Summer came to North Kessock for a few days and it was glorious. It may return, it may not. We can at least be happy knowing that we made the most of it whilst it was here. We lived outside, basking in the morning sun, watching the roof tiles steam and the bees buzzing in the clover. There were long lazy bike rides in the afternoons and a few half hearted attempts at gardening. With the evening came reading (me) and PacMan (D) on the patio with white wine (me) and local ales (D). And interspersing all of this were as many barbecues as we could possibly fit into those lovely sun drenched days.
‘Twas grand. :)
If you are thinking of doing a spot of outdoor cooking/eating, can I warmly recommend the following dessert. It’s very nice indeed and ridiculously easy if you buy the ice cream from the shop. If you want a dessert that makes you moan expletives, however, make the ice cream yourself. I used the wonderful David Lebovitz’s recipe (here) but replaced half the double/heavy cream with coconut milk.
It’s also a perfect recipe for the end of a BBQ meal as the pineapple cooks perfectly over cooling coals, meaning you can cook it slowly whilst you enjoy your main meal.
Grilled Pineapple with Coconut Ice Cream
Coconut Ice Cream (Bought or this recipe replacing half the cream for coconut milk)
- Cut the pineapple into 2cm rounds then cut into semi circles. You may want to cut off the skin first – it’s easier to eat this way but less pretty.
- Squeeze a little lime juice over each slice, both sides and rub with a little brown sugar. Maybe 1/4 tspn per semi circle.
- Place on BBQ over low heat for 20 mins, turning occasionally. If your BBQ is hotter, turn more frequently and reduce cooking time.
- Serve warm with a scoop of coconut ice cream and some torn mint leaves.
Summer in Scotland has, thus far, looked like this.
My vegetable garden is protesting. So much so, there is only one thing growing successfully: rocket. It’s a hardy wee bugger. The other plants are hunched and shrivelled and staring sulkily at the cold, grey sky; the rocket, though, is just getting on with the job of being all green and tasty.
Well done, rocket, well done. Take centre stage for once…
Rocket and Walnut Pesto
60 g walnuts, toasted briefly
60g parmesan cheese, grated
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, chopped (Not two, David. Not two!)
Extra virgin olive oil
- Whizz together the walnuts and chopped garlic in a food processor. Remove to a bowl.7
- Add the rocket and a good glug of olive oil. Whiz until just chopped. Add the walnuts, garlic, cheese and lemon juice. Whizz until it looks like pesto.
- Stir in salt, pepper and possibly some more lemon juice to taste.
A really beautiful dish. It makes everyone go “ooooohhhh” both when it’s brought to the table and when they try it. Best served slightly warm rather than hot.
Spring Greens Spanakopita (adapted from A Modern Way to Eat)
1 large leek, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
400g spring greens (stalks removed and roughly chopped)
Zest of ½ lemon
200g feta (crumbled)
3 large eggs
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
1 heaped tblspn chopped dill
6 sheets of filo pastry
Olive oil for brushing
- In a large pan over a medium heat, sauté the leek in little olive oil until soft and silky. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.
- Add the spring greens to the pan along with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook for two minutes until the greens have wilted then add the spinach. Cook for another 3-4 minutes until all the greens are wilted and tender. Remove from the heat and drain in colander lined with muslin or a large sieve. Leave to cool then squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the greens. Don’t skip this step. Soggy spanakopita is not good.
- Add the eggs, crumbled feta, lemon zest and some salt and pepper to a large bowl. Add the cooled greens and mix well to combine.
- Lightly oil a 20cm loose bottomed cake tin. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush each sheet of filo then place it in the tin, gently pushing it down (take care not to rip it!) The filo should rest in the bottom of the pan and hang over the sides. Repeat with the remaining sheets of filo, changing the angle of the sheets so they don’t lie perfectly on top of one another.
- Once all the filo is in the tin, add the greens mixture, again, using a wooden spoon to gently push the mixture down.
- Use your fingers to pull the filo over the top of the mixture, scrunching it to create pretty layers on top. You shouldn’t be able to see any greens once you’re done. If you can, tear up another filo sheet and block the holes. Brush the top with a little more oil.
- Bake in a 200oC oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and push the pie out of the cake tin. Return to the oven and cook until the pie is golden all over (another 10 mins).
- Leave to cool for 30 mins then serve warm.
I took part in two cooking courses last summer: one in Vietnam and one in Laos. Despite preferring Vietnamese food generally, it’s two Laos dishes I’ve found myself making most at home. The first is stuffed lemongrass. It’s a cracker of a recipe and I’ll share it very soon. The second is Jeow Mak Keua – a very spicy aubergine dip/paste. It’s one of my favourite things right now. I like to eat it with brown rice and nothing else but it’s very nice as a side dish for grilled meat.
Jeow Mak Keua (As learnt at Tamarind cooking school)
1 medium aubergine
1 large red chilli
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 spring onion, chopped
Small handful of coriander. chopped
- Prick the aubergine all over then thread it on to a skewer along with the garlic and chilli. Cook under a hot grill or on the BBQ until charred on the outside and soft on the inside.
- Peel the garlic and chilli and pound to a paste with a pinch of rock salt using a mortar and pestle. (Remove the seeds from the chilli if you don’t want it too hot)
- Peel the aubergine and cut into rough chunks. Add to the mortar and pound with the chilli/garlic paste until combined.
- Stir in coriander and spring onion then add fish sauce to taste.
Let’s ignore the fact that I’ve been gone for three months, shall we? Yes? Super. Accept this cute photo of Marco as an apology and we can just move on.
In fact, let’s just continue where we left off and pretend the following promised recipe isn’t terribly, terribly overdue. It’s a recipe for an onion tart. It’s very simple but it’s very, very good. We’re having it tonight with a lentil and greens salad (will share that soon too) and some rosemary bread. And I’ll undoubtedly polish off the leftovers for breakfast tomorrow morning – this is not a dish that lasts long in our house!
330g plain flour
½ tsp salt
75g cold salted butter
5 medium onions
Knob of butter
Glug of olive oil
½ tspn dried thyme
50g parmesan cheese
150 ml double cream
2 medium eggs
- Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and throw in the bowl. Quickly and vigorously rub the fats into the flour. Lift your hands high above the bowl to make sure the mixture remains airy. When the flour and fat are combined and resemble breadcrumbs, begin to add the cold water. Start with 30ml and mix in with a knife. Add water tablespoon by tablespoon and mix until the mixture starts to come together. Use your hands to create a smooth ball of pastry. Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for an hour. (See Delia’s instructions for more detail.) This makes more pastry than you’ll need. I freeze the leftovers.
- Meanwhile, slice the onions to 5mm thickness. Melt the butter and oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook slowly. When the onions begin to go translucent, add the dried thyme and continue cooking. I like my onions to be soft and just starting to go golden, for a sweeter tasting tart, cook the onions until golden and caramelised.
- In a jug, briefly whisk together the milk, cream and eggs with a little salt and pepper.
- Roll the pastry out to the thickness of a pound coin (3mm?) and line a 23cm fluted tart tin with it. Line with baking paper, add baking beans or dried chickpeas and blind bake for 25 mins in a 180oC oven. Remove the beans and paper and bake for a futher 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. Add the onions to the base of the tin and half of the cheese. Pour over the milky/eggy mixture and top with the remaining cheese. Bake in the oven for 30 mins.
- Remove from oven when golden and set and let cool for 20 mins. This tart is much taster when warm rather than hot.
Goodness, it’s dark. The winter solstice was yesterday so I really shouldn’t be surprised by this lack of light. And yet, I am. There’s something deeper to the darkness this year. The short December days have been covered by heavy, grey skies – no sparkling frosts or colourful sunsets to brighten the beginning and end of the daylight hours. And we’ve had much, much more rain than Inverness is used to. It’s all been a bit driech, really.
The upside of this crappy weather and lack of light is that I feel entirely justified in entering hibernation mode. And, after the wonderful insanity that has been this year (new job, marathon, wedding, travels to Asia and the USA…), hibernation mode is just what I need. I’ve spent most of today curled up on the sofa with my book and Marco snoozing by my side. There’s bread baking in the oven and the fairy lights are on. I might have a hot bath later and after that a glass or two of red wine. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is looking like more of the same. Bliss.
The following is a perfect meal for such days. It’s hearty and comforting and super simple to make. Just the thing for a dark December night.
Tomato & Rosemary Sausage Bake
6 herby pork sausages
500g cherry tomatoes
250g plum tomatoes, halved
2 sprigs of rosemary
1/2 tspn dried thyme
2 garlic clove, crushed
1 tblspn balsalmic vinegar
1 tblspn olive oil
Salt & pepper
- Heat oven to 180 oC.
- Prick the sausages and add them to a casserole dish along with the tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Drizzle over the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and a larger pinch of pepper then use your hands to mix all the ingredients together.
- Tuck the sausages underneath the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes (this stops the sausages browning too soon). After 30 mins, use tongs to place the sausages on top of the tomatoes. Bake for another 30 mins.
- Remove from the oven and serve the beautifully browned sausages and rich tomato & herb sauce with mashed potatoes and green beans.
I didn’t used to be good at making shortbread. Sure, I could whip up a decent base for Strawberry Shortcake or Millionaire’s Shortbread but I had never produced a biscuit that I thought was good enough to eat unembellished with a strong cup of tea. This had to change once I had accepted the invitation to teach a Scottish cookery course in the USA, of course. Scotland = shortbread,
So I tried out some recipes. A LOT of recipes. Recipes from books, from blogs, from friends and from family and, though some of the latter ones were hugely successful in those individuals’ hands, they just didn’t work for me. And then I tried The Three Chimney’s recipe.
For those of you who don’t know, The Three Chimney’s is a restaurant on the west coast of Skye (pics of Skye here and here). I’ve only eaten there once and, having gone for the 9 course tasting menu plus matching wine flight, it almost bankrupt us. Totally worth it though! The food was amazing, the restaurant is beautiful, the service friendly and helpful, and after 5 hours of wining and dining, I left feeling like the large amount of money we had spent had been a bargain.
Now I don’t remember if I had the shortbread when I ate at the restaurant but my lovely Aunt Anne gifted me the cookbook last year and it was here I found the Three Chimney’s recipe. And it was perfect. Delicate, melting, buttery and not too sweet.
I can’t, in all good conscience, reproduce the recipe here as I didn’t alter a single thing. You can find it here, however.
Try it; you won’t regret it.