Tom Cooks!





Christmas Market 2 Tartiflette Christma Market 1

Where did Christmas markets start? Do I like them? And are they all the same?

You’ll probably be relieved to know that I have no idea of the answer to the first question. We see them in paintings from centuries gone by, or from depictions of Merrie England (or Holland, Germany or whatever). I’m beginning to answer my own second question. I love Christmas between 24 and 28 December, and actively dislike the way that it takes over much of our lives from the first Christmas trees in November through to the misery of the January credit card bills. And yet…

Are they all the same? Until this year, I probably would have said, yes. I’ve encountered them in a fair few places in Europe and the States. But having just returned from Paris, I have to admit that the French add their own flair, a certain je ne sais quoi, to the proceedings. Strolling through the Jardins des Tuileries this month (during the week when the rioters are at work), you encounter a very large, very fine example. My first reaction (this from a man who hates shopping) is that there are stalls which sell things which a civilised person might wish to buy, as opposed to the usual tat. The next realisation is that the French cannot possibly take a tradition which has food stalls without moulding it into their own image. Thus, one may purchase foie gras; there are oysters of every size and price; and, of course, champagne by the glass, bottle or magnum. So no, they are not all the same.

But fear not, you will also find in Paris all the favourites from all over. Mulled wine and cider, burgers, sausages, candy floss and toffee apples. But also, as everywhere else, I guarantee giant pans of potatoes, bacon and cheese – today’s dish, tartiflette.

I had assumed this to be a recipe handed down through the mists of time. In fact, it was invented in the Savoy region of France in the 1980s to promote the sale of the local cheese, Reblochon. It’s basically a variation on a Dauphinoise, and should be baked in an oven, not made in a frying pan. What care we? It is a wonderful, cold day, stick to your ribs, artery clogging, heart stopping, winter warmer. (Mrs RM from Hawick, please do not feed this to your husband.)

A simple enough recipe, but just a couple of tips. Use waxy potatoes – you don’t want them to turn to mush. In the good old days you could buy a chunk of streaky bacon and make your own lardons (bacon cubes). These days even good butchers tend to buy in their bacon ready sliced. Keep trying to find it in chunks, but if all else fails you can buy lardons in supermarkets. On the cheese front, traditionally you should use a whole Reblochon cut horizontally. This will be between 400 and 500g. Alternatively you can use Vignotte or Taleggio cut into strips – or if you have left over soft stuff from a cheese board, why not chuck it in? It’s such a newcomer of a dish that they can’t possibly have created a prescriptive Chevalerie de Tartiflette yet. (Though that will probably come.) Remember that, as with any potato gratin, it will need much more seasoning than you think (bearing in mind that soft cheese is salty).

Ingredients (serves 6)

1.5kg waxy potatoes, peeled; 1 whole Reblochon cheese (see above) sliced horizontally; 250g bacon lardons (preferably smoked); 1 onion, finely chopped; 1 garlic clove, crushed; 100ml dry white wine; 200ml crème fraiche (use double cream if you prefer, or Elmlea); butter for greasing the dish and for frying; oil for frying (I prefer olive); s & p.


Butter a baking dish. Preheat the oven to 200˚C/Mark 7. Parboil the potatoes until tender (about 5 – 10 minutes). While the potatoes are boiling, gently fry the onions, bacon and garlic in some butter and oil until golden brown. Add the wine and simmer until most of the liquid has disappeared. Slice the potatoes. Layer half in the baking dish. Season well with s & p. Spoon over half of the onion and bacon mix. Add another layer of potatoes, seasoning, onion and bacon. Spread the crème fraiche over, then top with the cheese, making sure the potatoes are evenly covered. Bake until the cheese is bubbling and the dish is hot through. Assuming everything is warm when it goes into the oven, about 15 minutes.



Delicious Article Delicious cover Hamper

I recently subscribed to both Olive and delicious magazines. I won’t be staying long with the former, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the latter not just for the following reason. In a recent issue, in a column entitled A Good Rant, journalist Clare Finney suggested it was essential that recipes should be followed to the letter, and invited comments. The following piece was one of the thousands they received and won me the Star Email prize. An edited version appeared in the magazine. The full text is set out below. I invite comments and recipes from all of you. A little odd, perhaps, for someone who writes a recipe column to tell people not to follow them: in my defence, I have always said that recipes are indicative, not prescriptive. I do follow it up with an off the top of the head soup which I made this week. Feel free to skip the article and jump straight to the non-recipe recipe. The very lovely people at delicious have just sent me a hamper of designer vodka as a prize. I haven’t the heart to tell them I don’t drink the stuff.

The delightful Clare Finney, tongue no doubt firmly in cheek, cast a provocative fly on the water, suggesting that recipes MUST be followed for our greater good. As a proud member of the “chuck it and chance it” brigade (albeit one who also has a weekly recipe blog), may I be swift to rise to the bait?

 I started cooking in my early teens. How do you make this sauce, mum, I asked? First you take some onions, came the reply. I was baffled. I had seen recipes. They would call for a pound of onions or some such (showing my age, I know). A few years on, I graduated to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (I was, incidentally, delighted last month to see it lauded by such diverse talents as the great Madhur Jaffrey and Yotam Ottolenghi.) If the blessed Julia stipulated a quarter of a teaspoon, I would, Lord help me, do my best to measure it out. Now the end results were great – but you certainly can’t say that about all recipes, including those given by many of today’s celebs. I acquired a few more books. Horror of horrors, there were days when I couldn’t make anything from them, because I didn’t have all the requisite ingredients.

 Staying in a French household, I asked madame what we would have for lunch tomorrow. She smiled indulgently, as at a backward child, explaining that this would depend on what was good in the market. For me, much of the fun of cooking is improvising with what is in the shops or indeed, in the fridge. As I write this, my house is permeated with a glorious aroma of minestrone. It won’t be quite the same as the last one, and the next potful will be different again, but they will all be delicious. Some of the finest plates are born of improvisation or tweaking. More fundamentally, if you tell a young cook in the developmental stage that they must follow recipes, you will stunt their growth as surely as if you’d encouraged them to take up smoking. If the great artist Raphael had given Clare’s advice to his pupils, they would all have ended up painting by numbers.

 One of my kids has just phoned. Dad, how do I make that sauce? Easy, I say, first, take some onions…

Tom’s Chuck It and Chance It Asian Style Shellfish Broth

I have to start by confessing to a bit of swank. For our Saturday night dinner I made lobster Thermidor, and darn fine it was too, I served it in traditional style, in the shells; however that accounts only for the shells of the main body. There’s plenty more. If you are one who discards shellfish shells (excluding, obviously the ones that have been used as eating vessels), please recant the error of your ways. You are throwing away so much flavour.

I don’t want to stipulate ingredients too specifically, but you will need lobster shells (prawn shells will do equally well, provided you have enough of them), shallots or onions, something substantive and fishy (I used a couple of small and  inexpensive packs of those little shrimps which have relatively little flavour served on their own), a chilli, a fresh lime, a piece of lemongrass and a bit of ginger, some tomato purée, oyster sauce and nam pla (fish sauce). To make it better, have some fresh coriander, some spring onions and possibly a few better quality large prawns. I had only the coriander. It may sound a long list, but most of these are store cupboard ingredients.

Firstly, make the stock. Chop an onion or a couple of shallots and soften gently in a little oil. Add a squeeze of tomato purée and stir in for a minute or two. Add the lobster shells (making sure you’ve removed any of the sacs which are at the head end) and break into smaller pieces. The end of a rolling pin is quite useful. Pour in about 750 ml of water. Add half of one packet of the shrimps.  Bring to the boil then simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain, reserving the stock.

For the soup you have to decide whether you will be sieving the end product or not. If not, you need to chop things very finely. You will be discarding the lemongrass, so keep that in two or three chunks. Soften a couple of finely chopped shallots along with a couple of crushed garlic cloves and a finely chopped chilli. Bruise the lemongrass and add to the pan along with some grated ginger. Pour in the stock, along with the rest of the prawns and some finely chopped coriander. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Add a couple of tablespoons each of oyster sauce and fish sauce. Squeeze in the juice of one lime, and check the seasoning. As with most Asian food it’s about balancing the salty, sour and spicy flavours. (No sweet element in this as such, but if you add more shellfish it adds an element of sweetness.)

To be refined, strain once again. Options include cooking a few thinly sliced prawns in the broth and topping with any or all of very finely chopped spring onions (green parts only), red chillies and finely chopped coriander.



Tomato CT Book.jpg

Has the man gone mad, I hear you say? This column is based on seasonal ingredients, you continue. It’s hard enough to get decent tomatoes in Scotland at any time, never mind in late November. Well, to quote the doyen of restaurant reviewers, the late Michael Winner, I reply, calm down dear. This is indeed seasonal, since I bring you news of this year’s must have stocking filler, Tomato. This is the latest of Christopher Trotter’s invaluable little vegetable cookery books, and I commend it to you. (Oh, here we go. The rumblings from the Pedants’ Association are audible. Skip the next paragraph if you want to avoid this week’s useless information.)

It’s a fruit, they cry, being a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant. In response, I give you the authority of the US Supreme Court in the celebrated 1893 case of Nix v. Hedden, which declared an imported tomato to be a vegetable. The court acknowledged that a tomato is a botanical fruit, but went with what they called the “ordinary” definitions of fruit and vegetable — the ones used in the kitchen. And this is a kitchen column, so ya boo socks, as one of my daughters used to say.

Ask any veg growers and they will admit to the problems of the seasonal gluts. As many of their friends are also green fingered, it can be difficult to know what to do with a bumper crop. This is where Christopher’s books are so invaluable. Our next door neighbours were particularly grateful for his Courgette volume. Tomatoes are among the most common of the home grown fruit/veg, so he should be on to a winner here. I’ve included a couple of recipes. We can get cherry tomatoes most of the time, so the tart Tatin can be made now. In his recipe for the wonderful Tomato Sauce with Ginger and Cardamom, Christopher doesn’t specify the type of tomato. Whisper it, but I used tinned plum tomatoes.

As you will know, tart(e) Tatin is normally made with caramelised apples. It was probably created by the Tatin sisters, who ran a hotel in Lamotte-Beuvron, south of Orléans in France. Legend has it that one sister left apples in the pan for far too long. To try to redeem matters, she added pastry on top and served an upside down tart which her customers loved. The principle is the same in this recipe, olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar taking the place of the caramel. I prefer to use a frying pan to a tin, but do be very careful when tipping it out – the possibility of self harm is not inconsiderable. This will fit a 20cm frying pan or tin. Note: while the ingredients and basic recipes are Christopher’s, the more flippant comments may well be mine.

Cherry Tomato Tart Tatin


200g puff pastry (ready bought is fine); 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil; 500g cherry tomatoes, stalks removed; 8 tbsp balsamic vinegar; salt and freshly ground black pepper.


Preheat the oven to 220˚C/Mark 7. Roll out the pastry into a disc large enough to cover the tin/frying pan. In a small pan heat the balsamic vinegar to reduce by half. Pour the oil into the tin or frying pan and swirl round to coat the base. Arrange the tomatoes neatly in the tin/pan, stalk sides facing up. They should fit tightly together. Pour over the reduced balsamic and season with salt and pepper. Put the pastry on top, pushing the edges down gently into the tin/pan. Bake for about 15 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and puffed. Remove, and allow to cool slightly. (This is important. It will allow the pastry to shrink back a little and make it much easier to remove the tart from the tin.) Run a knife around the side to loosen the pastry. Place a plate over the top (large enough to cover, doh!) and turn it over. You have to be brave and do it in one movement, otherwise disaster awaits. Christopher advises doing this over the sink. Another top tip of his – if you lose some of the sauce, just reduce a bit more vinegar and pour over.

This next sauce recipe is delicious. Green cardamom is a much underrated spice. To get the seeds, just lightly crush a pod and remove them from the centre. Christopher’s go-to top quality oil comes from Gift of Oil –  My personal favourite is Orodeal His reference to the garlic being crushed with salt is a professional way of doing it. Chop your cloves roughly, add some salt on top, then using a heavy knife held almost flat to the board, start crushing rhythmically till you have a garlic paste. Like many cheffy skills, it looks simple when they do it, but it’s not as easy as it looks. I’m sure he’ll forgive you if you prefer a garlic press.

Tomato and Ginger Sauce with Cardamom


1 onion, peeled and finely chopped; 3 cm chunk root ginger, grated; 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with salt (see above); 3 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil; ¼ tsp ground turmeric; pinch cayenne pepper (why ¼ tsp of one and a pinch of another, I have no idea); ¼ tsp ground cloves; ½ tsp ground cardamom or 5 cardamom seeds; 10 tomatoes, blanched, skinned and chopped; 1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped; sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.


In a large pan, soften the onion, ginger and garlic in the olive oil over a gentle heat. Stir in the spices and chopped tomatoes and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Stir in the coriander and check the seasoning. Goes well with fish or leafy greens.

Christopher Trotter is Fife’s Food Ambassador. In addition to his writing and media work he runs cooking classes and workshops of all sizes and to all specifications.

For more information see his website at

His latest book Tomato is now available, price £6.95.

To acquire this or any of Christopher’s other veg books contact him online at or by phone at 07739 049 639

Order now in time for Christmas.




Whether I like it or not, I have growing connections with Liverpool. TN, the youngest, has been down there for a while fast becoming a world expert on suds (or do I mean bubbles?). I am a regular visitor. Added to my circle are her young man, HC, his parents and their production unit – the wonderful world of Jan’s Jams – Twitter correspondence with the splendid Paul Askew of The Art School restaurant. I begin to feel like a native.

T’was not always thus. I first visited about 40 years ago, and was seriously underwhelmed. If you haven’t been there in a while, now is the time to renew acquaintance. A burgeoning, fun city, lovely people and a fantastic casual dining scene. But I digress, not for the first time. This is Tom Cooks!, not Tom Eats!

Have you ever asked yourself why Liverpudlians are known as Scousers? Well, it comes from a predilection for today’s dish, lobscouse, now often known simply as scouse. It’s a fairly simple meat and potato stew, and the origins are probably more interesting than the dish. It was brought to Liverpool by sailors, almost certainly from northern Germany, where they have a dish called Labskaus. In that part of Europe it is now closer to what we would call a hash, made with either salt or corned beef, and served with, or incorporating, pickled beetroot. On board ship it was probably thickened with ship’s biscuits (weevils and all, for added protein). It is originally a cheap dish, but you can’t really say that about any meat based plate these days. I like to use round steak*, but you can use any type of stewing meat – just adjust your cooking time. (*This seems to be a term used by butchers in Scotland or South America. It’s meat from the rear leg, and is much the same as topside or silverside). The important thing is to be guided by when the meat is cooked. The finished article is intended to be thick. Of the various recipes I have, I like the ones where the potatoes are added at two stages. The first batch will cook down to nothing, while the second will retain their shape. Don’t worry too much about quantities. The simplicity of today’s recipe appeals, but others which I have seen include leeks or barley. All fine. I do note that a version from The Hairy Bikers includes garlic. Sorry, boys, that just seems wrong.

Ingredients (serves about 6)

1.5kg stewing steak, diced (about 2cm); 2 medium onions, diced; 2- 3 medium carrots, diced; half of a medium turnip (swede) diced; 3 – 4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (about 2 cm); 1.5 litres beef stock; 2 bay leaves; 1 sprig of fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried; oil, lard or dripping for browning; salt and pepper.


Brown the meat in batches and set to one side. In the same pan, soften the onions and carrots for a couple of minutes. Return the meat to the pan with the turnip, half the potatoes, the bay leaves and the thyme, and pour in the stock. Season lightly (see my comments below on seasoning). Bring to a simmer then cook for about an hour and a half, either on a very slow hob, or in the oven preheated to 150˚C/Mark 2. Stir occasionally. Add the remainder of the potatoes and cook until the meat is tender (about another hour). If your stew is too liquid, strain the stock into another pan and reduce to the desired volume. Check the seasoning. This is traditionally served with pickled beetroot, red cabbage, crusty bread and butter, or all of the above.

Seasoning – I like to add some at the beginning and some at the end. If, however, you are using stock cubes or stock pots, remember that these are quite salty, especially if you reduce the liquid. As my late mammy taught me, you can always add…


Gordon Craig Pheasant Recipe

I confess, dear reader, I was doing a little head scratching on what to delight you with this weekend. Then, with a zap and a ping, Scott and Julia, the PR gurus, came to the rescue. Not just a minor, chuck you a lifebelt six feet away, rescue. Nay, a recipe of full blown loveliness from one of Edinburgh’s finest, Gordon Craig, of Taisteal fame. Taisteal scored 23/25 in Tom Eats! review of 2017, coming second only to Heston’s Fat Duck. I’ve reproduced the review in this week’s Tom Eats! just below this week’s featured restaurant, The Little Chartroom.

Thanks to Scott, Julia and, of course to Gordon. If you haven’t yet visited Taisteal you have a treat in store. For details see below.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 large pheasant breasts; 10 parsnips (Gordon doesn’t specify size – for four people he must be using small ones); 50ml milk; 50ml cream; 1 onion; 2 tbsp madras curry powder; 16 slices of pancetta; 100g brambles (blackberries); s & p.


Cut 6 of the parsnips into thin slices and boil till very soft. Slice up the onion, put in to a hot pan with some vegetable oil. Cook till soft, add the curry powder and cook out till dry. Heat up the milk and cream, place the cooked parsnips and onion mix into food processor with the milk and cream. Blend till smooth. Season to taste with s & p.

Take the other four parsnips and cut into matchsticks.  Boil for one minute and then refresh in cold water.

Wrap the pheasant in pancetta.  Place in a pan and cook until the pancetta is crispy. Turn the pheasant and then place in an oven at 150˚C/Mark 5 to 10 min. While it is cooking, heat up the puree and add the chopped parsnips.

To finish place the curried parsnips on the plate, place the pheasant on top, put the brambles/blackberries round the plate. Serve.


1 – 3 Raeburn Place, Stockbridge, Edinburgh EH4 1HU

0131 332 9977

Meg Johnston’s Scotch Broth

Scotch Broth Title page Mum in kitchen

Winter is now officially here. You can tell, because the shops have run out of de-icer just before you. And winter, more than any other season, calls for hearty soup. I have it on excellent authority (I heard one of the Hairy Bikers say it on the telly the other day) that we Scots make more soup than any other country in Europe. And what is our most famous soup? Well, it has to be the one we named after ourselves. I was going to say that it’s difficult to get a good Scotch Broth these days, but then it always was. One of its finest exponents was my late Ma, Meg. When I went to Uni in the early 1970s, she wrote me a cook book. While much was tongue in cheek, it contained a great deal of culinary wisdom. I repeat her recipe almost verbatim, the only changes being (a) conversion from Imperial to metric measure, and (b) giving a list of ingredients. Her own writing style was more Elizabeth David-esque in this regard. I’ve also added some footnotes.


A very large pot;[1] 2 litres water; a very large piece of runner beef;[2] a not so large marrow bone; 30 – 45g barley, soaked in treble the quantity of water for at least a few hours – overnight does no harm; 45 – 60g dried peas, soaked (separately from the barley); 120g carrots, neatly diced; 120g turnip (that’s swede to the non-Scots – though I gather Geordies also get it right), neatly diced; 120g onions, neatly diced; 2 large leeks, split and finely sliced crossways, green and white parts separated; approx 60g dried mixed vegetables[3]; 1 chicken stock cube or pot; a little dried parsley[4] salt and pepper.


This can only be tackled with the aid of the kitchen scales, otherwise, as it cooks, you will find that the barley and dried peas you threw in so abundantly have taken over and there will be no room in the pot for the vegetables. This soup, therefore, is no challenge[5]– you have to go against nature and be METHODICAL. Boil together the beef and the bone.[6]Skim the liquid, then add the barley and the peas (drained and rinsed) and cook for 20 – 30 minutes. Fish a pea from the pot from time to time and test for softness (or hardness, since you’re an argumentative hair-splitting fella). With restraint – how I hate this soup – you can now add the carrots and the turnip and the onions, neatly diced. Emphasis on neatly, lad, this soup reveals all when dished up. Wipe the tears away[7]and add the carrot, turnip and onion when the peas are al dente but not quite – ma’s logic I think you can follow? Simmer until vegetable are tender.

Meanwhile back at the sink prepare 2 large leeks. Discard rough outer leaves, split up the middle (another sair thing) and wash very thoroughly so that Mother Earth doesn’t reach yer actual Scotch Broth. Taste, season then, v important, add the diced white of the leek – having of course kept white and green bits apart.

You will by now have made a pot of very dreary soup, so now for the Johnston abandon – throw in the dried veg, unreconstituted, a chicken stock cube or pot, and a little dried parsley. Simmer the green diced leek for a couple of minutes in a little water in a separate pan, then add to the broth. Taste again and check the seasoning.


I’m grateful to the estimable Robert Corrigan, who read a draft of this. He pointed out that we are left in the dark as to what became of the beef. It would be normal to remove the beef and set aside for the main course. 


[1] The sharp eyed among you will have noted that this is not technically an ingredient, but I have to put it in somewhere without deviating from her text

[2] This is variously known as thick rib or leg of mutton cut. It’s from the shoulder, above the brisket and below the chuck and blade, if that helps. Your butcher will know what you mean (or should). She doesn’t specify size. I would guess 400 – 500g

[3] Be careful here. She used a brand called SWELL, which is now available from health food shops under the name BRAMIK. You can get dried mixed veg from Sainsbury’s or Amazon, produced by Whole Foods. The contents should be carrot, potato, onion, leek, turnip, cabbage and peas. Do NOT use anything which contains peppers, and do NOT confuse this with dried vegetable broth mix. She got the tip from a professional chef, and it does make a difference. Be careful not to use too much as it does swell up alarmingly

[4] Well, be kind to her. It was hard to get fresh parsley in the 1970s unless you grew your own. Certain types of dried herbs can be very useful. In my view, parsley is not one of those. Use fresh – curly, not flat

[5] Oh yes it is

[6] My interpretation of this is to put them in cold water, bring to the boil, then simmer for at least half an hour

[7] She meant from the onion chopping

Hallowe’en Barmbrack

Halloween Barmbrack TGJ

I’m grateful to Michael Greenlaw for alerting me to this rather nice confection and providing a couple of recipes. Michael is also this week’s guest reviewer in the Tom Cooks! column, so more about him there. As many traditions lose sight of their roots, it is interesting to do some research into their background. In the case of Hallowe’en, it can be downright bewildering. The name itself, which means the night before (evening, shortened to e’en in Scotland) All Hallows’ (Saints) Day, is undoubtedly Christian, but the festival itself is likely to be of Celtic origin. It is suggested by some historians that the date marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It is known that there was a Gaelic festival Samhain, and it is likely that the Christian church conveniently annexed it, much as it did with December 25th. November 2nd is the Day of the Dead, but those who write about the famous Mexican fiesta are at pains to stress how different it is from Hallowe’en. Anyway, that’s enough myth and legend.

The celebration of Hallowe’en, once popular throughout Europe, died away, Scotland being one of the main exceptions. It is likely that its traditions were taken across the Irish Sea by the Scots, and it’s hard to think of a nation that’s fonder of a bit of tradition than the Irish. This recipe is a leavened fruit loaf, a cross between a traditional sultana loaf and proper bread. The addition of the various symbolic charms added to the fun. On 31 October the whole family would gather for a cup of tea and a slice of cake, to find out what the future held. My sister tells me that once upon a time we had a similar ritual with a variety of charms in our Christmas pudding. I remember only the sixpence or the silver threepenny: then again, she is VERY much older than I.

Contents may include-

  • A ring – wed within the year
  • A coin – good fortune or riches
  • A rag – bad luck
  • A stick – an unhappy marriage or continual disputes
  • A pea – you won’t marry that year
  • A thimble – you won’t marry
  • A medallion of the Virgin Mary – the priesthood or the nunnery beckons. (Used less often these days)

It seems that the name originated in two parts. Someone (not Michael, I hasten to add) tried to spin me the line that the name was half English and half Irish, barm coming from an old English word beorma, meaning yeasty fermented liquor, and brac,¸the Irish word for speckled. Pull the other one. Discover that the Irish word for loaf is bairin, and draw your own conclusions.


450g plain flour; ½ tsp ground cinnamon; ½ tsp ground nutmeg; 7g dried yeast (1 sachet); 75g butter; 75g caster sugar; 250ml milk; 1 egg, beaten; 150g raisins; 100g currants; 50g mixed peel, chopped;  melted butter for greasing; sugar syrup for glazing (50g caster sugar melted slowly in 50ml water); charms (see above. These days I would advise wrapping in little greaseproof paper parcels).


Warm the milk, and melt the butter in it. Mix the yeast with 1 tbsp of the sugar. Add half of the warmed milk mixture then stir in the beaten egg. Sift the cinnamon, nutmeg and flour into a bowl and mix together. Make a well in the centre and pour in half of the yeast and liquid mixture. Sprinkle a little flour over the liquid and leave it in a warm place for 20 minutes until the yeast froths up. Add the remainder of the liquid a bit at a time and mix into a dough. It will be fairly sticky. Turn it out onto a floured board, sprinkle with the sugar, raisins, currants and chopped peel and knead them into the dough. Put the dough into a butter-greased large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.

Knock it back again, knead for a few minutes incorporating the charms and then shape into your greased bread tin. Brush the top with melted butter and cover until doubled in size again.

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 40 minutes at 200°C /Mark 6 until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. (If your oven is a very hot one, as mine is, you may want the temperature down a notch, and the cooking time up a little.)

To glaze, brush with the sugar syrup when it comes out of the oven and is still hot. As with any loaf, resist the temptation to eat while still warm – remember the cooling time is part of the cooking process.

Assemble your entire family and find out what the year ahead holds.

Braised Kale

with Crispy Bacon and Poached Eggs

Kale crispy bacon and eggs

Some people report occasional sightings of aliens. My equivalent is finding unexplained foodstuffs in my fridge. Now that I do 95% of the cooking and food shopping in Casa Johnston, I fear that the trouble and strife is feeling deprived, and makes unannounced visits to food purveyors. From time to time strange and wonderful things appear. It’s quite fun and adds to the challenges of daily life.  Thus it was that I discovered a bag of kale in the veg drawer.

Traditional kale – when we use the term in Scotland we’re usually referring to curly kale – has not had the best of press over the years. Thing of kailyard as a pejorative name for a cosy type of Scottish fiction, or cauld kail het again, as a put down for some oft repeated and hackneyed view. Further afield kale is known as collard greens, traditionally a staple for poor black folk from the southern states of the USA, much as it was for us Scots not that long ago.

I had few recollections of eating the stuff. For most of my lifetime it has had the reputation of being fit only for animal feed (as many French people would consider sweetcorn). This, however, has changed in the last few years, as it  joined the ranks of the superfood. With good reason, it must be said. More iron than beef, more calcium than milk.

All well and good, but I had no idea how to cook it properly. Not a problem, as my cookery library contains Christopher Trotter’s invaluable little book, Kale, the third in his vegetable series. As with most green veg, if you simply boil it you’ll end up with something pretty bland. I commend to you that which he gives as his “basic recipe”, which I follow  below.

A few additional thoughts. If you buy your kale in a supermarket, it is likely to come in 200g bags. That’s enough for supper for two, or for four portions as a side veg. It is also likely to be ready shredded. If buying a bunch of kale I would advise removing the coarse stalks and using them for soup. Secondly, Christopher suggests mixing chopped bacon when frying the kale. That would be good too, but by using very crispy streaky bacon I got an additional texture. This is a fine dish for a midweek supper. You could use spinach instead – but then it wouldn’t be a kale recipe, would it?

Braised Kale with Crispy Bacon and Poached Eggs (serves 2)

200g curly kale, quite finely shredded, coarsest stalks removed; 8 slices good quality streaky bacon; 4 eggs (for successful poached eggs you really need them to be quite fresh); 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped; 2 tbsp good oil, either olive or rapeseed; salt and pepper.


Boil the kale in salted water for three minutes. Drain and squeeze out as much extra moisture as possible. You can cook the kale in advance, in which case refresh it in iced water and set aside till needed. Grill the bacon until crispy. While the bacon is cooking, poach the eggs. They will take about three minutes. In a frying pan or wok over a medium ring, heat the oil and cook the garlic for a minute or two, being careful not to burn it. Add the kale and stir for a minute or two until it is warmed through. Season to taste (remembering you will be adding salty bacon). Plate the kale, arrange the bacon on it, and top with the poached eggs.

PS.  Neither L nor I  was responsible for the horribly overcooked egg in the photo.

Christopher Trotter is Fife’s Food Ambassador. In addition to his writing and media work he runs cooking classes and workshops of all sizes and to all specifications.For more information see his website at

His latest book  Tomato will be available from the end of this month, price £6.95. To acquire this or any of Christopher’s other veg books contact him online at or by phone at 07739 049 639

Order now in time for Christmas.


Chakalaka beans

Apologies in advance to any South Africans who have just opened this. For me to be giving you my recipe for this quintessential South African dish is akin to a Botswanan telling me how to make stovies (or indeed to me telling Nonna Marisa how to make her minestrone). Last month I had the briefest of overnight stops in Johannesburg en route to Botswana. Reading the menu in a very pleasant, but undeniably international, hotel at the airport, I was tempted to try what was described as South African Benedict. It still had muffins, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce, but instead of ham, the egg was perched atop a great coil of very good boerewors sausage, which in turn was on a bed of chakalaka beans. A traditional dish, I was told, and very tasty they were too. I did suspect, however, that I was eating a sanitised version, and I made some more enquiry of the cooks and guides at our first camp.

Oh yes, beans with cabbage, said one. Spicy beans to blow your head off, smiled another. Another description I have read is, curried ratatouille with beans. Whom to believe? I believe the dish may have developed in the townships. Soweto is often mentioned. It probably started as a means of jazzing up tinned baked beans. Among the many recipes I have read, some are very quick, some (especially if you use cabbage, and beans which aren’t pre-baked) involve a longer cook. Perhaps the most honest recipe I have read is the one which states that it is useful to get rid of all the leftover vegetables in your fridge.

This is one version-


1 onion, finely chopped; 1 red and 1 yellow pepper, finely chopped (or 2 red);  carrots, peeled and finely grated; 1 chilli, (Scotch bonnet for authentic, mild red if you prefer), deseeded and finely chopped; 2 cloves of garlic, crushed; thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped; 1 tbsp medium curry powder; 1 tsp cayenne pepper; 2 tsp sugar; 1 440g tin of tomatoes; 1 400g tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed; salt and pepper; 3 tbsp vegetable oil.


Soften the onion, peppers, chilli, garlic and ginger in the oil (about five minutes or so). Add the curry powder and cook for a further minute. Add the carrots and stir in for a minute or two, then stir in the tomatoes sugar, pepper and salt. Cook for another 10 minutes before adding the beans. This will need at least another 5 minutes. Adjust the sugar and salt levels to taste. Chakalaka should not be runny. If necessary, increase the heat to reduce any surplus liquid.

These days chakalaka is a regular side dish at a braai (barbecue).  Traditionally it was served with pap, maize meal slow cooked (about 45 minutes) cooked with an equivalent quantity of salted water, and finished with a knob of butter. Totally tasteless, best avoided, but included to broaden your culinary education.



Perfect Dinner Guest

Flicking through one of the glossy food magazines to which I subscribe, I note that in next month’s issue Mary Berry, no less, will be writing on what makes a perfect dinner guest. Let me try to pre-empt her. With the exception of a few notable households, I much prefer to be host than guest, and these musings are skewed according to the guests I prefer to receive, rather than the type of guest I am.

Etiquette expert William Hanson is clear that going for dinner empty handed is unacceptable. Interestingly, he advises against bringing wine (although he makes an exception for champagne). I and my circle disagree. By all means adapt your offering to what is anticipated: some gargling red is perfectly fine if you know you’re only getting a bowl of pasta. If you do arrive with wine (heartily advised at Casa Johnston), don’t bring that bottle you’ve been desperate to get rid of for the last four years. A little dust on a fine claret may be there for good reason, but never on anything by Ernest & Julio Gallo. Incidentally, some who favour a gift of wine would advise against a really good bottle, unless you are likely to be served the equivalent. Now, I’ll never turn away a classic vintage, but there is a perceived risk of implying that your host’s taste in wine is inferior to yours. I’m not going to get into the debate about flowers, pot plants etc – all perfectly acceptable in our book, but I’ll stick to my specialist subject, food. Anything homemade is a nice touch, especially if attractively wrapped. (I’m glad to learn that Mr Hanson is with me on this one.) Bread, jams, chutneys, all great. If I could make biscuits or sweets I would take them too. What about bought sweets? My advice would be something unusual. A few well-chosen bon bons from an artisan chocolatier are infinitely preferable to a box of Milk Tray, or to the rubbish the ambassador allegedly serves at his receptions. If you did win your gift in a raffle, check the sell-by date, and remember to remove the ticket. And do beware of recycling. I have a recollection of an unwanted box of crystallised fruit which my parents took as a gift to some distant acquaintances. Some years later I received the self-same box as a flat-warming present. As in normal life, your sins may well find you out.

Do turn up on time, but don’t be early. After a day slaving over a hot stove creating a routine masterpiece, I am desperate for a well earned drink come 7 o’clock. The current Mrs J, however, forbids the popping of fizz before guests arrive (though even her resolve has been known to waver come 7.20). And as for the latter evil of early arriving, unless you want to see me in my dressing gown just out of the shower, a premature ping of the bell is a no-no. The aforementioned sight would probably cause you to lose your appetite, and serve you right too. If the traffic is light, and you are at the venue ahead of time, phone to check whether it’s OK to arrive early, or whether you need to drive round the block for a bit or go to the pub.

Do tell your hostess if there is anything you can’t eat or, indeed, of anything you simply dislike. It’s not nice to see a lovingly created dish pushed about a plate and left untouched. As host, I always phone or email in advance to ask about this, even to people I’ve fed before. Don’t trust to memory. And if you’re a guest of mine, answer the b****y question accurately. Some years ago, I had prepared a particularly lovely carnivorous feast, having made my customary enquiry. Aperitifs consumed, everyone was called to table. Then and only then did a chum murmur, “did I mention that X is vegetarian?” No, you didn’t. They didn’t score highly in that year’s Good Guest Guide. Fortunately, X did eat fish, and we had a bag of prawns in the freezer. A lightning stir fry ensued, followed by an audition for Ready, Steady, Cook.

Do try everything, unless you have very good reason not to. In a restaurant I seldom eat dessert; however, it’s simple good manners to the cook to sample everything she dishes up. I have to slap myself every now and again as a reminder. Do not announce that you’re on a diet. Asking for a small portion is acceptable: pointedly refusing food is just plain rude. If you don’t want to eat dinner, decline the invitation.

Don’t insist on helping with the washing up. We’ve invited you for good company, sparkling wit and repartee, not to admire your skill with a scrubber or to see if you look good wearing a pair of marigolds. And finally, do remember to praise the cooking loudly, fulsomely and repeatedly – at least, that is, if you’re dining at my table.

Bonus Recipe for those who will feel cheated without one.

You may recall I had a series of articles on what to do with leftovers, soft cheese being one food which causes me problems. After a lunch at the weekend I was proud owner of half a Camembert. Coincidentally I had been reading an article about raclette (the Swiss dish made from the French cheese of the same name). It gave me the idea for a simple supper dish, which worked out quite well.

Tom’s Fake Raclette with Camembert

Ingredients (As a light supper, serves 2 sensible people or 1 greedy b******.)

1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (pieces about 1 cm square); 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes; half a Camembert, cut into small pieces; 1 tsp thyme leaves, either fresh or dried; salt and black pepper.


Parboil the potatoes in salted water until tender (about 5 – 6 minutes). Soften the onion in a little oil. You want it still to have a bit of bite. Drain the potatoes and mix with the onions. Reduce heat to a minimum. Cut the cheese into small pieces, sprinkle on top and allow the heat of the mixture to melt it. When the cheese is soft, season with the thyme and a lot of black pepper. As the cheese is quite salty, you probably won’t need more salt, but that’s up to you. Serve immediately.

Risotto Milanese alla Nonna Marisa

Risotto Milanese

Well, summer is now officially over. This means a variety of things, not least the weekly arrivals of E, my longsuffering Italian teacher. To my neighbours, a protestation of innocence. The arrival of, and fond embrace with, a very good looking lady, just a few minutes after my wife leaves for her Pilates class is NOT what you might think. Incidentally, I pay her tuition fees by cheque, a term at a time. I suggested that her idea of my paying cash as she left the premises might well be misconstrued.

While the radical E and I both shake our heads at the conservatism of la cucina italiana (they make the French look progressive for God’s sake), her mother, Marisa, is very strict about the risotto from her home town. For those of you who don’t know, a risotto is the Supreme Ruler of rice dishes. The rice must be cooked, but still have just a little bite. Make sure your (very lucky) diners are at the table and serve immediately

Needless to say, an Italian recipe which claimed to be from someone’s mama would be derided these days. As Marisa is indeed a Nonna, I can justify the recipe title. It’s certainly different to the one I’m used to in certain ways. I’ve highlighted some of the differences in italics. The stock astonishes me. I like the addition of the bone marrow, as it will just melt. I love the use of the heel of the Parmesan. I use mine for minestrone, for an extra umami kick. I had never thought of adding it to a risotto, but it makes perfect sense. My recipe would include white pepper as seasoning, but NM’s version has none. I am told that on occasion she might start to sweat her onion/shallot in a combination of butter and oil. As there is no significant heat involved, I (like her daughter) am dismissing this as heresy.

Ingredients (serves 4)

320g risotto rice (choosing the correct rice is very important. The best known ones are Arborio or Carnaroli); 1 litre good beef stock (here is the first surprise. I have always used chicken stock, and have never seen anything else in a recipe (other than for veggies, obviously). But I am told firmly that the Milanese never use brodo al pollo); 16 stems of  saffron, soaked for at least two hours, preferably overnight; ½  onion, very finely diced (whisper it, but I prefer shallots); 100 ml dry white wine; 30g beef marrow; 60g butter (I have a sneaky suspicion that Nonna Marisa uses more); 50 – 80 g grated Parmesan (ditto); 1 Parmesan rind (optional); salt.


Soak the saffron in about a finger of hot water for at least two hours, preferably overnight. In Italy you can buy sachets of powdered saffron, but I have never seen them in the UK. Heat the stock. Sweat the onion or shallot together with the bone marrow in half of butter until the veg are soft. Add the rice. Stir for a minute or two until it turns translucent. For the chemists among you, this is to break down the starch a little and make it more absorbent. Add the wine and cook over a high heat to burn off the alcohol. Add some salt at this stage. Add just enough stock to cover the rice. If using, add the parmesan rind at this stage. Simmer gently, adding the stock a ladle at a time as required. Stir regularly, but gently. You don’t want the rice to turn to mush. Wait until the liquid is nearly all absorbed before adding more. After about 10 minutes add the saffron liquid, strained of the stems. When the rice is nearly al dente remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese and the rest of the butter. Cover and leave to rest for a minute or two, before serving on warm plates. Real gluttons like me will shave some extra Parmesan over the top.

Stupendissimo! Grazie, Marisa.

Tom Cooks! will return in October


Grouse Roast grouse

If anyone out there can point me in the direction of a decent game cookery book, please contact me soonest. While I pride myself as being an amateur cook at a slightly above average level, I have made more mistakes with game than with just about anything else. This started decades ago when I was almost certainly responsible for tipping a good friend over the edge into the abyss of vegetarianism. (Actually, the word abyss very unfair. Veggies are OK: it’s vegans who have fallen to the ultimate depths.) Having been donated a brace of a brace of pheasants, my chum Michael and I were banished outside into a freezing new year morning to attend to the said quartet. M was reading the book and I was following the instructions. About three hours later we had four oven ready birds. They may have shown no signs of rigor mortis, but we sure as heck did. I then cooked them as per the book. Even I recoiled at the near raw and bloody mess which I attempted to carve. Poor Marianna ran from the room silently screaming and foreswore meat from that day forth.

From that time on I have cooked many a pheasant and, I’m ashamed to say, overdone most of them. But one lives and learns, in much the same way that one learns that game is not the preserve of the rich. Two plump grouse set me back 12 quid at Bowers of Stockbridge on Saturday. Now I know that you country types who can pick them up from your local keeper for 50p a throw will snigger. But if you are being dainty, one grouse will serve two. Compare the price of that for any other delicious fat free protein. (No, tofu does not count.). But not a bargain if you ruin it in the kitchen, hence today’s column, commendably seasonal,  just three weeks after the Glorious Twelfth.

Before we look at the fairly simple cooking process, let’s look at the traditional accompaniments – bread sauce and game chips. Bread sauce – boring. Game chips – tattie crisps by another name – are quite hard to make. Messrs Walker do them better. OK, now we’ve looked those and rejected them, how are we going to serve ours? Although we’re still in summer, even if the weather has decided otherwise, game for me says autumn. Chefs everywhere are shouting about the arrival of ceps. So, mushrooms for sure, even if you can’t get ceps. Alternatives are the shitake or oyster varieties, but there’s nothing wrong with a plain old white.  Sauté in butter and add a little garlic if you like.

Bread sauce having been rejected, what will take its place? You do need something to moisten the plate, so why not look to the bird itself? There is no eating worthy of the name on a grouse leg, so remove them and make a good gravy. Brown your legs in a pan in a little oil. Throw in onion, carrot and stick of celery, coarsely chopped, and brown them too. Cover with water, add a bay leaf and a slug of red wine (about 75ml) and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain the liquid into another pan. You may want to thicken with a teaspoon of cornflour (mix the cornflour and a little of the liquid in a small container, stir until smooth and stir back in). Stir in a teaspoon or two of redcurrant jelly and reduce to the desired consistency.

Game and fruit go well, but don’t overdo it. With grouse I like two or three brambles on the plate. Just warm them slightly in the gravy before plating. They also add much needed colour, which is why red cabbage is a popular accompaniment. I served mine with a simple carrot and mint puree. Boil the carrots in a pan with a stem of mint leaves. When the carrots are soft discard the mint. Add a good knob of butter and some finely chopped mint. Blitz to a smooth puree. And tatties? Of course, however you fancy. I was fortunate enough to have been gifted a boiling of freshly dug Pink Fir Apple potatoes from a man who had bashed into my car. (Alternative Dispute Resolution is alive and well in Murrayfield). Wonderful.

And finally, to the grouse. Preheat the oven to 200˚C/Mark 6. Season well and brown them all over in a frying pan which will go in the oven. Put a knob of butter in the cavity of each bird and roast, 10 minutes for rare, 15 for medium. Allow to rest for a good ten minutes (put them on a warm plate and cover with foil). And enjoy. If you haven’t tried grouse before, you’ll see what the fuss is all about.

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang

Some of you have been kind enough to comment that you do occasionally learn something new from these columns, aside from the recipes. On (very rare) occasions these pieces of information may be not entirely useless. Perhaps, like me, you were confused to learn that Eid was being celebrated this week. Shome mistake, I said. Ramadan this year ended in June.

Which just goes to show how little I know (as further evidenced in this week’s Tom Eats! column). The Eid which celebrates the end of Ramadan is Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Adha, on the other hand, is the Feast of Sacrifice, which took place over four days in the past week. It is held to celebrate the end of the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. It is based on the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Isma’il (Isaac) to God’s command. God/Allah gave Abraham/Ibrahim a lamb to be sacrificed instead. I looked up some typical foods eaten during the festival. Because the vast majority of Muslims in the UK will trace their roots to the Indian sub-continent, many of these are “Indian” dishes which we know well. I decided instead to head east to Malaysia, which is predominantly a Muslim country. There they know the festival as Hari Raya Aidiladha. One of the best known Malaysian dishes, and one which will feature in any celebration, is beef rendang.

It’s a labour of love in that it does take time to cook, and does need to be watched to ensure it doesn’t catch. A couple of observations. Some of the ingredients may be less readily available than others, but most can be found in mainstream supermarkets. You can have a certain leeway with some ingredients, but not all. Traditional recipes will call for Kashmiri chillies, but you can substitute other types. Remember that rendang is quite a hot dish. There is the usual eastern combination of hot, salt, sour and sweet. For the latter Malaysians would use palm sugar, but you can get away with caster: on the other hand, don’t omit the tamarind paste. It has a unique flavour. You can buy it in Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. Secondly, I warn you that this dish is counter intuitive. For us Westerners, to have a sauce split on us is not good: with a rendang, however, it’s one of the signs that it’s ready.

Ingredients (serves 6)

For the paste

4 long red chillies, roughly chopped, seeds in or removed according to preference (a traditional recipe would use 4 – 6 dried chillies soaked in water then chopped); 60g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped (or half and half ginger and galangal); 2 large shallots, peeled and roughly chopped; 3 lemongrass stalks (tough outer leaves removed, roughly chopped); 4 garlic cloves.

For the rendang

1 kg braising steak cut into 3 – 4 cm chunks; vegetable oil, anywhere between 2 and 5 tbsp (I have noted that Malaysian versions of this recipe use more oil than western ones. To be authentic, I would use about 4 – 5 tbsp, but this may end up a little greasy for some tastes); 1 lemongrass stalk, cut into two and bruised; 5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed;1 cinnamon stick, broken in two; 2 Kaffir lime leaves, torn; 400ml coconut milk; 200 ml beef stock; 2 tbsp tamarind paste; 1 tsp palm sugar; 60g desiccated coconut (unsweetened); juice of 1 lime; salt and pepper


Blitz all the paste ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Loosen with a little oil if necessary. Heat however much oil you choose to use (see above) in a heavy bottomed pan. Fry the paste over a medium to high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring. It should turn darker and be highly aromatic. Add the cardamom and the cinnamon and cook for another minute. Mix in the beef and the lemongrass, then the coconut milk, tamarind paste, stock and Kaffir lime leaves. Adjust the heat to a simmer – you should never allow anything with coconut milk to boil. Season with salt and the sugar. Cook uncovered until the beef is tender. This will take about 1½ hours. Stir from time to time, ensuring the sauce doesn’t stick. While the beef is cooking toast the coconut. The easiest way to do this is in a dry frying pan until it is a golden brown colour. Allow it to cool then roughly blitz it in a food processor or spice grinder. You don’t want it too fine. Add the coconut to the stew, mix in well and cook for a further 15 minutes or so. You will note the sauce starting to split. Stir in the lime juice and check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as required.

You may recall that a year or so ago I published the recipe for Nasi Lewak, Malaysian coconut rice. Lovely though that is, I would find it too rich with a rendang. Serve with plain rice instead. And in conclusion I give you the seasonal greeting, Eid Mubarak! (Blessed Festival!)

Sole Two Ways


Sole meuniere Sole veronique

This has always been one of my favourite fish; however, in the hashy hands of a Scottish home cook, it is easy to ruin its delicate flavour. Coat your haddock in Ruskoline and fry on Friday if you must, but please accord our sole some respect. Now this is written just a day after the death of Aretha Franklin. The R-E-S-P-E-CT word slipped out by accident – honestly. And there will certainly be no mention of queens of soul. So let’s move swiftly on.

The current Mrs Johnston was in our fish shop the other day (Dougie Murray, Hope Street, Inverkeithing) for some smoked Pittenweem haddock, a staple in our house. Bless her cotton socks, she came back with a beautiful Dover Sole for me, to compensate for the fact that she was going out carousing yet again. There may be more wonderful things than a sole meunière, but not many. It’s also very easy to prepare provided you can get the skin off. At least it’s very easy in theory. Trim the side with scissors. Remove the head if you wish. Cut off the tip of the tail. Make a little flap of skin, large enough to get hold of. Use a cloth. Holding the fish flat with one hand, pull steadily with the other hand and the skin should come away in one. Or get your fishmonger to do it. If French terms confuse you, remember that meunier means miller. The meunière is his wife. What ingredient is she likely to have most of? Yes, flour. So this is simply fish dusted in flour and fried.

Dover Sole Meunière (serves 1)

1 Dover sole, skinned; a couple of tablespoons of seasoned flour, ie mixed with salt and pepper, and spread out in a flat plate; 2 or 3 tbsp olive oil; large knob of butter, about 40g; a lemon.


Dust the fish on both sides in the seasoned butter, shaking off any excess. Assuming your fish is fresh, you won’t need any egg. Heat the butter and oil to a medium temperature and fry the fish for about 3 – 4 minutes each side, depending on the size. Towards the end the butter will be turning brown. Squeezing the juice of half a lemon into the pan will stop that process. (The more macho TV chefs do it in their fingers. I prefer a lemon squeezer which catches the pips.)

Plate the fish. Pour the cooking juices over it. You could stir in a few capers first if you fancied. Garnish with lemon, and parsley if you must.

Sole Veronique

There are many things that you can do with fillets of sole, often referred to as paupiettes. The technique, involving rolling the fillets and baking, is infinitely adaptable. You are much less likely to break the fish.  I’ve included this recipe because it’s a retro classic and I quite like retro. There are two versions of how this dish got its name. The first of these accredits the dish to Escoffier. Well, isn’t everything? The fact that the recipe doesn’t feature in his seminal Ma Cuisine leads me to prefer the second version. Chef Mally of the Ritz in Paris came up with the idea, and instructed one of his sous chefs to make it. The young man learned he had just become a father. Mally decided to name the dish after the new born. Good heart warming stuff, and nothing to do with the bull fighting manoeuvre of the same name.

Ingredients (serves 4)

8 fillets of sole, skinned; 600 ml fish or chicken stock; 85ml dry vermouth; 300 ml double cream; 24 – 30 sweet green grapes, preferably Muscat, halved, either seedless or pips removed; squeeze of lemon juice; butter for greasing the dish; s & p.


Pre heat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. Season the fish on both sides. Roll and place in a shallow, buttered ovenproof dish. Pour over the stock, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the sole from the dish and keep warm while you finish the sauce.

Transfer the cooking liquid to a sauce pan, add the vermouth, then reduce rapidly to about 6 tbsp of liquid. Add the cream and a squeeze of lemon juice. Boil until the sauce will coat the back of a spoon. Add the grapes for a minute or two to warm through, then pour over the fish and serve at once. It is traditional to serve this with little crescent shaped pieces of puff pastry. Who could be a**ed?


Tom Cooks Crab Part 2

Partan Bree

Crab Bisque Brown Crab Thai Crab Broth

For the non Scots among you, partan is our word for crab, and bree  means broth. These days we are all into bisques and Asian bowls. Time to get back to our roots. And also to remembering that this column is written by an amateur, for amateurs. For many of you it will be pretty basic, but I hope you pass it on to your offspring. (Having said that, I caught a little of Gordon Ramsay’s Junior Masterchef USA. The level of the semi finalists, one as young as 8, is truly awesome.)

If you want to get fancy, an upmarket bisque is made in two stages. The first involves roasting shells, flambéeing them with brandy, sautéeing with some veg (onion, celery, fennel), then simmering with water to make a stock. Some recipes will simply involve draining off the liquid. These days, with powerful food processors, some recipes will have you blitzing the whole thing, shells and all, then sieving a couple of times. Stage two involves some more veg, the crab meat, the stock, usually rice for thickening, sherry, cream, parsley. Very good – though a recent recipe I read from a well respected island hotel suggested adding cream sherry. Who in God’s name has that in their store cupboard these days?

The Asian version (above right) will see the original broth featuring lemongrass, ginger and chilli along with the shells. This is strained then further clarified with egg white to give a very clear soup. To that you can add crab meat or fish or prawns, some finely chopped veg, possibly noodles, and a big hit of lime juice. I’ve done something similar with prawn shells and darn fine it is.

But today I am determined to be true to our heritage. Today’s (mercifully simple) recipe for Partan Bree comes from 1909, via Jane Grigson, from The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie. Quantities are converted from Imperial.


1 large crab (300 – 350 g crab meat): 60 g rice; 570ml milk; 500 – 550 ml stock, chicken, or light shellfish or fish; 150 ml double cream; anchovy essence (you could use fish sauce); salt and pepper.


Pick the meat from the crab. Slice the claw meat and set aside for the final assembly. Simmer the rice in the milk until soft. Add the crab meat (not the claw) and liquidise. Add stock to achieve your desired consistency. Season to taste with salt, pepper and anchovy essence/fish sauce. Stir in the cream. Heat to just below boiling point, stir in and warm the crab meat, and serve at once.


Potted crab Brown Crab Crab linguine

A week or so ago I ate lunch at The Light House in Newhaven, the former fishing village now part of north Edinburgh. More details to come in a future edition of Tom Eats! I ate crab followed by sole, and mentioned it on social media. More than one person commented that this was their idea of a perfect summer lunch, and that has become the inspiration for the next few weeks, starting with my favourite crustacean, Cancer pagurus, better known as the brown crab.

Preparing crab is a fiddly job. More than one professional chef has told me that it’s their least favourite task. This is especially so at the high end of the market, where unforgiving diners may throw a tantrum at a hint of shell. (Don’t you just wish some people would grow up?) In one kitchen the meat is checked three times, by two different chefs, then viewed under ultra violet light. I have seen articles recommending you drop the white meat on to a metal tray to detect offending particles via a tinkle. This column just recommends a little care when eating.

As ever with crustacea, freshness is king, and there is no substitute for prepping the crab yourself. Space doesn’t permit going into detail here, but there are some good videos on YouTube. See, for example  There are many and varied crab recipes, of varying degrees of complexity. Next week I’ll look at something more sophisticated. This time I offer two very easy recipes, one using brown meat, the other only white.

Easy Spiced Potted Brown Crab

Potting is an established way of serving many types of seafood. Typically it involves mace or nutmeg and a topping of clarified butter. If you’re using only brown meat, you don’t need the butter, and as it has a deeper flavour, you don’t need additional spicing. Chilli and crab, however, are made for each other. If you lack the knife skills to chop your chilli very, very finely, use Tabasco instead.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter)

300 – 400g brown crab meat; 1 red chilli, very, very finely diced (or Tabasco); lemon juice to taste; black pepper.


Mix the crab meat and chilli or Tabasco together well. Season with lemon juice and pepper to your taste. Put into individual ramekins and chill for a few hours. Remove from the fridge at least 15 minutes before service. Serve with hot toast.

Crab, Chilli and Lime Linguine

I have no idea why, whenever crab is included in a pasta dish, it is invariably linguine which is specified. Use spaghetti if you prefer. So far as quantities of pasta are concerned, for a starter portion allow about 50g of dried pasta per person, or 80+g for a main course. If the crab has been in the fridge, remove it a good half hour before using.


Linguine or spaghetti (see above for quantities); 400g white crabmeat; 4 red chillies*,  very finely chopped; 4 garlic cloves, crushed; 2 tbsp good quality olive oil; 50g butter; black pepper; chopped flat leaf parsley (optional); 2 limes. (Top tip. To get the maximum amount of juice from a lime, put it in a microwave at full power for about 35 seconds.)


Cook the pasta and drain it, but reserve about 100ml of the cooking water. This is very typically Italian, using a little of the highly salted water either to loosen up the sauce, or to make an emulsion, as here. Remember that Italians will always add the pasta to the sauce, never the other way around. Soften the chill and garlic in the butter an oil, taking care not to burn the garlic. *This is a lot of chilli. Use less if you wish, but remember that pasta needs a lot of seasoning. Add the reserved pasta water and simmer to form an emulsion. Add the linguine and the crab, stirring gently until the crab is warmed through. Season with pepper and squeeze over lime juice. Scatter with parsley if using.

In Italy they use a lot more chilli than you might think. Things tend to be toned down in so called Italian restaurants in this country.




 Foie gras  Tournedos Rossini

Now if you disapprove of foie gras, just don’t bother to read on, and don’t write to complain. Foie gras (literally fat liver) is the liver of a goose (or duck) which has been fattened up by being force fed. Now unlike most of you, I have seen this being done, decades ago on a farm in the Périgord area of France. While I’m sure it wasn’t the most comfortable of processes, the beast ran off afterwards, not apparently harmed in any way. I do have a horrible feeling that it will be much more mechanised now, but I’m clinging to my memories of the good old days.

Anyway, we ate a bit of it during a recent trip to Bordeaux and were reminded of its truly amazing flavour. I will never forget the first time I sampled foie gras. It was in France in the company of some French relatives by marriage from the first time round. Do you remember the famous H E Bateman cartoons, and the scandalised look on the faces when some hapless fool commits a horrible faux pas? I was that hapless fool when I asked politely what I was eating. The Man Who Had Never Eaten Foie Gras. Oh, how they laughed.

So when some French chums come to visit bearing a whole goose liver and expect you to turn it into a tasty treat, remember that the honour of the whole country is at stake. Fear not: here are two ways to do it. And, as a bonus, the recipe for Tournedos Rossini, one of the best known to feature foie gras.

The terrine should be served with toasted brioche and some sort of chutney to cut through the richness. In France one traditionally drinks Sauternes with it.

Terrine de foie gras version 1


1 goose liver (about 600g); 70 ml sweet white wine such as Muscat, Sauternes (some other recipes call for Armagnac, or even port. The latter sounds suspect to me); freshly ground pepper and sea salt.


To prepare the liver, separate into two lobes following the natural line. Remove the veins (they will pull out) and any red spots. Pre heat the oven to 100˚C/ Mark ¼. Sprinkle the lobes with salt and pepper and put into a terrine dish. (This particular recipe specifies a ceramic dish. I don’t know why). Pour over the wine. Cover with foil and put in a bain marie which is filled with boiling water. Cook for 40 minutes in the oven. Remove from the oven, collect and reserve any fat which has formed on the surface. Replace the foil and weigh down the top of the dish (tins of tomatoes or the like work well). Remove the weights after 30 minutes. Refrigerate, still covered, for 24 hours. Melt the reserved fat and pour over the top. Cover again and refrigerate for a further 48 hours.

Terrine de foie gras version 2


1 goose liver; 375 ml (half a bottle) of sweet wine; 60g salt; 30g sugar.


Put the wine, salt and sugar in a pan. Warm gently to dissolve the sugar and allow to cool. Prepare the liver as per the previous recipe and immerse in the liquid, ensuring it is fully covered. Leave for 3½ hours in a cool place. Remove from the brine and pat dry. Put in a terrine dish, cover and weight down. Press overnight in the fridge. Voila!

 While this sounds much simpler, you won’t have the layer of goose fat which is traditional.

Tournedos Rossini

The composer Rossini was a great trencherman, with many dishes named for him. This is one of the most famous. The origin of the word tournedos (turn one’s back) is unclear. One theory is that this dish was so over the top that it was served discreetly behind the backs of the other diners. The following recipe is based on Escoffier’s. I say based, as he would have put meat jelly on the croûtons, and made his Madeira sauce using a reduced demi-glace. To make these would take you about 24 hours, so I’m sparing you. Even without these, this is an artery clogging oeuvre. Astonishingly, Escoffier recommended serving it with noodles mixed with butter and Parmesan cheese. Even more astonishingly, Rossini lived to age 76.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 filets mignon (slices from the centre part of the beef fillet, about 2.5cm thick); 4 slices foie gras; 4 slices of bread, cut to the size of the fillet; butter; 250 ml Madeira; 250 ml chicken stock; 12 slices black truffle (optional); salt and pepper.


To make the croûtons, fry the bread in butter until crisp. Set aside and keep warm. To make the Madeira sauce, boil the Madeira in a small pan until reduced by at least a half. Add the stock and reduce again. Season the steaks and pan fry them as you like them. When the steak is resting, pour the sauce into the frying pan to deglaze and gather the juices. If using, add the truffle. Reduce to a consistency just enough to coat the meat. Season as necessary.  Sear the foie gras slices in a hot pan, turning once or twice.  As the liver is about 90% fat no butter or oil is required. This will require no more than 60 – 90 seconds otherwise the foie gras will melt altogether. To serve, put a crouton on each plate. Place the steak on top, with the foie gras on top of that. Pour over the sauce, making sure the truffle slices are equitably distributed. After all this effort it would be unfortunate were fisticuffs to erupt.



Chocolate mousse Lemon posset

Three criteria, I would suggest. Portable: not too sweet; not too dry. I could distill that down into one word – strawberries: especially this year when they have been so fabulous. But I suspect that you, dear reader, won’t let me off with something as basic as that. Allow me then to compromise. Pack the strawberries with a choice of a couple of things to dip them in. I offer you Lesley Johnston’s Chocolate Mousse or Caroline Trotter’s Lemon Posset. Better still, take both.

Lesley Johnston’s Chocolate Mousse

The quantities given will serve four. It can be easily scaled up. The basic formula to remember is 1 egg per 55g of chocolate. The booze is optional.


225g good dark chocolate; 4 eggs, separated; 2 tbsp brandy or rum (optional).


Melt the chocolate. This is best done gently in a bowl set over a pan of water which is just at simmering point. If you overheat the chocolate you will change its consistency and you’ll have to start again. Let patience be your watchword. Stir with a wooden spoon to remove any lumps. When the chocolate is properly melted (liquid, and lump free), remove the bowl from the heat. Beat the egg yolks and add to the chocolate mixture, beating well. The chocolate should be still warm to allow the yolks to cook a little. Leave the mixture to cool for about quarter of an hour or so. Meanwhile beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the mixture. You can use individual ramekins or one large bowl. Spoon the mixture into your container of choice, cover and chill until firm. You’ll need a couple of hours. If you are using booze, add it just before serving, making a few holes with a cocktail stick to allow it to soak in.

This is an ever present at Johnston buffet lunches. There is never any left.

Caroline Trotter’s Lemon Posset

Regular readers will have noted that Caroline was an absolute star in response to my request for favourite picnic dishes. Here recipes are delightfully simple. As you will gather from the slightly odd looing quantities, I have faithfully translated from Imperial to metric. Caroline, thank you once again.


568 ml double cream; 140g caster sugar; grated zest and juice of 3 lemons, (ideally unwaxed, which failing scrub the fruit first).


Put the cream, zest and sugar in a pan and bring to boil, stirring regularly. Allow to bubble briskly for 3 minutes. Cool to blood temperature. (For the more anal among you who want to use a thermometer, that’s about 37˚/98.4˚F.) Add lemon juice, stir, then pour into individual pots, cover and chill.



Lemonade Elderflowers Elderflower Champagne

Obviously this depends on so many things. Company? Obviously. Budget? To an extent. But, come, come, let’s have a sense of style. I mentioned last week the importance of location. The ability to chill one’s own drinks is quite important. Few things can better a few bottles of really good white wine which have been left in a burn for an hour or two.

More prosaically you can chill your drinks well before you leave the house and lug large and heavy cool boxes or bag of ice. Up to you. But more importantly, what are you going to consume? To add a sense of occasion, make your own. Here are a couple of possibilities. The lemonade does contain a frightening amount of sugar, but it’s a special occasion. For a picnic I would be tempted to transport the base on its own and dilute with cold mineral water on site.

Home Made Lemonade

This really is laughably simple. The only point of a recipe is to give you a guide on the lemon: sugar ratio. Alter it to suit your taste. Now some would have you adding lots of boiling water. I saw one recipe which suggested you could bottle the finished product and drink it as it was OR dilute with soda water. If you make a simple base you can control how strong you want the final drink and whether you wish it sparkling or still.

Ingredients (this will make a base to produce about 1.5 litres in total)

6 unwaxed lemons; 150g granulated sugar; 500 ml water


Remove the zest from four of the lemons with a zester or peeler. It is important not to remove the white pith, as this will make your drink bitter. Put the zest in a pan with the sugar, water and juice of all six lemons. Heat the water gently until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool then leave overnight in the fridge. Top up with very cold water, still or sparkling as you wish. Serve with a slice of lemon and some mint leaves.

 Caroline Trotter’s Elderflower Champagne

Now I know all about protected name status, but it’s not my recipe. If you have any complaints, send them to Caroline care of me, and I’ll put them in the bin for her. By now the lovely Trotter family should need no introduction. Mum, Caroline, photographer extraordinaire, and obviously the brains of the outfit; Dad, Christopher, chef supreme and Fife’s Food Ambassador; Byam, son, proprietor of Trotter’s Independent Condiments.

Who heeded last week’s advice to pick elderflowers (see picture above, centre)? Now you see why. Caroline gave me this recipe in Imperial measure, which I’ve converted. The quantities therefore look a little odd. It would be very useful if you had these bottles which come with stoppers attached with wire. I’ve never made this, though I have seen it done on the River Cottage programmes. If it’s good enough for Caroline and Hugh, it’s good enough for you lot. Thanks Caroline. Do be warned – you will need a fortnight.


2 heads of elderflower, picked on warm sunny day; 1 lemon, sliced; 680g caster sugar; 2 tbsp white wine vinegar; 4.54 litres of cold water.


Put the water and sugar in a bucket (not the one you use for washing the floors, please). Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients and leave for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain into bottles, leaving a gap at the top to avoid explosions. Seal bottles firmly. Keep in a cool place. This should be ready in about two weeks. Serve chilled.

Picnics Part 1

Stromboli TGJ Frittata

May I begin by berating you lot (with two shining exceptions) as the most useless bunch of readers a food writer could hope to have. Let me have your memories of, and ideas for, perfect picnics, I asked. It’s really not a hard question. Barbecues! quoth one. No. Scotch eggs! popped up one of the more vocal among you. Hmm. At least there was an attachment, no doubt a venerated family recipe. With mouse all a quiver, as it so often is these days, I clicked. Well thank you, JT of Norfolk, but a photo of your sodding porch, no matter how beautifully painted, was not what was required. The standards of journalism… We’ll come to the work of Ms CT next week. In the meantime, start gathering elderflowers while ye may.

All that we know about the word picnic, is that it derived from the virtually identical French word picquenicque, first used in the late seventeenth century. Its origins are unknown. Thank the Lord for that. We can skip the usual tedious history lesson and move on to food. One may picnic on all sorts of levels, of course. The word can cover food or entertainment out of doors. When L was wee and swam in the freezing waters of the Irish Sea off Ardrossan, the mums used to come to the beach with snacks, or chittery bites as they called them. (For any reader from warmer climes who fails to understand that phrase, you have clearly never swum in the Irish or North Seas.) These invariably contained sand, which brings me to the first issue, location.

Terroir means many things these days; however, in the context of a picnic, it means that which is likely to find its way into your food. Grass, heather, bracken, even small insects. All OK, easily removable, some edible. Sand, however, is none of these things, and for that reason I rule out a beach as ever being suitable, even though it has that other essential component, water. Cooling drinks, wiping hands, washing plates. Heaven forfend, you can even drink the stuff in extremis. For me, the best picnics have always been by the side of stream or loch. For some unknown reason, running water will always get my vote. You have, of course ensured you are causing no damage or offence whether to land, fence, farmer or animal. I do recall once having to decant a family picnic in a hurry as Dad had failed to note the bull at the far corner of the field.

So, we have our location: what about the food? If you fancy packs of sandwiches and tins of fizzy drinks, good for you, but don’t read on. A sandwich is a wonderful thing, but not on such an expedition. Do you buy an assortment of goodies to take? I have no issue with this, provided you’re acquiring good quality stuff, with an emphasis on things you wouldn’t normally consume. A few weeks ago in Ireland we enjoyed such a feast with the artists known as M & I. A glorious little deli in County Cork yielded a wondrous quiche, sausage rolls of superlative quality and some great salads. Added to Tom Durcan’s spiced beef which we had picked up in the English Market in Cork City, we lunched like Taoiseachs. So what shall we take for our ultimate summer fuel stop?


The problem with a quiche is that you will almost certainly break the crust. If that happens then, depending on its consistency, your quiche (or flan for real men) can be all over the place. Frittata on the other hand is basically an egg cake which can be easily transported, handled and sliced. You can put anything you like in it. If you wish, you could get it closer to a flan by adding cream. This is one I made recently. All of the ingredients, apart from the eggs, are optional. This will give you a disc about 25cm wide and 2 – 3 cm deep.


8 eggs (use the freshest, best quality eggs you can find); 1 onion diced; 1 – 2 peppers, deseeded and diced; 1 – 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed; 1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped; 5 or 6 small new potatoes, boiled and cut into chunks approximately 2 – 3 cm; salt and pepper; olive oil.


Preheat a grill to hot. In a frying pan (ideally non-stick) sweat the onions, peppers, garlic and chilli in the oil until soft. Season with a little salt and pepper. Beat the eggs together with some more salt and pepper. (This will need more seasoning than you might expect.) Add the potatoes to the pan and toss among the veg for a minute or two. Pour in the egg mixture and cook on the stove over a medium heat for about ten minutes. The base should be solid, the top still quite liquid. It doesn’t need stirring but check the base to ensure you’re not burning it on too high a heat. Put under the grill for the last 2 – 3 minutes until completely cooked. Slide on to a plate and leave to cool. If not for picnic use, a frittata can be served hot, cool or cold. It will slice better when cold.


Add anything you like, provided it will set when cold. Chunks of mozzarella, perhaps with a final topping of grated parmesan and cheddar to form a crust. Bacon, obviously, cooked along with the veg, or little chunks of leftover salami or chorizo. Courgettes work well, but if you choose to use aubergines, I would fry them in oil first. Use whatever herbs you fancy – just make sure there is nothing that will burn under the grill.


So, like the horrible food snob I seem to have become these days, I have pooh pooh-ed your desire for a sandwich. What takes its place? Now rules are there to be broken. In the Czech Republic, having no access to a kitchen I do recall making impromptu butties from scratch in a forest outside Prague. (That, gentlemen, is why one never leaves home without one’s trusty Swiss Army knife.) Decent enough, but not up today’s standard. Try instead this ultimate tear and share loaf, with ready made filling. In essence, you make a standard white bread dough. After the first prove, you flatten it out (in a tin is easiest, to ensure you get the correct shape). You then add your fillings and roll the whole thing up. It is then cut into slices which are placed together, filling side up, in a baking tin. The second prove brings them all together. When baked, you have a loaf which is easily ripped into bite sized chunks for sharing. Keep an eye on it. It may require less cooking time than a loaf, depending on the thickness of your slices.

This one works  for me, but use whatever ingredients you fancy. By way of variation, I added the last of a jar of harissa, and some spicy Calabrese salami. The extra kick works well. Make sure the filling is spread right to the edges. A word of caution. I hadn’t made this for a while so decided to do one for the column. I forgot my (occasional) mantra of less is more, and completely overfilled this. Delicious but not elegant. Incidentally, Stromboli is often made as a bread Swiss roll, but done that way it doesn’t have the tear and share characteristic.

For the bread dough

500g strong white flour; 7g fast action yeast; 1½ tsp salt; 1 dsp olive oil; 1 tbsp caster sugar; 300ml warm water.

For the filling

Pesto – I tend to use red, but green is fine. Shop bought is OK for this; Parma ham (or equivalent) – enough slices to cover the base (about 10 or so – be generous); 1 large ball of mozzarella ripped into bits; handful of sundried tomatoes roughly chopped; handful of pitted olives, roughly chopped.


Make your bread dough in the usual way and prove. Spread the dough on to a floured rectangular tray (not the one you will use for the baking). Spread with pesto, then cover with the ham. Scatter the mozzarella evenly across the surface, then chuck on the olives and sundried tomatoes. Starting from the long side, roll the dough like a Swiss roll. Cut into slices about 4 – 5 cm thick. Arrange the slices together in a circle on a baking tray so that the filling is pointing up the way. Leave for the second prove – about half an hour or more. By that time the pieces should all be touching. Bake at 230˚C/Mark 8 for 15 minutes then turn the oven down to 200˚C/Mark 6 and bake for a further 15 – 20 minutes. A normal loaf would need 20: this may need less. Check after 15. Allow to cool on a wire rack in the usual way. This requires no cutlery at all as it tears apart easily.


Strawberry Sorbet Strawberries Strawberry Cheesecake

Last week’s strawberry soup got a bit of attention, being a little unusual. Today’s recipes are a bit more obvious, but none the less good for that. They make up the final part of the dessert menu from Lesley’s birthday, a modest little lunch over eight hours or so.

Strawberry Cheesecake

There is nothing inherently strawberry-esque about the cheese cake itself. You could decorate it with any fruit you fancy. I have made a ginger version, which benefits from a few teaspoons of ground ginger in the mix. It is the best baked cheesecake recipe I know, probably because it comes from the repertoire of Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland. I would advise against tinkering with the recipe. The lemon zest gives a lovely freshness. Under no circumstances substitute ordinary cream for sour cream. The latter gives it a slight edge, preventing it from being too cloying. I have added 50% to the biscuit quantities as I found the original didn’t give enough of a base – you may prefer to use less. A final tip: the cooling down process (which is essential for the cooking) will take quite a while. You know that warm foods should never be put in a fridge, and the final version must have been chilled. Allow longer than you might think. By all means make the night before, but don’t decorate until the day you need it, as the colour will bleed from the fruit.

Ingredients (for a 20cm cake tin, ideally springform)

90g digestive biscuits (6 biscuits); 90g ginger nuts (9 biscuits); 50g butter; pinch of salt; 600g full fat cream cheese, at room temperature; 200g sour cream; 4tbsp cornflour; 150g caster sugar; zest of ½ lemon, finely grated; 1 tsp vanilla extract (NOT essence); 4 large eggs, plus 1 egg white; strawberries for decoration.


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4 and put a baking sheet on the middle shelf. Crush the biscuits. This is better done by hand rather than by machine. You don’t want the crumbs to be too fine. Put the biscuits in a freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin or food hammer. Melt the butter in a small pan, stir in the crumbs with a pinch of salt and mix well. Spread the mixture evenly over the base of your tin and press down well with a glass to form a firm base. Put the tin in the oven for 20 minutes while you make the mixture.

You will need a large baking bowl. As you want your final mixture to be as smooth and lump-free as possible, I would advise using a whisk rather than a wooden spoon or spatula. Put the cheese in the bowl and whisk to remove lumps. (Now you see why the recipe said at room temperature.) Mix in the sour cream, cornflour, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Beat the whole eggs together in a jug or separate bowl, then add to the mixture a little a time, whipping until the mixture is smooth.

Take the tin out of the oven. Turn the oven down to 110˚C/Mark⅟₄ leaving the door open for a few minutes to allow the oven to cool. Brush the base with the egg white. After a few minutes pour the mixture into the tin. Shake  gently to level it. A few air bubbles will appear. You can remove these with a finger, but if you intend to cover the whole surface with strawberries there’s no need. Put on the hot baking sheet. Cook for 90 minutes until set, but slightly wobbly in the middle. Run a thin spatula round the end to separate the cake from the tin. Turn the oven off, return the cake to the oven and allow to cool. Thereafter, remove from the tin and refrigerate. Decorate with strawberries.

Strawberry Sorbet

Ingredients (see below re quantities)

Strawberries; water; caster sugar; egg white; lemon juice.


For a normal sorbet you take equal amounts of water, caster sugar and fruit purée. Make a sugar syrup, by melting the sugar gently in the water. Stir in the fruit, allow to cool, whisk in an egg white, then freeze in an ice cream maker. If you don’t have in ice cream maker, you can make a granita. Omit the egg white. Put the mixture in the freezer in a shallow plastic container. After a couple of hours ice crystals will start form. Stir with a fork. Repeat every hour until the mixture is completely frozen. This will be less smooth than a sorbet but equally tasty.

The problem is with the level of sweetness. To make a fruit coulis you add sugar and a little lemon juice, poach the fruit gently until it breaks up, allow to cool, then blitz and sieve. About 800g of fruit and 200g of sugar will yield about 300g of coulis.

Strawberries, however, especially at this time of year, are much sweeter than other fruit, and I don’t like puddings to be overly sweet. I made the purée with a tiny amount of sugar, and used only 200g for the sugar syrup. The answer is to taste the final mixture before freezing and adjusting sugar levels accordingly. This went brilliantly in the strawberry soup (see last week’s recipe) with a mint leaf or two.

Thanks to Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland for permission to reproduce her recipes. For more details about her courses contact her at

 Tel: 07932 642605


Strawberries Strawberry soup

Of all the seasonal produce, I love strawberries most of all. I say season as though it were a short one, although modern producers would take issue with me. Even in Scotland, home grown berries are available from May or even earlier, right through until autumn. But strawberries need heat, and early British ones usually disappoint. With the good summer we have been enjoying, the Scottish examples have been very good, but, whisper it, I find those from south of the border generally to be sweeter.

It would be a reasonable question to ask why I feature them in a cookery column. Does such a beautiful thing as a perfectly ripe, juicy berry need anything doing to it? In Casa Johnston we tend to eat them raw. Cream doesn’t feature in our house (and these days I find that it tends to mask, rather than enhance, the taste of most fruit). Ice cream is an obvious accompaniment, but here are a few other ways you might enjoy them-

  • With a dressing of plain or Greek yoghurt, containing chopped mint and/or basil
  • With a squeeze or two of orange juice or, better still, Cointreau or Grand Marnier
  • With a light sprinkling of black or Szechuan pepper
  • Served with cream or crème fraiche mixed with lemon curd
  • Very lightly drizzled with aceto di Balsamico (Note that this is NOT the same as Balsamic vinegar. That contains only 25% of aceto, the remainder being ordinary wine vinegar. Authentic aceto di Balsamico will have the word Tradizionale on the bottle. The price will bring a tear to a glass eye.)

Probably everyone has their own favourites, be they cakes, tarts or whatever. Here is a recipe which is common in France but rare over here. It makes a light end to a  meal. The addition of the wine and slight thickening raise it from a mere coulis.

Soupe aux Fraises (Strawberry Soup)


1kg strawberries (plus a few extra for garnish); approx. 125g caster sugar (you may need more or less than this); 100 ml red wine; 1 rounded tsp cornflour; splash of water.


Hull and roughly chop the strawberries. Put in the pan with the sugar and a splash of water. Bring to a simmer, then add the wine into which the cornflour has been dissolved. Simmer for a further 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Allow to cool slightly, then blitz with a hand blender or in a food processor and sieve into a bowl. Beat the mixture from time to time until it is cold enough to put in the fridge. Prior to chilling check the sweetness. You may want to add a little more sugar or wine. Chill and serve cold. Garnish with fresh berries or mint. And if you serve fresh berries, REMOVE THE BLOODY STALKS! They are inedible, unless you’re a rabbit, and I don’t want to be removing parts of a dish with my fingers. End of rant.

You could also serve with strawberry sorbet, but we’ll leave that for next week.

Byam Trotter’s Twice Baked Cheese Souffle

With Wild Garlic Pesto

Byam Trottter's Twice Baked Souffle

I had thought that the series on the mighty alium had come to an end until I received this very welcome guest recipe. It comes courtesy of Byam Trotter, condiment maker extraordinary and TV chef. (Well, he won a series of Come Dine with Me.) More contact details for Byam below. Although bottled sauces, chutneys and jams have improved immeasurably over the last 20 years, there is still a tendency to think of them as inherently inferior. Byam’s produce is a sparkling exception to that rule. Among my favourites are A Bloody Shame, a wonderful tomato relish with the kick of a Bloody Mary, and Uncle Allan’s Chutney. I am told that there is indeed an Uncle Allan: I’m sure all matters pertaining to intellectual property rights will have been amicably resolved. These two are available all year. The Wild Garlic Pesto is produced about now and has a shelf life of some 8 months.

The very word soufflé strikes fear into the hearts of many an amateur cook. There is no doubt that things can go wrong. The necessity of doing much at the last minute also means that they’re not great for entertaining, despite the swank value. Enter, stage left, a white knight! The twice baked version can be made in advance and is almost fool proof.


215 ml milk; small onion or onion trimmings; 42g butter; 42g plain flour; 100g cream cheese or soft goats’ cheese, broken into small pieces; 3 egg yolks; 4 egg whites; 4tsp Trotter’s Wild Garlic Pesto (more if you like); 10ml double cream; bay leaf; grated nutmeg; s & p.


Preheat the oven to 190˚C/Mark 5. Put the milk, onion, nutmeg and the bay leaf in a pan and just bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse. Make a roux in the usual way, ie melt butter in a pan, stir in the flour and cook gently for 5 minutes to avoid a floury flavour. Strain the milk into the pan a little at a time and cook over a low heat until thick, stirring well. Add the cheese and beat until melted into the mixture. Remove from the heat and beat in the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Add a quarter of the whites to the mixture and gently mix in, then return the mixture to the egg whites and fold through, with a spatula. Spoon the mixture into 6 darioles (small cylindrical moulds) or ramekins, lined with cling film. Place in a tray of hot water and cook for about 15 minutes in the centre of the oven until risen and lightly browned. Leave to cool. When ready to serve, turn out the soufflés and place in a suitable baking dish. The dish may be made in advance up to this point. Mix the wild garlic pesto with the cream, depending on your taste! Pour over the soufflés. Bake for a further 15 minutes until lightly browned and hot in the middle.

For more information about Byam’s full range , go to the Trotter’s Independent Condiments website

Photographs are by mum, Caroline Trotter, a professional photographer with particular expertise in weddings, food, pets and business photography.

For more information, see




 Lamb Rogan Josh Orig  Lamb Rogan Josh TGJ

Some of you may be aware that the stress levels have been back at pre-retirement heights this week. Firstly, there is the fact that Microsoft have blocked me from my own server, where all my data is stored. Included in said data is a talk for a licensing presentation. As this column is written a little in advance, I’m currently unaware whether I’ll have to write the whole thing again from scratch. Thankfully the PowerPoint slides were dispatched. Don’t you just hate computers?

Secondly, there is the fact that my dear wife gaily volunteered me to cook curry for 60 (STOP PRESS now 72) for a street party. Well, three curries actually, as someone may not like lamb. Another may hate chicken, and veggies, like the poor, are always with us these days. That’s not too much of a problem apart from logistics of do we have enough pots, and how best do we transport it. No, the main issue is that said street party is the day following my starring role at the all day conference in Glasgow. (STOP PRESS- Conference has happened. My God, I was good.)

The third issue is the fact that I have no idea how to make my favourite curry. Or, to clarify, I have no recipe for it. I’ve been chucking and chancing this dish for years in an attempt to get close to the version of Lamb Rogan Josh which they sell me at The Delta in Roseburn, my wonderfully good local Indian takeaway. It is such a favourite that on my first trip to India a few years ago I tried a large number of versions. I was surprise to find that they bore no resemblance to the dish I knew.

Rogan Josh: Some Preliminaries

Rogan Josh is a dish from Kashmir. This is the most northerly part of India near the border with Pakistan. It is reputedly one of the most beautiful parts of the country but sadly inaccessible because of security issues. Kashmiri chillies and chilli powder give it its bright red colour (which is singularly lacking from my dish). Rick Stein in his book on India tells us that it is originally from Persia, where rogan means either oil or red and josh means hot. His recipe looks pretty authentic. I have no permission to reproduce his recipes; however, I do have permission to use those of the lovely Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland. Hers does bear a certain similarity to Rick’s and is reproduced below. As an aside, one of my most useful sources of curry recipes is The Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries. Their rogan josh contains potatoes and spinach – that’s even less authentic than mine, boys.

Tom’s Homage to the Delta’s Lamb Rogan Josh (A prize may be given for a snappier title)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8)

For the paste: 2 onions; 4 cloves garlic, peeled; 100g ginger peeled; 2 green chillies (remove the seeds if you wish, leave in for a bit more of a kick); drizzle of oil.

800g shoulder of lamb, excess fat removed and cut into cubes, about 3cm; 4 onions, sliced lengthways; 2 green peppers sliced lengthways, about 50 mm in width; about 6 tbsp vegetable  oil (although ghee (clarified butter) would be more authentic); 2 x  400ml tins of tomatoes; seeds of about 20 cardamom pods (you can put in the whole pods if you like); 2 tsp ground turmeric; 2 tsp ground cumin; 2 tbsp garam masala; half a cinnamon stick; water; salt and freshly ground black pepper.


Make the paste first. Coarsely chop the ingredients and blitz in a blender, loosening with a little oil (or water) if necessary. I recently had to replace my hand blender. The new one came with a jug of just the right width. For small quantities such as this it’s a lot less bother than using a full size blender.

Soften the onions and peppers in the oil. Add the paste and cook gently until it starts to go golden. Add the spices and a little water to stop it sticking. Add the meat and stir all together for a couple of minutes, before tipping the tomatoes and water. This will need a long cook. I would suggest enough liquid to make sure the meat is almost covered. If there is too much you can always reduce at the end. Finally, add the cardamom, salt, pepper and the cinnamon stick. I recommend stick cinnamon as opposed to ground. The flavour of this dish will alter quite a bit during the cooking. I will often remove the cinnamon about half way through. Cover and cook at a slow simmer, checking the liquid from time to time and giving the occasional stir. I recommend at least three hours’ cooking time. Like many stews this is better cooked the day before. Some recipes will recommend cream or yoghurt at the end. I don’t use it, but always have plain yoghurt on standby when making a curry. If your panful is too spicy, it will tone down the heat. Don’t add yoghurt to a hot sauce as it will split. It’ll still be edible but it’ll look unsightly.

My version looks a bit like the dish on the right.

Sarah Mellersh’s Lamb Rogan Josh (serves 6 – 8)

This is a much more authentic recipe. Frying the whole spices is recommended, to bring out more flavour. You can find Kashmiri chilies and chilli powder in Asian supermarkets. The only thing I would question is the cooking time. In my experience lamb shoulder takes longer.


40g ghee or butter; 5cm cinnamon stick; 3 dried Kashmiri chillies, torn into pieces; 6 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised; 4 cloves; 1 large onion, chopped; 3 cloves of garlic, crushed; 3 cm ginger, peeled and grated; 2 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder; 1 tbsp ground coriander; 1 tbsp ground cumin; 2 tsp turmeric; ¼ tsp ground mace or nutmeg; 1 tsp garam masala, plus 1 extra to finish;1 tsp toasted ground fennel seeds, plus ¼ tsp extra to finish; 4 tbsp tomato purée; 750g boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed if excess fat and cut into 3 cm chunks; salt (about 1 tsp; 300ml water; 125ml natural yoghurt; 500ml double cream; handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to finish.


Put the butter or ghee in a large heavy casserole pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the whole spices and fry for one minute. Then add the onion and fry for about 10 minutes until golden. Stir in the garlic and ginger, fry for one minute, then add the ground spices (reserving the extra garam masala and fennel) and fry for another 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato purée, then add the lamb and salt. Stir well to make sure the lamb is coated with the other ingredients.

Pour in the water, bring to a simmer then cover the pan and cook over a low simmer until the lamb is tender. (See above. Sarah’s recipe says 1 hour: I think it will need longer.) When the lamb is cooked, check the seasoning, adding more salt if required. Stir in the yoghurt and cream, then season with the extra garam masala and fennel. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve. Sarah’s looks a bit like the dish on the left.

Thanks to Sarah for permission to reproduce her recipes. For more details about Let’s Cook Scotland and  her courses contact her at

Tel: 07932 642605

Coming Shortly

Having just returned from Ireland, full of Irish breakfasts, pints of Guinness and some stunningly good meals (see forthcoming Tom Eats! columns), I find the scales groaning more than usual. The plan is to have a series of articles with some of my thoughts on losing weight generally, diets (and why they usually fail) and some tasty low calorie meals. I’d be delighted to share any recipes of yours which fit that bill. I also plan potential humiliation by setting myself a public target, and giving weekly progress reports.

Asparagus Thoughts

Asparagus tartlets Asparagus bunches Asparagus with hollandaise

It’s the month of May. My wee smells funny. It must be asparagus season.

Of all the seasonal delights which excite us almost as much in the anticipation as in the consumption, I believe the British asparagus to be top of the list. Head, shoulders, nay, a whole thorax, above its rivals. It is well worth the wait, and also the fond kiss when we sever about six weeks later. I just cannot bring myself to buy the imported stuff – save for a garnish, I suppose – when the chlorophyllic loveliness of the home stuff awaits.

If you are looking for fancy ideas, then turn away now. If ever a veg screamed simple is best, it is this green stem. Yes, green. I pity our continental neighbours and their penchant for the white stuff. That is achieved by covering the emerging stalks with soil. Deprivation of sunlight renders it colourless. So, chaps, you have one of nature’s finest stalks, desperate to emerge for instant pleasure and gratification, and you treat it like a mushroom? Was it this that sparked the Brexit vote?

In fairness, the white stuff has a delicacy of flavour, but misses out on the glorious texture of our own green delights. And they often can it or bottle it. Come to think of it, I probably first encountered asparagus in that form. It’s OK, Ma, I’ve forgiven you – your asparagus soup, made from tinned veg,  was pretty darn fine.

How to Prepare It

I am surprised by the number of times I see chefs on food programmes peeling asparagus. I have never yet encountered British asparagus which needs it, at least not once you have removed the bases. Hold the stalk in two hands and gently bend. The bottom will snap off at exactly the correct point. Keep the bases for making soup. If you are left with something which is still woody, perhaps at the end of the season, you may need to shave it a little.

How to Cook It

Well please DON’T do the traditional thing and boil it. You have a stalk bursting with  vitamins and nutrition. Why, then, pour half of this away with cooking water? Steaming is good. If you have a griddle (as opposed to a domestic grill) pan, light charring adds a bit of flavour. Great on a barbecue as well. My preferred way of cooking is in the oven. 200˚C/Mark 6. Put your asparagus (bases removed – see above) on a tray, drizzle with good olive oil, sprinkle with Maldon salt and bake for about 10 minutes or until al dente. Timing will depend, obviously, on the size of your beast.

How to Serve It

Asparagus is wonderfully low on calories, which no doubt explains why we seem to like pairing it with horribly and wonderfully fattening things. I like it baked, with a squeeze of lemon juice and a lot of Parmesan shaved (not grated) on top. By coincidence I had lunch at The Wee Restaurant in Edinburgh this week and that’s how they served it. If it’s good enough for Craig, Vikki and Mikey…

Melted butter is great, as is Hollandaise sauce. A poached egg on top is fashionable – not my preference. You DO know how to make Hollandaise, don’t you?

Whisk two egg yolks in a bowl over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Add a pinch of salt and a tiny splash of vinegar or lemon juice. Melt about 125g of butter and whisk it in a little at a time. The recipe books will say add little bits of butter – the pros melt it. Season with salt and a little white pepper.  If it starts to separate you can often save the day by popping an ice cube in.

For an interesting twist, try stirring in some finely chopped mint at the very last minute.

But You Insist on a Recipe?

OK, here’s one from the guvnor, M Escoffier. He makes no concession to idiocy. Neither do I, so I’m not going to repeat his recipe for the meat jelly in which you heat your truffles. (I think that part of the recipe might be described as being optional.)

Tartelettes de pointes d’asperges petit-duc


Asparagus tips, butter or cream, cooked tartlet cases, béchamel sauce, grated cheese, truffle, meat jelly


Prepare and cook the asparagus tips in boiling water (pshaw! what do I know?) Drain well and add a little butter or cream. Arrange in tartlet cases and cover completely with a thin coating of béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese, drizzle with melted butter and brown under the grill.

(For normal mortals, I think that might suffice. If you want to emulate our Auguste, read on.)

Arrange the tartlets on a serving plate. Heat some thin slices of truffle in meat jelly and butter and place 1 slice on each tartlet.

Tom Cooks! will be back in two weeks.


Garlic-Bulbs-003 FgxaUvw_ An Old Woman Cooking Eggs

To finish off this mini series on the alium, what better way to celebrate garlic than a recipe which uses a whole head in a dish which serves four. I am indebted to Hispanophiles, Callum Henderson, and his long suffering wife Ann Marie, otherwise known as Mrs Oil. Some years after buying a ruin in southern Spain, Callum became the driving force behind Orodeal, one of the finest extra virgin olive oils on the market. This dish is one of the most quintessentially Spanish you could hope to find. Ideally you want to make it with so called wet garlic, that is to say garlic which hasn’t been dried, and which is milder in flavour. It would work with older garlic, but the fresher the better. Wet garlic is in season now – you can buy it online.

Aside from that, this is a fairly simple recipe. You are poaching the eggs in the broth, so the usual rules about poaching eggs apply: in particular, use the freshest eggs you can find. Be careful with your choice of pot. While it needs to hold a litre of liquid, plus the garlic, you need to be able to poach the eggs in the broth. That’s not so easy if you use a deep pan.

You want good rustic bread for this. As it’s going to be toasted and then covered in soup it doesn’t matter if it’s slightly stale. For the paprika, ideally use the Spanish pimentón picante, paprika which is both smoked and spicy.

Finally, for those of you wondering about the painting at the top right, it’s An Old Woman Cooking Eggs by Velazquez. It’s one of the finest works in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. If you fancy yourself as an artist, I may just spoil your day by telling you that Velazquez was just 19 when he painted that!

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 litre chicken stock; 1 cured ham bone (optional); 200g gammon steak; 1 head of garlic, preferably wet garlic, cloves separated, peeled and thinly sliced; 3 tbsp olive oil (preferably Orodeal); 1 tsp paprika (see above); 4 x 1 cm thick slices crusty white bread; 4 large, very fresh eggs; s & p.


Bring the stock to the boil and simmer the gammon, and ham bone if using, for 30 minutes in a covered pan. Remove the ham and the bone, season the stock and put to one side. In a separate pan, fry the garlic in the oil over a gentle heat until lightly golden. Remember that overcooked garlic is disgusting, and there is no way back. Stir in the paprika, return the broth, and bring back to a gentle simmer.

Toast the bread on each side and place one slice in the bottom of each soup dish. Poach the eggs in the broth for 3 – 3 ½ minutes. Put one egg on each bowl, then cover with the soup and serve.

For more information about Orodeal, including their innovative olive oil pearls, see their website at


 Orodeal Oil  Orodeal landscape  Orodeal Pearls



Wild Garlic 2 Wild Garlic 1

Before some professional chappie interrupted us last week with his seasonal sea trout, we were happily discoursing on the alium, the family whose most pungent member has to be garlic. Go for a walk this weekend, and the chances are you’ll catch its aroma in woodland or on path sides. No, it doesn’t mean you’re near to a local trattoria. You’re close to a source of free food. Now I’ve known of this for years. I have lots of it near me (and I live within a mile or two of the centre of Edinburgh). I’ve seen it appearing on menus a fair bit of late, where you may see it referred to as ramsons or buckrams. Chefs have been tweeting about going out foraging. I have a confession to make – I had no clue what to do with it. Thanks to those who gave me ideas, in particular Robert Corrigan of Mr C’s Pies*, and Christopher Trotter, Fife’s Food Ambassador.

They were both very strict in their advice. Use the leaves only. Don’t dig up the bulbs – you’ll leave nothing for next year. The leaves can be used raw, in salads, as can the flowers. It can take the place of spinach. Just add to a hot dish a minute or so before serving and allow it to wilt. Since I started reading about it it’s been everywhere. Here are a few ideas.

Sausages and Beans with Wild Garlic

Carina Contini in her recent column in The Scotsman provided a recipe. I don’t have permission to reproduce it, so here is my version, loosely based on my own Scottish “cassoulet” recipe from a year or two ago. Start by browning some sausages. (I detest sausage casseroles where this hasn’t been done. I won’t tell you what the anaemic end result reminds me of.) Put them to one side, then, in the same pan, soften a finely chopped onion or a shallot or two. Add back the sausages, a tin of tomatoes and a tin of beans of your choice, drained and rinsed. NOT Heinz! Haricots or flageolets work well. You may need extra liquid. Stew gently until the sausages are cooked. Season with s & p. If necessary reduce the liquid. A spoonful or two of vinegar, (wine or balsamic) adds a bit of zing, but use sparingly. Right at the end throw in a handful of wild garlic, allow it to wilt in the heat and serve at once.


Christopher Trotter tells me that for wild garlic pesto you simply take out the normal garlic and basil and substitute wild garlic instead. What he omitted to mention is that his son Byam, proprietor of Trotter’s Independent Condiments**, makes a most excellent Wild Garlic Pesto (along with many other seriously good things). I’ve repeated my own pesto recipe from last year, but you’ll see Byam’s details below. Many ready made preserves and relishes are iffy. Not these ones – highly recommended.

A couple of additional thoughts on pesto. These days it is usually made using Parmesan cheese. This is not traditional. Pesto is a dish from Genoa, some way from Reggio Emilia. The Genoese imported pecorino cheese in quantity specifically for the production of pesto. The second thought relates to vegetarians. Until the other week, I was blissfully unaware that strict vegetarians will eat neither parmesan nor pecorino as they are made using animal rennet. Vegetarian versions are available, but shop carefully.


2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, stalks removed; 2 cloves of garlic, peeled; 60g pine nuts; 60g freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese; 150ml good olive oil; salt.


Blitz the basil and garlic to form a paste then add the pine nuts and the cheese. With the motor running, drizzle the oil in until you have the consistency you require. Season with salt. Pesto is best used fresh. If you want to keep it, keep it covered in a cool place with a thin layer of oil on the surface.

Finally, a dish which I was served in Bentley’s*** in Piccadilly. This early 20th century oyster bar is now owned by Richard Corrigan (no relation to Robert, as far as I know). I reviewed it years ago, and can’t imagine a trip to London without eating there. I ate this as a starter. They used the smaller, flatter, deep water prawns (that’s Pandalus borealis to you), not langoustines. This is my best guess at it.

Prawns with Garlic, Chilli and Ramsons

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter)

24 prawns; 1 clove garlic, crushed; 1 red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped; 16 leaves of wild garlic; enough best quality olive oil (I use Orodeal) to coat your pan to at least half a centimetre or slightly more; pepper; lemon.


Heat the oil gently and cook the garlic and chilli, being careful not to burn. Turn up the pan and chuck in the prawns. Toss them in the oil until almost cooked. Turn down the heat and add the ramsons until wilted. Season with pepper and lemon juice and serve at once.

*  Mr C’s Pies is a maker of hand-crafted award winning pies. See

** For more information about Trotter’s Independent Condiments see

***  Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill is to be found at 11-15 Swallow Street, London, just off Piccadilly. See

Loch Etive Sea Trout Recipes

Courtesy of Dan Ashmore

Dan AShmore Sea Trout and Gnocchi Dan Ashmore3 Dan Ashmore Sea Trout and cabbage

Readers of Tom Eats! may recall a recent excellent dinner at The Pompadour by Galvin. The head chef is Dan Ashmore, undoubtedly an imminent recipient of a Michelin star, and all round nice guy. I ate a wonderful sea trout dish. Dan very kindly agreed to give me a recipe for this column. He then came back saying he had mislaid that particular recipe, but provided another two instead. Who said Yorkshire folk were mean?

I read through both of these and pondered a while. As you will see, should you be bold enough to read on, the pros do things a little differently from us. Firstly, they have access to rather more ingredients. They also assume a significantly higher level of competence. (Read Escoffier’s Ma Cuisine and you’ll see what I mean.) My own recipes tend to assume that my readers know even less than I do, and that’s a pretty low bar. I contemplated giving you my own dumbed down version, then decided against it. Instead I reproduce Dan’s recipes as presented to me. I have added a few notes in red. Read and be amazed by what a real chef considers to be simple. I particularly like the instruction Check with senior chef. If only we all had that facility.

A generation or two ago it would have been unthinkable for the head of a prestigious kitchen to reveal his secrets. I hope you will all join me in thanking Dan, and expressing your thanks by going to eat his food.  Even if you do try these recipes, I guarantee your food won’t be as good as his.

Loch Etive Sea Trout, Herb Gnocchi (see picture top left)

Ingredients (for a single portion)

1 120g Piece of Trout; 5 10 g herb gnocchi (see below); 4 mussels; 4 clams; 30ml mussel/clam liquor; 10g butter; 15g sea beet (chiffonade) (nope, I haven’t a clue what that is either); 5g chervil (I find it quite hard to get hold of chervil. I guess Dan would let us away with tarragon)1 stuffed razor clam. (You will note that chef conveniently omits to tell us with what we should stuff it. I am too frightened to go back and ask. Popular stuffings include garlic, shallots, and breadcrumbs. You have to know what you’re doing with razor clams (or spoots as we know them in the east of Scotland.) If you haven’t used them before, do your homework.)

Herb Gnocchi (Now remember that the recipe calls for 50g of gnocchi per portion and this recipe has about 900g of ingredients. You may want to scale back a tad.)


600g dry mash (potato, that is. You’ll get the best results by baking the potatoes in their skins then scooping out the insides); 25g salt; 100g microplaned parmesan; 150g 00 flour (that’s the durum flour you use for making pasta); 1 egg; 1 egg yolk; 10g chervil;10g parsley; 10g chives; 10g tarragon


Make the dry mash by baking potatoes (roosters) at 170˚C for 45-60 minutes. Scoop out and pass through drum sieve. (Oy, Dan! I just said that.) MUST BE MADE STRAIGHT AWAY. Put a pan of hot salted water on the stove before mixing. Mix the eggs, parmesan and salt together to make a paste, mix through the warm, dry mash, slowly mix the flour in bit by bit, add the herbs.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll into sausages, cut one 10g piece of gnocchi and roll, blanch for a tester. CHECK WITH SENIOR CHEF. (I now appreciate where my cooking has been going wrong all these years.)

Once the mix has been ok’d cut all the dough into 10g pieces, roll into balls, and shape over the gnocchi paddle. (If, like mine, your kitchen lacks a gnocchi paddle, you can use a fork to make indentations.) Blanch in simmering water until floating, chill in iced water then store on a lightly oiled tray in the fridge.


Ingredients (Again, bear in mind that each portion calls for 4 mussels and 4 clams, and adjust your shopping accordingly.)

1kg mussels; 1kg clams; 100g shallot (I’m guessing finely chopped); 500ml white wine; 2 bay leaves; 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped or crushed, I presume)


Place a pan on the stove to get hot, slice the shallot and place with the wine, garlic, bay, mussels and clams. Once pan is hot enough, place all in the pan and cover to allow the mussels/clams to steam. Once cooked, drain and chill. Once cool, pick down making sure all dirt sacs removed from clams and all beards removed from mussels. RESERVE ALL LIQUOR. Store in fridge for service.

For Service

Place the 30ml mussel liquor in the pan, add the butter and make emulsion.

Add the sea beet and allow to cook, add mussels/clam and gnocchi, cook for 2 minutes (any longer and the gnocchi become stodgy. Add the chopped chervil last minute and serve.

(You will note that chef assumes you know how to cook a piece of trout. You will see from his photo that in this dish the trout has crispy skin. Season your fish and put it skin side down in a pan of fairly hot oil. This is essential to get the skin crisp. Press down on teh fish in the first minute to stop it curling up. I find ithis necessary even if you have scored the skin. You can turn the heat down a little after a while. This is a fairly easy way of cooking fish as you can see the flesh changing colour. When there remains a strip of about 2 – 3 cm uncooked at the top, turn the fish and cook for a further 30 seconds. Place on top of your garnish and serve immediately.)

Loch Etive Sea Trout, King Cabbage and Seaweed (see picture, top right)

Ingredients (per portion)

1 120g Loch Etive trout portion; 3 Jan King* cabbage discs; 5 x celeriac fondants (see below); celeriac/seaweed purée; seaweed butter (see below); cockles; cockle seaweed sauce.

*As you will all know, January King cabbage is a cultivar with intermediate morphology between Savoy cabbage and white cabbage. It is known as chou de Milan de Pontoise in France. ‘January King’ cabbage is a winter vegetable which has been cultivated in England since 1867. After January use an alternative.

Trout Prep

Remove the fillets off the bone, pin bone and portion. (Dan doesn’t mention how to cook your trout. I see from his picture this one is skinless – I leave it up to you. Complain to him if it goes wrong.)


Ingredients (Before whizzing off to your fishmonger, see my comments on the recipe above)

1kg mussels; 1kg clams; 100g shallots; 500ml white wine (dry, it goes without saying. Muscadet is always good); 2 bay leaves; 2 cloves garlic.


Place a pan on the stove to get hot, slice the shallot and place with the wine, garlic, bay, mussels and clams. Once pan is hot enough, place all in the pan and cover to allow the mussels/clams to steam. Once cooked, drain and chill. Once cool, pick down making sure all dirt sacs removed from clams and all beards removed from mussels. RESERVE ALL LIQUOR. Store in fridge for service.

Celeriac Puree

750g celeriac; 500ml milk; 150g butter; 15g salt; 50g mara seaweed

Place the ingredients except the seaweed in a vac pac bag and steam at 100 until soft (most of us won’t have vac pacs. My guess is that the next best thing would be to poach the celeriac gently in the milk and butter), strain through a colander (obviously reserving some liquid, as per the following instruction) and blend adding back the liquid as necessary. CHECK WITH SENIOR CHEF. Once blitzed and passed add 50g of mara seaweed and store in fridge.

Seaweed butter

1kg butter (now I don’t normally have a kilo of ordinary butter in my fridge, never mind seaweed butter. Think first.); 25g mara seaweed.

Beat the butter in kitchen aid till light in colour, add the seaweed and pipe onto parchment for easy storage.

Celeriac Fondants

Cut 2 cm circles of celeriac using the apple corer. Just before service, cook in foaming butter, once almost cooked, add seaweed butter and cool.

For service

(You will note that chef has cunningly omitted this section. Get some ideas from the last recipe, then ready, steady, cook.)

To find out more about Dan, his food, and how to eat it, see


onion tarts Brown braised onions
charred-onion-petals Red onion Marmalade

The other day I heard of an acquaintance who is allergic to anything from the Allium family. Proper allergic, that is. Not a wee bit of nausea. or the occasional chucking-up but full scale rush to hospital in life threatening condition. To quote Kurtz in Conrad’s  Heart of Darkness, “the horror, the horror.” Ghastly for the lady in question, of course, but as a cook, can you countenance anything worse? Think of the number of dishes which you begin automatically by chopping a few onions. Consider cultures from all over the world which have a basic trio of ingredients which form the base of most of their dishes. The French mirepoix, the Italian soffritto, the Cajun trinity.  Whether you’re adding bacon and carrots, celery and carrot, or celery and green pepper, the common ingredient to all of these is the humble onion. A major crisis loomed in India a decade or so ago, when the crop was under threat. Extend the definition to include red onion, shallots, spring onions and garlic, and I am hard pushed to think of a day when I don’t use an allium.

Familiarity, sadly, breeds contempt. How often do we use the onion with the love it deserves? When does it get a chance to be a star in its own right, as opposed to being the base for a sauce or stew? I’m not talking about the fast fried, semi burnt onions which one sees on burger stalls. Good onions deserve to be treated with respect. Here are a few ideas.

Onion Tart

This makes a show stopper of a starter, better with shortcrust pastry than flaky. Allow one medium onion per tart. You will need double cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper and a little butter and olive oil. I’m assuming that by now you know how to make shortcrust pastry. If not, ping me an email and I’ll send you a recipe. Make your pastry shells and blind bake them. Chop the onions reasonably finely. You want pieces about 1 cm square. Put a small drizzle of oil and a small knob of butter in the bottom of a heavy pan. Add the onions with a little salt and pepper. Put on a tight fitting lid and sweat over a low heat. If it is sufficiently low the onions shouldn’t stick, but check from time to time. When the onions are soft (this will take about 30 minutes), add a little double cream. You want enough to bind them, but not to have a sauce. Season with a good amount of fresh nutmeg. Allow the cream to bubble for a few minutes. If you have added too much you can reduce it. Pour into the pastry shells and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes at 220˚C/Mark 7. Serve hot. Good with a little rocket salad as garnish.

If using puff pastry, roll into a disc or square. You want to leave a border about 2cm at the outside. With a fork, prick indentations (not holes) over the centre area. Cover this with the filling and beat the edge with beaten egg. Line the tin with baking parchment (NOT greaseproof paper.) Baking times as above.

Braised Onions

Classic Brown Braised Onions

One of the things that sets a correctly made boeuf bourgignon apart from a basic beef stew is the separate cooking of the mushrooms and the onions. The latter should be brown braised as per the following recipe. Classically you use little round pickling onions. They are a real fech to peel. You can use sliced onions. You’ll get the flavour, just not the presentation. You will need a heavy frying pan with a lid.


24 baby onions peeled, or 4 medium onions, sliced longways; 1 tbsp olive oil; 25g butter; 150ml stock (preferably beef, but you can use chicken); 1 bay leaf; ½ tsp dried thyme (or about 4 sprigs of fresh thyme); 4 sprigs fresh parsley (optional, but don’t use dried parsley); salt and pepper.


Brown the onions as evenly as you can in the butter and oil over a medium heat. This will take about 10 minutes. Add the stock and herbs, and season with s & p. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover and cook over a low heat, turning occasionally. until the onions are cooked and the liquid nearly evaporated. Remove the herbs. Add to your stew, or, if appropriate, serve as a side veg.

White Braised Onion “Petals”

In classic French cooking you would white braise as per the above recipe, the only difference being that you wouldn’t colour the onion first and would use a light stock or white wine. This slight twist gives you a cheffy looking garnish/side dish.

Peel two medium onions and cut in half. Braise in a pan covered by your choice of liquid. You could use a light coloured stock, wine or beer with a knob of butter and some seasoning. If using the latter two, make sure the liquid isn’t too sour or bitter. If beer is your choice, a teaspoon of sugar may be needed. Cook until the onions are soft, then remove from the liquid and pat dry. Heat 50g of butter in a frying pan to a medium heat, Place the onions cut side down and fry for 3 – 4 minutes until the surface is well browned. Separate the leaves and, lo and behold, you have poncy, cheffy petals.

Finally, a side veg which I referred to a couple of weeks ago. I make this a lot. Good if you need some colour and a hint of sweet and sour. Excellent with game or beef, or any meat which may be a little dry. A nice alternative to braised red cabbage.

Red Onion Marmalade


4 medium red onions, coarsely chopped; 35 ml olive oil; 75 ml balsamic vinegar; 75 g brown sugar; 125 ml red wine; s & p.


Gently fry the onions in the oil, without browning, until soft. This will take about 20 minutes. Add all the other ingredients, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid by half. Then reduce the heat and cook until the mixture is the consistency of jam (or even marmalade). At this stage you will need to stir pretty constantly. This can be made in advance and reheated.

Jim Kendall’s Ox Cheek and Chorizo Casserole

Ox cheek and chocolate casserole

By this time of year, I had expected to be tempting you with lighter spring dishes. Delights to be eaten in the garden perhaps, as we enjoyed the first of the spring sunshine and the lighter evenings. Fat chance. I am therefore indebted to my good friend Jim Kendall, clearly as talented a forecaster as he is an ardent foodie. Unbidden, he offered this recipe as an antidote to the sleet and snow. I haven’t made it myself as yet, but it reads like a good stick-to your-ribs dish. As I used to do in the old days when my recipes were based on the Elizabeth David style (which, roughly translated, means I couldn’t be bothered keeping tabs on quantities), JK has given me an outline. I’ve tried to translate it into approximate quantities. Casseroles should be rough and ready – use your eyes and personal preferences, and adjust accordingly. If it’s really good, credit to Jim. If it’s not, it’s Lesley’s fault.

This is very much a one pot dish. You don’t want to lose any flavour, so use a pan which will go in the oven. JK uses wine only. I guess you could use a combination of wine and beef stock. For the 99th time let me repeat that you never ever cook with wine you wouldn’t be prepared to drink. This does not mean you need to use expensive stuff. You don’t use heritage carrots in a casserole – but you wouldn’t use blue ones either. Finally, some of you may be surprised to see chocolate in a savoury recipe. Chocolate was brought to Europe by the Spanish, who got it from the Aztecs, who got it from the Mayans. It was originally used as a drink, sometimes enriched with blood, and also in cooking. The celebrated Mole Negro de Guajalote (Turkey with Chocolate and Chilli) remains a Mexican classic to this day. The first records of chocolate being sweetened come from Spain in the 16th century. If you search, there are a surprising number of British recipes for savoury dishes with chocolate, most commonly with beef, hare and venison.

Ingredients (Quantities are approximate. Should serve about 6)

2 ox cheeks (total weight about 1kg); 1 chorizo, approx. 225g, cut into slices; 4 medium onions, peeled and chopped; 2 – 3 cloves of garlic, crushed; 1 tin chopped tomatoes (use more if you want a more tomatoey sauce); 1 bottle robust red wine and/or beef stock, or a combination; 100g bitter dark chocolate; 1 – 2 tsp dried thyme; 2 bay leaves; 1 tsp paprika, smoked or hot; freshly grated nutmeg (about ¼ of a nut); salt and pepper; olive oil.


Pre heat the oven to 150˚C/Mark 2. Keeping the ox cheeks whole, brown them on both sides in the oil and set to one side. In the same pan, brown the onions, then reduce the heat a little and add the garlic. Cook for a further couple of minutes, then add the sliced chorizo. Continue to cook until the fat begins to run. Return the ox cheeks to the pan. Add the tomatoes and the wine. The meat should be fully covered. Throw in the bay leaves and season well with salt, paprika, nutmeg and thyme. Return to the heat, stir well and bring to the boil. Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook until the ox cheeks are tender. This will need at least three hours. Check the liquid at least once, topping up if necessary and possibly turning the meat.

When the meat is cooked take the casserole out of the oven. Remove the ox cheeks and keep warm.  Check the liquid. If you have too much, boil to reduce to the required level. Add the chocolate in small pieces and allow to melt gently. Check the seasoning and add freshly ground black pepper. Cut up the ox cheeks and serve with the sauce. Best with mashed potatoes and root veg.


Simnel Cake

As you know, this column likes seasonality if it suits its purpose. This recipe is therefore either right on time, or a couple of weeks late, depending on which tradition you choose to follow. So it’s either eaten at Easter, just before Easter or on Mothering Sunday, which was a couple of weeks ago. And the balls on top? Eleven of course – the disciples minus Judas. Or should it be 12? Jesus and the disciples minus Judas. You pays yer money and you buys your marzipan.

So does history agree how to cook it? Nope. We do know it dates from medieval times when it was probably boiled then baked. Boil your cake now and people will look at you strangely. As far as I can see, history and tradition yield not a single definitive answer to any of our questions. What about the name? We can probably dismiss the myth of Simon and Nelly, who are said to have made the thing in a joint venture featuring the boil-bake technique. Equally we can dismiss claims that it was named for Lambert Simnel, a pretender to the throne in 15th century England, for the simple reason that there are records of this cake from at least 200 years earlier. A more prosaic explanation is that it comes from the Latin simila, meaning a fine wheaten flour. Anyway, many thanks to sister-in-law Alison for sending the recipe. I won’t be joining you in a slice as I can’t stand marzipan.

Ingredients (you will need a deep 18cm round cake tin with a loose bottom)

500g almond paste; 175g self raising flour; 175g soft butter or margarine, plus extra to grease the tin (my baking guru LT swears that marge is much better than butter for cake baking, as the end result is lighter); 3 eggs;  175g light muscovado sugar; 180g sultanas; 90g currants; 90g glacé cherries, roughly chopped, and any surplus moisture dried off; 30g candied peel, roughly chopped; grated zest of 1 large lemon; 1tsp ground mixed spice; 2tbsp apricot jam; 1 egg white.


Preheat the oven to 150˚C/Mark 2. Grease the cake tin and line the bottom and the side with greaseproof paper. Take one third of the almond paste and roll out a circle to fit the tin. This will form the middle of the cake. Put all the other ingredients (apart from the almond paste, jam and egg white) in a mixing bowl and beat well until everything is thoroughly mixed in. Spoon half of the mixture into the cake tin and smooth the surface. Place the round of almond paste on top. Top up with the remaining cake mixture and flatten the surface. Bake for 2 ¼ hours. If the top is over browning, cover with greaseproof paper. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack and allow to cool completely. Warm the jam (you want it to be smooth – remove any chunks of apricot) and brush on the top. Roll one half of the remaining almond paste and shape into another 18 cm round. Place on top of the cake. Roll the remaining paste into 11 or 12 balls (depending on your view of tradition – see above) and use the egg white to fix them on top. Lightly brown the tops of the balls by placing the cake under a hot grill for 1 – 2 minutes.


Steak with Madeiraa Sauce2

I was trolled recently on Twitter by some transatlantic lady. She had published a recipe whose principal component was Hershey Bars. If you have never eaten that fascinating American confection, my advice to you would be to leave it that way. When I expressed my dislike of said product (in a completely neutral way), she took umbrage and started to slag off this column. Her first “missile” was to accuse me that my recipes were not up to Michelin standard. Well, to quote Basil Fawlty, ten out of ten for stating the bleedin’ obvious.

But she did get me thinking about the target readership. Many of you are more accomplished cooks than I; however, a lot of what is in this blog is stuff which I have picked up over the last five years or so. Much of it may be familiar to you, but I reckoned I wasn’t the only person to whom some of the wee tips would come as news. I blocked the lady in question, without suggesting that she might want to research the origins of her nom de plume. If you are on Twitter, you may care to follow the culinary excellence of @AKitchenHoor and her Hershey pie.

Now you all know how to cook a steak, do you not? Espousing the healthy options becoming prevalent in the 1960s, my mum was a great believer in grilling. Fine, but using a domestic grill for me is the worst of all worlds. You don’t get the searing heat for some nice caramelisation, and you lose the juices. (Do bear in mind that at that time we were also taught not to season beef before cooking, as this would make it tough. Many things move on.) If you are thinking about buying a cast iron griddle pan for indoor use, my advice is don’t. Well not unless you want your smoke detectors to go into melt down, and your house to smell like the inside of a barbecue for at least three days.

My preference is to pan fry. For a thicker steak, season with salt and pepper, sear on both sides in a little olive oil in a hot, oven proof pan and cook in an oven at 200˚C. If you like you can also rub your steak with a cut clove of garlic, or smear with a thin film of Dijon mustard. The timing will depend on the cut and the thickness. Somewhere around 5  minutes is usually about right for me. Top tip – leave a cloth on the pan handle when you take it out. This reminder will reduce the likelihood of removing skin from your palm, something which I have done more than once.

I’m recommending fillet steak for this dish. That needs less cooking time than other cuts, so I tend to cook on the hob. The way to test if your meat is properly cooked is by touch. Press together the tip of your thumb and, in turn, each of the fingers of the same hand. While doing so, touch (using your other hand, doh!) the fleshy part of your thumb. You will note that it becomes tighter as you move from the index finger to the pinkie. That equates to the different firmness of cooked steak, ranging from rare to medium rare to medium to ruined, AKA well done. You will see many chefs adding a large knob of butter at the end and basting the meat with the melted butter. I don’t particularly care for it.

So, your steak is cooked. What do you do next? Remember there is no such thing as a nice juicy steak. You wouldn’t dream of taking a roast out of the oven and serving immediately, now would you? So why on earth would you plate up a steak straight out of the pan? Put it to one side on a warm, but not hot, plate and leave for 5 – 10 minutes. What happens is that the muscle relaxes, the juices go back into the meat and you end up with something much more flavoursome. In this recipe I recommend that you finish your sauce in the steak pan to make sure you capture all the cooking juice. I also recommend that you slice the beef before serving. Steak, though delicious, can look unappetising. Far prettier to have some pink stripes on the plate as opposed to a brown mass.

For the sauce (or jus if you want to sound fancy), I have suggested Madeira. The same principles apply to most types of reduction using booze. You may wish to use beef stock instead of chicken, but the end result will be quite strong. The quantities can vary depending on whether you want lots of sauce or just enough for a smear, but keep the ratio of about 1 part booze to 3 or 4 parts stock. If you overdo the reduction, you can reconstitute with water, but that rather misses the point. Fresh herbs are nice if you have them. I would suggest some thyme here. Sage goes well with Marsala, and rosemary is an obvious choice for anything to go with lamb. Be careful with red wine reductions. Taste before you serve, as they can easily be quite sour. A knob of butter may be needed. If you are using a stock cube or pot, be very careful with the salt. These things are quite salty anyway, and the reduction exacerbates that. You could also add mushrooms. Sweat them with the shallots at the beginning.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 fillet steaks; 4 shallots, finely chopped; 2 tbsp olive oil, plus some for frying your steak; 35g butter; 150 – 200 ml Madeira; 450 – 600 ml chicken stock; sprig of fresh thyme (optional); salt and pepper.


Soften the shallots in the butter and oil. Add the Madeira and the thyme, if using. Turn up the heat and boil until the liquid has reduced by about half. Add the stock. Boil to reduce by almost another half. Cook the steak however you like it. While the meat is resting strain your sauce into the steak pan, mix in with the cooking juices and bubble to the desired consistency. You could add a little cream if you like that sort of thing, or a knob of butter. These days it is more elegant to serve the sauce under the meat.

I like to serve this with pommes dauphinoise (see 5 recipes back), red onion marmalade (coming soon) and something else for a bit of colour on the plate.

*My estimable friend Robert C of Mr C’s Pies takes me to task for confusing a jus and a sauce. As a professional, he is of course quite correct; however, most restaurants when trying to be poncy (ie most of them most of the time) misuse the term, using it when they mean a sauce. A jus, properly so called, is made from the cooking juices of meat, eg gravy made in the traditional way; however it can also be used for thickened or clear brown stock eg jus de veau.

He also advises oiling the meat, never the pan. This is absolutely essential if you are using a griddle. Thanks, Robert.



When it comes to party time, with twenty or more gannets approaching, their sole intention being to eat and drink us out of house and home, a change of tactics is required. Mine is very simple – Lesley takes over the cooking. This is less of a cop out than it may sound. Decades ago we identified a mutual inability to work in a kitchen at the same time as the other. While this has relaxed a little as we have got older (but definitely not wiser), there is still room for only one head chef.

It may seem odd to feature a dessert which neither of us much cares to eat, but this is guaranteed to be a show stopper. I’m not fond of meringues (with the exception of those made by Aunt Agnes, but she’s been dead these past 30 years), and Lesley can’t eat cream – which is why she doesn’t use it. Read on.

You get no points for guessing for whom this dish is named and why. The ballerina Anna Pavlova: inspired by her performance of The Dying Swan in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. But where and by whom? Both Australia and New Zealand claim it, sometime in the 1920s. For my own part I find it difficult to get excited about such things. Other research suggests that pavlova is based on an Austrian recipe. The Larousse Gastronomique tells us that meringues have been around since the 18th century, possibly invented by a Swiss pastry chef working in Germany. With due deference to my antipodean chums, I therefore find it highly unlikely that it would have taken someone a couple of hundred  years to have the bright idea to top a meringue base with cream and fruit.

Lesley tells me they are unbelievably easy to make. I suspect she has pinched someone’s recipe – if so, my apologies to that someone. I included cinnamon in the title to attract your attention, and it does add spice, (pun intended). Omit it if you wish. In summer, the toppings choose themselves, summer fruits either au naturel, or enhanced with a small sprinkling of citrus or booze. There are, however, many things you can do to make this a showstopper at any time of year. A few ideas are given below. A final word. Doing this leaves you with the yolks – Lesley has often used instant egg white, and defies party goers to tell the difference. In the aftermath of a large bash, hollandaise sauce or omelette may not be on your menu.



The whites of 4 large eggs; 250g caster sugar; 1 tsp white wine vinegar- 2 tsp ground cinnamon.


Put a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray. (Top tip – a little blob of the meringue mixture on the bottom at each corner will hold it down,) Draw a circle about 24 cm in diameter. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then whisk in the sugar a little at a time. When all the sugar is absorbed fold in the vinegar and the cinnamon. Spread the mixture evenly on the baking parchment to cover the circle. Bake in a preheated oven at 180˚C/Mark 4 for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 120˚C/Mark ½ and cook for a further 30 minutes. Switch off the oven and leave the meringue until cooled. You can make this the night before. Make sure it is entirely cool before adding the topping.


The traditional topping is whipped cream and fruit. Lesley uses crème fraiche. Alternatively, try a mixture of cream and soured cream. There are no limits to the possibilities. Try-

  • Raspberries with a sprinkling of toasted almonds
  • Any soft fruit with a sprinkling of Cointreau or Grand Marnier
  • Cherries and Kirsch
  • Strawberries and kiwi fruit
  • Chopped stem ginger
  • Baby apples preserved in Calvados

Outwith the soft fruit season Lesley often uses a bag of frozen fruits of the forest – simple but effective. Email me  your favourite permutations to A prize might be awarded, but don’t hold your breath.


Baaguettes Baguettes tray

I really cannot keep up with all these food weeks. I have no idea who creates them: I have no idea where one finds out about them: and, to be frank, I don’t care much. I see stuff on social meeja suggesting that this is national pie week. Well, I’ve done pies not that long ago, so move on. What next? Oh, last week was Real Bread Week. Hmm. REAL bread, eh? From cinema ads of my youth we knew about REAL men, usually because they smoked a particular brand of fags. The world real has always been a boon to conmen in the world of PR. Real bread. As opposed to imaginary? Or unreal bread, whatever that is. OK. Rant over.

Let’s turn instead to the finest bread in the world. Now at this point I’m going to appal all you sourdough heads – or even you sour doughheads – and suggest that your product doesn’t top the podium. Come out of a boulangerie in Paris either in the morning, or late afternoon, clutching a stick or two of genius. How many times do you get back to your apartment with your loaf unsullied? Never mind Paris – apply the same test to anywhere in the world where the French have settled for any length of time. Baguettes are to be found from street carts in Cambodia, or in little back street shops in Puducherry on the Bay of Bengal in India. They are, quite simply, the finest loaves in the world. And also darn tricky to make.

If you look at the Larousse Book of Bread you will in fact see that it calls for a sourdough starter. That’s a road I have yet to travel. I have made them a few times using the following recipe. I will confess that mine don’t look that much like those photographed, but they taste delicious. Don’t be put off by the amount of salt – it may seem a lot, but it does work. What is off putting is the fact that this is a very liquid dough, and difficult to work. The first part in the machine is fine – it’s shaping the loaves and working them prior to the second prove that’s a problem. You should invest in a baguette tray (see photo above), and I find I do need a bread scraper to assist.

Ingredients (makes 3 baguettes)

375g strong white flour; 7.5g yeast (fast action); 7.5g salt; 45ml olive oil; 270 ml warm water.


Put the flour in a mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add the yeast, oil and salt and about half the water. (I assume you know not to let the salt touch the yeast – it can delay its action, or kill it altogether.) Mix on a slow speed gradually adding the rest of the water and increasing the speed to medium. In about 5 – 7 minutes you should have a smooth dough. Scrape into an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove until the dough has at least doubled in size. This should take about two hours. Now the fun starts. Tip the dough on to your work surface. You may need a little oil, but you will need flour for dusting, and for your hands. Cut the dough into three. With each section of dough stretch and fold a few times, roll into a baguette shape and place into the pre-floured baguette tray. Cover again for the second prove. Again, you are looking for a doubling in size. Before baking slash the top of each loaf three or four times. You will need a very sharp knife (professionals use a razor) or you can use scissors. Pre heat the oven to 220˚C/Mark 7. Throw a cup of cold water in the bottom of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 200˚C for about another 10 minutes, until golden brown.

You will vow never to make these again – until, that is,  you get the plaudits from family and friends, or simply scoff them yourself, and remember how good they are.


Orange Cake

Oranges are not the only fruit, but they seem to be particularly good at the moment. If you look carefully, blood oranges are still available. As you may know, puddings are not my speciality, but I have had excellent feedback from today’s offering. While blood oranges will give a more spectacular appearance, taste before you use. Better to have a sweeter conventional orange, than a bloody but bitter one. And as for the cake, I prefer to use freshly squeezed juice than ready bought.

What you want to end up with is some cake, topped with peel, doused with orange/boozy liquid, a few orange segments on the side and something cold or frozen (ice cream or granita) on the side. In other words something vaguely approximating the photo. As it happens, when I was pulling this together on a Friday night I had nothing frozen. The photo has some Greek yoghurt, and darn fine it was too. Some grated orange zest in the yoghurt would have been good too.

Orange Cake


110g butter; 150g caster sugar; grated zest of 2 oranges; 2 egg yolks; 125g self-raising flour, sifted; 125ml freshly squeezed orange juice; 2 egg whites; pinch salt.


Pre heat your oven to 180˚C/Mark 4.  Start by separating two eggs.  You will need three bowls and a 20cm cake tin, greased and lightly floured. Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Mix in the flour in alternating with the juice (so the recipe said). (NOW PAY ATTENTION. Eejits like me have no idea what that last instruction means. If you add a lot of juice to your egg mixture at once it will curdle. Add it gradually, beat well and make sure to add sufficient flour to avoid splitting.)

Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites then whisk to stiff peaks. Fold into your mixture and spoon into the tin. Bake in your preheated oven. Needs a good 40 minutes.

Segmented Oranges

Use blood oranges if you can find them – see above. I’m not going to apologise about including an explanation on how to segment an orange – I’ll be surprised if five percent of the cooking population knows how. In the interests of brevity I’ll repeat the link from last year’s breakfast section.

Candied Orange Peel

Remove as much peel as you need from some oranges, ideally 4 – 5 cm in length. A potato peeler is best. If you have taken it off too thickly, get rid of the white pith. Cut the peel into the thinnest strips (juliennes, not to be confused with his friend Sandy) you can manage. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then drain and refresh in lots of cold water. In a small pan melt 50g sugar with 100ml water, then add the peel and simmer for about 10 minutes. Leave in the pan to cool in the liquid. Reserve the liquid to drizzle over the cake. Even better if you add a slug of Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

Marmalade Ice Cream

Soften (NOT melt) 4 balls of best quality vanilla ice cream. Add two or three tablespoons of marmalade, a good one with lots of coarse rind. Add a slug or two of an orange liqueur of your choice. Mix well together then refreeze.

Orange Granita


125g caster sugar; 250 ml water; 250 ml freshly squeezed orange juice; squeeze of lemon juice; zest of 2 oranges.


You will need a flat plastic or metal tray which fits in your freezer. Mae a sugar syrup by melting the sugar in the water over a gentle heat. Stir in the orange juice, lemon juice and zest, bubble for a minute or two then allow to cool. When the mixture is cold pour into the tray and place in the freezer. When the liquid is starting to freeze (this will take an hour or so) mix up with a fork. Mix up every hour to stop a solid mass from forming. A granita is a mass of crystals. It will take longer than you think, but it will keep for ages in a sealed container.


What! You had no idea that was-


Canary Islands Chickpea Stew

Well, really. You just can’t get the readers these days. Some of you may have picked up on the mention of this in last week’s Tom Eats! column. We were served it, most inappropriately, as a starter.

What Is It?

With any dish whose principal component is carbohydrate, one may often make the assumption that it is a peasant dish at heart. Mexican refried beans, for example, or many potato dishes (with the obvious exception of Granny Johnston’s famous stovies), etc, etc. That, however, is not always the case. Munch through the confit duck, Toulouse sausage and chunky pork bits of a cassoulet, and you are very far from the poverty line. Sadly I have no Spanish friends whom I can consult, but I get the impression that today’s masterpiece is nearer to a cassoulet than something from the bread line. My rationale comes from reading of the wide variety of meats which may be included. Many commentators will say that pig’s trotters are essential. Pork ribs feature often, along with pork belly and chorizo. But beef also appears in many versions – we’re not just talking about things to do with the one pig you had for high days and holidays.

I would very much welcome some feed back from those who know, but my impression is that it would be a fair old occasion to sit down for a fully loaded garbanzado.

How Do You Make It?

My version is a fairly simple one, involving relatively little cooking of the meat. It must be remembered that tinned, ready to use, chickpeas were not the norm for previous generations. Instead of a mere overnight soak, many Spaniards would combine the first stage preparation of the chickpeas with the cooking of the meat, thus adding extra flavour. Beef, pork belly and pig’s trotters take a long time in the preparation, and would often be added to the veg later: here I am trying to reproduce that which I ate and enjoyed. It also has the virtue of being much simpler. These days it is quite difficult to source bacon in a piece to cut into your own lardons.

Ingredients (quantities are approximate)

2 tins of cooked chickpeas, drained; 1 large onion, peeled and chopped; 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped; 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped; 2 cloves garlic, crushed; 400 ml passata;  couple of squeezes of tomato purée; 300g smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons of about 1 cm (or, if you can only find the smaller, ready chopped lardons, use 200g of them and 100g finely chopped bacon); 250g chorizo, skinned and cut into 1 cm chunks; 250g morcilla, cut into 1 cm chunks; 300ml beef or chicken stock; 100 ml dry white wine; 2 bay leaves; 1 -2  tsp sweet paprika; ½ tsp cayenne pepper; salt and pepper; olive oil; splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar.


Soften the onion, peppers and garlic and, if using, finely chopped bacon. Add the lardons and brown for a couple of minutes. Stir in the tomato purée then add the passata and the chorizo. After a few minutes add the chickpeas, wine, bay leaves, paprika, cayenne, and stock. Season with pepper, but no salt at this stage Allow to bubble for at least 40 minutes. If the stew is too liquid, reduce a little. About twenty minutes before you want to eat, add the black pudding. This will crumble into the stew and thicken it. The version I ate had little chunks of cooked black pudding served on top at the end. For obvious reasons, this looked disgusting beyond belief. Check the seasoning before serving. With the bacon and chorizo it is unlikely to need salt, but check. Never ever salt chickpeas early on – they will turn into bullets. A splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar at the end may add a little zing. Olé!



Dauphinoise Potatoes

The Tom Cooks! column is nothing if not seasonal. Now I am aware that this conditional clause might leave me open to a cheap jibe, but I have faith in you, dear readers. This week, seasonality would lead us to strange places. Why? Well, in one brief week we have Shrove Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, and the Chinese New Year (Year of the Dog, since I hear you ask). So, pancakes, obviously, with an aphrodisiac. Sweet and sour oysters anyone? Or if we add to the mix the fact that we also have the Winter Olympics coming from Korea, do we throw in the alleged national speciality of that country?

Nay, I have decided to move away from all that tumult. Make a romantic meal for the man in your life, and give him what he likes more than anything – tatties. No honest person could place any type of veg above the potato, if only for its complete versatility. Newly dug from the ground, served boiled, or mashed with butter or cream or any one of a number of unctuous additives. Crispy baked in the oven, or crunchy from the fryer. Adorning a good steak and béarnaise sauce, or just hot-salty, in a poke on a cold frosty night after a couple of beers. Now, tell me honestly that I haven’t made your mouth water. So let’s have no more of that humble potato nonsense. And today’s dish, is one of the grandest, but simplest. Meals fit for a king. I can hear the memories of the better educated among you clicking – the Dauphin, of course, is royalty, the French heir apparent, the Prince of Wales as it were. How appropriate.

I have to confess that I too used to do that 2 plus 2 sum. Sadly, it gives you the answer 5. The name derives from Dauphiné, that part of France extending from Savoy to Provence. Now that you are on your mettle against further schoolboy howlers, you will know not to confuse today’s Dauphinoise with Dauphine potatoes. The latter involve potatoes reduced to a purée, added to choux paste, shaped into balls and fried in very hot fat. We’ll leave them for another day, should I ever learn how to make them. Now, this column is appearing too late for Valentine’s Day, but I guarantee that any decent trencherman will thank you for this dish. I give you three versions. I’m sure many of you will have your own recipe; however, my researches uncovered some interesting variations.

Dauphinoise: Some General Thoughts

With this being a French classic, I thought there would be some definitive version. Not so. In fact no such recipe appears under that name in either volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although there are gratin recipes aplenty. There is a lot of disinformation out there. While most recipes will recommend a moderate oven (c 180˚C/Mark 4), many will tell you the dish will take about 45 minutes to cook. They lie! If you put raw potato in an oven it will take about twice that time. (It is in fact difficult to overcook, provided you don’t let it burn on top – you want a deep golden brown finish.) There is the first division of opinion – to precook or not. Then you have to decide whether you use cream only, or milk and cream, or milk only. What about garlic? Essential, but used how? Auguste Escoffier and I use ours to rub the cooking dish – others layer it with the potatoes. And other additives? I assumed that purists would scream at the thought of adding cheese: if it’s good enough for M. Escoffier, then it’s good enough for the rest of us? Actually, I’m not going down that route, as there are so many excellent twists and turns when you combine potatoes and cheese. I give the blessed Auguste’s version merely as an example of vive la différence. And if you want a definitive modern version of any great dish, look no further than Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland.


For all versions, start with a large ovenproof gratin dish, rubbed with butter. Auguste and I would rub the dish with a cut garlic clove. For each recipe, peel and very finely slice your potatoes. When seasoning, make sure that you are generous on each layer – it is surprisingly easy to produce a dish which is short on flavour. Whatever cooking time your recipe specifies, check that the spuds are fully cooked and soft, using a thin knife or skewer. Put the baking dish on a tray to collect any spillage. If the top is becoming too brown, but the potatoes are still not cooked, cover with foil.

Tom’s Version

Ingredients (serves 4- 6)

1 kg potatoes; milk; 284ml tub double cream/double Elmlea*; 2 cloves garlic; 6 – 8 dots of butter, plus extra to rub the bowl; salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg (optional).


Butter the gratin dish and rub with garlic. Bash the remaining clove with the flat of a knife (you want to be able to remove it later). Place the potatoes in a deep wide pan with the crushed clove of garlic and enough milk to cover. Bring to a slow simmer and cook gently for about five minutes, turning once. Remove the garlic. Put a later of potatoes in your cooking dish, season with plenty of salt, pepper, and nutmeg if desired. Pour over the cooking milk and add the cream. Dot the butter on top and bake. Cooking time about 60 – 75 minutes.

*A word about Elmlea. You will find it in the cream section of your supermarkets, the tubs marked as an alternative to cream. My experience is that it is good in cooked form, but I wouldn’t use it raw. It works for my wife, who has an intolerance to cream but not to other dairy products. It contains about 37% vegetable fat and oil; however, the remaining 63% is milk, so it is not a dairy free option.

Sarah Mellersh’s Version

Ingredients (serves 8)

2 kg potatoes; 50g butter cut into small cubes, plus a little extra, melted, to line the dish;   3 – 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced; 725 ml double cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg.


Into the brushed gratin dish, add a layer of potatoes, slightly overlapping. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and nutmeg. Repeat until the dish is full. Pour over the cream. Add another gating of nutmeg and dot with the butter. Cooking time about 1½ hours.

Auguste Escoffier’s Version

Ingredients (quantities converted from Imperial measure)

900g potatoes; 1 egg; 725ml full cream milk brought to the boil; 200g grated Gruyere cheese; about 6 dots of butter, plus extra for the gratin dish; 1 clove garlic; salt, pepper, pinch of nutmeg.


Rub the gratin dish with butter and garlic. Put the potatoes into a separate bowl with the milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and about half of the cheese. Mix well together and transfer to the gratin dish. Sprinkle liberally with the remaining cheese, and top with the butter. Cooking time (allegedly) 35 – 40 minutes. See my comments above. I would be astonished if this were cooked in that time, but that’s what is written in Ma Cuisine.

Thanks to Sarah for permission to reproduce her recipes. For more details about Let’s Cook Scotland and  her courses contact her at

Tel: 07932 642605


Masala Dosa

My plan was to end this journey in triumph. Arrival in the land of colour and spice, opening up to you all the secrets of the Indian subcontinent and its wonderful way with lentils. Alas, alas.

Whisper it, but dal (or daal, or dhal) had never been one of my favourites. Such stupidity was born of a complete lack of understanding. When you come to a cuisine from the rich end, where your starting point is which meat laden dish will be the principal means of stuffing your face, you generally miss the point. In our Indian trip last year, I think we began to get it a little more. Yes we were tourists rather than travellers, but our obvious willingness to eat as the (adequately affluent) locals did opened our eyes. Put simply, the lentil comes second only to rice in importance as the main part of a dish or side dish. I’m choosing my words carefully, so reread this section before you start emailing me about onions. It is very very unusual to be served a meal without lentils in some form or another. I saw a programme recently where an Indian lady told us she was advised by her mother never to serve lentils at a smart meal for guests, as they would think they were being served leftovers.

We discovered masala dosa (pictured), which became our standard breakfast. A dosa is a large circular pancake like thing made with lentil or chickpea flour. The masala is a reference   to the filling of spiced cooked potatoes. It is served with Indian “chutneys” (closer to what we would call a salsa) and, invariably with sambar, which you see in the centre. Our travels were in the middle to south section, where the sambar was soup like, spicy but without the viscosity one expects from a lentil based dish. The recipes which I have been able to find would produce something more akin to a stew. Thanks to KL, who sent me a good looking version; however, tamarind is hard to come by, and I haven’t found sambar powder which, the books tell me, is a staple in every Indian kitchen cupboard.

I then went to reconsider dal. I have had it black, red, yellow or brown, thin, thickish or like glue. There are fifteen species of lentil, and, I would guess, an infinitesimal number of ways of making dal. By coincidence, not long ago I attended an Indian cookery class at Let’s Cook Scotland, from which I reproduce the tarka dal recipe. Tarka refers to the fried bits cooked separately which are added to the lentils.

Sarah Mellersh’s Tarka Dal


400g red lentils; 2 tsp turmeric; 2 knobs butter (preferably unsalted), about 60g total; 2 tsp cumin seeds; 1 small onion, finely chopped; 2 – 3 cloves garlic, crushed; 1 – 2 green chillies, finely sliced (up to you if you want to remove seeds – the dish will be quite hot if you use 2 and leave the seeds in); 1 tsp garam masala; 1 tsp ground coriander; thumb size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated.


Rinse the lentils thoroughly. Put in a heavy pan with enough water to come to around 5cm above their surface. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Skim off any scum. Add the turmeric and half the butter. Cover and leave to cook gently. Check and stir from time to time. You are ultimately looking for them to be the consistency of porridge. It is very easy to burn lentils. Add more water if required

In a small dry frying pan, toast the cumin sees over a medium heat for about two minutes, and set to one side. In the same pan, melt the remaining butter and gently fry the onion, garlic, chillies and ginger. As ever take care not to burn the garlic. If you do, there is no choice but to start again. Once your mixture is golden, add the toasted cumin seeds, garam masala and ground coriander. Mix together for a minute or two, remove from the heat and set aside until the lentils are completely softened.

Check the lentils and give a good stir when at the right consistency. Stir in the fried mixture, check the seasoning and serve. Can be served as part of a feast, or on its own. A topping of fresh coriander goes well.

Thanks to Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland for permission to reproduce her recipes. For more details about her courses contact her at

Tel: 07932 642605



Lentils 2018

Now, dear reader, do not be confused by that which is to follow. I love France with a passion. I have visited the vast majority of the country, apart from the Massif Central. I have luxuriated around lakes and cities, and marvelled at mountains and Med alike. But I do warn you that for each characterful little hamlet you happen upon, there will be more than one grey little village with no obvious charms. Should you alight from your car to try to shake your initial prejudices, and to find that chichi little village inn of your dreams, be aware that the one establishment which is open is likely to contain a barman and four elderly men watching the Tour de France, or, possibly, edited highlights of last year’s event. They will turn slowly as one and stare at you – time to beat a retreat.

I have never visited the little town of Le Puy-en-Velnay (population 18,634). In its Noteworthy Events section, the town’s Wikipedia entry discloses Le Puy has hosted the Tour de France on six occasions. In 1954, it was the finish town of stage 15, from Millau, which was won by Dominique Forlini. Add to that the fact that it is in vaguely the direction of Clermont Ferrand, and seems to be nowhere near anywhere one has ever heard of, and you understand why we are not close acquaintances. But if this is France, can something of gastronomic interest be far away?

Indeed not. I have been aware for years of the delights of the Puy lentil; however, I was unaware that the green lentil of Puy has been awarded Protected Designation of Origin status (like Champagne, and Stornoway Black Pudding). Le Puy has suffered a poor harvest recently, so your best alternative source of green lentils may currently be Canada. But if you read last week’s column you could have guessed that. We may think of the lentil as an ingredient of eastern promise or as a base for soup – trust the French to take it to a new dimension.

I could happily eat this week’s dish as a plate in its own right. In France it typically is served with sausages, pork or duck; however, one now sees fish served on a bed of lentils – it’s a very useful alternative to potato. I very seldom disagree with my food guru, Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland, but I do here. She suggests adding some tomato paste: for my own part I prefer the earthy taste, with just a little sweetness coming from the bacon and carrot.

Ingredients (serves 4)

150g Puy lentils (other green lentils will do if you can’t get Puy); 2 medium banana shallots; 1 medium carrot; 2 slices streaky bacon; 500 ml chicken or vegetable stock; balsamic vinegar.


Very finely dice the shallots, carrots and bacon, and sweat until al dente. Rinse the lentils well then mix in with the vegetables and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add some of the stock and simmer, topping up from time to time. You may not need all the liquid: but if you do need more, add water. At the end the lentils should be al dente. Check the seasoning. You may need no salt at all. If, however, you decide to salt, always add it at the end otherwise your lentils will go tough. Just before serving, add a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Consider the Lentil


If you find yourself in haughty mode, you may respond to my very reasonable title with a curt Why? Or indeed, if in a completely dismissive state of mind, with a Pshaw!  or some such. In that case I shall give you two responses, the first, possibly, being the clue to the second. For, fortunate reader, this is the first of three treatises on the fascinating titular legume.

Firstly, tell me which country is the largest (in terms of volume) producer of lentils. (*See answer below). Secondly, tell me the relevance of the animal in the picture. Yes, that photo was indeed taken in India, where we ate very well, very variedly, and entirely without tummy problems. And where we ate a lot of lentils in various forms, not least in the wonderful breakfast dish of masala dosa. A dosa is a giant crispy crepe like disc, usually made out of lentil flour. The masala version has a filling of cooked spiced potatoes, and is served with various chutneys. Cocooned as we were in five star hotels, we were engaging with breakfast waiters expecting Brits to be looking for eggs. Asking for dosas did raise our street cred just a little. More of India to come, possibly next week if we’re spared.

But, like most Scots, I had encountered lentils long before I had ever encountered any Indian food. Being back out there made me rethink my relationship and do some more research.

Lentils are the oldest known pulses. Remains have been found in Greece going back to 11,000 BC.  I have no idea when they first reached Scotland, but they feature in many old Scottish books. Mostly, it must be said, in soup form. Investigate the internet these days and most of the recipes are from chefs offering what they claim to be their granny’s version. I shall trump them by repeating, almost verbatim, the recipe for my mammy’s lentil soup, reproduced from that celebrated tome, The Mammy’s Cookbook for 1974 – 1975, alternatively The mammy’s Thesis, University of Life. As I own the only copy, and the author is stirring the great soup cauldron in the sky, there are, for once, no copyright issues.

* (Were you fooled by the tiger? The world’s largest lentil producer is Canada with 1.987m tons as opposed to India’s paltry 1.1m.)

Meg Johnston’s Lentil Soup (I don’t make mine this way, but hers was very good, and  was a real stick to your ribs version. Somewhere there is a picture of a pan of it with the spoon literally standing up. The words in italics are hers.)


1 ham bone, (soaked in cold water for several hours. Ideally for at least 8 hours with the water replaced 2 or 3 times); 450 g red lentils (they are actually orange in colour, but for some inexplicable reason we call them red); loads of finely grated carrots.


The mind boggles at your attempting this but if you insist. This used to be v cheap to make so a disaster now and then could be shrugged off. It sticks to the pot if you turn your back on it – it sticks to your ribs if you make it my way – are you sure you want to go on with this? Take the lentils and put them in your chinois (now that’s a sair thing as they used to say), wash them under a running tap until you think the lentils are clean, then wash and wash and wash them again. A huge pot with a thick bottom – nothing personal – filled with water. Add the ham bone and remember from one who is a scientific moron to allow for the displacement. When, and only when, the water boils, start adding the lentils in a slow, steady stream keeping the stock on the boil or the whole thing will stick and ultimately SINGE. If it starts to splutter as the lentils dissolve, feel free to turn down the heat, but be prepared to abandon everything else and keep stirring or it will SINGE. As it thickens even more add boiling water to thin the consistency and stir. On no account use cold water – will sink the mess of lentils to the bottom of the pot where they will LURK and SINGE. This is really not the soup to tackle unless all is right with your world or you’ll go berserk. There are many rocks where you can perish in the production, eg, don’t but don’t salt it till it’s ready to serve – the ham may get saltier as the hours go by.

Loads of finely grated carrots in the last 15 minutes sweetens it – and if being very posh purée the damn lot. You may want to serve with sippets of toast – not croûtons, dear boy, sippets.

Here is an alternative. I haven’t made this one, but it seems OK.

An Anonymous Modern Lentil Soup


350g red lentils; 1 ham bone, rinsed for a minimum of 4 hours, water changed at least twice; 2 medium onions, finely chopped; 3 carrots, peeled and grated; 1 stick celery, finely chopped; 1 clove of garlic, crushed (optional – I wouldn’t); 1 bay leaf; salt and pepper; vegetable oil.


Soften the onion, carrot, celery and garlic, if using, in the oil over a medium heat. (Doh! You lot would know that softening is done over a medium heat – sorry). Add the bay leaf and the lentils. Stir together for a few minutes then add the ham bone and about 1.5 to 2 litres of boiling water. Simmer gently, stirring regularly. Once the lentils are in the right consistency, remove the bone and check the seasoning. In days of old the meat from the bone would have been saved for the main course. If you are trying to be flash, you may want to puree the whole thing and/or put some slivers of the ham on top or, indeed, some sippets.




(Though I says it myself)

mongrel chicken

On Saturday I had been forbidden, under pain of something unspecified but almost certainly unpleasant, from buying any food until the fridge had been cleared of leftovers, most notably a pack of chicken pieces. I pulled them out, averting my gaze from the sell by date. Some bacon came next. After a family conference we decided that the month old sell by date on this was less important than the visual tests (any blue bits?) and olfactory (does it smell off?). Bacon is preserved anyway. So, what next? Coq au vin? I think the classic really needs mushrooms and the fridge was fungi free (well, of the edible variety, anyway).

Decided on a version of coq au Riesling, or in this case Gavi, but the brain went back to yesterday’s lunch at Baba, home of Levantine cuisine. See the latest Tom Eats! column for more details. I then did a bit of digging into number two spice cupboard and got the seasonings. Harissa, sumac and za’atar are powerful flavours. You can get these in most supermarkets these days, though they’re sometimes hidden away from the mainstream herbs. The quantities I have given produced a fairly restrained, balanced dish. Feel free to add extra for something a bit more in your face.

Finally, you will note that I have refrained from calling this a middle eastern dish. Yes, I am aware that bacon would not feature, nor, in most countries, would wine be used. It’s simply quite a nice example of what you can concoct with leftovers and a little imagination. Two thighs per portion is enough, but allow at least three drumsticks each. We had only four, so I cooked lots of veg.

Ingredients (serves 2) You will need a heavy pan with  a lid.

4 – 6 chicken pieces, thighs or drumsticks, skin on; 2 onions sliced lengthways; 2 or 3 slices streaky bacon, finely chopped; 500 ml chicken stock; 150 ml dry white wine; 3 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped; 1 – 2 tsp harissa powder; 1 tsp sumac; 1 tsp za’atar; salt and pepper; vegetable oil.


In a fairly hot pan fry the bacon for a few minutes, then add the chicken pieces and brown all over. Remove the chicken and bacon and set to one side. You may need to deglaze the pan to get rid of some sticky bits – if so use a little of the wine – but keep the same pan to avoid losing any flavour. In the same pan fry the onions and garlic for a few minutes. You want to brown the onions slightly, but avoid burning the garlic. Return the chicken and bacon, add the spices, a little salt and pepper, and stir to make sure they are well coated. Then pour in the wine and the stock, bring to the boil, the reduce to a simmer.  Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through. If the liquid doesn’t completely cover the meat, turn the chicken once or twice during the cooking process. This usually takes a little longer than you think. I may play fast and loose with bacon dates, but I draw the line at undercooked chicken. Check after 20 minutes, but it may need another 5 to 10. Remove the chicken and keep warm (the meat that is, not necessarily you), turn up the heat and reduce by about two thirds, or until you have your preferred consistency of gravy. Check the seasoning and serve. To distance myself even further from the Levant, I served this with buttery mashed tatties, and a squashed up  mixture of carrot and turnip (swede to non-Scots). I commend this marriage. Turnip by itself has a slightly bitter edge which is nicely complemented by the sweetness of the carrots. Butter, lots of pepper and a good grating of nutmeg finish it off perfectly.

New Year Game Pie

Game Pie

The estimable Robert Corrigan of Mr C’s Pies* need have no fear. This is not an attempt to muscle into his territory, (although a culinary resolution of mine for 2018 is to attempt to make a traditional hot-water pastry pork pie). What we have today is but a variation on central Scotland’s national dish. I refer of course to steak pie. For us Fifers this dish will probably have honoured our coming into the world; it will have featured at many of our weddings, and will see many of us out. For all I know it may well be served at bar mitzvahs – and it is always on the menu at New Year. Otherwise we never touch it – unless there’s a “Y” in the day.

To celebrate the visit of chums from Oirland, I cooked this variation on a theme. It’s a very simple dish, provided you’re clever about sourcing your ingredients. Read a traditional Scottish cookbook, and you will despair of being able to find the offcuts of all of the things suggested, eg pheasant, venison, hare, duck or boar. Fear not, go to George Bower’s of Stockbridge** and buy packs of their game mix. An unscrupulous butcher would bulk these out with sweepings from below the chopping board – not here. In addition to the foregoing range, Bower’s packs also include partrage (sic) and pidgon (sic). Their staff are much better at butchery than at spelling. I spell very well, but my butchery skills are limited – I call it even. If you can’t get to Edinburgh, game mix can be bought online from various companies.

It is important to know what you’ve got, and that everything will cook at about the same time. For example, if making a venison pie using a haunch, the meat would need a long slow cook: however, this would completely dry out the other components. The other ingredient issue is the pastry. I have made my own puff pastry, but just use Jus-Rol. It’s so much easier, an awful lot quicker, and I wonder how many would be able to tell the difference.

Ingredients (serves about 6)

1kg game mix; 1 onion, finely chopped; 1 carrot, finely chopped; plain flour; 500 ml beef stock; 500 ml full bodied red wine (I used Malbec); 1 bay leaf; 10 juniper berries, lightly crushed; 1 sheet puff pastry; vegetable oil; 1 beaten egg; salt and pepper.


Season some plain flour with salt and pepper. You will need enough to coat the meat lightly, about 3 or 4 tbsp. Dust the meat in the flour. Brown the meat in batches in a large heavy pan with a lid and set to one side. Be careful not to burn the pan. You want to retain the flavour and the residual crust. You will have to top up the oil, but try not to use more than necessary. Once the meat has been browned, deglaze the base of the pan with a splash of the wine or with a little red wine vinegar. Adding a tiny bit more oil, cook the onion and carrot for about five minutes, until lightly browned. Return the meat, then add the stock, wine, bay leaf and juniper berries. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook until the meat is done. This will take about fifteen minutes. Allow to cool slightly then strain the sauce into another pan. Remove the bay leaf and, if you can find them, the juniper berries. Over a high heat, reduce the sauce by about half, stirring occasionally. You should have a rich gravy, thick enough to coat the meat. Check the seasoning. You will need to add pepper: you may or may not need salt, depending if you have used a stock cube or stockpot. Return the sauce to the meat (or vice versa) and allow to cool completely. This is important, as if you try to put pastry on top of a warm filling it will start to melt.

When the filling is completely cold, put it in a pie dish. Roll your pastry to about the thickness of a £1 coin and put on the top. It can be useful to put little blobs or strips of pastry on the pie dish in advance to help the main pastry cover to stick. In an ideal world you would have a funnel for the centre to allow steam to escape, but if not, form a decent sized hole in the middle. Beat the egg and apply a wash to the pastry. Cook in a preheated oven at 200˚C/Mark 6 for about 30minutes. Your filling is already cooked but needs to heat through thoroughly. Keep an eye on the pastry. After about 20 minutes, if it seems golden enough, cover loosely with a sheet of foil or greaseproof paper.

Serve with mashed potato and peas. What a way to start a year – or, indeed, any supper on a cold day.

* Mr C’s Pies is an award winning pie manufacturer. Their products can be sourced throughout Scotland, and also at Fortnum & Mason. For more information, visit their website at

** I have been using George Bower Butchers for all my meat for years. Not cheap but fantastic quality. For more information, visit their website


Oyster raw Oyster tempura Oyster Rockefeller

As this will be the final Tom Cooks! column of 2017, I thought something festive would be appropriate. The original plan was a recipe for panettone, that lovely sweet bread from Milan, laced with raisins and candied fruit, which is a feature of every Italian celebration. I then discovered how you make it if you’re doing it properly, an immediately abandoned the idea. If you’re interested, there are plenty of recipes on the net for the ersatz version. But this column refuses to drop its standards for you, dear reader. And as for American Thanksgiving dishes? Apologies, chums in the good old U S of A, but I’m moving swiftly on.

With the despair of a blocked writer I sought solace in a book, Consider the Oyster, by the estimable M F K Fisher, the wonderful but now little known American food writer. And it came to me in a flash. On much of the continent, especially in France, oysters are an important part of Christmas celebrations. Subject matter sorted.

One could write screeds on the subject, one dear to the hearts of many and disgusting to many others. My feeling is that, like anchovies and olives, oysters are a bench mark of maturity: you have to be quite grown up to enjoy them. For those in gustatory adolescence, trying them in cooked form is a gentle introduction. For many whose taste buds are fully formed and who love them as I do, the prospect of trying to open one at home is the barrier. The books will always tell you never to get your fishmonger to open them, as you will lose the precious liquids. That is quite true if you are going au naturel, or making some sort of seafood stew, but as you don’t need the juice for either of the following recipes, you could save yourself some effort.

One final thought. If you are concerned about the time of year to eat oysters, it is probably because have heard the old saw about “not when there is no R in the month”. Will they kill you in June, May, September, August? No, but that is the time they breed, and are therefore not at their best. As Mrs Fisher says, “oysters, like all men, are somewhat weaker after they have done their best at reproducing.”

Oysters in Tempura Batter

This is the first way I ever ate oysters, in California. I had almost certainly never heard of tempura, but I was very aware that I was consuming something markedly different from claggy, batter-clad scampi which were common place in the Britain of the 1970s. There are a couple of important things about tempura batter. Firstly, the water must be very cold and very fizzy – not from a half-opened bottle. The batter itself should be very thin, and almost transparent. Don’t worry if it looks a bit lumpy – that’s not a bad thing.

Ingredients (serves 4)

24 oysters, shelled, drained and patted dry; 50g plain flour; 50g cornflour; 175ml sparkling water; pinch of salt; vegetable oil for frying; lemons.


Make the batter by sifting the flours and the salt into a bowl and stirring in the mineral water. Heat the oil to deep frying heat. I am told that 190˚C is ideal. If you don’t have a thermometer, use the cube of bread test. It should start to brown immediately it is chucked in. Dip the oysters one at time into the batter, then fry in small batches for one minute, then drain and serve. These will go very well with lemon juice. Rick Stein suggests a dipping sauce with 4 tbsp each of dark soy sauce and water plus the juice of a lime. You could use a chilli dipping sauce or even a tartare sauce. I prefer lemon alone: to me it’s shame to mask the delicate flavour of the mollusc.

Oysters Rockefeller

In the past I may or may not have mentioned Bentleys Oyster Bar in Swallow Street, just off Piccadilly. Now owned by the irrepressible Richard Corrigan, it is the place whence my last meal will be ordered when the final appeal to extricate me from Death Row has failed. Once a month they run a Beef and Oyster Club. No prizes for guessing the menu. L and I found ourselves there once with D and The Curmudgeon. By accident, as it happens, but that’s another tale. The oyster course comprised three raw, each of a different type, and three cooked, each in a different style. It is a mark of the Irish generosity that the chef came round afterwards, offering another half dozen to anyone who fancied. One of the cooked versions is today’s recipe. Rockefeller is one of the better known ways of cooking an oyster. It was invented in New Orleans and named for the prodigiously wealthy American business magnate. This recipe comes from Jane Grigson’s invaluable Fish Cookery. These days, when a cookery book wouldn’t see the light of day unless every other page was a glossy photo and there was an accompanying BBC series, it is a great shame that a new generation of cooks will be denied such gems.

The recipe involves two dozen oysters. I leave the number of servings up to you.


24 oysters, opened but left in their shells; 60g unsalted butter; 4 slices streaky bacon, cooked until crispy; handful of spinach, finely chopped; 1 – 2 tbsp chopped parsley; 1 – 2 tbsp chopped celery leaves;1 – 2 tbsp chopped spring onions; 3 tbsp breadcrumbs; salt; Tabasco.


Leave the oysters in their shell (traditionally a bed of coarse salt is used to steady them, but improvise) and prepare the stuffing. Melt the butter and cook the remaining ingredients over a low heat for 5 – 10 minutes, seasoning to taste with the salt and Tabasco. Divide the stuffing among the oysters, then bake in a hot oven or under a grill until bubbling and lightly browned. Jane suggests putting a few drops of Pernod on each just before serving. As I value my marriage, I don’t.

Tom Cooks! will return in 2018.





Christopher Trotter 2 Cauliflower with paprika

There may be a better combination of chef, food writer and all round good egg, but I can’t think of one. No, fools! NOT me. I refer of course to the suave, debonair, Savoy-trained Christopher Trotter. Among his many roles Christopher is Fife’s Food Ambassador. He also provides cookery courses and food tours. For the last few years he has been producing beautiful little books on the cooking of veg, including Beetroot, Carrots, Courgettes and Kale. Photographs are courtesy of his wife Caroline. The latest volume is on cauliflower.

In his introduction, Christopher says something that many of us can agree with. “It took me a long time to get to like cauliflower. I still have a childhood memory of the smell of it cooking, and the fact that it was usually overcooked for school lunches, a grey sludge with a gloopy cheese topping, sitting in a pool of water.”

I concur. Over the years I’ve got better. Steaming, rather than boiling, avoids the puddles. A bit of spice here and there. This column has seen it in a soup with blue cheese. But what else to do? Indian restaurants began to provide some of the answers, and modern British cuisine is beginning to hold the humble brassica closer to its bosom. But to expand your repertoire significantly, acquire Christopher’s latest book. You will not be surprised to learn that it is entitled Cauliflower. Here is but one of its thirty recipes.


1 medium cauliflower; 2 lemons; 3 tbsp olive oil; ½ tsp smoked paprika; sea salt; pepper.


Pre-heat your oven to 220˚C/Mark 8. Cut the cauliflower into medium size florets. Rinse, but don’t dry completely. Mix the florets with the oil, juice of one lemon, the paprika and some salt and pepper. Cut the other lemon into 6 segments. Mix all the ingredients in a roasting tray and bake for about 30 minutes. The edges should just be browning. Before serving, squeeze the juice from the segments over the cauliflower and sprinkle with some sea salt.

Cauliflower costs a measly £6.95. To acquire this or any of Christopher’s other veg books contact him online at

Order now in time for Christmas



Gooey chocolate pudding

At a time when many feel they have to exercise a little pre-Christmas restraint, I have been proud of you, dear reader. You have tholed a diet of squashes and cabbages without complaint; however, on the basis that I blasted out at Heston’s gaffe (see last week’s Tom Eats! review of The Fat Duck if you missed it), I decided that a treat was in order for you. Following the Facebook page of the lovely Sarah Mellersh and her Let’s Cook Scotland courses, I was transported back in time by details of her fabulous two week course.

I am seldom tempted by dessert menus. If anything is likely to lead me astray it will probably be dark and chocolatey and unctuous – in other words something like today’s piece of glorious decadence. For a skilled baker this is easy peasy. For someone of my standard it’s not that hard, save for my tendency to allow any powdered ingredient to go everywhere. I probably needed more time for the cleaning of the kitchen than I did for the preparation.

The really important thing is that when you cut into these puds, the chocolate must flow out, lava like. Overcooking will leave you with a dull sponge. As with most baking, you really need to know your oven. I have a good electric oven which is “hot”, that is to say it reaches the temperature which it claims. My puds were ready at the lower of Sarah’s suggested cooking times. If you are making these for a dinner party (where they will be a real show stopper), I would recommend a test run first.

Ingredients (serves 4)

125g unsalted butter, plus a little more to grease the pudding moulds; 125g good dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa); 2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk; ½ tsp vanilla extract (not essence); 50g soft brown sugar; 2 tbsp plain flour; dusting of cocoa powder for the moulds; icing sugar for decoration (optional).


Pre heat your oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. Grease four 7cm pudding moulds or ramekins with butter, then coat with cocoa powder. Tap off any excess. Place the prepared moulds on a baking sheet or tray. In a heatproof bowl over (not in) a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract and allow to cool slightly. Using an electric whisk at a high setting, cream the eggs, egg yolk and the sugar in a large mixing bowl until they are thick, pale and fluffy and have doubled in volume. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the bowl, then fold in the flour.

Divide the mixture among the pudding moulds. There should be enough to fill each ¾ full. Cook for 12 – 14 minutes, depending upon your oven. Do NOT overcook. Allow to cool for a minute then turn out of the mould onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar if you like – a bit passé these days. Serve with something cold, ice cream or, better still, cold crème fraiche to offset the sweetness. You could add a raspberry coulis, or finely chopped hazelnuts, but I wouldn’t bother.

Thanks to Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland for permission to reproduce her recipes. For more details about her courses contact her at

 Tel: 07932 642605




In the shooting season I bang on (pun intended) about what great value game is. In Edinburgh I am blessed with my proximity to Bowers of Stockbridge, but other game dealers are available. A couple of Saturdays ago I bought partridge on special offer, 3 packs of 2 birds each for the price of 2. And for these six plump beasts I paid the princely sum of 12 quid. A whole bird is a meal for a greedy person. In a top restaurant I suspect you would be served a half. By coincidence (and I had made my purchase before I read that day’s Scotsman), the estimable Neil Forbes of Café St Honoré published a partridge recipe the same day. His had cheffy things like confit leg and crab apple jelly; however, he did answer my question about cooking time. Regular readers will know that I advocate cooking the legs and breasts of game birds separately. Sometimes the legs are barely worth the eating – not so with a partridge. My recipe gives you succulent leg meat, plus a stock to make a wonderful reduction. It is significantly more interesting than the traditional whole roasted bird served with bread sauce and game chips.  The quantities I give below served two greedy people. In fact I did four birds at the same time, giving the unalloyed pleasure of cold roast partridge for dinner the following day.

Ingredients (Serves 2 greedy people)

2 partridges, legs removed; 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped; 1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped; 1 stick of celery, coarsely chopped; 150ml Madeira or Marsala; 2 or 3 good knobs of butter; vegetable oil; partridge stock (see below); s & p.


First braise the legs and make the stock. The legs can be reheated later. In a fairly hot pan brown the legs all over then remove. In the same pan, brown the vegetables. Return the legs to the pan, half cover with water (a minimum of 250 ml), cover the pan with a tight lid and simmer until the legs are tender. This will take about 15 – 20 minutes. Drain the pan, reserving the stock. Put the legs in a separate pan, reserving a little of the stock to use when reheating. Pre heat your oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. In a large oven proof pan (you could use a heavy roasting pan if it will go on your hob) brown the partridge crowns all over in a little oil. Add a knob of butter and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 7 minutes then set aside to rest. Put the roasting pan back on the hob. On a high heat, deglaze with the Madeira or Marsala, and reduce to about a third of the original volume. Add the stock and reduce again. You want to end up with a glaze. While the stock is reducing, cut the breast meat from the bone. It will be pink. If this is too pink for some, pop it in the reducing liquid for a minute of two.  Warm the legs. Towards the end of the reduction, check the seasoning and add some more butter. Plate the breast meat and glaze with the reduced cooking juices.

This goes well with braised red cabbage (see last week’s recipe), some girolles or ordinary mushrooms fried in butter, and some crunchy sautéed potato cubes.



Still life 2 Oct 2017 Red cabbage

This was intended to be the third in a series of recipes influenced by the contents of my still life photograph from a couple of weeks ago. It was only when I looked at it again recently that I discovered that the “red cabbage” was indeed a mango. Not sure what happened to said mango – scoffed behind my back, I fear, but good things have happened with red cabbage since. With conventional cabbage, it is important that it is cooked either for a long or short time. Anything in the middle will give the result (and smell) of those sad veg sacrificed in so many school dining halls over the years, whose odours still populate the culinary nightmares of the more sensitive foodie. Until recently I didn’t know that the quick or slow option applied to red cabbage too, until I came on a Tom Kerridge version which ends up more akin to a warm coleslaw. Let’s start with that.

Tom Kerridge’s Quick Red Cabbage (Serves 4)


½ red cabbage, outer leaves and core removed, finely shredded; 150g brown sugar; 40g sea salt; 20 juniper berries, lightly crushed; 50g butter.


Mix all the ingredients apart from the butter in a bowl (Tom K advises a non metallic bowl) and leave for at least 30 minutes. Then rinse the cabbage in cold water. Melt the butter over a medium heat and warm the cabbage through. It will still be crunchy. Serve warm.

But next to a more traditional version, which remains my favourite method. I have probably got red cabbage wrong more often than I have got it right. It can be tasteless: it can have too much vinegar: it can be too sweet (avoid versions with raisins or sultanas). This recipe is adapted from Leith’s Cookery Bible, which is probably the most thumbed book in our kitchen. I seldom follow its recipes to the letter – this is nearly an exception. It produces a beautifully balanced dish. You can make this in advance and reheat. You will need a good heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid.

Slow Braised Red Cabbage

Ingredients (Serves 6 – 8)

1 small red cabbage, outer leaves and core removed, shredded and rinsed; 1 onion, chopped; 1 small Cox’s Pippin or other similar eating apple, peeled, cored and diced; 1 small Bramley apple, peeled, cored and diced; 30g butter; 2 tsp brown sugar; 2 tsp wine vinegar; 4 cloves; salt & pepper.


Soften the onion in the butter. Add the remaining ingredients. (Do not dry the cabbage – you need the minimal amount of liquid for the braise.) Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer, reduce the heat to a minimum and put the lid on tightly. Your cabbage will take about 1½ to 2 hours to cook. Stir at least every 15 minutes, adding a little more water if required. Check the seasoning before serving.

This goes really well with partridge – but for that you’ll have to wait until next week.



Still life 2 Oct 2017

Next up from the autumn photo is the butternut squash. Most varieties of squash were relative newcomers to late 20th century British tables. I remember people growing marrows, vast, tasteless things. In the days of my youth (not yesterday, I concede), I have no memory of folk having the wit to gather them in their infant courgette form, and have little recollection of seeing squash much before the 1970s. While that can be put down to ignorance on the part of cooks and greengrocers alike, the absence of butternut squash from the repertoire of early chefs is no oversight – it didn’t exist. Thus, while Edouard Brunet, chef to the Duke of Roxburghe a century or so ago, knew all about courgettes, in his Le Répertoire de la Cuisine he was silent on other squashes. The butternut variety seems to have been produced for the first time in Massachusetts in the 1940s, and is now a welcome regular in our shops. It’s handy in size, is colourful and has more flavour than most of its relatives. While it can be interchanged in many pumpkin recipes, it is less sweet, which for me is an advantage. This dish is an excellent vegetarian option.

For many years I lacked the confidence to make a curry without assiduously following a recipe. While most Indian curries have a base of onion, ginger, garlic and chilli, having at least part of that base in paste form gives an excellent starter to a sauce and provides some thickening. Feel free to play about with the spicing. For the paste, you decide whether to deseed the chillies or not, or whether to add more. If your sauce is tasting bitter, adding a cinnamon stick for a period of time will “sweeten” it. In this recipe, I prefer using the cinnamon in stick form as opposed to powder, as you can remove it after a while, in much the same way that you might take bay leaves out of a long slow braise after an hour or two.

Ingredients (serves at least 6, more if you are serving other side dishes)

For the paste

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped; 3 garlic cloves, peeled; thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped; 2 green chillies; 2 tbsp vegetable oil.

For the curry

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2cm chunks; 1 onion, sliced; 1 pepper (any colour will do), seeded and cut into long thin slices; 1 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed; 1 400g tin tomatoes, 1 tsp black mustard seeds; 1 tsp ground coriander; 1 tsp turmeric; 1 tsp ground cumin; ½ cinnamon stick; water or stock; curry paste (see above); salt and black pepper; 2 – 3 dsp vegetable oil.

To garnish (optional)

Plain yoghurt, chopped coriander.


To make the paste, put the ingredients in a blender and blitz until smooth. Set to one side. In a pan (I use a large, deep frying pan with a lid) heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and heat until they start to pop, then add the onion and peppers and fry over a medium heat  for a few minutes. Add the paste and cook for about five minutes until it starts to brown. Chuck in the squash, the spices and some salt and pepper, stir together well, then pour in enough water or stock to cover the veg. Cook for a few minutes then stir in the tomatoes and chickpeas. Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes until the squash and chickpeas are tender. Check the seasoning. While this is ready to serve once the veg are cooked, it will benefit from being allowed to simmer for a long time, and will benefit from being left overnight. Top up the liquid if required; however, it is likely that this will be too liquid, in which case remove the lid and boil rapidly to reduce.

If any curry is too hot for you, yoghurt will always cool it down, and no curry was ever the worse of a sprinkling of fresh coriander.

Tom Cooks! Autumn Part 1

Pumpkin and Ginger Soup

Still life 2 Oct 2017

Last year I did a half hearted pumpkin soup recipe. Its main influence was a fruit carved into a passable replica of the then newly elected US president. You remember those halcyon days – “oh, it’s all been campaign rhetoric, he’s a smart guy, he’ll soon become more presidential.”

I’m probably due an apology to any reader who actually made it, as it wasn’t my favourite. A week or so ago we had one of those days when both Lesley and I went food shopping, neither of us consulting the other, nor the shopping list on the fridge, nor the contents of said fridge nor the vegetable rack. The first good thing to come out of that (though I says it myself) was this rather elegant photo, picturing rather less than half of the fruit and veg we had at our disposal. The next was the realisation that we had a lot of nice produce to convert into vittles. The most obvious of these was the pumpkin, so back to square one.

My experience of such a soup in the past has been of something which was rather too thin and definitely bland. For thickness I usually add a potato or two, and with wishy washy squash, I will often add heat. In this case, I would urge you to put all of those ideas to one side and simply follow the recipe, which has neither. The amount of butter will seem alarming. Fear not. Likewise, don’t be tempted to stint on the ginger. It is the most remarkable of roots. It can bring fire, whether to a curry or to a soft drink. To this soup it provides both a hot and savoury edge and also, marrying with the butter, a soft undertone of butterscotch. The only tricky thing is chopping up the pumpkin. I find it simplest to cut it into quarters to remove the seeds, (which you can roast gently and salt as nibbles to go with aperitivi) then cut into smaller wedges and cut out the flesh from them.

Top tip. I used to waste tons of ginger when peeling it, by trying to trim off the edges. Take a teaspoon and scrape off the skin. Reduces waste by a factor of lots.

Ingredients (serves a lot)

1 medium size pumpkin (see photo, maybe 40 cm in diameter), peeled deseeded and cut into smallish chunks; 100g butter; 2 onions, peeled and chopped; piece of root ginger, about 8cm, either finely chopped or grated; 1.5 – 2 litres chicken or vegetable (if you must) stock; salt and pepper.


Melt the butter and simmer the onion and ginger together, seasoned with some s & p, until soft. Add the chopped pumpkin and cook together for a few minutes, mixing the ingredients well. Add the stock and simmer until all the veg are soft. Allow to cool and blitz with a stick blender or in a liquidiser. Check the seasoning. Make a choice. For me this gives a perfect consistency. Some may care to sieve it and do poncy things with cream, herbs or whatever. I would say, leave it alone. Remember that, as with most soups, it will always be at its very best on the third day.


Borsch Without Tears


Continuing last week’s USSR theme, you don’t get much more Russian than borsch. This can be a soup for both summer and winter. I hadn’t made it before this week and adapted a recipe from the great American food writer M F K Fisher. I say adapted, as hers contained an unconscionable amount of vinegar. Even although I scaled down the quantities my version was still a little sharp, but the addition of sour cream, which really is mandatory, tones it down somewhat. MFK also uses flour in her recipe, which I dislike. Borsch can be either coarse or smooth according to your choice. Blitzing the final product (having, of course, remembered to remove the bay leaf) gives it a nice body for a winter soup. Expect to see a summer version sometime next year.

It can be bulked out with little forcemeat balls. The version which we sampled in Tsar in St Petersburg (see Tom Eats! last month) had veal and garlic fritters. You could use cubes of sausage, but my feeling is that unless you can produce something homemade, you’re best to avoid this flourish.


10 raw beetroot, small to medium size; 1 medium size onion, chopped; 2 medium size carrots, quite finely chopped; 200ml wine vinegar (red or white); 30g butter; 1 – 1½ litres beef stock; bay leaf, salt and pepper; sour cream.


Clean and peel the beetroot. Although raw beetroot bleed less than cooked, I would still advise wearing gloves, lest your friends start to suspect you of murder most grisly. Finely shred 8 of the beetroot. (This is easiest done in a food processor provided you have the correct attachment. I’m not sure I would attempt this by hand.) Put in a bowl, cover with the vinegar and leave for an hour or so. Cook the onions and carrot in the butter with the bay leaf for five minutes or so until golden, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Drain the shredded beetroot and add to your soup pan. Stir in and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the stock. Simmer for about 30 minutes. While this is cooking grate the remaining two beetroot on the coarse blade of a cheese grater. Allow the soup to cool slightly, remove the bay leaf then blitz with a stick blender. Check the seasoning.

To serve, ladle into a bowl, add a good spoonful of sour cream onto each plate and top with some of the reserved grated beetroot. And thereafter? Shots of vodka with the glasses smashed in the fireplace? Cossack dancing? Sleigh rides? Or whatever hackneyed Russian stereotype you fancy. I should say that this recipe is not as good as the version I had last month. If you have a tried and tested borsch formula, please share it.

Tom Cooks Russian!

Blinis with smoked salmon Crepes with salmon roe

If you were unfortunate enough to have visited the country which is now Russia in the old Soviet days, food would be the last thing you would want to write about. Visiting the grand palaces was no more than a museum experience, where any connection between them and good living was to be banished. It was only during a recent trip to that country (where it is now possible to eat well in a wide range of cuisines), that I turned to thinking about the food traditions. The great courts of Russia were hugely influenced by France, as was much of the design. The great squares of St Petersburg, for example, are modelled on Paris. Following the unpleasantness with M. Napoleon, the enthusiasm for thing French waned, but one can still note some culinary cross pollenation. Other things, such as the simple ideas below, are now part of our repertoire without our realising the provenance. So, nothing ground breaking this week, but all things I ate when away.

Finally, a word about caviar. I have sampled it in various forms, though probably not the very finest. I find myself in tune with the Michael Caine character in Sleuth, who said it tasted like fish eggs. I like fish eggs well enough, but I have absolutely no idea why people are prepared to shell out such huge sums. So at Tsar restaurant (see last week’s Tom Eats! column), I was not remotely tempted to spend £70 for 10g of Beluga, nor the bargain £98 for 10g each of Beluga, sturgeon and starred sturgeon (whatever that is) with a shot of vodka. But the cheap salmon roe are tasty and colourful – see below.

Blinis are always to be found in our freezer, largely because the recipe below (which claims to make 15) has yielded up to 122 (no, that’s not a typo) cocktail size ones. Best scale the quantities down, but they do freeze very well. If you have decent canapes, as opposed to just crisps and nuts, you can effectively be providing a first course along with drinks (but do remember to tell your guests, in case they’re holding back). If you think it’s too much hassle, remember that a pack of 16 mini blinis from Waitrose will set you back £2.59: the ingredients for the recipe below will set you back about a pound.

Lesley Johnston’s Mini Blinis (makes up to 120 x 5 – 6 cm blinis)


225g buckwheat flour; 225g plain flour; 720ml milk; 3 eggs; 16g fast action yeast; 2 tsp sugar; 1tbsp melted butter; salt; vegetable oil for frying.


Warm the milk. Separate one of the eggs. Add the yeast and the sugar to the milk and stir in well. Put the flour and the salt in a bowl, stir together then add two whole eggs and the egg yolk. Pour the milk gradually into the flour, mixing to form a smooth batter, then pour in the melted butter. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for at least an hour. When ready to start cooking whisk the egg white and fold into the mixture. To cook, rub a non stick frying pan with a piece of kitchen roll damped in oil and heat to medium. The process is much the same as cooking crepes. Add spoonfuls of batter to the desired size. When bubbles form, turn over and cook until golden. Drain on kitchen roll.

You can serve blinis with all sorts of things but the Russian influenced ones are best. You can butter them, but try cream cheese, crème fraiche or sour cream instead, flavoured perhaps with dill. Smoked salmon is a classic. For a change, try hot smoked salmon with horseradish. Any type of fish pate works. and, of course, caviar if you fancy. Which brings us to one of the simplest starters ever, which I also enjoyed at Tsar.

Crepes with Salmon Roe and Sour Cream

Ingredients (per person as a starter).

3 crepes (see below); 4 – 5 tsp salmon roe, or caviar; 6 – 7 tsp sour cream.


Make the crepes in the usual way and keep warm. Allow guests to self assemble, by spreading sour cream on the pancake, topping with the roe and rolling up. Delicious.

In case you’ve forgotten how to make crepes since Shrove Tuesday –

Ingredients (makes about 12)

2 eggs; 140g plain flour; 220ml whole milk; vegetable oil.

Make the batter first. Break the eggs into the flour, then beat in about one third of the milk. Gradually add the remainder of the milk, beating hard until the mixture is well combined. Make sure you have a little milk left over in case the mixture needs loosening. Refrigerate for at least half an hour. A rest for at least two hours is better, and it will do no harm if you leave it overnight.

To make your pancakes, use a pan about 6 or 7inches in diameter. (Sorry metric lovers. I mean a standard sized omelette pan.) Remove your batter from the fridge at least 15 minutes before you plan to use it and check the consistency. See above. Heat your pan (hot but not too hot – I go to 7/9 on my induction hob) and pour in about a dessert spoon of a neutral oil. When the pan is hot, add some batter. You want only enough to cover the pan with a thin layer. The first one is usually either too thick or too scrappy.

Your starter – much more to come.

It’s Autumn: It Must Be Apples

Apples Apple and bramble crumble

Nothing screams seasonality more than an autumn apple tree laden with ripe fruit. Yet for many town dwellers this is a phase of life which passes them by. In a time of plenty, when apples are available all year round, it is nothing short of criminal that supermarkets barely acknowledge the British apple season, and if they do they certainly don’t reflect the glut in their pricing. If you have your own fruit trees you are aware of the issues they can bring. Traditionally the fruits were carefully wrapped in paper and stored in slatted drawers in a dry shed. You will have fruit which is good for cooking with, but a stored apple eaten in January is a pale imitation of its crisp fresh beauty of a few months earlier. I include a couple of my favourite recipes, which can be made at any time.

Another way of preserving fruit is by pickling. The recipe below is a variation on a chutney I have made a few times. The quality of apple doesn’t much matter. If you are a city dweller and have a friend or neighbour with an apple tree, it is not outwith the bounds of possibility that the apples will simply be allowed to fall and rot. Even more of a crime than supermarkets. Beg steal or borrow the crop and reward your unworthy neighbour with a jar or two. Do remember that this type of chutney needs to mature for at least three months, possibly more, before it settles down. I vow never to mention Christmas before Hallowe’en, but you are allowed a dispensation if you are thinking of gifts to others. This makes a perfect present to take to a Christmas drinks party, especially if you have a surfeit.

Apple and Red Pepper Chutney


750g apples*, peeled, cored and diced; (The weight is of the prepared fruit, ie net, not gross.) 3 medium onions, peeled and chopped; 3 red peppers, deseeded and chopped into squares of no more than 1 cm; 500g brown sugar*; 800 ml malt vinegar; 1  dsp Dijon mustard; 1 tsp ground ginger; 1 tsp salt; good grind of white pepper (approximately 12 twists); 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg.


* I made this with Bramley apples. You can equally well use eating apples, but you will need less sugar. If using a sweet apple, I would suggest 350g of sugar. Taste for sweetness after the first hour and a half. (Don’t be put off by the strength of the vinegar taste/aroma. That will calm down during the maturation process.)

Unlike the onions and the apples, the red peppers will tend to hold their shape, so take care when chopping them. Put all the ingredients, apart from one third of the sugar, in a heavy bottomed pan, heat gently to allow the sugar to melt then cook slowly for 90 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, allow it to melt, then bring to the boil to reduce. Stir regularly until the chutney is quite thick, but still capable of being poured. (If you have no experience of jam making or watching jam being made, do not try to put into jars using a ladle. Ladle into a jug and pour from the jug into sterilised jars). Allow to cool, then seal. Leave for at least three months before eating.

The next offering is for stewed apples. Please do not guffaw. I too thought there was nothing simpler than stewing an apple until I tried this recipe. Many of you will know that Roast Chicken and Other Stories by the wonderful Simon Hopkinson and Lindsay Bareham was voted the most useful cookery book of all time. Hopkinson, of Bibendum fame, made a few TV series. Unshowy, but don’t miss them if you get the chance. (Today Bareham writes a daily recipe column for The Times.) Astonishing. Less well known is the sequel, Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, by Hopkinson alone, whence this recipe comes. Both books are published by Ebury Press and are available on Amazon. I highly recommend them.

Simon Hopkinson’s Stewed Apples

You will need a pan which can take all the apples in one layer. The syrup should just cover them.

Ingredients (serves 4)

800g eating apples, peeled, cored and halved. (Simon recommends Golden Delicious); 500g water; 250g golden or brown sugar; 1 vanilla pod, broken into bits.


Melt the sugar in the water then bring to the boil. Place the apples together in one layer in a pan, sprinkle over the vanilla pieces and cover with the syrup. Simmer gently for about 45 – 50 minutes, turning from time to time, until the apples are soft and golden.

Finally, an autumn classic-

Bramble and Apple Crumble

(For those from outwith Scotland, bramble is our word for a blackberry.)

Ingredients (serves 4)

Basic crumble topping

120g plain flour; 60g butter; 50g sugar (dark brown is nicer). For added crunch and sophistication, try adding oats or pumpkin seeds or chopped walnuts or a combination thereof.

For the filling

500 – 600g eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped; large handful of brambles; 100g dark brown sugar.


To make the topping, rub together the butter and the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then thoroughly mix in the sugar. Place the apples in an oven proof dish and sprinkle thoroughly with sugar. I like a crumble which is quite tart – you may want to add more sweetness. Sprinkle the brambles through, then top with the crumble mixture. Cook for 15 minutes at 190˚/Mark 5 for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180˚C/Mark 4 and cook for a further 25. Serve with good vanilla ice cream, or custard if you must.

Ladies and gentlemen, you may think that autumn can’t get better than this. I assure you, oh yes it can – but we’ll visit Russia first.

Cheese board



Last week I was looking at some ideas for leftover egg whites or yolks, and bread. This week I want to look at the leftover which causes me the biggest hassle and probably more waste than any other in our house – cheese. I love putting together a good cheese board. When you live so close to Edinburgh’s Stockbridge which boasts a Herbie’s and an Iain Mellis, as well as many other specialist purveyors, and when the quality of supermarket cheese counters is pretty good, there’s no excuse not to. Sadly, it is rare for more than 50% of our (usually grossly over stocked) cheese board to be consumed. Hard cheese isn’t too much of a problem for a week or two: but what about the rest? And what about that hard cheese as it approaches its sell by? By that I mean when it starts to turn a gentle tinge of blue? Here are a few ideas. Forgive me if I state the bleedin’ obvious. I know you will have many more, which I’d be delighted to share.

Cheese Sauce

Cheese doesn’t freeze well, but cheese sauce does. In my ideal sauce I would use a combination of cheddar and parmesan, but try experimenting. Soft cheeses can work nicely, though I’d remove the white parts of a Brie or Camembert, and heed the warning below about very ripe cheese.

Parmesan Rind

If I catch you disposing of a parmesan rind you will be in trouble. Chuck it in to a pan of minestrone. It will add a delicious umami creaminess.


This is where it gets tricky. At its best (and many people never get to experience Stilton at is best) it is taken from the whole cheese in creamy magnificence. Drunk with port, of course, but only a moron would pour port into the cheese itself. When sold in small wedges on the other hand, it can easily assume a really unpleasant metallic taste, unsuitable for use in any circumstances. One festive season a certain lady, to whom I am very happily married, made a series of disastrous attempts to recycle Stilton in a variety of ways, each one more disgusting than the one before. Remember rules about sows’ ears and also about being able to add but not take away. Not all leftovers are capable of being recycled. The following recipe worked very well for me, elevating a pretty basic vegetable soup. Use the cheese with care.

Cauliflower and Stilton Soup


1 medium cauliflower, leaves removed, cut into small florets; 1 medium onion, finely chopped; 1 medium potato, peeled and finely diced; approximately 80 – 100g Stilton, rind removed, crumbled. (Use less if it is strong.); 1 – 1 ¼ litre chicken or vegetable stock; salt and pepper; oil.


Sweat the onion in the oil until nearly soft then add the potato and fry gently for a few minutes. Add the cauliflower, stir all the ingredients well, season with a little s & p and cook for a further few minutes.  Pour in the stock and simmer until all the veg are soft. Reduce the heat and add the crumbled cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. Allow to cool then liquidise (a stick blender is easiest). Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more cheese if desired, over a gentle heat to allow it to melt. This would also work with broccoli.

Got a cocktail of cheeses to use? Why not try? –

Pizza Ai Quattro Formaggi (Four Cheese Pizza)

Ingredients (this will make two large pizzas)

Preheat your oven to 230˚C/Mark 8

For the dough:

500g flour, either strong bread flour or 00 pasta flour; 7g instant yeast; 1½ tsp salt; 1 tbsp olive oil; 300g warm water.

For the topping:

150g of each of four cheeses of your choice; sprinkling of dried oregano; sprinkling of chilli flakes (optional); olive oil for drizzling; salt and pepper (but be careful with the salt if using blue cheese).


The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that this is basic bread dough. The main difference is that when you are rolling it out you need to sprinkle flour. You also need to make sure the base is properly cooked. Make your basic dough and allow to prove for at least an hour. Cut into two. Roll out thinly on a floured surface and allow to prove again for about 30 minutes. Either have a hot baking sheet or a pre-heated pizza stone, brushed with oil or lined with baking parchment. Make sure your pizza is nice and thin. I use a rolling pin. If you have ever managed that fancy twirl without ending up with a hoop of dough round your elbow, you’re a better man/woman than I, Gunga Din.

Arrange the cheese on top. Better to have one section per cheese, I think, rather than mixing them all together. Sprinkle with herbs and/or chilli, if you fancy, season with s & p, if you fancy and bake in a hot oven until the base is crisp, and the cheese is bubbling. Ovens vary, but this should take about 15 – 20 minutes. In a real pizza oven, where the temperature can reach 600 degrees Celsius, this would be done in a couple of minutes.

A classic Italian pizza bianca (white pizza) is made in exactly the same way, using half mozzarella and half taleggio. If you fancy a tomato base, fine. Use passata, or some tinned tomatoes, blitzed, or the easiest tomato sugo in the world, a tin of tomatoes simmered with a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar, making sure the tomatoes are broken up.

Finally, a British classic. Typically made with Cheddar, but if you have, say, some leftover Manchego, that would work well in the mixture too.

Welsh Rarebit

Don’t let anyone tell you this is just cheese on toast. I do know why it was originally called Welsh Rabbit, but as it’s pejorative to the Welsh I’m not going to tell you.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a snack)

4 thick slices good brown bread (not out of a packet); 60 g butter (and extra butter to spread on the toast); 60g plain flour; 250ml dark beer or ale; 250g Cheddar or similar strong flavoured cheese, grated; 2 tsp mustard (typically English, but I prefer Dijon); 2 tbsp Lea & Perrins sauce; pepper.


Melt the butter and stir in the flour, as for a white sauce. Stir to cook out the flour. Add the beer a little at a time to form a smooth sauce. Add the cheese and melt into the sauce, then add the mustard and the Worcester sauce. (They tell me that there are other makes besides Lea & Perrins. I’ve just never encountered any.) Season with black pepper. Toast the bread. Lightly butter each slice and top with the cheese mixture. Clearing up will be easier if you put a layer of foil on the bottom of your grill pan. Cover each slice of toast with a generous layer of the sauce, then put under a hot grill until the mixture is sizzling hot and lightly browned.

Tom Cooks! will return in October.



Egg yolks Stale bread

According to Government statistics, in the UK we wasted £13 billion pounds worth of food in the last year, £470 worth per household. Personally, I don’t believe the per household figure, as I’m sure a vast amount of that waste comes from restaurants. Why? Because many of us now believe that we are getting “value for money” only when we receive more than we can finish. Does this matter? In this have and have not age, probably all of you who read this bourgeois little tract can afford most of what you want. Will that be the same for our children’s generation? I fear not.  Jay Rayner has written eloquently as ever on the subject.  I urge you read him at

What goes around comes around. My parents lived during the Second World War. Rationing stopped in 1954, the year I was born. For that generation, the idea of wasting food was anathema. Strangely, I have no recollection of that being dinned into me as a youngster. Rather, I remember exchanges to the effect that a starving child in Africa would be glad of anything I was trying to leave. My not very sotto voce responses to the effect that they would be welcome to it usually resulted in a clip round the ear. I really got into cooking in the decadent 80s – yet I have always disliked waste. My problem was my ignorance of what to do with leftovers. I’m not talking about second day stews or, better still, third day soups: it was what to do with the basics that eluded me. Once again, dear readers, I assume you will know most of this, but pass it on to your kinder.



So, your steak and béarnaise sauce has been a triumph? Or your very lucky overnight guests have been sent out into the world fortified by your famous eggs Benedict? Or you have made the delicious sabayon featured below?  How many egg whites do you have left? If you have chums who eat the aforesaid delicacies, you will have no call for the horrors of an egg white omelette. Meringue is the obvious answer, except I am not a fan. Anyway, the present Mrs Johnston holds the official title of Chatelaine de Meringues here at 52A, so I’ll leave that. I present instead a splendid biscuit recipe courtesy of Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland. She has graced these pages many times, and this is a recipe which even a non expert baker such as I can make. It is gluten free.

Sarah Mellersh’s Spanish Almond Meringue Biscuits

Ingredients (makes about 15)

2 egg whites; 150g caster sugar; 150g ground almonds; ½ tsp almond essence (optional); flaked almonds for decoration (optional).


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4.

Whisk the egg whites until firm. Fold in the sugar, ground almonds and almond essence if using. Line a baking tray with baking parchment (I find greaseproof paper almost worse than useless). Using your hands form a teaspoon of mixture into a ball and put on the tray. Add a flaked almond to the top of each ball. Leave a gap of at least 2cm between each ball. Cook in the centre of the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until golden brown.


The converse, usually post meringues. Writing in the Waitrose weekend paper recently, Prue Leith suggested frittata, that traditional thick Spanish omelette. My major issue with that is that it is usually served as a cold tapa. I generally dislike eggs cold, with the exception of an egg sandwich, and even that wondrously simple delight is improved if you shell the eggs immediately, mix them with salt, pepper and mayo, and spread them on to the bread while they are still warm. My alternative is what was known in our house as a Spanish omelette. I will make my traditional omelette in the French way, over a very high heat after the butter has not only melted and foamed but the foam has disappeared. That doesn’t work here.

“Spanish” Omelette

(Serves 2)


4 leftover egg yolks; 4 whole eggs; 1 banana shallot or half a medium onion, finely chopped; ½ leftover pepper, seeded and finely chopped (you see how we’re developing the theme here); 2 or 3 cold boiled potatoes (definitely on a leftover roll); 1 clove of garlic, crushed or grated; handful of frozen peas; olive oil; knob of butter; salt and pepper.


Beat the eggs and egg yolks with a teaspoon of water, season with s & p. Gently sauté the onion and pepper with the garlic until tender. Turn up the heat a little, stir in the potatoes and peas and cook until they are warmed through. Add the butter, allow to melt, then add the eggs and cook, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is set. You may want to finish under the grill.

Add cheese, tomato, herbs or whatever you fancy – or whatever you have left in the fridge.


When bread is getting stale, it’s ideal for breadcrumbs. Or you can freeze ends and crumb them later. As continental bread is generally made without preservatives, it doesn’t stay fresh for long and Europeans have more issues with leftovers than we do: they are therefore more imaginative.

The difference between a cake and a biscuit is that a cake turns dry when it becomes stake, whereas a biscuit goes soft. Good bread is cake like. To make it edible it needs to be moistened. Water, milk and oil can all be used, with or without heat. A classic panzanella salad includes stale bread, seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil and wine vinegar, then mixed in a salad with tomatoes, cucumber and red onions. A more rustic equivalent is the Italian bread and tomato soup/stew. You need very ripe tomatoes for this.

Bread and Tomato “Soup”


About 8 large slices of stale rustic bread; 500g ripe tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped (don’t bother to deseed); olive oil (this needs your very best extra virgin oil); handful of basil leaves, torn (not chopped)*; slug of red wine vinegar (optional); salt and pepper.


Tear the bread into chunks. Thoroughly drench with olive oil and leave for 15 minutes to soak in. Mix the tomatoes and bread thoroughly with salt, pepper and half the basil. Cover and set aside for half an hour. When ready to eat, the mixture may need loosened. You could add some more oil, possibly a drop of vinegar, or a little tomato juice. Check the seasoning, add the rest of the basil and serve.

*If you cut basil it will react to the metal in the knife and turn black.

So, to my Achilles Heel, puddings. It’s not that I can’t do them, just that as I rarely eat them I don’t practise much. I tend not to watch Celebrity Masterchef, but I caught it this week. (When you are an Edinburgh Festival Chorus widower as I am, it’s amazing the c**p you find on the screen.) Between them Jim Moir (better known as Vic Reeves) and tennis player Henri LeConte claimed never to have made a pudding ever. The lie was given to this by LeConte going on to produce an immaculate caramelised apple tart. No such false modesty on my part.

Most people have their own recipe for bread and butter pudding. An advantage of this is that it is suitably for British style sliced bread. It fell out of favour, then about 30 years ago the legendary Anton Mossiman made it fashionable again. I was going to dig out his recipe when I saw the following on this week’s Saturday Kitchen. It’s just a posh recipe for stale (literally, “lost”) bread. I reproduce the recipe as it appeared, but you can use stale bread in place of the brioche.

Matt Tebbutt’s Pain Perdu with Roasted Fruits and Glazed Almond Sabayon


For the pain perdu with roasted fruits

orange, juice only; 1 vanilla pod, seeds only; 150g caster sugar; 2 white peaches, pitted and cut into wedges; 150g raspberries; 3 free-range eggs and 1 free-range yolk, beaten; 75g salted butter; 2 slices stale bread or brioche.

For the sabayon

1–2 drops almond essence; 4 free-range egg yolks; 50g caster sugar; 3 tbsp dark rum


Make a syrup by melting most of the sugar in the orange juice with half of the vanilla. (When melting sugar, always do so over a gentle heat.) When the sugar has melted, add the peaches, cot with the syrup and cook for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, add the raspberries and set aside. Make the sabayon. Place a glass bowl over (not in) a pan of barely simmering water. Add the sabayon ingredients and whisk continuously until pale and thick. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk until the mixture is cool. To make the pain perdu, mix the eggs and egg yolk with the other half of the vanilla seeds. Add the bread slices and soak for 2 minutes. Melt the butter in a large frying pan until foaming. Fry the soaked bread until golden on both sides and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Top the bread with the fruits then spoon over the sabayon. To glaze, either use a blow torch if you have one, or brown under a hot grill.

Thanks to Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland for permission to reproduce her recipes. For more details about her courses contact her at

 Tel: 07932 642605



herring fishwives Herring kippers Herring pickled

Buy ma caller herrin

They’re bonnie fish and halesome farin

Buy ma caller herrin

New drawn frae the Forth

With the exception of the salmon, the humble herring is probably the most important and iconic of all Scotland’s native sea fish. Herring fishing was a truly huge peripatetic industry, bringing prosperity and employment. In addition to the fisherman, you had the women who cleaned the fish, the smokers, the salters, the merchants. The fish has passed into literature and folklore. The words above are a street song of fishwives of Newhaven, a fishing village on the River Forth, now part of Edinburgh. Caller is the Scottish word for fresh. In 1941, Neil Gunn wrote the famous The Silver Darlings. In the 1960s folk singer John Watt created his Pittenweem Jo, “every fisher laddie’s dream”.

She guts the herrin doon by the quay/ And saves her kisses just for me.

Yet you may struggle to find herring on a Scottish menu. How bizarre. While they were once grossly over fished, they are now firmly back on the sustainable list. Our near neighbours in Europe can’t get enough of them. In Germany, Poland and the Baltic countries, they are soused, pickled, salted or whatever. In France, herring in oil with potato salad is a bistro classic. What about us? You are most likely to encounter herring in Scotland as a kipper, that is to say salted then smoked, traditionally served at breakfast. Because of our refusal to accepted that a fish actually contains bones, many of the examples to be found now are processed to within an inch of their…..well, you know what I mean. Salted herring, formerly popular in the northwest of Scotland, stored in large barrels to see people through the winter, are always consumed with boiled potatoes and milk, the latter to ease the saltiness, and the former to provide roughage to knock down any bones which might be sticking.

But fresh herring are in season just now and I love them dearly. Most Scots will accuse me of stating the bleedin’ obvious in what is to follow, but simple is best.

Fried Herring in Oatmeal

Buy our herring cleaned but with the skin on. Rinse, then cover in pinhead oatmeal. Fry for 2 or 3 minutes per side until golden. Serve with new potatoes.

Baked Herring with Mustard

When my Dad was told that he had to diet because the steroids had ballooned his weight (don’t worry, he wasn’t in the Olympics at the time), Mum found or invented this dish.

Take 2 herrings per person, skin on. Thinly spread the flesh with Dijon mustard. Place on foil on a baking tray. Cook in a pre heated  oven at 180˚C/Mark 5  for 15 minutes.

Pickled Herring

I have no idea why we in Britain have been, at least in my lifetime, so appallingly bad at pickling in any commercial sense. It seems mostly to involve taking industrial strength vinegar and ruining any foodstuff  with which it comes into contact. As a youth I never saw the point of cockles or mussels, as they were always swimming in something just five points down from hydrochloric acid. Herring mostly suffered the same fate. Having spent some time with German and Polish friends who pickle  their own at home, I realise there is indeed a Better Way. Mind you, after a couple of evenings in the company of our lovely, late, Polish friend Stani and his home made lemon vodka, he could have told me any old rubbish about his herring and I would have believed it. We digress. I have never pickled a herring, but looking through some old books there seems to be some consensus.  In the original recipes, a roll mop was a whole fish curled round another pickle such as cucumber or onion. Those which we think of as rollmops these days are probably closer to the recipe which was once known as Bismarck Herring. Many recipes specify only vinegar. By using half and half vinegar and wine, a less stringent end result is achieved. You will need a sealed container to store these in – Kilner jars are ideal. You must be able to make sure the liquid completely covers the fish.


6 herring, cleaned, skin on; 500ml water; 60g salt. For the marinade, 20 ml white wine. 200 ml vinegar (either white wine vinegar or cider vinegar will do); 200ml water; 2tbsp granulated sugar; 2 bay leaves; 1 large onion, sliced; 1 tbsp pickling spice or white peppercorns.


Dissolve the salt in the water and leave the fish to soak in the brine for 2 – 3 hours. Meantime, make the marinade. Put all the ingredients in a pan, heat slowly until the sugar is dissolved then bring to the boil for a few minutes. Leave the liquid to cool. Remove the herring from the brine, rinse thoroughly and pat dry. Roll each one and put in a container. Cover with the liquid, leaving in the onion, bay leaves and spices. Seal tightly, store in the fridge and eat after a couple of days. Drain off the pickling liquid before serving. Good as part of an hors d’oeuvre selection, or served with dark bread, onion and sour cream.




Dear reader, last week we looked at the zenith of the barbecuer’s art, the fruits of the labours of the Tarrytown Wizard, the ambrosia from the grill. Sadly, on a domestic level, such delights are rare. Indeed, an invitation to a BBQ is one I will generally do my best to avoid. Why? Well for some reason, households which provide themselves on keeping a fine table often let loose the culinary dunce, AKA the husband. There are some aspects of cooking where an apprentice may learn his trade without risking the lives of the guests: a BBQ is not one of them. Obviously I know you are an expert, but humour me and share this with the beginners in your family, as I take a hard look at the topic. In theory, you can cook most protein on a barbie; however, the tyro usually has little grasp of the subtleties and everything tends to get blasted on maximum.

How Hot is Your BBQ?

Let me confess that I was converted to the sophistication of a gas barbie decades ago. I don’t care if you think it’s somehow cheating: I want food that’s not just edible (and safe) but also delicious. Cooking by gas, you have control. If using traditional charcoal, you have to remember a few important things. Firstly, your charcoal needs to turn grey, not red. You do not want hot fire leaping up (of that more anon). No charcoal is ever spread evenly. Pass your hand a few inches above the heat. Some areas will be cooler than others. Important to remember where they are. The most common error is to produce food which is burnt on the outside and raw in the middle. A little charring is good; burnt is not.

What are you Cooking?

Burgers? Hmm. Sausages? Oh dear. Chicken? Now you’re really scaring me. Probably the most common BBQ foods. Let’s look at them each in turn.


There are actually a lot of quite decent readymade burgers out there these days. I was dragooned into cooking the burgers for our street party recently, and was more than a little dismayed to be told they were coming from Costco. In fact they were delicious, 100% Aberdeen Angus. Look closely at the ingredients and avoid things with breadcrumbs, rusk, additives etc. Don’t be too obsessed with lean meat. A good burger needs a bit of fat for juiciness. If you make your own, and have watched the meat being minced, you need have no fear about serving them pink in the middle. Warning – many people will have the screaming habdabs if you do this. A typical burger is beef, but venison burgers can be delicious.

Ingredients (makes 4 greedy size burgers)

800g minced beef, preferably with between 15 and 25% fat; 1 medium onion, either very finely chopped or grated, surplus liquid drained off; salt and pepper; burger buns, split in two;  shredded iceberg lettuce; beef tomatoes sliced across the way (1 slice per burger); red onion rings (one or two per burger) (optional); Dijon mustard; mayonnaise; tomato ketchup.

Mix the ingredients together well (using your hands is best). Divide into four and press each to form a burger shape. A food ring is quite useful for this. Refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably longer. This is essential, otherwise the burger will break up in cooking. While you want to avoid incineration (see below under the steak section) leave the burger alone for long enough to form a crust and hold together. Flip it over and repeat. You then have a disc that is solid enough to be moved about (with care). Thickly spread each side of the bun with whichever one of the three gloops you fancy. Place the burger on it and top with gloop 3. Add the lettuce, tomato and onion, and serve with lots of napkins. If making a cheeseburger, place the cheese on top of the patty while still on the grill and allow it to start melting for a minute or so.


If you read my section on breakfasts you would remember that sausages can take up to 20 minutes. While I don’t mind a rare steak, I will not thank you for a banger that isn’t cooked. It’s just so easy to have them burnt on the outside before they’re done. A good dense marinade can help. See below.


If you use breast you risk drying it out: If you use thighs or drumsticks, you risk undercooking, but these will give better flavour and should be juicier. Cook with the skin on. Cut two or three deep slashes in the flesh and marinate for a few hours with barbecue sauce. The outside is likely to be charred before the centre is cooked. There is no shame in cooking your chicken pieces in the oven for about 15 minutes and applying the sauce later on, before finishing on the barbecue. Better that than killing your guests.

Steak and Lamb

Now you’re talking. Anything that is better served pink in the middle is ideal for the non-expert. For steaks, I would go for rib eye or sirloin, and would simply season with salt and pepper. We are taught to put steak in a pan or on an indoor grill and leave alone. That is normally good advice; however, on a hot barbie when the fat starts to drip this can cause flames to start shooting up alarmingly. A little charring is one thing, but if you leave that steak alone under flames it will become unpleasantly smoked. Keep an eye on your meat and move it about. With lamb, you can use gigot chops (tasty but chewy) or leg steaks. Marinade in olive oil, garlic and fresh rosemary.

The expert can cook a whole fillet or a butterflied leg of lamb (so called because when you remove the leg bone and open up the meat it is in a butterfly shape) on a covered barbecue. With the price of good meat these days, I’m not going to encourage you down the path of ruin. When we got a new cooker over 10 years ago, I horribly overcooked a large sirloin, and I’m still in therapy as a result.


Don’t confuse the type of marinade you would use for barbecuing with the type which precedes a long slow cook. The latter will usually have a tenderising agent, often wine. Today we are looking for something which will (a) add a little flavour, and (b) protect the meat from fierce heat. With most marinades, reserve some of it and brush on some extra during the cooking process.

Tom’s Simple Sausage Marinade

Mix equal quantities of tomato ketchup and Dijon or English mustard. The latter is too hot for me.

Christopher Trotter’s Barbecue Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil; 6 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar; 5 tbsp runny honey; 1 tbsp tomato purée; 2 tsp Worcester sauce; 2tsp smooth Dijon mustard; 2 garlic cloves, crushed.

Just mix all the ingredients together. Voilà.

Oriental Marinade

I haven’t tried this one, but it would go well with chicken.

6 tbsp vegetable oil; 4 tbsp rice wine (you can always substitute dry sherry); 2 tbsp light soy sauce; 2 cloves garlic, crushed; a piece of ginger about 2 – 3 cm, peeled and grated; pepper.

Again, just mix together. Leave the chicken pieces in it for a good 2 – 3 hours.

Your Very Own Marinade

So what’s stopping you? Remember that it needs to be liquid and have something to make it a bit sticky, so it clings to the food. Mustard and honey are good for that. You could use maple syrup if you like something sweet, but temper that with other flavours. Tabasco (there are other hot sauces out there) is good for heat, and Worcester sauce gives a good umami flavour. Be careful with salt. Remember, for example, that soy sauce, especially light soy, is the Japanese salt equivalent. For something more Chinese, five spice, or ground star anise, is a good distinctive flavouring. If you fancy an Indian flavour, nothing wrong with some curry powder mixed into a paste with some oil and/or mustard. Remember that any dry ingredients will burn. Also better to try your experiments on only one piece of food in case they’re disgusting. If you have any favourites you’d care to share, let me know.

Thanks to Christopher Trotter, Fife’s Food Ambassador, for permission to reproduce his recipes. This one comes from his marvellous book, The Whole Cow.



Kevin's ribs

It’s summer, therefore it’s barbecue time. Well, OK, it’s summer. But imagine if we had real summers, and if you could invite chums for a BBQ a week on Saturday. For a few short weeks I lived in a house in the San Francisco area. The rota of daily household tasks included marinating meat. Whoever was first home from work lit the grill.

Note my use of the word grill as opposed to barbecue. We are talking of America, almost home of the barbie. I say almost, as the word barbacoa almost certainly comes from Central America, probably from Haiti. Some sources would have you believe that it is a corruption of the French de barbe a queue (literally beard to tail). The Oxford English Dictionary describes this attribution as preposterous, and that’s good enough for me.

Now before you Australians start complaining, let me explain what I mean by the term. In its correct form, the type of cooking involving slow cooking with smoke as well as heat, barbeque has been alive and well in the USA for a very long time indeed, particularly in the south. Each state has its own individual style. Dry rub, wet rub, beef, pork, belly, ribs. And in each state you will find an endless source of debate as to who is the champion. This has come to Britain fairly recently, and many of the hipster places in London carry the barbecue name with pride. Having spent some time in Louisiana and Tennessee and sampling some of their finest fare, I can exclusively reveal that the best barbecued pork ribs in the entire world are to be found in Tarrytown in upstate New York, home of my niece Gillian Sheehan and her uber talented pitmaster husband Kevin.

While I know this column loves to discourse (oh, alright, ramble) about food history, there just isn’t space here. To learn more, read Michael Pollan’s Cooked. The first chapter, Fire, is a masterly exposition of the art of taking a whole carcass and transforming it into something magical over a 24 hour period. Kevin takes a mere 6 – 8  hours. So if you were looking for an idea for something different this lunch time, look away now; but if you want to know how to cook one of the world’s great dishes, stick with me.

You do need the kit, starting with a smoker. Weber, the chaps who make the spherical barbecues common in the UK, seem to be the market leaders. A heatproof meat thermometer is also de rigueur, and serious silicon oven gloves. Charcoal is the main smoking medium. You can add some wood for flavour; however, too much wood will produce too much smoke and make your meat bitter. (Who said this was going to be easy?)

Today we’re talking about ribs, pork ribs. Other favourite cuts are beef brisket or what the sometimes eccentric Americans refer to as “pork butt”. Yes, dear reader, you had already worked out that they are referring to shoulder meat. Ah, there’s the rub.

The rub? Did you see what I did there? For this recipe we are using a dry rub. I’m translating quantities from US measures. Gillian tells me that a quarter cup is equivalent to 4 tablespoons, so if it all goes horribly wrong, blame her. (Life, I find, is similar to the game of bridge. If something goes wrong, blame your partner.) Mix 4 tbsp each of ground black pepper, paprika (normal, not smoked) and brown sugar together with 2 tbsp salt and 2 tsp (note we have moved from table to tea) of mustard powder and 1 tsp of cayenne pepper. Take your rack of ribs and coat with the rub. It will do no harm to leave it overnight. Get your smoker to 150˚C/300˚F. Cook for 3 hours uncovered in the smoker, then wrap in tin foil with a little apple juice and cook for a further 2. Finally uncover them again and cook for a further hour. Simple really.

Pork shoulder will need a minimum of six hours. Gillian tells me that the really obsessional  will cook it at 120˚C/250˚F for 8 – 12 hours – it depends how early you’re prepared to get up. And if you’re wondering why it’s called pulled pork, it’s because the meat is so tender you can pull it apart with two forks. Typically served on hamburger buns with coleslaw and corn on the cob on the side. You can serve barbecue sauce but as you’ve gone to such lengths to get the authentic flavour, why mask it?

Thanks to the lovely Sheehans for sharing this. My plan for this week is to put together some ideas for our inferior British barbies. Now all we need is some sun.


Ice cream

When next we meet and you are good enough to offer me a gin and tonic, I will think the less of you if the ice is in these stupid little  cubes which some people think are of any use to man nor beast. Why? Because the smaller the piece of ice, the faster it will melt. The faster the ice melts, the more the drink will dilute. I was tempted to start a rant about certain types of people whose G & Ts are so watery anyway, but I’ve stopped myself in time.

The point of this is to reflect on how ice cream became popular and so widespread as early as the 19th century, long before the invention of refrigeration. The origins apparently date back as far as the second century BC. Alexander the Great, we are told, enjoyed a concoction made from snow flavoured with honey. The Chinese were probably in on the act long before us in the west. Marco Polo brought back a recipe for sherbet (the confection which we now know as sorbet). While the finest fruit sorbets I have ever eaten have been in France, I suspect most of us will regard Italy as the home of ice cream – gelato to them, or hokey cokey as the early Italian immigrants originally sold it in the UK.  One final fascinating fact – skip a paragraph or two if you must. Ice cream parlours really took off in the USA in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the most popular item being the ice cream soda, which sold especially well at weekends. When the church expressed disapproval of drinking such a rich beverage on the Sabbath, ingenious operators simply removed the soda and started to sell only ice cream on that day – a Sunday – hence the word sundae.

If you were far from a cold place, fear not. The trade in ice became a significant one.* Grand houses developed ice houses, insulated structures in shady parts of the estate. You can still see them in the grounds of many stately homes. Some may mistake them for war time Anderson shelters. If you had large enough quantities of ice, it would last for months. We discovered that if you add salt to ice, while it will eventually melt the ice, it lowers the freezing point of water, i.e. makes the ice colder. A basic ice cream maker these days simply involves an electric motor powering a paddle which churns the liquid in a  bowl containing a special freezeable material. The bowl is kept in the deep freeze for 24 hours, thus becoming cold enough to transform your mixture into ice cream. We’ve had the manual equivalent for centuries, with a chamber into which  you insert ice and salt. They work, but they involve a huge amount of elbow grease. A lovely American neighbour produced one at our recent street party, but the churning efforts of several young, and not so young, men were required for a reasonable end product.

As regular readers will know, we have recently acquired an ice cream maker. I have to keep a very close eye on any ice cream served up to L, because of her cream intolerance. If you are similarly afflicted, beware anything describing itself as “luxury”. But perhaps surprisingly, most commercial ice cream does not contain cream. At the moment I am just scratching the surface of what is possible. Last week’s column contained the recipe for raspberry sorbet, (indeed for almost any kind of sorbet). This week I’m including recipes for a couple of things that have worked well for us so far. These are book ended with a classic Italian recipe for vanilla ice cream and with an instant banana ice cream recipe courtesy of the lovely Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland.

As people have been eating yoghurt for over four millennia, it is reasonable to assume that frozen yoghurt was discovered a long, long time ago, probably by accident. Frozen yoghurt took off in the States in the 1980s, perceived to be healthier than ice cream. Early consumers, however, complained – on the grounds that it tasted like yoghurt! To ensure that it reaches an ice cream like consistency and doesn’t set into a block, you need to add a fair bit of sugar, somewhat reducing the health benefits. The first recipe is one of Lesley’s experiments. Yes, it sets hard, but has a terrific flavour. I wrote last week about Claire Macdonald’s recipes. I first made her rhubarb and ginger sorbet (see below) as a granita. On reading the recipe you may think it a ridiculous amount of ginger, but it works beautifully. It is an excellent way of using up the slightly tough, end of season rhubarb.

It is impossible to give portions for these recipes. You may be looking to serve a plateful of one ice only; you may want to serve a mixture; or you may be looking for a small scoop to accompany some other dessert. Have fun experimenting. It doesn’t take long.

Italian Vanilla Ice Cream


750ml full fat milk; seeds from 1 vanilla pod (split the pod lengthways and scrape put the seeds with the tip of a pointed knife); 6 egg yolks; 200g caster sugar.


Heat the milk with the vanilla seeds to just below boiling. In a separate pan beat the egg yolks and the sugar until pale and fluffy. Set the pan over a low heat (or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water) and gradually beat in the milk. Continue to beat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that this is just a variation of the crème pat from last week’s raspberry tart. Remove from the heat. One recipe recommends straining – I’m not sure this will be necessary – use your judgment. Allow to cool, then churn in your ice cream maker.

Lesley Johnston’s Frozen Ginger Yoghurt


500g full fat yoghurt; 5 pieces of stem ginger, drained; 5 tbsp runny honey.


Blitz the ginger in a food processor, then stir into the yoghurt with the honey. Churn in an ice cream maker. (You’re starting to get the hang of how easy this is, aren’t you? And beginning to realise that your local Italian café, should you be fortunate enough still to have one, is making a mark up of about a thousand per cent on its home made stuff.)

Claire Macdonald’s Rhubarb and Ginger Sorbet


500g rhubarb, cut into 2 – 3 cm chunks for poaching; 110g granulated sugar; 110g brown sugar; 6 pieces preserved stem ginger, drained and very finely chopped; 2 rounded tsp powdered ginger; 300 ml water; juice of half a medium sized lemon.


Make a sugar syrup with the water and granulated sugar, heating over a moderate heat until the sugar is completely melted. Add the lemon juice. In another, heavy pan put the rhubarb, brown sugar and powdered ginger. Cook over a low heat until the rhubarb is falling into strands. The mixture will produce its own juice without added water, but keep a close eye on it in the first few minutes to make sure it doesn’t catch. Allow to cool slightly then blitz in a food processor. Sieve the rhubarb into the sugar syrup and stir in the stem ginger. When the mixture is cold, pour into an ice cream maker.

Top tip Put the container for your ice cream into the freezer an hour or two before you are going to need it.

Sarah Mellersh’s Instant Banana Ice Cream


4 bananas, peeled and cut into chunks; ¼ tsp vanilla extract; 3 – 4 tbsp caster sugar; 150 ml buttermilk/cream/full fat Greek yoghurt.


Spread the banana chunks on a tray and put tin the freezer until frozen through. This will take about an hour. Blitz the frozen chunks in a food processor with the sugar (alter the amount of sugar to your taste), vanilla and half of the liquid. Allow to blend for a few minutes until smooth. Then, with the motor still running, gently pour in the remaining liquid. That’s your ice cream made. Serve at once.

*For anyone who is interested I recommend The Frozen Water Trade by Gavin Weightman.

Thanks to Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland for permission to reproduce her recipes. For more details about her courses contact her at

 Tel: 07932 642605


Raspberry sorbet Raspberry tart Cranachan

Q. So, how many seeds are there in an average raspberry? Have a happy half hour organising a family sweep before checking the answer at the bottom. My guinea pigs thought it might be a trick question. No, but here are more of the handy helpful facts you’ve come to know and loathe. The humble rasp is a member of the same family as the blackberry (no great surprise) – and the rose. Don’t start talking about loganberries, boysenberries et al. They all derive from today’s hero. There are over 200 species. We are used to the lovely deep red variety, but in addition they can be purple, black or gold. The latter are the sweetest, but for me the tart taste is perfect. You can make them as sweet as you wish, but with judicious control of sugar you can produce desserts of great sophistication.

Look closely at your berry. This type of fruit is unique in its structure. What you are seeing are what are known as drupelets, little round fruits each of which contains a seed. You might say that an individual raspberry isn’t so much a fruit, more a cooperative.

We Scots say we produce the best soft fruit in the world. Truth be told, I don’t think that’s true of strawberries. While they are happy enough with our climate in their development stage, they need decent heat at the end to ripen and develop that deep sweetness. That’s relatively rare for us. On the other hand, virtually no one disputes our claim to produce the finest rasps in the world. Until the late 1950s there was a special steam train, known as the Raspberry Special, which took them from Scotland to London. Let’s move on to a few edible raspberry specials.

In any recipe involving rasps you have to adapt the amount of sweetener to suit your personal taste. I like a degree of tartness in a fruit dessert. You may prefer a little more sugar or honey. The classic Scottish raspberry dessert is cranachan. As the Johnston house uses no cream and neither of us likes whisky, this isn’t an Ormidale special, but many people can’t see past it on a menu. My thanks to Craig Wood at The Wee Restaurant for the sorbet tip. We have just acquired an ice cream maker which Lesley swapped for our old bread maker (the mechanical one, that is, not me). More on that soon. I now know to add egg white. Thanks, Craig. The final recipe is a show stopper fruit tart. I have made this under the supervision of the lovely Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland. I can’t find her recipe, so I’ve pinched one from another grande dame of Scottish cookery, Claire Macdonald. (I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who don’t have Lady Claire’s books.) Her recipes are wonderful and not too hard to follow. Some of them look a little odd. Trust her – she has never let me down. Note, for example, her alternative to traditional rolled pastry in the recipe below from Simply Seasonal.


Ingredients (serves 4)

300g raspberries; 350 ml double cream; 2 tbsp medium oatmeal; 2 tbsp runny honey; 2 – 3 tbsp whisky (to taste).


Toast the oatmeal in a dry frying pan until it has a rich nutty smell. Blitz half of the raspberries in a blender then sieve. If you want a sweeter pudding you could add a little caster sugar to the purée. Whisk the cream until firm (being careful not to over beat) then stir in the whisky and honey. Fold in the oatmeal. The mixture should be firm. If not, whisk a little more. To assemble, serve in glass serving dishes with alternate layers of the cream mixture, the raspberry purée and the whole berries.

Raspberry Sorbet/Granita


500 g raspberry purée (see below); 500 g caster sugar; 500 ml water; 2 egg whites.


To make your purée, blitz the rasps in a food processor then sieve. You will need about 800g of fresh fruit to yield 500g of purée. (If you want to make a French sorbet, just refer to your purée as coulis instead.) Make a sugar syrup by heating the sugar and water gently until the sugar melts. This must be done over no more than a medium heat. Don’t boil and don’t stir. Add the puréed fruit, stir together and leave until completely cold. Add the egg whites and whisk for 30 seconds then put the mixture into your ice cream maker.


If you don’t have an ice cream maker you can make a granita. The flavour will be the same but there will be large ice crystals. Make the mixture as before but omit the egg whites. Pour into a flat plastic dish and put in the freezer. After an hour or so, the mixture will be starting to freeze. With a fork, scrape over the whole tray so you don’t end up with a giant ice cube. Repeat this every hour for about 8 hours. If stored in a sealed container, granita will last for ages.

As with any ice cream, remember to remove from the freezer a little before serving.

Claire Macdonald’s Raspberry Tart

Ingredients (serves 6)

This will make a 20 cm tart.

For the pastry: 110g cold butter; 110g plain flour; 25g icing sugar; a few drops of good quality vanilla extract (not essence).

For the crème pȃtissière: 450ml single cream; seeds from 1 vanilla pod; 5 large egg yolks; 1 level tsp cornflour; 75g caster sugar.

For the topping: 700g raspberries; 225g redcurrant jelly, melted.


Put the pastry ingredients in a food processor and blitz to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Press firmly around the base and sides of your tart tin, then chill for at least an hour in the fridge. Heat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4 and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the pastry is biscuit coloured. If it has slipped down the sides, push it back up with a metal spoon.

To make the crème pat (as we posers who have spent any time speaking to pros would say), split the vanilla pod, scrape put the seeds and stir into the cream. Heat the cream, but do not bring it to the boil. Beat together the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar, then beat in some of the cream. Gradually stir in the remaining cream. Cook the mixture in a bowl placed in a saucepan over, not in, a pan of simmering water. (I remember my Mum having a double saucepan, which would be ideal. One never sees them these days.) If any part of the process is too hot you end up with very expensive and rather unpleasant scrambled eggs. It will be ready when your custard is thick. This should take about 35 (very attentive) minutes.

Once the custard is done and your pastry is cooked, the difficult bits are over. Leave the custard until it is cold (don’t be tempted to rush) and spread it over the pastry base. Decorate with circles of raspberries. You could of course use any fruit. Strawberries would be good, halved and placed vertically. Or use a mixture of rasps and blueberries. For a real professional finish, melt the redcurrant jelly and apply generously with a pastry brush.

Thanks to Craig Wood of The Wee Restaurant for his top sorbet tip. If you haven’t visited either of his lovely establishments in Edinburgh and North Queensferry, remedy this immediately and improve the quality of your life.

A. The average raspberry has between 100 and 120 drupelets. Not a lot of people know that.


Muhamarra Hummus 2 Guacamole 2

Well, I have to get your interest somehow. The strips word was simply to attract the attention of the under-titillated: today, the dip’s the thing. While it may not seem obvious to you, dear reader, this is a direct follow on to last week’s treatise on the peppers, but, mercifully, devoid of history. You will recall that our star was the red pepper. I had a few left over and the Good Burghers of Hawick (see this week’s Tom Eats!) were coming for an aperitif. Aperitifs call for nibbles, and a little imagination never goes amiss, even if you are simply doing a home made version of a classic. By now you know my views on all that processed c**p. (Under no circumstances, therefore, will I admit that we serve these dips with Doritos. A much better quality of addictive, umami-filled chemical than one finds elsewhere.)

Actually, you may well not know this first one. We discovered it at a wonderful lunch at one of the various Ottolenghi restaurants in London. The good Yottam is now pretty well known through his books and TV shows, introducing us to his parts of the Med. I came to him late in life, and can’t wait to get back to London for second helpings. At his restaurants, muhammara is served as a salad, but it’s great as a dip with drinks.


The peppers for this must be red. Yottam would have you deal with the peppers in a mortar and pestle. I use a food processor (with care) but the walnuts must be hand chopped. You want them the texture of rough grit, no finer. If you can’t find pomegranate molasses, then don’t bother trying to make this. Waitrose certainly stock it, and I think you can get it in most of the main supermarkets now.


3 red peppers; 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed; 50g fresh breadcrumbs (NOT Ruskoline or Panko); 50g walnuts, hand chopped; 1½ tsp ground cumin; 1 tbsp chilli flakes; 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses; juice of a small lemon; 2 – 3 tbsp good olive oil; salt.


Heat your oven to 200˚C/Mark 6 and roast the peppers for about 30 – 35 minutes, turning once. The skins should be slightly charred. Remove and leave until they are cool enough to handle. While the peppers are cooling, chop the walnuts and set to one side. (Top tip – buying packets of walnut pieces is cheaper than buying walnut halves. Second top tip – we served this to people who don’t like walnuts and they didn’t notice.) Deseed and skin the peppers. Put these in a blender along with the breadcrumbs, garlic, cumin, chilli flakes, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. Pulse until you have a rough mixture. Remove to a bowl and stir in the walnuts, about 2 tbsp of oil and a good pinch or two of salt. Add more pomegranate molasses and/or salt to taste. Some might drizzle on a little more oil – I wouldn’t. You can serve straight away, but it will benefit for an hour or two to allow the flavours to settle. You can keep in the fridge, but best served at room temperature.


The classic middle Eastern dip. They say supplies are running low. Well, I have a larder full of tins of chickpeas. Make your own. Tahini is a sesame paste, easily found in all supermarkets.


1 tin chickpeas; I clove of garlic, crushed; 60g tahini paste; juice of 1 medium lemon; 2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for garnish; ½ tsp ground cumin; 2 – 3 tbsp water; salt; paprika to garnish.


Blitz the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, cumin, lemon juice and oil in a food processor until the mixture is very smooth, adding a little water if the mixture is too thick. Season to taste. Put in a serving bowl, sprinkle with a little paprika and drizzle with a little extra oil.


The lovely Nigella attracted some criticism recently for highlighting mashed avocado on toast as a dish worthy of a slot on her show. The most famous of all avocado dips is the Mexican guacamole, but I part company from the accepted versions of the recipe. Not to put too fine a point on it, most of them are disgusting. In 1974, probably before I had heard of an avocado, I spent a few weeks in California, where I was introduced to the version I still use. But first, the horrors.

A fair few recipes I have read include tomatoes, (if you must), chopped chilli, raw onion (oh, please), raw garlic (you cannot be serious) and coriander, plus lime juice. Maybe, just maybe, if you give all these things time to blend you might have something edible; however, we are talking about spontaneity. You want a drink sometime soon, and you want something good to nibble. I present the very simple version I was taught.

One other preliminary tip. There was recent publicity concerning the number of people hospitalised due to injuries sustained while trying to remove avocado stones. Equivalent to the number of crashes on the M25 or the number of wife assaults on an average Old Firm day, or some other similarly made up statistic. Cut your avocado in half lengthways and twist. Place the half in which the stone is embedded on a chopping board. Hit down on the stone with a sharp chopping knife. The knife will embed slightly. Give a quarter twist and the stone will come out attached to the knife.


2 ripe avocadoes; 1 clove of garlic, peeled and halved; juice of 1 lime; Tabasco; salt.


Rub the cut sides of the garlic in the mixing bowl. Slice the avocadoes, remove the stones and scoop the flesh into the bowl. Mash the flesh with lime juice and Tabasco to taste (a good dozen or so shakes). Add salt and adjust with more lime juice or tabasco, remembering that you can always add, but you can’t take away.

Not a classical recipe, but do I care? I’m with Nigella on this one – simplest is best.




Red pepper soup Peppers 2 Roasted pepeprs

I sit here, watching the lashing rain, not watching the Pentland Hills as they have disappeared, and just know that summer has come to Edinburgh. If the sky is grey, let’s compensate with some colour on our plates. Things don’t get much brighter than dishes involving peppers. By this I’m referring to the fruit variously known as sweet or bell pepper, or capsicum or pimento or peperone or, to me, simply pepper. Like so many things imported into Europe the late 15th century (one small bonus point if you said Columbus, from the Americas) this was horribly misnamed. Why pepper? Well, remember that we are talking about the same family as the capsaicin-fierce chilli peppers. Europe already had a fierce spice from the Indies, so all members of the chilli family were simply given the same name. Another two and a half centuries were to elapse before Carl Linnaeus and his plant classification system.

Anyway, as you probably knew, today’s hero lacks capsaicin due to a regressive gene and therefore lacks heat, but not, fortunately, colour. Peppers now come in a variety of colours, most commonly red, orange and yellow, but there are also purple and white variations. A green pepper is simply an unripe red pepper. It has its uses, but not many. You can use sliced peppers to brighten up salads or for garnish. For many of us, raw peppers have an unfortunate side effect. They “repeat” or “speak back” or, in plain English, make us burp. You can avoid this by blanching the slices in boiling water for a minute or two, then refreshing in iced water. You can’t perform the same trick with cucumber, which is another culprit. I’m with Samuel Pepys, who wrote, “cucumber should be thinly sliced, dressed with salt, pepper and vinegar, then thrown away as being unfit for human consumption.” But I digress.

There are many fine things to do with red peppers. Stuffed, they can make a meal in themselves and are an excellent option for vegetarian or vegan friends. (I have none of the latter, but can swallow vegetarians in small portions.)

Today’s weather calls for soup (actually Scotch Broth or minestrone would be appropriate), and the first recipe is one of my favourites. Peppers and tomatoes complement each other well. Both of today’s dishes are perfect on a self-catering holiday in Spain or Italy, with the ripest of tomatoes and with the gnarled peppers that look as though they had been painted by Van Gogh. Don’t make this with nasty watery Dutch tomatoes. If you can’t get decent fresh tomatoes you could get away with tinned, but not as good.

The second is a classic Italian dish. People may accuse me of stealing it from Delia: in fact I’d been making this courtesy of Elizabeth David for years before Summer Cooking hit our shelves. Don’t worry if you think you don’t like anchovies. They will melt to nothing in the cooking and you will simply get the taste of salt, not of fish. Use the very best olive oil you can get hold of. I have recently discovered Orodeal, from Spain, distributed by a Kirkcaldy based company. Stunning. For more information, see

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup


3 red peppers, halved and deseeded; 500g good, ripe tomatoes; 1 onion, halved (unpeeled); 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled; 2 sticks of celery, peeled and quite finely chopped; 4 tbsp good olive oil; 450 ml stock (for once I would probably use vegetable stock here, but chicken would do); 2 – 3 tbsp tomato purée; 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional); salt and pepper.


Preheat the oven to 190˚C, Mark 5. Put the peppers and onions, cut side down, on a baking tray along with the tomatoes and garlic and drizzle with half of the oil. Bake for about 30 – 45 minutes until the peppers are tender. (Here are two top tips. Ovens in self-catering properties are usually disasters, either the heat of a candle or a furnace, with little in between. If doing this in a strange oven keep a close eye on proceedings. Secondly, if using tinned tomatoes, don’t roast the tin.) Sauté the celery gently in the reminder of the oil until soft. When the roasted vegetables are ready, allow to cool slightly and remove the skins from the onion and the garlic. Just squeeze the garlic and the cooked flesh will come out like toothpaste. Remove the tomato skins and, if you can be bothered, the pepper skins too.  Stir the tomato purée into the cooked celery and add the veg, stock and chilli flakes if using. Heat gently for a few minutes, then blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Season with s & p.

Peperoni alla Piemontese (Peppers roasted with tomatoes, anchovies and garlic)


1 pepper per person (any colour apart from green), stalk on, split down the middle of the stalk, seeds and membrane removed); tomatoes, skinned, seeded and halved; garlic cloves, peeled and cut into thin slivers; salted anchovy fillets; olive oil (use your very best quality EVOO).


Preheat the oven to 180˚C, Mark 4. Assemble the pepper halves on a roasting tray. To each one add half of a skinned and seeded tomato (you can use tinned if you can’t find good ripe ones) cut into four pieces, a sliver or two of garlic and an anchovy fillet cut into little pieces. Add a good tablespoonful of olive oil. Bake until the peppers are soft and just beginning to char at the edges. This takes anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour depending on their size. When removing from the tray be careful not to lose the juices – they are sublime. Best served cold. Scatter with a little ripped basil, and serve with some good bread to mop up the juices.


Pinrapple Spiral cuts Pineapple fresh  DSC00689

With supermarkets having shrunk the planet to source things on our behalf, it is easy to forget what a wondrous oddity this fruit is. Hold one in your hand, carefully to avoid the worst of the spikes, admire its sumptuous top knot of green and consider how amazing it must have seemed to Christopher Columbus and his crew when they first encountered it in Guadeloupe in the 15th century.

For some reason, the first European country it was introduced into was England, where it caused a sensation. It was first grown under glass in England and presented to Charles II in 1672. Soon all of Britain’s nobility were vying with each other to grow the most fashionable dining table centrepiece, a freshly produced pineapple being the zenith. The Dunmores of Airth, some 20 miles west of Edinburgh, went further, erecting a summerhouse in the shape of a pineapple. It still exists to this day, cared for by the National Trust for Scotland. You can rent it.

In the Scotland of my youth, fresh pineapple was a rarity. It came tinned, in chunks or rings. One of the most ubiquitous uses of the latter was as an adornment to a slice of gammon. Of the world’s many sweet-savoury combinations, this was far from being the daftest, the sweetness of the fruit counteracting the saltiness of the ham. Mind you, even good food combinations can be taken too far. I did not mourn the recent death of Sotirios (Sam) Panopolous, creator of the Hawaiian pizza. A fine man, I’m sure but the combination of dough, ham and pineapple just doesn’t do it for me.

So what does? I’m generally not a fan of pineapple in savoury dishes, though it appears in my classic sweet and sour sauce recipe. Let’s concentrate on it as a last course.

How to Cube a Pineapple

Cut off the top and a slice off the bottom and place on a chopping board. Working from top to bottom, remove the skin as thinly as possible. This will leave you with little marks where the “studs” on the outside have been. These too need to be removed. Take care to take off as little of the edible fruit as possible. The true expert can do this with a series of spiral cuts (see photo above left). Once trimmed, cut the fruit in half lengthways, then cut each half in two, also lengthways. At the corner you will see the inedible core. Remove that, then cut each quarter into two or three lengths, then cut each lengths into the size of chunks you wish. This will depend on the size of your gob.

This is delicious served fresh, with ice cream or yoghurt. On continental Europe it is often served with kirsch. Raymond Blanc does an incredibly elaborate dessert involving it in roasted, dried and sorbet variations. Marco Pierre White roasts it with chilli. For your delectation I present two ideas, one elaborate (stolen from Larousse Gastronomique) and one basic (mine).

Roast Pineapple

A couple of caveats to this recipe. If you haven’t made caramel before, you need a thick bottomed pan. It is essential to get your caramel a deep amber colour and beginning to smoke; however, there is a fine line between that and burning it. If that happens, you just have to start again. Be very careful indeed when working with caramel. The temperature is intense and it will stick to your skin. The recipe calls for Jamaican peppercorns. I have never seen these in a shop. We know them better as allspice. I guess 10 berries will amount to a couple of teaspoons of ground.


2 pineapples, peeled, cored and cut in 4, lengthways;5 ripe bananas; 2 vanilla pods; 300g caster sugar; small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly julienned; 500ml mineral water; 3tbsp dark rum; juice of 1 lemon.


The night before, make a caramelised vanilla syrup. Peel and purée the bananas. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods (split down the middle and scrape with the tip of a knife). Reserve both the pods and seeds. Put a heavy frying pan on to heat then add the sugar, spread thinly over the base. Allow the sugar to caramelise over a low heat. (Do not stir the sugar.) When it has reached the require colour remove from the heat and add the vanilla pods, seeds, allspice and ginger. In three stages add the water (keep your face well back from the pan, and hold the handle with a cloth). Bring the resulting syrup to the boil, then add the bananas, the rum and the lemon juice. Mix and leave overnight. The following day heat the oven to 230˚C, Mark 8. Prepare the pineapples and arrange the pieces in a roasting tin. Pour over the syrup and cook for 10 minutes, basting and turning twice. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cut the pieces into chunks. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Chilled Pineapple with Coffee Ice cream and Espresso

Ingredients (per person)

2 – 3 scoops coffee ice cream; 4 chunks of fresh pineapple, each cut into three; double or triple strength espresso, freshly made, sweetened to taste; 50 ml dark rum or brandy (optional).


Soften the ice cream and mix in the pineapple. Return to the freezer until the ice cream has firmed up (pineapple won’t react kindly to a lengthy period in the freezer). Make some very strong coffee and sweeten – probably much sweeter than you would drink it. Add the booze if required. Pour the hot coffee over the ice cream and pineapple. Seeemples!



Eggs Benedict Eggs Florentine 2 Eggs Royale

We talked last time about the eggs to go with the Full Monty. Fried or scrambled? (Incidentally, did you ever pause to consider the origin of that phrase? There are various possibilities; however, my preferred origin comes from Montague Burton, who clothed 90% of British men for the first half of the twentieth century. You could get a good two piece suit at a reasonable price, but if you saved up you could go for the top package, a three piece suit and an extra pair of trousers, the full Monty.) But I digress – back to breakfast.

No matter how well you drain the food there is a lot of fat in a full breakfast and traditional styles of cooking the eggs add to that. For a lighter alternative, you might want to consider poaching instead. A lot of people have problems with poached eggs. There are two main reasons. Firstly, you need the freshest eggs you can possibly get. To check the freshness of your egg, put it in a pan of cold water. If it stays horizontal it is very fresh. As eggs get older an air pocket develops at one end which will make them point upwards at an angle. Secondly, it needs to go into the water gently. Best to break the egg into a ramekin and tip it in just above the surface of the water. The basic technique is to bring a wide, deep pan of salted water to the boil and reduce the heat to just below simmering point. (I generally use a wok, but a large frying pan is fine.)  Many books will tell you to add a dash of vinegar. If your eggs are fresh enough you won’t need it, but it helps the whites to coalesce. Swirl the water around just before you pop the eggs in. Timings are similar to those for boiled eggs. 3 minutes will get you a nice runny egg, which is ideal for this dish. They need to be drained, and I would recommend that you use a cloth as opposed to kitchen roll. The latter tends to disintegrate and stick.

A top Sarah Mellersh tip if you are poaching eggs for a crowd. Cook them ahead of time slightly undercooking them. Slide into a bowl of cold water, then immerse in barely simmering water for 1 to 2 minutes. If the delay will be shorter, keep them warm in a bowl of hot water, topping it up from time to time if need be.

All good, but I like a proper fry up with the full Monty: if a poached egg is on the menu, my mind turns to more exotic things. Eggs Benedict, Florentine and Royale are all variations on a theme. They have in common, poached eggs, toasted muffins and Hollandaise sauce. For my own part, I would rather have some good wholemeal toast than a soggy muffin. Crunch is what you need on the base.

Eggs Benedict (serves 2)

4 poached eggs; 2 English muffins, halved and toasted, or 4 slices wholemeal toast (not much bigger than your egg; enough good quality ham to put a double layer on the toast; butter or mustard to spread on the toast (optional); Hollandaise sauce – see below; salt and pepper to taste.


Toast your muffins or bread to be ready at the same time as the Hollandaise. Butter and/or spread a little mustard on the bread/muffin and put the ham on top. Slide your egg on to each, season with a little S & P then nap (cover all over) with a generous layer of sauce.

Eggs Florentine

As above, minus the mustard, but instead of the ham, top the bread with a layer of lightly cooked (and well drained) spinach – see below. I have seen some pictures with both ham and spinach – why not?

Eggs Royale

As above but replace the ham with smoked salmon. Pepper the salmon and add a squeeze of lemon juice before adding the egg and the sauce.

Hollandaise Sauce (I reproduce the recipe from my book, A Bunch of Fives, just to show how crap I was at writing recipes 3 years ago – I also note that to my horror I forgot about the vinegar in the original)

Same idea as mayo, but butter instead of oil, and you have the added complication of heat. The blessed Julia (Child) describes how to make this in a blender, commenting that, “as the technique is well within the capabilities of an 8 year old child, it has much to recommend it.” I actually prefer to make this the traditional way in a glass bowl over (not in) hot water. Julia makes hers directly in a pan, but her skill levels are, just possibly, a tad higher than mine. Your Granny J (my Mum – the book was written primarily for my children) used to have a double saucepan, so you could have your hot water in the lower part and make your sauce in the upper pan – one never sees them these days. Start with about 3 – 4 tbsp white wine vinegar in a pan with a few peppercorns and a bay leaf. Reduce to about one third. For three egg yolks you’ll need about 150 to 200g of soft butter, some lemon juice and salt and (white) pepper. You have to make sure your eggs are not too hot, otherwise they scramble.  Strain the reduced vinegar into the eggs, then whisk the butter  in a little at a time. If it starts to separate you can often save the day by popping an ice cube in.

A couple of comments. Start by beating the eggs in your bowl over the water with a little nut of soft butter. The lemon juice goes in at the end. My more recent experience of watching professionals is that they melt the butter completely. Some use only clarified butter; however, I was told recently at The Wee Restaurant that if you add the white solids as well, this makes your sauce more stable. They made a batch at the beginning of service which saw them through all evening.


For this serving you will need about 4 – 6 handfuls of spinach, preferably baby spinach. Remove any tough stems, rinse and drain. Put in a pan with no more liquid than the residual water and wilt over a gentle medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes, adding a little salt. Squeeze out as much water as you can. You may want to blend (this may not be necessary with young leaves). If serving spinach as a veg I would add a little butter, but there is more than enough in your sauce.



Breakfast The Full Monty 2

We now move on to the main event of the Full Monty breakfast. This is done but rarely, so would that t’were well done. At ours this rarely happens unless there are people staying, most of whom are civilised. The young, however, are a different matter. We do on occasion play host to young men whose appetites would put to shame a plague of locusts of biblical proportions. In these circumstances, I tend to approach breakfast less as a host and more as a challenger. The full English, the full Scottish and the Ulster Fry are all fairly similar. You can add or subtract ingredients to suit but my list is for a breakfast of Lucullan proportions. (Trust me, I once beat the locusts. Never has so much triumph accompanied one leftover sausage and one untouched rasher.) A word of warning – if you have never cooked a full Scottish breakfast before, read up on the timings first. Some things can be kept warm, but some will dry out, and others can slip into a greasy congealed mess if you’re not careful. If you’re going for the full artery-clogging, never-want-to-eat-again-until-night time burn, don’t even attempt to eat with your guests. Get the basic plateful out and keep the top ups coming, along with endless supplies of hot toast and fresh tea or coffee.


Sausages (at least two types, preferably pork and beef or venison); bacon – I prefer unsmoked back; black pudding; haggis or white pudding; mushrooms; sautéed potatoes; eggs, fried, scrambled or poached. Optional extras – fried bread or tattie scones or hash browns; tomatoes (grilled or roasted). If feeding young gannets, allow at least three sausages, three slices of bacon and two eggs per male. The young are different from us.


Sausages: Make sure you buy good quality sausages. Beef sausages are rare outwith Scotland, as are venison ones. It’s nice to distinguish our version from the rest of the country. Sausages take an AGE to cook. You need to start these a good 15 minutes before anything else. If hob space is at a premium, you can brown them then cook in the oven (about 25 minutes at a medium heat). DON’T prick sausages. That will dry them out. The practice goes back to wartime when they were so full of water they had a tendency to explode, hence the name bangers.

Bacon:  Bacon which has been kept hot for too long or at too high a heat can become dry and unpleasant. Try not to do it too far in advance. You may want to pat it dry of any surplus fat.

Black pudding, haggis etc: Breakfast is a great way to introduce people to these for the first time. Tell them, truthfully, that these are traditional types of Scottish sausage. Your main difficulty is in persuading the squeamish to try them. If you get over that hurdle I have never met any non-vegetarian who dislikes them. You can keep these warm at a medium to low heat.

Sautéed potatoes: By this I’m not referring to anything fancy with onion or the like. Cut your potatoes into discs about 1cm thick, parboil for five minutes then fry in oil until golden. When looking at café fry ups, I always raise my eyebrows at chips, yet I always serve fried potatoes. What a snob.

Mushrooms: Large flat mushrooms are great for this. They need to be peeled. Whereas sautéing chopped mushrooms you use a lot of butter at a high heat, the opposite is true here. Put them peeled side down in a non-stick pan with a little butter and/or olive oil and cook slowly. Depending on the thickness these may take 10 – 15 minutes. These too can be roasted in the oven – about 20 minutes. Mushrooms will not suffer from being kept warm.

Eggs: We’ll look at poached eggs next week. In the meantime, do you need me to tell you how to fry or scramble an egg? Probably not, but as I hope you share these with your less experienced young, a couple of tips. Hotels and institutions have to turn out hundreds of eggs. Speed is therefore of the essence for them, which is why you get that lacy membrane on the bottom of fried eggs. Simply, they have been cooked too fast. I like to fry eggs over a lowish heat. The white takes a little time to set. Once that has done and your cooking fat, be it vegetable oil, olive oil butter, has heated up, spoon it over the yolks until they are to your liking. For scrambled eggs, put in a pan with a teaspoon of water and a generous knob of butter. (I think The Curmudgeon uses more butter than egg, which may be a tad excessive.) Season with salt and pepper and stir well to break up the yolks. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring more or less continuously, especially in the last couple of minutes. When they are nearly ready remove from the heat. They will continue to cook in the pan, so watch your timing. Overcooked scrambled eggs are disgusting. Soak the pan immediately after serving.

Beans: You will note that these have not been mentioned. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should baked beans be served at breakfast in Scotland.

Condiments: Why bother trying to be posh and decanting these into little bowls? You won’t know in advance who wants mustard (at least two types, of course) or tomato ketchup or HP sauce. Put all the bottles out in the dining room, otherwise the wastage can be criminal.

Pans, grills, ovens: In advance of this magnum opus work out how you are going to cook and keep warm all this food. How many frying pans do you have? Many components can be cooked and/or kept warm in an oven, but how much space do you have? Many items can be grilled, but can you use your grill and your oven at the same time? You can’t use your oven for cooking and keeping warm at the same time, and it will take time to cool. Toast is a vital component of a giant breakfast. The average domestic toaster can cope with only two slices at a time. You can make more on the grill, but will it be available/clean? Nothing worse than serving toast with black pudding crumbs and bacon fat. In short, your pans may have to double up and be cleaned, and this may alter your timings.  The more forethought, the less panic. If in doubt, serve Buck’s Fizz and keep the glasses topped while they’re waiting.



Kedgeree Devilled Kidneys

The notion of a breakfast sideboard sounds downright Edwardian or even Victorian, does it not?  Yet a sideboard or side table is invaluable if you have house guests or if you are sharing a holiday home. So much can be set up the night before, and it’s easy to add your muesli, granola or grapefruit (see last week) in minutes, then go back to bed, if you want the early risers to have something to get them started. It’s not uncommon in hotel breakfast buffets these days to see cold meats, cheeses and smoked fish laid out along with hard boiled eggs, tomatoes etc. This is very European, and very easy for the hosts; however, as I prefer to serve that sort of fare for an easy lunch, I’d rather keep it till later.

The notion of service à la Russe, where each guest is served an individual plate of food, and where the courses come in sequence, is relatively new, dating from mid Victorian times. Before that, the approved fashion was to serve à la française, where all the dishes were set out either on the main table or on the side (or both). Breakfast as we know it now, in terms of the full Monty, is one of the more difficult meals. We’ll look at that more next week. Today, a throwback to a bygone age, as well as ways of making your morning easier.

I am currently reading a book entitled The Greedy Queen by food historian Annie Gray. It’s a biography of Queen Victoria written from a food perspective. We’re probably aware of the gargantuan meals which used to be served in that era. No wonder life expectancies were short, even (or especially) among the well to do. What I found even more astonishing was that over and above the huge menus which one reads regularly, at virtually every meal in a rich household there would be, on the sideboard, cold joints of meat, roasted fowl, game or any combination thereof. Presumably this was for you to snack on to stave off night starvation.

But, if you shout breakfast to those who favour the old days, I can guarantee that three of the words which come out will be, devilled, kedgeree, and kidneys, not necessarily in that order. Traditionally, of course, dishes which you would find on your well stocked sideboard. Admittedly, they probably wouldn’t be seated next to last week’s muesli, granola and grapefruit, but a little time travelling does no one any harm.

Let’s begin with kedgeree. As the origin of the Hindi word khicari is obscure, I won’t trouble you with it, but when we come on an Indian dish called kadgeri, you know we’re closing in on our target. The original was rice garnished with onions, lentils and eggs. Our British twist was to add fish. Traditionally smoked haddock is used. I once had a version at Gleneagles Hotel made with salmon. In truth it was nearer to an authentic fish curry than the glorious hybrid dish which we know. I think I prefer our ersatz version. I use precooked rice. Do be careful not to store cooked rice for too long as you may make your guests very ill. Don’t confuse smoked haddock with Arbroath smokies – the former (which are used in this dish)  are cold-smoked, the latter, hot.


Ingredients (serves 4 – 6 as part of a breakfast buffet)

2 decent sized smoked haddock (preferably undyed), cooked in milk, skinned and flaked and kept warm; 1 onion, finely chopped; 500g cooked Basmati rice; 80g butter; 1 tsp medium curry powder; 4 hard boiled eggs (boiled while you are cooking the dish, so they are still warm); handful of chopped parsley, salt and black pepper, lemon juice.


Soften the onion in the butter. Add the curry powder and cook for a minute, then stir in the rice, and continue over a medium heat until the rice is warmed through. Add the fish and stir in, trying not to break up the flakes too much. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and parsley. Shell and quarter the eggs. You can either serve them on top of the rice or stir them into the mixture.

Devilled Kidneys

Dear reader, I have never devilled a kidney in my life. In fact I have never cooked a kidney, as both it and liver would feature in my Food Hell choice were I ever invited onto Saturday Kitchen. In each case it’s the texture, rather than the flavour which gets to me: however, as I heard your voice calling for the dish, I have sourced it for you.

Ingredients (if served as a dish in its own right, would serve 2. As part of a breakfast buffet 1 kidney per person is probably enough. Someone else can eat mine.)

4 very fresh lambs’ kidneys; 2 tbsp seasoned flour; 25g soft butter; ½ tsp cayenne pepper; ½  tsp mustard powder; 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce; 1 tsp anchovy sauce or puree, or 2 anchovies, mashed.


Remove the suet from around the kidneys if necessary, along with the thin membrane that might still encase them. Slice in half laterally, so they retain their kidney shape, and use a good pair of scissors or a sharp knife to snip away the membranes that attach the white fatty core to the meat, and remove. Dust in the seasoned flour. Mash the butter with the other ingredients, and adjust the seasoning to taste. Place the butter mixture in a small frying pan then reduce the heat to medium. Shake off the excess flour, then cook the kidneys for two and a half minutes on each side. If served as a dish in its own right, it would be traditional to serve the kidneys on toast along with the pan juices, but you could simply serve in a chafing dish.


Bircher muesli Granola Grapefruit 2

Every household will vary, but our volume of house guests increases significantly in the summer. Indeed, at Festival time, we are considering investing in some hospitality software to keep tabs on the influx. This is something to look forward to notwithstanding the disastrous effect on the wine cellar levels and wear and tear on the washing machine. But perhaps the greatest pleasure is the excuse to prepare breakfast on a larger scale than normal. In this and the following week or two, I share a few ideas.

Sometimes you will want to have the big production number. The delights of this will usually fade fairly quickly and your chums or you may not have time for it. It is always good to have a few things which can simply be put out on a sideboard for people to help themselves, either as a starter, or alternative to the main event.

The problem with ready made cereals and mueslis is that they often contain frighteningly high levels of sugar and salt. Healthier (and tastier) to make your own. I do despair when I see dry muesli featuring on a breakfast buffet. It needs to be soaked for several hours, longer if you use rolled, as opposed to instant, oats. No wonder many have made unflattering comparisons with the stuff to be found on the bottom of budgies’ cages.

Jane Hunter’s Bircher Muesli

As this dish was invented in Switzerland about 120 years ago by one Doctor Bircher-Brenner, it is highly appropriate that this recipe come from Basel-based Jane. Many thanks for this.


150g rolled or quick oats; 420ml milk; 60ml apple juice; 3 tablespoons lemon juice; 1 apple, cored and grated (peel on); 1-2 tablespoons honey; 375g plain yogurt; a shake of powdered  cinnamon (optional).

Toppings –  your choice of fresh and/or dried fruit, nuts, toasted coconut, etc. Jane recommends blueberries, strawberries, raisins and hazelnuts.


Combine oats, milk, apple juice and lemon juice and leave overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning add the grated apple (this could be added the night before to save time), honey (to taste), yogurt, and cinnamon, if desired, and mix well. Top with your favourite fruits and nuts.

This will give you a fairly mushy mixture. If you prefer a thicker consistency, reduce the quantities of milk and yoghurt. If you fancy something crunchier, try-

Sarah Mellersh’s Granola

 I normally despair of recipes which refer to cups. Here, however, it makes perfect good sense, as you are looking to maintain respective volumes. Use a good sized teacup. If measuring out your honey into a container, make sure that you get all of it out into the dry mixture. It is very easy to leave a significant amount behind if you’re not careful.


Dry ingredients

3 cups rolled oats; ½ cup flaked almonds; ½ cup wheatgerm (optional); ½ cup mixed seeds, (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower); ½ cup plain wholemeal flour; 4 tbsp soft brown sugar; 2 tsp ground cinnamon; ½ tsp salt.

Wet ingredients

½ cup unsweetened apple juice; 4 tbsp warmed honey; 1 tbsp vanilla extract; 2 tbsp sunflower oil.


Preheat the oven to 160˚C, Mark 3. Put all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Whisk together all the wet ingredients. Pour the wet onto the dry and mix well until all the dry ingredients are coated. Spread onto a baking sheet and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Ensure that any big lumps are broken up to allow for even cooking. The final mixture should be golden brown in colour. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container. Serve with milk and dry or fresh fruit.



I can hear the stunned reaction now; however, on the very few occasions I have seen grapefruit served at a domestic breakfast table, it has been a fruit cut in two. I have always been a fan of the sharp juicy flavour to get both taste buds and metabolism going first thing, but I usually avoid it when served this way, the simple reason being that one needs to go for a second shower afterwards. For years now, I have been segmenting half a dozen or so grapefruit at a time and enjoying a non stick breakfast; however, very few people seem to know how. It’s a little fiddly to begin with, but once you master the technique it takes no time at all. The only prerequisite is a REALLY sharp knife.

Cut off two slices of peel from the top and bottom slices. Rest the grapefruit on a chopping board and, working from top to bottom, cut off the remainder of the peel, trying to follow the contour of the fruit to avoid waste. You will probably need a final trim to remove any remaining pith. Looking downwards you should see a cartwheel shape, each of the spokes being the membrane. What you are looking to do is to cut between each of the “spokes”, removing the flesh and leaving the membrane. See the illustration above (but don’t be so sloppy when it comes to trimming the pith).

Hold the fruit in your non-knife hand with the side of the fruit facing you. Working from left to right, cut down immediately to the right side of one membrane, then again to the left side of the membrane to the right, releasing a segment. Repeat the process. Work over a bowl to catch any juice, and squeeze any juice from the remaining membrane and from any bits of peel if you accidentally took too much flesh off.

It’s nice to have a mixture of yellow, pink and red grapefruit. You could add oranges as well. When shopping, select by weight. The heavier the fruit, the more juice. Final top tip: Have your bin immediately beside you, otherwise a lot of your kitchen can become a sticky mess.

Rereading this, I’m not sure if it would make sense to me if I hadn’t done it before. For a short video see

Thanks to Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland for permission (yet again) to reproduce her recipes. For more details about her courses contact her at     or      07932 642605




Hot Smoked Salmon and beetroot salad

We all have food memories from our childhood, some good, many less so.  As I had a mother who was a very fine cook – blame Tom Cooks! on her – my own are vivid rather than horrific. I remember opening the gate and being able to smell from a distance her spaghetti sauce, one that we would now know as all’amatriciana, even today one of my favourites. Other foods you remember because of their appearance. Beetroot is one such. I recall a dramatic colour on a plate, leeching on to everything else. Every summer salad had it. Our family being superior, I think the industrial vinegar which pickled ours may have scored a mere 4/10 on the industrial acid scale. At the houses of friends, I think the beetroot reached the 8 level, but we lived to write about it 55 years on. Many other summer memories seem to contain a touch of vinegar, be they chips, a rare treat, sandwich spread, or, at other boys’ houses, salad cream. When I became a man I put away childish things. One of these, I stupidly thought, was beetroot.

I can’t remember how or when I rediscovered the delights of this fabulous root. It doesn’t matter. It is delicious in so many ways. My chum, Christopher Trotter has produced a whole book on it. Details below. We are coming into salad season. As served in Scotland, salad is a dish which is generally tedious. The spark, as so often in culinary matters, came from France. There you will find that your basic layer of leaves, tomatoes and the like is but the base. Dressed, of course, but the main event is still to be added. The multi layered pleasures of a salade composée (cold) or tiède (warm) are among France’s finest, but lesser known, exports. The trick is to include as wide a variety of colours, flavours and textures as one can. Beetroot obviously ticks one of those boxes.

More than one, actually. With a little careful shopping it is no longer so difficult to find golden yellow beetroot, or the variegated variety, with its stylish white and pink circles. By picking and mixing one can easily assemble something quite arty on a plate, an area of modern cuisine which usually passes me by. These can be served individually as starters, or on larger dishes as a main course. The only limitation is your own imagination. Here are a couple which I have produced to very good effect.

To cook beetroot either boil it in salted water, reduced to simmering point, or bake it. In water, beets will need between 20 and 45 minutes depending on size, In the oven put them in a roasting tin, drizzle with oil and bake at 200˚C, mark 6, for 45 – 60 minutes. In each case allow to cool, remove the tops and tails and peel. I do advise you to wear gloves, otherwise people will assume you have just dismembered your nearest and dearest. I got my second recipe from a day at Martin Wishart cookery school (highly recommended), where we cut the beetroot into pieces and wrapped it in foil with garlic before baking. I have to confess I didn’t notice the difference.

Salade Composée with Beetroot, Hot Smoked Salmon, Grapefruit and Horseradish

For any salade composée, start with your own selection of salad leaves, lightly dressed with your own preferred salad dressing, Cut the salmon into 3 cm squares. For a starter allow 4 or 5 per plate. Decorate with beetroot wedges and 2 or 3 grapefruit segments (NOT tinned). It’s nice to have a mixture of yellow, pink and red grapefruit, and different colours of beetroot. Dot liberally with blobs of cream of horseradish and top with pea shoots or micro herbs. Easy as falling off a log and the result looks spectacular. The eagle eyed among you may spot the absence of grapefruit from the photo. It is optional and has the disadvantage that it will kill stone dead every type of wine known to humankind.

Salade Tiède with Seared Pigeon, Black Pudding and Beetroot

Allow 1 pigeon breast and 1 slice of black pudding per person for a starter. Cut the black pudding into small cubes. Assemble and dress your leaves as above. Have your beetroot cut into the desired shapes and sizes. It’s up to you whether you want it hot or cold. Care is needed when cooking a pigeon breast. Overcook it and it tastes like liver. Make sure the meat is patted dry. Put some vegetable oil in a frying pan and turn up the heat to maximum. Cook the pigeon for 2 minutes on one side, and 1 minute on the other. Remove and leave to rest for about 5 minutes. This will be a bit messy as the oil will spit, but doing it this way ensures it will be nicely seared on the outside and pink in the middle. Discard the excess oil, reduce the heat, and in the same pan fry the black pudding for a couple of minutes. Deglaze the pan with a little sherry vinegar. Cut the pigeon breast into a fan and put on top of the leaves. Arrange the beetroot and black pudding around the pigeon, and finish with the pan juices.

Neither of these recipes comes from a book. If you want more, I commend to you Beetroot, by my friend Christopher Trotter, Fife’s Food Ambassador, which has some 30 recipes both sweet and savoury. To obtain a copy contact Christopher on 07739 049639. He has also produced books on Courgettes and Kale, and his new volume on Cauliflower will be with us soon



Thai Red Curry

I have spent some time lately extolling the virtues of home made sauces and pastes over those which come in bottles or jars. This week our attention turns to Thailand, courtesy of the ever lovely Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland, as crisp as a spring roll, as fragrant as (get on with it – Ed.) Anyway Sarah runs all manner of courses, which I can heartily recommend. Thai is one of her most popular.

That is hardly surprising since Thai curry is now a staple of many pub menus, fast becoming as British as Chicken Tikka Masala, and often as badly made. This is how you make the real thing. The starting point is to make your own paste. The recipe is for red curry paste, but the notes will tell you how to adapt this for the green or yellow versions. The quantities are enough for twice the amount you will need for the dish itself. You can freeze what you don’t need. Of the ingredients, most are readily available, apart from the shrimp paste and the kaffir leaves. You will get the latter in Asian stores. I have (whisper it, and don’t tell Sarah) made it without. Not many will notice. Shrimp paste and fish sauce are the Thai equivalent of salt. You can substitute salted anchovies. You can now buy small jars of tamarind paste (and also lemongrass paste) at Waitrose and other good supermarkets. Asian supermarkets tend to sell it in much larger quantities than most of us need.

Thai Red Curry Paste

Ingredients: 4 red chillies, deseeded or not, your choice; 1 – 2 tsps dried chillies (be warned, if you use two this will be hot); 140g chopped shallots; 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped or crushed; thumb size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped (to peel ginger without waste, scrape with a teaspoon); 1 small stalk of lemongrass, thinly sliced longways; small bunch of coriander stalks, coarsely chopped (keep the leaves to garnish your curry); 8 kaffir leaves, stripped from the stalks; ½ tsp black pepper; ½ tsp ground cumin; ½ tsp ground coriander; ¼ tsp shrimp paste, or 2 salted anchovies, chopped; 2 tbsp paprika (ordinary, not smoked); 5 tbsp cold water.


Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz to a smooth paste, adding a little more water if needed. This will make about 10 tbsp.


Green Curry Paste

As for the red curry paste, but use green chillies, not red. Omit the paprika. Use two or three times the amount of coriander.

Yellow Curry Paste

As for the red curry paste, but omit the paprika. Add 1 – 2 tsp turmeric.

Thai Curry (serves 4- 6)

Ingredients: 450g chicken breast cut crossways into ultra thin strips; 2tbsp vegetable oil; 5 tbsp curry paste; 400 ml can of coconut milk (this must have been left upright, undisturbed, for at least 3 hours to allow the thick cream to form on the top); 4 kaffir lime leaves; 2 tbsp nam pla (fish sauce); 1 tsp tamarind paste (this is NOT an ingredient you can omit. It gives a most distinctive and delicious flavour); 1tsp sugar (ideally palm sugar, but brown sugar will do); 15 – 20 leaves of Thai basil (sometimes called holy basil), which failing ordinary basil; fresh lime; chopped fresh coriander for garnish (optional).

Notes: (ignore these if you are an experienced cook of Thai or Malaysian food)

In Thailand and much of Malaysia, cooks strive to get a perfect balance of four elements, hot, sour, salt and sweet. The paste should give you enough heat, but keep to hand your nam pla, sugar and lime. Once your dish is cooked, use these to adjust the seasoning. Coconut milk should never be boiled. That is one of the reasons you need to separate the cream, which is capable of taking more heat, and which helps form your paste. After a while the oil will start to separate from the paste. For us Western cooks, seeing a sauce “split” is usually cause for alarm. Don’t worry – it’s perfectly normal. Finally, if your basil leaves are large, rip them but never cut them. Basil reacts to metal and will turn black.

For the curry

Heat the oil over a medium high heat. Take 4 tbsp of the thick coconut cream from the top of the tin and add to the pan. Stir the remaining contents of the tin well and set to one side. Stir the coconut cream for a minute then add the curry paste. Stir fry until the paste is lightly browned and the oil starts to separate. This should take about 3 – 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the chicken, remaining coconut milk, lime leaves, nam pla, tamarind paste and sugar. Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer. If you have sliced your chicken thinly enough it should be cooked by the time the sauce starts to bubble. Cook for a further few minutes, ensuring the chicken is properly cooked through. Add a squeeze of lime juice and adjust the seasoning (see the notes above). Just before serving stir in the basil leaves. Serve with rice and garnish with chopped coriander.

Thanks to Sarah for permission to reproduce her recipes. Expect more in the weeks to come. For more details about her courses contact her at

Tel: 07932 642605





 Jerusalem artichokes  Artichoke soup

Last week we talked about globe artichokes. This week I look at its cousin the Jerusalem artichoke. But wait a minute, they’re not related in any way shape or form. This week’s hero isn’t an artichoke at all, nor is it a bud.  It is, in fact, a tuber of a member of the sunflower family. It has no connection with Jerusalem, being a native North American plant. The origin of the name is unclear. It is thought that Italian settlers in the USA referred to it as girasole (sunflower) and the word became corrupted as it passed into English. Even more confusingly, when the veg went back home, they named it rapa tedesca (German turnip). Anyway, for the avoidance of doubt, we’re referring to the knobbly but nice thing pictured above left, which looks quite similar to ginger root.

Today’s recipe is laughably simple. You can ignore all the extras, but as all of my whooshed soups are made in exactly the same way, I thought it needed add ons. Ignore them if you wish – you’ll still have a lovely soup, and you can, of course, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken.


400g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into cubes; 1 medium onion, chopped; 600ml chicken stock; 100 ml double cream (optional); 2 slices streaky bacon; fresh langoustine, 1 per person; olive oil and butter for softening the veg; salt and pepper.


Prepare the bacon and langoustine first. Fry or grill the bacon until it is completely crisped. Crumble into tiny pieces and set aside. Cook the langoustines for one minute in boiling water, remove and allow to cool. Shell and devein. Half longways down the back then cut each half into two. To make the soup, cook the onion gently in a little butter and oil until soft. Add the chopped artichokes and cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes, giving the occasional stir. Pour in the stock and simmer until the artichokes are soft. Allow to cook slightly, then liquidise. A hand blender is the easiest way, and involves a lot less washing up. Add the cream if using and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, place the langoustine pieces in a warmed soup bowl and ladle in the soup. Top with a sprinkling of bacon bits and some more cream is desired.



 Globe artichokes raw  preparing artichokes  Jerusalem artichokes

Anyone who has spent any time in Italy cannot have avoided artichokes, or carciofi as they are known there. They are also a regular feature of French menus (or were –  French menus seem to feature any type of vegetable less and less these days, apart, of course, from the ubiquitous pomme frite). Yet it is hard to imagine two more radically different ways of treating the same vegetable. Of that more in a moment.

What precisely is an artichoke? Firstly, be aware that today we’re looking at the globe artichoke, pictured left, a completely different beast from the Jerusalem artichoke, pictured right. The latter isn’t in fact an artichoke at all – we’ll look at that next week.

Today’s star is in fact a member of the thistle family. What we eat are the buds. It is a source of some wonder how they first came to be eaten at all. In France, traditionally they are boiled for 35 to 45 minutes and served with a side dish of melted butter, vinaigrette or hollandaise sauce. You remove the leaves, dip the base in the butter or sauce, then scrape off the miniscule amount of flesh with your teeth. You repeat this until you come to the heart which you eat with a knife and fork. That’s the theory. I have never quite made it to the middle, having invariably succumbed to boredom long before that point. The only redeeming feature of this method it that the preparation is immeasurably simpler.

To prepare your artichoke a la française, cut off the stem at the base, then cut across the top about 2 – 3 cm down. Immediately rub the cut side with lemon juice to prevent it going brown. Even when boiling in salted water, you need to take steps to protect the upper part, as they float and the tops will discolour. Julia Child suggests covering with cheesecloth: another recipe suggests adding 150g (seems a lot) of flour which forms a protective barrier. Your artichoke is ready when the leaves separate from the base fairly easily and you can pierce the base with the tip of a knife.

You will be detecting my lack of enthusiasm for this method. I look instead to Italy for my inspiration. Artichoke hearts are to be found in most fine plates of mixed antipasti and bottles of artichoke hearts in olive oil are found everywhere. Italy accounts for nearly one third of the world’s production, ten times more that the USA and twelve times the quantity of neighbouring France. I recently took my first ever steps into the gentle art of artichoke prepping. In most Italian markets in season you will see little men effortlessly stripping off leaves and chucking perfectly prepared conical hearts into vats of acidulated water. Would that it were that simple. I have vowed to leave my future artichoke cooking to the day when I can access them ready prepared; however, as the end result is rather fine, come with me, Italian style.

The first difference is that you don’t remove the entire stem. Leave a good 3 – 4 centimetres. Remove the outer leaves to reach the heart. You will need a good sharp knife. Have a halved lemon to hand and regularly rub on to any cut surfaces. Trim the tough outer layer from the stem – this is fiddly, but worth it. Cut down the middle, vertically, then remove the “choke”, the hairy inner part. That is the bit which would go on to become the thistle flower. The stages are shown in the middle picture. Put immediately into a large bowl of water into which you have squeezed the juice of a lemon. Sigh loudly and repeat the process.

Artichokes Roman Style (quantities are up to you. If serving as a side vegetable one or two halves per person will suffice. Allow more if serving as antipasti.)

Ingredients: Artichokes, prepared as above; 150ml dry white wine; 100ml extra virgin olive oil (use the best you have – it will affect the flavour); 150 ml water; 1 tsp salt (I prefer Malden); large pinch of crushed chilli flakes; 6 cloves of garlic, crushed; 1tbsp chopped mint leaves; 2 or 3 tbsp of other fresh herbs, finely chopped. Oregano and parsley are probably most authentic, but you could use thyme (leaves only).


Pre heat the oven to 180˚C, Mark 4.  Place the artichoke halves, cut side up in a wide ovenproof pan. Add all the ingredients and bring to the boil. Cover and cook in the oven until tender. This will take about 45 minutes. Delicious hot or cold – make sure you serve with the juice, and plenty of good crusty bread to mop it up. It’s actually worth the effort.




Beef and black bean sauce

After a long time away I find myself drawn back to Chinese food. Was it not the great Paul Bocuse who declared it to be one of the five great cuisines of the world? Yet its pleasures started to wear off many years ago, despite a few delights in Manchester. I have no great problem with a lack of evolution – Italian food hasn’t moved on much in decades – rather with a lack of freshness. Trying things at home continued that feeling, as most of us have to rely on supermarket bought sauces to get anywhere close to what we eat out. And therein, I suspect, lies the root of the problem.

I have been playing around with some freshly made, bottle-free variations for a while. Fifteen months ago I published my take on a sweet and sour which, to my modest mind, nails it perfectly. Last week I had a long standing date in the book to feed some old chums whom I see but rarely. For some reason, Chinese came to mind. Nice idea, but, of course, you have to have a lot of dishes on the table. Beef and black bean sauce is a favourite of mine. One of its many distinctions, is that it provides one of the relatively few uses for a green pepper. The other distinction, I decreed, was that this would be a bottle free dish. Successfully home made, or the bin.

We know that Marco Polo went exploring for food. Some say he brought pasta to Italy from China. Not to be outdone, I too went exploring. To Leith, to the splendid PCY Oriental, 199 Leith Walk, whence I purchased a vacuum sealed pack of Chinese salted black beans. Looking for a recipe thereafter, I worried that I had bought the wrong thing, as it called for fermented black beans. Fear not – they’re one and the same thing. The recipe which I found was an American one, full of tablespoons and cups. If one were to believe it one would use double the volume of ginger, garlic and onion to beans. I dread to think what the net result would have been, so I played around with quantities. Your sauce is never going to be a sweet smelling one, but it will lack the unpleasant and artificial pong one gets from bottles or packets of the pre made stuff. If you don’t have access to a Chinese supermarket, you can buy the beans online.

Quantities are difficult in a Chinese dish. This fed six people with some left over, but I did have other dishes on the table. If serving only this, perhaps allow 150g of meat per person. You probably won’t need to increase the quantities of the sauce.

One final word on the beef. It needs to be tender, gristle free and, preferably, trimmed of all fat. I used minute steak which worked very well. If you want to push the boat out, use fillet.


600g beef, cut into thin strips (about 1cm in width, and no more than 6cm long); 2 medium size onions cut into bite size chunks; 1 – 2 green peppers cut into bite size chunks; 1 – 2 cloves of garlic, crushed; dark soy sauce.

For the black bean sauce: 80g fermented black beans, drained, soaked in cold water for an hour, then drained and rinsed; 2 tbsp vegetable oil; 10 cloves of garlic, crushed; a 5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated; 3 spring onions, finely chopped (green parts only); 180ml chicken or vegetable stock; 3 tbsp rice wine (you can use dry sherry in its place); 1.5 tbsp light soy sauce; 1.5 tsp sugar; 1 tsp rice vinegar (use white wine or cider vinegar if you don’t have rice); 1 tsp Tabasco (optional); 2 tsp cornflour dissolved in about 1 tbsp water.


First make the sauce. Crush the beans in a mortar and pestle. Heat the garlic and ginger in the oil over a medium heat for a minute or two, add the onions for another minute, then the beans. After another minute’s cooking, add all the remaining ingredients, apart from the cornflour, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered over a medium heat for 10 – 12 minutes. You want to reduce by about half. Add the cornflour mixture, stir well and simmer for another minute or two.

It is recommended that you leave the mixture to cool, as this will allow the flavours to infuse. You can keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a fortnight.

To make your final dish, put the strips of beef in a bowl with the crushed garlic and a good shake of dark soy. Mix well and leave to marinade for an hour or more. In a very hot wok, stir fry the onions and peppers, for a minute or two, then add the beef and colour all over. Add the black bean sauce. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring all the time, until the beef is cooked. If the dish is too thick, loosen with a little boiling water. Serve with rice, and vow never to return to the bottled stuff.




Thanks to supermarkets we have largely lost our concept of seasonality. With some produce one cannot fail to notice and delight in it – the first English asparagus or Scottish strawberries, for example, or, on the potato front, Jersey Royals or Ayrshires. But with others it can be tricky to know what is best to eat when. I have on my shelves an interesting tome entitled The Cookery Year. As publishers, Reader’s Digest are now somewhat derided; however, respect for this book should be shown, as its writers include Katie Stewart, Margaret Costa, Derek Cooper and Jane Grigson. Now sit up straight at the back and pay attention.

Regular readers know how much I despise eating lamb at Easter – you are simply filling the coffers of New Zealand farmers. Wait until August and support the hard pressed Borderers. But it’s Easter. That demands a celebration, and this column demands seasonality. What is to be done?

The Cookery Year’s April recipes contain all manner of good things, including caviar, brill and turbot. Bizarrely, they also include fettucine in cream and gnocchi alla Romana, the seasonality of which escape me. But what leapt out, appropriately for this weekend of festivity, was the Lobster Thermidor recipe. Cooked and served freshly, lobster is one of the best things to come out of the sea, and this is one of the finest ways in which a crustacean may meet its end.

Note my emphasis on freshly. The taste and texture of lobster meat deteriorate rapidly after death. While the recipe calls for cooked meat, don’t expect to get the same results by buying a sad vacuum packed tail or two at your local supermarket. If the boat is to be pushed out, do it properly, buy them live and cook them at home. Choose lobsters which are neither too big or too small – about 750 – 1000g is ideal. I always feel short changed if I’m just served a half lobster – allow one per person for a main course. This recipe from the famous Café de Paris allows three lobsters for six. If in generous mood, double up the quantities.

Now, how to cook your lobster? I refuse to tip a live creature into a vat of boiling water. Not even the French do that these days. But chefs are astonishingly coy on what should be done. I have heard the question being ducked in a good few interviews. Even the estimable Rick Stein in his influential Seafood book peddles the lie that you stick your lobster in a freezer two hours before cooking. Imagine a professional seafood kitchen with that much space! There is no option but to despatch the critter yourself. There is a line at the top of its head just between the eyes. Hold the lobster firmly in your left hand. With the blade pointing to the right, plunge a large pointed knife firmly down on that line and then bring the knife down to the horizontal. Death will be instantaneous and painless. Beware – the creature will continue to move about for a few moments. Best to have your pot ready to avoid distress (that’s to say, distress to you and yours – the lobster is past caring).

It goes without saying that you need to have a pot large enough. Do check before you embark on this enterprise. The claws will probably have rubber bands on – remove these prior to putting in the pot. You need enough water to cover the lobsters. It must be heavily salted – Rick stipulates 150g to every 4.5 litres of water. Cook lobsters of up to 750g for 15 minutes and those of 1.25kg for 20 minutes. Even larger lobsters won’t need more than 25 minutes. Remove from the water and allow to cool.

If at this stage you can’t wait and you simply want to tuck in with some good mayonnaise, lemon juice, salad and chips or potato salad, I for one will not blame you, but for truly great things join me on the rest of the journey.

One final preliminary. The recipe calls for fish stock. Very simple. Get some bones and/or fish heads from the fishmonger (but don’t use the gills or the eyes). Put in a pan and add enough cold water to cover, along with some chopped veg, an onion, carrot, half a leek and/or a stick of celery. Gently bring to the boil, simmer for about half an hour, then strain. Stock done.

Ingredients (Serves 6, or 3 if you’re being generous)

3 cooked lobsters; 250ml fish stock; 125ml dry white wine; 1 onion, peeled and quartered; 4 – 6 black peppercorns; 1 bay leaf; 1 sprig thyme; 450ml milk; 100g unsalted butter; 50g plain flour; 1 tsp Dijon mustard; 2 egg yolks (optional); 150ml single cream;1 tsp lemon juice; 80g grated Parmesan cheese mixed with 50g breadcrumbs; salt and pepper.


Put the onion in a small pan with the milk, bay leaf, thyme and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil then leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Pour the fish stock and wine into a separate pan and reduce by about two thirds. Split the lobsters lengthways and remove the meat, discarding the grey sac in the head, and the black intestinal vein. Reserve the shells to serve the completed dish. Carefully crack the claws and remove the meat from those too. Cut  into chunks (about 2cm or so). Melt 50g of butter in a frying pan and fry the meat gently for 3 – 4 minutes. Turn from time to time, being careful not to break it up. Set the pan to one side.In yet another pan, make a roux in the usual way with the remaining butter and flour, cook out for a couple of minutes then add the infused milk (strained) and the reduced stock. If using the egg yolks, allow the sauce to cool for a couple of minutes (to avoid scrambling them) then stir in the eggs, mustard and cream. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the lemon juice.

To finish the dish, line the empty lobster shells with a little of the sauce. Stir half of the remaining sauce into the lobster in the frying pan and spoon the mixture into the shells. Cover with the remaining sauce, then top with the cheese and breadcrumb mix. Place under a hot grill until the topping is golden brown. Serve immediately, with chips and the best dry white wine you can afford. Happy Easter!



Caesar Salad


More Biscuits


Apologies to those who felt short changed by part I. I had promised a wee bit of the process of parmesan making and failed to deliver. If you have visited any type of food processing factory, chances are that you’ve been put off, both by a complete disregard for food as we know it, and by the end product bearing little relationship to what went in in the first place. Visit Parmigiano-Reggiano and have your faith restored. If you’re just looking for recipes, skip the next paragraph.

It is a 365 day operation, but there is only one production run per day, kicking off when the morning’s milk has arrived. The quality controls apply as stringently to the dairy farms and the animal feed as they do to the factories themselves. The evening milk is left overnight to allow the cream to rise, then added to the morning delivery. Rennet is added and a lot of stirring goes on. The mixture is heated until curds start to form, then left for an hour or so. One vat produces two 50kg cheeses (divided by hand with a man with a large knife, measuring only by eye. The balls are then wrapped in a muslin cloth (which material, incidentally, was first made in Mosel in Syria) and taken on an overhead conveyor to moulds. They are date stamped and numbered, then, after a day, soaked in brine for about three weeks. Then begins the maturation process which, typically, will take two years for the decent stuff (vecchio), or three years for the good stuff (stravecchio) No wheel of cheese will receive the official Parmigiano stamp until it is twelve months old and has been inspected. Like champagne, the name is a protected designation of origin. There are many similar cheeses (Gran Padano being one of the more common), and many lesser imitations. Accept none of these in place of the real thing. Good stravecchio Parmesan has a glorious, nutty umami flavour. You would happily eat it as a cheese in its own right. We are very loath to use for cooking the huge chunk we brought back from Bologna.

But what else can you do with it? Perhaps one of the most famous dishes with Parmesan is the ubiquitous-

Caesar Salad

For this we have to thank one Caesar Cardini, an enterprising Italian American restaurateur. Seeing the opportunities opened up by Prohibition, he and his brother Alex moved their restaurant just across the Mexican border to Tijuana. It became a favourite with southern Californians. One year, after a particularly successful 4th of July trade, Cardini found himself almost literally sold out of food. Like all good chefs he improvised. The main ingredients left in his store cupboard were Parmesan, lettuce, bread, eggs and, of course, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper etc. Now the Ready Steady Cooks among you are already whipping up a mayonnaise, are you not? And to disguise the fact that your bread is stale, you’re thinking croûtons? And just for fun you’ll grate a bit of Parmesan into your mayo? And mix it altogether with some lettuce. Why, you’re nearly there. In 2017 you’d be reaching for a jar of anchovies, which Signor Cardini lacked. But he did have Worcester sauce. Hands up – how many of you knew that the principal component of Worcester sauce is anchovies? Et voilà! Or to be more accurately Italian, ecco! It was originally named Aviator Salad, as many of the star guests had flown in, but it was soon  renamed in honour of the great man himself. A bit of garlic is good; however, raw garlic in a mayonnaise can be disgusting. My version uses garlic croutons. I also use shop bought mayonnaise – with the anchovy and parmesan it’s hard to tell the difference.

Ingredients (quantities will vary according to whether you want this as a starter, a main course or a side dish. This will do for about 4. Adjust the flavourings to suit your taste)

Lettuce (use cos, romaine or little gem); 3 – 4 heaped tablespoons of good proprietary mayonnaise; 2 – 3 anchovy fillets finely chopped; 2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan (plus an extra chunk for shaving on the top); 2 – 3 slices bread, crusts removed and cut into reasonable sized cubes; olive oil for frying the bread; 2 cloves of garlic, sliced (not crushed); a little water or vegetable stock for thinning the sauce; lemon juice; black pepper.


First make the croûtons. Heat the oil gently with the garlic, making sure it doesn’t burn. When it starts to brown, remove. Fry the bread cubes until brown, turning from time to time. Drain and set aside. Mix together the mayonnaise, anchovies and parmesan, adjusting the amounts to your preference. The dish is better if your sauce is closer to a pouring consistency. Some suggest thinning with a little vegetable stock, but you could use water. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and black pepper to your taste. Cut the lettuce into bite size pieces and dress with the sauce and scatter the croutons. Top with generous shavings of parmesan (I use a potato peeler). For a more substantial dish add grilled chicken.

Diana McLennan’s Some Like It Hot Parmesan Biscuits

A variation on last time. Look in the likes of M & S or Waitrose, check out the prices of their Parmesan biscuits and marvel at how much this column saves you. Many thanks, yet again, to Diana for sharing.


75g butter; 75g plain flour; 75g grated Parmesan; 1tsp chilli flakes; 1tsp cumin seeds.


Blitz all the ingredients in food processor. Roll the dough into a sausage shape and chill for about an hour. Cut into 1 cm slices and put on a buttered baking sheet, well spaced to allow for expansion. Cook at 180˚C for about 15 minutes.

And When You Come To The End Of Your Parmesan…

Cry if you will, but UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES throw out the rind. Keep it and the next time you make a vat of minestrone, chuck it in for an extra layer of flavour. Then add Parmesan to your shopping list. It should be an ever present in your store cupboard.


DSC02097 DSC02093 DSC02091

Carnivores and veggies will argue endlessly over the finest product to emanate from the Emilia- Romagna region of northern Italy. Is it prosciutto, or is it parmigiano? A word or two of explanation for both. Prosciutto means ham. It can be cooked (cotto) or raw (crudo). That which we describe as prosciutto is the latter, lovingly cured and carefully stored. A great way for a fine pig to meet its end. But on to the cheese.

Those of us of a certain age will not have fond early memories of Parmesan cheese. Many encountered it, ready grated, in little green cylindrical boxes or in the early Italian restaurants. It was considered the height of sophistication to have this yellow dust sprinkled on your pasta, and you knew better than to say that it smelled of sick.

I have no idea what that substance was, but it bore no resemblance to the cheese I saw being made near Bologna this year. The milk of the grass and hay fed cows waits for no one, so the production is carried out 365 days a year, as some of the date stamps attest. I won’t bore you with the production details, so let’s fast forward to that splendid block of cheese you have in your hand. Was it cheap, the colour of light straw? Does it have a vaguely milky aroma? If so, it will be the young stuff, probably 12 months old. Perfectly fine, but if you can get Gran Padano for the same price, go for that every time. What will float the boat of the true enthusiast is Parmigiano vecchio (24 months +) or stravecchio.  (36 months +). Chip glorious granular salty chunks on to your plate and the other cheeses on your board will fade into insignificance. Nibble this, and you will spurn all other snacks. It will be light brown, nutty yet fruity, sweet but savoury, all in quick succession. Gaze on it in your fridge and you really won’t want to do anything so mundane as cook with it. You probably won’t want to share it with anyone else. As with many great ingredients (think strawberries, asparagus etc) you have a huge conundrum on how far to allow them to stray from their wonderful, natural state. The only thing I can advise is, make sure you are in a position to make an informed choice – buy the good stuff at least once, use it a few times and judge by results. By way of illustration, even in its heartland, good Parmigiano Reggiano (to give it its full, EU protected name) will be costing you 15 – 20€ per kilo, and a fair bit more here in Scotland.

Here are one or two thoughts  on good things to do with it.

Orecchiette with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms and Parmesan Cream

Readers of Tom Eats! may recall my applauding recently the revamped Contini restaurant in Edinburgh’s George Street. This is  my take on a wonderful starter which I enjoyed. Orecchiette means “little ears”. You could use the shell shaped pasta, concighlie, or rigatoni, the little tube shaped stuff. It is a very rich dish – I would serve it only as a starter portion.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter)

200g orecchiette; 1 banana shallot, finely chopped; 100g button mushrooms, finely sliced or, if they are very small, quartered; 2 Italian sausages (by this I mean raw Italian sausages, such as paesano, about the size of a normal British banger); about 80 – 100ml double cream; about 80 – 100g Parmesan, freshly grated (I would use the good stuff for this); olive oil; large knob of butter; small handful of rocket (optional); clove of garlic, finely chopped; salt and pepper.


Cook the sausages. Set aside and cut into small pieces. Cook the pasta until al dente and set aside, reserving a little of the cooking liquid. In a large frying pan, sweat the shallot in oil with the garlic until soft, and season with pepper and a little salt. (Remember there will be salt from the sausage and the parmesan.) Add the butter, increase the heat and sauté the mushrooms for a couple minutes. Throw in the sausage and stir together until it too is hot. Pour in the cream and add the parmesan, stirring together until the cheese melts. Stir in the pasta until heated through. Check the seasoning. If your mixture is too bland, grate in more parmesan. If it is too thick, loosen with a little of the pasta water. A minute or two before serving chuck in the rocket and stir until it wilts. Don’t worry if you don’t have any – this is pure swank. Serve immediately. Do NOT offer more cheese. If you have made this properly it is quite rich enough.

But before any meal, you will of course, be offering an aperitivo. And with that why not serve some of-

Diana McLennan’s Parmesan Biscuits

Trust me, dear readers. These beasts have been seen at the gateways to my fall from grace on more than one occasion.


100g butter; 100g plain flour; 50g grated parmesan; 50g grated almonds; pinch cayenne pepper; pinch garlic salt; poppy and/or celery seeds for rolling.


Blitz all the ingredients in a food processor. Roll the dough into a sausage shape then roll in the seeds. (I have no idea where one sources celery seeds, but it’s amazing what that lady finds at the bottom of her garden). Chill, then cut into rounds and bake at 160˚C until a pale golden colour (about 25 minutes).

Thanks, Diana, for sharing another belter. I always wondered how these were made – everything seems so simple when one knows how.




Richard Kirkwood2 Moules marinieres

Although all winter months have an R in them, I never really think of mussels as a winter dish. As March has failed to come in like a lion, there is a hint of spring in the air. Time for informal lunches or suppers. For that, you can’t beat a bowl of steaming mussels. The classic moules marinières is one of the easiest of dishes, the only hassle being the cleaning of your molluscs.

Regular readers may recall my angst when I discovered that one of Britain’s top chefs was to be sampling my first ever attempt at a Christmas pudding. He is Richard Kirkwood, Head Chef of London’s Wright Brothers and sometime head chef at J Sheekey. His CV also includes Le Caprice, The Ivy and the Coq d’Argent. In exchange for the aforesaid pud, I requested a couple of recipes for this column, stressing that they should be ones which ordinary mortals could make. To demonstrate the gap between us happy amateurs and top pros, I publish Richard’s recipe. Believe me, this by far the simplest of the three he so kindly supplied. It will solve the problem of what to do with that bottle of good English truffle oil in your store cupboard.

A quick word about mussels for those who haven’t used them before. The mussels need to be alive when you cook them. Buy from your fishmonger and cook the same day. You can get them from supermarkets these days, but I have bad experiences of the wastage. Remove the “beards”, the straggly stringy bits which anchor them to the ropes upon which they are grown. Rinse them in a colander to get rid of any grit.  Discard any damaged ones and any which don’t close when you give them a tap. The wine is important too. You will be reducing it, accentuating the flavour. You need something dry and crisp. I always use a Muscadet. You can substitute a good dry cider. If using cider I probably would add the cream whereas I generally don’t if using wine. No logical reason.

Moules Marinières         

Ingredients (serves 2 for a main course, 4 for a starter)

1kg mussels, bearded and rinsed; 2 banana shallots, very finely chopped; 1 clove of garlic, crushed; 375ml (half a bottle) dry white wine (Muscadet or similar); 100ml double cream (optional); large knob of butter; chopped parsley; black pepper.


Sweat the shallot and garlic gently in the butter until soft. Do not brown. Turn up the heat and add the mussels and the wine. Cover with a tight fitting lid, allowing the mussels to steam. Shake every minute or so. The mussels are ready when they are all open – this will take about three minutes. Get rid of any which haven’t opened – I have no idea what’s happened to them, but never eat a mussel that’s gone in the huff.  Remove and keep warm. Boil the liquid to reduce to your preferred consistency. Add the cream if using and boil for another minute or two. Season with pepper – you won’t need salt. Add the parsley at the last minute, stir and pour the liquid over the mussels. Serve at once, with good crusty bread. (I have no idea why you would serve frites with moules – that’s the Belgians for you).

Remember to have some big dishes on the table for the discarded shells, plenty of napkins, and finger bowls.

Richard Kirkwood’s Truffled St Austell Bay Mussels with Pancetta and Sea Vegetables

I repeat verbatim.

Ingredients (serves 2)                                                                                                

1kg St Austell Bay mussels (note that chefs ignore niceties such as bearding and rinsing  – they have minions to do this for them); 50g samphire; 50ml good English truffle oil; 200g smoked pancetta, sliced; 50ml white wine; 50 ml double cream; 50g butter; ½ bunch chopped parsley.


In a heavy bottomed saucepan, fry the pancetta. Once cooked, add the rest of the ingredients, add a tight fitting lid and cook on a high heat for 3 – 4 minutes. To serve, simply spoon the mussels into a deep bowl, season the liquor to taste and pour over the mussels. At this point you can add more truffle oil if you desire by drizzling over the tip. If you wish you can reduce the liquor to concentrate the flavour and thicken the sauce.

PS Does Mary Berry Read This Column?

You will have heard of the fallout from Mary Berry’s “controversial“ Bolognese recipe this week, in particular her choice of pasta, colour of wine and whether or not to include dairy products. Here are three extracts from my ragù recipe published  a fortnight ago.

     NEVER, EVER, eat a ragù with spaghetti

     small glass of red wine (some recipes specify white, I prefer red)

     100ml double cream (optional)

Just remember, folks, you read it in Tom Cooks! first.






(Definitely NOT Crêpes Suzettes)


So, we approach Shrove Tuesday once again, with another take on pancakes. But before we answer the question of why not crêpes Suzette, let’s consider why pancakes at all? The whole point about Lent was the giving up of meat. Carnival = carne vale = goodbye to meat. Flour? Eggs? What were people going to feed themselves on? I heard an interesting programme the other day suggesting that a pancake recipe which appeared in an 18th century cookery book was intended to be for things which you could eat within Lent, not just before it. Anyway, we’re stuck with the tradition now, and we Johnstons need no excuse for a blow out.

In other words, something far better than the miserable suggestions we get in recipe columns this time of year. Jam? Woop de doo. Lemon juice and sugar? That’s exciting. For a proper treat we have to turn to the seminal recipe of the late great Meg Johnston, AKA Mum. Whisper it, hers is a little similar to the titular dish, but as my late grand mother-in-law, who was French, was wont to say, “only prostitutes eat crêpes Suzette.” On the basis that it is claimed that the dish was invented by accident in Monte Carlo in 1896, and named for the Prince of Wales’s “companion”, and that it was always the flashiest (and most expensive) dish on the dessert menu, you can see where she was coming from. But by cooking it in the privacy of your own kitchen you can avoid the opprobrium and wow your chums with something quite special. Mum’s was always a great crowd pleaser. Prepare more than you think you need, as most people will demand seconds.

Sadly, Mum’s recipes (a) demanded that you knew her style of cooking, and (b) were pre metric. Her mantra for the batter of EFM 1:3:4, meaning 1 egg to 3 ounces of flour to 4 fl oz  of milk ain’t too helpful for most these days. I did follow it to reasonable effect, but it needed some additional milk after the batter had rested. I can do this better by consistency than by measurements, and I have taken the measurements given below from an amalgam of recipes. After the batter has rested in the fridge, it should be of a pouring consistency and slide quite readily off the fork you use to beat it.

Ingredients (makes about 12)

For the pancakes

2 eggs; 140g plain flour; 220ml whole milk; vegetable oil.

For the filling

100g unsalted butter; 100g caster sugar; zest of a medium size orange; slug of orange based liqueur, eg Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Orange Curacao.

For the sauce

For each panful, a knob of unsalted butter; a good squeeze of orange juice; a good slug of orange liqueur.


Make the batter first. Break the eggs into the flour, then beat in about one third of the milk. Gradually add the remainder of the milk, beating hard until the mixture is well combined. Make sure you have a little milk left over in case the mixture needs loosening. Refrigerate for at least half an hour. A rest for at least two hours is better, and it will do no harm if you leave it overnight.

For the filling, soften the butter and cream it a little before adding the sugar a bit at a time. Add the orange zest and a little of the liqueur. It needs to be of a spreadable consistency. Note that some recipes add butter and sugar to the crêpe mix. As this one doesn’t you can afford to be quite generous with the sugar.

To make your pancakes, use a pan about 6 or 7inches in diameter. (Sorry metric lovers. I mean a standard sized omelette pan.) Remove your batter from the fridge at least 15 minutes before you plan to use it, beat again and check the consistency, adding a little more milk if needed. Heat your pan (hot but not too hot – I go to 7/9 on my induction hob) and pour in about a dessert spoon of a neutral oil. When the pan is hot, add some batter. You want only enough to cover the pan with a thin layer. The first one is usually either too thick or too scrappy, and will almost always have to be discarded. Put the cooked pancakes on a plate covered with kitchen paper sprinkled with some caster sugar. Make your batch and allow to cool. Spread each pancake with the butter mixture and fold into quarters. This can be done in advance.

To finish, melt some butter (not too much) in a pan  to about the same heat you cooked the pancakes at. Add the quartered pancakes and heat for a minute or two. Turn, then after another minute add the booze and the orange juice and let it bubble to form a sauce. Flambé if you must – it will impress the prostitutes – but I wouldn’t bother. If you want to be swish, top with some candied orange peel (for the recipe go back about 14 months to the Christmas pudding ice cream page).

Thereafter I wish you well in your resolutions. I resolved some time ago to give up abstinence.





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Advance warning. This is a labour of love, not difficult but time consuming. The length of the recipe reflects this. If pushed for time, look back on some of the previous offerings.

Hands up everyone who has made Spaghetti Bolognese. And keep your hand up if you have in the back of a cupboard somewhere a pasta maker that’s never been out of its box. For today is your day of education thrice over. Once you have sampled the delights of a slow cooked ragù, you will look at your own nasty faux Bolognese effort with a sneer. And if you’ve never made your own pasta, discover how easy it is, especially if the end result is something simple such as tagliatelle. It’s when you start getting into fiddly ravioli and the like that a degree of competence is called for. The third thing is something which I learned in my teens having met someone of my own age from Bologna is that a native of that fair city will NEVER, EVER, eat a ragù with spaghetti.

Bologna, whence L and I have just returned from our quest for culinary excellence to share with you, is known in Italy as “dotta, rossa e grassa”, ie learned, red and fat. It is home to Europe’s oldest university; not only are its buildings red, it has for decades been a hotbed of left wing politics; and even other Italians reckon it has the best food in Italy.

Most of us in this country are unaware of the practicalities of pasta shapes. In the beginning, different types of pasta were designed to be eaten with different types of sauce. The Bolognese dislike the slipperiness of dried spaghetti, very much a southern invention, preferring the greater adhesiveness of freshly made pasta to stick to the ragù. That’s the theory anyway. I recently had an argument with a chum, alleging that one never sees fresh, as opposed to dried spaghetti (if I’m wrong please let me know). You certainly can’t make it with a home pasta maker.

I am not at my most comfortable with any type of pastry, which meant my own pasta machine was in its box for a good while. When I did make a foray into the land of pasta making I was astounded at how easy it is, especially if you make your dough in a food mixer. The dough could not be simpler. For every 100g of flour (it must be hard durum 00 flour), you need one large egg, the fresher the better. Blitz in the Magimix, then knead the dough for about five minutes until a finger imprint starts to bounce back. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for half an hour. Set up the pasta machine. It needs to be firmly anchored to a work surface, and you need to have plenty of room. 100g of flour will give you a good metre of pasta. You will also need some flour for your pasta machine and the work bench.

Set the machine to the widest setting and roll your dough through it. Repeat at that setting. You will have to flour the rollers from time to time to prevent sticking, but avoid getting any on the pasta unnecessarily. Reduce the setting by one and roll again. Repeat, reducing the setting by one each time. After two or three go’s you may find it easier to cut the sheet in half and have two sections to work on. By the time it has gone through the thinnest setting, you should be able to see your hand through it. Cut into lengths depending how long you wish your tagliatelle to be. Now then, the tricky bit – how to cut it into strips? If you have never made pasta before and you are looking at this long flat shape you may be wondering how your hand will be steady enough to cut a parallel strip. Fear not. Roll up the pasta at one end to the mid point. Repeat at the other end. You will have a shape like the top of an Ionic column which is no more than a couple of centimetres long, ridiculously easy to cut into strips. Now, the really tricky question – how wide? What? You’re unaware of the decree of 1972 when the Accademia in Bologna decreed that tagliatelle should be 8mm in width, ie 1/12,270 of the height of the Asinelli Tower (pictured)? The Italians love their little joke. Anywhere between 6.5 and 10mm is the norm. For a main course allow 90g per person, 50 – 60g for a starter.

Now, the ragù. After all the effort of making your own pasta you might as well be authentic. The quantities given will make a decent batch. There’s no point making a small quantity. Freeze what you don’t need. Like many stews this will taste better the second day. A couple of quick comments. A mixture of meats is best. I prefer a combination of pork and beef. Italians may use veal, and rabbit is not unheard of. Some will add a few chopped chicken livers for a more gamey flavour. Many recipes add 100ml of double cream at the end – I’m not sure I’ve ever knowingly eaten that. Finally, some recipes call only for tomato purée and not tomatoes. The only really important thing is a long slow cook. This can be done in a couple of hours but I have let this simmer for up to eight on occasion, and all the better it is too. My chum, the Captain of Industry, has questioned the lack of herbs – I think this works very well as it is and is very close to what we ate over there.


For the pasta (this will easily serve 4)

400g Durum OO wheat; 4 large eggs

For the ragù (this will serve 8 – freeze what you don’t use)

250g good minced beef; 250g good minced pork; 1 onion, finely chopped; 125 g rindless streaky bacon, finely chopped; 2 carrots, very finely chopped; 2 sticks of celery, very finely chopped; 2 – 3 cloves of crushed garlic; small glass of red wine (some recipes specify white, I prefer red); good squeeze of tomato purée; 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes; 750ml – 1 litre chicken stock (some recipes say beef, I prefer chicken); 100ml double cream (optional); olive oil; butter;  salt and pepper; Parmesan cheese (for the topping).


Start the sauce first. Soften the onion, carrot and celery in the oil (this is what the Italians call a soffritto). Add the bacon and garlic and cook gently for a further five minutes. Turn up the heat a bit and chuck in the meat. You want this to get some colour, but be careful not to burn the veg. (If you’re being a real perfectionist, you would brown the meat first, then remove until the veg and bacon are soft. I know this sounds really anal – actually it’s the way I do it). When the meat is in the pan and brown, reduce the heat and cook for a further ten minutes or so. Season with some salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato purée and cook for a couple of minutes to remove the slight bitterness.  Add the wine, the tomatoes and about 250ml of stock, mixing everything well. Adjust the heat to a gentle simmer. Half cover the pan then leave to cook for a    l   o   n   g   time. Keep an eye on the liquid, topping up with stock as required. I would estimate you will need at least 750 ml. Before serving, check the seasoning, and add the cream if using.

Make the tagliatelle as above in three or four batches. You can either make them into little nests and lay on a cloth or hang them up to dry a little. If you have a pasta machine you probably have one of those little stands, which failing improvise with a (clean) broom handle. Cook the pasta in lots of salted water at a rolling boil. Fresh pasta will probably need no more than 3 minutes to be al dente. Add butter and black pepper, mix with the ragù and top with grated Parmesan cheese.




Another guest recipe to keep wolves from doors while L and I explore to delight you more. It is extraordinarily difficult to give an adequate introduction to something from the kitchen of a man who, on Facebook, designs himself as Rapscallion Marshall. His phrase, not mine. I am no fan of the Cold War, but, penning this, I can at last appreciate the sense in a nuclear deterrent. I could, of course, disclose a great deal about this gentleman, but as the retaliation strike might be painful I’ll move on, without further ado, to the recipe.

We’re still on comfort. Those of us who pay cash at Christmas time are now laughing, but some of you may still be under a credit card cloud. Please don’t underestimate this concoction. It bears no resemblance to any so called “tuna melt” from student days. Featuring beautiful and sustainable fish steaks (depending where you buy from, obviously), its principal component will inspire: and please believe in the other ingredients. They may seem a little odd, but they really do work. In particular, the ketchup provides a lovely sweet touch to offset the bitterness of the purée and the heat of the chilli. Ross makes this in individual ramekins – I cooked it in one dish. Suit yourselves. I also added the breadcrumbs for a more classical gratin finish.

Ingredients (serves 4)

450g fresh tuna, chopped into bitesize chunks; 1 onion, finely chopped; 1 pepper (red or yellow, but NOT green), finely chopped; 2 – 3 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped. 400ml passata; squeeze of tomato purée; dollop (note how Mr Marshall and I bandy about the technical terms) of tomato ketchup, 100g grated cheese (gruyère is best, but a mixture of gruyère and cheddar is good too); 50g fresh breadcrumbs (do not waste your money on Panko at £12.50 per kilo!); chilli flakes; salt and pepper; olive oil.


Preheat your oven to 190˚C/Mark 5.  Sweat the onion, pepper and garlic in the oil until soft. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée and tomato ketchup and cook gently for five minutes or so. Add the tuna together with the chilli flakes and season with s & p. Cook for a further five minutes. Note that your tuna will probably not be properly cooked in that time. Don’t worry as it will cook further in the oven. As mentioned, Mr M cooks his in individual ramekins: I cooked mine in a large oven proof dish. Transfer the fish and tomato mixture into whatever receptacle you fancy. Cover with a generous layer of cheese and top with breadcrumbs. Put in the oven for about ten minutes until the mixture is bubbling, the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown. Surprisingly good.



My earliest experiences of non-home cooking go back some fifty years, to the dark days of British cuisine. It is extraordinary to read accounts of 18th century visitors from continental Europe who often praised highly the quality of food to be found in British taverns and the regional varieties. I guess the Industrial Revolution can’t have done much for our culinary heritage, and what remained was well and truly knocked on the head by two world wars and food shortages. Even twenty years after the end of the unpleasantness we were in the worst of both worlds: we seemed to have lost sight of our great local dishes and we lacked the knowledge or ingredients adequately to recreate foreign favourites. In short most things tasted much the same.

Goulash, for me was one such example, being almost synonymous with the word stew. It was sometimes known as Hungarian goulash, but I doubt whether either the average creator or consumer could have told you why. The word derives from the Hungarian word for herdsman, gulyás. History suggests that it was the original boil in the bag food. Meat would be cooked slowly until the liquid evaporated. It would then be transported in an animal stomach and reconstituted over the campfire. It came to describe a dish of beef stewed with onions and seasoned with garlic and paprika. Today variations on goulash are enjoyed all over central Europe, each country adding its local twist. History books will tell you, mundanely, that the earliest versions wouldn’t have contained tomatoes, peppers, chilli etc. Doh! On the basis that these didn’t come east until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, ten out of ten for stating the bleedin’ obvious. Actually, the original versions couldn’t have had paprika either, as it is a spice made from dried peppers. Food in the Middle Ages must have been horribly dull.

Like most stews goulash is generally made with cheaper cuts of beef which need a long slow cook, and it is your beef quality which dictates the cooking time required. The recipe which I am providing today uses better quality meat, rump steak, which will be ruined by over cooking.  You can easily adapt by using braising steak, but my version is every bit as tasty as one which is cooked for two hours. The key to a good goulash lies in the paprika. This arrived from Mexico via Spain and records show that it was being grown by the Turks on the site of modern day Budapest as early as 1529. Early paprika would have been hot. It now comes in many varieties, but it is worth noting that many dining tables in Hungary are set with shakers for salt and for paprika, as opposed to pepper.

The type of paprika you use will determine your final dish. I was looking for a flavoursome potful which wasn’t particular hot, so I used smoked. You may want to use a mixture, or to add a shake of chilli flakes for extra heat. In some countries they will use caraway as a seasoning. Goulash can be served as a soup or a stew, eked out with potatoes, bread or dumplings. The meat can be beef, veal, pork venison or wild boar and carrots or noodles are not unheard of. So we’re not talking about a well preserved classic from a tiny region. My version is probably recognisable to a Hungarian. I can make no claims to its authenticity, but it is extremely tasty.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry people – more if you serve with a lot of rice or potatoes)

800g rump steak, cut into cubes of about 3cm; 2 good sized onions halved and finely sliced longways; 2 – 3 peppers (varied colours look attractive) seeds removed, and finely sliced longways; 3 cloves of garlic crushed; 3 – 4 tsp paprika (I used smoked paprika but you could use hot paprika or 2 tsp hot and 2 tsp sweet); 400g tin of tomatoes; squeeze of tomato purée; about 300ml beef stock; 1 bay leaf; pinch of sugar; salt and pepper; vegetable oil for browning.


Brown the meat in a thick bottomed pan in batches, topping up the oil if needed, and set to one side. Remove any excess oil then brown the onions and peppers in the same pan. Stir in the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, seasoning with a little s & p. Stir in the tomato purée and the paprika and allow to cook for a couple of minutes before returning the meat to the pan, and adding the tomatoes, the stock, the bay leaf and the sugar. Adjust the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the meat is tender. For rump steak this will take as little as 20 – 30 minutes. Remove the meat and cook the sauce at a high heat to reduce it to your desired consistency. Check the seasoning, return the meat. When heated through, serve with rice, potatoes or noodles and, if you like, a little sour cream on the side.



Contrary to what some would have you believe, this dish is not the reason why my youngest child is so called. Having said that, until the other day I had no idea where the name came from. If pressed to guess the inventor of any classic, it is usually sensible to guess Escoffier, and that would win the point here. My guess on the second part of the question would, however, have been wrong. I surmised it might have had something to do with Helen of Troy – you know, the one whose face launched a thousand ships. Extra points if you said that the phrase La belle Hélène was coined by Christopher Marlowe in Doctor Faustus. (This column may be dull, but you do learn things – Get on with it, Ed.)

Anyway, prosaically, Escoffier named this dish after the Offenbach opera, La belle Hélène. In his version, the pear is served hot. I prefer the contrast between cold pear and hot sauce. The great man also served his with crystallised violets, which just goes to show that we can all make mistakes. For those who don’t know, it is simply poached pears served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Traditionally you would poach the pears in a vanilla flavoured syrup – this is my take on it.

The chocolate sauce recipe may come as a surprise. My late papa was something of a chocolate sauce fiend.  A restaurateur friend once proffered a jug of it along with a fish course, such was his notoriety. 57+ varieties must have been tried and tested before Mum stumbled on this one. In the days before we could get decent chocolate she used Bournville: it’s much nicer with a good 70% cocoa version such as Lindt. The booze is optional, but a tiny amount (about two capfuls) makes a subtle difference.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 firm pears; caster sugar (about 100 – 200g, depending how sweet you like your syrup to be); 1 cinnamon stick; 2 star anise; water.

For the chocolate sauce: 150g good dark chocolate; 150g chopped up Mars Bars; 30 ml brandy or dark rum (optional).


Peel the pears, leaving the stalk on. To stop the pears discolouring either put in water or squeeze a little lemon juice over them while you prepare the poaching liquor.  Cut a thin slice off the bottom so the pear will stand erect on a plate. If you can manage to remove the core without mangling the pear beyond recognition, well and good. An old fashioned Barnsley peeler or a melon baller may do the trick. Gently dissolve the sugar in a pan of water, enough to cover the pears. Add the pears, the cinnamon stick, broken in two, and the star anise. Cover the pan and simmer gently until the pears are tender. This will take about 20 – 30 minutes. You want them al dente, not mushy. Remove from the pan, cover and chill. Reduce the liquid by boiling fast until you have a syrup. Allow that to cool also.

To make the sauce, gently melt the chocolate and the Mars Bar in a sauce pan. Add a little water to avoid burning. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon adding a little water as required. You will despair of the lumps ever disappearing. It does take a very long time, but persevere. If  using, add a splash of brandy or rum at the end.

To serve, stand the pear upright on a plate. Coat with a little of the syrup. Serve some good vanilla ice cream on the side and drizzle everything with the hot chocolate sauce.






Another dish to warm you and take away the rough edges of a chilly January day. As with most comfort foods, the components should be familiar, the cooking quite straightforward, but the end result sensational. I have had a few recipes sent in, and it is surprising how many of these are fish based.

I say straightforward, but, for the less experienced cook, a few things can go wrong. Let’s start with the fish. If at all possible, buy from a fishmonger. For my money, the best smoked haddock comes from Fife, but I am biased. Where I feel on firmer ground is in advising you to buy undyed fish, as opposed to the yellow stuff which is still surprisingly common. I say this for the simple reason that I like to know what I am putting in my gob. Why ingest chemicals unnecessarily? The haddock will be lightly poached in milk. Most people have a tendency to overcook, which will result in the fish breaking up when you try to remove it from the pan. It should be just opaque. I put it in cold milk and heat gently. Tom Kerridge recommends bringing the milk to the boil, adding the fish, then removing from the heat, covering with a lid and leaving for about 8 minutes. You will be using the milk for your sauce. By all means add a bit of onion or a bay leaf, but I don’t.

A lot of people have problems with poached eggs. There are two main reasons. Firstly, you want the freshest eggs you can possibly get. To check the freshness of your egg, put it in a pan of cold water. If it stays horizontal it is very fresh. As an egg get older an air pocket develops at one end which makes it point upwards at an angle. Secondly, it needs to go into the water gently. Best to break the egg into a ramekin and tip it in just above the surface of the water. The basic technique is to bring a frying pan of water to the boil and reduce the heat to just below simmering point. Many books will tell you to add a dash of vinegar. If your eggs are fresh enough you won’t need it, but it helps the whites to coalesce. Swirl the water around just before you pop the eggs in. Timings are similar to those for boiled eggs. 3 minutes will get you a nice runny egg, which is ideal for this dish. Drain on kitchen paper.

Cheese and fish don’t go together – haddock being the exception to the rule. (Think of haddock mornay, for example). Make your roux in the usual way but use the milk in which you cooked the fish as liquid. If you don’t want cheese sauce, you could jazz up the fish based béchamel with a tiny bit of nam pla (fish sauce) or finely chopped anchovy. But you don’t want a strong tasting sauce which would overpower the fish. The consistency should be what the classical books would describe as sufficient “to nap” the fish – to coat without being too runny.

Champ is an Irish classic. Your mash has to be soft. Some will stir in some milk at the same time as the spring onions. I prefer to add lots more butter. Some use the whole onion: I suggest using the green parts only. Chives will do if you don’t have/don’t like spring onions.

Ingredients (this is for one person, though you will have more sauce than you need. Quantities are left deliberately vague – depends how greedy you are.)


Fish:1 piece of smoked haddock; enough milk to cover;

Sauce: 30g butter; 30g plain flour; the milk in which the fish was cooked; 1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional); a handful of grated cheese (I suggest half cheddar, half Parmesan);salt and pepper.

Champ: as much mashed potato as you like (allow about 3 potatoes per person, depending upon size) seasoned as you like; small bunch of spring onions (green parts only) finely chopped; extra butter or milk.


First make your mash as you like it. Best results are obtained by using a potato ricer. Remember this is going to be topped by a sauce – probably not the time to be adding cream or the like. Remember to season well. Poach the fish in the milk. Remove the fish and set aside, keeping warm. Strain the milk. Put the egg on to poach and make the sauce while that is cooking. Make your béchamel in the usual way – melt the butter, add the flour and stir to form a roux, cook for a few minutes to get rid of the floury taste then add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk. Add the mustard if using, season to taste, add the cheese until it melts, check the seasoning again. Stir in the spring onions and butter or milk to the mash and mix well.

To serve, put a bed of mash on a plate or bowl. Then add the fish and coat with the sauce. Top with the egg. Marvel as the golden yolk cascades over the pale yellow sauce, pearly whiteness of the fish and the green speckled creaminess of the mash. Must go – feeling hungry all of a sudden.







In today’s Times, the wonderful Nadiya Hussain publishes a recipe which includes cranachan. Very traditional except (a) she omits the whisky, for obvious reasons, (b) she substitutes cream for crowdie, and (c) she puts it in a cake. And do you know what? That’s all absolutely fine. Recipes are not written on tablets of stone – they are there to be adapted. It also makes me feel much better about the mongrel  which I present below.

In January recipes must fulfil two criteria: they must be comforting and the ingredients must not break the bank. Thus any Francophile will already be smirking at me for putting forward the word “cassoulet” as a possible contender. Even simple goose fat is expensive, and the price of good French garlic sausage and confit duck legs is astronomical. He or she will laugh with derision when he reads my list of ingredients. So let me rush to put this filthy garlic breathing, cheese munching oik (oops, sounds a bit like me) back in his place.

Ingredients for a French cassoulet are expensive for us, for the simple reason that we don’t live in south west France. There it didn’t start life as a luxury dish. It’s a bean stew, livened up by ingredients which any Périgord farmer’s wife would have in her store cupboard. This dish is made with what I happened to have in mine. Friends had come for brunch: as per usual I had over catered, and was pondering what to make with the excess supplies. A traditional sausage casserole does not appeal to me, and the cassoulet model flashed before my eyes. Making any sort of dish with large quantities of carbohydrate, be it potatoes, pasta or beans, runs the risk of lacking in flavour. That got me thinking about a lovely traditional pan of Boston baked beans (bearing very little resemblance to one of Mr Heinz’s famous 57 varieties) and this one pot wonder was born.

Please feel free to play about with ingredients and quantities. The chorizo added a bit of unexpected heat in addition to the colour and flavour. Use good quality sausages with a high meat content. Pork is the usual accompaniment to beans. I used half pork and half beef, simply because that was what I had in store. The black pudding is entirely optional; however, its earthiness contrasted well with the sweetness of the beans. I have used tinned beans. If using dried haricot beans, soak them overnight. Drain and cook for about 20 minutes before adding to the stew. They will still need another couple of hours in the oven. For this stew I needed no salt at all because of the bacon and chorizo, but whenever and however you use haricot beans don’t salt them until the end of the cooking process, as it makes them go bullet hard. Using tinned beans, remember they are already cooked. You just need long enough for the sausages to be cooked and for the flavours to mingle. Do remember to rinse your beans first.

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8)

8 sausages; 100g spicy chorizo, cut into 1cm lengths; 8 rashers of bacon (streaky is best) cut into lengths about 3 – 4 cm; 4 slices of black pudding (optional); 3 x 400g cans of beans, drained and rinsed; (most recipes suggest haricot beans. I used a mixture of haricot, flageolet and black eyed, as I happened to have them in the cupboard); 2 medium onions, chopped; 2 cloves of garlic, crushed: tomato purée; 1 can of tomatoes; 2 tbsp dark brown sugar; 75ml red wine vinegar; 50ml red wine (optional); 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil; bay leaf; black pepper.


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. Put the olive oil in a large oven proof casserole. Fry the bacon and chorizo over a medium heat for a few minutes. What you are looking to do is to release the fat to flavour the onions. Remove and set to one side. Turn up the heat and brown the sausages. If you don’t do this they will have a horrid flaccid texture at the end. Remove them and set aside separately. Turn down the heat and add the onions to the pan to soften. You may need to add a little more oil. Stir in the crushed garlic. When the onions are soft, add two or three squeezes of tomato purée, mix in and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar and wine. Stir together, making sure the pan is deglazed. Chuck in the beans, return the bacon and chorizo and pop in a bay leaf or two. Season with black pepper. Allow the mixture to simmer on the hob for a few minutes. Remove any outer casing from the black pudding and crumble into the pan in large chunks then return the sausages to the casserole, making sure that they are covered with the bean mixture. Make sure the contents of the pan are simmering gently. Cover and cook in the oven for about 45 minutes, giving the occasional stir. Check the seasoning, remove the bay leaf and serve.

This is a meal in itself. Serve it with crusty bread to mop up the juices. You will have the fatty saltiness from the bacon and sausage, colour and a little heat from the chorizo, sweetness from the beans, a tang from the vinegar, and earthiness from the black pudding. If that’s not a  January wonder, I don’t know what is.




My more observant followers on Twitter and Facebook will have seen this picture before. This is my recent haul of birds shot by the estimable Gordon Daly, builder extraordinaire (Lynx Construction 01324 579509), crack shot and all round good guy. November saw the pheasant recipes, while the duck saw the freezer. As is now customary, January TE! will move into austerity mode, but we need a wee blow out first. Twelfth Night should be celebrated more.

Duck is a food which is both delicious and much overlooked. And for those who do look its way it’s normally a question of how you can crispen up the huge layer of fat which covers the breast. These days we are mostly townies and that issue, dear reader, reflects in our eating habits. In essence, we are eating the descendants of the domestic Jemima Puddleduck, and not her wild cousins. If you have ever cowered down in a hide at dusk, trying to conceal yourself from these highly intelligent and perspicacious beasties, you will have marvelled at their sleekness and speed. Olympian speed. The first teal which was ever unfortunate enough to be shot by me was the one three behind the one I aimed at. You may never have shot a wild bird, and you certainly will never have dissected an Olympian athlete, but what they have in common is a very low level of fat.

That brings us to the root of the problem. A roast duck? Certainly. But how? As Del Boy Trotter was once heard to ask, “what’s French for duck à l’orange?” A naff man discussing a naff dish? Or shall we reinvent a classic? Let’s try.

Sourcing your wild duck is not easy. Find a game dealer or a friend who shoots. For my money teal is the very finest, but I had a brace of mallard, so let’s consider them. We’re going to roast them, but for how long? I consulted a variety of books. For a single bird I was offered a range of 15 – 65 minutes! Trust me, trying to get accurate advice on cooking game is not easy. Let’s narrow it down. After 15 minutes in an oven, your bird could probably be brought back to life by a good vet; after 65, there would be no need for a crematorium. I roasted two birds, one medium, one small. After 35 minutes the large one was medium rare, as I like it, but too rare for L. The small one was just about right for her. Allow 40 minutes if you don’t like your duck pink. We’re getting there. How to keep it moist? And how to make it tasty? Read on.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 medium size mallard; bitter orange marmalade; cooking port.

For the sauce:

2 banana shallots, finely chopped; butter; 150 ml port; 300 ml stock (if you are really right on, make it with the gizzards and other good bits of the duck – otherwise chicken stock will do fine); 2 – 3 tbsp of bitter orange marmalade; s & p.


Season the bird, inside and out, with s and p. Make a glaze with two or three spoonfuls of marmalade (it really needs to be a bitter one – Waitrose make a very good example) and enough port to make a paste. Rub over the duck. Put into a preheated oven at 200˚C/Mark 6. Cook in total for about 30 – 40 minutes, depending on how pink you want it. Baste about every 15 minutes or so – this is far more important than it would be for, say, a chicken. Equally important is allowing it to rest once you take it out. 10 – 15 minutes should do it. While the bird is cooking, make the sauce.

Sweat the shallots in butter until soft. Add the port, turning up the heat to reduce the liquid by half. Add the stock and reduce by half again. Add the marmalade and season to taste. It’s then just a question of adjusting the consistency to your preference. I like sauces more reduced, so I would probably boil it down further. If you prefer a thin gravy it may be right for you as it is. For extra flavour, stir in the cooking juices from the duck before serving.




It’s the week before Christmas. You’ve left it too late to make your own Christmas pudding. You hate the idea of a bought in pud. What are you going to do?

Fortunately help is at hand in the form of this traditional Scottish recipe for a steamed pudding, which can be made the night before. Indeed, Linda Watt, granddaughter of the eponymous Mrs Gray, tells me that it was traditional to make this on Christmas Eve, with the whole family taking a turn to have a stir and make a wish. For the non Scots among you, “cloot” is the Scots word for a cloth, although it could also be used to mean an item of clothing, as in my mother’s sage advice, “ne’er cast a cloot ere May’s oot.” (ie, it’s unwise to shed a layer of clothing before the end of May.) But enough of the heedrum hodrum. On to the main event. The cloth itself will have to be robust enough for the long cooking, and large enough not only to contain the pudding mixture, but to allow room for expansion.

Like a dog, a clootie dumpling is not just for Christmas: it can be eaten at any time of year. (Korean recipes to follow in 2017.)

Ingredients (if some of the numbers seem a little eccentric, I am translating GG’s recipe into metric. Conversion rate: 1oz = 28g; 1 pint = 568ml)

280g self raising flour, plus a little more to sprinkle on the cloot; 110g breadcrumbs; 170g soft brown sugar; 110g shredded suet; 225g currants; 225g sultanas; 2 tbsp golden syrup; 1 tbsp marmalade or honey; 1 tsp salt; 3 tsp mixed spice; 2 tsp ground cinnamon; ½ tsp cream of tartar; 1 tsp baking soda (I am repeating the recipe verbatim, but as baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and cream of tartar,  you could use that instead); 2 eggs; 145 ml milk.


Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then add everything else (remember to break the eggs first, doh!) (Sorry, Linda, I have learned through bitter experience never to over estimate my readership.) Mix thoroughly, making appropriate wishes/curses depending on your view of Christmas preparations. It is customary to add a small coin or two. Somehow, old ones such as sixpences or silver threepennies are nicest. I wimp out and wrap mine in a wee greaseproof paper envelope. (Remember to warn diners in advance.) Dampen the cloot and spread it out. Sprinkle with flour – this will give a good skin to the finished pudding. Tip the mixture into the cloth, gather the four corners together and tie tightly with string, leaving room for expansion. The pudding needs to cook for about 3 hours. You can boil it with the lid tightly on or steam it. If cooking in boiling water put an upturned saucer or such like in the pan, so that the cloth doesn’t touch the base. Top tip: set a timer at regular intervals to remind you to top up the water.

Tom Cooks! will return after Christmas. Have a very Merry Christmas and eat well.


pheasant-2 mushrooms mushroom-soup

This week we are continuing the pheasant theme. I am horrified by the number of people who simply remove the breasts and discard the remainder of the bird. Here is an interesting recipe using the legs and the carcasse to very good effect. The idea comes from a Claire McDonald recipe, which I have modified. As ever, a few initial thoughts. Generally I make stock using only water, with no veg or aromats. Here, you know that it is going into soup, so as well to get a bit of extra flavour. How much stock you get depends on the quantity of bones which you have. You really don’t want to add any more liquid that is necessary to cover them up. I topped up my soup with chicken stock. Secondly, be very careful when removing the meat. Pheasant legs are riddled with hard, plastic like tendons which you want to get rid of. As with a chicken, a pheasant carcasse has delicious little bits of hidden meat, but make sure you’re not adding bone and cartilage.

Ingredients (to make about 1 litre of soup)

For the stock

2 pheasants, breasts removed; 1 onion; 1 carrot; 1 stick of celery; water.

Separate the legs from the carcasses. Roughly chop the veg. Place everything in a pan and add enough cold water to cover. Simmer gently for two hours. Drain, reserving the liquid. Remove the meat from the legs and carcasses, and set to one side.

For the soup

2 medium onions, chopped; 2 sticks of celery, peeled and finely chopped; 1 large potato, peeled and cut into the smallest dice you can manage; 500g mushrooms either wiped or peeled, thinly sliced; the pheasant stock which you have just made; the pheasant meat, shredded; chicken stock to top up; 150 ml Madeira; vegetable or olive oil; butter; salt and pepper.


Gently sweat the onions and celery in the oil until soft. Add the diced potato  in to the vegetables and stir for a minute or two. Throw in a generous knob of butter then add the mushrooms and stir round for another minute for two. Season lightly at this stage. Add the pheasant stock and the chicken stock and simmer until all the veg are soft. This will take about 15 minutes, but a longer cook will do no harm. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Blitz with a hand blender. (If you don’t have a hand blender, ask Santa for one. It can do many of the things which a food processor can, and the washing up takes a tenth of the time.) Add the madeira and check the seasoning. Add the pheasant meat and check the seasoning again. Return to the heat, making sure the meat is warmed through before serving.

A word of warning. Most mushroom soups look frightful and this is no exception. You can jazz it up when serving by adding a little cream or crème fraiche, sautéed mushrooms, herbs or whatever. Or blindfold your guests.




Like summer, the game season hath too short a lease. In the case of pheasant, the season is from 1 October to 31 January. One third of the year in fact. Yet it doesn’t seem like it. From the end of November our attention seems entirely focussed on a little festival which is popular in December. We then hunker down in the new year and start to resurface around March. Yet pheasants are cheap and plentiful, with a lot of eating, especially if you choose a cock, which is significantly larger than a hen. If your butcher is pricing by the bird, go for the male of the species. While I have said that one bird serves two, I’m talking about hungry people.

If you are fortunate enough, as I am, to have a source who provides freshly shot birds, they need to be hung for a few days in a cool place. Three days is enough for me. Those who prefer their pheasant with a gamier taste may leave for up to five. One hears stories of those who like their game “high” and hang for longer. A word of warning – leave it too long and you risk having a carcasse full of maggots, and the Environmental Health police knocking at your door. This article is not about cleaning a bird. If  you don’t know how and are too squeamish to learn, a friendly butcher may be prepared to help you out. Anyway, you now have a pheasant, feather and entrail free. What are you going to do with it?

The traditional British way is to roast and serve, much as you would a chicken, with bread sauce and game chips. But pheasant is virtually fat free, so even careful roasting can produce a very dry result. A pot roast, on the other hand, allows you to retain moisture during the cooking process and allows the juices to intermingle with your other cooking ingredients, giving you a beautifully balanced sauce if you get it right. The following recipe is easy to adapt. Instead of cider you could use white wine (something fruity, not dry, and certainly not oaky – riesling, gewurtztraminer or albarino are all possibilities). Or try vermouth – for cooking I use Noilly Prat. Sautéeing the mushrooms separately, as you would do for a good coq au vin, adds an extra buttery richness, but you can just cook them along with the sauce if you prefer.  The cream is optional. I made my last batch with crème fraiche, which provided an agreeable sharpness.

Finally, a word about celery. I have always attempted to destring celery and never been terribly successful. I always seemed to miss half of it. The scales were lifted from my eyes when watching an old Keith Floyd programme the other day. He asked the question, “when did we stop peeling celery?” I took the peeler to the two stalks I used. The work of seconds, and an infinitely better result.

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 pheasant, plucked, cleaned etc; 2 medium onions, chopped; 2 sticks celery, peeled and finely chopped; 2 eating apples (Cox’s or Braeburns are best), peeled, cored and chopped; 300 ml dry cider; 200 ml chicken stock; 200 g button mushrooms very thinly sliced: 150 ml double cream or crème fraiche (optional); salt and pepper; vegetable oil; butter.


Season the pheasant, inside and out, with s & p. In a large pan (for which you have a lid), brown the pheasant on all sides in the oil. This will take 8 – 10 minutes. Remove the pheasant and set aside. Pour out any excess oil, leaving enough to brown the onion and celery. After they have cooked for a few minutes reduce the heat and add a large knob of butter. Simmer for another couple of minutes. Add the apple and allow to cook for a further two minutes. Add the cider and bring to the boil for a minute or two to burn off the alcohol. Add the chicken stock and return the pheasant to the pan, resting on one side. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook with the lid tightly on. After 15 minutes turn the pheasant. A decent sized bird will take about 30 minutes to cook, less if you like it pink. Once the bird is cooked remove from the pan and allow it to rest, covered in foil, while you finish the sauce.  Reduce the sauce by boiling hard to get it to the desired consistency. Sauté the mushrooms in butter in a hot pan for a couple of minutes then add to the sauce. Lower the heat. If using add the cream or crème fraiche and warm gently. Check the seasoning. Carve the pheasant and cover with the sauce. Spicy red cabbage and a plain boiled or baked potato go well with this.





oxtail-meat-1 oxtail-stew oxtail-meat-2

The Slow Food movement was formed in Italy in 1986 in protest at the opening of a McDonalds in Rome. Our ancestors, of course, knew all about slow cooking. It is wonderful to see that more and more people are rediscovering its delights. This has been led, in part, by the sky-high prices of prime meat. It has also led, sadly to severe inflation on the prices of cuts which were once cheap, lamb shanks being perhaps the best example. The humble oxtail is one part of the animal which remains excellent value. To prepare it well is a labour of love – it can make a lamb shank dish look like fast food by comparison – but for me this is one of the princes of the stew dynasty.

A few initial thoughts. Choose your oxtail carefully. I have read a few recipes, written fairly recently, which tell you purchase one or two tails and get the butcher to cut them up for you. What planet do these people live on? Even in good butchers’ shops it is generally sold in packs, and this is where some firmness is required. You want the large wide sections. Avoid the narrow pointy bits – these are good only for oxtail soup. Specify precisely which pieces you want and don’t be fobbed off. Some smaller sections are fine for portion control, but I wouldn’t accept anything less than about 6cm in width. Be guided by  the left hand photograph and reject anything that resembles the one on the right.

On to portion control. I normally serve a couple of large sections per person and sometimes add a smaller one as well for hungry/greedy folk like me. A Damascene moment struck the last time I was making this. Cooking for fairly picky chums, I had a last minute panic that they might be put off by the thought of what they were eating (impossible to disguise if the bones are staring you in the face). So I stripped the meat off the tailbones before serving and discovered that instead of having enough for 4 – 5 servings I could easily feed eight.

Oxtail is a classic in Roman cuisine, where they call it coda alla vaccinara (slaughterhouse tail). You will often find it as a filling for ravioli – now that really is a labour of love. Spurred on by my own writing I made this the other day – and they all stuck together and fell to bits when I tried to separate them. Ah well, learn from your mistakes.

The other issue is fat. You make this in two stages, the theory being that you skim off fat in the middle. I find this near impossible to do with a spoon when the fat is liquid on top of a hot pan. There are a couple of alternatives. You can use kitchen roll, a couple of sheets at a time, as a kind of blotting paper. Alternatively allow the gravy to cool (minus the meat and veg) and put in the fridge overnight. It’s then fairly easy to scape it off. But don’t leave in the meat and veg, otherwise it’s like trying to scrape an inch of topsoil off the Himalayas.

This recipe is a simple one. I use no celery or garlic as some do. I season only with salt, pepper and thyme – others use bay and parsley as well. And I most definitely do not use stock. With a five to six hour cook there is adequate time for the water to take on flavour.

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8. See above)

12 pieces of oxtail; plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper; 2 onions cut into half-moon slices; 4 medium to large carrots peeled and cut into thick rounds; oil or dripping for browning; 3 tsp tomato purée; juice of 1 small lemon; 2 – 3 sprigs of thyme (use dried if you don’t have fresh); 250 ml red wine; 800ml water (this quantity of liquid will give you a thin gravy which you will need to reduce. I think this is better than risk the dish drying out in the oven); large pinch of sugar; salt and pepper.


Stage 1

Trim the fat from the oxtail pieces. Dry them and dust in seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. In a heavy oven proof pan or casserole brown the oxtails in the oil or dripping over a medium to high heat. You will need to do these in batches and you will probably have to top up the oil/dripping. Set to one side. In the same pan, brown the onions and carrots, then return the oxtail to the pan.

Stage 2

For no logical reason, I do stage 2 on the hob and stage 3 in the oven. If using the oven, pre heat to 150˚C/ Mark 2. Add the wine, water, thyme and sugar. Season with some S & P. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for about 2 hours on the hob or in the oven, turning the oxtail pieces occasionally. Remove from the heat and put the meat and veg in a clean casserole. You now want to remove the fat from the top of the gravy in whichever way you choose. See above.

Stage 3

Return your fat free (fat chance!) gravy to the pan containing the meat and veg. Add the tomato purée and the lemon juice and bring to the boil. Put in the oven and cook for a further three hours or so, until the meat is falling off the bones. Check the pan two or three times, turning the oxtails to make sure they don’t dry out. Add more water if needed. When the meat is cooked, take out the meat and veg and set to one side. Over a high heat reduce the gravy to the desired consistency. I like it to be thick and rich, just like…oh never mind. Check the seasoning. Return the meat, either or off the bone (see above). Make sure everything is piping hot before serving.

Horseradish mash

Ingredients (no point specifying exact quantities – depends on your numbers)

Potatoes (allow at least a couple of good sized ones per person); butter (be generous); a good readymade horseradish sauce (I prefer creamed to hot) – approximately 1 tsp per potato, but taste as you go along; salt and pepper (again, be generous).


Boil the (peeled) spuds until tender. For best results use a potato ricer. I find that no matter how well you use a conventional masher there is always a lump or two remaining. Never try to mash potato in a food processor – you will end up with wallpaper paste. Add a large dod of butter, plenty of salt and pepper. Stir up a bit then add the horseradish and mix in well. Taste regularly (the cook’s perk) until you get the taste and texture you like.





This is a wonderful seasonal variation on summer pudding which I ate recently at a luncheon party of high quality. I prised the recipe from the hostess on condition of strict anonymity. I have given the most basic version here. Mrs C, being renowned for her attention to detail, added a few bells and whistles. Firstly, she used brioche as opposed to ordinary white bread. Secondly, she made a caramel with butter and sugar and dipped one side of the bread in the caramel before lining the basin. For many of us of the cack handed variety, playing with caramel is a sure way of ending up in A & E, always assuming you can find one these days. Finally, I have reproduced the ingredients list precisely as given to me. When did stoned prunes become pitted? Perhaps Groucho Marx was responsible, following this memorable exchange.

            Groucho – Do you have any stoned prunes?

            Waiter – Why, of course, sir.

            Groucho – Well, give them some black coffee. That’ll soon sober them up.

Now, don’t blame me. I didn’t write it. And any complaints to the editor will just result in more bad jokes next time. Plenty more where that came from.


3 large pears; 2 large Bramley apples; 50g sultanas; 100g pitted prunes, roughly chopped; 150g caster sugar; about 8 – 10 slices white bread (a basic shop bought loaf, nothing fancy), crusts removed (you will need enough to line your bowl with overlapping pieces and to form the lid); 1 bay leaf; small sprig rosemary.


Lightly butter a 1 litre pudding basin and line with cling film, leaving enough overhanging to cover the top when the pudding is filled. Peel, core and chop the apples and pears. Melt the sugar in 200ml of water then add the apples, pears, sultanas and herbs. Poach gently until tender, adding the prunes for the last couple of minutes. (You don’t want them to turn to mush. Being both stoned and mushy is undesirable for anyone.) Drain the pan, reserving the juice. Discard the herbs. Over a high heat, reduce the juice to a slightly sticky consistency and allow to cool.

Line the bowl with the bread, having moistened (not soaked) it in the juice. You want one piece cut to the size of the bottom of the basin. Line the sides with slices cut in half, slightly overlapping. Seal well by pressing the edges together. You don’t want any gaps to allow the juice to escape – fill with small pieces of bread if necessary. Pour in the fruit and juice, then cover with bread to form a seal. Cover with the overlapping cling film. Top with a plate or saucer which can support a weight. Weigh down with a couple of 400g tins and leave overnight in the fridge.

To serve, unwrap the cling film from the top of the basin. Put a serving plate on top, then flip over. It is difficult to do this while crossing your fingers, so just think positive thoughts instead. Remove the basin and the cling film. Serve with cream or crème fraiche.



Apparently we Scots make more soup than any other country in the world. This is certainly the season. Many of our best known examples feature winter vegetables and tasty broths based on beef or chicken. Today’s recipe, however, is Cullen Skink, probably our best known  soup from the sea.

My word, isn’t there a lot of nonsense written about food in general, and this dish in particular? Is it the world’s greatest fish soup? What refinements can be brought to bear upon it?  Does it beat bouillabaisse or clam chowder? Well, no. It’s just a fish soup from Scotland, made using local produce in the same way that its rivals come from the Med or from New England. And the name skink? I read some rubbish about a Middle High German word for “weak beer”. As it’s a Scottish soup, why not look to Scotland for the etymology, regardless of the original source? The Scots dictionary has a variety of definitions, one being soup made from a shin of beef: another being soup in general. Thus it is perhaps no great surprise that the good people of Cullen, a fishing community in north east Scotland, chose to differentiate their wonderful invention by naming this soup after their own fair town.

I will confess that I could imagine Sherlock Holmes encountering a sinister physician of such a name – Watson, next to Moriarty, Dr Skink is the worst fiend in Europe – but let’s move on to a few culinary ruminations. This is a delicate soup, so I rule out using fish stock. It needs some body; however, it is also a fresh taste. Not, I think, a repository for yesterday’s mash. Milk, water, cream or all three? Some recipes would have you poach the fish in water. To me that wastes an opportunity to flavour your milk. Add water only for a little extra volume. Unusually for me, I think that some cream does add richness, but be careful not to overpower the flavour of the fish. Which fish? Not, you may be surprised to hear, the most famous of the smoked haddock family, the pride of the Spink family, the EU name protected Arbroath smokie. Use instead the (undyed) finnan haddie or, more prosaically, the smoked haddock. The smokie is hot smoked: the finnan haddie, cold. Think of the differences between salmon treated in such different ways. And finally, the garnish? It’s not just for colour. You want the extra oniony flavour which means that ideally it should be a chive topping, not a parsley one.


500g smoked haddock; 500 ml milk; about 200 ml water (if not using cream you may need a little more); approx 100 ml double cream (optional); 1 onion finely chopped; 1 small leek finely chopped; 2 medium potatoes chopped into small dice, about 1 cm; butter; chopped chives to garnish; salt and pepper.


Put the fish in 300ml milk and slowly bring to the boil   The fish should be cooked when the milk boils. If not, cook for a little longer on a gentle heat. Turn off the heat, leaving the fish in the pan. Meanwhile slowly sweat the onion and leek (which you will, of course, have chopped neatly on the diagonal) in a generous bit of butter until soft but not browned. Season with pepper, but no salt yet. Add the potato and coat in the butter. Add the milk you cooked the fish in and the water. Simmer until the potato is soft. Skin and flake the fish and reserve. When the potato is ready remove about a half of the potato and onion with a slotted spoon. Add half of the fish to the pan, add the rest of the milk and blitz the contents of the pan with a stick blender until smooth. Season with some salt and pepper.

Add the remaining fish and return the reserved potato and onion. Pour in the cream if using. Bring up to serving temperature, being careful not to boil. Check the seasoning. Top with finely chopped chives (or parsley if you have no chives). And the best bit? Sitting back and enjoying the oohs and aahs from the contented diners.

Venison Stew

(or Casserole, if you prefer)


My reader tells me she has had enough of the Far East for now. Let’s return to seasonality. For me, there is never a better time than autumn, especially for the carnivore. Why? Because it’s the game season. (Prodnose has just pointed out that this recipe contains venison and that roe deer can be shot all year, with different seasons for bucks and hinds. To this I reply – get stuffed, there’s only room for one pedant in this column.)

Moving swiftly on, it surprises me how many people believe that game meats, even venison, are the preserve of toffs, and must therefore be priced accordingly. Nothing could be further from the truth. You do need to seek out a proper butcher, but it will be much, much cheaper than you think, and much better value than, say, beef of a similar cut. The cut is, of course the thing. Many good supermarkets will stock venison fillet. Very good it is, but what fillet is cheap? What is on offer today is a lovely rich stew which needs a long slow cook. I deliberately give no cooking times for various reasons. Most of the venison which we get is farmed and has therefore run up and down fewer hills. The harder working the muscle, the tougher; however, nothing is impervious to simmering in a nice bath of stock, wine and aromatics for several hours. I once saw Jamie Oliver discomfited when cooking with an old Cajun lady. In response to his question, “how long will it take to cook?”, she simply smiled and replied, “until it’s done, honey.” The same applies here.

And the difference between a stew, a braise, a daube, a pot roast and a casserole? The question was posed a few years ago to Marco Pierre White. His response? “There’s no bloody difference at all!” You could make this dish in the oven, but my preference is to cook it on the hob, for the simple reason that it’s easier to check. There is so much liquid that there is no danger of burning provided you have a half decent pot.

Ingredients (serves 4 – 6, usually with leftovers for the following day)

1kg stewing venison, cut into cubes about 2.5 cm; 2 medium onions, red or white, chopped; 2 medium carrots, cut into fairly large chunks; 600ml red wine (may be less if the cook has been at the bottle first); 750 ml beef stock (I usually use the stuff which MPW advertises) ; 1 bay leaf; 2 – 3 sprigs thyme (you can get away with dried); about 20 dried juniper berries, lightly crushed; (my friend Brian Gordon, Vice President of Fife Licensed Trade Association tells me he adds a splash of his eponymous gin – I’ve never tried this, but why not); peel of 1 medium orange, cut in one piece if possible; vegetable oil; salt and pepper.


Start by browning the meat in batches in hot (but not too hot) oil. Don’t put too much meat in at once, otherwise you steam instead of browning. Contrary to what we were told when I was a lad, this doesn’t seal in the juices (have a look at it a few minutes after you’ve removed it from the pan if you don’t believe me). What it does is to caramelise the meat a little, for extra flavour. You will have to top up the oil from time to time to avoid burning. Set meat to one side while you brown the onions and carrots in the same pan. If you have browned your meat over too high a heat, you risk having a black residue which has to be washed off. I stress again, you want to retain as much flavour as you can. Once the veg are brown return the meat to the pan, add the wine and bring to the boil for a minute. Then pour in the stock and add the herbs and juniper berries. Add pepper but leave salting until later, especially if using commercially bought stock.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. The orange peel should go in for no more than an hour – when you do this is up to you. The end result shouldn’t have a strong orange flavour, just the merest hint of something fruity to counterpoint the juniper and bay. With average stewing venison you can happily let this bubble gently for 2 – 3 hours. Check the meat from time to time. Once it is tender you are ready to finish off. You will very likely have a lot of surplus liquid. In the old days, people would thicken with flour. Their stews would develop SCUM, and serve them right it would too.

Sieve the liquid into a clean pan and reduce until the sauce is of coating consistency. Check the seasoning, and return the meat. Serve with mash and veg of choice.


Pumpkin, Chilli and Coconut


Tempting, but this column deplores violence save in the case of a certain Edinburgh optician, (but let’s not go there). This week you should have had a wonderful venison stew; however, even more than violence, this column deplores waste. Did you know that eighty (yes, that’s 80, for those of you who can’t read) per cent of the pumpkin used at Hallowe’en is thrown away?


I’m leaving a space so you can have a wee lie down after that heart fluttering statement. Now, admittedly, if you think that you can use it only for a noxious pumpkin pie, this might be understandable. How can such a great country as the USA have such a c**p national cuisine? But remember that pumpkin is just an over inflated orange member of the squash family. And speaking of over inflated orange things, the current fashion is for “Trumpkins.” See the illustration above. I rest my case.

I generally make this soup with butternut squash, but pumpkin will do nicely. And don’t chuck away the seeds. Dry them, then roast lightly and salt. Why buy peanuts again to serve with drinks?

Ingredients (this is soup, so use however much you have. If you have more pumpkin, increase the amounts of everything else)


500g pumpkin or butternut squash (peel it first, eejits); 1 large onion,  chopped; 1 red chilli, finely chopped – seeds in or out, according to choice; 1 can coconut milk (usually around 400ml) or if you can get only coconut cream, dilute with water; 750ml chicken or vegetable stock; vegetable oil or butter; salt and pepper.

Sweat the onion and chilli in the oil or butter, or both, until nearly tender. Add the chopped pumpkin or squash and cook for a minute or two. Add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes or so. Allow to cool slightly then whoosh with a hand blender. Sieve into a clean pan. Add the coconut milk, bring up to a simmer, season and serve. Be very careful never to boil a soup with coconut milk, as it will separate.

While eating, think very bad thoughts about Donald Trump.

Peking Duck Style

Lettuce Wraps with Pickled Carrots

(Photo to follow, but some clues below)

duck-legs little_gem_lettuce_16x9 carrot-ribbons

From the title you might think that Tom Cooks! is maintaining the eastern theme: in fact this is a cheat’s version, but rather a good one. I think the lovely Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland came up with the germ of the idea one morning at one of her classes, and I’ve adapted it. Peking Duck is one of the world’s great dishes, even if the way it is served goes against old custom. By tradition, only the skin is served, the meat being saved for other uses. In practice, the meat and skin are served wrapped in pancakes with plum sauce and spring onion, sometimes being served with sugar and garlic. But before you get to that stage, remember to scald the bird and dry it, then use an air pump to separate the skin from the flesh. Stuff it with spring onions and sundry spices, sew it up and hang it in a draught. (You do, do this don’t you? Oh please…). Thereafter coat it half hourly with a mixture of honey and flour. Then and only then do you start thinking about cooking it.

Today’s concoction is a wonderful alternative, almost as delicious as the real thing. It can be served as a starter, as a canapé, or as part of buffet. The component parts take a little time, but it can all be done in advance. The stages are pickling the carrots, cooking the duck legs, crisping the skin and final assembly. One word of caution: constructing 16 of them is slightly fiddly and will probably take longer than you think.

Ingredients (makes 16 – 18)

4 duck legs, skin on; 16 – 18 little gem lettuce leaves (these need to be of a decent size, so you can only use the outer ones of an average size head – buy at least 4); 2 medium carrots; 150g hoi sin sauce (you can get decent bottled stuff these days from Sharwood or Waitrose. I recommend the latter);

For the pickling liquor 300 ml cider vinegar; 150g brown sugar; 200g water.


First, pickle the carrots. After cleaning, shave into ribbons using a peeler, and put in a bowl. Put the pickling ingredients into a saucepan, heat gently until the sugar melts then bring to the boil. Pour the boiling liquor over the carrots and allow to cool. Once cooled, refrigerate for three hours or so then pour off the liquid.

To cook the duck legs, heat your oven to 180˚C, Mark 4. Brown them all over in an oven proof frying pan (no oil will be required). When browned, pour off the surplus fat and cook in the oven for 90 minutes (or you could transfer to a preheated roasting tin). Remove and leave to cool. You will want to remove the skin at some point. This is easier to do while the legs are still warm. Take the skin off and reserve. An hour or two before serving place the skins in the oven (same temperature) until they are crisp and can be broken up.

To assemble, shred and chop the duck meat. Put a spoonful of hoi sin sauce in the base of each lettuce leaf. Add duck meat and pieces of duck skin. Top with slices of pickled carrot. Like the original Peking Duck pancakes, these wraps are best eaten with your fingers.

 Thanks to Sarah for permission to reproduce (or in this case, adapt) her recipes. Expect more in the weeks to come. For more details about her courses contact her at

Tel: 07932 642605

One final plea. I see from my website stats that I have regular readers in Brazil and the Philippines. As I’m not aware of having any friends or Twitter followers there, I would love to know who you are. Contact me at





Speak to those who have ventured on to the shores of fair Indonesia and hark at the tales they tell. Some will remember their days as privateers, flying the Jolly Roger. Others such as my old seadog chum J’s eyes will light up at the word roger, when he remembers that little room above Auntie Kitty’s in… (shut up, says D, crossly). But the foodies will all remember Nasi Goreng. So what is it? The clue is in the title. Nasi = rice: goreng = fried.

Rice, fresh, fragrant and pure, comes out of the boiling water, the steamer or the absorption pot ready to be eaten there and then. With such fluffy loveliness, why on earth would you put it to one side and allow it to cool (which takes longer than you think) before embarking on the next stage? Simple answer – you wouldn’t. This ain’t a masterpiece: it’s leftovers. Cookery shows and food writers have much to answer for. The estimable Rick Stein lists 32 ingredients in his recipe. Europeans will give you long lists of things to put in a spice paste before you start. You’re all looking very silly, chaps, this is fried rice, done in a few minutes. If you use your minutes well it can be fantastic. Please don’t let me stop you jazzing this up with good prawns, chicken or pork if you wish, but don’t go telling the world about this new luxury food you found.

Where is it from? The answer is undoubtedly Indonesia, although you find it in Malaysia and beyond. One clue is that it often contains pork: Malaysia is predominantly Muslim – there they will use chicken or prawns. What about the egg? With fried rice you can use egg in one of three ways. You can make an omelette, then add thin strips into your rice mixture; you can add the egg into a hot mix and scramble it; or you can fry the egg and put it on top when serving. This latter is the traditional Indonesian way, although I dislike it and usually order it without the egg on top. Take your pick.

This recipe is a simpler version, based largely on a recipe from Bagus Wisnawa, chef and teacher at Warung Nia, a restaurant and cookery school in Seminyak in Bali. My thanks to him for permission to reproduce his recipes. I didn’t tell him that my last version of this contained some leftover matriciana sauce from the previous night’s spaghetti, and very good it was too. In summary, don’t worry too much about a recipe per se – the following is just indicative. Interestingly Bagus’s recipe includes not only leek, but white cabbage, which I have never encountered.

And what do you eat it with? Readers will know that it is so easy for rice dishes to be dull. That’s why our celeb chefs go to these ridiculous lengths to create dishes which will be lovely, but will bear no resemblance to anything which an Indonesian would produce. I will often sprinkle on chopped red chilli and the green parts of the spring onions. A typical Indonesian topping is crispy fried shallots, but these take so long to get right that even top restaurants buy them ready cooked. Pickled vegetables can also liven things up. Make a pickling liquor of water, cider vinegar and sugar (use 3 parts water to 2 of vinegar and half the volume of sugar to water). Bring it to the boil gently to melt the sugar, pour it over your veg and allow to cool in the liquid for 2 or 3 hours. The choice of vegetables is up to you – finely chopped shallots, carrots, or whatever you fancy – I have seen firm mango in the mix as well.

Suggested Ingredients

6tbsp vegetable oil; 6 cloves of garlic; 2 – 3 shallots (Indonesian ones are the small round ones) finely chopped; small bunch of spring onions finely chopped (use the white parts in the cooking and save the green parts for garnish); 2 red chillies, chopped, plus an extra one for garnish if wished (for eastern dishes I tend to leave the seeds in); a piece of ginger about 5cm long, peeled and cut into fine juliennes; large dollop tomato ketchup; 2 tbsp light soy sauce; 2 tbsp dark soy sauce; handful of celery leaves; 600g cooked rice; 200g chicken or pork cut into small pieces; 2 eggs; salt and pepper to taste.


In a wok, heat the oil and sauté the shallots, spring onions and chillies until the shallots are golden brown, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the chicken or pork, and sauté until cooked, adding the ginger, tomato sauce and soy sauce after a minute or so. Break the eggs in the pan and scramble, then add the rice and the celery leaves. Mix well over the heat ensuring that the mixture is hot through and that the meat is properly cooked. After plating, top with chillies and the green part of the spring onion. Serve with pickled vegetables.

Should you be fortunate enough to find yourself in Seminyak, do not miss the authentic Balinese food served in Warung Nia or the highly entertaining classes led by Bagus himself after an educational visit to the local market. For more information see



As my dear reader may be aware, I have, at considerable expense, risk and personal inconvenience, been scouring the oriental part of the globe in search of new delights for you. Having visited Indonesia, Malaysia and Indochina, I was struck by the complexity of some of the food, but even more by the subtle but important differences between the regions. With most of us having eaten “Indian” food from an early age, many have moved on to Thailand. Even in mainstream supermarkets it is possible to source many of the vital ingredients. The friends I made in cookery classes were gobsmacked to learn that I was in my 20s before I bought fresh ginger for the first time. But don’t take Thai food as the be all and end all, regardless of how good. The cuisines of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore all await. Treats in store.

Nasi Lewak (Rice in Coconut Milk)

For this first dish I am indebted to the lovely and lively Ana Abdullah, chatelaine of Lazat Cookery School in Kuala Lumpur, for her permission to reproduce this and other recipes from the cookery class which I attended. Her contact details are given below. This gives the lovely slightly fragrant rice which accompanies many Malaysian dishes. In the photograph it is pictured beside classic accompaniments, fried peanuts, fried dried anchovies, sambal, cucumber and egg. A quick word on the first three. Malaysians and Indonesians laugh at us for discarding peanut skins, which contain the bulk of the flavour. You could use roasted peanuts from a packet, but you will miss out. A word of caution. When frying peanuts, start them in cold oil, otherwise you will burn the skins. The health conscious can bake them in the oven. Dried fish, particularly dried shrimp, are the main Malaysian salt components. Dried shrimp paste smells disgusting, and must be used sparingly otherwise it can easily overpower. Deep frying dried anchovies produces a result similar to fried whitebait – a delicious combination of salt and crunch. Sambals come in different shapes and sizes. At their most simple they are dried chillies soaked in water then pounded together with candlenut. This is similar to a macadamia nut, and you can use these instead. Generally Malaysian dishes won’t blow your head off – quite the opposite – but they are often served with some side dishes which would help  the launch of a Saturn V rocket. (For the benefit of younger readers, that was the rocket used in the Apollo moon landings.)


150g Basmati rice; 180 ml water; 2 slices of ginger; 2 pandan leaves torn and knotted (impossible to find here – Ana says you can add a couple of slices of onion instead); 100ml coconut milk (if you can find only coconut cream, dilute it with water to the required consistency); 60 ml hot water; ¾ tsp salt; ½ tsp sugar.


Mix together the coconut milk, water, salt and sugar. Wash the rice if required. (Buying ingredients out east makes you realise how spoiled we in the west are with the hygiene of the food we buy off the shelves – though sometimes at the expense of flavour.) Put the rice in a pan with the (cold) water, ginger, and pandan leaf/onion. Cook on a low heat until the water has been almost completely absorbed, stirring once or twice. Add the coconut milk mixture. Cook again on a low heat until the liquid has been absorbed, stirring again once or twice. Then cover the saucepan with a very well fitting lid (Ana puts some foil round the lid to improve the seal) and leave to cook on the lowest possible heat for another 8 minutes. Finally, remove from the heat and leave with the cover on for at least a further 10 minutes. Voila!

For more information about Lazat Cookery School, visit  their website You can contact them at or see Ana in action at


It has been a source of great pleasure that there have been so many new readers over the past few months. This is a pretty basic website with no search facilities. In essence it is one long document to which I add a new header each week. Lest my reader pines while I’m away researching, I append a list of recipes posted in the last six months, starting at the top of the left column, reading down, then moving to the right. To reach anything you fancy, just keep on scrolling. Back in October. Happy cooking.

Diana McLennan’s Pimms Jelly

Aubergines Meat for Vegetarians?

Cous cous Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Harissa and Lime Dressing


Lamb Rogan Josh

Tom’s Perfect Potato Salad

Lamb At Easter? Don’t Be Daft!

But if You Must, Three Great Potato Accompaniments

Coronation Chicken

Irish Soda Bread

Crispy Sea Bass with Sauce Vierge


Celebrate National Pie Week With A Bridie

Hey Pesto!

The World’s Greatest Fishcakes

 With Home Made (Ish) Tartare Sauce

Stuck for Pudding? Never Heard of Ice Cream?


Crumble: Not Just For Kids

Asparagus is Here –Three Things to do with a Single Stalk


 Stock: Some Thoughts

Introduction To Bread

Two Great Risottos

Tarragon: Part Two

Chicken and Tarragon Variations



Craig Wood’s Baked Blueberry Clafoutis

How To Cook Like Andrew Fairlie –

Tarragon: Part One


Roast Duck Legs With Lentils And Beetroot

Sweet and Sour Pork

Burns Night – Some Do’s And Don’t’s



Andrew McCall’s

Chilli and Coconut Ice cream


Summer, alas, is coming to an end. Shakespeare said something or other about leases – never my favourite subject at Uni. But boy oh boy do we have a belter of a recipe to end the season. My nephew Andrew McCall is a pretty nifty cook. This was the finale to an excellent dinner which we enjoyed recently. Thanks to Andrew, both for the dinner and for sharing this. I don’t have an ice cream maker, but you can make it just as well by traditional means. The recipe gives both methods.

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8)

400ml coconut milk; 200 ml water; 200g caster sugar; 2 red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped; 1 piece of stem ginger in syrup, drained and finely chopped; 2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped; zest and juice of 3 limes.


Put the sugar, lime zest, lemon grass and half of the chilli in the water. Heat gently until the sugar has melted, then bring to a simmer, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Strain the liquid, discarding the aromatics. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. If you have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture in and churn for about an hour. Alternatively pour into a shallow plastic container and put in the freezer for 3 – 4 hours, stirring every hour until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.

Top tip – take any ice cream out of the freezer about 10 minutes before serving. Alternatively, if, like me, you persistently forget, scoop your ice cream or sorbet into individual balls and store on a tray in the freezer. This will work only for what you intend to use that evening. It’s not suitable for long term storage.

Tom Cooks! will be closed for research purposes for a few weeks. The kitchen will reopen in October. For the benefit of new readers, a summary of past recipes will appear soon.





Pimms jelly

It’s still summer, remember? Actually, this week it was for a while. And Andy Murray won a major tennis title. Which makes you think of Wimbledon. Which makes you think of ….no, fools, not strawberries and cream, Pimms!

At my birthday party last month, whence the last few recipes have come, I was more than a little surprised to see a jug of Pimms on the food table. Having relinquished the kitchen to the current Mrs Johnston (I cook for groups of up to 10 or so, whereas she will cater for 40 without blinking) I was in charge of the swally. Thus I was able to state with certainty that no jugs of Pimms had been prepared. Which brings us to today’s guest cook, Diana, wife of The Curmudgeon, as toothsome and talented as she is unlucky in love. Along with the usual McLennan gifts of six bottles of wine, five bunches of flowers and four sundry gifts of quirky loveliness, all exquisitely wrapped, she had brought a Pimms jelly, resplendent in a jug, looking exactly like the liquid stuff. This is how she made it.


1 litre lemonade; 300 ml Pimms; 50g sugar (this produced a grown up, not too sweet version – it was perfect for my taste, but use more if you have a sweeter tooth); leaf gelatine – check the packet to calculate how much you will need. With the type I use you will require 9 – 10 sheets; chopped fruit of your choice (remember that unlike in Pimms the cocktail people will be eating the fruit whether they want to or not. Not everyone is happy to eat the peel of oranges etc. I’m not fond of cucumber in my Pimms and wouldn’t use it in this either. If using mint leaves, chop them fairly finely.)


Soak the gelatine as per maker’s instructions. Heat the lemonade and sugar until the sugar dissolves, then add the soaked gelatine and allow to melt. Allow to cool, then add the Pimms. Add the fruit and chill. Diana advises setting this in two stages to avoid all the fruit floating to the top. Done in a glass jug or dish the effect is spectacular.

Cous cous Salad


 Roasted Vegetables and Harissa and Lime Dressing

 cous cous

We’re still on the theme of summer buffets. Last week we had a bit of carbohydrate based on our national staple, the potato. This week we’re looking to North Africa. This is one of Lesley’s favourite, not to say staple, buffet dishes, largely pinched from the blessed Delia. As the ingredients can vary quite a bit, and as quantities will depend upon whether you are serving this as a dish in its own right or as part of a buffet, treat this recipe as indicative only.

Roasted Vegetables

This can vary according to what you have in your fridge, but as we’re taking our basic ingredient from the Mediterranean, the best vegetables to use are those from that part of the world, such as peppers, courgettes, onions, aubergines, tomatoes and fennel. (I find aubergines more difficult as they need more oil than the others and can dry out very easily and tend not to roast them along with other veg, but suit yourself.) Make sure you don’t cut them too small, otherwise they will shrivel into unappetising little dice. As a minimum, cut into squares of 2.5cm. Cherry tomatoes on the vine hold their shape better and add a cheek- piercing sweetness. Traditionally aubergines were sprinkled in salt and left for an hour or so, then rinsed to remove bitter juices, then patted dry. I am told that this is less necessary with modern varieties.

For firmer veg, I occasionally drizzle with pouring honey and start them off on the hob on a high heat for some extra caramelisation. Some recipes advise starting off in a very high oven (240˚C, Mark 9) then turning down later. I prefer slightly longer in a hot but not maximum oven.

Suggested Ingredients

2 courgettes; 1 large onion; 1 red pepper; 1 yellow pepper; 1 bulb of fennel; 1 or 2 strings of cherry tomatoes on the vine; 4 cloves of garlic, skins on; 2 sprigs of rosemary; olive oil; salt and pepper.


Preheat your oven to 200˚C, Mark 6. Cut your veg, apart from the tomatoes, into squares or cubes, removing the seeds from the peppers. Place in a roasting tin. Add enough olive oil to give all the veg a good covering. Lightly crush the garlic but leave the skins on. Wet the sprigs of rosemary to prevent them burning. Add everything to the tin and season with sea salt or coarse salt, and pepper, if wished. Roast for about 40 – 45 minutes (turning half way through), until the vegetables are starting to brown at the edges.

Cous cous

The actual conversion of hard semolina wheat into cous cous is a skilled process and therefore completely omitted from a recipe of mine. We do know that it was brought to Europe by the French after their conquest of Algeria. There is a type of cooking pot commonly used in North Africa for steaming semolina, variously known as a koskos, keuscass, koskosou or kouskous, and the name may well derive from that. But for you, dear reader, I suggest you toddle along to your local supermarket, buy a packet and follow the instructions on volume of liquid. Now as to which liquid, that’s another story. The type we use specifies that the volume of liquid should be 120% of the volume of cous cous. The packet will specify boiling water, but that will be horribly dull. We use stock: my preference is for chicken stock, but vegetable will do for your veggie chums.

Put your cous cous in a large, heat proof bowl, add the hot stock, season with salt and pepper, stir in well and leave until softened. Stir with a fork from time to time to stop it forming into hard balls. The softening process will take about five minutes. Set aside to cool.

The Dressing


120 ml extra virgin olive oil; 4 tbsp harissa paste, (OR 2 – 3 tbsp tomato purée, 1 – 2 tsp cayenne pepper and 2 tbsp ground cumin); juice of 2 limes.


Mix all the dressing ingredients together. To assemble, wait until the vegetables and cous cous are cool, place the veg on top of the cous cous, and coat with a little of the dressing. Serve the remainder separately. If you pour it all in, it will disappear into the cous cous and you won’t get the flavour coming through.  Delia adds a layer of salad leaves first.

Tom’s Perfect Potato Salad

Potato Salad

There is, of course, no such thing, but at my advanced age (and especially with no mother alive to criticise my every culinary move), you wouldn’t expect me to give ground on foodie matters, now would you? In fact, were foodie oneupmanship a Commonwealth Games event, I think I might have passed the trials for our team. I assert this on the basis of a recent discussion with a Charming Irish Lady on the respective merits of Scottish and Irish beef. The dialogue went as follows-

            Me – So, CIL, which beef is the best in the world, Scottish or Irish?

            CIL – There’s no contest.

            Me – You’re absolutely right, but I didn’t expect you to concede so quickly.

Now cold beef and potato salad is a wondrous combination, but move on from thoughts of protein. Today’s column is carbohydrate based. It is continuing last week’s theme of a summer buffet. Whatever the forecasters say, Tom Cooks! will be in summer mode until the end of the month.

As is often the case, one can learn more from the bad than the good. How many times have you had a tattie salad which was no more than lumps of spud, sometimes masquerading as new potato, sometimes in overly firm dice, adrift in a vat of a quasi-mayonnaise? Or the macho Hemingway favoured version with coarse chunks of fiery onion?

Before we look at ingredients, let’s consider technique. It is important that you dress your salad while the potatoes are still warm. This allows the flavours to permeate the flesh; however, if you serve your potatoes skin on there is, literally, a barrier to perfection. To my mind that applies even if using scrubbed new potatoes. Choose a waxy, skin on potato. Boil until tender, then remove the skin and cut into decent size chunks. As they will inevitably crumble a bit in the dressing process, don’t make them too small.

What next? In the introduction to the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the heading is Sliced Potatoes in Oil and Vinegar Dressing. In France this dish invariably accompanies an hors d’oeuvre of herring fillets, and very fine it is too. Julia Child et al list shallots, spring onions and/or mayonnaise as optional extras.

The problem with shallots is that their strength is an unknown variable. Having assumed myself to be long immune to onion chopping process, I was floored the other day by a couple of banana ones. Some recipes specify use red onions, but there can be the same issue. Not all potato salads contain a vinaigrette: mine does not, and, these days most examples have an emulsion of sorts as their coating; however, experiment with a vinaigrette base, a mayo base, or a combination. They can all work.

Your flavouring can also be guided by what you choose to serve it with. From Germany east this may well be eaten with sausage in some shape or form. To add a bit of sharpness you can add chopped dill pickle, dill itself, capers or cornichons. These do add a vinegary flavour, which is not to my taste. The addition of crisp, sharp apple works very well, especially if your accompanying protein is pork based. But here is my favourite. The quantities are approximate.


600g waxy potatoes: bunch of spring onions (green parts only) finely chopped, and/or large bunch of chives; equal quantities of mayonnaise and natural yoghurt The traditional mayonnaise-only produces a result which I find too cloying; salt and pepper (a lot more of each than you think you need).


Boil the potatoes in their jackets until just cooked. Drain and peel immediately. Have a fork to hold the potatoes. The skin will scrape off fairly easily. Cut into dice about 2 – 3 cm and put in a large bowl. Add the spring onions and a good portion of salt and pepper. Add mayonnaise and yoghurt to the consistency you want (it will be absorbed slightly) then fold the mixture together trying not to break up the potatoes too much. When adding the mayo and yoghurt remember the rule that you can always add, but you can’t take away. You want an end result that is neither dry nor wet. When everything is mixed together, check the seasoning again. I will be surprised if you don’t want more salt, and you will certainly need more pepper. This is wonderful if served when still warm. Otherwise allow to cool and refrigerate. Check seasoning again and add a grind of black pepper before serving. Top with some freshly cut spring onions or chives to freshen it up.

Final Tip – if you’re inviting me, make 50% more than you think you’ll need, and have to hand a suitable container for use as a doggy bag.


(OK, Coronation Chicken to you lot)

Coronation Chicken

In sandwich bars up and down the country the coronation chicken roll is a standard, featuring chicken, curried mayonnaise and, sometimes a spoonful or two of apricot jam or mango chutney Perfectly acceptable though remember, if you are ever using a curry flavouring in something that won’t be cooked, use paste, not powder; however, as my readers are historians as well as gourmets, they deserve more. Read on.

The dish was created for the 1953 coronation banquet of our current queen at London’s Cordon Bleu Cookery School. The school’s principals were Constance Spry (at that time better known as a flower arranger – the celebrated The Constance Spry Cookery Book came later) and Rosemary Hume who seems to have been the real chef. To show that there is nothing new under the sun HRH may well have tasted many times Jubilee Chicken, a dish created to mark the silver jubilee of her grandfather George V. This was a mixture of, er, cooked chicken, mayonnaise and curry.

The Spry and Hume recipe was published in 1956. It is something of a staple at parties at our house. I reproduce the original recipe with some notes. My comments are in italics.

Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6, more as part of a buffet)

1 large cooked chicken (I prefer poached, which keeps the bird moister); 1tbsp vegetable oil; 1 small onion, finely chopped; 1 – 2 tbsp curry powder or paste (mild is better. You are going to cook this, so powder is OK. For the cheat’s version use paste); 1 tsp tomato purée; 100 ml red wine; 1 bay leaf; juice of half a lemon; apricots (this is where recipes vary. Spry and Hume specify 4 apricot halves, very finely chopped. Reading their recipe, it is obvious they were referring to tinned apricots. Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland uses 6 dried apricots, poached in water until tender then liquidised. Many will use 1 -2 tsp of apricot jam. Mango chutney also works.); 300 – 450ml mayonnaise; (it depends how gloopy you want it to be, and whether you want to use cream. I prefer to use half and half mayonnaise and plain yoghurt for a fresher flavour); 100 ml whipping cream (if using cream reduce the mayonnaise to 300 ml. I would omit altogether); salt and pepper.


Cut the chicken into small pieces. Soften the onion in the oil, then add the curry paste, tomato purée, wine, bay leaf, lemon juice and, if using, the apricot jam. Simmer uncovered for about 5 – 10 minutes until well reduced. Press through a sieve and leave to cool. Beat the cooled sauce into the mayonnaise, If you have made a separate apricot purée, add this as well. If using cream whip to stiff peaks and fold in. Season with salt and pepper, then fold in the chicken pieces.

Wonderful for a buffet lunch. Use the leftovers to feed the riff raff chicken rolls later to sop up the booze if your lunch party is still going at 7, as ours often are.





Seabass sauce vierge

Many years ago I was involved in an embarrassing dialogue which went something like this.

Child   Daddy, what’s a virgin?

Me       Er, it’s a type of lady.

Child   What type of lady?

Me       Em, one who hasn’t had babies.

Child   So Auntie X is a virgin?

Me       Oh, s***!

OK, smart alecs. Laugh all you will, and consider smugly how much better you would have handled that exchange. We all can do better with the wisdom of hindsight. Obviously had I been asked today I should have side stepped the issue nicely by responding that it’s a type of sauce which doesn’t require cooking, bringing me rather neatly to this week’s recipe.

Some fish is sufficiently delicate and flavoursome to require no saucing at all.  Dover Sole for example, which needs no more than a little butter and a squeeze of lemon. On the other hand, some fish can be pretty dull without adornment. A classical sauce is a variation on a velouté or béchamel, often flavoured with fish stock, cream, and vermouth or white wine. This can be delicious, but can also overpower. It is not recommended for those watching their cholesterol. You won’t find sauce vierge in too many of the books, but it was popularised by Michel Guérard, a French chef who headed the cuisine minceur (no smutty jokes, please) movement in the 1980s, a reaction against classic cuisine with its heavy use of butter and cream.

The simpler the dish, the better quality the ingredients you need to make it. I wouldn’t try this unless you can find good tomatoes. I have seen a recipe using chopped cherry tomatoes, but skins and pips will result in an inferior product. Use the best quality olive oil you can get and, obviously, fresh herbs.

Ingredients (serves about 4)

100ml extra virgin olive oil; 2 medium size tomatoes concassées (skinned, seeded and cut into the smallest dice you can manage); 1 or 2 tbsp of finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice (I would use parsley, chives and tarragon or chervil, but you can use basil, oregano or whatever you fancy. Use no fewer than two and no more than three); 2 tsp capers (optional – I prefer without); squeeze of lemon juice; S & P to taste.


Warm the oil gently in a wide pan. Pop in the tomato and allow to warm through. Add the capers, if using. Just before serving squeeze in the lemon juice and season. Sprinkle in the herbs, stir for a moment or two and add to the plate at once. Place the bass fillet on top and serve with new potatoes.

To cook the sea bass

Getting the skin crispy but not burnt, and not overcooking is tricky. Easier to keep track of if you fry it. You need enough oil to prevent it sticking. I like to use rapeseed oil for fish. Season the fillet and put a little oil on the fleshy side. Place skin side down in a hottish pan. Press down with another pan for a minute or two to stop it curling up. This is better than scoring the skin as it keeps the skin in one piece. Keep an eye on the flesh. It turns a milky colour as it cooks. When there is a strip of about an inch of uncooked fish remaining turn it over and cook for a further 30 seconds. Serve at once.





For much of the year I have a basil plant in my kitchen window. We are kindred spirits. It is partial to warmth, dislikes draughts and is happiest if given a drink when it feels like one. Fresh herbs really make the difference between the average and the sublime, but if you have to buy wee packs of them at supermarket prices things can get a bit silly. A well looked after basil plant can be a very sound investment.

Basil can be used in the simplest of ways. Remember that the leaves should always be ripped, never cut, the reason being that contact with metal makes them turn black. A few leaves will add character to a mixed salad. Green basil is part of the glorious tricolour of a caprese salad, with mozzarella, good tomatoes (if you can find such things in Scotland) salt and pepper and a drizzle of your best olive oil. It adds character to a tomato sauce, both as part of the sauce itself and as a garnish. But for its most splendid contribution to our table, let us travel to Genoa in Liguria, the home of pesto.

There is more than one type, of course, but the classic is the green pesto. I originally wondered why this dish was of Genovese origin, since the parmesan cheese which we tend to associate with it comes from Emilia Romagna, to the east. In fact, traditional Genovese pesto is made with Sardo, a pungent goat’s cheese brought into Genoa in huge quantities specifically for pesto production. This gives a much stronger taste than we are accustomed to. Sometimes one sees it being made with half and half Sardo and Parmesan, but here it is almost always made using Parmesan. The less expensive Gran Padano is now replacing the latter cheese in many store cupboards. It has its place but not, I think, in pesto. In this country pine nuts are becoming one of our most expensive ingredients, but as the quantities involved are small and the flavour so intense they are an affordable luxury. One thing is certain: once you’ve made your own you will never return to the bottled stuff.


2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, stalks removed; 2 cloves of garlic, peeled; 60g pine nuts; 60g freshly grated Parmesan cheese; 150ml good olive oil; salt.


Traditionally this is made with a mortar and pestle, but who can be bothered if you have a food processor. Blitz the basil and garlic to form a paste then add the pine nuts and the cheese. With the motor running, drizzle the oil in until you have the consistency you require. Season with salt. Pesto is best used fresh. If you want to keep it, keep it covered in a cool place with a thin layer of oil on the surface.


There are many, but don’t be so injudicious as to refer to them as pesto in the hearing of your Italian friends. Parsley can be used in place of basil, and blanched almonds used in place of pine nuts. I have heard of rocket and dill pesto, but they don’t appeal. Dining recently in Edinburgh’s splendid Apiary restaurant I noticed a sorrel pesto. I didn’t try it, my only thought being that such a subtle herb might get a little lost. The variation which may lay claim to Italian roots is red pesto, although Elizabeth David makes no record of it in her seminal Italian Food. For that use 60g of chopped sundried tomatoes and possibly pecorino cheese in place of Parmesan. If you have it, a little basil will enhance this, but it’s not the main ingredient.

So you have your pesto, and it couldn’t be much simpler. So what do you do with it? We started simple, so let’s keep it that way.

Spaghetti with Pesto

Cook your spaghetti the way you like it, then add to some warmed pesto in a pan. Note that Italians always add the pasta to the sauce, not vice versa, And they may not drain the pasta, allowing the surplus water to become part of the sauce. It really depends on the consistency of your pesto and personal taste.

Soupe au Pistou

I become aware from time to time that my writings are becoming a little Italo-centric. For most of my adult life, however, I have been a conformed Francophile. When it comes to matters culinary, food lovers from these two great nations bicker about many things, not least about the origins of many of their classics. Pesto/pistou is one of these. French pistou is made with tomato purée instead of pine nuts and with a little more garlic. Who knows whether this was before or after the Italians created red pesto, casting as the central character sun dried or, better, sunblush or mi-cuit tomatoes instead of basil? Anyway, make a light spring vegetable soup bulked up perhaps with some haricot beans or stale bread, stir some of the liquid into a few spoonfuls of your pesto/pistou, then top up to create the consistency you want.

Pesto Stuffed Chicken


Chicken breasts; pesto; Parma ham, about 2 – slices per breast, depending upon size. You will need a pan which can go on both the hob and the oven.


For this you want to make sure your pesto isn’t too runny. Take a chicken breast and make a slit in the middle making sure not to cut right through. Stuff with pesto, then wrap in Parma ham. If you are being a cheapskate you could use streaky bacon but if you do, stretch it first by running the back of a knife along it to get it as thin as possible. Put in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Brown all over in a pan, then bake in the oven at 200˚C/Mark 5 for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken breast. Chicken is tricky. Pink is not good, dry is worse. I would check it at 15 minutes and allow it to rest.




Orange Peel

Always keep the last course light

Half your guests may well be tight

We have the great Katharine Whitehorn to thank for this splendid piece of advice. She also counselled only one attempt to swank, and only one to break the bank. A wise lady indeed. As puddings are not my forte (I’m getting a little better, but no patissier’s job is in danger) ice cream has been the staple ingredient of many Johnston desserts over the years. Before you sneer, let me assure you that my days of Wall’s Neapolitan (or Nealopitan if you followed the Glumms, but you have to be quite old to understand that) or Raspberry Ripple were abandoned in my pre teens. I am talking of concoctions based on the best vanilla ice cream you can lay your hands on.

Where I grew up we had, within a couple of miles, ice cream made by the Macaris, the Mazzonis, the Faccendas, the Divitos and the Demarcos. Given the mark up, I am surprised that the number of artisan producers has fallen so dramatically. Perhaps it will come back along with the bread makers. Anyway, source whatever takes your fancy and, with a little imagination (and often with a little alcohol) turn it into a show stopping end to a meal. There is no end to the variations, but here are a few of my old favourites.


This literally means drowned. Make some strong espresso and add a liberal amount of sugar to your taste. Pour the hot coffee over the ice cream. Simple but effective, but not so simple as-

Ice cream with Very Old Sherry

You have to be a very confident chef to put this on a meu in Soho in these precise terms. Alastair Little’s confidence was matched only by his talent in his eponymous restaurant, now sadly gone, in London’s Frith Street. Get hold of a lovely dark sherry such as Pedro Ximenes XO and add a slug.

Affogato di Amaretto

I first encountered this in Cosmo’s in Castle Street about forty years ago. With the exception of the current Mrs Johnston, I have never met anyone who drinks Amaretto (or Disaronno as it now seems to be known) for pleasure; however, with toasted almonds and ice cream it is a sublime combination. You have to do a little work for this, but not much. Take some flaked almonds and toast them. You can do this under the grill, but it’s easiest to do it in a dry frying pan. If you want to kid on that you’re a real chef, learn how to turn them without using an implement and without spraying them all over the floor. The trick is to point the pan downwards and away from you before flicking up. A good trick once you’ve mastered it. Allow them to cool before sprinkling on the ice cream and topping with the booze.

Ice cream with candied orange peel and Cointreau

Again, a little prep is needed. Remove the peel from an orange or two. You can use a zester, but I find the end result a little too fine so I simply use a sharp knife. You want the peel only, not the pith. Trim away any white stuff and cut into thin juliennes. Simmer in water for 8 – 10 minutes then drain. Melt 50g caster sugar in 100 ml of water then add the peel. Simmer for a further 8 minutes, and allow to cool in the syrup. Top the ice cream with the peel and add some Cointreau or Grand Marnier. If you like you can segment the rest of the orange by cutting in between the membrane and removing the slices individually and adding them too. It’s a tricky skill at first but very useful once mastered.

Now admit it – all of these beat a chocolate flake or hundreds and thousands. Enjoy, and enjoy inventing your own variations. Let me know what you come up with –




Summers were different in Shakespeare’s time. Especially in Scotland it is difficult to imagine praising one’s innamorata for being cooler than an average summer’s day. As I write this, rough winds are indeed shaking the darling buds of May. So much so that my attention is turning to food, and contemplation that the asparagus lease (as opposed to summer’s) hath all too short a date. It is especially at this time of year that I regret our abandonment of seasonality. In the last month or so I have spent time in Venice and in Prague. In the former the Rialto market stalls were groaning with bunches both thick and thin: in Prague, every restaurant of note had a blackboard with at least a couple of specials.

We, of course, can get it all year round, primarily from Peru and Mexico. Too many food miles for me. Actually, the Italian stuff is pretty good, but the short British asparagus season is a real sign of Spring. When I say asparagus, I am referring to the lovely green stalks, with their delicacy of flavour, their erogenous looking tips and their unfailing ability to make your wee smell funny. The white stuff so beloved of the Spanish and the Germans, among others, is the same plant. They cover up the growing shoots with earth to keep them out of the sun and prevent the chlorophyll which provides the green colour.

You don’t need to peel green asparagus and yes, you can do three things with one stalk. Mind you, they would be very small things – better to get a couple of big bunches. First of all, hold your stalk in the middle and at the base and bend gently. It will snap at exactly the correct place to give you the edible part. DO NOT DISCARD THE BASES. See the soup recipe below. With nice plump asparagus I would serve them whole; however, Madame de Pompadour had the tips served to her as points d’amour, and they make an excellent garnish for all sorts of things. If you do remove the tips, use the stalks for the rice dish.

Whole asparagus

Traditionally these are boiled and eaten with melted butter or hollandaise sauce. I have a certain aversion to boiling such a delicate vegetable. Think of the goodness you’re pouring down the plughole. Better to steam them. Nothing wrong with butter or hollandaise (and remember that asparagus is one of the few foods which it is permissible to eat with one’s fingers, even in the grandest company). A good sprinkling of Malden salt and lemon are good if you’re on a diet. In restaurants at the moment it is fashionable to serve with a soft boiled or poached egg. Not my favourite way. If it appeals, you must use the freshest of eggs with a lovely orange yolk.

Left to my own devices I would place in a baking tray, drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake in the oven at 200˚C/Mark 6 for approximately 10 minutes, depending on size. They should be al dente. Serve with freshly shaved Parmesan and a squeeze of lemon.

Risi e Bisi (e Asparagi)

This recipe is a variation on the classic Venetian Risi e Bisi (Rice and Peas). The cooking process differs from a conventional risotto in that too much stirring would break up the peas. Traditionally this would be made when the new peas were in season, but it works just as well with frozen.  If you decide to use whole asparagus, I would save the tips and add at the very end, giving just enough time to heat through. Or steam separately and add as a garnish at the end. It’s just as good with stalks only, but use the thinner ones.

Ingredients (serves 4)

200g risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli); 1 litre chicken stock; 200g frozen peas; 200g asparagus stalks finely chopped; 2 – 3 shallots, finely chopped; 1 clove garlic, crushed; 50g butter; freshly grated Parmesan cheese; chopped mint and/or parsley; salt and pepper.


In one pan (or in the microwave) warm the stock. In another soften the shallots with the butter and the garlic. Add the rice and cook gently for 2 – 3 minutes. Add about three quarters of the stock and simmer for about five minutes. Add the peas and asparagus and continue to cook, giving the occasional stir. If using the asparagus tips, add when the rice is nearly cooked., and sprinkle in a flat tablespoon of chopped mint. The cooking will take about twenty minutes in total. You want something which you can eat with a fork, not something soupy.  Add the parmesan just before serving together with the mint and parsley, if using.

Asparagus soup

I very seldom add cream to anything these days, but it really enhances this soup. Just be careful not to add too much as this could overwhelm the delicate flavour.

Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)

The bases of about 24 asparagus stalks (see above), cut into thin rounds; 50g butter; 1 medium onion, finely chopped; 1 medium potato, cut into very small cubes; 750ml chicken stock; 150ml double cream; salt and pepper.


Soften the onion in the butter for a few minutes, then add the potato. Add a little salt and pepper at this stage. Continue until the onion is transparent and add the asparagus. Fry gently for another couple of minutes. Pour in the stock and simmer until all the vegetables are soft. Season to taste.  Strain through a fine sieve, then return to the heat and add the cream. Be careful not to boil. Add the cream, check the seasoning and serve. Garnish however you like. This is very good with some Parma ham heated in the oven until crisp, then crumbled on top.

Asparagus tips

So you need me to spell out for you what Madame de Pompadour had in mind? You unimaginative lot. You’ll have to wait for next Valentine’s Day if you can’t work it out for yourselves. Aside from their aphrodisiac qualities they do make a nice swanky (if rather old school) garnish to a lot of meat or fish dishes. Please don’t let me make you think you have to serve them separately – just pandering to the modern fad for trios (but injunctions may prevent my saying more).

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy the  season’s too short date.


 Bread 1

Some 11,000 years after bread was first made, why should this introduction be necessary? This is one of the simplest of foods. It contains only three basic ingredients, flour, yeast and water. Worldwide it is one of the most common of staple foods. It has given us dozens of sayings and metaphors in our language and it is at the heart of Christian ritual. Yet how many of us know how to create this wonderful food, let alone make it on a weekly or daily basis?

Until about a year ago I was a member of the ignoramus group. We had a breadmaking machine in the house. It produced a passable result, and a lovely aroma; however, you can now get candles to provide the fresh bread smell (yes, honestly) and it’s time to learn to do the job properly. My education was begun by the lovely Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland. Once you have grasped the basics, you won’t go back. Today’s article is lengthy. Apologies for that – it’s not nearly as complex as it sounds, but I’m trying to help avoid any pitfalls.

While you can do most things by machine these days I virtually always make my basic bread in the traditional way, by hand. Although baking is much more scientific than cooking, with precise quantities often being essential, there are still subtle variations. Sometimes the quantities given will work perfectly: on other occasions, you may have to use a little less water. Sometimes your first prove will expand like something out of Quatermass: sometimes it will take a few hours to get to the same size.

Let’s look at the basic science. The combination of yeast, an inert raising agent, when brought to life with warm water and sometimes sugar, and flour starts a chemical reaction. The initial dough is kneaded for ten minutes. This stretches the glutens in the flour and changes the consistency to something akin to PlayDoh. You feel the warmth in your hands, clear evidence that you have something which is alive. That is then covered and left to “prove”. A couple of points about proving. You have to cover the loaf, to stop a skin forming on your dough. Tradition says you use a cloth, but getting them clean afterwards is a fech – use clingfilm instead. Generally, the longer the prove the better. Custom also tells us that you leave your dough in a warm place (professional bakers have special proving drawers for this purpose), but some of the best results I have had involved leaving the dough to prove overnight in the fridge. No idea why that works, but it does.

After your first prove you can see the air bubbles. The next stage is the “knock back”, literally removing the air by punching the dough back to its original size, then kneading for a further five minutes. You then shape it to whatever you want the end product to be, whether a simple loaf in a tin, individual rolls or whatever. For swank, learn to make a simple knotted plait. Creates a big impression when taken as a gift when invited out to dinner. You then cover your dough again for its second prove. Once more you are looking for it to more or less double in size. This take about half an hour. Then bake, allow to cool, and voila!

Ingredients (this makes one loaf in a 24cm loaf tin, 16 – 20 dinner rolls or 12 breakfast rolls)

500g strong white bread flour (for brown bread use 350g white flour and 150g wholemeal flour); 1.5 tsp salt; 7g fast action yeast; (the individual sachets which you can buy contain 7g – more expensive than buying in bulk, but few of us have scales accurate enough to weigh 7g); 1 dessert spoon caster sugar; 1 tbsp olive oil; 300 ml warm water (you may not need all of it).


Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast, salt and sugar. Do not put the salt on top of the yeast. That will reduce its effectiveness or possibly kill it off altogether. Add the oil and mix the ingredients together. Add the water a little at a time, mixing it in as you go. Traditionalists use their hands. At this stage it really sticks to them – I use a broad knife or spatula. Keep adding the water until you have something which is starting to form a ball, but is not wet. Tip on to a lightly oiled (not floured) surface. You will probably have to incorporate some remaining flour from the bottom of the bowl. Don’t be tempted to add more water. Sloshy dough is more difficult to work, and the finished product won’t be as good.

Then the fun starts. I find kneading very therapeutic, but it is hard work. Everyone has their own style, but remember that you are looking to stretch the dough and the glutens which it contains. Using the heel of your hand and starting in the middle, push the dough away from you, then fold it back. Repeat this, rotating the ball regularly. Make sure you are applying plenty of pressure, not just rolling it about.  It will take about ten minutes, by which time you should have a smooth ball and it should bounce back when you make a finger mark on it. Transfer to a clean bowl into which you have poured a drizzle of olive oil, cover and leave to prove (see above). After the first prove, knock the dough back down and knead again for about five minutes. You may need to oil the surface again. Dust your loaf tin with a fine layer of flour, cover and prove again, then you’re ready to bake.

Preheat your oven to 230ºC/Mark 8. You can decorate your loaf with a couple of slashes (use a very sharp knife). Wetting the knife will avoid dragging the dough. You can dust with flour, add seeds, oats, or whatever you fancy. For a crisper crust, pour a small amount of water into a hot tray in the bottom of the oven to create steam. When your oven is hot pop the loaf in. After 15 minutes reduce the oven to 200ºC/Mark 6 and bake for a further 20 minutes. Rolls will be ready after the first 15 minutes.  You can tell your loaf is done if it sounds hollow when you tap its base (you do have to take it out of the tin first, doh!). Allow it to cool on a mesh rack. Slather with good butter, then ask yourself why it’s taken you so long to get round to doing this. Obviously it won’t stay soft as long as its supermarket, additive laden cousins, but it makes the most stunning toast.

Thanks to Sarah for permission to reproduce her recipes. Expect more in the weeks to come. For more details about her courses contact her at

Tel: 07932 642605





Last time I enthused about the combination of chicken and tarragon. Regulars may recall I used this in an autumn pie last year. Going through the books is instructive, as there are so many variations on the theme. Two methods are to be found in the definitive Mastering the Art of French Cooking, depending upon whether you want a casserole or a fricassée. The latter starts with the meat being fried in butter and the outcome is usually white. Classically the sauce is enriched both with cream and with egg yolks. Putting to one side the technical challenges, the end result is usually a little too rich for modern tastes.

The next question is which part of the bird should you use. We’ll come shortly to a Nigel Slater inspired cheat’s version, using a whole roast bird, and very good it is too. Many recipes will simply tell you to joint your chicken; however, if you are stewing, poaching or whatever, you have to be careful with cooking times, otherwise the breasts may be dry or the legs undercooked. For me, chicken legs are by far the best part of the bird, and for preference I would use only the thighs. Therein lies our next problem. It is easy enough to buy whole chickens whose provenance is acceptable, where we can be sure the poor beasts have not spent their lives in a battery cage. We can also buy packs of legs or thighs; however I have yet to be satisfied that the aforesaid thighs or legs necessarily come from birds which have been properly cared for.

Why not buy two or three birds and use the legs? You can have the wings as a snack, make and store any number of things with the breasts and have enough for a very large vat of stock. No use if you’re on a tight weekly budget, but there will be no waste provided you have a  freezer. As Cilla Black would have said, the choice is yours.

Roast Chicken with Cheat’s Tarragon Sauce

Roast your chicken in the usual way, but stuff the cavity with a quartered onion and a bunch of tarragon. When the chicken is cooked, pour off the excess fat from the roasting tray, put on the hob and add about 300ml of double cream. Bring to the boil, incorporating the cooking juices and residue, add a handful of chopped tarragon leaves, salt and pepper. Allow to bubble for a few minutes until the cream thickens, then serve as you would gravy.

Escoffier’s Poulet sauté a l’estragon (Chicken sauté with tarragon)

The literary among you may have noticed that Samuel Beckett named one of his characters in Waiting for Godot after today’s herb, but I digress.

Ingredients (I quote directly): 1 spring chicken; butter; 6 tbsp white wine; 280ml demi-glace sauce with tomato; large pinch tarragon leaves.


Cut up the chicken and sauté in butter. Remove the wings when they are tender and keep hot. Add the wine to the rest of the chicken, reduce by half then add the sauce and the tarragon. Cook for a few minutes, then replace the wings and cook for a further few minutes. Put the chicken on to a serving dish and pour the sauce over.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll have spotted the teeny tiny problem for us ordinary mortals. Demi-glace sauce is Sauce Espagnole to which strong veal stock or fine meat jelly has been added at the last minute. Escoffier’s recipe for Sauce Espagnole includes, inter alia, brown sauce, brown roux and brown stock. You add a few other things and simmer for a few hours. Then you’d have to add your veal stock and then (but only then) you’d have to add your tomato sauce. So, perhaps not for us. Why not try-

Normal Chicken with Cream and Tarragon

Ingredients (Serves 4 hungry people): 8 chicken pieces, preferably thighs or drumsticks, skin on; butter and oil for browning; 1 small shallot, very finely chopped; 150ml vermouth or dry white wine; chicken stock (you will need enough liquid to cover most of the meat); splash of white wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar; 200 – 300 ml double cream; 2 – 3 tbsp finely chopped tarragon; bay leaf (optional); salt and pepper to taste.

Brown the seasoned chicken pieces in the butter and oil, being careful not to burn. Don’t overcrowd your pan, otherwise the meat will steam, not brown. Set to one side. Fry the shallot gently until soft. Strain any surplus fat from the pan then deglaze with a splash of vinegar. This will lock in the chicken flavours but prevent your sauce from catching on the wee cooking scraps. Return the chicken to the pan, add the vermouth and top up with stock. If using white wine instead of vermouth, add a bay leaf. Cover and bubble gently until the chicken is cooked. Remove the chicken and keep warm. Reduce the liquid by boiling rapidly to whatever consistency you want, reduce the heat, then add the cream and the tarragon. Return the chicken to the pan and allow the cream to bubble gently for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and serve.





Would that it were that simple. The relevance is that Andrew Fairlie, he of 2 Michelin stars fame, who had no great culinary background, cites his “tarragon moment”, his first taste of today’s herb, as a defining moment in his progression to superstardom. Generally aniseedy tastes are a no no for me. I can’t abide the likes of Pernod and Pastis, and the prevalence of ouzo and the like is probably the main reason why I have never visited Greece. Yet I love the distinctive character which tarragon imparts. The historians among you will be delighted to learn that its name derives from the Arabic word, tarkhŭn, a serpent eating bird. The herb was formerly believed to cure snake bites. As I keep well clear of adders, I’ve never had occasion to test it for that purpose, and since the time of St Patrick it has been totally redundant in Ireland. Let’s stick to its culinary uses.

Chicken and tarragon are a match made in heaven. They can be combined in the grandest of marriages or the most informal of unions. Either is delicious, simpler being more to modern tastes. But first, my very favourite member of the sauce family, Béarnaise.

Béarnaise Sauce

Why would you have simple Hollandaise when you can have Béarnaise? A lot of reasons, actually. If you intend to combine butteriness and a hint of sharpness directly with other ingredients (as in Eggs Benedict or Omelette Arnold Bennett) the tarragon would be too much; however, if the sauce is to be a standalone accompaniment, most notably to a perfect steak, the extra dimension is perfect. The technique is exactly the same as for Hollandaise. These days one tends to see TV chefs whizzing it in a blender. Fine, but learn how to make it by hand first. Ignore recipes which say you can use dried tarragon – it must be fresh.


For the reduction: 75ml white wine or tarragon vinegar; 75ml dry white wine; ½ shallot, very finely chopped; 3 white peppercorns; 1 tsp chopped tarragon; salt.

For the sauce: 3 egg yolks; 175 – 200g softish butter; small handful finely chopped tarragon (quantity to suit you); squeeze of lemon juice; salt and pepper (preferably white).


In a small saucepan add all of the reduction ingredients and boil until you are left with about one tablespoon of liquid. Allow to cool slightly. Put the egg yolks in a bowl over (not in) a pan of simmering water.  The bowl should not touch the water, otherwise you risk creating scrambled eggs. Beat the eggs lightly then strain the reduced liquid into the eggs and stir. Beat in the butter a little at a time over the heat, allowing each piece to melt before adding the next. You could start with a little solid butter then drizzle in the remainder melted as you would add oil to a mayonnaise. Once you have a consistency you want, add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

How To Deal With Crises

There are a few things that can go wrong. Fear not, you virtually never need to start again.

Sauce refuses to thicken

This may happen if you have put the butter in too quickly. In a clean bowl add a teaspoonful of lemon juice and a tablespoon of your sauce. Whisk together until the mixture starts to cream then add your unsuccessful sauce a little at a time, beating in as you should have done the first time.

Sauce curdles (separates)

Béarnaise must be served warm, but it is rather unstable and can easily separate, especially if it is kept too hot. If this happens add an ice cube or a couple of teaspoons of very cold water and stir. If that fails to work, use the preceding tip.

Keeping Béarnaise warm

This is very tricky. Even if it doesn’t curdle it can become very thin. If you need to make it in advance, use the minimum butter possible and beat in a little more just before serving. Or use

A cheeky wee restaurant trick

Restaurants have been known to stabilise the sauce by beating in a tablespoon or two of a velouté. Wouldn’t recommend it.

Dear reader, when I embarked on your tarragon moments I hadn’t contemplated providing you with the emergency life or sauce saving tips. Alas, my generosity has been my undoing. We have no space for our chicken masterpieces. Come back next week, but in the meantime you know what to serve with your perfect steak and chips.


(and nearly everything else)

Sweet and sour pork

Having returned to Chinese food after a long time away, I have a mission to learn to cook some of the classics without resort to bottles or sachets of readymade. A few decades ago that was simple: all of these were so disgusting that one simply gave in and went to the local takeaway. These days a reasonable compromise can often be achieved by stir frying the basics then adding some premade embellishment. The trouble with that comes when you start to read the list of ingredients. I can cope with the infamous monosodium glutamate – at least I know what that is – but I draw the line at E numbers, whichever continent they emanate from. In the case of sweet and sour a chance viewing of a cookery programme provided my eureka moment. Yes, I am aware that tomato ketchup is processed food; however, as it’s part of our cultural comforts, so that doesn’t count.

Note that this has nothing whatever in common with the vile pieces of deep fried gunk served with sticky red gloop: it is essentially a stir fry. Worthwhile revisiting the basics. The cooking time is minimal: the secret is in the preparation. Try to have everything cut uniformly, and bite sized. Have everything, including your seasonings, to hand. Make sure your wok is at maximum heat. The quantities given will feed two or three as a main course with rice or noodles. If you are serving a variety of dishes, Chinese style, this will do for four. It is impossible to be exact with the liquids. Use your judgement and in the case of the vinegar remember the old adage that you can always add but you can’t take away. You can substitute chicken. You could simply have this as a vegetable dish, in which case it doesn’t need to be so liquid, in which case you could omit the additional liquid.


300g pork fillet; For the marinade, rice wine or dry sherry; 2 cloves garlic, crushed. For the sauce, 1 medium onion, sliced lengthways into strips about 1cm wide; 2 medium peppers (any colour apart from green) sliced similarly; 5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine juliennes; 2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped; 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional); 2 thin slices fresh pineapple, core removed and cut into 2 cm chunks; 4 – 6 tbsp tomato ketchup;  1 – 2 tbsp vinegar (white wine or cider);  1- 2 tbsp orange juice: 1- 2 tbsp chicken stock; oil for frying; salt and pepper.


With a horizontal cut divide the pork fillet into two, lengthwise. Take each half and, cutting across the grain, cut each half into strips about 1 cm in width. Cover with the rice wine or sherry, stir in the crushed garlic. Cover and leave to marinade for at least an hour.

Heat the wok to maximum heat and add just enough vegetable (not olive) oil to coat. Pour off any surplus. Stir fry the vegetables with the garlic and ginger for a minute, add the ketchup and vinegar and cook for another minute. Add the pork and marinade, pineapple, orange juice and stock. Reduce the heat slightly and cook until the pork is cooked through and the sauce is to your required consistency. Check the seasoning with salt and pepper as required. You may wish to adjust the sweet and sour balance with vinegar, ketchup or orange juice. Serve with rice or noodles.


The aubergine is a beautiful thing. The type generally sold in our shops are the large ovals of a gloriously purple hue, plump and shiny. On the Continent they can be a lighter violet, or even variegated. They can be small and egg shaped, explaining its common alternative name of eggplant. In the East you can get them the size of large peas, adding body to many Thai curries.

Put to one side all the splendid mezze and dip type things which Mediterranean inspired cooks can do with the wonderful aubergine. Pause instead to consider how you will feed your vegetarian chums. Virtually all cultures have a carbohydrate staple. Ours is the potato: add rice, polenta, cous cous or cassava to the mix, to name but four. But for non meat eaters in this country, how will you provide the “get the teeth into” component of a main dish which will be equally acceptable to someone used to a carnivorous diet? Tofu is tedious. Mushrooms have become the default, so much so that discerning veggies at high end restaurants will often stipulate ABM, anything but mushrooms, so sick are they of this unimaginative option. Today I offer two choices, one a simple pasta sauce, the second from the archives of Cranks, one of Britain’s earliest vegetarian restaurants founded in 1961 by the late David and Kay Canter. The first, whisper it, is even suitable for vegans.

The traditional method of preparing an aubergine is to slice it, sprinkle with salt and leave for about half an hour. This draws out the juices which can be rather bitter. You then rinse and pat dry. I am told that with modern production this is no longer necessary, but in my case old habits die hard. No need to do it in the first recipe, though.

Spaghetti with Aubergine and Tomato Sauce


1 medium sized aubergine; 1 medium sized onion; 1 red chilli (optional); 2 – 3 cloves of garlic; 1 tin tomatoes (400g); 1 tbsp sundried or mi-cuit tomatoes, roughly chopped (optional); olive oil; tomato paste; splash of red wine; pinch of sugar. For the seasoning, suit yourself. I would always use a bay leaf and any one from oregano, very finely chopped rosemary, or thyme, plus salt and pepper.


Chop the onion and aubergine into cubes of approximately 1cm. Soften in olive oil together with the crushed garlic and chopped chilli, if using. You’ll need quite a lot as the aubergine will absorb it. Don’t worry about the end result being a little on the oily side – it will help coat the pasta. When the vegetables are soft add a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste. Stir in and cook gently for two or three minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and the sundried tomatoes if using. Pour in a splash of red wine, add the herbs and then simmer gently, giving the occasional stir. As with most pasta sauces, the longer the cook, the better. You want the flavours to be absorbed and the sauce to be reasonably thick. Add a little water if needed. Check the seasoning and serve with your pasta of choice.

Cranks Aubergine Parmesan

As will be seen from the inclusion of potato, this bears only a passing resemblance to that Italian masterpiece, melanzane Parmigiana. Maybe we’ll do that another day. The cooking process is a little fiddly, but it does produce a hearty dish which is a meal in itself.


450g potatoes; 1 large aubergine (about 450g); olive oil (approximately 150ml); 50g butter; 1 medium onion; 4 tomatoes, chopped and deseeded (fresh work better in this but use a tin if you can’t get decent fresh); 2 tbsp wholemeal flour*; 140 ml milk; 50g freshly grated Parmesan; 3tbsp breadcrumbs (wholemeal if possible); 1 clove garlic; 1 tsp dried oregano; salt and pepper to taste; chopped basil and/or parsley to garnish (The original recipe uses dried basil, which I abominate. It also suggests margarine in place of butter – another sign of the times.)


Preheat your oven to 200̊ C/Mark 6. Cut the potatoes into 2 cm cubes. Parboil for about 10 minutes until just tender. Reserve 300 ml of the water you have boiled them in. Dice the aubergines and sauté in oil until soft and slightly browned. Set the potatoes and aubergines to one side and keep warm. Sauté the onion in half the butter until transparent.  Add the chopped tomatoes If using tinned, use whole tomatoes and drain off the liquid. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. *(I guess this is to thicken the sauce. I would omit the flour and simply regulate the thickness of the final sauce by reducing it later.) Add the reserved potato water, milk, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then simmer to thicken to the consistency  of a pouring sauce. Put the aubergines and potatoes on an ovenproof dish or pan. Pour over the sauce. Mix the breadcrumbs and Parmesan and sprinkle on top. Dot with the remaining butter and bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until heated through. A sprinkling of fresh basil or flat leaf parsley, or both,  is nice.


My take on the Delta’s take on Lamb Rogan Josh

We’re hoping for some sun soon. Failing that we’ll have to find heat elsewhere. Try today’s recipe, one of my favourite curry dishes, if you will forgive my use of that inappropriate word, and like most Indian dishes not particularly fiery.  The name comes from the word kari, meaning sauce. The generic curry was introduced to Europe by the British who had adapted it from the food they encountered while in India, trying to simplify it by creating one spice, curry powder, to be used in its creation. Mixtures were made to set formula: indeed at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889, and attempt was made to set the composition of curry powder by decree. My, how we have moved on.

I am fortunate in living in close proximity to The Delta, in Edinburgh’s Roseburn district. Although generally wide ranging in my culinary tastes I have become a sad creature of habit when I enter its door, and am unable to go past their Lamb Rogan Josh. Whisper it, but traditional rogan josh, even in the sub continent itself, is not the most interesting of dishes; however, my Delta chums take it to a new level. This is my reasonable approximation of their masterpiece.

You could make this with chicken, I suppose, but the slow cooked lamb adds an extra depth of flavour. In India it would be “mutton” rogan josh. My daughter’s Indian flat mate tells me that mutton, in India and environs, means goat. The paste which I use in this recipe is in pretty standard use. It incorporates the key flavours and adds thickness to the sauce.

Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)

For the paste: 2 onions; 4 cloves of garlic; 5cm piece of ginger; 1-2 green chillies. For the main dish: 1kg shoulder of lamb, excess fat removed and cut into 2.5 cm cubes; 1 large onion, sliced; 1 large or two small green peppers, thinly sliced; 1 tin of tomatoes; 500 – 750 ml chicken stock or water; 1 tsp mustard seeds; 1 tsp fenugreek; 1 tsp garam masala; 1 tbsp ground cinnamon; 8 cardamom pods, lightly crushed; vegetable oil; salt and pepper to taste.


First make the paste. Peel and roughly chop the onions, ginger and garlic. Add them to a blender with the chillies and blitz to a paste. This will give a medium hot dish. You can adjust the amount of chilli to taste, and add or remove the seeds according to your preference. It’s not an exact science. Cut the lamb into pieces about 2.5cm square, removing any excess fat. Shoulder of lamb needs a very long slow cook, which will melt most of the fat. Don’t be too precious about trying to get rid of it all. Brown the meat in a heavy pan. You will need to do this in batches, and top the oil up a little. Set to one side. In the same pan (you may need to deglaze to avoid burning) add some fresh oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop add the onions and fry gently until they start to brown. Add the peppers and cook for a couple of minutes more. Add the paste and cook for a further five minutes until it starts to colour. Add the fenugreek, garam masala, about half of the cinnamon and some salt and black pepper. Add the tomatoes and the browned lamb and top up with stock or water, ensuring that the lamb is covered. You may not need it all. Add the cardamom pods. Some people dislike getting a mouthful of these. You could make a bouquet garni which is easy to remove before serving. Cook over a gentle heat, or in a slow oven for about two hours until the lamb is tender. Stirring from time to time and topping up with liquid if required. I prefer to cook it on the stove as it is easier to check. You want a sauce which is thick, but be careful not to allow it to stick. Check the seasoning from time to time. If it tastes a little bitter add some more cinnamon. Serve with rice and sag aloo.

For the real thing call Delta, 27 Roseburn Terrace, Edinburgh. 0131 346 8973


But if you must, three great potato accompaniments

It’s Easter. For many, therefore, thoughts turn to feasts, and many of these at this time of year feature lamb. But aside from the religious symbolism, it is completely the wrong time of the year to be considering this, especially if you want to encourage local suppliers. In Scotland, the beasties are just being born at the moment. The lamb which we tend to favour is normally slaughtered between three and five months old. We tend not to eat suckling lamb much in this country. It is the main ingredient in abbachio alla Romana and very good it is too, but the Italians have a tendency to eat things early. If you doubt me, check out the sardine size mackerel on sale at the Rialto fish market in Venice. So if you invest in a large leg, what you are doing is bringing a smile to a farmer somewhere down in the Antipodes. I for one shall be letting a few months elapse before spring lamb graces my table.

But the seasonality issue did get me thinking about what you should serve with your lamb by way of carbohydrate when the time comes. With a roast of beef or pork, potatoes roasted in the fat are virtually a no brainer; however, not everyone is so keen on the fairly distinctive flavour which lamb fat brings. Indeed, it was the memory of the smell of mutton cooking which my father remembered from his RAF days in the war which put him off it for life. We never ate lamb in our house and I was in my twenties before I discovered the joys. Avoiding roasties, therefore, what instead? If you have your oven heated it seems daft not to use the available space, so I’m thinking something baked. (As an aside if your oven is full of things other than your roasting joint, it may affect the cooking time, especially with an older oven. Check before you serve). And also something to complement the meat, for example, in no particular order, garlic, anchovies or rosemary.

Some Preliminaries

These recipes are all variations on the French classics of Dauphinoise and Boulangère. There is no point in prescribing exact quantities. It depends on how many you are feeding and what size of oven proof dishes you have. Allow at least 250g of potato per person – I guarantee most people will come back for seconds. An all-rounder potato such as Maris Piper is always good. These are chuck it and chance it dishes, with many variations. Opinions vary on whether you should precook the potatoes before putting them in the oven. I usually do because it takes less time: the classical way is to cook in the oven from raw. If you are looking for a neat square portion to make your presentation tidy do it that way. Finally, a couple of tips. When seasoning, use more salt than you think you need (although if using stock or anchovies make allowances for these). I recently ate Dauphinoise in the dining room of a recently crowned Scottish chef of the year and you wouldn’t have known a grain of salt had been used. Secondly, beware of recipes. I have seen numerous recipes which tell you these will be ready in 45 minutes: they won’t. From raw allow 1½ hours, and at least an hour if part cooked (see below).

Dauphinoise (garlic)


Potatoes; butter; double cream; milk (optional); garlic; salt and pepper.

I actually use relatively little garlic in mine: some use more. Preheat your oven to 180̊ C/Gas mark 4. Butter an ovenproof dish and rub with a halved clove of garlic. Peel and slice your potatoes as thinly as possible. You can use a mandoline, but a good sharp knife is fine. If precooking, add to a wide deep pan about 250ml of full fat milk and about a third of a carton of double cream (they usually come in 250 ml or 284 ml cartons). For the current Mrs Johnston who has a cream intolerance, Elmlea works equally well. Add a lightly crushed clove of garlic (you want to be able to remove it) and heat gently. Cook lightly for about five or so minutes, ensuring all the potatoes are covered, until they are beginning to soften a little. Remove the garlic, then place the potatoes, layer by layer, in the oven dish, with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper between each. Pour over the cooking liquid and add the remainder of the cream. Dot with half a dozen small pieces of butter. Put on a tray (to catch the drips) and cook in the oven for at least an hour. Check that the potatoes are properly cooked all the way through before serving. If the top is becoming too brown, cover with a piece of cooking foil. If you put the potatoes in raw they will need at least an hour and a half. For a richer dish you can add grated cheese such as cheddar or gruyere.

Boulangère (rosemary)


Potatoes; onions; chicken or vegetable stock; finely chopped rosemary; chopped parsley and/or other herbs to suit; chopped streaky bacon (optional); salt and pepper.

These are so called because the dish long predated the era of domestic ovens. In France the baker’s oven was kept warm all day between the morning and afternoon batches of bread. French housewives would take their dishes to be cooked at the back of the oven in the down time.

I have conveniently mentioned rosemary as it goes so well with lamb but you can use a variety of herbs. For this dish, the cooking liquid is stock, and I don’t precook the potatoes. Butter the oven dish as before. Between each layer of potatoes add salt, pepper, finely chopped onions, very finely chopped rosemary and parsley or other herbs of your choice. Sage would work well. Pour over enough hot chicken or vegetable stock to reach the top of the dish. If using a proprietary stock be careful with the salt. You can also add little pieces of streaky bacon in the layers. Cook as for the previous recipe.

Jansson’s Temptation (anchovy)


Potatoes; onions; salted anchovy fillets; double cream; breadcrumbs; butter.

This is the Scandinavian take on Dauphinoise. It is generally credited as a Swedish dish, but is also known in Finland.  No one is sure who the eponymous Jansson was; however, we do know that there was a blockbuster film of the same name in circulation in Sweden in the 1920s, and it is suggested that a society hostess decided it was a more appetising name than Pickled Sprat Casserole. Traditionally pickled sprats are used, but they’re in short supply here so we make do with anchovies. To the Dauphinoise ingredients add one or two medium onions, anchovy fillets (for 8 people I would probably use a 100g jar – jars are better than tins as you can reseal and save what you don’t use)  and enough breadcrumbs to cover the top. Omit the garlic. In traditional recipes the thinly sliced potatoes are cut again into fat matchstick shapes, but the finished dish will look better if you leave them in rounds. Decide whether you want to precook the potatoes slightly or not (most of the recipes I have read say yes to this).  Finely slice the onions and fry in the oil from the anchovies until soft and lightly browned. Layer the potatoes as before, spreading onions and finely chopped anchovy fillets between each layer. Pour over the cream, top with the breadcrumbs and dot with butter. This is traditionally cooked in a hotter oven: the cooking time will be less if you have used the traditional matchstick shapes.



How long does it take you to get even a basic shopping done at your supermarket? Get there, park, fight the crowds, swear at the self service check out – You’ve just told me to put ****ing stuff in the bagging area. What do you mean there’s an unexplained item in it? – get back, unpack and de-stress. An hour of your life has gone by, and you’ve bought bread in a plastic packet! What are you like?

Until last year I had never made a loaf of bread in my life. Now, thanks to the lovely Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland, who runs wonderful cookery courses from her custom fitted school at Abernethy in Perthshire, I make 90% of our family bread. Therapeutic and delicious in equal measure. We’ll look at traditional bread in a few weeks, but for those of you who think it’s time consuming, here is Sarah’s recipe for that simplest of loaves, Irish Soda Bread. Including preparation time, it will be quicker than your trip to the supermarket (assuming you remembered to get some buttermilk in earlier).


125g plain white flour (you don’t need strong bread flour for this); 125g wholemeal flour; 50g porridge oats; ½ tsp salt; ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda; 15g butter, cut in small pieces; 250ml buttermilk


Preheat your oven to 200̊C (180̊C fan).  Mix the dry ingredients and rub in the butter. Pour in the buttermilk and mix it in quickly with a knife. Bring the dough together into a flattish round loaf about 20cm in diameter. Do not knead. This bread must be handled gently. Put the loaf on a baking sheet dusted with flour. Cut a deep cross in the middle. This is to let out the devil or the fairies, depending on your choice of legend. Some people cut it almost through. Bake in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes. The loaf is cooked when it has a good colour and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. You really should let bread cool on a wire rack, but I bet you’ll want to attack this one while it’s still warm, slathered with lots of butter.

Thanks to Sarah for permission to reproduce her recipes. Expect more in the weeks to come. For more details about her courses contact her at- or 07932 642605


National Pie Week started on Monday 7 March. Sadly this fact passed me by until after last week’s recipe was published. Still, if a law were to be passed that we ate pies only one week a year, all Scottish football grounds would close in protest. The classic Scotch pie is Scotland’s best fast food, with a firm hot water crust well suited for eating by hand. But today I want to look at its cousin, the bridie. This is a crescent shaped pie, made by folding in half a circle of pastry with a meat filling. Many countries or regions have their own version of this, notably the Cornish pasty and the Spanish/South American empanada. By tradition the Cornish pasty has a particularly large crust. It was food for tin miners. One of the by-products of a tin mine is arsenic, so they had to be able to eat the pasty and throw away the crust which might be poisoned by the residue on their fingers.

In Scotland the bridie is a product synonymous with the Angus town of Forfar and seems to have been invented by one Maggie Bridie, a travelling food seller from Glamis, then in Forfarshire.  J M Barrie, of Peter Pan fame wrote about her. There are moves afoot by Forfar butchers to seek protected status for the name, such as Stornoway black pudding, Arbroath smokies and, indeed, Champagne. Having eaten bridies for a long time, I got a couple of surprises a good number of years ago when I first bought them in Forfar itself. Firstly, the size. I was asked if I wanted small, medium or large. Seeing the whoppers on display I asked for medium. It turned out that the display goods were the small ones. My car’s rear axle complained all the way home with the weight of four. The second surprise was that in Forfar they use shortcrust pastry. Everywhere else in Scotland, so far as I am aware, puff pastry is used, which I prefer and am using here. It is unclear whether the original was made with mutton/lamb or beef. Beef is more common today, but use lamb mince if you fancy.

The methodology also varies. Some recipes involve softening the onions and browning the meat. My method is probably more traditional. Butchers may add breadcrumbs to bulk out the meat – they would, wouldn’t they. If you want to cook things a little first, allow to cool thoroughly before filling the pastry. All butchers will have their own secret recipes, so feel free to play around with your seasonings. In his version, which is cooked, James Martin uses thyme. Most hard herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, need cooking (although you can chop rosemary very finely, which would go nicely with lamb). Some Indian spices would work well – try making a couple of each and see which is best. But remember – don’t pass this off as having anything to do with Forfar.

Ingredients (makes 6)

700g good (round steak is best) beef mince; 60g chopped suet (you can use butter); 1 decent sized onion, very finely chopped; 1 tsp mustard powder; 2 tbsp rich beef stock; 1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce; salt and pepper; puff pastry – ready made is fine – about 750g.


Preheat the oven to 230̊ C. Roll the pastry into circles approximately 15cm in diameter and about the thickness of a £1 coin. Mix the remaining ingredients thoroughly in a bowl and divide into six equal portions. Place a portion of the meat mixture into the centre of each pastry circle, leaving an edge of pastry all round. Brush the pastry edges with water then fold over, crimping the edges to seal. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Put two small slits in the top of each bridie and place on the tray, ensuring they are not touching. Place in the oven for 15 minutes then reduce to 180̊ C and cook for another 45 minutes or so. Ovens may vary. It is essential that they are golden brown and properly cooked through. If they are getting too dark, put a sheet of baking parchment on top.



Before embarking on this modest quest it’s probably easier to contemplate all the bad things which have been produced in the name of fishcakes. Little flat pucks made up of 90% leftover mash; centres which lack texture and flavour; flabby offerings with the consistency of baby food. A plague upon all of their houses. I like my fishcakes to be large, generous and crispy. In one recipe which I have seen, the quantities given here would make eight: mine makes four.

Ingredients for the fishcakes (makes 4 big ones)

200g cooked salmon (not tinned)*; 200g smoked haddock, cooked (I refer the undyed stuff); 300g mashed potato; 30g melted butter; 1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley (contrary to modern trends, I prefer curly to flat leaf); 3 tsp drained capers; lemon; salt and pepper; 6 or so tbsp vegetable oil. For the coating you will need some plain flour, two beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs. For the breadcrumbs, slightly stale bread is best. I prefer brown to white, whizzed in a mini blender. Do not buy breadcrumbs. Panko? Pshaw! And never, ever use ghastly Ruskoline. I am a fan of retro, but I draw the line at that.

* You could use tinned salmon, but you would end up with a rissole, not the world’s greatest fishcake, and it would serve you right.


You can use leftover fish, but if you’re going for the ultimate, start from scratch. Poach the salmon and smoked haddock gently in milk. If you like a white sauce with your fishcakes (I don’t) use the milk for that afterwards. Flake the fish and gently mix in the mashed potato. Try not to break up the fish too much – you want the mixture still to have some texture. Season with salt and pepper. Add the melted butter, capers and parsley and make sure everything is thoroughly combined. Some people add a little egg to bind the cakes. I don’t think you need it, but if using use sparingly. You don’t want your mixture to be sloppy. Form into 4 fishcakes. This is easier to do if you use a ring. To coat (and this is the correct way to coat most food for frying) dust with flour, then dip in the beaten egg, then the breadcrumbs. Messy, but fun.

Put on a plate and stick in the fridge for at least half an hour. Chilling them will help keep the shape. Fry on a medium heat for about four minutes each side. Do not poke them about – you will break them. After a few minutes lift one gently to check it has a nice brown crust on the base before turning. Be careful not to use too high a heat otherwise you will burn the crust before the middle is heated through. Remember the food is all cooked – your job is to make sure it is hot throughout. You can fry for a minute or two then transfer to an oven at 220̊ C for another 6 or 7 minutes; however, I prefer the crisp crusty finish which you get from frying, but it is technically more challenging. Serve with a good squeeze of lemon juice and tartare sauce (see below). As this is a fish dish I will have chips with it despite the potato content. The current Mrs Johnston laughs at me. I suppose it reveals my proletarian roots in darkest central Fife. It also is a reminder why you shouldn’t overdo the potato in the mixture.

Tartare sauce

 I call this homemade(ish), because the base is commercially made mayonnaise. If you are serving mayonnaise on its own, it’s worthwhile making your own. For this, Hellmann’s works fine. I have never eaten commercially made tartare sauce which was anything other than disgusting, so it is a worthwhile exercise. You can play around with the ingredients and herbs depending on your taste and what you have in store, subject to one caveat – you absolutely need fresh herbs.

Ingredients for the tartare sauce (serves 4)

4 – 6 large spoonfuls good shop bought mayonnaise; 2 tbsp freshly and finely chopped herbs (choose from parsley, chives, tarragon and dill. A mixture is good); 2 tbsps of your choice of drained capers (small ones)/finely chopped cornichons/finely chopped green olives; salt and pepper; lemon juice.


Mix together, add a squeeze of lemon juice, check seasoning and serve. There. That wasn’t hard. Finally, if you have any jars of bought tartare sauce in your cupboards, throw them away.


Who doesn’t have a memory of a hot crumble sizzling straight out of the oven, the crispy crust covering a layer of tongue blistering stewed apple? If you don’t, then you had a deprived childhood. But if you do, I suspect it may be a distant memory. Sadly, crumble is one of those desserts we tend to grow out of. Today, I make the case for reinstating this fruity glory. While the days are becoming longer it’s still chilly out there. I recently served the simplest of lunches, a good beef stew with mash and peas, and followed that, to much acclaim, with a slightly more grown up version of an old favourite.

Ingredients: Basic crumble topping (serves 4)

120g plain flour; 60g butter; 50g sugar (traditionally you would use caster sugar, but read on). Total cooking time approx. 40 minutes – 15 minutes at 190̊ C, then 25 at 180̊C. (Crumble can be quite forgiving. If you have something else which needs a hotter oven, pop your crumble in the bottom. The important thing is to ensure the topping is properly cooked.)


To make the crumble mix, rub together the butter and flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then rub the sugar thoroughly into the mixture. It really is that simple.

Crumbled what?

Apple is of course the classic crumble. Some people precook the apples so you are starting with a compote. I have no idea why. For this quantity you will need about 500 – 600g of apples, peeled, cored and chopped, and about 100g of sugar. With your standard cooking apple, the Bramley, you will end up with mush. Our mums tended to use cookers for all puddings, hence the childhood memories. For a more interesting apple consistency use a firm eating apple such as Cox or Braeburn. Add a heaped teaspoonful of ground cinnamon. Use dark brown sugar (muscovado is best, but demerara will also work well), both for sweetening the fruit and for the crumble topping. Put your fruit in a pie dish, cover completely with the crumble mixture and bake in a pre heated oven. Do check that the top is properly cooked – nothing worse than a half baked crumble.

Pear and ginger are a classic marriage and work incredibly well together here. You want firm pears – same quantity as for the apple recipe – to which you add three pieces of preserved stem ginger (the type that comes preserved in syrup) very finely chopped.

Fruits of the forest

This is a quick and easy pud for when people arrive unexpectedly. A pack of these in your freezer can be a godsend. Shove them in a pie dish, take two minutes to make the crumble topping, and a freshly made pudding is yours to display proudly at the end. Not to be confused with the classic apple and bramble crumble, the autumn forager’s delight, when you add freshly picked brambles to your apple mix. If using these, omit the cinnamon – the brambles will speak for themselves.

So where’s the grown up bit?

Play about with your topping. Try anything which will add crunch and flavour. Many will add oats for an extra crunch. Roughly chopped walnut pieces add flavour as well as texture. You can buy walnut pieces. They are much cheaper than walnut halves. If you’ve ever tried to extract a walnut half from the nut in one piece, you’ll know why. I also like to add a handful of pumpkin seeds. As these are now recognised as one of the world’s healthiest foods you can even kid yourself that this pudding is good for you. That, of course, is before you get out the ice cream or crème fraiche to accompany it. Still, healthy thoughts are good for you too.



Last week we had risotto, a dish which is simply not the same made without stock of one type or another. All professional kitchens will have their own base stock. When you have the sheer volume of bones, carcasses and the like as they do, it is a simpler matter. Accept, for that reason alone, that as an amateur you will never get the depth and complexities of flavour which the pros can achieve. Take for example this recipe for a typical brown stock, extracted from my book A Bunch of Fives, and undoubtedly stolen from somewhere or other.

Classic brown stock

Bone 1.25kg of shoulder of veal and the same amount of knuckle of veal. Tie them together with a string and brush with melted dripping. (Man to butcher – ‘Do you keep dripping?’ Butcher to man – ‘Yes, embarrassing isn’t it?’) Crush 500g of veal bones as finely as possible. Brown in a large casserole. Peel and slice 150g of carrots and 100g of onions then add to the pan. Cover and leave to sweat for 15 mins. Add 250ml of water and reduce to a jelly like consistency – the sauce that is, not you. Repeat the process. Add 3 litres water or white stock and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer very gently (don’t boil, otherwise your stock will be cloudy). Leave to simmer very gently for 6 hours. Skim off the fat and strain through muslin.

Let’s be frank. Who has the time to do this? Yet with ingredients which we all have from time to time – fish bones, chicken carcasses and the like, stock of a sort can be made most weeks. But what sort? Virtually all of the stock recipes which one reads have not only vegetables but also herbs or spices (“aromats” as chefs call them). Typically these include carrots, onions, celery, leeks, peppercorns, parsley and bay leaves. In other words, flavourings which will go well with typical European dishes. But life has moved on since these recipes went into the books. Our cuisine is now truly international. Firstly we ignored stock altogether, then we relied on cubes, packets and sachets. You may be fooled into thinking that a certain former chef by the name of White used these all the time in his pomp. He didn’t. Someone I know who worked with him tells me he used to take two dozen chickens, press them to extract the jelly and discard the rest. But don’t let cynicism give you an aversion to the product. I prefer the stockpots to the cubes, and better these than no flavouring at all. Just be careful with your salt levels, especially if you are reducing the liquid.

Then we started following the recipe books as above; however, speaking to professional chefs I think the fashion these days is to make the stock in two stages. Stage one is to extract the goodness, and only then do you start to add your aromats, very much depending on the style of dish you intend to make.

Chicken stock

I have never made veal stock and probably never shall, but we eat chicken a fair bit, and it is a crime to discard a chicken carcass. Cram as many chicken bones as you can into a pot (this is really good if you have had a couple of birds). Don’t forget the skin and any jelly at the bottom of your roasting tin (though not if you have made gravy in it). Cover with cold water. Very important that  it is cold as you don’t want the fat to start melting at the outset – this will make your stock cloudy. Bring to a slow boil in a covered pan then turn down and allow to simmer very gently for two to three hours. Strain and leave to cool. This is best done overnight in the fridge as the fat will solidify on top and can easily be skimmed/scraped off.

Fish Stock

Use bones and heads from white fish. Don’t use oily fish such as salmon or mackerel. Your fishmonger will be happy to give you a bagful – if not change your supplier. If using the heads, remove the gills – these will make your stock bitter – and the eyes (not for the squeamish). Simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, no more than that. Whereas your veal or chicken stock will come to no harm with an extra hour or two if you forget about it, your fish stock will become unpleasant.

Shellfish stock

Don’t waste prawn or lobster shells. Use as per the fish stock directions. If you intend to make a shellfish bisque, you will enhance the flavour by roasting the shells for 20 minutes or so in a medium hot oven.


The world is now your oyster. For Thai or Malaysian dishes, ginger, lemongrass and garlic will form a brilliant base. Nothing wrong with your basic European veg. Try fennel and star anise. Or pep up the fishy element with some nam pla (Asian fish sauce). Essentially you have the choice of leaving your basic stock as is, or adding to it before you start building your finished dish. For example, when making a Thai style prawn broth I take my basic stock and add it to some sweated shallot, ginger, and garlic, to which I have added some chopped bruised lemongrass and a few chopped shrimps or dried shrimps. Once that has all infused I strain off the liquid which is the base for whatever I want to add to the final soup. You can freeze stock. Better to do it in smaller batches. Some use ice cube trays – I never have.

However you choose to use it, your final dish, be it soup, sauce or stew, will be the better for the stock.


Of all the world’s great rice dishes – and there are many – for me risotto is the king. A good paella is a thing of loveliness, and the aroma which emanates from a properly made biryani when the seal is cracked is wondrous: but let us journey to Italy (never a bad thing), the home of risotto. The first record of rice cultivation in Italy dates from 1475, but the Romans knew of it, albeit they used it only for medicinal purposes.

The great thing about a risotto is that once you have mastered the basics you can flavour it with just about anything. I am starting with risotto alla Milanese, the classic with butter and parmesan cheese. To my astonishment, I discovered that the same recipe, listed in the Larousse Gastronomique as risotto à la milanaise, features tomato fondue, pickled ox tongue, ham and mushrooms. Whoever wrote that was a very very long way from the 21st century elegance of Milan.

Risottos can be a starter, an accompaniment or a main course. Start them all the same way, by softening finely chopped shallots in butter until transparent, adding the rice for a couple of minutes to break down the coating then gradually adding liquid. It is a labour intensive dish, involving fairly constant stirring (although the great Raymond Blanc adds quite a lot of liquid and lets it bubble unaided). The cheffy tip is that you can precook it and switch it off  while the rice is still firmish with about five or so minutes’ cooking to go, then come back to it. As the whole dish takes about 25 minutes, how do you think restaurants could serve it otherwise? The choice of rice is vital. It must be a semi round risotto rice. The best known types are arborio and carnaroli, but there are others. Quantities are difficult. The ones I have given will give 2- 3 greedy main courses, and 4 smallish starter or accompaniment portions.

Risotto alla Milanese

An artery clogging delight. This is cooked with butter and parmesan. The Milanese then finish it off with more butter and parmesan. Like Christmas, best done only twice a year.


200g risotto rice (see above); 1 banana shallot, very finely chopped; 80g butter; 80g grated Parmesan (the quantities of butter and cheese are for the heart stopping version. You can use about 50g of each if you wish, but why not go for the full Monty?); 1 litre chicken stock; 125ml dry white wine (optional); salt and pepper.

Sweat the shallot in about a third of the butter until soft. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add the rice, stir to ensure all the grains are coated, and fry gently until the rice starts to become more translucent. Add the warmed stock a ladle at a time and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Add the wine and continue adding the stock, stirring constantly. Use a wooden spoon and take care not to break up the rice.  About half way through stir in a further third of the butter and about half of the cheese. The dish is done when the rice is al dente. You may not need all the liquid, but if you need more you can use water. Remove from the heat. Remember that the rice will continue cooking after it comes off the heat, so remove a minute or two before serving. If going for the burn add the rest of the butter and cheese Or serve the cheese on top of each serving plate. Check the seasoning and serve immediately. Risotto waits for no man or woman. If serving as a starter get everyone to the table in good time.

Parsley Risotto

This is adapted from a James Martin dish which he made with pearl barley. For some reason chefs have taken to using that or spelt in dishes which they call “risotto”. Pshaw! Rice is king. Accept no imitations.


200g risotto rice; 1 banana shallot very finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic crushed or finely chopped; 30g butter; 30g grated Parmesan; 1 litre chicken stock; 100g flat leaf parsley (stalks removed, roughly chopped); 100ml cream; salt and pepper.

 In a food processor blitz the parsley and 125ml of stock into a fine purée. Sweat the shallot and the garlic until soft. Add the rice as per the previous recipe. Start in the usual way, adding the stock a little at a time. When the rice is nearly done add the parsley purée, parmesan and cream. Check the seasoning and serve. This works best as an accompaniment to a rich beef dish.


Celebrate with Craig Wood’s Baked Blueberry Clafoutis

This Tuesday, February 9, will be in the calendars of many as Pancake Tuesday. Nothing wrong with that in a secular age such as ours, but let’s go back to the origins. Shrove Tuesday precedes Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Some will now mark that 40 day period by abstaining from chocolate or alcohol. In more austere times being “shriven” involved a self imposed penance, usually involving denial of favoured foods such as eggs, sugar, cream etc. Families would enjoy a blowout while clearing their store cupboards of temptations to be set aside until Easter. In many parts of Britain this was marked by a variety of celebrations involving sweet pancakes, a great way of using up these ingredients.

Many other countries do celebrations for Mardi Gras, to give it its French name, on a much grander scale than us. Rio de Janeiro, Venice and New Orleans all host fabulous events to celebrate the Carnival (from the Latin carne vale, farewell to meat). Maybe we should go for a rib roast on Tuesday as well, but let’s stick closer to the original ethos.

Craig Wood is chef/proprietor of the wonderful The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry and is the current holder of Catering in Scotland Chef of the Year award. If ever a recipe made the best use of things we were told we should give up for a while, this is it. My thanks to him for what I hope will be the first of many guest appearances in this column.

Ingredients (serves 4)

 1 punnet blueberries; 60g Ground Almonds; 15g flour; ½ vanilla pod scraped (seeds only); 100g caster sugar; 250g Double Cream; 2 Eggs; 3 Egg Yolks; butter.


Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor for 30 seconds until smooth. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate the mixture for a few hours or overnight. After removing, whisk before use.

Heat the oven to 200̊ C. Warm a small non stick pan (use one that can go in the oven). Add a small knob of butter. When the butter foams lightly add the clafoutis batter and sprinkle in the blueberries. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 10 – 15 minutes.*** The clafoutis will be ready when it has souffléed up and is raised in the middle. If the middle has not raised, cook for a little longer. Serve immediately with crème Chantilly or ice cream and wish it could be Shrove Tuesday every day.

*** I have now cooked this dish and it needed at least half an hour in my oven. After 15 minutes it was still liquid. Check with a skewer (as you would do for a cake) before serving

For more information about The Wee Restaurant, see their website at or telephone  01383 616263

Read my review in the Tom Eats! column on this site

** A little bird tells me we may see a sister Wee Restaurant in Edinburgh sometime soon**


I have said that January would be a frugal month, so it may seem strange to some that duck features on this menu. Most fine dining restaurant menus will feature it, I hear you say. Ah yes, dear reader, but don’t confuse breast with leg. The former can set you back about eight quid, whereas yesterday I bought a pack of two large legs for four. This impressive and substantial main will therefore come in at well below three pounds a head, just when you thought you couldn’t afford decent protein ever again. I have been cooking lentils for many years, but I added beetroot for the first time this week. It adds a sweetness to counterpoint the earthiness of the lentils and the colour brightens up the dinner plate on a dull January evening.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 duck legs: 150g green lentils (Puy are best); 2 medium banana shallots; 2 small to medium carrots; 2 slices streaky bacon; 500 ml chicken stock: 2 medium beetroot bulbs, boiled and skinned (not pickled); balsamic vinegar.


Very finely dice the shallots, carrots and bacon, and sweat until al dente. Rinse the lentils well then mix in with the vegetables and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add some of the stock and simmer, topping up from time to time. You may not need all the liquid: but if you do need more, add water. At the end the lentils should be al dente. About five minutes before the lentils are ready (the time is not all that critical) add the finely chopped beetroot and mix together well. Check the seasoning. You may need no salt at all, especially if you have used a cube or a stockpot. If, however, you decide you need salt, always add it at the end otherwise your lentils will go tough. Just before serving add a splash of  balsamic vinegar.

To cook the duck legs preheat your oven to 170̊C, Mark 4. Season with salt and brown well on both sides in a frying pan, ideally one which can go in the oven. Add a couple of sprigs of thyme and transfer to the oven. If your frying pan isn’t oven proof, transfer to a preheated roasting tin, skin side up. Cook for 90 minutes, then allow to rest for a few minutes before serving on a bed of lentils. Retain the duck fat for frying or roasting potatoes.



As most of you will know the birthday of our national bard, Robert Burns, falls on January 25. Many will be attending Burns Suppers. You know the sort of thing. People dressing up in Highland costume to celebrate one of our greatest Lallans poets. Lots of drink. Lots of badly organised functions from many of which ladies are excluded, and in most of which too little attention  is paid to the food. Now I love tradition as much as the next person and I love the fact that many stores are encouraging us to celebrate this; however, I did raise my eyebrows at a promotional poster outside my local Scotmid advertising traditional Burns night delicacies including Pizza Margherita and Tunnocks Caramel Wafers. At home we shall be more traditional. If you are doing the catering on the 25th here are a few tips.


Haggis, bashed neeps and champit tatties – but you knew that. No recipes, therefore, but some do’s and don’t’s.

DO get the best haggis you can. They are not all the same. Real butchers (as opposed to imaginary ones) will have their own individual recipes. The main difference will be in the spicing. Find one you like. You will enjoy the experimenting.

DON’T adulterate good haggis with whisky, or whisky sauce. If you think the food is too dry you’re overcooking your haggis or not paying enough attention to the accompaniments. You can cook a haggis in various ways, all fraught with a little risk. Baking it in the oven (wrapped in foil) can be OK, but you can easily make it too dry. Traditionally a haggis is cooked in hot water, but if you let your water boil, as opposed to a gentle simmer, your haggis may burst and you end up with haggis soup. My preference is to do it in the microwave. Modern microwaves seem to be able to cope with a little metal these days: if yours is a more traditional model, make sure you remove any metal clips  which are sometimes used to seal it.

DO make the best of your neeps. The humble turnip is a noble veg if properly treated. Like many root vegetables it is ignored in some countries or derided as cattle fodder in others where they are sufficiently ill informed to call it a swede. Cut into large chunks. Boil until tender, then mash (bash) with butter and season with black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.

DO elevate your mashed (champit) tatties above the basic level, but, for heaven’s sake DON’T do a poncy cheffy purée. For the best results mash using a potato ricer, add a generous amount of butter and plenty of salt and pepper. You can add cream (not milk) but for a bit of attitude try some crème fraiche, or try a good dollop of horseradish sauce. Whatever you do, keep them light and fluffy, but not liquid.

Whether or not you are a Burns lover (cards on the table, I am) this is a very satisfying dish, whether as a hearty main course or as a starter. If you have never tasted haggis, DO try it. It really is one of the world’s great offal/sausage concoctions. And if you are a haggis lover, DO make sure that you get someone to try it for the first time.


With real winter now properly upon us there is no better time for soup. This recipe adds a couple of small twists to a traditional winter warmer.


4 leeks; 4 medium size potatoes; 1 onion; 1 stick of celery;  1 level tsp of mild or medium curry powder; butter; chicken stock.


This can end up as a rather dispiriting soup if carelessly made, with hunks of potato floating about in a thin broth. The end result here will be a thicker, more satisfying soup since one half of it will be blitzed. You don’t want a completely smooth soup, so take a bit of time and effort in prepping your veg. Ideally all the pieces should be about the same fairly small and neat size. If you are really obsessional you could cut them on the diagonal. Yes, guilty as charged.

Sweat the onion, leeks and celery with about 80g of butter until starting to soften. Add the diced potatoes and cook gently for two or three minutes. Stir in the curry powder. Add about a litre of chicken stock and cook gently until the vegetables are soft and the flavours have blended nicely. Remove half of the soup and liquidise – a stick blender is easier than a food processor and much quicker to wash up. Return the blitzed mix to the pan and season to taste. You don’t want a curried soup as such, simply an extra hint of flavour that only a discerning palate should notice.


Whisper it, for all that I love pasta, I have had relatively few memorable combinations involving pasta and fish. Crab with linguine can be wonderful, but the freshness of your crab is critical. In the Veneto they do fabulous things involving fresh scampi, but with produce of that quality I can think of many better ways to prepare it. Don’t get me started on spaghetti with clams. I love finger food but not when it is in the middle of other stuff that I have to eat with my (by now disgustingly sticky) fork and spoon.

Anyway it’s frugal January so good quality fresh fish is off the agenda by reason of cost. So many of the alternatives seem to involve chucking a tin of tuna or pack of frozen mixed seafood into a tomato sauce, resulting in spaghetti with tomato sauce with bits. This recipe came about because I had in the fridge one of those packets of large prawns which look good but taste of heehaw, and the current Mrs Johnston demanded fishy pasta.


Spaghetti; 2 shallots; 1 red chilli; 2 cloves garlic; 1 tin sardines in olive oil; 3 or 4 salted anchovy fillets; 1 tin tomatoes; oyster or fish sauce. (You will note there is no mention of the aforesaid tasteless prawns – read on.)

Pour the oil from the sardines into a frying pan and use it to soften the finely chopped shallots, chilli and garlic. I remove the chilli seeds in this recipe, but suit yourself. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes to reduce slightly. Mash the sardines and add to the sauce along with the anchovies cut into small pieces. Add a few splashes of oyster or fish sauce. If you have neither you could use a little Worcester sauce. Did you know that its principal ingredient is anchovies? Reduce until it is just right to coat the pasta, add some pepper and serve.

In case you are wondering, I split the tasteless prawns down the middle, warmed them in a little butter and garlic, mixed them with the last leaves of the dying basil plant and served on top. Delicious!


Happy New Year! Next week we will start a series of austerity recipes to mark the impending arrival of the Christmas credit card bills, but you can’t start austerity on a Saturday. Before going back to work have a quick and easy blow out with this retro classic.

Ingredients (serves two)

2 small fillet steaks; 1 banana shallot (you could substitute half a medium size onion, but shallot is better); 6 or so button mushrooms; Dijon mustard; 1 clove of garlic; a slug of cooking brandy; double cream; Worcester sauce; butter.


Flatten the steaks by beating with a rolling pin or meat hammer between two sheets of clingfilm. Rub on both sides with a smashed clove of garlic. Season and spread with Dijon mustard. Finely chop the shallot and fry gently in butter. Peel and destalk the mushrooms, then chop  into very small cubes. Add to the pan and cook until the shallots are soft. Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and turn up the heat. Add the steaks and cook for about one minute on each side. Add the brandy and ignite, trying to avoid (a) causing injury  to yourself or fellow diners, and (b) setting the kitchen alight. When the flame has subsided add some Worcester sauce, then enough double cream to make a sauce. Let the cream bubble and reduce slightly. You want there to be enough sauce, but not so much as to mask the other flavours. Check the seasoning. Serve immediately. Good with some crunchy sauté potatoes and a green veg of your choice.


The Tricky Turkey Issue

Depends, of course if you have much left. Christmas night just isn’t Christmas night without endless plates of toasted turkey sandwiches which can fairly deplete the bird. But let’s assume that your festive guests aren’t such gannets as mine, and that after stripping the carcase you have a veritable bubblyjock mountain remaining. (Under no circumstances omit the lovely nuggets at the bottom, which we know as oysters, and which the French splendidly name sot-y-laisse (only the fool would leave it)). So what next?

Vol au vents? Dull. Pies? Never a bad thing, but have you not already done that this autumn? Curry? Needs a lot of care and attention to get the seasoning right – can you be bothered? I know – risotto. Perfect with all that stock you’re about to make? Yeah, but you have spent hours in front of the stove. You like the idea of rice, but all that stirring, with the risk of it turning to mush if you can’t get them away from the football to the table on time. Fine, it’s settled.

Turkey (and prawn) paella

If you’ve ever watched the paella sellers setting up at the start of a Spanish feria, you will know how much of a chuck it and chance it dish this can be. Dearest Spanish friends I am not giving you a perfect Valencian masterpiece, but something to feed folk on the 27th or 28th when you are a little kitchen weary.

Ingredients (no point giving quantities, as I don’t know how many you have left in the house) And remember this is indicative only – use what you fancy.

Long grain rice; olive oil; onions; celery; red or yellow peppers; garlic; saffron (optional, but traditional); frozen peas; turkey stock; chopped cooked turkey;  prawns – I am assuming you’ve done enough shopping until the new year and that you have some decent frozen ones; lemons. If your finished product is a little dull you may want to have to hand any or all of tabasco, anchovies and fish sauce.

Slightly soften your chopped onions, celery and peppers in the oil with a little garlic, salt and pepper. Add the rice and cook until it looks slightly transparent. Add some stock and a little saffron if using. Unlike a risotto you can put in a reasonable amount and let it bubble gently. Stir occasionally, topping up the liquid as required. Add the saffron if using. If you don’t have saffron but like the idea of a festive colour add a very little turmeric. It has a bitter taste which is masked in a curry but it can be overpowering in less spicy dishes. Add your prawns and your turkey. About three minutes before serving add the frozen peas. The dish is ready when the rice is nicely al dente and everything else is warmed through. The vegetables shouldn’t be too soft. Season to taste. It will need pepper, but be careful with the salt, especially if you’ve added anchovies or fish sauce. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice before serving and serve with lemon wedges on the side. It looks spectacular if you serve it in the pan (paella is the name of the traditional flat, two handled pan) and let people serve themselves.

Christmas Pudding Ice Cream with Candied Orange Zest

Do you, like me, often find at the back of your fridge in February a sad, foil-wrapped pack of left over pud, next to the Christmas dish of brandy butter? Does anyone eat Christmas pud on any day other than December 25? A shame, nay a crime, to waste all that loveliness. Here is the simplest way to use it up and titillate Boxing Day taste buds.


Christmas pudding; vanilla ice cream. (Could hardly be simpler, could it?) This year I also used cranberry sauce and brandy butter. For the candied zest two oranges (as you want the zest and not the pith you have to use normal oranges, not satsumas or the like); 100ml water; 50g caster sugar.

Allow the ice cream to soften slightly (not melt). Chop the pudding up finely and mix well into the mixture. Put in a plastic box and refreeze. Adding cranberry sauce gives a touch of festive colour and using a little brandy butter gives extra flavour and calories.

Remove the peel from the oranges. A sharp potato peeler is good. Cut the zest into fine julienne strips. Boil in a litre of water for 6 to 8 minutes, strain and refresh in iced water. Bring the measured water and sugar to the boil, add the boiled orange zest for 8 – 10 minutes, then allow to cool in the cooking syrup. Top the ice cream with the zest for an extra zing.



This recipe comes from the collection of Hannah D, an up and coming baker from Dunbar. My thanks to her for permission to share it. It is a festive twist on the classic mince pie recipe. Excellent with mulled wine. Expect to see Ms D on The Great British Bakeoff  before long.

Ingredients (makes 12)

For the pastry: 110g plain flour; 55g butter (if using unsalted add a pinch of salt); 1 egg yolk; 1 – 2tbsp cold water.

For the meringue topping: 1 egg white (you begin to see the genius of this recipe); 110g caster sugar.

For the mincemeat: 1 tsp mincemeat per pie (oh, for goodness sake, who makes their own mincemeat these days? But points will be deducted if you use shop bought shortcrust pastry.)


Make your shortcrust pastry in the usual way. Rub the flour and butter to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Mix together the egg yolk and water (if this were my recipe I’d mix in a little sugar as well). Add about two thirds of the liquid to form your dough. You may need the rest. Take care with the amount of liquid. You don’t want too much, but the size of your egg can make a difference. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 15 minutes. Pre heat your oven to 200̊ C. Grease the mince pie tray. Roll out your dough thinly and line the pie tins. Prick the bottom of each pie case a few times with a fork (taking care not to poke right through)  and blind bake for 10 minutes. Hannah recommends using scrunched up tin foil (not the same stuff you used for the turkey) or you could line each base with baking parchment and weigh it down with dried pulses, lentils or whatever. You can also get ceramic baking “beans” but if you have these you won’t need a pastry recipe from me, so move on. Remove the tinfoil (or whatever you’ve used) for the last couple of minutes of baking. Fill each pie with mincemeat and return to the oven for five minutes. Make your meringue base by whipping the egg white until it reaches the “medium peaks” stage, then gradually add the sugar until your mixture is smooth. Distribute the meringue mixture over the pies, then bake again for a further 5 minutes or until the tops are golden and firm.


(That’s Biscotti to the rest of you)

Like the BBC, this column has a duty to educate. First off, the word biscotti. Exactly the same as the French biscuit, that is to say twice cooked. These are great with coffee or tea. Nicely wrapped up they make a great stocking filler or something to take for your host over the festive season.This is a Tuscan recipe from Alessio of Flavours of Italy holidays, purveyors of cookery, Pilates, painting or language holidays, and jolly nice people to boot. Florence being an ancient city, there are many street junctions with sharp corners or cantucci, hence the name.


300 g of whole almonds; 500 g of plain white flour; 300 g of sugar (the current Mrs Johnston uses about half of that amount); 5 eggs; 50g butter; 16 g of vanilla baking powder (add a few drops of vanilla essence to your baking powder); pinch salt.


You could do this by machine, but much more fun done the traditional Florentine way, by hand. Roast the almonds for 10 minutes an oven at 160̊ C. Mix the flour and the sugar well. Add in the baking powder and the salt.  Make a well and add 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks. Mix together until a dough starts to form, then add the almonds, making sure they are spread evenly throughout the mixture. This will make two loaves. They should be the width that you want your biscuits to be (bearing in mind these are for dunking) and about one finger in height. Put them on a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper and brush with beaten egg. Bake for 30 minutes at 180̊C. Remove and allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into biscuits, cutting at a slight diagonal. Pop back in the oven for a further 5 minutes.

Italians would also eat these with a sweet wine, traditionally Vin Santo.

Contact Flavours of Italy at 67-69 Raeburn Place Edinburgh, EH4 1JF. Tel 0131 343 2500.


The game season is all too short. Before Christmas takes over, enjoy the rustic late autumn earthiness of this robust pie.

Ingredients (serves 2 – 3. I have only ever made this in a small version, but scale up as required)

Puff pastry (ready made is fine); 4 cooked pheasant breasts; 1 eating apple, skinned and cored (Cox’s Pippin is ideal, Braeburn is fine); 1 onion; 2 slices of black pudding. For the sauce, butter, flour, stock  – either chicken stock or the liquor used to poach the pheasant breasts, or a stock made from the pheasant bones and legs if you have whole birds.


Similar in technique to last week’s pie (see below), but the flavours are completely different: however, I did make both at the same time, poaching both the chicken and pheasant together, leaving a tasty liquor which you can use in the sauce. I would counsel against using roast pheasant breasts as they may be a little dry. I generally pot roast. For this dish I would remove the breasts and simmer in stock. Allow to cool and cut into bite size pieces. Cut both the onion and apple into smallish dice. Soften the onion in some butter and oil. After a few minutes add the apple, then the black pudding crumbled, or cut into cubes. Cook the mixture gently until the onion and apple are soft and the black pudding fully cooked through. Make a brown sauce. To your cooked roux (see last week’s recipe if unsure) add stock. You want a consistency that’s not too runny. Pour the sauce over the onion mixture then stir in the pheasant. Warm all together for a few minutes to let the flavours mix, then leave to cool. Put in a pie dish or pudding basin, top with puff pastry as per last week’s pie. Cook at 200̊ C, Mark 7 for about 30 minutes. This would go well with savoy or red cabbage and a lovely rich mash, perhaps sharpened with mustard, horseradish or crème fraiche.


Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)

For the pie: 4 chicken breasts; 1 onion; 2 red peppers; 4 leeks; puff pastry (ready made is fine). For the sauce: butter, flour, milk and (optional) some chicken stock or the poaching liquor from the chicken. Seasoning: salt, pepper and about 3 tablespoons of finely chopped tarragon.


Much as I love autumn food, it has a tendency to be a bit brown (and warm and unctuous and delicious –Get on with it. Ed). With this pie, on the other hand, break the crust and you get colours of summer, succulent white chicken, pale green leeks and jewels of red pepper flecked with the dark green of the tarragon. Be careful with your quantities. On a cold winter evening many at the table may clamour for a second helping.

A couple of preliminary points. For many, a pie is what you use to chuck in the left overs. That can be fine, but this will take you to a higher level. Secondly, this is a crust only pie – puff pastry would be horrible soggy if you used it as a base with a fairly liquid filling. Finally remember that your filling must be cooked and be left to cool before you add the pastry top. Allow sufficient time.

First, cook your chicken breasts however you want. I recommend poaching them in chicken stock. You will have lovely moist meat and you can use some of the poaching liquid for your sauce. As both the sauce and the pastry are butter based – if you have never made your own puff pastry you might be amazed how much fat it contains – I would advise against frying. Cut them into bite sized pieces. That obviously depends upon you and the size of your gob. You could make this more economically by cutting back on the chicken and cutting into smaller pieces and bulking the pie with more veg. Just don’t serve it to me, cheapskate. Chop the onion and red pepper into fairly neat small dice. Halve the leeks and slice into very fine half moons. Start softening the onion and red pepper in a little butter and oil then, after a few minutes, add the leeks. Sweat until all the veg are tender. Meanwhile make a standard béchamel sauce (melt the butter and add an equal quantity of flour, mix together to form a roux, allow to cook to remove the taste of raw flour, then add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly to make a smooth sauce). If you poached the chicken add a little of the poaching liquid.  You will want approximately 300 – 400 ml of sauce, enough to bind all the ingredients without being too runny. Season the veg and the sauce with salt and pepper. Add the tarragon to the sauce. It must be fresh tarragon. Some herbs can happily be used in dried form – tarragon is not one of them. Mix the chicken, vegetables and sauce together in a pan and cook gently together for a couple of minutes so that the flavours start to mingle. Check the seasoning, then transfer the mixture to your pie dish and allow to cool. Roll out your pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin.  Cover the dish with a little overlap. (Top tip: if you are making what the Americans would call a pot pie, using a cylindrical dish or good old-fashioned pudding bowl, stick a little strip of pastry moistened with water around side of the pot or bowl. Fasten your overlap to this: it makes it easier to seal.) Make a small hole in the centre to allow steam to escape. Wash with egg then cook in the centre of a hot oven (220̊ C, Mark 7) for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is piping hot.

While I usually like to serve something with a sauce that needs mopped up with mashed potato, my mash swims in butter and/or other flavoursome things. I therefore serve with plain boiled tatties and a green veg of choice, usually peas.


Every region of Italy has its version of minestrone. It is essentially a vegetable soup with the addition of pasta and/or beans. There are spring and summer versions, but for me it is best on a cold day, when a couple of bowls of it will be a complete meal. Accept that, like stovies, your recipe will never be as good as your Italian friend’s Nonna’s version. It’s an excellent thing to make when your vegetable drawer in the fridge is needing cleared out. I’ve specified the core ingredients which I will always use.  Obviously you can omit the chilli if you don’t want the heat. Of the optional ingredients I would never use potatoes or turnips but I have seen recipes which do. For vegetarians, omit the bacon and use vegetable stock or water.

Tom’s Essential Ingredients (quantities are approximate – this will make a large potful)

2 large onions; 4 carrots; 4 slices streaky bacon; 1 stick celery; 1 red chilli; tomato paste; 1 tin of tomatoes or passata; 1 tin of beans (I use cannellini or borlotti, but you can use kidney beans, chickpeas or just about anything apart from Heinz baked); handful of small pasta (alfabeti or stelle are ideal, but you can use spaghetti broken into small sections); 1 litre chicken stock; rind of Parmesan or Gran Padano.

Optional Ingredients

Courgettes, potatoes, turnips, aubergines; mushrooms, broccoli or cauliflower florets: shredded cabbage; leeks; Swiss chard etc, etc…


Dice the onions, carrots and celery and fry gently with the finely chopped bacon and finely chopped and deseeded chilli. This (minus the chilli) is the classic Italian soffritto, or indeed a French mirepoix. If using any of the optional ingredients apart from the cabbage and the chard, add at the beginning as part of your soffritto. When the veg are soft add a generous squeeze of tomato paste, stir into the veg and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes or passata and the stock. Drain and rinse the beans and add, along with the pasta. If using, add the finely shredded cabbage or chard at this stage. Top up with water if need be. Season with salt and pepper and chuck in the cheese rind. Allow to simmer slowly. It is ready when all the ingredients are tender, but is all the better for a long slow cook. At its very best on day three, but if you are making a version with meat, make sure it is thoroughly heated through each day.

A bowl of minestrone is best served with a second bowl of minestrone.


Ingredients (makes a large panful)

2.5kg potatoes; 1 kg onions; 500g bacon (unsmoked – I like Ayrshire middle, but streaky will do); Beef sausages (must  be beef) – for this quantity I would use 12 – 16. Allow at least 2 per person.


This is a good stick to your ribs winter warmer. I would love to say it is a typical Scottish dish. Scottish it is, but the only thing that’s certain is that no two Scots will agree on the recipe, or even the origin of the name. Curiously, it does not feature in the Larousse Gastronomique.  Pah! What do these French know? I don’t buy the “stoved potatoes” theory. Another possible etymology is the French etouffé or steamed. Most peasant dishes were a way of eking out basic ingredients or making them more palatable. The essential components are therefore potatoes, onions, salt and pepper. You have some idiots who say this was what the very poor people would do with the leftovers from their Sunday joint! But if you choose to do that you will make a very nice dish – just don’t serve it to me as stovies. This is my Mum’s recipe, and darn fine it is. Simple enough, but there are a few do’s and don’ts.

Most people make the mistake of not adding enough onion. The potato to onion ratio is about 2:1. Cut the potatoes into big chunks, a minimum of 5 or 6 centimetres. You want the end product to have potato lumps not just mush. That’s also why you need a potato that’s not too floury, otherwise you get soup. Likewise cut the onions into coarse chunks, not slices, about 3 cm minimum.

While this is basically a steam cooked dish, I use a little oil to start. Make sure you have a good thick bottomed pan, otherwise the bottom will singe – nothing worse. Start off with a layer of onions and potatoes and get some heat going. Season the layers, but be careful with the salt, as you will get plenty from the bacon. After the first couple of layers start chucking in the bacon and sausage randomly. Cut the bacon to whatever length you’re happy to eat with a fork. For all that this is a peasant dish, trying to put a full rasher of middle into one’s gob in a oner is a tad ungainly. Add some boiling water.   Keep an eye on the liquid level throughout, topping up regularly to avoid sticking. Stir fairly regularly to make sure the bacon and sausages are cooking, trying not to break the potatoes too much and check the seasoning as you go. Do not go away and leave this unattended. It’s ready when the potatoes are cooked but still have some bite. This version will be quite wet.

A last check on the seasoning before serving. This can take a lot of pepper. If you get it right the combination of earthy potato and sweet onion with the bacon and beef juices is sublime. This dish will never look elegant, but it’s great for informal events, or anything out of doors. Final tip: if you serve anyone a portion without a sausage, you will lose a friend forever.