Dining Out on the 53 rd Floor

We ventured out into docklands at the weekend, somewhere which is not on our radar. About the only other time was to cheer for my Willowy girls in the London Marathon, as they wove their way round the sky scrappers. This time it was for dinner, a quick leap on the Jubilee Line and we were at Canary Wharf. Now where to go? Thank good ness for Google Maps, it directed us over a foot bridge to The Wardian, on the Isle of Dogs! It was a bit of land surrounded by the river Thames on three sides, it was marsh land and grazing land, land that flooded. Records show it as far back as 1448. It was only in more recent times that it became part of the Dock Lands, in the 1800’s with the building of the West India Docks and then the East India Docks.

During World War Two, the docks were heavily bombed but it was shipping containers that became its downfall. However in the 1980’s the London Docklands Development Corporation began to redevelop the whole are into what it has become today. An area of East London that employs over 93,000 people, in Banks, Offices, Shops and restaurants. It is well served by all forms of transport as well as being a residential community.

And so it was that somehow or other we were going to have dinner in a new residential tower block.

We live in a large block of flats, apartments and penthouses, on the 6 th and 7 th floors, and we have a lift which for the most part is on slow side, therefore, a bit of a revelation to enter a lift that zoomed up to the 53 rd floor in less time than it takes ours to dawdle up 6.

The Wardian describes itself as a residence like no other. Amid the skyscrapers and waterways of Canary Wharf, an immersive sanctuary is revealed. Two iconic towers offer the rare stillness of nature in the heart of the bustling metropolis. ( I suppose that is the Sales Pitch).

So, up on the 53 rd floor we were greeted by a concierge and a barman, cocktail given and out onto the wrap around terrace and Oh ,what views, maybe I could live in a penthouse on the 53 rd floor, but then again, maybe not. Every couple of minutes one could hear a train, be it a real train as in the London Overground, or C2C or Thames Link or the Underground as in the Jubilee Lone, or even the Docklands Light Railway and this is the one that truly trundles between such interesting named places such as Mudchute, Island Gardens, Poplar, or Pontoon Dock, or perhaps one of the River boats and River Taxis that chug up and down from Westminster to Greenwich.

But, we were here to eat dinner, an almost private dinner party, we were just twenty lucky guests all sat at tables of 2.

The chef who was apparently hired to entice us to eat and to buy a flat ! But no one even showed us a brochure. Disappointed? No not really. Alyn Williams was the chef, formerly of the Westbury where he held a Michelin Star for 8 years.

Dinner was nice, not very exciting but the views were amazing, choose for yourselves

Eating Out

We have ventured out a couple of times recently, though we are still not really in the mind set.

Firstly we went with friends to a restaurant called Kricket. This came about as I had read a lot about this small chain and the subsequent cookbook by the same name. A lot of criticism, as the book seemed to have been rushed out without much if any proof reading. For me, half the time it is the inspiration, rather than the exact recipe, but for many, a recipe is followed exactly. Himself is very good, now at following a recipe ( and not too often breaking free and doing his own thing). In cooking breaking Free is fine, after all these recipes are either created by someone being creative or being passed down through generations. Baking, is a different Kettle of Fish, there are rules which need to be followed.

I bought the book on Kindle ( not a massive fan of such books on kindle and am on the lookout for one, on the cheap somewhere.) The first mistake I found on a quick skim was for making Laal Maas, one of favourite Indian dinners. Normally it requires about 3 tablespoon of Ghee for about a kilo of lamb. In Kricket he says 400 grms! This is almost a whole can of ghee!

So off to Kricket we went, which I chose just out of curiosity. We had really nice evening with some indifferent food. Served “Tapas” style, which for me means something along the lines of “ we just cook and serve it, regardless of how the customer would prefer it!”

We had Bhel Puri, which is an Indian Street food, a kind of mixed up salad ( delicious by the way) , Kerala fried Chicken ( read upmarket Kentucky fried chicken) but then it went down hill. Himself ordered Goan sausage with squid , kind of squid wrapped around a sausage ( didn’t work) and I chose some fish dish which was so nondescript that I can’t even remember it’s name!

So from the sublime to the ridiculous, or actually the other way round. Angler restaurant. A Michelin starred venue where we have eaten a couple of times pre pandemic. As it’s name suggests it is a fishy kind of place. The food as usual was lovely and maybe the service was not quiet up to scratch , but nonetheless the good evening.

Willowy daughter took us out to lunch ( well kind of, she forgot her wallet) and I booked it, as somewhere local. I booked because it had a really nice looking terrace only to find out it was Vegan. Judging by it’s name Wolf and Lamb, I was bemused. However I would go again, she and I chose the TexMex salad, which was right up my street, others chose, creamy linguine, served with broccoli , jackfruit hamburger and spicy burger and even young Sam liked his Non Burger burger. So a hit all round.

And finally we headed to Soho, the first time in 18 months. We actually went to a world famous Jazz club, having just recently reopened its doors. Capacity was limited to just 50 %, so the atmosphere was somewhat dampened but what actually amazed us were the people out eating. The streets had been transformed into a huge open air restaurant. Maybe life is returning, I hope so.

Do You Like Mussels ?

Having lived in Brussels for over thirteen years, the capital of Moules we as a family love them ! Mostly, served in a casserole, à la something or other , marinière, au vin blanc, au curry, au gousse d’ail ( garlic), à la crème and many other variations on a theme. Normally the portion is one kilo of mussels and served with, what else? Crispy French Fries!

I say the portion size is 1 kilo, which sounds a lot, but actually this is the weight with the shells, so in fact not that much meat.

When we first moved to Brussels about 40 + years ago, we discovered a small, almost hole in the wall type of restaurant with maybe 10 or 12 tables. No reservations and closed at 10 pm. The trick was to roll up and if you had to wait, you had to wait, outside, come rain or shine.( they now perhaps post Covid take reservations).

Of course they serve other foods along with Moules, but it is predominantly Moules. The very first time we ate there, was , of course after a Rugby match….. Brussels British versus ? I don’t remember. We were very hungry, so we ordered a starter of Moules, followed by steak frites, followed by Crêpe Soufflé, which had to be ordered well in advance. The waiter did indeed give us the most amazed look and then we understood! NO ONE in their right minds would order all of this, and Belgians did not do “Doggy Bags”.

We learnt very quickly and it soon became one of our favourite casual haunts. One of our favourites was the mussels cooked in white wine, cream and lots of garlic. The restaurant was manned by almost characters of real people, gnarled, wrinkled and overweight, hairnet on hair and a quick smoke outside the door and with a take it or leave it attitude. And to top it off, and gentleman of Asian origin would occasionally open a trap door in the floor, gather up the dirty Moules pans and disappear back under to wash them.

Himself has taken to cooking on a Tuesday. This is post Lockdown as it is my golf day. On Monday night he wondered what he should cook. I commented that I had 2 kilo of mussels arriving the next day. That spurred him on but not to cook the normal steamed in a pan pan with wine, garlic tomatoes etc. He scoured my books and came up with Moules en Croustade with leeks and white wine.

A quick trip to buy some sourdough bread, as the croustade is a loaf of bread, actually for two people, 2 loaves. Everything else was in the refrigerator.

According to himself the worse part of the whole meal was shucking ( does one say shucking for Moules?) the Moules, which he said took an age. However there is always a bit of a downside to Moules as they always have to be debearded before cooking.

For two generous portions

  • 2 crusty loaves
  • 4 Oz butter
  • 2 kilos of mussles
  • 75 mls dry white wine
  • 2 smallish leeks washed and finely chopped
  • 1/4 Cup crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper to taste, beware taste well before seasoning.
  • 1tablespoon cornflour mixed together with 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • Some chives or chopped parsley to garnish
  • Cut off the top of each loaf and scoop out all of the bread inside ( keep to make some breadcrumbs)
  • Brush the inside of each loaf and lids with some melted butter and pop into a a hot oven 400C for about 5 minutes or so until they are crisp
  • Heat the wine and tip in the mussels, cover and cook for only a few moments until the shells have opened.
  • Tip into a colander and keep the cooking juices.
  • When cool enough to handle, remove the mussels from the shells.
  • Strain the cooking fluid through a mesh sieve to remove any grit that might be there.
  • Melt a knob of butter in a pan and add the leeks and cook for about 5 minutes, do not let them brown, but they do need to be soft.
  • Add the cooking liquid, boil and then simmer until it is reduced by half. Add the remaking butter, the cream and the butter/ cornflour mixture. Continue on gentle heat, stirring to avoid any lumps and the sauce thickens a little.
  • Reheat the loaves
  • Carefully add the mussels , taste, adjust seasoning and serve on the hot crisp loaves, garnish with chives and or parsley.

Absolutely delicious, forget the calories! And of course this can be easily adapted, using chicken, other seafood, or even an assortment of fish pieces, as in fish pie mix.

Indian Street Food ( PAU BHAJI )

I’ll start of by saying that I do not want to do an injustice to Indian Street food. However, whenever we visited India , many times over a period of 4 years ( my eldest grand daughter was born in Delhi) we were constantly warned ‘ Not to Eat Street Food’. My #1 daughter ventured forth just the once ( she is a travel journalist and as such thought she should) and ended up in hospital with severe dehydration from gastroenteritis . What had she eaten? A simple baked sweet potato with lime squeezed over. However, the standard of cleanliness leaves much to be desired, for the street dwellers there is no such luxury as somewhere to wash their hands, have a bath or even go to the loo. Hence why we were told, not to eat the street food.

However there have been numerous recipes handed down over the years, many of which obviously stem from Indian Street Food or home cooking.

One such dish is PAU BHAJI.

Pav bhaji is a a fast food dish from India consisting of a thick vegetable curry (bhaji) served with a soft bread roll (pav). Its origins are in the state of Mahrashtra, which is home to Mumbai.

For me it is the equivalent of my Refrigerator Soup, as it uses up all sorts of odds and ends from the refrigerator. I decided today that I would have a little sort out of the refrigerator and this is what I had, which needed using. 2 soft Parsnips, 2 wilted red peppers, 2 soft sweet potatoes, a large handful of green beans and then from the freezer some peas and half a packet of broad beans. Along with onions, garlic and ginger.

This was absolutely Perfect. Why? Simply because generally speaking the quality of produce is not high in India, #1 daughter lived in what was considered an upmarket neighbourhood, her nearest shop was across a busy road to Honey Money Top. It equated not even to my local Indian Stores here in London. Given the vast size of India, the poor transportation, roads are terrible, trains , lots of them, overcrowded and always late. Refrigerated trucks, not so many, it is hardly surprising that but the time goods get to market they are not at their best !

I will start by saying that all quantities are whatever you have, more or less, no matter.

  • 2-3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 or 3 white onions, sliced and chopped
  • 400grm can of tomatoes ( or fresh)
  • 1/4 tube tomato paste
  • 2tsp each of the following, ground cumin, turmeric, Garam masala
  • I also added some crushed chilli flakes and some crushed Kashmiri chillis for their wonderful colour.
  • Some salt
  • 100 grms butter ( or more to taste
  • Some cooking oil

And also

  • Any of the following vegetables
  • Cauliflower cut into florets
  • Green, red or yellow peppers, chopped,
  • Sweet potatoes peeled and chopped
  • Parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • Pumpkin or other squashes
  • Beans, peas and carrots

Put all of the vegetables from the second list into a saucepan along with water or stock to cover. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until really soft. Using a blender ( here I use a stick blender rather than a food processor, just to save on washing up) mush all the vegetables to a pulp.

The potatoes and sweet potatoes along with the onions, sauté with some oil until soft. I usually precook them for speed in the Microwave for about 5 minutes, and then sauté them. Add all of the spices along with the tomatoes and the tomato paste. cook for another 5-10 minutes

Then mix all of the above together to make a wonderful mushy vegetable mess! Normally it would be served as street food with a soft bread roll, but we have it alongside, some grilled chicken or fish.

Avocados

Food Fads come and Food Fads go. Avocados might have seen their day, as the food of the moment. Chia seeds were very much in vogue for a while. I brought bags of them from Mexico,where they were as cheap as chips, but then wondered why? I seriously didn’t like the look of the little black specs on my food. Quinoa, didn’t rock my boat either and neither did Tofu.

Sourdough bread, however you chose to make it, was the hit of the pandemic season, and baking. ( my personal favourite… Bagels). At the beginning of Lockdown #1 finding flour of any sorts proved to be a challenge.

My crowd farming Avocados

So here we are almost free. We have been out to eat now just twice.

Once was relatively warm, albeit outside. A chunk of the Taxi drive through had been partitioned of at a local Hyatt Regency and a Japanese garden full of cherry blossom had been recreated. Along with mega powerful heaters, it was nice. Nice not wonderful, the food was nice, the location was nice, ( we could walk there), all in all just nice. The menu was small, in fact almost tiny, but all in all, it was nice !

The second time was just this week, after a round of golf in Surrey. My own golf club has for whatever reason not yet opened the terrace, so there is no dining apart from a snack at the halfway house. Whereas, where, we were dining was in full swing, but am not sure that I saw any heaters, though snuggly blankets were supplied. And so it was more than nice, we were with friends after a round of golf. Life was almost normal. Dinner was more than nice albeit just a TAD chilly !

During our various Lockdowns I have been supporting Spanish farmers, small time artisan farmers. I have had the most wonderful Avocados, Mangoes, Lemons and Olive oil. Delivered to my door. I have had 2x 2 litres of olive oil, 2x boxes of Avocados and one each of Mangoes and Lemons.

The Avocado comes from a tree which originated in South Central Mexico. The oldest discovery of an avocado pit dating as far back 10,000 years ago. Today, it is grown in most tropical and Mediterranean climates. It is a fruit and technically a berry, contains just one large single seed. Commercially avocados are picked before they are ripe, which makes it perfect for buying from the farmer and allowing to ripen at home. Mexico is by far the biggest producer of avocados, producing several times more than the second producer which is California.

Nutritionally, Avocados, are classified as a super food, rich in monounsaturated fats, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin and fat. It is the only fruit that contains fat.

There are numerous recipes for Avocados, but generally speaking all are cold in some form of Guacamole, smushed, salsa and salads. But how about Avocado fries with a parmesan crust? Or Avocado cream sauce for pasta? Yes you can do it! Now I’m currently eating my way through my last delivery. They arrive rock hard, I put most in the refrigerator and two in the fruit bowl, they ripen fairly quickly. Once ripened, one is ready to eat and one goes back into the refrigerator, another goes into the fruit bowl, and so on and so forth. I often have them for breakfast, smushed with lemon juice, sriracha and a pinch of salt. On a home made bagel. My other favourite is of course Guacamole.

On our numerous visits to Mexico, we ate some amazing food and lots of Avocados. We went to some wonderful restaurants and some very fun ones. One such restaurant is Arroyos south of Mexico City. It is the worlds largest Mexican restaurant and at peak times has over 1,000 staff! Along with Mariachi bands, certainly a fun place to go. This was after having even more fun on a Party boat in Xochimilco, one of the 16 boroughs of Mexico City. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the name comes from the Aztec language ( Nahuatl) meaning Flower Garden.

For Crispy avocado fries ( which are actually baked not fried) you will need :-

  • Perfectly ripe avocados, Goldilocks like, not too hard, not too soft, but just right! Cut them into wedges.
  • lightly crushed Panko Bread crumbs mixed with finely grated parmesan cheese, along with some salt, some cayenne pepper and maybe chilli powder or Piri Piri
  • A beaten egg
  • A hot oven

Sorry quantities are hit and miss, depending on how many fries you are going to make, I had a handful of panko and the same of cheese, I used two eggs.

Simply, peel and cut the avocados into wedges, dip in the egg and then the breadcrumb mixture. Place on a baking tray drizzle some oil over ( not too much and obviously Avocado oil would be the best) and pop into a hot-Ish oven and bake for 5-10 mins until golden.( Keep an eye on them, don’t want burnt).

And I have just read that the skins of Avocados can be toxic to certain animals and birds and therefore can act as a deterrent! ( I am trialling to keep Pigeons away !)

If you go down to the woods today!

If you go down to the woods today, especially a wood that is designated Ancient Woodland, then you are more than likely to come across Wild Garlic.

Wild Garlic is one of the number of plant species whose presence indicates that a wood is ancient. Traditionally used in medicine, with the bulb being one of the key ingredients in tonics for rheumatic problems and high cholesterol.

It is a popular foraged ingredient, as its leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or blanched and used in place of spinach, or mades into a soup, pesto, wild garlic butter and for sauces. They have a mild garlic flavour and are at their best before the flowers appear. The flowers are also edible and can be added raw to salads.

A friend from Brussels days, has over 100 acres of ancient woodland and as such in the spring has an abundant source of wild garlic, along with glade upon glade of the most beautiful English Bluebells.

On my last visit ( pre-pandemic days) she was busy making wild garlic and potato soup. Although I have in the past made oodles of soup, but currently himself is not a soup frame of mind.

However, Watts Farm in Kent, ( my current favourite online grocery delivery service ( ok they don’t have everything I want) but they do have some unusual things besides and wild garlic being one of them. I think I have bought 400 grams of the leaves ( and I can tell you, that is a lot !)

So what did I use it for? Firstly I made wild garlic butter, which I wizzed up softened butter and the garlic leaves together, put into ice cube trays, froze, bagged, to go into the freezer drawer, along with my other butters and sauces.

Next I made, some wild garlic pesto, which is a combination of Olive Oil, wild garlic and pine nuts. because of the concentration of oil, it will get thick but will not freeze, so I bag it in smallish quantities and out in the freezer.

Finally, I made some wild garlic sauce, which I served with some steak, asparagus and a sauté of mixed mushrooms.

To make a wild garlic sauce

  1. 50 grams butter
  2. 4 small shallots diced
  3. a clove of garlic, crushed
  4. 100 grams wild garlic leaves
  5. pinch of dried tarragon, or 1 oz of fresh, chopped
  6. 150 mls single cream
  7. pinch of salt
Fresh Tarragon

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the shallots and garlic, cook gently, being careful not to brown the shallots. Add the wild garlic and the tarragon and cook until the leaves are tender.

Transfer to a blender, put the cream in the pan and bring to the boil, add it to the blender and process until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

English asparagus is in season right now. Here are just two of the varieties available.

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!