Looking out of my office window today it’s obvious that spring is very much with us, there’s new growth all around and an air of optimism as the natural world throws off the cloak of winter and stretches. I love this time of year as we see all sorts of things making their annual appearance in our kitchens, for those of you that haven’t had any new season asparagus yet I urge you to grab some and marvel at the delicate flavour.
Seasons form the natural backdrop for eating. All of the World’s Healthiest Foods are seasonal. Imagine a vegetable garden in the dead of winter. Now imagine this same garden on a sunny, summer day. How different things are during these two seasons of the year! For ecologists, seasons are considered a source of natural diversity. Changes in growing conditions from spring to summer or autumn to winter are considered essential for balancing the earth’s resources and its life forms. But today it’s so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat! Modern food processing and worldwide distribution of food make foods available year-round, and grocery stores shelves look much the same in December as they do in July.
Which brings me to this weeks recipe, the fields abound with young lamb and the shops will soon be pushing new season lamb for all they’re worth. This is a situation that I’ve always found a bit odd, after all new season lamb or milk lamb has almost no flavour. The poor little devils haven’t had the time to eat the multitude of grass varieties that will in the coming months give the distinctive flavour that makes lamb so wonderful. So does this mean that lamb is off the menu, well actually no but you need to think about where the flavour comes from, last years lambs have just become year olds or Hogget (why they couldn’t come up with a more appetitising name I don’t know) that wonderful transition between the soft and succulent lamb and the full flavoured but tough mutton.
So ask your butcher for some hogget and give this Moroccan classic a bash and remember sometimes it’s worth waiting for.
Tagine of Lamb with Apricots
The name “tagine” derives from the clay pot with conical lid in which stews are cooked slowly over a fire. In Morocco, a very sweet fruit tagine (Tagine barragog) is made, with lamb, prunes and honey. With this recipe, we prefer to use sharp, naturally dried or semi-dried apricots – if you can find them!
2 large onions, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp saffron
1 tsp ground cumin
A good pinch of chilli powder, to taste
1kg leg or shoulder of lamb, trimmed of some of the fat
2½cm fresh root ginger, cut into slices
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt & plenty of black pepper
500g dried apricots
Using a tagine (or casserole dish if you don’t have a tagine), fry the onion gently in the oil until soft.
Stir in the spices – the cinnamon, saffron, cumin and chilli powder – and put in the meat Turn the pieces so that they are covered in the spice mixture. Add the ginger, garlic, salt and pepper and cover with about ½ litre water. Simmer, covered with lid, for 1½ hours, turning the meat over occasionally and adding water if necessary. (You can also put the tagine in your barbeque to simmer.)
Add the apricots and cook for 30 minutes more, adding water if necessary.
Generally, the couscous you find in supermarkets is a quick-cook variety and you need to be careful not to over cook it and create a glutinous mess that will put the kids off it for life.
Here’s an easy, failsafe way to cook couscous.
- Place 2 cups of couscous in a heavy bowl.
- Boil 2 ½ cups of water and add to the couscous.
- Add ½ a teaspoon of salt.
- Stir with a fork.
- Cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes
- Uncover and fluff up with a fork – the grains of couscous will have absorbed the liquid without becoming mushy.
- Dot with butter and fluff again. Season and serve
Cooking Couscous – an Olive Oil Variation
To impart a richer, nuttier flavour to your couscous try the recipe below.
- In a saucepan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil.
- When the oil is hot add 2 cups of couscous and a good shake of salt.
- Cook for 2-3 mins until the couscous is golden, stirring constantly to prevent burning.
- Add 2 ½ cups of boiling water.
- Remove from the heat and cover.
- Let the couscous sit until all the water is absorbed and the grains are soft – about 5 mins.
- Loosen the couscous with a fork and serve.
- Dot with butter and fluff again. Season and serve
Alone, couscous can taste somewhat bland. While the main taste centre of your meal will be the meat or fish you serve with it, you can add more flavour to the couscous itself by substituting beef, chicken or vegetable stock for the boiling water in the recipes above.
The flavour of couscous can also be punched up by adding pine nuts, currents, oregano, thyme, basil or cinnamon before you add your boiling liquid.
We are blessed in this glorious country to have some of the most wonderful Boutique wineries. For the wine connoisseur they are worth tracking down. This week I’ve just found Bijou Estate and their Pinot Noir is a cracker. So go on be adventurous and track them down.
Some nights it’s just got to be left overs, in this case left over from a catering job. I served these as a starter to clients but made a few extra just for us, that said they are really easy to make and go down really well when all of us get home late and just want food on the table as quickly as possible.
Rösti Fish Cakes with Champagne & Chive Sauce
450g prepared crabmeat or mixed white fish
300g firm waxy potatoes
1 tablespoon capers, chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoon grated lime zest
4 spring onions, finely chopped
3 pinches cayenne pepper or ‘La Chinata’ Smoked Paprika
2 heaped tablespoons chopped parsley or coriander
Salt & pepper to season
1 egg, beaten
Salad greens to serve
Champagne & Chive Sauce:
3 shallots (or 1 medium onion), finely chopped
¼ leek, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
300ml champagne or white wine
300ml fish stock (or chicken stock)
3 tbsps fresh chives, chopped
300ml double cream
Lemon juice to taste
The day before:
Put the unpeeled potatoes in salted boiling water for exactly 10 minutes. Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl. When potatoes are cooked, drain. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and grate. Carefully combine both mixtures and portion. Place portions on a tray and chill for at least 2 hours to become firm.
Meanwhile prepare sauce: sweat shallots, leek and garlic in the olive oil. Add stock and champagne to the pan and reduce to quarter of original volume. In a second pan, reduce cream to half the original volume. Add stock mix to cream and hand whisk. Add lemon juice, chopped chives and seasoning to taste. When cool, put into a box and refrigerate.
Heat a frying pan until almost smoking and place fish cakes carefully into hot pan, working in four portion batches. Cook for 3 minutes each side; they should be golden brown but barely cooked in the middle. Lift out onto paper towels and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on top. When cool, place in an airtight box and refrigerate.
On the night:
Reheat fish cakes in oven at 200°C for 5 – 10 minutes. Meanwhile, reheat sauce on a low heat in a saucepan. Place a small handful of salad greens in the centre of each plate, place hot fishcakes on top, spoon over sauce and serve immediately.
This idea of writing about our food at home is proving to be a real hit with all the family. Our 11 year old food photographer, Fraser, is getting more and more demanding, i think it must be the artist in him trying to get out. What is really neat is how we are all learning something new.
So, on to tonights meal. I was preparing a private cheffing job that included puff pastry so figured I’d use up the off cuts for our meal. The trick with beef Wellington is to precook the beef to the point that it needs 12 minutes in the oven inside the pastry (thats how long the pastry needs to puff up and colour), also season the steak really well before you wrap it in the pastry.
Every week the boys cook one night, my dearest wish is that once they fly the nest they will be able to look after themselves without resorting to fast food and who knows the life skill of being able to cook just might help them socially if you know what I mean.
The rules are simple, they must plan the meal and do it all themselves with me in an advisory role only. Tonight Alex has found a Bill Granger recipe for panfried marinated beef rice paper rolls with Vietnamese dipping sauce. I guess the get my recipes quite a lot so a change is as good as a rest.
I’m so proud of how much effort they go to, and how special the meal becomes. And of course with two boys the competition is on, with each trying to outdo the other.
Now to do the washing up, the one job that I can usually sidestep as the cook, but not tonight.
Lasagne is one of those dishes that all the family loves, even when I’m being a bit sneaky and adding lots of veg to the beef mince. So many parents seem to have problems getting veg into their kids, and at times our two have been interesting. Although to be fair Alex and Fraser are really cool about their food and seem to enjoy Daddies nightly experiments.
The trick is to clear the veg drawer and panfry some onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, peppers and whatever else that you want, then add it to the mince that your cooking off with tomatoes. To give it a real depth of flavour spend some time on the white sauce or bechamel and then don’t spare the parmesan.
100g plain flour
1 small onion studded with whole cloves
1 litre milk
A little freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Firstly simmer the milk for a couple of minutes with the onion, cloves, bayleaf, nutmeg and seasoning, and leave to one side to infuse. Now melt butter for béchamel in a saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then gradually whisk in the warm milk, having discarded the clove studded onion and bayleaf, and continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly until thick and smooth.
Its a constant challenge to feed a family in such a way that is fun and healthy. As A chef I have to constantly fight the urge to fall back on the chefs advantage of being able to use high fat/high sugar and bazaar expensive products. This is family food and needs to be nutritious, tasty and fun, otherwise everyone gets bored. If we can continue to make meal time a fun, family time we’ll, hopefully, never lose the ability to all talk around the table.
The trick with this meal is the Quinoa, that truly amazing South American grain that is so astonishing good for us. This is one of the oldest sources of plant protein and thanks to the Spanish conquerors, was so nearly lost to history. Thankfully in the high Andes some was secretly grown year after year and was rediscovered for the rest of us about 50 years ago.
Quinoa Salad with Roast Vegetables & Halloumi
1 red capsicum, chopped roughly
1 yellow capsicum, chopped roughly
1 red onion, sliced
1 courgette, sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped roughly
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 cup quinoa (pronounced ‘keenwa’)
Salt & pepper
1 cup spinach, chopped roughly
150g haloumi cheese, grilled until golden brown
Vinaigrette dressing (see below)
Roast chopped vegetables (except spinach), garlic and olive oil in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 30 to 40 mins until golden brown.
Meanwhile, wash quinoa with cold water in a sieve and squeeze dry in a clean tea towel. Place quinoa in a pan, place over a medium heat and dry fry until lightly toasted. Cover with boiling water and simmer gently until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 12 minutes.
Remove vegetables from oven and add to quinoa with spinach and seasoning. Add dressing and mix well. Place in a bowl with grilled haloumi on top as a garnish and serve.
½ tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
50ml red wine vinegar
50ml balsamic vinegar
100ml hazelnut oil
100ml avocado oil
100ml olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
6 turns white pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
Place all the ingredients into a blender and blitz for 60 seconds. Strain through a fine sieve.
Have to admit that I was one of those ex-pats that wondered if London could pull it off, They not only pulled it off but excelled and even managed to make this old cynic proud of the country of my birth. Watching the faces of my children as their heroes achieved the impossible was an awesome experience. I guess the real legacy of the Olympics is the inspiration in the kids, the belief that they could one day be there.
So, enough prattling on about the olympics. What about food? I guess you could describe us as a meat eating family and its a conscious effort to add fish in a couple of times a week. This is some simple Pan Seared Tuna with Risotto and Rocket. So easy and quick to make, and with a good bit of crusty bread an absolute winner.
The main point to remember when making risotto is that any liquid that you use, whether it is stock, wine or cream, should be boiling hot before you add it to the rice. This will stop your risotto from “clumping”.
For 2 – 3 main servings:
1 cup Aborio or risotto rice
2½ cups stock, boiling
½ onion or 2 shallots, chopped
1 – 2 cloves garlic, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
100 ml white wine
Salt and pepper
Extra hot stock, olive oil or butter
Heat the wine gently (and saffron, if using.) In another large pan, heat a little olive oil and sweat the “soffrito” slowly – garlic, onion and any other root vegetable being used (e.g. carrot, leek). Add the rice and heat through for 1 – 2 minutes (called toasting). Add hot wine and allow to reduce. Add the boiling stock all at once, bring back to the boil and add seasoning. Cover and simmer for 15 – 18 minutes.
Add flavourings, rest for a few minutes and then stir through parmesan, a little extra stock, gently heated cream, extra virgin olive oil or butter – the amount depends on how ‘allonde,’ or creamy, you like your risotto.
- Ø Porcini: Soak 15g dried porcini in 250ml warm water for at least 20 minutes. Strain and use some of the stock in risotto. Add sliced porcini at halfway point. Add heated cream at the end, along with parmigiano and chopped Italian parsley. Drizzle with Truffle oil.
- Ø Smoked Mushrooms: As above, but use Aromatics Smoked Mushrooms instead of porcini.
- Ø Smoked Salmon: Add chopped leek to the initial ‘soffrito’. Before adding Parmesan, add chopped, cooked Smoked Salmon.
- Ø Chorizo & Saffron: Add a pinch of crushed saffron to the wine/stock and, before you add the Parmesan at the end, fold through 2 cooked, chopped chorizo sausages.
- Ø Pumpkin: Cook cubed pumpkin slowly in EVO with garlic and some red wine and add with the Parmesan.
- Ø Lamb, Feta & Capers: Add 1 – 2 seared lamb fillets, marinated in Balsamic Vinegar and Infused Olive Oil (Lemon or Porcini) plus 2 tablespoon salted capers, soaked and rinsed and 100g cubed Creamy Feta.
What can I say it’s national Roast Day (yes I know, who knew?), and frankly what can beat a properly roasted chicken, the original food for the soul.
Roast Chicken with Avocado
Buy a free range, corn-fed, chill-fresh bird. To test if the bird is cooked, pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer – the juices running out should be golden and clear. Also, you should feel the leg ‘give’ when tugged gently away from the body. To carve a chicken easily and neatly, allow at least 15–20 minutes resting time, preferably longer. This lets the juices, which have welled up to the surface during cooking, to seep back into the flesh to keep it succulent.
2.5 kg chicken
1 stick celery
1 tablespoon standard flour
1 soft avocado
4 tablespoons Lemon Pepper Grove Avocado oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped Parsley
6 rashers fat streaky bacon
500ml chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons verjuice or white wine
- Preheat the oven to 190°C.
- Prepare a ‘mire poix’ of vegetables and place in bottom of roasting tin. Sprinkle over flour.
- Crush the soft Avocado with 2 tablespoons of the Lemon Pepper Avocado oil and blend to the consistency of soft butter; mix in the crushed Garlic and Parsley. Loosen the skin by gently sliding your finger between skin and flesh. Smear the Avocado “butter” generously under the skin, remembering the points where the thighs join the body. Brush remaining Avocado oil over the bird and season with salt and pepper, then place the bacon strips in a row, slightly overlapping each other, all along the breast.
- Lay the chicken on its back in a roasting tin on a high shelf in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes per 450g and sometimes 20 minutes over. (This has to be flexible because of the size of the bird and the type of oven.)
- After 1 hour, set aside the crispy bacon for serving later. When chicken is cooked, check the core temperature of the bird has reached 72˚C and rest, covered loosely with foil, for at least 10–15 minutes before carving.
- Meanwhile, add verjuice or white wine to cooked ‘mire poix’ and deglaze the roasting tin, stirring with a wooden spoon, once reduced a little add the chicken stock and bring to the simmer. Strain through a sieve and serve with chicken and crispy bacon.
Had a wonderful diner with friends on Saturday night, only problem was that I forgot to take piccies once they all arrived, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say it tasted great.
Don’t quite know why the photos turned out so yellow, although they do take on a vintage look. We had chicken liver and salmon pates to start with followed by fillet of beef with a pickled walnut crust, and finished with swiss meringue roulade with passion fruit and orange, washed down with a spot of Orange;Cello from Deinlein.
There’s something so special having friends around you’re table, only problem is that it was Super15 Rugby Rugby finals night and our local team, the Chiefs, were in the final. So the kids had to borrow my laptop and try to watch on line, never quite a goer.
Anyway the night was a great success, spending quality time with real friends and to top it off the Chiefs won.
Swiss Meringue Roulade
6 egg whites
150g caster sugar
50g flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 220˚C. Line a swiss roll tray with baking parchment. Whisk egg whites until very stiff. Gradually add sugar a little at a time. Spread on the lined tray and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for about 10 minutes.
Turn out and cool. Remove baking parchment. Spread with whipped cream, orange segments and passion fruit pulp, or any other fruit you like, e.g. strawberries, raspberries, peaches, nectarines, etc.
Like all families we have a few traditions, in our case they revolve around food. Tonight was pizza night which always gets some healthy debate going, you see I like to be adventurous with the toppings and the rest of the family seem to prefer a plainer approach, added to that Fraser is of the belief that his base is better than mine which I hotly deny even though I secretly agree.
Making Pizzas becomes a family affair, making the dough in the morning and then all of us doing the prep as we chat through the day. My idea of Lamb, spiced red cabbage and Goats cheese has been vetoed in favour of prosciutto and potato, Smoked Salmon and leek, and that old monster the ham and pineapple.
Make lots as what’s left will freeze really well, we always triple the recipe so that we have lots left over for the lunch boxes over the next few days, it sure beats processed food.
Family food is so much more than just slamming something on a plate and eating on the hoof. Make the time to prepare together and eat together and use that time to talk, tonight the prep time was taken up with Alex’s French homework. Listening to Anne delve into her memory and try to extract her schoolgirl French was a joy that even the dog joined in with, Bon appétit.
For the tomato sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium clove garlic, peeled and crushed
450g ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 dessertspoon chopped fresh basil
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the base:
1 tsp active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
165ml warm water
250g plain flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp olive oil
Place yeast, sugar and water in a bowl. Set aside until bubbles form. Meanwhile, make up tomato sauce by heating olive oil in a saucepan, adding onion and garlic and cooking for 2-3 minutes to soften. Then add chopped tomatoes and basil, season with salt and pepper, and continue to cook over a medium heat for 20-25 minutes until tomatoes have reduced.
Add flour, salt and oil to yeast mixture. Mix to form a smooth dough and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, oiled bowl, cover and allow to stand in a warm place for 20 minutes or until doubled in size.
Knead and shape into one large or several small balls. Flatten with back of hand. Place on greased baking tray, add a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, add toppings (see below) and bake at 180˚C for 20-25 minutes for a large pizza and 10-15 minutes for smaller pizzas.
- Ham, red onion and mozzarella.
- Olives and mozzarella.
- Smoked mushrooms and mozzarella.
- Pancetta and parmesan.
- Red onion and goats’ cheese or feta.