Thursday, 30 December 2010

Quince Cheese (Membrillo)

Quince is an odd old fruit. Looking not quite like a pear or an apple, hard as a rock and almost inedible in its raw form, you would think it would sit in the 'pointless foods of the world' basket. But cook it like a jam and the fruit is transformed into a delicious paste/jelly that is simply sensational with good cheese, cold meats or a baste for a leg of lamb or even a fruity addition to a stock or gravy.

The Spanish have been using this technique since day one for their 'membrillo' and they traditionally serve it with their lovely sheep's cheese manchego. Cooked into a solid form like my version it becomes a quince 'cheese' and can just be sliced into chunks and served with the cheese board. Floral and sweet, it is a surprising addition and one that blows away most chutneys that usually make the cheese board.

It can be tampered with, and an addition of chilli can be a welcome to the sweetness of the quince cheese, or add the traditional spices of Christmas such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. A blob on top of some rice pudding is classy.

If you still aren't convinced, think of our traditional apple jelly and add a floral punch and a sticky, chewy almost fruit gum type chewiness and you have the quince cheese. Delicious.

Quince Cheese (Membrillo)

Makes 2 large wedges

2 large quinces
Juice of 1 lemon
Sugar
Optional spices such as a dried chilli, cinnamon stick, cloves and a little nutmeg

1 - Cut the quince into large chunks and take out the seeds. Leave the skin intact and add to a large pan with the lemon juice. If adding spices, put them in now. Cover with just enough water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the fruit is soft.
2 - Over a bowl, pour the fruit into a sieve and using the back of a spoon, push the fruit through until all you have is the pulp left in the bowl. Measure out the pulp in a measuring jug then add the same quantity sugar.
3 - Pour back into the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for anything between 1-2 hours, stirring regularly to prevent burning and sticking. The 'jam' will turn a deep orange colour and it is ready when you run a wooden spoon down the bottom of the pan and it leaves a clean line.
4 - Pour the 'jam' into lightly oiled moulds and leave to set. It can eaten immediately once cooled or it will keep covered in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. To serve, simply tip out onto a cheese board and slice into chunks.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Santa’s Special Christmas Granola

Granola is one of those moreish cereals, all crunchy, nutty and oaty, that you usually eat straight out of the box as opposed to pouring it in a bowl like a conventional bowl of cereal. One of America's better food inventions, we love it with yoghurt and honey in the morning for a great kick start.

Instead of buying some of the commercial products, it is actually really easy to make your own. Mix oats, nuts, honey, a little butter, margarine or vegetable oil together and bake in a low oven and you have it. It is great to experiment with too, adding spices, fruit and different nuts to the whole mixture.

I've invented a lovely Christmas tinged granola which hits healthy highs with the addition of pumpkin seeds. It will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 weeks so make a large batch now to feed your family with over the Christmas holidays.

Santa’s Special Christmas Granola

100g Oats
50g almonds, roughly chopped
30g shredded coconut
30g pumpkin seeds
Half tsp ground cinnamon
Half tsp ground ginger
50g butter or margarine
50g honey
50g dried cranberries
50g dates, roughly chopped
50g dried apricots, roughly chopped

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM3.
2 – Stir together all of the ingredients except for the dried fruit in a large mixing bowl.
3 – Put the butter/margarine and honey into a small pan and melt.
4 – Stir this thoroughly through the dried mixture then spread out evenly onto a large nin-stick baking tray.
5 – Place onto the middle shelf and bake for 20-30 minutes, turning over every 10 minutes, until golden and baked.
6 – Allow to cool then mix in the dried fruit. Serve with natural yoghurt and honey.
7 - Keep in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Breakfast Pancakes

There are so many reasons that I love being a dad. I feel an overall sense of being lucky when I think about it too much.

Cooking with Cerys has always been high on the list of 'why I love being a dad'. Ever since she was old enough to sit up straight without falling over, I have had her in the kitchen with me prodding, poking, tasting and smelling which have all evolved 5 years on to moulding, shaping, more prodding and poking and lots of tasting and smelling. It is invariably messy business and that of course adds to the fun. This is education of the highest order, mixed with a lot of love and giggles.

One of our weekend treats are homemade pancakes. Not the thin ones you usually eat on Shrove Tuesday. I'm talking about the thick American pancakes, almost like a flat spongy cake that can soak up anything you add to it, whether that is butter and honey or the grease from a few slices of crisp bacon.

They are incredibly easy to make, 5 minutes from start to plate, just a cup of milk, flour and eggs. But the best bit is of course the sense of sharing with your children, giving them that responsibility and inevitable sense of pride once they have achieved a few of these magnificent breakfast pancakes. Feel free to experiment with flavours, such as adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or perhaps some lemon juice and sultanas. We like ours plain and simple, just like us.

Breakfast Pancakes

Makes 12

1 tea mug of self-raising flour
2 eggs
1 tea mug of milk
1 grated apple or pear
1 pinch of cinnamon
25g melted butter

1 - Tip the flour into a mixing bowl.
2 - Make a well in the middle of the flour and crack the eggs into it.
3 - Pour in the milk a little at a time whilst stirring. You are looking for the pancake batter to be the consistency of thick paint.
4 - Finally, stir in the fruit and spice (optional).
5 - Melt a little butter in a non-stick frying pan. Wipe clean with kitchen towel then add 2 tablespoons of the batter per pancake. Watch it carefully until small holes appear on the top of the pancakes, then it is time to flip. Cook for a further minute until golden brown then serve with your accompaniment of choice.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Cajun Bean Soup

It's snowing! And of course with that, it's freezing, and I need feeding when I'm cold.

I love 'big' soups at this time of the year. None of your thin, texture-less efforts please. I want big chunks of meat and vegetables, a soup you can stand your spoon up in, almost like a meal in a bowl.

Soups are simple to knock up and this spicy Cajun spiced one is no exception. Delicious, healthy, filling and sustaining, it's just what you need when walking into the house with an inch of snow on your head. Eat with crisp tortilla chips and a spoon of yoghurt.

Cajun Bean Soup
Feeds 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 carrot, cubed
1 celery stick, cubed
1 red pepper, deseeded and cubed
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning or 1 tsp each of cumin, ground ginger and dried thyme and a pinch of chilli
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 400ml tin of tomatoes
300ml vegetable stock
1 tin of red kidney beans
A handful of green beans, sliced into chunks

1 - Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add the garlic and pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes.
2 - Add the spices, potato, tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer for 15 minutes until the potato has softened.
3 - Add the beans for the final 5 minutes. Squeeze in the lemon juice.
4 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with yoghurt and tortilla chips.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Best Christmas Cake


It's less than 6 weeks until Christmas Day and right now it is time to start getting that cake done. I post this recipe up each year as it is much requested and is officially the best Christmas cake in the world.

It is a tried, tested, tweaked, tested then tweaked again recipe. It is moist, fruity, not too boozy and has added chocolate, coffee and orange that leaves Christmas cake haters new converts to this indulgent cake.

If you can handle the alcohol, ‘feed’ your cake every 2 weeks with a shot glass of brandy or whisky. A few knitting needle holes will help the booze soak into the rich concoction of fruit, sugar, cocoa, orange and coffee. Wrap it tightly in greaseproof paper and foil and keep in an airtight cake tin.

What helps too is if you make it a family affair, and my daughter doesn't need too much encouragement to get stirring, dropping the odd 'gold coin' in and of course, the ubiquitous licking of bowl and utensils. So get mucking about in the kitchen with the kids this weekend and knock up a Christmas cake to beat all Christmas cakes.

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 160C, 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, top with a round of buttered baking paper and bake on the middle shelf for 1 hour 45 minutes or until a knitting needle inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Apple, Bramble and Muesli Crumble

I'm a sucker for a freebie, who wouldn't be? Those lovely purveyors of sugar, Tate & Lyle, recently sent me a few bags of their Fairtrade sugar which was gratefully received by yours truly.

When the weather is drawing in and hats, scarves and gloves are being donned more often, nothing beats a good pudding to warm the soul and make you feel all cosy and happy.

The humble crumble, in all of its sweet, chewy and fruity beauty, seems the perfect choice for our British importers of sugar. It is a British classic and without the likes of Tate & Lyle, we probably wouldn't be taking our favourite sweetener for granted as much as we do. If you want to find out a bit more as to how it ends up in our cupboards, visit their website.

So here you go, a simple crumble with a little twist. Serve it with custard, cream or yoghurt. Either way, it takes some beating.

Apple, Bramble and Muesli Crumble
Feeds 4

1kg bramble apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick slices
300g brambles
150g Tate & Lyle caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
A pinch of ground ginger and cinnamon

For the crumble

300g good muesli with lots of oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit in it
A pinch of ginger and cinnamon
150g butter
75g Tate & Lyle light brown sugar

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200C/GM6.
2 - Put the apple slices, lemon juice, sugar and spices into a pan. Bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes until the apples soften a little. Stir in the brambles.
3 - Butter an oven-proof dish. Tip in the fruit mixture.
4 - In a mixing bowl, mix together the muesli, spices and sugar. Using your fingers, mix in the butter so that you have almost large chunks of muesli. If it seems too dry, mix in a little more butter.
5 - Pour on top of the fruit and gently shake to level. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping is golden and crisp and the purple coloured sugary juices are bubbling around the sides.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sloe, Sloe, Quick Quick, Sloe


Amongst the many pleasures of this fine season of autumn is the plundering of free food. And by that, I mean getting wrapped up and scouring the hedgerows, fields and trees of the English countryside.

October and November is sloe berry picking time, and each year for as long as I can remember, my family and I have braved the spiny thorns of the blackthorn shrub to gather in our favourite boozy berry. I call it a boozy berry as they are only good for one thing, and that is being laced with sugar and alcohol and left to allow it to slowly release its subtle flavour into your booze of choice. Taste one raw and your face will scrunch up akin to a bulldog chewing a wasp. But take my word for it; this most acrid of berries can turn alcohol into liquid gold.

I like to go for two or three options, with gin always a certainty. Vodka is probably a better option that gin as it is a flavourless liquid and you actually get more of the sloe flavour from it. Brandy can also be a fine choice. Whatever you decide, the quantities remain the same. For every 2 kg of fruit you need 1 kg of sugar and 3 litres of alcohol. Once you have carefully washed and picked the berries, allowing for the odd baby snail, prick the berries and tip into a demi-john or a large sealable container. I freeze mine for a week then defrost which means that the skins naturally burst. Then tip on the sugar and alcohol, shake several times to break down the sugars then put away in a dark place for a few months, shaking around every week or so.

6 months is the recommended time before pouring through muslin into clean bottles, but mine rarely lasts past Christmas Eve before being sampled. Warming and reassuringly comforting in the knowledge that you made it yourself, sloes are the quiet champions of the autumn harvest.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Beef and Root Vegetable Stew with Herb and Mustard Dumplings

Autumn is finally here in the UK and for me, it is the finest of seasons. The nights may be getting darker, the weather is certainly getting colder, but it all adds to the cosiness of a season that I always anticipate.

When it comes to comforting food, this is the season to eat; hot stews and casseroles, filling sticky puddings and hot custard, steaming oat porridge with syrup. These are the foods of the North East England Gods and I champion every single one of them.

The slow cooker comes into its own during these frugal and busy times and it sits there begging for yet another meaty stew to help fill the house with mouth-watering smells to come home to each evening. Some decent chunks of braising beef, lots of root vegetables, woody herbs and a slosh of red wine and stock are all that is required to make a heavenly stew. And if you can top it with some dumplings, an invention born to stick to your insides and fill the most rumbling of tummies, you can guarantee smiles on faces all round. Enjoy the seasons.

Beef and Root Vegetable Stew with Herb and Mustard Dumplings
Feeds 4

2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
800g braising beef cut into large chunks
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 handful of roughly chopped thyme or 1 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 heaped tbsp seasoned plain flour
250ml red wine
250ml beef stock
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
2 leeks, sliced into large chunks
1 small swede, peeled and cut into chunks

For the dumplings
200g self-raising flour
100g margarine or butter
1 tbsp English mustard
4 tbsp chopped chives, thyme and parsley
Salt and pepper
Water

1 - Pre-heat the slow cooker or the oven to 160C/GM4.
2 - In a large pan or casserole dish, heat up the oil. Add the beef and fry quickly to seal all over. Remove with a slotted spoon.
3 - Add the onion and cook for a further 5 minutes. Return the beef and stir in the herbs and tomato puree. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 1 minute.
4 - Add the wine and stock and bring to the boil. Add the vegetables then either pour into the slow cooker or place the casserole dish into the oven.
5 - If cooking in the slow cooker, cook on a low setting for 5-6 hours. If cooking in the oven, cook for 2- 2 and a half hours, checking every hour to see if the liquid is sufficient.
6 - To make the dumplings, run the flour and margarine together then stir in the mustard, herbs and a little salt and pepper. Pour in enough water so that when mixed with hands you have a soft sticky dough. With floured hands form walnut sized balls.
7 - For the final 45 minutes cooking time, place the dumplings on top of the stew and cook until plump and cooked through.
8 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with seasonal greens.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Golden Salt and Pepper Pumpkin Seeds

Having just plundered an early fat pumpkin from the allotment and chopped it up ready for a Thai curry this evening, it got me thinking about one of the true food crimes people up and down the country commit - throwing away those precious pumpkin seeds.

You sometimes see chefs on television doing it and I can guarantee that some of my readers will admit to it, but throwing away those seeds are a big mistake. Roasted with a little oil and tossed in salt and pepper, perhaps a little chilli and lemon, they make for a delicious snack with a cold beer or an accompaniment to the food you are cooking, whether that is the Thai curry I'm about to have or with slices of roast pumpkin for your evening meal.

Fresh from the pumpkin, they are still coated in a little flesh and cooked for barely 10 minutes, they turn all lovely, crunchy and caramelised. Packed with protein and minerals, they are also really good for you. So do yourself a favour the next time you are slicing up a squash or a pumpkin and toast those seeds to golden perfection for an irreplaceable easy food.

Golden Salt and Pepper Pumpkin Seeds

Fresh pumpkin or squash seeds
Sunflower oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM4.
2 - Put the seeds onto an oven tray and toss in a couple of tablespoons of sunflower oil. Place onto the middle shelf and roast for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
3 - Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then pile into a bowl and toss with salt and pepper, or experiment with your herbs and spices. Delicious.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Onion and Roast Garlic Soup

Happy days at the allotment recently when we plundered the first vegetables that were planted, the onion and garlic.

I can remember putting my onion and garlic sets in back in November when the allotment still resembled a council tip. We were optimistic, what with the forthcoming winter in store, but our onions and garlic survived quite spectacularly, producing fat vegetables that now hang proudly in our shed ready for the coming months.

I've noticed pungency and flavour in these onion and garlic like I have never tasted before. And for me, the ultimate of all recipes to show off our plucked beauties were in a classic French onion soup. I adore this soup so much and for some reason, it works in the hot months just as well as the cold. Maybe that is because it reminds me of lazy carefree summers in Brittany, but either way it is a soup that must be made and devoured.

A whole bulb of my deep purple garlic, roasted until sweet, just took the flavour levels up a notch and guaranteed a soup to banish any lingering cold bugs as well as the odd vampire. Served with simple toasted bread, rubbed with a clove of garlic and drizzled with olive oil, is all that is needed for that most majestic of onion celebrating dishes. Alternatively, if you want to be all traditional, top with a slice of crusty white bread, pile on grated Gruyere cheese and place under the grill until golden and melting.

Onion and Roast Garlic Soup

Serves 4

1 whole bulb of garlic
Olive oil
25g butter
6 large fat onions, peeled, halved and sliced thin
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tbsp flour
800ml hot beef stock (fresh or from cube)
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200C/GM6. Place the whole unpeeled bulb of garlic into a square of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap tightly. Place on a baking tray and roast for 1 hour until soft. Remove and allow to cool. Squash out the cloves onto a plate then mash with a fork. Set aside.
2 - In a large pan, heat up the butter with 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the onions and cook gently for 30-45 minutes, stirring regularly to help tease out the sugars and make it all golden and caramelised. You can add a teaspoon of sugar to help it along if time is against you.
3 - When caramelised, add the thyme and stir through. Stir in the flour and stir for 2 minutes.
4 - Add the hot beef stock and stir thoroughly. Stir in the mashed roasted garlic. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning then serve.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Sussex Pond Pudding

Puddings, Great British puddings, are a thing close to my heart. You may or may not have read my past ramblings on our puds, but it is something I can't speak about without excitement. I want to shout each and every pud that we have created from the rooftops and demand that that they return to our menus; jam roly poly, treacle puds and spotted dick to name a few.

British puddings are rarely elegant. No thin crispy wafer like pastry, no towers, and no quenelles. Our puds are tummy fillings monsters that banish any lingering hunger within a few mouthfuls. Usually smothered in delicious creamy custard (hopefully home made; quicker and far more delicious that waiting for a kettle to boil before pouring onto powder), it takes a brave man to face a bowlful immediately after a full Sunday roast.

This is the Sussex Pond Pudding. Not only does this pudding have a brilliant name, it is also delicious and a great conversation point when served at the table. Cut into a Sussex Pond Pudding, and you are met by a whole lemon. This lemon has been steamed in a rich suet crust for hours on end along with some butter and sugar to create a heavenly zest packed sauce, or 'pond'.

Any foreign friends who are reading this who harbour a suspicion of our tummy busting puds, I beg you to give this one a go. It will hopefully indicate that we Brits hide subtle beauty behind a wall of suet pastry. And also that we make the best puddings in the whole wide world...

Sussex Pond Pudding
Serves 4

200g self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
100g shredded suet, normal or vegetarian
Water
150g cold butter, cut into small cubes
150g demerara sugar
1 large lemon, pricked all over with a sharp knife

1 - Butter a medium pudding basin. Place a steamer onto boil then lower to a simmer ready to place the pudding in.
2 - In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, suet and salt, then pour in enough water to form a firm dough when mixed.
3 - Roll out onto a floured surface and roll into a disc just larger than the bowl. Cut out one quarter of the pastry to use as a lid. Line the pudding basin with the dough, wet the seam where it was cut and press to seal. Trim off the top just above the rim of the bowl.
4 - Take the cut off dough and roll until slightly bigger than the bowl. Cut into a rough circle.
5 - Place half of the butter and sugar into the bottom of the dough, place the lemon on top then put the remaining sugar and butter onto the lemon.
6 - Place on the pastry lid, wet the edges then press down the edges of the pastry until well sealed.
7 - Take a large piece of foil and fold in half. Butter one side then form a pleat in the middle by folding over slightly twice. Place this over the bowl then tie securely with a piece of string.
8 - Place into the steamer and steam for 3 and a half hours.
9 - When cooked, turn up onto a plate and serve with custard or cream.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Squid, Ham and Samphire Salad

My lovely Geordie expat friends Iain and Gayle at Orce Serrano Hams recently sent me some of their amazing 16 month aged serrano ham. It is seriously good, everything you would expect from a quality meat that has been lovingly cured by these special people. I might be biased being a fellow Geordie but I beg you to get some ordered. You will not regret it.

Trying to do it justice in a recipe is another matter. Of course, the best way to eat such an amazing meat is to simply slice it off in generous slivers and consume with good bread, oil, olives and a gutsy Spanish red. But I couldn't resist the challenge of pairing it with something.

Thanks to the recent bout of hot weather, squid are being caught in their droves off our North East coast at the moment. And salty samphire, one of my highlights of the summer, is also in abundance.

A simple salt and pepper squid, crispy and hot, tossed with crunchy samphire, salty creamy ham and some sweet roasted peppers made for an excellent plate - a kind of surf and turf but more delicate - and I think it just did that sensational ham some justice. I'll leave that to the owners and your good selves to assess...

Squid, Ham and Samphire Salad

Feeds 2

1 red pepper or a jar of quality roasted peppers
1 medium squid, prepared and sliced into 1cm slices
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper
Sunflower oil
2 good handfuls of samphire
8 slices of Serrano ham

For the dressing
A handful of basil leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - To prepare the pepper, place directly onto your hob flames and using a pair of tongs, turn until it is black everywhere. Place into a plastic food bag, seal and leave to cool. When cool, remove the skin and seeds then slice into thin slices.
2 - Put the samphire into a bowl and pour over some boiling hot water. Leave for 1 minute, drain and cool under cold water. Drain and set aside.
3 - Fill a medium saucepan halfway with oil. Heat up. To test when it is ready, drop a piece of bread in. If it turns golden brown within 1 minute it is ready.
4 - Toss the squid in the flours, salt and pepper. Carefully lower into the oil and cook for no more than 1 minute when it will turn slightly golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
5 - Make a dressing by bashing up the basil in a pestle and mortar, stirring in the lemon juice and oil and seasoning.
6 - To plate up, arrange the samphire, roast peppers and squid on a plate then drizzle over a little of the basil oil.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Rhubarb and Orange Cake

The rhubarb season is nearing it's end now and this year we have had more than our fair share from the allotment crop.

As our allotment had invented a new word for neglect before we got our hands on it, we thought that the existing plant would benefit from a few days in the dark to force new shoots. We ended up creating a monster, a rather delicious one at that.

Stems have been given away to eager family members week after week and still we have a drawer full in the freezer for the coming months. Stewed rhubarb for our morning cereal is always there and crumbles are a certainty each Sunday. It has been a happy year for our rhubarb.

This cake partners the sharp rhubarb with orange, an excellent pairing of flavours. Topped onto an almond and polenta based sponge, it is excellent served warm as a dessert with double cream or room temperature with a strong cup of tea. Either way, you are in for a treat.


Rhubarb and Orange Cake

200g butter
150g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs
100g ground almonds
100g polenta
100g self raising flour
200g rhubarb puree, made by cutting the stems up, washing, putting into a pan with 75g sugar and simmering until soft.
Zest and juice or 1 orange

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4.
2 - In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla essence and then stir in the eggs one by one.
3 - Fold in the almonds and polenta. Sieve in the flour and fold in along with the orange zest and juice and 2 tbsp of the rhubarb puree until you have a soft batter.
4 - Pour into a lined cake tin with a removable base. Top with the remaining rhubarb puree. Bake on the centre shelf for 50-60 minutes until golden brown. If it starts to catch too soon, cover loosely with baking paper.
5 - Rest and allow to cool.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Lettuce and Mint Soup

It's been a 'trial and error' year of growing so far in 2010. The allotment that masqueraded as a council tip is now up and running and bearing some resemblance to an allotment. It may not win any awards, but there are things growing out of the ground that we can actually eat as opposed to want to throw in a skip.

One of the first things I planted as seedlings were a whole host of lettuce, and by far and the most prolific to be coming to maturity are the majestic Cos or Romaine lettuce. We have been eating the long slightly bitter leaves for a couple of weeks now in an effort to keep it under control, which is no bad thing.

If you have never tried lettuce in soup form I urge you to give it a go. A whole Cos went into a simmering pot of stock with potatoes, onion and garlic and a handful of new mint to produce a smooth summer soup bursting with freshness and subtle flavours. And it took all of 20 minutes from chop to slurp.

Lettuce and Mint Soup
Feeds 4

1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
6 small new potatoes, peeled and chopped in half
500ml vegetable stock
1 Cos lettuce, roughly chopped
1 handful of mint, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Cook until softened.
2 - Add the potatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until the potatoes are soft.
3 - Add the lettuce and mint and stir through for 1 minute.
4 - Blend until smooth and taste for seasoning.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Wild Garlic Bhajis

It's that time of they year when the bizarre smell of garlic hits your nostrils when walking through woodland. Each year I completely forget that my favourite free food is available in large quantities in British woodland. And it is only when I'm walking, such as yesterday, and somebody like my daughter says, 'Can you smell garlic dad?', that I remember what I really should be doing.

With large fistfuls of stalks, leaves and flowers in hand, it was straight to the kitchen for some garlic related cooking. Wild garlic, or ramson, is much milder that the commercial bulb that we are used to, therefore it is perfect for giving your food a hit of flavour. A simple soup with potato is perfect for this delicate herb. Or bash it up with a little lemon and olive oil and it becomes a superb rub for a roast chicken, something which is currently filling my house with stomach rumbling aroma.

It is also a great addition to some spiced batter, which can be dropped into hot oil for some simple homemade bhajis. We impatiently stood around the pan whilst the smell of garlic and Indian spice smacked our nostrils, and then greedily devoured each one with some mango chutney. Hot, crispy, garlic and spice cakes; amazing.

So please do remember to responsibly pick a few handfuls if you see or smell some next time you are walking. It is free and delicious, just like some of the best things in life.

Wild Garlic Bhajis

Makes Lots

200g rice or chickpea flour (plain flour will be fine)
2 tbsp garam masala
Half tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
Salt and pepper
Soda water (plain water will do)
2 large handfuls of wild garlic, washed
Vegetable or sunflower oil

1 - Place the flour, spices and seasoning in a mixing bowl. Pour in the water and whisk until you have a batter that is reasonably thick but still wet enough to mix in the wild garlic.
2 - Roughly chop the wild garlic then stir into the batter.
3 - Heat a good few inches of oil for deep-frying in a pan. Drop in a piece of bread and if it turns golden brown within a minute, it is ready.
4 - Carefully place tablespoons of the mixture into the pan and fry for 5 minutes or until the mixture has turned golden brown. Cook in batches and drain on kitchen towel.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Chorizo and Cabbage Soup

I recently took a call from a food business that wanted to know if I would take a few samples to cook with. It took all of a millisecond to make that decision.

Orce Serrano Hams are a very special cured meat business based in Orce, Andalucia. But rather than them being Spanish born and bred, the owners behind Orce Serrano Hams are thoroughbred Geordies, just like yours truly. Iain and Gayle did what we all dream of but dare not to do several years back when they packed up from the frozen north and left for foreign shores to follow a little dream.

They are now producing their own amazing Spanish hams such as the famous Serrano, as well as salchichon, pancetta, morcilla, and a full range of chorizo sausages of varying heat. Oh, and they run a nice little Blog full of authentic Spanish recipes. Their food is incredible and as a huge fan of chorizo, their own version is streets ahead of anything that I have tasted. The Orce Fire Chorizo is packed with intense paprika and cayenne heat. Rather that slice it and eat it as a tapas with a cold beer, I thought I would use it in a rustic soup, packed full of garlic, smoked paprika and crunchy cabbage and of course, chorizo sausage.

I want to congratulate Iain and Gayle for doing something that I'm sure most of us only wish we could do. They have taken risks to follow a passion and a dream and by the looks of the reviews I have seen, it is going places. Thanks for the samples and I hope that my soup does their special food justice.

Orce Chorizo and Cabbage Soup

Feeds 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 sticks of celery, sliced
4 small chorizo sausages or 1 large (I used hot, any will do), sliced
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 litre chicken or ham stock
1 cabbage, halved, cored and sliced thin
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the onion. Cook until softened then add the garlic, potatoes, carrots, celery and half of the chorizo. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring.
2 - Stir in the paprika, tomato pureee and red wine vinegar and cook for 1 minute, then pour over the stock. Bring to the boil then simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
3 - Stir in the cabbage then simmer for 10 minutes so that the cabbage still retains some bite. Taste for seasoning.
4 - To finish, fry off the remaining chorizo in a little olive oil until golden and drain. Serve the soup in bowls topped with the crisp chorizo and some crusty bread.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Asian Cabbage and Fish Noodles

Happy belated 2010 readers.

2010 brought a milestone to yours truly's door on 1st January when the grand old age of 40 was reached. And looking at my tired, overindulged face and frame on that morning I certainly knew the day had arrived. Time to put things straight at the risk of another broken resolution, or just carry on as normal?

The new year is always a time of false starts and bruised beginnings and I for one am guilty of many a resolution that has failed to stand the test of time. And this year I've decided to skip it completely and carry on as normal. Why? Because I'm happy. Simple as.

One 'change' I will be making on the food front though is to consume more food from South East Asia. It is quickly becoming my favourite world cuisine by far, even surpassing my love of British puds and meaty casseroles. I adore the simplicity of the food that covers this vast continent that amazingly packs in so much flavour. Always hot, sometimes sour, usually salty with a little bit of sweet. It shakes you up from taste buds to toes and makes you feel happy to be alive. 40 or not 40.

This is one of those recipes that can be tweaked according to what vegetables that you have in your fridge along with any leftover meat for a weekend supper to please all. As in this recipe, crunchy cabbage and a piece of fish keep it light, fresh and wholesome. Add the heat of the chilli after serving to your little ones and it becomes family friendly.

Asian Cabbage and Fish Noodles

Feeds 4

1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
1 tbsp onion seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
1 thumb size of ginger, grated
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced finely
Half a large cabbage, sliced thinly
100ml water
2 fillets of salmon, sliced thin
A portion of cooked noodles
1 tbsp fish sauce (optional)
Milk of one coconut or 100ml coconut milk
Half a coconut, finely grated
Juice of 1 lime
A handful of fresh coriander

1 - Heat the oil in a wok and add the cumin and onion seeds. Cook for 1 minute until they crackle then add the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli. Stir fry for 2 minutes until softened.
2 - Add the cabbage and water, stir thoroughly, bring to the boil and place a lid onto the wok. Steam for 5 minutes until the cabbage has slightly softened.
3 - Remove the lid and stir in the salmon. Cook for 2 minutes then stir in the noodles, fish sauce, coconut milk, fresh coconut, lime juice and coriander. Heat through. Taste for seasoning - you want a nice blend of heat, salt and sourness from the lime.
4 - Serve in bowls with more fresh coconut, coriander and lime wedges.