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.