Thursday, 29 November 2007

Its Stotting Down Here Man

An interesting discussion has taken place this week on the BBC food boards. I don't know if you visit these boards, but every now and again I pop over to see what people are talking about. Most of the time it is people asking for a bit of foody advice. Often it is people getting irate about some of our TV chefs. And sometimes it is people having a passionate chat about fantastic produce. And that is when I have my two penneth, because I can't resist a bit of banter about a good old British classic. And this week, it's a Geordie classic - stotty cake.

Where ever I have lived, two things are mentioned to me as quintessentially North East England things; one is pease pudding, and the other is stotty cake. I've a feeling that many a place can lay claim to pease pudding, but we Geordies invented the stotty cake, no argument. Stotty cake is simply a flat bread. Not flat in the sense of the fantastic Persian flatbreads, but flat as in flatter than the average loaf. There is nothing unusual in there, just flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water. Mine has a little lard or margarine in. And that is simply because it is the way my Nana used to make them.

Stotty cakes are apparently so called because the bakers who made them in the olden days used to 'stot' (Geordie term for 'throw') them off the floor to check that they had the right texture and to naturally get them into their distinctive flat and round shape. I sincerely hope that the bakers of today don't use that technique, but what a story. They were also made using dough off-cuts and cooked slowly in the bottom of the oven whilst the rest of the oven was used for 'normal' breads. Hence the reason they are often referred to as oven bottom cakes. Either way, they are delicious.

Mine use my tried and trusted '1' method. That is 1 of each quantity, and it always works. Heat your oven to the top temperature and after the first rising, push it into a disc shape, stick your finger in the middle to make the distinctive centre hole (no idea why, but it's a tradition man!) and stick it in the bottom of the oven. 15 minutes later, the house will smell divine and you will struggle to wait for the scalding hot bread to cool down before devouring it. We like to eat ours with good ham, pease pudding, lots of butter and English mustard. It is the ideal sandwich bread due to its shape and size.

The best thing about discussions around classic foods such as the stotty cake is that everybody has an opinion, and what's wrong with that? The older the piece of food, the more far fetched the story around it, and that makes it even more interesting. As long as people aren't having wars about it, then a good bit of heated discussion on the matter isn't going to harm anybody. So get stotting. And divvent dunshus, wa Geordies man!

Stotty Cake

Makes 2 large 'cakes'

1 pound of good strong plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 ounce lard or margarine
1 level tbsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
300ml lukewarm water

1 - Pour the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Rub in the lard or margarine until well combined. Then stir in the yeast and sugar.
2 - Make a well in the centre of the flour, then gradually pour in the water, stirring in circles with one hand until combined. You may need more or less water. If it is too sticky, add more flour, too dry, add more water.
3 - Knead for a good 10 minutes. A good test that I use when kneading bread is to firmly push my hand into the dough. If it doesn't spring right back, keep kneading.
4 - Once ready, dust with flour, cover and leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour. It should have doubled in size. Pre-heat the oven to 240 degrees C, GM9 and place a metal baking sheet on the bottom of the oven.
5 - Gently kneed the dough and push out any air. Rip in half then on a floured surface, push the dough into a rough disc, approximately 1 inch thick. Stick a hole in the middle with a finger, prick randomly with a fork then place onto the baking sheet. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, until the bread sounds hollow when tapped and golden brown.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Cupboard Full Of Turkeys

As much as I love Christmas, unfortunately, Santa Claus does tend to deliver the odd stinker. Hands up who each year is always given a gift that, no matter how many times that you have said to not be given, is promptly delivered on the 25th December.

For example, a relative always thinks it is funny giving me 2 giant Toblerones, although they have been given to me every year for the past 15 years and each year I say, 'Please make that the last, I'm like a house end and don't need the temptation well into January.'. Or the countless comedy socks and ties, ill fitting underwear, terrible aftershave and usually awful CD by somebody like James Blunt (apologies Blunt lovers) as everybody knows I am obsessed with music and therefore think I love everything musical. NO!!!

One present does seem to take over one of my cupboards though. And that would be the sweet German wine my parent's in law love to give me. Again, they know I love my wine, so the perfect gift for the wine loving son-in-law must be that sweet 2002 Reichgraf Von Ingelheim. But at last, I have found somewhere I can put the stuff. Not down the plug hole, but in a pan with lots of simmering fruit and spices (not much sugar as it is always sweet enough). Then when the fruit has softened, I have a pan full of mulled wine. And all of a sudden, after a few slurps of heady spice fuelled alcohol, that present from hell HAS now turned into the perfect gift for the wine loving son-in-law. Delicious. And Merry Christmas to all sufferers of gift's from hell, there is hope for that unwanted gift I am sure!

PS For anybody that suspects any loathing in my writing, I love my parent's in law to bits. :o)

Spicy Poached Pears
Serves 4

4 'not too ripe' pears, I use Conference, peeled
1 bottle of cheap sweet red wine
4 tbsp honey
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 orange, punctured

1 - Put all of the ingredients into a large pan. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer with a lid on for 45-60 minutes. Test the pears with a knife, it should glide in easily.
2 - Remove the pears and cool down. Remove the spices and orange, squeezing every last drop as you go.
3 - Take a small amount of the wine and reduce in a pan until you have a thick syrup. Serve the pears with a drizzle of syrup and a spoonful of yoghurt or cream.

These will keep nicely covered in the fridge for a couple of days. Make extra and you have quick classy dessert waiting for you.

Monday, 26 November 2007

You Say Bunny, I Say Rabbit

Much to the disgust of my pet loving niece, I adore rabbits. Not to pet and cuddle, just to eat. Rabbits have to be the most under-rated meat around, and definitely the most under-used. In the U.K., we simply don't eat enough of them. In a time when we are crying out for alternatives to broiler chickens, we have millions of rabbits scampering all over the countryside causing untold damage. They are sustainable, we are doing farmers a favour by eating them, they are naturally 'free-range' and they are cheap, incredibly low in fat and delicious. Do you need any other reasons?

In an effort to change perceptions and make this once great rabbit eating nation a country of bunny munchers again, a simple recipe is called for. A recipe that will eradicate any thoughts that rabbit is a difficult meat to prepare or eat. For example, I know of people that won't eat rabbit as they think it has too many bones. Solution; take the meat off the bones once cooked. Or people who think they are too cute to eat. Solution; close your eyes, open your mind and taste it. If cooked properly, I am convinced you will adore it.

This recipe uses a couple of simple techniques that any amateur home cook can attempt which all makes up for a delicious and cheap meal. Chop up some vegetables and bacon, pile them all in a casserole dish with the portioned rabbit, pour in a bottle of cider and stick it in the oven. If you don't like the bones, once cooked, take the meat off and then put back into the sieved cooking sauce. Experiment with flavours and any additions. I use a little mustard, cream and prunes in mine. It works in a heavenly way. Now stop rabbiting on and jump to it!

Rabbit with Cider, Mustard and Prunes

Serves 2

1 rabbit, skinned and jointed (ask your butcher, and ensure that you keep the livers, heart and kidneys. The livers, mashed, will help thicken and richen the sauce and the heart and kidneys make for a delicious 'chef's treat, quicky fried in olive oil)
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper
3 rashers of un-smoked streaky bacon, chopped
1 carrot, cubed
1 onion, cubed
1 stick of celery, cubed
1 tbsp dried or fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
500ml good dry cider
A handful of dried prunes
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
100ml double cream
The rabbit livers, mashed with a fork

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM3.
2 - In a flame-proof casserole dish, heat up the oil. Season the rabbit portions then quickly brown all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside.
3 - Add the bacon, carrots, onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes until softened and just beginning to colour. Stir in the thyme and bay leaves.
4 - Return the rabbit portions to the casserole dish then pour over the cider. Bring to the boil, cover, then place in the oven. Cook for 45-50 minutes.
5 - Remove the rabbit and keep aside. Pour the sauce through a sieve into a clean pan, pushing the vegetables through the sieve which will help thicken the sauce. Bring to the boil, then simmer whilst you remove the rabbit meat from the bones.
6 - Stir in the cream, mustard and mashed rabbit livers. Taste for seasoning. Return the rabbit meat to the sauce along with the prunes and heat through.
7 - Serve with mashed potato and seasonal greens such as sprouts or savoy cabbage.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Name That Tuna

As much as I love our seasonal British fish, such as the likes of pollock, ling and black bream, whenever I visit my fishmongers I often can't resist a few chunks of Mr Latimer's sushi grade tuna that he always has in.

The reason why tuna goes down so well in my house all comes down to the little one that we feed. Ever since she started on solids, tuna seemed to be a winner every time compared to other fish. Perhaps it is tuna's very own 'un-fishy' like texture. Or perhaps it is because we could put it into so many different dishes without worrying it was going to disintegrate on us. Either way, I offer myself a little conscience free time when I do use it as it is a rare treat.

This is a simple pan-fried piece of tuna loin served on a bed of sautéed potatoes and leeks. Nothing too technical there, and nothing mind blowing, but the roasted pepper sauce is one I turn to quite often for its versatility (it will go with most meats) but mainly for its sheer deliciousness. Make a large batch and freeze it in an ice cube tray. Then for an impressive sauce, instead of turning to a chemical packed ready-sauce, pop one out of the freezer and melt it with a small nob of butter in a pan. This recipe will of course work with most fish.

Tuna Loin with Sautéed Potatoes and Leeks with Roast Pepper Paprika Sauce

Serves 3

4 large seasonal potatoes such as Maris Piper, skinned, cubed and par-boiled.
2 leeks, halved and sliced
Butter
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
2 pieces of tuna loin
Salt and pepper

For the sauce
2 red peppers
1 tsp paprika
A pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

1 - To make the sauce, hold the peppers over your hob flame with a pair of tongs and turn until completely black. Put into a plastic food bag, seal and leave to cool. If you do not have gas, rub the peppers with olive oil and bake in a hot oven until black.
2 - Remove the peppers from the bag, peel and de-seed. Place all of the ingredients into a blender and blitz to a fine purée.
3 - Push through a sieve into a pan and then reduce until thickened. Taste for seasoning. Reserve what you are using for the meal and put the rest into an ice-cube tray.
4 - Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan. Add the leeks and cook gently until softened and slightly coloured. Remove.
5 - Add the potatoes and cook until crisp and golden. Add the leeks and taste for seasoning.
6 - Season the tuna pieces. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the tuna. Cook to your liking.
7 - Serve on top of a bed of potato and leeks with some of the sauce on the side.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

AM Scrape

This morning I had a bit of a scrape. Not the violent kind. Just a scrape of the windscreen. Jack Frost visited these parts for the 1st time in a while last night and it was certain confirmation that winter is upon us. And that is fine by me.

A lot of people agree that this is their favourite time of the year. Just 6 weeks before Christmas, and despite the pressure of shopping, the general public are already stocking up for the festive gorge. Me included. I cannot wait, and it is difficult not falling to temptation and slicing a slab off my already 3 week old Christmas cake as it wafts a spicy alcoholic fume at me each time I walk into the kitchen.

I'm still making good use of the never ending glut of root vegetables that keep coming my way. Just as I finish one week's vegetable box delivery, another is waiting for me to knock up a rooty feast. Today it was time for one of those sweet, spicy and scent packed North African inspired stews.

Any root slow braised in spices such as cinnamon, cumin and ground ginger will have their natural sweetness enhanced, and it is completely no fuss. Just 10 minutes of chopping and stirring then into an oven, 90 minutes later you will have a satisfying and warming exotic winter stew. 1 hour into cooking, add a bird such as chicken or a seasonal piece of game like pheasant and this will keep the carnivores happy. Omit the meat and add some chickpeas for the perfect vegetarian supper.

Spiced Honey Slow Braised Root and Chicken Stew
Feeds 4

1 swede, peeled and chopped into large chunks
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 squash or small pumpkin, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 onion, chopped roughly
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tbps tomato purée
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tin of tomatoes
300ml water
1 tin of chickpeas
2 tbsp honey
2 chicken breasts, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM3, 160 degrees C.
2 - Heat the oil in a casserole dish and add the onions, cooking until soft for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato purée and spices and stir for 2 minutes, then add all of the vegetables except for the chickpeas if using.
3 - Add the tomatoes and water and bring to the boil. Place into the oven for 90 minutes.
4 - After 1 hour of cooking, stir in the chicken and/or chickpeas along with the honey and place back into the oven for a further 30 minutes, ensuring that the chicken is cooked through.
5 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with plain cous cous with a good scattering of a fresh herb such as coriander or parsley and perhaps a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Roll With It

Have you ever decided that no matter how good a particular combination of food is, the very thought of it sounds ridiculous and you aren't going to touch it? Some of the things that Heston Blumethal does do sound unbelievable, almost ridiculous. Given a few hundred quid I would happily eat there and probably adore it, but that laboratory style cuisine is not my preference of food. But I do like to combine tried and tested 'ridiculous' combinations that don't take all day to prepare.

One combination is the magnificent pairing of anchovies with lamb. If you can't stand the thought of an anchovy, or even if you just hate fish, I beg you to reconsider as for some reason a good salty preserved anchovy seasons the rich fatty meat of a lamb to perfection. It doesn't taste fishy and if anything, it enriches and enhances the meat. Roughly chop a few with some rosemary and olive oil and run it into the pierced flesh of a lamb leg for your Sunday roast and you will see what I mean.

Last week I played around with a recipe from HFW's Meat Book in which Hugh stuffs a shoulder of lamb with anchovies and capers. It is sensational, but there to be experimented with. I guessed that it would benefit from a little texture and crunch of a nut, so some walnuts were added. Rosemary was a certainty, as was a good dollop of hot English mustard and a little cider vinegar. If you can handle massaging this into a whole shoulder of meat before doing a few simple butcher's knots and tying it all together, you will benefit from a superior cut of meat with fantastic flavour combinations. A glass of white wine or cider poured onto the meat halfway through cooking ensures an amazing gravy, and keep a bit spare for a 'posh' sandwich the next day.

Shoulder of Lamb Stuffed with Anchovies, Rosemary and Walnuts


1 shoulder of lamb, boned out and weighing approximately 1.5kg-2kg
2 handfuls of walnuts
A small tin of anchovies, approximately 10
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 tbsp English mustard
1 tbsp cider vinegar
Olive oil
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Publish Postpepper

For the gravy
1 glass of cider or white wine

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM7, 220 degrees C.
2 - On a chopping board, roughly chop the anchovies, walnuts and rosemary then add to a bowl. Add the mustard and vinegar and a little olive oil until you have a good thick 'paste'. Season with salt and pepper.
3 - Lay out the shoulder and massage into the flesh. Roll and tie with string then season the skin.
4 - Heat up some oil in a baking tray on the hob and quickly brown the fat all over. Place into the oven for 20 minutes then turn down the heat to GM4, 180 degrees C. Cook for 10 minutes per 500g for rare, 15 minutes per 500g for medium, 20 minutes per 500g well done.
5 - Pour on the cider or wine with a little water halfway through cooking to make a gravy.
6 - Take out and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Carve into thick slices and serve with seasonal roast root vegetables and borlotti beans.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

It's A Bit Chilli

Even in these British days of seasonal uncertainty, it is fair to say that winter is setting in. The heating has been on for the last few days and the walk up to nursery each day has seen us clad in hats and mittens. I love it when it gets a bit chilly. Not too cold, just cold enough for me to bring out my vast collection of coats from the cupboard. Did I tell you that coat collecting was a passion of mine? I'll leave that for another time.

I've gone overkill on the pumpkin to the extent of eating it every day for the last 2 weeks. Time for a change of vegetable. Root vegetables are in such abundance, I thought it was time to make a delicious spicy vegetarian dish to warm us through. A nice chilli con carne, that classic Mexican dish of meat and kidney beans. But with all of this veg, I thought it would be a good idea to play on the basic theme of a chilli but leave out the meat and pack it with vegetables.

This is one of those dishes that can be experimented with. It is so good for you, and the spices lend themselves to most vegetables, as long as you don't overcook certain ones. So if you still have a courgette, ensure it goes in right near the end to maintain a crunch. A good handful of strong cheddar scattered over the top makes this a chilli that even the most determined of meat eaters would love. A flavour packed healthy chilli for chilly people, just what the doctor ordered.

Veggie Chilli
Feeds 4

2 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Carrots, peeled and cubed
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 Courgette, cubed
1 tin of Kidney Beans
A few handfuls of frozen peas
1 tin of tomatoes
4 handfuls of green lentils, soaked for 1 hour
500ml of vegetable stock,
1 tbps tomato purée
2 tsps cumin seeds
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp groundnut oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat up the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes until soft, then add the garlic, oregano and spices and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant.
2 - Add the vegetables except for the courgette, pureé and lentils and cook stirring for another 5 minutes.
3 - Add the tomatoes and cocoa powder and enough stock to make a reasonably loose stew. Bring to the boil and cook for 30 minutes.
4 - Add the courgette and cook for a further 5 minutes, then finally the peas and cook for 5 minutes. Test to see that the lentils are cooked.
5 - Taste for seasoning. Serve scattered with cheddar cheese and a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Rings Around The World



Spiced Pumpkin Bread & Butter Pudding
Serves 6

100g raisins
3 tbsp whisky
3 tbsp hot water

For the sauce
100g muscovado sugar
25g butter
1 tbsp golden treacle

For the pudding
1 whole egg and 3 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
100g pumpkin, cubed and steamed then blitzed to a purée
250ml double cream
50ml milk
Half tsp ground cinnamon
A few grates of fresh nutmeg
Half tsp ground ginger
1 vanilla pod, split and seeded
Approximately half of a stale white baguette cut into cubes

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM2, 150 degrees C.
2 - Soak the raisins in the whisky and hot water until plump. You may want to do this overnight, entirely up to you. Drain.
3 - To make the sauce, heat the muscovado sugar, treacle and butter in a pan until melted then pour equal measures into 6 buttered ramekins.
4 - In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until pale. Pour in the cream, milk, purée, spices and vanilla pod and whisk until thoroughly combined. Stir in the bread cubes and leave for 10 minutes to soak.
5 - Place the ramekins into a deep baking tray and pour in boiling water until it comes half way up the sides. Fill the ramekins with a few cubes of bread and the custard mixture.
6 - Place on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for approximately 1 hour or until the custard is firm. If the top starts to colour too quickly, cover loosely with foil.
7 - Remove from the oven and leave to rest for a few minutes. Then run a knife around and turn out onto a plate. Serve with créme fraiche, yoghurt or whipped cream.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Easy

Hopefully you all survived last night's relentless knocking on the door and subsequent sugar rush that comes with trick or treating. One thing that should definitely survive Hallow's Eve is the flesh of the several thousand pumpkins that will have been carved out. As I said in a previous post, don't do the bad thing and commit the flesh to the bin liner. Keep it, use it in a multitude of dishes and celebrate it properly.

Is eating pumpkin every other day too much of a good thing? I suppose like at Christmas with turkey, we could all potentially get sick of too much pumpkin. I beg to differ, especially with the versatile pumpkin that can be used in so many different meals, sweet and savoury. It is such a delicious vegetable, and although it is still early days, I look forward to working my way through several treats over the next month or so, utilising this seasonal orange delight.

In my job teaching people how easy it is to cook simple, healthy meals, I always ask the audience why they turn to convenience food rather than make their own. The answer is always the same - that cooking is too difficult. I then proceed to attempt to break that pre-conception by cooking a series of easy 'anybody can do this' meals. And generally it works.

If anybody reading this is still under the illusion that making something like a soup is a difficult process, here is the recipe to shatter it. This soup entails sticking everything onto a baking tray, roasting it for half an hour in a hot oven, tipping it into a blender with a little stock or water then puréeing it into a soup. Can anybody tell me that this is difficult? If you think so, please give it a go. Easy Peasy Pumpkin and Pie.

PS I urge you all to check out a fine food writer called William Leigh, who is currently knocking out some fantastic seasonal food and doing utterly wonderful things with a pumpkin. You can read more either at his Blog or at the Big Barn.

Roast Pumpkin, Chick Pea and Garlic Soup with Golden Salt and Pepper Pumpkin Seeds

Feeds 4

1 small to medium pumpkin, cut into large chunks and seeds removed and kept aside
1 whole onion, peeled
1 bulb of garlic, broken and cloves left whole
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tin of chick peas
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
750ml hot water or vegetable stock

1 - Pre-heat your oven to GM6, 200 degrees C.
2 - Place all of the vegetables of a baking tray. Scatter with the mixed spice, a little salt and pepper and olive oil and mix thoroughly. Roast on a high shelf for 30-40 minutes until golden.
3 - In the meantime, scatter the seeds onto another baking tray with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss together then place on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook until golden.
4 - When the vegetables have cooked, cut the pumpkin skin off and place the flesh into a blender along with the onion and the garlic cloves squeezed. Pour in the stock and chick peas then blitz to a fine purée. Taste for seasoning.
5 - Pour into bowls and serve with a scattering of delicious nutty golden pumpkin seeds.