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Showing posts from 2020

Cooking with Rum

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Last week I wrote about rum as a drink, and its difficult history. Rum also makes a delicious contribution as an ingredient in your food, too. Whether in sweet or savoury dishes, rum brings the richness of the molasses it is made from. Being a sugar product, it lifts almost any dessert to something special. Because it is often unsweetened, though, it can be used to give depth of flavour to many meat and vegetable dishes. Let's have a look at a few examples.
As a marinade Rum makes a great carrier for sweet and spicy flavours and will get them deep into pork and chicken. You don't need to use a lot of sugar, as the rum itself will taste of molasses, so a rum marinade is perfect for high-temperature cooking on the grill, barbecue or skillet. Try this marinade next time you're cooking chicken thighs, drumsticks or wings:
The freshly-squeezed juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons dark rum from Barbados or Jamaica 2 tablespoons of Mushroom Ketchup or soy sauce 1 teaspoon brown sugar 2 cloves…

Exploring Rum

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I've found it extremely difficult to get started on this post. The history of rum is inextricably tied up with the history of slavery and the UK's part in it. I was educated in one of the cities most involved in that trade and witnessed some of its continuing legacy of poverty, discrimination and oppression. Learning at a university that had been endowed by merchants who had owned slave ships means that I am also a beneficiary of slavery, too. Recent events have made me acutely aware of the risk of causing hurt by what I write, and I hope you will be gentle in correcting me where I have been insensitive.

Portuguese colonists brought sugar cane to Brazil from Madeira. The soil and climate suited sugar well. However, sugar cultivation is labour-intensive and enslaved people were brought to the colony as cheap labour. The Portuguese also brought copper pot-stills, which they used to distill the fermented cane juice. Although sometimes referred to as "Brazilian rum," it…

Life can be a Dream

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The Beloved and I became civil partners in 2006. We were amongst the first people to do so, within a few months of the law changing. Because it was such a new thing, there were no established conventions or traditions for what should happen at such a celebration. In many ways, it was nice to build our day from scratch. We kept the invitation list short, just immediate family, and treated everyone to lunch afterwards. Obviously, it was important to us to serve an aperitif before lunch, but what to have? Both sherry and Champagne seemed more formal than the atmosphere we wanted to create for our day. I can't remember which of us first suggested the Dream cocktail, but as soon as it was mentioned we both knew it was the perfect aperitif for us.

We had encountered the Dream cocktail the previous summer, in Salvatore Calabrese's Classic Summer Cocktails, and we fell for it immediately. It combines one of my favourite cocktail ingredients - Dubonnet - with citrus flavours and Champ…

Diana Dors, my Grandma & Me

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To people of my generation, the name of Diana Dors conjures up images from 1970s comedies: a buxom, glamorous lady a little past her prime, camping it up as the dictator in a sketch serial from The Two Ronnies' TV programme, or as Adam Ant's fairy godmother in the Prince Charming video. For those a little older, she was the genuinely sexy star of British cinema of the 1950s and 60s, sold as Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe and equally used and abused by those around her. Readers may remember salacious tales of sex parties and gangland connections, cheap, titillating films, drink and drugs.

She was hardly the kind of person my Grandmother would emulate. Grandma was quiet, domesticated, deeply faithful to her religion and not keen on people drinking. She loved family and loved to bake for us. Every week, we would visit and be provided with scones, custard tart, lemon curd cake, apple pie. You name it, she baked it for us. She once told me I baked a better cake than she di…

A Time to Reflect

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This time of quarantine has put paid to entertaining, hospitality and social dining for now, so I've been looking back over my archive of menus and the letters I've written over the years about food. It's been a time to remember influential friends and family and to consider how my culinary heroes have changed me.

I gave my first formal dinner in the last few weeks of my university career, in a flat overlooking the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. I might cringe a little now at the menu (fish terrine, coq au vin, lime sorbet), but it was rather sophisticated for your average student! The sorbet recipe came from a book I’m still using to this day. A Taste of Excellence (E Lambert Ortiz, 1988) introduced a new wave of young British cooks (including Raymond Blanc) who were just starting to move on from the constraints of Nouvelle Cuisine. (By the way, let nobody mock Nouvelle Cuisine: it taught Brits that food should look good!) When I started work, it was at a large ret…

Staying positive

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In these days of social distancing, widespread home-working and self-isolation, there is a real danger that loneliness or boredom will affect us more deeply than we're ready for. We can't always manage our feelings, but what we can do is manage our activities to ensure they affect us as positively as possible. Any number of people are posting some brilliant suggestions to help us. Here are a few from me.

Structure your day
Drifting through an unstructured day is a recipe for boredom and procrastination. So set your alarm clock and get up at a regular time. Establish a few little rituals to mark the passing of the day: a morning walk, time to work, an online chat & coffee with a friend, early evening music. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, give yourself bursts of that at the same time every day.

Eat well
Start the day with a good breakfast and space your meals out as part of your daily rituals. You will need some treats to keep you going, as well as the healthier stuff, …

Recipes from our Grandmothers

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I have written many times already about a tradition of food hospitality in my family. The Mothers' Day weekend has had me thinking about it again - this time about my grandmothers and the food I remember them cooking.

The daffodils at the head of the page are a reminder of my maternal grandmother. She loved the spring, and Grandad planted large numbers of daffodil bulbs in the borders around their front garden. He would always cut a few for her when they came out, which she would place in a glass to brighten up the house when the dreariness of winter was past. I've inherited her love of them. They are so simple, bright and cheery. I always keep an eye out for the first ones to bloom: I see it as proof that spring has finally arrived. Once or twice, I've bought a bunch and absent-mindedly reached into the cupboard for a glass to put them in. Some habits die hard! This winter and spring have been particularly difficult for us all, so I offer the image of these lovely, simpl…

St Patrick's day thoughts on Irish food & hospitality

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Rain.

Something Ireland has in abundance.

Soft, constant rain.

The Gulf Stream brings warm water up the Atlantic to the west coast of Ireland, ensuring the winters are never truly harsh, but it also ensures that the weather systems making landfall on that coast are well and truly water-laden. Cool air off the mountains condenses the water, which then falls as rain. It’s not great news for tourism, but it makes for fantastic agriculture.

Ireland has always been a producer of good food. The rain makes for rich pasture for beef and dairy cattle alike. Milk, butter and cheeses are sweet and plentiful. Beef is firm and flavoursome. Small-scale farming and crofting mean that sheep farming produces high-quality lamb and mutton that is much sought-after throughout Europe. However, it is the pig that dominates the Irish domestic table. You won’t go long in Ireland before being served pork, bacon or ham. Any country that has known widespread poverty and deprivation will come to depend on the p…

Learning new skills - butchery & charcuterie

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I mentioned a few weeks ago that I love the opportunity to try out new dishes and extend my range as a cook. This winter, a bit of quiet time allowed me to learn how to make the famous French charcuterie dish dodine de canard. This is made from a whole duck that has been boned out, stuffed with flavoursome forcemeat and baked whole. The process takes at least two days, as the duck has to be marinated overnight, when raw, then rested a second night when cooked. Only on the third day or after is it ready to be eaten. Served cold with mild pickles and salad, it makes a spectacular starter at dinner or a tasty main course for a cold lunch.

I first saw a dodine prepared on Michel Roux Jr's TV programme some years ago. Although I could never hope to match his talent, I still decided it was something I wanted to try my hand at. I found a blog that reproduced his recipe, and it seemed straightforward enough. Between the recipe and Roux's YouTube channel, I was confident my attempt wo…