More paving than Pavlova

Pavlova, meringue, Christmas pudding, bee hive, British Bee Keeping Association, BBKA disastrous day in the kitchen: meringue melt-down and pudding pot welded to pan.

I was experimenting with the new food processor and its special beating blade.  The goal was a Pavlova meringue: crisp on the outside and softly marshmallow beneath.  The first problem was a dreadful clattering from the bowl.  I wasn’t sure if the blade had broken or the whole structure had come apart.  The sugar and egg whites had already become a soft billow but I had to delve to the bottom to recover a mysterious teaspoon that had been rattling around with the beater.  Gently spooning the final mix on to the baking sheet, I discovered that the hoped-for billowing mound was piled over an errant spatula.  Digging that out reduced the whole confection in to a sticky spreading mess.  Nothing could rescue it from spreading in to a puddle in the oven.

Meanwhile, I’d been steaming the 11th remaining reserve mini Christmas pudding for lunch.  With all the disasters, the water had evaporated and the pudding bowl welded itself to the base.  The pudding was still edible but the bowl has gone to that place where redundant cooking equipment is buried.

Thank heavens there are still another 10 puddings to sustain us for the next few months.

The great news of the day was that one of the local beekeepers delivered a swarm to the new hive in the garden: there should be honey for tea in a year’s time, barring more disasters!






Solutions galore!

Huge thanks to everyone who responded to my “opening” dilemma.  Your solutions worked and the key was to ensure that my wonderful assistant  read the packaging.  To be fair to him, the words “Peel to open” were quite small and not obvious but we got there on the next attempt!

Highly Dangerous Comestible

                                                      Highly dangerous comestible.

To whom it may concern,

I wish to raise a formal complaint.

At Christmas 2019 I was the recipient of many magnificent gifts from my long-term and much esteemed friend, Maggie.  Amongst this treasure trove of delicacies was a container of Gentlemen’s Relish (one of my favourite comestibles).
I had investigated this precious gift on frequent previous occasions but could not discover any method of opening the receptacle.  Last night, in the midst of the Corona Crisis and without any other possible sustenance, I once again endeavoured to lay siege  to the container.
I commenced with a sharp knife and only managed to chip the exterior so desisted from fear of damage and injury to my person.  Despite its construction in very heavy duty plastic, I next tried a tin opener (several times) with no better success.  Eventually I resorted to a pair of sturdy kitchen shears.  The result was more heartening with plastic fragmentation  possible at each determined cut.  Although I’m blind and so could not see the progress, I could hear it as the pieces of plastic rebounded around the kitchen with considerable velocity.
I was eventually able to partially open the indestructible container and excavate some of the contents.  These proved satisfyingly delicious but dissatisfyingly insufficient in offsetting the considerable energy expended in gaining access and subsequently vacuuming the kitchen to recover the plastic shards.
I appreciate that this may all be part of a calorie controlled diet: namely, it takes more energy to access the food than it provides when digested.  Notwithstanding which, I raise this complaint as there were no markings on the culpable container to designate it as inaccessible for a disabled consumer or any other person of right mind!
I attach an image which may be used in evidence.
The safer alternative is to drain a tin of anchovies, add a knob of butter and the juice of half a lemon plus a good grind of black pepper.  Whiz the mix to a paste and spread on hot toast – delicious!


An alternative tart


Whoever named these fish as pollocks did them no favours!  Yet this white sea fish is a good sustainable alternative when our favourite cod and haddock stocks are less plentiful. We bought online a super selection of fish from Sound Seafood in Plymouth fish pie mix, kippers, sole and much more.  All arrived safely chilled in a polystyrene insulated box (makes a great filler at the bottom of heavy plant pots).

Amongst these treasures were a pair of smoked pollock fillets.

They made an excellent alternative to the usual smoked salmon or trout that I use in my basic tart. But these two fillets first needed gentle cooking so went into the microwave on Defrost for about five minutes until they felt hot.

I’d already lined a tart tin with pastry (confession: shop-bought puff), pricked the bottom and lined it with foil.  Twelve minutes at Gas 5 and it was ready for the foil to be removed and the base painted with beaten egg.  Another three minutes in the oven for a waterproofed bottom!

The pastry case had rested for an hour before I flaked the fish over the base.  Four eggs, two teaspoons of horseradish sauce, salt and pepper, a tablespoon of fennel fronds from the garden and about 300 ml double cream were whizzed together and poured over the fish.

A final 30 minutes in the oven before resting for a couple of minutes while I knocked up a salad of tomato and avocado dressed with vinaigrette to add freshness and colour to the plate.  Lunch done and a new ingredient discovered.

Next time, perhaps the smoked pollock might be elevated to a kedgeree!


Omissions and improvisations


Clearing out the freezer and store cupboards brings surprises and challenges.  This week, a pack of Spanish dried ham emerged blinking into the daylight from a Christmas past.

I confess to using de-frosted bought shortcrust pastry to make the tart.  Don’t bother with the palaver of baking paper and beans when baking blind.  Simply fit the pastry to the tin, prick the bottom with a fork and cover all the pastry (edges included) with a sheet of cooking foil.  Press down firmly to both shape the pastry to the tin and provide masking from the heat.  Cook for 10-12 minutes at Gas 6/200C before removing the foil.  My tip for avoiding a soggy bottom is to paint the inside of the tart pastry with beaten egg and then return to the oven for about three minutes.  Then leave the pastry case to rest for an hour or so.  The residue of the original egg plus three others were beaten with cream to add to the tart.

That ancient ham was finely shredded to cover the pastry.  Meanwhile, six younger leeks were very finely sliced and separated into individual rings before being sweated in a little water in the microwave.  Par cooked and cooled, they topped the ham and the tart went in to the oven for half an hour, minus the eggs and cream which this over-enthusiastic blind cook had completely forgotten.  But the end product was still delicious and so much better for one’s waistline.  The languishing egg and cream mix is in the freezer in the hope it will survive for another day – no net gain on freezer space,

Peppers were charred over the gas before cooling in a plastic bag to make removing their blistered skin easier.    De-seeded and very finely sliced, the peppers were doused with vinaigrette ready to serve with the tart.  I wanted to pep up the flavour and searched for mustard seeds amongst the Indian spices.  Even though I tasted the different little round seeds, I managed to use whole coriander by mistake – and the result was even better.

The left-over peppers went into small jars, clamped with rubber seals: covered with water in a pan and gently simmered for 30 minutes.  I’m attempting bottling them for freezer-free storage in case the power goes off!  They will either be a taste of summer or pent-up botulism!  Wish me luck!





Cheer up weary fruit


If it’s getting towards the end of the week and the fruit bowl is looking a bit sorry for itself, here’s a super hot dessert.  When shopping can take too long and some food is hard to get, it makes sense to make the most of everything you have.

This hot fruit salad takes minutes to prepare from easy ingredients: 2 each apples and pears (cored and chopped to bite-size – don’t bother to peel), 2 bananas peeled and chopped, 2 oranges zested and juiced, a handful of raisins, a handful of crystallised ginger chopped.

Put all the ingredients into an ovenproof dish and add a little light brown sugar or honey if desired before stirring everything and covering with cooking foil.  Cook at Gas 6 or 200C for 40-60 minutes and serve.

Leftovers re-heat well at a medium microwave setting.  A peeled, de-seeded and chopped melon will make the hot fruit salad go further and, if you don’t have any ginger, try a cinnamon stick, star anise or some green cardamom pods for other exotic flavours.

If your other bananas have gone beyond the leopard stage, peel and cut in to chunks before freezing.  Whizz to a puree in a food processor with a teaspoonful of honey and, if necessary, re-freeze to firm up before serving.




If your self-isolating hoard of UHT milk tastes awful in tea, here’s the answer: homemade yoghurt plus the vital ingredient for a simple bread.  Two for the price of one.

The yoghurt is blissfully simple: just heat half a litre of UHT milk to 43.5 degrees Celsius and pour in to a container with a lid.  Stir a tablespoon or so of plain natural yoghurt (ideally without any additives) in to the milk.  Put on the lid and keep at the same temperature for 8-10 hours.

I’m lucky enough to have a sous-vide water bath that will maintain the pre-set temperature but you could experiment: perhaps a vacuum  flask wrapped up in a freezer bag or insulated cooler.

Pour the yoghurt through a sieve  lined with muslin and leave to drain to reach the consistency you want: the longer it drains, the less you make but the thicker it becomes.

Don’t waste the milky liquid that drains off.  Mix 250g of plain flour with 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda and a good pinch of salt.  Pour in just under 200ml of the drained liquid and form the mix into a soft dough.  Quickly knead into a rough ball and place on to a floured baking sheet.  Slash a cross into the top and cook in a pre-heated oven  at Gas 6, 200C for about 30 minutes.  Knock the bottom to check if it sounds hollow – if not, return it to the oven upside down for a couple of minutes.  Eat the same day with homemade soup or it will toast well for breakfast.

You can experiment  with the yoghurt: try adding orange zest at the start , add milk powder for thicker results.

When life feels tough, it can be very satisfying to try something new, that’s created with the simplest ingredients and that you can perfect to impress family and friends when you see them next.



Good simple food makes isolation more bearable

Being quarantined at home  gives me more time to cook.  I’ve been inspired to share this recipe by Orly, one of the semi-finalists for the 2020 Holman prize for blind ambition being run by San Francisco’s LightHouse organisation.  It might just cheer you up!

The ingredients aren’t too difficult to find and the result is delicious:

chicken with tarragon and lemon.

3 onions peeled and diced

5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 knob butter

10 (1kg) chicken thighs, skinned

1 large glass dry white wine

Zest of one lemon

2 chicken stock cubes

1 tablespoon fresh French tarragon leaves, chopped

3 heaped teaspoons cornflour

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste.


Sauté the onions and garlic.

Place the chicken thighs in the pan and cover with the wine, a mug of water, add the lemon zest, stock cubes, tarragon leaves and bring to a very gentle simmer.

Cook for two hours on the smallest gas ring, on a heat defuser, on the lowest setting on an electric ring or in the oven on a very low temperature.

Remove the chicken thighs.

Slake the cornflour with a little water and whisk into the juices in the pan until thickened.  Add the lemon juice and season to taste.

Pour over the chicken.

My tips:

Accompanied by some green vegetables and rice or potato, this is enough for 10 portions and freezes well to make dishes for the future when you want something  without slogging in the kitchen.  Just de-frost in the fridge overnight and then heat in the microwave on a low/medium power.

Dried tarragon will also work well but use about a heaped teaspoonful.


Perfect timing: cooking for mind, body and soul

In 2017, my Baking Blind project won the inaugural  international Holman prize for blind people with ambition.  Now another blind cook has even better ideas and seeks your support for the 2020 competition for which she is already a semi-finalist.

When all of us are facing the current pandemic, Orly plans to show how good nutritional food can contribute to our physical and mental health. Orly says, “I want to create, empower, and inspire, through a cooking show series on Youtube; to also create an accessible app available to all across the world with guest speakers and recipes to delight and nourish our mind, body, and soul. “

She is uniquely qualified herself having recently graduated as a chef and survived her own difficult background: “I am a recovering opiate addict, who experienced situations of domestic abuse and poor health.  Please go on YouTube and click the like button and share, on my 90 second video to help me strengthen my application.

She’s also just launching her new website:

When so many of us are stuck at home and not having a great time, it’s worth a couple of minutes to support Orly and give her ambitions a further boost.


Blindness for Beginners


Maribel and I compared notes about living with visual impairment when we cooked together in her Melbourne home and she gave me her top tips for surviving blindness

Now she has published her latest book, “Blindness for Beginners”, to share her knowledge and experience with anyone facing the life-changing impact of sight loss.  Maribel reflects on her own experiences, how she made the adjustments to a different way of life and offers masses of sound practical advice.  Her own positive personality and sense of humour shine through.

And you don’t have to be visually impaired to get the best from her book: much of Maribel’s insight, wisdom and determination to make the very best of life applies to everyone.  Her own story  is full of triumphs, joy and fun.   She has already been featured on Australian TV and radio while writing regularly for the American blind community.

“Blindness for Beginners” by Maribel Steel is available through Amazon and she is working on the audio version that will soon be available through Audible.