Saturday 30 April 2011

Rum Chat

It happened towards the end of last year. I was in a pub talking to a woman I'd just met about something or other when she suddenly said "Do you like rum?"... "Well, I don't mind it, I keep trying to find one that'll change my mind about it"... "Well, they've got a good one in here, my second favourite". And she came back from the bar with my first taste of Angostura 1919. With a little ice, nothing more, it was delicious.

She told me to keep out for her favourite. Havana Club 7. "It's not expensive but can be hard to track down". I spoke to some friends in Oddbins. "Oh yeah, we get an allocation every now and again, but it walks through the door as soon as it arrives. We'll keep a bottle back for you".

A few weeks later I got the nod and hurried home with my booty. It is an utterly sublime drink. Much more complex than the Angostura. Smells include citrus peel, sandalwood, cocoa and it has an aftertaste that goes on forever. Best drunk camp... a frilly shirt, eye patch, and knee high boots should do the trick... but definitely no embellishments to the drink itself. Ice if you must.

If you manage to find it in the High Street great. If not CLICK HERE as the Drink Store usually have some.

Wednesday 20 April 2011


It's springtime. I've had time to notice. Firstly ten days of quarantine. Then, despite protestations, another seven days off work. "Why are you arguing?" the doctor wanted to know. "I suppose it's because I'll be bored". He wasn't buying that. "I blame Calvinism. That 'work ethic'. Anyway, you're not going back to work, you need to get better"... "Can I go out for walks?"... "After tomorrow should be fine, you'll no longer be infectious. Maybe best if you go out after dark though"... "Eh?"... "Well", he said, waving a hand across my face, "Until you clear up a bit, you'll just make people anxious".
The net result is I've got time, lots of time. So today, when I decided to go for something healthy with a convalescence vibe, I also decided to make the pasta too. Actually, it's pretty easy, once you suss to do the kneading in the pasta machine itself. Just keep folding your loosely affiliated flour and egg mix over on itself and passing it through the lowest setting until it looks good.

My springtime vibe included fresh asparagus from Ross on Wye, fresh broad beans from Portugal, frozen organic peas, spring onions from Mexico and fresh basil from Israel. Eat local sounds good, but in Scotland essentially that means kale, cabbage and potatoes for ten months of the year. Some of the world's most boring vegetables. Sod that.

Make the sauce by sautéing the chopped tougher ends of the asparagus with the spring onions, then add a handful of frozen peas, a few ladles of stock or water, bring to the boil, simmer for a few minutes then blend. Pass through a sieve, add a tablespoon of good olive oil, a few torn basil leaves, taste, season and set aside. Chop the asparagus and steam above the pan the broad beans are boiling in. Cook the pasta. Drain. Mix the pasta with the sauce and drained broad beans. Top with the asparagus and some Parmesan shavings. Delicious. I felt better immediately. Helped, no doubt, by a medicinal glass of something spring-like to accompany it...

As fresh and invigorating as sticking your head under a waterfall. At the moment this is down to just over £7 in Waitrose. It would be a great drink for the park.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Lobster Spaghetti

Costco is a vast Aladdin's Cave of things you don't really need but struggle to resist. 3 metre high TV sets, rolls of cellophane big enough to wrap Wales, BBQ sauce bottles so vast the label's got a life size picture of Ainsley Harriot's mug. Actually, even with the offer of a free tasting, everyone was managing to resist that. Then out of the corner of my eye I spotted something new. According to the lady manning the icy stall it was their 'seafood event'. Isn't it marvellous when retail managers come back from courses on how to enthuse shoppers? It only happens once a month, so I'd lucked out. Then she told me the lobsters had just been halved in price. Major result.

Lobsters have become more affordable in recent years. Thanks mainly to the greed of fishermen. Although Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall may disagree, hunting Canada's cod to extinction wasn't entirely bad. They fed on baby lobsters and crabs, so once gone, the sea starting hoaching with these much tastier crustacea.

The advantage of getting something luxurious cheap, is that I'm willing to experiment in a way I'd never do with say a fresh, live Scottish lobster. That just gets grilled with a little butter. With these, the shells got turned into Lobster Bisque, but that's for another time, for now, here's my Lobster Spaghetti recipe. It was rather good.

While the spaghetti's cooking, saute a garlic clove in a little olive oil. Add a couple of finely chopped tomatoes and cooked till they're a bit soft, then add some decent quality tomato puree. Fry for a few minutes then put in a good splash of wine and reduce by about a half. If you have any brandy in a tablespoon added with the wine would work wonders. Next in with some double cream, bubbled to reduce a little too, suppose it was about four tablespoons, then the lobster meat just to warm through. Finally added some fresh basil leaves and then mixed the whole lot through with the spaghetti. Parmesan's optional.

The reason I joined Costco was the wine. They stock some really good bottles often at a fraction of the price you'd pay elsewhere. So using the fine monetary logic that's served me so well over the years, I reasoned that having "saved" £13 on the lobsters I should trade up for a decent wine to accompany them. I went for this.

It was just shy of £17 a bottle and is without doubt the best return I've had on a wine in years. It was immense. Fabulous texture with a multi layered taste that included tropical fruits, smokey bacon and ginger. It's quite sweet and far too much for the lobster, probably for any food, it screams for your undivided attention. According to Costco, Robert Parker scored this wine 95 points. For once, I'm not surprised.