Category Archives: On the Kitchen Table

When did you last eat Mutton?

Other than the occasional weekly pie at the football, and the meat there may be subject to some debate, it must have been a while.  But a recent supply of succulent diced mutton from our good friends at Harris Farm Meats, had us scouring the recipes.  We came up with Mutton Kabsa, and one pot cooking on the hob is always good for me.


Firstly here’s what you need, and if you prepare the ingredients beforehand it really is a doddle:

2 medium onions, sliced; half tsp ginger paste; 500g diced mutton; salt to taste; zest of an orange; one large, or two small, potatoes cut into wedges; half tsp black pepper powder; half tsp cardamom, ground; half tsp cinnamon; tbsp tomato paste; 2 tomatoes, finely chopped; one and half cups rice, soaked; 2 cups shredded carrot; and for the topping – third cup flaked almonds, toasted; handful pine nuts and crispy fried onion.

Heat some extra virgin Scottish rapeseed oil in a wok and fry the onion, adding the ginger paste to saute when the onion begins to brown.  Add the mutton and brown on oil sides.

Add the salt, orange zest, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, tomato paste and tomato, and cook through.

When the oil rises to the surface add 1 litre water, cover and cook slowly (or as the recipe says, on a medium flame…).  When meat half done add the spuds and cook through.

Remove the meat from the pan and place on a baking tray and broil for 10 mins in the oven.  Here I’d suggest adding sufficient juice from the pan to cover the meat, letting it stay tender and moist, resting in a slow oven.

In the remainder of the liquid add the rice and carrot.  Cover and cook until rice 3/4 done and water absorbed.  Leave it for a further 10 mins.

Dish out the rice in serving platter, add the meat and potato, sprinkle with the almonds, pine nuts and  fried onion.  Stand back, serve and enjoy.  A glass of milk-from-your-childhood, the stuff that leaves a stain on the glass, fresh from the farm gate at Thorntonhall Ice Cream, completes the meal.

Strikes me this would be good with goat too.


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A rare treat

It was intended for Sunday Lunch but events intervened.  It might seem a bit extravagant for a Monday after work but really we couldn’t wait to put this recipe to the test.  Let me bring to you Goat Kelantan.


We are very fortunate in these parts to have easy access to Harris Farm Meats.  Not content with producing delicious mutton and rare breed pork, the lovely Ruth Harris and her family have been nurturing and breeding goats for the past year or so, and it’s going down a treat with recipes and suggestions being shared on social media.

First up, here’s what you need:

750g diced meat; 4 tbsp Scottish rapeseed oil; 2 tsp tamarind pulp; 4 stalks lemongrass; 1 cup water (I’ve used bottled the chemical smell of the local supply being unsuitable for whisky, or goat); 1 cup coconut milk; half tsp sugar; 1 tsp salt.

For the marinade – 1 tsp turmeric; 1 tsp chilli powder; 1 tbsp sugar; half tsp salt.

And for the spice paste –  4 cashew nuts; 2 cm sliced ginger; 9 dried chillies; 6 cloves garlic; 3 fresh red chillies; 5 shallots.

The marinade is first.  In a bowl mix the ingredients from the second list and rub well into the meat.  Set aside for an hour, or more.

The spice paste can be made either with the aid of a blender or pestle & mortar.  After soaking the chillies in water, cut the chillies into lengths.  Halve the garlic cloves, and the shallots; slice the red chillies.  Four cashews is just a tad precise – chuLeave itck a wee handful in.  With Urchins to feed I’ve eased back on the heat from the above.  Blend all the ingredients, using a drop of oil.  Set aside.

Once the marinade has matured and the paste made, heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the spice paste for 5 mins to release the aromas.  Add the tamarind and the lemongrass, using only the bottom third, outer layer removed, and inner part bruised.  Stir-fry for 3 mins.  Add the water, stir and cook for a further 3 mins.  Then add in the meat, coconut milk, sugar and salt.  Bring to simmer and transfer to casserole dish.

Leave it to cook slowly in a low oven for a couple of hours, whilst you head off to a music class.  On return, starving weans to feed, serve hot, topped with remaining gravy.

Not unexpectedly the reaction was mixed around the table, but these days if there’s only one whining I don’t like that it counts very much as a Yes Chef!  Too much chilli, moaned Boy Urchin.  And he’s not wrong; if I were to do it again I’d probably leave out the heat altogether, for there’s enough flavour in the other ingredients not to need to need it.

More importantly Ruth’s deliciously tender goat meat does not need it, falling apart, succulent.  Or as Girl Urchin said, when we can we have that again, and that indeed is very high praise.  Mind you I do have a recipe for Moroccan Goat looking very tempting.


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Love Cake

Most of us do, but this is a love cake, Persian Love Cake, and it comes from Yasmin Khan’s The Saffron Tales, popping up on t’interwebby.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to make room for The Saffron Tales before long.


Boy Urchin it was who prompted a wee spell with the mixing bowl, keen to extend his lessons, or more likely keen to eat cake.  It’s largely his own work, finished off before breakfast.  Sadly I’ll have to wait until the school bus returns before sampling, so no tasting notes just yet.

Firstly, as always, the essentials:

200g unsalted butter; 150g caster sugar; 4 eggs; 12 cardamom pods; 100g plain flour, sifted; 275g ground almonds; zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon; 1 tbsp rose water; 1 tsp baking powder; pinch of fine sea salt.  And for the drizzle topping – 2tbsp caster sugar; juice of half a lemon; half tbsp rose water.  Finally the icing and decorations – 150g icing sugar; juice of a lemon; handful of pistachios, roughly blitzed; scattering of rose petals.

Pre-heat oven to 160C/Gas3.  Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar, then when thoroughly combined beat in the eggs.

Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and work with pestle.  Discard the pods and grind the seeds finely before adding to the mixture, along with the flour, almonds, lemon zest and juice, rose water, baking powder and salt.  Mix well.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 45 mins, checking the middle before removing.

By the time the cake is due out you will have prepared the drizzle topping.  Melt the caster sugar, in the lemon juice and rose water.  Put the hot cake on a wire rack, still in the tin, and poke holes over the surface with a cocktail stick before drizzling with the syrup.

Once completely cool make the icing and spoon over the cake before finishing with the pistachios and rose petals.

Wait patiently for school bus.  Go on had a bit of love cake to the smiles round the kitchen table when the family gathers for tea.  It’s as easy as it sounds.

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One for the children

When can I learn to cook?  A plaintive call across the dinner table.  But not from Girl Urchin, oh no, for she’s quite happy with mixing bowls and beaters and licking chocolate spoons; no this was her brother.  He’d been more than a kitchen assistant for his sister’s recent easter cake – and I’m in big trouble for not getting a picture of that one and a recipe down for you.  Not content with making a cup of tea and putting milk on his cereal, he’s looking to do a bit more.

Chocolate Butterfly Cakes.  A good place to start, and one that involves some finger-licking bowl cleaning.  It also comes with more trouble for your host as the accompanying picture here is straight from the book.  There is a photo of the end result but it remains in the camera, which is now heading off to the Northern Wastes, leaving a period of quiet reflection here at Grasshopper Towers.  And they’ve taken the cakes with them.


Anyway, let’s start with the list of the necessary:

8 tbsp. soft margarine; 100g caster sugar; 150g self-raising flour; 2 large eggs; 2 tbsp. cocoa powder; 25g plain chocolate, melted; icing sugar for dusting.  And for the filling 6 tbsp. butter, softened; 175g icing sugar; 25g plain chocolate, melted.

And the instructions, ideal for your average 10 year old who of course weighs and measure precisely:

Put 12 paper baking cases in a muffin pan, or 12 double cases on a baking sheet.

Put the margarine, sugar, flour, eggs and cocoa in a large bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, beat together until just smooth.  Beat in the melted chocolate.  Spoon the mixture into the paper cases, filling them 3/4 full.

Bake the cupcakes in a pre-heated oven, 180c/gas4, for 15 minutes or until springy to the touch.  Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the filling, put the butter in a bowl and beat until fluffy.  Sift in the icing sugar and beat together until smooth.  Add the melted chocolate and beat until well mixed.

When the cupcakes are cold, use a serrated knife to cut a circle from the top of each cake and then cut each circle in half.  Spread or pipe a little of the buttercream into the centre of each cupcake and press the 2 semicircular halves into it at an angle to resemble butterfly wings.  Dust with a little icing sugar before serving.

On reflection it might be best to make your cream slightly thin and to play with a piping bag – spreading thicker cream with a knife proved tricky.  But the end result was quite delicious and I suspect they may not survive the drive north to be proudly presented on arrival.

It doesn’t end there though, for I’ve had an assistant with the soup and the rolls.  Scraping the carrots needs a bit of practice but we’ll have him peeling the tatties before long.  Bread-making too is a longer project, after recoiling at getting the hands in and getting mucky.  But anything to do with weighing and measuring is fun; as is cutting the dough into rolls.  Measuring out the spices for the soup proved much more up his street than chopping the garlic.  Thankfully the soup and rolls have been left on the kitchen table, and I can guarantee there will be none left when they return.

One day we’ll have a meal prepared and presented by The Urchins, jointly and collectively, without squabbling, and packed with flavour.  All we’ll have to do is clean up the debris, after scoffing the goodies of course.  And at this early stage I’m pretty sure we’ll be well fed.

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The best date cake in the world ever, and the easiest

That’s the boast of Dan Lepard, who puts his name to this recipe.  I came across it when rain stopped play, so to speak.  On a book forum I have the habit of frequenting one contributor mentioned a cake, in much the same way the cricket commentary on the radio comes into it’s own when there is no play on the field.  I begged a link to the recipe.  And the beauty is it also happens to be the easiest cake to make, ever.


Here’s what you need:

200g chopped dates; 50g tamarind paste; 250g unsalted butter; 150g dark brown sugar; 2 large eggs; 275g plain flour; 2 tsp soda bicarb; 175g shelled walnuts, roughly chopped; 150g icing sugar; seeds of 6-8 cardamom pods, finely ground; juice of half lemon.

Knowing I was pretty much covered for all the necessary it seemed a fine wee project whilst the week’s bread was rising; the soup cauldron burbling.  The only change was the need to replace walnuts with pecans.  Fortunately the regular supply of soft and succulent medjool dates had remained unopened for a day or two.  Cardamom in the icing is a master stroke.  As with most things at Grasshopper Towers the icing sugar is unrefined.

And here’s how to go about it:

Line the base and sides of a deep, 18cm cake tin; heat oven to 180C/gas 4.  Put the dates, tamarind paste and 300ml water in a pan and bring to boil.  Boil for a minute, remove from heat, add the butter, and set aside for 10 mins to cool as the butter melts.  How easy is that?  None of your creaming together, endless beating and folding in the flour malarkey.  Add the brown sugar, stir, then stir in the eggs until smooth.  Whisk in the flour and bicarb, then stir in the nuts.  All in one pot, with one spoon.  No mess, well not much.

Spoon the batter into the cake tin and bake for about an hour, or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.  Remove and leave to cool.  When cold, make a thick, smooth icing with the icing sugar, cardamom and lemon juice, a little water if needed, and spoon over the cake till it dribbles.  A few scattered rose petals finishes it off.

And the verdict?  Thumbs up from Girl Urchin, who hadn’t seen the dates going in.  Too many nuts for little brother though, perhaps blitzing rather than chopping may be better.  Sticky, gooey, and quite delicious.  Must go and see how the reading’s going.



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One of the talking points of late was the subject of one’s nuts, spicy and very well nibbled.  So I’m more than happy to share my nuts around.

Here’s what you need:

100g cashew nuts; 100g macadamia nuts; 120g pecan nuts; 60g whole almonds (skin on); 1 tbsp sunflower seeds; 2 tbsp nigella seeds; 3 tbsp sunflower oil; 2 tbsp honey; 1 tsp fine salt; 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked; 2 tsp coarsely-ground black pepper; 2 tsp cayenne pepper.

You might find that you need to double the quantities next time round, your nuts never having been so popular.  Being a parsimonious type I replaced the macadamias with pistachios.  And the cupboard being devoid of honey using maple syrup proved a master-stroke.

Pre-heat oven to 170C, gas mark 3, (or something moderate on the rayburn).  Scatter all the ingredients except the pepper and cayenne in a roasting tray.  Roast for 15-17 mins, stirring occasionally, until the nuts turn dark brown.  Remove, stir in the pepper and cayenne, and taste.  Add salt if you like.  Leave to cool in the tray, stirring from time to time.  Once cool, transfer to an air-tight container.

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Festive Fare

The festive table this year was graced by what you might have heard described on some cheffy programme or another as Deconstructed Three-Brid Roast, or perhaps Bird Three Ways.  A combination of indecision and family foibles saw no agreement being reached for xmas dinner, other than fish fingers but we’ll leave them aside for the moment.

Consequently three separate poultry or game dishes gave a sample from which surely everyone could find something enjoyable.  A parcel of quail, partridge and wood-pigeon breasts duly arrived from Burnside Farm Foods.  Starve we would not.

By far the most successful was Braised Quail with apricots, currants & tamarind.  No surprise to find that one from Yotam Ottolenghi, and it his from his Jerusalem that the picture is copied.


The essential ingredients are:

4 extra-large quails, cut in half along breastbone and back (which is pretty much how they come from our friends at Burnside); 3/4 tsp dried chilli flakes; 3/4 tsp ground cumin; 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed; 1 tbsp olive oil (or Scottish rapeseed oil); 75ml white wine; 80g dried apricots, thickly sliced; 25g currants; 1.5 tbsp caster sugar; 1.5 tbsp tamarind paste; 2tbsp lemon juice; 1 tsp picked thyme leaves; salt & black pepper; 2bsp chopped mixed corainader and flat-leaf parsley, to garnish.

Anyone planning well for dinner may have read the recipe in advance and had the birds marinating in the fridge overnight.  But you’ll get away with a couple of hours whilst The Urchins are knee-deep in gift wrap, ignoring new clothes, looking for batteries or whatever.

Wipe the quails with kitchen paper and place in a mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with the chilli flakes, cumin, fennel seeds, half tsp salt and a good dose of black pepper.  Massage well with your hands, cover and leave to marinate, for at least two hours.

Heat the oil in a frying pan large enough to take the birds snugly and for which you have a lid.  Brown the birds on all sides, for about 5 minutes, till a nice golden-brown colour.

Remove the quails from the pan and discard most of the fat, leaving about half a tablespoon.  Add 300ml of water, the wine, apricots, currants, sugar, tamarind, lemon juice, thyme, more salt and pepper.  Return the quails to the pan.  They should be 3/4 covered in liquid; if not, add more water.  Bring to the boil, cover and simmer very gently for 20-25 mins, turning the birds over once or twice, until just cooked.

Lift the quails from the pan and onto a serving platter and keep warm.  If the liquid isn’t very thick, return it to a medium heat and simmer for a few minutes to reduce to a good sauce consistency.  Spoon the sauce over the quails and garnish with the coriander and parsley.

Definitely do that one again, and not just at Christmas.


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