August Bank Holiday Atonement

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For many people in England, today will be the day they wake, after a weekend of debauchery, to survey the wasteland of their wild actions and impulsive behavior. The August Bank Holiday, home to the Notting Hill Carnival, Reading and Leeds festivals, amongst others, is a traditional weekend to do things one regrets.

However, if you are middle-aged, married, and even worse, have kids, the likelihood is that you are surveying the gnawed and tatty remains of a large roasted animal limb, after having the in-laws over, while wondering what on earth to do with the leftovers. In this warm, sunny weather it feels sensible to make something which can be used for a picnic, before the weather reverts to its normal, hideous cold.

Puff pastry is the solution to many culinary problems, so when I was faced with an enormous amount of leftover lamb leg meat, a couple of roast potatoes and some fine home-grown and home-made mint sauce -it made sense to wrap the whole lot up in small D-shaped parcels and cook them until golden brown. Although this is England, and we have the world famous Cornish Pasty, I decided to give these pasty-like creations a more exotic name -inspired by the empanada. Partly because there are very strict rules governing Cornish Pasties, which my little pies would not meet, and also because “Lambpanada” sounds more fun.

Delicious eaten straight away while hot, or cold as part of a picnic (don’t reheat them, as the meat has been cooked twice -to be sure of no Bank Holiday regrets)

Lambpanadas

The quantities for this recipe depend really on how much lamb meat you have left on your joint. Cut the meat into small cubes and trim away all the skin and fat. Use the choicest pieces and freeze any ropy looking bits for another, less classy recipe. One packet of ready rolled puff pastry will make six lambpanadas -so these quantities will make the filling for six. If you want more or less, as the Americans say: “Do the Math”.

100g roasted lamb meat, trimmed of fat cut into small cubes (slightly smaller than a sugar cube). Leg is best

3 leftover roast potatoes, mashed

2 carrots, peeled and cut into dice

2 handfuls frozen peas, left to defrost

1 crushed garlic clove

1/2 a large Spanish (or other mild) onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon rosemary leaves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 egg, beaten

Mint sauce, made from a small bunch of chopped fresh mint leaves (preferably the non-hairy kind -spearmint if you have it),  mixed with a little salt and 1 tablespoon of caster sugar, and then steeped in about 100ml boiling water. When the water is cool, add 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar. If you made mint sauce for the roast, use that -but please don’t use mint jelly. This is easy enough to make and you need the acidity from the vinegar to temper the other flavours.

Put the lamb in a bowl with the garlic, rosemary and a good slug of mint sauce. Stir well and leave to sit.

In another bowl put the mashed potato, carrot, onion, peas and oregano. Season with salt and pepper and cover with another decent slosh of mint sauce. Stir it all together.

Using a cutter or bowl, 5  inches in diameter, cut out circles from the puff pastry sheet. Gather the pastry remnants , then roll them out again to the same thickness and cut more. You should get 6 in total.

Take a spoonful of the vegetable mixture and place it on one half of the pastry circle leaving about 1/2 inch gap from the edge. Top with 1/6 of the meat mixture and then season with salt and pepper. Fold the  unfilled side of the circle over the filling and seal it. Use a fork to crimp the edges and make it look pretty. Brush the finished lambpanadas with beaten egg, then put them on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 30-40 minutes, until golden brown. Eat straight away, or leave to cool.

 

 

 

 

 

Handy Shandy Man Cake

 

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The weather in England has been peculiar: roasting hot, humid, with tropical night storms. I blame Brexit. This type of heat is lager shandy weather – too hot to drink pure beer, too exciting for boring old lemonade.

Today, I discovered that the definition of ‘shandy’ is more complicated than a simple beer and lemonade mixture. Shandy (actually short for shandygaff) can be a combination of beer, plus one other soft drink, from a selection which includes, rather disgustingly, apple juice.  I am not wild about beer, but do accept that lager shandy is a fine thing -the sugar and lemon tone down the bitterness of the beer and make a refreshing and delicious drink. However, could we please leave fruit juices out of shandy? The texture, I think, would be quite unpleasant, before we even get to ‘why? Why apple or orange with beer? What is the matter with some people?’ etc.

I was making a cake for Number One Son -who is difficult to bake for, as he only likes lemon-flavoured sweet things. He does, however, like beer very much -so with shandy as my inspiration, I nipped down to Aldi and bought a pack of those small bottles of French lager and started to experiment. This is not the first time I have used a strange alcoholic drink as a patisserie ingredient: I made cupcakes with Guinness as a St Patrick’s Day treat, and, although I can’t bear to drink stout, the cakes turned out fine. I reasoned that lager could be a plausible ingredient in a sponge cake-so I shoved some in the mix, tempered it with honey, added a little treacle sweetness with dark muscovado sugar and used lemon to sharpen up the flavours.

As the cake baked, there was a distinct whiff of beer. The sponge came out well: dusky blonde in colour; perfectly bouncy and squidgy in texture. The flavour was good: the beer added some dark notes and complexity, which countered the fresh, light taste of the lemon. I liked it.

The icing was a definite gamble. I am not fond of layers of buttercream or cream cheese on cakes at the best of times, so the idea of pepping up either of these thick, rich cake toppings with a shot of effervescent lager, did not appeal.  I decided to make a straightforward water icing, just switching the water for lager. To make the icing truly ‘shandy’, I added lemon zest (quite a lot) to the mixture. The icing sugar fizzed like an ominous chemistry project, as I poured the lager in. The surface of the damp icing became pockmarked as the lager worked its magic. Eventually the hissing and sizzling sounds settled down, I gave the icing a good stir and had a taste. Yes, it tasted like very sweet lemony beer -and it smelt lagerish but it was actually delicious.

This is quite a butch-looking cake cake and its laddish lager flavour was a definite hit with the males in my family. The only slightly odd quirk is that when you take the lid off the cake tin, you get a definite waft of pub…

 

Handy Shandy Man Cake

225 g self raising flour

125 g dark muscovado sugar

50g caster sugar

3 tbs non dairy spread

3 eggs

1 tbsp honey

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 small bottle of lager (those mini French ones are ideal)

2 tbsp. light olive oil

sea salt

Icing sugar

Zest of one more lemon

 

Heat the oven to 180c

Beat the dairy free spread and sugars together until light and creamy. Add the lemon zest, then crack in the eggs, one by one and beat until smooth. Now add the honey and oil and stir briefly before sifting in the flour and a good pinch of sea salt. Fold the flour carefully into the fat and sugar mix.

Pour in half one of those mini bottles of lager (approximately 125 ml) together with the lemon juice. Stir to a smooth consistency.

Grease an 8 inch springform tin (one of those circular baking tins where the bottom pops out). Fill with the mixture and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown and nicely firm to the touch. Check that a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool.

Make the icing by adding the remains of the lager bottle (not all of it) to a bowl filled with 8 tablespoons of sifted icing sugar, mixed with the zest of one lemon. Add enough lager to create icing with a thick, but not stiff consistency, then pour over the cooled cake. Allow to harden, then get stuck in. Not surprisingly, this cake pairs well with beer.

 

Vegans! Cream Yourselves

cashew cream

 

I do love a buffet. I think most people do. There is a delicious sense of freedom: the selection of dishes available is pleasing and the lack of plating liberating.

‘All-you-can-eat’ buffets are a magnificent opportunity for people-watching, especially buffets held in smart hotels. These events generate very particular stereotypes. Look closely next time you wander through a ‘free-flowing brunch’ or an ‘all-inclusive international  dinner’. It is enormously entertaining.

There is the flagrant ‘Moneysworth’, who builds a potato salad fence around their plate, so they can pile it high with king prawns and smoked salmon and other premium items. The buffet ‘Moneysworth’ is an artist, with the mind of an engineer, the deportment of a tightrope-walker and the steady hand of a neurosurgeon. The piled plate makes it to the table intact, where it is devoured in concentrated silence, before the ‘Moneysworth’ launches another raid. Then there is the ‘Dainty Diner’, hovering around the sashimi and salad, feverishly doing the calorie maths, until pudding, when all restraint goes to pot. The ‘Dainties’ have a special, tiptoeing gait, they mutter to themselves as they dither over lettuce leaves, until finally, their hands swoop onto the table in a nervous, ‘gosh-I-don’t-know-how-to-behave-around-so-much-food’ sort of way. And my favourite of all, the ‘Indiscriminate’, who will dollop curry next to a slice of perfectly rare roast beef, plop a couple of sushi rolls into the gravy and top with a thick slice of brie. Buffets are wonderful, wonderful things.

They are less wonderful if you are a vegan (unless you are at a vegan, all-you-can-eat buffet. If you know where one is, please tell me). Vegans are often stuck with the ‘build-your-own-salad’ option, which is fine, but boring when it comes to dressings. Mayonnaise is out, sour cream is out, blue cheese is out. Oil based dressings are acceptable, but they can be bland and boring. It is the same story with dips – most contain dairy. Yes, avocado based dips are fine, but they always taste so ‘clean-eating’. There is an urgent vacancy for a vegan ‘dirty dip’, so I have been working hard to create one.

Using the aphrodisiac power (and wonderful creamy texture) of the cashew together with the twin citrus freshness of lime and lemon juice -this dip is rich, interesting and versatile: you can change its texture simply by thinning with water. The quantities below will create a thick cream, which is delicious dolloped into a baked potato, or eaten with tortilla chips as a dip. A little runnier, and it makes a good dipping sauce for vegetable fritters. Thin it to the consistency of single cream and it becomes the perfect creamy salad dressing. The only bore is soaking the nuts and having to wait. It keeps for a few days in the fridge -that is, if you don’t eat it all at once…

 

Creamy Vegan Business

1 American measuring cup filled with raw cashews.

juice of one lime

4 tbsp  lemon juice

100 ml water

small bunch coriander

sea salt

Place the cashews in a bowl and cover with an American measuring cupful of water. Soak overnight. Drain the cashews and place in a blender with the other ingredients. Blitz for around 45 seconds until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust the salt and lemon, if required. Add water, until the dip is the required consistency.

 

The Chinese Do Eat Potatoes.

IMG_1163‘Do the Chinese eat potatoes?’ I asked my husband hopefully, a week or so before moving to Beijing. I had never travelled outside Europe, loathed rice, found politics dull and was ambivalent about pandas. Honestly,  everything I knew about China came from a large 1970’s book with a painting of a dragon on the front, which I read as a child -full of useless facts like: ‘Children in China wear school uniforms just like you’ and, my personal favourite, ‘Chinese babies are born with blue marks on their bottoms’. In short -I was pretty ignorant about the place and I wasn’t overjoyed about moving out there – I knew I would miss my friends and family, and I was worried about what I would be able to eat.

‘They’ve got  McDonald’s’, he answered  ‘but I don’t think they have Chinese potatoes -they probably use American ones’. My husband had spent a summer holiday in Hong Kong the year before I met him -so to me he was a China expert, a Fellow Traveller, an East Anglian Sun Tzu. I was very relieved to hear about McDonald’s and not terribly worried about the provenance of my potatoes -there were potatoes in China and for me, that was good news.

Cursory googling informs me that China is actually the world’s biggest producer of potatoes with an increase over the last thirty years as farmers diversify their crops. The Chinese are also the greatest consumers of potatoes- but that has more to do with their enormous population,  than the Chinese actually being crazed spud-lovers like me – although the government are eyeing the potato as an antidote to food shortages in the future.

The cold Northern regions of China use potatoes in their cuisine-my husband once ate a delicious lamb and potato stew in freezing Heilongjiang province and there is a wonderful nightshade vegetable medley, where potatoes are teamed with aubergines and peppers in a sauce. However, my favourite Chinese potato dish is a strangely undercooked heap of thinly cut ‘chips’, soaked in vinegar and stir fried with chillies and salt: Suan La Tu Dou Si

Salt and vinegar is always the correct seasoning for potatoes.  I don’t trust people who put mayonnaise on their chips, and I really do trust the Chinese when it comes to condiments -they have magnificent vinegars and wonderful fermented things in jars which make our salad creams and brown sauces and malt vinegars taste cheap and bland and dull. This dish has the added excitement of fresh chilli and garlic, which gives an Asian dimension to the recipe. Like chips, but more exotic.

As you start to eat this dish,  the potatoes do seem a bit undercooked. They aren’t (well they shouldn’t be if you have cut them thinly enough and soaked them for the right amount of time). Once you get used to this different potato texture, they begin to taste slightly rich, despite only being cooked in a small amount of oil. This rich flavour is tempered with lovely light rice wine vinegar and elevated with some chilli heat – making the dish very addictive. If you do visit Beijing -give McDonald’s a miss -the local potato dishes are far better.

 

Suan La Tu Dou Si

(serves 2)

2 large potatoes  – I used Marfona. but have used different varieties and the difference is negligible

2 red and one green chilli, deseed and cut into thin strips. If you can’t tolerate heat, then you could substitute a thinly sliced red or green pepper -this is ideal if cooking for small children, who seem to enjoy this dish.

2 cloves garlic thinly sliced

Chinese rice wine vinegar

Cooking oil

Sea salt

Cut the potatoes into thin matchsticks. I slice them vertically as thinly as I can and then hand cut each thin slice into narrow strips. It’s weirdly satisfying. You can use a mandolin if you have one, but I quite enjoy the hand cut variation in thickness and the relaxing sense I get from chopping the potatoes myself. Up to you.

Place the potatoes into a bowl and cover with water. Add three tablespoons of rice wine vinegar to the bowl and swish it about. Leave the potatoes to soak for 20 minutes to half an hour, agitating them from time to time.

Place the oil in a wok and heat it until it is nearly smoking. Remove the potatoes from the soaking liquid and squeeze them dry using kitchen paper. Put them in the wok (and stand back as they will spit). Keep them moving over the heat and watch them become translucent. Add the chillies and garlic and keep the mixture moving for a good few minutes. If the potatoes start to stick, add the tiniest amount of boiling water from the kettle (technically cheating, but it does work). Add another tablespoon of rice wine vinegar into the wok along with a generous pinch of sea salt. Keep tasting, until the texture is firm but the flavour of the potatoes becomes ‘cooked’ -they should taste slightly buttery. Serve straight away

 

 

 

 

 

Golden Age

Looking back, perhaps it was unwise of me to take up Shaolin Kung Fu at the age of 43 and 1/2. At the time, it felt like a marvellous plan. I love Kung Fu films. I like fighting. I have strong bonds with China.

One of the irritating things about getting old, is that the body ages faster than the mind. In my head, I am a lithe fifteen year old, agile and energetic. However, my actual body is a creaking, groaning mess -which has borne and lugged children about, walked miles, broken bones and now is a saggy and wrinkly shell.

I took a Shaolin Kung Fu course a few months ago and felt the impact immediately. That same evening, I was finding walking down the street in heels extremely painful. ‘Bruce Lee never had to put up with this’ I grumbled to my friend. Perhaps that is why Shaolin warriors go barefoot, or wear those special plimsolls.

The following day, also wearing heels, I dropped a pile of papers on the floor and stooped down quickly to get them. As I did, something pinged in my hip and I found myself in the most excruciating pain. I had to go to a wine tasting, and I hobbled gingerly around, trying to spit wine out using as few muscles as possible.

After a few weeks the pain got better, but it has come back again, after I tried a few Kung Fu moves and now my chief kicking leg is pretty sore. I think it could be the universe telling me that I ought to act my age -but since most of my life has consisted of me getting into scrapes, and then owning them – instead of vowing never to fight again, I shall use the golden robe of the Shaolin monk as inspiration for a cake recipe.

As wonderful as chocolate is, this time of year can be chocolate overload. The comforting and gentle flavours of this easy tray bake can be served warm with ice cream for a nursery-style pudding, or cold as a pleasing contrast to the vast tons of chocolate at the Easter tea table.

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‘Defeat Is A State Of Mind’ Cake

225g dairy free spread

225g   50/50 mixture of caster and dark Muscavado sugar

450g golden syrup

450g self raising flour

2  eggs

300g plain soy yoghurt

4 extra tablespoons golden syrup -keep in reserve

Preheat the oven to 160C

Line a 12 inch long baking tray with greaseproof paper, making sure it comes up over the sides. You are going to ‘feed’ the cake with golden syrup, and the paper will ensure that it all gets sucked up into the hot sponge.

Melt the sugar, dairy-free spread and large quantity of golden syrup in a big saucepan (you are ultimately using this saucepan as a mixing bowl -so go large). Don’t let the sugary mixture boil -just melt it so everything is combined. Turn off the heat and set the saucepan on one side to cool.

In another bowl,  beat the eggs and stir in the yoghurt.

When the mixture in the saucepan is cool, pour in the egg and yoghurt mixture, stir it in carefully, and then add the flour. Give it all a jolly good mix, as it can clump together. Pour it into the greased and lined tin and bake until the sponge is bouncy and golden and a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 15 minutes. Then, taking the skewer, poke lots of holes into the cake and pour over the reserved syrup. It will sit stubbornly on the surface for a while -but eventually the heat will distribute the syrup across the surface of the cake and from there, down the holes into the cake.

Leave it to cool in the baking tin then store the cake, still on its greaseproof paper, to ensure it stays beautifully sticky. It will get more delicious with time.

 

Heart vs Stomach. Or Both.

 

The cavemen agree -horses are great!

We owe everything to the horse; we would be nothing without its strength and speed.

The horse has taken us to places we could not go ourselves, and carried our burdens. It has pulled ploughs so we could grow our own food, it has taken messages between communities. Everything we have, we owe to this beautiful, magnificent creature.

Horses started us on our journey of invention and evolution, but now, in our world of motors and electronics, a horse is perceived to be a luxury – a pet for pampered children, or a plaything for rich people obsessed with power and speed.

I am very average at riding horses, but I love watching horse racing with all my heart.  And yet, I seem to  spend a lot of time defending my favourite sport to people who imagine I am either obsessed with gambling, or that I like to dress up and parade myself about like a bimbo – with a head full of feathers and a face full of slap. Well I don’t like either of those things particularly.

I’m not claiming to be some kind of hero by going to race meetings, I just want to explain that for me, racing is a type of pilgrimage. It is a chance to admire the wonderful animals who have enabled us to progress from hide-clad savages, clonking stones together in caves, to digitally-connected global citizens. And racing is also enormous fun.

This week I had a dilemma. I had to choose between watching Cheltenham Festival on TV, or having lunch in a 2 Michelin star restaurant just down the road -Midsummer House in Cambridge. It was a good dilemma to have.

Like racing, Cambridge also occupies a special place in my heart, as – on and off for the last 25 years – it has been my home. I first visited Cambridge at the age of 6 and remember punting along the river with my parents, my late brother and my sister. My brother was 11 and doing very well at his prep school. My parents were showing him Cambridge University -to encourage him in his studies.

‘I should like to go here too’. I announced.

My brother was irritated, as I always copied everything he did . ‘You can’t go here’ he said ‘What would you do? Go somewhere else!’

‘I am going to Cambridge University,’ I said, and my father took a photograph of me, standing on Clare Bridge looking determined.

12 years later, my father took another photograph of me, standing on Clare Bridge, about to embark on what turned out to be a fairly disastrous academic career at the University. I lasted two years and hated every second of it. Despite loathing my studies,  I still loved Cambridge for its wonderful buildings, and for the friendly people.  I met my husband there, promptly got pregnant and Numbers One and Two Sons were both born in Cambridge.

Back in the early nineties, Midsummer House was the restaurant where students took their parents when they graduated. I never got around to taking mine there (possibly because I never graduated, so celebratory dinners weren’t a concern for me then). But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to go.

Midsummer House changed hands in the late nineties  – gaining its first Michelin star in 2002, and its second in 2005.

For the last four years I have been writing about fine dining; interviewing talented chefs and tasting their excellent food.  But sometimes you ignore what is right in front of you. Every time I saw Midsummer House’s Chef  Patron Daniel Clifford on television -I felt guilty, and vowed to visit.

Midsummer House is a lovely Victorian villa, perched on the banks of the River Cam, not far from where I studied. It looks out both over the river and across Midsummer Common – a stretch of grass, where cows lumber about in the summer months. The restaurant has just 15 tables, a team of warm and friendly front of house staff and a brigade in the kitchen -who take the finest seasonal ingredients (including apples from the trees in the garden) to create multiple course tasting menus, each with a vegetarian option.

In the battle between heart and stomach, I chose my stomach, and don’t regret it for a second. After a slew of delightful canapés, washed down with a glass of champagne (from a playful pop-up drinks trolley) the dishes from the set menu appeared.  They were all wonderful, but a carpet of tiny blooms and leaves, scattered over a perfect circle of sliced avocado concealing juicy Cornish crab meat, stood out for its aesthetics and flavour.  This dish was finished with a granita of sorrel, spooned over the plate at table.

The day was cold and bright and the sky, through the glass of the dining room, glowed a fierce blue. The purity and freshness of the flavours made this dish a perfect spring starter, ideal for the weather.

My favourite course was a crispy hen’s egg, balanced on a plinth of slivered Jerusalem artichoke and truffle, which was then doused with a delicate and fragrant sauce. I never wanted to finish eating the dish. The egg, when pierced, flooded smoky yolk into the centre of the plate, adding richness to the clear and sunny flavours of the artichoke.

What is perfect about the menu, is the quiet use of modern technique, combined with the old-fashioned values of seasonal eating. The intensity of flavour definitely doesn’t come from Mrs Beeton, but the carefully sourced ingredients show a commitment to the basics of good cuisine: seasonal, local, fresh.

There is a pleasing sense of connection amongst the components of a dish -an oblong of pine smoked venison loin was served with an elderberry and apple puree, studded with pine kernels. All the wild fruits and forest flavours a deer might enjoy…

I won’t spoil the experience for you by saying any more about this delicious lunch. I’ll just mention that there were two puddings, and each was a delight. Then, a magical trolley of home made chocolates appeared with coffee – ridiculously delicious.

The proximity of Midsummer House to Newmarket Racecourse means that once the flat season starts in April, anyone who struggles to choose between their heart and their stomach need worry no longer.

Cambridge

Beautiful Cambridge on a chilly day

 

 

 

 

Phoenix Potatoes

Last month, Number Two Son had his 21st birthday, so I decided -in a moment of motherly pride- to cook an eight course wine pairing dinner for him, his girlfriend, his brother and my parents-in law. Number One Son was worried: ‘Mum, he is a growing boy, and you are just going to make tiny plates of stuff which won’t amount to a proper meal’. My husband was equally worried, but for other reasons: ‘This seems very ambitious and you might not feel like it on the day -you aren’t a chef and this menu sounds overcomplicated’.

If Number Two Son grows any more, he will not fit through door frames nor into his bed -he is a tall, gangly man whose appetite has finally settled at a reasonable level. He eats everything, but ‘gives feedback’. If I fall short on technique,  if I underseason, overcook or skimp on quality of ingredients, he spots it instantly. He is at once, challenging and very rewarding to cook for, as he also notices when things are good. My husband’s concern was fair -but i am a stubborn article. Although clearly motivated by maternal love, I also quite fancied creating a pairing menu -I have eaten some wonderful food through work and  I have been fortunate enough to taste lots of marvellous wines, in the company of people who really know what they are doing. These experiences inspire me.

I was worried about my lack of skill -but the genius thing about practising on family is that you do get points for trying-which doesn’t happen if you are cooking for paying customers and are at the mercy of one of those ‘review’ websites. With family, you just get teased for eternity instead.

I went all out, and decided to choose a theme of ‘elements’ for the savoury courses. Typing that makes me squirm a little, as it does sound a tiny bit try-hard, but I will own it. I made a shot glass of chilled beetroot soup with a goat cheese custard and horseradish cream for my ‘Earth’ course.  ‘Air’ featured a trio of smoked scallops, lobster and salmon (which I sourced from a magnificent Hebridean smokehouse -I know my culinary limits).’Water’ was represented by a Chinese-inspired steamed fish (as Number Two Son spent many years of his childhood in China). The ‘Fire’ course was a Peruvian sweet potato croquette, laced with smoked paprika, with a melting centre of smoked cheese. ‘Sounds like something from the freezer cabinet at a cheap supermarket!’ Chimed my critics. I ignored them.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a very lovely Peruvian chef, who explained the diverse influences on his country’s cuisine. The extraordinary geography of Peru offers people living on the coast all the riches of the sea -so fish dishes are popular -and the jungle provides amazing fruits. Ancient grains like quinoa are cultivated inland, along with an impressive range of colourful and delicious potatoes.

As regular readers will know, I am a great advocate of the potato -it is my favourite starchy ingredient. Peru is the birthplace of the potato –so I am particularly indebted to this country. I also thought it quite appropriate to honour the birthday of my beautiful boy with a  dish from the cradle of my favourite vegetable.

The recipe I decided to make is inspired by the Peruvian ‘Causa’ – a mashed potato dumpling seasoned with chilli and lime. To make it perfect for my ‘Fire’ themed course, I decided to conceal a piece of smoked cheese inside a richly seasoned embrace of roasted sweet potato, then deep fry the thing in a crust of sourdough breadcrumbs. It’s not awfully Peruvian, but is very delicious.

I experimented with different smoked cheeses, trying a raw-milk, smoked, artisanal cheddar (pricy) and an Austrian tube of cheap rubbery-textured product (inexpensive) The rubbery cheese won. Its flavour contributed the correct level of faint smoke (which did not eclipse the paprika-scented notes of the roasted sweet potato) and its  texture was soft, but not watery.

I served the causa with a very traditional chutney -one of my favourites, which I first made when pregnant with  Number One Son. It is an Escoffier recipe, where red peppers are teamed with sultanas, vinegar and onions. This is my favourite relish and complements the rich causa perfectly.

Number Two Son and his birthday guests were delighted with my menu. When I asked which course was my boy’s favourite -he picked ‘Fire’. I paired this dish with a beautiful Sud Tirol red: Tramin Blauburgunder-Pinot Noir 2014. My dear Father-in-law told me that in all his 76 years, this was the finest meal he had eaten. I have 8 years until Number One Daughter will celebrate her 21st birthday, but I am already planning the menu.

Peruvian Phoenix Potato

Six sweet potatoes

1 tbsp smoked paprika

I tube of dodgy looking cheap Austrian smoked cheese (remove from the plastic)

Sourdough breadcrumbs

1 egg

plain flour, seasoned

 

Prick the sweet potatoes, still in their skins, with a fork and rub with good olive oil. Roast in the oven at 180C until soft and yielding (around 20 minutes -but may need longer)

Cut an end off each sweet potato and squeeze the contents  into a mixing bowl, discarding the skins. Season with sea salt, pepper and smoked paprika to taste. Leave to cool.

Take the Austrian cheese and chop it into rounds about 3/4 inch in width.

Line up three large bowls: Fill the first with a mix of plain flour, sifted with a little pepper and salt. Beat the egg in the second bowl then fill the third with the sourdough breadcrumbs.

Take a handful of sweet potato and mould into a ball, Make a hole using your thumb and then poke the cheese into the centre of the sweet potato mix. Cover it over by squeezing the potato in your hands, but try to handle as little as possible.

Roll the ball first in the flour, then dip carefully into the egg, and then coat with the breadrumbs. Deep fry in a wok full of hot oil, before draining onto kitchen paper to dry. Serve on a circle of wilted spinach with a spoonful of smoky sweet pepper chutney on the side.

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