Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Smoked Garlic

How to use smoked garlic? Well, I bought some from the Chester Food Festival a few weeks ago and have been playing with adding it to recipes as I've been trying out new things.

1st idea:
Add raw, thinly sliced to home-made (or shop-bought!) pizza - bake the pizza as usual.

2nd idea:
Add to pasta dishes instead of the usual garlic. It's delicious with a smoked chorizo, red pepper and tomato sauce. Simply fry off gently after pan-frying the chorizo and onions so it doesn't burn but goes soft, sweet and smoky.

Ok, I know they're fairly basic, and I have used it in other things, but I can't remember at his present moment in time! as I add it to more things, I'll update this post!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Gnocchi 3 ways

As a teacher, we regularly have a 'book box' at school; cheap books from outside firms that we can order. As usual, before half term, there was the odd cookery book. Now, I'm someone who already has many, many cookbooks, but this one caught my interest. Firstly, the recipes all looked good. Secondly, they were short and simple and thirdly, each had relatively few ingredients. It was Gino D'Acampo's first book, 'Fantastico', and it was a pleasure to take home, sit in the sun in the garden and browse through.

I was so excited that I've tried two recipes, both on the same day! I hadn't however, thought this through. Gnocchi Pomodoro and Pizza Alla Napoletana were my two choices; pizza as it looked delicious and I had a 'bottom of the fridge' to empty so seemed a good idea. The second recipe was specifically for the boyf. as he loves Gnocchi and, whilst I've never particularly enjoyed it on previous occasions, I thought I'd give it a go. What I failed to consider was the fact that both were dough based and, as a consequence, by the time I had finished, the kitchen looked more like a bakery: flour covered and glued itself to every available surface, including me!

Both were very easy to prepare and I added a range of toppings to the pizza. It was the one and only pizza base I've ever made that actually went bubbly and crispy at the edges, a first for me!

Since I'd spent so long making it, even I had a bowl of the gnocchi. The most exciting part is waiting for it to bubble up into the pan and float to the top! I served it with the suggested sauce, a simple tomato and basil reduction.

The second recipe for the Gnocchi, since I had at least another two servings left, was an even simpler basil pesto. Simply blitz basil with salt, pepper and olive oil. roast some halved cherry tomatoes in the oven until soft. Mix the cooked hot Gnocchi with the pesto and serve topped with the tomatoes. It was even better than the first recipe and perfect as a summer starter for a dinner party.

The third recipe is also very easy but particularly tasty. Toss the cooked Gnocchi in butter, salt, pepper and torn sage leaves. Serve hot.

If, like me, you don't really like Gnocchi, this is definitely the recipe to try, and all the sauces really are delicious, so I urge you to give them a go. I do, however, suggest that you make either the Gnocchi or the Pizza and don't do them on the same night! Unless you like looking like Fred!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Scallops with Chorizo and Minted Pea Puree

Yet another post with mention of scallops - the third in as many weeks I think. Read about a restaurant version or a Caldesi / Merlotti recipe here!

As mentioned, I have grown to love these little sea-things, but only after training myself and making it three times in a week initially so I'd get to know them! I'm still working on the coral but now love the white meat! This was one of my first recipes and, I think, still the most tasty! It's simple - pan-fried scallops, minted-pea puree and fried chorizo. I never said it was going to be 'all-out' healthy!

For the minted pea puree, simply blanche some frozen peas, add a dollop of creme fraiche, a little chicken or vegetable stock, salt, pepper and fresh mint (even mint sauce will work!) and blitz with a blender - easy. Re-heat on the hob, or even in the microwave.
Cube the chorizo in small pieces and fry off in olive oil, leaving the juices in the pan. Use these to fry the scallops, about 2/3 minutes each side in a hot pan. Just before they're ready, add the chorizo pieces to re-heat.

Place each scallop on a dollop of the puree and 'sprinkle' the chorizo over! Pour the pan juices over the whole plate and serve. So simple and yet great flavours and, despite the spicy rich chorizo, it's still the scallops who shine through!

Thursday, 23 April 2009


Wanted to blog these photos as this really was a delicious meal! It was inspired by a lovely-sounding recipe from Dan, potato Petatou, from Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook. Dan served it as a starter but I thought it held its own well as the potato dish of a main course.

I chose to grill a pork chop, serve with potatoes and spinach, and I added a little twitst to the parsley oil which was a little balsamic vinegar to give a sharpness to the meal. The balsamic was already in the potatoes themselves, so I knew it would complement the potatoes and the pork.

Thanks Dan, it really was good!

Monday, 20 April 2009



Whilst enjoying a break in Chester over the Easter weekend, we visited a restaurant in the little village of Tattenhall. I say 'little village' but it has several restaurants, this being one of the most popular. This was my second visit but my parents, and their friends especially (you know who you are!) are regular visitors.

First thoughts
We went on the evening of Easter Saturday, and mum had thought it wouldn't be very busy, but, as usual, it was full. We even bumped into friends from our village. The menu wasn't large but had plenty to choose from with a list of fish specials, fresh in on the Friday. Between us we ordered a range of different starters and mains, unusual since we generally go for similar things.

Appearance and Taste
To begin, I chose pate, two others the seafood cocktail and dad chose something with cheese in, though I can't remember what! Comments were, on the whole positive, although the boyf. did think the cocktail was a little on the small side. My pate, however, was a huge slice, obviously home-made and deliciously rich and creamy. The onion marmalade it was served with was also very tasty and the two complemented each other well.

For main course, the boys both chose sirloin steak with a Roquefort sauce. Mum and I opted for the lighter fish, for her a sea bass fillet and me, unusually, scallops in a light cream sauce.

If you've read my previous post on scallops, Scallops on Leek Puree, you'll know I am trying to get to like the roe / coral, so I managed to have one, bit by bit, although had to pass the others over to the boyf's plate, for which he was grateful. I'll get there though! The sauce was smooth and didn't mask the juicy sweetness of the scallops themselves and the grilled pancetta was a nice contrast in terms of saltiness and crispiness.

The steak was cooked well, if a little more 'done' than rare with a delicious creamy rich sauce, and the sea bass again was tasty. Pudding came next for the boys - a creme brulee and a sticky toffee pudding, both looking scrummy.

Value for Money
I have no idea what it cost as dad very kindly paid as an Easter treat! At a guess, I'd say our main courses averaged £14, starters £5 and puddings £4. We had a bottle of house red and white, and again I'm guessing £14. Aperos beforehand £11. So, all in all, lets say £125 between 4 of us, £31.25 each. Super atmosphere and very good food. We chose expensively, but I'd still say that it was value for money. I'm sure dad will comment if I've got the price estimate hideously wrong!

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Chester Food Festival

Easter Weekend saw the annual Chester Food Festival. We were lucky enough to be up in Chester, visiting parents for the Easter break, and, since we all love food, enjoyed a tasty few hours wandering around the many stalls. We began inside the tents, which was mainly producers, growers and artisans selling their wares, but with all those free tasters, you couldn't go wrong. And its always good to try before you buy.

I couldn't wait to get around this inside part though as the stalls outside are always my favourite: cooking, food to buy and eat now, farmers' market...

As usual, as soon as the boyf. saw the Menai Oyster stall, he couldn't resist. Did I want one? Not today, but I do enjoy the odd one now and then, if I can get my brain past the texture and look of them.

Next was onto a stall I see regularly at these food fayres, the Pudding Company. I tasted their sticky toffee pudding, which was delicious, but we went with our usual choice of the ginger sponge with a ginger and lemon sauce. It didn't last long once we arrived back home and by the end of our first meal back in Essex, it had disappeared!

As we continued to wander through the amazing cooking smells - free-range chicken curry with brown rice, seafood and chicken paella, barbecued meat - I stumbled across a basket of smoked garlic. I'd been wanting to try this for ages and at only £1 I couldn't resist. Have a look at my post to see what I used it for.

The final stop of the day was to sit in the sun and have lunch. I was going to go for the curry but couldn't resist the delicious marinated meat smell coming from the barbecue! At £3.50 for a quarter of chicken or 2 lamb chops you couldn't go wrong. I actually got 3 chops as there happened to be three left at the time and the boyf. got the largest quarter of chicken you have ever seen in your life - we asked no questions about the sourcing of these chickens this time though!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Marmite Cheddar

What could be better than Marmite-smeared toast topped with melted cheddar? I think the pictures might be a bit of a give-away! I never knew Marmite made cheese but they have certainly stumbled upon a niche in the market here. Marmite combined with Cheddar.

Despite my desire to eat all of this as soon as returned from purchasing it, the tempting little package lay in my fridge rather a long time before I got round to eating it and the anticipation grew over time. So, when I finally broke through the brown wax layer I was, to say the least, mildly disappointed. My first wonder had been the colour; how could you blend cheese and Marmite without it being brown? The answer is, apparently, you don't. The Marmite was simply little flecks that ran across the cheese.

The Cheddar itself was delicious, crumbly and light with a good flavour, but not of Marmite. As a keen Marmite lover, as you'd presume if I've chosen to buy this product, I was expecting that sharp bitter punch that hits you when you smear a little too much on a slice of toast, but there was no fear of this happening. The flavour was apparent, just, when eaten on its own, but as soon as it was melted over toast, whilst the cheese was good, there was a distinct lack of Marmiteness.

The verdict? Although the cheese was lovely, for £1.69 for a little round, I'll stick to spreading Marmite on toast, then adding cheese before popping under the grill. At least if you're going to call it 'Marmite Cheddar Cheese' give it some taste. More Marmite please!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Asparagus Wrapped in Streaky Bacon

It's asparagus season and I can't get enough of the stuff! Also rather into streaky bacon too, so this is a good combination of the two. I thought I had some asparagus growing in the garden, but I can't seem to find it this year so had to resort to buying it instead - boo. I'll have another look today and see if it's hiding between the dead leaves.

I have also never made Hollandaise, thinking it too much of a risk! So, I found a really quick and easy recipe online that is simply egg yolks, melted butter, lemon juice and mustard. You could also add whatever other flavourings you wanted too. I don't even bother with exact amounts either. Add one yolk per 2/3 people and whip until light and fluffy. Mix with a little mustard and a splash of lemon juice and drizzle in melted butter, whisking all the time, until the required consistency is reached. Easy!

If the asparagus is quite slim, simply wrap in streaky bacon or prosciutto and roast at 160 for about 20 minutes. If the stems are thicker, pan fry in a little water for a few minutes first to soften, then wrap and roast. Despite this being a rather 'out-dated' recipe, it's still delicious!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Scallops on Leek Puree

This was one of the recipes I found whilst digging around on Monday morning, the first day of the Easter holidays! I was determined to cook a range of things that are normally preserved for 'special occasions' and decided that with a bit more time on my hands, I had the opportunity to try things out!

If you've read my previous post, you'll know that I was saving this for Wednesday night as the boyf was out on Tuesday and really wanted the scallops. So, I duly waited and prepared them for Wednesday evening: Scallops wrapped in streaky bacon served on a bed of leek puree. Needless to say, the five-a-side football took precedent and I could have had the scallops whenever!

It was a recipe from the head chef, Gregorio Piazza, at Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi’s outside London venture, Caldesi In Campagna, in Bray. I found it in an old Delicious magazine.

Scallops wrapped in Pancetta on a Leek Puree with a Coral Ragu


16 large fresh scallops with corals
16 slices of pancetta
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp white wine

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large leek, washed and sliced
1 white onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small potato
500ml vegetable stock or water

2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small carrot, very finely chopped
1 celery stick, very finely chopped
1 small white onion, very finely chopped
1 heaped tsp tomato puree
1tsp finely chopped flatleaf parsley
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
mixed salad leaves to garnish


1) Remove the coral from the scallops. Pat the scallops dry, season lightly and wrap each in a slice of pancetta. Set aside.

2) For the leek puree, heat the oil over a low heat and add the leek, onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 10 mins. Add the potato and stir for another 5 mins. Add the stock and simmer for 10 mins until the vegetables are tender. Whizz in a blender until smooth. Return to the pan and keep warm.

3) For the coral ragu, heat the oil over a low heat and fry the carrot, celery and onion for 5 mins. Chop the reserved scallop coral finely and add to the pan, stirring. Add the tomato puree and parsley. Season to taste, stir, and pour in 50ml water and the vinegar. Cook gently for 10 mins.

4) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180c. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof frying pan and fry the scallops for 4/5 minutes, turning until the pancetta browns. Pour the oil away and add the white wine and a splash of water. Put the pan in the oven for 5 mins.

5) Put 1 tbsp leek puree on 8 warmed plates. Top with the scallops and pan juices. Spoon the coral ragu sauce alongside to serve and dress with salad leaves.

I know it sounds 'phaffy', but I took just the parts I wanted! I'm not particularly a fan of the coral (it's a bit too fishy for me!) so left that out and served with a drop of sweet chilli instead. I was also certain I had an onion and a potato, but didn't, so left out the potato and used spring onions instead! The leek puree was a little runny and the potato would have thickened it, but the taste was still good. I also used streaky bacon instead of pancetta, I've never been one for actually following a recipe! A chilled Pinot Grigio was served alongside, cool and clear to cut through the crispiness and saltiness of the wrapping.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Mushroom and Spinach pancakes

This was meant to be Wednesday's dinner with a traditional asparagus wrapped in pancetta with Hollandaise for starters. Scallops on leek puree and home-made pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach and a sage butter sauce should have been Tuesday's dinner. The boyf, him again, was out for a work leaving do on Tuesday, however, and really wanted scallops so 'suggested' I swap the two days so he could have the scallops on Wednesday.

This was no skin off my nose as I was having trouble finding rennet to make my own Ricotta-type cheese, so it gave me an extra day! Still haven't found any in a real-life shop - any ideas? And I love these pancakes, always wanting one more, so was happy to eat alone. I think the recipe was originally a Good Food one, but can't remember. Anyway, this is generally how it goes:

First, fry off some chestnut mushrooms and chopped garlic until soft.

Remove from the pan when done and wilt the spinach.

Either use ready-made or make your own savoury pancakes - I always use a Delia recipe, though feel I should be able to remember it without the book by now!

Make a cheese / bechamel sauce. Just mix flour with butter and stir in milk on a hot heat little by little until a thick consistency is reached. Add cheese to taste.

Spoon the ingredients onto a pancake with a little of the sauce. Roll and place into an ovenproof dish.

Dollop over the rest of the cheese sauce and sprinkle a little more grated cheese over the top. I find that the sauce always disappears so add a few more dollops than you think it needs.

Bake at 180 for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

3 courses on a Monday Night?

Since I'm on Easter hols, I thought I'd cook the boyf. a relaxed 3-courses, with amuse bouche too. I spent the morning scouring recipe books and looking at what was in season, finally plumping for retro smoked salmon pinwheels with cream cheese and chive, simple carpaccio with rocket and Parmesan, salmon, herb and white wine steamed parcels and rhubarb trifles.

The smoked salmon appetisers and carpaccio are old favourites, but the salmon I had only done versions of in foil. For this particular recipe - if you can call it that - was simple a piece of salmon fillet with fresh herbs, olive oil and a lemon slice parcelled up in baking parchment.

Before sealing, I tipped in a glug of white wine and baked for 15 minutes. Serve with new potatoes and salad. Had I thought, I'd have added a dollop of aioli too.

I had some rhubarb that needed eating and found a River Cottage Hugh recipe, so gave it a go. Again, it was really simple but somehow, my rhubarb didn't produce enough juice so I had to improvise with orange juice. First, simmer off the rhubarb chunks (about 8 stems) with 100ml orange juice and a couple of tablespoons of sugar; I'd add more orange juice if I did it again, probably 200ml, maybe a little more. When soft, strain the juice and chill both the rhubarb and syrup. In wine glasses, place some broken up sponge - I baked a simple plain sponge recipe - pour over the chilled syrup to cover the sponge, spoon custard over and top with the rhubarb chunks. I also sprinkled toasted flaked almonds over the to to add a different texture too.

The cake went a bit grainy at the bottom of the glass but I think that was because I didn't have enough juice for them to soak up properly. The meal as a whole was good, but not one of my best. I think I'd spent so much time looking for recipes and buying the food, by the time it came to cooking it, I didn't really give it the love it deserved. With a little more care, it would have been tastier!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Worm Spaghetti ( a la Mrs. Twit! )

Worm spaghetti, a la Mrs Twit. That would be me. I'll give you a little history on this dish: I was given a packet of pasta made with cocoa, as the owner didn't know quite what to do with it. Neither did I, so after a few tweets I decided on a rich tomato sauce, a splash of red wine, a hint of chilli and a pinch of cocoa.

I duly roasted the tomatoes, (baby yellow, baby on-the-vine and baby plum - hence the need to roast to add flavour) with a few pieces of pepper and garlic. I blended this with a splosh of wine and chilli flakes, and (now this could have been my downfall,) instead of a pinch of cocoa, as recommended, I decided a cube or two of dark chocolate would be even better.

I have since learnt it's not.

The boyf insists it was 'spicy and nice' - not the most overwhelmingly high praise I know, but good, considering. I, however, had made the sauce earlier, and decided there and then that the chocolate was a mistake. I had several hours to consider the smell and taste of this, and built it up into even worse than it was. By the time I arrived home to cook the pasta and re-heat the sauce, I really did not want it. The decision had been made, however, so after checking with the boyf. that he would eat it if I cooked it, I put it all together.

The boyf got a rather large portion and I restricted myself to 5 forkfuls at the most - this dish is great if you're on a diet! The pasta itself was delicious - I was sensible enough to taste it 'sens' sauce. A little hint of bitterness and, despite being brown, very tasty. The sauce would definitely have benefited from a distinct lack of chocolate (or cocoa for that matter) and at least I have come to the decision that chocolate and savoury don't go in any format. Not for me anyway.

The recipe would have been delicious with a simple rich tomato sauce, and I can only wish that that's what I had made. I did leave a little pasta out, so maybe I'll try it with something more simple. The recipe on the back of the pack suggested a creamy, cheesy almond flavoured sauce? What do you think? Worth a try?
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