March, 2009

Mar 09

Blog: A coriander recipe to woo you over


These days I’m a big fan of coriander, but there was a time when I just didn’t get it. Its perfumed aroma seemed over-powering. Now I can’t get enough of it.

Its aromatic taste lifts food and is a quintessential part of many Asian cuisines. It is especially interesting because its seeds, stalk and leaves offer three different flavour profiles and have drastically different culinary uses.

If you aren’t already converted, try it in this recipe to see the wonderful effect it has. Be sparing – it should be a background scent, a whiff and no more.

Thai chicken burgers with an Asian salad and a hot and sour dipping sauce

Ingredients (serves 2)

For the burgers

  • 2
    chicken breasts
  • 1 stalk lemon grass
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander (to your own personal taste)
  • 1 egg
  • handful breadcrumbs
  • optional 2 lime leaves

For salad

  • few handfuls mixed leaves
  • ¼ cucumber
  • 4 spring onions
  • small bunch coriander
  • handful cashew nuts

For dressing

  • juice 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp soy
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

For dipping sauce

  • 5 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 5 tbsp palm or caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander

  • 2 flat bread or wrap to serve


Start by making the dipping sauce. Heat together rice wine vinegar and palm sugar for a few minutes until mixture thickens. Take off heat, add soy sauce and chopped chilli and set aside. Just before serving add coriander.

For the burgers, finely chop chilli and the lemon grass. Place these and all other burger ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse a few times until you have a mush – something like mince. Divide mixture into four and shape into patties. Place these in fridge to firm up slightly.

Make dressing by whisking together the ingredients.

Cut cucumber in half and scrape out the seeds using a teaspoon. Slice it up about the width of a 50p piece. Finely slice spring onion, and mix these with leaves, nuts, and cucumber. Dress salad when you are ready to serve.

Place frying pan over medium heat, pour a couple of tablespoons of groundnut or similar flavourless oil into pan and fry chicken burgers for about 6-8 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

Warm flatbreads by wrapping in tinfoil, and place in a low oven for about five minutes.

Once warmed through, wrap burgers with a little salad and enjoy.

Mar 09

Blog: Under the influence


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I keep track of all my cooking in little black book, writing everything down as there have been too many instances of “Wow that was great – what was in it?”. A dash of this and a handful of that all seemed so simple at the time, but by the next day they’re hard to recall.

Reading back over it is a strange and interesting experience. I can see what I cooked for whom and on what occasion. The successes and failures, the phases of eating I went through, the weeks of Asian food followed by French and British, Spanish or Mexican – it’s all there.

Pulled pork tacos with smoky salsa sit alongside frozen plum yogurt.  The latest pages contain various brownie recipes I tried to get just right.

There are empty pages, too, where I’ve meant to write up things the next day or revisit dishes long since forgotten.

The pulled pork recipe is there, but a page sits blank where the salsa should have gone. And sadly the whole experience is so far in the past I can’t even remember the name of the chillies I made it with.

An experiment for another time and a new culinary adventure…

Mar 09

Getting seduced by an early taste of sunshine food


What on earth is going on outside at the moment? One day it’s lunch in the garden, the next it’s stew by the fire!


Although I’m sure the weather’s set to change again, I’ve started to get in the mood for summer, picking up fresh, light stuff to brighten the kitchen, like shiny red peppers and purple aubergines. And I’m already putting together cold platters of salty cheese, Spanish ham and griddled vegetables dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


This is simple, pleasure food you can throw together quickly and savour slowly on a balmy summer’s evening – those rare ones we seem to get. But then I guess that’s all part of being British – the picnic eaten under a tree in the rain, barbecues cooked beneath an umbrella.


When it’s good, though, it’s great. Those evenings when the sun takes forever to disappear over the horizon and the smell of charcoal drifts on the still-warm air as the muted sounds of the neighbours enjoying their own al fresco experience float over the fence.


Such great times… So sod the cold, cook some summer food right now, even if you have to eat it indoors!


Artichoke, fontina and parma ham turn-over

Ingredients (Serves 4)


  • 100g fontina or other melting cheese like taleggio
  • 5 or 6 slices of Parma ham
  • a tin of artichokes hearts or a packet of griddled ones
  • 1 packet ready rolled puff pastry
  • a few thyme leaves
  • 1 egg, beaten


Pre-heat oven to 225°C. Lay pastry out on an oiled baking sheet. Drain artichokes and slice into quarters. Drape Parma ham over half the pastry, leaving a border of about a centimetre.


Scatter over artichokes and then slice cheese and spread it out over the top.


Scatter over thyme leaves, season with pepper only and then fold pastry over to form a parcel. It will probably be a bit lopsided. Brush the whole thing with beaten egg and bake in the oven for ten minutes or so until golden.


A green salad dressed with a punchy vinaigrette would make a great addition.

Mar 09

Time for tea


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Some days the urge to bake is overwhelming. A few spare hours while pottering round the house doing the usual bits of cleaning, sorting and washing can always be made more enjoyable with a quick stop to bake a cake. The smell that wafts through the house is so heavenly and so warming. And it gets even better when the cake comes out of the oven and you cut a great big warm wedge.  

Madeleines are a dainty alternative and the most light, exquisite cakes imaginable. They are also incredibly beautiful to look at. And this recipe is perfumed, light and super easy. They cook in a little over five minutes, too, which makes them perfect for unannounced guests or an impromptu dinner party.


To make these extra special serve with a scattering of dried rose petals and icing sugar, or some Greek yoghurt on the side.


Pistachio and cardamom madeleines


Madeleine tins are available at all good cook shops. If you don’t have one you can always use a mini-muffin tin.


Ingredients (makes 12)


1 large egg

40g caster sugar

30g ground pistachios

1 lemon

1 cardamom pod

20g icing sugar

50g plain flour

75g butter

A little extra butter for greasing




Mix egg and caster sugar until pale and light. Sieve in plain flour and add ground pistachios and icing sugar and fold together. Add zest and juice of half the lemon.


Remove black seeds from cardamom pod and grind seeds to a powder and add to the mixture.


Butter madeleine tin and place roughly a tablespoon into each hole. Pop tray in the fridge to let butter firm up a bit. Don’t smooth them out – they will do this on their own in the oven.


Pre-heat oven to 200 C. Cook madeleines for five to ten minutes, depending on oven. They are done when risen and cracked slightly in the middle while golden brown at the edges.


Remove from oven and leave for a few minutes before placing on a rack to cool.



Mar 09

A special treat to help take the load off on Mother’s Day



A mum’s life is a busy life, so for Mother’s Day I’m suggesting turning the tables and giving her an evening off. The idea is print off this delicious but simple recipe, which is easily within the
preparation skills of even the most culinary challenged, and leave it somewhere around the house as a suggestion for those usually on the receiving end of your cooking efforts.

With any luck you’ll get to put your feet up, relax and have a yummy dinner placed in front of you. A Mother’s Day gift in itself…

Pancetta wrapped salmon with balsamic lentils

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 4 salmon fillets (approx 200g each)
  • 20 slices of pancetta
  • 2 tbs
    creme fraiche
  • 1 tbs
    horseradish, to taste
  • 200g puy lentils
  • ½ litre chicken stock
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • About
    20 capers
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil


Mix creme fraiche and horseradish. Season with salt and pepper, cover and leave in fridge till needed.

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Lie five slices of the pancetta on a chopping board in strips just overlapping each other and place the salmon on top, then wrap the pancetta up and round it to cover the salmon.

Pop lentils in a pan with chicken stock. Put them on a low heat, simmering, for about 15-20 minutes. Try them as they get past the 15 minute mark. When they’re cooked, add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, capers and chopped shallot and stir.

About half way through the lentil-cooking process, put fish in the oven. It will take about ten minutes, and it’s better to under-cook than overcook. Alternatively you could do it in a frying pan – about 3-4 minutes on each side.

To serve, place a large spoonful of lentils in the middle of the plate. Place fish on top of lentils, and spoon some horseradish sauce over the top.

Mar 09

A taste of the Emerald Isle


Of all the edible treats Ireland has to offer, surely the potato is the most famous. It has been the staple crop for over 400 years, and you can see why.

Filling and deeply comforting, it’s a perfect flavour absorber in Irish stew. Alternatively mash with plenty of butter, cream and kale to make the classic Irish dish colcannon, or try that quintessentially Irish and pub favourite champ, with spring onions folded through the mash.

Bearing in mind the exuberant imbibing that usually accompanies March 17’s St Patrick’s Day, something that soaks up a few of those extra pints of Guinness, quaffed in honour of Irish chums, wouldn’t go amiss.


The following is a twist on a classic which also makes a perfect breakfast the morning after the night before.


Colcannon cakes with bacon and eggs (serves 4)

  • 1kg potatoes
  • 75g butter
  • Splash of milk
  • 250g kale, chard or cabbage
  • 4tbs plain flour
  • 8 rashers bacon
  • 4 eggs



Peel potatoes, quarter and boil in salted water for 20 minutes until tender. Drain, allow to steam a little, and mash with butter, milk and salt and pepper. Allow to cool.

Cook kale in boiling water for a few minutes until tender. Drain and allow to cool.

Mix kale with potato and form into either four or eight cakes – depending on how large you like them.

Dip cakes in flour and shallow fry for 7-8 minutes on each side until golden. Keep warm in a low oven while you fry the bacon and then the eggs.

Place potato cake(s) on each plate and top with bacon and fried egg.

Mar 09

Blog: The price of fish

anc_560.jpgI have a theory about food, a sort of philosophy I eat by I suppose. It’s a two-pronged topic which often crops up in conversation with foodie friends.

The first part governs the fact that it seems to only takes a single instance of enjoying a food you don’t like to start to love it. I usually order something new or something I might not be a fan of in very good restaurants, as more often than not it will have been given the sort of treatment to turn it into something spectacular.

And there’s nothing quite like the pleasure of learning to love a foodstuff that people around you have been blathering on about for ages. The gears fall into place and suddenly you understand what they mean.

The second relates to the quality of ingredients. This makes all the difference, which is why good restaurants source their ingredients well.

Take for example, the humble anchovy – prized in Ancient Rome where it was fermented and turned into <i>liquamen</i>, a fishy seasoning like that used in Thai cooking.

Anchovies and I had never been friends. I found their intense fishiness overpowering. It wasn’t for want of trying. I’d used them to season lamb, adding oomph by stuffing fillets inside slits in the meat along with rosemary and garlic.
Then, along came a marginally pricier version, and I was sold. The quality Spanish import was richer, saltier and meatier than anything I’d tasted before and now I am a happy convert.

It’s not about spending a lot more money, but rather buying less of a better thing. So if you’ve got your own foodie phobias, as I have with offal, too, take a chance,  buy a smaller amount of really good quality and see what a difference it makes.

Mar 09

A dunker’s delight

ch_560.jpgHaving focused on the art of bread-making recently I thought a little something to dunk it into might be nice. While a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of sea salt are a great staple choice, this is a bit of a treat.

It was inspired by a little leftover sauce from a dinner last week of a roasted vegetables, griddled halloumi and toast rubbed with garlic. The piquant green sauce was the perfect foil, cutting through the saltiness of the cheese and the glaze of oil on the vegetables.

And there’s no need to restrict it just to a dip for your latest bread-making efforts. Try it spooned over crunchy fishcakes, dunk into it with frites or spread liberally over toast. Best made the day before, as the flavours develop deliciously overnight, it is a bed-fellow of the classic Argentinean sauce chimichurri, without the garlic.

A piquant green sauce for dipping – or meat and poultry


  • 110ml olive oil
  • 25ml white wine or cider vinegar
  • A large bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tbs dried oregano
  • pinch chilli flakes (or more if you fancy)


Combine the ingredients in a blender till you have a slush. Pour into a jar, cover and keep in fridge overnight. Serve drizzled on toast.

Mar 09

A celebration of the pie


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In case you are still sadly unaware, this week is British pie week ( – celebration of the humble delight which runs from March 2-8.


A pie in my mind is quintessentially British. First referenced in literary works of 800 years ago, they remain a key element of the UK’s culinary tradition.


While originally designed to protect the contents, these days pastry has become an art form in itself. A flaky layer of puff pastry covering a creamy chicken pie studded with gleaming peas is a thing of beauty. While a well-made shortcrust over a filling of slowly braised beef, carrots and mushrooms can be equally divine.


My first thought at mention of a pie is a savoury one, but I love tart, sharp-tasting fruits like bramley apples, coxes, plums, damsons and rhubarb. And a pie without a lid is a tart. But is a tart a pie?


I’d like to think so, otherwise we’d be missing out on a glorious range of culinary ideas. A good apple pie should be sharp, coupled with a crisp, sweet pastry and a good spoonful of silky clotted cream. The only way to improve on such a thing might be the addition of a few blackberries. Then, bursting at the seams, it should be eaten while your fingers are still stained purple from picking them.

The pinnacle of pie-making, though, is a much more regal thing – the pork pie.


A hot-water pastry crust encases a dense, meaty, fat-speckled filling surrounded by a layer of unctuous jelly. The jelly is the divider. Some can’t stand its texture, others adore the wobbly, gelatinous layer.


Historically, the pie was invented as a means of transporting meat for men on the hunt; the crust designed to withstand a bashing around while kept in the pocket. Fact or fable, who knows! Who cares, when they taste as good as they do?

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