Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Mushroom, bacon and brie soup

Now that autumn has come along, soups really come into their own. One of my favourite things to do at weekends is stroll around London markets on crisp, cold days and then return home to a hot soup. I remember an old advert for Ready Brek porridge when I was younger that had a person being heated up like a radiator after eating it, and soup really has this effect. 

Soup has a bad reputation with lots of people who think that it is boring, or who would never eat it as a main meal. But soup can be as exciting or boring as you like it to be, you’ve just got to think about what you put in. I used to be very cynical about soups, and would never order or make one, but I have eaten loads over the past few years and now eat them at least once a week. They are a really good way of using up any leftovers, and can be really cheap; perfect for when things are tight at the end of the month. 

Then there are the obvious health benefits. Eating soup makes it easy to eat loads of vegetables in one go, and if the base of the soup is just that and stock then they can be very low fat. I went on a very basic diet earlier this year that just involved eating soup a couple of times a week and doing more exercise, and I was staggered at the amount of weight that I lost. On the other hand, adding things like cream, bacon and cheese to soup can make them taste amazing. But often a little goes a long way, and so there’s no excuse even if you’re on a diet! This bacon and brie in this recipe really elevate it and make it so tasty.

Feel free to use different mushrooms when making this soup, but I have included chestnut and portobello mushrooms as they are easy to get hold of and have a much better flavour than most others commonly available. If you want to make the soup more substantial you can add peeled and diced potatoes, just add to the broth with the stock and cook until they are tender. 

Serves 4-6


9 large portobello mushrooms, 3 sliced
200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
300g smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
30g dried porcini or chanterelle mushrooms
2ltrs good chicken stock 
3 medium onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, stalks removed
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
50g butter, cubed
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

To finish:

1 large handful of rocket, washed
250g brie, cut into 1cm cubes

First soak the dried mushrooms. Tip them into a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 30 minutes. When soaked and softened carefully drain the mushrooms, retaining the liquid, and roughly chop. Put aside. 

Heat the stock up in a saucepan until it is at boiling point. Strain the mushroom liquid to remove any grit and add to the stock.

Fry the bacon in a little oil in a large saucepan until crispy round the edges. Remove and put aside. Add the chopped onions, garlic and thyme to the bacon fat and cook gently until soft. 

While the onions are cooking, put the 6 whole portobello mushrooms into a food processor and blitz until you get a very fine, almost pate texture. 

When the onions are softened, add the soaked and chopped dried mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the blitzed mushrooms, season well, and cook until all of the moisture evaporates. When the mushroom and onion mixture has cooked, add the bacon back into the pan and pour over the hot stock. Bring the soup to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes. 

When the soup has simmered and has a deep, rich taste, add the sliced portobello and chestnut mushrooms to the broth. Cook for another couple of minutes then add the butter and parsley and stir well until dissolved. Taste and adjust the seasoning. 

Ladle into deep bowls and scatter a good amount of brie cubes over soup, then add a small heap of rocket and a generous grind of black pepper.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Pan roasted hake with anchovy chard, crushed tarragon potatoes and shrimp and caper butter

It’s funny how a quick chat with a food supplier can change your ideas completely. Twitter is especially good for this; there are loads of fishmongers, butchers and a huge amount of foodies writing about what they are eating and you cannot help but be inspired. If I ever have a lack of creativity, scouring my timeline soon gives me tons of things on my ‘to cook’ list. 

This recipe is a prime example. I really wanted to cook with fish, but I had no idea what type or what I was going to do with it. It had been ages since I cooked with monkfish, so initially I was going to try and get some of that and cook it with prosciutto and a basil sauce. Still undecided, I asked for recommendations on Twitter, and within minutes I had a response from a local fishmonger. He was raving about hake, and even posted photos of the catch that was being delivered the next morning. 

As soon as I saw that, my mind was made; I would go and buy some hake. It had been a while since I had bought any, and it really is a wonderful fish. I try and cook with cod as little as possible, and hake is a great alternative with it’s large, white, flakey texture. In fact, it shouldn’t be seen as an ‘alternative’ at all. Most of the hake caught in Britain goes straight to Spain, where it is really popular. It’s about time that it was used more, although I’m perfectly happy with the low price at the moment. Hake is a long fish, so for this dish try and get a thick fillet from the head end of the fish, or a piece from a large fish. Even better, buy a whole fish and have days of lovely meals. 

Most of the time I like to cook fish with really simple, clean flavours and sauces. You want to taste the fresh, subtle fish; it is after all the main event, and whatever you serve with it should compliment it. The brown butter sauce in this dish is a classic with fish. I have used shrimps and capers here, but you could add clams the make the meal look stunning, or simply lemon and parsley is amazing.

Chard is in season at the moment and is beautiful cooked this way, but if you can’t get any then spinach cooked in the same way is just as good.

Serves 2


2 large hake fillets, pin boned and skin left on

500g new potatoes
4 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil

1 large handful red chard, thick stalks removed
2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 lemon, juice only
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large knob butter

100g salted butter
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
100g brown shrimps
1 lemon, juice only
1 handful parsley, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

First get the potatoes cooking by putting in a large saucepan of salted cold water and bring to the boil. Cook until tender, about 25 minutes, then drain and put back in the saucepan on the heat. Add the garlic, olive oil, tarragon and a good amount of seasoning, and crush the potatoes with a fork. I like quite a rough texture although it’s up to you how smooth you make them. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and add more oil or tarragon if needed. Keep warm while you prepare the rest of the dish.

While the potatoes are cooking, take your fish out of the fridge to get up to room temperature. Heat the oven to 180ºC. 

To cook the chard, heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Quickly fry the garlic and anchovy for a minute then add the chard. Keep turning with some tongs until it starts to wilt and soften, then add the lemon juice and seasoning. Taste and adjust then take off the heat. 

Season the fish well on both sides. Heat a non-stick frying pan to a medium heat and add a little olive oil. When hot, put the fillets skin-side down in the frying pan and cook for a few minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp. Still without turning, transfer the fish to an oven tray (or keep in the pan if suitable to go in the oven) and roast in the oven for 3-4 minutes, or until just cooked. 

While the fish is frying, make the butter sauce. Heat a small saucepan on a medium-high heat. When hot, add the butter and allow to froth and bubble. Wait until the butter has turned a brown colour and starts to smell nutty add the capers, garlic and shrimp. Cook for a minute, then add the lemon juice, parsley and seasoning. Taste and adjust. 

Heat up the chard and potatoes if necessary while the fish is cooking, then everything is ready to plate up. Put a nice pile of potatoes on the middle of the plate and top with some of the chard. Place the hake on top, and spoon a good amount of the butter sauce on top. Serve with a crisp white wine.  

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Best birthday cake ever!

It was my birthday last week, and my girlfriend Katie promised to make me the best cake ever. She did not disappoint. When I arrived home from work on Saturday I was greeted with a large glass of prosecco and this thing of beauty. She is already the queen of the red velvet cake, and I assumed that it was another of those until I cut into it and was dazzled by the six amazing technicoloured layers. 

Needless to say that I was blown away, and it tasted every bit as good as it looked. Thank you so much darling!

Recipe is courtesy of Lady Aga’s amazing blog at I have only just discoved it, and I will certainly be trying out many of the recipes that she has written!  

It’s Katie’s birthday at the beginning of October, and I’m nervous (shitting myself) and excited at the challenge of making her something that will nearly match it! 

I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking...

Monday, 10 September 2012

Pork and black pudding sausage rolls with homemade piccalilli

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like a sausage roll. I grew up as a kid eating them whilst watching the sport on a Saturday afternoon, bought from the supermarket and eaten hot out of the oven. They are comforting and delicious, and perfect for an autumnal dinner or simply as a snack.

Making them at home allows you to tailor them to exactly how you want them to taste and look. You can make really quick sausage rolls by using your favourite sausages, removing the skins and rolling in shop bought puff pastry, but the taste and texture that you can create by adding the other ingredients can be amazing. I have put pieces of black pudding running through mine as I love the earthy undercurrent that you get with each mouthful and the look of them once cut open, but the combinations you use are really up to you. You could add chilli powder to make them really spicy, or spoon onion marmalade next to the filling mixture before sealing the pastry and baking. Vegetarians can substitute the pork filling with a mushroom pate, butternut squash, goat’s cheese etc. with great results. 

I was always told not to waste my time making puff pastry and to buy it from the shops instead, and for years I did. But recently I have really got into making my pastry and would recommend giving it a go. The texture and taste is so much better, and it doesn’t take that long to make. You can make everything else while the pastry is resting, so you can have sausage rolls in the oven in under two hours. Once you have mastered making puff pastry it is quick and easy, and can be used for loads of other things like pies, tarts and pasties. It’s worth making big batches of it and keeping in the freezer, then it’s just a case of thawing it out and you have a quick and amazing dinner. 

Preserves such as jam and marmalade are always better when made at home, and piccalilli is just the same. And it is so easy too! A lot of these things need weeks after making to mature before you can finally eat them. This recipe is better after weeks or months in the fridge, but if you cannot wait then it is still great once cooked. I’ve still got loads left over from my last batch and it is fantastic with cheese and all sorts of hot and cold meats. If put into properly sterilised jars, it will keep for a good year so it’s worth making loads. If you have too much then it it is great as a present too!

Makes 12 large sausage rolls


For the pastry:

250g plain flour
1 good pinch course sea salt
1/2tsp baking powder
225g salted butter, cubed and very cold
150ml milk
1 egg, beaten

For the sausage filling:

500g sausagemeat
250g good black pudding, cut into large rough chunks
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
1 handful parsley, finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1tbsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper

For the piccalilli:

1 head cauliflower, cut into very small florets 
2 onions, chopped into small dice
200g french beans, chopped 
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice
1/2 cucumber, seeded and cut into 1cm dice
1 chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
700ml malt vingear
150ml white wine vinegar
50g caster sugar
2tbsp ground coriander 
3tbsp English mustard powder
3tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp ground turmeric
Salt and pepper

First make the piccalilli. In a very large saucepan heat up the malt vinegar. When boiling, add the cauliflower, carrots and onion for a few minutes, until slightly soft. Add the chilli, cucumber, beans, garlic and sugar and cook for another 2 minutes, before draining carefully and collecting the vinegar. In a separate bowl, whisk the mustard, flour, turmeric, coriander, white wine vinegar and a good amount of seasoning until smooth.

Put the spice and vinegar mixture into the now empty saucepan and heat up on a medium flame. When hot, whisk in the malt vinegar in three goes until well combined. Bring to the boil and allow to reduce until thickened slightly, stirring occasionally to stop catching the bottom of the pan. When the mixture coats the back of a spoon, taste and add more salt if needed, before adding the cooked vegetables and mixing through. Remove from the heat and pour into a large sterilised kilner jar. Seal the lid and once cool refrigerate. 

To make the puff pastry for the sausage rolls, put the flour, butter cubes, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Mix quickly with spoon but do not combine, then add the milk and stir together. The dough should look stodgy and uncombined, with the lumps of butter still solid in the mixture. Tip out onto a really well floured surface and work the mixture into a rough 30cm square. Fold the square in by thirds, then repeat the rolling and the folding process. At this point the dough will be really difficult to work, and will look like a dodgy omelette, but have faith as it will combine by the end. Wrap the folded dough in clingfilm and put in the fridge for half an hour. Repeat the rolling and chilling twice more and the dough is ready to use (or freeze if not using straight away). 

While the dough is chilling, make the sausage filling. Fry the onions, garlic and thyme leaves in a little oil and butter gently until soft, about 10-15 minutes, then allow to cool. Put the sausage meat, black pudding chunks, grated carrot, cumin, paprika, parsley, the cooled onion mixture and seasoning into a large mixing bowl and combine well. Heat up a small frying pan with a little oil and fry a small patty of the filling mixture for a couple of minutes each side until cooked through. Taste the patty and adjust any of the flavours and seasoning. 

Roll the finished pastry into two 30cm x 20cm pieces, and form a line of the filling mixture a third of the way into each sheet. Brush the pastry with a little water and carefully fold over, keeping it tight to the filling before crimping the two pieces together with your fingers. Cut into pieces as large as required and place onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Slash the top of each sausage roll with a sharp knife and brush all over with the beaten egg.

Cook in an oven heated to 180ºC (fan) for about 40 minutes and serve with a large dollop of the piccalilli and a nice green salad. Any uncooked sausage rolls will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and will make a really quick lunch or dinner.