Category Archives: British Flavours

Passionfruit, Mango and Raspberry Mess

As much as I love Eton mess, there comes a time in summer when it’s just a bit too sickly. Strawberries? Again?

With the recent boiling hot weather, I decided a tropical twist on the English classic was the way forward. There is nothing more to this ‘recipe’ than great ingredients and very gentle folding (blitzed meringue just makes for a load of sweet cream rather than chewy texture variation). I used raspberries, shop-bought meringue (shhh), lovely Westcountry double cream and some of this lovely-jubbly passionfruit and mango coulis that I got at the Cheltenham food festival. (I tried the damson, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry…) I spoke to the chap, Nick, who own the company and apparently they regularly win taste awards. I’m not surprised, it is delicious. If only I can wangle some free bottles…

I whipped the cream, crumbled the meringue in large pieces in with it, added a touch of coulis and folded it over twice with a large spoon. Scooped out, daub of cream and a drizzle of coulis on top, raspberries sprinkled on top. Yum. Yum yum yum.

Back to the gym…

Green Garlic Sausages in Quince and Grape Sauce

Without doubt, the most swamped stand at the Cheltenham Food Festival was the Ragley Estate Meats stand as they were serving up tasters of their pies and sausages. People kept going back for more of their sausages, and when I tasted I could understand why! They were so deliciously moist. I snapped up two packets: one of their ‘award winning’ standard pork sausages, and one of their green garlic variety (which I was led to believe were very garlicky indeed).

One of the most exuberant stalls at the festival was a man selling a plethora of quince products. Never having tasted quince, I duly tried some and thought it was lovely, bought a jar and was given a handy sheet of recipes. I’ll come back to that sheet, but I immediately thought of my bangers when I got the quince (I usually put apples in with my sausages).

Today a friend at work, who has been swamped by broad beans, brought a huge bagful of them for us all to dip in to. I took my handful and thought merrily about dinner.

Maybe it was because the broad beans are small and green, or maybe the quince man mentioned grapes, but I decided to include grapes too (I thought the garlicky sausages could hold their own against the sweet sauce). So I set to dinner, making the mash as usual and podding the broad beans.

My usual method with sausages is to give them a bit of a grilling (lets at least some of the fat out) and then put them in a pan with some caramelised onions and finish them off bubbling away under a lid. To make the sauce today, I cooked an onion for a long slow time, adding water at intervals to stop it burning on the pan. I added a tablespoon of quince jelly, a slosh of double cream and a handful of grapes. I then put the sausages in and let it cook for 4-5 minutes to combine.

The garlicky sausages were as good as I’d tasted them at the festival and their robust flavour worked very well with the quince and grape sauce. The broad beans added an interesting texture, but were perhaps overwhelmed (spinach next time instead?) – I did notice however that they tasted LOVELY and didn’t have a yukky fibrous skin like school broad beans. In all, I think it almost worked. I’d cut the grapes in half next time and probably have spinach or broccoli or savoy cabbage instead of the broad beans.

Roast Chicken Dinner

roast dinner

The roast dinner is the cornerstone of great British cooking, and the roast chicken the foundation of so many dishes. Considering this, maybe it seems a bit strange that I’ve not blogged about it yet. Or is it really so strange? I’ve been reluctant to blog about it. Everyone has their own idea of what a perfect roast is, and really anything slightly different from that is just not good enough. I don’t mean just in terms of when things go clearly awry (dad, I’m thinking of those Yorkshire flops I made last week!) but also when a vegetable you love is missing, or prepared differently. Wondering if the dinner would be better still with your favourite Parmesan parsnips can sour an otherwise lovely meal. Think of all the pressure that’s put on Christmas dinner – and how it ought to be perfect. Smugsters point out that a Christmas dinner should be fairly easy as it’s just a roast dinner with extras. True. But they’re probably the same lot who don’t recognise all the expectation that goes into a weekly roast dinner. When anyone presents a roast dinner it is instantly open to judgement: the roast is subject to examination and scrutiny unlike any other meal. This is why I’ve been shy in showing you a roast dinner.

I’m happy to show this, not because I think it’s perfect (the gravy certainly wasn’t) but because it’s about bloomin‘ time and I admit that I was fairly pleased with this one. I present this as a version, not even my own definitive version, and as a record of how it worked today – because I did a few things differently and they seemed to lift my roast to a better level than before. So, blow by blow, here is my roast:

First, the chicken. I started the chicken much earlier than I wanted the roast. This leaves time to make the gravy, and vitally lets the chicken rest so it can be carved with ease. As I used a small chicken, I put half a lemon, two cloves of pink garlic (it’s very strong but I would ordinarily use a bit more), three sprigs of thyme and some sage leaves into the chicken cavity. I chopped an onion in half and sat it in the same pan as the chicken. I cook the chicken at about 190, and I keep it covered for 2/3 of the cooking time and uncover it for the last 1/3 of cooking. I baste about three times in total. Now, I never really do cooking times, but I always just if a chicken is cooked by yanking on the leg. If there is ‘give’ in the leg and it doesn’t resist yanking on it, and deep down in the thick of the carcass the meat isn’t pink, then it’s cooked. This is usually about an hour and a half for a small chicken. Now, I ran out of kitchen foil, so without wanting to leave it uncovered I used greaseproof paper. This was a revelation. The chicken didn’t steam during the covered cooking time, but there was still plenty of juice. I’m definitely going to use greaseproof in future! Plus, when it comes to carving it holds the juices well (I’m clumsy and often stab the foil and end up with juices dripping on my feet).

At this stage I start on the potatoes. The first step is to peel and cut them. I use Nigella Lawson’s method of cutting on the diagonal, so that each well-sized potato makes three roasties. I then par-boil the potatoes, until a knife goes in without much prodding. The potato should need a little shake to get it off the knife (rather than falling off under it’s own steam which tends to make them a bit over-cooked and liable to disintegrate in the oven). I strain the potatoes and then run cold water over them and then shake them up to get future crispy bits. I don’t know why I run cold water over them, but that’s my hocuspocus part of roast potato cooking (and you’ll find everyone has their own – covering in semolina, using hot hot fat etc).

I then made the gravy by removing the chicken and onion (I wrapped the chicken in greaseproof and left on the side and threw the onion in a stock pot), putting the pan on the hob and stirring like mad – getting all the crispy bits off the pan. I then added some salt and pepper. I added cornflour (always mix it with water first in a small bowl and add gradually so that it doesn’t make the gravy lumpy or too thick!) Now, I could and probably should have strained it as there were some oniony bits floating around. But c’est la vie. I poured the gravy in a jug and left – you can scoop off some extra fat when it’s cool and it’s easy enough to heat in the microwave at the last minute.

Later, once the chicken was cool, I carved it. To carve the chicken the first step has already been achieved: a well-cooked chicken that has cooled. Your hands are the key to this, and a bird that’s too-hot-to-handle is a nightmare. First, the legs and wings come off (they should come off easily with a tug if the chicken is cooked properly) and then gently ease the meat away from the bones and set aside. The breasts will come off easily too. BUT, the first thing I do is to run a knife down either side of the cartilage at the centre of the bird. I then get to its neck end and find the wishbone and pull this out. Now, it’s a matter of gently separating the breast and under-breast from the carcass. DO it slowly and you’ll leave less waste on the carcass. You then end up with white meat and brown meat separately and very little wastage.

I slice both breasts and tear up the brown meat. We use one breast for a roast dinner, and the rest of the breast for weekday sandwiches. A little brown meat makes it to the roast plate but most goes to a chicken pie or other chicken-leftover meal.

You remember I said that cold water was my superstitious way of cooking roast potatoes? Well I clearly overlooked the fact that I will only cook roast potatoes in a glass/pyrex dish. My reasoning behind this is that a bad metal pan is the enemy of crunch – metal holds on to the crispy bits and strips them from your roast potatoes (same rule applies for wedges). So I always use pyrex.

Today I used half sunflower oil, half garlicky olive oil to cook the potatoes. The garlicky olive oil is just olive oil I put garlic in and left to infuse… nothing fancy! Sometimes I put some shallots in to roast with the potatoes, sometimes I put whole cloves in. I have come to decide that they detract from the potato cooking so I think I’ll stick to garlicky oil from now on.

I don’t baste the potatoes, but rather turn them so that each side gets an equal crunch. As the success of a roast dinner often hinges on the potato, when I see this:

I see a 20-minute time to extraction, and know it is time to put the other veg on. When the roast potato is cooked completely, it should look like this:

Well, it would be great if that ALL looked like that, wouldn’t it? That was the best of its batch, but it was a fine bunch. When I see the potato above, I set them out on kitchen roll to drain and I zap the gravy in the microwave for a final time. By this time my chosen veg should be cooked. (I try to limit veg, as otherwise I find myself eating vegetables just to see the wood for the trees! It’s easy to add peas as well, oh and broccoli!, and parsnips of course, and cauliflower… and you end up overwhelmed)

One vegetable portion that is a firm favourite is the leek. More specifically, when it comes as leek sauce, also known as creamed leeks. I cook the leek sauce in industrial batches and freeze, partly because it’s a total faff to make it as and when desired, but also to make the most of leeks when they are cheap. I think I made this batch when they were on St David’s day special offer.

To make leek sauce, I slice the leeks as finely as I can bear to (the finer the better really) and then sweat them with a little salt and butter. Keeping a keen eye on them is key, because one bit of burnt leek and, to me, it spoils their taste. When they go glossy, tip them out onto a plate. Make a white sauce as you would, and once that has cooked through and thickened, turn off the heat, stir in the leeks and add a little white pepper to taste. I always cook this in the morning of a roast if I cook from scratch, to allow the leek flavour to permeate the sauce. Cooking it ahead is by far the easiest way of ensuring lots of lovely leeky sauce:

As you can see from the picture at the top, I also cooked carrot and cabbage for our roast. The carrots I just scrubbed and cooked whole, and the cabbage I cooked by pouring boiling water over, letting it come to the boil on the hob and then immediately turning it off. This way, the cabbage doesn’t seem to over cook.

Finally, I put the carcass along with the onion it was roasted with, the garlic (but not the lemon), some pepper corns, a bay leaf, a carrot and some celery into a pot which will be boiled for stock. I had some bacon (the fatty parts that we cut off when having bacon for breakfast) and threw that in for good measure too.

So….

How do you do yours?

Stuffed Peppers with Potato, Leek and Mushroom Gratin

Tonight’s dinner was improvised from various leftovers, which might make it harder to follow this post than usual as it’s a little stream-of-consciousness.

Stage One: dinner started this morning when I was sorting out the leftover rogan josh from last night. As usual, there was sauce aplenty for another dinner but most of the meat had been eaten. To bulk it up, I peeled and cubed some sweet potato, zapped it in the microwave (so it can be easily heated at a later date) and stirred it into the curry before bunging it in the freezer. This, however, left me with half a sweet potato as it was a big’un!

Stage Two: later in the afternoon with half a sweet potato, some small salad-type potatoes and a leek I layered up a gratin (sweet potato, white potato, leek). Realising I had no idea what to do next, I googled for a gratin recipe. It called for cream…. hmmm… no cream. Then I remembered I had some homemade mushroom soup in the freezer, which was mainly a cream mushroom puree really, so I defrosted that, added it, and topped up the gratin with milk.

Stage Three: realising that a gratin alone isn’t very balanced, I used two big red peppers I’d bought with the intention of roasting at some point, and filled them with vine cherry tomatoes. Hmmm, not great. Emptied out the cherry tomatoes. Hmmm… what could I stuff it with? I remembered some leftover frozen bolognese sauce we had in the freezer which I stabbed, slotted frozen into the peppers and then put three cherry tomatoes on top and gave a grating of parmiggiano reggiano.

Gratin and peppers went in at the same time, for about 45-60 minutes.

Dinner turned out to be much better than anticipated. The sweet potatoes, of course, cooked faster than the white potatoes which gave a lovely variation in texture. The leek was crisp, and the mushroom soup made the whole thing sing. Unfortunately, the mushroom soup isn’t the easiest thing to whizz up just for a gratin BUT I have decided that blending some mushrooms, cream and garlic together will give much the same effect. So that I shall do next time. Somewhat unconvinced about sweet and normal potatoes together in a gratin, but I think a sweet potato and red onion gratin-esque concoction (maybe with yoghurt?) would be the next to try.

Strawberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake

One of the main reasons I like food blogging is the potential to experiment and still feel that something productive came out of something that didn’t go perfectly. This entry to A Slice of Cherry Pie’s In The Bag event (this month’s ingredients: strawberries and white chocolate) was one of those imperfect, but valuable cooking experiences.

I knew I wanted to cook a cheesecake, but I wanted to not follow a recipe strictly as it seems all the cheesecake recipes I try to follow don’t work. This is probably due to differing oven temperatures, but many times I’ve found the cooking times specified to be either far too short or far too long, with me having to slice a burnt top off. So today I wanted to try one that has been much hyped, Nigella’s London Cheesecake, but I wanted to do it a bit differently. You can find the original recipe here.

I started my departure from the recipe by doubling the amount of biscuit and butter required in order to make a cheesecake with a base and walls. (Probably more accurately termed sides, but I think they look like a rather craggy fortress myself) Although working against gravity to create the walls, they didn’t cave in and it was all A-OK.

I then made up a strawberry syrup from a punnet of berries, some caster sugar and a touch of water. I boiled it up, then down, then mushed it and spread all over the biscuit base and let the whole lot cool. So far, so good.

The white chocolate was simply melted and stirred in with the cream cheese of the original recipe, and I adjusted the cooking times up a little to make up for the 200g of white chocolate I’d added but cooked it in a vat of water just as with the original. Well, I evidently didn’t adjust enough because it was still wibbling at me after a good hour. I can’t quite tell with cheesecake how much it’ll firm with cooling (once I had a rather amazing disaster where I undercooked a cheesecake and took it out of its tin without letting it cool. Result: cheesecake avalanche, followed by a number of spoons scooping and eating from the table and a mortified me!) so I bunged it in for another half hour. I eyed it suspiciously once more, removed it from the water, let it cool.

As it was cooling, I fanned some strawberries for the top (apparently very retro, but novel for me).

Unfortunately the slice of cake itself was not pretty enough for a full-frontal (boo hoo) as the strawberry layer, though tasty, looked a little tired (well it must have been after all that time sat under the cheesecake filling). The walls went down very well with TLM, but I think next time they could be thinner, and hopefully with today’s knowledge I will be able to judge them better. Something inside me felt the strawberry syrup needed whizzing for a more event texture, and maybe even something to made it redder – more appealing I suppose? However, it tasted fine so maybe I should keep it organic.
I will want to add more vanilla next time (pod maybe?) because that would really bring out the white chocolate softness. It had flecks from the vanilla sugar and flavour from the vanilla extract but I think a pod is the way forwards for this one.

A very interesting challenge. Cheesecake, not yet mastered. I predict with us moving (again) and me having a new kitchen and cooker the battle will continue…
(any tips – welcome!!)

Eton Mess with Orange Infused Cream and Pomegranate Seeds

My first British strawberries of the year…
My favourite story of this pudding’s origin is that some floppy-haired, wicker-basket bearing public schoolboys ventured out on a picnic and after finding the perfect spot discovered that their pavlova had been upended. Thus the name, Eton Mess.

I don’t know if this is true, but Eton Mess is truly a fantastic English summer pudding made traditionally from cream, strawberries and meringues. However, I sometimes find it a bit too sweet and a little cloying so I made a couple of adjustments.

Firstly, I love cream but I really felt it needed a kick. So I infused the cream with orange (sounds fancy…) by combining the double cream with the juice and grated rind of one big orange. I left it, unwhipped, in the fridge to mingle.

When it was time for pudding, I broke the ready-made meringues (life’s too short) into fairly sizable pieces, to keep their crunch. I sliced the strawberries and mixed them with the meringue. I poured the softly whipped orange double cream over the top. It should have the rumpled, soft consistency of an unmade bed! I mixed gently – you don’t want to break anything up too much and you definitely don’t want a total coverage of cream or it’s too uniform and spoils the ‘mess’. Then, simply sprinkled on some pomegranate seeds to give colour and bite and just cut through the sweetness.

It was divine.

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Eton Mess was the pudding for my ‘indoor picnic’ dinner, which started with creamy mushrooms with bacon and parmigiano reggiano (a soupier version of this) followed by potatoes, salmon, prosciutto, grilled Mediterranean vegetables and Feta salad.

Cream Tea

Over this Whitsun Weekend, I’m off visiting my parents in Devon. Devon is a county in the Westcountry (the south-western peninsula) which remains rural and has an abundant and beautiful coastline. Because of the number of cows (everywhere) the Westcountry has a foodie reputation for dairy products (notably butter, cream, icecream, rice pudding and custard) which gave rise to the Ambrosia company’s advertising slogan “Devon knows how they make it so creamy!”.

For me, cream teas are strongly associated with garden tea rooms and are best eaten outside. Yesterday, we went to Coleton Fishacre (pronounced: coll-erton) which is a beautiful house of the arts and crafts/deco style with a stunning interior and gardens that extend forever down to a swimming cove and the rugged Devon coast. After having my breath taken away by the deco styling, and then by the walk up from the cove, it was time for an afternoon cream tea. And so we ordered (cream teas are a staple in the Westcountry) and sat just outside the house, overlooking the gardens, out to sea. My mum and I shared this cream tea:

Because cream teas are so ubiquitous in the south west, I never even considered that they don’t have the same status elsewhere. Sometimes I crave a cream tea and, living in the north as we currently do, I’ve found it nearly impossible to find a tea room that does one and it’s taken me 6 months to locate a shop that sells the one absolutely unchangeable element of a cream tea: CLOTTED CREAM. Oh, it sounds repulsive I’ll give you that. But it’s divine. I’m not quite sure how it’s made, but it has a firm buttery top and a thick liquid bottom.

I suppose this is the point where I address the burning issue of constructing the cream tea. I should warn you that, although I respect diversity, I am unwilling to compromise on this issue*. There are times when I’ve seen the jam being put on first, inevitably by a grockle (local term for a tourist) where it’s been hard to control the urge to turn over the tables and challenge such unorthodox behaviour. I have even witnessed someone eating a scone like a sandwich. I believe education is the only way to solve this problem, so let me state categorically that it is my belief that the scone is split, and each half is treated as a separate delicious entity (though favouring one half, as I do the top half, is unavoidable) and that the cream is spread on first, the jam dollops on top.

Wikipedia states that this is the Devonian way – which makes sense I suppose. Doing it this way provides what I think is the best textural combination. It also allows you to get the most cream on (with a knife) and the most jam on (with a spoon). Besides, spooning clotted cream is incredibly difficult. When it comes to the fruit scone/no fruit scone issue I am less dictatorial. Do as you please.

So I sat with my cream tea, with wonderful Devon all around me, until I came to my last morsel.


*I wish this was tongue-in-cheek, but, well, I’m deadly serious

Pimm’s O’Clock

When I was at uni in Cambridge, Pimm’s was a total staple of the “summer season” of garden parties, punting trips and post-exam jubilation. There were no worries, no appointments, no timetables. Of course, we were so lost without structure that we imposed Pimm’s o’clock in the afternoon. For me, there is little else that screams summer relaxation like Pimm’s. At least not in England.

I don’t think I had a glass last summer (what with being on a desert island and everything) so I was so happy to stop off at the supermarket after work and gather the necessaries for my first Pimm’s in a long time. On my list was cucumber, apple, orange, lemon, strawberries, mint, ice cubes, lemonade and of course the classic Pimm’s number one cup.

When I arrived at my friend’s house she was totally excited because she’d never had Pimm’s before! I supposed it was maybe a Southern thing (living oop north as I do now) but she said, “nah, it’s just posh”.

The fruit is sliced up, Pimm’s and lemonade added in a 1:3 ratio (but I tend to go on the stronger side). I go overboard on the fruit, partly because I think it tastes ace, but mainly because everyone loves delving into the jug and having a nibble.

The ingredients of Pimm’s are a bit of a mystery, but after a phonecall to Diageo today the main ones are gin, orange liqueur, spirit caramel and sugar. And best of all it is suitable for a gluten -free diet!

I’m feeling like it’s Pimm’s o’clock again already…

p.s. I have some Pimm’s cocktail stirrers and should have used them in my picture!

Braised Lamb Shanks in Red Wine

I’d never liked lamb until this year, really. I’ve tried a forkful of lamb shanks at a restaurant once and it was decidedly yummy so when I saw two lovely large (and heavily reduced) lamb shanks at the supermarket, I snapped them up. A quick google found a recipe (which I adapted, of course) and it turned out wonderful and almost entirely effortless. The dinner may be lacking in the 5-a-day (onion, carrot and leeks in the mash) but it was delicious and greedy.

Ingredients

  • two lamb shanks
  • one onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • two carrots
  • 1/2 bottle red wine
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree

How to Make it

First, brown the lamb shanks in your pot on the top of the oven. This will take about 8 – 10 minutes. Remove the lamb and put aside. Saute the onion and garlic with the salt to make it soften a little (4-5 mins) then add the carrots, pepper, rosemary, thyme, lambshanks, red wine and tomato puree. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.

Perfection is reached when it’s tender enough to fall off the bone easily.

Onion Gravy

If there’s one thing I can do, a rich brown sludge is it. I’d never made onion gravy before, but TLM decided yorkshire puddings, beef and onion gravy were in order, so I obliged. This turned out to be the single best gravy I’ve ever made (surpassing even the turkey gravy I made over Christmas, which had a recipe and everything). Here’s how I did it:
Ingredients
  • Roasting joint
  • 1 onion, sliced as finely as possible
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • great big grind of black pepper
  • salt
  • 1 can beer (Guinness in this case)

How to make it

I sliced the onions as finely as possible, placed the beef on top, poured the beer around the edges, seasoned and cooked till the beef was done. I let the beef rest, then poured out the oniony, beery, beefy juices into a pan and thickened with a little flour. And that was it. Simply delicious, and definitely to be repeated. It produced enough gravy to freeze a portion for having with sausage and mash at a later date.