Play With Your Food

22 08 2012

This evening was my turn to cook (caponata with brown rice, in case you were wondering) but no sooner had I begun than I got… well… a little distracted! What can I say? I was in a slightly whimsical mood!

So much to my wife’s displeasure, dinner was somewhat delayed. The result? Well…

Slow Roast Rib of Beef

4 01 2012

Christmas is a weird mixture; tonnes of amazing food, virtually none of which I’ve cooked. I’m not complaining, of course. I love having other people cook good food for me, and trips to both sets of parents ensures we never go hungry, with plenty of homemade delights constantly on hand! But I do miss cooking over the Christmas period, and so couldn’t wait to get back into the kitchen for New Year’s Eve.

We cooked spiced and baked chickpeas for pre-dinner nibbles, and a tarte tatin for dessert, followed by a selection of cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy. But the centrepiece of the meal was a slow roast rib of beef. The rib was from the Cow Club cow and survived a few months of freezing incredibly well, though it did take the best part of a day to defrost!

In order to get the best out of the meat we slow roasted it Heston style, following the recipe from his new book Heston Blumenthal at Home, which is surprisingly accessible! I’ve already made mental notes of a few recipes I can try without needing to invest in any heavy machinery.

You can see the recipe here, but in short we slow roasted the meat at 60°c for around 4 hours until the core temperature of the meat reached 55°c – a meat thermometer is essential! The result was fantastic; succulent medium-rare beef that was unbelievably soft. A million miles away from the dry leathery grey stuff that you so often get (and which I’ve so often made!). There was something very weird about having a piece of meat in an oven for a few hours and still being able to lift it out without the use of oven gloves. But the low heat and time spent waiting was well worth it. So little moisture escaped from the beef that there was next to nothing leaking into the roasting tray. The meat was amazingly juicy, and the fat was just breaking down and was like intensely flavoured jelly. Amazing! Time permitting, this will definitely be my cooking method of choice from now on.

The sauce was beautiful too; a punchy mixture of reduced beef stock (we used Heston’s stock from Waitrose, but only used 1kg, as I couldn’t bring myself to pay £12 for 2kg of stock which I would then reduce down to 500g!) shallots, butter, dijon mustard, tarragon, chives, white wine and parsley. I tried in vain to find some bone marrow… but alas, we had to make do without.

Sadly, I was so excited when it came to cut the beef that I forgot to photograph the final result, so you’ll have to make do with a picture of Heston’s and trust me that ours looked pretty much the same, except about a third of the size. We served it with Dauphinoise potatoes (oozing with gruyere), carrots, savoy cabbage and celeriac puree. Beautiful!

Recipe: A Perfect Panettone

2 01 2012

You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten good panettone. Not the expensive, butter heavy, taste-light, mass produced, dry and dull supermarket version (although some of them can be good); but a fresh, homemade, citrusy, vanilla-laced, rustic looking one. They are a beauty to behold, and a slice goes down perfectly with a cup of Monmouth coffee on a wintery morning.

I’d never made one before, and was desperate to add it to our repertoire of Christmas baking; previous entries including Christmas cake, spiced biscuits, stollen and lebkuchen. Two problems, however, stood in my way.

First, there is a surprising dearth of good panettone recipes around. None of our cookbooks contained one, hardly any of our usual go-to-websites had anything to offer (other than recipes for dishes using chopped up shop bought specimens) and one promising version we did come across bore a host of comments saying that it didn’t work. And second, we don’t own a panettone tin; who does?

So I was thrilled to stumble across this blog, which solved both my problems in one fell swoop. Not only was the recipe a great success, but the suggestion of cooking the panettone in an Ikea cutlery container was inspired!

I must admit, I’m not much of a baker. I’ve made a few cakes here and there (most of which have been successful), but this was my first serious foray into the world of breadmaking. We made three; one as a trial run and the other two as gifts. Each took around 8 hours in total, but it was well worth it for the satisfaction of being able to hold a beautiful, buttery, fragrant, handmade creation. I shall certainly be making them again, and I understand that they can be traditionally eaten at Easter as well as Christmas – a perfect excuse, which I intend to exploit!

Below is the recipe, accompanied with pictures. I’ve not changed it much from @maisoncupcake’s version, (except removing the chocolate chips and adjusting the fruit quantities accordingly), but I have annotated it with a few tips of my own and the odd thought here and there.


Makes 1 Large Loaf 


7g sachet dried yeast
400g strong white bread flour
75g caster sugar
2 large free range eggs plus 2 egg yolks at room temperature
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
half teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest of one unwaxed orange and one unwaxed lemon
half teaspoon salt
175g softened unsalted butter
90g sultanas
90g mixed peel, chopped
40g unsalted butter to finish 


Mix 125g of the weighed flour with the yeast and sugar in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix the two whole eggs with the water and pour into the well. Using your hands or a dough hook, mix the flour into the liquid to make a smooth thick batter. I used my hand, which was infinitely more satisfying than a hook. Just remember to remove wedding rings first; looking like you’re single for a few hours is far preferable to having crusty dough stuck around your fingers! Sprinkle a little  flour over the batter to prevent a skin forming then leave in a warm place for around an hour or until the batter is bubbly.

Stir in the egg yolks, vanilla and grated zest using your hand. I’d never realised until this stage that it was vanilla that gives panettone its trademark aroma. But that, coupled with the zest immediately made the kitchen smell of Christmas.

Gradually work in 175g flour plus the salt to make a soft sticky dough. This bit, I admit, gets a little tough on the hands. I’d suggest putting a cloth under the bowl, which will grip it and stop it moving, making it easier to mix.


Next add the softened butter and work in with your fingers. Beat until the butter is incorporated with no streaks.







Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead thoroughly by hand for 10 mins working in the remainder of the weighed flour to make a satiny soft pliable non-sticky dough. You may need to use a little more flour. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature until doubled in size, probably 2 to 2.5 hours. Don’t leave in a very warm place as the butter will melt.

Next uncover the dough and punch down to deflate. This is very satisfying. So much so that I photographed the process, enjoying the fist marks. Cover and let it double in size again (1-1.5 hours).

Meanwhile, combine the sultanas with the chopped peel. Stir in a teaspoon of flour to stop it clumping in the dough.

Given that we used our regular Ikea cutlery holder, we needed to sterilise it. To do this, wash it thoroughly and then put it in the oven on a low to medium heat to dry off.




Prepare the tin by first greasing it, and then lining it with parchment paper. I’m rubbish at this sort of thing, so Helen did this bit brilliantly. She cut a circle to sit in the bottom, and then a piece of paper big enough to wrap around and fit inside the tin. Make it about 6cm higher than the tin. Fold a flap around 1cm from the bottom, and then cut slits about 1cm apart, all the way along. Put the paper into the tin so that the flaps sit flat on the bottom and then put the circle of paper on top, sticking it down with a little butter or oil. The paper should extend 5cm higher than the height of the tin.

Punch down the risen dough again and turn onto a floured surface; sprinkle the fruit on top and work into the dough gently until evenly distributed. The dough gets quite tough, the more you work in.

All this time, try to keep the temperature in the room quite low, and don’t overwork the dough, as the butter easily melts under the heat of your hands.



Shape the dough into a ball and gently drop it into the tin. This is harder than it sounds, as the dough stretches, the paper flops and the butter melts! I found it necessary to put the dough in the fridge for just a minute to stop the butter melting, before moulding it into a ball. Try to get the ball as smooth as possible. The third time I made this, I had a fold on the outside, which caused me some problems in getting it out of the tin (see below).


Cut a cross into the top. On one of my attempts I cut the cross too deep, which meant that the top spread out a bit too much and didn’t keep its shape. Lay a sheet of clingfilm loosely over the top of the tin and leave for another hour or so until doubled in size again. I’d suggest putting the tin into an ovenproof dish, as this will catch any melting butter that seeps through. The original recipe didn’t mention this, but I learnt the hard way as I returned to find butter dripping onto the kitchen floor.


Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 200c / 400f / gas 6. When ready to bake, melt 15g of the butter for finishing and brush it over the risen dough. Put a knob of butter in the centre of the cross.

Bake for 10 minutes or until just starting to colour, then brush again with melted butter. Reduce the temperature to 180c / 350f / gas 4 and bake for a further 40 minutes until a good golden brown and a skewer inserted to the centre comes out clean. After about 10 minutes the top of my panettone was going too brown, so I covered it in a little foil hat. @maisoncupcake’s didn’t need foil until about 30 minutes – it just depends on your oven, so keep an eye on it.

Remove from the oven and place the tin on a wire rack. Allow to cool for a few minutes before teasing it out of the tin. If your crust is fragile allow to cool further before removing from tin. This was not easy! You’ll need to gently, but firmly, hold the cake with one hand, and turn the tin with the other. On the third attempt, I’d had some folds on the outside of my dough, so there were some protruding layers of bread, which caught as I tried to remove it from the tin. A careful knife around the rim, a long long time twisting gently and one (mild) swear word finally got it out!


Cool completely before slicing, or decorating, depending on whether this little beauty is for you or for someone else.

This should last about a week without going so stale that it’s inedible – however, I defy you to make it last that long!

Cow Club debuts… with a Red Beef Curry

10 10 2011

Red Beef Curry

Last Friday, late at night, I took delivery of 5kg of prime beef from the back of a car driven by a South African. Payment by cash. I know it sounds a little suspect, but really it was all above board… This was the culmination of the very first Cow Club; a collaborative project to buy a whole 100% grass-fed Sussex bullock! It was an amazing sight: a car full of cow pulling up outside the house, and searching through the package to find out what cuts we had got was like Christmas come early! If you haven’t heard about the project, check out the Facebook page or follow on Twitter to find out when the next animal will be on its way Londonward from the countryside.

I have some grand plans for the meat… Particularly looking forward to a slow roast rib with celeriac mash later in the autumn (dinner guests are already earmarked and booked in, before you kindly offer your help in eating it!). But tonight was the first taste, and we decided to use some of the braising steak to do a Sri Lankan Red Curry.

The meat was brilliant: really flavoursome and tender, and without all that icky watery fatty nastiness that usually bubbles its way off supermarket beef. And it stood up nicely to the spiciness of the curry. Originally from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible (which is by far the best curry book I’ve ever come across), this is a great, rich, medium-heat dish. The ingredients list may look a little daunting, but it’s worth the effort. And it you don’t have one of the more unusual ingredients, you can make do without, or substitute it… I’ve posted the original recipe below, though I made a few tweaks today, due to not having the right ingredients to hand. If you don’t have any pandanus leaf (as I didn’t today!) you can leave it out, and perhaps just up the fenugreek a little – though if you do have some, it’ll add a deep earthiness to the curry, so worth finding if at all possible. Brixton Market is my usual calling-point for all of these things… It hasn’t failed me yet! Also, I only had fenugreek leaves today, not seeds. Tasted fine…

Give it a go… and enjoy!

Red Beef Curry
Serves 4


450g braising steak, cut into 2.5cm chunks
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp cayenne pepper (Feel free to decrease this a little if you prefer a slightly milder curry)
2 tsp bright red paprika
Ground pepper
3 tbsp corn or peanut oil
1 medium stick cinnamon
4 whole cardamom pods
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 tbsp finely sliced shallots
2 finely sliced garlic cloves
2 thin slices of fresh ginger
5cm piece of pandanus leaf
10-15 curry leaves (If you don’t have them, feel free to leave them out… though they are nice, and apparently they’re good for keeping your hair healthy?!?!)
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
175ml coconut milk, well-shaken


Red Beef Curry

Put the meat in a bowl with the coriander, sum in, fennel, cayenne pepper, paprika and lots of black pepper. Mix and leave to marinate for 20 minutes (or longer if possible).

Pour the oil in a large, non-stick lidded pan, and put it on a medium heat. When hot, add the cinnamon, cardamom, fenugreek, shallots, garlic, ginger, pandanus leaf and curry leaves. Stir for about 2 mins, until the onions are translucent. Then add the meat and cook for about 3 mins, until lightly browned.

Add the salt, 350ml of water and the lemon juice. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover and simmer for 80 mins, stirring two or three times, and adding a little water if necessary. (Mine pretty much burnt dry today, so needed a quick rescue attempt! But the disaster was averted…)

Stir in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer… check the seasoning, and serve with plain rice!

What’s your beef?

3 09 2011

Do you like nothing better than tucking into a hunk of cow? Do you like knowing where your cow has come from, what it’s been eating, and how it’s been treated? Do you like high quality meat at a bargain price? Then you need to join Cow Club!

Cow Club is a collaborative initiative to buy a whole mooing, 100% grass-fed Sussex bullock, which will then be divided up and delivered to your house on October 8th. These beasts won’t have been fattened up on grain, stuffing them full of Omega 6 and lessening the taste; just pure grass the way nature/God (depending on your religious inclination) intended it!

This is a great opportunity to buy amazing meat at a fraction of the price you’d normally pay to online meat companies. So if you live in London and fancy 5 or 10kg of beef, check out or @thecowclub and sign up!

And in the not too distant future, cow club may well expand to incorporate Southdown Lamb and Berkshire Pigs as well… For all your meaty needs!

Giz a kiss, by tricky ™

Review: Krishna

30 08 2011

Were you to list the top spots in the UK you might go for an amazing curry, I sincerely doubt that Whitstable would be be a natural contender. But if that is the case, that simply means you haven’t yet discovered Krishna.

A small, unassuming restaurant in a layby near the train station, Krishna is not exactly the kind of place you would expect Indian fine dining. But truly, this restaurant is a gem. So last week it was great to go back there with my brother to celebrate his birthday… albeit his 24th birthday, 11 months overdue. I would happily make it a birthday tradition and return again in a month!

The chefs at Krishna take their cookery seriously, and have created a wide ranging menu of delights. I always feel a slight pang of nerves when I see a menu containing dishes into their dozens: what restaurant can honestly maintain consistent quality across all their dishes when the sheer range is so vast?! Here the feeling conjured up was not one of nervousness, but indecision. Choosing what to eat from such an intriguing menu may just be one of the toughest decisions you have to make for quite some time…

This is not your typical brit-curry menu with brown mush distinguishable only by the level of heat: non-existent to immobilising. These dishes are vibrant, fresh and colourful. You can clearly make out each element and spice, and everything is beautifully presented. The waiting staff know the menu well and are very happy to make recommendations for what dishes go well together to help you get a balanced meal.
Onion Bhajia

I’m normally one for having a single dish and just keeping it to myself. I can’t abide that horrible experience of completely unrelated sauces merging together on the plate in some indistinguishable slime; the cross-section of which ends up tasting like a spicy/sweet slop bucket! But the menu here is just so diverse, and given that I want to try everything on it, I have to just swallow my OCD and be willing to share. With a cunningly constructed basmati wall to stop the sauce bleed, all was ok – though I did cringe a little as I realised how sadly reminiscent it was of Alan Partridge’s critique of Sonya’s fried breakfast cooking skills:

Minor criticism… More distance between the eggs and the beans. I may want to mix them, but I want that to be my decision. Perhaps use the sausage as a breakwater.”

Hmm… I fear there may be a bit of the Partridge in me…

So between us we ordered a range of dishes, and every one of them was a winner. In fact, we have now been there twice and haven’t had a single disappointing dish; with the possible exception of a duck chettinad, which wasn’t at all bad, it’s just that the duck didn’t really shine.

After the amuse bouche, a complimentary shot of warm spiced soup, we started with Onion Bhajia: three beautiful orbs of fried onion with tangy tamarind and mint sauces, and Mogo Masala: soft cassava chips in a beautiful tomatoey sauce. For mains we went with a Chicken Merwad, which was cooked in an interesting combination of spinach, fenugreek, mustard and dill, it was beautiful, and such an unusual flavour, Lamb Dhansak with pumpkin, aubergine and lentils, and a Fish Tikka. We’d had the Tikka last time we visited and repeating the experience was a no-brainer! Huge chunks of perfectly cooked monkfish, delicately spiced so as not to obscure the fish taste; and being in Whitstable you just know it’s fresh and local.

Fish Tikka

Along with this we shared basmati rice and Baingan Bharta, smoked aubergine with corn, with a beautiful sweet smokey flavour. Each dish hit home on every level: flavoursome, perfectly cooked and beautifully presented – no generic-looking slop in tired old dishes.

Sharing dishes gave us more than enough food at a reasonable price. This time we went with three people and ordered the same amount we’d previously had for four; as a result it was slightly less good value – but still around the same you might pay in any old normal indian restaurant, yet infinitely more interesting.

Note, a number of reviews have said that the takeaway is, by comparison, disappointing. I haven’t had takeaway from there, so I don’t know about that, but don’t let this put you off going to the restaurant; There is nothing in the least bit disappointing about that!

Braised and (Theoretically) Barbecued Pork Belly with Chorizo

16 08 2011

I am a sucker for pork belly. I don’t mind how it comes: braised in cider with apples, chinese style, or simply slow roasted with nothing but a grating of salt. Just so long as it’s cooked on a low heat for a protracted period, and ideally with the fat crisped beautifully at the end, I’m happy.

This week, two moods collided, and I felt insatiable cravings for both a BBQ and my beloved slow roasted pork. So since I had some time, and some guests coming round, I got to work…

Pork belly is one of the cheaper cuts of pork, so a great bargain from a supermarket; though if you have a little cash spare and a desire to splash out, do try and get it from a butcher. That we did, from Canterbury’s Goods Shed. And a beautiful piece of meat it was! If you’re just planning to roast it, best to ask the butcher to remove the bones and rind for you: it’s a little bit of a faff, unless you have razor sharp knives. Last time I tried, it took me about an hour, and I massacred the poor thing. But since I was planning to braise this, I left the bones in, to give it some added flavour.

I decided to braise the belly with white wine and chorizo for a few hours, before crisping it up on the barbecue. Sadly, my barbecuing skills left much to be desired, and the darned thing never quite made it to a useable temperature! So I ended up frying the pork off to crisp it up, thus missing out on some of the smokey goodness it should have had.

My ineptitude aside, the result was great! The meat was tender, and the fat crispy. The meat had a nice, faint hint of white wine, and I was also left with a beautiful liquid, some of which I thickened to make a sauce, and the rest of which I used as the base for a stock to make Boulangère Potatoes. We also served it with a courgette and mint salad and green beans.

So here’s my recipe. Do feel free to customise it. Having never made it before, it was a bit of an experiment, and I’m pretty sure it could be improved. Perhaps if I were serving it with particularly spanish themed foods, I would add some extra paprika and chilli to give it a little more of a kick. And I’d suggest doing it as part of a larger barbecue repertoire. Serve it alongside other barbecue regulars, as it does seem a little bit of a waste to heat up the coals for only 15 minutes of its 4 hours of cooking time!

Braised and (Theoretically) Barbecued Pork Belly with Chorizo
Serves 4-6


1.5 kg pork belly, rind removed. Bones left in.
100g chunk of chorizo
500ml white wine
500ml water
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
6 peppercorns
1 tsp. brown sugar


Preheat the oven to around 150°C, and find a casserole dish or deep roasting pan big enough to house the pork.

Assuming the rind is already removed, score the fat and grate a little salt over the top. Start off by frying the pork for a few minutes; just give it a minute or so on the meaty side in order to seal it, and then focus the majority of your time on the fat, until it goes golden and begins to crisp.

Meanwhile, dice the chorizo and chop the onion into around 8 pieces. Sweat them off in the casserole dish, allowing the paprika to bleed and dye the onions a kind of menacing red. Then add the peppercorns and garlic cloves, peeled, but left whole. Fry off until the onions have coloured (if you can see that beneath the chorizo stains!) then place the pork belly in the dish, fat side up, nuzzling it down in between the onions.

Pour in the wine, and top it up with approximately the equivalent of water; just enough to cover the pork. Then stir in a teaspoon of brown sugar. Depending on the wine you’re using, you may want to add a splash of white wine vinegar as well, but our wine was acidic enough without: an embarrassingly cheap bottle from our France trip!

Then cover, either with a lid, or parchment paper, and pop in the oven. Braise for about 3 hours. If you happen to have an entire day free, then feel free to drop the temperature and cook it for even longer, but 3 hours will do just fine.

Remove the pork from the liquid and leave to cool (chill overnight if you want). When cool enough to handle easily, cut into strips, using the bones as demarcations. Then when it’s time to eat, make sure the barbecue is good and hot (ha!), and then put the pork on, skin down to crisp it up. Once the skin is beautifully crispy, give it a couple of minutes on each side to ensure the pork is heated right through. And serve!