cheats chorizo ragu

sometimes you just need to get dinner on the table, fast. this recipe is perfect for that, using chorizo to add a deep, smoky flavour that gives the sauce the feeling of having been cooked for hours when in reality, all you’ll need is 30 minutes to get this from fridge to plate - perfect for busy evenings as well as slow weekends.

cheats chorizo ragu

whizz 2 fresh chorizo sausages in a food processor - remembering to peel the papery skin off them before you blitz them - you are looking for a sausage meat texture once blitzed. finely chop 1 red onion and fry in olive oil until soft and translucent then add 2 minced garlic cloves, the chorizo and the chopped leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary and fry until the chorizo is releasing it’s oils and everything smells fragrant. add 1 tin of chopped tinned tomatoes and 100ml of red wine, season well with salt and pepper and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened.

serve with tagliatelle and lashings of parmesan.

smoked mackerel pate w/ seeded crackers

once the weather starts to get warmer, my thoughts naturally start to turn to fresher, lighter flavours. citrus fruits, crunchy salads and fresh herbs begin to make a return to my kitchen and I start to crave quicker and easier recipes; recipes that allow me to spend less time in the kitchen and more time making the most of the blue skies. this recipe is super simple to whip up - you don't even have to make the seeded crackers - though they are delicious! - the pate itself is great served with a crunchy salad or just eaten with a spoon straight out of the bowl!

for the seeded crackers mix together 150g dark rye flour and 100g plain white flour with 1 tsp salt. Add 60ml of extra virgin olive oil and mix with your hands then make a well and add 140ml - 150ml water to make a dough. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper until very thin and score across the dough randomly to make 'snap' lines. Sprinkle over a combination of sesame, poppy, pumpkin and fennel seeds and with wet fingertips, flick cold water over the surface of the crackers. bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 C for about 5 - 10 minutes until golden and crisp.

place 250g smoked mackerel, 1 chopped shallot, zest of 1 lemon, 1 tsp hot horseradish sauce and 50g  softened butter into mixer. whizz until incorporated but not entirely smooth - you want some texture. place into bowl and stir through 75g creme fraiche and tons of black pepper. taste for seasoning and add lemon juice if you think it needs it. 

serve with the crackers, some lemon wedges and chopped chives.

Machu Picchu

it was 4am i think, i shouldn’t have been awake. it was pitch black, cold and i was tired - i’d been ill for days, and had myriad different antibiotics coursing through my veins that were finally allowing me to move from a horizontal position but i was in aguas calientes so i had to move. 

aguas calientes means ‘hot waters’ or ‘hot springs’ in spanish and i was there because it was the closest town from which i could access machu picchu - something i’d been trying to do for 10 days, but like i said, antibiotics.

i had planned to trek to machu picchu over 3 days; walking along the inca trail, and accessing them from ‘the sun gate’  at sunrise. i had wanted to walk down and see the sunlight beginning to flood over the ruins, but instead i was walking uphill in the pitch black with only my phone for both light and company. not that there wasn’t any other people climbing the same way as me, there was, but 10 days of not moving had made me weak and the walk was not easy, and as more and more people began to over take me, i began to worry, would i make it up for sunrise? 

the walk itself was steps, lots of steps, that seemed to go on forever, seemingly getting steeper and steeper as i progressed, but i knew that if i stopped for a rest i wouldn’t get back up again so i kept on, one foot in front of the other, racing the quickly rising sun.

looking around as the first light began to illuminate the face up which i was climbing helped to push me onwards; i had a perspective of my surroundings that i hadn’t been able to appreciate whilst down in the valley, it was incredible, there wasn’t any colour yet, just shapes silhouetted against the early morning sky, but i was able to let myself start to get excited about reaching the top; i knew i was close.

out of breath and sweltering hot, i walked through the entrance, i could see the sun in front of me, on the cusp of finally rising, so, quickening my pace (i was nearly jogging now), i rushed along the path in front of me, willing myself onwards to find a spot to finally sit down and take everything in. though i hadn’t done it the way i had imagined or wanted to, as i sat down and rummaged around for my camera, the previous 2 weeks (and even the morning’s walk) became a faded memory as i finally sat watching the sun rise over the ruins.

Vietnam III

i bought a multi-stop bus ticket for $30. i remember it clearly, i remember the man who sold it to me asking if i wanted to go to Da lat and I said yes, because at that point I thought I had all the time in the world, he said that would make the ticket $30 total and i could get on a bus the next morning. I walked away thinking, that’s ridiculous; ho chi minh city to hanoi with various stops in between, for $30, thats nearly 1000 miles, there’s got to be a catch. 

that night i sat outside a bar, on another one of those chairs made for an 8 year, with a few guys i’d met at the hostel, none of whom fitted in the chairs either. next to us was a bus driver, he was drinking saigon red beer, which is ever so slightly stronger than saigon green and he was sat with his police officer friend. somehow we ended up talking to them and the bus driver, who by this point had ploughed through about 5 beers, was saying he had to get up early to drive his bus. this particular bus driver supported manchester united and he said he had a sticker on the front of his bus to show his support; that’s why he drank red beer as well apparently. he probably left us about 2am and i remember going to sleep that night reminding myself to check the front of the bus for manchester united stickers before we left in the morning, and thinking, that’s the catch, the bus drivers are mental.

Vietnam II

i spent 3 days in ho chi minh city, wandering it’s streets, sampling it’s food and drinking in it’s energy. i’ve always believed that walking around a city is the best way to start to understand it, and i thought this one would be no different; only this isn’t a city of walkers, this is a city of bikes. turns out it isn’t just ho chi minh; vietnam is a country of bikes, i should have read the guide book.

as a result, crossing the road for the first time as a westerner, i found myself hesitating, heading out into the road, then quickly turning back to the safety of the pavement as a horn blared out warning me to move; fast. 

however, after a day of feeling constantly nervous as soon as i saw a road, i’d soon got the hang of it; you head out into the road and the bikes move around you, it’s like a dance and things I had never noticed whilst fearful of my life started to become clearer as I gained confidence - a hand indicating here, a warning shout there. with understanding comes a certain glee as well - no longer did I feel like such an outsider, I started to relax.

that’s the thing i love about travel, that moment when you finally hit your stride, you know how to order a pho, and you know how to pronounce it properly - you’re able to give advice to other travellers who are headed to places you’ve already been and you know when someone is trying to rip you off. that was not how i felt on my first day in ho chi minh, but it was early days, and as i wandered around the streets of the city for the next few days, heading to markets, sitting on chairs i wouldn’t have fitted on as an 8 year old, let alone a 25 year old and picking dubious looking meat out of various noodle soups, i could tell i liked it. vietnam was starting to get to me and i couldn’t wait to explore the rest of the country.

Vietnam I

landing in a south east asian country under darkness is like nothing else in the world. everything hits you at once; the noise, the lights, the heat, producing an energy that is bewildering, confusing, terrifying, but seductive and thrilling at the same time. weaving through the city on the back of a bike thumbed down at the airport because the taxi’s are ‘too expensive’, despite costing no more than a Pret sandwich gives you a thrilling perspective. constantly turning your head to take everything in; the smell, the sights, the lights. the lights are so bright and they’re everywhere, the smells are overwhelming and hit you from every direction; car fumes, street food, rubbish. 

like i said, there’s nothing like it. 

i’d temporarily forgotten what it was like when i landed in vietnam in april 2013,  but after 10 minutes i had remembered; my senses assaulted by the speed at which the city lives. you have no choice, you stay, adapting quickly, or you leave, fast.

i decided to stay, for a month - as long as my single entry vietnamese visa, and my english job would let me.

flourless almond & orange cake w/ brown butter icing and candied oranges

This cake is so easy to make it's ridiculous, and even better theres only 6 ingredients in the cake itself!

The brown butter icing is a thing of beauty and well worth trying, but the cake does not hang on it's company - it can be served with or without it with equal success. Similarly with the candied oranges, though they have the added benefit of lasting weeks in the fridge once made!

boil 2 oranges slowly, approx 2 hours, reserve water, cool, remove seeds and whizz until smooth in a food processor - skin and all. mix together 200g caster sugar and 100g brown sugar with 6 eggs until thick, white and fluffy. add the orange paste. fold in 250g ground almonds and 1 1/2 tsps baking powder. bake in a greased and lined 26cm springform tin at 180 C for 1 - 1 1/2 hrs, covering with foil half way through if the cake is catching. make an orange syrup with 200g caster sugar and 750ml of the reserved orange water. cook 10 minutes or until syrupy. add juice and zest of 1 orange. set aside to cool, then when the cake is done, prick with a skewer and pour over the syrup.

brown butter icing. brown 200g butter slowly in pan. cool. then soften and whisk. add 400g icing sugar slowly. add 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and loosen with hot water if necessary; 1 tsp at a time.

candied oranges. wash 2 large oranges well and slice into thin slices. place in saucepan and cover with water, being careful to keep the orange slices in tact so don't pour water directly over the delicate flesh. bring to a boil and drain. bring 200g sugar, 200ml water and 2 tbsp orange juice to the boil. add orange slices in a single layer and turn down the heat. simmer for 40 - 45 minutes until peel turns translucent. place on a wire cooling rack and cool. 1 hr or overnight.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

It's getting cold, oh so cold. The heating's just been put on a timer, a sure fire sign in my house that the change in seasons has finally been accepted. We are no longer to casually flick it on, hoping that perhaps we won't have to for a few days. This is it, this is winter.

Well, hello winter I say if i'm allowed to eat this. A gloriously sticky toffee sponge, made rich with dates and spicy with ginger. Served alongside a devilishly simple and dark caramel sauce, this is comfort food at it's best.

Recipe:

cover 300g dates with enough water to cover and add 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda. bring to the boil and simmer for 5 - 10 minutes or until the dates start to break down and form a rough puree. whisk together 300g sugar with 100g softened butter. add 4 eggs one by one then fold in 300g flour. add chopped stem ginger - how much is up to you and how much you like ginger! I normally go for about 20g and the date puree and combine until just mixed. Spoon into a greased 12 hole muffin tin and bake at 180 C for 25 - 30 minutes.

brown sugar caramel; melt 200g light brown sugar in a pan with 115g butter, 60ml double cream and 1/4 tsp maldon salt. cook until slightly thickened, about 1 - 2 minutes and serve with the sticky toffee pudding.

wild garlic & asparagus risotto

we've had a glut of wild garlic in the house over the past few weeks and to use it up we've been making mayonnaise, turning it into pesto, wilting it through pastas and tarts and even experimenting with wild garlic cheese toasties (a genius idea, by the way). here though, i paired it with asparagus to make a risotto that perfectly showcases the flavours of early spring. 

though the smell is invasive and pungent, i love the subtle taste that wild garlic has; which is perfect for this risotto - it adds such a great depth of flavour but doesn't overpower the lovely, seasonal asparagus, it's a lovely springtime dish that you can easily serve on it's own, or to accompany some grilled chicken or salmon.

wild garlic risotto

1 knob butter
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
250g risotto rice
white wine or vermouth
1 litre hot chicken stock
1 large handful wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped
100g asparagus, chopped into inch long pieces

50g butter
70g Parmesan, finely grated, plus extra for serving
 

Heat a large cooking pot, add the knob of butter and a good glug of olive oil. Gently sweat the garlic and onion for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent - try not to let it colour. Add the rice and turn up the heat, stirring, until the rice is coated with the garlicky onion mix. Season with salt and pepper and add the wine, stirring until it has been absorbed.

Add enough stock just to cover the rice, stir and turn down the heat. Maintain the rice at a gentle simmer and stir constantly until the stock has been absorbed. Repeat, adding stock and stirring, for 10 minutes. Add the wild garlic leaves and aspargus, stir into the rice and continue adding more stock as before.

After five minutes more, when the rice is just cooked but still has some bite, remove from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Season again and serve with loads more parmesan on top!

apple tart

this recipe is for a freeform apple tart, a gallette, if you'll allow, because it's bank holiday monday and i'm lazy, and who wants to be lining tart tins on a bank holiday monday. the pastry here is pretty robust, but do still treat it gently and it'll reward you with beautiful crispness.

this isn't an overly sweet tart - i serve it with vanilla ice cream to balance this -  but you can up the sugar in the both the pastry and the apple mix if you'd like. just remember that the tart will catch quicker the more sugar you put in, so keep an eye on it.

freeform apple tart

300g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

600g plain flour, chilled

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp salt

15ml white vinegar, chilled

170ml very cold water

4 tart baking apples, such as golden delicious, granny smith or bramley

3 tbsps light brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon plus extra for dusting

icing sugar, to serve

put the butter and flour into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs - don't worry if there are some larger bits of butter running through the mix. add the sugar and salt and pulse once more to incorporate.

turn the food processor on and whilst it's running, add the vinegar and water in a steady stream until the whole mixture comes together to form a dough. if there are still some dry bits, don't panic, just turn the dough out and incorporate gently by hard until you have a uniform dough. shape into a circle, cover in clingfilm and put into the fridge to rest for at least an hour.

whilst the pastry is chilling, pre heart the oven to 200 C and peel and core the apple and cut into wedges. to stop the apples browning place in a bowl of water and squeeze over the juice of a lemon. the acidity of the lemon will stop the flesh of the apples browning as you continue preparing the remaining apples.

once chilled, on a piece of baking parchment, roll the pastry out into a rough circle, about the thickness of a pound coin.

take the apples out of the lemon water and toss in the the brown sugar and cinnamon. pile the sugared apples into the centre of the pastry circle, leaving a 1 inch border and then carefully fold this border up and over the apples.

bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160 C and bake for a further 20 minutes. keep an eye on the pastry and if it starts to look a little too dark, cover the whole tart in tin foil to prevent it darkening too much.

when the tart is done, place on a wire rack to cool and dust with a mixture of icing sugar and cinnamon and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

 

chilli eggs

the weekend is finally here, and what's the best thing about the weekend?

lazy breakfasts, that's what. there's nothing better than being able to wake a little later and eat a little slower, taking time to experiment with meals that would be a mid-week no-no. i've yet to master getting up early enough mid-week to luxuriate in breakfast and usually grab a bagel or slice of toast on the hoof as i head out of the door, but weekends are a different story. i love messing around with different cuisines and this is no different - taking inspiration from a breakfast i once had in singapore, these eggs are super simple to whip up and super tasty to boot. serve alongside some, less than singaporean, sourdough bread and you've got yourself a wonderfully impressive start to the day.

chilli eggs

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely sliced

2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped

groundnut oil

4 eggs

chopped coriander, to garnish

heat 1tbsp of groundnut oil in a large frying pan and add the shallot, chilli and tomatoes. fry until soft and fragrant - about 4/5 minutes.

spoon out of the pan and keep warm on a plate

in the same pan, heat a thin layer of groundnut oil until very hot. crack in the eggs and cook to your liking - spooning the hot oil over the top of the egg to ensure even cooking. flip the eggs over if you like yours over-easy or leave sunny side up.

place 2 eggs on a plate and season, then spoon over the chilli/tomato mixture and chopped coriander and dig in.

 

 

chocolate puddle cookies

make these. now.

chocolate puddle cookies

350g dark chocolate

40g unsalted butter

2 eggs

75g caster sugar

75g light brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

50g plain flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

 

preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F/ Gas Mark 4

start by melting 200g of the chocolate with all of the butter over a bain-marie and chop the remaining 150g of chocolate into small pieces

now, in a stand mixer, whisk together the eggs, sugars and vanilla for about 10 minutes until light and creamy

fold the melted chocolate and butter, flour and baking powder into the creamy mixture and finally fold in the remaining, chopped, chocolate

leave to stand for 10 minutes and then add tablespoons to a lined baking sheet

place in the oven and bake for 8 - 10 minutes

cool on a rack and to serve, dust with icing sugar.

 

 

granola

who doesn't love granola - it's crispy, toasty, fruity, nutty goodness...no? well this recipe is anyway - it's so good in fact that i usually eat half of it straight from the oven but i promise you, if you can wait for breakfast, you won't regret it. it's the perfect partner to some thick, creamy greek yoghurt, seductively drizzled with some honey and topped with a banana, or push the boundaries of breakfast and bake some into muffins. the possibilities are endless.......

everyday granola

150g oats

50g desiccated coconut

75g almonds (or use a mix of nuts, either will work)

2 tbsp seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, chia....etc:)

75g brown sugar

50g coconut oil

75g apple juice

75g mixed fruits (raisins, cherries, cranberries.....etc:)

25g coconut chips

 

pre-heat the oven to 170 C/325 F/Gas mark 3

mix together the oats, desiccated coconut, nuts and seeds in a large bowl

heat together the sugar, coconut oil and apple juice, until the sugar has melted and the mixture is glossy - don't worry if the oil starts to separate. then gradually pour the liquid over the dry ingredients in the bowl, making sure to mix throughly (i usually get my hands in to make sure everything gets a good, even coating)

spread the mixture out on a baking tray and pop in the oven for about 15 minutes. take out of the oven and give the mixture a good toss, just to make sure nothing is catching and put back into the oven for 10 more minutes until everything is golden brown and crispy

add the mixed fruit and coconut chips and bake for a further  5 minutes or just until the coconut chips have started to toast.

let the granola cool and then spoon into airtight jars; if you can resist eating it all immediately that it!

asian beef salad with caramelised peanut dressing

there's a fair few ingredients, i know, but bear with me and don't but don’t be put off - i promise it’s really not that time consuming!  this caramelised peanut dressing is an absolute dream; i usually use it on pork belly because the chilli and lime cut through the fat perfectly, but it works well here as a salad dressing and adds some salty, tangy goodness to this really fresh tasting salad.

asian beef salad with caramelised peanut dressing

for the dressing:

1 tbsp olive oil

4 shallots, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 red chillies, finely chopped – seeds removed if you’re not a fan of the heat – i like to leave them in though

a bunch of coriander roots, washed and finely chopped

4 tbsp brown sugar

5 tbsp roasted raw peanuts

2 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp dark soy

1 tbsp light soy

juice of 1 lime

a small bunch of coriander leaves, roughly chopped

heat a frying pan over a medium hear and add the olive oil and shallots. cook for 3 minutes until beginning to soften

add the garlic, chilli & coriander roots and continue to fry for a further 1 minute

add the sugar and cook for 2 more minutes, until the sugar melts and starts to caramelise – stir the mixture to avoid the sugar catching!

now add the peanuts and cook for a further 3 – 5 minutes until everything is nicely caramelised and the peanuts are a pale golden colour. if the sugar begins to catch, ad a splash of cold water

remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the sesame oil, soy sauces and lime juice – taste to check if the mixture is balanced – you’re looking for something with a balance of sweet/sour/salt/spice

once you’ve balanced the dressing, blast it in a food processor for a few seconds, just until the peanuts start to break up to give a rough textured dressing, avoid taking it too far or the peanuts start to emulsify and turn the dressing an unappetising light brown colour

add the roughly chopped coriander once the dressing has cooled slightly so as not to discolour the leaves

 

for the salad:

2 pak choi, finely chopped

4 carrots, julienned

4 spring onions, finely sliced/shredded

zest of 1 lime

a squeeze of lime juice

1 red pepper, finely sliced to use as a garnish

a good handful of mint leaves, finely chopped

2 sirloin or rump steaks

olive oil

2 tbsp light soy sauce

a few torn coriander and mint leaves

chop all the ingredients for the salad accordingly, making sure that everything is shredded quite finely; imagine you’re to eat everything with chopsticks and chop into lengths accordingly. a mandoline makes life easier, but also more precarious – some good knife skills will do you just fine!

take the meat out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you intend to cook it

when ready to cook the steaks, heat up a pan until very hot – salt and pepper the steaks and then rub olive oil into the steaks – do not oil the pan

add the steaks to the pan when it is hot enough – you will know it’s ready as the meat will make a satisfying sizzling sound when it is added

fry for 1 minute each side for a rare to medium steak if you’re using sirloin – rump will take slightly longer on each side to achieve medium rare. 20 seconds before taking the steaks out of the pan, add the soy sauce – it will bubble profusely, but don’t be scared – and quickly spoon over the steaks

take out of the pan, cover with tin foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes, then slice thinly and add to the caramelised peanut dressing, stirring to cover all of the meat.

arrange the salad ingredients onto 4 plates and then top with the beef; spoon over the excess dressing and then garnish with the sliced red pepper and the torn mint and coriander leaves