Thursday, 29 December 2011

Favourites of 2011

As 2011 draws to a close I just wanted to share with you my most popular blog posts of the year and wish you a happy 2012. It has been an interesting and varied year of cooking, eating, growing and experimenting and I've really enjoyed it. It's lovely to have the start of an online collection of my favourite recipes to look back over, my memory is pretty rubbish so I have to store it all somewhere... By far the most viewed post has been my Homemade Salami, which was pretty hard work to make, but I still have hog casings in the fridge so will definitely be repeating in 2012, the red wine and walnut one was delicious, and my summer trip to Provence has inspired me to be even more experimental next time...



This is closely followed by the Caramelised Garlic Tart which I have made a lot this year, it has over 30 cloves of garlic in it, but is somehow is still mild and sweet and cheesy and delicious. The Spring Chicken Terrine recipe has fed many hungry guests over the year, it can also be made with rabbit, pheasant, pork, whatever you fancy really. The beginnings of a Wild Duck Terrine are taking place in my little kitchen right now ready for the New Year feasting.



The Braised Shoulder of Lamb came next, with Barley and Pomegranate Salad, but I have served with various sides over the year, depending on the season. There is nothing nicer than having people round and plonking a big shoulder of soft sticky sweet lamb on the table for everyone to tear apart.

The Salmis of Pheasant with truffle was a challenge, but very tasty, I'd love to try it again with a truffle that actually tasted of something, I think I was duped in Palma airport and ended up with a truffle shaped ball of nothing very special. That's what you get if you pay 3 euros I suppose...


Finally the Lamb, Mint and Pinenut Meatballs which are actually what I'm making for tonight’s supper, so a fitting end to this year and this post. They are my favourite comfort food with sweet tomato sauce, buttery warm couscous and sweet cumin yoghurt, really delicious.


I hope you have enjoyed all my posts this year, I'm looking forward to more recipes, culinary experiments and Grazer markets next year. Hope you all have a very Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Potted Duck

I made a lot of my own Christmas presents this year, so haven’t been able to write about any of them for fear of ruining the surprise... My biggest success was the Spiced Apple Chutney, people loved it... jars were empty in minutes... and I forgot to write down the recipe in all of the manic cooking stress, so will probably spend forever trying to recreate it. Handmade Cardamom Chocolate Truffles and White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies... both good, I will write about them very soon. Homemade Granola, Florentines, Potted Duck and Bread and Butter Pickle all became part of hampers, so my relaxing week off work before Christmas was more like a hyperactive Martha Stewart programme on fast forward...




This week has been a little less manic, Druridge Bay on Christmas Eve was a beautiful relaxing walk. We came home for warm potted duck on toast and a Negroni. It was a one of my favourite meals, as well as the Roast Woodcock preceded by Duck Livers and Hearts on Toast on Christmas Eve eve... Christmas day was lovely, the duck were cooked perfectly, no one missed the turkey and everyone gave and received lovely presents. As you can tell we've not really held back on the food... that's for next week...

This takes a little bit of time to make, but is totally worth it. In short you confit a duck, shred it, then pot it. You seal the meat with a little layer of the cooking fat which can then be kept for a few months in the fridge.


I cut one whole duck in half, it was a smallish wild mallard, which weighed about 1.5lbs. Then cover it in a light layer of salt and leave it in the fridge for half an hour, this draws out some of the water from the bird. Brush off the salt when it is ready and preheat your oven to 150C.


Put the duck in a pot that it fits in snugly and pour over 350g of warm duck or goose fat. You want the fat to cover the duck. Add a bay leaf and a little bunch of thyme. Cook in the oven for 1.5 hours or until the meat is falling apart, it will take longer if your duck is bigger.

When it is done take it out of the fat and leave to cool, you can keep the fat in a jar in the fridge and use again, reserve a bit to pour over the top of the finished duck. Shred the duck meat into pieces and add some fresh thyme sprigs and some pepper. Melt 25g of butter and add the juice of ¼ lemon and the zest of quarter of a lemon to it, add this all to the meat. I then pulsed the whole mixture in a food processor a couple of times, just to break it down slightly, not much, you can just leave it as it is if you have shredded it quite finely.



Pack the meat into a jar or small pots and pour over a thin layer of the melted fat, just enough to cover, this will keep for a few months in the fridge. These amounts will serve about 6 people, I made one jar for a hamper and one little pot for myself and TLI to share.


You can eat it cold on toast, but my favourite way is to warm it through slightly in a low oven, serve on toast, scattered with capers and a pile of rocket and watercress. After a cold walk on the beach I couldn’t have enjoyed it more...

Monday, 19 December 2011

Green Bean and Chickpea Herb Salad

I'm having a salad week. Especially salads that are easy; so when I get back from Ikea and town shopping hell there isn't further stress inside the house. I am also fearing the perpetual state of festive fullness that is fast approaching, I'm preparing with a light salady week as best I can... Christmas eating can be somewhat overwhelming, it's best to be prepared...


Start by boiling about 150g of green beans in some salted water until they are cooked but still have a bit of bite. Then simply chop half a red onion and add to a bowl with a drained and rinsed can of chickpeas. Add a handful of parsley and a handful of coriander both roughly chopped. Then heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and add a chopped clove of garlic, when it is hot toss the drained green beans in the garlic oil and fry for a few minutes.

Finally dress the chickpea mixture with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper, mix everything up and add the warm green beans and their garlicky oil. Serve as a light lunch with salad leaves or as a side dish. The warm garlicky beans with creamy chickpeas, herbs and tangy onions were delicious as I slowly calmed down from my Christmas shopping ordeal...



Sunday, 18 December 2011

Homemade Granola

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... Well, now that the tree is up and decorated. It was less festive yesterday while we drove round trying to find a tree that didn’t cost a million pounds, a week before Christmas, when lots of places had sold out. In the end we had to take a blind gamble and get one that didn’t cost the earth but was already wrapped up in netting. This meant it was difficult to assess symmetry, bushiness, density and general beauty...

On arriving home and cutting open the netting a huge branch just fell straight off, followed by more needles than there were on the tree. The claims of it being a tree that didn't drop couldn’t have been further from the truth. It wasn't a pretty tree, there was no denying it, as it stood wonky in the window of the living room. So at that point in time, just after the hoover blocked full of needles and gave up, I can't say I felt particularly Christmassy. We left the house for Boozer's Christmas drinks, leaving the tree standing bare, uneven, lopsided and crumpled, alone in a dark house.

But I can't blame the tree, so today he is decorated and pretty, still wonky and looking a bit like he's come from the rejects pile, but glittering with lights, rosy red baubles, little tinkling bells and glass drops, and everything suddenly seems a little bit more festive.


I have been making Christmas presents for people this year. I can't say too much yet as it's not time to hand many of them over and I don't want to ruin the surprise entirely... but this is one of the most successful so far... I'm not much of a breakfast person, yes at the weekends, but in the week I am usually just a bit late and running out the door rather than towards the kitchen. But this Granola has possibly changed all that. It's delicious and I'm not even a cereal person, until now...

I looked up quite a few different recipes and tweaked and mixed and matched until I settled on this combination. In a big bowl add about 500ml of rolled oats, or 2 cups. These amounts will make 2 or 3 large jars. Add a handful of roughly chopped pecans, a handful of roughly chopped blanched almonds and a handful of sunflower seeds. Then add 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and a large pinch of table salt and mix everything together.


In a small pan add 135ml of honey and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and melt them until they are liquid and combined. Add this to the oat mixture and stir thoroughly until everything is totally coated with the honey mixture.

Pour everything into a big baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake in the oven at 150°C for half an hour. Give it a stir once or twice so it bakes evenly. The smell that fills the house while it is slowly baking is delicious, warm and toasty. When it is ready take it out and leave it to cool completely before putting it into a jar, you will need to stir it a few times so it doesn’t all stick together in one solid sheet.


Finally add a large handful of raisins and stir them through. You can use lots of combinations, different fruit, different nuts; hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, apricots, dates, cherries... Find the combination that suits you best, I'll be sticking with this one for the time being as it is so delicious. It is sweet and toasty with a hint of salt, crunchy nuts, soft raisins, just lovely. I haven't even had it with milk or yoghurt yet as it is so good just on its own. Hopefully the people who receive their little jars over Christmas will think so too...



Thursday, 8 December 2011

Roast Red-Legged Partridge with Grapes and Chestnuts

It has been an arty week, a busy North East arty week. Hoult's Yard last Thursday to see their new show, including Amy Dover's work which I love. Lazarides on Friday night to see their latest show by Pete Hawkins which I also loved. And on Monday night the Turner Prize announcement at The Baltic, which I was very over excited to be invited to, but may have got a bit carried away with the free bar... I didn't see the streaker in the pink tutu, but did manage to eat a ridiculous amount of canap├ęs, glean where the after after party was and actually manage to get in... but unfortunately don't really remember making my way home... Although it's not every day the Turner Prize comes to town is it...




In between all of this I managed to cook some partridge for myself and The Little Idiot. It was probably a silly idea as we were late in from the show at Hoult's Yard, and the recipe is pretty complicated including sieving sauces and the like, but I persevered and we sat down to dine at 11pm... It was totally delicious though and very much worth the effort. The recipe is from The Observer Christmas food magazine that came out a few weeks ago. There is a section on Italian Christmas food which all sounds delicious. I had two partridge in the freezer that I had plucked a few weeks ago, so we were all set...




Be warned this is serious cooking, I probably should have read the recipe properly before I began. For all my cooking, I'm terrible at skim reading recipes and not getting the gist of them before I start... For these little partridge you start with the sauce and these amounts will serve 2 people.

Heat a pan to a high heat and add 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil, when the oil is hot add about 200g of cooked chicken chopped into pieces. It's a good use for leftovers, and the sauce can be frozen for use another time. You can use any meat also, partridge, lamb, pork, veal, beef, duck, venison or pigeon. Leave the meat to roast on a high heat for 2-3 minutes without touching it until they start to turn golden, then turn them and continue until they are caramelised all over, about 5-10 minutes. Then add one diced carrot, a crushed clove of garlic, a sprig of rosemary and a bay leaf. Roast for another 2-3 minutes, then add a diced shallot and roast for another couple of minutes.


Turn the heat down a little at this stage and add 20g of butter, letting it melt and foam, but careful not to burn it. Then add 125ml of white wine and let it reduce a little so some of the alcohol burns off. Add a teaspoon of flour and a tablespoon of tomato paste and turn the heat up again, cook for a minute and then add 750ml of chicken stock. I had to use stock cubes as my freezer was bare of home-made stock, which would have been much nicer. Stir and scrap up anything sticking to the bottom of the pan and bring the sauce to the boil, then simmer for about half an hour. After half an hour put everything through a sieve and then reduce to a saucy consistency...

I kept the chicken and carroty mush from the sieve and made little patties with a bit of leftover mash and cabbage the next day... It seemed too tasty to throw away.


Next for the partridge. Place a clove of garlic and a sprig of rosemary inside each of them, use one bird per person, wrap them in pancetta and tie them up with string so the legs are tied together. Heat a pan big enough to hold them both, add some oil and then brown them 4 minutes on one leg side, 4 minutes on the other leg side and then 4 minutes on their breast. Finally stand them up on end for one minute and then turn the heat off and leave them to sit on their backs for 5 minutes.


The recipe I followed roasted their own chestnuts, but the vacuum packed ones are just too easy so I used half a packet of them and heated them through in a pan with a splash of water and a knob of butter. They also used swiss chard, but as I couldn't get any I just blanched some shredded cabbage.


Put the partridges in a medium oven for 4 minutes while you heat up the sauce. Add a handful of halved white grapes to the sauce. Pile the chard or cabbage on your plate, sprinkle the chestnuts around, place the partridge on top, free of it's string and then spoon over the sauce.

It is a lot of effort in truth, but really delicious. I've decided partridge is my favourite of the game birds after this, and the flavour of it goes perfectly with the rich meaty, tomatoy sauce. The fresh, clean addition of grapes and a buttery chestnut made this a pretty tasty late night dining experience...



Monday, 28 November 2011

Warm Roast Squash and Apple Salad with Toasted Seeds and Honey Dressing

Pop-up Kitchens are tiring but very tasty I have discovered yet again... I've been running my Pop- up Kitchen at xsite architecture this weekend as part of the Ouseburn Open Studios. The whole building was turned into a series of little exhibitions, beautiful illustrations, amazing taxidermy, photography, fine art, architectural projection rooms, the Ouseburn Coffee Company and my little kitchen...

There were soups and stews bubbling away all weekend to keep people warm wandering round the Ouseburn on a chilly weekend. I made the Smokey Spinach, Chickpea and Pancetta stew, but this time I used chorizo, which worked very well, and there was buttery Leek, Potato and Parsley soup and lots of Onion and Gruyere Tarts. The whole of xsite set about baking mountains of cakes, scones, cheese straws and biscuits. Everyone went away very well fed...


This little salad is something I have made a few times in the past few weeks, partly to use up the mountains of apples I have hanging around the house, and also because it is quick and pretty much effort free. Cold dark evenings late in from work require meals that are warming but ready quickly with very little effort. This is my current favourite...

You can use any type of squash for this salad, butternut, onion or pumpkin. This was a little munchkin squash that I cut into small wedges and scooped out the seeds. Just leave the skin on with these little ones, it is so soft you can just eat it when it is roasted, or easily peel away. Preheat your oven to 220°C and put the squash into a roasting tray with a big glug of olive oil and some flaked sea salt. Now quarter 2 small apples, scoop out the core and seeds and add them to the tray with the squash.

Put them all in the oven for 15 minutes, after 15 minutes add 4 cloves of garlic still in their skins and some sprigs of rosemary and cook for a further 15 minutes.


I made a little dressing with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of honey and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar all whisked together. Then toast a handful of pine nuts and pumpkin seeds in a dry pan for a few minutes until they start to turn golden.

When the munchkin squash and the apples are ready take them out, squish the garlic out of its skins into the tray and toss the roasted squash and apple around in it. Then place them on top of a plate of leaves, whatever type you fancy, scatter over the seeds and the dressing. I finished with a crumble of manchego, any excuse to add a bit of cheese to something... The warm roasted garlicky apple and squash are delicious with the tangy dressing and crunchy seeds...


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Red Peppers stuffed with Rice, Raisins and Pine Nuts

We had some lovely friends visiting from London this weekend so a little get together was in order, some friends, some food, some wine... I even printed out little menus for everyone. It took a while to settle on a menu as the little blonde is a vegetarian and the Twinings hunk doesn't eat dairy... but Claudia Roden had the answers, as she often does...

A Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Caramelised Onions and Chestnuts, some Turkish Stuffed Peppers full of herby spiced rice, pine nuts and raisins and some buttery couscous with toasted almonds. Something for everyone I hoped, they looked like they enjoyed it anyway...


We started with little Leek Fritters with a herby yoghurt dip and some Cannellini Bean Hummus with Toasted Cumin and pittas to dip. It was lovely to catch up, chatting in the kitchen while I threw toasted almonds around and served food later than planned as ever...

We finished with an Apple and Cardamom Tart, which I will have to tell you about soon, because although it may be gauche to say, as I made it myself, was totally amazing. The aromatic, dusky flavours of the cardamom were lovely with the sweet sugary apple and warm buttery pastry. Delicious.

The peppers were pretty simple to make, but so full of flavour and not 70s dinner party at all... This will make 6 stuffed peppers. Start with the filling by slowly frying a large chopped onion in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, until it is soft. Then add 250g of risotto rice, I used arborio, and stir until it is coated with oil and turning translucent. Add 450ml of water, some salt and pepper and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Stir this well and then simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed, but the rice is still slightly undercooked.


When it is ready stir in 3 tablespoons of pine nuts, 3 tablespoons of raisins, 1 large tomato chopped into pieces, a handful of chopped mint, a handful of chopped dill, a handful of chopped parsley, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, half a teaspoon of ground allspice, the juice of a lemon and 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. You can see where all the flavour comes from with this lot all hanging out together...

Now take 6 red peppers and cut a circle round the top to remove the lid and scoop out any seeds from inside. Fill the insides of the peppers with the rice mixture and pop the lids back on. Arrange them in a baking tray side by side, I had to slice a little bit off the bottom of some of the peppers to keep them steady. Pour about 1cm of water into the bottom of the tray and bake in the oven at 190°C for 50 minutes. Be careful when you take them out that the peppers don't fall apart, be very gentle...

They are lovely warm, allow them to cool a little before serving, they are also good cold with a salad and some yoghurt. The warm spices and fresh herbs are delicious with little bursts of sweet raisins and creamy pine nuts all in a sweet roasted red pepper. I've just had a little one for lunch that was leftover... I'm glad I made too many...


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Chocolate and Walnut Fudge Brownies

I don't bake or make anything sweet often enough, but sitting on the sofa on a misty, rainy Sunday afternoon watching cookery programmes I suddenly found myself rummaging around my messy cupboards to see if I had the right ingredients to produce a batch of chocolate brownies. Lorraine Pascal was just finishing off some oreo cookie ones, I had roughly the right stuff... Coupled with the fact that we forgot someone’s birthday at work last week... there really was no better option than a spot of baking. Chocolate and walnut brownies with a hint of fudge. Lovely.

I tried making a smaller amount than I will tell you to use, due to having to cobble together ingredients I had in the house, but it all got a bit complicated when I didn’t have a baking tray small enough and had to rummage round slopping chocolate mixture from one to another in a panic stricken way... Which is why it ended up a brownie in a tart tin, which I don't think is traditionally quite correct... So I'll revert back to the amounts I should have actually used...


Grease a baking tin with butter, the tin will need to be about 20cm by 25cm, and then line it with grease proof paper. Melt 250g of unsalted butter in a pan on a low heat. While it is melting grate 200g of 70% dark chocolate, turn the butter off when it is fully melted and stir in the grated chocolate to melt. This is easier than faffing about with bowls over pans of water I think...

Break 3 free range eggs into a large bowl and add 275g of caster sugar, then beat them together until creamy. Now stir in the chocolate and butter mix until everything is thoroughly mixed together. Stir in 3 heaped teaspoons of cocoa powder, then add 125g of self raising flour and a pinch of sea salt and mix that in well with a metal spoon.


Toast a handful of walnuts in a dry pan until they begin to brown, chop roughly and add to the mix, I also added a handful of chopped fudge. I would have added some chunky chopped up chocolate pieces instead of fudge, but didn’t have enough left over from the mix... and then bake for 20 minutes at 180°C. They are ready when a knife or a skewer comes out moist with a few crumbs on it. Finally leave them on a wire rack to cool and cut into squares.

Lovely warm, lovely cold, I even like the crusty bits round the edge that looked a little burnt... I'm going to bake more. It's decided.


Saturday, 12 November 2011

Blackfriars

I haven’t been to Blackfriars restaurant in Newcastle for quite a while, so when I received an email inviting me to try their new Food and Drink Matching evening I was quick to reply in the affirmative. My Flavour Thesaurus is never far from hand at home, it's a beautiful book and I really enjoy looking for new combinations and flavours I haven’t tried before.


The idea of five courses of different foods matched with interesting drinks sounded a pretty good way to spend a Thursday evening. Blackfriars is housed in an old Priory which dates back to 1239. The Dominican Friars arrived in Newcastle in 1221 and were donated the land by three sisters and the Mayor at the time and set about building what is still there today. It is said to be the oldest dining room in the UK, which is pretty interesting to think of yourself sitting eating your supper in the same place that Henry III was in the 13th Century. Apparently it was his favourite place to dine when he visited Newcastle to fight the Scots... We looked round the old banqueting hall which is beautiful and very dramatic. The restaurant have researched in great detail original menus of the time and now put on events and large scale dining parties with traditional Medieval feasts full of unusual spices and whole suckling pigs...

We passed the evening with tales of wine regions, historical food matches and plenty to eat and drink. Andy Hook of Blackfriars took us through each course, starting with almonds, olives and a Manzanilla sherry. I'm a recently converted sherry lover, so thoroughly enjoyed in. This was followed by warm smoked salmon and whisky, I'm not quite so at home with the whisky just yet, but the salmon was beautiful and smoked by the restaurant themselves.



One of the chefs from Blackfriars was eating with us and it was really interesting to hear from him about how everything was cooked, smoked, pickled or baked. They even make their own black pudding, which was the next course, with a beautiful sauce and a glass of chilled champagne.

I've thought about making my own black pudding ever since I had a go at my own home-made salami. I'm not quite sure how my little kitchen would cope with gallons of blood sloshing about though, so perhaps another batch of salami may come first...



The next course was a lovely handmade pasta with wild mushrooms and a beautiful sauce with basil and cream which was matched with a slightly chilled Pinot Noir from the Languedoc. Throughout the night we ate, chatted about food and drink combinations, who liked what, what works and doesn’t, it was a really interesting evening all round.

Cheese and beer followed, five different cheeses, varying in strength and type and some beautiful pickled celery that I may have to have a go at making. There was a traditional ale from the Wylam brewery, a strawberry beer and a more standard lager. I really enjoyed the strawberry beer with the cheese, which I would never have guessed at all. I always go for a glass of red with cheese, the difference was interesting.


The highlight for me was the chocolate tart, it was beautiful, and I don't usually have a sweet tooth in the slightest. It was rich and dark and delicious and unusually had flecks of salt through it which worked so well. Along with a glass of fortified sweet red wine and tales of sweet wines of the world it was a lovely end to the evening...