Sunday, 30 December 2007

Birds Only

As I opened the fridge this morning to scan the damage Christmas had done, one thing remained from that day that I was keeping aside. A bowl of turkey fat, salvaged from the roasting juices, was perched awaiting my my usual 'treat' of turkey fat on toast. Or perhaps a few more roast potatoes for today's lunch. Goose fat appears to be the in thing at the moment, but turkey fat is just as good for sublime crunchy potatoes.

This time last year I had a scare at the doctors when he told me that I had overindulged somewhat. Not only was my weight on the heavy side, but my cholesterol was souring to dangerous levels. I had a fright and decided, through necessity, to calm everything down. The running and cycling returned and my consumption of chocolate and saturated fats became a rare treat rather than a daily one. 1 year on, the results are positive and things are looking good.

That isn't to say that I haven't had a great Christmas. I've ate and drank like a King. But instead of eating and drinking like a King every day, I'm doing it every 3 days. So looking at the turkey fat, I decided that the dripping on toast would be given a miss this year.

Instead, Cerys and I gathered up a few pine cones on a frosty walk, tied a piece of string onto them, smothered them in turkey fat then dipped them in bird seed. And now they are hanging on our little tree whilst the brave robins and blue tits dive bomb for a tasty treat with the cats stalking around beneath. So this is my first post not for human consumption.

Tomorrow evening I'll be eating and drinking like a King again. Not only is it New years Eve, but my 38th birthday follows on New Years Day. Thankfully, this year's celebrations will be conscience free as I have been dog-headed in my approach to getting my health back. And the birds will be thanking me for their seeded turkey fat treats. Happy New Year everybody! x

Turkey Fat Seed Balls
Feeds several wild birds

Pine cones
Turkey fat or lard
Bird seeds

1 - Tie a piece of string onto the cones.
2 - Rub the cones into the fat until covered.
3 - Dip into the bird seeds and press into the fat.
4 - Hang on the tree in a cat safe position.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Relish the Leftovers

After a well earned break I've realised that it has been over a week since I tapped at my keyboard. The turkey is almost finished, and with an 18 pound monster trying to feed only 7 people (I had illness in the family and a few dropped out), that is some feat. The last of the carcass is going into a spiced parsnip and turkey soup at lunchtime and then we can kiss goodbye to the gobbling one for another year.

Of course, this is the time of the year when leftover suppers become the norm. Getting creative with a cold turkey carcass and a few leftover roast spuds and sprouts can be testing, especially when you have had the bird for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Personally, I love leftovers. I can make a veritable feast with the most unimaginative of ingredients. Maybe it is just me enjoying whatever I knock up, but I can stretch it out and run that overloaded fridge down in no time. Soups, stews, casseroles, sandwiches, omelettes or just a plate of cold leftovers with cheese, bread and pickles. And that one is probably my favourite.

This pickle, or relish, is one I turn to every year. We all reach for the cranberry sauce or jelly on Christmas Day, but I find them a little too sweet on a savoury plate for my palate. And once you have had a spoonful on your plate, it tends to sit in the fridge, slowly making its way to the back until discovered the following Christmas. I prefer something sharper, which means it can be used over the Christmas fallout with cheese and cold meats or even stirred into a soup. So make the most of the bags of half price cranberries you will find for sale right now and make my versatile little number. Packed with spice and fruit, it improves with age and makes that leftover plate a little more classier.

Cranberry and Chilli Relish
Makes 1 large jar

2 onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 tbps olive oil
50g demerara sugar
250g cranberries, washed
Zest and juice of 2 satsumas
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
150ml cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat up the oil in a large pan then add the onions and garlic. Soften for 5 minutes, then add the sugar. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until golden
2 - Tip in the spices, then stir in the cranberries, zest and juice and finally the vinegar. Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer with the lid half on for 30-40 minutes until everything is well reduced and the cranberries have completely burst and released their juices. You are looking for a thick, jammy texture.
3 - Remove the cinnamon stick. Grind in a little salt and pepper. Pour into a sterilised jar. This will keep in the fridge for up to 3 months, if it lasts that long.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

I'm Gonna Make You A Star

Only 5 days to go until Christmas and I don't know who is more excited - me, my wife or the 3 year old. For the first time since Cerys was born, I can finally indulge in all the things I fell for when I was her age.

Santa does exist of course, so it has all kinds of leverage when it comes to getting somebody to behave. And on Christmas Eve, I will be besides myself with excitement at the thought of putting out a carrot for Rudolph and a nip of whisky and a slab of cake for Santa. The icing sugar footprints may even be present. But ONLY if Cerys has been good.

Decorating the tree suddenly becomes a different art form now. It currently has amongst the usual tinsel and baubles a few crudely decorated paper chain Christmas trees and snowmen, a large cotton wool monstrosity which is supposed to be a snowman, and a letter to Santa. And last night we stuffed it to the max with some Christmas stars, our very own cinnamon biscuits which we have wrapped in tin foil. We sampled quite a few of them just in case. And Cerys can't wait to hand these out to stuffed and sleepy in-laws after dinner next Tuesday. But ONLY if they have been good....

Christmas Cinnamon Stars
Makes loads

125g/4oz plain flour
55g/2oz rolled oats
125g/4oz butter
55g/2oz muscovado sugar
A pinch of baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, GM4.
2 - In a large bowl, rub all of the ingredients together and mix until they form a ball of soft dough. If it is too sloppy, add more flour. If it is too dry, add more butter.
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 then cover in foil. Thread the biscuits with a needle and thread, form loops and decorate your tree.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Peas? With Pudding?

I have mentioned this before, but in my travels over the years, there are two things that people have pronounced to me in terrible efforts for Geordie accents; stotty cake and pease pudding. Despite the fact that not a lot of people outside of the North East know what they actually are or how they are made, they are still known but usually in mythical terms. It was always generally followed with, 'What are they Dave, do they really exist?'.

My earlier post on the stotty cake hopefully explained this wonderful Geordie bread to anybody who wasn't sure what it was. Now it is the time of the pease pudding, as no stotty cake is complete without a slab of pease pudding and ham beneath its fluffy interior.

Pease pudding is literally split peas cooked down so that they form a paste or 'pudding' of some form, which can then be cut into slices and spread onto bread or simply put on a plate alongside cold meats and pickles. We love the stuff, and a sandwich made with ham and pease pudding with lots of English mustard has to be one of life's great pleasures. I'm easily pleased of course.

I have my own method of cooking pease pudding, and I know that some people will 'tut tut' it. There are so many variations, but I use the one that works for me. The easiest way is probably to just hang a muslin cloth full of yellow split peas into the water whilst boiling a ham. But I like large volumes and prefer to simmer the peas in with a ham hock, much like making a pea soup. The ham flavours and seasons the peas beautifully and then the hock can be picked into large gelatinous slabs to serve in a sandwich with the pudding. Is your mouth watering yet?

As a youngster, there was always a tin of the stuff at the back of my mam's fridge that never seemed to get opened. It may still be there. I think it was there as emergency supply in case there was a pease pudding drought, as it always seemed to be on the young Hall household menu. I never got sick of it.

It may not look the prettiest of things, and it may take folk unaccustomed with pease pudding a while to get used to the texture. Cold and smooth, it certainly surprises when bitten into for the first time. But like many of the cheapest and best little treats the U.K. has to offer, persevere and you will benefit. It is marvellous stuff. And we will be having a large slab on the plate this Boxing Day alongside the pickles, cheese and good bread to assist the mountain of cold leftover turkey. And I'm shaking with excitement at the thought.

Pease Pudding
Makes lots, it can be frozen in batches

1 ham hock
500g dried yellow split peas, or a mixture of green and yellow like I have done, soaked for 8 hours then washed and drained
1 whole onion, peeled
1 bulb of garlic with the top cut so that it is slightly exposed
Ground white pepper

1 - In a large pan add the ham hock, peas, onion and garlic. Pour in water until the hock is just slightly covered.
2 - Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 2 and a half to 3 hours, skimming off any scum that forms on the top and stirring from time to time to ensure it is not sticking.
3 - Remove the ham hock and allow to cool. Remove the onion and garlic from the peas and then pour into an airtight container. Stir in a little ground white pepper to spice it. Allow to cool.
4 - When cool, the peas should form into a slab which can then be portioned off for the freezer, or simply shared out to hungry people along with lots of bread, ham and mustard.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Cerys the Well Done Angel Awards

As you all know, Christmas does tend to be a time of reflection. And I've been doing a lot of that lately. It has been an amazing year in more ways that one. But I don't need to bore you with the details.

One of the most important decisions I made personally was to start a Blog on my 37th birthday, 1st January 2007. What Blogging has done for me has drawn out the writer within, something that I used to talk a lot about but never get around to doing. Since tapping away on New year's Day, I have somehow managed to write over 150 articles and recipes, and I'm proud as punch of each and every one of them. It has spurred me on to follow a little dream of becoming a writer and I'm finally achieving that. Next year, the book beckons. As Human League once sang, these are things that dreams are made of.

More importantly have been the various characters I have met in food blogger cyberspace. Amazing, intelligent and informative people from London via Barbados and over to Australia. It has made the world a smaller place. Without you all, it would have been a lonely place of tapping into the void. I would like to think that we all support each other without even meeting each other, which has to be an amazing thing. I'm an emotional softy, but I do think it is important to recognise each other and celebrate and champion fellow passionate bloggers. The people I speak to on a daily basis are all smashing folk and I'm a happy lad to know you all in some way.

So for that reason, I've decided to mention a few of you and bestow upon you a smacker from Cerys the Well Done Angel for coming up with some superb recipes. I could have written a huge list of all the recipes I have loved reading about and actually trying out but it would have been the longest and dullest post in history. So in no particular order, here are the recipes I have singled out as the ones that have had me drooling the most, inspiring me somewhat and generally making me happy to know that there are people out there who are as genuinely passionate about food as I am.

This world of food and blogging can sometimes get a bit mesmerising; there are so many to look at and so many opinions. So I would like to think this is like a mini food Oscars but held in my home with me and Cerys the Well Done Angel who has been my chief taste tester all year. So Merry Christmas to you all, have a sloppy kiss from me and Cerys if you so desire (feel free to copy and post the angel on your Blog!), and to the people I have not mentioned, heres to a fantastic 2008 of food blogging! xxx

Baking For Britain
Welsh Harvest Cake

Hannah's Country Kitchen
Wild Mushroom Roast Chicken

Coffee and Vanilla
Roasted Chicken in Smoked Paprika Gravy

Figs, Olives, Wine
Cardamon Plum Torta

Joanna's Food
Slow Roasted Pork with Plums

Under The High Chair
Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding with Rummy Raisins

A Wee Bit Of Cooking

Venison and Bramble Stew

The Boy Done Food
Squash and Chorizo Parcels

Asian Style Roast Beef

Tastes Like Home
Pepper Pot and Garlic Pork

Great Big Vegetable Challenge
Dandelion Tart

More Than Burnt Toast
Strawberries and Cream Cheese Tart

Little Foodies
Beef Stifado

Tinned Tomatoes
Spicy Orange Soup

Thursday, 13 December 2007

They're Hasty Hasty, very very Hasty

'Nay, but make haste; the better foot before', demanded King John to his knight, in an effort to rally themselves for one final push into France to decide who was the true king of England. And in the end, he dies. Poisoned in fact. Old Shakey knew how to write a thriller.

Of course, a little haste can have its benefits, especially when it comes to food. In this day of 100mph running around trying to make ourselves so busy, we often forget the art of cooking and reach for the convenience foods. And that has its repercussions as we all know. Personally, I just like to slow everything down and have a good old few hours knocking up a storm in the kitchen. There is nothing like it after a hard day's work. But it is always nice to have a few speedy recipes up your sleeve for those times when cooking seems like a chore.

Our great mate friend Freddie at the Great Big Vegetable Challenge is onto Q in his alphabet of the vegetable challenged, and his mum Charlotte simply cannot find a vegetable that starts with that letter. So in a flash of inspiration, she has challenged a few of us to come up with a 'Quick' vegetable dish. So quick, it has to take 10 minutes or less.

This recipe is one of those I always keep handy in my little head of culinary delights for when a vegetable accompaniment for anything is required and time is against me. As long as you have some peppers, garlic and a few store cupboard ingredients, you can have some delicious sticky sweet and sour peppers on your plate by the time it takes to look through the Yellow Pages to find a decent takeaway. So leave the old book where it is, spend a couple of minutes slicing and a further 8 cooking, and before you know it, you will have a beautiful thing on your plate. These are perfect with a piece of fish or chicken, but are an equal delight on a piece of toast for a quick veggie lunch. Make haste...

Sticky Sweet and Sour Peppers
Serves 2 on toast or as an accompaniment

2 peppers, I use red and yellow, sliced into thin slivers
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbsp muscovado sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
A pinch of chilli flakes
Salt and pepper

1 - In a non-stick frying pan, preferably with a lid, heat up the oil until very hot. Lower in the pepper slices and cook for 5 minutes with the lid on, removing now and again to give it a good stir. You are looking to get them broken down and caramelised as soon as possible. Don't worry if any begin to look slightly charred, this will just benefit the flavour.
2 - Once caramelised, remove the lid and quickly stir in the garlic.
3 - Stir in the sugar, vinegar, chilli and a good grinding of black pepper and cook for 1-2 minutes until it starts to look nice and sticky and reduced. Taste for seasoning, it may need a pinch of salt. And that is it.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Eagle Has Landed

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of finally visiting The Eagle in Farringdon Road, London. The Eagle is famous for becoming one of the first 'gastro pubs', serving simple delicious Mediterranean influenced meals from its busy and furious open kitchen. It is also where the Clarkes of Moro fame worked, and being a huge fan of their work, it was a place I always wanted to visit. And it didn't disappoint.

I gather that The Eagle was the benchmark for a lot of imitation gastro pubs. It is certainly unpretentious, with basic tables and chairs scattered around its well worn wooden floor. What I love about it is the fact that you can see everything that is being cooked, with most of the bar used up as an open kitchen. And with huge blackboards with ever changing dishes written and rubbed off on a regular basis, the food was fresh and unfussy with the security of knowing that once it was gone, it was gone. I loved it, certainly my type of restaurant.

A plate of Tuscan sausages, thick and spicy, served on a bed of red cabbage and borlotti beans were hungrily wolfed back with a good bottle of red. Simple, delicious, nourishing, filling and ultimately satisfying. It was so good that once I had horse and carted it back to Geordieland, I made the very same dish for my wife and daughter. So here is my version of a fantastic simple plate of food from an institution that deserves all of the fuss. If only all other so called 'gastro pubs' could live up to the same level of brilliance as The Eagle.

Spicy Italian Sausages with Braised Red Cabbage and Borlotti Beans

Serves 4

For the red cabbage
1 red cabbage, washed, cored and sliced thin
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
3 tbsp muscovado sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 pinch of cloves
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

A dozen top quality spicy Italian sausages, or your sausage of choice
2 tins of borlotti beans
1 lemon
Olive oil
Fresh parsley
Salt and pepper

1 - To make the braised red cabbage, put all of the ingredients in a large casserole dish, season and mix well. Dot the top with a few pieces of butter, put the lid on and place in the oven for 2 and a half hours, stirring every now and again. Once cooked, this will keep well in an airtight container for a few days in the fridge or could be frozen.
2 - Cook the sausages either in a large frying pan or under the grill.
3 - Warm the beans in a pan and squeeze in the lemon juice, a glug of olive oil and a grinding of salt and pepper.
4 - To serve, place a pile of beans onto a plate, followed by some braised red cabbage and finally the sausages and a scattering of roughly chopped fresh parsley. Delicious.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Buffalo Stance

I've been keeping this recipe a secret for some time. The reason is that it is the first recipe that I wrote for Tastes Of Britain which had to be submitted over a month back. And at long last, I've pleased to say that it has finally been released. And I'm even more pleased to release a simple and delicious meal using a meat that is rarely used in this country - buffalo.

During the summer, I was presenting at The Children's Food Festival and went on a rare wander around the festival site. And there, munching away in an enclosed area, were two of the cutest baby water buffalo. I had never seen one in the flesh before. And after seeing them close up, I certainly couldn't see them in an edible form. They looked like fantastic beasts. But as our very own Hugh FW said on television last week, us carnivores have a heavy price to pay for our love of meat.

Tracking down buffalo meat is the difficult part. The nearest I could fine were in Derbyshire, a brilliant farmshop called Farmhouse Pantry. In the U.K., we don't eat it much and it is not a commercially available meat. Quite why I do not know as it is sensational to eat. Similar in taste and texture to good beef, it is much lower in fat and cholesterol but not lacking any flavour. And in times when there has never been more discussion on the subject of health, that has to be a positive thing. Especially as the buffalo that are available in the country comes from good stock and are looked after with care and attention. Seek some out and make your own mind up with my warm salad of buffalo fillet, pumpkin and cobnuts.

Buffalo Steak, Roast Pumpkin and Cobnut Salad
Serves 4

1 pumpkin (with seeds removed and kept aside), skinned and cut into chunks
3 tbsp olive or extra virgin rapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
50g cob nuts or whole hazelnuts
2 buffalo fillet steaks, approximately 2” thick
Several handfuls of spinach leaves, washed and trimmed
A handful of fresh parsley leaves
2 balls of buffalo mozzarella

For the dressing
3 tbsp olive or extra virgin rapeseed oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp English or Dijon mustard

1 – Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6, 200 °C.
2 – Put the pumpkin onto a baking tray, season with salt and pepper and combine with 2 tbsp olive oil. Roast on the top shelf for 30-40 minutes until starting to caramelise at the edges.
3 – Spread the cobnuts and pumpkin seeds out onto another baking tray, season with salt and pepper and combine with a tbsp of olive oil. Place onto the middle shelf and roast until golden. Watch carefully as the cobnuts will take no more than 10 minutes to roast.
4 – Season the buffalo fillets with salt and pepper. In a dry frying pan, sear the fillet on all sides until sealed. Place on the top shelf of the oven and cook for 5-6 minutes rare, 8-10 minutes medium or 12-15 minutes well done. Remove and rest for 5 minutes, then carve into thin slices.
5 – To dress the salad, place a few spinach and parsley leaves onto a plate, followed by a few chunks of pumpkin, a scattering of seeds and nuts, a few strips of buffalo meat and finally a few torn pieces of mozzarella. Repeat until the salad builds up, then drizzle on a little of the dressing.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

William, It Was Really Nothing

Type 'Sweet William' into Google and you get thousands of hits on flower websites. Type in 'Sweet William recipe' into Google and you get lots of edible flower recipes. This is the predicament I was in yesterday when I left my fishmongers with a couple of portions of Sweet William - the fish.

I bought the Sweet William as I thought I knew what it was. And you know what happened to 'thought'. For some reason, despite the fact that I had never eaten it or cooked with it, I assumed that I knew what to do with it. As it was bought already skinned and beheaded, all I could see were a couple of long thin fish carcass with meaty flesh waiting to be snaffled. Filleting it, things got weird. Instead of bones and a 'normal' spine, it had a thick membrane, much like a monkfish has. That was when I knew I had to Google as it wasn't what I had assumed.

Nothing was revealed except for some talk on the Australian Gummy Shark. As none of these have been floating up the Tyne in recent history, I had to delve a bit further with a call to my fishmonger. And that was when the Dog Fish was revealed. Sweet William is the affectionate name given to our not so lovely Dog Fish. Whether it has been so named in an attempt to get people to eat it I don't know. But my decision in the end was to make a simple batter and a 'cheat's' tartare sauce and eat them as goujons with some sautéed potatoes.

If you have never eaten Dog Fish before, you will be in for a nice surprise if you decide to try some. If you can get past the hideous features, a delectable meaty flesh is revealed. Sweet by name and by nature, the dog fish makes for a sensational quick fried supper, one that won't hit you too hard in the purse. It is so cheap and of course, like a lot of our sustainable local fish, completely neglected and under-used. So please give our humble Dog Fish a chance; a Dog Fish is for life, not just for Christmas....

Sweet William Goujons with 'Cheat's' Tartare Sauce

2 Sweet William fish (or Dog Fish), filleted and sliced into strips
Vegetable or sunflower oil, enough to fill a medium deep pan

For the batter
100g plain flour
Salt and pepper
A pinch of English mustard powder
1 bottle of cold beer

For the Tartare Sauce
Good shop bought mayonnaise
Fresh dill or parsley, chopped
A handful of capers, chopped
A squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat up the oil in a pan until hot enough for batter to instantly float to the surface when dropped in.
2 - To make the batter, pour the flour, seasoning and English mustard powder into a bowl and make a well. Begin to pour in the cold beer and with a whisk, beat thoroughly until you have a batter the consistency of double cream.
3 - For the 'cheat's' tartare sauce, mix all of the ingredients together, taste for seasoning and keep aside.
4 - In batches, dip the fish into the batter and carefully lower into the hot oil. They should curl up and float to the surface. Cook for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.
5 - Place onto kitchen towel to soak up any excess oil, then serve with the tartare sauce.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Its Stotting Down Here Man

An interesting discussion has taken place this week on the BBC food boards. I don't know if you visit these boards, but every now and again I pop over to see what people are talking about. Most of the time it is people asking for a bit of foody advice. Often it is people getting irate about some of our TV chefs. And sometimes it is people having a passionate chat about fantastic produce. And that is when I have my two penneth, because I can't resist a bit of banter about a good old British classic. And this week, it's a Geordie classic - stotty cake.

Where ever I have lived, two things are mentioned to me as quintessentially North East England things; one is pease pudding, and the other is stotty cake. I've a feeling that many a place can lay claim to pease pudding, but we Geordies invented the stotty cake, no argument. Stotty cake is simply a flat bread. Not flat in the sense of the fantastic Persian flatbreads, but flat as in flatter than the average loaf. There is nothing unusual in there, just flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water. Mine has a little lard or margarine in. And that is simply because it is the way my Nana used to make them.

Stotty cakes are apparently so called because the bakers who made them in the olden days used to 'stot' (Geordie term for 'throw') them off the floor to check that they had the right texture and to naturally get them into their distinctive flat and round shape. I sincerely hope that the bakers of today don't use that technique, but what a story. They were also made using dough off-cuts and cooked slowly in the bottom of the oven whilst the rest of the oven was used for 'normal' breads. Hence the reason they are often referred to as oven bottom cakes. Either way, they are delicious.

Mine use my tried and trusted '1' method. That is 1 of each quantity, and it always works. Heat your oven to the top temperature and after the first rising, push it into a disc shape, stick your finger in the middle to make the distinctive centre hole (no idea why, but it's a tradition man!) and stick it in the bottom of the oven. 15 minutes later, the house will smell divine and you will struggle to wait for the scalding hot bread to cool down before devouring it. We like to eat ours with good ham, pease pudding, lots of butter and English mustard. It is the ideal sandwich bread due to its shape and size.

The best thing about discussions around classic foods such as the stotty cake is that everybody has an opinion, and what's wrong with that? The older the piece of food, the more far fetched the story around it, and that makes it even more interesting. As long as people aren't having wars about it, then a good bit of heated discussion on the matter isn't going to harm anybody. So get stotting. And divvent dunshus, wa Geordies man!

Stotty Cake

Makes 2 large 'cakes'

1 pound of good strong plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 ounce lard or margarine
1 level tbsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
300ml lukewarm water

1 - Pour the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Rub in the lard or margarine until well combined. Then stir in the yeast and sugar.
2 - Make a well in the centre of the flour, then gradually pour in the water, stirring in circles with one hand until combined. You may need more or less water. If it is too sticky, add more flour, too dry, add more water.
3 - Knead for a good 10 minutes. A good test that I use when kneading bread is to firmly push my hand into the dough. If it doesn't spring right back, keep kneading.
4 - Once ready, dust with flour, cover and leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour. It should have doubled in size. Pre-heat the oven to 240 degrees C, GM9 and place a metal baking sheet on the bottom of the oven.
5 - Gently kneed the dough and push out any air. Rip in half then on a floured surface, push the dough into a rough disc, approximately 1 inch thick. Stick a hole in the middle with a finger, prick randomly with a fork then place onto the baking sheet. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, until the bread sounds hollow when tapped and golden brown.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Cupboard Full Of Turkeys

As much as I love Christmas, unfortunately, Santa Claus does tend to deliver the odd stinker. Hands up who each year is always given a gift that, no matter how many times that you have said to not be given, is promptly delivered on the 25th December.

For example, a relative always thinks it is funny giving me 2 giant Toblerones, although they have been given to me every year for the past 15 years and each year I say, 'Please make that the last, I'm like a house end and don't need the temptation well into January.'. Or the countless comedy socks and ties, ill fitting underwear, terrible aftershave and usually awful CD by somebody like James Blunt (apologies Blunt lovers) as everybody knows I am obsessed with music and therefore think I love everything musical. NO!!!

One present does seem to take over one of my cupboards though. And that would be the sweet German wine my parent's in law love to give me. Again, they know I love my wine, so the perfect gift for the wine loving son-in-law must be that sweet 2002 Reichgraf Von Ingelheim. But at last, I have found somewhere I can put the stuff. Not down the plug hole, but in a pan with lots of simmering fruit and spices (not much sugar as it is always sweet enough). Then when the fruit has softened, I have a pan full of mulled wine. And all of a sudden, after a few slurps of heady spice fuelled alcohol, that present from hell HAS now turned into the perfect gift for the wine loving son-in-law. Delicious. And Merry Christmas to all sufferers of gift's from hell, there is hope for that unwanted gift I am sure!

PS For anybody that suspects any loathing in my writing, I love my parent's in law to bits. :o)

Spicy Poached Pears
Serves 4

4 'not too ripe' pears, I use Conference, peeled
1 bottle of cheap sweet red wine
4 tbsp honey
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 orange, punctured

1 - Put all of the ingredients into a large pan. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer with a lid on for 45-60 minutes. Test the pears with a knife, it should glide in easily.
2 - Remove the pears and cool down. Remove the spices and orange, squeezing every last drop as you go.
3 - Take a small amount of the wine and reduce in a pan until you have a thick syrup. Serve the pears with a drizzle of syrup and a spoonful of yoghurt or cream.

These will keep nicely covered in the fridge for a couple of days. Make extra and you have quick classy dessert waiting for you.

Monday, 26 November 2007

You Say Bunny, I Say Rabbit

Much to the disgust of my pet loving niece, I adore rabbits. Not to pet and cuddle, just to eat. Rabbits have to be the most under-rated meat around, and definitely the most under-used. In the U.K., we simply don't eat enough of them. In a time when we are crying out for alternatives to broiler chickens, we have millions of rabbits scampering all over the countryside causing untold damage. They are sustainable, we are doing farmers a favour by eating them, they are naturally 'free-range' and they are cheap, incredibly low in fat and delicious. Do you need any other reasons?

In an effort to change perceptions and make this once great rabbit eating nation a country of bunny munchers again, a simple recipe is called for. A recipe that will eradicate any thoughts that rabbit is a difficult meat to prepare or eat. For example, I know of people that won't eat rabbit as they think it has too many bones. Solution; take the meat off the bones once cooked. Or people who think they are too cute to eat. Solution; close your eyes, open your mind and taste it. If cooked properly, I am convinced you will adore it.

This recipe uses a couple of simple techniques that any amateur home cook can attempt which all makes up for a delicious and cheap meal. Chop up some vegetables and bacon, pile them all in a casserole dish with the portioned rabbit, pour in a bottle of cider and stick it in the oven. If you don't like the bones, once cooked, take the meat off and then put back into the sieved cooking sauce. Experiment with flavours and any additions. I use a little mustard, cream and prunes in mine. It works in a heavenly way. Now stop rabbiting on and jump to it!

Rabbit with Cider, Mustard and Prunes

Serves 2

1 rabbit, skinned and jointed (ask your butcher, and ensure that you keep the livers, heart and kidneys. The livers, mashed, will help thicken and richen the sauce and the heart and kidneys make for a delicious 'chef's treat, quicky fried in olive oil)
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper
3 rashers of un-smoked streaky bacon, chopped
1 carrot, cubed
1 onion, cubed
1 stick of celery, cubed
1 tbsp dried or fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
500ml good dry cider
A handful of dried prunes
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
100ml double cream
The rabbit livers, mashed with a fork

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM3.
2 - In a flame-proof casserole dish, heat up the oil. Season the rabbit portions then quickly brown all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside.
3 - Add the bacon, carrots, onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes until softened and just beginning to colour. Stir in the thyme and bay leaves.
4 - Return the rabbit portions to the casserole dish then pour over the cider. Bring to the boil, cover, then place in the oven. Cook for 45-50 minutes.
5 - Remove the rabbit and keep aside. Pour the sauce through a sieve into a clean pan, pushing the vegetables through the sieve which will help thicken the sauce. Bring to the boil, then simmer whilst you remove the rabbit meat from the bones.
6 - Stir in the cream, mustard and mashed rabbit livers. Taste for seasoning. Return the rabbit meat to the sauce along with the prunes and heat through.
7 - Serve with mashed potato and seasonal greens such as sprouts or savoy cabbage.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Name That Tuna

As much as I love our seasonal British fish, such as the likes of pollock, ling and black bream, whenever I visit my fishmongers I often can't resist a few chunks of Mr Latimer's sushi grade tuna that he always has in.

The reason why tuna goes down so well in my house all comes down to the little one that we feed. Ever since she started on solids, tuna seemed to be a winner every time compared to other fish. Perhaps it is tuna's very own 'un-fishy' like texture. Or perhaps it is because we could put it into so many different dishes without worrying it was going to disintegrate on us. Either way, I offer myself a little conscience free time when I do use it as it is a rare treat.

This is a simple pan-fried piece of tuna loin served on a bed of sautéed potatoes and leeks. Nothing too technical there, and nothing mind blowing, but the roasted pepper sauce is one I turn to quite often for its versatility (it will go with most meats) but mainly for its sheer deliciousness. Make a large batch and freeze it in an ice cube tray. Then for an impressive sauce, instead of turning to a chemical packed ready-sauce, pop one out of the freezer and melt it with a small nob of butter in a pan. This recipe will of course work with most fish.

Tuna Loin with Sautéed Potatoes and Leeks with Roast Pepper Paprika Sauce

Serves 3

4 large seasonal potatoes such as Maris Piper, skinned, cubed and par-boiled.
2 leeks, halved and sliced
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
2 pieces of tuna loin
Salt and pepper

For the sauce
2 red peppers
1 tsp paprika
A pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

1 - To make the sauce, hold the peppers over your hob flame with a pair of tongs and turn until completely black. Put into a plastic food bag, seal and leave to cool. If you do not have gas, rub the peppers with olive oil and bake in a hot oven until black.
2 - Remove the peppers from the bag, peel and de-seed. Place all of the ingredients into a blender and blitz to a fine purée.
3 - Push through a sieve into a pan and then reduce until thickened. Taste for seasoning. Reserve what you are using for the meal and put the rest into an ice-cube tray.
4 - Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan. Add the leeks and cook gently until softened and slightly coloured. Remove.
5 - Add the potatoes and cook until crisp and golden. Add the leeks and taste for seasoning.
6 - Season the tuna pieces. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the tuna. Cook to your liking.
7 - Serve on top of a bed of potato and leeks with some of the sauce on the side.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

AM Scrape

This morning I had a bit of a scrape. Not the violent kind. Just a scrape of the windscreen. Jack Frost visited these parts for the 1st time in a while last night and it was certain confirmation that winter is upon us. And that is fine by me.

A lot of people agree that this is their favourite time of the year. Just 6 weeks before Christmas, and despite the pressure of shopping, the general public are already stocking up for the festive gorge. Me included. I cannot wait, and it is difficult not falling to temptation and slicing a slab off my already 3 week old Christmas cake as it wafts a spicy alcoholic fume at me each time I walk into the kitchen.

I'm still making good use of the never ending glut of root vegetables that keep coming my way. Just as I finish one week's vegetable box delivery, another is waiting for me to knock up a rooty feast. Today it was time for one of those sweet, spicy and scent packed North African inspired stews.

Any root slow braised in spices such as cinnamon, cumin and ground ginger will have their natural sweetness enhanced, and it is completely no fuss. Just 10 minutes of chopping and stirring then into an oven, 90 minutes later you will have a satisfying and warming exotic winter stew. 1 hour into cooking, add a bird such as chicken or a seasonal piece of game like pheasant and this will keep the carnivores happy. Omit the meat and add some chickpeas for the perfect vegetarian supper.

Spiced Honey Slow Braised Root and Chicken Stew
Feeds 4

1 swede, peeled and chopped into large chunks
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 squash or small pumpkin, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 onion, chopped roughly
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tbps tomato purée
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tin of tomatoes
300ml water
1 tin of chickpeas
2 tbsp honey
2 chicken breasts, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM3, 160 degrees C.
2 - Heat the oil in a casserole dish and add the onions, cooking until soft for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato purée and spices and stir for 2 minutes, then add all of the vegetables except for the chickpeas if using.
3 - Add the tomatoes and water and bring to the boil. Place into the oven for 90 minutes.
4 - After 1 hour of cooking, stir in the chicken and/or chickpeas along with the honey and place back into the oven for a further 30 minutes, ensuring that the chicken is cooked through.
5 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with plain cous cous with a good scattering of a fresh herb such as coriander or parsley and perhaps a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Roll With It

Have you ever decided that no matter how good a particular combination of food is, the very thought of it sounds ridiculous and you aren't going to touch it? Some of the things that Heston Blumethal does do sound unbelievable, almost ridiculous. Given a few hundred quid I would happily eat there and probably adore it, but that laboratory style cuisine is not my preference of food. But I do like to combine tried and tested 'ridiculous' combinations that don't take all day to prepare.

One combination is the magnificent pairing of anchovies with lamb. If you can't stand the thought of an anchovy, or even if you just hate fish, I beg you to reconsider as for some reason a good salty preserved anchovy seasons the rich fatty meat of a lamb to perfection. It doesn't taste fishy and if anything, it enriches and enhances the meat. Roughly chop a few with some rosemary and olive oil and run it into the pierced flesh of a lamb leg for your Sunday roast and you will see what I mean.

Last week I played around with a recipe from HFW's Meat Book in which Hugh stuffs a shoulder of lamb with anchovies and capers. It is sensational, but there to be experimented with. I guessed that it would benefit from a little texture and crunch of a nut, so some walnuts were added. Rosemary was a certainty, as was a good dollop of hot English mustard and a little cider vinegar. If you can handle massaging this into a whole shoulder of meat before doing a few simple butcher's knots and tying it all together, you will benefit from a superior cut of meat with fantastic flavour combinations. A glass of white wine or cider poured onto the meat halfway through cooking ensures an amazing gravy, and keep a bit spare for a 'posh' sandwich the next day.

Shoulder of Lamb Stuffed with Anchovies, Rosemary and Walnuts

1 shoulder of lamb, boned out and weighing approximately 1.5kg-2kg
2 handfuls of walnuts
A small tin of anchovies, approximately 10
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 tbsp English mustard
1 tbsp cider vinegar
Olive oil
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Publish Postpepper

For the gravy
1 glass of cider or white wine

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM7, 220 degrees C.
2 - On a chopping board, roughly chop the anchovies, walnuts and rosemary then add to a bowl. Add the mustard and vinegar and a little olive oil until you have a good thick 'paste'. Season with salt and pepper.
3 - Lay out the shoulder and massage into the flesh. Roll and tie with string then season the skin.
4 - Heat up some oil in a baking tray on the hob and quickly brown the fat all over. Place into the oven for 20 minutes then turn down the heat to GM4, 180 degrees C. Cook for 10 minutes per 500g for rare, 15 minutes per 500g for medium, 20 minutes per 500g well done.
5 - Pour on the cider or wine with a little water halfway through cooking to make a gravy.
6 - Take out and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Carve into thick slices and serve with seasonal roast root vegetables and borlotti beans.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

It's A Bit Chilli

Even in these British days of seasonal uncertainty, it is fair to say that winter is setting in. The heating has been on for the last few days and the walk up to nursery each day has seen us clad in hats and mittens. I love it when it gets a bit chilly. Not too cold, just cold enough for me to bring out my vast collection of coats from the cupboard. Did I tell you that coat collecting was a passion of mine? I'll leave that for another time.

I've gone overkill on the pumpkin to the extent of eating it every day for the last 2 weeks. Time for a change of vegetable. Root vegetables are in such abundance, I thought it was time to make a delicious spicy vegetarian dish to warm us through. A nice chilli con carne, that classic Mexican dish of meat and kidney beans. But with all of this veg, I thought it would be a good idea to play on the basic theme of a chilli but leave out the meat and pack it with vegetables.

This is one of those dishes that can be experimented with. It is so good for you, and the spices lend themselves to most vegetables, as long as you don't overcook certain ones. So if you still have a courgette, ensure it goes in right near the end to maintain a crunch. A good handful of strong cheddar scattered over the top makes this a chilli that even the most determined of meat eaters would love. A flavour packed healthy chilli for chilly people, just what the doctor ordered.

Veggie Chilli
Feeds 4

2 Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Carrots, peeled and cubed
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 Courgette, cubed
1 tin of Kidney Beans
A few handfuls of frozen peas
1 tin of tomatoes
4 handfuls of green lentils, soaked for 1 hour
500ml of vegetable stock,
1 tbps tomato purée
2 tsps cumin seeds
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp groundnut oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat up the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes until soft, then add the garlic, oregano and spices and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant.
2 - Add the vegetables except for the courgette, pureé and lentils and cook stirring for another 5 minutes.
3 - Add the tomatoes and cocoa powder and enough stock to make a reasonably loose stew. Bring to the boil and cook for 30 minutes.
4 - Add the courgette and cook for a further 5 minutes, then finally the peas and cook for 5 minutes. Test to see that the lentils are cooked.
5 - Taste for seasoning. Serve scattered with cheddar cheese and a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Rings Around The World

Spiced Pumpkin Bread & Butter 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 and steamed then blitzed to a purée
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.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Hot Beets

The beetroots are still arriving each week in my little organic bag, and that is good news. I can't get sick of them. If I'm not roasting them to sweet perfection to serve simply as they are, I'm blitzing them to a purée to serve with sizzling black pudding or slicing them thin to toss into a winter leaf salad.

When time is against me, as it has been recently, a soup is always a quick option to use up my favourite finger staining root. Beetroots are so versatile to a number of flavours. They go well with hot and pungent spices such as chilli and cumin, the heat of the chilli and the aromatic cumin lifting the earthy sweetness of the root to another level.

This soup incorporates both spices, along with a lovely import we see at this time of the year, the satsuma. Roast a little of the skin of the satsuma along with the other ingredients, your nose tells you that you could be in heaven and that a real treat is in store. A slice of hot toasted rye bread, rubbed with garlic and a drizzle of olive oil, is all that you need to finish off a vibrant and fresh flavour packed winter soup.

Beetroot, Chilli, Cumin and Satsuma Soup
Feeds 2

4 beetroots, peeled and cut into cubes
1 potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 dried chilli
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 satsuma with half of the zest thinly peeled
750ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper

1 - In a deep pan, heat up the olive oil then add the onion. Cook stirring for 5-10 minutes until soft and beginning to colour.
2 - Add the beetroot, potato, garlic, spices and satsuma zest, and cook for a further 5 minutes until the aromas are released and everything is beginning to colour.
3 - Pour in the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until the beetroot and potato are soft.
4 - Blitz until smooth in a blender. Squeeze in a little of the satsuma juice and taste for seasoning. Pour into bowls along with a round of toasted rye or wholemeal bread, rubbed with garlic and a drizzle of olive oil.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Shanks For The Memory

Lamb shanks are a dream to cook with. Not only are they cheap, but they are incredibly flavoursome. Like most of the cheaper cuts of meat from an animal, they do tend to be the tastiest. And shanks are no exception. As long as you can wait a few hours for them to cook, you will be awarded with supreme gelatinous succulent meat that falls from the bone in large slabs.

I mentioned in a previous post about the therapeutic qualities of warm comforting food. Lamb shanks are in that category, and at this time of the year it is a cut of meat I turn to quite regularly. It needs nothing more than a quick browning then a long slow braise is an aromatic sauce. So as well as being tasty and economical, they are a breeze to cook.

Rather than turn to the ubiquitous red wine braise, I prefer a more fresh and earthy sauce to go with lamb. A good English dry cider is an amazing accompaniment, the sharp fruit of the apple cutting nicely through the deep rich meat. An addition of brown or green lentils thickens and adds texture to the sauce, and a little zest and juice of lemon is a surprising back-note without being overpowering. 2-3 hours in the oven, the house will be filled with amazing smells, the kind of smells that make you instantly ravenous. Serve it with a simple mash and some good buttery Savoy cabbage, it needs nothing more. No fuss food of the highest order - that will do for me.

Lamb Shanks Braised in Dry Cider and Brown Lentils
Serves 2

2 lamb shanks
1 carrot, chopped into small dice
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped into small dice
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
Fresh thyme
1 tbsp tomato purée
500ml good dry cider
500ml hot lamb or vegetable stock
1 lemon
4 rashers of streaky bacon
100g brown lentils
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM2, 150 degrees C.
2 - In a large non-stick frying pan, heat up the olive oil. Season the lamb shanks and quickly brown all over. Remove and place into a deep ceramic Pyrex dish.
3 - Add the carrots, onion, celery and bacon to the pan and cook for 5 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, thyme and tomato purée and cook for a further minute. Remove and add to the Pyrex dish along with the bay leaves.
4 - Pour the cider into the frying pan and bring to the boil, scraping off anything that may be stuck to the pan. Add to the Pyrex dish.
5 - Finally, add the hot stock to the shanks until just below the meat, along with the zest and juice of half of the lemon and good grinding of black pepper.
6 - Place into the oven and cook for 1 and a half hours. Stir in the lentils then put back into the oven for 1-1 and a half hours, until the lentils are soft and the meat comes away from the bone when pushed.
7 - Taste for seasoning. You may want to thicken the sauce. To do this, remove the shanks and keep in a warm oven and reduce the sauce in a pan on the hob. Serve with mashed potato and buttery cabbage.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Things That Go Pump In The Night

The time of the year has arrived when strange things happen. I don't mean ghosts and goblins appearing, or witches flying over your roof. I mean that tradition of carving out a delicious pumpkin and making a scary face, then putting a candle in it and walking around half of the night with it before throwing it in the bin. What a waste of delicious pumpkin!

Without sounding like a kill joy, I love getting involved at Halloween and carving out pumpkins with the kids. But imagine the amount of orange pumpkin flesh that sits on landfill sites each October!? Instead of giving it a sad send off, celebrate its final hours with a few simple dishes. It should already be half cooked after a good scorching off the candle!

Pumpkin is a really lovely versatile vegetable; mash it, roast it or churn it into a soup, either way it is a top vegetable. Take out the seeds and pan roast them with a few spices for a delicious nutty snack. It is also very child friendly. Any squash is, and it was one of the first vegetables I introduced to my daughter. So what timing for our friends at the Great Big Vegetable Challenge to be moving onto P for Pumpkin. Whilst young Freddie is out scaring everybody with his carved out pumpkin, he can have thoughts on some sensational pumpkin related meals courtesy of the family of kind Bloggers that are all linking on this day.

My pumpkin effort involves what could be another scary thing to a young child - a mussel. A spanking fresh mussel such as the hand picked mussels I used, picked that very day from Amble in Northumberland, are surprisingly brilliant accompaniments to a pumpkin. Both are sweet and earthy, and both have similar orange flesh. So they can compete against each other in the spicy crisp bacon and garlic flavoured sauce I enveloped them in with conchiglie pasta. I thought it was only right to serve something from the sea with a shell shaped pasta. Good luck Freddie. And whatever you do, don't be scared....

Spiced Pumpkin, Bacon and Mussel Conchiglie
Serves 2

200g of conchiglie pasta
5 rashers of smoked bacon, sliced into strips
1 shallot, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
Leftovers of one halloween pumpkin, skinned and diced
1 tbsp olive oil
10 fresh mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1 small glass of dry cider
Fresh chives, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
Parmesan cheese

1 - Bring a pan of water to the boil then add the pasta. Cook for 10 minutes.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan with a lid. Add the bacon and cook until golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside.
3 - Add the pumpkin to the oil and bacon fat and stir fry for 5-10 minutes until golden and cooked through.
4 - Add the shallots, chilli and garlic and stir for 1 minute. Turn up the heat then add the mussels and cider. Put on the lid and cook through for 5 minutes or until the mussels have fully opened. If any remain closed, throw them away.
5 - Tip in the drained pasta then the crisp bacon, a good grinding of black pepper and a handful of fresh chives. It should not need salt because of the bacon.
6 - Serve in large bowls with more fresh chives and some Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, 21 October 2007


Eat to live, or live to eat? That is the question. For me, it is the latter every time. Each day I enthusiastically approach a meal or snack with the same attitude; that I am really looking forward to it. From the moment I awake, I'm thinking about the porridge with raisins and honey or the hot buttered toast and strong builder's tea. Once finished, I'm usually thinking about what to have for lunch and dinner. And why not? Food can enhance your life; you are what you eat can never be a more true statement and it can affect your moods in so many ways.

Some foods are born to make you instantly cosy, warm and happy. Now that the days are getting frosty and the night is drawing in quicker, you need to start filling yourself with 'feel good' food in order to have a happy winter. So the likes of shepherd's pies, slow braised meat and vegetable casseroles with proper suet dumplings and fruit crumbles with creamy hot custard all spring to mind as essentials. Lots of flavour, lots of warmth and instant resuscitation after a hard day at work.

One of my absolute favourite 'winter warmer feel good foods' has to be a good old steak and kidney pie. Succulent slow braised beef that melts in your mouth, with sweet kidneys accompanied by whole shallots and drowned in a rich beer gravy, all topped off with a thick shortcrust pastry which cracks like an ice covered lake when punctured with a serving spoon. When I eat something like this, no matter how miserable I feel, it cannot help to put a smile on my face and make me feel better about the world.

We have loads of these types of recipes over here in the U.K. If only we sang about them a bit more often, told people how fantastic they were and devoured them with the passion that they deserve, then we would surely be the happiest nation in the world. Live to eat. Eat to be happy. Eat.

Steak, Kidney, Mushroom and Ale Pie

Feeds Lots

1kg braising beef
Plain flour
Olive oil
200g cow's kidneys, chopped into bite size pieces
20 whole shallots, peeled
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
250g mushrooms, halved
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp thyme, dried or fresh
1 bottle of good ale, I used Jarrow Brewery Rivet Catcher
500ml beef stock
1 quantity of shortcrust pastry to fit your pie dish
1 egg, beaten

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM4.
2 - Heat some olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Season a quantity of plain flour then coat the beef and kidney. Cook quickly in batches until golden, then tip into a large casserole dish.
3 - Add more oil, then add the shallots, onion, carrots and celery. Cook for 5 minutes until they begin to colour, then add the garlic, herbs and tomato purée and cook for 1 minute, stirring all of the time. Tip into the casserole dish.
4 - Pour a little of the beer into the frying pan and scrape with a wooden spoon to remove any essential bits that may be stuck. Pour into the casserole dish along with the rest of the beer. Then add the beef stock until the meat and vegetables are just covered. Bring to the boil then put into the oven for 2 hours.
5 - Cook the mushrooms in the frying pan with a little oil until they have released some water and coloured slightly. Add to the casserole, then tip into a pie dish.
6 - Dampen the edge of the pastry with a little egg wash, then cover the pie with the shortcrust pastry. You may want to add a pie support to stop the pastry from sinking, I used a steel chef's ring. Cover with egg wash with a pastry brush. Puncture the centre with a small hole to allow steam to escape.
7 - Put into the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with mash and lots of vegetables.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Bronski Beet

A bonus with getting a fresh bunch of beetroot at this time of the year are the succulent leaves you should get with them. Beautiful ruby red veined leaves sprouting quite dramatically from the top of a beetroot are a rare sight in a supermarket, but if you know a good local provider, you must take advantage of this leaf.

Like the tops of a fresh bunch of carrots, I know that people often just cut them off and take them to the compost heap or the bin. But the chard, or leaf beet, is a vegetable in its own right and it is good habit to use it in the same way you would with spinach. Lightly steamed or blanched, a good knob of butter and a little seasoning, it is arguably tastier than spinach and it looks sensational.

A quick, tasty and healthy pasta recipe is always good to turn to when time is against you and mouths need to be fed. This recipe uses my favourite beet leaf along with bacon, onions and a little créme fraiche which can be stirred into any pasta. Spinach would work perfectly well, but there is something about the red ribbed leaf of a beetroot that taints your food with a mild pink that appeals to me. And 10 minutes for the time it takes the pasta to boil to whip up a lovely seasonal sauce has to be good news.

Beet Leaf and Bacon Penne
Feeds 4

The tops of 6 beetroots, removed, washed and roughly chopped
6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, cut into small slices
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
A pinch of chilli
1 small tub of low fat créme fraiche
Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Penne pasta

1 - Bring a pan of water to the boil and add a quantity of pasta to feed your number.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan then add the onions and bacon. Cook for 5 minutes until the onion is softened and bacon is beginning to crisp.
3 - Add the beet leaf along with the garlic and chilli, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring all of the time until wilted and reduced and much of the water has evaporated.
4 - Stir in the créme fraich, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a good grating of Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning.
5 - Drain the pasta then pour into the frying pan with the sauce. Coat and then serve in bowls with more Parmesan cheese.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Cob On

Thanks to the generous cob nut tree in my street and the bags of nuts left tied to the kind owner's gate every few days for us to collect, my cob nut collection is growing ever bigger. Last year I made the mistake of storing a batch unopened in a tight jar which was left too long. Damp caused mould and I lost a few. This year I'm not risking it so I've cracked them all, roasted them for 20 minutes in a hot oven and then stored them. Happy days.

A lovely thing to do with a few roasted cob nuts is to blitz them finely and then fold them into a cake. The aromas of any cake baking is pretty special at the best of times. Imagine the smell of a cake baking packed with nuts. It is sensational. The only problem is that smell is a certain giveaway that something heavenly is growing in the oven. And my daughter can sniff out a cake a mile away.

This cake is sweetened using some local honey from a bee keeper here in East Boldon. Freshly potted from the hives, the bees have fed themselves on brambles and pine and the dark aromatic caramel-like honey reflects this. Lemon juice and zest work fantastically in a cake, and with a little hot syrup made from more honey and some juice, it stays very moist.

The only problem with making this cake was the distribution. It was one of the best cakes I have made this year. My parents were round so they had some. Wife and daughter had large slabs each, and I also thought it would be a good thing to give a piece to the kind lady who gave me the nuts. So not much left for me. As Billy Bragg once said, that's the price I pay for loving you the way that I do. Cakes and nuts. Love 'em.

Cob Nut, Honey and Lemon Cake

100g cob nuts or hazelnuts, roasted and ground
200g butter
150g self raising flour
150g honey
3 eggs
Zest and juice of one lemon

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM4. Butter and line a 20cm removable base cake tin.
2 - In a large bowl, cream together the honey and butter.
3 - Break in the eggs one at a time and whisk in thoroughly. This may curdle but don't worry.
4 - Fold in the flour, ground nuts and zest and juice of the lemon. Pour into the cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes until a knife inserted comes back clean.
5 - Make a simple lemon syrup using a the juice of one lemon and same quantity honey, warming up in a pan. Just before serving, drizzle some over and serve with creme fraiche, yoghurt or whipped double cream.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Tastes Of Britain

In a small break from the Pea Challenge, just a bit of news/self congratulating on my part for interested parties.

In 2008 I will begin an exciting new venture in my life in which I will become a writer for a new food magazine on the block called Tastes Of Britain. Tastes Of Britain was released this weekend, so issue 1 is fresh in the shops. In a welcome relief from the norm, TOB concentrates on the food issues that matter in the U.K., with articles about local food producers and retailers along with recipes aplenty.

In MasterChef finalist Hannah's own words, this magazine is a very 'me sort of publication'. It is unashamedly patriotic, but why not? I've never been shy in saying that we have a lot to celebrate in the U.K. when it comes to food, produce and the people who work hard to create a quality product. So I am honoured to be on board.

Please check it out if you are interested, you will not regret it (and my ugly mug won't be seen in there until the New Year!).

David x

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

'Pea'r Pressure

The 'Try to get Freddie to like peas', mission continues. Thankfully we all love peas in our house. So even though it is out of pea season and the ones I am using are coming out of a frozen bag on a daily basis, we will hopefully not be sick of them by the end of the week.

When I first approached this task with great enthusiasm, the first thing I wondered was, do they need to look like a pea to get Freddie to eat them? As I said yesterday, I think if you are going to love something, you need to be able to approach it in its true form. But anybody who has tried and failed to get their child to eat something, often you need to disguise it. Anything is better than them not actually eating it.

Yesterday's 'Pea'aella had the little green balls staring you in the face saying, 'Come and eat me if you dare!'. This dish is a little more subtle, but there is still no disguising them. It is all in the taste for this filling stew, using up some simple store cupbaord ingredients with ease. Sweet and hot and combined with fruit, it is a little winter warmer with a good measure of exotic spice thrown in. If you can lift a spoonful to your mouth, close your eyes and delve in, you should be more than happy with the taste. The evidence sits in a house somewhere in London. I await the report....

Spicy Pea, Mint and Apricot Stew
Feeds 2

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tsp cumin seeds
A good pinch of chilli flakes
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tin tomatoes
300ml water
1 tbsp honey
Several handfuls of frozen peas
A good handful of fresh mint, chopped
A handful of dried apricots, chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - In a large pan, heat the oil then add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes until soft and just beginning to colour, then stir in the garlic, spices and potato. Stir for 2 minutes until fragrant.
2 - Add the tomatoes, water, apricots and honey and bring to the boil. Simmer with a lid on for 15 minutes or until the potato is soft.
3 - Add the peas and mint and cook for a few minutes.
4 - Using a hand blender, pulse a little to break up some of the fruit and vegetables. Taste for seasoning. Serve in bowls with a little fresh mint scattered over.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Freddie And The Pea Dreamers

There are rumours abound that certain people do not like certain foodstuffs. I don't mean a person who hates, say, a multi-coloured chemical filled sherbet bag from the sweet shop or something. That would be understandable. What I mean is, apparently there are people who stalk this earth with a hatred of the humble pea. And it ain't no joke. Step forward Sir Freddie of Great Big Vegetable Challenge fame - your tremendous vegetable learning curve is about to be put even more to the test.

The pea to me was a vegetable I could stomach as a child. To people who know me now, it may shock them to know that when I was a small person, I was incredibly fussy. For a number of years, processed cheese triangles were my number one choice and anything else was dismissed. With the exceptions of peas. For some reason, those bland watery marrowfat peas out of tins were okay to me. I would eat them much to the amazement of my folks. And as time went on, and I became more adventurous in my food to the extent that now I will eat anything that grows, moves or sneezes, I still held the pea in great esteem.

The pea is a great thing. Sweet and succulent, edible in its raw state or boiled to smithereens, it is also adaptable and seems to work in most creations. That dangerous and well used phrase in cookery terms, 'Throw in a handful of ...', is a phrase I have used for years with peas, simply so that I can get some of my favourite little green balls on the plate. I eat them like sweets when they are growing on vines like little cocoons of pleasure, and I eat them in a thousand different soups during the frozen pea season.

Now Freddie is a little fella who needs no introduction. With the aid of his caring, creative and determined mother Charlotte, Freddie has been on the most precarious and steepest of learning curves that any young man could wish for. With a disdain for vegetables, the pea being his most hated of veggie foes, Freddie has worked his way through a whole mountain of things that come out of soil and has been a minor miracle in this world of fast food nonsense. And as I work with children and food on a daily basis, Freddie has become a kind of bastion of light to me, a little mascot to prove that ANYBODY can change their world and make it a better place if they can get over a hatred of vegetables.

But rumours still continue. And the rumbles I hear are that Freddie still holds huge suspicion for our little green friend. For that reason, a mission impossible has been set for me and 2 of my fellow food bloggers; Amanda of Figs, Olives, Wine and Hannah of Hannah's Country Garden. On what has now become known as pea Monday, we have all written a recipe or two in a huge effort to hold cyber hands and try to encourage Freddie to start to love the pea. All of this will cumulate into a Pea Party for Freddie and his friends to celebrate the green one in a variety of guises. So I have decided to dedicate my whole week to the pea, as I'm not sure in what form it is best to show Freddie the delights of a pea. Should it look like a pea or not?

I begin with my mission with a Paella, or a 'Pea'ella. Nothing unusual, nothing flash and nothing too scary. Just a huge pan of paella will feed Freddie and lots of friends, and I also think that this Spanish classic is the perfect no fuss food that can be experimented with at will. Peas scatter this flavour packed beauty, and there is no escaping them, but if you are going to learn to love a pea you need to look it in the eye and say, 'I love you pea', then swallow it whole and savour the combination of saffron and paprika that goes hand in hand with this fantastic child friendly dish. The mission has started. Turning Freddie's pea nightmares into sweet pea dreams. I sense it will not be an easy peasy week....

A Pea Packed Paella
Feeds lots of young Freddies

300g long grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 red and 1 green pepper, chopped into large chunks
3 large tomatoes, chopped roughly
2 chicken breasts, sliced into small lengths
1 medium chorizo sausage into small chunks
A large pinch of saffron
2 tspns smoked paprika
A pinch of chilli powder
A bag of frozen prawns, defrosted
As many frozen peas as you can handle
Fresh basil and parsley
Lemon juice (optional)
Freshly ground pepper

1 - In a large pan, heat the olive oil then add the chicken and quickly brown all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2 - Add the onion, peppers and chorizo to the pan and stir fry for 5 minutes until starting to soften and colour.
3 - Add the tomatoes, saffron, paprika, chilli and rice and stir for 1 minute. Then return the chicken and pour on boiling water to just cover the rice.
4 - Bring to the boil then put a lid on and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring gently from time to time to ensure that the rice is cooking evenly. You mya need to keep topping up with water.
5 - For the final 5 minutes, add the prawns and peas and heat through thoroughly. Taste for seasoning, then add the optional lemon juice.
6 - Serve in bowls with a good scattering of fresh herbs and a slice of lemon.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Hilarious Harry

"Boiled beef and carrots,
Boiled beef and carrots.
That's the stuff for your "Derby Kel"
It makes you fit and keeps you well.
Don't live like vegetarians,
On food they give to parrots.
From morn till night, blow out your kite,
On boiled beef and carrots!"

Although I'm a massive music fan, you wouldn't see English Music Hall classics from the early 1900s on my MP3 player. But despite his obvious loathing of the food of our vegetarian friends, a gentleman called Harry Champion was a man after my own heart.

Harry apparently was obsessed with 'hilarious' songs about food which often brought the house down. Who else do you know who would sing a song about 'A Little Bit Of Cucumber' and make a career out of it? Whether it was meat pies, pickled onions, pig's trotters or a sheep's heart, Harry would sing amusing ditty's about them and always get a laugh. How grateful we should all be that humour has moved on so much.

He obviously had great taste in British food, hence the reason why I am waffling on about the author of 1907 'classic', Boiled Beef And Carrots. For it is this very meal that is an absolute classic and, quite ironically, we simply do not sing enough about it. The French have their daube and tell everybody how fantastic it is. We have essentially exactly the same dish and prefer to stick it in the 'embarrassing foods of yesteryear' cupboard. When was the last time you saw it on the menu of a good restaurant?

The list of ingredients below may seem long. But if you can find a local supplier of great beef and take a rolled brisket, a shin or any cut of slow cook beef you can make a very easy to prepare meal that tastes amazing, sustains and gives pleasure on lots of levels. Put it in the pot with some seasonal root vegetables, leave it to fall apart and create its own broth which needs nothing more than a spoonful of English mustard and perhaps a few fresh herbs. Make some suet dumplings and pop them in for the final 20 minutes to make an even more filling meal. Sensational.

Because he decided to sing a song of celebration about this fine dish, I would have Harry Champion as guest of honour at my celebrity table of choice, regaling us all with songs about food and probably making us laugh. I think.

Boiled Beef and Root Vegetables
Feeds 4-6 people

1-1.5kg of rolled brisket, shin or any good slow cook beef
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 glass of white wine
A few black peppercorns
4 carrots, peeled
1 turnip, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 parsnips, peeled and halved
8 small onions or shallots, peeled
2 celery sticks, cut into chunks
2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 savoy cabbage, sliced
2 tomatoes, halved
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
2 tbsp English mustard
Fresh parsley chopped roughly
Salt and pepper

1 - In a large casserole dish, heat the rapeseed or olive oil. Season the beef and then brown quickly on all sides. Pour in the wine and scrape off anything stuck to the bottom. Put in the herbs and pour in enough water to just cover the beef. Bring to the boil,cover then simmer for 1 hour, skimming regularly.
2 - Add the vegetables except for the cabbage, bring back to the boil and simmer for a further hour. Add the cabbage after 30 minutes.
3 - When the vegetables and beef are tender, remove from the heat and taste for seasoning. It will need a little salt and you may want to spice it up a bit with pepper and English mustard.
4 - Serve chunks of beef and vegetables with hot broth in large bowls with a sprinkling of herbs and perhaps some bread to soak up the juices.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

A Right Hash

If you are anything like me, you will understand what it is like to suffer from the mid-morning munchies. Despite eating a healthy breakfast each morning, come 10am, my stomach starts to sting and I feel the urge to eat anything in sight. When I was office based, that usually meant a large cup of tea and several dunked biscuits. Nowadays, with food surrounding me most of the time, I can afford to be a little more adventurous.

A great weekend treat is a hash. A hash, because it can consist of anything that will combine in one big pan to make for a delicious irresistible meal. It is a meal you can eat at any time of the day as it can't make up its mind whether it is a breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you skip breakfast and eat one of these at 10am, you will be full for the rest of the day. Although I can't make any promises.

This hash uses chorizo. My chorizo comes from a local supplier based in Northumberland, and the sausage is less salty and produces less oil than some of the commercial Spanish sausage I have used. And now that root season is upon us, you can experiment with your roots and make up a fantastic colourful hash. Stick a fried egg on the top and release the tomato ketchup from the grasp of your little ones; it is the one time I will forgive anybody for having a squirt of the dreaded red stuff.

Smokey 3 Root Northumbrian Chorizo and Spinach Hash

Feeds 2

1 beetroot, peeled and cut into cubes
2 carrots, peeled and cut into cubes
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 chorizo sausage, sliced
2 handfuls of spinach, chopped roughly
1 tsps sweet smoked paprika
A pinch of chilli
1 tbsp tomato purée
Freshly ground pepper
Olive or rapeseed oil

1 - Place the beetroot in one pan and the carrot and potato in another (so that the colours don't run). Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Drain, cool and set aside.
2 - In a large frying pan or wok, heat up the oil and then add the onion and chorizo. Quickly stir fry until golden and some oil has been released. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3 - Add the drained root vegetables and cook until golden and as crisp as you can get them. Return the onion and chorizo along with the paprika, chilli and tomato purée and combine thoroughly. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Finally, add the spinach and toss briefly until wilted. Serve in bowls with an optional fried egg on the top, optional squirt of the red stuff and crusty bread.

Friday, 28 September 2007

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Three lovely things happened to me today. The first happened early this morning as I walked my daughter up the street to nursery. Just before turning the corner, something crunched under my feet. Usually I wouldn't have bothered to look, but a strange force was pulling my head down for a quick peek. And there, smashed to smithereens on the cold damp pavement, was my favourite free product in the whole world - a cob nut.

Now I may have mentioned this before, but when I moved from my old house in Leeds, the one thing that I knew I would miss the most was my cob nut tree that I happened to have in the front garden. Every year I would let battle commence with the squirrels in a strange scrap of nature for a few bags of nuts, me on one branch and a few angry grey squirrels on the other. I often lost. But I did seriously miss that tree. So imagine my happiness to discover a beautiful nut stuffed tree at the top of my otherwise unremarkable terraced street here in sunny East Boldon.

I danced a happy jig on the way back with my pockets stuffed and then made my way up to Alnwick in Northumberland to do a few cookery demonstrations at the farmer's market. Here, in one small square, are some of the most fascinating people selling sublime products with real passion and belief. So when a supplier brings me some of her pear and black pepper bread to try, the very bread she was making with her own hands that very morning, the already present smile on my face just got bigger. Pear and black pepper bread, what a combination!

They say that all of the best things happen in 3's. And as I was packing away, a gentleman from Alnwick started telling me about his own home made blackcurrant vinegar and then produced me a bottle from his pocket. I had to taste it there and then and I can tell you, it was sensational. Sweet and savoury, thick and moreish, it had my head instantly filled full of all kinds of food combinations.

If every day was like this for me, I would never remove the smile from my face and people would avoid me in the street. Food for free, quality food at that, is a rare thing. So no recipe this week. Just a little story of luck and a picture of the bread, cobnuts and blackcurrant vinegar with a couple of slices of creamy melting Coquetdale cheese. It made for a quick and extremely satisfying tea. The best things in life are free.

Meatball Marinara

An unnamed high street food provider has a version of this on their menu. Meatball marinara: hot meatballs, tomato sauce and cheese stuffed ...