Saturday, March 23

Soused Root Vegetable Salad with Feta

I'm still waiting for that first flush of spring to bring in the new seasons produce.......come on! Whilst we wait, here is an interesting salad that uses a quick pickling liquor to add a sweet, sour and spicy dimension to shredded root vegetables. You will need a Japanese Mandolin to shed the vegetables as doing it with a knife is hard going - be careful , they are lethal bits of kitchen kit! Goes great with oily fish such as mackerel (minus the feta). 

Rice vinegar - 100ml
Sugar - 80g
1 hot chilli - finely sliced
1 raw beetroot
1 medium carrot
1/2 mouli (japanese white radish)
1 small red onion
1/2 a cucumber
Fresh coriander - 1 small bunch
100g feta cheese

Peel and shred all the vegetables. When you get to the cucumber, no need to peel, just shred length ways until you get to the seeds. Rotate the cucumber 90 degrees and go again,. Repeat until you have just the seedy core remaining and discard - you don't want all that watery mass in your salad.

In a small pan bring the vinegar, sugar and chilli to the boil then take off the heat. Season well and tip over your veg - toss well. Allow to stand for 5 mins the serve with crumbled feta and fresh coriander sprinkled over the top. I ate mine with hot middle eastern flat breads and homous.

River Exe Mussel & Smoked Haddock Chowder

Falling somewhere between a classic chowder and moules mariniere, this is easy to make, has bags of flavour and flies off the menu at the pub. Apologies if the photo is not up to scratch, it was taken on an iphone straight off the pass!  For 2:

Onion, Potato and Carrot - 1 of each, medium sized, peeled and finely diced
Celery - 2 sticks, finely diced
Leek - 1 medium, well washed, finely diced
Garlic - 2 cloves, finely chopped
Flour - 1 desert spoon
Butter - 50g
Milk - 200ml
Cream - 100ml
Tarragon - leaves picked from stems, 1 tbsp, chopped
White Wine - 100ml
Undyed, naturally smoked haddock - 200g, skinned, pin boed and roughly chopped
Mussels - 800g, cleaned

Gently sweat in the butter (without colouring) the onion, carrot, celery, leek, potato and garlic. When the veg begins to soften, add the wine and bubble away to almost nothing. Add the flour and mix well. Now add the milk, cream and smoked haddock and bring to a gentle simmer - the sauce, when thickened, has a tendency to catch on the bottom of the pan so control your heat and stir regularly. When the carrot is soft and the potato beginning to break down, toss in the mussels and simmer gently until all the mussels have opened. Stir regularly. 

The mussels will add their juice to the sauce so the consistency should be right but if it looks too thick, add a little more milk or cream - you want a thick soupy broth. Season well and toss in the tarragon just before serving. Serve with good crusty bread and butter to mop up the juices.

Monday, March 18

Mustard Toad in the Hole

Moving away from dishes that are a little bit fancy, here is one that anyone would be happy to come home to after a Monday spent hard at work. Surprisingly easy to make as long as you follow a few basic rules: 

1) Heat the fat to smoking temperature - and it really must be shimmering and smoking like its gonna burn or catch fire. 
2) Don't weigh or measure the batter ingredients, just use a small cup and fill it first with eggs, then flour, then milk - to the same level each time.
3) Allow your batter to stand for half an hour before you use it. A night in the fridge will do it no harm either.
4) Good quality sausages......come 'Tesco Value' horse scrotum sausages please!
5) Any liquid tight tin will work as the cooking vessel for this dish as long as it will hold the batter to a depth of approx 2cm. I used a 20cm paella pan in which I cook all my yorkshire puds etc.

Plain Flour - a cup full
Free range eggs - a cup full
Full fat milk - a cup full
Sausages - 6 fat ones
Fat - lard, dripping or if you must, veg oil - 50g
Salt & Pepper
Dijon - as much as you can get on a tsp
Wholegrain mustard - same as above
English Mustard - same as the above

Beat together the flour, eggs, milk, mustards and a good seasoning. Leave for 30 mins. Turn your oven on to 250c and put your tin in the oven to heat up. When hot add your fat to the tin and all that to heat up to smoking temperature. Place your sausages in the batter bowl and with the screaming hot tray of smoking fat still in the oven, carefully pour the batter and sausages into the tray. This is not as dangerous as it sounds, just pull the oven tray out a bit and pour the batter into the tray using one hand covered with a tea towel. 

Make sure the sausages are well spaced out. Close the oven door and allow to cook for 5 mins before dropping the temperature to 220c.  Try not to open the oven door if you can and bake until cooked through, risen and dark brown in colour - mine took approx 35 mins but it depends on your oven.  Serve with whatever you like but the omission of onion gravy would be a travesty.

Sunday, March 17

Monkfish 'Roast Dinner', Red Wine & Brown Butter Sauce

Sunday roasts are great, but I always feel the need to lounge on the sofa for a couple of hours afterwards giving my stomach time to digest the vast quantities of protein and carbs I have just shovelled down. This is my attempt to lighten the whole thing up. 

I'm not going to go into too much detail on what vegetables to use or how to cook them - I am sure you will work it out. The real star of the show here is the pairing of fish with an unusual red wine and butter dressing. Monkfish is really meaty and can handle a robust sauce, this one gives you that roast gravy taste without masking the flavour of the fish.

Monkfish Tails - on the bone, 4x200g 
Red wine - 200ml
Red wine vinegar - 100ml
Sugar - 100ml
Butter - 250g

First clarify and brown your butter. Place the whole block in a small pan and place over a gentle heat. Just leave it alone, don't stir or shake it. After a while the milk solids will settle to the bottom of the pan and you will get a white foam form on the surface. Carefully skim the foam and discard. Turn up the heat and allow the butter to boil. You are trying to drive off the water content of the butter allowing the temperature to escalate and the butter to begin to burn. If you stop this burning process at the right stage the butter will have a delicious nutty taste. Keen an eye on the boiling butter as once the water has evaporated, the milk solids will begin to catch and brown on the bottom of the pan - this means you are nearly there. Keep skimming the foam from the surface and when the butter stops foaming remove from the heat. Carefully pour into another pan leaving the brown sediment behind - you should end up with a nutty brown clear butter with no foam or bits.

Next make the wine syrup, simply boil together the red wine, vinegar and sugar until reduced to a syrup the consistency of warm honey. Remove from the heat. Season and pan fry your monk tails in a tbsp of the clarified butter until coloured all over then finish off in a hot oven. They are cooked when the meat starts to peel away from the bone.

To finish the sauce simply stir the hot clarified butter into the hot wine syrup. It won't emulsify and you don't want it to. It looks great with the butter and wine splitting out on the plate. As for vegetables, I used a Jerusalem Artichoke puree as the base of the dish then layered blanched sprouts, cabbage and baby carrots, roasted parsnips and salsify.

Thursday, March 7

Game Boudin, Crispy Shallots, Port Reduction

This looks much posher than what it is........basically a sausage with a fancy French name. Being a big fan of sausage with bubble & squeak, this is my fine dining makeover of a humble classic. Paired with green veg, feeds 4

Good quality sausage meat - 400g
Finely sliced pancetta - 15 slices (approx 100g)
Mixed skinless Game - 200g (I used pheasant, rabbit and guinea fowl), cut into small pieces
Fresh thyme - a few sprigs, leaves picked, stems discarded
Good beef or game stock - 500ml
Ruby port - 100ml
Fat Banana Shallots - 2
A little milk
Plain Flour - 1 tbsp
Some leftover cooked mixed vegetables including some potato - 600g
Oil for deep frying
A little butter

Mix the sausage meat with the thyme and season well. Cool a little bit off to check the seasoning. Oil a work surface and then lay two long and overlapping sheets of cling film over the work surface giving you a large square. The oil makes the cling film stick to the surface. Now lay out the pancetta on the cling film, rasher to rasher, to make a rectangle. Carefully and evenly spread the sausage meat over the pancetta. Season the game pieces and spread evenly over the sausage meat.

Using the edge of the cling film nearest to you, begin to roll the sausage meat into a sausage shape, trapping the game pieces inside. Be sure to free the cling film as you roll. You should end up with a long cylinder of sausage meat with all the game meat sealed inside. Reorganise the cling film so it is as it was. Move the meat back to the edge of the cling film nearest you. Now roll the sausage in the cling film and then twist the ends as you would the wrapper of a boiled sweet.  Keep twisting the ends compressing the meat into a tight cylinder. If you have a lot of air gaps, pierce the cling film to release the air and continue twisting until the sausage feels 'tight'. Wrap the whole lot really well in more cling film to make it water tight. Gently poach or place in an oven set to 100c until the centre of the sausage reaches 85c (obviously you will need a thermometer).

To make the sauce, reduce the stock down to 200ml then add the port and reduce by half again. Roughly blitz the vegetables, season and push into rings to make the bubble and squeak cakes. Cut the shallots into thin rings and soak in milk.

To serve, unwrap the sausage and pan fry to colour the outside. Allow to rest somewhere warm. Pan fry the bubble & squeak cakes in a little oil and butter until golden on both sides and warm through in the oven. Drain the shallot rings and heavily dredge in flour before deep frying at 160c until golden and crispy - season well. Warm the sauce and plate up.

Sunday, March 3

Cheese Soufflé Tart

If you love cheese, then you are sure to have a few leftovers kicking about in the fridge after the cheeseboard has been mostly devoured. This is a great way to use them up. Adapted from a Raymond Blanc recipe, the resulting filling is magically light but really strongly flavoured. I'll leave it up to you what cheeses to add - I used what I had left which was a mix of brie, goat and blue. Just be sure to use your common sense and add a little more or less depending on the strength of flavour of said cheeses.

Ingredients - Pastry:
Butter - 100g
Plain Flour - 200g plus a little for dusting
Salt - a pinch
1 egg
1 tbsp milk

Ingredients - Soufflé:
Butter - 25g
Flour - 25g
Milk - 225ml
Cheese - 125 to 175g depending on the strength of your cheese
Dijon - 2 tsp
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites

In a food processor blitz the butter into the flour and salt, then pulse in the egg and milk until the pastry just comes together. Roll out really thin on a floured board and line an 8 inch loose bottomed sponge tin. LIne with parchment and fill with baking beans. Blind bake at 180c until the edges of the tart start to brown. Remove the parchment and beans and bake at 160c until the base colours. Trim the tart edges and start on the filling.

Make a roux with the butter and flour and cook gently until the roux starts to go golden brown.  Add the milk and whisk over the heat until the sauce thickens. Beat in the cheese, dijon and  egg yolks and remove from the heat. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold into the cheese sauce. Taste and season. Pour the mix into the tart case and bake at 190c for 30 mins until golden and risen.