Tuesday, November 4, 2014

the ultimate in stuffed loaves

I don't know why we don't make one of these more often. I guess if there was always one in the fridge, and they can easily last a few days, it would be the perfect go to snack at any time of the day. That said, this really is picknicking taken to another level, if it ever gets to leave the house that is. There are no rules, no ingredients off limits, and certainly no restrictions on combinations. If it works for you say in a salad, or in a regular sandwich, it will work being stuffed and allowed to settle overnight before tucking in.

The stuffed picnic loaf to take down all picnic loaves

Serves about 4

1 decent round sourdough loaf
About 50g pesto
4 soft boiled eggs, quartered
8 good slices prosciutto
16 pieces of sun-dried tomatoes
1 large handful of fresh basil leaves
200g mozzarella, sliced
2 large roast peppers, peeled
2 courgettes, sliced and grilled
1 aubergine, sliced and grilled
Lots of olive oil, salt and pepper

Slice the top off the loaf and reserve as the lid of the stuffed loaf. Hollow out the bottom without breaking the crust. Keep the centre for breadcrumbs.

Thoroughly coat the inside edges and bottom of the lid with pesto, and season liberally.

Add a layer of prosciutto, then a layer of sun-dried tomatoes. Top with basil leaves, then a layer of your mozzarella. The next layer should be the peppers followed by courgette and aubergine. Finish with the eggs and a bit more basil before topping off with a last layer of prosciutto.

You should have doused each layer with a glug of olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper as you've built it, pressing well as you go. Finish with a bit more of the same before closing with the lid.

Wrap tightly in aluminium foil and place in the fridge with a chopping board on top weighted down with anything hefty to hand. Because we’re using sourdough, this could easily take an eight pack of beer at least, a softer bread vehicle and you’ll need to downgrade to a couple of tins of soup for example.

Leave in the fridge to chill and press for at least a few hours, overnight will yield much better results.

Don’t try to cut in advance, bring the whole beast to your end destination, unwrap, slice, serve and accept admiring nods from the masses.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

posh and fast

Got to say, the brunch isn't a thing for me. The whole overdone and languid way we've allowed a once in a while treat to become a must do twice a week got to have eggs with Hollandaise fanfare has found this particular meal period into the why don't you just eat when you're hungry box. That aside, I bet mushrooms on toast come close behind the Benedict in the late breakfast (which we'll use as a reference now) popularity stakes.

I know when it's close to my birthday that the gathering of wild ceps are in full swing, so now's the time to take advantage of the fungi daddy of them all and elevate anything mushroom related. My birthday treat used to be gathering conkers with my Grandpa, but we're all a bit more grown up these days. This is dead fast to knock up, a bit posh and real fast food. Best eaten with a mug of hot tea, you keep your unnecessary Mimosas to yourselves. 

Ceps and shallots on toasted brioche

Serves 4

Far from everyday beans on toast, this makes for a very posh and fast weekend brunch late breakfast.

2 tblsp olive oil
400g fresh ceps, thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g unsalted butter
2 banana shallots (or 4 regular shallots), finely sliced
1 garlic clove, skin-on
Few sprigs thyme, leaves picked
Small handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
4 thick slices of brioche, toasted

Heat a sauté pan until hot and add the oil and ceps. Fry for 3-4 minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Season well with salt and pepper. 

Add the butter, shallots, garlic and thyme. Cook for a few more minutes until the shallots have softened, then stir through the chopped parsley. 

Pile the mushrooms and shallots on to the toasted brioche slices and serve immediately.

Monday, August 11, 2014

square, scone, pudding, egg

Nothing much finer, well precious little anyway, than a bite of the homeland. Square sausage, tattie scone, black pudding and a fried egg piled into a well fired morning roll will struggle to be topped for me. 

All rather exotic having driven from the Kingdom of Fife, stocked up in Moffat in the borders, then cooked and devoured in Fulham. That said, at the end of the day, this is as simple and comforting as it gets.

Simple pleasures often evoke the strongest feelings. This is one of those very things I can wait for but can't work out why I've put it off for so long. The ingredients and how they come to be assembled are what helps keep something like this so precious.

Perfect tattie scones

Makes 24 triangles

500g floury potatoes, unpeeled
50g butter
125g plain flour, plus extra to dust

Put the potatoes in a pan, cover with water, salt generously and bring to the boil. Simmer until cooked through, then drain well and return to the hot pan for a minute to dry off. Peel off the skins as soon as you can handle them.

Add 40g butter and mash, and then stir in the flour and season to taste. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 5mm thick, and then cut around a side plate to shape. Dust lightly with flour and prick all over with a fork.

Heat the remaining butter in a griddle or large heavy based frying pan over a medium-high heat and then fry until golden on both sides (about 3-5 minutes).

Cut into triangles and serve immediately, or cool in a tea towel for later.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

insisting on canapés before dinner, dead posh

Canapés before dinner? Why of course, its not dinner without opening the affair with a nibble as things come together. It might just be me or the weather, or there just seems to be an abundance of avocados in perfect condition knocking around right now, but one of these in ripeness excellence on a bit of slightly chewy sourdough to snack on to start the evening is simply the thing to do.

It is hardly the toughest stretch in the kitchen, but why don't we do this more often? I reckon it has to be associated with never getting our avos at the right point where they'll mash to the touch of a fork while still yielding they're freshness and vivid colour. Pepped up with a bit of dried chilli and a few slices of tart tomatoes, and I wonder whether roasting that chicken was worth the extra effort at all.

Avocado on toast

Serves up to 4

2 avocados
2-3 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
4 slices of sour dough/rye bread
Salt and pepper
A small dried red chilli, finely chopped
Handful of sweet cherry tomatoes, sliced

Mash the avocado with a fork to a rough puree, adding the olive oil and lime juice as you go. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toast the bread, drizzle a little olive oil over each piece then spread over the avocados. Sprinkle with chilli and the sliced tomatoes.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

padron peppers and sherry

There is definitely plenty of well researched reasons why food from somewhere, partnered by a drink from the same place works really well together. Far be it for me to get into the deep science of it all, but there are multiple arguments presented as to why an iced Japanese beer paired with hot and sticky yakitori works so well, as does cold milk and warm cookies for that matter. 

What also adds to the occasion is the where and with who, the layers of combination possible makes this whole eating thing a science much loved by many, truly understood by fewer. 

An utterly brilliant combination of a slightly over-chilled yet delicious glass of fino sherry partnering these incredible little peppers; all sweet and mellow little crumpled green sacks of fun with the added drama of finding the occasional firebag, makes being home where I love and eating the simplest of things just quite the thing. If it tastes, and feels right, it generally is so.

Pan roasted padron peppers

Serves 4 with decent drinks

200g small, sweet Spanish (padron) peppers
really brilliant olive oil
wonderful sea salt

Rinse the peppers and dry them. Warm a shallow pool of olive oil in a frying pan then cook the peppers over a gentle heat till they have softened. They will puff up and the skin will blister slightly.

Drain on kitchen paper and salt really quite generously. I find the slower they cook the better, so I tend to keep the heat quite low.

Alternatively you can roast them quite slowly, in a baking dish with a little oil. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

sichuan pepper roasted duck

Whilst very briefly in Beijing recently, I was sent off to a wonderfully recommended Sichuan inspired restaurant. I have only just stopped glowing and my mouth no longer hums with the aftershock more commonly associated with a pretty severe session with a hardcore dentist. As absolutely delicious as it almost all was; the mouth numbing intensity that the sweet and innocent Sichuan peppercorn offers, in combination with the fried red chilli peppers which were in glorious abundance in the dishes, there is only so much a man can take.

Hoping to take the heat and intensity down a notch here, but try and retain the fragrant element of what this amazing cuisine does offer.

Sichuan pepper roasted duck with plum and star anise

Serves 4

4 duck legs
2 tblsp crushed Sichuan peppercorns

For the plum sauce
150g sugar
3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
450g plums, halved and stoned
Juice of 1 lime
A dash of fish sauce, plus a little to taste if necessary
Steamed rice, to serve

Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Pierce the skin of the duck all over with a fork. Combine the peppercorns with a teaspoon of salt and rub all over the duck legs so they are nicely coated. Place on a wire rack (with a tray underneath to catch the fat) in the oven.

Immediately turn the temperature down to 350F/180C/Gas 4 and cook for two hours until the skin is golden and the meat begins to flake away from the bone easily.

Meanwhile, make the plum sauce by combining the sugar in a saucepan with 200ml water, the star anise and the cinnamon. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for five minutes until slightly reduced. Add the plums and cook until they are soft and have broken down slightly (how long will depend on the size of your plums).

Take off the heat, squeeze in the lime juice and pour in the fish sauce. Taste and add a dash more fish sauce if you feel it. Spoon over the duck and serve immediately with steamed rice. Smother with a couple of dozen crispy red chillis here at your peril, this is absolutely optional.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the club burger at the lotus cafe

In the sleepy village of Lin Tong Mei Tsuen, there's a buzzing place called the Lotus Cafe. It's properly packed, delicious and outstanding, and there's no more point wasting time in coming up with more superlatives to add to that statement. I had a club burger, everyone else had a bit of everything from BLT pittas through fatty pork belly over rice to deep fried French toast with peanut butter and syrup. After a decent hike in the clouds above Yuen Long, believe me, it was properly outstanding.

In other news, a decent way with a pork burger to do at home if you fancy it.

Pork burgers

Serves 4

200 g minced pork
1 tblsp grain mustard
1 tblsp clear honey
1 tblsp sage, chopped
1 tblsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 egg yolk
2 tblsp breadcrumbs
Grated zest of a lemon
2 shallots, finely chopped
Olive oil

To serve
Bun or bread - anything works
Sliced red onions
Shaved Parmesan
Olive oil
Rocket leaves
Watercress sprigs

In a mixing bowl, mix together the pork, mustard, honey, sage, parsley, yolk, breadcrumbs, lemon zest and shallots.

Shape the pork mixture into 4 even-sized burgers.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add in the burgers and fry until golden brown on both sides and cooked through.

Serve the fried burgers between freshly griddled bread or toasted buns. Top the burgers with red onion, gherkins, Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, rocket and watercress.

Sauces and relishes at this stage are totally over to you. I'd throw on a fried egg and a bit of bacon myself, but that's just me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

a trip to the bbq man

A trip up to see the nice man who does great bbq pork and birds up the street is always a great treat, even though something you do more than once a week technically should fall outside the treat category. He's been doing his art forever, and the consistency alone of what is churned out has to be totally respected. Just a handful of fatty slices of char siu atop steamed rice and a
smattering of green onions and minced ginger is a polystyrene takeaway container and throwaway chopsticks of legends. I'll never tire of this.

Barbecuing at home (without any outdoor space I have to add) has its small but not impossible challenges and a set of why bothers when our friend does his so well. But when all that is said, he doesn't have ribs in his collection. This is easy slow long cooking simplicity. Smokey it may slightly fail on to a degree, but taste and texture wise, hard to beat without getting all too fancy.

Great barbecue ribs

Enough for 4

2 racks of small pork loin ribs - 5 or 6 ribs per person
1½ tsp smoked paprika
a good splash of soy sauce
a good splash of Worcestershire sauce
20g tomato ketchup
30g dark brown sugar
20g HP sauce
20g strong mustard

Place the racks curved-side down, and using a small knife to peel the edge of the translucent membrane away from the smaller end of the rack until you can get a grip of it. Pull this towards you, so the membrane comes away from the bones.

Mix together the marinade ingredients and rub about half into the ribs well. Put in a shallow dish, cover and leave for at least a couple of hours, turning once or twice during this time to make sure the entire rack is coated.

Heat the oven to 140°C. Cover the dish tightly with foil and cook for about 2½ hours until tender, basting once or twice during this time, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes. The racks ought to be close to falling apart by now but still remaining intact.

If possible, heat a barbecue or a griddle pan until hot, drizzle the ribs with the rest of the marinade and cook until blackened and charred. Serve immediately.

If it is not possible to barbecue over a fierce flame, crank up the oven to 200°C and conduct this last bit without any cover on the ribs until a crust appears.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

what to do if your nigiri just won't hold together

It's all about the rice you know. White hulled sushi rice, more often just labelled as sushi rice is a high quality short grain that is sticky and slightly sweet, but not to be mistaken for glutinous rice. the higher the quality of rice, the less likely there will be any broken grains. The real stuff has a good balance of starches so that the rice sticks together allowing just enough hold between moulding, plate, chopsticks and mouth.

All so very easy, so what do you do if you don't even get past the point where moulding and sticking together doesn't quite happen. You label that unlabelled tub of white rice at home that you thought was sushi rice 'NOT SUSHI RICE', that's what you do. Oh, and make a bloody Mary to have with your raw salmon atop slightly loose but delicious rice.


Serves about 8

400g Japanese sushi rice
400ml water
5 tblsp rice wine vinegar
3 tblsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
200g piece of salmon at its absolute freshest
A little wasabi paste

To serve
6 tblsp dark soy sauce
30g Japanese pickled ginger

Wash the rice really well until the water rinses clear. Drain the rice in a colander and let it stand for 30 minutes. Place the rice in a pot and add the water (same volume as the rice as it was when it was unwashed). Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cover. Cook for 15 minutes or until the water evaporates and the rice sounds like it's starting to catch - good sign. Remove the cover and place a damp towel over the rice, and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, mix the vinegar with the sugar and salt until all dissolved.

Pour the sushi vinegar over cooked rice and mix it gently. You can do this in a wooden bowl for making sushi rice or in the pot by taking away from the heat and pouring the vinegar and mixing gently and evenly. Now leave it until it cools down to room temperature, still covered with a damp cloth to fight off the drying out bit that isn't good.

Using slightly wet hands shape the cooked rice into small, mouthful rectangles. Cut the fish across the grain into thin, similar sized slices to drape over the rice. Smear the top of each piece of rice with a little wasabi and cover neatly with a slice of fish.

Serve the sushi with the soy and pickled ginger and extra wasabi for the fiery types at the table. Once devoured, continue relabelling a few more random tubs in the kitchen while its fresh in the mind.

Friday, February 21, 2014

tomatoes, mozzarella, anchovies, breadcrumbs

Seeing as burrata with tomatoes was the last thing I committed to paper, why not continue the theme I thought. Dull as it may seem, the simplicity of adding sharpness and salt to a tomato is a wonderful thing to do. As this is a baked number, plum tomatoes tend to hold their shape better than the majority of the round varieties, but don't let that stop you if round ones are what you have.

Baked tomatoes with mozzarella, anchovies and breadcrumbs

Serves 4

12 plum tomatoes
175g fresh breadcrumbs
8 anchovy fillets
2 large cloves garlic
a good handful of basil leaves
a ball of mozzarella
6 tblsp olive oil

Chop the anchovies, peel and finely chop the garlic and cut the mozzarella into small dice.

Preheat the oven to 220°c/gas 7. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthways and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Place the tomatoes skin-side down in a roasting tin so that they nudge up against one another.

Mix the tomato innards with the breadcrumbs, anchovies, garlic, basil, mozzarella and two tablespoons of the olive oil.

Season the stuffing with salt and black pepper, and pile the filling into the tomato halves. Pour over the remaining olive oil and bake for 25 minutes until the filling is golden.

Monday, February 3, 2014

the humble burrata

Just to set a little record straight. Burrata is not mozzarella. So there. Burrata isn't even buffalo mozzarella, even though it is made from the milk of that particular beast.

As I understand, burrata is formed of the same stringy cheese that makes up the solid ball of a mozzarella, but rather than a ball, these strings are formed into a ball but rather a hollow pouch and filled with fresh cream and the softer trimmings from the mozzarella making process.

The thin casing of the burrata is literally just there to hold the delicious contents within. If it's at all chewy or thick, your burrata is getting on a bit. At the end of the day, it has nothing really to do with the packaging, it's all about the filling.
Eat burrata as nature intended, plain of course, and on crisp bread, but also try it in salads and pastas, top off a pizza right before eating and drop into a soup, and as dessert. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

pizza and biryani, what a combo

If ever there was a combination sure to surprise and delight, pizza followed by a killer biryani actually works, trust me as I wasn't one bit convinced to begin with either. The pizza needs a decent hit of chilli fire, obviously, and an open mind, definitely. This recipe here is only just a starting point, and there really is no pizza recipe out there that is the definitive article. Toppings are totally at everyone's discretion. This blog post is actually now so messed up that the photo neither reflects a biryani or a puff pastry based mushroom and taleggio pizza. What the photo actually is an incredibly delicious pizza had in Weymouth while watching the Olympic sailing in the Summer of 2012, that was a great combination. 

Mushroom and taleggio pizza

Serves 4

Puff pastry provides an instant base to the pizza, and the crust stays crisp slightly longer than regular pizza dough. A nice salad of wild rocket leaves with Parmesan shavings would be great with it.

25g unsalted butter
3 tblsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
450g mixed mushrooms (such as girolle, portobello, shiitake and chestnut mushrooms), roughly sliced into a similar size
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
375g puff pastry
1 medium egg, beaten
4-5 tblsp grated Parmesan
100g taleggio cheese, torn into small pieces
Handful of oregano, leaves picked and roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Heat a pan with the butter and olive oil. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes until golden brown. (You may need to do this in two batches if your pan is not wide enough.) Season well with salt and pepper. Add the crushed garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.

Roll out the pastry on to a lightly floured board to a large rectangle about 3mm thick. Slide this on to a baking tray. Using a long knife, lightly score a 1cm border around the edge of the rectangle, taking care not to cut through the pastry. Brush all over the pastry with the beaten egg. Layer the sautéed mushrooms around the inner rectangle of the pastry. Sprinkle the parmesan and taleggio over the mushrooms. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry has puffed and browned. 

Scatter the chopped oregano leaves over the pizza and drizzle with a little olive oil before slicing into four and demolishing until the biryani is ready to tackle.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

carpaccio and happiness, at home, where it should be

This is at its very best served really informally at home with the right person, with homemade mayonnaise - which is a traditional carpaccio accompaniment, and properly delicious with chips too. 

The quality of your meat is everything. It needs to come from an animal that has been fed correctly and well hung to ensure it is tender. I prefer the flavour and texture of a pure Angus breed, but there are plenty other good breeds too.

It is pretty much all about the setting and the company. If the food is a bit more than half decent, the full package has pretty much been achieved. That's where something like this comes in. Buy a great piece of meat, do precious little to it, savour the occasion - perfection achieved.

Beef carpaccio/Parmesan/rocket/radishes

Serves just the 2, 4 at a push

500g trimmed fillet of beef
freshly ground black pepper and good quality salt
40g fresh rocket
80g shaved Parmesan
60g fresh very cold red radishes, shaved
40ml extra virgin olive oil
20ml lemon juice

Season the beef well with the pepper and roll up firmly in a large piece of cling film or foil. Roll the film back and forth to make the meat even and nicely rounded. Chill for 30 minutes.

With a very sharp knife, slice the meat as thinly as possible and arrange on a serving platter. Garnish with the rocket, drizzle with the oil and a splash of lemon juice and finally the radishes and Parmesan, and a sprinkle of salt.

Homemade mayonnaise

I more often than not add water or sometimes crème fraîche to my mayonnaise, both to whiten it and to make it lighter on the palate, so that it doesn't overpower the beef.

2 free range egg yolks
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp English or Dijon mustard
150ml groundnut oil
150ml olive oil
2 tblsp cold water

Place the egg yolks, vinegar and mustard in a bowl and whisk together with a balloon whisk. Gradually incorporate the oil, whisking continuously until you have a thick emulsion. Add the water and season. Transfer to a clean jar. The mayonnaise will keep for five days in the fridge.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

a half decent hummous

Is it hummous, hummus, hommos, humos, hommus or hoummos even? It certainly isn't humus, we know that for sure. Weirdly my spellcheck only recognises hummus. It's now actually having a problem with my recognises, but I'm refusing to put a z in there.

Never tire of it, can eat it for ever, and it also does the business in so many other ways other than just jabbing some arabic bread into a pot of the stuff.


Serves a few as just one element of a mezze (or is it mezzeh or meze even?) spread, but make sure it always features

225g tinned chickpeas
6 tblsp tahini paste
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
6 tblsp lemon juice
3 tblsp olive oil
cayenne pepper
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil, for drizzling

Whizz up the chickpeas in a food processor or blender with a little of the liquid from the can until they are smooth.

Add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil and work in the processor or blender until very smooth. Season with the peppers and salt. Turn into a dish, scraping out all of the hummous from the mixer bowl with a rubber spatula.

Flatten the top slightly, then drizzle over some olive oil and serve with warm pitta bread.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

perfect poached eggs and haddock

Ever tasted something so simple, so old school, but so perfect? Langan's Brasserie does a poached eggs with smoked haddock that so hits the mark, it seems a shame to try and recreate it. You actually might as well go there for the real thing. Great place, wonderful service and proper decent honest food. Their snails in garlic and parsley butter decent too, Welsh rarebit very good (salad dressing on the leaves outstanding) and a very very good lemon tart.

All that said, there is nothing quite like that bursting egg yolk running into the poached haddock, thickening the sauce and in this version here, soaking into cabbage spiked mashed potato. This is where ingredients come together to continually improve a dish as you eat. We don't have enough of these.

Smoked haddock with poached egg and colcannon

Serves 4

about 400ml milk, for poaching
200ml light fish stock
1 bay leaf
4 skinned smoked haddock portions, each about 160g
2 shallots, finely chopped
300ml double cream
1 tbsp chopped dill
4 eggs
knob of butter

for the colcannon
300g Savoy cabbage, cut into rough 2cm pieces
salt and freshly ground white pepper
6 spring onions, shredded
400g floury potatoes, cooked and mashed
40g butter, or more if necessary

Cook the cabbage in boiling salted water for about 5-6 minutes until soft, but not overcooked. Add the spring onions and simmer for another 30 seconds drain in a colander then mix with the mashed potato, butter and seasoning. Keep warm in a covered pan until required, or allow to cool and reheat in the microwave when required.

While the colcannon is cooking, bring the milk and fish stock to the boil with the bay leaf. Add the haddock, bring back to the boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove the fish carefully and transfer to a plate. Cover with foil and keep warm.

Transfer half of the cooking liquid to a clean pan, add the shallots and boil to reduce the liquid by two-thirds. Add the double cream and reduce it again by two-thirds, or until it thickens to coating consistency. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, add the chopped dill and simmer for another minute.

While the liquid is being reduced, poach the eggs until just set but still soft inside. 

Spoon the colcannon on to warmed plates, carefully break the haddock fillets in half and press carefully into the colcannon. Drain the eggs with a slotted spoon and rest them in between the two pieces of haddock. Finish the sauce by stirring in the knob of butter and spoon it over the eggs and fish to serve.