HALF-WAY HOLLANDAISE SAUCE. SHERRY REQUIRED

I have neglected the cooking side of my blog in recent weeks partly because there has been so much other stuff to write about and partly because there are so many brilliant cooking blogs out there that put my feeble efforts (and dodgy smartphone photos) to shame. However, a little adventure in the kitchen at the weekend has prompted this post. I have always loved the eggy, buttery, unctuous confection that is hollandaise sauce and always thought I should have a go at making it myself. I have been put off in the past because I had heard it is quite tricky and that things may “split” if the nascent sauce gets too cold … or too hot. No room for error then. But, putting all my fears aside, the time felt right at the weekend to give it a go. After all, both kids are back at university, so that was two less people to poison. As it happened, the results were fine and in an unexpected way – a way that will be music to the ears of lazy or less than gifted cooks (and possibly weight watchers too).
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Here’s one I got away with – half-way hollandaise sauce. Looks OK doesn’t it? Light and even a little frothy. With grilled salmon, carrot and potato rösti and steamed veg.
I’m one for short cuts and not bothering with recipes but this would have to be an exception. So, I trawled through a few recipes and found that there is a surprising amount of variation. I immediately discarded recipes that required butter to be melted and separated, runny stuff from solids (too much of a faff) and those that required use of a double saucepan and/or food processor. I know food processors are supposed to be labour saving devices but it’s too much effort to dig out our little-used machine from its dark, cobweb-festooned cupboard, wash all the bits, use it to make a few tablespoonfuls of sauce, wash it…..

In the end, here’s what I did and what I used for two servings:-
One large glass of chilled sherry*. This goes into you not the sauce. If you’re going to make Dutch sauce, you need a bit of Dutch courage.
Two egg yolks. If the prospect of separating egg yolk from egg white sounds more frightening than separating butter, don’t panic and read on.
About 1oz/25 g of chilled butter (as chilled as you will be after the sherry)
One tablespoon fresh lemon juice. You can try the bottled variety if you like but don’t blame me if your spouse leaves you and the house falls down.
That’s all! Oh, a smidgelet of salt and pepper if you wish. It doesn’t sound like much butter does it? The recipe called for more but that’s where my hollandaise adventure took an unexpected turn.
Expert cooks can skip this paragraph (and in fact this whole, heretical post) but for novice egg workers ……. To extract an egg yolk from a complete egg, crack the egg on the edge of a bowl but just enough so that you can then pull the two halves of the shell apart with your thumbs. Hang on, not yet. First make sure that the egg is above the bowl and that the egg is upright. Now pull the shell apart. The yolk should will remain in the bottom half of the shell while most of the white cascades with a slop into the bowl. Now tip the yolk from one half of the shell to the other a few times to get rid of the rest of the egg white. There may be a small amount of white that refuses to part with the yolk but that doesn’t matter – the cooking gods and the hollandaise will turn a blind eye. If you’re a first timer, it may be best to attempt this before touching the sherry. If it all goes horribly wrong, give up on the hollandaise sauce and have an omelette.
Now you can get started proper (with the sauce and the sherry). Put the eggs yolks into a small saucepan and whisk until “lemon yellow and slightly thick”. I’m already thick so I was half way there – haha. About 1 minute the recipe said. Haha again – I frantically waved my balloon whisk around for longer than that until I convinced myself I could notice a change. I must be a feeble whisker (that sounds odd) but ultimately everything was fine. Then whisk in the lemon juice (NB. all this is happening without any heat – other than excess body heat generated by all that whisking).
Now add half the chilled butter … man (my butter was so chilled it was called Dylan**). Place over a low heat and whisk continuously while the butter is melting and until the sauce thickens and you can see the bottom of the saucepan between strokes. In reality, since I was making half the quantity compared to the recipe, I could see the bottom of the pan right from the start! So, just continue until it thickens. I also used a VERY low heat, the smallest ring on our gas hob and a metal simmer plate on top of that.
Next, remove the pan from the heat and beat in the remaining chilled butter. Now here’s the twist. The recipe told me to then whisk in, a little at a time, three more ounces (150g) of melted butter (and yes, that was the corrected quantity for just two servings). To its credit, it did not call for separated butter – that’s why I chose this particular recipe. So, I had a carefully weighed amount of diced butter waiting to be melted in the microwave but I thought hang on, the contents of the saucepan were already doing a passable impersonation of hollandaise sauce in terms of colour and consistency. A quick dip and lick of the little finger confirmed that, taste-wise, it could pass as the Dutch delight and there was a reasonable quantity to provide several elegant tablespoonfuls over a couple of grilled salmon fillets. Why waste time and an unhealthy amount of extra butter going any further? So I stopped there and behold, Colin created half-way hollandaise sauce.
I did carry on heating my creation because I had used such a gentle heat that, although the butter had melted, the sauce was not warm enough to serve. So, I left it on the simmer plate until it was a decent temperature (serious, important point because of the raw egg), whisking frequently but not continuously while I attended to frying rösti, grilling salmon, steaming vegetables and sipping sherry. Never before have so many tasks been attempted by a male of the species. Finally, you may wish to add a touch of salt and pepper – or even whisk in some melted butter if you want more of a hollandaise swamp on your plate.
It’s now four days since consumption of my hollandaise heresy. There have been no ill effects and I have recovered full use of my whisking arm (when I went swimming on Sunday morning, I only managed to go round in circles). We need a new bottle of sherry though.
Colin
* Sherry is probably a bit of an old-fashioned drink nowadays but a glass of chilled sherry before our Sunday dinner is one of our guilty pleasures. Here I broke the rules and had a glass on Saturday. We used to buy Croft Particular, a rather pricey pale Amontillado (I’m in danger of sounding knowledgeable there  – I know Amontillado is a type of sherry and not an armoured mammal native to the Americas but that’s about it). After forgetting to pick up a bottle on a trip to Sainsbury’s, we later grabbed a bottle of Aldi’s own brand cream sherry in desperation (so we thought at the time). It’s a different style of sherry but we haven’t looked back. It’s about half the price and, apparently, it has won awards.
** Readers of a certain age will understand this Magic Roundabout reference.
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WEEKLY CAR DIARY – STUDENT FOOD, LIVE AT LEEDS AND A VW TIGUAN

Exhausted. Just returned from taking our daughter back to university in Leeds for the new academic year. What an amazing amount of stuff a modern student needs. It’s the main reason we have an estate car. At least everything and the kitchen sink only needed taking up one floor rather than last year’s eight. And what palatial places university halls of residence are these days – all mod cons like hot and cold running water and indoor toilets. Very different to my student days.
Here’s a tip for a cheap meal out: if you live in a university city, sneak onto campus and into one of the many tempting catering outlets that populate today’s universities (many selling proper food not just the fast variety). As far as I can tell, there’s nothing to stop a member of the public going on to most city campuses. There’s endless choice and the food is priced for student pockets. Today, we just had a quick lunch (great wraps) in Leeds University’s Terrace Café but the main meals on offer looked tempting – poached Alaskan wild salmon with wilted spinach, roasted peppers and pea and asparagus risotto. For £7. Not bad. Or chicken Arrabiata pasta for a fiver. If you are worried you would look out of place, just wear some tie-dye and an Afghan coat and you’ll fit right in. Ooh, and remember to wear a flower in your hair. No, sorry, that’s if you’re going to San Francisco, not Leeds, Manchester or Southampton. One of the eating establishments at Leeds is actually historic (well, in my opinion). On 14th February 1970, Leeds Refectory was the scene of a legendary gig by the greatest live rock band ever, The Who. This turned into the equally legendary, Live at Leeds album – the best live rock recording of all time. Not just my biased opinion but that of The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, the BBC, Q magazine and Rolling Stone too. There’s an information board commemorating this event in the Refectory as well as gigs by the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Clash. I doubt if Alaskan wild salmon and wilted spinach was on offer in those days.
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Live at Leeds CD in the centre. I also have it on vinyl somewhere in the attic, along with most of The Who’s other albums.
Anyway, we are doing the university thing all over again next week as my son returns to Nottingham Trent for his final year. And I don’t get paid for this weekend driving! Here’s what I did get paid for this week:-

Monday: Volkswagen Tiguan SE Nav 2.0TDI (150hp), Nottingham to Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Tuesday: Bentley Continental GTC (convertible) V8S, Melton Mowbray to Leicester; Jaguar XE R-Sport 2.0D (180) auto, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire to Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Wednesday: Volkswagen Transporter LWB 2.0TDI (150hp) 4Motion, Oldbury, West Midlands to Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk

Thursday: Vauxhall Combo van (a re-badged Fiat Doblo), Bolton, Greater Manchester to Flint, North Wales

Friday: two Vauxhall Combo vans,  Bolton to Flint, North Wales.

The Tiguan was a nice car, the first example of Volkswagen’s SUV that I have driven. This was a front wheel drive version. Does that make it an honest car (because most people never really need four wheel drive)? Or a dishonest car (because it looks like a 4×4 but isn’t)? Whatever. Some cars just have an undefinable quality that makes you warm to them or dislike them.  I warmed to the Tiguan. It was a great motorway cruiser – quiet and comfortable. I have driven plenty of cars with those qualities but many have been uninspiring. The Tiguan is also very practical with a large boot; very useful if you have students in the family. For the last 15 miles or so of my journey, I had the pleasure of driving across the Yorkshire countryside on slightly bumpy A roads. Here the ride was noticeably firm but nothing that wasn’t easily forgiven. I’m sure if you pushed it through the bends, this firm ride would translate into less roll and more confidence. The steering was a tad light but I never investigated whether or not there were other driving modes that may have weighted it up (in our not-too-distantly related Skoda Octavia, Sport mode gives the steering more weight). So all in all, a good car. But not the best drive of the my working week which was ….. the Volkswagen Transporter of course! Loved it. So relaxing to drive on a mostly sunny trip from the Midlands to Suffolk with six colleagues all driving Transporters.
Colin

TOP HAT AND AN IMAGINARY POSH PICNIC

We went to see a production of Top Hat last week – the musical based on the 1935 film of the same name (Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, famous tunes by Irving Berlin). But this was no ordinary theatre visit because the venue for this glitzy, humorous song and dance fest was rather special. Hidden away in the grounds of a south Leicestershire country house hotel, the open air Kilworth House Theatre is a magical place to see a show. A gently sloping field equipped with picnic tables leads down to a lake and a small but beautifully formed wood. The theatre itself is situated in a clearing in the woods and, to reach it, you walk through the trees on a board walk strung with lights. What an entrance – quite a sense of, er, … theatre. It is difficult to refrain from sprinkling this post with the adjective “magical” (I’ve already used it once) but it truly is. Someone has obviously waved a magic baguette over Kilworth to create a unique place where the atmosphere is wonderful and the real world is easily forgotten.

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Kilworth House. Truly magical – even in the rain.
When enjoying the show, you are not entirely exposed to the elements as a modern steel structure supports a sail-like tarpaulin roof to keep the worst of the elements off the substantial auditorium and most of(!) the stage. But look to each side of the stage and there are just trees for walls. And enjoy the show you will, because the productions at Kilworth are truly top class – London West End quality in a better setting. We first went four years ago and are kicking ourselves for not getting round to it before. They put on two musicals every summer and, so far, we have seen Anything Goes, Singin’ in the Rain (it rained!), West Side Story, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Kiss Me Kate. I think the Daily Telegraph once described Kilworth as British theatre’s best kept secret. So, I’m spilling the beans.

Our ideal Kilworth House Theatre evening starts with a picnic in the grounds which is quite the done thing. For our visit last Friday, I had it all planned but unfortunately the fickle British weather was against us and we had to abandon those plans. However, let’s pretend we did have our picnic which consisted of the following (sounds a bit posh but would have been dead easy):-

  • A salad of lightly smoked salmon fillet, slivers of fresh orange (i.e. segments without the skin) and watercress drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of freshly squeezed orange juice. The salmon is the sort you have to cook (although you can sometimes find ready-cooked), not traditional “raw” smoked salmon.
  • Home made potato salad – new potatoes, snipped chives, mayonnaise plus the vital ingredient – Greek yogurt. The Greek yogurt lifts the whole thing from just being potatoes in mayonnaise. Ordinary natural yogurt may do, especially if you are Turkish (I haven’t tried it myself).
  • Home-grown cherry tomatoes. One of the few things we grow in our garden with moderate success. I’ll let you off if you buy them.

A zingy Sauvignon Blanc would probably have washed the above down nicely. However, the lack of a picnic did not spoil our evening as the show was fabulous, despite the downpour throughout most of the second half. Thank goodness for that roof – that’s a definite plus over Cornwall’s admittedly more spectacular Minack theatre where you are completely exposed.

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A more well-known secret – the spectacular Minack Theatre in Cornwall. Even if you can’t get to see a show, it’s worth a visit during the day. Costs just a fiver.
The musicals are not the only entertainment put on at Kilworth. In between or usually after the musicals’ run has come to an end in late summer/early autumn, they sometimes have a few one night stands – comedians (e.g. Ken Dodd, Jasper Carrott, Paul Merton) and music acts (e.g. Hollies, Paul Carrack, The Manfreds) and many tribute bands like Talon (the Eagles), Björn Again (ABBA), UK Pink Floyd Experience. In the winter there is also indoor entertainment in the hotel’s Orangery (usually combined with a dinner).

What’s the definition of an optimist? Someone who hopes that The Jam will one day re-form. I know, it’s impossible. However, I did see the unsubtly named “From The Jam” live at Kilworth four years ago. The Jam’s original bassist, Bruce Foxton, former Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki (who has worked with loads of big names in rock) and a bloke doing a passable impersonation of Paul Weller. They were absolutely brilliant. This was an All Mod Cons anniversary tour so they played that classic Jam album from start to finish then just about every other Jam hit you can think of. So, if you are a pining Jam fan, get along to see From The Jam – it’s 90% there.

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The mighty Jam in their heyday. From the Jam with Bruce Foxton (right) are well worth a look if you are still pining after 35 years.
Colin

GETTING YOUR FIVE-A-DAY IN CORNWALL

When you are on holiday in a place like Cornwall you are probably spending a lot of time outdoors, possibly being a bit energetic – walking, swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, kayaking, following wife and daughter on Poldark hunt etc. So hearty sustenance is important. Happily, there is no problem getting your five-a-day in Cornwall. Here’s how:-
1. CORNISH PASTY. The jewel in the Cornish culinary crown. For those not in the know, a Cornish pasty is basically a beef steak and potato pie (with onions, swede and seasoning thrown in) but made in a distinctive semi-circular shape with the pastry forming a thick crust round the curved edge of the pasty. The pasty was the traditional lunch of the Cornish tin miner and legend has it that the distinctive thick crust was used for holding by the miners’ dirty fingers, then discarded after the rest of the pasty had been devoured. Unlike tin mining (now extinct), pasty shops are everywhere in Cornwall selling both the traditional steak and more exotic varieties (often with a curry or vegetarian vibe). And good value, they are too – about £4 for a large, hot pasty that will provide enough fuel for an afternoon’s bodyboarding.
Cornish pasty
2. CREAM TEA. Tea rooms and cafés abound in Cornwall and a real afternoon treat is the classic cream tea. A pot of tea, a scone or two (actually it has to be two), strawberry jam and lashings of cool, thick, yellow clotted cream. Ideally, there should be more clotted cream than appears necessary. Having cut your two scones in half, the challenge then is to ladle every last ounce of your excessive amount of clotted cream on to your four halves of scone (before adding some jam). I never have a problem rising to that challenge. The worst crime that can be committed by a tea room/café is not giving you enough clotted cream to provide a 13.5 Tog rated cover for each bit of scone. Laws should be enacted to ensure this can never happen because it can ruin the rest of your day. A real bonus is to arrive at your tea room or café of choice while the scones are fresh out of the oven and still warm (happily this happened to us at the National Trust café at Bedruthan Steps).
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3. ICE CREAM. Dairy is big in Cornwall, hence the clotted cream and more local ice cream makers than you can shake a flake at. The likes of Roskilly’s, Kelly’s, Callestick Farm and Moomaid trip off the tongue …. not to mention the lips and chin on particularly warm days. In the interests of research(!), we visited Roskilly’s farm near St. Keverne on the Lizard peninsula. A homely, tumbledown affair down a typically narrow Cornish country lane, we had a small lunch in the café and no prizes for guessing what we had for dessert. But … have you ever been to a restaurant and instantly regretted your choice of dish? I happen to like coconut ice cream but the only type they had was non-dairy but I still went for it. Why, oh, why did I do that?? That’s ice something but not ice cream. I was on a farm where you can even see the cows being milked and I chose a non-dairy product. Happily, we all had three scoops (and three different flavours), so the excellent, full-fat white chocolate and raspberry ripple and black currant cheesecake saved the day. To be fair, knowing I was having two dollops of proper ice cream did have something to do with the non-dairy choice!
4. FISH. Cornwall is a long thin county surrounded by sea (except for the frontier with Devon and the rest of the UK). Even in the middle of the county you are never far from the sea and an achingly quaint fishing village or harbour, so it’s a great place for traditional fish and chips. A seaside holiday for us typically includes the take-away version of this British classic, usually eaten out of the paper, sitting on a harbour wall or sea front – the romantic notion of fish and chips (let’s ignore fighting off hungry seagulls and tackling a large piece of battered fish with a totally inadequate little wooden fork thing with only two prongs). However on this holiday (we got back home two days ago by the way), it was raining at the time we decided that fish and chips was the thing we needed most in the whole wide world. Fortunately, The Beach Restaurant in St. Ives came to the rescue. The counter on the ground floor selling fresh fish was a good omen and upstairs we sat inside but with an excellent view over the harbour. The haddock and chips did not disappoint –  thick, firm fish, perfect crispy batter and decent chips (to be honest, battered fish is at its crispiest best when eaten straight away rather than after having been wrapped in paper for a take-away). Traditional fish and chips is not the only product of the sea on offer in Cornwall as there is plenty of other fish and shellfish to be had. If you have been to Padstow in recent years, you will know that celebrity chef, Rick Stein, seems to own at least half of the eating establishments in the town and fish is what he is most famous for. And yes, we did do the Rick Stein thing but in one of his pubs in a small village just outside “Padstein”. The menu was not dominated by fish dishes by any means but I went for the Goan fish curry and it was seriously good.
5. CHEESE. More moo juice products from those productive Cornish cows. Cornish Blue is a lovely, mild blue cheese – the chunk we bought did not last long. I even had a Cornish Blue pizza one evening at a pub, sitting outside overlooking a quiet, picturesque creek. If you like blue cheese but find Stilton a bit too strong, then Cornish Blue could be the thing for you. The other Cornish cheese we tried was Cornish Yarg. An intriguing name but not from the depths of ancient Cornish culture. Apparently, a couple called Gray re-discovered the 13th century recipe for this cheese and simply reversed their surname to create a convincingly Cornish-sounding name. The distinguishing feature of this cheese is the edible (but mouldy!) rind made by wrapping the cheese in nettle leaves. Inside, the cheese is a bit Cheddar-like towards the edges, being yellowy and smooth. Towards the middle, it becomes whiter and a tad crumbly – vaguely reminiscent of Wensleydale. At first, it tasted a bit soapy but, as I nibbled at it over the course of a few days, it just got better and better – creamy and delicious. The mouldy nettle rind is a bit of an acquired taste though!
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Cornish Yarg with its distinctive nettle rind!
So there you have it – how to sustain yourself when on holiday in Cornwall. OK, it may not be that healthy, but different rules apply when you’re on holiday, don’t they? To be honest, if you did eat all five of these in one day you may explode. I think the most I had was three in one day.
The choice for number five was not easy. Fudge (made with clotted cream of course) and cider are popular local fare and were possible contenders. However, not a morsel of fudge passed my lips in the whole two week holiday and I only got round to having one bottle of local cider. But what a belter that cider was – Healey’s Oak-Matured Special Edition Cornish Cyder. If the name sounds familiar, yes these cider makers are related to Donald Healey. You can visit their cider farm, not far from Donald’s birthplace Perranporth and they have a small collection of Austin-Healeys on show (I trust they don’t drink and drive!).
Finally, here are a few photos of Cornwall itself. If you are not familiar with the UK – look at a map. Cornwall is the bit sticking out at the bottom left, a bit like a leg and it’s the most popular holiday destination in the UK. Miles of beautiful coastline and loads of old towns and villages. The North coast and South coast have different characters. The North is rugged with rocky cliffs and endless bays with long sandy beaches. Facing the Atlantic, it has a surfing culture and surprisingly warm sea. The South has fewer beaches but numerous peaceful, wooded creeks and a bit of a subtropical feel thanks to the occasional palm tree. We cannot decide whether we prefer the North or South because they both offer something different. So, as we have just done on our most recent Cornish holiday, we usually have a week in each!
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Trevose Head Lighthouse
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Port Isaac which doubles as Portwenn in TV’s Doc Martin
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Kynance Cove. An absolutely stunning beach but only accessible as the tide recedes
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Typical creeky scenery in the South

CORNISH COAST PATH AND THE WORLD’S BEST LEMON DRIZZLE CAKE AT THE REST A WHILE TEA GARDEN

When setting out on a long walk, it’s always a good thing to have a significant objective or reward to look forward to. A tea room voted the third best in Cornwall for the last two years isn’t a bad objective. We didn’t know about the accolades heaped upon this little gem until we got there, so it was quite a find although it’s not actually a tea “room” at all but read on. Things don’t get much better than walking along Cornwall’s rugged north coast in fine weather, drinking in the spectacular scenery and sea air. So, if you happen to find yourself in the Padstow area, try this (almost) six mile walk for yourself and search out the fabulous Rest A While Tea Garden in Hawker’s Cove.

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The clifftops on our walk. We saw Poldark galloping the other way.

We parked in the car park overlooking Trevone beach to the west of Padstow then struck north along the South West Coast Path. Although the walk is “only” six miles, bear in mind that coast paths do tend to go up and down quite a bit and this stretch of the South West Coast Path is no exception. You are however rewarded with wonderful views from the clifftops – looking down into rocky inlets or out across the sea as far as the eye can see. The path takes you up the west side and round the top of a small peninsula to a dramatic headland known as Stepper Point near to which a “daymark” tower was built in the early nineteenth century as a navigational aid for sailors. You also pass a more modern coastguard lookout before heading down the east side of the peninsula into the estuary of the River Camel where a few golden beaches catch the eye.

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The daymark tower as you near Stepper Point.

It’s when heading south alongside the River Camel (still on the South West Coast Path) that you need to keep your eyes open for signs to the Rest A While Tea Garden. The signs direct you up a narrow track past the back gardens of a small row of old coastguard houses. And one of these gardens is the Rest A While Tea Garden, just 50 metres off the main coast path. It is literally someone’s small back garden covered in decking, where orders are placed – and food and drinks served – through the kitchen window! There is no indoor seating (in fact there is not even a back door) so a visit to the Rest A While is weather dependent. There is also (officially) no toilet but if you ask, the staff will send you round to the front of the row of houses and into number 7 where the owner keeps his front door (and loo) open for Rest A While customers.

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View across the Camel estuary from the flowery Rest a While Tea Garden

Our reward for completing the first part of our walk (roughly 3.5 miles from the start) was a light lunch which turned out to be less light than intended. It started out well – my wife and I had tuna mayonnaise jacket potatoes (perfectly cooked, crispy skin, plenty of tuna, two portions of Cornish butter, decent bit of salad with dressing) and my daughter had homemade tomato and basil soup. Then came the cake …. oh boy. The world’s largest slice of chocolate cake (very, very good) and the best lemon drizzle cake I have ever tasted. I have never had warm lemon drizzle cake before but I think that’s what made the difference. That and the incredibly soft, moist sponge. And the plentiful, tangy drizzly stuff with which the cake was laced. And the sea air. And the view.

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Believe me, the lemon drizzle cake was not small – the chocolate cake was huge!

Suitably fed and watered, we waddled on down the coast path for almost half a mile until coming to a tropical looking, white sandy beach (nearly empty) stretching out to our left – Harbour Cove. Here the coast path turned inland for a couple of hundred yards but when it turned south again, we left it and kept straight on up a track to a parking area. We carried on through the car park and up the track before turning left on to a small road. Looking to the right at this junction, we could see the Lellizzick farm house where they also serve teas – one to try another day! After almost half a mile, the road took a sharp turn to the left but we didn’t. Instead we went straight ahead on to path which took us back to the west side of the peninsula and back to the coast path. Here we turned south and re-traced our steps back to Trevone.

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Beautiful Harbour Cove beach.

Trevone has its own friendly little bay and sandy beach so after a satisfyingly tiring walk, there was only one thing to do – bodyboarding!! Fantastic. Stayed in the water for about an hour doing my impersonation of a twelve year old.

If the Rest A While Tea Garden sounds like your sort of thing then you can also walk there from Padstow. It’s about two and a quarter miles from the north side of the harbour (you could drive but that’s cheating and you won’t have earned your cake). On your way you will pass the Doom Bar, a sand bank created – according to legend – by the lovelorn Mermaid of Padstow to imperil sailors. In modern times, it has given its name to a very popular Cornish ale. This cult beer was created in Rock just across the river from Padstow, where the cask version is still brewed. However, the bottled version has proved so popular that it is now made 270 miles away in Burton-Upon-Trent!

Colin

MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A HAGGIS – POTATO CAKES!

It’s July. Almost six months after Burns Night. I am not Scottish nor do I have any connection with Scotland (other than having been on a few holidays in that very beautiful country). So why am I doing a post about haggis? Because its delicious!! And, because I am not Scottish, that’s an unbiased statement not one born out of blinkered patriotism. You don’t need to be Scottish nor does it need to be Burns Night for you to enjoy it. It makes for a hearty and quick midweek meal which we have several times a year (it only takes a few minutes to heat up in the microwave – don’t bother steaming or oven cooking for hours!).  Even our fussy kids love that dark crumbly meaty, oatmeally goodness spiced up with white pepper and they have eaten it from a very early age (I have to mention, they are now grown up and a lot less fussy).
If you have not tried haggis, please give it a go. Don’t turn your nose up because it has a slightly unattractive name or you are not sure exactly what it is. Now that brings me on to an important point – the animal rights issue. Many people think that haggis are cute, cuddly, furry creatures. They are not. Don’t believe what you see in the picture below(!). They are vermin with nasty little spiky teeth and bad tempers. Haggis breed more profusely than rabbits on Viagra and they are omnivorous, stripping the Scottish Highlands of heather and other flora thus depriving other indigenous fauna of food and habitat. Worse still, their favourite food is the genuinely cuddly and inoffensive sporran. The sporran is now an endangered species. Not only do they fall prey to the ferocious haggis but, of course, their pelts are used as the traditional furry adornment to that most Scottish of garments, the kilt. Scottish weavers claim as many sporran as the horrible little haggis. By the way, did you know you can tell the clan of a Scotsman by what’s in his sporran? A bottle of gin and he’s a Gordon. A tin of soup and he’s a Campbell. And if a Scotsman has two quarter pounders in his sporran, he’s a McDonald. Or is that under his kilt? I’m not sure.
So please eat more haggis and help save a sporran. Traditionally, haggis is eaten with “bashed neeps and tatties” and washed down with Scotland’s national drink, Irn-Bru (usually a special single-girder Irn-Bru, aged in iron casks for 12 years). In practice, I think swedes might be used rather than “neeps” (turnips). If you are not keen on swede, try it mashed with carrots and plenty of butter and black pepper. At home, we have whatever veg we have to hand since we are not bound by tradition. Also, we always have gravy – either homemade onion gravy or leftover gravy from a roast (beef, chicken or pork – all good). I hope I am not offending any Scottish folk. Tip: when you have a roast (including a cheat’s pot roast) or even a beef casserole, always make more gravy/sauce than you need by adding a bit more stock and thickening agent. Then freeze some for another meal e.g. sausage and mash or … haggis and mash!
For some years now I have also thought that left over haggis and mashed potato would make a great potato cake. Mix the potato and haggis together and form into cakes (about the size and shape of a thick hamburger). Then fry on both sides until brown and temptingly crispy.
The problem is we never have left overs! It’s all wolfed down at the first attempt. However, I had my opportunity a few weeks ago when we had a guest so we cooked two haggis and too much mashed tatties. The next day, I cooked the haggis potato cakes as described above for brunch for my son and me. Topped with (very) crispy bacon and a poached egg, they were as yummy as I had hoped.
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Haggis potato cakes – just add brown sauce. Or A1 Steak Sauce in the US if you can get haggis over there. I know the bacon’s a bit, er, crispy. I got distracted by a very cute sporran. My best poached egg ever though.
Colin McColinface

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – MORE VANS, MORE LE MANS AND A MAGICAL GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF

Just vans this week but one of those took me to Le Mans and back for the second time in seven days! I didn’t want to give “my” trusty Peugeot Boxer back after our adventures together:-

Sunday to Tuesday: Peugeot Boxer (very)LWB 2.2 HDi (130hp), Leicester to Le Mans to Leicester to Aston Martin, Gaydon to Rugby where it was bye bye Boxer

Thursday: Fiat Doblo van 1.3TD, West Bromwich to Lewes, East Sussex

Never underestimate a modern vehicle. The prospect of driving almost 200 miles in a dull looking van with a silly name and only a 1248cc engine would be unthinkable to some. And this was a very basic van – no aircon and it had wigglesticks to manually adjust the wing mirrors (which is quite rare these days). But myself and two colleagues all agreed that our Fiat Doblos dobbled along surprisingly well. No problem at all sitting reasonably quietly and comfortably at 70mph on all five motorways between the West Midlands and Lewes on the south coast.  When we collected the Doblos, all three had zero miles on the clock – first time I have ever come across that. Bizarrely, all three of us arrived at our destination at more or less the same time having followed exactly the same route but one van had six fewer miles on the clock. I forgot to ask my colleague whether or not he had driven the last three miles backwards (although I suspect it’s a myth that the mileage goes down when you reverse in a modern vehicle).

I missed a trick in last week’s post about my trip to Le Mans. In one breath I mentioned a well-known celebrity baker and in another, Harry Potter’s magic baguettes. Why didn’t I connect the two? They don’t call me Flash for nothing. What a great technical challenge that would be in the next series of the Great British Bake Off!! If there is enough time between the commercials, the contestants would each be required to bake three magic baguettes – one with a Phoenix feather in (Harry’s), one with a dragon heartstring (Hermione’s) and one with a unicorn tail hair (Ron’s). The contestants would not be permitted to use yeast. Instead, they would each be given a magic baguette baked earlier by Paul Hollywood. With this, they would attempt to get the correct rise on their own baguettes by invoking the Wingardium Leviosa spell.
Judging would be based not only on the usual criteria such as texture, taste and the “bake” but also the effectiveness of each magic baguette at some popular spells, e.g. ALOHOMORA! (to open an oven door), ENGORGIO! (to make the baguettes twice their original size) and EXPECTO PATRONUM! (to conjure up a Patronus in the form of Mary Berry). Extra points would be awarded to the contestant who is able to magic GBBO back onto the BBC and get the real Mary Berry back.
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Early last Monday morning; all loaded up at the Aston Martin gîte and ready to return home.

My second trip to Le Mans went smoothly apart from the return trip through the Channel Tunnel. Coming back the day after the end of the 24 hour race, I joined a constant stream of British cars on the autoroute heading for the Channel crossings. In fact it was a bit of a mobile motor show. Various exotic cars, sports cars, classic cars, boy racer mobiles and a Honda Jazz from Chipping Sodbury. Result: chaos at the Tunnel but I did get a nice text from Eurotunnel apologising for the delay.

 

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Joining the British throng for a pit stop on the way back to the Channel. No driver change though – I was the only driver on my team.

These two trips to Le Mans were my first experiences of using the Channel Tunnel. Apart from that last return leg, it was fast and efficient but if you are driving long distances either side of the Channel, there is still a strong argument for the ferry. Especially on that last crossing, I would have been glad of a decent break, a hearty meal and the opportunity to stretch my legs properly whilst breathing fresh sea air. Instead, I was stuck inside a tin box with air of dubious quality and had to stop for a break on the motorway after leaving the train anyway, thus negating some of the time saving (the ferry crossing takes about 55 minutes longer than the train). Eurotunnel definitely has its merits but the ferry does too!

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Typical gloomy view when travelling on Eurotunnel.
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Typical view when travelling by ferry. OK, I’m cheating – this was coming out of Portsmouth not Dover. But on the ferry from Dover you will get views of the famous white cliffs.

Colin