Thursday, January 25, 2007

Burn, burn, Burns

I’d been really looking forward to the latest Blueprint Café’s cook book club. It was all in aid of a book I wasn’t very familiar with “A Cook’s tour of Scotland” by Sue Lawrence and held very appropriately on Burn’s Night. And I knew it was going to be special because the ever ebullient Jeremy Lee would be be-kilted and generally even more in his Scottish element that usual. And they’d probably be bagpipes!

What I haven’t taken into consideration is my crazy brutal schedule this week. For various work related reasons I have copious early starts and late finishes. I can normally do the late nights as I’ve always been a night owl or ‘creature of the night’ but the mornings – arghhh, I have never been an early bird and I never particularly wanted to catch the worm! So by tonight, I was really running on empty and as much as I’d always greatly enjoyed these cook book events at the Blueprint Café, I guess I had never realised how much hard work they are. As I go by myself, I have to mingle and get to know my new dining companions. I guess this didn’t work as well as usual as I was sat with people who knew each other so I felt a little like a gooseberry but also I think my tiredness meant I just really couldn’t hear everyone properly (or I guess they could have been speaking especially quietly) and it was all rather disorientating. But it did give me a really good chance to examine the cook book of the evening - A Cook’s tour of Scotland. And I was really impressed! I’d been purposely not looking at it to keep it a surprise for tonight and there are some great little recipes from the very first page. The first chapter is Lobster, Langoustines and Crab on the first page has both Jim McFarlane’s Crab Sandwich and Crab Gratin. And especially the Crab Gratin is a recipe I want to try. The second Mussels, Oysters and Scallops has my favourite Scallops with Black Pudding on Champit’ Peas. Champit’ peas are like a kind of mushy peas with both butter beans and peas. I’ve never been crazy about mushy peas; the canapés we got tonight were topped in something called Buster Peas which I would say were similar but without the butter beans and probably not with a more acceptable petits pois but the awful marrowfat peas that I recall from many a childhood fish and chip visit. The third chapter is Salmon and I’d very happily tuck into all four recipes and am planning which one to cook first – Frittata with Smoked Salmon, Smoked Salmon Pâté, Hot-smoked Salmon Pancakes, and Fresh Salmon Chowder. All good, nothing bad! And in the subsequent chapters I’ve alighted on Smokie Pots, the fabulously named Hairy Tatties, Spiced Venison with a Wild Mushroom and Truffle Sauce, Smoked Haddock with Black Pudding and Bacon, Bacon and Mussel Chowder with Cavolo Nero, Cock-a leekie Risotto with Bacon, Clapshot Soup with Haggis Croûtons, Rumblethumps, Squash with Melted Cheese and Dunkers, Gooey Cheese Potatoes with Bacon and to finish off a Raspberry Chocolate Fudge Tart.

But before I hit the kitchen there’s a small matter of a Burn’s Night feast to tuck into:

Wee pies & buster peas
Haggis, clapshot
Baked shoulder of mutton, black pudding, skirlie & kale
A wee cream, rhubarb & shortbread
Coffee, tablet

The wee pies were fabulous little quartered scotch pie topped with a vibrant dash of my not so favourite buster peas. The haggis was the nicest I’ve tasted, they can be a little overwhelmed with pin oatmeal. The clapshot is a Scottish mash, so I’m hardly likely to complain, it is potatoes with turnip (or in England we say Swede). The baked mutton was really sublime, baked long and slow until melting. The black pudding was very fine and had been accompanied from the Hebrides by its maker Ian Macleod. Skirlie is an onion and oatmeal mixture which added an interesting texture to the ever so melting mutton.

The wee cream was a kind of soft rhubarb topped with a sabayon. I think Sue had wanted to reproduce the rhubarb cobbler recipe but Jeremy thought it might be a little heavy after all the other treats. What was quite funny about the wee cream was that it was served in a wine glass but with rather curiously a soup spoon. This meant that none of us could get the spoon into the glass and had to attempt to eat it with the end of the spoon. Our eagled eyed waiter spotted our dilemma and rescued us with a stack on tea spoons. Much more sensible! I was intrigued to find out what a tablet was and it turned out to cross between the mainstays of many a hiker, the Kendal mint cake and fudge. It really was so incredibly sweet!

The whole meal was piped in by an extravagantly attired piper and yes, we did discover what was under the kilt! Jeremy Lee was on incredibly fine form, an imposing site in his tartan-less black kilt and kept us terribly amused between courses. When is he going to bring out his cook book? I chatted to Sir Terence Conran about the incredible food photography course in France with his old friend Roger Stowell and also my pleasure at Marcus Wareing getting another Michelin star. It seems that Sir Terence certainly doesn’t agree with me, doesn’t admire Marcus’ work and cites a certain Carpaccio of Gherkins as a shocking example of his deviant behaviour. Okay, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree!

It was a great evening food-wise but I do realise that I need to be not so tired to make it easier to do the social bit and I intend to be better prepared for next time. Next month I am very excited that we will be enjoying Sophie Conran’s Pies in the cook book club. And I really hope we’ll be tucking into rabbit pie which is Jeremy Lee’s recipe from Sophie’s fabulous book. I cannot wait!

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