The Best laid plans of mice and men . . . . . . . .

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Tart

On Friday we had friends coming for dinner and I was to cook an Indian meal.  The plan was to do about 8-10 dishes plus rice and naan bread.  As one of our guests is vegetarian, most of the food would be without meat.

It was my aim that just as each dish made it to the table, it would be photographed and a series of blog posts written about it all, but, know what, heating up 8-10 dishes is no joke and took ages, so by the time it was all on the table, the last thing on my mind was photography.

So here I am, food eaten and very good it was too – we had Rajmah Chawal (red kidney beans curry), curried eggs, matter paneer, spiced eggplant, dal,mushroom bhaji, Bombay potatoes, chicken shashlik, pulao rice and naan, followed by a mango kulfi dessert.  While I have written about some of it before, the remainder would have kept me going in blog for a week – marvellous!

But I have none of it, so whatever next?  Mercifully a good friend came to the rescue.  She had invited us to lunch on Sunday and while, as always, it was excellent, the star of the show was the amazing chocolate tart shown above.

Now while we can all drool over the picture, no recipe do I have, not least because no recipe exists, the dish being just ‘something she knocked up’!  I wish I was that clever – she has promised to try to write it down so hopefully in the fullness of time, we shall have it. (Added 30/9/15)

For the record, it was a shortbread base filled with with a peanut butter cream, then a layer of chocolate, topped with more peanut butter cream and sliced bananas (I think!)

Dream on!

And Lo it Came Tapas (Post Script)

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Roast leg of lamb

When I first came across this recipe I understood it to be Italian in origin but it’s hard to think of anywhere around the northern coast of the Mediterranean where it would not be cooked on a regular basis: Spain, Portugal, France, Greece – lamb with garlic and rosemary would be equally at home in any of them so maybe one could describe this simply as Mediterranean roast lamb.

The important thing to optimise the flavour is getting the aromatics right inside the lamb and this is done with a sharp, thin-bladed, pointed knife.  If you don’t have a knife with a sharp point on it or the blade is really broad, or worst sin of all, it is blunt, don’t waste your time with this dish.  It will absolutely not work with a bread-knife – you have to use the right tool for the job!

Cut some cloves of garlic into strips or slivers – they can’t be too thick or they won’t fit in the little slits we’re about to make and they can’t be too thin or they won’t have the rigidity to be pushed in.


Push the point of the knife gently into the meat somewhere in the middle of the joint – doesn’t really matter where other than not over a bone!  It needs to go in about 1-2cm (½-1″).  Take a sliver of garlic and push the end of it into the slit as far as it will go.

About 2cm (1″) away push the knife in again and fill the slit with another sliver of garlic.

Then working round the joint to create a pattern, repeat this until the joint is thoroughly threaded with garlic to like this (below).


Cut the sprigs of rosemary into 2cm (1″) lengths.  Push the stalk of a piece of rosemary into the same slit as each sliver of garlic.  Joint should now look slightly forested like this


Place in an oven dish, season it well and rub or brush with olive oil and pour a glass of wine over it.  Stick it in the oven and with a bit of luck it will come out looking like the one at the top of this post.

While the oven’s on, you can also bake some panadera potatoes (Panadera is just the Spanish word for baker rather like the French ‘boulanger’) to complete a wonderful Sunday lunch.

Panadera Potatoes

And Lo it came Tapas (3)

Saturday 19 September 2015

Tapas Basque chicken
Basque Chicken Pie Filling

When I’m preparing a meal like tapas with lots of dishes, I like it when I get to a point where, no matter what transpires, there is a meal for my guests.  I may make additional courses but these are ‘nice-to-haves’ and merely add to the range of food available.

To achieve this reasonably early in the preparation, I like to make something like this Basque chicken pie, or as here, without the pastry crust, Basque chicken stew.  It looks enticing, smells amazing, and has really strong, earthy flavours, but s also substantial enough to form the basis of a meal.

It also has the added pluses of being pretty easy to make and reasonably inexpensive to source.

When I do add the crust, if I’m honest I usually use a ready-rolled pastry sheet which works fine.

This can be served with the incredibly versatile potato dish below, which is also one of my Tapas staples.

Tapas poatoes and chorizo
Potatoes with chorizo

And Lo it came Tapas (2)

Thursday 17 September 2015

Tapas asparagus and jamon
Asparagus with Jamon

Most Spanish dishes are incredibly simple and this is a perfect example of that. with only 2-3 main ingredients, asparagus, Serrano ham and olive oil (this also works really well with chorizo instead of the ham).

This combination of Jamon or chorizo with a green vegetable is quite common in Spain.  In addition to asparagus it’s found with Brussells sprouts , French beans, broad beans, etc. and always cooked in much the same way.

As part of the tapas meal on Sunday I did a Russian salad but because one of my guests cannot eat potatoes, I used cauliflower cut in tiny florets (below) and that works just as well, so, pardon the pun, food for thought!

Tapas Russian salad
Russian salad made with cauliflower

And Lo it came Tapas

Tuesday 16 September 2015

Tapas marinated peppers
Marinated red peppers

I’m not sure how it has taken me so long to get round to because I used to cook it all the time, but finally, here it is, my guide to preparing some Spanish dishes, generally referred to as Tapas.

Of course, Tapas, strictly is not a set of recipes but rather a style of serving, rather like Greek or Turkish Meze.  I’m not sure there can be anyone left who doesn’t know the origin of Tapas, but just in case he or she is reading this, the word Tapas means ‘lid’ and it comes from a piece of bread placed atop a glass of wine to keep the flies off.  In time, something tasty came to be added to the bread and the rest is history.

But because of that, although much Tapas -style food is Spanish in origin, anything may be served up in this way as Tapas merely describes the method of serving (i.e. little platefuls) rather than the food itself.  I once had some coronation chicken atop a piece of bread in a bar in Madrid – honest!

Just to prove the point, the dish in the photo above is actually Italian in origin (Balsamic’s the give-away!) but it works really well as part of a Tapas selection so that’s where we’ll start.

And of course, the converse is true that while not all Tapas is Spanish in origin, not all Spanish food is Tapas (although any of it can usually be served in that manner.  If someone placed a whole slow-roasted shoulder or leg of lamb on the table in front of you with a mountain of roast (Panadera) potatoes, one would not reasonably describe the meal as Tapas, while indubitably Spanish.

While this recipe for Marinated peppers calls for fresh peppers roasted and skinned, I tend to use a jar (or tin) of ready-roasted red peppers which one can pick up nowadays in most supermarkets at a price well below that of fresh peppers.  I must admit I’m rather partial to roasting and skinning red peppers (bit like popping bubble-wrap as a means of relaxing in my opinion and I’ve been known to do it just for fun) but sometimes time does not permit and the bottled variety do a good job.

So over the next few days I shall recount a few dishes I put together on Sunday for a little lunch party.  Most important is not to be afraid of cooking something a bit different.

Tapas Iberico ham

Jumping-off point for any Tapas style meal (for me, at any rate) is a plate of Spanish (Serrano) ham (or better-still the superior Iberico) and some Manchego cheese, preferably one described as Viejo (aged).  While a lot of supermarkets now sell Manchego, some of it I find is a bit rubbery and not of great quality, so try to get a good one – not cheap but worth it.

Tapas Queso viejo

Now if you think my platter of Jamon (above the cheese) is a bit untidy, you’re absolutely right as a) I’m just not very good at it and b) a lot of pre-packaged Jamon has a tendency to stick and doesn’t separate easily.

Ham, cheese and a few olives and you’re off to a flying start.  More later

All Greek to me

Monday 15 September 2015


Moussaka has long been one of my favourites and it is a dish I’ve made for years using a recipe that’s lost in the mists of time – possibly as old as Greek mythology itself, though much more of a hit than a myth!

There’s something about lamb and aubergine that just works so well – the combination crops up all over the Middle East.

But ever one to try something new, when I saw Rick Stein on his way from Venice to Istanbul making moussaka in Greece, it looked so inviting that I thought I would give it a go –  the way everything was fried in olive oil à la Grècque just looked so tempting.

Rick uses beef in his recipe but the connection between lamb and aubergine was so great I felt compelled to use lamb.  It took ages to fry everything (whereas my normal way is quite quick) but I was sure the result would justify the time.

But in the end, it just underwhelmed me.  Actually, in truth I found it a bit lacking in flavour on the day I made it but very good the next day (and the one after).  It was as if the olive oil had subdued rather than enhanced everything else so it only really tasted of the oil.

So nice try, but I’ll stick to my own way, main difference being multiple layers of potatoes and aubergine interspersed with the meat sauce.  I did however like his version of the Béchamel sauce so I shall continue to use that.

Oh, and Rick, the reason you can use Gruyère cheese if you can’t find Graviera is that the latter is just the Greek word for the former – they are one and the same!

Happy weekend!

9 September 2015

Colombian ship2
ARC Gloria

Once again I find myself apologising for not keeping this blog up-to-date but when I tell you why, I hope you’ll understand.

I do a number of different things to earn my proverbial ‘crust’ and one of these is the occasional provision of sound systems for modest events.  This last weekend we had been engaged to provide sound for an outdoor event which was part of the Thames Festival, the annual celebration of London’s great waterway.

Now for those who think this might be a breeze, let me set the record straight.  We loaded our cars with all the requisite equipment on Friday night (the ‘we’ being my son, a qualified sound engineer, and I, an enthusiastic amateur) ready for the morning.

Due on site at the venue, Potters Field next to Tower Bridge, by 8.30am, we set off around 7.30.  When we got there, the main stage was ready for us.  For some reason and unusually, we were not allowed to drive our vehicles onto the well-maintained grass and so had to traipse everything from the nearest roadway on foot across the grass to the stage.  A lot of the equipment is heavy so this was a rather hard start to the day, but we were refreshed and cheered with the thought that the lovely grass was getting more churned by our constant walking back and forth carrying kit than it would have been with a single drive onto it in the cars.

It took us a couple of hours to get everything set up ready for the event start at noon.  We ran the sound system throughout the day dealing with a number of acts (for ‘we’ read my son), finishing at about 6.30pm.  It was not a particularly nice day weather-wise – it was cool, overcast, and had rained a little and there were not a vast number of people in attendance but we had had a good day.

When you spend a whole day on your feet, literally not sitting down at all, strange things happen to the body – everything that can go south does so, and you become very conscious that your blood is having difficulty climbing back up the veins in your legs, having enjoyed the free ride down through the arteries; the knees and feet swell and the legs feel a bit sore.  Normally that’s OK because one gets the next day or two to recuperate but on this occasion, we were back on duty on the morrow.

I got home on Saturday evening about 8.30pm – we left the large items of kit there as there was overnight security so we did not have much to pack away.  However, sleep after such a day is difficult and so I only managed a few hours.

On Sunday morning we were back at the venue again by 8.30am and this time, while my son rearranged his setup as he had not been happy with it the previous day, I set up a smallish PA on a stage for Colombia Day, a day of celebration for many of London’s Colombian community.

I have not had much contact previously with Colombians but I was immediately struck but the pleasantness and courtesy of everyone I came into contact with.  As I was setting up, so were a great many others who were to sell a wide range of Colombian food throughout the afternoon.  I was looking forward to this aspect of the day!

The first act due on stage had apparently got stuck on a train near Bristol and telephoned to say he would be a no-show – a sad but inevitable concomitant of unpaid acts – but we eventually got going and ended our part of the afternoon with a wonderful band, who took turns with an incredibly enthusiastic dance troupe, who did more costume changes than I have ever seen anyone make, and considering there were 8 of them this was no mean logistical feat.

During the afternoon, the crowd had grown considerably with a veritable wall of people building up between the stage and catering areas.  This was estimated at from 5-6,000 people, just in our part of the park.  I never got to try it but apparently the food queues were 1-2 hours long, matched only by the lines of people waiting to gain access to a toilet on another part of the site.

At 6pm the crowd moved to the main stage where the final Colombian band were to play in anticipation of the day’s main event, the passage of the Colombian square-rigger (shown above), the ARC Gloria.

Sharp at 7, Tower Bridge opened wider than I personally have ever seen it, and this majestic sailing ship came west under the bridge just missing the top by what seemed like inches, the whole crew lined up on the mast spars wearing jumpers in colours that made up the Colombian flag, and singing the national anthem (theirs, not ours!) to music provided by a military band lined up on the stern (that’s the rounded bit at the back!)

It turned through 180° just by HMS Belfast and then stopped while the band played more music.  Tower Bridge then reopened and it passed eastwards whence it had come.

The crowd were ecstatic, absolutely beside themselves with happiness and so it took a while before they dispersed and once again, legs stiff with fatigue, we started de-rigging our systems as darkness descended on the park.

By the time we had packed everything away and stowed it back in the cars it was already 9.30pm.  It took another hour to get back to our storage facility and drop the kit off, resulting in a 10.30pm homecoming, very tired.

Nonetheless, despite the discomfort and general weariness, we’d had a lovely day with lot of really lovely people doing something that made lots of people very happy – it doesn’t get much better than that.  (Actually, it does, because despite all that, we get paid as well!)

So once again, the question is, what has all this to do with food, and the answer again is nothing, which is precisely how much of the wonderful-looking Colombian food I managed to get, but I wait in confident anticipation that my turn will come, and I am so looking forward to that.

On the Fajitas Trail (Post Script)

1 September 2015 

Mex Huevos rancheros
Huevos Rancheros

Now on the morning after you have your lovely Fajitas, assuming you have some of the side dishes left ( and if not, make more, this is worth it), treat yourself to some eggs Mexican style known as Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs), one of the world’s great breakfasts.

There are no hard and fast rules with this – well, actually, I suppose there have to be a couple.  Let’s face it, you couldn’t make any kind of ‘Eggs’ dish without eggs and in this case, you probably need the tortillas – I mean they probably wouldn’t even know what toast is in Mexico, well, not in the bits where they eat this.

But other than the eggs and the tortillas, you can more or less mix and match to suit what you have available, but you probably also need the salsa – hard to imagine it without.

So, other than the eggs, tortillas and salsa, you can add whatever else you have available, though if you were Mexican, that’s likely to be beans, guacamole, cheese and/or cream.  Oh sod it, follow the recipe.

This is the kind of breakfast you want if you’re going out for the day and don’t know if you’ll be able to get some lunch on your travels – it’s good, substantial and filling, everything you possibly want.

I mean, so is the  ‘full English’ in all its many manifestations (full-Scottish, full Irish, Highland, West Country, etc.) but somehow this is more exotic and hence, more appealing.

Don’t get me wrong. I like a full-English, as I do the many other breakfast specials I know, but somehow Huevos is always a bit special, and seems to send me off on my travels nourished in a way I don’t often feel with others.

Maybe it’s the lack of meat?  Nothing against meat, I really like it but it’s rare to feel as full on a vegetarian dish (Huevos) as one does after sausages, bacon, etc.

So start your day the Mexican way or just sing the song, “Wish me luck as Huevos goodbye”!