Sunday, 23 February 2014

Scotch Eggs

Scotch Eggs range in quality: there is the type found as part of a depressing cold buffet, wrapped in bright orange slightly moist bread crumbs, sometimes quartered or filled with chopped egg and salad cream rather than whole egg. At the other end of the scale are freshly-cooked ones where the egg yolks are runny. There are even the divine miniature versions made with quails' eggs, handed round as canapés if you're lucky.

My pupilmaster, Robert Leonard, once told me that he considered Scotch Eggs to be of "no interest whatsoever", but I wondered at the time whether it was due to the fact that I had bought one to have over lunch with one of his clients. They are not elegant things to eat, and, I suppose, a bit like the Cadbury's cream egg, the question "How do you eat yours?" springs to mind. I like mine with a dab of mayonnaise (on the egg) and a dab of Dijon mustard (on the sausage meat). The important thing is for the sausage meat to be of exceptionally good quality: neither too dry, nor too wet. Then they are worthy accompaniments for a stiff walk.

I once had something called a Welsh Egg, which turned out to be foul: wrapped in mashed potato rather than sausage meat.


I was so used to seeing this come out of a jar, a little slimily (and usually served with grey rather than red beef), that I never realised there was an actual vegetable called a horseradish, until I saw a pile of them in Fortnum & Mason's one Christmas Eve. As we were planning to have roast beef on Christmas Day, it was the perfect find. So the horseradish was bought, and when it was bought it was wrapped and went into my brother's stocking. As I expected him to do, he made an obscene remark on discovering it. On Christmas morning, I allocated to myself the task of turning it into horseradish sauce. And very quickly, I realised why it was that most people acquired their horseradish sauce from a jar rather than making it from scratch. Grating it was worse than chopping an onion. But, having finished making it, I very quickly realised why it was WORTH making it from scratch. It actually tastes fresh and alive. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is responsible for this recipe, which comes in his River Cottage Meat Book: the best book on the subject that I know.

100 g horseradish
125 g creme fraiche
1 teaspoon English mustard
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
Pinch sugar
Salt and pepper

Peel and grate horseradish. This is the toughest bit. Then steep the horseradish in the vinegar, mustard and sugar for ten minutes. Stir again. Add the creme fraiche and mix it together well. Add salt and pepper if and as necessary.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Chocolate eclairs

These, to my mind, are like Crème Brûlée: properly made, they are unbeatable. But crusty, stale, soggy, or filled with fake cream, chocolate cream or slightly sour cream, I would rather eat a bowl of bread and butter. The chocolate on top, in my view, needs to be a fondant, not hard; the cream should be double. Eclairs should burst their contents into your mouth, like the streak of lightning after which they are named.
My great great aunt, Sadie Bonnell, lived to 105 and I last saw her on her hundredth birthday. But it is her ninetieth birthday that I have in mind, and it is that day which the photograph below, taken in June 1978, shows. My mother made ninety miniature chocolate eclairs for her birthday tea. Years later, she wondered, half-jokingly, why she had bothered: the two did not enjoy a warm relationship. “Auntie Da” she was known as: short, apparently, for “Sadie Darling”. A real misnomer, said my mother, who told the story of a Boxing Day lunch to which Auntie Da had been invited: “She looked at my lovely cold collation and said there was nothing there that she could eat. I offered to make her some soup and she said I wouldn’t be able to make anything acceptable so quickly. I nipped into the kitchen and knocked up some turkey and vegetable broth, which she guzzled, and then went to the cold collation, previously rejected, and stuffed her face there too!”
I recall another occasion when I must have been aged about nine or ten. We were staying with my grandparents and Auntie Da had come to stay. I did not fully comprehend at the time just how much tension her presence caused – although I enjoyed observing the ructions. They usually came accompanied with soft rumbling from my grandfather - “Auntie!” - when she went too far. One came over supper, when Granny brought in pudding: sliced peaches. Auntie wasn’t happy with her helping as it came with cream, and she demanded one without. Granny whipped the rejected bowl off Auntie’s table mat and stalked back into the kitchen muttering something like, “Well that’s great!” The next evening there were more sliced peaches available and Auntie was asked whether she would like any. She would, “but it’s really just an excuse to have some cream”, she said. I found it hard not to giggle.
The most infamous story of all comes from the nineteen sixties when she was living with her niece, Irene, and Irene’s husband, Bill. The final straw was at a meal when Irene served up Brussels sprouts and Auntie leaned over, grabbed one, and squeezed it over the serving dish, commenting that it hadn’t been properly drained. That was the last straw and she went to live in a home in Droitwich, where she lived out her remaining thirty or so years.