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Over the sea to Skye..


I have just returned from the beautiful Isle of Skye, Scotland. I have been visiting the island for 22 years, and as a result feel like I know it pretty well. We stayed in Portree, the main town on the island, in a beautiful holiday home within walking distance of the harbour.

Due to a severe lack of funds we failed to sample the two most renowned restaurants on the island; Kinloch Lodge and Three Chimneys. Here the ingredients are the stars of the show and Skye has wonderful fish, seafood and meat to offer. So, instead we decided to eat some bits and pieces in some smaller restaurants and to do some cooking at home.

Top picks began with some squat lobster tails with a chilli sauce in the Old Inn in Carbost near the Talisker distillery. I was concerned that the sweet chilli sauce described might just be a squirt out of the bottle of the gelatinous, sticky stuff you get in crap thai restaurants but it was lovely, balanced by spring onion and red pepper. We wished we had ordered the large version.

We took a day trip out to Plockton on the mainland one day and ate at the Plockton Hotel for lunch. I tried my first ever shandy in the bar in this hotel many years ago, and spat it out all over my dad. Here we ate three truly great plates of food. To start the famous (really?) Plockton Smokies, well they deserve to be famous because it was lovely, smoked fish with tomatoes and cream and garlic topped off with breadcrumbs. We followed that with a perfectly light and fresh battered fish and chips and a venison stew.

Whilst in Plockton we bought a variety of fresh fish from the travelling fishmonger. It strikes me that things really are coming full circle. J’s nan used to have a fishmonger deliver to her door and it seems this gentleman is doing the same thing. This could have course have been going on out in the islands the whole time but considering the uptake and amazing reviews of MarkyMarket‘s service (delivering fresh meat and fish from Smithfield and Billingsgate) and veg boxes from the likes of Riverford and Abel&Cole perhaps this is the way forward!

We bought 4 huge scallops, a dressed crab and 2 kippers (with heads etc.) for £8.00, an absolute bargain and all local and incredibly fresh. Later that evening we made scallops with bacon and white wine, followed by an old favourite of crab and chilli linguine. I felt so relaxed and happy, in a charming kitchen cooking fish which had (I hope) come out of the sea earlier that day.

We ended up giving the kippers to my dad for his birthday (they won’t buy fish from supermarkets and their only fishmonger went bust a year ago so now they only eat fish that my dad has caught – hippies), and my apologies lie with all the passengers on the 14.01 from Glasgow to Birmingham on Saturday just gone.

All in all the trip was all I had hoped for, we left Scotland feeling at ease and rested, all the more ready for the challenges to come in September! (sorry, I’m already excited about the prospect of becoming a student)

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Thoughts on moving forwards..


I have been neglecting my double saucepan.

It is my favourite, most precious bit of kitchen kit, and I have just not been using it enough…but hopefully that is about to change. When I leave my office today that will be for good and in September I will be back at King’s College London training to teach kids about books that have been made into films they will complain about having to watch, never mind trying to get them to read the longer, wordier hard copies!

In between I’m having a summer holiday, a month off to curd and preserve and potter about in the kitchen and garden to my heart’s content. I also want to take myself to the Guildhall Library to do some research on British preserves, watch this space for some historical food thoughts soon.

So, double saucepan, you had better get ready

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10 yellow jars..

Helen of Food Stories fame held a Big Lunch in Peckham on Sunday. A fab idea, and in aid of Maggie’s, an amazing charity who provide, information, support and lots more to Cancer patients and their families. She had requested through the magic means of the internet donations of food, drink, and everything else one would need to hold an event like this!

She had a huge response, and was given everything from ex-student halls’ cutlery to a KitchenAid, along with loads of booze, food and other bits and pieces.

I thought I would pass a few jars of curd her way and at the same time this gave me the opportunity to take some photos of the process. The labels have not made the final cut, and I will be posting soon with examples of the ones we have decided on!

Zest and juice of loads of lemons

almost done..

treasured double saucepan (more than 75 years old)

hot jars from the oven

labelled

boxed and off to Peckham we go!

(the 2 pink ones are Pink Grapefruit…not P.G. Fruit as J suggested)

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Up north for photos, pubs and pizzas

I popped back up north on Saturday, mostly to see that pair grinning up at the camera above. It was sunny by the time I’d made it to my parent’s house in a tiny town in Cheshire and I had started thinking about cooking.

My mum has an image of herself as a terrible cook, the tale of her Lemon Chicken (with red wine as she had forgotten to buy white) does no favours in dispelling this idea. She isn’t however, a ‘terrible’ cook – she just finds it rather boring and associates it with housewives. The idea of being chained to a stove permeated her youth and her vehemently feminist sentiments cried out against those supposed post-war beacons of British cuisine, Fanny and John Craddock. I may never have learnt to cook in the slapdash, experimental way that I do if it wasn’t for her leaving my sister and I to entertain ourselves in her kitchen and then at my Nan’s as she let us run riot with her cookbooks. However, she does make excellent lasagne and has the same obsessive relationship with vinegar as I do and I reckon that’s alright. The one big error on my mum’s part when it comes to food is her dislike on cheese, which she shares with my Nan.

I made the decision therefore, after some deliberation and a little inspiring trot through photos from my (drunk) meal at Pizza East the weekend before, to cook pizza – giving my mum a rare opportunity to eat it before somebody with better taste put cheese on top!

My newly enfranchised sister made a good job of driving me to Hall Farm Shop and we went about gathering ingredients. I have made pizza dough a hundred times, honing the recipe over years of kneading but I have always used bog-standard white flour. So, standing in the aisle looking at the paintbox coloured Allinson flours I decided to have a go at Wholemeal pizza.

The wholemeal flour took much more kneading than white flour dough which seems like an obvious thing to say, but I didn’t think it through to begin with and had to add a littlemore warm water in the end to bring the dough together. But, all that pummelling was not in vain as I was rewarded with a lovely springy, silky dough to shape into discs.

I also made a very basic sweet tomato sauce with a dab of chilli, grated carrots, red onion, garlic, celery, 2 tins of tomatoes and a glug or three of white wine.

I had all the toppings on mine, as I am neither vegetarian (my lovely photographer and friend responsible for these images is) nor a cheese-hater, our selection included:

Bacon, mushrooms, courgettes, red onion, rocket, peppers, red onion marmalade, mozzarella and grated cheddar.

The finished articles were as so:

To feed 4:

500g wholemeal bread flour

6-8 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 Tbsp flakey sea salt

1/2 Tbsp caster sugar

1 x 7g pack of yeast

325ml warm water (plus some extra)

Mix the oil, water, sugar and yeast in a jug, leave for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt onto a flat dry surface or into a big big bowl.

Re-mix the liquid and pour into a well in the centre of the flour mix.

Start bringing the dough together with a fork, then slowly begin to knead pulling all of the flour into the dough.

Knead for 10 – 15 minutes.

Leave in a covered bowl in a warm place until double in size.

Knock back (punch the dough) and knead again until you have a springy, silky consistency.

Shape, top and bake for about 20 minutes at 180C.

Then we went to the pub and drank ale and marvelled at how pretty these home pickled eggs behind the bar are! And 6 free range eggs for a quid from the pub’s own chickens! Bargain.

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Fruity experiments

I’ve made a lot of Lemon Curd recently, partly for product photos, also for an afternoon tea at The Shed and  I’ll shortly be making some for a Big Lunch in Peckham. It suddenly dawned on me that I haven’t tried any new flavours for quite some time!

So, inspired by a thank-you present of Maldon Smoked Salt several weeks ago that I was yet to open, I set to thinking at work yesterday..

I’ve written before about about my wish to create new, seasonal curds, for the quality of fruit but also because it somehow feels like a more natural way of existing. So, taking advantage of the abundance of stunning summer fruit which is currently available I was led swiftly to summer berries.

Blueberries to be exact.

With smoked salt.

And the other ingredients a person would add to curd (butter, sugar, egg).

It doesn’t sound right, in fact, it sounds really a bit wrong.

However, somehow the sweet, and simultaneously bitter edge of the blueberries when cooked with the salt and pushed through a sieve creates a lip-smacking spread which, though quite American in flavour, is really quite lush.

I think I’ll have a play with some Grapefruit and Pineapple combinations later in the week. I’m also contemplating the addition of some candied lemon flesh to the Blueberry curd to give it a bit more kick.

What is the opinion on these left of centre curds, I know there are creative people like Anarchy in a Jar doing it with jam in Brooklyn, but what happens to our opinions and feeling about these combinations when the flavours are muddled with dairy as well as sugar?

Comments/ideas/requests all very much appreciated…

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A rather royal picnic

This time last week I was invited to a picnic. A simple request, you may presume, and a lovely one at that.

However, as a result of the HRR (Henley Royal Regatta) Steward’s Enclosure dress code, absolute panic ensued! Now, I wouldn’t consider myself slutty, in fact I can be quite demure on occasions (until I smudge eyeliner/rip dress/move from a seated postion) but I do not own a single item of clothing which falls below my bloody knee! Well apart from trousers. And they’re not allowed either.

A quick scrambling around in my most fashionable of friend’s wardrobe and a suitable vintage dress was discovered, it fell below my knee, and I liked it. The correct length is aided by the fact that said friend is a good 8 inches taller than I am!

Suitably attired I got on with looking forward to the picnic hosted by Uyen and Simon (fernandez&leluu), both of whom I had met at their wonderful supperclub the previous Friday.

The picnic was fabulous, sitting by the river we enjoyed the following:

Tomato and Mozzarella salad, Oysters, the BFG of prawns, copious amounts of Samphire, Donald Russell Salmon, Russian salad, moreish tuna sashimi and a gigantic selection of cheese several of which I thought married perfectly atop a sweet onion Ryvita.

These new varieties of Ryvita were the reason we (myself, Laurafleur, Meemalee, theLondonFoodie, GreedyDiva, SuLin and Fernandez&Leluu) were there, to taste and experiment. Being totally honest, I’m a Ryvita buyer, it’s a brilliant receptacle and vehicle to so many other great things; Hummus, cream cheese, generally all things spreadable…..equally, the new types available are very good. They include Black Pepper, Pumpkin Seed and Oat, Sweet Onion (unanimously the favourite on Saturday) and the Thins.

We also had a lovely dessert of Pears poached in Champagne to which I would lovely the recipe…hint hint!…(Also, Luiz – they are verging on being better than sex!), lemon curd fairy cakes and lots of lush fruit from Broadway Market.

The day was really very enjoyable, lots of Champagne, great food (as is to be expected when Simon and Uyen have a hand in it!), gorgeous Cornishware plates and bowls to eat off (see top photo), outfit spotting and minimal race watching all topped off with a sleepy journey back to London through the countryside. My pictures are pretty rubbish, as usual, so I will just pop a few in to give you a taste for the day!

Thanks again to Uyen, Simon, the girls at WildCard and Ryvita.

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Taste Part Three (and a little hazy)

Following the tasting of several yummy vodkas, gins, a cider and the estimable rose coloured Lychee Martini served to me by tehbus at Bea’s of Bloomsbury I was a little tipsy.

I had eaten many mini-meals (professionally known as tasters/ings) but somehow this wasn’t enough to combat the haziness, so I trotted off to soak it all up with some Bentley’s Fish and Chips before joining the lovely Ms Shed from the Shed and Foreman and Field at the Nyetimber stand for a chat about their English Sparkling Wine.

The first mention for Nyetimber must be for the stand – it was absolutely stunning, decorated with pots of flowers and fresh herbs, representing the bouquet of the wine. I was lucky enough to arrive at the same time as Cherie Spriggs who is the Head Winemaker for Nyetimber, so we sat down to a glass of their 2005 Cuvee and I was educated!

Cherie, very kindly explained to myself, Nicola and Catherine and Gavin Hanly of Hot Dinners, the process of making Nyetimber. She took us through the stages; from tasting the grapes and setting the date for harvest to the adding and removal of the yeast. Known as disgorgement, this is very clever, done by turning the bottles upside down and freezing the sediment so that it pops out when you right the bottle. Interestingly Cherie also described the freedom you have in England to break some of the slightly archaic rules of the Champagne region, such as the quota of yield from the pressed grapes. All of this is very new to me, I am by no means a wine buff – despite my enjoyment of it regularly.

We drank the Nyetimber Cuvee 2005 and it was delightful. I would proudly present this as an English Sparkling, as an excellent wine which should be served independently, rather than as a lesser alternative to Champagne. Prosecco has long been marketed as a ‘cheaper’ version of Champagne but I must insist that this label not be applied to Nyetimber as it is in its own right a lovely fizz.

So, having greatly enjoyed the company of Nicola, Cherie and the Hot Dinners team I took myself home, rather unsteadily to say the least!

Thanks again to @Mathilde Cuisine, @LibbyEAndrews  and @GloriousFoods for my really interesting and enjoyable day at Taste.

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