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Help! What do I do with an octopus???

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Octopus dishes are delicious. The meat is sweet and delicate and, if properly cooked, it ranges from firm to tender, but should not be tough or rubbery. It is usually boiled to tenderise it and can then be grilled, barbecued, served simply in salad or pickled as part of a meze table. It is relatively plentiful in British waters and not uncommon in restaurants, but home cooks tend to shy away from it. The main reason seems to be squeamishness about preparing it, or nervousness about getting it wrong. Any good fishmonger (including the in-store ones in the supermarket) will clean and gut it for you if asked. I tend not to ask, as it's not a difficult task and allows you to get the 'feel' of your octopus before you cook it.Your first task is to give it a really good rinse in cold water. There's every chance the fish has released ink as it was caught, and you're going to need several changes of water to get that off. Octopus ink isn't harmful in any way, but it'…

Autumn in the orchard

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I love this time of year. I love the colours on the trees and the way the wind sweeps leaves around you while you're out walking. I love sitting quietly, watching the sunsets and saying my goodbyes to swifts and pipistrelles. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but the elegiac mood of early autumn makes me feel rather thankful for my life. There's something of the Harvest Festival in every moment - the culmination of spring and summer activity before nature goes dormant for the winter. "All is safely gathered in." It's the time when all my favourite foods become available, all of a sudden: wild mushrooms, oysters, game birds and orchard fruits.The apple is the king of the orchard, and European cultures have found myriad uses for them. Obviously, we can eat them as they are; we also cook them in hundreds of dishes. We ferment them into cider, convert the cider to vinegar or distil it into brandy. We preserve foods with smoke from the prunings, and when the trees ar…

Italian ideas for Ferragosto

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Italy marks 15th August with a holiday. Strictly speaking, it's the feast of the Assumption, an important religious festival for Catholics. However, you'd be hard pushed to find an Italian who uses that name for it. Throughout the country it's known as Ferragosto - the feasts of Augustus. Romans have been enjoying a summer break since the very first emperor provided games and other entertainments at this time of year to maintain his popularity. Nowadays the word applies to both the Assumption day holiday and the fortnight's break that most locals take following it.
The Beloved and I love visiting Italy. Being lovers of good food and wine, it’s natural that much of our holidays (and cash) are spent enjoying the local cuisine. Over the years, I’ve started to notice something in the Italian approach to food that you don’t spot at first. Every good cook knows that you’re supposed to take quality ingredients and let them shine, but nobody really tells you what that means. O…

Barbecue entertaining

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The British summer is doing its best to surprise us, with its usual mixture of rain, gales and glorious sunshine all in one day. In many parts of the UK, Coronavirus restrictions are gradually being eased, and we're getting used to socialising outdoors and at a distance. The traditional British barbecue of burgers and hotdogs with a range of unmatched salads and plenty to drink doesn't hold the same attraction in the circumstances. Do not leave your barbie to gather dust, though. There is so much you can cook on it, and our current circumstances provide just the opportunity to experiment.
A barbecue - charcoal or gas - is nothing more than a fire and a wire rack. It's just a heat source. That's it. And anything you would normally cook under a grill, in the oven or even things you'd do on the hob, can be cooked on a barbecue. All the flash gadgetry of a top-of-the-range gas barbecue is designed to make the heat more controllable, but you can achieve great results on …

Writer's block and happy accidents

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Every now and again, my imagination crashes. Just like when your computer does it, it freezes half way through a task and refuses to get going again, no matter what I do to try to re-engage it. It happened to me last week when I wanted to plan this post.Nothing. You may have noticed it, not sitting there at the foot of the page. No "next time..." Usually, by the time I'm posting a piece, I know what I want to write about next time. I might struggle to get the words together in the right order, but I'll have a fairly clear idea of what I want to say. This was different; I didn't have a clue what I wanted to write. I started to feel some solidarity with Old Mother Hubbard, staring into the cavernous void of her nursery-rhyme larder and finding only anxiety about what to do next.
Entertaining can be a bit like that, too. You've invited friends over and you're deciding what to serve, but nothing seems quite right. One thing's a bit heavy for the season, anoth…

Un Chant d'Amour: a love-song to France

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This week, France celebrates its national feast. Bastille Day (usually known simply as le quatorze juillet in French) marks the storming of the hated prison in Paris, a key moment in the beginning of the Revolution. The events of 1789 did not remove the King - that would come later - and France would know more troubles yet, including new tyrants and further revolutions. However, the events of that 14th July capture the imagination and fire a people's love of their country like no other date in its history.
France gets under your skin. The language has a musicality about it; it feels wonderful in the mouth. You can say things a variety of ways, but the elegantly-constructed sentence will always draw praise. Education is prized for its own sake, not just as a means to a job. Manners are greatly appreciated, and formality is valued. The pace of life is different, and that's as true in the big cities as it is in the rural areas. Friends call in on one another in the early evening, …

Summer Wine

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"Strawberries, cherries and an angel's kiss in spring:
My summer wine is really made from all these things..."


So sang Nancy Sinatra in Lee Hazelwood's magnificently weird tale of seduction and theft. We are indeed in the season of soft fruits and osculation, but I prefer my summer when it tastes of well-tended vines in good soil and sunshine. Call me unadventurous if you must.
Summer leisure is all about sitting out in the sunshine, watching the cricket, tennis or even the boating. It's about picnics, evenings in the garden, open-air theatre and opera; music festivals, barbecues and skinny-dipping. To my mind, the wines we drink need to reflect the colour, the joy and the lightness of the warm months. There are certain wines that just feel right. On the other hand, there are some wines that, however popular, never seem to fit for me. We all have our preferences, and I'd like to share mine. I hope you enjoy my suggestions.
Rosé Wine that matches the colour of the …