May, 2009

May 09

Bring out the barbie for national barbecue week


May 25-31 is national barbecue week and this weekend is supposed to be a scorcher with temperatures happily sitting around 22-ish degrees. What better excuse to get the barbecue out and enjoy a lazy evening in the garden, sipping cold beers while slices of lime and meat, fish and vegetables sizzle away?

There’s nothing quite like the British barbecue. I’ve even barbecued in the rain before – which I’m sure would make our antipodean cousins chuckle as they cook over coals in their tropical afternoon sun.

The flavour of food that comes off the hot barbecue is unique – the charring gives it a delicious depth and crunch like nothing else, and I suppose is as close as most of us will come at home to the grill that most restaurants have. It imparts a distinctly smoky flavour to whatever you’re cooking.

Boned out chicken thighs are my current favourite. With just the right balance of fat and meat, the skin blackens in places and goes crisp and moreish. A squeeze of lime or lemon juice over the top is all your really need. I always pop a few extra on teh grill to use over the next few days as they just sing with flavour. Tossed through a salad or shredded into a sandwich with a dollop of mayonnaise and a drizzle of hot sauce they have few equals.

If you fancy trying something a little more adventurous than the usual sausages and burgers, take a look at our spiced skewered lamb or beef and red pepper burgers. And this halloumi, nectarine and prosciutto salad makes a nice accompaniment.

Click here to view all our fantastic barbecue recipes.

May 09

Spice things up with a Mussel Rassam curry


There is something deeply satisfying about the process of making a curry. It seems almost like a secret formula, adding weights and measures of different and sometimes quite alien ingredients that affect the taste, colour, smell and even the noise the dish makes when cooking.

The alchemy involved is great fun though, embarking on a culinary adventure into the great unknown. One thing I have picked up is the importance of following a recipe as much down to the letter as you possibly can, guaranteeing your results will probably be as the recipe writer intended. Cooking curries can lead to feelings of great achievement in the kitchen too – and the pleasure of sitting down to a delicious end result, mostly cooked out of the kitchen cupboard.

Often they are also a wonderfully exotic lesson in frugality – costs are low but the results are so vibrant and pleasing. Mussels are a quirky and inexpensive addition to a curry – as in this one I swiped from Manoj Vasaikar, chef/proprietor at my nearly-local restaurant Indian Zing in Hammersmith.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients here most of them you will probably have in your store cupboard. Just take each step at a time and the results will be fantastic.

Indian Zing’s Mussel Rassam

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course)

  • 400g mussels                       
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, sliced
  • 5 tomatoes                       
  • 4 green finger chillies (halved and deseeded)       
  • 2 Garlic cloves                       
  • 25g tamarind pulp                   
  • 5g jaggery or sugar           
  • ¼ tsp turmeric                                                            
  • Salt to taste                    

For the Rassam powder

  • 5 dried red chillies (whole)               
  • 1 ½ tsp cumin seeds                   
  • 3 tsp black peppercorns                           
  • 3 tsp coriander seeds                   

For the tempering

  • 3 tsp coconut or groundnut oil   
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves or a few freeze dried
  • ¼ tsp asafoetida

To garnish

  • A large bunch of  fresh coriander
  • 5 dried whole red chillies, fried briefly in oil (optional)


Blanch the tomatoes to remove skin and roughly chop. Set aside. Coarsely grate the jaggery and set aside. Soak the tamarind in warm water for 15 minutes and strain, reserving the liquid.

For the Rassam powder, roast all the ingredients in a thick bottomed pan for few seconds and then crush in a pestle and mortar to a powder.

Crush the garlic and sauté in 2 tsp of the oil until light brown. Add the shallot and sweat until soft but not coloured. Add the chopped tomatoes and the Rassam powder.

Add the washed mussels to the pan, discarding any that are not open. Add a pint of water, bring the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

While the mussels are cooking, make the tempering mixture. Heat 3 tsp of the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop add the ginger and sauté for a minute or two, then add the curry leaves and asafoetida and pour over the simmering Rassam – the mixture may pop and spit a bit.

Take off the heat and serve in a large bowl with the coriander and chillies scattered over and a finger bowl on the side!

May 09

Oldie but goodie recipes from yesteryear


The resurgence of home-baking has led me on a trip down memory lane – scouring old cookbooks, newspaper clippings, my parents’ and grandparents’ collections looking for inspiration and some edible memories from my childhood.


There was plenty to work through – from the fantastic to the slightly strange (the Eighties are responsible for some seriously weird kitchen inventions – crisp-topped cheesey bakes, anyone?). Whatever they are, most carry fond memories.

When I was asked to rustle up some cakes for a charity sale the first thing that came to mind were the classic chocolate cornflake cakes – quick, easy and delicious.


A week or so later I was invited to a bring-your-own picnic. I suspected an upmarket version of these sticky treats would do the trick and these childhood favourites became a nostalgic, grown-up treat. 


Grown-up chocolate cornflake cakes


Ingredients (makes about 30)


  • 160g cornflakes
  • 8tbs golden syrup
  • 200g very good dark chocolate
  • 110g butter




Melt the syrup, butter and chocolate over a low heat until smooth. Remove from the heat and mix in the cornflakes, gently but thoroughly until they are all coated. Place spoonfuls of the mixture either into fairy-cake cases or just onto a plate or baking sheet and allow to cool – they will set as they do so.


If you like (and you want to go for a bit of kitsch-cool) decorate with hundreds and thousands or edible glitter – or both!


May 09

Fresh and light – mozzarella with mint and chilli


As we move towards the summer months (until it all came abruptly to a stop this week!) my cooking gets lighter, with less saucing, less starches and stodges – and ultimately less cooked.

I lean towards green salads adorned with good grated parmesan, to bruschetta made so the bread slightly softens in the juice of the tomatoes. I also love cold meats and pickles, bowls of Jersey Royals dotted with butter and hummus and baba ganoush – the smoked aubergine puree that has no equal.

I like to serve up cold platters of these ingredients, arrangements which show colour, texture and serve to appetise with hot ciabatta or pitta on the side.

One of my favourite additions is this recipe – mozzarella with mint and chilli. The milkiness of the cheese cut through with the freshness of the mint and the zing of chilli lends a touch of vibrancy to the cool palate.

Try to use buffalo mozzarella here – its flavour is vastly superior

Buffalo mozzarella with mint and chilli dressing

Ingredients (serves 2)

•    Buffalo mozzarella
•    1 small bunch mint leaves, picked
•    ½ a red chilli
•    3 tbs extra virgin olive oil


Finely chop the mint. Deseed and finely dice the chilli. Add both to the olive oil. Slice the mozzarella into about eight pieces and spoon the oil, mint and chilli over, seasoning with sea salt.

May 09

Sweet sensation – caramel and vanilla panna cotta

pana-cotta-a.jpgThere are few desserts as simple and satisfying as panna cotta. Not only are they perfect for preparing ahead of a dinner party, but somehow it seems like cheating as they are just so quick and easy.

Whenever I make them I always whip up a second batch to experiment with, adding different ingredients like fruit purees or infusing the milk with a range of additions. Some of my favourites include the Rare Tea Company’s aromatic and floral Jasmine tea (the best tea in the world, in my book) and lemon zest or a herb like lemon verbena.

The latest batch I made were during one of my ‘caramel phases’, when everything I make has a caramel lurking in it somewhere (including some rather exquisite cocktails). Essentially this is rather like a set butterscotch but a tad lighter. It’s devilishly delicious – and would be perfect served with some of the season’s poached rhubarb and a crushed amaretti biscuit for texture.

Caramel and vanilla panna cotta

Ingredients (serves 4)

•    100g sugar
•    1 vanilla pod
•    250ml whole milk
•    250ml double cream
•    2.5 sheets leaf gelatin


In a heavy based saucepan melt the sugar over a low heat. Do not stir. When the mixture is liquid add the seeds and the shell of the vanilla pod. Allow the mixture to cook for several minutes until it goes the colour of mahogany but don’t let it burn. As far as caramel is concerned, the darker it is – the more flavour you have,

Pour in the cream. The mixture will bubble furiously for a moment and the sugar may seize, but keep stirring and it will all go liquid again. Add the milk and cook for a further couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, strain and reserve.

Soften the gelatin in a bowl of cold water for five minutes. Take out of the bowl and squeeze the excess water from it. Add to the butterscotch mixture. Pour into four dariole molds or ramekins and refrigerate for at least four hours, but preferably overnight.

Either serve in the ramekins or if you want to turn them out, dip the molds or ramekins in boiling water for a few seconds before up-turning on a plate. They may need a little shake.

May 09

Taking it slow – ten hour roast pork


Patience is a virtue and no more so is this evident than in a ten-hour roast. This recipe is both tantalising and torturous. It’s a gem. I’m a huge fan of slow-cooking, braising or roasting on a very low temperature. It requires patience, the ability to wait and not pick, not turn the oven up and just leave things, as your house fills with the most incredible of aromas.

This kind of cooking is normally associated with winter months; casseroles and stews, perked up with root vegetables and served with great mounds of buttery mash. Slow-roasting, though, is perfectly suited to the warmer times too. Swap the potatoes for flat breads or pitta, pulling meat from bone and loading the breads up with pickled chillies, yogurt and salads. This ten-hour pork is’definitely one for the weekend as you’ll need to get it in the oven first thing. You’ll wish you could bottle up the scent too – rich and delicious and more-ish.

The sauce that accompanies this is one they serve at the Gaucho restaurants in London. It was taught to me by my great friend Ryan. It’s a slightly fiery sauce usually served with prawns but it’s also perfect for a barbecue or with a joint like this. Use a larger joint to leave lots of leftovers – perfect for topping pizzas, folding through pasta sauces or salads, or for a fantastic sandwich filling.

Because of the low cooking temperature and the fat in the meat, it won’t dry out during the cooking process

Ten-hour roast pork with a red pepper sauce

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

•    2kg piece of rolled boned pork shoulder or leg, skin on
•    Glass of white wine or water

For the sauce

•    2 red pepper
•    6 tomatoes
•    2 red onion
•    Juice of 2 oranges
•    Tabasco, to taste


Make the sauce the day before to save time. Cut the peppers into strips and deseed. Add these to a roasting tray along with the halved tomatoes and quartered red onions. Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast at 180 °C for around 30-40 minutes until tinged with black at the edges. Add them to a blender once cooled slightly with the juice of the oranges, salt and pepper and blitz. The amount of Tabasco you add is up to you. A few drops for a very mild heat, to plenty if you are a fire-eater. Set aside and cover until you are ready to use. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.

For the pork, pre-heat the oven to 230 °C. Place the pork on a roasting tray and cook for half an hour before turning the heat down to 130 °C. After 8 hours add a glass of wine or water to the tray.

After 10 hours, remove the pork from the oven. Pre-heat your grill and place the pork under this for a few minutes to crisp up the crackling. Remove the pork from the grill when the skin starts to puff and crisp.

Serve the pork with the sauce and flatbreads or pitta and salad on the side.

May 09

A simple spaghetti supper


Pasta is a dish which features on almost everyone’s cooking repertoire – and rightly so; it’s reliable, delicious and ready in a flash. A few ingredients put thrown together and dinner can be on the table in less than 15 minutes.


However, I must admit to being a bit anti-pasta. I just find it, well, a little dull, if I’m honest. It gets very samey after the first few mouthfuls. So many people swear by it I thought there was something wrong with me at first. Why didn’t I get it?


And then I had a ‘eureka’ moment recently – my great friend Petra (born and raised in Italy, no less) bought me a packet of incredibly good spaghetti and insisted I stop the pasta-hating and give it a whirl. It was delicious, with a good bite and certainly changed my mind!


This is a luxurious recipe with parmesan enriching the sauce. A little goes a long way.


Spaghetti with crème fraiche and mushrooms


Ingerdients (serves 2)


  • 200g dried spaghetti
  • 1 large field mushroom
  • 200ml crème fraiche
  • 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • Half a lemon
  • 50g parmesan, grated
  • Small bunch flatleaf parsley, finely chopped




Preheat a griddle pan on a medium heat. Remove the stalk from the field mushroom and brush with a little olive oil. When the pan is hot place the mushroom onto it with the gills up. Cook for five or so minutes until you see the dark gills of the mushroom start to bubble a little. Turn over and cook for a further couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, cut into long slivers and then cut each one into a few pieces crossways.


Cook your pasta according to the instructions. When the cooking time is almost up heat the crème fraiche in a pan over a medium heat with the mustard, the parmesan and the mushroom. When the crème fraiche has completely become liquid add the juice of the lemon and the parsley. Season well and then toss with the pasta. Serve with a little extra parmesan grated over the top and a sprinkling of parsley.

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