June, 2010

Jun 10

Cooking secrets



Everyone’s got them. A closely guarded family recipe, a grandmother’s explicit instruction or secret ingredients whispered to you by professional chefs.

Sometimes they are used daily in cooking; others, like my addition to guacamole, are stored away only to ping up at an opportune moment. A lack of oomph in the green sauce I made last week led to the memory trickling back of a chef telling me to use Tabasco to add punch, spice and depth to a guacamole – and it works a treat. It’s vinegary heat is an ideal counterpart to
the creamy avocado.

A little tip from Jeffrey Steingarten, the famous American food critic, tv personality and author – once you’ve got avocados ripe at room temperature, store them in a paper bag in the fridge. They’ll stay ripe for around a week to 10 days.

Spicy guacamole

Jun 10

Getting piggy with it


I’m a long-time lover of the much maligned pork scratching. An abused pub snack, done well these are the party snack of choice. You’ll find good versions in gastro-pubs up and down the country – the perfect accompaniment to all manner of drinks, but preferably best with a good pint of real beer like one of my favourites, Black Sheep.

Making them at home is, frankly, a doddle. This recipe comes from my great friend Simon Majumdar’s new book, Eating for Britain – a must-read for anyone interested in British food and its heritage, history and origins. He procured it from his chef pal Andrew Porter in York.

He says: “It is impossible to eat just one scratching. It’s an addiction I am in no hurry to be cured of.”

Click here for Andrew Porter’s Pork Scratchings from Eating for Britain by Simon Majumdar

Jun 10

Mixing it up with mayo



There are few things in life as pleasurable to eat as a slice of cold roast chicken dunked in mayonnaise; chomping down on last night’s supper got me thinking about variations.I’d made a honey and wholegrain mustard mayo and a sweet chilli and lime version but thought I should probably start to get a bit more creative.
I threw it open to the floor on Twitter as I often do and suggestions came flooding back – it’s such a great way to get hundreds of hugely varied opinions from people all over the world and a great inspiration for the home-cook.

Here are a few ideas for you to try with your barbecue over the summer; they are also fantastic for dunking potato wedges in as well as for jazzing up sarnies.

A special thank you must go to my great friend Elly who runs the brilliant Pear Cafe in Bristol (thepearcafe.com) – more than half of these must be hers that she serves up in her place every day – and makes me jealous I don’t live near there. I’ve been trying to wrestle her butterscotch brownie recipe from her but alas, no joy yet!

For all the below simply mix with mayonnaise.
•    Wasabi and black sesame seed
•    Harissa
•    Jerk seasoning
•    Tamarind paste
•    Mint and lemon
•    Tarragon
•    Red chilli, coriander and lime
•    Roasted garlic
•    Curry powder and spring onion
•    Smoked paprika
•    Tandoori masala powder
•    Pickled lemons
•    Sundried tomato puree
•    Wasabi and pickled ginger
•    Mango chutney and lime with nigella seeds

Jun 10

Asparagus and duck eggs


It’s an age old adage that still rings true – the simplest things are more often than not the best. Sometimes I worry I sound a bit like a broken record with this – but great ingredients need so little doing to them.

As we head into summer (ish!) the fullest crop of English fruit and vegetables come to market and with them our cooking becomes easier, simpler and lighter.

Sadly a favourite of mine, asparagus, is nearing the end of its season, but the sweetest slender British stems are still available, no thicker than a little finger.

One of my favourite ways of enjoying them before they disappear is with Spanish ham, the stalks quickly blanched and the ham crisped in a pan – a scattering of olive oil and a turn or two of the pepper mill are all you need.

Another tried and tested lunchtime special is to griddle them for a couple of minutes until they char in places; I cut a good piece of sourdough, drizzle it with olive oil and griddle this, too. Lastly I fry a duck egg until the white is just set, the edge bubbling and crisp and the yolk is like silken amber. A simple, perfect, beautiful plate.

I am rather fond of their nickname too, sparrow grass – a corruption of the word asparagus.

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