Friday, 27 January 2012


My son is a big fan of Heston Blumenthal, the more ridiculous and wacky the better, and he's persuaded me to watch Heston's latest series on Channel Four 'How to Cook Like Heston'. I resisted at first: Heston's kitchen pyrotechnics are the food equivalent of Chinese Rock Star pianist Lang Lang, who irritates the sh*t out of me, but I'm warming to the bald guy with Joe Ninety glasses.

A recent episode focused on chocolate, and my ears pricked up when Heston mentioned popping candy, which was called Space Dust in the 1970s. I remember when it first arrived in the local sweet shop in Sutton Coldfield: kids, ten pence pieces clutched in their sweaty palms, queued around the block to get the novelty confectionary which exploded on your tongue. I never really liked it, but it amused me when my son discovered it a few years ago.

The "explosive" element of this chocolate tart is in the biscuit base, which contains, yes, you've guessed it - popping candy. My version was perhaps less explosive than it should have been because my son, who was making the biscuit base, turned on the Magimix after he'd added the popping candy, and "killed" the bubbles, so to speak. However, the end result was quite fun. I'm no fan of gimmicky food, but the rich chocolate topping, its sweetness tempered with passion fruit puree (sounds odd? but it works) won me over. It is also an easy pudding to make and would definitely break the ice at parties!

After we'd made the cake and eaten it, my son wanted to put popping candy into every cake and cookie we made, but, as I pointed out to him, over-use would lead to boredom. Let's keep the popping candy for special occasions only, shall we?

Here is a link to the recipe, plus lots more from Heston's tv show.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


So delighted was I with the super-succulent roast chicken in a brick (see previous post), that I decided my next "meal in a brick" would be 'Tava', a delicious yet simple dish from Cyprus. The recipe comes from Tessa Kiros's evocatively titled book Falling Cloudberries, which is part cookbook, part family memoir. It qualifies as 'cookbook porn' as alongside the varied and wonderful recipes from all the places where Tessa and her family have lived (Greece, Cyprus, Scandinavia, South Africa) are beautiful illustrations and snippets of family memorabilia.

It was interesting discussing with a friend who manages Waterstones (now officially minus its apostrophe!) the buying habits of his customers in the run up to Christmas. Every year, he says, cookery books do well, especially glossy, glamorous, heavily illustrated coffee-table type cookbooks. Nick actually gave me one such book for Christmas - Thai Street Food by David Thompson, a massive hardback tome (33.4 x 27.6 cms), heavy on gorgeous illustrations and light on actual recipes. How I will prop it up in the kitchen as I cook for it, I'm not sure!

Alongside all the cookbook porn, is a little gem of a book, The Flavour Thesaurus by Nicki Segnit (see my post here) which has no illustrations. Nick tells me it has been a runaway success and he's planning an event at the shop with the author sometime soon......Watch this space.

I tend not to buy a cookbook because of its pictures. I don't need to see a picture of a dish to know whether I will like it or not, and I prefer cookbooks which have interesting text alongside the recipes. Both Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson write beautifully and the preamble to their recipes is always worth spending time over.

I bought Falling Cloudberries in a remainder shop; I doubt I would have purchased it at full price, especially as I don't use it very often, but it is an attractive book to have on my shelf - and this simple lamb recipe is a winner:

Serves 6

2 red onions, roughly chopped
2lb 12oz waxy potatoes cut into large chunks (I use Charlotte potatoes)
2lb 4oz lamb cut into chunks
4 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 heaped tsp of cumin seeds
125 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
4 or 5 ripe tomatoes cut in to thick slices
3 1/4 oz butter
125 ml stock
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red pepper in small chunks (optional)

Preheat oven to 170C/Gas 3. Sauté onions and garlic, add red pepper during the last minute of cooking. Then put the onion, garlic, potato, pepper and lamb in a 5 litre casserole dish. Season with salt and pepper. Add the parsley, cumin, and olive oil and mix through very well with your hands. Put the tomato slices on top in a single layer and season lightly with salt. Dot the butter over the top and pour about 125 ml of stock around the sides of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 3 hours, tilting the dish from side to side a couple of times and spooning some of the pan juices over the top. The lamb should be very tender and the potatoes soft.

Remove the foil, increase the oven temperature to 190C/Gas 5 and cook for another 45 minutes or so, turning the lamb halfway through, or until the meat and potatoes are a little browned and the liquid has reduced. 

Cook's note: If you are making this in a tagine or chicken brick, put some oil in the bottom of the pot and toss all the ingredients in. You probably won't need much stock, if any, so keep checking to make sure the dish does not dry out during cooking. 

Saturday, 14 January 2012


When I was a student in the mid-1980s, I owned a chicken brick. It was one of my most treasured possessions, bought for my birthday by some of my housemates, and used a great deal as I learned to cook in my final year a university.

The chicken brick came from Habitat, the home store established in the swinging sixties by designer, design entrepreneur and restaurateur Terence Conran, the man who, almost single-handedly, shaped the look of everyday British life post-1945. (He also introduced us to the duvet, the paper lampshade and the wok.) I recently reviewed an exhibition at London's Design Museum about Conran's work and legacy (you can read my review here) and, nestled amongst the display of simple kitchen kit, was a chicken brick. My son asked me what it was for, and when I explained, he said "we should get one".

I don't remember what happened to my first chicken brick after I left university. I suspect I continued to use it for some years and then it got broken, and I never replaced it. I'm enjoying a rather wonderful rush of nostalgia now that there is another chicken brick in my kitchen, and I'm looking forward to christening it tonight - with a roast chicken.

Cooking in terracotta pots is an ancient method. The clay pottery retains the heat, and, being porous  when soaked in water and then heated in the oven, provides a slow evaporation of steam from the pores, creating a steamy enclosed environment. Food cooked in a terracotta pot is tender and succulent and needs no additional moisture or liquid during cooking. Meat also browns in the brick, even with the lid on. The chicken brick works in a similar way to a tagine, and a large brick has enough room for a bird or a joint plus veg or trimmings. As my tagine pot is rather small, I will probably use the brick for making tagines in future.

© Weston Mill Pottery

I purchased my chicken brick from Weston Mill Pottery, the firm which made the original chicken bricks for Habitat - and still does. In 2008, Habitat discontinued the chicken brick, but it was reintroduced due to popular demand.

I'll probably cook my 'chicken in a brick' with garlic, lemon quarters, tarragon sprigs and bay leaves, and maybe a dash of sherry. I'm going to serve it with Moro garlic sauce, and Ottolenghi's best mash. A perfect, comforting supper for a cold mid-January day.

More on chicken bricks, including recipes here


I was delighted when one of the people I follow on Twitter, a fellow foodie, flagged up a link to the new website and blog of Ash Mair, 2011 winner of Masterchef: the Professionals. Throughout the contest, Ash produced fascinating and delicious-looking dishes, many inspired by his travels in Spain, a country whose cuisine I adore. His personality and approach is also very appealing: as he says on his website: "I like to cook faff-free food that tastes nice and makes people happy". Ash, you iz the man!

The site is easy to navigate and includes Ash's musings on the whole Masterchef experience, as well as links to some of his recipes (more coming soon). You can also find his recipes on the BBC's Masterchef pages, including the dishes he cooked in the final, and recipes from other contestants.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


I thought I had already blogged this recipe as I make it fairly regularly, but a search through the annals of Demon Cook proved fruitless, so I had to resort to Nigella's Lawon's excellent book Nigella Bites for the recipe.

As befits a Monday night supper in dreary January, this dish is simple and comforting, and can be made from things you are likely to have in your store-cupboard. You don't even have to make it with fish and/or seafood: it works well with chicken, or you could even do a veggie version by adding things like baby corn, sliced red peppers, mushrooms etc. I nearly always have a tin of coconut milk and a tub of red Thai curry paste stashed away, and there's a good chance some salmon will be lurking in the freezer somewhere. Butternut squash - a rather suggestive-looking beast (!) - is a regular resident in my veg drawer, and a sprinkling of fresh coriander quickly turns this dish into something more classy. Serve with Thai jasmine rice for an authentic twist; Basmati is perfectly good too.

I looked again at the ingredients on Nigella's website, and realised that my version last night was very simplified, even though I had palm sugar and lemon grass to hand. Kaffir lime leaves (the freeze-dried ones are pretty good) add a nice citrussy zing, but lime zest works just as well. You can buy tubs of ready-made Thai curry paste in the supermarket: yellow or red works best for this, but go easy as some can be very fiery. Start with a small amount and adjust to your taste. Make this curry in advance and leave it to stand, giving the flavours a chance to deepen. Or knock it off in 20 mins if you're hungry/in a hurry! The recipe looks more complicated than it is: once you've made it a couple of times, you won't need to follow the text!

Serves 4-6
  • 400ml tin coconut milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons yellow (or red) Thai curry paste
  • 350ml fish stock (I use boiling water and a slug of Benedicta Touch of Taste Concentrated Fish Bouillon; cubes would do)
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar or caster sugar
  • 3 lemongrass stalks, each cut into three and bruised with the flat of a knife
  • 3 lime leaves, de-stalked and cut into strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1kg pumpkin (or butternut squash), peeled and cut into large-bite-sized chunks
  • 500g salmon fillet, preferably organic, skinned and cut into large, bite-sized chunks
  • 500g peeled raw prawns
  • Pak choi or any other green vegetables of your choice
  • Juice of 1/2-1 lime, to taste
  • Coriander, to serve
  1. Skim the thick creamy top off the tin of coconut milk and put it, over medium heat, into a large saucepan or casserole with the curry paste. Let it sizzle and, using a fork, whisk or wooden spoon, beat milk and paste together until combined.
  2. Still beating gently, add the rest of the coconut milk, fish stock, fish sauce, sugar, lemongrass, lime leaves and turmeric. Bring to a boil and then add the pumpkin. Cook on a fast simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 15 minutes, although different sorts of pumpkins can vary enormously in the time they take to cook; some squash take as little as 5 minutes.
  3. You can cook the curry up till this part in advance, maybe leaving the pumpkin with a tiny bit of bite to it (it will soften and cook as the pan cools). Either way, when you're about 5 minutes away from wanting to eat, get ready to cook the seafood.
  4. So, to the robustly simmering pan, add the salmon and prawns (if you're using the prawns from frozen they'll need to go in before the salmon). When the salmon and prawns have cooked through, which shouldn't take more than 3-4 minutes, stir in any green veg you're using - sliced, chopped or shredded as suits - and tamp down with a wooden spoon.
  5. When the pak choi's wilted, squeeze in the juice of half a lime, stir and taste and add the juice of the remaining half if you feel it needs it. Take the pan off the heat or decant the curry into a large bowl, and sprinkle over the coriander; the point is that the coriander goes in just before serving.
  6. Serve with more chopped coriander for people to add to their own bowls as they eat, and some plain Thai or basmati rice.
This is Nigella's method, from her website. Read the full preamble to the recipe here

Friday, 6 January 2012


My son persuaded me to watch Heston Blumenthal's new tv show on Channel 4 the other night. I've always been really cynical about Heston's kitchen pyrotechnics - to me he is the culinary equivalent of the pianist Lang Lang: all flashy show and no substance. Friends who have eaten at his restaurant The Fat Duck by the Thames at Bray tell me the food is incredible, and my son loves Heston's 'laboratory-style' cooking. The new series sees Heston in a more domestic setting, cooking things we can all manage in our kitchens at home, without the need for liquid nitrogen or other gizmos, and the first episode focused on beef.

I'd been meaning to make a proper beef bourguignon (literally beef cooked in Burgundy wine) since we returned from our Christmas holiday in the French Alps. In his programme, Heston demonstrated some key techniques for cooking beef, including his "tip" for bringing out the flavour of the meat: surprisingly, star anise, a spice more commonly associated with Asian cooking. He also recommended ox cheek as a good, economy cut for slow cooking. My local Waitrose sells both pig and ox cheek, both are very cheap, and delicious. So, armed with ox cheeks, shallots, dinky baby carrots and mushrooms, a bottle of Good Ordinary Claret, and a packet of star anise, I returned home to cook.

Beef Bourguignon is one of those great, classic dishes which has numerous variants. Really it is just a beef stew, slow cooked to allow the flavours to develop. Done well, it is glorious, especially when served with fluffy mashed potato. A robust, full-bodied red wine is essential, and use good stewing steak for this dish. If you're using ox cheek, don't brown the meat as this will make it tough. Simply add it to the casserole and cook for about three hours. I can confirm that the result will be mouth-wateringly tender, infused with the lovely rich wine sauce.

Nigel Slater's recipe is pretty authentic - find it here. I added the star anise with the onion/bacon etc at the start of cooking. I also used baby carrots and mushrooms as well as shallots. I didn't brown the mushrooms and shallots separately - because life too's short, ain't it?

Here is the wonderful Julia Child (America's answer to Elizabeth David) cooking Beef Bourguignon

Thursday, 5 January 2012


© Nigella Lawson website
This comes from Nigella Lawson's wonderful book How to be a Domestic Goddess which is cramful of lovely cakes, puddings, pies and more. It is exactly as the title implies and is a handy standby if you're stuck for a pudding. It looks very elegant and can be tarted up with fruit (raspberries, strawberries and/or blueberries work particularly well), ice cream or whipped cream. The great thing about this cake is that, apart from the marzipan, it's made from things you are likely to have in your cupboard all the time. I was pondering what to make for pudding tomorrow evening when I found half a block of marzipan in the fridge, leftover from my Christmas Stollen.

Nigella's cook's note: take the marzipan out of the fridge ahead of making the cake, otherwise it won't "ooze into the cake batter".  The quantities can be doubled or halved easily: just adjust the cake tin size to suit the quantity.

250g softened unsalted butter
250g softened marzipan (yellow or natural coloured)
150g caster sugar
¼ tsp almond essence
¼ tsp vanilla essence
6 large eggs
150g self-raising flour

You will also need a 25cm springform pan or, if you have one, a patterned ring mould, buttered and floured.

Oven 170℃

Makes about 12 slices

Chop the butter and marzipan and then put in the food-processor with the sugar and whizz until well combined and smooth. Add the almond and vanilla essence, and break the eggs into the mixture, one at a time. Add the flour. Tip the mixture into the prepared pan and cook for 50 minutes, but check after 40. Dust with icing sugar and garnish with fresh, if using. Serve with creme fraiche, ice-cream, whipped cream, mascarpone....

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Yesterday, I got drenched while visiting London's Design Museum to review 'The Way We Live Now', an appreciation of Terence Conran's life in design, and an exhibition I found rather nostalgic, not least for the inclusion of a Habitat chicken brick (I had one as a student) and various other pieces of furniture and kitchen gadgets which I own or have owned. My son was fascinated by the idea of the chicken brick (it works on the same principle as a tagine - you don't need to add additional liquid) and persuaded me to buy one - which I did.

Leaving the Design Museum and heading back along the Thames Path towards London Bridge we were subjected to the full force of a mini typhoon: the gale whipped icy, stinging rain into our faces and in a few moments, despite our sensible outdoor coats, we were soaked. We had a jolly, healthy sushi lunch at Itsu, and it was while we were eating, that I remembered the parsnips in the vegetable drawer of the fridge, left over from Christmas, and the generous slabs of Barbery duck which I bought in Lidl and froze before we left for our winter holiday in the Alps. I defrosted one duck breast (they are huge!) as soon as I'd returned home and dried out, and set about making ribbons from the parsnips using the vegetable peeler while wondering whether I should invest in a "vegetable spiralizer".

This dish was inspired by Jamie Oliver's simple yet classy Parsnip and Pancetta Tagliatelle, but the substitution of duck for pancetta and the marinade is my own invention. Cook the parsnip strips until they are soft, sweet and slightly caramelised around the edges. This is one of those wonderfully straightforward dishes that tastes upmarket. Tonight I'm doing a variation on the theme: risotto with caramelised parsnip ribbons and mushrooms.

Parsnip ribbons with sliced duck breast and linguine
Serves 2

Bear in mind that the parsnips "shrink" when cooked so don't stint on the ribbons (amusingly, my son thought the parsnip ribbons were Japanese noodles!).

1 Barbery duck breast (or two small duck breasts)
1 splash of Balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt & pepper
3 large parnsips, peeled and then ribboned (use a veg peeler)
1 fat garlic clove, peeled and finely sliced
Generous knob of butter
Generous grating of fresh parmesan cheese
Enough linguine for two (fresh or dried). Or spaghetti or tagliatelle, papardelle or bucatini
Salt & pepper
Fresh flat leaf parsley to garnish
Olive oil for frying

Oven 180℃

First prepare the duck breast/s. Slash the fat with a sharp knife and marinade the duck in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the duck breast/s, skin sound down, until the skin is crisp. Set aside.

About 20 mins before you want to eat, turn on the oven, and when it is really hot, cook the duck breasts.

Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and soften the garlic until it gives up its flavour. Then add the parsnip ribbons and cook until slightly caramelised. Bring a big pan of water to boil and cook the pasta. Remove the duck from the oven, let it rest, and then slice it.

Add the butter to the parsnips and a handful of Parmesan cheese. Check seasoning. Drain the pasta, toss in the parsnips, add more cheese if liked. Place a nest of pasta on each plate and lay the duck slices on top. Garnish with fresh parsley. I also drizzled a little truffle oil over the top, which added a certain je ne sais quoi....

Jamie Oliver's recipe which inspired this post here