Seasonal Rhubarb, Mandarin and Saffron Cake

A delicious and gluten-free treat, perfect for afternoon tea or buried in fresh custard after a hearty Sunday lunch, my rhubarb upside-down cake is enhanced with pomegranate and rosewater, saffron and sweet mandarins.

Recipe: serves 8

Cake

3 medium eggs

165g butter

165g light brown sugar

1 bunch of rhubarb, leaves removed

180g self raising flour (I used Dove’s Farm gluten free)

1tsp baking powder

1 generous tbls Hortus Pomegranate and Rose Gin Liqueur (or one of your favourites)

For the compote

20ml rosewater

25g caster sugar

2 mandarin oranges peeled and diced

Good Pinch of saffron

1 tbls Hortus Pomegranate and Rose Gin Liqueur (or your favourite gin liqueur)

Method

Cut the rhubarb into 5cm pieces and place in a shallow, wide saucepan with the rosewater, caster sugar, mandarins and saffron. Just cover, with water and slowly bring to the boil then simmer until the rhubarb is just tender.

Remove the rhubarb and place it in the bottom of a greased, loose bottomed cake tin measuring 20cm across x 8cm deep

Boil the mandarins in the remained liquid until it has reduced to a sticky syrup, of a honey like consistency. Cool, then blend into a smooth compote. Add the liqueur and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 165 degrees c (fan)

Beat the sugar with the butter. Once thoroughly creamed, add the eggs, one at a time to prevent the mixture splitting.

Add the flour and baking powder (sifted) then, finally, gently stir in the Liqueur.

Pour the mixture over the rhubarb and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a skewer, pressed into the cake, comes out clean

Cool the cake slightly and turn out onto a plate – I often line the cake tin with a greaseproof liner as this really helps when it comes to the turning out, although you may need a knife to help a little.

Whilst the cake is still warm, pour the compote over. It should be of a jam-like consistency, and will sit nicely on top of the rhubarb

Serve with créme fraîche and a really good dusting of caster sugar.

Tip: if you prefer very sweet rhubarb, add more sugar to the syrup – I prefer a more tart flavour which foils the cakes sweetness nicely.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Variations on the Mince Pie

Every year, I do my utmost to avoid Mince Pies until, at least, the second week of December.  The description ‘warm mince pie’ always sounds far better than the factory produced supermarket offerings which frequent gatherings, events and parties at Christmas.

I believe that making your own is simple, far more satisfying and, it will certainly impress guests. Taking a pretty box tied up with ribbon to a friend’s house always proves successful. Which brings me onto the subject of making time for baking. Christmas is one of the socially busiest times of the year, and there are hundreds of recipes out there for homemade pasties, tried and tested – however I’m going to suggest using shop bought pastry – it’s time saving and perfectly good. The ideas below are based on shop-bought shortcrust, puff and filo – all include little upgrades to insure a perfect pie anytime. Mincemeat is something else which can be made at home, but it needs maturing, and unless you’ve made a batch in the summer (which I always forget to do) you come a little unstuck at Christmas. I often buy a really good quality ready made mincemeat and add to it, a couple of ‘twists’ here and there and you’re good to go. I have put together four very simple, but effective ideas – ensuring that the house will be filled with delicious Christmas scents, and you’ll still have time for that last minute shopping!

Fruity Mince Meat Crackers

Using Filo Pastry makes a crisp, lighter pie. I mix a jar of mincemeat with some chopped pear and chopped apple, this firms the mincemeat up nicely and provides more substance per bite. Take six slices of filo pastry, brush each piece with melted butted and layer three together, repeat with the next three slices, then cut in four rectangles (making 8). Place a spoon of mincemeat horizontally across each one (allowing a couple of centimetres clear either end), then roll into a sausage shape. Pinch in the ends to make little cracker shapes. Brush with melted butter.  Bake until golden brown (on a non-stick baking sheet) and serve with a good sprinkle of icing sugar mixed with a little cinnamon.

Marzipan and Mincemeat Swirls

Take one ready rolled sheet of puff pastry (or shortcrust) and unroll onto a floured board. Spread 1 400g jar of good mincemeat over the pastry. Grate 80g of marzipan onto the mincemeat. Roll the pastry horizontally until you have a ‘Swiss roll’ then pop into the freezer until well chilled – it will keep very well in the freezer until needed – simply take out and slice into disks of 1cm, place on a greased, non-stick baking sheet, brush on some beaten egg yolk, then scatter with silvered almonds and a little shake of  icing sugar. Bake at 180 degrees c until golden brown and serve warm

Pimped Up Pies

I’ve taken a little Italian inspiration for my Pimped Up Pies. One of my bugbears, when it comes to Mince Pies is avoiding a ‘soggy bottom’ – I have tried several methods to help prevent this, this is one of the most successful. Line a patty tin with ready rolled shortcrust pastry. Scatter 1/2 tsp of polenta into each pie then follow with 1/2 tsp of ground almonds, this forms a ‘pillow’ for the mincemeat. Mix one 400g jar of mincemeat with 1 tablespoon of Limoncello, add three of four chopped dates, and finally, the zest of one medium lemon. Fill the pies and top with pastry lids brushed with beaten egg,  bake until golden brown and served scattered with icing sugar and grated lemon zest.

Little Bakers Pies

Making Mince Pies with children is one of the family friendly aspects of the festive season which makes memories – we all remember helping our parents or grandparents in the kitchen; very clean hands, far-too-big apron. So why not get out the pastry cutters and top your pies with festive cut-outs, they can be decorated afterwards with silver balls, coloured icing or other treats. All you need to do is line a patty tin with pastry, put in a little mincemeat and let the little ones create. These also make great presents for family members too!


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Stir Up Sunday

Originating in the early 18th century, Stir Up Sunday is the day traditionally designated to undertake the making of the Christmas Pudding.

Always kept on the last Sunday before Advent, it is said that Stir Up Sunday originated from a passage in a sermon in ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ translated from the Roman Catholic ‘Excita Quarsumus’ and read on the last Sunday in November.

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”

However, whilst I consider myself spiritual, but not tied to one particular religion, I see it as a day to have fun with the family, make wishes whilst stirring, and generally set the scene for the beginning of the Christmas festivities. It also allows at least 4 weeks for the Pudding to mature in a dark cupboard before being brought flaming to the table on Christmas Day.

Traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus, my Christmas Pudding recipe is adapted from the doyenne of English cookery Eliza Acton, whose recipe was first published in the 1840s. Under the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), with Prince Albert’s Germanic influences, Christmas became the spectacle it it today, with so many of our Christmas traditions filtering down from this, most famous of couples.

Although the roots of Christmas Pudding’s are deep set in The Middle Ages – where meat and fruit was combined with spices in many recipes – the sweet, sticky, boozy concoction we know and love today is very much a product of post-reformation Britain.

Packed full of moist vine fruits, suet, mixed peel, spices and, of course, booze – it is synonymous with Christmas Lunch and, love it or hate it, no Christmas meal is complete without it. Traditionally, every member of the household takes a turn to stir the pudding and make a wish. My Great Grandmother would take her industrial sized Christmas Pudding to the local brewery to be steamed in the great vessels used for brewing and my grandmother, who is now almost 108 still enjoys taking a turn stirring the pudding and making her wish.

Historically, a selection of silver tokens are stirred into the mix – most often a sixpence (silver is by nature anti-bacterial so no poisoning worries there, although it does make for somewhat of a choking hazard) and the finder of this would “enjoy wealth and good luck in the year to come”.

Christmas Pudding

Serves 6-8

75g plain flour (or gluten free)

75g breadcrumbs (I like to use wholemeal)

175g suet (beef or vegetable)

175g chopped figs

175g sultanas

50g diced mixed peel

1 large apple, grated

1 large orange, zest grated and juiced

150g dark brown sugar

1.5 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp sea salt

100ml Armagnac (or any spirit you prefer)

3 eggs lightly beaten

Method

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, making sure that every member of the household gets to stir and make their wish!

Pour into a greased pudding bowl – I use a 21 cm Pyrex bowl – cover with a dampened new tea towel or muslin then tie securely with string.

Place on a trivet in a large lidded pan and pour water 3/4 of the way up the side

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 4 hours, topping up the water when necessary

Cool and store in a cool, dark and dry place – I keep my pudding in the bowl, in a large tin – you can ‘feed’ it with spirits but if you are planning on bringing it, flaming, to the table too much additional alcohol can prove dangerous.

On Christmas Day, repeat the steaming procedure for 1 and 1/2 hours then serve with your choice of Brandy Butter, Custard, Cream or Vanilla Sauce – not forgetting the obligatory sprig of decorative Holly!


Frontier Style Cherry Skillet Pie

It’s #NationalCherryDay so here’s my recipe for a very simple cherry skillet tart or pie.

Combining cinnamon with the flour gives a delicious crust which, when filled with the kirsch flavoured cherries, is really quite moreish. This pie is very juicy, almost self saucing, and the crisp outer crust can be ripped off and dunked into the cherry juices.

This recipe originated in the frontier days, when families travelled across America by wagon train, with very few personal possessions- perhaps only a griddle, a skillet and a cauldron which formed their kitchen, so, the frugality of the recipe is rather fitting. They would have cooked using communal ovens, Dutch ovens and most often over a wood fire.

Many Welsh mining families emigrated to the ‘wild west’ in the later 19th century – some of my ancestors included – so this is a little homage to them.

Ingredients

100g cold unsalted butter, grated

250g plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

2 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar

2 eggs

Water to mix

Pinch of salt

250g stoned fresh cherries

1 tbsp kirsch

4 heaped tbls golden caster sugar

Method

Rub the flour into the butter until you have fine breadcrumbs

Stir in the cinnamon and sugar

Add a beaten egg and bring the pastry together, if it’s too dry add a little water or milk, if it’s too wet add a little more flour

Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees c

Roll out the pastry roughly and use it to line a greased skillet or tin. Make sure that the pastry goes over the edge a little as this will form your crust

Add the cherries, then sprinkle over 3 tbls of sugar and the kirsch

Fold the edges up and over to form a rustic pie crust, then glaze with beaten egg,

Sprinkle the crust with the remaining sugar and a dusting of cinnamon

Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and the cherries bubbling

Serve warm with ice-cream, cream or custard – or all three!


A Few Foodie Thoughts In The Bleak Midwinter

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After Christmas, the harsh month of January brings about a distinct need for creative culinary construction. It begins with the craving for spring. Soon after the Christmas items disappear, just as the Easter eggs start filling the supermarket shelves my heart yearns for oranges. There’s something wonderful about those Spanish oranges which conjure up the most vibrant sweetness winter has to offer. There is a historical decadence –  I can imagine standing on the dock waiting for the old orange boats to arrive, perfuming the air – and, now I am compelled to share a fetish – a peeled orange sliced into rounds, sprinkled with sugar and served at tea time with white bread and butter. This was my paternal Grandmother’s stalwart, a strange comfort of my childhood.  Of course, oranges mean marmalade and the chore of prepping pound after pound, however, when you open one of those little jars in the warm of a summer’s day,  it’s suddenly worth all the effort.

January, often the darkest and bleakest month – and certainly, the most depressing,  is a time of soup or Cawl as we call it in Wales. Cawl gyda caws – cheese with soup, a surprisingly good combination especially if one pairs a good, hard sheep’s cheese with a lamb stew. In times of revolution the Welsh called for caws gyda bara (cheese with bread); and I am inclined to agree, simple yet always satisfying.  Soup is still ‘home’ – My mother constantly has a pot of lamb Cawl waiting for us to dive into any time we pop around. A hearty, steaming bowl, a thick slice of Alex Gooch (alexgoochbaker.com) sourdough bread smothered in fabulous Netherend Farm Butter made on the other side of the Forest, and, maybe a slice of Smart’s Double Gloucester, a fine example of one of the few great Gloucester cheese-makers remaining.

Weekdays often begin with a Winter breakfast of thick creamy porridge bathed in maple syrup and double cream, the oats first soaked overnight – a perfect start to a days foraging, although not foraging in the conventional sense. A circumference of 15 miles encompasses all manner of fabulous local producers giving a varied choice of specialised products most of which far exceed those found even the better supermarkets. And afterwards? Arriving home to a Winter frost calls for steaming mugs of cocoa, made the old way with thick, creamy, non-homogenised, whole milk (Oh for the days of unpasturised legality!). Whisking the mixture over the stove creates a delightful froth on which to balance the all-important marshmallows, whilst selfishly hiding the usually alcohol-infused nectar. I think a dollop of whipped double cream is essential (providing the cocoa is scalding hot), as is a freshly baked biscuit or bun, something plain to enhance rather than interfere with the robust chocolate flavour.

The Monmouthshire/Gloucestershire culinary traditions are deep-rooted in those whose families arrived here for work, moving from the rural farm professions into a more promising industrial future.  When one says ‘Gloucestershire’ three things spring to mind pork, cheese and cider. Monmouthshire is a more veiled delight, clinging to many Welsh traditional recipes whilst asserting its Anglo allegiance. Monmouth Pudding, probably the most famous Monmouthian dish is rarely seen on a menu yet is one of those fabulously rib-sticking puddings deserving of a place after a robust Sunday roast. Moist layers of jam and crumb-thickened custard give the Monmouth Pudding its distinctive red stripe. Personally I believe it to be named after the famous Monmouth Cap, historically made in the Overmonnow district  – their distinctive shape reminiscent of the pudding bowl. And so we are spoiled for choice every Sunday, will it be a handsome leg of Welsh Lamb, enrobed in its buttery sweet fat studded with rosemary from the gnarly old bush which sits, like a pondering wise woman, in the corner of the courtyard; will it be a plump Madgett’s Farm chicken, encrusted with crunchy sea salt, its sage and onion voluptuousness bursting from its moist depths; or will it be a handsome Gloucester Old Spot shoulder, rolled and stuffed, its crackling crisp with a surprisingly delicate perry gravy at its  side; finally and perhaps the King of the Sunday table, a prime rib of Usk Valley Beef, rare and juicy, with puffed up, courtier like, Yorkshire Puddings sitting alongside this, most decadent of dishes. A stately queue of puddings wait in the shadows for their moment, and arrived flanked by homely jugs of rich yellow custard. This is how a weekend should end; or how the week should begin.

January is also a wonderful month in which to bake. Childhood memories are filled with the smell of sticky buns cooling on the kitchen table; my maternal Grandmother, now almost 107 and still thriving, would stand me on a stool in her tiny cottage kitchen, a tea towel for an apron, and let me pound the rich dough, showing me, with her cool hands the ebb and flow of the master baker. I’d wait beside the oven demanding a bun straight from the tin, but no, they needed glazing. On went the sugar and water, the buns proudly glistening until, juggling the hot bread from hand to hand, I managed to take a bite.

In the adjoining sitting room, the fire would crackle alluringly, the little brass toasting fork waiting to be called into duty, creating piles of slightly charred toast to anoint with rich salted butter. There would be buns to take home in an old Danish cookie tin, perhaps some fairy cakes and best of all some fruit fingers made with pastry leftover from the apple pie. Folded with sugar and dried fruit, and sliced into rectangles, these ensured that nothing went to waste. My maternal Grandfather, a somewhat eccentric artist, would make bread with wholemeal flour and honey, and would stand over the stove, stirring great pans of butterbeans or ‘fruit on the turn’ to make into his legendary ‘Rocket Fuel’ wines. Some memories stay with you for ever.


Spicing up the Welsh Cake for the Autumn

Welsh Cakes have always been my go-to standby for surprise guests; they are so simple to make and are best eaten hot, bounced from hand-to-hand almost straight from the pan. My grandmother, who at the age of twelve took over her family’s weekly baking told me how Welsh Cakes scarcely made it out of the pan before being demolished by one or other of her brothers.

I enjoy the ritual of the Welsh Cake; I always feel as if I am at the end of long, ancient line of ‘planc’ bakers, even the cakes reputedly burnt by King Alfred were Griddle Cakes. There’s something so comforting about the pliable, slightly sticky dough and the griddle warming on the stove. I own three; one standard, plate-sized and Welsh made; an enormous (almost too big to carry) very old planc pitted through years of use and delightfully burnished with age. My latest acquisition, mostly due to my burning myself frequently, is a cast iron enamelled Staub crepe pan with a proper handle. As long as I remember that handles get hot, this seems to work extremely well, and it is also perfect for cooking breakfast and steaks on, and pancakes (which is its true purpose)

Welsh cakes, traditionally, are dotted with currants and liberally scattered with caster sugar, but in this recipe I have removed the currents and replaced them with a generous teaspoon of cinnamon which gives an autumnal feel to the cakes. I always find Easter biscuits and traditional Welsh Cakes very similar in taste so perhaps I associate currants with spring, but in the colder months cinnamon is wonderful for warding off colds and it has anti-inflammatory properties to ease those cold-weather aches.

We like to serve them topped with clotted cream and jam, or (and I don’t advocate this too often) clotted cream and golden syrup.

Welsh Cakes are also extremely family friendly and children love to help cut out the dough in a variety of shapes, we’ve even made pumpkin shaped, Halloween ones.

A good Welsh Cake should have a soft, light scone-like texture; they cannot be cut too deep nor too shallow. They keep well in a tin and there are very few people who’ll refuse one when offered!

Autumn Cinnamon Welsh Cakes 

Makes 12-18, depending on size but as long as they are generally the same thickness it’ll be fine

250g self-raising flour

pinch of salt

130g unsalted butter

90g caster sugar (I use unrefined because it gives a lovely toffee-like undertone)

1 large egg, beaten

1 heaped tsp of cinnamon

splash of milk

2tbls sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Method

Add a pinch of salt to the flour and rub in the butter

When the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and combine well

Pour in the egg – a little at a time until you have a sticky, light dough. You can add a splash of milk or a little more flour if the dough appears too soft or too dry

On a floured board, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 8mm and cut into shapes as desired

Heat your bake-stone or a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat

Cook the Welsh Cakes until golden brown and then turn over

Reduce the heat to low and keep turning them until they are evenly coloured and cooked through (you may need to ‘test’ one at this stage)

They usually take about 12 minutes in total but it will vary depending upon thickness of pan and thickness of cake

Remove and place on a cooling rack

combine the sugar and cinnamon and dust over the Welsh Cakes


Back to school, foodie festivals….and sticky buns!

IMG_1722For years, those words, banded about from about mid-June terrified me. I admit that I did not enjoy school; I was classic bully fodder and suffered terribly. Now, Master A is about to start secondary school; luckily he takes after Mr D and is very popular albeit a little geeky around the edges and after twenty five years I am finally at peace…I think (although I have been having anxiety dreams for the past week).

I still associate September with fresh starts. I think it is ingrained upon you as a child that the true New Year is actually your first day back to school in September; I have implemented diets,  started projects and freshened things up, all in that first week of September. Perhaps that’s why I am an Autumnophile.

In other news, the food festival season has now started and most weekends will find me surrounded by delicious foods and sampling all manner of little drinkies, all in the name of research of course. However, as they are on weekends I do have to ensure that Master A, when he comes with us, always has something to look forward to, rather than trailing around after Mum, lamenting his enforced separation from various gadgets. Luckily, he only gets bored after a couple of  hours; he is a cheese fanatic and will, ostensibly,  try anything (even though he is rather more picky at home). Last year saw us sharing our car with a lovely wedge of the famous Stinking Bishop, perry-washed cheese whose odour is somewhat akin to trench-foot!

I do believe in feeding your children a nourishing diet, certainly not without treats though.  I have found that limiting sugar and swapping white for wholemeal, heritage grains or sourdough does help with concentration hugely. I enjoy baking and always make sure that I stock up the tins with lots of yummy treats. This week I have been making Spelt Buns, with an egg-enriched dough. We are split into two camps in our household – Camp Cinnamon (myself and Master A) and Camp Fruit (Mr D), so I made both. Using spelt flour makes these buns more easily digestible and you needn’t kneed quite so much as with wheat flour.

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These can be made with only a small amount of sugar (and a tiny dusting of icing sugar) as the fruit or cinnamon adds its own natural sweetness.

The Bun tradition is Britain is wonderfully regional, with almost every county and often town having its own variety. The most famous buns being the Chelsea Bun and the Bath Bun (which is also home to the Sally Lunn which possible originates from the French Sol et Lune, sun and moon). In Cornwall, Saffron Buns are found; rich, yellow and slightly spicy. Obviously the most famous is the Hot Cross Bun which is pan-British; however if you delve into those dogeared cookery books you’re bound to find hundreds of small variations which give each bun its individual identity.  The lesser know varieties (mostly from the Bun-loving 17th century include;

The Real Current Bun (Hampshire late 17th C)

The Colston Bun (Bristol mid 17thC)

The London Bun (Unk. but NEVER to be confused with the finger bun!)

 

 


Proustian Thoughts…

  

 

I had a relatively unusual childhood. As the product of musician parents I spent a good deal of time with grandparents and my love of food and cookery lies very much in the hands of my Grandmothers. My paternal grandmother was from the Welsh Valleys; she was from a rather poor family who had little but made the most of what they had; she was famous for her Chocolate Eclairs which she would bake in rather nifty 1950’s eclair tins, always to the same exact recipe, all timed and usually perfect. Her standard dish, come Autumn, was her Stew which would be served with dumplings, on a plate with a knife and fork to eat it with (yes, we always found it odd). It was simple food but tasty, the meat would be coated in flour and the whole thing pressure cooked until the braising steak fell apart and it was ready for the dumplings,  but I recall that there never were enough dumplings. I assume that these recipes came from the Marguerite Patten cookbook sat alongside one or two photo-history books , bible and dictionary, which completed her rather meagre library.

My maternal grandmother, who is still alive and very much ‘with it’ at 104 was born into a middle class Cardiff family and grew up near the docks in Newport. Her memories are amazing, she recalls everything in such great detail; the shops and shopkeepers, her mother’s food, her father’s breakfast choices, which bacon and sausage were accepted and which were considered beneath them. 

As a little girl I would stand on a stool, clean tea-towel serving as an apron, in Grandma’s tiny, dark, Welsh cottage kitchen, more of a lean-to than anything and knead dough, add tiny drops of browning to gravy or coat buns with a sticky sugar and water glaze. She would make proper chicken dinners, the veg would be yellowing and over soft, yet comforting. There would be a rice pudding baking in a chipped enamel tin, another Roses tin filled with cakes to take home. There were always battles in that household as my Grandfather, a rather bohemian artist-type would insist that Grandma bought the wrong bread (he was all for wholemeal, not white) so he would be forced to make his own, a dense crumb and pale crust with a hint of honey sweetness. He would also cook great pans of butter-beans and eat then with with a spoon, bread and butter on the side.

As I have previously mentioned, my life is remembered in tastes; sometimes colours as well, but always tastes. To me, even air tastes different. I recall the tang of the Parisian air as I was walked about the city at the age of eight; the warm, soft, herb tinged air of Provence, almost honey sweet; and the cloying scent of my home town in Autumn, the fruit and decomposing leaves, again, creating a taste memory rather than a smell. 
Sometimes I can’t quite put my finger on the origin of these Proustian moments, my mind first identifying happiness or sadness, then offering the final pieces of the puzzle; a definite ‘ah’ moment. I want my son to have these memories…after all as you can never quite recreate the whole food/surroundings moments once experienced, you must just make new ones – the sea salt on the lips as you devour Padstow fish and chips, the exploratory mouthfuls of goats cheese at a market in the south-west of France. I really enjoy these ‘Mummy, remember when we ate…’ moments; even shop bought antipasti eaten in front of a roaring wood fire whilst listening to Verdi’s Requiem has its place in my sensory library; the juxtaposition of a continental summer versus a cold Welsh autumn.

 I recall once eating a superb piece of pork in a cream and apple sauce in a seafood restaurant in Brittany; against the grain, yet remembered in detail. One taste of pork with cream and I’m back there, remembering the blue tiled floor and paper tablecloth. Another taste/smell memory comes from Estonia where, in a wooded clearing, beside a lake, the air full of pine trees and smoke, I ate barbecued, herb strewn fish, so fresh that it was almost still breathing; the dill and salt and pepper crust hiding a pale, delicate pink flesh…it was sublime and entirely unique.