Thursday, 16 December 2010

Spiced Granola

Granola is one of those moreish cereals, all crunchy, nutty and oaty, that you usually eat straight out of the box as opposed to pouring it in a bowl like a conventional bowl of cereal. One of America's better food inventions, we love it with yoghurt and honey in the morning for a great kick start.

Instead of buying some of the commercial products, it is actually really easy to make your own. Mix oats, nuts, honey, a little butter, margarine or vegetable oil together and bake in a low oven and you have it. It is great to experiment with too, adding spices, fruit and different nuts to the whole mixture.

I've invented a lovely Christmas-tinged granola which hits healthy highs with the addition of pumpkin seeds. It will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 weeks so make a large batch now to feed your family with over the Christmas holidays.

Spiced Granola

100g Oats
50g almonds, roughly chopped
30g shredded coconut
30g pumpkin seeds
Half tsp ground cinnamon
Half tsp ground ginger
50g butter or margarine
50g honey
50g dried cranberries
50g dates, roughly chopped
50g dried apricots, roughly chopped

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM3.
2 – Stir together all of the ingredients except for the dried fruit in a large mixing bowl.
3 – Put the butter/margarine and honey into a small pan and melt.
4 – Stir this thoroughly through the dried mixture then spread out evenly onto a large nin-stick baking tray.
5 – Place onto the middle shelf and bake for 20-30 minutes, turning over every 10 minutes, until golden and baked.
6 – Allow to cool then mix in the dried fruit. Serve with natural yoghurt and honey.
7 - Keep in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Onion and Roast Garlic Soup

Happy days at the allotment recently when we plundered the first vegetables that were planted, the onion and garlic.

I can remember putting my onion and garlic sets in back in November when the allotment still resembled a council tip. We were optimistic, what with the forthcoming winter in store, but our onions and garlic survived quite spectacularly, producing fat vegetables that now hang proudly in our shed ready for the coming months.

I've noticed pungency and flavour in these onion and garlic like I have never tasted before. And for me, the ultimate of all recipes to show off our plucked beauties were in a classic French onion soup. I adore this soup so much and for some reason, it works in the hot months just as well as the cold. Maybe that is because it reminds me of lazy carefree summers in Brittany, but either way it is a soup that must be made and devoured.

A whole bulb of my deep purple garlic, roasted until sweet, just took the flavour levels up a notch and guaranteed a soup to banish any lingering cold bugs as well as the odd vampire. Served with simple toasted bread, rubbed with a clove of garlic and drizzled with olive oil, is all that is needed for that most majestic of onion celebrating dishes. Alternatively, if you want to be all traditional, top with a slice of crusty white bread, pile on grated Gruyere cheese and place under the grill until golden and melting.

Onion and Roast Garlic Soup

Serves 4

1 whole bulb of garlic
Olive oil
25g butter
6 large fat onions, peeled, halved and sliced thin
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tbsp flour
800ml hot beef stock (fresh or from cube)
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200C/GM6. Place the whole unpeeled bulb of garlic into a square of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap tightly. Place on a baking tray and roast for 1 hour until soft. Remove and allow to cool. Squash out the cloves onto a plate then mash with a fork. Set aside.
2 - In a large pan, heat up the butter with 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the onions and cook gently for 30-45 minutes, stirring regularly to help tease out the sugars and make it all golden and caramelised. You can add a teaspoon of sugar to help it along if time is against you.
3 - When caramelised, add the thyme and stir through. Stir in the flour and stir for 2 minutes.
4 - Add the hot beef stock and stir thoroughly. Stir in the mashed roasted garlic. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning then serve.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

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 are rarely 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.

This is the Sussex Pond Pudding. 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'.

Any foreign friends who are reading this who harbour a suspicion of our tummy busting puds, I beg you to give this one a go. It will hopefully indicate that we Brits hide subtle beauty behind a wall of suet pastry. And also that we make the best puddings in the whole wide world...

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.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Squid, Ham and Samphire Salad

My lovely Geordie expat friends Iain and Gayle at Orce Serrano Hams recently sent me some of their amazing 16 month aged serrano ham. It is seriously good, everything you would expect from a quality meat that has been lovingly cured by these special people. I might be biased being a fellow Geordie but I beg you to get some ordered. You will not regret it.

Trying to do it justice in a recipe is another matter. Of course, the best way to eat such an amazing meat is to simply slice it off in generous slivers and consume with good bread, oil, olives and a gutsy Spanish red. But I couldn't resist the challenge of pairing it with something.

Thanks to the recent bout of hot weather, squid are being caught in their droves off our North East coast at the moment. And salty samphire, one of my highlights of the summer, is also in abundance.

A simple salt and pepper squid, crispy and hot, tossed with crunchy samphire, salty creamy ham and some sweet roasted peppers made for an excellent plate - a kind of surf and turf but more delicate - and I think it just did that sensational ham some justice. I'll leave that to the owners and your good selves to assess...

Squid, Ham and Samphire Salad

Feeds 2

1 red pepper or a jar of quality roasted peppers
1 medium squid, prepared and sliced into 1cm slices
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper
Sunflower oil
2 good handfuls of samphire
8 slices of Serrano ham

For the dressing
A handful of basil leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - To prepare the pepper, place directly onto your hob flames and using a pair of tongs, turn until it is black everywhere. Place into a plastic food bag, seal and leave to cool. When cool, remove the skin and seeds then slice into thin slices.
2 - Put the samphire into a bowl and pour over some boiling hot water. Leave for 1 minute, drain and cool under cold water. Drain and set aside.
3 - Fill a medium saucepan halfway with oil. Heat up. To test when it is ready, drop a piece of bread in. If it turns golden brown within 1 minute it is ready.
4 - Toss the squid in the flours, salt and pepper. Carefully lower into the oil and cook for no more than 1 minute when it will turn slightly golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
5 - Make a dressing by bashing up the basil in a pestle and mortar, stirring in the lemon juice and oil and seasoning.
6 - To plate up, arrange the samphire, roast peppers and squid on a plate then drizzle over a little of the basil oil.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Rhubarb and Orange Cake

The rhubarb season is nearing it's end now and this year we have had more than our fair share from the allotment crop.

As our allotment had invented a new word for neglect before we got our hands on it, we thought that the existing plant would benefit from a few days in the dark to force new shoots. We ended up creating a monster, a rather delicious one at that.

Stems have been given away to eager family members week after week and still we have a drawer full in the freezer for the coming months. Stewed rhubarb for our morning cereal is always there and crumbles are a certainty each Sunday. It has been a happy year for our rhubarb.

This cake partners the sharp rhubarb with orange, an excellent pairing of flavours. Topped onto an almond and polenta based sponge, it is excellent served warm as a dessert with double cream or room temperature with a strong cup of tea. Either way, you are in for a treat.

Rhubarb and Orange Cake

200g butter
150g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs
100g ground almonds
100g polenta
100g self raising flour
200g rhubarb puree, made by cutting the stems up, washing, putting into a pan with 75g sugar and simmering until soft.
Zest and juice or 1 orange

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 180C/GM4.
2 - In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla essence and then stir in the eggs one by one.
3 - Fold in the almonds and polenta. Sieve in the flour and fold in along with the orange zest and juice and 2 tbsp of the rhubarb puree until you have a soft batter.
4 - Pour into a lined cake tin with a removable base. Top with the remaining rhubarb puree. Bake on the centre shelf for 50-60 minutes until golden brown. If it starts to catch too soon, cover loosely with baking paper.
5 - Rest and allow to cool.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Lettuce and Mint Soup

It's been a 'trial and error' year of growing so far in 2010. The allotment that masqueraded as a council tip is now up and running and bearing some resemblance to an allotment. It may not win any awards, but there are things growing out of the ground that we can actually eat as opposed to want to throw in a skip.

One of the first things I planted as seedlings were a whole host of lettuce, and by far and the most prolific to be coming to maturity are the majestic Cos or Romaine lettuce. We have been eating the long slightly bitter leaves for a couple of weeks now in an effort to keep it under control, which is no bad thing.

If you have never tried lettuce in soup form I urge you to give it a go. A whole Cos went into a simmering pot of stock with potatoes, onion and garlic and a handful of new mint to produce a smooth summer soup bursting with freshness and subtle flavours. And it took all of 20 minutes from chop to slurp.

Lettuce and Mint Soup
Feeds 4

1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
6 small new potatoes, peeled and chopped in half
500ml vegetable stock
1 Cos lettuce, roughly chopped
1 handful of mint, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Cook until softened.
2 - Add the potatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until the potatoes are soft.
3 - Add the lettuce and mint and stir through for 1 minute.
4 - Blend until smooth and taste for seasoning.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Wild Garlic Bhajis

It's that time of they year when the bizarre smell of garlic hits your nostrils when walking through woodland. Each year I completely forget that my favourite free food is available in large quantities in British woodland. 

Wild garlic, or ramson, is much milder that the commercial bulb that we are used to, therefore it is perfect for giving your food a hit of flavour. A simple soup with potato is perfect for this delicate herb. Or bash it up with a little lemon and olive oil and it becomes a superb rub for a roast chicken.

It is also a great addition to some spiced batter, which can be dropped into hot oil for some simple homemade bhajis. So please do remember to responsibly pick a few handfuls if you see or smell some next time you are walking. It is free and delicious, just like some of the best things in life.

Wild Garlic Bhajis

Makes Lots

200g rice or chickpea flour (plain flour will be fine)
2 tbsp garam masala
Half tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
Salt and pepper
Soda water (plain water will do)
2 large handfuls of wild garlic, washed
Vegetable or sunflower oil

1 - Place the flour, spices and seasoning in a mixing bowl. Pour in the water and whisk until you have a batter that is reasonably thick but still wet enough to mix in the wild garlic.
2 - Roughly chop the wild garlic then stir into the batter.
3 - Heat a good few inches of oil for deep-frying in a pan. Drop in a piece of bread and if it turns golden brown within a minute, it is ready.
4 - Carefully place tablespoons of the mixture into the pan and fry for 5 minutes or until the mixture has turned golden brown. Cook in batches and drain on kitchen towel.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Thai Style Fish and Greens with Noodles

Happy belated 2010 readers.

2010 brought a milestone to yours truly's door on 1st January when the grand old age of 40 was reached. And looking at my tired, overindulged face and frame on that morning I certainly knew the day had arrived. Time to put things straight at the risk of another broken resolution, or just carry on as normal?

The new year is always a time of false starts and bruised beginnings and I for one am guilty of many a resolution that has failed to stand the test of time. And this year I've decided to skip it completely and carry on as normal. Why? Because I'm happy. Simple as.

One 'change' I will be making on the food front though is to consume more food from South East Asia. It is quickly becoming my favourite world cuisine by far, even surpassing my love of British puds and meaty casseroles. I adore the simplicity of the food that covers this vast continent that amazingly packs in so much flavour. Always hot, sometimes sour, usually salty with a little bit of sweet. It shakes you up from taste buds to toes and makes you feel happy to be alive. 40 or not 40.

This is one of those recipes that can be tweaked according to what vegetables that you have in your fridge along with any leftover meat for a weekend supper to please all. As in this recipe, crunchy cabbage and a piece of fish keep it light, fresh and wholesome. Add the heat of the chilli after serving to your little ones and it becomes family friendly.

Thai Style Fish and Greens with Noodles

Feeds 4

1 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
1 tbsp onion seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
1 thumb size of ginger, grated
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced finely
Half a large cabbage, sliced thinly
100ml water
2 fillets of salmon, sliced thin
A portion of cooked noodles
1 tbsp fish sauce (optional)
Milk of one coconut or 100ml coconut milk
Half a coconut, finely grated
Juice of 1 lime
A handful of fresh coriander

1 - Heat the oil in a wok and add the cumin and onion seeds. Cook for 1 minute until they crackle then add the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli. Stir fry for 2 minutes until softened.
2 - Add the cabbage and water, stir thoroughly, bring to the boil and place a lid onto the wok. Steam for 5 minutes until the cabbage has slightly softened.
3 - Remove the lid and stir in the salmon. Cook for 2 minutes then stir in the noodles, fish sauce, coconut milk, fresh coconut, lime juice and coriander. Heat through. Taste for seasoning - you want a nice blend of heat, salt and sourness from the lime.
4 - Serve in bowls with more fresh coconut, coriander and lime wedges.

Christmas Pavlova

I’ve invented a twist on a traditional Pavlova, a meringue, cream and fruit-based dessert. Made to resemble a Festive wreath, it not only lo...