Beautiful brassicas

You might remember that I used to write a monthly blog for Francoise Murat Design about season British food. Well, Francoise has had the blog redesigned and its now called Rendez-vous Deco & Jardin, it looks lovely and I’m please to say I’m back doing my monthly feature.

My first piece was on how versatile brassicas are in the kitchen are and how useful they can be in in the lean vegetable months before the UK growing season gets into swing.

You can read the article here, its packed with ideas on how to use brassicas from spicy to mild, british to asian cooking, there is sure to be something to suit you.

Talking turkey

It’s pretty much the hottest day of the year and I’m about to eat a full Christmas dinner in deepest Berkshire. Just what is going on. Especially as I’m not turkey’s number one fan. It’s okay but to date its not had a guaranteed place on my christmas table….

When I was a kid we always had roast turkey for Christmas dinner and it was good, but it never seemed as nice as the excitement it generated amongst everyone else. For me it was never quite a tasty and juicy as roast chicken. Maybe the plethora of trimmings overshadowed it …. what with tons of chipolatas wrapped in bacon, my mum’s top notch roast potatoes and my gran’s secret chestnut stuffing I’m not sure the turkey had much of a part to play. At least not for me.

So once I got to be in charge of cooking christmas dinner I varied what was on offer. If we were having turkey cooked for us elsewhere close to Christmas. I’d cook something else. If we were hosting the main event I’d stick with turkey (and still secretly wish it could be chicken we were having), if there was just the two of us well then I had free rein beef, duck, goose,chicken, pork, ham all possibly except lamb eaten over the years.

So is this turkey different? Well for a start I know a lot about where its from and how its been reared. On the basis that an animal that has lead a happy life is supposed to taste better then this has all the hallmarks of being winning. It’s also been cooked by Brenda Copas and is about to be carved by her husband ‘Old Tom’. What the Copas family don’t know about rearing, cooking and carving turkey probably isn’t worth knowing. They’ve been rearing turkeys since 1957 and still use traditional methods and breeds. All the turkeys are grown to maturity and the different breeds provide the size variation rather than many producers some of whose turkeys are slaughtered younger to provide smaller birds. Copas say that for traditional breeds its the way the turkeys are reared rather than the breed that creates the flavour.

We’ve visited the farm and met the turkeys (curiously inquisitive animals whose odd looks belie a docile nature). We’ve heard about what makes the turkeys special:

– grown to full maturity

– only raised during the traditional breading season and not year long

– raised outdoors in orchards, grass fields with maize banks for foraging

– access to shelter at all times and spend overnight in big roomy barns

– slaughtered with the highest possible welfare standards and low stress environment

– dry plucked by hand

– game hung for 10-14 days

– hand prepared and packed

Tom carves, plates are handed round and after a toast we tuck in. Its good, very good. Lots of flavour, moist, tender. The breast meat is excellent with a good balance of delicateness and proper flavour to satisfy everyone the legs are gamier and much more remisent of other birds. Some of each is a good contrast. Several people have seconds (this is getting rather like real Christmas) some of us are pretty full so save a little space for dessert.

So will I be switching to turkey every Christmas??

Wisely sheltering from the sun

That’s a really difficult one, now I know what excellent turkey tastes like and how to cook it…well its definitely much higher up my list but I’m a contrary thing and I’d probably still vary from year to year depending on who I’m cooking for. One things for sure I’d be seeking out a Copas turkey and if I was too slow and missed out (after all they do only rear about 50000 turkeys each year) then I’d be looking for something that was reared in a similar way from a farmer with high standards.

Copas Turkeys have a Great Taste Awards Two Gold Stars (2010) and having been a judge for the 2011 awards I know how high the standard is to achieve that .

Order your Copas turkey online or through one of the butchers who stock them. Be quick they sell out fast.

I was a guest of the Copas family and  Story PR.

Soups and Stocks

Although spring definitely feels like it might be on the way some days are still pretty cold and so a warming soup is just what’s needed, here’s some thoughts on soup I wrote for Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in January. I think I might just have soup for lunch tomorrow.

January is a funny month. For some people it feels slow and difficult, winter is most definitely with us, its cold and its dark, summer seems such a long way off whichever way you look at it. For others it’s a chance to think afresh of a new year with new challenges, making resolutions and feeling energised by the possibilities. But what has this got to do with soup? Well the versatility of soup and the range of recipes out there mean it can work for whichever way you see January. It can be warming and comforting or bright, lively and refreshing. Hearty or light, you can make it whichever way suits you best.

Roasted root vegetable soup with cheese

To make really good soup though you need some good stock. Water will work in many recipes but I’ve rarely made a soup that isn’t enhanced by using stock rather than water, there is an extra layer of flavour and complexity. People will compliment you on the simplest of soups if you’ve used stock. Making stock doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as simmering a few vegetables in water with or without a few herbs right up to making a consommé, essentially a beautiful clarified reduced stock. I usually make stocks with the carcass left over from a roast chicken or the bone from a rib of beef, or keep the liquid from cooking boiled ham and use that as a stock, I like doing this because each stock carries some of the flavours of the original meal and it makes best use of the meat you’ve bought. You can also get bones or chicken wings specifically and make a stock with those. Most recipe books will explain how to make a range of stocks but ‘A Celebration of Soup’ by Lindsey Bareham is particularly thorough, if you can track down a copy, with recipes for just about every type of stock you can imagine. Stock is perfect for freezing and then always to hand. If you don’t have a freezer then some good quality stock or bouillon cubes will give you a better result than plain water.

So you have your stock. Where might you head next? These are the things I think about when building a soup:

Thick or thin: Do I want a broth with interesting chunky additions or do I want something thick and velvety smooth in texture. Clearly you can pick somewhere between these two but I like to decide which direction I’m heading on this one before anything else.

Herbs or spices: I usually either head for something based round European flavours and herbs or something mainly based round spices whether Indian, Mexican, Middle or Far Eastern. Then I narrow down a bit to a more specific cuisine British, French, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Chinese, Thai, Indian and so on.

Then I take a look in the fridge and the cupboards and see what fits with the ideas I’ve got. Of course a little bit of tweaking happens at this stage when I find a critical part of my genius soup is sadly unavailable, but usually it is easy to stay fairly close to the original idea. If there is left over roast meat that might feature, sometimes there are roasted root vegetables that can be included, or beans of various types, pearl barley or lentils, tinned tomatoes or passata, chorizo or pancetta or salami, fresh ginger or chilli, mushrooms, potatoes (roast potatoes are lovely in soup), peas and so on …… but not all in the same soup. I rarely follow a recipe specifically but I do always take a look in a few books to help my ideas and also make sure I’m not making some horror of clashing ingredients. Sticking to a few key ingredients and combinations that you know work from your other cooking really helps and of course, so does making a soup to a particular recipe every now and then to expand your repertoire.

Here are guidelines to 3 quick soups I make quite often (all recipes for 2).

Beany Pork Soup

  • 500ml stock (preferably ham but chicken or vegetable also work)
  • 1 tins of beans (e.g. chickpea, haricots, butter, red kidney) including the liquid in the tin if its got no added salt
  • Pancetta, salami, chorizo, bacon, left over boiled ham or roast pork, whichever you have
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (rapeseed or olive)
  • Herbs or spice to complement

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the meat that you are using and toss with the onions, allow to cook through if the meat is raw. Add the stock and the beans. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve with bread. I sometimes add finely shredded cabbage, greens or spinach to this soup or if there are cold cooked potatoes a couple of those to make it thicker and heartier (mush them in with a fork) or leftover cooked pearl barley.

Roast Root Vegetable Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • 500ml of roast vegetables (i.e. put them in jug to see how much you have), any mix you like. I particularly like it when there is beetroot as it makes the soup an amazing colour
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (the same as you used to roast the vegetables)
  • Herbs or spices of your choice
  • Cheese to sprinkle on top

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the stock and the root vegetables. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Either whizz in a blender, food processor or using a stick blender or mash with a potato masher. The texture can be anything from velvety smooth to quite chunky but it should all be well combined, this isn’t a broth with bits soup more a liquidy puree. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top and bread.

Spicy Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • fresh ginger and chilli finely sliced
  • other spices of your choice
  • chicken or beef or prawns or vegetables, cut in small pieces (except prawns)
  • spring onions or garlic finely chopped
  • rapeseed oil

Have the stock already heated in a separate pan. Sauté the spring onions or garlic in the oil until softened. Add the ginger and chilli and sauté for a few minutes. Add any further spices and sauté briefly. Add the meat, vegetables or prawns and cook on a high heat like you would a stir-fry. Add the hot stock and bring to the boil. Serve immediately and add Asian seasoning such as soy sauce or nam pla if you wish. You can add noodles to the stock (cooking to the packet instructions).

Boiled ham, lentils & barley

Often simple food is the best. This is one of the dishes we regularly cooked and i think originally came from Gary Rhodes book Rhodes Around Britain. It really is simple and truly tasty.

We always get a much bigger ham joint than we need so that we have lots left over for sandwiches and shredded in soups.

You need (for the joint):

  • ham or gammon joint – smoked or not as you prefer
  • water/light stock/wine/cider – what ever mix appeals and enough to cover the joint when its in the pan
  • onion, leek, celery, carrot
  • bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme

Then you need to do this:

  1. soak the joint overnight in water if you think its particularly salty, lots of modern joints don’t need soaking, although it does help reduce the ‘scum’ when you start the boiling bit
  2. put the joint, in a pan, add the celery, leeks, carrot, onion all cut into largish chunks and aslo the herbs
  3. cover with fresh water/stock/wine/cider (don’t only use wine or cider but some added to the pan is great)
  4. bring to boil
  5. skim off an scum
  6. simmer for 1 1/2 hours….for some reason the size of joint doesn’t seem to affect the cooking time
  7. turn off the heat and leave for 30 mins in the liquid before carving and serving
  8. keep the liquid and use as a hammy stock in soups

For the lentils and barley you need:

  • 1oz green or puy lentils per person
  • 1oz barley per person
  • some of the cooking liquid from the ham

then with just over 45 minutes before serving put the barley in a  pan and add some of the ham cooking liquid, bring to the boil and simmer with 20 minutes left add the lentils and more liquid is needed, continue to simmer.

Serve the ham sliced on a bed of lentils and barley, with a vegetable such as steamed green or red cabbage and with pickles or mustard of your choice.

Festive menu, part 3 (all about chestnuts)

Yesterday I told you about the cheese terrine we had for starters today its all about the chestnuts…mainly so you can make the chestnut stuffing from my festive menu but also so I can share my most recent blog for Francoise Murat Design on Christmassy foods and which also includes a fab chestnut jam and a chocolatey chestnut cake…so here it is….. (first posted 8 December the cakes are actually made now!)

One of the wonderful things about Christmas is the fact that there are lots of chances to cook up delicious meals and food gifts for friends and family. Some people will have started their Christmas preparation months ago baking Christmas cakes which are now slowly being ‘fed’ brandy or whisky to make them extra moist and tasty ahead of being decorated. I’m not quite that organised although I have ear marked some of my chutneys, pickles, fruit vodkas and vinegars as gifts and I’m planning on making lavender shortbreads and perhaps cheese biscuits too. The fruit is now soaking in whisky ready to make the cakes and I think I might try my hand at some home cured gravadlax.

For lots of people the big decision is what meat to have for the Christmas meal, should it be turkey or the supposedly more traditional goose, a classic English roast beef or perhaps a stuffed loin of pork. For me though it’s all about the trimmings and the other meals, the roast is almost irrelevant. I’ve often joked that you could easily serve me a plate piled with all the trimmings and I wouldn’t notice if the roast meat was missing. I just love the extras so much and they are the things that most of us only decide to do for Christmas…..stuffings, bread sauce, fruit jelly, sausages wrapped in bacon, about 5 types of vegetables all with little twists, proper gravy made from real stock, tons of crispy roast potatoes…we might do some of these some of the time but we almost never do so many together and of course that’s just the ‘main’ course…there will be a starter when perhaps normally there wouldn’t, there’ll be dessert and mince pies and cake and then somewhere in all this there’ll be a groaning table of cold cuts, pates, pork pies, cheeses, breads, smoked salmon following by an array of cheesecake, trifle, gooey chocolate cake…and lots of citrus fruit too to balance it all out.

My particular favourites are homemade mince pies with proper crumbly delicate pastry, baked ham, the sausages wrapped in bacon, roasted root vegetables, braised cabbage with lardons and a splash of white wine, chestnuts tossed with Brussels sprouts and butter, super crispy roast potatoes. Give me those over the festive period and I’ll be happy but there is one thing that that I wouldn’t ever go without at Christmas regardless of what else I chose to cook and that’s chestnut stuffing. Even if I’m not having turkey or chicken or pork I still make some in a sort of terrine style and eat it with chutney or pickle or as a sandwich filling. I love it, it’s the stuffing we always had at Christmas when I was growing up, so it’s a Christmas must (the recipe is from my Grandma). Its tasty and moist without being heavy, lots of stuffing’s use pork mince, which makes them very rich. This is simpler and with a little adaptation could easily be made into a fantastic vegetarian version as a terrine.

I really like chestnuts, their sweet mealiness lends itself well to a range of different dishes, savoury and sweet. They are good in wintery stews particularly with game. They are delicious roasted and eaten straight from the skins. And they work in cakes and breads, particularly with chocolate but they also have a long heritage as a flour substitute in southern Europe.  When I was doing a trial batch of the stuffing last week for this blog post I also decided to play around with some other chestnut ideas so as well as a stuffing I think everyone will like, for chestnut fans I’ve a chestnut jam recipe and also a chocolate and chestnut cake. So stop worrying about whether to have turkey, goose or beef, focus on the extras and I’ll bet almost no one notices which roast you serve.

Chestnut Stuffing

The way I like to cook means this recipe is just a starting point, pick your favourite herbs to go in the mix, don’t use bacon if you want a vegetarian version and perhaps add gently softened onions instead (or even as well if you like).

  • 1 tin chestnut puree
  • 8 oz breadcrumbs
  • 3 rashers streaky bacon cut into small pieces
  • zest 1 lemon (and the juice if you like)
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • big handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Break up the chestnut puree with a fork; add all the ingredients except the eggs and mix. Once mixed add the egg and bring together. Use to stuff turkey, chicken or loin of pork. Bake any you can’t fit in the meat in a dish or terrine. You can line this with streaky bacon and fold over the top or simply dot the top with butter. Cook the extra stuffing for at least 40 mins at R6 (200C), you may need to cover the top with foil half way through the cooking time.

Chestnut Jam

  • 2 tins of whole cooked chestnuts (i.e. 400g) or whatever weight you have of cooked peeled chestnuts
  • For each 100g of chestnuts you need 75ml water and 100g of sugar
  • Lemon zest
  • Vanilla pod

Put the chestnuts in a pan and add the water, the lemon zest and the vanilla, simmer gently for 30 mins (covered) to allow the flavours to infuse. Drain but retain the liquid and top back up to the 75ml per 100g weight of chestnuts using either water or brandy. Push the chestnuts through a fine sieve then add back to the liquid. Bring to the boil and simmer until thick and when a drop is put on a cold plate in the fridge for a few minutes it forms a skin and is a jam consistency. Put in warm sterilised jars and seal. It’s great on toast, especially sourdough and can be used with chocolate cake (see below).

Chocolate Chestnut Cake

I was inspired by a whole range of ideas when I came up with this recipe: from Mont Blanc, various brownie recipes, Nesselrode pudding to a store cupboard cake of Nigella’s that uses jam or marmalade with chocolate…..

  • 100g of 100% cacao (grated), I used Willie’s Supreme Cacao Peruvian Black, San Martin
  • 300g of chestnut jam (see previous recipe, you can also buy online)
  • 150g sugar (or 150g more chestnut jam, this is what I used)
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 150g self raising flour
  • round cake tin (20cm) or better still a brownie tray, lined with silicon paper

Melt the butter in a bain-marie then add the cacao and allow this to melt and stir to mix as the cacao melts. Remove from heat and add the chestnut jam, mixing well, then add the sugar (if using) and eggs. When its all well combined add the flour a heaped tablespoonful at a time and mix. Pour into the cake or brownie tin and bake at R4 (180C) for at least 50 mins and a skewer comes out clean. My cake was very deep as it was in an 18cm tin and so it took and hour and half to bake, in a brownie tin it will take much less so start checking from 35 minutes and adjust cooking time accordingly. Leave in the tray/tin for 15 mins to cool and then remove.

I served the cake sliced like a Victoria sponge and filled with more of the chestnut jam and whipped cream, topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed meringues. As the cake was so deep this made it rather difficult to eat and it collapsed so I think doing it brownie style and topping with the jam, cream and meringues would be more effective.

Festive menu, part 2 (cheese terrine)

The first of the recipes from my festive menu is the cheese terrine we had as a starter with Peters Yard crispbreads and a selection of smoked and cured salmon from Forman’s.

The terrine is adapted from a recipe in Delia Smith’s Christmas (the old version I’ve no idea if its in the recently published version). I particularly wanted to use a range of Lancashire cheeses but you could use any mix of cheeses you have and it would be a good way to use up what’s left of a cheese board. It makes a good starter or a light lunch dish (which is what I’ve been doing with the leftovers).

Cheese terrine

You need:

  • 275g of cottage cheese or other mild young soft cheese, I used Lancashire curd from Butlers but I think Brock Hall Farm soft goat cheese would also be brilliant.
  • 75ml mild good mayonnaise or greek yoghurt
  • sachet of gelatine powder or two leaves of sheet gelatine
  • 50g each of three hard cheeses, one of which should be a blue cheese, I used  Blacksticks Blue, Creamy and Tasty Lancashire combined (25g of each) and Goosnargh Goats all from Butlers Cheeses
  • tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs of your choice, I used flat leaf parsley
  • water and lemon juice to dissolve the gelatine
  • 150ml double cream
  • salt and pepper
  • a loaf or terrine tin 18 x 9 x 5 cm lightly oiled

Dissolve the gelatine as per the packet instructions. Blend the cottage/curd cheese with the mayonnaise/yoghurt until smooth. Cube the hard cheeses into 1/2 cm pieces. Whip the cream to the floppy stage.

Add the dissolved gelatine to  the soft cheese mixture and stir thoroughly. Add the hard cheeses, herbs, salt and pepper and mix. Then add the cream and stir through. Pour or spoon into the terrine mould. Cover with cling film and leave to set for 3 hours or more in the fridge. Turn out onto a plate and serve in slices or allow people to help themselves.

Enough for 8 as a starter.

The fat of the land

This post was originally published in early November in Francois Murat Design newsletter. Although the apple season is pretty much at an end now many varieties store well so this is still a lovely dish to make over the coming cold months……

Autumn is well and truly here, the nights are drawing in, the weather is cooling day by day. Many of the fruits and vegetables are harvested. Those that can be have been turned into preserves of various kinds or carefully stored away to be used over the winter months.

Apples are still with us and there are varieties that are still being harvested during November but the main crop has been taking place throughout October and celebrated with Apple Day events across the country. Apple Day was started 20 years ago by Common Ground to help save and celebrate the huge range of English apples that were being lost bit by bit. In that time much progress has been made and varieties that were almost lost have been reintroduced. If you care about British food though there is still plenty to be done and attending an Apple Day event can be great fun for all the family with a chance to buy apples, press your own juices or simply learn more about orchards and the variety available. If you missed out this year then put a little reminder in your diary now to seek out apple events next October, and in the meantime support the growers by searching out interesting varieties or even sponsoring a tree at a community orchard project.

Autumn is not only a time for preserving fruit and vegetables its also the time when, traditionally, meat would be preserved in a variety of ways to see the household through winter and save on animal feeding costs. This is particularly true of the pig. In ‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’ Jane Grigson says:

It could be said that European civilization – and Chinese civilization too – has been founded on the pig.’


Of course there are plenty who don’t eat pork and they would disagree with Grigson’s statement and her subsequent analysis. But for many it has been staple of cooking for centuries and the tradition of the autumn pig slaughter and subsequent preserving is well documented. Bacon is also often cited as the meat that vegetarian converts most miss but I’m not sure there is any real data to back this claim up. For those with strong constitutions I highly recommend Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay ‘It takes a Village to Kill a Pig’, not for the faint hearted, but fascinating not least because it was first published in American Vogue, not the sort of place you imagine happening on a detailed account of traditional pig slaughter in a Basque village. Preserving meat is not something I’ve tried although there are now quite few books and courses around on preserving the bounty of the pig and I know of a number of people who make their own sausages, bacon and salami at home. I’d recommend reading Tim Hayward (of The Guardian’s Word of Mouth) articles as a good starting point.

Now of course we can eat pork (and other meat) all year round if we want to. Whether it tastes its best or has been reared in a sustainable manner is of course open to much debate. It seems to make sense to eat less meat, reared in the best way possible and used sensibly. We can learn a lot from the seasons and the way people used to cook though of course we can’t go back to how they lived (and I doubt we would want to) but we can think more carefully about what we eat and when we eat it.

So eating pork at this time of year makes sense seasonally and pairing it with apples has a long heritage. Roast pork and apple sauce is a classic British dish with the apple sauce cutting through the sweet fattiness of the pork. That’s the point of this combination the apple provides a counterpoint to the meat, so often missed with over sweetened commercial sauces. Apple jelly is wonderful with sausages, either on the side or as a glaze to create extra sticky sausages. If you don’t have your own apple jelly to hand then try one with a little kick of chilli for some added interest (Jules & Sharpies Sage & Apple Jelly is my current favourite) track down something local to you and support a local food business.

There’s a recipe I’ve been cooking for years that sprang to mind (from an early Delia Smith book) after I’d been to an Apple Day event at Copped Hall in Essex recently. I think it’s the first dish I cooked entirely on my own at home but I wanted to do it a bit differently this time and make it into an almost one-pot dish. It’s simple, pretty quick and of course tasty.

Creamy pork, apples, cider and potatoes

For 2 people you need:

  • 2 large pork chops on the bone
  • 1 onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 apple, I used an Egremont russet (my favourite apple just sharp enough and good firm flesh), cored and sliced but not peeled
  • ½ bottle cider, I used Aspalls Organic
  • small handful of fresh sage (about a tbsp when chopped)
  • ½ tub crème fraiche (100g)
  • 3-4 large potatoes cut into thin slices
  • salt & pepper
  • butter

What to do….

  1. Pre heat the oven to 190C/R5
  2. Put some butter in a frying pan and brown the chops, place then in a shallow casserole dish.
  3. If needed add a little extra butter and soften the onions for about 5 minutes over a low heat, add them to the pork chops.
  4. Fry the apple slices quickly and add to the casserole.
  5. Add the cider to the frying pan and bring to simmering then pour over the chops.
  6. Sprinkle the casserole with the chopped sage and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Add the crème fraiche and stir into the liquid
  8. Add the potato slices pushing them down into the creamy liquid.
  9. Cover and cook for 20 minutes then remove the lid and cook for a further 20 minutes.

The chops will be cooked but remain juicy, the potatoes will have absorbed some of the creamy liquid and cooked rather like daupinoise. Serve with a lightly steamed autumn vegetable to balance the creaminess, we had red cabbage.