I watched the butterfly effect again last night. The butterfly effect stems of course from chaos theory and the idea that the fluttering of a butterfly can have a major impact on events the other side of the world. It is one of those films you can re-watch again and again, each time seeing subtle nuances. It’s about a boy who has inherited his Dad’s madness (who is in a mental institution). He keeps having blackouts and each time terrible things happen, which in particular impact on the lives of his friends. His mother encourages him to keep a journal and when he is in college he discovers that he can return to the point in time of a blackout by reading the relevant journal entry. He does this time and time again to try and undo the bad things that happened and in particular the bad things that happened to the girl he loves. Needless to say he keeps failing and each time he just diverts the lives of himself and his friends to a new disastrous path. The ending is particularly good; promise I won’t spoil it for you! 😉
Another great recipe for wintery weather like this is cream of mushroom soup. Chop two onions and some garlic and fry. Add a punnet of chestnut mushrooms. Meanwhile soak a fistful of wild dried mushrooms in hot water and get the chicken stock ready. Add flour to the onions and mushrooms to thicken. Then add the wild mushrooms and liquid and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, add a bay leaf (but remember to remove before liquidising!) and season to taste. Leave to cook. Take out some of the mushrooms with a slotted spoon. liquidise and add the mushrooms back in. At the end add some double cream. Sprinkle a little coriander and serve with warm French bread. Delicious!
It was nice to be back in Copenhagen this week. It’s a great city with some fantastic architecture and great food and a laid back relaxed atmosphere. I arrived late on Sunday, but Monday night I headed into town to Nyhavn, a lovely busy area full of restaurants and bars by the water. Wednesday evening we had a river cruise, shame it was raining but still pleasant enough, then I headed off to see friends, who are currently working in Copenhagen. The transport system is cheap and efficient, it’s very easy to get around and the main part of the city is quite compact. I’ve had some fantastic meals there, both this time and on previous trips, lots of fish and fresh vegetables! The conference venue was in an area called Synhavn, in what was the Nokia buildings, absolutely amazing architecture! Took lots of pictures and also pictures of the fantastic artwork in the building, which I plan to use for future presentations. So overall a fun and productive trip!
I haven’t cooked lamb tagine for a while, but it seemed the perfect dish given the horrible weather at the moment. Here is how I cooked it. Fry cubes of fillet of lamb til brown, take out with a slotted spoon. Fry whole shallots, garlic, chilli and fresh ginger for about 10 mins. Take out with slotted spoon. Add chicken stock, passata and a little red wine. Return lamb and cook for 30 minutes, along with a healthy mix of yummy spices and a cinnamon stick. Re-add shallots and continue to cook. Add prunes and apricots near the end. And finally mange tout for a little greenery!! Delicious with couscous, pine nuts (which are partially baked in the oven first) and coriander and a fresh green salad 😉
I am reading an interesting book at the moment – Before I go to sleep – by SJ Watson. It’s about a woman who wakes up every morning with no memories, or at least no memories of the last twenty years or so. She has access to fragments of memories from her childhood and that is it. She is married to Ben, who everyday reminds her of who she is. She is also secretly seeing a psychologist who is trying to help her recover her memory and has recommended that she keeps a journal. Interestingly he suggests that she keep the fact hidden from her husband that she is seeing him. There is something sinister underneath all of this that I haven’t yet discovered…. But it’s a good read so far!
I’ve just returned from a fantastic weekend sailing on the Solent! The weather conditions were perfect and we had two great days of sailing. The boat is called Sea Scamp and she is a 1930’s built wooden 41 ft boat, once owned by the Luftwaffe, who used her to teach pilots navigational skills between the wars! She really is beautiful and sails fantastically. I first sailed on her last May and was instantly hooked, so joined the Sea Scamp syndicate. I was due to go on a week-long trip from Oban last Summer but unfortunately it got cancelled.
The skipper on this trip was Mike Sharples (a colleague of mine now based at the Open University), the other crew were Sarah (first mate), Martin, Steve and Florence. I am very impressed by how professional the Sea Scamp syndicate is – the skipper and first mate are always fully qualified day skippers, at the very least. Instructions on board are clear and there are lots of good sailing books, charts and manuals.
Everyone else met at the pub on Friday evening, unfortunately I was travelling down from Edinburgh so joined on Saturday morning. We set off soon after nine having had a safety briefing first and headed over to the Isle of Wight. The winds were force 4 to 6, so perfect for getting the sails up. We headed across and west. We anchored for lunch in Thorness Bay. Mike had got lots of nice food in, so we had quiche, rolls and salad. It’s amazing how hungry you get when sailing! We then headed along the coast east towards Bembridge, enjoying the lovely scenery as we went. Bembridge is quite tricky to navigate into, there is a narrow, winding channel that you need to follow, but we had great instructions and photos to guide us in. We arrived and moored up early evening, before heading to the pub, taken the scenic, if slightly longer route there. We enjoyed a couple of pints and a mountain of crisps, before heading back for dinner that Mike had ready for us. Then a reasonably early night, before getting up at 7 on Sunday – so that we could be off by 8. We sailed along the coast to Osborne bay where we had a delicious brunch of egg and bacon sarnies – perfect! Food tastes delicious when you are sailing. Take soups for example. I admit I am a bit of a snob about soup, and much prefer homemade soup to shop bought variants. However, on a boat cup-a-soups tastes delicious, seriously try it!
Then we headed back to Southampton. We had to navigate through a race; hundreds of beautiful boats with colourful spinnakers up, we saw one boat where the spinnaker split. I was very impressed by how quickly they got it down and carried on with the race. Navigating was interesting to say the least with all the boats and the huge tankers, unbelievable how busy the Solent is! We arrived back at Shamrock Quay at two and were all done with tidying the boat etc. by four. Both Mike and Sarah are great teachers, and little by little I feeling I am beginning to learn the ropes – I think I have finally got how to do a bowline in my head – rabbit comes up the hole, round the tree and down again lol!
It was a fantastic weekend, great sailing and nice company. One of the things I love about sailing is that it attracts people from all walks of life, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living; you are connected by your passion for sailing. There is always great conversation – tales of past trips and near disasters, places visited, people encountered. There is sometime magical about sailing, the combination of the achievement of getting somewhere under sail, the complexity of learning the ropes and navigational terms (‘horse’ and ‘windex’ were new ones for me!), the food, the company, the exploration of somewhere new, and the being rocked gently to sleep at night, warm, comfortable and well fed. A great trip; excellent memories, I look forward to the next adventure!
My photos from the trip are here.
I cooked a chicken with bacon, mushrooms and broccoli pie tonight. Added a chopped onion and some garlic, once all is cooked through then I added some flour to thicken it up, a little white wine and chicken stock and then a tin of cream of mushroom soup – a little bit of a cheat I know but it works. Let it simmer for a while and then cool down, before adding the puff pastry lid. Coated the lid with a beaten egg and then it’s into the oven until nice and golden. Couldn’t be simpler, but a lovely warming mid-week dish.
I admit I have a lot of cookery books 😉 Some are well-worn old favourites used time and time again, others I just occasionally dip into. Delia Smith is a classic; her ‘Complete Cookery Course’ is a must. It describes everything from how to boil an egg to creating a complete Xmas dinner. I also like her summer and winter books, lots of great recipes! Nigel Slater is also a favourite, in addition to ‘The Kitchen Diaries’ I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I also frequently use his ‘Real Cooking’ book, the Greek baked fish is fantastic – particularly with sea bream or sea bass stuffed with dill – yummy. Jamie Oliver also has lots of great recipes – I’ve got ‘Happy days with the naked chef’ which includes a great curry recipe. But I also have some lesser known books, ‘One pot’ has lots of great recipes for stews etc. which I picked up years ago from ASDA! Sometimes I follow the recipes, other times I just flick through to get inspiration. And if you need to go on a diet I can thoroughly recommend Rosemary Conley’s books – lots of tips and hints on losing weight and some lovely recipes, I particularly like her beef wellington.
Cooking is both an Art and a Science in my opinion. It’s a Science because you need to know which flavours work well together and what is the right proportion of ingredients. Garlic, chilies, onions and wine are the base of many of the dishes I cook. It’s also a Science in that you need to get the timing right, particularly with roasts, ensuring that the roast potatoes are perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside and flowery on the inside. It’s an Art because it’s your own personal adaptations that can make all the difference. Also that there is an aesthetic quality; how you present the dish is part of the experience. In my humble opinion you can categorise sauces into four main types. 1. White sauce based dishes (include basic white sauce, cheese sauce and parsley sauce). 2. Tomato-based dishes (add a little red wine, it makes all the difference). 3. Wine-based dishes (white wine sauce is great with fish). and 4. Stock-based dishes. Once you realise this you start to see the similarity between dishes, for example Bolognese, Moussaka, Shepherd’s pie and Lasagna are all just variants on tomato-based dishes!
Making soup with the leftovers from last night’s roast. Have added a little fried bacon and a shallot, then the leftover chicken, chipolata sausages wrapped in bacon, carrots, courgettes (which will add a nice lemon flavour) and the roast potatoes. Also had some gravy left so chucked that in, along with 2 pints of chicken stock. Had some green beans left from a salad nicoise so in they went! Now bubbling away nicely and starting to smell good! To keep it healthy I discard the chicken skin and dry fry everything without oil, the fat from the bacon and sausages is usually enough, if you are careful with how you fry! I love using up leftovers this way, it’s very satisfying and luckily it’s popular with the girls!