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Give us this day

Bread making is one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”

— MFK Fisher, The Art of Eating

bread

After having avoided carbs for the best part of a month and neither seen nor felt any benefits what soever there seemed like no better way to return to the fold than by having a nice plate of bread and butter. It turns out that a decent loaf of bread is harder to find in  Nantucket than I could possibly have imagined. There are a couple of artisan bakeries on the island but unfortunately if the surf’s up your chances of  getting your hands on a decent loaf lessen dramatically. I went into one such bakery the other day only to be faced with an empty bread rack. When I optimistically enquired when the next batch of bread would be ready the lady behind the counter just shrugged her shoulders and said “Oh, the baker has taken the day off” and cast her eyes out of the window at the waves crashing on the shore line by way of explanation. Needless to say that bakery and in particular it’s work shy head baker are dead to me now but I non the less wish them every success with their breadless bakery concept.

So, there was only one thing for it and that was to roll my sleeves up and make some my self. What I had been dreaming of was something that had the kind of crust that makes a sound that ricochets around the inside of your head when you bite into it but has lots of chewy inside to drown in butter. The only problem is that I don’t have access to a mixer with a dough hook here so I had to resort to pure manual labour. Fortunately there is a substitute for a mechanical mixer and that is time. This loaf ticks all the boxes but isn’t exactly what you would call a quick fix. It takes 2 minutes to mix, requires no kneading but takes 18 hours to rise. But when nothing else will scratch that itch other than a good loaf this recipe is hard to beat.

The 18 Hour Loaf

3 cups white bread flour

1 cup wholemeal flour

1/4 teaspoon active dried yeast

1 1/2 teapoons salt

2 cups warm water

Method -

Mix all the ingredients together into a rough dough in a large roomy bowl. Cover tightly with cling film and leave in a warm but not too warm place for exactly 18 hours. A kitchen counter over night works well for me.

Tip the bread dough onto a well floured work surface and with a light hand shape into a long rectangle. Place onto a floured baking sheet and allow to prove for 2 hours.

Pre heat the oven to 250 deg Celsius and if you have one place a ceramic baking stone in it to pre heat. If you are using a baking stone slide the loaf gently onto the stone being careful not to deflate it. If you do not have a baking stone simply place the loaf on it’s tray into the oven and bake for 34 – 45 minutes turning the loaf over 10 minutes before the end of the baking time. Remove to a rack and allow to cool completely before slicing.

Posted in Blog.

Dig In The Ribs

images-3This month I am embracing all things American – In the kitchen anyway. And what more quintessentially an American dish can there be than BBQ ribs? Our Yankie cousins across the pond are so passionate about cooking them that huge national competitions are held every year to celebrate this particular form culinary jiggery pokery.

Every May in Memphis, Tennessee over 250 teams from 50 States compete for the title of Grand BBQ Champion and a prize of $100,000 – Yes, you read that correctly A HUNDRED GRAND! Just for grilling a bit of pork. But this is no ordinary cook off this is primal, this is ‘Man make fire’, this is cooking as blood sport.

In the States all the supermarkets stock what they call baby back ribs which is not something you will find easily in the UK. I asked my butcher why this was and he explained they come from the top of the rib cage and that in the UK butchers don’t tend to separate them from the loin to which they are also connected. So every time you are nibbling at that really succulent bit of meat attached to the bone of your pork chop you are eating baby back ribs. Spare ribs on the other hand are from the belly end and have much less meat on their bones. A polite word in your butcher’s ear should be enough to secure you a rack or two but if not you could always give it a whirl with spare ribs instead.

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So, armed with a couple of racks of baby backs I decided to have my very own cook off – albeit a cook off against myself. I prepared each with a completely different marinade / basting sauce and set out to see which one would win the prize. I fired up the BBQ and did all the pre-requisite marinating, basting and braising and gave them both a damn good licking from the flames of my Webber. But just like children I found it impossible and ,dare I say it, unfair to choose between them. So I ate them both.

This is the food for which phrase ‘finger licking good’ was invented as these juicy little babies leave you with no choice but to pick them up with your hands and eat like a caveman. They came off the grill so tender that the shreds of meat just fell away from the bones. Sheer heaven just as they were but next time if I can be trusted to wait until the ribs are cool enough to handle I’m going to try shredding the meat from the bones and serving it in a bun for the ultimate porky sandwich

Rum n’ Coke Ribs – serves 4

2 racks of baby back ribs

1 cup of dark rum

3 cups of full fat Coke

1 1/3 cups tomato ketchup

a splash of Tabasco

2 crushed cloves of garlic

4 tablespoons hoi sin sauce

Method:

The night before, mix all the ingredient together and marinate the racks in a non metalic container in the fridge.

Reserving the marinade remove the ribs and place on a baking tray in a gentle oven ( 150°c / gas mark 4 / 300°F) for 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the BBQ about 45 -60 minutes before you want to cook and when the coals are glowing beneath a layer of white hot ash place the ribs on the grill and cook for 20 minutes basting throughout with the reserved marinade.

Cut between the bones and served heaped on a warmed platter with some lime wedges

Ginger and Soy Glazed Ribs – serves 4

2 racks of baby rack ribs

For the braising liquor:

1 thumb sized piece of ginger chopped roughly

5 stalks of lemongrass bashed with a rolling pin or other heavy blunt instrument

1 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 cups water

For the glaze:

3/4 cups ketchup

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons mirin

2 teaspoons soy sauce

3 cloves garlic crushed

1 thumb sized piece of ginger chopped roughly

Method:

Pre heat the oven to 150°c / gas mark 4 / 300°F. Place the braising ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes and remove from the heat.

Place the ribs in a deep baking dish and pour over the braising liquor. Cover tightly with foil and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Allow to cool in the liquid. This can be done the day before if that simplifies matters for you.

Make the glaze by combining the ingredients in a heavy based saucepan and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Preheat the BBQ about 45 -60 minutes before you want to cook and when the coals are glowing beneath a layer of white hot ash place the ribs on the grill and cook for 20 minutes basting throughout with the glaze.

Cut between the bones and served heaped on a warmed platter with some lime wedges

Posted in Blog.

A Lobster Walks Into a Bar…..

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“There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his gold in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket”

30 miles south of Cape Cod on American’s Eastern seaboard lies the island of Nantucket in the sate of Massachusetts. Originally a 17th century whaling port it is now the summer holiday destination of choice for wealthy Americans from the neighboring states of New York, New Hampshire and beyond. The population swells from 10,000 to over 50,000 in the summer months and this huge surge in visitors lends the island an air of a Ralph Lauren ad campaign sponsored by Jeep.

This area is renowned for it’s seafood and rightly so. Maine lobsters are up there with their Scottish cousins in terms of quality and abundance as well as a large variety of clams. Until coming here I had only ever cooked European clams such as French palourdes or English cockles. Delicious, but nothing like the little neck clams I had the other night which were shucked like oysters and eaten raw. The taste was somewhere between a very mild oyster (without so much of an iodine taste) and a cooked mussel but creamier.I loved them so much that the following night I served them still raw but tossed through hot linguine with parsley and garlic and the results were spectacular.

In the hot summer months clam and lobster bakes are common place on the beaches of Nantucket where large groups of friends gather to dig a pit in the sand, line it with seaweed and fill it with layers of lobsters, whole potatoes, local sweet corn, mussels and clams. The whole thing is covered with another layer of seaweed and set on fire. 60 minutes later you have perfectly cooked seafood with all the side dishes you need for a beach dinner to end all others.

lobsterbake-lowI realize that digging a pit on the beach may be easier said than done for many of us. Particularly if, like me, you live in Brighton which has pebbles where the sand should be. So, what else to do if you find yourself with a couple of lively (literally) lobsters? It may be easier to say what not to do to them first….

Never;

A – Over cook them

B – Subject them to a cheese sauce ( as my Italian friend said to me once “A cow can never swim with a fish”)

C – Buy frozen ones – they taste of nothing and are of dubious origins.

One of may favourite things to do with them is to combine them with cooked potatoes for a potato salad to remember. It’s an old Italian recipe I was given years ago and it works really well with good quality shrimps too.

Lobster and potato salad – serves 4

1 x 1 kg live lobster

4 x Medium sized waxy potatoes such as Charlotte

1 – 2 cloves of garlic depending how much you like it

1 x small bunch flat leaf parsley

The best extra virgin olive oil you can afford

The juice and zest of an unwaxed lemon

Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

Method:

First of all place the lobster in the deep freeze for 20 minutes to render it unconscious (According to the RSPCA this is the humane way to dispatch your lobster in case you were concerned). Then have ready a large pan of heavily salted water at a brisk boil. Boil the lobster for 20 minutes. When the time is up lift it out and allow to cool completely. Meanwhile cook the potatoes left whole and in their skins. Cook until completely cooked but not falling apart (about 10 minutes). Drain and cool in cold running water. When cool enough to handle slip the skins off and cut into rough chunks. They will break down a little more when the salad is mixed. Break open the lobsters straight down the middle and pull out the tail meat. Crack the claws and remove the meat. Discard the main bodies but if you are of a patient nature pick the meat from each of the legs. Chop the meat into similar sized chunks to the potatoes and combine in a bowl. Finely chop the garlic and parsley and add to the bowl. Now add enough olive oil to lubricate the whole lot. Add a good grinding of black pepper and a generous pinch of sea salt followed by lemon juice and zest. Serve at room temperature.

Posted in Blog.

Return of the Mac

macncheese2I’ve never really bought into the theory that as soon as the first day of the year arrives we should all jump on the healthy eating band wagon. There will be plenty of time for virtuous soups and crunchy stir fries in the coming weeks but right now as far as I’m concerned just having to go back to work is a good enough reason for some comforting eating. In my house the ‘go to’ dish for days like this is without doubt macaroni cheese.

As early as 1937 Kraft developed the first dry packaged macaroni and cheese product and branded it “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner’ soon to be forever shortened to ‘Mac n Cheese’. The original recipe has changed little since then and comprises of a powdered cheese sauce sachet to be reconstituted with water or milk, butter or margarine. Despite it’s eye watering list of artificial flavourings, colourings, trans fats and associated e-numbers packaged mac n cheese remains like catnip for many American kids.

A million miles away from the packet version a home made mac n cheese is a thing of true beauty. The trick is using a really good cheese like Keens cheddar which is strong and sharp tasting and taking the time to infuse the milk for the sauce. These two things make the difference between junk food and comfort food. A word of warning though, this is comfort eating at it’s most soporific and has enough carbs to send you into a post supper slumber moments after the last forkful has passed your lips.

You can add all kinds of extras like chunks of cooked ham or crispy pancetta but in the spirit of never gilding the lily I make and eat mine plain. You could also make a nod towards creating a balanced meal by serving a nice crisp salad along side but to be honest what’s the point? Save your greens for another day and indulge in some serious cold weather comfort eating.

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Macaroni Cheese – serves 6

750 ml milk

50g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

50g plain flour

1/2 Onion studded with a couple of cloves and a bay leaf

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

400g Strong cheddar such as Keen’s or Montgomery

Salt and ground black pepper

300g macaroni

50g Finely grated Parmesan

4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Cook the pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than the instructions on the packet suggest. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Place the milk in a saucepan with the onion and bring to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into into a jug or bowl and set aside for 10 minutes to infuse. Rinse out the pan and place on a medium heat. Melt the butter and stir in the flour and mustard powder. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes stirring constantly. Then, gradually add the milk a bit at a time whisking constantly to avoid lumps forming. Don’t worry if it does look a bit lumpy just whisk a bit faster and the lumps will soon disperse. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently. Add the cheese and stir to melt. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Grease your baking dish with butter. Stir the pasta into the sauce, then pour it into the dish. Mix the Parmesan and breadcrumbs, sprinkle over the top, and bake for 30 minutes, until a lovely golden brown colour and bubbling at the edges. When the time is up remove from the oven and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

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Posted in Blog.

Remains of the day

164622_mediumThere’s nothing like the New Year for a good clear out be it the cupboard under the stairs (Maybe I’ll do that next week) or a ruthless purge of the fridge. I opted for the latter as I knew that at least my efforts would be rewarded with a decent meal.

Amongst the items that were consigned to the bin was a batch of home made mincemeat which, instead of maturing nicely until next year like Delia said it would, decided to grow a thick white winter coat of mould. Lets hope thats not some kind of culinary omen for the coming year.

However, much to my delight nestling between the jars of out of date pickles and a forlorn looking lump of cheese was the leftovers from Sunday’s roast. A handful of roast potatoes, some sprouts that had been cooked with chunks of chorizo, a couple of carrots and a little bit of stuffing. All the perfect ingredients for bubble and squeak.

It’s said that the name originates from the noise the vegetables make as they sizzle away in the pan but I’ve been making it for years and I’ve yet to get a squeak out of mine. That said, it’s a fantastically satisfying dish to both make and eat and if your New Year’s resolution involves anything vaguely connected to cutting back you will be left feeling smug long after the leftovers have been used up.

Bubble and squeak can never really be distilled down to a recipe as, by definition, it depends on whatever you have left over. It should ideally contain left over roast potatoes and some kind of cabbage but even that is open to interpretation. I do think that a heavy cast iron pan is necessary though as this encourages a nice crispy bottom which will be further enhanced by cooking what ever vegetables you are using in a small dollop of duck fat.

Heat some oil or fat in a heavy cast iron skillet and add the vegetables. As the veg begin to sizzle take a potato masher and roughly mash the whole lot together. Pat down lightly so that the mixture fills the pan neatly and place in a pre heated oven (200 deg C) for about 15 – 20 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. Serve in wedges or simply dollop out onto the plate. I like to serve it with a runny yolked fried egg on top and lashings of brown sauce

Posted in Blog.

Spuds You Like

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Is there any sound finer than the one that ricochets around the inside of your head when you bite into a perfectly crisp roast potato? And conversely, is there anything more depressing than being served up a flaccid, oily apology for a roastie? But despite what you might read to the contrary the perfect roast potato is not the result of any kitchen trickery or insider knowledge. It’s 2 ingredients – the right choice of potato and oil or fat. How you marry those two ingredients is crucial to the quality of the end product but tricky, it ain’t.

First of all, lets deal with the thorny question of which potato variety makes the best roastie. I always use Maris Piper or King Edward because they are equally floury and thats the quality you need for a crunchy exterior and fluffy interior. There are other varieties out there but these to are the most widely available.

I allow 1 1/2 potatoes the size of a small fist per person. This gives you a generous quantity with guaranteed left overs or seconds. Peel the spuds and cut them in half. If the halves look a bit too big just trim a bit off and discard. Place the cut spuds into a large pan of cold water with a tablespoon of salt. Bring to the boil and then simmer cook for 5 minutes. Gently drain into a colander and shake gently until the edges of the potatoes are slightly roughed up. Place on a tray and allow to cool completely. The potatoes can be chilled in the fridge like this for 24 hours if necessary.

Heat the oven to 220 ºC / Gas 7 / 425 F and put approximately 2 cm  vegetable oil or duck fat (for the tastiest roast potatoes duck fat rules) in a solid bottomed baking tray. The tray should be solid enough that it doesn’t buckle in the oven. A Pyrex dish can be used for smaller quantities. Place the tray in the oven and allow to heat for 10 minutes or until the oil or fat is smokingly hot. With great care and oven gloved hands remove the tray and gently introduce the cold potatoes to the hot fat. The safest way to coat the potatoes evenly in the oil is to turn them one by one with long handled tongs. This will lessen the chances of splashing yourself in hot fat, something guaranteed to happen if you try the same thing with a spoon.

Cook for 45 minutes to an hour turning the potatoes just once half way through the cooking time. Do not fiddle with them or attempt to baste them unnecessarily. When done, lift them from the tray with a slotted spoon and place briefly on kitchen paper to soak up any unwanted oil or fat. Place in a warmed serving dish and serve.

Posted in Blog, Uncategorized.

Vegging Out

imagesJust like the ghost of Christmas past, brussel sprouts are guaranteed to make an appearance in a couple of weeks time whether they are welcome at the feast or not. Never has such an innocuous little vegetable divided the nation the way this one does. Some of us love ‘em and some people are left clutching their pearls in horror at the mere mention of the name.

Nowadays, I rank them amongst my favourite vegetables but thats only since I learnt how to cook them without filling the kitchen with the unmistakeable smell of damp tramp. Most sprout doubters can trace back their phobia to the school canteen where all vegetables were routinely boiled from the crack of dawn until they were served 4 hours later. The difference between badly cooked sprouts and all the other badly cooked vegetables most of us had to endure at school is purely chemical. ‘Glucosinolate Singrin’ to be precise. This is the chemical released by all vegetables from the brassica family (broccoli, cabbage and turnips to name just three members) when over cooked. Cook the brussel sprouts briefly by what ever method you choose and there will be no smelly reminders of the school canteen.

Contrary to popular belief you do not need to cut a cross into your sprouts. In fact, if you do they are more likely to  live up to their reputation and be soggy and over cooked. To prepare sprouts allow a small handful per person and trim off any discoloured outer leaves and then cut in half from top to bottom. Bring a large pan of water to a rapid boil with a tablespoon of salt. Add the sprouts and cook for 4 minutes. While they are cooking take something like a large mixing bowl or clean washing up bowl and put about a third of a bag of party ice in it and then top up with cold water. Drain the sprouts and immediately tip the whole lot into the iced water. Allow to cool fully and drain. The sprouts can be cooked to this stage 24 hours before they are needed which is great for taking the heat off on Christmas day. To re-heat you can either simply microwave them with a knob of butter and plenty of salt and pepper or take a large sautee pan or wok place on a medium high heat and put a walnut sized knob of butter in it. Add some chopped bacon or pancetta and some pre-cooked chestnuts (available vacuum packed from most supermarkets) when both begin to crisp add the sprouts and stir fry until fully heated through.

Posted in Blog.

A Bit Thai’d Up

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It’s freezing outside and as usual the whole country seems to be grinding to a halt. And even though it’s knee deep in snow outside the kitchen window I’m not in the mood to eat anything that is going to send me into a post dinner stupor. I’ve got things to do and people to see so being curled up in front of Cash In The Attic with the dog is not going to be helpful. More often than not I use the cold weather as an excuse to indulge my love of stews, casseroles and cockle warming curries but today I want something that will give me the energy to get my act together and brave the elements. A Thai salad is the perfect solution.

A salad may not be the first thing you think of to satisfy your hunger in a cold snap but then Thai cooking can always be relied upon to wake up the senses whatever the weather. Like all Thai dishes a good salad depends on the perfect balance of hot, salty, sour and sweet and when applied to a dish of rare grilled beef and crunchy vegetables you have a dish that is both satisfying and invigorating in equal measure. In Thailand, the definition of the word salad is stretched to it’s limits by dishes sometimes involving nothing more than grilled fish, seafood or meat tossed with a generous quantity of coriander, mint and basil leaves and a punchy dressing. Ah, yes the dressing – thats where the real magic happens. No oily or creamy dressings could ever give your taste buds the wake up call that a shot of lime juice and fish sauce can.

There is one ingredient in the recipe below that is often omited by many Westernized versions of this classic and that’s the toasted ground rice. It may seem strange but it really is a delicious addition adding both a toasty flavour and added crunch. The other thing to remember with all Thai salads including the one below is that they need to be made and eaten straight away. Leave them to stand for too long and the lime juice in the dressing will turn the whole thing into a disgusting mess. And yes, I learned that the hard way.

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Thai Beef Salad – Serves 4 as a side dish or light starter

  • 2 tablespoons Thai jasmine rice
  • 2 x 250 gram sirloin steaks
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 75m kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
  • 2 tsp palm sugar
  • 4 tbsp lime juice
  • 3 tbsp Thai fish sauce
  • 1 medium cucumber peeled, de-seeded, halved lengthways and sliced diagonally
  • 2 red onions, finely sliced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 red chillies, finely sliced
  • 1 handful fresh mint leaves
  • 1 handful fresh corriander leaves
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil leaves leaves, ripped
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced

First of all mix the kekap manis and sesame oil together and pour into a non metalic shallow tray. Grill the steaks on a ridged grill pan until medium rare. Whilst still hot from the pan place the steaks into the tray and marinate for a couple of hours or until completely cooled. Heat a dry frying pan and add the rice. Stir constantly being careful not to burn. When the rice is golden brown add to a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder although a few small pieces are fine.

Mix the fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.

Just before you are ready to serve slice the steak thinly and toss with half the ground rice, the dressing and all other ingredients. Pile onto a serving dish and sprinkle over the remaining ground rice.

Posted in Blog.

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

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As it’s Thanksgiving for our friends Stateside today I thought I would post my turkey recipe in plenty of time for Christmas. We Brits generally cook turkey but once a year and as we do so  with such infrequently tend not really to know what to do with it. Horror stories abound of Christmas day being ruined by a still frozen bird and indeed a friend of mine’s most enduring memory of the festive season is of finding his weeping mother cradling a 20 pound turkey fully clothed in the shower in a vain attempt to defrost it in time for lunch.

Thankfully these days we don’t automatically head for the frozen section when buying the festive bird and sales of organic, free range and rare breed turkeys have never higher. So, it goes without saying that before you start worrying about how to cook it you need to think about where to buy it. Speak to your local butcher and order it plenty in plenty of time.

Many years ago I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner in the States where I was served turkey so juicy and so flavoursome that I instantly knew I had been missing a trick somewhere along the lines. The dry turkey of my childhood Christmases (sorry mum) which were something to be endured rather than savored seemed a world away from what I was eating at that dinner. Being the shameless recipe pilferer that I am I cornered the cook for her secret to such delicious turkey and the recipe and method that follows is almost word for word what she told me. These days, brining is not such a new concept here in the UK thanks to Nigella and the like but if anyone thinks it might not be worth the bother they are sorely mistaken. Once you taste the difference this nifty bit of kitchen alchemy creates I guarantee you will not look back. One thing I would say though, is that what makes the brining process work is the chemical reaction created by salt and sugar. Adding endless spices and bits and bobs will lend little to the final outcome and is a bit too much fannying around for my liking. Keep the brining mixture simple and it works a treat. It also works on other meats such as pork chops and chickens but more of that another, less festive, time.

A 4 to 5-kg Top quality turkey such as Kelly Bronze

For the brine -

6 liters water

125 grams Maldon salt

3 tablespoons black peppercorns

200 grams caster sugar

2 onions, quartered

Handful fresh rosemary bashed about a bit

1 bulb of garlic split in half, skin and all

1 orange, cut into quarters

1 lemon, cut into  quarters

Method – Bring one liter of water to the boil and add the salt and sugar to dissolve. Add this to a large bucket, cooler or any other sort of large clean plastic container. Add the remaining 5 liters of cold water and when the whole mix is completely cool (it is important that the brine is cold before the next step) add the oranges, lemons, herbs and finally the turkey ( don’t forget to check for and remove any giblets that may be hiding inside the cavity). If the brine does not cover the turkey add more cold water until it does.

The turkey can sit in this mixture for up to 2 days but 24 hours is sufficient to work it’s magic. The bird needs to be kept somewhere cool for the duration of it’s brining and ideally this would be a fridge. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll have enough room in your fridge particularly at this time of year so I have been known to keep it outside the back door with a heavy chopping board and some bricks on top to keep out the foxes.

Remove the bird from it’s brine at least an hour before you want to cook it. Pat it dry with kitchen paper  and season inside and out with a generous grinding of salt and pepper. Place some roughly chopped carrot, onion and celery in the bottom of a roasting tin and sit the turkey on top. Brush with melted butter.

Pre Heat the oven to 220°C

Cook the turkey for 30 minutes and then lower the temperature to 180°C. Raise the temperature back up to 220°C for the last 15 minutes. A turkey of this size will take 3 hours in total. Baste every half hour throughout the cooking time. Remove from the oven when the time is up and rest covered in foil somewhere warm for 30 minutes before carving. If you want to double check that the turkey is fully cooked ( all ovens vary wildly) stick the tip of a knife between the thigh and breast. If the juices run clear it’s fully cooked.

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Posted in Blog.

As easy as Ichi ni san

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When I was growing up in 1970′s Lancashire the most exotic thing I ever ate was a freeze dried Vesta curry. But far from scarring my taste buds forever it has given me a lifelong taste for all things guaranteed to freak out the less adventurous. A sort of self awarded badge of honour if you will. But just as my sister wrinkled up her nose at the sight of me wolfing down a plate of beige watery curry  I’ve seen people have the same kind of reaction to sushi and sashimi. It may well have been this that first spurred me on to try Japan’s most famous foodie export but since then I haven’t looked back. I love it all, the taste of the sea from the vermillion tuna, the clean delicate flavour of spankingly fresh sea scallops and the umami tang of the nori seaweed . I have my favourites and I have my dislikes but as a point of principle I have tried as many different kinds as I can over the years.
yellowtailI’ve dabbled with making sushi many times and it didn’t take long to master the simple art of maki rolls – the thin seaweed covered rolls that you see on all sushi menus filled with a single strip of tuna, salmon or cucumber. But the other day I learnt some of the more complex techniques involved in high end sushi from someone who really knows his stuff. Ex Nobu and Sushi Samba (NYC & Miami) chef Dan Shahar came to teach me some of his signature dishes. What a day! We sliced, we chopped , we grated. Hell, we even pan fried!

img_9646After a shopping trip that involved criss crossing central London in search of the very best fish, Kobe beef and a myriad of sauces, marinades and pickles we set about creating a rolling buffet of dishes to rival anything I have ever seen in a restaurant.

img_9686I watched agog as his experienced fingers stuffed and rolled the perfectly cooked rice around fillings that included tempura prawns, yellowtail tuna and pickled daikon radish.

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Under his watchful gaze I cut and arranged the rolls on platters trying to keep up with his lightening hands. The result was a thing of true beauty and something I can only take a very small part of the credit for. I am hoping, though, that some of Dan’s sushi superpowers have rubbed off onto me so watch this space.

crab-rolls
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Posted in Blog.

Back to black

The voodoo priest and all his powders were as nothing compared to espresso, cappuccino, and mocha, which are stronger than all the religions of the world combined, and perhaps stronger than the human soul itself.  ~Mark Helprin, Memoir from Antproof Case, 1995

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Oooh! Strong words but you have to admit he has a point. I love my coffee and not much happens in the morning before I’ve had at least 2. And by that I mean two perfect cups of coffee made just the way I like them right down to which cup they are served in. At the risk of sounding like the subject of a documentary on OCD I like the first one with hot milk served in a tea cup. The second one I like as a straight up espresso served in the same cup so that it gets a whiff of the milk from the first. If I get this all is well in the world, if not, lets just say you take the rough with the smooth.

Until recently I’ve never thought of myself as a coffee snob. I am addicted yes, but my addiction is nothing if not all inclusive. I’ll drink just about anything thats on offer if my preferred ritual cannot be observed. I would even go so far as to say I like the frappes you get in every Greek taverna that are nothing more than Nescafe whipped to within an inch of it’s freeze dried life with ice cubes, sugar and milk. The association is not with how horrid the coffee is but with the fact that it’s being served to you with the hot Greek sun on your back by a swarthy extra from Shirley Valentine. Come to think of it I have been introduced to quite a few Greek traditions over the years after a wee bit too much sun. Retsina being just one of them.

There’s no doubt about it we have become a nation of coffee converts. You only have see the proliferation of high street coffee shops to see that with your own eyes. Words like “Tall, Grande and Vente’ have become common parlance to a whole generation who, unlike me, cannot remember L.B.C ( Life Before Cuppuccino) But, if like me you are lucky enough to be surrounded by decent independent coffee shops you can taste for yourself the difference between mass produced coffee beans and the kind rosted and blended in small quantities with love, care and just a smattering of obsession.

One company doing just that is The Small Batch Coffee Company in Brighton who import beans in small quantities from all over the world changing the selection to suit the growing seasons of the producing countries. The house espresso blend is currently made up of three coffees from Nicaragua, India and Ethiopia and like all the other blends they create are ethically sourced from sustainable estates. I bought some the other day for no better reason than I like to support small local businesses and it wasn’t my money I was spending. And I am so, so glad I did. We go through a lot of coffee in my place of work and I had been buying whole beans from Lavazza. A good work horse of a brand if ever there was one but after trying out my new beans Lavazza is, not to put too finer point on it, dead to me. Even the colour of the Small Batch beans spoke of richness and quality and as I poured them into the grinder I swear I could feel the beginnings of a coffee buzz. The difference between the end product made from commercial beans and freshly roasted ones is crystal clear and has left me worrying what I’m going to do if I get caught short without a supply of my new favourite beans. Maybe I’ll have another espresso and think about it.

If you want to experience the difference for yourself you can visit the Small Batch Coffee Company’s roastery at 68 Goldstone Villas, Hove, east Sussex BN3 3RU ( 01273 220 246) or visit them at www.smallbatchcoffee.co.uk to buy beans on line.

Posted in Blog.

Taking the biscuit

Ok, all that stuff I said about it being unseasonably warm and hating it? I take it back. It’s freezing now and I’m scrabbling around for excuses not to leave the house. So far, the best one I have come up with (‘Jermey Kyle’ and ‘Cash in The Attic’ not withstanding) was the desire to knock up a great big batch of chocolate chip cookies. Normally I’ll reach for many a chocolate confection before I get my sticky mitt in the biscuit barrel – brownies always get my vote as does anything that combines chocolate with ground almonds but yesterday I just had to have a big fat cookie. I wanted to combine the grown up taste of Green and Blacks 70% with the childhood sensation I used to get from eating Wagon Wheels. I remember the first time I saw a Wagon Wheel as an adult and being truly crest fallen that it was no longer the size of my 8 year head. Cries of “They are not as big as they used to be” were swiftly followed by the realization that it was I who had grown and not the Wagon Wheels that had shrunk.

These  cookies are very much made in the American mould – big, crisp on the outside and still chewy in the middle. Sure they would taste good with a glass of milk but they are even better with a small, wickedly strong espresso.(They are just big enough to sustain you through two coffees if, like me, you need the extra caffeine hit).

It may be about to get even colder outside but after one ( OK, three) of these cookies I have just the right amount of warm and fuzzies to forget about the weather.

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Choc chip Cookies ( Makes 24 large )

Ingredients

350g plain flour

1 tablespoon cocoa

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon salt

225 grams unsalted butter at room temperature

175 grams caster sugar

175 grams dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

350 grams good quality dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids ( Green and Blacks Chocolate for Cooks is excellent) chopped into small but rough peices

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/375F/Gas 5.

In a bowl, combine the flour,cocoa, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, beat the butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract until creamy. Beat in the eggs. Gradually mix in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate.

Split the mixture into two, rolling each out into sausage shapes, approximately 5cm/2in in diameter. Wrap them in cling film and transfer to the refrigerator for 1 hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, simply cut the log into slices 2 cm thick and lay on a baking tray, widely spaced apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the baking tray and cool on a wire rack until completely cold. Don’t worry if the cookies are still very soft, they will crisp up as they cool

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Legume with a view

A favourite hobby of mine is indulging in something I call a ’Fridge Safari’ . It involves standing in front of an open fridge finishing off left overs and pondering on just about anything except what you are eating. It was during recent ‘Safari’ that I finished off a whole tub of humous without so much as a backward glance. After running my pinkie around the rim of the near empty tub I started to wonder what we all did before this simple chick pea puree became as ubiquitous as it is today. I’m sure half of the country’s toddlers would starve to death if it wasn’t for Mum’s constant supply of humous and carrot sticks.

As delicious and convenient as humous may be the chick pea has a lot going for it beyond the blender. Chana dhal is a great vegetarian curry and is found throughout the Indian sub continent. It’s usually a fairly simple dry curry of chick peas and tomatoes and makes great side dish to serve along side other curries with rice and flat breads.

Falafel is probably my favourite use of the chick pea not least of all because if there’s a food stuff that doesn’t taste better for a quick dip in hot oil and a smothering in chilli sauce, I’ve yet to find it. Arguments rage about the origins of falafel with the Arab world taking great ofence at the Israelis claiming it as a ‘National dish’. But world politics aside the one thing that unites all traditional falafel lovers is the practice of making them from soaked but not cooked chick peas. Don’t take any notice of anyone who urges you to crack open a tin of chick peas when making falafel – It’ just doesn’t work. They will fall apart in the frier and lack the all important chick pea flavour. Not what you are looking for at all.

Beetroot and Lime Humous – enough for 4 as part of a mezze

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300 grams of cooked chickpeas

250 grams cooked beetroot (the vac packed kind from the supermarket is fine for this but not the pickled stuff)

2 large tablespoons of light tahini

2 cloves garlic

juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Method:

Place all the ingredients in a food processor except the olive oil. Puree until smooth and then with the motor running drizzle in the oil. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve with toasted pitta bread or crudite.

Posted in Blog.

Steak Out

There’s something rather disconcerting about everyone else knowing what you are going to order in a restaurant before you’ve actually had a chance to make your mind up. This happens to me every time I dine out. I try to peruse the menu just like everyone else but always end up ordering the same thing. Boring? Maybe, but I just don’t seem to be able to break the habit. I go through the pretense of running my finger down the menu, pausing for dramatic effect at the sea bass or lamb but I really needn’t bother.

“And he’ll have a medium rare steak” My friend said the other night before snatching the menu out of my hand and passing it to the waiter.

“I might have wanted the special” I protested

“Well, do you?” My friend asked

“Er, no. I want the rib eye”

The thing is, I am not alone in this. If you put 6 chef’s around a table I would bet good money that 5 of them would order a steak. The one that didn’t will then spend the rest of the meal talking about how he or she should probably ordered a steak after all. It probably has something to do with being surrounded by choice every day or maybe it’s more primal than that. Either way, steak and chips is the go to menu item for me.

I had an onglet steak the other night at Hotel du Vin in Brighton and it was bloody delicious. Rare and full of flavour it was everything you could ever want in a slab of meat. Despite it cropping up on many a decent eaterie’s menu at the moment it’s still not that well known. Onglet has pros and cons for the first timer. It has to be said that raw, it’s not going to win any beauty contests and it’s unfamiliar appearance could have some people reaching for the rib eye.

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Asking the butcher what part of the cow it comes from might not be much of a reassurance either as it’s actually a pair of muscles that hang from the diaphragm.

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Lets just say it’s hell of a lot tastier on the plate than the page. It also requires a a certain amount of chewing so it’s probably not for the kind of diner who want’s the flavourless ‘melt in the mouth’ experience you get from a fillet steak. In fact it needs very brief cooking over a high heat to render it rare to really get the best out of it. Those preferring a medium to well done steak should  probably stick to what they know.

All that said, what it lacks in good looks and familiarity it more than makes up for in flavour and lets face it if you’re not eating steak for flavour then maybe you should have had the sea bass after all.

If you’re planning on trying onglet you could ask your butcher for hanger steak or skirt steak. I got mine from award winning Sussex Butcher of the Year Bramptons (Cause he’s my mate!) and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better it’s cheap too!

http://www.bramptonsbutchers.co.uk/contact.htm

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Posted in Blog.

Dear Chicken Tikka Marsala….

Dear Chicken Tikka Marsala,

I’m not going to deny it; it was love at first sight for me. After that first night in the restaurant I only had eyes for you and even though I flirted with the others I always came running back to you.

You were different yet I felt like we had known each other forever. We’ve had some laughs and on occasion we’ve had some tears (Though to be fair that was usually more to do with some of your more feisty friends). I loved the way you made me feel even though my jeans became a little too tight when we spent too much time together. I loved your friends and all my friends loved you but like all good things it was never going to last forever.

The thing is, I’ve changed and I don’t think I can cope with anything too heavy right now. I want a relationship that leaves me with the energy to do other things and not just curl up in front of the TV and fall asleep.

So, remember the good times and lets both agree to just move on. I’m sure we’ll bump into each other and I don’t even mind if you continue to see my friends. Just don’t be too upset when you see me hanging out with someone new

Love

Michael x

Vegetable Byriani – serves 6 -8 people

For the rice:

600 gms basmati rice

3 cinnamon sticks

6 cardamon pods

12 cloves

12 black pepper corns

4 bay leaves

(The spices can be tied into a muslin bag but if not you must pick them out of the cooked rice)

For the vegetables:

1 kg mixed veg cut into uniform 2.5 cm pieces.  (I used a mixture of potatoes, peas, onions, green beans and cauliflower because that’s what I had in the fridge)

6 cloves garlic

2.5 tablespoons grated ginger

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

8 cloves

12 black peppercorns

The seeds from 10 green cardamon pods

1 teaspoon turmeric

4 tablespoons plain yoghurt

2 teaspoons salt

Good pinch saffron threads

6 tablespoons milk

To Serve:

2 large onions, thinly sliced and fried until crispy

3 tablespoons flaked almonds toasted

2 tablespoons sultanas

Method:

Pre heat oven to 200º C

Start by washing the rice in plenty of cold running water. Be gentle as you don’t want to break the grains. When the water is starting to run clear tip the rice into a large bowl and cover with fresh water. Soak for 30 minutes.

After the soaking time is up drain and set aside. In a large saucepan or stock pot bring 4 litres of water up to the boil and add the spice bag and the rice. Cook for exactly 7 minutes.

Drain the rice and discard the spice bag. Allow to cool.

To make the vegetable part of the byriani grind the spices, garlic and ginger in a pestle and mortar until you have a smooth paste. Stir in the yoghurt a spoon at a time and mix thoroughly.

In a wide sautee pan or wok fry the curry paste for 5 minutes before adding the veg. Turn the vegetables in the paste until well coated and add a cup of water. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

In a deep casserole pan or baking dish place half of the rice and then top with the vegetable mixture. Cover with the remaining rice and pat down gently.

Mix the saffron with the milk and pour onto the centre of the rice. Pour an additional 200 ml boiling water around the edge of the rice. Place the lid on (or improvise with foil) and place into the oven for 40 minutes.

Remove after the cooking time and allow to stand for 10 minutes

Scoop out onto a shallow serving dish and garnish with the fried onions, sultanas and almonds. Delicious served with just plain yoghurt and chapattis.

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