Sunday, 29 April 2007

Video Killed The Radio Star


I was lucky enough to be invited onto Dave Porter's Sunday Morning Show on BBC Radio Newcastle today. Here is a picture of me looking pretty chuffed to be there along with the lovely Dave Porter. It was a cracking few hours of chatting and offering advice to callers. I couldn't get Dave to play any of my beloved Smiths mind....

Anybody who wants to listen to the show can tune in here for the next 6 days. Just click on the link, press 'Listen Again' then click on Dave Porter's name.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/local_radio

Back to food wafflings tomorrow.

Friday, 27 April 2007

The Thriller In Vanilla


I'm never one to resist a bargain. Even when skint, if somebody just as much as whispers that there is a cracking deal going on somewhere, I'm away before they can finish the sentence. Thanks to genes passed on from my spendthrift mother, I'm a weak man when it comes to resisting such temptations.

A few days back, a certain William Leigh of MasterChef fame told me about some unbelievable vanilla pod giveaway on a certain website. I mean, even with my weakness in the purchasing department, only a fool would have not acted on impulse. It was that good a deal. And this morning the smell of vanilla wafted through the letterbox as a confused postman popped the parcel neatly through the door. Like an excited kid, I rushed to tear open the parcel. Like Al Pacino in the final scenes of Scarface, I pushed my head into the exotic scented pleasures and stayed there for some time.

Once I had removed my head, I started thinking of unholy pleasurable things I could do with such a wad of the beautiful black pods. I so love the stuff. And it generally goes into a multitude of fattening delights such as custards, biscuits and cakes. With a box of slightly ripe strawberries sitting sadly in the fridge, I knew exactly how to wake the berries up with a simple 2 minute act of simplicity.

Nothing new, but for some reason balsamic vinegar and strawberries are a match made in heaven. Combine a splash with a little caster sugar and marinade your strawberries, you are left with some pretty powerful tastes that are incredibly complimentary. The sweetness intensifies and almost fizzes in your mouth. Slit open a vanilla pod and stir in the tiny black seeds of pleasure and things get even better. So slit I did. And what a treat. Thanks for the tip William.

Strawberries in Vanilla and Balsamic
Feeds 1 starving individual, 2 normal

1 punnet of strawberries
3 tbs Balsamic vinegar
2 tbs caster sugar
1 vanilla pod

1 - Trim and half the strawberries. Place in a large bowl.
2 - Combine the sugar and balsamic until you have a dark syrup. Slit open the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the sugar and vinegar.
3 - Pour onto the strawberries and combine thoroughly. Try to resist eating for at least 1 hour to allow the flavours to combine.
4 - Eat with creme fraiche , yoghurt or whipped cream.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Carry On Camping


After a weekend of presenting to over 600 good folk of Gateshead at the beautiful Saltwell Park Festival this weekend gone, I appeared to trail home with more than I went with. And that takes some achieving, what with every cooking utensil and condiment under the sun in my possession, as well as 2 huge portable cooking hobs. It is a little bit like Carry On Camping.

At any event like this, there is always a huge amount of preparation to be done, and this was no exception. In 2 days, I was presenting 3 sets of 3 course meals. No room for mistakes, I ensured there was ample product and ample preparation. So at the end of the weekend, I found myself coming home with a large container or two full of chopped onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes and haricot beans. What was I to do with all of this lot?

With a chicken carcass from the Sunday dinner left to pick, it took all of 30 seconds to decide what this evening's supper was going to be. This is what I call 'no brainer' food, the kind of food that anybody can do and perfect for when time is against you but good hearty food is required. Camping food of the highest order! My Le Cruset was overflowing with enough stew to feed Gateshead let alone my family. Okay, a slight exaggeration, but the freezer now has half of it ready for the next stripped chicken. We ate this with plenty of crusty brown bread and a bottle of spicy Riocha, and what a simple treat it was.

Spicy Chicken and Bean Casserole
Feeds 4

olive oil
2 tins tomatoes
2 tins haricot beans
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
Pinch chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1tbs dried or freshly chopped thyme
1 tsp paprika
2 bay leaves
1 tbs wholegrain mustard
100ml stock
Left over chicken from your Sunday roast

1 - In a large casserole dish, heat the olive oil then add the onion, celery and carrot. Stir until softened and slightly coloured, approximately 10 minutes. Add the garlic, chilli, paprika, thyme and bay leaves and cook for 1 minute.
2 - Add the tomatoes, beans and mustard, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture has slightly reduced.
3 - Finally, add the stripped chicken and heat through thoroughly. Serve in large bowls with crusty bread and optional gutsy wine.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Chard Very Much


Chard is one of my favourite green vegetables, and one that I have only really started using prolifically in the past two years. I was reminded of its beauty with a request from our Freddie of The Great Big Vegetable Challenge to suggest a recipe using this amazing leaf.

Chard is closely related to the Sea Beet, and has the most distinctive of sweet and earthy tastes that distinguishes it from spinach. In my opinion, chard is superior to spinach in both texture and taste. When it is young, it can be picked and eaten immediately as a salad leaf, such as in my pigeon and artichoke salad. This is when you will taste the true sweetness that only a freshly picked young leaf can yield. A larger leaf becomes a tougher specimen that needs a bit of cooking. That is when you can arrange it in a multitude of hot dishes, as it will wilt but still retain a bit of texture and lots of taste.

The following dish should eradicate any doubt anybody has on this amazing vegetable. A gratin can of course be eaten as a dish in its own right. But it works perfectly as a side dish to roast chicken or pork. The slightly bitter stems of a larger plant will add a subtle backdrop to the sauce. Experiment with the cheese and think about adding a bit of mustard. I just hope it passes the Freddie test!

Chard and Potato Gratin

500g Chard
75g butter
2tbsp plain flour
100g cheddar cheese, grated
500g potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1cm slices
3 garlic cloves, crushed
600ml milk
salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to GM6, 200 degrees C

1 - Chop the green part of the chard leaves then cut the stalks into short lengths and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the green leaves and continue to cook for a few minutes.
2 - Cut potatoes and cut into 1cm slices. Boil for 5 minutes until just tender.
3 - Butter a baking dish and layer with half of the potatoes, the chard and then the remaining potatoes.
4 - Heat the butter then add the crushed garlic. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for 1 min.
5 - Add the milk bit by bit, stirring until the sauce thickens.
6 - Add half the grated cheese, season.
7 - Pour the sauce over the vegetables and top with the remaining cheese. Place on the middle shelf and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and bubbly.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Naughty but Nice


There is nothing like a good tasty pasta sauce that takes minutes to knock up. And this one, a rather tried and tested recipe, is no exception. And with the added bonus of an interesting name. Pasta Puttanesca, or Whore's Pasta, is one of our favourites.

Why Whore's Pasta then? I've resisted looking up the real reason for this as I'm a fan of the fable. I would prefer to have my own idea or listen to others than go straight to Google for the answer. So here is my theory.

In a little town in Italy in 1927, a local 'lady of the night' was doing a bit of high class entertaining with the town mayor. Now, the town mayor should have known better then to dabble with prostitutes. His manifesto that year read, 'We must rid the streets of this vermin that lure our good men to another bed and inflict them with rare tropical diseases'. Or something like that. Of course, Mr Mayor being a 'good man', could not resist the temptations of said lady and was promptly led away to her bed. After making love, the lady said to the mayor, 'If you do not remove your manifesto from the forthcoming election, I will oust you as the bigamist that you are. Oh, and make me a delicious pasta sauce.' Mr Mayor was no cook, but in a panic threw together a quick sauce using the only ingredients that she had in her fridge. She loved it (much to his surprise, as what can you do with a few old capers, olives and fish?). He also removed his manifesto and promptly lost the election. The prostitute stuck to her word and never told anybody. And every night, poor old Mr Mayor would slave away making this delicious sauce for the Puttanesca. He also developed a persistent scratch. But got the odd freebie.

What waffle. But the sauce is delicious. Salty, hot and sour and incredibly fresh, it coats any pasta in a seductive manner and leads you astray as you lick your lips with every bite. You can knock it up in the time it takes the pasta to boil, and you don't have to worry about losing any elections. Try the sauce out, then whilst you are eating it, think up some wild stories and send them over to me. Only fables of course...

Puttanesca Pasta Sauce
Feeds 4

Olive oil
1 small can of anchovies
A pinch of chilli flakes
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
50g capers
100g stoned black olives (I like the salty Greek olives)
6 tomatoes, quartered (or 1 tin of plum tomatoes)
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Freshly ground pepper

1 - Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Throw in the anchovies and mash with a fork so that it disintegrates in the oil. Add the garlic and chilli and soften.
2 - Add the tomatoes and stir until slightly reduced. Add the capers and olives and warm through.
3 - Finish off with a good grinding of black pepper and fresh parsley.
4 - Stir through your pasta or spaghetti of choice with Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Stuffed Again

In a tranquil hour today, I looked into the fridge to find it slightly on the empty side; a few tomatoes, a punnet of mushrooms, some shallots and a Craster kipper that somehow survived Sunday morning breakfast. What on earth was I to do with this poor lot?

A very simple vegetable accompaniment which just so happens to go superbly with fish is a stuffed tomato. In Provencal French cooking it is called a Tomate Farci and is often a de-seeded tomato stuffed with pork or beef, or both. Delicious on its own, my version is stuffed with my left over mushrooms.

These are perfect on a hot summers day and a delight for vegetarians and meat lovers alike. To me, mushrooms are the meat of the vegetable world and are so versatile. Ensure you sweat them off well so that the water evaporates, the stuffing does not shrink and the flavour intensifies. I add a splash of Madeira to mine to give a sweet alcoholic backdrop but this can be omitted. Think about adding elements, such as walnuts or pine nuts. The crunch would be a lovely surprise.

Stuffed Tomatoes

4 Tomatoes
200g mushrooms finely chopped (I used chestnut but any combination of wild mushroom would be amazing)
2 shallots finely chopped
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
1 tbs each of fresh thyme and parsley, finely chopped
1 tbs Madeira
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, GM 4
2 - In a frying pan, heat some olive oil and add the shallot, mushrooms and garlic. Cook and stir until you have colour and the mixture has reduced in size.
3 - Add the Madeira and cook for 1 minute, then finally add the fresh herbs and a little seasoning.
4 - Pour a little oil onto the tomatoes and rub onto the skin.
5 - Cut off the tops of the tomatoes, take out the seeds with a spoon then stuff the tomatoes with the mixture. Put the tops back onto the tomatoes. Place on a high shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the skin is just starting to colour and slightly curl.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

The Big Show Off


Well, what a weekend. First my brother Darren's superb news. Then I was kindly invited to participate in the Eat, Drink and Enjoy Festival which has been held this past week in Newcastle and Gateshead. So there I was on Saturday, all miked up with the giant screens and speakers, doing a 3 course meal in front of the Saturday punters in Eldon Square, Newcastle.

Maybe it was the nightmare of MasterChef and all of it's nervous tension that has toughened me up. Or maybe it is because I am starting to become a lot more confident cooking and speaking in front of people, as it is now part of my job within the Expochef team. But either way, I felt great. And despite a very hot smoking pan episode due to the unpredictable burners we were using, it all went well and I left a very happy man.

As part of the show, I was asked to basically make whatever I wanted. I decided that I wanted to keep on with my theme of creating food that anybody can make. Nothing flash, no complicated or mesmerising techniques. Just good seasonal British produce cooked and presented well. I emphasised to the crowd my desire to get people back into the kitchens. That cooking should not be something people are scared to do and that we should all make every effort to eat more healthily using seasonal local produce. It has been amazing how many people I have met this year that need assistance and I am honoured to have been told by complete strangers that I have been an inspiration to them. I guess that if a rough old Geordie boy like me can do it, anybody can! And I am a firm believer that it is never too late to start.

I made a simple pan fried salmon served on Puy lentils (okay, non-British but I love them!) and spring onions, with a watercress, pear and walnut salad and a simple horseradish and lemon dressing. It is a favourite in our house, and judging by the queue at the end to snaffle my produce, the crowd loved it too. I can't see how anybody can't enjoy a good piece of crispy skinned wild salmon, complimented with a fiery horseradish sauce. The flavours are wonderful and compliment each other perfectly. A crisp salad using some new local watercress partners the fish superbly.

I hope that the points I was making got across to some people. As well as entertaining and cooking, there is a serious element to my show. This kind of meal does not cost much, it is healthy and tasty, anybody can do it and it works. We all owe it to ourselves to get fitter and healthier and be ambassadors to our children and peers alike. If the latest Government white paper on tackling obesity is going to get across to the everyday U.K. nation, it has to be uncomplicated and achievable food we are attempting. Now get in that kitchen and get cooking!

Salmon with a Watercress, Pear and Walnut Salad
Serves 2 and 1 child

2 pieces of salmon fillet, skin on
4 handfuls of Puy lentils, washed
3 Spring onions
Ready made horseradish sauce (or make your own simply by grating some horseradish into a little creme fraiche and a squeeze of lemon juice)
Watercress
1 Pear
A handful of walnuts
1 Lemon
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C, GM8.
2 - Bring a pan of water to the boil. Drop in the lentils and cook for approximately 15 minutes. Drain. Slice your spring onions and combine with a little horseradish sauce. Taste for seasoning.
3 - Heat an oven-proof non-stick pan with a little olive oil. Slash the skin of the salmon a few times, season and place skin side down in the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the skin colours, then flip and place straight into a hot oven. Cook for 7-10 minutes, depending on how pink you like it.
4 - While the salmon is cooking, make a little dressing with the juice of half a lemon, 1 tbs olive oil and black pepper. Slice the pear into thin slices and combine with the watercress, walnuts and the dressing.
5 - Place a small pile of lentils onto a plate and place the salmon on top. Drop a little salad beside it and drizzle some of the horseradish around the plate. Beautiful!

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Goodbye and Good Riddance to the Big C!!!



Just a quick word as we have received some fantastic news today – my brother Darren’s battle against the dreaded C has had a huge movement in the right direction with the news that he is all clear! I had a quick chat with him direct from the hospital this morning and for the first time this year, I can safely say that he sounds happy and optimistic. One person that is happy is my daughter Cerys, and here is a picture of her celebrating the news with a big, ‘3 cheers for Uncle Pumper!!!’.

To say we are relieved is an understatement. This year has been difficult in many ways, but the news that somebody so close to you has a life threatening disease puts everything else into perspective. Darren has been so brave and his amazing wife Marie has been so supportive and stuck by him all the way. Even when he has been EXTRA grumpy. Let’s just hope that their big move back to the mainland goes smoothly and that their lives return back to normal very soon.

Darren won’t mind me saying that the months of chemotherapy and not being able to do much has put the beef back on him, as well as putting a bit of pressure on his heart. With a bit of a fish and green vegetable phobia, now is the time to convince Darren that these things are indeed the yummy things they are with some inspiring recipes. I’ll be checking the Great Big Veg Challenge for veggie recipes for him and a bit of inspiration, and will be writing some of my own of course, but please send me over any recipes you think may help. Maybe you have been in a similar situation yourself. Either way, the recipes would be a big help.

You can read about Daz's battle right here on www.disasterousd4z.blogspot.com

Thanks for reading. Now, time to celebrate…….x

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Hot Day, Hot Crab


It is getting hot now. Our up and down seasons may still be unpredictable but since Sunday, we have had a scorcher in the North East. My big red English face is testimony to the fact, I never learn. With a demanding 2 year old and a new house still to sort, there is not enough time in the day to be preparing anything too elaborate. Thanks to the plentiful fish supply from my favourite fishmongers, Latimers Fish Deli of Whitburn, I am never too far away from a bit of fast and fishy inspiration.

Latimers sell tons of crabs each week and I have to profess a huge love of the creature. In an earlier post, I told you about the pleasures of eating a crab as it is, with nothing more than fresh bread and a good mustard mayonnaise. I would never dream of buying a dressed crab for this purpose. But if I do trust my fishmonger, I would consider buying a dressed crab for use in other dishes, especially if time is short as it is for me at the moment.

The dish I decided to do today is nothing new, but if done correctly, it can be an utterly perfect pasta sauce. We are hungry, Cerys loves pasta and with the added benefit of getting another creature of the sea down her eager mouth, I decided to whip up a spicy crab spaghetti. Crab and chilli are perfect together. Not too much heat, just enough to make your mouth sing a little. The sweetness of a rich tomato sauce will ease any lingering heat, and in my dish I experimented by adding a dash of honey. It probably didn’t need it, but it did make a jam-like tomato sauce that clung to the pasta and enriched the sometimes bland tinned tomatoes that I used. Once our own British tomatoes are out soon, the tins will go back in the cupboard for the winter. I can’t wait.

Crab and Chilli Spaghetti
Feeds 2 and 1 child

2 tins of tomatoes
1 onion roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic sliced
1 fresh red chilli, seeded and sliced thinly
1 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tbs honey
1 dressed crab
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil

1 – To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Soften, then add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further minute.
2 – Add the tomatoes and red wine vinegar and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly. Add the honey and stir in to make a jammy consistency and taste for seasoning.
3 – Pick out the brown meat and stir into the sauce.
4 – Cook your quantity of spaghetti and stir the sauce into the drained pasta. Pile onto plates then sprinkle with the delicate white crab meat and a few basil leaves.

Monday, 9 April 2007

An Expanding Easter


Easter Monday evening, and another indulgent holiday weekend is almost over. And already I am fatter for it. A self-confessed chocolate fiend, I have eaten my fair share of it this past week alone. Not an egg has been spared my charms; cheap and nasty to dark and luxurious, they have all entered my new home and never been seen again. Any search parties looking for a missing egg only have to look at the evidence on my expanding gut to see where their fate has ended. Do I feel guilty? Of course not. Christmas and Easter are both the same when it comes to eating and drinking in my world. Enjoy it now and sort out the consequences later.

The weekend hasn’t been all about gorging on cheap cocoa and sugar laden treats. With friends staying for the weekend, I have been able to christen my kitchen with a fair share of good home cooking. On Saturday it was a sharp and crisp Panzanella salad to start things off with. Some tender and more some Orkney Gold beef fillet was topped with a wild mushroom crust and partnered by some crisp pan fried potatoes and a little wilted spinach. After a doorstep of meat I wanted to keep the dessert light and sharp.

With an excess of lemons to use up, I made a cracking dessert which is another simple delight. A little whipped cream and yoghurt combined with a sharp and zesty lemon syrup was complimented perfectly with a crunchy almond praline. It was one of those moments of discovery that made me happy to be such a food obsessive. Stupidly simple, amazingly flavoursome and a welcome break from the chocolate. Of course, a cheap egg was smashed and snaffled as the evening wore on, but memories of my lovely little pudding remained long in the memory. Saying that, a long run is on the cards tomorrow…

Lemon and Almond Praline Creams
To feed 4

300ml double cream
250ml yoghurt
100g sugar
Juice of 3 lemons and zest of 1 lemon
1 egg yolk

For the praline
2 handfuls of blanched almonds
125g sugar

1 – To make the praline, heat the sugar with a tablespoon of water until melted. Add the almonds, and then cook on a very low heat until caramelised. Pour onto a buttered plate until set, then pulse in a food processor or pummel in a plastic bag until you have small pieces of praline.
2 – Heat the lemon juice, zest and sugar in a small pan until you have a syrup. Allow to cool then beat in the egg yolk.
3 - Whisk the double cream until stiff. Fold in the yoghurt and lemon syrup then finally the praline. Pour into ramekins and place in the fridge for a good hour.
4 – Serve on their own or with biscuits such as almond thins.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Stuff the Giants

Moving back to the North East after a long spell away, it makes my heart sing to see the likes of Roots and Shoots (Roots & Shoots Farm Shop, 6 North Guards, Whitburn, Sunderland 0191 5 294 496) in sunny Whitburn, Tyne & Wear.

Roots and Shoots are true to their word in that they do indeed sell all kinds of roots and shoots. Their emphasis is on seasonal produce (tick box) and local produce (tick box). A simple yet effective formula, and one which which we need more of if we are ever going to get this country out of the comfort zone of the giants and back supporting their own people who are working hard to earn their daily pay. Without wanting to sound hypocritical, I'm just like anybody else with a busy life and a family, we all pop into the superstore for our shopping now and again. But I urge people to hunt out their local suppliers and at least give them a chance. Order an organic bag and see what the quality and price is like before giving all of your money to the big boys. You will feel better for it.

Rant over. I popped in last week and was lucky enough to get my hands on a couple of huge flat mushrooms and a bag of chestnut mushrooms, the last of the day. Before I had even paid for them, I knew what I was going to do that evening. Stuffed mushrooms. The meat of the vegetarian world and a recipe that can be tweaked to your heart's content.

My version was one of those throw it together jobs without consulting any recipe that seemed to work so well. Sorry food police, but once you know the basics you can afford to be a little blase. To do the huge mushrooms any justice, I wanted to stay slightly faithful to the Italian classic recipe of using the stalks along with onion and garlic combined with breadcrumbs and egg. To give it moisture I added a little single cream. To give it texture, I added walnuts. Lemon and thyme gave it the punch of complimentary flavour that work so well with mushrooms. All in all, it was a fantastic meal which needed just a little dressed watercress and a tomato and onion salad.

I'm not sure if the meal would have generated the same spark of magic had I bought the ingredients from a huge superstore. I would prefer to think not. I know that my local supplier would have been proud and along with a flavoursome and filling tea, that is all that mattered.

Stuffed Mushrooms
Feeds 2

2 Giant flat mushrooms, stalks removed and finely chopped
200g Chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
2 Shallots sliced
2 Cloves garlic sliced
A handful each of fresh thyme and parsley, finely chopped
Lemon juice and zest of half a lemon
100ml single cream
50g Walnuts roughly chopped
100g breadcrumbs
25g Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, GM4.
2 - In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and add the shallot, garlic and chopped mushrooms. Stir and cook until softened and coloured. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
3 - Add the herbs, lemon juice and rind, cream, Parmesan cheese and walnuts. then add the breadcrumbs a handful at a time until you have a stuffing not too dry and stiff. Season.
4 - Place your giant mushrooms in a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil and a little seasoning. Pile the stuffing equally into each mushroom. Grate some Parmesan cheese over each mushroom and place on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-40 minutes.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Celery For Freddie


Like a lot of you food bloggers out there, I'm sure that if you have had a good surf at some of the quality Blogs out here, you would have discovered The Great Big Veg Challenge, www.greatbigvegchallenge.blogspot.com

As somebody who teaches kids how to eat healthily at Expochef, I find it so inspiring. We go into schools and communities and try to get the kiddies off the junk and show them that food is easy, fun and healthy. It is hard work trying to convince some of these kids. It is even harder trying to convince the parents who have been trapped in a poor diet for all of their life, and subsequently meaning their kids are too. So to see Charlotte taking it so seriously in such an entertaining way makes me feel glad I am part of this happy little food Blogging community. And I'm sure Freddie is happy to be the centre of the attention and if it means he is going to eat beautiful vegetables via the recipes of some of the fantastic amateur chefs out here, then even better.

I've noted that celery is next on the hit list. I'm going to try to ensure I write Freddie a recipe for every letter if I can, best intentions and all that. This one is delicious with a piece of fish or meat and can be eaten cold. Celery is a tricky vegetable as it already has a negative stigma attached to it for some reason; maybe the bitterness, maybe the stringiness. I love the stuff, raw or cooked. I think that if it is braised long and slow in a little stock it becomes so unique and special and removes the bitterness some people dislike. Try it like that first. If Freddie doesn't like it, finish it off in a hot oven with the cream, eggs and cheese to make a kind of gratin. Freddie, welcome to celery!

Baked Cheesy Celery
Serves 2 as a side dish

1 head of celery, washed, trimmed and each stalk cut into 3
Hot chicken stock, enough to just cover the celery
200ml single cream
2 egg yolks
50g cheddar cheese grated
25g Parmesan cheese grated
A little salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, GM6.
2 - Put your celery into a shallow pan and pour on the stock until just covered. Bring to the boil then turn down to a very low heat and put on the lid. If you are going to use this as the cheesy bake, simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until the celery becomes slightly tender. Braise it for 30-40 minutes if you are eating it as it is.
3 - Mix the cream, egg yolks and cheese together. Season but go light on the salt. Drain the celery and tip into a gratin dish. Pour on the mixture and finish off with the Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes on a high shelf or until golden and bubbly.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Bangers and Crash


After spending the weekend moving house, we are all well and truly wrecked. Although only half a mile from the old house, it took 10 trips in a large hired van with a few mates and the father and brother in law in tow. With my daughter Cerys safely away with Grandma, I was hoping that with the healthy help of the lads on the promise of a huge curry night and no kids to trip over, the move would go smoothly.

Of course, life is never that simple. I had my first scrape, quite literally, with a Shogun. £50 cash in hand for the damaged bumper on the unfortunate gent, £400 for yours truly back at the hire shop. Ooyah! With a sore head, bruised body, empty stomach and even emptier wallet, I returned to the new abode determined to not let this get me down. The thought of a shared hot bath full of bubbles with a glass of champagne made things easier. But there was still the ravenous appetite to appease.

Boxes are strewn everywhere and the new kitchen is upside down. I can’t find a thing and with time ticking on, I can feel anxiety taking over as my stomach cried out for some comfort. The obvious option at this time is to go and grab a takeaway. But I’ve tried both Indians and the Pizza place nearby and they were never going to make me a happy man. Could I find an ounce of energy from somewhere in my resolve to knock up a quick, but satisfying plate of comfort food with my low resources? It is food. I’m ravenous. I love cooking. Of course I can.

Just around the corner from my new house is the best butchers a growing lad could ask for. They do unbelievably good sausages, a huge prize winning variety, oh heaven! There is something that makes me feel safe and secure when I know a good traditional butcher. One that cares about his meat and business enough to produce such fantastic produce. Unfortunately for my waistline, I’ve now walked out of there with half a dozen sausages every other day for the past week. Fortunately, I had half a dozen of these beauties salvaged for such emergencies. The pork and caramelised onion version which really are top quality. The spuds are easily spotted, as is the half cabbage sitting sorrowfully at the bottom of my fridge. Bangers and mash it is. One of the Top 10 comfort foods in the whole wide world. And I can knock a pretty decent one up in 45 minutes.

I use the same method every time to achieve perfect bangers and mash. Onions are essential. The only tweak I make is with the flavours in the gravy. Follow this recipe and experiment with the flavours. I could only find fennel seeds today, so I used these. But try things like thyme, or juniper berries, or caraway seeds and different mustards. Perfect gravy. Perfect meal. Perfect happy new house.

Perfect Bangers and Mash
To serve 2 (I’m assuming you know how to make mash)

Half a dozen top quality sausages
1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp flour
300ml hot chicken or vegetable stock (fresh or stock cube, when you are desperate, who cares!?)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1 – Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C, GM6.
2 – In an oven proof frying pan, heat the olive oil and quickly brown the sausages. Remove the sausages and out aside.
3 – Drop in the onions and cook until caramelised. Add the fennel seeds and bay leaf and stir in the flour until thoroughly combined.
4 – Pour in the stock stir until thickened. Stir in the mustard, return the sausages and put into the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the sausages are cooked and crisp.
5 – Serve with mash and if you desire, a piece of greenery such as cabbage, pan fried leeks or spinach.