Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Italian Sausage and Tomato Pasta Sauce

Italian Sausage and Tomato Pasta Sauce

It's the fennel in the sausage that makes the sausage Italian. Fennel has a very distinctive sweet anise-like flavour that sets these sausages apart. If you can't buy Italian sausages just soak fennel seeds overnight and dry roast or dry pan-fry them before adding to the dish. I learnt this trick from the Raymond Blanc Cookery School – by soaking the seeds and then dry roasting them you increase the flavours and improve the texture.

This Italian sausage tomato pasta sauce is really simple and quick to make and is easily adaptable for both the vegetarian and the meat-eater. Tagliatelle is the perfect accompaniment and you can follow my recipe of how to make your own by clicking here.

Carton of passata (approx 500ml)
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A few sprigs of fresh herbs - rosemary, thyme and oregano
Handful of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Glug of red wine
Sea salt and black pepper

Parmesan or equivalent, for serving

V: 1-2 Veggie sausages, 1tsp fennel seeds. 
M: 1-2 Italian sausages, or regular sausages and 1tsp fennel seeds.

V: Soak fennel seeds in cold water over night or if in a rush soak in boiled water for 15 minutes. Dry pan fry before adding to dish.
Grill the sausages, turning occasionally, until cooked. Slice into bite-sized chunks.
M: Grill the sausages, turning occasionally, until cooked. Slice into bite-sized chunks.

Meanwhile, gently heat the garlic, chilli and glug of olive oil in a pan for a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and season to taste. Leave cooking over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes. Divide the sauce into two pans.

V: Add the fennel seeds and vegetarian sausages to one pan and continue cooking over a medium heat.
M: Add the Italian sausages or regular sausages with fennel seeds to the other pan and continue cooking over a medium heat.

Cook the tagliatelle in salted boiling water until al dente and spoon on the sauce before serving.

Grate Parmesan or equivalent over each dish.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Homemade Gnocchi and Pesto Sauce Recipe

Homemade Gnocchi

I invited my friends round for gnocchi, which I decided to make from scratch. I had no idea how to make them and just thought it would be a fun experiment. I started looking at recipes and had soon looked at so many, I was completely confused as to whether I should boil the potatoes before mashing, or bake them. Boiling, it seemed, meant adding more flour to lessen the effect of the water, while baking involved using an egg to moisten the dry-baked potato. The one thing I was sure about was the need to use a floury potato. There would be four of us for lunch, and I was starting to panic when I realised the time. Luckily my eccentric Italian friend arrived early and came up with the idea of calling his Italian mamma, who of course saved the day with her recipe passed down from generation to generation. It's always such a relief, when you receive a recipe by word of mouth. By this point I was behind schedule and my guests had arrived, so I handed them each a glass of wine and roped them into assisting with the final touches. We created a nice little conveyor belt, with the final person rolling each potato dough on a fork to make indentations for the sauce to stick to; this job became quite tedious in the end! However, the dish was a great success and everyone seemed to enjoy it even more, having helped put it all together.
Alessio Attempting the Mashing Technique

Vanessa and Amy Working for their Lunch

Little Fists of Homemade Gnocchi

Tired of Work and Ready to Eat

Serves 4 as a main, 8 as a starter

2 large floury potatoes (Maris piper or king Edward)
100 g (approx) plain flour or Italian 00' flour, if possible
A few grates of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Boil the potatoes whole, skin on, in salty water until cooked the whole way through - test with a skewer. Drain and leave to cool for a moment. When they are still hot but just cool enough to handle, quickly peel off the skin and put them through a mouli or ricer, or mash them to a pulp (try to have a smooth substance).
Place the potato mash on a clean surface and flatten to about 2-in/5 cm thickness. Sprinkle over the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and some flour. Gently knead the dough. Repeat the process of flattening the dough, adding more flour each time and kneading it, until you have a dough-like consistency, similar to bread making but much lighter. 
To test whether the dough is ready, drop a small lump into a pan of boiling water and wait until it rises to the surface - this means it’s cooked. Taste it and check the consistency. It should be soft with a slight bite to it. Be careful you do not add too much flour, as the texture could become too rubbery. Add more salt to the dough if necessary.  

Now shape the rest of your gnocchi.
On a well-floured board roll the dough into a sausage shape. Use a knife to cut the sausage shape into small dumplings. Using the palm of your hand, shape the dumplings into balls and very gently roll them over the upside down side of a fork to give them slight indentations that will later catch the sauce.

Drop them into boiling salted water and cook for 2 minutes; start timing once they have bobbed to the surface.

Serve with Homemade pesto.

My Homemade Pesto Recipe

Homemade Pesto
Handful pine nuts
Large bunch of basil, roughly chopped
Handful rocket, roughly chopped
Chunk of Parmesan (or equivalent), broken up
1-2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
A few glugs of olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Gently dry pan-fry the pine nuts until golden. Add all the ingredients to a blender and process until smooth. Season to taste and add more olive oil if necessary. 

Pour the amount of homemade pesto you would like to use into to a large pan or wok and add a little water from the gnocchi to liquidise and assist with gently warming through the homemade pesto sauce. Toss the cooked gnocchi in the sauce before serving. 

Gnocchi Tossed in Homemade Pesto

Monday, 27 June 2011

Leluu Supper Club

On Friday, for my friend Lucy’s birthday, we chose to dine out at a Supper Club, something I have wanted to do for a while now. Supper Clubs are a new phenomenon sweeping across London. People open up their homes to diners and show off their cooking skills and the diners pay to eat. Lucy is a huge fan of Vietnamese and having searched for somewhere local to her and read many reviews we finally came across the renowned Leluu Supper Club located close to London Fields.  I haven’t eaten Vietnamese food many times so I was excited at the prospect of trying something new, and I sure did…

The Supper Club Experience
The experience was similar to that of a restaurant as the four of us knocked on the door and were welcomed into the East London home of Uyen Luu and shown to the table where we would sit for the night. We eagerly awaited our first course as the tables filled up around us with different groups of friends, some shared tables with other groups and others, like us, had a table to themselves. Bring your own beer/wine was a bonus so everyone had the drink of there choice to sip throughout the meal. We hungrily gobbled up the first course; little did we know that there would be 7 more courses to come!

First Course: Fish Cakes

Fish cakes wrapped in lettuce and dipped in sauce

It was an intimate dining experience as Uyen Luu served each course herself and the atmosphere was buzzing with chatter and laughter. I was especially thrilled that there wasn’t a menu to choose from; we were all given the same dishes throughout the evening (decision-making is not my forte, especially when it comes to food; I want to try everything!)

Second Course: Prawn and Pork Spring Rolls

Spring Roll with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce

The gaps in-between each course left us all in suspense. Even my fussy and complicated friends couldn't wait for the next dish, each light enough to leave us wanting more. Luckily the wait was never too long, and each dish was so full of flavour that the time was spent debating and questioning the unusual ingredients. I can see why singles Supper Club nights are so popular as the food is a great conversation starter and you are likely to be sat next to a like minded food lover, in more than one way!

Third Course: Sweet and Sour Soup

Nikki - the ex-anorexic: "I can't believe I just ate 7 dishes for dinner and found them all delicious, and now I’m even tempted to lick clean my pudding cup of orange and vodka panacotta! The chicken salad was my favourite dish."

Fourth Course: Carrot and Chicken Salad
Carrot and Chicken Salad with Prawn Cracker

Lucy - the vegetarian turned casual meat-eater, for fear of complicating our host: "Those little steak medallions wrapped in vine leaves tasted pretty dam sexy.  The fresh spring roles were my fav - the noodles with fresh mint and chili sauce were orgasmic: light, chewy, big, flavorsome and fresh."

Fifth Course: Steak Wrapped in Vine Leaves

Alice - the fussy eater: "Such a cliché but... the steak really did melt in my mouth. I loved the crisp chicken salad with the naughty prawn crackers. The fish cake starter was interesting and fun, and we used our fingers and got to embrace a tactile sensation."

Sixth Course: Spicy Aubergine and Tofu Noodles

Me, Georgia - the-starter-and-main, easily skip-dessert kind of girl: "I was so full by the 6th course but somehow had space for dessert. And my oh my it was delicious, no regrets, I wanted more! Also, considering I have never been a fan of sweet and sour dishes, the soup with fish and pineapple was light and refreshing, not the sickly sticky flavour I usually relate to such a dish." 

Seventh Course: Passionfruit Panacotta


At the end of the evening, the lovely Uyen Luu joined us for a drink, and we got to thank her for such a delicious meal and hear all about the inspiration behind Leluu Supper Club. We all had a fantastic evening and left high-spirited, with thoughts of how we could organize our own Supper Club in the future. 

The End of a Lovely Evening
Leluu Supper Club can tailor the meal for both pescatarians and vegetarians, too.
Prices start at £35 and you are advised to bring your own alcohol.
Leluu Supper Club also holds a popular singles night, for those who are interested.
If you would like an evening at Leluu Supper Club, you can book a table here.
If you want to find a Supper Club near you, try looking here.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Taste of London Festival

Taste of London Festival

Discover the Origin
David McIntyre Demonstration

£900 Truffle

Karantania delicatessen stand

Kai Chinese Restaurant Stand

This week the taste of London was not the taste of pollution but the taste of culinary delights as hundreds of foodies gathered together in Regents Park for the first day of the Taste of London Festival.
Small artisan companies nestled among Michelin-starred restaurants, and we got to sample morsels from them all.

After a glass of champagne, I was ready to set off on a tour.

My first stop was at the Discover the Origin stand, where I tasted differently-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses and Parma ham, along with their complementary wines: French Burgundy, Portuguese Douro Valley and port. I also won a book for being a good student and paying attention, correctly answering a question in the final quiz.

With my appetite whetted, I watched a demonstration of meat cookery by David McIntyre, executive chef at Wolfgang Pack’s first restaurant in Europe, ‘Cut at 45 Park Lane’. It’s high on my list for a visit…

With meat on the mind, I happened upon The Well Hung Meat Company, who deliver monthly organic meat boxes fresh to you door, a great extra to the popular vegetable boxes. The price and the content seem just right. If only I had a bigger fridge and didn’t live with the Vegetarian!

Now fully in the swing of things, after a bout of Caribbean music, jazz and jerk chicken, I had a taste of Wales, a taste of Argentina and a delicious taste of Spain. But my favourite taste was of the English Countryside, where I met, among the crowd, a comical character carrying a tray which, she explained, was biodegradable, with a container that was biodegradable, and a packet that was biodegradable filled with strawberries that were biodegradable. Could it be that the lady herself was also biodegradable!

Truffles filled my vision – the biggest I’ve ever seen, as black as coal, at Gordan Ramsay’s Petrus stand, cost a mere £900 or so. Little slivers in oil at the Karantania delicatessen stand, all the way from Istria in the former Yugoslavia, were more in my wage bracket. I’m looking forward to the opening of their new deli in Whitcomb Street in September.

I also can’t wait to go on a Food Safari of London, where you visit four venues, eating a different course in each… Sounds like a great new way to dine out with friends.

After a full tour of the site, I ended up back at the beginning where I decided to spend the last of my crowns (Taste of London Festival currency) at the Kai, voted best Chinese restaurant in London by Harden’s Restaurant Guide 2009. I thoroughly enjoyed my barbequed honey and soy marinated lamb chop with spiced shallots, garlic and coriander before the heavens opened up and the rain started to poor down, and I had to run for cover.

I went home soaked but fully satisfied with my new taste of London.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

The Raymond Blanc Cookery School

Collecting the Tomato Essence

Pistou Soup

Pan Frying Sea Bream

Pan Fried Sea Bream with Quick Cook Ratatouille
Many Varieties of Beetroot

A Sneak Peak into the Kitchens

Signed copy of Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets

For my birthday, back in November, I was given a voucher for Raymond Blanc’s cookery school at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. I opted for the Summer Dinner Party course, envisioning a day of culinary fun interspersed with breaks in the famously beautiful grounds. To my dismay the weather was windy and it rained all day, nevertheless it was well worth the six month wait.

As I approached the grand estate I felt rather out of place in my friend Hannah’s 1997 Nissan Micra (particularly when she tried to do a 3 point turn which turned into a 17 point turn in her non power-steering vehicle) but I was welcomed immediately by friendly staff as I walked in the rain along the path that led to the grand châteaux.

The tearoom was full of nervous excitement and anticipation as we 10 students waited to discover what the day’s venture would entail.

We were welcomed by our tutor Steve Lyons, who immediately made everyone feel at ease as he handed out our chef uniforms for the day. Once in our chef whites, we were led across the courtyard, through the main kitchens, dodging past the hustle and bustle of the real chefs who were busy at work, and finally into the classroom that would be our home for the day.

We were taught knife and chopping skills, and many handy techniques and clever tips and tricks throughout the day. The one I found the trickiest was learning when to stir and when not to stir my dish! Steve wasn’t a fan of the stirring as it makes your dish lose heat and slows down the cooking process but its just soo tempting!

There was a perfect combination of demonstration and instruction from Steve along with the opportunity to cook under the guidance of Philippe and Emily with the help of the magical fairies who tidied up after us.

Our tutor Steve prepared a slow roast shoulder of lamb and Raymond Blanc’s famous tomato essence, (which by the way was absolutely amazing; the cooled-in-the-fridge version made all of my senses come alive). And he showed us a new way of making risotto - without wine or stock or stirring!

In teams of two, we cooked roast red peppers filled with couscous, pan fried fillet of sea bream with quick cooked ratatouille (a dish I can definitely see myself doing regularly), pistou soup, fraisier with pastry cream and poached peaches.

The day was full of variety and, after we had cooked and eaten our lunch, we were given a tour of the glorious gardens. Ten percent of the food eaten in the restaurant is cultivated in the garden, so I was keen to have a good look at what was being grown. They were currently testing out the growth of many varieties of beetroot to decide which was their favourite. Everything at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons has a story relating to Raymond Blanc's life and upbringing. When he was young, he spent his mornings with his father at the allotment in France and the afternoons cooking with his mother. We bumped into the man himself and he joined us on our tour around the garden. Huddling under one of our umbrellas, he spoke fondly of his garden and his love of lavender. It was great to meet someone so characterful and passionate about what he does.

I can’t think of a better of spending a Sunday and wish I could go back there every week.  

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Quick and Easy Multi-seed Loaf

Multi-seed Loaf

After drooling over the bread at Zeb Bakes website, I decided to browse through the Sunday Times Book of Real Bread, which my Mum and Dad edited together in 1982. It’s full of bread making recipes from around the world and celebrates the skills of the many people with a passion for quality in bread and concern for health. Bread has been a staple in our diet for centuries but these days the loaf you buy has very little resemblance to a home-baked loaf.

Many people don’t realise that bread now lacks nutritional value and we need better bread for healthy, happier people. Chris Young recognises this and has recently co-ordinated a new Real Bread Campaign. You can read about this here and learn how you can get involved too.

I decided it was about time I did some baking of my own. Having looked at so many different recipes, I did what I do best, closed the book and made up my own version. The aroma was mouth-watering, the texture was dense and I had a perfect slice toasted for breakfast this morning. 

I used fresh flour, brought back from a trip to Norfolk. Always remember when baking that the fresher the flour you use, the tastier the loaf will be.

Makes: 1 loaf and a few rolls

500g wholemeal flour
250g plain white flour
14g dried yeast
400ml luke warm water
2tsp salt
1tsp honey
2 tsp olive oil
Handful mixed seeds

Mix together the yeast, honey and 200ml of warm water and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes until it has a ‘head’ like a pint of beer.

Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, seeds and olive oil in a large bowl. Stir in the yeast mixture and gradually add the rest of the luke warm water to form a dough. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 6-8 minutes or until smooth and springy.

Put the dough back in the bowl, cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place for 40 minutes. The dough will double in size.
Heat the oven to 225º/Gas mark 8.

Knock the dough back and tear off a third.

Divide the third of the dough into four and shape into balls to make rolls. Brush each lightly with olive oil and bake in the oven on a greased tray for 10 to 15 minutes.

Put the remaining dough into a greased bread-tin, brush the top with olive oil and bake in the oven for 35 minutes.

Cool the loaf on a wire tray before eating.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Elderflower Cordial


The Elderflower Mix

This recipe reminds me of my childhood and the beginning of summer. Towards the end of May/beginning of June we would all start looking out for signs of the Elderflower, with its delicate perfume, along country lanes or beside the River Thames in London.
This delicious cordial is perfect for a refreshing summer drink and if you make enough and freeze it, it can last you through winter too.

Ingredients for 8 litres
6 litres water
4½kg sugar
8 lemons (4 juiced, 4 scrubbed and sliced)
100g citric acid
200 elderflower heads

Heat the water in a large saucepan (or 2), add the sugar and leave it to dissolve. Set aside to cool down. To speed things up stand the saucepan in cold water.

When the mixture has cooled transfer to a large fermenting container (or equivalent).

Add the lemon juice, chopped lemons and oranges, citric acid and stir well. Stir in the elderflower heads and cover with a lid.

Leave the mixture to stand for 24-36 hours, stirring every 4 hours. My Dad always left the container in the bath or shower, not sure why, but it has now become a family tradition!

Meanwhile, prepare 8 litre containers. I usually use recycled milk cartons washed in the dishwasher or sometimes I ask the local pub to hold on to a few empty wine bottles with screw lids for me. If I intend to gift the cordial I find a prettier bottle to put it in.

The last stage is the most time consuming and can be messy.
You need a large strainer lined with muslin (extra fine cotton) placed over a large bowl. Scoop cupfuls of liquid into the lined strainer and use the back of a spoon to squeeze the liquid through.

When the bowl is full of a clear liquid transfer it, with the help of a funnel, into the empty milk cartons (or equivalent).

Repeat until all liquid is used up.

Store in a freezer and de-frost before use, saving one bottle to drink straight away (Only freeze the cartons, the glass bottles will burst!).

To serve: Pour a small amount into a glass; add ice, a slice of lemon and cold water (still or sparkling) for a refreshing summer drink.
For an extra treat add a few drops of Angostura Bitter.

I sometimes add a splash of elderflower cordial to my cider as it gives a tasty new dimension to the drink.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Tricolor Sandwich

Tricolor Sandwich

The Vegetarian brought this sandwich idea back with him after a holiday in  Rome a few years ago. I thought it was a crazy combination but the light flavours worked perfectly. This is a refreshing sandwich which is great for lunch. Look what Khloe had for lunch! (see below).

Chunk of Buffalo mozzarella, sliced
Few Broccoli florets
Tomato, sliced
Basil leaves, torn
Olive oil
Sea salt and Black Pepper
Baguette, torn to your desired length

Gently boil the broccoli in salted water for a few minutes, drain and leave to cool or rinse under cold water.

Cut the baguette length ways, drizzle with olive oil, layer with the tomato slices, broccoli florets, mozzarella, basil and seasoning.

Khloe's Lunch

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Orecchiette al Cavolfiore (Little ears of pasta with broccoli: panchetta or mushrooms)

Orecchiette al Cavolfiore
This has always been one of my favourite pasta dishes. I remember, when I was younger, begging my dad to cook it for me all the time. I would take forever eating it, making sure each 'little ear' was filled with a small piece of broccoli and crispy pancetta. For this dish the 'little ears' are cooked in the water from the broccoli, absorbing both its nutrients and delicious flavour. 

Serves: 2

200g Orecchiette pasta
Handful of small broccoli florets
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Chili flakes
Grated Pecorino cheese

V: Handful mushrooms, diced
M: 1-2 slices of pancetta or streaky bacon, diced

Cook the broccoli in a large pan of salted boiling water for a few minutes, then lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Put the Orecchiette pasta in the same pan and cook until al dente. 

V: Meanwhile, gently fry the mushrooms in a little olive oil. Add the garlic and a few chili flakes, when it starts to brown, stir in half of the broccoli. Season with black pepper.

M: Meanwhile, gently fry the pancetta in a little olive oil until crispy. Add the garlic and a few chili flakes, when it starts to brown, stir in the rest of the broccoli. Season with black pepper.

Drain the Orecchiette, pour the broccoli and pancetta or mushrooms on top, removing the garlic first, and sprinkle with cheese.