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Chicken Rendang (In Partnership with Le Creuset)

Chicken Rendang Recipe

Chicken Rendang Recipe

This post was sponsored by Le Creuset. They asked me to write a one pot recipe and to choose one of their pots to cook it in. I fancied something spiced,  slow cooked and full of character,  so I settled on a rendang inspired by my travels to Malaysia. I chose a shallow pot that would aid evaporation, caramelisation and intensification of the sauce  (a 30cm shallow casserole, in lovely Marseille blue). 

Le Creuset Pot in  Marseille Blue

Le Creuset 30cm Shallow Casserole in Marseille Blue

I have been to Malaysia twice in the past year, to the tip of it in Langkawi, and the bottom, Sabah, Borneo. I love it there for many reasons. The monkeys (who can resist?), the rainforests and the gorgeous seas, the sandy beaches and the mangrove trees. Best of all is the food, seasoned with punchy aromatics and a little spice. Where India has spices, Malysia has aroma – galangal, lime leaves, lemongrass, lots of fresh turmeric – and slow cooked tender meats, bright fish, with sometimes funky undertones from fermented fish. For this project, I settled on a chicken (ayam) rendang, the perfect food for a chilly November.[Read more]

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Corn with Lime & Chilli Butter and Feta

Corn with Lime & Chilli Butter and Feta

Corn with Lime & Chilli Butter and Feta

This morning something joyful, simple and full of flavour. I was thinking about corn, how wonderful it is and quick, and remembering how I had had corn in some Mexican restaurants. With a fresh tangy crumbled cheese on top, and of course, a kick.

I am working on a whole slew of BBQ recipes this week, and some sides are warranted, so let us start here. Working with what we have, instead of a Mexican cotija cheese, I use feta. Feta, a Greek cheese, is protected, and can only be called feta if it is the traditional cheese produced in specific areas of Greece from sheep’s milk, or sheep and goat’s. You, of course, know it, and it is widely available in supermarkets. The real stuff is aged for a minimum of 3 months resulting in a salty firm & crumbly cheese with a bit of a tang. Imitators pale by comparison and sometimes taste odd, but there are some fantastic British & Irish sheep’s cheese you can use too. Like Irish Knockalara (from my home county of Waterford).

Corn, well that is simple enough. Buy whole corn that is fresh and still luscious and moist, not dry. Preferably with the green husks still on as they keep it nice and fresh. Good juicy limes and a fresh bouncy chilli. As hot as you like, I went for a fresh jalapeno.[Read more]

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Sunshine Rice & Eggs

Sunshine Rice & Eggs

Sunshine Rice & Eggs

Sunshine rice! Cheesy, isn’t it? But why is cheesy a bad thing when cheese is just so good? Shall we try and reclaim that? Like I was doing with Like a Girl when I decided to title this blog Eat Like a Girl . Which is now the subject of a viral advertising campaign, I notice, which is a very good thing. As Like a Girl is, and it is something to be proud ofNow, lets work on cheesy. Or, maybe we have other things to do? Like finish books and things. (Yes, nearly there with Project: BACON, and more on that soon!).

I looked at my breakfast this morning and thought, oh, that looks like a gorgeous perky sun, within another one peeking cheerfully from inside of it. And so, a sunshine breakfast was declared, and devoured.

The rice was leftover from my dinner the night before (pan fried mackerel with habanero, curry leaf & lime butter sat on top of it, that recipe soon, once I have tested it again). It is fairly speedy to put together though, and you should cheer your breakfast table with it so I will share the rice recipe here too.

I like to use short grain brown rice which is tense, fat and nutty, but really any rice would do here, so go with whatever you have in the cupboard. Turmeric gives it the underlying golden hue. I use turmeric because it is delicious (in small amounts though, and especially when using fresh turmeric), but also because it is so healthy. With anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, I hope that turmeric can somehow offset some of the more unsavoury habits of mine. Sweetcorn gives it further acute pops of yellow, spinach, finely shredded and added just as you turn the heat off, freshness and texture. I freshened it up by frying it in some extra virgin olive oil with some lovely diced ripe tomato and chilli. When hot and toasty, I cleared some holes, and fried some eggs in each. One egg per person is enough for me, but if you need more, go for it.

Enjoy! And do tell me what you have for sunshine breakfasts? :)[Read more]

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Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu and Crispy Kale

Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu & Crispy Kale

Rigatoni with Bolognese Style Ragu & Crispy Kale

Can you handle another ragu recipe? So close to the last? I ate this ragu several days in a row last week, which is normally something that I am loathe to do, but this was so delicious and utterly more-ish, that I couldn’t resist it. It has a little twist too. Normally ragu is served with parmesan, but I chose something else, also intense, oven crisped kale with paprika and sea salt, for a wonderful textural and flavour contrast. It is something that I do quite often, I have blogged about it before too.

One of the things that I love about Italy is their adherence to tradition. They love their recipe rules and stick stringently to them. Very much so. Do not break the rules! They eat so well as a result. Who wouldn’t want to be Italian?

One of the good things about not being Italian is that I can come home and absorb all of the different influences and stories and concoct something new. I can make something inspired by tradition, but not wedded to it. Italians, I know you are shrieking, but without this attitude my beloved Spaghetti Corkese would never have been born. I think you might even like it! Nor would today’s dinner, with the wrong pasta shape and a Bolognese inspired ragu that was a little too wet to be Bolognese, and that I finished with cream before topping with crispy kale.  I know, cream. Cream! But you know, delicious.

The rigatoni was the wrong pasta shape but it was a lovely one from Gragnano that I bought in Italy (the best dried pasta comes from there). It was there, and it was the perfect size tube for the ragu to snuggle and hide in. The cream was my Irish and indulgent take on finishing a ragu with milk. Just a lick of cream gives each portion a decadent texture and roundness, and when cooked in, you may not even know it is there. Now that I have done it, I am fairly sure that one of my favourite Emilia Romagna trattoria ragus was finished like this.

The recipe is based on the ragu that I made with Walter in Bologna. Walter is from Lazio and we cooked a ragu based on the one that his father taught him, but adapted so that it was Bologna style. I made it a little Irish, I think, but it is still more authentic than most you will get outside Italy.

Try it. Enjoy it. Make lots and eat it all week. And make lots of the crispy kale, as you won’t be able to stop eating it. Unless you don’t like kale, of course!

As the Italian say, cook with love and passion. Which I translate as: enjoy it, give it time and patience, and be tender. [Read more]

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Mango & Lime Friands (Two Versions: Buttery & Dairy Free)

Mango & Lime Friands

Mango & Lime Friands

Sweet! I want something sweet! And full of sunshine. I can no longer take the grey, grey sky that hangs so low over my head.

Friands remind me of Australia. Bright blue skys, rolling frothy seas, cliff walks, great breakfasts, and all of their wonderful cafés. We have many great Australian cafés in London now too, and the friands are popping up, but like everything, you really can’t beat making them at home. They are so simple and take a maximum of 10 minutes to prepare, and 12 – 15 minutes to bake. You will be stuffing your face with friands in no time, and your biggest problem will be trying not to eat them all.

I love a friand but I don’t need twenty of them squeaking at me from the kitchen – eat me! eat me! eat me! – 6 is too many but it is the least you can make so make sure that you can share them with someone, or some colleagues. Maybe you are not like me and have some self control, but I know that if there are 6 in the kitchen, then I can and will eat 6 of them. I will start with one, have a second, contemplate a guilty third, and from then on it is pure trauma as I try to battle their sirens call.

The recipe is simple. Based on the French financier, but using only egg white (which makes them so light), the friand is composed only of butter, sugar, egg white, flour and ground almonds with the fruit of your choice. I chose mango and lime today as there was the most gorgeous mangoes flirting with me from outside the window of my local Caribbean butcher. Divine. Lime gives it the perk it needs, and gives me that gentle hint of invisible sunshine, which I really need right now.[Read more]

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Piri Piri Chicken (Using a South African Marinade Recipe)

Piri Piri Chicken

Piri Piri Chicken

Piri piri is the name of a chilli, and also a sauce containing it. Piri piri chicken (also called peri peri) is a terrific dish made using the sauce, and, er, a chicken, found in Portugal and Southern Africa, and increasingly everywhere else, thanks to Nando’s. I am not comfortable eating the Nando’s one though, as the chickens are barn reared and I think they could do better. I mean, why not? They are in a perfect position to raise standards rather than do the minimum to meet them.

I have had piri piri in many places. Portugal (the Portugese brought the chillis back from Africa, and also brought them to Goa), where the piri piri tends to be a chilli oil which is liberally brushed on a rotisserie chicken. I have had piri piri in South Africa too, where the sauce tends to be thick and fruity, with spice as well as chilli heat. I have also had piri piri from Mozambique, not in Mozambique but in Maltby St in London, where Grant Hawthorne aka African Volcano makes immense piri piri pork sandwiches and sells the marinade, sauce and rub too (details on African Volcano stockists on his website too).

I love a dish with a mish mash history just as this, it is fun to trace it and work on it, until you get the one that is perfect for you.  Whenever I taste something that I really love, I want to know how it works. How can I make it at home? How can you make it at home? We don’t live in Africa, so how can we make it with the ingredients that we have available to us? Lots of questions. I have had piri piri on the brain.

[Read more]

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The BCKT (Bacon, Crispy Kale & Tomato Sandwich)

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I have been in Toronto for almost a week and I have learned a few things. Happily this trip coincided with fiddlehead season, again, so that was a treat. And I now see that everyone in Toronto is even more obsessed with kale than they were before. Green kale, purple kale, cavolo nero, baby kale for salads and kale juices (offensive, sorry, I tried and it was like drinking bile. Might work with some apple?). There are kale cookbooks, the Indian restaurant I am sitting at right now in Toronto airport has a kale salad but with an Indian twist. It is endless, and that is good, infernal stomach rotting juice aside, for kale, generally, is a very good thing. Especially when crispy.

(Mmmmm, crispy!* Now there is a word that polarises as much as kale. But I like crispy, even if incorrect and so I shall keep using it).

So, you all know I love bacon. I mean who doesn’t, at least who doesn’t that doesn’t have religious objections to it? I have never heard of anyone trying bacon and declaring it a terrible thing. When you hear stories about bacon, it is almost always that people ate it when they shouldn’t, just because they could no longer resist. And how could they? So, when concocting recipes for my recent sandwich feature, I thought a BLT will have to be in there, but what if it was with a twist, that made it even better? And so the BCKT was born. That being the Bacon, Crispy Kale & Tomato Sandwich. OH YES.

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For What Ails You: Aromatic & Hot Chicken Soup Powerhouse [Recipe]

Chicken soup for what ails you - but not as you know it! [Recipe]

Chicken soup for what ails you – but not as you know it! [Recipe]

So, I told you all about my curry eggs cold smasher the other day. Yes, it is a cracker, but it didn’t smash my cold quite as quickly as I wanted to. So, there was nothing for it, I had to call in the reserves: chicken soup, with a twist.

There is scientific evidence that supports the notion that chicken soup is in fact Jewish pencillin (as it has always been said to be). It tastes great too and is not too traumatic a recipe for when you are poorly, as long as you have a chicken in the house. I didn’t but a friend kindly brought one round for me and so I was set. [Read more]

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A Remedy for a Head Cold & Jet Lag: Eggs Poached in a Simple Homemade Curry [Recipe]

Eggs poached in homemade curry - perfect for a cold

Eggs poached in homemade curry – perfect for a cold

Singapore was great. My first visit, I was greeted by a vibrant and very friendly city that is obsessed with food. I ate what I could, but never enough. There are so many different dishes to try. I am heading back quite soon on a stopover to complete my list. Which is lost, but more on that in a minute.

As great (and brief) as the trip was, it didn’t end well. My phone, with so many of my photos, all my notes and recorded interviews was MIA. I left without it and have had no luck tracking it down. When I got home my flatmate asked if I had a cold and I realised, fark, I do! I had put it down to hay fever the previous days. I don’t like to moan – especially on here – but after a night of absolutely no sleep and a stonking head cold, with a missing phone, and falling behind with work as I can’t think straight, I feel like crap.

But, there is a solution. There always is. Cosy pjs and a cupboard raid rendered a lunch that I could actually taste, and one that is healthy too. My first thought was turmeric, I need to have it, it is so good for many things, being anti-inflammatory and great for all things intestinal like stomach pain and bloating. It is particularly good for colds too and one of the annoying things about a cold is not being able to taste anything, so I decided that a good, simple and bolshy homemade curry might sort me out. Or ease the torture for fifteen minutes, at least. My second thought was eggs. Eggs are brilliantly comforting and speedy too. They are also terrific in a curry. [Read more]

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Recipe: Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Dip (Because We Must)

Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Sauce (Recipe)

Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Sauce (Recipe)

Some days demand chicken wings. Today is one. The best bit of the chicken for snacking on, the skin to flesh ratio being somewhere in the region of can-solve-most-of-lifes-problems, chicken wings are also very reasonable. Even in my local posh butcher, a kilo of lovely free range wings costs just over £5.

Everyone should have a recipe for hot wings in their repertoire. So easy and so gorgeous, spiked hot crisp wings dipped into a soothing cool blue cheese dip is all that you have ever wanted after a bad day. Or any day. Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce is what makes the wings sing, you could make your own, and it is the kind of thing that I often do, but in this case, truly, Frank’s have done all the work and made a great sauce. So, like every other hot wing fanatic on the planet, I use that.

They take little work. I roast the wings until the skin is just crisp, prepare the hot sauce which takes, oh, 2 minutes, then douse the wings in the sauce before returning to the oven for a little bit. Then I prepare the dip, which again is very complicated, ridiculously easy, a mish mash of strong blue cheese with natural yogurt, blended until they yield, and embrace each other.

Easy, and perfect for January blues, right? Enjoy.

Recipe: Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Sauce[Read more]

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Crisp and Fluffy Raised Waffles [Recipe]

Homemade Raised Waffles

Homemade Raised Waffles

So hopefully you have all got your waffle irons right now, and are ready for some waffle slinging action. I have another waffle recipe and it is a cracker.

The US and Europe have distinct culinary influences. I never heard of Julia Child until I was obsessed with cookbooks, well into adulthood, and foraging for inspiration amongst culinary bookshelves. I grew up with Darina Allen, and later other grand dames like Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey and Elizabeth David. In the US, Julia Child was the first port of culinary call for most, and similarly their different cultural influences point to different everyday recipes, which brings me neatly to the raised waffle, or waffle at all, in fact. [Read more]

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Movember: Getting my Mo On with a Cook Off [Video]

Remember , remember the Mo of November. Moustaches aren’t just for hipsters, you know.

Movember has swung round again, and while I can’t grow a moustache to support them – quiet down the back! – I did get involved in the #mofoodfight, a fun video cook off to generate interest in and awareness of Movember, and their new book Cook Like a Man: The Ultimate Cookbook for the Modern Gentleman (priced at a ridiculous £5.98 on Amazon right now, and a very reasonable £9.99 in the shops).

I dragged my carcass to a studio at way too early o’clock of a morning (hey! I am self employed, I don’t get up before 7am, you know), and it wasn’t long before I was cooking on camera with Pete Brown, maestro of beer and cider and all things in between.[Read more]

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Roast Pork Belly with Apples, Cavolo Nero & Marcona Almonds

I am up to my oxters in bacon and pork belly, testing recipes and cures for my next book, Project: BACON, and making bacon boxes to send to people who subscribed for them. Something had to give, and today, it was me. I stole 1kg of the pork belly earmarked for a cure that would transform it into chilli bacon, and roasted it instead.

I needed it. I had too much wine last night and I am pretty fragile (er, maybe hungover) today. It is a typical routine really: work hard, play hard, fall over, roast some pork belly. I love the stuff and it is so comforting. I have two pork belly recipes in Comfort & Spice, and one is a slow roast over 6 hours, but at 11am I decided that I wanted it and I wanted it NOW so this is the quicker version which results in a firmer meat, and not a tender yielding meat that results from the slow roast.

A few years ago I was going through a pretty intense pork belly phase. I am a little obsessive and I get hooked on ingredients or dishes for weeks (or even months) at a time. Right now, I am in the waffle zone (I now have 3 waffle irons and am working my way through recipes, which I will post some of soon). People joked that I ate nothing else, and I thought, that I probably should snap out of it and explore some other things. Which I did. However, the results of it are quite a few pork belly recipes on this here blog and I joke that every Sunday there is a pork belly stampede (there is – lots of people come here for my straight forward roast pork belly recipe on that day alone).

I often roast pork belly with lentils and I wanted to do that today. But I was too lazy to go to the shop (well, truthfully, too lazy to get out of my pjs to go to the shop), so I worked with what I had and I loved the results. I had some evita apples that I bought at the farmers market at the weekend. Small, crisp and sweet, but with a slight tang that worked brilliantly when in the pork fat and juices for ten minutes. Cavolo nero was also roasted alongside, at this time of year it is less velvety but still good, and the earthiness went well. Marcona almonds, tossed through the slightly mushy apples, cavolo nero and fat and meat juices finished it off. It was lighter than with the lentils, and I will definitely be roasting it like this again.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Roast Pork Belly with Apples, Cavolo Nero & Marcona Almonds
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Chorizo Jam
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Recipe: Chorizo Jam (and ONIONS! Why do you hurt me so?)

Gird your loins, there is another chorizo recipe coming through. But this one is fabulous – even more than the others – even if I do say so about my own recipe my very self. Hey! It is chorizo week after all. Self declared and right now confined to, er, one London household, but I think this thing could get really big, you know? No? But I want to talk about onions too.

Onions. So important, yet so traumatic. One slice, and that acid sting stirs up and before long there are tears running down my face. Sometimes it drives me crazy (shakes fist at the sky!), other times I almost enjoy the gentle release and relish in the temporary sadness. Sadness is ok you know, as long as it is not ever present.

I thought that chopping onions in my food processor might ease the pain, but no. A small London kitchen has nowhere to hide from an onion ambush. And really, it is ok. Onions are onions, and a culinary war wound are those tears that rumble by. I will never be that person wearing onion goggles (although it is so bonkers, I have been tempted).

Would you like a juicy onion fact? I promise it won’t make you cry. And it is a lovely geeky one! Yes? Well you know why onions sting so? It is because sulphur is released as you chop onions and these mix with your innocent salty tears to form a light sulphuric acid. MY EYES! No wonder they sting so. But it is worth it.

Now, what brings this ramble on? Chorizo jam, my friends. Chorizo jam! You know of my bacon jam (it brings happiness to many a home and my breakfast table too) but chorizo jam, well this is new, at least here, and it is about time that I shared the recipe with you, forbidden as I am from sharing my current Project: BACON discoveries (with the many new bacon jams, bacon cakes, cookies, ice creams, suppers, cocktails, sweets and other joyful bacon things), until the book comes out next Spring.

Chorizo Jam in progress

Chorizo Jam in progress

This is good, very good. Joy in a teaspoon. It gives a deep savoury rumble to anything you add it to, with a hint of sweet spice too. The chorizo and onions are already sweet but the honey gives more, the sherry vinegar some throaty sourness, with some chillies floating on top, all sitting in a sticky cider caramel created by the slow gentle cooking down of the cider with the honey.

Note: you need a pan with a large area to make this, like a good large frying pan. This is essential to getting the stickiness that results from the slow caramelisation of the jam.

How to eat it? In a toastie, on its own, with cheese, stuff things with it (chorizo jam chicken kiev? HELLO). I made scotch eggs with it by mixing it with sausage meat. The possibilities are truly endless.

Chorizo Jam, getting nice and sticky (but not yet sticky enough).

Chorizo Jam, getting nice and sticky (but not yet sticky enough).

RECIPE: Chorizo Jam
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Recipe: Judion Bean & Chorizo Stew
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Recipe: Judion Bean & Chorizo Stew (or Hello Autumn!)

Recipe: Judion Bean & Chorizo Stew

Recipe: Judion Bean & Chorizo Stew

Did someone declare it chorizo month? Was it actually me? I fear it was, and my fridge is full of the stuff. I bought lots of gorgeous cooking chorizo to bring home to my siblings a few weeks ago and in my rush to the airport forgot to bring it (sorry, if you are reading this, but it tasted really good, ahem).

My office / pantry / chaotic-room-full-of-stuff has lots of randomness purchased in London’s aladdin caves and brought home from my travels. So does my room. So does the kitchen. Every crack and cupboard is rammed full of something or other. Opening a cupboard door may result in an injury or it may provoke a gentle surprise when I am hit in the head by something fabulous that I forgot was in there. My task right now is to sort the whole mess out, which makes for great cooking.

Some of this mess right now is beans. Bags of them. Little ones, big ones, black ones, purple ones, speckled ones, white ones of all shapes and sizes. I love beans. All kinds. Spanish markets have a fantastic selection, and I went a bit crazy at the market in Seville loading my suitcase with all shapes and sizes. I am still making my way through them. Joyfully.

For this recipe, I pulled out my bag of Judion beans. Ta-da! Enormous and creamy, the skins are thick and the taste rich (for a bean). Beans are best cooked from dried, I find tinned and most jar ones soggy and limp. Why suffocate them for so long and kill the joy? It doesn’t take much effort to soak and boil them. They are best cooked not long after you have purchased them too, as they get quite tough as they age. These cooked quite quickly after an overnight soak, which is a testament to the quality of the produce at the market in Seville, as it is sometime since I bought them.

Cooking chorizo is soft and luscious. Spiked with paprika and creamy with fat, it goes with everything, but with these gargantuan white beans they are perfection. Have a look for some in your local deli, and failing that, you can buy cooking chorizo online from Brindisa (you can buy the judion beans there too). It is one of my favourite ones.

This is a great dish for this time of year and can be made in advance and served later for friends. It tastes better later too, so if you are organised, this is even more of a winner.

Recipe: Judion Bean & Chorizo Stew
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RECIPE: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion
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Recipe: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion

RECIPE: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion

RECIPE: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion

My return from Greece last weekend was chaotic, to say the least. I woke up feeling far from fresh and very sleepy. I had with me a stockpile of Greek ingredients: feta, fava, oregano, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. I wanted to play.

I invited a friend round for dinner. I had spent the day making eclairs (recipe on My Daily) and had already eaten four before I dialled in my eclair SOS. Save me from myself, come immediately, I just can’t resist them, I plead. So we had a backwards dinner, eclairs to start, while I pottered around the kitchen playing around, a glass of Santorini Assyrtiko wine keeping me company.

I made several dishes that night, and will share this Roast Feta with you now. I was thinking of the Santorini tomatoes, tiny and intensely sweet having grown on that arid volcanic soil. I hadn’t brought any with me, but I did have oak roasted tomatoes from the Isle of Wight Tomato Stall, a regular from my culinary arsenal. They are so intense and sweet, and require no work, as it has all been done for you. They are brilliant for veggie friends too, and work really well in a veggie carbonara, as they have all of the umami intensity that bacon does (trust me, they do).

This dish is very simple and barely requires a recipe, but there are a few things you should pay attention to. Buy good and proper Greek feta, it is protected so once it is called feta you will be fine but beware of fetta or similar. Proper feta is just made with sheep and goats milk, with no cow, and has a wonderful sweet, sour, salty flavour. Also use the best extra virgin olive oil that you can afford.  If you are investing, you might as well go Greek, given the recipe that you are using it for. If you can’t get the Tomato Stall tomatoes, roast some good cherry tomatoes at home yourself under a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil at 150 deg C for about half an hour.

RECIPE: Roast Feta with Tomatoes, Oregano, Chilli & Red Onion
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Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo - my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)
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Recipe: Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo - my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)

Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo – my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)

Gnocchi were a mystery to me until I went to Italy. The ones that I had tried before (this was before I moved to London before you roar), were leaden and rubbery and I could never see what the appeal was. I mean, everyone else must be wrong, right?

Wrong. I was just eating crap processed gnocchi.

The joys of gnocchi were revealed to me for the first time at the tender age of 22 on a trip to Naples to stay with a friend, her Neapolitan boyfriend and his family. Andrea’s Dad (the Neapolitan), ex military and the most wonderful and tender home cook, cooked for us every day. 3 courses for lunch with wine, an aperitif, and then us Irish girls had to go to bed for a bit because we were not used to this at all. Lunch in Ireland before then had been one course at lunchtime with no alcohol and back to business.

Everyday, Andrea’s Dad got up early in the morning to head to the shop to get buffalo mozzarella, straight from Campania and fresh every day. The shop owner would depart at 4am to get the best and the freshest and we would have it for lunch, cut thick like steaks and weeping sweet milk. I was in food heaven. Andrea and Shelley said, this is nothing, wait until you try his pumpkin gnocchi. And I did.

The pumpkin gnocchi were tiny, tender and divine. Light as sweet puffs of air, they were so delicate and beautiful to eat. I was determined to make them at home and quickly discovered that these were tricky and took practice (my recipe for them is in Comfort & Spice).

I have since experimented lots, with potato gnocchi, sweet potato gnocchi, and all sort of others. The pumpkin and the potato are traditional and best. Such frugal offerings, 4 potatoes, a little flour and an egg will offer sustenance for days or for lots of people. My sister thought that she didn’t like gnocchi but I made these for her, and she proclaimed them better than those she had in Italy, which is very high praise (or lies). I am going for praise.

The trick here is in the technique. Imagine that you are making the finest pastry and use the lightest hands. Work quickly while the potatoes are still hot. Use floury potatoes only (I am in Ireland and used Golden Wonders which worked very well), and make sure you have a mouli or potato ricer to pass the potatoes through. A potato ricer will cost about £12 and will render the stubborn potato fluffy and soft. For best results pass it through a few times, I passed mine through 3 times, working as quickly as I could. The heat is important.

When cooking the potatoes, be careful not to push them too far. Floury potatoes are guzzlers and once soft, will take in as much water as they can, rendering them a sorry soggy mess. Cook them until you can pierce them with a fork and they still resist a touch without being too hard. Peel immediately, if you don’t have asbestos paws like me use a tea towel.

How to eat them? However you want. Make a gratin with cream and blue cheese and cover with a good melting cheese. Perfect winter fare. Or make a tomato sauce and serve simply with the gnocchi and some parmesan on top. I did this today, making a sauce which started with a sauté of very finely chopped rosemary, garlic and red chilli, then a tin of good chopped tomatoes, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar. I cooked it for a couple of hours adding water when it got too thick every now and then. The secret to good tomato sauce is good tomatoes, flavour enhancer (chilli and garlic), balance (vinegar and sugar), time, and a good sprinkle of sea salt.

They are worth the effort and don’t be dismayed if you don’t get them right the first time. Once you crack them, you will be thrilled with yourself, and so will your family and friends.

Recipe: Homemade Potato Gnocchi[Read more]

Sausage and Sage Frankanara - via a ropey photo from my phone
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Recipe: Sausage and Sage Frankenara

Sausage and Sage Frankanara - via a ropey photo from my phone

Sausage and Sage Frankenara – via a ropey photo from my phone

It is not my intention to wind up the purists (well, occasionally it is) or the grammar police (cough), but sometimes I do. I consider myself a bit of a purist too, and I am both intolerant and intolerable about some things, but then sometimes, I veer so wildly off course and discover a delicious, happy and impure ending, that I can’t help but embrace it with joy.

That is where I found myself this evening. I have had a bit of a traumatic week (which I will fill you in on another time), and I am in Ireland, away from home (even though it is home, and that is confusing).

Home (another ropey photo from my phone)

Home (another ropey photo from my phone)

I had bought sausages on arrival (I love Irish sausages and always have them when I am home), and I was starving. I was looking out the kitchen window at the driving rain and the grey sky but also at my sisters herb garden and the wild enormous sage bush. I thought of the sausages and ooh-eeee wouldn’t they be lovely together?

Then I wondered about a carbonara. A silky smooth sauce made from a simple egg yolk and some pecorino or parmesan. If I chopped the sausages into small chunks and got them nice and brown and served this frankenara* with a very simple garnish of lots of sage leaves, crisped whole in some butter. The die was cast.

I usually make my carbonara with spaghetti but all I had was penne, and this works very well too. It took such a short period of time to prepare. Use simple sausages that taste of pork and maybe a little white pepper as Irish sausages do, a good large egg will give you the best yolk for the sauce, fresh sage and some good pasta too. The sausages that I used were Clonakilty Ispíní (ispíní – ishpeenee – is the Irish word for sausage), which have such a strong fond taste memory of my childhood they are instantly soothing when I eat them. They are a small sausage and are very smooth, not like the crumbly sausages that are more common now. You can buy them quite easily in the UK too in most major supermarkets and some butchers too. 

Enjoy and if you like this frankenara, you will probably like Spaghetti Corkese, another one of my frankenstein pastas, and a popular one too.

*frankenara = a frankenstein approach to carbonara

Recipe: Sausage & Sage Frankenara[Read more]

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Recipe: Corn, Ham & Tomato Fritters

Corn, Ham & Tomato Fritters

Corn, Ham & Tomato Fritters

Spending so much of the spring out of the country means that I have a lot of catching up to do, both with friends and with restaurants. Hello, London! Let us get reacquainted. I am BACK. I love the summer here and I love getting out and about and enjoying it.

This is mainly enormous fun, but it has some down sides. The occasional hangover and the need for something soothing sometimes wakes me like a siren. You know how it is, especially in London. Have a great night, miss the last tube, struggle to get home, and wake up feeling fragile, but hopefully still a little giddy from all of the fun.

I need some restorative food solutions for these situations, that I can balance out when feeling a little less frenetic later on (in the interest of feeling healthy and achieving my current aim, fitting into that favourite red vintage dress of mine). These fritters are one. This is not health food (of course not). At least not for the physical body. For the soul after a night of too much of a good time, these fritters are a rescue remedy.

The recipe is pretty flexible, but this time there was sweet and soothing fresh corn, slivers of intense yet delicate ham and the pop of a fruity tomato all nursed by a gentle batter spiked with a little chilli and eased out with some aromatic basil. If I have leftover pumpkin, I find it works brilliantly here (without the tomato) and courgette is brilliant too. If you have had a particularly big night, you might want to throw some great gooey cheese in there too.

These are deep fried, but you know, that is ok every now and then. I would suggest essential. You could shallow fry them but you wouldn’t get the great fluffy ball or texture. So, deep fry, drain well and leave on kitchen paper to get something life affirming to soothe your head. I really believe that an occasional blow out is essential, to clear out the cobwebs and put everything in perspective. So get on your dancing shoes and make sure that you have the ingredients for these for the morning after.

Enjoy!

RECIPE: Corn, ham and tomato fritters

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Recipe: Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Deep Fried Pasta Snacks with Manchego & Paprika

Who doesn’t like the crispy bits on the top of a mac ‘n’ cheese? They are my favourite bits. The crispy bits of anything frankly, and I must be honest, I have a real problem with crisps. If there are any in the house, I just can’t help myself. From the toxic orange cheesy corn snack to swish expensive Spanish crisps fried in extra virgin olive oil, I am helpless when in range. So, I rarely have them inside the front door.

Some days however, when I am controlling my access and there are none in the house, I still want some or something / anything to snack on. This has been a life long problem, and I first tried to make crisps when I was a child from the left behind small potatoes in the field in front of my house. I wanted to replicate exactly what I had had from the shops so, after a few efforts I was disappointed, and stopped.

As an adult I have had a lot more success. The small child inside me rejoices, and the adult who would really like to fit into that lovely red vintage dress of yore ponders while tucking in. Last week I made purple potato crisps which were a massive hit (the photo here is from my instagram feed – a lot more gets posted there than ever makes it here so make sure you follow on instagram, facebook or twitter).

Purple Potato Crisps on Instagram

Purple Potato Crisps on Instagram

I haven’t just made snacks with the humble spud. I have experimented a lot. I love leftovers, and I love trying different things with them. It may not be possible to polish a turd (nor should you eat one), but leftovers can be so much more glamorous than the original dish, once the original dish was decent to begin with. Taking risks with leftovers is no big deal, they are there to play with anyway (and also, finally, to eat), so years ago in university I looked at a plate of leftover spaghetti and fried it. And that was it.

I soon found out that this is far from an original idea, the Italians do it (pasta fritti), the Maltese do it (called froga which is like a leftover spaghetti frittata). I have a recipe for an omelette with leftover papardelle with ragu in my first book, Comfort & Spice, too. Leftover long pasta lends itself brilliantly to an omelette, you should try that. Added to this, instant noodles are simply cooked noodles deep fried to extrude the water and dry them in order to preserve them, this works really well for pasta too, and you can keep your fried pasta snacks in an air tight container for a while.

I say this is a great leftover dish, but the reality is that I often cook the pasta to make this at home. Fried pasta is a fabulous crispy snack, with each shape giving a different result. Here I have used large round pasta shape which lends itself well to frying. Don’t use cheap pasta, just because you are frying it. Good ingredients make good eating, so use the best you can get.

You can use lots of different toppings – good melting cheese grated fine and used sparingly works well and dried spices and chilli too. I had some lovely manchego and some smoky Spanish paprika so I gave this rendition a nice Spanish twist.

I don’t have a deep fat fryer, so I just fill a large deep frying pan with oil to about 2 inches. You could do this in a sauce pan too but fry in batches, making sure that the pasta is in a single layer with room to mooch about or it will all stick together in a gloopy mess. A thermometer is useful and helps get best results, but it is not essential.[Read more]