Insert risotto pun here. 

I’m at a loss. Risotto does plenty for my appetite, but fails to inspire a decent title for this post.  In risotto’s defence, it is a superb dish for using up ingredients, and that’s good news towards the end of a week.

Is it a regular on our menu at home? Nope.  Risotto doesn’t lend itself to nightly meals with children around.  Like children, it requires close attention and this alone relegates the dish to weekend cooking.  Take your eye off the pan and the rice will begin to crisp and burn without more stock.  The resulting crust, which is sought after in a paella, ruins a risotto completely.

Slow, slowly.  Risotto is not something to be rushed.  Choose ingredients carefully and add them at the right time for a satisfying result.

Chicken and Parmesan risotto

3 chicken thighs (cooked)

250g arborio rice

125ml white wine

4 slices smoked ham (cut into strips)

A couple of handfuls frozen peas

1 onion (finely chopped)

Grated parmesan

Chicken stock

Extra virgin olive oil 

Butter

Sea salt

Black pepper

The ingredients listed here do not all contain measures because the risotto can be altered to suit tastes. For example, I love black pepper and always add more than some people would like.

Start by removing all of the meat from the cooked chicken thighs and cutting it into smaller pieces for the risotto. I tend to discard the skin.  Set the chicken aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan and add the rice. Stir until coated with the oil and cook on a low heat.  Add a little butter. When the rice is opaque, add the onion and stir well again. Add the wine and cook for two minutes.  As the onion softens, pour in some of the stock and stir.

Continue to add stock as it is absorbed. Don’t let the rice burn. Stir gently and add the frozen peas and the ham.

Keep the heat low and add the chicken pieces and some seasoning.

Taste the rice every now and again to see if it is cooked through. Add more seasoning and butter if necessary. When the rice is soft, take it off the heat and stir in the grated Parmesan. Beautiful!




Peas, perfect peas.

A few years ago, I wrote about the importance of making soup with love.  Today I’m going to make soup with peas.  The humble pea could easily be ignored by individuals keen to enjoy the meat from their roast dinner.  Children and adults might dislike the flavour of peas and find their colour or texture unappealing.  Not so in our household, where the pea has been given hero status due to its versatility and easy preparation.  My children have known from very early on in their lives that peas are our friends.  In pies; in stews; in fish suppers; in paella; in pilaf; in times of sorrow, peas will see you through.  If you thought that was hyperbole, you should hear me preach about carrots.

Earlier today, a casual conversation about soup (yes, we have so many casual soup conversations, don’t we?) sparked an immediate longing in me to make pea soup.  A colleague of mine, named Mrs. P for the purpose of this blog post, mentioned her love of pea and ham soup with dumplings.  Instantly, I pictured the open pack of bacon in my fridge (in a similar way that the internal cameras on the new Samsung smart fridge display the contents of each shelf- it’s going to be on my Christmas list for a while).  Pea and bacon soup was now on the horizon.

 

Fast forward to this evening and peas take centre stage in a comforting soup that couldn’t be easier to make.  Admittedly, I didn’t add dumplings this time because they went straight into a beef stew that had been cooking all day.  Next time, I’ll be ready.  For now, here’s my recipe for  pea and bacon soup (with photographs taken at night).  I could make more excuses about the image quality, but let’s face it, you didn’t come here for pretty pictures- you came here for peas.

Pea and bacon soup

500g frozen peas

4 rashers bacon

1 large potato (peeled and diced)

1 onion (sliced)

vegetable stock

1 tblspoon butter

small handful of flat leaf parsley

salt

pepper

I begin by frying the bacon in a little vegetable oil until crispy.  I then set it aside on kitchen paper and pat it dry before slicing it into strips.

To make the soup, gently fry the onion in butter and then add the diced potato before the onion browns.  Cook for a further minute or so and continue to stir.  Add all of the frozen peas and pour in the stock until the peas are just covered.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes until the potato is soft.  Add more stock if necessary.  Take the soup off the heat and add a small handful of torn flat parsley leaves. Use a hand blender to blitz the soup.  I usually leave a nice bit of texture to the soup, but you could make it completely smooth if you preferred.  Taste it and season it.  I tend to season it carefully because the bacon is salty enough together with the stock.

Stir in the bacon and add more stock to achieve the desired texture.  I love eating soup with crusty bread, but you could easily add dumplings or croutons to this.  You might even want to keep some strips of the fried bacon to garnish the soup.

Give it a go!  It’s a sure-fire way to bring peas and joy to your home.

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There was no food stylist available.

Courgette & ginger turkey burgers.

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I’m butter’s biggest fan.  It’s no secret.  Well, not since my waistline decided to advertise the fact.  My road to summer is going to be one filled with salad and fruit.  Yes, I’m going to do my best to eat better, so that I can spend my summer days eating in true Last Piece of Cake style.  I’m still going to post recipes that hit the right spot, but just to mix things up, check out what’s been on my menu recently.

I’m sharing a recipe that has a real summer freshness about it and I think I’ll be rustling up these courgette and ginger turkey burgers while the sun’s out.  Okay, it’s not a peanut butter or chocolate fest and you won’t find any melted cheese around, but trust me when I say that these burgers will take you down to flavour town.

Courgette & ginger turkey burgers

500g turkey mince

1 courgette (chopped)

1 egg

1 red onion (quartered)

1 garlic clove

thumb-sized piece of root ginger (peeled)

3 tblspoons dark soy sauce

1 tspoon chili flakes

It couldn’t be easier.  Put everything except the turkey mince in a food processor and blitz to a puree.  In a bowl, pour the puree over the turkey mince and combine everything thoroughly; I use my hands for this part.

The water content of the courgette is high, so you may find that the mixture is not very firm.  I used a large spoon to drop the turkey burgers into a frying pan containing hot oil; the mixture was too loose to handle.  It’s easy to shallow fry these burgers and press them flat with a fish slice once they’ve been turned once.  Towards the end of cooking, press them firmly to release excess moisture.  They only take a few minutes each side and you can get around ten little patties out of this recipe.  They’re great with a crisp salad or in buns with mayo and sweet chili sauce.

All the trimmings.

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I’ve written before about my love dips and there are a couple of recipes on this blog that I use regularly.  A new favourite is this smoked salmon dip.  Me and N were looking forward to our wedding anniversary recently and I said I’d make us a nice breakfast.  Smoked salmon is perfect for occasions and I decided to make a tasty dip with some that could also be spread on bagels.

It was a perfect choice for breakfast because it was fairly light and great with some toasted bagels.  Later I made some bagel chips by slicing a bagel and toasting the pieces on a baking tray under the grill.  These were fun when I got into a dipping mood…and you know how that goes.

This dip can be made with some basic ingredients and the addition of smoked salmon trimmings makes it easier on the pocket.  In my opinion, using the finest smoked salmon you can buy for a dip like this would be wasteful and foolish.  The flavours are still just as smokey and delicate with trimmings and the result sublime.

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Smoked salmon dip

300g cream cheese

150ml double cream

150g smoked salmon trimmings

12 cornichons (sliced)

1 tblspoon fresh chives (chopped)

1 good handful fresh dill (chopped)

1 heaped teaspoon horseradish sauce

sea salt and black pepper

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You’ll love how easy to prepare this dip is; five or six minutes, tops!  In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the double cream until it just begins to stiffen.

Add the cream cheese, horseradish sauce, dill and pepper.  Combine using the mixer and finish by adding the cornichons and salmon trimmings.  Mix together and then taste.  Season with sea salt and plenty of black pepper.

However you choose to serve this, finish it by sprinkling a generous amount of freshly chopped chives on top.  It’s not just for colour, the faintly onion flavour goes so well with the salmon and helps keep everything light and fresh.

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All you Cannes eat.

Basking in sunshine, Cannes attracts the wealthy and the vain in their thousands each year.  Through the air wafts a heady mix of Chanel and arrogance that almost masks the aroma of fresh bread from boulangeries that line the busy roads.

Between the Hermes-clad stick figures and noisy Ferrari’s, a small family make their way to see a proud grandfather and share some bread and grilled sardines on his balcony.  It’s the simple things that bring the most joy.

My father-in-law grew up in Cannes and still lives there, swimming each day and grabbing bargains from the fish monger.  Cannes isn’t the friendliest place I’ve visited, in fact, the summer heat is matched only by the frosty reception from the bourgeois beach crowd and the crinkly old coffin-dodgers.  However, there’s some good food to be had!

My father-in-law likes to swim in the morning and then return home for a big lunch just as the midday heat is peaking.  Freshly grilled sardines, saucisson, salad, merguez sausages, paella, steak hache, olives, roasted peppers, cheese and of course, baguette.

Just round the corner was a beautiful little boulangerie and patisserie that makes the most delightful baguette.  Crispy, light and fluffy inside.  Parfait!  I became very fond of their bread and brought some home with me.  Traditional French bread recipes do not use preservatives, so baguette should be eaten on the day it is baked.  I had some left over and couldn’t bear to throw it away.  The following recipe is a great way to use up any stale bread and I’m sure that bread lovers will agree with my decision to find a use for the spare baguette.

Spaghetti with bread crumbs

75g dried spaghetti

7 anchovies

half a red onion (chopped)

8 Kalamata olives

1 clove garlic (chopped)

1 tblspoon olive oil

35g stale baguette

a handful of flat leaf parsley (chopped)

half tspoon dried oregano

This recipe is for one serving, but a quick glance at the ingredient list and you’ll see how easy it is to make this for more people.

I made bread crumbs by blitzing the baguette in a food processor.  I then heated a little olive oil in a small pan and fried the crumbs with the oregano until they were a deep brown colour, but not burned.  I put these to one side.

Meanwhile, I began cooking the spaghetti in boiling salted water.  Some people recommend adding a drop of olive oil to the water, but this is completely unnecessary as long as you give the pasta a stir to stop it from sticking.

Next, I heated the garlic and onion in olive oil until cooked and then added the anchovies.  I broke the anchovies up into the onion and cooked them for a further minute or so.  I stirred in the parsley and the mixture was finished.  The anchovies are salty, so I didn’t need to season the mixture.

I drained the spaghetti, added it to the anchovy and onion mixture and tossed it to make sure that the spaghetti strands were coated.  Finally, I added the bread crumbs and ground a little black pepper over the pasta.  I added whole Kalamata olives at the end, but you could use any olives that you like.  My wife suggested adding squid to this dish which is a great idea.  Maybe next time I’ll use a variety of seafood and a little squeeze of lemon.

For the love of garlic.

Garlic frying in butter.  It announces that something special is taking place in the kitchen.  It draws you in, makes your imagination create wonderful possibilities, secret hopes of what the dish might be.  It’s the very beginning of something savoury and full of depth and irresistable flavour.  Garlic does all of this, and that’s before you even taste it.

When my French father-in-law visits, his suitcase is filled with all manner of food delights and this includes the ubiquitous garlic bulbs.  They’re three times the size of the puny bulbs available in English supermarkets and their flavour is wonderfully rounded and smooth.  If you want quality British garlic, you’ll have to look for it somewhere other than your local, friendly, giant, faceless, monopolizing supermarket.

With several bulbs of garlic from southern France, I felt charged with the responsibility of making something worthy of their quality.  My first thought was of garlic bread.  However, first ideas are not always the best and garlic bread is hardly an earth-shattering revelation.  Consulting colleagues didn’t yield any new ideas and I was beginning to scratch my head when suddenly, I had an earth-shattering revelation: garlic bread!

You may laugh (and possibly cease reading this altogether), but my first thought was not as silly as I’d judged it to be.  What better way to showcase the wonderful flavour of this garlic than to combine it with fairly bland, but satisfying ingredients?  I’ve enjoyed garlic soup in the Czech Republic and some wonderful chicken dishes with heaps of garlic in Thailand, but honestly, I wanted something with origins closer to home.

What follows is a recipe so full of garlic, that casual admirers of garlic may wish to turn the volume down on this one.  My recipe is for those who love garlic, I mean really love it.  Can you have too much of a good thing?  Probably.

Killer garlic bread

half French tiger stick (or plain baguette)

1 bunch fresh parsely (chopped)

10 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

150g salted butter

1 tblspoon olive oil

salt

It’s a killer garlic bread for a number of reasons.  Reading the ingredient list gives you a clue to at least one of them.  You can use more or less butter according to your taste (and lifestyle choices).  Copious amounts of butter, however, will guarantee a rich flavour and a moist end product.

After chopping all of the garlic finely, I heat the butter in a milk pan and fry the pungent cloves very gently.  If you burn any of the garlic, it is ruined.  The bitter taste of burned garlic is a real spoiler for any dish, so do take care to add enough butter to let the garlic float a little and give the pan a shake to make sure nothing sticks.  I often tilt the pan so that the butter gathers and cooks the garlic evenly.  I usually add a drop of olive oil to prevent the butter burning too.  Don’t add too much oil or you’ll end up with greasy garlic bread which is not pleasant.

The reason that I use a lot of butter is not just so that the garlic can be cooked evenly.  I need to mix the garlic butter with lots of parsley and spread it onto the bread.  Predictably, the bread soaks up the liquid, so there needs to be plenty of topping to cover the surface of the bread and also to soak into it.  We really want the flavour to seep through instead of sitting on the top.  I use a wooden spatula to mix in the parsley and then I season the buttery paste with some sea salt before spooning it onto the bread.

Tiger bread is very tasty, so when I spotted a French tiger stick, I was excited about using it to make the garlic bread.  You can use a regular baguette for the same result.  I only needed half and I cut through the length of the bread and opened it out to spread the verdant garlic butter onto the soft surface.  The parsley is essential for countering the strength of the garlic.  It also brings a fantastic colour to everything.  I left the bread for a few minutes to let the butter soak in.

I then lined a baking tin with foil and put the bread into a hot oven at 180C for about ten minutes or until the bread was crisp and golden.  Spreading the butter and parsley to the very edges of the bread ensured that nothing burned.  I ate mine with some cream cheese on the side which was a cool companion to every bold bite of this bread.  It’s delicious on its own and would go down a treat at a barbecue!  Just make sure you warn your friends that this garlic bread is the real deal.

 

The many faces of filo.

“Aah, filo pastry.  We have been expecting you.”  I can’t help feeling guilty when I make something using filo pastry.  First of all, pastry isn’t exactly a superfood and folk who take care of their bodies won’t thank you for a big ol’ pie.  Secondly, filo pastry is so versatile and easy to use.  Yes, I said easy!  Don’t let the television scaremongerers put you off experimenting with it.  Filo does dry out quickly and is very delicate, but it is also easy to cut, fold, layer and shape.  The fact that you can produce savoury or sweet dishes with ease, adds to the appeal.

Previously, I’ve had fun making chocolate filo parcels and when it comes to Greek puddings, filo is never too far away (that reminds me, I need to post a recipe for a lovely Greek pudding).  Filo has always been my go-to pastry for sweet stuff, but over the weekend, I found myself with some spare fresh filo and a box of beautiful chestnut mushrooms.  They have a wonderful nutty flavour and I’ve stocked up on them so that I can make my favourite mushroom soup.  However, we needed lunch in a matter of minutes and I wanted something interesting.  Filo to the rescue.

Le Roule & mushroom filo parcels

(Recipe makes 2 parcels)

2 sheets filo pastry

250g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

2 small handfuls fresh rocket leaves

2 tblspoons Le Roule cheese

25g melted butter

salt & pepper

Begin by preheating the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Lay the sheets of filo out and cut them in half to form two squares.  Brush the squares with melted butter and lay a second filo square on top of each.  These will be your parcels.

Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms in a little butter on a high heat until cooked through and beginning to brown at the edges.  Grind some black pepper over them, but  don’t add salt yet.  Salt draws out moisture from the mushrooms and makes them soggy.  Yuk!

Put a little pile of fresh rocket onto the filo square and top with half of the mushrooms.  Season with salt.  Add a tablespoon of Le Roule on the top and then brush the edges of the square with melted butter.  Now bring two opposite corners of the square together, placing one under the other and brushing them with a little more butter.  Do the same with the remaining corners to form a parcel.

Brush the whole parcel with melted butter and place on a lined baking tray in the centre of the oven for about fifteen minutes or until the parcel is golden and the pastry crispy.  Be careful, the contents will be very hot.

Feeling hungry, I went on to make another parcel using baby plum tomatoes and basil leaves.  I added grated Cheddar instead of Le Roule and sprinkled some dried oregano on for good measure.  The result was something like a little pizza parcel, so it goes without saying that I was enthralled.  Filo may not be forgiving, but it is rewarding.  Give it a go!

Barbecue brunch bliss.

I don’t eat breakfast.  It’s not the choice of breakfast options that puts me off.  I like cereal and I like toast and I like most breakfast choices (though I did once turn my nose up at tuna salad in Kyoto- that’s not breakfast food!)  When I wake up, I just don’t feel like eating.  An hour is about the length of time needed for my body to realise that I’m no longer sleeping.  If I wake up close to lunch time, however, then you can pretty much forget everything I just said.  If lunch were a place, it would be my permanent residence.

Which brings us to brunch.  Brunch means different things to different people.  To me?  It’s an excuse to have lunch early (and if I’m clever, I get to have lunch too!)  Having made a stack of pulled pork, I chose to start the day off well by making full use of it in all its tasty glory.

I’ll just have to accept that what I made is not going to be everyone’s idea of tasty, but believe me, I enjoyed it a lot.  I toasted some wholemeal bread, slapped mayo on the bottom slice, piled up lambs lettuce, went crazy with the amount of pulled pork on top of that and finished it all off with a fried egg and a squirt of barbecue sauce.  Now tell me if that ain’t a way to get the day going!

Like I said, I don’t eat breakfast; but if the pulled pork lasts, you may see me at the breakfast table every darn morning!