Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Glenlivet

Just a quick note about this particularly fine bottle of Scottishly amber and alcoholic ingenuity. It's a 15 year old bottle of The Glenlivet (not the French oaked version, I'm afraid), and a fine thing. It's a Speyside single malt, and a good, solid representative of the breed.

We cracked into this at work, at the end of a wearying week, with a somewhat informal tasting. About 10 people in total, with me wittering on quite knowledgelessly about single malts, Speyside characteristics, master distillers and the elegant architecture of the rounded finish.

I had been working quite hard. And I skipped breakfast and lunch. I was entitled to blather drunkenly.

It comes from the Glen of the Livet, and is fiercely proud of it's tradition and provenance. And trademark, sharing the valley with two other distilleries.


The tasting was without water, though a little water is often added to Glenlivet to open up the taste and aroma. But I'm nothing if not a purist. An arrogant, annoying, vindictive, and pretentious ponce of a purist. But a purist nonetheless.

It's quite a gentle whisky, quite sweet and comparatively syrupy in it's fifteen year old expression, with the taste developing from an initial burn to gentler notes of honeyed cinnamon and a little pepper. Other tasters have reported hints of lemon. Oddly, and, for, entirely unexpectedly, there's also quite a strong initial taste of butterscotch. The vanilla taste comes through more cleany, and develops in the aftertaste, underscored by the peppery taste and sensation creeping backwards over the tongues,which mellows a little too quickly for this age of whisky. At the very end it leaves with a slightly hazelnut kiss goodbye.

It's a fine thing to have in ones house. Shared in the staffroom amongst ten teachers at the end of a working week, it did fine service, ans met with universal acclaim. From whisky drinkers, from fine wine drinkers, from people who rarely if ever touch the stuff, and confirm bacardi breezer fans. All in all, a fine whisky to gently introduce almost anybody to the world of fine whisky. Nicely rounded and non threatening. Quite the opposite of how I felt to the guy who mixed his with a can of coke.

I had a wee dram with my father, in thanks to the gift of it from him. And a fine drink it was to toast an even finer man with.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Done and dusted,

Todays post, a recipe for baked Chicory, and fried aubergines, is brought to you by the letter C, the number "more than my goddamned life savings you sonofabitch", and a stack of drunkenly inappropriate behaviour.

Still, lets cut to the meat of this thing. Todays recipes are for Baked Chicory, and fried Aubergines.

Baked Chicory....

This dish was first cooked for me by a beautiful and quite cracked Swiss woman. Theres versions of it in the Silver Spoon, and its common in the North of Italy, in France and Switzerland. The Italian version uses parmesan, and the Swiss uses Gruyere, which, I think, is better.


Chicory, two pieces, stripped of the external leaves (reserve these, and chop up as a salad for the aubergines if you want.)
4 slices of ham. I used a traditional style Irish unflavoured baked ham, but prosciutto is perfectly good here - though a little delicate for the baking process.
About 300 ml of homemade Bechamel sauce.*
Gruyere, or parmesan.
A little olive oil, or butter.
Black pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

*For a quick Bechamel, gently melt a knob of butter, say 50g, and when that melts, add in roughly the safe amount of sifted plain flour, whisking continually over the heat. Preheat somer milk, so that it can be added warm.

Gradually, whisking continually, add the milk little by little (to avoid lumps), allow the sauce to bubble slightly - the bubbling releases and activated the thickening starch, and allows the sauce to come together(if the sauce doesn't bubble, it will thicken up unexpectedly when you reheat it. Add enough milk - gradually, - until the desired thickness is achieved. Normally until the sauce will coat the back of a spoon, but for certain sauces I make it thicker, and certain, thinner. This can then be flavoured with whatever the hell you want. Just blackpepper and salt. Mature blue cheese. Gruyere. White wine....

This is the basic ingredient list for the simplest form of the dish. You can augment the Bechamel by adding white wine or vegetable stock in the oven dish.

Wrap your chicory in two slices of baked ham, or three of prosciutto. Preheat your oven to gas mark 4. Grease an ovenproof dish, with your butter or oil. Wrap the chicory in two slices of baked ham, or 3 of prosciutto. Normally I wrap the first slice so it overlaps at the top, and the second so it overlaps at the bottom. Lay the chicory in the greased dish, pinning the ham on with the weight of the chicory (lying on top of the overlapping ham).

Pour your bechamel over the chicory. Grate some nutmeg, some black pepper and grind some salt on. If using parmesan, grate on now, if using gruyere, pop the chicory in the top of the oven for 7 minutes, remove, and cover the top of the chicory with slices of Gruyere, and pop back in the oven.

Heres where it gets tricky. If not using gruyere, take the chicory out every 10 minutes of so, and braise a little with the bechamel to stop the ham burning. If you don't, it will.

Total cooking time should be around twenty minutes for small chicory, and it will retain some crunch. For larger heads of chicory, add more time, and cover with foil for the first 15 mnutes of cooking.

To finish, sprinkle with either gruyere or parmesan, and if necessary, quickly brown the topping under the grill.


The second recipe is from Yotam Ottolenghi in last weeks Guardian Summer Salad supplement. Quite a lot of his recipes seem to be badly described, difficult to follow, and the quantities he gives are sometimes off. But hell. This one works quite well.


2 aubergines, 2 eggs beaten, breadcrumbs.

For the dressing
150g Greek yoghurt
100g sour cream (which I decided to leave out)
12 radishes, finely grated, and squeezed till just moist.
1tsp English mustard
2tbsp dijon
2 tbsp of good honey
2 tbsp of olive oil.

For the salad.

Leaves (I used rocket, some radish leaves, he recommends chard), juice of a half lemon, and black pepper.

Mix the sauce ingredients together, and season to taste. I added more mustard as I quuite like the slightly sour bite cutting throught he cooked aubergine. Cut the aubergines into 1.5 cm slices, or thinner. Too thick and the texture will be wrong. Lightly salt these acidic little buggers and leave them in a colander to sweat. About 30 mins. Tamp them dry - a little slat still on em is fine, but the juice is quite sour, so soak it up.

Dip the slices in the beaten egg, and then coat them in breadcrumbs, and pop them in hot oil to shallow fry, for 2 or 3 minutes each side. Remove 'em and leave 'em on paper towl to dry and cool.

Lay out the salad, and drizzle it with the lemon juice and grind some pepper over it. Lay out the cold slices, drizzle heavily with the sauce, and serve.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Feels like winter. Chocolate and chickpeas then.

First off...

thirty steps to chocolate connoisseurship, from the Guardian. Scroll down about a third of the way to hit the thirty steps.

I cooked up a wintry chickpea soup today, to cope with the terrible weather. This one is taken from "Made in Italy", and adapted slightly to my pantry.

To make the base, you'll need, a chopped stalk of celery, a sprig of Rosemary, some sage leaves, 2 bay leaves, and about 250g of chickpeas. If dried, soak them overnight and drain, if canned, wash thoroughly before use. 4 cloves of garlic, crushed.

Put everything in a pot, cover with about twice the amount of water as chickpeas, splash in a little olive oil, and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Fish out the herbs, remove the chickpeas, and reserve the cooking water. There's no need to add salt at present.

Next, you will need about 150g of chopped pancetta (you can use streaky bacon if you are stuck, I used my home cured bacon), another stalk of finely chopped celery, and two finely chopped onions - 1 red. Heat up a skillet, add some extra-virgin olive oil, and gently fry off all of the above until they are soft. Should take 5-10 minutes. Add about two thirds of the chickpeas to this mix, and blitz them in a food processor until they are finely ground. Add the reserved cooking water to get the consistency you need - I added about 200ml to get a fairly thick soup.

To finish - fry off some small cubes of pancetta until golden brown. Chop up some rosemary and sage. Reheat the soup mix, and taste and adjust for seasoning. It should be quite salty already, from the pancetta. and plate it. Sprinkle with the cubed pancetta, the reserved chickpeas, and the herbs. Generously drizzle with olive oil. Grind some pepper. Serve with a plain bread, and olive oil on the side.

An authentic taste of Northern Italy, and a soup hearty enough to ward off the winter chill. Food for the soul, eh?
Sorry about the formatting. I have learned to hate blogger.
And thanks to Laura over at eat drink live. Check out her well formatted and photographed soup for a fantastic borlotti bean recipe.