Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Foraged Salsa Verde





This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog 
 
At the moment I am in the process of turning my back garden into more of an edible one. Although we made the sad decision to give up our plot at Norfolk Road Allotments last year, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to abandon the idea of growing our own fruit and veg for too long. As such, a cornucopia of pots, troughs and potato bags currently litters the place, full to the brim with compost and all ready to go. I have even managed to bag some old railway sleepers which will be used at some point to build a raised bed. I say at some point, I need to give my poor old back a rest first. Railway sleepers are not light.

The area to build this magnificent bed is not big but it will take up a spot where weeds seem to grow vigorously. I like to keep things a bit wild in the garden but I do need to do something about the clump of nettles that proliferate in this particular area. The Easter holiday break has brought more than its fair share of tears and pink welts after a kick-about with the football.

So I started clearing the nettles away earlier this week and whilst I was digging them up, I began to muse about the culinary aspects of these vicious plants (always thinking with my stomach me) pondering if some of the leaves could be put to good use. There was a fair amount of sticky willy that needed cutting back too and I wondered if I could eat that as well. By the way, you can stop that sniggering at the back of the class if you please. When I refer to ‘sticky willy’ I am talking of course about goosegrass, that velcro-type weed that you used to throw on your mates’ back after school.
After a quick bit of research on the Internet, it seems that you can eat goosegrass and whilst the majority of the plant is akin to chewing on a cat’s furry tongue, apparently the young tips are quite sweet and delicious. And I can confirm that because I ran some under the tap and shoved them into my gob.


With my mind fizzing, I then began to wonder if I could make some sort of foraged salsa verde using these weeds, along with some wild garlic and sorrel that I’ve also got growing in abundance. This verdant sauce (or middle-class ketchup as it is also known) goes really well with grilled meat or fish and normally uses standard herbs such as parsley, basil and mint; so to use nettles and goosegrass and whatnot, didn’t seem to be too much of a stretch of the imagination. There were also green after all.
Taking the plunge yesterday, I am pleased to announce that it works. It’s actually a lot lighter in flavour than the usual salsa verde I make, tasting more of citrus than the normal woody notes you get. It certainly went very well with the lamb steak I grilled for supper.


So if a big barbecue is on the agenda this Easter weekend this is something you definitely should try making, to serve alongside whatever is planned for the grill, sausages, chops, burgers etc.  Provided that you can get hold of the ingredients in hand (the sorrel might be tricky but the rest should be easy to find) this alternative, punchy salsa verde will certainly impress, especially when you say that it contains stinging nettles.

You might want to explain the sticky willy though.

Foraged salsa verde


The measurements for this recipe concerning the foraged leaves are fairly approximate and you may want to play with quantities, according to personal taste. There is something to be said about chopping them up though, as opposed to putting everything in the food processor. I prefer a course texture as opposed to smooth. The nettles once picked will lose their sting after a while but if you want to blanch very quickly in boiling water, that won’t do any harm. As always, try to pick away from busy areas i.e. parks and roads and wash everything thoroughly.  And if you are not 100% sure of what you are collecting, leave well alone!

ingredients
Large bunch of wild garlic leaves
Large bunch of sorrel leaves
Large bunch of nettle leaves
Handful of goosegrass tips
1tbs of capers
1tbs of cornichons
4 anchovy fillets
1tbs of Dijon mustard
2tbs of red wine vinegar
5tbs of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to season

Method

Simply chop all the leaves finely and place into a bowl, then roughly chop the capers, cornichons and anchovies and add. Mix in the Dijon, red wine vinegar and olive oil and then season to taste. A very simple, gorgeous tasting sauce.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Cracking Crackling with Lurpak Cooking Mist


When I first took receivership of a can of 'Cooking Mist' from Lurpak, I'll be honest here and say that I was slightly perplexed. After all, what is cooking mist exactly? How does one apply mist in the process of cooking? Does the can contain a dense fog or does 'mist' allude to a powerful steam? Or does it produce a nebulous vapour, a phantasmagorical fire, hazed in green, bewitching, beguiling and magical? Seriously, what the hell is cooking mist?

Well, plainly put (and I discovered this after reading the nifty little pamphlet that came with it) cooking mist is a sprayable blend of Lurpak butter and vegetable oil, apparently giving fantastic results when glazing and basting, offering a burnished gold finish to any dish. Now a simple explanation of 'sprayable butter' would have caught my imagination straight away ("Wahey darlin'! I just got me some some liquid buttah! Just think of the fun we can have with this!") but I am guessing that the marketing department was pushing more for the ethereal and mysterious so that Daphne could impress her dinner guests.

"Daphne.....Daphne, how did you get these potatoes so crisp? They are simply marvellous! What is your secret?"

"I know. They are fabulous aren't they. I've been using this farntarstic new product from Lurpak called 'Cooking Mist.' It's changed my life."

"Cooking mist Daphne? Cooking mist? Are you sure that you're not pissed Daphne?"

As you might have figured out, I am still a bit flaky with the whole branding concept for this new whizzy product but when Lurpak approached me to test it out and embark on a new #foodadventure (yes, everything must be hashtag-able these days) I was more than happy to do so. In for a penny, in for a pound and all that.

With anything like this, I do normally have a tendency to take the Flash Harry approach and a thought went through my mind to see if this cooking mist would work like mini blowtorch to bubble up the top of a creme brulee. But that would have been juvenile and immature and plus I wouldn't be setting a good example to the kids if I showed them how to makes flamethrowers with aerosols. So I began to wonder if this cooking mist could help me beat an old foe. Or rather, a simple task that I haven't quite cracked yet. That is to make a decent crackling from a joint of pork.

Straight away people are going to be up in arms about this, tutting and sighing at the admission that I have mixed success with this perfunctory skill. But there you go, I've said it. I don't aways get my crackling right. Which is a crying shame because I love crackling. My whole family loves crackling. There have been fights; big, proper, serious fights at the dinner table before over who gets the last piece of crackling. So really I should have nailed it by now but for every success, there has been a rubber offering of despair, a burnt hairy hide of pain. No succulent crunch, just pity and withering looks. Could this new fangled cooking mist help me out? 

Well I gave it a whirl last Sunday, after procurring a large joint of pork loin from the local butchers, C Johnson and Son. I wouldn't mind but I only went in for some steak but the proprietor sweet talks me everytime. After carving it in two and placing one piece in the freezer, I decided that I would keep things simple and roast the remaining hunk of pig. I then decided to stuff the thing with some wild garlic (always looking to use up the wild garlic) and then spent a good half hour re-tying the damn thing (meat tying, that's another skill I could do with mastering). With a sharp knife, I then made some incisions across the skin and rubbed in a handsome amount of salt. The joint was then left in the fridge overnight, uncovered, so that the skin could dry out some more.

At this point you might be screaming "Dan, that's all you ever have to do to get decent crackling, you numpty!" But believe me when I tell you, this tried and tested route doesn't always work. 

Sunday, roasting day, was the day that I then put the Lurpak *double-fingers* cooking mist *double-fingers* to the test and the first thing that surprised me was how fast the sprayable butter came out, so be careful with the sheets if you do try to use it in the bedroom. A liberal dose was applied and bang, into the scalding hot oven it went. I always go for the blast first and then I turn the oven down, it makes no sense to do it the other way around. Or should that be the way? If you have any tips on crackling, do let me know.

Even after half an hour, the skin looked like it was on it's way to crackling nirvana. After an hour, it seemed like the mission could almost be complete but obviously I had to let the meat cook through properly so I gave it another hefty spray of mist, just for good measure. The loin was roasted for two hours all told and when I hoisted it out, the skin gave a satisfying tap when I poked at it with my chef's knife. The crackling was a success

Is that the advertorial complete then? Does Lurpak 'Cooking Mist' guarantee you hard piggy nuggets and chewy shards of joy everytime? Well, I would have to use it again for another pork roast to pass full judgement on that one and plus I should admit that I cut the crackling off  and put it back in the oven for five more minutes at full blast (I got nervous). However, after this first foray with the magical fog, the results do look promising.

Who knows, in the not so distant future, we could all be using 'Cooking Mist' without the merest sniff of intrigue or disparagement. But for the present, I can forsee plenty of cocked heads as people stare at Lurpak's new cooking range on the shelves. Which incidently includes clarified butter, butter especially blended for baking and 'cooking liquid'. No not water, stock or wine. Cooking liquid. I am sure we will soon get over ourselves though. 

And then the real food adventures can begin.

Wild garlic and pork stuffed with wild garlic (before tying, of course)

Tied, sprayed, crackling on its way

Boootiful............whoops, wrong animal
Gratuitous crackling shot

Curled cracking, with pork, bubble and squeak, leeks and carrots

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Teenage kicks against Chicken Kiev (with a wild garlic recipe on the side)


 


This post first appeared on Great British Chefs blog

Chicken Kiev used to the bane of my existence.  Now, you might wonder what this humble family favourite has ever done to have such an emotive and overwrought statement heaped upon it. Listen though when I tell you that once upon a time, the merest mention of Chicken Kiev meant nothing but the prospect of heartbreak and loneliness; of long walks home and of tears in the rain with the words of Morrissey echoing through my head. For a short period, I had nothing but hatred for Chicken Kiev; such was the impact it used to have on my life. It was that bad.

The problem with Chicken Kiev began when I was in my late teens, still living at home and still in the cosy cusp of my Mother’s bosom. Brit-pop was at its heady height and thanks to the whispy hair that was growing on my top lip; I started to venture into local indie pubs and clubs with my friends. I was lucky because my parents pretty much gave me free rein in those days and knowing I suppose that part of that youthful journey consisted of sinking pints and pints of industrial strength cider, my Mum always made sure that I went out on a full stomach.

So there I would be, on the dance floor, dancing like a robot from 1984, thinking that the raven-haired beauty dancing in front of me might, just might be interested in holding hands and quite possibly a snog later on, when bam it would happen:

“BURP!”

And she would then grimace and off she would trot, out of my life forever.

As time went on, this began to happen more and more. The dancing became more desperate. The preening and strutting like Mick Jagger and the flailing of arms and thrashing of hair always looked like it was going to work. But then from the depths, a resounding gust of wind would always, always ruin my chances.

After a while and after bemoaning to a mate that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get a girlfriend, he took me to one side and said that I had to give up eating “all that frigging garlic.” Then the penny dropped. My Mum would always, nearly always serve up Chicken Kiev before I went out. Whether this was some sort of maternal instinct, a vaunted attempt to prevent her eldest bird from fleeing the nest, I do not know. But from there on, the battle became fierce and the arguments grew.

“Mum, why are you giving me this bloody Chicken Kiev again? You are killing me out there!”

“You eat that my boy or you are NOT going out tonight!”

And so on it went.  A terrible roundabout of capitulating at the dinner table and then heading to Romford to burp in the faces of prospective girlfriends. It really was a depressing time.

Eventually my Mum conceded. Despite her all her care and attention in preparing this dish, the bashing out of chicken breast under cling film, the slathering of garlic and parsley butter and gentle egging and breading, she could see that I was unhappy. I’ll never forget the day when I came home from Sixth Form College and headed straight upstairs for a shower. My Mum poked her head out of the kitchen and asked if I was going out that night. I said I was. She then winked and then said “Well, you’ll be glad to hear that Chicken Kiev isn’t on the menu tonight.”

I was so overjoyed I ended up using a whole bottle of Lynx shower gel.

When I got back downstairs and sat at the table, all deodorised and resplendent in army surplus, I began to wonder if that night, down the sweaty pit once known at The Cellar Bar, was to be my night. My Mum then plonked a plate down in front of me and true to her word; she had left the Chicken Kiev well alone.

However, in her infinite wisdom, she had decided to serve up chilli con carne instead.

It took me ages to find a girlfriend.

Wild Garlic Chicken Kiev - serves 4

OK, so I don’t really hate chicken Kiev with that much of a passion. The aforementioned story was born out of a time when I was sure that my Mum was trying to spur my chances for romance but the damage didn’t last long. And to be fair, to fall out of love with a breaded chicken cutlet that bursts with molten, pungent butter would be a very hard thing to do. I have never actually made Chicken Kiev by hand before so I had a crack at the weekend using everyone’s favourite foraged ingredient of the moment, wild garlic. Using some tips from this recipe on Great British Chefs and this video from Chicken Kiev supremo Jesse Dunford Wood, the whole process was surprisingly easy.


So if you can get your hands on some wild garlic (you have about 2 weeks left) do try and give this recipe a go. A word of warning though, wild garlic is no less strong than ordinary garlic so share this dish with well-established loved ones and not possible partners.

Ingredients

4 boneless chicken breasts
100gms unsalted butter
Large handful of wild garlic leaves, washed
Salt and pepper, to season
150gms Panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs
100gms plain flour
Sunflower oil, for deep frying

Method

First of all, leave the butter out so it comes up to room temperature and a place into a bowl. Finely chop the wild garlic and add to the butter and mash together well with a fork and season with salt and pepper. Lay a sheet of cling film on the counter and spoon the butter at one end of the sheet. Roll and wrap the butter, forming into a sausage shape as you go and twist the excess cling film at both ends. Chill the garlic butter in the freezer for an hour.


Next you need to flatten your chicken breasts so take two sheets of cling film and lay the breast meat in between. Bash out into a thin and even escalope with a meat hammer or rolling pin into as much of a circular shape as possible. If you have any odd bits sticking out, cut them off with a knife. Repeat with each chicken breast.


Then take your butter and cut it into four rounds (25gms). Place the chicken escalope onto a fresh piece of cling film and then put the garlic butter in the centre. Gather up the corners of the cling film and shape the chicken around the butter so that it forms and shapes into a ball, then twist and seal the excess cling film. Place into a freezer for about an hour as this will help firm them up for the breading stage.



When ready, take your pane ingredients and place into separate bowls, whisking the eggs together. Unwrap each chicken ball and first coat evenly in flour, then in egg and then in the breadcrumbs. Repeating again with the egg wash and then breadcrumbs to ensure the chicken is sealed. A top tip when doing this is to use your left hand to coat in flour and egg and your right hand to breadcrumb (I still get messy doing this though).



Leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.

Using a deep fryer or stockpot, heat the oil to 180C and also switch your oven on, heating to 180C.

Carefully lower the chicken kievs into the hot oil and fry for about 4-5 minutes, until golden brown all over, then place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and cook for a further 15 minutes. It would be safe at this point to use a temperature probe to check that the internal temperature is at least 63C. If you don’t have one, resort to the skewer trick but sticking it in for a minute and then place on your lips. If it burns, it’s cooked!


Serve with accompaniments of your choice (I went with fondant potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli) and marvel when you cut into your Kiev and watch all that gooey, garlicky butter spill out.


Friday, 28 March 2014

Cider Drought Scaremongery


You know the feeling you get when someone breaks some really bad news to you and the way your head spins and the floor sort of opens up and swallows you and you collapse into a quivering heap of streaming snot and tears? Well, I had that sort of feeling yesterday, when I read in the papers that my beloved and booming cider industry is in disarray and currently faces an uncertain future. 

After a very long and very wet winter, quite possibly the wettest winter in human memory, by all accounts England's glorious apple orchards are currently in peril and currently still underwater. Plainly put because the winter has been so very wet, the wettest since Noah and his gang built the ark, there are still flood waters flooding the land and the trees are dying due to 'over-wetness'. Ironic really, when you consider that without water, the trees would also die.

But I digress and steer away from the heart of the matter. Which of course is the fact that this summer, currently looking like it could be the hottest on record if some long range forecasts are to be believed, it seems like we might have a cider shortage.

OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!! *screams and jumps through a window*

To say this is devastating is an understatement. You probably don't know this but I was raised on cider. Apparently it was the only thing that would get me sleep when I was a wee bairn. This cider consumption continued through into my formative years and led me on many a merry chase through country parks and council estates, escaping the clutches of the law. I have missed whole weekends at Glastonbury before, simply because I found the Cider bus and never left its side and I have quaffed more than my fill of Aspalls, sat on pub benches in Norfolk in the sunshine. Waking up delirious with sunstroke and a thumping head has never deterred me from the mystical delights of cider and I have never, ever met unhappy cider producer, who also didn't look like an extra from Lord of the Rings. 

In short, I love cider and the headlines yesterday made me a very unhappy bunny indeed and so I wailed and hollered like a banshee all over Twitter.

Then the folks who run social meeja for the Somerset Cheese, Cider and Moozic Fest wafted this link (from the Bridgwater Mercury) under my nose like a dose of Epsom salts. It seems that Julian Temperley, he of the Somerset Cider Company, did talk ruefully to the media and say that yes, the weather has had an impact on orchards across the land, with some trees suffering damage. But he did go on to say that "We are not talking a game-changing amount and to say there is going to be a drought is undoubtedly alarmist."

Well, thank Jiminy Cricket for that! I really can't tell what a relief it was when I heard that he'd said that too.

Phew.....

But we do need to get to the crux of the matter here, insofar that the nationals and mainstream media really should be taken to account and rapped over the wrist for releasing alarmist, headline grabbing stories such as these. Every single one left out that last quote! A little bit naughty if you ask me. It might drive demand and sales but in the long term, it is not always good for the industry. Especially if this sort of scaremongering sets off panic buying, with people frantically piling into shops. To buy as much cider they can get their hands on. This precious, life-enhancing, knee bending loopy juice . 

For instance, I saw one little old lady get pushed in the face in Tescos this morning as some burly, tattooed oaf whizzed past her; his trolley chock full of cases of Magners. It was a terrible scene and she dropped and smashed her bottle of Stone's Ginger Wine and everything.

Is this the sort of reaction, the sort of behaviour that the Daily Mail wants to provoke? To encourage stockpiling? To drive cider prices up? Do they want a new, insidious, cider-based black market to bloom? Do we want a real shortage on our hands?

No, we don't. And therefore this sort of madness must stop. Right now. Before it starts raining again.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wild Garlic Focaccia with Maldon Sea Salt

Mama mia, you stink
If vampires exist (and you never know, maybe they really do) I think I can safely say that there is no way that any hissing blood suckers are going to want to sink their fangs into my lily-white neck any time soon. Because at the weekend, I ate so much garlic. So. Much. Garlic. So much so that liquid allium still seems to be pouring out of my pores two days later. As I walk around the house, vapour trails follow me about the place and atop my shiny head a heat haze roars, wavering and shimmying the atoms of the air like a veritable jet engine. I pity the poor guy who was parked next to me on the train yesterday morning. He sat down, flinched and then blinked, and then he turned to look at me. Then within seconds his eyebrows fell off his face and his nostril hair combusted, leaving two small puffs of smoke hanging about the carriage. Yes, I fear the stench was that strong.

But no matter, I am in isolation today and I don't think I am going to be a danger to the public for much longer because the odour has got to fade at some point and besides, who cares anyway. We all know garlic is good for you and good for the heart. I am simply looking after number one so don't hold the fact that I smell like Frenchman's armpit against me.

Maybe I am just being paranoid. But the reason for this latest episode of gorging and self-fumigation comes down to the fact that once again, the garden is teeming with the wild stuff. Ramson, buckrams, beer leek or in other words wild, wild garlic. Every spring it arrives and every spring I tear into it, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, thrashing at the leaves with a blade to eat. Or digging up whole plants with a fork to give away*. And every year it returns, more abundant than ever. 

Pungent
If that sounds like a downside, I don't mean it to be. The wild garlic actually looks very pretty when it pops up around our cherry tree and when the white star shaped flowers rise up and unfold, there is nowt I like better than to tip toe around the foliage like an overgrown fairy, full of the joys of renewal and rejuvenation. But I do worry that one year that I am going to look out and see my entire garden smothered with rampant ramps though.

Every spring, the mission then is to try and think of different ways to use it. So this weekend I made focaccia and topped it with shredded wild garlic. Simples. I also had a crack at a recipe from Jason Atherton's 'Gourmet Food for a Fiver', namely his confit chicken legs with a chorizo and bean stew that uses craploads of regular garlic. For this post I am going to just give the recipe for the bread (cos it's easy) but I highly recommend you sneaking out to buy Mr Atherton's book, if only for the confit recipe. Unless you are a big fan of Chicken Cottage, it can be hard to get excited about chook legs but after the ol' preserving and slow-cook-in-oil treatment, they become transformed. The meat was so delicious, it could almost be a contender to knock duck of its perch. But only almost.

Aiding and abetting both these dishes throughout was the use and addition of Maldon Sea Salt, which of course brings us to the money shot. Having been sent some of this fine product, filtered and gently coaxed from the shores of our glorious Essex coast, I am only too happy to submit a recipe as part of their 'Flavours of Spring' campaign. Despite being a massive county, there is not too much to shout about regarding food produce. Certainly we have our fantastic oysters. We also have some very good meat in the area and we have some fine flour from Marriages. And of course we have our 'leeks', as once suggested in an Essex special of Market Kitchen. Oh yes, Essex leeks are world renowned I'll have you know (I'll also have you know that I burst out laughing when this suggestion was made). But if there is one pillar that Essex can most definitely stand on, it is the pillar of salt from Maldon. 

Boomtish-ahthankyouverymuch.

So without further ado, here is my recipe for wild garlic focaccia with Maldon Sea Salt. My flavour of spring that will make you sing like a returning swallow and honk like a Canada goose.

*And if you would like some wild garlic from my garden, please do drop me a line 

Wild Garlic Focaccia

600g strong bread flour
450ml lukewarm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp Maldon Sea Salt (plus extra for sprinkling)
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Small bunch of wild garlic leaves

Method

Take a bowl and mix together the flour and the salt and then add the water, yeast and 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix altogether and form into a rough ball, using a scraper or plastic fish slice to incorporate all the fiddly bits left stuck on the bowl.

Place the rough ball on a lightly floured surface and knead it to buggery. Pulling and pushing and folding and stretching for about 10 minutes or until you get a good sweat on. When the dough is worked enough, it should feel smooth and pliable. When ready, form into a neat ball and pour a generous drizzle into the bowl you used for mixing. Place the dough topside down into the olive and turn and coat all over. Put a tea towel over the bowl and leave in a warm space for an hour, or until the dough has doubled.

Take a roasting tin or ceramic rectangular baking dish and lift the dough in and gently press down with your finger tips, shaping the dough as you go into a rough rectangle/oval shape. Sprinkle over the wild garlic and again gently press it down gently into the dough and then add a good drizzle of olive oil.

Cover and leave to rise again in a warm space for about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 220C. When the dough is ready, again gently press your finger tips in to create little divets and finally sprinkle some Maldon Sea Salt over the top and place into the oven to bake for roughly 20 minutes, or until it is golden all over.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. Just before serving, drizzle some more olive oil over and slice generously.

Green drizzle
Essex Salt, innit
Glorious chicken leg
Wonderful, cakey bread

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Bangers and Mash - Beano Style


When it comes to certain days of the week, Rebecca Black pretty much nails it when she warbles in that annoying, auto-tune assisted voice of hers that Friday is all about "fun, fun, fun." It really is. I know some naysayers will disagree, arguing that Thursday is where it's at. However, as far as I am concerned, the last day of the working week is and always has been the best day for celebration. Sure in the past, merry high jinks have gone well and truly off the rails or down the railway track rather. Catching the vomit comet (otherwise known as the last train home to Essex) and waking up in sleepy Shoeburyness, with not much more than 50p in your back pocket isn't much fun. It is soon forgotten though and by the time Friday rolls around again, you are normally back on your feet and ready to go. Because well, it's Friday.

Thankfully, those Fridays drenched in booze are now well and truly behind me, especially now that I am father. But I still like to instil a sense of joy into proceedings and I like to think that it's rubbed off onto my kids. They are definitely a lot more perkier when they wake up on Friday mornings before school because a) it normally means 'movie night' and going to bed later. And b) they get free rein on what they would like to eat for dinner. As parents, we try not to be food Nazi's but we also try to make sure that eat fairly healthy. On Fridays though, they can have whatever they like. Burgers, pizza, fish and chips, all the kind of stuff that doesn't really hurt has long as it comes in moderation and when I dropped the twins off at the playground yesterday morning, the request was put in for some life-affirming bangers and mash.

With that in mind, I then began to think how I could jazz things up and thought about how bangers and mash always appeared in the Beano, a much loved comic from my yoof. For the likes of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids, sausage and agitated potato was pretty much the staple. Ordered in cafés or posh restaurants and paid for with ten pound notes that simply had '£10' written on them, the mash would always come piled high and always with a multitude of sossidges sticking out at jaunty angles. So I decided that's how it was going to come.

The idea then took a twist when I announced on Twitter what I was up to and Lynne Clark asked whether I was going to put a big dent in the middle of the mash mountain and fill it up with tomato ketchup to turn it into a volcano. This was inspired and so I ran with it and with the addition of some Heinz five beanz to create a moat of bubbling lava, I came up with this fantastic creation.

Of course, this isn't turning out to be a recipe post as such. It's more of a slightly boastful "Hey! Look what I made last night!" sort of blog but it was great fun to make and even better, it was great to see the look on the twin's faces when they wandered into the kitchen to eat. Digging in altogether from one platter was brilliant, as were the stories made up about how this volcano came into existence. The kidney beans were apparently soldiers sent to guard and keep an eye on the volcano but sadly they soon perished after falling into the fiery hell of the tomato sauce. Sausages were in fact spaceships and were fired out of their docks with the assistance of forks into gleeful mouths. And the tunnels left behind in mash mountain? Well, moles live in there I'll have you know. Fire moles, that breathe... fire. By all accounts.

And there you have it. A fun and creative way to spend a Friday night with the children. Grab the sentimental bucket after reading this and purge if you like but don't deny that food really can be joyous at times. I think we all need to be reminded of that once in a while.

So, try giving this whirl at home and watch the smiles at the table unfold. Regardless the age of the faces that frame them.




Friday, 14 March 2014

Black Pudding Croquettes and Baileys Chocolate Cheesecake

 

A-fiddly diddly diddly dee fiddly fiddly dee dee
Diddly fiddly fiddly diddly fiddly diddly dee HEY!

Hold on to your hats folks because just around the corner is that grandest of celebrations - St Patrick's Day!

A-fiddly diddly diddly dee fiddly fiddly dee dee
Diddly fiddly fiddly diddly fiddly diddly dee HO!

And I really should have got around to this sooner, writing up this blog post about all the Irish goodies you can find in the new Irish shop section on Ocado but I've been so busy you see, already getting stuck into the craic...

Sad to say, I must be on me way!
So buy me beer and whiskey cos I'm going far away...

That I've missed the fecking deadline for this fecking competition organised by the fecking Bord Bia....

Far away!

Shame really, as I would have loved the chance to win a trip to Ireland, it's been a while since I visited the motherland.....

On the fourth of July eighteen hundred and six
We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork......

Oh yeah, I got some Oirish blood in me somewhere, can trace some of the family back to Limerick.......

We had five million hogs, we had six million dogs,
Seven million barrels of porter.....

Or Lilliput, as I once called it in a bar in Dublin.......

In the hold of the Irish Rovaaaah.......feck I dropped me drink.........

But no matter, I still managed to conjure up quite a feast for my family the other day using some produce from the shop....

Guinness please......cheers......top of the morning to ya!

Some mussels from Carrs and sons......

Gobshite?

Some lovely bacon and black pudding from Clonakilty......

A-diddly diddly diddly dee fiddly fiddly...........Brian O'Driscoll! What a man, d'ya see that wink?.........

And a bottle of Baileys.....

Bejaysus, did you see The Walshes on BBC4 last night? What a pile of shite!......

Admittedly, I wasn't too convinced about authenticity of this new Irish shop because to be frank, there was feck all to chose from really........

I met my love by the gas works wall..........WHISKEY?...........

I mean c'mon, Jacobs Cream Crackers and Club biscuits are hardly synonymous with Ireland's rich culinary heritage are they......

DIRTY OL' TOOOOOWN......ah DIRTYOLTOOOOOOOWN.............

But what do I know, I'm just a plastic paddy............

A-diddly diddly diddly diddly diddly.......GIRLS! DRINK?........

So, for what it's worth, my celebratory St Patrick's Day Menu consisted of.......

 Mussels in white wine topped with bacon and parsley

 Confit of pork belly with black pudding croquettes, apple and celeriac veloute and pea shoots (because I thought they looked like shamrocks)

And a Baileys chocolate cheesecake with crushed (fruit) Club biscuit base

It was a fecking handsome meal and I would be delighted to share two of the recipes with you, namely the black pudding croquettes and the cheesecake......

Ah seo dhibh a cháirde..........ah duan......um........aah........ah feck it

All that remains for me now then is to say enjoy St Patrick's Day, wherever you are and take with you this pearl of wisdom once offered up to me by a dear old Irish relative of mine, who once cornered me in the pub and told me in a very serious yet very unsteady manner that I "should never, never, never...ever...................be afraid of the dark."

Sláinte

Black Pudding Croquettes - serves 8

Ingredients

200gms Clonakilty Black Pudding, roughly chopped

600gms mashed potato

1 onion, fine chopped

Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

125gms breadcrumbs

Vegetable oil, for deep frying

Method

First, fry off the onion in a pan on the hob over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent. Take off heat and leave to cool. When cool place the onion in a bowl along with the black pudding, potato and parsley and mix thoroughly.

Using a clean surface, roll out the mixture into lengths so that it resembles a long plump sausage (you may have to make several sausages) and cut into barrels about 5-7 cms long. Then take two bowls, using one for your egg wash and one for the breadcrumbs. Dip and rinse each croquette into the egg and then coat with the breadcrumbs and place on a tray 

Top tip - use your left hand for the egg and your right for the breadcrumbs. Might sure never the twain shall meet and you should come away relatively clean and tidy.

When ready to cook, heat the vegetable oil in a deep pan or fryer to 180C and fry the croquettes in batches for about 2-3 minutes at a time. Drain on kitchen towel and keep warm. Serve individually as canapes or with a nice roast dinner. You can be free and easy with these croquettes.

Baileys chocolate cheesecake with crushed (fruit) Club biscuit base - serves 8

Ingredients
250gms Club Fruit biscuits (about 8 bars)

500gms cream cheese

250gms double cream

100gm icing sugar

50mls Baileys

100gms grated dark chocolate

Method

Break up the Club biscuits and place in a food processor and briefly blend for about 30 seconds. Then place the biscuit and chocolate crumbs into a saucepan and gently melt over a low heat. Remove and pour the mixture into a loose bottomed round tin, the bottom lined with greaseproof paper. Smooth over with a palatte knife and place in the fridge for at least an hour to set.

Next prepare the filling by lightly whipping the cream cheese in a bowl, adding the sugar and Baileys into the mix. In a separate bowl, whip the double cream and then gently fold it into the cheese and then spoon the filling onto the biscuit base, again smoothing the surface all over with a palatte knife. 

Place back into the fridge and leave for about 2 hours set. Before you pop it out of the tin, sprinkle the grated chocolate all over the top. 

Serve without any extra cream or anything like as this dessert is quite rich and sweet but very nice indeed.