Rosemary's Blog

Journeying with Jura

I almost got to Jura! How many of us whisky lovers can say that when we’ve made it to Islay and looked across the Sound to the Paps, the distinctive breast-like mountains that announce Jura’s presence in the Inner Hebrides? Of course, three might be a strange number of paps unless, like me, you are something of a Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy fan. If you are not, you’ll have no idea what I am talking about...

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In the mood for a dram

I’m in the throes of planning a Whisky Lux dinner for Friday 23rd November 2018 with Malcolm at The Lynnfield Hotel in Kirkwall, Orkney.

We’ve been discussing the menu and starting to pull together a list of whiskies to taste with each course of the meal. There are many things to discuss. One is how will people react to me hosting the evening? There are two major things stacked against me: one, I am a woman and two, I’m from Sooth (as they say up here). Hopefully people will be brave enough to relax into the evening and just enjoy the experience of tastings different whiskies with delicious food and deciding which one they like most and which is the best match with the food. Hopefully the intrigue of that will help the diners to get over my gender and geographical shortcomings!

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Chill out at the West Dean Chilli Fiesta

In my previous life, i.e as a working girl in Sussex, this weekend would have been All Systems Go as it is the annual celebration of all things hot in the way of capsicums - the Chilli Fiesta at West Dean Gardens near Chichester.

I’ve lost count of how many Fiestas there have now been. I was there at the first, a single afternoon event, and then almost annually until I’d notched up 20 chilli-head celebrations. That was enough, but it was great to have been a part of such an incredible success. This year, 2018, will be sweetly spiced for the gardeners and creators of the Fiesta, Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain. They retire from West Dean at the end of March ‘19, indeed the day after Brexit. Within 48 hours our ‘world’ will change beyond belief. Let’s hope that whoever comes after them will know a bit about chillies!

 We were all so young!

We were all so young!

 Look, I’ve hardly aged at all! I saw that necklace and had to have it!

Look, I’ve hardly aged at all! I saw that necklace and had to have it!

The Cookery Theatre is always very popular at shows and I see that when I took this picture, making the audience wait for their tasters, I was pairing a Paul John whisky from Goa in India with my Vanilla scented prawns with pasta and chillies. I do remember it being a great success! Occasionally there was a few minutes between dems for me to have a quick look around.

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Then there was the year that Levi Roots came to perform on stage and to promote his sauces. Poor guy wiped his fingers on his handkerchief after dealing with naga chillies, then wiped his eyes with the same hankie. What a pro: he got through the dem (with my help of course) but went straight to the St John tent afterwards. He was ok but do take care. Freshly picked chillies are actually hotter  in higher tempoeratures, a warning for this year Down South.

I must have demonstrated almost 200 chilli dishes at West Dean. The ice cream we served at the first event was mango and chilli. Subsequent favourites have been Coconut, white chocolate and chilli, and Dark chocolate and chilli. I firmly believe that fresh chillies are the only way to make a good chilli ice cream: there are some Dreadful concoctions made with dried ones. There’s also a lovely summer stir-fry or salad of Chilli squid and prawns with baby carrots and radishes with sunflower seeds, and a favourite dish for winter of Kale with chick peas, chillies and pine nuts.

Grace Mulligan - grace in name and nature

We have only decorated one room in our new home so far. We wallpapered it and, owing to the shading of the pattern, made a bad job of the joins behind the door. An easy solution to avert the eye from our inadequate skills was to make a collage of photos of my career so far and there, right in my eyeline, is a picture of my friend and colleague Grace Mulligan and I on a Guild of Food Writers trip to Venice. Grace, the beloved presenter of Yorkshire Television’s Farmhouse Kitchen series, died recently and was one of the kindest, most genuine people in the food writing and television cookery world. Unknown to many of today’s younger foodies, she was gentle, generous and graceful, both in name and in nature.

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A doctor’s wife and mother to four children, Grace came to the notice of Yorkshire Television through her association with the WI, in much the same way as Ruth Mott, the presenter of The Victorian Kitchen, was ‘found’. In fact, the three of us once had a sugar-rush afternoon sampling frozen desserts together. The desserts weren’t so good but we shared a lot of laughs and some good gossip.

Grace was a proud Scot and a willing judge at my friend Anna’s Young Cook’s of Britain/FutureCooks competitions, judging the Glasgow heats despite being based in Goole where her husband was in practice. A great baker and champion of Scottish recipes and ingredients, Grace was also a no-nonsense family cook who was always up for a challenge.  I remember her leading a workshop on toffee apple making for children in a marquee at a food festival in Chichester that Anna and I ran. Risk assessments would probably preclude such an event now but Grace got the children through it safely and with a great sense of achievement at having mastered a really technical skill. While Grace was in Chichester for that event I remember her sheer delight when Anna’s husband took her for a spin in his recently acquired not-quite-vintage Mercedes convertible. I can see her now with a headscarf on and the widest of smiles, emerging slightly windswept from the passenger seat.

A holder of the Guild of Food Writer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Grace loved the Guild trips and was always great company. Apart from our glorious trip to Venice I particularly remember her at a sourdough workshop at the School of Artisan Food and also at a wonderful trip, just north of York, to an exquisite garden which also grew some produce for the owners gastro-pub. I also remember her at Billington’s Sugar events when un-refined sugar was newly widely available and we were all keen to assess the effect of it on the flavour of our baking. 

Grace was a kind host to anyone needing B&B and I particlularly remember her warmth and welcome when I became a Catholic as her faith was so important to her. She met me in York once and took me to a fascinating house run by a religious order where we ate in the cafe and toured the building rich in history from the time of the persecution of Catholics in York after the Reformation. After we split up to go our separate ways Grace had a bad fall and I felt awful that I didn’t know about it for several weeks. But that was Grace - she was never one to make a fuss.

My friend Grace was graceful, knowledgeable and unflappable - and the common link there is ‘able’. Which she most certainly was. 

Salsas to dance summer into your kitchen

It seems that I have caused a bit of a rush on Orkney Craft Vinegar’s Honey & Meadowsweet condiment. OK, it wasn’t quite the Delia Effect with the liquid glucose for chocolate tart, but Kirkness & Gorrie reported a rush after my Rhubarb Riot demonstration at Orkney Library & Archive, were I used it in a Rhubarb and rosemary salsa. Then Cousin Andrea shared a picture of her bumper redcurrant harvest which put me in mind of a favourite Beetroot and redcurrant salsa. So I thought that, while we continue to bask in summer sunshine, I’d share both recipes with you as they would be great for barbecues. Yes, it is warm, even here in Orkney!

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Making yogurt at home

granola with yoghurt

We are so enjoying all the friends and family who are heading north to stay with us in our new home on the island of South Ronaldsay in Orkney. Breakfast, such an individual meal when it comes to likes and dislikes, can be a challenge but we tend to keep the offer to either porridge, made with the delicious flaked oats from Barony Mill (which is also the producer of the unique Orkney beremeal) or homemade granola and yogurt. Then, of course, there’s Nick’s lovely homemade bread, creamy yellow Orkney butter and my homemade marmalade. It is the yogurt, however, that is the subject of most conversation and so I thought I’d share some hints and tips for making yogurt at home.

 

In 2018 I took part in a Plastic-Less Lent which was a revelation - in our house the greatest amount of plastic waste is from milk containers. Many island communities are trying to encourage their local dairy back to glass bottles. It is said that the bottles must be used at least 8 times to be more environmentally friendly than plastic - I’m sure it’s a debate that will run and run up here but, of course, the best ingredient to start with for yogurt, however it is packaged, is good local milk; preferably blue top or whole milk and as fresh as possible.

In the first instance you also need some commercial live yogurt - I always seek out the green label whole milk variety from my friends at Yeo Valley. You need 3 tbsp of that in the base of a 1 litre bowl. I use a beautiful china pudding basin from Highgrove - but I think the recipe works in other containers! 

Warm 1 litre of milk over a moderate heat to at least 87C - I have found that the hotter the milk gets the thicker the yogurt and often let it get to 89C or even 94C under a watchful eye. A good digital thermometer is pretty essential equipment for yogurt making. Once heated up - yes, you have to cool it down again, placing the pan in a sink of cold water until it reaches 47C. This is the critical temperature - that temperature is necessary for the yogurt to ‘ferment’ so keep an eye and if the temperature drops too far, do reheat to 47C or the yogurt may not thicken.

 Tzatziki is even better with home made yogurt

Tzatziki is even better with home made yogurt

I set my china bowl with the yogurt starter in it in the middle of a fluffy hand towel. Pour the 47C milk into the bowl and stir to combine with the yogurt. Cover with cling film, wrap the towel around the bowl and quickly place it somewhere warm for 5 hours. We use our airing cupboard now but used to set the bowl on the back of the Aga when we had one. You can leave it for longer and up to 2-3 hours does not seem detrimental for us but how warm your ‘incubator’ is may dictate the total time without storage. Unwrap and allow the container to cool, then chill the yogurt for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight for the best texture.

From then on, just keep 3tbsp from the end of the current batch to start your next lot of yogurt. I find that works for about 5 or 6 batches then a new Yeo Valley starter is required. You should aim to eat the yogurt in about 5 days.  After the glorious moment of breaking into a new bowl of yogurt it does often split with some whey separating out. That can easily be poured off and is good for baking but use it that day. It can also be stirred back in. If the yogurt splits badly it can be strained through a scalded nylon sieve which will give a much thicker curd, a little like a homemade Greek-style yogurt.

propagator yoghurt

When we had an Aga we didn’t have an airing cupboard - although I understand that there are some households that have both! So when we turned our Aga off in the summer we had to be resourceful to continue making yogurt. At this stage the electric seed propagator was called into play. I forsook my Highgrove bowl for an enamelled pie dish for maximum possible heat transference, and put the towel over the top of the dish on the propogator. It worked well but sometimes took a little longer than 5 hours. 

The flavour of homemade natural yogurt is much milder than many commercial offerings and is completely different from the acidically bitter taste, rather like gloss paint (not that I eat gloss paint - you know I mean, the smell/imagined taste) of natural yogurt when it first arrived on our supermarket shelves in the 1970’s. So be prepared for if you start making yogurt yourself, you and your family will probably want homemade for ever! 

 

 

The perfect mixing of avocados and hard-boiled eggs: remembering John Brookes MBE

I am writing this during the funeral of John Broookes, one of the most influential garden designers of the late 20th Century. I cannot be in Sussex today and so I am remembering a lot of fun that John and I had together - mainly on trains when our journeys to London coincided and we would gossip all the way from Barnham or Arundel to Victoria. Our conversations must have provided wonderful eavesdropping! We also worked together for a number of years for The Friends of The Aldingbourne Trust, a charity for adults with learning difficulties that is situated close to where we both lived. The Trust uses both cooking and gardening as activities for their clients - hence John and I got to know each other.

My most enduring memory of John is what he taught me of the synergy between creamy avocados and one of my all-time favourite foods, hard-boiled eggs. Well, not so hard-boiled, as I like my yolks for this to be still a little on the soft side. 

John had invited Nick and I to supper at his home in The Clockhouse at Denman’s, the garden which he created and which was open to the public for many years, complete with award-winning tea-room and, of course, plant sales. We were planning a fund-raising evening for the Trust about chickens - keeping them and cooking them - with the owner of the near-by smallholders supply company doing the ‘live’ hints and tips while I cooked. To set the scene while we discussed details John produced a starter which has provided inspiration for my cooking many times. There was a lot of 60’s and 70’s avocado-ness about John’s home, the colour was part of his coming of age and formative era. Who reading this remembers the struggle to keep hard water marks from an avocado bathroom suite?! The fact that he chose to serve avocados was no surprise once we were at The Clockhouse.

You simply need a ripe avocado, some lemon juice if making this in advance (I think it is better without, but you need to keep the colour so make it fresh or add a little lemon), salt and pepper, a boiled egg (see above!) and lots of freshly chopped parsley. It is as simple as this: cut the avocado in half (the moment of truth), remove the stone and scoop out the flesh, reserving the shells. Mash the flesh in a bowl with some salt and pepper with a fork. Peel and roughly chop the egg, then add it to the bowl and mash it into the avocado with the fork. Add as much parsley as you dare, at least 2 tbsp per avocado, and check the seasoning. Avocado and eggs both benefit from a good seasoning of salt so be bold with it. Pile the mixture back into the avocado shells (in little avocado dishes if you still have them), scatter with more parsley and serve with warm brown toast.

Thanks John, for the recipe and for inspiring us to think of our gardens as rooms outside and a truly important part of our homes. 

 

 

Puntarella - the perfect winter veg

I’m a great fan of puntarella, an Italian veg of the chicory family. Sevvy, the ebullient owner of Horrocks, a great greengrocer in East Wittering near our old home in Chichester, always has it in stock in season and is certain that it is a great winter veg for good gut health. That’s as maybe - I just love its taste!

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Bolognese pie

Serves 3-4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

 

This fabulous pie, a variation on the ever popular spinach dish Spanakopita, came into being because of leftovers. I had some cooked ragu (a rich pasta sauce), some spinach, filo and quark and the nett result was this, a very good pie. 

 

•  3-4 handfuls baby spinach leaves, about 125g

•  1 pack of filo pastry, around 250g

•  Olive oil

• 350g (approx) cooked ragu or any other leftover minced meat sauce, or even chilli, made with about 250g mince

•  Freshly grated or ground nutmeg

•  250g tub quark, or similar low-fat cheese or creme fraiche

 

1.  Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 200C, 400F.  Place a baking sheet in the oven.

2.  Use half the filo to line the base and sides of a 20-22cm shallow, loose-bottomed flan tin, brushing each sheet with olive oil to keep them moist and pliable. Allow the edges of the pastry to extravagantly overlap the edges of the tin.

3.  Spread half the ragu over the pastry, top with the shredded spinach and season it well with a little nutmeg as well as salt and pepper. Add the remaining ragu and then the quark in spoonfuls.

4.  Cover the pie with the remaining filo, brushing each sheet with oil and cutting them to fit as necessary. Gather up the overlapping pastry from the bottom crust and fold it over the top crust in a roll. Snip the rolled edge with scissors to make it attractive, then brush the top and edge with a little more oil. Slash through the pie top 3 times.

5.  Bake the pie on the preheated baking sheet for 25 minutes, until the top is a deep golden colour.

 

Whisky match from my Christmas Whisky Collection 2017 (watch the video  https://youtu.be/2rvGYhn3_ww)

The Gauldrons, a blended malt created from Campbeltown whiskies by Douglas Laing, proved a delicious match to this flavoursome pie.

 

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