Thursday, 15 November 2012

Honey & Co : Warren Street

As I've been working 24/8 on my bistro lately, I have rarely eaten out, let alone venture into London. So tonight's cameo appearance was full of expectation and thankfully I wasn't let down.

I'm a big fan of middle eastern food and restaurants that bring traditional dishes from their homelands to mine. Therefore, Honey & Co was an apt choice. The restaurant is quite basic but has lots of quirky touches that transport you to destinations far away. The menu is short, but with everything being freshly prepared and equally as desirable, I still wanted everything.

To start we opted for a couple of salads. Advocado with tabule and pomegranate aroused ones taste buds whilst the quince, mint, honeyed hazelnuts and fresh curd cheese would have actually satisfied me for starter, main course and dessert.

To follow, the Jordanian lamb and rice casserole was both comforting and frustrating because I never wanted it to end. Succulent lamb blended with orange blossom infused rice, saffron yoghurt, almonds and raisins was a triumph. The rare beef with plums, sweet potato and a lemon dressing seemed a curious combination, but the flavours interacted well.

Dessert was amazing in as much as how can a deconstructed cheesecake taste better that a proper one. Answer : Use Kataifi pastry, use feta cheese and throw in some fresh oregano.

The wine list is very small, but this is complemented by some beautiful teas which refresh the palate equally as well. Even after dinner, getting out of the door is a struggle as one's attention is drawn to the mouthwatering array of cakes and homemade jams which at this time of year make useful xmas presents.

The chef Itamar is a top bloke, very passionate about his food, but sticking to his roots at the same time. There are obvious similarities between his cooking and such people as Ottolenghi and Sylvena Rowe, however this restaurant is more about good home cooking, comfort food Israeli style if you like. Casting the food and the chef aside however, the real star of the show is Rachael. She could sell ice cubes to Eskimos she's so nice. Very attentive, friendly and totally conversant with all of the dishes, she was a delightful maitre d.

I will definitely return, but maybe this time I'll bring a good book and stay for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Chicken, mango and avocado salad

Like many people, Monday is a day for using up leftovers from the previous day's roast. Turning everything into a curry is a bit of a cop out really and besides I 'm on a diet. I also had loads of fruit laying about due to the fact that I'm having my 25 a day at the moment. WTF goes with chicken I thought? I'll f'king ask Gordon Ramsey and there it was on page 83 of

Ok, his recipe uses smoked chicken but mine was so burnt it would have same effect! The book actually is really good, full of nutritious recipes which unfortunately make you feel like you have the energy to wash up afterwards, as opposed to falling asleep on the sofa whilst the Mrs does it.

Ingredients :  (for 2)

Half a cooked chicken torn into pieces, ripe avocado, ripe mango, 100g mixed leaves, tbsp toasted pine nuts, Dressing - tbsp orange juice, tbsp lemon juice, tsp wholegrain mustard, 2 tbsp ex virgin olive oil, seasoning

1. In a large bowl add the chicken to the leaves.
2. Peel the mango and working round the stone, cut into thin slices. Add to bowl.
3. Whisk all dressing ingredients together.
4. Halve the avocado, remove stone and peel carefully. Do this last to avoid discolouring. Add to bowl
5. Dress the salad and toss thoroughly. Decant to a serving plate and pile high. Sprinkle with the pine nuts.

How easy is that? The mango makes the dish taste and feel fresh, whilst the creaminess of the avocado and crunchy pine nuts offer good variations in texture. In terms of flavour it doesn't really compare to Asian salads, but it is full of nutrients and a perfect summer dish.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Junction Tavern, Kentish Town : Review

Hampstead Heath is one of my favourite parts of London. You can escape the noise of the city, walk for miles, enjoy splendid views of the capital and of course eat and drink yourself silly. On the whole, most of the eating places are of a decent standard, no more so that the plethora of gastropubs.

To the east of the heath you will find Fortess Road and the highly acclaimed Junction Tavern. review is odd as it is based on just the main courses. However, owing to a long, hot day devoted mainly to sampling real ale, that was all we could manage and besides the portions are pretty big.

The Lamp rump with black olive mash, wild mushrooms and a rich jus was perfect for soaking up all of the pints that I had knocked back during the day. Everything was well cooked and each individual component went well with the other. However, the Pan fried Sea Bass with fregola, mussels, tomatoes, samphire, chili and garlic was as good as anything I've ever eaten in a pub. Fregola are tiny pasta balls from Sardinia which are made from semolina and just go so well with fish. The bass was crispy on top and succulent underneath, the mussels were plump and sweet, the samphire had a lovely bite to it, whilst the fregola came somewhere in between. The sauce had that lovely spicy zing to it that clung to your lips leaving a long and satisfying taste. In fact, it was so good, I sacrificed dessert to finish off the rest of my partners.

The pub suits all tastes, had a nice conservatory and quite a large garden area. One course with a large glass of wine each came to about £40. Highly recommended.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Asian Sirloin Steak with Pak Choi

I try to restrict my intake of red meat and with respect to steak, if I have it, I normally like it plain with mushrooms, chips, salad etc. However, sometimes my near obsession with any flavour or cuisine east of Watford takes over and out comes the soy sauce, chili, lime etc.

This dish is very simple but tastes like something more sophisticated. Sometimes steak be be a heavy meal, but for some reason, the Asian dressing gives it a lighter, fresher touch. I feel that the meat must be cooked medium rare or not at all. I served with some steamed pak choy which gives great texture and steamed basmati rice which enhances the Asian theme.

Ingredients : (for 2) 2 Sirloin steaks about an inch thick, seasoning, finely chopped red chili, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 inch knob of ginger grated, 6tbsp soy sauce, juice of a lime, 2 tbsp olive oil.

1. Combine the chili with the garlic, ginger, soy, lime and olive oil. Taste and check for that ying / yang balance. It should be fresh and zingy, with a comfortable amount of heat and saltiness.
2. Head a griddle pan until very hot. Season steaks and drizzle with some olive oil. Cook for 2 minutes either side and set aside to rest.
3. In the meantime, cook the rice and pak choi.
4. To serve, scatter the vegetables over a warmed plate. Slice the steak at an angle and arrange over the greens. Now pour over the dressing and any juices from the meat.

Afghan Aubergines

Any mention of Afghanistan naturally raises thoughts of the awful conflict and the hordes of brave soldiers risking their lives on a daily basis. I really can't think of any positives about being there, although if I was there, I'd be quite happy to munch on this dish every day. I was delighted to receive Veggiestan, by Sally Butcher as a Xmas present last year. The front cover is stunning and thankfully the recipes on the inside match up.

Blending aubergine with yoghurt is nothing new, but to serve the vegetable hot creates something a little different. This is great to serve with some pitta bread as a shared starter or part of a meze. The textures are very comforting and the spices marry well with the yoghurt which carries quite a kick of its own thanks to all the raw garlic.

Ingredients : (for 2 people as a shared meze dish) large aubergine cut into 6mm slices, rapeseed oil, chopped onion, green chilli chopped, 1/2 tsp ground turmeric, 1/2 tin of chopped tomatoes, small bunch or chopped coriander. Yoghurt : 150ml thick yoghurt, 1tbsp lemon juice, 3 crushed garlic cloves, handful of chopped mint, seasoning

1. Place the aubergines in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to bleed for half an hour, wash, then pat dry.
2. Sweat off the onion and chili until soft, then remove and set aside.
3. Now fry off the aubergine until brown on both sides, you may need to do this in batches.
4. When brown, sprinkle with the turmeric and then add the tomatoes, onions and chilli and 3/4 of the coriander. Add sufficient water so that the veg is covered, then place a lid on, reduce to a low heat and simmer for 20-30mins until sauce thickens.
5. In the meantime combine all of the sauce ingredients and chill.
6. To serve, check the aubergine mix for seasoning. Spread 3/4 of the yoghurt over the base of a plate. Top with the aubergines and tip the remaining yoghurt on top. Garnish with the remaining coriander and dive in.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Gilbert Scott : Restaurant Review

One of the most beautiful, iconic stand out buildings in London has to be the refurbished St Pancras Station. The designers have managed to blend modern architecture whilst restoring the grand old station to it's former glories all in one go. On the site of the original Midland Hotel now sits the Renaissance Hotel and housed within it, as a kind of tribute to the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and other British pioneers of cooking is The Gilbert Scott restaurant, headed by one of England's finest, Marcus Wareing.

How often do we go out for an English meal? Who even knows what one is anyway, Chicken Tikka Masala, Spag Bol? Well, this is a celebration of Great British ingredients and each dish is based on fresh, seasonal produce. There are no fancy sauces or garnishes with poncey French names nor foams, emulsions or liquid nitrogen. What you see is what you get.

To start we had the Mackerel tartare with cucumber, elderflower and gooseberry. This was brought to life by some chili and lime and just made me hungrier than ever. The roasted artichoke with girolles and samphire had great texture and a naturally salty, earthy deep taste. Both dishes were accompanied by a delightful Viognier.

For main we had Rump of Veal with juicy sweet onions and sage and Devilled Mackerel with plum tomatoes. You have to order additional sides which I feel a tad cheeky but the jersey royals and spring greens were summer on a plate on their own. With the Veal I had a glass of Chateau Musar which at £6 a go is an absolute bargain. It's one of my favourite wines and for me made the meal. I was so overcome in fact, I forgot to take any pics of the mains!

For pud, we opted for a couple of the lighter dishes. The Bourbon marinated pineapple with toasted marshmallow was inspired, whilst Mrs Beeton's snow egg, a poached meringue filled with marmalade, topped with crunchy toasted almonds and set on a pond of custard was as gentle a dessert as there is.

For two people, three courses with wine equates at about £55 per head including tip, but also a disappointing cover charge of £2pp which I thought we'd seen the last off. Nevertheless, for a taste of nostalgia I can highly recommend this venue.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Malaysian Chicken with Shitake Mushrooms

To be honest, I haven't got a proper name for this recipe. Many moons ago I had a Malaysia girlfriend who cooked the most amazing dishes. When you're 21 you're quite impressionable, no more so than this which I still enjoy it now. Of course it doesn't taste quite as good as her version and I've probably got the ingredients and method wrong, but it's still a great dish and you won't find it in any take away this weekend.

Essentially the dish is a type of stew. The star ingredient though are the mushrooms which despite being quite expensive just ooze flavour as they soak up the sauce. With such strong flavours, it's best to serve with some simple pak choy and steamed rice.

Ingredients (for four) : whole chicken cut into pieces or a pack of thighs and drumsticks, 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced, 5cm stick of ginger finely sliced, handful of dried shitake mushrooms, 3 tbsp mushroom soy sauce, 2 tbsp oyster sauce.

1. Soak the mushrooms in about half a pint of hot water for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, toss the chicken pieces in 1tbsp of soy sauce.
2. Remove the mushrooms from the water and retain the liquor. Squeeze firmly until all of the water is out. The stems may still be hard and woody so trim. Chop roughly so that you have some sliced and some halved or even whole mushrooms.
3. Heat a casserole dish and add the garlic and ginger. Fry gently until fragrant, then add the chicken. Seal the meat and stir fry until nicely coloured.
4. Add the mushrooms and the remaining soy sauce and the oyster sauce and mix together. Then add the mushroom liquor and place lid on dish.
5. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste the sauce and season to taste by either adding more soy or a little water.
6. To serve, remove the meat and pour over the sauce which should be dark and rich.

The Pak Choy by the way is fried in a hot pan of oil infused with ginger for 2-3 minutes. You then add 50ml of chicken stock, 1tbsp of mirin and a pinch of sugar. Simmer for a couple of minutes and remove to a heated plate. Drizzle some sesame oil over the top.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Fish Tray Bake

Jamie Oliver and I have much in common. We were both born in the same county. We are passionate about food and we both try to deliver as much flavour as possible through good natural ingredients. I have a cool catering company whilst he has a multi-million pound empire. What's a few quid between Essex boys eh! Tonight's offering is from his excellent book

I must admit, 30 minutes is a push for some of the meals and besides I quite like to dwell in the kitchen but the recipes are still good. I have also slightly adjusted his method for this as I feel that the pancetta burns too quickly. Apart from that, the end product tastes so fresh and zingy. There is natural saltiness from the pancetta and anchovies which is offset by the sweet tomatoes and the succulent fish. At the bottom you will find a natural sauce which enhances the moistness of the dish. I served this simply with some boiled new potatoes.

Ingredients (for 2) : 2 salmon fillets with skin on, 8 large raw tiger prawns, bunch of asparagus, 1 lemon, 1 chopped red chili, tin of anchovies in oil, 4 smashed cloves of garlic, 2 tomatoes on the vine, 2 slices of pancetta, olive oil, seasoning.
1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees.
2. In a roasting tray, place the salmon skin side up. Add the asparagus, discarding the woody stems first. Now arrange the lemon in quarters, the chill, tomatoes, garlic and ripped anchovies. Drizzle over a dash of olive oil and season.
3. Place in over for about ten minutes.
4. Remove and crank grill up to the max. Place the pancetta over the top of the dish and put under grill for a couple of minutes until crispy.
5. Serve in the tray with a nice bottle of chilled white wine. We had an Australian Verdelho which was perfect.

Cardamom cake with lemon and rose water syrup

I'm a big fan of lemon drizzle cake and this is just a variation based upon my current penchant for Eastern Mediterranean food. I like cardamom in virtually anything and although rose water can be equally fragrant, if you balance them out properly the taste is sensational. Now baking is not my forte, but this is virtually foolproof. Putting my snobby hat on for a mo, this goes great with a cup of Earl Grey Tea m'lord!

Ingredients : 225g softened unsalted butter, 225g caster sugar, 225g self raising flour, 4 eggs, zest of a lemon, 12 cardamon pods with their skins removed and seeds crushed in a pestle and mortar. For the syrup, 80g caster sugar, juice of a lemon, 2 tsp rose water, 1tbsp water

1. Heat over to 180 / GM 4.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until pale. Gradually add the eggs and mix thoroughly. Sift in the flour and add the ground cardamom and lemon zest. Mix well until all ingredients have combined.
3. Line a loaf tin with some greaseproof paper and pour in the batter. Level off and bake for 50-60 mins. Baking time can vary, but you can tell when the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the middle. If it comes out clean it is done.
4. When the cake is cooked, put aside and make the syrup. Gently heat the sugar, lemon juice, rose water and water in a pan. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
5. With a skewer, prick holes all over the cake. Drizzle over the syrup generously. This should keep the centre nice and moist and also create a crisp topping.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Sabor : Islington

If you want to travel round the world eating every cuisine known to man but don't necessarily have the time nor the budget, then Islington is a fair compromise. The choice of restaurants is amazing and to date I have yet to be disappointed by any of them. One genre of food which I feel is under stated in the UK is South American. Most of us have probably sampled the delights of the wonderful wines on offer but may not be too familiar with the food.

Sabor which is on Essex Road, just to the east of Upper Street is discretely set between some pretty indistinctive shops, but in a culinary sense shines like a beacon. The layout is sleek and narrow, a bit like Chile and quite minimalist in design. The menu however is just packed full of dishes that tantalise the taste buds even before the delicious home made bread arrives.

A good test of many a restaurant is to opt for one of the classics. In this case, sea bass ceviche to start followed by a good old fashioned piece of prime Argentinian steak. The ceviche, pronounced Seveachey was sublime and would not have looked out of place in a Michelin one star restaurant. The little cubes of sea bass still retained a little bite and were blended perfectly well with the chili, tomato and citrus dressing. However, to lift the dish to even higher levels was an amazing tomato and chili sorbet which cleansed the palate between mouthfuls and left you salivating for more. After virtually dancing The Tango on top of our table, our waitress Esther who was totally adorable and worthy of threee michelin stars brought out some more sorbet. To compliment the food fiesta happening in our mouths, we opted for an Argentinian Viognier which was perfect

The steaks that followed enhanced my philosophy that if you stick to good basic ingredients, you can't go wrong.  They were served with a cheeky chimichurri, a green salad and again some beautifully spiced potatoes. Nothing too fancy, but ingredients that just brought out the best in each other. A robust Chilean Carmenere accompanied the main which just rocked.

Unfortunately, dessert was just a step too far but everything looked delicious and I'd be surprised if I didn't return there within the next 25 minutes to sample more ceviche and this time leave room for something sweet. Two courses with two glasses of wine each and tip came to around £80 which is far cheaper than a plane ride to Buenos Aires!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Courgette & Chilli Penne

This recipe is for those people who have reservations about cooking with courgettes because they think they are bland and also for those who may have visited the same restaurant as me, eaten the same dish and thought that they would like to re-create it at home and save themselves about seven quid. Courgettes / Zucchini are full of water and need to be cooked correctly or they taste of nothing. For this dish, they are grated and then firmly squeezed to release all of their liquid. I've had this a few times in Carluccios who serve it with huge pieces of Penne and deep fried spinach balls. This is my interpretation anyway which tastes very fresh whilst delivering quite a bit of heat through the garlic and chili. There isn't actually a sauce as such, but the texture of the melted cheese and veg still works well to coat the pasta.

Ingredients (for 2 people) : 150g Penne, 2 large courgettes grated and firmly squeezed, half a bulb of crushed garlic, finely chopped red chili, 100g grated Parmesan, 3 finely sliced shallots, 1tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, seasoning

1. In a pan of salted boiling water, cook the pasta as per normal.
2. On a medium heat, fry the courgettes and shallots in the olive oil. The mixture will reduce down by about half during the cooking process. After about ten minutes, add the garlic and the chili.
3. Cook for a further five minutes. Keep stirring the veg as you don't want it to colour.
4. By now the pasta should be cooked, drain and reserve a couple of spoonfuls of the water.
5. Add the cheese to the veg and stir in until it has all melted. Now add the pasta and mix thoroughly.
6. The sauce will become sticky, so just loosen with a couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil and give it a few grinds of black pepper.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Roast wild duck with blackberry sauce and celeriac purée

I've been fortunate to have visited many of England's top restaurants and if I lie about how well I cooked this dish I might even get a job in one of them! To date I have yet to eat at Le Manoir aux quat saisons which is Raymond Blanc's theatre of gastronomony in Oxfordshire.  Therefore, tonight I though that I'd bring 2 Michelin star dining to Chez Moi which is just so much cheaper anyway!

I have stolen this recipe from the BBC website which saves me writing out the long list of ingredients and another page of instructions. In essence, I found the dish quite easy in terms of technique but you do need a plethora of pots, pans and other gadgets which will create a lot of washing up. I used duck breasts which I pan fried skin side down for about 5 minutes before roasting them off in the over for a further 10 minutes. The end product is one of gamey meat offset by a mildly sweet and sour punchy sauce and a light earthy puree that combines various textures and colours. Not actually wishing to challenge Monsieur Blanc, but I kept the puree a little thick just to add a little more substance and used is as the base of the dish.  I served with some green beans and the remaining Merlot which contributed to the sauce. Talking of which, there was some left over which I suspect will work well with some pork and apple sausages during the week.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Hot smoked salmon & potato salad

I'm a firm believer in using seasonal products for two reasons. 1. The taste 2. The cost. Why pay silly money for strawberries in winter? In saying that I could eat Christmas Pudding all year round. Jersey Royal potatoes are currently in season and taste great. To be honest they are fine just simply boiled in their skins and tossed in some olive oil and seasoning. They also make a great base ingredient for a warm salad. This dish is very easy to make and all of the components come together perfectly to give nice variations in taste and texture.

Ingredients (for 2) : 300g hot smoked salmon fillets, 500g jersey royals, 100g watercress, 100ml creme fraiche, tbsp horseradish, juice of half a lemon, handful of chopped spring onions, seasoning.

1. Boil the potatoes in salted water
2. In a bowl combine the creme fraiche with the horseradish, lemon juice and seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, just add a dash of milk.
3. In a serving dish, mix the watercress with the spring onions and flake in the fish in bite size pieces.
4. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and add to the salad. Drizzle over the dressing and mix thoroughly

For a salad with so few ingredients, there is smokeyness, pepperyness, nuttyness and piquancyness!

Monday, 18 June 2012

A cheeky little Cheese & Onion tart

I think that I'd do ok on Ready Steady Cook, well as long as I wasn't up against someone with a Michelin star. I had a family function at the weekend and despite laying on a fine spread still felt that there was one dish missing. As they were due to arrive, it was too late to go out and buy something, so I had to use the remnants from other dishes already made plus anything I could forage from the garden.

The leftovers available were : Puff pastry (tarte tatin), Cheddar Cheese (Cheeseboard), Red Onion, oregano (Greek salad). Together with some thyme picked from the garden, a little olive oil, butter, seasoning and brown sugar, I came up with the following. As a supper dish with a nice salad alongside, this would be enough for one person.

As it turned out, it was one of the tastiest dishes of the evening!

1. Roll out a piece of puff pasty until it's about half a cm thick and approx 15cm x 15cm. Set aside on a lightly greased baking sheet. Heat the over to 200c
2. Slice the red onion and gently saute in a pan with a knob of butter and a tbsp of olive oil.
3. Once soft, add 2tsp of brown sugar and some dried herbs. Season well and cook for a further couple of minutes.
4. Spoon the mixture into the centre of the pastry, leaving a gap as shown around the edge. Top with a good handful of grated cheese and a few sprigs of thyme.
5. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mushroom and Spinach Pasta

The other day a friend cooked me a pasta carbonara for lunch. Out of courtesy I ate it, but to be honest you could have laid bricks with the sauce. It was gloopy, had no taste and was totally anaemic. I later had a sneaky look in the bin to find a supermarket bought carton of sauce. Call me a snob, I don't care but I never buy pre-made sauces regardless of them being tomato or cream based.

Tonight's supper is so simple, I'm actually loathed to put it on here. However, I just want to prove to people how easy it is to make and the taste and texture is immeasurable to the processed puke we see on the shelves. It literally takes 20 minutes to make from beginning to end, so don't tell me you don't have time! I just throw things in, so I'll have a guess at the quantities. What you are looking for though is a nice smooth sauce, not too thick, but not drowning the pasta either. The cost for 2 people is approx £1.75 pp

Ingredients : 150g Fusilli, 100g sliced chestnut mushrooms, 100g spinach, diced medium onion, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 100g creme fraiche, 100ml chicken / veg stock, large handful of grated Parmesan, 2tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, seasoning

1. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, saute the mushrooms in the olive oil until nicely coloured. Reduce the heat and add the garlic and onion. Fry until soft.
3. Add the creme fraiche and Parmesan and mix thoroughly. Now add enough stock until you get a smooth sauce. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
4. Finally stir in the spinach. It's nice to have a combination of wilted leaves and some still with a little texture. If the sauce becomes sticky, add some more stock.
5. To serve, pile onto a plate and drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil. If you're feeling indulgent and want to take this dish to a higher level, drizzle with truffle oil instead.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Asparagus and Pea Risotto

With the summer neither here nor there, my appetite is all over the place. Do I want a sexy salad or a hearty casserole? What do I put on my shopping list? Such decisions eh. Anyway, with a view to pitching a dish somewhere between Spring and Autumn, I elected on a light and fresh risotto. The only thing to deliberate on was whether mint and Parmesan went together. Mint goes with peas and asparagus but you can't have a risotto without oodles of cheese. I tried them together wasn't happening! Oh sod it I thought, if it tastes awful I won't mention it in the blog.

The dish is very easy, just requires a little TLC standing over the rice base adding the stock. It's just the basic risotto recipe but has a much lighter, fresher taste and texture than some others may have. Takes about 30 minutes to make and the cost per person is about

Ingredients (for 2 people) : 150g arborio rice, medium onion finely diced, 400ml veg or chicken stock, 1/2 glass dry white wine, 12 asparagus spears, 150g frozen peas, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 knobs butter, large handful of grated Parmesan, 1 tbsp finely chopped mint, freshly ground black pepper

1. In a saucepan of boiling water, blanch the asparagus for 3 minutes. Drain, then tip into a bowl of iced water. You can add the frozen peas to this bowl halfway through cooking the rice.
2. Gently saute the onion and garlic in half the butter and the olive oil until soft.
3. Add the rice and coat with the mixture. As soon as the rice starts to crackle, add the wine and cook off the alcohol. Next add two ladles of the stock. Tip. Keep the stock on a gentle simmer throughout.
4. Gradually add stock until rice is almost ready. Then pour in the vegetables and stir in gently.
5. Add the remaining butter, plenty of pepper, the cheese and half of the mint and mix thoroughly.
6. Pile onto warm plates and then top with some more mint.

Oh, by the way, the mint works well. As the cheese has already melted in, the tastes do not clash. The al dente texture of the veg against the creamy rice is good and it just tastes fresh and erm.....summery!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Stilton and Bacon salad

I hold my hands up, this isn't the most healthy salad in the world. It does have fruit in it though! Some ingredients are just made for each other and with some leftover bacon and stilton in the fridge, a cheeky little salad wasn't that far away. With both being on the salty side, I needed something to sweeten it up and add texture, hence the inclusion of some pears and a dash of honey. The whole thing takes no more than 30 minutes from start to finish and costs about £2.25 per head.

Ingredients (for 2 people) : 4 rashers of bacon cut into strips, 2 ripe pears peeled cored and quartered, 75g stilton, 1oz butter, few glugs of olive oil, 2 tbsp honey, handful of pine nuts, splash of balsamic vinegar, 100g rocket or other peppery leaves, tsp dijon mustard, seasoning.

1. Dry fry the pine nuts until golden and set aside.
2. Fry off the bacon in a little olive oil until it starts to crisp up. Set aside on some kitchen paper.
3. Place the leaves on a serving plate
4. Gently fry the pears in half the butter and the remaining olive oil. Add 1 tbsp of honey and cook until tender. Then drizzle over a dash of the vinegar. You want the pears to be slightly caramelised but not overcooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
5. In the pan you cooked the pears in, add the pine nuts, mustard, remaining butter and honey. Cook for a minute or so.
6. To serve, add the bacon and pears to the leaves. Crumble the cheese over the top and then top with the honey and pine nut dressing.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Totally Indulgent Lemon & Strawberry Tiramisu

This dessert is not for the faint hearted. I often try to reduce the calorie count for some dishes, for this one I've upped it and thrown in some booze for good measure. Well, its Lizzies diamond jubilee weekend, so this is dedicated to her, a sweet fit for a queen!

I like normal Tiramisu but I think that it has the components that can be tinkered with. This version is more suited for the summer, hence the additional of strawberries. It's colourful, has a good variation of textures and if you like it a tad sharp it actually cleanses the palette. To make it even more indulgent, I serve it with a shot of Limoncello Liqueur. Forget the cost, forget the calories, but don't forget this recipe! This should serve 6.

Ingredients : 250g mascarpone cheese, 150ml double cream, 2 tbsp good quality lemon curd, 200g strawberries, 3 tbsp caster sugar, zest and juice of 4 lemons, 12 boudoir biscuits (sponge fingers), 2 tbsp sugar, handful of toasted almonds, Limoncello liqueur (optional)

1. Add the juice of 2 lemons, the sugar and 150 ml water to a pan. Bring to the boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile in a bowl add the mascarpone, cream, sugar, remaining lemon juice and the zest. Whip together until smooth. Then fold in the lemon curd gently to get a marble effect.
3. Toss the biscuits in the syrup to coat and then line the base of a trifle dish. They need to be moist rather than mushy. Add more syrup if necessary and then drizzle over some Limoncello.
4. Now slice half the strawberries and lay on top of the sponge.
5. Pour over the cream mixture and level off. Place in the fridge
6. To serve, decorate with the remaining strawberries and the almonds. Dust with icing sugar.
7. Pour a shot of Limoncello liqueur and enjoy :o)

Baked salmon with a mustard and parsley crust

Today was quite busy so I just wanted something simple yet tasty for supper. I keep inviting Lorraine Pascal over for dinner with little success. The next best thing is to create one of her delicious recipes. Topping a piece of fish with a crust adds texture and flavour, although to be honest the inclusion of sugar did create some doubts. So what if it tastes naff I thought, I can blame Lorraine, blow her out and go back to Delia!

I served this with some crushed new potatoes tossed in a lemon and herb vinaigrette and some asparagus. The dish is so moist, it doesn't need a sauce. It tastes great and the topping of the sweet sugar, piquant mustard, sharp lime and herby parsley is perfect. The cost for two people equates to approx £3.50 per head.

Ingredients : 2 skinless salmon fillets, 50g breadcrumbs, 1tbsp soft light brown sugar, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, knob of butter, grated zest of 2 limes, handful of finely chopped parsley, seasoning.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200c / gm6.
2. In a bowl, add the breadcrumbs, sugar, mustard, butter, lime zest, parsley and seasoning. Mix well.
3. Lay the fillets on a baking tray and top with the crust. Pat down well, then roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.
4. Serve with some veg of your choice and squeeze some of the lime over the fish.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Meatball Tagine (Kefta Mkaoura)

Some friends of mine recently returned from Morocco and told me of a tagine they had which seemed a tad weird but tasted great. I did a quick search on line and lo and behold there it was. Basically you make a simple tagine sauce, add some beef or lamb meatballs, but then add some eggs and bake in the oven. It's essential that the eggs are cooked but remain runny. As the tagine is only cooked for about half an hour, it's not as rich as maybe the two hour lamb dish, which means that the eggs work well. To serve, just make some couscous and warm some type of flat bread. For two people the cost is about £2.75 per head, although we had plenty left over and could've fed three. The whole dish can be either made in a tagine if you have one big enough or in a casserole dish.

Ingredients : Meatballs - 500g minced lamb or beef, 1tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, handful of chopped parsley, seasoning. Sauce - finely copped onion, 2 tins of chopped tomatoes, tsp cumin, tsp paprika, 2 crushed garlic cloves, seasoning, handful of coriander, 2 medium eggs, 3 tbsp olive oil.
1. Pre-heat over to 200 / gm 6
2. In a bowl, add all of the meatball ingredients. Roll up your sleeves and scrunch together with your hands until all mixed in. Wash hands but don't dry them as this will make rolling the balls easier.
3. Make up about 20-25 balls, about an inch in diameter. Set aside in the fridge to firm up a little.
4. After about 10 minutes, heat 2 tbsp of the oil and brown the balls all over. Remove and in the same pan add the onion to 1tbsp of oil. Gently fry until soft, then add the remaining sauce ingredients except for the coriander.
5. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened. This is important as the eggs will need a base to sit on. Stir the meatballs into the sauce and then make a couple of dips for the eggs. Crack the eggs into the tagine and then cover. Bake in oven for about 10 mins until eggs are just set.
6. To serve, sprinkle over some chopped coriander.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Vietnamese Beef Salad

Despite being a massive fan of Thai food, I also love Vietnamese cuisine which for me is quite underrated. If you ever get a chance to go to VN, do it. It's an amazing country and the food is superb. After a few days of sunshine, I've declared that summer is here, so it's funky salad time. One of the VN classics is a spicy beef salad of which there are several variations. This particular concoction does involve a lot of ingredients and will totally destroy your kitchen and create a mountain of washing up. (Tip : Pre-arrange for the mrs to wash up) Thankfully, the vibrant flavours and colours are worth it and I can still recall eating something similar in a rustic old cafe overlooking Nha Trang Bay.

If you're into this style of cuisine, you should have most of the sauces in your cupboards. It's the usual sweet, sour, salty, spicy combo. The secret is to get the wok mega hot so that the beef takes on that smokey taste which works so well with the lime, coriander and chili.

Ingredients : (for 2 people) 2 sirloin steaks cut into thin strips, stick of lemongrass, 2 garlic cloves, 1tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp sunflower oil, 1 tbsp caster sugar

1. Pound the lemongrass and garlic with a pestle and mortar until you get a paste. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Pour over the beef and marinade for an hour or so.

More ingredients : 40g caster sugar, 1tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp w/wine vinegar, 1 tbsp lime juice, 1 finely chopped red chilli, 1 garlic clove finely chopped, 2 tbsp water

2. Heat the water in a pan and add the sugar. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool before adding remaining ingredients. This is your dressing.

Even more ingredients : 50g vermicelli noodles, finely sliced onion, handful of shredded cabbage, 1 carrot julienned, 50g cucumber julienned, handful of coriander, 50g bean sprouts, 50g crushed peanuts, handful of deep fried shallots (most Chinese supermarkets), finely sliced red chilli

3. To make the salad, add the cabbage, carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts and coriander to a large bowl.
4. Cook the noodles as per norm, refresh under cold water and set aside.
5. Fry off the onions in a very hot wok until slightly burnt. Drain on some kitchen roll and set aside.
6. Fry off the beef in a similarly hot wok for about 2 minutes.
7. To serve, pile half of the salad on a large plate and then top with half the onions, peanuts and all of the noodles. Then add the beef, followed by the remaining veg and onions. Pour over the dressing and top with the remaining peanuts, shallots and chilli.

I love the way that this dish just fills your mouth with so many different flavours and textures. I've also realised that I still have a lot of the ingredients left over in their various packets and bottles, so I can make it again tomorrow. Not sure the other half will want to do the washing up again though!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Crispy salmon, minted pea puree with lemon and dill sauce

I hate to waste food, whether it be for financial or ethical reasons. Tonight was based on finance. Have you seen how expensive fresh herbs are? There were a couple of bunches of mint and dill hanging around that were just asking to be cooked. I also had some salmon in the freezer and some peas so I guess you can see where this is going.

If you cook salmon correctly, there's no need to mess around with the rest of the dish too much. Some simple veg and a light sauce and you're there. The minted pea puree goes with any fish, although maybe not a tin of pilchards! This was served with a side dish of roasted crushed new potatoes which gives the plate a nice bit of texture. This is the only thing that takes any time. The other elements will only take about 10 minutes.

Ingredients (for 2, approx £3.00 per head) : 2 fillets of salmon with skin on, 2 finely sliced shallots, 25g butter, 2tbsp olive oil, 100ml fish stock, 40ml double cream, handful of chopped dill, 100g frozen peas, handful of chopped mint, juice of half a lemon, seasoning.

1. On a medium heat, melt half the butter with 1tbs olive oil. Season the fish and place skin side down. Do not be tempted to move or turn the fish until virtually all of the flesh has turned pink. This will ensure that the flesh stays moist, whilst the skin is crispy. This should take about 5-6 minutes. Only then turn over for a minute.
2. In the meatime, gently saute the shallots in the remaining butter and oil. Once softened, add the fish stock and cream and bring to boil. Reduce by a third.  Add the lemon juice and finish off with the dill and season to taste.
3. Bring the peas to the boil and then add to a mini blender with the mint and 1tbsp of the fish stock. Blitz until smooth.If you don't have such a gadget, just use a masher.
4. To serve, arrange the puree on a plate and place the fish on top. Spoon over the sauce.

As you can see, it's very easy and makes for a delightful midweek supper dish.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Chorizo and Red Pepper salad

Tonight was another home episode of Ready Steady Cook. There were a few random ingredients in the fridge and cupboards which collectively I thought would make a tasty supper dish. Chorizo is one of my top 10 ingredients. It goes with everything, or should I say, I'd eat it with anything or just on its own. It reminds me obviously of Spain but with the English weather in glorious form today, I thought I'd try and concoct an Iberian style salad.

Ingredients : (for 2 people) 100g Chorizo cubed, 100g Rocket, 100g Roasted peppers, red onion finely sliced, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp sherry vinegar, tsp dijon mustard, tsp honey, seasoning.

1. Fry off the chorizo in a pan for 4 or 5 minutes and put aside.
2. Roughly slice the peppers and mix together with the onion and rocket.
3. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, honey and seasoning.
4. Add the chorizo to the salad and pour over the dressing.

I served this with some rustic bread, some olives and a cold glass of Vina Sol. It's a really pleasant dish, combining the smokey chorizo with the peppery rocket, sweet peppers and a kind of sweet and sour dressing. As the great Keith Floyd would say, here's Spain on a plate!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Sweet Treats - Lime & Passion Fruit Cheesecake / Marshmallow Petit Fours

When hosting a dinner party, it's important that the host doesn't spend 3 hours in the kitchen and 3 minutes woofing down each course with their guests. Therefore a bit of thought needs to go into what dishes to serve. Prep as much as possible in advance is the key. For tonight's event I presented a fairly simple cheesecake that is a lovely refreshing way to end a meal. What surprises me though about the contents of a passion fruit is how something that in truth looks like it emanated from the nasal area tastes so good!

Ingredients : (for 2 people, approx cost £1.25 a head) 1 large passion fruit, 75g mascarpone cheese, 40g icing sugar, zest and juice of a lime, 75ml double cream, 15g desiccated coconut, 20g butter, 50g digestive biscuits

1. In a dry pan, toast off the coconut until golden.
2. Crush the biscuits into crumbs and add to a pan of melted butter. Mix thoroughly, then remove from heat and blend with the coconut. Divide between either dessert glasses or glass ramekins, press down gently and place in fridge.
3. In a bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.
4. In another bowl, mix the cheese, icing sugar, lime juice, 3/4 of the zest and 3/4 of the pulp.
5. Fold the cream into the cheese mixture and spoon into the ramekins. Return to fridge.
6. To serve, drizzle over the remaining pulp and scatter with the lime zest.

I like to serve something a little extra with coffee. Home made truffles, macaroons, after eights (just kidding) Following a creamy dessert, tonight I opted for a selection of marshmallows, dipped in white chocolate with a variety of toppings. It's just something fun to bring to the table, they look cool and the list of flavours/textures are endless. Below we have crushed pistachios, coconut, orange/strawberry/raspberry crystals and some strawberry popping candy.

Oh, and for the bithday girl, the monkey presented her with his own unique bunch of flowers.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Gammon & Pineapple Revisited (Maple glazed gammon with chilli pineapple salsa and crunchy potatoes)

I had the misfortune of first discovering food in the glorious 70's. Going out for dinner with my folks in those days often led me to such emporiums as The Berni Inn, The Aberdeen Angus Steak House and various Beefeater restaurants. The menus were exactly the same and the quality equally as bad. Nevertheless, one of my favourite dishes was Gammon Steak. It was always served with saute potatoes, tinned rings of pineapple, a few bland button mushrooms, half a grilled tomato and the ever present sprig of curly parsley.

There are still numerous (too many in fact) places where I could take a trip down memory lane and get a greasy plate of gammon. Instead, I would like to share a modern day version courtesy of Jo Pratt's excellent book.  It's very simple and satisfies the taste buds on all counts; salty, sweet, spicy and sour. For 2, the cost equates to approx £3.50 per head.

Ingredients : 500g new potatoes, 3 tbsp olive oil, 2 gammon steaks (sweet cure), knob of butter, seasoning, 1/2 red chili deseeded and finely chopped, 4 finely chopped spring onions, 1/2 small pineapple cut into small cubes, tsp rice vinegar, handful of chopped coriander, 1 tbsp maple syrup

1. Pre heat oven to 200c / gm 6
2. Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes in salty water. Drain and pour into a roasting dish. Using a masher, gently crush each potato, some more than others. This will produce a combo of different textures of crispyness. Drizzle with 2tbsp of the oil, season and toss. Roast in over for approx 45 mins.
3. Ten minutes before potatoes are ready, heat a frying pan with 1/2 tbsp of oil. Season the gammon with pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side.
4. In the meantime, in another pan heat the remaining oil with the butter. Add the chilli and spring onions and cook for a minute. Add the pineapple and rice vinegar and cook for a further couple of minutes. Finally, mix in the coriander.
5. Just before the gammon is cooked, pour in the maple syrup and turn the steaks over a few times until they are coated with a sticky glaze.
6. Serve the gammon with the sauce poured over the top. Plate up with the salsa and potatoes.

As for an accompanying wine, anything except Liebfraumilch !!!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Rioja braised Lamb Shanks with Chorizo

It's May and as usual the good old English weather is doing it's finest. Spring lasted about 2 days, Summer has been ignored altogether and it feels like Autumn is upon us. So to compliment the climate, I decided upon a hearty lamb dish, packed full of robust flavours that I'd normally serve on a bleak November night. One of my favourite cuts of meat is the lamb shank. It's very flexible, can take on a lot of different flavours and more or less cooks itself. This recipe is courtesy of domestic goddess Lorraine Pascale What you get is a succulent dish which will impress your dinner guests, that is in fact is very simple to make. I served this with creamy mashed potatoes and some green beans. The key though is reducing the sauce at the end until its glossy and intense with flavour. For 4 people, the cost equates to around £6 a head. I cook the whole dish in my Le Creuset casserole dish, but you can just use a frying pan for the browning and a normal casserole dish for the braising.

Ingredients : 4 lamb shanks, 100ml balsamic vinegar, 300ml beef stock, 300ml rioja, bulb of garlic cut in half horizontally, 2 bay leaves, 2 tsp paprika, 10 black peppercorns, 4 sprigs of rosemary, 125g chorizo cut into 1cm slices, large red onion cut into wedges, 2 chopped carrots, 1tbsp honey, seasoning, 2 tbsp olive oil

1. Heat oven to 150c / GM3. Add the oil to a pan and heat. Brown the meat all over and set aside.
2. Pour the wine and balsamic vinegar into same pan and boil for five mins. Add the lamb, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, half the rosemary, paprika and stock. Bring back to the boil, cover with a lid and place in over for 2 hours.
3. Add the chorizo, onion, carrots and honey. Mix well and cook for another hour.
4. You will know when the meat is cooked as it will be falling off of the bone. Carefully remove to a serving plate with a slotted spoon. Discard the bay leaves and any stalky pieces of rosemary.
5. Return the pan to the hob and reduce for 5-10 mins until you have a shiny sauce. Check the seasoning and then pour over the meat.

The lamb is melt in the mouth tender, whilst the chorizo retains a nice bite. The sweetness of the onions and the garlic marry up well, but the sauce is just nectar and you would be forgiven for mopping it all up with a nice chunk of bread.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Roasted aubergine with saffron yoghurt

This dish could be served as an accompaniment to grilled meat or just served as a shared starter. The vibrant colours suggest an explosion of flavours and the salad doesn't disappoint. The recipe comes from, however maybe next time, I'd finely chop the basil as the herb can be slightly overpowering. As ever, there is texture in abundance and it's very simple to make.

For 4 people, the cost is about £1.20 per head as a starter dish.

Ingredients : 3 aubergines cut into 2cm thick slices, 4 tbsp olive oil, 2tbsp toasted pine nuts, handful of pomegranate seeds, handful of basil leaves, seasoning, pinch of saffron, 3tbs hot water, 180g Greek yoghurt, crushed garlic clove, 2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

1. For the dressing, infuse the saffron in the water for 5 mins. Then in a bowl, add this to the yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, half the oil and some salt. Whisk until smooth and adjust seasoning to taste. The sauce should be golden and creamy. Cover and place in fridge.

2. Heat oven to 220c. Toss aubergine slices in 2 tbsp olive oil and seasoning. Lay on a greased baking tray and roast for about half an hour, turning half way through. Once golden brown, remove and leave to cool.

3. To serve, place the slices on a plate and drizzle over some of the dressing. Sprinkle over the pine nuts, pomegranate and basil and give a final drizzle of the sauce.

Chickpea and Apricot pilaf

Do you ever get stumped by what to put with meat. I love potatoes but there's a limit to how exciting they can be. Then there's rice, pasta, noodles etc but they all look the same and can lack texture. To accompany the previously posted roast chicken with saffron and hazelnuts, I turned to Silvena Rowe's Pilaf.

The pilaf is not packed with flavour, however it still tastes great and as the roast chicken dish is particularly fragrant, it doesn't need to. The combination works well and the textures of the crunchy nuts, fluffy rice, slightly chewy apricots and the al dente chickpeas prove how simple it is to produce a dish that delivers on all fronts. A lot of people probably think that I am nuts, however I'm really enjoying cooking with them. It's not something that us Brits as a whole tend to do. Yet, this w/e, I've used pistachios, hazelnuts and pine nuts with all three having completely different tastes.

Ingredients (serves 4) : 2 sliced shallots, 20g butter, 80g vermicelli, 100g cooked chickpeas, 80g dried and chopped apricots, 300g short grain rice, 400ml veg stock, 80g chopped pistachios

1. Gently fry the shallots in the butter in a saucepan. Add the vermicelli and stir until golden.
2. Add the chickpeas, apricots and rice and mix thoroughly. Pour in the stock and bring to boil.
3. Reduce to a gentle simmer, season and cover with a lid. Make sure that the liquid doesn't dry up.
4. Once the rice is cooked, add the nuts and remove from heat. Cover with a cloth and replace lid.
5. Allow to rest for 15 mins which will make the dish light and fluffy. To serve, pile high on a plate.

Orange Baklava

I'm not ashamed to say that when I go to Spain I eat Paella, in the states I'll have a burger or two, Schnitzel in Germany etc. If somebody does something well, what's wrong with sampling the national / traditional dish. What I then search for is the ultimate Thai green curry, the best pizza or the to die for Bouillabaisse. If you have a sweet tooth, you'll love Baklava. I've eaten dozens in varying countries and despite never having a bad one, I've yet to have one to send my tastometer off the scale.

I've a beautiful book by the wonderful Silvena Rowe called Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume. The pictures are so good, you could almost eat them. Maybe they should invent scratch and sniff cookery books! Anyway, this recipe is amazing. The traditionalists may claim this isn't a proper Baklava, but to take a simple dish to another level is one of the things that inspires me about cooking. Another tip, if you live in or around London, check out your nearest Turkish Food Centre (TFC). They stock a great array of Eastern Mediterranean ingredients and are as cheap as chickpeas. This recipe would serve 8 people at around 70p per head.

Ingredients : 350g caster sugar, 1 tbsp orange juice, 350ml water, 2tbsp orange blossom water, 2 large oranges, vanilla pod, 1tbsp marmalade, 400g filo pastry, 150g melted butter, 100g chopped pistachios

1. To make the syrup, place the sugar, orange juice and water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the syrup thickens. Add the blossom water and allow to cool.

2. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the oranges. Simmer for 45 mins until soft. Remove the fruit and leave to cool. Slice open and remove the pips. Then place the oranges including the skin into a food processor and blitz to a smooth puree.

3. Place the puree into a muslin bag or cloth and squeeze out as much juice as possible. Place the pulp into a bowl and add the scraped out vanilla seeds and the marmalade. Mix together.

4. Pre-heat oven to 180c. Cut filo sheets to fit size of dish. Brush baking tin with melted butter and start layering up the pastry. After each layer, brush with more butter. Do not press down.

5. After 8 sheets, gently spoon over the puree and spread evenly. Then continue the layering process for another 8-10 sheets. Cut the baklava into squares or diamonds and place in oven for 30 mins.

6. Reduce heat to 150c and cook for a further 15-20 mins until golden and puffy. Once cooked, pour over the cooled syrup ensuring that every gap is filled. Sprinkle over the pistachios.

7. Once cooled completely, serve with either ice-cream or mascarpone.

The combination of textures makes this baklava stand out from others, not to mention the creamy, zingy orange filling. It's about 11.30am now, time for my elevenses which means a nice cup of coffee and maybe another square of this scrumptious delight.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Mackerel with olive, celery and raisin salsa with Kosheri

It's always nice when people come to dinner who are happy to eat anything. It's not that I don't trust recipes, but often I tweak them after the first attempt. Also, tonight I was doing two dishes which looked interesting although probably wouldn't necessarily complement each other. Regardless, sometimes it's worth cooking things just to see what they go with. After last week's trip to Ottolenghi, I was desperate to get stuck back into

The main was grilled mackerel, which after tossing the fillets in some olive oil, salt and pepper takes just about 4-5 minutes under a hot grill, skin side up. This was served with a cheeky little salsa which is so easy to make and whose sweet and salty notes balanced well with the fish. To make the salsa (for 4 people), mix 2 finely chopped celery stalks with 60g of thinly sliced green olives and 3 tbsp of capers. Next add 70g of good quality raisins, 1 1/2 tbsp of sherry vinegar, 4 tbsp of olive oil, 3 tbsp of honey, 15g of chopped flat leaf parsley and season to taste. Mix together, then place in the fridge until about half an hour before serving. Once fish is cooked, lay on a plate and spoon over the salsa. The combination of ingredients may seem a little unconventional but it works.

I was thinking about doing some sort of wild rice side dish with this, but then I noticed a recipe for an Egyptian street dish called Kosheri. Traditionally it is served with a spicy tomato sauce which next time I will make. I relented on this occasion due to it clashing with the above salsa. Anyway, the ingredients are : 300g green lentils, 200g basmati rice, 40g unsalted butter, 50g vermicelli noodles, 400ml chicken stock, 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp ground cinammon, seasoning, 4tbsp olive oil, 2 onions - halved and thinly sliced.

1. Wash and drain the lentils in a sieve. Place in a saucepan and cook as normal for about 20 minutes until al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. Wash and drain the rice. Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the noodles, coat and stir until golden brown. Add the rice and stir well. Now add the stock, spices and seasoning. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and then simmer for about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and place a towel over the top.
3. Saute the onions in olive oil until they caramelise and turn dark brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
4. To serve, fluff up the rice with a fork and add the lentils and 3/4 of the onions. Season to taste, then pile high on a plate. Garnish with the remaining onions.

The textures are very wholesome, but it does need something spicy or zingy to lift it.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Ottolenghi @ Islington

Over the past few months I've waxed lyrical about the creations of Yotam Ottolenghi. Last night, I ventured into Islington to his restaurant for a spot of supper. The menu is fairly short, around nine starters and nine mains, some of which you can gaze your eyes on when entering the building. I would call it a 'salad' bar, but that conjures pictures of the dreadful offerings at places like Pizza Hut and Harvester. This is salad taken to another level.

Back to the menu, I wanted EVERYTHING. However, to accommodate one of my companions who's vegetarian, we decided to omit any meat dishes. In truth, the flavours and textures were so good, you didn't miss meat. We had roasted aubergine with garlic, sorrel yoghurt, roasted cherry tomatoes and pine nuts, Roasted butternut squash with miso, cashews, chili, spring onion, pickled ginger, wasabi and sesame seeds and Roasted beetroot with pecorino, red onion, walnuts and roasted rhubarb. Each salad was amazing, a symphony of flavours and textures.

For mains, we opted for the fishy offerings which again were faultless. The Pan fried sea bass with samphire, brown shrimp and leek and mustard vinaigrette was classical. The poached Mackerel with orange was inspirational and the Seared scallops with squash, cauliflower fritters, spinach, curried pumpkin seeds and balsamic sauce was historic.

The dishes are quite small but that then allows you to pick a dessert from the Aladdin's cave of cakes on display in the shop window. The lemon and mascapone tart was perfectly sweet and sharp, the Vanilla Plivier with forest fruit just yummy and the rum and chocolate torte incredibly rich, but light and brownie like at the same time. The only slight moan is that the wine list is quite expensive with most offerings north of £25. Nevertheless, three course with drinks, water, coffee and tip came to around £40 a head.

The restaurant has a lovely laid back feel though and all of the staff are knowledgeable on the ingredients and the concept. Can't wait to go back :o)

Friday, 16 March 2012

A Taste of Asia Dinner Party

I think it's about time my company got a plug. Last night the remit was to cater a dinner party for eight people, but with finger food. As you may gather, we don't do quiche, sandwiches, crisps or cheese and pineapple. However, with a spot of imagination we did produce some vol-au-vents and other little novelties on a stick!

Anyway, with the help and guidance from one of my associate partners, we came up with the following list of dishes.
Potato, Onion and Spinach Pakoras (India) - Crunchy on the outside, soft and spicy on the inside. Served with homemade tamarind sauce and mint chutney. A real flavour explosion
Lentil Vol-au-vents (Middle East) - Beautifully light pastry with a spicy lentil, spinach and minty yoghurt filling. Great combo of textures and not a prawn in sight.
Paneer Tikka (India) - Delicately spiced soft chewy cheese served on a cocktail stick.
Fishcakes (Thailand) - Fragrant little bundles of fun served with a homemade sweet n sour dipping sauce. The lemon grass and chili sings of Thailand.
Jeera Chicken Boats (India) - Spicy chicken on a bed of mint and yoghurt chutney served on crunchy baby gem lettuce. The cumin and yoghurt work so well together and the leaves give great texture.
Omelette wraps (Thailand) - Soft and spicy with a cheeky little bite to them.

You may think I'm blowing my own trumpet, but my mouth is actually watering writing this piece. Thankfully I made more than was necessary as very little was leftover. Time for seconds :o). If this wets your appetite and you would like to be fed by The Coconut Monkey, then check out

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Cottage Pie

When I go on holiday to Thailand, Greece or Italy for example, I never seem to be there long enough to sample all of the food on offer. I'm sure that many of you have experienced that same frustration. Well, I'm actually worse than that. Even at home there just aren't enough days in the week to cook or eat everything I want. Eventually after a few months I tend to have covered most dishes, then I have a flashback and think, I haven't had that for ages. I also spend so much time experimenting with cuisines from around the globe, I often overlook the British classics.

Everybody must have a recipe for Cottage Pie, even though they probably call it Shepherd's Pie. Basically, a traditional shepherd's pie is made with lamb mince, cottage is beef. Apart from that, anything goes! I hate these dishes that when served up just seem to disintegrate on the plate into a puddle of mush. To avoid this, I strain off most of the liquid which when reduced makes a great silky sauce. Anyway apart from tasting great, it's dirt cheap, around £1.50 per head for 4 people. I cook mine on the hob, although you can also cook it in the oven for an hour after frying off the mince and veg.

Ingredients : 500g lean beef mince, chopped onion, large carrot, 2 sticks of celery, tin of chopped tomatoes, 250ml beef stock, half a tube of tomato puree, few sprigs of thyme (stalks removed), small tin of sweetcorn, 2lbs floury potatoes ie maris pipers, milk, 25g butter, tbsp horseradish, seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, tbsp olive oil.

1. Dry fry the mince in a casserole dish / pan and set aside.
2. Saute the onion, celery and carrot in the olive oil.
3. Combine the veg with the mince, tomatoes, tomato puree, stock, thyme, sweetcorn, few lugs of Worcestershire sauce and seasoning. Mix well, cover and simmer for 45 mins / place in oven GM 4.
4. Peel and boil the potatoes in salted water. You time these to be ready about 5 minutes after the meat.
5. Place a sieve over a heavy bottomed pan. Using a ladle or large spoon, gradually strain off the liquid by pressing against the sieve. Don't push too hard as you want to retain the texture of the veg. Place the filling into a pie dish.
6. Mash the potatoes or if you're a gadget freak use a ricer. Add the butter, milk, horseradish and add more seasoning to taste. Spread over the filling and make a fancy pattern. Place under a hot grill until golden.
7. Meanwhile, reduce the liquor until you get a silky smooth sauce. To make it glossy, add a knob of butter. Check the taste as you may need a dash more Worcester sauce or seasoning.

This is a dish than can be prepared hours in advance and then finished off in the oven. It also freezes well. The star of the show however is the sauce for me, the more you reduce it, the more flavoursome it becomes.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Roasted figs with cinnamon syrup and rose water yoghurt

I used to like watching Ready Steady Cook where the chefs were given 20 minutes to create a masterpiece from an unknown bag of ingredients and an endless store cupboard. However, when I went to see the programme being filmed, I realised what a charade it all was. In fact after opening the goodie bag, the chefs took about half an hour to decide what to create before the director called "Action."And then to rub Maldon salt in the wounds, the audience weren't even allowed to sample what the 'celebrity' chefs made. Hmph!

Following my trip to the Turkish store in the week, I found myself with an array of ingredients, but no actual idea of what to do with them. So I thought I'd put myself to the test and come up with a dessert. Figs are such an attractive fruit, but they never seem to taste as good as they look. Well this dish as I gladly discovered does them justice and only takes nineteen minutes and fifty nine seconds to make! For two people, the cost is around £2.00 each

Ingredients  : 6 figs, 50g caster sugar, cinnamon stick, 2 tsp rose water, 2 tsp water, handful of hazelnuts, 100g Greek yoghurt, 2 tsp icing sugar, 2 tsp runny honey

1. Heat oven to GM5 / 190c.
2. Place hazelnuts on a baking tray and cook for 10 minutes. Once done, set aside to cool and then roughly chop.
3. In the meantime, cut a cross across the top of each fig. Go half way down. Then squeeze the bottoms so that they open up as per first pic. Place in a roasting tray and bake for 15 minutes.
4. In a pan, heat the sugar, honey, cinnamon and water until you get a smooth syrup.
5. In a small bowl, add the rose water and icing sugar to the yoghurt and mix.
6. To serve, place 3 figs in the centre of a plate. Drizzle the syrup over the top. Add a dollop of the yoghurt mixture and sprinkle with the chopped nuts.