Archive for June, 2011

Vichyssoise (cold leek and potato soup)

June 26, 2011

Today I made Julia Child’s vichyssoise soup. It was very straightforward to make, although I didn’t leave myself enough time to chill the soup. We had guests and I cut the lawn in the morning thinking it would be a nice afternoon for sitting out in the sun. As it turned out, the afternoon was wet and cloudy. However, it would be better if I had made the soup in the morning instead of cutting the grass. I accellerated the chilling by placing the soup in a steel saucepan in our steel sink, surrounded by cold water (which I changed a couple of times); I relied heavily on schoolboy physics in devising this strategy. The ingredients for this soup are potatoes, leeks, stock/wine, cream and salt. After cooking, I whizzed in the processor.

Basic ingredients for vichyssoise

While the soup was chilling, I made up some bread dough and cooked a few bread rolls in the oven for us to have with the soup. It all tasted very good indeed. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.


June 23, 2011

When I have trouble playing a passage on the piano from the music, I sometimes find that it is useful to follow the simple advice of playing the passage, perhaps just a couple of bars, 10 times over. After doing this, I either know how to play it or have a better idea of what the problem is. However, I often forget how many times I have played it and it occured to me that a simple solution would be to install a software counter on my computer. I have a second monitor sitting on top of the piano so that I can easily see what is happening on screen when I play my Second Life concerts. So, accepting that this is taking things to a somewhat obsessive length, I went online to search for a software counter. I found it extremely difficult to find anything. Possibly I was entering the wrong thing into the search engine; be that as it may, I gave up.

I was thinking about the problem while I was having a cup of coffee this morning. It occurred to me that there might be a non-computer solution. I had once before used a pile of ten coins but I found that altogether too fiddly. Staying with the principle of the pile of coins, my thoughts turned to the abacus that my daughter had when she was a little girl. I suppose I could have gone to a shop and bought a child’s toy abacus but they are usually rather large and clunky; I want mine to take up very little space. I then gave myself a bit of a talking to, since it felt I ought to be able to come up with something myself. I therefore pottered off to my workshop.

I did what I usually do in these situations; I wandered about with a blank mind, letting my eyes roam around, searching for je ne sais quoi. I opened some draws, checked the contents of a few tins and boxes, and generally ferretted about. This is what I found: a couple of wood off-cuts, a few metal eyelets, and some wooden BBQ skewers.

The raw materials

I figured that the skewer could become the bar of the abacus, the eyelets would be the counters, and I would make the supports from the waste bits of wood. And here is the result!

My home-made abacus

I have to get ready for my show in Second Life now. Talk to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Boeuf borguigngon

June 17, 2011

This dish is also called beouf à la bourguignonne

(beef stew in red wine, with bacon, onions and mushrooms).

I have completed the first part and the casserole is now simmering in the oven; that is where it will stay for the next three hours.  I shall have to sautée some onions and some mushrooms in butter, of course, but that can wait a while.

What I am doing, in cooking my way through what will hopefully be a large number of Julia Child recipes, does not have the creativity that lay behind Julie’s project in the film Julie and Julia; after all, it is her idea. As for originality, I have been thinking about the claims relating to the Julia Child book being the first English language book on French cooking. Mastering the art of French cooking was first published in the USA in 1960. I would simply point out that English cookery writer, Elizabeth David, published her first book, Mediterranean Food, in 1950. David then went on to publish French Country Cooking in 1951 and   her French Provincial Cooking in 1960, so Child was certainly not the first into the English language with books on French cooking, even though she may have been the first American to write one.

I have still not worked out precisely why I have launched into the Julia Child project. I think it has certainly pulled this blog away from music and Fyrm Fouroux’s gigs in Second Life. For the time being, I shall let things ride and see where they go.

Boeuf bourguignon

So, I completed the dish. It was wonderful to eat. The mushrooms browned and retained a delightful firmness. The bacon lardons were gorgeous. The new potatoes were perfect with the bourguignon sauce. The onions retained their shape yet were sensuously silky to the tongue – the lingerie of the dish, without a doubt. The beef fell apart at the touch of knife and tooth. In sum, it was a peak gustatory experience. Now that I have practiced the dish (and there were a couple of near catastrophes so practice is essential in these endeavours) I shall have to invite some meat-eaters to enjoy it. This is not as easy as you might think. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Oeufs brouillés aux fines herbes (Scrambled eggs with herbs)

June 11, 2011

Today I ticked off another Julia Child recipe, this time an easy one: scrambled eggs with herbs.

Oeufs brouillés aux fines herbes (scrambed eggs with herbs)

I am half-way through cleaning up the house. I have washed the kitchen floor, and wiped the bathroom surfaces into a state that resembles sparkling. I am swigging a cup of coffee before attacking carpets with the vacuum cleaner.  I can hear the rain pelting down on my skylight window; regrettably, there will be no sitting in a deck chair on the lawn after I have completed my domestic travail.

It was with sadness that I learned today of the unexpected and early death of one of my old academic friends, Prof. Noel Sheehy. We met from time to time on university business and, once we had dealt with that, it was our habit to sit in deck chairs on my lawn and drink lots of red wine while chatting about matters psychological, parenthood, and the affairs of the world. Sometimes, when I had to fly over to Belfast to meet with him in order to complete some examination business in the morning, we would repair afterwards to a delightful bistro for lunch; these sessions would go on all afternoon, with similar relaxation, chat and multiple glasses of red wine. I would then totter back to the airport to get my flight home in the evening, still chortling over some of his very funny remarks and analyses. Somehow, I imagined that these sessions would go on happening ad infinitum.  Indeed, he mentioned in his Christmas card this year that he might be coming up my way a little later in the summer. Bereavement, by definition, does leave one bereft.  Although our friendship manifested itself on a relatively infrequent basis largely in relation to examinations, conferences, and committees, I shall nonetheless miss him as a good friend with a wickedly delightful sense of humour.

On that rather sombre note, I bid you farewell, my dear blogophiles. I shall speak to you later.

Seaham and Easington coastal walk

June 9, 2011

Terry drove us south of Seaham harbour. After he parked the car Tom and I got our ruck sacks from the boot. We set off south down the cliff top path, with the sea on our left.

A typical view from the cliff path

We were following the railway line and several times we had to cross back and forth as the route looped inland through a densely wooded dene.

Criss-crossing the rail tracks

From time to time we decended to sea level, and we could see the rail track high above us running along the brick viaduct.

Down in the dene looking up to the viaduct

Early in the walk we paused to take a look at a limestone quarry, on our right; we contented ourselves with peering through the perimeter, padlocked fence.

Limestone quarry

In the woods there was a profusion of wild flowers. Tom spotted a rather splendid caterpillar, too, at one point. Tom and I talked about how inadequate we felt in terms of being able to name species in nature. When I got home, I looked through one of my reference books and this particular caterpillar seems to fit the markings for a drinker moth, and this is the identification I tentatively offer to you, my dear blogophiles.

Possibly a drinker moth?

As to the flowers in the hedgerows, I have a feeling that this specimen might be a dog rose but, once again, I am lacking in confidence in this regard.

A dog rose?

It is possible that you may not be aware of the Seaham-Shrinker plant. It’s large broad leaves grow up to waist height on stems that remind one of rhubarb sticks. It is imperative not to snack on the leaves, since the ingestion of even a small amount is enough to trigger the rapid shrinking of the animal or human who has been foolhardy enough to take a bite. I repeatedly told Terry not to do it, but he took no notice of my warnings. As you can see, Tom had to pick him up and carry him for a while until the effect wore off and he returned to his normal size.

Effects of the Seaham-Shrinker plant

At one point we got lost and ended up by the old pit shaft that used to be Easington colliery. The mine and the workings have been grassed over but the area remains barren of any serious attempt to landscape it in a creative fashion.

The old pit shaft at Easington colliery

We returned to the coast in order to pick up the path that we were looking for. On our way, we passed an old WW2 defensive fortification.

WW2 defensive fortification

We walked onto the beach and rested up for a bite to eat. The tide was not at its highest and there were plenty of small rocks exposed, out to sea.

Rocks by the beach at low-ish tide

I felt pleasantly exhausted by the time we got back to the car. We plan to do another walk in three or four weeks time. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Small curried minced lamb pies

June 7, 2011

Tomorrow I am going out walking in the morning with my friends Tom and Terry. I have therefore made some small pies and have filled them with curried minced lamb. They don’t eat much when out during the day, so I have deliberately down-sized from the enormous Bolognese pasties I made last time we went out. I must admit that I am looking forward to having them for lunch somewhere out in the wilds. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Preparing the lamb curry filling


Four little pies


Bon appetit

June 5, 2011

I guess a blog should reveal the inner workings of the obsessive mind. As you know, I cooked a Julia Child recipe based dinner for my friends yesterday. It was a great success, in all respects: the company, the food, and the live music that we played later on in the evening. When I was an undergraduate I read Miller, Gallanter and Pribram’s classic book ‘Plans and the structure of behaviour‘; it has influenced my life ever since.  Indeed, my Ph.D. thesis was closely concerned with the concept of plan and the generation, execution, and explanation of action in bounded episodes of everyday stuff.  So, perhaps it will come as no surprise to you to discover that I plan my meals in some considerable detail. I see a recipe as being closely equivalent to a musical score. Clearly, the score will not produce music unless the musician has learned the various skills demanded and is well-practiced; only then can emotional expression and some degree of improvisation come to the fore. Just so with cooking.

For the meal I cooked yesterday for my dear friends Tony, Costello, Terry and Angela (not to mention She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Mentioned), I prepared two schedules: one focussed upon the week ahead of the dinner party, the other covered the day of the dinner itself. I have today learned that it is easy to paste such documents into my WordPress blog, direct from Word for Windows. So, my dear blogophiles, just for the record, here they are in their entirety.  As Julia might say…. “Bon appetit

June 4th 2011

Wheat-flour-free meal (corn flour or rice flour are alternatives).

Potage crème d’Épinards (cream of spinach soup) p.41

  • Substitute corn flour for the wheat flour specified at the bottom of p.40 in the base recipe for watercress soup.
  • Make the base ahead of time and freeze. Serve cold on the day. If necessary, add in a little more cream before serving.
  • Rice cake croutons?

Gratin de pommes de terre aux champignons  (Gratin of potatoes and mushrooms)  p.160-162

  • This is basically a quiche filling without the pastry case.
  • Serve with boiled green vegetables (broccoli) and grilled tomatoes

Charlotte Malakoff aux fraises (Almond cream with fresh strawberries) p.643

  • It will be necessary to make sponge fingers with rice flour or corn flour ahead of time. The fingers should keep for a few days, anyway.
  • The charlotte will be served with strawberry sauce

Biscuits à la cuiller (sponge fingers) p.708

Made with rice flour or corn flour.

Sauce aux fraises (strawberry sauce) p.629

1 lb. strawberries

6 oz castor sugar

2 tbl. Lemon juice & cognac


Monday: Make and freeze spinach soup base (but not with the egg yolks and cream)

Friday: Make sponge fingers, strawberry sauce, and charlotte (store in fridge)


Morning: Finish soup with egg yolks and cream. Cool, and store in fridge.

Afternoon: Make the gratin, put it in the baking dish and halve tomatoes for baking with it

Prepare the broccoli

Sort out (bake)croutons plus rice cakes for Costello

Lay table and make up  flower vases


Serve drinks; Put Gratin in oven

Serve cold soup (adding cream if necessary) together with the croutons (& rice cakes)

Put potatoes on to boil; cut lettuce leaves from plants in kitchen window box

Fry prawns in garlic; plate up with lettuce and serve.

Put broccoli on to boil

Plate up gratin, broccoli, potatoes and tomatoes; serve at table.

Unmould charlotte and serve with strawberry sauce.

Serve coffee

Notes for afternoon preparation

Skin tomatoes; place halved in baking dish with basil

Cook onions and sliced mushrooms in butter (season)

In large bowl: beat 4 eggs, crushed garlic, 2tbl chopped parsley, lemon juice, cream, port. (season)…

Blend in the cooked mushrooms

Put into oven dish & grate 3 oz cheese on top with some flecks of butter.

Ice-water to table; open wine to breathe

6.30 Arrivals

7.15 Start the meal

Bread rolls and rice cakes to table

Soup:  Serve with parsley garnish (add cream if necessary), bread rolls & rice cakes

X starts a 40 minute lead into the main course

X: Put gratin in the oven (40 mins); heat water for potatoes

X+15 = Potatoes on to boil; heat water for broccoli; and….


Prawns: fry in garlic & plate up with lettuce leaves & serve

X+30= Broccoli on to boil


Main Course

X+40=   Gratin: out of oven & plate up

Broccoli: strain & plate up

Potatoes: strain & plate up

Tomatoes: out of oven  & plate up

Charlotte: unmould & serve with strawberry sauce



Summary of the meal (page numbers refer to Julia Child’s book):

Potage crème d’Épinards (cream of spinach soup) p.41

Fried garlic mushrooms on home-grown lettuce leaves (a sort of amuse-bouche)

Gratin de pommes de terre aux champignons  (Gratin of potatoes and mushrooms)  p.160-162

Charlotte Malakoff aux fraises (Almond cream with fresh strawberries) p.643

Biscuits à la cuiller (sponge fingers) p.708

Sauce aux fraises (strawberry sauce) p.629


The calm before the prawn

June 4, 2011

I am having a few friends to dinner this evening. I am as fully prepared as I shall ever be and I shall start my final preparations in the kitchen as soon as I have this post up and running. I’m sorry about the title, but I shall be serving some garlic prawns on a leaf of home-grown lettuce as an amuse-bouche after the cream of spinach soup and before the main course of mushroom gratin with baked tomatoes and broccoli. I’m getting hungry just writing about it. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

The table is laid

Charlotte Malakoff aux fraises

June 3, 2011

A charlotte with almond cream and fresh strawberries

Things are not going well in the kitchen. The biscuits à la cuiller (sponge fingers) that I attempted to make with wheat-free flour turned out to be a disaster. They are not dissimilar to crushed meringue.  They disintegrated as I scraped them off the baking tray. I don’t understand what went wrong, unless the problem was the wheat-free flour. Meringues are made from egg white and sugar; my fingers had both egg yolks and flour folded into the egg whites. In the end, I was left with a bowl full of sponge finger bits.

Sponge finger bits

I go to the supermarket and track down a packet of wheat-free, gluten-free sponge mix. This is a singularly un-Julia thing to do; all that is required is to make a batter by adding egg and water. The problem is that I don’t want to make a sponge cake, I want to pipe fingers. I decide to add very little water. The mixture is a revoltingly sticky goo and very difficult to pipe. I bake the fingers and they come out of the oven looking like sponge rats. There just isn’t enough for the purpose of lining a Charlotte mould.

Sponge rats

I drive back to the supermarket and get another packet. I make this with the water and spread it out on a couple of baking trays. This time it bakes way too thin and flat. Once it has cooled, I dunk the cut sponge into a soup bowl of orange liqueur diluted with water. This makes the sponge slabs disintegrate. Everything is going wrong today. I press on.  Beat sugar into butter, whip cream and fold in and finish making the almond cream. I then attempt to assemble the charlotte. I stick some small strawberries into the almond cream and put another layer of sponge across the mould. If it falls to bits when I unmould it, I shall serve it as a variation of Eton Mess.

Now I am going to make the strawberry sauce to go with it. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.