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...