August, 2009

Aug 09

What’s up doc – a cracking carrot soup



Well, that’s all folks – it seems summer has slinked over without even a whisper. We’ve had glimmers of hope in the last few weeks but I’m rather resigned to the fact that we’ve had the last of the barbecues (although last year I had one in September). This weather just seems to call for bangers and mash, toad in the hole, roast Sunday lunches and warming bowls of soup.This soup is a perfect example of one that you could change depending on the weather. Ideally it is served at room temperature as a summer soup, but if the day is dull and you need cheering up, feel free to serve it warmed through.

The recipe comes from one of my favourite pubs, The Old Bear, sister to The Albion in Islington, which does one of the best Sunday lunches around.

Carrot soup with toasted hazelnuts and pink grapefruit
Buy the best carrots you can for this, preferably organic – they are the star of the show

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 500g organic carrots
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 1 star anise
  • 5g salt
  • 1 peeled clove of garlic
  • 500ml water


  • ½ pink grapefruit
  • 10g hazelnuts
  • 30ml groundnut oil or vegetable oil
  • 10g pitted green olives
  • 5 leaves of tarragon chopped
  • 5 leaves of coriander chopped or coriander microcress


Peel the carrots. Slice them into even sized pieces. Heat a pan and add the butter and when it starts to bubble add the carrots, garlic, star anise and salt. Place a lid on the pan and allow the carrots to soften.

When they begin to soften, add the water and bring it up to the boil; simmer until the carrots are completely cooked.

Remove the star anise. Take the carrots and the liquid and place in a blender, taking care not to fill it too much. Blitz the soup until smooth. Remove from the jug and allow to cool.

For the garnish, warm the groundnut oil in a pan over a medium heat and toast the hazels until they go golden. Tip them out on to a plate to cool down and reserve the oil. Once the nuts are cold take a rolling pin and hit each nut once just to crush it a little bit.
Cut each olive in 8 pieces. Skin the grapefruit and remove four segments. Dice into five pieces.

Serve the soup at room temperature. Pour into a bowl and top with the garnishes; finish by adding the herbs and a little of the oil you kept from the hazelnuts.

Aug 09

The best things in life


As the saying goes, the best things in life are free – and nowhere is this more true that in the vegetable growing department.

A while ago I wrote about my tomato plants and how the first tomato had sprouted. The three plants I had on my balcony continued to grow and grow until the branches were bowing, so laden were they with fruit.

When it came to eating them, they were the sweetest, juiciest tomatoes I’d ever eaten on these shores – the skin slightly thicker from their outdoor growing, the flesh more intense and deep. I’d been given a handful of green beans my friends had grown on their allotment and a deliciously simple salad was born. To make this a standout you’d need to really source the best beans and tomatoes you could find – with so few ingredients the ones you do use must be heroes.

It would be silly to call this a recipe – merely a combination of delicious things – and as such the quantities are as haphazard as its coming together. A perfect summer accompaniment to a roast lunch or barbecue.

Tomato, shallot and green bean salad


  • A handful of tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
  • A handful of green beans
  • 2 small shallots or 1 banana, sliced into rings
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil


Trim the beans and blanch in salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Refresh in iced water.

Drain and shake off the excess water before combining with the tomatoes and shallots in a bowl.

A splash of olive oil and a drizzle of good balsamic are all you will need, along with a good sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper.

Aug 09

Blondie vs brownie


The blondie is the delicious opposite of the brownie – as opposed to the dark chocolate treat which is seemingly a more adult affair, this is for those with a sweet tooth and an affection for rich, decadent puddings.

For me, both have their upsides. Well, I can’t think of downsides for either but I guess they both suit certain moods. A brownie for when I’m feeling grown up, a blondie for the kid in me.

This recipe comes from my good friend Lara who runs an underground restaurant – all the rage these days – in South West London, Sheen Suppers (for bookings email

There are a few of these places around town and indeed the globe now – the premise being that an amateur chef invites a group of friends, acquaintances and strangers over to pay for a sit down meal in their house. And if this pudding is anything to go by, it’d be worth trying to find one in your area!

The recipe makes about 16-18 small blondies or 12 large ones. A tin 18cm x 32cm is ideal, or a square of similar dimensions.
For the blondies

  • 300g good quality white chocolate, chopped into very small bits
  • 150g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 level tbsp of grated fresh ginger – microplane grated is best (no fibres)
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 300g soft brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 175g plain flour

Ginger Cream

  • 1pt double cream
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 lvl tbsp ground ginger


Pre-heat your oven to 180°C.
In a large bowl, beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla pod scrapings.

Melt together 200g of the choc and butter on a low heat in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cool for 5 minutes so you don’t scramble the eggs and add to the egg/sugar mixture.

When well mixed, add the flour – don’t beat the life out of it but do carefully make sure it’s properly mixed.

Mix in the ginger and taste. It should be there but should not overpower the fudgy flavour of the chocolate.

Stir in remaining chocolate bits and pour into the tray (they need to be small so they melt quickly and don’t sink). Tap the tin a couple of times to get rid of big bubbles.

Cook for 35 minutes, testing at 30. They are ready when an inserted skewer comes out cleanish – some stickiness is fine and in fact, desired.
For the ginger cream, combine ingredients and whip to desired thickness.

Serve the brownies either warm or cool – you may find it easier to cut them once cooled though – with a dollop of cream on top.

Aug 09

Cooking the classics


There are a few essential dishes every cook worth their salt should be able to whip up at the drop of a hat or in an emergency without resorting to a cookbook. These are the backbones of cookery; the Victoria sponge, the bechamel, a quick bread dough, a great standby sauce for pasta.

I’m as guilty as the next for not knowing the ins and outs of all these dishes as my mother did – most of the time I can pass muster in the kitchen but occasionally a dish comes along that for one reason or another I’ve never got round to cooking, like Welsh Rarebit.

I suppose I was always content with good old cheese on toast – but this is a more luxurious version, rich with egg yolks and piquant from the Worcestershire sauce. It is transformed from late night snack into a satisfying mid-week supper, perfect with a green salad on the side.

This recipe comes from my friend Lawrence Keogh at Borough Market’s Roast Restaurant, famous for their modern takes on traditional British dishes, and for doing quite possibly the best roast potatoes in London.

Roast’s Welsh Rarebit

The mixture is best made 24 hours in advance as it matures in flavour

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)

  • 500g grated cheddar cheese
  • 5tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 50g English mustard
  • 1-2 drops Tabasco sauce
  • 50ml stout
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 8 slices of bread


Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl. Taste for seasoning adding more Tabasco if required.

Toast the bread on one side and then spread the other side with some of the mixture.

Cook under a hot grill until bubbling.

Aug 09

An Asian-American classic


Peanut butter is a great ingredient – both delicious and versatile. It’s one of those things that I sometimes forget about and find a jar lurking in the back of the fridge. I’m not a fussy one either – I’m just as happy with Sunpat as I am with the premium organic varieties, although it must be the crunchy one though.
I’m a big fan of the American classic PBJ – the combination of peanut butter and jam on buttered toast is a thing of greatness.  Peanut butter is the key addition alongside chocolate in my peanut butter brownie cookies.
They use it in the Victoria kitchen to make a fantastic ice cream – peanut butter is mixed into the traditional custard base and served on a devilishly dark cookie.

A chocolate and peanut butter milkshake is one of my guilty pleasures.

Peanut butter does make a great savoury ingredient too – and it was as a last minute addition to the classic South East Asian salad dressing of lime juice, chilli, fish sauce and palm sugar that it now comes before you.

A very large pestle and mortar are ideal here, but a whisk and bowl would work equally well.  Feel free to replace the beef with grilled chicken or even fish.

Thai beef salad with peanut dressing

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2 sirloin or fillet steaks weighing approx 200g each
  • 4 tomatoes or 8 cherry tomatoes
  • ½ a cucumber
  • 1 red onion or 10 thai pink shallots
  • A couple of handfuls of bean sprouts
  • Handful of chopped coriander
  • Handful of chopped mint
  • 1 tsp ground rice (method below)

For the dressing

  • 2 tbs palm sugar
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 1-2 bird’s eye chillis
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 4 tbs peanut butter


First make the ground rice. This is traditionally done with sticky rice but feel free to use basmati. Toast the uncooked rice in a frying pan over a medium heat for a few minutes until golden brown. Crush in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder until you have a fairly fine powder. Set aside.

Cook the steaks on a griddle to your liking – I’d suggest medium rare for this recipe.
To make the dressing, crush the chillies in a pestle and mortar. Use one if you don’t like it too hot. Add the rest of the dressing ingredients and gentle bash it together. It will look like it won’t come together but then suddenly it will. Taste the dressing as it may need more fish sauce or lime juice.

Quarter the tomatoes, seed and dice the cucumber, finely slice the red onion and mix together with the bean sprouts and the herbs. Add half the dressing and toss to coat. Place the salad on a plate and then slice the steak and put this on top of the salad. Drizzle with the remaining dressing, scatter over the ground rice and serve.

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