Monday, February 27

Onion & Parmesan Tart (Quiche)

After watching Raymond Blanc's new series 'the Very Hungry Frenchman' in Alsace, I was inspired to make my own tart. Now I know real men shouldn't eat quiche, but there is nothing camp about this one with very short crumbly pastry, a savoury parmesan custard and sweet caramelised onions. Be warned, this is not a diet dish as you will realise when you pull this tart together. It does however feed six so at least you can split the guilt (and calories) among friends and family.

Plain flour - 300g
Lard - 85g
Butter - 85g plus 50g for the onions
Free range eggs - 4 plus 1 for the pastry, beaten
Parmesan - 200g, finely grated
A little mature cheddar cheese - maybe 50g, grated
Double cream - 200ml
Milk - 100ml
Nutmeg - 10 gratings
White onions - 6 medium or 3 large
Salt & white pepper

First make your pastry. In a food processor blitz the lard, 85g butter and the flour together with a good pinch of salt and white pepper. When the fat is incorporated and the flour looks like breadcrumbs stop the mixer. Add 1/2 a beaten egg and pulse until the mixture starts to come together. Tip the mix onto the work surface and lightly press the crumbs together into a loose dough. Cling and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Peel and slice the onions as finely as you can - I used a Japanese mandolin - and gently fry in the remainder of the butter with a pinch of seasoning. Stir occasionally until the onions are meltingly soft and golden - maybe 45 mins. Set aside to cool.

Now roll out your pastry on a floured work surface until it is the thickness of a pound coin. The pastry is very short and may crack a bit if too cold - if this happens, reform into a flat disk and try again. The act of working to pastry makes it more pliable, and remember the odd crack is fine as you can patch it up later. Line a 12 inch loose bottomed flan tin (mine was 3cm high) with the pastry leaving some overlapping the tin rim. This helps to stop the pastry sinking down the sides of the tin during cooking. The tart must be watertight so use the remaining half an egg and some pastry off-cuts to patch up any holes. Line the tart with clingflim (it won't melt) and  baking beans then blind bake at 160c for 30 to 40 mins, removing the beans and clingfilm half way through cooking. At the end of the blind baking the tart case should be golden and dry all over.

Allow to cool then carefully trim the tart edge with a serrated knife to give a neat edge. Beat the remaining eggs with the cream, milk, nutmeg, parmesan and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Make sure you taste the mix as an under or over seasoned tart in not a joyful thing. Mix the onions with half the egg mix then pour into the tart case. Put the tart in the oven and fill with the remainder of the egg mix right up to the rim. Sprinkle with the cheddar and bake at 160c until just cooked and golden. The centre of the tart should feel just firm when lightly prodded. Allow to cool for 10 mins before serving.

Saturday, February 25

Roast Cod, Ham Hock, Soupe au Pistou

Technically this is a twist on a classic French 'Spring' dish but I have become so bored of winter roots and greens that I broke my cardinal rule and bought a courgette out of season. Against a backdrop of global financial meltdown and unrest in the middle east, I see this as a minor misdemeanour on my part. I would rather you look upon this recipe as my effort to prepare your culinary repertoire for the oncoming change of season!

Pistou is a French version of Italian pesto minus the pine nuts. I also left out the parmesan so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of the cod. This is a little cracker of a dish, healthy, filling and soothing. It also yields lots of left over ham hock for the coming weeks sandwiches.  For four:

Unsmoked (green) ham hock - 1
Thick cod fillets- 4x175g
Carrot - 1 large
Courgette - 1
Onion - 1 small, peeled
Leek - 1 small, well washed of grit
Waxy potato - 1 medium, peeled
Peas - 2 large handfuls
A large handful of a dry chickpeas.
Pasta (I used penne but any small shapes would work) - 2 handfuls
Basil - 1 bunch
Garlic - 1 fat clove
Olive oil - a good splash 
Best olive oil - 50ml
Lemon - a squeeze

Soak the ham hock and chickpeas overnight in cold water to remove excess salt (from the ham - not the beans!). Change the water and put the chickpeas and the hock in a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, skim any scum then turn down the heat and simmer (covered) for 3 hours. The ham is cooked when you can pull the small bone from the hock with little effort. Remove the hock and allow to cool. Strain the stock reserving the liquid and put the chickpeas to one side. When the hock is cool, pick and shred the meat and discard the bones and fat.

Heat your oven to its hottest. Chop all of your vegetables into 1cm dice. In a roomy pan, gently fry the onion, carrot and leek in the olive oil (not your best) until just starting to soften. Get a non-stick, metal handled frying pan on the heat for the cod. Return the chickpeas to the pan along with the pasta. Just cover with stock and return to the boil, simmering until the pasta is almost cooked.

Season and fry the cod in olive oil (skin side up) until starting to colour underneath. Transfer to the oven to cook through. Add the peas and courgette to the soup along with a good handful of ham hock and continue to simmer until all the veg are perfectly cooked - you want almost soft vegetables in this dish, not al dente.

Quickly bash up the basil and garlic with the good olive oil in a pestle and mortar or food processor with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper - you want a rough pesto like consistency. The cod is cooked when you can tease open the cod flakes and the centre is cooked through and not translucent (don't be too rough or you will destroy your cod fillet!).

Check the seasoning in the soup - you probably won't need salt but you will need pepper. Bowl up the soup and drizzle with the pistou. Remove the skin from the cod fillets - it should just pull off. Serve the cod in the soup flipping the fillet so the golden side is uppermost. 

Red Cabbage, Blood Orange & Walnut Salad

A wintery salad that is more substantial and interesting than lettuce. I paired this salad with a bit of char-grilled chicken but then it occurred to me that it would be fantastic with oily fish such as smoked mackerel. Oooo...or goats cheese if you swapped the walnuts for hazelnuts....

Blood oranges are in season now but as you can see from the picture they are not very 'bloody'. The oranges will get deeper red as the season goes on so maybe wait a week or two! Oh and make sure you shred the vegetables really finely or the salad will not eat well - I used a Japanese mandolin.


1 large blood orange, peeled and segmented
1 large handful walnuts halves
2 tbsp walnut oil
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
½ red cabbage, very finely shredded
½ small red onion, finely sliced

Skin each segment of orange removing pips as you go, then cut each segment into 2 small pieces. Toast your walnuts in the oven until crunchy but not burned – approx 5 mins at 200c.  

Whisk together the oils and vinegar and season to taste with the pepper and salt. Toss together the vegetables and the dressing and transfer to a serving dish. Roughly crush the walnuts in your hands and sprinkle over the salad.

Wednesday, February 22

Orange & Pomegranate Pavlova, Vanilla & Rose Syrup

Why is pavlova always with strawberry or berry fruits?  I cooked the most full on roast dinner last Sunday and was pretty sure everyone would be stuffed. Pavlova seemed like the ideal 'light' option for dessert but with seasonal fruits.  It went down a treat, clean plates all round.  Now I am sure I will cop some flak for using a ready made meringue base....but why not? Its just egg whites, sugar and hassle. Sure I'll make them from scratch in the pub, but for my friends at home....just cheat, I'm sure they will forgive! Mine fe six, but four greedy people could easily demolish this.

Unwaxed Oranges (Blood Oranges if you can get them) - 5
Pomegranate - 1
Ready made meringue base - 1
Double cream - 500ml
Vanilla pod - 1, seeds scrapped out
Caster sugar - 150g
Water - 50ml
Rose water - 25ml

Zest 1 of the oranges and add to a mixing bowl. Whip the cream with the zest, and 50g of the sugar until the soft peak stage is achieved - set aside. Using a sharp knife, segment the orange. I have included a link here showing you how to do this: Squeeze any juices from the orange remains into a small saucepan. Next cut the pomegranate in half. Holding the pomegranate half in one hand with fingers splayed - pip side down - bash the pomegranate base all over with a rolling pin to release the seeds. They should fall from between your splayed fingers onto the work surface or into a cunningly placed bowl.

Next make your syrup by bringing the remainder of sugar, water and orange juice to the boil. When the sugar has dissolved add the vanilla seeds and half the rosewater. Now, depending on how much orange juice you added, you may need to reduce the syrup a little. Boil until the syrup has the consistency of hot honey. Add the remainder of the rose water and assemble the pavlova. 

Place your meringue base on a nice serving side and add a layer of cream, orange segments and pomegranate seeds. Layer more cream and fruit and repeat one more time to make three layers with a final sprinkling of fruit on top. Drizzle liberally with the syrup and serve immediately.

Sunday, February 19

Skate with Antipasti & Olive Oil

I watched an old episode of Rick Stein last week where he made a version of the above but with Morroccan influences. I decided instead to take it to Italy. Go to your local deli and plunder the counter for nice antipasti. Roast peppers, tapanade, capers, marinaded anchovies, roast artichokes, balsamic onions etc etc etc....they would all work well. Use your best olive oil, anything too cheap will be acidic and nasty. Oh and a big thank you to Dan the fish man ( on Gloucester Road who ordered me in these spanking fresh skate wings.

Skate wings - 2, cut in half to make 4
Best extra virgin - 200ml
Roast peppers, red and yellow - 100g, finely sliced
Capers - 50g, drained
Semi dried tomatoes - 100g, finely sliced
Tapanade - 100g
Parsley - small bunch, leaves picked and finely chopped
Garlic - 3 cloves, skins on and smashed
Bay Leaf - 4, torn up
Peppers corns - 10
Rosemary - 1 large sprig, bashed about a bit
Chilli flakes - 1/2 tsp
Lemons - 2
Onion - 1
White wine vinegar - 75ml

First infuse your oil - warm the oil with the crushed garlic cloves, pepper corns, rosemary, chilli and 2 bay leaves. Don't boil the oil, just bring it up so it feels very warm to the touch. Leave for an hour or longer to infuse. Pass through a sieve and reserve the oil.

Next make a court-bouillon - a classic fish poaching liquor. Fill a pan that will hold all the skate in one layer with cold water, about an inch deep. Add a few slices of lemon, the other two bay leaves, the vinegar, the slices onion and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and allow to stand and infuse for 30 mins before use.

Return the court-bouillon to the simmer, add the fish in a single layer, cover and very very gently simmer for 10 to 15 mins depending on the thickness of your fish. The fish is cooked when the thickest part of the flesh can gently be teased away from the bone with the tip of a knife.

While the fish is cooking, add the peppers, capers and tomatoes to the olive oil and return to the same temperature as before. Remove from the heat and add your parsley. Drain the fish, plate and dress with the antipasti and lots of the oil. Blob over a little tapanade and serve with more parsley and a lemon wedge - boiled new potatoes and purple sprouting as a side dish would work well.

Tuesday, February 14

Shredded Mutton & Puy Lentil Shepherd's Pie

It is really cold at the moment and I am craving warming comfort food. I had some mutton shoulder in the freezer but not really enough to make anything with. Rather than walk to the butchers in the freezing bloody cold to buy more, I decided to bolster this lack of meat with lentils. This wasn't a random act of the desperate, I have in the past made a vegetarian shepherd pie purely with pulses ('shepherd's puy' anyone....ha!). If you have a few quid in your pocket, I recommend buying a slow cooker to get you through the winter. Bung it on in the morning and you come home to a steaming pot of something after work. It will give you the power to effortlessly render many cheap cuts of meat into something amazing. Don't just think stews - you can do curries; casseroles; pie fillings; pot roasts; rice puddings etc. Ask your mum or your gran....they will defo have one in the cupboard gathering dust. Feeds 5 to 6:

Mutton shoulder on the bone - 750g
1 onion - finely chopped
1 large carrot - roughly chopped
2 stick of celery - finely chopped
1 leek - washed and roughly chopped
Woody herds such as rosemary, thyme and bay - a few sprigs of each
Worcestershire sauce - 1 tbsp
Puy lentils - 200g
Frozen peas - 2 handfuls
Mashed potato - 1kg
Cheddar cheese - 100g, grated
Stock or water - 500ml (a cube is ok)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim and excess fat and skin from the mutton and season heavily. Heat a large frying pan and really brown the mutton all over, you won't need any oil - hack it into two or three pieces if really large. Transfer the mutton to a casserole dish or slow cooker. Now fry the onion, celery, leek and carrot until coloured and starting to soften. Transfer this to the casserole dish. Tie the woody herbs with a piece of string and add to the pot. Drain any excess oil from the frying pan and deglaze with the stock and Worcestershire sauce. Add the liquid to the casserole dish, cover and set your slow cooker to low or place in an oven set to 130c. Braise for 8 hours add the lentils to the pot 40 mins before and the peas 10 mins before the end of the cooking time.

Remove the mutton and herbs from the pot. Separate the mutton from the bones and fat - it should be 'fall apart' tender - discard the fat, bones and herbs. Shred the meat and return to the pot with the vegetables and lentils. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Transfer the mutton to an oven proof serving dish, top with hot buttery mash and cheese then grill until golden brown. I served mine with some steamed cabbage but really there is plenty of veg in the pie to serve it alone as a one pot wonder.

Saturday, February 11

Seafood Linguine, Champagne & Sweet Herb Butter Sauce

Having given birth to our little baby son Ethan, my wife demanded a crab and shellfish supper - previously off limits during pregnancy. This is the result of my high street forage. Clearly champagne is an expensive ingredient - we had a flat glass leftover from celebrations. Dry white wine, reduced fish stock or bisque would work just as well but it doesn't sound as cool does it? 

For two giant portions:

A small dressed crab
A large handful of clams
2 large handfuls of mussels
120g linguine
Small bunch each of dill, chervil, chives & tarragon, woody stems removed & roughly chopped
75g butter
Zest of half a lemon and a squeeze of juice
1 shallot - peeled and finely chopped
200ml champagne
1 red chilli, seeds in or out, finely chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

Clean the mussels and clams discarding any broken or open individuals. Get a pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Cook the linguine to the packet instructions (al dente please).

Melt half the butter and gently fry the garlic, shallot and chilli. Separate the brown from the white crab meat. Pass the brown through a sieve and add to the garlic butter. Pick through the white meat for any remaining shards of shell and set aside. 

Turn up the heat and add the champagne to the garlic crab mix. Toss in the clams, lemon juice and a bit of seasoning, cover with a lid and steam for two mins in the champagne fumes. Next add the mussels then steam the lot until all the shellfish has opened - clams take a little longer to cook than mussels. Stir in the remainder of the butter to emulsify the sauce then add the herbs and the white crab meat to warm through.

Drain your pasta reserving a little cooking liquid. Add to the shellfish pot and mix well. The pasta doesn't want to be swimming in sauce but if it looks a little dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.  Check the seasoning and add a squeeze of lemon if you think it needs it. Serve in a massive bowl from which you can both eat - romantic......but messy!

English Burnt Cream

Life is too short to enter into the historical debate on whether the French or the English first invented this dessert. Its a bit of a dinner party winner - who doesn't love a crème brûlée.........erm.......I mean English burnt cream.

Ignore what other cook books and recipes say - there is no way to make this dish at home without a blow torch. Domestic grills are simply not up to the job. This recipes will make between 4 and 6 burnt creams dependant on the volume of your ramekins. Adjust the recipe accordingly - the magic proportions are 1 egg yolk per 100ml of liquid. 

Double Cream - 700ml
Full fat milk - 100ml
Caster - 100g plus more for caramelising.
Egg Yolks - 8
Vanilla Pod - 1

Warm the milk, cream and sugar together - do not boil! Split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add both to the milk. Allow to infuse for 30 mins. Heat your oven to 130c and boil the kettle. 

Remove the vanilla pod, whisk in the egg yolks and back on a gentle heat. Whisking all the time, bring the mix up to 70c to 80c. You know you are there when the mixture is just too hot to keep your finger in and whisps of steam are visible when you stir. You must watch it like a hawk and stir all the time or you will scramble your eggs. 

Remove from the heat and quickly pour into your ramekins. Place the ramekins in a deep roasting tin that will accommodate them all. Place the roasting tray in the oven and then fill the tray with boiling water. You want the water to come 2/3 up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30 to 40 mins until the creams look set but still have a good wobble on them. Remove and allow to cool for several hours in the fridge - they will set further when cold. The creams can be made several days in advance.

When you are ready to serve, sprinkle an even layer of sugar on the creams - a few grains thick. Blowtorch all over until golden trying to avoid any burning any area - black caramel is bitter. Give them 30 seconds for the caramel to harden and serve.

Wednesday, February 8

Breakfast Porridge Bread

When you bake a loaf of bread, something strange takes over and you unjustly feel that your loaf is quite simply the greatest in the World, ever. I have eaten a lot of bread in my time and whilst I don't believe this loaf will win international acclaim, it is bloody tasty when toasted. Like all great scientific discovery, it came about accidentally. I didn't have enough bread flour for a full loaf so threw in some oat-meal I had kicking about. I dislike porridge for breakfast but understand its healthy credentials - this is my compromise, enjoy!

Oh, and I'm not going to give a bread master class here, just the quantities and a quick talk through how to make it. If you need some more in-depth help, seek out Richard Bertinet's master classes online. He is the master baker of the South West.

Strong organic bread flour (try Shipton Mill) - 700g
Jumbo Oats - 150g
Yeast - 7g dry/15g fresh
Salt - 15g
Warm water - 550ml
Coarse polenta - 1 large handful

Blitz the oats in a liquidiser until they look like fine sawdust. Mix all the dry ingredients (except the polenta) together then add the water. Mix to form a rough dough then knead for five minutes until the dough is smooth and stretchy. Cover with a tea towel and allow to double in size.

Using the polenta to stop the loaf sticking to the board, shape the dough into a loaf of your choice (bear in mind the dimensions of your toaster!).  Allow to prove again until doubled in size. Preheat your oven and two heavy baking trays to 250c. Boil the kettle. Slash the top of your loaf and place it directly onto one of the now very hot oven trays. Place the other very hot oven tray in the base of your oven and pour in some boiling water. Shut the door of the oven quickly to keep in the steam (the steam stops the bread 'bursting'). Bake for 25 to 30 mins turning once until heavily golden.

Cool on a rack upside down and don't attempt to cut and eat until the loaf has cooled to 'just warm' - this keeps the top crust crunchy and the steam and moisture inside. Cut thickly, toast well, slather in butter. Breakfast...done.

Monday, February 6

Chicken braised with Dijon, Fennel and Tarragon

This is my take on a French brasserie classic, 'lapin a la moutarde' or 'rabbit with mustard' for the hard of French. I have added fennel and tarragon to the mix as they work extremely well with chicken and used together accentuate their natural aniseed flavour. Buy a small whole chicken and joint into 8 pieces (breasts in half, drumsticks separated from thighs - all on the bone). You can ask your butcher to do this for you - ask him to portion the chicken for fricassee.  Serves four:

1 free range chicken - 1.8kg, portioned on the bone for fricassee, skin on
White wine vinegar - 150ml
Fennel - 1 bulb, finely sliced
Garlic - 3 fat cloves, peeled and crushed
Bay leaves - 2
Tarragon - 1 small supermarket pack, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Dijon - 4 tbsp
Paprika - 1 tsp
Double cream - 100ml
Chicken stock - 500ml
Salt and crushed black pepper

Hard fry any chicken skin trimmings to render out the chicken fat. Remove the skin and then season and fry the chicken pieces skin side down until deeply golden. Remove the chicken pieces and place in an oven proof bowl or casserole dish. Tip most of the chicken fat out of the frying pan and deglaze with the vinegar, reducing until almost evaporated. Add the remainder of the ingredients and bring to the boil. Tip one the chicken, cover and simmer in a low oven (140c) or slow cooker for 2.5 to 3 hours. The chicken should be falling off the bone when cooked.

Carefully remove the chicken pieces and keep warm. Transfer the sauce to a large pan and reduce by half to make a thick sauce. Check the seasoning and correct if necessary - I found none was required as the mustard was highly seasoned. Serve the chicken up with buttery mash, greens and nap over the sauce Finish with plenty of chopped tarragon.

Saturday, February 4

Black Pudding, Spring Onion & Sage Sausage Rolls

I was walking abound town the other morning and had a craving for a sausage roll. I passed a local bakers and popped in to buy what turned out to be quite an expensive hot snack at £2. What a crappy excuse for a sausage roll!! Flabby soft white-ish meat paste filling with a greasy soggy pastry. Christ alive, if a baker can't make a decent sausage roll then who the hell can........well, err.....I believe I can!

Now this was a bit of an experiment. I didn't want to go mad and make my own sausage meat or puff pastry but I wanted to be sure I could blow the socks off the bakers offering. Adding black pudding to the mix gives a really savoury depth of flavour and the herbs and spring onions freshen up the whole thing. Buy good quality sausages rather than sausage meat as the quality is better. Oh and try to buy 'all butter' puff pastry, it is a really good product. Total cost for 6 sausage rolls - about five quid or 85p each. So, less than half the price and quite literally 10 times better in flavour and texture.

All butter puff pastry - 1 pre-rolled sheet or 1/2 a block
1 pack of quality herby sausages - meat removed from skins
Quality black pudding - 150g, skin removed, meat crumbled
Spring Onions - 1 bunch finely sliced
Sage, 1 small bunch, stems discarded, leaves finely chopped
Salt and Black Pepper
1 egg - beaten

Preheat the oven to 210c. Mix together the sausage meat, black pud, spring onions, sage and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Fry off a little sausage meat in a non-stick pan to test the seasoning and correct if necessary.   Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a 50p coin (you may need to roll out the pre-rolled sheet a little more, they tend to be a bit thick). Cut the pastry sheet in half down the longest length. Divide the sausage meat in half and place in a rough sausage shape down the centre of each length of the pastry. Egg wash the edge furthest away from you.  Roll the pastry away from you tightly wrapping around the sausage meat and seal with the seam underneath the sausage roll. Divide into 3 sausage rolls and repeat for the other piece of pastry. Slash and egg wash the tops and bake for 30 mins or so turning to ensure even coloration.