Peas with bacon

peas with bacon

A simple side dish that takes 5 minutes to make, to be served with pretty much anything you like, because bacon goes really well with peas.

Ingredients

Peas, frozen or fresh
Cubed/chopped bacon or pancetta, about 1/3 of the amount of peas
1/2 an onion, chopped finely
Chicken stock

The Cooking

Ok, in a non-stick pan fry the bacon to whatever consistency you like it. Just cooked or nice and crispy, up to you. Once it’s as you like it, add the chopped onion and fry until soft but not coloured (about 2 minutes), then throw in the peas, give it a stir and pour in just enough chicken stock to moisten the whole thing. Cook for a couple of minutes and you’re done! This is excellent with a nice Sunday roast.

Roast Guinea Fowl stuffed with Sausagemeat

Roast guinea fowl

Here’s something a bit different to chicken but just as easy to cook. I’ve chosen to stuff it with sausagemeat because the juice and flavour from it enriches the guinea fowl and helps keep it moist. When you stuff a bird you have to adjust the cooking times to make sure that the stuffing cooks through but the meat doesn’t overcook, which can be a bit of a balancing act, but as long as you follow these general rules it’ll all turn out fine.

Ingredients
Serves 3/4 or 2 plus leftovers

1 guinea fowl (about 2.5lb/1.25kg)
Some butter

½ an onion, chopped finely
2oz/75g breadcrumbs
150g minced pork or sausagemeat
Handful of parsley (finely chopped)
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

Mix together all the stuffing ingredients (that is, everything that’s not the bird and the butter) until they’re well-mixed. Identify the neck and bum ends of the bird and at the neck end loosen the flap of skin from the breasts. Pack about 1/3 of the stuffing mixture inside and then secure the flap of skin back down with a couple of cocktail sticks. Put the rest of the stuffing up the bird’s rear end (fnarr fnarr etc).

Pre-heat your oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put the bird on a roasting tray, smear it with butter and cover it with aluminium foil. The rule is that you cook it for 20 minutes per 1lb (450g) plus 10 – 20 minutes extra so for a 2.5lb bird you’re going to cook it for about 1h 20 mins. Halfway through, smear the bird with some more butter to baste it again. For the final 15 minutes of cooking, take off the aluminium foil and increase the heat to 220C/425F/gas mark 7 to make the skin nice and brown and crispy. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes before serving. Very nice, and the stuffing is very juicy and the meat good and moist

Roast Squirrel

roast squirrel

Let’s not be squeamish about this – I cooked a squirrel. I didn’t shoot it myself, I bought it at the farmer’s market. And why not? It’s meat, just like rabbit and lamb and chicken is meat. It’s not a LOT of meat, squirrels being quite small, but it is surprisingly tasty. And not like you’d expect – I expected it to taste gamey or like rabbit but it actually tastes like a cross between turkey and lamb.

As it’s quite lean, I wrapped it in bacon and roasted it for half an hour. Because it was an experiment I didn’t make a big meal out of it, just cooked it on its own. It would probably have been nicer in a casserole slow-cooked for a couple of hours. However, like I say, it was tasty and I would eat it again. Certainly if we plunge into a hideous depression and can’t afford more usual meats, squirrel could earn a place at the table. If you do happen to see one for sale, pick it up and have a go.

Creamy Honey, Mustard and Cider Pork

Creamy honey, mustard and cider pork

This is very simple and ready in less than 15 minutes – a superquick and tasty midweek supper. Good flavours, and you can make it low-fat by using low-fat crème fraiche instead of cream. I actually prefer crème fraiche to ordinary cream anyway, it’s more zingy.

Ingredients
Serves 2

1 pork fillet (tenderloin)
½ a large onion or 1 small one
2tsp wholegrain mustard
2tsp honey
3 tablespoons crème fraiche (I use low-fat)
About 100ml dry cider
A knob of butter
salt and pepper to taste

The Cooking

First slice the tenderloin into medallions, about 1 or 2cm thick. Mix together the crème fraiche, mustard and honey in a bowl and set aside.

Put the butter in a frying pan and set it on a fairly high heat. Slice the onion finely and once the butter is frothing, add them to the pan. You’re not doing long, slow cooking here (although you could if you really wanted to), so simply soften and brown the onions, making sure the stir frequently so they don’t burn. Once they’ve got a nice colour, either remove the onions from the pan or move them to the edge. Add a bit more butter if the pan is dry and add the pork medallions.

Now don’t touch it for 1 minute. Don’t be tempted to faff about, moving them round the pan. It doesn’t need it. After 1 minute, turn the medallions over and do them on that side for another minute. Now pour over the cider and let it bubble away for a minutes or so and reduce a bit. Take the pan off the heat and add the onions (if you previously removed them) and the crème fraiche/honey/mustard mix. Stir in well, reduce the heat and put the pan back on the heat. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes, have a taste and add salt and pepper as you feel it needs it. Voila, it’s ready.

I like to serve it with rice, but you can also have it with potatoes, veg, noodles, whatever you like. Very nice.

Paris, Venice and Florence

My honeymoon was AWESOME. The wedding was brilliant, being on holiday with my very best friend who I love very much was brilliant, and the food was BRILLIANT.

A brief photographic journal:

Courgette (zucchini) flowers with courgettes, tomatoes and lettuce. I love this photo, it makes me want to EAT IT ALL.

food

Soupe a l’oignon, in Montmatre. This is the best soup I have ever tasted. I made the waitress get the recipe from the chef. It involved a lot of cheese.

onion soup

The fish market in Venice.

fish market

fish market

Pizza

pizza

The mercato centrale in Florence

mercato centrale

mercato centrale

Ribollita, Florence bread and bean soup, from Gozzi.

ribolita

Tuscan antipasti from Il Gatto e La Volpe, in Florence.

antipasti

Bistecca alla Fiorentina from Il Latini

bistecca alla fiorentina

Ice cream!

a fool with ice cream

The Hogster, who was thrilled to have us home.

unhappy cat

Beef Stroganoff

Bit of a retro classic this one, and very simple to do for a quick weeknight dinner. You could go posh and use an expensive steak but there’s no need really. I’d rather use a cheaper cut here where its flavour is encouraged by the cream and mushrooms and save an expensive steak for a special occasion.

Ingredients
Serves 2

However much steak you like. I did 250g of frying steak for 2 people.
About 200g mushrooms, sliced (I used frozen pre-sliced ssshhhhhhhh don’t tell anyone)
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
100g soured cream or creme fraiche (low fat for those of that persuasion)
1tspn mustard
A large splash of sherry or vermouth or white wine
Salt and black pepper
1 tbspn oil

Rice to serve. You know how to make rice.

The Cooking

Heat up the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the sliced onion and mushrooms for 3 or 4 minutes. Slice the steak into strips (I don’t know why strips, this just seems to be how stroganoff is and who am I to say different?). Add the garlic, fry for another minute, then add the steak. Turn up the heat and fry for 5 or so minutes until it’s got a bit of colour. Add the mustard, the salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

Put the rice on now.

Add the large splash of sherry or equivalent, let it sizzle for a minute, then turn down the heat and let it simmer. If it’s a bit dry, add some water.

Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the cream or creme fraiche and bring it back up to a simmer. Once the rice is done, it should all be ready. Serve it up. Simple.

Chicken Pilaf

Chicken pilaf

This is a very simple one-pot dinner that only takes half an hour to make. You can adapt it to your own tastes by using whatever herbs and spices take your fancy – just use this as a base recipe and improvise. It’s also low-fat and well-balanced. What more could you ask?

Ingredients
Serves 2

4 chicken pieces – drumsticks, thighs, or breasts (cube the breasts if you like).
Basmati rice. I used a large mugfull for two people.
Chicken stock – twice the amount of rice, so I used two mugfulls. If you have fresh stock, use that. If not, a stock cube will do.
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Peas, frozen or fresh. However much you like.
A tablespoon of oil/butter

The Cooking

You need a wide-bottomed pan that has a lid. Heat up the oil and/or butter in the pan until it’s good and hot. Fry the chicken on all sides so they get some nice colouring – they don’t have to be cooked through, just a bit browned. Take chicken out of the pan and set it aside.

Now add the onion and fry until it’s just turning golden. Add the garlic, fry for another minute and then add the rice and chicken. Give it a good stir for a minute or so, so that the rice absorbs all the juices, and then add the stock. If you’re adding herbs and/or spices, do so now. Tarragon, thyme, cumin, parsley and coriander would all work well (although not all at the same time. That would be madness). Turn the heat down, put the lid on the pan and leave it for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes the stock should be mostly absorbed and the rice and chicken cooked – check to make sure, and add the peas. Cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, have a taste and add salt if you think it needs it. That’s it! Serve it up and eat it. Very nice.

Roast Pork Belly with Braised Puy lentils

Pork belly is so ridiculously easy I can’t believe I don’t do it more. Granted, there’s a lot of fat on it, but it’s really tasty fat – not the unpleasantly rubbery kind you can sometimes get on chops, but part soft, part crunchy really good stuff. And the fat bastes the meat as it’s cooking, making it sweet and tender and NOM.

The lentils are also simple and the mashed potatoes… well, you know how to make mashed potatoes.

Ingredients
Pork belly. However much you need to feed however many people you’re cooking for. Use the power of your eyes to judge when you buy it.

Puy lentils – about a cup’s worth for two people – multiply as necessary.
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
3 or 4 sage leaves
A little oil
About 1 pint of stock – meat, chicken or vegetable, it’s up to you. I used ham stock as that’s what I had in and it matched the pork.

The Cooking

First preheat the oven to about 170C/340F. Rub some salt on the skin of the pork, put it on a roasting tray and put it in the oven. Leave it for 2 and a half hours THAT’S IT. That is all you have to do. The meat will become tender and sweet and the skin will become lovely crackling. This is the world’s easiest cut of meat to cook, I swear.

About 40 minutes before the 2 and a half hours is up, roughly chop up the onion, garlic and sage leaves and heat up a splash of oil in a saucepan. Fry the onion until it’s just turning golden and then add the lentils and garlic. Fry for another couple of minutes and then add half the stock. Bring it up to the simmer and then just let it gently bubble away for half an hour, stirring occasionally. If it dries out, add more of the stock. Have a taste and if it needs salt and pepper, add it. Make sure it’s not too salty because pork is naturally salty anyway.

While the lentils are simmering, make the mashed potatoes if you’re having them.

Once the pork is done, take it out of the oven, let it relax for a few minutes and then cut it into hefty slices. Artfully arrange it on the lentils so it looks extra-nice and serve. Classy, tasty food.

Roast pork loin stuffed with pinenuts, lemon and sage and wrapped in parma ham

Pork loin

How posh does that look? And yet, it only took me 40 minutes to make and all cooks in the oven at the same time – no saucepans to wash up, nice and easy. Pork is quite lean so this is also low-fat. Positively good for you.

Pork, lemon and sage work well together with the pinenuts for texture and contrast. I made it with roasted parsnips, carrots and red onions because they all release sugars and are quite sweet when roasted and so counteract the sharpness of the lemon with the pork. The whole thing balances very well.

Ingredients
Serves 2

1 pork tenderloin
A handful of pinenuts
The grated zest of half an unwaxed lemon (make sure it is unwaxed, otherwise you’re eating wax. Who wants that?)
4 or 5 sage leaves
2 or 3 slices of parma ham or proscuitto

Veg for roasting. I recommend any of the following: parsnips, swede, red onions, red peppers, carrots, squash.

The Cooking

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/370F.

First do your prep – peel and slice the veg into appropriately-sized pieces according to how you want them. Put them in a roasting tray, sprinkle them with salt and drizzle with olive oil and give it a shake so they’re all evenly covered.

Grate the lemon rind, but make sure that you don’t also grate the pith (white bit) because that’s bitter. Put the pinenuts in a plastic bag and bash them with a heavy implement (a can of beans or a rolling pin will do). Chop the sage leaves finely. Mix these three ingredients together.

Slice the pork loin almost but not completely in half lengthwise and open it out butterfly-style. Put the stuffing mix in the middle of the opened-out loin and close it up again, encasing the stuffing.

Now lie the parma ham out flat on the chopping board, put the pork loin on top and roll the pork up in the ham. It’ll be thus:

pork loin in parma ham

Pop it onto the roasting tray and put everything in the oven. After 15 minutes, give the veg a shake and turn over the pork. After another 15 minutes, it should all be done.

Slice the pork into medalions to make it look pretty. Serve it up. Tasty.

Pork Won Ton

Look at my hands busying away there. Proper little chef, me. I’d been meaning to have a go at making won ton for ages but kept putting it off, thinking it would be fiddly. But it was suprisingly easy. Yes, the wrappers did tear a couple of times but that doesn’t matter really, this recipe makes loads. It is courtesy of my friend Sheo.

Ingredients
Makes about 40

A packet of won ton wrappers

450g minced pork
300g or so of Chinese greens – pak choi/bok choi is what I used.
100g chinese chives (although I just used ordinary chives, not having an Asian supermarket handy. You could also use spring onions (scallions)).
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon rice wine (I didn’t have this so used red wine vinegar, which worked fine)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornflour or superfine flour

The Cooking

Okay, finely chop the pak choi or whatever greens you’re using, sprinkle them with salt and set them aside for 30 minutes or so. This is to draw the water out of them.

Meanwhile, chop up the minced pork even more, you want it really well minced. Once the greens have sat with the salt for a bit, squeeze them really firmly over the sink to get all the water out. I was surprised how much there was.

Now mix together all the ingredients apart from the wrappers and put about a teaspoon-sized lump in the middle of a won ton wrapper. Wet the edges of the wrapper with your finger (that’s what I’m doing in the above photo) and then draw the edges together and make it into a little purse shape, twisting the top slightly thusly:

That’s it, just keep repeating this until you’ve run out of the mixture. Keep the made-up wontons covered so that they don’t dry out.

You can cook these one of two ways: you can fry and steam them or you can boil them and make wonton soup. Boiling is probably easier but I steamed and fried them to be eaten as a starter.

Heat some oil in a non-stick pan and when hot, add the wonton parcels with the twists upright. Fry them for a couple of minutes and then thow in a cupful of water and put a lid on the pan. Leave it to steam for 4-6 minutes, by which time the water will proably have been absorbed and it will be cooked. Serve straight away with some dippy sauce like soy sauce or sweet chilli sauce or whatever you fancy. Very nice.