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.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Great British Food Revival – Beef and Shellfish

Great British Food Revival
How many shots of a cow's shitty arse can you fit into one half-hour TV programme? That was the question posed by John Torode, restaurateur, Masterchef judge and lover of all things beef, on last night's British Food Revival on BBC2. Sorry, what do you mean that wasn't the question? Look, there's a shitty arse over there. Hold on, if you look behind that posh bloke in wellies there's another...
Ok, so the real question posed by Torode in series two of this excellent show into the promotion of British ingredients (Mr Oliver, take note), was how can we preserve the UK's dwindling rare-breed cattle? The answer, somewhat ironically, is to eat more of the shitty-arsed buggers. And after watching Torode expertly and lovingly create three very different dishes from three different cuts of beef, including a delicious-looking shin of beef stew with star anise, I can't argue with that. Although, god knows how much his fore-rib of beef set him back...
The second-half of the programme saw the very likable Valentine Warner wax lyrical about mussels and cockles. Warner is certainly not a TV natural, coming across as slightly uncomfortable in front of the camera, as if he's just as much surprised to be there as we are to see him. But his passion for ingredients and skill in the kitchen are evident and made me realise I don't eat enough shellfish, especially mussels, which I suppose, is the point of the programme.
He's also a very good actor and seemed very reluctant at one point to tuck into a cockle dish cooked by a female fishmonger, which looked like it contained rather undercooked bacon and onion. "I'll just try some of the cockles," he diplomatically said before shoveling a forkload of the shellfish into his gob.
I have one complaint, however – the sound of Warner slurping almost sexually at a juicy, plump mussel in its shell had me almost reaching for the sick bag. I think I'd rather stare at the crap-encrusted behind of a Longhorn than hear that noise again, thank you very much.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Halloween Pumpkin Cakes – treat or treat

Halloween Pumpkin Cakes
I have to say I love Halloween and get seriously pissed off by these miserable killjoys, of the type that only seem to be found in England, who bemoan its Americanisation in this country. An egg through the letterbox for these idiots. For a start, I can think of three things that we all should be worshipping at the cloven hooves of satan for when it comes to Halloween and America: Jamie. Lee. Curtis. Halloween's great and my kids, especially my oldest, are little bundles of excitement at least a month before the big night. I mean, what's not to love about kids dressed as skeletons, zombies and vampires (and their mums invariably dressed as rather devilish, er, devils – but that's another story) and ignoring decades of Government-sponsored safety advice by knocking on strangers' doors and asking for sweets?
In our household we also carve Jack o'Lanterns (my best effort pictured above) and use the scooped out pumpkin flesh to make soup. However, this year I found a recipe for Halloween pumpkin cake courtesy of BBC Good Food and thought I could adapt it to make fairy cakes (the batter made 18). Basically the recipe is a carrot cake one, but with pumpkin instead, and was a great success. The cakes were light and airy, with a delicious orange-scented butter cream topping. Will not be waiting a whole year to make these again. Woooooooooo!!!!

For the cakes:
300g self-raising flour
300g light muscovado sugar
3 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g sultanas
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs, beaten
200g butter, melted
zest 1 orange
1 tbsp orange juice
500g pumpkin flesh, grated

For the drenching and frosting:
200g soft cheese
85g butter, softened
100g icing sugar, sifted
zest and juice 1 orange

1.  Pre-heat oven to 180C/gas 4. Like 2 muffin trays with fairy cake cases. Put the flour, sugar, spice, bicarbonate of soda, sultanas and salt into a large bowl and stir to combine. Beat the eggs into the melted butter, stir in the orange zest and juice, then mix with the dry ingredients till combined. Stir in the pumpkin. Spoon the batter into the cases and bake until golden and springy to the touch. It should take between 20-30 minutes but keep your eye on it.

Just out the oven
2. To make the frosting, beat together the cheese, butter, icing sugar, orange zest and 1 tsp of the juice till smooth and creamy, then set aside in the fridge. When the cakes are done, cool for 5 mins then turn it onto a cooling rack. Prick it all over with a skewer and drizzle with the rest of the orange juice while still warm. Leave to cool completely. 
3. Give the frosting a quick beat to loosen, then, using a palette knife, spread over the top of the cake in peaks and swirls.

Rye Bread – Dough, rye, me

Rye Bread
The final component of my great salt beef experiment is the rye bread and I've followed a recipe from David Sax's Save the Deli. I've never really used caraway seed before and I have to say I was nervous by the amount being added, and by the aroma that wasn't that pleasant. Even when the bread came out of the oven (mine needed another 10 minutes cooking time, but I think my dough was originally maybe a bit too moist), the caraway smell was strong, but much more mellow. The taste, however, was divine.

500g rye flour
500g strong white bread flour
1/2 sachet instant yeast
20g salt
700g warm water
25g caraway seed, lightly cracked

1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl with a fork and mix at top speed in a mixer for 7 minutes.
2. Shape into a ball, coat with flour and cover in a bowl in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it is 1 1/2 times its size.

3. Half an hour before cooking, put a baking sheet in the oven and turn up to full. Five minutes before baking, put a small ovenproof dish filled with hot water from a kettle in the bottom of the oven.
4. Turn the dough onto the hot baking sheet and re-shape. I slashed the top a few times with a knife and sprinkled with more rye flour.
5. After 10 minutes drop the oven temperature to 180C and open the door for 20 seconds. Close the door and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the bottom of the bread sounds hollow.
6. Allow to cool before slicing. Or, if you're an impatient little git like me, cut off the end and have a taste.