Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Convenience Store

The most common reasons for people reaching for convenience food are through either a lack of confidence in the kitchen, or a busy lifestyle. I feel that I'm qualified to say that; I speak to busy parents of little ones who lack inspiration in the kitchen every single day in my job.

It gives me enormous pleasure to say to people that all is not lost - just follow a few simple no fuss ideas using store cupboard ingredients and you will be cooking fast and healthy food in no time. It is often met with pessimism, but once the demonstrations are finished, the transformation is often complete. Simple and cost effective is the way forward.

Cous cous is a fantastic product to keep in the store cupboard as an alternative to pasta and rice. It cooks in no time, it soaks up any flavours that you put in there and it makes for a lovely carbohydrate bed to balance up a plate of protein and vegetables. It may surprise readers to know that a lot of the people I teach still walk past cous cous in the supermarket as they assume it is a difficult product to make, or simply don't know what it is.

A squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil is often all you need to put flavour into cous cous. But it is great to experiment, so get out the sauces, vinegars and oils and have a play. This recipe is one that we turn to quite often as it uses two staple store cupboard ingredients that never run out - soya sauce and tomato ketchup. Before you retch or write this off as utter madness, all I can say is that it works and it is a hell of a lot better than reaching for the pot noodle. Stir in a few pan roasted vegetables and an oily fish, in this instance a Craster kipper, and you have a delicious balanced plate of healthy food in the space of 10 minutes. Fast food of the highest order.

Kipper Cous Cous
Feeds 4

A couple of handfuls of mushrooms of choice, sliced
1 red and green pepper, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
200g cous cous
400ml hot stock or water
2 kipper or smoked mackerel fillets, chopped
A handful of sun dried tomatoes, sliced
A couple of handfuls of spinach, roughly chopped
2 tbsp tomato ketchup or tomato purée
2 tbsp soya sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh mint of parsley, roughly chopped

1 - Heat up the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the mushrooms and peppers and cook for 5 minutes on a high heat until beginning to soften and turn golden. Add the kipper and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
2 - Put the cous cous into a large bowl then pour on the hot stock or water. Cover and leave for 5 minutes.
3 - Fluff up the cous cous with a fork then mix in the ketchup/purée, soya sauce and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly.
4 - Finally, stir in the cooked vegetables, sun dried tomatoes, spinach and herbs.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

A Hearty Soup

Since the turn of the year, I have not stopped. The demand for the Expo Chef show within schools appears to be on the increase, and with thousands of children up and down the country to teach, that means that my colleague Mark and I are running around at 100 mph.

I'm well aware that when I am like this, my creative juices within the kitchen environment don't flow as easily as I'd like them to. And that means that new recipes are few and far between. In a discussion about this last night, I realised that all I was making this year were typical family meals; meals that that I would think aren't good enough for the Blog. And then I realised that I was talking nonsense. Why would they not be good enough? After all, in my daily job of helping to educate children and their parents, there is never enough information for people who just need a little inspiration, to show them how easy this cooking lark can be.

So I've decided that I am going to keep it even more simple than usual until I find the time to start inventing new dishes. The food I cook for my family, be it a Shepherds Pie or a simple pasta sauce, will all feature. And I'm even going to start a new category called, 'Easy Family Meals'. Happy days!

Today I'm starting with a good old soup. This soup references the wonderful Joanna of Joanna's Food and Heart Of The Matter. Joanna started a Blog after experiencing the pain of heart attack within her family. I can relate to that as my mother's husband had a heart attack just over a year ago, and although he has recovered, I'm constantly plying them with recipes that will aid recovery and ensure that it hopefully does not come back.

More importantly, I suspect that Joanna has realised through the need to adapt a diet that simple and healthy food can be utterly delicious. A bonus all round. Ensure you read her entertaining Blog and indulge in some of her top notch tasty heart healthy food. Oh, and enjoy this heart healthy filling soup.

Brown Lentil, Smoked Bacon and Swede Soup
Feeds 4

1 onion, chopped
2 sticks of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 rashers of lean smoked bacon, rind removed
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
A pinch of chilli flakes
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed, or 1 tbsp dried thyme
1 small swede, peeled and cut into small cubes
250g brown lentils
A good splash of Worcester Sauce
500ml hot vegetable stock, fresh or from cube (if cubed, ensure it is the low salt variety)

1 - In a large pan, heat up the oil. Add the onion, celery, garlic and bacon and cook for 5-10 minutes until softened and beginning to colour.
2 - Add the thyme and chilli flakes and stir for 1 minute. Then add the turnip, Worcester Sauce, lentil and stock. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer with the lid on for 25-30 minutes. Check to ensure that it isn't boiling dry.
3 - Serve with good a swirl of yoghurt, heart shaped if you like.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Me and Twee

The first time I ever made a canapé was on MasterChef. Talk about pressure. We all made our way down to a huge Manor house and were told that we were going to re-enact a menu from when Queen Victoria opened the place. Piling on the pressure, we were also told to create a few canapés from the ingredients provided for hungry guests. Canapés are rather twee, and twee and me aren't a match made in heaven.

It all turned out well in the end and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Then a year passed, and I was asked to do some canape demonstrations last week in the aftermath of party season. One year is a long time to recollect anything, so it was back to the drawing board.

Tiny fronds of herb balancing on a minute tower of produce. Paper thin shavings of rare beef teetering on tiny quinelles of chestnut purée. I pulled it off and in turn, I found a new me. The whole event was a success, and I found that twee ain't such a bad thing. Even the hungry Geordies applauded me on a side I never knew. Or were they just happy for a free feed?

The most popular canapé was a blini topped with a little lemon scented Greek yoghurt, smoked salmon and dill. They were popped into mouths faster than I could knock them out, but fortunately they were the easiest to make. Give them a try. You might find a side to you that you never knew.

PS The rather wonderful photo of my canapés were taken by a smashing fella called Christopher Best. Check him out, you will be impressed.

Blinis with Smoked Salmon, Dill and Greek Yoghurt

For the blinis
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 medium eggs
A pinch salt
30g butter

1 lemon
Smoked Salmon
Fresh Dill
Greek yoghurt
Freshly ground pepper

1 – In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, eggs, salt and enough milk to make a thick batter.
2 - Melt the butter in a small frying pan. Drop 2 separate tablespoons of the batter into the frying pan at a time, allowing room for each blini to spread out.
3 - Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side or until cooked through and golden. Remove and set aside on kitchen paper before cooking the next batch.
4 – Roughly chop the smoked salmon and put into a bowl. Squeeze over the juice of the lemon and a good grinding of black pepper.
5 – To assemble, put a teaspoon of Greek yoghurt onto a blini, followed by some smoked salmon and top with a piece of fresh dill.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Sussex Pond Pudding

Puddings, Great British puddings, are a thing close to my heart. You may or may not have read my past ramblings on our puds, but it is something I can't speak about without excitement. I want to shout each and every pud that we have created from the rooftops and demand that that they return to our menus; jam roly poly, treacle puds and spotted dick to name a few.

British puddings aren't elegant. No thin crispy wafer like pastry, no towers, and no quenelles. Our puds are tummy fillings monsters that banish any lingering hunger within a few mouthfuls. Usually smothered in delicious creamy custard (hopefully home made; quicker and far more delicious that waiting for a kettle to boil before pouring onto powder), it takes a brave man to face a bowlful immediately after a full Sunday roast.

Not only does this pudding have a brilliant name, it is also delicious and a great conversation point when served at the table. Cut into a Sussex Pond Pudding, and you are met by a whole lemon. This lemon has been steamed in a rich suet crust for hours on end along with some butter and sugar to create a heavenly zest packed sauce, or 'pond'.

Sussex Pond Pudding
Serves 4

200g self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
100g shredded suet, normal or vegetarian
150g cold butter, cut into small cubes
150g demerara sugar
1 large lemon, pricked all over with a sharp knife

1 - Butter a medium pudding basin. Place a steamer onto boil then lower to a simmer ready to place the pudding in.
2 - In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, suet and salt, then pour in enough water to form a firm dough when mixed.
3 - Roll out onto a floured surface and roll into a disc just larger than the bowl. Cut out one quarter of the pastry to use as a lid. Line the pudding basin with the dough, wet the seam where it was cut and press to seal. Trim off the top just above the rim of the bowl.
4 - Take the cut off dough and roll until slightly bigger than the bowl. Cut into a rough circle.
5 - Place half of the butter and sugar into the bottom of the dough, place the lemon on top then put the remaining sugar and butter onto the lemon.
6 - Place on the pastry lid, wet the edges then press down the edges of the pastry until well sealed.
7 - Take a large piece of foil and fold in half. Butter one side then form a pleat in the middle by folding over slightly twice. Place this over the bowl then tie securely with a piece of string.
8 - Place into the steamer and steam for 3 and a half hours.
9 - When cooked, turn up onto a plate and serve with custard or cream.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Crab, Swede and Leek Pasties

The crab meat has been slightly devilled with marvellous English mustard and Worcester Sauce, and it pairs quite magnificently with small cubes of sweet swede and luscious leeks. They fill the house with mouth watering aromas and it is difficult not eating the whole tray when they have been removed from the oven.

Crab, Swede and Leek Pasties

1 leek, halved and sliced
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
25g butter
1 small swede, peeled and diced into small cubes
1 tbsp Cider vinegar
Half tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 tsp English Mustard
300g crabmeat, brown and white
Salt and pepper
1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry
A little milk

1 – Pre-heat the oven to 200C, GM6.
2 – In a non-stick pan, heat up the oil and butter then add the leeks. Cook gently for 5 minutes until softened but not coloured.
3 – Add the cubed swede and heat through for a further minute.
4 – Stir in the crab meat, vinegar, cayenne pepper, Worcester sauce and English mustard along with a good grinding of black pepper and a pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning.
5 – On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry. Cut out discs approximately 5 inches in diameter. Place tablespoons of the crab mixture into the centre of the pastry.
6 – Dampen the edges of the pastry with milk then fold over and press the edges together. Crimp with a fork.
7 – Brush with milk then bake on a high shelf for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Delicious hot or cold.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Are You Game?

A lot of food available in modern age Great Britain tends to have the tag, 'I don't eat it because I don't know what to do with it'. Any fish that isn't a cod or a haddock has that tag. Vegetables such as celeriac or fennel have that tag. And game certainly has that tag.

In the United Kingdom, we have arguably the best game in the world, with special reference to Scotland. The climate and landscape is ideal for the likes of deer to roam and graze making Scotland the envy of much of Europe. At this time of the year, game is in abundance yet we still don't seem to know what to do with it and turn to the chicken, beef and lamb again.

Half of the problem with game, especially venison, is that if not cooked properly it can be as dry as leather. And that puts people off, making us think that you need some special skills to cook it. But it should not be feared. Just lower the cooking time, regularly baste and ensure it is rested.

If you give yourself a break from the common meats of today and give game a chance, you may just change your life. Low in fat and cholesterol, low in cost, meaty and tasty, sustainable and naturally free range (in most instances, always buy from a reputable source), it should be the natural choice for us Brits. Try this simple recipe for a saddle of roe if you don't believe me. The marinade may seem like a long list but they are all essential store cupboard ingredients. It can be experimented with and it makes the most sensational sauce when reduced. Dead easy!

Roast Saddle of Roe
Serves 2

300g saddle of roe, boned, rolled and tied
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp groundnut oil
25g butter
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly, or similar

For the marinade
2 large glasses of red wine
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 whole clove of garlic
1 star anise
A few cloves
A few whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
A sprig of thyme or a tsp of dried thyme
2 tbsp honey

1 - 24 hours in advance, put all of the marinade ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. This will take out the alcohol which can draw out moisture from the meat, as well as ensure maximum flavour. Cool down then place the saddle of roe in. Place in the fridge and leave for a day or so, turning every now and again.
2 - When ready to eat, remove the saddle and strain the marinade into a small pan.
3 - Pre-heat the oven to GM8, 220 degrees C. Season the roe.
4 - Heat up the oil in an ovenproof frying pan. Quickly seal the meat all over. Throw in the butter then quickly baste the meat, then place on a high shelf in the oven. For a piece of meat this small, cook for 12-15 minutes rare, 20 minutes medium. Do not cook well done or it will be like leather.
5 - Remove the meat, cover with foil and rest for 10 minutes.
6 - Reduce the marinade until thickened. Add the jelly and melt. Finally stir in a knob of butter. Taste for seasoning.
7 - Serve sliced into thick steaks with my pan haggerty and some greens.

Friday, 4 January 2008


As a child, staple food in our Geordie household consisted of anything potato based. So it could have been mashed potato with cabbage and bacon, chips, bubble and squeak or just boiled potatoes with gravy. I think I grew up thinking that potato had to be eaten with each meal or I would come down with some horrible illness. There could be no other reason for it featuring on my tea time plate each day.

One potato based dish that was always my favourite, and served to me at least once a week, was a pan haggerty, or panackelty depending on which side of the Tyne you were born. A traditional Northumbrian dish, pan haggerty is basically thinly sliced potato and onion, layered in a frying pan and cooked on a low heat. I've no idea if it derives from the French and their various 'thinly sliced potato' dishes or not. The word 'haggerty' is said to derive from the French word for slice, 'hachis', so possibly it does. But I prefer to think romantically that it is a Geordie born dish derived from cheap and plentiful filling ingredients. Either way, it is absolutely delicious.

Techniques for cooking a pan haggerty vary all over the North East, making it one of those classic dishes which can create a heated debate amongst housewives, often leading to violence. For example, when I made this dish on MasterChef Goes Large last year, my mam rang me immediately after watching it not to congratulate me on reaching the semi-finals, but to berate me for making it incorrectly. 'It should have corned beef in it and cooked in a little water for hours on end!', she explained. I couldn't argue as this was the very food I ate every week when I lived at home. And I didn't want a clip around the ear.

My version is, well, my version. No frills, very easy to make and absolutely moreish. Crunchy and golden on the bottom, soft and gooey in the middle, cheesy and bubbling on the top. It can be made as little individual pan haggertys like in the recipe below, or it can be made in a large ovenproof frying pan. Just increase the quantities. It will keep for a couple of days in the fridge and is amazing cold or reheated and a brilliant accompaniment to roasts or as a variation on roast potatoes for your Sunday lunch. Pan haggerty or panackelty. Who cares, as long as it is delicious. Just don't argue with your mam about it...

Pan Haggerty
Makes one individual, quadruple the ingredients for 1 full frying pan

Half an onion, sliced thinly
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 floury potato such as King Edward, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp goose fat, lard or vegetable oil
A little Cheddar cheese, grated

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C, GM6.
2 - In an ovenproof frying pan, heat up the vegetable oil and cook the onion for 5 minutes until softened and beginning to caramelise. Remove and set aside on kitchen towel.
3 - Wipe the pan clean, place back onto the heat then add your fat of choice. Place a chef's ring into the pan and add a layer of potatoes, making a neat ring. Add some of the cooked onions then salt and pepper. Continue in this fashion until you have filled the chef's ring.
4 - Spoon over some of the melted fat. Cover with foil then place on a high shelf in the oven. Cook for 25-30 minutes. Remove the foil. Test the potato with a sharp knife, it should glide in easily.
5 - Put the grill on high. Sprinkle a little grated cheese onto the potato then place under the grill until golden and bubbly. Run a knife around the edge then plate. These will keep in the fridge for 2 days.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Resolute in Resolutions

Happy New Year everybody. I have to assume that you are all experiencing that familiar 2nd January sensation of aching livers and sore eyes. After the traditional excess of Christmas and New Year it is no surprise. And oh how it hurts.

The only way I can tackle any descending darkness at the realisation that the party is over is to throw myself into the kitchen and cook. Your body is now crying out for something fresh and vibrant to pick up your senses and heal your sore organs. Hopefully the nibbles and booze have all been consumed so that you can concentrate on something simple, fresh and body beneficial.

I like to turn to the Indian spices when I am feeling under the weather. The heat along with antioxidant packed foods such as onions, garlic and ginger make me feel alive again and help banish any despondency. Some fresh Northumberland mussels, fat and juicy and packed with flavour, were the perfect addition to a simple spiced potato broth. A great way to start the year. Simple, fresh, packed full of flavour and healthy. I'm looking forward to 2008 and I hope that you are too. All the best.

Spiced Mussel and Potato Broth
Feeds 2

1 onion, chopped
1 thumb size of ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
Half tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 large potato, peeled and diced
500g fresh mussels, washed and beards removed, discarding any that do not close after a sharp tap
500ml water
Fresh coriander
Salt and pepper

1 - In a large pan, heat up the oil then add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes until softened and slightly coloured then add the ginger, garlic and spices. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
2 - Stir in the potatoes and stir for 1 minute until covered in the spice mixture. Pour in the water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are softened.
3 - Tip in the mussels, cover and cook for a further 5 minutes.
4 - Taste for seasoning. It may not need salt due to the mussels. Remove any mussels that have not fully opened.
5 - Serve in bowls with lots of fresh coriander and a spoonful of fresh yoghurt. A squeeze of lime juice benefits.

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 ...