Thursday, 29 December 2011

New Years Eve.

I love shellfish. I was brought up in Norfolk in a house about 500yards down a steepish cliff path to the beach. Some of my earliest memories are of standing with my father and watching him hook crabs from under the many seaweed covered rocks that formed the glistening chain of rock pools along the cliff base.

He was scrupulous at measuring the crabs for legal size against a mark on the handle of his homemade crab hook and whilst my mother preferred the hen crabs I loved the larger claws on the cocks.
We would dig for cockles too and use our wooden shrimping nets to sweep the shore line at the tide’s turn for shrimps to boil in seawater and then painstakingly peel to make in the most wonderfully tasty warm shrimp sandwiches.

Those tiny pink and brown shrimps are a pest to peel, so I use the same rule my mother did all those years ago: you eat all you peel!

New Year's Eve is not a time for rules but for fun so I suggest you buy the biggest and best prawns you can find. Do check the provenance of your prawns and make sure they come from a good clean supply. You can talk to your fishmonger, those in supermarkets especially Waitrose are most helpful if you don’t have a local fishmonger or buy frozen raw prawns from a reputable source.

Raw prawns are usually but not always grey turning pink when cooked. As I like to cook my prawns shell on I don’t worry about deveining, but if you wish to there are many videos of “how to” on You Tube.

This easy dish is perfect for a casual supper served with lots of fresh bread and chilled fizzy wine.

Garlic chilli prawns

Allow about 300gms unpeeled raw prawns per person But how many is up to you and your budget!

Good olive oil I always use extra virgin
A slug of white wine
1 head of plump garlic cloves peeled and chopped
Either 2-3 red chillies chopped or a couple of good pinches dried chilli flakes
A big nob of butter
A handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

This dish takes about 5 minutes star to finish so get everything else ready heat the bread and pour the wine.

Heat a large pan over a moderate flame for about 5 minutes. Now pour in the oil and add the prawns almost at once, pour in the wine and cook over a highish heat turning often until they change colour and become pink. Most of the liquid will have evaporated 
Now add the garlic, chill and butter and cook stirring often for 2-3 minutes.
Toss in the parsley and scrape the contents of the pan into a warmed serving dish.
Serve at once with plenty of paper napkins.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cheese Straws

Cheese Straws

Easy to make and everyones favourite nibble at parties cheese straws are robust enough to stand up to the most highly spiced mulled wine

The secret to a great cheese straw is to use masses of really tasty cheese. You can spread the pastry with mustard before scattering on the cheese if you fancy the idea, or even some fairly smooth chutney.
I’ve given a recipe for pastry here but if you can buy a good ready made one fee free to use it, after all it’s Christmas!

340g 12oz grated extra mature cheddar cheese
Dijon mustard

Shortcrust pastry:

225g 8oz cold butter
350g 12oz plain flour
2 egg yolks

Rub the butter into the flour and salt, and then add the egg yolk, 2oz cheese and enough cold water 2-3 tablespoons to form a stiff dough. Chill for 30 minutes.

Form the dough into an oblong and roll out very thinly onto a board.
Sprinkle some cheese over two thirds of the dough, bring the un-sprinkled part over half the sprinkled part in such a way as to trap air then bring the remaining two third over to make three layers. Press the open edges together lightly. Turn with the folds to the left hand side.
Roll out again into an oblong and repeat the sprinkling of the cheese and folding of the dough. Roll out to ½ inch 10mm thick and trim the edges. Cut into strips 2 inches long and then into wafers ½ inch 10mm wide. Place on a baking sheet, chill for 20 minutes. Brush the straws with a little beaten egg and sprinkle on some extra cheese, poppy seeds or some cumin seeds.

Pre –heat  the oven to 220C 425F gas 7 and bake for 8-10 minutes or until a good golden brown.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Count Down to Christmas: Everything you need to do, week by week.


Christmas Planner - Week One

At this stage you need to be making lists, gathering recipes and placing orders. Here are some points to start with.
•     Make a comprehensive list of who has been invited and for how many meals.
•     Order the turkey
•     Order a ham
•     Make Christmas pudding and steam for 8 hours
•     Make or buy your un-iced Christmas cake, pour over a few tablespoons of brandy each week.
•     Buy crackers, candles and napkins for Christmas table
•     Stock up on soft drinks, long life juice and Squash
•     Re-arrange freezer to allow room for Christmas supplies
•     Buy and freeze chiabatta loaves for use as pizza bases, crostini etc.
•     Buy chicken winglets and make some concentrated chicken stock as a base for the turkey gravy. Store in freezer
•     Check cupboard for dry goods, tins, spices, mincemeat, etc.
•     Make and freeze batches of pastry for mince pies
•     Make cranberry relish and store in fridge/freezer
•     Make cheese straws and shortbread, store in air-tight tin.
•     Order extra cream and milk for 24th December
•     Make extra ice cubes and store in plastic bags in freezer
•     Check recipes and make a list of ingredients needed

Christmas Planner Week Two

Check wine rack and order wine, sprits and after dinner drinks
Buy mixers, soft drinks, mineral water and long life juice
Buy long life milk for emergencies
Order cheese, one or two large pieces of cheese will look better than a collection of small slices. Try an alternative to Stilton such as Been Leigh or Cashal, both blue cheeses, this year and have beautiful mature farmhouse cheddar such as Montgomery or Quickes as the second cheese.
Buy cheese biscuits and nuts. Store fresh chestnuts in the refrigerator
Count china and cutlery borrowing or buying extra as needed.
Make sure you have a roasting pan and serving platter large enough for the turkey or goose.


During the course of this week you should aim to:
•     Cover the cake with almond paste then white icing store in an airtight tin.
•     Make brandy butter and store in fridge or freeze
•     Draw up a table plans and check for any dietary problems
•     Count cutlery and china to check quantities, wash any little used dishes, clean silver, rinse and polish glasses.
•     Buy cheese biscuits, coffee beans, tea
•     Make a list and order as necessary all fruit and vegetables remembering onions, fresh herbs, lemons and salad ingredients.
•     Make an oven-ready dish for Boxing Day, e.g.: lasagne, fish pie, root vegetable gratin etc., cover, label and store in freezer.
•     Buy tomatoes and store in a bowl in a cool room
•     Check Christmas wine, beer, sprits and mixers
•     Buy supply of bottle water
•     Buy large size foil, cling film and greaseproof paper
•     Stock freezer with croissants or home made muffins for breakfasts
•     Buy extra butter, soft margarine and cooking oil
•     Order bacon, sausage meat and sausages from butcher

Christmas planner - Week Three

Buy fruit and vegetables making sprouts your last purchase. These really do taste better if cooked as soon after picking as possible so these really should be a Christmas Eve purchase.
Ice cake and decorate
Make more mince pies and this time store out of reach of marauding family
Buy fresh dairy products cream, milk, butter and cheese
Buy fresh orange juice
Buy Panatonne for Christmas breakfast, excellent with ham!
Make trifle, ice cream or other alternative pudding

Play carols loudly on family stereo

Christmas Eve

Collect Turkey and ham from butchers
Glaze ham, leave in cold place overnight
Make stuffings and store in fridge
Make bacon rolls arrange on baking sheet, place in fridge
Make stock from Turkey giblets
Peel potatoes, carrots and parsnips and place in bowl of cold water over night.
Peel sprouts and place in polythene bag in fridge overnight
Arrange sausages on oven roasting dish, place in fridge

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Panforte de Sienna

I first tasted Panforte in Sienna when, having finished teaching a class at a cookery school set in the hills above Orvieto I spent a couple of days being a tourist before coming home. I love Sienna maybe even more than Florence as, especially twenty years ago, it was less packed with visitors and cheap pizza dives.
I love the irony that we all exhibit when abroad, It’s fine for us to be there but we look with absolute disdain at other tourists, never considering we are of their number!

So it was in a back street in Sienna that I found an ancient sweetmeat shop selling all manner of things I had no knowledge of. The Panforte was wrapped in beautifully illustrated paper and tied with a thin gold ribbon. I bought some on impulse, having no idea what I was buying.

About a couple of months later I found my Panforte in the back of a cupboard and opened and ate it. It was quite simply unlike anything I’d tried before. At first I was unsure but when I found that all that was left was the wrapper I knew then I would be adding to my list of must have goodies along with Turron and nougat.

Made with candied peel, almonds, cocoa and honey, Panforte dates from around the fourteenth century, when the spice trade was in full flourish and spices were shipped overland often entering Italy through Venice.  

The spicing is unusual as peppercorns and coriander feature along with the more usual sweet spices of clove and nutmeg.

Traditionally made in December it symbolised a prosperous and sweet New Year. Serve cut into small pieces, it is very sweet!

Panforte Di Siena

360 gm 12 oz whole unskinned almonds
60g/2oz walnuts
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoons coriander seeds
6 cloves
6 black pepper corns
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
! heaped tablespoon cocoa powder
245gm 8oz caster sugar
120gm 4oz clear honey
450gm 1lb whole preserved candied fruit, chopped
30gm 1 oz plain flour
To finish
I tablespoon icing sugar
1 tablespoon corn flour

Rice paper ( available from specialist cake shops)

Preheat the oven to 180’C/350F/Gas 4 and roast the almonds and walnuts until golden.
Line the base of a 20cm 8” spring form tin with rice paper.

Either grind all the spices plus the walnuts in a coffee grinder or pound the cinnamon stick, walnuts, coriander seeds, cloves and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Stir in the nutmeg and cocoa powder.
Heat the caster sugar and honey in a saucepan, stirring continuously until the mixture comes to a gentle rolling boil.
Continue to stir for half a minute, remove and stir in the almonds, fruit, walnut and cocoa mixture and sifted flour.

Pack the mixture in a round baking tray. It is very hot and stiff at this stage, but work as quickly as you can, flattening it down into the tin with the back of a spoon. Cut more rice paper to fit and cover the top of the Panforte.

 Bake for 30 minutes.

Once the Panforte has cooled, take it from the tin. You will need to do this whilst it is still warm. Run a palette knife around the edge of the tin the open it. Lift the Panforte from the base and using your hands press and mould any loose bits back into shape. Once cold dust with a mixture of icing sugar and corn flour.

Panforte keeps for months wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in an airtight tin.
The lovely picture above was taken by the very talented Diana Miller

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Pumpkin Ravioli

 These misty days just scream for bright food and things don’t get much brighter than pumpkin. Ravioli was also what my stomach demanded and rather than pop to Farringdon Road and buy my pasta fix from Gazzano’s I though I’d make my own.

It all very simple and like any craft rather soothing, but with moments of frustration. I learned fresh pasta making during my stays in in Italy and love it texture and silkiness. I also learnt most definitely that dried pasta was often the pasta of choice and that you never, never put oil in the pasta water to cook it.

Many of my most humiliating food moments have been when in Italy: asking for cappuccino after 11 am, hanging onto your red wine when you have asked for dessert, wanted Parmesan on seafood risotto…….. My cheeks have stung often with the scorn of the waiter as I make yet another Faux Pas!

But I have learned and now only drink macchiato after 11am and finish my wine before ordering dessert. I do occasionally add Parmesan to crab risotto but only in the privacy of my own home and then only when the curtains are drawn!

So to the pasta: I make mine in a food processor though any freestanding mixer works well and  I would use a dough hook in preference, or naturally you can knead the dough by hand.

I use the usual ration of eggs to flour: 100gms pasta flour to 1 medium egg just adding a couple of pinches of salt. If my egg is a bit on the large side I add flour a sprinkle at a time. It’s worth spending time getting the texture right so the pasta rolls evenly. It should be malleable but not stick to the heel of your hand when push away from you.

To make the filling I roasted a butternut squash with olive oil and a few cloves of garlic until it was soft. I then peeled the squash and whizzed it in a processor with plenty of freshly ground pepper and lots of fresh Parmesan. Nutmeg or cinnamon would work and many add amoretti biscuit crumbs but I find that makes the finished dish too sweet.

As the sage in my garden was way past it’s best I used a sauce of warm extra virgin oil with chopped pecans, fresh thyme leave and some lemon zest.

Pumpkin Ravioli

300gm pasta flour
3 medium eggs
2 pinches salt


I medium butternut squash
4 plump cloves garlic
90gm finely grated Parmesan
freshly ground black pepper


4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
fresh thyme leaves
30gms pecan or walnuts finely chopped
a little finely grated lemon zest

Make the pasta by mixing the flour and salt with the eggs, kneading until you have a smooth firm dough.

Allow it to rest under an up turned bowl for 30 minutes

Cut the squash into pieces and place in a dish in the oven with the garlic and a little oil roasting until soft.

Peel off the skin and peel the garlic cloves. Whiz the flesh with the cheese and season well.

Roll out your dough and fill as shown.

I lay the made ravioli on trays dusted with polenta to stop them sticking.

Bring a big pan of water to the boil add a couple of tablespoons of salt to it and when you’re ready drop in the ravioli. They will need about 3 minutes rapid boiling though the degree of  “al dente” is personal!

While the pasta cooks warm the oil, nuts and herbs together and when the pasta is drained toss the ravioli in this sauce.
Serve at once.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Pot Roast Heaven

Well pot roast beef in fact, but heavenly indeed on a glum November day.  The rediscovery of the casserole is the latest news on the food front and a pot roast is just one step further along.

I love this type of cooking as it combines so many of my favourite things: a delicious tasty meal, minimum last minute preparation and a dish that is extremely forgiving.

I have chosen beef for this recipe but the technique is the same whether you pick chicken, venison or pork. A pot roast shoulder of lamb would work just fine but I might cook that rather fatty meat open over the veg as in Lamb Boulanger to allow the skin to crisp.

The basics are a decent sized piece of meat about 2 kilos and whatever vegetables you have in the larder with a definite lean towards roots. You will need an onion or two, leeks work well especially with chicken, and some seasoning herbs. For liquid you can chose stock, or wine but I often use water, not wanting to add too many flavours to the dish.

I have a beautiful collection of cast iron casserole/cocotte dishes collected over many years and half the pleasure to me of making pot roast is being about to use one of these lovelies.

The method is simple and can be followed for which ever meat you chose, the economy is perfect, less costly joints faring best here, and any leftovers will make gorgeous hearty soups.

Beef Pot Roast

2kg  joint of silverside, topside or leanish brisket

110gm smoked streaky bacon
a couple of tablespoons olive oil


2 leeks cleaned and sliced
4 carrots peeled and cut into chunks
4 small parsnips peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 ribs of celery sliced
4 fat cloves of garlic peeled and bashed a bit

I pint stock, water or red wine

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

A couple of sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf or two

To finish:
A couple of handfuls of small potatoes and some black olives these are optional but tasty if you have them in the fridge, Sun blushed tomatoes would work too.


Begin by choosing a lidded casserole into which all your ingredients will fit.

Place this over a moderate heat and cook the bacon till the fat runs and the bacon browns. Remove this to a plate then adding the oil brown the beef ( chicken, venison etc) on all sides. This does not seal the meat but it does caramelize the sugars and deepens the flavours of the final dish.

Take the meat out and add the veg. Give this all a stir and cook for about 4-5 minutes until things start to look a little relaxed.

Put the meat and bacon back then add the stock, season and tuck in the herbs.

Put on the lid and bring to a simmer.

Pop the dish in the oven and cook at 150 (140 fan) gas mk 2 for about 3 hours. It will sit in the oven happily for 4 hours.

I like to check the stock level a couple of times during cooking, it should come no more than half way up the meat.

About 40 minutes before serving add the potatoes and olives if you’re using them.

Serve with a good green cabbage.

Cook often until spring!!

Just some of my dishes!!!