Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Perfect Dumpling

What is a dumpling? In simple terms, it is an essential addition to any stew, casserole or soup, especially in the winter. It's a fluffy, stodgy thing of beauty floating on top of whatever food you have knocked up and for me, it makes me feel happy with the world and more importantly, 'full as a gun'!

Once people - and that includes my own kids - understand what it is that's invading their soup or stew, it's all down to the eating and once you've sunk your spoon or knife into one, things make lots of sense.

Dumplings of course are nothing new and the Asians have been mastering silky smooth dumplings for a lot longer than we have. Whereas the Asian dumpling is a thing of beauty, a smooth and perfectly formed mouthful, the northern dumpling is it's big cousin. And I prefer that version. Experiment with the basic recipe by adding a good grating of strong cheddar cheese, mustard powder and herbs such as fresh thyme.

They aren't difficult to make but when I posted this photo on Instagram recently, some people commented on how they have tried and failed to make the perfect dumpling. So here you go, the failsafe formula that I've been using for years.

Dumplings (for stews, casseroles or soups)
Makes about 6 large dumplings

300g self-raising flour
150g butter, margarine or suet
Salt and pepper
Water

1 - In a large bowl, tip in the flour and a grating of salt and pepper.
2 - Add the butter, margarine or suet. If the latter, just mix in with a spoon but if it's the former, mix together with your fingertips to form large breadcrumbs.
3 - Add 2-3 tablespoons of water and mix together. Keep adding tablespoons of water until it just comes together to form a dough, not too sticky, not too dry.
4 - Half an hour before your stew or soup is ready, add large tablespoons of the dough. If you are cooking on the hob, put on the lid and cook for 25-30 minutes. If in the oven, you have the option of keeping the lid off to form crispy dumplings. Perfect.

Monday, 16 January 2017

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


This soup entails sticking everything onto a baking tray, roasting it for half an hour in a hot oven, tipping it into a blender with a little stock or water then puréeing it into a soup. Can anybody tell me that this is difficult? If you think so, please give it a go.

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

Feeds 4

1 small to medium pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into large chunks with seeds removed and kept aside
1 whole onion, peeled
1 bulb of garlic, broken and cloves left whole
1 tsp ground cumin and/or caraway seeds
1 tin of chick peas
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
750ml vegetable stock

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

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Northumbrian Leek Pudding


Here is my version of a true classic, which has a leek's mild onion flavour lifted somewhat with the addition of cheese, mustard and cream. I bake mine rather than steam them. Nothing wrong with steaming; it will give you a spongier and more melting sensation, but I prefer the crustiness that baking brings out. Also, 2 hours steaming or 30 minutes baking? Let your stomach answer that one for you. Serve it with a beef and ale stew, Newcastle Brown Ale of course. The food of champions. Champion man!




Northumbrian leek pudding
To serve two

100g self raising flour
50g shredded suet (beef or vegetable)
one large or two small leeks
50g butter
100ml double cream
50g strong cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat oven to 180C, GM4 and butter two individual ovenproof pudding moulds.
2 - Mix the flour and suet with a pinch of salt and pepper. Combine with enough water to make a stiff paste.
3 - Slice the leeks length ways, wash thoroughly and finely shred.
4 - Soften the leeks in butter until just coloured. Stir in the cream, grated cheese and mustard powder and combine, ensuring a sloppy mixture.
5 - Roll out the pastry to approximately 1cm thick and divide into two. Line the pudding moulds and trim the excess pastry. Roll back out again and cut out two `lids' for the puddings.
6 - Pile the leek mixture into the puddings until ¾ full and top with the pastry discs. Dab the edges with water and seal. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Chicken, Apricot and Spinach Curry

Chicken, Apricot and Spinach Curry
Feeds 4

Ingredients
Seeds of 2 cardamon pods
5 whole peppercorns
5 cloves
3 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 thumb of fresh ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander, chilli powder and garam masala
400g chopped tomatoes
4 chicken breasts, sliced
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 handfuls of soft, dried apricots
100ml water
1 large bag of spinach
Fresh coriander
Salt and pepper

1 - In a frying pan, toast the seeds of 2 cardamom pods, 5 peppercorns and 5 cloves. Remove then crush with a pestle and mortar.
2 - Heat up the oil and fry the spices for 30 seconds. Add the chopped onion and cook until golden, then add a thumb of grated fresh ginger and 3 crushed garlic cloves.
3 - Stir in one tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander, chilli powder and garam masala. Cook for a minute then add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Bring to the simmer.
4 - Add 4 sliced chicken breasts. Stir in 2 tbsp brown sugar, 4 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar and a couple of handfuls of chopped soft dried apricots. Pour in 100ml water. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 30 minutes with a lid half on.
5 - Whilst the curry is cooking, put a large bag of spinach into a colander and pour over a kettle of boiling water to wilt the spinach. Allow to cool then squeeze out the water and roughly chop. Put aside.
6 - Taste the curry for seasoning, stir in the spinach and serve with boiled rice and fresh coriander.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Salmon and Crab Chowder

The weather has taken a distinct turn for the worse this past week and after having images of a scorching hot end to May, I'm resigned to the fact that it's typical British weather again.

Far from being the pessimist I actually prefer it when it is a little cooler anyway. Exercise and sleep become easier and I can put my legs away for another year, which is always a plus for family and friends.

Food becomes more sustainable too and I love a good homemade soup or broth. A chowder is more of a complete meal than a soup, a kind children's food for adults if that makes any sense, what with chunks of half processed solids floating in a liquid.

They can take on many forms, using a multitude of vegetables but generally always containing sweetcorn. Smoked fish works particularly well with a chowder, as does shellfish such as clams, mussels and crab.

So if it is feeling a tad nippier where you are in the world, warm yourself with good chowder. It is simple to make, perfect for the whole family and makes you feel a little bit better if you are British and you suspect that sun catching is over for another year...

Salmon and Crab Chowder

Feeds 4

3 rashers of smoked bacon, sliced (optional)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large potatoes or the equivalent in new potatoes, cut into 2 cm chunks (skin on or off)
1 medium tin of sweetcorn or the fresh kernels of 2 cobs
500ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
100ml crème fraiche or double cream
2 pieces of fresh salmon, skinned and cut into chunks
The brown and white meat of 1 crab
A handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat the oil in a large pan and add the bacon if using, the onion and celery. Cook for 10 minutes until softened and beginning to colour. Stir in the garlic.
2 - Add the potatoes, sweetcorn, bay and stock. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
3 - Take a handheld blender and blend for a short while until you have broken up some of the potatoes to thicken it, or remove half to a blender and do the same before adding back to the pan.
4 - Stir through the salmon and crabmeat and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the cream or crème fraiche and taste for seasoning. Serve with fresh parsley and some good crusty bread.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Tandoori Turkey Sticks with Mint Raita


Tandoori Turkey Sticks with Mint Raita

1 tsp each of ground cumin, ground turmeric, ground coriander and chilli powder
4 ground cardamom pods
Salt and pepper
200ml natural yoghurt
Juice of half a lemon
500g turkey breast cut into chunks
4 wooden skewers, soaked in water for a couple of hours, or metal skewers


For the Raita:
3 tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
Half a cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
200ml natural yoghurt
Salt and pepper

1 – Put the yoghurt into a bowl and stir in the spices along with a little seasoning and the lemon juice.
2 – Thread the turkey onto the skewers. Put the turkey skewers into a shallow dish and pour over the marinade, ensuring that it is covered. Leave to marinade for 2-3 hours or overnight in the fridge.
3 – To make the raita, mix everything together in a bowl with a little seasoning.
4 – BBQ the turkey skewers for 10 minutes, turning regularly, until golden and charred in places.
5 – Serve with chapattis or naan breads, plain or lemon rice and the raita.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Peanut and Beef Curry

The use of nuts in stews, casseroles and curries may seem unusual to some. However in West Africa, curries made using the peanut are common staple food.

I've used the likes of ground almonds in an Indian curry to thicken it but I was a little sceptical about using peanuts. But the result was nothing short of fabulous.

It is so easy to make. Whiz the main ingredients up in a blender to make a paste, fry it is a little oil with a few spices, add tomatoes, water and your choice of meat or vegetable then let it cook out. Thick, sweet, hot and the unmistakable hit of roasted peanut. The use of peanut butter is of course completely unauthentic and optional, but a tablespoon of the stuff seems to make everything more smooth and creamy.

You can serve this with just plain old rice but why not do as the Africans do? Boil your rice then form balls the size of golf balls using spoons or asbestos hands. You can do the same with left over rice too. Make them whilst they are cold then steam for 5 minutes until piping hot right through.

Peanut and Beef Curry

Feeds 4

1 onion, peeled
2 piece of thumbsize ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 red pepper, deseeded
1 red chilli, seeded or deseeded depending on how hot you like it
2 tbsp peanut or sunflower oil
3 large handfuls of peanuts
1 tbsp coriander seeds
3 cloves
1 Cinnamon stick
A little nutmeg
750g braising beef, chopped into large chunks
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
300ml water
1 tbsp peanut butter (optional)
Salt and pepper


1 - Put the onion, ginger, garlic, pepper and chilli into a blender and blitz to a puree. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM3.
2 - In a large dry frying pan, add the peanuts, coriander seeds and cloves and put onto the hob. Cook through for 5 minutes until fragrant, watching carefully that they are not burning. Bash to a rough powder in a pestle and mortar or use a plastic bag and rolling pin.
3 - Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the paste and cook for 10 minutes, stirring all of the time until slightly coloured. Stir in the spices including the cinnamon stick and cook for a further 2 minutes.
4 - Add the beef and heat through for 2 minutes until covered in the spice mixture thoroughly.
5 - Add the tomato puree, tomatoes and water. Grate in a little nutmeg. Bring to the boil then transfer to a casserole dish. Place in the oven for 2 hours, checking on the hour that it isn't cooking dry.
6 - Once cooked, remove the cinnamon stick, stir through the optional peanut butter and taste for seasoning. Serve with rice balls and warm flatbreads.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Crab and Aubergine Spaghetti


Crab and Aubergine Spaghetti
Feeds 4

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 aubergine, cut into roughly 1 cm dice
2 tbsp olive oil
4 anchovies, roughly chopped
A handful of black olives, stoned and roughly chopped
A handful of capers, rinsed
A handful of sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
A pinch of chilli flakes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 400ml tin of chopped tomatoes
White and brown meat of 1 crab
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
A couple of handfuls of sea spinach or baby spinach

1 - Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion, garlic and aubergine. Cook and stir for 5-10 minutes until they are softened and beginning to colour.
2 - Stir in the anchovies and cook until dissolved. Then add the olives, capers, sun dried tomatoes, tomato puree and tinned tomatoes. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until slightly reduced.
3 - Stir in the crab meat and lemon juice and heat through for 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve stirred into spaghetti with spinach scattered on top.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Wet Pear, Almond and Polenta Cake

Think of a British cake and images of afternoon tea and sponge come to mind. Just a basic Victoria with a thin layer of raspberry jam and a dusting of icing sugar is the perfect accompaniment to a good old cuppa.

There aren't any cakes I can think of that I dislike and although I will always hold a special place for our own concoctions of nothing more than eggs, sugar, butter and flour, I've grown to love some of our European cakes a little more. The more wet the better; think of Greek honey cake or a Turkish Baklava. Those things are moist and heavy and entail plenty of finger licking afterwards.

At a decent Italian restaurant some years back I had a delicious lemon and polenta cake. Crispy outer layer thanks to the polenta leading to a lemon syrup sponge, it was a memorable end to the meal. So memorable that I've tried to make that very cake several times with varying degrees of success.

Using the same techniques, which entails stewing fruit into a purée or boiling lemons or oranges whole before puréeing, I've tried all kinds of fruit. You will always be guaranteed a moist cake flavoured heavily with your choice of fruit. This one uses pears, one of my favourite fruit. Go for pears that are almost on the edge of going off and you will have an incredibly fragrant yet subtle tasting cake.

Wet Pear, Almond and Polenta Cake

200g butter
150g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs
100g ground almonds
100g polenta
100g self raising flour
200g pear puree, made from 4-5 pears, peeled and chopped and softened in a little water

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. Finally, fold in the pear purée.
4 - Pour into a lined cake tin with a removable base. 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.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

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.