Tom Cooks!


Nibbles for Christmas

Sausage rolls

Now I have to say that the idea of staging a drinks party with “canapés” just gives me the dry boak. (For the benefit of non-Scottish readers, that translates approximately as, makes me feel more than a little squeamish. Synonyms include gars me groo.  But we digress.) Why? It’s just too flipping fiddly. The received wisdom (according to Saint Sarah of Mellersh, that is) is that you should provide one canapé per person per 15 minutes, and that you should have 5 or 6 varieties. Ye gods! All that work for your Drinks from 6 – 8. Your house will be trashed, there will be one couple you can’t get rid of, and the rest of your guests will have had a little too much to drink, and have eaten a little too much to want to go to dinner. The worst of all worlds for everyone. Why not make a pan of stew, some good mash, and serve with a well chosen cheeseboard and some crusty bread?

But if you must… On the other hand, you may want to provide some nibbles to go with pre prandial drinks beyond crisps and nuts. Here are a few ideas.

Diana McLennan’s Parmesan Biscuits

The Basic Recipe (makes 40 – 50)


100g butter; 100g plain flour; 50g grated Parmesan; 50g ground almonds; ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper (I have no idea how you measure ⅛ of a teaspoon, but remember that cayenne is pretty vicious stuff); pinch of garlic salt; seeds for rolling in (the biscuits that is, not you) – Diana recommends a mixture of poppy seeds and celery seeds.


Whizz all the ingredients apart from the seeds in a food processor. Roll the dough into sausage shapes about 3 cm in diameter. Roll in the seeds then chill for an hour. Preheat the oven to 160˚C/Mark 3. Cut into 1cm rounds and place on a tray lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 25 minutes until light golden.

Some Like It Hot


75g butter; 75g plain flour; 75g grated Parmesan; 1tsp chilli flakes; 1tsp cumin seeds; seeds for rolling (as above).


Whizz, roll, chill as above. Preheat oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. When putting the discs on the tray, space them apart as they will spread out. These will need about 15 minutes in the oven, but, as ever, judge by eye.

Lesley Johnston’s Mini Sausage Rolls

(Laughably simple, but if you don’t know the cooking times… And while you can buy mini sausage rolls, the proportion of sausage to pastry is all wrong.) A quick note on the ingredients. You sneer at pre-rolled Jusrol? Pshaw! This ain’t Masterchef. Anyone who makes their own puff pastry to envelop greasy sausage meat is seriously in need of therapy. Sausage meat? You have a few options. Pork would be the norm. Sausage meat is always available from a good butcher and, at this time of year, available in all supermarkets. Lesley often uses a block of Lorne sausage meat. The grainier texture works well. If you want to be posh, buy good quality pork sausages, slit the casing with a sharp knife and ease the meat out of the skins. It would probably work with venison sausages too, for a change.

Ingredients (makes about 20)

1 x 375g packet readymade rolled puff pastry); 400g sausage meat (see above); beaten egg for brushing.


Preheat the oven to 200˚C/Mark 6. Unwrap the pastry on the board. Cut along the length of the sheet to double the width you want your roll to be, plus 1cm. Aim for 11cm and you won’t go far wrong. Roll the sausage meat into a sausage shape (appropriately enough). With the cut end at the top of your board, spread the sausage meat out, leaving a 1cm band of pastry at the top. Brush that strip with beaten egg then fold the pastry over and press to form a seal. Cut into the desired size and place on a lined baking tray. Brush the top with beaten egg. Bake for 25 – 35 minutes until the pastry is crisp. You can freeze these either raw or cooked.

What, pig dog? I hear you cry that this is all too basic. You expect more for your licence fee? Very well, but don’t come crying to me that this is far too labour intensive for morsels which will be gone in minutes. I offer you-

Sarah Mellersh’s Bang Bang Chicken Filo Tartlets

For the filo tartlets

(Well, you asked for it. All manner of ready made tartlet cases are available if you are wavering.) You will need a mini muffin tray.

Ingredients (makes 20 – provided you don’t break any taking them out of the moulds)

75g filo pastry; 2tsp melted butter (plus extra to butter the muffin tray.)


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. Lightly butter the cups on the muffin tray. Brush one sheet of the pastry with the melted butter. With a sharp knife cut into squares 5cm x 5cm. Line each cup with three layers of pastry at slightly different angles. Bake for about 6 – 8 minutes till a deep golden brown. Remove (carefully) and leave to cool on a wire rack. These can be made in advance.

Bang Bang Chicken


1 boneless chicken breast; 2 tbsp sesame seeds; 4 tbsp smooth peanut butter; 1 garlic clove, crushed; 5 cm piece of root ginger peeled and grated; 2 tbsp lemon juice; 1 tbsp dark soy sauce; ¼ tsp Tabasco; 1 spring onion, finely sliced on the diagonal (you will need one slice per tartlet; 20 filo tartlets (see above).


Toast the sesame seeds over a low heat in a dry pan until nutty and golden. This will take about 3 minutes. Poach the chicken breast. Cover this in cold water, bring to a simmer and cook gently until done. The centre must be opaque. This will take between 10 and 14 minutes. Don’t overcook, but no pink bits please. Allow to cook. While the chicken is cooking mix the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, soy and Tabasco to a smooth sauce. Drain the chicken and slice (on the diagonal, of course) into thin – about 0.25cm – slices. Cut each slice in half.

To assemble, put a teaspoon of sauce into each tartlet base. Arrange the chicken slices on top. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds and top with a spring onion garnish.

All that work! For 20 quick bites! Are you off your head? Should have stuck with Diana or Lesley. Thanks to Sarah. Her cookery school is sadly no more, but she lets me use her recipes. Thanks also to Diana and Lesley, who would have given permission to use their recipes had I asked. Merry Christmas.

Tom Cooks! will return some time in January, to allow for research and the development of a new website




Sarah Mellersh’s Apple Strudel

Apple Strudel

I was looking for something festive. And, about to head to Prague to visit grandson, something with a European twist. Then I discovered that today’s feast is a favourite of close friend PM. And that his granddaughter, Miss Charlotte, made it for him at the age of six. So there’s no excuse for the rest of you. There are as many recipes for apfelstrudel as there are days in the year. I will, therefore, take the default position by giving you the version proposed by the outrageously talented and wonderfully charming Sarah Mellersh. She claims that this will serve 6 – 8. Fewer, I suspect, if PM and I are at the dinner table.

A word about the amount of sugar. Sarah’s original recipe specifies a mere 25g of sugar. Most other recipes stipulate 100g; however, most of them use either cooking apples or Granny Smith’s. She would also recommend serving with a maple syrup infused crème fraiche, which may not be to everyone’s taste. So in the end of the day it will depend on (a) the type of apple you use and (b) personal taste. Like Sarah, I don’t favour one which is to sweet. Unlike Sarah, I prefer to have the apple slightly chunky as opposed to neatly sliced. I also prefer a raisin free strudel, in which case you would definitely need some more sugar. Sarah’s recommendation is that once you have added the sugar and cinnamon, taste a bit, and adjust accordingly. Tasting your food as you go? You can tell she’s a pro.


675g firm eating apples (use a sweeter variety such as Braeburn or Jazz), peeled, cored and cut into small chunks; 25 – 50g caster sugar (see above); 2 tbsp flaked almonds, lightly toasted (optional); zest of ½ lemon, grated; 2 tbsp raisins (optional); ¼ tsp cinnamon; 50g melted butter; 6 sheets filo pastry; icing sugar for dusting.


In advance, toast the almonds. It is easiest to do this in a dry pan. Preheat the oven to 200˚C/Mark 6. Peel and core the apples and cut into slices or small chunks. Keep the sizes even. Mix together the apples, sugar, lemon zest, raisins if using, and cinnamon. Make sure the apples are well coated and check the sweetness. Carefully paint each of the filo sheets with butter and place on top of each other. Arrange the filling along  the long side of the pastry stack. Brush the other edge with a little of the butter to help form a seal and roll up.  Slide on to a greased baking sheet. Brush with melted butter and scatter the toasted almond over the top. Bake for 20 minutes and brush with more melted butter at the end. Allow to cool then dust with icing sugar. Serve with anything you fancy. Chantilly or plain whipped cream are good, or try Sarah’s recommendation of crème fraiche combined with good maple syrup.


Brussels Sprouts Cooked

Now, hands up those who eat Brussels Sprouts on any day other than December 25? And keep your hands up if you enjoy them. My hand is in the air twice. It’s probably appropriate that I’m writing this with an election on the way, one which has opinions as polarised over politics as they are over sprouts. Little green nuggets of delight, or, according to my chum Sublime Lesley (no relation to Mrs J), evil balls of green bitterness? (In spite of that don’t hold back, let us know what you really think, opinion, she has contributed an interesting recipe. See below.)

The idea of today is to give a few ideas culled from a variety of sources. Let’s start with the basics. How do you cook them? You can of course boil them. Various disadvantages. You lose the goodness in the cooking water. As I type this I am reminded of a recent report that on Christmas Day the average Brit consumes about 5700 calories, so perhaps nutrition isn’t top of the list. Still, one has standards. The greater problem is that if you do boil them at the last minute, there is a strong possibility that they will overcook and thus deserve the unflattering description quoted above. I would recommend cooking them in advance, steaming rather than boiling, and then refreshing them in a large bowl of iced water until completely cold. This prevents further cooking and ensures they stay al dente and keep their colour. Unless specified, the tips below will start with precooked refreshed sprouts.

The Classic

Just before serving, heat them for a minute or two in a large frying pan or wok in a lot of butter and finish with a generous topping of black pepper

Lardons and …

Hard fry some bacon lardons. Once they have browned, add the sprouts and cook until they are heated through. You want to ensure that everything is hot but that you’re not overcooking the main ingredient. The words Brussels Sprouts and keeping warm don’t go well together. If you like, you could add any or all of-

Flaked Almonds/Cumin Seeds/Chopped Chestnuts

Stir Fry

I wouldn’t recommend this for Christmas Day, as it takes up time and cooker space, both of which are in short supply. Remove the bases from (raw) sprouts and shred them finely. Heat some oil in a wok. Add some ginger and garlic and stir fry, being careful not to burn the garlic. Perhaps add a little chicken stock for the last few minutes. Speaking of stock, let’s turn to-

Sublime Lesley’s Brussels Sprouts with Shallots, Garlic and Juniper

Sauté some shallots with garlic and crushed juniper berries until the shallots are soft. (Always use juniper sparingly – just a few will suffice.) Add the (raw) sprouts and plenty of stock, either chicken or veg. Simmer gently until the sprouts are cooked, reduce the liquid and serve at once. If you manage to extract the juniper berries before serving your guests will thank you (or should).

Finally, a few ideas from Escoffier and Larousse Gastronomique.

Au Gratin (two ways)

One recipe uses Béchamel, another cheese only. Take your pick.

Put your cooked sprouts in a gratin dish, season with salt and pepper, add melted butter, Béchamel and/or grated cheese, top with breadcrumbs and brown in the oven. (The obvious flaw with this for Christmas is that oven space is at a total premium.)

Brussels Sprout Purée

Blitz your cooked sprouts in a food processor. Transfer to a pan and heat for a few minutes to reduce the water content. Add one part pommes purées to three parts sprout mixture, pour in some double cream, season with s & p, ensure it’s piping hot and serve.

Many thanks to Lesley Tucker, chef extraordinaire, for her recipe. Follow her on Instagram at sublimelesley or on Twitter at @sublimelesey1


Sussex Pond Pudding

Sussex Pond Pudding

It’s coming into pudding season. My own Christmas pud was made a couple of weeks ago. The Sunday morning routine has had to be altered slightly to feed it a little brandy and sherry. We have been making our own for a few years now, a recipe by Stephen Harris of The Sportsman in Kent, voted more than once as Britain’s’ best restaurant. Every year up till now I have made two. Lesley caused me palpitations the first year when she gave the spare to a dear friend whose son happens to be one of London’s top chefs. It passed his test and it has wowed everyone else since. But I don’t know Stephen and I don’t have his permission to reproduce his recipe. I did, however, get to thinking a bit more on the subject of puddings. Today’s recipe is one of the more intriguing.

Steamed suet puddings are quintessentially British. I’m not aware of any other nation whose cuisine features them. I say British. Perhaps English would be more appropriate, though in Scotland we have our own Clootie Dumpling, boiled in a cloth (cloot). The pond pudding is so called because it releases a great puddle of lemon scented butter when served. Like me you may be wondering what possible connection there is between Sussex and lemons. The answer appears to be none. In fact, although the pud is centuries old, the earliest reference to using lemons seems to have been in Jane Grigson’s English Food as recently as 1974. Clarissa Dickson Wright (of Two Fat Ladies fame) has written that this dish requires “considerable flair to make, as the treatment of the lemon has to be just so to allow the flavours to burst out in the cooking process”. The original recipe enjoins you to prick the lemons “with a larding needle”. I would wager that few of you know what a larding needle is, and that even fewer of you possess one.*

Suet is the animal fat which surrounds the kidneys. You can get blocks of the stuff in the supermarkets (Atora is the most common brand name) but a good butcher should be able to give you some which you can grate. You will need a 1.4kg pudding basin with a lip to tie the string around. For years I found the trickiest bit of making Christmas pudding was sorting the string. Begin by prepping the basin. Butter it liberally. Cut a circle of grease proof paper to the size of the base of the dish. To cover it you will need two layers, the first of greaseproof paper, the second of foil. They need to be large enough to have a pleat in the middle, and to cover the bowl with enough overlap to be tied securely on. You will need more kitchen string that you think.


2 unwaxed, thin skinned lemons; 110g shredded or grated beef suet; 225g self-raising flour; 75ml milk; 75ml water; 110g light brown sugar; 110g butter, chilled and cut into small pieces (plus extra for greasing).


Pour the water and milk together in a jug. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and suet. Add the liquid a little at a time to make a dough. It should be soft but not sticky, as you need to roll it out. Roll into a circle – you don’t want it too thin. Cut a quarter out of the circle to use as the lid. You should have a convenient shape to ease into the pudding basin, leaving a bit of overlap to attach the pastry lid. Make sure the join is well sealed.

Put half of the butter and half of the sugar into the pie mould. Prick the lemons all over with a skewer and press into the mould. Top with the remaining butter and sugar. Roll the remaining pastry into a round to form a lid. Press on firmly, again ensuring you have a good seal. Now for the fun bit. Place the greaseproof paper on top, with the foil on top of that. The best way to get the string on is to form a slip knot and secure it around the basin, tightening it underneath the lip. (A kitchen assistant can be useful until you get the hang of this.) Take the string around again and tighten. Then take a length of string across the top, under the other side and back. Tie on to form a handle. You will thank me for this when you try to get your cooked pudding out of the pot. Trim off any surplus paper/foil.

To cook you will need a large pot with an inverted plate or saucer on the bottom to stop the base of the pudding touching the pot. I use three or four inverted ramekins. You need enough boiling water to come about two thirds of the way up the pudding basin. Cover tightly with a lid and simmer for about four hours. Keep an eye on it and top up the water if needed.

Remove the basin and dry it. Remove the foil, string and paper. Ease the sides with a knife and tip quickly on to a serving plate. Best to put the plate on top, hold tightly with a cloth and invert in one swift movement. This will get no prizes for looks, but no matter. Cut the pudding open in front of your guests. The juices will pour out to form the pond. Give everyone a piece of lemon. Serve with crème fraiche, ice cream or cream.

*Larding is the process of adding strips of bacon or pork fat to certain cuts of meat to make them more moist. A larding needle is the implement you use. I saw the Two Fat Ladies do it once, but I’ve never encountered it anywhere else





Oxtail meat 1

The Slow Food movement was formed in Italy in 1986 in protest at the opening of a McDonald’s 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, however, is one part of the animal which remains great 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 kings of stew.

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 oxtail it’s generally sold in packs, and this is where some firmness is required. You want the large wide sections such as those pictured.. Avoid the narrow pointy bits – these are good only for oxtail soup.

On to portion control. I normally serve a couple of large section 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 five or six 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, but I used insufficient flour to dust them and they all stuck together. Ah well, learn from your mistakes.

The other issue is fat. You make the stew 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 scrape 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 simple enough but it is time consuming. 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)

12 large pieces of oxtail; plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper; 2 onions, sliced; 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 1 tsp dried if you don’t have fresh); 250 ml red wine; 600 ml water; 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. Dispose of any excess fat. 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 to one side. You now want to remove the fat from the top of the gravy in whichever way you choose. See above.

Stage 3

Return your meat and veg to the skimmed or blotted gravy. 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. 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 on 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 to mash them. 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.

Partridge with Marsala and Mushroom Sauce

Partridge and mushroom sauce

Like summer’s lease, the game season hath all too short a date. Enjoy it while ye may. Those with longer memories may recall that I did a partridge recipe a couple of years ago. I cooked the legs and crown separately. I was very kindly gifted a brace the other day, and decided to roast them whole. Hitherto, my practice when roasting has been to stick whatever it is in the oven, possibly buttered, larded or whatever, then take it out some time later and expect all to be well.

That’s no doubt one of the reasons I have been a game over cooker in years gone by, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago with the pheasant recipe. In mitigation, I would point out that more than one recipe I consulted for today’s wee birds would have had me bake them for half an hour before resting. Today’s recipe takes 13 minutes in the oven, not 30. Once again I pay tribute to Game, New Ways to Prepare, Cook & Cure by Phil Vickery and Simon Boddy for the cooking time. Their recipe uses white wine, chanterelles, and spinach. Mine has marsala and mushrooms and is a fair bit simpler.

When roasting, I am not normally a baster; however the more delicate your ingredient, the more careful you have to be. Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories has been voted the most useful cook book of all time. In their recipe for the eponymous dish, the authors advocate a lot of basting. So when Vickery and Boddy advocate just that for a partridge (average weight 375g) I was inclined to listen.

As ever, a few comments. To cook, you need something which works both on the stove and in the oven. I have a very good, large, all metal sauté pan, which was ideal. For the resting, I used an oven proof plate which had been in while the birds are roasting, taken out a few minutes before they were. The combination of butter and oil is standard, but getting the distinction between nut brown and burnt is a fine one. Keep more butter to hand just in case. My definition of a “large knob” of butter is about 30g. I used marsala, but you could use white or red wine, possibly with half a tsp of sugar. After roasting any bird you would use the carcasse for stock (yes, you would, please don’t tell me otherwise). As you have so little left to work with after cooking a partridge, it makes sense to use the bones to enhance a basic chicken stock. When they immediately come out of the oven, the birds looked a little pink for me, but after the resting they were perfect. Some may prefer less oven time.

Ingredients (serves 2)

For the roasting

2 oven ready partridges; a large knob of butter; 1 tbsp oil; salt and pepper.

For the sauce

1 banana shallot, peeled and very finely chopped; 225g chestnut mushrooms, sliced; 300ml chicken stock; 150ml Marsala; another large knob of butter, plus extra for finishing.


Preheat the oven to 220˚C/Mark 7. Season the birds outside and in with s & p. On the stove melt the butter and oil mixture to a fairly high heat. Brown the partridges on all sides. Turn each on to one side, baste, then put in the oven. After 5 minutes, turn to the other side, baste and roast for 5 minutes more. Finally turn them breast side down, baste again and cook for a further 3 minutes. Take out of the oven, put the birds on a warm plate, cover with foil and rest for 10 minutes (the birds, that is, not you). This pathetic joke sounds reasonably familiar. Apologies if I’ve used it recently.

While the partridge is resting, start the sauce. In a clean frying pan, melt the butter and fry the shallots over a reasonably high heat. Soft and brown is the desired result, which is why they have to be very finely chopped. Add the mushrooms and fry for 3 or 4 minutes. Leave the pan to one side.

Carefully remove the leg and breast meat from the partridges and continue to keep warm. Cut each carcasse into three pieces. Put into a separate pan and add the Marsala. Boil until reduced by two thirds. Add the stock, bring back to the boil and reduce by a further two thirds. Strain the reduced liquid into the mushroom pan, boil down further to reach the desired consistency and check the seasoning.

To serve, spoon some of the sauce on to a hot plate, arrange the leg and breast meat, and top with a final drizzle of sauce.

Pear and Rosemary Tarte Tatin

Pear Tarte Tatin 2

As we all know, the brain is a mighty curious thing. If you doubt this, just consider the latest dream you can recall, and ask yourself, where on earth did that come from? And where, you should all ask, do these recipe ideas come from, week on week? Four years or so ago, when this blog was launched, a good pal suggested I was simply making a rod for my own back. It’s certainly true that when I alight triumphantly on some seasonal classic or other, I do have to check whether I’ve done it before. Thankfully, there are variations on most themes. Today’s recipe came from a chat with my wife about tarte tatin. We have an in-joke about that arising from a particularly stupid comment made by a well known Scottish restaurant reviewer. Send me a fiver and I’ll tell you.

As you probably know it is claimed that this recipe, which is usually made with apples, was invented by accident by the Tatin sisters in their hotel in Lamotte-Beuvron in France just over 100 years ago. A pan of apples was left to cook for too long. One sister had the inspired idea of covering it with pastry, et voilá!

It’s the season for pears too. Over the years, while poaching them, I’ve experimented with various flavourings, rosemary included. We have a huge out of control bush of the stuff in the back garden. Since I started researching this, I discover that James Martin did a similar dish in one of his most recent series. Coincidence, I assure you. He uses cream which, for me, has no place in a tarte tatin.

You can adapt this to suit the size of implement you have at your disposal. This recipe calls for one of a diameter of 25cm. Ideally you would use an oven proof frying pan. If it has a metal handle, you’re fine. Modern pans with non metallic handles may be OK, but don’t make any assumptions. It will take a long time to get rid of the acrid smell of burning plastic if you get it wrong. If you don’t have the right type of pan, you could start the apples on the stove then transfer to another oven dish of the right size. Preheated, of course, but it will be difficult to get the fruit arranged in an attractive pattern. The fruit quantities are approximate. You want the pan completely full. It will look nicer with pear halves, but cut up pieces to fill any gaps. Use sprigs of fresh rosemary – you will want to remove them before putting on the pastry

Finally, a health warning. Please be VERY careful. Burns from caramel are among the worst and most painful ever.

Pear and Rosemary Tarte Tatin

Ingredients (serves 6)

1 375g pack ready made all butter puff pastry; approximately 8 good sized pears, peeled, halved and cored; 110g caster sugar; 110g butter; grated zest of 1 lemon; 2 – 3 sprigs of rosemary.


Preheat your oven to 190˚C/Mark 5. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of a £1 coin (some packs come ready rolled.) Cut a circle just slightly larger than your pan. Keep chilled (the pastry, that is, but you too, I suppose) until you need it. Melt the butter in your pan. Sprinkle over the sugar and remove from the heat. Arrange the fruit neatly, cut side down, in the pan, filling any gaps. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and lay the sprigs of rosemary on top. Put the pan over a medium heat. What happens is that the sugar and butter will start to caramelise. Don’t worry of the caramel bubbles up a little between the fruit pieces. The pears need to become dark. This will probably need about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, and take off the rosemary sprigs. Being INCREDIBLY CAREFUL, lay the pastry on top of your pears, which are at the same temperature as a recently erupted volcano, and tuck in the edges. Do not use your fingers for the tucking. (Do you think they’re getting the message? – Ed)

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave for 5 – 10 minutes before tipping upside down on to a serving plate, so that the fruit side is up. Serve with good quality vanilla ice cream.






Pheasant with Calvados Cream Sauce

Pheasant Oct19 Calvados

For quite a long while I was ambivalent about pheasant. Daft though this sounds, it took me a long while to cotton on to the fact that I was horribly overcooking it. There was no family tradition of eating game, never mind cooking it, so I had to reply on recipes, which generally let me down. Even the ever-reliable Claire Macdonald has a recipe in which she advocates casseroling pheasant breasts for 40 – 45 minutes. For the cooking time for this recipe I consulted a new acquisition to my kitchen library, Game, New Ways to Prepare, Cook & Cure by Phil Vickery and Simon Boddy. For its inspiration I have to thank neighbour and friend Lizzie B. Amazing the ideas you can pick up during a quick chat at a party.

A pheasant breast will feed one normal person. Allow one and a half to two per person to allow for larger appetites. You could halve the breasts, but I wouldn’t. These cooking times will (or should) give you meat which is pink but not bloody. You can use stock or cider, depending on taste. I wouldn’t use pheasant stock, as the taste would be overpowering, and what is the point of veg stock in a dish like this? Chicken, therefore, is my default. You should have enough liquid to cover the pheasant breasts. The amount of cream is up to you. More if you like, but don’t overpower the flavour. You could omit it altogether, but then you’d have to change the name of the recipe. You will want to bubble the sauce for a few minutes at the end, so double cream, as opposed to single, is essential. For cream free houses like mine, Elmlea works equally well.

Pheasant with Calvados Cream Sauce

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 – 6 pheasant breasts; 4 shallots, finely chopped; 1 stick celery, peeled and finely chopped; 1 good sized eating apple (Cox’s Pippin or Braeburn are ideal), peeled, cored and chopped into 2cm pieces; good measure (about 75ml) Calvados; 300ml chicken stock OR 300ml dry cider; 150 – 200ml double cream;  50g butter; 1 tbsp olive oil; salt and pepper.


In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and half the butter. Season the pheasant breasts and brown on each side, then remove. Add the rest of the butter and sweat the shallots and celery until soft. Add the apple and cook for a further minute. Return the pheasant breasts to the pan. Add the Calvados and flambé. This is to burn off the alcohol. Beware of your smoke alarms, eyebrows and kitchen ceiling. Pour in the stock or cider (enough to cover the pheasant) and bubble for 5 minutes, turning the breasts once. When the pheasant is cooked, remove and cover with foil to keep warm. Boil the sauce rapidly to reduce by about half, then add the cream and boil for a further couple of minutes. Season to taste. Return the pheasant breasts to the pan for no more than a minute to ensure they are warmed through before serving.


Pheasant Crumble

By Royal Appointment

Pheasant Crumble

Every year I bang on about the joys of autumn cookery, so why should this one be any different? It’s the right time of year for long slow cooking; root veg come into their own, as do apples and pears. But the thing that makes autumn stand out for me is the availability of game.

Larousse Gastronomique defines game as all wild animals and birds that are hunted, and those that were hunted and are now farmed. The French word for game is gibier, which in turn comes from the old French word gibecer, to hunt. On that basis, game is available all year round. In Scotland shooting of buck deer is permitted from April 1 – October 20; doe from October 21 to March 31. In an ideal world you will have a country contact who can supply you. The next best thing is to find a butcher who is also a game dealer. You will in all probability be pleasantly surprised by the cost of your protein as against beef or the like, but it is generally wise to wait till the season has been underway for a few weeks, when prices usually come down.

One person who has no problems with his supply of game is HRH The Prince of Wales, or the Duke of Rothesay to give him his correct title this side of the border. In November 2018 he was guest editor for one edition of Country Life. In that issue he contributed this recipe as one of his favourites. I’m grateful to Nigel and Andrew, collectively known as The Nosey Chef, who spend their time discovering the history of food and using what we find to cook original, classic dishes with verified authentic recipes. These guys are a mine of information. I commend their website to you. All their contact details are below. Thanks also, gentlemen, for permission to reproduce this photo.

I have made this dish – and very good it is too – but a couple of preliminaries. HRH bizarrely describes it as a crumble pie. No, it’s a crumble, but with a slight difference. For sweet crumbles flour is rubbed with butter and the raw mixture is sprinkled on top. Here breadcrumbs are used, and are cooked in butter first. I refused to believe the original recipe, which specifies 170g of butter to 50g of breadcrumbs, then tells you mop up the excess butter. My recipe uses about a third of the quantity of butter, which I found to be more than enough. With the cream and cheese it’s a very rich dish. Unusually, the recipe as given assumes your sauce and meat are warm when you add the topping. There is no reason why you couldn’t prepare the pheasant and the sauce the day before, but you might need to adjust the heating time.

Ingredients (serves 2 – HRH says it serves 4. That’s why he’s a wee trim thing. Allow 1 pheasant for 2 hungry people.)

For the stock

1 pheasant; 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped; 1 large carrot, ditto; 4 sticks of celery, cut into quarters; 2 bay leaves; large sprig of thyme; 6 juniper berries, lightly crushed; 4 peppercorns; splash of dry sherry; cold water.

For the sauce

40g butter; 40g plain flour; 300ml of the pheasant stock made as above; 100ml double cream; 1 tbsp each of freshly chopped parsley and thyme; salt and pepper.

For the crumble topping

60g butter; 60g white breadcrumbs; 30g freshly grated Parmesan; 2 rashers streaky bacon, preferably smoked, cooked to a crisp (NOT burnt – there is a difference) and crumbled.


Poach the pheasant. For a pie of chicken, pheasant or the like, poaching is always a good idea, as your meat shouldn’t dry out. (But beware, you can overcook, even if it’s in liquid.) And simultaneously you are making your stock. Put all the stock ingredients except the sherry in a large pan with enough water to cover the bird. HRH’s chef suggests you put a cartouche of greaseproof paper on top. (That’s a piece of paper cut to the size of your pot. It’s not a bad idea, as the top of the bird will bob above the surface and may leave a little uncooked bit. If you can’t be bothered doing that, turn the carcasse over every ten minutes or so. The things you learn hobnobbing with royalty and me.)

Bring the liquid to the boil, cover, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, by which time the pheasant should be cooked. Leave in the water for a further 10 minutes, then remove the bird and cover with foil. Strain the poaching liquor into a clean pan and reduce to about 600ml. You will need half of that for this recipe – freeze the rest.

For the sauce, make a roux in the usual way, by melting the butter, stirring in the flour and cooking for a few minutes before adding the stock. A little at a time, but you knew that. You are looking for a fairly thick sauce. Season with s & p. Add the herbs and the cream and check your seasoning.

Strip the meat from the pheasant and shred fairly finely. Be very careful with pheasant legs. They are full of plastic like tendons which are unpleasant in the extreme. Add to the sauce, check the seasoning again (I added more s & p at this stage). Keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/ Mark 4. For the crumble topping, melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the crumbs until golden and crispy. Add the cheese, then finely crumble the bacon pieces and mix into the crumb mixture.

Put the pheasant and sauce into a warmed pie dish, sprinkle with the crumble and put in the oven until completely hot. This may take as little as 10 – 15 minutes. If your ingredients were cold it will need longer, but you may need to cover the top with foil to stop it from over browning.

As I said, very rich. Serve with fairly plain veg.

To find out more about The Nosey Chef, go to the website on or

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Baklava with Pistachios and Walnuts


For the last few weeks we have been wandering through the Middle East. Last week we sweetened up with a honey cake. I had thought at that time of including baklava, that tooth achingly sweet confection, which comes from…? Larousse Gastronomique describes it as a Middle Eastern creation: it seems to have been present throughout the domain of the former Ottoman Empire: and its true origin seems to be yet another thread in the eternal dispute between Greece and Turkey. But the main reason that baklava didn’t feature last week is that many recipes don’t use honey. This blogging malarkey isn’t easy.

A few words about ingredients and equipment. You will need a shallow tin about 40 x 25cm. Be careful when buying your filo. You will need a dozen sheets the size of your pan. Jusrol produce 270g packs with 7 sheets in each. Different supermarkets sell filo in different pack sizes. On the nut front, no need to buy more expensive walnut halves, as you are going to blitz them anyway. If you don’t like walnuts you can use pistachios only. It is probably worthwhile making the sugar syrup first, as it must be cool before you use it to cover and soak the finished baklava. You will need a sharp knife to cut the shapes, but a pizza wheel might be useful.


150 – 200 g melted unsalted butter (you may need more); 2 x 270g packets of ready made filo pastry (see above); 150g walnut pieces (see above); 150g shelled unsalted pistachios; 250g caster sugar (or 150g sugar and 100ml honey); 250g water; 1 level tsp ground cinnamon; ½ tsp ground cardamom; ½ tsp ground cloves; 15ml rose water (optional).


Preheat your oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. Lightly grease the tin. Prepare the filling. In a food processor on pulse mode, separately blitz the walnuts then the pistachios. Make sure your mixture still has a slightly coarse texture and isn’t reduced to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Put the nuts in a bowl and mix with the spices, and rosewater if using. Carefully unroll the pastry and check the sizing is correct. (You can cut into sections if need be.) If you’re not ready to use it immediately, cover it with a damp dishtowel to prevent cracking.

Layer the first four sheets of filo in the tin, brushing each one with melted butter. After the first four, spread over half of the nut mixture and repeat the process with another four sheets of filo, buttering as before. Add the other half of the nut mixture and top with another four layers of pastry, each one buttered, especially the top layer.

You must cut this into shapes before cooking. Squares or diamonds are traditional. Use a very sharp knife and make sure you are cutting right through to the base, otherwise you will have an unhappy time later. It makes it easier for the syrup to permeate at the next stage: some suggest leaving the last layer of butter until after the slicing.

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes in the middle of the oven, until golden brown. Keep an eye on it. If it seems to be browning too quickly, turn the oven down to 170˚C/Mark 3.

Make a sugar syrup by putting the sugar/honey and water in a pan and heating gently until the sugar dissolves. (If you try to melt sugar too quickly you will end up with crystals.) Once the sugar and the honey have melted, bring to the boil for a few minutes, then leave to cool.

Remove the baklava from the oven and pour or spoon half of the syrup evenly all over. Leave for 5 minutes then pour on the remainder. Allow the whole trayful to cool before removing the slices and serving.


A Taste of Honey

Sarah_Wyndham_Lewis_-15 Bermondsey Honey 3

Whisper it, but I’ve never, up until now that is, been a great fan of honey. It just tastes, well, sweet. At my advanced age it is just wonderful to be able to stumble on new, exciting food experiences. I wrote the other week about attending Sudi Pigott’s food writing course in Bermondsey. That took place in the home, literally, of Bermondsey Street Bees, a company run by the life force that is Sarah Wyndham Lewis and her other half, Dale Gibson.

We met in the unavoidably sticky floored HQ. Sarah and Dale live above that, and a large number of their bees live above them, on the roof. At a time when many traditional bee habitats are under threat, London is better than ever for honey bees. Who knew? They will travel up to 2½ miles to collect their nectar. What happens next? The reason most of our supermarket honey is uninspiring is that it is effectively pasteurised, micro-filtered and processed for consistent colour and viscosity – and therefore tastes consistently dull.

At lunchtime on the course, Sarah, who trained as a honey sommelier in Italy,  treated us to a tasting of some of her ”library” of world honeys. Some, like the Sidr from Yemen’s Wadi Dho’an, are unlikely to be available ever again. The crème de la crème are the single flora examples, honey produced by bees which feed only on one source. In the UK,  heather honey from the high moors of Scotland and Yorkshire is one of just a handful of monoflorals we can produce.

Tasting these specimens was an eye opener. The subtlety of flavours was quite remarkable, varying hugely from one to another.  An example from Nepal even had a delicate taste of blue cheese. We tried one of Sarah’s own, containing a fabulous hint of cool menthol. There are a lot of people around here who grow mint in window boxes, she explains. It is little wonder that some of London’s top chefs come here for their honey. Customers include José Pizarro, Tom Kerridge and Michel Roux, junior. Sarah doesn’t sell directly to the public, but you can get hold of her wares at the nearby Giddy Grocer in Bermondsey and from Selfridges. More details on the website – see below.

Boys and girls, go and source the good raw stuff. Honey will never be the same again. Thanks to Sarah for the experience and for this great recipe.

George’s Honey Loaf

(George is one of Sarah and Dale’s apprentice beekeepers. He provided the recipe and eats most of the cake when they make it.) It can be served as a cake or toasted and buttered. You will need a 13 x 23 loaf tin.


300g plain flour; 2 tsp baking powder; ½ tsp salt; 100g softened butter; 175g raw honey, plus 1 tbsp for brushing; 2 eggs, beaten; 75ml milk.


Preheat your oven to 170˚C/Mark 3. Oil the loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper. In one bowl, sift the flour, salt and baking powder. In another bowl, cream the butter. Use an electric whisk unless you want a really good arm workout. Add the honey and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs (gradually, otherwise the mixture may curdle), while continuing to beat. Fold in the flour (use a spatula or metal spoon for folding), then fold in the milk to form a soft dough.

Transfer the dough to the tin and bake. This will take between 45 and 55 minutes, depending on your oven. The loaf should be golden in colour. It is ready when you stick a skewer in the middle and it comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes then remove and put on a wire rack. While the loaf is still warm, brush generously with the extra honey. Allow to cool before attacking.

To find out more about Bermondsey Bees, go to their website at



Bread: Middle Eastern Style

Taboon Pitta

Last week we looked at a couple of walnut based sauces of Middle Eastern origin. Although the tahini was used to dress a carrot salad, it could easily be used as a dip. That needs something to spread it on. In a horrible culture clash we are as likely as not to serve such dips with nacho chips. While I’m not precious about these things, it should be pointed out that you are travelling 7500 miles for the second component. Today I want to look at a couple of breads from nearer the source.

Ask many people in the UK about pitta and they will believe it to be a flat bread. This is a sad indictment of the ghastly stuff sold in packets in supermarkets, with a consistency resembling reinforced cardboard. Freshly made pitta is light, puffy and crisp. It does soon subside, but will leave a pocket which can be stuffed with any number of good things. The finest example I ever had was in a back street restaurant in Turkey where it was made to order on a hot plate by a wee boy who couldn’t have been more than 10.

It’s easy to forget that domestic ovens are relatively new things. You can make today’s taboon in an oven. I’m suggesting the traditional pan method here, and an oven version for the pitta, but you can change as you wish. Finally, a word about the spices and toppings. Ten years ago you couldn’t find za’atar, sumac or nigella seeds for love nor money. The first can be found in most decent supermarkets. It’s a Middle Eastern herb mixture, its composition varying slightly from place to place. The principal component is generally dried thyme, mixed with oregano, toasted sesame seeds and salt. Its flavour will be familiar to those who use Mediterranean mixed herbs. Sumac, on the other hand, has a unique flavour. It is a dark red powder made from the dried fruit of the plant, and has an unmistakeable lemony tang which hits the taste buds at the back of your mouth.

I write this on the day The Apprentice returns to our screens. There is always an episode where the candidates are sent shopping for obscure ingredients. For many years, nigella seeds have been on the list. They are not the same as black onion seeds (though the latter are a decent substitute). They are one of the world’s oldest known spices, samples having been found in Tutankhamun’s tomb – though no one knows why. They are the seeds of nigella sativa and have an oregano like note. In his pitta recipe Paul Hollywood adds 20g of them to his mixture. I’m keeping mine plain.

Sarah Mellersh’s Taboon flatbread

Ingredients (makes 8)

For the bread

300g plain flour; 200g strong white bread flour; 1 tsp fast action yeast; 1 tbsp caster sugar; 1½ tbsp za’atar; 1 tsp salt; 325ml warm water; 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for the resting bowl.

For the topping

3 tbsp za’atar; 1½ tbsp sumac.


Mix all the dry goods in a bowl. Add three quarters of the oil to the water and mix together. Proceed as per normal bread to form a dough. Tip out on to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. (You may need a little more flour.) Put the dough in an oiled bowl, ensuring it all has a light coating of oil. Cover and leave to prove for up to an hour. (As this is a flat bread, you don’t need the longer prove.) Knock back the dough three or four times while in the bowl, then transfer onto a floured surface and divide into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a ball, and roll each one to a thickness of about 3 mm. Place each circle on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle lightly with water and top with the za’atar and sumac. Leave to prove for a further 30 minutes.

To cook, place a large heavy frying pan on a high heat. Add a tiny drizzle (1 – 2 tsp max) of vegetable oil. When the pan is very hot, add a circle of dough and cook for about a minute until brown spots appear on the base. Turn and cook for a further minute. Cover with a damp towel and keep warm while you make the others. Alternatively cook in an oven at maximum heat in which you have put an upturned roasting tray and heated for at least 20 minutes. They will need about 5 minutes, but keep a close eye on them as they burn easily.

Pitta Bread

Ingredients (makes 4 – 6)

250g white bread flour; 7g fast action yeast; 5g salt; 20g nigella seeds (optional – see above); 160ml warm water; 1 tbsp olive oil.


Mix the dry ingredients and the olive oil together. Don’t let the salt touch the yeast – they are natural enemies. Mix the water in gradually as above to form a dough. Knead on an oiled surface for 10 minutes, then leave to rest in an oiled bowl. Prove until doubled in size.

Pre heat the oven to maximum and put a baking tray or stone in to heat up for at least 20 minutes. Tip the dough on to a floured surface. Knock back and form into 4 to 6 balls. Flatten and shape with your fingers. Typically a pitta bread is oval, 5 mm – 1 cm in thickness.

Take the tray or stone from the oven, dust with flour and lay the pitta on it. (You will probably have to do these in batches.) Bake for 5 – 10 minutes, until each pitta has puffed up and is just beginning to brown. Wrap in a cloth and allow to cool slightly. These will not keep.


SudiPigott Sudi's Baked Carrots and Walnut Tahini

One or two things inspired this week’s column. Firstly, by a certain good chum, not be named (yet), who has been promising me a recipe for months, and recently embarked on a jaunt to Israel. But secondly, I was sucked into the orbit of the stellar force that is Sudi Pigott, foodie extraordinaire. More on Sudi to follow.

But which Middle Eastern ingredient to major on? The chickpea? No – even your local Co-op will sell you hummus of a sort. Pine nuts or sesame? Little jewels of glistening pomegranate? We are used to most of them. For today, I’ve settled on the walnut or Juglans regia. If you think it’s not exotic enough for you, just remember that the King of Spain’s daughter came to visit me. All on account of my little nut tree. I’ve also chosen it because, to be frank, we in Scotland don’t have that close a relationship with walnuts. Used primarily in baking and confectionery, but not your cheap sweets of dormant memory. Walnut whips were the poshest of the posh, the thickest chocolate to be had, with tooth achingly sweet whip. Early specimens contained two walnut halves, one on top, one within. I was always glad of a friendly adult on hand to scoff the nut part – I hated them.

But journey with me to the Middle East. My guide has been Yottam Ottolenghi. It took a while for his necessary ingredients to become available, but good things are worth waiting for. The first, muhammara, I have been making for a while. I probably pinched the recipe from the great man: if so, I apologise, a payback for the £000s I’ve spent in his wonderful restaurants.


This is fantastic as a dip served with flatbreads or, for a complete culture clash, nachos. The purists would have you make this by hand in a mortar and pestle. I use a blender, but it is better to chop the walnuts by hand, and use the blender on pulse mode to avoid turning everything to mush.


50g walnuts, finely chopped; 3 red peppers, roasted (see below). (You could get away with pre roasted peppers from a jar); 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed; 1½ tsp ground cumin; 1 tbsp dried chilli flakes; 50g fresh breadcrumbs; ½ tbsp lemon juice; 2 tbsp good olive oil, plus extra to drizzle; 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses; salt.


Roast the peppers in a tray in an oven at 200˚C/Mark 6 for 30 – 35 minutes. Don’t worry if the skins blacken – in fact that’s a good thing. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then skin and deseed. Put in a food processor with the garlic, cumin, chilli, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. Pulse together, ensuring that some texture still remains. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the walnuts, a couple of large pinches of salt and the olive oil. Adjust from here with some more pomegranate molasses and salt to reach a good balance, remembering that this is intended to be a strong flavour. If you like, drizzle with more oil before serving. Truth be told, I’m not one of life’s great drizzlers. Oi, I said driZZlers!

Sudi Pigott’s Roasted Carrots with Walnut Tahini

I ate the tahini at Sudi’s food writing course in Bermondsey last week. I asked for the recipe. Not only did she provide that, she gave me this brilliant carrot dish often eaten at Rosh Hashanah, which, this year, begins on 29 September and ends in the evening of 1 October. So, to Sudi, thank you and Shanah tovah!


For the walnut tahini dressing

120g chopped walnuts, plus extra for garnish; 120g good tahini; 1 tbsp honey; 30ml olive or walnut oil; 15g crushed coriander seeds; generous pinch chilli flakes; cold water; sea salt and freshly ground pepper.


Pre heat the oven to 200˚C/Mark 6.  Roast the walnuts for 5 minutes.  Blend the ingredients then add a little water to make a thickish pouring dressing. Season to taste.

For the carrot salad

8 carrots, peeled and sliced about 50mm thick; extra virgin olive oil; 1 heaped tsp baharat; 2 oranges, sliced thinly, skin on; 2 tbsp good raw honey; 2 tbsp chopped parsley.


Place carrots in a large ovenproof tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with baharat.  Roast in the same oven for 20 minutes, turning half way through   Then add the orange and honey and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Allow to cool, then dress with the tahini and garnish with some extra walnuts and the chopped parsley.

Sudi Pigott is a journalist, food writer, restaurant consultant and bloody good cook. She is the author of various books including How To Be A Better Foodie and Flipping Good Pancakes.

She also runs food writing courses. From personal experience I can say that after a day spent in the company of the effervescent Ms Pigott, you will have learned a great deal about many things, including, but not restricted to, food writing. Find out more at


Mark Baird’s Rovellini

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This week’s guest recipe comes from friend and fellow foodie, Mark Baird. Mark is known in Tom Eats! circles as the RCI, Retired Captain of Industry. Before his recent retirement he ran Diageo almost single handedly, despite one or two people who claimed to be further up the corporate ladder (Head of Alcohol in Society/Head of  Industry Affairs and Alcohol Policy, it says here – Ed). I’ve been trying for a while to persuade Mark to part with a recipe or two from his Italian background. He tells me that this one was a speciality of his mother’s. Its Sunday name is Rovellini/e Lucchese/i, from the province of Lucchese in Tuscany, whence she hailed.

The recipe calls for rump. Don’t be tempted to use better quality beef – it needs to stand up to a long slow cook. Mark tells me that this was the cucina povera version of the dish: richer folk had a version with veal and capers. I’ve tracked down a version of that too, but I’m sure Mark’s mum’s dish was the better. No one know knows what rovellini/e means; sugo is Italian for sauce (often tomato); and gremolata is the Italian for gremolata.

Rovellini in sugo with gremolata

Ingredients (serves 2)

2 rump steaks, beaten out to a thickness of about 1cm and cut into 5cm squares; seasoned flour; 1 egg, beaten; breadcrumbs.

For the sugo

2 tins Italian plum tomatoes (San Marzano if possible); 1 onion, finely chopped; 1 stick of celery, peeled and very finely chopped; 1 carrot, peeled and very finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed; 1 red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped;  1 glass red wine (125 – 150ml); 1 tsp dried oregano; 1 tbsp sugar; olive oil; water;  s & p.

For the gremolata

2 tbsp finely chopped curly parsley; grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon; 1 clove garlic, crushed.


Get your sugo started first. In a large, wide pan, big enough to hold the meat and sauce in a single layer, soften the onion in the olive oil for around 5 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and chilli. Fry for another 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Chuck in the tomatoes, and break them up a bit. Add 2 cans of water, making sure you get all of the juice out of the tins. Stir in the wine and sugar. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for at least an hour.

Next, breadcrumb the squares of beef in the usual way. Have three separate plates (with a rim), one for each of the flour, egg and breadcrumbs (in that order), and a plate for the finished squares. Flour each piece of meat, knocking off any excess, coat thoroughly with egg, then dip both sides in the breadcrumbs, ensuring a complete even coating. (TOP TIP – use one hand only, preferable your non dominant hand. That way, should you need to get some more flour or crumbs, or answer the phone, or put the TV on pause, you can do so without reducing your kitchen to a bombsite. That doesn’t come from Mark’s mum, but from the voice of bitter experience – me.) Cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour. Overnight will do no harm (and a long slow cook for a sugo is never a bad thing either). Take out at least half an hour before starting to cook it.

To make the gremolata, finely chop the parsley. Mark suggests using kitchen scissors in a mug or jug – exactly the same way I would do it. Mix together with the garlic and lemon zest and set aside to allow the flavours to marry. When zesting the lemon, take care to avoid the white pith, as this is quite bitter.

Brown the slices of crumbed meat in batches in olive oil over a medium heat. This will need about 1½ minutes per side. As always when browning, don’t overcrowd the pan. You will end up steaming instead of frying, and the meat won’t colour. Drain the beef on kitchen paper and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.

The final stage is to put the beef in the sauce and simmer with the lid on for one and a half to two hours. You can do this on the stove or in a low oven.  Keep an eye on the liquid levels and top up with a little water if needed. The meat should be tender and the sauce nicely thickened.

Plate the beef, spoon the sugo on top, and put a couple of teaspoons of gremolata on top of each slice. Some would also add a squeeze of lemon.

In Mark’s house this would be served with potatoes boiled in chicken stock and green beans dressed with garlic and good olive oil.

The ”posher” version

I found a version (pictured above) from an Italian chef called Aurelio Battatini. His restaurant, Antica Locanda di Sesto, claims to be able to trace its roots to 1368. There is in fact precious little difference. His version uses veal instead of beef, and therefore needs less cooking. He uses fresh tomato. In Scotland, this is not to be recommended. A handful of capers is added to the sauce (anchovies are a possibility too) and, surprise, surprise, it is credited to Aurelio’s nonna (grandmother). Why, when Italians wax lyrical about their culinary roots, does it always seem that a generation has been skipped? Mark’s mum gets my vote.


Glazed Raspberry Tart

Raspberry Tart

2019 has been a horribly disappointing year for strawberries, due, no doubt, to the lack of sun. Raspberries, on the other hand, have been loving the damp and relatively cool weather. The quality has been fantastic, and I don’t remember having such a long season. This week’s recipe is a showstopper to celebrate the great crop.

As many of you will know, I generally don’t use photographs of my own food. There is an exception this week, one which I made with raspberries and blueberries. The beauty of this is that you can use any fruit you like – just taste it first. I like tartness of rasps, but if using brambles (blackberries for the non-Scots) they might need a little dusting of icing sugar.

A quick word about the creamy filling. There are three terms you need to understand. It would be easier if we used them in English, but as many of the recipes use the French equivalents, here is a quick glossary.

Crème Chantilly – this is simply double cream which has been whipped and sweetened. To 250 ml double cream add 2 tbsp caster sugar and (optionally) 1 tsp vanilla extract (not essence). Beat until stiff, but as always with cream, take care not to overdo it.

Crème pȃtissière – known in English as confectioners’ custard, the pros will refer to it as crème pat. Has a wide range of uses. Interestingly, recipes which I have researched use as few as two and as many as four egg yolks for virtually the same amount of milk. See below for the recipe.

Crème diplomat – this is crème pat mixed with some crème Chantilly. While for something like a mille feuille you might want the eggy custardy loveliness of crème pat on its own, a tart filling is probably best made with this. Your choice.

Glazed Raspberry Tart (makes a 22cm tart)


For the pastry

170g plain flour; 100g butter, cold, cubed; 1 egg yolk; 50g caster sugar; pinch of salt; very cold water.

For the crème pȃtissière

250 ml full fat milk; 3 egg yolks; 1 tsp vanilla extract (optional); 50g caster sugar; 10g plain flour; 10g cornflour.

For the topping

2 punnets raspberries (700 – 800g) (or other fruit of choice); redcurrant jelly – 3 or 4 tbsp, possibly more.


If making the pastry in the traditional way, sieve the flour and place in a bowl with the butter, salt and sugar. Rub together until the texture resembles breadcrumbs. Loosen the mixture with the egg yolk and 2 tbsp water and mix to a firm dough. Alternatively, chuck everything in a food processor and blitz. Form a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

While the pastry is chilling, make the custard and the Chantilly cream. Bring the milk and vanilla to the boil, then remove from the heat.

In a separate bowl whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and both flours. Pour in a little of the milk and whisk together until thoroughly incorporated. This is the critical phase. If you add too much heat to egg yolks, you will end up with scrambled eggs, and you’ll have to start again. Gradually whisk in the rest of the milk. Return to the milk pan and cook over a medium heat, whisking continuously. You’re looking for your custard to thicken. Alarmingly, it will go lumpy. Panic not and keep beating until it goes smooth (trust me, it will). Cook gently for another couple of minutes. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover, to prevent a skin from forming. When cooled, transfer to the fridge. If you are going to make crème diplomat, prepare your Chantilly cream next and chill. This will mean you have a bit too much crème pat. Have fun later with profiteroles or custard slices – that’s for another day.

Grease a 22cm tart tin, preferably one with a removable base. If you do a lot of baking, hold on to old butter papers which are great for this. (Mind you, if you do a lot of baking, you probably already know this.) Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin. (If, like me, you’re not very good at rolling pastry, you might be interested in this You Tube video – Arrange the pastry in the tart tin. Don’t trim the edges at this stage – this way you will avoid the problem of the sides shrinking. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4 and put a baking sheet in to heat up. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork. (Don’t go right through.) For this process, known as blind baking, you need to weight the pastry down. Cut a piece of greaseproof paper larger than the tart tin. Place it over the pastry then weigh down with dried peas, beans or other pulses. Alternatively, you can buy ceramic beans. Put the tart tin on top of the preheated baking sheet (to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom) in the centre of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Check that the sides are cooked, then remove the paper and the ballast.  Do remember that you won’t be able to use your dried peas, or whatever, again for normal cooking, but keep them in a separate jar for your next great bake off. Return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until the base is golden brown and looks cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Trim off the excess pastry.

To assemble the tart, melt the redcurrant jelly in a saucepan. It obviously doesn’t need cooking – it just needs to be liquid enough to form a glaze.

Spoon your crème diplomat or crème pat into the tart base and smooth the surface. Arrange the fruit in circles, or whatever design you fancy (a visit to the window of any Parisian patisserie will give you ideas). The cream should be completely covered by the fruit. With a pastry brush, glaze the entire surface of the fruit. Chill in the fridge, then serve. Voilà!

Prawns Part 2

Kerala Prawn Curry 2 Prawn noodle broth

Last week we left things hanging with what to do with the heads and shells of the glorious langoustines which, I seriously hope, you did not overcook. The answer, in a word, is stock. If I had to pick one single difference between a pro and an amateur kitchen, I would point to the permanent access to lots of good stock of various varieties. The trouble is, you need  quantities of the basics. Writing of prawn stock, a professional would probably suggest you start with a minimum of 2kg of shells.

Boys and girls, that’s not going to happen in your kitchen. If you are serving langoustines, you will probably allow 4, maybe 6, per person. You can remove heads and claws, but you’re not going to recycle the remainder from guests’ plates, with slathers of mayo, toothmarks etc. So be realistic. For the broth recipe below, I started with eight sets of heads and claws.

Secondly (and this applies to all types of stock), you have to decide at what stage of the proceedings you are going to start adding flavour. Many recipes will counsel you to add all sorts of things (generally known in the trade as aromats (short for aromatics). For years I was in the add-at-the-beginning camp; however, after a lesson at Martin Wishart’s cookery school I’ve changed my mind. The argument there was that you generally don’t know at the outset what you are eventually going to do with the stock. For that reason, it makes sense to delay any form of flavouring and seasoning until you do, so that your stock will better complement the final dish.

Langoustine Stock (Quantity will depend on the quantity of shells you have, doh!)

Take the heads, claws and any (clean) left over shells. Rinse them. If you can be bothered you will enhance the flavour by bashing them up a bit (not too small) and roasting with a drizzle of olive oil in an oven at 200˚C/Mark 6 for 15 minutes. Put in a pan, add just enough water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Drain, allow to cool, and skim off any scum.

So, you have your stock – now what to do with it? Fish/prawn stock alone can be very strong, which is fine for an intense bisque, but can be overpowering. For the following broth I’m using equal amounts of chicken and prawn stock. But before that, let’s return to the crustaceans. Lobster and crayfish aside (the latter is a freshwater beast) the UK waters yield up about five other species of prawn ranging from the tiny brown shrimp to black tiger prawns. In our shops you are more likely to find the latter from south east Asia where they are farmed. There is no point in using langoustines in dishes with a long cook or too much heat – they will simply disintegrate.

Thai Style Prawn Noodle Broth

Ingredients (makes 500 – 600 ml)

300ml prawn stock; 300ml chicken stock; 4 (2 if they are large) shallots, finely chopped; 1 stalk lemon grass, bruised (bashed with rolling pin or the flat of a large knife) and cut into 3 or 4 sections; piece of ginger, about 3 cm, peeled and grated; 2 cloves garlic, crushed; 1- 2 red chillies for the broth, plus one for garnish (optional); fish sauce; 2 limes; squeeze of tomato purée; olive oil; prawns, uncooked but peeled, if large sliced horizontally into thin slices; spring onions, green parts only, finely sliced into rings; noodles (your choice), 1 block per person; chilli flakes (optional); soy sauce (for the noodles – light is better).


Stage 1

The purpose of this stage is to give you a good aromatic stock which can be finished off quickly at stage two. Take half of the shallots (you could use the white parts of the spring onions) and soften gently in the oil along with the garlic, ginger and chilli, (one or two of the latter, depending on your preference). When the shallots are soft, add the lemon grass and cook for a minute or two. Pour in the two stocks, juice of half a lime and some fish sauce. Don’t worry about exact flavours – you’ll adjust this at stage 2. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain (reserving the liquid, obviously. Don’t laugh – I’m sure I’m not the only person who has mistaken a stock pot and a noodle pot and neatly strained a pot of stock down the sink. You only do it once, though.)

Stage 2

Have all the ingredients to hand and ready sliced/chopped. Soften the remaining shallots, then add the tomato purée.  In a separate pan, boil the water for your noodles and put them on to cook. Return the strained stock to the pan. Bring to a simmer. Adjust the seasoning with fish sauce and lime juice. Add the prawns and anything else you want to cook in the broth. It could be slivers of chicken or pork, but cut into thin strips to be able to cook in a minute or two. When the prawns/whatever are cooked you are ready to serve.

Drain the noodles and season with soy sauce. Put one helping into each bowl and top up with the broth. Arrange the prawn slices on top, give an extra squeeze of lime juice, then either scatter with the chilli and spring onion, or put on the table for people to serve themselves.

Today’s second helping is a curry from the south of India. Until I visited I hadn’t realised that you can have a curry on the table in 10 minutes. This is akin to a stir fry. Make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and immediately to hand

Kerala Prawn Curry

The quantity of prawns per person is up to you. If they are large you may want to cut them up. It is neater if you shell them first. For my own part I don’t like having to shell prawns which are in a sauce, but your choice.

Ingredients (serves 2)

Tiger prawns (see above, possibly 3 good sized ones per person); 30ml vegetable oil, coconut if you have it; 1tsp fenugreek seeds; 100g thinly sliced onions; 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced; 10g ginger, finely julienned; 1 green chilli, finely julienned – leave the seeds in for extra heat if you like it hot; 2 curry leaves; large pinch turmeric; 60 ml water; 100ml coconut milk; 1 tsp lemon juice; salt; coriander, chopped (optional).


Heat the oil in a pan (stir fry heat) and add the fenugreek seeds. Add the garlic, ginger, green chill, onions, curry leaves and sauté till transparent, stirring frequently.  Add the turmeric powder and water. Add the prawns with salt. When the fish is cooked, reduce the heat, add the coconut milk and simmer. After adding coconut milk, curry should not boil. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with coriander.

Prawns: What’s in a Name?


Langoustines Cooked Langoustines fresh Langoustines Grilled

What we’re looking at today is the wonderful Nephrops norvegicus. I first encountered these in Wester Ross in the late 1960s when they were known to fishermen and consumers alike as prawns. Once we started to be inundated with imports from all over, the naming became confusing. The term Dublin Bay prawns was common – indeed, that’s the word Rick Stein employs in his definitive book, Seafood, first published in 2001. They were once referred to as scampi, since at one time that was virtually the only way they were eaten in this country. Back in my Wester Ross days, the processing plant took to boxing them and exporting them as Gairloch Baby Lobster Tails. Nowadays, for some reason, we seem universally to have adopted the French word, langoustine. For the purposes of this article I’m using the terms langoustines and prawns as interchangeable.  It is astonishing to imagine that in the 1950s Scottish fishermen would throw them back as being worthless. Equally remarkable that in an early food scam, people started making scampi using monkfish, since that too was considered to be unsellable otherwise. Speaking of food scams-

The Great Prawn Rip Off

Back in the day, no self-respecting fishmonger would dream of selling you a langoustine with the head and claws on unless you asked for it. These are of course great for stock, and many will claim that sucking the head is the best part. But do the sums. If you are forced to buy the full critter, this means that at least one third of your very expensive purchase is inedible. What next? Selling caviar and including the weight of the tin?

Prices vary enormously. Scanning the internet, you can get live langoustines delivered for about £17 – £35 a kilo depending on size. Expensive, you think? Read on. A London based company called Fine Food Specialists will charge you £135 for 2 kilos or, if you buy through Amazon, a mere £300.09 for the same quantity. This column enjoys a good laugh. At the other end of the scale, I know of a fishmonger, somewhere in Scotland, who will sell you a box of small fresh langoustine tails for £7. The last one I bought contained 46 of them. Where? Ha! Do truffle hunters tell you where they find their black gold? Tom Cooks! loves its readers, but there are limits.

If buying online, read the small print and make sure you are buying fresh, not frozen. So, now you have taken possession of your fine crustacea and parted with a little or a lot of cash, what are you going to do with them? Read the books and you will be thoroughly bamboozled. They will also confuse you as to when you should eat them, as prawns are available all the year round. According to the Marine Conservation Society, the season is from September to May. On the other hand Andy Smith of Castle Game Scotland (more details below) tells me that according to his best customer, one of Edinburgh’s most famous chefs, they come to their most succulent best around the time of the Wimbledon fortnight.

How to Prepare and Cook Langoustines

To disguise the fact that you are being sold a very small and expensive portion, restaurants will often cook and serve the head and claws. Unless you are a brain sucker (see above), there is virtually nothing edible in that part. Remove the head and claws (simply pull them off with a twisting motion) and set aside. The prawn is a simple creature. Its insides comprise a thin line of black gut running through the middle. It’s harmless but gritty and a little unpleasant to eat.  If you want to remove this (or de-vein, as it’s known) before cooking, here is a simple trick. Hold the body firmly and gently twist the tail fins one way then another. Pull, and the gut should come out smoothly.

Boiled Langoustines

Simple boiling is my preferred way of cooking prawns. If you want to ruin them, follow the books. Overcooked langoustines will turn to mush. You will be left sucking at some scraps and weeping over your wasted investment. Cooking times will vary a little according to size. The last batch I bought were quite big, about 9 to the kilo.

Bring a large pan of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Have to hand another pan of iced water. Drop the tails into the boiling water and cook for 45 seconds (smaller ones may need as little as 30). Remove and plunge immediately into the iced water. I suppose if you are cooking the heads it may take longer, but there is a video on You Tube where a lady advised cooking for 3 – 4 minutes. Tellingly we didn’t see her eating them. The glory of this type of prawn is when the flesh is firm enough to come out in one piece, enabling you to bite into its glorious sweetness.

Peeling is a little fiddly until you get used to it. On each side of the shell, at the bottom, there is a horribly sharp ridge which can make this a painful process. Hold each side of the prawn between both thumbs and forefingers just above that ridge. Squeeze hard until the top of the shell cracks. You can then peel it off from the top, avoiding the pain-giving part below.

I would serve these cold. For me plain is best, with just a squeeze of lemon and a grind of black pepper. A good mayonnaise is always welcome. For these beauties I would make my own. Marie Rose sauce is a classic accompaniment, but for prawns of this quality, serve it or the mayo on the side. Don’t mask the delicate flavour.

Grilled Langoustines

The old cliché of Australian-ism, chuck another prawn on the barbie, is actually an excellent way of doing them. Split the prawn in two and grill on a BBQ for about 2 minutes, cut side up. They get a lovely smokiness. You can also cook them under a hot grill, in which case I would dot with garlic or herb butter. (Tarragon, dill and parsley all work very well). Again, a couple of minutes will do.

If I have one plea to you all, whatever you do, please don’t overcook.

And what of the heads and legs, you ask? I’m running out of space – that’s for another day. But finally-

Marie Rose Sauce

To mayonnaise add a good amount of tomato ketchup (approximately 4 parts mayo to 2 of ketchup), a squeeze or two of lemon juice and some Tabasco (other hot sauces are available). Now the bit that most people forget – a splash of cooking brandy. Mix well togetgher. Taste as you go, and find a blend that suits you. I prefer mine with a wee bit of a kick.

The best langoustines I’ve had lately have come from Castle Game Scotland, Trinlaymire Farm, EH49 6NF, just outside Linlithgow. They get them from Argyll. Availability and opening times may vary. Contact Andy Smith or Neil Gilmour on 07791 673060





(Not) Bouillabaisse


So you want to cook bouillabaisse? Well, you can’t. Says who? Says The Marseillle Bouillabaisse Charter, issued in 1980 by a group of restaurateurs in the city. The stated objective is to specify the elements of a good quality Bouillabaisse, with the goal to make this local dish better known among customers, while at the same time respecting the art of the professional. It sets out some mandatory ingredients, the required accompaniment, rouille, and also stipulates that the fish must be cut up in front of the guests.

Now before we accuse the French of getting too uppity, the charter does concede that this started life as a humble fisherman’s dish, one which has been refined and improved over the years. Fish soup, after all, is hardly unique to France. It was probably known to the Phoeceans (no, not the Phoenicians, smart alecs), an ancient Greek people who founded Marseille around 600 BC. The Spaniards have had sopa de pescados for ever. Even the rather chauvinist Larousse Gastronomique concedes that brodetto, the Italian equivalent, almost certainly predates today’s dish.

How do fishermen make their living? No, not by catching fish, but by selling them. And that which they couldn’t sell, such as scorpion fish (rascasse) and conger, became staples of their own diet. Originally these would have been very simply prepared, cleaned and cooked whole in a soup of veg, the bones and heads creating the stock. The Mediterranean version, flavoured with fennel, thyme and bay, began to acquire its own identity. The addition of rouille, a wonderful garlicky mayonnaise served  on slices of stale bread elevated it. Some types of sea food are listed in the Charter as being acceptable: more sophisticated versions began to use lobster.  One reads of sea urchins being added to the platter in the 1930s.

So that which was once a rustic stew has moved on. By making the fish stock in advance, the bisque becomes worth eating as a course in its own right. It is optional whether you serve the soup and rouille first, followed by the fish (possibly with extra potatoes cooked in the stock), or have it all as one plate. You can keep your soup chunky, or blend it. Even the Marsellaises concede you an element of choice. As we can’t readily get scorpion fish or white scorpion fish, or cigale de mer or spiny lobster, we ain’t going to be authentic. And as we Brits aren’t terribly keen on coping with chunks of whole fish, I’m committing the heresy (as suggested by Rick Stein) of using fillets. Use the heads (minus gills and eyes) and bones to make your stock in advance. With the addition of lobster, I’m going for the luxury end. Let’s face it, no fish is cheap these days. An everyday peasant dish this is not. Better rarely but well is often my food motto. This is a pick and mix from various recipes.  Here goes.

A Good Fish Soup (with a nod to Bouillabaisse)

Ingredients (serves 8 – 10)

For the soup

4 fillets, each one about 170 – 200g, from each of John Dory, gurnard and pollack, cut into two or three pieces; 800g monkfish tails, cut into large cubes; 2 cooked lobsters, flesh removed and cut into large chunks; 300g mussels, cleaned; 2 medium onions, chopped; 1 leek, chopped; 2 carrots, chopped; 1 fennel bulb, chopped (reserve the fronds); 4 cloves garlic, crushed; 1 x 400g tin of tomatoes; 1 potato (about 100g), peeled; 150ml olive oil; 2 litres fish stock; bouquet garni, made of a bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme and 2 sprigs of parsley; large pinch of saffron; pinch of crushed chilli flakes or cayenne pepper; 2 strips orange peel; s & p.

For the rouille

100g potato, cooked in the stock (see the above recipe); about 100 ml best olive oil (I use Orodeal); 2 garlic cloves, crushed; pinch of saffron; 1 egg yolk; 1 tbsp lemon juice; salt and white pepper.

For the croutons

1 thin baguette, thinly sliced (allow 2 – 3 slices per person); 2 cloves garlic; olive oil; grated parmesan cheese (to serve separately)


If you’re being really authentic, fillet your fish and cut into the appropriate sizes. Alternatively, ask your fishmonger to do that and get him to give you the bones to make the stock. If you’re being really lazy, buy good quality fish stock. A cube will NOT do for this. Cook your lobsters (boil in heavily salted water for 15 minutes. Please kill the beasts first by plunging a sharp knife into the brain in the slit between their eyes). Shell and reserve the meat, keeping the shells (including heads, legs etc) for your stock.

Make the stock. While this is on the go, cook the veg gently in the olive oil with the garlic. Don’t allow them to colour. Season with pepper and the chilli or cayenne, but avoid salt at this stage. Add the tomatoes, bouquet garni, fish stock, saffron, orange peel and potato. Simmer gently for 20 – 30 minutes, fish out the potato after 20 minutes or so when it is on the point of collapse.

To make the croutons, rub the slices of bread with cut garlic, drizzle with olive oil and bake in an oven at around 200˚C for about 15 minutes until crisp. This is a good use for stale bread, which will need less time. These can be made in advance.

To make the rouille, put the garlic, saffron, lemon juice and cooked potato in a food processor with a pinch of salt. Blitz together with the egg yolk, then gradually add the oil until you have a mayonnaise like consistency. Season to taste.

Back to the soup. Remove the bouquet garni and orange peel and blitz with a hand blender. If you want to be very swish you could sieve it, but I wouldn’t. Check the seasoning. Bring it to a simmer then start to poach the fish. You need to add the densest fish first. The monkfish will take longer than the others. Make sure you don’t overcook – in fact, as you’ll need to keep the fish warm for a little while, slightly undercooked is best. When the fish is ready, remove and keep warm. Add the mussels and lobster pieces. When the mussels are cooked (they take just a couple of minutes) you’re ready to serve. Give everyone an equitable amount of fish and shellfish and ladle over the soup. Serve with the croutons, rouille and cheese. Garnish with the fennel fronds or parsley. A squeeze of lemon won’t go amiss either. And please don’t email to say that the photo doesn’t have fennel on it. I don’t photograph my own food. That’s not as easy as you might think – I stick to cooking the stuff.

My preference is to serve this as one course, but as mentioned above you could serve as two.

Tom Cooks!

In memory of Jim Kendall

Jim Kendall

Yesterday, two unthinkable things happened. Firstly, I discovered that L and I both had a completely empty calendar. Ladies and gentlemen, in the month of August, this is something which does not happen. With a few mouse clicks I soon remedied that. Three Fringe shows and a bite of dinner (The Outsider on George IV Bridge, since you ask, fabulous as ever). Back home to a sad phone call from Marion Kendall. A few of you will know her. More of you will have known her husband Jim, better known in Tom Eats! circles as Long Tall JK. Marion is Jim’s third wife. Meg died of cancer, Helen of MND. Marion came into Jim’s life some three years ago. Time for some fun.

Jim dropped dead last Friday (9 August), making breakfast, I gather. Fitting perhaps – though horrible for those left behind of course – as he was one of the best cooks and most knowledgeable foodies I know/knew. This column is about Jim.

I have bored many of you with the tale of our first meeting, dinner at Jim & Meg’s in Dunfermline one Friday night in the 1980s. I hated going out on a Friday. I had met Meg but once. Tall, pale and interesting. Clearly a vegetarian. I had spied Jim from afar. Similar. And probably a teetotaller. So my precious Friday night is to be taken up at some dry, vegan affair. Couston Street front room was a bit Laura Ashley, in a posh sort of way. Lots of ethnic knick knacks, the sort that veggies collect on their travels. Nice company, good smells from the kitchen. Ten minutes on, nae drink. Suddenly Meg said, Jim, you haven’t given these people a glass. And, lo and behold, what appeared? Rhubarb wine? Dandelion and burdock? Nope, some excellent red Burgundy. OK, veggies, but not teetotal, praise the Lord.

The call to dinner confirmed my fears. An obviously home made loaf adorned the table. Really. Only veggies make their own bread. (Oh, I do? But this was  in the 1980s). But they don’t make wondrously garlicky pork terrine. Or rich dark venison stew. 35 years on, I still remember that meal, and others around the same table. Great cheese, which was hard to find in Dunfermline in those days. An apple with it, asked Jim? Just the right sharpness of pippin to go with the cheddar. Details mattered to Jim.

We lost touch for a bit after Meg died, and were reacquainted at Helen’s funeral. The next meetings were, of course, around a table. This week’s intended Tom Cooks! column is about bouillabaisse. Our first dinner with the twice widowered Mr Kendall featured one of the finest shellfish bisques I have ever eaten. Thickened with rice, he told me.

He then became a regular feature in the Tom Eats! column. As ever, his standards were probably more stringent than mine. Before one of these trysts he asked if I would mind him bringing a friend. Thus it was that Ms Marion Sutherland entered our lives. While my naming of characters isn’t up there with Mr Dickens, I called it right when I dubbed her HEF, His Elegant Friend. I remember that meal too, Contini in George Street. It was Marion who, returning from the ladies, spied the cheese board and insisted we sampled it. All Italian, of the highest standard. Where there were Kendalls and food, quality was insisted upon.

So, I apologise to those of you seeking a recipe or two. But let me give you memories of terrines, venison stew, fish soup. Of lunches long and laughter filled. Of conversations featuring family, friends and fun. I’ll stop now. I have a tear in the eye as I type this. Love to Jane, Anne and Marion. Godspeed, Jim Kendall.


Fennel Bulb Fennel Seeds

I am taking my first faltering steps to learn the Czech language. People tell me it’s difficult, but my guess is that learning English pronunciations must be a nightmare.  Take for example the words, therefore, plant, pack, female pig: so, sew, stow, but sow. Or, things in a line, type of deer, propel a boat, argue: row, roe, row, but row. Now the Italian language, with which I’m reasonably familiar, has its moments too, but I’m attracted to the resonance of similar words with completely different meanings. Take, for example, Pinocchio, ginocchio, finocchio: wooden puppet, knee, fennel, today’s vegetable.

Not all that commonly used in the UK, fennel is a member of the carrot family. More fascinating, but useless facts? Of course. The Greek word for fennel is μάραθος (marathos). The name of site of the battle, which in turn became the name of the race, simply means a plain with fennel. The bulb is also similar in appearance to hemlock. Best to keep sourcing it from Waitrose or the like.

In addition to the bulb, one can use fennel in seed form, or the feathery frond like leaves, which are similar in appearance to dill. In short, a lot of versatility. The Italian classic cook book, The Silver Spoon, lists no fewer than 22 fennel recipes, including a pie recipe and an en croȗte version, in addition to the more common braising or roasting. Most dishes will be using the so called Florence fennel, the irregularly shaped bulbs. According to The Silver Spoon, bulbs are either male (round) or female (elongated). We are also told that the former are better eaten raw, while the latter are better cooked. Who knew? Certainly not I.

To prepare a bulb, wash it, remove the stalks and tough outer leaves and trim the base. You can half or quarter it and add to a tray of veg for roasting, drizzled with oil and seasoned with thyme or rosemary. When cooked that way it will resemble an onion. If your guests include a fennel hater such as Mrs J, do warn them. The aniseedy flavour (it is an important ingredient in the making of absinthe) is not to everyone’s taste. As with onions, cooking mellows the flavour.

Fennel and Orange Salad

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and very thinly sliced (see below) (reserving a few of the fronds for garnish); 1 or 2 small oranges, peeled and segmented; 4 tbsp good olive oil (I use Orodeal); juice of 1 lemon; salt and pepper.


If you have a very sharp knife and good skills you could slice the bulbs by hand, but it’s much easier if you have a mandolin on the thinnest setting. Quartering the bulbs will make the task easier. Immediately after cutting mix with the lemon juice (otherwise the fennel discolours) and season with salt and pepper. I would use sea salt for this. Drizzle half the oil over the veg and leave in the fridge or in a cool place for an hour. If refrigerating, remove half an hour before service. Segment the oranges (we’ve covered this before, but there’s a good training video on You Tube at Add the rest of the oil, and check the seasoning. Garnish with the orange segments and fennel fronds.

Braised Fennel with White Wine and Pernod

Ingredients (serves 4, or more if used as a side veg)

4 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into wedges (8 if large, 4 or 6 if small); 3 tbsp olive oil; 50g butter; 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed; 200 ml dry white wine; 3 tbsp Pernod; large handful chopped parsley; salt and pepper.


Preheat the oven to 150˚C/Mark. Put the oil and garlic into an oven proof pan with a lid, season the fennel and cook gently until lightly browned. This will take 10 – 15 minutes. Add the butter, wine and Pernod, and bring to the boil. Spoon the juices over the wedges. Cover the pan and cook until the veg are completely soft. Depending on size this may take about 45 – 60 minutes, but check and baste after half an hour. When done, sprinkle with the parsley and serve immediately.



Vietnamese Chicken and Carrot Salad

Vietnamese Salad (2)

A few weeks ago, we looked at warm salads. At that time I commended the cuisines of the east for the vibrancy of their salads. Now that we are at last getting a bit of heat, this is a good time to venture there. This one is adapted from a Sarah Mellersh recipe. You have met Sarah many times in this column. Sadly, Let’s Cook Scotland will close its doors in September. I’ll let you know what she plans to do next.

You could easily do this as a side salad minus the chicken. The peanuts are also optional – doing this for a Tuesday evening tea I forgot to add them – but you will lose a nice bit of crunch. Vietnam, like Thailand and other neighbouring cuisines, adheres quite strictly to its four pillars of sweet, sour, hot and salty. There is some heat from the sweet chilli sauce. You can obviously adjust that to your taste. Lime is an ever present sour, and fish sauce gives the salt. Carrots have a natural sweetness, and the sweet chilli enhances that. While you can use supermarket readymade, you will see from the accompanying recipe that carrots are also an integral part of a sweet chilli sauce.

You are looking to have very thin strips of chicken in the salad. You could of course just slice your cooked chicken; however, doing it this way means it cooks very quickly (and healthily) and you get the benefit of your aromats on every sliver. To butterfly a chicken breast, open it up and remove the straggly bit on the side (the faux filet). That part will be thin enough, but cut in half to match the thickness of your end product. The videos will just show you how to cut it in half. Start by cutting straight down in the middle, stopping before you cut through. Then, with your knife parallel to the board, cut through the thick section on each side, again stopping before you cut completely through. Straighten up the cut and fold over the flap, like turning the page of a book. Repeat the exercise as often as you like (I saw a stall holder in Ecuador do this six times to achieve a wafer thin fillet). Do the same on the other side. You’ll end up with something about 50mm thick. Don’t worry if this seems too much of a palaver, but it does make you feel very eastern, especially if you use a razor sharp cleaver.

Finally, a note on fish sauce. If you wanted to be really authentic, you would insist on nuoc mam, which is Vietnamese fish sauce. Nam pla is the Thai equivalent, which is slightly more salty and pungent, or so I am told. Anyone whose store cupboard contains more than one type is far too serious a foodie for this column. Use what you have. In the supermarkets you are more likely to find Thai.

Ingredients (this will serve 4 as a light meal. In Vietnamese style, better served with a range of other dishes. As a salad, minus the chicken, great with a barbecue)

2 chicken breasts, thinly butterflied (see above); 3 large carrots, peeled and grated; ½ white cabbage, heart removed, finely shredded; 1 large bunch mint, stalks removed, chopped; 2 cm cube of ginger, peeled and grated, plus 6 thin slices for the chicken; 3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (ready made or see below); 3 tbsp fish sauce (see above); soy sauce (preferably light); juice of 1 lime, plus lime segments for garnish; large handful salted peanuts, chopped (optional); handful copped coriander (optional).


First cook the chicken, ideally in a steamer. If you don’t have a steamer, use a solid sided colander and improvise a lid. Put slices of ginger on top and sprinkle liberally with soy sauce. Steam for five minutes, the set aside. If steaming is impossible, poach in a frying pan with the minimum amount of liquid necessary to cover it. Set aside to cool, then slice into thin slivers.

Put the carrot, cabbage and mint in a bowl. Mix together the fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce and grated ginger. Pour over the veg and toss well. Sprinkle on the peanuts, if using, then arrange the chicken on top. Finish with some chopped coriander, if you fancy.

Sweet Chilli Sauce (this can also be used as a dipping sauce)

Adjust the quantity of chilli to suit your taste, and remove the seeds if you wish. It is more authentic with the seeds left in.


75g grated carrots; 1 red chilli, finely chopped, seeds left in (see above); 100ml water; 100ml vinegar (ideally rice, which failing white wine – NOT malt); 100g sugar; large pinch or two of salt.


Put the water, sugar, vinegar and salt in a pan and heat slowly until the sugar dissolves. Then add the chilli and carrots. Bring to the boil, and bubble gently, stirring occasionally until the mixture turns syrupy. This should take about five minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Thanks again to Sarah for permission to use and adapt her recipes. Let’s Cook Scotland will be missed by many.



Amalfi lemons Lemon Ice Cream

Taken for granted by many who may use them only to garnish a G & T, the lemon is an underrated kitchen essential. A cooking tool, to prevent your butter browning further when frying fish or chicken; a fundamental in most Middle Eastern recipes; an invisible flavour enhancer to add that little extra zing to finish any number of dishes. Most serious cooks would regard the lemon as a staple.

I have just returned from Sorrento on the Amalfi coast, where the lemon is more than that – it’s a central pillar of the economy, coming second only to tourism. While Amalfi lemons are available all year, they’re at their peak about now. For me, they just shout summer. I’m very grateful to this week’s guest contributor, Nigel Eastmond, one of two passionate cooks who blog under the soubriquet The Nosey Chef. Their love of cooking has widened to research the background and history of the food they cook. In other words, men after my own heart. We’ll come back to Nigel’s lemon ice cream at the end. It’s a stonker. If you have time for only one recipe today, go straight to that. But first, a couple of simple summer things to do with lemons.

For any recipes involving lemon zest, use unwaxed lemons if you can. Otherwise give the fruit a good scrub. You’ll make your life easier if you have a tool which can remove the zest in tiny strips. Failing that, you can use a sharp potato peeler, then cut it very finely. Make sure you get rid any of the white pith, as this will give a bitter taste.

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.

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 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.

Lemon Granita

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, a granita is the next best thing, and really easy to make. It will have bigger ice crystals and is really refreshing in summer. Make the lemonade base from the previous recipe. Allow to cool. Pour into a wide Tupperware box or metal tray and put in the freezer. Once it is starting to freeze (this will take about two hours), take a fork and scrape the mixture. Repeat every hour or so for about six hours. Cover with a lid or cling film. This will keep for ages.

The Nosey Chef’s Lemon Ice Cream

Over to Nigel.

Sfusato Amalfatino are the famous spindle shaped lemons from Italy’s Amalfi coast. Amalfi is strongly associated with lemons – Amalfi and the lemon are like childhood sweethearts who grew up together, got married, and spawned a legacy of a thousand zippy dishes. And, Amalfi is, of course, the home of limoncello – that vodka-based digestif that Nonna Maria is said to have invented in the 1900s

The history of the Amalfi lemon is interesting to anyone trying to follow authentic Amalfi recipes using produce from elsewhere. Amalfi lemons are not genetically 100% lemon. 

Like a lot of things, lemons probably arrived in Italy from the Middle East, and these lemons will have been very like the ones you can buy in a British greengrocer. The lemons were cultivated easily because of the peculiar way in which cool sea air becomes trapped in the steep-sided valleys of the Amalfi peninsula, and creates a climate that is perfect for lemon trees. Sorrento still grows this older lemon variety.  

However, on the southern coast of Amalfi, the lemons were crossed with local oranges to produce the spindly sfusato lemons depicted in the mosaics of Pompeii. In the area these days, you can find both traditional, elongated sfusato Amalfatino, and the shorter, fatter limone di Sorrento.

Nigel tells me that this inspired recipe came about when he made too much mixture for a lemon tart and decided to turn it into ice cream, to stunning effect. It does involve raw eggs, so is not recommended for expectant mothers. Stamped British eggs are safe these days, but Nigel counsels against using those bought at a farm gate.

Lemon Ice Cream


Zest and juice of 4 lemons; 9 eggs; 375g caster sugar; 300ml double cream.


Wash, zest and juice the lemons. In a clean bowl whisk the sugar and eggs until fully combined. Add the double cream and mix until fully incorporated. Finally, stir in the zest and juice of the lemons. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and churn until you have ice cream.

Nigel Eastmond and Andrew Cormack make up The Nosey Chef, dispensing recipes, history and food wisdom across a wide range of social media. See their website; or follow them on Twitter at @noseychef;  on Facebook @noseychef; or on Instagram @noseychef



Aubergines Parmigiana

Carry out a survey for the best known Italian cheese, and what would the results be? Gorgonzola? Less popular than it once was. (I remember my Dad telling me about this blue cheese that was so strong it used to walk across the plate. Perhaps, however, he was referring to Danish Blue, and, yes, I was a very impressionable child.) Mozzarella? With our love of pizza that would be up there, but it saddens me that the world is generally unaware of the difference between real mozzarella (which melts into blobs) and the cheaper stuff, strictly fior de latte, (which goes stringy when it’s heated).

But I suspect the outright winner would be Parmesan. Thankfully, in Britain we have moved away from those ghastly little green tubs of ready grated stuff which smelled of sick. While there are plenty of pale imitations, it is now quite easy to get chunks of the good stuff. Think of all the things we use it for. Umpteen pasta dishes, shaved on to carpaccio of beef, or slices of bresaola, pesto, aubergine parmigiana.

Aubergine Parmigiana? Stop right there. A recent tipoff from a friend suggests that some of our Parmesan favourites may be less than authentic. For example, pesto originates from Genoa, some considerable distance from Emilia Romagna which is the home of Parmesan. It was originally made using pecorino, a sheep’s cheese. Not only is Parmesan a very fine cheese – try the old stuff on a cheeseboard at a good Italian restaurant – it also has a very fine marketing department. These days, think pesto, think Parmesan.

And what of the latter dish, Parmigiana di Melenzane (Aubergines)? Well, a friend who has recently returned from Sicily, tells me there is no such dish. The original, as served to him, was named Aubergine Parmiciana (note the “c” in place of the “g”.) This comes, apparently,  from the word for the slat of a louvred blind, echoing the layers in the dish, just like the structure of the window blind.

On the internet I found support for this argument. Further, if you look through lists ofthe great dishes of Emilia Romagna (and these people are not shy) you will find no mention of the dish. In her seminal work from 1929, Il Talismano della Felicità (The Talisman of Happiness), Ada Boni does feature a recipe for Melanzane alla Parmigiana. She uses both mozzarella and Parmesan, but advises that you should use the best quality aubergines  –  which, she says, come from Naples. I don’t see the tough Neapolitans having much to do with a cheese from the snooty north. The influential Il Cucchiaio d’Argento (Silver Spoon) also features an aubergine dish with Parmesan, but it has another for Aubergines au Gratin which uses Emmenthal.

So is Aubergine Parmigiana an impostor? To use that unique Scottish legal verdict, I think the answer is Not Proven. I don’t much care, as both versions are delicious. I give two different recipes below. As ever, a couple of preliminary points. Once upon a time one would be advised to slice and salt aubergines for half an hour or so to reduce bitterness, before rinsing and drying. With aubergines as they are bred now, that’s not necessary. Thinly slice the aubergines length-wise. Some recipes tell you to flour them. Ada Boni says not to, and I agree with her. I haven’t given a recipe for tomato sauce, as most people have their own. At its simplest, simmer a tin or two of tomatoes with a half teaspoonful each of salt and sugar, and perhaps a handful of basil leaves You’ll have a sauce in about 20 minutes. For something more sophisticated, start with a soffritto, which is a gently fried mixture of finely chopped onion, bacon and carrot, then add tomato paste, tomatoes and herbs and simmer until the soffritto has all but melted away. That can take as long as you like.

Aubergines Parmiciana

Ingredients (quantities are approximate. It will depend on the size of your oven dish)

4 aubergines, sliced length wise; quantity of tomato sauce (see above); 300g grated Pecorino cheese; handful of basil leaves (optional); olive oil for frying; salt and pepper.


Make your tomato sauce. While that is cooking, fry the aubergines in oil until golden brown, and set to one side. You will need to do these in batches. Pre heat the oven to 200˚C/Mark 6. Grease a wide oven proof dish and spread a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom. Season the layers with salt and pepper as you go. The layers should be, in order, aubergines/tomato/cheese, finishing with cheese on top. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes or until the aubergines are soft. Finish under the grill for a nice brown, bubbling crust.

Aubergine Parmigiana

(This is Ada Boni’s recipe. She allows 6 aubergines for 6 people, which seems excessive. Otherwise she gives no virtually quantities at all)


6 aubergines, sliced lengthwise; olive oil; 30g butter; quantity of tomato sauce; mozarella, sliced; grated Parmesan; basil leaves, torn, mozzarella, sliced and torn into little chunks.


Make a tomato sauce and fry the aubergines as per the previous recipe. Use the butter to grease the oven dish. Start with a layer of aubergines. Season well. The next layer is tomato sauce. Then a layer of parmesan and mozzarella together, and a sprinkling of torn basil leaves. Repeat until you have used all the ingredients. Interestingly, Signora Boni recommends that the last layer should be sauce – I would definitely finish with cheese. She says to cook for quarter of an hour. Her oven must have been quite a furnace. I would cook as per the previous recipe.

Tom Cooks! will return on 26 July

A Favour

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Warm Salads

Warm Salad with Pigeon

We’re really not great at salads here in Scotland. Yes, we now grow plenty of the ingredients, but our way of assembling them seldom gets the taste buds going. From the Far East, on the other hand, there are wonders to be had, served with vibrant zingy dressings. But you have to source the appropriate stuff. A green papaya salad is a thing of loveliness, but if you have to fork out a fiver for the basic component, it gets a bit silly as a side dish.

So, not for the first time, it is to France that I turn. Their idea of a salade composée, made with a wide range of substantial ingredients, can easily be a meal in itself. Salade Niçoise is one of the best known (and often worst executed) examples. That’s cold, of course, as per the rules of salad. And if you know the rules well, and can execute them to perfection, then and only then can you set about breaking them.

In a tweet unrelated to this blog, I wrote about a warm salad which I had made for our supper, and it attracted a lot of interest. Many people were unfamiliar with the idea, and I can’t think of too many places I’ve seen these on restaurant menus outside of France itself. They can be served as starters or as the main course for lunch or supper. I offer a couple of ideas, below, but first some general comments,

The rules of warm salads (salades tièdes)

In essence it is a bed of cold leaves upon which you put warm food. You are looking to maintain contrasts, of colour, texture and flavour. At its simplest there will be the difference between the crispness of the leaves and anything else, and, obviously, the temperatures of the different types of food. Clearly a warm salad has to be assembled at the last minute, otherwise the leaves wilt. One should never serve any type of salad undressed, and this is no exception. Another of its many delight is the commingling of the pan juices with the flavours you have put on the leaves. Neither should blot the other out. If you can, get a mixture of salad leaves. The French are very fond of using frisée lettuce which has both texture and flavour. For the last one I made I used a mixture of Romaine lettuce, Chinese leaves and a supermarket bag of mixed salad.

Your topping? Anything you fancy, but again look for contrasts. They are particularly good if there is something with crunch. In the couple of examples below I am using bacon and croutons, but take your pick. Toasted pine nuts perhaps, very lightly cooked peppers, crunchy cubes of sautéed potato? Have fun experimenting.

Warm Salad with Pigeon, Beetroot, Bacon and Black Pudding (Quantities given are for a single portion)

Pigeon breast, preferably skin on (1 per person is fine for a starter portion, 2 for a main); cooked beetroot (NOT pickled), cut into 2 cm cubes; 1 – 2 slices good quality streaky bacon; 1 – 2 slices good black pudding, skin removed, cut into 3 cm chunks; salad leaves of choice; salad dressing of choice (for this I would fancy a vinaigrette made using Balsamic vinegar); vegetable oil for frying; sherry vinegar; salt and pepper.


Just before starting to cook, dress your leaves and assemble on a serving plate. Dry the pigeon breasts. Salt and pepper on each side. Fry the bacon until crisp. Set aside and keep warm. Do not clean out the pan. Heat a good layer of oil in a separate frying pan on maximum heat. Cook the pigeon breasts at high heat for two minutes on one side, then one minute on the other. Set aside to rest for about five minutes. (The resting is absolutely essential – if you don’t, they will have the consistency of shoe leather. Overcooked pigeon starts to have the taste and consistency of liver – don’t say you haven’t been warned.)

In the original pan, warm the beetroot through, remove and keep warm. Cook the black pudding, then deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar. Dot the salad with the black pudding and beetroot. Break the bacon into pieces and arrange round them. Cut the pigeon into thin slices and place on top. Finally spoon over the cooking juices, and serve immediately.

Warm Salad with Scallops, Lardons and Croutons (again, for a single portion)

OK, first thing off the chest. Note the spelling of scallop. ScAllop NOT scOllop. Meerkat, not market. Let’s pronounce the bloody word correctly. This recipe does have the advantage of making a very expensive ingredient go a long way. It may also upset those of you who believe there is only one way to cook a scallop. These days that involves them being seared over a fairly high heat to caramelise them. When I was first shown how to cook them decades ago, I was taught to use a fait bit of butter and cook quite gently. As I (a) want melted butter to augment the dish and (b) want to use it to carry the flavour of the ginger which goes so well with scallop, I’m reverting to the old ways. A final word on lardons. It is best if you can make your own, by getting a piece (not a slice) of streaky bacon and cutting it into cubes. Sadly, many butchers, even quite good ones, buy their bacon in ready sliced. You can buy little packs of lardons in supermarkets. Quantities below are very approximate. You may have big croutons or small, your lardons may be large or delicate.

Ingredients (per person)

2 king scallops, each cut into 4 pieces, 6 if they are large: lardons, number to suit you depending on size; croutons, 4 – 6; 50g butter; 1 tsp freshly grated ginger; fresh lemon; pepper; salad leaves and dressing as per the above recipe. For this dish I would use a lemon vinaigrette.


Make the croutons in advance. Use bread with the crusts removed. You can make croutons in the oven or in a frying pan. Brush the bread on both sides with melted butter or olive oil and bake in a preheated oven at 180˚C/Mark 4 until browned. This will take about 15 minutes. Alternatively fry them in a little melted butter or olive oil in a single layer over a medium to high heat, turning occasionally until they are browned all over. If making in advance, warm them before assembling the dish.

Prepare your serving plate with the dressed leaves. Hard fry the lardons (ie cook on a high heat), until they are browned. Set to one side and keep warm. Lower the heat to medium. Melt the butter and stir in the ginger. Cook the scallops gently for a few minutes until they are no longer opaque in the middle. Be careful not to overcook. If in doubt, taste a bit – chef’s perks.

When the scallops are ready, arrange the bacon, croutons and scallops on top of the leaves, then spoon over the ginger butter. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and a grating of pepper.



Breaded, Battered, Bewildered

Part 2

Spaghetti with Breadcrumbs Chicken SChnitzel

After last week’s column, we had a minor domestic. The current Mrs Johnston took me to task for omitting one of her more celebrated oeuvres (and there are many), to wit her famous blinis. I contemplated including them today, but we are battered out. The breadcrumb is the thing.

And here I shall pause for a rant. In this context the average British domestic cook stands accused of laziness and profligacy. How much stale bread is thrown away each day? And how many packets of Ruskoline (yuk) or, worse still, Panko breadcrumbs (come oan!) fly off our supermarket shelves daily? To the rant I shall return. In the meantime it might be worth taking a step back to consider why we use breadcrumbs at all.

Well, they can add a bit of crunch, a bit of texture and a bit of colour. They featured in the recent cauliflower collection: at the other end of the scale, you may find a scattering of them on your lobster Thermidor as it emerges from the grill. We use them for frying. Why? For something delicate such as fish, they help it keep its shape. For the likes of chicken, pork or veal, they form a seal, helping to keep the meat succulent. They can also be used as flavour carriers, mixed with salt, pepper, herbs, cheese or whatever. Incidentally, you may enquire about the bright orange of Ruskoline. Paprika extract. (I kid you not, I just read the label in the shop.) But first and foremost using leftover bread is to avoid waste, an essential in poorer societies. I am sure this happened all over the world, but it is found to good effect in the increasingly popular region of Puglia, in the “heel” of Italy. Their cucina povera is now being hailed as a very healthy diet, albeit one born of economic necessity. There was very little meat, a lot of vegetables and nothing, absolutely nothing, went to waste. One could imagine an Italian version of Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch, where each person boasted about how his upbringing had been the poorest. One would no doubt complain about having a single tomato for a whole pan of pasta: another might talk about half a spoonful of grated cheese. The Puglian would probably win with-

Spaghetti with Breadcrumbs (serves 4 as a main dish)

320g spaghetti; 200g breadcrumbs; 2 – 3 cloves garlic crushed; 1- 2 tsp dried chilli flakes  (optional); olive oil; salt. (Other optional extras might include grated lemon zest, a handful of chopped parsley, a chopped anchovy or two, or just the oil from the anchovy tin, or whatever you might have to hand.)


Cook the spaghetti in the usual way. Retain a couple of cups of the pasta water when you drain it. While the pasta is cooking, fry the garlic in some oil over a medium heat for a minute or two. Stir it constantly and watch it like a hawk. You want it to turn golden to take the harsh edge off. If you allow garlic to burn, not only will it turn bitter, it will be inedible and your kitchen will smell for hours. If that happens, throw it away, clean the pan and start again. Fortunately your pasta takes 10 minutes to cook, so you have time to recover from your egregious error. Add the breadcrumbs and chilli flakes, and any other optional extras apart from parsley. Fry for 3 minutes or so until the breadcrumbs are golden. Loosen the mixture with a little pasta water, then stir the pasta into the crumb mixture. (Italians always add pasta to sauce, not the other way round). Sprinkle with the parsley if using, toss together and serve at once.

How to Make Breadcrumbs and How to Use Them

Back to the rant. Ghastly Ruskoline will cost the equivalent of £2.50 per kilo: Panko, an astonishing £10! I did the costing exercise on my home made bread. The ingredients for an 800g loaf will set me back about 50p. So why are we buying them in? One answer, I suppose is that it can be fiddly to get the consistency right if doing it by hand. The Italian word for breadcrumbed is pangrattato, literally grated bread. Even with stale stuff, it is difficult to get an even crumb. A Magimix is unwieldy for small quantities. I would counsel any serious cook to invest in a mini food processor. Great for herbs, perfect for breadcrumbs. Now the fresher the bread, the more it will absorb the cooking oil. It is probably better to dry your crumbs either by toasting in a dry pan or in a baking tray. (My guru and mentor Mr C suggests you should dry the bread before blitzing it into crumbs. I quite like the rustic look – choose what suits you.) You can freeze breadcrumbs, so make a decent batch, and keep them frozen for up to 3 months in sealed bags. The Panko PR machine boasts that their crumbs are made without crusts, as the bread is baked in a special way. If that really bothers you, I have an ingenious solution – cut the crusts off. End of rant. The technique for breadcrumbing or to panée, as the French would say, is the same for all foods; however, my experience is that not everyone knows them. The following recipe is an example. Alternatively, use veal (for the classic Wiener Schitzel) or pork fillet. The meat should be about 1½ – 2 cm thick. Some recipes will suggest it should be thinner. I disagree – I don’t want the coating to be the same thickness as the meat.

Chicken Schnitzel

Allow one medium size chicken breast per person (a large one might serve 2); 1 egg, beaten; plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper; breadcrumbs; lemon; oil and butter for frying.


Butterfly the chicken breast. (Slit it down the middle without cutting completely through, and open it up in a butterfly shape.) You will see a strip of meat, often known as the faux-filet, in the middle. Remove, and set aside for something else. (Fried in butter for a few minutes they make a wonderfully decadent sandwich filling.) Using the heel of your hand, flatten the chicken to the desired thickness. (A more professional way of doing this is to put the meat between two sheets of clingfilm on a board, and flatten with a rolling pin or mallet – but not one of these studded meat tenderisers.) On three separate plates (plates are easier than bowls, as you’ll discover, though the one for the egg needs to have enough of a lip to prevent spillage) put, in this order, left to right, flour, egg and breadcrumbs. Have a clean plate or board for the breaded chicken, large enough to hold all the pieces in one layer. Top Tip – use one hand only, preferably your non writing hand. Why? This is a messy process. If you are doing a few, you may need to shake the plates of flour and crumbs to level them up again. Until you get used to quantities you may have open a cupboard for more. If both your hands are covered with a claggy mixture, your kitchen will become a war zone. One at a time dust both sides of the chicken in the flour, shaking off any excess. Then dip in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs. Make sure all parts are covered and that it is fairly evenly coated.

The secret of a good schnitzel is in the cooking, in particular the temperature of the oil. Too hot and it will  turn too dark before the meat is cooked: too cool, and the oil will soak into the crumb, giving a final result which is unpleasantly greasy. Put a generous amount of oil in a frying pan (about 2 cm) and place over a medium to high heat. Test the temperature by dropping in a cube of bread. It should start to sizzle immediately; however, if the oil is spitting the pan is too hot. Your chicken will need about 2½ -3 minutes per side. Don’t fiddle with it in the pan and turn only once. A minute or so after turning, add a generous knob of butter. Once it is melted, baste your schnitzels. If the butter oil is turning too brown, a squeeze of lemon will stop the process. Drain well on kitchen paper. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon juice. Fried food is a rare treat. I like this with some crunchy sauté potatoes and a green salad, perhaps with rocket and watercress, or baby spinach.

Thanks to Mr C, aka professional chef Robert Corrigan. who read an advance copy of this article and made a number of constructive criticisms. Always remember that you are reading the scribblings of a rank amateur. The rants are all my own work.


Breaded, Battered, Bewildered

Part 1

Tempura Yorkshire Puddings

I can’t remember how the idea of an article on breadcrumbs came to mind. In the interim, I glanced at a pub lunch menu, which proudly offered diners the choice of having their fish either battered or breaded. What a nation of sophisticates we have become. So, taking things in that order, let’s start with batter. What is it?

Larousse Gastronomique defines batter as a liquid, varying in thickness from a thin pouring consistency to an elastic mixture which is too soft to hold its shape but not thinenough to pour easily and evenly. We tend to think of this as being made with varying degrees of flour, eggs, and milk or water. It may or may not contain a leavening agent. We will often think of flour based pancakes (both crepes and our Scottish pancakes, or drop scones as the rest of the world knows them), whereas further east ground rice or pulses will be involved. The most common breakfast in the Indian subcontinent is the dosa, a large thin pancake of rice-, chickpea- or lentil flour, often filled with spiced potatoes or vegetables. If you are a fan of the traditional roast dinner you will engage with batter in the form of the traditional Yorkshire pudding (see below).

Batter puddings were once a common dessert. Isabella Beeton, in her Book of Household Management, lists various recipes, generally involving simple batter puddings topped with sweet sauce, wine sauce or stewed fruit. One of Yorkshire’s most famous sons, journalist and TV presenter Michael Parkinson, remembers childhood meals beginning with large Yorkshire puds with gravy and finishing with more large ones served with strawberry jam.

But far and away the most common use of batter in cooking in Britain today is in the nation’s chip shops, where almost everything is battered, from good fish at unbelievable value to the culinary horror that is the deep fried Mars Bar. Not one of our nation’s prouder inventions. Here is a classic batter recipe as used throughout the land. It’s for your information only. You thought your lovely fish went a deep golden colour through the skill of the fryer, didn’t you?

Chip Shop Batter (translated into metric – serves about 100 portions)

7 lb (3.17kg) flour; 4 tbsp baking powder; 6 oz (168g) salt; 6 pints (3.42 litres)  water; 4 oz (113ml) malt vinegar; 1 capful of food dye (yellowy brown).


Mix all the ingredients well in an industrial mixer. Leave for half an hour. Use within four hours. If you don’t, the glutens in the flour will start to react, and you will end up with battered food which seems to be wearing an army greatcoat. (That could explain some of the truly awful fish suppers I’ve eaten.)

As you can see, this is a very rudimentary batter, and there are many variations on a theme; however, if I were planning to coat food in batter before cooking, I would almost certainly look east.

Tempura Batter

Many people, coming to Japanese cuisine for the first time and fearful of a diet consisting, as they believe, of nothing but raw fish, are often pleasantly surprised to discover that the Japanese do a lot of deep frying, using this delicate batter. For best results, you must use fizzy water and it must be ice cold. You can tempura fry almost anything; however, you fry only until the batter is golden brown. It’s ideal for thinly cut vegetables, prawns or oysters. If you want to tempura thicker vegetables, you may have to par cook them first. Make sure the food is dry, and lightly coated in cornflour before dipping it in the batter. Ensure your oil is sufficiently hot (about 180˚C) and don’t overfill the pan with food. Allow the temperature of the oil to come back up between batches.


85g plain flour; ½ tsp salt; ½ tsp sugar; 200ml ice cold fizzy water. (Cornflour for coating – see above.)


Mix together the flour sugar and salt and gradually whisk in the water. We’re taught to hate lumps – not so here. Tempura batter will always be slightly lumpy. Do not over whisk.

But we have to leave Britain’s favourite batter pudding to the end. I canvased readers for favourite recipes, and surprisingly there was near unanimity, with most suggesting the 1:1:1 version. Where would roast beef be without-

Yorkshire Pudding?*

The 1:1:1 refers to using exactly the same measure (note, I say measure, ie the receptacle ,NOT measurement as in weight) for your eggs, milk and flour. I’ll leave the instructions to Robert Corrigan of Mr C’s Pies, chef and piemaker extraordinaire. Follow him on Twitter at @Mrcspies. Thanks, Robert.

Robert doesn’t mention it but I would suggest that you take the mixture out of the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking to bring it back to room temperature. Note his reference to smoking hot. This is an overused phrase in recipes. For example, I have seen instructions to brown meat for casseroles in “smoking hot” oil. Rubbish – you just end up burning later batches. But here, when Robert says smoking hot, he means it literally.

When I made them commercially, I used a ½ pint mug. One mug of plain flour. The same mug of eggs, salt to taste then the same mug of milk. Mixed together. Rested for a few hours in the fridge. Preheat oven to 220˚C. Tins in the oven with beef dripping (oil if no dripping). When smoking hot pour, using a jug, filling three quarters way up the tin. Do not open the oven for 30 minutes. I then turned them over for another 5 minutes or so to ensure the bases were cooked. They never ever failed.

Since I wrote this, I have read a survey suggesting that Yorkshire pudding is the most universally popular food in the UK.  I’m going to throw in my heretical opinion here at the end, in the hope that no one reads it. If we’re sharing a roast beef dinner, I’ll happily give you my Yorkie in exchange for your roast tatties. Sssshhh….



Cauliflower Part 3 – Hot and Spicy

Aloo Gobi

As nearly one third of the world’s cauliflowers are grown in India, it is no surprise to find it featuring in so many curry dishes. Perhaps the best known is Aloo Gobi, the hearty mixture of cauliflower and potato. Recipes abound: I offer my version, cherry picked from others. Don’t worry too much about your spice mixture. Some will include fenugreek. I use it sparingly: that and asafoetida are the two which more than any others will permeate your house for at least three days, no matter how good your extraction system. On the other hand, I am a fan of mustard seeds, even though some recipes omit them. All the versions which I know include curry leaves: fine if you have access to a decent Asian market, but elderly ones in jars aren’t worth it. Finally, don’t worry overly much about quantities of cauliflower and potatoes, just try to keep them approximately equal.

The first dish, however, isn’t Indian, but has a bit of a kick. It comes from Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cook Scotland, cookery teacher extraordinaire. After doing a two week course with her a few years ago I came away with a folder of recipes thick enough to choke an elephant. I haven’t had a dud yet. It’s not often I do a three parter on a single ingredient, yet I’ve omitted much. For example, in Tuscany they boil cauliflower and broccoli to a mush and mash them with loads of butter and nutmeg. I haven’t mentioned fritters or stir fry dishes, or…  But you get the point. If you have any favourites please send them to me at

Sarah Mellersh’s Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Mustard Dressing and Parsley

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 cauliflower, leaves removed, cut into bite size florets; 1 400ml can chickpeas, rinsed drained and dried; 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil; sea salt; small handful of chopped parsley.

For the mustard dressing: 1 tbsp Dijon mustard; 1 tbsp grain mustard; 1 tbsp white wine vinegar; 60 ml good extra virgin olive oil (for dressings I use Orodeal); salt and pepper.


Preheat the oven to 200˚C/Mark 6. Toss the cauliflower and chickpeas in the oil in a large roasting pan and a generous pinch of salt. (I was taught as a boy that a “pinch” was the amount you could hold between thumb and forefinger. Watch professional chefs. Their idea of a pinch seems to be the amount you can hold between thumb and all the remaining fingers of the same hand.) Roast for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is soft and everything is dark brown. While the cauliflower is cooking make up the dressing by stirring together all the ingredients with a big pinch of salt and a good few turns of black pepper.

While the cauliflower and chickpeas are still warm, toss them with the dressing and the parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Aloo Gobi (Potato and Cauliflower Curry)

Ingredients (would serve 4 as a main dish, but I would usually serve this as a side)

1 cauliflower, cut into florets (about 400 – 500g); 400 – 500g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (about 3cm); 2 tbsp oil (to be authentic you would use ghee, but vegetable oil (not olive) is fine); 1 large onion, chopped; thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and grated; 2 – 3 cloves of garlic, crushed; 1½ tsp black mustard seeds; ½ tsp turmeric; 1tsp ground cumin; ½ tsp hot chilli powder; 4 curry leaves (optional – see above); 2 green chillies, split lengthways (leave the seeds in if you like); 250g tinned tomatoes (an annoying measure, as most tins are 400g, but don’t chuck the whole lot in – you’ll find something else to do with them); pinch of  sugar; 400 ml cold water; salt.


In a large pan, heat the oil and gently cook the onion until soft (about 5 minutes). Increase the heat a little and add the mustard seeds, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, chilli powder, curry leaves (if using) and chillies.  Cook for a couple of minutes until the mustard seeds start to pop, then add the tomatoes and sugar, and cook for a further five minutes, stirring regularly. Put the potatoes and water in the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave the pan uncovered – you want the net result to be quite dry – but stir from time to time. Chuck in the cauliflower and bring back to a simmer. Cook for a further 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it, stir from time to time, and make sure it doesn’t stick. If the cauliflower and potatoes aren’t tender you may have to add a little more water, but no more than necessary. Some might remove the chillies before dishing up, but the Indians wouldn’t.

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

Tel: 07932 642605


Cauliflower Part 2

Steaks and Braising

Cauliflower Cauliflower Steaks

I wrote last week of the incredulity of hearing of a dish entitled Cauliflower Steak. Far from being an oddity these days, it has become an important part of the vegetarian cook’s repertoire. I’ve done a bit of research and suggested a couple of ways of doing this, one oven baked, the other started in a frying pan and finished in an oven.

What is a Cauliflower Steak?

Remove the outer leaves. Cut a small section off the base so that you can stand the cauliflower upright. Make vertical cuts straight down, about 3cm apart. Cut steaks of a uniform size to ensure equal cooking times. Set aside the smaller side pieces and use them for soup, cauliflower purée, cauliflower couscous or whatever. Rereading this, I’m conscious it’s not the clearest description I’ve ever given. For a demonstration see the short YouTube video on

Baked Cauliflower Steak

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/Mark 6. Place the steaks on a greased or lined baking tray. Make a marinade with a mixture of olive oil, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons harissa paste, a teaspoon of cumin seeds and a good squeeze of lemon juice. For a less hot mix, substitute one tablespoon of harissa with one of tomato purée. Or for more heat, add chilli flakes or a touch of cayenne pepper. In short, play around with this until you get something to suit; however, use dried spices, not fresh, as the latter will burn.

Brush the steaks on both sides, reserving a little of the marinade. Bake for about 30 – 35 minutes, turning half way through, until the cauliflower is tender.

Pan fried Cauliflower Steak

I remember Marcus Wareing demonstrating this in an episode of Masterchef: The Professionals. At the outset, he made what then seemed to me to be an odd comment, namely that this should be cooked like a normal steak.

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/Mark 6. Heat an oven proof frying pan to a fairly high heat, melt a large chunk of butter and add a couple of spoons of olive oil. When the butter is hot, sear the steaks on each side for a couple of minutes per side, until golden. Add to the pan an unpeeled clove of garlic and a sprig of thyme. Spoon the butter over the steaks for a minute or two, then put the pan in the oven. This should be ready in about 8 – 10 minutes. Check that the steaks are tender. If not, baste again and cook until done.

Who in their right minds would braise cauliflower? Well, until recently I’d have posed the same question of anyone talking about cauliflower steaks and the pan frying thereof. The next recipe comes from Christopher Trotter’s Cauliflower, which I mentioned last week. 30 recipes in a great little book which, as it accurately states on the sleeve notes, “will change the way you think about cauliflower.” Thanks to Christopher for permission to reproduce this.

Christopher Trotter’s Braised Cauliflower

Christopher points out that as the florets cook in their own juices it is important that they are all more or less the same size, and that the pan is large enough to contain them all in one layer.


A few strands of saffron; 1 tbsp raisins; 2 tbsp olive oil; 1 cauliflower, leaves removed, broken down into florets (see above); 2 tbsp flaked almonds; 1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed; ½ tsp smoked paprika; 1 tsp red wine vinegar; handful of chopped flat leaf parsley; s & p.


Soak the saffron and raisins together with just enough boiling water to cover the raisins. (In the recipe, Mr T doesn’t specify for how long, but he tells me five minute should suffice.) Heat the oil in a large sauté pan (see above) and add the cauliflower and almonds. Cook, stirring gently, until browned, then add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Pour in the strained saffron water, add the paprika, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes or so until the cauliflower is just cooked. In the meantime, separate the raisins and saffron, discarding the latter. When the cauliflower is cooked, finish with the raisins, parsley and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.

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 work, Broccoli, will be published in October.

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


Cauliflower Part 1

The Basics and a Few Twists


Cauliflower Cauliflower Cheese

Not so very long ago, some vegetarian friends (yes, I do have a few, albeit no vegans) were known to complain loudly that the token veggie offering on a menu, (assuming the establishment stretched to more than just an omelette or pizza) was likely to be mushroom based. Not so very long ago, most of us were likely to think of cauliflower as a dreary thing, served in a puddle of cheese with water leaking profusely around the edge. I recently watched an old episode of a Gordon Ramsay Kitchen Nightmares programme in which he sneered at a dish listed as Cauliflower Steak. Now you can find online a recipe entitled Gordon Ramsay’s Famous Vegetarian Cauliflower Steak. Time does indeed move on.

For once I welcome this change in food fashions. Escoffier’s Ma Cuisine devotes barely two pages to cauliflower: Larousse Gastronomique less than half of one. My friend Christopher Trotter, on the other hand, has written a whole book on this much underrated veg. We’ll have more from that in due course. Today, in the first of a series of three, let’s begin at the beginning.

How To Cook Cauliflower

My plea would be to cook it in any way OTHER than the way our mothers did it. In other words, don’t boil it. Unless you are prepared to leave it to dry for a very long time, before doing something else with it, you simply will not get rid of the excess liquid. That explains the horrid wishy washy puddled cauli which we all hate. Instead, steam it. This takes less time and leaves it dry. You can also braise, roast, pan fry, deep fry, stew, or make into soups, and have it as the star of any number of curries and vegetarian main dishes. The list is almost endless. But first some thoughts on the basics. (Do remember that this column is aimed at beginners as well as star cooks such as your good self.)

Cauliflower with Cheese

Cauliflower cheese is the one we all know. You cook the cauli, (steamed, not boiled as you now know), cover it with cheese sauce, top with breadcrumbs and brown in the oven or under the grill. With a good sauce, this is a very fine thing. One or two pointers. Make your sauce a little thicker than normal. Mix up the cheeses – try adding some parmesan or blue cheese in addition to, or in place of, the normal cheddar. Escoffier’s basic recipe uses a plain bechamel sauce with the cheese added only as a topping along with the breadcrumbs. Not sure I fancy that, but try adding a topping of a different cheese for some contrast. He was also, I suspect, quite cavalier in attributing recipes to different parts of the world. Thus his Chou-fleur (sic) Milanaise recipe involved putting cheese in a buttered oven dish, then cauliflower, then more cheese, “leave in a warmed place and just before serving pour a little browned butter over the cauliflower”. No thanks.

I did, however, find an intriguing Italian recipe with cheese –

Cavolfiore al Gorgonzola

Cook the cauliflower florets and place in a warm serving dish. While the cauliflower is cooking, make a  white sauce with 25g each of flour and butter and 100ml of milk. In a food processor or with a hand blender, blitz the sauce together with 250g of strong Gorgonzola, (ie not the dolce) and 2 tbsp of brandy. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture over the cauliflower, sprinkle with cumin seeds and serve immediately.

Finally for this week, a favourite from my what to do with leftovers repertoire. You can adapt this soup to use many, but not all, things which are left on a cheese board the following day. But remember the rule, analogous to cooking with wine, if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t cook with it. The current Mrs Johnston once made various concoctions to dispose of a Christmas Stilton which was well past its best; Each experiment, sadly, was more disastrous than the one before.

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.


It’s Spring – Roast Some Peppers


It’s been difficult this week to fit in time for Tom Cooks! At the time of writing I’m in London – the hardships I have to endure to research restaurants for you all – and don’t have access to my vast library. Those of you who think I just recycle all my stuff from the internet, go to the bottom of the class. Well, two thirds of the way anyway.

For this week’s recipe, I’m recycling a golden oldie. Firstly, with the improved weather it makes a brilliant addition to a light lunch or buffet. Secondly, I note the prices in the shops are down by about 25%. And finally, I’ve been to the National Gallery and reminded myself of the great Vincent’s work. If you see the way he paints peppers, with great swirls depicting crazily misshapen fruit, you might conclude that the man was unhinged. (You might want to revise this – Ed.) The truth of the matter is that if you go to small village markets in Spain or Italy, you will see that van Gogh’s representations were true to life, a million miles from the sanitised, perfectly formed, Dutch versions which reach us in the UK.

I think this recipe was first popularised by Elizabeth David. Delia published a version in her Summer Cooking. This is my take, and it is a real family favourite. There are many people who will say that they don’t like anchovies. Unless they are vegan, or have an allergy, just don’t tell them. The tiny pieces cook away to nothing, and are effectively a salt substitute. You won’t know they’re there (although you would miss them if they weren’t).  Leaving the stalk on helps the peppers hold their shape when cooking and serving – make sure you don’t waste the juice.

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. I use Orodeal).


Preheat the oven to 180˚C, Mark 4. Assemble the half peppers on a roasting tray. To each half pepper 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 of garlic and an anchovy fillet cut into little pieces. Add a good tablespoonful of olive oil. Cook until the peppers are soft and just beginning to char at the edges. This takes anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour depending on the size of your peppers. When removing from the tray be careful not to lose the juices – they are sublime. Best served cold. Scatter with a little ripped basil, drizzle with a little extra oil if you like, and serve with some good bread to mop up the liquid.

More Pineapple!

Roasted Pineapple Pineapple raw Caramelised pineapple

This column has considered the pineapple before, but a couple of things brought it to mind recently. Costa Rica, whence we have just returned is the world’s largest pineapple producer. The quality, when you are eating a fruit picked when ripe, as opposed to harvested early to off set a long journey across the world, is superlative. And secondly, at Tom Kitchin’s excellent Southside Scran, the rotisserie, the supposed USP, held nothing but a solitary pineapple, spinning gently in golden perfection.

Cored, cubed and eaten on its own or with ice cream, it is hard to surpass the flavour of a fruit which is sweet and sharp at the same time. But there are times when you need little swank. And if you have a fruit which isn’t as sweet as you anticipated, cooking it can be an enhancement. There are many fruits which are improved by the addition of sweetness and heat: I’ve dug out a couple of examples. I think it was Marco Pierre White who was first credited with roasting a pineapple with chilli. Many fruit and veg seem to work best with other things which are produced nearby. Pineapple is a great example. Rum, chilli, and pepper all complement it. The Chinese star anise is the exception which proves the rule.

Roasted Pineapple with Chilli


1 pineapple, peeled, left whole; 100g brown sugar (light muscovado for preference); 50g unsalted butter; 1 tsp chilli flakes, plus extra for garnish; few grinds black pepper (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Mark 4. In a heavy roasting tin sprinkle the sugar, chilli and pepper if using. Roll the pineapple in the mixture. Cut the butter into small pieces and dot over the top. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, basting every 10 minutes, until the fruit is golden coloured and sticky. Make sure you don’t allow it to burn. Allow to cool slightly the serve with a light sprinkling of extra chilli and pepper. This would go well with crème fraiche spiked with dark rum, or just ice cream.

Pan Roasted Pineapple with Star Anise and Rum


1 small to medium pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into slices 3 – 4 cm thick; 75g caster sugar; 150ml dark rum; 3 or 4 star anise; 200m ml water; 50g unsalted butter, cut into pieces.


Sprinkle the sugar in a heavy frying pan. Add the pineapple slices and the star anise, and cook over a medium heat until the sugar starts to caramelise. It needs to be a chestnut brown colour. Any less and the mixture will be sugary; any more, and it will turn bitter. When the colour starts to change it does so very quickly. Add 100ml of the rum and flambé. It’s spectacular, but do take care. A combination of caramel and flame can cause extreme pain. Allow to bubble until the mixture turns syrupy. Add the butter and water. Simmer for 7 – 8 minutes, turning once. The liquid should by now be a thick syrup. Add the remaining rum and bubble for a few more minutes to thicken. Leave to cool slightly for a few minutes before serving. Plain vanilla ice cream is probably best to go with this.




Tom Cooks! in Costa Rica and the Galapagos


Gallo Pinto DSC04576 Mixed Ceviche

The title of today’s article is actually something of a fib, as cooking opportunities were limited. But among the wonders and delights of travelling, the chance to sample other culinary cultures is a major one. They say that there is nothing new under the sun. Even if that were true, it is fascinating to observe the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, differences in the way that familiar ingredients are handled.

Costa Rica

As a country Costa Rica is a delight, an example of what can be achieved when a nation is led by statesmen of vision. Some seventy years ago, they dispensed with an army, choosing to invest the money in a health service, agriculture and conservation. The result is a prosperous nation with average life expectancy and adult literacy rates on a par with, or perhaps higher than, those in the UK.

I had no knowledge of the food, and was expecting a cuisine similar to that of Mexico. A major surprise, then to find that chilli features very little, and spicy food is rare. Less of a surprise to find that beans are a staple, together with rice which was introduced by the Spanish, the Moors having brought it to Spain. Rice and beans can be fine things: they can also be very dull. How do you jazz them up without heat? The most common dish is called Gallo Pinto, literally speckled cockerel. This is frequently jazzed up by adding some protein of choice, but it may also be served simply as a breakfast dish. I ate it on a number of occasions, and was unable to place the flavour. Having done some research, I discover that the secret ingredient is Salsa Livano, a condiment invented in 1920 by one Prospero Livano. Despite now being made by Unilever, it seems to be unavailable in the UK. My sources suggest that it is not dissimilar to Worcester Sauce, with perhaps a little more cumin. I’ve suggested these alternatives in the recipe.

Gallo Pinto

1 onion, finely chopped; 1 red pepper, seeded and finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed; 400g cooked rice (preferably cooked a day in advance and kept in the fridge); 250g cooked black beans (reserving 200ml cooking liquid); 4 tbsp Worcester sauce; 1 tsp ground cumin; large bunch of coriander, finely chopped; vegetable oil; salt and pepper.


Cook the onions and pepper in the oil and fry gently with the garlic until the veg are soft. Add the beans, cooking liquid, Worcester sauce and cumin. Simmer for about five minutes then stir in the rice. Heat gently till the dish is hot through. (Make sure it’s not too dry.) Season to taste with salt, pepper and extra Worcester sauce, then stir in the coriander. This can be served as it is, or topped with chicken or pork.

Ecuador and the Galapagos

The closest I got to actual cooking was being chef’s helper at a small cookery class on a boat in the Galapagos. As well as three nights on a boat, we also stayed for a few days on Santa Cruz Island. A friendly local pointed us in the direction of Lo&Lo’s tucked away in a back street, where we ate very well. The highlight was Fanseca, a dish made only in Holy Week. Think Cullen Skink with salt cod instead of haddock, and beans in the place of potatoes. Ah, were it that simple. The excellent version which I had contained black beans, young broad beans and something akin to a kidney bean. I then read that by tradition, twelve types of bean are used, to represent the Apostles. These are cooked separately. Altogether too involved, and, anyway you’d have to wait for the best part of a year to make it. Instead, I return to the MV Legend and give you an Ecuadorian version of ceviche. You may recall that a couple of months ago I shared a fairly classical recipe. This is perhaps a little less pure, but the end result was very good. The reference to tomato water, as used by the chef, was to tomatoes skinned, blitzed in a blender, sieved, and a little water added. You could simply use tomato juice, or the liquid from a tin of tomatoes.

Ecuadorean Mixed Ceviche

Quantities are approximate.

150g cooked shrimps; 150g fresh white fish, such as sea bass, cut into cubes, marinaded in lemon juice, and refrigerated overnight; 1 tbsp each of finely chopped green pepper; finely chopped concasse of tomatoes (remove the skins and seeds and finely chop the flesh); 1 tsp ground ginger; 1 – 2 tsp hot sauce, such as Tabasco; 1 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil (I use Orodeal); 1 – 2 tbsp tomato water (see above); 1 tsp sweet Spanish or German mustard; 1 tsp tomato ketchup; chopped coriander; salt and black pepper.


Gently mix all the ingredients together, apart from the salt pepper and coriander. Season to taste with s & p. If you’re not serving at once, refrigerate, and mix in the coriander immediately prior to service.

PS As ever the food photos are not my own, but stock images. By contrast, the central photo is one of mine, taken in a market in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Look at those avocadoes. They were the size of a small honeydew melon.


Caesar Salad

The story behind this now ubiquitous dish is an excellent one. Unlike many tales of the origins of famous plates, it is almost certainly true. During the Prohibition era in the USA, an enterprising San Diego restaurateur, one Cesare Cardini, opened a restaurant in Tijuana, just across the border in Mexico. It was very popular with Hollywood stars, and also with off duty American airmen. The story goes that in 1924, the day after an exceptionally busy 4th of July celebration, Caesar (as every American knew him) was pretty low on supplies. He had lettuce, eggs, cheese, bread and some citrus fruit. Many decades before Ready, Steady, Cook, he improvised, and served up his now famous salad to a group of airmen for breakfast. Word spread, and it soon became a staple on the menu, originally named Aviator Salad.

The idea of table side theatre in restaurants (think Steak Diane, Crepes Suzette) is now out of fashion, but at Caesar’s it became a big production number, prepared in front of guests, and traditionally eaten as finger food. Wallis Simpson came to Tijuana to have it prepared by Caesar himself. (Even then we were too lazy to get our heads round Italian names.) It is said that the good Mrs Simpson was responsible for its introduction into Europe.

I give you two versions. The first comes from Caesar’s granddaughter Carla. She says that the original recipe used key lime, not lemon, but that the recipe was mistranslated. She also commented that most people use too much garlic. I actually quite like a garlicky hit. As you will see, the original is a version of mayonnaise, the eggs and the oil emulsifying. The second version is a (highly effective) cheat. At my recent Tom Cooks! cookery class, with a student who was an absolute beginner, we knocked up the sauce in two minutes flat, one of these being taken up in grating the cheese and opening the jars of mayo and anchovies.

Caesar Salad (the classical version)


Romaine lettuce leaves (left whole); croutons (slices of bread either rubbed in oil and baked till golden brown, or fried in a little olive oil); 4 eggs, boiled for one minute then refreshed in cold water; 3 lemons, halved; anchovy paste; about 120ml olive oil; Parmesan cheese, grated (the recipe I have calls for 1½ cups, which would be 150g – I don’t believe it. See the cheat recipe below); Worcester sauce; 5 cloves of garlic; salt and pepper.


Put the leaves in a wooden bowl and season with salt and pepper. Strain the olive oil, and pour a small amount over the leaves. Crack the eggs over the leaves, add lemon juice and roll round to emulsify. You will have to adjust the amount of oil. Add 1 tbsp of Worcester sauce. Add the cheese and toss lightly. Add the croutons and serve.

I have never made this version. With the greatest of respect to Ms Cardini, I am deeply suspicious of this recipe. Instead, I commend my cheat’s version below, which will dress about 20 – 30 leaves.

Caesar Salad (the cheat’s version)


Romaine lettuce leaves (left whole); croutons (slices of bread either rubbed in oil and baked till golden brown, or fried in a little olive oil); 3 heaped dsp mayonnaise (Hellmann’s is fine); 1 clove garlic, peeled; 4 anchovy fillets; 10g grated Parmesan.


In a mini blender, whoosh the mayo, garlic, anchovy and Parmesan. Dress your leaves. Add the croutons. Simples!


Tom Cooks! will be back in May

Crab Ravioli with Quick Prawn Bisque

Crab Ravioli

In the cookery course which I teach, this week’s class featured bread and pasta, the theme being dough and what to do with it. I don’t make a lot of fresh pasta, so I dug out the machine and had a wee practice. Truth be told, for staples such as spaghetti dishes I prefer the dried stuff. Where fresh comes into its own is in the making of ravioli. When I were t’lad, ravioli came in a tin, a sweet tomato sauce bathing little parcels containing something which may once have been meat. We didn’t let the exotic foreign name fool us – you can usually tell when you’re in the presence of something ordinary. Scotland being Scotland, I have on more than one occasion seen ravioli listed on a menu as a vegetable. (Unlike lasagne, of course, which would be served with garlic bread and chips on the side.)

The real thing can be sublime. This is a good example. Ravioli are often served with a buttery sauce. This version is quite creamy with the mascarpone, so that wouldn’t work so well. To make your pasta, blitz the flour and eggs in a blender. Tip out on to a board (wooden is the purists’ preferred option), form the dough, and knead for a few minutes. Leave to one side at room temperature, wrapped in clingfilm.

Ingredients (will make about 10 – 12 ravioli 10cm wide)

For the ravioli

Fresh pasta, made with 200g 00 flour and two eggs; 150g white crabmeat; 150g mascarpone; zest of 1 lemon; small handful chopped parsley; pinch cayenne pepper or a few drops of Tabasco (optional); black pepper.

For the bisque

1 shallot, chopped; about 100 – 200g prawn shells, coarsely chopped; 2 tbsp olive oil; 1 tsp fennel seeds; about 75 ml brandy (cooking brandy, please, not the good stuff); 1 tbsp tomato purée; about 300 ml water; fish sauce, pepper; double cream (optional).


Make the bisque first. Soften the shallot over a gentle heat in the oil, in a frying pan large enough to hold the shells. Sprinkle the fennel seeds in, and mix well. When the shallot has softened, turn the heat up to medium, add the shells to the pan and shake around for a couple of minutes. Add the brandy. Either flambé it or bubble at high heat to burn off the alcohol. Stir in the tomato purée, add some of the water and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Adjust the liquid up or down to get to the consistency you want, and check the seasoning. If using, add the cream at the last minute. Personally, I wouldn’t use cream in this recipe, because of the mascarpone.

To make the filling, simply mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Check the seasoning. Roll out the pasta in the usual way, and cut into rounds about 10cm across. Make the ravioli, resisting the temptation to overfill. Use water to seal the edges, and try to eliminate any air pockets. Dust with plenty of flour to prevent them sticking.

Cook the ravioli in a pan of simmering water for three minutes, drain well and serve in a bowl with a helping of the bisque. Top with chopped chives or the green part of spring onions, very finely sliced.

Stuffed Cabbage

Stuffed Cabbage

I have two apologies for this dish. Firstly, while it may be a staple in many households, it’s something I had never made before. Secondly, it’s laughably simple. Lest you had forgotten how basic my culinary skills are, read on.

This was a Ready Steady Cook thing which I made at the weekend. Our shopping had been a bit haphazard, we had both been independently to Secret Sainsbury’s (that’s the one next door to the heroin factory*), and the fridge was threatening to bear a resemblance to a Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmare, though minus the mould. I’ve never been a fan of stuffed vine leaves, nor indeed, for that matter, any sort of stuffed veg. They generally feature rice, and are often very, very dull. The first thing to catch my eye was a Savoy cabbage. Cabbage can be a very fine thing, provided you cook it either very quickly or very slowly. Anything in between is a mistake. I’ve used many types, and the dramatic looking Savoy would normally be the last pick, like the speccy kid when football teams were being chosen. (I know – I was that speccy kid.) But zapped with the world’s fastest tomato sauce, some pimped up mince, and a whatever-leftover-cheese-do-we-have sauce, it turned out quite nicely, in something under an hour.

Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)

6 large Savoy cabbage leaves, the toughest part of the central stalks removed; the world’s fastest tomato sauce (see below); clear up the fridge cheese sauce (see below); spicy mince (see below); 6 cocktail sticks.

The World’s Fastest Tomato Sauce

1 carton passata; 1 tsp salt; 1 tsp sugar.

Put all the ingredients in a pan, bring to the boil, then simmer until the sauce thickens.

Clear up the Fridge Cheese Sauce

Butter and flour in approximate ratio of 30:25; milk; cheese; salt; white pepper.

I’m assuming you know how to make a white sauce? If not, melt the butter over a medium heat, then, with a wooden spoon, stir in the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the milk, little by little. Chuck in whatever cheese you have. If using blue cheese or the likes of Brie, cut the rind off. Allow the cheese to melt and continue stirring until you have a nice smooth sauce of a medium thickness.

Spicy Mince

500g mince (I used beef, but lamb would work well too); 1 onion, very finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic; good squeeze tomato paste; Tabasco; salt and pepper.

Basic mince technique – soften the onion and the garlic. Chuck in the mince to brown. Stir in the tomato paste. Season with S & P & Tabasco. Add some water and simmer until the mince is cooked. Check the seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/ Mark 5. While the mince is cooking, put the cabbage leaves in boiling salted water for 2 – 3 minutes. Remove and pat dry. Into each leaf, spoon a layer each of tomato sauce, mince and cheese sauce. Form a parcel and hold in place with a cocktail stick. Put the parcels in an oven proof dish. Spoon over any excess sauces. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling.

* The very reputable company of McFarlan Smith is situated in Gorgie, just behind Murrayfield Stadium, and next door to my local branch of Sainsbury’s. It, perfectly legally, produces all manner of opiates, as well as having a licence to cultivate its own opium poppies. It features in Irvine Welsh’s Skagboys, the prequel to Trainspotting.











Sue Lawrence

Last week we had rhubarb in a savoury dish. This weekend we’re back to its more normal use as a dessert ingredient. I invited the very lovely and very talented Sue Lawrence to contribute a recipe. What sort of recipe, she asked? Anything, I replied, but seasonal would be nice. Easy, she said, has to be rhubarb. We’ve done crumbles before, but the addition of the ginger mascarpone is the real genius of this dish.


For the crumble

900g rhubarb, chopped into sections about 2.5 cm long; 125g golden caster sugar; 2 tbsp ginger syrup (from a jar of stem ginger in syrup); 175g plain flour, sifted (or 150g flour + 25g ground almonds); 100g butter, diced.

For the ginger mascarpone

250g mascarpone; 1 tbsp finely chopped stem ginger.


Place the rhubarb in an oven dish. Sprinkle over 50g sugar and 1 tbsp ginger syrup. Place the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the remaining 75g sugar. Tip the crumble mixture over the rhubarb and pat down gently; do not press hard. Bake in a preheated oven (200˚C/Mark 6) for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Beat together the mascarpone, chopped ginger and 1 tbsp syrup. Serve the crumble in pudding bowls with a generous dollop of mascarpone.

Sue Lawrence is an award winning food writer and novelist. Unlike many food writers, she really can walk the walk, a winner of one of the earliest series of Masterchef. Since then she has achieved great success as a writer, noted for her promotion of traditional Scottish recipes and regional produce. She won the prestigious Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award in 2003. Her latest novel, Down to the Sea, is published this month, and her latest cookery book, A Taste of Scotland’s Islands, will be published in August by Birlinn.        



Has the man finally lost it?

Mackerel Rhubarb

When I was young mackerel were viewed with much suspicion. Scavengers of the sea, my parents’ generation would describe them. Following that logic you could say exactly the same about crabs, lobsters and many other delicious marine life. The same generation would also consider coley as a fish suitable only for feeding cats, but it can now be found on the menus of many a high end dining establishment. The cynic in me says that that is related directly to the huge prices of other white fish; mackerel, on the other hand, I have always found delicious. As with most fish, freshness is everything. With mackerel it’s even easier to determine, with their vivid tiger stripes. With all fish, bright eyes and shiny skin are key – that’s much easier to detect with the distinctive appearance. Fresh fish, bizarrely, shouldn’t smell of fish, they should smell of the sea.

They are also fairly easy to fillet. If you are looking to teach yourself about fish, a mackerel makes a reasonable apprentice piece. There are now plenty of show-me-how videos online.

It’s an oily fish, rich in some Omega or other. It is good grilled or baked. Try seasoning with a little Dijon mustard. Or get your fishmonger to gut a whole fish and stuff with herbs and/or finely sliced onion. The fastest way, of course, is to fry, skin on. Season the flesh with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a pan till hot but not smoking. Put the fish in skin side down and cook for a minute on a high crisp the skin. If necessary use a fish slice to keep the fillet flat and ensure even cooking. After a minute reduce the heat and keep an eye on the flesh, which will turn white. When there is about an inch (sorry, 2.5cm) of uncooked flesh, turn over and cook for no more than 30 seconds, then remove.

It makes an excellent sandwich, with or without a little potato salad.

Mackerel with rhubarb 

Modern British chefs have been going on about this as though it were something new and innovative. Our ancestors (more specifically, those in England, who had no issues with mackerel) have been pairing its oily consistency with sharp fruit for years. Mackerel with gooseberry sauce is a classic West country dish. Not much use in spring, though. So, what fruit is sharp and seasonal? Rhubarb, of course. In effect, you are just poaching the rhubarb, but with less sugar than usual. The tartness will cut through the richness of the fish.

Take 2 medium stalks of rhubarb. Wash, top and tail. Cut into pieces about 2.5 cm in length and put in a heavy pan with about 1 – 2 tbsp of caster sugar, and a little water. Start with 100 ml and top up if need be. If you were making a sweet compote you would add more sugar, and need hardly any water. Some recipes add a little ground ginger. Poach very gently until the rhubarb is completely broken down. Blitz with a hand blender and check the sugar. Some recipes will tell you to sieve this – for me that would give you too thin a sauce. Set to one side and warm gently before serving with the mackerel.

If you want to wait for gooseberry season, cook 250g of gooseberries in 100g of water. Add 2 tbsp of sugar, 30g of butter and 1tsp of crushed fennel seeds. Cook until the gooseberries pop open.

Can’t get good fresh mackerel? Try smoked.

Smoked Mackerel Salad with Beetroot, Grapefruit and Horseradish

Smoked mackerel is readily available. I would avoid the peppered versions, as the delicate flavour is overwhelmed. The horseradish cuts through the oiliness, as does the grapefruit. You can use orange in place of grapefruit if you prefer, but I like the extra acidity of the latter.  Beetroot adds colour, and crispy potato cubes or warm croutons add texture. This is an incredibly simple and attractive dish.

Ingredients (serves 2)

Salad leaves of your choice (try mixing up basic lettuce with others of colour and flavour, eg rocket or spinach or watercress or radicchio); vinaigrette of choice (a lemon based one is good); 1 fillet smoked mackerel, broken into chunks; 1 medium cooked beetroot (not pickled) cut into bite sized chunks; grapefruit segments (not tinned – see last week’s column on how to segment citrus) – allow about 3 to 4 segments per person (cut in two if they are large); cubes of crisp fried potato or bread croutons (optional); creamed horseradish sauce – shop bought is fine.


Have all your ingredients ready, but don’t assemble until the last moment. Your potatoes will go soggy, and the beetroot colour will start to leech into everything else. Best to serve on individual plates as opposed to a single salad bowl. Lightly dress the salad leaves with the vinaigrette; Scatter on the fish, beetroot and grapefruit. Add the potatoes or croutons fresh from the pan. Dot the plate with generous blobs of horseradish sauce.




Many thanks to the very lovely Beth Stone, our guest cook, for this very quick ceviche recipe. As you will see from the photo, the finished dish is as elegant as the author herself. Many of you will know that ceviche is a technique for “cooking” fish by marinading in citrus juice. Needless to say, there is a dispute as to its origins. While it has almost become the national dish of Peru, some sources claim that it was taken there by Moorish women from Granada who went over with later generations of conquistadors.  I suppose you can just take your main ingredient and choose heads or tails.

One word of warning. Because no heat is involved, there is nothing to kill off any bacteria. It is therefore vital to use the freshest fish possible. For stone bass, you can substitute sea bass or indeed any of the other fish you might use for a ceviche. Generally speaking you need a semi firm white sea fish. You could use sole or flounder. Blood oranges can still be found, but we are coming to the end of the season: if you can’t find them, ordinary oranges will suffice. Verjus, let’s be frank, is a cheffy ingredient – Beth picked this recipe up at a cookery course down south. It’s a very acidic juice made from unripe grapes. On the assumption that you don’t have any, just add extra lemon and lime juice in equal measures. The five minute marinade will be a very light “cook” and assumes you have diced the fish quite finely. You may want a little longer – I was always told that you need a minimum of ten. Taste a little after five minutes and adjust the time to suit yourself to get it as you wish it. Segmenting your orange is fiddly, but it is essential. If you haven’t done it before watch the video on It’s a skill worth acquiring. For the radish, the pros would use a mandoline, but I couldn’t be a***d getting mine out, assembling it, making the trip to A & E after I’ve sliced my hand, then washing it and putting it away just for one measly radish. A sharp knife does it for me.

The photo shows how a professional (and Mrs Stone) would present the dish, with micro herbs in evidence. The rest of us can do our best; however, note the use of celery leaves, which you can see in the photo, but which the original recipe fails to mention. These are a much neglected part of the plant – don’t throw them away.

Ingredients (for a single portion)

70g stone bass, skinned; ½ small stalk of celery, peeled and diced; ½ blood orange, peeled and segmented; salt; white pepper.

For the marinade

40ml blood orange juice; 10ml lime juice; 10 ml lemon juice; 60ml verjus; 10ml good olive oil; few drops Tabasco (the recipe says green, but who has that in their kitchen? – ordinary will do).

For the garnish

1 small radish, topped and tailed and sliced horizontally as thinly as possible; about 20g of herbs, ideally including dill, and chervil or tarragon, and a few celery leaves.


Remove any fat and bloodline (any dark red strip on the fillet) from the fish and cut into dice. Mix the marinade ingredients together. Season the fish with salt and white pepper – you don’t want it to seem that small flies have landed on it – then pour the marinade over, mix well then leave. After five to ten minutes mix in the celery. Leave for a minute or two more, then drain off the marinading liquid. Arrange on a serving plate and garnish. Serve without delay.


Steak and Kidney Pudding

It’s Wednesday morning, and I’m both starving and bereft of inspiration. Later we’re collecting an old, in every sense of the word, friend, to take her out for lunch. I made some soda bread, which both exacerbates the hunger and makes me realise that neither of this week’s blogs even has a subject, never mind any content. No fewer than three lunches have been postponed in the last couple of weeks, all to unreviewed destinations. Still, I can do soda bread for Tom Cooks!? Nope, I see I did that three years ago. The hunger was intensified by watching the Hairy Bikers making pudding, a savoury specimen of the suet variety. King of British puds is, of course the good old Kate and Sidney, subject of many a bad joke. There are umpteen recipes available; however, for ease, and for a recipe which you can guarantee will work, I turned to Christopher Trotter and Maggie Ramsay’s wonderful The Whole Cow, as fine a beef cookery book as you could hope to find. I commend it to you. Thanks once again to Christopher for permission to use his recipes.

A few thoughts. There are many people, myself included, who won’t thank you for offal. Now you can omit the kidney; however, it does make for a most fabulous gravy. You can reduce the quantities or dice it more finely (it’s the texture I dislike, as opposed to the flavour). A good butcher will provide you with a bit of suet, which is the hard fat surrounding the kidneys. You have to grate it, but you can also buy blocks in the supermarkets, Atora being the best known brand name. I have in the past expressed a dislike of using flour for thickening sauces. Forget such prejudice here. Everything goes into the pudding shell raw. You need the flour to create a thick rich gravy, and as it has such a long cooking time there will be no nasty texture. Season your flour with salt and pepper – make sure you use liberal doses. The only really tricky part of this recipe is tying the string around the pudding bowl. Do make sure you use a proper one with a lip.

Ingredients (Christopher says serves 6. I’m not so sure. Even with lots of mashed tatties and peas, people tend to gorge on this – and have a long sleep afterwards.)

For the suet pastry – 280g self raising flour; 140g grated suet; 150 – 200 ml cold water; ½ tsp salt; 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (optional, but good for a little extra flavour).

For the filling – 450g round steak (if you’re not in Scotland, ask for stewing steak); 125g ox kidney, trimmed and diced; 1 – 2 tbsp seasoned flour; 1 onion chopped; 100g button mushrooms, quartered; 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley; 100 ml red wine; beef stock; 150-200 ml cold water; butter for greasing


For the crust, sift the flour and salt together in a baking bowl, stir in the suet and the herbs, then gradually add the water to form a pliable dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl. Take a 1.2 litre pudding basin, measure its diameter then grease it. Roll out the pastry to the diameter of the bowl, then cut out a one quarter segment and set aside. Lift the pastry into the bowl, joining the two cut edges and sealing. Roll out the remaining quarter to form the lid.

Toss the steak and kidney in the seasoned flour and shake off any excess. Mix with the mushrooms, onion and parsley. Place in the pudding bowl, add the red wine then top up to two thirds full with (cold) beef stock. Dampen the edge of the pastry, add the lid and pinch the edges together to seal.

Now for the most difficult part – covering the top. (I jest not – it’s a good idea to get someone to help you with the string.) Take a sheet of grease proof paper and form a pleat to allow for expansion. Place this on top and add a layer of foil. These need to be tied on with string below the lip of the bowl. Start with a loop and a slip knot. When that is in place take the string round two or three times, then two or three times across the top to form a handle.

The pudding needs to be steamed for four hours. Put a saucer or plate at the bottom of the steaming pan so your bowl doesn’t touch the bottom. The water must be below the top of the bowl to avoid flooding your pudding. Check that it’s not boiling so hard that it spurts up, and check the water levels from time to time. If you want to make sure you can’t walk for a week serve with mash and peas. Or you could emulate Mr Tom’s Chop House in Manchester, a lovely Victorian pub which serves steak and kidney puddings the size of your head with about a pound of chips and half a gallon of gravy.

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

The Whole Cow is available from Amazon or from good book shops.

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



Tom's Wonky Pizza

Saturday 9 February 2019 is National Pizza Day. Yes, it’s official. Who thinks these things up? I have no idea, but I have a sneaky hunch that the British Society of Pizza Restaurateurs may have some involvement. It’s fun to make your own, though the BSPR won’t thank me for sharing this recipe. When you’ve finished, work out the cost of the ingredients, compare that with what you are being charged on the High Street, then weep or gnash your teeth, or both.

I have to say that I do admire the skill of those guys who, with a few deft flicks of the wrist, can send skywards a frisbee of dough and convert it into a perfect pizza round, the dough concentrated around the outside. (Actually, the skill is as much in the catching as the throwing. Like as not you’ll end up with a hoopla of dough round your wrist.) Not only am I unable to do this, I have great difficulty in making them round at all – see the picture. But, like size, shape doesn’t much matter. Rectangular is perfectly good, or, like mine, somewhere between the two is fine.

It’s very similar to making bread; however, the dough is a little wetter, and you need a lot of flour to stop it sticking as you create the shape. A combination of flour and semolina is best.

Ingredients (for 6 pizza bases)

500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting; 10g salt; 10g fast action yeast; 1dsp caster sugar;  4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for oiling the surface and the rising bowl; 350 ml warm water; semolina flour for dusting.


Mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a baking bowl, making sure the yeast and salt don’t touch. (Salt will affect the yeast’s rising properties.) Add the oil and about half of the water, and mix well. I usually mix initially with a knife and get the hands in later. Purists will mix exclusively by hand. You could use a machine, but where’s the fun in that? Add the remaining water a bit at a time, till you have a smooth dough which has absorbed all of the flour. You may not need all of the water. Tip onto an oiled surface and knead for about 10 minutes. It’s ready when the dough is the consistency of Play Doh, and a finger indentation will slowly bounce back. Put in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film (to prevent a crust forming on the dough) and leave in a warm place until your dough has doubled in size. This will take at least an hour, preferably more. Bizarrely, given the conventional wisdom that heat is necessary, you can leave it in the fridge overnight and get the same result. When the dough has risen, cut into six equal pieces. Shape into balls and dust with a mixture of flour and semolina. Press them down with your fingers and form a round disc. Assuming you are not a tosser (see above), roll them out as thinly as you can. The circumference should be a little thicker – work it with your fingers.

Heat the oven to maximum temperature. For most domestic ovens this will be 240˚C/Mark 9. This is where the pro kitchens have the real advantage. A wood fired pizza oven can reach 425˚C or more, needing only about 90 seconds to cook your pizza. If you plan to make this  a lot, it’s worth investing in a pizza stone. I had bad experiences: I carefully followed the instructions for tempering the thing. Despite that it cracked down the middle on the first use. Dust a baking tray well with more of the flour/semolina. Top your pizza with your choice of ingredients – see below for some ideas – drizzle with olive oil and cook until crisp. Put your baking tray on the oven floor to ensure a nice crispy bottom. This will take about 8 – 10 minutes.


Classic Margherita

This was created in Naples in 1889 as a tribute to Queen Margherita. The colours reflect those of the Italian flag, and this was apparently the first time cheese is known to have been used on a pizza. Spread the base with a spreading of chopped tinned tomatoes and season with a little salt. Add slices of mozzarella. For my money, buffalo mozzarella is to be preferred over fior di latte (made with cow’s milk). The former will melt in pieces, the latter melts into strings. Garnish with some fresh basil leaves.

Quattro Stagioni

The phrase means four seasons in Italian. The association between the ingredients and the seasons seems fanciful to me; however, beginning with spring, the classical ingredients are cooked ham and black olives; artichokes and anchovies; tomatoes and mozzarella; and mushrooms. Typically each quarter of the pizza has a separate set of ingredients, which is rubbish if you’re sharing. Overall, it’s more fun just to let your imagination go, as I did with-

Tom’s Mongrel Misshapen Pizza (pictured)

This was one I made a few years ago, a vague nod to Pizza Express’s American Hot. From memory it had the usual tomato and mozzarella base. I cooked some minced beef and spiced it up with Tabasco or Cayenne pepper or both. (Ca’ canny if using the latter – it’s powerful stuff.) Make sure the meat (or indeed any sauce) is cool before loading your dough (and don’t put too thick a filling on, otherwise your pizza will be soggy). I topped this with strips of pepper and a green chilli, seeds left in, cut into rings. And very good it was too.

 I’m now off to research the date for National Champagne Day.



It’s amazing how one thing can lead to another. And even more amazing (and wonderful) to discover a kindred spirit who shares my love of completely useless pieces of information, and the sharing thereof. Some of you may know that my culinary repertoire has extended to the field of teaching. The Retired Big Financial Whizz has signed up to the School of Tom Cooks! and we are having fun of a Tuesday morning. As a bonus I have been throwing in a few of the world’s easiest desserts, godsends to me in the past when I was even more limited on puds than I am now. On week one we did the first of today’s “recipes”. The main beneficiary of this course is Mrs RBFW, who now gets the occasional night away from the stove. It was she who asked me if I knew the tale of Bernardino Luini and Amaretto. Just in case any of you have missed it, make yourselves comfortable and I’ll begin.

Our Bernardino was an artist of note, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci. In 1525 he accepted a commission for a series of frescoes on the life of the Virgin and Christ in the sanctuary of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Saronno in Lombardy. Seeking a model, he found a beautiful widowed innkeeper. History does not relate her name; however, she was so entranced with the frescoes, and so delighted with her representation as the Madonna, that she wished to make a gift for Bernardino. The story goes that she steeped apricot kernels in brandy, thus creating Amaretto di Saronno, the first version of the drink now marketed as Disaronno. What a wonderful story. If it’s not true, it should be.

As with many sweetish liqueurs (despite the name, which means, “little bitter”) Amaretto can be whipped into cream and can be a flavouring for wonderful cakes such as our second recipe. The first is simplicity itself.

Affogato di Amaretto

(Affogato means drowned)


Vanilla ice cream; flaked almonds (allow about 1 tbsp per portion); amaretto.


Lightly toast the almonds. This is best done in a dry frying pan on a hot stove. Keep a close eye on them. They will go from nearly done to burnt in seconds. You want them light brown all over. Allow to cool. Sprinkle over the ice cream, and add a good slug of amaretto. It never fails to impress.

Almond Amaretto and Chocolate Torte (Serves 10)

Recipe © delicious. magazine

Photograph © Maja Smend –

I am hugely grateful to the lovely Karen Barnes, editor of delicious. magazine, for permission to use this recipe and photograph (above). I’ve been investigating sundry food magazines over the past wee while and delicious. (no, not my bad typing, it doesn’t have a capital “D” and it does have a full stop at the end) is head and shoulders above the rest. Their recipes really do work. For more information (and some great subscription offers) see


For the cake: 200g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the tin; 200g good dark chocolate (recommended 70%), roughly chopped; 150g ground almonds; 6 medium eggs, separated; 180g golden caster sugar; 50ml amaretto. For the ganache: 200g dark chocolate, as above, roughly chopped; 100g double cream, at room temperature; For garnish: 30g whole almonds, skin on, sliced; 20g flaked almonds.


Grease the base of a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin (preferably springform) and line with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/fan 160˚C/Mark 4. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and the chocolate over a low heat. Stir in the ground almonds and allow to cool for 5 minutes or so. Beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. With an electric whisk this will take about 5 minutes. Stir in the chocolate mixture and combine well. In another bowl whip the egg whites (with a clean whisk) to stiff peaks. Stir the amaretto into the chocolate mixture then fold in the egg white. Remember your basic folding technique. Spoon a large spoonful of egg white into the chocolate mix and stir in to loosen the mixture. Thereafter fold in the egg white carefully, using a large metal spoon. You are trying not to lose air from the mixture. Put the mixture into the cake tin and bake on the middle shelf for 35 – 40 minutes until the cake is risen and firm to the touch. Leave in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn on to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the ganache topping, melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl set over (not touching) a pan of barely simmering water. Chocolate needs to be melted gently, otherwise you risk altering the consistency. Remove from the heat, allow to cool a bit for 5 – 10 minutes, then stir in the cream thoroughly. Voilà your ganache. Set aside to cool, covered with clingfilm touching the surface. Toast the whole almonds and flaked almonds in a dry frying pan, as for the recipe above, until lightly browned. Remove and, yes you guessed it, leave to cool. Spread the cooled ganache over the cake, then decorate with the almonds. If at the first attempt, your torte looks anything like the one in the picture you will win a prize (but not from me).






roasted veg

Last week’s article produced the biggest post box ever, for which many thanks. Let me begin with a comment from the Retired Captain of Industry, who politely refuted my suggestion that raw garlic is never a good idea on veg. He puts it on green beans. Skilful cross examination revealed that this is put on to hot beans, which are then allowed to cool (effectively cooking the garlic a little), then smothered in good olive oil and refrigerated over night for a stunning salad. Sounds great, but the RCOI would never produce the sort of abomination I am trying to eradicate. More from him later.

A good few of you picked up on my implication that veg are to be boiled. While it’s our most common way of cooking them, in fact it’s often the worst thing you can do from a nutritional point of view, as you pour away much of the goodness with the cooking water. There is another major disadvantage, especially with a veg like cauliflower. How many times have you had a dish of cauliflower cheese which gives you a puddle of water on the plate? It’s very difficult to drain it properly. Instead –


You don’t need any fancy equipment, neither an electric steamer nor a stack of Chinese bamboo containers. I have a good pan which has a steamer attachment which fits on top of almost any pot; however, in the absence of that put your veg in a solid sided colander and improvise for a lid. Another pan lid will do, or a plate. Do remember that steam is hotter than water (last week you had chemistry lessons, this week, physics). Be careful not to burn yourself. It is a little faster than boiling. You can steam most veg. Liven them up with soy sauce or slivers of ginger.


Break into decent sized florets and steam until tender. Alternatively roast for about 20 – 25 minutes at 220˚C/Mark 7. Lower the oven temperature to 200˚C/Mark 6. Cover with a reasonably thick cheese sauce and bake for about 25 – 30 minutes until bubbling and lightly brown. For added texture top with a layer of breadcrumbs. Liven up your cheese sauce with a mixture of cheeses. Parmesan will add a little bite, and a sauce is a good way of using up any left over blue cheese.

Another excellent way of cooking veg without losing flavour or goodness is the method which we inaccurately refer to these days as-


Why we talk about roasting veg, but baking potatoes is beyond me, but who cares? The latter term is correct. Roasting involves exposure to a direct heat source. If you’re going to have an oven on, you might as well put it to maximum use (though do remember that a full oven may alter cooking times a little). Roast chicken would be unthinkable in our house without a couple of peeled onions in the tray, softening in the chicken juices to unctuous loveliness. Hard veg are very good done this way. Remember to start them in good size chunks. 4 – 5 centimetres is not excessive, as they will shrink quite a bit. Carrot and pumpkin are recommended. The cooking brings out their natural sweetness. You might want to start them on the hob, possibly with some honey and sprigs of rosemary or thyme. Cloves of unpeeled garlic will not only perfume the contents, but when done, will pop out of the skin like fragrant toothpaste. Whatever you are using, drizzle with some good olive oil and a good sprinkling of sea salt. Cook in quite a hot oven – about 220˚C/Mark 7 – for about 35 – 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so.


This is good for green veg, such as asparagus, leeks, or spring onions. Oil the veg. Much better on a direct heat, such as a ridged griddle pan or a barbecue, with a sprinkling of sea salt. But if you stuck with boiling, remember there are other ways of just-

Jazzing Up

Carrots – sprinkle with cumin or caraway seeds. Or glaze them. Drain the carrots when cooked, then return to a pan with a knob of butter, a tablespoon of honey and a sprinkling of parsley. Heat until the veg are warmed though and the honey and butter have formed an emulsion.

Turnip – by this I mean the large yellow fleshed thing which many of us Scots will be cooking on Burns Night, and which much of the world calls a swede. Butter and black pepper are good, but zap it up with a good grating of nutmeg. Some find turnip a little too bitter and carrots a little too sweet. Cook both together and mash them. A great way to add colour to a winter plate.

Tomatoes – slow roastinig tomatoes in a gentle to medium oven will dry them out a little and intensify their natural sweetness. A tiny sliver of garlic, a sprinkling of mixed herbs and a drizzle of olive oil will change that dull thing out of all recognition.

Peppers –  take any colour of pepper as long as it’s not green.  Halve it lengthwise. Deseed but leave the stalks on. Into each half put a couple of pieces of tinned tomato, a couple of slivers of garlic, and half an anchovy fillet chopped up. Cook at 180˚C/Mark 4 for 45 – 60 minutes until the peppers are soft and beginning to char lightly.

You’ll note that virtually  none of the tips in this article or last week’s is a recipe. They’re just little tweaks you can use on a handful of vegetables we often use at this time of year. I’m going to give the last word to the RCOI. I lunched with him today. (See next week’s Tom Eats!) He enthused about how much he had enjoyed a plain boiled potato which he had cooked recently. More skilful cross examination revealed that this “plain” potato was cooked in chicken stock with a parmesan rind! No one can say that those with Italian roots are crap at veg: and with just a little imagination, we Brits shouldn’t be either. More veg recipes to follow later this year.





broccoli and mayo green beans with cheese

A couple of people have commented that the column has been a bit high falutin’ of late, what with lobster, choux pastry and the like. Well, it was Christmas. It might be worth restating what these articles are meant to be about. For some reason, many of my readers are experienced cooks, many of you at a level far advanced to mine. You are very welcome – and many have been kind enough to say that you enjoy the asides and the stories – but I am aiming this at people who are at the level I was at about fifteen years ago. You can cook, but you have gaps in your technique and/or repertoire, and from time to time things go wrong for no obvious reason. With that in mind, I pose the question-

Why are we Brits so crap at veg?

A side dish of carrots and peas is depressingly common, generally devoid of adornment and flavour. There are worse things I suppose. Those who dismiss frozen veg out of hand completely miss the point. A pea will be frozen and packaged within three hours of the pod being picked, far fresher than anything you could buy in a shop. Unlike many veg, it is fairly robust and can handle a bit of maltreatment at the hands of a careless cook. Likewise the carrot: it is harder to get wrong than some, though you can still commit the first sin-


Have any of you had the following experience? You have some excellent green beans as a side. You boil them very carefully, ensuring they are still of a bright colour and al dente. Your dinner party is running a little late, as these things always do. Having drained them you pop them somewhere to keep warm – and come back some minutes later to a bowl of soft, olive green unpleasantness. Have a chemistry lesson. We homo sapiens are made up of 70% water. Most of us are a higher life form than the green bean. My guess was that the latter would be about 90% water. Research tells me the figure is 89% – not a bad guess for a non scientist. So you have brought your bean to the boil. When you drain it, that 89% of water is still at boiling point. The cooking process continues internally, hence an overcooked end product ten minutes later. The solution?


Now for many of you, especially devotees of the late master, Keith Floyd, this may involve the cook having a bottle of wine to hand. Fun, but generally a bad idea, especially since bottles of wine are so small these days and kitchens seem to cause inexplicable amounts of evaporation. In cooking terms, this means plunging your veg into a large bowl of ice water. This stops the cooking process and leaves you in control. They can be reheated  by putting in boiling water (they’ll only need about 30 – 45 seconds), or, shock horror, in the microwave. If you are too snooty to have one, then ya boo socks. I will often have virtually all my veg done well in advance and reheated just before service. It takes away a lot of stress. But there is a third way – see below.

But they’re still boring veg

So what are you going to do about it? You tried your best with a big dollop of good butter? Yet when you came to dish up, it was all in a puddle in the bottom? Here’s a solution. Just before you’re ready to serve, take the veg out of the water, pop in a pan with the butter and a tablespoon or two of water. Stir over a high heat. The butter and water will form an emulsion, which will stick to the sides of the veg instead of that puddle. Your second chemistry lesson in one column. But let’s consider added flavour. The following are good with the likes of broccoli and beans.

  • Don’t forget salt if you need it, and freshly ground black pepper – doh!
  • Horseradish sauce – enlivens anything. I prefer the creamy to the hot, but suit yourself. Do make sure you notice which one you’re buying. The labels look remarkably similar.
  • Mustard mayonnaise. Mix equal quantities of a decent ready made mayo with grain or Dijon mustard. I find English mustard too overpowering.
  • Grated lemon zest. Brilliant if you’re watching the calories.
  • Shallot and capers. Chop a shallot as finely as you can and soften in a little butter. Once it’s soft, add some very finely chopped capers. Stir them through to warm, then serve. Very good with broccoli.
  • I hate to admit it, but ready made cheese slices are OK with beans. (I’d normally have them in store to make cheese burgers.) Drain the beans, rip the cheese into pieces and add to the pan. Add a good grinding of black pepper and stir round until the cheese has melted. For a more sophisticated version add shavings of Parmesan or Gran Padano.
  • Garlic – that, I think, is a story for another day. Please, please, promise me never to add some raw garlic to veg. It is disgusting beyond belief.
  • Tomato sauce (NOT ketchup). This is a classic with courgettes, but, face facts, a courgette is a really boring vegetable. I wouldn’t normally use it as it will mask the flavour of the key ingredient, unless you’re getting into ratatouille, and that’s another story.

So, off the top of the head, that’s six ideas. There are so many more. Use your imagination, and please let me know what else works for you. Happy cooking in 2019.


lobster risotto

Happy New Year, dear reader. I did tell you that Tom Cooks! would resume later in the month. A couple of reasons for the change. Firstly, we are still within the 12 days of Christmas, so festivities are still allowed. Secondly, I cooked a particularly fine routine masterpiece for the current Mrs J on Hogmanay, which I thought I might share. No doubt you’re resigning yourself to a spell of pit claes and parritch in January: have a blow out before battening down the hatches.

Christmas as we know it is almost entirely due to the influence of Prince Albert in the 19th century. In England, as I understand it, the whole affair was a twelve day debauch. While losing that may not be such a bad thing, we have completely lost the celebration of twelfth night, or Epiphany, a festival marked in much of the rest of Europe. Madam had decreed she fancied fish for her Hogmanay dinner. Accordingly I set off for Welch’s splendid fish emporium on the shore at Newhaven. As was to be expected, there was a large and good humoured queue. They also have a large lobster tank, which can impart appetite and good eating humour, depending, of course, on which side of the glass you find yourself. I was also influenced by the fact that I was, since December 25, proud owner of a bottle of lobster oil, given to me by my sister, who suggested I was the only person she knew who might know what to do with it. At Johnston Towers we like a challenge. And thus this recipe was hatched. I believe you can find these things on line. Pshaw! I say, and pshaw! again. Improvisation is much more fun – lobster risotto recipe, here we come. This is not for the squeamish. The flavour of lobster deteriorates very quickly after death. If you use a creature which has been in a supermarket fridge, you will simply not get the same result. Health warning – this recipe involves despatching your lobster and cooking it at home. If you don’t fancy that, perhaps this is not for you.

There can be problems with  risottos. Unless you are careful, they can be very boring. Here you are adding cooked lobster meat only at the last minute, so you need additional flavouring. The logical thing would be to use fish or lobster stock. Bizarrely, however, you don’t use 100% fish stock when making a fish risotto – the flavour would be too strong. I would normally use chicken stock, but we still have a large amount of the EU turkey stock lake post-Christmas, so I used that. But it is daft to have all these lovely shells and not to use them. It seemed logical, therefore to make a lobster stock. This risotto was made using both types. Please tell me you never dispose of crustacean shells without extracting additional flavour? If you do, there’s a new year’s resolution for you.

For additional flavour you can also use little shrimps which break up in the cooking process. Welch’s had some nice unshelled raw ones which I cut into little pieces and added with a few minutes to go. You can use anchovies or fish sauce (though you have to be very careful with the salt levels). I used oyster sauce which is a little less salty. You do need to cook your lobster in advance.

Ingredients (serves 2)

For the risotto

1 fresh lobster, 500g – 750g; 1 shallot, very finely chopped; 1 red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped; ½ red pepper, deseeded and very finely chopped; 1 clove garlic, crushed; 225g risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli are the most common); about 300 – 400 ml chicken or turkey stock; about 75ml dry vermouth or dry white wine; 30g butter; 2 tbsp lobster oil (optional); half a lemon; chopped coriander for garnish (optional, or use parsley instead); freshly ground black pepper;  about 150 – 200 ml lobster stock (see below).

For the lobster stock

1 shallot, chopped; shells from the lobster, cartilage  from the head discarded, meat removed, shells coarsely bashed; 2 tbsp oil, lobster or olive; 1 tbsp fennel seeds; about 75 ml brandy (cooking brandy, please, not the good stuff); 1 tbsp tomato purée; about 300 ml water.


How to prepare your lobster

Firstly, cook your crustacean. Make sure your pan is big enough, and that the water is boiling.  You will need at least 4 litres of water. Rick Stein recommends 150 g of salt per 4.5 litres of water. In his book Seafood he recommends putting the lobster in a deep freeze for two hours. This will stun it before cooking, he says.  No reason to doubt the great man, but if you really believe that that is how seafood restaurants operate, then you will looking forward to the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. These places would need freezer space the size of their kitchens.

I cannot countenance the thought of putting a live creature into boiling water, but it is easy to kill it quickly and humanely. At the top of a lobster’s head, just behind the eyes, you will see a small ridge. Hold the lobster in your left hand, with its head to the right. Hold a large heavy knife in your right hand with the blade pointing to the right (reversing this, obviously, if you are a southpaw) . Plunge the knife down hard into the ridge, then bring the blade down through the brain. Death will be instantaneous. I warn you that, like a headless chicken, the animal will still twitch for some minutes. Even I find this a little unnerving. I suggest you get it into the pan immediately, pausing only to snip off the rubber bands which will be holding the claws together. For a lobster up to 750 g cook for 15 minutes. Up to 1.25 kg cook for 20. Remove from the water and allow to cool. Take the meat out of the shell. Try to take the claw meat out in one piece, easing out the membrane – it looks good as a garnish on top. Cut the meat into bite size chunks and set to one side. Add the coral (the grey-green meat found in the head cavity) to the pan for the stock (see below.)

Lobster stock

Next, make the stock. Soften the shallot over a gentle heat in the oil, in a frying pan large enough to hold the shells. Sprinkle the fennel seeds in, and mix well. When the shallot has softened, turn the heat up to medium, add the shells to the pan and shake around for a couple of minutes. Add the brandy. The classic way of getting rid of the alcohol is by flambéeing. Spectacular, but the flames will go pretty high. Make sure there is nothing flammable within range. Alternatively, let the pan bubble for a few minutes. The same net effect, but safer. Stir in the tomato purée, add some of the water and allow to simmer for a few minutes. You are looking for about 150 – 200 ml stock with a nice concentrated flavour. If you have too much liquid, reduce by turning up the heat. Strain the liquid into a clean pan. Reserve about 50 ml to spoon round the finished dish. Some of the best risottos I have eaten in recent times have had an extra flavour dimension added just before serving.

Now the risotto (told you we’d get there eventually)

You make it in the usual way. Soften the shallot, red pepper, chilli and garlic in the butter and lobster oil (if using) over a gentle to medium heat. Add the rice, increase the heat to medium, and stir round for a couple of minutes until the grains take on a slightly transparent look around the edges. (What you are doing is breaking down the starch, so the rice will absorb liquid more easily and swell up.) Pour in the vermouth, and stir until the liquid disappears. (There is a lot of stirring in a classic risotto.) Then add the chicken /turkey stock, a ladleful at a time, plus a couple of shakes of oyster sauce. Add some lobster stock as you go, but remember to reserve some for the end. The rice will take about 20 minutes to cook to perfection. It is done when it is al dente, ie still has a little bite but isn’t soft. About 15 minutes in, add the prawns, some more oyster sauce and some more lobster stock. Check your flavour/seasoning. When the rice is nearly done, fold in the lobster meat (except the claws), being careful not to break it up. Remove the pan for the heat for a couple of minutes allowing the lobster meat to warm through.

Warm the claw meat in the lobster stock pan. Serve the risotto onto warmed bowls. Finish with a good grating of black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with clawmeat and a sprinkling of coriander. Finally, bring the remaining lobster stock to a bubble and spoon some around the base of your risotto.

I fear I have made this sound quite fiddly: all I can say is that it saw out our year with a flourish.


Sarah Mellersh’s

Paris Brest


Paris Brest (1) Paris Brest Pro

For the last Tom Cooks! of the year, let’s end up with a sumptuous show stopper of a dish, one which will grace the table of a festive, or indeed any other, party. This features choux pastry, almonds and a rich filling of praline cream. This recipe is from the uber talented Sarah Mellersh of Let’s Cooks Scotland. I ate an individual version of this in Paris a couple of weeks ago (see Tom Eats!, Champeaux), which brought it to mind. (Hate to tell you Champeaux chaps, but Sarah’s is better.)  This is not a dessert for beginners. I have made it, but I had a lot of help. My version is pictured top left, with a more sophisticated example next to it.

Why is it called Paris Brest, you cry? I’m so glad you asked. In the early part of the twentieth century, endurance cycling was hugely popular in France. Rival newspapers, most notably Le Vélo and L’Auto, vied with each other for circulation, promoting cycle races to boost their popularity. The Tour de France was established in 1903. Prior to that, one of the most popular competitions was the Paris-Brest, a 1200 kilometre jaunt from Paris to Brest – and back again. Some say today’s concoction was invented by a pastry chef whose shop lay on the route. Other sources attribute this to a master patissier Louis Durand, and date it from 1910. The shape is round, symbolising a bicycle wheel.


You will need a piping bag with a nozzle about 1.5cm for the choux pastry.

For the choux pastry

65g strong flour; 50g unsalted butter, cubed; 150ml water; 2 eggs, lightly beaten; pinch of salt; 1 tbsp flaked almonds; dusting of icing sugar for serving.

For the filling

280ml double cream; 1 – 2 tsp vanilla extract (optional); ground praline (see below).

For the praline

75g whole hazelnuts or almonds, blanched; 75g caster sugar.


Begin by making the praline. Line a baking tin with baking parchment. Put the nuts and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and stir together. Set together over a gentle heat. DO NOT STIR AT THIS STAGE. Leave until the sugar dissolves and the mixture turns a dark amber colour. Remove from the heat and pour evenly over the baking sheet and leave to cool completely. Once fully cooled, break up the pieces and blitz to a powder in a food processor. Set to one side until needed.

TOP TIP – To clean the pan, fill  with boiling water to remove the residual caramel. As ever, when making caramel, be extra careful and keep others out of the kitchen. Molten sugar can cause horrendous burns.

To make the pastry, sift the flour into a bowl. Put the butter and water into a saucepan. Heat gently until the butter has melted. Then bring to the boil, remove from the heat and add all the flour at once. Beat with a wooden spoon until the dough can leave the sides of the pan and form a ball. This needs a LOT of beating. Then return the pan to a medium heat and stir continuously for another 2 minutes. The dough should glisten slightly. Tip into a bowl and allow to cool slightly. Beat the eggs into the dough a little at a time, reserving a little of the beaten egg to glaze just before baking. Your mixture should be very shiny and should just drop from the spoon.

Preheat the oven to 220˚C/Mark 7.

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper. To guide you, draw a 15cm circle on it (use a plate of the correct size). Turn it over, so you can still see your circle, to avoid putting your dough on the ink. Put the dough in a piping bag. Pipe in a circle following the outside of the line, with a concentric circle outside that it. If you have any dough left fill in the space between the two circles. Smooth out the joins with a knife. Brush the remaining egg over the dough. Sprinkle generously with the flaked almonds, and place in the oven for 10 minutes.

Turn the heat down to 180˚C/Mark 4 and cook for a further 30 minutes. Remove from the oven on to a wire rack. Immediately cut in half horizontally to remove the steam. (When making any type of choux pastry, whether eclairs, profiteroles, or whatever, always pierce immediately you remove it from the oven.) If the halves are still soft and doughy return to the oven for a few more minutes to dry out. Leave in two halves to cool completely. While the pastry is cooling, make the filling.

Whip the cream until thick. Add the vanilla extract if using. Thoroughly fold in the ground praline. If you’re being very cheffy you would pipe the cream on to the lower layer of the pastry (see photo, above right). Otherwise just spread the cream over. Place the upper part (that’s the bit with the almonds, remember) on top, and dust with icing sugar.

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

Tel: 07932 642605

Tom Cooks! will return in about a month. Happy Christmas!




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