Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Back in the kitchen

I've been away from the kitchen for a few weeks after major surgery. I'm fine now but get tired easily at present so the kitchen has been for tea and soup. Today I ventured up to town and realised I was ready to get back in the kitchen. It was about lunchtime and my local Waitrose had put out some discounted meats. I spotted a favorite at a silly price, four pigs cheeks for £1.49 (reduced from £2.49). These are cheap at the best of times but these were a bargain. Three packs later I hunted down a bottle of Heston's mulled cider and headed home.

I've used a sous vide to cook this but because the temperature is so high then a standard slow cooker can be used. The sous vide lets me cook this at 82.5C but anything around 80C will be fine.

Firstly I put a heavy pan on the heat and, after seasoning the cheeks, browned them off. I took the cheeks off the heat and added 6 crushed cloves of garlic to the pan and 50ml of olive oil. After about 30 seconds I added 350ml of the spiced cider to deglaze the pan. Now it is time for the long wait. I bagged the cheeks into three bags along with a sprig of rosemary and a bay leaf. The bags were then cooked in the sous vide for eight hours. If using a slow cooker I would be tempted to ziplock bag the cheeks into three bags and cook them in water in a slow cooker. Remember, you could equally cook just 4 cheeks with 2 cloves of garlic and 110ml of spiced cider for this part of the recipe.

After cooking over night, chill the bagged cheeks in iced water and then leave in the fridge for up to 48 hours (or freeze for later) before finishing the dish off for serving.

Serving (for the contents of one bag):

Place a heavy casserole pan on a stove and add a tablespoons of olive oil. Fry off 100g of lardons and 150g of slice shallots. Add 300 ml of spiced cider to de-glaze the pan and add two sliced, large carrots and a chopped celery stick. Add tbsp of balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp of soy sauce, and 1 tbsp of maple syrup ( or sugar/honey). Lower the heat, place a lid on the pan and simmer for 20 minutes making sure that the pan does not catch. Add more mulled cider (or water) if necessary. Next add the cheeks and the juices from the pouch and bring back to a simmer. Simmer for a further 20 minutes so that the cheeks are warmed through. Remove the cheeks and place in foil to rest. Turn the heat up under the remaining sauce and reduce until it coats the carrots. Serve with a puree of butter beans (a little cream and butter to taste).

This is a delicious way to use a very cheap cut of meat. Serve it to the most discerning guest and watch them wax lyrical about the flavours and textures.

Friday, 24 October 2014

The benefits of a warm Autumn

We have had a great Summer here in the UK with just about the right amount of rain and sunshine. This was then augmented by a blissfully warm beginning to the Autumn with the weather only finally cooling off in the last few days. This has resulted in a bumper crop of ripe 'Brown Turkey' figs from the garden.

Most years I have to resort to pickling the unripe figs so the efforts of the tree do not go to waste but this year we have a sudden glut of ripe and sweet figs. As much as we enjoy eating these raw with a little prosciutto ham, thin parmigiana slices and a green salad, the quantities we have this year might be a little much for this simple salad.

With Christmas on the way, I thought a nice warming fig jam might be in order. Perfect on toast or with a good strong cheese. I collected 1.2 Kg of figs from the tree.

These were then chopped and mixed with 1.2 Kg of preserving sugar and 1.5 tbsp of ground ginger.

This was left in a covered non metallic bowl for six hours to draw the moisture out of the figs. The resulting mixture was then transferred to a preserving pan with a peeled and diced cooking apple, 50 grams of chopped preserved ginger (in syrup), 90 ml of white wine vinegar, 280 ml of water and the juice of three lemons (as usual the rind goes into a jar with some vodka to be turned into Limoncello when I have enough rind).

Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved then increase the heat and boil for around 20 minutes until the setting point is reached and the fruit is soft (220C). Leave to cool for a further 20 minutes before bottling in clean dry jars. Seal the jars and place in a dark cupboard for a month or so for the flavours to develop. A perfect reminder of the balmy days of 2014 during the potentially cold winter months.

Now in the jar, this rich brown jam tastes great (should be even better in a month or so). Thank you Summer :)

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The first Autumn storm - Something warming needed

After a Summer that felt like it would never end it was only fitting that as November approaches, an Autumn storm crashed the party. After a week of warnings about the remnants of hurricane Gonzalo hitting the UK with high winds and rain it turned out to be a bit of a damp squib in the South East of England. Nevertheless, the temperature fell from its balmy 20C to a much more Autumnal level and thoughts turned to a warming supper.

A trawl through the fridge revealed some chorizo that would  soon reach its best before date. This triggered an idea so I popped up to the shops for some chicken thighs. On my return I put a large cast iron casserole pot on the stove and put the heat up high. I added a little oil and then browned off  the thighs having cut some deep cuts into each to help them soak up the flavours of the dish. Once these were browned I removed them from the pan and finished them with a blowlamp to give them a little char grilled flavour to bring to the party.

I turned the heat down on the pan and added around 400 g of diced chorizo to brown. I then grabbed a bag of shallots from the vegetable rack. The smaller variety as these are
 what I happened to have.

I peeled and very coarsely chopped  8 of these and added them to the pan

Next I added two sticks of chopped cellery, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 5 medium thickly cut carrots,  and 150 g of sliced mushrooms. I then added 350 ml of red wine and a litre of chicken stock along with a bouquet garni. Once this had come to the boil I popped it into the oven for 2.5 hours at 150C. The result was a warm, rich casserole that went perfectly with some butter beans in a light cream sauce. Eager to sample this comforting dish I clean forgot to take a photograph but trust me, it was a perfect meal for a blustery day. Bring on the winter.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Another gluten free baking experiment

After replacing the flour in my last cake with coconut flour and being resonably pleased with the results I decided it was time to try again. The new recipe:

100g of coconut flour
100g of rice flour
1tsp baking powder
175g of coconut oil
175g of caster sugar
6 large eggs
2 or 3 drops of vanilla extract
2 tbsp caraway seeds

Soften the coconut oil and cream with the sugar. Add the eggs one by one until you have a loose batter. Now add the rice flour, vanilla essence and caraway seeds and mix well. Next add the coconut flour and the batter will stiffen to a more usual consistency for a Madeira style loaf cake. I like to sprinkle caster sugar on the top before it goes into the oven to give a crisp, sugary crust.

Put into a greased large loaf tin and place in the oven at 170C for 1.25 to 1.5 hours. Check with a knife and when cooked allow to cool.

The result

A good textured cake. Other than a hint of coconut (thanks to the flour rather than the oil). I was pleased with the results. The rice and coconut flour mix made this a much lighter cake perfect for those with a gluten problem.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Monday - Memories

(Found this lurking in the drafts folder so it is a few weeks late :) )
I had a rather stressful day in the office not helped by a turned ankle which made me the proverbial 'Bear with a sore head'. I made my way home in need of something comfortable to eat. During what should have been a lunch hour, I wandered to the so called 'kitchen' on our floor (well, it has a dish washer and a microwave which in modern cuisine terms is 'fully equipped' ) and one of my bosses (we have a matrix organization which has none of the romance or the facility to use a machine pistol of those who try to stop you getting the job done of the film series of the same name) was  heating a pie in the microwave. I came home wanting comfort food with 'pie' shoehorned into my psyche. Luckily I got home in time to get to Waitrose and pick up some organic pork chops. Jersey potatoes and some chestnut mushrooms to help me stay away from a pie. A bottle of cider and some cream and we were about to cook on gas (literally! My hob is gas and the oven is electric. Who the hell wants a gas oven when the heat is governed by what your neighborhood  is cooking or heating on a Sunday\?)

I threw the pans on the heat and started to cook off a dish that has evolved from my first real cooking success. Back in the annuls of time, I realized Mum and Dad had a special wedding anniversary on the horizon. I couldn't afford to send them for a nice meal (tightwads when it came to pocket money :) ) so I cooked them pork chops in a white wine, garlic, mushroom and cream sauce I invented on the fly. Their expressions as they ate this set me on the path to enjoying cooking. Not being the most socially intelligent member of the community, hugs and cuddles are an anathema but the thrill exposed by the expression on peoples faces when I 'got the food right' gave me a love for cooking.

Tonight's dish was a throwback to that first cook off. Garlic, chili (a touch) cream, a hint of vanilla, black pepper, onion and, of course, the wine to de-glaze the pan having seared tprize of the spring, Jhe organic chops. I boiled the pretender to the thrown of the spring crops (Jersey Royal's) in a little slated water and some peas to accompany the meat and sauce. Why pretender? If you asked that then you have never had the pleasure of an early Pembroke Potato. Heaven...

A nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The remnants of a day full of sunshine and a meal full of memories. A great way to sooth the troubled waters of a stressful Monday

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Time on my hands and a new flour in the cupboard

After months of stress and chaos I now find I have a little more time on my hands. This means that I can spend a little more time on the things I love. Having returned from vacation a week ago, I have been busy sorting out my kitchen and getting it ready for some hard work. After a short trip to the store today I thought it was time for a little baking. Needless to say, this was not going to be a standard cake.

I had managed to get hold of a large bag of coconut flour. I've never used it before but the description on the packet made it sound like a challenge. I decided to use it to make a cherry and walnut cake for afternoon tea. I had my standard recipe:

100g Self Raising flour
100g Plain flour
3 large eggs
1 tbsp of milk
a few drops of vanilla essence
175g of unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
a few drops of vanilla essence
(cherries, walnuts, coconut or caraway seed depending on my mood)

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, Add the milk and vanilla extract. Add the flour and the flavourings before popping it into a hot oven at 170C for 1.25 to 1.5 hours. Never fails.

A little research told me I needed to replace the gluten with egg (or xanthan gum). Around three eggs per 125g of flour. I decided on adding 6 egg yolks to the mixture and increased the milk to 1/2 a cup before beating the egg whites to soft peaks and folding them into the mixture. I then added the cherries and walnut pieces. Into the oven for 1.25 to 1.5 hours and the result ....

Well. If I am honest, a little dry though it was better the second day. Good texture and flavour but I think that next time I will use 175g of coconut flour to replace the plain and SR flour or I might use 100g of coconut flour and 100g of white rice flour to lighten the mixture and make it a little less dry. I will keep you updated with the results

Monday, 25 August 2014

and you are back in the room :)

It has been a long(ish) hot (for the UK) summer of tapas and salad but true to form, the Summer Bank Holiday turns up with a veil of rain following a weekend of frost threats. So much for global warming. I've been lax on the cooking front of late but that is mostly down to a lack of appetite when the sun shines. Now the Autumn has started to creep in ....

Following a very quick BBQ last night  on the Lotus Grill , the bear in me declared autumn was on the way and demanded I hit the kitchen again. What to cook?

A visit to the supermarket, a visit to the garden and a dip into the fridge left me with some large potatoes, eat me carrots, fresh (huge) blackberries and a guinea fowl. Oven on at 180C and in goes the guinea fowl with a dusting of herb salt for 1.5 hours. Hot salty water and quartered peeled potatoes meet as the boil begins. 10 minutes later the potatoes are quenched in cold water and left to dry for a while.

40 minutes from the end, in go the potatoes, coated in a herb oil for a good roast. Turned every 10 minutes to get a good all over colour unlike the poor saps who ventured to the coast today.

30 minutes later I warmed a tablespoon of good honey (from my sister in law's bees) with a teaspoon and a half of cinnamon powder and a tablespoon of butter and kept this warm for the rest of the cook. I basted the guinea fowl with this to create a golden, sticky skin by the end of the cook.

End of the roast, the guinea fowl was covered and rested along with the golden potatoes. The juices were added to a pan with 125ml of wine (red by preference) and a good handful of fresh blackberries. This was brought to the boil and blitzed with the Bamix before being left to reduce

Meantime, I shredded some carrots into a pan with orange juice, a knob of butter and a star anise. This was then simmered until the carrots were coated, softened but still a little crunchy.

Peas to add a variety of colour ( runner beans would have been nice but this year's crop was a little poor) and it was time to plate up and welcome in the autumn. I think it was a fitting tribute to a summer of ample sun and rain that has created blackberries of some significant size (destined for a little ice cream later ). See what you think....

Saturday, 2 August 2014

These are great. A BBq you can use indoors or out doors. Pick up an carry while it is still at cooking temperature. Place it on a wooden table with no heat damage and control the heat (to some extent ). 250g of charcoal gives you enough heat to cook for about 40 minutes (depending on the air flow). BBq 4 minutes after lighting. Add charcoal when you need to. Best of all. Take the fire bowl (not the charcoal burner) and the grill and put it in the dish washer at the end of the day. If you are outside then add some wood chip to get smoke. If indoors, smokeless. Superbe.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Doldrums

I have been stuck in the creative Doldrums with regards to food for a month or so now. Salad days are never the best for something exciting from this kitchen. As the outside temperature rises then thoughts turn to simple tapas and salads.  Needed something to lift my spirits and excite the imagination and I think this might be it:

Can't wait for it to arrive and, with a little luck, light the blue touch paper.

Apologies to the followers and dippers in. Things have been dull for a month. Will try harder this weekend.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Congratulations Fleet. An enjoyable weekend

Popped up the road yesterday to the first year of the Fleet Food Festival ( . I was worried it would not deliver. All too often I have attended local food festivals, been charged £5 to get in and found nothing of any real interest. Not this time.

First plus - no entrance fee. Closely followed by some great live music to queue to. Good ales and ciders to quench the thirst then came the food.

Thousand Hills sauces (
The 1000 Tomato Chili sauce has a deep flavour and enough heat to make it interesting. The sweet and hot Cranberry and Chili sauce is equally delicious. Can't wait to get that on some game in the near future. I also purchesed the garlic chili sauce and can't wait to try their tip of adding it to some mashed potato.

Lunch was a stunning Gurkha chicken curry from the Topher Ltd tent ( A local company who specialize in event parking but who have diversified into Gurkha curries to make excellent use of the skills of the Gurkha staff they have in abundance. The addition of the dal made this a perfect accompaniment to the Longdog beers ( I had enjoyed their Lamplight Porter earlier in the day. I changed to a Winning Co-Ale-ition followed by a Kismet.

The choice of lunch was extensive. From Burgers through to curries and paellas. These were joined by many excellent stalls at the fair from fudge through to fine wines. Some excellent demonstrations in the two demonstration tents and plenty to keep us occupied for a few hours.

My sincere congratulations to the Fleet Food Festival team who made this first ever Fleet Food Festival a great success. I do hope it will return and get better each year.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Citrus, Strawberry and Sunshine

Finally we got some typical British summer today. Hot sunshine tempered with cloud now and again to give a little shade. Doors flung open at both ends of the house to give it an airing it felt like it was time to get the kitchen sorted out. Having spent the morning clearing out and cleaning the cupboards and then sharpening all my knives it felt like time to play.

First on the menu today was an attempt to make some cocktail pearls. Basically, reverse spherified lemon pearls that I can store in sweetened lemon juice and use some time soon in a liquigel G&T. I am still a novice at the spherification techniques so, although there were a few pearls, there were a number of Nik Naks ( inspired shapes too. The result was good though. Small tart perls that burst in the mouth to give a zing of citrus. I have stored those away in the fridge ready for the bank holiday weekend. 0.5 % sodium alganate to de-ionized water in the water bath. 1% Calcium Lactate and 0.5% Xanthan Gum in to the lemon juice with some simple syrup to sweeten it to taste.

Next it was the drunk strawberries  turn. I made up a daquiri jelly using 200g of water into which I dissolved 70 grams of sugar, 5.5g of Agar Agar and 1g of Carrageenan Iota. Once everything was dissolved (with the help of an immersion blender a.k.a. the Bammix) then I added 400g of pineapple juice and 100g of Triple Sec. I had already cut up the drunken strawberries I pickled the other week so that a good chunk was placed into the silicon moulds ready for the jelly to be poured in. This made 36 2cm cubes that are currently setting in the fridge. Do not boil the jelly liquid after the alcohol is added or you will lose the vital spirit.

I now had the rind from the 3 lemons I had used earlier and a remaining 3 lemons which I took the rind from and juiced. These were huge lemons giving about twice the juice of a normal lemon. The rind is currently sitting in the souse vide at 70 C in a bag of vodka ready to make another. batch of limoncello (I'will add simple syrup to this later to taste). The juice was matched in weight with sugar and boiled until the sugar was completely dissolved. This has two great uses. Instant lemonade when sparkling water and ice are added or just drizzle it over a lemon sponge.

The last act of the day was to pass the strawberry flavoured rum through a coffee filter paper into a waiting bottle. I'm sure I can find a good use for that soon either in a cocktail, spherified or just poured over a good vanilla icecream.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Easy Supper in the Sunshine

For the first time this year it was really warm enough to eat outside. I was not overly hungry so a nice salad beckoned. I knew we had enough salad items in but what to put with it? A quick potter up to town and some small cooking chorizos and some pre-cooked king prawns came home with a cold bottle of Chenin Blanc. Once home, I popped the chorizos into some cider (enough to cover them) and brought the cider to the boil. Meanwhile I melted some carotene butter and laid out the salad. After a short while the cider had reduced down to a sweet apple and paprika flavoured sauce. Everything now ready I popped it all on the table outside the conservatory and we enjoyed the first of many summer suppers for this year (I hope).

I know this is hardly cooking but I cannot recommend the chorizos in cider enough. A very simple but satisfying tapas I learned about in La Palma  on a recent holiday. A great little tapas bar off the main street where we had to remind them to charge us for the meal.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Too lazy to cook - almost.

Got home from work and wanted something a little spicy but didn't feel like spending hours in the kitchen. Just one of those days when I just don't feel like cooking. The solution came courtesy of something I picked up at the last Tweezledown Artisan Market ( wandering around the stalls I smelt a warm and spicy aroma mix and just had to investigate. What I found was a stall selling tubs of red and green Thai curry sauces and a Goan fish curry sauce along with a few other sauces. A quick taste and the three sauces mentioned were bagged and on their way home.

Tonight my cooking went as far as chopping some chicken that had been marinading in lime, ginger and chili in the fridge into 2cm chunks. Putting my favorite wok on a good heat and bringing a tub of the red Thai curry sauce to simmer. In went the chicken, some sliced onion and sliced red pepper. I reduced the heat and simmered the dish for about 20 minutes until the chicken was properly cooked through. I thinned the sauce a little with the juice of a lime and served it on a bed of coconut rice. The result was as good as anything I have had in a Thai restaurant. If you are going to use a cook in sauce then my advice is to find one that is as good as this or just order some from these guys :

If you are feeling really lazy then just pop round to their restaurant at 94 Station Road, Liss, North Hampshire and save yourself the trouble of cooking.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Bloodless Orange, Sea Bass and Fennel

The sun was shining brightly and the azure sky is drawing me away from the winter staples towards salads, fish etc. A quick look at the fridge and fruit bowl revealed a nice head of fennel, a good sized sea bass and blood oranges (or not as the case may be). I love fennel and orange which both work well with sea bass so tonight's planned meal is pan seared sea bass with a blood orange butter sauce, fennel and some green olives to add a bit of bite. I only need the juice from the blood orange but I don't want to waste the rind so I will carefully removed it so as not to take any of the bitter pith. Placed it in a bag with a little vodka to start drawing out those tasty oils. This will get cooked off in the sous vide later at 70C with the rest of a bottle of vodka that will then be added to a cup and a half of simple syrup to make a pleasant orange liqueur.

Back to the meal in hand. First I de-scaled and filleted the sea bass. Trim the spines and fins carefully with scissors. Then lay the fish on its side on a chopping board. With a sharp knife, cut towards the gill as shown.

Now, turn the knife and cut along the spine as shown (you will feel the knife running across the spine and through the lateral bones) and a good fillet will lift off.

Turn the fish over and repeat the exercise. You now have two good fillets that still contain the lateral bones. You can either use pliers to remove these or try this method. Run the knife down either side or the lateral bones taking care not to cut through the skin. Now, using fish pliers, pull the bones and connecting tissue out in one ribbon (sorry about the colour the flash failed)

Now came the horror. The blood oranges are anemic !!! No rich red colour (though there might be more rouge when I speak to my greengrocer next week).

Never mind, apart from the colour (which I could have faked with a little beetroot) I can add a slightly more tart taste with a splash of fresh lime. Panic over I cleaned 3 oranges, juiced 2.5 of them and left a half to add a segment or two to the finished dish. I now brought the juice to the boil, added some fresh coriander leaf and reduced this down to a sticky consistency. A tablespoon of clarified butter, a few green olives and we are almost ready to go.

In the meantime I brought some salted water to the boil and added some sliced fennel to soften it. While this happened, I brought a skillet to heat and seared the bass fillets. Time to bring the meal together and in less than 10 minutes (cooking time, preparing the fish takes a minute or two with practice)

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Twitter feed added

Many years ago (or so it feels) I played with Twitter but could not see the point of adding my mundane comments to a mundane world. After a little though, I decided to re-visit this now much used technology as it might give me a chance to add the odd tip or comment without having to take the trouble to create a new blog post. I've added a gadget to the blog so you can see my tweets and re-tweets without having to follow me. I do hope this adds a little interest to the blog.

Papas Arrugadas con Mojo

On a recent trip down to Gran Canaria I fell in love with a very simple bar food. Papas Arrugadas con Mojo. Simply small Canary Island potatoes cooked in their jackets and served with a Mojo sauce. At the bar I tried these at they boil the potatoes for a short while in very salty water before popping them in the oven to dry/crisp a little. This leaves the potatoes with a light coating of salt powder on the skin. These are then served with three different Mojo sauces. A fiery red pepper sauce, a sweeter red pepper sauce and a green pepper sauce that is heavy on the coriander leaf. I brought a jar of the spicy sauce back, partly to remind me to find out how it is made and as a guide as to whether I get it right. If you fancy a tasty snack, an ideal accompaniment to a few beers with friends then here are the recipes:

Red Mojo Sauce

1 bulb of garlic
2 red chili peppers (paprika type not birds eye)
1 teaspoon of paprika (sweet or hot depending on your chili tolerance)
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1.5 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons of olive oil.
salt to taste.

Grind the cumin seed, peeled garlic and de-seeded peppers in a pestle until you have a smooth pulp. Then add the paprika oil and vinegar to create the wonderful hot red sauce.

The sweet red sauce is made in the same way but replace the chili pepper with sweet peppers.

Green Mojo Sauce

1 bulb of garlic
2 green peppers
1/2 cup of chopped fresh coriander
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1.5 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons of olive oil
salt to taste.

Same preparation as above.

Both sauces will keep in the fridge for some months in sealed jars.

If you cannot get Canary Island potato then I find that small salad potatoes have a similar taste and texture.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Setting out your stall

When I chat about food and cooking to friends I am often asked :

a/ How many ingredients do you keep in the larder?
b/ How do you find the time?
c/ Why bother ?

As to the ingredients, I have to admit that I have a good stock cupboard with flour, oil, spices, and cans of beans, coconut milk etc. I probably have way more than is necessary but when you want a basil infused olive oil rather than sunflower oil or vanilla sugar rather than just caster sugar then the extras can make the difference between mediocre and fantastic. When I am at home and get the chance to add to the weekly vegetable box with a few specialties from the market then the resulting fresh produce tends to look like this:

A lot of this will be pickled, cooked, packaged this weekend and put in the freezer or the fridge ready for the next few weeks when I might not have the time to be as creative. As for the expense, all this fresh fare came in at under £25.

That brings us to the second question. By pre-preparing dishes like methi coated chicken, pickled fruit and vegetables, packaged sauces and flavoured oils I can throw together a really tasty meal in minutes. As for the last question, nothing gives more pleasure than a good meal, home cooked, full of flavour and goodness. Today we have to go out for the evening so we needed a quick, energy giving lunch that would sate our appetites in case we don't get to eat later but is not so filling that if the opportunity of a pleasant meal with friends does come up then we are not too full to enjoy it. From the raft of the ingredients above and with the addition of some maple syrup pickled turnip, some home made wok oil, pak choi and beansprouts I created a flavour filled stir fry to compliment some stir fried chicken thighs that had been cooked and preserved in my own methi leaf sauce. (I promise I will add the recipes for each as soon as I can). Was the result worth the 10 minutes it took to get it onto the plate ?

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Such FUN !!!

We have eaten out for the last couple of nights so I couldn't play. A couple of days ago some Zorbit arrived and I mixed 1 part sesame oil with 3 parts Zorbit to produce an intense sesame oil flavoured powder that melts on the tongue but had nothing to use it on. Last night my wife was out so I got to play with 'The Beast' (pet name for the new chamber vacuum sealer) and the sous vide. Our local market has a fruit stall that has a 'British' front and a mysterious back shelf, behind the people serving frequented by the owners of the local Asian and Indian restaurant owners on a Saturday morning. The odd intrepid British adventurer like me takes an occasional expedition here to look at the wonderful fauna and wonder at what you do with it. Once in a while an ingredient looks familiar, such as the fenugreek leaves otherwise known as methi that I purchased this week. These slightly sad looking leaves, thrown into a food processor with garlic, a few birds eye green chilies and olive oil (plus a little salt and pepper) turn into a dark green sauce to compliment chicken or a meaty fish such as monk fish. This blended sauce was added to some filleted chicken thighs and cooked for 2 hours at 70C last night before being plunged into an ice bath and left in the fridge (BIG saving time as the next purchase is a second hand blast freezer)

Tonight, I took this cooked but cold chicken, cut it into 0.7cm slices, and stir fried it with some 'Instant Pickles' from the Beast . This let me pickle turnips in maple syrup and five spice and celery (julienne) and white onion in lime juice and olive oil. These were then added to the chicken and cooked through for about 5 minutes before I added some fresh baby spinach leaves and served the dish onto a basmati rice. The result was a popcorn of flavours, the spiced chicken, the piquant celery (took on more of the lime) and the olive oil pickled onions counterpointed by the sweet turnips. All crunchy and exciting to support the warm in both spice and heat chicken. Finally, I put a few pinches of the sesame oil powder over the dish. All in all it took less than 8 minutes from slice to serve (yes I know the chicken took 2 hours to cook yesterday but I was enjoying London Pride at the club at that time). No photographs, it wasn't an art work, stir fry and rice rarely is unless you spend 10 minutes arranging stuff with tweezers but the flavours .......

Monday, 28 April 2014

Carotine Butter.

I found a recipe on line at a great site called ChefSteps ( A yummy sounding butter that is , apparently, more carroty than carrot. It can be used melted to saute things like oysters or as a dip for prawns or can be used as a spread to add a carrot taste. Apparently this will work for any high pigment vegetable such as tomatoes. I'll see how this goes and will let you know. Thoughts of red chili butter already taking shape.

The site tells you the science behind the preparation but, essentially, you need equal measures of clarified butter and carrot juice. Clarified butter can be created by heating butter over a low heat and, once melted, removing the whey as it floats on the surface. Put the melted clarified butter and the carrot juice into a fast blender (I used the trusty Bammix) and blitz it until the emulsion breaks. Now pour into a pan deep enough to leave a good 4cm above the liquid. Bring to the boil and scoop off the froth that form. This is the cellulose and other non-fat soluble items in the carrot juice. Once the froth is cleared off, cool the butter over iced water and place in the fridge to set.

Once set, run a knife around the edge of the pan and lift out the butter disk. Discard the liquid left in the bottom of the pan. Dry off the butter and store (fridge - weeks. freezer - year).

This is my resulting pat of carotene butter. As you can see, I shaped it up and split it into 4  for storage. I'll try a few other butters in the near future and will post the results.

I mentioned the butter to a friend at my social club, another foodie, and he mused on what potted shrimps made with carotine butter would taste like..... Watch this space :)

Saturday, 26 April 2014

A Day At Play

New toys are always fun. Got up this morning and shot up to the market to buy some ingredients to play with in the new chamber vac. I have been reading a lot about 'instant pickles' and compressed fruit/vegetables so I returned with the spoils. Apples, rhubarb, turnips, pineapple, dragon fruit, nectarcots (I assume a nectarine apricot cross) and a bag stuffed with herbs.

We left the market and headed off for the 'Artisan Market' in Tweezledown. A pleasant 35 minute walk (unless you are carrying half a market garden and have a bad back). After a 45 minute  stroll around the stalls we left with some pork and peppercorn pate, some garlic sausage and some spice raclette cheese. Lunch in the Tweezledown pub (a fantastic lamb and apricot curry) and it was off home to play.

Once through the door and having put the perishables in the fridge, I set about learning the abilities of the beastie. No photographs today, but I will repeat the recipes that worked at later dates and show you the before, after and ingredients.

First into the vacuum was the nectarcots. I boiled up 250ml of Sauvignon Blanc vinegar, 80ml of maple syrup, 150 ml filtered water and 7g of salt. Meanwhile, I quartered the 8 nectarcots and popped them into a large bag along with 150 ml of brandy. Once the brine was bubbling, I poured it on top of the fruit and brandy then popped it into the chamber vac, on a 45 second cycle 7 second seal. There was an exciting time at the bottom end of the pump out as the water and alcohol boiled off just before the bag sealed. A few seconds later the vacuum was cleared and the pickled nectarcots went into the fridge. Apparently good for 3 months.

Some apples in cider and strawberries in white rum (for some jelly cocktails to be mentioned at a later date) soon followed. At this point, objections were raised that nothing had been tasted yet so I prepared a small bag of sliced strawberries in white rum for us to try. The strawberries sucked in a good measure of rum in a minute and were a great snack. Can't wait for the cocktail proper.

As a finale I popped some apple 1/8ths into a small bag with some maple syrup and compressed them. I also balled some watermelon and it underwent the vacuum treatment. These joined the potato salad with instant pickled red onion slices in basil oil  as an accompaniment  to our cheese, pate and sausage from the artisan market with a nice bottle of Rioja. A nice end to a busy day.

Once I am over the excitement of the new toy and have had a chance to get some recipes sorted out I will publish both photographs and ingredients up here. If you are brave enough to throw caution to the wind and buy one of these great machines then you can them out. Otherwise, you will have to take my word for how great the products are.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Needed a kick start

Having played around with some molecular cooking techniques I had quickly come to realize that if I was to be spontaneous in my cooking then I was going to need a chamber vacuum sealer to clear the bubbles out of the variety of substances whisked into liquids. Either that or I had to wait 24 to 48 hours for the bubbles to leave through gravity. I finally bit the bullet and purchased one of these beauties :

This rather large beast is the SousVide Supreme ChamberVac VP122 (available here : It arrived today and once the wight lifting exercise was over (it is around 56 lb in weight) I started to play.

My first bit of fun was the same, I suspect,  as most people who invest in one of these. Compressed fruit or vegetables. I had purchased a small watermelon for this very purpose. Having cut the fruit into inch thick, quarter slices, I placed some slices in a vacuum bag. Placed the bag in the machine. Set the vacuum time to 35 seconds to give a full vacuum and a 6 second seal. Once I had pressed the start button, the machine went through it's process and when the beep sounded I was able to remove the bag. This is the change that the fruit undertook



As you can see, the fruit is compressed, translucent and appeared much juicier when eaten. There was no change in flavour but the texture felt richer in the mouth. The reason for the change is that the alveoli (air filled cells) in the food burst under vacuum. Then, when the bag is sealed and the vacuum released then 15lb per square inch of air pressure crush the now empty alveoli leaving the fruit more dense.

Now I have this great gadget I hope to post more new experiences such as maple pickled turnip, olive oil pickled tomato as well as some molecular recipes.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A load of balls

I thought I would adventure a little further into the modernist kitchen with a journey into spherification and the reverse of the same. A few hours of fun on the interweb thingy son revealed a number of videos :


Having found a half decent starter kit ( for £15 and a bit of time on a Saturdey afternoon. Off I went. A little research and I had some basic ideas. Spherification appears to be something a little time constrained in that the process continues to full jellification. Oh. Hang on, a brief explanation of this load of balls is required:

In essence, you take two ingredients. One taken from pond scum and the other from the crunchy, salty bits in cheese. Sodium alginate and Calcium lactate. When the two meet in a solution of almost pure water they form a jelly separating one pool from the other. This can be used by the creative cook to produce small, caviar like pearls of intense flavoured sauce surrounded by a jelly case or larger 'spheres' of creamy silk flavours encased in jelly.

My first play was with reverse spherification. This is the simpler form in that once the spheres are washed off then the reaction stops. Apparently, spherification continues after the wash so you need to do this jut before serving.

Firstly I played with a mix of cream and blueberries. This formed rather odd, kidney shaped and colured jelly encased cream. Having toyed with this, I then played with limoncello. Having dissolved the calcium lactate in the limoncello and let the air settle out (the same for the deionized water and sodium alginate) I tipped spoonfuls of the limoncello into the alginate solution. A minute or two later I had jelly encased limoncello that could be handled with ease. Popped into the mouth, they exploded with the strong lemon flavour. My concern was that the shapes were not attractive.

A little more research soon showed that the odd shapes were not unusual. The stunning demispheres I have seen and experienced in restaurants are created using the freezer to create the shape and warm alginate solution to create the jelly.

Tonight's efforts went completely awry (more on that in a later post) but I will continue to experiment and post the results here. When the photographs appear then you know I am happier wit the results

Sunday, 23 February 2014

A gift of trout

I popped up to my local social club on Thursday evening for a small libation. Whilst there, a friend came in from a long days fishing. The boot of his car had a number of large trout, the spoils of his days efforts. He offered me a good sized trout and I thought it only fare to reciprocate with some home made bacon which he gratefully accepted.

The following evening I filleted the trout and prepared a beetroot cure. I have used this before on salmon but I fancied that the sweetness and the colour would complement the trout. I placed the fillets skin side down in a large tray and covered them in the cure. after 10 hours in the fridge I turned the fish over and returned it to the fridge for another 20 hours or so. The fish was then removed and washed. The results, as you can see, were spectacular.

My next job was to slice the fillets thinly. Starting at the tail, I used a very sharp knife to slice at a steep angle towards the tail right through to but not through the skin.

 Each slice was then flipped over until the whole fillet was sliced.

It was now a simple matter of running the knife along the skin from the tail to the head to remove multiple, paper thin slices of cured trout. I then vacuum packed these ready for future use.

 It will keep for a few weeks in the fridge but the majority ended up in the freezer where it will keep for a month or two.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A simple but tasty treat (and a great use for marmalade)

I was a little stuck for lunch today and wanted something a little more exciting that soup or a sandwich. My wife had mentioned having a rather nice dish in a tapas bar recently. We normally have a good selection of cheeses in so I pottered to the kitchen and found a nice soft goats cheese. With the oven on, I spent a short while finding the right sized oven proof dish to accommodate said cheese. I then placed the cheese in the dish and sealed the top with a good layer of marmalade (the very same I made a week or two ago). I then popped it into the hot oven (180 C) for about 15 minutes so that the cheese was well melted. The piquance of the marmalade is a perfect counterpoint to the musky goats cheese Served with some good French bread you have to admit it looks great.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Stuck for lunch?

It is a horrible day outside. I am sat at home nursing the end of a rotten cold and the last thing I want to do is brave the wind and the rain. As lunch time approached I realised that if I didn't get creative then lunch was going to be some toast. A quick look in the veg box revealed some useful ingredients

 The peeler is a rather special gadget I was given for Christmas a year or two ago. It is a pepper/tomato peeler. It avoids all the messy burning of the skins, cooling and peeling and although that can add a nice smokey taste I am not looking for that today. A minute or so later and my ingredients are stripped ready for a hot bath.

 I diced the onions and minced the garlic and popped them into a hot saucepan with a tablespoon of good olive oil. Once they were softened up in went the chopped tomatoes and pepper, some thyme, pepper, salt and 1/2 a pint of chicken stock (vegetable stock if you want to keep it vegetarian). The next part is optional and can be replaced with more fresh tomatoes but I like the taste a tin of peeled plum tomatoes adds to the soup. Once this had started to boil I lowered the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes. I was left with this rather lumpy mix below.

A quick burst with my pet Bamix and I have a delicious soup full of vitamin C to help with the cold. Enough for 5 large lunchtime portions. 1 for the bowl and 4 for the freezer for the next rainy day.

A little more hassle than a tin of soup but oh so much nicer.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Old Fashioned Marmalade

With Sevil oranges kicking around the shops and last years supply almost at an end the time has come to make some fresh marmalade.It seems like everyone has their own recipe so here is mine.

1.5 kilos of Seville Oranges
2 lemons
1 kilo of preserving sugar
0,5 kilos of muscovado or dark brown sugar

First score the skins of each of the oranges to enable you to peel them in quarters. Juice the remaining flesh of the oranges but keep the pith and pips then add the juice and pips from the lemons. If the pith on the skins is thick and loose then use a teaspoon to scoop away as much of the pith as you can. Add this pith to the waste from juicing the flesh. Put this waste in muslin and tie it off into a secure bag. Add enough water to make the juice up to 3 litres and place the muslin bag in this watered juice. Next, carefully slice the peel into thin strips. I like mine about 2mm across the strip but the thickness is up to you. Add theses peel slices to the juice and water and set aside in a cool place for 24 hours.

The following day put the mixture into a preserving pan and bring to the boil. Simmer until the peel turns translucent then remove the muslin bag and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to squeeze, press as much juice as you can from the muslin bag into the preserving pan. Add the sugar and bring  to a rolling boil. Using a sugar thermometer bring the mixture to 220 C. Check the set using a cold saucer (I put one in the fridge before I start the boil). When you are happy with the set then bottle in sterile jars.

I love my home made marmalade. Not only does it taste great on toast but it adds a certain something to roast lamb, ham, pork and salmon.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Pollocks it's Monday

Plenty to post this week so sorry this is a day or two late. After all my shopping and cooking over the weekend I knew I had a fair selection of meals in the bank for the week. I wanted something quick and easy for a Monday night. On Sunday I took a couple of pieces of the basil and garlic butter left over from an earlier blog (I packed the extra up into portions and popped them into the freezer). These were popped into a vac pac pack bag and sealed up. Monday night came. I popped the sous vide on to heat up and popped up to my club for a swift pint. On my return, the sous vide had reached 56 C. In went the pollock for a 20 minute bath. Meanwhile I heated my wok and prepared pepper, pak choi, broccoli, ginger, galengal and spring onion. A thinly sliced garlic clove, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar joined the other ingredients for a 4 minute stir fry. I opened the bag and removed the pollock to sear in a hot pan. The butter and juices were added to the stir fry. Once plated up we had a very tasty and fulfilling Monday night meal with minimal work.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Time to learn something new.

Sunday afternoon with the prospect of rain and wind just calls for a good film, a pot of good tea and a slice or two of cake. With this in mind I decided I would try my hand at something new. A week late for the Chinese New Year but coconut rice cake was my task. I also decided that it was time the cherry and walnut cake fend in our house learned to fend for herself.

First the baking lesson.

175g of softened unsalted butter and 175g of caster sugar into the food processor. Personally I enjoy creaming the butter and sugar together by hand but this is supposed to be fun and not hard work for my wife.

As these are blended together on a slow speed add three large eggs, a tablespoon of milk and a few drops of vanilla extract. A pinch of salt gets this all ready for the flour.

Cherries and walnuts to taste ( my wife seems to prefer plenty of fruit and nuts) are measured out. You can chop them if you want but we prefer them whole. 100 grams of plain and 100 grams of self raising flour are measured out and mixed together. A couple of tablespoons over the cherries and walnuts and the rest into the blender.

Mix up the Cherries, walnuts and flour to coat them in flour and help to prevent them sinking. Next add the cake mixture and stir together before pouring into the cake tin. I use a loaf tin pre-oiled with some almond oil. I like to dust the top with caster sugar to give a crunchy top. This then goes into a pre-heated oven at 170C (fan) for an hour. After an hour check with a skewer and cook for a further 15 minutes if necessary.

Lesson over it was my turn to learn something. First I set up the sous vide to cook the batter. I had to raise the base so that I could fill the sous vide to about 1cm below the top of the cake tin but still above the fill level and heat it to 90.5 C.  I took 90ml of melted coconut cream (and used a couple of teaspoons to oil the tin), 400 ml of coconut milk, 80 ml of water, 2/3 tsp almond extract,125 grams of caster sugar and 1/3 tsp of vanilla extract and whisked all this together. I then added 300 grams of rice flour, 1/2 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp of baking soda. This batter was then put into the tin and covered in foil that was then pierced with a few holes. This then sat in the sous vide with hot water to 1cm from the top for 1.5 hours.

When it came out it was a very uninteresting white 'sponge'. It tasted ok but nothing special. I cut it into cubes, egg coated the cubes, dipped them in desiccated coconut and fried it as per the recipe. Still boring. The addition of a little creme fraiche and a brandy soaked cherry and a little milk (from the cherry brandy further back in the blog) and we now have a nice petit fours. Not sure it is worth all the effort but a good experiment all the same.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sous Vide Skate

After my Saturday trip to the market I wanted some fish so it was off to Morrisons as they have the best fish in our area in my opinion. It was not a great day for fish as I discovered. No octopus or monk fish let alone turbot so I had to select from what was available. I managed to get a couple of nice skate wings. Pink and shinny with no smell of ammonia. Back home, a trawl of the internet brought up this rather interesting recipe (

After watching the rugby, preparing the oranges to make marmalade tomorrow and putting the shopping away I got ready to cook. That was when I read the recipe through properly and discovered I should have made a court bouillon some hours ago. If we were to eat this tonight I had to change the recipe. While I love to make a stock from scratch sometimes it just has to be a Knorr Stock Pot. 250 ml of white wine, 250 ml water, fish stock pot, 2 star anise, a few all spice berries and a teaspoon of fennel seed later and I had something resembling a court bouillon. A quick cool in an ice bath and we were ready to roll. The stock, a little fresh ginger, some lemongrass and the skate joined each other in the sous vide for an hour at 60 C while the fennel chose a hotter bath in my second sous vide at 85 C.

An hour later I took the bags out of the water baths. Seared some of the fennel in a hot skillet. Prepared the fish sauce, pureed the remaining fennel with the coriander leaves, bread crumbed and fried the skate and we finally sat down to a nice supper. After a pizza for lunch we decided one skate wing between too was sufficient for the supper so I still have one wing left to have a little fun with later in the week along with a slab of pollock.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Two Way Chicken with Fennel

Time for a Sunday roast but I wanted to use the sous vide. After a little hunt around I found this rather interesting recipe that I could bend a little.

I took a small chicken and removed the legs and wings and took out the wishbone. I now pressed the crown flatter and placed it in a vac pac bag with a clementine .I still have a few, slightly dry examples kicking around after Christmas. No good for eating but perfect for adding a little flavour. I added some thyme, rosemary and a star anise prior to sealing the bag an popping it in to the sous vide at 70C for 2 hours.

The legs and wings went into an oiled tray with a little sea salt. Covered in foil it went into the fan oven at 120C for 2 hours. The recipe called for a second oven to cook off potatoes and garlic at 180C for 15 to 20 minutes at the end. Knowing the meat would need resting, I popped the potatoes, thyme and a bulb of garlic, broken into cloves (don't peel the cloves.) in about 10 minutes before the end of the chicken roasting, removed the foil from the chicken and knocked the temperature up to 180C. This crisped off the skin on the legs and the wings before I took them out to rest, back under foil for 20 minutes.

Just prior to this I thinly sliced the fennel (a mandolin is best for this) into a non-metallic bowl. A good pinch of sea salt, the zest and juice of a lemon were then added. This was left for around 20 minutes. Once the chicken was resting I placed a frying pan on the heat with some oil and butter. I removed the crown from the sous vide. Dried it and placed it in the now browning butter and oil mix. Once it was fried off on all sides and had taken on a good colour I placed it in foil to rest.

Next step was to wash the fennel in a bowl of cold water and then leave it to drain in a sieve. Once drained I placed it back in a bowl.  I removed the garlic cloves from the oven and popped the potatoes back in for a few more minutes while I finished off the dish. I squeezed the garlic out of the cloves into the fennel and mixed the two together.

Finally, to the plating up. I carved thick slices of the breast from the crown and served these with the leg and wing, some roasted potato and the fennel salad for a simple but very tasty alternative to the traditional roast.

The wine? A Cold Harbour Sauvignon Blanc 2012. A great light wine (10.5%) that means you can enjoy an extra glass or two on a Sunday without worrying about the effect on Monday morning. School night wine :)

Monday, 27 January 2014

Time to see the boys :)

Six nations rugby starts at the weekend and a much awaited invitation to pop round my friends house for a 'rugby soiree' arrived. This can only mean two things. Time to have the Michael taken and time to make bacon. It has been a while since the last clan gathering so the sous vide was not in play then. Time to add to the mix.

The sous vide is a great toy for food creations but a must for mixollogy unless you are into liquid nitrogen. Remembering that the boys like their rum cocktails I decided to knock up a litre of something beyond a mojito. The weekends sojourn to the market had rewarded me with, amongst other things, limes, lemon grass, basil and mint. A short stop at the supermarket added to the potential with a litre of supermarket bargain basement white rum. A good bunch of mint, 3 crushed (a steak tenderiser did the job well) lemon grass stalks, three stalks of basil, the rind from three limes and the juice from one, a ziplock bag and a litre of rum took a bath together at 60C for an hour and a half (longer means stronger flavour). I let this cool over night and then strained it back into the bottle for delivery to the glass on Saturday. A few chefs perks came my way and a touch of fresh mint, a touch of fresh lime and some ice (possibly sugar if you have a sweet tooth) will see us well on the way to a Caribbean feel to a cold, wet day of watching the rugby.

My friend has promised us plenty of food so I will not be on point to produce home made bacon sandwiches this time but I thought I might just drag along a few vacpack slices of home made bacon to help with the morning after. 500grams of salt, and the same of muscavado sugar, two vanilla pods, half a nutmeg  and a good teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper went into the blender with two tablespoons of maple syrup. A handful of this underneath and on top of a good looking back joint of pork every day for the next 5 days will see a great bit of bacon rinsed in water then washed in some malt vinegar ready to hang in an airy and dry place until Saturday morning before being sliced and packed. Happy eating boys.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sunday roast with a difference.

I managed to pick up a bargain in the supermarket again. I do so love it when they reduce their meat in perfect time for Sunday. A nice rack of lambs ribs with a garlic and lemon baste for slow cooking. Perfect if you have plenty to do and visitors too. Having prepared a nice caraway seed cake at breakfast so it was fresh for our visitors when they came round for afternoon tea and got our breakfast ready it was time to get things clean and tidy.

Once the decks were clear then I filleted the farmed turbot I also managed to get yesterday. I love it when the fish is fresh enough to still have the slime that indicates it is newly caught. These turbot did not disappoint. Thanks to a fish course down at Rick Steins some years ago I am more than capable of cleaning and filleting fish quickly and  efficiently. I soon had 8 good fillets that were soon vac packed with chunks of the watercress sauce I made up and froze yesterday. In short order there were two tasty meals in the freezer ready for a quick cook in the sous vide after a busy day at work.

With supper in a few hours the lamb went into the oven at 160C for some 3.5 hours. This will make it nice an succulent. Finally I had a little time to relax. A nice walk during one of the rare dry spells in the UK at the moment. An excellent pint of Hogs Back T.E.A (a local real ale) and it was time to head back to put the accompaniment to the lamb in the oven. Neither of us fancied a standard roast and a large butternut squash had arrived in the veg box on Friday so I decided to roast off half of the squash for an hour and fifteen minutes (45 minutes if it had been at 180C ) minutes. Meantime I quartered and sliced a good size leek and softened that off in a little olive oil. Once the squash was soft I scooped out the flesh. Mashed it with a little butter and pepper. Mixed in the leek, some walnuts (50g) and some Stilton cheese (80g) . The lamb was taken out of the oven and given some time to rest. Meanwhile I re-filled the butternut squash skin with the mixture and returned it to the oven at 180C for a further 15 minutes. A quick gravy to coat the meat and it was time to serve up. I poured a teaspoon of maple syrup over each of the butternut squash portions and we were ready to eat.

I've always liked the term unctuous when directed at food. It conjures up a creamy or luxuriantly oily dish. This was exactly that. The creamy butternut squash and the Stilton made for a soft and very creamy accompaniment for a delicious cut of lamb.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Market day and a good mood

Woke early this morning and felt like it might be a cooking day. We rose gently, some pain au chocolat and a delicious (large) cup of spiced tea set me up for the short walk to the local market. There is a great fruit and veg stall there. On the front of the long stall is all the fruit and veg most of us would recognise. Behind that, set out behind the staff serving the customers is another long display of the exotics. Methi leaves, galangal, chillies, mooli, okra and dozens of other items I have yet to play with and learn their names. My basket was soon filled with herbs, peppers, asparagus, rhubarb and a whole lot more including a large bowl of oyster mushrooms.

We returned home with our purchases just in time for lunch. I put a pan on the heat and sweated off some sliced onion with minced garlic. Meantime I hammered out two small rump steaks ready for flash frying. Once the onions were browning I added a small amount of red wine to colour  the onions and added a handful of the oyster mushrooms to cook through for a minute or so. I then set this aside, wiped the pan and put it back on a high heat. A touch of oil and butter soon started to smoke telling me it was time to fry off the steak. A minute or so each side had the meat nicely coloured. I had toasted off some fresh chunks of grand paysan bread ready to take the steaks. Once the pan was clear, a dash more of red wine deglazed the pan. In went the onions and mushrooms to mix in with this flavoursome jus for a second or two before being doled out onto the steaks. A quick spread of good English mustard on the top section of the bread and the steak sandwiches were ready.

The rest of the day was spent cooking off the other goodies I had purchased. Two bunches of watercress and a good measure of creme fraiche were blended to a fine mix and poured into a tray in the freezer to set. I'll cut this into pieces later and put it into sous vide bags with filleted and rolled farmed turbot I picked up for £4 a fish. These will then be frozen ready for a quick but delicious meal later in the week.

I fried off a chopped onion, a stick of celery and two sliced garlic cloves in a large pan. A litre and a half of vegetable stock was added and the remainder of the oyster mushrooms, some thyme and parsley. 15 minutes of simmering followed before I used the Bamix to blend this to a thick mushroom soup. 400ml of creme fraiche was also blended in to make a delicious and warming meal for later in the week. Enough for six large and filling bowls. They are now ziplock bagged and cooling ready for the freezer.

With all that cooking out of the way all that is left to do is to clear down the kitchen, set the dishwasher off. Put some potatoes, swede and cabbage on to cook along with the Haggis. Sit back with a nice scotch and look forwards to a pleasant Burns night in front of the fire while a storm beats on the windows outside.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Torch it.

I know I bang on about sous vides but they are to cooking in the 21st century what microwaves were to the 20th. Time and money saving devices that, when used correctly, can be a boon to both budget and taste. How many of us have used our microwave to soften butter ready for a sponge rather than killing ourselves trying to soften fridge bricks of butter and creaming it into sugar?

Sure, the sous vide is not cheap. You can pick up a basic model from Robert Dyas for £99 but, if you want a comfortable new machine for the kitchen then you need to invest around £250 on something like a sous vide supreme home machine. Trust me, used properly, it will pay for itself.

This weekend I happened to spot a rolled and boned half lamb shoulder at the supermarket at a greatly reduced price of £2.84. Purchased and brought home it went into a vac pac bag (these machines are around £50 but, again, save a fortune as you vac pack cooked meats etc.). Along with the lamb I put a sprig of rosemary, thyme, some basil and the peel of a clementine. I added two star anise pods and a touch of olive oil (just a teaspoon). The sous vide was set at 54C and in went the bag for 24 hours or so. Tonight, I took out this raw looking package.

Once cut open, the kitchen was flooded with a rich aroma of orange and herbs. I removed the herbs and peel and was left with this unappetising lump.

Now, the secret of sous vide, browning. You can either brown the meat by searing in a very hot pan before cooking or, as I am getting to prefer, searing the meat post sous vide with either a very hot skillet or, as in this case, by using a good blowtorch. After just a minute or two under a flame that can melt silver the slightly more appetising result:

Perfectly cooked lamb that was tasty, tender and pink. After the addition of a vegetables cooked off in the 20th century cooking revolution you have a hot and tasty meal in minutes (I don't count the long and hot bath in the sous vide as cooking time) .

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Tuna with basil butter - Perfect supper

I woke up this morning with a need to create something a bit tasty for supper tonight. I was fed up with the constant rain and wanted something to lift the gloom. Tuna was my first choice. Lighter than a meat based meal and I can almost always pick up a great cut of it in town. After a quick scan on the net I found a recipe to fuel the imagination and set off for the shops to see what ingredients I could find. A short while later I returned with tuna, basil, fennel and some extra virgin olive oil.

A few hours later, after the chores were out of the way and we had enjoyed a couple of good 'afternoon' films to help occupy our time as the rain returned, I set about cooking supper. I seasoned two half inch thick tuna steaks and put them in individual ziplock bags with a cup of olive oil and some fresh basil leaves. These went into the sous vide at 43C for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, I dug out my food processor and popped a good handful of basil, a couple of garlic cloves and about 50 grams of unsalted butter in.Once blended, I pitched the resulting mix into some grease proof paper and formed it into a cylinder and popped it into the freezer for a while to set a little. I now prepared the fennel bulb. I cut it into quarters and popped it into a pan of salted boiling water to soften. Once it was tender (after about 10 minutes) I drained it. Put the fennel core quarters to one side on some kitchen paper to dry a little. At this point I put a couple of cast iron skillets on the gas to heat to a good searing temperature. The remaining fennel was pureed using the Bamix.

I put a little groundnut oil in one skillet and caramelized the fennel cores. While this cooked I removed the tuna from the sous vide and opened the bags. The Tuna was placed in the very hot skillet to sear. I turned the tuna after a minute or so and then, once the other side was seared, I placed a good knob of the basil butter on each steak and served up.

The result was fantastic. A succulent tuna steak wit h the peppery basil butter with some fresh lemon rind to cut the butter was well balanced with the pureed fennel and the caramelized fennel heart. A little fresh lemon juice helped to cut the richness of the dish but it is a simple and filling recipe I will be repeating in the future.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Cheek of it

After a pleasant weekend in West Wales helping my mother to celebrate her birthday I faced a 5 hour drive and the thoughts of cooking a meal at the end of it. I had booked us into Hammet House for a celebratory meal yesterday and knew I would want something exciting but simple upon our return tonight.  With that in mind, I put two good sized pork cheeks into the sous vide on Friday morning at 62.5 C to while away the weekend in a hot bath.

Before their immersion I had generously dusted both of the cheeks with plenty of five spice. Today, once I had retrieved them from the water, I opened the bags and the scent of the five spice filled the kitchen. I set the pork cheeks aside for a short while and put the spicy liquid from the bags into a pan over a medium heat. To this I added a finely chopped red chili, an inch of julienned fresh ginger, two cloves of fresh minced garlic and a small onion, halved and thinly sliced.  I added a tablespoon of agave syrup, dark soy sauce and a splash of rice wine vinegar. I increased the heat and reduced the sauce. In the mean time I heated a wok and prepared some egg fried rice. Whilst this cooked through, I thickly sliced the pork cheeks and added them to the sauce, turning the slices to coat them . Finally I added some sliced lettuce to add a little colour and served the pork on top of the rice. The result was the comforting and spicy dish I sought to relax me into my Sunday evening.

I will write up my notes from the meal at Hammet house later in the week but appetite sated and wine sitting in the glass I will leave you for now and enjoy the rest of my evening.