excellent fare


I’ve really done it now. I invited my friend and parish minister for his lunch to my home today to celebrate his birthday. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in the cold light of day as the time of noon ebbs ever closer, I wish I had shut my mouth.

You might be thinking that sounds odd, until you understand the circumstances. Last week I had arranged to take him to a lovely French bistro, expensive but excellent fare as a birthday present. He has been before and has always commented on the quality of the food. Wanting to get a table I booked it ahead of time, only to find an email in my inbox. The contents perturbed me more than a little.  It read that he would prefer to go somewhere else. The restaurant in his opinion had atmosphere but did not offer value for money. You could not get as much salad as you could eat and top-ups of Coke. A local Harvester chain restaurant fitted the remit better.

I replied that I had already booked and anyway I was paying as a birthday treat. Having heard nothing from him, last Wednesday morning, I went into town and assumed he would meet me at the restaurant. No-one came, so I had a three course meal with wine on my own. I began with crab and smoke salmon beignets with a red pepper coulis, followed by daub of pork with fennel mash and then trio of chocolate desserts. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal with the repartee of the waiters, whom I know well, amused I should eat on my own.

Lunch today turned out quite pleasant in the end. We started with a pear and walnut salad with a warm honey and mustard dressing, followed by Chicken Veronique with mashed potatoes and a lemon soufflé omelette for dessert. We had two bottles of wine and some champagne cognac. Cooking always de-stresses me and the more stressed I am the more elaborate the meal. Just as well I am usually calm, otherwise I might several stone heavier.

The observant reader should note the French influences to the meal which are entirely intentional and, before you ask, the Veronique Sauce was not too acidic as many can be, since I added some sugar to balance the flavour because the grapes were not very sweet. Made well this sauce is the perfect accompaniment to chicken or lemon sole.

My friend enjoyed himself and said the experience was better than a restaurant. With a cleared plate for all three courses he clearly meant it.

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Comfort food


As I lie on my bed writing this article, my nose picks up the sticky sweet caramel smell of roast meat simmering gently on the cooker. For Anne and me, involved as we are in the church, this is the latter part of a very long day. Therefore what better thing to have than food that is both wholesome and comforting in equal measure?

Pot roasted topside, Yorkshire Puddings, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and vegetables, accompanied with a bottle of red wine tick all the boxes.  Such food has a restorative effect on body and soul. After such a meal, all the cares and worries of the day dissipate and work tomorrow seems more inviting.

To be entirely honest, topside had not been my first choice when I went to the butcher’s shop yesterday. I desired loin of pork with skin on, so I could cook it slowly and have melt in the mouth pork with apple sauce and crackling. Maybe, then, I should have made an earlier visit to the butcher. In the middle of the afternoon, all the pork roasts had gone. Grrr… Better luck next time!

In the meantime Anne and I will have a siesta and let the meat finish its cooking and  then whilst the meat rests, becoming ever more unctuous,  I will cook the accompaniments.

We should eat about eight pm. Until then. I will just have to put up with the tantalising smell of the roast, as my mouth waters in eager expectations of what is to come.

God, indeed, is in His heaven and all is right with the world, at least for a short moment in time. I know you will all wish my wife and I a bon appetite for the repast we are about to receive!

What favourite meals do you have on a Sunday? I would love to hear your comments.

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The Versatile Blogger Award


A very talented blogger Poet of Midnight has nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. The poet in question takes simple themes from everyday life and makes them meaningful and profound, but never overtly saccharin. Prepare yourself to be moved emotionally and spiritually by the range of work available.

Now I believe I need to reveal 7 things about myself.

  1. My food adventures would be less fun without Anne, my wife and best friend to share them with.
  2. I love the aroma of freshly brewed coffee pervading the kitchen.
  3. I don’t eat to live, I live to eat.
  4. In the process of cooking one meal, I am thinking about the next meal.
  5. I believe that a house without books is like a person without a soul.
  6. I follow the mantra “Live peaceably and enjoy today because the future is uncertain”.
  7. Sharing a meal is one of my life’s greatest pleasures.

10 bloggers I wish to nominate for the Versatile Blogger Award are:

BLOG PLANE

DIVA REFLECTIONS

GODSPACE

LAKIA GORDON

Rickshaw Diaries

david lebovitz

 Burning it off

the lives and loves of sheweevil

willbriantreviews

THE AWESOME SISTERS

The writing of each of these bloggers is first class.

For those interested catch my other blog Honest to God, which is reflective- looking at the bigger questions of life.

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You are what you eat


Some people eat to live. Without a shadow of a doubt, I live to eat. Interestingly, I associate significant memorable events of my life with meals.

The first date Anne and I went on we had a meal in the Quality Inn, a short distance from my mother’s house in Carrickfergus. It was a Friday evening 15 November 1985- the day the Anglo Irish agreement was signed- a significant step in Anglo-Irish relations.

A taxi picked up Anne and then collected me. She looked amazing with glitter in her hair, and a grey fur coat. Her perfume L’Air du Temps made me weak at the knees. Was I really going out with such a beauty?

I don’t remember, sadly, what main courses we had, possibly fish and chicken. This was Northern Ireland in the 1980s. Nouvelle cuisine or Michelin ratings were a long way off. Eating anything out in an hotel was deemed the height of sophistication!

I do remember our starters. Anne had corn on the cob, I had melon. The reason I remember our starters, particularly, is because the corn on the cob came blanketed in butter, and, when eating it, most of the butter cascaded down Anne’s mouth and stained her blouse. We both laughed and relaxed, and the first date passed in a flash.

Twenty six years later and married for seventeen years, we still enjoy our meals out. Possibly our tastes have become more complex and we like to eat fare that I wouldn’t  cook at home, due to difficulty in finding ingredients, or complex culinary processes not easily done in a domestic kitchen.  (I once smoked duck at home. We thought the end result of the smoked duck served with an apple wood cheese sauce worked well, but Anne did not appreciate the lingering smell of smoke in the kitchen for days after.)

Do you associate food with memorable events? I would love to read your comments.

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Full of Beans


Tins and instant food, play little part in my cooking. Better to cook fresh, I tell myself. But confession time, there are two exceptions: baked beans and processed marrowfat peas. Just the mention of the peas alone tantalises my taste buds.

The past few days have been difficult. With a virus making my stomach unsettled, my diet has varied from nothing to very little. I have been dreaming food, but unfortunately my body wouldn’t have coped with the content of the self-indulgent dreams .

Last night as I became more human again, my wife and I had mashed potatoes, bacon and baked beans. I can’t tell you the pleasure the taste of the beans matched with buttery mashed potatoes and salty bacon gave me.

This was no profound taste sensation, but simple honest food with the baked beans- processed and sweet taking the starring role. Baked beans, I salute you!

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I’m hungry


When, as a teenager, I uttered this phrase, my mother added, “That is your middle name”. Nothing much has changed. I love my food and eating it gives me a lot of pleasure. I think I will go for a carry out tonight. The prawns in the fridge have been in the fridge too long.

I feel privileged that I can ameliorate my hunger fairly quickly, with the means at my disposal to do so. Many people, due to circumstances outwith their control, are starving to death. Bad harvests, famine, natural disaster all have their impact and the result is death for the most vulnerable.

Can we really justify in the developed world all the wastage of food, when many people could and should benefit from it? Fish quotas mean perfectly good fish has to be thrown back into the water dead, not to mention how much food is binned because it has reached its sell by date, or is deemed not perfect in shape by the supermarkets.

Surely we all need to be careful of wasting food, and be grateful for what we have. Many in our world are not so fortunate.

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A Common Passion


Sunday may be a day of rest for many, but it is certainly not for me. Having left for church with only an espresso, I compensated with a large lunch about three o’clock.  It certainly was quantity over finesse- as I threw together a stir fry with some steak, pepper, garlic, ginger and some chilli and stock served with rice left over from last night.

I spent the afternoon reading about Julia Childs, that eccentric, francophile that taught Americans to cook. Having watched the movie recently, I wanted to see how accurate Meryl Streep played her. Had she indeed hammed up the part, as critics suggested on the film’s release. I managed to find on You Tube footage of the French Chef cookery series she did. I think Meryl Street managed to portray Childs very well.

I imagine the genuine article might have been more opinionated and certainly more waspish. She makes Germaine Greer and Clarissa Dickson Wright seem very tame in comparison. Very much a feminist in the true sense of the word, yet not a man-hater, she was very much ahead of her time. Paul, her husband, must have loved her very much, because a lesser man might have struggled living with such an eccentric extrovert.

I certainly want to read more about her life, particularly the letters she wrote to her pen pal mentioned in the film. Since both were well connected and well read women their letters certainly might be interesting insights into social and political history of time, most specifically the era of McCarthy.

I’m also intrigued by Julie Powell- inspired to spend a year of her life recreating all the recipes from Child’s magnum opus Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The blog certainly seems to have rekindled the writer in her, yet at a cost. Her marriage suffered from fame, celebrity, greater choices and an affair, as she reveals in her latest book. All credit to Eric and Julie working through their marital difficulties.  Affairs tend to be a symptom and one needs to look beyond to the more serious underlying problems. This, they obviously did.

Both women, so different in many ways, seem to have resilience and a consummate passion for food, which in my opinion, more than compensates for their very real human frailties.

Is there anyone in cyberspace interested enough to comment on any of my posts?

With work today, bed beckons…

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Comfort Food for a Saturday Evening


 

This evening I am more reflective. With Anne away our flat feels eerily quiet: no Radio 4 bellowing out from our bedroom. I liked Radio 4 so much so that I introduced Anne to it seventeen or so years ago, because Terry Wogan droning in the morning did not appeal. Better James Naughtie et al on Radio 4.  Discovering Radio 4 was her epiphanal moment and the rest, as they say, is history.

Having spent more of the early afternoon making a tomato tarte tatin, my tastes for the evening are simpler. To qualify, simple for me! I will let you judge, dear  reader.

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I took some pork belly slices and poached them in a liquor of chicken stock, garlic, ginger, spring, hot paprika and soy sauce to give them flavour and ensure they become less fatty. So far, so good.

Once out of the liquor the belly slices need to be dried. During this time the rice can be soaked. Basmati rice, although expensive and more difficult to work with, has a much better flavour than the easy cook American rice. Once soaked for half an hour,  washed and drained- water is added. Two parts water to one part rice. Cook covered at a high heat until it boils and then turn down the heat and simmer until the water totally evaporated.

As I wait for the rice to cook, I can’t help think how social food and eating actually is. I can imagine why some people who live alone find it such an effort to cook. Do they really want to waste time cooking for themselves? Microwave meals, albeit, cannot be the answer either.

I wonder what Anne might be doing. Probably she is still at the hospital, knowing that a ready meal awaits when she returns to her mother’s. Listening to me on the telephone later, rabbiting on about what I have been cooking and eating, won’t help. The experience would be more satisfying, with her joining me. Setting the world to rights as we eat together.

With the rice ready, I set about grilling the cooked pork belly slices. The process should take about fifteen minutes.  In the meantime, I will make my sauce. I strain and reduce the stock to intensify the flavour adding some cider.  Once reduced by half thicken with cornflour and butter, seasoning to taste, which may mean adding a little sugar. The aromatic smell of the rice and the sauce pervade our flat.

I think I will open a bottle of wine. Whilst never good to drink alone, the food would be complemented if I did. No need to be too decadent or self-indulgent, I can finish it tomorrow. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow beats on that petty pace from day to day to the last syllables of recorded time…”  Shakespeare’s As You Like It somehow seems more pertinent, more real now, than studying it twenty five years ago at school.  Could I conceivably be turning into an old fart? Never… not me, although my hair is less of a mix of salt and pepper and more salt!

Now the rice has rested on the heat I can put a fork through it and separate the grains. I am ready to serve.

The cider sauce delicately coats the belly pork slices, and cuts the fat. The rice is subtle and the grains are separating perfectly, but this has taken lots of practice. Until recently all I could produce was a sticky, gluppy mess.

The rest of the evening I will watch a romantic comedy, and imagine Anne and I are curled up on our settee, with me resting my head on her chest.  I miss her more than you can imagine.  Then “to sleep, perchance to dream”.

Am I speaking to myself? I would like to hear your comments- on the food, something you find engaging in my posts.

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Tomato Tarte Tatin


imageThe idea for this creation was not my own. Lorraine Pascale, former model and now a television cook, made it on her show. With a little cynicism I decided to try it out and see if the recipe is worth attempting.

Unfortunately, having left the bulk of the dishes from last night’s fish extravaganza still soaking in the sink, my lunch has been somewhat delayed.

I have put my own twist on the said recipe. I don’t have any basil so I am using a little dill instead, but Lorraine would be the last person to condemn an improvisation. In my mind’s eye, I see her smile of approval!

I place some cherry tomatoes in an oven proof frying pan with a little oil and a smidgeon of honey, and season to taste. Then I sprinkle breadcrumbs over the tomatoes to soak up access liquid.

I roll out some shop bought puff pastry and roll it on a well floured board to the diameter of my frying pan, which is five inches. It goes in the oven for 20 minutes at gas mark 6 until golden and puffy.

Leave to cool for a few minutes and turn out onto a plate. There is quite a lot of liquid and the pastry is quite soft on top, so I place it back into the oven to ensure that is cooked and not soggy.

To accompany the  tomato tarte tatin- a salad with an oil, mustard and cider vinegar dressing in the proportions of 1:1:1. If you don’t like dressing too acidic, add a little sugar.

For me. it looked nice and once cooked through tastes nice, but a lot more description is necessary.

Call me a traditionalist but tarte tatin as a dessert works in many different ways that its savoury brother does not. Still, not a bad dalliance for a Saturday afternoon on my own. Better than shopping in Aberdeen, which would my idea of purgatory!

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Sometimes I outdo myself


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Well you see the result of my culinary endeavours- Mediterranean combinations.

I went to the supermarket on my way home. I wanted mackerel, but the mackerel fillets looked very tired in appearance. There were some whole mackerel. “Great”, I thought.

So I brought them home and started right away.My knife needed to be sharpened but I managed. Then I opened out the fish and removed the guts and then the bones.  Having a small kitchen I needed to be careful that bits of fish did not go everywhere. I’m not sure I fully succeeded!

I made a warm potato salad to cut the oiliness of the mackerel. I am not a great fan of bought mayonnaise so I make a homemade salad cream to dress the potato salad. It consists of half a clove of garlic, cooked white of an egg, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a few teaspoons olive oil, a little milk or whipping cream and some salt. Whizz these ingredients together in a mini blender until it is consistency of whipping cream and pour over warm potatoes cut into cubes. A firm waxy potato seems to work best.

I also had a simple lettuce salad- with roasted peppers, red onions (slightly blanched) and tomatoes. This had a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I am content now, having an adequate sufficiency. Tidying the kitchen and washing the dishes will keep until the morning.

My cooking task for lunch is a tomato tarte tatin using the recipe by Lorraine Pascale. Should should an icon of French patisserie be tampered with? You will see tomorrow so please return to my blog and find. Wish me luck!

I fancy a strong espresso now and a chocolate biscuit despite the lateness of the hour. I’m exhausted, in retrospect something simpler would have been easier to prepare, but the results have more than compensated.

Have a go yourself. The combinations work superbly well together.

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