Sunday, 29 July 2012

Griddled fajitas

Each year since my early 20s, the stock response to, "what would you like for your birthday?" has been, "Umm, nothing in particular."

Gone are the days when LEGO, Scaletrix or Micro Machines tripped off my tongue in my late teens...

This year was different. This year I was prepared with the response for the moment my mother asked - "A griddle plan please, and not just any griddle pan" (I'll say no more as to where it came from...).

My latest piece of kitchen equipment is by far my favourite for it's sheer versatility. My girlfriend has been wowed with griddled salmon, courgettes, asparagus, halloumi and used excellent powers of persuasion to talk me back from the brink of griddling a pitta..."think of the flavour" I cried...

For a quick Saturday supper after a busy (aka expensive) afternoon of shopping, chicken fajitas are perfect and lack in any pretence - an arthritic snail could knock them up in under 20 minutes.

To feed two:

2 chicken breasts
2 fajita wraps
2 large handful of lettuce leaves
1 onion
2 peppers (colour choice is yours)
100ml of creme fraiche
1 spring onion
1 handful of grated cheese
half a pack of fajita seasoning

Dice the chicken breasts into one inch cubes and place in a bowl and pour over the seasoning. For a change we opted for Colman's fajita mix as it was only 50p, which was adequate but go for Old El Paso for stronger, spicier flavour. You could always make your own, but like Thai green curry paste from a quality stockist, it's simpler and far better to buy the product ready made.

Place your fajitas between two plates and warm in the oven on 100c for the duration of cooking (this prevents them drying out). Heat your griddle pan with some vegetable oil and place in the chicken, turning when griddled. Remove the chicken when cooked through (I have to check each piece meticulously after an unfortunate experience at a well known fast food chain) and place in the oven to keep warm. Cut the peppers into strips and the onions into rings, add a splash more oil and cook for a few minutes, before turning. Remove from the heat, and if you love your griddle pan as much as I (or if you wish to save on washing up), place the chicken back in and serve.

For the extras, you can create a salsa or guacamole, but for us creme fraiche with a few thinly sliced spring onion sufficed.

Assembly is a skill; I watch in awe at the speed of the master craftsmen at their street stores in London - failing miserably when I attempt myself. Provided it doesn't leak too badly out of the sides, you're onto a winner.

This recipe has zero difficulty, but the addition of griddling adds great flavour and texture that isn't replicated by using a standard frying pan. There's plenty of variety in fajitas too, the BBQ in particular is great, so get creative.

My new love and I are now off to experiment with baked Alaska...

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Eric's Bread

I like to think I'm quite open with my food tastes, willing to try any local delicacy or dish that comes my way.

Transpires I'm not. Even the thought of aubergines makes me gip (a northern term I've learnt recently) and don't get me started on bananas.

In adult life, I realise my brain was impervious to the not so subtle stylings of messrs Popeye and Banana Man in my youth. My mum can probably testify that I never once requested these nutritious food stuffs after watching the latest episode, preferring to laugh moronically at the latest joke by Penguin (incidentally, watch this about the American food industry, the reverberations from which are felt across the west - fascinating).

Bananas have to be perfectly ripe before I even look at them. When those brown flecks appear, it's game over.

But this weekend, I thought no, you can do this, grow a pair garsh darn it and put these bananas to good use. So I did, and the below is my take on banana bread.


3 medium sized bananas
200 grams soft brown sugar
1 egg
75 grams of softened butter
tsp lemon juice
swift grating of nutmeg
170 grams of spelte flour
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
pinch of salt

I'm not much of a baker as I'm too pig-headed to follow recipes, but you do need to be pretty precise with this.

Start by preheating your oven to 160c and lining a loaf tin with grease proof paper as in the pic above, greasing the other sides with butter (papering all the way around is an unnecessary faff, and this way makes it easy to lift the loaf out when it's ready).

Take a mixing bowl and mash your bananas, not quite within an inch of their lives, but so the majority of the larger lumps have gone. Add in the butter and sugar, stir some more, then add in your egg, bicarb and lemon juice.

Beat the mixture, making sure it's nice and airy, then gradually add the flour to form a smooth, beige paste (sounds disgusting, tastes nice!). Add in the nutmeg and a pinch of salt, one final stir, then pour into your tin. At this point, bowl-licking is optional.

Place the mixture in the oven, and check on it after 50 minutes. I say this as we've the worst oven in history, and things take forever to cook. But banana bread can take it's time so be patient. I rescued mine (again, not doing my baking credentials any favours), as the outside started looking cremated but still had a mushy centre, by turning the oven off and letting the loaf sit for a further 30 minutes. This did the trick and left me with a rather nice afternoon treat and a rather proud girlfriend.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A tea fit for a Crumpet

Without going over board, I am lucky enough to have a truly wonderful girlfriend. Fun, supremely talented, incredibly generous and generally gorgeous to look at, I wanted to treat her to an equally lovely birthday.

Following an all too brief trip with friends to Bath, I could tell she was hoping for a quick return to the spa town, to indulge in her artistic passions in some of the best independent galleries around, as well as sampling some refined cuisine.

My plans centred on afternoon tea at the Royal Crescent Hotel.

Camouflaged in one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture the UK has to offer, the only suggestion of the Hotel's location is the dapper looking doorman to welcome the guests.

Once inside, the traditional decor is complimented by a supremely slick concierge team, and after the briefest of nods and dialogues we were whisked into the prime, luxurious seats, overlooking the garden (only slightly overshadowed by the occasional guest being escorted in a dressing gown to one of the many spa treatment areas - think mental institution for the rich).

We opted for the Royal Crescent Tea, with the additional glass of champagne that the special occasion warranted, as well as enough tea to sink even the hardiest WI.

Presented across three tiers, there were definite stars of the show; the smoked salmon sandwich was truly divine.

However, it was the patisseries which were incredible. Presented with a separate selection to account for her nut allergy (another excellent attention to detail), the lemon meringue cupcake with the secret lemon curd filling; and the scrumptious, buttery cherry flapjack were fantastic. It was though the passionfruit, with the shortest of short crust pastry and the rich, smooth filling, which made us wide of eye and still found its way into the fullest of bellies.

Post lunch, we strolled around the very quaint gardens, enjoying some of the more unusual effects.

My only criticisms: I'm a west country boy, I like lashings of clotted cream with my scones (and to be honest, any other sweet treat), so when the first pot disappeared quicker than Houdini, the requested additional pot never arrived, which was disappointing. Also, as you can see in the picture above, one set of sandwiches retained their crusts, which was lazy. Coupled with the rather dated restaurant decor, I would give the Royal Crescent Hotel a seven and a half out of 10.

As you can see though, the gorgeous setting, occasion, amazing patisserie...and probably the champagne, contributed to two very happy patrons indeed!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Baked goats cheese salad

Dear blog,

I'm so sorry I've neglected you this past month. You see, in an attempt to better myself, I decided to study, which is the reason you exist. But then study took over, leaving you to fester like all the other impulse fads and buys.

But unlike the toasted sandwich maker and the jumpers I never knew I had, I like you too much to push to the back of the cupboard to make friends with the moths and mold, and there's a multitude of cooking to tell you about...

Baked goats cheese salad for a baked spring day

With the mercury pushing 30c, and my Nicole Kidman-esque complexion drinking in the Vitamin D, the choice of dinner is a tough one.

Anything carby, creamy and generally heavy is a no - eating should be a pleasure, not a workout - and I've never been a big fan of salads, as the 'on trend' ingredient of choice is always rocket, which I can't stand.

However, a recent trip to Bath for Miss C's birthday significantly changed my outlook.

At the Riverside Cafe, a lovely little venue nestled in the cliffs overlooking the river, the birthday girl opted for a warm goats cheese salad, which as you can see looked great, and is even making me salivate looking at it now.

Being the incredible generous girl that she is, I was allowed a teaspoon sized portion and it tasted superb.

So, with renewed appetite and desire to sample a full sized portion, I created my own version, for which you will need:

2 whole goats cheeses (similar size to the above)
2 beetroot balls (ready prepared is fine)
1 spring onion finely chopped
2 generous handfuls of iceberg lettuce
1 generous handful of lambs lettuce

1 handful of fine green beans
1 small sweet potato, diced into 1cm cubes

Dash of balsamic vinegar
pinch of paprika
salt and pepper
squeeze of lemon

The method

Begin by heating oil in a roasting tin in the oven at 220c. When it's reached the heat, add in your diced sweet potato, sprinkle on the paprika, and cook for 40 mins. This are going to be your croutons.

Ten minutes from the end, add your goats cheese to the oven to warm through and make gorgeously gooey .

Now, heat a frying pan with a generous knob of butter and add your spring onions to gently sweat on a low heat for a few minutes (this takes the edge off them, and makes conversation afterwards bearable!). In the mean time, assemble your plate with the lettuce leaves, ripped and evenly shared between the two plates, drizzling the balsamic vinegar over. Slice your beetroot and lay to the side of the salad.

Remove spring onions from the pan and place on top of the salad leaves - I really like the mix of warm and cool ingredients in a salad, hope you do too. In the same pan, toss the fine green beans to coat them in the warm butter for all of a minute to retain their structure, season then artistically place around the dish. By this point the goats cheese and the sweet potato should be ready so remove these from the oven, placing the goats cheese atop the leaves and the 'croutons' to one side. Squeeze the lemon juice over and you should have something that looks like this...

Goats cheese and beetroot is a classic combination. The green beans add the crunch texture, with the sweet potato croutons adding a bit of substance to reduce the likelihood of 'I'm still hungry' syndrome. The lemon and the balsamic bring the sour and sharpness to tie it all together. A perfect supper..or lunch for that matter...for a very warm day, 

So, I have discovered a salad I can get on board with, and reaquainted with an old friend. It's nice to be back.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Spinach, chick pea and tamarind stew

I'm never keen on following recipes.

Granted, I have more than my fair share of cookbooks, but the thought of rigidly sticking to a recipe curls my toes. I hate rules, I hate routine...well showering daily is a pretty good one, but when it comes to cooking, I love to use these books as inspiration to invent my own creations.

Following one epic fail too many, I have decided that sometimes, the chef knows best (gracious I know...!)

In this instance, it is a chef whose work I hold in ultimately high esteem, and who I respect for shunning the gratuitous trawling of the 'celebrity' chef.

Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli who came to the UK in 1998 to study at the Cordon Bleu, produces some of the most visually stunning and vivaciously flavoursome dishes I've seen. And to top it off, it's all vegetarian.

I first became aware of his work whilst living in Clapham with a friend who worked for Yotam's publisher. On the coffee table was a copy of The Cookbook. Drawn by the bold and inviting imagery, I was blown away by the content, and spent the next few days waxing lyrical to anyone that would listen.

And now I own Plenty, equally brilliant and the source of my first recipe cover.

OK, now is the time to admit that I'm not exactly following this recipe to the letter. The reason, I couldn't source swiss chard in my primitive surroundings, so have therefore substituted the chard for spinach.

To serve four, you will need:

4 tsp of tamarind paste
400g of spinach
1 and a half tsp of coriander seeds
1 medium red onion - thinly sliced
2 tsp of caraway seeds
1 and a half tsp of olive oil
1 tsp of tomato puree
400g of chopped tomatoes
250ml of water
1 and a half tsp of soft brown sugar
400g of canned chickpeas (drained)
juice of 1 lemon
200g of greek yoghurt
handful of chopped fresh coriander and mint
salt and black pepper

400g brown rice
20g butter

Now, don't bulk at this list and think, jeez, how much will all that cost. OK, if you're starting from scratch then yes, it will add up. But once you've got caraway and coriander seeds, tomato puree, olive oil in store, they can be used in so many other dishes. Plus your water's on tap - just not in your garden hose...


  1. Dry roast the coriander seeds - remove and grind in a pestle and mortar (or in a bowl with the end of a rolling pin)
  2. In the same pan, add your oil, onion and carraway seeds and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes
  3. Add the tomato puree and cook through for 30 seconds
  4. Add the chickpeas, sugar, your now ground coriander seed and chopped tomatoes.
  5. Stir through the tamarind paste and season to taste
  6. Leave on a low heat for 30 minutes uncovered to allow the stew to thicken
  7. Now for your rice - cook as per the packs instructions, but should take in the region of 25 mins
  8. 15 minutes in, add the spinach to the stew to gentley wilt, check the seasoning and adjust if needed
  9. When the rice is cooked, spread evenly into four preheated bowls, and spoon the stem evenly on top
  10. Squeeze over the lemon, add a blob of yoghurt and sprinkle with the fresh herbs, then you're ready to go!

The aniseed from the carraway compliments the spice from the coriander seeds, the richness of the sauce and the sharpness of the lemon. Not the prettiest of dishes, but a flavour combination that needs to be tasted.

If you're a vegetarian looking for new recipes to shake up the mundane, then this book is all you need...if only I had the swiss chard...

Thank you Yotam, a true master of your art.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sundried tomato and olive pizza

I am awash with facts this weekend, so much so that unless Miss C bakes me a cake shaped ark, I just might get swept away.

It all stems from a night at the dogs to celebrate a birthday. Standing trackside by the traps, there was a cacophony of sharp intakes of breath, squeals and gasps (as well as copious amounts of grit in the face) at the speed at which these incredible animals take off. This led to a Google session that told us that greyhounds can reach 45 mph, and only the cheetah accelerates faster - which can reach 60 mph in three seconds.

And now it is to my main passion that I discover some facts about the origins of pizza, a dish so common and yet with very mixed application.

The pizza base is essentially a flat bread, which our ancestors have been serving up since neolithic times (I wonder what else they served at dinner parties in 10,000 BC...).
Initially covered in a plain red sauce, it wasn't until 1889 when Neapolitan chef, Raffaele Esposito prepared the inaugural margherita in honour of Margherita of Savoy, featuring tomato, mozzarella and basil (Italian flag...clever). The first pizza ever to include cheese - pretty much a given in pizzas today.
You can practically put anything on a pizza, which I'm sure is frowned upon in some circles but...get over it, if I want a fry up pizza, then a fry up pizza I shall have!

For this recipe, I'm making my almost favourite pizza - sundried tomato and olive. To be my true favourite, I would include a layer of pesto, but as my girlfriend and best friend forever #GFBFF hates it, I've left it out.

My generosity is extended purely as she was the one that bought me my pizza stone. If you don't have a pizza oven in your garden (I'm hoping this is the majority), get the pizza stone, it makes such a difference to make ultimately crispy bases.
To make two pizzas, you'll need:
375 grams of strong white flour
half a sachet of dried yeast
120ml of warm water
2 pinches of sugar
1 glug of olive oil

Add the yeast and sugar to a jug. Yeast is living and feeds on sugar, which is why I add a tiny bit to aid the process - never add salt at this stage as it will kill the yeast (sad times, bad pizza). Pour in the water and stir. Mean while, weigh out your flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Your yeast mix is ready to add when bubbles appear. Add a little at a time, mixing it in gradually then flour the work surface and get your kneed on for five minutes, until the dough is light and springy. Place it in a warm place and let it rise for half an hour - patience is a virtue as otherwise you'll end up with horrible dry bases...I know, I have the patience of a two year old.

Nb. Now is the time to turn your oven on to 225c and add your pizza stones (sorry, you'll need two for this recipe but on the plus, they are very reasonably priced.)
For the sauce:
1 tin chopped tomatoes
tea spoon of tomato puree
half a large red onion - diced into small cubes
1 glug of red wine
half a tea spoon of balsamic vinegar

Heat your flat bottomed pan to a medium heat with some oil and add your onions. Cook for a few mins until translucent. Add the red wine and cook for a minute to burn off the alcohol. Then chuck in your tomatoes, puree, and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and reduce the mixture by a third.
Retrieve your dough and divide into two, rolling out to fit your stone - mine's 12 inches ... ;-)
Evenly prick the base's centre as you don't want this to rise and blind bake them for five minutes, just to give them a head start and to avoid a soggy bottom.
After five minutes, take your bases from the oven, spread your tomato sauce evenly, and if you fancy my recipe, add mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, olives and a scattering of fresh or dried (more if the latter) oregano, basil and marjoram.
The dough beat me - point blank refused to be spherical!

Place your pizzas back in the oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until you have golden crusts.
Serve with a mixed herby salad and your favourite condiment - Miss C chose brown sauce...yeah.

The race track served us up an emaciated veggie burger and a cold jacket potato for an exorbitant fee, so next time, I will definitely be smuggling in a few slices of homemade pizza, whilst wowing the crowd with more greyhound related facts...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Sausage rolls sans meat

Vegetarian sausage rolls.

Up until two years ago, I would have said that that was an oxymoron. Anything other than pork masquerading as a sausage roll would have been sacrilegious.

Removing as many porky sausage rolls as I dared from the party buffet was a challenge I relished, and a flavour I cherished.

However, since Miss Crumpet, the non-red meat eating vege-pescatarian entered my life, and a willingness to broaden my culinary horizons has seen me try a number of new flavours, including the vegetarian sausage.

Our preference is for Linda McCartney's, a brand which is very hit and miss - the pies are pretty terrible, but the mozzarella burgers are fab. Often discounted to £1 for six (pretty bargainous), these sausages offer great value for money.

To make your vegetarian sausage rolls, you'll need:

4 vegetarian sausages
1/2 a pack of ready to roll puff pastry (all the chefs use this so no shame in not making your own)
2 large dollops of English mustard
2 large pinches of oregano
1 egg

To start, heat your oven to 180c and cook the sausages for 20 minutes. Whilst these are cooking, divide your pastry into four and roll all out to be about 3mm thick, and 100mm square in size.

Remove the sausages from the oven and place each an inch from the top end of their pastry sheets. On two, spread the mustard underneath the sausage, all over the pastry. On the other, sprinkle the oregano evenly - vegetarian sausage roll roulette.

From the top, roll your sausage rolls and trim off any excess pasty from the ends - you want a little over lap to make sure they seal properly. Brush over the egg wash and then back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden.

Golden vegetarian sausage rolls, surrounded by spinach and cheese muffins

We took these as a gift for our friends on our recent Easter trip to Brittany (which incidentally was absolutely stunning, I'd recommend a visit) and they all went within 10 minutes of opening the tin.

These friends are devout carnivores, all partial to a juicy steak. And yet none batted an eyelid to the vegetarian sausage roll - testament to the delicious alternative it provides...I might even go as far as saying my preferred choice (please don't smite me 25 year old Gastro...)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Simple supper health kick

Of late, I have been abusing my temple.
A weekend of socialising, involving drink (despite our masculinity, a penchant for Lambrini is disturbing to all but my inner circle) and late night fast food, has had a negative impact on my well-being, and like so many do, I'm now craving healthy things.

After a hard day's work, the simplest solution is what I'm about to enjoy, a roasted vegetable salad.

To feed two you'll need:
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 large flat mushrooms
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 x small floret of broccoli
  • half an onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • half a bag of watercress
  • one third of a pack of feta
  • A sprinkling of Cajun spices
  1. Turn the oven on to 200c and place a large splosh of oil into a large baking tray, and boil a large saucepan of salted water
  2. Chop your sweet potato into large chunks and submerge in the water. Par boiling will soften them and mean they won't take hours in the oven
  3. Roughly chop your other veg, with the exception of the mushrooms, which you'll want to keep hole
  4. After 12 minutes, take the sweet potatoes out, dry on some kitchen towel, and add to the baking tray, along with all of the other vegetables. Sprinkle over the Cajun spices and place in the oven for 20 minutes
Large pasta bowls are perfect for this - pop them in the oven to warm them through.

Arrange your supper with the watercress first, followed by the sweet potatoes. Spoon over the other vegetables and crumble the feta over the top.

The peppery watercress and salty feta means you can get away without seasoning (think healthy). Matched with the sweet vegetables, and the Cajun spice and you have yourself a really simple, well-balanced, healthy...generally gosh darn scrumptious supper.

So many other veg would work in this dish. I hate them (bad experience) but you could substitute aubergines, cherry as creative as you like. And if you're craving that sour note, a squeeze of lemon or if you live dangerously, a splash of tequila...let your imagination run wild...just be healthy.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Chicken provencal

I must be growing up.

For this Easter sparks the dawn of a new phenomena that I understand is a right of passage to individuals of a similar age to us - the couples' holiday.

Not only will this be our first couples' holiday, but also my one true love's and my first holiday abroad together, almost a year to the day after our first ever 'minibreak' to Norwich - a city and surrounding area I would highly recommend, not just as being the home of TV chef royalty, Delia.

Excitement levels are boiling over (in a more restrained way than in Fatal Attraction I hasten to add), in anticipation of a trip to a quaint hamlet in the north west of France. We have been briefed not to expect much from our friend's family's gite, but provided it's warm, clean and has a roof without leaks, I'm confident it will be delightful.

In honour of this trip, I bring you my take on a French classic, Chicken Provencal.

Whilst researching this dish, it becomes apparent that like spaghetti bolognese, there isn't one definitive recipe and method. I like this fact as for me, cooking is a voyage of discovery and a the perfect opportunity for flavour-exploration. Invoking Provence's location, nestled in the south east region of France, with the Mediterranean gently lapping against its southern boarder is sufficient inspiration for the rich herbs, bold tomato and olive, and acidic wine needed to make this dish.

So to feed two, you will need:
  • 4 chicken legs
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 large white onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A couple dozen mixed olives (try and get ready pitted to save you the job) coarsely chopped
  • A handful of fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme coarsely chopped
  • Quarter of a lemon 
  • 100ml of a nice white wine (if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it!)
  • Usual oil, salt and pepper for seasoning
Heat a splash of oil in a large flat bottomed pan. Add the chicken legs skin side down first, then brown all over. Add the onion, have two sips of wine (not the 100ml!), then add the garlic, and cook for a few minutes.

Add the wine, allow the alcohol to cook off, then squeeze in the lemon juice (toptip - squeeze through the fingers of your other hand to catch the pips), then add the tomatoes, three quarters of the herbs and olives. Turn down the heat, season and leave to cook through for 20 minutes.

At this point, depending on how peckish you are, you may want to prepare some mash, sauteed potatoes or rice to accompany the dish - I'll leave that choice with you...I chose rice.

By now your sauce should have reduced nicely, so assemble the plate with the your chosen carb first, followed by the chicken, then pour the glorious sauce over the top, sprinkle over the remaining herbs, kiss your thumb and finger tips and proclaim, voila!

Enjoy with the rest of the bottle of wine, whilst brushing up on your GCSE/O levelFrench - je m'appele le chocolat chaud...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Offally good

Apart from the occassional Blyton, my early forays into literacy was patchy to say the least. To the dismay of some readers, I did not choose any of the classics to bury my head in (unless 1993's compendium of the World's Fastest Cars counts), and to this day I've only dabbled with a few, but full of good intentions to broaden my horizons...

Instead, the first book that truly engaged me at 9 years old was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 and three quarters. Granted, my west country upbringing was nowhere near Ashby de la Zouch and my life was less dysfunctional (not by much though!), but I obviously connected with the light humour on some level. As Adrian progressed into adult life, I became less enamoured with his perpetually unfortunate escapades, until a recent culinary experience sparked a memory.

Fronting the fictional tv series, Offally Good, Adrian Mole does what the name suggests and cooks with offal. The thought turned my stomach until recent advocates such as Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall have lauded the virtues of Ox tongues and lungs, and dare I say it, brains. So I thought I'd give it a go.

Lambs liver salad with spinach, pomegranate, goats cheese and madeira dressing

8 pieces of lambs liver
2 full hand fulls of spinach
50 grams of crumbly goats cheese
half a pomegranate, seeded
1 glug of Madeira
Salt, pepper, butter and oil for seasoning and frying

Firstly, I was amazed at how cheap this dish was. My pack of liver, which would feed two, cost a mere 83 pence. The rest of the ingredients all came to under a fiver (excluding the Madeira which I had in stock following my duck recipe), with left overs for future lunches and snacks.

To begin, warm some oil in a frying pan (olive is fine, but rapeseed would be great) until sizzling. Fry your lambs liver for no more than three minutes on each side - you want them cooked through but not overcooked, tough and rubbery. Arrange your spinach leaves across two plates, and place your lambs liver artistically. Scatter the pomegranate seeds, and crumble the goats cheese on top. Finish by placing the pan back on the hob and adding the glug of madeira and a nob of butter. Cook off the alcohol, deglaze the flavour, pour over and serve. The sweet sauce and pomegranate, offset by the goats cheese and strong spinach, really compliment the liver.

Unfortunately, I was without camera for this recipe so can't provide you with any images, but the one below gives you a rough idea of what the liver should look like (bear in mind they've griddled theirs).

For another great recipe from one of my favourite blogs, see Belleau Kitchen for lambs liver with balsamic vineger (severe blog and kitchen envy here!). His is a beautiful combination of flavours, but with mine, I can promise your tongue will satisfied from tip to base!

So, if reading's your thing, take a look at some of the great books out there. If like me (and you probably will be if you're reading this blog), the cookbook is your bed time staple, immerse yourself in some of these, and recreate the classics.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Stingray chicken

The origins of the verb 'to marinate' date back to the days when our forefathers (or more like fivefathers it was so long ago) used to preserve food in aqua marina, or brine to you and I (which would have made the character in Stingray a lot less appealing).

From those origins spawned the idea to tenderize and flavour(ize) meat with acidic liquids such as lemon or wine, with complimentary herbs and spices.

Purveyors of Asian cuisine are masters in this department. Indeed a new British classic, chicken tikka masala, involves marinating - great recipe here. But it doesn't have to be complicated. Once you've mastered some flavour combinations, you too can reap the benefits.

This dish uses:
  • Lemon;
  • Ginger;
  • Soy;
  • Honey; and
  • Thyme
for the marinade as well as:
  • chicken legs (or thighs, or breast with the skin on);
  • basmati rice; and
  • mixed vegetables for stir frying. Enough to feed all of your hungry bellies (not implying bovine descendancy, I mean family)
The process involves slicing the chicken's skin and placing in a clear plastic bag with all the marinade ingredients, for all the flavours to infuse. You can do this in the morning before work - will take 10 minutes max - and pop it in the fridge for when you get home. Top tip save some of the marinade for the cooking process. Don't be tempted to use the marinade in with the chicken in the cooking process as raw chicken can harbour nasties that can upset even the strongest of stomachs.

So, now you're back from a hard day's graft, let's get cooking.

Heat a large frying pan or wok with a tea spoon of oil and lightly brown the chicken legs to give the skin some colour and crunch. When you have an even colour throughout, remove the chicken legs from the wok and arrange them in a heavy casserole dish and cover in the remainder of the marinade. Place in an oven heated to 190c for 30mins.

Cook your basmati rice as directed on the packet, and fry off your vegetables. I chose broccoli, red peppers, garlic and spring onion, purely because food stocks were running low and this was the only choice! But you can try courgettes (zucchini to my American friends), aubergines (egg plant ditto) or my personal favourite, kale.

When the chicken's ready, the juices will run clear and will be a mouth watering golden colour.

I'd recommend to serve this feast in a large bowl: rice, two chicken legs for adults, and a large helping of the clean, crisp veg, with the juices from the dish drizzled on top.

This would be even better on the BBQ, enhanced by the smokey coals, so do try it when the evenings start get longing and warmer...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Grown up fish fingers and chips

What to cook on a Friday night?

Traditionally, this is a night for indulging in take outs because head home chef and sous chef are completely whacked from a busy week. Don't be sucked in though, there are quick, fun and nostalgic alternatives on the horizon...

This is very similar to my previous post for posh fish and chips, but subtle changes in flavour will completely transform this dish.

The humble fish finger...or fish stick if you're from North America. According to Wikipedia, (which I recommend you take with a pinch of salt, plus a lavish covering of further research to substantiate the claims if you're writing a thesis) the fish finger was born ironically when trying to make 'herring savouries' more popular. Since the first fish finger swam off the production line in Great Yarmouth in 1955, 1.5 million are now sold every day, and they've even inspired an installation by Banksy.

Suffice to say, at 5.00pm on Friday evening, none of this entered my head when I decided what to make for tea. Instead I was on a mission to gastro up a family classic. To achieve this to feed you and a partner, you will need:
  • 2 skinless white fish fillets (I chose haddock as that was the freshest looking one on the counter)
  • 1 egg
  • 100g flour
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into batons
  • 200g of frozen peas
  • Few sprigs of mint
  • 4 tbs spoons of mayonaise
  • 2 gherkins
  • 12 capers
  • Few sprigs of parsley
  • Dusting of paprika
  • 1 lemon
Begin by heating some oil in a baking tray to 190c or gas mark 4. When the oil is starting to spit, carefully add the sweet potato chips, season and dust with paprika. These will take around 40 minutes to cook and crisp.

Next, create two 'fish dips', one with flour, one with the beaten egg. Take your two fish fillets...

...and cut in half to give you four fish fingers (thank you muchly GCSE maths). Taking each finger in turn, dip in the beaten egg, ensuring a complete coating, followed by a dip in the flour. If you're feeling inspired and full of the joys of spring (as I was), treat yourself by double dipping. This will get your coating extra crispy.

At this point your chips should be 25 minutes in, so take them out, give them a shake and a flip and put them back in to finish cooking.

Heat a large glug of oil in a metal handled frying pan. Season the fish fingers and fry for a few minutes until the batter turns golden. Flip them over and cook until you have the same effect on both sides.

Place the pan in the oven for the final five minutes of cooking.

Cook your peas in a pan of boiling salted water as the packet directs. Drain, add half a dozen chopped mint leaves and a knob of butter, and mash.

Now, for me, no fish finger and chips is complete without tartare sauce. But this is Friday night, so I need to cheat a little... Inspired by Fuss Free Flavours recipe, place the mayo in a bowl, add chopped gherkins, capers and parsley, add a squeeze of lemon, stir stir stir and voila!

Arrange the plate as you see fit (jenga-inspired sweet potato tower is not compulsory), serve and enjoy.

And if the mood takes you, raise your glass to this guy for bringing the humble cod fish finger to the masses...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Best Rhubarb Quackers in the world...ever.

I have the misfortune of periodically being mocked by my colleagues for proclaiming to have made the best X (insert pizza, pasta, burger etc) in the world ever for tea the previous night. Although these declarations are made with tongue firmly in cheek to convey my enthusiasm for cooking, I think I may be on to something...

I'd love to cook seasonally, foraging in my patch for the inviting fruit or vegetable that's ripe for the plucking. Alas, with supermarket shelves perennially stocked with goods with more air miles than Yuri Gagarin, it's difficult not to be enticed too soon.

So it is with my dutch rhubarb that I bring you:

Ducks legs in rhubarb and Madeira with spinach and mash (serves 2)


2 Ducks legs
1 stem of rhubarb, flower removed as poisonous
200 ml Madeira
2 cloves of garlic
3 large sprigs of thyme
12 charlotte new potatoes
Large handful of spinach
1 spring onion
Butter for sauteing and mash
Splash of milk
Sprinkling of brown sugar
salt and pepper for seasoning

Score the skin on the ducks legs, season and place skin side down in a large buttered pan. When the skin has lightly browned (think more latte than espresso), place the legs skin side up in a medium sized casserole dish and set the pan to one side. Chop one of the stems of rhubarb into roughly inch thick pieces, and add to the dish along with the thyme, crushed garlic (physically, not emotionally), Madeira. Sprinkle the rhubarb with the sugar to draw out the sweetness. 

When I researched this dish, I found Curtis Stone's recipe which use port and chicken stock instead of Madeira. Although both fortified wines, I find port a little over powering, where as I find the nutty notes in Madeira better compliment the rhubarb, and thyme, and the juices from the duck compensate for the chicken stock - try it with both though and let me know what you think.

Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake on 160c for 45 minutes.

Heston's recipe for the ultimate mash will give spectacular results, but is more haute cuisine than gastro, although I do agree with using charlottes for your mash. Watch out for RSI though as they do take a while to peel.

Peel and boil your potatoes in lightly salted water for 12 to 15 mins (test with a knife after to 10 to check). Drain, add the splash of milk, knob of butter and mash until smooth. Season and stir through your chopped spring onions. The heat from the mash will warm them, but will retain some much needed crunch.

Return the pan you used to brown the ducks legs to the heat and toss through the spinach until slightly wilted, remove and set to one side - save the pan again!

Check the duck and if the juices are clear, remove from the oven and take off the foil - this gives the meat a chance to relax, contemplate...

Now to assemble your creation. Place one dollop of mash in the middle of the plate. Perch a ducks leg at a jaunty angle and scatter half of the spinach around it. Remove the rhubarb from the casserole dish and place atop the spinach. Strain the juices through a sieve into the duck leg/spinach pan and reduced by half. Pour over the duck and serve.

I could drink the sauce alone, the flavour is stunning. Can't wait to tell the guys about it...


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Pancakes for life, not just for Shrove Tuesday

On the most holy of batter days, where children around the country legitimately gorge on enough sugar to create an army of diabetics, I figured, "well, if you can't beat them..."

I must be getting old though as an evening meal consisting solely of pancakes, lemon and sugar, gave feelings more of dread than excitement.

Wanting to incorporate the main fixture as to why we celebrate shrove Tuesday in the 21st century, into a savoury, nutritious dish, I rattled my brains for a gastro feast that would work. And then it hit me...curry.

I'm confident with attempting the majority of cuisines. But the delicate blend of asian spices is the one chink in my armour, and at 7pm on a Tuesday, I caved and picked up these at the local supermarket:
  • Saag paneer: Glorious paneer cheese, with spinach and all the spices. I will be making my own next time, giving this recipe a go
  • Tadka daal: Hugely popular dish in India, with countless variations on the recipe. This one is definitely a good starting point, coming with an 'easy-to-cook' promise!
  • Chana masala: A beautifully spiced chickpea and tomato based dish. Check out one of my favourite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, for a great recipe.

Add a few stalks of broccoli for colour

Despite all of these incredible flavours, the pancake recipe we decided upon was really quite underwhelming. By far the best pancakes I've ever had come from a most unlikely source.

Bruce Paltrow's world-famous pancakes makes an appearance in daughter Gwyneth's (yes, that would be the Hollywood actress) cookbook Notes from my Kitchen.

To make a dozen pancakes, you will need:
  • 115g of plain flour
  • 25g granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • pinch of fine salt
  • 250ml Buttermilk (you can buy this ready made from most supermarkets)
  • 25g unsalted butter, melted and cooled (plus a smidge extra for cooking)
  • 2 eggs
  • Between 75 and 100ml milk to thin the batter
  • Maple syrup for serving...or if you can't bear to go off piste, lemon and sugar is fine!
Simply mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, mix the wet in another. Add the wet to the dry, adding a bit at a time to avoid lumpiness. Add enough milk to make your favourite consistency: thick for heavy, thin for delicate - reassuringly Bruce says neither is wrong...

Heat your pan with a nob of butter to a moderately high heat. Test a small bit of the batter first - you want to see a sizzle. Add a pancake sized amout of batter just off centre in your pan (makes it easier to manoeuvre). Cook until little bubbles appear in the centre - this means your pancake is cooked underneath. Give the pan a little shake, cock your wrist and flip once (although if you manage a trippler, that will definitely wow your gathering crowd of expectant bellies).

Serve on a plate with your favourite pancake topping, be as imaginative as you dare - sweet or savoury, and enjoy all year round...unless you've decided to give them up for lent today...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A home sweet home from home

Really? Do we have to? She's your mum, can't you just go?

These are the comments I understand some couples share when they visit their in-laws. Not me. For I am truly blessed with a genuinely generous (try saying that after a few glasses) mother-in-law who spoils us rotten with every visit.

The trip to North Yorkshire is a long one so regrettably visits are less frequent than desired. When we can make the trip though, it becomes a sense of occasion of almost state ceremony proportions.

In the week before our visit, we will be invited to submit our culinary requests, for which I am truly grateful.

For most of us during the week, breakfast is a rushed affair. An anaemic slice of toast, hastily consumed before the mad dash to catch the pre-dawn train, is considered a luxury.

To indulge in the time afforded by our leisurely latest visit, I requested berries (blues, rasps and blacks as my body was evidently crying out for anti-oxidants, rich in vitamin C, which blueberries are full of), croissants and M&S lemon curd yoghurt.

Ordinarily I detest yoghurt. In my youth, they were a barometer of my wellbeing, replenishing my stomach with 'good bacteria' after a sickness bug (I love you mum, I know you had my best interests at heart!). These memories, and the general texture, are enough to send my belly into convulsions. These velvety smooth, creamy pots of goodness have though managed to cure my dislike for yoghurt-kind, and looking at the nutritional value (or distinct lack of), I now realise why...crikey, good job these aren't a staple!

As well as our breakfast treats, the cupboards are full to bursting with temptation, spilling out onto our guest bed, where chocolate hearts from the famous Betty's Tea Rooms nestle on the pillows.

Lunches too are of course a delight.

This salmon dish serves four, for which you'll need:
  • 4 fresh salmon fillets (over the counter jobs)
  • 2 bunches of medium sized asparagus (quick tip: snap the asparagus first, and discard the woody bottom!)
  • 2 florets of broccoli
  • Heston's cheese sauce (senza i macaroni!)
  1. Season and grill the salmon skin side up for eight to 10 minutes (depending on how thick your fillets are.)
  2. Whip up the cheese sauce as per Heston's recipe
  3. Break off the broccoli florets into pieces as in the pic above and steam for six to eight minutes until tender.
  4. Saute the asparagus in a pan with a not so healthy knob of butter for five minutes, seasoning midway through. You want a bit of colour on these but still crunchy.
Arrange and serve on your most attractive plates, drizzling the sumptuous cheese sauce on top. Perfect.

I was enjoying this salad of roast beetroot, parsnip, red onion, goats cheese and dill so much that I forgot to snap it in its full glory. Testament to how delicious this feast was!

So it is with heavy hearts (and even heavier bellies) that we say farewell after an all too brief sojourn. Unlike those with the devil for a mother-in-law, I'm all too happy to say that I can't wait to visit again soon!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A tale of two markets

2012 is proving to be a whirlwind of social activity. Last weekend presented my first Saturday free of commitments and with the chance to lie-in and relax.

At 6.30am, unable to sleep, I decided to plan my day of food and cultural visits. I settled on two food markets and a gallery. The latter didn't disappoint as Dale Chihuly's exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery provided a stunning array of contemporary glass sculptures. But that's another blog...

By contrast, my food markets experience couldn't have been more polarised.

Formally recognised in 1892 but trading from as early as 1840, Berwick Street market is billed as a quintessential London food market selling all the ingredients for a hearty supper.

Huddled in a far from salubrious backstreet of Soho, in the seedy shadow of the area's more infamous industry, I was presented with a rotten run of just half a dozen stalls. Far from the joviality of sellers shouting their wares, despite an interesting selection, my one attempt at eye contact resulted in a harden gazed response, punctuated with a removal of phlegm more akin to the football field. So as not to make the same mistake twice, tube etiquette ensued until I reached the end of the gauntlet and made my way to the relative sanctuary of China Town.

Undeterred, I continued south to my second choice. I'd definitely saved the best to last.

Established in the 13th century, Borough Market, nestled beneath Southwark Cathedral is a throng of traders, punters and tourists alike, selling fresh, inviting, and often locally sourced produce.

Generations were almost deprived of this food extravaganza, save for the local residents who clubbed together to generate the then princely sum of £6,000 to buy new land, following Parliament's decision to close the market in 1755. Thankfully, 'The Triangle' remains at the heart of the market today.

It's easy to succumb to the hypnotic sensory overload that greets you. Vast dishes of paella and smoking barbecue grills offer a hearty feast, but venture deeper into the market before making your choice.

Your self discipline will be rewarded with a mix of fresh fruit and veg, artisan bakers, and multiple catches of the day to whet the appetite.

A glowing endorsement for Borough Market is that it, along with Columbia Road Flower Market, formed the highlight of my Australian friend's must see tour of London!

There are a number of food markets dotted around the capital, each maintaining their traditional values of feeding their local population, but as in the case of Borough, equally embracing the outside viewer. For the Olympically early o'clock riser, Billingsgate market rewards the explorer with the largest selection of fish in the UK. If you're searching for something unusual, try Brixton Market, home to one of Europe's biggest supplier of tropical foods.

As some of these markets become tourist institutions in their own right, the main draw back comes when the change in your wallet doesn't go quite as far you'd expect. But then we've all been sucked into the supermarket oligopoly price war. So invoke the spirit of 1755 and spend a little bit extra for locally sourced, fresh produce that protects the true heart of communities for generations to come.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Fish and chips to dine for

Some of my fondest memories are from annual childhood holidays to Cornwall. No trip would be complete without an evening visit to the local fish and chippie. With the saliva inducing scent of salt and vinegar rising from the newspaper parcels, we'd quickly drive to the favoured spot overlooking the sea, wolf down the fish and chips, before walking along the beach and skimming stones in the general direction of Padstow harbour.

I say fish and chips, but in my formative years, the jumbo saviloy was king, turning my nose up at mum's slimey looking alternative. When pushed, the only redeeming quality I can think of was that at least the saviloy wasn't battered.

As I've grown older (not that much older), my palate has improved and I regret not savouring the taste of fresh, locally sourced produce. But this recipe goes someway to make up for that.

Fish and chips to dine for

You will need:
  • Three chunky white fish fillets (preferably something sustainable, but cod and haddock will be OK. Purchase it from the fish counter on the day of cooking)
  • 15 to 20 Charlotte new potatoes
  • Half a bag of kale
  • A good handful of thyme
  • Light soy sauce
  • Four wedges of lemon
  • Two hungry grown ups and two braver than I was children
Begin by placing a glug of vegetable oil into a large roasting tin and popping it into an oven heated to 200c.

Slice the potatoes to roughly 3mm thick (thin and even is what we're going for) and discard the ends. Others will argue that there are far better potatoes to roast, but I've chosen charlottes as even when sliced this thinly, they still retain their structure...and this BBC recipe says so too!

Add the potatoes to the sizzling roasting tin and liberally cover in thyme, with a sprinkle of salt.

These need a good 45 minutes to cook through.

Halfway through is a good point to prepare your fish. When fish is super fresh, it really does speak for itself so treat it delicately when it comes to flavour. Season the flesh with pepper and a drop of extra virgin olive oil (Oliviers are top notch, but Bertollis would be great for this too). Heat the grill as hot as it will go and place the fish skin side up and cook for eight minutes. My fillets were super thick so after eight mins, they needed a tad longer so I turned the grill off, flipped them over and left for another minute to be piping all the way through.

For the fusion element (tenuous link I know as it's only a bit of soy, but I'm going for it), heat a deep, non stick pan and add the kale (kale's bang in season - I love this site). Dot with six or seven...well dots of light soy sauce and gently wilt for no more than 30 seconds to retain the goodness - 'simple science': boiling or steaming vegetables can boost their antioxidant properties - actually more so than raw vegetables. Frying is bad as these antioxidants are lost trying to counteract the effect of heating oil. We're not using oil so smiles all round! Kale in this way is a great accompaniment as the salt from the soy compliments the dish, and the crunch make the kale taste great, making it a perfect way to get young ones to eat their greens...and unlike the packets of 'vegetable crisps', you have complete control as to what goes in.

To assemble the plates, take the beautiful thyme infused, crunchy tatties and add the respective portions in the centre of the plate (biggest for the biggest bear, and so on, you know the story). Place whole fillets of fish on top of the potatoes for the grown ups, and cut the third fillet in half for the youngsters. Whip off the skin (personal preference) and squeeze the juice from the lemon on top, garnishing with a sprig of fresh time. Add a portion of kale and serve.

Unlike the fish and chips of my youth, this feast requires eating at the table (hence the 'to dine for' bit), and presents the perfect opportunity to discuss your next seaside trip...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Spicy granola

When running my eye down the side of cereal boxes, my vocabulary expands with an array of questionably pronounceable ingredients. The helpful danger signs were already on the fronts of course, all packed full of sugar and salts. For those that market themselves as 'healthy', once you look beyond the chocolate coated calcium, I'm sure the net nutritional gain isn't all it's cracked up to be.

So, inspired to create my own breakfast alternative, where I controlled the content, for a reasonable price, I came up with this, my spicy granola.

Begin by adding 400 grams of large oats into a baking tray. Sprinkle on top a layer of mixed toasted seeds (20 grams)  and a dusting of cinnamon, grated nutmeg and crystalized ginger. Next, cover the mix with diagonally drizzled honey one way, and maple syrup the other (note, the diagonal is purely for aesthetics, smiley faces are also acceptable). For the final twist, dot on a few even blobs of marmalade. This cuts through all the natural sweet with some sharpness, which will make the front of your tongue dance with pleasure on every bite. The best marmalade for the job is Bettys marmalade - we have a contraband whiskey infused jar, a present I always look forward to from my partner's mumbie.

Mix together all the ingredients evenly, give the tray a quick shake to roughly level - "top tip" don't compact the mix, unless you want to make these into bars (which would be a great idea, I'll have to try that) - and bake on the middle shelf at 180 (gas mark 5). After 15 minutes, turn the oven off (save the planet) and leave for a further five minutes, until lightly crisp and golden.

Enjoy your granola with a splash of milk or for a truly delicious dessert, sprinkle it on top of some mixed berries that have been cooked with butter and sugar in a pan, and top with warm custard. Heavenly.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bella pasta

For Christmas 2010, my wonderful girlfriend Miss Crumpet gave me the gift of pasta with an Imperia pasta machine. I have never looked back.

Making pasta from scratch, process-wise, is surprisingly simple and a great way to involve the whole family (mainly small people that like to get their fingers sticky!) to learn the origins of the classic Italian staple.

I loosely follow Lorraine Pascale's method, halving the quantities to:
  • 200g of type '00' flour
  • 2 medium free range eggs
  • a healthy glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • a 360 degree twist of mixed peppercorns (white, red and black)
Begin by adding the flour to a bowl and creating a well in the centre in which to crack the two eggs and add the oil and pepper. With a fork, start working the flour into the eggs until a crumb-like texture forms. Now the fun bit. Add a light dusting to the head chef's hands and get them in the bowl! Bring the dough together and gently knead for a few minutes until it comes together fully, but being careful not to overwork - "simplified science" flour contains wheat; wheat contains gluten; kneading combines proteins that give the dough its structure. Over knead and the pasta will be tough and rubbery - not yummy.

Once you're happy the dough is ready, pop it in the fridge for at least 10 minutes before you roll it out. After many botched rolling efforts, this step has proved crucial.

Set your pasta machine up on a sturdy bench, take your dough from the fridge and with a rolling pin, give the machine a head start by rolling it out to an inch or so thick. Then on the highest setting, feed the pasta through the machine, and work through all the settings, down to the thinnest roll. Be careful as your dough will get collosal, so unless your work bench is the size of a diving board, you may want to make the pasta in batches.

Now you have your sheets, the pastaworld is your oyster. From rigatoni, to fusili, to lasagne, there are over 35 different pasta shapes, and that's before you get into the realms of your raviolis and other filled pastas. My advice, start simple. My pasta machine came with a spaghetti and taglietelle attachment, but if yours doesn't, simply fold the pasta end on end, twist and cut into thin strips and unfold - taglietelle, voila.

With your pan of bubbling hot, salted water crying out to be filled, place your pasta in, give it a quick stir, and literally a minute later when it's slightly lightened in colour and risen to the service - off the heat; drain it, pop it in a warm bowl and there you have your very own, handmade, mumma's special recipe, pasta!

But what to have with it? Again, simplicity can often be divine. One of our faves is courgette, lemon and basil. Simply heat some oil in a pan, cut the courgettes in half, add them to the pan and cook until they have a healthy brown colour. Add a squeeze of lemon, quick stir, then straight onto the pasta, garnished with a few chopped/ripped leaves of basil and some parmesan. Delicious.

That may all sound like a lot, but now that I've got my technique down, it really does only takes a few minutes longer than emptying dried pasta into a pan and the result is so much nicer. If you are loyal to your dried pasta, opt for de cecco, pound for pasta, it's our personal fave.

I love pasta, we eat it weekly so in a few weeks time, I'll follow this up with a seasonal recipe for filled pasta.