Thursday, 30 August 2007

Sunset on South Tyneside

The summer is here after a 2 month disappearance act, and the house is happier than it has ever been. We are looking in the mirror and not being blinded by pasty white northern bodies. Instead, a slightly 'red masking as brown' is glowing back after spending too long doing nothing in the blazing sun. Even so, it makes us all feel fitter and healthier and, dare I say it, slimmer. Happy days while it lasts.

As a man who likes to make the most of a small opportunity, (this opportunity being making the most of a sun that won't hang around for too long), the chilled white wine is making an appearance once kids are in bed, and the garden has become the dining room on an evening. What better way to watch the sun go down over the cranes and industrial chimneys of South Tyneside than with a spicy fruit packed Moroccan style dish.

I love making little Moroccan inspired dishes. That unusual combination of fruit, spice, meat and vegetable makes a dull day brighter. With a few store cupboard essentials that concoct to form this most elegant of North African cuisines, it is possible to transform the most bland ingredients into a thing of beauty. I always call them tagines but of course they aren't. A tagine is the clay pot that that the North Africans use to slow cook their vegetables or meat to achieve melting soft food. I take out the trusty old Pyrex and achieve similar results.

As well as being packed full of flavour, you can experiment with any ingredient that you desire. Another bonus is that tagines are incredibly healthy. Slow braised roots such as the up and coming turnips, swedes, carrots and parsnips soak up the sensual spices to perfection. Mixed pulses and beef are a match made in heaven. A good chunky white fish and fennel are dreamy. I decided to go for peppers, new season plums and chick peas combined with the so-called 'Super Food' that is turkey, a bird I usually reserve only for Christmas. Lets hope the Geordie tan sticks around until then.

Moroccan Style Turkey, Plum and Pepper Stew
Feeds 4

500g turkey breast, sliced
3 mixed peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1 onion, sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tin of chickpeas
1 tin of tomatoes, or 400g fresh tomatoes cubed
6 plums, stoned and quartered
A handful of dried apricots, diced
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
A pinch of cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
Freshly ground salt and pepper
A handful of toasted sliced almonds
Fresh coriander and mint, chopped

1 - In a flameproof casserole dish, heat up the oil then add the onion, peppers and fennel. Cook until slightly coloured and soft.
2 - Add the garlic and spices and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
3 - Add the turkey and plums and coat in the spices, cooking and stirring for 1 minute.
4 - Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, honey and dried apricots. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for 40-45 minutes until reduced. Keep checking to ensure it is not catching.
5 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with cous cous, flatbreads and a good scattering of toasted sliced almonds, freshly chopped coriander and mint.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The Fantastic Four

I don't normally find the time for these type of things, but the brilliant Joanna of Joanna's food tagged me a couple of weeks back for a Fantastic Four meme. And I can't resist a bit of chit chat. So here are mine. 5 points of interest with 4 answers. I now tag my brother Darren, Lynda at Lulu's Bay, Amanda at Little Foodies and Kelly at Kelly The Culinarian.

Four jobs I've had in my life:

1 - Working on the delicatessen at Gateways (before it became Safeways) when I was 15 years old. I had to endure every kind of double entendre from the 5 women I worked alongside, details of which I cannot repeat here. But it was hilarious.
2 - Royal Navy - I was a weapons engineer for almost 6 years after leaving school in the RN. I loved the first few years, travelled all over the world, Australia at 18, fabulous for a young lad. Then I was in the Gulf War and I couldn't stand it any longer for some reason!
3 - I was a professional buyer for 10 years working in I.T. - quite how and why I ended up doing this after going to Uni to learn to be a Primary school teacher is anyone's guess!
4 - Demonstration chef - and that is exactly what I do now, and I love it!

Places I have lived:

1 - South Shields in South Tyneside for the first 16 years of my life.
2 - Rosyth in Scotland - fantastic people, I miss Scotland.
3 - Bristol - after leaving Uni, I pretended to be a programmer and disappeared off to Bristol. It lasted for 5 months before I realised I was never going to cut it in the riveting world of programming!
4 - Leeds - my 2nd home, I moved there in 1994 and stayed until the end of last year. I made friends for life there and I miss them all dearly.

Four places I have been on holiday:

1 - Pelion in Greece - I fell in love with Pelion after this trip, and found a huge passion for their food. Lovely humble people making delicious simple food - my kind of place.
2 - Brittany, France - my cousin had a house there for a few years and I went when my daughter was only 4 months old. The memories are of her 1st dip in a pool, weaning her off her mother's breast and hilarious images of the tree in the back garden full of her jumper suits drying off!
3 - North West Scotland - probably my favourite place in the world, I travelled right up the West coast and fell head over heels in love with it. Amazing beautiful scenery and fabulous food.
4 - Rhodes - my first 'lads holiday' away. Gruesome.

Four of my favourite foods:

In no particular order and no waffle -
1 - Cheese (any).
2 - Chocolate (any).
3 - Fish (any).
4 - Curry (any).

Four places I would rather be right now:

1 - On a stage singing in my own band to 100,000 people with them all knowing the words. Dream time.
2 - Rising like a salmon on the edge of the 18 yard box and powering in an unstoppable volley in the FA Cup final for Newcastle United. More dream time.
3 - On a beach in the Pelion with my little girl, splashing in the crystal blue seas and then returning for some zucchini, tzatziki and home brewed red wine.
4 - On a hilltop in the Highlands of Scotland with a flask of strong tea, a wee dram of single malt and the cold heather scented air whistling around me.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Made To Make Your Mouth Water

The unexpected arrival of summer this past weekend meant minimal time in the kitchen in order to catch up on some rays. When you have an Anglo Saxon Northern white body like mine, it needs all of the help it can muster, so thanks to some good friend's hospitality and their large garden, I could top up the tan and rely on other people to cook.

As a man addicted to cooking, I do have to indulge a little in the creation of food each day. So I sneaked into the kitchen and decided to rustle up a very simple dessert, one that would take little time away from the much needed sunshine and also quench our thirsts. A zest packed ice cream was the idea, using little cream and lots of yoghurt in an effort to make it reasonably healthy.

I know it isn't everybody's thing, but I love the hit and zing of pure zest. Just a small amount seems to release a large amount of lip smacking oil which gives your taste buds an amazing wake up call. Remember Opal Fruits, 'Made To Make Your Mouth Water' and all that? I always went for the green lime flavoured ones for that reason, although I very much doubt they made my mouth water through the use of pure zest extract. So I guessed that the whole skin of a lime would do the trick for the ice cream. With a large amount of fresh mint at hand, it perfectly complimented the lime for a thoroughly refreshing palate cleansing dessert.

Lime and Mint Ice Cream

1 lime, skin peeled thinly
A large bunch of mint leaves
500ml tub of low fat yoghurt
150ml double cream, whipped to soft peaks
5 tbsp honey

1 - In a food processor, blitz the zest and mint until finely chopped. Add the honey and juice of the lime and blitz again to combine.
2 - In a large bowl, fold together the cream, yoghurt and blitzed ingredients.
3 - Add to a plastic tub with a lid and place in the freezer. Every hour for 4-5 hours, mix thoroughly with a fork to combine the ice crystals.

Friday, 24 August 2007

A Souper Summer

Summer and soup are not two words that are usually spoken in the same sentence. Even in this summer of discontent here in the U.K. I would assume that you, like me, have not been taking to the soup like you would in the winter months. People associate soup as the perfect food to fill and warm after a long winter day in the freezing cold. Therefore, we all tend to turn to lighter dishes in the summer, moving from soups to smoothies and casseroles to salads.

Of course there are many fabulous soups that utilise the glut of summer ingredients around. I'm thinking of a flavour and health packed minestrone. Or a garlic hot gazpacho. Perhaps a chilled almond soup. Thinking about it, there are soups-a-plenty to be guzzled during the hotter months.

Soups are a perfect platform for experimenting with ingredients and flavours. As long as you don't go too weird, even the ugliest of soups that have been 'thrown' together can usually be saved with a quick blitz in the blender. I'm always thinking of new soup ideas when the list of available seasonal ingredients becomes available. And yesterday was no exception.

With a glut of courgettes freshly plucked from my father-in-law's allotment, and a few new Bramley apples from the greengrocer, I had a combination in my mind that would either be an embarrassing disaster or a summer success story. Thankfully it was the latter. Even with an intruding sharp Bramley in there, balancing out that sharpness with a strong salty Cheddar and a punch of fresh mint works perfectly. Each flavour needs to be balanced so that you taste each ingredient rather than one overpowering. Serve it hot or cold. It needs to be fresh, subtle and gentle, a bit like a British summer. And this makes for a very good summer soup. Now we just need the sun...

Courgette, Bramley and Cheddar Soup

4-5 small courgettes or 2 large, halved and sliced
5 Bramley apples, peeled and cubed
2 sticks of celery, sliced
1 clove of garlic
A large handful of fresh mint, chopped
500ml vegetable stock or water
250g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - In a large pan, heat the oil then add the courgettes, apples, celery and garlic. Gently cook, stirring regularly until some of the water evaporates and the vegetables and fruit collapse. Add the fresh mint.
2 - Add the stock or water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
3 - Pour the soup into a blender along with the cheese. Blitz thoroughly until smooth. It should be the palest of greens.
4 - Pour back into the pan and taste for seasoning. You may want to add more cheese, but go gentle on the salt. Serve in bowls with an optional swirl of yoghurt and a sprinkle of freshly chopped mint. This soup can be served chilled, it works perfectly with either.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

The Pizza Olympics

A long time back, my brother and young nephew were visiting for the weekend. Thinking I was doing the right thing, and before the days when I had the confidence to cook such things, I bought some of those pizza bases you see in the frozen food section of the supermarket. My idea was to make a few home made pizzas for the benefit of the little fella. Once crunch of the Olympic discus-like pizza, and my nephew was one tooth down. Oops.

That was the catalyst for me to start getting into bread making so that I could attempt to make tooth friendly pizzas for my family. Thankfully I found it easy and my daughter has so far retained her molars. Anybody who thinks that making bread dough is difficult should persevere. There is no substitute for a beautifully baked fresh piece of dough which can be shaped into our number one takeaway. And everybody loves a pizza.

Another advantage to making your own pizzas is the whole family can get involved, and you can make them reasonably healthy as you are in control of the ingredients. My daughter has a good 'squidge' whenever I make some, and we also have a bit of fun with the toppings. Making it good fun generally means that she will eat whatever we put on there, not that she needs much encouragement. I've called them The Pizza Olympics.

So last week I made 3 pizzas for The Pizza Olympics, letting Cerys randomly choose some well thought out ingredients to assemble onto the pizza bases. Each one was a face of some kind, made with various combinations of cured meats and sausages, char grilled vegetables and a spiced up tomato, 3 cheese and wild herb effort. Thumbs up or thumbs down and a large cheer were the judges, and although each received a messy thumbs up and a loud cheer, the loudest cheer was reserved for the char grilled vegetable pizza. And not a tooth fairy was required.

Char Grilled Vegetable Pizza

To make enough dough for approximately 3 pizza bases
500g plain flour
1 sachet of dried yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
250-350ml tepid water

For the tomato sauce

1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
A pinch of chilli flakes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar

For the pizza
1 mozzarella ball
1 aubergine, halved and thinly sliced
1 courgette, halved and thinly sliced
2 large flat mushrooms, sliced
1 red onion, sliced into thick slices
Olive oil
Fresh basil

1 - To make the dough, sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, then tip in the yeast, olive oil and honey. Slowly pour in the tepid water and with a clean hand, circle the flour and combine thoroughly to make dough that isn't too sticky and not too dry. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 or so minutes until you feel it 'gives'. A good 'give' test is to push a flat palm into the dough, and if it springs back it will be ready. Put it back into the bowl, cover with cling film or a tea towel, put somewhere warmish and leave for approximately 2 hours.
2 - In the meantime, make the tomato sauce. Warm the oil in a pan and add the garlic and chilli. Fry for 1 minute, then add the tomatoes and red wine vinegar. Bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes until reduced.
3 - To char grill the vegetables you will need a ridged pan. If you don't have one, a frying pan will do but the ridge effect will look better. Heat up and brush the ridges with olive oil. Put the strips of vegetables in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes each side so that they caramelise and lose some of their water. Remove and set aside.
4 - Pre-heat the oven to the hottest setting and put in a suitably sized baking tray. Remove the dough from the bowl; it should have at least doubled in size. Push the air out and knead for 1 minute or two. Then tear off one third and roll out to your desired thickness on a floured surface.
5 - Take out the baking tray and place the pizza base on top. Working quickly, cover the base with tomato sauce. Then scatter the base with the vegetables, torn basil
and ripped mozzarella. Place immediately onto the top shelf and bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden delicious. Remove, leave to cool slightly so that you don't burn your palate then devour. Don't forget the thumbs up and loud cheer.

Friday, 17 August 2007

The Great Stafoodoo Mystery

Last month, I was sat in the hairdressers getting my barnet snipped, absorbing the usual day-to-day chit chat you always get in those settings. The subjects swooped from Coronation Street, to Sunderland AFC, to hoodies and then thankfully, to food. In my element, I began to take hold of proceedings, swatting each foody question or topic back with confidence. Of course, when you have a mouth as big as mine, you are inevitably going to land yourself in it. In this instance, I failed to help one of the older ladies out with one of her questions - how do you make a Stafoodoo?

Now, I had never heard of a Stafoodoo. When I asked her where it was from, she couldn't remember if it was Spain, Italy or Greece, definitely Mediterranean, and that she had it on one of her many holidays over the years claiming it was the best food she had ever eaten. When I asked her what it was, she said it was a kind of stew with pork or lamb or beef, and that it had tomatoes and cinnamon in it. I was still no clearer as to what it was and as a typical man who loves a challenge, I left the blue rinses with the question still ringing in my ears, determined to find the answer.

Like a man possessed, I began to scour the food books on my return home. My first port of call was Larousse Gastranomique, looking under 'St' for Mediterranean stews. As a book that usually answers any food related questions, I was disappointed to find nothing. I then tried 'The Real Greek At Home', suspecting that out of all of the Med countries, a word like Stafoodoo could only come from Greece. Nothing. I then tried every single book in my possession and still no luck. Greece was still my number one country of research. Typing in 'Greece', 'staf' and 'recipe' in Google brought up nothing. I then changed 'staf' to 'stif' and the answer to the question came up on a million websites - it wasn't Stafoodoo after all, it was Stifado, a Greek stew I had cooked many times before. Doh!

Stifado is one of those classic dishes that every country should cherish with great pride. There must be a hundred different recipes for it, and each is probably fiercely defended in each region. Beautifully rich with red wine, sweetly scented with cinnamon and bay, it is a long braised stew that can contain any meat that will withstand a long cooking time. So certain cuts of lamb and beef are perfect. My version contains cheap stewing beef, but coincidentally, I noticed Mr Stein eating a bowlful last night on his TV show which had rabbit in it. Either way, it is that simple food born from a history of survival, that utilises cheap ingredients and tastes like a million dollars. I agree with Mr Stein - Greek food is seriously under-rated. Perhaps it is because it is essentially 'peasant' food and does not pass the refined looking test that the Michelin greedy restaurants often crave. I don't care. It tastes sensational. And Stifado is one of the best things I have ever eaten, certainly in my Top 10 foods.

The list of ingredients may seem long, but it takes no time to put together. The hardest bit is waiting for it to cook as the house will be full of tempting aromas making every stomach rumble with anticipation. Eat it with crusty bread and mashed potato to soak up the sensual juices, or perhaps some simple roasted vegetables and a green salad. It will fill the family and still cost less than a tenner.

I returned to the hairdressers yesterday with the recipe for 'Stafoodoo' printed out. The roof came off when I told them the story of my frantic research for the mysterious Stafoodoo loving blue rinsed lady. She owes me one....

Greek Stifado (or Stafoodoo if you are from Sunderland)
Feeds four

500g stewing beef, cut into chunks
Plain flour
Olive oil
1 onion, sliced
20-30 shallots, peeled and left whole
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
6 tomatoes, roughly chopped, or one tin of chopped tomatoes
200ml beef stock
500ml red wine
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 cinnamon sticks or a good pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
1 pack of feta cheese
A handful of walnuts
Fresh mint, chopped

1 - Pre-heat your oven to 140 degrees C. In a bowl, coat the cubes of meat in seasoned flour. Pour enough olive oil into a heavy based casserole dish to cover the bottom and heat up. Add the meat in batches and cook quickly to get a good golden brown crust all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and put aside. Do not be alarmed by the ever blackening crust forming on the bottom; once de-glazed this is essential for the flavour.
2 - Add the sliced onions and shallots and quickly brown. Add the garlic, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, chilli and oregano and cook for one minute. Return the meat to the pan along with any juices, then pour in the red wine and bring to the boil. Scrape away on the bottom with a wooden spatula to remove the flavoursome crust.
3 - Add the tomatoes, stock and vinegar. Bring to the boil, place the lid on and cook on the middle shelf of your oven for 3 hours, stirring halfway through the cooking time. If you feel that the sauce is too loose, remove the lid for half an hour to help thicken.
4 - Add the walnuts just before serving, then either crumble over the feta cheese or mix in. Either way, the salty hit from this delicious sour cheese should mean you don't need to add more salt. Sprinkle over the mint and serve in generous bowls.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Posh Nosh

After a week of caravanning, kitchen utilities have been at a minimum and I have had to make use of a couple of electric hobs and a handful of utensils. It is amazing what you can do on a portable electrical hob. But with a lot of walking and adventuring to be done, I have put any cooking that takes more than 20 minutes well and truly out of my mind. So think big pots and ingredients that warm you from the soul outwards (it is has been like winter up here this week), as well as keep hungry tummies full.

When I camped or caravanned as a child, tins of beans were a common thing. They are almost ubiquitous with the camping experience, as are the tins of beans that have those little grey sausages in. Not something that I consume these days, but I still do hanker now and again for those salty tins of sausage and beans for a quick fix. So I decided to invent my own.

I guessed that if I had a tin of haricot beans and a tin of tomatoes, as well as a pack of quality sausages, I could make a very simple version of sausage and beans and pack it full of goodness and flavour, rather than blandness and salt. And that is what I did. I make no apologies for putting up a recipe for 'posh' sausages and beans. The French 'peasant' dishes such as La Potee and Cassoulet are essentially meat and beans casseroles, made using cheap ingredients and enhanced using amazing flavours. Ironically, they can often be seen on the menus of 'posh' restaurants.

Another advantage for mums and dads with fussy kids is you can experiment with the vegetables in this one. For some reason, kids love sausage and beans, so hide a few within the sauce. Enjoy my version. Camping and caravanning may never be the same again.

'Posh' Sausage and Beans
Feeds 4

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 carrot, diced
1 leek, sliced
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 pinch of chilli flakes
1 tsp fennel seeds
1tsp paprika
A handful of sun-dried tomatoes. finely chopped
1 tin of haricot beans
2 tins chopped tomatoes
8 good quality sausages (I used spicy Italian)
1 tbsp olive oil
Fresh basil
Freshly ground pepper.

1 - In a large frying pan, heat up the oil then add the sausages. Fry quickly, turning regularly until browned all over. Remove and set aside.
2 - Add the onion, bacon, carrot and leek and cook for 5 minutes until slightly softened and coloured. Add the garlic, chilli, paprika and fennel seeds and cook for a further 2 minutes.
3 - Now add the beans, tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes and bring to the boil. Add the sausages, lower the heat and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until slightly reduced and the sausages are cooked through. Taste for seasoning. Its should not need salt due to the bacon but will need a good grinding of pepper depending on what sausages you have used.
4 - Serve in large bowls with crusty bread and a good handful of torn basil.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Desert the Dessert

Indian desserts are a thing that I have had great problems with over the years. As much as I adore all things Indian and savoury, I have always struggled to stomach their sugary offerings. To me, they always seemed to be that - too sugary. Either a pastry or a batter steeped in a sugar syrup, or those sugary and nut multi-coloured squares that look ever so pretty but taste ever so sickly. Always looking good, but rarely tasting as good as they look.

Of course this is my opinion. And I am of the nature that opinions are there to be changed. As the years have gone by and I have opened my mind up to the myriad of foodstuffs out there, my dislike of Indian desserts has become one of irritation to me. How can somebody love one side of a country's cuisine so much and not like the other? I always knew that it was a matter of just being shown a few alternative Indian desserts from their vast country to change my opinion. And last week that very thing happened.

I was introduced to a dessert called Shrikhand which is a dessert like no other. It is simply a strained yoghurt flavoured with cardamon and saffron, sweetened with a little honey and covered in fruit and nuts. Incredibly simple, it tastes exotic and cools the palate after a spicy main course. It is also light on the stomach, which is always a blessing after a starchy main. This is one of those desserts that you will always remember, and if you leave out the yoghurt straining, you will be able to whip up a very impressive dessert with minimum effort. My opinion has of course been changed. Indian desserts - I love them!

Feeds 2

1 large tub of natural yoghurt
5-6 tbsp honey
1 large pinch of saffron, steeped in a little milk
15 green cardamon pods, seeds removed, pan roasted then ground
A handful of pistachios
A handful of sliced almonds
1 pomegranate, seeds removed

1 - If you want to make yoghurt 'cheese', line a sieve with kitchen roll and place over a large bowl. Pour in the yoghurt and place in the fridge overnight to remove all of the water. This is optional - it will make for a thicker, creamier and more sumptuous dessert.
2 - In a large bowl, beat together the yoghurt and honey. Then beat in the saffron and ground cardamon.
3 - Place piles into bowls. Scatter over the nuts and seeds.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The Orange Order

A freshly baked cake always assaults the nasal passages at great speed. Walk into any house where a bit of cake baking has been going on, and your tummy rumbles immediately. Tummy rumbling is often followed by the rumbler dropping loud hints to the house owner as to where the cake is. Shop bought cakes can be great, but freshly baked cakes can be outstanding.

When I first started to learn how to bake cakes, I was taken over by fear. It was a pre-conception of mine that the cake will always turn out to be a flat and sad little thing, as much of my early inventions were. Once you have cracked a good cake, there is no looking back and opportunities for new and exciting flavours are there to be experimented with. It really isn't difficult at all once you know the basic cooking process, and having a good and quick cake recipe up your sleeve is a very handy thing.

A truly sensational technique for making a great cake is to add a whole fruit. I don't mean skinning and chopping up a fruit, I mean boiling a whole one, skin and all, and then blitzing into a zesty purée. So, take an orange and boil it whole. Cut it in half, take out the seeds and whizz up in a blender. Fold that into a cake, and you are hit with amazing orange flavour in every bite. It also makes for a very moist cake that will stay moist and improve with a day of resting.

Experiment with limes and lemons. Even try a grapefruit. And perhaps use ground pistachios or hazelnuts instead of almonds. Food is to be experimented with, so why not? This cake is one that I have turned out so many times and it always has the desired effect. A vanishing effect. I sweetened this one up with a topping of icing sugar mixed with the juice of an orange, but that is your choice. Enjoy.

Orange Cake

1 orange, boiled for 45 minutes, seeded and blitzed to a purée
3 eggs
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g ground almonds
175g butter
100g sugar
Pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)

1 - Pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees C, GM4.
2 - Butter and line a baking tin with a removable base.
3 - In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. This is important as it will lighten the cake.
4 - Add the eggs one by one, beating all of the time.
5 - Sieve in the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour in the ground almonds and orange purée and fold in thoroughly.
6 - Pour into the baking tin and bake on the middle shelf for 30-40 minutes until golden and an inserted knitting needle, or something similar, comes out clean.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Can't Cook, Will Cook

Holiday time is upon us, and with lots of family and friends to visit over the next month or so, it means that my kitchen gets a little break from the daily pounding it usually gets. I miss cooking every day that I'm not cooking. With new recipes to write and ingredients to experiment with, not cooking every day can become a bit of a pain. Not to me necessarily, but to the family and friends that we visit. Hovering around in somebody else's kitchen is what I do, dropping loud hints to either join in with their cooking or take over completely. You can take the food obsessive out of his kitchen, but not the kitchen from the food obsessive. Or something like that anyway.

Fortunately, the majority of friends and family that I visit tend to be as passionate about their food as I am. And the first visitors on our calendar this past week have been my brother Darren and his wife Marie up in Aberdeenshire. Marie is one of those people that are supremely talented in the kitchen but are either blind to that fact, or too modest to admit it. Consistent and quality, Marie's food is something that I always look forward to so much. Although I did somehow manage to book a slot in her kitchen to bake a cake, I was more than happy to take a rest from cooking knowing that what Marie would serve up would be fantastic. I would love to see her enter a certain TV cookery show as I'm convinced that she would go all of the way. Start the petition here.

I was introduced to a pasta called Orzo by Marie. In a clever little dish that makes you delighted to believe that simplicity and fresh ingredients are the key to a good meal, Orzo means 'barley' in Italian, and these tiny 'barley' shaped pasta shapes combine perfectly in a summer salad. Tossed together with caramelised vegetables and a sharp lemon dressing, we had it with roast chicken and stuffed herb tomatoes. It looked amazing and tasted even better, one of those dishes that you will always keep up your sleeve in the knowledge that it will impress. It is also a dish that will improve with a few hours rest to allow the flavours to develop, and perfect for cold leftover roasts. So Marie, if you are reading this, time to start believing one thing - you know how to cook! Thanks for the Orzo xxx

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

1 aubergine, diced
1 red and yellow pepper, diced
1 red onion, sliced into chunks
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g Orzo pasta
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil

For the dressing
Juice of 2 lemons
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM6, 200 degrees C.
2 - In a baking tray, toss together the vegetables, garlic, seasoning and olive oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes turning once, until evenly caramelised all over.
3 - While the vegetables are roasting, boil the pasta for 10-12 minutes. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Add the roasted vegetables and any roasting juices.
4 - Make the dressing by combining the ingredients, then toss all of the vegetables and pasta with the dressing and fresh basil leaves.
5 - Serve this as it is at room temperature, or experiment and add toasted nuts, shaving of cheese, flaked smoked fish, crumbled feta, spring onions, anything you like.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Respect Your Marrow

Last year, an ex-work colleague of mine asked me if I liked courgettes. Daft question; of course I do, I will eat anything. The next day, the promised courgettes arrived in style. Two of the biggest marrows I had ever seen in my life were sat in my seat.

And so the story goes that he was looking after his father's allotment whilst he was on holiday and had been watering the courgettes. Coming into the allotment one day, he was met by two incredibly large and overgrown courgettes. It seemed that one day they were courgettes, the next, marrows. And thinking that nobody in their right mind would eat such items, he asked if I wanted them and of course I obliged.

Marrows are much maligned vegetables. Lacking in flavour, fibrous at times and full of seeds and water, they are more than often subjected to a good pickle as they are an unoffensive and cheap filler. I have to admit that with the majority of these monsters I spent half of the night stood over a large pickling pan and subsequently filled a thousand jam jars. I'm still eating the stuff to this day, and mighty fine pickle it is.

But I think that the marrow deserves more respect than that. Okay, it does need the flavour lifted, but as far as I am concerned, once lifted it tastes magnificent. I set off to make something that would not only treat it with great respect, but also take it into another league. A soufflé was on the cards. Not something I make very often, the soufflé and the marrow make a lovely little match. I use good strong Cheddar and English Mustard to embellish the flavour, and the result is a dreamy dish that makes for an impressive starter to any meal.

So start to treat your marrow with a little respect and pack one into these floaty little numbers. No longer should the overgrown courgette be laughed at by children, sat limp and unused in the fridge or looked at in puzzlement and then walked past by adults in supermarkets. Take it to another level and spend a little time making my Marrow and Mustard Soufflés.

Marrow and Mustard Soufflé
Fills 5-6 ramekins

2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 shallot, diced finely
1 clove garlic, diced finely
1 smallish marrow, cubed
1 heaped teaspoon of English mustard powder
250ml milk
50g butter
50g plain flour
4 eggs separated
50g strong cheddar, grated
freshly ground black pepper

1 - Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Butter 5 or 6 ramekins
2 - Heat the oil the garlic and shallot. Fry for 1 minute then add the marrow. Cook very slowly, try not to colour but it won’t harm until the marrow has collapsed and lost a lot of it’s water. Mix all together so it is one big mush (technical cheffy term) and put aside.
3 - Make a béchamel sauce. In a pan, melt the butter and mix in the flour, stirring all of the time. Then add the milk bit by bit, always stirring until you have a thick béchamel.
5 - Allow to bubble for just 1 minute (this ensures the flour is cooked through) then remove from the heat.
6 - Add the bechamel to the marrow mixture. Then stir in the egg yolks, cheese, mustard powder a good grinding of black pepper. Mix well to gloopy glory.
7 - Whisk the egg whites until you can hold the bowl over your head, then using a large metal spoon, fold 1 spoon’s worth quickly into the mixture. Then gently fold in the remainder. Divide between the ramekins so that they are full to the brim. Tidy up the edges with some kitchen roll.
9 - Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Eat immediately with crusty bread or toast. Beautiful!

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 ...