Friday, 31 July 2015

Greek Semolina Cake with Orange and Honey

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs website. Which has been revamped and looks all very sexy and shiny and new, you should check it out.

Most traditional recipes, like this Greek semolina cake (or Revani as it is also known), are all open to interpretation, tweaks and additions and this recipe is no different. And whilst I wish I could say that I learnt to make this under the guidance of a scary Yiayia, all clad in black, I got the lowdown for this wonderfully moreish cake from another maternal figure. Namely the very reliable Delia Smith. But then again, she didn’t quite get it right the first time around because my first attempt way back when, fractured under the pressure when I tried to lift it out of the tin and I was largely left with crumbs. This could be down to my own cack-handed ineptitude of course but being the stubborn, pig headed type, I am hardly going to foot the blame. So after further cracks at the whip, I’ve made a couple of changes by adding a smidgen of bread crumb and soup├žon of oil to the mix, just to stabilise things. There be might frowns, certainly; but let me reassure you, the grainy texture and lightness of this cake, imbued with sweet honey and citrus, is by no way affected by their introduction. Yes, I am talking to you, my imaginary Greek grandmother. As for Delia, I am sure she won’t be too bothered.

(He says, flinching)


1 large unwaxed orange

200g semolina

50g slightly stale white breadcrumbs

175g caster sugar

100g ground almonds

3 tsp baking powder

175ml sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing

3 eggs

For the honey and orange syrup

200mls of honey

Juice of 1 unwaxed orange

5tbs water

2 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

For the yoghurt and pistachio topping

200mls Greek yoghurt

50gms pistachios, chopped

Honey, for drizzling


First, preheat the oven to 200C. Then line the bottom of a 24cm loose-base round tin with greaseproof paper, then grease the tin. Mix together the semolina and bread crumbs in a bowl with the sugar, almonds and baking powder. Cut the orange into small pieces, removing any pips and then put the pieces into a blender and blitz to a pulp. Whisk the oil with the eggs in another bowl and then pour into the dry ingredients and then mix well. Fold in the orange pulp and then pour the mixture into the tin and place in the oven. After 10 minutes turn the heat down to 180C for another 40-45 minutes.

Check with a skewer by inserting it into the middle, if it comes out clean it’s done. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a plate.

Meanwhile, whilst the cake is baking, make the spiced honey and orange syrup. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring gently to the boil, stirring until the honey has completely dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Leave the cinnamon stick and cloves in to infuse for 30 minutes and then lift them out the syrup.

While the cake is still warm, pierce it several times with a skewer, then spoon the syrup over the cake allowing it to run into the holes. If any excess syrup over the cake starts to seep out from around the cake, simply scoop up with a spoon and pour over again until everything is soaked up and leave to cool completely.

When ready to serve, lightly whip the yoghurt to loosen and then smooth all over the top of the cake with a palatte knife. Drizzle with honey and then finish with a scattering of the chopped pistachio.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Three Things: Paella at London BBQ School, Andy Bates' Southern Fried Chicken Livers and Cheese on Toast

Three is a magic number

There are lists aplenty on the internets. Lists, lists, lists. All of which serve our increasing and insatiable desire to accumulate information, statistics, facts and funny pictures of cats, without ever having to actually absorb anything. And perhaps the world doesn't really need another list to look at. But given the amount of 'stuff' I get up to food wise, I have decided to start doing them. Weekly lists, namely short posts or burst of things that I cooked, places I have been to, people I have seen, new or old flavours wot I have savored. That sort of thing. Because there is plenty that I want to shout about and yet I often don't find the time to do so. And if Fay Maschler can do it, then so can I.

Of course, regular readers of this blog will be scanning this with rolling eyes and going "Oh yes, off he goes again, with another idea, let's see how long he keeps this one up."

Well, let's see shall we? Eh? YEaaaaah? *shakes fist in the general direction of imaginary people*

Oh and the lists will be short, keeping the number to three. Because three is a magic number, yes it is, it's a magic number.

Let's go.

Rachel McCormack's wood fired paella at London BBQ School
When I first wandered into the London BBQ School way back in May for sneak peak, as chef, tutor and proprietor Alastair Instone showed me around the place, I did that thing of enthusiastically nodding and grinning and pretending to totally 'get' the concept. When all the while, the phrase - "WHAT THE F**K ARE YOU DOING?" - was echoing through my brain. Because at the time, Alastair was showing me the shell of an empty warehouse, with no roof, in the backyard of a small industrial park in Peckham. The man's vision as he waved his hands around the place was certainly convincing but I did wonder what had been ingested, to send Alastair off on this mad journey.  I mean there is playing with fire and there is

However, when I returned in the latter part of June for preview of a class, his grand plan began to make sense. He might still get his fingers burnt but this is a great concept in the offering. The space is still rough, with shorn brick surroundings and a battered concrete floor but in one corner, a small functional kitchen stood and along one wall, the heads of three Kamado Joe's all popped up smiling, all embedded within in a bench. The roof was still missing. Large perspex corrugated sheets had been fixed up to provide shelter from the elements but on that night it wasn't needed. The air was close, sticky and warm and besides, a wood fire in the centre was roaring away (on corrugated steel) with guest tutor Rachel McCormack keeping a close, beady eye over it.

"Right! This is good to go. Now, where is that chicken? Stop with your chatting and someone get me that chicken."

Having been to one of Rachel's cookery classes before, I do like her brusk yet encouraging and effusive style of teaching. Don't expect to be taught how to brunoise an onion or clarify consomme. It's "Chop that" and "Keep an eye on that stock, it needs to be well seasoned otherwise all this effort will be nothing." Which falls in line with the no-nonsense style of traditional Spanish cooking that Rachel is known for. Get on with the task in hand and then we can have a laugh when we eat, so to speak

This is exactly what we did. After standing around for short while, supping beers and being mesmerised by scarlett bubbles dancing on pearled rice, the sitting-down-to-eat-and-digging-in-communally-around-a-bench was the best part. Bar perhaps being allowed to throw more wood on the fire. Yes, this BBQ school definitely caters for the needs of your inner pyromanic.

Billed as the the best fun you can have in public without getting arrested, I would have to agree. Though if the police were to find you, in a derelict building, dancing around a glowing pit in the dark, with mouths all greasy, they would probably would find some reason to sling the cuffs on the you.

If this sounds of interest, please go here for a list of classes available and Rachel will be running her wood fired paella class this Sunday. There are just a couple of spaces left.

Southern Fried Chicken Livers with Chilli Slaw and Baconnaise
OK, this is going on for far too long already this list writing business but if you try out one recipe this week, try Andy Bates' offally good Southern Fried Chicken Livers. A hell of a lot of temptation pops up my horizon of greed and I am constantly bookmarking posts and 'favouriting' dishes that people make, from bloggers, food writers and chefs alike. Yet they soon get forgotten and shoved to the back, as new ones pile in and pile up. Such is the transitory nature of edible offerings in the online world. I coo and ahh at the screen all the time but rarely am I ever sated. A diet of food porn never fills the stomach you see and I am already slapping myself in the face for using the words 'food porn'.


This dish was different. I saw it ping up and afterwards, I practically ran to the shops to get the ingredients because it looked good, it sounded good and inherently, I just knew it would be good. I mean it really twisted my mellow man.

Quick and easy and slightly messy to make, this was an instant hit in the house and I have made them several times since because:

a) When coated, battered and deep fried, chicken livers transform into these rich, intense, meaty nuggets of crunchy joy and quite frankly, they piss all over any offering that McDonalds or any other fast food outlet can deliver (which probably isn't difficult).

b) Slaw with chilli is a bit of a revelation. Ordinarily, I can take or leave coleslaw but imbued with some heat and grassy coriander, this was a bit of a step up for me. Too far a step for the kids first time around and subsequent tears mean I now make a separate batch. But yes, very good.

c) Home made baconnaise. Why on earth have I been scooping that plastic crap, out of a jar, with a spoon, and sticking it straight into my mouth? When all this time, I could making the real thing? Anyway, mayonnaise of the Gods.

d) Be careful though because chicken livers do spit when deep fried.

e) They are also cheap to make.

f) Oh god, this section is beginning to drag and I have started making lists within lists.......

f) Look, just try this recipe will you.

Cheese on Toast
Lastly and thirdly on the list, I would just like to opine opinion on Instagram. Apart from using it to goof off on food porn (SLAP!) I am still a little mystified as to how the whole platform really works. I mean like really, really works.

For instance, you can work and toil all day on something like, I don't know, a lovely bollito misto that looks appetising and fragrant, meaty but  fresh, resplendent with salsa verda and bathed in a light broth. And no-one will give an absolute frig.

Post a picture of cheese on toast and the world of Instagram will fall at your knees. This picture has got the biggest number of 'likes' to date and this has totally flummoxed me. I mean, does this suggest that should I just stick with the toast? Seriously, I really don't know what to say or how to comment on this glitch in the Matrix.

Which is good because this is too f**king long already but if you could enlighten me, I would be much obliged. In the meantime, I shall be working on next week's list....list.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Mondo Bizarro Pasta Bake

A rather significant and monumental birthday passed me by recently. I'll leave you to guess what it was and no doubt, when you find out, you will be shocked and amazed. Naturally, I had a bit of a shindig to celebrate. Because after all, it's not every day that you turn 30. And friends and family came and we had a party in the back garden, with the sun shining and the BBQ blazing; blinding everyone with smoke, because I bought some cheap sausages. Good money however was spent on some excellent beer from George's Brewery including a very tasty batch of 'Danny Boy' and that flowed very well. Perhaps a little too well, as some of the adults were very wobbly later in the day. Including myself, but what the hell I was newly 21 on Saturday, and it is always great to tumble, free fall in conversation, with equally pissed and very old mates; into a spiral of silly, infectious giggles.

"Why are we laughing?"

"I don't know. Why are the children taking all our money?"

"I don't know!"

"HA! I have given all my money away! All my birthday money! HA! Look at them run!"

"Hey, look at Gary's small penis!"


Gary didn't have his penis out by the way. Nor would I know if it were small. He was just wearing one of those naughty aprons, to cover his shorts from splatters from the paella he was cooking. The sky then began to bruise and darken and most of the people drifted off slowly into the night, with just a few of us sat around a table, getting bitten to buggery by mosquitoes. I woke on my couch. At 2AM. The strain of trying to get up the stairs, with these 18 year old legs, was obviously too much

That was pretty much it really. A day full of fun, laughter, tons of booze and lots of food. Perfect.

However, if I could apply one mantra to our approach to laying on a spread, it would be - 'Never knowingly under catered' - and we did have a lot left over. Even a second stab with a second invite for close family on the Sunday hasn't really made a dent. There is still too much bloody food and I am worried that come next weekend, I will be grating burgers into ragu, filling mashed potato salad into paving cracks and showering with mango trifle. Because we can't have any waste now.

I did make quite an interesting pasta bake last night, or a mondo bizarro pasta bake as I called it. Using leftover penne that had been tossed with pesto, mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes, I added some leftover pulled pork (that had been smoked in my new smoker, which I must write about soon). Along with some roasted mushroom, some humungous courgette/marrow and mixed through with a cheesy sauce and topped with even more cheese. That cheap, yellow, plastic cheese that will only really do with burgers.

It was delicious and we all wolfed it down last night, which got me thinking about what other concoctions would do well in the future. Do you have any unusual recipes? Pasta purists might balk but you have to admit, as a medium or base ingredient, this carb really does have the potential for a million different interpretations. Well, maybe not that many but you get what I mean.

Hmmm *ponders*

And this post is just a musing you know, a quiet reflection and a slight comedown. Possibly, also stuck in these words, are thoughts about where am I going and what am I doing. What more can I do with my pasta? I ask. (Read that as, what should I be doing with my life?)

Mostly though, this is just an underhand way of letting you know that I have just turned 40. And I have no money left, so please send cards and donations.

There is still time.

Pulled pork, courgettes and penne
Topped with cheep cheeze

Wednesday, 8 July 2015


Pie and salad feels wrong somehow.  It should be accompanied with mash really. I know this and I know this well, having eaten over forty times* my own body weight in fluffy, bashed-up spuds over the years. Spuds that are usually accompanied by pies. And liquor. Oh lest we forget liquor. Beautiful, beautiful liquor. A pale gravy, most certainly. Flecked with bits of green, it is cloudy, mysterious and quite tasteless really, until you dump a load of malt vinegar and white pepper over it. However, I love that stuff and just typing up this is making me want to head down to Manze's right now. But where was I? Oh yeah, salad with pie. Is there a place for it?

Well, until I visited MyPie.London in Broadgate Circle last week, the thought had never have crossed my mind and prior to that, I am sure I would have been firmly in the careful now, down with this sort of thing camp. But the sun was beating heavily upon my freckled brow that day and when Chris Brumby, chef proprietor of MyPie, asked what I wanted to accompany my steak, cheese and chilli pie, the thought of some cooling leaves and *gulp* watermelon seemed at the time, to be the only way to go.

Still, it took me some time to actually order it, wavering at the hatch whilst wondering if ghosts of relatives were watching over. "Frank! E's 'aving rabbit food with 'is pie! Frank! Wake up!" And when I did finally blurt out my order, even Chris seemed to blanch at my request, making me want to snap "You're the one who is selling f**king salad with your pies mate." Bloody hell it felt stressful trying to decide.

After handing some cash over (£6.50), the short walk to some lumps of wood on the concourse was slow and laboured and when I finally plonked myself down, a bead of sweat fell off my nose. I opened the carton and looked down at the pie, a perfectly formed pie at that, and then at the green rocket, before pausing once more and going in for the kill.

The salad was quite good. Very good actually. Dotted with bulgur wheat and dressed lightly, the little pink nuggets of watermelon complimented the green spikes well, serving up sweet contrast to the pepper. It was thankfully refreshing too. As for the pie of promise, well that definitely lived up to expectations. A fat laden, pastry parcel, entombing a well of tender beef, luxurious gravy and curiously yellow cheese is not a summer dish but one bite in and I was gone. Pies, when made with love, have the ability to transform and transcend you out of your surroundings and there have been many times when I have been lost in pie, up in the sky and this was no different. With lips coated and a bump back to earth, I only really noticed the faintest tinge of heat afterwards, which was fine by me. Anything higher on the Scoville scale would ruined the whole effort and most likely, would have seen this former ginger collapse into a puddle on the floor.

Did the combination of pie and salad work though? It did. And I say that with gritted teeth, because I have got previous with Mr Brumby, having met him at the Great British Roll Off and have over the years, exchanged subsequent taunts about what constitutes a proper proper pie. But yes on a day like that, mash, however buttery, would have ended up all congealed in my gob, like dry cement in a mixer I am sure. Salad, on the other hand, was the right choice.

The MyPie.London van can be found popping up at various places, with various menus across town (keep an eye on its Twitter feed) and if you see that red and white former ice-cream truck, don't be afraid to try that salad suggestion with those deservedly named 'Epic Pies'.

Come winter time though, it will be absolutely out of the question.

The three stages of eating pie
City workers, choosing pie, with hands on hips
*The mash to body weight calculation could be way off and on reflection, I think we best double it.