Monday, 15 January 2018

Sainsbury’s Korean Meatballs with Edamame Beans and Pak Choi

I went to the doctors recently. Having gorged myself stupid over the Christmas period, where I was practically inhaling mince pies, hoovering up Quality Street from off the floor and setting up an intravenous drip every night - to ferry gooey Mont d’Or straight into my podgy veins - I wondered if I had overdone things a touch you see. The doctor, as they often do, sent me for a blood test and a couple of days later, I got a frantic phone call from him whilst out shopping for a new pair of trousers with elasticated waist.

‘Mr Kingston, the tests are back and it’s not good.’

I paused for second, before replying sternly - ‘Give it to me straight, doc.’

‘Well, according to these results, at present you are 24% cheese, 35% sausagemeat, 12% Toblerone and 46% tawny port.’

‘Doctor, that makes no sense. That comes to 117%!’

‘I know! I can’t work it out either.’

Of course, this is all make believe. I didn’t touch one triangle of Toblerone over Christmas. But like many people in January, I have been stewing over my overindulgence. The problem with ‘another year over’ is just that. You are another year older and so the necessities of a sensible diet, moderate drinking and *gulp* exercise do come looming into view. Yes, even when you are in your extremely late thirties.

However, despite these thoughts, I never really think about going to extremes. I am a middle of the road kinda guy. Rather than put myself through the self-flagellation of a life on mung beans, or thinking about conquering the Three Peaks, I believe in smaller changes. Less is more. And if you store up the less, then occasionally, you can have a bit more than usual.

I am going to apply this principle to that of my meat consumption. I am not going to stop eating meat. No. Never. Uh-uh. But I am going to stop eating so much. And I am going to eat more fish, vegetables, pulses, fruit and nuts.

In other words, I am going to become a flexitarian.

Now stop with all that laughing, with all your snidey comments at the back. Yes, I know that is how many of us have been carrying out their eating habits. Like for years and years and years. But I can also think of many people near and dear, who eat meat daily. Even if on some days, it is only in the form of wafer-thin ham, they still eat meat. So, there are a lot of people who could do well to step off that carnivorous treadmill and add a degree of flexibility to proceedings. Or try a slow transition from solid animal protein to a selection of plant based calories at the very least. And you know what? I think a lot of people are beginning to realise that.

By way of acknowledging this change in public perception, Sainsbury’s have recently launched a new range of products that meet this need. Saying that, with their army of informants, spies and market research analysts, they probably saw this mood coming a mile off. But still, the good thing about their selection of sausages and meatballs is that the key message is one of subtle inclusivity. And not the veritable whacking over your head with a large carrot, shouting - ‘YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR WAYS! YOU MUST CHANGE WAYS!’

Principally named ‘Love Meat & Veg’ there is a touch of the old school about the range. The British diet, for a long time, was exactly that after all. But the percentages here are around 50% meat and 50% vegetables, which means things do add up evenly. And combinations come in a variety of guises. Such as pork, with kale and squash; or chicken with feta and spinach. All suited for busy people, young and old, who not only want to get something nutritious and quick on the table but something that also tastes of meat. It’s interesting isn’t it. When you hear of some products, such as vegetarian bacon or vegan honeycomb, it does make you wonder if we’ll ever truly relinquish our appetites for animal products. I think I’d sooner go for the halfway house, over tricking my taste buds in any other way.

Speaking of which, I recently tried their slightly exotic Korean Meatballs with Edamame Beans and Pak Choi and paired them up with a crunchy, Asian style salad of mooli, carrot and cucumber for lunch. Given that my bowl worked out at roughly 75% vegetables and 25% rich spicy beef, I was very surprised to feel as sated as I did afterwards and that was with a serving of just five meatballs. There must be something in this flexitarian malarkey after all.

Then again, I did also make a hot aubergine pickle to accompany the dish. That must have brought the total up to 136% at least.

No matter, here is the recipe.

Sainsbury’s Korean Meatballs with Edamame Beans and Pak Choi – Serves 4

First, a little introduction. Whilst these meatballs are perfectly fine to serve up by themselves, I tinkered with the cooking method slightly, just so that I could bring some dressing into the mix, which comes in the form of a traditional Korean bulgogi sauce. There are loads of variants out there, but the prime ingredients include soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic and rice vinegar. So, I made up a mix of my own and after 20 minutes baking in the oven, I thwacked the meatballs into a frying pan, all drizzled with the bulgogi to coat, thicken and pour over the leftover jus afterwards.

Secondly, the aubergine pickle is a bit of an old fave. A sort of thick, tangy, savoury gloop, inspired by an old Asian cookbook, that throws everything in, including the kitchen sink. It doesn’t score any points for authenticity, but it is very tasty and adds a ‘meaty’ element to curries, stir fries and whatnot.


For the salad
2 Packs of Korean Meatballs
1 mooli, peeled into wide strips
2 large carrots, peeled into wide strips
1 cucumber, peeled into wide strips
2 red chillies (I used those regular finger chillies), thinly slices
Large bunch of mint
Spring onions, white parts sliced into rounds, green parts shredded
1 tbs of rice wine or cider vinegar
1 tps sugar

For the bulgogi sauce
6 tbs dark soy sauce
3 tbs water
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs rice wine or cider vinegar
1 tbs honey
1 clove of garlic
Cracked black pepper

For the aubergine pickle
2 large aubergines, sliced into strips
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
Thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 tsps Garam Masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp fish sauce
Juice from one lime
250ml vegetable oil


First get the aubergine pickle out of the way but placing a wide pan onto the hob over a medium heat and add half of the oil (125mls) and heat and then add the aubergine strips. Fry in the oil for about five minutes or until golden brown.

Whilst the aubergine is cooking, throw the garlic, ginger, Garam Masala, turmeric and chilli flakes into a food processor, with a small drizzle of oil and blitz to a paste. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and blitz again.

When the aubergine is ready, add the paste, along with the rest of the oil and stir in. Cook uncovered for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the aubergine has practically broken down and become rich and brown. Once done, transfer to a bowl to cool down.

To make up the salad, simply combine the mooli, carrot and cucumber strip in a bowl and add the rice wine vinegar and sugar. Leave in the fridge to marinade for 30 mins or so.

Next heat your oven to 190°C, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and place the Korean meatballs on top and pop them into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for your bulgogi sauce and mix together.

To finish the meatballs, pop them into a frying pan over a medium to high heat, along with the bulgogi sauce. The sauce will thicken and get sticky quite quickly, so move the meatballs around a bit to coat and then take off the heat.

Before plating up, take the salad out of the fridge and pour off any excess fluid. Tear up a generous amount of mint leaves and add to the bowl, along with the chilli and spring onion. Mix together to combine.

To serve, portion up a good amount of salad per each plate and then balance the meatballs on top, 6 meatballs each.

Finish by drizzling over any of the sauce that is left and bring the aubergine pickle to the table.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Dreaming of Serrano Ham and Cheese Croquettes and Zombies

I am never quite sure when the cut off date for greeting people with 'Happy New Year' actually is. Do you get the whole of January to shoehorn it in? Or should that salutation be all done and dusted in the first week? It is arguable that you should continue saying it throughout the year. Especially when meeting people that you haven't seen in a lot time. It is important to let people know that you care. Just make sure that they know, that you know, what year it is. Because if you start banging on with - 'And I hope that your 2007 is a good one.' Well, people are going to really think that you've lost the plot.


So, anyway. Here we are in 2018 and as always, everyone has gone galloping off with all those good intentions. To be fitter, happier, more productive and I am not immune to that pervading sense of guilt that I really should be doing something better. Like working harder at this blog for instance. This poxy food blog! That I love and care about. That I pick up and stroke and then put down, and forget about for a month or so. Before clicking on again once more. To have it stare back at me, shaking, unloved and whimpering - 'What did I do wrong?'

The hard thing though is keeping at things when you are writing for other people. This is my third treatment along the theme of New Year, New Me. Jesus, what more can I say on the subject! But plough on I will. For Food Urchin has brought me a load of opportunities over the years. Many that you have not heard about. Because I am a lazy sausage. But I weally, weally, weally want to make that a thing of the past and use FU as the platform it is supposed to be. Which is a fun place to come and read about food and drink through my eyes, maybe learn a thing or two (maybe) and simply escape from the increasingly strained vibe that is out there.

One thing that I have been working on, that has sort of evolved by accident, is FU Dreams. Just recently I have been posting little ditties on Twitter, normally in the morning, giving a brief breakdown of last night's dream. Now, the cynic in you will read them and think - 'OK Dan, aren't we just letting our imaginations run riot here, with these supposed scenarios, these nightly interludes. Isn't this all just a bit... needy?' Well no, not really. Because in all seriousness, these are the sort of dreams that I do indeed have. Honest.

And right now, a lot of you are thinking (if you've read them) - 'Christ Dan, you need help! Or need to stop eating cheese before bed at the very least.'

I do use a certain degree of artistic license, certainly. But the spark usually comes from an episode or interaction with something food related the day before. Something simply happens, that kicks off the dream. And thankfully, they always seem to segue into something entertaining. At least I hope they do. So do keep your eyes peeled, as there will be more. And besides its CONTEEEEEENT.

A fine example of this 'connection' came with I took charge of a huge lump of Gran Reserva Serrano, or a whole leg of jamon, just before Christmas, delivered by unearthed. With eyes wide open, I unpacked it and set up the stand and placed the award winning beauty atop, making sure to screw the thing in tight. I then stood pack in quiet contemplation, to ponder upon it's magnificence for a while. Then the horror struck me. I was going to have to slice the beast up and from experience, I knew that it was quite an art to get those perfect thin slithers. You need a steady hand and a decent ham slicer really. I had neither. So I went to bed, rather worried and was visited by this vision:

I really did dream this. It was not a patch on The Walking Dead. It was real and I got more and more panicked as the dream went on. All because of an inner release of self-doubt and lack of confidence, a crisis within the ego, a breakdown of the id, a psychological smashing of the...odd.

Thanks for that unearthed. Thanks a lot.

As for the serrano itself, well, it was delicious, with an almost cheesy flavour, like a nutty Comte. So in the end, I put aside all conjecture, apprehension and personal hang ups about slicing it perfectly and simply went at it.

Collectively, we only made a small dent on it really, taking nibbles off here and there and the occasional complimentary plate of shaving and chunks. I have now fully deconstructed the leg into portions and put it all in the freezer; for pies, soups and stews for the rest of winter.

I did make some lovely croquettes with some of the leftovers the other day though. An easy recipe that I've shared at the end of this post.

I haven't posted the ensuing dream yet though. Where I served some of the very same croquettes to Salvador Dali, at a pop-up, on a riverboat, on the Thames. He wasn't very happy with them. He became very angry with me and with those fierce eyes of his and an an unwavering, pointy finger, he suddenly banished me. Straight into The Persistence of Memory. It took me ages to wake up from that one and I don't think I am ready to fully talk about it yet.

One day I will, because it's funny.

Happy New Year and sweet dreams.

Serrano Ham and Cheese Croquettes - makes 20


Knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

50g plain flour

250mls whole milk

1 bay leaf

150g Serrano ham, blitzed into small ham-like breadcrumbs (start off by chopping the Serrano into small cubes)

75g Cheddar, grated

75g Parmesan, grated

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Smoked paprika

Black pepper

2 eggs, beaten

50g plain flour

150g stale sourdough breadcrumbs

Oil for frying


Take a saucepan and place it on a medium heat and then add the butter. Once melted, add the onions and stir, then cover and drop the heat and leave to cook for 10 minutes or until the onions have become very soft and translucent. It pays to give it another stir every now and then.

Whilst the onion is cooking, pour your milk into another saucepan, add the bay leaf and slowly bring to a simmer, so that the bay leaf can infuse.

Once the onions are ready, add the flour and crank the heat up a touch and mix to form a roux. Make sure you cook the flour out and when it is nice and biscuity in colour, begin to add the warmed milk (oh and take that bay leaf out).

Pour and continually mix until all the milk is gone and everything starts to thicken. Then add the Serrano, cheese, mustard, paprika and black pepper and mix so that the cheese melts.

Take off the heat and leave to cool and then pour the sauce into a bowl and pop into the fridge for a couple of hours.

When ready, take the bowl out and take a tray and spoon out a heaped teaspoon. Form each croquette (actually, should I be saying croquetas here?) by rolling with both hands to create an oval shape. Move quickly. A splash of water on your hands will also stop sticking.

Once done, place back into the fridge for another 30 minutes before going through the process of flouring, egging and bread crumbing. One hand for dry, one hand for wet.

After breading, place them back into the fridge whilst you get your oil on the go. I use a saucepan, filled two thirds full on the hob but if you have a deep-fat fryer, even better.

Heat the oil up to 180°C and take your croquetas (!) out and fry in batches of 4 or 6, depending on the size of your saucepan. Fry for just a minute or so, or until they become crisp and golden and drain on kitchen towel.

Enjoy with a simple tomato sauce, made with a touch of chilli and tons of garlic.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Crispy Duck on a Giant Crumpet

I know what you are probably thinking right now.

'Oh look. He's gone and taken a stalwart item from the Chinese takeaway menu. And instead of sticking it in a pancake, he has only gone and stuck it on a bloody giant crumpet. Well done him.'

As far as interpretations go, you'd be right. For some time now, I have been wracking my brains as to how I can utilise the humble crumpet, beyond the realms of simply slathering inch thick butter over the top; followed by a handsome dollop of strawberry jam. Or even a thin scraping of Marmite. Two perfect ways to eat crumpets for sure, especially in the morning with all that finger-licking glory.

'Ooooh, greasy fingers, a-jugglin' with ma mug of teeeeaaa.'

That was a little ditty by the way, that I like to sing to myself first thing.

But lets get back to the question in hand. Went it comes to crumpets, surely there must be more you can do with them? Should crumpets only serve as vessels for melted yellow fat and to be topped sweet or savoury condiments? Are crumpets just glorified toast?

No. Nay. There must be more to life than this. As Bjork once said.

So, hence my dicking around in the kitchen for the best part of an afternoon, making up plum sauce off the cuff, roasting duck legs, then carefully peeling duck skin off and crisping up skin in the oven.

All followed by shredding duck, shredding spring onion and peeling cucumber into wafer thin slices, toasting sesame seeds and of course, toasting Warburton's giant crumpets under the grill.

This really was a labour of love and once I assembled the lot and stood back to admire, I have to say, it sort of felt revolutionary for a second.

'Look at that!' I shouted.

Then a small voice whispered in my ear and said 'Dan, you've just spent an hour making up a whole load of shizz to put on top of a crumpet.'

Which was slightly deflating. But then I tried it and reader, this really is not such a bad thing to do at all. Given that regular Chinese pancakes have that flat, dusty, Communion bread vibe; using a thicker and fluffier base to sit your succulent duck and crunchy veg upon is fairly transformative. I think drizzling some duck fat into those holes was the main trick and working as a witty starter, this would go down a storm at a dinner party.

'Man, I never knew you could use crumpets like that! You are a genius!' is surely the sort of statement you can expect from such endeavor.

But as I have only tested these on myself and Mrs FU, I cannot be 100% certain. I also need to work out how to incorporate crumpets proper into a recipe and I do have some burgeoning ideas.

I just to need to nick a boat and sneak off to some island, rush back to the town's best baker.

There's got to be more to crumpets than this.

Crispy duck and skin, with cucumber, spring onions, plum sauce, served on giant crumpets - serves 2


2 duck legs
1 tsp Chinese five spice
Half cucumber, sliced thinly with a peeler
3 spring onion, green leaves shredded
1 tbs sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 giant Warburton's crumpets

For the plum sauce (this really was made off the cuff and you might want to adjust the ingredients)

Splash of oil
2 banana shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
6 plums, stone and roughly chopped
2 star anise seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 large thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
50ml Chinese wine vinegar
50ml dark soy sauce
Half tsp Szechuan peppercorn


Heat your oven to 190°C and place your duck legs on a tray and lightly dust all over with the Chinese five spice.

Place the duck legs into the oven and roast for an hour and then take out and leave to cool a touch. Then carefully slice off the skin (start from inside the leg working out) and place the skin back into the oven for another 10 mins to crisp up some more. Take back out and drain on skin on kitchen towel.

Whilst the duck is cooking make the plum sauce by placing a saucepan over a medium heat and add a splash of oil. Add the shallots and stir and then cover. Once the shallot is softened, add the plums and cook down for another five minutes, before adding the rest of the ingredients. Reduce to a gentle simmer and leave to bubble away for 20 minutes. If the mixture begins to look too dry and sticky, add a splash of water.

When ready, fish out the star anise seeds and the cinnamon stick and blitz with a hand blender. Pass back through a sieve to remove lumps and keep warm in another saucepan. (I'd say this gives you about 150ml of sauce).

Once the duck legs have cooled some more, slice the meat off the bone and roughly shred and then place into a frying pan over a high heat, to crisp up once again.

Next toast your giant crumpets until they begin to turn golden, flipping over to toast the other side.

To begin assembly, place a crumpet in the centre of your plate and spoon some of the excess duck fat from the frying pan all over the crumpet and into the holes.

Add a few thin slices of cucumber and then pile up some of the duck meat, interspersing some of the shredded green spring onion along the way.

Once piled up, drizzle some plum sauce all over and add a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Finish by topping with the crisp duck skin.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Pan-fried Whiting with Winter Salsa and Green Lentils

Warning – this is a recipe of two halves. One half involving the slightly laborious affair of peeling, dicing, stirring and slowly braising. Whereas the other half is a bit more urgent, frenetic and fast paced. A collision of cooking styles then. But when put together, I would say that both halves really do make a perfect marriage. Producing a plate of food that is vibrant, seasonal and packed with vitamins. He says, in his most humble of opinions.

As always, stories should always accompany a decent recipe and this one begins with fish or the dilemma of what to do when you can’t find one. By that, I don’t mean nonchalantly wandering around the living room, lifting cushions and uttering – ‘Now, where did I put that fish?’ No, I am talking about letting go of assumptions and familiarity when it comes to buying fish and stepping out into the unknown.

The case in point comes from a visit to a local fishmonger some time ago, when I walked in with cod on my mind. Because I wanted to have a crack at Rick Stein’s grilled cod on pommes sarladais with truffle oil; as featured in his cookbook - ‘French Odyssey’.

From memory, our conversation sort of went like this:

‘Good morning. I am looking for some unskinned cod fillet please. Just under a kilo.’

‘I am sorry sir, we are all out of cod. But we do have some whiting in.’

‘That is no good. I need cod. I am doing a cod recipe.’

‘Well, whiting isn’t a bad substitute sir. Just as firm and fleshy, and with a good amount of flavour.’

‘Rick…er, Rick’s recipe says to use cod.’

‘Whiting will do the trick, sir. I promise you.’


My responses were all delivered with a slide into unwavering doubt and fear by the way. However, there was something about my fishmongers’ twinkly eyes that suddenly made me trust him and go for it.

‘OK then. I will take some of your finest whiting, my good man. And whilst you are at it, make it two kilos!’ 

I also had to bolster some confidence back into the situation because a queue had formed behind me, full of loud tuts and murmurs of violent dissent. You really don’t want to mess with the old ladies of ‘Ornchurch.

But what of my grilled Whiting on pommes sarladais and truffle oil then? It was great, delicious even and furthermore, I had tried something different.

This notion of trying something new is also behind the ethos of a new fresh fish range at Sainsburys, named (quite aptly) ‘Fishmonger’s Choice’. By way of encouraging customers to escape the Big Five -Cod, Haddock, Salmon, Tuna & Prawns – the supermarket is now placing on their shelves some of the lesser known species of British fish. Seasonal varieties, all wild-caught off the south west coast, all excitingly when they’re at their best and most abundant. Fish such as Monkfish, Dover Sole and of course, Whiting.

These fish will be available until January, after which, as the weather changes, species such Hake and Ling will be coming into the stores. But in the meantime, I would certainly recommend you try a few Whiting fillets, especially as they are slightly cheaper than cod. After lightly dusting with seasoned flour and flashing in a pan, you’d hardly know the difference. And then served on top of some earthy lentils, with a piquant dressing? Ooh, suits you sir.

Which brings us back to the recipe and nods towards perhaps a second story. But I will keep the next part quick.

For this treatment of lentils is the longest, most boring job I have ever given myself in the kitchen. In an effort to get some more pulses into my children’s lives, I have discovered that a base of sweet and softened root vegetables, or soffrito, is the best way to get them to chow down on these protein rich little jewels. And as a result, they LOVE lentils. It does often mean an hour or so of mirepoix though. A nimble chopping down of carrot, onion, celery, swede, celeriac and sometimes, the tip of a finger or two.

But these are the things you do, to overcome the ‘fear factor’ when it comes to food.

Thank goodness then, that the whiting gets cooked so quick.

Pan-fried Whiting with Winter Salsa and Green Lentils - serves 4


For the fish
4 Whiting fillets, each one cut in two
50gms plain flour
Salt and pepper, to season.
50ml rapeseed oil

For the lentils
250gms green lentils, rinsed
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, diced
Half celeriac, peeled and diced
Half small swede, peeled and diced
1 rosemary stalk
3 thyme stalks
1 tbs seasame seed oil
1 tbs dark soy sauce
1 tbs cider vinegar

For the salsa
Handful of walnut, roughly chopped
1 tbs chopped gherkins
1 tbs chopped capers
1 red pepper, seeded and finely chopped (Roasted peppers are also a good shout. The kind you find in jars)
1 lemon, juiced
1 small bunch of parsley, leaves picked


First, place a wide pan over a medium heat on the hob and add a generous glug of oil. Once the oil has warmed up add the onion, celery, swede and celeriac and stir to combine. Bring the heat down and leave to sizzle for about 20 minutes, stirring often.

Next add the garlic and the herbs and continue to gentle fry for another 5 minutes.

Whist the soffrito is cooking off, place your lentil into a saucepan and cover with the same amount of water. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking for 20 minutes until they are soft but still with a bit of give.

Once ready, combine the lentils with the soffrito, sesame oil, soy and vinegar and mix together. Keep warm.

To cook the whiting, season the flour generously using a bowl or a plate and the lightly dust the fillets. Place a large frying pan over a medium to high heat and add the oil. When hot, add the whiting skin side down and fry for two minutes, before flipping and frying the other side for just a minute.

Drain on kitchen towel and keep warm. (Also, you may need to do this in batches).

Finish by throwing these salsa ingredients into the same frying pan – gherkins, peppers, capers and walnuts - and cook everything through for about two minutes. You might need to add a splash more oil. Finish by adding the lemon juice (add a little at a time, to taste) and then the chopped parsley.

Plate up by spooning a good portion of the lentils in the centre and place two pieces of whiting on top. Then drizzle over a nice amount of the winter salsa all over the fish and the lentils.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

the One° Precision Poacher by Sage

It comes to something, when at breakfast time, your family start giving you specific temperatures of cooking for their boiled eggs. In the good old days, all I would have to do is whack a saucepan of water on the hob, bring it to the boil, pop a few eggs in, set my egg timer to three minutes and bang, that was it.

Boiled eggs.

Of course, you would often have to allow for certain deviations at this time of day. Toast needs to be grilled at the same time of said boiling and kept warm too. BECAUSE ALL TOAST MUST BE SERVED HOT SO THAT THE BUTTER MAY MELT ON THE HOT TOAST. That needs concentration. And there are other minor matters that influence proceedings. The radio usually has to be re-tuned because someone keeps flipping it onto KissFM. Carol at the BBC must be gorped at, mouth wide open, for the latest weather update. Dad can sometimes disappear, for up to ten minutes at a time and yes, all these things have royally screwed up our boiled eggs in the past. But eggs would always arrive at the table; be it underdone, with albumen still crystal clear. Or totally solid, like a frigging squash ball.

That is now a thing of the past and given my initial grumble about fiddling with specific temperatures, we have all now calmly and quite sensibly settled on 75°C for delivering the perfectly boiled egg; with just the right amount of gooey yolk, all encased in a delicate wall. Even topping our eggs is now a joy. A rhythmic tapping that leaves us all entranced afterwards, as the top speckled lid falls away, revealing an impeccable white dome. You just can't help but to pause and marvel at the science of it all sometimes. Before going on to destroy everything, with a soldier smeared in Marmite.

If this approach all sounds highly technical, it may not come as surprise to reveal that I have been tinkering with a One° Precision Poacher of late. Built by Sage and developed by, yep, you guessed it, Mr Heston Blumenthal. No longer happy with sciencing up and solving the bigger problems in the kitchen; such as making ice-cream, mixing cakes and creating barista style coffee, Heston has now gone quantum and begun to look at the smaller, more complex issues. Such as boiling eggs.

My first reaction then, was that this whole concept was going to amount to right load of old...faffing.

'You wot Heston? Wanna show me how to boil my eggs do ya?'

So when I first filled it up with water, up to the sous vide line (oooooooh) and saw that I had to wait a laborious eight minutes for our eggs to be done, my cynical pants were pulled right up to my belly button. Which is OK, the kids are used to seeing me walk around the kitchen like that.

But then I fished the eggs out and served them up and bingo, they were pretty damn good. 'Eggspertly' good in fact! But I can't mess around too much with that because Heston has got the trademark.

As for the egg topper, well that is the pièce de résistance. The kit comes with temperature probe, silcone handles, a delay start so that you can time your eggs in the morning, a whole myriad of different functions; to steam, scramble and poach eggs BUT WE MUST TALK MORE ABOUT THE EGG TOPPER.

How this works, I do not know. It looks like a candle snuffer (is that a thing?) and you place it on top of your boiled egg, pull up the handle doo-dah and let the inside tapper shiztnel ricochet. You then peel the topper back and time after time, it cuts a neat line through the shell and takes the top clean off.

Do you know how many eggs I have fudged with a teaspoon? Sending splinters of shell downwards, to veritably spoil that sea of gold and ocre? To be picked back out with equally fudgy fingers? Do you?!

Heston, I applaud you.

My journey with this little gadget has only just begun and I have yet to fully explore it's potential but I have used it to also confit some duck legs, the recipe of which I shall pop on the blog at a later date. I might as well try and get some mileage out of this but if you ever find yourself falling fowl (geddit) of the conundrum that is cooking the perfect boiled egg, a neat little investment here could be just the ticket.

Mornings are stressful enough as it is.

Sage sent me a One° Precision Poacher for review and all opinions, hereby and otherwise disclosed are the machinations of the author, who is easily impressed. Especially when it comes to egg toppers.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Hunting High and Low

I don’t know if you are familiar with the poem ‘Silver' by Walter De La Mare but it really is a lovely piece of verse; that describes a magical, silent, fixated sort of journey. Filled with images of nature with streams trickling by and the prospect of faeries lurking and hunting in shadows, it is quite a favourite at home. However, for some very strange reason, the opening line has been resonating through my head a lot of late. The last time it happened was when I was up on a blustery hill, up in Perthshire, Scotland; with a small band of people. Some camouflaged. Some not so much.

And as I followed feet, single file and trudging through peat and sodden heather, the words kept returning to me:

‘Slowly, quietly, now the moon,
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees.’

This was in daylight, rather than at night, so it didn’t really make much sense to have all this racing through my brain. But I think the climb was beginning to take it out of me. What with the lack of oxygen at 2000 feet and my general lack of fitness. However, I’d say that the stunning scenery also had something to do with it. Glen Lyon is a beautiful place. Bleak by some turns, yet magnificent with the sun comes out. The views were all totally captivating.

So, up the hill we went and once again, off the line went - ‘Slowly *puff*, quietly *pant*, now the…oooh look, a rainbow…’

Then suddenly, I heard a whisper.

‘Get down.’


‘Get. Down. You are in the skyline.’

‘I am in the skyline? What happens when I am in the skyline?’

‘You could get shot.’

‘OK, I shall dip below the skyline.’

Yes, when you go deer stalking, it does pay to pay attention to these matters. The last thing you want to do is to niggle a highly qualified marksman on a hunt. Especially when he has got a gun and you can barely see him.

But this was just a small soupçon of knowledge that I gained on a trip up the road recently, organised by Sainsbury’s, to learn more about the burgeoning demand for venison in the UK.

The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, the deer population in this country is estimated to be approaching the 2 million mark and whilst this all sounds good for the deer, the resulting impact on the countryside can be devastating. Swollen herds can have a massive impact on farm crops and natural flora and fauna alike. Not forgetting to mention that a large percentage of roaming deer are responsible for road traffic accidents. So, culling must take place, to protect the balance of the eco-system and to also keep the population healthy.

This is turn moves onto the second aspect, which ties into a growing interest the UK, for ethically sourced meat that is also healthy and low in fat. In a similar vein to say, Cabrito and billy goats, it makes no sense to simply waste this huge resource. Especially since the meat that wild deer yields is about as free-range as you can possible get. And given that more people are beginning to adopt a flexitarian approach to their diet, the notion of buying quality protein, over cheap farmed meat, has become more and more popular. Hence Sainsbury’s seeing a 13 per cent increase in sales. I utter the word ‘flexitarian’ through gritted teeth by the way. But even this old stag must admit, that times are a-changing.

Coming back to the hunt, which took place on the Glenlyon estate, owned by Iain Wotherspoon - who does a fine line in plus fours, I am not sure if I could carry the look off - prior to us setting off, there was a certain degree of apprehension cutting through the air. Not so much to do with the deed itself. More down to the fact that taking a large group out on a deer stalk is counterintuitive to the task in hand. Ordinarily, Graeme Gallimore, the estate’s Head deer stalker, will go out alone or in a pair. Having nine people follow in his every footstep evidently struck him as absurd but having only been out in the hills for a short time, he quickly spotted our quarry and the whispers began once again.

‘Can you see it?’

‘No, where?’

‘There, just below that rocky outcrop.’

‘All the way over there?! I can’t see a thing! My deer eyes aren’t working.’ 

‘It’s there. And you are holding your binoculars the wrong way around. Now you lot stay back. Julien and I going to get into a better position.’

The Julien he was referring to, was none other than Julien Pursglove - Master Butcher, Technical Manager for Sainsbury’s and who’d have thought it, licensed marksman, with a list of certifications as long as my arm. It was Graeme’s job to get him into position and then Julien would aim and pull the trigger to make the kill. Yes, the grizzly end. But during our earlier briefing, Julien explained the whole process and that it wasn’t simply a case of shooting at will. He would have to assess the terrain, identify the nature of the herd and focus specifically on an area of the animal – the chest cavity - that would ensure an immediate death. If Julien couldn’t tick all the boxes, we would have to move on.

We waited for what seemed like an age and then a pop rang out in the distance, before the radio buzzed, confirming the kill. After we walked around to find them, Julien calmly and quietly spoke some words that immediately dispelled the nature of the scene in front of us.

‘OK, after a successful shot, we’ve caught ourselves a deer and we must now class this as food.’

Which seemed like a simple statement, but as he got geared up in rubber gloves and began the ‘gralloching’ it was an important one to make. Certainly, the business of immediately eviscerating an animal’s bowels is not one for the squeamish. But this basic ‘field dressing’ - to prevent contamination and to quickly cool the body down - did highlight the next stage and a transformation into product for our consumption. And for whatever scruples you may have, I personally believe that if you eat meat, this is something you should respectfully acknowledge. Or be aware of at least.

Having succeeded so early in the day, it was then decided that we should continue and at one point it did look like another deer would be coming back home with us. But I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that Graeme just wanted to tire us out. By making us walk for miles and miles, up and down hills, until we started to hallucinate and gently weep.

Back at the estate, we were then taken to the cold store, where the next level of ‘larder dressing’ took place. It was here that the deer was skinned and broken down, with an inspection of major organs for disease. Graeme took great care of this part and again, it was an important process to witness. Within a matter of hours, this deer now resembled a carcass that you might seeing hanging in a butcher’s window.

Perhaps too soon for some, what followed in the evening was a meal of venison, using some of the range that Sainsbury’s feature on their shelves. Along with some main joints and cuts, provided by Nigel Sampson of Holme Farmed Venison; a rambunctious character who acts as an intermediary, processing and providing both wild and farmed venison for Sainsbury’s. Nigel had also been out on the stalk with us, wandering out into that dreaded skyline and it was good to soak up some of his enthusiasm at the table.

‘The great thing about venison steak is that it doesn’t shrink in the pan! In fact, it grows!’ was just one of his pearls of wisdom. To be fair though, the big sell was largely down to the execution of chef, Chris and his wife Rachel, who had been drafted in from Ballintaggart Farm to prepare our feast.

After sampling Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range of venison steaks and sausages, all paired with innovative sauces and chutneys, we soon moved onto venison carpaccio, venison stew and roast haunch and succulent pan-fried loin – a cut that has been introduced specifically to their Christmas range this year, due to the meat’s popularity. And I must say, Chris absolutely nailed showcasing the meat’s versatility.

Clockwise - Venison carpaccio, haunch, sausages, steak and loin
So much so, that by the end of the meal, I started to proclaim plans to feature venison as the star of our Christmas dinner. Rather than going for turkey or say, rib of beef. However, I should profess this was also in part to Iain handing me a tumbler of whisky, two fingers thick. And I’ve got thick fingers.

Part of the conversation also steered onto managing expectations, due to this new-found demand for venison. Was there enough wild deer to go around? The response was that farmed deer is now having a larger, integral part to play. Which on face value sounds disheartening but having seen the programme that Iain is developing at Glen Lyon, with regards to rearing deer, the defining lines between wild and farmed are blurred. For even farmed deer have vast swathes of land and parks to live and graze on. The biggest cost is investing in the miles and miles of high fencing to contain them.

By way of proving the popularity of venison further, before returning home, we stopped off at Downfield Farm, owned by Bob and Jane Prentice. Situated in picturesque Fife, amongst a strong agricultural belt, the farm is home to Scotland’s first deer abattoir. Having previously been in dairy, Bob spotted an opportunity that coincided with this rise for deer meat and has seen capacity increase year upon year. As a result, he has now added a facility to process wild deer carcasses, that come down from all the estates and parks in Scotland.

Julien Pursglove leading a venison butchery demonstration at Downfield Farm.
The singular message then is that demand for venison is on the up and having seen the operation in its entirety, it is easy to understand why. It’s a small snowball but consumer choice is steadily becoming weighted towards provenance and sustainability these days, as well as quality and taste, and I can see how venison falls well within this category. Sure, there are some past and present associations, of Kings and Queens and of venison being the preserve of the privileged. Once you get through all that - the tweed, the formality of nips on the hillside, the blaaady tradition of the sport - there is a lot to be said for buying and cooking with venison.

Just make sure you keep off the skyline.

Photo credit: Craig Stephen (apart from the food snaps, they're mine!)

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Madras short ribs with sweet potato dhal

Using the immortal lines from that classic by The Specials, this place is coming like a ghost town. But with my usual line of bonhomie and excuses, I am pleased to announce that I am still very much around. I am just also very busy writing about meat, crisps and the Essex food scene. And many other things.

Many, many...many other things. Which is good.

So, here is a quick fire recipe post that has already been featured on Great British Chefs, in collaboration with Pataks. And it is a humdinger, even if I do say so myself. A glorious treatment of an underused cut of beef - the short rib. A piece of meat that in all honesty, has only really fallen into my radar over the last couple of years. But now I have found it, I can't stop eating it. Rich and devilishly fatty, short rib marries up very well with hot fiery flavours and I would even go as to say that it tempers and calms chilli notes. To a certain degree.

That said, I don't think I would ever take this dish beyond the level of madras. I still have very bad memories of a phal. My gawd, I will never forget the dawn...the horror.

Stick to what you know you can handle, kids.

The wonder of this particular recipe is that very the first time I made this, we were over at our friend's house for a Sunday ruckus. Walks, beer, wine, cheer, oh dear it's 10 o'clock and we've got to get the kids to school tomorrow. That sort of thing. Anyway 'Blimey, Dan! This is gorgeous!' was the resounding and pleasant response I got from my guinea pigs, so I know it works.

But the really, really great thing, was being able to shoot in someone else's kitchen and not having to use the same old props, plates and chopping boards that I return to, time and time again. 'It has really delivered a fresh vibe,' I said to my mate, after dishing up. 'I mean those tiles, they are beautiful, man.'

Which possibly shows you how tipsy I was at the time (or how much of food w*nker I am turning into). Perhaps I should cook and shoot in other people's kitchen's more often though. For that fresh lease of life for the blog.

I am not coming to yours though. I am far too busy.

Madras short ribs with sweet potato dhal and cucumber raita


Short ribs
4 beef short ribs, approx. 300g each
1 bottle of red wine, shiraz is a good option
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
plain flour, for dusting
oil, for frying
1 Patak’s madras spice pot
500ml of beef stock
1/2 bunch of coriander, for garnish

Sweet potato dhal
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
oil, for frying
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground cumin
250g of red lentils
750ml of chicken stock
1 lemon, juiced

Cucumber raita
1/2 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped
1/2 bunch of mint, leaves picked and chopped
200ml of natural yoghurt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds


Before you start cooking, the short ribs need to marinated overnight. Begin by placing them in a bowl or pot and cover with the red wine, vegetables and spices. A good trick is to make a little spice sack, using a small square of muslin cloth and cotton to tie up, to contain the seeds. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in the fridge to infuse overnight.

The next day, take the short ribs out of the marinade, leaving them in a sieve or colander over a bowl to drain and come to room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 140°C/gas mark 1.

Pour the marinade into a casserole dish, along with the vegetables and spices. Place on the hob, bring to the boil then add the beef stock and stir in the spice pot paste. Reduce to a simmer.

Lightly dust the ribs in flour. Heat some oil in a frying pan over a medium to high heat, place the ribs in the pan and turn until nicely browned all over.

Transfer the ribs to the simmering liquid, cover with a lid and place into the oven. Leave them to gently cook for 2 to 2.5 hours, until they are really tender.

While the ribs are cooking, you can prepare the sweet potato dhal. Take a large saucepan and place it over a medium heat, add a splash of oil then add the chopped onion. Stir until the onion is soft and has sweetened, then add the garlic, stir-frying for another minute or so.

Add the ground cumin, again stirring through for a minute, then add the red lentils and bay leaf and mix everything together.

Finally add the chicken stock and bring everything to the boil before reducing to a simmer. Cook the lentils for about 20 to 25 minutes, until they begin to soften and collapse.

As the lentils are cooking, bring another saucepan of water to the boil and add the diced sweet potato, cooking for 10 minutes or so, until they also begin to soften and collapse. Drain and leave to steam.

When the lentils are ready, add the sweet potato and gently mix in. The key here is mash the sweet potato in just a touch but not so much that it disappears completely. Finish by stirring though the lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Set aside, to be warmed up later.

To make the raita, first toast the cumin and mustard seeds in a dry frying pan for a minute or so, until they become fragrant and start to pop. Leave to cool and then roughly grind in a pestle and mortar. Pour the powder into a small bowl.

Add the cucumber, half the mint leaves and the yoghurt and mix to combine. Taste for seasoning, then leave to chill in the fridge.

When the ribs are ready, take them out of the stock and keep warm, (it is good to keep the ribs in a little bit of the stock here, so that they don’t dry out.) Pour the remaining stock through a sieve and pour into a fresh saucepan. Place back on the hob to reduce the sauce by two thirds.

To serve, warm the lentil dhal through and then spoon into the centre of a bowl. Top with a portion of short rib and then drizzle the reduced spicy sauce all over the meat.

Add some coriander for garnish and serve with the cooling raita to the side, using the other half of chopped mint on top for presentation.