Stormy Venison and Black Turtle Bean Ancho-Chipotle Chilli

Heavy Weather

I tentatively started writing this post a couple of hours ago. The predicted low weather front started to take effect on the Outer Hebrides about lunchtime. As it was also very wet and windy yesterday, for the first time in about 18 months, I thought it was safer not to take the dogs out. It seemed a bit better today, but once I got out, it deteriorated again and with pins of horizontal precipitation jabbing me uncomfortably in the face, I struggled to stay upright, slipping and sliding on the very wet blanket bog, struggling into the headwind to get back to the car. The dogs coped a bit better being four-paw drive and a bit nearer to the ground. Being smart beasts, they have devised a cunning and stealthy plan for horizontal rain and hail. They lie down flat in the heather and wait until I get a bit ahead of them, then slink at speed past me and lie down again, as if they are covering each other in a military advance. The best part for them was getting home for a towel dry and a biscuit. Me to.

The weather has deteriorated considerably since the dog walk, as predicted. Since the low is coinciding with a high tide, police are taking no chances and causeways along the island chain have been closed. Although I work from home now (thankfully) when I commuted from work on South Uist in very poor weather the office would be closed. We all left early to ensure we got back home (especially those crossing several causeways to North Uist) before causeways were closed by police.

Traversing causeways is like driving along behind a very long sea wall in a storm, although worse because vehicles move from the relative shelter of the island onto the causeway, open to the full force of the elements. Immediately a gust can hit the side of the car as sea spray and the occasional wave also lands on it, making it impossible to see. Windscreen wipers are useless and there is also a risk of aqua-planing. Great as my little puddle-jumper was for commuting, it did not take kindly to these occasional conditions any more than I did!

Exposing oneself: Eriskay causeway in better weather – closed for business this evening.

Wind speeds have reached about 70 mph, with gusts of +90 mph and the gusts are rocking the house, much as they have done periodically for the last 80 or so years of its existence, with no particularly detrimental effects. The wind is fairly persistently strong and then, as the clouds roll in from the Atlantic, even in the dark you just know when it’s going to get that bit worse. The preceding loud roar as the wind speed picks up heralds the arrival of another front of torrential rain, although unlike last night, no lightning accompanies the squall.

Regular Facebook updates from across the islands tell the familiar tale: ferries and buses cancelled, local amenities such as the sports centre closed – and beware, power outputs reported across parts of North Uist and Benbecula. I have got more common sense than to start baking when the weather is like this. With overhead powerline transmission serving the whole electricity network, power cuts are common – even without the explanation of the wind (swans or geese hitting a line somewhere is one such reason). So, it was just as we started to cook dinner the power went off following many threatening flickers. One never can tell how long it will stay off, so we try and keep the stove stoked, a pan of hot water on top, if required and NEVER open the freezer door – in case the outage is protracted.

Twenty minutes later, power back on, we quickly served dinner. The lights have more or less stayed on since until I started to write this and frustratingly, as anticipated, the power went off again but just for long enough to knock the computer off and all the digital devices in the house. It may be that I will have to resume this post tomorrow, we will see what happens….

Venison and Black Turtle Bean Ancho-Chipotle Chilli

Dinner needs to homely, preferably slow cooked and comforting in this weather – not to mention hot – chilli hot, that is. Using some of our venison that was butchered in the autumn – a piece of shoulder diced into big chunks, slow cooked and rich in gamey flavour stands up well to the heat and smokiness of the chillis.  The chilli was served with Mexican green rice, a recipe I found in the Wahaca ‘Mexican food at home’ book, which I varied to accommodate the ingredients I had. This is basmati rice cooked in veg stock with a handful of coriander, parsley an onion and 2 garlic cloves whizzed in a food processor and mixed through the rice, finished in the oven for half an hour.

Chilli Ingredients

800g venison shoulder, diced into big chunks

150g dried black turtle beans

1 tblsp of flavourless oil e.g. groundnut

2 onions, chopped

1 green pepper, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

400ml tomato passata

500 ml game (or beef) stock

4 dried ancho chillies, re-hydrated

2 dried chipotle chillis, re-hydrated

1 tblsp chilli powder

2 tsp ground cumin

I tsp celery salt

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tblsp lime juice

Method

  • Soak the beans for a few hours then boil for about 45 minutes until just tender, set aside.
  • Re-hydrate the chillis in boiling water for about 20 minutes, then blend and strain through a sieve to remove skin and seeds, set aside to add later.
  • Brown the cubes of venison shoulder steak in the oil and remove with a slotted spoon.
  • Saute the onion, garlic and the rest of the veg gently for about 5 minutes.
  • Put the venison back in the pan with the veg together with the passata, stock, herbs, spices, celery salt and rehydrated chilli paste.
  • Allow to cook for an hour at a low heat, covered, on the stove top, then add the turtle beans and cook for about another 1 hour 15 minutes. Add the lime juice just before serving.
  • Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with Mexican green rice – and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon – or some milk to suppress the heat.

chilli

Chocolate, whisky and bramble tart with bramble ripple ice cream

As a dessert for Burns Night, I wanted to avoid the obvious traditional options. Much as I love cranachan made with raspberries, it is out of season. I enjoyed the local favourite of caragheen pudding at last year’s Burns supper but this year I was looking for something, well, a bit more luxurious.

I opted for a chocolate tart, incorporating the darkest of dark chocolate (81%), a dram and to my mind that definitively Scottish wild fruit that I have adored for all of my life – brambles. Some of my freezer stock of precious brambles from last autumn’s harvest was included in the tart and was also made into a coulis, swirled through vanilla ice cream to form a bramble ripple.

Brambles ready for collecting last autumn

Brambles ready for collecting last autumn

Although I nod to the traditional by including whisky in the tart, I must admit I am not a whisky lover. Even the finest malts, notably those from the islands (Islay in particular) have the whiff of TCP about them.  I am told if I persevere, I too will enjoy them one day.  Olives are often cited as an example.  During my PhD, my whisky connoisseur supervisor would arrive from Oxford and together with my other Edinburgh Uni supervisor,  we would head out with our research group of an evening to their favourite hostelry, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society members only premises in Queen Street, Edinburgh. There was much discussion about peatiness, tobacco, petrol and however else one choses to describe drinking TCP.  I was the Philistine at the bar requesting a gin and tonic.

Feeling the burn, post Burns

Yes, the duo of dyspepsia did as predicted and in truth, we could not face our lovely dessert after the haggis on Burns night – it containing yet more pastry (bit of an oversight there).

I was in danger of lethargy after haggis-eating and knowing I had proposed a 10km run, and despite the deteriorating weather, I decided to bite the bullet and get out there.  I had just walked the dogs and considered although there was a bit of a breeze, the weather window was good enough.  I elected to run around the picturesque island of Grimsay, a few miles south. The west end of the island acts as a stepping stone for the causeways that link North Uist and Benbecula. Circumnavigation of the island is a convenient 10 km.

View of Eaval from grimsay on a nice day

View of Eaval from Grimsay on a nice day

It was raining by the time I got out of the car and I could see, as is typical of these islands, that within a few minutes the situation would deteriorate quickly. Weather fronts were building to the south and banks of cloud were rolling towards me.  Nonetheless, I opted to run round the island south to north to take the worst of the weather along the exposed southern single track road first.  There were two observations that suddenly struck me about Grimsay.  I have driven but not ran around it before and it is a bit hillier than I recall.  Secondly, the south road is indeed very exposed to the elements.  I spent the next 6 km running into a pretty gusty headwind and needle-like rain with the occasional side gust that knocked me into the verge.

Once I got just over the half way mark, I got a tremendous tail wind as I turned north and the rain battered off my back, no longer in my face. Occasional gusts almost knocked me off my feet, but after feeling the burn initially, things got easier and I made it back to the car not too much over my predicted time.

Round the whole route, I only saw 2 people, both dressed in waterproofs, rushing out and hurriedly taking in washing, cowering in the squawl.  I was only passed by 5 or 6 cars, none which I recognised.  However, no doubt they had a good look and identified me as ‘That woman who is married to (we are not married) the violin-maker’ (as I have been referred to since my other half’s vocation is much more interesting than my own somewhat cryptic occupation) and questioned ‘What on earth is she doing running round here in this weather?’ Good to give people something to talk about other than the weather, at least!

Having recovered back at home, I could say that I unequivocally deserved a slice of chocolate tart with ice cream – and to watch a fun film – ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’, another gem from Aardman Animation. It is a silly sea-faring yarn, of not too competent pirates featuring a parrot that is in fact a dodo and a rather scheming Charles Darwin.  Plenty of pithy one-liners but it is easy to miss a lot of content first time round. I won’t need any encouragement to watch it again, very good fun and a change from our usual film choices.

Chocolate, whisky and bramble tart

A nod to the traditional, containing a dram, with added richness and silkiness. The ganache for this tart is sublimely super-smooth and rich.  Thank you to Michel Roux for the basis of this recipe. It is based on his chocolate and raspberry tart.

Pastry is pate sucree as used for passionfruit and orange tart.  I also elected to coat the base in melted chocolate again.  The brambles were moist from being soaked in whisky and also having been frozen, so I wanted to safeguard the pastry from sogginess.

The ice cream was vanilla, the same recipe used to accompany said passionfruit and orange tart, except this time, I made bramble coulis to swirl through it.

Chocolate tart with brambles

Ingredients

200g brambles

50 ml whisky of your choice

For the ganache:

200ml whipping cream

200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids

25g liquid glucose

50g butter, cubed into small pieces

Method

  • Soak the brambles in the whisky for a couple of hours.
  • Make pate sucree as per outlined in my previous post, coating the pastry case with melted chocolate to seal it.
  • Strain the brambles from the whisky and arrange on the tart base.
  • Prepare the ganache: bring the cream to the boil, take it off the heat, stir in the chocolate until smooth using a balloon whisk, add the liquid glucose, then the butter, a few cubes at a time.  The glucose adds to the smoothness, as does the butter and which also gives the tart sheen.
  • Pour the ganache into the tart case and over the fruit and allow to cool for a couple of hours.
  • Put in the fridge and take out half hour or so before serving.
  • Cut the pieces with a warmed knife to get a nice clean cut through the silky-smooth ganache.  Serve with the ice cream.

Chocolate tartChocolate tart whole

Bramble ripple ice cream

Using the previous recipe for vanilla ice cream, make a bramble coulis and swirl this through the ice cream once it is churned by your ice cream maker.  Fold it in at the end of churning if you are making the ice cream by hand.

Bramble coulis

  • Make a stock syrup by boiling 150g caster sugar and 120 ml water together for 3 minutes.
  • Take 50 ml of the stock syrup and blitz it in a food processor together with 150g of brambles.  Add any leftover whisky-flavoured juice from the brambles added to the coulis.
  • Sieve and stir through the ice cream.

Bramble ripple ice cream

And let again the final word go to Burns:

Let other poets raise a fracas
“Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus,
An’ crabbit names an’stories wrack us,
An’ grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.

O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro’ wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name!

Robert Burns – Scotch Drink, 1785

Chocolate tart and ice cream

Burns Night 2013 – Haggis and A’That

“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or, like the snow-fall in the river,
A moment white, then melts forever.”

Robert Burns  –  Tam O’Shanter, 1791

No self-respecting lowland Scot, even those without fervent patriotic zeal such as myself, can let Burns Night, 25 January, pass without a celebration of our national bard.  Of course, Burns is a towering cultural icon and a defining figure of Scottish identity who is celebrated not just in Scotland but also among the Scottish Diaspora worldwide.

A celebration on Burns birthday of course involves haggis and all the trimmings.  Given that this post is subject to relevant but significant cultural and poetic digression, and I am supposed to be writing a food-centric blog,  please feel free cut to the chase of the recipe for Haggis en croute below.  The dessert of chocolate, bramble and whisky tart with bramble ripple ice cream will follow in the next post.

Contributions of the bard

Despite an early death aged 37, Burns produced a large and consistent output of work of over 600 poems and songs.  He was rather sentimentally called the ‘Heaven-taught ploughman’ as knowledge of his work gained acclaim, notably in Edinburgh during The Scottish Enlightenment.

More’s the pity he was perhaps misunderstood as it is not for the sentimental works that Burns should best be remembered but for his capacity to write with spontaneity, humour and sincerity across a large diversity of subjects . These included inequalities of class and gender, poverty, patriotism, republicanism and occasionally his commentary on the ways of the Scottish Kirk and Calvinism, which were so powerful and influential at that time.

“While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.”

Robert Burns – The Rights of Women, 1792

A lifetime of Burns

Despite enjoying thought-provoking poetry,  I am not prone to the poetic and leave literary flourishes to others more eloquent in that respect than me. Still, Burns for me endures as one of the few poets whose works I still pick up and read on occasion. Unlike music, which still resonates with me as powerfully as it did when I was an adolescent, my voracity for poetry has dissipated.

I now rarely read my preferred more contemporary Scottish poets;  Norman MacCaig, William MacIllvany and Edwin Morgan. I no longer ponder on great works by Ginsberg, Hart Crane, Walt Whitman or even Raymond Carver and all I admire of his ‘dirty realism’. I somewhat circumspectly will not postulate as to why this is that case, but it has as much to with time as inclination – and space in my brain.

As a lowland Scot, I don’t think I am particularly unusual in the fact that Burns poetry and song has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  As a child, we sung his songs at school, read his poems regularly.  ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was not confined to Hogmanay, but sung to signify the end of many a celebration. As time has moved along, and I became involved in playing traditional music, rarely would a song session take place without the rendition of a Burns song and no instrumental gathering would see an end without a tune to which one of his songs was composed.

My own favourite song and indeed one of Burns most venerated must be  “Is There for Honest Poverty“, perhaps better known as “A Man’s a Man for A’ That“, certain to have been seditious in its day (and hence was first published anonymously) is an expression of egalitarian ideas of society.  Sheena Wellington fittingly sung this liberalist anthem at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and stole to the show from the politicians.

 Is There for Honest Poverty (A Man’s A Man For A’ That), (1795)

Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Of course, Burns is also full of satire, humour and he wrote plenty songs about the virtues (or otherwise)  of imbibing whisky and carousing. One thing I have noticed and that does make me smile about Burns is his apparent penchant for peppering his prose with numerous descriptive references to vomit, often in very different contexts. In ‘A Winter Night’, Burns chronicles the impact of a winter storm on exposed wildlife (st. 2: bocked = vomit):

When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers thro’ the leafless bow’r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv’d glow’r,
         Far south the lift,
Dim-dark’ning thro’ the flaky show’r,
         Or whirling drift:

Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreeths upchoked,
         Wild-eddying swirl,
Or thro’ the mining outlet bocked,
         Down headlong hurl.

There is another such reference in the most celebratory poem for Burns Night ‘Address to a Haggis‘: ‘Or fricassee wad mak her spew’. Aside from Burns making me think of the many ways to describe vomit in the Scot’s vernacular, other thought-provoking poems and songs from his works are worthy of a mention.

My highlights include the satirical ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’, an attack on the hypocrisy of the Calvinist Kirk based on the true story of a Kirk elder Willie Fisher of Mauchline, Ayrshire. The song ‘Ca the Yowes to the Knowes’  lends itself nicely to accompaniment and creative musical arrangements for fiddle and cello. No Burns Night would be complete without ‘Tam O’Shanter’, Burns only example of narrative poetry filled with pathos, humour, horror and eloquence in equal measure.

There is one final song that is perhaps the most pertinent, given the time of year (i.e. the looming UK tax deadline)  and was coincidentally the first Burns song I learned in entirety when I was a child, ‘The Deil’s Awa wi’ th’ Exciseman’. Burns was employed as a Gauger (exciseman) at the end of his short life, a profession the poem may indicate he was not entirely at ease with.

(Reference: The Canongate Burns – The Complete Works and Poems of Robert Burns).

A final word on Burns in Scots culture.  I was listening to Radio Scotland this morning and therein some vox pops commenting on plans for celebrating Burns Night.  The words haggis, whisky, fun and party came up each time, yet of 8 or so interviewees, only one person identified the evening with the work of Burns.  On reflection, maybe I should consider myself as having a bit more cultural or patriotic zeal than I credit myself with – for better or worse….

To address the issue of Haggis

Over the years, I have attended many weird and wonderful Burns nights.  Worthy of note was that we enjoyed with flatmates of The Man Named Sous when he studied at The Newark School of Violin Making.  A verse each of ‘Address to a Haggis’ was recited by us two Scots and other of various nationalities from countries including Iceland, France, the US, Italy and England.  We all struggled with the verses, most less so with the veggie haggis and hardly any of us at all with the whisky and music that followed.

Last year, there was a Burns Night dinner in our village hall, which was an interesting mix of cultures of Gaelic and Scots, with plenty Gaelic song, and Highland bagpipe tunes – even our local MSP, a Scot’s scholar himself recited Tam O’Shanter. Although, for me personally, reciting ‘Address to a Haggis’ in Gaelic was a bit incongruous.  I imagine it must be like a native Gaelic speaker hearing Sorley MacLean in English, or reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez in anything but Spanish, if it is your first language. Nuances of the language are lost in translation.

This year, with the weather foul, we are not planning an excursion to the hall, but are having our own alternative Burns night.  I must admit, I love haggis, but when it comes to delivery, each Burns night is pretty much a carbon copy of the last – a pile of haggis, a pile of neeps and a pile of mashed tatties.  Not that I am suggesting a shift too far away from the traditional is required – just a bit of a twist.

Haggis en croute

I admit I did not make my own haggis.  A proper haggis is made of sheep plucks (lungs, liver and heart – quite difficult to acquire here), oatmeal, fat, onion, salt and spices, all minced and mixed together and contained in a sheep’s stomach, ready for boiling. I noticed in The Guardian this week Nigel Slater admitted that despite a love of haggis, he has not made and does not intend to make his own.  I can feel better about purchasing mine then!

The haggis was boiled and prepared en croute, first being rolled in Parma ham to prevent any fat leaching out into the pastry and making it soggy.  Now, haggis with its spiciness and fattiness can be a bit indigestion inducing, so I thought I would ramp up the experience two-fold by adding that friend of dyspepsia – puff pastry. The haggis was formed into a sausage shape and rolled much like a beef Wellington.

Instead of plain and simple neeps accompaniment was neeps, parsnips and carrots mashed together with horseradish and garlic.  The traditional mash with a bit of parsley was included.

Haggis Ingredients

1 top quality haggis (traditional or veggie – both work)

a sheet of puff pastry

4 slices of Parma ham

a packet of Rennies/Gaviscon 🙂

Oven temperature 180C (fan)

Haggis en croute

Method

  • Boil the haggis for the alloted time, about 40 minutes for a medium haggis.
  • Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.  Remove from the skin/stomach and form into a sausage shape.
  • Roll out the puff pastry, place 4 slices of parma ham along it and place the haggis on top.
  • Roll the pastry and ham around the haggis as you would for a beef Wellington.
  • Seal the pastry with egg wash and place the edge underneath, tuck the ends under.
  • Decorate appropriately (we chose a thistle), egg wash and place in the oven for 40 minutes.  Slice and serve with mash and veg.

haggis cut

Enjoy wi’ a wee dram until ye are fu’ tae burstin’. Slàinte mhah, as they say round these parts and let Burns hae the last word….

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
 Gie her a Haggis

Roberts Burns – Address to a Haggis, 1786

haggis served

Polenta, coconut and marmalade cake

Having had little time to browse the numerous new recipe books acquired at Christmas, I thought it was time to delve into one.  Looking for mid-week cake inspiration, I flicked through Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s delightful ‘Jerusalem’ and found just what I needed – a cake containing marmalade – semolina , coconut and marmalade cake.

However, as ever, I didn’t quite have all the ingredients, so a semolina cake morphed into polenta cake and orange juice was replaced by pink grapefruit juice. Nothing too radical, so I figured the resulting mix was unlikely to fail, from a bake perspective at least.  More of a question over how it might taste. I use the introductory text in the book as justification. Given the statement that semolina cakes soaked in syrup are pretty ubiquitous across the Middle East and there are so many variants, I might as well go the extra step – wholesale replacement of one of the key ingredients. In for a penny, in for a pound!

I am pleased to say, no harm done in using polenta – or pink grapefruit juice. The orange blossom water in the syrup gives the cake a real aromatic lift.  The amount of sugar in the syrup is high.  I cut it down a bit and still found it very sweet, although this is unsurprising for a cake recipe originating from this part of the world (and containing a syrup!). However, serving with natural yoghurt mixed with a few drops of orange blossom water complemented the cake perfectly and unleashed the coconut flavour and citrus tang, offsetting the sweetness too.

Note to runners: Another thing, I found that just a little bit of this cake half an hour or so before a run improves your pace.  No indigestion guaranteed.  Justification to indulge indeed!

The recipe is that I used to accommodate changes in ingredients.

Preheat oven to 160C (fan)

Ingredients

240ml grapefruit juice

180ml sunflower oil

160g Seville orange marmalade, homemade, of course

4 medium eggs, free range, of course

grated zest of half a pink grapefruit

70g caster sugar

70g desiccated coconut

90g plain flour

180g polenta

2 tblsp ground almonds

2 tsp baking powder

Syrup:

150g caster sugar

120ml water

1tblsp orange blossom water

To serve:

Natural yoghurt mixed with a few drops of orange blossom water

Ottolenghi coconut cake

Method

  • Mix together the wet ingredients: oil, fruit juice, marmalade, eggs and zest. I used my KitchenAid to mix the wet ingredients, then added the dry ingredients: sugar, coconut, semolina, almonds and baking powder. This should form a runny cake mixture.
  • Grease and line a cake tin, capacity 1 litre (or 2 x 500 g as the recipe suggests), pour the filling in and bake for 45-60 minutes for 500g, 1 hour 20 minutes or so for 1 litre tin.
  • Check with a skewer that the cake is cooked all the way through, if it is clean, it is. I also covered the top with foil to prevent burning, given the longer cooking time for a bigger single cake.
  • Just before the cake is ready to come out, add the syrup ingredients to a pan, bring to the boil, remove from the heat and pour over the cake(s) when they come out of the oven.
  • I pierced the cake with a cocktail stick to help the syrup percolate and permeate the cake.
  • Leave to cool completely then slice and serve with yoghurt and orange blossom water.

semolina cake

Hebridean langoustines – three ways

The supreme quality of seafood available in the Outer Hebrides is hard to compete with and I feel ashamed that I have yet to champion Hebridean seafood by featuring it in a recipe so far (except mussels, of course).

I am thinking specifically about crustaceans. Recent posts highlighting super-fresh Crustacea by My French Haven (langoustines) and Food, Frankly (crayfish) have further served to remind me to do so, as well as a superb meal cooked for us by friends at the weekend and featuring a star dish of lasagne with local crab.

Langoustines – King of Crustacea

My King of Crustacea award goes to langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus), also referred to variously as scampi, Norway lobster and Dublin Bay prawn. Prawn, the local name here, is confusing nomenclature as they are more closely related, and have a flavour and texture similar but superior to lobster.  Eaten when fresh, langoustines have the sweetest most delicate flavour of all crustacea and indeed, are sublime, but they should be fresh i.e. live when you acquire them.

The life of the langoustine

Langoustines are found where there is suitable muddy sediment, the habitat in which they construct and occupy burrows where they spend most of their time. They can be found in shallow coastal waters a few metres deep, including sea lochs and up to water depths of more than 500m to the west of the Outer Hebrides at the edge of the continental shelf.

They are opportunistic predators and scavengers feeding on marine worms, other crustaceans and molluscs. Females mature at about 3 years old. Mating takes place in early summer, with spawning in September .  The ‘berried’ females carry the eggs until they hatch the following spring.  The planktonic larvae develop, metamorphosing through several fascinating larval stages, before settling on the seabed about 2 months later.

The Outer Hebridean langoustine fishery

The fishery is extremely important economically for the Outer Hebrides and has been growing since the 1960’s.  Scotland contributes to about 1/3 of the total catch of langoustines worldwide.  Here in the Uists, a good proportion of the catch is made by small local boats using creels, mainly in coastal waters.  This method of fishing is more sustainable than trawling since it causes less ecological damage as it is more selective.  The prawns are also of very high quality as they are less damaged and stressed than trawled specimens. The Scottish Government consider this fishery to be healthy around the Outer Hebrides.

The main markets are for export and most of the stocks caught here are transported live to Spain and France and also to a number of discerning hoteliers and restaurateurs on the UK mainland. Vehicles carrying live prawns can be seen leaving on the ferries most days.  For residents, you have to know where to intercept this prime export at source before it leaves the island.  I am fortunate to have a friend with a langoustine export business, so my prawn quarry is easy to find. I consider it foraging by proxy.  Visitors to the island are likely to have to do a bit of homework to pin down some langoustines while here. While I am familiar with ecology of this species, my friend had provided fascinating insights into the live langoustine business here on the island and beyond.

Cooking with langoustines

Freshly cooked langoustines

There is no doubt that langoustines are luxury produce and therefore are very expensive, especially around Christmas and New Year, when market demands are high and they are in good condition.  Last time I saw them for sale in Glasgow they were £35 a kilo – and that was for dead cooked prawns.  Buying them dead is not without risk as they can be like cotton wool inside and quickly lose their sweetness if they have been sitting around for too long.

I get about 2 kilos at a time and tend to make several meals out of them to celebrate the luxury.  Langoustines are graded according to size and the bigger they are, the more in demand and expensive they will be.  I tend to go for medium/large.

First, out of respect for the animals, they need to be dispatched quickly.  I have a huge pot that I fill with tap water and bring this to a rolling boil.  I place a few prawns in at a time, leave them for about 2 minutes and remove them.  Some recipes I read suggest plunging them into ice-cold water once removed but I think this waterlogs the flesh and risks losing some flavour.  Provided they were only in the pan for a couple of minutes, yes, they do continue to cook a bit, but letting then cool at room temperature seems to work.

The most recent batch I had served me well to make 3 meals and I made absolutely certain nothing went to waste.

Langoustine salad with hot garlic butter, parsley and lemon dressing

This is a recipe I have used for many years and is a variation on a Nick Nairn recipe from his book Wild Harvest 2. Once you have peeled the prawns, this recipe is quick, easy and the flavour combination brings out the sweetness of the prawns.

Ingredients

1kg live langoustines, cooked

50g unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves

2 tblsp lemon juice

zest of 1/2 lemon

a few handfuls of mixed salad leaves

2 tomatoes, seeds and skin removed, flesh finely diced

a handful of chopped parsley

salt and pepper

Method

  • Prepare the cooked langoustines by removing the flesh from the tails.  Keep all heads, claws and shells.
  • Melt the butter with the garlic and lemon zest for a few minutes to tone down the garlic a bit.
  • Add lemon juice then season with a little salt and pepper.
  • Heat this dressing until just boiling, add the prawns, parsley and tomatoes and mix well.  Serve with the mixed leaves, and some fine homemade bread to mop up the dressing.

lango salad

.Split and grilled langoustine with chilli, lime and coriander

This recipe couldn’t be simpler, and with a hot grill or barbecue, is ready in about 3 minutes. Enough for 4 people as a starter, 2 as a main course, but I could easily eat the whole kilo myself…..

Ingredients

1kg of langoustines, cooked

2 garlic cloves, crushed

juice of a lime or a lemon

1 large red chilli, finely chopped

a bunch of chopped coriander

4 tblsp of rapeseed oil

a few turns of pepper

Method

  • Mix the chopped coriander, chilli, garlic, lime/lemon juice, pepper and oil together.
  • Split the langoustines down the centre, place on the grill pan and drizzle over the dressing.
  • Cook under a hot grill for 3 minutes, or until just hot.  Serve with lemon/lime wedges.
Split and grilled prawn delight

Split and grilled prawn delight

Langoustine bisque

This recipe is more time-consuming and complex than the last two but uses the remains of the whole animal to provide an outstandingly rich and decadent bisque.

Shells form the previous two recipes ready to use in the bisque

Shells from the previous two recipes ready to use in the bisque

Ingredients

40g butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 stalks of celery, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

1 red chilli

1/2 fennel bulb, sliced

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

juice of a lemon

a pinch of saffron

1 tblsp of brandy

a small bunch of parsley

1 tblsp tomato puree

1.5 litres of water

500ml fish or shellfish stock

small glass of Noilly Prat

150ml of double cream

Simmering of bisque underway

Simmering of bisque underway

Method

  • Heat the butter until foaming and gently fry the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, chilli, fennel, bay leaves until the onions have softened a bit.
  • Add the Noilly Prat and cook until reduced by half.
  • Add the shells, heads and claws of the langoustines to the pan, crushing them to extract a lot of flavour.  I use a potato masher to do this.
  • Add the fish/shellfish stock and water, tomatoes, tomato puree, most of the parsley and saffron.  Allow to simmer gently for an hour or so.
  • Sieve the mixture into a clean pan, again squeezing all the flavour from the langoustines and add the brandy, cream and lemon juice and season, as required. Heat gently.
  • Serve and garnish with parsley and swirl in some cream.
Langoustine bisque is served

Langoustine bisque is served

lango grill

Brussel Sprout Pakora

The glut of brussel sprouts I have grown this winter has taught me to see this much maligned brassica in a new light and I have grown to love it. We have eaten them sliced with juniper and bacon, shredded and fried with shallots and folded through mash, but my sprout epiphany came this evening.

Mid week, mid January and we are living in Old Mother Hubbard’s house. The problem with our house is that we live in a world of ingredients, but there is sometimes not a lot to actually eat, especially if you are looking for something instant. So, admittedly the cupboards aren’t exactly bare, but are burgeoning with an enormous range of store cupboard ingredients; pulses, grains, rice, pasta, cous cous, quinoa, flours, jars of preserved fruits, pickles, chutneys, relishes, jams, dried fruit, nuts and above all else, spices.

I am a spice collecting addict.  I pick most up from Asian and African food shops in Glasgow and can’t resist buying anything I haven’t heard of before or topping up on things I do have, but imagine I am running low on. (e.g. I have a collection of many shades of mustard seeds in rather large quantities and enough turmeric to make a world record-breaking dopiaza).

All this but only a finite range of fresh ingredients – potatoes, onions, two carrots, brussel sprouts, a tomato or two, and a handful of herbs, some lemons and yoghurt.  It was starting to feel like a Masterchef invention test. Pretty weird selection at first glance but determined not to shop until at least this weekend, a vegetarian Ruby Murray banquet was conjured up.  The pakora features tonight and I will follow up with another post covering the rest of the aromatic and spicy veggie curry spread.

Brussel Sprout Pakora

Broccoli and cauliflower make wonderful pakora, so why not their cousin the sprout?  Sprouts need a bit of respect and careful cooking to bring out the best in them and I must admit, I wasn’t convinced this creation was a good idea.  The sprouts must be steamed and blanched first or they will be rock hard and cold in the middle. The bicarbonate of soda helps lighten the batter.

The pakora turned out to be rather good. the sprouts were cooked evenly and deliciously soft with the fresh sprout flavour coming through, cloaked in a blanket of firey and aromatic batter that complemented the humble sprout very well.

Ingredients

20 or so small brussel sprouts

150g gram flour

1 tblsp garam masala

1 tblsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp kaloonji (nigella seeds)

2 tsp sambal oelek

1 tblsp tomato puree

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

a few twists of black pepper

water – enough to form a thick batter

ground nut or sunflower oil for deep-frying

Method

  • Peel the outer leaves from the sprouts, score the thick base with a cross using a sharp knife to ensure even cooking and steam for 5 minutes.
  • Blanch in running cold water and pat dry with kitchen towel.
  • Sieve the flour into a bowl and mix in all the other remaining ingredients, except the frying oil.
  • Add enough water to form a soft batter, making it thick enough to coat the sprouts.  You can test this as you go. Add more flour if it gets too thin.
  • Heat the oil, testing it is ready by dropping in a piece of batter.  It should float to the top immediately and should fizz enthusiastically, taking on a golden colour quite quickly without instantly burning.
  • Drop in a few sprouts at a time and deep fry for a minute or two until they take on a good colour.
  • Drain on kitchen paper.

Serve with dipping sauces, preferably something hot containing lots of chilli and a contrasting and cooling raita.

Brussel sprouts are delicious.  Really!

Brussel sprouts are delicious. Really!

Easy like Sunday Morning? – Croissants and Seville Orange Marmalade

Croissant Crisis

Well, no, actually not easy, but perhaps crisis is a bit melodramatic.  As an amateur cook living life as a realist and with a lot to learn, I am not going to pretend that everything I create works first time, looks and tastes great and makes it as far as this blog.  Croissants are a case in point and after my third attempt, I am pleased to say that following a steep learning curve, I have produced offerings that are more edible than laughable.

I am used to making enriched doughs.  Brioche for example, is a safe place to dwell and never really goes wrong.  Croissants, however, are laminated dough Viennoiseries with lots of butter and are more akin to pastry than bread, being rich and, well, pretty unhealthy, although undeniably tasty and even more delectable fresh from the oven.   I would describe them as making puff pastry squared.

I recently had excellent croissants for breakfast at The Peat Inn in Cupar, Fife, the best I have had for a long time.  However, this is a Michelin star establishment, so the expectation was that they would be delicious. This inspired me to give croissants another shot. Yes, one could argue that life is too short and could be better spent doing other stuff, but sometimes you just have to get these things out of your system.

Once, twice, three times… you know the rest

I don’t know how Lionel Ritchie crept into this post.  Must be an 80’s flashback or something.  I’m not a fan.  Really.

I started by somewhat ambitiously using the Roux Brothers recipe from their formidable (et c’est formidable) book ‘Patisserie’.  As you can imagine, it is all very precise and uncompromising.  Trouble was, my old Kenwood Chef wasn’t at all precise and set off at the RPM of a sports bike at full throttle. The recipe called for 1 1/2 minutes of gentle kneading, so it was curtains within a couple of minutes and I had a dough that I knew was overworked.  Despite this, I tried a second time, persevering with the Roux recipe.

By this time, my Kenwood Chef had expired so I mixed the dough by hand.  After 6 – 8 hours in the fridge, the dough had not risen significantly and this set off alarm bells. Sticking my head in the sand and feeling an overwhelming sense of impending doom,  I went ahead and rolled the pastry and shaped the dough anyway but predictably, it never did rise. Although the laminae were numerous and well-defined, the exterior was tough and the croissants were generally too dense. I didn’t view this as a waste of time and money though, it was part of the learning process that led to my third attempt – with the benefit of a different recipe.

One problem for me with the Roux recipe is that I didn’t have access to fresh yeast, so substituted with an appropriate quantity of dried yeast (after checking the conversion online). I think this may have exacerbated my problems as I am sure it would work better with the fresh yeast.  To explore in future, perhaps.

I found a croissant recipe in my River Cottage Handbook – Bread. It is a lot simpler than the Roux recipe (bien sur), uses dried yeast and has two not four pages of instructions, so better for the shorter attention span (although I must admit I followed dough folding instructions as per Roux as it worked so well).

‘Easy’ Croissants

This entails making the sticky, elastic dough in a food mixer the night before preparation of the finished article. You do need a big time commitment the next day, so make sure your diary is clear at least for the morning. The dough must be cold when it is rolled. A food mixer is best as the dough ends up way too sticky to easily be kneaded by hand.

You need to make an isosceles triangle template out of cardboard or similar, 14 x 18 cm.

Ingredients

1kg strong white bread flour

20g salt

330ml warm water

330ml warm milk

10g powdered dried yeast

140g caster sugar

500g unsalted butter

Method

Dough the evening before

  • Put everything except the butter in a food mixer.  Using a dough hook and low speed, knead for 10 minutes until the dough takes on a stretchy, satiny quality.
  • Put the dough in a poly bag with enough space inside for it to rise, tie a knot in the top and stick in the fridge overnight to rest.
Croissant dough ready for a night in the fridge

Croissant dough ready for a night in the fridge

Butter next morning

Next morning, take the butter out of the fridge and let it soften slightly – it should be about the same temperature as the dough.

Flour it lightly, stick between 2 sheets of cling film and give it a bash with a rolling pin until it is about 1cm thick all over.

The Dough

  • Take the dough out of the bag and turn it onto a large floured surface. It should have risen quite a bit overnight. Knock it back gently.
  • Roll it into a rectangle a bit bigger than twice the size of the butter, allowing a couple of centimetres all round.
  • Lay the butter on one half and fold over the other half on top of it.  Seal the border of dough all the way round.
  • Roll out the dough until it twice its original length and fold over each end of the rectangle into the centre on top of each other to produce three layers of dough.  Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  • This should be repeated another twice so it is rolled 3 times in total, 20 minutes rest between, each time rolling along the long axis of the rectangle (in effect giving a quarter turn each time as you would with puff pastry).

The Finished Article

Cutting out croissant dough using teh isoceles triangle template

Cutting out croissant dough using the isosceles triangle template

  • Roll the dough into a rectangle about 75 x 40 cm on a lightly floured surface. Flap up the dough a couple of times along its length to prevent shrinking.
  • Using the triangle template, cut rows of triangles from your rectangle.
  • Leave the triangles to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before rolling to form the croissant.
  • Place the central point underneath, sticking it in place with some water.
  • The corners can be turned in to form a crescent.
  • The croissants should then be egg washed and left for at least an hour to double in size before baking.

croissant dough shapingAt this stage, they can be frozen in batches, but you must use them within a week and allow them to defrost and rise for an hour or so before baking.  It’s probably therefore easier to bake them then freeze, although they take up a bit more room in the freezer.

Unbaked croissants ready for the freezer

Unbaked croissants ready for the freezer

Croissants – A worthwhile endeavour?

Overall, while I was pleased with the results, I wasn’t quite dancing on the ceiling ( I know, must stop). They were not perfect and could have perhaps done with a bigger rise before baking. If you live in an isolated place where there is not access to ‘real’ croissants, and you can make a big batch and freeze them, yes, making them is worthwhile.

I have to be honest and say that I might think twice if I lived in a town with a good artisan bakery or patisserie. However, I am glad that this is not the case (for more reasons than just croissant buying, admittedly).  I have learned a significant amount about the character of the enriched dough for croissants. This can be applied improving the way I make them in future, as well giving me a better instinct when making other enriched dough recipes.

Croissants, good with cranberry jam as well as marmalade

Croissants, good with cranberry jam as well as marmalade

'Pain au Bramble' made with pastry offcuts

‘Pain au Bramble’ made with pastry offcuts

Seville orange marmalade

I could in some respects justify my time for making the croissants because I did so in tandem with making a sizeable batch of Seville orange marmalade. Not just a perfect Sunday treat of a breakfast, but also an ideal recipe partnership because the marmalade also takes a night and part of the next day to make.

It is quite remarkable that every January when Seville oranges begin to come into season, our local independent supermarket ‘Neilly’s’ (Maclennans to visitors) on Benbecula always stocks them.  Sometimes I miss them – the window of opportunity is small, but this year, I am in luck.

seville oranges

Coincidentally, I was in the supermarket looking for fruit to make marmalade, not anticipating these oranges would be in, as it is perhaps a bit on the early side of the season. We were down to our last centimetre of marmalade at home, an unacceptable situation that had to be remedied.

Having decided on a pink grapefruit, orange and lemon marmalade, I put the fruit in the basket and turned round to see a crate of Seville oranges.  I tried to contain my excitement, and selected 2 kilos.  I would have perhaps taken another kilo, but there wasn’t that much left, so I wanted to leave some for other shoppers, lest that was all that was remaining.

Whole fruit or sliced fruit method?

I first learned to make marmalade using the whole fruit method from a 1981 copy of the Good Housekeeping Book of Home Preserving, which contains many wonderous suggestions for brining, pickling and preserving a gamut of fruit and vegetables. There are also recipes in the River Cottage Preserves handbook worth checking out. I consulted both for my marmalade.

Although the whole fruit method is quicker and easier,  I now prefer to use the sliced fruit method as it produces a lighter, clearer and more delicate preserve. It’s just down to personal preference, and time, and I had plenty of that as I was moving between croissant and marmalade management.

For this method, the raw peel of the oranges is cut before cooking and Demerara sugar is used instead of granulated, so it’s a bit more expensive to produce. The fruit to sugar ratio of 1:2 is the same for both methods.  My quantities were large, so scale down, as appropriate if you are not a marmalade addict. I think I cleaned out the supermarket supply of Demerara sugar to make this quantity.

Take time and care to sterilise your jars properly.  It is heart breaking to find bacteria have got in and mould is present, especially if you make a big batch to last a year or so, like this one. I wash my jars in very hot soapy water, rinse with clean hot water, pour in boiling water then leave to stand for a couple of minutes, empty this out and let the inside dry in an oven at 100C.  A bit OTT, but it works.

Makes about 12 x 500ml jars

Ingredients

2kg of Seville oranges

100ml lemon juice

4kg Demerara sugar (!)

Method

  • Clean the oranges, remove the button and cut them in half, squeeze out the juice, and sieve to remove the seeds.
  • You can place the pith and seeds in muslin and float the bag in the preserving pan.  This allegedly adds maximum pectin.  Personally, I have never done this and have no problem getting marmalade to set without doing so.
  • Slice the rind to your desired thickness.  I like to do this by hand as I am very particular about the thickness of the cut, which must be as thin as possible. I don’t like the results a food processor or mandolin slicer give.  However, slicing by hand is very time-consuming.
  • seville orange slicesTake the sliced oranges and put in a large bowl or two, together with the juice and 5 litres of water.  Soak overnight.
  • Next day put the mixture into a preserving pan, boil then simmer gently, covered, until the peel is tender, about 2 hours.
  • Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to a rapid boil until setting point is reached. For this volume, it takes about 45 minutes. I know to start testing for set when the mixture starts to get a bronze foam on top, then I do a ‘wrinkle test’ using a chilled saucer, pushing finger through a teaspoon of marmalade on the saucer. When it has thickened sufficiently enough to wrinkle, it’s ready.
  • Leave to cool for 5-15 minutes, depending on how chunky the peel is.  Remove any scum from the top and place into sterilised jars and seal immediately.

jars of marmalade

While the outlay appeared large at £12 for fruit and sugar, each large half litre pot of jam worked out at about £1 each. This is amazing value, considering the price of good quality marmalade and all free from additives and preservatives. It was a joy to make as much as it is to eat!

Passionfruit and orange tart with homemade vanilla ice cream

Hidden gems

I have spent a couple of nights this week rummaging about in the fridge and the cupboards to make sure any of the festive residue that may be lurking in nooks and crannies is used.  I abhor food waste.  Although I keep a stealthy eye on perishables sometimes fridge contents get beyond ‘use by’ dates. I basically ignore these anyway and let my palate tell me if something is beyond the point of usefulness.

I managed to squeeze a good-sized pot of jam out of some leftover cranberries and made an array of dishes with some kilos of beetroot given to me by my parents (great stuff, versatile, delicious, can’t get enough of it). I poured all the remnants of the various cream cartons into a wonderful cream of celeriac soup. It is amazing how creative you can (try to) be with sprouts.

So, what did I do with the cream from which the remnants were derived?  Well, there had to be ice cream, of course, and a passion fruit and orange tart with a lovely crisp crust.

Passion without guilt

I really do try to make all my food predominantly from local, seasonal produce but as stated in Ethos, I maintain food integrity as much as I realistically can, but there comes a point where I cannot castigate myself to the stage where I end up restricting my diet to the detriment of my health, mental, not least.  Self flagellation for breaking ones strictly defined rules is a matter for others more committed than me.

Passion fruit and orange tart

This passion fruit tart is a ray of sunshine for the palate, and to behold on the greyest of dark winter days, not least served with homemade vanilla ice cream. The contents of the tart are courtesy of Gordon Ramsay (yes, I know – but he can cook), with a tweak – I processed the passion fruit pulp to maximise the flavour from the seeds.  Pastry is a classic Michel Roux pâte sucrée.  Ice cream is from the lovely Leibovitz bible ‘The Perfect Scoop’.

Pastry – Pâte sucrée

Pâte sucrée is a classic for fruit tarts. It is a forgiving sweet pastry, less delicate than pâte sablée and thus is perfectly capable of containing the wet tart mixture – with a bit of help (well, belt and braces) from some chocolate. It is easy to roll super-thin and remains very crisp in the tart base. I make the pastry the Roux way, all ingredients on the work surface, but you could easily combine the ingredients to form the pastry in a bowl.

Ingredients

250g plain flour

100g butter, cubed and slightly softened

100g icing sugar, sifted

Pinch of salt

2 eggs at room temperature

Preheat oven to 180C

Method

  • Put the flour on a work surface, make a well in the middle and add the butter, icing sugar and salt to the well and mix with your fingertips.
  • Gradually draw the flour into the centre and mix with your fingertips until the dough is slightly grainy.
  • Form a new well and add the eggs and work them into the mix until it begins to hold together.
  • Once amalgamated, knead a few times with the palm of your hand until it is smooth.
  • Roll it into a ball and rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  • Roll out to the desired thickness of  2 – 3 mm on a lightly floured surface.

I used a 24 cm flan tin (with a removable base) to make sure the tart is thin because I think this gives more elegant presentation than a deep slab (it will also cook more evenly).

  • Lightly butter the tin to help the pastry adhere to the sides.
  • Carefully transfer the pastry on a rolling pin and form the pastry to the shape of the tin.  Use a ball of extra pastry to push the lining pastry into the corners of the tin if it is not compliant.
  • Do not trim off the excess pastry because the edge of the case will shrink a bit in the oven – trim after the pastry is baked.
  • Prick the base gently with a fork, line with greaseproof paper and baking beans. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  • Blind bake for 15 minutes, remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes. Trim the overhanging pastry and leave to cool.

Chocolate pastry case lining

Tart case lined with quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate

Tart case lined with quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate

The inside of the case was lined with a thin layer of dark chocolate, which acts as the perfect foil to the sharpness of the fruit and gives an extra dimension of flavour. This also provides a nice surprise for your guests. You will need:

40g quality dark chocolate

Place in a bain marie and melt.  Let it cool slightly and brush onto the slightly warm case, filling in any holes and pores with the chocolate. Allow to cool and set.

Passion fruit and orange tart filling

Ingredients

6 ripe passion fruit, blitzed in a food processor and then sieved

350ml fresh orange juice

250g caster sugar

200ml double cream

6 medium eggs

Reduce the oven to 150C

Method

  • Put the pulped passion fruit and orange juice in a pan, bring to the boil, reduce by half and then sieve, allow to cool.  There should be about 250 ml.
  • Beat the fruit mixture, sugar, cream and eggs together until smooth, pass through a sieve into a jug.
  • Pour the filling into the case until it reaches the top.  I would sit the tin in the oven and pull the shelf out to do this – it is tricky to lift the full case and not spill the mixture otherwise.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes at 150C until the top forms a light crust and is set (it can be a bit soft in the centre), allow to cool and chill until ready to serve.

Additional option:  Dust with some sieved icing sugar and use a blowtorch to caramelise the top.

Vanilla ice cream – the real icing on the cake

The grand finale is an easy vanilla ice cream, so-called Philadelphia style, made without a traditional egg custard.  It is lighter tasting, cheaper and easier to make than the full-blown custard version, but doesn’t taste any less delicious.

Ingredients

500ml double cream

250ml whole milk

150g sugar (granulated is good)

Pinch of salt

1 vanilla pod, slit in half lengthways

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  • Pour 250 ml of the cream into a pan with the sugar and salt.
  • Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add both pod and contents to the pan.
  • Warm over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining cream and milk and the vanilla extract.
  • Chill thoroughly, remove the vanilla pod and churn using your ice cream maker or do so by hand.

tart

 

Herbs – cornerstones of cuisine 2013

The weather has remained relentlessly foul for the last 5 days and it has been impossible to get outside to garden, and now I have returned to work.  It doesn’t really matter and I enjoy looking at the sideways squal from my window while I sit at my computer. The first day back always takes some adjustment and I probably bit off more than I could chew.

The Red Queen Again

Following a post-work meeting, I had resolved to kick off my new 10 km running training plan yesterday. As a regular runner, this was not a New Year’s resolution, which I find futile and a bit pointless.  I prefer to run outside but wanted to kick-start my plan with a time trial for 10 km, which meant checking my pace on the treadmill at the gym, and so I was like the Red Queen, quite literally running to stand still.  The shock of an enforced break from running (2 weeks for flu, another for festivities) took its toll on my limbs and although my pace was around what I was aiming for, it was a punishing session…

So many choices, not enough space

The current herb bed with dominating horsradish and a few herbaceous perrenials thrown in.

The current herb bed with dominating horseradish and a few herbaceous perennials and annuals thrown in.

Happily, day two is a rest day from running, and a relief for my quadraceps and this evening was an ideal opportunity to browse seed catalogues and plan what to plant this year. I tend to be systematic and work through groups, e.g. herbs, brassicas, roots, polytunnel crops, herbs and flowers.  I started with herbs and flowers because they cause me less of a quandary.  I don’t grow many flowers at the moment as most of my 3/4 acre plot is mainly unimproved grassland, exposed and browsed by deer.  I concentrate on the smaller areas we have so far brought under cultivation and protection.

I was however somewhat distracted by the arrival of James Wong’s book Homegrown Revolution.  I caught the end of a Radio 4 interview with James back in October, but missed both his name and that of the book and forgot to listen again on iPlayer, so when this book was mentioned on The Garden Deli, I recognised that this was the book referred to in the discussion, so thanks for connecting me with the world of tomatillos and mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum).  The claims that many of these crops can be grown in the UK will be tested to the limit here on North Uist (discussion for a future post?) but worth trying some new exciting veg and fruit to spice up the garden.

I have only one herb bed at the moment, the overspill being housed in pots in the polytunnel, on windowsills and companion planted in the raised beds with other crops. My herb bed is also becoming dominated by horseradish, which will eventually need to be moved although I currently harvest enough to try to keep its vigorous growth in check.

Last year, I grew about 15 different herbs, all but a few for culinary use, and this year there will be a few more additions.  There are some herbs I simply cannot grow enough of, particularly basil, coriander, rosemary and thyme.  I can overwinter both rosemary and thyme in the polytunnel, but it is my excessive pruning that takes the real toll on the plants.  Conversely, Water Mint, Mentha aquatica is established and invasive in the garden and I can never get it under control, let alone use enough of it for cooking.

Harvesting seed from dried caraway heads

Harvesting seed from dried caraway heads

As ever, it’s good to have a mix of tried and tested and new varieties.  The big successes last year were chervil, a must for fish (I still have some outside now). Last summer was my second caraway harvest.  I leave some of this biennial umbellifer to self seed to ensure a yield each year.  These seeds have a very powerful flavour compared to shop bought seeds and I adore them in bread. Finally, I am slightly smug about my coriander harvest.  I used to buy coriander seeds from catalogues but it bolts very quickly here so repeated successional sowings were expensive.  I decided to try the large bag of seeds I had in the kitchen that I bought for cooking at an Indian supermarket in Glasgow.  Amazingly, germination rate was very high and one packet costing 60p has kept me going all year, so I will stick to the same plan for 2013.

I had one or two new herbs I had not grown before.  Summer savory was a winner and essential in many classic French dishes and bouquet garnis.  I was gifted hyssop by Christine at Croft Garden, a herb aficionado. Although I occasionally used it sparingly in the kitchen for vinaigrettes,salads and boullion, its beautiful blue flowers were a real hit with the bumblebees.

The final shortlist

My final culinary shortlist for growing this year is:

Rosemary, thyme (Summer de Provence and English Winter), sage, chervil, chives, bay, oregano (Greek), basil (Sweet, Red Rubin, Cinnamon, Mrs Burns), fennel, anise, coriander, lavender, French tarragon (plants), marjoram, winter savory, summer savory, caraway, parsley (flat leaf and the hardier curly), dill and rocket.

Nearer 30 than my estimated 15!

I have an additional list grown principally for flowers and hence wildlife:

hyssop, borage, phaecelia

The turf roof of the workshop has been established for a year so I am also planning to sow a ‘bumblebee seed mix’ of native wild flowers to grow on the roof.  The turf and soil were sourced locally from machair grassland and the species compliment is mainly typical of this habitat and includes corn marigold, knapweed, corn poppy, kidney vetch and slender vetch.

North Uist machair turf on the workshop roof awaits bumblebee wildflower seed mix

North Uist machair turf on the workshop roof awaits bumblebee wildflower seed mix

As usual, I will grow copious amounts of nasturtiums for salads, flowers and caper-like berries – also to divert the green-veined white caterpillars away from my brassicas and salads.

Although the garden is decidedly practical at the moment, I hope to design and landscape a courtyard at the front of the house incorporating tiered raised herb beds.  This however, is some way off as this area is likely to be a building site for another year or two.  I can but dream…

Apologies for not including the scientific names, life is too short at the mo and I am focussing on general culinary properties. If there are any startling omissions you think I should try, I would be delighted to have suggestions.  I am sure I could squeeze a few more in!

Intensely Herby recipes

Of course, no post would be complete without sharing a couple of recipes.  Both of these use copious amounts of herbs and are flexible and can be adapted according to what herbs and how much of each you may have or wish to include.

Vegetable boullion

This has become a store cupboard essential for me.  There is nothing wrong with some shop bought powdered boullions, but they do tend to give recipes an underlying generic recognisable flavour. Although I do like to make my own vegetable stocks, I do not always have time or the recipe does not call for stock but a little lift from the addition of a spoonful this boullion. I use it in anything and everything – soups, casseroles, cooking liquid for rice, cous cous, etc.

The boullion stores very well (at least 6 months). There’s a lot of salt in it, acting as a preservative, so I don’t usually season if I add some boullion to a dish. I make a batch in summer and another in winter, by which time the summer batch is finished. I am just coming to the end of my summer batch now. These can vary significantly in character, depending on what veg and herbs are at my disposal at different times of the year, and one has to be careful not to tip the balance too much in favour of particularly strong ingredients – unless that’s what you are aiming for, of course. This is a variation on the recipe in the River Cottage Handbook No 2 Preserves called ‘Souper mix’.

The last jar of my summer boullion

The last jar of my summer boullion

Ingredients – my summer vegetable boullion

250g leek

200g carrot

200g turnip

100g celery

50g sun-dried tomatoes

3 garlic cloves

100g parsley

10g mint

10g rosemary

5g summer savory

5g sage

250g salt

This amount made 3 jars

Method

  • Cram everything into a food processor (there is a large volume of herbs), pulse then blend to form a moist granular paste.
  • Store in sterilised jars and keep in the fridge once open.
Blitzing the herbs and veg for boullion

Blitzing the herbs and veg for boullion

Nasturtium, basil and rocket pesto

Pesto can be made from a wide range of herbs and leaves and I often ring the changes depending on whatever is the current garden glut.  Nasturtium leaves bring an added bit of zing to this pesto. Proportions of the herbs can be altered to taste, or any one exchanged for parsley. Fresh pesto will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.  It’s so good, it never lasts that long here.

Ingredients

25g nasturtium leaves

25g basil leaves

25g rocket leaves

50g fresh grated parmesan

50g pine nuts

2 cloves garlic, peeled

200 ml good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp salt

a few turns of pepper

Method

  • Put all ingredients in a food processor, pulse then blitz for a minute or so, until smooth.
  • Store in a jar in the fridge.
Nasturtium, basil and rocket pesto - green and glorious

Nasturtium, basil and rocket pesto – green and glorious

Now all the planning for herbs is in place, time to move on to veg, but not before we deal with two greylag geese a friend has kindly delivered to us.  I know what we will be doing tomorrow evening….

First Forage of 2013 – meteors and mussels

The horizontal smir prevented my attempts to achieve anything meaningful in the garden over the last couple of days. Low cloud and mist have been scudding over the surface of these low-lying windswept islands for a few days.  Flights and ferries have been disrupted and cancelled, mail and papers erratic.

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

Nonetheless, last night there was a small break in the cloud just after midnight. This allowed us to get a glimpse of the promised first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantid meteor shower. The shower is apparently produced from the debris of an asteroid (2003 EH1), possibly the extinct nucleus of a comet that broke up centuries ago and the shower was supposed to reach its peak just before dawn today.

The possibility of seeing an average of 100 shooting stars an hour, here in the UK, cloud cover permitting, forced us into the back garden to scan the night sky over the Atlantic.  Of course, there is no light pollution here on the edge of Europe and star-gazing on a clear night yields interesting observations, be these of planets, constellations or satellites  – and shooting stars. We have also had irregular but spectacular views of the Aurora Borealis.

Astronomical advice was to look north west to see the radiant point where meteors may stream from.  Sure enough, we were outside being buffeted in the wind and in only 2 or 3 minutes we saw numerous shooting stars, one was particularly bright  and spectacular, enough to make us both gasp ‘Whoa!’. Unfortunately, patchy cloud smothered out the view very quickly and thickened over the course of the night, so the promised natural firework display was short-lived.  Despite keeping a vigil from bed with the curtains open, the cloud never really lifted and we lost the opportunity to see any more of the spectacle.

Day time forays – The Mightly Mytilus

I don’t return to work until Monday, yet despite this, I don’t feel like I have a huge amount of time on my hands to get things done, or even that I am particularly achieving a lot while I am off! This always leads me to question how I do manage to cram what I desire to acheive into the average weekday of work, et al.  It certainly seems to be the case that I am much more efficient when the working day puts a squeeze on my time, so in a way, I look forward to returning to that status quo next week.

Meanwhile, despite the weather, I wanted to make the most of getting outside, beyond my daily dog walk. This was a bit too exciting today as the dogs disturbed three red deer. Fortunately, after a quick dash towards the deer, they returned excitedly to our side as they would rather be with us and deer are quite frankly a bit big and scary.

Winter foraging opportunities are rare here. The collection of even those easiest to locate beasts along the seashore, the mussel, is complicated by the requirement for low tide to fall in the short hours of daylight and on a day when I am not working. Hence, while mussels are common and abundant,  I get out to collect them very infrequently.

The mussel Mytilus edulis is common all around the UK coast, occurring from the high intertidal to shallow subtidal on the shore.  It is found on rocky shores or open coasts as well as where hard substrates occur in more sheltered coasts, including estuaries.  It is so successful because of its capacity to tolerate a wide range of temperature, salinity, and to some extent, water depths.

Mytilus edulis is gregarious, and can form very dense beds, with young mussels settling to colonise any available space between individuals already attached to the bed by super-strong byssal threads. These threads (also known as the beard to the cook) help to maintain their position in the bed, even in strong currents and storms. Mussel beds provide niches for many other marine organisms and mussels are heavily predated. Predation has the biggest impact on mussel mortality – and makes them important in the food chain.  They are eaten by birds (notably eider and oystercatchers), flounders, crabs, starfish and dog whelks, to name but a few.

As an invertebrate zoologist, I must admit that I find it very difficult to stop myself going on at length about the fascinating physiology of these bivalve molluscs. I will resist and spare the reader the detail, save to say that the fact the mussel is a filter feeder has fundamental implications for the way the forager selects and the cook manages mussels.

My local mussel patch

Wild mussels on the west side of North Uist

Wild mussels on the west side of North Uist

I collect wild mussels from a few favoured spots.  The one I chose yesterday is on the west side of North Uist, a few hundred metres from my house. It is a sheltered sandy bay protected from storms by many islands and reefs and is well away from the open Atlantic. It is a great spot for swimming at low tide in summer when the pools left behind warm up in the sun – you don’t even need a dry suit to get in.

It is also an area where it pays to keep an eye on the tides as this vast expanse of sand has channels of water that are deep and fast flowing once the tide turns and fill up alarmingly quickly, preventing safe crossing.  However, it is a convenient site for me and happens to yield the best mussels I have found so far.  They are always almost grit free, moderately sized with plump contents.  Sometimes the biggest shells do not yield the biggest mussels. I always take only as many as I need, usually about 2 kg, enough for 2 meals to make it worth my while.  I also try not to detach smaller mussels that have settled between those larger ones I am harvesting and I don’t take them all from the same spot.

I did photograph the bay, which is really quite beautiful in most weathers, however, yesterday conditions were so poor, it looked incredibly bleak and driech and I decided not to include the photos as I don’t want to give such a bad impression of the place – or to have the tourist board on my case.

Gathering your wild mussels

Often there are concerns raised about the safety of eating wild mussels, particularly in areas where contaminants/pollutants may accumulate in the tissues of these filter feeders. Also, there is potential for toxic planktonic algae within the mussel to cause food poisoning, either Diaretic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) or the more serious Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), depending on which dinoflagellate algae are within the mussel. Neither pollutants or blooms are an issue here.

The best way to avoid the risks is to stick to the old adage of only collecting and eating mussels when there is an ‘R’ in the month, hence avoiding the spring and summer seasons when algal blooms may proliferate.  Mussels are also in better condition over the winter and are plumper as males and females build up stores of milt and roe prior to spring spawning. If you live in an area where blooms are an issue, or have concerns about using wild mussels, farmed mussels are the easiest option.  Mussel farming is pretty sustainable, and the only fundamental difference between these and wild mussels is the precaution to manage the toxic algae risk by placing the mussels harvested from ropes in tanks of sea water sterilised by use of UV lights.

Mussels cleaned, barnacles and beards removed

Mussels cleaned, barnacles and beards removed

Of course, wild mussels can have a lot of barnacles growing on them, as well as seaweed, and these need dealt with too.

Preparing your foraged mussels

For the first stage, I rinse them under the tap and place in a bucket of cold tap water, sprinkle over some oatmeal, add a tablespoon of salt and leave overnight.  This will allow the mussels to filter through and clean out grit (the oatmeal is supposed to help) and also loosens the barnacles which you will need to remove later.

Next day, I scrape the mussels, remove the tough beards from the inner lip – these are the byssal threads that attach the mussel to rocks – pliers are handy if you find this a struggle. I scrape off the barnacles with a knife, otherwise they will fall off in cooking and the gritty pieces will spoil any sauce (although I always strain cooking liquids to be sure to remove any grit). They are ready to be cooked ASAP.

Moules Marinière

Yes, there are a million and one recipes for this but it is hard to resist making one of my mussel meals this classic.  It is very quick and simple and encapsulates everything about France and the sea in one bowl. I served it with sunblush tomato and thyme foccacia on this occasion.

Ingredients

1kg of mussels, cleaned

splash of olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

a sprig of thyme

a couple of glasses of dry white wine

a few grinds of pepper

fresh parsley, chopped

2 tblsp double cream (optional)

Method

  • Put a glug of olive oil in a large pan with the shallots and garlic, fry gently to soften for 5 minutes.
  • Throw in the thyme, mussels and pour over the wine.
  • Cover with a lid and wait 5-10 minutes, shaking the pan vigorously occasionally until all mussels are open and cooked, discard any shells that don’t open.
  • Strain off the cooking liquid into a pan through a fine sieve or muslin to get rid of grit, herbs, garlic slices.
  • Add the double cream (if desired) and bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.  Season with pepper.
  • Plate up the mussels and pour over the sauce and garnish with parsley.

Moules mariniere

Sunblush tomato and thyme foccacia

A quick and tasty foccacia to mop up the sauce from the mussels. My thyme is now well and truly ravaged by my excessive pruning for cooking and the vagaries of the weather.  I have 2 intact plants remaining – I hope they can last me until the spring…

Ingredients

1/2 tsp dried yeast

300g strong white flour

1 tblsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

170 ml water

1/2 jar sunblush tomatoes in olive oil

4 sprigs of thyme

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Extra olive oil to top foccacia

Maldon salt for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 195C

Method

  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the water to get a slightly sticky dough consistency.
  • Put some olive oil on the work surface and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is stretchy, elastic and smooth.
  • Leave in a warm place for 45 minutes and knead for a further 5 minutes. Rest for a further 15 minutes before rolling out to the desired size/shape and adding the tomatoes
  • Mix the thyme leaves with some olive oil and the crushed garlic and spread over the surface. Sprinkle over some Maldon salt.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden, cut up and serve.

Sun blush tomato and thyme foccacia

Mussel and Leek Chowder

To get the most out of the mussels, I used the second kilo to prepare another meal.  This chowder recipe is based on that in Nigel Slater’s ‘Tender Volume II’, a vegetable growers cookbook bible, especially for easy everyday vegetable-centric delicious meals, snacks and suppers.  I replaced the bacon with chorizo, as I had no bacon. I also cut down the cream by 1/4  I thought it may be too powerful for the mussels with the chorizo, but they still came through on balance, thanks to the use of the cooking liquor.  I always favour Noilly Prat for such recipes (to bring a bit of Languedoc to North Uist), but any white vermouth can be used.

Ingredients

1kg mussels, cleaned

3 leeks

150g chorizo (not hot)

40g butter

2 glasses Noilly Prat

450g potatoes

150 ml double cream

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs of thyme

handful of chopped parsley

Method

  • Clean and thinly slice the leeks, slice the chorizo.
  • Add the chorizo to the butter in a pan on a moderate heat and cook for a few minutes, add the leeks and turn down low, put on a lid and cook for about 20 minutes
  • Clean and prepare the mussels and place in a large pan pour over the vermouth and put the lid on.  Cook on a high heat until all mussels are open.  Discard any that do not open.
  • Remove the mussels from the shells, strain and retain the cooking liquor.
  • Peel the potatoes and cut into large dice.  Put in a pan with 400ml of cooking liquor, the cream, thyme, bay and some black pepper.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  • Add 3/4 of the potatoes to the leek and chorizo mix, remove the herbs then blitz the remaining potatoes and liquid with a hand blender or liquidiser until smooth.
  • Add to the pan with leeks, chorizo, potatoes, etc, add the mussels and parsley, bring to the boil and serve.

Mussel and leek chowder