Sunday, 17 December 2017

Crispy Duck on a Giant Crumpet

I know what you are probably thinking right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Look at that!' I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Pan-fried Whiting with Winter Salsa and Green Lentils

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

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

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

From memory, our conversation sort of went like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 November 2017

the One° Precision Poacher by Sage

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

Boiled eggs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heston, I applaud you.

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

Mornings are stressful enough as it is.

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

Monday, 20 November 2017

Hunting High and Low

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

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

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

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

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

Then suddenly, I heard a whisper.

‘Get down.’


‘Get. Down. You are in the skyline.’

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

‘You could get shot.’

‘OK, I shall dip below the skyline.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Can you see it?’

‘No, where?’

‘There, just below that rocky outcrop.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just make sure you keep off the skyline.

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

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Madras short ribs with sweet potato dhal

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

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

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

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

Stick to what you know you can handle, kids.

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

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

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

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

Madras short ribs with sweet potato dhal and cucumber raita


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Sainsbury's 30 Day Matured Bone In Ribeye Steak

A couple of weekends ago, we had a special surprise birthday celebration, for a special birthday boy, who has just turned 40. No, it wasn’t me, it was for my brother-in-law. My special 40th surprise comes next year… *cough*. The venue in question was a lovely gastropub, just off the coast in Suffolk, near Southwold. And because there was a large group of us, the pub needed us to all pre-order a week before our arrival. Which is fair enough. Although you do have to pity the poor person in question who is organising it all and must repeatedly coral everyone into getting their requests in; via texts, emails and threatening phone calls. Especially on the morning of the actual day that you are supposed to be all gathering to eat.

In this case, it was my sister and bless her for keeping her cool. Of course, when it comes to ‘pre-ordering’ someone will ALWAYS forget what they chosen. Or change their minds on arrival.

Well, on this occasion, there was a veritable toppling of dominoes, punctuated by a heavy sigh that sort of said ‘I don’t know why I bother.’ But it really wasn’t my our fault. In fact, the pub is to blame more than anything else. If their waiting staff hadn’t been carousing around the place, waltzing through swing doors with these fantastic plates, loaded with fragrant steak and golden chips and going to other tables; then the temptation would never have been there. And I wouldn’t have changed my order at the very last nanosecond.

Yes, for me personally, steak and chips is often the great un-doer and unraveller of things. Particularly in pubs and restaurants. Even when I do have the time to peruse a menu, a handsome hunk of meat usually comes out on top. Largely because any chef worth their seasoning salt, will know what they are doing with steak and if you head into places like Hawksmoor or Goodman, well half the battle is over. You can breathe easy, safe in the knowledge that you are in for a treat. Unless they’ve carted in a chef from Aberdeen Steakhouse last minute that is. I suspect that this sort of thing never happens though.

And don’t get me wrong. I like to think I can crack out a decent ribeye with a pan or chargrill, all crusted evenly and with a nice amount of blush to show when you cut through. Time, care and attention is all you really need. However, whenever I invest in a prime cut, something that has cost just that little bit extra, a certain degree of nerves can set in.

These nerves sort of came to the surface when I recently tried out a bone-in ribeye from Sainsbury’s new selection of steaks, that have been added to their Taste The Difference range. Along with an addition of Bone in Sirloin, Picanha and Flat Iron cuts, Sainsbury's have certainly upped the ante on the premium front, delivering British steaks that have been aged for 30 days, on top of their regular range of 21 old day steaks. Which is great for the customer, as this does finally begin to bridge the gap between restaurant offerings and home-cooking. Particularly for the general public. Tasteless rump or sirloin has been a bane for many supermarkets, so it is good that a store like Sainsbury's is pulling its socks up and meeting the big boys head on.

But this does also bring us around full circle. Insofar, that if you decide to buy in something special, for say an anniversary, to share, what should you be doing to make sure you get the best out of your huge and ginormous bone-in ribeye steak?

Well to begin, the golden rule is start by bringing your steak up to room temperature. Never grab a steak straight from the fridge and whack it on the stove. That pretty much is sacrilege. So, take it out at least an hour before you are ready to cook.

Seasoning is the next point and when it comes to adding flavour, all you are ever going to need is sea salt and cracked black pepper. Herb butters and robust sauces are a fine thing but if you are going to be cooking a steak that has been aged for 30 days, you can be sure that everything is going to tip top on the taste bud front. Although if you must, béarnaise is a good shout.

Once you’ve seasoned the steak generously, it is then time to get the oven on, up to 200°C and to get that pan hot. Smoking hot. And using a frying medium such as a spritz of sunflower oil (or beef dripping even!) isn’t such a bad thing. But if you are cooking a bone-in ribeye, the fat content will do most of the work.

Slap the ribeye in and wait for 30 seconds before turning and wait for another 30 seconds. Drop the heat a touch and then keep turning the steak for another couple of minutes. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t pay to simply leave the meat in the pan to sear. You need to keep turning, to develop that magic crust.

Because the Sainsbury’s bone-in ribeye is a fairly large beast, you can finish off in the oven and rely to a certain degree on timings, depending on weights, to cook your steak to the required rare, medium-rare, medium or (dare I utter the word) well-done. After a degree of guess work, the instructions on the box will take care of that but if you have a meat thermometer, to keep an eye on things, then that really will pave the way to cooking the steak, just the way you like it.

55°C to 59°C for medium-rare or 60°C to 65°C for medium are the temperature you should aim for.
Go over that and I am not sure we can be friends.

Finally, and perhaps the most important part, is to let the steak rest after cooking. Taste buds may well be on fire by this point, with saliva glands unable to douse the flames but so much good work can be undone by tucking into a steak too soon. So, do yourself a favour and leave it alone, for at least 10 minutes.

Having just read all that back, I do realise that I barked out something akin to a steak cooking manifesto and some of you may be reading through and thinking ‘That’s not how I would do it, Dan.’
But this is the treatment I gave my bone-in ribeye and I was pleasantly pleased, if not surprised by the end result. Because this cut usually has nice amount of fat that renders out, you can sort of guarantee tenderness, yet this ribeye seemed to be even more succulent than most. Which I attribute to the bone itself. Meat always cooks best on the bone. Plus, it had that inherent blue cheese flavour, that begins to come through after decent maturation, that glorious, umami hint of Stilton on the tongue.

Did it stand up to restaurant steak though? Well of course it did. I cooked it didn’t I!

And if I ever saw it come rumbling out of a professional kitchen door, I would certainly favour it over any beef burger that may or may not been previously ordered.

That very morning.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Pearl Barley Risotto with Chard, Mushrooms and Bacon

Purists may bulk at the fact that I have used the words 'Pearl Barley' and 'Risotto' in the same sentence here but there is no reason why you shouldn't use this humble grain as a substitute for arborio or carnaroli rice. In fact, I would take pearl barley over rice any day of the week. It is cheap, very nutritious and a little goes a long way. Bang, there's your byline, right there The British Association of Pearl Barley Lovers United. Or BAPBLU for short. You can have that for free. If you exist.

But really, I think my love for pearly barley goes back to childhood memories of stews. When Mum would slow-cook neck of lamb, with a simple addition of roughly chopped root veg, stock, seasoning and a scant handful of the stuff. Nothing more, nothing less. It always used to amazed me how swollen the pearl barley could get, forming into these slightly squidgy nuggets, that would bounce back against the pressure of a molar before finally giving up the ghost and collapsing. Sucking that little globule of fat from the middle of the bone was also a treat too. Before having a tea-towel thrown at your head, to mop off the rim of grease that surrounded your mouth.

With this recipe, things needn't get so meaty though. You could go full on vegetarian and omit the bacon, use vegetable stock and replace the Parmesan with a rennet free option. Although if your veggie cheese product uses the words 'Parmigiano Reggiano' on the packaging, then whoever made it really will be breaking the law and you can expect the Italian 'food police' to come crashing through your door. And rightly so.

The main thing is to make sure you have plenty of stock. Because, like I said, pearl barley has a seemingly infinite thirst. When I made this the other day, I simmered up just over a litre of chicken stock and as I began to scrape with a ladle at the bottom of the pot, the pearl barley was nowhere near ready, or soft enough. Luckily, I had some more bags of stock in the freezer. So I boiled the kettle, poured the scalding water into a bowl, slipped a bag in, loosened the plastic a bit and plopped an filthy looking iceberg into a wok. I then slammed the wok over a high flame and managed to melt the damn thing in about five minutes flat. Presto, hey!

This is not ideal though. So preparation and patience is the order of the day. Al dente is no good when it comes to pearl barley, You'll only end up breaking your teeth.

Pearl Barley Risotto with Chard, Mushrooms and Bacon - serves 4


1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped


Olive oil

250g pearl barley

3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked

1 sprig of rosemary, leaves picked and chopped

2 litres of chicken stock (you might not need all of this but best to be safe than sorry)

150g Parmesan cheese, grated (plus extra for sprinkling on afterwards)

200g Rainbow Chard, chopped

200g Chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

150g Smoked bacon lardons

1 lemon, cut in half


Begin by heating a wide saucepan on the hob, over a medium heat and add a generous knob of butter and a glug of oil. As the butter begins to bubble, throw in the chopped onion and celery and stir through, reducing the heat a touch and slowly cook through, until everything becomes soft.

Also, begin to heat your stock up in a separate pan, bringing it up to a simmer.

Turn the heat back up on your wide pan and add the garlic and herbs, stir-frying quickly for a minute or so, to incorporate, and then add the pearly barley. Again, stir through for a minute, reduce the heat once more and then you can begin to add the stock.

This is where the long, laborious work starts but it will be worth it. Continually stir through and as the pearl barley soaks up the stock, add another ladle or two. There are other methods, such as baking in the oven but I always stick by this approach.

Slowly but surely, the starches in the pearl barley will release and everything will start to swell and thicken. It could take up to 30 minutes though, so might be good to have a glass of wine by your side.

And whilst you are stirring, you can get on with the business of steaming your chard, pan-frying your mushrooms and crisping up your bacon lardons. It's a juggle but relatively easy to do. So long as you have some wine.

The pearl barley, in my opinion, is ready when your tooth sinks right through and with ease. When you are that point, turn the heat off.

Quickly drain your chard and then add that to the risotto, along with half of the mushrooms, then dump the grated Parmesan cheese in and stir through, so that it all melts and becomes gooey.

Dot the top of the risotto with some butter and then cover and leave for 5 minutes and then stir the melted butter through.

To serve, spoon a generous portion of the pearl barley into a deep bowl and squeeze a trickle of lemon over each one. Cupping your hands underneath to catch any pips.

Grate over some more cheese before topping the centre with a good portion of the both the leftover mushrooms and the smoked bacon lardons.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What would you cook for Mary Berry?

'Mary Berry and Claudia Winkleman are searching for the nation’s best home cooks for a new BBC One series!'

Yes, any self-respecting cook should check out the deal at right now folks and I know this because I received an email with this header just the other day...

And it got me thinking.

‘Why don’t you go on a TV cooking show, Dan? Like Master Chef. You’d be good at that sort of thing.’

I mean, this is a question that gets put to me all the time and not just by the voices in my head. Be it at the pub. At the local park. When I bump into people down the supermarket in town. All the time.

I can picture them right now. Actually, I can picture him right now. Spotting me, thinking and then shouting:

‘Look at him go. Shopping for ingredients and stuff. I wonder what he is up to this time? What is he going to cook now? You know, he should really go on TV, and cook on TV.’

“Hey Dan! Why don’t you apply for that new telly series wot Mary Berry and that Claudia Winkleman are gonna be presenting on the BBC soon! Summink like ‘Britain’s Best Cook’ it’s called. You’d be good at that!”

“`Oi, Dan! Where are you going? Think abaaht it. Berry, Winkleman, you and your spag bol, they’d laaave it! Daaaaaan!?”

You might think that this is an unlikely scenario to happen but seriously, it has happened. I have got quite a fan you see, from a recent tenure, barbecuing at my local micropub, who just loved the burgers and sausages that I flipped for him. He shall remain anonymous for the time being but to capture the image, he is pretty much your Black Cabbie stereotype. Loud, opinionated and loves to wear shorts and deck shoes, with no socks. But essentially, he is friendly, warm and a good soul and he really wants me to be on TV. And every time I bump into Dave (not his real name) he bangs on and on about it. Bellowing at me, as I smile, retreat and dart into another aisle and straight to the checkout.

Not Dave 

'Leave me alone Dave!’ I often whisper, nervously, as I run out to the car park.

The problem is that I really am not sure that I could ever put myself in the spotlight like that, subjecting myself to the immense pressure of performing in front of the camera and knowing that the masses will be watching my every move, on screen and afterwards. It is a big step to make and you could comment on that format is all too prevalent. This competitive cooking business. But look what it’s done for the likes of Nadiya Hussain, Thomasina Miers and Tim Anderson. What a launch pad television can be. Sometimes, it really can give you the chance to make it, finally, in food and spawn an empire. The opportunity to write books, launch restaurants and develop a unique line of meat cologne for the discerning gentleman. Grab a grand prize on the box and the world could be your oyster.

I suppose the main barrier for me and with regards to Dave’s proposition (which is really not his real name by the way) is what the hell would I cook for Mary Berry; the doyenne of British baking, food and writing. Not forgetting to mention face of a fine range of condiments and sauces, all of which are now sadly defunct. I loved her hollandaise in jar and I miss it so.

Coming back to the challenge though, if Mary were to say, accept an invitation to dinner party I was holding (it could happen) there would definitely be some sleepless nights or weeks prior to the event.

I think to start, I would have to serve up something quintessentially British that was also fairly light and easy. Something like white crabmeat on toast, dressed in a dash of homemade mayonnaise, bit of cayenne pepper, lemon, with some watercress on the side. That sounds like it would be up her street, yes?

Then for mains, um, it would have to be something like roast chicken. Lemon roast chicken, with tarragon and no….no, that’s too plain. Spicy spatchcock chicken, marinated in curry powder, ginger and lime. Using similar flavours to that Thai stir-fry chicken of hers. But this would be done on the BBQ. Smoked maybe. That would update things a touch and move with the times. She loves a BBQ too, I am sure. Yes, smoked spatchcock chicken, with fragrant rice and an Asian slaw. Maybe I should put the chicken in a chicken brick. Mary loves that too. It’s traditional. Spatchcock chicken, smoked in a chicken brick, on the BBQ. Revolutionary.

And finally, for desserts, well, it would have to be cake, wouldn’t it? A big cake, like a croquembouche. Which isn’t really a cake. More like a series of small cakes, little balls of choux, all stuck together to make a pointy mountain and to be splashed with chocolate and dotted with spun sugar. And then decorated with hundreds and thousands and lots and lots of shiny stars. No, wait, that would be over the top. I should do something understated instead. A lemon drizzle cake. No. Victoria sponge! Yes, she loves a Victoria sponge. But I bet she hasn’t seen a Victoria sponge…donkey. Yes, I will make her a Victoria sponge donkey, life-size, to celebrate the Great British Seaside. The focus will be Blackpool. And we will all wear kiss-me-quick hats as we dig into it around the table. And she’ll be over the moon. That’s it. That is what I am going to do. That is what is going to propel me into the final. This is exactly the sort of thing I should be dreaming up if I were ever going to apply for Britain’s Best Cook.

I am going to run this by Dave (seriously, it’s not his real name) and see what he thinks. I am sure he will be behind me all the way.

But in the meantime, if you fancy applying for the show, then drop an email to

Applications close on October 31st.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Spoilt Pig Bacon Onion Rings

Second to cats, the internet is full of food. You know that and I know that. And perhaps you have already observed that I have a totally ignored a third genre here. But we don't need to think about that right now. All we need to know is that the superinformationhighwayweb is chocked, jam packed and full to the brim with food. And cats.

Now, when you spend an inordinate amount of time ploughing through the barrage of food-driven multimedia that is out there - the pictures, the videos, the blogs, the social mejaa, the everything - the biggest problem is that all you really doing, is living vicariously.  That's all. It all looks and sounds great. Amazeballs even. But it is very easy to tumble down the rabbit hole and free-fall into a dreamlike world of consuming and gorging, of images and words. Without a morsel ever passing your lips. Sad.

Yet I have been doing this a lot lately. Cooing over stuff that looks out of this world. Uttering inane whispers like this:

'Oh my GOD! What I would give to be cooking and eating that right now. Right, that's it! Babe, I have just watched this bloody brilliant thing, where these pair of hands have assembled the most frigging amazing dish, all over this single induction ring, using a kettle...yes, you look right down over all this, it's all in bird-eye view. Anyway, look, they add three teaspoons of soy, a drizzle of smoky paps, a heap of garlic, some beef, some noodles, they do some sort of stirring and then you bake it and look, look....oh look, look at them cats. Aw. Hawhawhaaaw.......'

Followed by:

'What? What dish?'

It's a vicious circle and plugs straight into the problem that is WE ARE NOT COOKING ANYMORE.

However, that is a debate for another day. My main point is that I have been watching hundreds of these videos lately and I always walk away to the fridge or cupboard afterwards, feeling all inspired.

And then suddenly, blink, the thrill is gone.

So after watching one of these poxy video posts the other day, I thought to myself - 'No, I. Am. Going. To. Have. A. Go. At. That.'

Slamming my pipe down on the table in the process.

The fact that it was 30 second blurb on how to make bacon onion rings probably helped my motivation. But the knowledge that I had some Spoilt Pig streaky bacon, sitting restlessly on the bottom shelf of the fridge, also played a significant role.

Produced from happy pigs, raised on Brydock Farms in the highlands of Scotland, this initiative was created in response to the global issue of antibiotic resistance. Commercially or intensively farmed pigs, as you probably are aware (and you should be) are fed a barrage of drugs. All of which is playing a significant part in bringing about a post-antibiotic age. A doom-mongering age. Where minor injuries and simple infections could once again, kill with impunity.

Even I just typed that, I can just imagine that some of you are suddenly thinking - 'Bloody hell, Dan. This just went a bit bleak. A bit Daily Mail.'

And yes, the main problem is actually the human consumption of antibiotics. But the meat industry is a contributing factor and it is a big issue.

Thankfully, small efforts are being made and Spoilt Pig are showing the way in how to manage things. With a strong background in high welfare and high quality husbandry, Brydock have been working hard to show how basic farming principles, such as keeping age groups separate and inoculating individual animals, rather than whole herds, can play a key role.

Later weaning is the main focus though, as this helps piglets to develop their own immune system and Brydock aims for minimum of 28 days. Weaning earlier than that is stressful for piglets and they can often develop diarrhoea as a result, setting in stone this vicious cycle of controlling and combating disease. Using them bleedin' antibiotics. The key principle of the whole project is to slow things down and return to older, slower, more traditional practices. Which I think is a very good thing.

The bacon produced from the pigs is also very good thing. Lightly cured and matured for a fuller flavour, the bacon is then gently smoked, to keep a delicious degree of succulence. Having tasted a lot of bacon in my time, I really would put it up there with some of the best.

And yes, given the health scare that I have just lectured upon, the irony of promoting bacon is not lost on me. However, I would sooner go and meet my maker via a ten-a-day streaky habit. Than pegging it just because I cut my toe in the garden on some rusty secateurs.

Oh yes and bacon rings. They really are very nice and simple to make you know. But you don't really need me to explain how to make them do y.......

Hey look! Cats!

Spoilt pig bacon
You basically slice onions and wrap streaky bacon around them...

And then bake them for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Home-made Mayonnaise

Well, that's that then. Another summer nearly over and done with. Another summer that has sped by and simultaneously dragged it's feet. Another summer full of fun, laughter, tears and snot. As much as I love summer; especially the freedom of holidays abroad, with all that heat and sun, I am always glad to see the end of it. My inherent gingerness is more geared up for cooler skies of autumn. When the food gets better, the ground becomes crunchy and days eke out just a little bit more quietly.

And plus the kids go back to school. Thank gawd for that.

Actually, it has been great this year. Having made the leap into freelancing, as a Dad, I am now forever present, bar the odd day or two. Impromptu trips to the seaside and days out at the park have been frequent and plentiful. In addition to the odd play date with school friends, I have been able to assume the role of the bigger kid and have become a veritable Lost Boy. You don't know how much fun there is to be had with a video camera and having your chin dimpled with glued wobbly eyes and being filmed upside-down, with a blanket covering your head, nose upwards. Yes, we've all seen it done on the telly but you should watch it homemade. You will never feel such a delicious pain in your sides.

There is one problem though. This writing of words for others, easy and fluid for most people, a touch too painful and floral for some, also takes time. As a result, there is a disconnect between Dad being around all the time and Dad also having to do some work in that time.

The phrase - 'Dad, can you play with me?' - can sometimes feel wretched, especially when you've already spent 5 hours staring at the screen and seem to have got very little done. It can make you feel very snappy, irritable and gruff. Still, it's all learning curve and we are all still very much at the beginning. Slowly, they are getting that, sometimes, I just need to disappear. Even if it means going out to the kitchen table. Mrs FU is soaking up a lot of the pressure and I am working out methods of getting stuff done. Like resorting to 5AM starts. Something that I thought I had left behind.

What I really need, is a shed to escape to. But that has had an adverse affect on my work too. As I now spend an inordinate amount of time looking at sheds. All of the sheds. In the whole wide world.

I love sheds.

Bringing the children and food back into proceedings for a second or two, I have also been working on the tactic of literally throwing it at them, to keep them occupied.

'Here, take this bag of bananas, these Pringles, this box of squeezy yoghurts, some of this leftover spag bol and just go out in the garden for a few hours and fend for yourselves!'

On some days though, I have taken special requests, to help over-ride the guilt.

'Egg mayonnaise sandwiches? Sure, you can have egg mayonnaise sandwiches. For they are the easiest of all the sandwiches to make. Dad is on the case right now.'

And they are the easiest sandwiches to make. Except, when you don't have ready-made mayo in the fridge, that presents a problem.

Cue a furious whipping of egg yolks with mustard, rapeseed and olive oil mixed, drip, drip, dribble, dripple, drip drip, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. All whilst bemoaning aching forearms and cursing - 'Why, WHY the f*ck did they have to ask for egg mayonnaise sandwiches?!'

But it brought silence. It gave me a gap, to tap out just a few more words. Those egg mayonnaise sandwiches meant that a deadline was met, for once.

Then came the real reward. Two pairs of dirty feet, standing beside the table and with grubby mouths, a whisper in unison - 'Dad, that was the best egg mayonnaise sandwich ever.'

Cue a smile and a sigh.

'Go get the wobbly eyes and the camera. Dad has finished for the day.'

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Table Squish

At our family gatherings, there is a long tradition of piling everyone in around the table. This usually also means building a myriad network of chairs and tables, that lead out into other rooms and spaces around the house. Which sometimes, can be faintly ridiculous. Especially when you send a shout out for the apple sauce and discover that must make it all the way from the hall; where Aunt Jilly Jill is sitting; right next to the telephone by the front door.

And really, that is no exaggeration. Space is at premium in most homes, so you just have to make the best of things. Other options do include moving the entire contents of your living room out into the garden, which we’ve done in the past for supperclubs. What a great workout and test of marriage that was. Our guests, as they sat all bunched in, around two patio tables, covered with white organza and flowers; never got a sense of the words that peppered the atmosphere just a few hours earlier. Thankfully. Nor did they ever notice the beads of sweat, as we served up platters of food. My wife and I were always professional. Until it started raining that is and then someone, usually me, would have to go running out and grab some tarpaulin from the shed.

Sometimes, a guest would ask: ‘Is your husband OK? He seems to be in some distress out there.’

To which Mrs FU would reply (whilst casually refilling a glass): ‘It’s fine. If he had done it earlier, like I told him to, he wouldn’t be in that mess in the first place.’

Coming back to feeding the clan though, the whole sense of ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ as everyone digs in, has always been par for the course. So, when Alex Dodman, the blogger behind The Food Grinder, sent me a list of ingredients to include as part of Sainsbury’s Table Squish challenge; the aspect of cramming everyone in was always going to be a piece of a cake.

Except, on this occasion, there was birthday cake in the offering and getting the kids to sit down, even for just one second, proved tricky. (Having accepted the challenge, I knew we were going to my nephew’s 7th birthday party the next day, so I called my sister-in-law and asked if she’d would mind me bringing along a selection of grub. Her response? ‘Hell yes! I have only got pizza and crisps in!)

With a budget of £30 to spend, to feed at least eight people, the real eye-opener was seeing how far you can stretch things on that amount. I went to my local Sainsburys on the hoof, with no idea of what I was getting, apart from lamb, cous cous, pomegranate and hummus. A nice selection from Alex by the way, as it helped to build a theme but last-minute thinking on your feet, does take some thinking.

As a result, I am sure that I spent well over an hour in that store, pacing up and down the aisles. I am also sure that this was being monitored on CCTV, as there was lots of muttering over what yogurt to buy. When an old lady passes you by and says - ‘Look, just get the Basics stuff, that will be fine for your tzatziki.’ – you know you’ve been deliberating too loudly and for too long.

However, given the middle-Eastern vibe that was forming in my head, the resulting menu looked like this:

Hummus and caramelised onion dip
Beetroot and thyme dip
With wholemeal pitta strips

Honey, garlic, lemon and thyme marinated lamb (butterflied)
Cous cous salad with spring onion, pomegranate and seeds
Baby spinach, tomato, herb and halloumi salad
Char grilled baby gems and yoghurt dressing

Watermelon wedges, with mint and drizzled honey

All of which came to £29.63, which is not bad value for a family feast. 

In fact, it felt quite special, rocking up to the door with bags of goodies to cook. Numerous relatives looked quite sceptical but once I got stuck in, with a bit of whizzing, chopping and blitzing and started loading the plates up, eyebrows began to arch in surprise. The real interest came when the butterflied lamb, marinated in lemon, thyme and honey, got slapped on to the bbq. Smells bring all the people to the yard and as a result, a squish began to form around the coals. Again, in turn, this upped the whole kudos of my delivering a sumptuous, impromptu banquet to proceedings.

‘Ha! Tess! And to think we were all going to be eating just crisps and pizza!” I boomed, above all the tiny heads that surrounded me.

To which one not so tiny head responded, ‘There goes Uncle Dan. Always pretending to be the chef.’

(Thanks Bella)

And then they dispersed once more, for the giant trampoline, leaving me feeling quite alone.

The feeling of isolation didn’t last too long though. Once the lamb was rested and carved and brought back outside, and set amongst the salads and dips, the hovering flies came scrambling back, for a very familiar jostling.

But because the weather had been so fine (or dry at least) the majority of bums and plates were all camped around the lawn, rather than at the table. If it had been raining, no doubt we would have all been inside; all squashed up, as per usual.

With Jilly Jill out in the hall again. Taking orders by the phone.

The three following recipes, all of which use Alex’s selection of ingredients are all very straight forward and easy to make. And most importantly, take very little time to knock together. I should add that I took a small liberty of using some store cupboard spices along the way. I am a ‘chef’ after all.

But before we get to that, as part of this challenge, I now have to pass on four ingredients of my own, to Chetna Makan, You Tube spice supremo and author of two books; including Chai, Chaat and Chutney. Knowing that Chetna is very handy when it comes to this cooking malarky, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about this. Secretly, I wanted to make this really quite hard for her. Unfortunately, Sainsburys don't sell Hákarl, Century Eggs or Escamol. At least not yet. So I plumped for these:


Yes, read and weep Chetna. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Simple hummus with caramelised onion


1 tin of chickpeas
1 garlic clove, peeled
75ml olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
Half tsp smoked paprika
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper


First, throw the sliced onions into a frying pan, along with 25ml of oil and place over a medium heat and put a lid on top, to ensure the onion soften evenly and don’t catch. Stir through every now and then and after 20 minutes, remove half the onions from the pan and leave to cool. Continue with the remaining onion, taking the lid off, so that they get some more colour and begin to crisp up a bit. This should take another 10 minutes or so. After which time, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Pop the chickpeas (water and all) and garlic clove into a saucepan and place it on the hob and bring to the boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook through for 5 minutes and then leave to cool and a touch.

Drain, reserving some of the water. Then place the chickpeas, garlic, the first batch of cooked onion, cumin and smoked paprika into a blender and blitz to incorporate. Then add the remaining olive oil and lemon juice and blitz until smooth. If the consistency is too thick, you can let things down some more by adding a touch of the reserved water.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve in a bowl, topped with the crisp onion and an extra sprinkling of paprika and drizzle of oil.

Pomegranate and spring onion cous cous.


350gms cous cous
550ml boiled water
Small bunch of spring onions, white part finely chopped, green part roughly shredded
1 pomegranate, de-seeded (you can do this by chopping in half and bashing each half on the outside with a wooden spoon over a bowl. The seeds will magically drop down, leaving the pith behind)
1 small bunch of mint, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
50ml olive oil
1 packet Sainsbury's Fruits & Honey Seed Mix (35g)
Salt and pepper


Place the cous cous into a bowl and pour over the just boiled water. Cover with cling film and leave for 5 minutes for the water to absorb.

Then, using a fork, fluff up the cous cous a touch and add the oil, lemon juice and zest, chopped spring onion and two-thirds of the pomegranate. Then mix together to combine.

Season to taste and mix some more, then pour the cous cous onto a serving platter.

Finish by scattering the remaining pomegranate, chopped mintand fruit and honey seed m ix over the top.

Butterflied lamb with lemon, honey and thyme 


1 butterflied leg of lamb, 1.2 kg
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tbs of honey
Small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
25ml olive oil
Salt and pepper


Place the lamb into a shallow dish and combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, remembering to season. Pour the marinade over the lamb, turning the joint over so that everything gets mixed in nicely. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for two hours (or overnight, if you have the time)

Light your bbq and take the lamb out of the fridge, to come up to room temperature. (It takes roughly 45 mins for you coals to turn glowing white, so this should marry up well for the lamb).

Slap the lamb onto the grill and turn frequently, basting with remain marinade that you might have left. The sugar content in the marinade will mean a bit of scorching but it all adds to the flavour.

Depending on the lamb, a joint roughly 4 cm thick will take 20-30 minutes to cook to medium rare. If you prefer it medium to well done, cook for 40 minutes.

When ready, take the lamb joint off and place on a carving board and cover with foil. Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Cut into even slices and present on the chopping board or on a platter.