February, 2009

Feb 09

A feast filled start to the year


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I can’t understand why the start of the year is generally regarded as a period of relative culinary darkness. The sweet treats and romantic meals of Saint Valentine’s Day are no sooner over than another culinary opportunity looms in the form of St David’s Day. And then there’s Mother’s Day and Easter, both of which also offer delicious excuses to eat fantastic food.


When the Principality celebrates the day of its patron saint this Sunday, I’ll be jumping on board, too. Wales offers some fabulous local produce, including the leek – one of the country’s national symbols – and it’s perfect partner – salt-marsh lamb.


A slow-roast shoulder would be my cut of choice, coupled with some mustardy creamed leeks, or maybe some of the slender baby ones, griddled and served with a piquant caper and lemon dressing to cut through the richness of the meat.


lamb-blob-b.jpgBlack beef have been bred in Wales for at least a thousand years, and to my mind there’s no finer Sunday lunch than roast rib with all the trimmings, including a hefty dollop nose-stinging horseradish. If you’re aiming for true authenticity choose a Welsh version of that, too.


Or try adding a twist to a classic dish, like lamb studded with salty anchovies, or softened leeks baked in a tart with a punchy cheese like Gorwydd Caerphilly or organic Hafod cheddar and some bacon.


Happy St David’s Day!

Feb 09

Getting pouring, wiggling and flipping on pancake day


With Shrove Tuesday on the horizon, thoughts inevitably turn to pancakes – making them, filling them and devouring them. It seems a shame to restrict pancakes to once a year, though. Personally I could eat them week in, week out.


The French have the right idea. They eat savoury as well as sweet versions- Like the buckwheat galettes of Brittany, for example, which come filled with ham, melted cheese and a soft-yolked fried egg.


Admittedly, pancakes are equally good doused liberally with a squeeze of citrus juice and a sprinkling of crunchy Demerara.


One of the best I ever ate, though, was in Thailand. It wasn’t strictly a pancake, more a stretched and flattened roti, fried in coconut oil, stuffed with bananas and, in typical South-East Asian style, covered in condensed milk.


Banana and pancake is as good a combination as banana and chocolate, so adding a great dollop of chocolate spread to them seems a logical next step.

And there is something distinctly bonding about making them at home.


Maybe it’s because the first one always seems to come out a bit duff or because of the entertainment factor added by some clever dick lobbing one onto the floor in the midst of showing off their flipping.


Or maybe it’s the waiting; the anticipation of watching someone else flavouring and tucking into their own as yours is ladled into the pan.


This year I’ll be doing something new, taking advantage of one of my favourite seasonal ingredients – rhubarb. Once my efforts are poured, wiggled and flipped I’ll be anointing them with some, cooked-down and sweetened with sugar, a few slivers of stem ginger added, plus a large spoonful of thick cream flecked with vanilla.


And just in case you’re planning some of your own…


  • 120g/4oz plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 210ml/7fl oz milk
  • 90ml/3fl oz water
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil



Put the flour and the salt in a bowl and mix. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs.

In a separate bowl mix together the milk and the water. Beat the eggs into the flour with a wooden spoon and gradually beat in the milk and water mixture to get a smooth liquid the consistency of cream.

Stir in the oil and allow to stand for 30 minutes before using.


Hot hint: Before starting to cook your pancakes make sure the frying pan is very hot, then add a small knob of butter. Pour in enough batter to cover surface of pan and fry for about three minutes, turning – or if you’re brave, flipping! – half way. To get lacey-edged pancakes with crisp edges, add less batter so there’s a gap between the pancake and the edge of the pan.

Feb 09

An honest loaf


‘Frugal’ is the word of the moment when it comes to food. It’s all about using cheaper cuts of meat, soups, stocks and stews, and making the most of leftovers. Making your own bread is another cost cutter.


I’ve never quite perfected the art of baking bread. I can turn out a pretty decent pizza, but my attempts at sourdough usually end up as cricket balls. My mother and sister bake most days which is where the secret really lies – practice.


There’s nothing quite as satisfying as sinking your teeth into a slice of your own bread, though, toasted and thick with salty butter and topped with Marmite.


So here you go… This is about as easy as it gets – and worth a shot even if your loaves have up til now resembled concrete. It’s light and delicious with a soft texture.


An honest loaf



  • 500g of flour
  • 300ml warm water
  • 7g sachet of dried yeast
  • 1 tsp clear honey or sugar
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil



Mix yeast and honey with water and set aside for a few minutes.

Add to flour along with salt and olive oil and mix with your hand to combine.

Knead by hand on a floured surface or with the kneading attachment of a food mixer for around 7-10 minutes until dough becomes quite springy.


Cover and leave to rise for 45 mins to an hour. Knock it back by giving it a pushing it down and then shape the loaf into a round. Leave to rest for a further half an hour.


Put a baking tray in the oven and pre-heat to 220ºC. Dust with a little flour and pop your loaf on the shelf. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. You can tell when the bread is done by tapping it on the base – it should sound hollow.


Feb 09

A romantic follow up



For a Valentine’s Day dessert you need a bit of a treat – something sweet, delicious, and perfect for sharing. A little wicked indulgence.

If you’ve decided to prepare the healthy main course I suggested yesterday then you deserve something naughty, like this twist on the classic Eton Mess. Crumbled muscavado meringue, sharp winter rhubarb and a lick of thick, luscious double cream- is there a more perfect combination?

Like the main course this is a make-in-advance dish, ensuring you can concentrate on romance rather than the cooking. The meringues can be prepared the day before as can the rhubarb and the cream. You could even use shop-bought meringues if you’re really pushed for time.


Rhubarb Mess

Chef’s tip: An egg white a few days old will increase in volume much more than a fresh one and should be at room temperature for best results




For the meringues

  • 2 egg whites
  • 60g muscavado sugar
  • 60g caster sugar


For the rhubarb

  • 150g rhubarb
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 30ml water
  • 100ml double cream


This quantity will make more than enough meringues for the recipe, but a single egg white is a pain to whisk and leftover meringues are great!


To make meringues, first preheat oven to 100ºC. Whisk egg whites in an electric mixture until they form soft peaks. Keep whisking while adding the sugars a tablespoon at a time until the mixture is glossy. Using a dessert spoon drop large spoonfuls of meringue on a greaseproof sheet. This quantity will make about 8-10 meringues. Bake for two hours, then allow to cool.

Cut rhubarb into inch-long pieces and poach gently with sugar and water in a saucepan for around ten minutes, turning occasionally, until soft but not collapsed. Set aside to cool.

Whip cream until it forms stiff peaks.

To serve, crumble two meringues per person into a large bowl, fold in the cream and spoon over the rhubarb pieces (save the liquid and use in cocktails or pour over yoghurt). Serve with two spoons…



Feb 09

Have a go at your very own love feast


If you’re planning on whipping up something special for your love on February 14, you want to be with your Valentine rather than slaving over a hot stove. So my prepare-ahead menu is a delicious solution.


I’ve planned it so you can relax and enjoy an evening of fabulous food together without needing to clock watch or dash off to the kitchen every five minutes. And both the dressing and the noodles (pictured) can be prepared the evening before.


The main course is fresh, yummy and light enough to leave you with room for the extra-special pudding I’ll be bringing you later this week.


Serve a glass of chilled pink champagne beforehand and you’ll be seeing smiles for quite some time.



Seared salmon with soba noodles and pickled ginger



  • 2 salmon fillets, skin off, weighing approximately 200g each
  • 1 pack soba noodles
  • 4 spring onions
  • a few sprigs of coriander
  • about ten pieces of pickled ginger
  • 2 tbs sesame seeds, preferably a mixture of white and black
  • lime wedges, to serve


For the dressing

  • juice of 1 lime
  • a pinch of caster sugar
  • 2 tbs sesame oil
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • ½ inch ginger, grated





For the dressing, whisk all dressing ingredients together.


Cook soba according to the packet instructions. Usually this involves immersing them in boiling water for five minutes, then draining and running under cold water. If you’re doing them the day before wait until cool and then place, covered, in the fridge.


You’ll need to bring them to room temperature to serve by leaving them out for an hour or so.

On the night finely slice spring onion, chop coriander and roughly chop pickled ginger. Add these to the soba along with dressing and sesame seeds.


Heat a griddle pan over a high heat and sear salmon for four or five minutes on each side until cooked. Alternatively you can use a frying pan or cook them in the oven on a greased baking tray for ten minutes at 180.


Divide noodles between two plates and serve salmon on top and the lime wedges on the side. Scatter over a little extra coriander.



Feb 09

Root of the matter


cast aside for jazzier, more stylish veg like broccoli or fine green
beans, root vegetables play a large part in the food I cook at home.
I rarely go a day in winter without using them in some form or
another. From a grated celeriac salad tarted up with a wholegrain
mustard vinaigrette to a luxurious, simple roasted parsnip soup with
parmesan and double cream, these humble veg are wonderfully

strange how often we take them for granted, though. A carrot always
resides in my fridge, ready to be tossed through a Thai salad and
served with sticky rice or just steamed to accompany sausage, mash
and onion gravy.

there are the oft overlooked roots like beetroot, radishes and
artichokes, all of which are equally useful and often better tasting than their more common cousins.

Turks make a great dish with the gnarly earthy ‘chokes, braising
them with rice in copious amounts of olive oil before spiking them
with lemon juice and a sprinkling of parsley. It’s a delicious dish,
particularly when the vegetables have been left in the ground for
some time, getting sweeter and sweeter.

France radishes are finely sliced and served on bread with lashings
of unsalted butter and lots of sea salt, or braised with butter and

as you may have noticed from reading this blog, are a firm favourite
of mine and super versatile. Roasted, boiled, soused, or raw, their
uses are virtually limitless. Try baking tiny peeled ones in a bag
and then serving them with a great spoonful of crème fraiche or a
few shards of parmesan for a perfect, simple side.

Feb 09

A nursery treat reprised


I was lucky
enough to be invited to lunch at Petersham Nurseries yesterday by my
good friend Sarah. Part nursery, part café and part restaurant the
it’s a great place to eat as it’s set in fabulous surroundings right
by the river in Richmond.

Head chef Skye
Gyngell has cooked for many a famous face – regulars include the
Jaggers and Richard E Grant – and her food’s astounding. It follows
an ethos close to my own heart, good ingredients, treated simply.
It’s the sort of food we could and should be cooking at home – the
types of dishes that use few processes and make good sense.

I won’t tease you
with details of the meal, but having had a quick chat with a pal I’ve
managed to procure a recipe for Sarah’s starter – lomo on
bruschetta with tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. It’s a recipe that
lives and dies on the quality of its ingredients and is resplendent
in its simplicity.

Lomo on toasted bruscetta with tomato,
olive oil and garlic

Lomo is cured pork loin, available from good
delis. If you can’t get it, try using serrano ham, the
juniper-flavoured Tyrol ham known as speck, or pancetta

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 4 thick slices of chewy peasant style

  • 8 slices lomo an 8th
    inch thick

  • 1 jar of good quality tomatoes

  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 small bunch of thyme

  • 2 fresh bay leaves

  • Sea salt and freshly ground black

  • A further two tbs or so of extra virgin
    olive oil

  • 1 clove garlic peeled but left whole


Place a small pan over a medium heat. Once
hot add the first lot of olive oil and warm though. Add jar of
tomatoes and season with a good pinch of salt and a little pepper.
Add bay and thyme and cook gently for 20 minutes, stirring
occasionally until tomatoes are thick and reduced to a glossy colour.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room

Grill bread on both sides until golden
brown. Remove and rub each piece gently with the whole clove of

Spoon over a little of the cooled tomatoes
and spread as if it were jam then drizzle over the remaining olive
oil and place the lomo on top.

Serve immediately while bread is still warm.

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