Monday, 13 July 2009

Breast of Lamb

Fired up by all the frugality that abounds at the moment, I was delighted to come across breast of lamb in my local Sainsburys at the weekend. It is a cut of meat that I remember from my childhood. My mother would cook it coccasionally rolled and stuffed with a sage and onion stuffing. I have not eaten it since.

The joint was priced at £1.99 and was already rolled. As I was partaking of a pub lunch yesterday, I rubbed some oil, lemon juice and mint into the lamb and popped it into a very low oven (about 100 degrees) before I left for lunch. Upon returning home I found a slightly shrivelled roll sitting in a large amount of fat. I was not encouraged. However, I removed it from the oven and let it cool.
The following evening I sliced the lamb very thinly. It looked like a meat doily - with small gaps where the fat had been rendered away. It also looked slightly dry I have to say although it tasted like the best crunchy bits of a roast leg of lamb. I therefore made a cucumber, mint and yoghurt dressing and piled the whole lot into a pitta with some coriander and tomato salad - almost a fat free doner kebab substitute !

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Here comes the sun!

In fact by the time I have got around to finalising this post it is more like "There went the sun". However, we Brits are well used to the phenomenon of the three day summer and making the most of what little sun Mother Nature throws at us.

So, on the second of three consecutive sunny days last weekend, the barbecue was dusted off and I set about collecting some of my favourite summer(ish) foods. Amongst my favourite barbecue items is the (shell and head on) king prawn. I usually just marinade the raw prawns for a short while in some oil and lemon juice but on this occasion, as I had a bunch of coriander on the verge of wilting in the fridge, I chopped this up too and added it to the marinade. Prawns cooked like this are a full on sensory experience - you get the crackling spit of the barbecue and the sizzle of the prawns, you get the sight of the prawns turning from dull shiny grey to a papery pink,  you get the amazing smell as the prawns singe here and there, you get the tactile delight (or chore in the view of my son) of peeling the shells and pulling the heads off the hot, cooked prawns and the delight of licking your sticky, lemony, oily fingers (enhanced on this occasion by the coriander) - and all this before you even get to the main event of tasting the prawns themselves!  Whilst they are not cheap, you get a lot of bang for your buck in my view.

Usually I eat these prawns just with some nice, crusty bread (torn not cut), a green salad and some garlicky mayonnaise. However on this occasion I had also bought some Jersey Royal new potatoes. I don't know what it is about these potatoes but they always remind me of what new potatoes used to taste like when I was a child. When they are in season I find myself eating them several times a week, whereas at other times of the year I can resist the lure of a new potato with little difficulty and seldom, if ever, find myself blown away by them when I do eat them - give me a chip, a roast potato, potato dauphinoise (or practically any other form of potato) any time. Not so, however, with the Jersey Royal. I can, and often do, eat vast quantities of these little beauties, so it is probably as well that the season for them is rather short. By far the best way to enjoy them, in my book, is simply boiled for about 15 minutes and then drizzled with (ok, I admit it, "drowned in" is often a better description) melted butter and some chopped mint. With the butter, I tend to avoid the usual spreadable Lurpak I keep in the fridge as there seems to be too much water in it - what you want is the potatoes bathing their bottoms in a golden oily layer at the bottom of the saucepan rather than paddling in a watery oil slick!

Monday, 18 May 2009

A Useful Find

Recently, on my way home from the train station after a long day in the office, I called into my local corner shop (think mostly fags, newspapers and tinned food rather than some amazing NY style Korean deli). I was looking for something quick and easy to eat when I got in as I was not in the mood for major cooking. On the shelves I came across this bottle:

At only £1.09 I thought it was worth a go and, with no great expectations, bought a bottle together with a tin of coconut milk and a pack of chapatis. At home I had some raw prawns, a bag of Chinese stirfry vegetables from the supermarket and some basil and coriander in the fridge. Being slightly unsure of how successful this sauce would be, I firstly sweated some chopped ginger, garlic and red chilli in some sunflower oil to ensure some kind of fresh flavour. I then quickly stirfried the vegetables for a few minutes and added the prawns for the last two minutes. When the prawns were turning pink I added a good glug of the Thai ketchup, gave the whole lot a good stir and added about a third of a can of the coconut milk. I then let this simmer for a minute or two whilst I drained some plain boiled rice and chopped up the basil and coriander together.

The whole thing took no more than 20 minutes and the results were, quite frankly, amazing. The ketchup gave a really authentic, fresh Thai red curry taste without any sense of "cook-in saucery". I am sure the fresh basil and coriander sprinkled over the top helped in this regard but, from subsequent experimentation, the sweating of ginger, garlic and chilli, was completely unnecessary - the magic bottle has got all of those fresh flavours aplenty.

This bottle, and the two others I subsequently bought, have resulted in me eating delicious home cooked food on evenings when, after a long day at work, I might otherwise have been tempted by the delights (sic) of one of my local takeaways. Regrettably my local shop has run out of the sauce but, if anybody else out there comes across it, I would recommend picking up a bottle or two and giving it a go.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Therapeutic Cooking

After many weeks of posting absolutely nothing on this blog I have today decided to get my a*se into gear and do some writing. On opening up the blog I found this part-written post dating from the beginning of April- the opening words sum up my reasons for not posting of late!

Work at the moment is a complete nightmare. I have been in the same job for nine years now ("time to move on", the voice in my head says - "yeah brilliant, pick a recession to come up with that idea voice!!" I reply) and I have never known it so busy (and irritating) - hence the absence of recent posts on here. So, last weekend (when I was not reading documents) I felt the need to cook. What I had in mind was some kind of cooking that was gentle and comforting. Something that bubbled and simmered and that needed the odd poke or stir every now and again - something, in short, that would counterbalance the frenetic pace of work. I originally thought of something like pasta e fagioli and so made a simmering, bubbling (tick) chicken stock on Saturday evening in readiness for the main event on Sunday. I also soaked several handfuls of dried Borlotti beans in water overnight. The beans had been picked up in a Co-op supermarket in a little town in Italy which I visited last autumn (the town you understand - even I am not deranged enough to travel that far specifically to visit a supermarket - well, not a Co-op one anyway). For some reason I took great pleasure in the fact that the beans had been bought whilst on holiday in Italy (tick) - that is my kind of holiday shopping.

The following day, after a busy morning and early afternoon out and about, I returned home to begin cooking. The afternoon did not get off to the best start when Manchester United came back from a goal down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 thereby leapfrogging my team Liverpool to the top of the Premier League - there is a reason why that team are called the Red Devils! (The previous sentences are about football, not cooking, in case anybody from overseas is confused).

Putting the football behind me, I headed for the kitchen for the usual survey of the fridge and storecupboard. My friend Louise had bought me three fat tomato and basil Italian sausages from her favourite Italian deli - Gazzano's in Clerkenwell - and so I decided to skin and crumble them and use them as the base of a sausage and bean stew - a dish that, for me, ticks all the boxes.

I set the beans to boil for an hour and, while they were cooking, I made a sofritto of onions, carrots and celery (see the favourite chicken soup posting earlier on this blog) to which, after about an hour of combining TV viewing and the odd stir (tick), I added the raw sausagemeat and cooked it for a further 15 minutes or so. I then added the cooked beans, a tin of chopped tomatoes and several ladles of the chicken stock. A further hour of simmering (tick), with the lid off the pan, and the addition of some black pepper and broken up penne pasta about 15 minutes from the end, resulted in a thick stew with a pronounced flavour of the (rather small amounts of) Italian sausage.

I served the stew with some sea salt, chopped basil and grated parmesan sprinkled over the top and let the flavours carry me away from the pressures of work and back to Tuscany.

The stew was even better the next day - which was fortunate given that it was Monday and time to head back to the office!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


I recently went for lunch to an Argentinian restaurant with my son. The restaurant is one of a chain called Gaucho and the particular branch has an amazing view of London's Tower Bridge.

Steak is clearly the mainstay of the menu at Gaucho and very excellent it is too. The waiter brings you a wooden board with all of the various cuts of steak on offer and then you choose your cut, the weight you want and how you would like it cooked - as simple as that. I usually just head straight into the main course when I go to Gaucho as the steaks are so huge. However, my son (whose middle name should be A la Carte) looked aghast when I suggested this route and so we settled on a selection of empanadas to set us on our way.

The empanadas were filled with cheese and ham, beef or corn. We had some of each and, in particular, the corn ones were unexpectedly delicious with lovely chewy pieces of corn in a rich sauce. They were served with a tomato sauce on the side.

The very next day on my way in to work I was reading the free London paper "The Metro" and I came across an article on Argentinian food which included, to my delight, the following recipe for the Gaucho Grill's empanadas (makes 10) :


450g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
70g butter
50g vegetable shortening
pinch of salt

Rub the butter and shortening into the salt, flour and baking powder. Then sprinkle water in slowly and mix with your hands until the dough forms a ball. Rest for 30 mins and then roll out fairly thinly and cut out 10cm rounds.


50ml corn oil
50g diced shallots
1 chopped garlic clove
50g corn off the cob
100g tinned corn
100g mozzarella diced
50g cream cheese
50g diced red pepper
1/2 bunch of chopped chives
Salt and pepper
1 egg yolk for glazing.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the shallots and garlic. Sauté gently for 5 minutes then add the two kinds of corn and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the two cheeses, peppers and chives to the pan, then mix well and season.

Place a dessert spoon of the filling in the centre of each pastry disc then wet the edges of the disc and fold it over to make a small pasty shape, pinching the edges closed. Brush the empanadas with the egg yolk and place on a non stick baking tray in an oven at 175 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes until they are golden. Serve them hot with the sauce.


Peel and grate five plum tomatoes and mix with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

If anybody has any other favourite fillings that are good in these little golden parcels it would be great to hear from you.

Monday, 16 March 2009

A Chip Off The Old Block - Not!

I know I resolved to cook meat at the end of my last post but the Whitstable Mackerel from a few posts back have been burning a hole in my pocket (metaphorically of course as they have literally been frozen solid in the freezer). So, on Saturday I decided to cook two of them and very delicous (and huge) they turned out to be.

I defrosted the fish and then made some deep incisions into the flesh and marinated them for a while with a mixture of fresh herbs and lemon juice. Then I baked them in a fairly hot oven for 25 minutes wrapped loosely in foil parcels which I opened for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time.

Mackerel being an oily fish, I decided to serve it with a fennel and blood orange salad (nothing more than finely sliced fennel and segments of blood orange with a little olive oil, blood orange juice, salt and pepper as a dressing). The aniseedy sharpness of the salad worked very well with the fish.

To accompany the fish and the salad I wanted to make some fat chips. Now, I have to confess that I cannot remember the last time that I tried to deep fry food - that kind of thing is reserved very much for treats whilst eating out. I, therefore, had absolutely no idea how to cook a fat chip.

This is doubly shocking when I think back to the omnipresent chip pan that was a major part of my childhood and adolescence. It would be kept ready charged in the pantry with its milky contents of solidified lard (no poncey vegetable oil for us hardy Valleys folk) and would be brought into use at least two or three times per week. I have happy memories of chips being cooked by my mother on Summer evenings and then handed out to me and my friends (who would inevitably be playing on the street somewhere nearby) wrapped in newspaper and liberally sprinkled with biting salt and stinging vinegar to create the authentic chip shop experience (at presumably a fraction of the price).

Notwithstanding this impeccable pedigree on the chip front, I have lapsed I regret to say. These days I take my (well diluted) chippy pleasure at home from oven chips or microwave chips. In relation to this last category I limit myself to the thin chips that come individually packaged in a little grid within a box. My standards have not slipped so low as to countenance the microchips that come in a box with a lid you have to leave ajar whilst a series of microwave blasts, interspersed with frantic shaking of the box, result in a soggy pallid excuse for a chip.

I was not therefore wildly optimistic about my fat chip experiment. This pessimism was well founded I regret to say. I opted for the twice cooked method (which I assumed would give me the crispy, crunchy exterior and fluffy interior of a good, home cooked chip). I peeled the potaoes and cut the chips, which I then let soak for 10 minutes or so in cold water. I then drained the chips and heated about 3" of vegetable oil to 170 degrees and cooked the chips for 10 minutes or so. Then I drained them and let them cool. When the fish and salad were ready I put the (now cold) chips back into very hot oil (200 degrees) for about another 3 minutes. They browned very quickly and my hopes were high! The end result, whilst being cooked and looking not too bad, had nothing of the crispy exterior to it that is the hallmark of a fine chip.

If anybody out there can spot my (no doubt obvious) error in preparing and cooking these chips I would be grateful to hear from you because, if I am going to the trouble of cooking real chips (with the resultant cost in terms of calories and fat intake), they need to be perfect. Any suggestions gratefully received.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Spicy Ricey Herby Prawny Thingy

When clearing out my freezer recently I came across a sorry looking plastic bag containing about 6 medium sized peeled raw prawns. They were hardly medium sized enough to constitute a single portion on their own so I decided to make them into a starter for two people.

A further root around in the fridge and storecupboard came up with a bunch of fresh herbs, a tomato, some basmati rice and some chilli infused olive oil (part of a hamper from Carluccios that I received as a Christmas present a few years back(!) as I recall).

I cooked the rice in my customary way (twice the volume of water to rice, a little salt, bring to the boil then reduce to the lowest heat for 15 minutes with the lid on). Whilst the rice was cooking I chopped each of the defrosted raw prawns into about 5 pieces then quickly stir fried them in a combination of the chilli oil and sunflower oil. To this I added a very generous amount of finely chopped mint and coriander and the cooked rice and continued to fry for a couple of minutes. Tasting it showed that the chilli oil had lost little, if any, of its kick and so I made a tomato and basil salad to sit it on. The cool tomatoes worked really well with the spicy rice and prawns.

I think I need to go searching in the furthest reaches of my freezer more often, although it does occur to me that this dish bears more than a passing resemblance to an inverted version of the post stomach bug cod loin dish in an earlier post. Note to self: cook some meat!