Category Archives: Recipes

FOR A’ THAT – A review of The Big Burns Supper, Dumfries Jan 24th – 26th 2014

Last weekend I attended the Big Burns Supper 2014, a festival held annually in the pleasant town of Dumfries to celebrate Scotland’s national poet.

devorgilla 1

According to a Scots poet of a later generation, Edwin Muir, the charm of Robert Burns is that he can be all things to all men. Burns represents, he claimed, “to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious”. The sub-text  is, whatever you want your own personal Burns to be, he will be.

The appeal of Burns to the Scots and to their considerable diaspora is easy to understand. He wrote not in highfalutin English but in Scots, for the Scots. He was not afraid to sprinkle his prose and verse with dialect words and phrases. Much of the stuff he wrote has populist appeal, as witness his masterly reworking of a limping old ballad that’s now sung around the world at the turn of the year and been recorded by Bing Crosby, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M and Kenny G, to name but a handful of those who’ve tried their hand at ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

On the flight to Scotland, I allowed myself to speculate as to how the Scots should package Burns to widen the appeal, particularly non-Caledonians. Easy, I decided. Here we have a guy who was anti-authoritarian, even seditious. A convivial soul who liked nothing better than hanging around with his pals and downing a few scoops. A graffiti artist, too. Better yet, he looked like the young Elvis, wrote like Shakespeare and put it about like Sven Goran-Ericksen The Swedish Love Machine. Someone should make the movie. But please… spare us Mel Gibson.

At which point we touched down in Glasgow. Half an hour later I had a pristine, ten miles on the clock Arnold Clark-supplied Opel Astra under me and we were winging our way down the M74, destination Dumfries where the 2014 Big Burns Supper festival was to kick off on the morrow. Having time to spare I got off the motorway north of Moffat and drove past enthralling scenery to show Ann, my wife, the Devil’s Beef Tub, a deep, dramatic, swirling hole in the hills. Thereafter, we retraced our steps before meandering down the scenic A702, stopping for lunch in the well-kept town of Thornhill, birthplace of mega-talented and drop-dead-gorgeous Scottish singer, Emily Smith.

In Dumfries, a place I have only happy memories of, there is a camera obscura, a device that’s a precursor of photography. When the weather permits, it shows you a panoramic image of the town on the inner wall of the building. The custodian was, I remember, always at pains to point out the swans on the River Nith; also The Crichton – “Yin’s the biggest lunatic asylum in Scotland”. I was amused but awed to find that this was the location of our hotel for this trip. On arrival, I found the shadows of the past had been vanquished and that the extensive grounds now host the Royal Infirmary, a business park, two college campuses and The Aston, a fine hotel housing a Marco Pierre White restaurant where we dined with Rosemary and Andrea from the organising team of the Big Burns Supper, who outlined the concept to me.

The festival, first held in the town in 2012, aims to celebrate, via a programme of concerts, comedy, cabaret and community participation, the poet’s life and work. Burns, who died at 37 spent but the last four years of his life here, yet produced fully a quarter of his output during that period. A spiegeltent, a large travelling show tent, constructed in wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass, had been erected in the town centre and this was to be the core venue for the festival’s programme. There would be a procession through the town lit by 1,000 lantern. 5,000 individual Burns suppers – haggis, neaps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) would be served up over the course of the event.

Whisky 1

After dinner, we wasted no times in getting into the festival spirit, perhaps literally, by attending an event titled ‘Whisky for Dafties’, an introduction to the delights of Scottish single malt, hosted in robust fashion by comedian/whiskey fanatic Alan Anderson.

Session 1

Afterwards we repaired to The Globe, Dumfries’ oldest pub and Burns’ local where an impromptu music session was underway in the compact ‘Snug’ and a more formal one in ‘The Room’. We opted for informality. The Globe’s manager Jane Brown, herself a devotee of the poet (and President of the worldwide Robert Burns Society) kindly showed us the upstairs bedroom where our hero enjoyed assignations with the Globe’s blonde barmaid Anna Park. Burns’ other amusement while at his favourite ‘howff’ was to inscribe poems on the windows with a diamond-tipped pen. Some of these poems may still be seen.

Ellisland 1

Next day we visited Ellisland Farm, Burns’ first home in the region, a few miles outside Dumfries, where curator Les Byers, impressive custodian of the poet’s lore and legend gave us more inside track. Dumfries, he advised, was in those days a prosperous, bustling town, more important even than Glasgow as the hub of the lucrative trade in tobacco, a commodity imported through the nearby port of Carsethorn wherefrom, in 1851 alone, more than 21,000 people emigrated to Canada, The States, Australia and New Zealand.

Rockliffe 1

After taking leave of Les, we headed for the sea ourselves, seizing the opportunity of a break in the wet weather to walk on the beach at Rockcliffe and ramble up and over to Kippford via the Jubilee Path, something I’d done many times before.

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Later we attended Le Haggis, an event that fully justified its billing as as “the sexiest show in the festival”, a ninety minute extravaganza involving music, song, cabaret and an amazing display of dexterity, fitness and physique by a pair of burlesque acrobats. In the interim, the band, fronted by a fabulous girl singer (who sings, as I was informed, in the local community choir) brought real meaning to ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’, a song more frequently maladroitly performed either as a turgid dirge or as a jolly knees-up. Another performance that nearly had the tent crashing down on us was a vibrant rendition, by a lassie garbed in a leather basque and ‘sussies’ of Kirsty MacColl’s ‘In These Shoes’.

We attended the lantern procession, a truly amazing sight. More than 30 local groups and organisations took part in the parade, accompanied by several floats and huge puppets. Kudos to the Manchester (another town dear to my heart) Samba School whose rhythmic momentum, aided by a brace of pipe bands, drove the whole thing along. Afterwards, we ducked the late night Roller Disco “I’m not comfortable without my own skates, hehe.” “Yeah, right”, says my wife.

Dick Gaughan 1

Highlight of the next day was, for me, the live performance in the Spiegeltent, of Dick Gaughan, a master interpreter of both traditional and contemporary songs and a guitar genius, whom I first met when I was co-hosting a folk club in England back when Burns was a lad (well, not quite). A dish of the obligatory haggis and its customary trappings fortified us for pints, first in The Ship, my own ‘local’ back in the days when my acquaintanceship with Dumfries was more regular than it is today. The pints there are as honest as ever and the denizens still play dominoes, altogether another proper pub holding back the tide of muzak and expensive swill. Later, in the packed-to-the-rafters Globe we dissected the event with other festival attendees and learned of myriad delights we’d missed. At the end of the evening a girl we met in the street offered to walk us to the taxi rank to ensure we did not get lost, where else on earth would you get that sort of courtesy these days? Truly, Doonhamers (the inhabitants of Dumfries – I’ll explain another time) are salt of the earth.

The festival’s organisers deserve huge credit for The Big Burns Supper. I feel sure it’s an event that will, year on year, grow in stature, appealing not only to the Burns anorak, the patriot and the emigré, but to the wider body of people out there, of every race and creed, who enjoy song, dance, theatre, literature, merrymaking, the craic and just having a great time. Me, I intend coming back – for a’ that.



Homecoming Scotland 2014  In 2014, Scotland will welcome the world as we take to the global stage and celebrate our nation through a year-long series of exciting events. Complementing the Ryder Cup and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Homecoming Scotland will be a celebration of the country’s rich culture, natural beauty, active adventures and creative heritage. For more information go to: 

Accommodation  I stayed at Aston Hotel, Dumfries


Big Burns Supper

Ellisland Farm, Dumfries

Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura The Observatory, Rotchell Road Dumfries DG2 7SW


Recipes for Burns Night

Complete Works of Robert Burns 


Here’s last night’s dinner:



1. Home made ‘fettuccini’. Made  from the recipe in the Thermomix Cookbook. I was a bit amazed that it worked – their pizza dough recipe is terrible.

for 2 I used

200g doppio zero flour

1 large egg

1 tsp olive oil.

Then I followed the procedure, adjusting with 3 extra tsp, one at a time, of water to get the texture right. Next, I cling-filmed and chilled for 30 minutes.

Removing the cling-film (important this!)  I then processed the dough through my pasta machine – 3 passes wide open (6), folding once after each one. Then 1 pass each, folded, through 5, 4 and 3.  Then through the larger of the two cutters. The result was somewhat like the fettucine I’ve had in Rome – slightly thicker and wider than tagliatelle (not narrower like some of the stuff you get in packets here). Then I hung it to dry.

2. The sauce – scallions, garlic, celery and 3 chestnut mushrooms chopped very fine, then sweated in a little EV olive oil before deglazing the pan with some red wine and adding stock, basil, fresh oregano, good organic passata and seasoning to taste.

3. Young zucchini and runner beans, briefly steamed then left to sit in a small frying pan with a knob of butter and a scattering of black pepper.

I was chuffed that the zucchini, runner beans, garlic, scallions, basil and oregano came out of our garden – and I only have a tiny plot.




RECIPE Bacon ribs, cabbage and butter beans – The Big, Big Compromise

My old man and I had little in common but we did follow the same football team and we shared a love of those bits of the beast that others, especially these days, throw away. “Giblets, ribs, trotters, hearts, bring ‘em on” was our rallying cry.

My mother always cooked bacon ribs with butter beans, the dried ones which she soaked overnight in cold water. I’ve always preferred ribs with cabbage, especially at this time of year when the sweet, crisp little York cabbages are about. This week I combined the two to make a satisfying dish, the more so as the weather seems to have reverted to the stuff of winter.

The repast was given a slightly luxurious vibe by the fact that I had a one-owner, low mileage bottle of Prosecco left over from The Sunday Times ‘Sunday’ tasting the day before.

2 sheets bacon ribs, each cut into 3 parts

½ bottle cheap white wine

Dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Herbs – I used a small handful of thyme, marjoram and rosemary

2 tins butter beans (in water, no salt)

1 small York cabbage, cut in 25mm thick slices

1 tbsp freshly-grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

Half fill a large lidded pan with cold water. Place ribs in pan and boil/steam them for 15 minutes. Drain, discarding water, return ribs to pan. Pour wine over ribs and add a dash of Worcestershire sauce and the herbs of your choice.

Continue cooking until the ribs are approaching how you like them – some love ribs that fall off the bones, others like a bit of ‘bounce’ in the texture.  Be careful not to let the stock evaporate – add a little more wine or water if necessary.

Add the butter beans and cook for 5 minutes. Pile the cabbage over the ribs and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes, tops. Drain, reserving the wine/stock. Keep ribs and cabbage hot while you blend/purée the butter beans with a little of the wine/stock. Stir in the parmesan and serve.

I like to think my mum and dad would have approved. Though the idea of throwing wine over a  peasant cut like bacon ribs would have seemed extravagant to two people who’d lived through the 30′s depression.

Serves 4-6

BLOG – variations on a sweet-and-sour theme

I cooked my first sweet and sour dish in 1984. Pork, of course. The recipe came from Ken Hom’s Encyclopaedia of Chinese Cookery Techniques, a cookery book classic and one I bought the minute it came out that year, on foot of Ken’s successful BBC TV series. I still refer to this book on a regular basis.

Ken’s recipe for the sweet-and-sour sauce goes:

15ml Shaosing wine or dry sherry

15ml light soy sauce

15ml finely chopped garlic

15ml finely chopped fresh ginger root

30ml tomato purée

100ml Chinkiany vinegar – or 60ml cder vinegar

50g sugar or 3 Chinese sugar slabs

225ml chicken stock

15ml cornflour dissolved in 30ml cold chicken stock

15ml sesame oil

The pork cubes are marinated for at least 30 minutes in 15ml light soy sauce, 15ml Shaosing wine or dry sherry, ½ tsp salt and a beaten egg, then drained and blotted dry, dusted with a 50/50 mix of plain flour and cornflour then deep-fried in ground nut oil in a wok for 3 minutes. The oil is drained from the wok then the sweet-and-sour sauce ingredients (minus the cornflour dissolved in stock) are heated to the boil, together with half a pineapple’s worth of chunks. Then the pork is added, together with the cornflour and a teaspoon of sesame oil.

In the text Ken warns about over-thickening, making the sauce too sweet and having it end up a day-glo red hue.

And there you have it. Sweet-and-sour, yin and yang, is all a question of balance.

Since those days, when I followed the recipe implicitly, I’ve experimented. Hallelujah Day One was when I found if I started with a base of fried finely chopped onion, ginger, garlic, tomato purée and a small pinch of five spice I could dispense with the cornflour and get a cleaner flavour, building up the sauce gradually by adding the stock a little at a time (like I do with a bolognaise sauce) Day Two came when I discovered palm sugar – after I developed an interest in cooking Thai food – gave a more subtle sweetness than granulated white.

Since then I’ve done other tweeks including: adding a little or a lot of finely chopped chilli; cooking half a lemon or lime in the sauce – the sweet element has to be adjusted to take account of this; using honey, maple syrup, even pomegranate molasses to get a different flavour/texture; adding a handful of roughly chopped fresh coriander at the last minute. Infinite variety.


Ken Hom’s Encyclopaedia of Chinese Cookery Techniques is no longer in print but if you can find one second hand, buy it.




grappa mandorla 2


Now the lavender in the garden is in bloom it’s time to make one of my favourites and certainly one of the most intriguing ice creams. Lavender ice cream, being quite perfumed, is not to everyone’s taste. That said, I love it, particularly teamed with home made aniseed cookies  or shortbread biscuits spiced up with small silvers of fresh ginger.


I got the  recipe originally  from Roger Vergé whose “Entertaining in The French Style” has long been one of my favourite books. Since I got my own ice cream maker – an Italian Nemox Gelato 1700 with a sex, shiny aluminium body and its own refrigeration unit, I’ve modified the recipe. My basic vanilla ice cream is :-


150g vanilla sugar – I keep a jar of caster sugar with 5-6 vanilla pods in it for this purpose

300 g milk – Glenisk whole organic is my preference

200g single cream

4 egg yolks

I switch on the machine; whisk all the ingredients together with a hand blender until light and foamy and then pour the mixture into the Nemox’s bowl. This machine is expensive but really does the trick. The inexpensive Magimix machines, the ones where you put the bowl into the freezer before starting, work reasonably well – I’ve had two – but are less convenient and, I’ve found, quite fragile as the plastic pegs that locate the lid tend to snap under the strain. You finish up with a brick to hold the lid down!

This particular ice cream is a fresh egg, non-custard one so needs to be eaten up pretty rapidly – not that that’s a problem in our house.

For the lavender version I substitute ordinary caster sugar, plus the flowers from 6 sprigs of lavender. I take a cupful of the sugar, combine it with the lavender and whizz in my food processor until the lavender is reduced to powder.


Currently my favourite dessert, especially when made with my own fresh-roasted Central American arabica coffee and Nardini’s Mandorla – an almond-flavoured grappa, available from the excellent Celtic Whisky Shop in Dawson Street, Dublin.

Preheat the oven to 230C.

1 handful slivered almonds

1 scoop vanilla ice cream

1 single shot espresso

1 shot Mandorla or grappa

In a flat dish, toast the almonds until they turn a pale-to-mid brown. Place a scoop of ice cream in each bowl (or, preferably, an elegant glass).  Add a shot of espresso and one of the Mandorla or plain grappa. Garnish with the toasted almonds.



Elderflower ‘Champagne’ and other delights by LESLIE WILLIAMS

Elderflowers, those creamy sprays of pungent flowers visible in every park and hedgerow, are perhaps the most abundant and useful of all wild foods and we are nearing the end of what has been a bumper season. Dublin’s elderflowers have begun to fade but many trees in cooler parts of the country (e.g. Wicklow) are still flowering enthusiastically and you should still be able to harvest in parts of Dublin for the next week or so.

Elderflowers turn into Elderberries in the Autumn, a fruit that is only marginally useful so don’t feel bad about picking the flowers. Besides, you could never pick a tree clean even if you tried. There are some other white-flowering trees in bloom right now but the elder aroma is so distinctive (a sort of spiky, aromatic, stalky lemon scent) you should not have any trouble picking the correct tree.

Elderflowers are at their best on sunny, dry days but even those picked between the showers will work fine. The elderflower scent is strong but is quickly destroyed if heated for long, so do not over-cook the flowers. Simple immersion in hot water for a few hours is enough to impart their flavour and aroma. As well as the recipes below you can infuse elderflowers in oil or in vinegar (as you would a strong herb such as tarragon); add them to a tisane, to salads or to gooseberry recipes (a fruit with which it pairs well) – try in gooseberry fool, sorbet or even jam.

Elderflower Fritters
Simply dip elderflower sprays into batter (plain flour diluted to a thick cream consistency with beer or sparkling water), and deep fry in very hot oil. Sprinkle with caster sugar and eat hot with a scoop of ice cream or sorbet.

Elderflower Sorbet
Mix ten flower sprays into 500ml of hot sugar syrup (half sugar, half boiling water), add the rind and juice of 2 lemons, and allow to cool. The following day, strain and freeze the sorbet in an ice cream maker. Alternatively still-freeze, and remove every 40 minutes to beat out the ice crystals.

Elderflower “Champagne”

The naturally occurring yeast in freshly picked flowers means you should not require any additional yeast. The sooner the flowers go from tree to saucepan, the less likelihood you will need to add your own yeast.

Note: This “champagne” produces 2-4% alcohol depending on how much sugar is converted.

5 litres hot water
3.5 litres cold water
5 lemons, juice and rind
(use un-waxed or organic if available)
1kg sugar
2 tbs cider vinegar
30 heads of elderflowers
(Makes approx 10 Litres)
Equipment: Large Saucepan or Plastic Tub, Muslin, Jug, Funnel, Flip-top Bottles (or plastic PET bottles).

Grate the rind from the lemons into the saucepan, add the juice along with any bits of lemon (no need to remove the pips). Some recipes recommend you add the chopped lemons skins also, I think it adds a slight lemon pith flavour (which you may or may not wish).

Add the sugar and pour on 5 litres of boiling water from the kettle, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Next add the cold water, the cider vinegar (Llewellyn’s is good) and the freshly picked flower heads.

Cover with muslin to keep out the flies and remove to a cool place (I use the garage). Check after 2-3 days to see if the yeast has begun to work (it should make a noise not unlike rice crispies). If you can hear no crackle you should add a pinch of yeast dissolved in warm water (ordinary bread yeast works for me).

After 4-5 days of crackling the liquid will have darkened, dip in a cup and check that there there is a light fizz. Scoop out most of the elder flowers with a slotted spoon and strain through the muslin into sterilised bottles using a funnel. Leave to mature for at least 2 weeks before opening; a portion of the remaining sugar will turn to alcohol in bottle increasing the fizz and the alcohol content.

To sterilise bottles simply heat in the oven or fill with boiling water for a few minutes. I use old lemonade and Grolsch bottles or alternatively use sturdy screw-top wine or mineral bottles or even plastic PET fizzy drink bottles. Serve chilled.

Elderflower Cordial
I use Imperial measurements below as this is an adaptation of old family lemonade recipe passed to me by my Aunt Beryl!

3 Lemons (Juice and Rind)
3 pints (1.7ltrs) boiling Water
3 lbs (1.5kg) Sugar
2 oz (50g) Citric Acid (buy or order from a Pharmacy)
20-30 Elder Flower Heads

Add the grated zest of 3 lemons to a saucepan, followed by their juice and the citric acid. Pour on the boiling water and once fully dissolved, add 20-30 heads of elderflowers. Try to remove most of the stalks as too many will give a slightly bitter flavour. Stir well and leave to cool overnight.

Scoop out most of the flowers, pressing them down to keep as much cordial as possible. Sterilize some glass bottles by filling them with boiling water for a few minutes and strain in the lemonade through a funnel.

Dilute the cordial with fizzy or still water and add lemon or mint for extra zing. Keep the cordial in a cool place and refrigerate once you open a bottle.

Leslie Williams

stuffed peppers

RECIPE My stuffed peppers

Simple, tasty and one of my favourite dishes at the minute, I suppose because they are colourful and because the fresh oregano on the patio has recovered after a hard winter.

4 large red or green bell peppers

8-12 cherry tomatoes

16 leaves fresh oregano or  1 tsp dried

3-4 portobello mushrooms, diced (or a mix of reconstituted dried porcini and button mushrooms)

100g hard cheese (I’ve used Cheddar,Comté, Gruyere, Taleggio), shaved with a potato peeler

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Serves 8

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Halve the peppers, lengthways and carefully scoop out any white pith from the inside. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and simmer the pepper halves for 10-15 minutes. Remove and drain. You can do this well in advance if you like.

Brush the skin of the peppers with a little olive oil. Put in a shallow oven proof dish or baking tray, Drop 2-3 cherry tomatoes, a dessertspoon of the mushroom mixture and a couple of oregano leaves into the cavity. Drizzle a little olive oil over each half pepper and season with a little sea salt – at the moment I’m using a truffle salt from significant Australian chef Tetsuya which really perks up the dish. Pile shavings of the cheese on top, add a couple of twists of black pepper and place in the oven. Cook for approx 15 minutes. If you then turn the oven down to 150 C and place the dish/tray on the oven floor they will keep warm but won’t spoil.

One half pepper makes a good starter or as a side dish to a main course. Or, with scrambled egg, a pleasant light lunch. You can eat them hot or cold, which is why I make more than I need for one meal.



RECIPE Pollo alla Cacciatora

Despite my 12.5% Italian ancestry and my lifelong adherence to the Azzurri I was a bit hesitant about including an Italian dish with people like Italian Foodie around the site. Still, Pollo alla Cacciatora is a great cold weather comfort casserole and a favourite that I cook regularly, so here goes…

Cacciatore’ means ‘hunter’. All over Tuscany and Umbria in summer you see conventions of these guys, clad in bright waistcoats and mad bearskin hats, and mingling with the backpackers, Americans-doing-Europe and Japanese happy-snappers. Everything I read about this dish tells me that, given a commonality of chicken, bell peppers, tomatoes and wine, there are umpteen variations so I’m no reason to suspect that mine is not authentic.

You can use any lidded casserole, ideally one large enough to put all the chicken into one layer. I use a Portuguese cataplana, a two-part copper/steel dish (imagine 2 woks clipped together!) of which I have 2 or 3. It enables you to brown the chicken and sweat the vegetables on top of the stove and you don’t need to transfer everything to an oven proof casserole. In addition the air-tightness of the cataplana helps preserve the rich flavours during the cooking process.

1 chicken, jointed. At least free range and as righteous as your budget allows.

1 medium onion, finely chopped.

1 bunch small carrots, topped, tailed and scraped.

1 stick celery, chopped.

3-5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine

1 bell pepper, red, green or a mix, cut into chunks

5-6 large flat mushrooms

350 ml good passata (or a can of chopped tomatoes)

350 ml red wine

handful of herbs – at this time of year (March) I use sage, rosemary and fresh oregano from my garden.

salt and pepper to season. I’d recommend truffle salt for this purpose if you have it.

Serves 4

Pre-heat the oven to 220 C. Brown the chicken. I usually leave the skin on but you can remove it if you wish. Remove from heat and reserve. Sweat the onions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic in the chicken fat (or olive oil) just until the onion starts to change colour. Put in the lidded casserole and place the mushrooms on top i one layer. Top with the chicken, skin, side up. Deglaze the frying pan with the wine and add the passata. Cook for one minute then pour over the dish. Cook in oven for approximately 1 hour. Remove, take the lid off, turn the oven down to 190 C and return the casserole to the oven. Cook for a further 15 minutes with the lid off to brown the chicken and thicken the sauce.

Serve with your choice of saute potatoes, mash, boiled rice or fried polenta and a green vegetable.

Hake with fennel purée

RECIPE – Hake and scallops with a red pepper and fennel purée and grilled aubergines


Last night, herself brought home glistening fresh hake and “some scallops, for a treat”. Four whacking great kings, as it happened. Treat indeed.

Foraging in the fridge for potential accompaniments I came across a bulb of fennel, complete with fronds that looked like it could do with eating up. From the fruit bowl, a pristine red pepper winked at me. Improvisation, something I do a lot of, became the buzzword. I chopped both into small pieces, added a teaspoon of fennel seeds to get more oomph – a good tip, this – and boiled them in a light stock. Then, out with the stick blender, whizz them into a purée and back on a low heat. Taste. Add a little salt, must have been a very light stock. More blending, needs to be smoother. Taste again. Hmmm… not quite there. “Cooking on my feet”, I added a tiny splash of Cognac and a slight swirl of cream. Oh yes, joy.

While this was going on I was fettling aubergines on the ridged griddle. I always cut them on the bias into slices, looks pretty and, after experimenting, I’m convinced it gives a nicer texture and better flavour. Got the griddle raging hot. Put the slices on and sprinkled some cumin and some truffle salt on the topside, gave them a minute or so then drizzled a little olive oil over. When the underneath showed dark brown char-lines (3-4 mins) I turned them over and anointed the slices with more cumin, salt and oil. Turn them back and forth a couple of times, you can get a nice lattice effect with the charring if you want. As soon as they were cooked through I put the slices into a low oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile the matchstick chips were pirouetting nicely in the Actifry (see review here), aided and abetted by a tablespoon of goose fat.

The hake was lightly floured and then pan-fried 2-3 mins per side. The griddle sorted the scallops a treat, lovely caramelisation, two minutes tops. Re-heated the purée, brought it altogether and plated up.

What’s that? Oh yes, there are peas in the piccy. Yes, petit pois (frozen) with a heap of chopped garden mint, a little butter and a grind of black pepper. Because I thought the palette would be improved by a touch of green and surprise, surprise, I didn’t have any ‘samfer’ to hand.


This repast was accompanied a treat by Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling 2008, a Clare Valley superstar and one of my favourite wines.


4 hake fillets

4 king scallops

flour, pepper and salt to dust hake

oil for frying (olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed to choice)


1 large aubergine cut on the bias into 20mm slices

truffle or sea salt

powdered cumin

extra virgin olive oil for the purée (which can be made in advance)


1 large bulb fennel, finely chopped

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp fennel seeds

dash of cognac

1 tbsp single cream

2 cupfuls water or light stock


Something green!

Serves 4. Instructions in the text above.

Pork in milk

RECIPE – Fillet of Pork in Milk


Sometimes my cooking gets into a rut and I have to shake myself out of it. When people come to dinner I tend to rely on the ‘tried and trusted’. Sometimes, though ‘tried and trusted’ morphs into ‘tired and disgusted’ (with myself, for my lack of effort). Last weekend , between waiting for FF to be annihilated and the hapless Greens to be composted, I placed a stack of cookbooks beside my favourite chair and browsed them, one by one. This idea, the result of that exercise, is a compound of Marcela Hazan and River Café, both rooted in Italian tradition. The recipe and method is pretty much Me.

The combination of milk and pork sounds unlikely but, believe me, it’s delicious. The addtion of lemon zest curdles the milk slightly and what you get is nutty, brown nuggets in the sauce.

1 medium-sized pork fillet

3 slim leeks, washed and cut into approx 12cm pieces

2-3 red onions, peeled and cut into quarters lengthways

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Milk (ideally whole milk)

Zest of a lemon

Sprig of sage, sprig of rosemary

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 220 C

Season the pork and sear briefly in a dry hot skillet or ridged griddle pan. Remove and place in a cast iron baking dish (I used a large Le Creuset). Surround with the leeks and onions and pour in the milk until it comes half way up the pork. Add the lemon zest and the sage and rosemary. Bring the milk to the boil then

Place in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove the pork and allow to rest. Return the dish to the stove top and boil briefly to reduce and thicken slightly. Scrape any brown residue from the sides or base of the dish back into the sauce. Slice the meat, either thinly or into medallions and serve with the vegetables, sauce and either mash or sauté potatoes.