Thursday, 26 March 2009

Cheddar Cheese Soda Bread

Is there anything more simple and basic than taking some flour, water and yeast, pounding them together for a few minutes then whacking in the oven? Bread making has lost its way in the standard home over the years for the simple reason that ready made bread in all forms can be purchased reasonably cheap.

So why bother going through the whole bread making process when it is so readily available? The end result is usually because there is nothing like home baked bread. If you have ever wandered into a baker's shop with bread in the oven you will know that the smell alone is of a heavenly nature. Take warm crisp bread, break it open and the smells get better. Slather it is butter and devour and at that very moment you know exactly why it is worth every effort.

I also enjoy the process of kneading and forming, watching dough rise in a warm cupboard before being baked to a golden crust. Getting the kids involved makes it even better and baking bread can be the basis of making your very own little confident foodie. Disasters will happen but who cares as long as you have fun and enjoy the fruits of your labour?

This bread is soda bread, an Irish recipe which uses soda rather than yeast as the rising agent. This means you don't need to wait for a couple of hours for the rising process - happy days - and the resulting loaf is surprisingly light. It can be on the table within an hour of first making and the warm bread is amazing smeared with a good butter and dunked into soups. So get them mixing bowls out, chuck in the basic ingredients and get you and your little one's hands 'squidging' for a bit of home baking.

Cheddar Cheese Soda Bread

125g plain flour
125g wholemeal flour
1 tbs demerera or brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g Cheddar cheese, grated
250ml plain yoghurt

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 220C/GM7.
2 - Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl, reserving the sieved whole grains. Stir in the sugar, salt, soda and cheese.
3 - Pour in the yoghurt and bring together with a wooden spoon. Then lightly knead for a minute or two. You are looking for a reasonably firm dough but not too dry. If it seems that way, add more yoghurt and knead.
4 - Shape the dough into a rough ball and place it onto a floured baking sheet. Cut a cross into the top of the loaf, sprinkle on the whole-wheat then bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 200C/GM6 and cook for another 20 minutes until golden brown.
5 - Cool on wire rack for a little while before serving.

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.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Slow Cooked Lamb Ragu

If you live in the UK and think of Ragu, a certain commercial tomato based pasta sauce available everywhere probably comes to mind. Those marketing boys did well when they managed to register that name.

Ragu is a classic Italian tomato based sauce which will be being made in every house in every town in Italy. And each town or household will boast there own method which will no doubt make their region's the best in the world.

There is nothing simpler than making your own pasta sauce and it is a whole lot tastier and cheaper than buying the commercial jars. An onion and garlic softened in olive oil, a cheap tin of tomatoes or a handful of fresh chopped tomatoes when the season is here, a pinch of oregano and a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar is all you need. Take that basic concept and experiment to your heart's desire. That's what simple cooking should be all about.

If I'm not in a rush, I like to slowly cook lamb in a ragu with additional ingredients such as chilli, juniper, sun dried tomatoes and orange peel, the latter dispensing a subtle citrus to the sauce. It may not be authentic but neither is a certain bottled sauce we all know and buy in our droves. Do yourself a favour and attempt your own some time.

Slow Cooked Lamb Ragu
Feeds 4

1 onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
3 juniper berries, crushed
1 whole dried chilli or a pinch of chilli flakes
2 tbsp tomato purée
500g lamb shoulder, cubed
2 tins tomatoes
A handful of sun dried tomatoes, sliced
1 glass of white wine
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
A slice of pared orange peel
1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C, GM3.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a flame-proof casserole dish, or make this in a large pan and add to the casserole dish later.
3 - Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until softened to make a 'soffrito'. Stir in the juniper, chilli and tomato purée and cook for 1 minute.
4 - Add the lamb and quickly brown then add the remaining ingredients except the seasoning. Bring to the boil, cover and place in the oven for 2 hours.
5 - Check every 30 minutes to ensure it isn't cooking dry. If it is, stir in a glass of water.
6 - When cooked, remove the bay, whole chilli and orange peel. Taste for seasoning and serve with your choice of pasta and Parmesan cheese.