Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Bread Pudding

As there's just the two of us in our household, we invariably end up with left over bread that becomes a sorry state for sandwiches, or even too stale to be enjoyed as toast. I often just blitz it in the food processor, bag it up and put it in the freezer, as breadcrumbs are useful for coating and binding.

One day, I remembered how my Mum used to make bread pudding from her bread remnants. It was a long time ago and I don't actually recall her using a written recipe, it was undoubtedly kept in her head as a passed down tradition from her own mother.

Bread pudding should not be confused with bread and butter pudding, the two are quite different concoctions. Harking back to the days of a "waste not, want not" culture, this pudding is far from boring and austere. It is satisfyingly stodgy and well spiced and has a fruitiness and aroma reminiscent of Christmas cake or pudding.

There aren't any real fixed rules as to what bread you should use, brown or white, it doesn't matter. The same goes for the fruit and sugar. The general idea is to use what you have to hand and not make a special trip to buy any ingredients.
Who would have thought frugal food could be so delicious? 

8oz stale bread, crusts removed
6oz dried fruit like raisins, sultanas or currants or a mixture of all of them
2oz sugar
grated zest 1 lemon
2oz suet
half teaspoon mixed spice
1 egg, lightly beaten
milk to mix
caster sugar to finish

Tear up the bread into small pieces and put into a bowl. 
Pour on some cold water to thoroughly soak the bread. Leave stand for up to an hour. 
Depending on how soft or dry your bread is, the length of time will vary. The drier the bread the longer it needs to soak, but do be careful if your bread is soft to start with, as you'll want to avoid it turning into a mushy mess.
Once the bread has moistened, tip it into a large sieve and press down well to squeeze out the excess water.
Put the bread into a large bowl and add the dried fruit, sugar, lemon zest, suet and spice and mix well to combine. Then stir in the egg and enough milk to give the mixture a soft dropping consistency.
Tip into a tin greased with butter and bake in a preheated (Gas 5 / 190C / 375F) oven until firm to the touch and golden brown.
Turn out on to a plate and sprinkle liberally with caster sugar. Eat warm or cold.
Photo: ©childsdesign 2010

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A Taste of the Unexpected

Growing things to eat is fast becoming a popular past time, not necessarily out of necessity, but purely for personal satisfaction, so why bother cultivating fruit and vegetables that are cheap or readily available in the shops? Mark Diacono, head gardener at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, prompts us to rethink our gardening habits in his book, A Taste Of The Unexpected.

I grew up believing that most plants in the garden were inedible or even poisonous, except for the very obvious things of course. Like every child, I was curious as to what that shiny berry was and my parents’ solution to protect me from dangerous ingestion, was to declare most things toxic and therefore untouchable. A sensible approach, but in hindsight, it had the effect of narrowing my view on what could be eaten.

Mark’s book has opened up a whole new world to savour. Who would have thought you could eat fuchsia berries? They were definitely on my deadly list.
The main point, is that we are encouraged to grow what we’d love to eat and to compile a wish list to get started. If we can’t buy it in the shops, it goes on the list. Does it taste better the moment it is picked? Then that goes on the list too. From the familiar to the downright strange, Mark gives us a practical and comprehensive guide to growing, harvesting and cooking.

Every page is enlightening as well as inspiring and I can see my kitchen garden quickly turning into an experimental horticultural playground. Who knows I could soon be growing mulberries, blue honeysuckle, Chilean guavas or the amusingly named Egyptian walking onion. I just can’t wait for the spring.

A Taste of the Unexpected by Mark Diacono is published by Quadrille.
Hardback RRP £20.00
Order yours now

Book kindly supplied by Quadrille Publishing

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Shards

Last week I made myself a birthday cake. You may be wondering why I didn't get someone else to do it, but as it happens I really enjoy baking, so my birthday was the perfect excuse to indulge.

I whipped together a rich chocolate sponge and, spread the two halves with plum jam. It should have been cherry, but not having any to hand, the plum was a good substitute and worked very well. I sandwiched the cake together with whipped chocolate ganache and spread some over the top as well.

Feeling creative, I made some salted caramel and poured it out on to a tray to set solid, after which I snapped it into the most glorious amber shards that looked just like glass. I pushed them into the top of the cake in an artful fashion.

This cake has been nicknamed the Kryptonite Cake as its decoration resembles the cave of crystals that sap Superman's strength. Although having no real adverse affect on ourselves the richness and intense flavours can leave one feeling pleasantly giddy with delight.

Do I give you the recipe?... It'll be in the Cheeky Spouse cook book...

Photo: ©childsdesign 2010

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Recipes Every Man Should Know

Just in time for Christmas, Quirk Books have brought out an ideal fun stocking filler for the man who would like to or should be able to cook.

For those hungry guys out there, this little black book has everything a man needs to get cracking in the kitchen; Hearty Breakfast Classics, Sandwiches, Burgers & Snacks, Meat & Potato Dinners, Beer, Bacon & Bar Food and to keep the women in his life happy, Chocolate, Cheesecake & more.

Anyway, why should men cook? The book puts it thus:
  •  Women think men who cook are sexy.
  •  It involves fire, sharp instruments and meat.
  •  Women think men who cook are sexy, and it involves, fire, sharp   instruments and meat.

Although the writing style has a jokey patter, the recipes are treated seriously in that they are well set out, but I would say that an entire novice may find some to be not so obvious, they may be more suited to someone who has had some experience with food.
This is a US publication so the weights and measures may not be that familiar to UK users, for example, what is a stick of butter?

There is a good introduction to navigating around the kitchen, the right tools, preparation techniques and cuts of meat, and in the back a decent conversion chart for measurements and oven temperatures.

Don't let first impressions be deceptive, although classed as a novelty book to placed in the humour section, it is actually very useful. Not only a man wanting to impress his partner, would benefit, but I could see it being an invaluable asset to a student living away from home too.
A perfect pocket companion for a would be cooking master.

Recipes Every Man Should Know by Susan Russo & Brett Cohen is published by Quirk Books
Hardback RRP £6.99
Order yours now

Book kindly supplied by Mat Archer from PGUK

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Chicken Vindaloo

First things first, I want to set the record straight about Vindaloo. It is not a tongue-blistering, ear-ringingly hot curry. Traditionally, it should be a sensitive blend of sweet and sour and of course some spicy heat, but I can not emphasise enough that it is not so hot as to render one unconscious.

Let us cast aside images of post pub curry house eating competitions and Keith Allen chanting "vindaloo, vindaloo" all in the name of football. The song was written by Keith Allen and Alex James, Blur's bassist under the name Fat Les in 1998, by the way.

Originating from Goa, the recipe is derived from a Portuguese dish (the first Portuguese colony in India was settled in the 16th century) usually made with pork, wine and garlic, called Carne de Vinha d'Alhos. Over time, the dish was adapted by the Goans using vinegar instead of wine and copious quantities of spices. The potatoes actually shouldn't be there and this may have arisen due to the word 'aloo' being Hindi for potato. (Vind = vinegar & aloo = potato)

I have adapted this recipe from one by Madhur Jaffrey from her Ultimate Curry Bible, the only difference being that I used chicken instead of duck.
I remember watching Madhur Jaffrey's cooking programmes on television back in the 80s and let's say, I learnt an awful lot about Indian cooking from her. Before then, most people I knew would buy takeaways or chuck in a Veeraswamy concentrated curry sauce, at best, into the pot with some meat.

Hailed as the Delia of Indian cookery, Madhur Jaffrey uncovered a whole world of exciting cuisine to me. I remember my Mum's spice rack expanding with things that I'd never seen before, like cardamom and suddenly fresh ginger was sitting happily next to the salad in the fridge, not to mention lots of garlic.
Some things were still difficult to get hold of at that time, especially fresh coriander, unless you lived in or near a multi-cultural town like we did. How things have changed, now these things are commonplace in the supermarket.

Madhur Jaffrey opened my eyes to making a curry from scratch and even with the long ingredients lists I was never fazed and saw it as a thrilling challenge to create something authentic.
Even now I find the art of Indian cuisine very relaxing and rewarding.

Serves 6

half teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon bright red paprika
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 & a half teaspoons garam masala
4 tablespoons corn oil
12 or more skinless and boneless chicken thighs, each cut in half
half teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
quarter teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
15 curry leaves
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced into fine half rings
2 tablespoons peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
10 medium cloves garlic, peeled and crushed to a pulp
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
120 ml/4 fl oz cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 medium potatoes, par-boiled and cut into chunks

Mix together the turmeric, cumin, paprika, coriander, cayenne pepper and garam masala in a small bowl and set aside.

Pour the oil into a large, wide, lidded pan and set over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in as many chicken thighs, as the pan will hold easily in a single layer. Lightly brown the chicken, about 2-3 minutes per side, and remove, using a slotted spoon, to a bowl. Brown all the chicken this way and remove.

Add the mustard and fenugreek seeds to the hot oil and, as soon as the mustard seeds start to pop, which will happen in a matter of seconds, put in the curry leaves and onions. Stir and fry them until the onions begin to turn brown at the edges. Now put in the ginger and garlic. Stir and fry for a minute.

Add the mixed spices from the small bowl and stir for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they have softened, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan as you do this.

Now add the browned chicken thighs, the vinegar, salt, sugar and 475 ml/16 fl oz water. Add the potatoes. Stir and bring to the boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 30 minutes, lifting the lid occasionally to stir.

Increase the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, a bit more vigorously, stirring more frequently, for a further 20 minutes or until the chicken is tender and the sauce has thickened slightly.

Buy the book

Photo: ©childsdesign 2010

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Ramsay's Best Menus

Gordon Ramsay may be a Michelin star chef but he is still able to put together cookery books that are accessible to all. Gordon wants everyone to be able to cook and in his new book, Ramsay's Best Menus, all the recipes are very approachable.

Sometimes, planning a meal can be difficult. You may find yourself up to your ears in cookery books looking to find the perfect meal. Trying to choose a starter, main course and dessert can be daunting, balancing the weight and combination of each course is puzzling at the best of times.
Ramsay's Best Menus carries a range of recipes from around the world all in the one book, so there's no need to wade through dozens of them.

The unique spit-page format allows you to plan meals with ease

Drawing on dishes from Ramsay's Best Restaurant TV series and from Gordon's own earlier recipes, Ramsay's Best Menus is presented in an unusual format, one which I didn't think I'd warm to, but it's so nicely done and actually works. The pages are sliced so that they can be turned to mix and match starters, mains and desserts with ease. With all the recipes and their pictures displayed all on one spread it makes everything so easy to follow.
There are 52 pre-selected menus to choose from or you can go to town and make your own combinations from no less than 190 recipes to create an astonishing 140,000 different options.

Pumpkin Risotto with Parmesan

Being in the depths of autumn at the moment, I wanted a menu that reflected the season, so that I could uses the appropriate produce.
Pumpkins and squashes are filling the shop shelves at the moment and there's a really simple to make Pumpkin Risotto with Parmesan (p.076) that's just perfect. I didn't actually have a traditional pumpkin, but an Onion Squash instead which gave the rice an amazing yellow hue, like sunshine in a bowl, just what you need to lift the spirits on a dull day. No onion or garlic is used, but providing you have a good stock, that's all that is needed to give the correct balance of flavours
The risotto was rich and creamy and the final topping of crispy fried sage leaves added a really interesting touch.

Sticky Lemon Chicken

For the main course, the Sticky Lemon Chicken (p.080) looked very appealing, perhaps it was not so photogenic, but gosh, did it taste good. Rich, gooey with a precise balance of flavours – tangy lemon, sweet honey and salty savouriness from the soy sauce.

Apple Pudding

To end, a heart warming dessert of Apple Pudding (p.099) was just right. It was not rib sticking stuff, but very light so a favourable sweet treat to finish a meal. A layer of seasonal apples are covered in a sponge topping, delicately scented with lemon zest.

After reading through a fair number of recipes, I could see that nothing is complicated and shouldn't throw anyone into an absolute panic if they were entertaining. There are relatively few steps from start to finish and it is possible to make some things in advance, thereby reducing any culinary stress.

The book is also packed with plenty of information on store cupboard essentials, oven temperatures, cooking times etc and also has a section on accompaniments and basics, so is great for the home cook.

Ramsay's Best Menus by Gordon Ramsay is published by Quadrille.
Hardback RRP £20.00
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Book images courtesy of Quadrille
Book kindly supplied by Quadrille

Monday, 8 November 2010

Three Counties Kitchen

From left to right: Sara Abbott, Me, Nick Coffer (behind), Phil Fanning

I'm not the sort of person that readily steps in to the limelight, so when I was invited (through Twitter) to take part on a local radio programme I had some reservations. After some deliberation, I thought why not, it isn't everyday an opportunity like that comes along.

For my part in the programme I was requested to bring along two dishes I'd made, one main course and one dessert. Following a telephone conversation with the presenter, Nick Coffer we agreed that my Grandma's Victoria Sponge recipe would be good and then later I settled on making a winter warmer of Lamb Goulash with Caraway Dumplings. This was a good option as the dish needed to be reheated in the microwave when I got there.

I had a brilliant time once I got over the initial butterflies. It was lovely to meet some very nice people too. Phil Fanning, who is the head chef at Paris House in Woburn brought in some amazing and intricate dishes. 
I actually got the chance to try some fine dining, albeit in the Luton radio studio. His chowder completely changed my mind about saffron, so I won't be shying away from that particular spice anymore. Phil's interesting take on Black Forest gateau was quite stunning too.

Sara Abbott a Master of Wine from Bedford brought in a refreshing English white wine from Kent. English wine has had a bad reputation in the past, but it has come a long way over the years, which her choice proved.
She also chose a full-bodied French red to go with my goulash, and it was a perfect partner indeed.

I got to talk about the dishes I made and I think, if I'd had the chance,
I would have talked about food for hours, but it's startling how fast two hours passes.

Anyway enough of my waffling, if you want to find out what I talked about, or to listen to Phil's chef secrets or Sara's witty wine chatter, you can listen to the programme on iPlayer up until the evening of Saturday 13th November.
The BBC iPlayer link is no longer available but you can listen to an edited version of the radio programme in my In the Media section. Click here.

Want to be on the radio?
If you're a foodie and live in the Herts, Beds and Bucks region, and would like to appear on the programme, just drop me an email and I can give you contact details.

Photo taken from BBC Three Counties Radio website

Friday, 5 November 2010

Cheeky Spouse on the Radio

Firstly, I can't quite believe it myself, but I am going to be taking part in a radio programme for BBC Three Counties Radio!

Three Counties Kitchen, which is to be broadcast live at 7pm on Sunday 7th November, is a two-hour long show all about food. Presented by Nick Coffer, who some people will know from his website mydaddycooks.com, Sunday's guests will be Philip Fanning, the head chef from the Paris House restaurant in Woburn, a local wine expert and little old me.

I have been invited to be the local home cook and for the evening's entertainment I have to take along two dishes that will be tasted in the studio. Philip Fanning will also be bringing in some dishes too, so it is with some trepidation, on my part, that my food will be tasted by an experienced chef. No pressure then!

I have been reassured by Nick, who seems like a nice chap, that it will be a fun and relaxed affair, so I should enjoy myself.

If you want to find out what I cook, and you're in the Herts, Beds and Bucks region you can tune in (info at top of post) or you can listen online, wherever you are.
Embarrassingly for me, the show will be available on BBC iPlayer for 7 days afterwards here, if you miss it.

Website: BBC Three Counties Radio

Sunday, 31 October 2010

In Praise of a Good Sausage

Quite what Craig Revel Horwood has to do with sausages, I shall never know, but aside from being a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, he has been chosen by lovepork.co.uk to be the master of ceremonies for
British Sausage Week (1-7 November 2010).

This week is dedicated to all things sausage. Sausage, that's a word that has me collapsing into a fit of giggles if I have to say it a few times,
I suppose that's what being British is all about. The numerous references in episodes of Blackadder, make it even funnier, especially when enunciated by the magnificent Stephen Fry as Melchett.

On a more serious note, British Sausage Week's aim is to make us all aware of how British pork is the best and encourages us to support our own farmers and producers by buying quality sausages.

There are many regional sausages throughout the British Isles that use traditional recipes that go back many generations.
There's the long coiled Cumberland sausage which is meaty with a coarse, chunky texture and black pepper giving a spicy bite; The Lincolnshire sausage, an old fashioned favourite scented with sage; West Country ones with pork and apple and maybe a touch of cider and Oxford sausages that contain veal, as well as pork. These are just a few of the many varieties made and the list continues to grow as producers experiment with different flavour combinations.

I can't resist a nicely cooked sausage. They should be cooked carefully over a medium heat so they cook slowly allowing the outside to gently caramelise so it becomes slightly sticky and the inside should be juicy. Don't have the heat too high or the sausage will burst and definitely do not prick them, this will make all the tasty juices escape.

In July, earlier this year I went to the Samphire smallholding open day in Norfolk, where Karen Nethercott opens her doors to visitors, showing them how she rears her rare breed pigs. They have a wonderful natural life with space to roam outside, enjoying the fresh air and wallowing in the mud. Her English Saddleback pigs are reared slowly which gives their meat a superior flavour and contributes to some truly wonderful sausages.

On my visit I bought some of the sausages which I put in my freezer awaiting their appropriate outing. They were "The Samphire Sausage",
they have a lovely texture, not too tightly packed – which can produce an undesirable bouncy feeling – but quite light and crumbly. They are seasoned with ginger, mace and nutmeg for a warming background, against which, lighter, fresher notes of sage, onion and coriander, sit happily.

I served them with potato and parsnip mash and some caramelised shallot gravy, just perfect for celebrating British Sausage Week.

For more information on British Sausage Week visit the website: www.britishsausageweek.co.uk
If you're interested to know more about Samphire's sausages visit their website: www.samphireshop.co.uk
Photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Friday, 29 October 2010

Cheeky Spouse Special Offer: 20% off Cookery Books & Free P&P

I am pleased to offer three cookery books, hand selected by myself, from New Holland Publishers. With this special offer you can receive 20% of the normal price, plus you get free postage and packing.

To order your preferred book, simply click on the link at the end of each review to take you directly to New Holland's website, then enter the code Cheeky1 at the checkout to qualify for the discount.
With Christmas just around the corner, what better time to buy a present for a foodie or even yourself!

The Billingsgate Market Cookbook
Think of fish and you'd probably immediately think of Billingsgate in London. Billingsgate is a heady mix of history, pride, hard work, tradition and camaraderie and The Billingsgate Market Cookbook is a celebration of all that is wonderful about fish.

Setting the scene through the market's rich and varied history, the people, and day to day activities, we are transported to the early hours of the morning as the market opens its doors. Bells ring and the trading begins as the porters trundle cart loads of fish quickly across the market floor.

The informative approach really helps us to understand where our fish comes from, there are comprehensive guides to the different species and a section on sustainability, all important these days.

This book should prove to be invaluable for those wanting to learn more,
or lose their fear of dealing with fish. From sourcing, storing to choosing and buying, through to preparation, everything is covered in a clear and approachable style which will have even the novice attempting the seemingly tricky parts of fish preparation. Step by step photographs take you through various skinning, scaling, steaking and filleting techniques. Dressing a crab is also a simple process when following the directions.

With 80 or so recipes covering white fish, flat and round, shellfish such as crabs molluscs and squid, coarse fish, like salmon, oily fish, smoked fish and exotic varieties, there is a wealth of inspiration.
The photographs of the dishes will have your mouth watering as you set off for the fishmongers, even the raw fish looks delectable with its shining scales and beady bright eyes.
All the recipes allow the fish to shine as the cooking is simple and unfussy, using only flavours that complement and enhance. John Dory with Lemon Thyme and Wild Mushrooms, Grilled Mackerel with Almond and Cranberry Glaze, and Roast Scallops with Leeks and Ginger are some of the enticing recipes to choose from and if you prefer something very traditional, then there's always White Fish in Beer Batter or Fish Pie.

This is the only fish cookery book you'll ever need.

Billingsgate Market Cookbook by C.J. Jackson
is published by New Holland Publishers, price £20.00.
Enter the discount code Cheeky1 at the checkout for 20% off and free P&P.
Offer valid until 31st December 2010.

Made in Great Britain: Aiden Byrne
This is the book to own if you want to impress your dinner guests and are tempted to take your kitchen skills that little bit further.

Most people will have heard of Aiden Byrne, he has regularly appeared on the BBC's Great British Menu and he is also the youngest ever chef to win a Michelin Star at the age of 22.

This is an exciting cookbook that will take you out of the realms of home cooking and into restaurant standard food, where flavours and textures are elevated to a new level, however, the ingredients used are far from exotic as they reflect Aiden's passion for British cuisine using good British produce that's just on our doorstep.

Aiden's approach to food is creative but always pays the highest respect to the ingredients without stepping too far away from his British roots.
Each photograph showcases artfully presented dishes which display his passion and talent which is highly inspiring. Chicken Breast with Lemon, Rosemary and Figs, White Chocolate and White Truffle Risotto with
Pan-Fried Scallops, Veal Fillet with Lobster, Apple Fondant and Jabugo Ham and Warm Chestnut Cake with Chocolate Sorbet are all begging to made, no matter how complicated they may at first seem.

The recipes are interspersed with Aiden's authoritative views and advice on food and the accompanying photography shows him, sourcing ingredients from suppliers, working in the kitchen and even down on the farm and diving for his own scallops.

An ideal book for the more adventurous and competent cook.

Made in Great Britain by Aiden Byrne
is published by New Holland Publishers, price £12.99.
Enter the discount code Cheeky1 at the checkout for 20% off and free P&P.
Offer valid until 31st December 2010.

Danyel Couet's Paris
Paris is a city bursting with many cultures and therefore many cuisines and Danyel Couet, chef and restaurateur takes us on a journey to every ethnic quarter of the gastropolis. African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, Indian, and Asian recipes jostle for attention as if in the bustling city itself.
Danyel's, life-long passion for food started with simple French food in his grandmother's kitchen, this set him off on a gastronomical journey that led to him developing a love for couscous,                                                        strudel and Peking duck.

The gorgeous photography by David Loftus plants us right into the heart of a living breathing Paris, the atmosphere is almost pleasantly claustrophobic, comforting, exotic but somehow familiar and reassuring.

An array of cosmopolitan flavours are presented in over 90 recipes,
from Spice-Fried Cod with Coconut, Chilli and Lemon to Fried Eggs in
Ginger Stock, every aroma is sent to tantalise the reader. For those looking for more well known French bistro dishes there is Boeuf Bourgignon or Onion Soup.

Guaranteed to make you hungry to explore the Parisian global menu.

Paris by Danyel Couet
is published by New Holland Publishers, price £24.99.
Enter the discount code Cheeky1 at the checkout for 20% off and free P&P.
Offer valid until 31st December 2010.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Online Event to Help Sufferers of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a very common condition, with around 15% of the UK affected, but still, people understand very little about their own problem.

Not being able to use normal dairy products in your diet can present many challenges, from making sure you get enough calcium to simply making a meal that the whole family can enjoy.

To increase understanding of the condition, Lactofree, the UK's only lactose free, real dairy brand, will be hosting the first online Expert's Question Time session with three of the UK's leading experts in this area. Renowned paediatrician, Dr Adam Fox, nutritionist and registered dietician, Sian Porter and Lactofree's brand manager, Samantha Glassford will be on hand to answer all your questions.
You can send your questions in advance see details below.

Event details:
• When: Tuesday 9th November, 6.30pm – 8.30pm
• The event will be broadcast live online http://www.lactofree.co.uk
• Questions can be sent before the event to lactofree@outsideline.com
• Experts will also be able to answer questions posed live

If you are lactose intolerant you should find the event an invaluable opportunity to learn more about your condition. Indeed, if you know of anyone with lactose intolerance, let them know.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Food from Many Greek Kitchens

I've been doing a spot of Greek island hopping, not in the actual sense, but from the comfort of my armchair, courtesy of Tessa Kiros. Her new book, Food from Many Greek Kitchens has had me relaxing on a sun drenched harbour side, watching the fishing boats bobbing on a pure clear turquoise sea while I enjoy the aromas of hillside herbs and summer soaked lemons.

I didn't know a huge amount about Greece, I've never even been there, but I found Tessa's writing to be enlightening, both in the culinary traditions as well as the idiosyncrasies of the Greek people.
The book revealed, that my knowledge of Greek food is fairly limited, there is so much more than Moussaka, Baklava, Dolmades, Hummus and Taramasalata and the like.

The climate, geology and terrain of Greece make it ideal for an abundance of olives, the rocky hillsides are grazed by tottering sheep and its vast Mediterranean coastline is rich in fish. This would explain the copiousness of olive oil, lamb and seafood used in the recipes.
Covering traditional dishes, as well as foods for fasting and feasting, Tessa Kiros totally encapsulates the atmosphere of the country, steeped in ancient history and folklore.
The photography further reinforces the feeling of the place providing evocative imagery.

Psari Vrasto Ladolemono
Poached Fish with Lemon Oil

Choosing not settle for what I already knew, I decided to make the Poached Fish with Lemon Oil (p.193) This is included in the soup section, but it really is more than that. Chunks of carrot, courgette, potatoes, celery and onions are cooked in water until they create a flavoursome clear broth, the fish is then poached in it towards the end. What really lifts the dish, though, is the final addition of extra virgin olive oil mixed with lemon juice. Everything was so light and fragrant.

Honey Cakes

I always fall for a sticky Mediterranean treat. I don't really have an exceptionally sweet tooth, but there's something very enticing about the fragrance of honey and spices that I cannot resist.
The very easy to make Honey Cakes (p.42) were divine. I was initially surprised at the amount of olive oil used in them but it is obviously there for a reason. The cakes are perfumed with orange zest, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and when baked they are soaked in a warm honey syrup and then sprinkled with crushed walnuts.
For some reason, mine spread on baking, so looked slightly flatter than the photograph in the book, but this didn't affect the texture or taste.

The recipes are clear to understand, but impaired by the poor colour choice for the body text. Light turquoise on white is difficult to read at the best of times, but that said, the overall quality of the book is very good.

Food from Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros is published by Murdoch Books
Hardback RRP £25
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Book kindly supplied by Murdoch Books

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Leon Book 2 – Naturally Fast Food

A soon as I received this book I knew I was going to like it. I already have the first Leon cookbook which I have found to be a total inspiration from start to finish.
There are a lot of cookbooks around – and I think I own most of them – so for a book to attract my attention it has to be different. Of course recipe content is all important, but I like it to be more than just a set of instructions, it needs to engage me in some way. Leafing through a cookery book, extends beyond merely looking for something to cook for tommorrow's dinner, I will often curl up on the sofa and browse its pages purely for pleasure. A cookbook is a good companion in times of solitude.

Like the first, the second Leon book has such an endearing design, almost like a family album or scrapbook, it draws one right into the authors' life, both in and out of the kitchen. Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent want us to use their book, as they say on the welcome page, "This is not a book for the coffee table. It is a book we would like to be used, made messy, torn a little and stuck together with unidentified jammy bits." Needless to say, I will be using the book but I think I'll try to avoid getting it sticky!

The book has been designed as if stuck in a time warp, actually I like its retro qualities. Many of the graphics hark back to the 70s and 80s and I love the visual references to fruit stickers and vegetable crate labels. There's even a full page picture of a framed collection of old Brook Bond tea cards further building on the nostalgic theme.
Some of the food photography, however, I have reservations about, it does look like some of those wierdly coloured plates from old edtions of Good Housekeeping, but perhaps that's the point. What I do like, though, is the humour, I just had to giggle at the picture of the soup on page 72, when I noticed, that perched on the edge of the bowl, was a tiny plastic figure of a man with his fishing rod dangling into the contents. Nice touch.

Divided into two distinct sections, the first half of the book covers Fast Food where none of the recipes take more than 20 minutes to prepare, Nothing is too involved and all the listed ingredients are obtainable from everyday shops. Breakfasts are given a fresh approach, soups are made simple and barbecuing a breeze. There are some great ideas for children's foods too.

The second half focusses on Slow Food. Again preparation is straightforward and the only lengthy part of the process is the cooking, but the methods of stewing or pot roasting allow one to get on with something else or just relax while the magic takes place automatically in the oven.

When selecting the recipes to try, the weather had turned cold, the leaves brown and there was a distinct nip of autumn in the air, this made me naturally gravitate to the Slow section, as I was in need of some cosy sustenance.

Leon Chilli Con Carne

I made the Leon Chilli Con Carne (p.219) as I was looking for something comforting, unfussy, yet full of flavour. I've made and eaten various versions of chilli con carne over time, so why not try another one?  This was so easy to make, I didn't even have to do much chopping, as the carrots, celery and onion all go into the food processor.
The whole thing just sits very gently bubbling on the stove for two hours, with a little stirring now and again to make sure it doesn't stick.
The beef and kidney beans become soft and everything melts away into a rich and spicy tomato sauce which has just the right amount of chilli kick to leave your lips tingling, but not launch your head into space.

Apple's Breathtakingly Quick Chocolate Pots

For some self-indulgence I quickly whipped together the Chocolate Pots (p.199) which were so effortless I barely noticed I'd made them! Just two hours in the fridge is enough to set them into a rich and velvety texture that renders one silent whilst eating, just the clinking of spoon against cup can be heard as every last bit is scraped up.

I really love this book, the whole approach is fun and inspirational and the recipes can be made by anyone to produce a real crowd pleaser.

Leon by Henry Dimbleby & John Vincent is publish by Conran Octopus
Hardback RRP £20
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Book kindly supplied by Conran Octopus

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Gaia's Kitchen and The Use-It-All Cookbook

I'm going to start off by saying that vegetarian food is not boring, well at least not if you make it yourself.
It is not uncommon for me to eat at least three meat-free meals each week and that has nothing to do with principles, morals, ethics or the like, but because meat can be expensive and I don't always want it.
It is possible to have a vegetarian dish and not miss meat at all.

Gaia's Kitchen is all about wholesome natural food, after all that is what food should be about, I know I'd rather avoid unnecessary additives and suspect ingredients.
Most people immediately think of lentils when vegetarian food is mentioned, they are right of course, but lentils are not bland or insipid if they are cooked with care and a smattering of herbs and spices.

From the minds and kitchens of Schumacher College in Dartington,
Gaia's Kitchen teaches us about the importance of respecting the Earth and ourselves through our choice of food. Some might think of this as a hippy ideal, but issues concerning ecology and sustainability could not be more important in this day and age.

The intention of the recipes is to feed lots of hungry people –
the quantities for some are huge and all of the dishes include a version to allow the cook to scale up the ingredients to serve around 40 people!
Well it does state on the cover that they are for family and community.
As I was cooking just for two, I reduced the amounts accordingly, without detriment to the final result.

I made two recipes, the Spinach & Mushroom Plait (p.71) and Marilyn's Vegan Chocolate Cake (p.186). Both recipes were easy to follow and liked the diagrams to show you exactly how to create the pastry plait work.

Spinach & Mushroom Plait

The Spinach & Mushroom Plait was rich, intense and mushroomy,
the mushrooms are cooked down quite a lot which magnifies their flavour. The addition of cheddar cheese gave it an agreeable savouriness.

Marylin's Vegan Chocolate Cake

The chocolate cake was a revelation, being vegan, it can't contain any dairy products, so that meant no butter or eggs. The fat is replaced with vegetable oil, but believe it or not, it is possible to make a cake without eggs. The texture was dense but appropriate for a chocolate cake. My only comment would be that it should have more cocoa as it wasn't quite chocolatey enough for me.

This is a good book for those looking for more vegetarian options to
add to their repertoire and many of the dishes would hold up well at a dinner party.

The second book, The Use-It-All Cookbook is one I feel everyone should own. These days, so much food is wasted, either because we think it has gone off, when it really hasn't, or we don't know what to do with left-overs or the last carrot in the veg trolley.
With hints and tips on planning, storage, reheating, to the mysteries of the use-by date, the book could save you money and feed you well.
It is filled with recipes from the basics to savoury to sweet and is simple
to use when looking for something to use up like cold roast chicken or mashed potato.
Although the book encourages frugality it is far from austere in terms of cuisine. Good family cooking at its best.

Gaia's Kitchen by Julia Ponsonby is published by Green Books
The Use-It-All Cookbook by Bish Muir is published by Green Books

Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Books kindly supplied by Green Books

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Three Sisters Indian Cookbook

Centering on the food that sisters, Sereena, Alexa and Priya craved from their childhood, the cookbook features many traditional and authentic Indian dishes.
The Kaul family left Kashmir in the 1970s and grew up in Derbyshire with their mother’s cooking being the heart of the home. When they grew up and and had families of their own, they longed to make these same recipes and this book is the result of gleaning their mother’s and grandmother’s culinary creations.

This is the sort of book I can appreciate and respect. Knowing that its recipes have come from the kitchens of real Indian families, I can be sure what I make and eat is authentic and has every bit of love and care put into its creation.
All too often recipes become altered by overly experimental, and dare I say it, competitive chefs, so that the results are unrecognisable from the original, but this is the real thing as eaten in many Indian homes.
Obviously it has the appeal for curry enthusiasts, such as myself, but it could and should have a rightful place on the bookshelf of young Indian families wanting to recreate the taste of home.

The detailed introduction gives a comprehensive guide to all the spices used throughout the book, in fact the sisters have created a spice box (masala dabba) which can be bought online from their store (www.flavoursandspices.co.uk) which has everything you need and keeps the spices fresh.
There is also a section giving advice on planning, preparation, storage and even how to make your own paneer cheese, which is so easy, you’ll never need to buy it again.

Divided into chapters covering Snacks and Starters, Chicken, Lamb, Fish and Prawns, Vegetable Dishes, Rice, Beans and Lentils, Bread and Chutneys and Desserts and Drinks, meal planning is a breeze, only the sheer choice of delicious looking dishes, makes it difficult to decide what to make. Every recipe has an accompanying photograph, which is inspiration in itself.

Dhansak, Jalfrezi, Rogan Josh, all the familiar names are there, plus there are some irresistible looking fish dishes too. I may even be tempted to try okra again – it’s not always been that popular with me, as I don’t normally like slimy textures – but the Crispy Okra Chips (p. 28) have more appeal. Other tasty bites are Tikki (p.29) and Pakora (p.22) which are straightforward to make.

Murgh Tikka (Chicken Tikka)

I decided to make Chicken Tikka (p.44), this is something I’m very familiar with in terms of the ready-made variety, but I wanted to see for myself what they really should be like. I loved the result. After the long marination process in the yogurt and spice mix, the chicken became meltingly soft and rich in flavour. Mine looked greener in colour than the book’s picture (probably something to do with the juicy fresh coriander) but the taste was just heaven, so much better than the shop bought pretenders.

Tamatar Kuchumber (Tomato Salad)

I also put together the Tomato Salad (p.37) which was really refreshing with lime juice, mint and coriander complementing the tingle of chilli.

At first glance some of the ingredients lists can look a little daunting, but the methods are easy to follow and the recipes can be made with the minimum of fuss, providing you have everything to hand before you start.

The Three Sisters Indian Cookbook has made me want to eat curry everyday and I could happily eat my way through the book from start
to finish.

The Three Sisters Indian Cookbook by Sereena, Alexa & Priya Kaul is published by Simon & Schuster.
Paperback RRP £16.99

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Book kindly supplied by Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Value of Pie

"Good apple pies 
are a considerable part
of our domestic happiness."
Jane Austen

Happiness is indeed pie-shaped, something enticing enclosed inside a crisp rich pastry shell never fails to please. My model and pie ambassador for this post is a bramley apple and blackberry pie, which I made in honour of the latest English seasonal fruits.
Of course, fruit is not the only filling for a pie, meat, fish and vegetables all make welcome inclusions for delectable dough enrobement.

A hot pie is the ultimate comfort food during winter, fresh from the oven, the contents bubbling within and when the crust is broken a sudden gush of steam delivers its appetising aromas to eager hungry diners.
A pie can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. You don't even need a recipe – just pastry and your imagination.
Never be afraid of the pie – if you make it yourself, you know exactly what's inside and never need fear anonymous lurkings beneath the lid.

Monday, 18 October 2010

I Love Curry

I’m inclined to agree with those that say curry is addictive, whether the exotic spices have a narcotic property or not, they certainly tantalise the taste buds, making me want more.

Lately, curry has had a bad rap from health enthusiasts, stating that it is high in fat, sugar and salt, takeaways and ready meals especially so.
That’s not good news for devotees of Indian food who want enjoy a good fuss-free curry but also care about what they put into their bodies.

Anjum Anand has the perfect antidote to this problem, as her approach to Indian cooking is lighter and healthier, but no less authentic or full of evocative spices. It is very refreshing to know that curries do not have to be covered in a layer of oil to be bursting with flavour.
The recipes are not complicated either. I Love Curry delivers clear well described instructions which are undemanding to follow, perfect for the novice curry lover.
The book offers plenty of choice for those looking for tried and trusted favourites, restaurant classics or authentic regional dishes. In total there are 50 great curries and 25 accompanying dishes.

Anjum gives us plenty of information about ingredients and cooking methods, she also shares her tips to help achieve the perfect result,
which made me aware of the fact that I’m still learning.

Prawn Mango and Coconut Curry

With such a variety of recipes for vegetable, poultry and game, meat and fish and seafood, I was torn between something I knew like the Chilli Chicken Balti (p.99) or something I was less familiar with. I went for the latter and chose the Prawn, Mango and Coconut Curry (p.80), which turned out very well.
According to Anjum, the curry came about after a chat with her publisher who wanted to include mangoes in the book, particularly in a savoury curry. I quite liked the idea myself and the coconut was also especially appealing.
Interestingly, the recipe doesn’t use ay garlic or onions but that’s not missed in the end result. The flavour is very aromatic, fragranced with curry leaves, brown mustard seeds, whole black peppercorns and of
course chillies.

Cucumber and Mint Raita

I decided to make the Cucumber and Mint Raita (p.171), not because I’d never had it before, but to prove that something so ridiculously simple does need a recipe. On previous non-recipe assisted attempts mine always turned out too thin in consistency. However, following Anjum’s foolproof guide it worked out fine. It is essential to squeeze the grated cucumber through a cloth to remove the excess water.

With well thought out recipes and splendid photography there’s nothing that won’t inspire curry lovers, whether they are venturing out into the world of cooking Indian cuisine for the first time or they are experienced and confident in the kitchen.

I Love Curry by Anjum Anand is published by Quadrille.
Hardback RRP £17.99
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Review copy kindly supplied by Quadrille Publishing
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