Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Buffalo Mozzarella
 To a large extent the pictures tell the story of my night out last week at Westminster Kingsway College, tasting the very first selection of products brought to London by a start up business, The Sauce Two men, Niels and Florian, have made it their mission to introduce truly extraordinary food to the UK, so that more may sample 'the best food you've never tried in London'.

Quite an ambition! But, on the basis of the tasting the other night, one that they are achieving with ease.

Amalfi lemons - spot the odd one out!
Tasting these  Sfuasato lemons was indeed a first for me, they are HUGE things and gentler on the tastebuds than their sour little cousins. Shavings of the peel with a dollop of ricotta was a really lovely mouthful, clean and delicate, a real delight.

Palely beautiful buffalo butter

 I adore all things salami and these were no exception, pancetta longha - the one that looks like bacon - was a particular favourite. Without need of grilling or eggs or accompaniment of any sort it is best simply thinly sliced and eaten immediately.

Students tuck into treats
 The students loved it too!

Niels and Florian - passionate about seriously great food

Tuna in jars

The food I loved the most out of such a wonderful array was the tuna - there was roe preserved as bottarga which, thinly sliced is an intensely salty umami rich mouthful and thoroughly moreish. I tried tuna heart, which was a little chewier and stronger in flavour, the liver which was very strong, not quite to my taste really, and lastly there was Ventresca. Cured tuna belly, preserved in olive oil, it was the best I have ever tried. Utterly gorgeous.

Loveliest fig I've ever eaten
To finish the tasting there were white figs - fichi bianchi - which I really enjoyed, and I'm not even a fan of figs!
Students clearing the kitchen
This is a great way to sample new and interesting foods of the highest quality. Check out The Sauce and sign up for more information and possibly to buy a box of treats. With this kind of quality you'll be delighted!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Olive Oil Chocolate Sponge Cake

I love olive oil. Like garlic and salt I am never without some, it is one of my absolute must haves in the kitchen. Last week I emptied the last of my 3 litre tin into my 500ml bottle and felt a tiny bit anxious that I might run out before I had been to the market to buy another 3 litre tin. I don't really like using cheap olive oils, they don't bring enough to the food, particularly not to salad dressings.

You might think that's a slightly mad assertion but I went to a tasting of Spanish olive oils recently and it was fascinating how different the oils were and how much the flavour changed depending on what - if anything - was eaten with it. I used to associate olive oil exclusively with Italy but in fact Spain is the world's major olive oil produceer and the ones I tried were extraordinary in their diversity. The oils were poured out into wine glasses, first to be sniffed and then savoured in the mouth, swilling gently and breathing through the oil to really appreciate the full flavour. The oils ran the gamut of sweet, through bitter to incredibly spicy though interestingly the smell and the taste didn't always match. Surprised me! The other surprising thing I learnt was that one litre is the average annual consumption of olive oil here in the UK. Given that the man and I get through about 12 litres, I'm worrying there are people out there who are seriously missing out!

There was a time when I thought the microwaved chocolate cake, ready in minutes, was an internet joke gone viral. Turns out it really works - and I know that because I recently got my first oven which, amongst a gazillion other functions, microwaves things. If  I'm honest I am still a bit trepidatious around it, but I'm delighted to say that making this yummy little cake is a decidedly tasty way to get a grip!

Olive Oil Chocolate Sponge Cake

The olive oil makes the cake lovely and moist and the cocoa makes it lovely and chocolatey - definitely a good combination

4 tablespoons plain flour
4 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
A tiny pinch of baking powder
A little cinnamon or vanilla, optional

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Grease the sides of a 400ml bowl or cup and pour the mixture in. Microwave at maximum power (800-1000 watts) for 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and tip the cake onto a plate. 

Consume immediately! A dollop of cream or jam is optional.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Potato, Pea & Watercress Soup

This post is mostly for Judith, a woman I've known for ages. We met via email through Food Chain, she is a quite inspired rota co-ordinator, and she eased me into volunteering across a couple of south London kitchens. One of her defining characteristics is that she is a very seriously north London person. She is instantly lost upon crossing the Thames, yet take her back over the river and she is mistress of all she surveys. She liked a recipe a while ago that required Nigella seeds - her inablility to come south to Tooting to buy her own had me sending them to her by post. Talk about geographical determination! We did meet once in, whisper it, south London but someone else was driving I believe.

We have instead an almost entirely digital relationship - we exchange emails occasionally about this and that and the state of things and she also follows this blog. A while ago I wrote about a Potato Council campaign to get people eating more of them and, as well as a lovely recipe for salmon with potatoes and pickled cucumber I added photos of other dishes made that morning. Same day I got an email from Judith, amsued at my hobnobbing with James Martin and mentioning that though the salmon dish sounded good she really loved the look of this beautiful soup. I  promised to find her the recipe.

I am embarassed at how long it has taken me to honour that promise but, hey, good things come to those who wait!

Potato, Pea and Watercress Soup

Serves 4 as a lunch dish or dinner for 2 if you add bread and cheese

1 litre vegetable stock
500g fresh or frozen peas
300g fresh watercress
300g smooth potatoes such as Desiree
100g flat leaf parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper
20g butter
1 chopped shallot
1 clove garlic
150ml double cream

4 medium free range eggs
30ml white wine vinegar

Peashoots or cress leaves to decorate

Peel and cut the potatoes into 1cm cubes. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 4-5 minutes till just tender, then drtain and place to one side.

Next bring water tothe boil in a large pan and add a big pinch of salt. Blanch the parsley and three quarters of the watercress and remove straight away.

Sauté the shallots and garlic in the butter, then add the peas and stock. Cook for 2-3 minutes,until the peas are just tender and bright green, then add the cream. Remove from the heat, add the parsley and watercress and blend for 5 minutes to make it really smooth.

While blending bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Set a bowl of iced water alongside. Carefully add the eggs to the water, and boil for exactly 5 ½ minutes, then remove them from the pan and chill in the iced water. 

Place a pile of the cooked potato in the middle of each soup plate, half each egg and place on top. Spoon the soup around the edge, garnish with watercress and drizzle with olive oil.

A really lovely dish to ease yourself into autumn, the eggs can be poached rather than soft boiled if you prefer.

The message of the original post bears repeating too - eat lots of potatoes! Lots more recipes here to feed you well.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Beer & A Burger

Three fine beers
Beer is being crafted with more skill and range these days and there is a concomitant movement to match beer and food. Makes sense, really, as beers become more interesting they pair with more than nuts and scratchings. They can be particularly fine with serious cheeses, they reward investigation to enhance curry and other highly spiced dishes though if I'm honest I think it is a stretch too far to match any kind of beer with dessert, but that's probably just me!

West country brewer Sharp's have just released a Connoisseurs Choice range of three very different premium beers, a rich dark ale, Quadrupel, a lighter Czech style beer, Single Brew Reserve that is lemony enough to sup with fish and, my favourite, Honey Spice Tripel which smells of fruit and spice, originally brewed by Trappist monks and they certainly know how to make a decent brew. 

To coincide with their new beers Sharp's are running a competition to find great matchings of food but YOU MUST HURRY! Entries have to be in by midnight tomorrow, but hey, it's Friday and what better way to spend the first half of the weekend than to sample some new - and half price - beer create a dish to match. A wonderful challenge I think, and one that I was happy to sign up to. There is a great prize - three finalists, chosen by three star chefs, Nathan Outlaw, Jack Stein and Alyn Williams, will spend a day with 'their' chef, then compete against each other in a cook off to be crowned 'Sharp's Connoisseur for 2012'. If that is you, then you'll spend the year tasting new beers, dinner at your chef mentor's restaurant, and a tour of the brewery with a night in Cornwall. Got to be good!

I have always loved a beer with a burger so that was the route my mind took as I sipped from my elegant ale. Honey Spice is created with so much more care than a bulk standard lager so I wondered about making a burger that was much more interesting than your usual beef patty on a sesame seed bun. I love Viet lettuce wraps, bun cha, and wanted to make an Italian version, sticking with pork but pairing it with fennel, the lettuce makes for a light and delicate thing and matches well to the basil oil and salty riccota 'dipping' sauce. It's fun to eat with your fingers, to dispense with the formality of cutlery, even it you do end up with lots of lovely juices running down to your elbow!

Have to say it worked a treat. It was remarkably simple to make up all the elements. I had some cold basmati from earlier in the week. I added toasted almonds and some diced green pepper and spring onions and dressed it with a little vinaigrette to create a very light rice salad. Fresh veg is essential, took no time at all to slice crisp cucumber and a juicy tomato, the lettuce requires nothing more than rinsing. For a 'dipping' sauce I used basil oil and lemon juice emulsified with finely grated ricotta salata that made a thick and gorgeous golden liquid, perfect for my purpose. The balls are richly flavoured and have great texture as well, from the toasted fennel seeds and roughly pulsed fresh breadcrumbs. They benefit from half an hour in the fridge, more than enough time to rustle up all the other bits.

 Simple rice salad

100g cold cooked basmati rice
50g almond slivers, toasted in a dry pan till golden
1 small green pepper, deseed and diced into small squares
2 spring onions, outer layer peeled off, cut into little rings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Add the almonds, pepper and onions to the rice and mix. Put the oil, lemon and seasoning into a screw top jar, close tightly and shake, shake, shake. Tip the dressing over the rice and mix thoroughly.

Ricotta Basil Vinaigrette

 3 tablespoons basil oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely grated ricotta salata - you could use Parmesan instead
Freshly ground  black pepper but no salt, the cheese adds all the salt you'll need

Put everything into a jar with a tightly fitting lid and shake hard till it all comes together in a not entirely attractive looking but undoubtedly fabulous tasting sauce.

Pour into a tiny serving bowl.

Pork & Fennel Balls

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 smallish onion, finely chopped
1 generous teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
 500g pork mince
3 - 4 tablespoons of chunky fresh breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small pan, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil and fry the garlic, onion and fennel seeds for about 5 minutes until soft and wonderfully fragrant. Set aside to cool.

To the pork mince add the cooled onion mixture, the breadcrumbs and seasoning and mix well, probably easiest done with clean hands. Roll the mixture into small balls, about the size of a walnut, put them onto a flat plate and chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

In a large pan heat the rest of the oil and, when hot, add the balls in a single layer. Cover with a lid and cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes till they are nicely crusted on one side. Turn them over, cover and cook for another five minutes till they are darkly golden all over.

And now for the fun part. To assemble your wrap put a large lettuce leaf onto a plate. Add sliced tomato, cucumber, a couple of spoonfuls of rice salad, a hot ball or two and a drizzle of basil ricotta vinaigrette. Pull the edges of the lettuce to the centre, wrap firmly to encase the filling, and eat. 

It's as easy as

Three, Yum!

Monday, September 10, 2012

French Vanilla Cake

 I made a cake on the weekend, one that I'd been dreaming about for weeks, so much so that I could taste it in my mind before it ever appeared on the plate. Nielsen-Massey sent me some of their sublimely wonderful Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla products, both the extract which I always use in baking and some bean paste which was new to me and smelt divine. It was that luscious smell that made me want a French vanilla cake, the likes of which I loved as a child but which, if memory plays no tricks, was actually a packet mix, one where you just add an egg to the stuff in the box and after a quick bake - hey presto! We have cake.

I figured if it tasted that good remembering it had to be worth recreating. So I searched the net but mostly came up with things to do with the packet mix version which was really not where I wanted to go. Sorry to say I missed a masterclass with Eric Lanlard (who's patisserie is the fabulously named Cake Boy) where he made a frasier, that classic French strawberry cake. I would love to have had a slice of that and learned a trick or two about its creation but all I had was a detailed recipe for sponge and mousseline and some extraordinary decorating with strawberries and toasted marzipan and lots of dark chocolate drizzles. My excuse for not attempting it is the strawberry season is gone for the year (which is true) but I'm fairly sure I'm just not that talented. (which is also true!)

What I did have though was a fresh batch of passionfruit curd - another taste of my childhood. I could see a simpler cake by far, a sponge redolent of vanilla joined with a thick slick of curd and another of clotted cream - a passion I have developed since coming to London.The old and the new, simply dusted with icing sugar, must surely be fabulous, a last of the summer treat.

 French Vanilla Cake

350g unsalted butter, softened
350g golden caster sugar
5 medium eggs, beaten
350g plain flour, sifted
1.5 tspn baking powder
1 tspn pure vanilla bean paste
1 tspn pure vanilla extract
10ml whole milk

About 6 tablespoons of passionfruit curd, or lemon curd or strawberry jam
About 100g clotted cream - or more to taste!

 Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Butter and line 2x20cm round sandwich tins.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, which takes at least 5 minutes with electric beaters. Gradually add the beaten eggs, then fold in the sifted flour and baking powder, along with the vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract and milk.

Divide the mix between the two tins and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes till the sponge is golden brown and springy to the touch.

Leave the sponges to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

 Turn both cakes onto their baked top then slather the base of one with passionfruit curd and the other with generous quantities of clotted cream, then join together to make cakey heaven. Dust with icing sugar and eat in big slices.

It was a really tasty cake, tasting richly of vanilla, but I must confess I slightly undercooked it and the middle was not properly cooked through. Note to self, use a skewer to double check until you understand 'springy to the touch'. Not so disastrous that it couldn't be eaten, but next time - and there will definitely be a next time - I'll give it a couple more minutes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Salmon with new potatoes, and pickled cucumber salad

I had lunch with James Martin the other day. Lovely man. Successful as both chef and television presenter he comes across as charming and very knowledgeable about good food. I particularly liked him because he is fronting a campaign for the Potato Council, promoting the British potato industry and you really do get totally fabulous potatoes here. Growing up in Oz the choice was red or white - and they were pretty much as undistinguished in flavour as that generic naming would have you believe. Big floury things mostly, occasionally a bit waxier if new season with big bitter green patches on them that, as one of the people who can taste that particular poison, I really hated. When I came to London it was something of a revelation to discover named varieties, some revered like the Jersey Royal and the King Edward, some inspiring particular love like the Maris Piper and the smooth Desiree.

I tried nutty little new potatoes just gorgeous in salads, galumphing great King Edwards baked in their skin then split and filled with all manner of wonders (my particular favourite is still sour cream and chives) and the pleasure of great clouds of delicately smooth creamy mashed potatoes, truly a food of the gods. With food like this it seemed to me that I had come to the country of the blessed. It was many moons ago however and it seems that people are losing the habit of knowing and loving their spuds. Bizarre as it seems to me, some people don't buy them at all as they are heavier to carry home than rice or pasta. I love rice and pasta - but as well as people - not instead of. Utter madness to miss out on the joys of the humble tuber.

The assembled group of bloggers and food workers sampled lots of different unadorned potatoes and it was interesting just how varied people's preferences were. My undoubted favourite was golden roasted Maris Piper, the perfect morsel on a bleak summer day.

From simple straight on to fabulous James Martin set about creating a few samples to showcase the versatility of  the potato. Chatting away while he worked he produced 3 lovely dishes in less than an hour. It all seemed so effortless. First up was an intensely green watercress and spinach soup given substance with diced new potatoes and an elegant finish with a poached egg.Anything with an egg is good in my book, especially if there's potato involved as well.

Next up was my favourite dish of the morning, pan fried salmon with new potatoes and a quick pickled salad. Crisp skinned fish was balanced with the lovely potatoes and the tartness of the veg.

 Last was pan fried pork steak with the most extraordinary mash - desiree boiled then mashed with lashings - and I mean LASHINGS - of butter and cream then, as a perfect match to the pork, grated apple was added to the potatoes. You'd think it wouldn't work but you'd be wrong.

We dug up our potatoes at the weekend in a momentary lull in the rain. The man laughs at me because I say they are free food but he agrees they are pretty amazing straight out of the ground. There is something pretty amazing about pulling up plants and finding food in the dirt. To be sure they were thoroughly special I decided to recreate the fabulous salmon dish I'd eaten earlier.

Salmon with Potato and Pickled Cucumber

A quick dinner for 2 that is on the table in less than 30 minutes

2 x 150g salmon fillets with the skin on
2 tbspn olive oil
2 tbspn butter to finish

200g of salad potatoes like charlottes or pink fir apple
1 small white turnip
1/2 cucumber
1 shallot, peeled
100g radishes
A small bunch of watercress
100ml of white wine vinegar
1 tbspn sugar
1/2 tbspn salt

Put the potatoes, halved if large, into a pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes till tender.

Place a sauté pan over a medium heat ad when hot, add the olive oil. Season the salmon fillets then put them, skin side down, into the hot oil. Leave to cook for about 5 minutes, you will be able to see them cook as the flesh changes colour and the skin crisps.

Thinly slice the turnip and shallot, cube the peeled cucumber and halve the radishes and put them all into a heatproof bowl. Put the white wine vinegar, sugar and salt into a pan and heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour the liquid over the salad and set aside for 5 minutes, then drain off the pickling liquid.

The salmon should be nearly cooked. Flip it carefully with a fish slice to finish.

Drain the potatoes and cut into 3 then pan fry in a little olive oil to colour and crisp the edges.

Melt the butter over the skin of the fish for enhanced loveliness.

Arrange the potatoes on 2 plates, top with the salmon and a generous dollop of pickled salad on the side. Garnish with the watercress.

At this point James Martin drizzled some sweet chilli sauce artfully around the plate which looked very pretty but I'm not really  a fan of added sugar so I omitted this and didn't miss it. Your call if you fancy it.

All that really remains to say is EAT MORE POTATOES. It would be a terrible thing if the sheer variety of flavours and textures diminished or disappeared, going the way of British apples. A world of only red or white potatoes is not a good place to live.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Smoked Ham Hock & Avocado Salad

After the lovely ham and peach salad of last week I wanted to put this one on the blog too, partly because it was seriously great and partly to show how I used the other half of that meaty little beauty that was the ham hock. But really because it is supposed to be summer - it is July, July! and yet at ten in the morning the skies hang so heavy it is almost dark - and such quick and elegant meals for mid week should be de rigeur.

Ham and avocado make a tasty pairing. Actually I find almost anything and avocado make a tasty pairing. They are so incredibly elegant and smooth and wonderfully buttery to eat. Good for you too - giving you fibre, potassium and vitamins in every pleasurable mouthful. Americans love them most of all in guacamole - on Super Bowl Sunday, they eat about 8 million pounds of guacamole - though I suspect it's the corn chips used for scooping that brings the calories to the feast!

Smoked Ham Hock & Avocado Salad

Serves 2

The basil oil in the dressing really makes the salad - you can buy it in most general food shops or it is really easy to make yourself

100g broad beans, after shelling
250g smoked ham hock, shredded
1 ripe avocado, cut into small chunks
3 or 4 handfuls of mixed salad leaves
100g cooked butterbeans
1 small fennel bulb, halved then sliced thin as you can
3 tbspns basil oil
1 tbspn lemon juice

Bring a small pan of salted water to the boil, drop the broad beans in, return to the boil and cook for about 2 minutes. Drain and then drop the beans into a bowl of cold water, with ice added if you have some handy. This stops them cooking any further and so they stay a lovely bright green. Pop each of the beans from the thick casing and set aside.

Mix the basil oil and lemon juice with salt and pepper in a screw top jar and shake with enthusiasm till emulsified. Taste and correct the seasoning if it needs it.

In a large bowl toss the salad leaves with half the dressing. Add the ham, avocado, both types of beans and the fennel shavings. Toss lightly with the remaining dressing till you have an elegant tangle - or a rough approximation of one.

Serve and consume with delight, tasting summer in every mouthful.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Smoked Ham Hock, Peach and Butterbean Salad

Last week I bought a chicken from the Ginger Pig. Amazing thing, a cockerel that lived for one hundred days (most chickens get 65 max) that I poached with leeks and served with butterbeans then salad the next day and the stock enriched barley the day after for a salad with edamame and chilli. It cost about £18 and it was very special.

This week I dropped into Greensmiths for something unrelated and the Ginger Pig counter had a veritable mountain of smoked ham hocks atop it, a delicately scented golden jumble, just delivered. Three pounds each - seriously, only three of your finest British pounds. For the life of me I could not resist. No plan, no idea even - indeed it didn't actually occur to me to wonder till I was home whether it needed cooking....

A quick google suggested it might. I soaked it overnight in cold water, then poached it gently next morning for a couple of hours with onion, celery and juniper till the meat was literally falling off the bone. I flaked it into sizeable chunks, discarded the skin and all the fat that I didn't eat (warm lightly smoked pork fat, in small quantities, is definitely one of my cook's treats). Truth to tell, even at this point, I didn't really know what dinner would be.

Took myself to Brixton to do a few things and, wandering past one of the veg stalls in the market, caught the honeyed waft of peaches. A real scent of summer, the peaches are sweet but not sugary with a slight resistance to the bite before they give up their golden flesh, I just love them. I wandered on with that lovely perfume in my head, collecting a couple of things I needed. The peaches lingered -  I could suddenly taste them with the smoky hock, crisp peach with tender pork, juices mingling. Once I started on that flavour track there was no stopping me - I imagined salty threadsof  finely grated ricotta salata, big fat butterbeans for ballast and a mish mash of baby salad bits for air, flecks of parsley for bite.


Smoked Ham Hock, Peach and Butterbean Salad

For 2

I used fresh ingredients for this but you could certainly sub the ham with thick slices from the deli and butterbeans thoroughly washed from a tin for a spectacularly quick and pretty salad.

2 large handfuls of salad leaves
200g cooked ham hock, smoked is nice
150g cooked butterbeans
2 ripe peaches, stoned and elegantly sliced
1 tbspn flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
3 tbspns olive oil
1 tbspn lemon juice
Salt and pepper to season
2 tbspns ricotta salata, finely grated (use Pecorino or Parmesan if you can't get salted ricotta)

Make a dressing with the oil and lemon and season. Put the salad leaves into a large bowl and toss with most of the dressing. Add the ham, butterbeans, peaches and parsley and the rest of the dressing and toss gently with your hands. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.

And that literallly is all you do for a *peach* of a summer salad. And a total bargain!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ezme - A Turkish Salad/Relish

Last Sunday I was out to lunch, a blogger affair with simply splendiferous, cook sister and 5am foodie, the theme being Ottoman. Turkish sort of thing, lots of bowls of bits we all contribute and, before the off, hope they'll meld together into something approaching lunch. Wowie zowie, that plan certainly succeeded! Between us we conjured a veritable jewelled feast - tiny lamb kofte, deeply spiced baba ghanoush, glorious pickled courgettes, cracked wheat salad, gorgeous bread, spiced white bean dip and, for my try something new contribution, a Turkish salad called Ezme.

I'd googled Turksih food, as you do, and came up with lots of fascinating reading and plenty of tempting offerings. I wanted something interesting that I could make Sunday morning and then transport easily on the 155. The idea of this salad really appealed - I had some deeply scented tomatoes I brought back from a farm shop in Devon last week that I wanted a good use for and I liked the freshness and textures involved. And I figured it would be oh so prettty. It was.

Easier than pie this little delight worked a treat as part of our meze but would would be lovely at a barbecue or stuffed into pitta with some hummus and perhaps a falafel. Keeps well in the fridge for a day or two, an added bonus.

You can alter the level of spiciness if you don't like it too hot but remeber the chilli is balanced by the acid from the tomatoes and the sweetness of the peppers

4 medium-sized tomatoes, skins removed (it is important that you use the tastiest tomatoes you can find; their looks are irrelevant as they will be chopped. You can vary the number according to the size of fruit you use)
4 spring onions (again, aim for the sharpest-flavoured you can locate. A fresh red onion can also be used)
1 red pepper (yes, as above)
1 chilli pepper (hot, hot, hot!)
juice of half a lemon
olive oil
small bunch flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chilli paste or 1 teaspoon chilli powder (especially useful if you do not have access to hot chilli peppers.)
1 teaspoon Turkish pomegranate syrup (if you don’t have any to hand, any other sweet sauce made from red sour fruits can be used to similar effect, e.g. redcurrant jam)
1-3 cloves garlic

Take the tomatoes and peeled onions and chop them as finely as possible, taking care to preserve the tomato juice. Do the same with the peppers and parsley, the finer the better.

Then, place everything in a bowl and add the other ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, and let it sit for at least an hour, so the flavours can intermingle freely. 

 I can see this being a treat all summer long!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Pot Roast Guinea Fowl with Onion Sauce

Recently I was invited to a French guinea fowl masterclass and what a fabulous evening it was.  Andy Stephenson, chef/propritor of Hallidays in West Sussex, gave a brilliant demonstration of the versatility of this wonder of the poultry world. It's been a while since I've eaten guinea fowl and it was good to be reminded of just how tasty it is.

Andy talked the group of assembled bloggers through the highlights of the bird - the simplicity with which it can be treated due to the richer than chicken flavour, low in fat it is a good source of protein particularly as the birds are raised to a high welfare standard. At the same time, with enormous skill, he demonstrated boning out and stuffing the legs with a truffled mousse, gently hot smoking the breast to be the star element of a sublimely French salad with black pudding, fried apple and toasted hazelnuts and then completed this fabulous hat trick with the balantine served atop a platter of spring vegetables with a gorgeous light cream sauce.

The following week I noticed the Ginger Pig was selling guinea fowl, not just French but label rouge from the Gers, where once we had a house, and a region well known for its fabulous poultry. Gotta be a sign! I bought one, vaguely wondering about my ability to bone and stuff the legs with mousse, but once home I set on another course. I found an English recipe of Frances Bissell's that pot roasted the bird with herbs and garlic lifted with citrus peel under the skin and finished with a cream sauce. I couldn't resist.

 Pot Roast Guinea Fowl, stuffed with herbs and garlic, with onion sauce

I do indeed mean a whole head of garlic here, but don't be afraid. The long wet cooking softens it down till it is just a deep flavour to the finished sauce.

1 free range guinea fowl
fresh herbs such as tarragon, chervl, parsley and thyme
1/2 lemon
1 head of garlic, new season if possible
55g butter
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbspn brandy
75ml dry white wine 
2 tbspns cream

Gently ease the skin away from the breasts and thighs of the guinea fowl, inserting your fingers between skin and flesh at the end of the bird to make a pocket between the two. Push the soft herbs under the skin as well as small tender sprigs of thyme. Pare off thin strips of lemon zest and put them into the bird's cavity, together with any extra herbs. Squeeze the lemon juice and rub it over the outside then lightly season the whole both inside and out.

Peel all the garlic and, in a deep flameproof casserole, fry them in the butter with the onion slices for a few minutes without letting them brown. Turn the guinea fowl in the hot butter till the skin is well coated then add the brandy and wine. Cover with a lid and cook in a pre-heated oven at 175C/325F/Gas 3 for about 90 minutes.

Transfer the bird, whole, to a warm serving dish and cover with foil. Pour the cooking juices through a fine sieve, crushing the remaining juice from the garlic, into a small pan and bring to the boil. Add more seasoning if necessary, cream if you like, and perhaps sharpen with a drop of lemon.

Serve with the bird.

It made a wonderful dinner that night just with mashed potatoes and rocket garnish to soak up the gravy, and cold it was the star of salad the following night. I pulled the last of the flesh from the carcass and boiled the bones for stock, then froze the lot for a final future feast from my birdy of risotto with wild mushrooms.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Honeyed Pigeon and Beetroot Salad

The weather has much improved, and though it's not exactly hot out I decided this week it was time for salad. Really wanted that fabulous melange of flavours and textures that a good salad delivers. Too cold yet for great tomatoes or cucumber I wondered about a warm salad, using tiny potatoes and earthy beetroot. Nuts of course, and garlic crumbs as I seem to have accumulated bits and pieces and ends of loaves and do love the way they fry up to gorgeous. Thought about it for a bit longer then set my heart on pigeon. No idea why - the challenge of cooking something new perhaps, and the swiftness with which they're done has a definite appeal. Robust rather than delicate I figured they would be a good match for the rest of the plate.

I had a jar of Sarah's Wonderful Blueberry Honey, a new Irish product kindly sent to me by Bord Bia. I had a hankering to use that too for St Patrick's Day, to go with potatoes and pigeon and lots of green salad - just seemed right. I made a simple walnut vinaigrette to toss the leaves then made a spectacularly wonderful dressing with the honey and coriander - seeds and root - and a touch of shallot to tease out the sweet earthiness of the beetroot and the pigeon.

Seriously good.

Warm Pigeon and Beetroot Salad

Serves 2

Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients - it really is very quick to make and assemble and you can do pretty much all of it in advance except cook the pigeon

1 or 2 small beetroots
sprig of thyme
1 tbspn cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter

8-10 new potatoes

50g hazelnuts, lightly toasted and roughly crushed

Small head of oakleaf lettuce
Generous handful of rocket
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, washed and left whole
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 rashers smoked bacon, cut into 2cm pieces
4 pigeon breasts
2 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 shallot, finely chopped
2cm piece of fresh coriander root, washed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon blueberry honey
1 tablespoon olive oil

50g hazelnuts

2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs,
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
A grind of black pepper

Put the beetroot into a large square of foil along with a sprig of thyme, the vinegar and butter and season generously before sealing up the foil. Steam or roast for about 90 minutes until the beetroot is tender. Allow to cool a little then slip the skins off and cut into large dice and put the still warm pieces into a bowl and seal with clingfilm to keep them moist.

Wash and halve the potatoes then bring to the boil in a pan of salted water and cook till tender, 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Put the pigeon in a shallow dish with the thyme sprigs and the oil and allow to sit for a few minutes while you make the salad dressings.

For the green leaves, mix the walnut and olive oils with the lemon juice and season.

For the main dressing, crush the shallot, coriander seeds and root and salt with a pestle and mortar till a smooth aromatic paste is formed. Add the honey and mix well then add enough olive oil to give a slightly runny consistency. Season.

Peel and crush the clove of garlic then fry it in a small pan in the olive oil for a minute. Add the breadcrumbs and continue to fry till they are golden and fragrant, then season with pepper and remove from the heat. Drain on kitchen towel.

Gently toast the hazelnuts until they turn golden, remove from the pan and crush them slightly.

In a small pan fry the bacon on a low heat till the fat starts to rend and goes crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Turn the heat up under the same pan add the thyme sprigs for a moment then add the pigeon breasts. Cook for about 2 minutes till well seared on one side then turn them over and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the meat in the pan to rest while you assemble the salad.

Toss the leaves with the walnut vinaigrette and strew artfully across a couple of plates. Add the potatoes and drizzle with the remains of the vinaigrette. Add half the blueberry honey dressing to the beetroot, mix well and then add them to the salad. Slice the pigeon into bite size pieces. Scatter the bacon and pigeon across the bed of leaves and drizzle the rest of the honey dressing over the top.

Add the nuts and garlic crumbs and dinner is served!

Thoroughly wonderful meal for us, and I hope you all had a brilliantly enjoyable St Patrick's Day too!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lentils with curly kale, garlic and pork

Kale is an interesting vegetable. I had never come across it before I came to London - the most exotic green we had in Oz in my day was chard and we called that spinach. There is spinach there now but it is always prefixed 'english' and commands a premium. (Chard is of course still the one that locals go to for real spinach.) I brought my confused ignorance with me. I had no idea what kale was for a long time - and given that absolutely everything was new it took me some time to even notice it. Eventually I took in the big mounds of dark leaves, thick and frilled and totally alien. It looked so incredibly chewy, like it will never soften down, more like the outside leaves of cabbage you discard before cooking. Can't recall seeing it much on menus or even used widely on recipe sites, local or otherwise.

It demanded no attention so I paid it none.

More fool me. The trouble with ignorance is that it is so easy continue unenlightened through the simple failure of curiosity, the omission of enquiry, an unintentional blinkering - and this is probably the source of the definition of its blissful state. But to stand before a pile of unknown veg and wilfully persist in unknowing each time you catch sight of it? That is when ignorance turns to stupidity. To be ignorant is an acceptable thing - it holds within its very definition the possibility of learning something new, and knowledge dispels ignorance. To choose to not know knowing that you don't know but that you might? That's just plain wrong. And I do hate being wrong.

Baby steps - shredded and steamed some and served it with butter and pepper with roast pork and it was good. Braver, I made a kale salad with spiced sweet potato and almonds and loved every mouthful. Then last weekend I found a new Ted's Veg at Venn Street Market in Clapham and they had mountains of fabulous veg, including purple curly kale. Its deep rich colour was beautiful.

I could not resist the frill of those pretty leaves and brought it home without a plan, it's true, but with high expectations. Was a bit chill still in the evening and I had a small piece of cold roast pork and a new packet of green lentils. With the last of a head of celery and lots of garlic I could see what dinner might be.

Lentils with curly kale, garlic and pork

I used the last of the roast pork from earlier in the week but you could use 100g of fresh minced pork or omit it entirely if there's no meat in the house. Most important of all - be generous with the garlic, it is the secret.

Generous serving for 2 with a little left for one lunch next day

4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
2 tbspns olive oil
2 sticks celery, cut into 1/2cm slices
If there are some celery leaves, chop them separately and leave to one side
About 100g cooked pork, finely diced or 100g fresh pork mince (optional)
250g green or brown lentils, sometimes called Egyptian lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
250g curly kale, very thick stem removed but leave the rest, shred the leaves into 2cm strips
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a wide pan and gently fry the garlic and chopped celery for a couple of minutes till fragrant and slightly softened. Add the pork and stir to coat, and cook through if using mince, for about 5 minutes.

Add the lentils, bay leaf and enough cold water to cover by about half a centimetre and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pan, and leave to cook for 20-30 minutes till the lentils are almost tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Rinse the chopped kale well then tip into the lentil pan and stir to incorporate. Put the lid back on the pan and let the kale wilt for 3 or 4 minutes. Stir again and add the celery leaves for garnish, if you have some.

Serve in big deep bowls with some bread if you have it.

Blissfully good. Just so many textures and flavours in one bowl.

The meat is optional, it adds more dimension but I have cooked lentils in versions like this for years with and without it and all are good, especially if you drape a gently poached egg on top for extra unctuousness.

All in all, this is a meal worth knowing!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spicy Parsnip Soup with Onion Bhajis

It has been a while.

For the past month while the temperature has been largely below zero the kitchen has been a building site. We have lived on coffee from the local deli Di Lieto's in the morning and various combinations of bread, cheese, salami, olives and rocket in the evenings. Throw in the odd glass of wine and, at the beginning, there were seemingly infinite permutations of this most elegant repast. The plan had been to break up the pattern with dinner out occasionally but it was way too cold to head out after dark. Instead I have tried all the salami's on offer round the corner, revisted all my favourites from Gastronomica and bought a few new ones, made the journey to Maltby Street and sampled some of the exquisite ones on offer. Gianni is now selling cheese in Lower Marsh on Fridays which differ from the cheese at Gastronomica, and Rippon Cheese in Pimlico have a brilliant selection. I love bread from St John, The Old Post Office bakery do some lovely loaves and I discovered the sourdough baked by Franca Manca being sold at Wild Caper in Brixton and it is sublime. Bought a lot of rocket and the occasional peashoot when I found some. The man loved it, cold collation is his absolute favourite.

However there came a time when even he needed respite. The good news is the new kitchen is very nearly installed. And it's beautiful. There are benchtops (yay!) and a sink (possibly the thing I missed most) but still no table and chairs or new lighting or freshly painted surfaces. So I duck in and out, unable to resist making something at the end of every day just keeping it simple. I poached a whole chicken and had it hot with leeks and creamy mash then cold with salad and roasted garlic mayonnaise. There has of course been steak, thick cut rump with mushrooms and salad and crusty bread. On the weekend a feather steak from Nathan, who used to butcher at the Ginger Pig but now has set up in Maltby Street. He advised simply show it the pan and eat it rare and he was right.

Yesterday was a bleak old day in London, wind then rain then drizzle then more rain. Bleuuugh. A most perfect day for soup, conveniently fitting the bill of quick and easy. I had seen a recipe by Angela Hartnett for parsnip soup in The Guardian the other day but what really snagged my attention was serving it with onion bhaji. What a great counterpoint to a bowl of soup - hot and crisp and sweet and salt. Genius.

Spicy Parsnip Soup with Onion Bhajis

This serves two very well for a tasty supper

25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
4 medium parsnips and 1 floury potato, peeled and finely sliced
2 tsp curry powder
300ml chicken or vegetable stock or water
150ml double cream

Put the butter and olive oil into a pan. When it warms, add the onion and saute for two minutes. Before the colour changes, add the parsnips and curry powder and continue to fry for five minutes.

Cover with the stock or water, simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Blend the contents into a smooth soup and return to the pan. Then add the cream, bring to the boil and season. If it's too thick, add some stock or milk.

1 medium onion, finely sliced
30g plain flour
Pinch coriander powder
Pinch cumin powder
1 egg, beaten
200ml vegetable or groundnut oil

Put the sliced onion in a bowl with the flour and spices and mix together. Add the egg, season, and mix well.

Heat the oil in a deep pan and add a large spoonful of the bhaji mix. Fry for one minute, turning occasionally until golden brown.

Drain on to kitchen paper and serve with the soup.

The soup was very fine indeed but it was the bhajis that made it into a great supper.