Warm Smoked Salmon Salad

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Last week Helen and I lived the life of decadence. We dined out every night, sipped the finest wine in a chic Paris bar after a whimsical last-minute weekend getaway.

We went to the cinema, to the theatre to watch a comedy and then we hiked across through the English Lakes, stopping of at a warm pub for a pint of ale and Sunday Roast.

Except that of course we didn’t. We washed and cleaned and persuaded small mouths to accept “just one more mouthful” with using the currency of Peppa Pig yogurt.

Frankly (and generally of course I am) though, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s exhausting but so rewarding as any new parent knows. Damn, I’m turning in that party bore – I apologise.

I’ve been busy baking with the girls though. Well, I say baking with, more baking for. It was during this latest activity made the mistake of putting down the flour and then the unforgivable schoolboy error of TURNING AROUND FOR A COUPLE OF SECONDS.

This was the result my friends: Flour. A lot of flour.

How the hell does so much carnage happen in such a small space of time?

I arrived home from work the other night (having spent the day, unwittingly, with a paint print round the back of my shirt) to the normal rapturous welcome. With the little ones safely in bed, fully scrubbed, brushed and read to, I set about making this.

I don’t know why I’m posting this one as it’s embarrassingly easy to do but I guess it made me hanker after our trip to Copenhagen. A city I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the simplicity of the Scandinavian food with its focus on ‘fresh’.

I much prefer hot smoked salmon for this as cured/cold smoked salmon would be too harsh for my taste. I’m also lucky to have a fishmonger down the road who hot smokes salmon daily.

  • 1 large or two small hot smoked salmon fillet(s)
  • 10 baby potatoes, skin on
  • 1/2 an onion, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • Peppery mixed leaves (rocket, watercress etc)
  • 1-2 tsp of chopped dill – depending on how much you like it.

For the dressing (approximately – tweak to suit of course):

  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tsp stronger mustard (dijon)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 or 2 pinches of salt
  • 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Halve the potatoes and boil them until just done (about 15 minutes).

Meanwhile, gently heat the salmon in a very low oven. You just want to warm it through not cooked it any more

Let the potatoes cool until they are just warm (blood temperature).

Toss the potatoes with the onion and capers and let them all come to the same temperature.

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Flake the salmon and stir it into the potatoes.

Mix the dressing ingredients in an old jam jar and shake well. Spoon it over the potatoes/salmon until ‘dressed’ but not ‘drenched’ Add the dill and mix well but gently so as not to break the fish or potatoes too much.

Serve it all up on the leaves and relax for another day….

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Pork Chop, Lentils and Pancetta

Pork chops, lentils and pancetta

Funny isn’t it, how things can change in an instant (or so it seems). My recent absence of updates/comments has been for good reason – we’re now the proud parent of two adopted girls.
I guess we’ve had long enough to get used to the idea but the first weeks were bizarre, fantastic and exhausting all in one go. They really are the most amazing little girls and have great appetites so whilst making them my chargrilled sardines with orange and fennel salad may be a little way off (say 30 years), I hold out hope that they won’t be quite as difficult with food as I was…

Still, bed comes early to them so I’ve been trying to rummage behind the whole milk, yogurt pots and “here’s some I made earlier” pasta sauces to find something for the adults.
The nights are drawing in fast, but I managed to get a last use of the gas grill recently to cook some great locally raised pork chops. They have some bone and a lovely thick layer of fat to keep the meat tender and create some good smoke, but care is still needed to stop it drying out. To accompany some lentils, cooked in good chicken stock with vegetables and smoked pancetta. Simple.

I got a big block the pancetta, inexplicably, just before we embarked on our new adventure and I’ve been trying to use it up ever since.

So in-between hiding vegetables by blitzing them and selling them to the girls as pasta sauce, and supplying an endless procession of Dora the Explorer and Peppa Pig, episodes, I’ll try and make the odd dish aimed more at us adults…

• Two good quality pork chops, with a layer of fat.
• 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
• 100g pancetta, chopped into lardons
• 2 sticks of celery, chopped thinly
• 1 medium red onion
• 1 large carrot, diced
• 100-150g green lentils
• 750ml good quality chicken stock – homemade if possible.
• A little oil
• Salt and pepper.

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In a large pan with a lid, fry the garlic and pancetta gently in a little oil to release the fat. You could do the pancetta alone first to crisp it up, but you might burn the garlic and I want the garlic to make a nice flavoured ‘oil’.

Add the onion to soften, then the rest of the vegetables and finally the lentils.

lentils and vegetables

Pour in the stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes until tender.

Meanwhile, get the grill on. I used some lava block on the gas Weber these days to get a better smoke flavour without having like the charcoal. Brush the pork oil and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on the grill use a thermometer after 15 minutes or so to ensure that the chops are just cooked – 65ºC/150ºF should do it if its good quality. A bit of charring from the grill adds a lot.

bbq pork chops

Simply serve it up, pull the toys and mobile phones from behind the cushions and relax for another evening…..

Pork chops and lentils

Croquetas de Pollo y Jamon

Croquetas

Well I can honestly say it’s nice to be back and typing about something I enjoy for a change; God knows it’s been a few weeks now.

Despite the sagging in-tray, I had to write about this one although I have a feeling I’m a little late to the party with this rather classic tapas. I would go on about it but feel I’d be coming across like someone who’s just starting watching Breaking Bad – ranting on about how good it was to all and sundry even though the entire Western world has watched it already. Actually….that was me. I don’t watch too many shows.

However, this recipe was given to me by Helen’s new colleague Elena who I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of weeks back and who hails from beautiful Valencia. Of course, I made it as soon as I could. I’m ashamed to say, after all this time I had no idea proper croquetas were made with a thick béchamel type filling. I always assumed quite wrongly, that it was mashed potato. I’m sorry Elena!

These did of course taste delicious. The original recipe given to me was for chicken, but she said I was free to add whatever I wanted, so I tried a little thyme and some ham as well. I would have instinctively added butter to make the béchamel, but it certainly doesn’t need it – the filing is wonderfully rich as it is….

Elena’s recipe:

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CROQUETAS DE POLLO

Ingredients:

  • 500 gr boneless chicken (I added a couple of handfuls of ham and 1 tbsp thyme too!)
  • 3 glasses of milk (glass=200 ml). 
  • 6 tablespoonful of flour
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Sunflower oil
  • Breadcrumbs 
  • 2 or 3 Eggs

Cook the chicken and dice it in small bits (1 cm approx). I usually boil the chicken, instead of frying it. 

Dice the onion in small bits and add it to the heated pan with the sunflower oil. It´s important that the oil covers the base of the pan (4 or 5 ml deep).

Fried onion

Fry the onion over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes and before it is golden, add the flour. Stir the mixture and let it toast. The mixture needs to have a soft brown colour. Keep stirring and when you see it´s toasted, add the 3 glasses of warm milk and you can increase the heat to medium. Keep stirring to avoid too many lumps.

Me. Stirring.

Me. Stirring.

Now add the chicken and add the salt without keeping stirring. You´ll see how it thickens. Before removing from the hob, taste and rectify the salt if necessary.

Now, dump the mixture out into a big dish and let it cool. I usually prepare this the night before so I let it stand in the fridge overnight. 

croquetas

The following day, take it out from the fridge and shape the dough into small balls (I made oblongs, I don’t know why – Phil) . I usually get 20 croquetas for the amount of ingredients used above. 

Whisk two eggs in deep dish or a bowl. And pour the breadcrumbs in another dish or bowl. Now, you need to cover the balls first with the eggs and then with the breadcrumbs. If you feel you have got a lot of “croquetas” and you don´t think you you´ll use them all, you can freeze some of them.

Croquetas

Now, you need to prepare a pan with plenty of oil and fry them in over medium heat until they are golden. They should be ready now. BUEN PROVECHO!

NB: Instead of chicken, you can add any ingredient that you fancy. I´ve done them with bacon and mushrooms, just with mushrooms, spinach and small prawns. 

Croquetas

‘Spanish’ Ribs with Padron Peppers

Spanish ribs and padron peppers

Well, it’s been a few weeks but Helen and I are still banging on about Barcelona. It really was a superb city – every street was a piece of art.

The harbour in Barcelona

Armed with Mad Dog’s recommendations and a link to this website we found some great places to sit, eat and drink in between wandering around the place.

Salamanca near the harbour.

Salamanca, near the harbour.

It was also my first introduction to the tapas bar. They ranged in quality when we strayed from the the aforementioned lists but some of it was excellent. There was one in particular that we visited a couple of times in the Gothic Quarter. It was manically busy and cramped but great fun. Quite how the owner (we presumed) managed to keep track of all the plates flying out was anyone’s guess. Maybe he didn’t? I’ll try and get the name of the place.

It’s a great way to eat: you sight-see, you sit, you eat a little, you have a drink and repeat. No bloating three course dinners making you feel like a nap – people still do though of course.

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Cerveceria Catalana – great bar and tapas. Sorry for the focus issue, many cervezas had no doubt been consumed.

Slicing serrano ham

So we’ve had a few tapas style dinners since but this dish is more an inspiration born from some of the flavours we had. Pork and tortilla are ubiquitous of course, but I also really liked these small padron  peppers. I managed to find the delicious little suckers in a certain UK higher-end supermarket. Unfortunately they were also at a higher-end price…

fThe ribs were cooked the night before and literally fell off the bone. Seriously, I know that’s generally BBQ nirvana, but when they’re sticking to the grill and falling apart in your hand the novelty wears off a little. The were slow cooked in a mixture of tomato, stock and orange and paprika, which I then kept, reduced and blended to make a superb sauce.

Definitely one to try. May I also add, the plates were not my idea.

For the ribs:

  • 8-10 ribs if you’re hungry
  • Juice of 1 large orange
  • 1/2-1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 500ml chicken or pork stock.
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 good pinches of sea salt (and more to taste).
  • Black Pepper

For the tortilla:

  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • 2 new potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • A pinch of smoked paprika
  • A good pitch of salt
  • Ac couple of handfuls of Manchego cheese
  • Olive oil

For the peppers:

  • 20 or so padron peppers
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • The night before:

Preheat the oven to 140°C/280°F

Add all the rib ingredients to a hob proof pot and bring to a simmer. I added in half of the juiced orange to add a little more flavour.

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Ribs in a tomato and orange sauce

Put it in the oven for 2 hours. Check it with an hour to go to make sure it hasn’t dried out, but it should be OK with a lid on.

I tend to just turn the oven off and go to bed, letting it sit in the sauce until I need it the next day. You may want to put it in the fridge once cooled in the morning.

If you do put it in the fridge, just heat the pan contents through a little on the hob before you try and take the ribs out or they stick firmly. They are pretty fragile.

Remove the ribs and put them on a plate. Blend the sauce thoroughly (again you may need to heat it slightly first) and bring to a simmer. Let it reduce if too watery or add a little more stock if too dry to blend.

Orange and tomato BBQ sauce

For the tortilla, simmer the potato sliced briefly and drain. In a frying pan, fry the onion, and green peppers to soften. Add the potatoes, egg and paprika. Cook the base then add the cheese and grill/broil to finish it off. Keep warm.

I feel like I should dedicate this shot to Conor...

I feel like I should dedicate this shot to Conor…

Put the ribs on BBQ if you can. I have a gas one with some lava rocks in that does a decent jobs of replicating the charcoal Webber. Other wise you can put them in a hot oven to sear. Cook them until coloured well.

BBQ ribs

Mean while, simply fry the peppers in a little oil and season with sea salt.

 

Padron peppers

That’s it. Delicious.

 

Lamb Chops with Minted Pea Puree and a Rosemary Anchovy Sauce

Lamb chops, anchovies, minted pea puree

I can’t put it any other way, but I made this dish because my wife would hate it.

I just know she would battle on regardless and I’d get one of the standard responses I’m used to when thing aren’t to her liking: “that was…..fine” typically.

Or worse, the dreaded:  “at least it’s healthy”.

Lamb, peas, anchovies and mint are not a combination she’d enjoy so I had to wait until she was going out so I could make it for myself. I, on the other hand, love this sort of thing.

The dish covers the range of bases with the sweet peas making a great contrast to the salty anchovies. The soft puree works against the crunchy blanched vegetable. It’s very simple, on the face of it, but actually becomes a bit of a balancing act bringing it together in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it though.

Now I’m just awaiting her next evening out with friends so I can buy some baby squid….

Northumberland Lamb Chops

Serves 2 (providing your ‘other’ will eat it).

  • 4 good lamb chops – these were local, from a Northumberland farm.
  • Oil
  • Salt

For the minted pea puree:

  • 4 handfuls of frozen peas
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 300ml Vegetable stock (or enough to cover)
  • 15g butter
  • Salt to taste

For the anchovy sauce

  • 6 anchovies
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • A sprig of rosemary, stalk removed
  • Vegetable stock form the peas above
  • A little more butter
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large courgette/zucchini
  • 6 decent sized Jersey Royal new potatoes.

Heat the oven to 160°C/320°F

Boil a kettle and start the potatoes – they’ll take 15-20 mins. Prepare the courgette and carrot by making them into thin strips using a potato peeler or a mandolin if you’re brave. Leave in water until needed.

Get an oven proof frying with a little oil smoking hot. Season the lamb lightly and fry it until well coloured. Flip them over and seal the other side for about 30 seconds then place the pan in the oven for around 10 minutes if you like it rare (as I do). A kitchen thermometer will help you here.

At the same time, heat the peas in the stock until well heated through Try not to boil them. Drain the stock but keep it to one side. 

In a blender, place the peas, butter, good pinch of salt and chopped mint leaf. Blitz and add some stock, a little at a time, until loosened a little. Keep warm.

Pea puree

By now the potatoes should be done (or nearly done) Take them out the pan and set aside. They’ll need to cool down a bit anyway.

In the same water, blanch the vegetables for just a minute or two. Set aside with the potato to keep warm.

Once the lamb is done, turn the oven off and open the door to cool it down. Wrap the lamb in foil to rest. You may want to use it to keep everything warm whilst you finish the sauce:

In the lamb frying pan, add a little more oil if needed and fry the garlic gently for a minute or two. Add the anchovies and stir them around until they form a pulp.

Anchovies, garlic, rosemary

 

Add the rosemary and the reserved stock. Gently reduce by half. Taste but you shouldn’t need to season it. Stir in the butter to melt.

Serve it all up with a nice ‘big’ Rioja if you have some. Lovely.

 

 

Smokey, and some Piri Piri Chicken.

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That’s Smokey. Sadly we had to have her put down after 17 years yesterday. Helen and I knew it would come and I always thought it would be difficult after all these years when that time came, but man….

I know, I know, a majority of you will think, “it’s just a cat” and many won’t even like them, but Helen got her as a kitten when we were in our mid-to-late twenties, just a couple of years before we met.

Since we’ve had her, we’ve seen so many births, deaths, marriages (including our own) and some separations. We moved and renovated our house. I started a business. Helen started a new career. I started writing this blog….We had some great times and some decidedly more challenging.

All this time Smokey was there. Normally wanting food, or letting out, although she never wandered far and immediately wanted back in. She’s cost us a fortune in vets bills over the years, including the infamous Christmas Day dive under a moving car. Have you any idea how much vets charge on Christmas Day?

Nonetheless, she’s featured daily for most of our adult lives.

Most who know me would not include ‘sentimental’ in my list of attributes, but the house feels horribly empty without her. Having to stand there and have her put down was like the end of a chapter.

I confess, I really didn’t see that coming.

When making the food that appears in this blog, she was normally sat under my feet most of the time waiting for something to drop and so this is for you Smokey, although you’d no doubt just sniff it and walk off.

It was great having you. I know you enjoyed all the chicken.

Piri Piri Chicken

Piri Piri Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 2 Legs and 2 wings
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 birdseye chilli, finely diced
  • 1 mild red chilli, finely diced. Seeds and all.
  • 50ml red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed black pepper

I prefer to skin the chicken – the marinade does it’s work much better that way. Mix the ingredients together and marinade the the chicken overnight in a food bag

The next day, in an ovenproof pan, fry the chicken on one side, turn and roast for 15-20 minutes in a medium oven, turing again half way through.

Serve it with some plain white rice and salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucatini All’Amatriciana

Bucatini All'Amatriciana

Funny isn’t it.

You can get spaghetti  in the shops for next to nothing in the UK; as little as 50p for a supermarket own brand – but you get what you pay for of course.  A decent brand like De Cecco costs around £1.50.

Start delving into the stranger shapes and you could be paying twice that. Same ingredients, there or thereabouts, just a different form. I know, I know it’s all about economies of scale, but go with me on this.

I confess I’m a sucker for the more obscure pasta shapes, especially if it comes in rustic paper packaging and with nothing but Italian written on it. I’m a food importer’s dream. I must say decent pasta does make a difference – it has better bite – but I think there is a bit of a plateau, once you get to a certain price point. A bit like wine really.

Walking around town the other day I spied this bucatini: paper packaging. Check. English instructions? No. Check. Funky shape? Close enough. Check. Cost £4.95. Jeez…

Bucatini pastaAs you can see they’re thick hollow tubes, about the same thickness as Pici.bucatini pasta

I bought it anyway of course but now what to do with it? l had a recipe for bigoli in salsa from my prized Polpo recipe book that suggests bucatini as a nice alternative. The ‘salsa’ in question is mainly anchovy fillet though, so I wasn’t sure Helen would have shared my enthusiasm.

This recipes was the obvious answer in the end of course. It’s the Romanised and therefore more widely recognised version of the Amatrice dish that authentically calls for spaghetti, pecorino Amatriciano and cured pork jowl called Guanciale *closes Google tab* Pancetta is a worthy alternative it seems though thankfully. I’ll try and get the ‘original’ ingredients in the future but trying to emulate super-regional dishes in a different country will test even the best stocked delis.

If you can get a nice block of pancetta like this, it’s so much better than the ready cubed supermarket version. It’s no more expensive generally either.

One thing I did find is that the sauce, being made with dry white wine and tomatoes, turns out very sharp in flavour. Unpleasantly so for my personal taste. Maybe using the type of sweet fresh tomato you get in sun bathed Italy the results are different, but here in the UK? So, as much as it pains me with current clamp down on excessive  sugar, I had to add a teaspoon in. It’s still a tenth of what you’d find in a can of Coke though and it makes enough sauce for 4 so I wouldn’t lose too much sleep.

Oh and a word of warning: bucatini, being pretty thick, has a certain ‘spring’ to it. After eating the left overs for work in the office, I ended up looking like an extra in Reservoir Dogs.

Thankfully I had no meetings that day.

Serves 4

  • 300-400g bucatini pasta
  • Olive oil for frying. Not extra virgin, it’s a waste.
  • 1 can of plum tomatoes.
  • 1 Glass white wine
  • 1 red chilli
  • 200g pancetta
  • 1 onion
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar (or as you need it).
  • Pecorino (or parmesan) and extra virgin olive oil to serve.

Slice the pancetta into thick cubes and finely dice the onion.

Brown the pancetta in a medium sized frying pan. When crisp, turn the heat down and add the onion and chilli. Cook gently until softened but don’t colour it..

Pancetta onion chilli

Add the wine to the onion and pancetta and reduce to almost gone.

Finally, pour in the tomatoes and reduce.

While this is happening, start the pasta. 1l/35 fl oz salted water per 100g. It will take about 12 minutes. Better to have the sauce ready before the pasta.

The pasta sauce should be fairly thick when done. Season to taste with the sugar, salt and pepper.

If you can, drain the pasta just before it’s done and return to the pot –  keeping a few tbsp of water back. Add the sauce and reserved water and finish it off with the lid on. It’ll take on a bit more of flavour of the sauce.

Serve it with pecorino, or parmesan if not, black pepper and a quick drizzle of  extra virgin olive oil.

Pecorino cheese

Bucatini All'Amatriciana