If you go down to the woods today ….
You are quite likely to find a host of lush green edible leaves… and me picking them !
You are quite likely to find a host of lush green edible leaves… and me picking them !
Its all about the birdie
The sun was out, I had front row seats to the hottest Easter party in the Algarve ( OK I was coking for it) and we had more chocolate than Willy Wonker for the Easter Egg Hunt of 2016, I just knew it was going to be a great week.
Navigating airports at half term can seem a bit like playing a kid’s computer game. The route from departures in one country to arrivals in another is thwarted with challenges, obstacles and tasks to test your intuition and skill. On top of that it all has to be completed within a certain time frame or its ‘game over’ or in this scenario, a missed flight.
I didn’t miss the flight from London Gatwick to Geneva for my weeks ski job (it would certainly be a postcard lacking in scenic snow shots and plates of warming food if I had) but I did feel challenged. My very early morning check-in was littered with an obscene amount of suitcases, children, ski kits and parents whose morning coffee had not quite kicked in. My trick in these circumstances is to keep my head down, find the queue with the oldest average age and make sure my caffeine levels are fully dosed. It has to be said though, when you do finally reach the snowy peaks and get your first lungfuls of chilled mountain air there is that moment of clarity and the motivation behind the turbulent journey suddenly makes perfect sense.
This week I am delighted to be back up in the magnificent highlands cooking for various grouse, partridge and pheasant shoots.
I should quickly clarify the title of this postcard, as I have already had to dig myself out of trouble from the gamekeeper for remarking the pheasants lolling around the lodge seemed quite stupid. He seemed quite defensive at this remark (almost as if I had insulted a family member) and bristled that they soon learnt to fly quick enough when flushed across the hills. Having seen them in action he was of course right.
To make amends I thought I would comment from a chefs perspective how wonderfully plump and in good condition they look and how tender they were at present, this definitely put me back in his good books as he was quick to proudly agree (and I am pretty sure his feathers puffed up in pride).
So to note, this postcard is about poaching pheasants form a culinary angle rather than the illegal “ Danny the champion of the world” style.
Pheasant season opens the 1 st October and runs to the 1st February. From a chefs perspective I think now the time you really want to get hold of them. Still young and tender from not too many flights, their meat is really delicious and can be treated like a decent chicken so great for roasting, frying and poaching. As the season goes on they still maintain their wonderfully distinct flavor but become more suited to slow cooking as they will need tenderizing.
This postcard recipe is based on the idea that poaching a tender piece of meat not only gives you a delicious supper but also has the excellent knock on effect of providing a tasty liquid you can then use in broths, soups / risottos / pasta dishes ect….
Various countries have their ‘go to’ poached meat dishes like in Italy they have Bollito Misto a dish originating in north, consisting of poached beef, veal, cotechino ( sausage) and chicken. It is often served with mostarda ( a ‘blow your socks off’ mustard candied fruits) and salsa verde. Bollto Misto has been appreciated for centuries and was particularly enjoyed by an Italian prince in the 1800’s when he used to sneak to the small town of Moncalvo, hunt wild game, enjoy a dish of bollito with his friends and then go off and frolic with his favorite mistress.
In France they have pot au feu, translating as ‘pot on the fire’, which usually consists of beef, turnips, carrot and onions and is also a dish that has been around for hundreds of years. The dish of poached chicken ‘poule au pot’ was used back in the 1600’s by King henry IV as a standard of living he wanted all to be able to achieve. He proclaimed that he wanted even the poorest of peasants to be able to enjoy it on Sundays. Sadly this was not the case as meat was generally too expensive so the peasants really did have to be ‘poach’ their meat from the local lord.
This postcard recipe uses game but gives a nod to more Far Eastern flavors like chili and ginger which I think makes a refreshing change for the seasoned shooter who probably by now have had their fare share of hearty traditional game meals.
A male pheasant (cock) may have a harem of up to 7 hens (lady pheasants)
On average they will have a clutch of 10 eggs.
For some cultures the pheasant is symbol of luck, as apparently a Burmese hunter found an emerald in a pheasant he had caught, he went back to where he supposed it had been roosting which led to the discovery of an emerald mine.
When cruising the pheasant will fly around 30 mph but with a wind and when being flushed (disturbed by the beaters) they can fly up to 60 mph making it a pretty fast moving target.
I’m reading The miniaturist, Jessie Burton
I’m not reading: Danny the Champion of the world
Best bag: 373 (though the most stylish one is that metal clutch in the fall Valentino collection)
Every estate should have: bantering gamekeepers
I’m loving: the young and tender game birds
I’m driving : Range rovers / defenders / kia estate
Butter count: 25 packs and rising
This dish would be great as a restorative lunch broth or you could add noodles/ rice / vegetables / chopped green lettuce to make it more filling.
The sprinkling at the end of raw garlic, lime and coriander totally makes this dish, though is possibly not first date stuff unless you both go for it.
Makes about 4 bowls of broth.
1 whole pheasant plucked and cleaned
1 tbs cardamom pods
½ tbs caraway seeds
1 tbs fennel seeds
1 tbs coriander seeds
50g fresh ginger peeled and roughly chopped
1 large medium red chilli – to taste
The zest of 2 limes
2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
2 tbs finely chopped corriander
Give your pheasant a quick wash then place in a large saucepan with some roughly chopped red chili with seeds and membrane in tact (the amount depends on how hot you like it), the cardamom pods, caraway, fennel seeds, the spring onions ends and the ginger and some salt and pepper.
Fill with cold water to just cover the pheasant then place on a medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Cook for about 30 minutes – the pheasant should just be cooked the best place to check is inside the leg then leave with the heat turned off for ten mins.
Remove the pheasant and cover loosely with foil.
Strain the liquid into another pot then reduce by about a 1/3 then check for seasoning and chilli heat. Add the rest of the spring onions finely chopped on an angle.
In a small bowl mix the lime zest, garlic and coriander.
To serve, slice the breasts and take the meat from the leg bones. On a low heat gently warm the meat in the stock.
Ladle some meat and liquid into your serving bowl and sprinkle with the garlic mix.
Next postcard celebrates national Honey week…
On the wild off-chance you didn’t spend your childhood watching My Fair Lady, “Oozing charm from every pore” is a line from one of Professor Higgins’ numbers. I would heartily recommend the movie if you haven’t seen it in a while and enjoy a good sing along. This tune was not however what I have just spent the week listening to…
I arrived to the Languedoc region in the South of France to one of the small but very pretty villages just outside Uzés, a day before my clients. This doesn’t often happen but I have to say it was a change not having to do a mad first dash to the shops and get supper on the table for a gaggle of hungry people within 3 hours of landing (though of course those circumstances are not without their great elements of fun). The job was to cook for a group of friends that had been holidaying for a week together for the last 16 years.
With no one in the house for the first 12 hours it occurred to me I could have carte blanche on the sound system. I then discovered that there was no internet and only 3 cds to choose from. Still with Frank, Abba and Mr Morrison to keep me company while I got the prep underway and laid the table ready for the guest’s arrival the time flew by.
As the week went by it rather amused me that by the last day at some point or other all of the guests had commented on how much I must like Frank Sinatra.
I finally replied to the host that yes I do like Frank but there are only 3 cds to choose from.
“What about the big shelf of them by the cupboard?” she replied.
“@**@!!!!, I thought, I clearly missed that but on the up side I can now sing his top 20 hits off by heart.
Fortunately I was much more on the ball when it came to the food.
After morning one, I made an executive decision to change alliance from the local bakery to the one in the adjoining village due to distressingly below par croissants. I find it a slightly dream shattering reality that this is the third bad bakery I’ve come across this year in France and find it hard to believe that the locals haven’t started a riot. Actually in two of the cases the bread was still very good so perhaps locals don’t really eat croissants and only care about their daily baguette.
I have learnt that in France between the hours of 7 am – and 8 30 am, when most people do their bread run, that there are no rules on the road within 50 m each way of the boulungere -park wherever you like in which ever direction, and not to worry about blocking people in or cutting them off, as what is important is that we all get our morning fix of dough.
As for the Markets I felt totally on form as not only did I triumph in buying the most beautiful stashes of chanterllles mushrooms but I am also proud to announce I feel I have truly mastered the art of beating the elderly female French shoppers at their own game. Let me explain.
Picture the scene, a bustling charming southern French market, the sun is hopefully shooting bursts of dappled light through the plain trees onto the various tables and boxes of local goodies. I am there early with the locals (golden rule number one of market shopping) and am standing in line, probably wearing a bright summer dress and some oversized earrings. I wait till it is fairly my turn to place my order or pay and then some little old French lady behind me barges me out the way with their boney elbow, jumps the queue and has the bravado to give me a glass shattering death stare. Well not any more, I now dodge that arm, always make sure I make firm friendly yet assertive eye contact with the stallholder and stand my ground. This has totally worked out and so now all I have to put up with is the old French ladies tutting that I am buying the very item they wanted and that they don’t have all day. In response I bat them off with my perfected French style shrug.
(This is all said with true affection as I very much hope to be as canny as these feisty old ladies in years to come).
As for the cuisine, the star dish of the week may not have been the luscious chaneterlles cheese and lardon omelettes, or the chilli prawn linguini they couldn’t stop eating and possibly not even the vervaine and pistachio praline ice cream it was probably (according to the owner) his home grown grapes.
He had a point, they were perfectly ripe, very juicy and sweet, and so successful this year we all wondered about turning the land (as it happens a similar size to Petrus) into a vineyard…we shall watch that space!
In the Languedoc it is around now the farmers are harvesting their grapes for wine making and eating and at the markets I noted there were some amazing sweet and delicious varieties on offer that are well worth looking out for in your local shops back in the UK. We all noted that similar to strawberries although you can buy grapes all year round there are only certain times of year they are truly worth serving.
With several days of heavy rain we all wondered what it might do to this months harvest. After much research (well actually I just sent an email to my good friend at the amazing Yapp Brothers Wine Merchants in Mere) I learnt that,
“A little rain at harvest time isn’t a major problem in a good, ripe vintage (which this one is, by all accounts) but continued and lengthy rain at harvest time would cause the grapes to swell and even split, allowing such problems as mildew, mould and other nasty things to attack and destroy the grapes. In short rain isn’t good at “vendange” time.”
The weather did turn for the better mid week so I will await with interest what this years harvest brings.
After much feasting, festivity and a few al fresco lunches the week ended all to quickly. On my way back to Montpellier airport I reflected on the dishes I cooked and which one I would like to do for this postcard recipe. Initially tempted by the bouillabaisse which went down rather well I have finally decided on the goats cheese crostini, beetroot, fig and mint salad that I had to stand my ground for to buy the ingredients.
Home grown grapes picked and eaten: 176
I’m driving: a Fiat 500 L, it’s ok but I expected more power for this ‘super sized’ version.
Every home should have: their own vines (and more than 3 cds).
We are making the most of: the last of the summer peaches and tomatoes.
A major part of my job is knowing how to shop, by this I particularly mean being aware of the seasons and local specialties. When you see something that looks extra special at the market it is always worth buying and then deciding what you want to do with it. When I saw these goat’s cheeses and a tray of what I knew would be the last of this summers figs, that night’s starter just fell in to place.
1 small raw beetroot
4 slices of bagette
2 rounds of goats cheese (a tangy one works well with the sweetness of the figs but creamy is also delicious).
1 tbs olive oil
4 ripe figs (green or black) cut in half.
12 mint leaves
1 head of chicory split into leaves
2 tbs pomegranate seeds ( ours was pockled which made them extra sweet)
For the beetroot dressing
1 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tsp honey
1 tbs olive oil
For the salad dressing
1 tbs white wine vinegar
2 tbs olive oil
To make the beetroot dressing:
Whisk the vinegar with a pinch of salt and pepper
Then the honey and finally the olive oil.
To make the salad dressing
Whisk the vinegar with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Then whisk in the olive oil.
Turn the grill on medium
Peel and thinly slice the beetroot, use a mandolin if you have one, then toss through the beetroot dressing. Leave this to one side while you
Smear the goats cheese on top of the sliced pieces of baguette, drizzle with a little of the extra olive oil and place under the grill for a couple of minutes till they are bubbling and golden on top.
Toss the chicory, mint and figs through the salad dressing then layer on a plate with the beetroot and goats cheese toasts, sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and serve immediately.
Next stop, the Wyvis Estate in the Scottish Highlands…
The week was not as planned. My diary had me in the dramatic depths of wild Scotland cooking for my first grouse shoot of the season, slapping on the mosquito spray and cooking up a variety of game themed feasts. Tweed cap, puffy jacket, gloves and various layers were ready to be packed.
With a last minute change due to lack of grouse reality had me in the bucolic rural Gascony countryside cooking mostly vegetarian food, slapping on the sun cream, darting round the prettiest of French markets and swimming in a magnificent lake.
I will save the sad tale of what’s happening in the grouse world for a future postcard. As for now it’s all about the gastronomic delights of Gascony.
The job was to cook for a family and their friends just west of Toulouse. Despite the area being the home of cassoulet and famous for its duck and foie gras my brief was to focus mainly on vegetarian food. This turned out to be an extremely delightful and easy request to fulfil as the markets at this time of year in this part of the world have an impressive over lap of summer and autumn ingredients. My main joy however was that I had arrived in time for the very start of Cep season, that wonderful mushroom so abundant in these parts.
Ceps as they are called in France or Porcini as they are called in Italy ( meaning piglets) or Stienpilz as they are called in Germany (meaning stone mushroom) or to be ultra highbrow Boletus edulis in Latin are mycorrhizal. Meaning they have a symbiotic relationship with the plant roots they grow around, this in turn means they are pretty hard to cultivate so have to be wild and foraged.
Not having to do breakfasts I had the chance to go every morning to a different local market in the various medieval towns, all of which seemed more idyllic then the last. Perfectly charming covered squares, roofed with tiles and supported by large wooden beams, bustling with locals doing their weekly shop and catching up on gossip over their morning pastry and coffee.
At every market I would be drawn towards the cep seller and couldn’t help but buy a few. By the end of the week I had managed to slip them into most of the meals but as they are so special I don’t think anyone minded. My personal favourite was serving them roasted whole with butter and garlic with frites and rocket on the side although this postcard recipe of ceps with baked polenta Gruyere and butter was another triumph.
Mid way through the stint I was given the chance to take the journey back into Toulouse to shop at the famous Victor Hugo market, the city’s culinary pride. Knowing that you have to be there bright and early to get the best I set off just before the sun was casting its first light over the many sunflower fields and arrived into the city in what I thought was good time. I dashed straight to the market to find half of the stalls still shut and the other half leisurely getting out their wares. According to the internet and guidebooks this place should have already been open for 3 hours, according to them they were still enjoying their morning coffee and paper. When the market finally was up and running (about 10 am) it was impressive. Besides the market itself the surrounding streets are dotted with more gastronomic genius, there is Xavier – one of France’s best cheese shops and Olivier, apparently one of the oldest and best chocolatiers in France – though as they were on their two month summer vacation I am yet to form my own opinion.
The main event of the week was the client’s end of summer party. With mainly vegetarian dishes requested the menu read as follows:
It was a beautiful evening and from the cocktails to the obligatory cep dish and the chocolate roulade (amusingly/cheekily billed as a cousin of the artic ‘swiss roll’) to the cheese board everyone had a rather jolly time.
When not at a market or in the kitchen I was encouraged to take a swim in the beautiful pea green lake. So after lunch had been cleared away and supper prep was under control I took myself down for a cooling dip. I happily jumped in and leisurely swam out to the raft in the centre. Surrounded by the tranquil setting of weeping willows, woods, fig trees and lines of apple trees I couldn’t believe how peaceful it was until… I heard the most enormous splash from the other side of the expanse of water. After the initial surprise I rationally thought it could only be one of two things.
With only one way back to shore I swam back keeping half an eye out for movements in the water not made by me. On return to the house I learnt I had in fact only being sharing the lake with otters and giant carp – harmless!
I did have to slightly force myself back in the next day and was fine until I heard again that giant splash. I turned in time to see the body of a large fish submerge into the water. Harmless or not it did wonders for improving my time in my swim back to the shore.
I’ driving: Landrover and a Citroen with an impressive tardis like boot.
I’m in: Equestrian heaven
Dishes cooked with ceps: 9
Attacks by giant carp: 0
Encounters with Mr Darcy: 0
Every home should have: a lake
Job high: no Ketchup required
Job low: not knowing what lurks in the lake.
Fried ceps with wet polenta and Gruyere
This would make a great starter although I used it as part of the feast for their end of summer party.
For polenta sceptics just try it and think of it as a vehicle for butter and cheese and then make your minds up.
Serves 6 as a starter
For the baked polenta
1 litre whole Milk
150g Gruyere plus extra
3 Egg yolks
150 g Butter
For the Ceps
800g Ceps approx 4 /5 large mushrooms sliced fairly thick.
2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 tsb finely chopped parsley
Place the polenta in a jug (this helps with the pouring).
Heat the milk in a heavy based saucepan, just before boiling pour in the polenta in a steady stream whisking continuously.
Stirring constantly, cook on a low heat until no longer grainy in texture – the quick cook usually takes about 5 minutes and the proper stuff takes about 50 mins.
Then add 100g Gruyere, the egg yolks and 100g of the butter. Stir well.
Pour onto a tray and leave to cool and then place in the fridge for 1 hour to firm up.
Pre heat the oven to 180 ° C.
In a wide frying pan melt the butter with the olive oil, when hot add the chopped ceps, fry for a minute then add the garlic. Fry till you just start to smell the garlic ( about 1 minute) then take off the heat, season with salt and pepper and stir through the parsley.
Cut the chilled polenta into shapes and lay slightly overlapping in a lightly buttered baking dish, top with the fried ceps, extra cheese and butter.
Bake for 15 mins.
If you think the British are obsessed by the weather you should talk to a Bostonian. Throughout the year they get it all from heavy snow, storms and high winds to bright blue skies and sunshine. I guess as lots of people are boat and or fish orientated it’s natural the weather will be of constant interest.
I arrived to dark skies, rain and in need of a jumper. I could have stayed in Blighty for this, I thought, but with everyone cheerful the sun would come out tomorrow, I settled into my new home for the next few weeks. The next day… oh boy did the sun come out and then set with the most theatrical display.
The first big party we held was July 4th celebrations; we had 35 adults and about a dozen kids coming. I decided to tone down my English accent for the day, though I did sneak in a very English dessert of Eton mess into the menu. For mains, as its all about lobster here, we decided on roasting 37 of them and smoking 20 lb of baby back (pork) ribs. It was truly a veritable feast!
The party was a wild success with kids and adults all tucking into the sweet buttery crustaceans and getting messy with the ribs. Desserts were practically all demolished (haha!) and at around 10 the fireworks of Boston and the surrounding towns started popping up into the sky. To go with this, the amazing Boston Pops orchestra broadcasts live with a program including the Indiana Jones theme tune, the 1812 and of course Stars and Stripes. We thought the party might wind down post fire works but there was a sudden second wind and the left over ribs got raided from the fridge and were totally scoffed.
With the ribs taken care of the only thing I still had to deal with was the left over lobster. Last time I got my hand on this many I made enough stock to fill a bathtub, though frankly it wasn’t totally to my liking. This year, having picked off the last of the lobster meat with some help from half a team of Ivy League Football players 😉 I gathered my buckets of shells and had another go. The trick is to bring the stock to a boil with the shells in, cook for 30 – 40 mins, strain it and then reduce the stock down. If you leave the shells in too long the stock goes very bitter. The stock was/ is delicious (I have 20 litres to use up) so I am planning lots of lobster flavoured soups, bisques, paellas and risottos. That or a fishy bath.
On a none food note I watched my first cherry stone spitting competition and putting it politely I couldn’t quite believe the diversity of peoples ability. As soon as I got home I grabbed a bowl of cherries and headed to the bottom of the garden to try it for myself, turns out, I have a new skill.
Lobsters massacred: 52
‘Have a nice days’ I have been wished : 31
Cherry stone distance personally spat : 5.5m
I’m reading: The Lobster, Guillaume Lecasble
4am texts from my least/most favourite sister who keeps forgetting I’m in a different time zone: 5
Its hard not to get obsessed about smoking, the results are delicious but there is something primal and wildly rewarding in the skill it takes to get it right. From making ones own salt rubs and bbq sauces to taming the heat and perfecting the amount of smoke.
So for this postcard recipe I will share with you one of my new favourite foods to smoke – prawns.
We served this as an ‘appetiser’ on July 4th.
You will need a smoker, lump wood charcoal, and wood chips like apple and hickory.
Makes 20 crostini
20 large raw peeled prawns
2 tbs olive oil
200g butter melted
4 tsp fine sea salt
3 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 ripe avocados
1 small clove garlic
2 tbs olive oil
2 tsp chopped green chilli
juice from 1 lime
2 tbs. chopped coriander
1 loaf ciabatta
Extra sprigs of coriander
Squeeze of extra lime juice.
Mix the prawns with the olive oil
Mix the rub ingredients together then toss through the prawns with 2 tbs olive oil, leave for 30 mins.
Meanwhile light your smoker and get it to reach 200 °F
Once at temperature, lay a large piece of foil shiny side down, tip on the prawns (discarding any juice that may come out of them) then pour over the melted butter. Add your chips to the coals and close the lid. Smoke for 30 – 40 mins , they should be cooked and smokey.
You can eat then warm or leave them to cool.
To make the avocado spread,
Peel and de-stone the avocado and roughly chop, add the rest of the ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
To serve toast the ciabatta, smear with the avocado mix and top with a smoked prawn. Squeeze over a little extra lime and garnish with a leaf of coriander
Next week, unfortunately for the lobsters, I’m sticking around…
I have been cooking for the week in various impressive kitchens in West London for ladies lunches. With not a Cosmopolitan in sight – in reading or drinking format it was not quite what you would expect.
All the clients had chosen to have a relaxed buffet style with lots of dishes to choose from. Cold cuts of meat, baked fish and lots of interesting winter salads and yes desserts and bread baskets too.
Feeling delighted to be back in the big smoke with an enormous choice of amazing food shops, buying the best ingredients was easy, navigating the Circle and District line around Kensington less so. Zooming around to various markets, fishmongers and trusty Waitrose I managed to get exactly what I was looking for (and more as is usually the way). I am also beginning to discover the glory and usefulness of our Thames river bus service, which I would highly recommend as a mode of serious transport or for a fun jaunt.
With more FT’ s than G&T’s at the party I was most impressed by the…well I was actually most impressed by the beautiful shoes…but food wise, that for dessert an entire lemon tart got demolished pastry and all. Sometimes it is sadly left while the filling gets scooped off.
There was however a noticeable shift in my cooking style veering away from the shoot style hearty lunches and rich dinners and turning towards the fresh new produce now in season, like blood oranges, purple sprouting broccoli, and forced rhubarb. Olive oil was very much replacing butter, yogurt replacing cream and an even greater use of fresh herbs and citrus to keep bold but fresh flavours.
Platters cleared away and the ladies having scooted off (though I hope not too fast in those heels!) to do various school runs and to get back to work, the parties finished up and then it was time to get on with prep for the next feast…a dinner party for 10 in the city of Westminster.
Shoe envy levels: seriously high
It’s all about Greek Olive oil from Olive Tree London
Every home should have: an Alexander the Great
Mode of transports included boats, trains, planes and busses.
Next I’m heading off across the channel to the Alps and the ski resort of Tignes.
Serves 8 as a side salad
4 raw beetroots (I used golden and red ones)
1 tbs olive oil for cooking
200g Umbrian lentils
1 garlic clove
a few parsley stalks
½ a chilli cut lengthways
2 tsp honey
3 sticks celery
2 blood oranges
To dress the salad
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbs olive oil
Pre heat the oven to 180°C.
Scrub the beetroots and boil in water till cooked (depending on size this can take 30 mins- 1 hour
Drain then scrape away the skin. Cut into wedges and drizzle with the cooking oil. Roast on a tray till slightly caramlised (about 30 mins).
Meanwhile place the lentils in a pan and cover with water to 1 inch above.
Add the garlic clove, chilli, parsley stalks and bring the boil.
Simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes or until just cooked.
If there is still lots of water left once cooked drian away most of the excess then season with salt and pepper.
Mix the ricotta with the honey and season with salt and pepper.
When ready to serve remove the skin and pith off the oranges and slice into thin rounds
Chop the celery into 1 cm pieces and the avocado into small chunks.
Finely chop the herbs and add them to the lentils along with the lemon juice, chopped celery and avocado.
Layer the lentils, beetroots, oranges in a bowl and top with scoops of honeyed ricotta.
Left foot, swiftly followed by right foot went onto the plane with moments to spare until they shut the doors and we were zipping along the runway to head to Dublin.
I was off to cook for a dinner party. The hosts, having only recently moved in, were practically unpacking the china and glasswear as fast as we could use it. The menu for the evening read as follows
Smoked Irish salmon on crisp bread with sourcream
Chorizo cooked in cider, garlic and parsley
Pan fried scallop with fino sherry and butter, chicory, blood orange and parsley salad
Rare roast fillet of beef with saffron bay potatoes and braised chard
Dark chocolate mouse, hokey pokey, nutmeg crisps and poaches pear in brandy.
Knowing it would be a big night (the Irish really do know how to party)! I had booked myself on a late flight the following day to the west country where I was to prepare another dinner party, this one in celebration of Robert Burns night.
The guests were all donning garments of tartan, except one who had mis interpreted my Scottish and thought I said Rabbi Burns (I clearly need to work on my accents).
There was whisky sours , poetry, song, wild wielding of knives by the host to cut the “great chieftan o’ the puddin’ race ” (much to the alarm of the guest to his left), explanations of how they make haggis (much to the alarm of the vegetarian guest), and an impressively energetic ceilidh (much to the alarm of the carpet).
Photo left to right – caviar and egg, haggis neeps and tatties, vanilla ice cream, turnip sorbet I mean orange and chestnut chocolate cream.
With a playful approach to the 3 courses, the meal was well received although I cant help but feel the best bit is always the next day with haggis potato cakes, fried eggs with a splurge of Tommie K.
Fun had, carpet straightened and sporrans back in their boxes I am now heading north into the blizzards of Perthshire for the final pheasant shoot of this season
Serves 4 as a starter
4 large scallops
100ml fino sherry
1 head of chicory
1 blood orange peeled and sliced into small segments..
1 tbs roughly chopped parsley
1 tsp. sherry vinegar
Chicory and orange salad
Mix the sherry vinegar and 2 tsp. olive oil in a bowl.
Separate the leaves if the chicory then toss them through the dressing.
Mix the orange and parsley together.
Arrange the dressed chicory and orange on a serving plate while you cook the scallops.
Cooking the scallops
Season the scallops with a pinch of salt
Place a frying pan on a high heat and add the 1 tbs olive oil.
Sear the scallops both sides for about 30 seconds – they should get a great caramelised brown colour.
Add the fino sherry and butter and shimmy the pan to amalgamate the sauce.
Season with pepper.
Serve straight away with the chicory salad, ladling the fino sauce over the oranges and scallops.
Back at base we decided to have a big party in which 30 lobsters got thrown into pots. Their beautiful cooked shades of red and pink never fail to delight me. Having feasted on platefuls of lobster with drawn butter ( melted) and then the next day on a lobster tagliatelle with cream and dill, then the next day on lobster rolls using sweet brioche buns and crunchy celery eventually we were just left with the shells. Not wanting to waste an ounce of their deliciousness we made lobster stock by the bucket loads. As you can imagine 30 lobster shells practically produces enough stock to fill a swimming pool. The eau d’ lobster that consumed the kitchen for that day while the simmering, reducing and cooling went on will not be a fragrance that will catch on but it was a reminder how much flavour there is to be used and that the shells should never just be chucked.
Hard to beat the excitement of having over 40 lb of lobster to eat I have to mention that we even caught some of them ourselves. It has taken me 30 years to get my sea legs and even now they can be a little shaky at times however nothing was going to stop me from going out on the water to pull up dinner from the traps. The season around here is just beginning and a lot of the lobsters have just moulted so their shells are fairly soft. However their claws are still in fine fettle.
Lobsters generally have to be over 7 years old before they are big enough to legally eat, every single one has to be carefully measured (or they may get you with their claws)! It is also illegal in these waters for a non-commercial lobster fisherman to take out a female with eggs or if she is particularly large. You can sex the lobster by looking at its swimmerets on the underside of the tale. The females are generally wider apart to leave room for the eggs and the last set closest to the head are soft rather than the males which are stereotypically hard.
On our first day checking our traps the excitement was high. Even though every single one we pulled out of the water was empty, it was still a thrill to heave it into the boat. We did catch a piece of seaweed though. The next day our bounty was much more impressive, 2 pieces of seaweed, 3 small crabs, 2 small mackerel which I made into civiche and…… 3 lobsters !!!
Locals assured me the best way to eat lobster was simply boiled or steamed and served with drawn butter to dip the fleshy chunks into and a few bottles of Ipswich Ale to drink. We followed their advice to the letter and it was a taste sensation along with the roast baby beetroot and goats cheese salad, some home made ‘slaw and of course a potato salad. To finish an American flag pavlova!
Having devoured practically all the flesh we were left with a mound of shells which got thrown into the stockpot.
For this weeks postcard I give you the recipe for a lobster bisque which we made from the stock.
Serves 6 as a starter
3 lobster shells
a few stalks of parsley
1 tbs black peppercorns
2 large tomatoes
1 white onion peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
1 glass of dry white wine
1 pinch of saffron
200 ml single cream
6 tsp finely chopped cooked lobster meat
2 tsp finely chopped parsley or chives
Put all the lobster shells in a big pot and fill with coldwater so it covers the shells add the parsley stalks , peppercorns and 1 of the tomatoes chopped in half.
Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for 20 – 30 mins.
If you cook it for too long the stock can become bitter.
After it has simmered for 20 -30 mins strain into another pot, discarding the shells, then put the liquid into another pot and put back on the heat to reduce by about half – you need 1 litre to make the soup.
While this liquid is reducing, briefly add the other whole tomato for about 10 seconds then remove and peel off and discard the skin and roughly chop up the flesh.
In another pan sauté the onion and garlic till sweet and soft (about 10 mins) then add the stock and the peeled tomato and saffron. Bring to the boil then take off the heat.
Blitz until really smooth, add the cream and check for seasoning.
To serve add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped lobster meat into the bottom of the bowl and pour on the hot soup, this should warm up the lobster meat enough.
Sprinkle with the finely chopped parsley and serve with some melba toasts.
Note: I find this soup quite rich so I just like a small bowl