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No, give me a minute. I can get this.
 So, in the opening of Saving Private Ryan, there's a whole sequence where the chaps from the landing craft jump out into the water, and go down a couple of metres under the weight of their equipment and it is all etherial, and bullets go whizzing past and kill a couple of people with a plume of red.


In Mythbusters, they comprehensively demonstrated that all the energy of even a very high-powered bullet is dissipated by just a few feet of water.

Adam & Jamie 1 v 0 Steven

Plus SPR isn't a patch on Band of Brothers. I'm turning over to Antiques Roadshow.

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 This weekend, with A. being away, I'm watching a vast batch of War Office Training films from WWII. I'm quite impressed. Not only are they socially interesting (especially the "find yourself a job after the war" one, with 3 chaps and a woman making use of the employment exchanges), and made by the usual suspects (a lot of Michael Balcon, Calvalcanti and Ealing Studios) but they're a bit racier than the "regular" output of the period. The basic training one contained the word "bullshit". I was scandalized.

ETA: And now one about aircrew training, with Richard Attenborough and it is in Cambridge! A Cambridge more or less devoid of people apart from the RAF. This one is about how it is not too bad if you don't get picked for aircrew, you're still doing an important job. (They don't mention that you also have a 100% better chance of surviving the war.)

ETA2: I am now proficient in the drill for the turret gunners on the Mk III and Mk X Wellington bombers. If I repeat it often enough on the ground, then I'm unlikely to forget it on operations, apparently. The key thing appears to be to remember to close the doors so you don't fall out in flight, and not to stick random bits of wire in the ammunition wells. Oh, and don't yank your radio jack out when you get on the ground, or you'll break it, see if you don't.

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I've been thinking about that celery/beetroot/goats cheese dish. The solution might be a golden beetroot bavarois / jelly, and try infusing the celery with some gentle pickling agent in the vac pac bag, plus a little celery salt.

I don't want to lose the depth of celery flavour, though, as it is not something that gets featured very often, and this essentially becomes a beetroot dish if I do that. Also, you lose the contrast of those little purple discs which look great on the plate.

Maybe the thinking cap needs to go on again.
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Gair and Gerald have visited (hooray) and gone (boo), and the food was eaten. I had the most appalling headache on Saturday, but 2 hours of napping in the middle of the afternoon enabled me to carry off the cooking without too many modifications. Here are some details on the dishes; they were basically all experimental (apart from the salad), as I'd never done at least one of the techniques or flavour combinations required in each dish. Living on the culinary edge! sort of.

"Bloody Mary"

This was tomato water (2kg of tomatoes blitzed, then filtered through a thick layer of cheesecloth in a chinois overnight to produce a transparent yellow water-like liquid that tastes totally tomato-ey. I served it as a shot with a fine dice of celery, shallot and a little red chilli, with a crumb or two of maldon sea salt. I think it would work well as a real bloody mary with a splash of vodka, too.

Invisible tomato and black olive ravioli

I made the sweet-n-sour part of a vinaigrette from cider vinegar, sugar and water, then gelled it with agar, spread it to coat a silpat baking sheet so it was about 0.5mm thick, and let it set. I then cut out discs, and laid them on a red plate, carefully making sure there were no air bubbles. I topped it with a concasse of tomato, marinated in some good olive oil (the rest of the vinaigrette!), a piece of black olive and a basil leaf. I would add slightly more olive next time, as it is a 3-bite-per-rav dish, and you only had one piece of olive!

Blue cheese, pear, pickled walnuts and rocket salad

A dead straightforward salad. Tossed the rocket leaves in a little olive oil and seasoning, 3 slices of really ripe William pear, three thick slices of peeled, pickled walnut (providing the acidity, hence no vinegar in the leaf dressing), and 3 cubes of blue cheese.

Egg on toast (100% egg)

A majestic idea from some guy blogging from the big US chef's show. Carefully mixed 6 egg yolks with 4.5g baking powder and a little seasoning, put them in a parchment muffin case in a ramekin, in the pressure cooker (on a trivet, with plenty of water), steamed on the high-pressure setting for 40 minutes, and a perfect little egg "muffin" appears. I sliced that into 4 slices, and then sauted in butter, and topped with a fried quails egg. I lightly buggered up the presentation on this one, but noone noticed, so it was all OK. This was a shame, as I had eaten 3 of these for lunch (while experimenting with the technique), and they were all perfect!

Champagne-infused cucumber, celeriac and a beurre blanc

I saw a recipe not dissimilar to this on the Hairy Bikers, and I wanted to do something a bit more poncy with it. I carefully halved, deseeded and then cut little oblong cuboids the shape and size of domino tiles out of the cucumber. I was quite pleased with this; my knife skills are improving a bit! sort of. I put the cubes in a vac-pac bag with some champagne, and vac-packed them to within an inch of their tiny cucumbery lives, and stuck them in the fridge for 4-5 hours. I then infused some saffron in some warm water, and cooked off a julienne of the celeriac in the saffron water, and made a beurre blanc from a reduction of champagne and whackloads of lovely butter.

Celery, beetroot and goat's cheese with horseradish icecream

This was my version of a dish they do at MH. I juiced about 3 heads of celery; most of this went to flavour a bavarois (like a light, fluffy mousse, stabilized with Agar rather than gelatin for vegetarianness), which I topped with a thin jelly made from the rest of the juice (again using agar, but at a different concentration).

The horseradish icecream was sacrificed to the headache, so I made a horseradish cream instead, and I think it worked well presentationally, although the cold would have lifted the dish a bit, I think. The beetroot was slightly pickled, and sliced into little rounds, and the goats cheese into little cubes, a bit smaller than a standard die. Note - work with the beetroot last, or wearing disposable gloves, or *everything* you touch will be pink from then on. I topped the bavarois with some celery peeled, vac-packed and cooked to "warm-but-still crunchy".

I have much the same feeling about my version of this dish as I do the MH one (which also has a beetroot tuile, which I knew I wouldn't have time to make, so I didn't try). All the bits together taste great (and work really well in the mouth); individually, not so much. I think the whole crunchy celery is a nice variation on the MH version (they have some micro-leaves on top of the bavarois, which look great, but don't add to the flavour). The bav. is really acting as a slightly-cheese-like base flavour for all the other components, but, because it is the biggest single item, it looks like the star, which it most certainly isn't. I really enjoy the whole dish, but it needs to be possible to eat the components separately, as well as on a single fork. I need to think about this one some more.

Melon, soy, sesame

Time for a transition to the sweet course, so I made up this very, very simple dish. 3 little rectangular slivers of canteloupe melon, a couple of inches long, an inch wide and <1mm thick, separated by a couple of dots of dark soy sauce and with a couple of lines of sesame oil above and below. It looks a bit sashimi-ish, and the flavours work really well together; the soy seasons the canteloupe, and the sesame rounds it out nicely. Sesame is one of those flavours that bridges sweet and savoury, as this course is intended to.

Pear Strawberry tart with vanilla mascarpone

So, this was going to be a pear tart. I realized that the meal started out red, and with basil, and I could end it red, and with basil, if I used the last of the strawberries to make a "goodbye summer" tart. A. ran out to the shop and obliged me with suitable fruits. I blind-baked a sweet shortcust pastry shell, made some creme patissiere (which I hadn't done before; it came out quite well; I'd possibly risk cooking it out a bit less next time, I think, but maybe not), and layered strawberries on top. Glazed with a bit of melted redcurrant jelly and dusted with a bit of icing sugar. The mascarpone cream was just the seeds from 1 vanilla pod, some icing sugar and a splash of amaretto.

I nearly forgot to snip the basil over the top, but only one mouthful got eaten before I remembered :-)

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More for my own memory's benefit, here's this weekend's menu for our esteemed visitors.

"Bloody Mary"
Invisible tomato and black olive ravioli
Blue cheese, pear, pickled walnuts and rocket salad
Egg on toast (100% egg)
Champagne-infused cucumber, celeriac and a beurre blanc
Celery, beetroot and goat's cheese with horseradish icecream
Melon, soy, sesame
Pear tart with vanilla mascarpone


I have to say that I really enjoy doing vegetarian dishes (even though I am a devout carnivore). I think you should be able to read a good veg menu (at any level) and think "yes, that sounds good", and only afterwards realize that it is vegetarian.

It also gives me a chance to try out a couple of new things that I've been reading about recently. The 100% egg-on-toast is particularly interesting (if it works!) I only hope it isn't freezing cold at the weekend, because this is designed rather on the basis that the weatherometer tells me it is still going to be 60C outside.

ETA: 60F, not 60C of course. 60C is medium-to-medium-rare, and therefore would be an unfortunate air-temperature.

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I've been very lucky with work to the end of the year, so we treated ourselves to lunch at Midsummer House apropos of nothing in particular, except that a good lunch is a magnificent thing.

I love food at this time of the year.

Spring is great and all, with the young vegetables, spring lamb and the like, but this early autumn period is probably my favourite. The earthier flavours and colours are coming in to their own, but it is not so cold and miserable out that you don't feel like some of the last flavours of summer.

With that in mind, I had the inimitable scallop, apple and truffle dish to start, with a delicious, aromatic and very dry Muscat (yes, dry Muscat!)
A. had a tasty looking monkfish dish to start, but I didn't try it.

Keeping with the "signature dishes" theme I had the veal kidneys to follow. Unbelievably, given that a) this *is* a signature dish and b) I love kidneys and the like, I have *never had this before*. In part this is because I know them to be a substantial and rich plateful, and so you need a certain gastronomic stamina to approach them.

Basically, they take the whole kidney (with all its lobes) roll it into a cylinder with fine herbes and a wrap of bacon and gently cook it off; I think at that stage they then wrap it in its own fat  and roast off to produce a sort of crackling round the outside. It is served as three thick slices, which, when you penetrate the crispy wrapping disassembles into the individual lobes of kidney.

It is garnished with snails in a parsley puree, the most deeeeelicious spinach, and a rich jus, and I had a glass of a good pinot noir; light on the palette, and refreshing with the rich meat, but strong enough to cope with the iron-y food.

A. had the venison of special magnificence of which we have spoken before.

Being somewhat full, we shared a pud. Lemon sorbet, lemongrass ice cream, toasted brioche, and some stem ginger jammy goodness. Plus a ginger tuile tube filled with mousse. A classic flavour combination, with clever shades of beige, brown, white and orange on the plate.

I was going to be having a sweet white with this, but first the new girl accidentally served a sweet red that comes in a near-identical bottle. This was tasty, but the berry fruit flavours killed the ginger. Jerome, the sommelier, dashed out with the right wine, which was a much better match; but it meant I got an extra glass of goodness.

The wine was especially interesting; it is being made by an English guy who used to work in the city, then went out to NZ (where he met his wife) and has now bought a vinyard in Rousillon, right down on the Spanish border; they've only been making wine since 2005, and the 2006 is their first vintage that is ready to drink. They mature in glass vessels, outside, and so there is some oxidation, and variations of temperature, light etc. It isn't a *stunning* wine, but it is delicious, and above-average-interesting.

We then got embroiled in a long conversation about coffee. The aforementioned Jerome just (yesterday) got back from a training course that the Nespresso folks held in Geneva, and he's had the same "bingo!" moment we had when we first did a coffee tasting; the variety of flavours and what they match with are pretty much as sophisticated as wines. You have the opportunity to think more broadly about what you're pairing with, and significantly enhance both parties. For example, they always serve different chocolates with coffee - but a hazelnut choc demands a different coffee pairing to a lemongrass one. I pointed out that they are using a coffee jelly with the cep veloute and parmesan gnocci in their amuse bouche. Different coffees will bring out different flavours in the earthy cep and the parmesan.

So, as a bit of fun, he brought out 3 espressos at the end of the meal. I'm delighted to say that we correctly identified the continents of origin! All that time in Starbucks is not wasted...

After lunch, we walked into town and bought some new plates for a dish I want to serve at the weekend.

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Saw the Hairy Bikers make a cornish pasty yesterday, so I made one for dinner tonight, based on their recipe, but messed about with by me.

This is enough for 1 big pasty, good for 2 hungry people

1) You need about 200g of beef, uncooked weight. For a veggie version of this, you could *happily* substitute a good, slow-melting cheese like halloumi; you want a cut that will benefit from some slow cooking.  Some raw ribeye or skirt steak will be good if you're not going to do the vac-pac cooking thing, but I used some cubes of shin, vac-packed and cooked at 60C in the waterbath for about 2 hours. I then cooled it down in some iced water, opened the bag, and poured off the juices into a small pan. Setting the meat aside for the time being, I reduced the liquid to a gravy and set that aside too.

(If you're using the uncooked meat, then also add a couple of teaspoons of water when you fill the pasty, so that you get some gravy in the pasty)

2) Make a shortcrust pastry. I did this in the food processor. Added 225g plain flour, a pinch of salt, 1tsp baking powder, 60g cold butter (unsalted) and an egg yolk. Blitzed to crumbs, then pulsed in about 60g very cold water, a drizzle at a time. It took all of it today, despite being pretty humid! Ball it up and wrap it in clingy, and stick in the fridge for an hour.

3) I then very finely sliced and chopped about 1/2 a potato (~100g worth), plus 1/2 an onion (about 50g worth) and a bit of swede/turnip (about 50g worth again). Very finely. Less than 1mm thick, 1-2mm wide and 3mm long max, and mixed all of that up with the meat (about 100g - 150g), seasoning with a bit of salt, and plenty of coarsely ground black pepper.

You might like to turn the oven on to about 170C right about now. Then, when the hour of pastry-resting has passed...

4) Flour your favourite pastry-rolling surface, and roll the dough out to accomodate a dinner plate. Cut round the dinner plate. Bingo! Pasty pastry.

5) Whisk another egg up for an egg wash, then mound the filling into the centre of the disk, and brush some egg round the outside of the disk (from the edge to about 2cm in) then...

5) Either

a) bring the edges up to the centre, pinch together and crimp tight (for your top-crust-pasty), or
b) bring one edge right over the top, and crimp to the other edge on the table (for your edge-crust pasty)

I find a) to be easier

6) Liberally cover with the rest of the egg wash, and make a couple of steam-vents in the top; transfer to an oiled baking tray, and slam in the oven.

It needs about an hour, maybe a little longer.

When you're ready to serve, and it is a glorious golden, crusty brown, take it out of the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes while you...

1) Slice up some cabbage, melt some butter in a pan, cook the cabbage in the butter, and season
2) Warm the gravy through, season, take off the heat and swirl in a knob of butter
3) Cut the pasty in half, plate up with the cabbage, and then pour the gravy on the cut side.

If you double up, you could make this for 4 people for less than a fiver. For one, I wouldn't reduce the amounts, but you could have half hot like this, and save the other half to have cold for lunch. Mmmm.
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I'm feeling under the weather, so I want to make something very simple, that also wouldn't take long to cook, but had bags and bags of flavour.

1) Put the oven on to 160C
2) Butterfly out 2 chicken breasts to make them about half as thick
3) Oil a tray (I used rapeseed oil) and pop the chicken on top of it
4) Carefully dry, then slice a load of mozzarella balls and neatly cover the chicken with the pieces
5) Thickly (about 0.5inch) slice a load of mushrooms and scatter round
6) Cut 4-5 little, sweet tomatoes into 0.5inch slices and scatter around, cut-sides up
7) Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon
8) Pour round about 2 dessert spoons of water
9) Scatter 3-4 basil leaves over each chicken breast
9) Season well (lots of pepper, careful with the salt as you're about to add more cheese)
10) Grate over the whole lot a nice layer of parmesan
11) Whack in the oven

...time passes...

12) After 10 minutes take it out of the oven, and carefully pour the liquid (some of which has come from the mozzeralla, and some from the toms, and some from the mushrooms) into a little saucepan; put the tray back in the oven and...
13) Mix about 2 teaspoons of cornflour in a little of the liquid, then pour back into the pan and cook out to thicken the sauce. Season it.
14) After 20-25 minutes (when the cheese has coloured up on the top), take it out and leave it to rest for a couple of minutes.
15) Shred some more fresh basil leaves and scatter over the top

We had it with some chips ('cos we're super-sophis.)

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Took the hotpot leftovers and grated some cheddar over the top of it. (BTW, for anyone in the UK, believe it or not, but the seemingly-too-plasticy Cathederal City Mature Cheddar is brilliant for melting; I wouldn't use it for, say, sandwiches, but it is awesome for cheese on toast, or grated on top of things like this; and it comes in a resealable bag that actually works, and is available from the co-op on the corner.)

Stuck it in the oven at 160C for about an hour; awsome chewy, crispy, cheesy spudness. And, as always, the stew-y bits are *much* better on day two.
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I've just watched a rather splendid 1961 film called "Strongroom", starring Derrin Nesbit. There were several things to commend it - suspense, a slightly surreal air during the robbery sequence (they made particularly good use of the stocking-masks), a twist that I was not expecting; and it was only 75 minutes long.
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