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You may have noticed I’ve been away for a while. My return here is but momentary. You see it turns out when you have a job you’re interested in, and one that requires your full attention and more, your time for cooking, let alone photographing food and writing recipes shrinks. Rather considerably. Don’t get me wrong, I love working out which glasses Corton-Charlemagne should be served in as much as the next person (Chardonnay glasses because it’s white, unlike Corton, which is always red) but it means that other pursuits get squeezed and thus, unable to devote as much attention to this little space as I would like, I am taking a break. Not a permanent one I hope; just until the New Year for now, to allow me time to settle into my new job, devote myself fully to all the additional training and learning required and generally recentre. This is not to say that my cooking adventures will cease. Far from it; with an exciting career move into an area that occupies much of my waking thoughts (namely food and wine) I am surrounded by new sources of inspiration at work, not least a ridiculously skilled kitchen team who work wonders on humble ingredients. I aim to continue stretching myself in the kitchen and hope to return in the new Olympic year with plenty of new recipes, photos and, I suspect, kitchen disaster stories to tell. For now, I leave you with a beautiful seasonal bridging recipe, one that combines the end of the (Indian) summer’s fruits and herbs, with autumn’s bubbling and baked goods into one amazing dish that tastes of mini Cheddars. And if that doesn’t sell it to you, frankly, you’re just weird.

Tomato Cobbler
Adapted lightly from Lottie and Doof

1 large white onion, sliced into strips
500g cherry or other tomatoes, halved or chopped into chunks
2 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons basil leaves, roughly torn
1 teaspoon crushed red chillies
2 tablespoons light olive oil

1 cup gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated cheddar
1/4 cup grated parmesan
150ml single cream
More cheese for sprinkling on top

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. In a small baking dish put the sliced onion, tomatoes, garlic and basil. Sprinkle with the crushed chillies, some salt and black pepper, and drizzle with the olive oil.

2. To make the topping, stir the gluten-free flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt together in a bowl. Chop the butter into small chunks and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the cheddar and parmesan, and most of the cream, then bring together with a fork. Add the rest of the cream, or enough to make a sticky, but not runny, mixture.

3. Spoon this mixture on top of the tomatoes and onions in big dollops, leaving a small space in the centre of the cobble for steam to escape. Flatten any obvious peaks in the topping, so they don’t burn, then sprinkle more parmesan on top. Then transfer the dish to the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes, or until browned on top, and tomato juice can be seen bubbling at the sides.

4. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for 5 minutes, and serve with a green salad and reminiscences of summer.

Serves 2.


Written by guffblog

23rd October 2011 at 15:27

Posted in Main courses

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A fitting end

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On my tiny little corner of England stands a handful of planters. These are never going to combat world hunger, but they are a start. An attempt at growing my own food, of becoming more closely connected to the cycle that sustains us all, and appreciating just how vicious whitefly can be and why most farmers use an unholy amount of pesticides on their crops. It’s also made me appreciate my vegetables a little more. I never before understood just how long it takes to nurture and care for vegetables as they grow, to water and feed them at the right times and protect them from pests and wind so that finally, one day, they are ready for eating. Last year I mastered spring onions, tomatoes and spinach; all crops that require minimal skill or knowledge and a mere modicum of actual babysitting. This year I added cauliflower to my repertoire. Sadly, as my planters are not very large, I was limited to two cauliflowers. Just two. For a plant that takes roughly four-to-six months to grow from seed to fully formed vegetable. Six months to nurture from a tiny seedling, to planting out, to watching the tightly curled curds form to taking a big knife and hacking it down for the pot. Such a beautiful journey required a fitting dish, one that highlighted the magnificence of this vegetable.

Ahem. What I’m trying to say is I made cauliflower cheese. And it was good.

Cauliflower cheese
From Waitrose

Cauliflower is a delicate vegetable at heart; if you overcook it, it will go mushy. Equally, its flavour is very mild, verging on bland. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff but you need a couple of supporting flavours to round it all out and stop it from being too one-dimensional. The nutmeg and mustard are key; don’t scrimp.

1 large cauliflower, leaves removed (serve them alongside braised in a little butter), cut into florets
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 pint (568ml) milk
4 tablespoons medium cheddar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard (check it’s gluten free)
1 tablespoon mature cheddar
1 tablespoon gluten-free breadcrumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop the cauliflower florets in. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile in a small saucepan melt the butter over a medium heat. Whisk in the cornflour and cook for a minute, or until it thickens to a paste. Then slowly, stirring constantly, add the milk. Stir until the mixture starts to bubble and thickens to a thick, custardy consistency. Add a little more milk if necessary, then stir in a little salt, black pepper and the medium cheddar, ground nutmeg and wholegrain mustard. Add the cooked cauliflower to the saucepan and stir to coat the florets in sauce. Then tip the whole lot out into a small (I used a 4×6-inch oval) ovenproof baking dish.

3. Sprinkle the mature cheddar and breadcrumbs on top of the cauliflower cheese and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are medium brown. Serve immediately but be warned, it will be very hot in the middle.

Serves 2 as a main meal.

Written by guffblog

31st August 2011 at 21:57

Posted in Main courses

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Moroccan chickpeas

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Or how to make dinner when the fridge is bare. Not that the fridge is ever bare, but say it were, you could dive into the cupboards and use up one or more of those cans of pulses you’ve been stockpiling for a rainy day/riot in dinner. As my working/cooking/eating routine is going to be turned upside down over the next few months, I’ve been trying out quick and filling recipes that don’t require fresh ingredients, for those days when I crawl home late and tired, too busy to draw up a carefully planned out shopping list, which takes into account the shelf life of all fresh ingredients, and uses them all up without leftovers. Sometimes life gets in the way of such neat and organised plans.

So pulses. If you buy them tinned you don’t have to pre-soak or pre-cook these, which is great. I’m sure they don’t taste quite as good as the “real” thing, but at the end of the day they are chickpeas, not highly processed meat. When I first looked at the recipe I was expecting the dish to taste very highly spiced, aggressively sweet and spicy and a little overpowering, but the balance of all the different spices in the dish works very well; the result is surprisingly subtle, gently warming and interesting but not aggressive.

Moroccan chickpeas
From Dinner with Julie

I was intending to serve this with some brown rice on the side, but it actually made more than enough for two people as a meal on its own, and the chickpeas make it pleasingly filling.

1 small red onion, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 400g can tomatoes
1 large handful of raisins
1 400g can of chickpeas
1 red pepper, diced
1 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
Juice of half a lime

1. In a large saucepan heat a drizzle of oil and fry the onion until it softens, about 2 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger and fry for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the minced garlic clove and cook for a further couple of minutes.

2. Once the garlic starts to brown add the chopped tomatoes and raisins and bring to a simmer. Add the chickpeas, red pepper, mint leaves and chopped parsley and stir well. Season with lime juice and a good three-fingered pinch of salt and simmer for 10-15 minutes so the flavours have time to develop.

Serve with more parsley sprinkled over the top. Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

25th August 2011 at 20:40

Posted in Main courses

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Goli gosh

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One thing I have noticed about Indian food, both whilst I was in India, and cooking recipes from a book, is that it can be quite time consuming. It’s not necessarily difficult, or complex, with strange techniques (though that certainly does apply to some of the breads and desserts) but  sauces often have to be simmered for hours, meat grilled and then added to curries, different part prepared separately and, over the course of hours, brought together. Despite my knee-jerk reaction to such recipes, which is to either skip them, or simplify them down beyond all recognition, I have started to see that these long cooking times, and separate steps are necessary to layer different flavours and textures, and they really infuse a dish with taste. One reason home-cooked curries don’t taste the same as “authentic” ones is this lack of a long cooking time or layering of techniques. That and the use of curry pastes….

With my new-found, if somewhat obvious, knowledge I decided to attempt a recipe which ordinarily I would have glossed over as being far too complicated, goli biryani. This involved making a whole array of different sauces and mixtures, before layering up each of the mixtures in a degchi. I had absolutely no idea what one of those was, so I used the only ovenproof, lidded dish I had on hand, which is a gyuveche dish I brought back from Bulgaria. Turned out, they are actually moderately similar in style, and in fact biryanis are in style a close relative of the Bulgarian gyuveche recipe in terms of method, layering up meat, vegetables and in the Indian case rice, and baking them in the oven so the flavours meld together.

Goli biryani
From Khazana of Indian Recipes

I urge you not to skip any of the steps, as the result as the layers seep into each other in the oven is divine. I have listed some ingredients twice, as they are used for different parts of the recipe in different quantities; this is intentional. Read the whole recipe first before starting!

150g basmati rice
1 bay leaf
300ml chicken stock
6 tablespoons yoghurt
1 teaspoon coriander leaves, minced
1 teaspoon mint leaves, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Pinch of turmeric powder
2 tablespoons milk
3-4 threads of saffron
250g chicken mince
1 tablespoon coriander leaves
1 green chilli, minced
1/4-inch piece of ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 green cardamom pods
2 cloves
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-inch piece of ginger, minced
1 green chilli, minced
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder

1. In a medium saucepan boil the rice with the bay leaf and stock until cooked. Drain off any excess liquid and set the rice aside.

2. Divide the yoghurt between to bowls. Into one, mix the teaspoon of minced coriander leaves and mint leaves. Into the other mix the cayenne and turmeric powder. Set aside.

3. Heat the milk in a small bowl in the microwave until just warm. Put the saffron threads in the milk and set aside to steep.

4. In a medium bowl mix together the chicken mince with the remaining tablespoon coriander leaves, the minced green chilli and the minced ginger. Mix well, roll into balls a little large than a walnut (makes about 8-10 balls) and leave balls to set a little on a plate in the refrigerator for half an hour.

5. In a frying pan or wok heat a little oil until it shimmers. Add the chicken balls and sear for a minute on each side (about 4 minutes in all) so they are golden brown on the outside. Remove the meatballs from the pan and set aside.

6. To the pan add the cumin seeds and cook for about 30 seconds until they start to crackle slightly. Add the nutmeg, cardamom and cloves, and then the sliced onion, and cook for a couple of minutes, until the onion starts to brown. Add the garlic and ginger and the minced green chilli, along with the coriander powder. Stir well. Finally add the yoghurt which contains the cayenne and turmeric and stir well again.

7. To this mixture return the chicken balls, add about 150ml water and cook for 5 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced by about half and is lovely and thick.

8. In a degchi, or small, narrow-mouthed ovenproof dish with a lid, layer half (about 5) of the chicken meatballs, with some of the sauce from the pan. Layer half of the rice on top, then spoon half of the coriander/mint yoghurt on top of that, and finish with half of the garam masala powder and a tablespoon of the saffron milk. Repeat, by layering the rest of the meatballs, topped with the sauce, then the yoghurt mixture, and the rest of the rice. Finish with the remainder of the garam masala and the saffron-infused milk. Place the lid on the pot and cook for 15-20 minutes in 180 C oven.

9. Remove from the oven, take care when removing the lid in case of escaping steam, and serve immediately, with raita or a vegetable curry.

Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

7th August 2011 at 12:34

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Chicken kebabs

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I was inspired to make these skewers from a post I saw a few weeks ago, but when I returned to it to double-check the ingredients was surprised to see there was no yoghurt there; clearly I’d got it into my head that these were a yoghurty marinaded skewer. Yoghurt marinades help to keep meat moist, which is very useful when grilling, especially something like chicken breast which can get very dry. Plus, it’s thick enough it can comfortably carry the other flavours, without them running all over the baking sheet and making a huge mess. All wonderful news. Oh and it’s really quick and easy to make too. Bonus.

Spicy lemon chicken kebabs
Inspired by Savoury Sweet Life

1 small green birdseye chilli, minced
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
1 tablespoon yoghurt
Zest and juice of half a lemon
240g chicken fillet, cut into 1-inch cubes

1. In a bowl stir together the chilli, chives, yoghurt, lemon zest and juice and plenty of salt and pepper. Toss the chicken in the mixture and leave to marinate for at least 20 minutes, or wrap and leave in the fridge for a few hours.

2. Preheat the grill. Put the chicken pieces on 4 skewers and cook under a grill, turning once, for 8-10 minutes, or until a little brown at the edges and cooked all the way through. Serve with pretty much anything.

Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

15th July 2011 at 22:21

Posted in Main courses

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In recognition of 137 years of the United States no longer being our colony, I felt I should make something a little American on Monday. Something traditional and a wee bit unhealthy. Something like ribs. Not having a giant gas-fired, all-weather grill of the sort seen adorning patios, yards and decks everywhere in the southern States, I chose a recipe that was mainly oven-based, requiring only a brief stint under the grill (what the yanks confusingly call the broiler) to crisp them up. Result; meltingly tender meat with crispy, sticky outside. This also gave me an opportunity to use some of my purple carrots. Purple! Carrots! in a purple-and-only-slightly-orange coleslaw. Amazing.

Balsamic-glazed ribs
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2009

Before I’d even begun I went way off recipe as my butcher had 3 tiny ribs left and rather a lot of pork belly. I treated the belly in the same way as the ribs, apart from not removing the skin as it was stuck fast. I had no wish to eat it as it was still full of hairs (apparently my pig was mainly pink with some black spots) but it’s much easier to remove once it’s been cooked. I also cut down on the sugar since I find balsamic vinegar quite sweet anyway, and it seems to defeat the point of the recipe a little to load it down with sugar. Ok, maybe not if you’re American. Whatever, the balance below worked well, still sweet but just tangy enough to really make your mouth water.

300-400g ribs, or belly, or a mixture
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

For glaze
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

1. Prepare the ribs; trim any excess fat off them, remove the skin if you can. Place the ribs in a small baking dish that is just big enough to hold them.

2.In a small bowl stir together the garlic powder, rosemary, sugar, balsamic vinegar and cayenne. Spoon this mixture over the ribs, turning so they are coated on all sides, then wrap the baking dish in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight.

3. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200 C. Add 3 tablespoons of water to the tray and wrap tightly with foil, shiny side facing inwards. Cook in the oven for 1 3/4 hours, checking halfway and three-quarters of the way through cooking that the water hasn’t evaporated. Add a little more if it has, and rewrap.

4. While the ribs are cooking put the 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, or until reduced down to about 1 tablespoon of sticky glaze.

5. When cooked, remove the ribs from the oven. Turn on the grill. Drain off any excess fat in the baking pan and brush the ribs with the glaze, then pop under the grill for 4-5 minutes, until brown, sticky and a bit crispy on top. Remove from grill, brush with any remaining glaze and serve with coleslaw and cornbread.

Serves 2.

Written by guffblog

7th July 2011 at 19:14

Posted in Main courses

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Pizza Alsace

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Or how I discovered that good pizzas can be made without harming a single tomato. To me pizza equates to tomato and cheese on a thin and crusty base. I’ve had many different sorts of pizza bases over the years, from deep dish to slightly gritty, not-quite-perfected gluten free, but the one constant has been the toppings. Tomato. Cheese. And generally plenty of bacon, spicy beef, pepperoni and jalapeños too. In Alsace, they do things a little differently.

Despite having a good idea of how this recipe should turn out, and a plan in my head of all the steps, I still did a double take halfway through making the topping, when I realised there was no cheese to be heaped on just before the pizzas went in the oven, no dusting of parmesan just before serving. In fact, this pizza only had cheese on it because some of the sour cream was swapped for cream cheese. And yet the rich, smooth base topped with the softly caramelised onions and smoked bacon is such a perfect combination, so complete, that the idea of sullying it with tomato, or even more cheese on top is just wrong. Like Hawaiian pizzas, this one is a winning, if initially slightly odd, combination.

Pizza Alsace
From André Soltner, via Smitten Kitchen; dough from Jamie Oliver


165ml lukewarm water
1 tablespoon light olive oil
3/4 teaspoon (3g) sugar
1 heaped teaspoon (3.5 g) dried active yeast
225g gluten-free flour blend
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon fine salt

150g bacon, chopped into small squares
1 large white onion, chopped into thin slices
4 tablespoons cream cheese
4 tablespoons crème fraîche

1. To make the dough whisk the olive oil, sugar and yeast into the warm water and leave to activate for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile stir the gluten-free flour blend, xanthan gum and fine salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour the yeast mixture into it. Stir the flour into the liquid gradually with a fork, then bring it all together with your hands, tip it out onto a flour-dusted board and knead it a bit until it forms a nice smooth ball. Very lightly coat the dough in oil, then put it back in the bowl, cover with a towel and leave to rise somewhere warm for an hour or so, or until it’s roughly doubled in size.

2. Once the dough has doubled in size, split the dough into 4 separate balls. Roll these out on a very lightly oiled baking sheet into rough rounds about 6 inches in diameter, and leave to rest for 10 minutes while you make the toppings. Preheat the oven to 220 C.

3. Heat a medium frying pan. Add the bacon and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the bacon is cooked through. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions to the pan and cook over a medium heat for 7-8 minutes, or until soft and golden. Meanwhile in a small bowl mix the cream cheese, creme fraîche and plenty of salt and black pepper until smooth.

4. Using the back of a dessert spoon smoothe a couple of tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture over each pizza base, smoothing it almost to the very edges of the dough. It should be nice and thick on the pizza base, though if you do have any of the mixture left over it is brilliant spread on bread topped with smoked salmon. On top of the cream cheese base sprinkle the softly caramelised onions, and the bacon pieces, then bake the pizzas in the oven for 12 minutes, or until the edges are just turning lightly brown.

5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes before cutting into quarters and serving with watercress, rocket or a fresh green salad.

Serves 4. These pizzas are quite good the next day as well, served straight from the fridge, though they go a little bendy after that.

Written by guffblog

2nd July 2011 at 12:14

Posted in Main courses

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