Blackberry and sloe gin posset with rosemary shortbread

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It’s a dark, damp, wintery Sunday here at the cottage. The fire is lit, the cats are all snoozing contently and I’m feeling the need for something zingy, boozy and comforting to brighten the day, step up the winter posset.

Possets are ridiculously easy to create – back when I was a chef I always used to put lemon posset on the dessert menu, it’s delicious, very cheap to make and ready in no time at all which is an all round win for the kitchen.

I love, love LOVE sloe gin. It’s a hip flask staple on a winter walk through frosty fields and so easy to throw together in the last days of autumn. I have bottles of sloe gin in my cupboard dating back to 2010, they have outlasted several relationships and I ration them out as if they were made using the tears of unicorns. I anticipate feeling a great aching loss when the last of the 2010 batch is gone. If you are lucky enough to try some one day then know that you are indeed very special to me! If you don’t have any homemade to hand then you can easily buy a bottle, Sipsmith do a good one.

Now I love shortbread, according to my boyfriend I don’t make enough of it. He’s not a fan of adding any flavours to it mind, he’s a shortbread purist you see – plain, straight down the line, no fucking about shortbread or not at all. I, on there other hand, love lemon shortbread, vanilla shortbread and this wonderfully aromatic rosemary shortbread which goes so well with the rich posset.

If you fancy listening to me make this then click here (you will need iPlayer access as it’s on the BBC).

I’m using blackberries foraged last year that have been in the freezer, but there are plenty to be found on supermarket shelves even at this time of year.

Blackberry and sloe gin posset with rosemary shortbread

Ingredients:

For the posset:

  • 600ml double cream
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 150g blackberries
  • Pinch freshly ground pepper
  • Sloe gin (for quantity see recipe instructions)

Method:

  1.  Heat the cream and sugar together over a medium heat, stir frequently.
  2.  Bash the berries to release the juice then strain into a measuring jug, get all the juice out of the berries.
  3. Measure the juice and add enough sloe gin to bring the liquid up to 250ml.
  4. Once the cream mix is just simmering, remove from heat and stir in the blackberry mix.
  5. Pour into dessert glasses, leave to cool for 20mins then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  6.  To serve, simply dust with icing sugar and garnish with a few blackberries.

Rosemary shortbread:

  • 225g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 110g cornflour
  • 1 tsp fresh finely chopped rosemary

Method:

  1.  Heat oven to 160C.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar.
  3. Sift in flours and add rosemary.
  4. Stir, then use hands to bring it together to resemble crumble mixture.
  5. Turn onto baking parchment. Knead a few times to form rough dough. Cover with another sheet of parchment and use a rolling pin to roll out a slab around 15mm thick.
  6. Cut into rounds with a cutter or whatever shape you prefer then refrigerate for 30mins.
  7. Bake for around 12-15 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as you don’t want them to burn.
  8. Remove from oven, sprinkle with caster sugar. Leave for 2 mins then transfer to a cooling rack.
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Pan fried sea bass with smoked bacon, cockles and veg

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I long for the sea. I long for salt spray in the air and on my lips, seagulls crying out overhead and long days bobbing up and down gently on the water with a feathered rod in my hand. I miss it terribly and I crave its bounty to compensate for this coastal yearning.

I grew up on the coast you see, long before I moved to the most landlocked county in the UK, willingly I might add. You see I’d never been without it, I had no idea of the powerful hold it would have over me once gone. This recipe brings me that little bit closer to an old home.

Pan fried sea bass with smoked bacon, cockles and veg

Ingredients:

  • sea bass fillet
  • 2 tsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • small handful of smoked streaky bacon, diced
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • splash of white wine (or cider works too)
  • broad beans, skinned (I use frozen in the winter, you could also use soy beans or peas)
  • 1 head of gem lettuce, split down the middle
  • 150ml whipping cream
  • a handful of cooked cockles (not pickled)
  • a few chives, finely chopped

Method:

  1. Season the fish with a little salt and pepper. Heat the frying pan until very hot, then add the oil. Lay the fish fillet in the pan, skin-side down.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium, then leave the fish to cook for 3-4 mins, undisturbed.
  3. Flip the fillet over and fry for about 2 mins until just done, basting the skin with the oil in the pan as it cooks. Leave to rest on a warm plate, skin-side up. Cover with a plate or some foil to keep warm.
  4. Return the pan to a medium to high heat, add the butter, bacon and shallot, fry for about a minute or two until the bacon is cooked then add the booze. Once the booze has bubbled up add the cream, broad beans and lettuce. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for a few minutes or until the lettuce heart has softened  Add the cockles and heat through. Check for seasoning and add a bit of pepper if needed, you shouldn’t need any salt due to the bacon.
  5. Arrange the contents of the pan onto a plate, top with the fish and garnish with the chives.

 

Beef Pho

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Spending time in the cottage kitchen in winter is one of the best ways to stay warm, likewise, having a big bowl of seductively soothing and aromatic pho is also another layer of added comfort.

I’ve tried a number of different variations when making this Vietnamese dish, from a super easy cheats method using stock cubes to the the more time consuming 48 hr bone broth method. I’ve settled on this one though as it’s the right balance of time and ease that mean I feel like it’s been a labour of love without it being a pain in the arse.

I’m lucky enough to have my beloved Derek Jones Butchers close by who, for a donation in the charity pot, will generously furnish me with some big beef bones. Make friends with your butchers, they are your allies and offer a wealth of knowledge along with their gentle pisstaking and camaraderie. Basically if they don’t take the piss out of me for something when I go in, I begin to worry.

I add a splash of vinegar to my bone broth once it is simmering, not only does it help bring all the impurities up to the surface for skimming (when it bubbles up upon addition), but the vinegar helps extract the minerals from the bones for extra nourishing broth.

This is not a traditional pho but rather one that I keep coming back to making again and again whenever the call of the bones takes me. It’s particularly good if you are feeling under the weather or recovering from anything that’s had you on your back. If you can’t be bothered to make your own stock then a couple of good cubes dissolved in hot water will do, just don’t forget to add all the broth aromatics.

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Beef Pho

Ingredients:

For the bone broth:

  • Beef bones
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 200g ginger, unpeeled but sliced
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tblsp fish sauce
  • salt and pepper

flat ribbon rice noodles

To serve:

  • sirloin or fillet steak, very finely sliced
  • tenderstem broccoli
  • thinly sliced butternut squash or carrot
  • spring onion, chopped
  • fresh chilli, finely sliced,
  • beansprouts
  • coriander
  • fresh lime

 

Method:

  1. Put your bones into a big pot, cover with water and bring to a simmer, foam will rise to the surface. Boil for 10 minutes then drain, rinse under cold water then return the bones to the pot, cover with water and then bring to a simmer.
  2. Once simmering add the vinegar, if foam bubbles up simply remove it.
  3. Char the ginger in a dry pan then add to the pot along with the onion, garlic, star anise, cinnamon and coriander. Simmer for a good 8-12 hours with the lid on, topping up the water as you need it. Leave to cool overnight.
  4. The next day you will see a thick layer of fat has formed, scoop this off and return it to a simmer, simmer away for another 4-6 hours or longer if you prefer. I often cook mine for a total of 24 hours. Add the fish sauce and season to taste.
  5. Once ready to eat, cook the noodles according to the packet instructions then divide between your bowls. Add your sliced beef then ladle over the hot broth and garnish. Serve with a big squeeze of lime and a pat on the back for being so awesome.

 

Lemon drizzle gin cakes

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Excuse my appalling icing attempts in this post, I’ve always been utterly shit at icing, one day I’ll actually learn how to do it but until then you’ll just have to try look beyond the disastrous attempts at prettying cakes and bear with me

Gin and lemon, two happy bedfellows that sing about sunnier times and come as welcome relief in these cold winter days. These cakes are light and fluffy yet boozy and indulgent, what’s not to love?

You can hear me making these cakes by clicking here (you’ll need Iplayer as it’s a BBC clip). There’s no bad language so it’s perfectly safe to listen to in the kitchen whilst whipping up a batch of these tasty treats with the kids around.

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Lemon drizzle gin cakes:

Ingredients:

For the cake mixture:

  • 200g Stork
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • 90ml Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle Gin (or you could use a citrusy gin)

For the drizzle:

For the icing:

  • 1 x 500g tub ready made lemon frosting (yeah I totally cheated and got one from Morrisons)
  • Edible decorations such as fondant flowers and white chocolate stars.

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 170C (fan). Place 12 cupcake cases into a muffin tray
  2. Use an electric whisk to cream together the Stork and the sugar until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Add flour, eggs and zest and beat together.
  4. Gradually beat in the gin.
  5. Fill the cases around two thirds full, use all the mixture
  6. Bake for 12 minutes or until the cakes pass the skewer test.
  7. Make the drizzle by combining the ingredients in a pan, heat over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil and boil for 30 seconds them carefully remove the juniper berries.
  8. Prick the cakes all over the top with a pointed chopstick or skewer then carefully pour all of the syrup over them, leave to cool completely.
  9. Put the frosting in a piping bag, pipe all over the tops of the cakes (try and do a much better job that I did!) then decorate as you please.

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Super lazy smoky chicken traybake

 

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The wind is howling, the rain is lashing against the windows and here at the cottage we are still deeply ensconced in hibernation season – log fires, soft, warm blankets, twinkling fairy lights, full bodied wine and comfort food are all keeping spirits lifted.

These short, brooding days are brightened immensely with minimal effort in the kitchen thanks to the humble yet versatile traybake. I throw a traybake into the oven about once a week and it never fails to impress with its generosity of flavour and ease of cooking.

The foundations to this recipe remain the same whatever time of year you make it: smoky chorizo (or fresh Spanish sausage works well if you prefer), chicken thighs and veg. Easy.

Depending on what veg is in season you can make a version of this all year round with what is growing in your garden or what’s available on the shelves/on the market stall. Sometimes I add potatoes and others it may be a tin of chickpeas or simply stick to soft veg, whatever you’re in the mood for, this recipe can do it.

The below recipe is more like a rough guide, put as much in as you like, swap whatever you like, its all good.  In the summer I’ll often add slices of clementine and tarragon along with fennel and asparagus, the winter brings hardier herbs like rosemary or fennel seeds, just take the skeleton of it below and experiment away.

Easy smoky chicken traybake:

Ingredients:

  • Chanternay carrots, whole
  • Red peppers, sliced
  • Cherry tomatoes, whole
  • Baby potatoes, whole or tin of drained chickpeas
  • courgettes, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 ring spicy chorizo sliced into 1 cm rounds
  • Chicken thighs
  • Spray oil
  • Smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Heat your oven to 200C (fan).
  2. Put the veg, chicken and chorizo into a roasting tray and give a good mix, spray with the oil and sprinkle over the paprika and salt and pepper. Arrange your chicken on top of the veg and roast for about 35 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the skin deeply golden and crispy. Done 🙂

 

 

Doritos scotch eggs!

Doritos scotch egg oozing yolk

GET IN MY FACE

DORITOS SCOTCH EGGS! Yes they really are as good as they sound too!

Well it was April since I last posted anything as it’s been a rollercoaster of highs and lows here at the cottage. I had a nasty head injury and struggled to work so any recipe development went on paid work for Metro, (see my stuff here) BUT, I’m back again, revamping the site and hoping to put more time and effort now I’m pretty much back to a half functioning adult 🙂

So to kick things off here is a little recipe I did for National Sausage Week the other week, it involves crunchy cheese Doritos, sweet chilli sausage meat and a perfectly runny golden yolk, what’s not to love?

The recipe for these beauties are in this handy little film I made…

Doritos Scotch Eggs

nettle and wild garlic quiche

Wild greens quiche

nettle and wild garlic quiche

Super simple and hugely flavourful

Another of the recipes from my wild food in the kitchen talk at Old Dalby WI, this is a really simple quiche that you can chuck all your green bounty into.

Now once I’d admitted that I hadn’t made the pastry for this myself I thought I would have been politely escorted from the village hall by the WI ladies but they very generously did not revoke my speaker’s pass and allowed me to continue!

The amount of pastry from one block of Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry makes enough for one large quiche and 3 mini ones, just saying 🙂

Wild greens quiche:

a kitchen full of foraged wild garlic, nettles, goose grass and chickweed

Assorted wild greens from a gentle forage

  • A few handfuls of assorted gathered young green shoots. I used: nettle tops, chickweed, dandelion, wild garlic and goose grass, they will shrink right down.
  • 40g butter
  • half a white onion, finely chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 200ml double cream
  • 80 ml milk
  • plenty of freshly ground pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 pack Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry (or a batch of your own properly made, wonderful shortcrust pastry 🙂  )

1: Wash your greens and blanch in boiling water for a couple of minutes, drain, squeeze out any excess liquid and roughly chop.

blanched wild greens in a bowl

Blanched wild leaves and shoots

2: Roll out your pastry and put into a tart tin with removable bottom, use a bit of pastry to push the sides and base down. Cover with some baking parchment and fill with baking beans and bake in an oven heated to 180C for about 15 minutes.

3: Remove the parchment and beans, gently prick the base with a fork and return to the oven for about 7-10 minutes.

4: Fry the onion in the butter occur a low heat until soft but not coloured, allow to cool.

5: Mix the flour together with one egg and a little of the milk to form a paste, add the remaining eggs, cream and milk and mix really well.

6:Add the cooled onions and butter and season generously, add nutmeg if using.

7: Arrange the greens over the tart base and then pour over the mixture,

Arrange a few nettle leaves on the top, use gloves!

Arrange a few nettle leaves on the top, use gloves!

8: Reduce the oven temperature to 170C and bake the tart for around 35-40 minutes.

souffle/quiche!

souffle/quiche!

9: Once the tart is baked, trim off the pastry edges to tidy it up ( I haven’t yet done this in the pic above) and serve either warm straight away of allow to cool.

Wild garlic pesto ciabatta rolls

Crunchy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside

Crunchy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside

Last night I was in Old Dalby giving a talk and cookery demo to the lovely ladies of their WI about incorporating wild food into the kitchen. Regular readers of this blog and those who follow my Twitter account will know I am a huge fan of raiding the wild larder for my recipes so it was wonderful to see so many people in the village hall who were keen to know more about it.

I brought along plenty of things to try and will be popping the recipes up on here over with the tag “Old Dalby WI” if anyone wants to find them all.

First up are these little wild garlic pesto ciabatta rolls.  I always make a HUGE batch of wild garlic pesto when the season hits, I put plenty into jars and store in the fridge and the rest I portion off into ziplock bags and freeze flat allowing me to break some off throughout the year and stir into pasta, make more bread, serve with lamb, make hummus, basically I use it in most things!

wild garlic pesto

Late night and with little light for the phone to take the pic but you get the idea 🙂

Wild garlic pesto:

  • several handfuls wild garlic, washed and roughly chopped
  • enough olive oil or rapeseed oil to make a good paste
  • 100g chopped toasted hazelnuts (Morrisons sell these in 100g packets)
  • a couple of handfuls of freshly grated grand padano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place the leaves in a food processor and blitz, they will stick to the sides so start to slowly pour in the oil as the blades spin, you can add more leaves as they break down. Keep adding leaves and oil until you get a consistency you are happy with.
  2. Add the nuts and cheese and season, blitz some more and add a little more oil to loosen.
  3. Decant intio sterilised jars and cover with a layer of oil.

Wild garlic pesto ciabatta bread rolls: (makes 12)

wild garlic pesto ciabatta bread rolls

 

  • 400g strong white bread flour
  • 350ml warm water
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons runny honey
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for brushing)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • a few tablespoons of wild garlic pesto
  • blue poppy seeds (optional)

1: Put your flour and salt into a mixer, give it a stir and make a well in the centre.

2: Add the honey to the warm water and stir to dissolve, add the yeast and stir then the oil. Pour into the flour.

3: Have the bread hook attached to your mixer, start the machine on slow speed then increase to medium high, mix for a good 10-15 minutes or until the dough has formed a soft, smooth ball (my mixer is a bit rubbish so it took a while but just keep an eye on it).

4: Put the dough in an oiled bowl (the mixer bowl is fine) and cover, allow to rise until doubled in size.

wild garlic pesto bread4: Tip the dough onto a floured surface and divide into  two more manageable halves.

5: Roll and stretch the dough into as close to a rectangle as possible then cover with a layer of pesto.

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6: Roll lengthways from bottom to top, stretching as you go to make a swiss roll kinda thing then slice into rounds and place these into an oiled muffin tin.

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7: Cover and allow to rise for an hour or so in a warm place.

8:  Sprinkle with some blue poppy seeds and bake in an oven heated to 180C for around 25-30 minutes, during the last 5 minutes brush the tops with more olive oil. The rolls are ready when you tap on the base of one and it sounds hollow.

SOOOOOO good

SOOOOOO good

 

Simple roasted leeks with smoked Lincolnshire Poacher cheese

Let the leeks shine through

Let the leeks shine through

The humble leek is so often overlooked as a star in its own right. Google “leek recipes” on an image search and you’re met with recipe after recipe of pies and tarts and soups but to simply roast it really allows this wonderful allium to shine.

I always grow leeks in my tiny garden but once they are all devoured I turn to my wonderful growers Bridget and Maureen over the border in Lincolnshire. I buy pretty much all my veg from these fab ladies every Sunday at my local car boot sale as they can’t be beaten on quality, freshness and price.

What better to accompany these Lincolnshire leeks than some finely grated smoked Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, an easy match made in flavour heaven and the easiest of starters or side dishes to make.

The charred outer skins take on a wonderful flavour and texture whilst inside the leek is soft and sweet.  A goat’s cheese or Wensleydale would also work beautifully with this dish simply crumbled over before serving.

Roast leeks with smoked Lincolnshire Poacher cheese:

  • a few leeks, trimmed and washed
  • a fine covering of cooking spray (I used Flora olive spray, you can use butter but the spray allows the flavour of the leeks and cheese to be unimpeded)
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt flakes
  • a light grating of smoked Lincolnshire Poacher cheese
  • a few sprigs fresh Greek basil
trim your leeks to fit your roasting tin

trim your leeks to fit your roasting tin

  1. Trim the leeks to fit in a roasting tray. Spray lightly and sprinkle over some salt and pepper.
  2. Cook until they look like this

    Cook until they look like this

    Roast in a very hot oven (I use my max setting of 225C) for about 10 minutes or until they look like the above picture.

  3. Ready

    Ready

    Use a microplane to finely grate over your cheese, sprinkle with the Greek basil and serve immediately.

Homemade rye crisp breads with wasabi cream cheese and smoked salmon

Addicted.

Addicted.

It’s taken me a long time to try Peters Yard crispbreads but when a free box arrived in my goats cheese delivery from Brockhall Farm (best goats cheese EVER) just before Christmas I had a nibble and was immediately hooked. Those wafer thin biscuits are  SO good with cheese and a dollop of chutney but MY GOD they cost a bloody FORTUNE to buy.

The only logical option was to make my own and by my second attempt I had perfected the art of getting wafer thin crisp breads that have the perfect snap to them and are boosted by a selection of my favourite toppings.

So the crisp breads are perfect and what about the topping? Well the fab folks at The Wasabi Company sent me some of their fresh wasabi rhizome that they grow down in Dorset, along with a plant for me to plant and grow myself (whoop!). I used to use lots of fresh wasabi when I lived in Japan, we would grind some on a piece of shark skin at my friend’s sake bar in Kyoto and sip sake in between doses of wasabi or miso paste.

The tubes of “wasabi paste” that you buy over here are made up mostly of regular horseradish and only a tiny percentage of actual wasabi so finding out that it’s grown right here in the UK was a revelation, thanks Pam Lloyd and Polly Akielan!

Rye crispbreads:

  • 250g rye flour
  • big pinch sea salt flakes
  • 200g warm water
  • 9g fast action dried yeast
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey

Toppings: (optional)

  • caraway seeds
  • poppy seeds
  • sesame seeds
  • onion seeds
  • dill seeds
  • dukkah

homemade rye crispbreads

  1. In a large bowl combine the flour and salt.
  2. Mix the water, yeast and honey in a jug then mix into the flour.
  3. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour.
  4. Heat your oven to 220C. Get a sheet of baking paper and lie it on a flat baking tray, flour it lightly.
  5. Take a small bit of dough (about the size of a ping pong ball), flour it well and also your hands. Put it on the baking paper and make a fist. Start to hit the dough with the flat side of your fist from the centre of the dough outwards, stretching it by pounding, keep it nice and floured. Once very thin sprinkle a topping on and hit it to embed with your fist again then prick it all over with a fork..
  6. Repeat that until your baking sheet is full then bake for around 8-9 minutes or until it is crisp. Repeat the process until all your mix is used up. These keep in a sealed tin for a few days easily.

Wasabi cream cheese and smoked salmon topping:

wasabi cream cheese-1

 

This bit couldn’t be easier, simply grate your fresh wasabi and stir into cream cheese, yep that’s it. Spread your cream cheese on the crispbread, top with smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon, some freshly ground black pepper, sea salt flakes, chopped fresh dill and cress. So easy and so addictive.

 

Raw courgette “hummus”

It sounds like its going to be horrid but is really, REALLY good. Win.

It sounds like its going to be horrid but is really, REALLY good. Win.

For the last 2 weeks I’ve been living on juices of fresh vegetables and fruits. Yep, three times a day I fire up my juicer and that’s my day’s food sorted. Yes this sounds pretty weird but a few weeks ago I was feeling so poorly with a bug that was going around that I started to think a great deal about the body’s ability to heal itself.

I figured that my body wants to heal itself, indeed it does heal itself constantly throughout the day and in order to do this it needs me to give it the right nutrients. I decided to try eliminating any bad nutrients (ALL the funs stuff) and JUST give it the good stuff to see how that affected it, if at all.

The yellow courgette hummus is oh so pretty

The yellow courgette hummus is oh so pretty

It was pretty tough to start as I also write for Metro and am commissioned to create a recipe to accompany each episode of The Great British Bake Off so I’ve been baking a HUGE amount of delicious food that I wasn’t able to eat (OK so I HAD to try a bit).

The hardest may have been Pie Week as I made about 20 pork pies and they were all kinds of awesome including this gorgeous monster pork and piccalilli pie with homemade piccalilli…

This pie is the pie of the gods.

This pie is the pie of the gods.

BUT I persevered and I feel SO much better for it. Every now and then I cheat and make something to eat, always raw and packed full of nutrients though and this courgette hummus has become quite a regular fixture on my “cheat” menu. I got the idea from a brilliant book called Eat Yourself Beautiful by Lee Holmes which I was sent earlier this year, it’s an absolutely brilliant book and I highly recommend it. In the book Lee uses blanched almonds as the base with the courgette but I prefer the Omega mix and played around with the recipe until I found something that worked for me.

Raw courgette hummus

  • 1 medium courgette, grated (skin and all)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 handful Omega seed mix (available from shops, contains sesame, linseed, sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • juice of half a lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch sea salt flakes
  • bit of water to loosen if needed

Simply put everything into a food processor and blitz until smooth, sprinkle with some more Omega seed mix.

Boozy lemon and almond drizzle cake

Boozy len and almond cake, hells yeah.

Boozy lemon and almond cake, Hells yeah.

I’m not going to waste any superlatives describing this cake, it rocks in all the best ways, end off.

Limoncello lemon drizzle cake

Ingredients:

For the cake: (makes 2 loaf tins)

  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • zest of 3 unwaxed lemons
  • 5 eggs
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds

For the drizzle:

  • juice of 3 lemons
  • 150g caster sugar

For the icing:

  • 80g icing sugar
  • 60ml limoncello
  • lemon zest to sprinkle (optional)
lemon drizzle cake-1

poked with a skewer, drizzled and cooling in their tins

Method:

  1. heat fan oven to 180C. Line 2 loaf tins.
  2. cream together the butter and sugar, beat in the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each egg is thoroughly incorporated. Beat in the zest and poppy seeds.
  3. Stir in the ground almonds and baking powder followed by the flour. Do not over mix.
  4. Bake for approximately 50 minutes.
  5. Combine the lemon juice and caster sugar in a small saucepan and heat on a medium heat. Once the cakes are cooked poke them all over the top with a skewer then pour over the drizzle and leave to cool completely in the tins.
  6. Once cool make the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and limoncello. Remove the cold cakes from the tins and drizzle with the icing and sprinkle some more lemon zest over the top.

Humous with zataar and sumac

healthy humous

Like its spelling, everyone has their own way of making humous, I like mine without loads of oil but rammed full of added spices so I can tuck in to mountains of it guilt free. This is a really simple recipe, I vary it slightly depending on what fresh spices I’ve acquired and if guests are about I usually add more olive oil and less water (it’s the chef in me I just can’t help it).

Humous with zataar and sumac

  • 1 tin cooked chickpeas, half drained
  • 2 teaspoons dried garlic granules (sweeter than using raw)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 heaped tablespoon tahini
  • large pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch sea salt flakes
  • 1 tablespoon zataar
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • few tablespoons cold water
  • a sprinkle of zataar, sumac and a drizzle of olive oil to serve
  1. Combine the chickpeas, tahini, lemon, garlic and spices in a food processor.
  2. Blitz and loosen with more water until you have a smooth, creamy consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  3. Scoop into a bowl, sprinkle with the extra zataar, sumac and olive oil and leave to sit if you can for an hour at room temperature to allow the flavours to develop.

Superfood salad with cocoa nibs

superfood salad

Usually if anyone mentions the word “Quinoa” I’m immediately turned off a dish, it’s often made so badly that it resembles a soggy mush of squirly disappointment but if cooked well and combined with some peaky flavours it’s actually rather nutty and lovely and this salad proves just that.

Superfood salad with cocoa nibs

  • 2 handfuls raw quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon powdered veg stock
  • 1 small orange
  • 2 handfuls of frozen board beans, defrosted in water and drained
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa nibs
  • 3 tablespoons salad sprinkle mix (mixture of seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, linseed etc)
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1 handful blanched almonds
  • 1 yellow chilli finely chopped
  • 1 handful of feta, crumbled
  • 1 handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cook the quinoa according to packet instructions but add the stock to the water. Once cooked drain in a sieve and leave to cool completely, this will also help dry it out a bit.
  2. Slice the orange into rounds and sear on a very hot griddle, turning over a couple of times then slice each round into quarters.
  3. Combine everything in a bowl, you can drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over if you fancy it, leave for at least an hour at room temperature to allow all the flavours to mix.

Kickass parsley and fennel salad

parsley and fennel salad

I had a meeting in Leicester on Wednesday so took the opportunity to head to Radio Leicester and catch up with the wonderful Ben Jackson with whom I do the Food Friday cooking items. Ben had just been at the Chelsea Flower Show the previous day and was telling me about an amazing Lebanese meal he went for in Knightsbridge at a restaurant called Randa, he raved about a parsley dish that I knew I needed to go and experiment with.

I’ve been sprinkling this on everything: BBQ’d fish and meat, flat breads smothered in humous and my personal favourite is to dive into it using a piece of crispy smoked bacon as a spoon, yeah, all the ace.

Parsley and fennel salad

  • 1 large bunch flat leave parsley, chopped
  • 1 large handful fennel fronds, chopped
  • 1 red banana shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane
  • zest 1 lemon, grated on a microplane
  • juice 1 lemon
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 5 radishes very thinly sliced
  • 1 handful cherry tomatoes, cooked on a very hot griddle for a minute or two
  • pinch sea salt flakes
  • pinch freshly ground pepper
  • drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • pea shoots, chervil and edible flowers to garnish

Just combine everything in a bowl, stir well and leave for at least 2 hours if you can at room temperature before serving then keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Black Forest chocolate brownies

Gooey, fudgy awesome.

Gooey, fudgy, awesome.

So yesterday was my first day back doing BBC Radio Leicester’s Food Friday show with Ben Jackson since my knee operation last month. I’m still wobbly and having to use a crutch or two but by far the most agonising thing has been not being able to stand up to cook. It still hurts but my body feels completely out of kilter and my mind suffers if I can’t spend at least a small amount of time each day creating stuff in my kitchen.

One of the positives of being on crutches is that I’ve had to get a cleaner to come and help me around the house, she’s all kinds of ace and as it turns out an awesome cake maker who was telling me about a Black Forest cheesecake she made recently, a lightbulb flashed on in my mind and these rather kickass fudgy brownies were created.

You can hear me making this, it’s only 11 minutes long, by clicking on this link where you will also find the recipe. We always have a blast in my kitchen and yesterday was no different, although he did edit out my “only special people get to drink out of Lady Diana’s cup” line….

What I also forgot about was the “surprise” that I mentioned in the clip, this is simply to swap the cherries for Cadburys mini eggs, perfect for Easter 🙂

Black Forest Chocolate Brownies (makes 12)

  • 300g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 250g dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 1 handful dried cherries
  • 2 handfuls walnut pieces
  • 1 capful vanilla extract
  • Pinch sea salt flakes
  • 80g plain flour
  • 360g caster sugar
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 x 400g can dark cherries in syrup, drained

For the glaze: (optional not essential)

  • 2 heaped spoonfuls morello cherry jam
  • 50ml kirsch or other alcohol such as dark rum

For the topping:

  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 3 heaped tablespoons mascarpone
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
Method:

  1. Heat oven to 180C. Put the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water and melt until silky and thoroughly combined then add the dried cherries and nuts.
  2. Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder in a separate bowl and stir to mix.
  3.  Add the flour mx to the melted chocolate and gently stir to combine then add the eggs and continue to mix gently with a spatula until it is all thoroughly combined.
  4.  Line a 25cm x 25cm baking tray with greased baking paper that overhangs by a few cm to make it easy to remove the brownie later, and pour in the brownie mix, scatter over half of the cherries and push them into the mix.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes (it will be quite wobbly, it will harden on cooling) then remove from oven and leave to cool completely in the baking tray.
  6. Put the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 4 minutes. Brush over the cold brownie.
  7. Remove the brownie from the tin.
  8. Beat the whipping cream until firm then ad the mascarpone and mix well, put it in a piping bag and pipe over the top of the brownie to cover. Decorate with the remaining cherries and a dusting of coca.

 

Hazy Breakfast Martini

Get your brunch off to the best of starts with one of these.

Get your brunch off to the best of starts with one of these.

Well it’s been quite some time since my last post as I had to take some time out, I’ve had knee surgery and since coming out of hospital 14 days ago I’ve been so foggy with painkillers and pain that the thought of writing a post was as daunting as writing a novel. I’m  still laid up in bed wearing a knee brace but on Sunday my friend Andy came round, so excited was I to see someone who didn’t work for the NHS that I created this beauty of a cocktail to celebrate.

This gem of a tipple will kick the ass of your hangover out the back door and pep you up a treat, where the traditional Breakfast Martini uses marmalade and gin I’m using a whisky marmalade and vanilla vodka, basically because I’m stuck indoors and can’t get out to buy anything but it turns out it’s WAY nicer to boot.

Ultimate Hazy Breakfast Martini (serves 2)

  • 1 large heaped tablespoon whisky marmalade
  • 70ml vanilla vodka
  • 50ml Cointreau
  • 25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Put a few cubes if ice into 2 martini glasses and top with water to chill down.
  2. Put the marmalade and vodka into a cocktail shaker and stir until dissolved.
  3. Add the Cointreau and lemon juice and fill shaker with ice cubes. Seal and shake until the outside of the metal shaker is frosted then discard the iced water from the martini glasses and strain the cocktail between them. In about 5 minutes you will feel pretty awesome.

Epic scampi sandwich with easy homemade tartare sauce

like a posh fish finger sandwich but better

like a posh fish finger sandwich but better

So last night I tweeted this pic of my dinner, a scampi sandwich with homemade tartare sauce and then was flooded with responses on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Some shocked that I would put scampi in a sandwich, which seems odd as they are perfectly happy with a fish finger sandwich, most now with hardcore cravings for scampi or fish finger sandwiches, but also many wanting to know how I do my tartare sauce, well I cheat.

If you want to make your own mayonnaise from scratch for this then Nigel Slater has a good recipe but if I’m having a scampi sandwich for tea it means I’m tired and time short and need some quick comfort food and not to be faffing about making my own mayo, which to be fair I never bother with anyway at the best of times.

Ingredients:

  • handful of good frozen whole tail scampi
  • few leaves of iceberg or gem lettuce
  • sliced cucumber
  • 2 slices of bread (don’t go posh here, go for a squishy one rather than crusty one)
  • tartare sauce (see below)

Tartare sauce:

cheats easy tartare sauce

  • 2 heaped tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 10 cornichons, chopped
  • 1 heaped tablespoon mini capers (the larger ones are too vinegary)
  • juice and finely grated zest of half a lemon
  • handful chopped parsley
  • half a finely diced shallot (I love onion in sandwiches)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic infused creamed horseradish (from The Garlic Farm)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch smoked sea salt to taste

Method:

  1. I prefer to oven roast my scampi to avoid an oily sandwich but cook as you prefer until golden and crispy.
  2. Make the tartare sauce by simply stirring everything together.
  3. Spread a layer of tartare on each bit of bread then a layer of lettuce, cucumber and then scampi, top with the other slice of bread, slice in half and behold the wonder of an epic scampi sandwich.

Winter salad of charred chicory with Wensleydale, hazelnuts, clementine, dandelion and fennel

Winter salads are pretty kickass

Winter salads are pretty kickass

Well it’s been ages since I’ve had time to post anything, I’ve been off gallivanting down in the South West rather a lot and dashing about working on lots of little projects. Christmas was a time of hedonistic indulgence, I’m still in Christmas mode to be honest, my tree is still up which means by Festive Rules it’s still fine to just eat cheese for breakfast.

I’m always finding chicory in the Reduced Section at the shops, people seem to be a bit nervous about using this bitter leaf, this works in my favour as it means they are always in cheap supply.

I like to use a crumbly cheese, creamy with a bit of tang, a good Wensleydale works really well, don’t go for the cheap stuff though as they have very little flavour. Feta works well as does a fresh ewe’s curd.

Ingredients:

  • leaves from half head of chicory, separated.
  • 1 tsp butter
  • juice from 1 clementine plus zest
  • handful hazelnuts
  • crumbled Wenseydale cheese (feta is also lovely)
  • few young dandelion and rocket leaves
  • fennel fronds
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • tiny sprinkle of smoked salt

Method:

  1. Preheat a non stick frying pan over a high heat, place individual chicory leaves over bottom of pan making sure they don’t overlap. Char then turn over and cook the other side.
  2. Add the butter and orange juice and swirl pan to coat, it will go sticky very quickly. Put leaves on a plate then add the hazelnuts to the hot pan and cook whilst swirling the pan so they heat and release flavours but don’t catch as they will taste bitter.
  3. Remove from heat, crumble cheese over leaves, add toasted hazelnuts, young leaves and finely grated clementine zest then season.

Orzo with muttchetta, cavelo nero and sprout tops

quick phone snap of muttony comfort food before it was wolfed down

quick phone snap of muttony comfort food before it was wolfed down

I’ve been all over the country recently, I was at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC in Birmingham last Wednesday then straight off to Cornwall to The Scarlet Hotel and Spa and the beautiful Tregothnan Tea Estate, posts about all of that coming soon but it has meant I’ve been snowed under catching up with work since I returned.

Yesterday I found myself sat at my computer at 4pm, freezing cold as I’d not lit the fires, in the dark as I’d been concentrating so much I hadn’t realised the night had arrived and most importantly, ravenously hungry as I’d still not had breakfast. This called for something quick, comforting and nutritious.

This dish is wonderfully comforting, the deep, sweet muttony flavour from the mutchetta coats every grain of orzo and the greens are delicately steamed to retain all their flavour, colour and texture. It’s a bit of a joy this dish and I’ll be making it over and over again.

Orzo with muttchetta, cavelo nero and sprout tops:

  • 1 handful diced muttchetta
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 handfuls orzo
  • hot chicken stock, enough to cover the orzo with about 5mm extra
  • 2 handfuls chopped cavelo nero, tough ends of stalks removed
  • 1 sprout top roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  1. Gently fry the muttchetta in a dry pan, it will release its lovely flavourful fat and when it starts to crisp add the onions and garlic. Stir to get everything coated in the muttchetta fat and cook until softened.
  2. Add the orzo, give it a good stir then pour in the hot stock. Cover with a tight lid, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for 4 minutes, no stirring!
  3. Scatter the cavelo nero and sprout tops over the orzo and recover with the lid, allow to steam for a further 4 minutes, still no stirring!
  4. Remove lid and stir, the orzo may have formed a bit of a crust at the bottom of the pan, this is a good thing in my book, like the crust on the bottom of a well made paella.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and dive in.

My sous vide cooking experiment: Week 1

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen me getting all excited about a new bit of kit that has arrived in my kitchen courtesy of Sous Vide Tools. Now if you know me in real life you will also know that it’s pretty much the only gadget apart from an electric whisk that’s now in my old cottage.

The chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association had a dodgy meat experience in Bangkok 15 years ago which was enough to turn him vegetarian, similarly 5 years ago I had a dodgy sous vide experience at a swanky hotel in Belfast that saw me declare sous vide as the death of cooking and never looked back.

So when I was asked if I fancied trialling some sous vide kit I knew they had quite a battle on their hands to change my mind. That hotel kitchen had ruined a perfectly good, carefully sourced bit of beef and turned it to textureless mush five years ago and it had put me right off. Sous vide was the Devil, right?

Well, it turns out that it’s pretty damn hard to screw up a steak using sous vide, you really have to go out of your way to do it to the point that I now believe it was some kind of deliberate, calculated meat hating vegan that prepared that steak. What that chef had done to that poor bit of cow I don’t know but I hope to their god he or she isn’t still doing it.

So last Saturday I headed off to Cambridge to meet up with Alex from Sous Vide Tools at the Steamer Trading Cookshop where he was running demos of the Thermo Circulator that I was going to be receiving. I told Alex about my “Steak from Hell” experience and he perked up: “Wait until you try this bit of bavette that’s been cooking for 29 hours” he said. Oh god, I thought, here we go again. Then, I tasted it. Oh, actually that’s beautifully tender with great texture and still pink, not tasteless mush AT ALL, and bavette, also known as flank steak is a really tough cut. Hmmm OK hit me with your next bit of wizardry Alex.

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Alex showing me the amazing smoking gun whist simultaneously trying not to set off the smoke alarms

Next up was a chicken breast, perfectly moist and intensely chicken-y and cooked in under 1 hour. So not everything takes DAYS? Ok, so it looked like everything I thought I knew about sous vide was actually totally and utterly wrong.

I was then off to eat lunch at Alimentum which holds 1 Michelin star under the care of Chef Patron Mark Poynton. What happened next was by far the most incredible dining experience I’d had since Comerc24 in Barcelona five years ago. His food made total sense, it was exciting, surprising and perfect in every way possible. One week later and I still think about a dish of pork, langoustine and caviar at least three times a day.

some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

Some of the courses I had at Alimentum, extraordinarily good food.

I had arrived in Cambridge highly dubious about sous vide cooking and what benefit it could have for me in my own kitchen, I left in complete awe of Mark’s cooking and excitedly impatient for my kit to arrive on Monday.

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that's full of dinner rather than goldfish

Like having a fish tank in the kitchen that’s full of dinner rather than goldfish

Monday arrived as did the kit, a Thermo Circulator, vac pac machine, bags and a big plastic container. You don’t actually need the container, you can attach the Thermo Circulator to a big stock pot or even a bucket. I unpacked everything and got straight to work, I filled it with warm water and got rid of my temperamental toaster to make room for it on the counter. But what to cook first? Something simple I figured, I had some bargain no frills Tesco carrots in the fridge, perfect. I peeled them, vac packed them and whacked them in at 85C for 30 minutes.

A simple test of the sous vide's abilities

A simple test of the sous vide’s abilities

I took the carrots out and popped them in the fridge for later. Reduced the sous vide temp down to 64C and decided to try my own chicken breast experiment:

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Less than 1 minute to prepare then just forget about it for an hour.

Sherry and porcini chicken breast:

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 4 dried porcini mushrooms
  • a few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1 fennel frond
  • salt and pepper
  • about 60ml Amontillado sherry

Vac packed and in the sous vide at 64C for 60 minutes. During the last 20 minutes I returned the vac packed bag of carrots to warm up then just put everything into a bowl. Easy, ace, nutritious, packed full of flavour and boozy, whats not to love? I’d really like this on a bed of noodles or rice if I fancy a bit more carbs.

Some more recipes from those few days…

48 hour beef ribs in quince gravy:

About 6 mins of actual "work" to make this incredible ribs

About 6 mins of actual “work” to make this incredible ribs

  • 1 beef rib sawn into 4 pieces by my butcher
  • about 60ml port
  • few slivers dried garlic
  • 2 bayleaves
  • 1 teaspoon Dorsetshire Sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons homemade quince jam (you could use membrillo)

Put everything except the quince jam into a bag and vac pac. Sous vide at 64C (so I could also cook chicken at same time) for 48 hours. Open bag, remove ribs from liquid, pan fry in very hot pan to sear then remove and set aside under foil. Pour liquid from bag into pan, add quince jam, stir and and reduce until thick and sticky (about 5 minutes). Strain liquid over the ribs.

Whipped bone marrow butter with smoked salt:

This is something I’m REALLY proud of. It’s pretty awesome even if I do say so myself and I’m having it on everything, it’s magic butter, everything tastes better when smothered in it.

bone marrow butter

  • 4 Pieces of marrow bone about 4cm diameter x 7 cm tall (mine were straight out of my freezer)
  • 2 x 250g packs unsalted butter
  • few pinches halen Môn smoked salt (I like it salty).
  • (apple smoking chips and a smoking gun if you want to smoke them after)

Put the bone pieces into a bag and vacuum seal. Sous vide at 64C for about 2 hours. Pour into a bowl and chill in fridge to set. Meanwhile whip the butter until smooth and light. Remove any stringy bits from the marrow, break up with a fork and whisk into the whipped butter until thoroughly combined and fluffy, season with some smoked Halen Môn salt.

If you want to keep some and freeze some then portion off and roll into cylinders using cling film. Chill in fridge to set. Sous Vide Tools also sent me a smoking gun to play with, IT’S AWESOME, so I unwrapped a couple of the set butter cylinders and placed them in a big bowl along with some whisky (yeah smoked whisky rocks), covered with cling and smoked with some apple wood chips before re-clinging and returning to the fridge.

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

The bone marrow, the smoking and the bone marrow pasta

That bone marrow pasta dish is such a thing of wonder that I’m going to do a separate recipe post for it, it’s a heavenly, silky, meaty, carby delight.

So theres a few recipes from the last few days, I have a pork belly that was brined for 12 hours and bathed for 36 that is currently being pressed in the fridge and 6 hefty ox cheeks currently languishing at 60C for 48 hours ready for my birthday dinner party tomorrow. Oh and yeah there is also some gin being infused with apple and cardamom floating about in there. It’s brilliant. I love it.

Sous Vide Tools are offering a really incredible deal for readers of this blog, I NEVER do things like this but I’ve been so impressed with the kit that I am really happy to do this offer. Basically they are very generously knocking a whopping £100 off their usual price of £449.99 (incl VAT)for their Polyscience Creative Promotion. This is a saving of £100 on the normal package price and a saving of £121.77 on the items if bought individually so a brilliant deal! I’m totally thrilled about this! All you need to do is either call Sous Vide Tools on 0800 678 5001or email them at enquiries@sousvidetools.com and quote the name “HAZEL” for your discount. This offer ends December 31st 2013 so it’s the perfect Christmas present to yourself or someone you really like!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

A WHOPPING £100 off the RRP!

I’ll keep posting my sous vide recipes that I’m working on, I’m still to do fish and desserts yet.They do wonderful things to eggs just look at this duck egg…

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

The most perfect duck egg EVERY time

Halloween cocktail: Lychee martini

Halloween martini-1So it’s Halloween this week so what better excuse to make some frightfully potent cocktails? This is what I made the gin jelly worms for the other day, because you can never haver too much gin in a martini.

My love for gin knows no bounds

My love for gin knows no bounds

I am not a fan of vodka, I find it boring, give me a gin martini any day. I’ve also only gone and written a piece about how to make your own gin for Metro. DO IT, it’s SO easy and in just 3 days you will have the most deliciously aromatic gin you could imagine!

I use frozen blackberries as they help keep the martini chilled. You can put the blackberries in the lychees in advance then freeze them so they keep your drink super chilled without watering it down.

  • 60ml gin (my homemade one is heavy on the cardamom and works really beautifully)
  • 40ml lychee juice (from a tin of canned lychees)
  • 1 canned lychee
  • 1 blackberry
  • a few gin jelly worms
  1. Put the blackberry inside the lychee and freeze.
  2. Fill a martini glass with ice and water to chill it down
  3. Place the gin and lychee juice in a tumbler filled with ice and stir until thoroughly chilled, do not shake, you will water it down, just gently stir.
  4. Pour away the iced water and put some gin jelly worms in the bottom of the glass, pour over the gin and juice and garnish with the frozen fruit.

 

How to make mutton bacon (macon) and mutton panchetta (muttchetta)

mutton panchetta

Out of the cure and up to hang

I love bacon, when dry cured and smoked by someone that cares it can be classed as medicinal. Many a hangover has been soothed and staunch vegetarian has been broken by some well loved bacon. I also love mutton, that deep extra “lambiness” of an animal that has spent a good couple of years gently grazing on good British grass can’t be beaten. Great mutton needs to be hung for a good three weeks though in my opinion so that it becomes tender, then you can cook it pink as you would lamb or hogget.

The highlight of my day was discovering how kickass the cured mutton breast was. Deep, intense mutton flavour with a sweet saltiness and full of the aromas, just wonderful and completely addictive.

I’ve recently returned from spending time at the amazing new countryside skills and cookery school that is Vale House Kitchen near Bath. I really can’t recommend this place enough, they teach everything from fly fishing and how to prepare, cook and smoke your catch to game shooting and its cookery, foraging, bread making, the works. I wrote about them for Metro  and I fell in love with it so much (do give it a read and you’ll see why I love them so!) I’m heading back soon to learn how to shoot, yep me with a gun, bring it on!

Me with the font of food knowledge that is Tim Maddams

Me with the font of food knowledge that is Tim Maddams

Anyway, whilst at Vale House I spent some time with their head tutor Tim Maddams who you will probably know from the River Cottage programmes. After our day spent trout fishing and smoking he then prepped a loin of pork to be turned into bacon and IT WAS SO EASY. I’ve been asking my lovely butchers at Derek Jones in Melton for a while now about getting in another mutton so I can make some mutton bacon, they wait until enough people ask then get one in and divide it up between anyone that has bagsied a bit. I popped in the other day to say “Hi” as I’d been away for weeks only to be told that they had 2 mutton breasts set aside for me for my mutton bacon experiment. Ace, it was serendipity and I was off!

muttchetta

Two breasts of mutton, deboned came to around £4 as it’s just £1.50/kg, another reason why this is bloody brilliant. For the cure I opted for roughly equal sugar to salt, I went with a mix of dark brown and light brown sugar as that’s what I had on the shelves. Herbs and spices wise I had left the fennel in the garden to go to seed and that needed cutting back so that mixed with various bits and pieces from the pantry was all I needed.

Ingredients:

  • 2 deboned breasts of mutton, total weight 2.4kg
  • 1.4kg salt
  • 750g dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 600g light brown soft sugar
  • 1 handful juniper berries, very lightly squeezed to open
  • 1 heaped tablespoon green cardamom pods (lightly crushed just to open)
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • stalks, trimmings and fronds of some fresh fennel from the garden
  • 2 tablespoons peppercorns
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1 sprig rosemary lightly bruised with a pestle to release oils
  • 1 small bunch fresh sage leaves lightly bruised with a pestle
Muttchetta

From left: the base layer of cure, after day 1, morning of Day 3

Method:

  1. Combine all the cure ingredients together in a big bowl.
  2. Thoroughly wash and dry the salad tray from the bottom of your fridge, yeah move those salad leaves and vegetables aside and clear the way for MEAT. Put a layer of cure mix in the bottom.
  3. Place one of the breasts on top and squish down. Cover with a layer of cure then put the other one on top and press down. Cover with another layer of cure so it’s completely covered. Don’t use all the cure mix though.
  4. Place in the fridge overnight. The following day pour off any liquid, flip the breasts around and rub more cure into any nooks and crannies, sprinkle more cure over.
  5. Repeat this the following day.
  6. On day 3 I felt the breasts were ready. They are only thin and they had firmed up nicely, if you have thick ones then you may need an extra day before this step. Rinse off the cure and pat dry. You now have mutton bacon, or macon. Fry a bit off and BEHOLD ITS AWESOMENESS.
  7. Weigh each piece and make a note of the weight. You can simply keep it as is and store in the fridge to cook as you please, as they are big I’d recommend cutting into portions and vac packing/freezing it to use as needed. I have however decided to make muttchetta so am air drying until they lose 30% of their weight. I’ve hung them in a cool place and will be keeping an eye on the weight loss until they reach 30%. I’ll let you know how I get on.
muttchetta

From left: rinsing off the cure, hanging the cured breasts, side view, cooking up some to try

The highlight of my day has been discovering how kickass the cured mutton breast was. Deep, intense mutton flavour with a sweet saltiness and full of the aromats, just wonderful and completely addictive. I’m hooked now, well and truly, I wouldn’t be surprised if over the coming weeks I attempt to cure EVERYTHING I can find. Watch this space.

 

100% spelt flour loaf (with 2 minutes of kneading)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetMy cottage is old, with thick walls and high ceilings, in the summer its wonderfully cool to the extent that during this August’s heatwave I found myself leaving the cottage dressed for a crisp spring day and would have to instantly turn on my heels once hit with the wall of baking heat and remove a few layers before attempting to start the day again. Where this is glorious during the longer days of the year it’s also pretty damn Baltic come the winter.

I have an open fire in the living room and a wood burner in the dining room, on cold days like today when I’m working from home I’ll get the fire lit as soon as I’m up and about and work from my laptop next to the hearth. Today was one of those days and not one to waste a “day fire” I decided to bake some bread and use the heat to help the dough rise.

I’ve never made a spelt loaf before but had a bag of flour kicking about in the pantry. I had to pop to Tescos to pick up cat food so went and spoke nicely to the bakers who kindly gave me a big block of fresh yeast “we only measure by handfuls, one or two?”.

I’m now a convert to spelt, the loaf is rich and nutty which works so well with the sweet aromatic honey plus, its almost got the texture of soda bread which I adore. Yep from now on this is the loaf for me. It’s not a sandwich loaf though this one, it’s definitely one for spreading with butter and jam or marmite with a nice cup of tea, preferably whilst still warm from the oven.

Spelt loaf recipe:

  • 500g wholemeal spelt flour (I just guessed half of the bag of flour)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 400ml warm water
  • a chunk of fresh yeast the size of two match boxes (I don’t have scales)
  • 2 tablespoons runny honey
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  1. Put flour into a big bowl, put salt on one side, make a well in the centre.
  2. Crumble the yeast into the water and stir until dissolved. Pour in the well, add the honey and oil and mix with a spoon.
  3. I keep the dough in the big ceramic bowl and just knead with one hand for 2 minutes then lift the dough out, oil the bowl, put the dough back in, cover with cling and sit it in front of the fire for half an hour.
  4. After 30 mins I knock it back, dust it with more flour then put it into a lightly oiled loaf tin. Cover with a layer of cling then back in front of the fire for another 30 mins.
  5. Preheat oven to 200C. Sprinkle more flour over the top of the dough then put in the oven for about 50 minutes or until cooked through out.

I scoffed about half the loaf instantly with salted butter and some homemade quince and vanilla jam. Laziest loaf ever.

Homemade quince and vanilla jam

Homemade quince and vanilla jam

Skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage – total comfort food

skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage-6

I’m on a bit of a veg kick at the moment, when I’ve got loads of work on I tend to cut out meat, pasta and potatoes as I find it gives me much more energy and focus. Every Sunday, if I’m home, I head to my local car boot sale to buy the week’s veg from Maureen and Bridget. I’ve spoken of these two wonderful ladies quite often on here, they live just over the border in Lincolnshire and Bridget grows the most impressive veg and Maureen is the queen of pies, fruit vinegars and lemon curd.

The weather is dreary and wet today which leaves me craving comfort food. Off I went as usual in the driving rain to get my veg and came back with a mountain for less than £10: purple cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, cavelo nero, green and purple kale, red cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, bunched carrots and tops (the tops make excellent pesto), green tomatoes and a net containing about 12 onions. You can also buy 15kg bags of local spuds for £3, these are vegetables of the highest quality picked just the day before and at a fraction of the cost from any supermarket/greengrocer/market trader.

Piles of incredible veg grown just a few miles away for less than £10

Piles of incredible veg grown just a few miles away for less than £10

My wonderful friend Ben Jackson told me about skirlie early this year when he was round recording Food Friday one morning. His grandmother would make it when roasting a chicken. It took me ages to track down the pinhead oatmeal, I finally stumbled across it in the butchers in Sturminster Newton in Dorset, huzzah! Never one not to make up my own recipe I turned it into a kind of rich oatmeal risotto using chicken fat and stock from the previous day’s roast chicken and instantly fell in love.

Skirlie purists look away now as this is my version and it’s the ultimate comfort food.

chicken fat skirlie

My chicken fat skirlie that made me fall in love with it

Ingredients:

For the skirlie:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 white onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 250g pinhead oatmeal (it HAS to be pinhead)
  • 50ml cream sherry
  • hot chicken stock (or veg if you want a veggie version)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp dried porcini powder (blitz dried porcini in a coffee grinder)

8 large savoy cabbage leaves

For the béchamel: (approx measures)

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 40g plain flour
  • 400ml milk
  • 1 tsp dried onion granules
  • 1 tsp dried garlic granules
  • 2 tsp dried porcini powder
  • few gratings fresh nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 handfuls finely grated strong cheddar cheese

skirlie stuffed savoy cabbage

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to its hottest setting. Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water, a few at a time to soften them, if the stalk is very thick at the base cut this out. Leave them to cool.
  2. In a saucepan combine the butter, onion and garlic and cook gently just to soften, don’t colour. Add the pinhead oatmeal and stir well to make sure the butter coats everything.
  3. It’s basically like making a risotto now, add the sherry and some hot stock and stir,once that is absorbed add some more stock and repeat until you can drag a spoon through the mixture and it leaves a trail on the bottom. Add the thyme and seasoning and porcini powder, stir well. You want the oatmeal to still have a bit of bite to it rather than be completely soft. Once it reaches that point simply turn off the heat and leave it to cool a bit whilst you make the sauce.
  4. Make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter, add the flour and stir, cook for a couple of minutes then whisk in the milk, keep stirring and cooking until thickened then add the rest of the ingredients and cook for a further minute whilst stirring.
  5. To assemble take a cabbage leaf and a big dollop of skirlie and make a little parcel by folding over the top, then tuck in the sides and roll the whole thing up. Put in a roasting tray, repeat with the rest. Spoon over the sauce, grate over some extra cheese then roast until the sauce and cheese starts to turn golden.

Spiced roasted cauliflower leaves (and cauli dukkah pops)

Don't chuck the leaves, they are delicious!

Don’t chuck the leaves, they are delicious!

I’m pretty addicted to making cauli dukkah poppers at the moment, but quite often I’ve taken the outer cauliflower leaves off and either given them to the chickens or chucked them in the compost, never again.

Today I kept the leaves and added them to the spice mix and then removed them part way through roasting, they were amazing. The stalk softens, the leaves caramelise and the spices are warming and salty, they lasted all of about 5 seconds, just long enough to snap a quick pic on my phone and they were gone. From now on I’ll be choosing my cauliflowers based on those with the most leaves but if you have a market near you, you will find that most of the veg traders will have a box full of the cauliflower leaves that they have trimmed off and they give them away for free for people’s chickens, free food, aces.

  • 1 whole cauliflower with leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • pinch black pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tblsp super dukkah
  1. Preheat the oven to its highest setting, mine is about 230C.
  2. Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and divide the rest into florets. Put them in a large bowl, pour over the oil then add the spices and mix really well.
  3. Spread everything out on a roasting tin and put in the top of the oven.
  4. Roast until the leaves are burnt around the edges then remove and eat. Continue to roast the cauliflower until the florets caramelise around the edges and crisp up, you want them still to be a bit soft.

Ink cap mushroom pasta with pesto and kale and pistachio pangrattato

ink cap pasta with kale and pistachio pangrattato-1

 

It’s my favourite time of the year, mushrooms, fruits and berries are plentiful around our countryside and for the happy forager it’s most definitely a bountiful harvest this year.

When it comes to mushroom foraging you really do need to know what you are doing as it can be a dangerous game of fungi roulette if you don’t. This is why I really love the ink cap mushroom as it’s so distinct in its appearance. The only thing you need to be careful with when eating ink caps is not to consume alcohol with them as sometimes they can have quite an extreme and vomity effect. I’ve gotten away with adding sherry to mine on a few occasions but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it just to be on the safe side.

I’ve also got hugely into roasting kale recently and sprinkling it with homemade dukkah and basically just munching away on it or its also really kickass when combined with green tomatoes and  a duck egg.

I’ve been away for a few days working on some pieces for Metro down in Cornwall and Somerset so didn’t have much in the cupboards upon my return. I found some ink caps growing near my sister’s house so picked them before heading home and this is the resulting dish:

Ink cap rigatoni with pesto and kale and pistachio pangrattato

For the pesto:

  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 50g fresh basil plus stalks
  • 50g shelled pistachios
  • 50 grana padano cheese, finely grated
  • few good glugs extra virgin rapeseed oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the pasta:

  • 1 aubergine, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 8 ink caps, brushed to remove dirt and checked for slugs (they like to crawl inside them)
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • drizzle of oil
  • rigatoni pasta

For the Pangrattato

  • few handfuls chopped kale
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • two handfuls of chunks of stale sourdough bread
  • 50g shelled pistachios
  • seasoning if it needs it
  • glug of oil for frying

Method:

  1. Whizz up all your pesto ingredients in a food processor, loosen with oil until you are happy with the consistency and seasoning. Set aside (This will keep happily in the fridge beneath a layer of oil for at least a week).
  2. Put your aubergines and mushrooms on a roasting tray, scatter with the cilli and roast in a hot oven until cooked them remove and set aside.
  3. Make sure the kale is bone dry then roast in the oven for a few minutes until the edges are crispy but there is still a bit of softness in the centre.
  4. Blitz the pangrattato ingredients together until it is like breadcrumbs then heat some oil in a frying pan and fry until crunchy.
  5. To assemble simply stir the aubergine, mushroom and pest into the drained rigatoni and to with some of the pangrattato.
  6. Cook your rigatoni in salted boiling water until al dente.

 

Quick Chocolate Orange Brioche

chocolate orange brioche-1-2

Chocolate orange brioche has been my baking Everest. A few weeks ago I was asked to make a selection of pastries for Lord Hall, the Director General of the BBC, err.. hell yeah I’m going to do that! But what on earth was I going to make him?

I was working away for the week running up to the big day and only returned two days before it was all happening and I STILL wasn’t sure what I was going to make him. Then it all just popped into my head on the drive back to my cottage, he was going to be presented with Chocolate Chip Pecan Cinnamon Swirls (kickass), Banana and Bacon Mini Muffins (AWESOME) and…mini Chocolate Orange Brioche: basically food clouds of total JOY.

chocolate orange mini brioche

My lovely friend Amanda very kindly lent me her Kitchen Aid and I found a plain brioche recipe and away I went. I’m not used to using a food mixer, I always create my recipes using sight, taste and touch and a mixer removes the touch element of the dough so I put blind faith in the recipe I’d found. It didn’t work. I tried another recipe, that didn’t work either so I decided to go back to instinct and just make up my own quantities and hey presto, perfect brioche! I then tried my version a second time so I could write down quantities and made the loaf at the top of this post, perfect result so I feel I can now happily pass on my recipe. This is a fast brioche recipe, only let it prove for a maximum of 2 hours each time but it does mean you can have lovely brioche is super quick time.

Chocolate orange mini brioche (makes 24 muffin sized brioche)

  • 10g fast action dried yeast
  • 80 ml warm whole milk
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 5 duck eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 2 capfuls orange blossom water
  • finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 300g butter, softened and cubed
  • 150g dark chocolate chips
  • 1 beaten egg to glaze
  • finely grated zest of one more orange to sprinkle once baked
  1. Stir the yeast into the warm milk and set aside for 1 minute.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the flour and salt then add the eggs and yeasted milk.
  3. Fit the dough hook to the mixer and start mixing very slowly for about 5 minutes then scrape all the dough down the sides and mix again at a medium speed for 10 minutes. It may look a bit like cake mixture rather than dough at this stage.
  4. Add the vanilla, orange blossom water and zest and sugar and mix for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Whilst the mixer is still kneading add the softened butter cube by cube, very slowly, waiting for the butter to be thoroughly mixed in, once all the butter is in the mix increase the speed of the mixer to fast for about 7 minutes, the dough will make spider web patterns on the bowl as the gluten is all stretchy.
  6. Add most of the chocolate chips as the mixer runs and stop once they are all mixed in.
  7. Scrape the dough into a large bowl that has been lightly oiled (it will seem very wet compared to a bread dough). Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  8. Prepare your muffin tin. I prefer not to use muffin cases for this but to cut squares of baking parchment and press them into the muffin holes to make cases.
  9. Once the dough has risen cut half of it out of the bowl and put onto a lightly floured work surface. It will be very light and fluffy, carefully push most of the air out, lightly flour the dough to make it easier to work with, roll it into a sausage (about 30cm x 8cm) and then use a sharp knife to cut rounds of dough. Put each round into a muffin case then cover very loosely with cling film and leave to rise again for about an hour.
  10. Preheat your oven to 200C. Brush each mini brioche with the beaten egg and sprinkle over more chocolate chips. Bake for 10 minutes  then reduce the temperature to 180C and bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and zest the orange using a microplane over the brioche whilst still warm so the orange oils spray over the brioche as the zest falls. Allow to cool in the cases for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

If you want to make a large to make one batch of mini muffins and one large loaf then once you have divided the mixture into half lightly knock back the remaining half on a floured surface, sprinkle with extra flour to make it easier to work with then place into a lightly oiled loaf tin. Allow to rise covered in cling then bake at 200C for 10 minutes then 180C for about 45 minutes, if the top starts to brown too much simply cover with tin foil. If after 45 mins you remove it from the oven, let it sit for a few minutes for it to come away from the sides and gently lift the loaf out to check the base, if it needs more time simply pop it back in for a bit longer.

Wild hare and blackberry pie

Autumn's harvest in a pie

Autumn’s harvest in a pie

Well its’ been quite some time since I last posted anything, I’ve been really busy with my photography and doing bits with Radio Leicester (click to hear most recent recipe of chorizo sausage rolls and green tomato ketchup) and writing for Metro and then I acquired a stalker so this blog kind of took a back seat for a couple of months. But I’m back, and its Autumn so I’ve been busy foraging the hedgerows to make amazing blackberry and vanilla vodka and now this blackberry and hare pie.

We are very lucky here in Melton Mowbray to have a proper Farmer’s market, you can buy anything from a herd of sheep, a prize winning bull, a few ferrets, some shot game, foraged mushrooms, homemade butter and antiques and collectables. Its all there every Tuesday morning and costs very little indeed, except the prize winning bull that is.

I headed over on Tuesday morning with the intention of seeing what the game auction was like that day, its very hit and miss depending on what’s in season and what the weather was like for the shoots over the weekend. You can normally expect to see a couple of deer, plenty of pigeons, pheasants, partridge, rabbits, hares and wild boar plus mallards, geese, woodcocks and squirrels. This week though it was very quite, there were a lot of pigeon but they weren’t in top condition so I left those (they went at 20p/brace) and hung about for the mallard and hares. I was bidding against an old boy for the mallard but had set my max at £3.50/brace and it went on his bid at that so I came home with a couple of beautiful hares at just £5.

Skinning hares is very easy, if you fancy watching a brilliant video clip then I totally fell in love with this guy being all masterful with an axe in the woods:

You just need to be really careful whilst gutting them not to pierce anything as the smell is really pretty nasty. Go for hares with head shots so your meat is nice and clean and none of the internals have been punctured.

skinning hare

 

Two large hares left me with a great deal of meat that I butchered into legs and fillets and froze most of. I instantly fried off a bit of fillet nice and pink for a bit of a cook’s perk then got to work on this simple pie for tea.

Wild hare and blackberry mini pie  (makes 2 mini pies that each serve one person)

Ingredients:

  • about 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 hare fillets, sliced into bite sized pieces
  • a few tablespoons of seasoned flour
  • about 150g smoked pancetta cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • about 200ml of full bodied red wine
  • 2 handfuls fresh blackberries
  • a bit of sugar if the blackberries are not sweet
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • About 60ml hare blood (optional)
  • 175g puff pastry
  • 1 egg beaten
  • a few ladles of stock made from simmering the hare bones for a couple of hours

Method:

  1. Dredge the hare in the seasoned flour. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the hare, cook over a medium heat to brown and add the pancetta, cook for another 3 minutes then add the diced veg, garlic and herbs. Cook gently for about 5 minutes whist stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the red wine, bring to just boiling then reduce heat to a simmer,add the blackberries and some of the stock until everything is well covered, add the blood also if using and put a well fitting lid on, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hrs or until the hare has softened to meltingly tender.
  3. If the stew seems a little thick simply loosen with some more stock, season with salt and pepper and add a touch of sugar if it needs it, cook uncovered until you are happy with the thickness of the gravy then divide between two small pie trays.
  4. Preheat your oven to 200C. Roll out your puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut into two pieces big enough to cover your pies. Seal the sides and brush with the beaten egg. Make a little hole for steam to come out of then put in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is risen and golden.