Saturday, 27 December 2008

Leftover Turkey, Ham and Vegetable Pie

The week of traditional excess is almost over and if you are anything like me, it is almost a relief once 2nd January arrives in order to give your body a break from it all.

Our Christmas leftovers have been gradually reduced and keeping in line with my early resolution of being even more frugal, not a scrap was wasted. It wasn’t all about endless turkey sandwiches and omelettes; we gave the huge bird a full range of delicacies to be the main star in, from Thai curries and stir fries to rich broths with herb dumplings. Probably the favourite of the family is this delicious pie that takes no time to prepare and is pretty much guaranteed to please even the most turkey sickened family member.

There is never a better time than the present to start thinking about the way that you eat and utilise your ingredients; we all need to watch the pennies and waste is simply not an option. Therefore, the turkey leftovers become the perfect base to practice a few techniques and recipes that can be put to use throughout the year with other roasts. Start with this one and look forward to a more frugal and sensible 2009. Happy New Year readers.

Leftover Turkey, Ham and Vegetable Pie

Feeds 4

2 tbsp olive oil
2 large leeks, sliced
1 stick of celery, sliced
100g mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 tbsp crème fraiche
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
100ml chicken or turkey stock
Several handfuls of leftover turkey and ham cut into chunks
An optional handful of chopped fresh parsley
Puff pastry
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200C GM8.
2 - Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the leek, celery, mushrooms and carrots and cook for 10 minutes,
3 - Add the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer until slightly reduced and thickened. Stir in the crème fraiche and mustard and taste for seasoning.
4 - Stir in the meat and parsley then pour into a baking dish. Roll out the puff pastry, dampen the edges of the baking dish and cover, trimming off any excess and sealing with your thumb or a fork. Brush with a beaten egg and push a small hole into the centre.
5 – Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and puffed up.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Yuletide Log

Christmas is almost upon us, and no matter how cynical you are about the modern Christmas and all of its clinical marketing and sales techniques, there is still something magical about this time of the year. The excitement in our house is crackling in the air, especially with a mischievous 3 year old desperate to open some presents that Santa has somehow already managed to place underneath our tree.

I can still remember feeling the presents when nobody was around in a nervous effort to work out what they were. And on more than one occasion, the Sellotape was peeled carefully aside in order to have a peek. I can only apologise to my family right now as I admit this unscrupulous crime after all of these years. But I reckon everybody has tried this once or twice.

I also can't recall an event in which all forms of nature are painted and decorated with such lavish attention. From a tinsel necked dog to a town street tree, few escape the Western gaudiness of our Christmas decorations. And in my opinion, the world is a much better place when we can forget about our earthly troubles and don the tack to such effect. My house is covered in the stuff - taste has no place at Christmas time.

No surprises, but it is the food that gets me excited. At no other time of the year can you indulge yourself so heavily and not have to be made to feel guilty in some way. The smells of Christmas food are unique and just the waft of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves brings back a thousand memories in one swift sniff. So enjoy this mainstay of the Yuletide season - it is a lot easier to make than you might first think - and don't forget to get the kids involved when making it. After all, Christmas should always be about our little ones. Happy Christmas readers x

Yuletide Log

3 eggs
Plain flour
Caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
250ml double cream
A splash of rum
1 tsp coffee granules dissolved in a little hot water
150g butter
200g 70% cocoa chocolate
Icing sugar to dust

1 – Pre-heat the oven to 180C, GM4. Grease and line a small baking tray with baking paper.
2 – Weight the eggs in their shells. Then weight out the same quantity butter, sugar and flour. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs one by one then gently fold in the flour, cocoa powder and vanilla extract.
3 – Pour the sponge mixture into the baking tray and bake on the middle shelf for 10-15 mins until cooked. Allow to cool slightly.
4 – Place a piece of greaseproof paper onto your bench and tip the sponge out onto it. Peel off the baking paper then roll the sponge with the greaseproof inside. Leave to cool and shape.
5 – Melt the butter and chocolate in a pan then allow to cool and thicken. Whip the cream into soft peaks and fold in the coffee and rum. Unroll the sponge and spread with the cream. Roll back up without the greaseproof paper.
6 – Place onto a plate then spread on the chocolate butter with a palette knife, lifting off here and there to try to form a bark effect. Dust with icing sugar and decorate with holy.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Warming 3 Root and Coriander Soup

'Tis the season to be jolly, but I’m sad to report that it has been far from it in our family household. With December being a fine combination of illness, injury, damaged cars and various other misdemeanours, I could be forgiven for being the ultimate Scrooge coming into the week before Christmas.

Thankfully we are all bringing ourselves around. My daughter, the cause of the various ills due to her new favourite pastime since starting nursery, Pass the Germ Parcel, appears to have the cheeky glint back in her eye and the bounce back in her step. My wife ploughs on into the storm with the strength that the female of the species only possess. And I still moan on a daily basis, but I can see the Christmas light at the end of the December tunnel. Man flu - need I say more?

Soups play a big part of any revival in our kitchen, and with cheap roots everywhere at this time of the year it is amazing what kind of super soups you can achieve with a bit of experimentation. Some old carrots, half a squash, a parsnip and a potato were the main ingredients for this winter warmer.

Blended with warming chilli and ginger and flecked with coriander, it makes for a nice alternative to the popular carrot and coriander. A squeeze of lime and a swirl of yoghurt adds sharpness to the heat and completes an otherwise impressive but simple soup, one that just about bent the corners of my mouth into some form of smile. Here's to the build up to Christmas, I can’t wait.

Warming 3 Root and Coriander Soup

Feeds 4

1 onion, sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 fresh of dried chilli, chopped or crumbled
1 thumb size of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
Half a large or 1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and sliced
1 large potato, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 litre hot vegetable stock
1 large handful of fresh coriander, roots and leaves
100ml natural yoghurt
Juice of 1 lime (optional)
Dried chilli for garnish

1 - Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the vegetables including the chilli, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes until they start to soften.
2 - Pour in the hot stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
3 - Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Put in the fresh coriander and yoghurt and blend until the coriander has broken up into small pieces rather than completely broken up.
4 - Taste for seasoning then stir in the lime juice. Pour into bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of dried chilli and a spoonful of yoghurt.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Jerusalem Artichoke and Cheese Scones

Up on the chilly coastline of Newbiggin by the sea here in the North East, a cafe owner has decided to claim a unique record of having the most varieties of homebaked scones for sale. Jackie Nevin and her husband Colin have invented everything from a mince and onion variety to a black cherry and white chocolate. And why not? Call it bizarre, but it is these little quirky finds in the world of food that makes it such an interesting subject.

I love a scone; it is about as English as a foodstuff can be and a visit to Cornwall is not complete without a feast on one of their famous scones with strawberries and clotted cream and a nice cup of tea. Being a bit of a traditionalist, I'm torn between a plain old fruit scone or a warm cheese scone, fresh from the oven with a slab of salted butter dripping from it. Last year I remember catering for a large birthday party and as they wanted an English tea party, I created my own little record of baking what seemed like a thousand scones in my own tiny kitchen. I believe some of them are still residing in their freezer.

This week it was my turn to go all bizarre with the scone. I've made a potato scone several times and that works a treat. With a handful of that wind inducing vegetable the Jerusalem artichoke, I thought a smooth puree folded into a strong cheese scone mixture would work just perfectly. And it did; strong Cheddar and the nutty artichoke are such a lovely combination. I might send this recipe to that scone shop in Newbiggin to see if I can help towards getting them into that famous book.

Jerusalem Artichoke and Cheese Scones

Makes 12

100g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced
200ml milk
300g plain flour
200g wholemeal flour
4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g salted butter
50g Cheddar cheese, grated
100ml milk
1 egg

1 – Put the Jerusalem artichoke into a pan with the milk. Bring to the boil then simmer until the Jerusalem artichoke is tender, approximately 10 minutes. Put the artichoke and milk into a blender and blend to a loose puree. Keep aside.
2 – Preheat the oven to 200C, GM6. Grease and flour a baking tray.
3 – Sift the flour into a food processor along with the bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar. Add the butter and blend until combined.
4 – Add the cheese and Jerusalem artichoke puree and blend. Begin to pour the milk gradually through the blender funnel until the dough comes together into a soft dough.
5 – Tip out onto a floured surface and roll to approximately 4 cm depth. Using a scone cutter, cut out the dough and place the scones snugly onto the baking tray. Beat the egg and brush the tops of the scones. Cook on the middle shelf for 10-15 minutes until risen and golden brown. Cool slightly on a wire rack and eat warm with lots of butter. The scones are also a great accompaniment to a rich beef stew.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Swede, Rosemary and Parmesan Wedges

I may have mentioned this before, but much to the surprise of anybody that knows me, I used to be a fussy one. Just like a lot of the children I teach now, most vegetables were a 'no go area' to me. Can you remember ever hiding your cabbage under the mashed potato and pretending that you weren't hungry? That was me.

The one vegetable that was like an arch enemy in my little world of battles with vegetables was the swede. Boiled within an inch of its life and pulverised by school cooks with blunt instruments, the smell wafted into the school dining hall straight into my nostrils and made me gag each time. Mixed with the sulphurous smell of over-boiled cabbage, things got worse.

These days I've grown to love the humble swede, just as I have with all of the vegetables I used to loathe. Mashed with plenty of good butter, perhaps with a touch of nutmeg, I can't work out why I kicked up such a fuss about it when I was young.

But the swede still remains an unfashionable food in this modern world of trendy food fads. So here is a swede makeover that brings it into the 21st Century. Punchy rosemary and a dousing of Parmesan cheese and baked to caramelised glory, it gives you a delicious side vegetable or perhaps a wedge to dip into a sweet chilli sauce or a little sour cream and chives. Hail the humble swede!

Swede, Rosemary and Parmesan Wedges

1 swede, peeled and cut into wedges
3 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

1 – Pre-heat the oven to 200C, GM6.
2 – In a baking tray, toss the swede wedges with the olive oil, rosemary, Parmesan cheese and a little salt and pepper.
3 – Place onto a high shelf in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Beef, Ale and Chestnut Stew

'Waste not, want not,' my mam always used to say to me, and despite screwing my face up each time she said it, it has been a lifelong lesson in frugality that has never been more relevant than it is now. The one positive thing to take from the current economic downturn is that it is making us all - hopefully - think a little more creatively in the home. So everything from using every scrap of food to budgeting your shopping is the hot topic in this crazy world we live in.

Making food for the whole family using cheaper cuts of meat is also a current much discussed topic, and in my opinion, the country is all the better for it. In days not so long ago when the country did not have the option of takeaways, ready meals and endless processed snacks, the nation cooked creatively using whatever they could get their hands on. How times have changed. But if there was ever a time to start being inspired to use a cheaper cut of meat, it is now.

The dinner plate isn't all about fillet steaks and racks of lamb; take a scrag end of lamb or perhaps a shin of beef and you can make all kinds of wonderful, tasty, filling and economic casseroles and soups to keep you all warm this winter without breaking the bank. Slow cooking is perhaps my favourite way of treating a piece of meat and the fattier, cheaper cuts of meat lend themselves to slow braising perfectly. What that process does is give you the tastiest, most sumptuous and tender meat you can wish for. So get the slow cookers out, spend a fiver on a cheap cut of meat and treat the family to a meal that laughs in the face of the credit crunch.

Beef, Ale and Chestnut Stew

Feeds 4

1kg skirt of beef, cut into large chunks
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped roughly
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 celery sticks, sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 bottle of ale
250ml beef stock
2 handfuls of cooked chestnuts
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
Salt and pepper

1 - Preheat the oven to 150C, GM2.
2 - In a large casserole dish, heat up the oil. Add the beef in batches and quickly cook until golden brown all over. Remove and set aside.
3 - Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook f0r 5-10 minutes until beginning to colour. Return the beef and any juices to the pot and sprinkle in the flour. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until combined.
4 - Add the tomato puree and herbs and stir in. Pour in the ale and stock, bring to the boil, cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours, stirring on the hour.
5 - Add the chestnuts and mustard and cook for a further 20 minutes.
6 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with mashed potato and cabbage.

Friday, 21 November 2008

The Best Christmas Cake

With 5 weeks to go before that most indulgent of days, Christmas Day, it is now time to start getting that cake done. It isn’t too early to make a Christmas cake. Thanks to the huge amount of preserved fruit and booze, it can keep for a long time if wrapped and kept in a cool, dark place.

We made ours this week. It is a tried, tested, tweaked, tested then tweaked again recipe. A lot of people I know don’t like a traditional Christmas cake, saying that it is too rich/dry/boozy. So my recipe is one that tries to appease all taste buds. Not too boozy, certainly not dry and with added ingredients that will please rather than offend.

If you can handle the alcohol, ‘feed’ your cake every 2 weeks with a shot glass of brandy or whisky. A few knitting needle holes will help the booze soak into the rich concoction of fruit, sugar, cocoa, orange and coffee – a combination from heaven in anybody’s world. Wrap it tightly in greaseproof paper and foil and keep in an airtight cake tin. Come Christmas Day, you will be knocked over by the sensational aromas as you remove the lid for the first slice.

Like all of the best things in life, it is the simple things that work. And like any child that grew up with people cooking in their family, my daughter Cerys threw herself into the ubiquitous spoon licking like a seasoned professional. So get mucking about in the kitchen with the kids this weekend and knock up a Christmas cake to beat all Christmas cakes.

The Best Christmas Cake

200g dark muscovado sugar
100g honey
250g butter
100g each of raisins, currants, sultanas, dried figs and dried prunes, roughly chopped
1 espresso cup of coffee
A large splash of brandy or whisky
Tablespoon of mixed spice
Zest and juice of an orange or 2 satsuma, tangerines or clementine
1 tbsp of cocoa powder
3 large eggs
100g plain flour, sifted
150g ground almonds
Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda

1 - Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C, GM3. Grease and line a 22cm spring form cake tin.
2 - Melt the butter and sugars in a large pan then add the fruit, coffee, brandy or whisky, spice and honey. Zest and juice the oranges and add along with the cocoa powder. Stir until dark, caramelised and fragrant.
3 - Beat the eggs and add to the mixture along with the flour, ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Fold in thoroughly until not a trace of flour is left.
4 - Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake on the middle shelf for 2 hours. If the top looks like it is catching, cover with baking paper.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Apple Pie

It's easy to get too bogged down into the current doom and gloom that seems to dominate the news headlines these days. Think about it too much, and you can't snap out of it. I spoke about this a couple of weeks back - miserabilism I called it - and it is highly infectious.

So today I want to break free of the miserable chains and concentrate on some positive energy. Don't worry; I'm not going all new age on you and about to start rubbing the birth stones. But I am a great believer that if you think positive thoughts, get active and feed yourself properly, you will naturally feel better about yourself.

This week's post is dedicated to 2 special friends who have been through a few years of turmoil and stress, and who this week have finally turned their lives around. Mick and Sarah Craven in Wakefield had 6 months old Josh brought into their lives recently and they are now just the proudest parents of this beautiful boy. And because they let me pillage their apple trees last month when I was visiting, I just had to make the biggest apple and Cheddar pie which, despite being 80 miles north of Wakefield, was consumed with them firmly in mind. It was delicious.

Josh is so cool that already he has subscribed to my magazine Flavour - that engrossed expression on his face is him reading my recipes, honest. And anybody cringing at the thought of savoury cheese mixed with sweet apple please don’t. This flavour combination is as old as the hills and is one of those things you just have to try once in your life.

I don't normally write posts like this, preferring to concentrate on the food. But when people deserve a little nod of respect then they deserve it, and this nod goes to the Cravens 3 who I know are going to be the happiest and hippest family in town. Enjoy your lives my lovely mates - and enjoy a virtual slice of this perfect pie. x

Craven Pie
Feeds lots

For the pastry
125g salted butter
250g self raising flour
50g strong Cheddar, grated
1 egg

For the filling
2kg apples - I used lots of Bramley for sharpness but it is your choice
1 tsp cinnamon
A handful of sultanas
100g soft brown sugar
25g butter

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM4, 180C.
2 - To make the pastry, put the flour and butter into a food processor and pulse until you have what looks like breadcrumbs. Put in the cheese and pulse. Finally, drop in the egg and pulse and begin to drizzle in cold water until it comes together into a ball. This can all be done by hand too. Wrap in Clingfilm and place into the fridge for 30 minutes.
3 - While the pastry is resting, peel and core the apples. Cut in half then slice into 1cm slices and place into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the cinnamon, sultanas and sugar and combine thoroughly.
4 - Butter and line a 20cm spring form cake tin. Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut off 1 third and leave aside. Roll out the larger piece of pastry and line the cake tin, leaving the excess hanging over the sides. Pile in the apple mixture, pressing down gently.
5 - Roll out the remaining piece of pastry. Beat an egg and dampen the edges of the pie. Place the pastry over and press down the edges with a fork or thumb. Cut off the excess and make optional decorations for your pie.
6 - Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg, poke a couple of holes into the centre to allow steam to escape and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake on the middle shelf for 45-60 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
7 - Allow to cool slightly then serve in large slices with cream, ice cream or crème fraice.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Roast Grouse with Lemon and Sage Butter

What a season we are in at the moment, and what a lucky boy I’ve been during it. Not content with the piles of free apples and pears that have survived our wet summer and the bags of roots that seem to be endless, I've been even luckier with the kindness of some of the suppliers I work with and managed to bag a few pieces of game. And what a misunderstood meat game is.

As a child, I think the only game meat I ate, or what could be classed as game meat, was rabbit. So from my early years, I've never really had a problem with consuming fluffy cute things or large eyed bambies that rampage freely around our countryside. If anything, I encourage people to eat more of the things. They are naturally free range, eat their own organic produce and can be a very cheap option if you know where to shop. So they tick all of the current 'food trend' ethical boxes.

This week I received a couple of the last grouse from up in Northumberland. Naturally low in fat and packed with that unique flavour that only a wild naturally reared animal can give you, it is a bird that must be tried if you are a little sceptical of our great British game. My grouse were respectfully treat with a little fresh and pungent sage, zest of lemon and butter.

Quite why anybody could misunderstand that concoction is beyond me for it is a simple to cook and delicious treat to be served with some braised red cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy made with the roasting juices. Now go on, be game.

Roast Grouse with Lemon and Sage Butter

Serves 2

2 prepared grouse, weighing approximately 300-350g
50g softened salted butter
2 handfuls of fresh sage leaves
Juice of one lemon
8 slices of streaky bacon
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM6, 200C.
2 – Roughly chop the sage leaves. Grate a little of the lemon zest into a bowl and mash together with the butter and sage leaves.
3 – Place a little of the butter inside the cavity of each bird. Rub the rest all over the birds. Season with salt and pepper then drape the streaky bacon over the birds. Place them onto a baking tray and roast for 20 minutes.
4 – Remove the bacon but leave in the baking tray to allow both the birds and the bacon to go crispy. Roast for a further 10 minutes.
5 – Remove from the oven and place the birds onto a plate. Cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
6 – Deglaze the roasting tray with a little stock or wine to make gravy and serve with your favourite vegetables.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Parsnip, Apple and Cheddar Soup

There is frost on the windows this morning. This is a sure sign that I can indulge myself for (hopefully) the next few months in my love of wearing far too many of my different coats at any given opportunity. I do have too many. My wife has banned me from buying any more but I always manage to sneak one in. I am the Imelda Marcos of the coat world - well, after Liam Gallagher anyway.

Back in the kitchen, it is soup time. What with this credit crunch malarkey and the need for people to keep warm on cheap sustainable food over the winter, there is nothing better than soup to turn to. Whether it is a 'bottom of the fridge' soup in which you chuck everything into the pan, or a refined 'posh' soup using only the very best ingredients (smoked salmon and black truffle soup anybody?), soup is easy to make and accompanied with some crusty bread, becomes a meal in a bowl.

This soup uses what are in my opinion two of our very best seasonal ingredients at the moment - parsnip and apple - amongst a bumper selection of great autumnal produce. Some strong Cheddar cheese takes down the sweetness a tone or two and that is needed, especially if you decide to use some of the older and larger parsnips that have had a lot of their starch converted into sugar. So make a bowl and be happy that the cold snap has arrived. I know I am - so I'm off to get me coat.

Parsnip, Apple and Cheddar Soup
Serves 4

5 parsnips
1 large Bramley apple
1 onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1 litre hot vegetable stock
150g Cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM6, 200C.
2 – Peel and halve the parsnips and place into a baking tray. Score a line all around the apple and place into the baking tray. Finally, peel and quarter the onion and put that into the baking tray. Drizzle on the olive oil and coat the fruit and vegetables.
3 – Place onto the middle shelf and bake for 25 minutes, or until the onion and parsnip are golden and the apple has gone soft.
4 – Scrape out the apple flesh and put into a blender along with the onion and parsnips. Pour over the stock and blend until smooth. Pour through a sieve into a clean pan.
5 – Grate in the cheese and stir until melted through. Taste for seasoning. Serve in bowls with more grated cheese on top.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Poached Wild Salmon on Roast pumpkin with Northumbrian mussels and Samphire

One of my very favourite vegetables in this season of great produce is the pumpkin. Most families around the country will soon be carving faces into them, sticking a candle inside and wandering the dark streets in an attempt to get a few sweets from people. The pumpkin will then probably get thrown into the bin and forgotten about for another year.

What a shame. Anybody that condemns this supreme vegetable to such a sorry end is missing out on one of Mother Nature's finest versatile vegetables. Carve out that face, but ensure you scrape out as much flesh as possible and use that flesh in a multitude of recipes. There is nothing simpler than a plain old pumpkin soup, hopefully roasted before pureeing to ensure a deep sweetness. Bacon added to the mix make things even better. Or get the flesh into a casserole or stew instead of the carrots or parsnips for a change. Keep the seeds and roast them with a little soy sauce and chilli flakes for a healthy snack.

I like to slice one up into thin slices, toss in a little olive oil and season with plenty of black pepper and good salt then roast until the flesh is toasty and caramelised, the skin chewy and sweet. You then have an alternative vegetable accompaniment to your fish or meat. A dressing of orange, chilli, honey and parsley and a scattering of a spicy leaf such as watercress or rocket, you can skip the rest and simply eat this beautiful vegetable as it is. Now get carving.

Poached Wild Salmon on Roast pumpkin with Northumbrian mussels and Samphire

Feeds 4

1 small pumpkin, deseeded and sliced into 16 lengths
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 pieces of wild salmon fillets, skinned
8 handfuls of live mussels
A small glass of water
4 handfuls of samphire
50g butter
Juice of one lemon
4 handfuls of basil leaves
4 tbsp olive oil

1 – Pre-heat the oven to 200C, GM 6. Put the pumpkin into a baking tray and rub in the olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Place onto a high shelf and bake for 20-30 minutes until beginning to colour and soften.
2 – Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Place in the salmon fillets, reduce the heat and poach for 5 minutes.
3 – Heat up a pan with a lid until hot then place in the mussels. Pour in the water and replace the lid. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the shells have opened. Drain in a colander, put back into the pan and add the samphire and butter. Cook for a further minute.
4 – Bash the basil with a little salt in a pestle and mortar until you have a green paste. Stir in the lemon juice and the olive oil. Taste for seasoning.
5 – Arrange 3 slices of pumpkin onto each plate. Place on the salmon. Surround with the mussels and samphire then drizzle on some dressing.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Roast Squash, Chard and Ham Soup

I might be reaching for the central heating control tonight. Despite a summer to forget, the temperatures have remained fairly moderate. But this morning, that unmistakeable 'nip' of autumn was in the air. Time for the big coats and a bit of natural central heating from our lovely Autumnal foods methinks.

Soup is the easiest and most natural food stuff to turn to when you need a bit of inner core thermal warming. I can't help but experiment when it is soup time, and with a few sad squashes in my garden somehow surviving the summer floods, the soup pot was the only humane way of putting their short lives to an honourable end.

A squash sliced into chunks and skin left on - seeds removed for roasting for a delicious snack EVERY time - before roasting to golden perfection, makes for an intensely sweet base for your soup. Leaves of iron-enriched green chard and a few slices of leftover roast ham make things even better. And before you know it, you have a 45 minute soup from start to finish that will warm you up and pack you full of cold-beating goodness. Souper.

Roast Squash, Chard and Ham Soup

Feeds 2

1 medium sized squash, sliced into chunks and seeds removed
1 onion, skin removed and cut into quarters
1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 handfuls of chard, washed and chopped roughly
A few handfuls of leftover ham
500ml hot vegetable stock or water

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees, GM6.
2 - Put the squash, garlic and onion onto a baking tray, season generously and toss with the olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes until golden and caramelised.
3 - Toss the chard in a hot pan for 5 minutes until wilted.
4 - Put the roast squash and onion into a blender. Squeeze in the sweetened roasted garlic cloves from their skins.
5 - Put in the chard, ham and stock then blitz until smooth.
6 - Pour into a pan and reheat. Taste for seasoning.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

A kind of a rarebit

What a place France is. Pretty much everything about it, from the obvious great food and wine, to the climate. Even their relaxed and easy going over-confidence and assurance in that everything in France is the best is appealing to me. It makes me laugh and hey, a bit of confidence never did anybody any harm.

In my opinion, the best bit about France is of course the food. They somehow manage to make the most basic of foods sound posh. Take the Croque Monsieur. Two slices of white bread with a bit of ham and cheese in the middle, dipped in egg and cream and then fried. In other words, eggy bread to you and I. Eggy bread with a bit of ham and cheese in the middle.

Stick a fried egg on the top, it becomes a Croque Madame. Hilarious and brilliant at the same time. And that is why I love the French; they could turn a dog's dinner into a Michelin meal I'm sure. Well, at least they would think it was anyway. And that is all that matters. Sod the rest and all that.

I am partial to a bit of eggy bread, so I had a play around with this idea last week. Same philosophy, egg, cheese and ham, but with a few roasted mushrooms in there for good measure. And what evolved was rather delicious, served alongside some sautéed new potatoes and watercress. And I named it my Mushyeggybreadinarushy, which isn't as posh or as desirable sounding as a Croque Monsieur, but I don't care. I'm taking the French attitude from now on. Confidence is a preference. Au revoir mon ami.

Feeds 2

Two large, thick slices of your bread of choice
Good sliced roast ham
200g field mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
25g plain flour
250ml milk
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 tbsp English mustard
150g strong Cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

1 - First make your cheese and mustard sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour. Stir for one minute, then gradually add the milk, stirring all of the time until you have a thick white sauce. Stir in the egg yolks, cheese and mustard and taste for seasoning.
2 - Pre-heat the grill. Heat up the oil in a pan and add the mushrooms. Cook until beginning to turn golden and the water has evaporated.
3 - Toast the bread.
4 - Pile on the mushrooms, followed by the ham and then the cheese and mustard sauce. Place under the grill and cook until golden and bubbling.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Quick Damson Cheesecakes

Lets face it, the seasons just aren't the seasons any more. After the wettest August for some years, September has continued in a similar vain. As I look out of my window at another overcast sky, it is easy to get down about the whole thing. But after the week from hell that I had last week, it is time to take positives from everything. Yes, even another grey day.

Autumn in just about upon us, and as a food obsessive, that is about as positive as it gets when it comes to great produce. I'm already saving every jar available ready for an evening or two of preserving. My demijohns are washed and sterilised in preparation for a litre or five of homemade sloe gin and sticky plum vodka. I've even put a goose on order and invited guests for Christmas Day.

A walk around a decent bit of countryside at this time of the year should indicate free food of all forms amongst the hedgerows and trees. One of my favourite is the wild plum, and in my area I've found a lovely patch of damsons. Small and oval shaped, deep purple with a powdery sheen to their skin, it is a truly great find. Slightly sweeter than a commercial plum, they can be plucked and devoured on the spot. And that can be a problem when your helper is a certain 3 year old plum lover.

I like to soften a few damsons in honey and vanilla which can then be used as a very loose jam for your toast, a great topping for yoghurt and muesli or just as it is with a little double cream for a simple dessert. If you are feeling adventurous, they also make for a nice topping on my quick and easy cheesecakes. So keep your eyes peeled and a plastic bag handy ready for them damson moments. I'm feeling positive already.

Quick Damson Cheesecakes
Feeds 4

8 ginger biscuits
50g butter
200g damson or plums
50g honey
200g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
A squeeze of lemon juice
300ml double cream
1 vanilla pod

1 – Line 4 individual ramekins with clingfilm.
2 – Grind the ginger biscuits down in a food processor. Melt the butter in a pan, add the biscuits and combine. Press the biscuit mixture into the ramekin dishes and place into the fridge.
3 – Half, stone then quarter the damsons or plums. Place into a pan with the honey and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until soft then remove from the heat and cool.
4 – Beat the cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl. Whip the cream to soft peaks in another bowl, scrape in the vanilla seeds then fold into the cream cheese mixture.
5 – Press the mixture into the ramekins, smooth off then place back into the fridge for an hour or so.
6 – Remove from the ramekins and clingfilm, place onto serving plates and top with the softened damsons.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Pigeon, Squash and Beetroot with Hazelnut Dressing

Linden Hall Hotel in Northumberland was the setting for Taste 2 last weekend. Once again, the place was packed with people wanting to taste and buy superb food from local suppliers. I love these types of events: likeminded people all in one field, being passionate about the subject of local and seasonal food. Well done Jane Hall at The Journal for organising yet another successful celebration of local food.

After my demonstration, I literally bumped into The Hairy Bikers who turned up as the stars of the show. It is hard to put into words how lovely they both are and it is rare that you get such 'down to earth' qualities within people who are so in demand at the moment. The people simply love them and personally, I think they deserve all of the success they get. They connect with the public with no ego or alternative motive, and that is an extremely important quality up here in the North East.

For my demonstration, I showed the audience a simple recipe using one of my favourite cheap eats at this time of the year, wood pigeon. It is a lovely little warm salad of sorts, a nice introduction to anybody who has never had pigeon before and still harbours suspicions. Judging by the elderly lady who had never eaten pigeon before who proceeded to snaffle most of the plate, it obviously worked. Roll on Taste 3.

Pigeon, Squash and Beetroot with Hazelnut Dressing

Feeds 4

1 butternut squash, deseeded, halved and sliced thinly
1 tbsp olive oil
8 rashers of streaky bacon or Parma ham
1 tbsp olive oil
2 beetroots, sliced thinly
500ml Sunflower oil
8 skinless pigeon breasts
2 tbsp fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
4 handfuls of hazelnuts, crushed
2 tbsp cider vinegar
3 tbsp apple juice
4 handfuls of watercress

1 – Pre-heat the oven to 200C, GM6. Put the squash onto a baking tray and toss with the olive oil and a little seasoning. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.
2 – Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan then add the bacon or Parma ham. Cook on both sides until crisp and golden. Reserve on kitchen towel.
3 – Heat the sunflower oil in a large pan until. Place in a piece of beetroot and if it floats to the top instantly, it is ready. Place in the beetroot in batches and cook for 5-6 minutes until crisp. Remove and set aside on kitchen towel.
4 – Toss the pigeon breasts in the oil, thyme and a little salt and pepper. Heat up a pan until hot then place in the pigeon. Cook for 2-3 minutes each side then put aside to rest for 2 minutes. Slice each breast diagonally into 3 pieces.
5 – Keep the pan on the heat and put in the hazelnuts. Toast for 1 minute, then pour in the vinegar and apple juice. Bring to the boil then turn off the heat.
6 – To plate up, arrange the watercress on a plate. Place on a few slices of squash, followed by the pigeon. Tuck in the beetroot crisps then drizzle on a little of the hazelnut dressing.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Mustard Macaroni Cheese with Chorizo

I always use holiday season as a good excuse to 'turn over' your fridge and freezer, to strip the cupboards bare ready for the winter hoard. However, if you are busy in your job, then that makes life a little awkward when it comes to feeding your family.

Knowing what to do with some store cupboard essentials and one or two fresh ingredients is the key, so it is always good to have a few simple recipes up your sleeve ready for these times.

At a food show I was presenting at on my return were the usual array of quality local suppliers. One supplier I've been a fan of for some time is Piperfield Pork of Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Using their herd of middle white pigs, Piperfield are producing incredible quality pork produce, including their take on a chorizo sausage. Not too salty, plenty of soft fat and paprika tinged meat, these chorizo are up there with some of the best Spanish chorizo I have ever tasted. If you can't take my word for it, ask Heston Blumenthal who has been using Piperfield pork at The Fat Duck some years now.

Thanks to one of their delicious sausages, it made that old standard comfort food of youth, macaroni cheese, into a memorable store cupboard meal for the family. Digging into the soft creamy pasta stuffed sauce and finding a nugget of crisp chorizo; do I really need to paint the picture? It is essential to strip, so be inspired and turn those cupboards over.

Mustard Macaroni Cheese with Chorizo
Feeds 4

50g butter
50g plain flour
500ml milk
150g Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
250g macaroni cheese
1 chorizo sausage, cut into think slices
1 tbsp olive oil
50g Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200C, GM6.
2 - Bring a pan of water up to the boil and add the macaroni. Boil for 5-6 minutes or 2-3 minutes less than the instructions state. Drain and reserve. Cool under cold running water if preparing in advance so that it does not overcook.
3 - To make the cheese and mustard sauce, melt the butter in a pan then add the flour. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Gradually add the milk, stirring all of the time until you have a smooth béchamel sauce. Stir in the cheese and mustards. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the chorizo. Cook until crisp in each side then drain on a piece of kitchen towel.
5 - Stir the pasta and sausage into the cheese sauce. Pour into a buttered casserole dish then cover with the Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes until golden and bubbling. Serve with a simple green salad.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Easy Cassoulet

The return from holiday is always an odd experience if you are British. If you have been to sunnier climates, you will know very well that sinking feeling as the aeroplane descends into your airport, especially if it is British summer time. From a week or two of freedom and hot sunny weather, you descend through the turbulence of dark clouds to a wet and familiar Britain to proceed with life as normal. The holiday is well and truly over.

Thankfully, France was delightful and the memories will linger long enough to banish any depressing thoughts. After an unsteady first few days of dark skies and the odd shower, the sun soon cracked the flags over the Pyrenees and gave us the weather that we craved. This paved the way for plenty of mountain biking, swimming in crystal clear lakes, laughing, chatting and singing and of course, eating and drinking. My favourite hobbies all in one.

The Eastern Pyrenees is home to many famous foods and wines, none more so than the cassoulet. Cassoulet is one of those recipes that have been written and debated about far too many times for little old me to cast any strong opinions on. I will leave the chemistry and history to the good people of this beautiful area of France to argue over as they have done so for many years. My description of it is posh sausage and beans. But this does not really give it the credit it deserves. Think of quality plump haricot beans with intense garlic pork sausage, rich and buttery confit duck and/or goose with a crust of crunchy breadcrumbs and you may get the picture. And I'm not even going to debate whether or not a cassoulet should have a crust on or not: it is as essential to my cassoulet as is beef with a Yorkshire pudding. But of course, that is my only culinary opinion on this fantastic, filling and sustaining peasant dish.

We ate our cassoulet with our friends, children and lovely hosts, Eileen and Alan who kindly put us up for the week. It was a famous holiday for many reasons, but Eileen and Alan were so accommodating, patient and kind. So I dedicate this famous French meal to them, as well as The Graingers for being amazing people and inviting us into their family home. And with my easy recipe which has been adapted to cut out a good few hours of preparation from some of the long and drawn out cassoulet recipes I have seen, they can impress their friends at any time of the year, summer or no summer, Britain or France. Holidays in the sun and happy days indeed, roll on the next one.

Easy Cassoulet
Feeds 6-8 people

500g dried haricot beans, soaked for at least 8 hours
8 slices of smoked streaky bacon, sliced
2 onions, roughly chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half
1 handful of dried or fresh thyme leaves
3 bay leaves
3 cloves
400g tinned tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
12 large quality pork sausages, preferably Toulouse
6 pieces of confit duck or goose, or a mixture of both, excess fat removed and kept aside
500ml hot chicken stock
Salt and pepper
A bowlful of dried breadcrumbs

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees, GM3.
2 - Scrape off some of the duck or goose fat from the confit and melt in a large frying pan. Add the bacon and cook until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside.
3 - Brown the sausages in the fat then remove and keep aside.
4 - Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft. Add the thyme, bay leaves, cloves, tomatoes and tomato puree and heat through. Season with a little salt and pepper.
5 - Drain the beans and reserve the liquid. Add half of the beans to a large casserole dish. Add the sausages, duck and/or goose, the bacon then the tomato, onion and herb mixture. Top with the remaining beans then pour in the stock until it just reaches the top of the beans. If there is not enough, add some of the water you used to soak the beans in.
6 - Cover and place into the oven and cook for 2 hours. Check every now and again to see if the mixture is boiling dry and top with reserved water when necessary.
7 - Melt some of the fat in a pan and add the breadcrumbs, thoroughly combining. Cover the casserole with the breadcrumbs and with the lid removed, place back into the oven and cook for a further 60-90 minutes until the topping is golden and crunchy.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Nettle and Cumin Paratha

The old curry fix was required at the weekend. Sometimes I can go weeks without a hit of them familiar spices that always seem to soothe and satisfy me. And then something tells me that it is time and like a slave to Indian cuisine, I'm knocking up one of my tongue tingling curries.

I'm a big fan of Indian breads. They don't bloat me out as much as Western breads, probably due to the lack of yeast. They are also so simple to make and knock the socks off the commercially available Indian breads. Take a paratha, which is basically flour and water mixed into dough, rolled into a flatbread and dry fried. Nothing could be simpler, and it is also a basis for experimenting. Add roasted spices, stuff it with meats, fish or fresh herbs and you get a meal in a bread.

I'm still on a nettle fix, grabbing a few here and there before they soon turn tough, bitter and crystallised. A few blanched leaves with dry roasted cumin and added to the basic dough mixture produced a bread with a difference. The perfect accompaniment to any curry.

Nettle and Cumin Paratha

Makes 4

250g whole-wheat flour
1 tbsp cumin seeds
4 handfuls of spinach leaves
100ml milk
Salt and pepper
A little melted butter

1 - Pick and wash the nettles, then place into a hot pan. Wilt for 2 minutes, remove and squeeze out the water through a colander or sieve. Cool then finely chop.
2 - Put the cumin seeds into a frying pan and dry fry for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Remove and place into a bowl with the flour and chopped nettles. Season with a little salt and pepper.
3 - Gradually pour in the milk, stirring with a wooden spoon until it combines to a stiff dough. Lightly knead then separate into 4 balls.
4 - On a floured surface, roll out the dough with your hands into a sausage shape. Then coil this around into a circle. Roll this out to a circle the size of a dinner plate. Then roll back up into a sausage and repeat 2 further times. Finish off with a circle, but not too thin.
5 - Brush one side of the paratha with a little melted butter. Place into a dry frying pan and cook for 1 minute, before turning, brushing with butter and cooking for a further minute. Keep cooking and flipping until the bread is golden brown and puffed up.
6 - Wrap in a tea towel and repeat with the rest of the dough.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Mussels, Samphire, Sage and Chilli Oil with Tagliatelle

The mussels from Northumberland at this time of the year are outstanding. Plump, juicy and lightly fragranced from the sea that they are grown in, they are one of my favourite cheap and fast eats.

When I buy mussels, all I want to do with them is cook them quickly in nothing more than a glass of cider or wine, perhaps a handful of fresh herbs throw in, then eat with bread and butter. This is my personal treat, one that I can indulge myself with for no reason at all. Their taste is unique, quite hard to describe but one to savour, a true taste of the sea. Their texture is light, fluffy and melting. Unless you cook them for too long of course.

Sage is not a herb I would associate with shellfish too much but with a large sage bush in the garden not being used too much, I guessed an intense sage oil, injected with a bit of chilli heat, might be a flavour that the mussels could benefit from. With some tomatoes from the weekly organic bag, simply roasted whole and squashed with a fork, it all came together with fresh local samphire and tagliatelle to make for a very clean tasting, fresh and memorable tea. Flex your mussels.

Mussels, Samphire, Sage and Chilli Oil with Tagliatelle

Feeds 2

6 tomatoes
4 handfuls of mussels, de-bearded and cleaned
1 small glass of cider, white wine or water
2 handfuls of samphire
25g butter
8 rounds of dried tagliatelle

For the oil
A handful of sage
1 dried or fresh birds eye chilli, seeds removed
2 tbsp olive oil
A squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C, GM4. Cut a cross into the base of the tomatoes. Place into a baking tray and drizzle on a little oil. Bake for 20-30 minutes until softened and starting to colour. Pinch off the skins then mash the flesh roughly in a bowl.
2 - Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the tagliatelle and cook for 7-8 minutes.
3 - Whilst the pasta is cooking, make the sage oil. In a pestle and mortar, grind together the sage and chilli with a pinch of salt and pepper to form a green paste. Add the olive oil and lemon juice. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Heat up another pan with a lid. Add the mussels then pour in your liquid of choice. Put on the lid and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the shells have opened. Discard any that remain shut. Throw in the samphire and butter and leave to sit with the lid on for 1 minute.
5 - When the pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pan. Tip in the roasted tomato flesh, mussels and samphire. Combine then serve into bowls.
6 - Drizzle with the sage oil and serve with some sage leaves crisped in a little olive oil.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Courgette Quesadillas

"If you must write prose and poems,
The words you use should be your own,
Don’t plagiarise or take on loans"

The Smiths - Cemetery Gates

As much as I wholeheartedly agree with my favourite band in the whole wide world, I'm afraid it has been a week of plagiarism in the Hall household this week. Not in the writing sense but in the cooking sense. I've been copying and adapting like a crazy man.

Not that doing that is a bad thing; as long as you aren't claiming it to be your own and offering praise where it should be offered then it becomes a positive thing. And that is where I come in. Fresh from tweaking one of Helen Grave's recipes and turning it into my New Potatoes with Green Sauce, it is now my turn to get into probably my favourite Blogger of the past year - The Great Big Vegetable Challenge.

I think you all probably know what amazing things have been going on in the GBVC house of late. Not only has Charlotte turned her once vegetable bating superstar of a boy, Freddie, into a vegetable loving superstar. But they have now released their book detailing the miraculous recipes that made Freddie into the boy he is today. I can't state how great it is. All I ask is get your hands on a copy and see what all of the fuss is about.

So at the weekend, we did just that and turned the pages eagerly to find that Freddie has marked the recipes out of 10, with '10 out of 10' recipes getting a special mention. As I currently have a glut of courgettes sprouting at an alarming pace from my backyard buckets, I thought the highly rated Courgette Quesadillas would be a good place to start. I tweaked slightly. And the tweak wasn't weak. They were delicious. Thanks Freddie, it has been a true pleasure to be involved in your adventure.

Courgette Quesadillas

Feeds 3

3 courgettes, grated
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic
1 pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
A squeeze of lime juice
Freshly ground pepper
4 flour tortilla wraps
250g grated Cheddar cheese (I used a combo of Cheddar and mozzarella)

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees, GM6.
2 - Heat up the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the courgettes, spring onions, garlic and chilli and cook until it becomes slightly dry but not too coloured. Squeeze in the lime juice, grate in some pepper, stir and set aside.
3 - Put two of the tortilla wraps onto a lightly oiled baking tray. Sprinkle with some cheese until they are covered.
4 - Spread out the courgette mixture onto both tortillas. Top with more cheese. Finally, press on the two remaining tortilla wraps, brush with oil then place into the middle shelf of the oven.
5 - Bake for 10-15 until golden and crispy. Cut into wedges and serve with a simple salad.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

New Potatoes, Rocket Green Sauce and Field Mushrooms

I've been getting a bit of grief of late from some of my vegetarian readers. Not enough vegetarian recipes apparently. In my experience, vegetarians aren't ones to argue with; the lack of protein in their diet makes them a feisty lot.

Before anybody thinks I'm now turning into a vegetarian bating carnivorous fool, please relax. I've worked it out that approximately 60% of my weekly diet is made up of vegetarian meals and snacks. And looking at my recipes in the drop down column, there are loads of recipes there to appease my veggie friends. So I won't feel guilty.

My philosophy on food is that no matter what it comprises of, it should be tasty and simple to achieve. Vegetarian options on the high street can often be predictable and bland, almost an insult. So using one of the brilliant and innovative Helen Grave's recipes as inspiration, here is a winner of a meal for all my 'anything with a face won't be consumed' readers. Lip smacking green sauce smothered hot new potatoes and that meat of the vegetarian world, the field mushroom to give some variation to an incredibly simple but satisfying dish.

New Potatoes, Rocket Green Sauce and Field Mushrooms
Feeds 2

4 handfuls of new potatoes
4 large field mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

For the green sauce
4 handfuls of rocket
A handful of basil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp English mustard
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
Salt and pepper

1 - Boil the potatoes, drain and keep aside.
2 - Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Season the mushrooms then cook on each side until golden brown, approximately 5 minutes each side. Set aside on kitchen paper.
3 - Blitz the green sauce ingredients in a food processor or roughly chop the whole ingredients then stir in with the wet ingredients in a bowl. Taste - it should be balanced, not too much lemon or capers. As a classic green sauce has anchovies, ensure it is seasoned with a little salt.
4 - Coat the hot potatoes in the green sauce. To serve, pile some potatoes onto a late, tuck in a few mushrooms then scatter over some rocket. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Rocky Road

Today brings the end of another milestone for the nipper. No more walks up to the local church where she has been going to a little nursery school for the past 18 months. In September, it is official 'Big Girl's School' when she starts the 'proper' state nursery. I get pretty sad and nostalgic about these types of milestones as time just seems to fly by, but Cerys just laughs and buzzes on looking forward to the next challenge. What a girl.

To celebrate the beginning of 'Big Girl' time, we got our hands dirty in the kitchen to make a cracking sweet of all sweets for kid's parties and the like - Rocky Road. This thing is the creation from hell if you are on a diet: chocolate, butter, honey, syrup, sweets, anything really. I've no idea where the idea came from but it is a winner with the kids and adults alike.

It is one of those recipes where there really is no recipe, if that makes any sense at all. As long as you have chocolate and butter to make a large slab to paste all kinds of lovely things into, it will work. But the idea is to make it as 'rocky' as possible. So into mine went a little home made honeycomb, that thing that belongs in the chemistry lab as it explodes out of the pan. A few handfuls of jelly tots, dried fruit and marshmallows, and a load of crushed ginger biscuits clags it all together quite nicely, thank you very much. This is DIY food. Fun food that gets your kids involved, food that gets you all happy in the kitchen.

It now sits in the fridge awaiting the arrival of big girl. And if it goes as fast as the past 18 months seem to have, we may have to reach for the diet book after all. Enjoy it while it lasts and keep having fun, the very key of the rocky road of life.

Rocky Road
Makes one large slab

100g milk chocolate
100g plain chocolate
100g butter
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp honey
20 ginger biscuits, crushed
A few handfuls of marshmallows
A bag of jelly tots
A couple of handfuls of dried fruit such as cherries and apricots, roughly chopped
A couple of handfuls of honeycomb or Maltesers, broken up

1 - To make some honeycomb, put a couple of tablespoons each of caster sugar and honey into a pan. Bring to the boil then simmer until beginning to caramelise. Quickly stir in a tablespoon of Bicarbonate of Soda and as it fizzes up, pour onto a plate or tray lined with greaseproof paper. Leave to dry.
2 - To make the Rocky Road, melt the chocolate and butter in a pan then stir in the cocoa powder and honey. Leave to cool a little before stirring in the remaining ingredients, leaving a few of the tots, mallows and dried fruit to decorate the top.
3 - Pour into a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Decorate the top in any order you wish then leave in the fridge to set.
4 - Cut into cubes and dig into that Rocky Road.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Kohlrabi Remoulade

Do you remember the first time? And by that oh poisoned minded readers, I mean the first time you ate a particular foodstuff. Yesterday, the alien-like kohlrabi appeared in our weekly veg box. And it brought back good memories.

My first experience with the kohlrabi was only a few years back. In a farmer's market in Leeds, there sat a full tray of the deliciously mild green tentacle covered kohlrabi. This vegetable could be the thing of nightmares to previously vegetable fearing people such as Freddie over at GBVC. It certainly looked odd, like nothing I had seen before. And I couldn't believe I had access to a vegetable I had never tasted before.

If you have never had kohlrabi, please seek them out. They taste incredibly earthy, like a mild turnip with a slight bitterness. It quickly became our weaning baby's favourite food as we steamed it and turned it into a puree. For the adults, I stirred in a few herbs, a little butter and perhaps some mustard for an alternative side vegetable for the Sunday roast. Hard to believe that historically it used to be cattle fodder.

I turned yesterday's welcome addition into a remoulade, which is basically the French word for a condiment. We ate it with left over roast chicken, cheese and salad leaves. And it remains ever so fondly as one of my favourite vegetables. Do you remember the first time?

Kohlrabi Remoulade

1 kohlrabi, peeled and sliced into lengths
Juice of one lemon
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard
1 tbsp onion seeds (optional)
A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Fresh yoghurt
Salt and pepper

1 - Using a fine grater, grate the kohlrabi into a tea towel. It contains a lot of water, so roll up the tea towel and squeeze out as much water as possible. Tip into a mixing bowl.
2 - Stir in half of the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, onion seeds and parsley. Stir thoroughly then gradually stir in the yoghurt until you have a thick but not swamped kohlrabi condiment.
3 - Taste for seasoning and squeeze in more lemon juice depending on how sharp you like it.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Almost There

It has been suspiciously warm up here recently. I say suspiciously because I'm British and we are those types of people. I can remember this time last year being a total washout. So what is going on? It's scorching!

I do love the hot weather mind. And it is also an excuse to make plenty of our favourite hot weather treat, ice cream. I've currently got 4 different types in my freezer. I don't have an ice cream churner; I just use the old trusty and patient method of a plastic bowl and a fork to stir it with every hour to get those ice crystals broken down.

Sometimes though, that method is just too long. Especially when a certain little person in my life is requiring an icy fix. The easiest option then is to make some little individual pots and half freeze them. The Italians call this Semifreddo. I call mine Almost Ice. Dead easy to make and ready in an hour, this is the kind of thing we seem to be buying ready made and spending a fortune on. With only 4 ingredients I have to ask, why? So ditch the forks, stop clock watching and make some lovely little refreshing ices for the family using pretty much any fruit you can get your hands on. Your kids will adore you for it.

Raspberry Swirl 'Almost Ice'
Makes 4 glasses

250g raspberries
250g Greek yoghurt
250g Low fat crème fraiche
100g honey (or sweeten to taste)

1 - In a large bowl, crush the raspberries with a fork. Drizzle a little into the bottom of 4 glasses.
2 - In a separate bowl, beat the crème fraiche and yoghurt together until it stiffens slightly.
3 - Fold in the raspberries and honey then tip into the individual glasses. Stick into the freezer and leave for 1-2 hours until slightly frozen.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Henry Winkler

Winkles, or periwinkles (sounds much more glamorous) are a shellfish which may have just fallen foul of the times when it comes to using them as food. Clinging to our rocks by the millions at this time of the year, they are a free food that anybody with a pair of wellies and a few eager children can collect. And they are utterly delicious.

When I was a boy, my mam used to buy us bags of boiled winkles, or 'willicks' as we Geordies call them, to eat as a 'treat'. If you have never eaten one before, they can be a tricky thing to remove from their shells. The weapon of choice when I was young was a pin. Yes, a sharp pin. After 5 minutes of tackling a tiny shell with a pin, we usually gave up and moved onto the next winkle. I reckon out of a bag of 50, we were lucky to extract 10. But when we did, we savoured each mouthful. As massive fans of The Fonz, we knew exactly why he was called Henry Winkler.

Let’s get something straight; winkles don't look in the least good. If you have ever eaten a snail, think of a smaller glossier version with a long thin curly tail (if you are lucky enough to get them out that is). But the taste, in my opinion, is delicious. Some would say they are for an acquired taste, but I leave that statement to fusspots. If you like the taste of pure sea blessed shellfish such as mussels, crabs or the winkle's bigger cousin, the whelk, you will love the winkle.

I want to try to encourage people to perhaps try and grow to love our little shore hugging friend. To bring them up to date and give them a good old makeover, I recommend patiently shelling a load of cooked winkles and tossing them into a hot pan with chilli, shallots, lemon and coriander. Served on toasts as a canapé or even as a light lunch, I think you will quickly develop that 'acquired taste' and promote the humble and unfashionable winkle to a higher level. Just replace that tongue lancing pin with a cocktail stick please...

Hot Chilli and Lemon Winkles

Feeds 2 as a lunch

1 small bag of live winkles, or if you trust your fishmonger, cooked
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 dried chilli, crumbled
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

1 - To prepare live winkles, simply tip into a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. Remove the winkles gently from their shells and keep aside.
2 - Heat up the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the shallot, garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute.
3 - Turn up the heat. Tip in the shelled winkles and squeeze in the lemon. Cook, stirring for a further minute.
4 - Taste for seasoning and serve on toasts with a sprinkling of fresh coriander.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Chicken Licken

I'm always on the search for a recipe that will be a winner with my daughter. Whether it is tinkering with a tried and tested recipe or taking some inspiration from the ridiculous amount of food shows on the TV, my goal is always to work out a family friendly recipe.

Anybody that has children will know how hard it is to keep your kids happy when it comes to food. Surrounded by aggressive advertising from the fast food giants and our Western taste buds tainted with over-salting from such foods, it is always a challenge to make sure that they don’t slip down that slippery road of convenience food addiction.

My latest inspiration came from none other that Gordon Ramsay on his show a few weeks back. I'm not one for rushing for a pen and scribbling things down. If I like it, it stays in my head for approximately 3 days and then if I still haven't made it, it disappears from memory. This is a chicken and mozzarella dish which I'm sure is an Italian classic. I've no idea if it is how he made it, it certainly won't be as classy, but like all of the best things in life, it is simple and there to be experimented with.

The main point is it is another recipe I can add to the growing list of things that work with little Cerys. And there is nothing better that putting a winning smile on her face and seeing her clear her plate. And a well fed contented child means that life will continue to be sweet, another challenge that needs to be constantly worked on. Cheers Gordon.

Mozzarella and Tomato Chicken
Feeds 4

4 medium sized chicken breasts
2 eggs, beaten
Plain flour
4 tbsp olive oil
1 small punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 shallots, sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
A handful of fresh thyme or rosemary, finely chopped
2 balls of mozzarella
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, GM6.
2 - Take a sharp knife and 'butterfly' your chicken. Simply carefully cut centrally across but not right through, then open out so that you have a wider thinner piece of chicken.
3 - Put the eggs in a bowl and the flour in another bowl. Season the flour. Heat up the oil in a non-stick frying pan.
4 - Dip the chicken into the egg then into the seasoned flour. Place into the hot frying pan and cook for 1 minute each side or until beginning to brown. Remove and put into a baking tray.
5 - Heat a little more oil in a pan. Add the shallots, garlic and tomatoes and quickly cook down until softened. Stir in the herbs and a little seasoning.
6 - Place a small pile of the mixture onto the chicken. Then put slices of mozzarella over the chicken until covered. Place onto a high shelf and cook for 15 minutes until cooked through, bubbling and golden brown.
7 - Serve with sautéed potatoes and a fresh salad.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Oh Crumbs

There are great puddings, and then there are fruit crumbles. No messing about, just the simplicity of a chewy topping over a little sea of your fruit of choice. Nothing could be easier to make. And in this modern day 'throwaway' society, it is also a great way of using up some of your old, bruised and well past it's sell by date fruit.

My daughter Cerys gets pretty excited when it comes to making a crumble. Insisting on helping out, it becomes her creation at the tender age of 3. Well, with a little help from her dad of course.

We knocked up what has quickly become the Cerys Crumble tonight. All of her favourite fruit; strawberries aplenty, apples and pears, and then topped with muesli. We have been making our own muesli for a while, one that changes each time. This one had oats, bran, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sultanas, apricots and pistachio nuts in it. Hang on, does that qualify this as a healthy dessert? Who cares? It is delicious.

The Cerys Crumble

250g of strawberries
3 apples
3 pears, peeled and cut into chunks
5 tbsp runny honey
1 vanilla pod

For the topping
200g muesli, home made or shop bought
50g wholemeal flour
1 tsp ground ginger
A small pinch of cinnamon
100g Demerara sugar
100g butter or low fat margarine

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, GM4.
2 - Place all of the fruit into a pan. Split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and tip into the pan. Pour in the honey and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until the fruit softens and release their juices. Tip into an ovenproof dish.
3 - Pour all of the topping ingredients into a large bowl or individual bowls or ramkeins. Mix together with your fingers, rubbing between your fingers until it is thoroughly combined and begins to form large 'crumbs'.
4 - Pour onto the fruit and shake to level it. Place onto the middle shelf and bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.
5 - Allow to cool for 10 minutes then serve with custard, cream or yoghurt.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

May The Best Sting Win

This weekend is the start of officially the most dangerous food competition in the United Kingdom; The World Stinging Nettle Eating Championships. I've mentioned in a previous post my first experience with a nettle as a naked 7 year old lad. If anybody had asked me and my Calamine Lotion covered body back then what I would think of such a competition, I would have certainly continued to cry. Now, I love them. Not enough to enter a nettle eating competition mind. I'll leave that to the pro's.

In celebration of our delicious and common wild herb, I've made a little tart that would certainly make a good discussion point at any dinner party. They look pretty and taste delicious. If you are lucky whilst out picking nettles, you will find lots of wild garlic or ‘ramsons’ in woodland at this time of the year, distinctive by their white flowers and mild garlic smell. Experiment with the cheese. Try and get hold of a Cornish Yarg, a cheese which has been matured wrapped in nettle leaves. And if you still can't get your head around the fact you are eating something that might sting you if not prepared properly, use spinach instead.

Nettle, Wild Garlic and Egg Tart
Makes 4 individual tarts or one large tart

For the pastry
100g plain flour
100g wholemeal flour
100g butter or margarine
Pinch of salt

250g nettles
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 handful of wild garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
100g cheddar cheese
1 tbsp natural yoghurt
Half tsp mace
Salt and pepper
4 eggs

1 – In a large bowl or food processor, combine the pastry ingredients with a little water until you achieve a stiff dough. Wrap in cling-film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, GM4.
2 – With rubber gloves on, wash the nettles thoroughly, picking over the leaves and ensuring that any tough stalks are removed. Place into a saucepan on a medium heat and allow to wilt for 2-3 minutes, stirring now and again.
3 – Drain the nettles in a colander or sieve, allow to cool then squeeze out the water, roughly chop then set aside.
4 – Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the shallot and garlic. Soften without colouring, and then stir in the chopped nettles, cheese, yoghurt, mace and seasoning. Take off the heat and combine to a loose paste.
5 – Roll out the pastry and line your tart cases, pricking a few holes with a fork. Trim off any excess then allow to rest in the fridge for 10 minutes, before lining with baking parchment and filling with baking beans. Blind bake on the middle shelf for 15 minutes, remove the beans and paper and bake for a further 5 minutes.
6 – Fill the cooked tart cases with the nettle mixture making a dent in the middle with a spoon for the egg to sit. Break the eggs individually into a cup then gently pour into the tart. Sprinkle with a little finely grated cheese and a grinding of black pepper.
7 – Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Serve whilst still hot with a simple salad.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Broad Shoulders

Happy Father's Day hard working dedicated and loving dads of the world. I sincerely hope that you all enjoy being a dad; it is the best feeling in the world when you can make your kids happy. I'm not usually one for these corporate days of celebration for the benefit of the card making industry. That is until father's day comes along of course! So here I am, grasping my bar of 80% chocolate and Alnwick IPA which Cerys delivered to me in bed this morning. These will be snaffled in a rare moment of solitude and indulgence later on this evening. I can't wait.

Yesterday I managed to get my hands on some amazing broad beans from a neighbour. What a true treat of early summer broad beans are. I once tried and failed to grow some when I lived in Leeds. The aggressive nature of them darn Yorkshire slugs meant that it failed in a huge way. But broad beans have always been a thing of beauty to me. Fresh from the pod when they are young ensures a delicious sweet vibrant green bean. Leave them until late summer and they grow up to be slightly bland with a tough skin. So I prefer the little ones that are available right now.

They need nothing more than a 2 minute blanch in hot water then scattered amongst a salad with left over roast meats, peppery leaves, torn mozzarella and perhaps a ripped juicy peach or plum. Their delicate flavour blends perfectly with sharp lemon and mint too and if you can spend a bit of time popping a load of pods, a bowlful of steaming broad beans delivered to the table will more than impress your guests.

A simple lunch is on the cards for Cerys and I today. A few blanched and cooled beans will be tossed into a pan where I am going to quickly cook a sliced fillet of lamb and a chopped shallot. Into the mix will go a handful of roughly chopped mint, fresh lemon juice and a nob of butter which will be poured onto a slice of toast. A very easy lunch for easy-to-please dads everywhere - just like me. All the best boys.

Broad Beans, Lamb and Mint
Feeds 2

A dozen broad beans, podded
1 lamb fillet, sliced
1 shallot, sliced thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
A handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
Juice of half a fresh lemon
A nob of butter
Salt and pepper

1 - Bring a pan of water up to the boil and add the beans. Cook for 1-2 minutes depending on how small they are. Drain and cool immediately and keep aside.
2 - Heat up the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the shallot and lamb and briskly cook until the lamb is golden but still pink in the middle, approximately 1 minute.
3 - Throw in the beans, lemon juice, mint, butter and seasoning. Heat through for 30 seconds. Serve this on toasts or just as it is with good bread to mop up the juices.

Monday, 9 June 2008

A Good Thing

With a brand new 'Geordie Tan' established after exposing my poor white body to the elements at the weekend, I can safely say that the good weather does appear to be here. Ooyah.

Whether or not it is consistent is another matter. I've learned to make the most of a good thing over the years and hot weather has to be a good thing. It seems to make people happier, gets people outdoors and best of all, the air is filled with the unmistakeable smell of burnt sausages and burgers cooked by enthusiastic husbands in comedy aprons. The good thing being that men seem to want to cook food, burnt cheap bangers or not.

The BBQ is still to make it's debut in our garden this year. I'm too busy enjoying all of the new salad ingredients, especially the pepper hot radish and spring onions from my in-law's garden which I can never get enough of. The weekly delivery is still producing some amazing sweet deep orange carrots which gave me an idea for a cold soup to fill our stomach's and cool down our lobster-like bodies.

A quick pan roast of a load of chopped carrots and tomatoes to give a caramel edge would be the basis of a kind of gazpacho, my favourite of the classic cold soups. But instead of the fire of garlic you get with a gazpacho, I wanted the heat to be more mellow which is what a bunch of spring onions did. Nothing more than a handful of oregano, balsamic vinegar, seasoning and iced water were needed to make a delicious quenching soup that I think celebrates a few stars of the current season. And it went a long way to soothing our Geordie Tans.

Chilled Carrot and Spring Onion Soup

Serves 4

6 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
4 tomatoes, chopped
12 spring onions, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
A splash of balsamic vinegar
A handful of fresh oregano, but any fresh herb such as parsley or marjoram would be great
500ml fresh cold water and a handful of ice cubes
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat up the oil in a pan. Add the carrots and tomatoes and cook, stirring, until coloured and beginning to caramelise.
2 - Reserve a couple of spring onions and add the rest along with the balsamic vinegar. Heat up and combine thoroughly then remove from the heat.
3 - Add to a blender along with the herbs, water and ice cubes. Blitz until thoroughly blended. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Serve chilled in bowls with a few slices of spring onion and a grinding of fresh black pepper.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Packing A Punch

Watching Gordon Ramsay's F Word last week, it was great to see a high profile chef promoting healthy food as a feature on his entertaining show. To see Ricky Hatton (a supreme athlete in the 3 months leading up to his fights and a self-confessed slob for the rest), being transformed and convinced was inspirational. It is amazing still how many people class healthy food as something which is a chore, something which is boring or lacking in flavour or food that is never going to fill you up in a million years.

I'm a big lad myself and love my food, all of it, and in the past 18 months I've trimmed down significantly simply by following the subject that I teach; simple to prepare, healthy, tasty and balanced food. No diets (spit), not cutting back on the amount that I eat, just learning each and every day ways to make food more and more exciting without having to pile in the salt and excess fat. Oh, and eating my beloved suet puds, cakes and biscuits in moderation!

A good friend of mine in Leeds, Scott, is following a similar regime. Last week us two big northern food loving blokes compared recipes and discussed the subject at length. How times and subjects have changed. After treating his family to my Thai beef salad, Scott produced a few tried and tested recipes which follow this philosophy; big tasting, gut filling healthy food.

A simple south Indian curry recipe was there for the taking and it took me no time on returning home to experiment and make it even tastier. I love south Indian food, specifically Keralan, with their combination of fish, fruit and coconut based curries. The recipe called for tamarind of which I had none, but a quick call into the Asian food expert Wil assured me that the ageing mango sitting on my windowsill would indeed work perfectly as a fruity replacement. Lots of lime added sourness and a good dose of Nam Pla turned it into an India/Thailand hybrid.

One final addition were a couple of handfuls of new season samphire which added a welcome crunch. Vegetarians could replace the fish with sweet potatoes, squash, aubergines or mushrooms. All in all, it was up there with the best curries I have made and ticked all of the relevant boxes; incredibly tasty, filling and healthy grub which is so simple to prepare. Food that makes you feel good to be alive and puts a smile on your face. Not faddish or diet food, this is 100% food loving northern bloke territory. And to that I say whey aye to healthy food. Cheers Scotty.

Fish, Samphire and Mango Curry
Feeds 2

1 tbsp groundnut or rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
A thumb size of ginger, grated
1 large red chilli or 2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
1 tsp cumin, coriander and turmeric
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 400ml tin of coconut milk
2 fillets of firm fish, cubed (I used salmon but the usual suspects, cod and haddock, would do)
A couple of handfuls of prepared prawns
A couple of handfuls of samphire
1 mango, skinned and flesh pureed
1 tbsp nam pla fish sauce or soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh coriander

1 - Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, ginger and chillies. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
2 - Add the spices and mustard seeds and cook for a further 2-3 minutes until the seeds begin to pop and the spices become fragrant.
3 - Add the coconut milk, bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes.
4 - Blanch the samphire for 2 minutes then drain and cool.
5 - Add the fish and prawns and simmer for 5 minutes. Finally stir in the mango, samphire, fish sauce and lime juice. Heat through and taste for seasoning. You may want to add more fish sauce, soy and lime juice. You want it sweet, sour and salty.
6 - Serve with fresh coriander and your rice of choice.

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 ...