Archive for January, 2018

Robbie Burns Supper

Posted: January 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

Happy Birthday Robbie Burns!!
Here’s a simple 3 course Burns Night Menu for anyone who wants to give it a go. Auld Lang Syne

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On 25th January, we celebrate the life of Robbie Burns.  Many of us have often gone to organised Robbie Burns Nights where the festivities begin with The Selkirk Grace followed by a procession of pipes, tributes and toasts paid to the haggis before a dinner of ‘haggis, neeps and tatties’ followed by speeches; The Immortal Memory and a Toast to the Lassies with a reply to the Laddies.

Generally there is also much revelling in between and a bit more than a wee dram of whiskey (always scotch) must be consumed.

Finally the evening is called to a close by everyone being asked to stand, hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne.

However, for those of you that want to give this a go at home, without the traditional order of ceremony only need follow my recipe ideas below for a fuss free feast of an evening.  All recipes…

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French Toast

Posted: January 25, 2018 in Breakfast, home cooking, Weekend

The origins of French Toast are very unclear.  The English sometimes refer to French Toast as Eggy Bread, unless it’s the slightly more medieval reincarnation called Poor Knights of Windsor*, the French call it Pain Perdu, “lost bread” more because the bread has become stale and you’ve lost the chance to eat it fresh rather than you’ve misplaced it! The Spanish know them as Torijas, cinnamon French Toast soaked in syrup.   Was it a French chef who came up with the idea or a person called Chef French who in 1724 created this for the first time? To further add to the mystery, over the years there has also been some confusion as to Gypsy Bread and Gypsy Egg, where one should not be confused with the other; the former refers to eggy bread, french-toast style and the latter to Huevos A La Flamenca!

*Poor Knights of Windsor is a dish very similar to French Toast.  However, unlike French Toast, it is sugar and sherry that are stirred into a shallow dish of milk before dipped on both sides in egg yolk and then frying in butter.  These “Poor Knights” are then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with jam.

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Personally, French Toast makes for the perfect weekend breakfast. 

Just: soak your bread, get your coffee ready, steam your milk, fry your bread and you’re pretty much good to go. 

It’s slightly more difficult than a slice of toast or a bowl of cereals but something quite easy to make at a leisurely pace.  Nothing too strenuous nor stressful and very manageable to put together whilst still wearing your pyjamas. 

I’m not quite sure I’d like to wake up to a boozy version of this, hence why the poor knights might never make it to my breakfast table.

Bread

Of paramount importance.  The bread you choose is pretty much what makes this.  Now is not the time for granary, wholemeal, spelt flour varieties – the flavour would interfere too much with the final outcome.  Pale, light, plastic bread, slightly stale, is probably going to be your best soaking vehicle that won’t disintegrate into a porridgy-crumb but for me it has to be the sweet enriched dough of challah bread – a braided Jewish bread made with eggs – that to me always comes courtesy of Idan Greenberg at Verdi Verdi, Gibraltar.  Sliced challah holds its shape perfectly after soaking in the eggy mixture, maintaining its shape and firm crust as it fries.

Challah bread making at Verdi Verdi, Gibraltar.

Mixture

There are several different variations of the eggy mixture – some people use cream instead of milk in the mixture, others will add spices such as cinnamon and flavours like vanilla, lemon & orange zest, others will use caster sugar in the mixture rather than sprinkling it over at the end, others will make a sugar syrup to dunk the French Toast (torijas) in after they come out of the frying pan.

Personally, I think one egg per person, splosh of milk, cinnamon, icing sugar as this dissolves in the milk and vanilla are your essential ingredients and anything straying from there will depend on what you’re going to eat drizzled or spooned over your French Toast. 

Nothing is wrong and everything is right.

Soaking the mixture varies on the type of bread used, how stale it is and the thickness which you’ve cut the slice.  You can soak it from anything from 30 secs a side to 20 mins; some wait for all the liquid to be absorbed.  I go with my eye as I don’t want the bread to disintegrate on touch!  I usually tend to go for around 5mins a side and if there is too much liquid left I’ll give it an extra few mins for good measure, as you do want the eggy mixture to permeate through as much of the bread as possible to almost soufflé the bread as it cooks.

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Only two options – put it in the oven or fry it – but to be totally honest, oven baked eggy bread sounds as if it might end up dry and leathery.  So for me, it’s frying all the way.

Frying must be in butter but by the time you’ve turned the toast around to fry the other side, the butter has turned brown (noisette) and adds an unpleasant taste to your French Toast and an odd smell to the kitchen!  Adding sunflower/vegetable oil will help stop the butter burning but this is not a guarantee as butter no matter what its mixed with will still burn.  However, a clever alternative is using clarified butter. 

Topping

Cinnamon & Vanilla flavoured French Toast is great as it is but I always like mine topped with some fruit compote or even a drizzle of maple syrup or if I’m being particularly greedy, both.

To make the fruit compote is very easy: put some fresh/frozen berries in a pan with some water and sugar.  Boil it down until the liquid has reduced and the fruit mixture syrupy.  On this occasion I even added some luscious strawberry jam given to me as a food gift.

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Remember to get your Challah on Friday and surprise someone this Weekend!

Like many families, in my house, we used to refer to Cottage Pie as Shepherd’s Pie.  Beef mince was always available from the butchers and was far more economical for a family of seven than lamb would be.  Topped with golden mashed potato that had caught under the grill; everyone coveting the crispy bits and a generous scoop of baked beans on the side.

And as far as I was concerned, everyone called it the same and served it the same way.

It wasn’t until recently that I was served Shepherd’s Pie without baked beans and felt cheated.  “My Granny would never have served it like that!” I snorted in disgust.  Only to find I was not the only one at the table who thought the same – lo and behold, the others also agreed that baked beans were a very acceptable addition to a serving of Shepherd’s Pie.  Emboldened by this camaraderie I decided to come clean and tell all; as a child, my favourite way of eating this was with a squeeze of ketchup over the mash and then mixing everything together into a plateful of dark, pink-brown gloop studded with baked beans.

As revolting as this sounds to me now – as a child, it was a plate of sheer delight.

Click on the link to see my youtube clip on how to make my easy Cottage Pie: https://tinyurl.com/zxp42sa

I don’t tend to make shepherd’s pie (cottage pie) from scratch anymore, as in I try not to have to go food shopping too often, so make this using leftover beef from the Sunday Roast instead.  In the past I’ve used leftover roast potatoes but to be honest it’s so easy to make good mashed potato to top the pie that it’s really no hardship.  Whereas baked beans would have been my staple side dish, nowadays I try and have something green either in the pie or on the side.  Leftover broccoli, peas and beans are very welcome as is a buttery tangle of spring greens or shredded Savoy cabbage.

The good thing about a Shepherd’s Pie (Cottage Pie) is that you can make the components in advance.  I made the beef pie filling on Monday evening as this can sit in its dish in the fridge until you need to top it and heat it – I’m pretty sure you can freeze it at this stage too.  Take the pie out of the fridge whilst you’re making the mashed potato and top the dish.  Place in a moderate oven for 35mins until the filling is bubbling up the sides and the top is golden in colour.

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I don’t know what the allure of cooking lentils at New Years is for me but I always like to start the year cooking a warm bowlful of them.

It’s not as if I’m looking for something warm and filling as the weather has been sunny and mild over the holiday period and I’m stuffed after eating so much.

So what is it that draws me to cooking lentils at this at this time of year?

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Maybe it’s their versatility? Lentils can be cooked by themselves or added to vegetable, meat or fish dishes. They can be served as a side, as with salmon and lentils or as the main component as in a lentil salad or stew.  They come in a range of colours and with it bring their own textures and tastes.  Some lentils such as red split lentils boil down to the consistency of mashed potatoes whereas other hold their shape and retain their nutty bite even after boiling them for 45mins as with green lentils.  My favourite variety are Puy lentils also called French green lentils – which are slate green/blue in colour and have a peppery warmth to them. 

For some, lentils have a hessian weave hippie vibe about them; vegans rave about them whilst for others they are just austere, peasant food.  After all, the original lentil stew, mess of pottage, was biblical in origin.  Now, I wouldn’t necessarily consider lentils austerity food but after the expense of the Christmas foodathon they are very welcome on my pocket!

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Italians, consider lentils to be lucky as their small coin-shaped form invites prosperity.  Perfectly partnered with pork increases their success; the pig known for pushing forwards, makes it a symbol of progress. Lentils with pork sausages are considered particularly auspicious. 

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But perhaps it’s the ease with which the stew comes together.  It’s so personal it’s not really a case of following a recipe it’s more about getting the quantities right of lentils to water and packing flavour.  And lentils are great at taking on flavour.  There is also very little for the cook to actually do.  After mass catering over the holidays and following strict recipes and cooking times, just throwing things into a pot of water is quite liberating and relaxing.  It’s also a great way to use up veg you’ve got knocking about in the back of the fridge.  There are no stages or steps to follow and other than not letting your lentils dry out as they boil, there really isn’t much danger of the dish going wrong.

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I tend to favour lentils cooked with chorizo as the paprika from the sausages oozes out into the stew giving everything great body and depth – maximising flavour with very little effort.  This time I had a rasher of streaky bacon and two sausages leftover from new year’s breakfast that I decided to add to the pot as well as pumpkin and chorizo.  At the very end of the cooking process I wilted shredded spring greens (leftover from Christmas Eve’s dinner) in the residual heat of the pot.