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Happy January: Galette des Rois


Inspired by this tweet from @ulteriorepicure I decided to make a galette de rois, or kings’ cake. I loved the look of it but didn’t know anything about it. There’s lots of lore around about this cake in books and on the internet, the most delightful is from Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food:

“The glowing galette des rois found in Paris, Lyons and generally north of the Loire is fashioned almost exclusively from… the classic feuilletage. The ‘kings’ they honour are the three Wise Men come to pay homage to the newborn King of Kings in Bethlehem. They appear around the Feast of Epiphany.

The traditional way of eating this galette, at dinner in a French home in January, goes something like this: the warm galette is brought to the table where its fragrance and beauty are admired briefly before it is cut into the proper number of wedges. A child, usually the youngest, is sent to hide under the table, there to act as oracle. To the summons ‘Phoebe’ (or ‘Apollo’) he replies in Latin, ‘Domine’ (master). As he indicates each portion, the ‘master’ asks, ‘For whom is this the piece?’ and the child calls out the first name that pops into his head, without regard to age or station, until all are served and begin eating in an air of anticipation. For someone is about to find the bean in his cake and thereby become king (or queen) of the festivity.”

I just went for a coin as I had no dried broad (fava) beans. I scoured a few recipe books and used the recipe from the Desserts and Pastry edition of the Alain Ducasse Grand Livre de Cuisine. Though I used the Modernist Cuisine at Home creme patisserie recipe and added some almond essence to boost the almond flavour of the filling.

I was delighted with the result (pictured above), and Mrs Scrumulous brought it to her work were I hear it was well received. I’m not sure who played Phoebe, but I hear the queen was delighted with her prize.

Posted January 29th, 2013.

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Irish Wood Fired Pizza

Following on from the post detailing our delightful spit-roast lamb adventure, I’ve added another page about the second big do at the island we visit – this time we built a wood fired pizza oven to celebrate the impending nuptials of our friend Benjamin. The page details the building process and the cooking itself, and is found here.

Posted January 28th, 2013.

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Badger Bourguignon

When my brother came across a recently deceased badger on his way to work one morning last year – he lobbed it in the back of his van. He has a collection of small animal skulls he’s growing (the collection – not the small animal skulls), though with the suggestion of a stew I was in. Here’s the account of our badger extravaganza.

I’ve since learnt two things about eating badger: firstly, they’re delicious; secondly – everyone, it appears, is a badger expert – everyone.

Of course I’m comfy with the fact that a badger feast may not be everyone’s cup of tea, fair enough;  also that some may find the idea a little icky – though I didn’t make anyone eat it. The voices of dissent fell into three camps (mixed metaphor alert): 1) the “how could you – but it’s a poor dear creature” group, 2) the ” you will die” gang and 3) the “people don’t do that kind of thing” types. Here’s some brief thoughts on these three positions:


1) “how could you – but it’s a poor dear creature”

Well, the thing is, I didn’t actually kill this one – it was already dead. Each of the contributors to this line of argument were carnivores who would happily tuck into a roast chicken or steak – just don’t tell them were it comes from. Upon being challenged that knowing were your meat comes from is an important act of taking responsibility, one person explained that they sort of thought they were nearly vegetarian – and might be if they thought about it too much; where in my view we should as a matter of course think about the food choices we make, it’s not an optional extra.

Two friends who are vegetarians really appreciated the fact that as carnivores we were happy to tuck in to our meaty providence. Regarding such issues I read an interesting book recently called The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli which documents the writer’s journey to being a hunter following periods of vegetarianism and veganism. It explores the issue of taking responsibility for our food choices by way of a thoughtful personal narrative and is worth a read. The author also blogs here.

2) “you will die”

This one did require a little more thought. Badgers as many people know are carriers of TB: bovine TB to be precise; which can in rare situations be spread to humans. The response to this is fairly straight forward food science, though I’m lucky enough to have my copy of Modernist Cuisine to help with such matters, a large part of the first volume is dedicated to supporting chefs and enthusiastic home cooks in their quest to understand how to keep cooking safe. Anyhow, pasteurising was the fella – so I decided to do a badger bourguignon (low and slow cooking), as well as sous vide the loin. It’s fairly straightforward to determine how long you need to hold a piece of food at a given temperature to achieve a safe level of pathogen reduction. Anyhow, there’s also a few posts of other fellow travellers who’ve cooked badger and still seem to be around, like this one.

3) “people don’t do that kind of thing”

This is not disimilar to point one, though less related to animal welfare, more to social convention – I’m not sure which I find more silly. One person actually said, in order to try and dissuade us from proceeding: “but I’ve never read anything about eating badgers”. I resisted the temptation to ask if the person in question had, in fact, read everything ever written – which seemed implied. Instead I was glad to be able to quote some text from Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food which tells us that badgers were routinely cooked in Ireland, often cured much like bacon, and were a common choice of meat in  England – often spit roast – as well as other details. We used to eat so much more of natures larder and many folk will balk at eating a whole range of foods that used to be staples – simply because of convention and mass production. (it goes the other way too: at a recent visit to a smokery in Scotland we were told that salmon was considered such a cheap and common ingredient that servants contracts stipulated it should only be served to them twice a week or less).

Anyway – rant over, we were committed (to cooking the badger in case you’re thinking of any other way) and decided to convene a meeting of the chaps. The meat was delicious, we all noticed the dense texture – almost like offal, but with a strong taste – reminiscent of well hung beef, and not particularly gamey. I used Julia Child’s classic Bourguignon recipe as a start, and used a technique suggested by Thomas Keller in the Bouchon cookbook  to ensure a clearer sauce and less mushy vegetables.

Here’s the recipe:



legs and arms of one badger: boned and cut into bite sized chunks, see above
one badger loin
200g streaky bacon, cut into lardons
some neutral oil (e.g.: rapeseed)
2 carrots, chopped into rounds
1 large onion, sliced
bottle robust red wine
500ml beef stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
50g unsalted butter
teaspoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf, sliced
250g fresh mushrooms
2 carrots cut into batons
50 grams butter, cubed


1) Preheat oven to 160°C

2) Saute bacon to render fat in pan, set bacon aside.

3) Add some oil and heat to nearly smoking and, in batches, fry the meat from the badger arms and legs until browned, set aside.

4) Fry the carrot rounds and onions in the oil until browned, add the garlic for the last few minutes.

5) Add the vegetables and reserved bacon to a casserole dish and add the tomato paste and herbs.

6) Cover this layer with a double layer of muslin then place the reserved badger meat in an even layer on top of the muslin.

7) Pour in the red wine and stock in equal amounts to cover the meat, season with salt.

8) Add the casserole, covered in foil to the oven and cook for 4-5 hours.

9) Whilst the braise is cooking, add the loins with the butter to a sous vide bag. Seal, and cook at 65°C for around 75 minutes depending on thickness of the loins – to achieve pasteurisation. Reserve.

10) When the meat is ready, cook the mushrooms and carrots.

11) Reserve the meat in a warm dish using a slotted spoon to remove it from the casserole dish, avoiding disturbing the muslin layer (and so avoiding the layer of aromatics from touching the meat).

12) Pour the braising liquid into a pan through a chinois lined with a double layer of muslin, discarding all the vegetables and herbs.

13) Reduce sauce by 25-50%, skimming off any scum that appears on the surface.

14) Thicken the liquid if necessary using method of choice, and season with salt, pepper and red wine vinegar if necessary, whisk in cubed butter.

15) Toss with the meat and warm through, adding the just cooked vegetables and the end, top with the (warmed if necessary) loins.

16) Serve to courageous, badger loving comrades, with a gorgeous rioja and some derring do.


Posted January 28th, 2013.

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Spit Roast Lamb!

I’ve added a page to the site which describes how we designed and built a spit for roasting lamb – using old bicycle and a washing machine motor. We then carted the whole thing to an Island on Fermanagh – here’s the tale.

Posted January 5th, 2013.

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The Big Day

Scrumulous has been post free for a few months now: an explanation is in order. One of my brothers tied the knot a few weeks ago, the other brother was best man. Several months ago Adam (the now married) and his partner (now wife) Fiona asked if I’d make the wedding cake – this sounded great and I was delighted to be asked – a nice wedding present for them. Fast forward a few weeks and they pitched the idea that I do all the food. This was super exciting and I was really honoured that they were prepared to trust me with the food for their big day. So that’s what’s kept me busy for a while. I’m hoping to write up all the experiences and experimenting that led up to the day soon (including how Piggy Wiggy Woo turned out). In the mean time, here’s the menu for the wedding, and a picture of the cake, where it all started.




Posted July 6th, 2012.

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Sous Vide Beef Wellington

I love beef wellington! I only really buy fillet when making wellington or tartare as I like the increased deliciousness you get from sirloin or ribeye for steaks etc. However, there are few more glorious sights than a beautiful piece of aged fillet ready for being exposed to the wellington treatment. This one came from a butcher’s in Bessbrook, County Down which my friend Philip has been raving about.

We were staying at Philip’s place at the foot of the beautiful Mourne Mountains. I was cooking, the local pub summonsed the rest of our party to a Guinness drinking, rugby watching fest. My fine host Philip hanged fire for a while for us to catch up while drinking wine and prepping dinner – perfect.

The plan was for Beef Wellington served with potato gratin dauphinoise, turnip (which is what people here call swedes for some anomalous reason lost to history), deep fried brussels sprouts and a bordelaise sauce.

At this point I had intended to wax lyrical for a short while about the venerable history of that most British (English?) of dishes – the Beef Wellington. However, my precious go-to tomes on such matters (Larousse, Davidson etc) were not forthcoming (doesn’t even get mentioned specifically in Larousse – just the distinctly Gallic ‘fillet of beef en brioche’) – and so I’d have simply been regurgitating stuff pilfered from elsewhere on the web. Therefore – onto the cooking:

I’ve made this dish many different ways over the years – and it seems it’s one of those dishes which illustrate the elegance and utility of the sous vide/water bath technique. Here’s a pic of my water bath setup, on holiday as it was in South Down:

Some people recommend against the use of a hot plate with the PID controller this way – though I’ve been able to maintain temperatures accurately to about +/- 0.5°C – which ain’t too bad. I use an aquarium pump to circulate the water which really improved the uniformity of temperature in the bath (large pan). The controller is the Sous Vide Magic device from Fresh Meal Solutions – and it’s been performing great for around 4 years now.

So here’s how to do it:

Ingredients – serves 6 hungry fellows

One piece of beef fillet, trimmed of sinew/connective tissue etc – about 1.2Kg
Approx 100g butter
10 slices Parma Ham
500g chestnut mushrooms
Approx 500g puff pastry
Eggs for egg wash


1) Salt the fillet and vacuum pack with some butter (this melts in the bath and improves heat transfer when using non-chamber vacuum machines like I do).
2) For medium rare (safest bet I find cooking for a bunch of people) cook in a bath at 55°C – around 4-4.5 hours is required to ensure the beef reaches the required temperature all the way through.
3) When done – remove from the bath and plunge in a bowl of iced water. The fillet could now be frozen or kept in the fridge for later use.

4) When ready to use – remove the fillet from the bag – pat dry – and brown all over on a sooper-dooper hot pan, season with black pepper – then set aside. Preheat the oven to 220-240°C.

5) I like Wellingtons nice and simple, so prepare a very basic duxelles by finely chopping/pulsing in a food processor some chestnut mushrooms (about 500g for a 1.2Kg fillet), then fry without oil in a non-stick pan and salt to taste (you’ll see the moisture evaporate off, which is what you want – keep going until the mixture is dry).

6) Place a double layer of plastic wrap on a work surface, around 60cm by 45cm.
7) Place overlapping slices of parma ham on the plastic wrap as shown.

8) Spread the ham with the duxelles.

9) Place the fillet in the centre of the duxelles, then, using the wrap to lift the ham/mushroom coating, encase the fillet in the wrapping one side at a time. Fold the ham in at the ends. Twist the plastic wrap at the two ends to make a nice neat sausage shape.

10) Now a crucial detail: because we’ve already cooked the fillet perfectly in the bath, we don’t want to undo our good work whilst the pastry is being cooked. I’ve found that puff pastry can be a somewhat capricious fellow in terms of how long it takes to crust up, which means that there is the potential (if it takes longer than expected) that the fillet could be cooked further (i.e.: above 55°C), whereas all we want is it to be warm enough to feel good in the mouth.

So, to avoid overcooking the fillet I now place the fillet/mushroom/ham/plastic wrap parcel in the freezer for 30 minutes before wrapping in pastry. This additional step really helps add reliability. When in the oven to bake the pastry – the slightly cool fillet is brought up to a good eating temperature – with no risk of overcooking – unless you nuke the pastry…

11) Once the parcel’s been in the freezer for 30 mins, take it out and remove the plastic wrap – unless you’re low density polyethylene deficient and fancy a dietary boost. Lightly dust a work surface with floor, and roll out your pastry in a rectangle to around 3-4mm thickness, the rectangle should be sufficiently large to encase the fillet.
12) Wrap the fillet in the pastry, using an egg wash as glue and the tines of a fork to strengthen the seals; done well you can fold the pastry under at the ends and manage to get the top of the wellington seal free.

13) At this stage you can score the pastry with the back of a knife along its length – though I prefer to try to do something a bit prettier at this stage. Then brush the whole fella with egg wash.
14) Pop in the preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown – and you’re done! No need to rest the meat as you didn’t actually roast it.
15) Enjoy with delicious wine.

After a number of hours enjoying a selection of reds, it wasn’t the prettiest plate I’ve ever presented – but it was delicious:


Posted March 24th, 2012.


Tom’s Birthday DinDins!

It’s been just under a week since about a week ago which was the time appointed for Tom’s Dinner Party, see the menu below – here’s how it went:

Tom and I managed to restrain ourselves from proper drinking for at least an hour or two during our afternoon prep. A delicious shandy (made with Estrella) staved off proper booze til later. Food was for twelve including ourselves – once everyone had arrived it was time for some fizz (Piper Heidsieck Blue Top) – then swiftly on to the first course:

Smoked Eel Parfait, Rhubarb, Soy, Konbu Crisps

This went down well – though I forgot to add a sprinkling of salt at the last minute so they were a little under seasoned I think (it’s a problem to salt the gels while making them as it can disrupt the set).

Next up, Miso Soup:

Miso Soup, Prawns, Negi

This tasted great – I’d made fresh dashi and we used dark miso – we hadn’t been able to get mackerel so subbed prawns – negi is just scallions but sounds cooler. Time for our little selection of bites:

Cod and Potato Crostini, Sumac Spiced Chicken, Deep Fried Egg Yolk

Really good I think – though the egg yolks weren’t as gorgeously unctuous as they should be as they warmed (too much) in the oven. Mrs Scrumulous had made the gorgeous little cones for the sumac chicken. For all (I think) of us sumac was a new experience – reminded me of tamarind with that sour/tart component.

Time for Tom’s butternut squash risotto – totally delish:

Roast Butternut Squash Risotto, Queen Scallops, Cauliflower Foam, Parmesan Crisp

This dish was paired with a great Côtes Du Rhône Blanc from E. Guigal (2007). Tom had picked up some wine from one of his favourite shops – Bennet’s Wine Warehouse in Warrenpoint.

By this stage of the evening our commitment to full photographic documentation of the food was compromised by blood alcohol levels – so you’ll have to imagine the rest. The venison tartare was great – with one disappointment which was the complete reluctance of the wasabi mix to spherificate (if that’s a word) – so it became a wasabi dressing, here’s what they looked like when I’d practised them earlier:

Practising Sweet Wasabi Spherification

The big main was confit duck with pommes sarladaise and madeira sauce. The duck had been cooked using the Modernist Cuisine cure mix, then sous vided at 82°C for 8 Hours – and tasted great. The potatoes were lovely – and Tom’s madeira sauce was a MONSTER! Perfect. Another great wine from Bennet’s with this course, from the same producer: E. Guigal, this time their red from 2007. Brilliantly balanced and not too overpowering so perfect for the duck.

We finished off with some Tarte au Citron I’d made which we enjoyed a glass of Tokaji with – that is as far as I remember… Anyway – this is not the actual tarte, but a body double:

Tarte au Citron

All in all – scrumulous, and a great way to spend time with some of my favourite people; I’ve just about recovered.

Posted March 4th, 2012.


Menu for Saturday

Day off today to get some prep done for our dinner party on Saturday. It’s my friend Tom’s birthday so we’re heading up to his place and Tom and I will cook some food for a bunch of people, here’s what’s on the menu:

Smoked Eel Parfait, Rhubarb, Kombu Crisps

Miso Soup, Mackerel, Negi

Sumac Chicken ∗ Deep Fried Egg Yolk ∗ Cod Crostini

Roast Butternut Squash Risotto, Queen Scallops, Sage, Pancetta, Cauliflower Foam

Venison Tartare, Honey Wasabi Pearls

Confit Duck Leg, Pommes Sarladaise, Madeira Sauce

Tarte au Citron

Lots of Stuff from Brent Savage’s Bentley book. All the duck’s been done last week using the sous vide method from Modernist Cuisine, they were cooked for 8 hours at 82°C. Lots to do – we’ll take some pics as long as our sobriety remains somewhat intact…

Posted February 16th, 2012.

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Prosciutto Update

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Yesterday (mid February) was elevation day for our cured ham. As mentioned the pig leg had been curing in the fridge for 16 days and so it was time to prep it for hanging. The curing process allowed the skin to take on a darker, richer hew. As the pics below show, after rinsing the salt cure off, the next step is to cover any of the exposed flesh with lard (an oddly pleasurable job…). This step adds a protective layer like the skin, and also ensures that the drying process happens at a similar rate for the whole ham. Then it’s time to add a layer of crushed black pepper to discourage beasties. Another protective measure is to wrap the ham in four layers of muslin: the leg’s now ready to be hung.

Time for elevation! My brother has a beautiful garden housing some fabulous mature trees: a perfect spot for Swine Haus. Although an even more fitting reason to have the ham dry there is that it’s being prepared for his forthcoming nuptials in June.

Swine Haus was constructed using flotsam and jetsam I had lying around: some wooden batons, tongue and groove, plastic corrugated sheet and some chicken wire. The principal was to create a sheltered section above the ham in order to keep rain off – but to incorporate open spaces to the side and below the structure to maximise air flow to the ham to encourage the drying process – we’ll see how that’s worked in a few months time. We used some carabiners we had lying around to balance the Haus and to fabricate a makeshift pulley – the Haus is easy to allow down for inspection.

Posted February 13th, 2012.

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Pigs in Blankets

It’s 16 days since Piggy got the salting treatment which meant it was high time for him to come out of the fridge, get a wash and a lard and pepper rub, and all wrapped up in muslin. Not to mention spiked with butcher’s hooks. That’s all done and he’s hanging in our coldest room in readiness for taking up residence in Swine Haus tomorrow. Full post and pics to follow.

Posted February 8th, 2012.

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