I had some roast beef left (see beginning of last post). Not surprisingly, the joint I’d cooked was a two and a half kilo piece of prime rib which I’d come away with after a butchery class at The Ginger Pig in Marylebone. The leftovers were a bit of a mishmash, there was a fair bit of nice pink medium rare ‘middle’ (a decent portion of which I sliced thinly and enjoyed cold in a wholemeal flat bread with fresh ripe tomato, rocket, red onion, parsley, and a horseradish mayonnaise), but then a lot of well-done end, and some scrappy bits which looked less appetising once the fat had cooled and returned to it’s opaque white nightlight-like state. I also had a lot of cream left (for dessert after the roast beef meal I’d made a brioche and chocolate bread and butter pudding – recipe for that to follow, it’s easy and it’s outstanding) so I made a stroganoff which, along with Beef and Noodles is a great way to use up leftover roast.
Leftover Beef Stroganoff
1 onion – thinly sliced
1 garlic – thinly sliced
lots of mushrooms – thinly sliced
leftover roast beef – sliced into medium thickness mouthfuls
paprika – about a teaspoon
some white wine or cider (if you have it, no biggy if you haven’t)
leftover gravy – some
cream – lots
cooked white rice to serve it with
Fry the onion and garlic in E.V. rapeseed oil (if you have it, any oil will do though) over a medium to low heat until they’ve softened. Take them out of the pan. Now fry the mushrooms on a slightly higher heat and get them nicely caramelised. Take them out. Turn the heat up, add a bit more oil and flash fry the beef so as to crisp up the outside but not over-do it – if the heat is high enough it’ll take a minute, if that. As soon as it looks good, drop the heat and put the mushrooms and onions back in.
Add the paprika and stir around for a minute or so and then pour in some wine or cider, if you have it – about a glass full. Let it reduce down until it’s almost disappeared and then add the gravy and the cream. Bring it to the boil, have a taste and add salt or a splash of soy sauce if it needs it, a squeeze of lemon if it’s tasting too sweet and a pinch of sugar if too sour. Grind in lots of black pepper.
Cook white rice (in a pressure cooker which you MUST have it will take no more than 3 minutes), and serve the stroganoff on top with more black pepper, lots of parsley and a scattering of chopped cornichons.
Put on a big fur hat and tuck in while singing the Russian National Anthem in your head.
I took enormous pleasure in cutting up a big piece of cow earlier this week. Sorry vegans, I know you’re out there in your hoards, but it’s true. I took part in a beef butchery class at The Ginger Pig in Marylebone and while I think the class itself could have been more comprehensive I still felt I learnt how to deal properly with a two and a half kilo piece of aged prime rib. I carefully cut away the chine bone, I tore back the cap and removed the paddywhack, French-trimmed the bones and tied it all back together. Back home I roasted it with nothing but salt and pepper and served it with roast potatoes, creamy courgettes and a salad of beetroot, sugar snap peas, rocket and balsamic and the most outstanding gravy made from the roasted bones and resting juices. It was absolutely epic.
Vegans, you don’t know what you’re missing, but then conversely all you adamant anti-vegans out there, you don’t know what you’re missing either. Because here’s something that you’d shun if offered I’m sure, though you’d be fools to do so. I think I’ve perfected my vegan Chilli Con Carne (a contradiction in terms I realise so hereafter called more accurately Chilli Sin Carne). It’s rich and oily and very spicy and it’s also bloody quick. I threw it together last night in less than twenty minutes (plus simmering time though it doesn’t need long like a beef one would).
(By the way, I’ve been informed that one of the ingredients on the list isn’t actually vegan, but see below for a slight alteration to the recipe that sorts this little problem out.)
Chilli Sin Carne
Olive oil and plenty of it
6 or 7 mushrooms (finely chopped)
2 onions (try finely chopped)
1 carrot (very finely diced)
1 celery stick (very finely diced)
2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 heaped teaspoon hot chilli powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tbsp normal paprika
2 red chillis (1 sliced, 1 left whole)
a scant handful of raisins or sultanas (chopped)
1 bag of frozen Quorn* mince
1 packet of TVP (soya mince) rehydrated
1/2 cup of cold black coffee
1 bottle of pasatta (about 700g I think)
2 tins red kidney beans, drained
a scant handful of picked jalapeño slices, roughly chopped
some sugar, honey, date syrup, molasses – anything sweet, even jam will do
about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of gravy browning**
*it’s been brought to my attention that frozen Quorn mince isn’t actually vegan as it contains some egg derivatives and I think some milk too. SO, if this is a problem (rolls eyes and shakes head a little bit) then simply use two packets of rehydrated soya mince instead. You may need to up the gravy browning (see below) too to get the required appetising appearance.
**yes, gravy browning is just brown food colouring but, ladies and gentlemen, we eat with our eyes and if your chilli looks deep and rich it’ll taste deep and rich too. Trust me.
Get a nice big casserole on your hob and bring the heat up underneath. Pour in a really generous amount of olive oil and then your mushrooms. Don’t move them around at all for quite a while because you want them to catch and to caramelise. When they’ve got a nice bit of colour on them throw in the onion, carrot and celery and give the whole lot a good fifteen minutes over a nice gentle heat. Again it’s colour and flavour you want to encourage. You can pop the cinnamon stick in now too, and the whole red chilli. the chilli will impart some flavour, but it’ll also look the business and if anyone’s feeling particularly brave at dinnertime they can eat the whole thing, which is a fun challenge after a few tequilas.
Once everything is nicely coloured add the cumin seeds, the raisins or sultanas (they add a lovely sweetness that’ll balance the heat beautifully), the other chilli chopped up small, the garlic, the Quorn mince, the rehydrated TVP*** and the chilli powder and paprikas and give it all a good stir and a fry. The spices might catch a bit and if they do add a splash of water.
Next pour in the coffee. It’s going to add a bitter note that’s not dissimilar to the flavour of charred bones you get from a good beef stock. Let it reduce down a bit before adding your pasatta and giving it all a really good mix together, season with lots of black pepper and about half a teaspoon of salt. But taste to check the balance.
Now, at this stage it won’t look especially appetising. In fact it’ll look a bit insipid, maybe even a little bit like sick, so here’s where you deploy your secret weapon – the gravy browning. This stuff is a VERY POWERFUL colourant, and as Raymond Blanc says, you can add but you can’t take away. Put a little bit in, stir, if it still looks too pale then add a little more. Bear in mind that the sauce will darken as it cooks and you can add more later if you want, so don’t overdo it. Get it looking a bit richer, bring it to a simmer and let it cook for about thirty minutes.
By now it should be rich, reduced, dark and oily and really meaty-looking, and tasting. If it needs a further boost you can add a bit of Marmite, or just some more salt and pepper. If it’s too acidic then put in a bit of brown sugar, molasses or honey. Add the beans and the chopped jalapeños. And if it’s too thick add a splash of water. Bring it back to a simmer and give it another ten minutes or so. When it’s done trickle on some more olive oil on top.
Serve it with rice, with baked potatoes, or just with a big hunk of bread. Trickle over a little cream, or a dollop of sour cream (unless you’re still a vegan in which case you can substitute the cream for water or ice – just kidding – maybe use some soya yoghurt). Sprinkle with fresh coriander, a big squeeze of lime and some fresh raw chilli and flakey salt. Oh and if you’re feeding it to a meat-eater, don’t tell them, they won’t realise.
***TVP is something I talked about in an earlier blog. It’s what we used at school Home Economics lessons instead of too-expensive meat. It’s a real throwback to the days of early vegetarianism but it really does the job.
Matt and I started this blog to document the food we cook so our kids have something to refer to when they’ve left home and want to know how to make it the same way. This has lead to all sorts of other tangents and diversions, but here’s one that’s more true to our original intentions.
There’s plenty of ways I do steak – over naked flames, under the grill, in the pressure cooker even (if it’s to be braised), or raw even much to the nose-upturning of my family. This is the most common way though.
I’ve just cooked some rump. That’s what’s in the photo. Rump is good and rump is also reasonably cheap but I’ve been getting excited about other cuts – secret ‘butchers’ cuts. A few times recently I’ve got hold of some feather blade which is supposed to be cooked low and slow, but I discovered that if you cut two steaks either side of the seam of sinew (one above and one below) you get two irregular-shaped steaks that are just superb. Very smooth, very close textured, almost liver-like. I think (but I’m not certain and please correct me if I’m wrong) that one of these steaks is a flat iron, and the other… I don’t know. Help me out butchers. Anyway, they’re great.
So I say experiment. If you go for something odd and it turns out to be a bit too tough then just slice it really thin with a very sharp knife. The flavour will probably be superb as it seems to be that the tougher steaks are usually much tastier.
Pat the meat dry and season it on both sides with salt, or salt and a few other things. I’ve a really cool looking metal tin of Old Bay Seasoning. Though way past the Best Before date its blend of salt, celery salt, paprika and other spices generously sprinkled over the meat seems to really help to tenderise a tougher cut. Once seasoned it needs to be left for about 24 hours uncovered in the fridge on a cooling rack so the air can get all around it.
Something heavy. Cast iron is of course perfect, but equally good is a decent black steel pan. You want something that you can leave, with nothing in it, over the flame for a good five minutes to get really really hot without it buckling or melting, or you getting all worried and panicky and anxious about it. Then it’s just a case of putting it on the heat and leaving it. If it has a metal handle, get yourself a cloth because it will get hot.
In a bowl mix together some thinly sliced garlic, chopped parsley (but do try other herbs: thyme, coriander, rosemary), black pepper, crushed chilli, olive oil, lemon juice and a splash of red wine vinegar. This is basically an Argentinian mix called Chimichurri. Feel free to muck about with it though.
If you’ve got an extractor, put it on full. Or open a window. Or do both. And warn any strict vegetarians that they’re about to get offended/tempted/wistful/conflicted. Take the steak and rub a little oil on the outside, don’t put any in the pan, just on the meat. Then carefully lay it in the pan and leave it alone. It depends on thickness and temperature, but if the steak is about 2cm thick, give it about a minute before turning it over and doing the other side. If there’s a thick layer of fat along the edge it’s worthwhile holding the steak on its edge with your tongs and giving that fat a good minute all to itself. That’s it. If it’s very rare don’t be concerned because it’ll continue to cook a bit while it’s resting.
Resting and Post-Cooking-Marinading:
Remove the steak from the pan and put it on a plate. Spoon over the marinade and cover with an upturned bowl.
Waiting and Other Things:
You could slice some bread and lightly toast it and make the steak into a sandwich. You could throw together a punchy salad of bitter leaves. You could pour yourself a cold beer. You could chop up some onions and mushrooms and fry them in the steak pan even, that’d be nice (it’s what we did the other day). But whatever you do, resist the urge to cut into it for at least five minutes, preferably ten minutes.
Put it on something wooden and sprinkle with salt, Maldon Smoked Sea Salt is good. And treat yourself to a really sharp knife, the sort of knife that if you got it out at the dinner table you’d attract some attention. Enjoy slicing it thinly. It probably won’t need anything else, but mayonnaise or mustard will certainly work with it.
I’m currently touring my absurd comedy/cooking show ‘George Egg: Anarchist Cook’ around the UK. This coming weekend I’m in Sutton and Maidenhead. In a few weeks it’s Bath and then Scotland. Dates and links to tickets are here.
As followers of this blog will know there’s little I like more than food that’s cheap, or even better free. Whether it be a ‘Whoops’-labelled sausage bap from the hot counter at ASDA bought on a whim mid weekly-shop* or a jar of Wild Garlic Pesto from spring foraging (see this entry – and take note because it’s coming up to Wild Garlic season soon), if it’s less than full price, I’m ‘in’.
My initial foray into the world of wine-making while still at University was relatively short-lived. I have what a friend often refers to as a ‘Mr Toad’ attitude when it come to new ventures. I get rapidly obsessed and wade into a new project up to my waist often before I’ve really figured out what or how I’m supposed to do it. And this was how it was with wine. It was the days when Boots the Chemist still sold kits and the big branch in Brighton was well-stocked. I bought loads of them as well as all the associated paraphernalia and within a couple of weeks the cupboards in my shared kitchen were groaning under the weight of a row of multicoloured demijohns, their airlocks ‘plipping’ away merrily. Those were impatient times for me and wanting instant gratification the kits that promised wine ready-to-drink in a matter of weeks were just too attractive. I couldn’t even wait that long though and after a staggeringly (literally AND metaphorically) drunk night when Matt and I were guzzling half-ready still-fermenting booze directly out of the demijohns with the syphoning tube, or racking it into pint milk bottles and having ‘downing’ races, (a night which culminated in us trying to take my motorbike up to the Brighton Waitrose car park to ride it around – thank goodness we were so ‘gone’ that we couldn’t even get it off the stand and found it on it’s side in the garden the next morning), I gave up wine-making and moved onto whatever the next pursuit happened to be, before first nursing a blinding headache and apologising to my flatmates about the mess (sick, shattered glass, broken toilet seat etc.).
Five or so years ago I ventured back into the world of home-made alcohol but this time it was beer. Kits again, but with some experimentation (the addition of some chopped ginger to a batch, or crushed toasted coriander seeds were both very successful), but most often kits just as instructed. It seemed that the world of home-brewing had moved on considerably with some brands producing a product that really was as good as something from the pub (Woodford’s Wherry I can’t recommend enough). I got as much pleasure from this renewed hobby when designing the labels as I did from actually drinking the stuff, and there’s little that beats the feeling of having a full barrel of good ale on tap in your garage, especially when the packaging is cool.
But it’s only in the last year that I feel I’m doing things properly, and by that I mean using real ingredients, and even better foraged ones on occasion. It started last spring when, under the excellent instruction of John Wright (using his River Cottage Handbook ‘Booze’) I made some Elderflower ‘champagne’ with, of course, foraged elderflowers. It was delicious, and even better really cold out of a slim flute with a splash of Aperol. It was also quick, satisfying the impatience I mentioned above. As the year progressed, and busy enough with other projects I seemed to be able to curb that impatience and I’ve actually got some long-term wines on the go. Just this week I racked** my Elderberry Wine (foraged ingredients again), Mead (not foraged) and Rose Hip Wine (foraged – and this one was really stunningly good already). I’ve also been infusing (of course not as advanced as wine-making but still hugely satisfying none-the-less and even more so when the ingredients are found in the hedgerows) and bottled my Sloe Vodka, Rose Hip Vodka and Blackberry Whiskey.
Last week in Lewes Waitrose they had rhubarb reduced in price and I used it to make Rhubarb Vodka, so sort-of a combination of foraging and bargain hunting and making, all rolled into one since the bright pink forced stems were super-cheap. Bloody hell I love the colour of it and this one’s pretty fast (most of the others listed above should be left to mature for at least a year whereas this is ready in a couple of months – just in time for summer cocktails). It’s very simple – a 1 litre jar, thin slices of rhubarb (4 stems in all) stacked between layers of white sugar (150g) plus a couple of slices of ginger and then the jar is filled with vodka, shaken a bit, and left for a couple of months.
(from left to right: Elderberry Wine, Mead, Rose Hip Wine, ‘Slider’***, Rhubarb Vodka, Elderflower and Apple Sherry, Blackberry Whiskey, Sloe Vodka, Rose Hip Vodka)
*’weekly shop’ indeed. Who am I kidding, I seem to go to the supermarket every 16 hours or so.
**’racking’ is where you syphon the wine from one demijohn to another leaving the lees**** behind.
***’Slider’ is made by refilling the sloe vodka jar of vodka-soaked sloes with still cider, left for two weeks and then served with glee.
****’the lees’ is the sludge at the bottom of the demijohn that collects as the wine clears.
Last month I was honoured to be asked to judge a bread making competition. The Tiptree World Bread Awards no less, and it saw me spending an afternoon in the Hall at Westminster Cathedral squeezing, sniffing, prodding, and of course tasting. Hard work, but it’s nice to feel like you’ve got an actual role sometimes (that doesn’t work written down does it? And it’s someone else’s joke anyway* what am I thinking!?). Partnered with Bake Off 2014 finalist Luis Troyano we judged the Great British White category and the loaf we chose to be the winner of our category ended up winning the top prize of best loaf in the end. To be frank our’s was a rather boring table and we agreed that we’d both have much preferred to have been judging sourdough, fruit bread, wholewheat or one of the many other groups that presented a broader variety and diversity. Not surprisingly amongst them was gluten-free.
I’m not in the mood for entering a debate about the popular rise of gluten-free dietary requirements. I appreciate that coeliac disease is a real affliction but I wonder if a lot of people are adopting a gluten-free lifestyle following ill-informed advice or simply a ‘herd-following’ mentality. Still, on the bright side it presents the person in the kitchen with a challenge and as I’ve said many times before, limitations breed creativity. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. And who knows, we’re learning new things and debunking old theories and ‘facts’ every day. Maybe in fifty years time gluten will be considered a poison. Or an essential dietary requirement.
A member of my household is presently following a gluten-free diet. Dairy-free too. And so the other evening, as we were going to a friend’s for a night of bread, cheese and games, not wanting Mrs Egg to be left out of two thirds of the activities I made the following contributions. And very nice they were indeed.
Cannellini Bean Humous
1 tin cannelloni beans (drained but keep the liquid)
3 large spoonfuls tahini
juice of 1 lemon
1 large garlic clove
1 tsp cumin seeds (dry toasted and ground)
big pinch cayenne pepper
trickle of date syrup (or honey)
lots of olive oil
big pinch sumac
salt and pepper
Ideally you’d use a food processor, but you could try it with a blender or even better you could make the whole thing in a giant pestle and mortar.
Tip the beans, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, in fact everything except the olive oil and the date syrup or honey into the food processor and turn it on. Then trickle in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. It’ll be thick. You want it thinner, and you want it thinner than you think because it has a real tendency to thicken once you leave it alone for thirty minutes. To thin it, add the liquid from the tin in a trickle. It will emulsify and give a lovely creamy whipped consistency.
When you’ve got it to the consistency you like taste it and correct the seasoning with more lemon, salt and balance it with a trickle of sweetness from the syrup.
I spooned mine into a shallow dish, flattened it out and waited for it to firm up a bit before shaping it into a shallow crater with the back of a spoon and drizzling it with a bit more olive oil and some toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, salted and sprinkled with a bit more sumac. So that’s the hummus. (There’s so many different spellings I’ve tried to use as many as possible).
I can’t really take any, (or at least not much) credit for the pitta as it’s a recipe straight from the Great British Bake Off, although I’ve tweaked it by increasing the salt (they were woefully bland the first time), omitting the nigella seeds and adding a sesame seed topping. Oh and slightly adapting the baking technique.
Gluten-free Pitta (makes 8)
15g psyllium powder
325g gluten-free strong bread flour (I use Doves Farm)
1 tspn sugar
1.5 tspn salt
1 tbspn dried yeast
2 egg whites
1.5 tspn cider vinegar
3 tbspn olive oil
white sesame seeds
Mix the psyllium powder with 150ml water and leave the mixture to thicken and jellify, and to another 150ml water add the yeast and give it a whisk to dissolve.
Put the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and combine before making a week in the centre and into the well put the egg whites, vinegar, olive oil and psyllium mixture. Stir it together until it starts to combine and then pour in the yeasty water and mix until you have a very soft dough. It’ll be quite wet but that’s ok. Put it in a floured bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave it for about an hour.
Get the oven as hot as it’ll go (230ºC or even better 250º if it’ll go that high) and either put a heavy tray in to heat up or even better use a baking stone.
Divide the dough into eight equal pieces and roll them out to circles or ovals about 5mm thick. Paint one side with a little soya milk, sprinkle with sesame seeds and slide onto the hot baking stone (use a baker’s peel if you have one) and then before you shut the door splash a cup of water into the bottom of the oven to create steam. Shut the door and give them about 4 minutes on one side and about 2 of the other. That’s a guess as it depends on how hot your oven is and how thick your pittas are, but they should puff up like balloons.
As soon as they’re done wrap them in a tea towel and they’ll stay nice and soft. Then rip them up and dip them in the houmous. Or fill them up with avocado and radishes and crunchy salt. Or chuck them out the window. I don’t care.
*Excellent comedian and equally talented photographer Steve Best used to, and perhaps still does, have a lovely joke – ‘You remember the TV sitcom ‘Bread’? I had a small roll in that’
I often roast sausages in the oven as an alternative to grilling or frying. It strikes me as being more economical if the oven’s on already for roast potatoes or other veg and does seem to do a decent job of acquiring that extra bonus of caramelisation and stickiness inherent with oven cooked meats.
This dish is based loosely on time-tested and reliable Southern European peasant food, drawing on middle eastern flavours too, i.e. some meat roasted slowly with some veg; added herbs, some chilli, balsamic vinegar, saffron and plenty of olive oil, etc. etc.
Sometimes I just don’t really feel like cooking. I want something easy and tasty, with minimum effort and maximum flavour. Something that you can put in the oven for an hour and forget about until it’s ready to eat. This dish really packs a punch on both counts and I shall definitely be repeating this experiment. We enjoyed ours with steamed cavelo nero, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
INGREDIENTS – for 4 people
8 medium potatoes
8 good quality sausages
1 large onion
4-6 cloves of garlic
some flaked chilli
a good dash of balsamic vinegar
a handful of fresh thyme
a squirt of anchovy paste
1 tps sumac
a sprinkle of saffron
a very healthy dash of EV olive oil
1/4 tps ground cinnamon
salt and pepper – go easy on the salt (already salty with anchovy paste)
- set oven to 180c
- place large roasting pan on hob over medium heat (I use a large paella pan)
- add olive oil, roughly chopped onions, potatoes and garlic.
- add sausages, and all other ingredients
- roast in oven for around 45mins – 1hr, until potatoes are soft and everything cooked and sticky. (Matthew)
I frequently reprimand myself for not taking advantage of my geographical good fortune and harvesting more from the sea. In the last few years I’ve started foraging from the land, making all sorts with elderflowers, sloes, crab apples and wild garlic to name a few, but apart from a couple of mackerel caught a good few years ago I’ve really not got anything from the water. And there’s so much for the taking. We know a couple who used to have a boat, just a little rowing dinghy, which they’d take out fishing. But even better than that they’d invested in a few lobster pots and they told us of one summer when they actually caught so many they were giving them away as they didn’t know what to do with them. Free food. I love it.
Last night we had the next best thing. My son’s girlfriend works for Waitrose. (Well, if we’re going to be accurate about it, John Lewis being a partnership, she works at Waitrose, or with Waitrose as opposed to for them). I’ve mentioned the reductions in Waitrose before (HERE). They’re a shop that seems to deliver when it comes to knocking stuff down and if you can get in at the right time of day you can often walk away with something outrageous. Christmas Eve is even more incredible than usual, but be careful as a couple of years ago I had a bargain joint of beef taken out of my trolley by another shopper. I was incensed! Certain as I was that I knew who’d done it I didn’t have the balls to confront them but instead walked around the shop seething, my Christmas spirit evaporating as I imagined what I could have done if I had the guts. But those close-to-sell-by-date treats which aren’t snapped up by the eager bargain-hunters get reduced even further once the shop closes and the staff can help themselves, getting in addition their staff (partner) discount. I understand there’s a temptation to hide stuff that you’ve really got your eye on and to then get it out when it’s too late to sell it to customers, but I think the penalties if you’re caught are pretty severe so you have to be careful. You don’t want to be dragged through the courts by your tabard.
The upshot of all this is that Jade (the aforementioned girlfriend of my eldest) frequently comes home from work with meat and/or fish at a snip of the price, and yesterday was a prime example. She came over yesterday bearing a joint of Aberdeen Angus top rump and, get ready, four (count them) Maine lobster tails. Nice.
I confess that I woefully over-cooked the beef. I rarely do joints of meat rare favouring the long slow-cooked approach with cheaper cuts (see HERE for Pork Belly, HERE for Brisket, and HERE for Pulled Pork – though the Pulled Pork is just a photograph) and thinking it’d been in the oven for a short spell it still came out rather grey all the way through. Tasted good though and the sauce I made was nice. And I know how to rescue what’s left. (Beef Stroganoff, but that’ll have to wait until another blog).
The star was the lobster, which, as is the way when it comes to good ingredients, we barely did anything with. Lobster with Spaghetti and an ingredients list you can count on one hand, as long as you’re happy to include olive oil and lemon juice in with the seasonings.
Lobster Spaghetti (enough for 4)
4 Maine lobster tails
1/2 fresh red chilli (finely sliced)
2 fat garlic cloves (finely sliced)
1 big bunch parsley (roughly chopped)
We got the pasta water on first, generously salted.
The lobster tails were fresh and uncooked, so we got the griddle really really hot. While that was heating up the tails were cut in half along the length and brushed with the smallest amount of olive oil. Then onto the grill flesh side down for most of the time and then turned over to make sure they were done all the way through. The smell coming off them was unbelievably good – sweet, beach-like, caramel almost. And there’s little more magical than watching the armour-like shells change colour from brown to brightest orange. When they were just done we took them off and let them cool a bit before removing the meat from the shells and roughly chopping it.
While the spaghetti cooked we fried the garlic and chilli in a generous amount of olive oil over a very low heat until it just started to go golden and then in went the lobster meat, tossed around for a few seconds before adding the, now cooked (very al dente) spaghetti and all that parsley. Finally a squeeze of lemon juice and some black pepper and that was it.
I used to have a gall bladder, but it’s long gone.
Five or six years ago I started getting the most terrible stomach ache, most often at night, and most often after a meal that was a bit fatty. I remember the first bout of really acute pain was a Christmas night after roast potatoes cooked in goose fat. I suffered with it for a few months but it was real wake-you-up-and-send-you-downstairs sort of an ache. Real wake-up-your-partner-to-let-them-know-you’re-suffering sort of pain. Something that seemed to set it off more than anything else was pork belly. And I love pork belly. So I went to the doctor and he told me I had gall stones and that the best thing to do to deal with them would be to whip the gall bladder out. I was presented with a choice. I could either remain ‘complete’ (the term used for an un-spayed male cat that’s still got all the bits it came with) and wave goodbye to one of my favourite vices, or I could have a little operation.
As I awoke from the anaesthetic a nurse smiled at me and rattled a little plastic lidded pot, ‘”Here they are”
My gall stones. “And the gall bladder?”, I asked.
“Oh, that’s gone to the incinerator”, she replied, and still smiling she handed me the pot, “but you can keep these”.
I’ve still got the pot somewhere, and occasionally, just out of a morbid and perverse sense of inquisitiveness I unscrew the lid and sniff the contents. It’s horrible. But it’s fascinating too. I know you know what I mean.
I don’t get the excruciating pain that I used to get after eating anything a bit rich any more, but still I’ve often found myself suffering after pork. It’s nothing to do with the gall bladder or lack of it though I don’t think. I suspect it’s just because it’s rather difficult not to have too much when the opportunity is there. My advice – cut modest portions before wrapping up the rest and putting it away somewhere where at least a degree of effort is required to get back at it. Don’t just leave it out on the side where the temptation to return and ‘pick’ at it is far to easy.
Perfect Pork Belly (ample for 4 portions)
1kg pork belly
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
white wine, or sherry (about a glass full)
some stock (I’m favouring the Knoor stock pots presently – chicken in this instance)
3 desert spoons honey
1 teaspoon english mustard
Dry the pork well in advance. Ideally put it in the fridge unwrapped for half a day or if you’ve not got time just dry it with a tea towel. And get the oven hot. Really hot and quite in advance so it really IS hot. About 230ºC.
Crush the garlic together with some salt and the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar. Do the garlic and salt first and then add the fennel giving the seeds just a bit of a bash as they don’t want to be ground to a powder, and then rub really well into the fleshy side of the pork, getting it into all the cracks. Place the pork skin side up on a lightly oiled baking tray. Cover the skin with a good generous handful of salt and leave it for about 25 mins after which it’ll be all wet as the salt will have drawn out lots of moisture. Rub off the salt and dry it again before putting it into the oven.
After 30 minutes the skin should be deep orange and blistered and looking great. Take it out and transfer it to a clean (but still oiled) roasting tray (one which is deep enough to make the gravy in) and reduce the heat to 180ºC before putting it back in for about 2 hours. Check it after 100 minutes or so and if the skin is going too dark gently drape a piece of foil over it.
When the time is up and it’s done take the tray it out and lift the pork onto a board. Again drape it with the foil and leave it somewhere reasonably warm for 20 minutes or so to rest. It’ll stay hot and the sauce will heat it further. Besides, food’s better not too hot and that’s true despite what some people who say it isn’t say.
To make the gravy, pour away most but not all of the fat, put the pan back on the heat and add the wine or sherry (I used some homemade elderflower ‘champagne’ so beat that), and as it starts to bubble, work away at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to lift off all the semi-burnt semi-caramelised fennel, garlic and meat ‘bits’. At this point I tasted it and I was worried that it was too bitter due to burnt bits being lifted off, but here’s what I did next and please believe me when I tell you that it ended up being some of the most delicious gravy/sauce/jus I’d ever created.
I added the stock ‘pot’ and a generous splash of water from the kettle, continued to work away at the bottom of the pan, added the honey and the mustard and some black pepper, and maybe some salt if it tasted like it needed it. And then I let it bubble away gently for about 15 minutes. That’s all.
The crackling on the pork was perfect. It was crisp without feeling like it might take a tooth. It was also light, as the fat layer underneath had rendered down completely and as such it had lifted itself off the meat like a dome. I turned the belly over with the fleshy side upmost and ‘sawed’ through with a bread knife so you got a neat portion with a lid of crackling. The fleshy side had it’s own ‘crackling’/crust from sitting on the bottom of the pan and between that and the skin on the other side was the most soft, tearable, delicate white sweet pork. And alone with the sauce it would make a outstanding and unforgettable plateful, but we had it with mashed potato (cut large, boiled in salted water, drained and left to steam so they’re not too water-logged, pushed through a potato-ricer, and then beaten into butter with a ration of 4 parts potato to 1 part butter)*. We also had some courgettes, cut into penne-sized spears and stir-fried with a bit of onion, garlic and olive oil.
We had this as a mid-week roast. Mid-week folks, how about that?
*I understand from what I’ve read that to make ‘Michelin-star’ mashed potato you do a ratio of one to one butter to potato. I’m sure it’s nice but I’ve never had the guts. I certainly don’t have the gall bladder.
I didn’t go to Glastonbury festival this year but with both our teenage children there, scorchingly hot weather and just because we could, and felt like it, we decided to cook our dinner outside. The British weather has created a very funny bunch of us islanders. We stoically put up with endless drizzle, cloud and greyness for an optimistic nine months of the year, patiently and quietly yearning for blue skies and heat to then be catapulted into a sudden and unexpected heatwave on par with southern Europe. If the heatwave coincides with a weekend then you can walk through any residential area, the length or breadth of the country, to catch the sweet and smoky aroma of the British barbecue.
Yesterday was no exception; downing several glasses of the ever increasingly popular prosecco, shirt off (very red this morning), sitting around a mound of fiery charcoal, listening to the sounds of Glastonbury festival on ‘6 music’ and waiting for the precise moment when the coals turn a glimmering, dusty white and stop smoking.
In my experience, if you’re a man you’ll probably get to tend the barbecue. I’m not sure but either women simply don’t enjoy barbecuing, are just indifferent to it, or they’re just not given the chance by the men present. Men who never cook in a kitchen will brazenly push aside everyone else to be the self-proclaimed king of the coals. We’ve all seen this and it’s quite interesting. Is this some kind of primal drive? Who knows.
I do know, however that cooking on a ‘real’ grill takes a level of skill and flair to create a good meal and to not end up with half the dinner burnt to a cindery crisp, and the other half in danger of rushing everyone eating it off to ‘accident and emergency’ with salmonella or similar.
Inside, I made some wet polenta, seasoned it with salt and pepper and a bit of flaked chilli. This was allowed to set into a 1/2 inch slab and once levelled out roughly was cut into large diamond shapes, ready for the searing flames.
An aubergine was sliced lengthways to iPhone thickness, smeared with olive oil, salt and pepper. I did the same with yellow peppers after cutting into halves.
Esther had salmon and I had boneless lamb steaks, both of which were coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, fresh thyme and a dusting of Lebonese spice mix. This was left to marinate for a good 30mins to 1 hour.
The aubergine went onto cook first alongside the peppers, followed by the polenta. This was all kept warm while the meat and fish were cooking. – about 15 minutes. I let the meat rest for another 10 mins and dished out onto a big plate with some rocket, lots of fresh mint (crucial), olive oil, more lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Another great thing about summer that I love are the peaches/nectarines. I first came across these flat doughnut peaches in a French market a few years ago and although the taste and texture etc. is very similar to ordinary peaches, they lend themselves particularly well to quick cooking on the grill or barbecue due to their flatness.
I halved two doughnut peaches and coated with butter. These were layed on the grill away from the recently cooked fish area. They took approx. 10 minutes each side and were ready when marked with grill-mark lines and caramelised nicely. I plated these up (2 halves each) with some ricotta, a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of broken walnuts, a bunch of redcurrants (straight from the bush) and some very nice honeycomb, made by Lick the Spoon for last week’s photo shoot that I got to take home along with some fantastic, very upmarket chocolate bars. The light creamy texture and flavour of the ricotta together with the sharp bursts of sourness from the red currants and delicate sweetness of the honeycomb worked very well with the crunchy coffee-ness of the walnuts and summery, delicate tones of the peach. Yum! (Matthew)
I was born into a big Anglo-Indian family on both my parents’ side along with another 8 siblings. We lived in a gigantic, beautiful but ramshackle Georgian house on a hill, on the outskirts of Bath with far reaching views. My dad was a teacher at a local comprehensive and my mum did the endless job of looking after her extensive clan.
Our grandparents on my dad’s side, lived with us too from the late 70s and then just my nan (pictured in the centre) after my grandad passed away a couple of years later.
We grew up with our nan; she was always around throughout my childhood and teens until I left home. She was a massively integral and central part of our family. An extremely loving and formidable (in a good way) woman, who shared a great deal of herself through an amazing ability for a good yarn. Together with my mum, she also brought with her a pride in their Anglo-Indian cuisine and longstanding family dishes adopted and made their own. A rich blend of Indian and European cooking. She also made parathas.
At least once a week she would loosen up her arthritic hands by mixing, kneading and rolling a simple dough of flour, oil and water, to make the most incredible, flaky flat breads you can imagine. On to these parathas we would spread honey, jam, nutella, or some dal from the night before. If a sweet spread was used, we would roll them up like thick pancakes and down with a cup of sweet, weak tea. Kids love parathas.
In some ways, I’m slightly sad about the fact that she made parathas and not naan breads. It would have been a lovely coincidence and I’m sure I would have grown up thinking that everyone’s nans made naans.
I think Parathas are traditionally paired with savoury dishes; used to lap up rich dals and currys and sometimes as an alternative to rice. The dominance of the naan bread in this country and contrasting unpopularity of the paratha is I feel unfounded. Don’t get me wrong, I love a fresh, puffy naan, (especially of the peshwari variety) but parathas are without doubt the king of the flat breads. If you’ve tried making your own or had good ones from a restaurant/takeaway you’ll appreciate my thinking, especially as a breakfast bread with honey. They are delicious.
I got thinking about this naan/paratha bake-off and the pros and cons of each and one thing I realised that naans had going for them was the peshwari filling. We never had filled parathas when I growing up so I just always accepted that they couldn’t be bettered. I was wrong. On experimenting with this combination, I realised that the warm, buttery flakiness together with a coconut, ground almond and sultana peshwari filling takes these flatbreads to yet another level. Drizzle some honey over them and you’re in heaven.
INGREDIENTS – for 3 small or 2 large parathas
180g or 1 mug white bread flour.
4-5 tablespoons of melted butter or ghee
approx. 80-100ml water.
pinch of salt (optional)
30g desiccated coconut
30g ground almonds
20g soft brown sugar
- put flour into bowl
- mix with salt – if you’ve decided to include salt.
- pour in 2 tablespoons of the melted butter or ghee
- mix to fine breadcrumb consistency
- gingerly add water and mix to form ball of dough.
- add more water if too dry or more flour if too wet
- remove from bowl and knead for around 5-10 minutes on lightly floured surface
- when formed into a soft pliable dough divide into how ever many parathas you’re making
- roll out the first one with a rolling pin to corrugated cardboard thickness
- drizzle over 1 tsp of melted butter, ghee or olive oil and spread around surface of paratha
- sprinkle over the peshwari mixture
- fold into itself, into thirds, then thirds again
- dust with flour if you need to
- roll out once more
- heat a heavy frying pan and add some butter, ghee or olive oil
- fry paratha for a couple of minutes and then brush oil onto the top and turn over to do the other side
- fry for approximately another 2 minutes until cooked – it should be golden with darker patches.
- make sure the edges are cooked
- while a paratha is frying, roll out the next one.
- pile them onto a plate like pancakes and keep warm
For standard parathas just omit the peshwari mixture. (Matthew)