Thursday, 24 May 2012

The ham is dead, long live the sausages !

The devastating news is that our version of Serrano Ham has gone before it arrived. The flies got to it despite it being wrapped in a double layer of muslin and then surrounded in chicken wire. Emma noticed that it didn't look quite right and when I unwrapped a bit, it was like something out of Iain Banks' "The Wasp Factory". If you haven't read it, then suffice to say it was a writhing mass of maggots, casters and flies. So, lessons learnt for these wanna be smallholders; build a box that flies can't get into, then wrap it up but most importantly, start the curing in Autumn rather than Spring. The next piggies will be ready in late September and I'm determined that we'll get it right this time!

If only it looked like this!!

It's my Son & heir's 2nd birthday this weekend, so we're going to make a few sausages for the barbecue. Haven't quite decided between good old fashioned porky porkers or something a little more exotic; you'll be the first to know when we do!

It's been a scorcher in Sussex so it has been a few salads this week; Asian Beef Salad last night (thinly sliced grilled rump steak mixed in with bean shoots, peppers, coriander, mint and onion. I made a dressing from fish sauce, lime juice, light soy, chill sesame oil and chopped chillies).
We also had a salad with Asparagus, Bacon, Lettuce, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, olives, soft boiled eggs and manchego. Yummy.

However, today's recipe goes back a couple of weeks but I've been meaning to post it because it was really tasty.

Pork Chops & Spanish Pearl Barley Risotto

Serves 2 as a main course

2 Pork Chops (we had them from our own Gloucester Old Spot).
Pearl Barley.
1 large Red Pepper - sliced.
Marinated red pepper (from a jar) - thinly sliced (can be omitted)
Small Brown Onion.
2 cloves Garlic.
Pimiento (Spanish paprika - hot or sweet, both are good)
Knob of Butter
Olive Oil
1.5 litres of Chicken Stock (I used Knorr Stock Pots).
Vermouth or Dry White Wine
300g Green Beans (or any other green veggies).
Handful of chopped Flat Leaf Parsley
Black Pepper
Sea Salt

  1. Finely chop the onion and the garlic.
  2. Trim the fat off of the chops or don't!! Depends how you want them. Rub with a little olive oil and season with salt & black pepper.
  3. Heat the stock in a saucepan, keep it on a low heat.
  4. Put the butter & a glug of olive oil in a thick bottomed saucepan.
  5. Add the onions and garlic and cook on a low heat until they soften, don't let them brown. About 10 minutes cooking will do it.
  6. Add about 250g of Pearl Barley and give it a good stir so that is coated in oil.
  7. Add 1.5 teaspoons of Pimiento and give it a good stir.
  8. Turn up the heat and then add about half a glass (100ml) of Vermouth or Dry White Wine.
  9. Keep stirring until the liquid has evaporated.
  10. Turn down the heat to medium / low.
  11. Add a couple of ladles of stock to the Barley and stir. Keep this going, just as you would cook a normal rice risotto.
  12. Keep doing this, adding stock every time the liquid has been absorbed. Cook this way for at least 20 minutes.
  13. Add the sliced peppers to the Barley and stir. Continue to add stock when it is absorbed and cook for another 10 minutes.
  14. Heat a heavy frying pan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a little bit of butter; when it is very hot, add the Pork Chops. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side (they should be nicely browned), then let them stand in a warm place.
  15. Blanch the beans in boiling water for 2 minutes and then drain.
  16. Turn off the heat and add the chopped parsley to the Barley Risotto and then let stand for a couple of minutes;  then taste it. Adjust the seasoning if needed.
  17. Serve the Risotto, place the Pork Chop on top, beans on the side and place a few slices of the marinated peppers on the chops.

Monday, 21 May 2012

We had a day out in Brighton on Saturday, taking advantage of the relative warmth for the first time this Spring.

First stop; Jack & Linda Mills Traditional  Smokehouse under the arches, at the seafront on Kings Road. This place is a local institution and this weekend, the queue was out of the door, I joined the queue gladly and within ten minutes was sitting on the beach happily munching on a Kipper Roll. This is a great place and I really recommend it if you are in the vicinity.

We also picked up a few wild oysters from the shellfish stall that is opposite the Smokehouse. Fresh, from Essex - they were absolutely delicious.

After a day of family fun and frolics (and some decent homemade ice cream from one of the stall under the arches too). We headed for the fishmongers down towards Shoreham. Again, this is a excellent local supplier, with very good seasonal, local produce.

Had a good look and ended up leaving with half a kilo of clams and a filleted John Dory (plus the head/bones etc). The lobsters looked especially good but Devon, my daughter, was so freaked out about the thought of one of them removing her or her little brother's fingers with one pinch that I don't think that she would have got in the car with it had I chosen one!

John Dory with Clam & Vanilla Sauce
Serves 4 as a fish course (add potatoes to make it a main)

1 good sized John Dory, filleted (bones & head retained)
500g live Clams
1 Leek (just the white part, chopped)
1 Brown Onion (chopped)
1 stick of Celery (chopped)
Flat Leaf Parsley - handful of stalks (chopped)
4 Fennel Seeds (crushed)
4 Coriander Seeds (crushed)
Half a teaspoon of ground White Pepper
Dry White Wine
Vanilla Essence
Unsalted Butter
Creme Fraiche
Samphire or green beans (about 400g)
Flat Leaf Parsley - handful of leaves (chopped)
Half a Lemon
Olive Oil

  1. Put the bones and head into a large stock pot and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Skim the surface to remove the scum every now and then. ONLY COOK THIS FOR 30 MINUTES - otherwise the fish bones break down and make it very bitter.
  3. In another stock pot or large saucepan, add a slurp of Olive Oil and cook the onions, leek, celery, parsley and spices. Cook over a low heat - you want them to soften but do not let them brown. Will take about 15 minutes. Then turn up the heat and add about half a cup of White Wine. Cook , stirring until pretty much all of the wine has gone.
  4. Strain the fish stock into the vegetables and let it simmer for at least another 30 minutes, more if you have time.
  5. Check the John Dory fillets for bones and remove them. Cut each fillet into two equally sized pieces and rub them with a little Olive Oil. Season each fillet.
  6. Strain the stock again, this time line the strainer with some muslin or a clean tea towel. You need about 500ml for this recipe. Let the rest cool and then freeze it to use it in the future.
  7. Put your 500ml of stock in a smaller sauce pan and add 3 or 4 drops of Vanilla Essence. Put it on a relatively high heat and start to reduce it. After 10 minutes taste it and add salt and a drop or two more of Vanilla Essence according to taste. NOTE - THE FLAVOURS WILL GET STRONGER AS YOU REDUCE THIS SO DO NOT OVER DO IT WITH THE VANILLA OR SALT!
  8. Continue to reduce the stock until it thickens and you have around 100ml left. Take off of the heat for a couple of minutes and whisk in a knob1 of butter (about the size of a 1.5cm Cube!). When the butter has melted and combined with the stock, mix in about a dessert spoon of Creme Fraiche. Whisk it until it is all combined and put to one side.
  9. Add a little Olive Oil to a large frying pad and when hot add the John Dory, skin side down on a high heat. Cook for a couple of minutes and then reduce the heat to medium. Cook for another 4 minutes and add a knob of butter to the pan, basting the fish fillets. Turn over the fish for one minute (keep basting) then take off of the heat and keep warm.
  10. Heat another saucepan, add the Clams and a good splash of White Wine. Put the lid on and give them a good shake. When the shells open (about 4 minutes), they are ready.
  11. At the same time, blanch the Samphire / Beans in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove and drain.
  12. With a slotted spoon, add the Clams and about a dessert spoon's worth of liquid to the sauce that you made from the stock and give it a good stir over a low heat.
  13. Remove the skin and place the John Dory on the plate with the Samphire / Beans. Spoon over the Clams and Vanilla Sauce.
  14. Garnish with some chopped parsley and squeeze over a little lemon juice.

ENJOY! In fact this dish resulted in everyone actually licking their plates clean. Just what the cook wants to see at the end of the meal!

Oh Blog! I have forsaken you ...  But I'm back now bearing gifts of recipes from a couple of recent evenings.

In truly seasonal style, we have been consuming Asparagus as if on Death Row. Sad to say that our own crop has been a complete disaster this year; we actually thought that all of the plants had died but there is a glimmer of hope for next year after one spear poked its head through yesterday. It's our 3rd year, so we were expecting a decent harvest this year but it's not to be. We're going to leave them alone this year, even if we do get a few spears. Give a good covering in manure and then cross our fingers for next year.

I've sadly seen quite a lot of imported Asparagus in the green grocers' and supermarkets this season so maybe the supert wet Spring that we've had has had a detrimental effect on the home grown stocks.

But ... we did manage to get a bunch from the local green grocer's stall plus some more from our friends Fen and James patch. In fact, we managed to get a decent bounty from their fridge as they emptied prior to heading off on holiday. Result!

Asparagus & Quail Egg Salad
Serves 2 as a main course salad

Bunch of Asparagus
6 Quail Eggs
4 slices Serrano Ham (Parma would work too)
Breadcrumbs (Panko is you have them)
One chicken egg, beaten
Manchego (or similar cheese)
Vegetable Oil
White wine vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

Make sure everything is at room temperature.

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil, boil the Quail eggs for no longer than 2 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and cool them down by putting them in cold water with a few ice cubes.
  2. Cut the Asparagus. Woody stalk ends removed first then Spears to about 6cm and the rest of the stalks into 4cm pieces.
  3. Tear the Serrano into strips.
  4. When cooled, peel the Quail eggs. Dunk them into the beaten (chicken) egg and then roll them in the breadcrumps. Cover them as much as possible with the crumbs.
  5. Mix about 3 tablespoons of Olive Oil and White Wine Vinegar together, with a couple of drops of Balsamic, a good pinch of Salt and a few generous twists of Black Pepper.
  6. Boil a pan of water.
  7. Heat about 2cm of Vegetable Oil in a heavy saucepad / wok and fry the eggs. Keep them moving to cook them evenly.
  8. Arrange a very generous couple of handfuls of Watercress on the plates.
  9. Dribble over some of the dressing, a few teaspoon's worth.
  10. Blanch the Asparagus in the boiling water for 2 or 3 minutes - no more! Then drain.
  11. When the Quali eggs are nicely browned and crispy, remove them a drain on some kitchen towel. Allow to cool.
  12. Place the Asparagus on top of the Watercress and immediately place the Serrano ham on top of the Asparagus so that some of the warmth melts the fat on the ham slightly.
  13. Cut the Quail eggs in half and arrange around the plate.
  14. Grate a very small amount of cheese on top (about a Dessert spoon per plate).
  15. Drizzle over some more dressing.



Thursday, 10 May 2012

Another night without my apron on and enjoying the sunshine in Helsinki. Not known for its culinary delights but I'll have you know that there are plenty of hidden gems in this city. For starters, Kabuki is one of my favourite Japanese restaurants with a great atmosphere and very good Izakaya type food.

But tonight, I was far too lazy to leave the hotel and had plenty of work to catch up on so made the epic journey 4 floors down to 'Pub Fidel' to sample, and I quote "Wide selection of beers and delicious meals featuring international 'gastro pub' style." Well the 'Anchor and Hope' ( it aint!

The menu consists of a Caesar salad (with chicken or salmon or without), a couple of burgers, a club sandwich and a roast beef sandwich. There's also a large dessert menu bizarrely, which could and should be replaced with some nibbles to go with beer. Ice cream with jam or buffalo wings?????? Tough one! "A pint of Murphy's and a slice of lemon cake" is not something you hear that regularly....

I got myself a pint of Murphy's - actually I'm a big fan of Murphy's even though you don't see it that often in England anymore. A quality session beer. Then I decided to go for the Cheeseburger & Fries. The cook is obviously Usain Bolt's brother because the food arrived within 5 minutes of ordering it. Firstly, the chips; in Finland they always leave the skins on their French Fries and cut them a little bit thicker than the Mc / BK types. I actually like the way they do them, so no surprises but no disappointment either. The burger itself was a decent version of what I have termed a 'Finnburger'. Fairly standard in the hotels of this fair land in that they add this kind of sickly yet quite pleasant dressing to them. It's a kind of cross between the Big Mac dressing and Thousand Island but isn't a bad thing to add to a burger. The pattie itself was a good size, made out of some decent meat and cooked medium; nicely melted slice of jack cheers, decent accompaniments of lettuce, tomatoe and gherkin and a bun that had had a bit of griddle treatment, which I like. Had to ask for mustard as is customary in Finland and had to do with than sweet sickly, 'French' style stuff,as usual. but being mentally prepared for it, it was better than having none. So a decent 5 out of 10 for the burger and chips at the Crowne Plaza Helsinki.

This lunchtime in the Nokia canteen, being a Thursday was Pea Soup day !!! As it is every Thursday and will be until the world freezes over. I can't say I've had any Finnish Pea Soup since about 2001 but it looks the same and smells the same as it always have. Something straight out of the times when rationing was still in place .... Went for a bit of pork loin with mixed veg - boring. Except the "Chilli & Nut Sauce" which smelled like hot smoked carpet fibres and tasted of air.
I actually started to have a panic attack when I realised that the table with the condiments was no longer there but before I started breathing into a paper bag, found the relocated condiments. Thank fuck for Tabasco, that's all I can say.


I'll leave you with one of my favourite food books of the moment and this will not be the last time you see me mention this wonderful person and her books again. Here's an interview with Claudia Roden about her new book on Spanish cuisine. It's a beautiful book with some wonderful recipes from someone that is truly dedicated to the art and traditions of cooking. Highly recommended.

Enough for today folks, hope you've eaten well today!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

So ...  tonight's somewhat different in that I'm sitting here on a plane updating the blog. By the way, I have to recommend Norwegian Air, they're great if you are going anywhere in Scandanavia; great prices, spanking new planes and free WiFi on board ... Anyway, enough of being a plane spotter.

This evening, I'm eating courtesy of a trip to Pret a Manger in Gatwick's South Terminal. I've got an Indian Summer Wrap, filled with fresh spinach, cucumber, raita, mango chutney and onion bhajis. Not too bad, although I doubt I'd go for it again. The wrap's undoubtedly made fresh and the raita is nice but the onion bhaji's are straight off of Asda's 'budget bhaji bargain basement' shelf, dry and under spiced. Not enough taste / volume of the chutney to even comment. Still, probably better than a box of crisps and something else from the 'International Sky Cafe' menu on board. The picture of the pasta salad in the menu is actually disturbing ...

I've also got myself a 'Super Foods Salad' from Pret, I've had one before and it was pretty good. A bit of a mishmash of all things 'good for you' but a decent box full never the less. Hummus, various seeds and shoots, lentils, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, a bit of flat bread and some reasonable dressing.

So tonight, the man who spent yesterday afternoon cleaning out the pigs' ark and admiring how big and juicy the Gloucester Old Spot is getting, has unwittingly gone veggie!


On another note, I read in the Evening Standard about a blogger who has dedicated his life to BURGERS in and around London! He has attained such a following that he has released an iPhone app giving details of restaurants, their burgers, recipes, latest news, where to find ingredients etc.

I haven't seen this before but it is probably worth a visit to "Burgerac'" blog to see what it's all about, it can be found at
Well, here I am, someone who would never have thought about having my own blog but has been encouraged by a few people to start writing one in place of the regular updates that I post on Facebook or Twitter.

I'm going to post all sorts of things on here; from my nightly dinner recipes, to recommendations about food writing, to worrying facts about diet and nutrition, to the occassional restaurant review and anything else that tickles my fancy.

I'll start with Monday night's dinner - "Veal Escalope with Porcini & Asparagus Risotto". We picked up a nice slice of veal from the local butcher (Smith's in Haywards Heath) at the weekend and knocked this little number up to finish off the Bank Holiday weekend. I'm afraid that I am not Delia when it comes to quantities / measurements, I have much more of a Floyd 'throw some in' approach.

Veal with Asparagus and Porcini Risotto - a rich dish of comfort food!
Serves 2 hungry people.

  • Nice slice of Veal, about 1cm thick, enough for 2 people.
  • Packet of dried Porcini mushroom.
  • 1 small brown onion.
  • A couple of garlic cloves.
  • Bunch of ENGLISH asparagus.
  • Arborio rice.
  • Beef Stock (made using Knorr's stock pots) - about 1 litre.
  • Splash of red wine.
  • Olive Oil.
  • Butter.
  • Cream cheese.
  • Dijon / English mustard.
  • Parmesan cheese.
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley.

  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Finely chop the onion and garlic.
  3. Chop the asparagus - spears to about 7cm, the rest in about 3cm pieces.
  4. Heat a coupe of tablespoons of oil and a knob of butter in a saucepan and add the chopped onions and garlic.
  5. Heat the stock on the hob, keep it on a low heat.
  6. Cook on a low heat for about 12 minutes until the onions and garlic are soft. Do not let them colour.
  7. Add the rice (amount depends on you but about 150g per person should be ok).
  8. Stir the rice to coat it in the oil and cook for a few minutes.
  9. Turn up the heat and add about a third of a glass of wine.
  10. Stir the rice until the wine had evaporated. Turn the heat down to medium.
  11. Remove the mushrooms from the water and drain well. Keep the soaking liquid and add that to the stock.
  12. Add a couple of ladels of stock to the rice, stirring it until the liquid soaks into the rice. Keep this going, adding stock and continue to cook like any other risotto.
  13. Heat a large knob of butter in a frying pan and fry the porcini mushrooms for about 6 minutes until they colour slightly. Turn off the heat.
  14. When you have been cooking the rosotto for about 10 minutes, add the porcini and stir them through.
  15. Add the asparagus stalks, saving the spears for now.
  16. Cook for a further 3-5 minutes. Remembering to keep adding stock as required and testing the rice to see if it is cooked.
  17. Add a desert spoon of the cream cheese and stir.
  18. Wipe out the frying pan that you used for the mushrooms, add a little oil and get it nice and hot.
  19. When the rice is cooked, place the asparagus spears on the top. Put a lid on the pad and turn off the heat. Leave it for 5 minutes.
  20. Turn up the heat under the stock to reduce it, add a teaspoon of mustard and keep stirring it until it has reduced to a few spoonfulls of stickyness.
  21. Season the veal all over then flash fry it. I cooked it for about 2 minutes on each side and then let it sit to rest for a few minutes in a vaguely warm oven.
  22. Serve the risotto in a middle of a plate with a sprinkle of grated parmesan and chopped parsley. Place the aspargus spears to one side.
  23. Place the veal on top of the risotto and drizzle a bit of the reduced stock on top.
  24. Enjoy!
So here is my first effort at posting a recipe. I hope you've enjoyed reading it and maybe it's provided some inspiration.

Until next time ....