and transfer to the sterilized jars.
  6. Continue to simmer the liquid uncovered for another 15 minutes or so, then pour over the pears and seal.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Baked rice with egg and vegetables

Over the years, the contents of any individual cook's repertoire shift and change. Along with newly acquired knowledge and influences, individual dishes come and go. And tracking these changes in my own cooking was one of the reasons for my starting this blog in the first place.

2 cups of white basmati rice
2 courgettes
1 bulb of fennel (or use onion or leek)
6 rashers of streaky bacon
6 eggs
plenty of salt and pepper

  1. Cook the rice according to your preferred method. I microwaved it this time, which worked well.
  2. Finely chop the courgettes and fennel, and fry gently in plenty of olive oil.
  3. Fry the bacon. When it is done, cut into little strips.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the cooked rice, vegetables and bacon.
  5. Beat the eggs and add them to the mixture.
  6. Season with plenty of salt and pepper, stir well, and transfer to a large ovenproof dish.
  7. Cover with foil and cook for about 20 minutes, until the egg has set but is not too dry.
Caledonia's everything I've ever had
This is a dish I made frequently during the not entirely happy year that me and Gemma spent living in London (1997). She was finishing off her Political Science degree through Spain's equivalent of the Open University, and I was managing a publishing programme for a pair of incurable optimists at an outfit called the Open Learning Foundation. It was the year of the Labour Party's first election victory under Blair, the year of Lady Di's death, and the year when Chick Charnley (the white Pele) briefly set the Scottish Premier League alight.

It was also the year of commuting daily on a pre-refurbishment Northern Line, the year of working alone in a large Victorian building from which my colleagues were permanently away on business trips, and the year of a shabby rented flat in Archway where the living room was permeated by the smell of goat curry from the West Indian domino club camped out in the empty hairdresser's salon below. Comfort food was needed, and this was one of the forms it took.

Fortunately, by the end of the year we had managed to work out a route back to Edinburgh. I even had a little Caledonia moment of my own at King's Cross, with a dialogue which went as follows:

Me: A single to Edinburgh please.
Clerk: You might as well get a return. It's only 50 pence more than the single.
Me: I'm not coming back.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Microwave basmati rice

Like most microwave owners, I use mine almost exclusively for reheating cold coffee and for warming up leftovers. Tonight, though, I decided to branch out and see if I could cook rice in it. I googled around for a bit and, after looking at a couple of recipes, realised they were replicating my usual method of cooking rice by the absorption method in a tightly-covered pan. And indeed it seemed to make sense to do the same thing in a microwave, which should have more even heat distribution than a saucepan.

16 fl oz basmati rice
24 fl oz water
a glug of oil
1/4 tsp of salt

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large pyrex bowl, cover with a plate, and cook at full power for 10 minutes. The water should now be more or less at boiling point. Remove bowl from microwave (being careful not to burn yourself with the steam) and stir the rice gently with a fork.
  2. Return covered bowl to microwave and cook for a further 15 minutes on medium-low. Remove from microwave, check to see if rice is done, and stir.
Pop shot
I was perversely pleased with the awfulness of the photo below. Bad enough to be included in a microwave manual, eagerly extolling the virtues of "cooking from the centre out". Just remember not to use it to dry off your chihuahua after a walk in the rain.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Caramelised onion chutney

I'm too tired to write a proper intro for this recipe. Why? Today I have been on a canal trip with our home educating friends, spent the afternoon in a couple of chilly playgrounds (thank the Lord for long johns!), followed by a lengthy game of football in the park. On arriving home, I had to carry two flatpack beds up two flights of stairs, help to assemble them both, then make supper. And somewhere in the middle of all that I made some onion chutney too.

Ingredients (makes 2 or 3 jars)
1.25kg onions
olive oil
4 tsps minced ginger
2-4 tsps minced red chilli (depending how spicy you want it)
4 tbsps tomato puree
100 ml red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
pinch of salt
200 ml balsamic vinegar
200g dark brown sugar

  1. Peel and roughly chop the onions. In a large pan, gently fry the onions in plenty of olive oil. When they have softened, add the ginger, chilli and tomato puree, and continue to fry until the onions are well done.
  2. Add the wine, cinnamon, salt, vinegar and sugar, bring to a boil, reduce to minimum and cook for an hour or so, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to get a jammy consistency.
  3. Transfer to sterilised jars and store for at least 4 weeks (if you can wait).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Banana and apple cake

Autumn is definitely here, and yesterday we went for a lovely long walk around Roslin Chapel, where we collected lots of sticks for wands, together with a selection of leaves and nuts. It's seven years since I have been in Scotland at this time of year, and I had forgotten how beautiful it can be. (We've been lucky, with reasonably mild temperatures and a lot of dry days.)

I usually make this with bananas only, but today is Wednesday, which means it's time to finish off any leftover fruit and veg before our new veggie box arrives. In addition to two very ripe bananas, there were also some delicious little russet apples, so I added them to the mix.


275 g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
110 g margarine
225 g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 tart apples, peeled, cored and diced
75 ml milk
1.5 tsps lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
50 g raisins

  1. Set the oven to 180oC and grease a loaf tin. (Mine is stuck in the cellar at the moment, hence the round cake tin in the photo above.)
  2. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar. Add the bananas, milk, eggs, lemon juice, vanilla extract, cinnamon and raisins to the margarine and sugar mixture, and mix well. Fold the flour into the resulting batter.
  4. Pour the mixture into the tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes until golden.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Orange polenta cake

I first made this cake a few years ago, and have baked it intermittently ever since (whenever my children allow me to make something other than chocolate cake).

I took this cake along to the book group I have just joined (at Blackwell's on South Bridge, in Edinburgh). My cake was finished off almost instantly, which is more than can be said for this month's book - the diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, in which the wife of Lev Tolstoy spends 40 years complaining about her husband.

for the cake batter
2 large oranges
1 cup of strong green tea
6 green cardamom pods
6 eggs
150 g quick-cook polenta
150 g ground almonds
250 g golden caster sugar

for the syrup
1 orange
50 g caster sugar
50 ml water

  1. Place two of the oranges in plenty of water, bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. Drain the oranges, cut into quarters and allow to cool.
  2. Make a cup of strong green tea, and add the cracked cardamom pods to it.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line and grease a springform cake tin.
  4. Peel the orange quarters, remove the pithy centre and any pips, and puree in a food processor.
  5. Transfer the orange puree to a mixing bowl, add the polenta and 50g of cardamom-infused green tea, stir well and leave to sit for 5 minutes or so.
  6. Add the eggs, almonds and caster sugar and beat well. Pour the mixture into the tin, and bake for about 45 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, zest the remaining orange. Make a syrup by heating the caster sugar, zest and water until the sugar is dissolved. Strain through a tea strainer to remove the zest.
  8. Allow the cake to cool before removing from the tin. Prick it all over with a toothpick, and pour the syrup over it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Roasted tomato and pumpkin

My soups are still a little hit and miss with my kids, so I thought I'd try roasting my veggie box tomatoes and a butternut squash before making soup with them. For the second entry in a row, no recipe, just a photo of some red and orange roasted veg.

In the background, I can hear "Ruby, don't take your love to town" playing on Gemma's computer. For anyone who doesn't know it, this is a song about an impotent, disabled veteran of the Vietnam War, who stays at home nursing murderous sentiments towards his wife, who has painted herself up and gone out on the town in search of some action.

Grilled vegetables

With two self-employed adults and two home educated kids in the house, we get through a lot of food at home. If boredom, poverty or obesity are not to set in then we need to find some quick, cheap and healthy ways of providing three meals plus numerous snacks every day. As a result, I've been making a lot of soup, and have also rediscovered the joy of grilled vegetables. The trick, I think, is to cut them reasonably thick and to resist the temptation to overcook them, as they need to be able to withstand a day or two (or more) quietly marinating in olive oil. This time, I discovered some fresh basil in the fridge, and also added a couple of drops of raspberry vinegar.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Apple and pear chutney

"Not impedimenta, sweetie. Expulso is the best!" Gemma is sitting on the sofa with her laptop, helping Sammy get to the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the Wii, Carmela is measuring herself against the doorpost to check whether she has grown in the last 3 days, and I am in the kitchen making chutney and listening to Fabrizio Andre singing Bocca di Rosa. (Si sa che la gente da buoni consigli se non piu puo dare cattivo esempio. People only give good advice when they can no longer set a bad example.)

Ingredients (makes slightly over 1 kg, enough to fill three 1 lb jars)
350ml cider vinegar
350g brown sugar
250g sultanas
4 tsps minced ginger
1kg cooking apples
400g pears
1 large onion
good pinch of salt
8 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
20 coriander seeds
20 allspice berries

  1. Put the cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds and allspice berries in a muslin bag.
  2. Combine the vinegar, sugar, sultanas, ginger and salt into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and add the spices in their bag.
  3. Peel and roughly chop the onion, and add to the saucepan.
  4. Core and peel the apples and pears, chop roughly, add to the saucepan and mix well.
  5. Bring to boil, reduce heat to minimum and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, stirring frequently. When the chutney can be parted with a wooden spoon to reveal the bottom of the saucepan, it is ready.
  6. Transfer to sterilised jars, seal and store for at least 2 weeks (longer if possible).
Apple source
The apples for this recipe came from Bernie and Bruce, the parents of Sammy and Carmela's friend, Callum. They were knobbly little things (the apples, not Bernie and Bruce) but taste great.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Taiwanese beef noodle soup

I was in the butcher's today and saw what was described as "runner beef". I'm not quite sure what cut it is (should have asked) but it was cheap and looked as if it would add plenty of flavour to a soup.

When I got home, I did a bit of googling, and came up with a recipe for Taiwanese spicy beef noodle soup or niu rou mian, which I adjusted a little bit both to reflect the contents of my cupboards and in an attempt to please the delicate palates of my children.

vegetable oil
1 kg runner beef (or another cheap cut)
1 large leek, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp red chile bean sauce
4 tbsps rice wine
1/2 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp allspice berries
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsps light soy sauce
2 litres of water
500g of broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
250g of thick egg noodles noodles

  1. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large pot and brown the beef thoroughly.
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients (except for the broccoli and noodles), bring to boil, cover and turn to minimum, and simmer gently for 2-3 hours until the meat is completely tender.
  3. Set lid ajar and allow to cool, then strain the broth into a large bowl. Take out the beef and set aside. Discard the other contents of the strainer (spices, leeks, garlic, ginger etc.).
  4. Return broth to pan, bring to boil, add broccoli and noodles and cook until tender.
  5. Meanwhile, remove beef from bone, trimming off the fat and any gristle, and cut into thinnish slices.
  6. Ladle the broth with noodles and broccoli into soup bowls, add beef slices and serve.
Three cheers for Taiwan
Apparently this is the national dish of Taiwan. To do it justice, I decided to buy the most expensive noodles in my local Chinese supermarket - a Taiwanese brand which cost somewhere between two and three times as much as the alternatives. I was not disappointed, as they were also at least two to three times as good! If you can get hold of them, these are the ones to go for:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Raspberry jam

We had a second trip to Craigie's Farm to pick some more strawberries, together with some raspberries (which were not yet ready on our first visit). I was really enjoying picking the raspberries at a very leisurely pace, but made the mistake of bringing four over-enthusiastic helpers with me. While I was strolling up and down between the raspberry canes, picking only the very best fruit at a rate of about one berry per minute, they were galloping through the strawberry tunnel and came back with 5 kilos of the things, no less! They then applied the same treatment to the raspberries and within half an hour we had another 5 kilos of them. "You've got to take advantage while they're in season!" they chorused. I said nothing but groaned inwardly, thinking of the little red hen and her farmyard friends. At least they hadn't actually loaded her down with industrial quantities of wheat.

Sure enough, when we got back home my 'helpers' melted away, leaving me alone in the kitchen with an unfeasible amount of soft fruit. I churned out a couple of batches of strawberry jam, and also did a large (2kg) batch of raspberry, before reluctantly freezing the remaining rasps. And the next day, trying to get at least a token contribution to the whole process, I was flatly informed that writing labels was "boring". Well, I shall label them myself: "Tim's Solo Raspberry Jam".

1kg fresh raspberries
1kg sugar

  1. Put a dinner plate in the freezer. Sterilise your equipment: 4 x 1 lb jars and lids or 8 x 1/2 lb ones, a ladle and a jam funnel. I sterilise the jars by washing them then placing them upside down on the oven rack, setting the oven to 140oC and keeping them there for 30 minutes or so.
  2. Measure the sugar in to a heatproof bowl, and heat for 5 minutes or so in the oven.
  3. Put the raspberries in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat until the juices begin to run, then add the warmed sugar.
  4. Bring to a boil, skim, and boil for 5 minutes or so, until setting point has been reached. To test for set, drip a couple of drops of the jam onto the cold plate. Leave to cool for a few seconds. If it is ready, then the surface will wrinkle when you push the drop with your fingernail. (Or you can just stick your finger in it and see if it has a slightly sticky, jammy consistency rather than a syrupy one.)
  5. Remove pan from heat and leave to sit for 10 minutes before ladling the jam into the sterilised jars and sealing.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Damson, greengage and apple chutney

As part of my ongoing battle against the fruit mountain which has been threatening to overwhelm us, I made some chutney yesterday. The main ingredients were just what I reckoned was least likely to be eaten if I didn't cook them.

Ingredients (makes 1 kg)
500g granny smiths
250g greengages
250g damsons
8 spring onions
125g sultanas
175g brown sugar
200ml cider vinegar
good pinch of salt
4 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
10 coriander seeds
10 allspice berries
2 slices of fresh ginger

  1. Put the spices in a muslin bag. Core and peel the apples and dice. Cut the damsons in half, removing stones if possible. (If not, remove after cooking). Cut greengages into four, removing stones. Top and tail the spring onions, and cut into 1 cm segments.
  2. Put all the prepared fruit, the spice bag, the sugar, vinegar and salt into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to minimum and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, stirring frequently. When the chutney can be parted with a wooden spoon to reveal the bottom of the saucepan, it is ready. Transfer to sterilised jars, seal and store for at least 2 weeks (longer if possible).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pineapple salsa

We are caught in the middle of a fruit glut at the moment. Yesterday we went to a pick your own farm and returned with 5 kg of strawberries and another 5 kg of raspberries. When we got back, our veggie box was waiting on our doorstep, brimming with apples, bananas, pears, damson and greengages, together with the usual vegetables. And when I opened the fridge to try to clear some space for them, I was confronted by a pineapple staring aggressively back at me.

I thought about making a batch of pineapple picalilli, but as I was already planning to make some chutney with the damsons and greengages, pickle the pears, and produce industrial quantities of strawberry and raspberry jam, I decided to go for something a little less labour-intensive. A bit of googling and some improvisation on my part produced this pineapple salsa.

1 pineapple
4 tsps of minced red chilli
4 finely chopped spring onions
3 tsps of salt
juice of 2 limes
half a large bunch of coriander (or a couple of miserly supermarket packs)

  1. Remove the skin from the pineapple, cut into quarters, remove the fibrous core, and chops the flesh into small chunks.
  2. Combine in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients, stir well to mix, and leave to rest for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Okra with tomatoes and coriander

Okra, bhindi, ladies' fingers - we haven't quite settled on a name, but these are one of my very favourite vegetable. In my opinion, the trick is not to overcook them, so that they have a good fresh taste, and a bit of crunch.

500g fresh okra
500g tomatoes
1 onion
3 tbsps vegetable oil
2 tsps minced ginger
2 tsps minced green chilli
1/2 tsps salt
half a large bunch of coriander (or 2 of those miserly packs they sell in supermarkets)

  1. Wash the okra, then top and tail them and cut them into 2-cm long segments. Slice the onion into strips. Cut the tomatoes lengthwise into 8 segments.
  2. In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil, and fry the onion until it starts to brown. Add the ginger and chilli, fry for a few seconds more, then add the okra, and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and chopped coriander leaves, and fry for another 5 minutes.

Rice with peas

I've been a bit lazy with my rice recently, but I thought that my mackerel tikka masala deserved a little extra effort.

15 fl oz of basmati rice
23 fl oz of boiled water
2 tbsps of sunflower oil
4 cloves
4 green cardamom pods
generous handful of frozen peas

  1. Wash the rice in plenty of water to remove the starch, strain and transfer to a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the oil, cloves, cardamom pods, salt and boiling water.
  2. Stir gently, cover and bring to the boil. Add the peas, put the lid back on the pan (line it with tinfoil unless it is a very tight fit), reduce heat to absolute minimum and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Mackerel tikka masala

I cycled out to Cramond the other day, and Gemma came to meet me with the kids. For anyone who doesn't know it, Cramond is a village on the Forth estuary, just outside Edinburgh. There is a small island just off the coast, connected to it by a causeway which is only passable at low tide. As the tide was going out when we arrived, we decided to wander across. Looking down into the water by the causeway, we spotted several large mackerel which appeared to have been cut off by the retreating tide - on one side was the concrete causeway, and on the other mud flats with no obvious channel through them. Sammy and Carmela, who were already out on the mudflats, came over and guddled a couple of beautiful mackerel - each of which weighed in at exactly 12.5 oz (350 g) after gutting.

the one that didn't get away

The kids were amazed to see how the fish changed from light green when still alive to a deep purple after death, returning back to an almost turquoise hue an hour or so later. They were also intrigued by the way in which the fish gradually 'stiffened' as we made our way back along the causeway.

rigor mortis

I don't know if this is a regular occurrence or not - the only local we spotted taking part in the free feast was a grey heron, which glided in and greedily gulped down a medium-sized fish. We were a little more discreet, bringing ours home and putting them in a simple 'tikka massala' marinade before cooking them in tinfoil parcels.

2 large or 4 smallish mackerel - the fresher, the better!
1 pot of yoghurt
4 tablespoons of readymade tikka massala paste (or use your own mix of aromatic spices, chopped ginger, garlic and chilli)
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

  1. Mix the yoghurt, tikka masala paste and oil in a bowl.
  2. Make several slits in the sides of the gutted, cleaned mackerel, cover the mackerel with the marinade mixture and leave in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat your oven to 190oC.
  4. Wrap each of the mackerel in tinfoil to make a baggy parcel, containing plenty of the marinade mixture. Bake for 20 minutes if your fish are large, 15 minutes if they are smaller.

marinading mackerel

plated up (if a little blurry)

down to the bones

Cramond island from the shore

Carrot, lentil and red pepper soup

Since our weekly veggie box started arriving, I have been inspired to start making more soup. I've always loved soup and as a kid, I often had a tin of Baxter's soup for breakfast or lunch. Below, you can see me posing with two of my childhood favourites - cock-a-leekie and oxtail - in the Baxter's shop at the Ocean Terminal centre, in Edinburgh.

Anyway, back to the recipe. Looking into the fridge, I realised I still had 500g of carrots waiting to be used, together with a slightly wrinkly red pepper, so this is what I came up with.

1 large onion
1 red pepper
1 clove of garlic
olive oil
2 tsps cumin powder
500g carrots, peeled and sliced
100g red split lentils
1 litre stock
1/2 tsp of chilli sauce
salt to taste

  1. Chop the onion, red pepper and garlic, and fry gently in plenty of olive oil until the onion has softened.
  2. Add the cumin powder and fry for a few seconds.
  3. Add the carrots, lentils, stock and chilli sauce, bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes.
  4. Allow the soup to cool a little, blend with a stick blender, check for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Serve with plenty of crusty bread.

Underage drinking
When I was growing up in Stirling, I would sometimes make a big pot of tomato and potato soup for me and my friends to eat when we had got back from the pub after a spot of underage drinking. There was a more or less recognised hierarchy of places where you could drink: you started off in the Allan Park, whose downstairs bar would serve 15 year olds at a pinch, while the upstairs bar was curiously a policemen's local, then graduated onto another place at 16 (whose name I have forgotten), before being ready for the trendy Barnton Bar & Bistro at 17.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Veggie box

I had a brief spell of having a veggie box delivered a long time ago, but gave up bcause the quality wasn't up to scratch. The final straw, I think, were some carrots with an inedible, fibrous 'core'. However, back in Edinburgh I decided to give East Coast Organics a go. We've only had a couple of boxes, but I'm already impressed by the quality and variety. I particularly like getting small quantities of various different types of vegetable, so that I don't find myself suddenly swamped with 2 kg of celeriac, or more fennel than I know what to do with.

So far, I've been rediscovering the joys of sliced mushrooms in my salad, have perked up some saag aloo with a little fennel, and made some really good turnip and potato soup, which got a nice peppery kick and a beautiful green shade from the addition of turnip greens and a bit of chard.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pickled cucumbers with dill, garlic and horseradish

The two large jars of cucumbers I pickled last week were so good that they have already disappeared, so it was back to my local Polish deli for more supplies. Along with a couple of kilos of pickling cucumbers, I got a bundle consisting of some dried, stalks of bolted dill, a head of garlic, and a length of dried horseradish.

2 kg of pickling cucumbers
4 cloves of garlic
dried bolted dill stalks
6-inch piece of horseradish root
1500 ml of boiling water
3 tbsps of salt
3 tbsps of sugar
12 tbsps of cider vinegar

  1. Sterilise 4 good-sized pickling jars, with their lids.
  2. Allow to cool a little, then pack the cucumbers into them.
  3. Into each jar, place 1 peeled garlic clove, a 1-inch piece of horseradish root, and 3 or 4 lengths of dill stalk.
  4. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the boiling water, and add the vinegar.
  5. Pour the pickling liquid over the cucumbers, seal the jars and store for 2 days at room temperature and at least 1 week in the fridge.
I don't know why, but I felt rather pleased when the shop assistant in the deli addressed me in Polish, even though I think she was just asking me to get out of the way so she could get back to the till.

Strawberry jam

I've been wanting to make jam for ages - it seems the natural accompaniment to my bread baking and pickling exploits - so we all headed off to Craigie's "pick your own" farm out by South Queensferry. Before going, I'd checked my recipe books, and trusty Darina Allen of the Ballymaloe Cookery School had assured me that raspberry jam was the best for beginners, as strawberry jam could be a bit tricky. But when we arrived at the farm, there was barely a raspberry in sight. I was doubly disappointed: not only was I not going to be able to make my "beginners' jam", I was also going to have to bend for strawberries (raspberries grow on canes, so you can pick them standing, whereas strawberries are found underneath very low bushes).

We headed off to the strawberry fields, and I was soon cheered up by the realisation that I could actually pick the strawberries while lying down, popping the odd one into my mouth as I went. This is my kind of farming! After about an hour, of hard, supine labour, we had almost 3 kilos of little, ripeish strawberries. (For jam, it's important that your fruit is not overripe or bruised.)

Back in the kitchen, I checked my recipes again, but Darina Allen was prescribing redcurrant juice and more lemons than I had, so it was time to google. After a bit of searching, I finally hit upon Sophie Grigson on the BBC. I had all the ingredients, the recipe seemed nice and easy to follow, and best of all I had to leave the strawberries soaking in sugar overnight, which got me off the hook of actually making the jam that evening.

1 kg of unblemished, ripe(ish) strawberries [weight after preparation]
1 kg of caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon
small knob of butter

  1. Remove the stalks from your strawberries. Cut larger fruit into halves or quarters; leave very smal ones whole. Put the fruit into a large bowl, add 500g of sugar, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.
  2. The next day, put a plate in your freezer (you will need this to test the setting point) and sterilise your jars and any other equipment as follows: wash well, rinse, place upside down on a rack in your oven, heat the oven to 140oC, and once it has reached temperature, keep there for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the strawberry and sugar mixture into a very large saucepan (or a jam pan, if you have one), add the remaining 500g of sugar and the lemon juice and stir very well, over a low heat until all the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil. If you have a cooking thermomenter, once the temperature reaches 105 oC, you can start testing for the setting point, as follows: drip a couple of drops of the jam 'juice' onto the cold plate. Leave to cool for a few seconds. If it is ready, then the surface will wrinkle when you push the drop with your fingernail. (Or you can just stick your finger in it and see if it has a slightly sticky, jammy consistency rather than a syrupy one.) It may take a good 20 minutes of boiling to reach the setting point; keep testing at regular intervals and make sure you don't overcook it.
  5. When your jam has reached setting point, turn off the heat, stir in a small piece of butter, skim off any scum on the top, and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  6. Ladle the jam into the sterilised jars (using a jam funnel if you have one), cover with a wax lid, and put a lid on the jar while still hot.


soaking strawbs

Pick your own: strawberries and fresh camomile tea

We went strawberry picking the other day, to Craigie's Farm, near South Queensferry (just a few miles outside of Edinburgh). I have fond memories of occasional fruit picking as a child (I suspect I only did it once or twice), and have been meaning to take the kids for ages. We almost didn't go, as there was a family meltdown around lunchtime, but when we finally got there (at about 4 o'clock) everyone agreed that it had been worth the effort. The raspberries canes were pretty scarcely populated, but the strawberries were a bit thicker on the ground - although we still needed to do a fair bit of searching. It was fun, though, lying around on the straw rooting around between the strawberry plants and handpicking the small but perfect fruit. Although my main aim was to make some jam, after we had sorted through the fruit, we had plenty left over for good old strawberries and cream.

Carmela dressed up in her school uniform to eat hers. (This is what home educated children do when their lives don't seem quite grey enough or when they're just tired of the stress of having to choose their own clothes!)

And we had also found some camomile growing around the strawberry fields, so we picked some of that and made some fresh camomile tea, which to my mind was much better and less 'grassy' tasting than the dried version.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Polish-style pickled cucumbers

When I left Edinburgh, the Polish influx was just getting started. Six years later, the Polish community is well and truly established, and is served both by a number of specialist Polish delis and by little Polish sections in most supermarkets and convenience stores. The other day, I was heading for the Chinese supermarket when I stopped into my nearest Polish shop. My eyes were instantly drawn to a couple of big baskets of very fresh looking pickling cucumbers, and I supplemented some of these with a bag of fresh dill.

12 pickling cucmbers (between 8 and 15 cm in length)
500 ml of boiling water
1 tbsps of salt
1 tbsp of sugar
4 tbsps of good quality cider or white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
8 sprigs of fresh dill

  1. Put the water, salt and sugar in a pan. Bring gently to a boil, stirring so that the salt and sugar are dissolved, turn off, add the vinegar and allow to cool a little.
  2. Clean the cucmbers and distribute them between 2 large or 3 medium-sized sterilized jars. Add the garlic and fresh dill, pour the pickling solution over the cucumbers so that they are completely covered, and seal the jars.
  3. Keep at room temperature for 2 days, then store in the fridge for 1 week. The cucumbers are now ready to eat - they should taste fresh and cruncy.
In a pickle
I have a long-standing if rather intermittent love affair with pickling. I first pickled things when I was at university - peppers, cucumbers, onions, eggs (lots of eggs!) and even an octopus. I have particularly fond memories of the octopus. It was truly delicious - simmered in vinegar with plenty of herbs and some delicate spices, then preserved in oil and left to mature for 6 weeks. Shortly before making it I had been out flyposting for a CND rally (summer of 1985) and me and my friend Angus were spotted and threatened by the local criminals who, unknown to us, controlled the flyposting business in south Manchester. When I got home feeling a little shaken, I remembered the octopus in my fridge and decided to do some therapeutic cephalopod preservation.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Partridges stewed in oil and vinegar

The other day Gemma came back from the market with a little bag containing three frozen partridges which our butcher had persuaded her to buy. We were already in pre-removals stage, the house was full of boxes and the store cupboards were running bare, but fortunately we still had the basic ingredients for a Spanish classic: perdices en escabeche.

4 partridges
2 large onions
4 cloves of garlic
6 bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
250 ml olive oil
150 ml balsamic vinegar
200 ml water
1 tsp salt

  1. Cut the partridges in half lengthwise, remove any stubborn feathers that may remain on the legs or wings, and clean thoroughly. In a large pan, brown the partridge halves well on both sides, and remove.
  2. Slice the onions crosswise into rings, and slice the garlic. Pour the oil into a large saucepan, fry the onion and garlic gently, then add the browned partridges together with any juices which have accumulated, and add the herbs, vinegar, oil and salt.
  3. Cover the pan, bring to a simmer, reduce to minimum and cook for 1.5 hours.
  4. The partridges can be served hot, but I think they are actually best eaten cold a couple of days later - perfect for a posh picnic.
Happily ever after
This seemed like the perfect dish on which to end the Cadiz stage of my blog. Spanish fairytales end "y fueron felices y comieron perdices", which translates literally as "and they were happy and ate partridges". We are now heading back to Scotland for the foreseeable future, so this isn't so much the end of one story as the start of a new one, but I think the sentiment still applies.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Orange and cinnamon scones

My daughter, Carmela, is a very independent 7-year-old, and this week she has exercised her autonomy by making pancakes with chocolate on a daily basis. This is great, but has had a devastating effect on our chocolate supplies. As a result, when I set out to make chocolate scones yesterday, I realised that we were all out of the brown stuff. My usual alternative is raisins, but there were none of them either, and the third option - plain - was ruled out by my son, Sammy. So I scratched my head, opened the fridge and saw a big bag of oranges staring back at me, and thought "Why not?"

Ingredients (makes 8 scones)
300g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
85 g caster sugar
75 g butter
160g milk
zest of 1 orange

  1. Preheat the oven to 200oC. Measure the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar into a large bowl, mix well, add the butter and rub together lightly between your fingertips until it has the texture of breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the milk and orange zest, mix well until it comes together, tip onto a well-floured surface and divide into 8 pieces. Roughly shape each piece into a ball, place on a greased baking tray and bake for 12 minutes.