Cheese and Bacon Scones

Cheese and bacon scones

Cheese and bacon scones

On Saturday night, our friends John and Heather invited us over to their flat to help finish off the drinks cupboard before they move into their new house next week.  Apparently we were just the people for the job, you know, the ones who could be relied upon to drink the place dry. What a nice reputation we have.  Before our foray into the depths of the booze cabinet, we celebrated our last night out in Crystal Palace with dinner at a new American-themed burger place on the triangle, Antenna Diner.

There’s no #burgerleague review for this yet, although I may pop back to do one.  It’s definitely not the most refined burger I’ve had, but OK if you really can’t be arsed to go into central London in search of one. One thing to note is that they do not sell alcohol.  They do make a rather good vanilla and maple syrup milkshake, mind, but it would have been far better with a double shot of bourbon in it. Just sayin’.

Antenna Diner

Antenna Diner

Anyway… the scones.  When visiting people, I often take them something home-baked.  In this case, it was something that could survive the journey on the 363 bus around the bumpy roads of Sydenham Hill, and something that could stay in my bag throughout dinner without slipping, melting or beginning to smell.  I have been making a lot of savoury scones lately and have found myself preferring them to the sweeter varieties.  These are almost the same recipe as the cheese, chive and mustard scones I made for the January Band of Bakers, but with the omission of the chives and mustard and the addition of some very crispy smoked bacon.

Without meaning to blow my own trumpet, these are the most outrageously moreish thing I have ever baked.  The punch of the strong cheddar, combined with the smoky crunch of the bacon creates a salty, savouriness meaning that you both find it difficult to stop at one, and find yourself craving a cold lager.  Split and spread with some good butter, these are a wonderful hangover cure after a night of drinking your friends dry.

Cheese and Bacon Scones

  • 5 rashers smoked back bacon
  • 250g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 25ml whole milk
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 200g strong cheddar, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten

Start by frying the bacon in a pan until very crisp.  Set aside until cooled and then chop or crumble into small pieces.

In a small bowl, mix together the yoghurt, milk and sugar and set aside.

Sift the flour, salt, cream of tartare and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl.  Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the cheese and bacon.

Using a palette knife, stir in the yoghurt mixture until a sticky dough is formed.  Use the moisture in the dough to pick up any loose bits of flour from the bottom of the bowl.  Turn out on to a floured work surface and pat into a round approximately 4cm thick – try not to knead the mixture as this will create a tough texture.  Cut the scones out using a metal cutter and place them on the baking tray.  This mixture should yield about 12 scones, but it will depend on the size of the cutter you use.  Brush with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and risen.

Pitt Cue Co, Soho

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Without trying to solicit any sympathy for my current situation, I’m finding it very difficult to get back into the swing of things following my recent trip to San Sebastian.  Despite returning home two days ago, I seem to be unable to shake off that holiday laziness; the kind that is in no rush to get up in the morning and gives you decisions no more complicated than what to eat for dinner.  A distinct lack of pintxos bars and ice-cold txakoli in the Fitzrovia/Marylebone area has sent me on an internet-searching quest of where to buy Basque wines in the UK instead of getting on to more pressing matters like unpacking my suitcase and updating my blog.

On my last day in the office before going on annual leave, I met Claire for lunch.  I have a terrible, and much-documented, track record of trying and failing to get a lunchtime table at Pitt Cue Co., so was pleased when I turned up early one Thursday lunchtime to find that I was first in the queue.  Pitt Cue Co. is notorious for its queues and long waiting times – partly because the food is excellent, its reputation first built upon a successful food truck based on the South Bank (among other places) and partly because their dining room has a mere 30 covers, mainly in tables of two.

Having strategically skipped breakfast and ordering a Soho Sour whilst waiting for Claire, I was ready for as much BBQ as I could eat.  The cocktail was a tastebud-stinging blend of bourbon, amaretto and lemon juice with ice and a fresh cherry.  Perhaps not the best option for lunchtime, but good to waken up the senses after a morning of terrible office coffee. 

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

The focus at Pitt Cue Co., understandably, is on the meat.  On arrival, the waiter and I gave each other a little smirk when one diner asked if there were vegetarian options.  The meat is served, largely, in two ways:  in a meal or in a bun, both with a side dish.  The former has the meat placed on one of their trademark vintage white tin bowls with the side dish and a few pickles, the latter serves the meat in a shiny brioche bun.  Claire and I both opted for the pulled pork, mine in a meal, hers in a bun.  Pulled pork is one of those food trends of the past few years that seems to have sprung up on menus all over town, although few manage to do it well.  I am lucky enough to live with a man who takes his pulled pork-making very seriously (although it is perhaps a little spicy for my taste – he is the Chilli Fiend after all).  Far from the dried out offerings of many a BBQ restaurant across the city, it is clear that the pulled pork at Pitt Cue Co has been seasoned and slow cooked with a great deal of care – it is moist, flavoursome, well-spiced and has that soft, almost gelatinous quantity that allows you to devour a great deal without even noticing.

Of the sides, the green chilli slaw was tasty enough, but the name led me to expect a lot more heat than was actually delivered.  The star of the show, however, the ultimate dish of the day was the bone marrow mashed potato.  I had heard from many others just how good this mashed potato was, but had never tried it for myself.  A swirl of perfectly smooth and buttery mashed potato arrives in a small tin dish with topped with a ladle of incredibly rich bone marrow gravy and a slab of garlic butter.  Not one for somebody who is watching their weight, but for the rest of us, sheer heaven.  It’s like the mash and gravy you wish came with every meal.  Be prepared to share though, as your dining companion will not be able to resist dipping their bread in, not matter how much you try to edge the dish to your side of the table.

My only real complaint with Pitt Cue is that a lunch of this size will generally render you immobile for the rest of the afternoon.  You will also smell like a BBQ as no amount of washing your hands will really get rid of that smoky meat smell.  Best to save it for a day when you can head home for an old movie and a snooze on the couch.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos – it is dark in there!

Pitt Cue Co., 1 Newburgh Street, London W1F 7RB

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

Beef Shin, Black Bean and Chipotle Stew

As far as eating goes, this was a pretty good weekend.  On Friday night I went to the wonderful Mien Tay in Shoreditch for the second time this month.  One of the friends I was dining with travelled with me around Vietnam in 2009 so it has become our tradition to eat Vietnamese food whenever she is in town.  I have been to many of the Vietnamese restaurants along the Kingsland Road, but recently this one has become my favourite.  I feasted on my usual starter of quail cooked in honey and spices (so good!), followed by a main course of tamarind prawns and steamed rice and ending with the traditional, insomnia-inducing Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. We discovered these one hungover morning in Hanoi and have enjoyed many since.

Saturday morning rolled around and the wine and coffee had given me a peculiar kind of hangover that I knew only food could cure.  I dragged myself out of bed, trekked over to Brockley Market and treated myself to a buttermilk fried chicken bap from poultry maestros Spit & Roast that definitely got me back to full speed.

Whilst wandering around the market, I spotted a couple of packets of bone-in beef shin at The Butchery‘s stall and my mind turned to slow cooking.  £9 later and I had procured enough beef to make an enormous amount of stew, and so headed home.  Beef shin is a cheap cut of meat that comes from the front leg of the cow.  It is incredibly tough and incompatible with many cooking methods, but is subject to a wonderful transformation when slow cooked:  the fat and sinew marbled through the meat breaks down to give a soft, almost gelatinous texture to the beef.  When slow cooked with the bones, the all-important bone marrow also melts to give a strong, meaty flavour to the gravy.

This particular dish is a bit of a hybrid: the cooking method indicates a stew, but the ingredients are chilli all the way.  The beef shin is marinated in a dry rub of herbs and spices, before being browned and cooked along with some soaked black beans, in a mixture of tomatoes and chipotle paste.  The chipotle, especially, gives it a spicy, smokiness found in so many modern southern American and Mexican dishes.  Chipotle is one of my favourite flavours; I use it in glazes for chicken wings, my marinade for pulled pork, and recently tried some chipotle-pumpkin bread made by Lauren Garland for Band of Bakers that completely blew my mind.  In this stew, the chipotle lends itself well to the richness of the beef and gives it that all-important and much-needed kick.

If you’re going to cook this in a slow-cooker, you will need a good seven or eight hours for it to be perfect.  I haven’t tried cooking the recipe on the hob, but you could probably do it in a shorter time if you are good at converting these things (I’m not), or in the oven if you’re really brave.  You will notice that there are also a few vegetables in this recipe – I hadn’t initially planned to add any, however found that I had a few parsnips and half a swede in the veg drawer.  I added these about two and a half-hours before the end of the cooking time to stop them breaking down too much.  Any other root vegetables would work just as well.

image

Beef Shin, Black Bean and Chipotle Stew

  • 150g dried black beans
  • 1.2kg bone-in beef shin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely choppped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp chipotle paste
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Fresh coriander, chopped

The day before you start cooking this recipe, place the black beans in a bowl and cover with cold water.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm and soak the beans for 24 hours.

To make the spice rub for the beef, combine the paprika, cumin, oregano and chilli powder, along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Rub the spices into the meat pieces and leave, uncovered, in the fridge for an hour.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the pieces of beef shin for a few minutes on each side.  Turn the slow cooker on to a high setting and place the meat in the bottom.  Leaving the oil in the saucepan, gently fry the onion until translucent, about five minutes, then add the garlic and chilli and fry for a further couple of minutes before adding the mixture to the slow cooker.

Add the drained black beans and tinned tomatoes to the slow cooker.  Fill up the empty tomato tin with water and add to the mixture. Stir in the tomato puree and the chipotle paste and crumble in the stock cube and cook on a high setting for seven hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the sauce looks as though it is drying out.  By the end of the cooking time, the meat should be falling from the bone and the bone marrow should have melted into the stew.  Remove any remnants of meat from the bones and set the bones aside.  Stir in the red wine vinegar and half of the coriander.  Serve in bowls, using the last of the coriander as a garnish.  Add sour cream or sliced avocado if you wish.

Eating Away the Winter Chill

The ultimate comfort food: chicken 'n' dumplings

The ultimate comfort food: chicken ‘n’ dumplings

In this, the first weary week of December when we are all desperately craving our Christmas break, we all seem to be divided into two camps: those who have the sniffles and those who are trying to avoid catching the sniffles as best they can.  In our smoggy city with the recycled air circulating through our offices and the incredibly close proximity to our fellow Londoners on our public transport, it is inevitable that we will all end up with at least one cold during the winter months despite our attempts to evade the dreaded lurgy. In the depths of winter, a sneeze on a crowded train might generate the same reaction as pulling a pin from a hand grenade.

Of course, hot drinks and bed rest are the best remedy for a cold, but I have two other things I can’t live without: Lucozade and chicken ‘n’ dumplings. When laid out on the couch, coughing and making a general nuisance of myself, I will often send Ollie out for six bottles of Original Lucozade (never flavoured) and a whole chicken. Once the Lucozade has kicked in and I have mustered the energy to move, I head to the kitchen to make a huge pot of chicken ‘n’ dumplings: the ultimate in comfort food.

Chicken ‘n’ dumplings is exactly what it says: a brothy stew made with vegetables, white wine, and all of the joints of a chicken, topped with pillowy dumplings.  It is thought that chicken contains an enzyme that is effective at breaking up mucus, which goes to explain why chicken noodle soup is given the famous moniker ‘Jewish penicillin’ and why some studies have shown chicken soup to be more effective at treating symptoms of the common cold than some over-the-counter remedies.  After an hour in the oven, it will fill your kitchen with a smell that will alone make you feel better. If you can find somebody kind enough to bring you a chicken, you’re all set.

Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings

  • 1 whole chicken
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 slices smoked back bacon
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • ¾ tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 180ml dried white wine
  • 350ml chicken stock
  • 350ml water
  • 125g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml single cream

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.

Joint the chicken into 10 pieces (two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings and two breasts, each halved) and season well with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and brown the chicken pieces, in batches if necessary. Set aside on a plate.

In the same pan, cook the vegetables and bacon for around 10 minutes on a medium heat until the bacon is brown and the vegetables are tender. Return the chicken to the pan.  Add the wine, turn up the heat and let it bubble away until reduced by a third. Add the stock and water and bring to the boil.  Transfer the contents of the pan to a large casserole dish, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for one hour.

Make the dumplings by combining the flour, baking powder and cream until a soft dough forms. Remove the casserole from the oven, divide the dumpling dough into eight balls and nestle them among the chicken pieces. Return the casserole to the oven, uncovered, and cook for a further 10-12 minutes until the dumplings are puffed up and brown on top.

Adapted from a recipe by Gwyneth Paltrow. Serves four.

Bread Heaven

What a week it has been!  Wednesday was both the start of my new job and the Band of Bakers Christmas party.  Forgive me for not providing the usual photo round-up of the bakes, but I was embroiled in far too much chaos to remember to dig out my iPhone.  Luckily, the lovely Harley managed to get quite a few snaps which you can see on her blog Running, Cakes and London: A Beginner’s Blog.

One of the most exciting things that happened in 2013 was our appearance on Paul Hollywood’s Bread.  Naomi, Jon and I were lucky enough to get the chance to bake with the Silver Fox himself before he joined a big group of our bakers for an event celebrating enriched breads.  A couple of weeks later we were invited to Paul’s studio kitchen to try a range of enriched breads that he had made during the episode, including a very special brioche couronne filled with parma ham, mozzarella and basil.

Naomi, Jon and I making lardy cakes with the Master Baker

Naomi, Jon and I making lardy cakes with the Master Baker

The couronne was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, so I decided to recreate it for our Christmas party.  Honestly, if you only have time to make one loaf of bread over the festive season, make this. Your family will love you for it.  The recipe can be found on the BBC Food website here.

The inside of the pre-rolled brioche: parma ham, mozzarella and basil

The inside of the pre-rolled brioche: parma ham, mozzarella and basil

The finished article (photo by Harley Beecroft)

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

A lesson learned yesterday: it is really, really difficult to make stew look appetising in photos.  In general, my food photography skills are never going to leave the professionals, or in fact anybody, quaking in their boots, but this was particularly difficult.  No photo, especially not one taken by me on my humble little iPhone, could communicate how good this dish was:  the smell of beef and beer wafting through my kitchen, the tenderness of the meat and onions after being slow cooked for seven hours or the surprisingly delicious addition of mushrooms towards the end of the cooking.  You’re just going to have to trust me.

A few years ago, my Nan bought me a slow cooker “for making stews and things”.  At the time I was a vegetarian, so used it for little more than a bit of bonus kitchen storage – cookie cutters and things – but when I started eating meat again that I saw the potential in using it.  Despite the number of blogs that claim that you can use a slow cooker for almost every meal, it pays to be selective about what you use it for.  For example, I found slow cooker porridge to be a complete waste of time – yes, you can leave it on overnight but more often than not it tastes awful and has the consistency of glue.  Plus, it takes very little time to make porridge in a saucepan.  On the other hand, slow cooked stews, especially those containing the cheaper cuts of meat, are simply wonderful.

The recipes I tend to use are meant to be cooked on the hob or in the oven, and I have simply adapted them for the slow cooker.  Anything that recommends cooking for up to three hours can be left in the slow cooker for a good six to seven hours, provided that there is enough water so it does not dry out.  This particular recipe of beef in stout is adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book and has quickly become one of my favourite winter warmers.  These quantities make enough stew to feed about 8-10 people – perfect if you have a large group coming back from a long, crisp walk.  You can halve the quantities to make a smaller, family-sized version or top with some rough-puff dripping pastry for an indulgent pie.  Either way, buttery mashed potato is a must.

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

  • 50g salted butter
  • Olive oil
  • 200g smoked lardons
  • 500g small shallots, peeled
  • 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1.5kg diced beef – skirt, chuck or stewing steak
  • 1 litre stout
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 250g small button mushrooms
  • 250g large flat mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Turn the slow cooker on to high and leave to warm up.  In a large frying pan, melt the butter with a little olive oil and fry the lardons until they start to brown.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the lardons from the frying pan, leaving the fat, and place in the slow cooker.  Add the shallots to the frying pan and fry in the fat until browned all over, remove using a slotted spoon and place in the slow cooker.

Toss the beef in the seasoned flour, shake off any excess and add to the frying pan.  Brown the meat, in batches if necessary, then place in the slow cooker.  Deglaze the pan with a little of the stout and scrape the meat and flour residue from the bottom of the pan into the slow cooker.  Return the pan to the heat and pour in the remaining stout.  Add the bay leaves and thyme stalks and gently bring to the boil.  Allow the stout to simmer for a couple of minutes and then pour it into the slow cooker.  Leave to cook in the slow cooker on high for two hours, before reducing the setting to low.

At this point, you can cook it for anywhere from three to six hours on low, checking occasionally that the liquid has not dried out.  The mushrooms should be added for the final hour of cooking.  Fry them in a pan until they have browned slightly, then add them to the slow cooker with their juices.  When the stew has finished cooking, stir in the parsley and serve.

Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon

Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon

Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon

As we pulled out of our street this morning and drove past Peckham Rye Park, I realised that it was winter.  It wasn’t the people walking by in scarves or the fact that we could see our breath that gave it away, but the carpet of frost stretching from one side of the field to the other.  Just as we started to settle into autumn, the seasons are on the change again.  As is often the way in the colder months, I go into hibernation mode – putting off leaving the house until the last minute in the morning and eagerly anticipating walking back through the door in the evening – and find myself craving serious amounts of carbohydrates.

I also become unspeakably lazy by the middle of the week.  I start off well, but the laborious commutes by underground, long days in the office, dark mornings and even darker evenings, sap away my energy.  By the time Wednesday evening comes around, I am good for little more than reading, eating and watching television – all from the comfort of the couch.  On the rare occasion I am tempted out, I go swathed in knitwear, insulated by gin and in pursuit of food.  When at home, I want meals that take no longer than 20 minutes.

Orzo has quickly become one of my favourite ingredients and I have recently taken to keeping a bag in the cupboard for those moments when you need a speedy meal.  It crosses the boundary between rice and pasta, so can be used as a substitute for either.  You can boil it and stir into other ingredients to make a speedy pseudo-risotto or ‘orzotto’, can cook it in stock as a handy side dish, or can simply stir through some pesto for a, literally, five minute meal.  As with risottos and pastas, you can combine it with any number of ingredients that you have languishing in the bottom of the fridge and create a satisfying meal.  At the very most, you might have to pop to the corner shop.  This dish used up a few bacon rashers I had leftover from the lost weekend, a couple of courgettes that were about to venture beyond their best, an old chunk of parmesan, a little leftover wine (see: lost weekend) and the end of the rocket and pine nuts I bought for the leftover roast chicken salad.  You could add in and substitute just about anything – just use this recipe as a guide for quantities and go crazy in the kitchen.

A note on bacon:  There is no denying that bacon adds a beautiful salty, meatiness to a dish that cannot be replicated by any other ingredient.  When I was a vegetarian, heaven knows I tried.  The best bacon to use for this recipe is one that has a little fat, such as streaky bacon – pancetta also works well.  If you cannot find this, lardons or back bacon will also work fine, but you may need to add a little extra oil when cooking as they do not yield as much fat.  I used smoked bacon because I prefer the taste, but feel free to use unsmoked if the mood takes you.  The equivalent pancetta or lardons to 4 rashers of bacon is approximately 150g.

Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon

  • 300g orzo
  • 4 rashers bacon (see notes above)
  • 1 large onion
  • Olive oil
  • 250ml white wine
  • 2 large courgettes
  • Handful rocket
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 50g parmesan, grated
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts

Cook the orzo in salted boiling water according to packet instructions.  Drain well and set aside.

In a large saucepan, gently fry the onion in the olive oil until slightly translucent.  Cut the bacon into small pieces, approx 1″ squared and add to the pan.  Fry until cooked, adding a little more oil if necessary (see notes on bacon above).  Add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away until reduced by half.  Add the courgettes and cook for around 10 minutes, until they are tender.

Remove from the heat and stir in the orzo.  Once combined, fold through the rocket, grated parmesan, salt and pepper and pine nuts until fully combined and the rocket has wilted.

Leftover Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken and Bread Salad with Harissa, Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Seeds

Roast Chicken and Bread Salad with Harissa, Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Seeds

This time yesterday I was seeing off the end of a particularly vicious birthday hangover.  To celebrate turning 30, I drank for a sustained period of time from champagne with Thursday breakfast, to afternoon G&Ts, to quinine sours with dinner at Gymkhana, to more champagne with Friday breakfast, to afternoon G&Ts, to copious amounts of gin, vodka and Jager at my Friday night birthday drinks.  After seeing sense and taking myself off to bed at 4am, I was hit with a hangover so debilitating that the only food I could manage was either that I could order to my door or that I could make in a toaster.  Hence having not posted anything here for almost a week.  Birthdays are very distracting, especially when you have friends that are generous at the bar.

By Sunday evening I began to feel well enough to venture back into the kitchen, put all of the empty bottles into the recycling and make something that would vaguely resemble dinner.  Shame prevented me from ordering yet more take out and, sadly, none of the restaurants locally have a dress code that includes ‘snowman pyjamas’, so I was left with little choice. Ollie kindly ventured out to the local supermarket and came back with the ingredients to make the mother of all comfort food:  a roast chicken dinner.  And it was beautiful: roast chicken, gravy, perfect roast potatoes, roasted carrots and green beans.  My contribution to the meal was actually very little – I peeled the carrots – but I had successfully broken out of the slob-zone and was back to real food.

As there is only two of us, we always have a lot of chicken left over from a roast – even from relatively small birds.  My favourite thing to do is to sit down after the meal and strip the last of the chicken from the carcass, putting it on a plate for another purpose later on.  The beauty about cold roast chicken is that it can be used for so many things.  My mother always served us up chicken pie on Mondays to use up the leftover roast.  My particular favourite is an enormous sandwich of roast chicken, a crushed roast potato, a smear of leftover gravy, mayonnaise and rocket on some very thick brown bread – the ultimate sandwich of shame.  This particular bird yielded rather a lot of chicken, so instead I went looking for something a little more substantial, but not a million miles away: a bread salad.

Adding bread to a salad is a great way to bulk out a meal and an alternative to the more traditional carbohydrates of rice and pasta.  It is also a great way to use up stale bread as older bread tends to be more robust when combined with wetter ingredients – fresh bread has a tendency to disintegrate.  Probably the most famous example of this kind of meal is the panzanella – an Italian salad of tomatoes, stale bread, olive oil and vinegar – but recently cooks are experimenting with a larger range of ingredients. This dish combines traditional salad stalwarts – chicken, rocket, tomatoes and olive oil – but is given a middle eastern twist with grilled aubergines, pine nuts, Harissa and pomegranate seeds. For the bread, it is best to use a good middle eastern flatbread, such as levash, but pitta bread will do if you cannot find it. Frying it in a little olive oil until crisp will give the salad an interesting texture.

Roast Chicken and Bread Salad with Harissa, Pine Nuts

  • 500g leftover roast chicken
  • 2 large flatbreads (see above)
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 aubergine, cut into 1cm dice
  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1½ tbsp harissa
  • 2 large handfuls rocket
  • Seeds of half a pomegranate
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • Sea salt and black pepper

If the chicken has been stored in the fridge, leave it on the side until it reaches room temperature.  Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a frying pan, tear up the flatbreads roughly with your hands and fry in the oil until crisp.  You will need pieces of roughly 1-2″ squared.  Put the chicken and flatbreads pieces in a large bowl.  In the same frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of the remaining olive oil and fry the aubergine until browned and tender.  Add this to the bowl along with the cherry tomatoes.

In a small bowl, combine the Harissa and the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Pour over the chicken, bread and vegetable mix and toss until well coated.  Season well and toss through the rocket leaves and scatter the pine nuts and pomegranate seeds over the top.  Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food, serves four as a main course.

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

Swede.  Let’s face it, it’s not the most exciting of vegetables.  The mere sound of it is almost groan-inducing.  “What’s for dinner?” “SWEDE.”  Of course, this would never happen, nobody would just have swede for dinner, I’m just trying to paint as bleak a picture I can to prove my point.  I still have nightmares about the old school dinner staple, mashed carrot and swede, plopping on to the side of my plate, water seeping everywhere because it hadn’t been drained properly.  It was completely tasteless bar the overwhelming flavour of black pepper, sprinkled over liberally.  Even with the resurgence in using root vegetables in new and creative ways, in cakes, for example, the swede has been left well behind, burned into our memories as nothing more than a sub-par side dish.

Despite this, there are many reasons to buy swedes:  they are cheap, can be grown locally and are in season for a whopping six months, largely from September to March.  The challenge, of course, is finding ways to use them that don’t involve the potato masher and pepper mill.  They are great in all kinds of soups and stews and give a sweet peppery flavour that works well with red meats and other root vegetables.  Earlier this year, a Herne Hill veg bag scheme, Local Greens, held a contest to Redeem the Swede – a cookery competition for which all entries had to contain swede in some form.  The three top prizes went to a shepherd’s pie topped with swede instead of potato, a Thai green papaya salad with swede instead of papaya, and a swede curry.  Somebody even developed a swede ice cream – you can read about it here.

Being somewhat less creative than the swede-buying residents of Herne Hill, my favourite use for this most humble of winter vegetables is in the classic Cornish pasty.  Despite ever only visiting Cornwall in the summer, I always associate the pasty with being a winter dish because of the combination of steak, potato, swede and onion. That, combined with the rich puff pastry, usually made with lard or dripping, is a great insulator for a cold day.  The pastry is time-consuming to make, but the pasties are remarkably easy. The filling ingredients are simply chopped and folded into the pastry raw, then cooked in the oven.  This means you cannot check whether the pasty is properly cooked, but if you stick to the cooking times, it is likely that it will be so.  The crimping around the edges is what characterises it as a Cornish pasty – legend has it that the crimped edge was never supposed to be eaten and was a convenient, discardable handle to allow miners to eat the filling without contaminating it with their dirty hands.  It is likely, however, that this is a myth and the pasties were eaten end to end – the crimping simply being a decorative way to seal in the filling.

This recipe deviates slightly from the traditional recipe, which adds no more than a sprinkle of salt and a twist of pepper to the filling by way of seasoning.  It was just a little too bland, even with the animal fats in the pastry, so I added two very non-traditional ingredients to perk it up: a beef stock cube and a splash of Worcestershire sauce.  You could make a gravy if you so desired, but be sure to only coat the ingredients as any excess liquid is sure to seep through the pastry.  This recipe makes about six medium-sized pasties.

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

For the pastry:

  • 300g plain flour
  • 80g strong white bread flour
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 75g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 150g lard or beef dripping, cut into small cubes
  • 150ml cold water
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten

For the filling:

  • 200g beef – skirt if you can get it, braising steak if you can’t, diced
  • 150g potatoes, diced
  • 150g swede, diced
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1 Oxo beef stock cube
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

Put the flours and salt in a bowl and toss through the cubes of butter and dripping.  Add the egg yolks and water and mix together until they form a dough.  Leave to stand in the bowl for 30 minutes.

Flour the work surface and roll the dough out to a large rectangle.  Fold the dough over four times then roll out again and fold in the opposite direction.  Place the folded dough on a wooden chopping board, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere cool for 30 minutes, perhaps next to an open window in winter, or in a cupboard in summer.  Repeat this process twice more at 30 minute intervals, finishing with a third rolling before the pastry is used.

For the filling, combine the ingredients in a large bowl.  Dissolve the stock cube in the Worcestershire sauce and toss through the ingredients until coated.  Season well with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Roll out the pastry and cut into the size of circles that you want.  Spoon the filling on to the middle of the circle, ensuring that there is enough space around the edge for crimping.  Fold the pastry over and crimp to seal using your thumb and forefinger.  Place the pasties on an oiled baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 150ºc / 300º f / gas 2 and cook for a further 20 minutes until browned.