Sunday, 22 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to say Merry Christmas to all of my followers, and everyone who has read and - hopefully - enjoyed this blog over the past couple of years. I really appreciate all of your comments and kind words, and I promise to pull my finger out and give you some good stuff in the new year. 

Stay safe, have fun, eat all of the turkey, drink all of the wine, have an awesome time. I love you all.

Here's one of my first posts - perfect for the holidays. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Doughnut Holes

In my personal experience, there are a few cooking truths that are absolutely infallible. One - any food that is dipped, covered or spread with chocolate is immediately going to be a success. Two - bacon makes EVERYTHING better, no exceptions. And three - there's not a foodstuff on the planet that's cooked in hot oil that doesn't taste like a gift from the gods. I challenge you to prove me wrong! And as far as deep fat fried fodder goes, you simply can't beat these for sweet, doughy goodness. Doughnut holes, munchkins, diddy doughnuts...call them what you will, they're bloody fantastic. And this past weekend, with a morning at my disposal and a hankering for something just a little bit fatter than normal, I whipped up a batch. I love how jealous you are right now.
In a large bowl, mix together about 180g of plain flour, a couple of teaspoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt. My missus has actually gone gluten-free so I've replaced the plain flour with rice flour in this instance - hopefully your doughnut-eating pals aren't such difficult human beings (I will get a slap for that). In a smaller bowl mix 60ml milk, 50g granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons of melted butter and about 60ml buttermilk. If you can't get your hands on buttermilk, just mix lemon juice or white vinegar with regular milk and leave for a few minutes to sour a little. Think roughly 1 tablespoon of lemon juice/vinegar to every 240ml of milk, that should do you just fine.
Combine your wet ingredients with your dry ingredients and give it a mix until you've got a nice light and fluffy batter. The consistency you're after is a bit like a thicker icing - don't overwork it or else the doughnuts will be heavy, just mix until everything starts to come together.
Cover a baking tray with parchment paper, then measure your dough out, roll into balls and line them up. The quantities above made, for me, about a dozen or so little doughnut holes, but you do what you want. If you want even diddy-er doughnuts, make them smaller. If you've got a big mouth and want to cram it full of something sweet, make them bigger. You're the boss. Roll them as quickly as you can - still being careful not to overwork them - then bung them into the fridge for a hot minute or two just to firm up slightly.
I use vegetable oil for frying, so fill a heavy-bottomed saucepan (I like my saucepans like I like my women...) and stick it on a medium heat. If you've got a sugar thermometer, you're trying to get to about 175C. If you don't have a sugar thermometer give it about 7-8 minutes, then test by dropping a small piece of batter into the oil. If it fizzes and floats, chances are you're good to go. This also gives you a good opportunity to ready your jams, sugars, chocolate sauces...whatever you're planning on filling or coating your doughnut treats with. As you can see I've gone for the old syringe-filled-with-jam method. What you can't see is that I ran into the old raspberry-seeds-too-big-for-the-hole-in-the-syringe problem and had to upgrade to a larger and more robust model. Hey, it's all good.
Once your oil is hot enough fry in small batches for about 3 minutes at a time, flipping halfway using tongs or a wooden skewer. Drain on some kitchen roll then, whilst they're still hot and a little bit oily, roll them in sugar. Fill them with your desired jam or sauce, or just eat them as they are - either way you won't be wrong.

Ingredients
180g pain flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
3 tbsps melted butter
60ml milk
60ml buttermilk
50g granulated sugar
vegetable oil, for frying
sugar and jam, to coat and fill

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A bit of a pickle...

Well, Christmas is almost here and it's time to start thinking about presents. And because we've got a wedding to fund in the new year, and would also like to get onto the property ladder before too much longer, it's shaping up to be a homemade gifts sorta year. But fear not, anyone who thinks they might be unwrapping a crudely knitted sweater or some poorly constructed bit of DIY - I kid you not, 3rd grade secret santa I received a plank of wood that was half-painted and had some nails hammered into it. No, I think this year most of my homemade gifts will be things that are 'chocolate covered' ''cold-smoked' or indeed 'pickled'. So I'm getting practising early, trying out a few new ideas, and planning the hampers. You lucky devils you.
The process here is very basic: take your pickling vinegar, pack it full of whatever flavourings you want to use then bring it to the boil in a saucepan, reduce to simmer for a minute or two and then allow to cool completely before pouring over your goods. I went for a favourite of mine, pickled cucumbers, and a controversial newbie - eggs. Pickled eggs are a revelation, and I highly recommend them to all of you out there. I know for a fact that most people reading this will turn their nose up at them, and I know for certain that most of those people will have never even given them the old college try. Just do it. Really, really do it. For something like eggs you want quite a strong, acidic vinegar in which to steep so for a dozen eggs, hard-boiled and peeled, you need about a litre of pickling vinegar. I flavoured mine with a pinch of saffron and a few black peppercorns, then added to a jar with a red chilli. The cucumbers want a lighter, brine-like mixture so use about 3:1 ratio of water to vinegar and add a tablespoon of salt and sugar before boiling. For a bit more flavour I added some coriander seed and a couple of cloves of garlic to the jar before sealing. And that's pretty much it, oh but don't forget to sterilise your jars properly before using. Otherwise you get ill and nobody wants that, definitely not before the holidays. So try it, enjoy it, and let me know how you get on. And don't worry Mom, you're not getting any pickled eggs this year. Somehow I don't see it being your kinda thing...

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Broad Beans

OK, last one of these recipes from this fantastic book Jerusalem and it's a real winner. I normally try not to post too much cooking that isn't mostly, if not entirely, my own - but these were just the best damn meatballs I've ever had. And speaking as the Fatboy that I am, lord knows that I've had one or two meatballs in my time. This is a great dish for a dinner party, or for date night...basically you should cook this for anyone that you're trying to impress. It's delicious and it's simple, and it's full of green things that are sure to satisfy the health-conscious amongst you. Although if that is your thing you might just be on the wrong blog...
The best meatballs all have two or more different kinds of meats. The Italians love a good beef/pork combo and up until recently those loveable Swedes over in IKEA even threw a bit of horse into the mix (full disclosure, I tried the 'new' meatball recipe recently: not as good - I say bring back the horsies). This recipe actually calls for a mix of beef (about 300g) and lamb (150g), and they just work beautifully together. Combine the meat with a diced red onion, 120g breadcrumbs, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1tbsp each of cumin and baharat spice mix, 2 tsp of chopped capers and 1 beaten egg.
Throw in a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper, then mix in 2 tbsp each of chopped parsley, mint and coriander. The recipe calls for the same of dill, but dill's on a very short list of foodstuffs I despise, so not gonna go there. If you're gonna buy lots of fresh herbs and you want to make sure they keep for a while in the fridge, wrap them in damp kitchen towel and then make sure they're sealed tight in a bag or tupperware. Look how helpful I can be when I feel like it.
Form into balls that are as big or as small as you and your mouth can handle - mine were roughly the size of golf balls. Tasty, meaty golf balls. Heat olive oil in a frying pan, then sear your meatballs over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until they're brown all over.
Please would everyone just take a moment to look at the smallest spring onion I have ever seen.
And back to the meatballs. Once they've been fried off, remove them from the heat and set aside. Next turn your attention to your broad beans - a foodstuff that used to be on said list, but has since progressed onto my (much longer) list of favourite foodstuffs. A rare feat indeed. Stick 350g of broad beans - either fresh or frozen - in a pot of heavily salted, boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water then remove the skins from about half of the beans. Heat some olive oil in the same pan that you seared the meatballs in then add 4 whole thyme sprigs 6 sliced garlic cloves (LOTSA garlic up in here), and 8 sliced spring onions (world's smallest or otherwise). Add the unshelled broad beans, 1 1/2tbsp of lemon juice, 80ml chicken stock and a bit more S&P. Cover the pan and let it all simmer away on a low heat for 10 mins.
Return the meatballs to the pan, add another 420ml of stock, cover again and leave to simmer for another 30mins or so. These meatballs are so moist and juicy, they literally drink all of this herby stock. It's a real treat. Just before you're ready to serve add the remaining broad beans, 1 tbsp of lemon juice and another 1/2 tbsp of each of the herbs to freshen it all up a bit. Try and tell me it doesn't get any better than that. Now all of this writing has made me hungry. I'm off to the chippy.

Ingredients
olive oil
350g broad beans, fresh or frozen
4 sprigs of thyme
8 garlic cloves
8 spring onions
2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
500ml chicken stock
300g beef mince
150g lamb mince
1 red onion
120g breadcrumbs
2 1/2 tbsp fresh parsley
2 1/2 tbsp fresh mint
2 1/2 tbsp fresh coriander
1 tbsp baharat spice mix
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp capers
1 egg

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Tabbouleh

Have you ever come across a dish, or a combination of flavours and thought to yourself - 'if I could only eat that one thing for the rest of my life, I think I'd be OK'? For me, tabbouleh is absolutely one of those dishes. Loaded with fresh herbs and Middle Eastern spices it really does taste fantastic, and it sorta feels like it's doing you some good at the same time, so that's a bonus. Pile it high on a pita or just eat it with a fork, it's your call. Just make it - your life will be much better if you do.
This is one of those brilliant, cut-everything-small-and-mix-it-together-and-that's-all-she-wrote kinda recipes. Pure, unadulterated flavour. You love it. Two big vine tomatoes and a shallot. Dice them up.
Now tabbouleh is traditionally made with bulgar wheat, but as my girlfriend has gone gluten and wheat-free that one was off the menu. I made mine using millet grain, which tastes the same and has a very similar texture - let's just pretend it's the same thing. Either/or, cook about 50g according to the instructions on the packet and leave to cool, then mix with the tomatoes and shallots. Add a few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and give it a good old mix.
There's nothing better than a big bunch of fresh herbs, and this - my friends - is a big bunch of fresh herbs. Take about two handfuls of parsley and about half as much of fresh mint and, using a super-sharp knife, shred into tiny...shreds. Add it to your bowl and mix it up s'more.
This stuff, baharat, is great. It's an aromatic and peppery spice mix used in Middle Eastern inspired cooking (see what I did there?). Think Christmassy flavours - nutmeg and cinnamon, allspice and cloves, with a hit of chilli for good measure. I got this as a gift, but I'm willing to guess you can pick it up at any decent supermarket. Add a teaspoon of baharat and a couple teaspoons of allspice to your bowl, then bring the whole mixture together with about 100ml of good olive oil. Season with a little bit of S and a little bit of P for good measure.
And that's your tabbouleh done. Fresh, and packed full of flavour - this stuff is the bomb. And even though it more or less goes against every damn thing I stand for, it's probably pretty good for you too. Which just means you can go ahead and eat twice as much. Right? Right.

Ingredients

50g bulgar wheat/millet grain
2 vine tomatoes
1 shallot
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 handfuls fresh parsley
1 handful fresh mint
2 tsp allspice
1 tsp baharat
100ml olive oil
S&P

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Quick and simple hummus

I've been eating a lot of chickpeas lately. I guess I probably have Tunisia to thank for that, seeing as over there you'll struggle to find a starter, main, or even dessert that doesn't contain heaps of the stuff. But that's OK you know. They're delicious, they're versatile and they're kinda-good-for-you-ish. And there's no better way to enjoy them than blitzed up into a big bowl of hummus. Forget the store-bought rubbish, this is the real stuff - give it a go.
The next few posts are going to have a very noticeable theme. Last Christmas my fiancee's parents bought me this fantastic cookbook - Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi - which is full of wonderful recipes and scenes from the Middle East and, having just come back from there myself, it's safe to say I've got the itch. This book is full of the inspiration I needed to take me right back there - if only it could actually take me back to 11am beers by the side of the pool...
A tin of chickpeas. Hardly traditional but the recipe is 'quick and simple' and so that's what it's gonna be. Drain and blitz in a food processor, then add 3 heaped spoonfuls of tahini, a clove of chopped garlic, a couple of teaspoons of ground cumin and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Mix in a splash of cold water to bring it all together and mix until smooth-ish, but lumpy-ish. If you get me.
And that's it, quick and simple enough for you? Finish it off with a drop of olive oil and stir through a teaspoonful of harissa or chilli paste. Oh and I bloody love capers, so some of them as well. Serve with pitas. I'm out.

Ingredients

1 tin chickpeas
3 tbsps tahini
3 tbsps lemon juice
1 clove garlic
2 tsp cumin
water
olive oil, harissa, capers

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Jalapeno Poppers

Sunday and I, we used to not be friends. The last bastion against the dreaded return to work, Sunday used to pop its little head out shortly after midnight on Saturday and then continue to poke and prod me with its annoying little finger, a relentless reminder that the office was beckoning and my fun was coming to an end. Not anymore. Well, not for the next 20 weeks at least, not when the NFL season is in full flow. From today until the 3rd of February I live for 6pm on a Sunday night, when I can churn out some quality eats, crack open a beer or two and sit back to watch my Chicago Bears conspire to send me to an early grave. And if the Bears won't do it, these tasty morsels are sure going to try. You want cheese-stuffed peppers wrapped in bacon? I give you, jalapeno poppers.
Start with about a dozen fresh jalapeno peppers. These are usually a bit more plump than regular green chilies and have a slightly milder heat - something you might be thankful for later when you're biting into a whole one. Chop off the tops and scoop out the seeds and guts.
Anything goes with the filling, so cram it with whatever flavours you fancy. I mixed some cream cheese (full fat, anything else is a sin) with chopped spring onions and coriander, a squeeze of lime and S&P. It can be a tricky business making sure the peppers are completely filled but I found that the small end of a teaspoon worked a treat. You can have that one for free.
Because, bacon. Wrap a rasher around the top of the pepper, making sure to form a seal over the hole so that the filling doesn't melt out. Use a toothpick to secure the bacon in place, otherwise when it cooks it will shrink in size and pop right off. And then everyone laughs at you and your stupid, stupid bacon-less food.
Hot oven for about 20 minutes, job done. Thems are gonna be hot as hell so allow to cool for a couple of minutes before shoving in your mouth. And there you have it; bacon-covered, cheese-filled, spicy jalapeno poppers. Man I LOVE Sundays.

Ingredients
10-12 jalapeno peppers
10-12 rashers smoky bacon
cream cheese
spring onions
coriander
lime juice
S&P

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Fried Pickles

I'm sitting here racking my brain trying to remember who introduced me to fried pickles, because I owe them a massive thank you. Uncharted territory here in the UK, these delicious snacks are a bit of a staple at bars all over the states and I think it's high time we embraced them with open arms and mouths. Skeptical? In all fairness you probably have a right to be. But cast your doubts aside for a moment and take a chance on these beauties. And while you're making them, I'll go try and explain a deep-fried mars bar to some of my friends from across the pond...
It's a well-known fact that anyone who doesn't like pickles is awful, just totally awful. Not me, I love them, aways have. So much so that when I was a little kid a friend and I, having eaten all of the pickles in the house, decided to quench our thirsts with a big glass each of the watery brine from the jar. Or, as we figured, 'pickle juice'. (We were strange children and that was not a particularly pleasant beverage so if you have the option, I would suggest just eating pickles.)
Slice the pickles, or gherkins if you will, lengthways. Mix up a simple batter that's about 1/2 a cup (70g) of flour, a couple of teaspoons of smoked paprika and cayenne, and a dash of salt and pepper. Slowly add about 175ml of cold water, mixing until you've got a smooth, thick batter that coats the pickles evenly. Bung your pickles in the batter and give it all a good mix before shaking off the excess. Get some vegetable oil nice and hot then deep fry your pickles in batches for about 2 minutes before fishing out with a slotted spoon and draining on kitchen roll. Hot, crispy, tangy.
Pull together a nice little dipping sauce by combining a dash of milk, a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of horseradish and tomato puree, a hit of cayenne and some salt and pepper. Scatter, grab, dunk, crunch, chew, swallow, repeat. These guys are the bomb.

Ingredients
a handful of dill pickles
70g plain flour
smoked paprika
cayenne
vegetable oil
3 tbsp mayonnaise
dash milk
tsp horseradish
tsp tomato puree

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Tunisia

For me, a holiday is about three things: good weather, good people, and - most importantly - good food. Luckily Tunisia outdid itself with exemplary marks in all categories, particularly the nosh. I came back with plenty of recipes and inspiration, along with more saffron than one man can ever use in a lifetime - anyone for paella? Anyway - when everyone else was taking in the beautiful scenery, my eyes were firmly glued to the amazing food this fantastic country had to offer. Obviously.
The dates over there were incredible, so much better than the sticky, sugar-covered chaps we Brits like to gobble down at Christmas. And SO cheap! Especially considering how they're harvested...
The fish market was insane - one of the most hectic places I've ever been. And such an amazing variety of fish in all shapes and sizes being thrown about. I could have stayed there all day.
Some kind of tuna right there, fresh off the boat that morning. We did have to squeeze past the tail a little bit. Not the...erm...most hygienic place I've ever been.
How beautiful do those steaks look? I swear I was working out in my head how much ice I'd need to safely get a few of those bad boys back home via Gatwick...
Fresh mint - everywhere.
All of the spices you could ever possibly want, and then some more. This is where my haggling skills got a dry-run. He offered me two bags for 12 dinar (about £5) and I asked him if he'd take 10 - he was delighted to. Needless to say it wasn't a great first attempt, but I tried.
You cannot imagine my relief when the shopkeeper told me these were strictly for DECORATION.
Dates, dates and more dates.
Monkfish. All of the monkfish.
Fresh dates. Nice and low-hanging.
For the ones that aren't so low-hanging...this is how they pull them down. Dude had SKILLS.
Dates, fresh from the tree. Before they're left for a couple of days to steep in their own natural sugars they have a totally different texture and an almost pear-like taste. I definitely recommend.
Half lime, half lemon, all tiny.