Thursday, 22 December 2016

1000 Cookbooks


It's probably a bit late for Christmas present buying now but I have finally entered my top ten cookbooks for 1000 Cookbooks; a project and app that aims to collect and compile recommendations from hundreds of chefs, authors, bloggers and food professionals to generate a ranking of the 1000 most essential English language cookbooks of all time.

Yes, I just stole that last bit of copy.

Still, I am glad that I have jumped on board and given my thrupence worth. It took some agonising over, I can tell you that and even now, there are plenty of other books jumping around in the kitchen, flapping and nipping around at my ankles, asking why they weren't included.

Do have a look at my choices and let me know what you think though. Perhaps next year I can get a proper shopping list/post done for Christmas 2017. Like in early November. When these lists seem come out.

I've heard on the grapevine that it promises to be a bumper year.

I just need to drag myself away from these books first.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Edible Foodie Gifts for Christmas


Over at Great British Chefs, as part of their extreme foodie gifting guide, I was commissioned to come up with some alternative Christmas goodies, that can be devoured once you've ripped that sparkly wrapping paper off. My favourite has to be goose confit, the write up and recipe of which follows. But the notion of giving a sourdough starter or wild boar terrine away at Chrimbo is also good too. Spread the love by increasing the spread. If you get what I mean.  

Like a lot of self-appointed and self-important gourmands, when the annual festivities come speeding around the corner, my list for Father Christmas usually contains a whole host of things food-related. Cookbooks, kitchen gadgets and equipment are often the order of the day. Which is great. There is nothing better than getting all choked up after unwrapping a temperature probe and burger making kit. ‘Thank you Nan,’ I’ll whisper into her ear, whilst administering a hug. ‘Thank you for getting me this and not the usual socks and pants.’ That never quite fit.

I have come unstuck before though, after putting in some more prosaic requests that seemed sensible at the time. Too sensible really. I remember clearly, sitting in the living room one year and when all the frenzy died down, feeling quite empty after seeing fellow family members dance about, each of them with snazzy clothes, DVD’s, perfume and whatnot. We do secret Santa in our family you see, with a strict budget. The person buying my present chose to blow the whole lot on a huge, expensive stock pot; ignoring a lot of smaller bric-a-brac that I was after. So I was sat there afterwards, with it perched on lap, thinking ‘Bloody hell Mum, you could have got a cheap one in IKEA.’ Revealing that even at the age of 33, I could still be a most ungrateful and spoilt brat.

Nowadays, having more than enough kitchen junk and books than I can cope with, I think I would be happier to receive edible goods and the odd alcoholic treat this year. I am not thinking about the usual collection of beer flavoured pickles or plastic grinders filled with vivid red peppercorns here, as seen on supermarket shelves, next to shower gel sets and luminous singing rubber ducks. (Who really wants that sort of present anyway?) No, I’d like something that was delicious to eat, properly nourishing and possibly homemade; with love, care and attention. Something like a big jar of goose confit.

Confit, if you are not aware, is a simple process that involves cooking lightly-cured meat in melted fat, at a low temperature, for a long time. The meat and fat is then left to cool together so that everything solidifies, providing a protective barrier against bacteria, which results in a technique of preservation that has been around for centuries. Duck legs are usually associated with this peculiar practise of cooking and the curious thing for me, is that this method actually draws fat out whilst tenderising the meat. A piece of confit duck leg is actually healthier than say, plain roasted! Or at least that’s what I like to keep telling myself.

Seeing as it is Christmas though, why not up the ante and use goose legs instead, another popular, albeit slightly more expensive bird that suits confit. Buying up enough goose fat to cover the legs can have a knock on that budget but you can get just as good results by replacing half the amount needed with vegetable oil or plain lard. I also find that fitting the legs into a smaller snug space, like a medium-sized casserole, helps to cut down on the amount of fat needed. Adding few herbs here and there is another good idea, along with some cloves of garlic but make sure that you clean off the salt properly before cooking. The rich meat benefits from a decent period of curing but if you leave too much salt behind, the legs will have you reaching for pints and pints of water afterwards.

The biggest key though is making sure that you have a jar large enough to stick them in afterwards, for visual impact, if anything else. I know if I were to unwrap something like this on Christmas Day, I wouldn’t be that bothered if there was nothing else for me under the tree.

But you wouldn’t catch me sharing it. Oh no. You can just run off and play with your miniature Connect 4, VW Camper Van speakers or whatever else you got.

Curing
Ingredients

Confit goose

4 goose legs
100g of rock salt, lightly ground
800g of goose fat
5 sprigs of thyme
10 black peppercorns
8 garlic cloves

Method

1 First, place the goose legs in a deep tray and liberally sprinkle with the rock salt to evenly coat. Cover with cling film and leave the tray in the fridge for 6 hours, coming back to turn them over halfway through.

2 Preheat the oven to 130°C/gas mark 1.

3 When ready to cook or confit, brush off all of the salt with some kitchen towel. Don’t rinse the legs in water.

4 Place your casserole dish on the hob and add the goose fat. Heat gently so that it melts completely then place your goose legs in the fat. Depending on the size of the legs, you may have to add more fat – if so, just top up with vegetable oil. Add the aromatics by sprinkling over the peppercorns and press the garlic and thyme into all the nooks and crannies. Bring up to a very light simmer.

Confit-ing
5 Cover and place into the oven and leave to slowly cook for 2 hours to 2 and half hours, until the meat becomes soft and tender.

6 Leave to cool to room temperature then lift the goose legs out. Place in a large, sterilised jar. Don’t worry, the legs will be quite pliable and should fit with some encouragement.

7 Ladle the remaining fat over, along with the cooked aromatics, making sure you completely submerge the legs. If this is a struggle, take a leg out and keep one for yourself.

8 Place in the fridge – overnight the fats will solidify completely.

Presentation styling




Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Triple Flip


Attempted a triple flip this morning.

But the pancake ended up on the floor.

I have never seen the kids look so happy before.

More short n sweet stories to follow. I need to fill this blog up.

Friday, 2 December 2016

How To Make The Perfect Brewers Goulash by Budweiser Budvar

Three stages of garlic
There are many things that I like to get up to in the kitchen, some activities which could be regarded as questionable (I bottled up some elderberry and banana wine yesterday) but one of my favourite pastimes is to chop and macerate garlic in salt. A technique that is slightly laborious but one that yields a much better result than say, mangling cloves through a garlic press. I used to love my garlic press but after realising that it really is useless piece of kit, leaving behind more garlic in that mini holed shovel than is actually pushed through, I now resort to crunching and schmooshing garlic on a board with salt. And a butter knife. It's quite stress relieving really. To watch the physical transformation, as hardened chunks turn into a sort soft of melting paste. Plus the releasing oils and aromas seem to be a lot gentler on the nose. No burning nostrils with one eyelid flapping in the wind when you do things this way, I tell you.

So yes, this method is best and if I were to cast my mind back to when I first heard of it or saw it in action, then I would have to mention my father-in-law here and I have to be careful, because he wasn't too fond of the way I described him last time around. A loud and gregarious man, whose head all often hits the ceiling, Pete has what I'd call a quiet and understated passion for cooking. I say quiet, he moans about having to do it. But secretly, I believe he loves it. Whenever we pop over to the house, I am often quickly ushered into the kitchen to check out a new jar of something he's found along the way. Offered usually, after he's dipped one of his huge digits in first to taste. Or there will be a new cheese to try, a strange pickle to sniff or some curiously alcoholic to sip. And if he is cooking, especially řízek, there will be a large, if not mountainous mound of pale yellow garlic on the side; that has been pounded with salt, using the back of that butter knife.

Mentioning řízek, which is the Czech version of schnitzel, that virtuous pounded meat coated in breadcrumb affair, was a deliberate ploy; as I've been thinking of ways on how to link to the title of this post. Pete, though born in this country, is of Czech stock and the garlic schmooshing technique was one that was passed down by his father, another man also who apparently loved his food and ahem, slivovitz. 

What follows then is a video and a recipe, which shows how to make the perfect Brewer's Goulash. Originating in Hungary, goulash is another dish that has many interpretations but in this case, it gets the special treatment from a chef called Luděk Hauser, who was born and bred in Budweis, South Bohemia. The recipe is simple enough, asking just for an element of patience and time and the principle ingredients are beef, paprika and beer, in the shape of Budweiser Budvar ‘B:Original’. I supposed it wouldn't be a 'Brewers' goulash otherwise.



On first watching the video, which is part of a series of Czech Stories commissioned by Budvar, a few on-screen moments resonated. Pictures of cobbled streets and squares lined with grand Baroque buildings brought back memories of my own visits to the Czech Republic. Well by that, I mean Prague. I have been a few times now and despite the encroaching wave of tourism and all that comes with it, I still think that it is one of the prettiest capitals in Europe.

Cuts to glasses of beer being poured, a familiar pale golden Pilsner with the requisite frothy head, reminded me of particular visit to a bar in Prague with Mrs FU; complete with Oompa band (yes, tourism) and an afternoon filled with laughter. The waiter pencilled down I don't know how many strikes on our paper tablecloth - large ones for beer, small ones for shots of this strange looking brown stuff - but I do remember wandering out into the dark, cold night, feeling extremely...happy. We looked up to the stars, then kissed and staggered off to somewhere else, totally in love.

Then Luděk started doing that schmooshing thing with the garlic, which sort of brought me back full circle. 'Oh yeah, that's exactly what Pete does,' I thought to myself. 'It really must be a Czech thing.' Which it's not. But it's funny how a short narrative and a flash of images can ping up memories and random thought processes. He says, whimsically.

I suppose what I am trying to put across is that in watching the film because of the treatment, especially with the garlic (I won't say schmooshing any more) and my own personal connections to it, I was like "Ah yes! This is the real deal. This is authentic. This should taste good."

And it does. You do have to be careful with the fresh horseradish though. Too much can blow your mind. More so than the chilli. But give it a fair grating, as the punchy hit of of this root marries well with the depth and richness of the meat and thickened, slightly velvet sauce that clings to it.

Of course, the final dish is to be enjoyed with a Budvar too.

Perhaps just the one though, Otherwise your brain may get too...schmooshy.

Beer and goulash
Ingredients

For the goulash
Beef neck 800g (I used shin!)
Onion 400g
Pork and duck fat 80g
Tomato puree 80g
Budweiser Budvar ‘B:Original’ 200ml
Sweet paprika 24g
Ground cumin 4g
Chilli powder 4g
Marjoram 4g
Garlic 4 cloves
Salt and pepper
Beef stock 800ml
Dry sourdough finely grated 12g

Paprika, onions, horseradish
Garnish

Big pinch of grated fresh horseradish
A whole red chilli
Few slices of red onion
Sprinkle of rough-chopped parsley

Method

Peel and dice the onion into medium sized cubes, and sweat down gently in the fat until golden brown. Don’t let it catch or burn. Slice the meat into 4cm cubes and season with salt and pepper.

Add the beef to the pan, and turn until the beef is light brown on all sides.

Then add the tomato puree and – after a moment – the sweet paprika and stir, being careful not to overheat or burn the paprika.

Pour in the stock and the beer, stirring well. Then slice the garlic and crush it together with the salt to make a paste, releasing the oils. Add half of this to the pan before shaking in the cumin and chilli powder.

Bring everything to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for at least two hours. Check the tenderness regularly by hand and, when the meat starts to soften and become tender, you are almost ready to serve.

Budvar, dreamy beef, chillies!
Finely grate the sourdough bread and add to thicken the sauce. Then stir in the chopped marjoram and the other half of the garlic-salt paste. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if required.

Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with grated horseradish, finely sliced red onion, a whole chilli pepper and the parsley.

Serve with steamed bacon dumplings and/or thick slices of good sourdough bread.

The Perfect Brewers Goulash


This post was commissioned and sponsored by Budweiser Budvar

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Norwegian Fjord Trout Cook School with Daniel Galmiche and Adam Gray


First he lifts the greaseproof paper up. And then he puts the greaseproof paper down. Then it goes up again. Oh and now it's coming back down. But no, wait, the paper goes up once more and now he is shaking it about. The paper is going up and down, up and down, left and right, and we are all watching the paper; like the crowd at Centre Court, watching the ball slam to and fro across the net. Someone, trying to focus on the action through the screen on their iPad, gets so dizzy, they pass out and fall under the table. Eventually, after spending a few minutes excitedly explaining the magical properties of greaseproof paper, Daniel Galmiche, self-styled cuisinier and Michelin starred chef, finally places a square into the pan.

"Voila!" he claps. "So if your non-stick frying pan is a little bit done in, a little bit knackered, zis is a trick you can do, to fry your trout, skin side down, wiz no worries."



This was just one of the many tricks and tips that came our way during a fun cookery lesson I attended recently. Run by Great British Chefs in partnership with the Norwegian Seafood Council, the lowdown on how to get the best out of Norwegian Fjord Trout was held at the bespoke kitchen above the main bar and restaurant at Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, in Clerkenwell. A personal and homely space that immediately puts you ease, over the usual sparse white and steel you often see at cookery schools. Adam Gray was also in attendance, being executive chef at B&H and all, and therefore the only person who knew how to switch on the fancy induction hobs we were using.

Actually, Adam's steely presence served as a good counterpoint to Daniel's exuberant Gallic flair. Not that he didn't display any flashes of humour himself. During proceedings, Adam would often slyly point out that we were using good and proper British ingredients, such as rapeseed oil and bacon. As opposed to French. Which Daniel acknowledged with a glint in his eye and a slight widening of the nostrils. The pair, having worked together before with Raymond Blanc, were obviously used to sharing what is known as the 'bants'. Is that right, kids? All of which added to a convivial and relaxed atmosphere.



Getting stuck into Adam's easy to prepare and delicious starter of poached, or confit, trout with spinach, pomme purée (mash!) and chorizo oil also helped to enhance the mood. However, it was soon time to get down to the business end, as Daniel went on to demonstrate how to fillet the surprising large Fjord Trout. At first glance, you could have been mistaken that it was salmon he was working on but a quick clip around the ear, to pay attention, soon revealed that the flesh of Fjord Trout has a different fat distribution to salmon; particularly around the belly. Making cuts from that area a fine candidate for sashimi, such is it's mild, delicate flavour. Which in turn, is down to the habitat of the fish, the calm environs of Norway's crystal clear fjords. Healthy, clean, Nordic, you can just imagine it can't you. Just breathe that saltwater in.



Daniel didn't clip me around the ear by the way but he did want people to concentrate and it was great to listen to him talk and to soak up some of his fevered passion. Not just about the fish - which is available in Tesco (points finger, winks) - but about how to approach cooking in general. The lead on dish or recipe he wanted us to make, was pan-roasted Fjord Trout with lentils, crispy bacon and chervil and on paper, it is a fairly simple approach. Not under Daniel's guidance though.

"Ze bacon, it must be crisp, it must not stew in ze fat! Ze vegetables must be just cooked through, to soak up ze flavour of ze lentils! Ze dressing! Do not put anything but Dijon in ze vinaigrette!"

(Although English mustard could work, as Adam quipped.)

What with all these 'Ze's' I am throwing into the equation, I am doing a terrible injustice to Daniel's accent. He is from the Jura, in Eastern France. Not the Rhineland. He speaks with a wonderful soft lilt really.

What I am trying to say, is that it was great to spend some time in the presence of someone who approaches food not only with joy, but also a fiery and somewhat maniacal intent. It's infectious.

Watching him go doesn't arf give you a stiff neck though.

I attended as a guest of Great British Chefs and Norwegian Seafood Council.

Pan-roasted Fjord Trout with lentils, crispy bacon and chervil - serves 4

Ingredients

Fjord trout
4 trout fillets, each weighing 150g
vegetable oil
1 knob of butter
sea salt
Lentils

200g of puy lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 shallot, peeled
1 carrot, small, peeled
1 bouquet garni, made with 1 thyme sprig, 1 parsley sprig
1 garlic clove, unpeeled
1 handful of chervil, leaves only, chopped
75g of smoked bacon
French vinaigrette for the lentils

2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp of red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar or balsamic
125ml of olive oil, or rapeseed oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
To serve

micro cress, chervil
rocket



Method

1 - To begin, place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and skim away any foam that rises to the surface.

2 - Add the shallot, carrot, bouquet garni and garlic, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until al dente.

3 - Strain, reserving 2 tbsp of the cooking liquid and remove and reserve the shallot and carrot. Discard the garlic and bouquet garni.

4 - To make the vinaigrette, whisk together mustard, a dash of the lentil cooking liquid and the vinegar until combined. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking continuously until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper – this will need to be mixed again before use

5 - While the lentils are cooking, cut the bacon into lardons or small pieces and place in a pan over a medium heat.

6 - Cook the bacon, stirring frequently until the fat renders down and the bacon starts to brown and crisp up. When ready, remove from the pan and onto absorbent paper towel. Leave in a warm place until required.



7 - To cook the trout, heat a large non-stick pan over a medium-high heat with a small dash of vegetable oil

8 - Season the skin lightly and place skin-side down in the pan, cooking for 3–4 minutes. Turn each fillet carefully, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and add a knob of butter

9 - Once the butter is melted and foaming, remove the pan from the stove and allow the residual heat to cook the fish for 1 additional minute. It should still be pink in the middle and feel very tender to the touch.

10 - During the last few minutes of cooking the trout, return the lentils to the heat, cut the shallot into long rustic strips and the carrot into a combination of fine dice and julienne. Add a dash more of the reserved lentil cooking liquid. Once hot, remove from the heat and finish with the vinaigrette and chopped chervil.

11 - To plate, add the hot lentils to each bowl, followed by the seared trout. Finish with the shallot, carrot, crispy bacon, rocket and cress.


Thursday, 3 November 2016

Chipolata and root vegetable hash


Making a hash of things, by very definition of the phrase, should be easy enough to do. Yet I would argue that it's not. It's actually hard work. Especially when you decide to make one from a variety of root vegetables such as swede, parsnip and celeriac. Good grief, my poor hands, they took a battering the other day. I may as well have tried to cube up a railway sleeper with one of those orange, plastic, shatterproof rulers, that we all took to school in the 80's. The swede was the worst. With my knife firmly wedged halfway through the blighter, I held it up as a sort of weighty, bulbous trophy and wondered if it would ever come unstuck, ever again. I even thought about glazing it in some sort resin and sticking up on the shelf. A piece of artwork, titled - 'The Swede That Won.' Perhaps I should get my trusty chef's blade reground.

Anyway, this is probably a good reason why the majority of recipes for hash call for softened leftovers, when all the cooking and the labour is done. Usually by somebody else. I am of course talking about that frugal mashup of vegetables here. In case you were wondering. The hash that is the more robust cousin of bubble and squeak. Enjoyed with protein, normally corned beef and a wibbling fried egg set atop.  Not the other hash. Nooooo. And with Bonfire Night fast approaching, when debbie and andrew's approached me and asked if I could come up with a tasty and easy dish that could be slapped on the patio table, all sizzling and hot, a hash immediately came to mind. To conjure up a few more 'oohs' and 'aahs' from the crowd, as rockets fly up into the air.

debbie and andrew's are of course in the business of making sausages. With an intention on creating the perfect banger that is so fevered, so devoted, they often forget to put caps at the start of their names. Meatier than most supermarket offerings, they have now extended their range into the heady realm of the chipolata, a little upstart of a sausage that packs in a flavour that belies its size. When testing, notes of pepper, mace and coriander danced about my palate, after I elegantly wolfed them down. The best thing I found about them is that they are quick to cook and because you get more of them in a pack, it really doesn't matter if one goes missing during the process. If you know what I mean. Two will get you caught out though.

Coming back to the notion of the hash itself, because it is usually cold on these sort of evenings, I decided to inject a bit of heat into proceedings, by giving the root veg a healthy sprinkling of garam masala and a few slices of red chilli. In my efforts to get the kids to up their appreciation of the Scoville scale, I've slowly been adding a touch more capsicum here and there, and I am really pleased that they that they dug into their plates without crying this time. The addition of a fried egg always helps. I mean, who doesn't like a fried egg? But if you reach for debbie and andrew's sausages with dietary requirements in mind, just dispense with the ol' sunny side up.

The recipe below caters for a large group and you will need to find a platter to stack upon this joyous mountain of pork, soft onions and sweet tubers. But you could easily size it down. I made and served ours up in my fairly mahoosive paella pan (you could easily do this with roasting tins) and after giving it a final stir through, some of the chipolatas did break into pieces. Which doesn't matter, the final result is no less theatrical. Morsels make it more easier to eat, if anything else.

To give this a real sense of showmanship though, may I suggest you take your swede and gather friends and family around? To watch you decimate it with an axe, before light falls? The cubes probably won't be so even and you will probably end up with a very lopsided brunoise but you'll get the job done.

Or you could simply make sure that your knife is sharp.

Chipolata and root vegetable hash - serves 8 to 10


Say 'Sossidges'

Ingredients

2 packets of debbie and andrew's Perfect Pork Chipolatas, snipped into individual sossidges (24 in total)
1 large swede (approx 1 kg), peeled and cubed
1 large celeriac (approx 1 kg), peeled and cubed
4 large parsnips (approx 1 kg), peeled and cubed
2 onions, finely sliced
2 tbs garam masala
2 red red chillies
1 tbs sage leaves, chopped
3 tbs rapeseed oil
Salt

Serve each portion with a fried egg, if wanted, and a dollop of Siracha.

Root veg, eggs and sauce, chipolatas

Method

First, turn your oven on, up to 180C and put your cubed root vegetables into a large stock pot and cover with water, add a good amount of salt and place on the hob, bringing to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. You will need to cook for about 20 mins until the cubes soften but not too squishy. Saying that, if they do start to fluff up, this does add a nice crispness to them.

Drain in a colander and leave to steam for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the chipolatas into a roasting tin into the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, shaking them about every now and then, so that they nicely browned and cooked through. Take them out the oven when done.

Place a large frying pan, the biggest you've got or a large roasting tin onto the hob, over a medium heat and add the oil.

Throw in your onions and stir fry until soft and golden, takes about 10 minutes and then add the chilli and garam masala and cook through for another couple of minutes.

Add the cubed root veg and turn the heat up a touch and continue to stir through, so that it all heats up and starts to catch. This takes about 10 minutes.

Cubes, hash, excitement
Next add the sausages and the sage and stir through until everything is piping hot. Like I said, some of the chipolatas may break but this doesn't matter.

Theatre
Serve steaming in bowls, with fried eggs or not (in fact, poaching a load of eggs might be easier) and a dash of chilli sauce.

Nice with beer

And an egg

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Banana and Chicken Curry

There be banana in there, somewhere.
Eddie Izzard hit the nail on the head when he once banged about fruit in bowls. If you’ve not heard or seen the sketch (it’s here) the main focus of his ire is how pears behave when you are not looking. Despite being ‘gorgeous little beasts’ they really are only ever ripe for about thirty minutes. That is the window of opportunity between teeth-shattering inequity and baby time feeding. And if you forget that you’ve got a pear in your bag or rucksack, you will soon discover how quickly pears can turn to vinegar. On the 11:41 to Fenchurch Street last week, I ended up stinking to high heaven after turning my natty new man-bag upside down, to put in the rack above me. Dribbling forth out of the third pocket, where I could probably pretend that I am hiding a MacBook, or something, a vile brown juice came tumbling out and straight onto my shirt and troos. No solid matter as such. Just mostly liquid. Trying to fathom out what the hell it was, I brought the bag back down and peered in and saw a little purple oval floating about, with four numbers and the word ‘Conference’ printed on it. Then I remembered popping one into my bag about a month ago. Yes, a forgotten pear is a vengeful pear.

Ignore them at your peril.

Luckily, fruit doesn’t get really wasted at home and forgotten pears, even when injured by a plummeting thumb, are soon cut up and transformed for toppings on say porridge, pork chops and um...pancakes. Ha! Alliteration in your face just there!

Sorry.

Maimed bananas on the other hand are a problem. They seem sturdy enough and when it comes to ripeness, the skin itself should give you a clue to its current stasis. My great-grandmother, Alice, would always wait until they were completely black before peeling them and if that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, I don’t know what will. However, this isn’t always the case because banana stalks and skins can easily break, split and hide early maturity. I’ve picked up many a healthy looking banana in my lifetime and howled because one end has turned black.

‘Whose grubby hands ripped at these bananas? ‘Look, they are ready before they are ready! Be careful with my bananas!’ I will say.

But no-one ever cares.

Working out what to do with half firm, half manky bananas then, presents a bit more of a problem; especially if you have a massive bunch, teetering on the edge. I get fed up with making banana bread you see. Then I came across the concept of banana and chicken curry, an idea that was once suggested to me by friend and fellow fud writer/blogger, Zoe Perrett, some time ago. Just recently, I returned it to once more; after yet again finding some sad, mistreated, malformed bananas and I thought to myself - ‘Bloomin’ ‘eck, I should really put this up on FU.’

Although I didn’t take any photos, the one on display is old. Bad blogger.

Now, if the notion of throwing bananas into the pot with spice, ginger, curry leaves and onions sounds as abhorrent as Nanny Alice’s penchant for mummified nanas, bear with me. Fruit in curry really isn’t as weird as it sounds, as there is strong precedent for sweet flavours in Indian food, especially in the south, to help balance out any fiery heat. Chicken breast is best (thigh is too strong) and coconut milk is the deal breaker. But by adding some mustard seeds to the mix, you actually make it more Bengali in style. Which, as I am sure you are aware, alludes to the cuisine of the east.  I got that from the horse’s mouth by the way, I wouldn’t have a clue and this is really Zoe’s recipe, more than anything else.

I always like to add some toasted cashews, to style things out and add crunch but it’s not necessary. The very fact that you’ve paired up bananas and chicken for the benefit of saving on food waste, should and will draw gasps of amazement from the crowd around your table.

'We love it!' they will all say. Honest.

Your fruit still needs to have a certain firmness about it though. So if part of your nana is too blackened and bruised, you will have chop it off and dispose of it, I am afraid.

Unless of course, you have a Nana who likes that sort of thing.

Banana and chicken curry - serves four

Ingredients

3 chicken breasts, cut into cubes
3 bananas, sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1 chilli, finely sliced
Small handful of curry leaves
Half tsp asafoetida
Half tsp turmeric
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
1 can of coconut milk
Salt and pepper
Sunflower oil
Chopped coriander, for garnish

Method

First, heat about 100ml of oil in a wide pan on the hob and add the mustard seeds. You want the heat to be fairly high at first but turn it down a touch as they start to go snap crackle and pop.

Add the cumin seed, curry leaves, asafoetida, turmeric, chilli and ginger, some salt and pepper and stir through, cooking off for a good five minutes and then add the onion.

Turn the heat down and touch more and gently fry the onions off, until they go all soft.

Next add the chicken and turn the heat back (up, down, up, down, I don’t know) and brown the chicken off and then add the coconut milk. Bring up to a simmer and leave to cook for ten minutes.

Towards the end, add the sliced banana and cook for another two minutes or so.

Check for seasoning and serve with plain Basmati rice (cooked of course) and scatter some coriander over the top. And some toasted cashew nuts if you fancy it.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Green tomato caponata bruschetta

Messy but delicious
Just recently, an incident happened at the bottom of my garden which in simplest terms can only be described as tomato carnage, on a biblical and catastrophic scale. Without getting too upset about matters, I can only say that someone, or something, deliberately and most maliciously decided to trample all over one of my beloved plants. A plant that was yielding some beautifully formed heirloom tomatoes. Deep-lined emerald jewels that were primed for another month or two bathing in the sun, before transforming, nay, blossoming into voluptuous, juicy fruits.

Now, all is gone. However, if I ever catch the culprit, be it a cat, fox or hedgehog on the make, then retribution will be swift. For I have a water pistol, primed, loaded and ready, by the patio door.

Still, having an unexpected bounty of green tomatoes isn’t such a bad thing really. I quite like them in their unripened state; either in curry, chopped into salsa verde or simply fried for breakfast, along with an egg, sunny-side up. Because they are normally fairly tart at this stage, I also wondered how they would fair in caponata, that infamous Sicilian stew, concocted from slow-cooked and cosseting aubergine, spiked with capers and vinegar.

There are lots of variations out there but the general consensus is to achieve a perfect balance of sour and sweetness through the dish, or agrodolce, as the Italians say. Having tried it out, the green tomatoes certainly delivered an acetic kick to the palate, providing delicious contrast to saccharine shallots and indulgent, melting flesh of the eggplant. So if are growing your own, or can get hold of some, be brave and snip a few off early. It’s definitely something different to try out.

On a warm summer’s evening, this sort of caponata would go down particularly well with friends, served on bruschetta, drizzled with oil and parsley, and washed down with a crisp, dry white wine. And if, whilst eating, you happen to spy a devious, malformed, hairy looking creature who happens to go by the name of Fred. Sat there, looking all smug and complacent, whilst perched on the fence.

If you could only manage to grab the water pistol without him noticing. Just this one bloody time.

Then that would be just perfect.

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs.

Caponata with green tomatoes on bruschetta - serves 8

Ingredients

100ml olive oil
2 aubergines, large dice
1 shallot, halved and finely sliced
1 celery stick, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
Small bunch of fresh oregano, leaves picked
5 green tomatoes, roughly chopped (one red tomato did make it in the pot too)
2 tbs capers
2 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper, to season
1 tbs chopped parsley, to garnish


For the bruschetta

Half a stale sourdough loaf, slice thinly
Olive oil



Method

First take a saucepan, place it on the hob over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Once it has warmed up, add the diced aubergine and stir before dropping the heat a touch. Cover and leave the aubergine to cook for 10-15 minutes, checking to stir every now and then, in case it catches, until it becomes soft

Remove the aubergine with a slotted spoon (there should be some oil left in the pan) and put it briefly to one side in a bowl. Add the sliced shallot and celery and again stir through and cover, leaving to cook for 10 minutes
 

Take the lid off and add the garlic and oregano. Stir, cooking off for a minute or so, then add the tomato and the vinegar. Cook off for another 10 minutes before adding the aubergine back to the pan, along with the purée and the capers. If the mix begins to look a bit dry, add a touch more oil.

Leave everything to gently simmer for another 15 minutes then take off the heat. Everything should be quite soft and glistening by this point and will do well if cooled on the side and left to steep and thicken for a couple of hours.



When ready to eat, place a frying pan on the hob and drizzle your slices of sourdough with oil and quickly toast in the pan in batches. Keep the bread warm as you move along.



To serve, spread the grilled bread onto a platter or wooden board and spoon a generous amount of caponata on each piece. Finish by drizzling with more oil and sprinkling parsley all over the top to messy effect.


Friday, 7 October 2016

Marinated halloumi with a mint, pomegranate and red onion relish and bulgur wheat salad

Decorative
You may well be familiar with the Welsh proverb which states that ‘a watched clock never tells the time’, yes? Well here is another - ‘an unwatched pan will almost certainly burn the halloumi.’ Which, OK, isn’t really an old wives’ tale proper. It is sort of obvious really, an unwatched pan will burn anything. Yet in my experience where halloumi is concerned, a family favourite, the degrees of crisping or browning is an intricate and precise process. Whenever I cook it at home, the level of concentration I have to apply is the equivalent to that of a Grandmaster chess champion planning their fiftieth move ahead. Because usually I have to take three different orders. And if I get them wrong, I am in big trouble.

My son’s request is the easiest to deal with as he could easily eat it raw. I’d like to think it was down to a textural thing but as he locks his teeth in, one bite seemingly transforms him into a mouse, such is the well-known sound that the cheese makes. I have since managed to convince him that the briefest of scorching is a good thing, just to harden up the halloumi a little. He still likes to jump around like a small woodland creature whenever it gets dished up though.

My daughter has a preference for smoke to go with her unripened, brined cheese and doesn’t quite understand why I can’t fire up the BBQ every time we have it. Nor can she understand that you can’t really bring a BBQ into the house without an adequate extraction system. Or that sometimes halloumi, a large flat mushroom and a drizzle of pesto is a speedy, vegetarian alternative to a burger. Especially when done in a pan. ‘Alright,’ she’ll sniff. ‘But I only want it cooked on one side.’

My wife, well, she likes her halloumi burnt. Why, I do not know. But having been caught out by the ol’ unwatched pan adage in the past, I have been stopped on the way to the bin before, holding a pan complete with smoldering slices of despair and asked ‘What are you doing? I’ll eat that.’ ‘I’ve burnt the halloumi though,’ I’ll reply, slightly flabbergasted but more often than not, she’ll take the pan and pop the remnants into her mouth for a charcoal fix.

Whether this was a game or some curious health kick, I am not sure but thankfully, all the incidents I’ve just described were actually one-offs from the past. Our little journey in developing a taste for certain Hellenic dairy if you will. And if my family had kept these little quirks up, like I said rustling up three contrasting preferences for halloumi, cooked like steak almost, would be a nightmare.

These days we all speak from the same page, all happy to eat halloumi fried to tanned and mottled perfection but just lately, I have been pushing the boat out by marinating it first. Given the salty kick that it often delivers, it might seem hard to believe you can infuse any sort of flavours into this much heralded cheese but you can with lemon, garlic and za'atar; that special middle Eastern blend of oregano, thyme and savory.

The key to making sure that this works, is again to keep an eye on the time because if you let it steep for too long, the acids from the citrus will start to break the cheese down. So leave for an hour or two, tops. Tying in the mint, sweet red onion and pomegranate relish also helps cut through the brackish edge and adds some vibrant colour to the dish and when we tried this recently, I served it up with a handsome and filling bulgar wheat salad and some smoked chicken. But this would go down just as well, served up in some wraps, with some fresh herbs and some of that relish.

Just don’t burn your halloumi. Unless you also know someone weird, who likes to eat it that way.

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs

Marinated halloumi with a mint, pomegranate and red onion relish and bulgur wheat salad - serves 4 (without the chicken!)

Ingredients

Halloumi marinade
2 x 250g packs of halloumi, each sliced into eight
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1tbs za’atar
1tbs extra virgin olive oil

For the red onion and pomegranate relish
3 large red onions, sliced
50mls pomegranate molasses
1tbs red wine vinegar
1 pomegranate, seeds popped out
1 tbs mint leaves, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to season

For the bulgur wheat salad
250g coarse bulgur wheat
100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
Small bunch of spring onions, sliced
2 tbs mint, roughly chopped
2 tbs parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon, juiced
50ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to season
Extra mint, for garnish

Method

First, place the sliced halloumi in a bowl, add the marinade ingredients and gently mix together. Cover and leave for an hour at room temperature.

Marinating
To make the relish, place a pan on the hob over a medium heat and add the sliced onion. Sauté for about 10 minutes until the onion becomes soft, then add half the pomegranate seeds and the red wine vinegar to reduce

Once the vinegar has evaporated, add the pomegranate molasses and stir, reducing some more for a minute or 2, until the onions become sticky and jammy. Sprinkle in some mint, stir through and set aside

Pink
To make the bulgur wheat salad, pour the bulgur into a saucepan, cover with 500ml of cold water and add a pinch of salt and a splash of oil. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, until the wheat is just done

Drain and leave to cool before adding the tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and herbs. Mix together then add the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, stirring again to combine. Taste for seasoning

When you are good to go, place a frying pan on the hob over a medium to high heat and add the halloumi slices around the pan in a clockwise fashion. Keeping a watchful eye, flip the halloumi so that both sides fry up nice and crisp, but not too brown!

Crisp
To serve, spoon a generous portion of the salad into the centre of the plate and place four slices of halloumi on top. Add nice dollop of the red onion relish on top of that and finish by dressing with the remaining pomegranate seeds and some mint leaves.

Vibrant

Friday, 16 September 2016

A Brief History of Breade Sawce

Breade Sawce
Given that bread has been around for millennia, it probably comes as no surprise that bread sauce, a humble and delicious concoction, has been around for a long time also. It is said that the Egyptians used to make it, to apply as a poultice on bunions and to sooth chicken pox spots. The Burgundian Gauls (or Vandals) of East Germany liked to rub it into their long braids and fashion their hair into spikes before battle. And according to ancient manuscripts kept in York cathedral, the Anglo-Saxons were overjoyed to discover that bread sauce could be used in the building of their rudimentary huts; instead of the usual wattle-and-daub to cover woven twigs. Which of course, was traditionally mixed together with soil, straw and seething, hot animal faeces.

However, it wasn't until the Tudor period, with the influx of spices, from along the Silk Road, from the Outta Arabias and Inner Mongolias and across the great Steppes of Euroastrolasia, that bread sauce began to be regarded as a food. Because refrigeration was still in its infancy and indeed, as electricity had yet to be invented, there was often a necessity to cover the foul taste of rotting fowl. In fact, some scholars say that it was Henry the 8th who was responsible for the invention. After loudly proclaiming in royal court, that all he wished for were 'some pretty, sweet ducks to kiss,' he began to fart violently and start to scream for his monks. His poor, beleaguered cook, in a blind panic, stewed some old lumps of bread and onions in milk and using a fist full of cloves and bay leaves, slathered the Kings' ten roasted mallard with this new elixir. But it was too late. By the time it reached the table, Henry was incapacitated by gout, blinded by syphilis and struck down by an exploding ulcer. He died the very next day, without ever knowing bread sauce.

Which was a shame but still, recent research has suggested that his courtiers tucked into that dish, regardless of his impending demise. As some notable historians have noted, they clearly didn't give a flying fudge about the King and because it was so damn tasty, they decided from henceforth and onwards hence, that bread sauce should always accompany some sort of roast bird; such as turkey, chicken, goose or swan. Particularly on a Sunday and especially with rich gravy. It was passed down in law and anyone found not complying would soon be branked, whipped or worse. And so, a legendary condiment was born and forced upon the nation.

You, of course, should always buy the most freshest and most free ranging and organically minded sort of bird, for your Sunday particulars. But if you do and have some leftover bread, rummaging around in your cupboard, you'd be a fool not to make some of this heartwarming and nourishing porridge to go alongside it.

The recipe that follows is actually one of the most earliest recorded and therefore, most original instructions for making bread sauce. Found in that infamous tome of renaissance cuisine - 'A Propre New Booke Of Cokery' - you might find it a bit hard to follow. If you do, you can always refer to Delia's version instead. It's not quite the same but she has been around for a while also and historically, I have always found Delia to be quite reliable.

Unlike this blog post.

Breade Sawce

Tayke a loafe of breade and tye with stryng and hang over a well, fir 10 dayes, until it is harde and undigestable. Breake with bear hands, into pyeces and place upon a platter by the grayte. To make a whyte broth, squeze the uddrs of a female cowe and gather one bucket of mylk. Place on the grayte and add a onion, chopd and a baye lefe, from a baye trye and a dozenye cloves from the Easte. Boyle and leeve fir 2 hours, to steepe. Then take out the baye, onion and clove. Fir the sawce, add the pyeces of breade into the milk and stere it well for quaylng on the grate, until thicke. Add creem if so wish and salte and pepper, but only to marke the daye of St Swithins. Serve with swanne and slopps.

The Foure Stages of Bread Sawce.
This would not have fed Henry the 8th.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Cooking with Sarsons - Porter and malt vinegar rye bread, topped with rarebit



Autumn doesn't officially start until the 22nd of this month but if you are anything like me, you will soon be wanting to get on with the business of hunkering down for the season; in heavy knitwear, thick socks, pipe and leather boots. For there are walks to be had, with leaves crunching underfoot, like nature's own version of Rice Crispies. Berries must be foraged in dying amber low light, to be placed into canvas satchels or jute bags. Tesco's bags always snag and tear on thorns, which is such a waste of 5p. 

Damp will crawl in. Fires will be lit. Smoke will fill the air. And we will take to eating hot chestnuts and small slices of lard, secreted into the lining of our duffel coats, to lay on protective fat. Protection for the harsh winter ahead. Except, in reality, autumn will probably turn out nothing at all like that. We'll still be wearing our flip flops in November, no doubt. I suppose I just like getting into the whole autumnal vibe. Picturing it like a Hovis ad, all fuzzy and nostalgic like. Whatever lies in store, weather-wise, it will be nice to simply having the excuse to start tucking into some rib-sticking food. 

Not that I need one.  

I do hope we get some sort of icy snap this year, just so that some things marry up and go according to plan. Because some dishes are screaming out to be eaten when it is cold, damp and miserable. Like rarebit, or cheese on toast.  

Rarebit, of course, isn't cheese on toast. It's an entirely different animal, that takes a bit more care and attention in its creation. But the really great thing is that once it is done, you can easily keep a batch in the fridge for a week or so. You can wake up, peer through the window and see grey, melancholic skies and immediately cheer yourself up with the knowledge that breakfast, is just one savoury scoop and a spread away from your mouth . Once you've toasted your bread that is. Oh and toasted the rarebit too.

The bread featured in this recipe is also perfect autumn food. Made using rye, this is a heavy, dense sort of loaf, enriched by dark beer and enhanced by, yes, you've guessed it, malt vinegar. This is the last of my recipes commissioned by and for Sarson's and I hope have shown how versatile this fine condiment can be. 

I now have approximately 50 bottles of the stuff left to plow through and whilst, I am sure I could get through a fair bit over the next ten years or so. I am sure I will still have some left over.

So if you fancy a bottle or three, drop me a line.

In some circles, I am already known as the 'Vinegar Baron of Essex'.

Which is fine. I am not going to get all sour about it.

Proper beer and malt vinegar rye bread, topped with a Cheddar rarebit (makes two large loaves)

Ingredients

20gms dried active yeast
750gms strong white flour
250gms dark rye flour
20gms salt
650mls porter (two 500mls bottle will be needed)
100mls Sarson’s Malt Vinegar


For the rarebit

30gms butter
30gms plain flour
1tbs English mustard
4tbs porter
200gms grated Cheddar
Pepper


Method

To make the bread, make sure that the porter is at room temperature and pour into a bowl and mix in the yeast, until it has dissolved. Add the rye flour, 400gms of the strong white flour and the Sarson’s Malt Vinegar and mix to make a thick batter. Cover and leave for two hours.

Heat your oven to the highest it can go, usually to 250C on most domestic ovens and then add the rest of the flour and salt to the batter mix.

Knead vigorously, first in the bowl and transfer to your counter top and keep going until the dough is smooth and supple and no longer sticks to your hands. This will need perseverance and much sweat but look upon this as a work out. When ready, form into a ball and place back into the bowl, lightly dust with flour and cover with a tea-towel, leaving alone for 45 minutes.

After that time, tip the dough back out (it should have grown in size) and knock back and form into a smaller ball. Pop back into the bowl and again, leave for 45 minutes.

Tip out one more time and divide the dough in two and form into even shaped loaves and place them onto baking sheets, dusted with flour and cover them with a tea-towel. Leave to prove for another hour and a half, or until they have doubled in size.

With a sharp knife, cut a few slashes on the diagonal across the top, mist the inside of the scalding hot oven with a few squirts from a water spray gun and pop the loaves in. Bake for 5 minutes and then reduce the heat to 220C and bake for a further 30 - 35 minutes, until they are rich and brown in colour. When done, they should sound hollow when tapped underneath.

Leave to cool on wire racks.

When you want to make your cheesy rarebits, heat the grill up and slice your tangy bread into four thick slices. Pop a saucepan on to the hob and add the butter and melt until it starts to bubble. Add the flour and stir in quickly, for about a minute or so to cook the flour out. Add the mustard, porter, grated cheese and a good amount of cracked black pepper and cook down quickly, so that it forms into a spreadable paste.


Give your bread a quick toasting on either side and then spread the rarebit onto one side before blasting under the grill again, until it sizzles and browns just slightly. Enjoy with some more porter (if you have any left). But maybe not for breakfast.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Oliver Rowe's Food For All Seasons

'Kevin! I am a very busy man!'
If you ever need a good reason or excuse to wrangle out of an awkward conversation, I think I have finally found the ultimate response:

'Listen, I would love to carry on talking to you but I am actually in the middle of chargrilling some courgettes right now. So I have to stop you there and get back to them.'

Admittedly, this is going to be difficult if you are standing in the street and if you've bumped into an ex or a long lost school friend; one you have absolutely nothing in common with any more (if you ever did). Although, I suppose you could always then go completely silent on them, and start to stare downwards, miming and flipping imaginary slices of squash in front of you. That would get rid of them, pretty damn tout suite.

In my case, I used it recently to bamboozle a Talk Talk 'technician' called Kevin. Who was speaking to me from India and telling me that my 'internets' was under attack and that if I didn't listen to him and do exactly what he said, then my 'internets' would be in 'terrible, terrible trouble.' I get these sort of calls all the time and if I am in the mood, I will play along with it, pretending to go through the procedure of letting Kevin actually hack into my system, before screaming - 'MY COMPUTER! YOU'VE BLOWN UP MY COMPUTER! KEVIN! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!' The line normally goes dead after that and Kevin disappears. For a while.

I should change my service provider really but in the meantime, at least I know that I have one more string to my bow. For fielding malicious phone calls. Chargrilled courgettes, who'd have thought, eh?

This book contains words
The reason for my urging intent to get back to my courgettes was real enough though. I was trying out a recipe from Oliver Rowe's Food For All Seasons and didn't want them to get burnt. Well, not too much anyway. I was just after those neat black lines.

Having cut his teeth at the acclaimed Moro in Exmouth Market, Oliver has been on quite journey; spending time cooking abroad, featuring in his own television series 'The Urban Chef' and opening (and sadly closing) his restaurant Konstam. As a result, his prose-rich debut reads in part as memoir, with astute observations about food and life in general, and perhaps a dash of therapy thrown in for good measure. Not that it sufferers for that. Regarding the recipes inside, the onus is obviously on seasonality, given the actual title of the book. And by and large, they are all fairly straightforward and simple; with very little 'cheffy-ness' on display. Harmony, balance and flavour, maaan, seems to be the key to Oliver's cooking. Although there are few clever nips and tucks in there. Porter ice cream is a new one on me and I quite fancy trying his braised lamb belly with oysters. As well as nibbling on some of Jansson's frestelse. If Jansson will let me.

Food For All Seasons has been out for a few months now and it's been refreshing to actually read a cookbook for a change. One that is woven with proper stories. Opposed to simply gorping at styled plates, on weathered bark and paired with cutlery, all tied up in furry string.  I've spent a good while flicking through the pages, picking up and putting down frequently. A big dipper of a book in other words.

Given that Oliver's month of choice starts with October - 'Not everything starts with a bang' - you'd do well to buy a copy before it that hallowed time arrives, with a cool swoop of dead leaves and spiders, to prepare tummies for Christmas feasting.

Coming back to the courgettes for a second though, I do have kind permission from the author to reproduce it here on the blog. It's very good, especially with lamb chops. But with summer passing, if you this feel like it is already too late that sort of thing, try barking to Kevin that you are too busy making 'cinder toffee apples' or 'parsnip and apple soup with gin' instead.

Oliver's recipes will give you excuses all throughout the year.

Chargrilled courgette salad with ricotta, mint, honey and lemon dressing - serves 4

2 or 3 courgettes - more if they're small. It's nice if you can get a mixture of green and yellow.
5-6 tbsp olive oil
Salt
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of half a lemon
100g good ricotta
1-2 tsp honey to drizzle
25g flaked almonds
A good pinch of black onion or nigella seeds
1 small handful of mint leaves.

Scattered mint and nigella seeds
Method

Thinly slice the courgettes lengthwise. When your charcoal or griddle pan is hot, toss the courgette slices in a tablespoon or so and season them with salt. Grill them to colour each side and remove to a bowl.

As they're cooling, crush the garlic and put it in a bowl with the lemon juice and zest. Season with salt, check the balance and then add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. A dash of muscatel vinegar is a nice addition if you have it. Check for acidity, adding a squeeze of lemon or dash of oil if needed.

Toast the almonds in the oven at 160C until light brown (about 10 minutes) or in a dry frying pan over a medium heat. Don't let them burn.

Toss the courgettes with the dressing while still warm, but not piping hot, leave to cool and serve on a platter, with the ricotta dotted over the courgettes, the honey drizzled on top, the almonds and nigella seeds sprinkled over, and the torn mint scattered.

Just add lamb (or eat by itself)