January, 2009


30
Jan 09

Fridge full o’ puds

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I’ve been trying out different puddings
all week and now it’s all I seem to have in the fridge. First, there
was the jasmine tea panna cotta I’ve been working on for my friend
Henrietta at the Rare Tea Company. It’s a delicious twist on the
original, with milk and cream fusing with fragrant white tip teas to
create my personal favourite. As with all truly creative developments
there were a few which didn’t quite make the grade, so now the fridge
is littered with various experimental panna cotta.

Then there’s the Valentine’s pud that
I’ve been working on for you lucky lot – a spankingly good white
chocolate mousse with passion fruit and pistachio that just needs a
little refining. And finally, a burnt Cambridge cream, the British -
and dare I say it – original version of the crème brulée. It’s
currently spiked with a few sharp plums, but they may give way to
something tarter and more exciting.

While it has been a rather
enjoyable eating week, I am certainly feeling a certain twinge of
guilt. So almost every meal has had a healthy Asian slant. The week
commenced with a first attempt at sticky rice, which ended in
something relatively successful and a little triumphant smile from
me.

I’m just about to try my hand at yum
woon sen, a spicy salad based around the delicate glass noodles which
punctuate so many Asian salads. Sunday’s slow roast shoulder of lamb
has made an appearance in these salads along with the usual suspects
of fish sauce, lime juice, chilli and coriander.

Just to round off the week in
appropriately sweet style, I will be judging the second half of the
Academy of Chocolate’s annual awards. It might sound like fun, but
you try eating 45 chocolates in one afternoon!


26
Jan 09

And the beet goes on

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Beetroot used to have a rather a bad reputation as a pickled dinosaur, but in recent years it’s become quite fashionable. It feels like a winter vegetable but suits summer’s light alfresco dishes just as well. Its earthy taste can take a little while to appreciate, but coupled with horseradish or salty cheeses like Pecorino, Parmesan, feta or Dolcelatte, it comes into its own.

I also find it a perfect accompaniment to Sunday lunch. It’s happy to sit in its foil parcel for a little longer than planned when the water for the carrots hasn’t boiled, the potatoes aren’t quite done, or you’ve forgotten to cook the vegetarian guest’s meal – as I did this weekend…

Roast beets with orange, bay, thyme and balsamic vinegar (Serves 3-4 as a side)

Ingredients

  • 2-3 medium-sized beetroot

  • Juice of half an orange

  • 1 bay leaf

  • A few sprigs of thyme

  • 3 tbs balsamic vinegar

  • 2 tbs olive oil

Method

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Peel beetroot – preferably over the sink as they tend to turn things purple.

Make a foil parcel by taking a single large sheet of foil, approximately 30cm long and folding it in half, then folding the sides over on themselves to seal it. Fold the bottom piece up a couple of times until you’ve created a bag.

Dice the beetroot into 1-2cm cubes and pop in the foil along with the rest of the ingredients, plus some salt and pepper. Seal the top and bake for between 45 minutes and an hour until tender.


22
Jan 09

Burn’s Night

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Having travelled the world it’s rather embarrassing to admit I first visited Scotland only last year. But as a friend pointed out, it’s quicker to get to the Alps than Scotland and, before my trip, I would have said the Savoie had better food.

After spending three incredible epicurean days in Glasgow and the surrounding area, though, I had a change of mind. Fears of deep-fried foods were quickly dispelled – though there were a few rumours about battered Cream Eggs.

I ate fantastic seafood straight from Scottish waters at the excellent Cafezique in the city’s West End and tucked into spectacular game and fish at The Ubiquitous Chip – one of Glasgow’s best known restaurants, famed for its classic regional fare.

The head chef at The Chip is Ian Brown, who’s been cooking there for 20 years, and whose son takes on the task of piping in the haggis come Burns Night on January 25.

With a little coaxing he shared with me his recipe for a Scottish classic – cranachan. Although traditionally made with ‘crowdie’, a thick, cream cheese, it is more commonly made with double cream these days. This is a truly yummy desert and quite wonderfully naughty.

If you can’t get hold of pinhead oatmeal, substitute some biscuit or cake crumbs. The result makes a perfect end to a Burn’s Night supper.

Cranachan

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 3 tbs pinhead oatmeal

  • 1 pt double cream

  • Approx 2 tbs vanilla or caster sugar to taste

  • A few drops vanilla essence (if you are using regular sugar) or a vanilla pod

  • 450g soft fruit (traditionally this should be Scottish raspberries, but Ian suggested using blackcurrants, brambles, bayberries or gooseberries, and you could use frozen fruit)

  • 30ml of your favourite whisky

  • 1 tbs runny honey

Method

Toast oatmeal in a non-stick pan or under a grill on a medium heat until it turns a nutty brown colour. Allow to cool. Whip the cream to the soft peak stage, and then fold in the sugar, honey, whisky and vanilla essence or pod, if using. Then just layer up the pudding in glasses – cream, fruit, a little drizzle of whisky and so forth. Finish off with a few berries on top. Scatter over the oatmeal and serve.


19
Jan 09

Chickpeas make a warming, simple supper

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This
is a great store-cupboard standby and ticks all the right boxes with
me – easy, quick and delicious. And it has the added bonus of being
scalable – if friends pop round for dinner you can just throw in
more tomatoes and chickpeas. It works well as a way to use up
leftovers, too. Sausage can be cut into thick chunks and thrown in,
as can vegetables – kale or spinach would be great – potatoes or
whatever else you have to hand.

Using
up what you’ve got at home needn’t mean compromising on flavour.
There are few finer treats than cold mash turned into crispy,
buttery, fried potato cakes, juicy slivers of chicken from your roast
tossed with salad leaves, or a bowl of yesterday’s curry, all the
better for being left overnight.

Being
frugal with food is the new cool. Bubble and squeak is popping up all
over in cookery books and Nigel Slater’s are full of recipes for
using up left-over morsels of lamb, beef or pork. Word has it that
Gordon Ramsay challenges future employees to make him a dish using
odds and ends – the mark of a great cook.

Chickpea
and tomato stew with peppers and chorizo (Serves 4)

2
cooking chorizo (approx 6-8 inches of sausage)

2
tins of chopped tomatoes

2
tins chickpeas

2
red
peppers

2
onions

2
cloves garlic

a
sprig of thyme

olive
oil

1
dried chilli (optional)

1
tsp smoked paprika

1
tsp ground cumin

Method

Slice
onion and pepper into thin strips. Splosh a bit of oil in pan and fry
onion and pepper with thyme for a few minutes until soft.

Crumble
chilli, finely chop garlic and add to the pan along with cumin and
paprika. Stir around for a few minutes, taking care not to burn
garlic.

Throw
in tomatoes and stir. Drain chickpeas and add to pan. Turn down to a
gentle simmer and leave to bubble for a while.

Dice
chorizo into cubes or slice into rounds and fry in a pan over a high
heat for five minutes or so until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and
add to stew. Season generously with pepper and a pinch of salt. Let
stew bubble for a few minutes more and serve in bowls with crusty
bread. Alternatively toss the sauce through some pasta and scatter
over a little parmesan.


15
Jan 09

Revelling in rice

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There
is something comforting about a soft, pillowy pile of rice. It begins
with the aroma – even uncooked rice smells soothing, clean and
fresh. My wheat-free approach to January means I’ve been eating even
more of it than normal. We usually have it twice or three times a
week, particularly when I cook too much and end up recycling it in
fried rice.

So
far as cooking it is concerned, my advice is simple – buy a rice
cooker. They are cheap as chips – you’ll get change from a £20 note
- and take the fuss out of preparing something that can be
frustratingly difficult to get right.

Using
a rice cooker doesn’t restrict you to plain rice either. Use half
coconut milk and half water for a fragrant, delicious change, or add
a crushed cardamom pod for a hint of warming spice. You can even make
a pilaf, adding a little butter and some caramelised onions to the
mix.

A
rice salad can almost always be found in our fridge. It provides a
perfect foil for many meals and is a great lunchbox filler. They look
fabulous, too. Dark, nutty brown rice, some quinoa for a healthy
protein boost, flecks of green parsley, golden sultanas and a few
nuts thrown in along with some brightly coloured citrus zest create a
picture perfect dish for your table.

It’s
also healthy, packed with the sort of slow-release energy that’s
exactly what you need on these misty, frosty days.

Brown
rice salad with pecans and sultanas

This
may seem like rather a lot of ingredients – but feel free to chop
and change depending on what you’ve got in the kitchen

Ingredients
(Serves 4-6 as a side-dish)

  • 200g
    brown rice

  • 100g
    quinoa

  • 3
    shallots, peeled and finely sliced

  • 50g
    pecans, chopped to small-ish chunks

  • 25g
    raisins

  • 25g
    pumpkin seeds or pine nuts

  • 2
    tbs black sesame seeds

  • 100ml
    olive oil

  • 30ml
    cider vinegar

  • 1
    tbs honey

  • Zest
    of 1 orange

  • Juice
    of half an orange

  • Juice
    of half a lemon

  • A
    big bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Method

Cook
the brown rice and quinoa in separate pans according the packet
instructions (roughly half an hour for the rice and 15 minutes for
the quinoa). Once cooked, drain and spread them out on trays to cool.

While
the rice is cooking, fry the shallots in olive oil until golden
brown. Set aside to cool.

Once
the onion, rice and quinoa have cooled, mix them together along with
the rest of the ingredients except the oil, vinegar, honey and fruit
juice. Whisk these together with some seasoning and add to the rice.
Stir to combine.


13
Jan 09

A spot of sunshine

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Under post-Christmas grey skies the
colour and flavour of warmer days can seem a long way off, so now
seems the perfect time to inject a sunny element into the kitchen to
brighten things up – like bananas! The mainstay of fruit-bowls
across the land, they’re a little bit of tropicana which remains
popular all year round. Wonderfully versatile, they can be enjoyed a
little green or showing more brown than yellow.

Then there’s their slightly savoury
cousin, the plantain, loved by some when deep-fried and seasoned with
salt, a little too alternative for others. And the banana flower, the
male part of the plant. Although rarely seen in England, it’s a
popular addition to salads in South Asian cuisine.

Back to the more familiar tropical gem…
We often take bananas for granted and yet it has so many culinary
uses. Sliced on cereal in the morning, mashed with a little honey on
toast, with a spoonful of chocolate sauce and some ice cream, or in a
banana and walnut cake, it’s a brilliantly versatile fruit and
delicious to boot.

I’m a just-ripe banana man – not so
that it turns your teeth funny, but so it has a little bite left.
Once in a while though one ends up overlooked in the bowl, turning a
darker shade of brown each day. A general rule when it comes to
cooking is the browner the better – the banana flavour seems to get
more intense.

Here is a lovely recipe for using up
just those slightly over-ripe ones – the sea salt may seem unusual
but adds a delicate savoury note.

Sea salt caramel
bananas with vanilla ice cream

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and cut
    into 1-2 centimetre slices

  • 50g sugar

  • 50g butter

  • 35ml rum or brandy

  • Vanilla or chocolate ice cream, to
    serve

  • A large pinch sea salt flakes

Method

In a frying pan melt sugar over medium
heat without stirring. As always when cooking with caramel, take
extra care. Once the sugar has melted, let it turn as dark as you
dare for a stronger flavour without letting it burn. Watch it like a
hawk – you are looking for deep, dark mahogany. It’s
easiest to use a metal pan so you can see the colour, but non-stick
is fine. This should take a few minutes.

Once this is reached, add the butter
and let it melt until a sauce starts to form. Add bananas and cook
for a minute or two, turning occasionally, until softened but not
collapsing.

Now comes the flambé – take care
doing this as you don’t want to burn the house down!

Remove pan from heat and add brandy or
rum. Using a long match, set alight liquor and allow to burn off for
a couple of minutes. If you aren’t comfortable with flambéing, don’t
worry, you can leave out this stage.

Once the booze has cooked off, add sea
salt, stirring it through sauce. Serve in bowls with a large scoop of
ice cream.


8
Jan 09

Wheat-free January gets underway

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This is a funny time of year; the
beginning of a culinary dry spell as far as British seasonal produce
is concerned. Things are coming to an end, and not a huge amount will
grow from now until early spring.

Partridges and other game are still
around, though, and earthy root veg are in their prime – although
rather larger and so may need a little longer in the oven or
simmering in stock for soup.

My main focus for this month, however,
is the fact that I’ve opted to go wheat-free in January. It seemed
like a good idea at the time, but I keep craving cake and biscuits,
thick toast with lashings of salty butter and honey, or better still
just enough Marmite to turn the butter brown.

I do feel more healthy for cutting out
wheat products, but it can be tricky when it comes to cooking -
it’s bizarre how many food-stuffs contain wheat.

I suspect it may be that I’m trying to
think of recipes which don’t contain flour or wheat – something
that’s more difficult than just creating them. I’ve sent an e-mail to
my great friend Elly, proprietor of the Pear Cafe in Bristol for
inspiration. She cooks a fabulous array of fresh salads, pies, tarts
and cakes every day and always has a recipe when I’m stuck for one.

While I wait for a reply, huddled
indoors in a woolly hat with snow falling sporadically outside, here
is a lovely recipe for a January starter or light lunch, using one of
my favourite vegetables, celeriac. You could serve this with toast -
I wouldn’t be too jealous!

Celeriac and horseradish remoulade

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 500g celeriac

  • A small tub of crème
    fraiche (approx 200g)

  • 2 large tablespoons hot
    horseradish

  • 10 cornichons

  • 1tbs capers

  • Juice of half a lemon

Method

Using a peeler or
a paring knife, take off outer skin of root. You should see a change
of colour about three or four millimetres in, this is where you need
to peel to.

Grate the
celeriac using a normal grater or a mandolin or, for ease, use the
grating attachment of your food processor.

Mix together
crème fraiche and lemon juice. Add horseradish to taste. I
like it so hot it makes my nose go funny, but that’s just me, add as
much or as little as you wish.

Slice up
cornichons into pieces about half a centimetre thick and add. Squeeze
vinegar out of capers in your hand, and add to mix. Fold in celeriac,
and mix together thoroughly.

Taste, and season
the mixture as necessary. Serve with either a smoked fish like
mackerel or salmon, or with cold roast beef – delicious.


5
Jan 09

New Year, fresh start

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Now the feasts and festivities that define Christmas and New Year’s eve are done, it’s time to start thinking about the year ahead. Clear out the fridge and get rid of bits and bobs that have been lurking around for most of last year.

Healthy is the definitive buzz word for January, and light and fresh is the way to go. Eating healthily doesn’t need to mean a plate of veggies, though. It means just being a bit more sensible.

The trick is to make sure meals are still warm and tasty, especially as the cold weather continues to bite. Indian cuisine is particularly good when it’s chilly – and rice is a healthy carbohydrate. Even more healthy is brown rice, which has a distinct, nutty flavour. Warming Thai curries are also wonderful, while a spicy stir-fry will warm up your palate no end.

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