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...)