Easy Chow Mein

Well now, it’s been a while and dear Lord the world is a rather different place since I last posted! I can only conclude that recent events must be down to by absence and so for the sake of saving my own country from itself and the rest of the world from ecological disaster, I though I’d better start again. It’s bold claim I know, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge.

That, and the fact my eldest found my blog and wanted in on the action.

I still cook but it’s become a little more functional in recent years. The days of roaming the markets looking for za’atar and imported nam pla a distant memory, but I had my youngest eating lobster claw the other day (I know, get us), so I live in hope they are coming around to my way of thinking.

And so, in an attempt to bring them further onboard the foodie train by dangling the carrot of getting on them on the internet, I made this ridiculously simple, totally inauthentic (if it ever was thus) Chow Mein.

Ready in minutes and using just a wok, this is a kids’ friendly version that can be squeezed in between Brownies/Rainbows/Ballet/Swimming or what ever else sits between the little angels and a decent meal. Enjoy!

Tailor it for the adults, as I did, by adding in Lao Gan Ma black bean and chilli sauce once the kids portions have been plated up for an umami overload….

2 small onions, sliced.

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced.

1 large or 2 small carrots in thin batons

2 handfuls of frozen peas, thawed

2 handfuls of chopped ham or bacon

1 chicken breast, thinly sliced

1 packet of noodle (4 nests)

Light Soy 2 tbsp

Dark Soy 2 tbsp (or to taste)

Pinch of sugar (optional)


Cook the noodle in slightly salted water, until just done, rinse and chill in cold water.


Prep all the ingredients. My able assistant Dem is demonstrating here…


Fry all the ingredients except the soy sauces and peas and fry in a smoking hot wok with about 3 tbsp of oil until the chicken is done. Add the peas, the soy sauces and the sugar if using and fry for a couple more minutes.


Remove, wipe down the wok and fry the noodles in the same amount of oil. After a few minutes add the meat and vegetables back and taste. Season with more soy if needed.



At this point I plated it up for the kids and added some of the black bean chilli sauce for a real kick. Delicious.




Halibut and Salsa Verde.

Halibut and salsa verde

My God, has it really been three months? To be fair, I’ve been sulking a little.

We recently witnessed a rugby tournament blessed with some outstanding games and moments of brilliance. Who can forget that incredible last gasp Japanese victory over South Africa? THAT Fijian try against Wales, the Scotland v Somoa game and just the sheer all round awesomeness of the All Blacks.

The hosts? Well we trudged off up to bed with a cup of cocoa whilst the party got started downstairs, grumpily asking for everyone to keep the bloody noise down.

I was lucky enough to get to a couple of games in Newcastle myself, watching South Africa v Scotland and the All Blacks’ Haka versus the Tongan Sipi Tau – spine-tingling stuff.

I have nowhere to go with this, I just wanted to mention the rugby and apologies for those who haven’t the faintest clue what I rambling on about.

So anyway, fish. Love it. When I get the chance, this is how I like it, unfussy and ready within 20 minutes, if you get a move on.

Halibut fillets

I’ve been really into the Nordic thing recently – very simple but strong flavours. This follows that ethic albeit with an Italian accent. The salsa verde pairs classically with meaty white fish like halibut so long as you don’t over do it. The charred little gem lettuce added a nice nutty element and a bit of texture too.


Serves 2

  • Parsley and butter to serve
  • 8-10 larger new potatoes.
  • 2 Halibut portions – as fresh as can be.
  • Butter and oil for frying
  • 1 little gem lettuce, halved
  • A few handfuls of peas and a quarter of sliced cabbage

For the salsa verde:

  • 2 garlic cloves,
  • A handful each of mint, basil and parsley
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tsp capers
  • Two gherkins
  • 1-2 tsp mustard (dijon)
  • A good lug of extra virgin olive oil
  • Vinegar to taste
  • Sea-salt to taste

Set an oven to 60°C (to keep things warm later)

Finely chop all the whole salsa verde ingredients.


Neatly peel and barrel the potatoes, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a frying pan, brush the little gem lettuce halves with oil and season with a pinch of  sea salt. Char in the pan until slightly wilted. Set aside in the oven.

Little gem lettuce

Bash all the salsa verde ingredients, except the salt and vinegar in a pestle and mortar. Add the oil to make a loose sauce. I prefer it on the drier side though. Add the vinegar/salt to taste. You can adjust any of this to suit though. Set aside out the way.

For the last five minutes, I steam the peas and sliced cabbage over the potato pan. Set aside in the oven.

Drain the potatoes, and stir through some butter and chopped parsley. Put it in the oven with the rest.

Lastly, heat a pan of oil until smoking hot, season and fry the halibut skin side down until crispy. It’ll only take a few minutes. Reduce the heat and add the butter, basting the fish with it for a minute or two more. Flip the fillets carefully for a minute to finish and take it off the heat. Don’t overcook it.

Halibut fillets

Plate it all up with a nice sauvignon blanc from New Zeland – that’s two things they’re good at.


Smoked beef ribs and the art of looking busy.

smoked beef ribs

Well now, it’s nice to be writing about a subject dear to my heart once again.

I was recently speaking to some friends about ‘low and slow’ barbecuing, or rather smoking to be exact, a subject they know a lot more about than I do. Not that I don’t enjoy it, but it’s quite an art, and I really do mean that, as everything involved needs factoring into the equation –  equipment set-up, the wind strength, ambient temperature,  types of fuel, cut of meat, even breed of meat apparently (according the Pitt Cue Co). It all needs careful balancing – and that takes dedication. There are basic parameters, but after that you’re on your own.

The other thing about low and slow barbecuing that I’ve come to realise though, is that it’s a genius way to sit around the back garden on a Sunday whilst looking busy. Ushering the kids away from the Weber and keeping the heat set ‘just so’ is a responsible job. No time to cut that hedge or nip down the garden centre for me, no way, I’m far too busy.

Whilst I’m here, I may as well finish that Pale Ale I was saving in the back of the fridge too. Hectic I tell you.

The other weekend I managed to spend such a day cooking these beef ribs I’d found at a butchers. Amazing cut of meat, yet ugly enough to discourage the supermarkets and keep the costs reasonable. I normally braise them, but smoke and beef are such happy bed-fellows I just had to give this a go.

These took a good 7 hours on the barbecue using indirect heat with some hickory wood chips thrown in at the start. I got a fancy new grill which flips up at either end, allowing you to add more charcoal as needed. A life saver.  The cooking took a little longer than I expected to be fair, and needed pretty regular fresh charcoal interventions, but it was a pretty windy day for July, even by UK standards.

The ribs were brought out the fridge to come to room temperature whilst the coals were being lit and it was all systems go. I rubbed the beef with a fairly standard barbecue rub (well I think it is – hopefully any American readers will set me straight), of roughly equal quantities of salt, garlic and onion powders, black pepper, paprika with about twice the amount sugar and a good pinch of oregano.

Keeping the temperature at a steady 110ºC/230ºf there or thereabouts, as research dictated, I admit was tricky but achievable by fiddling with the air vents and the use of a thermometer. Once they reached an internal 65-70ºC/150-160ºF, they were done though, so that was my Holy Grail.

I tried to baste them with a little bbq sauce in between too, but not so much that I kept losing the heat. A tray of water was added for a little heat consistency – I’m not convinced that it keeps the meat from drying though as some suggested.

smoked beef ribs

Just getting started. Wood chips soaking for use later.

Pretty much ready....

Pretty much ready….

The result was a nice ‘bark’ (as I believe it’s called) with a strong but not overpowering smokiness from the hickory chips.

smoked beef ribs

They would have been amazing on their own, but I tried some spiced, pureed butterbeans and rye toast –  it was a great match. A nice contract in texture and flavour. The beans were simply blitzed with gently fried garlic, plenty of butter and loosened with a little full milk. I only wish I made more.

Chana Ghost

Chana ghost

I’m always fascinated by Indian food, but it’s a tricky art to master I find. In theory, it’s straightforward enough and in fairness, I make a fairly passable curry these days after a lot of trial and error over the years. When it comes down to working with the spices though, it’s alway a little bit more difficult.

There’s such a bewildering array to potentially combine, each in differing quantities that themselves vary between the regions, that it often seems fairly impenetrable to the fair-weather Indian food cooks like myself. I tend to stick closely to the experts recipes when going away from my own limited repertoire.

It must be said, I tend to go through food fads and cycles, veering erratically along the culinary pavement like a pay-day drunkard at kicking-out time. At the moment it’s Indian food though, so when I caught this on Saturday Kitchen, I knew I had to give it a go.

Seeing as it was also by Atul Kochhar, a chef whose restaurant I’d love to try if we manage to get down to London in the near future, that was – as they say – that.

Thankfully, the spice list doesn’t include anything too obscure for my local shops and the only thing I had to hunt down was the black cardamon, which I’d never used before. It definitely added a distinctive smokiness. It needs a bit of pre-prep as using dried chickpeas need an overnight (or all day at least) soak before boiling them.

Black cardamom

It was a lovely combination with quite powerful spices flavouring the lamb. I did try it with some chicken too, as an ‘insurance policy’ for Helen who has a love/hate relationship with lamb, but it didn’t work as well – it was too strong.

I’m not normally a recipe person, I get far too impetuous to follow stepwise instructions, but I didn’t dare mess with this one. Glad I didn’t in the end, although I did it in a slightly different order.

So that said, you can find the original recipe on the BBC Food website. Please do click it, it saves me typing it out if nothing else….

Start by cooking the chickpeas in the spices. They take a good 30-45 mins.


Meanwhile, make a paste of ginger and garlic. If, like me, your blender/processor simply flings large chunks that stick to the side while the blades spin round fruitlessly, add more water than you need and slowly simmer the water off. Make more than you need and keep it for later…

Garlic and ginger paste

Now, to the business end – assemble your spices!

Garam masala spices

Dry fry them in a hot pan for a minute or so and set aside to cool. Blitz them in the coffee grinder and sieve them. The sieving was new to me, but fairly obvious really in hindsight.


punjabi garam masala

In heavy pan, fry some whole spices in a disconcerting (but necessary) amount of oil.


Sauté the onion until very soft and add the rest of the ingredients.


Add the chickpeas and some water to cover and remember to take a picture. Reduce to make the thickened sauce.

Make the naan bread indigents and roll into appropriate shapes. Bake them on a pizza stone in a hot oven and keep warm.

Naan bread

Take the lamb rump, and seal it well on the BBQ (or in a pan if using the oven).


Roll the lamb in the masala spices and place back on the BBQ/Oven. IMG_9208-imp

I like it quite rare, so it took only 15 minutes on all sides on the fairly inconsistent gas grill. It won’t take that long in the oven. Leave it to rest.

Spiced lamb rump

Smells amazing, I promise you.

Combine the whole lot with the garnish and enjoy. I certainly did.


Hake with Griddled and Pureed Asparagus

Hake with asparagus

It’s asparagus season in the UK again and predictably, from the moment I see it appear on the shelves I get an unholy urge to stock up. Not the stringy supermarket substitutes from Peru or Kenya (sorry Peruvians and Kenyans, but, you know..), no, the proper stuff, from Worcestershire – maybe Herefordshire at a push….

I’m encouraged to see my relatives back down home still take it as seriously as I do too. It’s good to know I’m not alone in this.

The tips are considered the best bit of course, but what to do with the rest of the stem I hear you ask? Oh, you didn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway – how about making a puree of the thicker end and cooking the rest on a griddle?

The two approaches make a nice contrast and was great with some nice fresh (albeit massive) hake fillets.

Hake fillets

I flavoured the puree with the truffle mustard I found whilst back home a little while ago. As I mentioned before, it’s potent stuff, which I found surprising as I often find something ‘truffle flavoured’ generally, well, isn’t. Add a little crisped Parma ham and some sweet bang-in-season crushed Jersey Royals into the mix and it’s a nice balance of flavour and texture.

IMG_8701-impI’m sure you could make it a little more virtuous, by removing the butter, but where’s the fun in that?

  • Two pieces of fresh hake. Must be fresh.
  • A little flour
  • A bundle of finest Worcestershire asparagus.
  • A little single cream (100ml)
  • 2 knobs of butter
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp truffle mustard, if you can get it.
  • 2 sliced of Parma ham
  • About 8 decent sized Jersey Royal potatoes
  • Sea salt
  • Oil

Boil the Jerseys in their jackets until just done. Put some plates in the oven to keep warm.

Trim the fat end of the asparagus and simmer in a small milk pan shallow water until nice and tender. Add the cream and truffle mustard and blitz in a blender. Return to the pan and gently simmer to reduce and thicken.

Asparagus puree

Meanwhile, get a griddle pan smoking hot. Cover the asparagus in oil and season with salt. Griddle until cooked and nicely charred.


Heat a heavy pan with some oil until smoking, dust the fish on both sides with flour and season well. Fry it skin side down, until nice and crisp. Be brave. Flip only for a minute or so to finish off and be careful not to overcook. If worried, use a thermometer to check it. Set aside on the warm plate.

Grill the Parma ham until crispy.

Gently crush the Jerseys and season with butter and a little salt. Mould them onto the plate with a ‘cheffy ring’.

Crushed jersey royals

Stir the rest of the butter through the puree and add it to the plate with the asparagus tips, hake and Parma ham.

Hake and asparagus

Hay Roast Chicken and Morel Mushrooms

Hay Roast Chicken
I don’t recall how I first heard about cooking things in hay but I saw an episode of a show with Tom Kerridge in it on the BBC that reminded me recently.

“Now that right proper grub” he said (or something like that, probably) in his West Country twang.

I was a little sceptical to be honest. I love the smell of cut grass and hay, it reminds me of growing up at home playing in the woods and fields at the back of the house, but to flavour meat? Hmm.

It certainly looks the part – chicken, baking parchment and straw – this is hipster heaven. I believe Mr Kerridge added some cider to his but I stuck with some chicken stock I had in the freezer. Chicken simmered in chicken stock: it’s pretty chicken-ey.

I’m not sure about the hay effect, but then I did use greaseproof baking parchment to cover the meat as I didn’t have enough muslin cloth left to do the job, maybe it did too good a job job of separating the bird and the hay. I find whole chicken a sod to flavour at the best of times though – get past the skin and it’s a often a fairly bland affair even after days of marinading.

The flavour, almost sweet and nutty, was definitely more noticeable from the bottom half, where it came in contact with the hay and the stock, so it was probably my fault for not being organised enough with the equipment. I’ll do this again one day.

To serve it I had some nice morel mushrooms, mixed cabbage and a reduction made from the cooking liquor with a little Muscat for good measure. Hay or not, this was a nice dish mind you and it made it a bit of fun for the kids. Lastly, to go with the theme, some shoestring fries – they kind of look like hay you see…..

Serves 3-4:

  • 1 whole chicken. Preferably one happily running around freely before it met it’s maker.
  • A few handfuls of hay.
  • 6 garlic cloves. Unpeeled and bashed with the side of a knife.
  • 3 bay leaves
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • Muslin cloth (preferably not the parchment I used here).
  • About 500 ml of chicken stock
  • 3 or 4 morel mushrooms per person, depending on size.
  • Butter
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • A splash of muscat (couple of tbsp)
  • Salt
  • White and savoy cabbage thinly sliced and mixed
  • 2 small frying potatoes – Maris Piper or similar
  • Oil to deep fry

Wrap the chicken in muslin cloth with the garlic, bay leaves and thyme and tie. The parchment I used here was OK, but this would have been better.

Chicken with thyme and bay

Place in the bottom of a snug fitting lidded pot and pack the hay down the sides and over the top. Heat the stock and pour it over, place the lid on and cook for around 2 hours at 160ºC/320ºF – check it with a temperature probe.

Chicken in hay

Once done, remove the chicken and using a carving fork in the cavity, rinse off any hay under a tap. Pre-heat the oven as hot as it will go and put the chicken back in briefly, on a baking tray to crisp up/colour. Not too long or it will dry. Leave to rest under some foil and finish the rest.

Strain the liquor twice – through a regular sieve and then through a very fine one, or muslin cloth if you have either of them. Set aside in a jug.

Prep the veg – slice a mixture of savoy and white cabbage thinly and matchstick the potatoes (keep in water to stop them going brown, but dry well before using).

Place the cabbage in a steamer for a few minutes until softened, but not ‘school-dinner soggy’.

Fry the morels in a good knob of butter. Once nearly done, add a good splash of muscat (a couple of tbsp), stir and remove the morels, keeping them warm.


Aided by my glamorous assistant…

Pour in the cooking liquor and reduce until it thickens and flavours intensify. Taste and season if necessary. Add the morels back to the pan, turn off the heat and stir through some chopped parsley and another knob of butter. Keep warm.

Pre heat the deep dat fryer.

Carve the chicken on a warmed plate and place on top of the cabbage. Spoon on the morels and a few tablespoons of the reduction – it should be very rich.

Last of all briefly fry the potatoes at around 170ºC/340ºF until crispy, it will take only a minute of two. Season with seat salt and serve them straight away or they can go soft.

A nice citrusy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc went very down very nicely too.

Hay roast chicken with morel mushrooms

Pan Roast Chicken, Kale, Lentils and Chorizo

chicken, lentils, chorizo, kale

My wife’s started jogging again.

“Great news”, you say, “good for her, she’ll feel much better for it”. Which is of course true, but then it leaves me with a bit of a dilemma in that I’m most certainly not jogging at the moment. Nor ever in fact. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed sports as a whipper snapper, loved it even, but running any sort of distance was a by-product of whatever it was I was doing. It got me where I needed to go that bit quicker.

Needless to say, my enthusiasm still hasn’t taken root even as I entered my 40’s last year. I admire those that do, but it’s just not for me, I’m just not wired up that way.

Still, as I stood there, scratching the back of my head thinking about what the heck to make for diner in her absence, a sense of guilt did cross my mind. Momentarily, you understand. This dish was then a last minute vain attempt to feel remotely virtuous I suppose and I can say with all certainty as she came  back into the kitchen panting (but happy), no, it didn’t work.

So: kale, lentils (again, sorry), shallots, mushrooms, lean chicken? The very stuff of athletes. Single cream, mustard and chorizo picante? No so much, but hey, an old injury forced me out of the Olympics next year anyway….

Olympics again NEXT year? Where does the time go?

  • 2 chicken breasts.
  • 100g lentils
  • 1 litre of chicken stock
  • About 6 handfuls of kale, remove any thick stalks
  • 15 button mushrooms, halved
  • 4 shallots, finely sliced
  • About a thumb length of chorizo (or more if you have stubby fingers), finely diced
  • 1/2-1 tsp of mustard of your choice
  • About 100ml single cream
  • Salt and black pepper
  • A little oil

Preheat an oven to 160ºC/320ºF.

Get the lentils simmering in the chicken stock first. They’ll take about 20-30 minutes in a pan with a lid on.

After 10 minutes, gently fry the shallots and chorizo in a small pan, and add the mushrooms to soften.

Meanwhile, heat an oven proof frying pan with a little oil and sear one side of the chicken until well coloured. Flip over, seasoning both sides and place in an oven at 160ºC/320ºF for about 10-15 minutes depending on the size of your breasts (no sniggering at the back), until it reaches 60-65ºC/140-150ºF in the middle. Remove and leave to rest once done.

The lentils should be just about done so pour about 300 ml of the cooking stock into the pan with the shallots, chorizo and mushroom, and place  the kale on top. Put a lid on and simmer until the kale is just wilted.

Stir in the the mustard and cream, simmer a little longer and season to taste. That’s it, serve it up with a drink of whatever you fancy and talk about past sporting glories as compensation….

Chicken, chorizo, kale, lentils

Merry Christmas


No recipe tonight. I’m now sat with some stollen and a glass of ale after a long and busy day preparing for tomorrow’s dinner and assembling toys.

As has become traditional in our house it’s roast pork for Christmas Eve with mildly pickled red cabbage and mash made with 60/40% potato and butter. Yes, I know….

So, I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks rest after an extraordinary year. Plenty of time to cook too I hope.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Three Day Game Pie

Game Pie

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

Very recently humans managed to land a satellite on a comet. An utterly incredible achievement. Yes, I know I’m a little out of date, like reading a dentists’ waiting room magazine, but it’s pertinent so bear with me.

It launched in 2004 and was sent around the sun to gather speed. It headed back to the Earth then was slung, using nothing but gravity, all the way to Mars, at which point it was flung back to the Earth again before heading off into outer space to meet with a city-sized ball of ice and rock. Both parties were, and still are, moving at tens of thousands of miles an hour. It really is truly remarkable. A tribute to the ingenuity and perseverance of humankind.

Much like my three-day game pie really. An epic voyage of culinary fortitude and grit, albeit moving a lot more slowly. Three long and tiring days passed before we could sample this gem.

I take no credit for this recipe, it’s (fairly) regularly on the menu at a favourite restaurant of mine, the Broad Chare near the river in Newcastle. Well worth a visit if you’re passing, but you probably need to book. We managed a night out a little while back and ordered it from the specials. “For 2/3” it said. Presumably a week as it turned out,  but man it was good. Incredibly rich with superb crispy pastry.

Of course I had to try it and whilst, predictably not quite as good at the ‘original’, was pretty darn good all the same.

Game Pie (Courtesy of the Broad Chare)

Day one: marinade in an obscenely good bottle of red wine. I used Malbec. I didn’t marinade the vegetables though, maybe that was my downfall.

Game meat marinade

Day two: Fry the game meat, add the wine, vegtables and simmer for a few hours in the wine, cool and leave in the fridge overnight. Taste and season accordingly at this point.

Fried game meat


Day three: Spoon into a generous pie dish, cover with puff pastry (I bought it, I’m not a masochist), brush with egg wash and bake until golden. Serve with some mashed carrot and swede.

Game Pie with Carrot and Swede Mash

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.

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