Half Scottish, Half Japanese. Tempura Mars bar?

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I began writing this blog in October 2010 as a new father documenting food in his family. Before I knew it, I was in the final of MasterChef 2012. Now cooking is no longer just a hobby.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Eyes and ears

I would like to build a portfolio of restaurant reviews so would be grateful if you act as my eyes and ears by alerting me to new restaurants opening up.

Speaking of eyes and ears, but entirely unrelated to food, here is a nursery rhyme for my friend James who has just had his first son. It's pretty amusing in a non ironic way. Check out all the different sets and costumes! Hopefully Oscar will be smiling in the week before Christmas and singing him this nursery rhyme will help! Hector loves it! Congratulations James and Sophie!

Hector, aged 8 weeks

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sunday snack: sausage rolls

Yesterday, on Saturday Kitchen, Rick Stein showed his recipe for corned beef hash, served with ketchup. Food snobs may have baulked but ketchup definitely has its place in the kitchen, especially with sausage rolls, as I'm sure you remember from your younger years.

Of course, you can buy them ready made at the supermarket and heat them in the oven, but it is so much more satisfying to make your own. They make a delicious snack with a drink in the evening.

Unless you wish to go the whole hog and make your own sausage meat and pastry, you need only three ingredients: puff pastry, sausage meat and an egg yolk. Dust the worktop and roll the pastry out to 3-4 mm thick. If you can't find sausage meat, use sausages and remove the skin. You can add some herbs, mustard or finely chopped apples. As you can see in the photo above, I was rather generous with the sausage meat - another benefit of making your own. Fold the pastry over the meat and press it closed using some egg yolk and a fork. Trim the ends and cut some vents into the top. Glaze with egg wash and place on a baking tray. I use a silicon liner which is guaranteed non-stick. Bake in the oven at 180 degrees celsius for 15-20 minutes.

Roll the pastry to 3-4 mm thickness
Fold the pastry over the sausage meat and seal

Cut vents into the top and glaze with egg
Bake on a non stick tray for 15-20 minutes until golden brown
Cut into bite size portions and serve with tomato ketchup.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Hector, 7 weeks old

After a bath

In his pyjamas, ready to settle in for an evening of X Factor

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Squid salad with red peppers, burdock and romanesco

There are quite a few pubs along the river between Putney and Hammersmith bridges but most of them, in my opinion, are duds that are too complacent to offer anything but a good location. The Crabtree is an exception - we ate there for the first time on Sunday and were impressed with the food, the service and the atmosphere. We have never had to put "family friendly" on our list of criteria, but ours was not the only pram.

Jemma had roast beef, I had roast pork and we shared a sticky toffee pudding. So we only wanted something light for supper that evening. I scoured the fridge and decided on a salad of things that needed to be used up: some squid, some red peppers, some burdock roots that my mum had grown and a romanesco that I bought at North End Road market (a romanesco is a cross between a broccoli and a cauliflower). It's nice when you come up with something that you haven't seen before in a restaurant or a recipe book, but it doesn't happen that often and when it does, there's usually a reason it hasn't been tried before. These particular ingredients, by accident of being in the fridge and near their best by date, worked surprisingly well together so I thought I would post the recipe.

Serves 2
Time 45 minutes
Cost: £2.50 per serving


1-2 whole squid
3 tablespoons of plain flour
Salt and pepper
1-2 red peppers
Half a romanesco
2-3 burdock roots
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons mirin (or sake with a teaspoon of sugar)
Salad leaves

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons walnut or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1. Put the grill on high. Put the red peppers in a roasting dish under the grill. Put some sunflower or vegetable oil in another baking tray to heat up.
2. Wash the squid and cut into rings or triangles. Dry with kitchen towel.
3. The skins of red peppers should have started to char under the grill. If so, turn them.
4. Season the flour very generously with the salt and pepper. Coat the squid in flour and set aside.
5. Cut the romanesco into small florets and steam over boiling water for 5 minutes.
6. Remove the red peppers from the grill and leave to cool. Put some oil in the baking tray and leave under the grill to heat up.
7. Cut the burdock root into shards or julienne strips. Fry in a little oil, then add the soy sauce and mirin. Lightly braise for 5 minutes. Burdock has a unique taste and you may find it in Asian supermarkets. If not, use celery, for texture.
8. When the oil is hot, add the squid and grill on one side for 2-3 minutes.
9. Remove the romanesco florets, cool in cold water and drain. Rinse some salad leaves and toss them with the dressing and romanesco. Place in a shallow bowl.
10. Cut the red peppers into strips, removing any seeds. Add on top of the salad leaves and romanesco.
11. Turn the squid and grill on the other side for a further 2-3 minutes.
12. Add the warm burdock shards and squid on top of the peppers.

Masterchef The Professionals

I didn't make this, but I had to share it. I was stifling my hysterics last night when I saw it because Hector had just gone to sleep.


Sunday, 14 November 2010

Sunday recipe: sausages and lentils

Sausages and lentils

On Saturday mornings, I like to go to the street market on North End Road. For one British pound, you can get a large stainless steel bowl of fruit or vegetables. In one bowl, I collected 15 red tomatoes on the vine, 8 avocados in another and 2 large shiny aubergines in a third. £3. It is cheap because everything is seasonal and ripe. Quid pro quo, you have to go shopping without any particular recipes in mind, be a little flexible and inventive and make sure you eat or cook everything within a couple of days. Weekends are perfect for market shopping because there is time to cook and invite friends round.

I decided to make three dips: salsa bruschetta, baba ganoush and guacamole. I dunked the tomatoes into a saucepan of boiling water for a minute so I could peel and deseed them for the salsa. I discarded the skins and chopped the flesh for the salsa, but I had some left over, as well as all the seeds and tomato juice. I didn't like to waste them so I put them in the fridge, not yet knowing what I was going to do with them, and got on with making my dips.

On Sunday, Jemma went to the supermarket for things that you can't get at North End Road market, like nappies and baby wipes. She came back with two packets of sausages which were on special offer. I now had sausaged, some lentils in the store cupboard and the leftover tomatoes. so I decided to make a recipe I initially found in Delia's Frugal Food. It has become a favourite meal because it is a tasty comfort food, cheap and quick to prepare.

Delia's recipe serves 4 and takes about an hour to make, but I think you can make it inside 30 minutes and add more lentils so that it makes 6-8 servings. The extra servings can be frozen and reheated in the microwave later in the week.

Serves: up to 8 (depending how many sausages in a pack)
Time: 20-30 minutes
Cost: About £1 per serving


2 packets of sausages
1 packet (500g) of green or puy lentils (I used half and half)
1 litre of cold water
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 tin of chopped or plum tomatoes (I used my left overs)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of herbes de Provence (or mixed herbs)

1. In a frying pan, brown the sausages in a little oil over a medium heat.

1. Brown the sausages in a non-stick frying pan

2. Rinse the green or puy lentils in a sieve and put them into a large saucepan with the water. Bring to the boil then turn down to simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Finely chop the onion and garlic. Add to the sausages.
3. Add the onions and garlic to the sausages.

4. Add the tomatoes, sugar and herbs to the lentils. You should notice their sweet fragrance as they warm up.
4. I used half green lentils and half puy lentils.

5. By now, the sausages should have browned and the onions softened. Cut the sausages into half and tip them into the saucepan with the lentils.
6. Deglaze the frying pan with a glass of water or wine. This will help collect all of the caramelised flavours and also starts the washing up process! Add this to the saucepan.
7. Turn the heat down to low and cook for at least another 10 minutes.
8. Taste and season, but there should be enough salt from the sausages and the lentils are naturally peppery.

As I am slightly obsessed with using up left overs, I also threw in some roughly chopped red peppers for a speck of colour and extra sweetness. I think it is best served with some crusty white bread and butter, preferably cold and unsalted.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Three types of Japanese noodles

My training for the New York marathon was dealt a blow the day Hector was born. That Sunday, I was meant to be running a half marathon in London. I was planning to build up to 20 miles or more in October, then taper down towards Sunday 7th November. Since I managed one 15 mile run in October and not much else, the only training I could realistically embark upon as I entered the first week of November was carb-loading to build a store of glycogen in my leg muscles.

So last Friday lunchtime I headed with some glee to a Japanese noodle restaurant to start the carb-fest. I chose Koya on Frith street, a few doors up from Ronnie Scotts. In Japan, it is common for restaurants to specialise in a particular type of food. I have been to restaurants that serve only sushi, tonkatsu (deep fried pork in breadcrumbs), shabu shabu (where you cook thinly sliced meat in a broth at your table), yakitori and even eel. Koya specialises in udon noodles, which are the thick, white noodles. Koya brings variation to the menu by serving them hot or cold and with different combinations of meat and vegetables. Generally, people prefer to eat noodles hot served in soup when it is cold and cold served with dipping sauce when it is warmer. 

The other main type of noodle that you will come across in Japanese restaurants is soba. Because they are made with buckwheat flour rather than wheatflour, they are brown (or sometimes dyed green with green tea). The dough is rolled out and cut, rather than pulled, resulting in a thinner and flatter noodle.

I used to get mixed up between the two so I had to invent a mnemonic to remember the difference:

Udon: Ooh, Don Corleone, he's the big fat white one.
Soba: brown is a sober colour.

There are a number of other types of Japanese noodle and regional variations on both udon and soba noodles, but one other type that you will commonly come across is ramen. It is a noodle that was originally imported from China. It is usually yellow because it is made with eggs or kansui, a type of mineral water. Ramen is the noodle that is used in instant noodles, but it doesn't necessarily have to be curly.

I arrived in New York at midday on Saturday and within 8 hours had been to two restaurants and one cupcake shop. New York is a superb place for eating out, but I'll leave that for another day!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Phileas Fogg

Hector in air balloon suit, 6 weeks old

Here is a photo of Hector wearing a new baby grow. Whenever I see air balloons I have a wave of nostalgia. When I was a young boy in the late 80s and early 90s, there was a brand of snack foods called Phileas Fogg. Like Monster Munch, the brand has been revived to find a new generation of consumers.

I remember them as a special occasion brand because they were priced at a premium and only available in off-licenses and small independent shops, rather than supermarkets. I looked forward to when my parents were having friends round because Phileas Fogg's Mignon Morceaux would often come out!

I had never read Around the World in Eighty Days but the packaging was exciting and mystical to a young boy. It featured a cartoon of Phileas Fogg in an air balloon and a letter from him explaining where in the world he found the snack, and the adventures he had trying to acquire it.

If you remember the original snacks, take the poll on the right to vote for your favourite.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Gidleigh Park

During Jemma’s pregnancy, friends, family and strangers offered advice, some solicited, on everything from epidurals, to push chairs, to parenting. We were, in truth, rather slow getting ready for our impending arrival. While we blamed the bombardment of advice and overwhelming choice of products, we were also busy denying that the growing bump might require anything more than a womb for transport and a placenta for nourishment.
Gidleigh Park

Stubbornly, we were not about to let pregnancy impinge on our ‘final’ summer together. So one piece of advice that we did take was to indulge ourselves in a Last Supper. I had resolved to visit Gidleigh Park ever since seeing an interview with Executive Chef, Michael Caines, on a TV programme about the secretive Michelin star rating system. The restaurant won two stars in 1999 and has retained its status ever since. This weekend, it was rated the best restaurant in the UK by the Sunday Times, above The Fat Duck.

The Michelin inspectors award two stars for “Excellent Cooking, worth a detour”. If, however, some of your worst arguments are born in the car, then I do not recommend a detour on a hot summer day. Especially if your companion is a heavily pregnant lady with reduced bladder capacity. The 35 mile journey to Chagford took two hours because the A385 was closed by an accident. Jemma has a love hate relationship with our sat nav at the best of times but we now relied upon it to find an alternative way along the single lanes of Dartmoor National Park.

We were already running late when we got stuck behind a sheep and played sheepdog for a quarter of a mile. Fortunately, humour tempered Jemma’s tantrum as it literally crapped itself when she got out of the car to shepherd it into a field. Finally a sign announced Gidleigh Park, with the message “Keep heart, you are still en route”. So it was with some relief, after almost two miles down a cul-de-sac, that we saw the black and white Tudor façade. After a few deep breaths in the car park and a visit to the Powder room, we were ready to sit down for our much heralded, self indulgent treat. Although half an hour late, we were instantly put at ease by being shown to a lounge where families and couples were enjoying an aperitif. The plumped cushions released a sigh on our behalf.

Jemma lowered the tone by picking up a copy of the Daily Mail and I followed by ordering a beer. More civilized clientele sipped on champagne and gin and tonics. We were presented with a warm pea soup and foie gras with rhubarb compote as we contemplated our choices. Both were delicious and a sign of good things to come. The first choice was whether to go for broke on the A La Carte or Tasting menus or economise with the Set Menu. Although there were three options for each course on the Set Menu and none were obviously duds, we both would have gone for the same main course, so I magnanimously volunteered to go A La Carte.
Foie gras with rhubarb compote

The atmosphere was wonderfully relaxing. Although it was the Saturday of a Bank Holiday in Devon, you knew that you would not be required to give the table back. The staff, while properly delicate and formal, put their guests at ease, easier said than done in a country house hotel, which can easily become stiff and stuffy. In the wood paneled dining room, guests were on their best behaviour and in their finest garments, celebrating a wedding, an anniversary or, in our case, the end of one chapter in our life and the beginning of a new one. Where other restaurants would have squeezed in additional covers, there were generous gaps between tables, which afforded privacy and added to the sense of luxury, without diminishing the sense of occasion that buzzed between tables.
Frogs' legs and crayfish, snail, garlic and nettle risotto

First, we were served an amuse bouche, a finely sieved tomato gazpacho, garnished with tiny cubes of cucumber and a basil oil which peppered the palate nicely. We both had to resist the urge to fill up on delicious home baked breads.
Free range chicken, chicken consommé, garden vegetables and truffled egg yolk

The service was reassuringly perfect: charming, friendly and not once did we feel interrupted. My starter sounded promising: frogs' legs and crayfish on snail, nettle and garlic risotto. The frog thighs retained their succulence in a light breadcrumb batter and the bed of risotto had a rich colour of chlorophyll. It was delicious but I couldn’t discern the snails, garlic or the nettles. Jemma had chicken in its own consommé, with summer vegetables and truffled eggs. The consommé was excellent, but not quite as memorable as a similar dish that we had in France. Although the vegetables and eggs were perfectly cooked, my starter won out.
Cornish cod, belly pork,  pea purée and a shallot and smoked bacon velouté 

By the time we were ready for main course, we had passed two deliciously leisurely hours. Jemma’s Cornish Cod with belly pork and pea puree was outstanding - I could tell from the way that her eyebrows lifted as the first mouthful passed her lips that my rose veal and sweetbreads with watercress puree and sherry cream sauce would struggle to compete. The meat was cooked perfectly but the puree was over salted which was a shame since I love the fresh, peppery taste of watercress. The peeled plum tomato reminded me of the ones you get in tins and didn’t add anything to the dish for me. As we traded, my own eyebrows silently expressed their assent that the cod beat the veal.
Rosé veal and sweetbreads, watercress purée, braised lettuce,
shimeji mushrooms, button onions with a Sherry cream sauce

Fortunately, the game of food envy ended in a draw, since we shared a dessert of strawberry mousse, jelly and sorbet. Normally, Jemma would rather spend 60p on a chocolate bar than £6 on a dessert in a restaurant but this was the finest dessert either of us have had in a very long time. We retired to the patio for coffee and petits fours and to absorb a wonderful afternoon. All around us, others were doing the same, enjoying the tranquility of the surroundings, taking the Boundary walk around the grounds, through the water garden and Bluebell Wood, each trying to make it last as long as possible.
Strawberry mousse, palmier biscuit with
strawberry jelly and sorbet, black olive and basil purée

The cooking is excellent, but the whole experience is special and well worth the detour. Highly recommended for a special occasion.
Petits fours