Tuesday, 31 July 2007

A Meditecumbrian Diet


Attending farmer's markets and food festivals is something I urge people to do more of. Not only do you get the chance to discover some amazing foodstuffs from around your area, but you also get to meet the people who put the hard work in. Passionate producers who believe in their produce, putting a huge effort in to ensure that you are getting a quality product on your plate.

I had the pleasure to meet the guys from Shaw Meats at the Gateshead Flower Show at the weekend. They are a Cumbrian meat supplier who make some amazing cured sausages, and it is their policy to only source good meat from local farms within 30 miles of their butchery in Wigton, Cumbria. So on display were some inventive salamis such as Caraway and Nutmeg, Basil and Fennel and little chilli numbers called Firecrackers. They also had their own Biltong, a South African delicacy which is basically salt cured beef strips. All were seriously delicious, superb quality and you could tell it meant a lot to them to be selling such great produce.

The sausage I brought home with me was their own Cumbrian Chorizo. Less salty and less fatty than the chorizo I normally buy, it was also more subtle on the paprika giving you a meatier hit rather than the spice. I thought they were delicious, sausages that would improve even more with a little heat and crispiness, so I thought I would put them together in a simple salad. I love the contrast between a cold bean salad and searing hot meat. Get plenty of fresh herbs and a sharp leaf amongst them all, a few shavings of a salty cheese and perhaps some sun dried tomatoes, and you have a 10 minute Medittecumbrian supper on your plate.

Hot Cumbrian Chorizo, Bean and Herb Salad
Feeds 4

1 large chorizo sausage, sliced to the thickness of a pound coin
1 tin of butter beans, drained and washed
1 tin of cannellini beans, drained and washed
A small punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
A handful of sun dried tomatoes, sliced thinly
Rocket leaves
Leaves of any fresh herbs, I used parsley, coriander and chervil
1 red onion, sliced
A few shavings of a hard cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino
Rapeseed or Olive oil

For the dressing
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
Half tsp smoked sweet paprika
Juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp cider vinegar
Freshly ground pepper

1 - In a large bowl, place the beans, rocket, herbs, tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes and onion.
2 - Make the dressing by combining all of the ingredients, mixing well.
3 - In a large frying pan, heat up a tablespoon of the oil and add the chorizo. Be careful the sausage does not burn and cook until crisp and seared.
4 - Dress the salad in the bowl, then place piles into bowls. Scatter the salad with the hot sausage, a few shavings of cheese and more herbs. Eat with optional crusty bread.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Cracking


Friday night, and curry cravings were in the air. We needed a curry in a hurry, simply because we were hungry and very tired after a tough week. A curry always seems to invigorate and revive. With both of the nearest Indian restaurants of a disappointing nature, it was time for a little inspiration using the ingredients I already had in the house.

Preparing a curry can often be a lengthy affair. Lots of ingredients and lots of preparation in advance, it can sometimes be a little mesmerising and off-putting, hence the reason why a curry fix is often resolved via the takeaway for many. The curry I made on Friday night took 15 minutes to complete, and it inched ever closer to the top 3 currys I have ever made.

I've taken a bit of interest in South Indian food, specifically Keralan cuisine. The flavourings in the curry from this area of India are subtle and exotic, with an emphasis on the likes of fruit, nuts, fish, yoghurt and coconut. My only experiences have been at Rasa Restaurant in Newcastle, and each time I have eaten there has been a nigh on religious experience, the food has been that stunning. Incredibly fresh food, some fierce with heat that is quickly quelled from the use of tangy fruit, fresh pickles and coconut. I adore it, and could happily eat there every night.

My crab and cod curry on Friday was a good effort on something I could imagine eating on a warm South West Indian beach, surrounded by the sound of crashing waves, tropical insects and of course a cool beer to wash it down with. Hot and sour, creamy and exotic, I swear I could do the 15 minutes preparing and cooking and then pretend to friends that I had been slaving over the pot all day. But why deny you the recipe to a fantastically quick curry, one that will have you tearing into the crab claws and relishing each morsel? One that will have you and your friends messy with the hot and sour sauce. One that will satisfy your most severe of curry cravings and leave you chuffed in the knowledge you have just whipped an an impressive curry in the time it took the rice to boil. Get cracking.

Crab and Cod Curry
Feeds 2

1 cooked crab, meat removed, claws and legs left intact
1 medium fillet of cod, bones and skin removed and cut into chunks
1 onion, chopped
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1tbsp tamarind paste (optional)
1 small tin chopped tomatoes
Half a tin of coconut milk
A handful of pistachio or cashew nuts, crushed coarsely
A handful of curry or basil leaves
Fresh coriander
Groundnut or peanut oil
Salt

1 - Heat up the oil in a large pan. Add the mustard seeds and curry or basil leaves and let them crackle.
2 - Add the onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric and chilli powder and quickly stir for 1 minute. Then add the tomatoes and tamarind paste and reduce for 2 minutes, stirring all of the time to make a rich and fragrant sauce.
3 - Turn down the heat and add the coconut milk. Bring to the simmer, then add the cod, crab meat, legs and claws. Heat through for 5 minutes.
4 - Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Stir in the nuts. Serve on basmati rice with a scattering of fresh coriander leaves.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Working Class Hero

The roast beef lunch left me with a whole host of vegetables for one of my favourite 5 minute dishes - bubble and squeak. It is a dish that I am sure people of a higher 'class' would put into the 'working class' category and snub with great disdain. I say unlucky. It is a true British classic. A working class hero.

Bubble and squeak, so named because it makes them very noises when cooking, was a dish that was served to me every single Monday evening when I came in from school. As a family that wasted nothing, what ever was left over from our Sunday roast was thrown together and fried up into a huge frying pan sized crispy vegetable cake.

I may have mentioned this before, but I was a fussy so and so as a child. Vegetables were not something I suffered gladly. No matter how many times my mam hid the turnip in the mashed potato, I always knew it was there. And as my mam stood for no nonsense, I often ate it with my fingers clamped firmly onto my nose. However, come bubble and squeak Monday, I would eat the very vegetables I hated once fried up nice and crispy with a dollop of sauce on the side. Weird.

Nowadays, I embellish my leftovers with a few ingredients to take it to another level. So in this bubble and squeak, I add a little wholegrain mustard and a strong Cheddar cheese. I also add a little of the chopped cold leftover meat if there is any left. A few finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, parsley and sage and a fine coating of Parmesan and flour, they crisp up beautifully and make for a fine dish on its own. With one exception. There is one habit I can't resist still to this day and that is a good dollop of brown sauce on the side. Bubble and squeak Mondays - brilliant.

Bubble and Squeak

Any leftover vegetables - in mine were carrot, turnip, potato, broccoli, cauliflower cheese
Any leftover meat, chopped
Wholegrain mustard
Cheddar cheese, grated
Finely chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil and sage
Plain flour
Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1 - In a large bowl, mash all of the vegetables coarsely.
2 - Mix in a couple of tablespoons of mustard, a couple of handfuls of grated cheddar, seasoning and fresh herbs.
3 - Mix a little plain flour with grated Parmesan cheese and seasoning. Then form whatever sized bubble and squeaks and dip into the flour.
4 - Fry your bubble and squeaks in olive oil until golden and crispy. Serve with a dollop of your favourite sauce.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Sweetness, Sweetness I Was Only Joking...


Last week in the weekly Organic bag, we were delivered a bag of apricots. Apricots are one of those fruits that, as a fussy child, I hated due to their spotty velvety skin. Of course now that I will consume most things, I love them. So a few Organic beauties in the bag were the cause of some excitement. How disappointed we were.

Anybody that has bitten into an apricot that has not ripened will know that horrible sense of disappointment. It is like biting into a cotton t-shirt (if you have ever had the strange tendency to do that sort of thing) - all fibrous and tasteless. The problem with apricots is it is a difficult one telling when they have ripened to sweet juicy perfection. They look ripe, they feel ripe, but they ain't always ripe. Another problem they have is that, unlike most other fruit, they will not develop or ripen once plucked from the tree. Once plucked you are, well, you get what you are given put it that way.

Not one to get down about this kind of thing, I often turn a bland tasteless bag of 'plucked too soon' apricots into a jam. But my daughter had spotted them and they needed to be developed into something edible reasonably quickly without dousing them in a bag of sugar. A great healthy way of using any fruit, ripe or not ripe, is to make a little fruity yoghurt ice.

Whenever I make a yoghurt ice I make it as if I was blending a smoothie, as my smoothies often become healthy ice lollies anyway. So into a blender goes a tub of yoghurt, perhaps a little honey and your choice of fruit stewed in a little sugar or honey. With the apricots, they certainly needed sweetening in a pan with honey, but I also spiced them slightly with a stick of vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon. I also folded in a couple of crushed oaty biscuits and an egg white. 2 hour's freezing in a pudding mould and a reasonably classy but delicious healthy dessert was born. Goodbye powdery bland apricot, hello succulent fruity yoghurt ice.

Apricot and Oat Yoghurt Ice
Makes 4 small moulds

6-8 apricots, halved and kernels removed
1 vanilla pod, split and seeded
1 good pinch cinnamon
8 tbsp honey
300ml natural yoghurt
2 oaty biscuits, crushed
1 egg white, whipped to soft peaks

1 - In a pan, add the apricots, honey, cinnamon and vanilla. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes to infuse with the spices. Remove from the heat and cool.
2 - In a blender, add the yoghurt and stewed fruit and pulse until well blended. Pour into a large bowl.
3 - Fold in the crushed biscuit, then the egg white.
4 - Pour into ramekins or small pudding moulds and set in the freezer for 2 hours.
5 - Soften the moulds in hot water then tap onto plates. Serve with a biscuit and some berries.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Goose On The Loose

A very strange thing happened to me last week. I discovered a fruit I have never seen or heard of before at my local greengrocer's. After returning home with the fruit, I then had a little surf on my fellow Blogger's sites. And there on Celia's brilliant Purple Podded Peas was this fruit I had never heard of. What a coincidence. They say that all good things come in threes, so I am fully expecting to get pelted with this fruit at some point this week from the children at one of my food presentations.

The fruit I am talking about is the red gooseberry, or as Celia says, the Whinhams Industry or red dessert gooseberry. Quite how I have never heard of them is a strange one. I love gooseberries, but the ones that I am used to and use in abundance are the green variety that often need sweetening up due to their sour nature. These little beauties need little sugar; they are sweet as can be and perfect for a bit of dessert experimentation.

I decided against the ubiquitous gooseberry crumble. As delightful as it is, I wanted something even more simple, especially as I'm now getting my daughter involved so much. I opted instead for an upside down pudding of sorts. What I'm starting to do with Cerys these days is give her a few sensible choices for the recipe I'm about to experiment with. As she demands to be on the bench when I cook these days, it is only fair to give her a bit of autonomy.

So on her list of random but acceptable choices were walnuts which were gratefully bashed to submission in a plastic bag with her mini rolling pin. These were folded into a simple sponge mixture with the tiniest pinches of ground ginger. Topped and tailed, the gooseberries were softened a little in soft brown sugar. I had to do this quickly as the delicious fruits appeared to be disappearing at a fast rate down my little helper's neck. All that was left was the fruit to be arranged in a buttered dish and the sponge mixture poured over the top and baked off in a moderate oven.

We ate this pudding with vanilla ice cream, and as the ice cream melted around the still warm pudding I glanced over at my daughter as she demolished her well earned slice. I praised her on her fantastic pud, and I was awarded with a sticky cuddle and kiss. I have a little Delia in the making methinks. Hats off to the red dessert gooseberry and unknown pleasures.

Red Gooseberry and Walnut Pudding

1 small punnet of red gooseberries (green will do but may need a little more sugar), topped and tailed
50g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
100g plain flour
100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
50g walnuts, pounded to small crumbs
A good pinch of ground ginger

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM4, 180 degrees C.
2 - In a small pan, melt the sugar and add the gooseberries. Cook until they have softened then remove from the heat.
3 - In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one, then fold in the flour, walnuts and ground ginger. If the mixture is too stiff, beat in a little milk until it falls off a spoon without shaking.
4 - Pour the fruit into a buttered baking dish (I used a square cake tin). Pour over the sponge mixture and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes until the sponge has risen and turned golden brown.
5 - Allow to cool slightly, then turn out onto a plate and serve in generous slices with ice cream.

Friday, 20 July 2007

You Can Have A Fishy On Ya Little Dishy

'The mackerel are in'. Anybody that lives near the coast may have heard these words uttered by excited men in pubs, streets and cafes. For some reason, even if you hate fishing and have never picked up a rod in your life, shoals of approaching mackerel still induces excitement. It is as if the aliens have landed. And people rush to the shoreline to see them approach. With handheld fishing lines and tin foil in hand, South Shields pier is full to the brim with men trying to catch a little fishy for their little dishy. Some slight exaggerations here, but I do love a bit of drama.

Mackerel are so delicious and so good for you. As well as being delicious and good for you, they are really easy to catch. They are so greedy and feed in such a frenzy that anything goes. So a piece of tin foil wrapped onto a hook is very effective. Drop it into the murky waters of the North Sea and dinner has been caught. Eat a mackerel as fresh as can be and you will benefit from unrivalled flavour for the price of a pot noodle. They are so cheap and plentiful at this time of the year, and that makes me a very happy man.

I leave the fishing to the experts and opt for my trustful fishmonger, the amazing Latimers of Whitburn. Fresh from the sea, eyes still winking and gills scarlet red, I need to get them quickly into a pan. So yesterday, I boiled up a few new potatoes and allowed them to cool. Sliced in half, I popped them into a pan with hot rapeseed oil, sliced mushrooms and a handful of frozen peas. Whilst they were crisping up, I made a simple dressing with a handful of capers, the juice of a lemon, more rapeseed oil and black pepper.

Vegetables cooked, I then piled them onto a plate with a handful of rocket. Fillets of mackerel, boned and seasoned, were then seared in the same pan for 2 minutes then placed on top of the vegetables. All that was left was a quick drizzle of the dressing and a quick, fresh and tasty tea of mackerel was served. Beautiful in all of its simplicity. The mackerel are in. Best get the tin foil at the ready.

Pan Fried Mackerel with New Potatoes, Mushrooms and Peas
Serves 2

2 mackerels, filleted, skin slashed and seasoned
10-15 of new potatoes (depending on how hungry you are), boiled and cooled and halved
2 handfuls of rocket
1 handful of frozen peas
2 handfuls of mushrooms, any, sliced in half
2 tbsp Rapeseed or olive oil

For the dressing
Juice of one lemon
A handful of capers, rinsed
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

1 - Make the dressing by combining all of the ingredients.
2 - Heat up a large frying pan. Add the potatoes and mushrooms and cook until golden. Add the peas and warm through with a little seasoning.
3 - Pile onto plates then scatter over the rocket.
4 - Heat up a little more oil then place the fillets skin down and cook for 2 minutes until crisp and golden. Flip and cook for a further minute.
5 - Place fillets onto the vegetables then drizzle over the dressing.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Cherry and Almond Bake


Cherry and Almond Bake

25g butter
500g cherries, pitted (if you prefer, raspberries work perfectly too)
75g flour
50g ground almonds
50g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod (optional), split and seeded
3 eggs
300ml milk

1 – Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, GM4
2 – Butter a shallow baking dish and place the cherries onto the bottom.
3 – Put the flour, ground almonds and sugar into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
4 – Put the eggs into a bowl and whisk. Then whisk in the milk and finally the vanilla seeds. Slowly pour the egg and milk mixture into the bowl and whisk thoroughly until you have a smooth batter.
5 – Pour the batter over the cherries. Place onto the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the batter is risen and golden brown.
6 РCool slightly then serve with cream or cr̬me fraiche.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Turlu Turlu


Turlu Turlu originates from Turkey and in its home country is served both as a main course or as an accompaniment to roast meats. It basically entails slowly roasting off any vegetable you care to roast, ones that improve with a good caramelising such as roots. So into my Turlu Turlu went baby turnips, fennel, aubergines, courgettes, beetroot, carrots, potato, onions and whole garlic cloves. A little dusting in mixed spice and a scattering of coriander seeds along with salt and pepper is all that is required to pick up the flavour. The sweet tomato sauce could not be simpler either. Roast off a load of cherry tomatoes and garlic cloves then blitz in a food processor. Tip in a tin of chickpeas and you have yourself the complete dish. A few homemade flatbreads make the meal even more impressive.

Turlu Turlu
Feeds 4

4 baby turnips, halved
3 large potatoes, cubed
1 onion, cut into eighths
6 whole garlic cloves
1 fennel bulb, quartered
1 beetroot, cubed
1 carrots, cut into thick diagonal slices
1 aubergine, halved then cut into thick slices
2 courgettes, cut into thick slices
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
Half tsp allspice
3 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh coriander

For the sauce
1kg cherry tomatoes
3 whole garlic cloves
Rapeseed or olive oil
1 tin of chickpeas

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, GM6.
2 - In a large roasting tin, combine all of the vegetables except for the courgette with the allspice, coriander seeds, salt and pepper and oil.
3 - In another roasting tin, combine the cherry tomatoes with the garlic and oil.
4 - Place both in the oven. Roast the cherry tomatoes for 30 minutes, remove then blitz to a sauce. Pour into a saucepan and keep aside.
5 - For the vegetables, roast for 20 minutes then turn. Roast for a further 20 minutes then put in the courgettes for a further 10 minutes roasting.
6 - Heat up the sauce, taste for seasoning then add the chickpeas.
7 - Serve a good mixture of the roasted vegetables with a good scattering of fresh coriander and a few spoonfuls of the sauce. For authenticity, drizzle on a little yoghurt which has been salted.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Moroccan Stuffed Chicken with Roasted Fennel


Moroccan Stuffed Chicken with Roasted Fennel

1 whole free range chicken

For the stuffing:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground cinnamon
1 small handful of pistachios
1 small handful of almonds
1 handful of sultanas
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 tbsp honey
Olive oil

For the glaze
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp smoked paprika
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper

2 fennel bulbs, quartered

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 220C, GM 8
2 - In a pan, heat the olive oil then add the onions and garlic. Soften, then add the spices, fruit, nuts, lemon juice and honey and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool slightly then pulse in a blender until you have a sticky mass. Stuff the neck end of the chicken.
3 - Combine the olive oil, paprika, lemon juice and seasoning in a bowl, then massage into the chicken on a baking tray so that it is completely covered. Stuff a halved lemon into the cavity then place the chicken onto the middle shelf for 20 minutes.
4 - Turn down the heat to 180 degrees C, GM4. Roll the fennel in the juices in the tray and bake the chicken for a further 20 minutes per half kilo. For example, my chicken was 1.5 kilos, so i roasted it for 20 minutes at the higher temperature, then a further hour at the lower temperature.
5 - Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Make a quick sauce by deglazing the pan with a little water then stirring in some honey. Calve the meat with a slice of the stuffing and serve with cous cous, flatbreads and a good drizzle of the sweet, spicy and sticky sauce.

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 ...