Monday, 29 January 2007

Fast Food Nation - AMENDED!


I'm not going to go on a rant today about our obsession with fast food. We are, simple as that. Fast food is a Western capitalist invention, a long standing legacy of the American dream and one that is putting us all in a bit of mess to this day. A truly ingenious, if naive, invention at that which has quite literally taken over the world. Some are poor and some are very poor. And most aren't too good for us if we eat it often.

Ironically, there is a fast food that was invented by our Eastern friends that is fantastically good for you, and eaten regularly can make you healthier. Sound to good to be true? Read on.

Falafels were originally invented by the Egyptians when they found that boiling and mashing beans with spices, rolling them into balls and cooking them, made for a classy little number that could be eaten in several guises. The word spread fast and soon falafels were being munched upon right across the Arab East, well before a clown with a burger plan got there. Still to this day, falafels are the most popular food in Syria. So stick that in your burger bun Ronald.

This fast food does have some disadvantages. It can cause bad wind and people may not want to engage in a conversation with you for longer than 30 seconds at close quarters. But that is about it for the bad news. Make them as big or small as you see fit, dry fry them or shallow fry them, stuff them in warm pitta breads with lots of salad and a minty garlicky yoghurt. You and your family will be glowing with health and vitality as well as etching yet another simple and healthy recipe into your repertoire. And it takes 5 minutes to make them in a food processor. I love every bit of them and so will you. Is all of this cooking lark getting any easier?

Falafels
To feed 2 adults and 1 child

1 Tin of chick peas, DRAINED!
2 Cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 Tbs tahini paste
Half teaspoon chilli powder or cayenne pepper
Juice of one lemon
Fresh mint and coriander
Olive Oil (optional)

For the yoghurt dressing
250ml fresh yoghurt
Fresh mint
1 Clove of garlic

1 - In a food processor, put in all of the falafel ingredients and blitz until it forms a ball or well mixed. Leave for at least 30 minutes.
2 - For the dressing, crush the garlic, finely chop the mint and mix into the yoghurt.
3 - Form the falafel into small balls and pat slightly flat. You can either dry fry these in which case you will have to watch them closelly, or heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry in batches until crisp on both sides.
4 - Serve stuffed into warm pitta breads with salad leaves, tomatoes, spring onions and a good dollop of yoghurt dressing.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Mansize Rooster


We have been trying to all eat at exactly the same time this past couple of weeks in an effort to ensure we instill that 'sitting around the table as one family' concept that appears to be a dying tradition. One advantage of this is that you can feed your child some interesting and challenging food without them feeling like they are the only ones. Seeing your mam and dad eating the same as you is always going to help, and so far so good. She is attempting to eat everything we have put down and on only a couple of occasions has she decided to not go further than the first mouthful.

Yesterday, we had a new challenge - friends for tea. How do we keep up this habit of eating at the same time without having to put friends through the torture of keeping a toddler happy at the table? Oh, and keeping them happy by giving them some decent food that isn't reworked for your child? I have the answer - classic French food.

Now before you disconnect you browser in disgust, please read on. As this is all about fast, easy and healthy food that you and your children can enjoy together, you could be forgiven for thinking that any French cuisine is a step too far. But only the most sceptical of people could pass up on Coq Au Vin. And only the most ignorant would think that it is a chore to prepare. Not my version anyway.

Okay, it isn't strictly following tradition and I have cut back on the butter for health reasons, but this dish is truly beautiful to eat and best of all, it pleases the young food critic in your house. It also gets your child accustomed to another 'adult flavour' (this phrase irritates me like no other) in red wine. The cooking process takes away the alcohol and mingled with the tomatoes, enriches the sauce with fruit and spice. A load of shallots and button mushrooms take on the flavour of the herby sauce too. An original Coq Au Vin traditionally uses a whole cockerel and cooks for hours to break down the sinewy old bird. My version is a whole free range chicken, jointed, skinned and boned. It just makes life easier when encouraging to eat rather than them chewing on a leg bone.

Of all of the recipes I have mentioned this week, this takes the longest. All 30 minutes to prepare and 45 minutes to cook. Not exactly a long time. And any part of a Saturday should be put aside to cook for your family, so why not give them a treat? Serve this with mashed potato, broccoli and carrots and you have a very healthy meal indeed. And one that the whole family, including gatecrashers, can eat too. Vive La France!

Coq Au Vin (my version)
Feeds 4 adults and 1 child

1 Whole free range chicken (try to learn to buy whole and split up and use the carcass for stock, much more economical and less wasteful. In this instance, split, bone, skin and cut into chunks)
4 rashers of good smoked streaky bacon
500g button mushrooms
250g shallots
Fresh thyme and parsley
Half bottle of full bodied red wine
1 Tin of tomatoes (or if in season, 500g tomatoes skinned and chopped)
300ml water
2oz butter
2oz plain flour
Olive oil

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM4.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a large casserole and brown the peeled shallots and whole button mushrooms. Remove with a slotted spoon.
3 - Add the chopped bacon and cook until the fat runs. Then add the chicken pieces and quickly seal.
4 - Put the mushrooms and shallots back in along with the tomatoes, wine, water and thyme sprigs. Bring to the boil and then place in the oven for 45 minutes.
5 - Mix the butter and flour to make a Beurre Maniere. Remove the casserole and stir in the 'roux' to thicken. Taste for seasoning. Stir in fresh chopped parsley and serve with vegetables of choice.

Friday, 26 January 2007

Great Balls of Desire


Back in the 1970s, my food experiences as a young lad were pretty enviable. Boil in the bag fish fillets with parsley sauce, Angel's Delight (butterscotch please!), fried bread and minute steaks. Yes, we had it good in our house. So good that just thinking nostalgically on these foodstuffs is making me want to vomit. One 'treat' that went down a storm with me and my brothers was that tinned marvel that still haunts our supermarket shelves, Campbell's Meatballs. I can honestly say that even then, I didn't take to them. It was like biting on a sheep's eyeball, or at least what I could imagine it was like biting on a sheep's eyeball. Soaked in the poorest of tasteless tomato sauces, I still to this day cannot fathom why they were, and still are, so popular with children.

Now over in Italy, I somehow can't imagine a young Luigi racing home from his Perugian school in order to get back in time for a hot steaming bowl of Campbell's meatballs freshly poured from the can by his mama. In Italy, they eat the proper stuff. Minced pork or beef or sometimes combined, with subtle additional tastes that no doubt vary from village to village. Cooked to perfection in olive oil with a crisp crust, served on spaghetti with a tingling fresh tomato sauce. Fresh basil and grated Parmesan, this has to be one of the finest Italian inventions that can be enjoyed by the whole family. And guess what Campbell's fans? Like most Italian food, it is simple to make and approximately one thousand million and seven times better in looks, texture and flavour than the grey suffocated balls that plop from your can.

As a parent, I will repeat, it is important to keep your food varied and full of flavour. It is the only way you are going to keep that little attention span at bay. I can guarantee that this recipe will have your child licking their lips and shouting for more. My daughter's favourite thing in the whole world, I have to resist making these every week as she could eat them every day, and so could I. Try to get your head around the fact that making food like this is not difficult. You can make it in advance or make extra batches and freeze it. The same goes with the tomato sauce. Make big batches and you have the most delicious preservative free pasta sauce at will. IT IS NOT DIFFICULT! And your child will love you more for it and they will be eating healthy, nutritious and vibrant food. Surely that is worth spending 30 minutes creating this wonderful dish. Just don't mention the C word......

Italian Meatballs and Fresh Tomato Sauce
To serve 2 adults and 1 child with plenty left over
For the meatballs
250g minced pork
250g minced beef
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
100g pine nuts
Parsley
Basil
1 tsp Fennel seeds
50g breadcrumbs (whizz some stale bread in the food processor and freeze it)
50g Parmesan cheese
1 Lemon
1 Egg
Olive Oil
For the Tomato Sauce
1x Onion
2x tins Chopped tomatoes (or if in season, 800g fresh tomatoes chopped)
1x Tbs red wine vinegar
Olive oil

1 - To make the tomato sauce, finely chop the onion and often in Olive oil.
2 - Add the tomatoes, red wine vinegar and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
3 - For the meatballs, finely chop the onion and garlic and soften in olive oil along with the fennel seeds. Cool and tip into a large mixing bowl.
4 - Roughly chop the pine nuts and add to the onion. Finely chop the parsley and add to the mix along with the zest and juice of the lemon, grated Parmesan, breadcrumbs, egg, minced meats and a little black pepper. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
5 - At this stage you can leave it for the day and it will improve in flavour.
6 - Form small balls in the palm of your hands. Flatten slightly and pan fry in olive oil in batches until crisp and cooked through, approximately 5 minutes each side.
7 - Serve with spaghetti, tomato sauce, some roughly torn basil leaves and more Parmesan. Beautiful.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Fishtastic



I'm keeping on the fish theme at the moment. I've said this before, but we don't eat enough fish in this country. If I can get the fish message through to my little one at an early age, hopefully it will register. The same goes for you, just ensure that the fish is as fresh as can be. I can guarantee a rejection if it smells fishy and the only way it will smell this way is if it is not fresh. That goes for adult fish haters too, it is a myth that fish is fishy all of the time!

Last night we made a very colourful and vibrant dish that looked restaurant standard. A pile of beautiful Puy lentils, those mini stone-like gems that are the best of the legumes when cooked properly, combined with classic salsa ingredients and topped with a succulent sea bass, crispy skin-side up. A quarter of lime and some coriander on the side made it look a very classy dish indeed, far too classy for the little food experimenter.

If you are serving this to your friends or family, keep it looking classy. But I recommend you give everything a good mash or mix when presenting to your kids as there is a good chance they will prod at the fish, scoop it aside, take one look at the lentils and then want to get immediately out of the high chair. Again, keep persevering without losing your loaf, these are new flavours. Some might say that this is far too adult for your child but I disagree with that opinion in any circumstance. You don't hear the parents in Asia saying that when they are feeding their children the most adult of flavours that lurk within a great curry. Keep the faith and keep encouraging.

Fish with a Puy Lentil Salsa
To serve 2 adults and 1 child

2x Fish fillets of choice, skin on (we used sea bass but any firm white fish will do)
1x Lime

For the salsa
50g Puy lentils well washed
2x large tomatoes chopped into dice or a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes halved
2x spring onions sliced
1x red onion cut finely
1x Red chilli (necessary for an authentic salsa but ensure all the seeds are out) cut finely
1x heaped teaspoon soft brown sugar
2x Tbs red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Fresh coriander

1 - Place the washed lentils into a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil then simmer for 15-20 minutes. Check rather than going for these times though, you must ensure a bite without it being under or over cooked.
2 - Drain and place into a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil whilst hot and coat.
3 - Combine all of the salsa ingredients with the lentils and stir. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Slash the fish fillets on the skin side and season. Pan fry skin side down until the skin is crisp, no more than 5 minutes. Flip and finish for a further 2 minutes.
5 - Serve onto a pile of Puy lentil salsa with a wedge of lime and more freshly scattered coriander.
6 - For the kids, chop and mix it. up.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Rice and Easy

Dedicating a few days to the subject of easy and healthy food for your children, I have delved into my brain to recover a few tried and tested recipes that are sure winners. Like all new food to the amateur taste buds, if at first you don't succeed, first of all ensure that you are cooking it as yummy as can be. Then encourage without showing any disappointment. Then freeze it for another day of trying. It usually takes anything from 1-5 shots at it but I am yet to fail, so you can succeed in exactly the same manner.

In the early days of cooking for Cerys, I was quick to get annoyed if she winced or protested. I was and still am so dedicated to her growing up with no food phobias that it almost became a problem for me. Any failures I took personally. This, I can guarantee, is the wrong attitude to take. I quickly learned to hide this disappointment and realise how fantastic this little person was to be trying my concoctions at such a young age. Nowadays I glow with pride no matter what she is doing, whether it a firm 'NO!' or a satisfying 'Mmmmmm...'. Without sounding brazened, it is usually the latter. Simple encouragement, varied food and of course well cooked food have ensured this and anybody can do it using these techniques.

This recipe I have called a risotto but of course it isn't, I simply prefer the term risotto to plain rice. And if your little one can say, 'risotto' before they can say 'potty', I'm pretty sure you will be the proudest parent in the world. Using plain brown rice rather than Arborio or similar risotto grains, it is cooked slowly with the rest of the ingredients. It makes a very tasty and again, a very easy one pot meal that the whole family can enjoy. If you prefer to use risotto rice, go for it. I just want to get them whole grains in now and again. The peas are optional but if you have a pea obsessive in your little one like I do, it always helps.

Give it a go, it is a really lovely dish and it just may get you and your kids onto a path to healthy eating.

Tuna, Apple and Fennel Risotto
To feed 2 adults and 1 child
2x Pieces of fresh tuna loin
1x Fennel bulb
2x Large eating apples of choice
2x Garlic cloves
250g brown rice
500ml Vegetable stock (you can use a decent instant such as Swiss Marigold for ease)
Fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
A couple of handfuls of frozen peas (optional)

1 - Finely chop the fennel and garlic. Soften but do not colour in the olive oil in a large pan.
2 - Add the rice and stir until coated. Pour in the hot stock, stir once and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover.
3 - Chop the tuna and apple into 1cm cubes. After 15 minutes of simmering, put the tuna and apple into the rice and stir, cook for a further 15 minutes (or check the rice packet if longer). Keep checking to ensure the pan has not dried out.
4 - Once cooked, stir in finely chopped fresh parsley and freshly grated Parmesan. Check for seasoning but be very steady with salt as the Parmesan should have enough. A couple of handfuls of frozen peas at this point adds colour and texture and for your little pea addicts.



Monday, 22 January 2007

Teenage Warning

As a responsible father of a two year old, anybody out there with any interest in their child's well-being will know how much of a challenge it is when it comes to preparing the evening dinner. It is a true challenge, especially when you know they are reaching that age where they could swing one way or the other. Good food or bad food. Does that destiny sit with the parents? In my opinion it does. It is our responsibility to encourage and cajole, to keep the choice varied and exciting enough to retain your little one's interest. It is a subject very close to my heart and I'm chuffed to say, so far so good. Cerys loves her tucker and despite a few incidents of plates on floors, most of the time she wolfs it down with gusto.

The U.K. is now officially the most obese nation in Europe. We have the worst cases of constipation, bowel and colon cancer. And we eat the most takeaways, crisps and chocolates. Why? Small island mentality? I have thought about it a lot and I really cannot put my hand on why we are speeding dramatically towards a serious problem. It is a true epidemic and only recently, what with Jamie Oliver and his healthy school dinner campaign, are the government realising what an issue they have on their hands and doing something about it. Here in the North East, huge leaps have been made to try and stop the rot, beginning with the Primary Schools. Last year all 238 Primary schools in County Durham were forced to improve their school meals with drastically lower fat, sugar and salt in their content. Only time will tell if these kind of measures will have a long term improvement, but it will take a lot more than this for the message to really get home.

I myself have been speaking to and hoping to get involved with a pioneering roadshow called Expochef (www.expochef.org), the brainchild of Mark Earnden, a man with incredible vision, passion, belief and energy in the subject of healthy eating. What Mark is trying to communicate through his roadshows around the North East is pretty simple - that food can be affordable, can be easy to cook and can be healthy as well as tasty. Philosophies that the French, Spanish, Italians etc have never had issues with. The very fact that we are at a stage in the U.K. where people like Mark are required to get the message home is scary, and I applaud anybody that is sitting up and tackling this major issue. Check out his webpage and be inspired. Expochef could and should be in your area soon no matter where you are in the country, for it is these kind of passionate and ambitious people that are needed if we are going to get ourselves out of this horrendous situation.

"Its a teenage warning, but nobodies listening', sang our very own Angelic Upstarts in a bout of anger back in the late 70s. I very much doubt they were singing about the obesity time-bomb in the U.K., but Expochef and the Government alike have an enormous challenge on their hands convincing this fast-food obsessed nation the key areas of healthy eating. As a parent who does not need any convincing, I urge any other parent out there who may be reading this to take a lot more interest into what goes into your child's mouth on a daily basis. It really is a matter of life or death and no matter how improved school dinners may be, no matter how much more media focus may be on the obesity epidemic, the path to good or bad food habits starts and ends with YOU the parent. Stay tuned this week for some easy and healthy recipes that you and your kiddies can enjoy together.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Aubergine Shaped Body


I'm on a vegetarian roll this week. That may or may not be because I had a quick check up last week at the doctor's and was told to start reversing the effects of my annual Christmas indulgence. A portly chap at the best of times, a slab of butter, bottle of wine, pound of cheese and countless chocolate every day has not exactly helped my figure and arteries. I've been running 3 times a week since the New Year and last night I had my first game of football for four years. Not a single piece of badness has passed my lips since Saturday, so I'm chuffed that my willpower is holding out.

What makes it easier during these testing times are brilliant dishes that taste sublime and are incredibly healthy, a combination not often associated when it comes to healthy eating. I myself frown upon a 100% healthy diet, life would not be worth living if so. A good balance is what they say and after my own hedonistic displays over the festive period I thoroughly agree. Hence the reason for playing around with legumes and root vegetables for the past week, and after the stuffed pepper dish I am pleased to say that I have discovered another meatless gem. I keep saying this and I want it to sink in, but this dish is very easy to achieve as most of my dishes are. Kitchenphobes, it is important to realise this as it will hopefully encourage you to cook more and realise that food should NEVER be something to be afraid of. Lesson one over.

This is another tagine I'm afraid, but one very different from the tomato and chicken based tagine I gave you earlier this week. A mushroom, aubergine and chickpea tagine, it is jumping with health and flavour. More spices and the addition of fruit make it more authentic and a slight hand on the spices guarantees a different taste sensation with each bite. You could even change the vegetables to suit your preference if you aren't a fan of the purple one, but I encourage you to try this even if you don't. People who don't like aubergines tend to complain of the texture or bitterness, but combined with chick peas the texture becomes irrelevant and the spice masks any bitterness you may have experienced before. Personally, I love these two qualities and it remains one of my favourite vegetables. Allow it to caramelise slightly along with the onions, it will only enhance the flavour.

At some stage soon I will be writing something dreadfully unhealthy and delicious. But whilst I am on a roll to rid myself of my spare tyres, give these recipes a go and watch yourself glow with health and your taste buds scream with joy. Just don't blame me if you find yourself becoming a vegetarian....

To feed 4
2 Onions
3 Cloves of garlic
1 Large Aubergine
200g mushrooms of choice, but button mushrooms hold their texture better if a little flavourless
1 can of chopped tomatoes or 400g of fresh
1 can of chick peas
100g dried apricots (try to buy organic naturally sun dried, so much more flavour and colour, like little caramels)
2tsp paprika and ground coriander
1tsp cayenne pepper, turmeric, cumin
half teaspoon cinnamon
250ml water
Fresh coriander and parsley
Flaked almonds
Olive oil

1 - Slice your onion and garlic, half your mushrooms, cube your aubergine and add to the olive oil heated in a large casserole dish. Stir for 10 minutes until softened and coloured.
2 - Add the spices and stir for 1 minute until fragrant.
3 - Add the tomatoes, chick peas and water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
4 - Serve with cous cous and scatter with toasted almonds and finely chopped coriander and parsley.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

MasterChef Goes Large


Well, anybody that is reading this may or may not know that I appeared on MasterChef Goes Large last year and failed to get past the first part of the Quarter Final stage. I was luckily (or unluckily depending on how you look at it!?) invited back to compete in the 're-contestant' part of the show where they bring back a dozen of the previous year's 'most promising' cooks to compete for a place in the semi-finals.

MGL starts on BBC2 6.30pm on Monday January 22nd. My heats start on Monday 26th February. So tune in and see how yours truly performs.....

Monday, 15 January 2007

Exercise Your Options


It has been a long standing opinion of the most voracious of carnivores that vegetarians simply cannot have any life when it comes to their cuisine of choice. Mocked by the current TV chefs of the moment (in particular Mr Ramsay), 'veggies' have had a pretty hard time of it over the years. From public humiliation to having to contend with ubiquitous and predictable choice in most restaurants, I don't think it is easy to go a whole week without somebody having a dig at you if you are of this culinary nature. Take restaurants. "I'll have the vegetarian option please, what is that today?". "That will be the Mushroom Stroganoff or Goats Cheese Pasta Sir". Sound familiar? The choice simply isn't there. As for getting grief for simply wanting to not have a meal of our domestic friends, it is for these reasons alone that I am glad that I am a headstrong carnivore in this fickle and inconsistent world of food choice.

I will leave the virtues of eating meat for another day. This week I have decided to sing the praises of vegetarian choice, for this evening I made a meatless dish that will live in my memory for a long time. It was after eating it that I decided to never laugh at or mock our veggie friends again as it was simply delightful. It made me think quite morally on the past grief I have given my vegetarian friends and of the shame I have bestowed upon myself in restaurants, laughing as yet another mushroom stroganoff is wheeled out to the poor choice-less ones.

Seriously though, it is about time the eateries that litter our streets looked at their menus and really thought hard about their vegetarian options. The dish I will describe was simple, good to look at, beautiful to eat, filling and nutritious. I would take a dish like this over most high street meat choices any day and would feel proud talking about it (which I am of course). Peppers caramelised to perfection, just a hint of colour to add depth to the juicy flesh. Stuffed with rice jewelled with sultanas, currants and nuts, just enough spice to make it exotic and sprinkled with a herb that lifts any lingering blandness. Amazing.

There is simply no excuse for no choice on a menu no matter what kind of 'vore' you are. Especially when vegetarian food like this can make you feel as good as I did whilst eating it. So vegetarians, please take some advice from a stubborn old meat eater. The next time a waiter announces, ''That will be the Mushroom Stroganoff Sir", ignore the laughs of carnivores, hold your head up high and head straight for the exit. Then back home to make this cracking little number.

To serve 2
1 Red pepper
1 Yellow pepper
25g sultanas
25g currants
25g pine nuts
200g Basmati rice
1 Onion
2 Clove garlic
1 Cinnamon stick
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
400ml Vegetable stock
Coriander
Mint
Olive oil

1 - Preheat oven to 190 degrees C, GM5
2 - Keeping the stalks intact, half the peppers and carefully pull out the seeds. Put into a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, a sprinkling of finely chopped garlic, plenty of freshly ground pepper and a dash of salt and roast for 30-40 minutes until coloured.
3 - Whilst they are cooking, finely chop the onion and garlic and soften in olive oil. Add the pine nuts until they obtain a bit of colour, then add the sultanas, currants, cinnamon and chilli flakes. Stir in with the rice until coated then pour in your hot stock. Stir then put on a lid and at the lowest flame or setting possible, cook for 15 minutes.
4 - Remove lid and stir to check the rice is cooked through. Pile into the peppers, sprinkle with chopped coriander and mint and feel proud to be a vegetarian of choice.

Friday, 12 January 2007

African Dreams



It is literally ripping up trees outside up here in these parts, not very nice at all. The house is whistling like an old kettle as it howls around it and the roof feels as though it is about to be torn away. It is nights like this that dreams of far off places help you through the miserable coldness. Exotic places, the kind where the sun often shines, where beaches are vast. Where the food is as colourful as the people. Morocco comes to mind. A country seeping with mystery and guise and, for me, boasting probably the best street food in the world. Walk around a Moroccan market and you are hit with a myriad of nasal sensations from lemons to saffron to roasted pistachios to sizzling chicken on the spit to warm freshly baked flatbreads, the perfect food wrap when you are walking around sampling the atmosphere. Everywhere you look are rainbows of spices adorning the stalls. The buzz in the air is intense, filled with bartering and energy. A million miles away from the frozen North in January, I can tell you.

In the not so sunny North East it is difficult to conjure up these feelings, especially when the house appears to be getting ripped apart by the conditions outside. But a rendition of this Moroccan style dish gives you a good head start. Sweet and spicy, hot and alluring, it cheered us up no end. It is incredibly simple, as the best food really is, with a hint of saffron the key rather than a blast of this most expensive of spices. I do find that it can be an overpowering spice and a pinch too much can endure a dish almost sickly. But used carefully, it ensures a spark of magic. The addition of honey soothes the kick of the cayenne and a generous sprinkling of toasted almonds and pistachios provides crunch and nuttiness, a beautiful texture to compliment perfectly. Please track down orange blossom honey, the hint of orange makes it even more exotic and relevant.

If you have the time, make a basic flatbread recipe, you will never look back. It will probably convince you that bought in breads of this nature simply do not compete as freshness and heat from a recently vacated oven makes any flatbread an absolute must. Then, when you finally sit down with your loved one in a cold Tyneside house or wherever for that matter, try and block out the freezing howling winds whilst devouring this amazing dish and dream, dream, dream......

To Serve 4
Olive oil
4 chicken breasts cut into pieces (I actually use the thighs with the bone in and skin on, much tastier. But for people who prefer no fuss, if you insist, use the breast)
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tins of chopped tomatoes (or 600g fresh, skinned and chopped)
1tsp saffron
250ml water
4tbsp orange blossom honey
Toasted flaked almonds
Coriander

1 - Soak the saffron in 250ml boiling water.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a large pan and brown the chicken. Finely chop the onion, remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and soften the onion. Add finely sliced garlic, cinnamon, ginger and cayenne pepper and stir for 1 minute.
3 - Add the tomatoes, saffron infused water and chicken. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30-35 minutes.
4 - Pour in the honey and raise the heat for 5 minutes until the sauce thickens. Taste for seasoning.
5 - Sprinkle with fresh coriander, toasted flaked almonds and serve with plain cous cous and warm flatbreads.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

What's For Tea?



A 2 mile run today was on the cards, and it was freezing. The chill was catching my lungs worse than any pub smoke could and I found it pretty hard. Only 2 miles too. Oh well, long way to go yet and it is only the 2nd week of January after all. But I do have a good idea for fellow waddlers to let the time fly by. It's a guessing game called What's For Tea?.

During these runs I have to drift off into a dreamland otherwise the pain of carrying 14.5 stones around the block becomes paramount. I highly recommend anybody similar to me to do this. As a terrible runner it seems to work. Well, for 2 miles anyway. Therefore my thoughts usually drift onto my favourite subject, surprise surprise, food.

Wondering what to do for tea this evening I had the challenge of having not much of a clue what I had in the fridge. We haven't done much shopping this week and we are both trying to be good, so I knew there wasn't much to get excited about. No meat, no fish and no poultry. Just vegetables. I remember seeing a bag of spinach and a few chestnut mushrooms lurking around the bottom of the fridge. Spinach and mushrooms. Not too inspiring but a start. There are always tins of beans and tomatoes and there is always some form of pasta. Aha! I had it. Ideal for a carbo hit after a run, a lasagne was the order of the day.

Lasagne is so simple, but people often just think of the Italian classic of layers of pasta, meat, sauce and béchamel. I often do a vegetarian version involving all kinds of non-meaty things, the kind of concoction that would have me shot by the Food Police over in Italy I'm sure. But when you are running low on ingredients and there is no meat around, why not? This evening I knocked up a butter bean, spinach and mushroom lasagne. Layers of goodness, hot and filling, it was seriously good. The nipper downed two lots of it and we finished the rest. My energy levels returned. And it only takes half an hour to prepare. If only I could run 2 miles in that time......

300g of spinach, well washed
250g mushrooms of choice
1 tin of butter beans (or 4 handfuls of dried, soaked overnight, boiled fast for 10 minutes then for a further hour)
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
2 tins of tomatoes (please don't be snobbish about this, tomatoes aren't in season anyway and if you can get some good Italian plum tomatoes they take some beating)
Red wine vinegar
Sheets of dried lasagne
Olive Oil

For the Béchamel
1 heaped tablespoon flour
25 g butter
500ml milk
200g cheddar cheese
Parmesan

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, GM6.
2 - Chop the onion and garlic, soften in olive oil. Slice the mushrooms and add stirring until softened and coloured.
3 - Add the tomatoes, a splash of red wine vinegar and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Place the washed spinach into a large pan on the heat and stir until well wilted. Drain, cool slightly then chop roughly. Add to the sauce.
5 - Drain the butter beans and add to the sauce.
6 - To make the béchamel, melt the butter and add the flour, continually stirring for 1 minute to cook the flour out. Gradually add the milk bit by bit, again stirring continually, until you have a thick and creamy rich sauce. Grate the cheddar cheese and add to make your cheese sauce.
7 - Layer the tomato sauce with two layers of lasagne sheets in an ovenproof lasagne dish (or any suitable ovenproof dish of choice). Finish off with the cheese sauce and a grating of Parmesan.
8 - Place on the middle shelf for 30-35 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, portion and serve.

Update from Darren

Our Darren has left an update on his Blog, have a look and pass on some love

http://disasterousd4z.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Guilty Pleasures


I have to admit, I told a lie in an earlier article. In a vain attempt to look like I was trying to do something about losing some weight, I mentioned that my wife and I had finished off the Christmas cake. I put my hands up and apologise. Why I had to lie I don't know. Actually, I do. It was hiding in the cupboard, the final slab, the piece I wanted to keep for myself for a sacred moment of peace and indulgence. It was pathetic really. Just writing it in a Blog made me feel as though there was actually none left when all along it was going to be devoured some time in January. That night came last night. And it was heaven. I felt no guilt as I chewed and savoured each piece, swallowing it down with (and this is no lie) the last of the Port. It was a like a final goodbye to the work I put in over Christmas in the kitchen. Happy and sad at the same time as I picked every last crumb away from the greaseproof paper. As I said, pathetic.

What isn't pathetic though, and I say this with some assurance, is the quality of the cake that I make. It is a creation I'm proud of, tweaked and messed with over the years. Although I do love traditional Christmas cake, I often find it lacks character, has a tendency to be dry and also seems odd eaten any time outside of Christmas. And considering there always tends to be a fair old slab of cake left over from Christmas, I wanted a cake that could be eaten any time of the year without people saying, 'Why are we eating Christmas cake in March?'.

My cake stays faithful on some levels, such as the hoard of fruit, the spices and the alcohol. Lots of fruit, it was still weeping moisture last night 6 weeks after making it. But where it sways away from tradition is my addition of coffee, almonds and chocolate. I don't know why, but adding all of these elements seems to lift it to another level. Obviously nutty thanks to the almonds (of which I prefer to smash whole dried almonds in a bag to smithereens rather than over-fine ground almonds, adds a lovely texture) and the chocolate not overpowering enough to make it into a fruity chocolate cake. It has a similar effect to chocolate in certain Mexican foods. Something is there in the background but you just don't know what (unless you made it of course) but it tastes so good and you don't care.

So why am I talking about Christmas cake in January? Well, as I said, the cake I make is not a traditional Christmas cake. It is more of a rich fruit cake to be eaten any time of the year or day for that matter, with alcohol or with tea or with coffee. It is not a grown up cake, despite the spice and alcohol, as it maintains stickiness and goo that kids love (my daughter certainly does) as well as that mystery chocolate. So all of the family can eat it. Even granny, with her false teeth out, as it is so soft and moresome. So give it a go. And ensure that, as the cook, you save the last piece in a dark corner of your cupboards for pure private indulgence....

My Xmas Cake

100g each of raisins, currants, sultanas, dried figs and dried prunes (chopped roughly)
1 espresso cup of coffee
A large splash of brandy or whisky
250g butter
Tablespoon of mixed spice
200g dark muscovado sugar
100g honey
Zest and juice of an orange or 2 satsumas or clementines
Tablespoon of cocoa powder
3 large eggs
100g plain flour
100g skinned and blanched almonds bashed to pieces in a bag
Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda

1 - Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM3. Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin.
2 - Melt the butter and sugars in a large pan, adding the fruit, coffee, brandy or whisky, spice and honey. Zest and juice the oranges and add along with the cocoa powder. Stir until dark and mysterious and rest for 10 minutes.
3 - Beat the eggs and add to the mixture along with the flour (sifted of course), the ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Fold in thoroughly until not a trace of flour is left.
4 - Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake on the middle shelf for 2 hours. If the top looks like it is catching, cover with baking paper.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Roasted


It's another lazy day out of the kitchen for me today as we nurse the end of our colds. With some curry from last night left over for tea today, we all decided to take a trip to the local pub for a full Sunday roast. I'm never the most enthusiastic of people when it comes to trying out places that are frequented by the masses on a Sunday. Not that I'm a snob or anything, it's just that I'm particular when it comes to what I expect on my plate for a Sunday roast. Especially if I'm paying for it. If it isn't as I expect it, I'm a pain. Today was no exception.

The local pub has recently been revamped. Full dust down, new management and a focus on 'good home cooked food'. I've heard that expression so many times and it fills me with fear when I read it. Inside was pleasant enough and we were welcomed with open arms. A full carvery was the order of the day, one of those 3 different kind of meats and help yourself to as many vegetables.

I waited in the queue, starving as always, and peered at the food. From a distance, the ham looked beautiful I have to say, full honey roast, cooked to perfection. The turkey was a monster but again, looked succulent and well cooked, a rarity for this beast of a bird. But the piece I was looking forward to the most, that King of Sunday roasts, oh my word. A disaster. Roast beef. Roasted well done was not the expression, it was furnaced. Black on the outside and a mixture of dark brown and grey right through the middle, nothing could save this classic cut from it's misery. But ahead of me, people were lapping it up. 'The beef please, it looks amazing', and off the punters trotted to douse it in a myriad of accompaniments and gravy and chew on it all afternoon. I asked the chef if he had any more 'medium' beef in the oven about to come out. Of course the answer was no. 'We get complaints if it isn't well done. Ridiculous isn't it?'. My face said it all.

As I said, fortunately the ham and turkey were great and the vegetables varied and cooked well, even the Yorkshire puddings were outdoing mine 3 to 1 on size. But I could not hide my disappointment at this crime on food which I have seen so many times. What is it with the mass general public when it comes to particulars on food? If you are reading this and you are somebody who flinches at the sight of blood on their beef, can you please tell me why? I will never be able to work it out. Especially on a Sunday roast. The roast beef dinner should be one of celebration, a dish that should be paraded through the streets each year with it's own dedicated celebration day as a classic to be worshipped. Although the French love to laugh at our fascination with 'ros boeuf', they know that it is a classic dish and would not dream of serving it in any other way than medium rare. Taking it any further than medium dries out and subtracts the beautiful flavour of a fantastically reared piece of beef. Really, it does. The texture turns granular, you are chewing on it all day. Please tell me I am wrong?! Horrendous.

Anyway, I will get off my high horse. But I do get so disappointed sometimes. It is in my nature as a foodie to get annoyed at the certain ways that we have as a nation. Don't take it too personally. But do think twice next time you either buy or make your own roast beef as to how it should really be served. In fact, I urge you to try out the following recipe for 'proper' roast beef and ensure that it becomes a Sunday mantra for all roasters in the UK everywhere.

The classic Roast Beef - to serve many

1 - Heat your oven up hot, GM8 or 230 degrees C.
2 - Take one well hung fore rib of beef on the bone (this is the classic cut but Sirloin will do, fillet removed) and rub it all over with olive oil and lots of salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat up a roasting tin on the hob and seal your beef on all sides before placing in the oven for 20 minutes.
3 - Turn the oven down to GM3, 160 degrees C and roast your beef for 10 minutes per 500g for rare or 15 minutes per 500g for medium.
4 - Remove from the oven, put it onto a plate, cover with foil and rest and allow all of them lovely juices to flow for a good 30 minutes. This is essential.
5 - Deglaze the roasting dish with a glass of red wine and some good beef stock for the best gravy in the world. Serve with vegetables of choice, a good horseradish sauce and of course, Yorkshire puddings.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Big Brother



Just a quick few words to my big brother Darren who is going through one hell of a chapter in his life at the moment. I'm not going to harp on as he will just tell me off, I'm bracing myself for one after just doing this, but we are all here thinking about you and we also all know that you will be around for a long long time yet. Good luck next week. Love you so much Darren xxx

Nice and Spicy



We all have a cold today. Sniffs, coughs and shivers. So a pretty miserable household. Neither my wife nor I have the energy to be knocking up anything other than beans on toast but that just wouldn't be enough on this cold night of fevers. We all need a tonic other than lemon, honey and paracetamol.

For me, a curry is the tonic required, not just when you have a cold. Any time of the year. Not only do the spices seem to lift up the dullness of a fevered brow and bring your senses alive, it contains all of them lovely immune boosting bug fighting goodies (depending on how you have made your curry of course) such as garlic and onions to help you reap a variety of health benefits. Ginger can open nasal passages, soothe nausea and help the immune system too. Tomatoes are of course packed with antioxidants. And there are the powerful complex of carbohydrates you can gain from starches such as potatoes and beans.

With no meat in the house, it was a simple knock up containing the remaining Christmas week potatoes, a punnet of chestnut mushrooms and a few handfuls of frozen peas. Lots of caramelised onions, lots of garlic and ginger, lots of tomatoes and lots of spice. I love to make a curry and tend to not think too much about quantities when I make one (sorry measurement police). For some reason, it always seems to work. And I'm not snobbish enough to not want to add a spice or two at the end if it seems to lack something.

Give it a go. I've named this one the Pea and Potato Cold Buster for no other reason than it sounds corny but actually does do what it says on the tin, as well as taste good. It isn't following any tradition, it is extremely healthy and it is simple to make. Just how I like it. Nice and Spicy.....

To serve 4
5 large potatoes
A punnet of mushrooms (any, I used Chestnut)
4 onions
6 cloves of garlic
A thumb of ginger
Frozen peas
2 tins of chopped tomatoes (or fresh if you don't have a cold and can be bothered)
250ml water
Fresh coriander
Mustard seeds
Garam masala
Chilli flakes
Paprika
3 cardamon pods, seeds removed and crushed
Cinnamon stick
Sunflower or vegetable oil

1 - Finely slice your onions and brown slowly in 3 tablespoons of oil. Peel and grate the ginger, finely slice the garlic and add to the onion with the spices until the seeds pop and the kitchen fills with a heavenly smell.
2 - Peel and chop the potatoes into bite sized pieces, quarter the mushrooms and stir into the onion and spice mixture. If you have your roots intact on the coriander, chop these up fine and add them too. Pour in your tomatoes, water and bring to the simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
3 - Throw in a few handfuls of frozen peas. Season. Server with basmati rice, fresh coriander, breads and chutney and feel your spirits lift.

Friday, 5 January 2007

Feeling Rather Portly


Strange day today - whether it was a glimpse of myself in the butcher's window or my daughter prodding my 'belly' saying, 'Daddy, what's that?', I've decided that Christmas has been unkind to me and that I have to knock food and drink hedonism on the head and try to reduce the waist. My two chins have sprouted another two chins too. And my footballer's knee is screaming at me to ease the pressure slightly by losing some weight.

I said it in a previous post, diets and me don't go well together. It isn't through lack of willpower. It is simply that I love food and life too much to deny myself a daily pleasure or two. Let's face the facts, food these days for me is the greatest pleasure I can have fully clothed. So I simply refuse to be lured into fad diets and detoxes. So what can I do to stop the rot?

Well, last night my wife and I demolished the last piece of Christmas chocolate. So there is the first demon exorcised. I love chocolate so much but I can resist it for a few weeks I'm sure. There is one piece of my own Christmas cake left to eat this evening with the last slab of Lancashire cheese. So there are two more evil pixies removed from the fridge which again I'm sure I can resist for a few weeks. Wine and beer are all over the house, so willpower will have to be the key there. I've never felt the need nor has anybody told me that I need to find the local AA, so I'm reasonably happy to stay alcohol free for a while.

With these three temptations recognised and eliminated, I honestly feel that I can eat my usual diet with the addition of some exercise. So the bike has been dusted down, my trainers and heart rate monitor discovered, and the beach is a stone's throw away so I will be pounding or cycling down there a few times a week. I feel slimmer just telling you about this.

My wife is taking over the kitchen this evening for a simple roast chicken supper complete with Yorkshire puddings. So below is a recipe for the most simple and British of Sunday roast accompaniments. Traditionally served with beef, I love them so much that I can eat them with any beast. So we are. And the calories they contain can easily be removed with tomorrow morning's bike ride. I'm sure.....

To serve 4 individual puddings
3 oz (75 g) plain flour
1 egg
3 fl oz (75 ml) milk
2 fl oz (55 ml) water
Sunflower, vegetable oil or if you can get it, beef dripping
salt and freshly milled black pepper

1 - Make the batter by sifting the flour into a bowl and making a well in the centre. Break the egg into it and beat, gradually incorporating the flour, and then beat in the milk, water and seasoning.
2 - Heat the oven to gas mark 7, (220°C). Add the oil or dripping to the Yorkshire pudding tin compartments and place that on a baking sheet on the top shelf. Once the oil is smoking, and I mean smoking, pour the batter into the hot fat. Return the tin to the baking sheet for 25-30 minutes until risen, crisp and golden.



Thursday, 4 January 2007

No Smoking Ban


I'm blessed these days when it comes to my favourite food and the resources available to me - fish. After spending 13 years inland and moving back to my roots, I didn't realise how lucky we are to be living by the coast. Okay, our waters are apparently over-fished and sustainable stocks are a must for a clear mind, but to be able to walk into a fishmongers with confidence knowing that the piece of fish you are about to buy is as fresh as can be makes me a happy man. You should know the score when it comes to checking out the freshness of a fish - the eyes looking at you as if it were still alive rather than sunken and grey. Giving it a prod, the flesh should spring back at you rather than leaving a dimple. The gills when lifted sparkling with crimson red and take a sniff. If it smells fishy, put it back, give your fishmonger a dirty look then walk away.

Of course, one piece of fish that you can't really do the eyes and gills test with is a smoked fish. In this case, smoked haddock. For me though, the test remains simple. If it is glowing orange, leave it be as it has not been smoked the traditional way over Oak shavings. It has been painted with chemicals that make it smell and taste as if it has been smoked but once eaten you can tell by the bitterness left on the palate that it was an impostor. Lift it up, smell it for non-fishiness and prod it as above. It should be a solid meaty slab of smoked goodness ready for all kinds of wonderful dishes. Preserving of foodstuffs has to be one of the oldest yet essential techniques that has survived the test of time and fortunately we have never lost the art of salting, curing and smoking, nor have we been forced to change due to modernisation.

Last week I hosted a party of 12 as part of my service and served the hungry lot a starter that, for me, celebrates all that is amazing about this wonderful technique of smoking. Take a piece of smoked haddock (mine purchased from Latimers Fish Deli in Whitburn, Tyne and Wear, an absolute treasure of a shop), smother it in the most wonderful sauce and serve it with it's natural vegetable accompaniments and it ensures satisfaction all round. I make my sauce using the milk I poached the fish in to give that smoked backdrop and a spoonful of Dijon mustard to lift it with a small punch of flavour. Wholegrain works equally well. Fewer vegetables go as well with fish than fennel. Aniseed and liquorice undertones make it the most intriguing bulb, and serve it raw and sliced thin with pear and watercress, the elements combine in your mouth with glee.

I'm convinced that this dish can change the mind of even the most sceptical of fish or smoked food haters, and I have not heard one person say otherwise after demolishing a plate. Make it, eat it and be happy, especially if you live by the sea....

To serve 2 as a main or 4 as a starter
2 pieces of natural dyed smoked haddock, boned and cut into equal pieces.
1 pint of whole milk
1 onion
3 cloves
5 peppercorns
Bay leaf
2oz plain flour
2oz butter
Dijon or Wholegrain mustard

For the salad
Watercress
1 pear (reasonably firm and in season)
1 bulb fennel
Dressing made with olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper

1 - Half the onion, stud with cloves, place in a shallow pan with the haddock, bay leaf and peppercorns. Pour milk on to cover and bring gently to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.
2 - Drain the fish and keep warm under foil. Strain the milk.
3 - Make a roux by melting the butter and mixing in the flour. Gradually stir in the milk, continually stirring, until you have a reasonably thick white sauce. Season with a good dollop of mustard and taste until a kick is achieved.
4 - Thinly slice the fennel and pear, combine with the watercress and dressing.
5 - Serve the salad alongside the fish with a drizzle of mustard sauce on. Heaven.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Reboiled and Refreshed


After the past 2 days of no shame indulgence with cake and fish & chips, I thought it best to give my soul some sanctuary and ease the strain on my arteries. For me, this time of the year is almost impossible to start thinking about strict diets. For a start, if you want to stay conscience free and eat seasonally, how on earth are you supposed to find some good local lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber in this frozen northern wasteland? So that's any form of salad out of the way (well, good excuse anyway). Detox? Tried it once and it made me almost suicidal. Exercise? Well, I do that anyway but finding that food/exercise combination that works is a difficult one. Or is it?

The Italians make amazing food at the best of times, but scanning my books for some inspiration this morning led me to a classic Tuscan dish that cries out with Winter warming health, vitality, happiness and most importantly, flavour and texture. Ribollita. A pan full of Ribollita can sooth your senses, ease the guilt, fill you up AND use up the Christmas week leftovers if there are such things. A classic soup of beans, bread and vegetables, it lacks in calories and delivers on satisfaction and flavour. The perfect combination surely for any guilt laden food fan such as I. I am now full and happy and still have half a pan left for the family, should I be foolish enough to tell them about it.

Ribollita literally means 'reboiled', as this Tuscan bean soup is apparently best made a day in advance to let the flavours develop and the soup thicken. According to the locals, it is not a Ribollita if you cannot eat it with a fork. I will forgo tradition this time and eat another bowl with a huge spoon as soon as I've finished writing this.

Like any local dish bursting with pride, it is almost impossible to find an authentic recipe, but here is my 'tweaked' version which omits a half bottle of red wine. Add the wine to this recipe and simmer it for longer to ensure even more flavour but of course more guilt....

Olive Oil
1 Onion
1 Large Carrot
3 Celery stalks
3 Cloves of garlic
Half a Cavolo Nero or a Savoy Cabbage
1 Courgette
400g cooked cannellini or borlotti beans
400g chopped or tinned tomatoes
1 litre of stock of choice (I used beef)
1 stale ciabatta loaf

1 - Make a 'soffritto' by softening the finely chopped onion, celery and carrot in olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
2 - Finely shred the cabbage and dice the courgette. Add to the soffritto and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the beans and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
3 - Add the stock (and 200ml of red wine if using) and gently simmer for 45 minutes.
4 - Cube the ciabatta loaf, mix into the soup and leave to soak for 30 minutes with the heat off.
5 - Season. Serve in large bowls with an optional drizzle of olive oil and a handful of Parmesan cheese. The exercise is now optional.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Never Mess With a Classic



Well, 2nd day of the year and I am harbouring that bloated and lethargic over indulged feeling that I'm sure you are all familiar with. What better way to lift those January blues than with a brisk walk by the sea to drum up enough hunger to enable you to feast on a Great British and much maligned Classic - Fish and Chips. Eat them at my favourite chippy in the whole wide world, Colmans Fish & Chips in South Shields (www.colmansfishandchips.com) and you may just realise how good life can be.

I know that this dish has been the subject of some abuse over the years, mainly from our French friends over the Channel. I have heard people laugh at this food, wondering how anybody can get excited over a piece of fish dipped in batter, deep fried and served alongside a bland and equally deep fried vegetable, the potato. We have been lambasted for our pride in a dish that supposedly heaps on the pounds and questions our arteries. And to cap it all off, served in an old newspaper which once wrapped covers your take away in yesterday's print (of course, due to Health & Safety Regulations, this doesn't happen any more).

Personally, I think these people who scoff at our National dish are missing the point, as well as not ever being lucky enough to taste true well cooked and un-tampered with fish and chips. Pure cod (from sustainable stocks of course) cooked to perfection in crisp and crunchy batter, with thick home cooked Maris Piper potato chips and a dollop of homemade Tartare Sauce. Wash it down with a good old cup of tea, nice and strong and if you can fit in your stomach, bread and butter to finish yourself off with (hot chips, melted butter, starchy bread, what more do you need in life I ask?!). For me, this whole dish dish solves clinical depression, hangovers, arguments and World disputes. It sooths the belly like no other when you are almost falling over with hunger and when it is good, really really good, you walk away knowing that you have just eaten a true British Classic. And as far as I'm concerned, that is something to sing about. Rather loudly please.

To Serve 2
500g Maris Piper Potatoes
Sunflower Oil
2x thick loin fillets of cod
Salt and Pepper

For the batter:
120g plain flour
salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
150ml ice cold water

For the Tartare Sauce:
Mayonnaise (good home made with a bit of mustard essential)
Teaspoon finely chopped green olives
Teaspoon finely chopped gherkins
Teaspoon finely chopped capers
Teaspoon chopped fresh chives and parsley

1 - Make the Tartare sauce by combining the ingredients in a bowl.
2 - For the batter, mix the flour, salt and baking powder with the water. Keep cold.
3 - Peel the potatoes and cut them lengthwise into chips 1cm thick. Heat the oil in a large deep pan to 130 degrees C. Drop half of the chips into a frying basket and cook for 5 minutes until tender but not too coloured. Lift and drain then keep aside.
4 - Heat the oil to 160 degrees C, season the cod, dip in the batter and fry for 8-9 minutes until golden brown. Lift out, drain and keep warm in the oven.
5 - Raise the temperature of the oil to 190 degrees C and cook the chips for a further 2 minutes until crisp and golden. Drain and serve with the cod and tartare sauce, not forgetting a huge mug of tea.

Monday, 1 January 2007

It's a Fat Start to 2007


Hello and welcome to my Blog and this, the first entry to what I hope will be a refreshing and humorous discussion on my favourite subject - food. I want to get straight into my (excuse the pun) waffling, but let me do a quick introduction. I'm obsessed with food, simple as that. I talk and write about the subject, I would like to think I inspire and teach people about food. I'm a MasterChef Goes Large contestant and I'm a self-taught cook who provides a customised Fine Dining experience in your own home. It is a new business therefore my website/logo etc is still in embryonic stages, so once the website is up and running (www.bookthecookdirect.co.uk) I can point you towards what I do. In the meantime, I need to write about food so here we are at my food blog, my little release to hopefully ease the pain on my poor family's ears as I rant daily on our daily bread. Enjoy.

Well, today is of course the first day of 2007 but unfortunately for me, not the first day in my life. I turned 37 today. Do I feel it? I have no idea. What I can feel though is an expanding waistline that could actually be 37 inches after the past week's gorging. But today I was presented with an amazing culinary sight courtesy of my lovely wife Helen. Instead of the ubiquitous double layered sponge cake with cream/jam/chocolate combination, she made me the most fabulous chocolate brownie stack, complete with candles that didn't blow out. As you can see in the picture, me and the kids are bright red with puffing.

Cakes are wonderful things if made correctly, and I for one adore making then eating them. But the simplicity of the Brownie Stack, as I've named it, made for a visual and eating sensation. Easier to make than the average cake but tastier and better to look at, I urge you to give it a go at your next celebration. Both the kids and the adults will 'wow' at it then proceed to give you many slaps on the back afterwards. It is a chocolate punch of a taste explosion that melts in your mouth with each bite. Everything about the thing works - looks, texture and taste. A dry looking top that bites into ( and this is why I urge you to not overcook it) a chocolate fudge and nut mouth bomb. I washed my first one down with my birthday wine but I can't wait to have a slice later when the children are in bed with a big mug of tea. Actually, I can't wait that long. Aside from the taste and texture working, a baking tray will easily feed 20-30 people and no awkward slice size calculations, just cut the thing into squares, stick a candle in each one, dust them with cocoa and stack them then away you go.

The first day of 2007 may be the beginning of many a diet but for me, it is the beginning of a love affair with a fudgy little square with a flame that burns forever. Or is that flame burning in my heart? Or maybe that's the heart burn. Go on, it's 2007, my official year of sin.....

300g soft butter
300g 70% chocolate
5 eggs
Vanilla essence or extract
180g plain flour
400g caster sugar
pinch of salt
200g roughly chopped hazlenuts, almonds or walnuts

1 - Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees, GM4. Line a baking tin.
2 - Melt the butter and chocolate.
3 - Beat the eggs with sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy.
4 - Beat the eggs/sugar with the chocolate, followed by the flour, nuts and salt.
5 - Pour into the baking tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. Do NOT overcook, that goo in the middle is essential......