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...