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I bought a vase

10 May

On 25 June 2021 I posted:

I bought a vase.

I filled it with peonies from Mum’s garden.

The vase was made by a local potter, Tom Lochhead. Mum had known him, and he had inspired and encouraged Mum to start her own wee business making sculptures of domestic animals from clay. She owned a few of his pieces – a small jug and also a crocus bowl, both of which she has given to me in recent years when all Mum’s Christmas and birthday gifts have been things from the house that she was trying to get rid of.

Since buying that vase, nearly a year ago, a few other pieces have found their way into my possession… including the beautiful bowl above, and several other vases. No doubt in coming years, I will follow Mum’s lead and give them away to people as Christmas and birthday gifts. Meanwhile, I get such joy from picking a few sprigs in the garden and having a wee vase of flowers on my desk.

But, back to 25 June 2021… that afternoon I sent a message to a friend: I have switched off Mum’s Rayburn. .. I cried a wee bit but in a good way.

That Rayburn. It was the physical beating heart of our home, an extension of Mum’s love and warmth all my life. I learned to cook at the Rayburn. Our big ginger cat jumped onto the hot plate of the Rayburn when it was a kitten and PROING! immediately jumped up and off like a cartoon kitten when it realised it was HOT. Dad’s supper was always left ‘in the bottom oven’ back in the day when he was travelling back and forth from Edinburgh, and would always arrive some hours after we had eaten our supper. Meringues cooked like a dream in that slow bottom oven. You could make your own yoghurt overnight, using the gentle background warmth to keep the culture happy. I never really learned about timings when making a meal, as everything could be kept ‘on the side of the Rayburn’ to keep warm once it was ready. The oven in the Rayburn is most forgiving, making perfect roasts, warming stews and light cakes. Of course there was also that Christmas when we put the turkey in the Rayburn at breakfast time, only to notice at coffee time that the temperature had not come up. It had run out of oil, and would not be cooking our Christmas dinner that day.

In recent months, I had been reacquainting myself with the quirks of cooking with a Rayburn. It was a delight to take a slightly slower approach to making all our meals. Weekends were for batch cooking stews, casseroles and soups, sometimes a roast on Sundays. And through the week, the Rayburn would gladly reheat those batch-cooked meals from the freezer, so we could easily enjoy our main meal of the day at lunch time, and I could still get some paid work done.

It was impossible not to cloak the switching off of the Rayburn with meaning. But even without my default setting of overthinking and over-analysis of the situation, it was just heart-wrenchingly sad to lock the door of Mum’s house behind me, knowing that next time I opened that door all the warmth would have gone from her home.

At this point I think perhaps we knew that she might have left that home forever, although we were still fighting to find ways for her to come home when she was able.

(As an update to the last post, I did not get the job. It was handled incredibly badly and I regretted applying for it. It totally knocked my confidence for a while. However, the candidate who got the role is now a great colleague and I realise that however capable I was of doing that job, I know I did not have the headspace to persuade anyone else of that at the time. Since then I have thought a lot about work, and what I want out of it… and I have far better clarity now around how important (or not) my work is to me. It is no longer a key part of my identity, my social life does not revolve around it and it is not where I am inspired and learn and feel myself growing.. but I am lucky in that I am finding other ways to find that fulfilment. Work enables me to focus on what is important to me, and that feels very liberating.)

***

If you want to catch up on how we got to this point, this series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation.

Biscuits That Make You Go Ooooh!

14 Feb

On the 9th day of my 100 day embroidery project I wrote the following:

With a few online internal meetings today, I’ve been able to make good progress with embellishing the smock so here I give you my pair of swooping swallows.

Not bad, eh?

My brother and I are looking after Mum together now, after months and months of each of us doing it on our own and then going home for a bit while the other minds Mum. It’s only now, sharing our caring, that I realise how much of the strain is down to the isolation.

When not working for my employer, or caring for Mum, or stitching I can generally be found cooking.. and our new favourite are my Biscuits That Make You Go Ooooh. They are sesame and saffron shortbread. Mum loves them. So today’s bonus is a dish of toasted sesame seeds, and then Those Biscuits.

I’ll spare you the picture of the toasted sesame seeds, because you really don’t need to see them.

But those biscuits! They really do make people go ooooh! I think it’s the surprise of the sesame-ness of them. And then that beguiling hint of saffron. Anyway, they are super-tasty. And even now, seven months later, and with Mum’s memory so patchy, she will delight in saying ooooh if she opens the biscuit tin and finds these biscuits.

I guess you want the recipe don’t you? They are Saffron and Sesame Biscuits by Sabrina Ghayour, from her Simply book, which you really should buy because there are so many VERY good recipes in it. And these are ridiculously simple.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on how it was last year, what I was up to a year ago, what I didn’t know then that we know now. January 2021 was without doubt the hardest, cruellest month. The weather didn’t help, but that was not the problem. I knew I would be minding Mum on my own for a while, as we’d gone back into lockdown and really we shouldn’t be mixing households, or swapping them about more than was necessary. I had thought a lot about self care, and had put various strategies in place, but even so, it was lonely and (with hindsight) anxiety-making being with Mum, and realising that she probably had the early stages of dementia.

But don’t feel sorry for me, please. We had lovely times together, and I am forever grateful and aware of the privilege of being able to temporarily move my life and live in the house next door to her, in the town where I grew up, and to feel supported by a community (despite us all being locked down and apart from one another) and being nurtured by the Galloway countryside.

I got support from many sources, including from from Alzheimer Scotland, who provide a 24 hour helpline. Please help them keep that helpline free for anyone who needs it. You can donate here: Alzheimer Scotland, and I can tell you that you are an absolute star for supporting all of us who have feared the worst when faced with the prospect of someone we love having dementia.

Hugs in the post

4 Apr
Mini frangipane cakes

It’s been hard hasn’t it? This last year, being locked down, missing being with the people we love.

At the beginning of January this year, I went to stay with Mum, to mind her as she gets increasingly frail and somewhat confused. I knew I might be there for a while, and with the latest version of lockdown I didn’t know when I’d be allowed to see anyone else, nor how long I was likely to be there. It would be lonely, isolated. So I put a lot of thought into my own well-being and self-care, and tried to really think about what I could plan that would give me pleasure, that would nurture me, keep me on an even keel, when I knew I would feel cast adrift from the world I usually inhabit.

Most people who know me would assume that baking and cooking would be high on that list, and I thought so too initially. But it didn’t take me long to realise that the joy I gain from baking is mostly from sharing what I make. I got so little joy from baking for myself (partly because I have successfully lost over 2 stone and don’t intend to pile it all back on for the sake of some baking self-care). For a while I hardly baked at all.

Then I started making biscuits again, and posting them to people – biscuits, I discovered, are very post-able. And there was a surfeit of post-able boxes available after all that online shopping that had been going on!

But then the first pink forced rhubarb arrived in our fruit and veg box, And I knew exactly what I wanted to make – a sort of rhubarb frangipane tart. Well, the pastry was going to take too long (I only seemed to have short slivers of time available) so I made a cake without the pastry. It was amazing. But oh so ugly.

I made another. Just as tasty, just as ugly. It was christened the Ugly Duckling Cake.

Ugly Duckling Cake, in all its glorious ugliness

Then I discovered the muffin tins in the cupboard … at around the same time as I used up all the rhubarb. How could I replicate that sharp shock of rhubarb in a wee frangipane cake? My first thought was cranberries in balsamic vinegar (this may seem like a very random thought, but I had spied a bag of cranberries in the freezer, left over from the Christmas That Never Happened, and a couple of years ago I had made a delicious sharp and sweet cranberry and balsamic chutney, which was just the taste I was looking for). I’ve also used marmalade, and lemon curd. I reckon almost any kind of compote, made with whatever fruit is seasonal would work.

Oh, and the best thing about these wee cakes? If you pop them in a ziplock bag and put them in a suitable box, they post really well. You can send them in lieu of a hug to anyone and everyone you love. And you’ll feel so much happier having done it.

Well-fired frangipane cakes in rainbow muffin cases

Frangipane cakes

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125 caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 1 TBsp plain flour
  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5, or 170C.
  2. Prepare your muffin tins. You know that this just means pop a paper muffin case into each of the muffin holes don’t you? I usually make 9 wee cakes out of one batch, but it depends on the size of your muffins, obviously.
  3. Weigh out your almonds and add spoonful of flour. Set aside for a minute.
  4. Using and electric beater, beat the butter and sugar together till really light and creamy. Then beat it some more. Seriously, the better you beat it at this stage, the lovelier and light your cakes will be.
  5. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each one. Add a wee bit of the flour/almonds if it is curdling to try to bring it back together. If your eggs are really fresh I think it is less likely to curdle or split, but perhaps I’m just imagining that?
  6. Now, using a big metal spoon, fold the almonds and flour in to the mixture. Try to keep it light, don’t bash all the air out of it.
  7. Spoon dollops of the mixture into muffin trays, using about 2/3 of the mixture.
  8. Now put a spoonful of whatever fruitiness you are adding on top of the mixture in the muffin tins. And then cover with a final wee spoon of cake mixture. You really don’t need to be precise about all this, and in fact it works fine if you spoon all the cake mixture into the tins, and add the fruitiness on top at the end. You find this out by forgetting to leave some back one time.
  9. Pop them in the oven. Check them after about 30 minutes to see how they are – I’ve had some ready at about 35 minutes, others needing another ten minutes. I guess it depends on your oven doesn’t it? I test by pressing lightly on a cake with two fingers, and seeing if it springs back nicely. If not, cook it a bit more.
Ready for baking
In the oven
Mini frangipane cakes, ready to be packed up and posted off as a proxy hug

You can pimp this basic frangipane mixture by adding other flavours, such as vanilla essence, almond essence or orange oil (I was gifted some of this elixir by a super-kind friend and it is amazing) – I mix it in with the butter and sugar.

If you want to make the lemon version, you can find my lemon curd recipe here. The balsamic cranberries can be found here. Or use a bought jam, or fresh berries, or slices of poached pear on top, or apples cooked in butter and sugar to caramelise them. Really, whatever you have to hand, just try it out. What’s the worst that can happen?

If you are interested in more recipes that I’ve scribbled down over the years, take a look at my Index of Recipes. And if you find any broken links, please let me know – over the years I have moved this site and some of the links I think are historic (and not in a good way).

When life gives you eggs….

8 May

… you make Genoise sponge cake

  • Five fresh laid eggs, all slightly different muted colours, in a bowl, sitting atop a stripey crocheted blanket

I keep hens, more hens than is entirely sensible, and some weeks they lay an average of 7 or 8 eggs a day. This means that I never need worry about not having something to eat for supper – poached egg on toast is a popular midweek standby, as is a frittata, tortilla or omelette of sorts. I now regularly throw an egg into a cheese sauce as I make it, to give it extra richness, or quickly make mayonnaise just because I have some spare eggs kicking about.

In the pre-Covid Era I took eggs in to work for colleagues to enjoy, but that’s not possible now we are all in lockdown. Last week we offered a delivery driver a half a dozen eggs and at first he looked quite affronted, and said no he was doing alright just now, just managing thank you very much, and they’d managed to do a shop that week. I had to tell him they were laid that morning, from our free range hens, and he would be doing us a favour. He took them, I hope he enjoyed them.

But there are lots of other things you can do with eggs, including the miraculous Genoise sponge cake. It really is a magical creation – just eggs, sugar, plain flour and a wee bit of butter, but combined in such a way that it creates a properly light as a feather sponge cake. And of course you can pimp it however you want, you could swap out some of the flour for cocoa, or add citrus zest to the batter, or brush over a flavoured sugar syrup once the cake is cool. But I’m jumping ahead of myself, let’s just make the basic perfect light Genoise sponge today, and fill it with clouds of whipped cream and some fresh strawberry jam.

Genoise Sponge Cake

Ingredients

I’ve kept the ingredients weights in Imperial because they are so deliciously simple to remember, and it’s how I make it. Sorry if you prefer cups or grams, but on this occasion I’m not doing equivalents.

  • 4 eggs (obviously I would suggest using free range really fresh ones, but honestly use whatever suits you, probably medium/large in size)
  • 4 oz caster sugar (use vanilla sugar if you have any)
  • 4 oz plain flour
  • 2 oz butter

Method

Prepare your tin or tins. Ideally you would lightly grease the tin and line it with baking paper, but you could probably get away with lightly greasing and then sprinkling with flour (then give it a shake to evenly spread the flour around the tin, creating a non-stick layer). You can use two sandwich tins, or a springform 8″/20cm tin. You know what, you can use whatever tin you’ve got, obviously! It makes life easier when you’re getting the cake in and out of the oven if you place your tin/s on top of a baking sheet.

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4 / 350F / 180C

  1. Melt your butter and then leave it to one side as you do everything else so it cools a bit.
  2. Crack the whole eggs into a big bowl, and add the caster sugar.
  3. Using electric beaters, whisk this until it becomes thick and luscious, you’re looking for what is technically called the thick ribbon stage. This means that when you lift the beaters out, and leave a trail of mixture in the bowl, the trail holds its shape. I use handheld electric beaters at their full power, and it usually takes about 8 minutes to reach this stage. Remember, if the trail doesn’t hold, then there’s no chance your cake will hold its sponge in the oven, and you’ll end up with a pancake.
  4. Now find yourself a large balloon whisk. Don’t have one? Use a large metal spoon instead.
  5. Sift the flour into the eggs in three batches. After each addition, fold it in really gently, you’re looking to incorporate it into the light egg mix without bashing out any of the airiness you’ve worked so hard to create.
  6. Once you’ve added all the flour, take your melted butter and very gently pour the yellow liquid round the edge of the bowl. Stop pouring before you pour in the white liquid milk protein – it doesn’t matter if some goes in, so don’t fret too much about it.
  7. Now gently fold the melted butter into the mixture before gently pouring the cake batter into the prepared tin or tins.
  8. Gently slide the tin/s into your oven and bake for 35 – 40 mins (because all ovens are not equal). The cake’s ready when a skewer inserted comes out clean as a whistle. Also note how it’s beginning to come away from the edges of the tin. And while you’re at it, turn off the radio or podcast or music, or loud children, when you take it out of the oven. Listen to it. I love that noise.
  9. Turn the cake/s out onto a wire rack to cool.
  10. Fill with your choice of tasty fillings – my favourite is the traditional combination of creaminess and fruitiness, but if you’re a fan of buttercream, go for it.

Want to make more cakey things? What about a Springtime Apple cake (no idea why it’s particularly suitable for springtime, but who is to question Past Shewolffe?) or if it’s biscuits you’re after, these Langues De Chat are amazing, and use up a spare egg white. Or just browse for yourself here.

When Nature can’t help itself

15 Mar

No discussion, the beginning of this week was slightly stressful. I spent most of Monday in various NHS waiting rooms (the GP’s surgery, the eye clinic’s outpatient’s in the old hospital, the emergency dept in the new hospital, the CT scan ‘preparation’ area in the new hospital and then finally Sub Wait G1 in the new hospital). But to cut to the chase, everyone is fine, and my Mum’s assertion that “I’m good at falling” remains true.

It may have been stressful, and frustrating and mostly boring (waiting, waiting, forever waiting) but our NHS is remarkable. I hope it can cope with the oncoming onslaught of Covid-19; I fear it has not been well funded for far too many years and the staff are already over-worked and under-resourced. And the staff we met were all kind, caring and competent (apart from one, who was brusque.. but she was efficient and gave us what seemed to be useful information, so I’m not complaining).

The chorus of birdsong was almost deafening the following morning as I walked across to Mum’s house, under low grey clouds, with a slight smirr of rain in the air. Two male blackbirds were singing competitively from the rowan tree. I guess it’s that time of year. Spring is springing, despite the wettest February in memory. Everything still looked grey, or that end-of-winter depressing brown. But if you looked close, there were the tiniest splashes of colour everywhere.

And then that afternoon our pond seemed to be boiling, the water bubbling up as the frogs got on with their Springtime froggie thing. And of course we now have great globules of frog spawn which will mostly end up as additional protein for the hens I guess.

Our Springtime frog spawn

So, there’s Nature doing its thing, and as sure as night follows day, here am I doing mine, back in the kitchen making treats to cheer our days. And what is more cheering than a wee slice of the most lemoniest of lemony cakes? I adore that zing of sharpness from lemons, and the soft moistness of this sponge complements it perfectly. I guess it would probably keep well, in an airtight tin, but how will I ever know? It’s lovely with a cup of tea or strong espresso, but would work equally well with a scoop of vanilla or dark chocolate icecream, or a big spoonful of creme fraiche on the side for an easy dessert.

The recipe is from my favourite of favourite cookbooks, Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

The most delicious lemony polenta cake

Lemon polenta cake (gluten free)

  • 225g / 8oz butter, softened
  • 225g / 8oz caster sugar
  • 225g / 8oz ground almonds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • grated zest of 2 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 110g / 4oz polenta
  • 1 tsp baking powder (make sure it’s gluten free if you want your cake to be GF)
  • a pinch of salt

Grease a 23cm / 9″ spring form tin, and line it with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160C / 325F / GM3.

  1. Cream the butter till pale and soft, using electric beaters.
  2. Add the caster sugar and beat again until light and creamy.
  3. Stir in the ground almonds and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly after each egg.
  5. Fold in the remaining ingredients: lemon zest and juice, polenta, baking powder and salt.
  6. Transfer the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes (but check after 45 to see if it’s ready).
  7. It’s ready when it’s a deep golden colour on top and your skewer comes out clean as a whistle.
  8. Cool on a wire rack
  9. When cool, dredge with sifted icing sugar, to cover any slightly well-fired bits.

My other Spring makes include Wild Garlic Pesto (obviously) and I’m really in the mood for making some chicken liver pate, so I’m delighted that Past-Shewolffe has provided me with a recipe. Or go browse here and see if anything takes your fancy.

Do let me know if there’s anything you want me to make. I’m thinking I might share a few recipes using some of the stockpile in your store cupboard.

Love is….

14 Feb

Well last year love was a heart shaped sausage.

The Captain requested 12 inches of the finest pork sausage from our local butcher, and presented it to me as a Valentines supper.

He’s a keeper.

Burns Night

25 Jan
Procure a sheep’s pluck

January. It’s nearly the end of January already, but before the end we have one last celebration.

Most of January is a time for hunkering down and hibernating. Whoever thought that January was the time to start dieting, to start telling yourself that you should forego some of the things you love to eat didn’t live in rural Scotland. I’m all in favour of taking stock and putting in place whatever you need to be the best you can be this coming year, but please don’t make your new year be all about giving things up. We need nourishment in January. And we need to feed our heads and our hearts, as well as our bellies.

In Scotland we have two main celebrations in January: New Year’s Day (which is often marked by a severe hangover from Hogmanay the night before) and Burns Night. The traditional fare for a Burns Night is of course haggis, neeps and tatties. Many of you might think that it doesn’t sound like much of a celebration to eat turnips, potatoes and a savoury pudding made from the cheapest (and possibly most disgusting) bits of a sheep, but I love this meal, and it is absolutely perfect January food. It is food that nourishes us in these dark wintery weeks, and it makes use of about the only vegetable which is locally and seasonally available in Scotland right now – the turnip (some of you may call it a swede). Traditionally I guess we’d drink whisky with it, but if you’re not a purist, then red wine works a treat with haggis.

Ball haggis in natural casing, from our local butchers, J&H Cairns

Mum gave me her copy of The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill (first published 1929) this Christmas. I didn’t even know we had it on our shelves (or I might have ‘borrrowed’ it sooner). In it, FMN includes “Meg Dods’s suggested bill of fare for St Andrew’s Day, Burns clubs, or other Scottish national dinners” and I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly was not the elaborate menu shared below, with its Brown Fricassee of Duck, Crimped Skate and Rich Eating Posset in a China Punch Bowl. And that’s all before you’ve tackled ‘A Black Cock, or three Ptarmigan’. Anyway, I’m not suggesting you go full Burns Night banquet a la Meg Dods, but please do treat yourself to haggis, neeps and tatties at least once each year.

Meg Dods’s suggested Bill of Fare

In future posts there will be more on FMN and her Scots Kitchen, and probably more on Meg Dods (and her relationship to Walter Scott) if you’re interested.

In my mother’s handwritten recipe book, my favourite of all recipes was her Great Aunt Janey’s recipe for haggis, which starts ‘First procure a sheep’s pluck….’. A few years ago I was given the original recipe book in Great Aunt Janey’s hand, written for my Gran for her 40th birthday (in 1944). There are other, perhaps more useful, recipes in this wee black book, but for me none can surpass the haggis recipe.

No actual recipe this week, as I figure if you want to cook haggis, neeps and tatties you probably already know how. But if you want to look through my various tried and tested recipes for everything from Apple Chutney to Winter Salad, have a look here.

Pizza

12 Jan

The Captain and I love the al fresco life. We have a terrace outside our bedroom, overlooking the Valley, and over the years we have gradually pimped the space. For the last few years we’ve had a chimenea fire and a barbecue, and we’ve had some wonderful evenings up there, with good food and a glass of wine as the sun goes down. But for a while I’ve been hankering after a wood fired oven, to extend my al fresco repertoire beyond barbecuing and smoking. And salads of course. I make pretty good barbecues and salads, but my dream was to have fresh pizza straight out of a wood fired oven on our terrace.

The good news is that dreams do come true. The Captain bought us a pizza oven for Christmas – after researching what was available and what would suit our space best, he’d chosen one from Ooni, and it is perfect for our needs.

Midwinter in Scotland might seem sub optimal when it comes to al fresco dining, but there is something just magical about wrapping up warm, putting out the awning (to protect from the inevitable rain) and huddling next to the fire, watching the moon rise and cooking and eating fresh pizza.

Parma ham, mushroom and onion pizza

And the other thing about going for it with pizzas at this time of year is all those leftovers! Don’t be boxed in by what you think of as sensible pizza toppings – see what you’ve got in the fridge, decide if you’d like them together and go for it. This is how I discovered the joy of a black pudding and brussel sprout pizza!

I’m not a purist when it comes to pizza dough – sometimes I make my own entirely by hand, on those days when 10 minutes kneading dough will help de-stress. Other days I pop the ingredients in the bread machine and let it do the work.

What I’ve discovered makes the most difference is making a really good pizza sauce – in the past I’ve zizzed up a tin of tomatoes, or used a passata… and while both of these are fine, they are a bit too watery and can make the pizza base go soggy. So my top tip is to take the time to cook some good pizza sauce while your dough is resting or rising or proving or whatever.

Everything prepped to make our first pizzas

If you don’t ‘have a wood fired pizza oven, don’t despair – home made pizza is pretty good made in any really hot oven.

Pizza dough

Ingredients

  • 250ml water (or use slightly less water, and slug in some sourdough starter)
  • 1-2 TBsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBsp sugar
  • about 425g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp yeast

Directions

Put the ingredients in the pan of your bread machine in the order they are listed above and hit the button for pizza dough.

When it’s ready, take the dough out and separate it into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and place it in a bowl (which you’ve drizzled a wee bit of oil in the bottom). Cover each bowl with a damp tea towel, or a lid, or a plate, or cling film, or beeswax wraps, or whatever suits your environmental aesthetic, and leave for about half an hour. Don’t worry about timings too much. At the end of the time you’re going to turn each doughy ball into pizza.

Brilliant Pizza Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 (or more) garlic cloves, slightly chopped
  • 2 TBsp oil
  • 2 large tins of chopped plum tomatoes
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • your choice of herbs or spices – I like to add a wee bit of chilli, but mediterranean herbs would also be good

Directions

  • Put the oil in heavy based pan over a medium heat
  • Add the garlic and sweat for a wee minute. Don’t let it burn, just soften it in the oil
  • Add the other ingredients
  • Simmer for 20 minutes or so until it looks thick and bright dark red
  • Leave to cool

I make loads of this pizza sauce and keep it in a tub in the fridge – as well as pizza it’s found it’s way into the most amazing quiche (pizza sauce, caramelised onions, cheddar cheese and an egg/philadelphia cheese custard poured into a short pastry case), and also mixed in with pasta and some tuna as a midweek pasta bake.

You know how to make pizza, don’t you? I thought I did, but what I didn’t know well enough was that when you’re using a peel, to put the pizza into the oven, you need to make sure that peel has PLENTY of polenta on it, or you will never slide the pizza off the peel and onto the stone in the oven. The other thing I’ve discovered is that less can be so much more on a pizza – just a couple of good ingredients can be so much more satisfying than piling too much on.

Some toppings we like:

  • Black pudding and shredded brussel sprouts
  • Parma ham and mushrooms (and then add rocket once it;s out of the oven)
  • Goats cheese and beetroot
  • Blue cheese (preferably gorgonzola) and pear, maybe some ham too
Black pudding and brussel sprout pizza

Want more recipes? Perhaps a quick midweek dinner? Or easy peasy biscuits? Just head here and have a browse.

Tiny Bites Winter Festival

5 Jan

Sometime in the Autumn my nephew came to visit, and we had one of those blissful evenings on the terrace, with a log fire and a barbecue and more than our fair share of wine. There was probably amaretto too. And cheese, there’s nearly always cheese.

Anyway, on this occasion the conversation roamed around politics (inevitably still talking about Brexit) and work and food. Somehow, the next morning we had decided that the most fun thing to do at Christmas this year would be to shun the massive turkey, and instead go for Tiny Bites.

Let me explain – I’m a Big Fan of the Tiny Bites, or canapes as some of you might call them. I love the perfect morsel in miniature – flavours that zing, textures that excite and looks that delight. And if they are all uniformly set out on a serving platter (possibly even a slate, which I will allow for Tiny Bites, but NEVER for a proper meal) and brought to me by a wonderfully smiling human even better.

We shared our idea with the rest of the family, and The Inaugural Winter Festival of Tiny Bites was born, though not without some concern… Would there be enough to eat? Were we just creating the same meal as usual but cutting it up into tiny portions? What is Christmas without a plate piled high with roast turkey and ALL the trimmings? With hindsight, perhaps it’s bizarre that not once did any of us question if this was even possible, or if we were creating far too much extra work, for little extra fun.

Early in December we had pretty much rebranded it as a crowdsourced tasting menu, with family being the ‘crowd’, and we managed to have a planning session when we were all at home at Mum’s one weekend. It turns out that planning a crowdsourced tasting menu is a great use of all those planning techniques we’ve learned at work, and it’s far more fun applying the techniques to a Family Christmas than to most of the projects I’ve worked on! More on the planning another time, but needless to say, there were a lot of post-it notes and a killer excel spreadsheet.

And it turned out our plan was to produce an 18 course meal on Christmas Day, starting with The Partridge and the Pear and finishing with Cheese (subsequently renamed as The Baby Cheeses in a Manger).

The Partridge and the Pear

As I write this in the early days of the new year, I can confirm that we had the most fun on Christmas Day, that the fear of ‘not enough’ was totally unfounded. And that Tiny Bites nearly broke us, though not in a bad way. We managed only 12 (only!) of the 18 courses before we were beaten by the Bites and had to take some time out. The time out lasted right through the evening, and the Bites were never resumed, though my nephew did provide Tiny Bites Style Breakfast the next morning.

I’ll come back to this extravaganza in coming weeks, with some of the recipes. In the meantime, here is the full menu:

  • The Partridge and The Pear
  • His Bark is Worse Than His Bite
  • Gold Langoustine
  • Peruvian Prawns
  • Herring Smorgasbordling
  • Tiny Soup and Tiny Croutons
  • Tiny Soup (reprise)
  • Tiny Cheese Toastie with Apple Compote
  • Tiananmen Squares
  • Bambi Bullseye
  • A tart encounter (intermezzo)
  • The sausage meets the potato
  • The Bird
  • Bollywood
  • Pear without the Partridge
  • Storm in a Golden Teacup
  • Cranachan
  • Festive Jellies (redacted)
  • The baby cheeses in the manger with the good King Wensleydale, and Christmas cake
  • Cocktails (work in progress)
The Tiny Bites Menu

Let me know if there’s anything you really want to read more about.

Miss Morgan’s Butterscotch Sauce

4 Mar

I asked Mum about Miss Morgan a wee while ago, as I only have vague (but good) memories of her. She lived along the road from our house and occasionally babysat for us. I’m not sure why she looked after us, as our usual babysitter was Rachel, who was tall and manly and lived with the wee feminine Emily. Rachel and Emily were sisters; they had loved and lost during The War, and hence lived with one another, or that was what we were told.

Miss Winifred Morgan to my childhood self seemed sweet and kind, but with something more about her, perhaps she was secretly a Miss Marple? The other day Mum said that she had been a nurse and that she had worked in Egypt, possibly training or setting up nursing there…

My most concrete memory of Miss Morgan is her butterscotch sauce recipe. I think she was looking after us over a weekend, and to go with ice cream she taught me how to make butterscotch sauce. This was a revelation – until then I think we only had stewed fruit, or jelly with ice cream. Or on special occasions we would have a tin of fruit salad – but I sense that Mum avoided this at all costs as it would only cause arguments about who got they sole pink cherry from the tin. Butterscotch sauce seemed utterly exotic. And there was unexpected DANGER in making it.

Butterscotch sauce

  • 4oz sugar (just granulated is fine)
  • a scant 1/2 pint of water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 dessert spoon golden syrup
  • 1 TBsp cornflour
  • 2 TBsp cold water
  • 1/2 oz butter
  • a few sultanas
  1. Measure the sugar into a dry heavy based saucepan
  2. Stir over a moderate heat until it melts and turns golden
  3. Now here is the fun DANGER part: take your pan off the heat and pour in the 1/2 pint of water. It will all sizzle and bubble and steam, and then the sugar will seize and solidify on the base of the pan. That’s ok
  4. Put it back on a low heat and stir gently, until the sugar is all dissolved
  5. Add the salt, vanilla, syrup and stir
  6. Mix the cornflour and cold water together in a wee cup or mug, and then pour into the pan, stirring as you pour
  7. Bring back to the boil, stirring all the time, so the sauce thickens nicely
  8. Take off the heat, and add the butter. Stir till it is all melted in
  9. Add the sultanas if you want them. You could also add some rum, brandy or whisky at this stage to turn it into grown up butterscotch sauce.

Pour warm over vanilla ice cream. I’d say ‘the best vanilla ice cream you can afford’ but actually this would be pretty good over any vanilla ice cream, even the cheap stuff. That’s definitely what we had back in the 1970s, if only because that was all there was available at Brydens, our local shop.

Nowadays I guess I would probably sprinkle some salt flakes over the top too, to make it salted butterscotch, making that exquisite sweet-salty combo. I might use a bit more butter too. Just because.

It would also be delicious on warm gingerbread, a bit like a sticky toffee pudding. But I’m just saying that because I have a gingerbread in the oven.

There’s another butterscotch sauce recipe here, a more modern one, probably not created by a wee lady who was probably born over 100 years ago now. And if sweet treats aren’t your thing, why not look through the other delights I’ve been rustling up in my kitchen, here.

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