The nineteenth day of July in the nineteenth year of the millennium beginning in 2000, a special day – our nineteenth wedding anniversary.

A picture of me with the prawns with flames from the flambe with Pernod

The final stage for this excellent starter, flambe with Pernod or Ricard

We don’t usually celebrate our civil wedding as it doesn’t mean much to either Petronela or me (memorable mainly for the unusual happenings associated with it); we celebrate the anniversaries of our church wedding three months later, on 29th October.

Christmas dinner

It was not ‘all the 19s’ which made us make an exception this year but the fact that our 2018 Christmas dinner has been sitting in the freezer since December. Both of us were struck by ‘the bug’ rampant at the time and could handle neither cooking nor eating. We did intend to make it our Easter feast but unexpected guests put paid to that.

Prawns flambéed

The highlight of the feast was what we think is the best starter ever: giant prawns flamed in Pernod (or Ricard). The recipe comes from a much-missed blog – My French Heaven. The prawns had sat for a while in oil with chopped garlic ready for flambé when we were struck down so the whole thing was bunged in the freezer. It didn’t suffer for its 6 month plus freeze.

Nor did the venison steaks for Petronela and wild duck breasts for me – washed down with an excellent Romanian Murfatlar Feteasca Neagra wine: 3 Hectare.


I like the taste of kale but have never liked the texture, the stalks have been too tough for me to enjoy it. I like brussel sprouts as I cook them, and not just at Christmas – halved and steamed for 15 minutes.

Recently I came across kaylettes, a cross between kale and brussel sprouts, and the first time I cooked them I did the same as I do with brussel sprouts. I very much liked the flavour but thought there must be a better way.

The second time I cooked them I took the suggestion of stir frying them, tossing them in butter in the wok. Not a success for me, again a good taste but those stalks just too tough.

Having a few remaining, I thought they would go with a simple prawn pilaf so tried steaming for 5 minutes before tossing for a few minutes in butter in the wok. Cracked it – for me; tasty but no tough stalks (seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper in the wok).

I think they’ll become regular in our meals. They went particularly well with prawns and I think they will go with other fishy things (which brussel sprouts do not, for me). I made the pilaf a bit spicy with a shake of hot chilli pepper on top of a grating of parmesan. A simple, successful meal.

Christmas shopping in Leeds yesterday; it’s a great city to shop in. I find shopping on line no fun at all.

Carp for New Year (Revelion)

A handsome 1.5kg carp bought in Leeds Kirkgate market for New Year's eve dinner

A handsome 1.5kg carp bought in Leeds Kirkgate market for New Year’s eve dinner

Although I did a bit of Christmas shopping it was mainly to begin to provision for New Year as it is Petronela’s birthday (so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition) on New Year’s Eve (Revelion for Romanians, and as big a celebration as for the Scots)  and we have Romanian friends coming to stay. (more…)

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Rack of Ballinwillin wild boar

Venison last year for Christmas dinner so I wondered what I could do for something different this year. I settled on wild boar from Ballinwillin House Farm in County Cork, Ireland. It arrived today, just as requested, brought by DHL (and what an excellent tracking system they have!). There are only two of us so I ordered a four bone rack; it looks great. I especially like the look of that black-speckled skin over the substantial layer of white fat. (I also ordered some belly and both wild boar and venison sausages, so bringing the total cost up to the level meriting free delivery). I will, of course, let you know how it tastes on the day.

A case of stouts and porters (more…)

Some month’s ago I removed the requirement for me to approve comments before they appeared and until now that had not resulted in a lot of spam comments. Sadly, over the past couple of days this has changed and, from the content, I suspect that it is originating in Romania or with a Romanian. I don’t think it a coincidence that it has happened after commenting on a Romanian blog – though I’m sure that blogger has nothing to do with it. Most of these spam comments were on past pages with content about Romania. It’s simple enough to remove it and that I have done, but it’s a pain. For some reason they have not been picked up by the usually excellent spam filter; the spammer seems to be ‘commenting’ from Facebook, which I hardly use. I hope it will stop. Va rog, sa va opriti!

Mackerel – don’t overcook (more…)

Although I drank Pernod and Ricard regularly in the 1960s, probably trying to capture some of the absynthed minds of Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and the like without risking LSD, I’d never thought of cooking with them until I saw Stefane’s ‘Crevette au Ricard‘ on My French Heaven. As some of you will know I adopted them as my Christmas Dinner starter and that turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of 2012. The Pernod flambe adds some indefinable taste, atmosphere, feeling to a very simple dish but surprisingly it cannot be identified as aniseed or liquorice.

Colourful poster for absinth

You can buy this poster from Amazon

As a result I ended up with an almost full bottle of Pernod in the cupboard. What to do with it?

It’s not so full now! I’ve been drinking it, in what I believe is the basic French way – 1:5 with water. I do like it, though at this dilution you have to be a bit careful (unless, of course, you want to get ‘smashed’).

However, I also started to do a bit of research on internet and found that Pernod Ricard themselves had recommended ‘shrimp’ (in the UK these are tiny things found most famously in Morecambe bay; I think it was about what we call prawns)

What 'shrimp' means to most British people

What ‘shrimp’ means to most British people

flambe’d in Pernod at a cooking school in New York. It was described in an article by Roberta Roberti on:

I presume Roberta is a staff member, writer or something, at Epicurean but the article is a good read and there were two recipes, including the flambe’d prawns.

Although I haven’t made the one given on Epicurean I can be pretty certain I’d prefer Stefane’s simpler recipe. It seems to me that serving the prawn on a bed of fennel is putting it with something too close in flavour to Pernod not to mask the extremely subtle flavour from the flambe. But the Anise Flavored Cream with Fresh Orange Salad, the other recipe given, looks worth a try and I’ll almost certainly have a go at it for our next guests.

Yesterday I went into the city of Leeds to do a bit of Christmas shopping, but high on my list was a visit to the market and the excellent fish stalls there (they have survived, probably thanks to the Afro-Carribean community which makes the city such a vibrant place). I was after the basis for the first course of my planned Christmas dinner. Unfortunately the rest of the market no longer compares with those in France so this was all I was seeking there.

If you saw my post of a couple of days ago when I outlined the planned menu, you’ll realise there will be quite a lot of work there. When I detail it you could well find there’s even more work than you thought, as I’m going back to classic French cuisine methods and no short cuts (the sauce will take a few hours to make).

For this reason I wanted a first course that was quick and which would provide a massive taste change to the next course. I didn’t want anything cold, but if possible a bit of a Christmas ‘spectacular’. Then I remembered a recent post on My French Heaven which seemed to be just what I was after.

Picture of a plate of raw prawns

I guess for many people they don’t look so appetising like this. To see them in their Christmas colours, which they will assume when cooked, follow the link below to the recipe

I won’t repeat the recipe – just pop over to My French Heaven by following this link: Crevettes au Ricard. Don’t be put off if you don’t read French; Stephane, the author, repeats all his recipes in English.

In fact I couldn’t find Ricard so it will be Pernod. Nor could I find Espelette pepper so I’ll probably use dash of Tabasco, which is about the same ‘hotness’.

So, it’s quick; apart from a few minutes to make the marinade a day before, it’s just five or six minutes on the griddle. It should be ‘spectacular’, as any flambe is. I’ve never flambe’d with Pernod or Ricard before so it’ll also be interesting. In fact I’ve never eaten anything flambe’d in an anis liquor before, but I trust Stephane.

More about the main course later.