Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Wild Nettle Pakora

I've grown to respect the nettle recently. Touch one and it has the power to numb a finger or two for several hours. But that isn't the reason for new-found respect; it is simply because I like eating them.

Nettles are packed full of iron and minerals and treat carefully, they are a welcome replacement for spinach in a curry or to be made into a soup.

My favourite way with nettles is to make Indian pakoras, all spicy, crispy, mysterious and green. They are a doddle to make and amazing to eat, even my 6 year old loves them. So next time you are tutting at the nettles in your garden, just don the gloves and pick off all of the tops of the nettles and use them in your recipes. Delicious.

Wild Nettle Pakora
Makes lots

1 large colander full of young nettle leaves
300g chickpea flour (I sometimes used rice flour, it's a little more dense)
1 tsp garam masala
Half tsp ground tumeric
Half tsp ground chilli powder
Salt and pepper
Vegetable or sunflower oil

1 - With gloves on, carefully pick through the nettles discarding any tough or bruised leaves. Wash thoroughly in a sink full of water.
2 - Pick the leaves up and put them straight into a deep pan. Turn up the heat and cook until wilted. Allow to cool, squeeze out excess water then roughly chop.
3 - In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, spices and seasoning. Add the wilted chopped nettles. Stir in enough water to make a thick batter.
4 - Heat up the oil in a deep pan. Test by dropping in a little batter. Add teaspoons of the batter mixture and cook in batches until golden and crisp. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
5 - Serve either as a snack with mango chutney or as an accompaniment to a curry.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Griddled Pineapple with Coconut, Lime and Rum Syllabub

It's perfect weather at the moment for wheeling out the BBQ and believe it or not, a griddled or barbecued pineapple is amazing as a dessert after you've packed back a week's supply of meat.

The ridges of the BBQ give it a caramelised edge and the heat makes this beautiful fruit even more fresh and juicy. I've served mine with a syllabub, an ancient English dessert of cream and alcohol, with rum, coconut and lime added to give it that Caribbean twist.

Make it in advance, put it in little glasses in the fridge, whack the slices of pineapple on the BBQ and it makes for a very impressive and stress-free dessert. Equally, the pineapple can be cooked on a non-stick griddle pan.

Griddled Pineapple with Coconut, Lime and Rum Syllabub
Feeds 4

1 whole pineapple, skinned
2 tbsp sugar
1 sprig of fresh mint

For the syllabub
300ml double cream
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp rum
2 tbsp grated coconut and the milk (if you are using fresh)

1 - To make the syllabub, mix the sugar, lime and rum in a bowl and set aside.
2 - In a large bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Pour in the sugar, lime, rum, coconut and milk and quickly whisk in. Tip into small glasses and put into the fridge.
3 - Heat up a griddle pan or BBQ. Slice the flesh from the pineapple away from the core and then cut these into small segments. Place onto the griddle or BBQ and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes until slightly charred.
4 - Whilst the pineapple is cooking, grind the mint up with the sugar in a pestle and mortar.
5 - To serve, place the glasses onto plates and grate on dark chocolate. Stack the pineapple up alongside, sprinkle on some mint sugar and serve.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Hot and Sour Sirloin Steak, Pink Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

Hot, sour and sweet; the Thai nation seem to marry these three amazing tastes to perfection and it is such incredible food. Thai food appears simple and complex at the same time, combining a myriad of flavours that play tricks with your taste buds. I've been cooking from David Thompson's comprehensive Thai Food book for some years now, and although Thai food isn't on our menu half as much as I would like it to be, it is always a real treat when it is.

This recipe ticks all of the Thai food boxes that make their food so appealing to me; fresh and sour from the grapefruit, salty from the Nam Pla, hot from the chilli and English Mustard. Thai/English fusion food - maybe I've started something?

Hot and Sour Sirloin Steak, Pink Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
Feeds 2

2 inch thick quality aged sirloin steaks
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 red birds eye chilli, finely sliced
1 tbsp English mustard
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil

For the salad

1 pink grapefruit, skinned and segmented
2 avocados, peeled and sliced
2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 handfuls of fresh spinach
A handful of fresh coriander leaves
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
2 banana shallots, peeled, halved and sliced thinly

For the dressing
1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp Nam Pla, fish sauce
1 tbsp soya sauce
1 tbsp Mirin rice wine

1 - Mix together the garlic, chilli, mustard and a little salt and pepper. Rub onto the steaks.
2 - Heat a thick frying pan and add a little vegetable oil. Ensure it is searing hot. Add the steaks and cook to your liking; rare, 3 minutes each side; medium, 5 minutes each side; well done, 7 minutes each side. Leave to rest for 5 minutes and assemble the salad.
3 - Make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together in a bowl.
4 - Toss the salad ingredients together a dress with a little of the dressing.
5 - Pile onto plates. Slice your steaks into strips and arrange on top of the salad. Finally drizzle over some of the dressing and serve with more lime wedges.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Cod, Caper and Olive Potato Cakes

Fish cakes and tartare sauce have to be a favourite tea time food in our house. Tartare sauce, that sharp acidic mayonnaise 'with bits in' as my daughter says, is the perfect accompaniment to a delicious crispy fish cake. I've mentioned this in a previous post, but getting the little ones involved in something like a fish cake is an excellent way of experimenting with food and actually getting them to eat something different. It is also a great excuse to get out my favourite kitchen gadget, my £1 potato ricer.

Cod, Caper and Olive Potato Cakes
Makes 6 large cakes

Fillets of 1 large cod
1 onion
1 lemon
2 bay leaves
4 large floury potatoes
1 handful of capers, rinsed and finely chopped
1 handful of black olives, preferably those salty Greek olives, stoned and finely chopped
4 small gherkins, finely chopped
50g butter
A handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
Olive oil

1 - Place the potatoes in a large pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil then cook until they are cooked through. Leave to cool slightly, then peel and either mash into a bowl or use a potato ricer adding the butter.
2 - Place the cod fillets into a large shallow pan. Cover with roughly half milk, half water, a slice of lemon, a slice of onion, the bay leaves and some seasoning. Bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Gently break the cod fillets into the potato, ensuring all bones and skin are removed.
3 - Stir in the capers, olives, gherkins, fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Be gentle on the salt as the olives have plenty.
4 - Put the beaten eggs in a bowl, some seasoned plain flour on one plate and the breadcrumbs on another. Add enough olive oil to a non-stick pan to allow shallow frying and heat up.
5 - Shape the mixture into 'cakes' using floured hands. Dip them first into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs and fry gently for approximately 7 minutes each side until golden and crisp. Place onto kitchen towel to absorb some oil, then serve with a simple green salad, tartare sauce or simply fresh lemon wedges.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Ricotta Dumplings

These little dumplings are so easy to make and a real treat on a hot summer's day as an alternative to pasta.

This is the kind of food that makes Italy great; simple ingredients combined to perfection, no frills and no pretention.

We served ours with a quick tomato sauce. Heat up a little olive oil in a pan, add a clove of sliced garlic and a pinch of dried chilli. Tip in a tin of tomatoes and a tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar. Cook for 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

Serve with chives, chive flowers and with plenty of Parmesan cheese. Great to make with your children too, give them a go.

Ricotta Dumplings
Feeds 3 as a light lunch

200g Ricotta cheese
3 egg yolks
A grating of nutmeg
30g Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
200g plain flour

1 - In a bowl, mash together the Ricotta cheese and egg yolks then stir in the nutmeg, Parmesan and seasoning.
2 - Pour in the flour then form to a dough using your hands.
3 - On a floured bench, roll out into a sausage shape (you may need to do it in portions). Cut off 1 inch dumplings and set aside.
4 - Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the dumplings. Once they float to the surface, they are ready to drain and eat with the sauce.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Cauliflower and Cheese Soup with Watercress and Pea Purée

Cauliflower cheese has to be a true British classic. Whoever thought of combining this beautiful white specimen with a rich cheese sauce deserves a medal, as it has to be one of the few vegetable dishes you want to eat in its entirety with no accompaniment. It is simply delicious.

This soup is a true joy to eat, and any good strong cheese will suffice. I used a slab of Berwick Edge cheese from the amazing Doddington Dairy in Wooler ( as it is one of our tremendous local cheeses that sings like the best cheddar yet has a silky soft texture.

A simple purée with some peppery watercress, a few frozen peas and a little yoghurt makes this a sophisticated starter for any occasion.

Cauliflower and Cheese Soup with Watercress and Pea Purée

1 Cauliflower, trimmed and chopped roughly
2 shallots or 1 onion, sliced
Olive oil
500ml water
150g Berwick Edge Cheese (or any good strong cheddar), grated
50g butter
50g plain flour
250ml milk
Salt and Pepper

For the purée
2 handfuls of frozen or fresh peas, softened in boiling water for 2 minutes
2 handfuls of watercress
100ml yoghurt

1 - Heat the oil in a deep pan and add the shallot and cauliflower. Cook for 5-10 minutes stirring regularly, until softened but not coloured.
2 - Add the water, bring to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes until softened completely. Blitz until smooth in a food processor or using a hand processor. Push through a sieve for a smoother consistency but I prefer the texture.
3 - Make a roux by melting the butter and adding the flour, stirring for 1 minute. Add the milk gradually until you have a thick sauce, the consistency of double cream.
4 - Stir in the cheese and thoroughly combine. Then stir into the soup. Taste for seasoning.
5 - Make a simple purée by blitzing the peas and watercress then stirring into the yoghurt.
6 - Serve the soup in bowls with a good spoonful of purée and a few shavings of cheese.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Indian Spiced Lamb 'Burgers'

Is it too early to spark up the old BBQ? Why of course not. Get yourself some minced lamb and try these amazing burgers this weekend.

Indian Spiced Lamb 'Burgers'
Makes 6 large burgers

500g quality minced lamb
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 thumb of fresh ginger, grated
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
A handful each of fresh mint and coriander
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
2 handfuls of stale breadcrumbs

For the raita
Cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
Fresh mint, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

1 - Put the mustard seeds into a dry frying pan and toast until fragrant. Remove.
2 - Put all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl them combine thoroughly with your hands.
3 - Form into your preferred burger size then grill or BBQ to your desired rareness. Or form around BBQ sticks and call them a shish kebab.
4 - To make the raita, simply combine the ingredients and taste for seasoning.
5 - Serve with toasted sesame seed buns, fresh salad and raita.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Potato, Garlic, Cheddar and Chive Soup

A soup that uses the most simple of ingredients to make a flavour packed and filling meal.

Potato, Garlic, Cheddar and Chive Soup
Feeds 4

25g butter or 2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, sliced
6 large, floury potatoes (such as Maris Piper or King Edward), peeled and chopped
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
250g Cheddar cheese, grated
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt or double cream
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat the oil in a large soup pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened but not coloured.
2 - Add the chopped potatoes and stock. Bring to the boil then simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Stir in the grated Cheddar cheese.
3 - Blend until smooth and reheat. Stir through the Greek yoghurt or cream and taste for seasoning. Serve in bowls with freshly chopped chives and crusty bread.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Chocolate and Orange Hot Cross Buns

Chocolate and Orange Hot Cross Buns
Makes 10-12

1 tbsp dried yeast
1 tbsp honey
200ml warm water
500g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
50g sultanas
Zest of one orange, finely grated
Half an Easter egg, roughly chopped, or 100g of plain or milk chocolate
2 tbsp honey
25g melted butter
100ml warm milk
1 egg

1 - Mix together the yeast, honey and water and leave for 5-10 minutes in a warm place until it forms a froth and starts to smell.
2 - Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the salt, spice, sultanas, orange zest and chocolate egg.
3 - Pour in the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon. Mix the egg in with the milk and pour in along with the melted butter and honey, mixing thoroughly. You may need a little more milk. Mix until it comes together into a dough.
4 - Tip onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until a hand indentation pressed into the surface springs back straight away.
5 - Put back into the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for an hour or so until it has doubled in size. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, GM6.
6 - When doubled in size, lightly knead again to get rid of the air. Roll out into a sausage and cut off 10-12 portions. Roll these into balls and place onto a greased and floured baking tray. Cut crosses into the top with a sharp knife then cover again and leave until they double in size again.
7 - Place into a high oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and make a hollow sound when tapped. Mix a little sugar and water together over heat and brush onto the top to make a sugar glaze.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Almond and Lemon Biscuits

Almond and Lemon Biscuits
Makes a dozen (depending on size)

170g self raising flour
50g ground almonds
75g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
Zest of one lemon
A squeeze of the juice
170g softened butter or margarine
A few drops of almond essence
Sliced almonds

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4.
2 - In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, ground almonds, sugar and salt.
3 - Grate in the zest of the lemon, a squeeze of juice, margarine or butter and almond essence. Combine into a dough with your hands then form into a ball.
4 - Roll out onto a floured surface to approximately 1cm thickness. Cut out using any shaped biscuit cutter according to preference.
5 - Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the biscuits on, scatter with sliced almonds and bake on the middle tray for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
6 - Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.