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
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