Thursday, 25 October 2012

Beetroot Arancini with Goat's Cheese

Beetroot Arancini with Goat's Cheese
Arancini are deep-fried Sicilian risotto balls and I'm really pleased with how these turned. These are also great for a picnic, especially if you make them slightly bigger and put a piece of goat's cheese in the middle. Posh veggie scotch eggs, innit. Follow the recipe for beetroot risotto, but double the quantities and make this the next day with the leftovers. I'm not going to lie – they are a faff (and your hands will be a bright shade of red for about a week), but utterly worth the effort.
Makes 12-16

half of the beetroot risotto
3 eggs
vegetable oil

1. Take tablespoon amounts of the risotto and roll into a ball. Cover in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs and place on a plate ready for frying. Repeat until you have the number you desire.
2. If you are making large arancini, use more risotto and make a cavity in the middle to place a piece of goat's cheese before sealing with rice. For small arancini, melt goat's cheese over the top once cooked.
3. When ready to cook, heat vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed pan to 170C and fry until golden brown and piping hot.

Beetroot Risotto

Beetroot Risotto
Bored of boring old risotto? Liven it up with an amazing burst of colour and the pungent, earthy flavour of beetroot. Serves 4.


Beetroot Purée
3 small to medium beetroot
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
2. Scrub beetroot thoroughly to get rid of any dirt. Top and tail each and place in a roasting dish. Drizzle with a little oil and roast until tender – around 45-60mins.
3. Allow to cool slightly, peel and place in a food processor. Drizzle in a little olive oil while processing until it forms a smooth purée. Season and set aside.

1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g Arborio rice
2 sprigs fresh thyme
150ml red wine
1 litre vegetable, heated and kept warm
250g parmasan, grated
50g butter

1. Sauté onion in a couple glugs of olive oil until softened. Add garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes.
2. Add rice and thyme and stir for a minute until the rice is sealed. Add the red wine and deglaze the pan. Once wine is absorbed add a ladleful of stock to the rice. Continue stirring until absorbed.
3. Continue doing this until rice is cooked al dente. Add parmesan cheese and butter and stir through. Rice should be slightly wet, but creamy and glossy.
4. Add beetroot purée a tablespoon at a time, to your tastes. It is a strong flavour so make sure you taste after each addition.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Chicken Kievs

Chicken Kievs

I haven't eaten chicken kievs for about 15 years. They're just not something on my culinary radar, ever since I was a student and one of my flatmates at the time used to think nothing of seeing off two of the big buggers with a whole bag of oven chips thrown in for good measure. It put me off, to be honest. That was until the Euro Championships this summer, held in Poland and Ukraine, with the final in Kiev. With a recipe from Gordon Ramsay downloaded, this was the obvious choice for dinner. It was good. Damn good, in fact, and I've got loads of the tarragon butter left over to use for fish.
Serves 4

200g butter, softened
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
small handful chopped tarragon
small handful chopped fresh parsley
4 free-range skinless, boneless chicken breasts, about 150g each
100g plain flour
pinch paprika
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
100g dried breadcrumbs
2-3 tbsp olive or sunflower oil, for frying
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 190°C/gas 5.
2. To make the filling, mix the softened butter with the garlic, tarragon, parsley and seasoning. Chill in the fridge until ready to use.
3. For the chicken breasts, check first to see if they have a separate under-fillet, which chefs call a supreme. If so, don't detach it. Using a small, very sharp knife, make a slit in the flesh of each breast fillet from top to bottom, creating a pocket at a slight slant.
4. Spoon the butter mixture into the pocket. If you have fillets with supremes, then simply fold these over the slits to cover them.
5. Mix the flour, pinch of paprika and seasoning together in a shallow bowl. Tip the beaten eggs into another shallow bowl and the breadcrumbs into a third. Toss the stuffed chicken breasts first into the flour to coat, shaking off any excess, then slide them one at a time into the egg and turn until covered. Finally, dip each into the breadcrumbs, again shaking off any excess. Lay the breasts, slit sides down, on a plate and chill to help firm the crumb coating.
6. When ready to cook, pour the oil into a medium frying pan to heat until you can feel a good heat rising. Add the chicken breasts and colour for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly golden. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for approximately 12-14 minutes until golden brown and the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Thai Turkey Burgers

Thai Turkey Burgers
Bit of another quickie as I realise I haven't posted for a while and I've had this recipe knocking around for a bit. These were an absolute winner at The Albion Tavern, eagerly devoured by two hungry boys and one even hungrier dad. From opening the packet of mince to shoving cooked burger in gob took no more than 30 minutes. These were served with a huge mound of sticky rice. Probably best not to serve this to a two-year-old who eats everything with his fingers. We were finding remnants of rice all over the place for hours. Recipe from BBC Good Food. Makes four burgers.

400g turkey mince
4 spring onions , finely chopped
1 tsp grated root ginger
1 red chilli , seeded and finely chopped
1 egg yolk
small bunch coriander, chopped
1 tbsp sunflower oil
4 ciabatta rolls
a few sprigs watercress

1. Put the first 6 ingredients in a bowl, season and mix well. Form into 4 burgers.
2. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the burgers for about 5 minutes on each side until golden and cooked through.
3. Serve the burgers in rolls with some watercress and a little sweet chilli sauce if you like.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Lamb Kofta

Lamb Kofta
Yes, yes, yes, it looks like a poo on a stick, but try to get past the fecal lollipop image because these lamb kofta are just amazing. Bursting with all those flavours that remind you of Mediterranean holidays (or trips down the local kebab house for the credit conscious) – cumin, coriander, cinnamon. Oh my god, maybe I've some sort of scat fetish because my mouth is wetter than an otter's pocket just thinking about them. These kofta (a marriage of recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Rick Stein) were devoured with a simple mint yoghurt (natural yoghurt, a handful of freshly chopped mint, done) and a version of tabouleh, but with quinoa instead of bulger wheat (because I'd run out) and nowhere near enough flat-leaf parsley (because I'd run out). Makes 8 kofta.

900g minced lamb
2 onions, finely grated
2 tsp fennel seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp sweet paprika

1 tbsp harissa paste

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Heat a dry frying pan over medium heat. Add the fennel, cumin and coriander seeds, toast until fragrant – about a minute – then pound with a pestle and mortar until fine. In a bowl, mix with the other seasoning ingredients. Add the minced meat and combine with your hands. Cover and refrigerate overnight for the flavours to develop.
2. Divide the mixture into eight and mould each portion firmly around a skewer in a sausage shape. (If using wooden skewers, make sure you soak in water first.)
3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the kofta until they're cooked through – about 10 minutes.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Cauliflower Cheese

Cauliflower Cheese
You can't beat cauliflower cheese. It's a welcome addition to any Sunday roast – just brilliant with beef or chicken – or just have it on its own with hunks of crusty bread. The key to its success is the cheese sauce. It needs a good zing of black pepper and nutmeg (or try adding a teaspoon of Dijon mustard), and by Christ it needs to thicker than a BNP pub quiz team. This recipe comes from Nigel Slater, a "celeb" chef who I  have a ridiculous amount of time for. Serves 4.

1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
550ml full-fat milk
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2-3 cloves
1 bay leaf
50g butter
50g plain flour
125g mature cheddar, grated

To finish:
nutmeg, freshly grated
parmesan or cheddar, grated

1. Steam cauliflower until tender.
2. Make a rich cheese sauce by warming 550ml of milk in a pan. Season with peppercorns, a couple of cloves and a bay leaf and bring to the boil. Turn off and allow to infuse for 15 minutes.
3. Melt together butter and flour, stirring until it thickens, then whisk in the strained milk. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and stir in grated mature cheddar and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Finish with a little grated nutmeg. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower, scatter with a little parmesan or cheddar and bake at 200C/gas 6 for 25-30 minutes.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara
I've only had one experience with home-made pasta before, when my wife had a go at making some sort of beetroot and ricotta ravioli a few years back. I remember it being tasty, but my over-riding memories of the meal were waiting what seemed like a whole weekend for it to be ready and then going into the kitchen afterwards and almost weeping at the mess that met me. Home-made pasta has since been off the menu at The Albion Tavern. That was until I bought this beauty from Amazon.

Two days later, pasta flour bought and the wife banished from the kitchen I was ready to pop my pasta cherry with a classic carbonara. And when I mean classic, I mean classic. Made the Italian way, without – and this is the important bit – cream. Search for authentic carbonara recipes and you will find that it's the addition of beaten eggs to the dish at the last moment that coats the pasta and gives it its rich creaminess. The actual pasta making process itself was pretty straightforward and mess-free, and within 30 minutes I had perfect-looking tagliatelle ready for cooking. The result was pretty impressive. Look, I'm not to lie here and say that home-made pasta is infinitely better than fresh shop-bought, but it's certainly more satisfying to make. Here's the basic pasta recipe, with classic carbonara. Serves 4.

Basic Pasta
340g pasta flour
2 eggs, beaten

1. Make a well in the centre of the flour. Add the eggs and combine until a smooth dough comes together. Add small amounts of tepid water if too dry.
2. Knead with the palm of your hand for a couple of minutes. Wrap in clingfilm and leave for 20 minutes to firm up.
3. That's it. It then needs to be rolled through a pasta maker and cut with the desired attachment. Cook in salted boiling water for 2 minutes.

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara
2 tbsp olive oil
125g streaky bacon, diced
3 clove garlic, finely chopped
400g fresh tagliatelle
3 large eggs, beaten
handful parsley, chopped
50g pecorino or parmesan, grated
black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the bacon and fry gently for 5 minutes until golden. Add the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for 2 minutes. Drain, but save a little of the cooking liquid.
3. Add pasta and reserved liquid to the bacon and garlic. Remove from heat. Toss to coat and add beaten eggs. The heat from the pasta will be enough to cook the eggs. The pasta wants to be shiny. Again toss to coat and add parsley and cheese.
4. Toss a final time and divide between four plates or pasta bowls. Serve with more cheese and a twist or two of black pepper.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

White Chocolate Berry Cake

White Chocolate Berry Cake
Not mine, this one, but a stunning Easter creation by the missus that is well worth sharing with your disciples before buggering off.

185g soft unsalted butter
185g caster sugar
3 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
185 self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
75g white chocolate, grated
strawberries and raspberries
chocolate eggs
icing sugar to dust

1. Preheat oven to 180C/gas 4. Grease a ring tin or bundt tin. Put all the ingredients except berries, chocolate eggs and icing sugar into a large bowl and mix until just combined and smooth. Don't over-beat.
2. Spoon the batter into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 30-35 mins or until risen and golden.
3. Cool in the tin for 5 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
4. To serve, dust with icing sugar and fill centre with berries and chocolate eggs.

Roast Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Spinach & Gremolata

Roast Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Spinach & Gremolata
My oldest boy has recently started to understand food and its provenance, rather than everything being divided into meat (good), vegetables (bad). Things came to a head the other week when I half-jokingly said I wanted to make a rabbit stew, and his little bottom lip started to tremble and his eyes filled with tears. The wuss. So imagine my disappointment – and mild panic – when he said he didn't want to eat lamb any more because it came from "baby" sheep (pigs and cows, bring on their bloody carcases; fluffy, wuffy sheep, no thanks). The mild panic came from the fact that I was planning a leg of lamb, boned and butterflied by a skilled butcher, then stuffed, rolled and roasted to be the centrepiece of a family Easter feast (delicious magazine does it again). Two options came to mind: 1) lie, say it's beef or 2) ignore the little bugger and just whack a great bloody piece on his plastic Mr Tickle plate. Take a wild guess at what I went for... Serve 5-6 (or fewer if one of the diners suddenly realises that lamb is the best meat going and wants seconds and then thirds).

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
125g spinach leaves, washed
1.5-1.75kg leg of lamb, boned and butterflied (keep the bone for roasting)

For the gremolata:
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
15g fresh flatleaf parsley leaves, chopped

For the gravy:
200ml white wine
400ml fresh chicken stock, hot
2 tsp butter, softened
2 tsp plain flour

1. Heat half the oil in a large pan over a medium-low heat. Gently sauté the onion for 7-8 minutes, until soft. Set aside in a bowl.
2. Add a tablespoon of the remaining oil to the same pan. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted. Tip into a colander and press out the excess liquid, then coarsely chop.
3. To make the gremolata, mix the lemon zest, garlic and parsley in a large bowl. Add the chopped spinach and onion. Stir and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread the mixture along the centre of the lamb. Roll tightly and tie with string. Weigh the lamb and calculate the cooking time, allowing 16 minutes per 450g for pink lamb.
4. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas 8. Rub the lamb with the remaining olive oil and season. Put in a roasting tin along with the bone and roast for 15 minutes so it starts to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 200C/gas 6 and roast for the remainder of the calculated cooking time. Remove the lamb from the oven and lift onto a platter. Cover tightly with foil and rest for 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make the gravy. Tip out all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the roasting tin. Place the tin over a medium-high heat and add the wine. Bring to the boil, scraping the meat juices from the bottom of the tin. Reduce to about 4 tablespoons. Add the stock and boil for about 4-5 minutes, until reduced to a well-flavoured gravy. Mix the butter and flour to a paste and whisk small lumps into the gravy. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, until thickened. Season to taste. Keep hot over a low heat.
6. Carve the lamb. Strain the gravy into a warmed jug. Divide the lamb between serving plates and serve with minted new potatoes and griddled asparagus.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Spring Vegetable Minestrone

Spring Vegetable Minestrone
Another quick post today, and yes I do realise I haven't done a pie or a pudding for a while. Normal service will resume asap. Saying that, this was a real surprise in its beauty and simplicity. Serves 4.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
1.5 litres vegetable or chicken stock
150g small pasta or spaghetti snapped into small piece
loads of mixed green veg. I'm not going to give weights, because, to be honest, I didn't weigh anything. Basically use a couple of handfuls of things like courgette, green beans, peas, broccoli.
1 red chilli, finely diced
4 tsp green pesto
grated parmesan cheese to garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion and chilli and sweat gently for 5-10 minutes, without colouring.
2. Add stock, bring to the boil then simmer.
3. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes. With 5 mins remaining start adding the veg (beans first, then peas, the courgette and broccoli). You want everything to be cooked at the same time.
4. Divide soup between bowls and top with a tsp of pesto. Grate fresh parmesan over the top.

Asian Noodle Salad

Asian Noodle Salad
A great, quick dish, perfect to use up any leftover pork, beef or chicken from a Sunday roast, or maybe add prawns or for the veg-munchers out there, tofu. Serves 2.

leftover cooked pork, beef or chicken, cubed
1 tsp five-spice powder
2 tbsp oil
1 red pepper, diced
bunch of spring onions, sliced
handful of radishes, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and grated
pack ready-to-use noodles
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp sugar
handful of mint and basil, finely chopped
handful peanuts or cashews, crushed and lightly toasted

1. Heat the oil in a pan. Season the pork with the five-spice and gently cook for 5 minutes to heat through and brown.
2. Add all the veg to a bowl and mix. Heat the noodles in another oiled frying pan to warm through. Add to the veg.
3. Mix the soy, lime and sugar and pour over the veg and noodles.
4. Add the cooked pork and toss together.
5. Serve in large bowl. Sprinkle over chopped herbs and crunchy toasted peanuts.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Roast Pork Belly

Roast Pork Belly
Excuse me while I have one of my "food is porn" moments: Mmm, crackling. I love you. I love you, you crunchy, fatty, salty bitch. Crunchy. Crackling. Mmmm. Crackle for me, baby. Crackling.
Ok, I'm done. But seriously, how bloody delicious is pork belly when it has been slow-cooked for a couple of hours? The sound the crackling (mmmm) makes when you first break into it has got to be up there with life's greatest noises (the sound of your child laughing for the first time, the collective explosion of joy from a football crowd when your team has just scored, that farty sound you used to make as a kid with your hand under your armpit).
Oh, and pork belly is cheap. Ridiculously cheap and goes a long way. For me, there's just no other cut of meat from the pig that I'd rather have on the end of my fork. This is how I cook it to guarantee crispy crackling and succulent meat ever time. Crackling. Oh god, I'm off again...

1.5kg pork belly
sea salt
drizzle olive oil

1. Make sure the skin of the belly is well scored. Get the butcher to do this if you want. Place the belly skin-side up on a wire rack in the sink. Boil a kettle and pour the water over the skin. This tightens the skin and opens up the scores. Pat dry and place in the fridge, uncovered, to dry out for a couple of hours.
2. Heat the oven to its highest setting. Remove the belly and generously sprinkle the skin with sea salt and black pepper and rub it in to the scores (use thyme or rosemary as well if desired. For an Asian flavour, add Chinese five-spice). Season the underside as well. Drizzle with a little olive oil and again rub in.
3. Place the belly back on the wire rack and place on a deep-sided baking tray. Whack it in the hot oven for 20 minutes.
4. After 20 minutes, turn down to 180C and cook slowly for 2 hours. Baste the skin with any fatty juice every half hour or so.
5. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sticky Lime & Ginger Chicken with Mango Salsa

Sticky Lime & Ginger Chicken with Mango Salsa
Wow, winter has well and truly had its sorry arse whipped by spring, only for the upstart that is summer to come along and tell it "do one" even before it's got its blossom-clad feet under the table. To celebrate my first sunburn of the year thanks to a vigorous bout of gardening at the weekend, I whipped up this fruity and flavoursome feast. Sweet and tangy sticky chicken and a mouthful of fresh mango salsa with a hearty kick of chilli – simple, yet utterly amazing. Serves 2.

3 pieces stem ginger in syrup, drained and finely diced
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soy sauce
finely grated zest of 2 limes
juice of 1 lime
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 skinless chicken thighs

For the mango salsa:
1 mango, peeled and cubed
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 chilli, finely chopped
small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp brown sugar
small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
small bunch fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1. Place chicken and all marinade ingredients in a bowl. Stir well and chill for a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 230C/gas 8. Spread chicken in a ceramic dish or foil-lined tray and pour over any remaining marinade. Cook for 20 minutes, turning once halfway.
3. To make salsa, place all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Serve chicken and salsa with steamed rice or salad.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Irish Beef & Guinness Stew with Herb Dumplings and Colcannon Mash

Irish Beef & Guinness Stew with Herb Dumplings and Colcannon Mash
St Patrick's Day does my head in. Actually, that's not true, I've nothing against the Irish (I have some very funny memories of Dublin and I've been to Cork a couple of times and had a great time on both occasions) and they could certainly teach the English a thing or two about celebrating and being proud of national identity without a) worry that you're offending anyone, and b) becoming horribly boorish and arrogant and, yes, actually offending someone. No, it's the plastic fakeness of St Paddy's Day that bothers me (people calling it St Paddy's Day, being one – drunken English idiots wearing Guinness hats, being the other). So when March 17th comes around I'll usually be as far away from a night out in a city centre pub as possible (to be honest, with two young kids this is not that difficult – and not that different from any other night of the year, sadly). Instead, I'll be in the kitchen making this thing of beauty while talking in a mock Oirish accent and laughing like a leprechaun at how they say "turd" instead on "third". Sláinte. Serves 5-6.

2 tbsp plain flour
750g braising steak, cut into chunks
275g streaky bacon, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
350ml Guinness
200g onions, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
400g carrots, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
2 beef stock cubes
2 tbsp tomato purée
125g button mushrooms
salt and pepper

For the dumplings:
140g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
55g butter
½ tsp salt
1 tsp parsley, chopped
2-3 tbsp water

For the colcannon mash:
200g savoy cabbage
500g potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 tsp salt
50ml milk
50g butter
4 spring onions, finely sliced

1. Preheat oven to 190C/gas 5.
2. Toss the cubed beef in the flour mixed with salt and pepper until lightly coated.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the bacon and cook for 5 minutes.
Remove bacon leaving fat and oil, then add the meat in batches to allow a good brown crust to form. Cook for about 3-5 minutes until browned all over.
5. Place the bacon, meat and oils into a large casserole dish (deglaze the pan with a touch of Guinness first to remove all the flavour, also adding to the dish). Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, Guinness, stock cubes and tomato purée. Top up with hot water if necessary. Cover with lid and place in middle shelf of oven for approx 3 hours.
6. Bring a large pan of water to boil. Season with salt and add potatoes. Ten minutes after potatoes have been on, add the cabbage and cook for further 10 minutes until tender.
7. Mash well and add milk and butter that has been warmed in a small pan, adding more salt if you want. Fold in the chopped spring onions. Keep warm.
For the dumplings, rub together the butter, flour, salt and baking powder until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the parsley and add a little water at a time until the mix forms a dough. Pinch out clumps of dough and roll into balls.
Remove lid of stew and check consistency and flavor, adding mushrooms. Place dumplings on top of stew and and put back in oven uncovered for a further 30 minutes.
10. Serve with the colcannon mash

Friday, 16 March 2012

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns
Ok, here are the things I like about Easter, in no particular order: two extra days off work, chocolate eggs, normally an extra game of football to go to, a big family roast feast and hot cross buns. That's about it, really. I certainly don't do church or religion and I find the whole story behind Easter the biggest borefest ever conceived. I don't even know if you're supposed to be happy or sad. At least you know where you are with Christmas and it's got some bloody catchy songs to sing along to. Maybe if Slade released a toe-tapping Good Friday single to play in the shops every year it might not be so bad. "IT'S EASTERRRRR!!!!" Easter just doesn't have an exclusivity about it – chocolate eggs and hot cross buns are available to buy and scoff almost before the final knockings of the Christmas stilton is digested and flushed down the toilet, so by the time Easter comes around there's just a massive "so what?". And before I receive any emails (please) piously stating that the hot cross bun has the Christian symbol of the crucifixion on its sweet, sticky dome, I shrug my shoulders in indifference in your general direction. My dad used to do Spot The Ball religiously every week (and probably prayed to god for a big win in the process), marking his entry with hundreds of bloody crosses, and for what? (Actually he did win £500 once, so maybe the big beardy fella in the sandals was listening after all.) Look, it's a cross. On a fruity bun. And they get a big thumbs up from me. Other denominations are available. Here's how to make them, thanks to Felicity Cloake of The Guardian. Makes 16

200ml milk, plus a little more for glazing

3 cardamom pods, bruised

1 cinnamon stick

2 cloves
¼ tsp grated nutmeg

14g dried yeast

50g golden caster sugar, plus extra to glaze

450g strong white flour

100g butter

½ tsp salt

½ tsp ground ginger

3 eggs
150g currants

50g mixed peel

3 tbsp plain flour

1. Heat 200ml milk gently in a pan along with the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg until just boiling, and then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour. Bring back up to blood temperature and then mix the strained milk with the yeast and 1 tsp sugar.
2. Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and grate over the butter. Rub in with your fingertips, or in a food mixer, until well mixed, and then add the rest of the sugar and the salt and ginger. Beat together 2 of the eggs.
3. Make a well in the middle, and add the beaten eggs and the yeast mixture. Stir in, adding enough milk to make a soft dough – it shouldn't look at all dry or tough. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, then lightly grease another bowl, and put the dough into it. Cover and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size – this will probably take a couple of hours.
4. Tip it out on to a lightly greased work surface and knead for a minute or so, then flatten it out and scatter over the fruit and peel. Knead again to spread the fruit around evenly, then divide into 16 equal pieces and roll these into bun shapes. Put on lined baking trays then cover and put in a warm place to prove until doubled in size.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 200C and beat together the last egg with a little milk. Mix the plain flour with a pinch of salt and enough cold water to make a stiff paste. Paint the top of each bun with egg wash, and then, using a piping bag or teaspoon, draw a thick cross on the top of each. Put into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes until golden.
6. Meanwhile, mix 1 tbsp caster sugar with 1 tbsp boiling water. When the buns come out of the oven, brush them with this before transferring to a rack to cool. Eat with lots of butter.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Burgers & Burger Buns

Hamburger and Fries
There's a fashion these days for burgers to be the size of rugby balls. You can't go into a pub, it seems, without the obligatory gigantic colon-clogging homemade version served with bacon, mushrooms, blue cheese, onion rings, egg, and probably a pork chop as well. Oh, and that'll be £15, thank you very much, and we'll throw in eight chips stacked up Jenga-style. If you're reading this expecting a recipe for one of these 1lb-plus meaty monsters that you'll be crapping out for days, then you're going to be disappointed. Look, there are hundreds of recipes for weird and wonderful burgers out there – they're not exactly difficult to make. However, what this recipe will show is that simplicity is sometimes better, because these burgers contain just two ingredients: 1. Meat. 2. Salt. That's it. Seriously, no onions, no breadcrumbs, no eggs. Meat and salt – not even any oil on my hotplate. And the size? About 125g each, which is kinda a quarter-pounder size (and when I make them again I'll probably make them even smaller – about 85g should do it).
What you need is decent beef with a meat to fat ratio of about 70%-30%. You can use a mixture of brisket and chuck and get your butcher to grind it for you, or just buy some good-quality mince, avoiding anything too lean. Of course, add anything to your finished burger that takes your fancy – the one above simply has mayo, lettuce, tomato, American cheese and ketchup – but let the beef be the star. And, yes, I did make the burger buns as well, the recipe for which comes from Comme Ça in Los Angeles, a restaurant that knows a thing or two about burgers.

Burger Buns (makes 8)
250ml warm water
3 tbsp warm milk

2 tsp active dry yeast

2 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
750g bread flour

80g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

Sesame seeds (optional) 

1. Combine water, milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, beat one egg.
2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.
3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover with clingfilm and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours.
4. Line a baking sheet with grease-proof paper. Divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of clingfilm lightly coated in nonstick spray and let buns rise in a warm place for one hour.
5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 200C. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Burgers (makes 4-6 burgers depending on size):
500g good-quality beef mince

1. Divide the mince into 4 (125g each) or 6 (80-85g each). Form into burger patties – roll between hands and flatten with the palm. Excuse me for writing the following, but try to avoid handling the meat too much. Do not season at this stage as the salt will draw out any moisture, leaving dry burgers when cooked. Place in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.
2. Heat a frying pan, griddle pan or hotplate to a hot heat. Do not add any oil. When ready to cook, remove the burgers from the fridge and make an indentation in the top of each with your thumb (seen it done before, seems to help cook evenly).
3. Season the burgers on each side with salt. Be generous here, as beef can take a lot of seasoning. Place the burgers on the hot pan/plate and leave for 2 minutes. Do not attempt to flip them yet as they will just fall apart. After two minutes, enough oil will be released and the burgers will come away easily.
4. Flip, and again leave for two minutes. After this, cook to taste, maybe another minute or so each side.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Murat du Carta Chilli-Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Mehmet Murat from Embassy Electrical Supplies
Where exactly can you buy the best olive oil in London? Maybe Harrods has some exotic Spanish number, with olives lovingly hand-picked by the finest dusky maidens, and served in a phallic diamond-encrusted bottle? Or how about that posh Italian deli with the dried pasta hanging in the window and Luigi behind the counter with the sausage down his shorts? Or perhaps you could try that tiny electrical store down that back street in Clerkenwell, a place crammed from floor to ceiling with cables and light bulbs and switches and other technical electrical shit, but also with the finest olive oil in one corner. Er, what? That's right, an electrical store selling what The Guardian, no less, recommends as one of the top three olive oils money can buy. New York magazine even went so far as calling it the best olive oil in England, but they're Americans so what do they know? It's the equivalent of finding a specialist bookstore selling the finest kobe beef – Slaughterstone's, if you will. Welcome to bizarro world.
Ok, so here's the background. Embassy Electrical Supplies is a small family run business owned by Mehmet Murat, who inherited his parents' olive groves in Cyprus and Turkey. He now produces and sells the olive oils out of a corner of his shop, and via a very modest website. As well as the chilli-infused Cypriot oil I bought, there are also basil, garlic, lemon and mandarin varieties. But it's not just oil on sale, as the deep, pungent smell of oregano that smacks you right in the nose will testify – there are herbs, spices and olives as well. Oh, and behind the tiniest of counters is a poster advertising the family's villas for hire. It really is the oddest shop I've been in, but I love it.
Olive oil prices range from £4 for a 250ml bottle to £22 for a 2.5-litre flagon, however, as I was buying for some friends as well I managed to get a very generous discount on four bottles of 500ml for £20. Phenomenal value, considering the prices you can pay for oils of no better quality. The oil itself is incredibly smooth to taste – it's rich, grassy and warming, with just a hint of heat from the chilli. It will be delicious to drizzle over something like grilled fish or a pasta dish such as arrabiata. I imagine the lemon variety would be amazing as well, especially with salads.
Embassy Electrical Supplies is an absolute gem of a find and I can't wait for the next fuse to blow at Albion Tavern towers.

Embassy Electrical Supplies
76 Compton Street
London EC1V 0BN

T: 020 7251 4721

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Chocolate Macaroons

Chocolate Macaroons
So after making a delicious batch of vanilla ice cream on Sunday I had quite a few egg whites left over. What to do? Two thoughts came to mind. The first, the anorexic Hollywood starlet staple the egg-white omelette, was instantly dismissed – no matter what ingredients you'd add it just wouldn't be as good as if it had the yolks as well. The second thought was the trusty meringue. Bit predictable. So after a quick Google search I stumbled across this chocolate macaroon recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, someone who I've had a lot of time for ever since I saw him make his Christmas 10-bird turducken (footage of which seems to have sadly been removed from YouTube). Anyway, these macaroons were perfect: crisp outer, with a soft and chewy middle, and a velvety ganache filling. Well done, Hugh, and not a wood pigeon or partridge in sight. Makes 12.

125g icing sugar

3 tbsp cocoa

165g ground almonds

3 egg whites
55g caster sugar

¼ tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:
100g plain chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100ml double cream

1. Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Dip a 4.5cm circular biscuit cutter or small glass into flour, and use it to mark out 24 circles on the parchment set about 3cm apart (this will make it easier to make even-sized macaroons).
2. Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, and whisk in the almonds. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy, then gradually whisk in the sugar until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Stir half the almond mixture into the egg whites, then add the rest, along with the vanilla, and fold until just combined.
3. Transfer the mixture to a plastic bag and cut a 1cm hole in the bottom. Pipe on to the baking sheets using the flour circles as your guide. Tap the sheets hard on a worktop to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until the macaroons feel slightly firm, about 18 minutes. Remove, allow to cool slightly, then transfer on the parchment to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a bowl. Warm the cream in a small saucepan until barely simmering, pour this over the chocolate, leave to stand for two minutes, then stir until the mix is smooth and cool. Spread some ganache on to half the macaroons and sandwich together with the remaining ones. Refrigerate, covered, until you're ready to serve.

Red Onion & Roasted Cherry Tomato Soup

Red Onion & Roasted Cherry Tomato Soup
Yes, yes, I know it's not tomato season so I really shouldn't be making this, but I am generally pretty good when it comes to buying seasonal ingredients (you won't see me touch an apple in the summer, for example). The thing is, it's starting to feel like spring outside and the Mediterranean flavours of this soup just remind me of warmer days (cue a sudden cold spell and all the early budding flowers being wiped out in a mass icy cull). The recipe comes from New Covent Garden Soup Company's Soup & Beyond. Serves 4.

1.35kg cherry tomatoes
3 large garlic cloves, quartered
3 red onions, 2 finely sliced, 1 chopped
1 large handful basil leaves
4 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 heaped tsp dark brown sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
300ml boiling water

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Place the tomatoes in a shallow roasting tin, along with the garlic and the chopped onion. Scatter over half a dozen basil leaves and season with salt and pepper. Coat well with three-quarters of the olive oil and roast for 50-60 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to brown.
2. Melt the butter and gently fry the sliced onions until they are tender and caramelised (about 10 minutes). Add the balsamic and the sugar and cook for another 2 minutes.
3. Purée the cooked tomatoes with a little water in a liquidiser or food processor and pass through a fine sieve. Add the purée and any remaining water to the onions and taste for seasoning. Tear the remaining basil leaves and stir into the soup. Reheat gently and serve.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky toffee pudding is the staple gastropub dessert, and done well is an absolute delight. In fact, I would go as far to suggest that you can judge a pub's entire menu by the quality of its sticky toffee pudding. Don't believe me? Well this is exactly what I once did. In a previous life I used to work for a leading magazine for the pub trade and my then-girlfriend (who eventually became my wife) was food editor. Every year she would judge the best food pub, with the winner receiving a coveted award at a glitzy London ceremony. One year I decided to tag along on the mystery visit to each finalist, where we would stuff our faces, have a couple of drinks and generally twat about – all courtesy of our company. Basically all the finalists were of an equally high standard, so we decided that the winner should be the one that served the best sticky toffee pudding. Six calorific desserts later and a winner was found. This is the first time I've made it myself and I have to say that if The Albion Tavern had entered that year (notwithstanding that it's not an actual real pub and my girlfriend was the head judge), it would have been right up there. Serves 8.

200g dried dates, stoned and chopped. Buy Medjool if you can
250ml black tea (not too strong)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
85g unsalted butter, softened
175g self-raising flour
1 tsp mixed spice
175g golden caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten

For the toffee sauce:
100g light muscovado sugar
100g unsalted butter
142ml carton double cream

1. Heat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Put the dates and tea in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook for 3-4 minutes to soften the dates. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
2. Beat the butter and caster sugar together with electric beaters until pale and creamy, then beat in the egg, flour and mixed spice. Fold in the date mixture and pour into a buttered ovenproof dish or brownie tin. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is just firm to touch.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce by putting the sugar, butter and cream in a pan over a low heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Cook until the sauce is a lovely toffee colour. Cut the pudding into squares and serve with the warm sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla Ice Cream
When you tell people you've churned a batch of homemade ice cream there is usually a look of genuine surprise (and envy) on their face. Once you've mastered the basic vanilla recipe below (and trust me, it doesn't take much mastering), the only limit to the flavours and textures you can add is your imagination.

300ml full-fat milk
300ml single cream
1 vanilla pod
6 egg yolks
150g caster sugar

1. Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan. Slice a vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape the sticky black vanilla seeds into the pan with the point of a knife. Drop the scraped pod in, too, then bring the mixture almost to the boil. Turn off the heat just before it boils. Leave for 30 minutes or so, for the vanilla to flavour the milk.
2. Beat 6 egg yolks and 150g caster sugar until light and fluffy. Remove the vanilla pod, then pour the liquid through a sieve into the egg yolks and sugar, stirring until you get a thin custard. Pour it into a clean saucepan.
3. Put the custard over a moderate heat and, stirring almost continuously with a wooden spoon, bring it slowly towards the boil. Once the custard is thick enough to thinly coat the back of a wooden spoon, remove it from the heat, pour it into a cold basin and leave it to cool. Once it is cool, refrigerate it for a good half hour before pouring into an ice cream machine and churning until almost frozen.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Salmon & Sweet Potato Fishcakes

Salmon & Sweet Potato Fishcakes
My boys love salmon – or pink fish as they like to call it. They've got expensive taste, what can I say? So when I saw this recipe from Lorraine Pascale from her book Home Cooking Made Easy, I didn't hesitate in giving it a bash. Now I'm sure that Lorraine is an all right sort of person in real life, but I can't get on with her presenting style when I've seen her on TV. I just don't find her at all engaging and the way she explains things just comes across as slightly smug and, well, bloody irritating. Saying that, she's pretty fit and knows how to make a damn tasty fishcake, so swings and roundabouts really. Makes 4-6.

500ml vegetable or fish stock
400g sweet potato, peeled and diced
200-250g salmon fillets, skin removed and each one cut in half
large pinch of paprika
squeeze of lime juice
1 bunch of fresh chives, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
oil, for shallow-frying

1 egg, lightly beaten
100g dried breadcrumbs

1. Pour the stock into a pan and bring to the boil. Add the sweet potato chunks and fish and
cover with a lid. Cook for about 10 minutes until the sweet potato and salmon are cooked. Take the pan off the heat and drain well.
2. Return the fish and sweet potato back to the pan, add the paprika, lime juice, chives, salt and pepper and the beaten egg, then mash. Take some mixture and form it into a fishcake shape – this should make 4-6, but it depends on the size you want them.
3. For the coating, put the lightly beaten egg in one bowl and the breadcrumbs in another. Dip a fishcake into the egg, spooning the egg all over and flipping it so the fishcake is completely covered, then dip it in the breadcrumbs. Repeat with the other fishcakes. Put in the fridge for an hour or so before frying as they will hold their shape better.
4. Heat the oil in a frying pan and shallow-fry for 2-3 minutes each side.

Tomato Ketchup

Tomato Ketchup
I'm not going to bang on about how tomato ketchup played a pivotal part of my childhood, because it didn't, to be honest. I've never been a massive fan and only ever really have it on a bacon sarnie. However, I was making some salmon fishcakes and wanted a tomato-based sauce as an accompaniment. This packs a real kick from the chilli, so might be a bit strong for kids.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 thumb-size piece fresh root ginger, finely chopped or grated
2 garlic cloves , chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
800g tomatoes, briefly whizzed in a food processor or finely chopped
100g dark brown sugar
100ml red wine vinegar
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed

1. Heat the oil in a large, deep pan, then fry the onions, ginger, garlic and chilli for 10-15 mins until soft. Add the remaining ingredients and some seasoning, then boil for 30 mins, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened and is sticky.
2. Cool slightly, then whizz in a blender or food processor until smooth. If the sauce is a bit thick for your liking, stir in a dribble of boiling water. Sieve, then funnel into a bottle or jar while still hot. Cool completely before serving. Will keep for 3 months in the fridge.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Chocolate & Beetroot Cake

Chocolate & Beetroot Cake
The Albion Tavern took part in a Valentine's Day cake sale recently, all in aid of the charity FSID (details of which can be found by clicking the link on the top right of the home page). I'd had some appreciative comments about some Beetroot & Choc Chip Cupcakes I'd made before, so thought I'd take the theme to the next level. I'd seen this recipe, courtesy of Delicious magazine, when researching the use of beetroot in cake and knew that this would be the one to make. It didn't disappoint, as you can see from the picture above – moist, spongey, deliciously chocolately with just a background hint of sweet beetroot. Previous experience told me that beetroot loses its vibrant colour when baking, so I added a couple of drops of red food colouring to the batter. I'd probably add a couple more next time. As to the sale, well the cake was a hit, despite scepticism from the odd taste-deficient philistine, and it was gone in an hour. I think I got about 16 slices from it, but of course you can be more generous/greedy.

250g plain chocolate, broken up
3 large free-range eggs
200g light muscovado sugar
100ml sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
250g raw beetroot
2-3 drop red food colouring

For the icing
150g plain chocolate
100g icing sugar
100g soured cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/fan160C/gas 4. Grease a 22cm round, loose-bottomed cake tin with a little butter and line the base with baking paper.
2. Place the plain chocolate in a bowl and set over a pan of gently simmering water. Allow the chocolate to melt slowly until smooth, then set aside to cool.
3. Place the eggs, sugar and sunflower oil in a large mixing bowl and whisk together, using an electric hand whisk, for about 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Stir in vanilla extract, then sift over self-raising flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and gently fold in, together with the ground almonds.
4. Using a pair of rubber gloves to protect your fingers from staining, peel and grate the beetroot, then squeeze out the excess liquid. Fold the beetroot into the mixture with the cooled chocolate, until thoroughly mixed.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes-1 hour. Cover with foil if the cake browns too quickly. Test the cake by inserting a skewer into the centre to see if it comes out clean. Cool for a little while, then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
6. For the icing, place 150g plain chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Allow to melt gently until smooth. Set aside to cool, then beat in icing sugar and soured cream until you have a thick, creamy and spreadable icing. Spread it over the top and sides of the cooled cake and serve.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Fish, Chips & Mushy Peas

Fish, Chips & Mushy Peas
So I've had this deep-fat fryer for six and a bit years – willingly bought with wedding vouchers if you must know – and I've never used it. It's one of those mini industrial-looking ones and really called out to me to buy it when I first saw it. If I wasn't with my wife of a couple of weeks at the time I would probably have eloped. Now, I don't really understand what was behind this odd infatuation. Sure, I like chips, who doesn't, but frying your own just seems so antiquated. I mean, there's nothing wrong with oven chips – less fat, less smell, less chance of burning your house down – and if I really wanted that authentic "Chip Shop Experience", I'd go to, wait for it, the chip shop. So there it sat, first gleaming along with other newly bought appliances on the worktops, then in its box, then in its box under the stairs. Until last Saturday, that is, when it was unearthed in preparation for my first foray into chip frying.
The first thing was to fill the bugger (oh, how fickle love is) with the minimum four litres of sunflower oil. Four litres. Four. Litres. The second was to do some research into cooking the perfect chip. What potato, what oil (damn, should have read this first), twice fry, thrice fry (Heston being his usual "must outdo everyone else" self. Only surprised he didn't inject each chip with chicken liver parfait), to parboil or not. The third was what accompaniment. Gotta be fish, and for my debut I really wanted to cook cod as that is the daddy. But isn't it endangered or something? Maybe I should go for something else. Haddock? Pollock? Bollocks. Tough titty, my fishy friend, I'd buy sustainable, line-caught cod to ease my tortured conscience and chuck a quid into the next Greenpeace collection I see.
Oh, and then there's the batter. Gotta be beer, but which beer? Does it even matter? And you must have mushy peas as well. By now I was seriously considering giving up and heading off to the nearest chippie to drown my sorrows in a vat of vinegar. But no, one trip to the supermarket later and I was set, six-plus years of pent-up lust about to be unleashed in a torrent of hot oil. Serves 4.

Before the first fry
This is the method I went for. I'm not going to lie, it takes a bit of time and is nothing like whacking a tray of McCains into the oven. The result was pretty good – a lovely golden colour, floury in the middle and slightly crisp. If I'm being fussy, they could have been a bit crispier, so I guess the secret is getting the chips really, really dry after each stage of the process. Instead of sunflower oil you could use dripping or animal fat instead – don't forget I need four litres of the stuff, though. Never going to happen.

250g Maris Piper potato per person

1. Peel the potatoes and cut into chips. Soak in a bowl of cold water for 1 hour, then drain.
2. Put the chips into a pan of cold, salted water and bring to the boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes until just soft.
3. Drain, pat dry and allow to cool before putting them in the fridge until cold.
4. Heat your oil to 120C (use a thermometer if you don't have a temperature control) and add the chips in batches. Cook for about 5 minutes until cooked but not coloured.
5. Drain, pat dry and refrigerate again.
6. Heat the oil to 160C and add the chips. Cook until crisp and golden, drain and serve.

Wow. Just wow. This was amazing and probably the best battered fish I've ever had – and I grew up by the sea so this is saying something. I used a Jamie Oliver recipe for the batter, although I added slightly more of my beer of choice, John Smith's, to get the right consistency. The result after frying was ridiculously crispy, golden batter and perfect, soft fish.

4 x 225g white fish fillets
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
285ml cold beer
3 heaped tsp baking powder

1. Heat the oil to 190C. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper and dust each with flour.
2. Whisk the flour, beer and baking powder together until thick and shiny. The texture should be like semi-whipped double cream.
3. Dip the fish into the batter and allow excess to drip off. Carefully lower into the fryer and cook for 4 minutes until golden and crisp.

Mushy Peas
Mushy Peas
Another Oliver recipe, very simple.

knob butter
4 handfuls peas
small handful mint, leaves picked and chopped
squeeze lemon juice
sea salt and ground black pepper

1. Put the butter in a pan with the peas and mint. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and season. Mash.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Raspberry & Cream Cupcakes

Raspberry & Cream Cupcake
Not a lot needs to be said about these stunning cupcakes perfect for a Valentine's Day loved one. The original recipe said makes 12. I used mahoosive muffin-style cases and managed to fill 8. They were big.

180g butter, softened
180g caster sugar
2 free-range eggs
3-4 tbsp milk
180g plain flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
150g/5oz raspberries

For the icing:
125g butter, softened
250g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
small drop red food colouring
12 raspberries

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Whisk the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, then add the milk. Add the flour and baking powder and carefully fold in. Add more milk, if necessary, to get the mixture to a soft drop consistency.
3. Put one spoonful of the mixture into the cases, then follow with 2-3 raspberries, and another spoonful of mixture.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, for the icing, beat the butter in a bowl until light and fluffy. Carefully stir in the icing sugar and continue to beat for five minutes. Beat in the milk and food colouring.
6. Decorate the cupcakes with the icing and top each cupcake with a raspberry.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Halloumi with Vegetable Couscous, Baba Ghanoush and Hummus

Halloumi with Vegetable Couscous, Baba Ghanoush and Hummus
It's bloody freezing outside. There's snow on the ground, you've got to wrap up so warm it takes half an hour to leave the house, and once you're outside the wind is so icy that you just want to get back inside and hibernate until June. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of winter – dark nights, snow, warming food – it's just that by February I'm a little bored of root vegetables and my skin looking like it's been attacked with a cheese grater. That's why it's good to look ahead to warmer, sunnier times with this Mediterranean-inspired dish. There's a lot to it, so I'll split it into three:

Halloumi with Vegetable Couscous (serves 4)
Halloumi is a truly brilliant cheese, but reminds me of one of those girls you used to meet at student parties. You know, sober she would be deathly dull, would only talk about cats or the church and would be dressed ready for her Saturday job in a library. But a couple of cheeky glasses of cheap, value plonk later and she'd be dancing on the table, flinging her top round her head like there's no tomorrow and getting ready to stick her tongue down the gob of the next boy she'd see (unfortunately – or maybe fortunately – that boy would rarely be me). Halloumi is the sober girl when uncooked – conservative and boring – but introduce it to a hot grill pan, and by Christ it turns into a sexy, sozzled animal that is just screaming out to tickle your tonsils.

200g couscous
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more brushing the halloumi
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cougette, sliced
1 red pepper, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, diced
juice of 1 lemon
50g mint, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 x 250g packs halloumi, each sliced into 8 pieces
good pinch of smoked paprika

1. Add couscous to a pan of 500ml boiling water. Take off the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes for the water to be absorbed. Pour into a large bowl and fluff up with a fork.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onions and courgette and lightly brown. Add the pepper and tomato then stir into the couscous. Add the lemon juice and mint and season.
3. Heat a grill pan and lightly brush the halloumi slices with olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika and cook for a couple of minutes each side.

Baba Ghanoush (serves 4)
Baba Ghanoush
I just love saying the name baba ghanoush, although it does sound a little like an evil African dictator from the 1970s. When roasting the aubergines, make sure the skin is well blackened – the secret to good baba ghanoush is the slightly charred flavour.

2 large aubergines
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1.2 tsp ground cumin
80ml lemon juice
2 tbsp tahini
pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Prick the aubergines several times with a fork and blacken over an open flame for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish and cook for 40-45 minutes until charred and soft.
2. Allow to cool, then peel off the skin. Place the flesh in a food processor with the garlic, lemon, tahini, cumin, cayenne and olive oil, and blitz until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and stir in parsley.

Hummus (serves 4)
Forget that stuff you buy in plastic tubs at the supermarket. Once you taste homemade hummus – and see how quick and easy it is to make – you'll never buy that thick, tasteless crap again. Good hummus should be bursting with garlic, lemon and sesame from the tahini, with a suggestion of background heat from the cayenne. It should also be a looser consistency as well – honestly, some of the mass-produced stuff you can buy can be used to grout the bathroom.

1 can chickpeas in water
2 tbsp tahini
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
80ml lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp salt
large pinch cayenne pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
paprika to garnish

1. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. Place in a food processor with the tahini, garlic, lemon, cumin, cayenne, salt and olive oil, and blitz until creamy and smooth.
2. With the motor running, add enough of the reserved chickpea liquid to form a smooth, creamy purée.
3. Pour into a bowl and sprinkle with paprika.

Speckled Chocolate Shortbread

Speckled Chocolate Shortbread aka Leopard Biscuits
First attempt at making shortbread and another tick in the box marked "success". The recipe comes from The Great British Bake Off How to Bake cookbook and at this rate I'll have completed the whole thing by Easter (and be about 4st heavier). My oldest boy, Tom, instantly renamed the shortbread Leopard Biscuits – and then scoffed a couple without breathing. Oh, and a quick tip (mainly for numpties like me). When leaving a new block of butter on the radiator to soften for a couple of minutes, don't get distracted and come back three hours later to find it in a puddle on the floor. Oh, and quick tip No.2 (seriously, what a numpty day I had). Grate the chocolate into a bowl and not on a plate, as the slightest blast of air (maybe from an oven, for example) will blow most of it all over the kitchen... Makes 20.

200g unsalted butter, softened (see top tip, above)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
100g caster sugar
260g plain flour
40g rice flour or cornflour
good pinch of salt
50g well-chilled, 70% dark chocolate, grated (see top tip No.2, above)

1. Beat the soft butter in a bowl with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until creamy. Add the vanilla and stir in.
2. Gradually beat in the sugar and continue until the mixture is light and fluffy.
3. Sift the flours and salt into the bowl and work with your hands until thoroughly combined. I had to add just a touch of water to stop it being too crumbly.
4. Form the dough into a log shape about 20cm long and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for 20 to 30 minutes until firm.
5. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas 3 and line 2 baking trays with lightly greased baking paper.
6. Unwrap the log and slice into 20 rounds with a sharp knife. Space out on the baking trays and carefully sprinkle the tops with the grated chocolate.
7. Bake for 20 minutes or until firm but not coloured. Remove from the oven and leave on the trays for a couple of minutes to further firm up. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Cheese Scones

Cheese Scones
Regular reader, contributor, baker and runner extraordinaire, Anna, has been waxing lyrical about cheese scones to me for some time. I have to say that I tend to fall in the sweet camp when it comes to scones, but thought I'd give their cheesy, savoury cousin a bash. The verdict? Two content boys and one happy dad. Makes 10-12 scones.

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g soft margarine
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp salt
pinch cayenne pepper
100g grated cheese
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7 and lightly grease two baking sheets.
2. Put the flour and baking powder in a bowl and add the margarine. Rub in with you fingers to resemble fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the mustard powder, salt, cayenne and cheese.
3. Crack the egg in a measuring jug and lightly beat. Add milk to the egg to make up 150ml. Stir into the flour mix to form a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently. Roll or flatten out with you hand to 1.25cm thickness.
4. Cut into rounds with a fluted 6.25cm cutter to make 10 to 12 scones. Space out onto the baking sheets and brush the tops with milk. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown (you may need to rotate the sheets for an even bake).
5. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Toad in the Hole with Red Onion Gravy

Toad in the Hole
To celebrate National Yorkshire Pudding Day on February 5 – a day, along with National Curry Day, National Full English Breakfast Day and National Bread & Butter Pudding Day (might have made those up, not sure), well worth honouring – I decided to make another British classic, Toad in the Hole. Now, for all you immature readers out there (and I'll admit to being slightly disappointed if there weren't one or two) I'm about to say the word "batter". Batter. There, I've done, so come on, stiffle those giggles and let's be grown-up about this. Yorkshire pudding is ridiculously easy to make and there really is no excuse for limp sausages swimming in soggy batter (seriously, I can end this post right now). The key is making sure you let your batter (see, that's better) rest for a while and that your baking tray has plenty of smoking hot oil in it before adding your mixture. Oh, and don't forget to buy some decent sausages for this – I made another trip to Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa butchery near St Paul's in London and bought these very generous Cumberland beauties.

You can see just by looking at them that they are going to taste amazing – and they didn't disappoint. Serve with creamy mash, peas or greens and the red onion gravy. Serves 4.

sunflower oil
8 large sausages
4 sprigs rosemary
2 large red onions, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 knobs butter
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 level tbsp good-quality vegetable stock powder

For the batter:
285ml milk
115g plain flour
pinch of salt
3 eggs

1. Whisk the batter ingredients together and set to one side.
2. Heat the oven to 240C/475F/gas 9. Pour 1cm oil into a baking tray then place this on the middle shelf of the oven. Place a larger tray underneath to catch any oil that overflows.
3. When the oil is very hot add the sausages. Keep an eye on them and allow to cook until lightly golden.
4. Carefully take the tray out of the oven and pour the batter over the sausages. Add 3 sprigs of rosemary and return to the oven. Don't open the oven for at least 20 minutes. Remove when Yorkshire pudding is golden and crisp.
5. For the onion gravy, fry the onions and garlic in butter over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the remaining sprig of rosemary.
6. Add the balsamic vinegar and allow to reduce by a half.
7. Add stock powder and enough water for a nice rich consistency. Simmer gently until Toad in the Hole is ready to serve.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Honey & Walnut Flapjacks

Honey & Walnut Flapjacks
I've always been partial to a generous slice of flapjack. There's something very comforting about the warm, gooey texture – and if you ignore all the sugar, butter, honey, butter, honey, sugar, butter, well then it's basically just wholesome oats, so they're pretty good for you, too. This version comes from Robin Tarver, head chef at the Royal Exchange in London. It has the welcome addition of toasted pumpkin seeds and walnuts, so it's even more wholesome and healthy – go on, have a second slice as well. Makes 12 squares.

200g honey
200g demerara sugar
200g butter
300g oats
100g pumpkin seeds, toasted
100g walnuts, chopped and toasted

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Melt the sugar, honey and butter over a low heat.
2. Gently toast the pumpkin seeds and chopped walnut in a dry frying pan for about 5 minutes.
3. Add to the melted butter, honey and sugar and stir well. Spread evenly onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 15-20 minutes until soft in the middle and sticky on the edge.
4. Allow to cool in the tray before carefully turning out and dividing into 12 equal portions.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Chicken & Barley Broth

Chicken & Barley Soup
You've carved and eaten your roast chicken, now make the soup. Honestly, this will be better than anything you will buy in a carton or can, and really takes little effort to make. Oh, and the smell of it cooking in the kitchen is one of the true wonders of the world. As I write this it's bloody freezing outside. Seriously, think of a hot, steaming bowl of homemade chicken soup, maybe a hunk of homemade bread – guaranteed to cure/prevent any cold. Guaranteed. (I'd just like to point out before I get sued, that I have zero medical qualifications). Serves 3-4.

1 chicken carcass
1 large onion, peeled and halved
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 stick celery, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bay leaf
100g pearl barley or soup mix, soaked in water overnight
salt and pepper
water to cover

1. Place all the ingredients except soup mix in a large pan. Season and cover with water and bring to the boil, spooning off any scum.
2. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 2-3 hours (the longer the better).
3. Strain the liquid into a separate pan, mashing the carcass and veg to extract all flavour. Add any pieces of chicken left on the carcass (this should fall off with ease).
4. Return liquid to the heat and add the barley. Bring to the boil and simmer for 40 minutes until barley is cooked. Check seasoning and serve.

Perfect Roast Chicken

Perfect Roast Chicken
Bit of a back to basics this one, but this is really an idiot-proof guide – adapted from Jamie Oliver – to cooking the perfect roast chicken, which inexplicably can cause problems to the amateur chef. There really is no excuse for a dry, over-cooked bird and 1 hour 20 minutes is all it takes for a succulent roast. And forget all about covering it with bacon or making a tinfoil tent or any of that nonsense. Well seasoned with a lemon and some herbs stuck up its arse – and a bit of TLC – is all a chicken needs. A decent 1.5kg bird will easily feed a family of four with leftovers, and don't forget to use the carcass to make delicious chicken soup – please don't chuck it in the bin, you daft buggers. Serves 4 (easily).

1 1.5kg chicken, preferably free-range
1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper
handful herds, such as thyme or rosemary

1. Take the chicken out of the fridge 30 minutes before it goes into the oven.
2. Preheat oven to 240C/475F/gas 9.
3. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper, rubbing it all over the bird.
4. Carefully prick the lemon all over, using the tip of a sharp knife (if you have a microwave, you could pop the lemon in these for 40 seconds at this point as this will really bring out the flavour).
5. Put the lemon inside the chicken’s cavity, with the bunch of herbs.
6. Place the chicken in the roasting tray and put it into the preheated oven.
7. Turn the heat down immediately to 200C/400F/gas 6 and cook the chicken for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
8. Baste the chicken halfway through cooking.
9. When cooked, take the tray out of the oven and transfer the chicken to a board, cover with tinfoil and allow to rest for 15 minutes or so.