Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cooking the Books

It's certainly a week for cook books. Another one came through my door today, this time 'Rosemary Shrager's school for cooks'. This is to go with Rosemary's series (see earlier blog) which I worked with her on. I didn't work on the book (except testing the odd recipe during filming) but we cooked many of the dishes on the programme. I'm looking forward to the series which is on ITV and starts on October 27th at 4pm and runs every week day for eight weeks. Watch out for me in weeks 7 & 8 (unless I made it all the way to the cutting room floor)! Here are a couple of recipes to tantalise your taste buds! (double click to make them bigger)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cooks Academy

I had a lovely surprise today as the 'Cooks Academy' cook book came in the post. It's always nice to see the fruits of your labour, even if I had totally forgotten about it. I prop and food styled the book last summer so it was a distant memory! It all come flooding back when flicking through though. I can remember eating (as well as styling of course!) most things; the smells, tastes and textures. I'm looking forward to trying out some of the recipes again.

Congrats to Vanessa and Tim the owners (Vanessa is the author also), Sarah at Gill & McMillan, Karen who cooked her way through each recipe for the shoot and Hugh McEleveen the photographer.

Here are a couple of yummy recipes to tempt you:

Serves 4
100g chorizo sausage, peeled and diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 tbsp semi-sun dried (sunblush) tomatoes
300ml white wine
300g pasta, eg linguine
50g fresh rocket leaves
75g parmesan shavings
salt & freshly ground black pepper

1 Dry fry the chorizo in a heavy-based frying pan for 5 minutes, until just becoming crisp (do not allow to burn). Remove to a sheet of absorbant kitchen paper with a slotted spoon and keep warm.
2. Gently fry the onion in the olive oil for 10 minutes, adding in the garlic towards the end.
3 Drain and roughly chop the semi-sun dried tomatoes before adding them to the onion along with the wine and season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from the heat.
4 Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until al dente and while still hot, return it to the saucepan over a medium heat. Drizzle with a slick of olive oil.
5 Stir in the sauce mixture, the crispy chorizo and lastly the rocket (if rocket leaves are very large, roughly chop them).
6 Serve in pasta bowls, season with cracked black pepper and garnish with parmesan shavings.


Serves 6

225g pre-rolled all butter short crust pastry
100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk
100g ground almonds
400g can pear halves, drained
3 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4.

1 Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed flan tin. Place the shortcrust pastry in the bottom to cover it.
2 Using an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and yolk slowly to prevent the mixture from curdling, then mix in the ground almonds until you have a thick paste. Spoon into the flan case and spread out evenly. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to harden up slightly.
3 Without cutting through the top, slice each pear half lengthways and splay out to give a fan effect. Carefully arrange the fans over the top of the filing. Place the tart on a hot baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes (check after 15 minutes and if the top is browning, turn the oven down to 170C / 325F /Gas Mark 3). Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
4 Heat the apricot jam in a small pan with the lemon juice. Pass through a sieve (and loosen with a little warm water if necessary). Brush the warm glaze over the top of the tart and serve either warm or cold.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I Heart Belfast

I had a fantastic time in Belfast at the weekend. I was there with work but definitely managed to fit in a bit of play! I was working with a really lovely team at Belfast City Council who were hosting a great food festival there. I organised demonstrations in Georges Market on Saturday afternoon for celebrity chefs Paul Rankin and Nick Nairn. I hadn't seen the guys for ages (having not worked on 'Ready, Steady, Cook' for over a year now) so we had a great catch up.

I was put up in a very swanky hotel, The Merchant, which I totally loved every minute of (mood lit baths, chocolate truffles brought with the turn down service and gorgeous cocktails in the bar before hitting the town). Then, I met the team for a delicious dinner in Paul's restaurant, Cayenne, before heading out clubbing.

Slightly sore heads the next day, but the dems went really well. Emma-louise Johnson presented with enthusiasm and the chefs managed to draw a huge crowd, which is great for the market no doubt. They first of all cooked their own recipes, two of which are below. The second part of the dem was an 'against the clock, cook-off' using ingredients a punter had bought in the market, which was a lot of fun. As usual they blew everyone away with the dishes they came up with on the spur of the moment.

The boys working the crowd & Emma Louise doing her thang

So all in all, a fantastic gig to work on....just the small issue of all those boxes of equipment that still need to be unpacked, yawn!

here are a couple of the recipes from the event:



450 g (1 lb) squid, about 10-12.5 cm (4-5 in) long

250 g (9 oz) black tagliatelle (or other black pasta)

2 tbsp light olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

175 g (6 oz) yellow and red cherry tomatoes, halved


2 large red chillies, finely chopped

4 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

Grated zest of ½ lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

120 ml (4 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

To prepare the squid, separate the head and tentacles from the body and discard the stiff cartilage quill. Cut the head free from the tentacles and discard. Remove the purplish skin. Clean and rinse the squid, then cut the large tentacles in half and the body into 1 cm (½ in) ringlets.

To make the gremolata oil, simply stir all the ingredients together. Heat very gently, set aside and keep warm.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente. Meanwhile, heat the light olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. When the oil is almost smoking, add the squid and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 1½-2 minutes, until the squid turns from opaque to white. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

To serve, toss the drained pasta in 2-3 tbsp of the gremolata oil. Divide the pasta between the warmed plates, then spoon over the squid and tomatoes. Drizzle with more gremolata oil and serve.

595 cals per portion
34 g fat per portion

Nick's Hot Blairgowrie Raspberry Souffle

400g raspberries

1 tbsp lemon juice

100g caster sugar

2 tsp crème de framboise

1 tsp cornflour

180g egg whites (about 6)

pinch of cream of tartar

Icing sugar, to serve

Press the raspberries through a fine sieve to produce 180g of purée. Put this into a thick-bottomed pan, add the lemon juice and reduce down to a thick jam, stirring from time to time and being careful not let it catch and burn.

Put 70g of the sugar in a separate pan. Melt it, then boil until it becomes a thick syrup (121°C on a sugar thermometer). To test without a thermometer, dip a teaspoon into the syrup and then quickly into cold water. You should be able to roll the cooling syrup into a ball between your fingers. But be careful as the syrup is exceedingly hot! When it has reached the right point, stir the hot syrup into the raspberry jam.

Mix the framboise and cornflour together and stir into the jam over the heat. This will help the jam to thicken. Turn the jam into a small bowl, sprinkle the surface with icing sugar and cover closely with cling film. This can all be done the day before and kept in the fridge. Return the jam to room temperature before using.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4. Slowly whisk the egg whites with the cream of tarter until you can form soft peaks, then fold in the remaining caster sugar, taking care not to overwhisk. Lightly fold the whites into the jam, leaving thin traces of white visible in the mixture. Spoon into four buttered and sugared large ramekins, place these on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes.

Transfer the ramekins to plates. Dust the hot soufflés lightly with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Christmas comes early

I have spent most of the last few months basting turkeys and dusting icing sugar over mince pies! Working ahead of the seasons is never as noticeable as Christmas in the middle of summer. I can truely say I am over it now - to begin with, it was novel to pull decorations out early but with one more Christmas shoot looming next week I'm looking forward to packing them away again for another couple of months until the real event.

An exciting project I worked on is the forthcoming new Superquinn magazine called 'Savour'. It is due to hit the shelves in November and is packed full of Christmas! One of the things I contributed to in the magazine is a feature about the count down to Christmas. It is all about being organised in the lead up to the big day so that you can enjoy the main event itself. So don't freak out at my suggestion of getting your Christmas pudding made now - with time, it improves in taste and besides, making ahead will surely free up some time for Christmas partying.

Here is a recipe from my friend Jo Pratt in London. She wrote this for a book and programme we worked on for the BBC in about 2003 called 'Nation's Favourite Food'. I remember this as being a deliciously fruity pudding.

This delicious Christmas pudding can make 3x 900g/2lb or 2x 1.5kg/3lb puddings.

50g/2oz self-raising flour
175g/6oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
50g/2oz ground almonds
225g/8oz shredded suet
225g/8oz dark muscovado sugar
100g/4oz white breadcrumbs from a 2-day loaf
1.5kg/3lb mixed currants, raisins and sultanas
1 tbsp black treacle
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
1 orange, finely grated zest and juice
1 carrot, finely grated
1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
2 tbsp brandy or rum, plus extra for flaming
150ml/5fl oz dark ale or stout
4 eggs, beaten
flour and butter, for preparing the basins


1. Sift together the flours, baking powder and spices into a large bowl. Stir in the almonds, suet, sugar and breadcrumbs, mixing well. Add the remaining pudding ingredients stirring well after each addition. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge or a really cool place for 24 hours or up to 1 week if possible, stirring a few times.
2. Grease and lightly flour either 3 x 900ml/1½ pint or 2 x 1.2 litre/2 pint basins and pack in the pudding mixture. Top the surface of the puddings with a circle of greaseproof paper, then cover with baking parchment or aluminum foil. Fold around the edges of the basin and tie with string, or tightly scrunch the foil under the lip of the basin. Place in a steamer of boiling water for about 6 hours, topping up with water every so often, making sure it doesn't boil away (if you don't have a steamer, you can place the pudding on an upturned bowl in the bottom of the saucepan).
3. Leave to cool and remove the parchment/foil and greaseproof paper and replace with a new lot. The puddings can now be stored in a cool, dry place. On the big day the pudding should be steamed for about 1½-2 hours, or covered loosely and heated in the microwave for about 6 minutes on high power, checking its progress every so often by inserting a skewer into the centre and leaving for a couple of seconds. If the skewer comes out piping hot, the pudding is ready to eat after standing for 1 minute. For more accurate timings it is best to check the manufacturer instructions.
4. To flame the pudding half-fill a metal ladle with brandy (or use as much as you want) and carefully heat over a gas flame or lit candle. When the flame is hot enough, the brandy will light. Pour the flaming brandy over the pudding. Make sure the lights are out when taking to the table for a grand entrance.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

one very electric picnic

Well, it's been a couple of weeks now but i have finally got around to wiping the muddy memories from my wellies. I had a fantastic time at electric picnic; can you believe I landed a totally jammy job there? Rachel Allen was head-lining in the cookery tent (rock and roll!) and I went along to set up for her. Marty, the husband, otherwise known as 'the boy' (he'll kill me!), came along as my trusty assistant. So the camping gear joined the usual pot & pan paraphenalia in the car and we were off.

Rachel showed hundreds of revellers how to cook a quick gazpacho. Then she got some punters up to cook a posh steak & chanterelle dish with her. We won't talk about the very drunk punter who revealed his own hip flask of whisky for flambeeing while his long silky kaftan sleeves flapped around the flames, yikes! Then, while we handed out hundreds of umbrella clad cocktails, which marty had been busy making, Rachel finished off with some Flirtini cocktails. We also managed to rope in some guys from the Bacardi tent to come and do their very best Tom Cruise on cocktail making. HOT!

Our other foody feasts at electric picnic included a delicious lunch at 'soon to be in Dublin' Pie Minster, a 'not quite the same as the restaurant' pot of pad Thai in Diep and a yummy breakfast of cup cakes at the farmers market. Even the drunken burger (from Rocket and Relish) on the way back from rocking out with Franz Ferdinand on Saturday night was posh! Electric Picnic also created food awards in conjunction with Bridgestone Food Guides for the exceptional line up of food traders at the event. For those of you who don't know it, this is a muddy music festival we're taking about! Altogether a very flash music (and food!) festival.