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Monday, 10 October 2011

The future of the Appetite...

So you might have noticed that there’s been a change in tone to the blog recently, “what blog” you say “you never post”.

Well, that’s true I suppose, work, kids and general life do get in the way of blogging as frequently as I’d like, and general food adventuring takes time too, but hey ho.

No, what I mean is I’ve decided to move away from reviewing restaurants, I found it invited me to look for negatives and to be frank, that’s not what I’m interested in. I write this because I love food, all aspects of it from the production (keep your eyes open for #ProjectAwesome – coming soon) to cooking, learning new methods and techniques and eating. I want this to be a celebration and didn’t like the person reviewing was making me.

So, onwards and upwards – the future holds some interesting things for the blog and I, there’s going to be a range of Masterclasses with some pretty cool cooks and chefs, a rolling feature on foodie heroes who’re “Living the Dream” and as usual, my itinerant ramblings, rantings and recipes.
Who knows, I might even learn how to post photos and make this thing look pretty.

Veal Marsala

I love veal, it’s a beautiful meat and I think we have a moral obligation to use it – calves are a by-product of the milk industry; cows need to be pregnant once a year to produce milk, the resulting female calves are raised for milk production and the males... well, they don’t have such a good time. I’d much rather they were ethically raised and given a good life before joining the food chain.

You hear that milk-drinking vegetarians? You’re responsible for the deaths of lots of baby cows, the least you could do is eat them.

·         Veal escallopes – 200g/minimum 1cm thick, 1 per person
·         Unsalted butter
·         Rapeseed oil
·         1 large shallot, chopped
·         Sliced mushrooms, about 100g
·         1 large, firm fleshed tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
·         250ml chicken stock
·         150 ml Marsala
·         Double cream/Creme Fraiche (optional)

Season the veal escalopes with salt on both sides. Heat rapeseed oil in a heavy based pan. Quickly sauté the veal on both sides, rest in a 50 degree oven while preparing the sauce.
Drain oil and bring the pan back up to a medium temperature and add the butter and a little splash of oil (to stop the butter burning). Add shallots and mushrooms and sauté for 2- 3 minutes until softened. Add a good glug of Marsala to deglaze the pan and reduce ‘till almost dry, then add the stock and add a splash of Marsala, reduce.

To finish the sauce add the tomato dice and tarragon (and cream or creme fraiche if using), adjust seasoning. Return the veal back to the pan and spoon the sauce over the top to warm.
I’d serve this with sautéed potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes and steamed green beans.

Baked Pineapple Cream with Mandarin Ice

This is an awesome dessert, adapted from “Dessert” by David Everitt-Matthias – it’s an amazing book, especially for those (like me) who’re not natural pastry chefs..

·         300g  pineapple pulp (trim a pineapple and blitz it in a food processor)
·         1 bunch lemon thyme
·         325g double cream
·         2 whole eggs
·         3 egg yolks
·         300g caster sugar
·         300ml Mandarin (or good orange) juice (with bits)
·         1 red chilli (medium heat)
·         40ml liquid glucose
·         200ml water
·         ½ gelatine leaf
·         1 ripe pineapple
·         Pecan nuts
·         Neutral oil

Pineapple Cream
Put pineapple pulp and lemon thyme in a saucepan and boil ‘till reduced by a third to a half, add 250ml cream and take off the boil, meanwhile mix the egg and sugar ‘till it combines , then pour the cooled pineapple cream mix through the sieve, whisk all the time.

Oil 5cm presentation rings and cover one end with clingfilm then foil and hold with an elastic band, place on a folded j-cloth in the deep pan and fill with the mixture; fill up half way with hot water and bake in a 120 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Chill until needed.
Mandarin Ice

Place the mandarin juice, water, glucose, 75ml double cream, 120g sugar and chopped chilli (to taste) in a pan, boil and remove from the heat.
While waiting for the mixture to boil, bloom the gelatine in cold water, add to the (now boiled) ice mixture and mix.

Place in an ice-cream machine and churn until set.
Pineapple tranche

Cut a tranche of the ripe pineapple, heat the griddle pan and char on both sides, reserve and keep warm.
To Assemble Dish

Unmold the cream, if you want, sprinkle with more caster sugar and brulee with the blowtorch.
Place the tranche of pineapple on a diagonal from 7o’clock to 1 o’clock, place the pineapple cream on the top left and a quenelle of the mandarin/chilli ice in the bottom right.

If you have the time or inclination then add some caster sugar to just a little water and melt to a caramel, chop some pecans and place in the caramel, mix and pour onto a silpat and sprinkle with salt. Break up and serve a piece of candied, salted pecan brittle artfully on the plate somewhere.

Easy Confit Salmon

This is great because it looks (and sounds) impressive but in fact it’s really easy..

  • Salmon steaks
  • Pre-cooked cannellini beans (1 tin per 2 people)
  • Garlic
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Oilve oil (or oil and unsalted butter)
  • Unsalted cutter
Roast the tomatoes in a 180 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Start by seasoning the salmon then leave to the side for 10 minutes. Then, in a deep sided pan heat olive oil (or a mix of butter and olive oil), a couple of smashed cloves of garlic (and a sprig of thyme if you have any) gently to 50 degrees (use a digital probe for best results, they're cheap and really usefull), place the salmon in and keep at that temperature for 15 minutes.

Drain and rinse the cannellini beans, place in a pan with a little olive oil, a little butter and some sliced garlic, warm through (the beans are already cooked) and puree with a blender (or mash or put through a potato ricer) and adjust for taste and consistency with salt, lemon juice and olive oil.

Drain the salmon onto some kitchen paper, place a mound of the cannellini puree on the centre of a warm plate and top with the salmon and place the roasted tomatoes around the plate. Top the salmon with some crispy leeks if you want to posh it up.

Note - normally I'm a big fan of rapeseed oil but for this recipe you really need the fruity nature of the olive oil rather than the brassic note of the rapeseed.

North African Monkfish

This isn’t very authentic but it tastes great – it uses a few spice blends that are easy to track down on the internet and are great because they add so much to fish and other things.

·         Monkfish tail – about 200g per person
·         Easy cook cous-cous
·         Veg of your choice (see method)
·         Sultanas
·         Za’atar spice blend (I like Steenbergs)
·         Ras al Hanout spice blend

Sprinkle the monkfish with salt and za’atar, roll tightly in clingfilm (into a sausage shape) and set aside for half a hour.
Mix the sultanas and Ras al Hanout with the cous-cous and make according to instructions (use a chicken or a veg stock cube instead of just water) , once cooked strain and stir a small knob of butter and the veg through it.
The veg is really up to your own preference but carrot, peas, spring onion, courgette, green beans, corn, pomegranate seeds, preserved lemon all work, cut them into bite-sized pieces and cook as appropriate.
Heat oil in a pan over a medium-high heat and then sear the monkfish on all sides to give a nice golden crust and then put it into a 180 degree oven for 8 minutes before serving with the jewelled cous-cous.

If you want to posh this up for a dinner party, take the sultanas out of the cous-cous and rehydrate them in a little veg stock and puree, add some harissa paste (to taste) and puree again into a nice, spicy sauce.

A fishy diversion..

The best fish is simple fish, all you need to do to make it nice is take some fresh fish, dry the skin and then cook it a little. Ratatouille is an amazing accompaniment to lots of things and kids love it, make it in big batches and keep tubs as a standby in the freezer.

·         8 small (or 4 large) fillets of white fish – Sea Bream, Red Mullet, whatever you want – just make 
        sure it’s fresh, ask the fishmonger to pin bone the fish.
·         1 Aubergine
·         1 Onion
·         2 Courgettes
·         1 tin of chopped tomatoes
·         2 bell peppers
·         Garlic
·         Oregano
·         Chilli (fresh or powdered, optional)

First, make the ratatouille, chop the onion and soften in oil then add chopped courgette and cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, add chopped aubergine and sliced peppers and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, some sliced garlic and a pinch of oregano, season with salt and pepper and simmer for half an hour.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Check the fish for bones and remove with tweezers if necessary, score the skin a few times with a diagonal cut (this helps stop the skin from contracting too much in the pan), salt the skin side only liberally and place skin side down on kitchen towel or a clean Jcloth for half an hour – this dries the skin making it crispier and allows the fish to come to room temperature before cooking.
Heat some oil in a non-stick pan over a medium high heat and place the fish in skin side down, cook for about three minutes or until crispy, then turn the fillet over for no more than 40 seconds. A good rule is cook on the skin side for 80% of the time.
Place a mound of the ratatouille on a warm plate and put the fish on top (skin side up or that lovely crispy skin will soften) and serve to some lucky people. If you want to posh this up for a dinner party then drizzle some tapenade* around the plate.
* blitz 100g black olives, some fresh thyme leaves, 150ml olive oil, 1 small garlic clove and 1 anchovy into a loose tapenade dressing.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Fancy a laugh?

This is not really my idea. It’s not even original to be honest, but I’d like to think that doesn’t matter.

Inspired by the exploits of Meemalee, FoodUrchin and the others who competed in the Barbecoa Brawnoff we’ve decided to rip it off run our own Edinburgh based version; with the help of Mark Greenaway we have  a venue and also a judge and there’s talk of roping in support from some suppliers so possibly even a prize or two.
  • So what is it? A cooking competition for foodies/Bloggers
  • When is it? Still to be decided
  • What will we be cooking? Mark will set the challenge, personally I hope it’ll be something like a Béarnaise as I need to prove to BakersBunny that my ‘naise is the best thing this side of Emmanuel Béart.  
To get the ball rolling, please let me know if you’re interested in taking part and we’ll take things from there...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Stocking Up

Following my earlier post on white chicken stock, I wanted to look at evolving this basic stock into something more interesting. I tend to freeze all bones left over from roasts to use (make sure you mark them well or you’ll end up with mystery bones in the freezer) but most butchers will happily give you bones for free as they get charged for disposal themselves – do call ahead to “order” your bones though as they normally get sent off before the weekend. And please, don't use "mixed" bones - what's the point of going to this effort only to confuse the flavours.

This method works for all meat stocks.

  • Minimum 1Kg of beef/lamb/chicken/etc. bones
  • 1 large onion or leek
  • 2 large carrots
  • White chicken stock (to cover the bones so no fixed volume)

If the bones haven’t been roasted (from Sunday Roasts for example), then toss them in a little oil and roast at 180 degrees for 40 minutes or so.
Take these bones and place in a large pot and bring to the boil, allow to sit at a rolling boil for 7 to 10 minutes and then strain into a colander. Rinse the bones to clean them of any impurities and clean the pot too.

Peel and chop the carrot and onion/leek into fine dice (the more surface area you expose, the better the flavour transfer)  and put in the now clean pot, add the cleaned bones and then cover with the white chicken stock (I like to cover the bones by a good two inches)  and then slowly raise the temperature to a very gentle simmer and leave for a minimum of 6 hours (but as long as you can).
When done, strain through a muslin lined chinois or sieve and there you have your stock, from here you can reduce for flavour as required.

Monday, 6 June 2011

All because of Lemon-Thyme Ice-Cream...

“Everyone here’s lovely, except Gareth – we love Gareth but he’s a .....”

Brilliant, I think, ‘Gareth’s a ....’ – That’ll be the title of the post (whenever I get round to writing it up).

Except it’s not the title (that’s explained below), because he’s not. Not really, but someone’s got to get the stick I suppose.

But to begin at the beginning, I was invited into the kitchens of Mark Greenaway at the Hawke & Hunter for a Saturday night service to see just what it was like in a real kitchen; I couldn’t wait, though I had no idea what I was walking into – would I actually get to cook or get stuck watching at the pass? Would I get on alright or would the serious cooks get annoyed by the intrusion of a tubby bloke who’s out of his depth?

I asked Twitter what I could expect, “keep the fridge doors clean”, “bring marigolds” and “ask him about the cheese” were the most helpful replies. Thanks guys.

Which all meant that I was walking in blind to Mark’s kitchen, the first thing that hit me was the heat – easily 35 degrees, the second was “no wonder pro kitchens can rest meats for 10 minutes without them getting cold, their kitchens are BOILING everywhere.

I was introduced to the team, Ian, James, Paul and Gino D’Acampo (not the real one but let’s run with it for kitchen in-joke reasons) as well as the service team which included Gareth; Mark showed me his new kitchen and the pieces of kit he’d replaced since taking over the kitchen (nb, if my wife’s reading this a Waterbath and then a Thermomix would be ideal presents come Father’s Day and Christmas) and introduced me to Ian who was on Larder and James on Pastry who I’d be helping, just like a demi-comis or something.
And then service started, I was plating the confit duck with beetroot carpaccio, hot orange jelly and raspberry dressing as well as sending some amuses of pea espuma dressed with truffle oil and mint; the amuses were easy, Isi gun and a steady hand was all it took, the duck however was a nightmare. It needed four identical globes of raspberry dressing in each corner of a square plate and a straight line extending from each one along the edge before beginning to plate the rest of the dish, Mark is exacting and nothing beyond perfection left the kitchen, it took me on average 7 plates to get the lines straight and consistent enough to satisfy him; the upside of this was a few extra pieces of duck which were otherwise going to waste. Well, I hadn’t eaten that night, don’t judge me (seriously, it was lovely, you’d have done the same).

As time went by, I was struck by how relaxed it all was, there was no shouting (except at Gareth and he does invite it) or stress and before I knew it we’d pushed our way through all bookings plus a good number of walk-ins with what seemed like little effort; proof that if you get the Mise en Place right, everything else follows, in this case for North of 60 covers.

And so to Pastry where I was plating a few deconstructed Eton Mess’s (great dish by the way) with James who was of a similar age to me and had not long started in kitchens following a career as a nurse, that got me thinking...

Looking back, I had a great time with some top blokes (even Gareth) and I stood the heat but did I do any cooking? Well, no. Mark needs to protect his reputation (7 plates, remember) and also the work goes on throughout the day so that when we come to service the foreplay’s been done and it’s just moneyshots all round.

So, will I go back again? Yes, if they’ll have me – though next time I want to do some of the heavy prep too, try my knife skills alongside the pros and really get to play with the stocks and sauces, geek that I am.

As for the title of this post, that was how this adventure came about; Jacqueline O’Donnell of The Sisters and I were talking about Lemon Thyme Ice-cream for a dinner party (it goes really well with roasted pineapple) and she suggested I try my hand in a real environment and volunteered Mark; and I’d like to thank them both for that because, for a food geek like me, it was an amazing experience.

Incidentally, you might wonder why I’ve not reviewed the restaurant – basically Mark’s become a chum and so I’m probably not objective; in fact as I’ve received his hospitality then I’m probably slightly conflicted (when I review, I do it as a paying guest with the same expectations so the good and the bad are fairly reported).

Anyway, unless you’ve had your head in a bucket of sand, you’ll have come across some justifiably cracking reviews of this new venture; it’s got great food, exciting flavours and wonderful portion size (in fact, the only down side – make sure you leave room for some of his top desserts); so do yourself a favour and go there – as well as being great in the evening,  it’s got to be one of the best business lunch venues in Edinburgh.

Monday, 30 May 2011

How not to do a dinner party (and a scallop recipe)

As you may have guessed, I enjoy cooking – it’s playtime for me, but annoyingly some people seem daunted by the thought of cooking for me in return (don’t be, for the record keep it simple and wine flowing and I’m happy).

Happily though, my old boss Joe and his wife Tracey just enjoy themselves and so when they’re coming over my wife lets me play. This is the menu from a recent visit:

·         Tuna Tartar, spiked with lime zest & wasabi and dressed with a spherified mango “yolk” and toasted nori

·         Seven Seas Scallop

·         Rabbit 2 ways, confit of East Lothian bunny leg and a Wellington of rabbit loin and sweetbreads with a pearl barley spring veg risotto, feta mousse and rabbit & Madeira reduction

·         Truffled Brie

·         Grilled pineapple with lemon thyme ice-cream

Here’s the recipe for the Scallop, the name is a bit of a conceit as it started as a scallop with a carrot and cumin velouté and evolved from there:

Seven Seas Scallop

·         1 large hand dived scallop per person

·         Salmon Caviar (Keta)

·         Cox’s (or another crisp) apple

·         Chorizo (I find the Bath Pig best as it’s got amazing taste & texture)

·         Chives

And for the velouté
      ·         Fresh Carrot

·         Cumin seed

·         Cream

First, make the velouté, boil the carrots and cumin seed in unsalted water till soft, drain and reserve the water then roughly smash the carrot in the pan and add the double cream, bring to a simmer and reduce slowly – add the carrot water to help adjust for consistency, season with salt and a little champagne vinegar, blitz with an immersion blender and pass through a sieve. This can now wait until service.
Up to an hour before you plan to serve, take the scallops out of the fridge, cut the apple into small batons and put in acidulated water, cut the chorizo into 5mm cubes.

10 minutes before service, gently warm through the velouté and the chorizo.

When it’s time to serve, pan sear the (unseasoned) scallops over a decent heat to get them nice and crispy on the outside but soft and raw inside; place in a warm bowl and scatter the chorizo cubes around the scallop, pour some of the velouté over the chorizo (if you want to, kick some lecithin into the velouté, blitz it and serve it as a warm foam) then dress the plate with the apple batons, and chives before adding  a large spoonful of salmon caviar to the top of the scallop.


I like my badges...

So, my regular readers might be wondering about the appearance of those badges on the right of this blog, what do they mean? Where did they come from? Who was that masked man? Etc..

Well firstly, the Staff Canteen is a truly awesome website for chefs and foodies – It started as a forum a few years ago and has evolved into an amazing resource of recipes, industry news (and gossip) and the monthly ‘featured chef’ interviews which give industry-level access into greats such as Sat Bains, Simon Rogan and Andrew Fairlie.

There are awesome competitions (I won a trip to Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles), jobs for those in the industry and insight and access to suppliers that we home cooks struggle to identify; but most of all there’s the forum, where geeks and amateurs like me are welcomed and knowledge is shared, from how to play with hydrocolloids to deep-frying béarnaise and thoughts on Masterchef and Great British Menu.

Have a look at the site, join the forum (it’s free) and get involved; you can also follow both the site and Mark who’s the guy who made it all happen on Twitter..

Onto Prepped! I’m guessing the “recipe tester” statement is pretty self-explanatory, but to explain the background.

One fine day a short while ago, the gorgeous Vanessa Kimbell decided to duck out of the rat-race and gave herself a year to follow her passion and write and publish a recipe book; she blogged her progress and, working without the budget of Big Sweary, called on other food bloggers (and tweeters) to help her (that’s where I got involved).

Happily the book has just been published and is currently enjoying a too-large (in my biased view) discount on Amazon; Prepped! itself is a treasure, it almost codifies a chef’s Mise en Place for the house, using store-cupboard ingredients and other building blocks to deliver fresh and interesting food for all the family in minimal time and with minimal hassle – great for working parents.

So, to sum up, join the Staff Canteen and buy Prepped! – or I’ll think less of you.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Daddy or Chips? Or the Daddy of Chips...

Don’t you just hate it when people proclaim something to be the best? Surely the best Burgundy/Sitcom/Blowjob is all subjective, apart from anything else context is always dependent.
Anyway, this might not be the best way to make chips but it’s a damn good one and goes really well with a good steak.

• Floury potatos (Maris Piper, King Edward etc.)
• 1 head of garlic
• Some thyme sprigs (optional)
• Salt
• Peppercorns
• Oil (or better, animal fat) for frying


Part 1 – can be done hours ahead.
Fill a deep pan with cold water, cut the head of garlic horizontally, bruise the thyme with the back of a knife, add both to the water and season really well (heavy salt here means not having to use it later). Bring the water to the boil and let cool.

Cut the chips, this works best if you make them chunky.
Place the chips (to be) in the water and bring to the boil, turn the heat off as soon as it reaches the boil and leave for 5 minutes or so.

Drain very gently and lay out on a cooling rack/baking sheet – if you want to get all Heston then put them straight in the freezer

Part 2 – still an hour ahead.

Bring the oil up to 120/130 degrees (Celsius, we’re not in the dark ages any more) and give the chips their first fry – probably for 4 to 5 minutes but you’ll looking for them to be a very gentle gold on the outside. Drain and cool again. If in doubt use a cooler temperature at this point.

Part 3 – just before serving
Heat the oil to 180 degrees, plunge the chips in for their final fry, shake the basket to keep them moving and in about 2 minutes you’ll be there, just pull them and drain them before they burn. Serve to someoen you really like - if you've not eaten them all yourself.

This came about while trying to develop a confit-style chip (you need to use waxy potatoes which end up mushy inside) and I’d like to thank John Quigley of the Red Onion in Glasgow for his help & advice.

Pulled Pork

What can I do with pig cheeks? The question was asked on Twitter, Pulled Pork I suggested. “What’s that?” the questioner responded. Well, as 140 characters is too short to describe the brilliance of Pulled Pork, and especially for Saffron, here’s my easy recipe, make enough for 4, eat between 2 and spend the rest of the evening a very contented bloater:

Serves 2

• Pig Cheeks (about half a kilo, boneless shoulder will do if you can’t find the cheeks)
• Red wine, fruit or cider vinegar – 3 tbsp
• Ketchup – 1 tbsp
• Mustard (not seeded) – 1 tbsp
• Soy Sauce – 2 tbsp
• Brown Sugar – 2 tbsp
• Paprika (smoked works really well) – 1 tsp

Pre-heat an oven to 150°/130° Fan, oil and liberally salt the pig cheeks and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Cover with foil to create a sealed tent/chamber and chuck in the oven for 6 to 7 hours.

At some point, make the barbecue sauce – combine all the ingredients above, bring to a simmer, stir for a few minutes and let cool.

Once the pork’s done (meltingly soft and tender), remove from the oven and let cool till you can handle it; using your hands or forks, pull the meat apart, shredding it into bite-sized pieces and removing fat/sinew/skin or anything else you don’t like the look of.

Mix the meat and the sauce in a large pan, warm through and serve.

I like serving this with Pita bread and some lightly pickled veg (julienned carrot/daikon/cabbage tossed in vinegar, salt & sugar and left for an hour), our American cousins (whose technique this is) serve it in a soft roll with fries on the side, Daniel Boulud uses it as a topping for his famous “Piggy Burger”, the uses are endless – only it’s so tasty it doesn’t last long enough to experiment too much.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Taking Stock of Things..

There are many schools of thought when it comes to stock, there’s the reinvented Parco Pierre White who peddles salty, artificial crap on TV, there’s the traditional long/slow/skim-like-buggery typified by Michael Ruhlman’s book on the CIA and there’s Thomas Keller’s technical mastery detailed in The French Laundry Cookbook

But do any of these really work at home? Well, the concentrated chemical pots are horrible so if you’re considering that you may as well buy a jar of sauce from the Supermarket. 
The traditional and the technical – both great but they can take a lot of time and I for one only have a little time to spend on making stock. So what do I do? Here’s part 1 of Ross’s guide to stock:

Basic White Chicken Stock

The stock I use (and therefore make) most is a white chicken stock, not as deeply flavoured as a roasted (or brown) stock and no salt, garlic or other heavy aromats but great as a base for many stews, braises, sauces and as a building block for other stocks.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • About 500g Chicken Bones (see method)
  • 1 large onion (peeled & chopped)
  • 2 carrots (peeled & chopped)
  • Black peppercorns
  • 1 large pan
  • 1 colander
  • Muslin (useful)
  • Chinoise (useful)


Chop the chicken bones (I mainly use frozen trimmings or bought chicken wings) into 1 inch pieces and place them in the big pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. And I mean boil.

Almost everyone will tell you never to boil stock but what we’re doing here in blanching the bones, removing any fat, blood and other impurities.

Once the bones have boiled for a good 5 to 10 minutes (you’ll see scum floating on the top), tip them into the colander and rinse them clean. Really rinse them well. Return the bones to a clean pan and add the onion, carrot and some peppercorns; bring to a light simmer and then reduce to the lowest temperature and leave at the back of the range for hours (I do this overnight), it should be nice and clear.

Finally, strain the finished product (best through a Chinoise and Muslin) into another pan. Now you can reduce it to concentrate the flavour, freeze it in useable portions or keep it in the fridge; if you go for the fridge option make sure to bring it all to the boil every 3 to 4 days (and before use) to kill any nasties.

We’ll have a look at other stocks and sauces in other posts.