Another ham sandwich…

Just over 2 years ago I was sent on a Ham Carving Masterclass at Lunya in Liverpool.

There were just over ten of us on the course. We sat on a series of tables surrounding the master ham carver who was to give us the lesson. We were shown a slide show of happy black footed pigs guzzling on acorns and we spent time holding a very sharp knife and trying to get to grips with the art of cutting very fine strips, always with some fat, so that the fat melts on the tongue sweetening the salty punch of the meat. In between times there was salt water beer to be drunk.

Over the course of the evening I sort of got the hang of it and I came away with a small pack of suitably thin slices of ham.

I am not sure what the master ham carver would make of the rather hacked about leg that is now lurking in the basement.

It came as a gift just over a year ago and even as it went into the basement it was noted that the best before date was almost upon us.

There were people over for New Year’s Eve and that seemed like a good excuse to rescue it from the basement to see how it had matured. By then the use by date was many months past but that appeared to have little or no impact which given as they are supposed to mature over time is only right.

We had a good few slices from it on New Years Eve and since then it has provided a couple of piled platefuls for another two parties. But most days it has done sturdy work in providing the filling for my lunchtime sandwiches.

After 31 days I am almost getting to the end of it. Every evening I bring it out of the basement to carve myself a small plateful of slices. Now I am having to bend the knife around awkward angles to get anything like a decent slice.

By the the weekend it will be done and I will have to spend time scrapping out the last few nuggets of deep ruby red meat for a good bean stew with sausages.

In the meantime I have been calming the nerves by listening to Willie Nelson.

A fondue

I am lucky enough to have two fondue sets which spend most of their time unused and unloved in the basement.

As best I can recall one of them arrived as a birthday present about 30 years ago and the second came as a wedding present. It is of course a once in a lifetime occurrence to have the need for two fondue sets both at the same time. But they are there just in case.

I used just the one this evening for a cheese fondue.

The recipe came courtesy of a book of Keith Floyd’s greatest hits. It appears on a well scuffed page 115 which is some sort of testament to the the number of times it has been referred to over the years.

Over the course of the afternoon I spent time mending a window in the greenhouse before sweeping it out of its leaves and then thinking about what seeds to plant for the veg plot.


It is funny but I often talk about wanting to open a restaurant of some sort and then someone asks me what sort of food it would sell and I am stumped for an answer.

But if pushed I would have say Spanish.

There re a couple of reasons for this. The first is the TV series on Spanish Food that Keith Floyd did about 25 years ago now. I watched every episode and videoed them as well. The video has since been transcribed to a DVD so I can if needs be slip away for a quick fix.

Inevitably there was a book of the TV series and I duly acquired that as well.

Keith Floyd was always fairly free and easy in the kitchen but he seemed more so in Spain and that seemed to bring out the best in the cooking. Good ingredients cooked without fuss with a glass of wine always at hand to help with the chopping and the frying.

In one episode he made a bucket of gazpacho on the beach in Torremolinos with a hand mixer that looked more like an outboard motor.

The second reason for me coming up with Spanish food is that at about the same time the Floyd series was on television good friends moved to Madrid so inevitably some holidays were spent over there. This was when I developed a mild addiction to Paxcharan – but it was also the food.

The first time we went was for Christmas and we did our shopping for the big day in a small local market. Although we were staying in a nondescript suburb of Madrid the market was heaving with good food. We bought a small turkey a      nd also some hake – Merluza – I can still remember where the stall was in the market although I can’t now remember how we cooked it.

I know we had difficulties with the turkey – chiefly because we spent two hours cooking it under a grill before we realised something was wrong. The two hour delay in the cooking was critical as it gave another two hours for the unrestricted consumption of all the beer and wine that had been purchased to go with the meal.

We probably had better meals out in the city – lambs kidneys in sherry, prawns with chilli and garlic, rabbit with garlic, partridge and a plate of perfectly formed and cooked red mullet.

So by way of small tribute to the hake I bought in that market in Madrid 25 years ago I thought I would cook hake last night.

Two thick steaks were duly acquired from Wards Fish.

To cook them I started with a thick cider flavoured tomato sauce. An onion was chopped and cooked until soft in olive oil before being joined by some garlic. I then stirred in a couple of chopped tomatoes and a half bottle of strong cider. This cooked until it was thick and sludgy.

Just before we ate I dipped the hake steaks in some flour which had been well seasoned with salt and pepper. I fried them for a couple of minutes in hot olive oil before laying them in the pan with the sauce. They cooked in there for another five minutes before we ate them with fried potatoes and salad.

We listened to Animals That Swim.


It may have been that on Friday morning’s Today programme they were trying to lighten the mood and provide some distraction from the Trump nightmare that was about to enfold across the water.

So they started on a feature on the great courgette shortage.

Of course this is only a crisis if you want to eat a courgette in January. For myself I have my fill over the six weeks or so in the summer when they are in glut in the garden. Even then the best thing about them are the flowers.

But even so it transpires that snow has fallen in Spain as a consequence of which courgettes are in short supply. The talk moved swiftly on from the lack of courgettes to possible substitutes.

It transpires that a possible substitute is a cardoon. At this point ears pricked up as I was fairly sure there was a cardoon in the garden.

I went out to inspect it this afternoon and even took a couple of cuttings for cooking purposes. Back in the kitchen the cuttings looked a bit woody for cooking so I concentrated instead on the haul from the freezer in the basement.

On my occasional furtle through the freezer I have been made aware that there are a couple of rabbits in there.

I decided to put one of them to good use this evening.

It defrosted last night and I half expected there to be a high smells in the basement this morning. As it was the only smell was that which comes from too long in the freezer. It was almost enough to draw the cats.

The rabbit came wrapped in half a dozen plastic bags and I half think it was an unexpected gift from a couple of years ago.

It was duly cut up and put to good use admidst

some cooked down onion and garlic and half a bottle of white wine with herbs.