Welcome to Lindsay Hopwood, who will share her interest in food based on what is available in the shops of the West End.
I'd decided that I wanted to do an autumnal fish dish for the website, so on a rather delicate Saturday morning after a rather robust Friday night, I sat in bed with a pile of fish books. Inevitably, I ended up flicking through the pictures of a Rick Stein book. On the whole I don't think Rick Stein's books are that great to cook from because they are too restaurant-kitchen oriented. They need far too many ingredients, most of which you need only the tiniest amount of and the rest invariably goes off at the back of your fridge. However, the "Seafood Lovers' Guide" is much more user-friendly and I found a gorgeous and simple recipe for Baked Crabs in there.
When I arrived at Alan Beveridge's - the fishmonger in Byres Road - I was faced with the most beautiful patchwork quilt of seafood. Sardines layered like slates piled up against each other sitting next to a tray of pink king prawns, all standing to order like little terracotta warriors. On the other side lay squid, wallowing aimlessly on their tray, with meaty steaks of tuna behind them and triangles of skate wing bringing up the rear. Herring of all shades, from white to dark umber, filled a number of gaps. Round the edge were piles of mussels and oysters, and right at the back was a scarlet lobster with the biggest claws I've ever seen. A beautiful picture if ever I saw one.
I left with some monkfish and two dressed crabs, the latter of which made for a rather lovely late lunch.
I say almost because I didn't quite have the right ingredients and I put on more topping than the book says, but I like it like this.
First, pre-heat the over to 200ªC/ gas mark 6.
Remove the crabmeat from the shells and put it in a bowl along with the lemon juice, mustard powder, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Melt the butter, add this to the bowl and mix the ingredients together. Now spoon this evenly back into the crab shells.
Melt the butter for the topping and add this to the breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Sprinkle this over the crab and then bake the crabs on a tray in the oven for 10 -12 minutes, or until the crust is beautifully golden-brown.
Serve hot, with lemon wedges.
This summer, or lack thereof, has depressed the life out of me. I had this great plan of sitting in the garden - masters of the Saturday lunch party. Jazz would float through the warm summer breeze, our friends laughing around plates of Greek mézé or Spanish tapas, chins dribbling with olive oil and fingers sticky with salty cured salamis. I was even prepared to make the effort to invite the odd vegetarian around and prepare something specially.
Instead I find myself being the sole person who ventured out into the great outdoors (but only if it's not raining). None of my neighbours told me to turn my radio down because none of them left the relative warmth of their houses to be bothered by it. They just look at me through double-glazing - probably muttering 'nutter' - as I sit in my winter cardigan watching the rain clouds loom ominously.
So with no sun and no Saturday lunch invitations delivered, I can afford to buy scallops from the Farmers' Market. Huge, fat ones that taste of the sea for Alastair and I to enjoy alone. In good weather they are perfect flash-fried in butter and served with salad. In this more miserable Scottish summer, Scallops Newburg, as recorded by Jane Grigson in her Fish Book, is the perfect answer. I don't quite agree with some of her cooking times - overcooked scallops are like rubber and almost as depressing as this summer has been - so have adapted it slightly.
10 big scallops (not the little Queenies you can buy in the supermarket)
125ml of dry white wine
Bouquet garni - a bay leaf, some thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives, chervil.
A few of whatever you have to hand, tied together with a string.
90g of butter
4 tablespoons of brandy
125ml of Madeira, or medium dry or brown sherry
250ml double cream
2 medium egg yolks plus two tablespoons of single cream
salt and pepper to taste
OK, so you've read the ingredients list and are thinking - not on my calorie count! Sod it for one weekend. This is a 'once a year' dish and quite frankly, you deserve some pleasure this summer.
It's worthwhile noting this is quite a quick dish to cook, so getting everything ready first will save you time and panic about the scallops overcooking.
Simmer the wine with an equal quantity of water and the bouquet garni for five minutes. While this is happening, cut the corals (the orange part) off the scallops and slice each white into two discs.
After the five minutes, remove the bouquet garni and pour the liquor into a bowl. Put the white scallop discs into this liquor. They will infuse with the flavour but not over-cook.
After a couple of minutes, melt three-quarters of the butter in your pan. Drain the scallops and add them. Turn them in the butter for a few seconds till they are coated and bubbling in the butter. Now flame them with the brandy - either light the brandy in a ladle and pour over, or pour it straight into the pan and light it. Stand well back and watch your eyelashes!
As the flame dies down, pour over the Madeira or sherry and add the corals. Cook for a further minute then scoop out the scallops and keep them warm (I usually bung them in the microwave without it switched on - their own heat won't escape very far and you're not risking cooking them further). They should have cooked for about three minutes in total.
Pour in the double cream and boil down the sauce to reduce it a little. Beat the egg yolks with the single cream while this is happening. Take the sauce off the heat, and when it has cooled a little, amalgamate the egg mix with the sauce. This has to be cooled a little or you will make scrambled eggs with brandy - interesting, but not the plan. Whisk in the remaining butter. This will thicken the sauce a little and make it nice and shiny. Season with salt and pepper. Add the scallops for one further minute just to make sure they're warmed through.
Serve with plain boiled rice and a green salad. You won't need any dressing on the salad, as it is the perfect mechanism for mopping up every last dribble of this fantastically elegant sauce.
One of the things I like about the Edinburgh Festival, these days, is its location. And the fact that I don't live there anymore. Now I can get on with enjoying the festival without having to live through it. And of course having friends that can put me up on late nights is an absolute godsend. God bless the Edinburger.
I'm not quite sure what the ingredients of an Edinburger should be. I imagine that firstly the recipe would be in French but probably has a Slavic origin. Obviously there would be some obscure ingredient that could only be found in Napiers herbalist (Glasgow branch at 61 Cresswell Street, off Byres Road). They would have a comedy value ? possibly in appearance? They would be unusual and something I wouldn't normally try. They certainly would be organic and probably vegetarian.
In browsing in Ian Mellis (492 Great Western Road) recently, I decided not to buy cheese but to try some of their black pudding. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the bog-standard variety, but having loved the French boudin noir (same thing only in French), which is smoother in texture, I thought I would give it a try. What I did with it is my approximation of an Edinburger and my ode to all those who will provide me with a bed over the coming month.
A ten centimetre slice of black pudding from Ian Mellis
Half a female fennel bulb (the big, fat ones as opposed to the weedy, skinny ones)
2 Braeburn or Cox apples
1 tablespoon of cornflour
1 teaspoon of caraway seeds
salt and pepper
Serve with bread and salad.
Cut the black pudding into one centimetre thick rounds. While the fennel patties are grilling you will fry these in butter.
To make the fennel patties, grate the fennel and the apples into a bowl. It is quite a wet mixture but the tablespoon of cornflour will be sufficient to form these into patties. Add to this a teaspoon of caraway seeds that you have dry-roasted in a pan for a couple of minutes till their aroma fills the room. Mix these together well, adding a little salt and pepper.
Line a grill pan with foil and grease well with olive oil. Form the patties in your hands - you need about ten, but make a couple extra in case you produce any duds whilst assembling the dish. They should be flatish rounds - again about a centimetre thick. Place each one on the grill pan and then grill under a medium heat till they start to blacken. Don't forget to fry the black pudding at the same time.
Turn the patties over very carefully with a palette knife and cook the same on the other side. You could add an egg to hold them together more solidly. This however makes them heavier in texture and flavour, and I prefer the lighter touch to contrast with the black pudding. A little careful cooking does the trick.
Once done, pile them up on top of each other. A millefeuille to be exact - if we were going for the French recipe. The Slavic background is the caraway seeds. The unusual component is the ingredients combined. I've already said I wouldn't normally go for black pudding, so that's my something new. The comedy aspect - try keeping them piled up till they reach the table. Oh - and there are some vegetables in there, should any vegetarian be interested?
Have you seen the new Pot Noodle commercial - "The slag of all snacks"? So true, and yet it has its place in the world. Even I have been known to crave one at certain times in my life. I mention this as I am eating Mild Curry flavour Super Noodles as I write. What I would really like is scrambled eggs on toast, with a little pile of fresh tomatoes finely chopped on the side. But then we have no bread. No food really, other than some canned tomatoes and a packet of Mild Curry flavour Super Noodles.
And I am loathed to go out. Alastair is at work so no-one can guilt trip me into getting up and I can stay in bed all day if I like. And I have a right to, too. We moved house two weeks ago. The week before that, I started a new job. The past couple of months have been non-stop in general. The only reason I knew what day it was, was if my hands smelled of bleach it was the weekend and I was cleaning something, and if they didn't then I was at work, finishing up one job and getting to learn another. As a result, I could even go so far as to say I deserve Super Noodles ? comfort food that they are. However, the point I would actually like to make is that this is why I haven't written anything for the past couple of months. I've been quite busy.
That said, the subject of instant noodles is one that is not just about comfort but reminiscence. Instant noodles instantly remind me of being a student. Sitting in bed at Sunday lunchtime eating Super Noodles because I'm exhausted and there?s no-one around to tell me I can't, is, in itself, a comfort, but it also reminds me of my wilder days. Ones in which instant noodles were frequently nourisher, comforter and the source of all vitamins and minerals that entered my body. It doesn't actually say "fortified with?" on the packet, but I believe it to be true.
And food that reminds us of summer comes strongly into play at this time of year. Stick your head into a basil plant at the supermarket, close your eyes, and instantly be transported to the Mediterranean. Sniff the barbecue sauce wafting into the air or the smoking charcoal briquettes that are choking the neighbours and be suddenly and inexplicably calmed and reminded of summer weekends.
Last weekend, Alastair and I spent a few days staying with friends in Paris (yes - three days after moving house, but the jury's back and it was a brilliant idea). They live in the 17th Arrondissement, just behind the Arc de Triomphe and have a fabulous market right on their doorstep in Rue Poncelet. Oh that our Farmers? Market could have such a range. One day, perhaps, as it grows from strength to strength. I am ever confident.
We had a wonderful holiday - pottering around, eating, drinking. What stays in my mind, and what I can bring home with me, is sitting in a café watching the beautiful people be beautiful, or sitting around a table solving the world's problems, always with a glass of red wine, a cup of expresso and a square of black chocolate. The kind that is already buzzing your synapses whilst it is still melting on your tongue.
Now there is a recipe that can be repeated at home or abroad, in the sun or rain. And should be, with alarming regularity.
Normal service will resume shortly, featuring black pudding from Ian Mellis and scallops from the Farmers? Market. But not on the same plate.
Has spring sprung? All the signs are there. The bulbs are out, the cherry trees have blossomed, and the winter rain has surely upped a degree or two in preparation for April showers. Also, the tattered remains of my diet were finally blown away when I came across a semi-soft cheese at the farmers' market a couple of weeks ago that is just perfect for cheesecake.
The cheese, called Cromlet, is made, not surprisingly, by Cromlet Farm at Glenmavis near Airdrie. It is slightly firmer than cream cheese and is more bitter than Quark (German low-fat yoghurt), both of which features make it perfect for off-setting the sweetness of cheesecake. Indeed it would be good for any other recipe that requires cream cheese or ricotta. The producers flavour the cheese for eating as it is, but the natural variety is perfect for cooking.
When I brought my 100 gram tub home, my natural instinct was to consult Nigella Lawson, who proved to me some years ago that she knows everything you would ever be interested in learning about cheesecakes. Unfortunately she tells you to do unnatural things like leave the cake in the oven for an hour after turning the heat off, then leaving it for another hour, still in the oven but with the door open. I'd prefer to take it out right away and dive straight in, burning my tongue on the way, but hey-ho.
With 100 grams I obviously couldn't make a whole cheesecake, so I adapted a little and came up with a cheesecake mousse based on Nigella's New York Cheesecake from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I made a little rhubarb compote to go with it, and its recipe follows briefly below.
100g Cromlet cheese
1 egg (separated)
3 drops of vanilla essence (not extract) or half a vanilla pod
40 ml double cream
3 drops of lemon oil or the zest of half a lemon
a small pinch of salt a large pinch of cornflour
Pre-heat your oven to 150°C (coolish) and put in a tray with up to 3cm of water in it, depending on how large your ramekins are.
Beat the egg white to stiff peaks. Whisk the yolk, cheese, cream, cornflour and vanilla to a paste. Add the cream and mix thoroughly, then add the salt and lemon oil or zest and mix again. Now fold in the egg white. Add a spoonful first and fold gently to loosen the mixture. Then tip in the rest, again folding gently to make sure you don[base ']t lose the air that has been whisked in.
Scoop into individual ramekins, leaving almost 1cm at the top for the cake to rise (although sadly it will deflate as it cools). I used four largish metal ramekins but it would make six normal-sized ones (leaving slightly less space at the top). Small coffee cups also work if you have no ramekins.
Take the tray out of the oven and place the ramekins inside. The water should come about half way up the sides of the ramekins. This will stop them drying out. Without this water bath they will emerge more solid - cheesecakes rather than mousse.
Cook for 35 minutes - or until golden-brown on top. Leave in the oven to cool for half an hour. Because it is mousse and not cheesecake, I have found a reason to not leave it in the oven for hours, but to eat immediately.
Whilst the mousse is cooking, make the rhubarb compote. Put four sticks of chopped rhubarb in a pan with two tablespoons of syrup from a bottle of preserved ginger, and one ball of the preserved ginger, finely chopped. Add to this the black seeds from one cardamon pod and a pinch of cinnamon. Cook on a medium heat till thick and gloopy (10-15 minutes). It should be a wonderfully rich shade of pink.
For your great amusement, I have finally come round to taking a photograph of something I have made. I found, though, that the rhubarb refused to be photogenic. It may take some time before I am able to take decent pictures to add to the site. Hopefully you will bear with me and try not to be too rude about my efforts.
As the holidays become a distant memory and people start socialising again after the post-Christmas lull, my diet starts to falter. Even evenings spent just talking with the girls lathers the body with hollow red wine calories. Still, January started well enough and I've decided to have a short break till after Valentines Day. We all need a goal to work towards.
All of which means that I can happily hop, skip and jump down to the Farmers' Market at Mansfield Park (on the second and fourth Saturday of every month - go early). They sell all sorts of farm produce including meat and veg, fish, eggs, honey and cakes. I have taken a particular shine to the meat. Most of it is organic, the quality is quite superb and, despite being a little more expensive, is considerably tastier than the usual supermarket fare. And you can get game, which is not something I have bought since I left Edinburgh and my much beloved butcher, George Bower in Stockbridge.
The last time we were at the farmers' market, we bought a rolled shoulder of wild boar. This is fabulous meat. It is much stronger, gameier, than pork. In fact compared to the pork that is generally available in this country, I could almost go as far as to say that wild boar has flavour and leave it at that. Elizabeth David compares it to Jamaican Hog and while I cannot vouch for that, I will say that I had the best gammon steak ever in the Dominican Republic. There, families keep a few pigs and basically leave them to forage for themselves. They then sell these on to the big hotels to feed their western patrons. Is it strange to find that the agricultural habits of a developing country produce superior quality meat to our own? Or is that just me jumping on my high horse again?
Elizabeth David wrote about wild boar in her book on Italian food and the recipe that follows is one of hers. In much of what she writes, she says that wild boar has a tendency to go dry so the recipe that follows is designed to prevent that.
The joint must be marinated for 24 hours before cooking. Put the meat in a suitable dish (I use Tupperware for I am the Tupperware queen, but a bowl or oven dish covered with cling film is fine). Add to it:
Seal the box or cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 24 hours. Give it a good shake occasionally, or turn upside down if in a box, to make sure the marinade gets everywhere.
When you are ready to roast, dry the meat carefully, making sure all the marinade has been removed. Pierce the meat and poke inside a couple more (fresh) cloves of garlic and some rosemary. Put the meat on a roasting rack within a roasting tray. It needs to be suspended above the base - the rack from a grill pan will do if you haven't a roasting one. Pour a little oil over the meat and salt the skin (to get great crackling). Then add one-two inches of water in the bottom of the pan. This will prevent the meat from drying out.
We couldn't find any chestnuts to serve with it as recommended by Ms David, and celeriac mash would have been great too (adding butter, cream and sugar). Instead we ate the veg that was available at the market on the day and you can never go wrong with that. My only concession to the diet was to not par-boil and bash my potatoes first as this only serves to double the amount of fat they absorb during cooking.
The problem with being on a diet after Christmas is that it is the middle of the winter. When it is dark on leaving and returning home, and when the weather has been quite as unpleasant as it is just now, there is nothing more comforting than to sip something soothing and slip into that extra inch of fat.
And the things I miss most are sausages - a definite diet no-no. Or so I thought. Between bouts of eating over the Christmas holidays, I flicked through the pages of a low-fat cookbook, Low Fat Life Plan by Sue Kreitzman. She has come up with a way of reducing the amount of fat contained in sausages. Hallelujah!
Now this does not work for British sausages because of the rusk, but it does work with continental ones. Cook French and Italian sausages on their own and then remove from the pan. The sausages can be dried off on kitchen towel. There should be some caramelised bits at the bottom of the pan. After wiping the fat out with kitchen towel first, you can either scrape these up with a glass of wine reducing at a high heat on the hob, or use as the base for sausage stew.
With Chorizo sausages (whole sausages, not slices), place them in an oven-proof pan and cook at 200°C for about 10 minutes. The fat will have, mostly, melted out and can be poured into a used tin can and not down the plug-hole. Dry as above.
As mentioned, it doesn't work for the good old British banger but I have done a taste trial on a variety of low-fat sausages and my favourites come from Tesco and Sainsbury.
If you're being particularly good and using continental sausages, cook as above and rejoin the recipe on "add a small glass of Marsala....". Don't use the sausage pan for cooking the onions, as the nicely caramelised bits will quickly turn into a burnt nightmare. Add the ingredients to the sausage pan just before you add the glass of Marsala.
Quickly brown the sausages and remove from the pan, turning down the heat to medium. Add the onions and garlic and cook until transparent. Now add the tomatoes, lentils, thyme, rosemary and paprika if using. Stir it all round to make sure everything has a good coating.
Add a small glass of Marsala, or if you don't have any, a large glass of red wine. I am tempted to say that if you don't have Marsala, go out and buy it because it is a wonderful addition to most Mediterranean cooking - a slug here or there is sweeter and more intensely flavoured than any glass of red wine. However, as I'm on a diet, I can't advocate the excessive use of alcohol in food at the moment. But please feel free to ignore my more puritanical diet observations.
Anyway, add a glass of whatever and scrape up all the bits from the bottom of the pan. Now add enough water to cover the ingredients and put in a medium oven (180°C, etc.) for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, check there is enough water as the lentils will absorb quite a bit - the end result should have a little thickened liquid. Now add the spinach and stir in well, then return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. When the time is up, check the lentils - they may need another five minutes depending on the temperament of your oven.
I serve this with steamed Savoy cabbage and nice bread. It also works with potatoes - just chop them up reasonably small and chuck them into the pan before it goes in the oven. Saves on washing dishes. And when you're on a diet, every form of treat counts.
So that was Christmas. I had a wonderful time - hope you did too. As with most people, we spent our time visiting family and friends, catching up on news, and eating and drinking the days away.
Traditionally, and this pre-dates the religious ceremonies of this time of year, the mid-winter festival was one where people would gather together, feast and look forward to the return of the summer. The cake we now call a Christmas cake is round to signify the sun and is full of dried fruit and nuts to denote the wealth of the harvest of the previous year and to garner the body in preparation for the cold, lean months ahead.
Which is great. Except for the fact that we live in centrally heated houses, with fairly sedentary lives and can just pop down to the shops if we happen to run out of food. So it is now time to welcome our newer tradition - the January diet.
I popped into Anderson's on Byres Road just after Christmas to pick up the most important part of my diet - vegetables, and lots of them. If you've read my column before, you will know that the thought of small portions of diet food are about as appealing as dropping into the new Safeway to pick up a ready-meal. My January menu consists of a lot of Eastern food. Dishes made with practically no fat but lots of spices to provide flavour. And to my mind, serving these with wholegrain rice is the best way to take on carbohydrates without loading up on hip-clinging pasta.
However, this next recipe is for another soup. The last for a long time, I promise. This soup is full of vitamins and minerals, acres of fibre and uses up about as many calories to eat as there are in it. Eat a small bowl of this as a starter each evening and it will do half of the work in filling your stomach before you start eating any calorie-laden dish. It is a simple vegetable soup using organic vegetables so that you don't have to peel them - which takes away most of their vitamins. In addition to Anderson[base ']s, Malcolm Campbell - the now entirely organic arm of Peckhams in Hyndland Road - has a good selection. This soup tastes great and helps save me from the January fat-free blues.
First, get a bottle that has a spray nozzle top and fill half way up with olive oil and top up with water. I know this is sacrilegious but using this to spray oil in pans for cooking does help with keeping the fat content of your meals as low as possible. Always give it a good shake before spraying.
Spray your biggest pan, or use two if your pans aren't that big, with a little of the oil and water emulsion. Add three large red onions chopped finely and two crushed cloves of garlic on a medium to low heat - there's not much oil so things will stick/burn if it is too hot. Then add a head of celery that has been washed and chopped roughly (although no pieces should be bigger than an inch). Stir everything around for a while, and then add four chopped but not peeled carrots, a red pepper or two, a head of broccoli and a handful of mushrooms. Now add two tins of chopped tomatoes, a tin of consommé and a litre and a half of stock. Add more water if there is not enough to cover the vegetables. Bring this to the boil and then turn down to simmer for thirty minutes. Finely shred a head of Savoy cabbage and add to the pan(s) for the last ten minutes of the cooking time.
When the soup is ready, taste for seasoning. It will depend on what kind of stock you have used as to how salty the soup is already. You can put the soup through a liquidiser to get a smooth, thick soup but I prefer it as it is.
Package the soup up into individual portions. One-and-a-half to two ladle-full servings spooned into freezer bags that can be frozen and defrosted as required is my usual approach.
It may not be the most exciting food in the world but it is both good, and good for you. And what's more, it means you don't have to stop eating for a month to shed the box of chocolates you ate in front of the TV on New Year's Day, amongst other things...
A soup is as good as its stock - possibly. A soup is certainly as good as its ingredients and as I often do not have a fresh stock to hand, I have spent some time going through various cubes to decide which I like best. I'm rather fond of the bottles of concentrated stock, although the ones that come in jars of rather solid, Marmite-like stock I find very salty and not terribly nice.
European stock cubes are invariably better than British ones. I once saw a programme about why Knorr sell a weaker version of their product range in this country - something to do with our lack of taste. I rather take it that so did the Jenners food buyer because they stock French Knorr products and I can think of no other reason why.
Most delis have taken to stocking vegetarian stock cubes such as onion or mushroom extract, and again these are fairly superior in the world of stock-cube flavours. And there is also Marigold stock - a Swiss vegetable bouillon powder - which is ubiquitous in West End delis. It can taste a bit artificial if you put too much in, but it is conveniently sold in a big tub which means you can sprinkle a little whenever you're lacking a little oomf with supper preparations. And you're not even going to offend vegans in the process. Not that I know any vegans.
All of the West End delis sell a range of the above and who knows what wonders Safeway in Byres Road will offer when it re-opens. Anyway, back to soup.
I call it that. It's not, but then it is a name and I can explain myself. The beans, Parmesan and oil are Italian. The cabbage, onions and sausage are Polish. Or at least used to be when I used Kabanos. But then I discovered Peckham's Bavarian Smoked Sausages, which are to die for. However, the feel is Polish and I'm sticking with it.
50g mung beans (small, round, green beans that have more texture and hold together better than lentils) - soaked overnight then boiled for 30 minutes
50g cannellini beans - soaked overnight then boiled for 30 minutes with the mung beans
(If you can't be bothered with soaking beans - although I'm convinced they taste better and are certainly cheaper - use a tin of mixed beans drained of their liquor)
Two onions - one red, one white, sliced finely
Three Bavarian smoked sausages (four would be very piggy) - sliced in rounds
A small handful of parsley and thyme - finely chopped
A bay leaf
One litre of stock - made up as per the instructions on the packet Half a small Savoy cabbage - shredded finely Parmesan - grated with a potato peeler for finishing off
Good quality olive oil for drizzling
Soften the sliced onion in a big pan on a medium heat using a little olive oil. Don't stir it around too much, let it caramelise a little as this adds to the flavour. Let it cook for ten minutes. During this time, slice the sausage into rounds a little thicker than a pound coin. Add them to the pan and brown for a few minutes.
Now add the beans and the herbs and stir everything round to make sure the beans all get a coating of oil. Add the bay leaf and the stock. Then simmer for twenty minutes.
When it's time is up, taste and check the seasoning. It is highly unlikely you will need any salt as the stock will contain plenty, but it may need some pepper.
A couple of minutes before you are ready to serve the soup, drop in the finely shredded cabbage and let it cook until it is just tender. If the thought of adding cabbage to soup terrifies you, remember two things:
1. Cabbage is in season at this time of year and is bursting with flavour and colour.
2. You are, in the last cooking minutes, adding the cabbage to a sumptuously flavoured liquid. This is not over-cooked school cabbage sitting in a puddle of grey water.
If that doesn't do you, then you should know that cabbage soups often feature in diets. And if you still won't buy that, try using sorrel (from Roots and Fruits chilled counter) or watercress instead.
Then as you dish up each bowl, add a few shavings of parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.
As autumn descends upon us, soup becomes part of my world. Particularly the hearty, cockle-warming type that is best consumed as a late lunch on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon before a saunter up the Kelvin, talking about nothing in particular, and eagerly anticipating the changing colours of the trees.
It's funny, but for about six months a year I hate soup. I can be seen with a frown on my face saying, "that's not a meal, it's a drink". And yet for the other half of the year, I spend an alarming amount of time investigating the endless permutations that you can find in soup. Also, if I'm not well, all I want is chicken soup with rice. That just makes the whole world better. It should be provided free on the NHS. That failing, I'll give you my recipe when I next catch a cold.
To me, soup should be one of two things: a delicate or exotic flavour designed to tease your mouth in anticipation of a fabulous meal to come; or a meal in itself, with meat, veg, greens - the whole caboodle, only wet.
Recently, Alastair took me to Amaryllis for my birthday. The food was indeed stunning. Being me though, I had to see if I could recreate any of it at home. The simplest thing to try had to be the 'Celeriac Cappuccino with Truffle Frosting', I think they called it. It was one of the chef's compliments and was just a tiny serving of a very rich but light soup tasting of celeriac and butter. It came, froth and all, in a little expresso cup. Although I wouldn't want more than the tiniest amount, I would certainly want that tiny amount more often than the once in a blue moon that we can afford to go to Amaryllis. What follows is my approximation of the soup.
If celeriac is an entirely new vegetable to you, think of it as an ugly turnip (swede if you're English) and treat it accordingly. In flavour, its taste is similar to celery but is much more delicate, despite its appearance. Roots & Fruits and Anderson's usually stock it, supermarkets less regularly so.
Peel the celeriac with a knife. Slice it into rounds a little more than a centimetre wide. Dice finely - you want it to take on as much of the flavour of butter as possible. The smaller it is diced, the greater its surface area is and, as a result, more butter is absorbed. Don't grate it, though, because it is a terribly rich soup, and you need to get a balance of butter and lightness.
Put a large knob of butter into a big pan - between 30g and 40g. Add a little olive oil to prevent the butter burning. When the butter has melted and is bubbling (the pan should be on a medium heat), add the celeriac. Cook this for a few minutes without browning. The end result should be a pale yellow soup, so you don't want it to be fried.
Then add your stock. This has to be a good stock. No cubes here - they're too salty. Best thing to do is make your own by having a roast chicken one night, keep all the bones, chuck them in a pan full of salted water with a quartered onion, carrot, a couple of bay leaves and some pepper corns. Bring this to the boil then turn down and simmer for a couple of hours, then strain. This is five minutes of preparation (max) and two hours of TV watching. And you get to eat roast chicken into the bargain.
That failing, get a couple of tubs of fresh stock. I've tried the deli's but no-one seems to have it. Safeway and Sainsbury often have it in small quantities but they always seem to have run out by the time I get there. Perhaps I should get up earlier. Anyway, you need approximately 750mls of stock.
Simmer the soup for 15 minutes but do not let it boil. Whizz it up in a liquidiser for a couple of minutes until it is perfectly smooth. You don't want any bits in it - this soup is for your tastebuds, not your teeth. If the resulting blend is quite thick, add more stock, or if it is very rich, use water instead. The consistency you want is rather like evaporated milk. Obviously it doesn't taste like that, nor is it sticky, but it is ever so slightly thick and silky smooth.
It may need a little extra salt but there should be plenty in the stock, so taste it before correcting the seasoning. Don't add pepper.
Before serving, warm the soup up again. Whatever you do, don't boil it. This will change the texture and it will no longer be smooth. To create a froth, whizz small amounts in a liquidiser (if you do it all at once it doesn't work), or use a hand-held electric whisk to whizz the soup whilst it's still in the pan.
Amaryllis grated truffle on top of each serving, but I'm not flash enough to keep truffles at home, and it is fine without.
This one is easy. Thinly slice three red onions. Sweat these down on a lowish heat, in a little olive oil, with three finely chopped cloves of garlic for about ten minutes. Use a cast iron pan - or any one that you can put under the grill later on.
When the onions are translucent, add two tins of beef consommé and a glass of red wine. Bring to the boil and turn down to simmer for ten minutes.
Slice yesterday's baguette into good inch-thick rounds - enough to cover the surface of the soup and place over. Grate 300g of Gruyere cheese and spread evenly on top of the bread. Put the pan under a hot grill and toast till the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Bring the pan to the table and serve immediately.
Gruyere has a particular affinity with this soup. It has a nutty flavour and its gluey texture holds the, by now dumpling-like, bread together and offsets the sugars released from the onions.
This is a real hearty soup, perfect for a cold and wet day. It almost makes me want to take back every harsh word I have ever said on the subject.
Mmm, Ikea. Oh how we danced as we celebrated the arrival of cheap, stylish furniture in Glasgow. OK, so it's not in the West End but it is so very West End, and I'm sure that we will all have an afternoon's entertainment there sooner or later. Not actually owning any property myself, I can manage to avoid buying endless furnishings but - they have a food section.
This, to me, is ambrosia - lost when my Norwegian chums returned to the exotic north. Not that they have everything I would want (and I am going to start lobbying Ikea to stock fishballs) but it's a damn sight cheaper than having to hike across to Oslo every time I want to stock up on breakfast goodies.
One of the most important meals to me as a student was the occasional weekend mega-breakfast. This is a feast that would make any Sunday worth waking up to, no matter how much you believed that the sky had just fallen on your head. We would move around like zombies, bringing to the table bread, crispbread, flatbread, ham, salami, cheese, the infamous brown cheese, coleslaw, imported Russian salad, cucumber, red pepper, mayonnaise, tubes of caviar (which is actually cod roe in a creamy sauce - quite mild in flavour but still fishy), jam, bananas.
Sometimes we would cook eggs. Fried and served on a slice of round white bread - the milk loaves you can buy in Greggs, with the slicing points already incised in the crust. Or soft-boiled, cut up on toast, with a zigzag of caviar painted over. Or Icelandic style - scrambled with slivers of smoked salmon in a diamond pattern hatched across the top.
But to be honest, eggs only got involved when we had guests, or an errant boyfriend whose attentions had turned from the bedroom to the kitchen.
Once the food had been brought to the table and the first round of coffee was brewing, it was basically self-service. That said, each person would have something of a communal role: be it slicing bread (or teaching the dumb British people how to do this properly), pouring the coffee, making toast, cooking the eggs. I always felt that this process built a strong bond between us. Conversation was something that would creep in gradually as our minds were fuelled, but the slow sharing of food and preparing each slice as your fancy takes you is really quite different to cooking a meal and putting it on the table.
There are no rules to this feast. Well, one actually. If you eat brown cheese (Gjetost - the brand Snow Queen is often available in Peckhams), slice it thinly using a cheese slice designed specifically for this purpose, it's not nice if you take a chunk of it. Not to mention that all Norwegians everywhere will laugh at you - I'm still glad it wasn't me who did this. Brown cheese has a very strong flavour and is made either from cow's milk (mild), sheep milk (not so mild) or goat milk (really quite strong and probably my favourite although Norwegians will try and start you off on the mild version till you get used to its unique flavour). It tastes pretty much like a Caramac bar. Odd really for a cheese but it's something that you either like or you don't. Few people have an indifferent opinion to brown cheese. One friend of mine would eat it on bread with a slice of red pepper on top but to my mind it was a sweet thing so I preferred it just beginning to melt on hot buttered toast, or on a cracker.
For everything else you pretty much just do what pleases you, making up each open sandwich (or slice as we called them) with whatever takes your fancy. (It is worth pointing out that the loaves we used were small, so each slice was not unruly to handle. If you have normal sized bread, cut each slice in half.) Perhaps you want brown bread with a thin layer of creamy coleslaw and a slice of salami on top. Or toasted white with a slice of cheese and two of cucumber. For cheese that wasn't imported, we used Jarlsberg when we could get it (remembering that Littlewoods was our local foodhall) or Edam, as it was closest in mild flavour and texture.
The Russian salad that they brought over was one of my favourites. Packaged in a similar way to the little packets of 'luxury' coleslaw that we buy, only more sturdily so as it was being brought over from Norway, it is related to the 60s classic that makes for such a perfect summer lunch. Only this version comes without the lettuce, is finely shredded and with much more mayonnaise. One thing the Norwegians really know how to make is mayonnaise - theirs is so much creamier than ours is. Even the light version positively shames what is sold in Britain as low-fat mayonnaise.
A Norwegian breakfast, when done as a Sunday feast, can take around two hours. Sometimes more. It is a very leisurely pursuit, with not too much food consumed and only ever what each person wants to eat, and a lot of conversation shared. It is a very distant relative to the fry-up and pouring over the papers that takes up too much of our lives. So, go to Ikea, buy cheese and caviar, and have a really civilized Sunday morning.
It is not terribly easy to find crabapples these days. When I was a little girl, my sister and I used to collect the windfalls from a neighbour's tree and our mum would make jelly. This seemed such a bizarre process, centring on an upturned stool with muslin tied to the four corners, and with cooked crabapples slowly dripping through, over a number of days.
My friend Rosemary knows of a wood - in the countryside east of Edinburgh - that has a number of crabapple trees, and this is where I spent Sunday morning. Having clambered into the half-bush/half-tree, and contorted my way around it to find the ripest apples, it suddenly occurred to me that this was probably not the best day to wear my new cardigan for the first time. Even my hair was held by the large, blunt thorns and my arms were scratched and red.
As I carefully extracted myself from the tree's grasp, I had to question whether this was worth the effort. But when I think about how much I love crabapple jelly and the memories it brings flooding back, then I have to say it is.
Quarter the apples (do not peel and core because this is where the pectin is and it is this that sets the jelly), then boil them. Strain them through muslin - Papyrus in Byres Road have both these and jam making kits. This is a slow job. You cannot force it, as this will turn the juice cloudy. For every pint of juice you have, add a pound of sugar. Add lemon zest if it won't set. Bottle as per chutney (see later).
In addition to the crabapples, we found a sloe bush weighed down with fruit. Apparently that means it will be a long, hard winter. Therefore, I felt it necessary to pick a bag of these too, so I can make lots of sloe gin to drink in the dog-end of the season.
Prick your sloes, either with a thorn from the bush or a skewer if you lost the thorn on the way home. Wash them and put them in a bottle. Pour caster sugar into the bottle (a paper funnel is very useful here) - enough to come one third of the way up. Fill with gin and leave in a cool dark place for a minimum of four months, although six is better. It will last for up to four years and matures nicely.
Short of hiking off into the country, its spoils are now coming to the West End on a regular basis. Go to the Farmers Market at Mansfield Park on the corner of Hyndland Street and Dumbarton Road. The market plans to run every other week. The current list of dates I have is:
There are a range of producers, many selling meat and dairy products. On my last visit I was interested in the fruit and veg stands.
At one stall I bought some gorgeous raspberries that we ate with lemon syrup cake. We had a sudden need for a desert as our guest that weekend arrived announcing a lactose intolerance, which wiped out the large selection of cheese I had bought out of a. laziness and b. general proximity to Ian Mellis on the Saturday morning. Both cake and raspberries were equally sweet and tart but the combination of the buttery, almost toffee-like texture of the lemon cake sat beautifully with the sharp bursting of a raspberry on your tongue. It was too good to limit yourself to just the one slice.
Basically this is a Victoria sponge without the raising agents and with added gloop and the grated zest of three lemons. I use plain instead of self-raising flour, although still add a teaspoon of baking powder. Once the cake is cooked, juice three large lemons and add 175g of caster sugar and mix well. Leave the cake in its tin, prick holes all over it with a skewer and spoon the mix over. Don't worry if lots go down the sides of the cake. Leave the cake in the tin for about an hour to absorb the syrup.
In addition to the raspberries, I bought a kilo (two bags) of green tomatoes for chutney. This is so simple to make it's laughable, and will keep me in cheese and chutney sandwiches for a good long time.
Two bags of green tomatoes, roughly chopped
4/5 smallish organic courgettes, roughly chopped (I don't believe that non-organic ones have any flavour at all and are generally a waste of time)
4/5 onions, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
Half a bag (250g) molasses sugar (for the strength of flavour)
1 litre of white wine vinegar
Half a litre of water
1 stick of cinnamon
2 tablespoons of mustard seeds
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
5 chunks of stem ginger preserved in syrup, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
Chop all the veg and put it in your biggest pot (ideally a cast iron one) on a medium high heat, together with the liquid ingredients. Then add the spices. Bring it to the boil, then turn down to the lowest setting for about three hours. If you have a heat diffuser this would be very useful- you can get them in Papyrus on Byres Road for about £3.
Your house will initially smell of vinegar but this soon mellows to a wonderful sweet aroma. The mix needs to be stirred occasionally, especially near the end of the cooking time. It is done when the mix is thick with very little liquid left on the surface.
Bottle the mix in kilner jars (again from Papyrus). You can sterilise these easily by putting them through your dishwasher, if you have one, and then drying in the oven for about ten minutes - minus the rubber seal, of course. If no dishwasher, then very hot water. If you don't want to buy kilner jars, a selection of old jam jars will do - Papyrus will sell you waxed discs to cover them. Don't forget to label your jars so you know what you're eating. Making cheese sandwiches with jam at 7.30am isn't the world's greatest idea. Believe me.
There is something delicious about this time of year. At the end of August, when the sun still shines but a slight chill slinks into the air, you know the season is about to change. For a start we can stop being disappointed about the non-event that summer became, and look forward to such autumnal delights as getting out favorite warm clothes again and kicking leaves in the park. We can stop thinking, 'I know it's July but I'm cold and I want to put the central heating on', and just do it. And we can put away that unopened and unloved throwaway barbecue for another year.
For me, the really special thing about this time of year is the impression that I can smell mushrooms as I walk through the park in the thin morning sun. All day I can be sitting at work with a smile on my face thinking what I might make for dinner, and big, fat bolete mushrooms are at the front of my mind. A simple omelette with more mushroom than egg and a drizzle of truffle oil perhaps? Washed down with a good red wine (Argento from Oddbins on Hyndland Road being a current favourite - I noticed they didn't stock it in the Byres Road shop though), and some fresh nutty bread. I think I can just say Bradfords (Clarence Drive, and also stocked at Malcolm Campbell's) and 'seeded loaf' and leave it at that.
Or perhaps the sun will disappear and I will be thinking of something more substantial, like mushroom lasagne. The excellent thing about it is that you can eat it on the same day you prepare it, which I fundamentally believe you shouldn't do when using mince. As with chilli, it is always better the second day.
There are many places where you can buy wild mushrooms in the West End. For example, in most delis (Heart Buchanan in Byres Road, or Delizique in Dowanhill Street), greengrocers (Roots & Fruits or Anderson's in Byres Road), and even Safeways, you can at the very least find oyster mushrooms, which are now grown commercially. If these are the only wild mushrooms you can find, make sure you also buy chestnut mushrooms (for flavour) and big, open-cap mushrooms (for texture and general meatiness).
Buy some fresh parsley too - the flat-leaf variety if you can get it. It has a slightly deeper, more autumnal, flavour. Fresh thyme also works well with mushrooms and always makes me think of game. I tend to buy those little plastic packets and keep them in the freezer.
Far be it from me to start telling you how to make an omelette. However, you only want two eggs per person to match a large handful of mushrooms, and really you should make the omelettes individually if there is more than one of you. Your eggs should be free-range organic and size large. Free-range organic isn't hugely expensive, it tastes better, is better for you, and is kinder to the egg producer (the hen). I definitely feel that ranting about this is worthwhile. Many people come from the humanitarian perspective, the 'how can we treat animals like this' argument, or the self-preservation perspective of 'do we really want to consume animals that have just consumed vast amounts of drugs' argument. Both of which are strong and worthy beliefs but, to be honest, I just want to eat food that tastes nice. Free-range organic tastes nice.
I like to cook eggs in extra virgin olive oil. I'm sure Delia wouldn't approve but eggs really take on the flavour. In fact, if you keep a truffle next to eggs, they will absorb some of the flavour. With mushroom omelettes, a little knob of butter added to the pan just as you have folded the omelette for its final minute gives it a lovely nutty taste.
To make a mushroom lasagne, you need plenty of mushrooms. More than you would think is reasonable. For four people, you want at least 2-3 handfuls of assorted wild mushrooms, a bag full of chestnut mushrooms, 4-5 open-cap or portobello mushrooms, and a small handful of dried ceps/boletes. Double up on chestnut if you can't get portobello. The mushrooms you buy should be big and full of flavour. Baby button and field (white) mushrooms aren't.
To make the mushroom filling, you will also need an onion (preferably red), 3-4 cloves of garlic, a whole tub of parsley, a few sprigs of thyme and a glass of wine. Then you need sheet pasta (fresh or dried), a nice big ball of mozzarella (it will be cooked so it is not necessary to use buffalo mozzarella) and about £1 worth of Parmesan.
First, wash your mushrooms. On the whole I rarely bother with this because a little soil is not going to kill you and, in any case, I'm lazy. Wild mushrooms often have grit in them though, and this is not a key texture in lasagne. Then, from a just-off-the-boil kettle, soak your dried mushrooms in 200mls of water for 15 minutes. With the rest of the water from your kettle, par-boil your lasagne for 6-8 minutes if it is dried (they don't get much cooking later so need this). If it is fresh, don't bother.Turn your oven up to 180ºC, or medium-high, in whatever language your oven speaks. Thinly slice your onion and fry this in olive oil, in a big pan, on a medium heat. Finely chop the garlic and herbs and add this to the pan when the onion has turned translucent.
Whilst all this is frying, chop your mushrooms roughly. You want them in big pieces because they will shrink as their water comes out. Chuck them all in the pan, turn the heat up and season well with salt and pepper. After a few minutes there will be a lot of liquid in the pan and the mushrooms will be half-cooked. Take them out with a slotted spoon, leaving as much liquid in the pan as possible so that you can reduce it to a rich syrup. Add the now rehydrated dried mushrooms to the pan with most of their soaking liquor, but at the bottom there will be some grit that you don't want.
Add a glass of red wine to what should now be a rapidly boiling pan of mushroom juice. You want to reduce this by two thirds. Whilst it is bubbling away, layer up your lasagne starting with a layer of pasta and half of the mushrooms. Repeat. On top of the second layer add slices of mozzarella and a final layer of pasta.
When the liquid has boiled down, add a generous knob of butter and stir vigorously. This will thicken the sauce slightly and give it a sheen. Pour this over the top layer of pasta. The dried mushrooms will still be in this reduced sauce so you want to arrange them neatly on the surface of the lasagne. Sprinkle the Parmesan, now grated, over the top and put the whole thing in the oven for about 15 minutes. It really doesn't need long.
Serve with a green salad of rocket, an avocado and spring onion. Serve with the central heating on. Serve in your favourite cardigan as the rain pelts down outside.
- I was looking for a baked crab dish. I will try yours. I enjoyed your page and intend to try some of the many delicious ones.
-- Hazel Monk-Montgomery ( Emailhmontgo105 at aol dot com ) from USA on 19.1.2003; 15:14:42 Uhr
Lesley, I'm a real foodie and I love the recipes especially the sausage stew and soups which is exactly what we need right now!
Thanks, it's great
--Val Tonner ( vtonner at hotmail dot com ) from Scotland on 7.3.2002; 0:10:58 Uhr
Hey there Lindsay, good to see you're putting your talents to good use...You're a cyber-star!!!
--Lesley Weir ( Lesley dot Weir at smg dot plc dot uk ) from Scotland on 6.9.2001; 10:28:01 Uhr