A Savoury Nibble

I often have a bit of a savoury tooth when it comes to snacking. I do love cake, my sweet sweet downfall, but when it comes to chocolate or biscuits and that sort of thing, I’d usually pass them up in a heartbeat for something saltier; a packet of crisps say, or some pitta chips with a tasty dip and a side of crunchy vegetables.

Lately I’ve spent a lot of my free time having a good drool over the food in the Honey & Co. cookbook. It all looks so delicious it’s hard to know where to start, but I noticed a recipe for Bouikos which they describe as little cheese buns native to the Balkans. To me, they taste like a really flaky savoury scone turned amuse bouche. On biting into one of these tantalising wee triangles my ‘bouche’ was certainly amused. Tender cheesy goodness, they really hit the spot!

Bouikos

Bouikos

100g plain flour

50g cold butter

40g mature cheddar cheese

40g feta

a pinch of salt

50ml sour cream

1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds

2 spring onions, sliced

milk, to glaze

Method

Cut the butter into small cubes, grate the cheddar cheese and crumble the feta, then combine all the ingredients together. Work the mixture together with your hands until it just combines. Lumps of butter and cheese are exactly what you want in this dough, because when you bake it they will melt and be so tasty!

Put the dough on a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a rough rectangle roughly 2-3cm thick. Flour the blade of your knife, cut the dough in half lengthways, slice across three times to divide it into six squares, then cut each of these corner to corner to make twelve small triangles. You could shape these into any shape you like though, however it might mean re-rolling the offcuts which has the potential of making them ever so slightly tougher.

Preheat your oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7.

Brush the tops with a little milk for a glossy finish. Bake on a lined baking tray on the upper-middle shelf of the oven for 10 minutes. Open the oven and carefully turn the tray around, then reduce the temperature to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6 and bake for a further 6-8 minutes until they are golden.

These can be eaten straight away or cooled on a tray until ready to be served. They do taste best though when eaten on the same day.

• What’s especially nice about this recipe is that it takes hardly any time to whip up, but they also freeze really well raw. Freeze the triangles on a flat tray with a bit of space in between each of them, then once they’re fully frozen pack them into a container or freezer bag. You could easily keep a ziplock bag of these in the freezer so they’re ready to just pop in the oven when snacks are called for, just make sure you let them thaw for a short while at room temperature before baking, between 30 minutes to an hour if possible. Now you have a nice nibble on backup for a rainy day! BOOM.

A Roulade for a Summer’s Day

Working next door to a fruit and vegetable shop, it’s very difficult not to notice the changing of the seasons. Gone are the bushy bunches of leafy greens, purple sprouting broccoli and forced rhubarb of Spring. Instead the shelves are abundant with stone fruits, such as nectarines, peaches, apricots and cherries, sweet fresh peas still in their pods, and not forgetting Summer’s sweetheart, the tomato; ripe, delicious and ready to be devoured.

However, this year for me, the first moment of realisation that Summer had finally arrived was upon seeing row after crimson row of strawberries and raspberries lining the shop front before I’d even reached the door. Quite an exciting moment! As a chef, I spend a lot of time in the greengrocer’s sussing out the produce to see what is in season and what I can pick up to make that day’s soup or salads, but after a few days of eyeing up the delightfully plump berries I thought it necessary to buy some to turn into the quintessential summer dessert – the meringue roulade.

To be honest, meringue, whether it be a pavlova, roulade or atop a lemon meringue pie, works for me any time of the year, but the slightly crisp, marshmallowy foundation with a generous layer of unsweetened, vanilla scented cream is the perfect way to showcase the deliciously fragrant Summer fruit.

Mixed Berry Meringue Roulade

4 large egg whites

225g / 8oz caster sugar

a handful of flaked almonds

300ml / half pint double cream | whipped with the seeds of a vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste

a punnet of strawberries & raspberries (combined weight of about 400-500g) | strawberries sliced into quarters

Method

Preheat your oven to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2.

Line a 30 x 20cm / 12 x 8 inch swiss roll tin with baking parchment.

Put the egg whites and half of the sugar into a bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, whisk to snowy peaks.

Gradually add the remaining sugar, continuing to whisk for 10-15 minutes until it forms stiff peaks.

Spread the mixture into the tin, sprinkle with the flaked almonds and bake for an hour.

Remove it from the oven and let it cool.

Turn the meringue out onto a fresh piece of baking parchment and carefully peel off the lining paper.

Spread over the cream, then top with the raspberries and strawberries and roll it up firmly from the long end, using the parchment paper to help you.

Sometimes I would dust the top with a little icing sugar or pipe on some rosettes of cream, each topped with either half a strawberry or a raspberry, but that’s merely for aesthetics, so not really necessary!

Warm Squash & Chickpea Salad with Tahini Lemon Dressing

This is the kind of food I often find myself craving. It’s so satisfyingly filling and perfectly savoury with a delicious sweetness from the goldenly roasted squash. Then you’ve got that rich, tart tahini and lemon dressing which makes the whole thing sing!

Warm Squash & Chickpea Salad with Tahini-Lemon Dressing – Serves 4

1kg butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into 1 inch pieces

2 garlic cloves, crushed with a pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

couple of tablespoons olive oil

400g tin or homecooked chickpeas

1/2 smal red onion, finely diced

handful of chopped coriander

For the dressing:

3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons tahini paste

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

small squeeze of honey (optional)

Method

Heat the oven to 200°C.

Toss the squash with half of the garlic (the rest will be used in the dressing), the allspice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking tray and put it into the oven for about half an hour or until tender.

While the squash is cooking get on with the tahini dressing. Mix the rest of the crushed garlic with the lemon juice and add in the tahini. Now thin it with the water and olive oil and add a little honey, salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the salad by placing the squash, chickpeas, red onion and most of the coriander in a mixing bowl, then pour over the tahini dressing and toss together carefully. Sprinkle with the remaining coriander.

If you want to make this salad vegan, just omit the honey or substitute a different sweetener such as agave or even just a small pinch of sugar. It can even just be left out altogether with no problems.

Mushroom Orzo

I always find it quite satisfying when I come across something to make for dinner which is the perfect balance of delicious to low maintenance, something which doesn’t require a tonne of new ingredients. However I suppose the reason I feel this way is because I am not a stranger to taking a trip to the shops with a grocery list the length of my arm. Sometimes though, after a day in the kitchen at work, simple makes a refreshing change –  and this is a really lovely dish, not to mention the perfect way to use up the last of that bottle of wine sitting on the kitchen counter!

Orzo, or risoni as the Italians call it, is a small rice shaped pasta. Here, it is combined with some nice mushrooms and a lightly creamy sauce to make a really tasty, warming meal for two. I like to use a variety of mushrooms in this dish, the more flavoursome the better! I chose a mixture of chestnut and enoki’s this time around. If you do the same, I’d recommend frying the enoki’s separately as they take a little less time to cook.

Mushroom Orzo – serves 2

2 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil

a knob of butter

500g mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced

150g orzo/risoni

2 garlic cloves, chopped

a few sprigs of thyme, leaves only

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

75 ml dry white wine

50ml crème fraîche

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a big handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method

Put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil so that the orzo is ready to cook while the sauce is coming together.

Heat one tablespoon of the oil and half of the butter in a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Cook the mushrooms in two batches, using the remaining oil and butter for the second batch. You want to cook them until all the liquid that’s been released has evaporated and the mushrooms are starting to caramelise. When they’re almost cooked, put the orzo in the boiling water and cook until it tastes al dente.

Return the first batch of mushrooms back to the pan and add the garlic, thyme and vinegar. Give it a good stir and let it simmer for a minute or two before adding the wine. Cook for a few minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated, then add the crème fraîche, reducing the heat a little and stirring until it just starts to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta as soon as it’s cooked and add it to the mushroom mixture, tossing it together well.

Serve scattered with lots of chopped parsley.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Today I just wanted to share some lovely food photography with you all. It’s quite unusual and really rather wonderful too!

This collection of photographs come by way of New York based photographer Beth Galton, who has turned simple food items into incredibly striking conceptual art. In this ‘Cut Food Series’ she dishes up some fascinating images, allowing for a surprising glimpse of cross-sections of the food we eat.

The photographs I found particularly interesting were the ones of the liquids, especially the coffee. I love how dramatic the creamy swirls of milk look, appearing as though they’re loftily dancing about within the contrasting, deeply-hued cup of coffee. It’s quite odd knowing that they are in fact stationary though. I wonder how she got the liquid to set before the milk fully dispersed? Hmm, puzzling.

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‘This series was inspired by an assignment in which we were asked to cut a burrito in half for a client. Normally for a job we photograph the surface of food, occasionally taking a bite or a piece out, but rarely the cross section of a finished dish. By cutting these items in half we move past the simple appetite appeal we normally try to achieve and explore the interior worlds of these products.’ Beth Galton

Glazed Pork. I repeat, Glazed. Pork.

I love it when you’re making dinner and happen upon something really special. I was in the mood for some good old comfort food, and being brought up on my mum’s delicious chinese cooking, for me that tends to veer towards the orient.

I started cooking with a rough idea in mind; Roast belly pork reminiscent of an asian barbeque. I commited to achieving this in every way possible except using a recipe. I spent hours in the kitchen simmering my little pot of homemade sauce and basting the life out of that lovely piece of meat. So, in other words I winged it, albeit wholeheartedly! Dedication is obviously the key though because it turned out better than I could have hoped!

What I managed to pull together after my kitchen foray into barbeque heaven was this:

Glazed Pork

Unctuously glazed belly pork cooked in a deliciously addictive sticky sauce, topped with spring onion. The nice balance of chilli heat, sweetness, saltiness and acidity gave it a predominantly umami flavour – guaranteed to make you weak in the knees! As with asian food in general, it’s all about getting that balance. I served it with some spicy pickled cucumber, roasted peanuts, a little red pepper and corn salad and of course, some fluffy steamed rice.

I may try this out again sometime soon and jot down some notes as I go along, because this is definitely a recipe worth remembering.

Know Your Etiquette!

Have you ever found yourself in the situation where you’re out for dinner in a nice restaurant or maybe at someone’s house, with a group of people you are less than totally comfortable with? Maybe they’re chatting to you in order to get to know you better, but in the process they’re looking at you a little more than is normal to watch a person just eating. This, in turn, puts pressure on you to do things correctly and not make an ass of yourself. So, to save you the bother of having to mentally calculate which glass might be yours the next time an occasion such as this presents itself, here is a nice little dinner guide, illustrated by the ever-funny Gemma Correll and written by Joanna Goddard, as seen on her blog, ‘A Cup of Jo’.

“If you’re a guest at a dinner party (pictured above), wait to start eating until the host or hostess takes his or her first bite (unless they absolutely insist that you start).”

“A funny tip that my grandparents used to tell us: The way to sit in your chair is to pretend a cat is in front of you, a mouse is behind.”

“Your wine and water glasses are to the RIGHT of your plate. Your bread plate is to the LEFT of your plate. If you remember that, you’ll never drink someone’s water or eat their bread again! (A genius tip from readers: To remember the order of the placesetting, think “BMW” — for bread, then meal, then water.)”

“Surprisingly, salt and pepper should be passed together, even if someone asks only for one. They’re considered “married!””

“Never intercept a pass. For example, don’t snag a roll out of the bread basket when it’s on the way to someone else. (You’ll just have to ask them to pass the basket right back!)”

“Scoop your soup with your spoon tilted *away* from you. And surprise! It’s fine to tilt the bowl slightly away from you to get the last drop of soup. But never blow on your soup or food. Even if it’s piping hot!”

“Always taste your food before putting on salt and pepper. It’s considered rude to assume the food is under-seasoned before tasting it.”

This is something, as a chef, I can relate to, so TAKE HEED please!

“When you are finished with your meal, your knife and fork should be placed on your plate diagonally from upper left to lower right (11 to 5 if you imagine your plate as a clock face). This is a secret code to the waiter (or host) that you’re finished.”

To read the full article, head over to Joanna’s website A Cup of Jo

Back To Porridge

Porridge, when made the right way, is a lovely thing indeed. It’s perfect for those days when all you want for breakfast is something warm and comforting, containing only a few simple ingredients.

This past week I’ve been all about the porridge. I’ve been having it every single morning. I caught myself thinking about it late one evening and was wondering about the pre-soaking stage some people do before actually cooking it. I know it’s traditional and all, but does it really make much of a difference? For the amount of effort which actually goes into it, I thought I’d give it a go. From boiling the kettle it literally took me all of 20 seconds, and you know, I think I’m a convert. This extra little step really helps in softening the oats so that when they’re cooked the overall texture is nice and creamy.

It seems almost funny giving you a recipe for porridge because it’s one of those things that epitomises the word ‘basic’. People don’t tend to get over-excited about it. I really like it though. And that term ‘Back to Porridge’? Come on, what is that all about? Don’t say it like it’s a bad thing! I may have to reinvent the phrase and just start using it more positively. “What time is it?! Morning?? Oooh! Back to porridge!”

I think the trick to making a really tasty porridge is all in the amount of time it cooks for. Soaking the oats overnight does cut back on the cooking time a little, but even so, I still like to simmer it for a good 20 minutes or so. This recipe is so easy it almost isn’t one and takes very little effort on your part, so get it in your repertoire!

The Perfect Bowl of Porridge – Serves 1 very hungry individual

1/2 cup organic rolled oats

1 cup freshly boiled water

1/2 cup milk

a pinch of sea salt

Method

Put the oats in a saucepan and add the hot water and pinch of salt. Give it a stir, then cover with a tea towel overnight.

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The following morning, add the milk to the soaked oats and simmer for about 20 minutes on the lowest heat possible. Add a little extra milk if it gets too thick or dry.

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After simmering, your porridge should have thickened to a nice creamy consistency. Now get it into a bowl because it’s almost ready to eat!

Porridge

I usually eat mine with a squeeze of honey or maple syrup, but this week I’ve reverted back to my childhood and have been really enjoying it with a bit of soft brown demerara sugar and a splash of milk. That is where it’s at.

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If you forget to soak the oats the night before it’s not the end of the world! Just soak them for about 15 or 20 minutes prior to cooking, then simmer for about half an hour adding a little extra milk if necessary.

For this recipe I specify a half cup measure of oats, an American measurement which holds 125ml, but really any small mug will do.

Porridge is great eaten with so many different toppings: Maple syrup, honey, or agave nectar. Whatever nuts and seeds you happen to like. Try it with some dried fruit, like raisins or sultanas, figs, sour cherries or dates, or fresh fruit like sliced juicy pears, peaches or nectarines. Another good combo you should try is banana and peanut butter – Just stir in a spoonful of peanut butter into the porridge towards the end of the cooking time along with some sliced banana. When the banana is stirred into the hot porridge it gets a little cooked and becomes reminiscent of the inside of a banana fritter… Yeeaahh that’s right! If that, for some reason unknown to me, is not your thing, just slice some over the top once it’s in the bowl. Whichever topping you decide to opt for, it will taste great, and if not, I will eat my hat, so pick a good’un because I don’t really want to, okay? Thanks.