Thursday, 6 September 2012

Hot Horseradish Bloody Mary


  • enough tomato juice to fill your cocktail shaker with the other ingredients
  • one measure horseradish vodka (see below)
  • 100g vodka (2 doubles)
  • generous dash Worcestershire sauce
  • dash Angostura bitters
  • 4 drops tabasco sauce
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1tbsp beetroot vinegar
  • shake of celery salt
  • 2 grinds of flower pepper (optional)
  • 4 grinds black pepper
  • 2 long slices of celery
  • 2 lime wedges
  • 4 cubes of ice

Serves 2

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake and pour into a tall glass. Add a slice of celery, lime wedge to the glass, dust the top with celeery salt and ground black pepper. Drink with a straw.

It's best if most of the ingredients are chilled in advance, including the glasses, but not essential.

The only thing that needs explanation here is the horseradish vodka. When you have some fresh horseradish, grate a couple of tablespoons of it and put into a small jar (I used an empty spice jar). Fill with vodka, and leave in the fridge to steep. Pour out some vodka when you need it and top it up with pure vodka for next time. It should keep indefinitely, but you could replace it next time you get some fresh horseradish.

Beetroot, Greengage and Chilli Chutney

1 pint cider vinegar
1/4 pt rice vinegar
splash of  beetroot vinegar, splash of gherkin vinegar
5 medium beetroot
250g greengages
1 inch fresh ginger
1 orange
peel and zest of one lemon
2 cabbage leaves
8 very hot green chillis
1 onion
5 cloves garlic
200g sugar
spices: cardamon, cumin, coriander, star anise, cinnammon, cloves
a bunch of lemon thyme
handful of bay leaves

Roast the beetroot. Chop it up small along with everything else. Boil for a couple of hours. Bottle.

I'll let you know how it tastes in the winter!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Aubergine Purée

Aubergine Purée (a.k.a. Baba Ganoush, Crema de Berenjena, or Paté des Aubergines) is a tasty main or side dish, with lots of possible variations. I've never made it quite the same way twice.

Basic ingredients

2 large aubergines
1 medium courgette
1 small red sweet pepper (or half a large one)
2 cloves of fresh or smoked garlic
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt, pepper
1 tsp papricón (smoked sweet paprika)
fresh herbs (e.g. thyme, lemon thyme, marjoram, basil, coriander, mint)

Halve the the aubergines, add some oil and salt to the exposed flesh and and roast skin- down in a hot oven (c. 220 degrees C) for around 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the courgette and garlic (in its skin).

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes to make it easier to handle them. Scoop out all of the baked aubergine flesh and put into a bowl. Mash with a fork. Remove the  skins from the shallot and garlic. Chop the courgette, squeeze the garlic out of its skin, and add to the bowl with the aubergine. Add juice of one lemon, olive oil, papricón, salt and pepper to taste.

Now you do one of the following according to your taste:
  • mash and mix with a fork for a lumpy consistency,
  • blend very lightly for a smoother experience, or
  • blend to a thoroughly smooth paste.
I tend to prefer the medium, light blend version, which takes about 1 second with a hand blender.

Eat warm or cold with pitta bread and salad. It will keep for several days in the fridge.


Possible variations on the basic aubergine paté include adding some combination of the following:
  • roast vegetables: tomato, sweet peppers
  • chick peas for a contrast of textures and more bulk (optionally blend in to make smooth paste)
  • fresh coriander or mint
  • a collection of freshly ground spices to make a very spicy version. I like it with cumin, coriander, dried chilli pepper, caraway, nutmeg, all ground in a pestle and mortar, and with a teaspoon of harissa paste
One option is to make a batch of the basic paté, then take parts of it to add the further ingredients, then serve a selection, e.g. one basic, one with vegetables, chick peas and mint, one with spices and coriander, etc.

Chicken breasts sous vide

Cooking vacuum-packed food in a warm water bath, or sous vide as the French call it, is all the rage nowadays in fashionable restaurants and homes, so I've been experimenting with it, with excellent results so far. This recipe certainly produces by far the best chicken breast that I have ever tasted. Since the cut is very lean, and tends to dry out very quickly at high temperatures, it is ideally suited to this method of low-temperature cooking.

Note that you will need to spend some time working out an improvised way of doing this, or buy some expensive equipment. You will at least need an accurate food thermometer which can be immersed in water.


2 chicken breasts (skinless, but remove the skin and use it if you have it - see below)
2 tsp of chicken stock (optional)
salt and pepper
a little vegetable oil

Serves 2

First you need to vacuum pack the chicken. Season the chicken breasts and place each one in a separate zip-lock food bag and flatten it out. Add a teaspoon of chicken stock for a bit of added flavour, if you like. Then, in a  water bath (I use a small drainer sink in my kitchen full of tap water, but a large bowl would do) slowly immerse the open bag into the water, bottom first, making sure that no water enters the bag at any stage. The pressure of the water should force the air out. Sink the bag until you get to the zip lock, then carefully and slowly close the bag, expelling all of the air. Repeat for the other breast.

Now to set up the water bath. I have used two methods. One uses an insulated coolbag, the other uses a rice cooker. The basic principle is that you get the water to 62 degrees C, add the vacuum-packed meat, and then maintain that temperature by adding more hot or cold water, monitoring the temperature carefully with a thermometer. The cool bag will be good for maintaining temperature, and will just need topping up from the kettle from time to time. The rice cooker (on 'keep warm' setting) might tend to allow the temperature to creep up, so will need the occasional addition of cold water.

Cook the chicken in this manner (sous vide) for around 2 hours at 62 degrees C.  To be sure about food safety and pasteurization, and much more on this method of cooking, read Douglas Baldwin's notes and charts in his excellent online guide to cooking sous vide.

When the chicken is done, heat a frying pan with a little vegetable oil to a very high temperature. Remove the chicken from the bag, pat dry, and flash fry in  the pan for a few seconds on each side. This will add a more pleasing appearance and taste to the otherwise slightly anaemic-looking, but extremely moist and tasty chicken breast. Don't be tempted to let it cook for more than a couple of seconds, or you will undo all of the good work of the past few hours of creating a juicy piece of meat.

If you have the chicken skin, you can make 'chicken scratchings' as a snack while you are waiting, or as an accompaniment to the chicken. Chop it into very small pieces, then fry in a very hot pan (I use a small wok) with a little oil, ground pepper, sea salt and crushed garlic until brown and crispy. Add the garlic late to avoid burning it.

I served this with risotto, and local asparagus which was in season, which worked well. We drank a white Rioja with it;.

You can buy a sous vide cooker with thermostatic temperature control from Lakeland for £250. I'm also wondering whether I can lay my hands on a second-hand piece of laboratory equipment that can do this.

If you are researching sous vide cooking online, you will find many (mainly US) recipes that suggest brining meat before cooking. Americans seem obsessed with this technique, but, as far as I can tell so far, it only dries out and oversalts meat cooked sous vide. 

Crackly roast pork belly with apple stuffing

This recipe aims to produce slow-cooked, crumbly, soft, moist, melt-in-the-mouth pork with hard crispy crackling. It's what we have for Christmas dinner each year! It can take all day, or about 4 hours in a speeded-up version.


Belly pork joint (with skin, but with bones removed -  keep them for stock if you can)

For Apple stuffing

2 apples
2 cabbage leaves
1 small onion or shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 egg
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
2 tbsp couscous or semolina
1 tsp porridge oats
2 tbsp chopped celery
2 tbsp chopped celery leaves
sage (fresh, frozen, or dried)
1 tsp mixed herbs
A few drops of Worcestershire sauce
Plenty of sea salt and pepper
a dash of madeira or sherry (optional)

Boil a kettle than pour the boiling water over the pork joint in the sink, letting the water run away. This will wash the pork and make the skin contract a little. paradoxically, pouring water over it is is the first stage in ultimately drying it out as much as possible. (Now wash the sink since you've had raw pork in there). Score the surface to the skin in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife if this hasn't been done already by the butcher, and cover with a generous amount of salt.

Place the joint in a dish in which it fits as tightly as possible, with the skin facing up and exposed to the air. Place the dish on a work surface on top of an ice pack, and allow to sit for a few hours (I usually do this first thing in the morning, and start cooking around midday. The idea is to allow the skin to dry out by exposing it to the air, which not allowing the meat to sit at room temperature for too long. If you have somewhere cool like a larder for this stage this would be ideal, but remember you need to keep it away from pets, insects, and other marauders, and you should resist the temptation to put it outside in the snow or in your shed. When the time comes to start cooking, scrape off the salt, which will have absorbed some of the moisture. The crackling would be too salty if you leave it all on.

Now make the stuffing.

Peel, core and chop the apple into small pieces. Chop the onion, garlic and celery into small pieces. Chop the sage, if fresh. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and combine well. The final consistency should be like a loose putty. Add more couscous or breadcrumbs for a drier consistency; wine or water for less; more egg for binding. It can be fairly dry, as it will absorb lots of juice and fat from the pork during cooking. The ingredients here can be added to or varied quite widely, as long as you end up with the right consistency.

Short cut: instead of stuffing, use slices of fresh apple and onion. At the end, mash them together and serve as a hot apple sauce

Put the stuffing in the bottom of the roasting dish, and lay the pork on top of it. This works best if you have a roasting dish which the pork just fits on, otherwise the edges of the stuffing will burn. One option is to construct a foil base with sides to protect the stuffing from too much direct heat. Heat the grill to a high temperature. (If you don't have a grill, heat the oven very hot.) Be patient and wait for it to heat up properly. Put the dish on a rack in the middle of the oven, not too close to the grill, perhaps 10-15cm away. Cook for 10-20 minutes, depending on how effective your grill is, until the skin is browned but not blackened. Turn off the grill and place the pork in a warm oven at around 140 degrees C for around 4-6 hours, or a higher temperature for a shorter cooking time. Baste the skin occasionally with fat from the pork that will accumulate in the pan, and check that the stuffing isn't burning at the edges. For the last 20 minutes of the cooking time, turn the oven high. Remove the pork from the oven when done and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Take it off the stuffing and place on some tin foil, which can be wrapped around the sides to keep the meat warm, but don't cover the crackling. Put the stuffing back in the oven while the meat is resting, so that it browns a little. Carve the meat and serve!

Serve with thick gravy made from pork stock, along with mashed potato, steamed cabbage and carrots. I usually make the stock with pork bones and vegetables the day before, and  steam the vegetables while the pork is resting.

Match with a light burgundy, or a strong white wine, such as a Rueda.

Umami pasta

This is a fairly simple and quick pasta meal, which aims for as much umami flavour as possible without tomato, the usual source of umami in a pasta sauce!

Serves 2

160g dried fusilli (or equivalent in fresh pasta)
chorizo (the partly raw kind, for cooking), about two inches long
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
handful of olives & capers
curly kale (optional), two handfuls
a couple of dried mushrooms
1 anchovy
2 tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika paste (or powder if you can't get the paste)
1 tbsp harissa paste
a handful of fresh thyme (or marjoram or oregano)
Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp beetroot vinegar (vinegar from a jar of pickled beetroot)
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste
salt, pepper

Boil a kettle full of water. Pour enough hot water to cover the dried mushrooms in a small bowl. Set aside for 30 mins or until the mushrooms are soft. Add more hot water if necessary. Chop and pound the anchovy and mix it in with the paprika paste, harissa and Worcestershire sauce.

Chop the chorizo, shallot and garlic. Fry the chorizo in a frying pan which has a lid, and is big enough to take these ingredients and the kale. When it starts to brown, add the shallot, stir for a minute or two, then add the chopped or pressed garlic. Turn to a low heat, and add the thyme. Take the dried mushrooms out of the water (keeping the water) and chop finely. Throw in the mushrooms with the chorizo, shallot, garlic and thyme. Chop the olives then add them to the pan with the capers too.

Cook the pasta, following the instructions on the packet (minus 20-25% of the suggested cooking time). After the pasta starts cooking, add the kale to the chorizo pan, replace the lid and allow to steam. Drain the pasta well when al dente (reserving a little pasta water) and set aside. Rinse out the pan and return to a very low heat.

Mix together the mushroom water, paprika paste, beetroot vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, and mix well. Pour into the now empty pasta pan and warm gently.

Stir the pasta back into pan with the paprika sauce. Ideally, there is enough sauce to coat all of the pasta, without any liquid remaining. Add a little pasta water if necessary. Remove from the heat. Add the grated parmesan and mix in thoroughly, trying to coat all of the pasta with it. Mix in the chorizo and kale mixture and serve immediately.