….been fishing

As one who has never gone fishing in his life, to have gone fishing would seem to be an unconvincing excuse for not being in one’s place of work during the hours allotted. American literature and folklore suggest otherwise and even that it was at the very top of the suitable excuse list. On reflection it could be said that it has a useful ambivalence in that it offers no suggestion of the length of time before a return could be expected nor even that the fishing expedition will indeed be finite. The only qualification needed for its effectiveness is that the user be a sole trader (clever little pun in there) as there must be no one in cahoots  available to be interrogated by a third party as to the possible reason for such a complete disregard for customers and creditors  or, worse still, as to the name and location of the pub or “maison close” in which the putative fisherman may be currently casting his hook, line and sinker. And so I offer my worthless excuse for not posting anything at all in the last month or so: it’s because I’ve ……

…..and nothing but a  pair of shimmering, bright eyed mackerel to show for it. My first memories of mackerel are to be found in that time before I knew if I liked food;  liked food as a source of great pleasure as opposed to something that assuaged the continual hunger that is part of childhood and teenage years. As a family we holidayed around boats and water and if it was a year when that water was salty then we would eat mackerel. Long lines of hooks trailed over the transom of proper wooden boats powered by Seagull outboard motors whose fuel has a wonderful smell that I can recall to this day; conversely, I have no idea of how the mackerel were later prepared and cooked. I just ate fish and bread and butter. When I became a man I put aside childish ways and started drinking wine which made me fall over a lot, very like a child, until I learnt how much I could drink without this happening…..often. I also learnt, from some wonderful people who aren’t in this story, how to shop for ingredients, prepare and cook them and finally how to eat and share them with pleasure. Oddly enough, I still haven’t grown up enough to like fine dining which I fucking hate. Food, as served in small French restaurants and bistros, was what I liked then and is, indeed, what I like now. Maquereaux au vin blanc is such a dish. It is very cheap, very easy to prepare, delicious to eat and very satisfying to look at, which qualities are, to my mind, the sine qua non of good food.




Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

neither having nor eating one’s cake…..

The depths of my childhood deprivation have only recently become apparent. Unlike the majority of happy baby boomer children who enjoyed Pineapple Upside Down (PUD…perfect acronym) Cake at the end of every joyous Sunday lunch of their idyllic childhoods I have had to wait a full 73 years for my first taste. It would be true to say that my consensus of “happy baby boomer children” has been collated from comments on my Instagram post of such a cake so we can probably reduce “majority of happy baby boomers” to  four or five people who mentioned that they had happy memories of PUD. Nevertheless, this not being a time in history when facts have any bearing on the matter in hand, I shall continue to declare that I have been hard done by and shall scream from the virtual nursery door…..”this is so-ooo-ooooo unfair-r-r-r”……the sole problem being that fairness is treated in the same cavalier fashion as facts so together I shall pull myself and get on with extolling the virtues of this FACT….( Fucking Amazing Cakey Treat). To ensure that the FACT is dense, moist ( I so dislike that word but “damp” doesn’t work as a replacement….I must think about this) and, above all, wonderfully sticky with an acidic pear drop edge to the sweetness, it is essential to use a fresh pineapple and sucrevergeoise. I don’t know what would be the substitute for this thick, soft brown  sugar which comes in both light and dark versions. The cake pictured at the beginning of this post was made with light sucre vergeoise but I have made one with sucre vergeoise brune (above) which gives more of a burnt toffee flavour and is fantastic in the mouth. I cooked both of  these cakes in a non stick, purpose made, heavy based tarte tatin tin which, if you have one, is the way to go. To all those among you who have suffered the same disadvantaged youth as myself, I urge you to make this cake and, in particular, to greedily eat and enjoy it…a feeling of deep unfairness may linger which may be expunged by one or more slices.

Posted in 2017, Baking, cake, Childhood memories, Cooking, creme fraiche, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

une belle horizontale….

Of the phrases that exemplify the quality of French as a diplomatic language few can compare with “belle horizontale” as a well turned euphemism for an “expensive tart” and there is no doubt that the eponymous Tarte au Citron Cartet, the subject of this piece, is as  belle a horizontale as one could wish into which to sink one’s teeth. Cartet, as a restaurant, is a myth…an unknown venue which does not even display its name, save on the awning should it be wound out. There are no menus on display and the door is always locked. Madame Cartet, the celebrated owner and chef, is long gone but the new owner continues her tradition. As I, to my great disappointment, have never yet visited Cartet I have copied and printed below the report of one who has:
There is a name on the awning, but in the windows flanking the door, meant to hold menus, or anywhere else, is there any evidence that it is a restaurant. Including the locked door. As we began to turn away despite a reserved table, it was unlocked for us, then relocked behind us, lest some unreserved guest have the temerity to try for a table. One older couple and a table set for two reserved for us. The other 18 places empty. When asked, the chef replied that he serves “as few as he can”. He was charming, friendly and everywhere at once, doing everything. The menu is broader than one would expect for four covers, and not everything was available. This isn’t exactly a private chef, but neither did it evoke the awkwardness of an empty restaurant waiting for guests. It was unusual, as in never before, but fun. Again? Probably to show off, but we’ve seen the film.
Terrine for every table. Fresh and good. Magret, thinly sliced with orange sauce, veal chop with morels in cream sauce. Both served with a double portion of irresistible potato cake. Entrees, salade with lardons, morels (again) on toasted brioche with a different cream sauce.
Desserts: All of them put on the table: chocolate mousse, lemon tart, rice pudding, floating island, flan…
Gracious and personal
Price: Very high. With two glasses of wine, one water (10€!) and two coffees, 232€.

This is as close to my ideal restaurant as I can imagine. I share the chef’s preference of serving as few people as possible indeed, cooking for than 6 people changes one of my most enjoyable activities into a toilsome purgatory. However, if the empty 18 places in the restaurant were filled with good friends then it would indeed be the very best place in which to enjoy eating and drinking outside of my home.

Cartet,  52 rue de Malte75011 Paris, France

Posted in 2014, 2017, Baking, Cooking, creme fraiche, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, France, Humour, Lemon tart, lemons, Paris, Patricia Wells, Photography, photography course, Recipes, tart, tarte au citron cartet, tarte au citron cartet, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

concerning the three great lies…..


In concert with the thrust of this piece it would be fair to say that the “three great lies” are a moveable feast. I have always considered that “there’s a cheque in the post” to be immutable, the first among equals, and it should be obvious from this that my memories are rooted in the past. Of the remaining two lies one of them is traditionally of a sexual nature and the last is up for grabs. The one that came to mind, and which ultimately spawned this piece, is “I know a great Tex Mex restaurant”. That I have never found such a place may well be accounted for by my putative search consisting of visits with young children to London Tex Mex restaurants of the 70’s and 80’s which experience confirmed the implausibility of there being any truth in Great Lie No.3. However, in the dark recesses there remains a faint memory of a Mexican au pair who made breathtakingly good Chili con Carne with cubes of seasoned beef, rather than the ubiquitous minced meat, and thickened it with bread. I have never eaten a better one since and, as I now prefer not to eat meat, it is unlikely that I ever will. In consequence I am now at the point of making a statement which may well, to many of you, replace Great Lie 3 by suggesting that “I have just made a very good vegetarian Chili”. Vainglorious as that statement may appear there has been some concurrence of positive opinion among both friend and family, save for the occasion when, whilst staying with our son in London, I took the original internet recipe at face value ( which I have since modified ) and added the suggested 3 tablespoons of chili powder which created a dish inedible even to post match, extremely drunk rugby supporters who prided themselves on possessing palates consistent with the capabilities of heat resistant ceramic tiles on a lunar reentry module. I never keep chili powder in our store cupboard at home because of a similar event, in the early years of our marriage, when I slavishly followed a misprint in a Robert Carrier recipe for Chili con Carne which became a cause celebre in those far off days. Oddly enough, after all those years, I’ve only just been made aware that there is a difference between Chili Powders….one being based on cayenne pepper ( the one that caused all the trouble) and the other being a blend of spices with a touch of cayenne…that’s the one that I’ve never bought.

Posted in 2017, Chili sin Carne, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food photographer, France, Olive oil, Photography, Recipes, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

brown sugar, how come you taste so good….*

 A pudding as addictive as this is not for the abstemious nor for those who would eschew excesses of sugar and fat. This is phat….hot and tempting, dripping with butter and soft brown sugar, born out of a lasciviously lazy hunger which is an ideal genealogy for such a disgraceful dessert. I came upon this mongrel of a tatin by way of  sucre vergeoise, a soft dark sugar for which I’m not sure of a replacement,  which I used in a pineapple upside down cake that I had recently cooked The simplicity of melting sweet butter in a pan and mixing into it the thick soft brown sugar with a wooden spoon rather than waiting anxiously for the magic of caramelisation to happen, or not,  was the first thing that attracted me to this temptress. Then came the ease of just laying the pears on top of the buttery sugar mixture,  covering the lot with a sheet of ready made puff pastry and putting it into a hot oven. This is exactly what lazy hunger demands……and all that remains is to find something suitably lascivious with which to occupy oneself for the 35 minutes or so until the hot oven disgorges a glossy, sinful and impossibly moreish tart….one could try to only have one slice.

*apologies to the Rolling Stones for using this wonderful line

.Pear Tatin…..with a nod to upside down cake

4 Conference pears cut in half
20gms unsalted butter
140gms sucre vergoise ….this is a very soft sugar obtained from the sugar beet
which can be dark or light in colour. Replace with a moist brown sugar which pinches easily into lumps.
Packet of frozen puff pastry ….circular if using a tatin tin as I do.

Preheat oven to 200C. I use a pizza oven setting at 180C  that creates a very hot oven cooking simultaneously on the top and bottom.

  • Peel, core and halve the pears.
  • Put the butter in the tatin tin over a medium heat until the butter is melted.
  • Stir the brown sugar into the melted butter and take the pan off the heat.
  • Place the pear halves in a circle in the buttery sugar, rounded side down.
  • Lay the puff pastry over the pears, tucking the pastry in around the sides, and cut a couple of slits in the top of the pastry to let out steam.
  • Put the tin in the preheated oven and cook for 30- 35 minutes or until the pastry is well browned and the juices have become thick and sticky.
  • Turn out onto a plate being aware that there will be juices that may run over the edge of the plate.
Posted in 2017, Baking, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Pear Tatin, Pears, Photography, pizza oven, Recipes, tarte tatin, tarte tatin, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

another bloody pudding….


Zombie families roam the streets of social media whilst the TV screens in our homes are awash with life size images of intestines being drawn from the bowels of a recusant Catholic*and to follow there is always the not very good News: blood letting perfectly captures the current zeitgeist. However, pleasure in that particular spirit of the times does not course through my veins although blood most certainly does and that is exactly where I would like the majority of it to stay. I say the majority as I am always prepared for slight losses as the kitchen gods demand a certain amount of blood letting and, as we are vegetarian, the only source of “letting” is me. If some insane drug spree led me to having a tattoo it would be in the form of a blue catering plaster, with a drip of blood leaking from it, on my left index finger. Plums bleed. Put plums into cream and they bleed. Plums have turned our kitchen into an abattoir……we are living in the silence of the plums.

Posted in 2017, baking, Baking, Bistro, Cooking, Cream, creme fraiche, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Photography, photography course, tart, tarte tatin, tarte tatin, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Robert Peston: ‘I don’t appear to be living in the same Britain as much of the rest of the country’

Source: Robert Peston: ‘I don’t appear to be living in the same Britain as much of the rest of the country’

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

a good collective noun


The south facing kitchen is illuminated by rays of bright, low autumn sun which are in part diffused by the rideaux on  the window whilst the open door creates a geometric gash of gold on the tiled floor. There is very little sound save for the buzzing of a solitary, weary wasp, unexpected at this late time of the year, as I sit down to a light lunch which would have been described by my grandpa as a “drop of sardines”. This collective was a favourite of my maternal grandfather who was Portuguese and who lived with us from when I was first conscious of people to the day I left home for good in 1966. I had left home for bad in 1962 but glandular fever had stopped play so I was forced to limp back to the bosom of my family. My father was not overly happy about the return of his prodigal as he felt that once breast feeding was no longer a necessity then sons should go out into the world and find their own bosoms in which to nestle. However, it was during this fitful interregnum that I spent some time with my grandfather, then in his early 90’s, and became familiar with his delight in tinned sardines; a last gasp link with his beloved Portugal. Having lived in England for the previous 70 years his grasp of English was extremely firm save for some eccentricities that I’m sure he employed to annoy my father, who had never quite understood how or why my grandfather had been in his house for the last 30 years, but which were wasted as my father was also deaf. I have few interesting culinary memories from my early years as eating was considered as fuel and so, as a subject of interest, entered family conversation as often as the current style of my mother’s knickers. One of those few memories came to mind this morning which is why I was sitting before a “drop of sardines” au Grandpere which he served in the only way that our family’s Spartan larder would allow – a couple of fillets of sardines with oil from the tin ( the only good ingredients), malt vinegar, some slices of tasteless tomato and white bread on a white plate. My current version consists of millésime sardines, thick slices of very good tomatoes, vinaigre de Xérès, good olive oil and very good bread. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have eaten them like that, as a young man, in his home town of Olhao in the Algarve,

Posted in 2017, Childhood, Digital photography, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Olive oil, Photography, sardines, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

grape shot….

My mind was elsewhere as the sharp knife in my hands surgically removed the seeds from a large bunch of  putative “seedless” grapes. I was reflecting on whether Beulah’s response to her mistress Mae West’s request for a peeled grape would have been the same as mine and if  “Fuck off and peel your own grapes” would have found its rightful place in the trove of great Hollywood quotes but, frankly, I didn’t give a damn as before me lay a mountain of grapes still to climb, an unplanned ascent to which I had been unwittingly led by the nose. It seemed but a short time ago since I had returned home, flushed with pride at the thriftiness of my shopping, a senseless oxymoron to my former self, and was proudly offering up a heavy bunch of pale green grapes to my lady wife with the intention of eliciting from her a whoop of excitement by relating to her the pittance that I had parted with to bring home such a luxury, but which vainglorious moment was denied me by her smooth exit from the kitchen with an over the shoulder smile and a mouthed “grape tart”. Within the term “thrifty shopping” there are several meanings and one of them dictates that the ingredients thriftily purchased should be those from which a set of  predetermined dishes can be prepared and this being the case, apart from grapes, those ingredients needed for the creation of a successful grape tart were signally absent. Occasionally good fortune goes to the wrong address and I most certainly had not heard the door bell nor had I noticed any other indication of his presence until I opened the fridge door. Was one to be glancing at a list of ingredients for crème patissière the first of those to appear on that list would be 3 separated egg yolks and those 3 separated yolks were there, sitting in a white cup in the chilled white interior, still slightly quivering from having just been placed by the invisible hand of good fortune who had also had the foresight to provide frozen puff pastry and, in a cupboard nearby, some good vanilla but, in the way that good fortune is never quite good enough, had forgotten the essence of crème patissière: full cream milk. Most milk in France is not real let alone full cream, it is UHT and for most of the time I neither care nor, indeed, notice. On the other hand the French are allowed to have lait cru, raw unpasteurised full cream milk which would cause health and safety, on the other side of La Manche, to head in droves for high cliffs from which to hurl themselves onto the rocks of worthiness. Meanwhile, far from Lemmings Leap, in a nearby village, there is a shed within which is a 24/7 dispenser of  fresh, chilled lait cru, the essential building block for any form of worthwhile custard by which I mean the smooth, pale pouring sauce called creme anglaise or the dense crème patissière that enhances so many toothsome examples of the patissière’s art.

I should make it clear I have never cared for “custard”, by which I mean that overly sweet, bright yellow condiment of the English nursery, so I’m loathe to accept that crème patissière, which I like very much, is a member of that benighted family; but, as we can’t choose our family, all is forgiven.

Posted in 2017, baking, Childhood memories, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Good luck, grapes, Humour, Lait Cru, Luck, Milk, Photography, tart, tarte aux raisins, tarte aux raisins, UHT, Uncategorized, Writing, yolks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

darkly sweetly madly…..

” …we’re in the soup” ” in a bit of a stew” “there are too many cooks” “the salt has lost its savour” “it only takes one rotten apple” “our goose is well and truly cooked”. Being that the cooking and eating of good food accounts for a siseable slab of the mighty virtual rock upon which I have created a mental safe room as protection, from what I perceive as a world gone rogue, it occurs to me how odd it is that so many of the idioms that relate to that great pleasure should be the ones that augur ill. At those time when I watch over onions that are slowly melting in olive oil, a process that removes tears and creates  savoury sweetness, I wonder how it is that great writers and composers primarily choose tragedy and misery from the à la carte of life whilst steering clear of  dishes that contain too much laughter or happiness and, above all, my favourite dessert, a happy ending. We, the public, are shocked each day by reports of appalling cruelty by man to nature, nature to man and man to man and yet, after a punishing day filled with worthy petition signing and tweets of disapproval, our appetite for fictional horror and cruelty will have been whetted yet again. Considering the extreme skill and care that is taken in the special effects kitchen to ensure that the first cut will be the deepest and will indeed be seen to be just that it is little wonder that we produce such talented torturers being that our diet of horror and pain has been so instructive.,,,,by this time I was so upset that I could hardly cut another plum into quarters without thinking of William Wallace. All that was left for me to do was to drop the drawn plums into a sweet pastry case, sprinkle with sugar and raspberries and place the lot in the oven for 45 minutes…..I wanted to get it done so I could settle down to the first episode of Rellik…..a gentle tale of serial killing with hydrochloric acid as the weapon of choice….which must have made for a madly busy special effects kitchen.

This wonderful tart is a recipe of Nigel Slater’s with which I have taken certain liberties. In his recipe, below the picture, you will notice that he makes his “pie” in a pie dish whereas I have used a tart tin with a removable bottom as I have never had success with a pie dish…not the pie dish’s fault. I also used a different pastry recipe but that was only from force of habit.

Posted in 2017, baking, Cookery Writers, Cream, desserts, Digital photography, Humour, Nigel Slater, Photography, photography course, Plum and raspberry lattice pie, Plums, raspberries, Recipes, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments