Tuesday, June 26

Lamb Shanks Braised with Chickpeas and Mint

I have been meaning to cook this dish for some time now. It is a variant from the Eagle cookbook. The Eagle was one of the first gastropubs (a now unpopular term) but was groundbreaking in it's time as they shunned the standard 1980's pub fare of scampi and chicken in a basket in favour of food influenced the middle east and the med. The lamb season is presently in full flow and shanks should be relatively cheap - if indeed anything is cheap these days!

2 quality lamb shanks - I used Duchy Organic
1 tin of quality chopped tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and skinned
Saffron - 1 pinch
Dried mint - 1 level tbsp
Red wine - 1 small glass
Cooked chickpeas - 300g
Leek - 1, cleaned and finely chopped
Carrot - 1 large, peeled and finely chopped
1 small onion - peeled and finely chopped
Celery - 1 stick, finely chopped
Olive oil - a slug
Bay leaf - 2
1 small rosemary sprig
Fresh parsley - roughly chopped

In the oil, brown the lamb shanks all over then transfer to a slow cooker bowl or another suitable braising vessel. In the same pan gently fry the leek, celery, onion, carrot and garlic until softened - add this to the slow cooker. Deglaze the pan with the wine and reduce by half. Pour the wine into the slow cooker along with the rest of the ingredients and a good season of salt and pepper. Braise gently in the slow cooker (or covered at 150c in the oven) for 3 hours or so until the lamb is meltingly tender but still on the bone. Toss in the chickpeas for the last 20 mins of cooking. Check the seasoning and finish with the parsley.

Sunday, June 24

Smoked Haddock & Egg Fish Pie

I have this on the menu at the pub and it just flies out - probably due to the crappy summer weather we are having. This recipe is a nice twist on the classic mash topped pie and if you cook it right, the egg should still be soft boiled in the middle - cue gasps of amazement from your guests at your cheffy skill. For four pies:

Naturally smoked and un-dyed haddock - 500g
White fish fillet such as haddock, pollock, hake - 500g
Spring onions - 1 bunch, washed and finely chopped
Butter - 50g
All butter puff pastry - 1 block (I think they come in 500g packets)
250ml milk
250ml cream
Plain flour - 1 heaped tbsp
Dill - 1 small bunch, chopped
Large free range eggs - 5

Boil a deep pan of water and when up to a rolling boil, drop in four of the eggs and cook for 6 mins. Drain and cool rapidly in iced water. When cold, peel and refrigerate - you need the yolks to be fridge cold so do this in advance.

Skin and bone the fish fillets (or get your fishmonger to do this) - chop into large chunks and cover with the milk and cream in a suitable saucepan. Place on a low heat and slowly bring up to near boiling. Take the pan off the heat and allow the fish to cook through in the residual heat of the liquid. After 20 mins or so, drain the fish in a colander reserving the liquid. In clean pan gently fry off the spring onions in the butter until just soft. Add the flour and mix in well to make a roux. With the pan still on the heat slowly add the reserved milk - a bit at a time - and using a hand whisk, beat the milk into the roux until a smooth thick sauce is achieved. Simmer the sauce for a few minutes to cook out the flour then allow to cool. 

Mix the cooked fish and the dill through the cooled white sauce taking care not the break the fish up into too small a pieces. Season well. Divide the mix between four individual ceramic pie dishes. Make a 'well' in the centre of each and drop in the cold eggs, one per pie. Beat the remaining egg and roll out the pastry to the thickness of a penny. Cut rough circles of pastry that will cover the pie tops and overhang by 2cm.

Egg wash the rims of the pie dishes and a little of the outside edges. Lay a pie lid on top of the pie dishes and fold the edges over, completely covering the filling and adhering the pastry to the outside of the pie dish. Glaze with egg and bake in a hot oven (220c) for 15 mins or until the pastry has puffed and is golden. Check the pie mix is hot by using a thermometer - if the mix is around 70c* the pie will be hot enough to eat but the egg in the middle will be just warm and still soft boiled. If the pies are not hot enough drop the temperature and cook for a little longer.

*Technically the reheat temperature of the pies should be over 83c and I would suggest you heat all shop bought goods to this temperature to ensure they are safe to eat. But as we have just made this fish mix, we know it is safe to eat at a lower temperature or even cold.

Saturday, June 16

Roast Cod, Pea Soup & Shoots, Basil Oil

Falling somewhere between a soup and a main meal, I have been cooking this for over a decade. It makes a cracking special lunch or a light supper when accompanied by a hunk of good bread. There are so few ingredients - pretty much just peas and water - that you must use only the best ingredients. If you can get really fresh peas then use these, otherwise consider frozen petis pois. After a day or so the sugars in the peas turn to starch and you loose that sweet freshness. These days peas are frozen within hours and make for a really good product - don't feel bad about using them.

I normally use mint as the flavouring herb in this dish but my greengrocer only had basil. I didn't want a pesto to mask the delicate flavour of the cod and peas so I made a basil oil - the flavour combo works surprisingly well for a non-classical pairing. For two:

Fresh or frozen peas - 500g podded weight
A pinch of marigold veg bouillion powder
Extra virgin olive oil - 50ml
Ground nut oil for frying the fish
Fresh basil, leaves only - 1 small bunch
Pea shoots
Salt and white pepper
Thick 'skin on' cod loin - 2x175g fillets

Boil the kettle and heat the oven to 220c. Get a good non-stick frying pan with a metal handle on a medium high heat. Season the fish fillets with salt and a little pepper and add a generous glug of the ground nut oil to the frying pan. When the oil is shimmering hot, fry the cod skin side down pressing the skin flat to the bottom of the pan with a fish slice.

In a pestle and mortar, grind up the basil leaves to a pulp with the olive oil. Over a bowl, scrape all the mush into a sieve and allow the oil to drain from the solids.

In another saucepan add the peas, the bouillon powder and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Get this on the stove and just cover the peas with the boiling water from the kettle. When the water returns to the boil take off the heat, strain the peas reserving a little of the water. Blitz the peas in a liquidiser with half the basil mush left in the sieve and just enough cooking water to make a soup with the consistency of pouring cream. Pass through a sieve discarding the pea solids left behind. Correct the seasoning and keep the soup warm.

When your cod is golden on the skin side, flip over and finish cooking in the oven. Divide the soup between two warmed bowls, add the fish 'skin side up' and dress with pea shoots and the basil oil. 

Thursday, June 7

Black Pepper Sirloin Noodles with Cucumber & Spring Onion

It is quite rare to use black pepper as at the main flavouring ingredient rather than as a condiment. The only example I can think of is the ubiquitous and rather retro peppercorn sauce to go with a steak. Actually, this is partially where I got the inspiration for the dish, along with a faint memory of eating some cracking pepper-hot stir-fry dishes in Cambodia. I used fat Udon noodles here as I love them. Use whatever noodles float your boat. For two:

Sirloin - 250g, trimmed of all fat and sinew, sliced finely
Spring onions - 1 bunch, finely sliced
Garlic - 3 cloves, peeled and sliced
Cucumber - 1/2, seeds removed and finely shredded
Onion - 1 small, peeled and finely sliced
Ground nut oil - 2 tbsp
Soft brown sugar - 1 tsp
Light soy sauce - 1.5 tbsp
Oyster sauce - 1 tbsp
Black pepper - 1 tbsp, crushed in a pestle and mortar
Noodles of your choice - 200g cooked weight

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan until smoking hot. Str fry the beef quickly with half the oil until seared all over and cooked medium rare. Remove to a warm plate with a slotted spoon then return the pan to the heat. Quickly stir-fry the onion with the remainder of the oil until slightly softened and starting to brown. Add the garlic, the black pepper and the spring onions and fry for another minute or so. Toss in the noodles and fry hard for another minute or so. Add the soy sauce, the sugar, oyster sauce, cucumber and return the beef to the pan. Keep stir-frying to heat through and taste. Add more soy if required and serve - I like to reserve a little raw cucumber and spring onion as a garnish.

Tuesday, June 5

My Mum's Rhubarb & Ginger Sponge Pudding

Heatwave, rain, sun, rain, sun, cloud, wind, cold.....bring on the great British Summer! The result of this variable weather is a spectacular and unruly rhubarb patch. I literally had to attack it with a kitchen knife this afternoon before it takes over the World.

This recipe is old school British cooking at its best and a regression to childhood for me as I remember my Mum or my Nan baking this for family suppers. It's grey and raining outside.....time for a bit of warm pudding and cream! For four:

Rhubarb - 400g
Zest of 1 orange
Demerara sugar - 160g
Golden syrup - 2 tbsp
Self raising flour - 175g
1 large egg - beaten
Softened butter - 85g
Stem ginger in syrup - 50g plus 50ml of the syrup
Mixed spice - 1 tsp
Ground ginger - 2 tsp

Chop up the rhubarb and chuck into the bottom of a 9 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the orange zest and 50g of the sugar - set aside.

To make the sponge topping, beat the butter into the flour along with the ground ginger and mixed spice until the breadcrumb stage is achieved - I used an electric hand mixer. With the mixer still running, add the egg, the golden syrup, 85g of the sugar and enough milk to to reach a dropping consistency (a thick batter that drops easily off a large spoon but still holds its shape in the bowl).  Finely chop the stem ginger and mix in the batter. Top the rhubarb with the sponge mix and sprinkle with the remainder of the demerara sugar. 

Bake at 190c for 40 mins or so until golden and the sponge is fully cooked - a skewer should come out clean when poked in the centre of the sponge. While still hot, spoon over the ginger syrup and serve with cold pouring cream.

Sunday, June 3

Jewelled Couscous

Asked to bring along something for a Diamond Jubilee buffet, this 'Jewelled' couscous was the obvious choice.  I like to use the less common wholemeal couscous, I find it has a more nutty taste and seems to 'clump' less when you make it up.

Wholemeal couscous - 200g
Vegetable stock - 1l (I used Marigold Veg Bouilion Powder)
1/2 tsp each of ground cumin, coriander & cinnamon
Pistachios - 100g
Dried Cranberries - 100g
Sultanas - 100g
Apricots - 100g, chopped
Fresh coriander - a small bunch, roughly chopped
A pinch of saffron
Olive oil - 50ml
1 lemon, zested and juiced

Bring the stock to the boil and add the spices, the saffron and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Put the dry couscous in a bowl and just cover with the hot stock - you may not need it all. Cling film and set aside. 

Gently fry the pistachios in the olive oil until just toasted and take off the heat. Fluff up the couscous with a fork or by rubbing between your palms, then bung in all the remaining ingredients including the toasted pistachios and the oil. Mix well and serve. One is rather pleased with this dish.