Monday, 30 January 2017

Pear, Honey and Almond Cake

A beautiful, dense cake, sweet and sticky from honey and fresh pears. Just perfect for these cold, damp winter days.

Pear, Honey and Almond Cake

100g sugar
200g butter or margarine
3 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
100g honey
100g self raising flour
200g ground almonds
4 very ripe, soft pears, puréed or finely chopped

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200C/GM4. Grease and line a 22cm springform cake time.

2 - In a large mixing bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until light and fluffy.
3 - Break in the eggs one at a time, whisking thoroughly for each one.
4 - Stir in the honey and almond extract then tip in the flour and ground almonds. Fold together until thoroughly combined.
5 - Finally, fold in the pear purée or diced pear and any juice.
6 - Tip into the baking tin, smooth off and place on the middle shelf. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. You may need to put some foil over the top at the half hour mark to stop it from burning.
7 - Serve slightly warm with creme fraiche or double cream.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Huevos Rancheros (Mexican Ranch Eggs)

I can remember reading about this recipe years back in Rick Stein's Food Heroes; it's pretty much been a staple breakfast or brunch in our house ever since, especially on a lazy Sunday morning, perhaps nursing last night's boozy head.

Stemming from Mexican cuisine, the combination of hot chilli, sweet tomatoes, cheesy mashed beans and crispy eggs served on warm tortillas addresses the most serious of hangovers as well as hungry stomachs. We love it!

I've evolved Rick's recipe with the addition of a pinch of cumin and cocoa powder to the beans, two ingredients that are used extensively in South America and for me, a serious flavour kick that makes them more appealing to suspicious eyes when they spot the brown sludge on their breakfast plate.

Still not convinced? All I can say is, try it and see. It's a serious contender for best breakfast in the world!

Huevos Rancheros
Serves 4

Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
A good pinch of dried chilli flakes or 1 finely chopped red chilli
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Refried Beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
A good pinch of dried chilli flakes or 1 finely chopped red chilli
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tin of either kidney beans or pinto beans
100g grated Cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper

Soft ready made tortillas, wrapped in foil and warmed in an oven

1 - To make the tomato sauce, heat up the oil in a pan and add the onion, chilli and garlic. Soften for 5 minutes then add the tomatoes and vinegar. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until reduced. Taste for seasoning.
2 - To make the refried beans, heat up the oil in a pan and add the onion, chilli and garlic. Soften for 5 minutes then stir in the cumin and cocoa. Tip in the beans still in their water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes then, with a fork, crush the beans. Stir in the cheese then taste for seasoning.
3 - Fry the eggs to your liking but I like mine crispy at the bottom and still soft in the middle.
4 - To serve, fold 1 or 2 tortillas onto a plate. Add 1 or 2 tbsp of tomato sauce then 1 or 2 tbsp of refried beans. Place 1 or 2 crisp fried eggs on the top. Serve with good coffee.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Courgette Pakora

If you are like me and adore Indian food, you might understand the one issue that I have with it.

When entering an Indian restaurant I'm usually hungry on the verge of cannibalism. I scan the starters and mentally choose everything on there, before settling for one with a mound of popadoms and a pickle tray. I then proceed to eat it too fast that the next thing I know, I'm picking over the main course.

The point I'm trying to make is that I love Indian starters: samosa, pakora, bhaji, aloo chaat, Seekh kebab. You name them, I devour them. So much so that I would actually prefer to just have a table full of them and nothing else.

So this week I turned my hand to transforming a few courgettes into pakora, that little bundle of Indian spiced batter and vegetable that crisps to perfection and pops perfectly into a hungry gob. They could not be easier to make and the best thing about it is you can make a table full of them with ease using a variety of vegetables. Everything from onion, courgette, aubergine and carrot works. Just remember to get out as much water as you can before frying to ensure crispiness.

Courgette Pakora

Makes lots

3 courgettes, grated
100g chick pea flour
Half tsp baking powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli powder
Salt and pepper
Fresh coriander, chopped
Vegetable oil

1 - Put the grated courgette into a tea towel and squeeze thoroughly to get as much water out as possible.
2 - In a bowl, tip in the flour, spices and seasoning. Whisk in enough water to form a paste the consistency of double cream and coats the back of a spoon; not too thick, not too thin. Stir in the courgette and fresh coriander.
3 - Heat up a deep frying pan with vegetable oil. Test a pakora out by dropping in a small teaspoon if the batter. If it immediately begins to fry and turns golden in a minute, the oil is hot enough. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Fry heaped teaspoons in batches, draining on kitchen paper. Serve with fresh coriander and an accompaniment of yoghurt, pickles and/or chutney.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Chocolate and Orange Mousse

In my humble repertoire of food entertaining, it seems that nothing pleases guests more than a good old chocolate mousse. And that has to be a major plus for the busy home cook. Simple to make and utterly delicious, a mousse never draws complaint.

The other plus is that it is a pleasant thing to eat for both children and adults and if my daughter is anything to go by, it is also a lot of fun to make. All elements of fun cooking with children are here, from smashing or cracking of eggs, to whipping up so that it sits over your head without giving you an egg white hat, to dripping messily into serving glasses and finally the ubiquitous licking of the bowl.

A couple of hours in the fridge and a dream dessert is ready and your little ones can claim glory. Try experimenting with flavours, adding grated orange or lemon, a spoonful of ground almonds, broken biscuit or toasted hazelnuts. Serve with or without cream.

Chocolate and Orange Mousse

Makes 4-5 glasses

200g 70% proof chocolate
50g butter
4 eggs
25g sugar
Zest of 1 orange

1 – Place the chocolate and butter into an ovenproof bowl and place into a pre-heated medium oven for 5 minutes to melt. Remove and mix thoroughly. Set aside to cool slightly.
2 – Crack the eggs and separate the whites and yolks into mixing bowls. Add the sugar to the yolks and beat with a whisk until frothy and paler.
3 – Whisk the egg whites until it will sit over your head without falling out.
4 – Grate the orange zest into the chocolate and butter mixture then mix in the sugar and egg yolk mixture. Quickly fold in a large spoonful of the egg whites then gently fold in the remaining until thoroughly mixed in.
5 – Drip spoonfuls of the mixture into serving glasses then put into the fridge for 1-2 hours until set.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Chermoula (Moroccan Marinade)

This is a very easy to make but stunning marinade or paste for use with chicken, pork and fish. Used extensively in North Africa in countries such as Morocco or Tunisia, it's a cheeky blend of spices, lemons, chilli, garlic and fresh coriander and adds a punch of flavour to pretty much any grilled or pan-fried meats. You can even try it with hardy roast vegetables such as squash, beetroot and potatoes.

I like to use mine with fresh tuna, seared perfectly on the BBQ or a griddle pan and served with bulgar wheat, cous cous or quinoa. Toss in a few pomegranate seeds and things become even more exciting. Try it.


4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp each of ground cumin and paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Juice and zest of one lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Either 1 fresh deseeded chilli finely chopped or 1 tsp ground chilli
A couple of handfuls of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1 - Combine all of the ingredients thoroughly in a mixing bowl. Taste for seasoning.
2 - Add your choice of meat and leave to marinade for a few hours. Cook as normal.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the hole. It's a recipe that most Brits have all eaten but probably have no idea where the name comes from. Don't ask me - I haven't got a clue.

If I had to guess, I would suggest that the image of a sausage poking its head out of crisped batter probably resembles a toad sticking its head out of a hole. After a few beers that is. Like I say, who cares? It is delicious, warming and comforting and that is what's important here.

Toad in the hole is a recipe I want to see in more restaurants at this time of the year, alongside shepherds' pie, steak and kidney pudding and chicken and leek pie. I've no ideas why more chefs are reluctant to put such fabulous food on their menus but it probably comes down to the image. Comforting British food such as these dishes seems so appropriate during the colder months and of course we make the best comfort food in the world, don't we?

This is a simple family favourite that is ace for those cold midweek nights when the soul and tummy need cheering up. Serve with mash, greens and lots of onion gravy.

Toad in the Hole
Feeds 4

250g plain flour
A pinch of salt and pepper
3 eggs, beaten
500ml milk
3 tbsp sunflower oil
500g quality sausages

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 220C/GM7.
2 - Put the oil into a roasting tin and place into the oven. When the oil is hot, add the sausages and bake for 5 minutes, turning every now and again until beginning to brown.
3 - Put the flour, salt and pepper into a large bowl. Make a well and add the beaten eggs. Begin to whisk in the milk until the batter has the consistency of double cream.
4 - Remove the roasting tin from the oven then pour the batter in and over the sausages. Place back onto a high shelf and bake for 30-40 minutes until the batter is risen, golden and crunchy.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Chestnut and Honey Bread

Chestnuts are one of the best free nuts, with their versatile sweetness just bursting with flavour and awaiting a multitude of dishes. Roasting a few and eating warm with a little salt and pepper is good enough, but a simple pot roast using a game bird such as pheasant, grouse or partridge with a few roasted chestnuts thrown in is simply amazing. Boil chestnuts, whiz in a blender and you have a nutty purée that is perfect for cakes and scones or even an ice cream.

I made bread with a handful of them over the weekend, and the warmth and smell that the bread gave off made you feel happy that the winter is upon us. Some good honey sweetened the bread without overpowering it.

Chestnut and Honey Bread

500g strong bread flour
200g chestnuts, cooked and peeled
1 tsp salt
1 heaped tsp ready active yeast
150ml honey
300ml warm water

1 – Tip the flour into a large bowl. Crumble in the chestnuts and mix together with the salt and yeast.
2 – Mix the honey and water together. Make a well in the flour and begin to gradually pour the water and honey on, mixing all of the time with your other hand.
3 – When the mixture comes together, tip out onto a floured surface and begin to knead by pulling the furthest edge towards you with your fingers then pushing with the palm of your hand.
4 – Repeat this until the dough becomes smooth and an impression of your hand when pushed in springs straight back out. Place back into the bowl, sprinkle on some flour and place in a warm place for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.
5 – Preheat the oven to 220C/GM8.
6 – Gently knead the dough until you have pushed the air out then place onto a floured backing tray. Cover and leave for another hour until it has doubled in size.
7 – Gently place onto the middle shelf of your oven and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 200C/GM6 and cook for a further 20-30 minutes or until it makes a ‘hollow’ sound when tapped. Leave cool on a wire tray.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Harissa Sauce

We've recently been turning to ways of transforming otherwise bland leftover food into something amazing. In our fridge there are always airtight containers with last night’s rice, pasta, cooked vegetables, fish or meat in. Waste not want not is the mantra.

A great way of making, say, a load of cooked vegetables and cooked pasta taste good is to whack it all into a casserole dish, cover it in a good tomato sauce (hopefully one that you have made and stored in the freezer) top with a cheese sauce and cook until golden and bubbling. Or take your rice and combine with leftover chicken, lemons, cardamon and cinnamon and bake in foil for a lovely quick 'leftover pilaf'.

I like to make sauces such as salsa verdé or 'green sauce', a strong, piquant sauce made from store cupboard ingredients that transform the blandest of meals into a thing of pleasure and beauty. A close second to that is harissa, a fiery North African sauce of red pepper and chilli that is so easy to make yourself and again, transforms the boring into the beautiful. Try it with fish or white meats, rice and salad. Make the most of your own little store in your kitchen and soon you will be a master of the leftovers.

Harissa Sauce

2 red peppers
1 large or 2 small red chillies, deseeded
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp paprika (smoked or unsmoked)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - If you have a gas hob, light 2 rings and place the peppers straight onto the flame. Using tongs, turn regularly until the skin is black all over. Pop into plastic food bags, seal and leave to cool. If you don't have a gas hob, rub in a little olive oil and roast in a hot oven until collapsed. Again, place into the food bags, seal and allow to cool.
2 - Once cooled, peel off the skin and discard the stalks and seeds. Pop into a food processor along with the chillies and garlic.
3 - Put the coriander seeds and cumin seeds into a dry frying pan and pan roast for 2 minutes until fragrant. Bash in a pestle and mortar or put into a couple of food bags and bash them with a rolling pin. Add to the food processor along with the paprika and lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning.
4 - Pour into an airtight jar and top with the olive oil. This will keep for a couple of weeks in a fridge.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Perfect Dumpling

What is a dumpling? In simple terms, it is an essential addition to any stew, casserole or soup, especially in the winter. It's a fluffy, stodgy thing of beauty floating on top of whatever food you have knocked up and for me, it makes me feel happy with the world and more importantly, 'full as a gun'!

Once people - and that includes my own kids - understand what it is that's invading their soup or stew, it's all down to the eating and once you've sunk your spoon or knife into one, things make lots of sense.

Dumplings of course are nothing new and the Asians have been mastering silky smooth dumplings for a lot longer than we have. Whereas the Asian dumpling is a thing of beauty, a smooth and perfectly formed mouthful, the northern dumpling is it's big cousin. And I prefer that version. Experiment with the basic recipe by adding a good grating of strong cheddar cheese, mustard powder and herbs such as fresh thyme.

They aren't difficult to make but when I posted this photo on Instagram recently, some people commented on how they have tried and failed to make the perfect dumpling. So here you go, the failsafe formula that I've been using for years.

Dumplings (for stews, casseroles or soups)
Makes about 6 large dumplings

300g self-raising flour
150g butter, margarine or suet
Salt and pepper

1 - In a large bowl, tip in the flour and a grating of salt and pepper.
2 - Add the butter, margarine or suet. If the latter, just mix in with a spoon but if it's the former, mix together with your fingertips to form large breadcrumbs.
3 - Add 2-3 tablespoons of water and mix together. Keep adding tablespoons of water until it just comes together to form a dough, not too sticky, not too dry.
4 - Half an hour before your stew or soup is ready, add large tablespoons of the dough. If you are cooking on the hob, put on the lid and cook for 25-30 minutes. If in the oven, you have the option of keeping the lid off to form crispy dumplings. Perfect.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Roast Pumpkin, Chick Pea and Garlic Soup with Golden Salt and Pepper Pumpkin Seeds

This soup entails sticking everything onto a baking tray, roasting it for half an hour in a hot oven, tipping it into a blender with a little stock or water then puréeing it into a soup. Can anybody tell me that this is difficult? If you think so, please give it a go.

Roast Pumpkin, Chick Pea and Garlic Soup with Golden Salt and Pepper Pumpkin Seeds

Feeds 4

1 small to medium pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into large chunks with seeds removed and kept aside
1 whole onion, peeled
1 bulb of garlic, broken and cloves left whole
1 tsp ground cumin and/or caraway seeds
1 tin of chick peas
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
750ml vegetable stock

1 - Pre-heat your oven to GM6/200C.
2 - Place all of the vegetables on a baking tray. Scatter with the mixed spice, a little salt and pepper and olive oil and mix thoroughly. Roast on a high shelf for 30-40 minutes until golden.
3 - In the meantime, scatter the seeds onto another baking tray with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss together then place on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook until golden.
4 - When the vegetables have cooked, cut the pumpkin skin off and place the flesh into a blender along with the onion and the garlic cloves, squeezed straight out of their skins. Pour in the stock and chick peas then blitz to a fine purée. Taste for seasoning.
5 - Pour into bowls and serve with a scattering of delicious, nutty golden pumpkin seeds.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Northumbrian Leek Pudding

Here is my version of a true classic, which has a leek's mild onion flavour lifted somewhat with the addition of cheese, mustard and cream. I bake mine rather than steam them. Nothing wrong with steaming; it will give you a spongier and more melting sensation, but I prefer the crustiness that baking brings out. Also, 2 hours steaming or 30 minutes baking? Let your stomach answer that one for you. Serve it with a beef and ale stew, Newcastle Brown Ale of course. The food of champions. Champion man!

Northumbrian leek pudding
To serve two

100g self raising flour
50g shredded suet (beef or vegetable) or butter/margarine
one large or two small leeks
50g butter
100ml double cream
50g strong cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat oven to 180C, GM4 and butter two individual ovenproof pudding moulds.
2 - Mix the flour and suet with a pinch of salt and pepper. Combine with enough water to make a stiff paste.
3 - Slice the leeks length ways, wash thoroughly and finely shred.
4 - Soften the leeks in butter until just coloured. Stir in the cream, grated cheese and mustard powder and combine, ensuring a sloppy mixture.
5 - Roll out the pastry to approximately 1cm thick and divide into two. Line the pudding moulds and trim the excess pastry. Roll back out again and cut out two `lids' for the puddings.
6 - Pile the leek mixture into the puddings until ¾ full and top with the pastry discs. Dab the edges with water and seal. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden.

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 ...