Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Salad dressing

Sequels written by somebody other than the original author lend themselves to the prospect of savage criticism by disappointed readers. The Bond books are a case in point. I have rather enjoyed the tradition of writers renowned for their own creations - Kingsley Amis, for example - continuing where Ian Fleming left off. It is particularly pleasing when such writers clearly know their original material so well that they do not merely repeat it but take it further.

In Fleming's "Moonraker", we learn that James Bond takes his own "mustardy" salad dressing to the secret service canteen for lunch. More exotically, in William Boyd's "Solo", Bond even insists on his own version in "the best steak restaurant in Washington" where he is brought a small lacquered tray with "all the ingredients necessary to make a vinaigrette to his own secret formula": these last two words a stock phrase beautifully pinched, no doubt with relish, from the archetypal spy novel. The ingredients are set out in the novel as follows:

a little carafe of olive oil;
a little carafe of red-wine vingegar;
a jar of Dijon mustard;
a halved-clove of garlic;
a black-pepper grinder;
a ramekin of granulated sugar;
a bowl;
A teaspoon; and
a small balloon whisk to mix the ingredients together.

The method for the authentic-sounding recipe is revealed in the only footnote in the entire novel:

"Mix five parts of red-wine vinegar with one part extra-virgin olive oil. The vinegar overload is essential. Add a halved clove of garlic, half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a good grind of black pepper and a teaspoon of white granulated sugar. Mix well, remove the garlic and dress the salad.”

We are told that Bond ended his meal with "half an avocado into which he poured what remained of his dressing". I must at some point try a similar demand in a restaurant.


I am told that I would make this when a small child: what I did not know was that, far from stirring olive oil into egg yolks, I was stirring tap water into custard powder. My mother would then dispose of my effort having made her own in stealth but I would receive the congratulation for having made it.

On another occasion when I was old enough to make "real" mayonnaise, I produced a post-Christmas supper for my parents: cold turkey, potato salad and dressed salad. My mother took one mouthful of salad and recoiled in horror. I had mistaken cherry brandy for wine vinegar and the salad was thus a disgusting sweet concoction. My mother thought I had done it deliberately. My father was more sympathetic.

Ingredients for real mayonnaise:

2 egg yolks
1/2 pint of Extra Virgin Olive oil OR combination of olive oil and sunflower or rapeseed oil
Tablespoon lemon juice or wine vinegar
Rock salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Ideally using a pestle and mortar, slowly beat the oil into the egg yolks, drop by drop to begin with, then, as it thickens, teaspoon by teaspoon. You will see after a while that when you add each amount of oil, the mixture floats on it for a period of time. Once it ceases to float, it is properly mixed and it is time to ad the next amount. If you dare, you can then let the remaining olive oil trickle in straight from the mug. Then add the lemon juice/vinegar (which will thin the mayonnaise), the salt and the black pepper.

If the mixture curdles, don't worry, provided you have a fresh egg yolk. Simply add the curdled mixture to the new egg yolk as slowly as you would add the oil.

Mixed with a little cream (which, like the lemon juice/vinegar thins it), this makes a sublime potato salad.

Sunday, 27 December 2015


I have two favourite literary accounts of the dish.

First, from the neglected children's book, Street Fair in such two American children, John and Anna, accidentally end up having to fend for themselves in the Riviera:

"The plates were full of mustard-coloured soup, and islands of various shapes rose out of the soup.

The first thing she took out of the soup was a kind of fish, and the next thing was another kind of fish, and the next thing was a tiny clam still in its blue shell.

'Would you say it was soup with fish, or fish with soup?'"

James Bond travels to Marseilles in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and asks his driver about the famous soup:

"Bond said, 'Now tell me, is the bouillabaisse chez Guido always as good?'

'It is passable,' said Marius. 'But this is a dish that is dead, gone. There is no more true bouillabaisse, because there is no more fish in the Mediterranean. For the bouillabaisse, you must have the rascasse, the tender flesh of the scorpion fish. Today they just use hunks of morue. The saffron and the garlic, they are always the same. But you could eat pieces of a woman soaked in those and it would be good. Go to any of the little places down by the harbour. Eat the plat du jour and drink the vin du Cassis that they give you. It will fill your stomach as well as it fills the fishermen's. The toilette will be filthy. What does that matter? You are a man. You can walk up the Canebiere and do it at the Noailles for nothing after lunch.'"

The first time I heard of Bouillabaisse was when my mother described it and said that fishermen had a regular prank they played on guests which was to put an excessive amount of salt into a ladleful of the soup and solemnly pass it round. The guests would be too polite to say anything and eventually one of the fishermen would say, "Perhaps a little too much salt", whereupon the ladleful would be discarded and the cork from the bottle of wind placed in the cauldron of soup. After being well fed, the guests would leave convinced that the cork had the property of desalinating the soup. My mother once tried the trick on my father; my brother and I were in on the plot. My father was not amused.

The first time I ate it in a restaurant was in St Tropez and I was disappointed: the broth was served separately to the fish, apparently more authentically than the description in Street Fair.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Food from Madrid

"Nothing could be better than the leg of a little lamb, roasted in a domed oven, with a salad of lettuce and some red wine" - Christopher Howse in the Spectator.

Sunday, 27 September 2015


There are some cooking implements which become venerable and my griddle pan is one. It came from a shop called Aladdin's Cave in Catford where I bought the contents of my kitchen. Besides the griddle, I found a red engine oil can which, for a while, served as an olive oil dispenser.

The griddle itself was square, made of cast iron, with a wooden handle. Now it is coated with the residue of many meals. Probably I have used it most often to make a Nigel Slater recipe: chicken thighs with balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.

4 fat chicken thighs, skin on
Olive oil
Sea salt
One lemon, juiced
About 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Rub the chicken thighs with olive oil and salt. Get the griddle pan really hot and slap the thighs on, skin side down, so they stick to the ridges of the griddle pan. Leave them to smoke and resist the temptation to keep turning them. After about five minutes, turn. The object is for them to be golden brown, particularly on the skin side. When they are cooked, pour over the lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. There will be smoke, even, possibly, flames if the oil catches, followed by furious bubbling. Turn off the heat and the sauce will continue to reduce. Eat.

I once cooked this in a dressing gown which caught fire at the final stage. I live to tell the tale.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Cold pork

"William and John left for Yorkshire at half past two this afternoon, cold pork in their pockets." Thus opens Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal, and it inspired me, many years ago, to make a point of carrying a cold pork product of some description on a walk of any distance: a Scotch Egg, a Kabanos, Italian salami... Possibly the only thing I haven't taken is the remains of a joint of pork which is, presumably, what William Wordsworth took with him that Sunday afternoon, leaving his sorrowful sister behind him.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Hunter's Pie (2012)

This was the first time I had ever attempted to make a cold raised pie and it involved considerable emotional investment.

In the end, I used about six chicken breasts, a poussin (which was a waste of time - scraps of meat), a guinea fowl, a pheasant, a partridge, bacon and sausage meat. There may have been a quail in there as well.

Cousin Pen helped me strip the carcasses of their meat. Mace, juniper berries and lemon zest.

Now it was time for the scary bit: the pastry. Mum's recipe said rather airily "Make a hot water short crust pastry" and I tried to think of what, precisely, I had seen her do. Inspiration came in the form of the book I suspected she took the method from: Jane Grigson's English food. Ridiculously easy it turned out. Flour, lard and hot water, mixed together then plastered round the bottom and edges of the pie tin. I had wondered whether there would be enough - but there was, just, though I had to make a little more to complete the lid. Sausage meat over the pastry. In went the meat, followed by the stock (Iberico ham bones and water - nothing else), with the lid on top, decorated with a cut out crocodile.

The result was reassuring. A Christmas Pie: deep and crisp and even.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Blyton breakfast

"Porridge and cream," said the woman. "And our own cured bacon and our own eggs. Our own honey and the bread I bake myself. Will that do? And coffee with cream?"

"I could hug you." said Julian, beaming at her.


A wonderful smell came creeping into the little dining-room, followed by the inn-woman carrying a large tray. On it was a steaming tureen of porridge, a bowl of golden syrup, a jug of very thick cream, and a dish of bacon and eggs, all piled high on crisp brown toast. Little mushrooms were on the same dish.

"It's like magic!" said Anne, staring. "Just the very things I longed for!"


"Toast, marmalade and butter to come, and the coffee and hot milk," said the woman, busily setting everything out. "And if you want any more bacon and eggs, just ring the bell."

"Too good to be true!" said Dick, looking at the table.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Californian food

My friend Jill tells me evocatively: "Breakfast Tenderloin-style. Fennel sausage scramble, corn bread with chilli jam."

Menu game

I am told that this the US Menu Game was devised by A A Gill, the restaurant reviewer. Apparently, there is only one rule: you have to order with such precision that whoever is taking the order cannot ask you any follow-up questions. A game for a lawyer...

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Uzbekistani food

I recently met, halfway through the Channel Tunnel, a man who had just travelled to Uzbekistan on a motorbike. He told me that Uzbekistani food consisted largely of Shashlik. One of these days, I am going to travel to Samarkand and, on his recommendation, Bukhara, to see for myself.

Bloody Mary

I first had one of these on my eighteenth birthday. The date coincided with a school reunion and my old Science teacher offered to buy me a drink after the meal. I had long loved tomato juice - Granny used to buy it for me in green tins - although I had received parental criticism for the amount of Worcester Sauce I was in the habit of adding.

My aunt CeCe used to teach me that a Bloody Mary without the Vodka was a Bloody Shame.

But the drink I came across for the first time today, which inspired these reflections, is something called a Greasy Mary. It comes from a Scotsman, Pat MacLaren, who was commenting on a photograph of a Bloody Mary taken in a bar in San Fransisco that had so many vegetables on top that it looked like a salad. This is what he said:

"Scotsman's dilemma. Lovely booze but it's got all vegetables in it. You should try a Greasy Mary. Basically you get the runoff tray from a George Foreman grill after you have cooked the cheapest Aldi full breakfast for a scout troop. Pour into a glass and mix with equal parts vodka, garnish with a tiny Scotch egg on a stick."

Friday, 7 August 2015

Tom's salad dressing

Sent to me in a text and worth publishing without amendment:

"Just discovered the most delicious salad dressing: liquidise olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and raw garlic. Utterly amazing."

Monday, 3 August 2015

La Tielle de Sète

have written or thought about writing about Sète before: it is where I had one of the best burgers in my life, at the railway station.

More gastronomically, perhaps, I turn to one of its local specialities - La Tielle de Sète. A kind of orange pastry, looking like a crab, and filled with octopus and tomato. My father reminded me of them the other day when he sent a postcard from nearby - we have been going to Sète since the 1980s - with a photograph of half a dozen and a recipe for the same. He had written "Yuk (I think)" on the back. My father does not like octopus.

I cannot find an English translation of "Tielle", only references to this dish - more commonly named La Tielle Sétoise - with the accent changed from a grave to an acute. There is probably a linguistic term for that but this is a piece about food. I also learn that Tielle is based on the Italian Tiella di Gaeta, Tiella meaning "pan" and the whole dish being prepared like a "pocket sandwich", whatever that might be. They look a little like pockets, I suppose, so that is what I shall call them. Sétoise, incidentally, I perceive as a sauce with tomatoes, chilli and onion: orange-looking, exactly like these "tielles" in fact.

Here is the wording on the original postcard, followed by my attempt at a translation.

La Tielle de Sète

(Pour 6 personnes)

Prendre 1 kg de poulpes, les nettoyer et les plonger dans un court bouillon. Faire blondir 200 g d'oignons dans un peu d'huile avec 2 gousses d'ail, 1 brin de persil et du concentré de tomates, ajouter du vin blanc, du sel, du poivre.

Faire cuire quelques minutes. Puis ajouter les poulpes apres les avoir coupés, du laurier, un peu de piment et laisser cuire 20 mn.

Pendant ce temps préparer une pâte à pain avec 1 kg de farine, de l'eau et de la levure. Mettre la pâte dans une moule, garni avec la farce et recouvrir du reste de pâte en formant un couvercle en le soudant avec de l'eau bien hermétiquement. Badigeonner d'huile et laisser cuire 15 mn à 20 mn thermostat 7°.


(Serves 6)

Take one kilo of octopus, clean and immerse in a "court bouillon". Sauté 200 g of onions in a little oil with two cloves of garlic, one sprig of parsley and some tomato purée; add white wine, salt and pepper.

Cook for a few minutes. Then add the octopus having cut it, with bay leaf and a sprinkle of pepper and cook for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare a bread dough with one kilo of flour, water and yeast. Put the dough in a pan, top with the octopus mixture and cover with the remaining dough, forming a cover by sealing with water.

Brush with oil and cook for fifteen to twenty minutes at gas mark 7.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bulgarian food

In the trellised outdoors eating-house in the little square where I settled down to a rather good, very oily stew of mutton, potatoes, paprika pods, courgettes and ladies' fingers, all ladled from giant bronze pans... (Patrick Leigh Fermor)


My best friend, Tom, has a very simple principle when it comes to eating in restaurants: never select one with photographs of the food. At least if you're west of Asia.

Friday, 31 July 2015


If, in a restaurant, there is a vital ingredient missing from an item on the menu, it is incumbent on the waiter to warn the diner in advance of bringing the dish to the table. I once shocked my aunt by cross-examining a waiter about the absence of chorizo in the starter at a pub in Hemmingford Grey.

The opposite once occurred in Leamington Spa when I was staying with my old headmaster who was taking me out for dinner in a French restaurant. I felt awkward; I forgot that a la carte meant the opposite of a set menu and my polite attempt to opt for the less expensive option - "I prefer a la carte" merely sounded greedy. I saw something that I had not heard of - a salad involving chicken "julienne". But the waiter, trying to put me at my ease, heard "salad" only and when my starter arrived, there was no chicken to be found. I did not dare complain.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Cold meat

It was unusual to be asked what we would like on the cold meat platter which we ordered to go with a glass of Ouzo next to the Aegean. Katie said "Not too spicy and not too salty". We ended up with German green peppercorn salami, smoked turkey from Kos, pastrami and calves' tongue. Together with an interesting selection of cheeses which were of no interest to me. The waiter neither sounded nor looked Greek. Dutch, we wondered. Towards the end, he brought us a little plate of tiny green apples which had been soaked in Calvados. Katie said they went beautifully with the cheese. I ate mine whole.

Greek barbecue

The whine of the engine lessened but this time it was not due to the dolphins which had put on a display for us about an hour before. We slipped into a picture perfect cove and some of us jumped off the boat into the Aegean below. It is a cliché but it was aqua clear.

The crew were doing nothing as frivolous as swimming or snorkelling. They had scrambled up the hillside where a barbecue waited. The smell of smoke soon pervaded followed by the words "Food is ready!"

On the table were: meatballs, pork kebabs, chicken pieces, roasted peppers, aubergine and courgettes, grilled sardines, Tatziki, potato salad with red onion, green salad with dill and tomato salad. There was also garlic bread. And pasta salad, which I rarely touch but which I am usually glad to see among other things because it fills others' stomachs. After we had helped ourselves and sat around eating, the proprietor sent round his crew to fill our plates with more and yet more. Protestations were ignored. The tomato salad was reduced to a large pool of juice but even that did not go to waste. The boatman dipped the remains of the garlic bread in the juice and offered it as "Bruschetta". And we discovered a post-meal entertainment: throwing the fish heads into the sea whereupon a swarm of furious thrashing tails would swarm towards and cannibalise it. It was the closest thing I have seen in real life to that piranha scene in "You Only Live Twice".

Nothing to be improved upon: just a reminder of how on a rocky hilltop with nothing more than a barbecue and good ingredients a better meal can be produced than the (presumably) fully equipped kitchen from the day before.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The signs

As we left, we mused on two things. First, that one is allowed to have one appallingly bad meal on holiday. Secondly, that all the warning signs had been there when we wandered in.

A woman dressed in pink lured us in. There were some other holidaymakers attacking a plate of bacon and eggs on a table near to us. The menu had lurid photographs of all the food. The waiter brought me a coke - not diet coke as I had requested - but denied that I had done so, then said he would bring me a diet coke "anyway": what a concession. When I asked the woman in pink for the wifi password, she said, "The waiter hasn't given it to you? He must still be asleep."

Perhaps not. To do him credit, he was good enough to tell us that there were chips with the meatballs so we didn't need to order an extra portion. He looked doubtful when we asked for potato salad but came back to say it was available.

Then it all arrived. From the moment he put down the meatballs, we knew it had all been a terrible mistake. They had a dry crust, resembling hollow husks. The chips, too, were dry. So was the Greek salad. It looked as though its components had been around all morning, waiting for an unsuspecting customer. The taramasalata was as pink as our hostess's dress, and woody-tasting. Katie had a mushroom which was frozen in the middle. Mine was merely rubbery. The Tatziki was just yoghurt with cucumber, tasting of nothing. Katie said it all looked as though it had emerged from the freezer twenty minutes before and added that the chips tasted of the stale oil in which they had been cooked. We toyed with our platefuls, reluctant to cause a diplomatic incident or to waste what had been brought. But in the end, Katie used diplomatic 'flu as the excuse and went and paid the bill, saying I felt unwell. It was not altogether a lie.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Sea bream

Buried under cubes of ice in a polystyrene box, looking mournful, he was about to be my lunch. "Dorade", the waiter told us. The disappointing taramasalata beforehand was fortunately not a precursor. Crispy skin, white meaty flesh and boiled potatoes, beans and carrots which I dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. I ate him peering at faint mountains across the Aegean. The little black cat that came to join our table was treated to a little chopped Calamari and the remains of the Taramasalata.

Tea party

There is an Enid Blyton story - possibly one of the Faraway Tree series or the Wishing Chair series - in which the children go to a land called "The Land of Take What you Want". This is a theme which Enid Blyton returns to repeatedly in her fiction, appealing to children's greed. In a splendid moment, each of the children can choose whichever flavour of ice cream they want. One of the more inventive selects sardine, which comes with the tails sticking out like Stargazy pie...but then doesn't like the thought of eating it. In the days when Heston Blumenthal is quite happy to serve bacon and egg ice cream, it doesn't sound too appalling. I once had foie gras ice cream in Spain.

But the point of this is to reminisce about when my old headmistress, Philippa Hartley, retired. She was one of the old school, with one of the most intelligent voices I have ever heard. When Mrs Hartley was about to retire, she held an afternoon tea for all the pupils in her class. A short time before the day arrived, her colleague, Mrs Hancock, soon to take over as Head, asked us each to choose something we wanted to eat at the tea party.

In keeping with the spirit of Enid Blyton, I decided to choose something I had never been given before but had clearly struck a chord: cherry buns. Where had I read about them? Had they been packed by Aunt Fanny into a Famous Five picnic? Or eaten in the shed by the Secret Seven? I do not remember but they were what I chose.

We sat around a long table in the garden of Mrs Hartley's house in Coventry. Among many other things were the cherry buns, which one of the two ladies pointed out to me and encouraged me to eat: glacé cherries studded into little sponge cakes. Inevitably they were a disappointment but I hope I didn't show it.

That was not the only celebration for Mrs Hartley's retirement. The parents, I seem to recall, clubbed together to take her out for dinner. Somehow I discovered where they were all going and I could not resist revealing what I knew to the guest of honour: "Guess where you're going", I said triumphantly to Mrs Hartley one morning. "The Old Mill!" She looked bemused. Much later, I recall being mildly admonished for betraying the surprise - although the lady herself only realised when she arrived at her destination: "So that's what he meant!"

And what a long retirement she ended up having: about thirty years later I saw her, at a school anniversary celebration. Physically but not mentally diminished, she sat in a chair throughout, holding court to her former pupils. It turned out to be the last time I saw her, and the school: five years later, she had died and the school had been sold.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The dining companion

This story comes from a girl with whom I was having dinner. Like me, she was fond of her food. She told me of another experience she had had in a restaurant when she had quickly realised that not only did her dining companion have no interest in food but she had no interest in him.

She told me that when the waiter had come to take their order, he had said, "I'll have the soup and the chicken". Something, she pointed out to me, that did not require one even to read the menu, which she strongly suspected he had been reading upside down. Ever since hearing her tale, I have been looking without success for a restaurant menu where such a request would lead to a baffled look from the waiter and blushes from the orderer.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Sugar plums

I think of crystallised fruit, of the Nutcracker, of the Child Catcher in the film of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Of a doting grandfather, with a crumpled paper bag in his jacket pocket.

My further researches tell me that a sugar plum is nothing to do with fruit but is another term for a dragée - a hard sweet made merely of sugar in a small round or oval shape. Again, the word dragée conjures up the antique: grandparents' sweets. Perhaps the "sugar plum" simply became the more child-friendly term as opposed to the more draconian-sounding expression.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Brian's cucumber pickle

Unlike most pickles, you can eat this immediately and with nothing other than a spoon.


2 lb cucumbers
2 large onions
1 large green pepper
2oz salt

For the syrup:

3/4 pt cider or wine vinegar
12 oz soft brown sugar
1/2 level teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 level teaspoon ground cloves
1 level dessert spoon mustard seed
1/2 level teaspoon celery seed

Bri says if you haven't got these, fudge with what you have.

Wash cucumbers. Do not peel. Slice thinly.
Slice onions, shred the green pepper.
Put them in large mixing basin with the salt.
Mix well. Cover with weighted plate and stand for 3 hours.
Rinse thoroughly under cold running water in colander.
Drain well and place in large saucepan.
Add vineger.
Bring to boil. Simmer gently until soft, about 20 mins.
Add sugar and spices to pan. Stir over low heat to dissolve sugar.
Bring to boil. Draw off the heat. Turn into large mixing basin. Set aside until cold.


Sunday, 26 April 2015

Fish soup

Another offering from my mother's recipe book. I don't ever remember her having cooked this. I like the specificity of the fish and am interested by the fact there are no ingredients other than fish and water (save a little butter for frying).

Postscript : I failed to see the recipe continued over the page and that there are some additional ingredients from the seventies - red and yellow food colouring anyone? And who recalls top of the milk?

1 red mullet
1 baby squid
1/4 lb prawns (unpeeled)
1/2 pound cod cheeks
Butter for frying

Prepare the fish; put all trimmings including prawn shells into saucepan with water - boil down for stock.

Cut up octopus into small pieces and fry in butter, then add some strained fish stock and simmer 'til tender. Add pieces of mullet & cod & simmer 'til just cooked. Remove cod pieces & put into blender with strained remaining stock & blend 'til creamy. Pour over fish pieces, & add peeled prawns & a little red & yellow colouring + a little top of milk. Season to taste. Heat slowly & serve with chopped parsley.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Bon Appetit

This is a tribute to an eating house that is long closed. Bon Appetit, next to Blackfriars station, is now boarded up and has been for years, although its sign remains in part.

I recall it in the mid 1990s when I first qualified as a lawyer. By pure coincidence, the place is directly opposite the headquarters of my first ever client, Unilever. I used to buy sandwiches here when I got off the train at Blackfriars. They were the only place I know outside France to offer the wonderful Pan Bagnat.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Shepherd's Pie

At the outset, I accept that this is not Shepherd's Pie in that it is made with beef rather than lamb AND I cook it from raw mince rather than use the remains of the joint, which is something I rarely have anyway. But I dislike the "correct" term for this dish, Cottage Pie, which conjures up thoughts of school dinners. In any event, it seems to me slightly more attractive to think that the shepherds would not eat their own lambs...

My version is based on the splendid Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's version in his River Cottage Meat Book...though I am not convinced that he would acknowledge his offspring.

Ingredients for "an enormous Shepherd's pie".

500 g minced beef.
A splash of olive oil.
2 onions, chopped.
2 carrots, finely chopped.
3 sticks of celery, finely chopped.
1 leek, finely chopped.
1/2 pint stock.
1/2 glass red wine.
1 tablespoon or dollop of tomato ketchup (I am keen on Tiptrees although I accept there is nothing wrong with the ingredients in Heinz).
Two dashes of Worcester Sauce.
About a kilo of mashed potato - mashed with butter and milk.
Freshly ground black pepper.


I suggest you use a frying pan to fry the mince, a large saucepan to boil the potatoes and a larger saucepan for everything else including, later, the mince. You'll also need a suitable pie dish. Plus a potato peeler, a sharp knife (I recommend a serrated kitchen devil), a chopping board, a wooden spoon and a colander. It's worth laying out all the ingredients and utensils in advance.

Ok. Heat the oil in the largest saucepan and add the chopped onion. Allow the onion to cook very gently. Unlike HFW, I recommend against allowing it to brown. One step nearer to bitterness. Next, add the carrot and the leek. Keep going, very gently, stirring every so often.

Now, fry the mince on a relatively high heat, encouraging it not to steam or to burn but to brown. When it's cooked through, add it to the vegetables and mix everything together thoroughly. Add the ketchup and the Worcester sauce, followed by the wine and the stock, in swift succession. Again, mix it all together well. Turn the heat to its lowest setting and let the whole thing cook for around half an hour although it is forgiving and will allow you longer. Taste, add salt and pepper if needed and additional Worcester sauce and ketchup, if needed. But this is not a tomato based sauce. It is the mince and vegetables that should sing. You can also add a little water or wine if it's in danger of drying up...but you don't want excessive amounts of liquid. Think casserole rather than soup. Stir every so often.

While things are cooking, peel, chop and boil the potatoes. Mash them with butter and milk: not too much though.

Once the mince and vegetables are cooked, tip them from the saucepan into a pie dish. Then put the mashed potato on top. Several dollops plonked unceremoniously on to different parts of the pie dish...and then spread it as evenly as you can without being precious about it. Use a fork to make patterns which will brown nicely. Don't worry if the gravy at any point slops on to the potato. I think the reason this is intuitively displeasing is because it feels like planting muddy footprints on to a virgin field of snow. Once again, this dish is very forgiving. Spilt gravy will simply cause the potato to brown better. But do try to seal the edges.

If you're wanting to eat this in about half an hour, put it straight into a pre heated oven at about 200 degrees and cook for around twenty five minutes. Or, if you want to eat it later, say the next day, put it into the fridge. It will then take about 40 - 45 minutes to cook from cold. Keep an eye on it while it's in the oven. You are aiming for golden brown rather than burnt brown. When you take it out of the oven, it should be bubbling up at the sides however well you sealed it and this is a good thing. Eat.

Bolst's mango pickle goes particularly well with this as does lemon pickle. Others like Worcester sauce, ketchup, mustard or other things. My view is that in the case of Shepherd's pie, it's particularly important to cater for everyone's different tastes, condiment wise. The following idea comes from Nigel Slater. Put all relevant jars and bottles on the table including those rather suspect jars with wax paper containing mustard with honey or chilli jam that someone gave you as a present ages ago. Someone else will love it.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Hot drink

I am often sceptical when people tell me that they enjoy experimenting with food but I have just attempted one such experiment: a mug of milk with three chunks of Thorntons butter tablet and some mixed spice (which apparently contains various sweet spices including cinnamon and coriander seed) sprinkled on top. Into the microwave for two minutes. Warm and comforting.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Monastic sausage

One of life's frustrations is when something delicious disappears from the shelves - for good.

I have seen it happen with my favourite Turkish gherkins.

With the "Texan bar" - although I have just discovered, even more frustratingly, that they were brought back for a short time in 2005: must have missed it. I remember at the age of seven asking my mother to get me a "Texas" bar. Fortunately, when presented with the "Texan", she surmised it was the right one and brought it back. I thought she was teasing at first when she said what she'd found.

I fear a similar disappearance may happen one day with Orangina when it is replaced with Fanta orange. And with Bolst's mango pickle, which I have written about elsewhere.

But these frustrations are balanced with happier moments. I discovered on a Polish stall in Waterloo a dried sausage called "Monastic sausage". The stall holders were very elusive when I asked them what it was called in Poland and where else I could find it. Eventually, the supplies dried up and they told me variously that they made it themselves and it had not proved popular or that they could not find it anywhere. They were misleading me. I wandered into a Polish shop in Dartford (of all places) and discovered piles of it stacked on the counter. In fact, it is produced commercially by a company called "Balcerzak" and is called "Kiełbasa Polska Surowa Długodojrzewająca" - translated on one website as "Long-maturing Polish Sausage". I don't know where the "Monastic sausage" bit came from. But I now appear to have a long-term supply. I commend it.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Breakfast comestibles

Marmalade and marmite: both breakfast products with very different ingredients and flavours but both beginning with the same four letters.

Marmalade comes from the Portuguese marmelada (quince jam) and in turn from marmelo (quince) based on the Greek melimēlon from meli (honey) and mēlon (apple). How, I wonder, did the Portugese quinces turn (seemingly via melons and apples) into Seville oranges?

Marmite comes from the early 19th century. It is a French word from the Old French marmite (hypocritical - with reference to the hidden contents of the lidded pot) which in turn derives from marmotter (to mutter) and mite (cat).

Etymologically unrelated words. But now emphatically British products: British yeast in the case of Marmite. I have read somewhere that French chefs now use Marmite in cooking. Some members of our family pronounce it marmeet as though it were the French word.

I have never, on the other hand, heard of a French chef using marmalade in cooking. My mother once invented a recipe consisting of chicken thighs baked in marmalade.