Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Traditional Roast Turkey with Chestnut and Wild Mushroom and Oat Stuffing

The holiday season is finally upon us and with three days to go it is time to start finalising shopping lists and beginning to prep for the feast.

I'm often asked what meat we have as a family on Christmas Day. The turkey has become the traditional bird to be eaten at Yuletide in the UK. Many years ago it was the goose with all of its rich dark meat and perfect roast potato making fat. The turkey was introduced to our shores from the Americas and due to its large yield in meat and value for money it fast took over the goose as the bird of choice.

It is worth having a change now and again and most game, such as pheasant and grouse, is more than suitable for the Christmas table. Duck and a top quality chicken or even a decent piece of beef are great replacements but this year I’m going for the good old turkey. With a superb supplier of the famous Kelly Bronze just down the road from where I live it would be foolish to not go for this great bird.

The turkey does have a reputation for being dry. There are so many different tips and techniques for supposedly keeping the bird moist but my foolproof technique is simple and non-fussy. The majority of the fat is on its back so roasting the bird at the same temperature on breast down should guarantee succulent meat. A traditional stuffing containing a little sausage meat, wild mushrooms and the turkey liver will add moistness to the bird.

Merry Christmas everybody and best of for 2010. x

Traditional Roast Turkey with Chestnut and Wild Mushroom and Oat Stuffing

Serves 8

1 quality oven ready turkey weighing approximately 6kg
1 onion, peeled
Salt and pepper

For the stuffing
1 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
150g wild mushrooms, finely chopped
A handful of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stalks and finely chopped
The liver of the turkey, finely chopped
300g prepared chestnuts, finely chopped
150g pork sausage meat
1 egg
100g oats
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper

1 – Ensure your turkey has sat at room temperature for 2 hours before cooking. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4.
2 – To make the stuffing, heat the oil and butter in a frying pan. Add the shallot, mushrooms and thyme and sweat for 5-10 minutes until the water has evaporated from the mushrooms.
3 – Tip into a mixing bowl then combine with the remaining ingredients, seasoning with a little grating of nutmeg and salt and pepper. If the mixture looks too wet, stir in a little more oats a handful at a time until it stiffens.
4 – Stuff the neck of the turkey with the stuffing by loosening the skin around the neck and pushing the stuffing up towards the breast. Secure the skin with a couple of cocktail sticks or a skewer.
5 – Season the turkey all over with salt and pepper and place the onion into the cavity. Place breast side down in a roasting tin.
6 – Cook the turkey for the allotted cooking time (2 hours for a 4kg bird, adding 15 minutes per kg) turning the turkey breast side up for the final 30 minutes to crisp up the skin. To be on the safe side, buy a good meat thermometer and check the thighs of the bird for the correct temperature as per the thermometer.
7 – Remove from the oven and rest for 30-45 minutes. To make a simple gravy, skim off the excess fat from the roasting juices and add a glass of white wine. Bring to the boil and taste for seasoning.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Spiced Orange and Chocolate Stars

Is it just me or is time flying by faster than ever? It seems like only a few months since last Christmas. The cupboard is now teetering with gifts that Santa has kindly left for us there, the cake is maturing in the cupboard, the turkey is ordered and the Stilton takes up a large part of our fridge. So it's a good job I love this time of the year.

What I love about Christmas is it is the one time of the year that we can indulge with a great excuse. It is refreshing that in this current world of 'celebrity' chefs, as well as health 'experts' who claim to know it all on our televisions telling us what we are doing wrong with our bodies, we can gorge to our hearts content without being tutted at.

I for one will be pigging out as usual and facing the consequences in the New Year when sensibility returns. It has already started if truth be known and at the weekend it was time for the nipper and I to get the pots and pans out and begin making jams, chutneys and edible decorations for the tree including Marron Glace and sugar almonds.

Some little orange and spice biscuits, thickly covered in chocolate and decorated with silver balls, now speckle our modest tree and make for a tempting treat each time you see it. Like anything edible sitting around the house, the difficult part is not eating them too early. But I reckon you could be forgiven for this. After all, it is Christmas. Go on, just the one...

Spiced Orange and Chocolate Stars
Makes lots

125g plain flour
50g rolled oats
125g butter or margarine
75g caster sugar
A pinch of baking powder
Zest and juice of one orange
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
A pinch of fresh nutmeg
100g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4.
2 - Tip the flour, oats, sugar, spice and orange zest into a large bowl.
3 - Melt the butter in a pan then stir into the dry ingredients thoroughly along with the orange juice. If it seems too sticky add a little more flour but you want a very soft dough.
3 - Roll out the dough until approximately 1cm thick. Using a star shaped biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuits and place onto a greased baking tray.
4 - Bake on a high shelf for 8-10 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown and slightly risen.
5 - Cool on a wire rack.
6 - Melt the chocolates in an ovenproof bowl in the oven. Stir thoroughly with more zest of orange. Using two forks, gently toss each biscuit into the melted chocolate then drain on a wire rack until dry.
7 - Cover each biscuit in foil. Thread the biscuits with a needle and thread, form loops and decorate your tree.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Best Christmas Cake

Each year around this time in the calendar we have approached that most sacred of tasks of making the Christmas cake. And each year I post about it.

I'm a sucker for a good fruit cake. Whether with tea, coffee or something a bit stronger, it almost seems like the healthy option of the cake world and I fool myself that I can have huge slabs of it without any poundage being added to the waistline. The Christmas cake however can sometimes be a step too far for the cake lover, often being accused of being too rich, too heavy or too boozy.

Some years back I tweaked around with a recipe to come up with something that would suit the whole family: rich, but rich with succulent fruit; heavy, but heavy with mysterious spice, orange and cocoa; boozy, but boozy enough to just give you a hint of sharp brandy or whisky.

We all stir it, we all prod it, we all lick the spoon. And this year we went all traditional and threw in 3 silver coins. If my slice puts that pound back in my pocket I would still swap it for another slice. Thank the heavens that Christmas is almost here...

The Best Christmas Cake

200g dark muscovado sugar
100g honey
250g butter
100g each of raisins, currants, sultanas, dried figs and dried prunes, roughly chopped
1 espresso cup of coffee
A large splash of brandy or whisky
Tablespoon of mixed spice
Zest and juice of an orange or 2 satsuma, tangerines or clementine
1 tbsp of cocoa powder
3 large eggs
100g plain flour, sifted
150g ground almonds
Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
Salt

1 - Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM3. Grease and line a 22cm spring form cake tin.
2 - Melt the butter and sugars in a large pan then add the fruit, coffee, brandy or whisky, spice and honey. Zest and juice the oranges and add along with the cocoa powder. Stir until dark, caramelised and fragrant.
3 - Beat the eggs and add to the mixture along with the flour, 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.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Slow Cooker Pork Curry

As the cold nights set in and we don ever thicker socks and silly winter hats, we turn our thoughts to sustaining food that fills stomachs and warms the soul. Rich stews and broths, packed with chunky vegetables and barley, pulses and meat that melts in the mouth and fat dumplings to fill up any missed corners of the tummy.

I've embraced my slow cooker like an old friend this past few weeks. They are ideal for the busy household at this time of the year and they need not cost the earth. Mine was £7 and it does exactly what I want it to do.

I've perfected the art of the busy man getting tea ready at 7am. No softening of onions and garlic, no sealing of meat. I literally 'plonk' everything into the chamber, set it to the lowest heating and go to work. When I arrive home the house is filled with the aromas of something that you just know will do the job.

We have all had the sniffles of late (who hasn't?) and I always find that an onion, garlic and ginger packed curry of some form is a great antidote. And amazingly, all that pre-frying of onions and toasting of spices seems to have been an unnecessary 'cheffy' thing to do as the slow cooker way appears to work every time, making it a healthier option too. If you don't believe me, give this one a go and tell me if it didn't work. It is utterly delicious, fuss free and an absolute winner for the busy family.

Slow Cooker Pork Curry
Feeds 4

4 pork leg steaks
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cinnamon
Half tsp chilli powder
1 whole dried chilli (optional for heat)
1 tbsp ground coriander
3 cardamon pods, whole
3 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tin chopped tomatoes
100ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper

1 - Cut the pork steaks into large chunks.
2 - Place everything, and I mean everything, into the chamber of your slow cooker. Give it a good stir until thoroughly combined.
3 - Put it onto the low setting (6-8 hours cooking time). Let it cook.
4 - When cooked, taste for seasoning. Serve with boiled rice and fresh coriander.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Mini pumpkin and black treacle pies

Hallow’s Eve is almost here and little ones up and down the land are getting excited at the prospect of free food in exchange for a fright.

Like any annual event in the calendar it is a great opportunity to have a party and as it is a child friendly time, they can get involved with the making as well as the eating. This year we will be making home made spooky pizza faces, wormy bug pasta and ghoulishly green apple and avocado smoothies.

The Americans are the masters of Halloween celebrations and they have used the pumpkin - something we usually simply carve out then throw onto the rubbish tip - to its full potential in a whole range of delicious pumpkin related recipes, including desserts. Pumpkin pie is a fabulous concoction of pureed pumpkin, sugar, cream and eggs and if you can get your head around the fact that there is a vegetable in the mix you will love it.

I like to use molasses packed sticky black treacle in mine, and they can be made into individual ‘pies’ for little hands by using mini pudding moulds such as in this recipe or jam tart cases. They are seasonal, delicious and frightfully fantastic. Happy Halloween kids.

Witches' Cauldrons
(Mini pumpkin and black treacle pies)

One pack of short crust pastry
500g peeled and chopped pumpkin
300ml double cream
100g muscovado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp black treacle
½ tsp ground cinnamon
A little ground nutmeg
1 tsp ginger


1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4. Roll out the pastry then portion and line some mini pudding moulds leaving the edges overlapped. Put into the fridge to rest.
2 - Bring a pan of water to the boil then cook the chopped pumpkin until tender. Blend to a puree.
3 - Pour the cream into a pan then add the sugar and spices then heat up to just under boiling point.
4 - Pour in the eggs and whisk well, then add the black treacle. Stir in the pumpkin puree and pour into the pudding moulds.
5 - Bake for 25-30 minutes or until just set.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bramble Ripple Ice Cream

Autumn is well and truly here and you don’t have to look too hard around the hedgerows of the United Kingdom at this time of the year to find some free food.

It is such a great season for getting out with your children and doing a bit of food detective work. Plums, apples, pears and brambles are just some of the delicious fruit we have been plucking recently.

Brambles are a big favourite of my daughter. We make a day of it by donning protective gloves and collecting a few plastic bowls full before returning home to cook a multitude of dishes, from bramble pies, crumbles, jams and ice creams to sticky sauces for rich meats.

It’s free, fun and delicious, therefore making it priceless for the whole family.

Bramble Ripple Ice Cream


300g brambles
2 tbsp sugar
300ml double cream
200ml milk
4 egg yolks
100g sugar

1 – Put the brambles and sugar into a pan. Bring to the boil then cook gently for 5 minutes, crushing with a fork as you go. Allow to cool then push through a sieve and reserve the juice. 

2 – Put the cream and milk into a pan and bring to just under the boil.
3 – Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl then pour in the hot cream and milk. Stir then return to the pan on the heat, stirring all of the time. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon and cook on a low heat. The custard is ready once you can wipe a finger across the wooden spoon without the custard running.
4 – Allow to cool then pour into an airtight container and place into the freezer. Check every hour and stir with a fork to distribute the crystals. This can all be done in an ice cream maker of course.
5 – Once the ice cream is almost frozen but still loose enough to stir a fork through, pour over the bramble juice and lightly fold through. Return to the freezer to freeze through.
6 – Serve with fresh brambles and optional meringues.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Sloe Gin

Last week's wild fruit horde was sweeter than ever for the simple reason that we brought home a huge amount of that acrid berry, the sloe.

Sloes are only really good for one thing and that is plonked in a jar or a bottle with a load of sugar and alcohol. In the raw form a bitten sloe can make even the most beautiful of faces turn inwards and cause children to run screaming. However, a long soak in sugar and booze and the true qualities show, permeating gin or vodka with unique floral flavour and smells making the risk of a nasty cut from its spiky home in the blackthorn bush all worthwhile.

I now wait patiently as the sloes sit in a demijohn in the garage doing what they do best. 3 months should do it but if you can resist it, the longer the marinade the better the flavour and a more intense, purple colour.

Sloe Gin
(Multiply the ingredients depending on your pickings)

1kg sloes
500g caster sugar
2 litres gin

1 - Wash and pick your sloes. Now the bit that causes debate. Do you spend an age pricking each berry to allow the juices to flow or do you freeze then thaw allowing the skin to burst naturally? It is up to you, but I bashed mine in a pestle and mortar and will sieve carefully when it comes to bottling.
2 - Pile into a sterilised demijohn or large clean bottles. Pour in the sugar and gin, seal tightly, shake well and place in a cool dark place. Give it a shake every week.
3 - After a minimum of 3 months, pour through a muslin cloth into clean sterilised bottles and it is ready to drink, however the longer you leave it the better it will get.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Wild Fruit Jam

A day of plundering this weekend, and what a plunder it turned out to be. We sneaked over to our 'secret' sloe berry location anticipating disappointment after last year's wash out. And there before our eyes were bush after bush of the acrid berry that somehow transforms gin into liquid gold and, quite possibly, my favourite drink.

After plucking several kilos of sloes, the trip home became bonus time as we came across damsons aplenty. A quick shake of the branches and it rained wild plums onto our heads. Nature has more than made up for last year's harvest drought.

It helps to have a few little ones in tow when it comes to gathering fruit. Make sure they have some protective gloves on and away you go. With elderberries and brambles being thrown into the mix too, we eventually came home with more fruit than you can, erm, shake a tree at.

The sloe gin can wait until next week but the other wild fruit went into the pot for some loose jam ready for the yoghurt and muesli, porridge, hot muffins and one or two cakes and scones. There is something uniquely satisfying having made something almost for free and that pleasure doubles when you can have fun with your friends and family during the process. Happy days...

Wild Fruit Jam

Makes one large jar

1kg of wild fruit such as damsons, brambles, elderberries and sloes
200g caster sugar

1 - Put a couple of clean jars with the lids off onto a hot oven and heat through for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave in.
2 - Put the fruit and sugar into a pan and bring to the boil. Give it a stir then fast boil for 10 minutes.
3 - Take out your hot jars then push the jam through a sieve into the jam jars. Put on the lids and once cool, refrigerate. The jam should keep for 4 weeks.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Off For a Dip

If you have children and they are anything like my nipper, they will love the fact that berries of all kinds are sprouting up right now over the summer.

My girl adores strawberries and raspberries. Nothing new or surprising there then but it is a bonus for a parent on the dessert front if your wee ones love fruit. A simple dessert can be knocked up in no time keeping them happy and contented until bed time.

Another thing children like to do is get messy and nothing becomes messier than the fondue concept of dipping solid edible things into warm gooey liquid. It is also highly satisfying. Not just for the children but people like me who should know better.

Melt some chocolate in a low oven (a mix of dark and milk), perhaps stir in a little grated orange, scatter a plate with strawberries and marshmallows, hand out the toothpicks and let the fun begin. I don't even need to give you a recipe. Delicious, simple and something everybody should do at least once a week whilst the berries are here.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Smokey Pork and Pepper Stew

"Tiiiime, is on my side, yes it is!” Mr Jagger once belted this out with his Stones, probably after realising how rich he was and reality hitting home that he probably didn't have to do anything else ever if he didn't want to. 40 odd years on they still keep ploughing on; I wish they would get the hint.

For little old me I too have, albeit briefly, time on my side for the first time in years. In September I'm off to fulfil what I should have done years back when I finally become a teacher. So until the hard work begins then, I'm taking it steady and enjoying my final weeks of freedom.

Aside from maximum time with the nipper, this freedom inevitably entails lots of food related activities. I've cleaned out the demi johns ready for some summer wine and champagne making and the jars sterilised for lots of jam making. And although quick suppers are still the order of the day, with lots of exciting salads hitting the family table, I can indulge more in some good old slow cooking.

Slow braised well worked joints such as shoulder, brisket and blade are being marinated in all kinds of herbed spiced sauces before cooking until melting point. Pork shoulder still remains one of my favourite joints to cook with and this meal, a kind of Hungarian goulash, remains a true family classic and the kids love it. A sauce containing plenty of char-grilled pepper, zesty orange and smokey paprika breaks down the meat seductively. You need time on your side and a little patience, especially when the tummy rumbling smells fills your home, but it is time and patience more than worth dedicating.

Smokey Pork and Pepper Stew
Feeds 4

6 red peppers
1-1.5kg pork shoulder, boned and skinned
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 onion, chopped roughly
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tbsp paprika, smoked or un-smoked
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tin of tomatoes
Zest and juice of 1 orange
A pinch of chilli
Salt and pepper
2 handfuls of fresh parsley, roughly chopped

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM3. Put the peppers straight onto the gas hobs and cook, turning regularly, until blackened. Pop into a plastic bag and leave to cool. When cool, remove the skin as best possible (don't be tempted to wash) and remove the seeds. Chop up into a pulp and put into a bowl with any smokey juices.
2 - In a large frying pan or flameproof casserole dish, add the olive oil then add the pork. Cook, turning regularly, until golden all over. Remove and keep aside.
3 - Add the onions then slice the remaining peppers and add them. Cook, stirring regularly, until softened and beginning to colour. Add the garlic, paprika and tomato puree and cook for a further minute.
4 - Add the tomatoes, zest and juice of the orange and a pinch of chilli. Taste for seasoning. Stir thoroughly then add the pork shoulder. Pour in water until it just hits the top of the pork. Stir again then put on the lid and place in the oven. Cook for 2 and a half hours. Check it is done by trying to prise open the meat with two forks. If it doesn't come apart easily put back in the oven for 30 minutes then try again.
5 - When cooked, separate as much meat as possible so that it breaks up into the whole stew. Taste for seasoning then stir in the parsley. Serve with plain boiled rice, a spoonful of yoghurt or soured cream and more fresh parsley.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Cherry and Ginger Cordial

When we were kids I can vividly remember getting more than excited at the sound of the 'pop van' arriving in our street. My cousin Jannine and I would race out with the empties, swap them for a penny each and then choose our favourite pop to guzzle.

Jannine's was pretty much Cream Soda every time but for me it was Cherryade. Now I don't want to come across all northern and downtrodden but I think the closest I every got to an actual cherry was a bag of cherry lips (remember them?) and that artificial cherry flavour and colour seemed to pass onto the drink form perfectly. Those 70's summers were happy days for us and amazingly, the 'pop van' seemed to make it just that bit more special. We were easily pleased.

We don't get 'pop vans' these days and I can't remember the last time I saw any cherryade. That of course if probably a good thing. But you can simply make your own cherry cordial with a bag of juicy cherries that replicate the actual flavour of cherry as opposed to E287 and E992 which I drank in large quantities all those years ago.

The ginger in this 'cordial' is optional but adds an interesting heat. And from this you can make an instant sauce for duck, a filling for a sponge cake, a sauce for ice cream or the way I like to do it, in a glass with lots of ice and soda poured on top for a rustic home made cherryade. Push it through a sieve if you don't like 'bits' but sometimes life is just too short.

Cherry and Ginger Cordial

200g cherries, stoned
1 piece of stem ginger, roughly chopped
2 tbsp ginger syrup from the jar
4 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp water

1 - Put the cherries, stem ginger, ginger syrup, sugar and water into a pan. Bring to the boil then simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the cherries are really soft.
2 - Pour it all into a blender and blend until smooth then pour into a sterilised bottle. It will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Rhubarb and Custard Burnt Cream

What does a man do with excess supply of rhubarb? Well, the sensible option is to of course eat it. Rhubarb isn't around for too long and like I said last week, you need to at least try to make the most of the seasonal vegetables and fruit that are now beginning to appear.

Rhubarb has long been subjected to the old crumble treatment and although there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, we usually stop there, wondering what else to do with this highly acrid vegetable that requires a good dose of sugar to stop your face disappearing into itself on eating.

Grated and stuffed into duck with some fresh herbs is a good place to start, sitting the bird on a few sticks as a roasting bed which makes superb gravy. A tart rhubarb puree perhaps with a kick of chilli makes for a great accompaniment to oily fish such as the soon to appear mackerel or sardines. Or you could always do what my mam used to do to us as kids and walk around with a bag of sugar and a stick of rhubarb and give yourself an unusual belly churning Geordie treat, the treat being 'Treat with caution.'

Rhubarb and custard is probably the simplest partnership and a nice way to transform this classic into an alternative dessert is to mix the two together, bake slowly in the oven then burn a little sugar on the top for a rhubarb and custard burnt cream, or crème brulée to the masses. I prefer the word 'burnt' in the description. If anything it may put people off eating it and leaving more of this delicious dessert for yours truly...

Rhubarb and Custard Burnt Cream
Feeds 4-6 people depending on size of ramekin

4 small sticks or 2 large sticks of rhubarb, washed and trimmed
50g sugar
200ml double cream
100ml single cream or full fat milk
3 large egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
50g sugar
Icing sugar

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 140C, GM1.
2 - Chop the rhubarb into chunks and place in a saucepan with a little water and the sugar. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes until broken up completely. Leave to cool then stir to a puree.
3 - Pour the creams into a pan. Spilt the vanilla pod and scrape in the seeds then bring almost to boiling point before taking off the heat.
4 - Beat the egg yolks with the sugar thoroughly, and then pour onto the hot cream, stirring all of the time. Fold in the rhubarb puree.
5 - Pour the hot custard into the ramekins. Place into an oven tray then pour enough hot water in to reach halfway up the ramekins. Cook for 45 mins-1 hour or until it is just cooked with a slight wobble when you shake them.
6 - Cool completely, place in the fridge then when ready to eat, sieve on a good layer of icing sugar and tidy up the sides. Use either a cook's blow torch or a hot grill to 'burn' the sugar to a crispy topping to smash your spoon through.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Bacon, Lettuce, Asparagus and Tomato Sandwich (The BLAT)

I know that the old 'eat seasonal and local' phrase has become an over-used mantra to some people, and I also know that this philosophy is a difficult one to stick by when you are struggling with a large family and little money. So I choose to use it wisely and with caution when teaching; some people simply cannot follow the foodie idealist way of life and I can sympathise.

However, there are certain products that I feel so strongly about that I almost urge the nation to buy them when they are in season. Products that are in such abundance that you would be a fool to not make the most of their short window of growth.

At the moment asparagus and rhubarb are everywhere and I'm being given both of these vegetables on a regular basis from kind mates and family. I'm cooking with and eating rhubarb almost every other day and there are only so many crumbles a portly gent is allowed to consume in a week. So more rhubarb recipes, both sweet and savoury, will be appearing soon.

The best asparagus is almost at an end and this 'King of the vegetables' should be treated with great respect. My favourite way is to simply roast them in a little olive oil and balsamic and eat with a few shavings of Parmesan, Cheddar or crumbly Lancashire. Another great thing to do is team them up with some quality bacon in a kind of BLT or 'BLAT' which becomes a sandwich to beat all sandwiches. Probably the best sandwich in the world? I would say.

Bacon, Lettuce, Asparagus and Tomato Sandwich (The BLAT)
Feeds 2

4 pieces of thick white bread
8 asparagus spears, trimmed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp quality mayonnaise
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
8 slices of good smoked bacon
A handful of sun dried tomatoes in olive oil or 2 tomatoes thinly sliced
Lettuce leaves

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM6/200C. Put the asparagus into a baking tray and toss in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a little seasoning. Roast for 10 minutes.
2 - Grill the bacon until crisp and golden. Reserve on kitchen towel.
3 - Lightly toast the bread.
4 - Mix the mayonnaise with the mustard and spread liberally onto the toasted bread.
5 - Layer the bread with lettuce, hot bacon, asparagus and tomatoes and devour.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Rhubarb and Ginger Ice Cream

I’ve always avoided buying an ice cream maker for one reason only. I reckon that I would make a new ice cream at least once a week and that would do nothing for the old love handles. Unfortunately I’ve found a way of making perfect ice cream that doesn’t involve an expensive ice cream maker.

We have been experimenting with different flavoured ice creams for some time now using the patient method of freezing your ‘custard’ in a sealed container and freezing, remembering to churn the mixture at least every hour to help the ice crystals evenly distribute. Pain staking and easy to forget, you inevitably end up with a solid lump that needs a good 30 minutes of thawing. No good when you have children demanding the fruits of their labour NOW!

Cerys and I took a load of rhubarb from the garden and stewed it in honey and stem ginger, a difficult task when you have a ginger addicted daughter trying to eat whole stems and licking the sticky syrup dribbling down her arms. Once cooled, I could safely hand the reigns over to the little one for stirring in yoghurt and cream before sealing and freezing.

And the magic bit? Blitzing it in a food processor to make the most perfectly smooth rhubarb and ginger ice cream. Don’t forget to reserve some of the pink rhubarb syrup to make your own ‘monkey’s blood’ as we Geordies affectionately call it.

Rhubarb and Ginger Ice Cream

300g rhubarb, cleaned and chopped into chunks
100g honey or sugar
3 stem gingers and a little syrup to taste, roughly chopped
150ml natural yoghurt
100ml double cream

1 – Put the rhubarb, honey or sugar and a little water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rhubarb has broken up. Allow to cool.
2 – Remove a little of the pink syrup with a tablespoon and reserve. Stir in the stem ginger and syrup.
3 – Put the yoghurt, cream and rhubarb into a large bowl and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Pour into an airtight container and freeze until frozen.
4 – Remove and put into a food processor. Blend until smooth. Scoop into cones and drizzle on the rhubarb syrup.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Pastitsio

One of the biggest problems I have as a dad and a cook is figuring out what to put on the family menu each evening. My worst fear is eating the same things all of the time. I want my daughter to try new things as much as possible but of course with work and timing issues that makes it all that bit more difficult.

Most families have the same problem and lots opt for the easy option of the ready meal. I'm not going to mock that but I will always say that just 15 minutes each evening prepping food is usually all that is needed to knock up a cracking family meal. Learning a few simple skills and getting cooking has to be the answer.

The other issue is money and we have to stretch out pennies wisely. So I'm always on the lookout for new no fuss family meals that will do the job. A quick look over the waters to countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece will give you a multitude of recipes that match these criteria.

Pastitsio is like a Greek Moussaka with pasta, a delicious combination of meat, spice, egg and cheese that feeds the whole family for less than a fiver. I'm sure my Greek friends who read this will no doubt pick me up on how unauthentic it looks but that is of little importance to the common man. Serve it with a big green salad and enjoy the simplicity of easy, inexpensive and great family food.

Pastitsio
Feeds 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 celery sticks, diced
2 carrots, diced
500g minced beef
400g chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato purée
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp dried oregano
100ml beef or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
300g rigatoni pasta50g Parmesan cheese

For the cheese sauce
50g butter
50g plain flour
500ml milk
100g Cheddar Cheese grated
A little freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs beaten

1 – Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan and add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the minced beef and cook for 5 minutes until browned.
2 – Add the tomatoes, tomato purée, cinnamon and oregano and stir through for 1 minute. Then add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasoning.
3 – Boil the pasta according to the instructions then drain and set aside.
4 – To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a pan and add the flour. Stir and cook for 1 minute then gradually beat in the milk until you have a thick white sauce. Stir in the cheese and nutmeg then taste for seasoning. Finally stir in the eggs.
5 - Grease a large ovenproof dish with the butter. Spread one-third of the pasta over the base of the dish and cover with half the meat sauce. Add another third of the pasta and then the rest of the meat sauce then cover with a final layer of pasta. Spoon over the cheese sauce.
6 – Sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese and bake on the middle shelf for 40 minutes until golden brown. Serve with a simple green salad.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Pease Pudding

The 23rd April brings what should be the English day of celebration in St George's Day. I often wonder how many of us English people will actually raise a glass to our patron saint as well as get stuck into a good old English meal. Not many I reckon.

Whilst we don comedy 'Guinness' hats for St Patrick's Day and have a 'wee dram' of the single malt stuff for St Andrew's Day, we all seem to forget our heritage when it comes to our special day.

Can we please bring it back oh folk of England? Can we please just retain some heritage and tradition and remember where we come from for one day of the year? I don't mean rampage down the street with faces painted destroying all in your way - we have enough of that around International footy day. I mean have some food and drink with your loved ones, feel positive about your heritage and be proud to be English for a change. I'm all for a multi-culturist society, love it in fact. But we should not be afraid to be proud to be English. Perhaps a bit of pride and a positive outlook is the key to this damned recession eh?

I'll be celebrating with some local food, pease pudding to be precise. I'm getting into making large batches of our most famed Geordie split pea concoction and freezing it for rainy days. I'll be simmering a load of split peas in a muslin bag along with a ham hock before toasting some stottie cakes, another one of our traditional foods, smearing liberally in English mustard and making the best ham and pease pudding butties in town. All washed down with a bottle of Jarrow Brewery Rivet Catcher.

You will have a load of local traditional dishes where you come from. As we don't seem to have one dish that describes our wonderfully diverse food in England, it's time to look local and knock one up for you and your family this Thursday. Enjoy it and tell the world that it's okay to be English.

Pease Pudding

250g yellow split peas
1 ham hock
1 onion
1 carrot
2 sticks of celery
2 bay leaves
A handful of fresh thyme
5 black peppercorns
Water

1 - Place the yellow split peas into a muslin cloth and tie securely. Place them along with the rest of the ingredients into a stock pan.
2 - Cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer for 2 and a half hours.
3 - Drain the split peas then mash with a fork or blend depending on how smooth or rough you like them.
4 - Serve spread thickly in buttered thick bread, slithers of ham hock and English mustard.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Wild Garlic and Hazelnut Sauce

If you go down to the woods today you're in for a big surprise. And if you do have a walk around any British woodland at this time of the year you may be really surprised to have your nasal passages hit with the heavy smell of mild onion.

It is right now that you will find wild garlic, or ramsons, growing in thick patches all over our green and pleasant land. Recognisable by their wide thick leaves and depending on the time of year, a cluster of small white flowers, they are the easiest to harvest and most widely available free food you will find.

Milder and more onion-like than the garlic widely available in stores, ramsons are perfect for injecting subtle flavour into food. Try a bunch of them stuffed into a fish before baking, or chopped raw and thrown into a simple pasta dish or a salad. I like to bash them up in a pestle and mortar with walnuts or hazelnuts for a rough pesto or sharpening with capers and mustard for a green sauce to go with pasta, fish or a good steak.

Make the most of this wonderful spring wild food. They aren't difficult to find and if you have never harvested wild food before, it will inspire you to take your first steps in becoming a true wild food forager. Just keep an eye out for those bears.

Wild Garlic and Hazelnut Sauce
Makes a small jar full - will keep for 3 days in the fridge

4 handfuls of fresh wild garlic leaves
2 handfuls of hazelnuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan
1 tsp English mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp cider vinegar
25g Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese, grated
100ml extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper

1 - In a pestle and mortar or a food processor, bash the wild garlic and hazelnuts to a rough pulp.
2 - Stir in the remaining ingredients and taste for seasoning. Seal in a sterilised jar.
3 - Serve stirred into warm pasta, with cooked fish or steak.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Spiced Pumpkin and Whisky Bread Pudding

The last time I visited London to attempt to win something I failed miserably at the final hurdle. MasterChef has been discussed a lot in the 2 years since that fateful day, probably too much for my comfort, and I’ve been working my socks off to try to make some form of living from the world of food ever since.

It hasn’t been easy and I haven’t exactly followed the natural conventional route that I thought I would take such as working in restaurants and training to be a professional chef. Instead I take great pleasure from trying to help people to cook and eat better in my work with Expo Chef. And I’ve also found that I adore writing about food, expressing my natural love for the subject and best of all, writing recipes for fun and trying them out on my friends and family.

Last month I received a call from my favourite publication, Observer Food Monthly, to tell me that I had won an award. I had to stop my car and ring them back such was the shock. One of my recipes was chosen by the likes of Nigel Slater, Jay Rayner and Tom Parker-Bowles to win one of their new categories in the annual OFM awards as best reader’s recipe.

I've just returned from a fantastic awards ceremony where a large amount of my food heroes were present. I tried my best to look cool in their company and realised that I didn’t need to when Alex James shouted at me, ‘That was a f***ing great pudding David’. They are as down to earth as us man! I even found time to feel like the elder statesman and offer a little advice to the MasterChef boys who were all there. Not that they will need my advice as I know they are going to do special things.

Seriously though, for little old me to receive praise from our finest food writer, Mr Nigel Slater, means more to me than I can explain. As for getting a kiss and a cuddle from Mariella Frostrup - these are things that dreams are made of. As I explained in garbled and excited fashion to Jay Rayner, in a scene reminiscent of Alan Partridge in which he proclaimed to the Geordie hotel porter, ‘That was just noise’, I’ve only ever won one award and that was as player of the season for Newcastle Hibs in the 1992 South Tyneside 4th division. So I’ve hardly broken down doors.


So there you go. A bit of self-indulgence but hey, these things come very rarely in my life. So I’m more than happy – I’m positively delirious – and although I am realistic enough to know that this award pales into insignificance in this increasingly glitzy world of food, it will sit on my mantelpiece gathering dust here in sunny East Boldon until such time comes where my wife relegates it to the bottom draw. Thanks for listening. Oh, and here’s the recipe…

Spiced Pumpkin and Whisky Bread 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, steamed until soft then puréed
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.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Smoky Jerusalem Artichoke and Ginger Soup

February is proving to be as miserable as it generally succeeds in being. Not only has this recession become a scary reality, we are also going through the coldest snap of weather we have seen in years. It's dark, cold and miserable and I for one cannot wait to see March in a couple of week’s time.

To add to this, it is also a poor month for edible produce. Aside from early forced rhubarb and winter staples such as potatoes, onions, leeks and swedes, British fruit and vegetable choices are few and far between.

The one light at the end of this tunnel of depression is a brilliant vegetable, the Jerusalem artichoke. Much like last week's discussion on chard, it is a misunderstood and under-used vegetable. The name doesn't help as it has absolutely no relation the globe artichoke you will be more familiar with. It is actually the root or tuber of a particular sunflower and if you have never seen one, think of a ginger root with cylindrical rings on the surface of their gnarly skin.

The taste is quite nutty with a bit of sweetness from their natural sugars depending on how old they are. Roasted, steamed, boiled or mashed, they are such a lovely addition to the plate. My favourite thing to do with a Jerusalem artichoke is to turn it into a soup; they blend perfectly to make for the silkiest of textures. The one downside to them are their famous wind-inducing properties due to their complex carbohydrates or inulin. This of course may be an added to bonus to fans of flatulence...

Smoky Jerusalem Artichoke and Ginger Soup
Serves 2

500g Jerusalem Artichokes, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 thumb size of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tsp smoked paprika
A pinch of cayenne pepper
750ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
Salt and pepper
Pumpkin seeds (optional) lightly toasted in a dry pan

1 - Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the Jerusalem artichokes, onion, garlic and ginger. Cook for around 5 minutes until beginning to soften.
2 - Add the tomato purée, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper and cook for 1 minute, stirring all of the time.
3 - Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes until the Jerusalem artichokes are soft.
4 - Using a hand blender or food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Stir in the yoghurt and taste for seasoning. Serve with optional toasted pumpkin seeds and a sprinkling of paprika.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Orange and Honey Braised Chicory

There are few edible things that test me. I'm a hog at the best of times and not many foodstuffs that grow or walk on our earth are unpleasant to my palate. Not bad considering I was an incredibly fussy eater as a child.

However there is a vegetable that did test me until recently. Chicory, or the Belgian Endive, is one of those vegetables at this time of the year when they are high in season that you see sitting on a superstore shelf with the 'Reduced' tag on it as people tend to walk past wondering what it is. I've been eating them for years having great difficulty coming to terms with their natural bitterness. Often found shredded and tossed in salads with equally pungent ingredients such as blue cheese, walnuts and mustard, I've tried hard to love it and failed miserably.

Right at the core of the chicory sits the predominant bitterness. A sharp knife will remove the core making a much more pleasant vegetable. But braising the vegetable in a liquid makes things much more interesting. And that is what has turned me around to loving chicory like no other. An hour braising in an oven with orange, honey and mustard will caramelise the leaves, sweeten up the core and make for a brilliant bed for such things as poached fish or game.

Never give up on a lost cause is my motto. We aren't always going to instantly fall in love with particular foods no matter how much you love eating. Give it time, experiment with different flavours and cooking techniques and like the chicory with me, you will soon grow to love them.

Orange and Honey Braised Chicory
Serves 2 as an accompaniment

2 heads of chicory, cored and cut in half
2 tbsp olive oil
100ml fresh orange juice
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp Dijon or English mustard
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C, GM4.
2 - Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan. Season the chicory with a little salt and pepper then put them into the pan cut side down. Cook for 2 minutes until it begins to colour.
3 - Pour over the orange and honey and bring to the boil. Stir in the mustard then place in the oven for 45 minutes, turning and basting every now and again.

Friday, 30 January 2009

White Turnips with Hazelnuts, Thyme and Lemon

Here's a little amusing task for you. Get a turnip and a swede then walk up to random people in the street and ask them if they know which one is which. You will probably get a lot of strange looks, certainly people running away from you and most likely the possibility of being arrested. But when you do get answers, the chances are that an awful lot of people will get it completely wrong.

I grew up thinking a swede was a turnip and vice versa. Despite mashed swede (the orange stuff) always being either on the Sunday dinner or crudely chopped into tiny cubes and boiled to smithereens on the school dinners, a little part of my tiny mind still could not distinguish which was which. And judging by the tests I have done when I'm in a 'Is it a swede or a turnip?' mood, the British public have the same problem.

In these days of food obsession and the fact that I have a responsibility to teach people about food in my everyday job, it is a culinary stumbling block I have had to get right. Swedes are the larger orange fleshed variety and called 'neeps' up in bonny Scotland. Turnips are generally the smaller white fleshed variety with a light purple tinge to their skin. Got that?

I managed to get some British baby white turnips this week which was surprising for this time of the year. But no complaints as these small, sweet and delicate vegetables are a true treat that with the right attention can be transformed into a complete dish on their own. My turnips are given royal treatment with the addition of roasted hazelnuts, thyme and lemon and just a hint of garlic to allow the vegetable's natural pepper heat to shine through. If you get some with their luscious green tops complete, wilt them in the pan as you are finishing them off to give you the complete dish. If you can't be bothered to cook them, a few thin slices added to a salad adds a welcome crunch and heat.

So get your swedes and your turnips the right way around. Both are quite the most amazing vegetable in their own right and certainly vegetables that should be promoted to higher status on the British dinner plate. Of course, I could be wrong and I could be right.

White Turnips with Hazelnuts, Thyme and Lemon
Feeds 2 as a lunch or 4 as a side dish

6 baby white turnips
2 handfuls of whole hazelnuts
25g butter
1 small clove of garlic, sliced thin
A handful of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stalks and roughly chopped
The juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

1 - Cut off any leaves from the turnips and roughly chop and set aside. You can leave the skins on small white turnips but if you prefer, peel and cut into medium chunks. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the turnips. Boil for 5 minutes - you want a bit of bite to them - then drain and set aside.
2 - Bash your hazelnuts up into pieces, not too small. Heat up a frying pan and add the hazelnuts. Gently toss them until toasted but be careful as they will burn easily.
3 - Add the butter to the pan and melt. Add the garlic and thyme along with the cooked turnips and gently toss until coated. Squeeze in the lemon juice, grate in some black pepper and taste for seasoning. If you have the leaves left, toss them in and cook for a few seconds until wilted.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Kipper Kedgeree

It is a much used statement but I have to agree, breakfast is undoubtedly the most important meal of the day. I can't argue with my stomach, and it is this organ that dominates the way that I think each day, an organ that demands food on waking. I've heard of people say that they don't or can't eat breakfast and I always eye these people with suspicion. How on earth do you focus for the day on an empty stomach?

Even worse are people who shove anything down their necks in order to appease hunger. I won't even begin to tell you some of the foods that I know the children that I teach are given each day; heart breaking is not strong enough an expression. We also have the rise of the modern Western breakfast with sugary cereals that disintegrate into some soft slurry in a bowl at the mere splash of milk. My daughter knows what they are and I would be a liar if I said that I did not cave in to her demands for this artificially formed 'cereal' every now and again.

What ever happened to an imaginative start to the day? Time is often against us first thing in the morning but I do believe that you should put at least one day of the week aside to put a bit of effort into your breakfast. We all know about the classic and not to be messed with English breakfast. Muffins with crisped bacon, poached egg and hollandaise sauce takes some beating as does a pile of American pancakes, smokey bacon and a drizzle of sweet maple syrup. Porridge is my daily choice which I mix up with cinnamon, sultanas, mashed banana and honey. It sustains and energises the body and keeps you full for most of the morning.

Last words go out to a much misunderstood and classic Anglo-Indian breakfast of kedgeree, a highly spiced rice, fish and egg breakfast that is a doddle to make and one that is primed for experimenting with. Traditionally used with smoked haddock, I like to use some of our brilliant North East kippers; not too salty and just the right kick of smokiness. And with one eye on frugal times, it is also a great way of using up left over rice. This is a meal that also works for lunch or dinner which makes it even more adaptable.

So be inspired and be a little more resourceful and creative at breakfast time. It might make those dark winter mornings a little happier and I can guarantee that your body will be all the more grateful to you. Good morning my friends.

Kipper Kedgeree
Feeds 4

4 eggs, boiled for 5 minutes then left to cool in cold water
200g basmati rice, cooked and drained
4 kippers
50g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
A handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon, quartered

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Pork, Root and Cider Casserole

A brisk walk along Seaburn beach near Sunderland on any day of the year can have its moments but in mid-January, the wind whistles up your trouser leg and mocks your private parts. It's cold up north.

Nothing beats getting wrapped up in your best woollies and driving against the wind on a beach. It clears the cobwebs, fills your lungs with clean sea air and if you can stretch it out for a few hours, the sea air makes you ravenous meaning you can stuff your face once finished.

A sustaining casserole is always a welcome plate after a cold winter walk, especially a slow cooked one that you can set off before a walk then polish off on your return. Pork cooked with roots and cider makes for a sweet and satisfying plate of food, the roots natural sweetness teased out with the addition of a drop of honey. The meat falls apart with each mouthful; it is as easy to eat as it is to make.

So walk out to winter and make the most of it, as well as remembering to sustain yourself afterwards with a simple and reviving casserole such as this.

Pork, Root and Cider Casserole

Feeds 4

3 shallots, finely sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 swede, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 celeriac, peeled and chopped into chunks
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
4 juniper berries, squashed
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tbsp plain flour
200ml dry cider
300ml hot vegetable stock
1 tbsp honey
4 pork leg steaks
A handful of fresh sage, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C, GM4.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish and add the shallots. Cook for 5 minutes without colouring.
3 - Add the root vegetables, juniper berries, dried sage and bay leaves. Combine for 1 minute before stirring in the flour.
4 - Pour in the cider and stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the honey, place the pork steaks on top then cover and place into the oven. Cook for 2 hours, checking every 30 minutes to ensure it isn't boiling dry.
5 – Stir in the sage then taste for seasoning and serve with boiled or mashed potatoes and seasonal greens.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Beef, Prune and Vegetable Stew

Slow cooked meat and root vegetables with gentle warm spices, just a touch of sweetness from the fruit and honey to take the edge off any potential heat and it can only be the unmistakeable Moroccan style stews that satisfy me every time.

The North Africans knew what they were doing when they took a clay pot with raised sides and called it a tagine, enabling them to create moist and tender stews from basic ingredients. I use a domestic casserole pot for my slow braising, and the addition of a few familiar spices and a little honey and fruit are all that are needed to transform an equally beautiful British stew into one that smells and tastes all mysterious and exotic.

Lots of people I speak to received an electric slow cooker off Santa Claus, meaning that they can easily achieve this most delectable of stews to serve with a little cous cous to soak up the juices. And it is a winner for the children too; even the fussiest of children can't help but have their taste buds given a wake up call when sampling something so delicious. Even my current favourite vegetable, the much misunderstood swede, turns into a 'melt in your mouth' treat. Any doubters out there, all I ask of you is to give it a go.

Beef, Prune and Vegetable Stew
Feeds 4

2 onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
500g topside beef, cut into large chunks
1 swede, peeled and cut into cubes
Half red cabbage, sliced thinly
2 handfuls dried prunes
2 pears, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tsp each of cumin, coriander and ground ginger
Half tsp each of cinnamon and cayenne
Water
3 tbsp honey
2 handfuls of fresh coriander, including the root
Salt and pepper
Lemon rind, thinly peeled from 1 lemon

1 - Preheat the oven to 160C, FM4.
2 - In a large casserole pot, heat the olive oil and add the onions and garlic. Slowly cook for 10 minutes until beginning to colour.
3 - Add the spices, remaining vegetables and beef. Warm through for 5 minutes, and then pour over enough water to just about cover it. Stir through the coriander, honey and lemon rind. Bring to the boil then cover and place in the oven for 2 hours.
4 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with cous cous and fresh coriander.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Swede, Lemon and Sage Risotto

With the New Year upon us the traditional resolutions have, for many, been made and probably already forgotten or broken. I make a few each year and although I have been prone to the odd lapse, I do tend to be a good boy and stick them out.

Due to health reasons, this year has become even more vital that I retain full control of my will power and see out the year as well as the rest of my life with the the old resolutions. The doctor duly delivered me a small shock not long back and as I'm the perennial optimist, I see the New Year as good an excuse as ever to make resolve and start all over again - 4 days in and it's so far so good.

One resolution that certainly won't be broken is my love and commitment to good food. I can get cynical about the sheer 'in your face' of television food and the host of 'celebrities' that come with it. But as the years tick on, I find my own solace in the simplicity of an honest plate of grub as opposed to the complications of unnecessary techniques and over-dressing. And as 2009 is going to be my very own dedication to frugal foods it only magnifies the importance of keeping it basic.

So happy new year to everybody and may you remain resolute to your resolve. Keep it simple, be strengthened from your mistakes and be inspired by the beauty of sensible and honest food.

Swede, Lemon and Sage Risotto

Feeds 4

1 medium swede, peeled and cut into cubes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, sliced
25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
500g risotto rice such, I use Carnaroli
1 small glass of white wine or Noilly Prat
1 litre hot vegetable or chicken stock
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
50g Parmesan cheese
Fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper

1 – Put the cubed swede into a steamer and steam for 10 minutes or until soft. Blend to a puree and put aside.
2 – Heat the butter and olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook briefly until soft but not coloured. Stir in the rice then pour in the wine. Cook, stirring, until evaporated.
3 – Add a couple of ladles of stock to the rice and cook, stirring, until evaporated. Continue like this for 15-20 minutes until the rice is cooked but still retains a bit of bite. You are looking for a loose consistency, not too dry.
4 – Stir in the pureed swede, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice. Taste for seasoning. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick pan and crisp up the sage leaves.
5 – Serve in bowls with a scattering of cheese, the crisp sage leaves and a wedge of lemon.