Thursday, 14 April 2016

Peanut and Beef Curry

The use of nuts in stews, casseroles and curries may seem unusual to some. However in West Africa, curries made using the peanut are common staple food.

I've used the likes of ground almonds in an Indian curry to thicken it but I was a little sceptical about using peanuts. But the result was nothing short of fabulous.

It is so easy to make. Whiz the main ingredients up in a blender to make a paste, fry it is a little oil with a few spices, add tomatoes, water and your choice of meat or vegetable then let it cook out. Thick, sweet, hot and the unmistakable hit of roasted peanut. The use of peanut butter is of course completely unauthentic and optional, but a tablespoon of the stuff seems to make everything more smooth and creamy.

You can serve this with just plain old rice but why not do as the Africans do? Boil your rice then form balls the size of golf balls using spoons or asbestos hands. You can do the same with left over rice too. Make them whilst they are cold then steam for 5 minutes until piping hot right through.

Peanut and Beef Curry

Feeds 4

1 onion, peeled
2 piece of thumbsize ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 red pepper, deseeded
1 red chilli, seeded or deseeded depending on how hot you like it
2 tbsp peanut or sunflower oil
3 large handfuls of peanuts
1 tbsp coriander seeds
3 cloves
1 Cinnamon stick
A little nutmeg
750g braising beef, chopped into large chunks
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
300ml water
1 tbsp peanut butter (optional)
Salt and pepper


1 - Put the onion, ginger, garlic, pepper and chilli into a blender and blitz to a puree. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM3.
2 - In a large dry frying pan, add the peanuts, coriander seeds and cloves and put onto the hob. Cook through for 5 minutes until fragrant, watching carefully that they are not burning. Bash to a rough powder in a pestle and mortar or use a plastic bag and rolling pin.
3 - Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the paste and cook for 10 minutes, stirring all of the time until slightly coloured. Stir in the spices including the cinnamon stick and cook for a further 2 minutes.
4 - Add the beef and heat through for 2 minutes until covered in the spice mixture thoroughly.
5 - Add the tomato puree, tomatoes and water. Grate in a little nutmeg. Bring to the boil then transfer to a casserole dish. Place in the oven for 2 hours, checking on the hour that it isn't cooking dry.
6 - Once cooked, remove the cinnamon stick, stir through the optional peanut butter and taste for seasoning. Serve with rice balls and warm flatbreads.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Crab and Aubergine Spaghetti


Crab and Aubergine Spaghetti
Feeds 4

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 aubergine, cut into roughly 1 cm dice
2 tbsp olive oil
4 anchovies, roughly chopped
A handful of black olives, stoned and roughly chopped
A handful of capers, rinsed
A handful of sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
A pinch of chilli flakes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 400ml tin of chopped tomatoes
White and brown meat of 1 crab
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
A couple of handfuls of sea spinach or baby spinach

1 - Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion, garlic and aubergine. Cook and stir for 5-10 minutes until they are softened and beginning to colour.
2 - Stir in the anchovies and cook until dissolved. Then add the olives, capers, sun dried tomatoes, tomato puree and tinned tomatoes. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until slightly reduced.
3 - Stir in the crab meat and lemon juice and heat through for 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve stirred into spaghetti with spinach scattered on top.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Wet Pear, Almond and Polenta Cake

Think of a British cake and images of afternoon tea and sponge come to mind. Just a basic Victoria with a thin layer of raspberry jam and a dusting of icing sugar is the perfect accompaniment to a good old cuppa.

There aren't any cakes I can think of that I dislike and although I will always hold a special place for our own concoctions of nothing more than eggs, sugar, butter and flour, I've grown to love some of our European cakes a little more. The more wet the better; think of Greek honey cake or a Turkish Baklava. Those things are moist and heavy and entail plenty of finger licking afterwards.

At a decent Italian restaurant some years back I had a delicious lemon and polenta cake. Crispy outer layer thanks to the polenta leading to a lemon syrup sponge, it was a memorable end to the meal. So memorable that I've tried to make that very cake several times with varying degrees of success.

Using the same techniques, which entails stewing fruit into a purée or boiling lemons or oranges whole before puréeing, I've tried all kinds of fruit. You will always be guaranteed a moist cake flavoured heavily with your choice of fruit. This one uses pears, one of my favourite fruit. Go for pears that are almost on the edge of going off and you will have an incredibly fragrant yet subtle tasting cake.

Wet Pear, Almond and Polenta Cake

200g butter
150g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs
100g ground almonds
100g polenta
100g self raising flour
200g pear puree, made from 4-5 pears, peeled and chopped and softened in a little water

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C, GM4.
2 - In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla essence and then stir in the eggs one by one.
3 - Fold in the almonds and polenta. Sieve in the flour and fold in. Finally, fold in the pear purée.
4 - Pour into a lined cake tin with a removable base. Bake on the centre shelf for 50-60 minutes until golden brown. If it starts to catch too soon, cover loosely with baking paper.
5 - Rest and allow to cool.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Cheddar Cheese Soda Bread

Is there anything more simple and basic than taking some flour, water and yeast, pounding them together for a few minutes then whacking in the oven? Bread making has lost its way in the standard home over the years for the simple reason that ready made bread in all forms can be purchased reasonably cheap.

So why bother going through the whole bread making process when it is so readily available? The end result is usually because there is nothing like home baked bread. If you have ever wandered into a baker's shop with bread in the oven you will know that the smell alone is of a heavenly nature. Take warm crisp bread, break it open and the smells get better. Slather it is butter and devour and at that very moment you know exactly why it is worth every effort.

I also enjoy the process of kneading and forming, watching dough rise in a warm cupboard before being baked to a golden crust. Getting the kids involved makes it even better and baking bread can be the basis of making your very own little confident foodie. Disasters will happen but who cares as long as you have fun and enjoy the fruits of your labour?

This bread is soda bread, an Irish recipe which uses soda rather than yeast as the rising agent. This means you don't need to wait for a couple of hours for the rising process - happy days - and the resulting loaf is surprisingly light. It can be on the table within an hour of first making and the warm bread is amazing smeared with a good butter and dunked into soups. So get them mixing bowls out, chuck in the basic ingredients and get you and your little one's hands 'squidging' for a bit of home baking.

Cheddar Cheese Soda Bread

125g plain flour
125g wholemeal flour
1 tbs demerera or brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g Cheddar cheese, grated
250ml plain yoghurt

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 220C/GM7.
2 - Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl, reserving the sieved whole grains. Stir in the sugar, salt, soda and cheese.
3 - Pour in the yoghurt and bring together with a wooden spoon. Then lightly knead for a minute or two. You are looking for a reasonably firm dough but not too dry. If it seems that way, add more yoghurt and knead.
4 - Shape the dough into a rough ball and place it onto a floured baking sheet. Cut a cross into the top of the loaf, sprinkle on the whole-wheat then bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 200C/GM6 and cook for another 20 minutes until golden brown.
5 - Cool on wire rack for a little while before serving.

Slow Cooked Lamb Ragu

If you live in the UK and think of Ragu, a certain commercial tomato based pasta sauce available everywhere probably comes to mind. Those marketing boys did well when they managed to register that name.

Ragu is a classic Italian tomato based sauce which will be being made in every house in every town in Italy. And each town or household will boast there own method which will no doubt make their region's the best in the world.

There is nothing simpler than making your own pasta sauce and it is a whole lot tastier and cheaper than buying the commercial jars. An onion and garlic softened in olive oil, a cheap tin of tomatoes or a handful of fresh chopped tomatoes when the season is here, a pinch of oregano and a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar is all you need. Take that basic concept and experiment to your heart's desire. That's what simple cooking should be all about.

If I'm not in a rush, I like to slowly cook lamb in a ragu with additional ingredients such as chilli, juniper, sun dried tomatoes and orange peel, the latter dispensing a subtle citrus to the sauce. It may not be authentic but neither is a certain bottled sauce we all know and buy in our droves. Do yourself a favour and attempt your own some time.

Slow Cooked Lamb Ragu
Feeds 4

1 onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
3 juniper berries, crushed
1 whole dried chilli or a pinch of chilli flakes
2 tbsp tomato purée
500g lamb shoulder, cubed
2 tins tomatoes
A handful of sun dried tomatoes, sliced
1 glass of white wine
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
A slice of pared orange peel
1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C, GM3.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a flame-proof casserole dish, or make this in a large pan and add to the casserole dish later.
3 - Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until softened to make a 'soffrito'. Stir in the juniper, chilli and tomato purée and cook for 1 minute.
4 - Add the lamb and quickly brown then add the remaining ingredients except the seasoning. Bring to the boil, cover and place in the oven for 2 hours.
5 - Check every 30 minutes to ensure it isn't cooking dry. If it is, stir in a glass of water.
6 - When cooked, remove the bay, whole chilli and orange peel. Taste for seasoning and serve with your choice of pasta and Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Gluten and Dairy Free Lemon Rice Cake

Wheat AND dairy free cake - it must be disgusting yes? Well, give this one a go and you will be eating a light, moist and utterly delicious cake that lacks none of the quality of a wheat and dairy packed cake. Amazing. Thanks to Great British Chefs for this one.

Gluten and Dairy Free Lemon Rice Cake

3 large eggs, separated
Half tsp white wine or cider vinegar
100g caster sugar plus and extra tablespoon
A pinch of salt
65ml sunflower oil
The zest of 3 lemons and the juice of 2
110g ground rice or rice flour
Half tsp baking powder

For the topping
150g cream cheese
50g icing sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4 or 160C/GM3 for a fan oven. Grease a 21cm loose bottomed cake tin with oil and line.
2 - Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks then tip in a tbsp of sugar and whisk to stiff peaks. Whisk in the vinegar and set aside.
3 - In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon zest and juice, oil and remaining sugar. Sift over the ground rice or rice flour and baking powder and thoroughly fold together.
4 - Tip in half of the beaten egg whites and quickly fold together. Tip in the remaining egg whites and gently fold together.
5 - Tip into the prepared cake tin and bake on the middle shelf for 40 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
6 - Allow to cool in the tin then remove. Here's the optional bit (as it contains the dairy!) - Beat together the topping ingredients and spread over the top or simply sift over some icing sugar.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Devilled Mackerel with Tomato, Onion and Mint Salad

An early start today with a 6am rendezvous on South Shields pier with a spinning rod and a shiny spinner. Mackerel season is in full force and I love this fish with a passion. Cheap, delicious and plentiful, it is the fish for frugal times.

Trying to catch them is another matter. They should be the easiest fish in the ocean to catch when they are in season. 3 hours of spinning and 2 dropped mackerel later, I packed away veritably fishless. But thanks to a very generous Graham Slesser and his daughter, the best fishermen in the world, and a couple more generous chaps alongside me, I came home heavy laden with 8 fat mackerel. And before you ask, and despite the temptation to pretend to be the caveman returning with his meat for the family, I told the truth to my girls.

Now to the treatment - devilled mackerel. A beautifully rich fish to eat, the combination of spices in this recipe cuts through the oiliness to create the most delicious of fish suppers. Devilling is a combination of 'British spices' from our East India Trading days, and our Victorian ancestors utilised this combination of cayenne, mustard, paprika and coriander to perfection. It needs nothing other than a simple salad of tomatoes, onions and mint and a few crisped potatoes.

This is typical Rick Stein grub, the kind of simple pleasurable food that gets both of us excited and one that I am proud to reproduce with a few tweaks from his 'Seafood Lovers Guide' for your pleasure. But the main thanks go to real fishermen, Graham and his daughter who despite fighting out a 2-2 draw became true champions in my grateful and greedy eyes...

Devilled Mackerel with Tomato, Onion and Mint Salad
Feeds 4

4x mackerel, gutted, cleaned and trimmed
20g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp teaspoon paprika
1 tsp teaspoon ground coriander
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

For the tomato and onion salad
4 onions, thinly sliced
1 small onion thinly sliced
A handful of mint
1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat a grill to high.
2 - Slash the mackerel skin at 1cm intervals from the head to the tail, ensuring you do not go through to the bone.
3 - Melt the butter in a shallow pan. Remove and stir in the sugar, spices, vinegar and plenty of salt and pepper to make a paste. Turn the mackerel in the paste ensuring it enters the slashes you made as well as the cavity.
4 - Transfer to the grill pan and grill for 5 minutes each side until blistered and fragrant.
5 - To make the tomato and onion salad, bash the mint in a pestle and mortar then stir in the olive oil, lemon juice and a little seasoning. Arrange the tomato and onion on a plate and pour over the dressing.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Easy Creamy Chicken and Pepper Curry

Easy Creamy Chicken and Pepper Curry
Feeds 4

4 chicken breasts, sliced into chunks
1 thumb of ginger, finely grated
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
Juice of a lemon
2 tbsp sunflower oil
Salt and pepper
1 red pepper, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
300ml creme fraiche
Fresh coriander

1 - Place the chicken, ginger, garlic, spices, half the juice of the lemon, sunflower oil, salt and pepper, onion and pepper into a mixing bowl. Mix together thoroughly and leave to marinade for 30 minutes to an hour.
2 - Heat up a large non-stick pan. Add the ingredients and cook, stirring, for about ten minutes.
3 - Turn down the heat and add the creme fraiche. Bring to the simmer and cook with a lid on for 10 minutes.
4 - Add the remaining juice of the lemon, chopped fresh coriander and taste for seasoning.
5 - Serve with basmati rice, breads and pickles.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Warm Salad of Sausage, Bacon, Almonds and Chick Pea Shoots

Warm Salad of Sausage, Bacon, Almonds and Chick Pea Shoots
Feeds 2

4 good quality lamb sausages (or your sausage of choice)
5 rashers of streaky bacon, sliced into pieces
A good handful of almonds or hazelnuts
10 sage leaves
2 or 3 handfuls of rocket leaves or watercress
2 handfuls of chickpea shoots, or cooked chickpeas
Olive oil


For the dressing
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat some olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the bacon and cook until crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and put aside on kitchen paper.
2 - Add the sausages to the bacon fat and cook gently until cooked right through. Remove and slice into diagonal pieces.
3 - Keeping the pan on the heat, drain some of the fat from the pan then add the bacon and sausage along with the almonds and sage leaves. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the almonds have turned golden and the sage has crisped slightly.
4 - Make the dressing by combining all of the ingredients and mixing well together.
5 - Dress the plates with the hot ingredients, then scatter over the rocket leaves and chickpea shoots, followed by a good drizzle of the mustard dressing. I served it with some simple toasts, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Warm Potato, Bacon, Leek and Caper Salad


One of my most favourite potatoes, and certainly one that you never see in the huge superstore near me, is the pink fir apple potato. Distinctive by its nobbly exterior and ever so slight pink shady skin, this is a salad potato with style. You hear people describe certain potatoes having a 'nutty' taste. The pink fir apple is nutty and creamy, absolutely perfect for those first warm salads of the year.




Warm Potato, Bacon, Leek and Caper Salad
Feeds 2

10 pink fir apple potatoes
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
4 rashers of un-smoked middle back bacon, trimmed and cut into strips
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 large or 2 small leeks, trimmed and sliced into 1 cm chunks
A couple of handfuls of baby spinach leaves
A handful of fresh chives and parsley, chopped

For the dressing
A handful of capers, rinsed
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
Freshly ground pepper

1 - Scrub the potatoes then place into a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until just cooked through. Drain and allow to cool.
2 - Half the potatoes. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and place the potatoes in, cut side down. Cook for 5-10 minutes until golden brown, then turn and cook the other side.
3 - Heat a little more oil in a separate pan and add the bacon and leeks. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes until cooked and golden.
4 - Throw in the spinach and quickly toss in the heat of the pan until slightly wilted.
5 - Mix together the salad dressing ingredients in a bowl.
6 - Arrange the salad onto a plate along with the fresh herbs and a good drizzle of the dressing.