Friday, 23 December 2011

Syrup for Fizz

I've been very ready and prepared this Christmas. Gifts, get-togethers, decorations, tunes, I even sent out cards (first time since leaving school, which was, ahem, some years ago). But despite all my festive planning smugness, there was one thing I'd forgotten. Lucky I had my lovely friend Holly to remind me of its existence: Syrup for Fizz. 

You'll recognise Holly (blogger aka Recipes From a Normal Mum) from this years BBC2 show, The Great British Bake Off. She got to the competition final and was an all round superstar - her gingerbread house was a particular thing of envy. 

Since finishing the Bake Off Holly's been getting involved with several exciting projects, one of which is presenting a show this week on BBC Radio Leicester. And earlier this week she asked if I'd like to come on the show to share a special Christmas recipe of mine. If you fancy a listen to my five minutes on air just click here:

I made this recipe for the first time a couple of years ago, ahead of a house party held by Holly and her husband, Stu, and I wanted to create a festive drink that was chilled. Don't get me wrong, I love gluvine, vin chaud and mulled wine, but I also do like a glass of fizz (or two...) and I wanted to combine the feeling of Christmas with the chilled bubbles I adore.

The syrups flavours are wonderfully festive in their combination; cranberries, ground ginger, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, sugar and black peppercorns, for me they epitomise the flavours of Christmas and really do enhance affordable fizz. I like to use the syrup in Cava and Prosecco, Champagne of course works beautifully too, but it somehow seems wrong to adulterate those expensive, fizzy bubbles with this delicious, shiny pink syrup.  

For one jar of syrup:
300g fresh cranberries
350g golden caster sugar
1 fat vanilla pod
3 heaped tablespoons ground ginger
10 cloves
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
7 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1l water

- Place all the ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil when covered, once boiling reduce to a medium heat so the pan is simmering and remove the lid, cook down for between 45 minutes and an hour
- When the mixture has reached a runny honey like thickness remove it from the heat, pass through a sieve and leave to cool
- Once cold decant into a jar for storage
- For use, place a teaspoon of the mix into the base of a Champagne flute or saucer, then top with fizz and glug. The syrup collects a little at the bottom of the glass so you may want to swizzle it a little to get the flavours running through it 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Star anise rosé veal stuffed baby squid in romesco sauce

It may not be very festive, but this little dish brought a welcome dash of Spanish sun to a dark wintery lunchtime. I ate this and imagined being in San Sebastian's pintxos filled old town, or Barcelona scoffing them along side little tumblers of red wine, rather than chilly Didsbury still wearing my pyjamas (big night last night). 

The squid are poached gently in the volcanic coloured romanesco sauce until they're tender and soft, the star anise scented veal warm, fragrant and hearty. And as well as tasting great, they look good on the plate - I'd happily dish this delicious and different dish up at a dinner party as a starter. 

Romanesco is a rich sauce that's easy to make - using smoked paprika, roasted peppers, hazlenuts, red wine vinegar and bread. The texture is thick and there's a slightly sweet taste to it on account of the peppers and nuts, but the vinegar and paprika cut through it giving it balance. If you get bored of making a regular tomato sauce for pasta or fish then give this a crack - it'd be fab run through spaghetti or over salmon before baking. 

Now, I'm not going to lie to you, this dish is a little tricky to make and you will need a food processor to do it. It's not that it's complex, just a little fiddly. Firstly, try and get baby squid that are all cleaned and ready for you, if you end up with squid like mine you'll need to spend some time cleaning them, and then the filling of the them is tricky - use a piping bag if you can, otherwise use the end of a teaspoon. 

For two:
The squid and their stuffing - 
10 baby squid tubes - completely cleaned and rinsed
300g rosé veal mince, mine is from Heaves Farm Veal. They deliver the veal to your door, but if you want to make it before you have chance to buy any, pork or a pork and beef mix would work very well
200mls pasatta
4 star anise
200mls white wine
One red onion, finely diced
One clove of garlic, finely diced
Sea salt and black pepper
Unsalted butter and olive oil for frying
Cocktail sticks
The romanesco sauce - 
1 slice stale bread (crustless) blitzed into breadcrumbs
2 red peppers, diced roughly
100mls olive oil 
50g hazelnuts
Half a teaspoon smoked paprika
One clove of garlic 
Six medium tomatoes
One teaspoon red wine vinegar 
Sea salt and black pepper 

- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees, lightly oil the red peppers and roast for 30 minutes until they've softened a little
- Whilst they're cooking, gently sauté the onion on a medium heat until translucent, add the garlic at the end and when you can smell the aroma come out of the pan, add the veal. Brown the veal on all sides before adding a generous scrunch of salt and pepper, the wine, pasatta and star anise. Stir and cover, cook on a low to medium heat for 30 minutes.
- Once ready, discard the star anise then remove the mix from the pan and blitz in a food processor briefly to make the mix a little finer, if you don't do this you'll find getting the mince inside the squid is near impossible. Set aside to cool
- Place all the sauce ingredients into the food processor and blitz continuously until smooth and thick, transfer to a pan with a lid
- Now for the stuffing of the squid, carefully either spoon the veal mix into the pockets or pop it all into a piping bag and fill them that way - much quicker. Ensure you squeeze the mix right down to the end of the squid so you fill them up so they're nice and plump - then using a sewing action, secure them closed with a cocktail stick
- Once you've done them all they'll be likely to have bits of the mix all over them, give them a rinse so they're clean, then place them into the sauce and put the lid on. Turn the sauce onto a low heat and cook them for 20 minutes - you must cook them very very gently as otherwise they'll burst. Turn them over a few times during cooking to make sure they're evenly cooked through
- Serve with a glug of your favourite extra virgin olive oil and remember sunny days in Spain 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Homemade black fettuccine with lemon buttered clams and tiger prawns, and roasted fennel

Slinky, inky, glamorous...the shiny black fettuccine elevates what is a relatively simple fish dish to something altogether more special. Ideal for feeding guests you want to delight, like my parents who were visiting this weekend. 

Making your own pasta is easy enough to do, finding the ink to transform it isn't so simple. I generally now get all my fish from the excellent Evans in Didsbury (where I purchased the delicious and juicy carpet shell clams and giant black tiger prawns - the best I've ever tasted) but sometimes they don't have everything I'm after.

Luckily the ace Fish Society sell cuttlefish ink at a great price, so I took advantage and ordered a few sachets when I placed an order for some other more unusual bits last week.

I cooked the shellfish in a simple and heady mix of white wine, butter, parsley, garlic and lemon rind, and then speckled it with flecks of roasted red pepper before serving it poured over the pasta, accompanied by some golden roasted fennel bulbs. 

It's well worth remembering that if you're making your own pasta that you'll need somewhere for it to hang with the strands kept nice and separate so it doesn't form unpleasant clumps. I don't have a proper pasta airer, instead I use one of those white clothes airers. It may look amusing to see the pasta draped all over it but it does the trick perfectly!

The various flavours and textures of the finished dish married brilliantly - let me know what you think of this little fishy dishy and if you get inspired to recreate it or something like it. 

For four:
For the pasta - 
600g 00 flour
6 free range eggs
A little glug of extra virgin olive oil
A scrunch of sea salt
2 teaspoons (2 sachets of what I purchased) cuttlefish ink (or squid ink)
For the fish - 
1kg carpet shell clams - soaked for an hour in salted water before draining and rinsing - any that are damaged or open must be thrown away 
12 giant black tiger prawns (ie raw), deveined and shell off - so three big prawns each which is just enough 
3 fennel bulbs, quartered
300mls dry white wine
a handful of fresh parsley 
Rind of two unwaxed lemons
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Black pepper
Olive oil for frying
Extra virgin olive oil
One red pepper, cut into strips
Sea salt and black pepper

- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees, place your pepper into a roasting tin and bake until soft and just beginning to char at the edges - you'll need to move them around during the cooking so they dont stick as you're baking them unoiled, this means they'll dry out and become more intensely flavoured. Cook for around an hour then remove and finely dice once cool enough to handle. Set aside
- Into the small compartment of a food processor with a blade, add 3 tablespoons of butter, the lemon rind (I use a grater for this rather than big strips), parsley, a scrunch of salt and blitz until together, remove and set aside
- Into the large compartment of a food processor place your pasta ingredients and blitz until its come together as much as it will, which will be a slightly sandy texture. If you don't have a food processor, pour your flour onto a clean work surface, make a well in the centre and add the whisked eggs with the ink to the centre and bring together with a fork.  Whichever method you use, once you have that sandy texture, it's time to bring the dough together and give it a good kneading. This will take around 5 minutes and once it's feeling silky and smooth to the touch rather than rough, you know it's done. Wrap it in clingfilm and place it into the fridge for half an hour
- Take your fennel bulbs, take the tops of them off so you have nice clean ends, then quarter them and brush with olive oil and place into the oven for an hour. You'll need to take them out a few times as you're cooking them to turn them over, ensuring all the edges get nice and golden
- Attach your pasta machine to your work top and once it's ready to use, take it out of the fridge and cut it into 4 segments, this makes it easier to work with. You'll need some help with this so the pasta doesn't get overly stretched as it goes through the machine, but it doesn't take long to do. As you're rolling it through the settings getting finer and finer, if the dough gets slightly wet or tacky feeling you'll need to lightly dust it with some more 00 flour - this will stop it dragging and tearing as it goes through the machine. I don't go to the finest setting that rolls out the dough into sheets as it's too fragile, I leave it one before that and then put it through the fettuccine blades, before draping (elegantly, if I do say so myself) on a clean clothes airer
Time to cook the dish...
- When you think your fennel have around 20 minutes to go, bring a large saucepan of water with some salt in it to a rolling boil
- Whilst it's coming to temperature take a large sauté pan (needs a lid) add a tablespoon of butter, glug of olive oil and heat on a high heat, once the butter starts foaming add the clams and prawns to the pan - stir for a minute then add the garlic, stir for another few seconds as you mix the garlic through the fish, when you can smell the aroma rising out of the pan add the wine and give the pan a shake, put the lid on it now (the fish will take around 6 minutes to cook)
- Take the fennel from the oven and set aside
- Place the pasta into the rolling boiling water and stir gently with a fork. If your water stops boiling place the lid on the pan
- Shake the seafood pan and lift the lid, now add the diced pepper and lemon parsley butter mix, lid back on you need to shake the pan gently so the butter melts into the fish
- As soon as your clam shells have opened up (this will happen after the prawns turn pink) and all the butter and herbs have mixed through the wine and fish juices, take it off the heat and leave the lid on to keep it hot
- Test your pasta and once al dente drain it
Time to plate the dish...
- Move it straight from the colander into four bowls
- Divide the fennel bulb quarters between the bowls, placing them in the centre of the dish. Now ladle over the prawns and clams, and once that's done spoon the liquor over the dishes, using it all up. Give a little glug of your finest extra virgin olive oil and serve. Don't forget you mustn't eat any that don't open, and you'll need a bowl at the table to put the empty shells 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Italian style rosé veal pie

A special parcel arrived for me this week...Now, it's not unusual for special parcels to arrive at my house (the postman must hate me given the frequency of his visits), it seems like every week I have lovely purchases delivered - shoes, books, music, dresses, etc etc, but this weeks star parcel wasn't of any of those things, it was meat. Rosé veal to be precise. 10kgs of it. 

It came from the fabulous Heaves Farm Veal company, a lovely family run business that rear rosé veal in Cumbria. It's because of them that an ardent foodie like me gets to enjoy a meat previously avoided for ethical reasons because their meat is welfare reared - having a fantastic taste and being guilt free. 

There will be many veal recipes over these coming weeks and months as I work my way through the box of treats, but the chill that arrived in the air this weekend meant that first up had to be a pie.

Italian style is this creation; slow cooked rosé veal in white wine with pancetta, anchovy, garlic, carrot and celery - a light but substantial combination of ingredients that are made even more delicious when encased in puff pastry. 

Pie for four (or two VERY greedy people):
1kg braising rosé veal 
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 golden onion, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, washed and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 rashers smoked pancetta or streaky bacon, snipped up
Half a bottle of Italian dry white wine (I used pinot grigio)
8 anchovy fillets (not the fresh deli counter variety)
Half a pint of cold water
1.5 packets of puff pastry (I prefer the block rather than the roll)
A couple of tablespoons corn flour, mixed up with enough water to form a paste
A tablespoon sugar
A pinch of sea salt and several generous scrunches of black pepper
Unsalted butter
Buttered peas to serve 
Plain flour for rolling out 
1 egg for glazing the pastry

- Into a slow cooker or casserole dish place all the ingredients apart from the pastry, then turn on to cook slowly until the meat is tender and casserole like - this will depend on how you cook it and at what temperature, but somewhere between 3 and 5 hours ish
- Once done, remove the meat and leave it to cool (very important when you assemble the pie that you do so using a cold filling) and reduce the liquor on the hob on a moderate heat until it has gone down to leaving you with approximately a pint
- When you're at that point, mix in the corn flour very gradually (difficult to say how much is needed here as it will depend on how your pie has cooked) but add it a little at a time, stirring it in and waiting for it to thicken before adding more, you're looking for a gravy like texture
- When the thickness is as you like, continue to cook it for around 10-15 minutes to 'cook out' the flavour of the flour, then turn the pan off and add the veal and carrot mix to the pan, coating the meat in the sauce, then leave the lot to cool
Once the filling has cooled its time to make the pie
- Preheat your oven to 175 degrees
- Butter your pie dish and make sure your pastry has been out of the fridge for 30 minutes before you start using it
- Lightly flour a work surface and place the first full block of puff pastry in the centre, begin rolling it out remembering a couple of rules - keep running your hands over the pastry to see if its 'damp' feeling and if it is give it a little bit of flour to stop it sticking to the worktop or the rolling pin, and after rolling it one way, turn the pastry round to roll the other angle, rather than roll the pin the other way on the pastry whilst keeping it in the same place
- Roll the sheet out enough so that you can lay it inside the pie case (you might need to keep picking it up and draping it in the case to see if it's big enough) and once its done lay it in there and gently press into the corners and edges of the case
- Pick the pie dish up in one hand, and using the other hand with a sharp knife trim off the excess hanging over the edge, you do this by bringing the knife up from underneath and running the blade along the edge of the dish, slicing the pastry off
- Once done fill the pie with the mixture and then brush the edge that will join to the top layer of pastry with egg, before rolling out the remaining half block of puff and laying it over the top
- Make a cross hole in the centre of the pie so the steam can escape, then use the back of a fork to press the edges of the pie to the side of the dish, sealing it shut
(decorate as you feel appropriate or otherwise)
- Pop into the oven for 1 hour 10 minutes until golden brown and bubbling (over the edge probably)

- Serve with buttered peas 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Bloody Mary chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and chorizo

Starting a new job is an exciting and nerve wracking time, but this week I was greeted with bags of enthusiasm, interesting projects, and Jerusalem artichokes. 

No, not to work on (how to advertise the curious, knobbly tuber would be an interesting brief alright), these were given to me by our new business director, Jim. A chap who has what sounds like a big enough small holding to allow him to give some produce away, and an obsession with good food and eating it that's akin to my own. 

I arrived back at my desk after a meeting and found a pile of the vegetable in front of my laptop, I squirreled them away inside my handbag and it was then the recipe cogs began to whir. Their taste is mild but distinctive - I could see them working very well blended in a soup, made into a gratin, or for something a little different - a remoulade, using them instead of celeriac.

If you've not tried them before they've a very interesting texture - the centre of them when cooked is soft and yielding like a boiled potato (they're part of the same family) but the outer is slightly tougher and more fiberous. 

But what to make with them on this occasion? After a fun and boozy weekend I wanted to do something with very little involvement. Something that I could throw into a pot and leave in the oven whilst I took a walk to appreciate the sun shining in Didsbury (and a wander around the clothing and jewelry boutiques, you might be sure).

This dish does just that, and it greeted me with a scent so tantilising when I got home that I struggled to concentrate until it was ready. The combination of flavours marry beautifully, creating an intensly flavoured and exsquisitely coloured liquor, given an extra poke and edge through the Bloody Mary ingredients and wine - the Jerusalem artichokes really suit a boozy sauce.

I used cooking chorizo from Morrisons deli counter and have found it to be incredibly good - decent fat content and heavy on the paprika, it lends a lovely, light smokiness to the dish overall and is worth making a trip to Morrisons to buy if you don't usually shop there.

For two:
200-300 grams Jerusalem artichokes, peeled (bit of a pain but worth doing) and rinsed
6 chicken thighs, bone in or out (I used bone out) and skinless, trimmed of excess fat
3 carrots, grated on a fine setting
2 chorizo sausages (I used ones that were around 3" each in length) peeled and cut into rounds
1 red onion, diced
2-3 large ladles of chicken stock (I used homemade but a cube will be fine too) 
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 large glass of white wine
250mls pasatta or tomato juice 
A teaspoon of Tabasco
A large shot of vodka 
A generous scrunch of black pepper
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, snipped into little pieces
Around 10 cherry tomatoes, left whole
Olive oil for frying
A few pinches of flat leaf parsley, cut up 
Bread to serve

- Preheat your oven to 175 degrees
- Place a casserole pot (one that has a lid) onto a medium-highish heat and add your bacon, a slug of olive oil, celery, onion and chorizo, fry until they're colouring nicely, then add the carrot and tomatoes and continue cooking for around five minutes
- Now add to the pan the wine, pasatta and vodka, along with lots of black pepper. Place the lid on the pan and pop it into the oven for 1 hour
- After an hour remove the pot and add the Jerusalem artichokes, cover again and put the pot back into the oven for 20-30 minutes until the artichokes are soft (use a knife to see). Add the parsley to the pot and serve at the table, using some nice baguette to mop up the juices. Best eaten with some vino on the go

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Banana and pecan loaf cake with toffee icing

After three months at grandmas I can't tell you how many cakes I encountered. Every day I'd return home and there'd be at least one new cake to eat. Sometimes more than one. One day when rooting around in the 'naughty cupboard' I found six cakes. I'm not kidding - six. 

It's a good job I don't really like sweet baked goods, otherwise I could have been suffering from rotten teeth and a rapidly expanding waistline, but every now and again a little cake is exactly what's needed. And after a big week moving home and city, an easy, grandma style, restorative cake was called for.

The thing I really like about banana cake is it doesn't feel too naughty even though it is of course, quite indulgent. Fruit being in it means I can scoff the leftovers at breakfast and feel entirely justified in doing so. 

I made this cake in my food processor, this is because I lost my electric whisk in the move and I'm too lazy to do it the old fashioned way - you can make it whichever way you prefer of course, but the food processor will mean you get to eat it sooner and that might help make your decision...  

This recipe will make 2 loaf cakes. For the loaf:
4 small-ish bananas, or 3 big 'uns - I like to use ones that have very dark skins, their flavour is more banana and caramel-like and their flesh is much softer
160g self raising flour
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g golden caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
2 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche
The seeds from a fat vanilla pod 
2 handfuls of pecan nuts, or use walnut halves if you prefer 
2 eggs, beaten
A pinch of salt 

For the toffee icing:
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
125g icing sugar, sieved 
A few pecan halves for decorating the top 

- Preheat your oven to 150 degrees
- Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the eggs, creme fraiche, vanilla seeds, butter, salt, bicarbonate of soda, and bananas and mix again. Then add the flour and mix for a final time. Stir in the pecan nuts by hand.
- Grease two loaf tins with butter and pour the mixture between the two tins. Pop into the oven and bake for around 40 minutes - depending on your oven this may take longer or slightly less, simply shake the tin and when the cakes no longer wobble in the centre, spear the centre with a knife and if it comes out clean then they're ready 
- Remove from the oven and turn out onto a cooling rack
- Now for the icing, which must be done when the cake has completely cooled and not before
- In a pan place the butter and both kinds of sugar and cook on a medium heat until the sugar has totally dissolved, if it doesn't completely dissolve it will leave you with icing that has a granular texture 
- Add the milk to the pan and stir into the mix, turn the heat up and continue stirring as it cooks, for a minute, then remove from the heat
- Pour over the cake and dot the top with the pecan halves, wait for the glassy icing to cool before eating. Goes especially well with a strong black coffee.  

Cupcake tortillas

I was facing a dilemma: Should I make the tortilla and fill it with peas and fluffy goat's cheese, or with piquant pepperoni and roasted peppers?

I know. In light of other (far more) pressing global concerns, my lunch is rather insignificant. But nevertheless it was a conundrum I was facing this week. Then the answer struck me - the cupcake trend may be over, but I could use their colourful silicone cases to make miniature tortillas with both fillings, no compromise required. Yes, I could have my cake and eat it (excuse the pun, I couldn't resist).  

These'd be ideal at a party, several varieties stacked high on a cake stand. Finger food that's pretty and a little bit different - and they'd also work a treat as a lunchbox snack. 

The filling ideas are vast, so if you don't like the two I made simply substitute those ingredients for others you prefer, ideas could include:
  • Crisp chorizo and Manchego cheese
  • Sun-dried tomato and fresh basil 
  • Gorgonzola and walnut  
  • Good old ham and cheese
  • Prawn and fresh chili 
For 12 cupcake tortillas:
10 eggs
100g cheddar cheese
6 rounds of goat's cheese cut off a log 
A handful of frozen peas
4 of the small orange fresh peppers, or one large red/orange pepper
Olive oil 
Sea salt and black pepper
6 slices of pepperoni - I chose a pepperoni that's rounds would fit inside the case. If you get one that's larger simply slice it up into strands
2 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche (full fat or reduced) 
12 silicone bake cases

- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees
- Lightly oil the pepper or peppers and pop into the oven for 30 minutes, you're looking for them to start to colour and really soften, not turn black 
- When it's done, take it out of the oven and leave to cool, leaving the oven on 
- Lightly oil the silicone cases with olive oil (the silicone should make them easy to come out but I've not always found this to be the case, the oil helps the process along a bit)
- Lay the oiled cases out onto a baking sheet
- In a jug (easiest for the pouring) mix the eggs and creme fraiche together with a fork until combined, then add a generous scrunch of salt and lots of black pepper 
- Using your fingers remove the stalk end of the pepper and its seeds from inside. Then tear it into strips roughly
- Now to start filling the cases...
- A handful of peas in six of the cases then a round of goat's cheese in each, and some of the roasted peppers in the other six cases and a pinch of the cheddar cheese. Fill the cases half way up with the egg mixture, then add more peas to the pea tortillas, and the pepperoni slices topped with more roasted peppers to the others. Then finish them by pouring the egg mixture into the cases again, filling them up to the top. Drop a few little olive oil dots onto the top of the cases and pop into the oven for around 20-30 minutes.
- You'll know when they're done because when you give the tray a little shake there'll be no wobble in the centre. 
- Remove from the oven and leave for 10 minutes in their cases, before turning them out onto a cooling rack. Piling onto a cake stand before eating is optional but cute.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Oriental chicken meatball soup with noodles

Restorative and healthy food of the highest order. When feeling a little run down (or in my case, like you've been overdoing things), chicken noodle soup really does hit the spot. But yeah, you might have guessed, in my world it's got to be oriental.

I got the idea for this dish from a lovely blog called Tes at Home which I found through Tastespotting. The image alone whet my appetite and I knew instantly when looking at it that I needed to cook it as soon as possible. So post Friday night fun, today became that day.

The dish takes a little while to cook if you haven't got any homemade chicken stock hanging around, but it's relatively easy and mainly involves putting the pot on the hob and leaving it be - so low involvement even though it takes a while.

Making it will reward you with deliciously clean and aromatic oriental flavours and the lightest, fluffiest little chicken dumplings. As you might imagine, the dish would benefit from some red chilli so if you're into the hot stuff add a little to the meatball mixture, and on serving, be prepared to not want to share it with anyone else.  

For two:
1 whole chicken
2 large knobs of ginger, sliced length ways
6 spring onions, 4 top and tailed and 2 top and tailed and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic
A handful of fresh mint
A shot of light soy sauce
10 star anise
A tablespoon of black peppercorns
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 egg whites and 50mls water together in a bowl with a little salt
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
A couple of drizzles of toasted sesame oil
Skinny rice noodles, made up as per the pack instructions and cooled ready for use
Sea salt flakes
A clean tea towel

- Start by removing the breasts of the chicken from the carcass - you do this by slicing down the top bone either side and cutting the breasts away. Discard the skin and set the breasts aside
- Now remove the chicken legs and place the carcass and legs into a deep saucepan with the celery, onion, carrot, half the ginger, star anise and black peppercorns
- Cover with enough cold water to cover the lot and put it on the hob on a medium heat. Simmer uncovered for 3 hours then turn the heat off and leave it to cool a little
- Whilst its simmering you can make the meatballs (I made 20 smallish balls from the mixture). Into a food processor combine the other half of the ginger, garlic, 4 whole spring onions, sesame oil and a scrunch of salt and blitz until they form a paste, add the chicken breasts and blitz again until its all finely minced and the ingredients are all combined. Then using your hands simply make up the small meatballs and then place on a plate into the fridge to firm up
- Remove the chicken legs and pick off any meat from the carcass and set them aside - you don't need this chicken meat for the recipe but it tastes delicious and you can use it in something else another day
- Strain the liquor through a fine mesh sieve and discard all the vegetables and bits
- Add the soy sauce to the pot and b ring the strained liquor to the boil, once boiling take it off the heat and stir in the egg whites, stir through and leave for a minute, then strain again through a fine mesh sieve - the egg helps collect loads of the impurities
- To make the liquor super clear and clarified, you can now either use a special muslin sieve, or you can fashion one out of a clean tea towel and an extra pair of hands. Take a clean saucepan and hold the tea towel to the top of it, forming a well in which to pour the liquid into, then do this gradually, whilst holding onto the tea towel to keep it suspended. Pour all the liquid through it and the towel will catch all the nasties and leave you with a saucepan of clear and clarified stock
- Pop the liquid onto simmer gently and add enough cold water to the pot to give you enough liquor for two of you to eat (depends on how much it reduced before really so this isnt exact)
- Now whilst the pan is on a medium heat, pop your chicken meatballs into the pan. Once they're done you'll find they float to the top - this takes around 6-7 minutes. As the meatballs start to float more impurities will come to the surface - you simply need to skim these off with a ladle
- Place the rice noodles into the pan to heat through along with the spring onion and shredded meat
- Ladle into bowls, eat, and feel good

Friday, 26 August 2011

Gorgonzola, serrano ham and fig flatbread pizza

It started out as a humble little flatbread with a couple of toppings.  But by the time I got home, the idea for it had turned into something more akin to a pizza - crammed with decadent toppings and a rich, slow roasted sauce on which to sit them.

I chose these ingredients because I love each of them individually, and because when combined they contrast beautifully and taste as vibrant and bright as they look.

The base sauce started out as a simple oven roasted tomato, olive oil and red onion blitz, but I fancied making it extra slinky with the addition of some mascarpone and this became the smooth and buttery orange base for the other toppings - it's an easy and useful sauce to know how to make because it can be used in all kinds of things from soups to pastas to gratins.

The natural inclination here might be to use basil as your herb of choice to finish the pizza off, and it would certainly taste splendid, but I want to hang onto the last vestiges of the summer a bit longer and the fragrant mint works with the figs to do just that - its fresh bright taste lifts the rich flavours of the pizza perfectly.

For 2/3 people

340g spelt flour (made up of half white and half wholemeal)
1 teaspoon yeast granules
1 cup of warm water
1 teaspoon of runny honey
4 ripe figs
150g gorgonzola, cut into strips
700g fresh tomatoes, cut into quarters
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
A handful of fresh mint leaves
A handful of stoned black olives
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt


- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
- Place your tomatoes and red onions into a roasting tin and give a liberal dousing of olive oil and grind of black pepper and little scrunch of salt, mix with your hands and place in the oven for 1hr 15mins - stirring them every fifteen minutes
Now onto the dough, which needs lots of extra flour on your work top to stop it from sticking
- Add 2 scrunches of salt, honey and the yeast to the cup of warm water and leave for 10 minutes
- In a mixing bowl place the flour and onion seeds, make a hole in the centre of the dough (reserving a bit for kneading) and pour the water in, then using your hands mix it all together until you've formed a ball of dough
- Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for a couple of minutes, then place it into a floured bowl and cover with cling film for an hour
- When the tomatoes are done take them out and put into a food processor with the mascarpone cheese and blitz until smooth
- Take the dough out of the bowl and turn it out onto a floured surface and roll it out in one single piece, either round or square - depending on the shape and size of the baking sheet you'll be cooking it on
- Lay it onto a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 11 minutes. Remove it from the oven and now you're ready to add the toppings
- Pour as much of the sauce on as you need (I had extra left over) and use the back of a spoon to smooth it out to the edges of the flatbread
- Then drape on the serrano ham, gorgonzola and figs, give the figs a drizzle of olive oil and the dish a grind of black pepper and place back into the oven for 9 minutes
- After 9 minutes remove it from the oven and dot the olives over it along with the mint leaves and some more olive oil
- Cut into wedges and devour - drink of choice to accompany it is optional, though I had gin and it worked very nicely indeed