Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Happy Christmas!

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas! This is The Best Christmas Pudding I Have Ever Tasted soaked in brandy and set on fire, it was just as good as I hoped it would be!Thanks to everyone who has supported my blog by reading it and leaving comments over the last year, you're what keeps this blog going.... Happy new year everybody!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Christmas gift ideas

A couple of weeks ago Nick from challenged me to find a really great gift for foodies. The challenge was broad, I could choose anything at all from coffee machines to waffle irons, pots and pans to food hampers, I even considered a hot dog rotisserie although I came to my senses and quickly abandoned that idea! So what did I choose?

Eventually after much thought and trawling the web I settled on a genuine Italian Imperia pasta machine. You might be thinking it's an odd choice, you quite likely have a pasta machine long forgotten at the back of a cupboard probably next to the bread machine and the smoothie maker. I decided to go for a pasta machine quite simply because I love pasta, it's proabaly my favourite food of all and I like the idea of being able to make my own. It also allows me to be creative, I have plans to try flavoured pasta such as tomato or spinach or herbs.For the first test run of the pasta machine I went for the simple option, I wanted the pasta to be the star of the dish and not so much the sauce, although of course it still had to be delicious! So my old friend and standby pasta carbonara it was.

The pasta machine can make four different types of pasta with the attachment I have (you can buy different attachments for ravioli, fusili etc), lasagna, papardelle, tagliatelle and linguine, I chose tagliatelle this time around.Making the pasta was much easier than I expected it to be, once you've made the dough (just flour, eggs and salt) you simply pass it through the rollers progressively rolling it thinner and thinner until it is as thin as you want it the put it through the cutters and out comes beautiful fresh pasta!
Pasta carbonara, find the recipe here.

I was really very impressed with the Imperia pasta machine and think it would make a great gift for food lovers, especially if they love Italian food like I do! What do you think of my choice? What would your perfect foodie Christmas gift be?

Of course no pasta dish would be complete without wine! are offering £15 off a £50 spend here. My thanks go to for setting the challenge and providing the pasta machine. Thanks!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A Merry Christmas Tray from Interflora

I have been very fortunate recently to have been sent lots of yummy things to review, last week I received a fantastic selection of Christmas goodies from none other than Interflora - the flower people.It was a revelation to me that Interflora did anything other than flowers but having sampled a selection of their food in the form of a Merry Christmas Tray I can honestly say I was impressed. I was sent both red and white wine, mince pies, choc chunk and orange oat biscuits, fudge, amaretto flutes, mixed fruit and nuts and a Miniature Christmas cake.

The tray came really well packed in a black cardboard box, in fact it was so well packed I had trouble getting it out! The good news once I'd found a way in was that everything was in perfect condition inside and really well presented too.

I haven't managed to try everything thing yet but I can report that the fudge is wonderfully rich and buttery, a quick glance at the ingredients revealed that it contained only real butter with no margarine or vegetable oil in sight - something I was exceptionally pleased about.

The mince pies were particularly good too, according to the box they are hand made and I think it makes a difference. The pastry was delicate and flaky with good flavour and most importantly of all there was plenty of mincemeat filling. The wine and cake are being saved for Christmas day, at least they are if I can resist them that long!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Christmas puddings, the best I have ever tasted!

This year stir it up Sunday fell on the 22nd of November, that's the day when traditionally everyone makes their Christmas puddings with all the members of the family taking turns to stir it up! In typically disorganised fashion I missed the 22nd by almost two weeks but I always make the puddings and this year was no different, I was just a bit late!
Stir it up!

Christmas pudding can be a bit heavy and hard to eat especially if you try to eat it right after Christmas dinner like we always do in my family, in my search for the perfect pudding I've tried lots of different recipes in the past some better than others. The most successful was a recipe from Riverford Organics called The best Christmas pudding I have ever tasted, with a name like that I had high expectations, thankfully it didn't let me down.

Like a lot of traditional British puddings Christmas puddings are cooked by steaming, the mixture is spooned into a pudding basin, covered tightly and placed in a pan of simmering water (lid on) and steamed for two to three hours. If you have never made a steamed pudding before it can be a bit daunting but it's really very easy, once you've made your mixture you can just leave them gently simmering while you go and do other things. Just don't let the pan boil dry!
The puddings waiting to be steamed, I won't see them again until Christmas day.

I wouldn't say that this makes a 'light' pudding but it is lighter than normal, it's also sweet, fruity, boozy and delicious. I changed the recipe slightly by switching some of the raisins and sultanas for dried apricots, you could use all kinds of dried fruits, cherries, cranberries or figs would be good. You could also add nuts such as walnuts or pecans, the recipe is really flexible.

The great thing about making Christmas puddings is that they keep almost indefinitely, in fact the flavour gets better over time so the earlier you make them the better!

Find the recipe here.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Christmas flavour ice cream

Christmas is undeniably on it's way now, it's time to put up decorations, buy presents, write cards and if you haven't already done it make the cake.

We were talking about Christmas at work last week and some gave me a idea for an ice cream recipe, she said that if you take some store bought vanilla ice cream, leave it to soften, then mix it with a jar of mincemeat it makes a really delicious Christmassy treat.I really liked the idea and I'm sure it's delicious with store bought ice cream but I wanted to make the whole thing myself, so that's what I did! As well as making the ice cream myself I also added a hefty glug of brandy for good measure, not only does it make it even more Christmassy it helps stop the ice cream from freezing rock solid too.

When I served this I was told it tastes like Christmas cake which is exactly what I was aiming for, mission accomplished!



For the custard ice cream base:
  • 3/4 pint whole milk
  • vanilla extract
  • Two large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch
  • 30-40g caster sugar
You will also need:
  • Half a pint of double/heavy cream whipped to soft peaks
  • 450g micemeat (recipe here or buy some)
  • Brandy
  • To make the custard pour the milk and vanilla into a saucepan and gently bring to a simmer, don't let it boil.
  • Meanwhile beat the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour/cornstarch together in a large mixing bowl.
  • Once the milk is up to heat pour a little into the egg yolk mixture and quickly beat it in.
  • Pour everything back into the saucepan and cook over a very gentle heat stirring constantly until it coats the back of a spoon. Don't leave leave it unattended for even a minute or it will burn, curdle or both!
  • Once made cool the custard completely before continuing.
  • Once the custard is cool fold it into the whipped cream, add the mincemeat and brandy to taste. Be careful not to add too much brandy or your ice cream will never freeze! 4-5 tablespoons should be enough.
  • Churn the mix in an ice cream machine or put into a tub in the freezer and beat every hour until frozen.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Christmas goodies from Able and Cole

There's a house just down the road from me that always have their Christmas decorations up by the beginning of November, it seems strange to me that anyone would want to start celebrating so early. I always try to leave all things Christmassy to the last minute, that way the novelty and excitement hasn't worn off by Christmas day!

Of course sometimes there are exceptions to the rule and this year was one of those times. Able and Cole offered to send me some 'Christmas goodies' to try, sausages wrapped in bacon and some cranberry and orange relish. The goodies arrived on Friday well packed in an insulated box full of ice, so far so good...

I cooked a mini Christmas dinner on Sunday -that's a roast chicken to me and you- to eat with the sausages and relish and put them to the full Christmas dinner taste test.Sausages wrapped in bacon sometimes quaintly called pigs in blankets are one of my favourite Christmas foods, I actually much prefer these to the turkey! Normally I'd make my own but after trying the sausages from Able and Cole I'd be really happy to serve theirs. Whenever I buy sausages the first thing I check is the meat content, anything below 70% and I don't buy them, the sausages I had to try came in at 85% so no problems there. They had a really good texture and were perfectly spiced with coriander, nutmeg and pepper. If you're looking for something to serve with your Christmas dinner this year I can highly recommend these.Next up was the cranberry and orange relish, I really loved this it made the perfect accompaniment to the sausages and chicken. Normally I would serve traditional cranberry sauce on Christmas day, this relish is quite different but I would say even more delicious. The flavour is far more complex than normal cranberry sauce, you can clearly taste the orange but there are also subtle spice flavours in the background, I'm sure I could taste cloves and star anise in there. The texture is thinner than cranberry sauce in fact it's almost pourable but that's no bad thing at all especially as the cranberries are left whole making this quite a chunky relish. As well as being perfect for Christmas I can imagine pairing this relish alongside pork, sausages, bacon or poultry.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Winemaker's grape cake

A few years ago I planted a grape vine against the wall in my garden. At the time I didn't really expect it to do that well, England isn't isn't known for it's grapes after all!

I couldn't have been more wrong, it seems that in cold damp England grape vines can thrive, mine has gone wild climbing up the wall, over the windows and along the washing line! What's made me really happy is that it's also produced a bumper crop of beautiful purple grapes.Although the grapes were deliciously sweet enough to eat out of hand I'd seen a few recipes for grape cakes that sounded really interesting. We don't really cook with grapes in England so this idea was totally new to me.

The recipe I settled on was from called winemakers grape cake, what really drew me to this recipe was the use of olive oil rather than butter which not only gives the cake a wonderful texture but a delicious flavour too.The lived up to all expectations being both perfectly soft and moist but full of flavour too, the little grapes were like bombs of flavour that exploded when you bit into them. A fantastic cake!

You can find the recipe HERE.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Mackerel served with a delicious mango salsa

Mackerel is a delicious fish, it's sustainable and it's really cheap too, yet despite this it remains one of the most underrated, under appreciated fish.

One of the great things about mackerel is how amazingly quick it is to cook, 5 minutes in a pan and it's done, ready to serve. It's a bargain too, for this recipe I bought enough mackerel for three people for the grand total of £1!
I served my flash fried mackerel with a delicious mango salsa, it sounds weird but it really works! I based the recipe for the mango salsa on a recipe from the fantastic book Go Faster Food by Kate Percy, she suggests serving it with tuna steaks but it's equally delicious with mackerel.

For the salsa chop into smallish dice:
  • Half a mango
  • 2 or 3 de-seeded tomatoes
  • A small red onion
  • An avocado
Mix with:
  • A finely chopped chilli
  • A large bunch of fresh green coriander
  • 1-2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1-2 tsp ground cumin
  • The juice of a lime
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • A generous pinch of salt
Stir everything together and serve with grilled or fried mackerel.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Rocket risotto with scallops and crispy ham

Scallops seem to be very in vogue at the moment, if you watch Masterchef you'll have noticed that every other dish has scallops in it, not to mention they're on every restaurant menu and in every supermarket too. I didn't understand what all the fuss was about until I tried one at a food show in Birmingham last year, they are possibly the most delicious seafoody thing I've ever eaten! I picked up some perfectly fresh and delicious looking scallops last week, unfortunately they weren't in their shells but you can't win them all.
I wanted to cook a main dish with my scallops rather than the usual starter, I wanted to incorporate ham into the dish too. It's a delicious combination. I settled on making a risotto -nothing fancy, just a basic risotto- stirring through some peppery rocket leaves and serving the fried scallops on top with some crisped up ham.
Black forest ham
Although Parma ham would have been really tasty I used German Black Forest ham, it's similar in texture to Parma ham but has a darker colour and a smoky flavour. Well worth trying if you come across it, it tastes superb!

The risotto was really good way to serve scallops and the ham that I crisped up in a pan complimented the scallops perfectly. My scallop dish repertoire is extremely limited, I'd love some more ideas. How do you cook scallops?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

A tribute to Keith Floyd

If you're from the UK and perhaps even if you're not then you'll probably have heard the sad news that Keith Floyd, TV chef, one of my food heroes and all round great guy died on September 14th. He was one of the first people to make cooking shows entertaining rather than just educational, his passion for food, his flamboyance and his willingness to visit unusual places and put himself in strange situations made his programmes unmissable TV. He will be sadly missed.

If you've never seen Keith Floyd then here's a classic Floyd moment.

As a tribute to Keith Floyd I made this Andalucian paella using his recipe. The recipe is quite basic, it's what I would consider to be a traditional recipe.I browned some chicken pieces in a paella pan, added rice which is cooked with onions and peppers in chicken stock for flavour. Then saffron and turmeric were added for both flavour and to give the rice a fantastic golden yellow colour. Just before the rice was cooked I added prawns, mussels, tomatoes and a handful of chopped parsley.Paella is undoubtedly one of my favourite dishes, it's brilliant for sharing if you have friends over. Just put the pan in the middle of the table with lemon quarters for squeezing over and let everyone dig in!

You can find the recipe for Keith Floyd' paella here.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Toffee apple muffins

Autumn is well and truly upon us now, the leaves are falling and there's definitely a chill in the air. It's not all bad though, with Autumn comes Autumn fruits, blackberries, plums, pears, and of course apples.

Bramley apples are undoubtedly one of the best varieties for cooking, they have a fantastic slightly sharp flavour which becomes sweeter and milder with cooking. They are perfect for adding to cakes and muffins which is exactly what I did.Toffee and apples is a truly delicious combination and it works fantastically well in these muffins.

I made a traditional muffin batter to which I added big chunks of peeled chopped apples, pieces of soft toffee and of course cinnamon. To give the muffins a nice crunch I sprinkled the tops with demerera sugar.Supermarket muffins are so often disappointing, being bland, doughy and with hardly any fruit. These muffins are so easy to make there's really no need to buy them again, they taste great too!

  • 350g plain flour
  • 2 Tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tsp Cinnamon
  • 200g Caster sugar
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 120ml Vegetable oil
  • 120 milk
  • A large handful of soft toffees chopped into chunks
  • 3 Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped (you could use other apples, try Cox or Granny Smith)
  • Demerera sugar for sprinkling
  • Preheat your oven to gas 4/180c and line a 12 hole muffin tray with muffin cases
  • In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar)
  • Add the wet ingredients (eggs, oil, milk) to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix to a batter, a few lumps don't matter so don't over mix
  • Add the chopped apples and toffees to the batter mix in well then divide the mixture between the muffin cases.
  • Sprinkle the tops with the demerera sugar and bake for about 30 minutes
  • serve warm or cold

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Mediterranean fish stew

I've been cooking up this fantastic fish stew for a while now, it's so delicious I new I'd have to post the recipe but it kept getting eaten before I could take a photo!

I've finally managed to get a shot after cooking this three times in less than a month, thankfully it tastes so good that I could never get bored with eating it.This is one of those dishes that you can mix about a bit, you can use all kinds of vegetables and different types of fish too. I kept my stew quite simple using sweet peppers, celery and fennel, for the fish I used monkfish and cod. There are loads of things you could use such as courgettes, aubergines, or artichokes, for the fish you could use haddock, prawns, halibut, scallops etc. It's up to you...The secret ingredient in this dish is the fennel, it's the perfect partner to the fish and gives the stew a slightly sweet aniseedy backnote. It's flavour is subtle but it makes a big difference to the flavour.I like to serve this with good crusty bread a wedge of lemon, a glass of chilled white wine is a very welcome partner too.

  • Olive oil
  • A large onion, chopped
  • A bulb of fennel, finely shredded
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 2 large sweet peppers (yellow or red) chopped into largeish chunks
  • A glass of white wine
  • A 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • About 500g of fish, chopped into bite-size chunks (cod, haddock, monkfish, prawns, halibut etc)
  • A handful of basil leaves, finely chopped (optional)
  • A bunch of parsley, finely chopped
  • In a large pan over a medium heat sweat the onion in the olive oil for two or three minutes
  • Add the garlic, fennel and peppers to the pan, stir and cook for a few minutes more stirring occasionally
  • Pour in the white wine and let it cook for a minute or so
  • Add the tomatoes, season with salt then cover and let simmer gently for about 20 minutes or until everything is tender
  • Add the fish and basil (if using) stir well and cover, leave for around fives minutes or until the fish is cooked though
  • Serve scattered with the parsley with good bread and a squeeze of lemon

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Maple syrup and walnut scones

When I think of scones I think of summer, I think of sitting outside in the sun, of jam, of strawberries, and of cream. At least, that's what I normally think of, these maple and walnut scones have a more autumnal feel to them. I sweetened the scones with maple syrup rather than sugar, added chopped walnuts to the dough and used half wholemeal half white flour, altogether this gave the scones a more rustic hearty feel, no less delicious than more traditional scones just different!
Roll the dough into a long sausage shape
What I really love about scones is how amazingly quickly they come together, within half an hour of reading this you could be taking a tray of freshly baked scones out of the oven. What's more you probably already have all the ingredients too!
I served my scones with whipped creap and maple syrup
I served these with whipped cream and more maple syrup drizzled over the top. Delicious!

Maple and walnut scones
Ingredients (makes 8 huge or 12 normal scones):
  • 225g white self raising flour
  • 225g wholemeal self raising flour (if you can't find wholemeal self raising use plain wholemeal and add two teaspoons of baking powder)
  • 100g butter
  • 60g maple syrup
  • 75-100g chopped walnuts
  • 225ml of buttermilk (substitute milk or yogurt)
  • demerera sugar for sprinkling
  • Preheat your oven to gas 7/220c/425f
  • In a large bowl mix the two flours together
  • Rub the butter into the flour until no lumps remain
  • Stir in the walnuts
  • Make a well in the centre and stir in the maple syrup and buttermilk, mix everything together to form a soft dough
  • On a floured board roll the dough into a long sausage shape and cut into rounds
  • Lay the rounds on a lightly floured baking tray, brush the tops with a little milk or buttermilk and sprinkle with the sugar
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tagliatelle with leeks prawns and pine nuts

I'm probably a bit mad but when a friend asked if I wanted to run the Leicester half-marathon with him I didn't give it much thought and just said yes. Well, I can't resist a challenge!

With just one month to go until the big day I've been training hard going on runs of 10 miles and more, yesterday I ran the full 13.1 mile half-marathon distance just to make sure I could actually do it - thankfully I could!

What's all this got to do with food? Well it'll come as no surprise I'm sure that running works up a big appetite, it's particularly important when running or doing any kind of exercise to eat enough carbohydrates. That's why I came up with this dish of Tagliatelle with prawns, leeks and toasted pine nuts, not only is it delicious but it's got plenty of carbs it's healthy and it's really easy to put together.I started by putting a pan of tagliatelle pasta on to cook meanwhile I softened some finely chopped leeks and garlic with the zest of a lemon in a little olive oil. Once the pasta was almost cooked I added chopped tomatoes to the pan of leeks along with some prawns and a dollop of creme fraiche (substitute sour or double/heavy cream). As soon as the tomatoes and prawns had heated through I tossed the pasta and sauce together along with some shredded basil and served it with toasted pine nuts on top.

The sauce was really light and fresh tasting, it was just what I wanted after a long run. If you don't want to use prawns then you could use white crab meat or tuna for a different but no less tasty dish. You could also try adding different vegetables such as peppers or broccoli.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Parmesan crusted chicken with tomato and basil sauce

Right now is probably my favourite time of year, the weather is good (well most of the time), the days are still long(ish) and best of all there is good fresh food in abundance.

I took a trip down to my local market recently to see what looked good and was really spoilt for choice. There were plump and juicy Victoria plums, bright red tomatoes on the vine, lettuces, courgettes, aubergines, peppers, fennel, cherries.... You get the picture.

While I wobbled home from the market having bought far more than I should I came up with an idea for a dish that would use up some of my newly acquired tomatoes. I was going to encrust a chicken fillet in parmesan and serve it with a tomato and basil sauce. Not only did it seem like a great way to use some of the tomatoes I had bought (way too many really) but I knew it would be delicious too!

The first thing I did was made the sauce by gently simmered cherry tomatoes with olive oil, crushed garlic, salt and a little sugar until they were very tender but still holding their shape. To prepare the chicken I bashed the chicken fillets flat with a rolling pin, a fantastic way to releive stress! I cooked the chicken on a lightly oiled very hot griddle pan for a couple of minutes on each side. To serve I put a fillet on each plate, stirred a large handful of roughly torn basil into the sauce then spooned it over the chicken.What I really like about this dish is how quickly it all comes together, it's the perfect after work dish. I'm sure I will be making this reguarly from now on, for as long as I can get beautiful tomatoes from the market anyway...

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Scottish butter tablet

First off I should apologise for not posting as reguarly as I would like to and not visiting all your blogs and leaving comments as much as I want to. It's been a busy few weeks recently and I've not had a lot of time to do much of anything, hopefully I'll have a bit more time soon!. I did however find time to make one of the most delicious sweets you could ever make, Scottish tablet....

Scottish tablet is a traditional Scottish sweet made from sugar, butter, cream, vanilla and that most wonderful of ingredients, condensed milk. With that list of ingredients you just know it's going to be good, right?Tablet is very sweet and very rich similar to fudge in almost every way except that tablet has a crumbly rather than smooth texture. Eating it reminds me of my childhood holidays, it's the kind of thing you can pick at seaside stalls and gift shops, I used to buy it as a holiday gift for my Grandma out of my pocket money!

One of the things I was most worried about when I first made this was that it just wouldn't set, that I'd be left with a sickly sugary gloop in a pan rather than crumbly cubes of butter tablet. I needn't have worried, it turns out this recipe is almost foolproof, as long as you cook the mixture for the full length of time and never, never leave the pan and stop stirring then I give you my guarantee that this will set.The traditional, and my favourite flavour for tablet is pure vanilla but you could add other flavours if you really want to. Whisky would work quite well or you could try chopped nuts, or dried fruit.

The recipe is adapted from Barbecues And Grilling by Antony Worrall Thompson, I'm not really sure what it has to do with barbecues but it's a good recipe! I've adapted his original recipe, changing the quantities slightly, I also added some sea salt, I just love the combination of salt and caramel flavours.

  • 1 can of condensed milk (397g)
  • 150ml of milk
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 450g Demerera sugar
  • 100g butter, diced
  • A good pinch of sea salt
  • Grease and line a 20cm square tin
  • Split the vanilla pods and scrape out all the seeds, put the pods and seeds in a large saucepan along with all the other ingredients.
  • Place the pan over a medium heat stirring all the time, the mixture should start out golden and gradually become darker. Cook for 15 minutes stirring continuously.
  • After 15 minutes remove the pan from the heat and beat the mixture for about 5 minutes, this will give your tablet it's wonderful crumbly Texture.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and leave until completely cooled before cutting into squares.
  • Enjoy!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Spanakopita - A foray into Greek cuisine

Although I really enjoy Greek food I very rarely cook it. Greek food is simple and healthy using fresh vegetables and herbs, fish and meat, it shares many of the characteristics of my favourite cuisine of all -Italian- most notably it's wide use of olives and olive oil.

Clearly something had to be done about my lack of Greek cooking experience, and what better place to start than with one of Greece's most famous dishes, Spanakopita.Spanakopita is a spinach and feta pie made using filo pastry. Filo, meaning leaf or sheet is a type of pastry that unlike other pastries comes in wafer thin sheets which are layered up before being filled and baked. The resulting pastry is very light and wonderfully crispy and crunchy.

Normally I would make my own pastry but when it comes to filo there's no shame in buying it ready made. For the filling I used spinach, feta, spring onions, dill, eggs and a little nutmeg, it's probably not very authentic but hey, it if tastes good...

A packet of filo pastry
olive oil
A couple of handfuls of spinach blanched, chopped and excess water squeezed out.
A small bunch of dill chopped
2 eggs
2oog feta crumbled
5-6 large spring onions/scallions, chopped
A grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Tip: Once you have opened the packet of filo you should keep it covered with a damp tea towel to stop it drying out - it dries out really fast!
  • For the filling mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, season and set aside.
  • Take a baking dish and lightly brush with olive oil, lay a sheet of filo on top and brush with oil. lay another sheet over the first and continue to layer up. Filo sheet, oil, filo sheet, oil until half the pastry is gone.
  • Fill the lined dish with the spinach mixture and top with the remaining pastry brushing each sheet with a little oil as you go.
  • Bake at a medium heat about 180c until golden and crispy.
  • Serve with buttered new potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Salmon steaks with lemon and caper butter sauce

I awoke last Friday morning to find that a large white box had mysteriously appeared on my back doorstep, it took me a while -I was still half asleep- to work out it was the salmon that Able and Cole had sent me to try.Inside the box were two pristine organic salmon steaks surrounded by ice packs to keep them cool. I could tell it was top quality fish the moment I looked at it, the two steaks were perfectly cut and prepared, they looked really fresh too.

When I have ingredients of this quality I like to prepare them simply so as not to mask their flavour. For these steaks I prepared a lemon butter sauce from lemon juice and zest, butter, capers and salt.I gently fried the steaks in a little olive oil, I was worried they might break apart as I cooked them but in the event they held their shape perfectly. The flesh was succulent and tender, the flavour which was mild and delicate was perfectly complimented by the lemon sauce. I served the fish alongside some dill potatoes, quite simply boiled new potatoes tossed with chopped dill and butter.

Overall I was really impressed by the service and the quality from Able and Cole, as sadly few of us have access to a proper fishmonger nowadays it's good to know that it's still possible to buy expertly prepared fish and with the added bonus of it being delivered to your door. My only criticism -and it's only minor- is that for the price it would have been nice if they had cut the steaks a little thicker.

Salmon with lemon butter sauce and dill potatoes
  • 75g Butter
  • A shallot or half a small onion very finely chopped
  • A large juicy lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 tbsp chopped capers (rinsed if packed in salt)
  • Salt
  • 1 Salmon steak per person
For the potatoes
  • New potatoes
  • Butter
  • Dill finely chopped
  • Salt
  • First make the sauce. In a small saucepan melt the butter and cook until it just begins to brown at this point add the chopped shallot and lemon zest and mix well.
  • Next add the lemon juice and capers to the pan, stir the sauce and taste it should be quite sharp. Season with salt if you think it needs it.
  • For the salmon heat a little olive oil or butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Season the steaks on both sides then add to the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side turning halfway through cooking. The time will depend on how thick your steaks are so check they are properly cooked before serving, they may take longer or less time than mine did.
For the potatoes:
  • Boil some new potatoes in salted water until cooked.
  • drain and add the butter and dill, mix well and serve.
Serve the salmon steaks with the sauce poured over the top and the potatoes on the side.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Roasted peaches with vanilla mascarpone

A good peach is a thing of beauty, sweet smelling, fragrant and juicy, and they're at their best right now. The peach season is short so if you haven't been devouring them with reckless abandon like I have may I suggest you pick up a punnet next time you go shopping, before it's too late.

Some of my favourite ways to use peaches -besides eating them raw- are to add them to cakes, crumbles and pies. These are all delicious and fantastic ways to use this wonderful fruit but my favourite is perhaps the easiest of all, I like to roast halved peaches with butter, brown sugar and a little cinnamon.The peaches come out of the oven golden and caramelised, the juices run and form a delicious syrup which can be spooned over the top, like everything that's roasted the flavour is intensified and becomes intensely sweet and peachy. I served mine with vanilla mascarpone for a bit of luxury, you could of course use cream, ice cream or nothing at all.

How to make roasted peaches with vanilla mascarpone

There isn't really a recipe for this but here is the rough method:

You will need:
  • 1 peach (or nectarine) per person
  • Brown sugar
  • Cinnamon (optional but it works really well)
  • Chopped almonds (again optional but really good with this)
For the mascarpone
  • 125g Mascarpone
  • Icing sugar
  • Vanilla extract
  • First halve your peaches and remove the stones.
  • Put the peaches in an oven-proof tray and put a dab of butter in each of the hollows that the stone came from.
  • Mix some brown sugar and cinnamon together, about one teaspoon of sugar per peach half and as much cinnamon as you like.
  • sprinkle the sugar over the peaches, followed by the chopped almonds.
  • Bake the peaches in a medium oven basting every now and again. The cooking time depends on how ripe your peaches are, mine were still a bit hard and took one hour.
  • To make the mascarpone simply mix the mascarpone, sugar and vanilla together.
serve with the peaches with the mascarpone and pour any juices from the roasted pan over the top.Bulleted List

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Tomato and basil bread

For me fresh bread still warm from the oven slathered with melting butter is one of the greatest culinary joys there is, it's just one of the reasons why I've almost entirely stopped buying bread from the supermarket. Not only does fresh homemade bread taste amazing but it's also cheaper to make and much better for you than most supermarket breads.

Normally I just make plain white or wholemeal loaves, all purpose bread that's as good with Nutella as it is with a big wedge of cheddar. Every now and then though I like to be a bit more creative by adding different flavours to my bread or making it using new methods and techniques to make it. A few weeks ago I came up with an idea for making tomato bread, instead of adding water to the flour to make a dough I used a tin of chopped Italian tomatoes.The result is this beautiful loaf of bread not only did it taste amazing and have a fantastic soft texture but it also had a brilliant reddish colour, I only used white flour so all the colour you can see is purely from the tomatoes. I added some basil simply because it works really well and is one of my favourite combinations.This would make the perfect accompaniment to soup, especially something Italian such as minestrone, it also works really well with cheese, ham and obviously tomatoes!

Tomato bread recipe

  • 500g Strong white bread flour
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • A 7g Sachet of dried instant yeast
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of oil
  • A 390g Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Mix well.
  • Make a well in the flour mixture and add the tomatoes and oil, bring everything together to form a dough using either you hands or a wooden spoon. Alternatively use a stand mixer with a dough hook attached. You may need to add a little more flour if your dough is too wet, it should be slightly sticky but not cling to your hands.
  • Knead the dough (by hand or in the mixer) for around 10 minutes then cover with a piece of clingfilm which has been smeared with oil (this stops the dough from sticking to the clingfilm) and leave to rise for around half an hour or until doubled in size.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size knock it back and knead for a few minutes more then, either shape the dough however you want it and place it on a baking tray or place it in a loaf tin.
  • Cover again and leave until it has doubled once more then bake in an oven preheated to gas 6/200c/400f for about half an hour until the top is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Spatchcocked chicken with lemon, thyme and chilli

I cook up a nice roast chicken at least a couple of times a month, it's one of those dishes that never fails to please, unless you're a vegetarian of course. I normally add herbs, spices or marinades to my roast chicken to make it a bit more interesting, lemon and thyme is a good combination, Moroccan spices work well and I have had a lot of success with stuffing bacon under the skin before roasting.

Recently I've been experimenting with a completely different way of preparing the chicken - spatchcocking. Not only is it fun to say it's also a really good way to cook chicken, spatchcocking is a simple method for preparing chicken that results in it being spread out flat.One of the brilliant things about using this technique is that unlike on a conventional roast chicken where the bottom tends to stay pale and soggy, on a spatchcocked chicken all the skin is on top which means you get loads more delicious golden crispy skin when it's done. not only that but it cooks in about half the time of a conventional chicken and it's perfect for the barbecue too!

To prepare a spatchcocked chicken is actually really simple, essentially all you do is turn the bird breast side down and using some good strong scissors cut out the backbone (save the backbone for stock). Turn the bird the right way up again and press down firmly on the breast until you hear a crack and that's it! I said it was simple.

Lemon, thyme and chilli marinade

I came up with this marinade to go with my spatchcocked chicken, it's the perfect blend of sweet and spicy.

  • The zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • A large handful of finely chopped fresh thyme
  • A heaped teaspoon of flaked dried chillies or a couple of whole red chillies chopped
  • 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons dark soft brown sugar
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
Mix everything together well then rub all over your chicken, leave for as long as possible, an hour will do but preferably overnight before cooking.

For detailed instructions including photos on how to spatchcock a chicken why not visit Mike at Mike's table HERE. I forgot to take photos of the preparation, sorry!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Light ricotta cheesecake

You've probably seen ricotta cheese used in pancakes to give them a light, fluffy texture but did you know it could be used in cheesecakes with similar effect? Cheesecake is normally about as far from light and fluffy as you can get, but trust me this cheese cake is much lighter but every bit as delicious as it's richer denser counterparts.
Unlike most cheesecakes this one has no biscuit or cake base, the cheese mixture is poured straight into the tin to be baked.

The recipe is adapted from one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's, he used home made goats curd cheese for his version. As I don't have any goats of my own and I couldn't get any goats curd cheese in the shops I used ricotta which made the perfect substitute.

The finished cheesecake was creamy and light with a subtle lemony flavour in the background, a raspberry sauce made the perfect accompaniment.

The original recipe can be found here. The recipe below contains my adaptations.

Ricotta Cheesecake
•750g Ricotta cheese
•45g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
•3 tablespoons medium oatmeal
•a good pinch of salt
•75g caster sugar
•2 eggs, lightly beaten
•Grated zest of 2 small lemons, plus 1 tbsp lemon juice

For the raspberry sauce
•250g raspberries
•75g caster sugar
•A tablespoon of water
Preheat the oven to 170C/gas 3 and butter a 20-23cm springform cake tin.

Beat the cheese with a wooden spoon until smooth, then add the melted butter, oatmeal, salt, sugar, eggs and lemon zest and juice. Mix well. Spoon the mixture into the tin and smooth the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, until just set.

For the sauce put all the raspberries into a saucepan with a tablespoon of water and the sugar, bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes. You can serve it as it is or pass the raspberries through a sieve for a more refined sauce.

Serve the cheesecake hot, warm or at room temperature with the raspberry sauce and cream if you like.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

A heatwave and a Summer Berry Fool

It's been a scorching few days here the thermometer is my kitchen is reading a whopping 38.9c, OK, so that may not be considered hot at all in some places but here in the UK it's an official heatwave.
In these temperatures there's no way I'm going to have the oven on or do anything too intense in the kitchen, it's hot enough already! What I needed was something cool and summery, something that requires minimal cooking but still tastes great.

It was time to make a fool, not of myself you understand although that's not hard to do, but from summer berries. A fool is a very simple dessert made from whipped cream, fruits and sometimes -as in this case- custard too. The fruit is stewed, the cream is whipped, the custard is made and the whole lot is stirred together and served well chilled, simple as that.I like to stir the fruit in last thing so I can leave it not quite fully Incorporated in to the cream mixture, it just looks good that way! I served mine with crushed shortbread scattered over the top for some added crunch, it would work really well with nuts too.

There is no recipe as such for this but here are the steps.
  • Stew some fruit with a little sugar, any summer berries are good so is rhubarb. Use whatever you like or whatever you have. Chill the mixture while you prepare the cream.
  • Whip some double/heavy cream to the soft peak stage, you don't want stiff peaks.
  • Make some custard or buy some, as long as it's good quality. You need about the same quantity as the whipped cream.
  • Stir the custard into the cream, make sure the berries are completely cold and stir them in too.
  • Serve well chilled scattered with crushed shortbread or nuts.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A box to try from Able and Cole

Able and Cole contacted me last week to see if I'd like to try one of their mixed fruit and vegetable boxes. I've had a mixed experience of organic boxes in the past, some good some not so good, so I was keen to try Able and Cole to see what they were like. Sure enough at 8:00 on Friday morning their was a knock on the door and I was greeted with a large cardboard box brimming with super fresh produce.My box contained apples, bananas, broad beans, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, Jersey royal potatoes, melon and spring onions. Clearly not all of it was locally grown -we don't grow many bananas in the UK- but it was, on the whole seasonal, mostly British and never air-freighted which is much better than most supermarkets can manage. It also contained a newsletter and recipe card which I thought was a nice touch.I was really impressed with my box, the quality was excellent, everything arrived looking really fresh and vibrant. The box I tried was the mixed fruit and veg box which cost £15.95 which I think it's pretty good value considering the box is organic and delivered right to your door. One thing to bear in mind if you ever do decide to get a box delivered is that you have no choice as to what goes in it. Personally I quite like the challenge of using unfamiliar vegetables and conjuring up new recipes but if you're the kind of person who likes to plan their meals a month in advance then maybe it's not for you.Cooking with vegetables of this high quality is a joy, I could tell they were good when I cooked with them and I could certainly taste it when I ate them.
The first meal I cooked using vegetables from my box was this broad bean and bacon risotto, simple but delicious.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Home-made beef burgers

There's nothing quite like a good beef burger, fat, juicy and full of flavour. With barbecue season in full swing I thought I would try to convince you just how good burgers can be if you make your own, not only do they taste fantastic but they're a breeze to make too.

All you need to make the most basic of burgers is good quality minced beef, salt and pepper. I like to make mine a little more interesting by adding other flavours to the mix, you could add chilli, herbs, cheese, fried onions etc whatever you like really. For my burgers I used chopped sun-dried tomatoes and basil for an Italian feel then finished them off with some melting mozzarella, trust me, they were good!Once you've chosen your flavours it's just a case of mixing everything well together and using your hands to form them into burgers. I find it helps to leave in the fridge for an hour or so after you've made them as it helps them to firm up and keep their shape, of course if your really desperate you could cook them immediately!

So here are my top tips for making fantastic burgers:
  • Use good quality mince/ground beef, you need some fat but not too much so don't buy the really cheap stuff.
  • Add plenty of salt and pepper, they really need it.
  • Don't add anything to chunky or too wet to the mixture this will cause the beef to break up during cooking and you'll be eating it from a bowl not a bun!
  • Get the pan, grill or barbecue searingly hot before you put the burgers on, this will create a caramelised crust on the outside.
  • Let the burgers rest in the fridge for an hour or so after you've made them so they can firm up.
I hope you'll try making your own, once you do you'll never go back!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Creamy seafood tagliatelle with asparagus

I have managed to achieve something that I never thought was possible. I've crammed so much into my freezer that there really is no more room. At all. It's completely my fault, whenever I see something that's reduced or on promotion I buy it and freeze it for later. The problem is I normally forget all about it then buy more stuff and freeze that too!

The freezer is stuffed with vegetables, meat, homemade stock, Ice cream, bread and a whole draw full of mysterious tubs, bags and packets that are unlabelled and I have no idea what they are!

My challenge this week is to run down the freezer to free up some space. Yesterday I made this creamy seafood tagliatelle using some frozen seafood mix (mussels, crayfish and prawns), I also used some fantastic fresh British asparagus which is optional but I really recommend it.
Considering the cream sauce this is a surprisingly light meal that's perfect for summer, great served with a glass of chilled white wine.

Recipe:(serves four)
  • 350-400g tagliatelle or your favourite pasta
  • A bunch of fresh asparagus cooked and chopped into halves (optional)
  • 2 Small onions or shallots finely chopped
  • 2 Cloves of garlic crushed and chopped
  • A large glass of dry white wine
  • 150ml Sour cream
  • 500g mixed cooked seafood (mussels, prawns clams etc)
  • A good handful of chopped parsley
  • First bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and begin to cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
  • While the pasta is cooking fry the onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt in some olive oil in a large frying pan until just softened.
  • Once the onions have softened tip in the white wine, turn up the heat and reduce the wine by half.
  • When the wine has reduced down add the cream and mix well, taste the sauce to check the seasoning and correct it if necessary.
  • Just before the pasta has cooked add the seafood, asparagus and parsley to the sauce, mix it well and leave for a minute to heat through.
  • Toss the pasta in the sauce and serve.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Victoria cream sponge

The company that I work for is celebrating it's anniversary this year, to mark the occasion a buffet was laid on and there was a huge cake to share. Just in case we hadn't had enough cake already they also sent us home with a 'cake making kit', in it were all the ingredients (except the eggs) for making a Victoria sponge, flour, butter, sugar and jam.

It's hard to improve on a classic like a Victoria sponge but by adding whipped cream I found a way. Of course cream is entirely optional but it is highly recommended, your cake won't keep as long but in my house at least, that's not a problem...I use the traditional method for making sponge cakes, first I weigh all of the eggs in their shells, I then use an equal weight of butter, sugar and self raising flour. For example if I use three eggs that weigh 50g each then I'll use 150g of butter, sugar and flour.

Maths lesson over it's time for the recipe...
Victoria sponge recipe
  • 3 Large eggs
  • Butter
  • Sugar (I used golden caster sugar)
  • Self raising flour
  • Vanilla extract (homemade if you have it)
  • Jam and whipped cream for the filling
  • Preheat your oven to gas 4/180c/350f and grease two 7 inch sponge tins.
  • First weigh all three eggs together in their shells, make a note of how much they weigh.
  • Whatever the eggs weigh add the same weight in butter and sugar to a large mixing bowl and beat well together until light and fluffy, this will take a few minutes.
  • Next beat in the eggs followed by an equal weight again of self raising flour, add a few drops of vanilla and mix well together.
  • Divide the mixture equally between the two sponge tins and bake for around 25 minutes. Check they're cooked by inserting a skewer into the cake, if it comes out clean they're done.
  • Cool the cakes on a rack, once they have cooled fill with jam and whipped cream and enjoy!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Trout with lemon, basil, capers and olives

I love a good bargain, whenever I go to the supermarket I always take a look at the reduced price section to see what's going for a knock down price. Last week I'd obviously timed it just right, there was loads of fresh meat and fish being sold for mere pennies.

Most of my bargain haul went to the freezer to be cooked another day but I kept some whole trout aside, I wanted those for a simple stuffed trout dish. Like all fish dishes this one is quick to cook and simple to prepare, the only tricky part is filleting the fish but even that was a lot easier than I anticipated.
Trout with lemon, basil and olives.

Ingredients (serves four):
  • 4 Whole trout, filleted (8 fillets).
  • Sea salt and pepper.
  • A fresh unwaxed lemon.
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped capers.
  • A good handful of chopped black olives.
  • A large bunch of fresh basil.
  • Olive oil
  • You will also need some oven-proof string.
  • Lay half four of the trout fillets out on a board and season well.
  • In a large grate the zest of the lemon and add the capers olives and tear in the basil. Mix everything together.
  • lay the lemon, basil, olive mixture over each trout fillet.
  • Place the remaining fillets on top of the others so the filling is in the middle. A kind of trout sandwich.
  • Tie each 'sandwich up with the string to make little parcels.
  • That's it! bake in the oven on a medium heat for about 25-30 minutes.
It doesn't photograph well but trust me, it tastes good!