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…

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!

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!

I am a worm, and not a man…

13 08 2011

Yesterday I learnt a sad, hard lesson: I am inept at barbecuing.

Well, that’s not strictly true… I didn’t get far enough to test my skills at the actual cooking. I suppose what I mean to say is that I am inept at lighting barbecues.

There are many factors I could blame for my failure:

  • The charcoal was old, and perhaps a little damp
  • I didn’t have the right equipment
  • It was too windy
  • Once the coals started to get warm, the rain began to fall

But as they say, ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I know if I’m honest that the failure was not due to any implement, but to an individual. There is one person to blame for my incompetence, and one person alone: my father.

You see, nobody ever taught me to light a barbecue. Surely that was his job! I was taught to tell the time, swim, ride a bike, and spit cherry stones with laser-like precision… but nobody ever taught me how to get little blocks of charcoal hot enough to burn a burger! Why this omission from my otherwise adequate education?

The art of barbecuing is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. People seem strangely cagey about their methodology, and there is something unnervingly ‘cloak and dagger’ (or rather ‘apron and tongs’) about the way in which the secrets are guarded.

It has been this way since primeval man first learnt to burn things and eat them. For many thousands of years, women and children have been banished from the grill, lest they discover the techniques behind the wizardry of the embers. Women were told ‘this is a man’s job’. Or perhaps if he were feeling a little more devious the male in question would adopt a tone of faux-chivalry and say, ‘put your feet up love and let me serve you’, whilst children were scared with stories of explosions, scorchings, and facial-scarring.

But presumably there would be some point at which the child would be taught the methodology of barbecuing? Just the male children, of course. Stone-age fathers who gave birth only to daughters would have been scorned, or considered cursed, for having not produced an heir to the grill.

At some point in time, the young boy would come of age and be allowed into the circle of trust – perhaps once he had undergone a right of passage, such as slaughtering a wild boar with his bare hands, or spending a night in a snake infested cave – only then earning the right to learn the secrets of the cinders. At that point, and not a moment before, would a father take his child to a remote forest, and teach him the ways of barbecuing. And as they left the village, the other stone-age fathers would exchange knowing looks; today is the day a child becomes a man.

Somehow I missed out on this experience.

At some point in the early ‘90s, the father to son transmission of the secrets was interrupted, and I was never inducted into the order of the embers. I feel that perhaps I was the only one. Did I not prove myself? If there was some kind of task I was meant to complete in order to ‘come of age’, nobody ever told me! I would happily have wrestled a bear, or drunk the blood of a goat, or whatever it took to earn the right to learn this precious skill.

And so, alas, last night I spent hours standing before a pile of frigid coals, using an entire box of matches, googling many tips and techniques, writing the majority of them off as old wives’ tales, and finally retreating inside to the hob and the electric grill. I smelt of smoke and had nothing to show for it.

I can’t help but wonder if Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, felt the same sense of shame and bewilderment as I did? Was King Louie some self-referential device, used to vent the author’s personal angst at his inability to barbecue?

What I desire is man’s red fire, to make my dreams come true.’

All this is to say that I am not to blame for my failure. I am the victim of inadequate parenting! I have been overlooked and under-taught and I protest that my inability to light a barbecue in no way diminishes my masculinity.

That’s my excuse, and I’m clinging to it ‘til I die.

p.s. Dad… I’m only joking; I don’t blame you. But seriously…

Give me the power of man’s red flower, so I can be like you!

Moroccan aubergine pie

3 06 2011

We’re having an unusually fun week in terms of cookery. We had a bunch of people round for dinner on Wednesday, including a vegetarian or two. So the challenge… making something everyone could eat and meat-eaters would enjoy, without realising we’d duped them out of their hunk of flesh. I tend to think that aubergine is a good meat-replacement. It still has the ‘bite’ of meat, and is nicely versatile. And given that we had some beetroot arrive in our veg box, we decided to ‘de-meat’ a dish we’ve done many times before. It’s a great meal which looks impressive, but is surprisingly easy.

The original recipe is for Moroccan Spiced Pie. Below is our vegetarian version, which was a reasonably good imitation! The major differences were substituting aubergine for meat, upping the spices to compensate for the lack of depth from the lamb, and leaving out the cranberries, which would have been just too sweet without the lamb to counter-balance it. It was nice, although the spices were still a little too subtle. So for future, I would increase the cumin and coriander even further; perhaps to 2 1/2 tsp each… or better still, just keep the meat!!


500 g aubergines
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cm fresh ginger, grated
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp salt
4 medium carrots, grated
1/2 leek (We just happened to have this in the fridge, so chucked it in.)
2 raw beetroot
100 g pine nuts
25 g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
200 g filo pastry
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tsp harissa
200 ml Greek yogurt
2-3 tbsp milk
pinches paprika, to garnish


Cut the aubergines into 1cm cubes. Fry them in a little oil until they begin to go soft. Add the leeks, garlic, ginger, spices and seasoning and fry for 2-4 minutes. In order to grate the ginger, you may find it easiest to freeze it first. It then grates far more smoothly, without any of that stringy nastiness you usually get.

Add the carrots, beetroot, and most of the pine nuts, reserving a tablespoon for decoration. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Take it off the heat and allow to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C / Gas 6. Melt the oil and butter together in a pan. Brush a 28cm round loose-bottomed tin with the oil and butter, lay one sheet of the pastry in the base allowing a little to hang over the edges. Brush lightly with oil and butter and continue to layer up to 8 sheets of pastry at alternate angles so that the whole base is covered and there is plenty hanging over the edges and all round.

Pile the filling into the tin and bring the pastry up over the top, scrunching it together. Add 5 or 6 more sheets of pastry scrunched up on top to make it look interestingly textured, and drizzle with the remaining oil and butter.

Bake for 20 minutes and sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts. Continue to bake for another 5-10 minutes until golden and crisp.

Mix the harissa paste with the yoghurt and milk and sprinkle with a little paprika. Slice and serve the pie hot.

We served it with a potato salad and some spring greens, sliced and fried with cumin and garlic.

Durban-Style Chicken

30 05 2011

Let’s face it… roast chicken is always good. But sometimes I fancy doing something a little more interesting than just shoving a lemon inside – It’s nice and simple, but it’s not very dignified for the poor bird! We had friends over yesterday, and decided to cook a chicken, and I was in the mood for something a little different…

This is my absolute favourite more ‘exotic’ recipe to elevate the humble roast chicken. It’s not too hot, but very flavoursome, and it works surprisingly well in the summer with a good salad.

It’s from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible, (which, of the many curry cookbooks I’ve tried, is absolutely the best!), slightly tweaked. The biggest faff is skinning the chicken. I’m getting quicker at this. The first time took me the best part of 40 minutes! This time I did two chickens in 16 minutes. I’ve found it’s easiest to slice the skin at the base, peel it over the sides, and then work up the legs. Then do the same at the breasts, and work down, meeting halfway. The legs and wings are the hardest bits. I keep tugging tentatively at the skin, in fear that it’s going to ping off and slap me in the eye! I tend to just leave the wings, because, let’s face it, when it comes to serving up, I’m going to eat those before anyone else gets a look in anyway!

Here’s the recipe for one bird… we doubled it and did two on this occasion. If you do that, you’ll need to significantly increase the cooking time: we went for 90 mins covered and 20 mins uncovered.


1 chicken, approx. 1 ¾ kg, skinned.
4 tbsp. lemon juice (though this did make the paste a little sloppy. In future I think I’d consider reducing this to about 2 ½ tbsp)
5cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 fresh, hot, green chillies, chopped (I tend to use whatever colour chillies I have around, a mixture of red and green this time. I deseeded half of the chillies, as not all our guests would appreciate the burn!)
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin (I always increase this, because I personally love the strong flavour of cumin. I usually go for about 1 ½ tsp.)
2 tsp. ground coriander (Likewise, if you up the cumin, increase the coriander too, to balance it out)
½ tsp. chilli powder
Ground pepper


Peel the chicken, and make two deep, diagonal slits in each breast, going right down to the bone. Make two deep slashes in the thighs and drumsticks as well. Line a roasting dish with a large sheet of foil, large enough to encase the chicken. Place the chicken (breast up) on the foil.

Combine the lemon juice, ginger, garlic, chillies, salt, olive oil, cumin and coriander , and blend until you have a paste. Rub it into the chicken, working it into the slits. Leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200°C / Gas Mark 6.

Dust the top of the chicken with the chilli powder and black pepper. Bring up the foil over the top, crimp it together to cover the chicken in a little shiny coffin, then cook for 1 hour. After the hour, baste the chicken, and then bake it uncovered for another 15 minutes, basting it again every 5 minutes.

Serve however you want really… We went for a leafy salad with feta and pine nuts, roasted jersey royals, and roasted shallots. Heavenly!


26 05 2011

Recently, a few people have suggested we start a food blog. I think it was mostly to shut us up, but it got me thinking. I really do love cooking and baking, and I also tend to be a little evangelistic when it comes to a recipe I like. So hopefully this will just be an outlet for me to tell you about things that worked, and things that didn’t (probably with photos for those). We’ll see how we go.

I’m easing in gently, starting with the family favourite flapjack. One of the easiest recipes in the world, yet surprisingly I have had some real disasters with rock hard oats that refuse to come out of the tin, through to the complete opposite crumble topping flapjack, only to be eaten with a spoon on cereal (I’ve actually done this!). So imagine my joy when last night I hit on a winner of a recipe. I tend to make minor adjustments to recipes as I go, depending on ingredients etc, and also learning from my mistakes. So following my last crumble flapjack attempt, I made some calculations and this was the resulting recipe:

A note on sugar: I like to use a brown sugar, but often find that using just brown sugar can be a bit much, so I always add a bit of caster sugar to balance it out.


225g margarine – melted

225g sugar (I used 150g light muscovado and 75g caster)

45ml golden syrup

325g porridge oats

50g plain flour (using 100% oats is what makes it difficult to remove from the tin)

pinch salt

100g chopped dark chocolate  (or 75g dried fruit, 25g sunflower & pumpkin seeds / 75g dried apricots, 25g sesame seeds, pine nuts & pumpkin seeds)


Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Grease and line a square or rectangular tin, roughly 20cm x 20cm.

Place oats, flour, sugar, syrup, pinch of salt and melted margarine in a bowl and mix well.

Add 75% of the chocolate or fruit and mix lightly. Pour into the tin.

Sprinkle the remaining chocolate or fruit on the top and bake in the oven for 30mins or until golden on the edges. Remove from oven, mark slices with a knife and leave to cool in the tin.