Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Battling it out with Bertolli with Butter

Should you ever find yourself traversing the pleasant lanes of the M25, just near Junction 27 and on the Essex side of the street, you can sometimes spot a rather large house on the hill. To the untrained eye, it looks fairly innocuous really but to those in the know; well, they will know that that house belongs to none other than Mr Rod Stewart himself, he of a gajillion sold records and countless leopard skin pants. I often find myself passing it. Normally quite slowly on that god-forbidden stretch of road and when I do, I always wonder if the sexy ol' gravel-throated gnome is at home and I ponder upon what he might be up to in there.

Is he in his basement studio, flitting on a stool, belting out Maggie May? Is he playing football, in the back garden, with his thirty children, all swathed in tartan? Or is he by the pool, Piña colada in hand and topping up his tan? Who knows. But judging by recent revelations, the one place in the house that he certainly won't be in, will be the kitchen. Oh no, his wife Penny Lancaster has put paid to all of that nonsense. Because as she attested on Loose Women a couple of weeks ago - "Cooking takes away a man's masculinity." And we can't have that happening to Rod now can we.

For cometh the day that Mr Stewart pulls out a potato peeler, that will indeed be a dark day for all us men. For our testicles will wither into dust, we shall lose the strength and know how to go hunting and slowly, as our minds deteriorate, all reason will be lost. To such an extent that sometime, in the near future, we will probably start considering something really daft. Like giving women the chance to vote. Or something.

OK, you can probably see my pennysworth is toeing the sarcastic line here but in this day and age, it does make me laugh when you hear these sort of statements. Antiquated, facile and unnecessarily vexatious are just some of the words I've gleaned from the thesaurus to describe my feelings on the matter. But speaking generally, when Penny says something like that in the meeja, she is doing two things. She is giving credence to a generation of blokes who actually believe that sort of thing. Whilst at the same time, she offends all the guys out there who do cook.

"HOW DARE SHE SAY MY ATTEMPTS AT VISCHYSSOISE ARE IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM EMASCULATING!" I screamed in my pinny when I heard the news. It made me mad I tell you.

Of course, there is the third and more pressing issue of Penny perpetuating the patriarchy, letting down the sisterhood and striking a blow for equal rights but blimey, I am supposed to be writing a fun post based around a challenge set by Bertolli with Butter here. Eyes are probably reading this right now and thinking - 'Dan, we just wanted to see who came out trumps in the cooking stakes at home. Mum or Dad? Now get with the program!'

So yes! What's it all about Alfie? Well the challenge set by Bertolli with Butter was just that. They got in touch and asked if I, along with my wife, would be up for devising some quick and easy recipes using their product. And in light of the hoo-hah surrounding Penny's not so wise words, it was suggested that perhaps it would be fun to see who could come up with the best one. To test the myth, so to speak.

Given that Mrs FU and I are both wildly competitive and wildly opinionated about who is the best cook in the house, deciding who came up with the tastiest dish was always going to be fraught with danger. I am a terrible interferer when she is cooking and she is a terrible critic when I have finished. With that in mind then, we left the judging process down to our adorable twins. Who seemingly cannot be bribed, no matter how many sweets are put on the table.

Along with the Bertolli spread, a variety of ingredients were sent over for us to use, both doubled up for fairness and both approaches went down an Italian vein, as you might expect. Cooking concurrently over two nights, Mrs FU rustled up a pasta with tomatoes, courgette, pancetta, lemon and black olives and I created a refined risotto, using similar vegetables and a sprinkling of mint that is running riot in the garden. Working with the product itself was fairly straightforward for both of us, as we used it as we would use plain butter. I am a strong advocate of butter and rarely go in for 'spreads' but we found that the Bertolli with Butter worked well. Apart from the smooth finish, the spread added that Mediterranean touch from the olive oil, which ramped up the flavours in our dishes. Especially for the risotto when dotted around before serving and stirring through, to lend a silkiness at the end.

Like I said though, the final decision as to what dish worked best fell upon the small but broad shoulders of Isla and Finlay, whose verdicts were filmed and can be found below, with the recipes. And yes, Mum comes out best. But I am not bitter, as they were quite torn and rather sweetly, gave me a reassuring pat on the back afterwards; with a whispered "Don't worry, we liked your risotto too." I'll take that. Because by showing them that both of us can cook and by exploring different cuisines together, as we often do, at least they will grow up free of any misconceptions or 'myths' about who should be in the kitchen.

In the meantime, Penny can continue feeding her Rodney as much as she likes. Although it must get a bit tedious, having to puree all that food.

Pasta with tomatoes, courgette, pancetta, black olives and Bertolli with Butter - serves 4

As I have already alluded before, when Mrs FU does the cooking I do have a tendency to stick my nose in and I did question the combination of anchovy and bacon as she went about her business. But apparently, a dose of fishy umami does the trick for any pasta dish. Rather than plain old salt. Or so I was informed, before being told to formally bugger off.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
3 anchovy fillets
1 courgette, finely grated
100gms baby tomatoes, chopped in half and seeded
70gms pancetta
Handful of pitted black olives, chopped in half
300gms pasta
30gms Bertolli with Butter
1 lemon, zested
Handful of basil leaves, torn
Grated Parmesan, to serve
Cracked black pepper


First, place a frying pan on the hob over a medium heat and melt the butter spread and then add the onion, garlic and anchovy. Stir until everything becomes soft and then add the pancetta, turning up the heat slightly to crisp  the bacon.

Whilst that is going on, fill up the kettle and put it on to boil (life is too short to boil water on the hob for pasta). Add your pasta and cook for 10 minutes or until it is al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water, say a tablespoon or two and then drain.

Finish the sauce by adding the courgette and tomatoes and cook through for five minutes and then add the olives to warm through for another minute or so.

Mix the pasta, sauce, some cracked black pepper and the reserved water together and serve up in bowls. Finish by scattering over the torn basil, lemon zest and Parmesan.

Lemon and mint risotto with broad beans, courgettes and Bertolli with Butter - serves 4

I think I got deducted points for this dish simply because it wasn't served up quite as quickly as the previous night. Which isn't fair, just because I like to take my time when extending my creative oeuvre all over the shop. Working conditions weren't that great either, as I had to listen to deafening  chants of "WHERE'S OUR DINNAH?" But what can I say, my wife is a cheat.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
50gms Bertolli with Butter (plus a couple of knobs for stirring through at the end)
200gms Arborio rice
150mls dry white wine
1.2 ltrs vegetable stock
100gms broad beans, podded and removed from their outer skins
1 courgette, diced
100gms mascarpone
1 lemon, zested
Handful of mint, finely chopped
Salt and cracked black pepper
Lemon slices, to serve


Start by placing a large saute pan on the hob over a medium heat and add the butter spread to melt. Then add the onion and garlic and stir for about 10 minutes until soft. Throw in the risotto rice and again stir so that everything is evenly coated and then pour in the wine and reduce until it is absorbed

Then start adding the stock, a ladle at a time so that it slowly sucks into the rice, stirring all the while to exercise the creamy starch out. The trick here by the way is to keep the stock warm in another saucepan on the hob.

Continue in this fashion for 10 minutes or so and you should be at the halfway mark and at this point you can add the emerald broad beans and diced courgette, then carry on with the meditative pouring of stock. After another 10 minutes, the rice should be ready. Test it to make sure. The grain should be soft with just a little nugget of whiteness in the middle.

When the rice is ready, add the mascarpone, the lemon zest, a pinch of salt and cracked black pepper and mix through. Dotted around the top of the risotto little blobs of the butter spread and cover and leave for 5 minutes. Then stir the melted butter spread in and add the mint at the last minute, stirring one last time.

To serve, spoon a generous portion into a deep bowl and add some more lemon slices for decoration or to squeeze. Should you want more....lemony flavour.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Ginger Magician

The Ginger Magician Cocktail

All good cocktails have good names and if you look into the history of its conception, there will be a good story behind it too. The tale of The Ginger Magician has it roots back in a time when I was young, carefree and slightly reckless. I don’t really want to divulge the full details of the story but let’s just say that a display of flagrant dancing, atop a bar, in some dodgy nightclub led to swift ejection. The only defence I had at the time, was to tearfully shout and protest that I was indeed The Ginger Magician. Adding in a slurred - “Don’t you know who I am?!” “Don’t you know who I am?”

Of course friends overheard all the clamor and like good friends do, they simply laughed as I was carted off into the distance. And from therein, that became my nickname. The Ginger Magician. I even have it inscribed on a plaque. Somewhere.

Fast forward to present day and now I am a fully grown man, responsible adult and father; so those heady times are well and truly behind me. In fact, now that all that fabulous ginger hair has gone, I am not even sure I can truly honor that nickname these days.

So when I got down to thinking about making a cocktail using Jeeves, a quintessentially British mixer that you would normally use for making a summer punch, I felt that an injection of danger and spirit should go into the mix. In memoriam. And of course it had to be called ‘The Ginger Magician’.

There were a couple of incarnations along the way; such as Jeeves, rosewater and Midori, which was terrible and I was able to laugh back at one of my ‘friends’ for suggesting that one. Far too sweet. It was also tricky working out whether we should go down the highball route and make a tall, refreshing glass. Or whether to make something short, sturdy and stout.

In the end the latter won and although fruity, there is hint of bitterness in Jeeves, when sampled straight (ahem). So the final result, with the introduction of gin and Campari, was not too far off a Negroni. Which really is an adult drink.

Ginger still had to make its mark though. So I decided to make a light granita using the fiery stuff, to scoop into the tumbler right at the end. Like a sort of spicy wizards hat. And it works really well, in my humble opinion. Especially when supped at the end of a long, hot and frenetic day.

I say that because the last time I had a GM was right at the end of our twins’ recent birthday party. Once they were in bed, I made one and sat in the garden exhausted, surveying the damage around me. The grass was strewn with toys, fallen chairs and paper plates. Plus a dismembered piñata that had been bashed to pieces by a thousand screaming children just a couple of hours before. It was my boy who delivered the fatal blow, to send packets of Haribo flying up into the air, to great cheers and applause. And as he turned to look at me, face beaming with a bright and rather naughty glint in his eye, I began to worry. Worrying that in the not so distant horizon, another ‘magician’ will soon be coming, lolloping into view. 

The Ginger Magician

Now, you can make this in large quantities for parties if you wish, just as long as you stick to the ratios.


1 part Jeeves
1 part gin
1 part Campari
For the light ginger granita
150ml water
50gms caster sugar
1 piece of ginger, about 30gms, finely grated
Strip of orange peel and extra crushed ice, for decoration


First make the granita by mixing the ingredients into a saucepan and gently heating on the hob. There is no need to bring it up to boil, just make sure that the sugar blends in. Then leave to infuse for 30 mins. 

Pour into the liquid into a shallow container, through a sieve to catch the ginger, and leave until completely cool. Then place into a freezer, returning every hour or so to stir and fluff it up with a fork. Slowly it will start to crystalise and form into a granita. It usually takes about 4 hours.

To make the cocktail, take a large tumbler and place some crushed ice into the bottom. Pour in an equal measure of Jeeves, gin and Campari (25mls each is fine, 50mls if it has been a hard day). Stir briefly and add the orange peel and then scoop a spoon of ginger granita into the middle.


An edited version of this post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog

Friday, 12 June 2015

How To Eat Outside by Genevieve Taylor

Now ordinarily, I would have a big problem with a book that tells me how to do to something. Especially a book that specifically sets out to show me how, just how to eat outside. Because I have been eating outside all my life. From since I was a wee nipper, pickernicking in Hyde Park, getting chased by geese, whilst holding a current bun in the air, screaming, to the amusement of my sadistic parents. Through to cooking with a Trangia at music festivals and squinting over the burner, to see if the methylated spirits were alight or not, and getting my eyebrows singed in the process. Finishing, if it's not too cold, with the almost weekly and somewhat spiritual building of a pyre in my very knackered and very rusty barbecue. Who is fast going the way of Betty.

In fact, as a practitioner of the gross method of eating on the hoof, ne'er a day goes by when I am not stuffing my mouth in the bright, wide, open air (I blame the surgence of street food for this). So what the hell could a book teach me, a Jedi knight of alfresco dining and masticating, about the subject of eating outside?

Well, quite a lot it seems.

When I received Genevieve Taylor's new book for review, which if you hadn't already guessed is called How To Eat Outside, I have to admit, the press release that accompanied it did make me smirk a little. Because billing itself as the 'ultimate bible' for outdoor cooking is quite a strong statement. There is a whole mountain of cookbooks out there on the subject and I often find that they all go down the same, well-worn track. Also included, was a shaky prediction that this summer was set to be one the warmest in decades. Which is the sort of marketing proclamation that makes us Michael Fish types go "Nah, don't say that. I am holidaying in Devon this year. Don't jinx it man."

Then I opened the book, had a flick through and scanned a generous amount of original ideas and recipes inside. Springing from the pages in no particular order were suggestions such as kiwi-marinated squid with chermoula, Middle Eastern lamb and date burgers, Thai prawn pot noodle (using your good old fashioned Thermos flask) and a mouthwatering bread and butter pudding with marmalade and chocolate. To achieve making the latter, that would warrant investing in one of those tripod BBQ's for fire pit cooking and showing the picture to Mrs FU may have clinched it. So happy days there.

However, to paraphrase Jerry Maguire, Genevieve had me at the suggestion of crisp butties for picnics. We all know that crisp sandwiches are bloody fantastic but for me, this was a great no-nonsense inclusion. Along with hard-boiled eggs, a simple ploughman's and a tin of tuna. In a world of stylised, over-wrought exhortations for anything to do with food, all wrapped in furry string and gingham (hello lifestyle people!) I really appreciated this ballsy, 'it ain't rocket science' approach and this theme runs through the whole book. It is quite obvious that Genevieve is also a full-time parent, so short cuts and quick tricks are very much the order of the day. Some may blanch at buying ready made ingredients such as jerk paste and utter "No waaay am I going to use Dunns River! Not when I've got these gorgeous scotch bonnets, yaah?"

But when you are frantically packing the car at five in the morning and your little one comes scuffling out onto the street with their jeans and pants around their ankles, asking for toilet roll, you are not going to give two fingers of fudge about authenticity. You just want to get on the road.

Permeating throughout all the instructions, stories and handsome pictures of food then, is this sense of simply going out to have fun and adventure in the great outdoors. And like I said, if you do have children, this is a great book to keep on hand, should you be mad enough to go camping this summer. All of her desserts will keep them quiet for ten minutes at least. Offering a safe but brief haven for when it more than likely pisses down with rain.

I am going camping on three separate occasions this year by the way.

The one recipe really sprung out for me though was her Campfire calzone pizzas. Giving a good nod to scouting efficiency when it comes to entertaining young minds, I tried this out with the twins last night and it went down a storm. After stoking up some flames and laying out our ingredients, all finesse went out the window and most of the toppings made their way into mouths before cooking. Yet in fairness, their smaller stuffed pizzas came out slightly better than my Big Daddy one, which was slightly undercooked when I unwrapped it. It really could have done with five minutes more but I was starving and after seeing their red, dappled mouths, I couldn't wait any longer to get stuck into my own slice of gooey mozzarella and spicy pepperoni. The greatest achievement though came afterwards, when my daughter shouted proudly over the garden fence to another little but equally loud voice next door, booming that she had just made pizza on the barbecue:

"We just cooked pizza on a BBQ!"

"You can't cook pizza on a BBQ!"

"Yes you can, my Dad showed us how to do it!"

"Well, not really Schmicks," I whispered. "A lady called Genevieve showed us how to do it."

How To Eat Outside: Fabulous Al Fresco Food for BBQs, Bonfires, Camping and More is published by Bantam Press and hits the shelves on June 18th 2015.

And here is the recipe, given with kind permission from Genevieve Taylor and Bantam Press.

Campfire calzone pizza - makes 6

For the dough
600g strong white bread flour
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
350ml hand-hot water

For the topping
Selection of toppings for people to choose from, such as sweetcorn, pepperoni slices, chopped ham, flaked tuna, sliced peppers or mushrooms, olives, chopped fresh basil 
1 x 200g carton passata
2 x 125g balls mozzarella, torn into pieces

You will also need 6 large sheets of foil, lightly oiled on one side.

First make the dough. Add the flour, salt, dried herbs and yeast to a large mixing bowl and stir until evenly mixed. Pour in the oil and hand-hot water, mixing with a wooden spoon until you have a rough, crumbly dough. Add a little more water if it looks too dry, or a little more flour if it looks too wet.

Drizzle a little oil on the worktop, spreading it around with your hands. Tip the dough on to it, then knead well until smooth and stretchy, about 5–8 minutes. 

Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces, place each one in the centre of an oiled sheet of foil and loosely fold over the foil to enclose the dough. Pack away in a box with a lid, ready to transport to your cooking site. Get ready a selection of your chosen toppings and pack those away too. The dough will be quite happy at room temperature for a couple of hours; any longer and I would store it in the fridge.

When you are ready to cook, lay out the bowls of toppings, ideally on a camp table, and give the kids a package of dough each. Get them to press it out flat into a pizza shape, about 1cm thick. Spread a little passata on one half of each round, leaving a border around the edge, and then top with the mozzarella and whatever else you want. For each calzone, fold the dough in half over the filling and crimp all around the edges to seal the filling inside (as if you were making a pasty).

Loosely fold over the foil again, sealing it completely, and place on the grill over a medium-hot fire to cook, turning over every now and then. Depending on the heat of the fire, they will take around 20–30 minutes. Unfold one carefully to peek inside; it should be crisp and cooked through, not raw and doughy. If not, reseal and cook for another few minutes. Once ready, they will be scorching hot, so let them cool for a few minutes before tucking in.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Elderflower Champagne

If you have never dipped your toe into the heady, rambunctious and sometimes sulfurous pool of home brewing before but have always fancied a go, I'd kick off your experimentation by making elderflower champagne if I were you. Because out of all the countless ways to convert simple 'matter' into booze, this has to be the easiest and quite possibly most impressive method of alcoholifrication, outside of prison hooch that is.

I am not talking here as a seasoned home brewer by the way. I have had some modest success with wine, port and marrow rum yes but my kitchen isn't awash with demijohns and bubbling air-locks. Nor do I have a mini mash tun and cooling coil sneaked away in the shed, pumping out gallons of Baz Vegas Otter IPA. Although that wouldn't be a bad idea. I am just talking from experience, having made this wonderful 'shampagne' a few times over the years. And every time, I have always been tickled pink by the transformation of this faintly cat piss smelling flower into light, evanescent fizz.

The biggest thumbs up came last year when I entered a bottle of the stuff into Siptemberfest, which is a small home brewing competition set up amongst friends. Ordinarily you are only allowed to submit really horrible beer, that has been lashed with yeast in an effort to pump up the volume, which in turn gives you the most foulest stinking farts the next day. However, the rules were relaxed in September and so I brought along a bottle of the stuff for people to sample. After every sip, eyebrows were raised in the kind of way that said - "Bugger, Danny has brought along something we can all actually drink."

Which was very pleasing and I very nearly won the coveted over-sized yellow felt jacket, that someone found in a charity shop. But instead I came second in our little tournament, losing out to an excellent chilli-flavoured lager and in hindsight, I shouldn't have scored it so high.


(Damn you girls, and your impressive beer making abilities.)

Still, that I was able to turn a load of heads onto elderflower champagne is testimony in itself. Especially since it is not really that alcoholic, probably 2.. 3% tops, if left long enough. Yet when quenched ice cold, on a hot summer's day, there is nothing finer and you'll soon be reaching for that plastic lemonade bottle for another glass in no time.

Oh yes, make you sure you build up a collection of plastic bottles for when you strain and rack the fizz off, which will be four days tops after starting the process. Because everything is still fermenting, the build up of carbon dioxide will cause the bottles to expand and this is OK, I haven't had a plastic bottle burst on me yet. But I have had a glass one explode.

Recipes for elderflower champagne do vary slightly and yet in essence remain the same, so I normally rely on the advice of wild booze brewer and jack of all trades, the Other Andy Hamilton. This slightly abbreviated recipe can be found in his book Booze For Free and if I remember rightly, it's not even his to own, so I am sure it is good to share.

The elderflower tree is the giving tree after all.

Elderflower Champagne


8 large heads of elderflower
1 kg sugar
4 lemons, 2 juiced, 2 sliced up
3 tbs white wine vinegar
6 ltrs water

You will also need a bucket that has been cleaned and sterilised.


First, pour the sugar into the bucket and heat up half the water (3 litres) on the hob in a large saucepan. Just before the water comes to the boil, take off the heat and pour over the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves and then pour in the remaining 3 litres of water to cool. Then throw the elderflower heads in, with the lemon juice, lemon juice and slices and white wine vinegar  Mix together and then cover the bucket with a tea towel and leave in a quiet spot in the kitchen.

After a day or two, it should start to ferment and foam. Leave it for four days maximum and the strain off through a muslin and pour it into your plastic bottles that you have saved. Keep in the fridge for up to two months, checking every now and then on the size of the bottles. If they look dangerously swollen, just release a bit of gas to ease the pressure.

My elderflower shampagne is still a work in progress but once I have got it bottled, I shall ping up some more photos of the results.

Sliced lemon
Strange brew

OK, after giving out pearls of wisdom about using plastic bottles for elderflower champagne in case of explosions, glass splinters, killing the cat, blah blah blah, you can see from the photo below that I have seemingly rescinded on that sound advice. But the explanation is simple. You see, I had a collection of old soft drinks bottles all ready for decanting and yet when it came to finding the time to do so the other day, I was in a bit of a rush. Feverishly, I threw them into the sink and thought quickly to myself about sterilising them, before realising that we had no sterilising solution.

"We've run out of Milton!" I screamed to myself. Followed by "What to do? What to do?"

So, unwittingly, I filled the kettle up, boiled up some water to a fierce roll, poured the scorching hot liquid into the PLASTIC bottles aaaaaaand promptly melted everything.

What. A. Stupid. Sod.

That said, it is best that likes of I do these sorts of things, as a sort of public service to others. Ahem. I have now since procured some proper cleansing powder and I will never, ever do it again. Especiallt since I have another batch on the go. In the meantime, I shall be keeping a distant eye on these bottles. Because they were the only things I had to hand at the time.

Danger, danger, high voltage!