Sunday, 22 June 2014

Dried fruit or vegetable slices

Anything that can be sliced finely can be dried to a crisp. I often do apples, onions, tomatoes and more recently: strawberries. Slice with a knife (duh!) or better, a mandolin and dry on baking parchment, silicon sheet or Silpat for at least three hours in the oven at 70°C. It's an interesting and unusual (but simple) way to present everyday produce.

Veg should be seasoned first, especially tomatoes. Not just salt and pepper; I sometimes dust with smoked paprika or ground coriander. Fruit can benefit from a light brushing of sugar syrup - I often use a vanilla syrup on my apple slices - but it's not necessary; it just takes time and a low heat.

Peel the backing away from the fruit, rather than pick the slices off. Kept in a sealed container, these will last for at least a week.

I've also had success with blanched citrus peel which can then be ground to create a tongue dance dusting for desserts.


Deena's Dozen

Deena's Dozen. Herself at the front, hands crossed.

I always said I'd never do it.

"Someone will pull out," said Deena. "They always do." She's right. Too frequently the numbers tumble due to illness or child minding machinations. 10s become 8s. Deena hadn't noticed the stipulation on the web site that we cater for groups of 6 to 10. She confessed that she hadn't looked before she booked. And it was impossible, anyway, to exclude one of the couples. This was a tightly knit group. But it wouldn't be a problem. Someone always pulls out.

They didn't.

So I was faced with cancelling Deena's husband's birthday party... or entering the world of proper double-digit catering. Take a wild guess.


If I step back a few feet... I love how the back of the house is framed by the vines. Feels like a hidden space.
Anthony's pointing, with much amusement, at a tomato crisp. I don't know why. Perhaps he finds fruit funny.

We can't seat more than ten at the dining table so our old patio table was pulled into service in the lounge. This meant hosing off the shed spiders. A little bit of mobile protein that would not have pleased! The plan was for an eight and a four; call it the VIP seating or the unpopular table. In the end it was even more mixed and matched. Some staying out in the late June sun and others ranged across the two tables. By the main dish, it had gender split, with the women in the lounge, having managed to wangle in an extra chair. 

Deena expressed pleasure at the sight of the men remote. She preferred it like that.


Three tables in service. If you look carefully, you might see the world's largest cauliflower in the utility room.
And, of course, OF COURSE... just after the starter was served there came a call from a fraught family member with talk of childhood emesis*... and we lost one couple. The universe had listened... too late. 


The problems aren't just in the seating though. I can't plate up for twelve. I don't have the counter space and even if I did, the first plate would be cold by the time I finished the last, especially with a meat/vegetarin split, as this was.

I discussed this with my boys, for the 10+ I needed both their help. We decided on a canteen style service, with guests queueing with plates and us serving them as fast as we could. It seemed to work. The plates certainly weren't as elegant as they normally are but no one cared, apart from me. Yes, we had mismatched plates, a right old mishmash of linen and we had to wash all the cutlery between every course but It didn't affect the flavour of the food. It may even have contributed to a more relaxed atmosphere. I want to be careful here though, a restaurant can be too relaxed. We are here for you. Service must still feel... attentive but generous. People soon get the arse when there's no wine, or water on the table. Even brilliant food will not ameliorate appalling service but good service will salvage a poor meal. I think guests are much more likely to excuse bad cooking than a bad attitude. Not that I want to experiment!

Starter was roast onion tart with charred asparagus, a horseradish mascarpone and a little dressed rocket. Oh god, I've just realised I've been spelling mascarpone as marscapone, all my life. I've even looked it up. How embarrassing.

I don't think I can make a dark brown tart look any prettier than this. The pink sprinkle is peppercorn.

Mains was either a whole roast poussin (baby chicken) or roast vegetables with a sweet, sour and smokey glaze. Both were served with a basil pesto and/or a lemon verbena hollandaise sauce.

The poussin were stuffed with rosemary, garlic, lemon and shallots and roasted - a sprinkle of Madeira (always spell that wrong too) towards the end - for 40 minutes at 220°C. These were half kilo birds. There are many recipes that ask for 50 or even 60 minutes of cooking: 'until the juices run clear.' After that long there'd be no juices to run!

***Update*** I now roast the poussin for only 34 minutes. No pinkness, just juicy flesh.***

I rested the birds for 15 minutes, basting frequently with the roasting juices. You can rest the poussin upside down which makes the juices flow into the breast. This really does work but it means you have soggy skin. It's a choice.


I also did two types of rösti, green beans and a simple lettuce salad with a lemon dressing.


Catering quantities of rösti. I normally do individual ones. Come to think of it... no idea why I didn't this time.
Would I do it again? Yes. But hopefully not often. It was a lot more work and I need both boys to help, which isn't always an easy option. Not only are they often preoccupied but there's always the jeopardy of a snarling internecine skirmish breaking out which requires use of none-too-hushed disciplinary language from chef. Actually, on this occasion, both my sons, Fabian and Etien, seemed to relish the change. Perhaps because it demanded new levels of attention. So despite the kids' below-counter ankle kicking, I enjoyed it too. I could even make believe it was a real restaurant.

And no, I'm not doing that. Never.



*All reports were of a fully recovered child. See, I'm not heartless.



Saturday, 21 June 2014

How to be a good cook. Requirement 1 (of three)

But before we get onto that... Eme came for dinner with friends this Thursday. Eme has many friends and seems to be a bit of a social organiser; this being the sixth visit she's organised to New River Restaurant. Maybe I should start a loyalty scheme? Many thanks for the support Eme. She has this little foible of wanting to eat her desserts with a teaspoon. Little mouthfuls. I used to do something similar... making myself savour.



The main dish was cod en papillote with a lemon verbena hollandaise sauce (and potato rösti, green beans and spinach). This combination needs to be timed to the minute. The fish takes 14 minutes or so in the oven. The sauce needs to be made just before. Yes you can make Hollandaise earlier and try to keep it warm in a bowl over hot water but that risks splitting.

Cod en papillote with a lemon verbena hollandaise, spinach and rösti.
This is before the green beans were added.

So, as a solo cook. I have to put the fish in and then make the sauce just before I plate up. I cheat anyway and do it the Delia way, pouring melted butter onto reduced white wine and egg yolks while hand-blending. But should the sauce split, I'd have to make another batch... and the fish would overcook, not by much but I am a fish fetishist. Just a few minutes changes a fillet of delicate texture and flavour into one of those little, white, school rubbers. I've sent fish back many times. Most recently at Hix in London who tried to serve me a lemon sole with the texture of cotton wool! So I am a little concerned about getting it right myself.


And that's the most important attribute of cooking; of being a decent cook. Timing. You also need interest and commitment, and yes they come together. Enough interest to want to provide something beyond mere fuel and the commitment to follow through. Skill helps but you can prepare delicious food without much skill. Fish en papillote being a case in point. Doesn't matter how good your palate, how creative your flavour combinations, how impressive your knife work or boning technique; If you screw up the timing, your food's pants.

That's something I've learned over these past two years (ooh, a top tip). Never have more than two interdependent menu items. Can't be done. You need things like the potatoes and the beans that are less temporally sensitive. The rösti can be left in a warm oven for ten minutes without spoiling; the beans maybe for three. At a push, you can press an idle teenager into moving veg around a warm pan.

I used to have a menu flow diagram on the fridge for each booking, showing what needed to happen and when. Now I just have a list of the dishes, broken down into elements. I put a dash through them to show I've got them and a line through when that element is as prepared as it needs to be for the final fathering. That's another top tip: take as much as you can as far as you can. Veg can be par boiled or pre cooked. To cook green beans I use the old restaurant trick of blanching in boiling water for 90 seconds then plunging into ice water to stop the cooking. This also fixes the chrolophyl in the beans and preserves a vibrant green colour. To serve I toss them around in a little seasoned water and butter in a very hot pan. Takes two minutes max. I also use my fridge list to jot down changes to the menu and items to buy. This doesn't mean, ahem, that I've never forgotten anything. My family will tell tales of Dad's look of horror as he turns to use the marscapone/goats cheese/raspberry vinegar only to find it's not there. Thankfully, Waitrose shuts at 9 and my children are fleet of foot.

The gorilla is optional by the way.





Monday, 16 June 2014

Pâte sablée


Pâte sablée is the richest of all the French pastry. It's also one of the most difficult to work with due to the very high butter content. You have to struggle for these calories. It's worth the work though; the result is a crumbly, crisp crust or biscuit that does melt in the mouth. It's very much like a fine shortbread but I think the flavour is superior.


Maybe not
This recipe is one of M. Roux Snr's. Of course.

In a food processor: 250g plain flour, 100g icing sugar and 200g butter (cut into pieces and slightly softened). Pulse until the mix is breadcrumbed. Now add two egg yolks and pulse again. As soon as the mix comes together, scrape out onto a floured surface and knead a few times to fully amalgamate. It will stick to your hands, like an underperforming CEO to their bonus. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 mins.


When cold and stiff, the dough is much easier to handle. But still, the trick is to roll out the dough between sheets of greaseproof, or silpat and greaseproof should you be so bestowed. Go as thin as you can; 2mm is ideal. Much thinner and the eventual biscuit will be a liability, shrapnel-ing on contact with eager fingers. Peel off the top layer of paper and bake. Any surface indentations left by the paper will disappear.


Bake at 170°C for between 8 to 12 minutes. If you've opted for a chunkier biscuit than it'll be longer still. Watch carefully after 8 mins, especially the edges. The longer the bake, the more developed the flavour but you might prefer the look of the paler. In the pic above, the bake varies by about two minutes.


Strawberry crisp made the same way as the apple, fine slice then dry on Silpat in a 70°C oven for at least three hours.

The traditional method is to make a well in the flour, adding the butter in the middle and then... yadder, yadder. The traditional method of traversing the globe is on foot and I don't do that either. If I thought the texture was better the old way, I'd do it by hand. I don't, so I do it by machine.






Cut the biscuit as soon as you remove it from the oven. I find this easier than fighting with sticky dough. I make indentations with a long ruler before the bake and then follow with a pizza cutter (as seen above). Some chefs use this as a tart case. Good luck with that!

Belinda and I used to make Pâte sablée aux fraise, layers of biscuit, strawberries and cream. This is what came to mind when I was asked for a dessert featuring strawberries and rhubarb.

I made a simple coulis of strawberries first, glazing the cut fruit with this gives an attractive shine and sweetness (sometimes lacking this early in the season). The cream was vanilla but could have been - should have been - elderflower. The sorbet was rhubarb and rose.





Mothers from the Hill eat local cheese

The Muswell Hillbillies. Carol's front middle.
This is a very discursive entry covering, as it does, curd cheese, The Ally Pally Farmers' Market, my mate Carol, a micro library in Muswell Hill, charred asparagus and the Black Death. Sorry but sometimes you have to mix it all up. I was going to also detail my pâte sablée biscuit recipe but I'm splitting that out on its own. 

My friend Carol, who I met during something called a 'crossover lab' at the Wellcome Trust - a week where people from very different disciplines are deliberately clashed together and tasked with producing innovative marketing ideas for bizarre products - a Black Death Game was one of ours. In our case it was broadcasters, museum curators and game designers. Creative synergy it's meant to be.  It was enormous fun and we were allowed access to parts of the Wellcome trust not normally on public view.


Michele
My first Thursday for many, many months; this is was a pescetarian affair. Carol had passed responsilbity for menu design to Michele, a jewellery designer, who asked me if I knew about the artisan cheese makers in Tottenham; the only ones in London? Wildes Cheese. I hadn't heard of them but I was excited. Local cheese makers! Some Twittering later and I was chatting to Keith about their range of fourteen cows milk cheeses. He invited me to an impromptu tasting at their regular stall at Ally Pally's Famers' Market. I'd decided to use curd cheese as part of the starter. Wildes didn't actually have any but they were prepared to make a batch up. It's something they've made before but still... never had bespoke dairy before.

I went round to the cheesearium, the cheesery, the place where cheese is made; within some rather unlikely and inauspicious little, light industrial units in Tottenham, not far from the North Mid Hospital and only a mile or two from my house. I was greeted by Rodolfo who gave me the micro-tour.


Cheese birthing pool. It's probably called a whey tank or something.

Rodolfo packing up my curd

New born cheeses

Maturing cheeses
The curd cheese was harder than I expected. I'm more used to a cottage consistency. I'd asked, wrongly in retrospect, for the no salt option so I ended up brining slices of the cheese for a few hours which gave it a slight feta feel.

If anyone from Wildes Cheese would like to comment, especially on my ignorance of cheese tech, then please do. I'd appreciate it.


My block of curd looking somewhat like an elephant's tooth

The curd was coupled with roast beetroot, chargrilled asparagus, pea shoots and a creamy, horseradish vinaigrette.




And the micro library?

Chatting with Carol's guests after dinner, and Polly (an author herself) told me about her rather wonderful, book lending scheme. Basically a small cupboard on stilts, in her driveway, that she stuffs full of books to be swapped, taken or borrowed. The story was covered by the local newspaper. I love stuff like this; things that prove how dignified and altruistic we can be, given the chance. Ideas like this enhance our sense of community and allow for new connections to be drawn. That's Polly on the right (or somewhere, anywhere, god-knows, if you're reading this on a mobile phone), along with other guests from the evening. 







I'm beginning to loathe Blogger's lack of decent layout tools. The tracking too is appalling. Is there nothing to be done? I've Googled help on the matter but can't find a helpful web site. Any suggestions?


Monday, 9 June 2014

Pasta, pork, peaches



Pasta, pork, peaches. Not all together. Fear not. I just love alliteration as much as the next hack. I can't even follow through with the picture look, having failed to take a shot of the dessert. You'll have to do with the brioche.


Pasta was the starter. A new dish of dill pappardelle, crab, asparagus and pea shoots in a beurre blanc (a butter and white wine sauce). 


The crab pasta dish started out in the week as a Jason Atherton salad. Not sure why I changed. Possibly the knowledge that the friday booking included three children. Is there anyone under 12 who doesn't like pasta? Is there anyone over 12? I haven't used crab before in the restaurant, mainly because it is prohibitively expensive. On this occasion I was feeding two groups and the inimitable Pat at Green Lanes Fisheries did me a great deal. I made my own pasta, partly because it means I get exactly the shape and thickness I want and also because I like to roll it with herbs; chives on Friday, dill on Saturday. I choose pappardelle because it's easy to handle and has more structure than say, an open lasagne. This was combined with the best of English asparagus which I steamed, but perhaps I should have chargrilled it. A light sprinkle of lemon verbena herb finished off the dish.




Everything I serve is made from scratch. OK, I don't mill my own flour or press rape seed but I like the idea that you can only get that meal on that night in my gaff. The fact you can flavour your dough to suit the dish is beguiling too. Admittedly  making your own pasta might seem like a OCD turn too far. It's cheap and I'd like to say it's easy. OK. It is easy... there are only two ingredients: 00 flour and eggs so how come get more stressed about serving pasta than any other single ingredient? It's partly because I daren't make it fresh just before serving. Too often I've found the dough isn't quite the consistency I'm after so won't roll right. Or a tiny grain of something sticks in the rollers and shreds the dough. So make it earlier and store it? Yes, but then I remember the time I made ravioli and the filling was just a tidge too damp, not so much that it was a problem when I checked an hour later but just enough that it left me with miserable, sticky, sulky dumplings as I ripped the bottoms off them that evening. This weekend I layered well floured pappardelle with greaseproof paper, making sure the pasta strips didn't touch.



Home made dill pappardelle. Well behaved on this occasion.
Pork was roast belly, one of our most popular mains. I always use a free range, orchard fed pork from Julian at Wades Hill Butchery. This gives me a succulent meat and an excellent crackling. There's no secret to good crackling. Make sure your skin is dry when it goes in though, it's obviously harder to crisp up something damp. I do my belly(!) at 240°C for 20 mins and then for a 3 - 5 hours (depends on the joint) on 140°C. After the hot blast, I put the pork on a rack, under which I put a lot of diced carrots, leek, onion and celery. I add white wine and water to this. The veg takes up all the fat and juices and is the base of the gravy.

One tip with crackling: have your butcher score the skin into squares rather the the more traditional diagonals. It makes it much easier to portion up your meat when you cut into existing grooves rather than across the glass like crackling.




Brioche was for a revisit of a 2013 dessert; pan fried brioche, this time with peaches poached in a elderflower syrup, raspberries, marscapone and almond brittle.

For dessert, I briefly poached peaches in elderflower syrup, served on crisped brioche with crunchy almond brittle and vanilla marscapone. I'd had some issues with the syrup but I added new flowers, picked from my garden on a warm and sunny day. This seemed to work. I'm not sure it was because of the harvesting conditions; correlation is not causation after all. Whatever, the final suryp is both heady and flavoursome. Peaches work well with elderflower. Forgot to take a picture on both nights. Sigh. This is a bad shot from 2013.


Not the dessert I served

Friday was Tony (in red on the right) and his extended family. This shot is my homage to the Brady Bunch.




Saturday was Natalie (centre) and friends celebrating her birthdays. Not all of her group were feeling camera confident so this shot is less, um, structured than most ('that'll do'). Nat's one of the estimable LYDS people and will be reviewing her evening soon. I'll put in a link when she does.



Sunday, 1 June 2014

Fussy eaters... and how I got over myself.

You cannot extricate your personal history from your relationship with food. Our individual narratives must include our sustenance. Our loves and loathings help define us. In all kinds of ways, we are what we eat... and what we don't.





This is undoubtedly the first image of me with food. This is December 28th 1968. I am two. I think that's my mother behind me; it could be my aunt Ali or my grandmother Mattie. I remember precisely nothing about this of course. Someone has made an effort. I imagine my mother made the train cake and my nan did the trifle. Are they sponge fingers (still very popular with me) or are they cheese straws? There's a huge bowl of sugar by my hand but there's no fruit or veg, naturally. No crudités and hummus. Quite like the red romper suit. 
Beyond a certain dislike of bitter flavours, we are not born with a sense of disgust. We learn it. We learn it well. It sinks deep. Think of your disgust reaction; that face we all pull: mouth open, tongue extended. That comes from bad taste: get this out of my mouth! So too does the hand over mouth when we witness some horror or experience revulsion. Don't want that inside.
I was a fussy eater as a child. Until my early twenties the list of foods I wouldn't accept was as long and tedious as it was depressing: mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, onions, lamb, mayonnaise, spinach, aubergines, courgettes, runner beans, olives, cabbage, sprouts (broccoli too but it didn't exist in the 70s), fat of almost any form (even butter!), anything that mixed sweet with savoury. And on and on. Worse, I had a suspicion of food. Much like my mother, I feared the next mouthful was certain to be disgusting. Not just face wincingly bad but gut retching, scrambling to the sink; a culinary cataclysm. I'm pretty sure I lived on fish finger sandwiches between the ages of sixteen to eighteen. And dried Vesta curries thereafter.





Me eating, aged 7. I'm on the right with my younger brother and sister.

Yes, that's another story. 

My parents didn't help much. My mother's diet was very limited. Yes, working class but more so. She was suspicious of anything green and edible, especially if they were aromatic, like herbs. I never once saw her eat a salad, or even lettuce. I once offered her some mange tout in a restaurant. "You know I don't like that type of thing." She rebuked. Food had to be safe. And no, I don't mean hygienic. It should present no 'challenge'. She specialised in mince, with little added. Egg and chips was often a meal. As was a family speciality: cheese on a plate. Slice of mild Co-op cheddar on a plate, grilled. Nothing added, nothing taken away. But you can't take anything away from cheese on a plate. Unless you fancy eating... plate. Sometimes I did. 


My Dad was very different: an awesome omnivore. He was some 28 stone when I was in my teens. Dad would eat onions like apples. Seriously. He would slather white bread with soft beef fat, while my mother looked on in horror. He did however cook some unusual foods. Chinese pork was a favourite. Pork shoulder with sherry, soy sauce and I think rice wine vinegar. It was tasty but because my father ate everything he had no problem with fatty meat, or with gristle, or bacon rind. I did. I wish I could be that man, I suppose, with that pleasure in the viscera; a catholic passion. So much better than my mother's antiseptic abstinence.


So when I left home at 19 I had no palate to speak of. I was carb happy, fat free; a fan of processed food and a sugar freak.


Hong Kong changed that. And Belinda changed that.


The only picture I could find of me in Hong Kong. This is boarding a cruise ship that was owned by HSBC who were sponsoring the Far Eastern leg of the RSC tour. I was about to participate, to my eventual huge embarrassment, in some impromptu water skiing. Jeans were really blue in the 80s weren't they? 




Belinda and me cooking Thai food in the Crest
In those days we were so poor we couldn't even afford haircuts
Note the wok and the coffee grinder we used to blend spice mixes. 

I used to be a sound engineer in the theatre. At 22, It was my great fortune to land a world tour with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The play was Christopher Hampton's Les Liaisons Dangereuses Half way through the tour, the winter of 1989, we played two weeks in Hong Kong. Someone took me to a Thai Restaurant; mundane now but then Thai cuisine was almost unknown in the UK. I knew none of the dishes on the menu; most anyway being in transliterated Thai. I know I had chicken with crispy holy basil and then Tom Yum Gai, hot and sour chicken soup with pea aubergines, galangal and chillies. It was a damascene moment. All these flavours were new and utterly delicious. And the aroma! I'd never had kaffir lime, lemon grass or nam pla (it was years until I learned to call it 'fish sauce'). While in HK I ate Thai food as often as I could.

On my return to the UK, I enthused to my new girlfriend (Belinda - we married three years later) about this new cuisine. I wanted her to try it; I wanted to cook it for her. But we couldn't afford the only Thai Restaurant in London and we could find neither cookbook nor ingredients. No internet then of course. Eventually I rang the Thai Restaurant and asked them where they bought theirs. So, Belinda and I took public transport across London from Palmers Green to a wholesaler in Shepherd's Bush. Yeah, they were fun journeys.

A staple of Thai cooking but offensive to some.
Because, of course, being a wholesaler we had to buy whole: whole bushes of lime leaves, bundles of lemon grass and a sack of jasmine rice. Having spent a month's food budget in one day we had no option but to cook and eat Thai food... for week after week, month after month. We were keen to have friends around and they were keen to come, eating off laps, cross legged in our little upstairs flat in the Crest, Palmers Green. It was fun to watch their food horizons broaden. It was nice to have a niche too. No one else was cooking like this.

Then we started watching the original Masterchef, with Loyd Grossman and his stretched-to-destruction vowel sounds. That was it really, the Thai gave way to French and then to modern European. I'd kinda had enough of coconut milk anyway. Friends still came round to dinner but over time we managed to buy a table. No more straining of the cruciates.

One Masterchef recipe called for wild rabbit which one of the three butchers in Palmers Green supplied (there are none now). However, the animals came with fur and heads - two steps too far for me. I returned after an hour to claim the carcasses, now decapitated and skinned. Not gutted though, as I discovered. Too late to return to the shop, I ended up literally filling my kitchen sink with rabbit gore. Arms bloodied to my elbows as I tried very hard not to ruin the rabbit rack by plucking out the kidneys too hard.

During my 20s, all my food phobias were challenged. The very process of cooking meant I was forced to meet (eat) my demons. I discovered how onions were the essence of savoury, that tomatoes gave flavour and acidity, that mushrooms were delicious when not slimy, and especially with parmesan and parsley. But in truth - I still struggle with brassicas.

Yes I still have foods to overcome. Olives are a problem. It's only in the last few years, months even, that I've managed to embrace cauliflower, lamb, courgette, aubergine and whiskey. You have to keep trying.

I categorise the food phobics into five categories: 
  • Innate 
  • Medical 
  • Religious proscription 
  • Childhood trauma 
  • Squeamishness 
Of these, the last is the most annoying. We are getting more squeamish. Once we'd chow down on offal: tripe, kidneys, liver, trotters, heels, brains, melts, lights, heart and sweetbreads. I suppose because with supermarkets and modern packaging we've lost a real relationship with food origins. There's revulsion at the visceral revelation. The innards have been removed from the windows; the blooded sawdust swept out of memory.
Mind, I know people who won't eat berries off a bush (germs!) but are happy to kiss their dog. Yeah, and you know what dogs like to lick? Not berries.
I'll pass, thanks.
There's not much argument with numbers two or three. Although I'm sure some add weight to their aversions by aggrandising a dislike to an allergy. 'I don't really do dairy' they say, through ice cream lips. I used to be that way with milk. I am of the generation, pre Thatcher (...Thatcher, milk snatcher) that was given a bottle of free milk during the first break time. I loathed it. Having no fridge large enough and having no inclination anyway, the milk bottles were left to stew in the sun, or in winter, some kindly soul would usually kick the crate close to a huge, cast iron radiator. Consumption was compulsory. It was like liquid cheese. Ghastly.
The first category, innate, are very rare. There are some people, super tasters they're called, who are born with more tastebuds than the rest of us and are very sensitive to bitter flavours. They find beer, coffee and even dark chocolate hard to stomach.
Others are born with very particular sensitivities. You can, for instance, inherit the OR6A2 or 'coriander-hating' olfactory gene. But it is possible to train yourself out of these.
The vast majority of aversions are borne of childhood trauma - like my lukewarm milkmare. Fish bones in throats, sickness following meals, badly butchered meat; all are culpable. Childhood habits are horribly hard to break. Even now (milk again) I shake a bottle out of the fridge. Of course it's been homogenised for decades. I don't drink the last swig of tea in a mug. One mouthful of tealeaves when I was five or six was enough.
School dinners put me off many things. I can still remember a nasty nursery dinner lady who insisted I finish my cabbage. I was refusing on account of the large piece of brown stem therein. She insisted. I complied. And threw up on the spot.
School meat too held no end of horror for me. It was the gristle: those pieces of jellied sinew and gobbets of connective gubbins that the made your jaws judder off in opposite directions and took my legs to the toilet. School beef was full of it. Oh God, and greasy Bisto gravy. And mash with grey bits. What the hell was that?
Enough.
Yes? Many would until they hear the name.
This is head cheese. Brains.
Since I've been cooking for the restaurant I've been shocked at how picky people are. Fish is the one proscription that saddens me. No fish shuts down a huge larder of options. I understand though; eating bad fish must be a memorable experience. Pea hatred I really don't get. How can anyone actively dislike the loverly little legumes? Eggs, tomatoes, anchovies, offal, sausages, broad beans, beetroot, goats cheese, blue cheese. All have been denied by my diners.
Sometimes I chat afterwards to people and invariably there's some infant incident behind it all. Friend of mine loathed fish - it began at his Catholic upbringing: Friday fish. Being forced, very unfraternally, by the 'brothers' to ingest badly cooked and doubtless not-so-fresh. Not knowing any of this I'd served him smoked haddock (in a splendid mustard and cheese sauce). Within a few mouthfuls he was a convert.
Yes/no?
Our taste changes with age anyway. As children we are much more sensitive to (potentially fatal) bitter and almond flavours. This lessens with age. I remember taking a furtive sip of my dad's pint of Brain's bitter (a Cardiff brewery) and being appalled. How could anyone do that for pleasure. I have no such issues anymore. Sadly. 
When I started writing this I had no idea it would become such a personal reveal. And despite my journey of inclusion, I still don't think I have a healthy relationship with food. I have far too sweet a tooth for a start. I'd love to be one of those true omnivores who can pull almost anything from the fridge and tuck in; pull bits off a carcass or the bottom of a roasting tin. Or pull together a 'supper' (I have an atavistic hatred of that word) of artichokes, pilchards, bitter leaves and some other back-of-the-shelf bollox. I still can't. A way to go yet. I have to keep reminding myself to get creative with veg. It's too easy to have family favourites and ignore the new. Keep trying, keep tasting.
Doing some research for this I stumbled upon a food so revolting that I don't even want to describe it. I wish I could unGoogle it. Far worse than anything fishy from Northern Europe that invariably involves putrefaction and urine. If you're brave, look up 'Balut', a delicacy in the Philippines. Not for me thanks.

Sunday lunch... with Baby Seb

Seb, my youngest ever guest, with mum Louise
Jason Suttie rang me. Yes, it is a similar name. But that wasn't his problem. His parents were over from Australia for his son's christening. The plan was to go to church and then enjoy a decent lunch in a local gastropub or restaurant. Trouble was... he couldn't find any. Could I, would I, do a Sunday?

I could.

I'm glad I did. Great weather. All very convivial. Lovely to see friends and family relax with my food. I might do it again. Give me a call. Convince me.

Look, it's a baby and I'm a bit of a wuss. I took lots of pics. Forget about the food on this occasion (lamb and choc tart again; nothing to report). This was all about family.