Once upon a time

Once upon a time, back in the days, before he became famous and way too expensive, we used to dine at The Fat Duck, in Bray. In fact it almost became our local and for anything half way special we would eat there AND take our three kids! I even took a girl friend for a birthday lunch and don’t laugh we were the only ones dining. We joked with the maitre’d about his garish trousers ( I had forewarned her), but nowadays it is just so much more formal and more to the point Much Much more expensive.

On one occasion, I took 12 members of the Petroleum Women’s Club for lunch ( aka the Oily Women) and this was followed by another visit, almost the next day with some American colleagues, after a day at Wimbledon to watch, much to the disappointment of Himself, the Women’s final, Williams V Williams.

But I digress. At the women’s lunch, I had two outstanding courses, one was his then famous Snail Porridge and the second, Butternut Squash Ice Cream, with Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Watching the Tennis I waxed lyrical about these two dishes, so much so that our guests said they had to try them. Off we went to Bray, not exactly next door to Wimbledon. Zoot! Alors! Snail porridge was not on the menu! Never mind said the garish trousered maitre’d, I’m sure the chef will make it for you, and he did!

As yet, I’ve not experimented and made the Snail Porridge, but I have made the Butternut Squash Ice Cream. The thing I found upon eating it the first time, was the expectation. Normally, ice cream is sweet, but this is not, not in the normal, way one expects Ice Cream to be. BUT it works well, alongside something really sweet, like Sticky Toffee Pudding.

As Said, I have made the ice cream but this time around, I served it with Sticky Toffee Sauce, which works well also

  • 1 Butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 medium eggs, whisked together
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar preferably caster sugar
  • 600 mls double / whipping cream
  • 1/2 tub ricotta cheese

Pop the squash onto a baking tray and roast in a medium oven for 20 – 30 minutes until soft.

  • Whisk the eggs and add the sugar and then pour in the cream and add the ricotta cheese. if using an ice cream machine,pour the mixture in and set to churn, otherwise pour into a suitable box and place in the freezer and stir a couple of time during the freezing process.
  • For the Sticky Toffee sauce
  • 1tin cooked condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 a packet of butter
  • 200 mls cream.

Melt the butter along with the sugar,mother can of condensed milk and the cream. Stir to amalgamate all and continue to heat and stir until it is a smooth runny sauce. Remove from the heat and pour over some ice cream. EAT AT ONCE.

The rest of the sauce can be stored for several days in the refrigerator or frozen in small amounts for future use.

Do I like Tarts or Whores?

And here I’m not talking about people but a sauce! La Puttana is, to put it politely, a Lady of the night, or more normally, a prostitute, a Lady of the night, or a Strumpet. Hence the name for a a spicy sauce of Italian origin is Puttanesca sauce.

Normally, this sauce is served with pasta, and in times past I made pasta almost every Sunday! Why on a Sunday? Because I didn’t seem to have time during the week, three kids at home, husband mostly not, a cooking school of sorts to run etc etc. So Sunday was the ideal day.

Back then I had a pasta machine but honestly I don’t think that there was much else around in the pasta making department. I almost had shares in the cookware shop in my local small town of Wavre ( in French speaking Belgium). It really was the only place to buy anything cookware wise, but apart from a pasta machine, not too much else. Consequently, I read somewhere what to do and this was it. Get a pair of car jacks and a broom handle, balance the broom handle between the jacks and hey presto a Pasta drying rack ! Needless to say I hotfooted it to the hardware store and returned home with my goodies.

Since then it is himself who has fallen in love with making pasta. I have to say, rarely so in London, but often when we are in a our mountain home in France. He makes tagliatelle, lasagne sheets and ravioli.

The last lot of ravioli made during Lockdown 1 was ravioli filled with an egg yolk ( Ravioli Bernese) and it was really very good, but I digress. Puttenesca sauce. Delia Smith says that in her house they refer to this sauce as Tarts Spaghetti and so do we. It is a gutsy, strong and fiery sauce and is served usually over spaghetti, but it can be used elsewhere and I did.

I saw a picture of this sauce served with mackerel. Now I love almost all things fishy but Mackerel is not one of them. I use smoked mackerel fillets to make a very acceptable pâté but on their own, I will give them a miss. But himself really like mackerel, in fact declares his love for anything, strong and smelly.

Therefore, as I had some mackerel fillets in the freezer, decided to make the Puttenesca sauce to go with the mackerel. Very easy to make can be served on a bed of rice or orzo.

  • 2+ cloves of garlic chopped
  • Tin of anchovies 50 grams
  • +/-150 grams pitted bald olives
  • 1 red chilli chopped and descended
  • Can of chopped tomatoes ( or fresh if you wish)
  • A good squirt of tomato paste
  • A tablespoon of drained capers
  • A handful of basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Parmesan and fresh basil to garnish.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil, add the garlic, chilli and basil, sauté until the garlic is pale gold, take care not to burn it. Add everything else, except the salt and pepper.

Put on a low heat and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, by then it will be thick.Taste and adjust seasoning, it might not need any added salt,as the anchovies are salty.

Whilst the sauce is simmering and literally just before it is ready, dip the mackerel fillets in some flour and fry quickly in a small amount of olive oil. Fry for only a couple of minutes on each side. The fillets are thin and do not need a lot of cooking.

I also cheated on this and served them on a bed of Chinese noodles, which are super quick to cook in a microwave.

And serve of course with some gutsy red wine !

Baking versus Cooking

What’s the difference? One might well ask. My son is a cook, loves to cook always has done even since he was a kid. His wife is a baker and loves to make cakes and things and loves the Great British Bake off! There it is in the title, BAKE.

Baking has to follow rules and more or less to the letter, too much flour, equals too dry, too much yeast, baking powder, it just doesn’t work. Oven too hot or too cool, the result will be a mess. On the other hand cooking allows for creativity, a little bit of this, a little bit of that! ( and some rules as well).

Classical French cooking always had to follow the rules, but in recent times, things have changed, meals less heavy, sauces less rich. But how do recipes develop? Over time, by region, and by cooks themselves, partly by tradition, what their mothers did or by what food stuffs are available at any given time!

One story I like to recall is this.

A young bride was entertaining her family for Easter, and determined to do the right thing, had a beautiful Leg of Lamb. She prepared everything for her guests as had been show over the years by her mother. Just one thing thwarted her, she didn’t have an axe not even a cleaver. Why on earth did she need those? It was Easter, the stores were closed, what could she do ? She was in despair when her grandmother came into the kitchen. What’s the matter ? Granny asked ” Oh Granny, I can’t chop the end of the leg as I don’t have an axe” Why do you need to do that, granny asked. Because it is something that has to be done to roast a leg of lamb the Bride replied. My mother told me, that is the way you taught her. Granny burst out laughing. Oh Dear she said, I only did that as my pan was just not big enough !

So you see, how things can get passed down from generation to generation. Think of it as Chinese Whispers for cooking !

This weekend, I wanted to cook Osso Buco. On one of my very rare forays into a grocery store,I found some wonderful Veal bones for Osso Buco. I have not made it in years and in doing my research, there are, of course as many versions as there are cookery books. One thing I did ascertain is it seems to have gone out of favour in these days of lighter fare.

Not by Giorgio Locatelli, nor by Valentina Harris. Not by Floyd nor Robuchon. On and on I went trolling through my myriad of cookery books. Finally I found exactly what I was looking for. A couple of versions of Osso Buco, actually three, two are made with white wine, one with red, one with added anchovies one with carrots and two with tomatoes. The one thing in common with them all is the Gremolata that is served with the veal.

Julia Child, really says it how it is, you can make a veal ragout with any cut of veal but for Osso Buco it has to be from the Hind Shank as this contains the bone and the marrow. Without the marrow it is not Osso Buco! But, a Stew is a Stew! So now we know.

Basically it is a meat stew, with variations !

For my Osso Buco I used the following

  • 3 large Veal Shanks ( that was all there was)
  • 4 carrots, pled and cut into rounds
  • 2 Onions sliced
  • 4 sticks celery cut into bits
  • 3 cloves garlic smushed
  • Can chopped tomatoes
  • 300 mls veal or beef stock
  • 1/2 bottle red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped Parsley, chopped garlic and lemon zest to garnish

Heat some oil in a heavy pan and sauté the vegetables until lightly brown. Remove and put to one side.

Dip the veal in some flour and brown both sides in the pan,made more oil if necessary. Return the vegetables to the pan and then the wine and stock, turn the heat down to a simmer and leave with the lid on for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. At this time check the consistency, if too liquid bring to a rapid boil, being careful to give it a stir now and then, do not let it burn. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Make the Gremolata, by chopping finely the parsley and garlic and mix with the lemon zest.

Serve in a shallow bowl with the Gremolata sprinkled on top and give each diner a spoon for scooping out the bone marrow!

And one final word. The Avocados? They arrived on my doorstep yesterday morning. How exciting is that? I wonder what the collective noun for so many Avocados is? Whatever it is I am a happy bunny. Three out to ripen, the rest refrigerated? Yummy !

Easter Sunday

Needless to say, that this year we did not hold, nor participate in any kind of Easter Egg hunt, though both sets of grandchildren did, even our lovely eldest grandson who doesn’t like chocolate ! Can you imagine a kid who doesn’t like chocolate? Hard isn’t it?

An Amazing selection of desserts in Mexico City

In Mexico City, where the family lived for several years they discovered that Mexicans go completely over the top for birthdays and other celebrations and with oodles of ( and yes you have guessed it) chocolate! Goodie bags filled with chocolate and the birthday cakes swimming in chocolate and cream! Now he does like cream and once he told me that he had tried to teach himself to like chocolate, as he always missed out at birthday parties, but I think he has even given up doing that. Once, whilst we were visiting over Easter, we did a trip with them all, out of town to St. Miguel d’Allende. Said grandson, said to his mother ” will the Easter Bunny remember that I don’t like chocolate?” Yes of course was the reply. He shot back ” well he didn’t Last Year ! Ooops! So now it is all things yummy but not chocolate!

So what did we do for Easter. The willowy brunette came for dinner and our menu consisted of

  • Scallops with Brandy Gratin
  • Sous Vide rack of Lamb with herb butter and rosemary Jus.
  • Espresso Panna Cotta

The Panna Cotta is easy to make and almost any kid of booze can be used in the mixture. This amount makes 6 fairly large ramekins.

  • 220 mls of very strong espresso. I used 2 Nespresso Espresso coffee pods
  • 220 mls whole milk
  • 75 grms caster sugar
  • 4 gelatine leaves or 1tablespoon of granular gelatine
  • 100 mls brandy or other spirit
  • 360 mls double cream

For the syrup to pour over the Panna Cotta when serving

  • 200 grams caster sugar
  • 125 mls of strong espresso
  • 40mls brandy or whatever spirit you are using.
  1. Dissolve the gelatine according to the instruction on the packet.
  2. Heat the milk, sugar and espresso until the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Add the gelatine stir in and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  4. Whisk the cream until it is thick and then fold carefully into the cooled mixture.
  5. Divided between the ramekins or moulds and refrigerate for about 3 hours to set.

For the syrup.

  1. Make the syrup by heating the sugar gently on the stove top until it is dissolved and continue heating gently until it turns into a sticky caramel! Be careful not to let it burn.
  2. Stir in the coffee and the spirit and leave to cool.

When ready to serve, unmould the Panna Cotta and serve with the drizzle poured on the top.

My syrup had crystallised a little, but actually was nice as it gave a little crunch to what was a very silky dessert.

My left over syrup, was not discarded, it was put into ice cube moulds and frozen ! Yet to be used, I hasten to add!

This week saw me in Sicily !

Only joking of course, STRICTLY NOT ALLOWED. Living in what appears to most as a police state is interesting! But the UK vaccination programme is steam rolling ahead and hopefully soon, very soon we will be able to travel once again. Am I in a hurry to go to restaurants? No, not really, the Theater ? I think I will wait, at least it is spring time, soon to be summer when life will be easier in the base case. Golf courses are once again open as are outdoor tennis courts and swimming pools/ lidos, and yesterday was the hottest March day in 50 years ! Wow! And I was playing ( well trying ) golf!

I have decided that online groceries are the way forward. We have mixed results with restaurant deliveries, on the whole the food has been good, with one noticeable exception where I was told that I hadn’t cooked ( the precooked ) pork for long enough. It was full of Fat and gristle which no amount of cooking would have melted it !

On the other hand grocery deliveries have been excellent. I alternate with two suppliers and I think my favourite is Watts Farm in Kent. Initially they were mainly fruit and vegetables but now almost everything but in particular good fresh seasonal products such as Wild Garlic. They also have fresh yeast, which as I am into baking Bagels and Brioche, is an essential ( I don’t like dried yeast), and as fresh yeast does freeze well, it works well for me. I cut it into small blocks, wrap in cling film and freeze. Very Easy Peasy!

What with golf being back and then Easter with great day out with #1 daughter and family ( rule of two households). Kew Gardens held a “Denis the Menace ” themed event, along with the BEANO, for the 70 th anniversary of said comic!

Next day another, two household event at the former Rothschild home, Waddesdon Manor, where we saw our littlest granddaughters and Baby Molly, strutting her stuff!

So cooking has fallen by the wayside a bit this week, but never fear, I have not been totally idle ! Ice cream! Yes more Ice Cream and for me I like this one the best ( not really an ice cream eater)!

Toasted Hazelnut with Caramel! Umm! To make this I started as always with my basic, sweet cream base plus hazelnuts.

  • +/- 4 OZ toasted hazelnuts, not sure if you can buy them already skinned, but I rubbed them around to get rid of the skins once they were toasted and then chopped them roughly.
  • 500mls, double cream ( thick cream)
  • 500 mls Greek yoghurt ( not fat free)
  • 1/2 cup(2OZ )fine / caster sugar or more to taste
  • 3 eggs.

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy ( can be done in a food processor) add the cream, yoghurt and sugar. Whisk a little more until well blended. Pour into an ice cream machine or a container and freeze.

For the caramel

  • 2/3 cup caster sugar
  • Dash of water

Put into a saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves and heat gently until it starts to caramelise, let it become golden. Remove from the heat immediately as it will quickly turn to very very crunchy caramel.

Pour onto a greased metal tray and leave to cool. When cool, hit with a hammer and break into bits. Mix with the nuts.

When the ice cream is almost frozen, stir in the nuts and the caramel bits, mix well and return to the freezer.

And that is it!

If you want to be really decadent, make a toffee sauce to pour overtime when serving.

  • 200 grams (1 Cup, 4 OZ) caster sugar
  • 60 grams ( 2 OZ ) unsalted butter
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 120 mls double cream

Put the sugar along with about 100 mls water and heat. Swirl around from time to time, do not stir. When it begins to thicken and begins to be a caramel colour, remove from heat, stir in the butter, salt and cream. Mix well and leave to cool. And again, that is it!