Saturday, 31 January 2015


It was Burn's Night last weekend (25th January). Haggis is compulsory eating on this day of celebrating Scottishness, and this year I decided to make my own, as authentically as possible. That, of course, means hitting the offal in a big way. I thought I might be thwarted at the first hurdle, getting hold of a sheep's pluck. The pluck is the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, and it turns out to be readily available at the casquería (offal) stalls at my local market. This surprised me, but asadura is a fairly common peasant dish round these parts. What I couldn't get was a sheep's stomach to stuff the filling into, so I had to make do with sausage casing.

Now, if you're in the US, you would have a seriously hard time getting a complete pluck, because your government deems lungs to be unfit for human consumption. I think you could make a reasonable version without the lungs, but don't tell any purists I said that.

Here's my haggis recipe, and here's the video of me making haggis.

So the drill for a formal Burn's Supper involves at least one bagpiper playing 'Scotland the Brave' (you might think there's some bravery involved in making/eating haggis), and the host or Master of Ceremonies reciting Robbie Burns' 'Address to a Haggis'. The haggis is, of course, accompanied by neeps and tatties, and a wee dram or ten.

It's really not difficult to make haggis, although it can take 5-6 hours. And remember, for a chef, every night is burns night.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Why I'll Never Post a Quinoa Recipe

Quinoa is a tiny grain that many nutritional crackpots like to describe as a 'superfood'. Although it only grows in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, in recent years it has found its way into Western countries. I've tried it several times, and I have to say I'm not impressed. I mean, it's okay, but the way some people talk about it you would expect the most thrilling food experience of your life.

Here's why I don't use it:

  • It only grows in South America, and therefore has to travel halfway around the world to get to me
  • Its price has trebled over the last 20 years, putting it out of reach of the people for whom it used to be a staple
  • The marketers insist it is pronounce 'keen-wah', but I can never bring myself to say it like that. The name is Spanish, and Spanish is pretty much a phonetic language. So it should be pronounced 'kwin-oh-ah'
  • It seems to have little or no flavour - you might as well eat cous-cous

Friday, 2 January 2015

Free-From. Fad?

I feel sorry for people with food intolerances, I really do. It must be horrible not to be able to eat a slice of toast, or a really good pie made by me, because it contains gluten. Or to be killed by a peanut.

Last month, the lovely and always-right European Community introduced a new regulation concerning  the provision of allergen information to consumers of unpackaged food products. Meaning any food offered in a café or restaurant, or sold loose in something like a bakery or deli. It is a huge burden on the industry (hands up those who are not surprised), involving staff training, information displayed on websites, menus and menu boards. Guess who's going to pay for this? Yes, you, the consumer. But you can't argue about it - consumers have a right to know whether what they order might kill them, right?

The legislation covers 14 allergens - the usual suspects (gluten, lactose, etc) - plus linseed (lupin), which I've only ever come across as an oil used by painters.

All well and good (ish) - if you know you have an allergy to something, you should be able to find out reasonably easily whether what you're about to buy is safe for you.

But here's a thing. Sales of things like gluten-free bread are rising rapidly. Non-coeliacs are buying this stuff because they believe it might be better for them. Other 'free-from' products are also seeing growth in sales.

And here's another thing. I defriended someone on Facebook a few months ago. She had posted about how she'd just carried out allergy testing on all seven of her kids. How? Simples. The kid holds out his/her left hand and you place the thing you wish to test in it. He/she sticks his/her right arm out horizontally. The tester presses down on the right arm. If there is no resistance and the arm can be pushed down easily, it means the kid is allergic to whatever is in the left hand.

I queried this. Does it work with liquids? 'Sure - just put it in a small glass'. Hmm. Glass is pretty inert, how can the body tell what's inside it? 'It just can'.

So this woman is telling her kids they don't need to eat Brussels sprouts or whatever else they don't like because they have an allergy. And for the rest of their lives, they'll probably believe it, on the basis of an idiot test.

And the poor food vendors will have to deal with this forever.