Have I drunk my last can of Cain’s Bitter?

The observant amongst those who read these things may have noticed that occasionally somewhere in one of the photos there will be lurking a can of Cain’s Bitter. There have been a few times when I been enthused enough to give the can a picture all to itself and last night a can of Cain’s IPA was grabbing centre stage. So you could be forgiven for thinking that in the same way that Keith Floyd liked to have a good glass of red wine to hand when cooking I like to be able to curl my fingers around a can of Cain’s Bitter.

This evening I stopped off at the supermarket to pick up my supper and I went round to the back of the store to collect up my four cans for the evening. It was disconcerting to find the shelf empty. It was not even a case of them running out – the space was filled some other cans and all sign of Cain’s having been sold from there was gone.

I then remembered a headline from The Liverpool Echo a few weeks ago that made some mention of the brewery closing its doors.

For those who don’t know the brewery is in the heart of Liverpool in a great old Victorian building from where they have been making beer for near on a century. There are rumours of an underground lake under the site from where water is pumped to add its special flavour to the beer. Over the years it has been owned by various breweries that have changed their name as the industry has moved on. For the last fifteen years it has been The Cain’s Brewery and I have been making a great effort to ensure they stay in business.

Needless to say part of the weekend will be spent scouring the Wirral for another source of my favourite take home beer.

In the meantime and by way of consolation I have stuffed some slivers of garlic into holes made in a small leg of lamb. This has now been surrounded with potato and is roasting peacefully in the oven. I will be basting it with a tart sauce before eating with relish.

Ravioli stuffed with asparagus

Shortly after the meal I described a few days ago when I celebrated my 25th birthday I asked for and was given by my sisters a pasta machine. It is one of those stainless steel devices through which the pasta dough is passed over and over again through an ever diminishing gap between two rollers until the right thickness is reached. I have used it three times.

The first time was soon after I got it and I made some mushroom ravioli with a mushroom sauce from a Raymond Blanc book called Cooking with Friends. This was before children and I made it for the two of us. Although it was very good it involved a lot of work.

The next time was with small children. I thought it was something they could participate in, turning the handle and helping to feed through the dough and watching it turn into tagliatelle. The children were not very interested in helping and then complained that this wasn’t real pasta when a meal was produced for them.

This evening I got the machine out again. I was home over the afternoon to help watch over revision during half term. Some of that was done but I kept getting distracted by a hole in the wall just opposite the kitchen were a family of Great Tits are nesting. The bastard cat has spotted them there and if he could balance on top of the wall he could probably just about reach down with his right paw to take a swipe at the young as they make their way out in a day or so’s time. We will have to keep an eye on him.

Late in the afternoon I asked the kids what they wanted for tea. I had in mind a chilli made with lamb and black beans. That was dismissed out of hand and elder daughter declared that she wanted ravioli. She had in mind one of those plastic packets from the supermarket. I ignored her and went back to the new cook we have in house called Limoncello and Linen Water by Tessa Kiros.

As I leaved through it I cam across a recipe for ravioli stuffed with ricotta and asparagus. I thought on the pasta machine down in the basement covered in dust and thought ‘Sod it! I’ll show her ravioli.

It was not too difficult to make. The only thing that took time was stuffing the small packets of pasta. Picking up half a teaspoon of stuffing, wetting down the edges of the pasta, folding it over and pinching it down. It was the sort of job that you would have thought eager young fingers would want a go at – but those fingers were too engrossed with Hollyoaks.

That didn’t stop it all getting eaten.



Cooking a cormorant

I have a recipe for cormorant. Despite the lack of use it will have in the Cottage I set it out here:-

Having shot your cormorant, hold it well away from you as you carry it home; these birds are exceedingly verminous and the lice are said to be not entirely host-specific. Hang up by the feet with a piece of wire, soak in petrol and set on fire. This treatment both removes most of the feathers and kills the lice. When the smoke has cleared away, take the cormorant down and cut off the beak. Send this to the local Conservancy Board who, if you are in the right area, will give you 3/6d. or sometimes 5/- for it. Bury the carcase, preferably in a light sandy soil, and leave it there for a fortnight. This is said to improve the flavour by removing, in part at least, the taste of rotting fish. Dig up and skin and draw the bird. Place in a strong salt and water solution and soak for forty-eight hours. Remove, dry, stuff with whole unpeeled onions – the onion skins are supposed to bleach the meat to a small extent, so that it is very dark brown instead of being entirely black. Simmer gently in sea-water, to which two tablespoons of chloride of lime have been added, for six hours. This has a further tenderising effect. Take out of the water and allow to dry, meanwhile mixing up a stiff paste of methylated spirit and curry powder. Spread this mixture liberally over the breast of the bird. Finally roast in a very hot oven for three hours. The result is unbelievable. Throw it way. Not even a starving vulture would eat it.

From W.M.W. Fowler’s Countryman’s Cooking. Fowler also has useful things to say about the cooking and eating of crab.  After talking of the tedious business of picking all the meat out of the shell and claws. The proper cookery books will tell you all the weird and wonderful bodge-ups you can make with the result of your labours. Me – I’d send for Lettie!


Enraged chicken

Almost 25 years ago I went on a family holiday to Tuscany. We stayed in a series of two villas in the hills outside of Sienna and it was the first time I saw flat leafed parsley. I celebrated my 25th birthday there and drank too much Dutch Ginever the night before over a barbecue where we ate proper Italian sausages that were thick with meat.

On the evening of my birthday we ate at a nearby restaurant. We sat outside and they produced a special throne like chair for me to sit in and the food came in waves to the table. There was no menu to choose from and we just left it to our hosts to produce the food and bring it to the table. It was one of those meals that would be good to go back to to taste again.

I still have and use every day the chopping board I was given that birthday. It is worn now and slightly concave with the years of having a sharp knife pressing down on its surface. I also still have the great steel pan that I bought from a market stall in Sienna.

When we were there I used it to cook chicken with a tomato and red wine sauce. The recipe came from a book called A Table in Tuscany written and illustrated by Leslie Forbes. For some reason a copy of the book was there in the villa. I can remember buying the chickens with their heads and feet still on. They were chopped up and cooked in the steel pot with the red wine that was delivered to the front door of the villa each morning.