A wedding reading

It’s been a very busy month and a bit, and I’ve been taking a bit of time away from this blog to recharge the batteries. I don’t want to bore you with wittering on about the psychology of blogging, but six years’ regular blogging top of some fairly exhausting stuff at home left me feeling a bit…drained.

I spent part of this month in Spain (where I very deliberately avoided taking ANY photographs of food, and didn’t take a SINGLE note about what I was eating – it was bliss, I tell you), where my fantastic little brother Ben was marrying the lovely Katie. Here they are, in a photograph rudely stolen from my aunt Kathy. (Sorry, Kath!)

Ben and Katie's first dance
Ben and Katie's first dance

Ben and Katie had asked me to give a reading at the wedding. I chose this section from the introduction of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s advice that works admirably for the management of relationships as well as kitchens.

Pay close attention to what you are doing while you work, for precision in small details can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food. If a recipe says, “cover casserole and regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly,” “heat the butter until its foam begins to subside,” or “beat the hot sauce into the egg yolks by driblets,” follow it. You may be slow and clumsy at first, but with practice you will pick up speed and style.

Allow yourself plenty of time. Most dishes can be assembled, or started, or partially cooked in advance. If you are not an old campaigner, do not plan more than one long or complicated recipe for a meal or you will wear yourself out and derive no pleasure from your efforts.

If food is to be baked or broiled, be sure your oven is hot before the dish goes in. Otherwise soufflés will not rise, pie crusts will collapse, and gratinéed dishes will overcook before they brown.

A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls, and equipment you need, but soak them in water as soon as you are through with them. Clean up after yourself frequently to avoid confusion.

Train yourself to use your hands and fingers; they are wonderful instruments. Train yourself to handle hot foods; this will save time. Keep your knives sharp.

Above all, have a good time.

Congratulations to the pair of you. And for everybody else, normal blogging has now resumed.

Hack hack cough

A short post to let you all know I’m not dead – I’ve just been stuck without much of a sense of smell or taste for a week and a half now (much of that time spent sweating, choking and swearing in bed), having caught some incredibly virulent and unpleasant thing from one of the unhygienic souls I was sharing a plane with back from New York.

Normal service will, I hope, resume later this week, but for now I’m huddling in a dressing gown and necking Covonia.

Jolly merry holly berry

Christmas garden
Fervently hoping the snow doesn't get any deeper than this.

I’m off doing a festive round of family visits until the New Year. Deliveries in the snow allowing, we’re feasting on foie gras and smoked eel with Mum and Dad on Christmas Eve, roasting a goose on the day itself, and plan on making a trip to the Freemason’s Country Inn in Wiswell, one of my favourite new-to-me restaurants from 2010, with my splendid in-laws. I expect to return in 2011 several pounds heavier.

If you’re after last-minute Christmas recipes, check out the posts tagged with Christmas in these parts. Have a splendid Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hannukah or Winterval – see you next year.


A quick and dirty picture post today; having spend the weekend doing the tourist thing, I’m spending the day battling with Beijing tailors, braving traditional foot massages and eating congee while Dr W is whisked around a dairy and a pharmaceutical company. (Rather him than me.) We’re staying at the gargantuan (it’s the largest Marriott outside the US) and very plushy Marriott City Wall, which has a superb Chinese restaurant charging prices which seem more London than Beijing, where I’ve been gorging on dim sum. I’m on the hunt for the perfect Beijing duck, which, if everything works out and I manage to avoid accidentally booking one of those cultural show places with no Chinese people in it, I’ll post about later in the week.

Incidentally, if you’re one of my Twitter followers, you’ll find me uncharacteristically quiet this week. The Great Firewall blocks access to Twitter (and to every Twitter client I’ve tried), so I’m not able to update.

Photography is tricky here in the city, because of the smog which hangs over the city and does very peculiar things to the light – it’s useless trying to take pictures with any depth of field because the haze turns everything yellow and blurred. Here, anyway, are three holiday snaps to keep you entertained until I can write about some of the eating we’re doing.

Inside the Forbidden City
Inside the Forbidden City
Forbidden City doorway


Great Wall
Great Wall

Crackling wars

Roast pork
Award-winning crackling

An eagle-eyed commenter (thanks, Pills4MeNerves!) mentioned this morning that my roast pork recipe won a crackling cook-off at the Guardian newspaper’s Word of Mouth blog. Now, I wouldn’t normally boast about such things here, but given that my competition appears to have been Simon Hopkinson, Prue Leith, Good Housekeeping, Delia Smith and Hugh F-W, I am dizzy with the joy of it all.

Here’s the recipe – I recommend that at the weekend you hot-foot it to the butcher’s, get your tea-towels and hairdryers out, and enjoy the rewards that only attention to detail and a preparedness to blow-dry meat will provide.

Bloggers’ dinner, Vinoteca, Smithfield, London

A brief picture post today, to ease myself back into things after the annual chocolate orgy. These are all from last week’s food and wine bloggers’ dinner at Vinoteca last week – many thanks to Niamh at Eat Like a Girl for organising it all, and to the guys at Vinoteca for the fantastic scoff. A really great meal, and it was good to see some familiar faces and to meet some new people.

Stand-outs included the purple-sprouting broccoli with anchovy butter (no pic, I’m afraid – it’s dark in Vinoteca’s private room, and not everything photographed well) and the gurnard salad. At this time of year, sautéed potatoes are dressed with fresh ramps (the leaves of wild garlic) and parsley – it’s good to see a menu packed with so much that’s seasonal.

Puntarelle, artichoke, buffalo mozarella, sultanas, walnuts
Puntarelle, artichoke, buffalo mozarella, sultanas, walnuts
Poached gurnard, cippolini onions, radishes, bortaga
Poached gurnard, cippolini onions, radishes, bortaga
Char-grilled old spot belly, chilli, lime, coriander
Char-grilled old spot belly, chilli, lime, coriander
Duke of York potatoes with parsley and ramps
Duke of York potatoes with parsley and ramps
Sticky ginger pudding, salted pecan and caramel ice cream
Sticky ginger pudding, salted pecan and caramel ice cream


Blogger is stopping support for FTP blogs in a couple of months, and this blog happens to be one of them. I’m migrating the blog this week.

Hopefully, you shouldn’t experience any downtime (I’m hoping you won’t notice any difference at all). It’s a big blog, though, and there are a bazillion links and pictures that I’m going to have to check, so the work will take me a few days. There will probably be no more posts this week – hopefully service should be back to normal on Monday.


Apologies for having had such a quiet week or two, blog-wise. As frequently seems to happen at this year, I am a bit low on batteries, and I’m not feeling brilliantly creative. All should be well again in the New Year – I’m off to Morocco tomorrow for the festive season, to enjoy some lovely recharging sunshine, snail soup and shish kebabs. And a lot of things cooked in pointy earthenware pots.

In the meantime, you’re probably after some Christmas recipes. Fortunately, we have plenty of those around here. Here’s the main event – a turkey recipe which is, uncharacteristically for turkey, so good you’ll be tempted to cook it when it’s not even Christmas. It’s brined overnight, leaving it juicy and succulent (the juices will spurt when you prick the thigh to check for doneness), the flesh infused with aromatics from its night-long submersion. If there are too few of you to justify a turkey, try a roast duck with prunes and pancetta, which is just about as Christmasy as it gets with its port and cherry gravy. And here’s a really fine ham for Christmas Eve.

You’ll want some trimmings. Chipolatas wrapped in pancetta and stuffing balls always go down well, alongside some cranberry sauce and bread sauce. Try a maple-mustard glaze on your vegetables, or cook the cabbage/chestnuts side dish that’s mentioned in the duck recipe above. And nobody can say no to a crunchy spiced parsnip.

You’ve probably bought your Christmas pudding, and you already know how to make mince pies. If you want something to drink alongside them, try some hot buttered rum (but beware – you’ll inevitably drink too much, because it’s hopelessly good). This is an especially good drink for those with cold fingers and toes. Mulled wine is another fantastic loosener-upper, and you’ll find present-opening is even more fun with a glass by your side and a little plate of cherry and almond cookies.

Merry Christmas!


My RSI’s suddenly decided to flare up again – so I’ll keep this necessarily brief! Unfortunately handling a knife and typing are both causing the joint where my right index finger meets my hand to resemble a boiled sweet, so I’m taking some time away from chopping board and keyboard until it goes back down again. Hopefully things will be back to normal next week; in the meantime, if you want something to read, I’ll still be using Twitter, which is something I can do with my left hand!

Gordon’s Gin competition

Are there any two sweeter words than “gin competition”?

While I’m busy in my pyjamas today recovering from Phoenix and its near-deadly lawn chairs (see previous post), I’ve got another competition for you. This time, you can win a Gordon’s Gin Friday Pack, full of everything you need for a Friday night in with friends. The pack will include a bottle of Gordon’s Gin, a set of Gordon’s glassware and a Gordon Ramsey cook book.

The deadline for this one is Friday October 9. To enter, leave a comment below letting me know what you’d do with the gin; I could do with some new cocktail ideas!

Entrants must be resident in the UK, and over 18 years old. And although I think this is nannying you to a degree you don’t require – it’s not my business if you enjoy drinking gin by the bottle – I am required to display the Drinkaware logo, which I think is meant to discourage you from doing anything that might get your stomach pumped. Here it is – click on it if you want governmental advice on how to deal with a hangover.