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.