Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Rich-Man's Chicken Kiev (Pheasant Parcel)

My mate Adam sometimes goes shooting with his Dad, so he has a fairly plentiful supply of free pheasant. He was kind enough to give me a breast recently so I thought I'd have a go at a recipe.

I had never made pheasant before, but I was aware that it has very little fat, being a game bird, so it needs a bit to be added in order to keep it nice and tender. Here, I did it in two ways - with a garlic and herb butter in the middle and a couple of rashers of streaky bacon round the outside. The result was most agreeable, Mr D'arcy.

Ingredients (for one):

  • 1 x pheasant breast fillet
  • 2 x rashers of streaky bacon
  • Half a garlic clove
  • 1 x pinch of fresh flat-leaf parsley and tarragon leaves, plus an extra parsley leaf to garnish
  • 1 x reasonably sized knob of butter
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Clean the pheasant breast THOROUGHLY so that you know there are no stray bits of feather/other crap. Clean it like you cleaned your hands that time your mum walked in on you having a danger wank.
  2. Chop the garlic and herbs as finely as you can, but make sure you only cut through each section of the bunch once so that you don't lose the flavour. Mix it with the butter.
  3. Butterfly the pheasant breast, i.e. take a very sharp knife and cut it along the centre so that you can fold it out. Try to flatten it a bit - I used my hands to do this but I guess the proper way would be to use a rolling pin or a steak tenderiser.
  4. Roll the garlic and herb butter into a sort of sausage shape that fits nicely in the middle of the butterflied pheasant breast and fold it over. Season it well, then wrap it in the bacon and then again, tightly, in cling film, making sure it's well covered. TIP: if you really desperately want to make sure that it stays tightly wrapped you can chuck it in the fridge for a while; however, I didn't bother and it seemed to turn out fine.
  5. Get an oven-proof pan, add a bit of olive oil in it hot and put the pheasant parcel in the pan. It should sizzle vigorously in the pan - if it doesn't then take it out and put it back in when it's hotter. Brown it on all sides and then put it in the oven for about 15 minutes at 200 degrees.
  6. Serve garnished with a large parsley leaf.
I served mine with mustard mash and strained cooking juices on the side. I liked it, but I can imagine someone finding that to be a bit too much fat on one plate. I think some cabbage would go nicely with this, or perhaps some nice mushrooms, cooked the Italian way with butter, garlic, white wine and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Summer sausage fun

Bangers and mash is usually thought of as a hearty winter warming dish, but as it's one of my favourites I thought I'd give it a bit of a makeover for the summer. It's lighter, more seasonal and a bit healthier as sweet potatoes don't need gallons of butter in order to mash well and taste good.

This recipe, as per usual, is nice and simple. The only tips I would really make for a real novice would be to check the seasoning, particularly in the sweet potatoes, and keep an eye on the temperature of the onions (and the amount of oil in the pan) to help them caramelise without burning. As with normal bangers and mash, it relies on two main things for good flavour - top quality sausages and a real gravy made with caramelised onions and good stock.

Ingredients:
  • 4 good quality butcher's sausages
  • 4 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 onions, cut into half moons
  • 2 gloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • About 400ml vegetable or chicken stock
  • 200ml cider
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 4 rosemary sprigs
  • A few handfuls of parsley
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 2 tsps butter (optional)
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp flour (optional)
Method:
  1. Heat the oil to a medium-high heat in a pan. Add the garlic and herb sprigs and fry them for a few seconds until they're fragrant. Add the sausages, brown them on all sides, them remove them to a plate.
  2. Add the onions and reduce the heat to a medium-low level. When they've started to turn transcluscent, lower the heat even more and cover the pan. Stir the onions occasionally and let them gently fry for 20-30 minutes or until they've caramelised.
  3. Meanwhile, start the sweet potatoes off in lightly salted cold water and bring them to the boil from there, then simmer briskly until the potatoes are tender (about 15 minutes). When they slide off a knife, they are tender enough, and you should drain them to avoid letting them get soggy. Put them back on the ring for a minute on a very low heat to let the excess water in the pan evaporate.
  4. Put the sausages back in, raise the heat and add a splash of cider to the pan., along with the flour if you're using it. Boil the cider until it's reduced by half, then add the stock. Bring the stock back to the boil and then let it simmer for about 15 minutes until it has reduced. Season to taste as you go along.
  5. As a finishing touch for the potatoes, grab a bit of parsley and chop it up roughly using a very sharp knife, then mash it into the sweet potatoes.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Pig Destroyer

This pork chop represents a defining moment in my life - I finally got the crackling right on a chop as opposed to a big roasting cut. From now on, this is how you will cook pork chops, or I will spitroast you.

Ingredients (to serve four):
  • 4 thick, well marbled, good quality pork chops from your butcher - no supermarket crap
  • 6 large garlic cloves
  • 600g new potatoes
  • 2tsps English mustard
  • 1 cabbage
  • 400ml vegetable stock (I guess)
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsps plain flour
  • 2 tbsps runny honey
  • 4 tbsps cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsps brown sugar
  • 4 tbsps dried oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 250ml good cider (again, guessing)
  • Drizzle of sunflower oil
Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
  2. Scrape and wash the potatoes and put them in a saucepan with salted cold water.
  3. Core the cabbage and cut it into quarters, then shred it as finely as you like. Finely chop two of the garlic cloves and mix them with the cabbage in a baking tin along with the honey, sugar, cider vinegar, seasoning and Worcestershire sauce. Add enough vegetable stock to just cover the cabbage, then cover the tin with foil and put it in the oven.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the pork chops. I'm assuming you've already got them out of the fridge at least 15 minutes in advance so that they can adjust to room temperature. Using a very sharp knife, cut through the layer of skin and fat on the outside (stopping just short of cutting into the flesh). Season each chop well on both sides with salt and pepper. Smash the remaining garlic cloves, discard the skin, and place one underneath each pork chop on a baking tray or roasting tin. Rub some oregano onto the top of the chops, pour a splash of Worcestershire sauce on each one and drizzle them with sunflower oil.
  5. When the cabbage has been cooking for about 10 minutes, put the pork chops into the oven and raise the temperature to 220 degrees. After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 190 degrees and roast for a further 20 minutes.
  6. Get the potatoes boiling for about 10 minutes or until they slide off a sharp knife.
  7. When the chops are done, put them on a plate to one side and put the roasting tin on the hob; leave the cabbage in the oven for now. Turn the hob on high so that the juices start bubbling. Add the flour into the juices and then deglaze it with the cider. Once the cider has reduced by half, add the vegetable stock and reduce it by about half. Strain the grindcore gravy into a suitably br00tal jug and spoon any scum off the surface.
  8. To finish the potatoes, heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and add the cooked potatoes, along with a couple of teaspoons of mustard. Toss your spuds around until they're well covered.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Balls to the lot of you (lamb soutzoukakia)

I would like to begin this post by expressing my sincere apologies for the absence of music from my blog. I can appreciate the deep sense of loss you must feel at not being able to listen to Slayer whilst reading my recipes. However, the gadget I used no longer seems to be working! To make it up to you, here's a nice Greek recipe for the summer.

This was actually the first Greek thing I attempted to cook, back in the day. They're basically elongated lamb meatballs. It's quite an easy recipe which won't take longer than about 40 minutes, prep included. As you can see, I made quite a big portion for myself, so the ingredients to follow are designed to feed 4 people with relatively normal appetites.

Ingredients:
  • 600g minced shoulder of lamb
  • 3 good sized garlic cloves
  • 1.5 - 2 onions, depending on the size
  • Large glass of red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 400g tins of chopped italian tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Plain flour, to sprinkle
  • 2 tbsps olive oil

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan at a medium-hot heat (about 4 on an electric hob).
    Thinly dice the onions, peel and finely chop the garlic and chop the parsley roughly (try to only do it once as you don't want to lose too much of the juices). Mix it all together in a bowl with the lamb, oregano, egg yolks and seasoning, using your hands. Make 12 roughly egg-sized soutzoukakia. It's important that you really get stuck in with your hands here as the warmth will help them to stick together.
  2. Put your soutzoukakia on a plate and sprinkle them with flour. Make sure they're covered on all sides and gently put them into the pan. They should sizzle on contact - if they don't, remove them and wait for the pan to heat up a bit. Brown them well on all sides for a couple of minutes. NOTE: this is not exactly a complicated recipe, but there are a couple of things you want to be a bit careful of at this stage. Don't turn the soutzoukakia too often because (A) they won't brown as nicely, (B) they will take longer to brown and (C) you increase the risk of allowing them to break up and turn into Sloppy Joe's. When you do turn them, do so VERY carefully using a spatula and your other hand, or (better still) a pair of tongs.
  3. Once this is done, remove them to a plate. Drain off the excess fat from the pan (there may be a fair bit from the mince) then return it to the heat and add the bay leaves. When it's fragrant, add the wine, bring it to the boil and let it reduce by half, then add the tinned tomatoes. Mash them up in the pan, add the soutzoukakia (again, carefully!) and bring it all to the boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, turning the soutzoukakia once halfway through.
  4. Serve with pureed or sauteed potatoes, boiled rice or pitta bread. Kali oreksi!


This recipe is dedicated to my old mate Hermes from Essex Uni and his mum who made some awesome soutzoukakia when I came to visit them in Greece!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Honey and mustard pork chops with gratin dauphinoise and braised red cabbage

Pigs are apparently very intelligent animals. I like to think of this as brain food. In fact, pigs have outperformed young children on some tests. Hmm...

Don't be put off by the lengthy marinade involved in this recipe; it takes about a minute to put the ingredients together, and then you just leave it in the fridge overnight while you get on with something else. For example, you could spend some quality time with your family, who were getting worried about the amount of time you were spending in the kitchen or locked in your bedroom looking at my blog.

Marinade ingredients:
  • 4 good quality pork chops
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3-4 tsbps wholegrain mustard
  • 6 tbsps clear runny honey
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gratin ingredients:

  • 1kg Desiree potatoes
  • 250ml milk (guessing here!)
  • 250ml double cream
  • 1 nutmeg
  • 100g mature cheddar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cabbage ingredients:

  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 2 tbsps runny honey
  • 250ml vegetable stock
  • 1 red cabbage
  • 2 tbsps muscovado sugar
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce


Method:

  1. Mix the marinade ingredients together in a reasonably sized bowl. Put the pork chops in and turn them well to coat them all over. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in the fridge overnight.
  2. Get the pork chops out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you want to cook them, as per usual. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  3. Peel and wash the potatoes, then slice them thinly (using a mandolin if you have one).
  4. Put the milk and cream into a bowl, bring the mixture to the boil and simmer it until it's mixed together and has a reasonably thick consistency. Grate the nutmeg into the mixture and mix it well.
  5. Arrange a layer of the potatoes on the bottom of a roasting tin. Season them well, then pour a little of the creamy sauce over them. Add another layer, season, add sauce and repeat until all of the potatoes are used up. Don't completely smother the potatoes in the sauce or they won't go crispy on top. Grate the cheddar cheese over them and then put them in the oven for about an hour and a half, then turn the heat up to 210 and cook for another half hour.
  6. Wash the cabbage, core it and slide it thinly. Put it in a baking tray and mix in the remaining ingredients. Cover the tray with tin foil and put it in the oven for about 45 minutes.
  7. To cook the pork chops, heat some olive oil in a couple of large pans on a medium-hot heat. Add the pork chops, making sure they sizzle vigorously on contact, and cook them for about 5 minutes on each side until they're cooked through, basting them with the marinade occasionally.

Baked salmon fillet with crushed new potatoes and green beans

I've been getting more into fish lately. But not in a dodgy "Jerry Springer - Too Hot for TV!" kind of way.

Salmon is very versatile and awesome in general. This recipe is fairly healthy, particularly if you omit the butter on the potatoes.

Ingredients:
  • 4 salmon fillets
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • A good handful of fresh dill
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 4 slices of lemon
  • 4 small handfuls of crushed new potatoes
  • A couple of handfuls of green beans
  • Olive oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil (yes they are different!)
  • A couple of knobs of butter

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Thoroughly wash the new potatoes and boil them for about 15 minutes. Add the green beans in for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking.
  3. Meanwhile, put each salmon fillet on enough tin foil to wrap around them. Using a sharp knife, cut about three slits into the skin of the salmon. This will allow the seasoning to enter the flesh and let the fillet cook more evenly. Season them with the salt, pepper and a scattering of dill. Peel and smash the garlic cloves and put each one, along with a lemon slice, on top of each salmon fillet. Drizzle them with the normal olive oil and put them in the oven for about 12 minutes.
  4. When the potatoes and beans are tender, drain them well and lightly crush the potatoes with a fork. Add a knob of butter or two to each portion and serve a salmon fillet on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Peppered lamb steak with mustard-glazed carrots and new potatoes

My flatmate is a Green Party councillor. Unsurprisingly, he's a vegetarian. He insists on referring to meat as "carcass" as if it's going to gross me out and put me off eating it. This doesn't really work, and as I tucked into my nice medium rare lamb steak, I told him that I could almost hear it screaming.

This steak of new spring lamb was absolutely beautiful. I don't say that to big myself up; rather, the quality of the meat took care of itself. I also used new potatoes as they're particularly good at this time of year, and I glazed them in the way that my mate Andy showed me. I can't be bothered to estimate all the quantities here so this is just how I did it for myself.

Ingredients:
  • 1 lamb steak
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground sea salt
  • About 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 large carrot
  • 3-4 new potatoes (depending on the size), unpeeled but thoroughly washed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • A knob or two of butter
  • 1 bay leaf

Method:

  1. Get your lamb steak out about 15 minutes before you want to cook it so that it can adjust to room temperature and cook evenly without shocking. In the meantime, put your washed new potatoes into a saucepan full of cold salted water, cutting them in half if necessary for size reasons, and peel and slice the carrots.
  2. Rub the mint all over both sides of the lamb steak. Using a pestle and mortar, crack the black peppercorns up; if you don't have one to hand, use a chopping board and a wooden spatula and smash them with your hand. Season the steak well on both sides with salt and black pepper. Smash and peel the garlic clove with a knife.
  3. Boil the potatoes for about 10-15 minutes, checking that they're tender with a knife. Add the carrots in for the last 2 minutes of cooking time.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan on a fairly high heat. Add the smashed garlic clove and the bay leaf. When the oil is obviously hot, add the lamb steak. Note: steaks aren't all that difficult to cook; the main thing is to avoid the temptation to keep turning them over. You also want them to sizzle vigorously - if this doesn't happen the second they hit the pan, take them out and wait for the oil to heat up a but more. Fry the steak on one side for about 4 minutes, then turn it over and fry it on the other side. After 2 minutes, add the butter to the pan, baste it over with a teaspoon when it starts frothing, and fry it for another two minutes.
  5. Remove the steak to a plate for 1-2 minutes, just to let it rest and relax while you finish the potatoes and carrots. They should be done by this point, so put them in the pan where the steak was. Add a splash of red wine vinegar to deglaze it, then add the mustard. Cook for a minute or two until the vegetables are all nicely covered in the mustard and pan juices, then serve with the lamb steak.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Venison and wild duck sausage casserole

I totally eat venison all the time, you know...

There's a very good stall at Norwich market which provides a variety of sausages, and these caught my eye so I thought they'd be ideal for when my friend Alex came to visit. Braising them in red wine makes them very tender and the flavour of the bacon-infused gravy is great!

Ingredients:
  • 8 venison and wild duck sausages (or just venison ones if you prefer)
  • A couple of handfuls of mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 shallots, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Generous handful of thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Half a bottle of red wine
  • About 800ml chicken stock
  • 6 streaky bacon rashers
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Mustard mash, to serve

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a casserole. Brown the sausages (in batches if necessary) for 10 minutes each, then remove them to a plate.
  2. Chop up the bacon and fry it in the pan for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, seasoning and shallots. Fry them gently until the shallots are transluscent, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.
  3. Pour the wine into the pan, bring it to the boil, put the sausages back in and simmer until the wine has reduced by two thirds.
  4. Pour the chicken stock in, add the mushrooms, bring it to the boil and simmer for another 20 minutes or so until the sausages are cooked through. Skim any scum off the surface with a spoon.
  5. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs and serve with creamy mustard mash!

NOTE: very small amounts of juniper berries are supposed to go very nicely with venison, as is braised cabbage.

Mushroom and asparagus risotto

This just in - Tim made a vegetarian recipe! Hold the phone!

Vegetable risottos are among a few vegetable dishes that I think really work on their own rather than as a side to a main course of domesticated animal carcass. I chose asparagus because it's in season right now and mushrooms because they're awesome. This recipe will serve about 4 people.

Ingredients:
  • 12 asparagus spears
  • 3 flat cap or porcini mushrooms
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 3 shallots
  • 300g arborio rice (or other risotto rice)
  • Handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
  • Leaves from a few thyme sprigs
  • Glass of dry white wine
  • About 600ml hot vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil on a medium heat in a large saucepan.
  2. Finely chop the garlic and dice the shallots.
  3. Fry the garlic in the oil for about 30 seconds until it's fragrant, then add the butter. When the butter is foaming, add the shallots and gently fry them for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until they're soft and transluscent.
  4. Add the wine to the pan, bring it to the boil and let it reduce for a few minutes, scraping the sediment off the bottom of the pan using your spatula or wooden spoon.
  5. Add the rice to the pan and fry it for a couple of minutes, then add a little of the stock and seasoning.
  6. Chop up the parsley and add it to the risotto along with the thyme and a little more stock.
  7. Break the bottom of the asparagus stalks off so that you only have the green majority left (reserve the stalk ends for stocks and soups). Add a little stock and simmer.
  8. Slice the mushrooms and add them to the risotto along with a little stock. Basically, you want to keep adding the stock in small increments, letting the rice absorb it. The risotto is ready when the texture is creamy and the rice and vegetables are tender. Check the seasoning as you go along.

Welsh rarebit with cherry tomatoes

As a part Welshman, I often wonder what Wales' gifts to the world were, besides longbows and endless comedy revolving around fornication with sheep.

People who haven't had this often think of it as glorified cheese on toast. Well, it basically is, but still, it's a very nice spin on it that makes a good light lunch or snack. This recipe will serve about four people.

Ingredients:
  • About 100g grated mature cheddar cheese (I guesstimated this so use your own judgement)
  • 2 tsps English mustard
  • 150ml milk
  • About 3 knobs of butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 4 slices of bread, preferably good, thick country stuff
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • Yolks from 2 eggs, beaten
  • A good handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat the grill at a medium-high temperature.
  2. Warm the milk up in the microwave.
  3. Heat the butter GENTLY in a frying pan (you don't want it to burn) and stir in the flour when it starts to bubble; this is what the French call a "roux" and it allows the flour to thicken the sauce without making it taste all pasty. After about 30 seconds, add the tomatoes to the pan and fry them for a couple of minutes, then add the egg and stir constantly.
  4. Add the milk in small increments, again stirring constantly. Add the Worcestershire Sauce and mustard while you're at it. Season it, stir in the cheese and let it get to a nice thick consistency.
  5. Toast the slices of bread on both sides until golden brown, then spoon a dollop of the cheese sauce onto each slice and put it back under the grill for a couple of minutes until the mixture is bubbling.

Some people like to put leeks in the rarebit, which would probably be nice but I didn't have any to hand at the time. If you do this, I would dice them or slice them quite finely and add them to the pan to soften for about 10 minutes before you add the flour. The leek is actually the national symbol of Wales; no wonder they got conquered.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Peanut butter cookies

You may be surprised to discover that porridge oats can be used for something other than filling cracks in walls!

I made these for my co-worker Fiona's birthday as I only know two cake recipes! This recipe will make about half the amount in the picture.

Ingredients:
  • 100g muscovado sugar
  • 150g porridge oats
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 75g crunchy peanut butter
  • Milk to mix

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Cream together the peanut butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.
  3. Sieve in the flour and mix it in along with the porridge oats.
  4. Add a little milk a drop at a time and mix it all with your hands until you've formed a dough; make sure it isn't too sloppy or too dry.
  5. Line a baking tin with margarine/butter and kitchen foil. Form little squashed balls with the cookie mixture and put them in. Cook them in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes until they're golden brown.

NOTE: chocolate chips go very nicely in this recipe; if you use them, you don't need quite so much sugar (75g will be fine). If you use normal butter instead of peanut butter then you can try other flavours too e.g. vanilla or ginger.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Chocolate/orange cake

Do you remember all those times in your life when you thought "orange or chocolate? Damn it, I just can't decide!"? Well, there's now no need to choose - you can combine both of them in a cake!

I made this cake for my friend Aimee's birthday today and it seemed to go down well with everyone at work!

Ingredients:
  • 100g bar of Green and Black's "Maya Gold" orange chocolate
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 an orange
  • 225g butter or margarine
  • 4 free range eggs
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 50g Green and Black's hot chocolate (no, I don't work for the company)
  • 4 tbsps good quality orange marmalade (preferably with peel)

Method:

  • Cream together the butter/margarine and sugar in a big mixing bowl. Squeeze the juice out of the orange into the bowl, making sure you don't drop pips into the mixture.
  • Break the eggs into a bowl and beat them thoroughly, then stir them into the mixture.
  • Sieve the flour into the bowl, add the hot chocolate powder and fold it all in.
  • Pour the mixture into two sandwich tins in roughly equal quantities. TIP: I actually find it easier NOT to line the cake tins as this makes the cake cook on all sides.
  • When the cakes are done, turn one of them upside down and spread the marmalade onto the flat surface. Place the other one on top and peel a liberal amount of the chocolate bar over the top of the cake; it should melt and form a nice layer of chocolate.
  • Leave in the fridge to cool overnight.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Easy arrabiata

Everyone should know how to make a basic tomato sauce for pasta. Dolmio and Ragu are the spawn of Satan, and it was only when I tried making my own pasta sauce that I realised I actually like it! Arrabiata sauce has a little bit of chilli in it but besides that it's just a "normal" tomato sauce.

Traditionally you're supposed to use penne for this recipe. I used conchiglie because it's what I had to hand, though it doesn't really make any difference. I've also seen different herb combinations used - parsley also works well. If you want something a bit more substantial you could try serving this with chicken or tuna.

This recipe will serve about four people.

Ingredients:

  • 300g dried penne or similar pasta
  • 2 400g tins chopped Italian tomatoes (I think!)
  • 2 red chillies
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 red onions
  • Leaves from a handful of thyme sprigs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Flaked parmesan, to serve

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan on a medium heat.
  2. Finely chop the garlic and chillies and dice the onions. Fry the garlic and chillies for about 30 seconds before adding the onions and continuing to cook them for a further 5-10 minutes until they've started to caramelise.
  3. Meanwhile, weigh the pasta and put it in a saucepan. Pour a liberal quantity of water from the kettle into the saucepan and add a little salt. Bring it to the boil and then simmer briskly for about 7 minutes until the pasta is al dente (that is, it's cooked but not overcooked and it still offers slight resistance when you bite it).
  4. Once the onions are caramelising nicely, add the chopped tomatoes, raise the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Season the sauce and add the herbs while this is going on.
  5. Drain the pasta and mix it into the sauce. Cook it for a couple of minutes and then serve with a garnish of flaked parmesan.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Victoria sandwich/jam sponge

This cake is special to me for three main reasons: firstly, my Grandma has made it for the stereotypical afternoon tea thing that my extended family has done every sunday for the past 450 years, and it always disappears in seconds; secondly, it was my contribution to a special Christmas party with my Erasmus friends, to which everyone brought something from their country; and thirdly, it tastes like pure awesome.

This, like most of the recipes on here, is ridiculously easy. My little twist is putting a bit of vanilla extract in the sponge. The only big pointer I would make about this recipe is that a really good quality jam (I used Bonne Mamman strawberry preserve) will make a big difference.

Ingredients:
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 2 tbsps vanilla extract
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 225g butter or good margarine
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3-4 tbsps strawberry or raspberry jam

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Cream the butter/margarine and sugar together in a big mixing bowl. If you're using real butter, let it warm up in the room first so that it will actually mix in.
  3. Beat the eggs thoroughly in a jug and stir them into the mixture.
  4. Sieve the flour into the bowl along with a pinch of salt and mix it all together until you have a smooth mixture. Mix in the vanilla extract if you're using it.
  5. Get two evenly sized round cake tins and line them with a little butter and some baking paper or kitchen foil. Spoon the mixture into each tin in equal amounts and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes each until they've turned golden brown on the outside.
  6. Carefully put one of the cakes into a plate, upside down. Spoon some jam over the top (leave a little space at the edge as you don't want it to spill out) then put the other cake on top of it.
  7. Give everyone a generous slice!

TIP: a lot of people like making this with whipped cream as well as jam. Personally I find that makes it too sickly when the cake is certainly rich enough, but do what you like. At the end of the day, it's your life. Stay true to yourself. Don't let others tell you what to do.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Pan-roasted parsnip salad with honey and mustard dressing

If I were a vegetarian, I'd eat parsnips all the time. Fortunately I'm not, but still, I love parsnips. So do you.

I always hated parsnips at school (the dinner ladies used to cut them up so that they looked like chips!) but as I've grown up a bit I've started liking them. This nice, simple salad will serve four people.

Salad ingredients:
4 parsnips
4 tomatoes, preferably on the vine
1 large lettuce
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsps olive oil
A few rosemary sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Honey and mustard dressing ingredients:
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsps wholegrain mustard
3 tbsps runny honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:


1. Start off by making the dressing. Crush the garlic cloves and mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. NOTE: I can't remember the exact quantities I used for my dressing as I was playing around with a recipe I found somewhere else, so it might be an idea to check out another recipe for that and then play around with the quantities to see how it tastes. This should keep for ages in the fridge.


2. Top and tail the parsnips, peel them, cut them into quarters lengthways and put them in a pan of cold, slightly salted water. Bring it to the boil and simmer briskly for 3-5 minutes, then put them back on the ring for a minute to let the moisture evaporate as you would with potatoes.


3. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan on a medium -high heat. Crush the garlic cloves and put them in the oil for about 30 seconds to allow them to infuse, then put the parsnips in. Pick bunches of leaves off the rosemary sprigs and scatter them over the parsnips. Season them and roast them for a couple of minutes on each side until they're golden brown.


4. Chop up the lettuce leaves and tomatoes in whatever way you wish and serve in a salad bowl with the parsnips on top and the dressing in a bowl on the side.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Stuffed chicken and ham parcels with sautéed potatoes

I read a recipe in one of Gordon Ramsay's books (get it, it's called "Healthy Appetite" and it rocks) for a chicken breast stuffed with ricotta and herbs and wrapped in prosciutto. I liked the idea of this, but I fancied taking advantage of the market once more by making an anglicised version.

This recipe is a great one for impressing people as it's very easy; a retarded gibbon with an addiction to glue sniffing could make it.

Ingredients:
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 4 knobs of butter
  • 1-2 tsps English mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • A few thyme sprigs
  • 8 large slices of good smoked ham (not plastic crap)
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsps olive oil

Method:

  1. Butterfly the chicken breasts by cutting into them from the side, but not all the way through, so that you can open them out like books.
  2. Crush the garlic and chop it finely. Mix the butter with some chopped sage leaves and a little salt and pepper, then spoon the butter into the middle of the breasts and close them.
  3. Brush or smear (depending on whether you like getting your hands dirty!) the mustard over the breasts. I left the skin on, but you can remove this if you like.
  4. Lay out the ham slices so that they're slightly overlapping. Put the chicken breasts in the middle, put a sage leaf on top of each one and wrap them in the ham, covering as much as possible, then wrap them tightly in cling film and put them in the fridge for 1-2 hours to firm up (if you're worried that this will take too long then you can just do it the night before and leave them in there until you need them).
  5. Take the breasts out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to cook them, so that they can adjust to room temperature, and preheat the oven to 180 degrees. While the oven is heating up, put a roasting tin in there to let it get hot.
  6. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick pan on a medium-hot heat and put the breasts in - make sure they sizzle upon contact, if they don't then just take them out and let the oil heat up properly. Brown them for a couple of minutes on each side, then put them in the hot roasting tin, garnish them with thyme sprigs and put them in the oven for about 15 minutes until they're cooked all the way through. Leave them to rest for a few minutes once they're cooked.
  7. Meanwhile, peel your potatoes and chop them into thin slices (use a mandolin if you have one). Fry them in the pan for a few minutes on each side, adding a little more oil if necessary, until they've turned golden brown; try not to flip them too much or this will take longer.
  8. If you want to look cool, serve the potato slices in a circle in the middle of the plate, carve the chicken breasts on the diagonal and place them on top of the potatoes.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ultimate Burgers of Beefage with Potato Wedgeage

Simple though it is, the humble burger can be fantastic. There's a great market here in Norwich, so I got some excellent minced beef with which to make these burgers. They're also easy to make, which is nice. Experiment with different kinds of mustard or herbs (rosemary also goes well) or try adding some chopped chilli.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (but not your Dad's broken New Seekers record that plays "I'd like to teach the world to sing-sing-sing-sing" etc.) I'm going to remind you to get good mince for this recipe. Go to the butcher's! Now, damnit! OK, you can read the blog first if you want, then you can go.

This recipe will serve 4 people and takes about 40 minutes, all in all.

Ingredients:
  • 500g minced beef
  • About 4 medium-large potatoes
  • 2-3 rosemary sprigs
  • Leaves from 4 thyme sprigs
  • Handful of parsley leaves
  • 2 red onions
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tbsps tomato ketchup
  • 3-4 tsps wholegrain mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • 2 tomatoes
  • A few lettuce leaves
  • 4 white burger buns

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees.
  2. Thoroughly wash the potatoes, then chop them into 8 even-sized wedges. Put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a pinch of salt, bring it to the boil and simmer briskly for 3-5 minutes, depending on the size of the wedges.
  3. Drain the water and put the saucepan back on the ring for a minute or so with the heat off/very low so that the water can evaporate, shaking regularly to help stop them from sticking. Put them in a roasting tin, skin-side down. Chop four of the garlic gloves into quarters and sprinkle over the wedges, along with bunches of rosemary leaves plucked from the sprigs. Drizzle with olive oil and bake in the top shelf of the oven for 35 minutes (most recipes will tell you to do them for 20 but I find they always take longer).
  4. Meanwhile, make the burgers. Dice the onions, finely chop the remaining two garlic cloves, roughly chop the parsley. Mix them all together with the meat, mustard, ketchup and seasoning. Create four balls with your hands and flatten them into burger shapes.
  5. Heat a little olive oil in a reasonably hot griddle pan. Put the burgers in the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the burgers.
  6. Serve in toasted buns with torn lettuce leaves and tomato slices.

NOTE: Many recipes will tell you to add beaten egg and/or breadcrumbs to the mixture to help it bind. In my experience, beaten egg is counterproductive as it just makes it sloppy. As for breadcrumbs, I've never found it necessary to add them, but then I always make my burgers in a griddle pan or a George Foreman grill, so if you wanted to put these burgers on the barbecue or under the grill some breadcrumbs might help.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Chicken tikka masala

A common misconception is that chicken tikka masala is an Indian dish - it's actually British! An even more common misconception is that anyone really cares. I'm rather proud of this curry as I've been experimenting with different versions for a couple of years and this is now the one I make every time! The spices add plenty of flavour and heat but not so much that the taste of the chicken is overpowered.

I strongly suggest you use chicken leg pieces on the bone rather than the breast fillets that everyone seems to use; it takes a bit longer to cook this way but the improved flavour and moisture is well worth it. This recipe will serve about 4 people.

Chicken marinade ingredients:

  • 1.5kg chicken leg pieces (thighs are the best)
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsps coriander seeds
  • Juice of half a decent-sized lemon
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric

Other ingredients:

  • 1 400g tin of chopped italian tomatoes
  • Handful of fresh coriander leaves
  • 1/4tsp garam masala
  • 1 5cm piece of root ginger
  • 2 green chillies
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 8 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cinnamon shards
  • About 2 tbsps groundnut oil
  • Plain flour for dusting
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 red onions
  • Plain boiled rice and/or naan bread, to serve

Method:

  1. Toast the dry marinade ingredients lightly in a frying pan for about 10-20 seconds until they're fragrant, then transfer them to a pestle and mortar and crush them into a mixture. Mix in the lemon and rub the mixture into the chicken pieces. Cover them and leave them in the fridge overnight.
  2. Get the chicken out of the fridge, ready to adjust to room temperature.
  3. Heat the oil in a large non-stick saucepan on a medium heat. Peel and dice the onions. Peel and chop the garlic and ginger finely, then chop the chilli. Add the whole spices and cook for about a minute until they're fragrant, then add the ginger, chilli and garlic to the pan for about 30 seconds. Add the garam masala for a further ten seconds before adding the onions. cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes.
  5. Turn the pan up to a medium-high heat. Dust the chicken pieces with flour and season them with a little salt and pepper, then place them skin side down in the pan. Brown them on all sides (should take about 3 minutes per side - try not to disturb them too much while this is going on). Chop the coriander leaves finely, stir them into the mixture and carefully pour boiling water into the pan until the chicken is almost covered.
  6. Bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce it to a simmer, cover the pan and let it cook for about 30 minutes until the chicken pieces are cooked all the way through and the sauce has reduced.
  7. Serve with fluffy basmati rice and/or naan bread.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Bangers and mash

Another pub classic! For my non-British readers, "bangers and mash" basically means sausages with mashed potato, usually served with a rich onion gravy. In the olden days when there were cave paintings of people killing woolly mammoths (also known as the Bradfield Village News circa 2009) sausages tended to explode (hence "bangers") so you needed to prick them with a knife before cooking. Today, British sausages are of a much better quality so this isn't necessary.

Ingredients (to serve 4):
  • 12 good sausages such as pork and leek, Cumberland, Lincolnshire, or (even better) from your local butcher!
  • 2 large red onions (you can use white ones but in my opinion red ones are nicer)
  • 250ml good dark ale (I used Black Sheep)
  • 500ml good beef stock (i.e. not cubes!)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1kg good potatoes for mashing e.g. desiree, King Edward or Maris Piper
  • 1 generous tsp wholegrain mustard
  • Leaves from a couple of thyme sprigs
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 knobs of butter
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Splash of milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, and heat the olive oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the butter.
  2. Peel the onions and chop them into half-moons. Put them in the pan with the olive oil and butter. Peel and crush the garlic and add it after a couple of minutes. After a few minutes, turn the heat down fairly low and cook gently for about half an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent the onions from sticking, until the onions have caramelised nicely.
  3. Meanwhile, peel your potatoes and chop them into golf-ball sized pieces. Put them in a large saucepan with cold, salted water. Bring it to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until they're tender (they will slide off the end of your knife easily when this has happened). Drain the water well and put them back on the ring for a minute to let the remaining moisture evaporate, shaking the pan frequently to prevent the potatoes from sticking and burning, then remove from the heat.
  4. Add the ale to the saucepan and bring it to the boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge the sediment, and add the Worcestershire sauce and thyme leaves. Once it's reached boiling point, reduce the heat to a brisk simmer and reduce the ale by half.
  5. Put the sausages on a baking tray and drizzle them lightly with olive oil. Cook them in the oven for about 15 minutes, then add them to the gravy for ten minutes until cooked through.
  6. Pour in the stock, bring it to the boil and reduce it by half, making sure the sausages are cooked through before serving. Season to taste.
  7. Mash the potatoes with the butter and season to taste. Heat the milk in the microwave and add a little splash of it into the pan. Mix it into the the potatoes until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the mustard.
  8. Serve generous portions!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Herb-stuffed roast leg of pork with crackling, cider gravy and spiced caramelised apples

Roast pork is awesome value for money - it's a lot cheaper than beef or lamb but still very flavoursome, more so than chicken. Some recipes will tell you to trim the skin off, but this is stupid because that way you don't get awesome crispy crackling on the outside. Removing the skin is beneath you; don't do it to the pork, but most importantly, don't do it to yourself. Learn to love yourself and make proper crackling.

I've seen various different methods for making crackling, such as pouring hot water on it the night before, rubbing it with cider vinegar and/or making a human sacrifice to Michael Bolton. I find you get great results doing it via this simple method. A 1kg joint will serve about 4 people.

Ingredients:
  • Pork leg joint, boned and rolled with the skin ON DAMN YOU (1 kg).
  • Leaves from 3 sage sprigs
  • 2 tbsps parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 lemon
  • 300ml cider
  • 300ml vegetable stock
  • Olive oil for drizzling plus 1 tbsp to fry the apples
  • 1 knob of butter
  • Rock salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Seasonabl vegetables, to serve
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 Braeburn apples
  • About 1 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 1 tsp marmite

Method:

  1. Get the pork out about an hour before you want to put it in the oven. Score the fat in a cross-hatched pattern with a very sharp knife (you can use a stanley knife for this) and rub some rock salt into it, making sure you get plenty of crystals into the cracks.
  2. Butterfly the pork joint by cutting into the indent so that you can open it out (don't cut right through). Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves and sprinkle them onto the opening, along with the sage and parsley leaves, then grate half the lemon's skin onto it. Tie it back together at regular intervals with string.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  4. Peel and chop the onions into half-moons and put them in the bottom of a roasting tin. Put the pork on top, covering the onions as much as possible to stop them burning in the oven (it isn't the end of the world if this happens, it just means you won't be able to eat the onions themselves, the gravy will still be fine). Drizzle it with olive oil and pour about half or two thirds of the cider into the bottom of the tin.
  5. Roast in the oven for an hour, then whack the heat up to full blast for about 20 minutes to make the skin go crispy. It should be a golden brown colour like in the picture. There's your crackling!
  6. To do the apples, core and chop them but don't peel them. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan on a medium heat and add the butter. Add the cloves and the cinnamon stick to the pan for a minute or two until they're fragrant and sizzling, then add the apples. Sprinkle the sugar over them and toss it all around to get an even coating. Cook the apples for about 5 minutes on each side.
  7. When the pork is done, transfer it to a carving board and cover it with tin foil to rest for about 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, make the gravy: deglaze the pan, adding a little more cider if necessary, add the stock and marmite and reduce until the thickness and flavour is to your liking. Strain it into a jug, discarding the onions if they're burned or reserving them if they're not.
  8. Serve with seasonal vegetables; today I did roast potatoes to accompany it, with a little English mustard on the side. Braised cabbage goes very well with it too.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Baked pork chops with caramelised apples

Don't let me catch you grilling pork chops or I'll have you raped by a herd of gay rhinos! Grilling pork chops makes them go rock hard and crap. Cook them in the oven or on the frying pan, please!

A good quality chop is the most important thing for this recipe - that means going to the butcher's instead of the supermarket! The quality is so much better - you want a nice marbled chop with plenty of fat, which will melt and tenderise the meat while it cooks. This recipe will take no more than half an hour. My brother and I used to eat this on Sundays when I lived in Chelmsford - oh the memories!

Ingredients:
  • 4 pork chops on the bone
  • 2 Braeburn apples
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • Olive oil, to drizzle
  • A knob of butter
  • About 2 tbsps muscovado sugar
  • 250ml cider (preferably dry)
  • Mustard mash, to serve

Method:

  1. Get the chops out of the fridge about 15-20 minutes before you want to start cooking so that they can adjust to room temperature. Heat the oven to 210 degrees.
  2. Smash and peel the garlic cloves, then peel the onions and slice them into fairly thin half-moon shapes.
  3. Using a sharp knife, cut into the rind of each pork chop. Place them on top of the mound of garlic and onion and season with freshly ground black pepper and rock salt, making sure you get plenty of rock salt stuffed into the incisions you made (this will help to make the fat go crispy). Put a thyme sprig on each pork chop, drizzle them with olive oil, pour the cider into the bottom of the tray and put it in the oven; after 5 minutes, turn the heat down to 180 degrees and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes until done (use a rack if necessary to avoid submerging the pork chops!).
  4. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the butter. Chop the apples into slices and core them (but don't bother peeling them). Sprinkle them liberally with muscovado sugar on both sides and fry for about 5 minutes per side until they turn golden brown.
  5. When the pork chops are done, put them on a plate and let them rest for 5 minutes. Put the tray on the hob, discard the garlic cloves and herbs, and turn the heat up high. Scrape the tin to deglaze it and add a little water which you reserved from the mashed potatoes (yes I did tell you to do this, you just don't remember! :P). When the juices have reduced and the flavour is suitably concentrated, transfer the contents of the pan to a jug.
  6. Serve the pork chops with the onions, mustard mash, and whatever seasonal vegetables you like, with the onion gravy on the side!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Cottage/shepherd's pie


Some people don't know the difference between cottage pie and shepherd's pie. The difference is that cottage pie is made with beef and shepherd's pie is made with lamb - when was the last time you saw a shepherd looking after cows? Try rounding some cows up with a sheep dog and let me know how you get on.

Having said that, the recipes are extremely similar, so if you make it with lamb just substitute lamb/chicken stock instead of beef stock, and make sure you use wine rather than ale.

This serves about 4-6 people and takes about an hour in all I guess.

Ingredients:
  • 800g good quality beef mince (this is crucial as this is a very simple recipe; Aberdeen Angus is a good bet if you're in the supermarket)
  • 200g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1kg potatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 250ml red wine or good dark ale
  • 600ml beef stock
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley, thyme or rosemary leaves according to taste
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • A generous sprinkling of mature cheddar
  • Two red onions, peeled and diced
  • 1tsp English mustard
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 knob of butter

Method:

  1. Peel the potatoes and chop them into roughly golf-ball sized pieces. Put them in a big saucepan and cover with salted water.
  2. Heat the olive oil in the saucepan on a medium heat and add the butter. When it's foaming, add the onions and cook for about 15 minutes until they've softened, stirring regularly.
  3. Trim and peel the carrots, then chop them into small cubes. Add them to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or until they've softened. If you prefer, you can grate the carrots into the mince at a later stage, which makes for a smoother meat sauce, but personally I like to taste and identify the carrots, and I feel it makes the recipe a bit more rustic and homely.
  4. Bring the potatoes to the boil and simmer briskly for about 20 minutes until they're tender. When they're ready, drain them and dry them out in the pan for another minute or so, then take the pan off the heat.
  5. Preheat the oven at 210 degrees.
  6. Increase the heat to a medium-high heat and add the mince, stirring occasionally. Cook it until it's browned, then drain the excess fat.
  7. Make a well in the centre of the meat mixture and add the chopped tomatoes. Keep stirring for a few minutes and add the herbs and Worcestershire sauce. Season to taste.
  8. Pour in the wine or ale and reduce by half.
  9. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil and simmer briskly until reduce by half.
  10. Mash the potatoes when they're ready and add a couple of knobs of butter and a drop of hot milk (add this slowly as you don't want to make your mash too sloppy) and season to taste. Stir a teaspoon of English mustard into the mixture.
  11. Put the meat sauce into a large casserole or roasting tin and cover it evenly with the mashed potato, flattening it with a fork. Alternatively, you can do this with a piping bag, but personally I think that's a bit poncey and it's too fiddly for something that makes little difference to the flavour, so I don't bother. Grate a generous helping of mature cheddar over it and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and the mashed potato has gone crispy. If you like, you can also sprinkle a little bit more Worcestershire sauce over the cheese for added tang!

NOTE: The meat sauce is basically the same as the one you would use for moussaka or lasagne, if you fancy trying them, though in those cases I would recommend grating the carrots and perhaps leaving out the stock.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Leek and potato soup

My Mum injured her ankle the other day when she slipped on some ice, so I decided to make her some of her favourite soup. Yes, it's true, soup cures torn ligaments.

This simple but effective soup will serve about 6 people.

Ingredients:
  • 1 large baking potato
  • 2 medium leeks
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 litre good vegetable stock (no cubes or granules please!)
  • 150ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp olive oil and a knob of butter
  • Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan on a medium-low heat and add the butter.
  2. Peel and dice the onions and fry for about 15 minutes until they've gone transluscent.
  3. Peel and chop the potato into small cube-like shapes. Thoroughly wash and chop the leeks. Add them to the pan and fry them for a few minutes until they've softened.
  4. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer until the potato cubes are tender enough for you to squash them with a spoon.
  5. Using a ladle, put batches of the vegetable and stock mixture into a blender and blitz until completely smooth. Put the liquidised batches into a clean saucepan. By doing it this way you can control how thick the soup is by adding no more stock than necessary.
  6. Reheat gently and stir in the cream and seasoning.
  7. Serve hot with a crusty buttered roll for each person.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Beer-battered haddock with oven chips

You knew it had to happen sooner or later! Because I love to take care of you all, I've avoided traditionally deep-frying anything in this recipe; that's not to say it's a leafy green salad but still, it's a bit healthier, and it tastes great! You could use pollack, haddock, skate or of course cod instead if you wish. Chip shops here generally serve very large portions so feel free to have just half a haddock fillet if you have a smaller appetite! The beer batter is lovely and crispy, while the fish inside is still soft and delicate.

This will serve four people and takes about 45 minutes at the most (including preparation). If you're really pressed for time you could deep-fry the chips, in which case it will take only a few minutes, but I suggest you don't. Bear in mind that supermarket-bought oven chips will take about the same length of time to cook and not taste anywhere near as good. As for supermarket-bought haddock fillets, well, they take about 30 minutes in the oven whereas doing it from scratch takes 4, so don't buy them unless you're trying to punish yourself for some sin committed in a past life.

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless haddock fillets
  • 250ml good beer
  • 250g plain flour
  • About four large potatoes
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Groundnut oil
  • Parsley to garnish
  • 1 Lemon

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees.
  2. Peel the potatoes and chop them into eight evenly sized chips. Put them in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for no more than five minutes, then turn off the heat, drain the water and put them back on the ring for a minute to allow the remaining moisture to evaporate (if you have a gas cooker, put the heat on the lowest setting for this as they cool down more quickly).
  3. Put the chips into a roasting tin; if any are stuck, carefully dislodge them with a fish slice. Drizzle them generously with groundnut oil and put them in the oven for half an hour.
  4. Heat about 4 tbsps groundnut oil in a large frying pan on a medium-high heat. In the meantime, sieve the flour into a bowl and mix in some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Make a well in the centre and pour in the beer, a little at a time. Keep whisking until you have a smooth batter. Coat the haddock fillets in the batter and fry in the pan (skin-side down first) for about 2 minutes on each side; you may have to do this in batches.
  5. Serve with a lemon wedge and a generous spoonful of tartare sauce for each person, with malt vinegar, salt and tomato ketchup on the side.

NOTE: Some people like to put breadcrumbs in the batter, along with herbs or even a bit of mustard. Experiment and see what you like!

Tartare sauce

This is a nice accompaniment to fish and chips or fishcakes.

Ingredients:
  • 3tbsp finely chopped gherkins
  • 3tbsp chopped capers
  • 200ml mayonnaise (preferably homemade)

Method:

Mix it all together and refrigerate!

Home-made mayonnaise

Making your own mayonnaise might seem a bit excessive but it's worth it, especially if you eat a fair bit of it, and it's very easy to make. Just ensure you use free range eggs so that you don't get salmonella. If you're very intolerant of salmonella then stay away as it contains raw eggs like all mayonnaise.

This recipe is so simple I'm not going to divide it in the usual way! Put three egg yolks in the bottom of a bowl with a teaspoon of mustard. Whisk thoroughly. Measure out 300ml groundnut oil and SLOWLY (i.e. a trickle - you don't want it to split) pour it in whilst whisking thoroughly. When all the oil is in, mix in a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate the mayonnaise in clean jars for no more than 3 days.

Stay tuned for a recipe using this mayonnaise!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Spangly balls

Marianna has generously given me another sweet recipe, this time for Greek truffles (troufakia)!

NOTE: we're not *entirely* sure of the precise quantities for this one...

Ingredients:

  • 10 chocolate digestive biscuits
  • 20 normal digestive biscuits
  • 10 tbsps brandy
  • 100g walnuts
  • 25g coconut truffle
  • 25g butter
  • 180ml condensed milk
  • About 300g hundreds and thousands

Method:

  1. Blitz the biscuits and walnuts in a blender.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients besides the hundreds and thousands together in a bowl and roll into a dough.
  3. Make small balls with the dough and roll them in the hundreds and thousands to get a generous coating.
  4. Chill and then eat!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Marianna's sweetness

There were two things I particularly liked about Greece - the food and the women! This is a recipe from a Greek girl so naturally I felt it warranted inclusion! I haven't tried making it myself yet but it's not a million miles away from things I have tried e.g. apple crumble so I'm sure it will taste awesome. Also, this is the first pudding on the page, and apples are very appropriate for this; their natural awesomeness means that very little effort is needed to make them into something really special.

Ingredients:
  • 10 sweet red apples e.g. Pink Lady
  • 7 tbsps liqueur (your choice!)
  • 7 tbsps brandy
  • 1 stick of cinammon
  • 1/3 tbsp cloves
  • About 7 tbsps white caster sugar (according to taste)

Method:

  1. Peel and core the apples. Chop them into four pieces.
  2. Put all of the ingredients in a saucepan with no more than 5 tbsps water and simmer for 30 minutes on a very low heat. Do not stir them as you want to keep them whole for this particular recipe.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Money-saving chicken soup

I love you guys. No, really. So, not only have I shown you how to make fresh chicken stock to take care of your pennies during the credit crunch, I'm going to show you how to make a nice chicken soup with it. This is the soup that will bring Britain out of the recession.

This is quite a rough recipe; it's designed to make use of what you've got to hand so the quantities aren't all exact. It should serve about 4 people.

Ingredients:
  • 1 litre fresh chicken stock (see below)
  • 1 leek
  • 1 medium-sized potato
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • Chicken scrapings (see below)
  • 1 sprig of tarragon
  • Crusty bread rolls, to serve
  • 1 onion

Method:

  1. Before you make the stock, scrape or peel whatever flesh you can from the chicken, put it into a bowl and then put the bowl in the fridge until you need it. Also try to reserve some of the bits of carrot, leek and garlic if possible; this will help to thicken the soup.
  2. Thoroughly wash a leek and chop it roughly. Also peel and chop the potato into smallish lumps, and dice the onion. Fry in a large saucepan on a medium heat for a few minutes until they've softened.
  3. Pour the stock into the saucepan along with the reserved vegetables (if you're using them). Bring it to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are all tender.
  4. Pour the soup into a blender and pulse until everything has been liquidised, adding more water if it's too thick and gloopy, then pour it back into the saucepan and reheat it(preferably without boiling it). Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and the English mustard (this gives the soup a nice kick, but a whole teaspoonful may be too harsh for some people). Chop in some tarragon leaves using scissors and simmer for a few more minutes.
  5. Serve with a buttered bread roll for each person.

A quick note on chicken stock

Chicken stock is worth making from scratch as it tastes far better than anything you can buy in a packet. You will particularly notice the difference in simple recipes such as those shown on this blog. It takes a good couple of hours to make, but you can make it in advance in a large quantity and then freeze or refrigerate it (no more than a couple of days in the fridge). It will also make the money you spent on your chicken go further.

I use Gordon Ramsay's method:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/recipes/article2817887.ece

If you scrape whatever flesh you can from the carcass before you cook it you can then add it back into a saucepan full of stock along with some veg to make a hearty soup.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Beef and ale stew with dumplings and cheddar cheese

It was a cold evening tonight - perfect for a nice bit of stew! No Michelin-star award winning cooking techniques here, just a tasty, hearty, warming meal. I used lemon thyme here because it was the only fresh herb I had to hand, so although it certainly went nicely, you may want to experiment with parsley, normal thyme and/or rosemary. It was inspired by a couple of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipes. Stews take a long time to cook but they're actually very easy, and once they're going you just leave them until the time is up. This will feed about four people and takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. I didn't have any streaky bacon to hand, but Hugh recommends it in his recipe and I'm sure it would taste awesome! If you use it, brown it in the pan and then transfer to the casserole just before you fry off your onions. In future I might try putting the stew mix in a pie with some puff pastry, with some mashed potato on the side.

Stew ingredients:
  • 1.5kg stewing beef
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 250ml dark English ale (I used Wychwood's Goliath)
  • A few lemon thyme sprigs
  • 2 large white onions
  • 50g plain flour
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 2tbsps olive oil
  • A couple of knobs of butter
  • Salt and pepper

Dumpling ingredients:

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 200g breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil to mix
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • About 1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated mature cheddar to garnish
Method:
  1. Get your beef out of the fridge about 30 minutes in advance. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan at a low heat, then add the butter.
  2. Chop the onions in half, peel them and cut off the shoots. Slice them into half-moon shapes and fry them in the pan for about 15 minutes until they've softened and started to turn golden, then put them into a casserole.
  3. Mix the flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss your meat in it (cue incredibly mature jokes here). Turn up the heat in the pan to about medium, then add the beef (you'll probably have to do this in batches), sealing the pieces on all sides before transferring to the casserole. This seals in the juices and flavour.
  4. When all your beef is cooked, pour a little ale into the pan to deglaze it, scraping the bottom (use a wooden spoon if you have a non-stick pan so that you don't scratch it to hell) to dislodge the sediment. Pour all of this into the casserole, then add the rest of the ale, the Worcestershire sauce, the beef stock and the lemon thyme, which you should tie into what is known as a "bouquet garni" (not as poncey as it sounds, just tie them together with an elastic band). Bring it to the boil, then partially cover it and reduce to a simmer for about 2 hours and 30 minutes. If the meat becomes exposed, add a little hot water to recover it so that it doesn't dry out.
  5. In the meantime, start on the dumplings. There's no point sieving the flour so don't bother. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl (apart from the cheese), make a well in the centre and pour in two-thirds of the beaten eggs. Add olive oil in small increments as you mix until you have something a bit like a bread dough, then divide it into 10-12 large rugby-ball shaped lumps. Put these into the stew for the last 45 minutes of cooking.
  6. Serve the stew into bowls or pasta dishes and try to get the dumplings on top. Grate some mature cheddar over the dumplings (I don't know the exact quantity, just guesstimate!) and stick the bowls under the grill for a minute or two, which will warm up the bowl a bit and also melt the cheese. If you have an oven-proof casserole (which, on this particular occasion, I didn't) then you can probably do this while the stew is still in there.

Enjoy with a nice pint of ale! Cheers!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Cupboard essentials

When I started cooking as a hobby I knew very little, and I still consider myself a beginner really. But, although I don't cook anything really complicated anyway, recipes are a lot less daunting if your kitchen is well stocked with various general supplies. Your confidence may also improve as you find yourself using and understanding these core ingredients over and over again in various recipes. The more you cook for yourself properly, the less you will rely on pre-packeted pasta and curry sauces, so don't worry, this won't work out being expensive.

  • Onions - onions are simply awesome ingredients. They have a robust flavour that goes with all kinds of dishes, whether you want to make a roast, a lasagne or a curry. They have a nice sweetness to them as well, particularly red onions (which can also be eaten raw as part of a salad, though they have a very sharp taste if eaten this way). Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have an obsession with caramelising things, and onions are particularly good for this. Shallots are very nice too but I find their use is more specific.
  • Garlic - Another very versatile ingredient, garlic adds tang to food.
  • Ginger - this is an essential ingredient for oriental cooking. Fresh ginger root has a much nicer flavour than the powdered, packeted stuff. Keep it covered in the fridge though as it can go dry or mouldy.
  • Rice - I like to keep packets of arborio (for risottos) and basmati (for curries) lying around. Thai cooking often uses Jasmine rice, although - at the risk of re-emphasising my amateurish skill level - I can't really tell the difference taste-wise.
  • Pasta - I won't insult your intelligence by explaining this! All I'll mention is that there is actually nothing wrong with dried pasta as opposed to the fresh stuff. If you're really into Italian cooking you can have a go at making your own, however.
  • Tomatoes - Plum and cherry tomatoes are nice for making salads with or for putting in sandwiches with a bit of cheese. However, for cooking, I normally use tins of Italian chopped tomatoes as the British climate isn't as conducive for growing flavoursome tomatoes. If you have plenty of these tins lying around then it really isn't much aggro to make a variety of cook-in sauces, especially basic tomato sauce for pasta which you could do in your sleep! Tomato puree is also handy to have around.
  • Potatoes - I like to use floury old potatoes like Maris Piper for roasting or mashing. In spring, new potatoes like Jersey Royals come into season, and these are good for boiling.
  • Carrots - not a lot to say here really, again they just go with quite a lot of dishes.
  • Cheese - for English dishes (and for making sandwiches) I like to use mature cheddar. Parmesan is a good subsitutute when you make shepherd's pie and is a no-brainer for authentic Italian cooking - it's more expensive than cheddar but since you only grate a little bit at a time it's not that bad.
  • Stock - a good stock is one of those ingredients that can take a dish from being "meh" to being "whoa!". As well as adding moisture to a dish, it also strengthens the flavour of the meat, which is particularly important (in my humble opinion) if you're cooking meat off the bone. In an ideal world you should make fresh stock; it takes a while but it's not actually hard, you just leave it boiling until it's done, do something else in the meantime, and refrigerate or freeze it; I will show you how to make this in another post. Failing this, you can buy packets of liquid stock in supermarkets; I recommend Knorr and Tesco Finest as they have all natural ingredients and no added preservatives. I would only use stock cubes as a last resort, and I wouldn't touch gravy granules with a barge pole; it might sound snobbish, but if you try fresh stock in a simple recipe like sausage and mash then you'll see what I mean.
  • Mushrooms - these things have such a great, mellow flavour. I'm not an expert and there are many different varieties you can get (including wild ones). Porcini, flat cap, button and chestnut mushrooms are quite versatile in my opinion.
  • Alcohol - as well as adding depth of flavour to dishes and getting you into a nicely inebriated state whilst you cook (always a good idea when you've got pans full of hot oil - try it), alcoholic drinks are used to help deglaze a pan - that is, to help dislodge the sediment at the bottom of a pan that you've fried or roasted something in. The general guide is that stout and ale go well with beef, red wine goes well with red meat and poultry, white wine goes well with white meat, poultry, fish and vegetables, and cider goes well with pork (although I've heard some people use it with chicken and turkey). You don't generally need really good wine for this so don't be afraid to just buy a cheap bottle of plonk to use for cooking.
  • Vinegars - balsamic for salads, malt for chips, rice for oriental cooking, cider/white wine/red wine/sherry for various other bits and pieces. On a related note, it's worth getting light and dark soy sauces (yes they are different!) and Worcestershire sauce.
  • Flour - the type you need varies depending on what you're making. If you want to make bread, you may be surprised to hear that the flour you need is called bread flour (I'll just let that sink in for a moment). Plain flour is good for general cooking and pastry, and it or cornflour can be used to help make things go crispy or thicken, although for the latter purpose I would be careful as you don't want to make your sauces taste too pasty. Self-raising flour will go lumpy if you put it in gravy or whatever, but it's what you use for making cakes.
  • Fat - you are actually supposed to have a little bit of fat in your diet, just don't go overboard with it! Different fats have different flavours and also different burning points. Butter has quite a low burning point so if I'm frying I often put a little bit of olive oil in the pan first to prevent it from burning. Olive oil is flavoursome and quite good for you (although this isn't a license to go overboard - calories are calories!). A lot of people buy extra virgin olive oil because they think the higher price = higher quality. However, I *believe* extra virgin has a lower burning point, and even top chefs like Gordon Ramsay will tell you to stop wasting your money and use normal olive oil for frying. You can buy more upmarket brands of normal olive oil if you're really determined to spend more for higher quality; just use extra virgin for drizzling on salads etc. For curries or stir-fries, use groundnut, vegetable or sunflower oils, as these have high burning points and no flavour.
  • Herbs - dried basil and oregano are nice to have hanging around for emergencies, but fresh herbs are where it's at; I really miss the multitudinous bunches of lovely fresh herbs in Greece. If you have a patch of soil in your garden or space for a window box, some nice parsley, basil, thyme, sage, rosemary and coriander will take care of most dishes. As long as you can keep them growing then you basically have a constant supply of fresh herbs, which is a lot cheaper than buying them in packets. You also want to get some bay leaves.
  • Spices - if you have a pestle and mortar (which I do, because I'm cool) then you can buy whole spices rather than ready-ground ones, so they will last a lot longer. Cumin, garam masala, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, fennel, fenugreek and chilli powder are good ones to have lying around. Mustard is also great in reasonable quantities for adding flavour to meat dishes; you can buy mustard seeds, mustard powder, or pots of English, Dijon, American and wholegrain mustard, of which everyone seems to have a favourite (mine is English, maybe I'm biased!). Not everyone can handle very hot mustard; American is the mildest.