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, 26 April 2011

Medlar restaurant

Less of a blog and more of a plug. I am doing a trial shift (double shift, in fact, from 8am till 11.30pm) at Medlar restaurant next week.

Jemma and I went when it opened to the public at the beginning of April and were very impressed by the food and the value for money. Andy Hayler rated it on a par with Atelier Robuchon, Launceston Place, Murano, Nobu and Tom's Kitchen. And it received a good review from Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard.

So if you want to make my trial tougher, please book yourself in for lunch or dinner on Tuesday 3 May.


Friday, 15 April 2011

Street vendors

In developing nations across South America and Africa, it is common for travellers on buses and trains to be offered snacks by street vendors. Fresh fruits and packaged confectionery are generally the safest option, followed by home made crisps (potato or plantain) and savoury parcels (empanadas or samosas). For those with sturdier stomachs there are 'meat' kebabs.

But in Asia, where space is at a premium, vendors set up market stalls right by the train tracks. How close? This close.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Lentils, leeks, goats cheese and hazelnuts

Lentils with leeks, goats cheese and hazelnuts

As you may know I have given up meat for Lent. Most people are skeptical when I tell them I don't have to observe this on Sundays. Lent lasts for forty days because, according to the Gospels, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert. But there are forty six days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday so most Christians don't count the six Sundays of Lent.

On the fifth Sunday of Lent, I roasted a fore rib of beef (for about twenty minutes too long, if I'm honest). We served it with saffron roast potatoes, parsnip gratin, eight hour braised carrots and shredded spring greens stir fried with garlic, chilli and crushed peanuts. I couldn't find fresh horseradish anywhere, but I found some freshly grated in a jar at a stall in Chapel Market. Horseradish is a member of the mustard family and unlike chilli, which burns the mouth, it irritates the sinuses. This one, like a strong wasabi, cleared the nose and made the eyes water with just a sniff.

After Sunday, it was back to vegetarian dinners. On Tuesday, we had fresh pasta with parsley pesto. I had the most enormous bunch of parsley from the North End Road market and blitzed it with garlic, chilli, parmesan, and almonds (instead of pine nuts). I used olive oil and the juice of half a lemon to loosen the pesto.

Jemma and I are going through a chilli phase. Perhaps it is because it imparts interest to meals that lack the flavour of meat, perhaps it is just because we enjoy the self-inflicted heat on our palate. This evening, I had half a chilli left in the fridge. I could have left it out entirely, but it added some colour to the dish and I figured that goats cheese is delicious with tomato chilli jam.

Goats cheese also pairs well with caramelised onions. Goats cheese and onion tarts are a ubiquitous gastropub vegetarian option, because the acidity of the sweet and juicy onions cuts through the dry, crumbly tartness of the cheese. I had leeks in the fridge, so substituted them for onions and used up some hazelnuts, for texture. There is protein in the goats cheese, but I served it with protein-rich Puy lentils dressed in vinegar and honey, with chopped tomatoes, thyme, mint and parsley, for freshness.

Ingredients (serves 2)
100g Puy lentils
2 tablespoons of vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons of oil (I used olive oil and walnut oil)
1 tablespoon of runny honey

1 tomato, finely chopped
1 large handful of chopped herbs (I used parsley, mint and thyme)

2 washed leeks
2-3 slices of goats cheese

50g whole hazelnuts
1 dried chilli
1 tablespoon honey

1. Rinse the lentils and simmer for 15 minutes in plenty of water.
2. Cut the leeks into lengths of 7-8 cm and steam over the simmering lentils.
3. Put the oven on at a low heat (120c) and cut the hazelnuts in half.
4. Crush the dried chilli and mix with the honey and a little salt.
5. When the leeks have softened, slice them lengthwise and caramelise them over a low heat in some butter.
5. Blanche or steam the leeks before caramelising to soften them.

6. Coat the hazelnuts in the chilli, honey sauce and toast for 10 minutes in the oven.
7. Drain the lentils and dress them while they are still warm with the vinegar, oil and honey.
8. Mix in the tomatoes, herbs and add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Assemble the lentils with the caramelised leeks, sliced goats cheese and sticky, toasted hazelnuts.
10. The hazelnuts should be quite fiery, but if you can handle some extra heat, add some shredded red chilli for colour.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Hector's Christening

Hector was baptised in Withington on Sunday. Jemma was christened in the very same church when she was six years old and we were married there more than twenty years later, during a brief respite in the 2007 summer floods.

Reverend John Beckett, who married us, again lead the service. When he baptised Hector's cousin Beth, the service finished with an unaccompanied spiritual song ("Walk with me, for the journey is long"). On Sunday, the final hymn was less memorable for its lyrics (for me at least, because I didn't have a hymn book) than by the fact that it was accompanied by a recording of African drums because the organist had to get to the next service in the neighbouring village.

Hector was resplendent in a lace christening gown that was worn by both his uncle James and his grandfather Guy when they were christened. Not the most masculine, but a beautiful antique garment.

Almost as historic was the top tier of our wedding cake, which had survived in the Rookers' pantry for approaching four years. It was made and decorated by Hector's nanna, but because of our indifference to marzipan, the rich contents had leached into the icing and it needed a makeover. In the absence of any iced cygnets, an Easter chick joined the two swans on the top. We hope that the brandy has done its job in preserving the cake, when we come to taste it at Easter.

Finally, here is a picture of what the Easter bunny might look like.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Asian arancini

On Saturday, Rosie Nock told me that 'pictures of white bread' are no good to her. I hope this post will please her more.

I first tried arancini, a type of Italian street food, in 2001. A ball of rice is used to envelope a filling of ragu, peas, mushrooms or mozarella. It is then coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried until golden. They are called arancini because they resemble 'little oranges' (arancia means orange). They make very convenient portable snacks: the Italian version of Cornish pasties, samosas or onigiri (Japanese rice balls).

They probably originated from left over risotto and I too had some rice in the fridge. Unfortunately, it was pilau basmati rice, which posed two issues to address: flavour and texture.

Starting with pilau rice, I pursued South Asian flavours by crushing fenugreek, cumin and fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar. I then added fresh coriander leaves and a red chilli.

Basmati rice is not as sticky as risotto rice or Japanese rice, so it is difficult to make it into balls. To make it stickier, I added some tomato passata, an egg yolk and some gram flour. Gram flour is made from chickpeas and is the flour used for onion bhaji.

Cooked rice (about 1-2 portions)
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 red chilli (de-seeded and finely chopped to produce about 1 tbsp).
1 large handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
3 tbsp of tomato passata
1 egg yolk
Gram flour
Panko breadcrumbs


1. Mix the herbs, spices and chilli into the rice.
2. Add the tomato and egg yolk and mix through.
3. Add gram flour gradually until you get a sticky consistency.
4. Form balls no bigger than a golf ball.
5. Coat the balls in breadcrumbs.
6. Deep fry in hot oil or flatten the balls into patties to shallow fry.
7. Fry in batches, drain excess oil with kitchen paper and keep in a warm oven.
8. Serve with chilli sauce or lime and coriander mayonnaise.

Although these originated as convenient street food, they make nice amuse bouche, with a cold beer or a glass of wine, if you make them small enough. We noticed that you could taste the fennel much better once they had cooled down to just above room temperature.

I wonder if there's any left over rice at Soushi, to turn into onigiri-arancini.