A Stunning Balsamic to beat all Balsamics!

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If you have only ever bought balsamic vinegar from your supermarket and think you know what a good one tastes like – forget it! This balsamic comes from Modena and is made by agriturismo San Polo using only organic lambrusco grapes, then aged in ash casks for 5 years. If you want to know more go to emiliadelizia.com

Be adventurous with how you use your balsamic. This one is so beautiful on the palate that you could almost drink it! It has a fabulous taste almost a cross between honey and a velvety sherry. Stunning! The aroma has no sharpness or acid notes.

I have used it so far in a number of ways.

The first thing I made was an aubergine side dish that is an ideal accompaniment to all meats or fish dishes. Great too on its own cold.

Warm Aubergine Salad in Balsamic Vinegar

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Cube an aubergine and pan fry it lightly in olive oil. You may need to add a little more oil early on with the aubergines. As it browns add a finely chopped clove of garlic, a deseeded chopped fresh red chilli and a handful of san marzano tomatoes – or any good baby toms will do. Continue to stir and as the tomatoes begin to soften add a handful of any mushrooms of your choice, quartered – I used chestnut mushrooms this time. Add a little sea salt and a grind of black pepper.

After about 20 minutes on a low to medium heat add a good splash of the balsamic vinegar – about two tablespoons. Bring the heat up and once it begins to bubble,, turn the heat right down low and leave for about another 20 minutes. The resulting dish is a marvellous combination of flavours enriched by the balsamic vinegar and, served warm, it is one of the best vegetable dishes there can be! Crusty bread is essential to mop up any of the unctuous juices!

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I have also used this product to enliven one of my favourite greens – park choi. Once you have separated all the leaves, add to an oiled wok and after a couple of minutes add a tablespoon of the balsamic and toss gently. Magical!

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And it is simply divine with pan fried fruit! The other night I pan fried pears and nectaries, halved in butter and  little brown sugar. After 15 minutes I drizzled each one with balsamic and left it for half an hour to marinate over a warm heat. The vinegar lifts out all the flavours and intensifies them wonderfully. All you need to serve them is a little mascarpone or crème fraîche.

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IMG_5681 A perfect end to any meal, enhanced by blissful balsamic

Avocado crostini

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Simplicity itself…and soooo good for you…especially after the excesses of the Christmas season…at least I hope you excessed a little!

I adore avocados…so versatile…and, apart from being an excellent source of fibre and vitamins, research suggests that there may be a number of other benefits associated with the fruit, including: lowering cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of diabetes, promoting lower body weight, and… they contain a shedload of vitamins and other goodies. These green goddesses are an excellent source of potassium (containing more per weight than bananas). and they are rich in vitamin K, Vitamin B9, vitamin B6, vitamin B5 vitamin C, and vitamin E.2. And one avocado accounts for almost half your fibre content for a day. So there.

If you want to cut back on things like mayo – mash an avocado and use in its place – creamy too and better for you.

This light lunch today was a thin slice of grilled panini topped with a chopped ripe avocado, which had been mixed with the juice of half  a lemon, a small handful of chopped coriander (cilantro), a little black pepper and a dash of sea salt. You could use any herb instead of the coriander – fresh basil or oregano would work well. It would also be a great starter.

I said it was easy – and it is so tasty… and all you will need to fill you for a light lunch.

The Legend that is…. the Lemon…

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The Legend that is.... the Lemon...

Bonnie Lalley has sent me this wonderful painting inspired by my lemon pudding recipe which follows. I haven’t made it for a while so now that the lemons in the market are looking so attractive, this will be on the menu again this week! It is perhaps my favourite pudding recipe and shows off this fabulous fruit to perfection. Thank you, Bonnie, for reminding me!

The lemon is to my mind one of the sexiest fruits there is – it just looks so perfect – and it is, almost unquestionably,  the most important fruit in European cookery. As in Bonnie’s painting they cheer up any room even when doing nothing more than simply lounging in a bowl; their fragrance entices and they inspire so many ideas for dishes. The lemon partners so perfectly such foods as chicken and fish as well as making its mark in tempting drinks (citron pressé..oh my!) vinegars, desserts, jams and a host of sauces (in particular the fabulous avgolémeno sauce from Greece…and of course..mayonnaise.)

It is thought that the lemon originated in deepest Northern India and brought to the mediterranean lands by the roving Romans of the 1st century A.D. Oddly, the Romans had no word in Latin for this humble fruit. They apparently used it more as a decoration than an ingredient. The mighty Moors seem to have been largely responsible for the Med spread of the lemon. By the 4th century A.D. the lemon was well settled in such places as Sicily and Spain thanks to the Arabs. Arabic traders also took it to China. These guys worshipped this fruit – a writer called Ibn Jamiya wrote a tome called ‘The Treatise of the Lemon‘, and includes recipes for lemon syrup and preserves. By the late 1500s the Italians were in on the act big time and the use of lemon slices to garnish fish dishes was widespread. The lemon made its way to the New World – sounds so quaint that term nowadays! – via Mr. Columbus in 1493 who planted lots of lemon trees in Haiti. By the mid 1500s the Portuguese had taken the lemon to Brazil and in 1788 the first colonists to arrive in Australia were armed with stacks of lemon tree saplings!

One of the historical ironies of the transpiration of lemons by ship around the world is that the sailors often contracted scurvy on their travels – not realising that the very cargo they carried was to eventually prove an effective cure for the disease. By the early 1800s the British Royal Navy got round finally to issuing its sailors with lemon juice which cut cases of scurvy to almost zero.

The lemon is so beguiling as befits such a well travelled fruit. When I moved to New Zealand in the late 90s our first house had a stunning view from the garden – but what was even more captivating for me were the several lemon trees growing just yards from my back door. Oh for those trees now in damp Hampshire!

Look, anyway, back to the recipe – this first appeared on this blog in March last year and I make no apologies for repeating it here now – especially as it is accompanied today by Bonnie’s mouth-watering painting.

Double Lemon Pud

INGREDIENTS – 150 gm unsalted butter / 265 gm caster sugar /grated zest of 2 lemons / tsp vanilla essence / 6 eggs separated / 75 gm plain flour / 190 ml milk/ juice of 3 big lemons – / cream to serve.

And for my U.S. friends – 190 ml milk = 0.8 cup of milk or 6.5 fluid ounces      150 gm = 5 oz       265 gm = just over 9oz

75 gm = just under 3 oz.

Turn the oven up to 180c. Grease a 3 litre ovenproof dish. Cream together butter, sugar lemon zest and vanilla. Then, beat in the egg yolks….. slowly.

Fold in the flour…. then the milk…..then the lemon juice. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form soft peaks. Gently fold this in too.

Pour the mix into the greased dish. Place in a roasting tray. Add boiling water a third of a way up the roasting tray – in effect creating a bain marie…transfer..easy does it..to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top. Leave it to cool.

I love it cold but it is also wonderful warm. Serve with cream. I cannot tell you how good this is…………. just make it….!

Shhh…I’m cooking…

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Shhh…I'm cooking...

I’m kidding. Silence in the kitchen is impossible, My kitchen makes its own sounds anyway for a start. From the kettle rumbling to a pot bubbling, the gas gently whispering to the extractor fan humming. Cupboards opening and closing like an off beat percussion section, taps burbling away into the sink or a pan, and the cat moaning she has not been fed for at least ten minutes. I love sound in my kitchen. If it is after 7pm it will be music, from either my Spotify account on my laptop or from my i pod in its rather monolithic-looking dock. Before then, I often cook to the radio – often the news – though once it becomes cyclical it goes off.

So what do I listen to? Oddly I like the music to not to be too fast if I am concentrating – it is a little like when I drive – the faster the music, the faster I seem to drive. Not great when you are wielding a razor sharp knife! Sometimes, when I am cooking a new dish or trying to create one, then I have something familiar, often Chet Baker (what a sound!), especially later at night. Or the Spanish band Mana, or Sinatra. I don’t think it is a conscious choice but I have noted they are what what I turn to. If I am feeling confident and want a buzz I always turn to Morrissey. I feel alive when he comes on and I just love chopping and slicing, whisking and mixing, sizzling and stirring to Moz. I also find that a slice of Dylan mellows me as I cook. I also like putting the i pod on shuffle whilst I prepare dishes – though I find it hilarious when it suddenly turns up a Christmas tune and I can’t get to the machine to change it in time – bright sunshine outside and the kitchen suddenly filled with Hark the Herald Angels Sing. I also have afternoons – seems to be usually afternoons rather than evenings – when I fancy sautéing to a little classical music – especially Mozart – or maybe a little Pavarotti or Bocelli, even some Il Divo to hum along to.

I like background music too. I very rarely have no radio or music playing. I adore foreign music – I often have not a whit of a clue what they are singing about – in an odd way maybe I concentrate more when I don’t always know the meaning! – nonetheless I adore music by the Gypsy Kings, Stromae. Grand Corps Malade (good for very mellow, dramatic food!) Pablo Alboran and a real favourite for those electric tango lovers out there (there must be some!) the Gotan Project. I swear I move better, more ergonomically, around the kitchen to their music!

Hey, I love all kinds of music – the above I go back to regularly but I can happily cook to the late great and much missed Amy Winehouse, the pictured above and beautifully coiffured Mr Bowie, Mumford and Sons ( I have to have them on loud ), Lou Reed or Dire Straits. If I need instantly chivvying into action, I need an audio adrenaline boost of Roxy Music – that does the trick. Do I think about what I am putting on? Yes, sometimes – but often I just go with the mood. I couldn’t listen to indiscriminate music radio whilst I cook – I am not a fan of waffling DJs or adverts. And their choice of music is invariably not mine. I also get distracted if I have current affairs radio progs on – as I find myself stopping to listen to what is being discussed. Not helpful if things are boiling over around me whilst I argue the toss with an opinionated radio presenter who cannot hear me anyway (it doesn’t stop me) or I am engrossed in the plight of some disembodied tragic soul who is on a radio phone in. But as I said earlier , the news is ok for half an hour.

I have placed a few tracks on the Music to Cook To widget on the left hand side below my food photos – just for fun. I may add more in time.

I also love having folk in the kitchen whilst I cook – as well as the music – I love the banter of my kids, catching up what their day has been like, or when friends are around having a drink together whilst I prepare / finish off dishes. Their presence doesn’t phase me. The kitchen is a little like a stage set for me – actors entering and leaving, lots of action, moments of pathos and angst, moments of magic, a place to laugh a lot and get steamed up. A place to create dreams and a place to get audience participation and reaction in the best way possible – some helping to prepare occasionally ,and all, ultimately, centre stage as they dig in to the dish of the day!

The kitchen is my favourite place.

But it is rarely, if ever, silent! Music may be the food of love….but it also helps with the love of food!

IMG_5053I’m just off to Alfredo’s!

IMG_4524Sorry, Lady Gaga, tonight I am in the kitchen..but you can come and sing to me if you like!

 

An invite that has made my day!

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Very flattered and flabbergasted to have just received an e- mail inviting me to be a judge for the Great Taste awards. A magazine for the trade called Fine Food Digest organises the Great Taste awards – an accreditation scheme for speciality food and drink products. The awards, now in their 20th year, are a benchmark for key buyers and retailers as well as a great marketing ‘tool’ for producers. Having a Great Taste logo on a product leads to increased sales.

( You can see a video about the awards at   http://youtu.be/CSzuOLxvpOo     I have also added a link on my blogroll to their website – worth checking out))

They read my blog, liked what I write and I got the invite. It is down in Dorset in June and July. Exciting times!!

Uova in purgatorio…

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Uova in purgatorio...

Eggs….the ultimate food packaging….universally loved from east to west. This painting by Bonnie Lalley is so redolent of spring..which, if the plethora of snowdrops gathering forces around our garden are anything to go by, is just around the corner. From earliest times eggs have been associated with rites and traditions…symbolic of new life, rebirth etc etc. Hundreds of years ago eggs were forbidden at this Lenten time because of their ‘richness’ and it was traditional in France to search for and collect eggs on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and have them blessed on Easter Sunday, ready for their prolific consumption over Eastertide.

And the egg dish inspired by Bonnie’s painting is rather appropriate, as perhaps I too should not be eating then at Lent, – but I am! And so, the recipe for this painting is as the title, Eggs in Purgatory! But I like to use duck eggs. Spring is the best time to get duck eggs and they are so good for you.

Duck eggs have twice the nutritional value of a chicken egg and stay fresher longer due to their thicker shell. Duck eggs are richer with more albumen making cakes and pastries fluffier and richer and they have more Omega 3 fatty acids.

And I did not know but duck eggs are an alkaline producing food, one of the few foods that leave your body more alkaline which is a great benefit to cancer patients as cancer cells do not thrive in an alkaline environment. Chicken eggs are an acid food leaving your body more acid….apparently! Anyway…before you nod off…here is the recipe!

Uova in Purgatorio

For 4

1 garlic clove
2 tbsps olive oil
400 gm passata
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and black pepper
4 duck eggs
About 50 gm of parmesan or pecorino grated

In a frying pan or skillet, cook the peeled garlic gently in the olive oil for about two minutes. Add the passata, several leaves of basil torn, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 15 minutes over a low heat until the sauce is thickened. Take out the garllc clove. Break an egg into a cup. Make a well with a spoon in the sauce and slide in the egg. Repeat with the other eggs. Sprinkle the parmesan over. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the eggs are to your liking – I like mine runny! You can spice up the sauce, which I do occasionally by adding a little chopped fresh red chilli.

If such dishes are served in purgatory…’twill be fine by me!

IMG_4924Duck eggs supplied by a nice lady called Jayne Latham from whom we get marvellous eggs every week!

Cumin lamb steaks on a bed of rock salt crushed potatoes & buttered spinach with garlic sauce

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Cumin lamb steaks on a bed of rock salt crushed potatoes & buttered spinach with garlic sauce

Possibly my longest title to date! Couldn’t think of anything witty, well I could but they were all very corny. Anyway, this is a fabulous supper, inspired simply by my memories of our days in New Zealand where it seemed every other restaurant was doing some variation on the theme of lamb steaks piled on something or other, infused with this or that. I often pined for just a plain lamb steak…they were not easy to find..all the chefs wanted to ‘out sauce’ each other or come up with another way of disguising the lamb…possibly because they had so damn much they had become stone bored with the simple plain taste of…lamb! Well, I am in ‘fancy lamb steak denial mode’…so wanted for the first time in many years to recreate a dish like I experienced in Wellington.

This is my offering and it is very, very simple. And yet delightful.

I first rubbed each steak with cumin seeds and left them to think about things for half an hour or so.

I used a small bag of Venezia new potatoes which I boiled until they could just be pulled apart – about 20 minutes. I then drained them and popped them back in the pan with the lid on to steam a while.

I put a large knob of butter in a wok, melted it over a low heat and then added a bag of spinach, wilted it for about 10 minutes, added some black pepper and a little salt. Then put it in a sieve and squeezed the water out. Then it went back in the wok to keep warm.

I chopped 2 cloves of garlic and slipped them into a small pan with about 80 grams of butter and let them melt together.

The steaks were then pan fried in a heavy based skillet for three minutes a side in a tiny amount of olive oil.

The fun part is building the stack. The potatoes need a good grind of rock salt and a little butter before crushing them with a potato masher, but not too much. Arrange them on the plate, top with a spoonful or two of the spinach, put a steak on the top and drizzle with the garlic butter.

Then just tuck in….tis is a silken dish of buttery flavours that meld together like a marriage made south of the equator.

Winter’s warming glory…

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Winter's warming glory...

Often the simplest things in life are the most beautiful. The things we take for granted – golden leaves, a sparrow’s song, ripening berries peeping through hedgerows , snow drops peeking out from under the soil where they have slept peacefully during the dark drear months of winter.

And so it is with food – often food stuffs we overlook or turn our nose up at can provide delectable surprises. Inexpensive and warming when the wet weather whirls its way through our world.

Take the humble tin of corned beef. I loathed it as a child – all my sandwiches on school trips seemed to contain nothing else but slabs of it  and I found it hard to swallow. I remember my Granddad telling me tales of WW1 and life in the trenches when frequently the only dish on offer was tinned ‘bully beef’ as he called it. Sounded grim!

The stuff sold in cans gets its name from the corns, or grains of salt, that are used to preserve it. The beef is chopped up and preserved with salt – sometimes it was brine – and canned with beef fat and jelly. When I was young there seemed to be too much of the jelly for my liking! Today most of the corned beef in cans  comes from Uruguay or Brazil.

It was first mentioned in 1621 in a recipe of one Robert Burton in his ‘Anatomy of Melancholy‘ -clearly he too had been getting corned beef sandwiches too often in his packed lunch!

Anyway, he writes ‘ Beef…corned, young of an Ox.’ He also mentions that you could get corned pork . Corned beef in many parts of the world refers to salt beef – a wonderful cut from the brisket – we used to eat a lot of it when we lived in New Zealand. Corned beef in the UK means the stuff that comes in those trade mark rectangular cans with the pesky winding key opener.

The Irish eat a lot of it apparently, especially on St Patrick’s Day – a combination of corned beef heated through with cooked cabbage. And of course there is the traditional corned beef hash which improved my opinion of the stuff when my folks made this stew in my early teens. Great with lashings of brown sauce. Corned beef also gets used in lots of pasties sold in the chains of high street bakers.

But, my favourite way of eating it – and I have made this for many a long year, going back to my thrifty student days, is a Corned Beef Chilli.

I cannot explain how good this dish is – and I know some folk out there will be grimacing or even switching to another blog at this point – which is a pity – because, as I said to begin with – the simplest and often the cheapest dishes are the best. Right, assuming you are all still with me….! The recipe!

For 4

1 can of corned beef chopped into chunks.
1 red onion chopped
1 clove of garlic chopped
3 chillies deseeded and chopped – I use 2 red and 1 green
2 x 400gm chopped tinned tomatoes
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
A bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro)

500 gm rigatoni pasta (for some odd reason, it goes far better with pasta than rice – believe me.

In a frying pan, heat some olive oil and pan fry the onions, garlic, chillies, and cumin seeds.

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Let the onions soften, then add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a good simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes on a low heat.

Then add the corned beef and stir around gently. Now add three quarters of the bunch of coriander chopped. Stir again. Let it simmer whilst you cook your pasta. It can happily sit there for another 40 minutes or so, getting thicker and hotter.

Serve the pasta in bowls and spoon over the corned beef chilli. Add a sprinkle of chopped coriander to each bowl.

It is like no other chilli you will have tasted and everyone for whom I have cooked it has been amazed at the flavour and deliciousness of this dish.

Thanks, Bonnie, for the inspiration. A wonderful painting to go with a wonderful winter warmer of a meal!

The root of beauty…

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The root of beauty...

This wonderful rendition of the oft overlooked beetroot is by Bonnie Lalley and is the second in a series of joint ventures between us. I was brought up on pickled beetroot and it accompanied so many dishes in our house, from my mother’s succulent steak and mushroom pie to Lancashire Hot Pot to more frugal suppers of cheese or pork pie. It added an often much needed splash of colour to some otherwise overcast meals. Its deep scarlet hue always made me feel that here was something exotic in deepest, darkest Manchester – and yet it grew on all the allotments around without me then realising.

It is related to the splendidly named mangel-wurzel, used for animal feed, and the flavoursome veg, chard. And this root of joy has been around since the Greeks – Theophrastus referred to the cultivation of it 300 years before the birth of Christ in his botanical writings. It is descended from sea beet, a wild seashore plant, which grows around the shores of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe and North Africa.

In the 16th century it was referred to as Beta Roman in cookery writing. In 1699, it was said that thin red slices of the boiled red beetroot were ‘ a grateful winter Sallet.’ In the same tome, by John Evelyn – ‘A Discourse on Sallets’, he noted that it was ‘by the French and Italians contriv’d into curious figures to adorn their Sallets.‘  Now there’s a challenge for you all!

The luxuriant deep purply red colour is due to the mixture of a purple pigment, betacyanin, and a yellow one, betaxanthin. And it stains incredibly well, as my mother used to remind me over and over again, lest I ever spilt any on her newly ironed tablecloth!

The leaves of this root – beetroot tops – are also now used more and more in salads and they are both a thing of beauty and also very, very tasty. They are also stuffed full of marvellous minerals and vitamins. Beetroot is a great source of fibre and folic acid. Olympians drink gallons of beetroot juice I am told.

This is truly one adorable vegetable. And Bonnie’s painting captures the royalty wrapped up in this remarkable root.

And so to finish – a recipe that shows it off to its best.

Roast Beetroot with Goat’s Cheese & Balsamic Vinegar

For 4

12 baby beetroots or 6 larger chaps
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil – the best you have
Balsamic vinegar
175 gm goat’s cheese
Handful of beetroot leaves – small ones
A good portion of rocket leaves

Bring your oven up to 230c. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for about 45 minutes to an hour for large ones – or 30 minutes for baby beets. In any case they need to be soft enough for a knife to go through them easily.

Once they have cooled rub the skins off and either keep whole if small or halve then or quarter the big ones if using. Toss in the olive oil.

Scatter your rocket and beetroot leaves on a serving plate.
Arrange the warmed beetroot on the leaves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a little more olive oil. Pop a slice of goat’s cheese by each piece of beetroot and grind over some sea salt and black pepper.

Serve with more balsamic vinegar to taste and warm crusty bread.

Nothing vulgar about beta vulgaris.

It is the Queen of the root world.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!!

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Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!!

This angel is here just to wish you all a fabulous Christmas season – thank you all for your kind comments over the last 8 months and all your support. I feel honoured and blessed to have such wonderful followers – I have come across so many inspirational blogs and bloggers who have made my life and my cooking richer. If I follow you it is because you make me feel good and inspired and if you follow me it makes every key I type worth while. You are a fabulous community and I thank goodness that someone somewhere has brought us all together!

Keep doing what you are all doing!

God bless you all and a HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

May 2014 be a good one for you, especially in culinary matters!

Keith x