It was Crackers!

For many many years, I have made my own Christmas crackers, my Aunt originally supplied the bits that go pop, I made paper hats and filled them with suitable gifts and jokes, in latter years such things as small bottles of perfume, after shave or miniatures of whiskey, gin or the like.

This year was going to be different, after all we were going to be in our Scottish Castle or Hunting Lodge, so decided to splurge. Well almost. This time last year, I bought ( albeit on sale ) crackers from that Iconic, favourite restaurant The Wolseley. So 6 crackers in a box, cost £25, so I was expecting something a little special! But it was not to be, standard paper hat, standard joke and a rather paltry kitchen ‘Thing’. Very disappointed! Experiment not to be repeated, but I still have 21 of them left !

With us was a Bubble, the willowy Brunette, who even on Christmas Eve and on Boxing Day went for an ice cold swim, not sure where, but open water swimming ! Brrr too cold for me even to dip my toe in !

So, we dressed for dinner, had Buck’s Fizz ( too much) played card games and the like, along with opening presents, this takes a while as well as real presents, there are silly ones and they all have to be opened in turn and by guessing contents. ( they come with obscure clues).

This year, as we were going to be elsewhere, I made eco-friendly gift bags, +/- 72 of them! But actually easier wrapping than with paper! They were for 12 people I hasten to add.

And then it was time for dinner. I do get a bit carried away in the kitchen, just too many things I want to try!

We had assorted nibbles for starters, with an Avocado Shot, with prawn and crispy bacon, a mini sausage roll, a Pig in a blanket, baby new potatoes wrapped in Parma Ham and smoked salmon rolls filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese served on Rye bread circles.For our main course, I did Salmon Coulibiac. Which is basically Salmon en croute. I always use Filo pastry for this and fortunately I live near several Middle Eastern Grocery stores, which always sell it ( frozen) as it a main component of many Middle Eastern desserts.

It is so easy to prepare in advance. Simply defrost the pastry, melt lots of butter and be ready to smear each sheet that you use with a generous layer. I used about 8 sheets, for a side of salmon.

Hard boil a few eggs and chop them up, quickly cook some spinach and drain. ( One can also add cooked rice and chopped cooked mushrooms).

To assemble. Lay the Salmon ( no skin ) on the pastry, put on a layer of chopped eggs and a layer of spinach , and wrap the salmon up in a neat parcel .

Cover with cling film and refrigerate until ready to cook. The butter layer will stop the pastry becoming wet.

Remove from refrigerator about 45 minutes before cooking to bring to room temperature and then bake at about 200 C for about 30- 40 minutes. The pastry will be golden brown and very flaky and the salmon will be done.

This I served with Hassleback potatoes, green beans and a Beurre Blanc, made with champagne.

And for dessert? That is for the next instalment.

Dashing through the snow!

Well if we had been in Scotland, we might have had snow, instead we are incarcerated in a very Wet London. At least we are not flooded as are parts of England, not far from here, but our golf course is closed Waterlogged ( and yes in principle we can still play golf).

So I went overboard with the Sausage rolls and the mince pies, himself with the Oysters Rockefeller, what else can one do, when CHRISTMAS IS CANCELLED?

My fall back position is to cook. Once upon a time not so many year ago (11 actually) when I got kicked out of India, I returned to the UK alone and for the next three weeks, I cooked.

And so here we are again, not alone, but almost.

Sausage rolls, those very English delights. I find English Sausage meat really very bland, when we lived in Texas I used Jimmy Deans, Breakfast sausage, it was very tasty, especially the “Hot” version. I have often wondered what went into their Sausage and now I know! Sometimes it is better not to know!

I sent Himself on a mission to buy sausage meat, which he duly did, and I proceeded to make my sausage rolls, the first lot, I mixed, the meat with caramelised onions and Dijon mustard. Umm OK but still on the bland side. The second batch I added some English Mustard powder, getting there, but still not the taste that I want. A project for the future, methinks.

Onto Mince pies. I am not a great fan of mince pies. But what are they?

Mince Pies originate from the Middle Ages, when crusaders came from the Middle East with many different spices, which were then mixed with meat and became a savoury pie, served especially around Christmas time. ( Presumably, the spices helped preserve the meat and as they were also expensive, used for a special occasion, like Christmas). It was made into a long shape to represent a manger, even sometimes with a crib on the top.

Over centuries it turned from being a savoury pie to a sweet one, though not quiet clear as to why and the shape also changed. Still today, it is made with dried fruits and beef suet, although there are vegetarian suet equivalent these days.

My very first cookery lesson, when I was about 11, was to make mincemeat. I dreamt about it all night long and then promptly threw up ( is that why I’m not a fan? Could be! And I do not make my own to this day !)

Anyway today, it is so easy to buy Mince Pies ready made, from the very good, to the really nasty ones, with the fillings made up with god alone what ! But why buy when you can make.

I use shortcrust pastry, and again, this can be bought ready made, but if you have a food processor, it is so easy to make. When I was at school, my mate could not make pastry, she always had hot hands and it just didn’t work, but as I said today, with a food processor, even those with hot hands can make pastry.

For a really decadent pastry, along with a food processor you will need

  • 2Cups /260 grams plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup/ 2 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 150 grms cold butter, cut into chunks
  • 6 tablespoons cream mixed with an egg yolk.

Simply, put the dry ingredients along with the butter into the food processor, blitz on high for a few moments until you hear the butter stop clonking around. Switch OFF.

Make sure your liquid is ready to go, and keep some extra cream or milk on the side as well.

Switch on you machine and pour in, all at once the cream/ egg mixture, let the machine run, and the mixture, will quickly amalgamate , if it looks dry, stop the machine, press some of the mixture between you fingers to see if it sticks together, if Yes, it is done, if No, switch back on and dribble in some more liquid, BUT not too much, too wet is not good.

Tip your pastry into a polythene bag and knead it just a bit, until it all comes together, then it is ready to use.

Roll out on a floured board and use as required.

Once you have perfected this method of making a rich short pastry, make double the amount as it freezes really well!

For a less rich pastry, use the amounts listed above, minus the sugar and baking powder and substitute the cream for milk.

And in case you were wondering, we shared them with our lovely neighbours on the 6 th floor! The elves delivered them to their front doors!

Where does the time go?

Christmas at Kew Gardens

Here it is, the 13th December, it is over a week since we were released from our second Lockdown, and yes I’ve played some golf but not oodles, I’ve not gone shopping, I’ve not done my blog, so what have I done?

Well, first and foremost was and it happened, just as we were free, our Christmas escape, disappeared, snap, just like that. Firstly the train company ( and we had booked 6 sleeping compartments, over a year ago) cancelled as the drivers would be on a strike! Secondly, BA, ( dear BA which equals B***** Awful) cancelled our return flights, although they did put us on a later one, but if we couldn’t get there, we would have to cancel them! More vouchers ! And thirdly, the wonderful Scottish Castle cancelled us, despite having booked and paid a substantial amount 15 months ago!

Therefore, fast forward and Son in law was like a Knight in shining armour as he found an alternative! Ok, it might not have a moat, nor secret staircase, nor a ghost but it does have its own golf course, Private golf course! ( though it could be under snow ).

Of course, I have been cooking and even had lunch out one day, outside under the heat lamps, but it was still cold!

Today, I’ve made bread and a curry.

In fact it is a mackerel curry. Obviously not for me, but for Himself

He had mackerel for dinner the other week and declared, that maybe, just maybe, he was OFF mackerel, it was the after taste.

So what to do with the remaining mackerel in the freezer? Being of the maxim, Waste Not Want Not school of thinking, I was determined to find something to do with the remaining 4 fillets. Mackerel Curry sprang to mind. I wasn’t sure that Mackerel was a fish used in hotter climates as for me it is a cold water fish, from the Atlantic, North Sea, Norway ,and Iceland, but according to the guru of all things fishy Alan Davidson, a variety of mackerel is found in Mediterranean waters as well as the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Therefore although using cold water mackerel, I went ahead and made himself a Mackerel Curry.

For this is used and it makes enough for 2-3 servings.

  • A good splash of oil ( I always use olive, just because)
  • A handful of dried curry leaves or kaffir lime leaves ( optional, don’t worry if you don’t have them)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds,
  • 2 tsp of either black or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1tsp coriander ground
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • A chunk of ginger chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed, these two can be substituted by ginger garlic paste, if you have made some, or bought some !
  • A can of chopped tomatoes
  • Half a can of coconut milk
  • 4 mackerel fillets, make sure the bones are removed, then cut into chunks
  • 1 tbspoon tamarind paste ( nice if you have it, but don’t worry if not)
  • 1/2 bunch chopped coriander
  • Rice or naan to serve.

Heat the oil, add the curry leaves and seeds, cook until they begin to pop, add the ground coriander, turmeric, garlic and ginger, cook for about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and coconut milk and simmer for about 15 minutes.

In a separate pan, heat some oil, dip the mackerel in some flour and sauté .

Add the mackerel to the sauce, and stir in gently. Season, add the tamarind paste if using, taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve, with the fresh coriander.

Always fun messing about and trying new things! Many years ago, our au pair of the day, was ( using a very English expression ) GOBSMACKED, that I didn’t have a weekly repeated menu. She told me her Mums repertoire was the following:-

  • Sunday ——roast
  • Monday —–cold meat
  • Tuesday —–Lasagne
  • Wednesday- shepherds pie
  • Thursday—– Toad in the hole
  • Fish and Chips
  • Saturday spaghetti Bol ( spaghetti Bolognase
  • And back to roast !

My mother once complained ” you never know what you are going to get in this house!” But where is the fun in that !!

Mushy Peas and all that!

Blossom, already in London

Have you ever had, and I mean really ever had Mushy Peas?

Mushy peas are definitely part of the British Cuisine, but certainly here in London and the south it is not something that appears on menus, let me correct that, it does appear on menus, BUT what they serve is not mushy peas. They serve peas that have been mushed, which is not the same thing at all.

Real Mushy Peas

Real mushy peas are made from Dried Marrowfat peas which have been soaked overnight and then boiled until soft and mushy, seasoned and served, sometimes with a pie, oftentimes with fish and chips and sometimes as a snack with mint sauce, or even scooped into balls, battered and deep fried ! It is predominantly a north of England food.

Dried Marrowfat Peas

Rumour has it that Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, would never has peas served at any meals, as what is the correct way to eat them?

One source says, mash them with your fork, another says, Never do that, another says, spear them with the tines and yet another says, never use your fork as a scoop. Debrett’s says ( and they are after all, All things to do with etiquette) “It may be necessary to use mashed potato to make peas stick to the fork but it is incorrect to turn the fork over and scoop.” So the answer is? I really don’t know, except, never balance them on your knife and try to get them to your mouth !

The British eat nearly 9,000 peas each year and the largest producer and consumer of frozen peas in Europe ( thanks Mr. Birds Eye).

80 grms = 1 of the five a day

Apparently, there’s about 70,000 football pitches worth of pea farmland in the UK and farmers harvest 2billion portions of peas and they are processed from field to frozen in about 150 minutes, and Birds Eye have been doing this for about 70 years !

I have to admit that I have never, cooked marrowfat peas and rarely cook peas, except maybe in fried rice, or risotto. It is not that I don’t like them but more I find them slightly on the boring side and then how to eat them !

Very often here in the south of England, mushed ( but not mushy) pease are served especially with Fish and Chips. I came, across a recipe the other day which piqued my interest.

Pea Guacamole ! Um interesting! As we all know guacamole is made with avocados and the consistency of peas bears no resemblance to avocados. However, always up to try something new, I followed ( more or less) the instructions , cooked the peas, added a dollop of cream and here I deviated as I didn’t have feta cheese, but used some cream cheese. The result was, really very nice, but served as a vegetable and not as guacamole.

You too can dress like Villanelle

Reading various Bits and Bobs this week, I came across an article on Jodie Cromer, who played Villanelle, in the series, Killing Eve. And there it was, well almost the dress, the red dress,that can be bought from the store around the corner! The designer is Molly Goddard, but at £5,000 a pop and no parties to go to, maybe, just maybe, I’ll give it a miss!

Another, article I read was about Belgium. They have been in Lockdown, again. Dear Dear friends, who live there ( way out in the boonies) ventured out the other week, and they happened upon a Frites stand! Maybe one doesn’t normally go to Frites stand, but, they are the best in the world! Forget Tom Kerridge, go to Belgium and go to a Frites stand, eat with Mayonnaise or curry sauce, Yum Yum ! However the joy in their enjoyment is made even better by the news that restaurants in this country that really enjoys good food, will Not Re-Open until at least the end of January!

Then moving onto France, where we have a home. Just as well we had not planned to go for Christmas, all ski lifts are closed, as are Bars and Restaurants, ( until mid January at least) though snow shoeing is still an option.

And then the UK, Bars and Pubs can be open, and serve at tables, providing they serve a substantial meal! What constitutes a substantial meal? I am sure that depends on all sorts of criteria, but apparently a Scotch Egg, fits the bill. Um now there is a thought. I haven’t made Scotch eggs since forever. One year for our Christmas drinks party I made 48 mini ones, using quails eggs and some were with sausage meat, some chopped ham some with black pudding and some with shrimp, all were delicious, but such a pain to make ( especially if you have to cook and peel the eggs as I did!)

What have we been cooking this week, a lot of, “Ooops I did it again!”

Pizza movie night on Friday, the last episode in the Queens Gambit!

Himself did a repeat of Prawn/Fish Moilee (oysters and

And I made marmalade, again, that comes from having too many Clementines, I went overboard and bought a box and so now we have three jars of very delicious Clementine marmalade!

And that is it ! Looking forward to having a little more freedom in the weeks ahead. Oh and I have to smush and freeze all of my ( now ripe) wonderful avocados!