Friday, 30 December 2011

Chocolate Chestnut Log

Chocolate Chestnut Log
The Yule Log is a real festive favourite of mine and something I remember absolutely loving as a kid. For a start who doesn't love a Swiss roll? Smother it in chocolate and stick a plastic robin on top and I'm as lucky as a turkey on Boxing Day. This is a particularly grown-up version, with the roll basically being a roulade (there's no flour used here) making it light and delicate, offsetting the richness of the three types of filling. The recipe is another from Delia's Happy Christmas and I wish, like her, I'd stopped once it was all rolled – the roulade cracks naturally giving the log a wonderful bark-like effect. Dust this with icing sugar and it would have been perfect. But no, I had to smear it with even more chocolate and do the "bark" effect with a fork. It looked great, but added little (apart from said chocolate – not necessarily a bad thing, but maybe a touch overkill). One other thing. Before making this please check that your electric hand whisker is working as there is a lot of whisking involved. I didn't, and it wasn't. I now have a right arm like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Serves 6-8.

For the roulade:
6 eggs, separated
150g golden caster sugar
50g cocoa powder, sifted

For the filling:
110g 70% dark chocolate
50ml warm water
1 egg, separated
10g golden caster sugar
150ml double cream
1 x 250g tin crème de marrons (sweetened chestnut purée)
a little icing sugar

For the topping:
100g icing sugar
200ml double cream
150g 70% dark chocolate

1. Begin by making the first of the fillings, the chocolate mousse. Place the chocolate and warm water in a bowl and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. This will take about 10 minutes. When glossy, remove from the heat and stir vigorously until smooth. Allow to cool slightly then beat in the egg yolk with a wooden spoon.
2. In a clean bowl whisk the egg white to soft peak, then whisk in the sugar until glossy. Stir 1 tbsp of the egg white into the chocolate to loosen, then carefully fold in the rest. Cover with clingfilm, then chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk until the start to thicken. Add the caster sugar and whisk again until the mixture thickens further, then add the cocoa powder and whisk again.
4. In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then carefully cut and fold the whites into the chocolate mixture about a third at a time. Pour into a lightly greased 30x20cm cake tin lined with greased baking paper and cook in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until springy and puffy.
5. Leave the cake to cool in the tin (it will shrink a bit), then when cold turn it out onto a piece of baking paper that has been dusted with icing sugar. Peel off the paper that is now facing the upwards, then gently spread the chilled chocolate mousse all over the cake.
6. Empty the chestnut purée into a bowl, add a tbsp of double cream and mix before spreading over the chocolate mousse.
7. Lastly, whip the remaining cream until smooth and firm and spread that over.
8. With the shortest end nearest to you, carefully roll the cake away from you, using the baking paper to help. Make sure the cake is sitting on the join, then wrap in baking paper and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Serve dusted with icing sugar.
9. For that extra topping, while cake is cooling heat double cream in a pan until just boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Sift in the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Chill for 1 hour. When ready, cut a "branch" off the cake at an angle and join on one of the sides with a little of the topping. Spread the rest of the topping all over the cake and use a fork to give you that bark effect.

Cranberry & Orange Relish

Cranberry & Orange Relish
Another gem from Delia, this is the best cranberry sauce ever and really easy to make. (That's a cinnamon stick in the pic, by the way, not a spliff. Like my life is that exciting.) Goes great with any leftover ham. Serves 8.

450g fresh cranberries
zest and juice of 1 large orange
1 heaped tsp freshly grated ginger or 1/2 tsp ground ginger
75g caster sugar
4cm piece cinnamon stick
4 cloves
2-3 tbsp port

1. Blitz the cranberries in a food processor, then place in a saucepan with the zest of the orange, cut into fine strips, the orange juice, ginger, sugar and spices.
2. Bring to simmering point, stir well and put on a lid and allow to gentle simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the port. Allow to cool and keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks until needed, covered with clingfilm. Don't forget to remove cloves and cinnamon before serving.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Caramalised Balsamic and Red Onion Tart with Goats' Cheese

Caramalised Balsamic and Red Onion Tart with Goats' Cheese
It's a bit of a cliché to serve red onion and goats' cheese tart as a vegetarian option, but done right and there's nothing better – well, so says my missus who hasn't seen a piece of meat pass her lips (leave it right there) in 20-odd years. Stick a dollop of buttery, creamy mash on one side, and spinach wilted in butter, lemon and grated nutmeg on the other, and I'm going to be closing The Albion Tavern early tonight, thank you very much. Time gentlemen, please. This recipe has been shamelessly nicked from that temptress of tarts, Delia Smith, from her ironically meaty tome, Delia's Vegetarian Collection. She makes eight individual tarts, but, using the same ingredients, I made one big one. Of course, once the above picture was taken I stuck another slice of tart on the plate for the wife. And another dollop of mash. Reckon I'll be opening up late in the morning as well. Serves 8.

For the filling: 
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar 
900g red onions, very finely sliced 
2 x 100g goats' cheese 
25g butter
1 1/2 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
For the cheese pastry:
75g butter 
175g plain flour
50g strong Cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp mustard powder
pinch cayenne 
1 egg, beaten 
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Make the pastry by rubbing the butter lightly on to the flour, then adding the cheese, mustard and cayenne plus just enough cold water to make a smooth dough. Then place the dough in a polythene bag to rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. 
2. After that, roll it out as thinly as possible to a round larger than your lightly greased tart tin. Carefully line the tin, then bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the pastry is cooked through, but not coloured. Allow to cool until needed. 
3. To make the filling, melt the butter in a heavy-based, medium-sized saucepan, stir in the onions, balsamic vinegar and chopped sage, season and let everything cook very gently without a lid, stirring often, for about 30 minutes until they have reduced down and taken on a lovely glazed appearance and all the excess liquid has evaporated away. Then let the mixture cool until you are ready to make the tart. 
4. Brush a little beaten egg on to the pastry case, pop back into the oven, same temperature as above, for 5 minutes – this helps to provide a seal for the pastry and helps it from becoming soggy. Now spoon the onion mixture into the case. Top with slices of goats' cheese, sprinkle with a little cayenne and bake for 20 minutes.

Twice-baked Roquefort Soufflés

Twice-baked Roquefort Soufflés
Another Delia special here, so you know two things: a) it's going to work, and b) it's going to taste delicious. These soufflés make a fantastic starter, especially if you're hosting a dinner party, because the first baking can be done the day before, meaning that you only have to shove them back in the oven for 30 minutes to puff up again before serving. The other thing that makes these so great is that, although a vegetarian dish, meat-lovers will be too busy stuffing their faces with hot creamy Roquefort to notice. Of course, if you don't like blue cheese, then move along, nothing to see here. I served this with watercress dressed in a walnut dressing (recipe can be found here) and cranberry sauce (basically because I'd made a job lot that afternoon), but I think a beetroot purée would work better. Serves 6.

175g Roquefort
225ml milk
5mm onion slice
1 bay leaf
grating nutmeg
6 whole peppercorns
40g butter
40g plain flour
4 large egg, separated
150ml double cream
salt and black pepper

1. Heat the milk, onion, bay leaf, nutmeg and peppercorns in a medium-sized saucepan until simmering point, then strain the milk into a jug. Rinse out the saucepan, then melt the butter in it.
2. Add the flour and stir to a smooth, glossy paste, and cook for 3 minutes, still stirring, until it turns a pale straw colour. Then gradually add the strained milk, whisking all the time, until the sauce is thick and cleanly leaves the sides of the pan.
3. Season lightly and cook the sauce on the gentlest heat possible for 2 minutes, stirring now and then. Next remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly, then beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Now crumble 110g of the cheese into the mixture and stir until most of it has melted. Put a kettle on to boil and, in a spanking-clean large bowl, whisk the egg whites to the soft-peak stage, then fold a spoonful of egg white into the cheese sauce to loosen it. Now fold the sauce into the egg white using a large metal spoon and a cutting and folding motion. Divide the mixture equally between 6 lightly buttered ramekins.
4. Put them in the baking tin, place it on the centre shelf of the oven, then pour about 1cm of boiling water into the tin. Bake the soufflés for 20 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack (using a fish slice) so they don't continue cooking. Don't worry if they sink a little as they cool, because they will rise up again in the second cooking. When they are almost cold, run a small palette knife around the edge of each ramekin and carefully turn the soufflés out on to the palm of your hand, then place them the right way up on a lightly greased, shallow baking tray. They can now be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours, lightly covered with clingfilm.
5. When you are ready to reheat the soufflés, preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4 and remove the soufflés from the fridge so they can return to room temperature. Dice the remaining Roquefort into 5mm pieces and sprinkle it on top of the soufflés, then place them in the oven, on the shelf above centre, for 30 minutes. Then, 2 or 3 minutes before serving, spoon a tablespoon of cream over each soufflé and return them to the oven while you seat your guests.

Chocolate & Cherry Cheesecake Brownies

Chocolate & Cherry Cheesecake Brownies
Just a quick one this. Made these as a Christmas pressie for some work colleagues and they seemed to go down a storm. Would have liked them to have been a bit thicker (the brownies, not the colleagues), so will use the correct sized tray next time. I also over-stirred the mixture a bit and lost the marbling effect that should be present. In other words, they look nothing like the picture in the Baking Recipe Collection produced by the very talented team at Sainsbury's magazine. Still, tasted pretty awesome.

150g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
200g 70% plain chocolate, roughly chopped
275g caster sugar
5 medium eggs
75g plain flour, sifted
300g soft cheese
200g frozen dark sweet cherries

1. Preheat oven to 180C/gas 4. Grease a 20x30cm baking tin and line with baking parchment.
2. Combine the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and stir continuously until melted. Cool, then stir in 225g caster sugar. Beat in 3 eggs, one by one, then mix in the flour. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the soft cheese with the remaining 50g of sugar and 2 eggs until creamy. Spoon the mixtures into the prepared tin and swirl together to create a marbled effect.
4. Scatter over the cherries and bake for 30-35 minutes. Cover with foil and allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Jamie Oliver's Jerk Ham

Jerk Ham
Look, I know Christmas was a few days ago so I'm a touch late with this, but I've been a bit busy with the eating and drinking to be arsed to update my posts. If this offends you, I apologise, but skip visiting for a few days because there's plenty more festive grub to come. Actually, don't leave me – I've realised since starting The Albion Tavern that I need and love you all, especially my one visitor from Oman (seriously, you might want to give the Christmas ham a miss, though...). Instead, read on, keep returning and hopefully enjoying what I make and write, and when Christmas rears its corporate head again sometime next August, you'll remember "that spicy ham thing" from The Albion Tavern and decide that this year you'll give it a try.

Anyway, thanks to regular contributor Jamie Oliver from Essex for this recipe. Keep it up lad and I reckon you'll go far. It's the second time I've made this and, despite there being slightly more ingredients than a bottle of Coke, don't think I'd try any other method, it's that good. I made it on Christmas Eve and the smells from the kitchen as it was cooking were truly mouth-watering. I used a 2.5kg hunk of ham and it goes a ridiculously long way – to be honest, looking at the price of supermarket sliced ham these days it makes perfect financial sense to keep making this throughout the year. More austerity tips in 2012, finance fans...

For poaching:
2.5kg leg of ham
1/2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 red onion, peeled and cut into wedges
3 Scotch bonnet chillies, halved
1 tsp whole cloves
1 stick of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 small leek, washed and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
½ bunch thyme
1/2 cinnamon stick

For the marinade:
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp allspice
1/2 tbsp cloves
1 tbsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tbsp sea salt
1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 red onions, peeled and quartered
4 Scotch bonnet chillies, stalks removed
125ml dark rum
125ml malt vinegar
small bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked

For the glaze:
1/3 jar good-quality, fine-cut marmalade
65ml golden rum

1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Put the ham in a large roasting pan with all the poaching ingredients. Add water until it comes halfway up the side of the pan. Cover the ham with tinfoil (making a tent over the ham to allow the steam to circulate). Bake for 2 hours or until pink and cooked through remove from the oven and let it cool for 30 minutes, remaining covered.
2. While your ham poaches you can prepare the jerk marinade. Add the bay and your dry spices to a food processor with your garlic cloves. Give it a good whiz so it forms a paste, then throw in your onions and chillies and whiz for a few more minutes. Pour in the rum and malt vinegar and keep whizzing everything around while you add the thyme. Once you've got a nice loose consistency your jerk marinade is ready.
3. Once your ham has finished poaching, transfer it to a roasting tray and let it cool down a bit. While still warm, put your hand underneath the skin and gently pull it away from the meat, leaving the bit of the fat underneath attached. Then, with a sharp knife, score the ham by lightly making diagonal cuts across the leg.
4. Spoon the jerk marinade over the pork and use the back of the spoon to smear it all over the ham and into the scored fat. If you want to use your hands then make sure you use rubber gloves, because this marinade is hot.
5. Pour a small glass of water into the bottom of your roasting tray and put the ham in your preheated oven for 2 hours. Try to baste it every half hour so it gets nice and dark. Once it comes out of the oven, scrape off a bit of marinade with a spatula. Spoon about 1/3 of a jar of marmalade over the ham and pour a good swig of dark rum on top. Smear this mixture all over and let it drip down the sides of the ham. Spoon the juices off the bottom of the tray and back over the ham. Put it back into the oven, at the same temperature for another 30 minutes, basting every 5 to 7 minutes until lovely and dark.

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict
The King of Breakfasts and how The Albion Tavern celebrated Christmas morning before tearing into a mountain of tat. Invented by popular A-Team actor, Dirk "The Face" Benedict. Perfectly poached eggs (I use a large frying pan three-quarters full with water. Add a generous splash of vinegar and sprinkling of salt. Bring to a rolling boil and crack in your fresh eggs – don't bother with saucepans and swirling the water and all that other bollocks. Cook for a couple of minutes, then turn off the heat. Gently splash eggs tops with the hot water to completely cook then carefully drain with a slotted spoon.), crispy bacon, soft muffin, creamy hollandaise sauce. Dirk, you're a bleeding genius. Serves 4.

4 muffins, sliced in half
8-12 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon
4 fresh free-range eggs

For the hollandaise sauce:
2 large free-range egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
110g butter
salt and pepper

1. Toast muffins, cook bacon until crispy, poach eggs (see above).
2. While cooking, make the sauce. Season egg yolks and blitz in a food processor.
3. Heat lemon and vinegar in a pan until bubbling and slowly pour onto eggs while still blitzing.
4. Melt butter in same pan, being careful not to brown. Again slowly add to mixture while blitzing until sauce is smooth, thick and buttery.
5. Bottom of muffin, bacon, poached egg, hollandaise sauce, top of muffin, clog arteries, eat muesli for rest of the month.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Sausage Rolls

Sausage Rolls
A firm favourite at The Albion Tavern at this time of year is the humble sausage roll. Make them in advance, freeze them, chuck 'em in the oven when guests pop over, stuff face. Repeat ad nauseum (but without the, er, nauseum). These treats come courtesy of the White Witch of Christmas, Delia Smith, and her festive culinary bible, Delia's Happy Christmas. I had a go at making the flaky pastry and was pretty pleased with my first attempt, but use ready-made all-butter pastry to save a considerable amount of time and effort (grating a block of frozen butter is not particularly enjoyable). Oh, and for those veggies lurking out there, a seriously delicious meat-free cheesy version can be found by clicking here. Makes about 24.

For the flaky pastry:
175g butter of block margarine
225g plain flour
a pinch of salt
cold water to mix
(or use 400g ready-made all-butter puff pastry)

For the filling:
450g good-quality pork sausagemeat
1 medium onion, grated
4 tbsp sage leaves, chopped
1 egg, beaten to glaze

1. Weigh out the fat, wrap in foil and freeze for 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt into a bowl.
2. When fat is frozen, unwrap, hold one end in foil, dip other into the flour and grate into the bowl. Keep dipping in flour to make grating easier. When done, mix the fat into the flour using a palette knife, making sure all pieces are well coated.
3. Add enough water to form a dough. Bring it all together with your hands, cover with clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.
4. Mix the sausagemeat, onion and sage together in a bowl and season.
5. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to form a rectangle approximately 42 x 30cm. Cut into three long strips. Divide the sausagemeat into three and roll out to make three matching strips. You may need to flour your hands and the meat to avoid sticking.
6. Place one sausage roll onto each pastry strip, brush one length with beaten egg and fold the pastry over, sealing carefully. Turn so the seal is on the bottom and cut each roll into roughly eight equal pieces. Snip the tops with a pair of scissors to form three V shapes and brush with beaten egg. Repeat until all done.
7. Heat the oven to 220C/gas 7. Divide the sausage rolls between two lightly greased baking sheets and bake for 20-25 minutes (swap the sheets over during cooking so the rolls cook evenly). Cool on a wire rack.

Cheddar, Sage & Onion Sausage Rolls

Cheddar, Sage & Onion Sausage Rolls
A truly amazing meat-free festive "sausage" roll, the cheesy cousin of these equally tasty beauties. Again, comes courtesy of Delia's Happy Christmas. Makes about 36.

For the pastry:
1 quantity of flaky pastry (see here) or 400g ready-made all-butter puff pastry

For the filling:
275g fresh breadcrumbs
225g mature Cheddar, grated
1 large onion, grated
3 tbsp thick double cream
3 tbsp sage, chopped
11/2 tsp mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/gas 7.
2. Mix all the filling ingredients in a bowl. Divide into three and roll each into a 35cm sausage shape. Place on a tray, cover and chill for 30 minutes.
3. Roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface to form a rectangle measuring 50 x 40cm. Trim to 45 x 35cm and cut into three lengthways.
4. Place a cheese roll onto each pastry strip. Brush one length with beaten egg and fold over to seal carefully. Turn over so seal is on the bottom and cut roll to make 12 even pieces.
5. Snip each with a pair of scissors to make V shapes on the top and brush with beaten egg. Divide between baking sheets and cook for 20-25 minutes (swap sheets over during cooking to ensure even browning). Cool on a wire rack.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Bagel and Smoked Salmon Cupcakes

Bagel and Smoked Salmon Cupcake
The missus has been going a little bit mad recently because she considers herself to be the "cake-maker" of The Albion Tavern household, and I've come along with my size 11s, stamped all over dainty little tootsies, and basically banished her from the kitchen. Now to be fair, she does make a bloody nice cake and I've only been too happy to let her do this while I've gotten on with the serious business of carving meat. That was, however, until I opened The Albion Tavern, put on a pinny (I don't wear a pinny, honest) and discovered the joy of baking.

But for this visually fun recipe, which is adapted from a frankly ridiculous American book called Hello, Cupcake, I've handed the whisk over to wife. Oh, and if haven't clocked by now, that's not a real bagel and smoked salmon plonked on top of a lemon and poppy seed cupcake. This isn't Heston bleeding Blumenthal, you know. Makes 12.

For the lemon and poppy seed cupcakes:
225g self-raising flour
175g caster sugar
zest 2 lemons
1 tbsp poppy seeds, toasted
3 eggs
100g natural yogurt
175g butter, melted and cooled a little

For the vanilla frosting:
225g cream cheese
60g butter, softened
125g icing sugar, sieved
1 tsp vanilla extract
yellow food colouring

For the salmon and bagels:
12 mini doughnuts
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp poppy seeds
12 orange fruit chews (Starbursts, Chewits)
some of the vanilla frosting, before being coloured yellow

1. Heat the oven to 180C/gas 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with cases. Mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest and poppy seeds in a large bowl.
2. Beat the eggs into the yogurt and add to the dry ingredients with the melted butter. Whisk until lump free, then divide between the cases.
3. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before cooling on a wire rack.
4. For the frosting, cream together the cream cheese and butter until, er, creamy. Mix in the vanilla and gradually stir in the sugar. Refrigerate.
5. To make the bagels, slice the mini doughnuts in half. Brush the top half with a little maple syrup, warmed for a few seconds in the microwave. Sprinkle with poppy seeds. On the bottom half, spread a small amount of the vanilla frosting on each. Take a few of the chews at a time and soften in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Carefully roll on grease-proof paper with a rolling pin until smoked salmon shaped. Score with a knife and re-shape if required. Add chew to the bottom half of the doughnut and add top half.
6. Add the yellow food colouring the remaining frosting and spread onto cupcakes. Add bagels to top. Make appointment with dentist.

Belgian Christmas Beer – Part 4

Belgian Christmas Beer, aka Barrett's Christmas Sack
The moment of truth is here. Six weeks of waiting for nature to do is wonderous work and it all comes down to this moment. Will the Christmas Beer – now festively called Barrett's Christmas Sack – be a success or will it only be fit for cleaning the drains? With trepidation I open the Groslch-style cap and there is a satisfying pop followed be a heady beery aroma. So far, so good. Pouring the contents into the pint glass and there is a good-looking head forming to the almost treacle black liquid. I savour the aroma once more and take my first sip. Wow. The first thing that hits you in the face is the roasted hop flavour – it is bitter and intense and warm and moreish and it's like getting a big kiss from a smoky bonfire. Then the smoke clears and there's chocolate malt – Horlicks, cocoa, warm milk – seriously, this is good stuff and it's not done yet. The finish is full of Christmas spice – think mince pies, dipped in hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire. And I've got 20 bottles of the stuff. Honestly, I'm a sucker when it comes to seasonal beers – stick some flashing lights on the pump and call it Rudolph's Knackers and I'll be in there quicker than Charlie Sheen at a lap-dancers' work's Christmas party – and Barrett's Christmas Sack is up there with the best I've tasted so far.

Monday, 12 December 2011

White Chocolate and Ginger Cheesecake

White Chocolate and Ginger Cheesecake
We had a bit of a family gathering at my oldest brother's house at the weekend – I really, really won't bore you with the details, but I thought I would make this amazing baked cheesecake as I knew it's a favourite of my sister-in-law. I first made a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake years ago, but god knows where the recipe has gone. However, a quick squizz of the internet threw up this version, which seems to be a variation of the baked cheesecake served by restaurant chain Wagamama – I've never been, but they apparently charge diners £5 a portion and I reckon you could easily get 12-16 slices at least out of this. Kerching. If you've never made a baked cheesecake before, then please give it a go – they're infinitely better than spooning a load of cream and cheese onto crushed biscuits and whacking it in the fridge to cool. This recipe called for the cheesecake to be cooked in a kind of homemade bain-marie, and although initially sceptical the result was the best ever – smooth, perfectly set and no cracking anywhere. My topping of chocolate shavings was my addition.

For the base:
300g gingernut biscuits
90g unsalted butter

For the filling:
1kg cream cheese at room temperature
225g caster sugar
1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tbsp ground ginger
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp double cream
250g white chocolate

To decorate:
dark and white chocolate shavings

1.  Butter a 9" springform tin. Cut a couple of large squares of tinfoil, enough to cover the base and sides of the tin. Set foil aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 165C/gas 4.
3. Melt the butter. Blitz the biscuits in a food processor until fine, then drizzle in the melted butter. Mix well then press into the bottom of the buttered tin. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes.
4. Melt the white chocolate slowly in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Do not overheat. Put aside.
5. Mix the cream cheese in a bowl with a hand blender on its lowest setting until creamy. And the sugar and mix until smooth. Sprinkle over the flour and ground ginger and stir in. Add 2 eggs, mix well, then add 2 more. Mix in the vanilla and cream. It should now be a thick consistency.
6. Add the chocolate and stir very quickly until incorporated and smooth – it may look scary at first, but keep stirring.
7. Put the tinfoil around the tin and place into a deep-sided baking tray. Tip the mixture onto the cooked biscuit base and level with a spoon. Lick bowl clean to within an inch of its life. Pour hot water into the tray up to 3cm deep and cook in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes until set, but still wobbly.
8. Remove from the oven, cover with a sheet of kitchen roll and allow to cool in the water bath for 1 hour. Remove, then when completely cool, refrigerate.
9. Unfold onto a plate and decorate with chocolate shavings.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Chocolate Mince Pies

Chocolate Mince Pies
So after the relative success of my mince pies last week, I decided to have another bash – but this time go off piste and come up with something a bit, well, fancy. Adding cocoa powder to the pastry was always on the cards, and I quite liked the idea of some sort of glittery decoration. In this case it's a marzipan star sprinkled with yellow, er, sprinkles. The pastry here also has the addition of icing sugar and eggs, making it sweeter and lighter. I was quite pleased with the end result, although quite rich. Let's just say you wouldn't want to do much exercise after scoffing a couple (apart from reach for another Cadbury's Heroes, obviously). Thanks to the mother-in-law for her homemade mincemeat (recipe available on request), although I added some clementine zest and juice to give it a further zing. Makes 12 (although I did have some pastry left over, so could quite easily make 15 or so with more mincemeat).

280g plain flour, sifted
125g icing sugar, sifted
50g cocoa powder, sifted
pinch of salt
200g cold butter, diced
2 free-range egg yolks
500g mincemeat
2 clementines, zest and juice
2 tbsp milk
1 free-range egg, beaten
1/4 block of ready-made marzipan
1 tbsp apricot jam
2 tbsp yellow sprinkles

1. Mix the flour, icing sugar, cocoa powder and salt together in a bowl. Mix in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Stir in the egg until the mix comes together. Add cold water if necessary. Knead the dough briefly, wrap in clingfilm and chill for one hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.
4. Mix the mincemeat with the clementine zest and juice.
5. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out to a thickness of 5mm. Cut out 12 circles with a 7.5cm fluted cutter and line a lightly greased 12-hole tart tin.
6. Add 2 tsp of mincemeat to each base and brush the edges with a little milk.
7. Cut out 12 further circles with a 6cm fluted cutter and top the mince pies, pressing the edges with your fingertips. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 20-25 minutes.
8. While cooking, gently knead the marzipan with a little icing sugar to soften. Roll out to desired thickness and cut out 12 stars with a star cutter.
9. Heat the apricot jam in a small dish for 10-15 seconds to loosen.
10. Brush one side of the stars with the jam. Pour the sprinkles onto a plate and place the stars jam-side down so they stick.
11. Once the pies are cooked, remove from the oven and brush the top of each with more jam. Stick the stars to the top and allow pies to cool.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Old Fashioned Cocktail

Old Fashioned
Google the ingredients and method for an Old Fashioned and you won't find the same recipe twice – so much has it been tweaked and refined during its 130 years of existence. Some call for lemons, some add cherries, while others load the glass with ice. None of them are really wrong, so all I would suggest is buy a decent bottle of bourbon (think Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses or the wonderfully named Knob Creek) and experiment. This is how I like it and is what I feel is the best at getting the best out of your bourbon, while adding a little sweetness and balance to the smokiness of the spirit.

1 sugar cube
dash soda
2 dashes Angostura bitters
85ml bourbon
ice cubes
twist of orange

1. Place sugar cube, soda and bitters in an Old Fashioned glass and muddle until sugar has dissolved.
2. Add 10ml of the bourbon. Then add the ice cubes and stir. Add the remaining bourbon and stir again.
3. Twist the orange peel over the drink to release its flavour. Run it around the rim, then add to the glass.

Spicy Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup

Spicy Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup
Another soup to file under "winter warmer" and winner of New Covent Garden Soup Co's Create A Soup competition in 1997. Despite its apparent origins in Australia, which can be seen in the global cocktail of ingredients – Asian, North African and American, the heat from spices is perfect to thaw frozen bones. Serves 4.

1 tbsp light olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp cumin seeds, lightly roasted and ground
1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly roasted and ground
2 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly roasted
1cm fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime
1tsp runny honey
340g sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2.5cm dice
340g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2.5cm dice
1.2 litres vegetable stock
1x400g can chickpeas, drained
salt and black pepper to taste
handful fresh coriander leaves

1. Heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic in a covered saucepan for 10 minutes, without colouring.
2. Stir in the spices, sesame seeds, ginger, chilli, lime zest and honey and stir for 30 seconds.
3. Add the sweet potato and squash, juice of half a lime and the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
4. Add the chickpeas and taste for seasoning. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the remaining lime juice.
5. Cool a little then blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Reheat gently and stir in the coriander before serving. Serve with a swirl of natural yoghurt.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties
I don't know when exactly my love affair with Cornish pasties began – all I know is that one moment my innocent, pre-pubescent life was an empty vessel waiting to be filled with meaty goodness (leave it...), and the next – POW! – I was struck right in kisser by a pastry thunderbolt that left my innards overflowing with juicy joy. Since then I've always had a thing for Cornwall, probably helped by a truly memorable New Year's Eve weekend in Newquay in my early 20s, where for some reason my dulcet Mockney/East Sussex tones seemed to have an almost Pied Piper effect on the opposite sex – that or the fact that I was dressed as a monk for two days and everything that moved was rip-roaringly hammered. Anyway, that story's for a completely different part of the internet.

Back to Cornwall. Yes, they talk funny and they've got that whole weird white cross/black flag thing going on – not to mention a lack of professional football team – but give them their dues, they know how to knock up some decent grub. Here's my homage and I have to say the finished result was bloody delicious. The recipe is a mix from the Hairy Bikers and some old dear called Connie from Cornish website,, who's got about 200 followers. Be very afraid.

One other thing. My beef skirt comes from Jamie Oliver's butcher's at Barbecoa in the City. It looked good enough to eat raw and is a place I'll be frequenting more often (when finances allow – it ain't cheap). Makes 5 pasties.

450g plain flour
225g butter, cubed
pinch of salt
cold water to mix
350g beef skirt, finely chopped, but not minced
450g potato, finely diced
150g swede, finely diced
150g onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten

1. To make the pastry, rub the butter into the flour until fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the salt, then add the water a little at a time until the mix forms into a smooth ball. Cover in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 220C.
3. Season each filling ingredient with salt and pepper.
4. Dust a work surface with flour, cut the now chilled pastry dough into four and roll each out to about 1/4 inch thick.
5. Use a plate about 7-8 inches in diameter to cut four circles. Form the scraps of dough into another ball and roll and cut out a fifth circle if possible.
6. Moisten the edges with a little water, then layer the vegetables and beef on one half of each circle. Season again with more black pepper. Don't be tempted to overfill as your pasties will burst when cooking.
7. Sprinkle over a little flour and dot filling with a little butter.
8. Fold over the other half of the pastry and squeeze the edges together. Patch up any holes that form.
9. Crimp the edges by working along the seal and using your thumb and first finger to kind of twist the pastry. Hard to explain this – check Youtube if you're mind's a blank.
10. Place pasties on a lightly greased baking sheet and wash with beaten egg. Make a slit in the top of each pasty to allow steam to escape.
11. Cook for 20 minutes. Turn oven down to 160C, wash again with egg, and cook for a further 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before stuffing your face with buttery, meaty goodness.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Mince Pies

Mince Pies
Yes, yes, it's not even December yet, but why wait to tuck into these festive fancies? Actually, why do we only eat mince pies and things like bread sauce, cranberry sauce, honey-glazed parsnips, chocolate-covered Brazil nuts or roast bloody turkey at Christmas, only to be ignored the rest of the year? I'm not advocating that we all turn into those sad, lonely types (normally divorced) you read about who celebrate Christmas every single day with a full-on turkey and all the trimmings while watching re-runs of the Queen's Speech. But some of this stuff is just too good to be a once-a-year treat? Hell, if we even ate roast turkey more often we actually might get better at cooking the damn thing. Ok, I know a lot of the ingredients are seasonal, but a mince pie with a glass of Pimm's during Wimbledon? Surely better than spending £25 on six strawberries and a dribble of cream.

This recipe is your basic one for mince pies – I might have a bash at a fancy version in a couple of weeks. Oh, the mincemeat. Mine was shop bought, but I did buy a posh brand (get me). I think good home-made mincemeat (Google it, sorry) needs at least a month for all the flavours to develop, and I've left it too late this year for Christmas Day – however, my mince pie pancakes on February 21 will be a treat. Makes 24.
560g mincemeat
350g plain flour
a pinch of salt
150g butter, cubed
water, cold
a little milk to glaze
sprinkle of demerara or icing sugar to finish

1. Make the pastry by sifting the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub with your fingertips to form fine breadcrumbs.
2. Add cold water a little at a time until the mix comes together to form a smooth dough. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3. While waiting, heat the oven to 200C/gas 6 and lightly grease 2 x 12-hole pastry tins.
4. Roll out half the dough as thinly as possible and use a 7.5cm fluted cutter to make 24 rounds. Re-roll if necessary. Carefully line the tins and fill each with a good tsp of mincemeat.
5. Roll out the other half and use a 6cm fluted cutter to also make 24 rounds. Dampen edges of the smaller rounds with milk and press them lightly onto the filled larger rounds to form lids, sealing the edges.
6. Brush with milk and make a slit in the top of each pie with a pair of scissors. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
7. Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar or demerara.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Grilled Tuna and Crushed White Beans with Pesto

Grilled Tuna and Crushed White Beans with Pesto
Ok, shameless bit of self-promotion here – I've run four marathons. Not brilliant times, granted, and each time I've looked a complete mess at the finish, but I've got the medals to prove it (I've even got some pretty manky feet as a result of smashing them into concrete for mile upon mile, but they don't look quite as nice hanging above the mantlepiece). I reckon that, for a bloke, running a marathon is the closest we're going to get to experiencing childbirth – there's basically nine months of intense training followed by half a day of agony, the emotions swinging back and forth from despair to ecstasy and then back to despair again. We'll swear that we'll never do this again, but then, when it's all over and the pain starts to ease, there's that annoying little fucker in the back of the mind erasing all the bad bits (the previous 26.2 miles) and leaving you with good bits (er, the finish and beating Floella Benjamin). Before you know it, you've signed up for your next race, your knees are shagged and you start craving the smell of Deep Heat.

Anyway, what's this got to do with tuna and white beans? Well according to Michel Roux Jr in his rather odd premise for a book, The Marathon Chef (recipes interspersed with pictures of the great chef doing groin stretches in various stages of undress), this is the sort of stuff us runners should be eating. Forget pasta, forget jelly babies, forget sickly sweet energy drinks – if it's good enough for a two Michelin-starred chef in a vest and tight shorts, then it's good enough for me.

One other thing. Sorry for the presentation of this dish in the picture – it looks really scruffy and is something I need to take more care on. It looks a pale shadow of the finished dish in the book and I've got this mental image of Michel wearily shaking his head in pity, as he does to any unfortunate contestant who fucks up one of his "classics" in the latest series of Professional Masterchef. Saying that, it tasted superb and I've got plenty of the pesto left over to use later in the week. Serves 4.

400-500g tuna loin, trimmed (I used a chunky piece of tuna steak)
160g dried butter beans
1 litre vegetable stock
60g dry-cured bacon in one piece
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

For the pesto:
200g basil leaves
20g pine nuts
3 walnuts, roughly chopped
pinch of salt
50g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
150-200ml extra-virgin olive oil.

1. Soak the white beans for 8-10 hours in plenty of water. Drain, cover with the vegetable stock and add the bacon and garlic.
2. Bring to the boil, skim and simmer for 30 minutes. Season lightly and continue cooking until tender, topping up with water if necessary. Leave the beans to cool in the liquid.
3. Remove the bacon and chop finely. Pan-fry in a drizzle of olive oil until crispy.
4. Drain the beans, keeping the cooking liquid, and crush them with the back of a fork. Add the bacon and enough of the cooking liquid to make the mixture moist.
5. Make the pesto by putting the basil, nuts and salt in a large mortar and grinding with a pestle to form a coarse paste. Work in the Parmesan, then gradually beat in the olive oil with a wooden spoon until you have a thick sauce.
6. Brush the tuna lightly with olive oil and season well. Cook on a cast-iron griddle until rare or to your taste. Cut the tuna into slices and place on top of the beans.
7. Take the remaining cooking liquid, bring to the boil and add 4 tbsp of pesto. Froth with a hand blender and pour over the tuna.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Scotch Broth

Scotch Broth
The Jocks get something of a bad press when it comes to food. Apparently it's all deep-fried Mars Bars, deep-fried pizza and lurid orange fizzy drinks that strip the enamel from your teeth – and that's just for breakfast. But scratch the grease-stained surface of a typical kitchen worktop north of the border and you will find the leftovers of some of the UK's, if not the world's, finest ingredients and dishes. Think Arbroath smokies, Highland beef, Scottish salmon, Scotch pies, black pudding, shellfish, haggis (so, so good – please try it if you haven't) and whisky by the barrel. Oh, and Tunnock's Caramel Wafers. Whack in the hearty Scotch Broth as well and you can see that our Sweaty cousins are somewhat hard done by. Just don't try deep-frying it... Serves 6.

1kg neck of lamb
2.5 litres water
275g carrots, sliced
275g swede, cut into chunks
350g leeks, rinsed and sliced
1 large onion, sliced
2 bay leaves
75g pearl barley or soup mix, soaked overnight
1 tbsp salt

1. Put the lamb in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil, removing any scum that forms. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, then add the vegetables and bay leaves.
2. Cook very gently for 1 hour then remove the lamb. Add the salt and and barley and cook for a further 30 minutes until everything is tender.
3. Remove the cooled lamb from the bones – it should just fall off – and return to the pan. Check for seasoning. Warm through and serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and crusty bread.

Monday, 21 November 2011


Scone with Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream
You know in The Simpsons when Homer thinks about pork chops and he starts drooling while his eyes glaze over in a hypnotic trance? Well, that's what happens to me when I think about scones. Actually, it also happens to me when I think about pork chops as well, if truth be told. Scones are probably the first thing I ever cooked (not including warming some orange squash in my brother Jason's favourite red, plastic cup on an electric stove when I was about 4. Not a pretty first effort), although I'm still striving for perfection. This recipe comes from her Highness, Mary Berry, although I added the sprinkling of demerara sugar. Wild, I know. Serve with lashings (you have to use words like "lashings" when making scones) of your favourite jam and Cornish clotted cream. Makes 10.

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g cooking margarine
25g caster sugar
1 egg
demerara sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7 and lightly grease a baking sheet.
2. Put the flour and baking powder in a bowl, adding the margarine and rubbing it in with your fingertips to form fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
3. Crack the egg into a measure and beat lightly. Top up with milk to form 1/4 pint (150ml). Stir the egg and milk into the flour mix to a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently. Push out with you hand to a thickness of 1/4 inch (1.25cm).
4. Cut into rounds with a 21/2 inch (6.25cm) cutter and place them onto the baking sheet, well spaced apart. Brush tops with a little milk and sprinkle with demerara sugar.
5. Bake for 10 minutes until pale golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Belgian Christmas Beer – Part 3

Now comes for the bottling of the Belgian Christmas Beer. I managed to fill 19 of the 500ml bottles pictured. That should see me through to Boxing Day.

Method (continued):
1. Sterilise your bottles and add 1/2 tsp of sugar to each.
2. Fill with your dark, chocolatey, spicy brew and leave in a warm place for 2 weeks, before transfering to somewhere cool for 1 further week.

Come back in 3 weeks for the great tasting. I might even crack open the pickled onions as well...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Parsnip, Leek and Lemon Soup

Parsnip, Leek and Lemon Soup
I make no apologies for posting another soup recipe – they're damn easy to make and are just perfect for a quick lunch after a bracing morning walk. This one, which is a kind of take on the classic leek and potato, goes from board to belly in about 30 minutes. Again it's from New Covent Garden Soup Co's Soup & Beyond. I promise, I'll get back to pies asap... Serves 4.

25g butter
450g parsnips, peeled and sliced
3 leeks, washed well and sliced
1 litre vegetable stock
grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 bay leaf
150ml single cream
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter and cook the parsnips and leek for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan, without colouring.
2. Add the stock, lemon zest and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
3. Cool a little, remove the bay leaf and add the lemon juice. Purée with a hand blender until smooth.
4. Add the cream, taste for seasoning and reheat gently, without boiling. Serve with fresh bread.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Belgian Christmas Beer – Part 2

It's now been 10 days since the Belgian Christmas Beer started brewing and it's all calm at The Albion Tavern. The yeast seems to have done its stuff and the CO2 being produced has come down from an initial almost continuous bubbly fart to around one parp every minute. It's ready for the next stage.

Method (continued):
6. Remove the tube from the water and take it off the tap. Close the tap and gently place the cube into the dispensing box, with the tap on top.
7. Leave for another week, releasing the tap every so often to prevent a build-up of gas in the cube. You will see it getting swollen, so I tend to do it every morning. Then I get out of bed and release the tap on the cube. Ithangyew.

That's it for now. Part 3 to come in a week.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Treacle Tart

Treacle Tart
Does 1.25 litres of golden syrup sound like a lot to you? It does to me, but that's how much goes into this treacle tart recipe from The Fox Inn in Corscombe, Dorset. That's almost three of those green golden syrup tins from Lyle's. You know, the ones that look like mini tins of paint and the only way to get in to them is to lever a screwdriver under the lip of the lid. Three of them. If you don't fancy knackering your teeth, then a search of the web provides alternative recipes with less filling, but sod it, make this and invite all your neighbours over for a syrup fest (maybe not Hilda from No.43 – she'll never get her dentures apart again). The recipe from The Gastropub Cookbook says serves 4-6. Please ignore this if you don't want to have a coronary. Just look at the monster in the photo above – and then imagine having a quarter of that in one sitting. Madness.

For the pastry:
225g plain flour
115g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 medium egg yolk
40ml cold water

For the filling:
1.25 litres golden syrup
1 unwaxed lemon, zest and juice
1 medium egg
225g coarse white breadcrumbs

1. First make the pastry. Put the flour and butter in a food processor and whizz until breadcrumbs.
2. Mix in the egg yolk and cold water to make a stiff dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas 3. Spoon the syrup into a bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients and stir well. The lemon stops the tart from being too sweet.
4. Lightly butter a 23cm tart dish. Roll out the pastry into a circle 3mm thick and 5cm bigger than the dish. Lift the pastry into the dish and push gently to fit.
5. Add the tart mixture and trim any excess pastry. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the tart is golden. Serve hot or cold with cream or crème fraîche (I preferred the tart completely cool).

Monday, 14 November 2011

White Bread

White Bread
What's the best hangover cure? A fry-up? Raw eggs with Tobasco? Last's night's kebab remnants. Maybe you're one of those people (let's call them alcoholics for argument's sake) that just like to get right back on it, starting with the half-drunk can of stale lager next to the bed. Oh, there seems to be a fag end in it. And I'm not sure this is even beer... Well forget these losers (ok, maybe not the fry-up) 'cos there's a new kid in town – freshly baked bread. Seriously, what can be better than breaking into a just-out-the-oven loaf and smearing it with lashings of butter and jam? Or how about that Sunday morning favourite of thick slices of bread, crispy bacon and a generous dollop of Tommy K? Bread is pretty easy to make, uses three ingredients (four if you include water), and vigorously kneading dough for 10 minutes is better than any Asprin. Ok, it might take a bit of patience while waiting for the dough to rise, but you're gonna be spending the first hour of the day dry-heaving in the bathroom, and the second trying to combat that swooping paranoia from the night before. Here's Paul Hollywood's recipe for the perfect loaf from The Great British Bake Off. Makes two medium loaves.

700g strong white bread flour
2 tsp sea salt flakes, crushed
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeart
about 450ml lukewarm water

1. Put the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast and mix well, then make a well in the centre.
2. Pour the lukewarm water into the well and mix with your hand to make a soft, but not sticky dough. More flour or water might be added to get the right consistency.
3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead thoroughly for 10 minutes. Pull, stretch and fold the dough, turning it all the time. After 10 minutes the dough should feel pliable and look shiny and smooth.
4. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size. This will take about 1 hour in a warm kitchen.
5. After the dough has risen, punch it back down with your knuckles to deflate it. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for 1 minute. Divide the dough into 2 and shape each into a ball.
6. Roll each ball until smooth then place onto a sheet of non-stick baking paper. Dust with flour, cover again and leave for 1 more hour until doubled in size. Toward the end of this time, preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas 8. Put a large baking sheet in the oven along with a roasting tin in the bottom.
7. Uncover the loaves, dust with more flour and slash the top of each with a knife. Transfer, on the paper, to the hot baking sheet and put in oven. Pour a cup of cold water in the roasting tin to produce a burst of steam and bake for 15 minutes. This will give the bread a lovely crust. Rotate the sheets if necessary to brown evenly. Reduce the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6 and bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Or just rip open and eat.

Tomato Borscht

Tomato Borscht
Borscht began life in the Ukraine – famous for not being Russia and that politician who developed the dodgy skin complaint after being poisoned – and has got to be my favourite soup to make when it's cold outside. It's got incredible flavours from the tomato and beetroot, and warming spices from the cumin and cinnamon – and let's not  overlook the vibrant colour. It can be a bit of a mess to make when peeling and grating the beetroot (if you've got an attachment on a food processor then for the love of god, use that), but it can be great fun pretending to the kids that your blood-coloured stained hands are the result of an unfortunate chopping-related accident – works even better when laying on the kitchen floor and groaning. Oh, the fun we have at The Albion Tavern... Serve with freshly baked bread and a swirl of crème fraîche and you can't go wrong here. This recipe is from the New Covent Garden Soup Co's Soup & Beyond. Serves 4.

25g butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic glove, crushed
225g raw beetroot, peeled and grated
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
225g fresh ripe tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped (to be honest, plum tomatoes from a tin work just as well)
275ml tomato juice
1 tbsp tomato purée
570ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter and cook the onion, garlic and beetroot gently in a covered saucepan for 10 minutes without colouring.
2. Add the cumin, cinnamon, tomatoes, tomato juice, purée and stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
3. Add the soy sauce and check for seasoning. Cool a little then blitz with a hand blender until smooth.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage
Seasonal butternut squash. Light and fluffy Italian potato dumplings. Buttery, tangy and warming sauce. Really not as hard to make as you'd think and utterly delicious. Recipe from Gary Rhodes Cookery Year: autumn into winter. Serves 4.

1 medium butternut squash
1 large Maris Piper, pierced with a knife
knob of butter, optional, plus extra for greasing
175g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 egg
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
50g Parmesan
2-3 tbsp olive oil

For the sage sauce:
juice of 1 orange
1 shallot, finely chopped
50g butter
4 sage leaves, chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 220C/400F/gas 6. Halve the squash lengthways, deseed and cut each half into three wedges. Loosely wrap these and the potato in lightly buttered foil, place on a baking tray and cook for 1-1 1/4 hours until tender.
2. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before scooping both from their skins. Mash separately.
3. Squeeze the squash in a muslin to extract the liquid. Drain into a saucepan. You should have approx 150g purée and 300-450ml of liquid. Boil the juice to reduce by three-quarters, leaving approx 100ml. Set aside.
4. Mix the purée and the mash together and add the flour, egg, Parmesan, nutmeg and seasoning. Knead into a dough on a floured surface. Divide into two, then roll each into a long sausage shape.
5. Cut 16-20 pieces per strip and roll into balls.
6. Boil a large pan of water. Add the gnocchi in small batches and cook for 2-3 minutes until they rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and refresh in iced water before allowing to dry.
7. To make the sage sauce, mix the orange juice with the shallots and reduce by about a half. Add the squash liquid and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the butter and season. Add the sage just before serving.
8. Fry the dried gnocchi in olive oil and a knob of butter to give them a golden finish. Serve with the sauce and a grating of Parmesan.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Spicy Lentil and Carrot Soup

Spicy Lentil and Carrot Soup
London seems to be under siege again today as hordes of soap-dodgers protest against high tuition fees or something. I would go out and join them, but it's a bit cold and this blog doesn't write itself, you know. However, to show my solidarity I've brought in a flask of wholesome soup for lunch that I made last night, containing that staple of the crusty student diet – the humble red lentil. It also has a great kick from some chilli to keep out the cold while being kettled by the cops for 12 hours, and carrots – some blended, some added later for texture – to help them find their way back to their damp bedsits once they've been released at three in the morning. The recipe has been adapted from Soup & Beyond from the New Covent Garden Soup Co. Serves 4.

25g butter
1 garlic glove, finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly diced
175g red lentils, rinsed well
50g split peas, rinsed well
2 tbsp tomato purée
1.5 litres vegetable stock
250g carrots, peeled and finely diced
good pinch of chilli flakes
couple splashes Tobasco (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the garlic and onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes without colouring.
2. Add the lentils, split peas, half the carrots and tomato purée, then cook for 2-3 minutes more, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.
3. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil, then simmer for 20-25 minutes until the lentils, split peas and carrots are soft.
4. Take off the heat, blend with a hand whisk, then return to the heat adding the remaining carrots.
5. Check the seasoning, then simmer for 12-15 minutes more until the carrots are tender.

If you wanted to make a meaty version, then try using ham stock and adding 110g of bacon lardons at stage 5.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Masterchef: The Professionals

Monica Galetti
Monica Galetti needs her own television series. I see her as the world's first cooking cop, a hard-hitting sous chef with a badge and mission to rid the streets of cuisine's criminal underbelly. "Freeze! Your over-cooked duck and collapsed soufflé days are over." "You'll never take me alive, Galetti." Think Prime Suspect meets Nigella, but with hopefully more nudity.
The new series of Masterchef: The Professionals started last night and the undoubted star of the show in these early stages (before Michel Roux Jr makes his Darth Vader-esque appearance before the terrified hopefuls), is Galetti, Roux's right-hand woman and all-round ice maiden. She's there to sort the wheat from the chaff and make sure that none of the contestants go on to poison her boss. Galetti stalks around the kitchen like a praying mantis, displaying a multitude of facial expressions that would challenge the UK's finest gurners. But by god, and maybe it's just me, there's something incredibly alluring about her (not the gurning, but the power, the authority, the skill at deboning a chicken...). It's an odd attraction, I'll admit, and to be honest if I were ever to be standing in front of her naked (not a nice image, I know) I'm not 100% sure whether I'd pass her stringent criteria and my wilted veg would never get to "meet her boss".
Oh, the actual programme – there were ten chefs, one who looked like Sid Vicious, another who was the only French bloke who can't cook garlic, all creating dishes using duck and blackberries. There were a lot of schoolboy errors (obviously I went to the wrong school where overcooked duck and burnt leeks was never an issue), and there was a discussion about gastric sauces that left me none the wiser. To be honest, I'd long been distracted by the delectable Chief Inspector Galetti...

Monday, 7 November 2011

Baked Goat's Cheese with Roast Beetroot and a Walnut Oil Dressing

Baked Goat's Cheese with Roast Beetroot and a Walnut Oil Dressing
At this time of year I love cooking with beetroot – and I don't mean that plastic-wrapped pickled stuff that can be so sharp it can be used to scrape wallpaper. One ingredient that goes supremely well with freshly roasted beetroot is goat's cheese, its creamy, tangy saltiness almost caressing the soft, sweet flesh of the beetroot in a loving embrace. This literally lip-smacking recipe comes from The Punch Bowl Inn in Crosthwaite, Cumbria and featured in The Gastropub Cookbook. Serves 4.

2 medium beetroot
50g unsalted butter, melted
2 sheets ready-made filo pastry
1/2 goat's cheese log, cut into 4 x 2cm slices
black pepper
olive oil
24 button onions, peeled
a little peanut oil
generous handful of frisée, watercress, rocket or lamb's lettuce

For the walnut oil dressing:
1 tsp Dijon mustard
25ml walnut oil
45ml sunflower oil
12.5ml white wine vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Scrub the beetroots, wrap tightly in foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours, or until tender.
2. Leave to cool, then peel and cut into thick chunks.
3. Brush the melted butter on a sheet of filo pastry and lay another sheet on top. Cut out 4 x 7cm circles and place on a greased baking sheet and bake in the oven for 5 minutes until golden brown.
4. Turn up the oven to 240C/475F/gas 9. Put the goat's cheese on top of the pastry, season with black pepper, drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is golden and melting.
5. Put the beetroot wedges on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with black pepper, then roast, also for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the onions in the peanut oil until golden on the outside and tender in the middle.
6. Make the dressing by whisking the mustard with the salt and pepper in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually add the oils and wine vinegar, whisking continuously until combined.
7. Toss the salad leaves in the dressing. Arrange on 4 plates, place the goat's cheese pastry on top and the onions around it.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Pickled Onions – Tears of joy

Pickled Onions
It was an impulse purchase. I was just in my local supermarket getting some essentials, when I saw a bag of pickling onions. It wasn't a big bag, but its teeny, tiny oniony contents, draped seductively next to their larger, brutish red and white cousins, beckoned me over with a vampish grin (I think I really need to step away from this blog for a bit). Before I knew it I was on my internet phone looking up pickling vinegar, jars and spices, and standing in the queue for eight items or less behind some Doris stocking up on tinned tuna and toffee (I'm also sure she had 10 items, but I let it pass just this once). I realise that along with my Christmas beer and pork pies, pickled onions almost completes the set of British pub classics. All I need is a recipe for pork scratchings and I'm set for a one-man lock-in.

1kg pickling onions, peeled
4 tsp pickling spices or ½tsp coriander seeds, ½tsp mustard seed, ½tsp black peppercorns, ½tsp dried chilli flakes
27g salt
1 litre malt vinegar
170g sugar

1. Sprinkle the salt over the peeled onions, stir and leave overnight. Next day (do not leave longer than overnight if you want your onions to be crisp) rinse the onions and dry with kitchen towel.
2. Place the spices, vinegar and sugar into a large stainless-steel pan. Heat to dissolve the sugar, but do not boil.
3. Pack the onions into clean, sterilised jars. Pour over the vinegar and spice liquid to fill the jars, make sure each jar has pickling spices in and check there are no air pockets. Seal the jars and leave to cool. The onions will be ready to eat after about one month or better if kept for two. Once opened store in a refrigerator.

Chocolate Chip Cookies – Slam dunk

Chocolate Chip Cookies
I'm not the greatest fan of biscuits. There, I've said it. I just can't be bothered buying them, and as I'm not a massive tea or coffee drinker I never seem to have an occasion to dunk my custard cream. And without tea or coffee, it just seems wrong munching my way through a pack – they're a bit dry and, well, just too biscuity for my rather refined palate, and is probably the sort of thing that overweight single women with cats might do. While watching Emmerdale. And don't get me started on those huge tins you see at Christmas, with their fit-inducing colours and never-ending supply of sickly pink wafers.
However, there is one exception to this apathy to biscuits, and that's the good ol' chocolate chip cookie. They're just another biscuit-eating experience altogether – doughy, softer and I don't keep on finding crumbs on my cashmere jumper hours later. Easy to make with the kids and a real hit at The Albion Tavern, here's a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies (although they call them Chunk Cookies) from The Great British Bake Off. Makes 24.

125g unsalted butter, softened
50g caster sugar
50g light brown muscovado sugar
1 large free-range egg, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
good pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
50g pecan nuts, finely chopped
100g good-quality dark chocolate chips, at least 70% cocoa solids
icing sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Put the soft butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the sugars and beat well until fluffy. Lightly beat the egg with the vanilla and gradually beat into the mixture.
2. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into the bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add nuts and chocolate and work in until combined.
3. Put heaped teaspoons of the dough onto greased baking trays, spacing well apart to allow for spreading (do in batches if necessary). Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the biscuits are lightly golden with darker brown edges. Rotate the trays half-way through baking to ensure even cooking.
4. Remove from the over and leave to cool slightly and firm up before transferring to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely, then dust with icing sugar. Store in an air-tight container.

Belgian Christmas Beer – Ale have some of that

Belgian Christmas Beer
My first foray into drink at The Albion Tavern and it's actually something I've done a couple of times before with varying degrees of success. Last Christmas I received the sort of joyous gift that a man of my age had thought had long disappeared since the days of Eagle Eyes Action Man and Tin Can Alley. "What possibly could this heavy box be?" I wondered child-like while tearing at the wrapping. Socks and hankies this was not. No, what this present contained was a heavy-duty plastic cube, a plastic piece of tubing and the ingredients to make 20 pints of strong continental lager, courtesy of Brupak. To paraphrase Her Majesty The Queen later that very day: "Merry fucking Christmas."
I got straight to work brewing my beer, the mouth-watering hoppy and malty smells mingling with turkey, ham and stuffing. Unfortunately, brewing is a patient process and long after the Christmas balloons had deflated to such a degree that they resembled the sort of bosom last seen on Bruce Parry's Tribe, I was still beerless. Six weeks later, however, when most of my friends and colleagues were going through the annual Januray/February detox, I was getting ready to tuck into 20 bottles of Bavarian pilsner. It was good, not as clear as I'd have like and a little heavy, but definitely strong enough to brighten those dark, winter nights.
I've since gone on to make a London bitter, which was truly stupendous, another batch of Bavarian pilsner, which was truly awful (something went wrong, 20 bottles poured down the sink. I cried for hours), and am now embarking on a Belgian Christmas ale, which will hopefully be ready in time for this year's festive blow-out. And if I get socks and hankies again, at least I'll be able to drown my sorrows.
As I say, the brewing process is quite lengthy, but the first stage is outlined below. I'll outline stage two in about 10 days' time.

1. In a large saucepan bring 2-3 litres of water to the boil and turn off the heat. Place the unopened can of malt in the hot water and leave for 15-20 minutes for the extract to soften.
2. Place the bags of grains and hops/spices into a jug or bowl and cover with 1 litre of boiling water. Leave for 15 minutes, then pour the liquid into the polythene cube. Cover with water again, leave for 5 minutes, then pour the liquid into the cube.
3. Carefully remove the can of malt and open. Gently squeeze and pour contents into the cube. Rinse can with hot water and pour into cube. Fit the cap to the cube and shake to mix contents.
4. Remove cap and fill cube with cold water. Replace cap and shake. Allow liquid to cool to between 15C-22C, then add the yeast. Shake thoroughly.
5. With the cap uppermost, fit the tubing to the tap. Fill a milk bottle or pint glass with water and place next to tube. Open the tap and immerse the tube into the water. CO2 bubbles will now pass through the water. Leave for 10 days until the bubbles have stopped.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Cottage Pie – A cottage industry

Cottage Pie
Ok, I'm not going to patronise you all about how to make cottage pie (or shepherd's pie for those who favour the lamb version). It's one of the easiest dishes to make and despite there apparently being a traditional recipe, let's be honest, it's one of those dishes that's all the better for our own quirks. Some people swear by the addition of baked beans, while tomatoes, Marmite or a Cheddar topping to the mash are popular variations.
All I'm doing here is taking a classic British dish and trying to make it the best way I can, good enough to serve to customers of my virtual gastropub, The Albion Tavern. I have to say the result was pretty darn good. Try it with shin of beef rather than mince – it really does make a difference to taste and texture.
Most of my research was done for me, thanks to a great article by The Guardian's Felicity Cloake, which examined the recipes of top chefs and came up with the perfect cottage pie. I pretty much went with the final recipe, with a few minor changes: I think cottage pie needs a bit of tomato purée to add depth to the flavour and also enhance the colour; I've extended the initial cooking time, again to enrich the flavours and also to thicken the sauce (making the cornflour, which can give the sauce an anaemic colour, redundant); and I've added grated Cheddar to my mash topping. Sheer madness to leave this out.
Basically, this is comfort food at its best, ideal for a pre- or post-Bonfire Night party.

600g shin of beef
150g butter
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stick celery, diced
1 tsp dried thyme
350ml good beef stock
1 tbsp tomato purée
4 or 5 splashes Worcestershire sauce
1kg Maris Piper potatoes
salt and pepper
50g Cheddar cheese, grated

1. Cut the beef into chunks and pulse in a food processor until coarse.
2. Heat a knob of butter in large pan and gently fry the onions, carrots and celery until softened.
3. Stir in the thyme and add the beef. Turn up the heat and stir until browned.
4. Add the stock, purée and Worcestershire sauce, cover and simmer for one hour or until the sauce is thick. Pour into oven-proof dish and allow to cool in the fridge. This will make adding the mash easier later on.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Peel the potatoes, quarter and place in a pan of cold water.
6. Bring to boil, then simmer until soft. Drain, then allow to steam dry in a colinder.
7. Gently melt the remaining butter in a pan. Mash the potato (you can use a ricer here if you want your mash to be super smooth). Add the melted butter, stir gently to form a creamy mash and season to taste.
8. Spoon on top of the meat mixture and smooth right to edges. Use a fork to make ridges in the mash and top with the grated Cheddar. Cook in the oven for 45 minutes or until the topping is crisp and golden.