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Just Cook It

Updated: 2017-12-11T03:08:55.731+00:00


New website


You are hereby cordially invited to the shiny new site. The time has come to bid farewell to this fair blog and smash a bottle of cava over the bough of my brand new site. It would be great if you would care to join me there and update any bookmarks you may have as well.


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5th-17th July: Cooking at The Wild Garlic


It is amazing where slightly drunken conversations can lead. In this case the answer is Dorset. To Mat Follas’s Wild Garlic restaurant, to be more specific.


A request from the man himself to cover for a holidaying sous chef could not be passed over so I’ll be cooking there for two weeks from July 5th – a prospect that fills me with excitement given the amazing range of produce available. Knowing how much Mat values local and seasonal food, the menu will be a pleasure to cook.

What’s even more exciting is that I’ll be cooking with Terry again for the first time since what has become known as the ‘WI Debacle’. I think we’ve both improved a lot since then but it’s probably for the best that you don’t order the fishcakes.

The Wild Garlic is in Beaminster, Dorset. To book a table call 01308 861446.

Doner Kebabs


If there is a food more maligned than the doner kebab then it remains unknown to my palate. Long the butt of jokes and the final resort of a hungry lush as he or she stumbles back home from the pub via a neon takeaway, the poor kebab as we know it in England is far removed from its original form. Sweaty mystery meat sculpted into the famous ‘elephant’s foot’ rotates slowly in front of orange hued heater bulbs behind the counters of less salubrious dining establishments throughout the country. Unimaginably long lengths of it are hacked off and crammed into epic flatbreads or warm pitas before being topped with a token salad of four cucumber rings, some harsh raw onion and a few wedges of watery tomato. The whole lot is finished with a Russian roulette chilli sauce that ranges from the pathetic to nuclear hot and then eaten with gusto, delight and a side order of late onset guilt. And it tastes great. Admittedly the average doner diner is three or even four sheets to the wind by the time they get their laughing gear around this culinary oddity that somehow manages to pack a day’s worth of calories into a single polystyrene box. They are chowed down late at night to sate the deep hunger brought on by overindulgence of the grape and grain’s fine nectar. I can recall many morning after conversations that have included the phrase ‘I must have been quite pissed – I even had a kebab’ and fondly remember one incident when the distinctive doner niff followed us round for an entire Sunday after a heavy Saturday night. Even a shower and a change of clothes wasn’t enough to quell the odour. It was only when my friend reached into his coat pocket for his wallet and pulled out a length of brown meat that the mystery was solved. In short kebabs tend to be eaten in haste and regretted at leisure when noxious burps scented with onion exacerbate the hangover. They are the guiltiest of guilty pleasures and a gastronomic punchline for a joke that ceases to be funny at about 6 o’clock the following morning when the belly cramps and the head aches. But this shouldn’t be the case. In its true form, the doner is a thing of beauty: marinated lamb meat, slow cooked into tender softness – warm with spices and rich with natural fat. Blistered flatbreads with that wonderful gentle bitterness. Heat from chillies tempered with cool salad. Hummus. Yoghurt. These are all good things. Great, wonderful tasty things. And more importantly all things you can achieve at home. Doner KebabsOK – this isn’t a true doner. For that you’d need epic amounts of meat of dubious origin, a large vertical spit, six hours of turning and a hungry mob to consume it all. So we cooked a simplified version which was superior in every way. Once a lamb shoulder had been boned out and butterflied it was covered with a spice mix containing cumin, coriander, chillies, oregano, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil before being tied up and roasted in the oven over a layer of roughly chopped onions. Three hours at a low heat was long enough to render the meat tender and almost liquefy the onions.Whilst it was resting we cooked up a batch of flatbreads, made some hummus and a chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, red onion and plenty of parsley. The lamb meat was shredded with two forks and mixed in with the cooked onions and the fat and juices that had pooled in the bottom of the roasting tray. Heaped into fresh warm flatbreads and then finished off with all the necessary accoutrements it was a meal fit for the gods themselves. Or at least Bacchus. Photography by Charlotte[...]

Rocket and Brazil Nut Pesto



We waited weeks for the truly good growing conditions to arrive. A late frost gave us cause for concern and we thought for a few days that we’d lost the entire crop of potatoes - not to mention numerous salads.

Thankfully the sad looking leaves survived and thrived into lush green offerings. The rows of potatoes now stand tall and proud, a thick carpet of the distinctive green leaves cover half the garden like a layer of cloud.

Two lines of lettuce look perky and happy and we’ve already devoured three or four, one with a simple roast chicken with warm bread, some runny mayonnaise and freshly chopped lemon thyme.

The rocket is looking healthy as well: too healthy in fact. We returned after a couple of days away to find it reaching skyward in a manner that would please NASA. Thinking quickly we harvested as many of the oversize leaves as we could and pounded them along with some basil into a fresh, summery pesto.


Stirred into spaghetti it made a wonderful and very quick supper: fresh, peppery, warm with garlic and zingy with lemon. Sometimes a glut is a wonderful thing.

Spaghetti with rocket and brazil nut pesto


Although usually made with pine nuts, the Brazil nuts we found in the back of the cupboard proved to be an excellent substitute. The slightly creamy texture added a slight richness to the pesto.

Two large handfuls of rocket leaves, washed and dried
One handful of basil leaves
9-10 Brazil nuts
2 cloves of garlic
One lemon, zested and juiced
Olive oil
20g Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

Chop the rocket and basil leaves enough to make them fit into a pestle and mortar. Pound the Brazil nuts into a coarse powder then add the garlic and a pinch of sea salt and pound some more. Add the lemon zest then the rocket and basil leaves and continue mashing with the pestle until it begins to look like pesto. Add the olive oil until it is a certifiable sauce then stir in the grated cheese.

Season with sea salt, black pepper and lemon juice and stir through warm spaghetti.

Photographs by @photolotte (flickr)

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Phad Thai and Cooking Like a Pro


Professional chefs work differently to home cooks. This is a lesson you learn very early on in a restaurant kitchen.Working a successful service relies on a number of key practices but chief amongst these is doing one’s meez before the first ticket comes in.Meez , short for mise en place, a French term for ‘putting in place’, means getting everything ready to go so you aren’t faffing around chopping vegetables when you should really be concentrating on cooking that sea bass for table 14.It is getting everything how you want it, where you want it so when the time comes all you have to do is cook.Whilst this is good working practice for a professional environment, it is a lesson I’ve brought home with me as well. I approach cooking differently, first doing any peeling or butchery then moving onto chopping and the like.Only when everything is ready to go, do I start cooking. This actually cuts down the time spent in the kitchen and means that hands on cooking is as swift and smooth as possible. More importantly it means there isn’t a mountain of washing up to do after dinner because all the clearing up is done as you go along – another lesson you learn very quickly in professional kitchens.A chef friend of mine put it rather more succinctly. ‘The six Ps,’ he said when we were talking about cooking for paying customers. I looked at him blankly. ‘Proper preparation prevents poor performance.’‘That’s only five,’ I replied. ‘Five Ps.’‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘I gave you the clean version. Commis chefs get the six P chat. Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.’And he’s right.One dish that really benefits from this approach is a stir-fry when you have a matter of just a few minutes to actually cook everything and Phad Thai is a real favourite. Last time I visited the family, my sister asked me the best way to cook this. I gave her a little lesson but neglected to write down the recipe so, Ellen – this one’s for you.Ellen’s Phad ThaiThe key flavourings are palm sugar (although you could sub in brown sugar) for sweetness, tamarind and lime for sourness, fish sauce and soy for saltiness and chillies for heat.The core philosophy of Thai food is ensuring these are balanced so feel free to play with quantities as you see fit: There are no rules – it is a dish from the streets of Bangkok. It is fast, filling and very tasty indeed. Ingredients are listed in the order they should be cookedPer person:Cooking oil (2-3 tablespoons)½ carrot, sliced into thin strips½ onion, finely sliced2 cloves of garlic, finely slicedTablespoon of pickled radish or pickled turnip (you should find this in your friendly local Chinese supermarket)Fresh red chillies, finely sliced2 spring onions, finely sliced10-15g palm sugar2 tablespoons of tamarind1 tablespoon fish sauce1 tablespoon soy sauce100g rice noodles, cooked in boiling water1 egg, beatenTablespoon of peanuts, roasted and roughly groundTablespoon of dried shrimpTo finishBean sproutsFinely shredded spring onionFinely shredded red chilliesRoasted and ground peanutsLime wedgesOnce the first ingredient goes into the hot oil this dish is about two minutes away from the plate so you have to work quickly. Get all your ingredients ready to go and set up in order – this is your mise en place. Congratulations, you are now a chef.Heat up a wok so it is good and scorching. Add the oil then tip in the onion, garlic, carrot, chillies and pickled radish (or turnip). Move around the wok then add the flavourings: tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce and soy stir well then add the cooked noodles. Coat with the sauce then make a well in the centre and add the egg. Let it cook, scramble it and incorporate it into the dish.Sprinkle in the dried shrimp and peanuts, stir one last time and spoon into bowls. Garnish with bean sprouts, spring onions, chillies and peanuts then feel free to go crazy with the seasonings to pep up the dish to your own personal tastes.[...]



Confession time. I’m cheating on my beloved.We’ve been together since 2003 so I suppose it could be the famed ‘seven year itch’. Only this is more serious. This isn’t just an illicit fumble in the stationery cupboard. This is more. This is love.Since I began nurturing my love of coffee I’ve tried every method under the sun to attain the perfect cup of Joe. For a while the Cafetiere was enough to see me through the mornings, heaping coarsely pre-ground beans into the warmed jug. The resultant sludge was passable but there was no panache, merely the niggling shadow of 1980s dinner parties and After Eight mints.The trusty Moka Express came next – ‘every Italian home has one’ came the re-assuring sales pitch and sure enough it proved to make a cup up from the workmanlike brew that spewed forth from the Cafetiere.Getting the brewing time right was difficult though – too fast and the coffee scorched becoming bitter as the final drops puttered through the spout and the bottom pot boiled dry. Too slow and it took an age for the coffee to appear. It was also a pain to clean and more often than not remained sullied with wet grinds for longer than was suitable.There was also a frustrating lack of crema – the nutty caramel coloured layer that adorns the finest of espressos, a drink that was becoming my coffee of choice whenever away from home.For a while I gave into my Swedish heritage and enjoyed the simple delights of filter coffee. Smooth and strong without being overly bitter, it was a coffee to drink throughout the day but it lacked that specific oomph and I never got excited about it in the same way I did about a really good shot of expertly made espresso.There was only one course of action: to admit that I was a fully-fledged coffee nerd and invest in a machine that would allow making of exquisitely crafted espresso at home.After much research I chose the La Pavoni Europiccola machine – as much a piece of iconic design as an espresso maker. I was dazzled by its classic lines, its manual mechanics and its apparent simplicity. It was a thing of shiny beauty – curvier than Marilyn Monroe and heavy with brass fittings, I adored it from the moment I bought it.The love affair lasted quite some time. It had quirks that made it impossible for anyone other than myself to make it work. It was high-maintenance in the extreme, needing constant tweaking. There was no temperature or pressure gauge meaning a sustained period of trial and error before the two were in sync to yield a perfect shot of dark espresso with a satisfying crema.The boiler itself was small – once enough water had been drawn through the machine to heat all the components there was barely enough left for a couple of coffees. It would have to be re-filled – a task that only the bravest of baristas would dare to undertake.Tea-towels had to be wrapped around hands to avoid being scalded by the burst of steam that spewed, volcano like, from the boiler as the lid was unscrewed. More waiting, more releasing the pressure from the steam wand, more failed coffees if any aspect was amiss.Drawing the perfect espresso is a hard task – if one single element is out of kilter, it drags the whole process down with it. Freshness of beans, size of grind, temperature of water, latent heat in machine, pressure, speed of extraction. All these had to be perfect before the Europiccola would even consider emitting a good espresso.I grew to think of my machine as a well-bred, hot blooded Italian lady: happy to comply on rare occasions but unwilling to compromise and prone to increasingly lengthy bouts of sulking where compliance was NEFC (not-even-fucking-considered).But those rare occasions when the planets aligned, they made me forget about all those failed shots poured down the sink. Those sleepy hungover Sundays when all I wanted was a simple coffee and instead what I got was violent steaming temper tantrum from an apparentl[...]

Summer Food: Tagliatelle with peas and bacon


It’s been a busy fortnight. Book pitches. Meetings. Business plans. Scouting out potential restaurant locations. Press events. Oh, and making 6000 canapés with Dhruv for a hungry City crowd.We jokingly suggested to the producers of Masterchef that the latter of these should be a new challenge on the show. Apologies in advance to future contestants if it makes the cut.All this is a round about way of excusing myself for neglecting the blog which itself is in the middle of an overhaul.This weekend has seen some glorious weather. One may go so far (providing you’re not the superstitious sort) as to say that summer is upon us and with it the freshest bounty of the garden and meats grilled over hot coals.No more braises, stews or hearty belly-fillers. The next few months are about simplicity. Fresh, zingy flavours and ingredients cooked simply and, whenever possible, enjoyed al fresco. A meal soundtracked by nature and the sounds of the open is far tastier than one taken indoors.Although it rarely fills our bellies during the darker half of the year, come spring and summer pasta forms a larger part of our diet – its innate versatility somehow more suited to the ad hoc nature of summer meals where time spent in the kitchen detracts from time spent outside.Consequently, now seemed a good time to invest in a book on the subject and The Geometry of Pasta appeared to fit the bill perfectly. A rather beautiful, monochrome tome it harks back to a traditional Italian approach where pasta and sauce are matched with care to capitalise on the characteristics of each. A noble concept indeed.Although the prospect of hand-crafting some intricate orecchiette was tempting, last night’s supper was an exercise in simplicity: fresh pasta tossed with bacon, peas, a little blue cheese and cream and finished with grassy pea shoots picked from little pots in the garden.Tagliatelle with peas and baconAs tasty as homegrown peas are, I find growing them a thankless and arduous task that yields disappointing results. With the frozen sort as good as they are I have no qualms about using those to bulk out a meal and picking off the wonderfully fresh tasting (not to mention pretty with their winding, curling fronds) pea shoots to serve as a delicious garnish.Ingredients:200g pasta flour2 eggsOR 200g dried pasta150g bacon, pancetta or other cured pork, dicedOlive oilA medium sized onion, finely choppedA splash of white wineTwo handfuls frozen peas, cooked in boiling water (or the microwave. Really)200ml double creamAny leftover cheese you happen to have, as long as it is of the melty variety.Salt and plenty of black pepperIf you are the sort of person who has a pasta machine, you don’t need me to tell you how to make the stuff. Just whip up a batch in your usual fashion, it will be more than fine.If you are the sort of person who doesn’t have a pasta machine, you don’t need me to tell you how to cook the stuff. Surely. Just go about it in your usual fashion. But not before making the sauce.Fry the bacon until it renders off its lovely fat and begins to turn crispy. Lower the heat under the frying pan and add the diced onion. Cook it gently until it softens in the bacon fat. If it looks a little dry add a dash of olive oil (but not the good stuff). Give it 10-15 minutes so it softens and sweetens without burning and turning acrid.Deglaze the pan with white wine - just a splash should do the job - then add the cream, peas and cheese. Season well with black pepper but go easy on the salt depending on what cheese you’ve gone for.Cook up your pasta in a big pan with plenty of salt and as soon as it is ready, drain it (but only briefly – the cooking water adds a tasty element) and toss into the sauce. Heap into bowls, garnish with pea shoots and serve outside just as the sun is dipping beyond the trees, ocean buildings or whatever vista forms your view onto the world.Food fotos by C[...]

The Cambridge Menu


The brief from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire was simple: create a dish that sums up the area using the best locally sourced produce available.Cornwall has the pasty, Bedfordshire’s got a clanger and Bury the black pudding – but Cambridge? Cambridge has…well, therein lay the problem. Our county is bereft of a classic.The challenge to rectify this glaring omission came from our local BBC radio station. I would have a week to come up with something special and they’d then record me creating it in my own kitchen.The obvious place to begin was looking at what local produce was available. It soon became clear that the area may be lacking in a signature dish but that isn’t for want of superb ingredients: locally reared beef, pork, lamb and game are plentiful, when in season.In May, the Fens groan under the weight of the asparagus spears that peep through the earth. Celery and watercress also grow in plentiful abundance. The committed and enthusiastic loca-vore can even take their rod and line down to the River Cam and try to land a pike or zander. However, I didn’t think a week would be enough to organise a fishing licence (or actually learn how to fish).Being bound to the fruits of the local land was no hardship, though and after a few days of hard research I came up with the following efforts for my Cambridgeshire Feast. Great British Menu, watch out.Starter: Asparagus, bacon and eggWith it just sneaking into season, now is a great time to eat locally grown asparagus. The spears are sweet and tender and are yet to develop the slightly woody note that can tarnish the fern later in the year.This isn’t a very original presentation but my goal was to keep it simple. The asparagus was steamed, brushed with butter then served with an egg (from our front garden) poached at 64˚and a couple of slices of home-cured pork jowl, uniquely preserved by the Cambridgeshire air and then fried until crispy like dry-cured streaky bacon.Main Course: Beef cheeks, braised celery and Stilton and mustard creamBeef and Stilton is a classic combination. Stilton and celery, likewise. Here they come together in a wonderful open pie.Whilst most regions in Britain can lay claim to a local cheese, Cambridgeshire’s most famous dairy product can’t actually be made in the county. The PDO that proudly adorns Stilton cheese limits its production to the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire – but the town of Stilton itself lies within the boundaries of modern-day Cambridgeshire and here is where the cheese became justifiably famous.Beef cheeks (from CamCattle, a company who locally rear cattle grazed on common land in the centre of Cambridge) were cooked slowly in red wine and stock with carrot, celery, onions and garlic until tender – then the cooking liquor reduced to a rich and sticky gravy.The celery too, was braised by browning in a little butter then covering with a light chicken stock before being vacuum sealed and cooked for 35 minutes at 85˚ (the temperature at which pectin – the ‘glue’ that holds vegetables together –breaks down, making vegetables tender but ensuring they retain a little bite).The celery and beef were topped with a disc of puff pastry and then a cool cream flavoured with Stilton and mustard was added to the dish, along with a some watercress for a peppery bite.It may be a little optimistic to hope it’s a future classic, but one can always hope. It’s certainly delicious enough to warrant making again, very soon.Dessert: Cambridge Burnt Cream with RhubarbPerhaps better known as crème brulee, this dessert was the closest that I came to finding a genuine heritage dish from Cambridge. Although the veracity of the origins of the dessert cannot be verified, legend has it that it was first served at Trinity College in the late 19th Century – a tale that Ian Reinhardt, head of catering at Trinity,[...]

Two more ways with nettles


The sheer mettle of nettles. They are taking over the garden: cropping up in the vegetable patch, dominating the borders and creating no-go zones in the middle of the lawn.But revenge comes in many forms – all of them tasty.Nettle soup is a well-worn classic: virtuous and brilliantly evocative of Spring but hardly exciting and there are a thousand and one recipes for it washing around the Internet. In short, it needed re-mastering.Sweet Potato, Nettle and Chickpea SoupThis is a soup with substance; a filling bowlful of hearty satisfaction. Pepped up with the warmth of some aromatic spices it is perfect for those evenings when the sun dips a little too fast leaving the seven o’clock air with a surprising, biting chill.Two large sweet potatoes, peeled and dicedA baking potato, peeled and dicedTwo white onions, peeled and slicedAs much garlic as you wishSpices: cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, star anise – take your pickLots of fresh nettle topsA tin of chickpeasVegetable stock, about 3 pintsI’m fairly certain you know how to make a soup so forgive me if I patronise.Fry off your chosen spices in a little oil until they in turn start to release their oils. The smell will change, just take care not to burn them else you will add a bitter note to the soup. Crush them in a pestle and mortar then add the garlic.Fry the onion until soft then add the potato (both sweet and regular). Give it a little colour then add the spices and garlic before covering with stock. Leave to simmer until the potatoes are cooked then blend and pass through a sieve to remove and rogue crunchy spices.Wash and pick over the nettles removing any thick stems and inevitable creepy crawlies. Cook in plenty of rapidly boiling, salted water then leave them to drain in a colander or sieve. Chop the nettles then add to the soup along with a can of drained chickpeas. Heat through and serve with bread or cheese straws anda big jumper.Nettle AlooAs an accompaniment to Indian food, aloo saag (potatoes and spinach) is a firm favourite. Here the spinach is replaced with blanched and chopped nettles which gives a wonderfully fresh, almost grassy flavour. It works.A large white onion, finely chopped3 cloves of garlic, finely choppedTeaspoon of mustard seedsTwo teaspoons black onion seedsTwo teaspoons methi (fenugreek seeds)Salt and pepper2-3 potatoes, depending on size, peeled and diced into c.2cm cubesNettles, lots.Blanch the nettles in boiling water then drain in a colander. Finely chop them and set them to one side.Boil the potatoes in salted water until just shy of being cooked. About 10 minutes should do itFry the spices in oil, lower the heat then add the onion and cook until it softens. Add the garlic then the potatoes. Cook until they begin to colour and are soft throughout then add the chopped nettles. Let down with a little water if necessary, season and serve with whichever curries you desire.Photos by @photolotte (flickr)[...]

Nettle & Yarg Risotto


Nettles don’t immediately spring to mind when thinking of this time of year and the bounty the season offers.Tender milk fed lamb, wild garlic or the first crisp spears of asparagus, perhaps, but nettles? They’re certainly not at the top of many people’s spring essentials lists, or the bottom, come to think of it.Long a fixture of many a hippy’s ingredient roster, nettles are gaining a following amongst some high profile chefs keen to follow in the footsteps of visionary cooks like Rene Redzepi who places provenance at the centre, and periphery, of his food philosophy.With good reason. They are plentiful, free, brilliantly British, wildly versatile and, moreover, delicious.Our garden is teeming with them. They burst through the earth in wild clusters at the first hint of warmth. Picking them requires some unbroken rubber gloves and a little patience but if the sun is out and the radio is providing happy company it is a pleasure rather than a chore.Given their aptitude for wilting, it is a good idea to pick more than you think you need. Lots more. A pan full will magically disappear leaving just a vivid green layer and the memory of its volume.Sunday was a lazy day and we picked lots. Feeling adventurous we made a nettle tea, which tasted like it was doing us good even after it had been pepped up with honey and lime juice, a nettle soup and even some zingy nettle pesto which was great on crackers with a little cheese.But the best recipe was for nettle risotto – a clean yet hearty bowlful of springtime.Since cooking at Le Calandre under the tutelage of Massimiliano Alajmo (the youngest ever recipient of the culinary world’s highest accolade: three stars in the Michelin guide) I’ve changed the way I make risotto.Whilst there not only did I taste the best dish I have ever eaten in my entire life (a risotto flavoured with rose petal and peach – hands down the most incredible taste experience ever. Ever) I also cooked one of the restaurant’s signature dishes – saffron and liquorice risotto – which shows the levels to which rice and stock can be elevated. In the hands of a 3* chef, the humble risotto isn’t quite so humble.Whilst this effort doesn’t quite have such high aspirations, the method remains the same and a departure from the rather labour intensive approach I used to take.Dry toasting the rice over a high heat cuts down the cooking time from a frustrating 35-40 minutes to a shade under 15 and makes for a creamier texture as the starches are quickly released allowing the grains to retain some integrity and bite. A top tip indeedNettle and Yarg RisottoA note about Yarg – Yarg is a semi-hard cheese from Cornwall. It is fresh and satisfyingly creamy. It is also wrapped in nettle leaves making it a perfect partner for this risotto instead of the more usual ParmesanHalf a small white onion, finely choppedA clove of garlic, finely minced15g butterA large quantity of nettle tops, washed, picked over then dropped into boiling water for a minute or so. Once cooked, shock them in iced water so that the bright green colour remains, strain well then chop and fry in a little butter.A handful of rice, per personWhite wineChicken stock, warmed20g butter25-50g Yarg cheese, finely diced.Soften the onion and garlic with the butter over a gentle heat until the turn translucent. Remove from the pan and reserve. Dry the pan and crank up the heat. Toast the rice for 2-3 minutes taking care not to burn it. Add the onion and garlic back to the rice then pour in the wine. It will bubble like mad.Ladle in some of the stock so that the rice is covered, stir then let it bubble away. As soon as it looks as if it is too dry, add some more. It should bubble away like an active swamp.A good risotto should be semi-liquid. Keep tasting it and checking the texture of the rice. When it [...]

Observer Food Monthly Awards


Thankfully the Observer’s Food Monthly magazine received a stay of execution after the recent cull that saw the demise of its sister titles: Woman, Music, and Sport Monthly.

As a result food nerds, geeks and obsessives can still revel in the glory of unashamed nosh based writing from the likes of Jay Rayner, Rachel Cooke and Nigel Slater (amongst others).


Every year the OFM runs an awards special where readers can vote for the people and places that have rocked their food world over the previous 12 months.

Categories include ‘Best restaurant’ (my vote went to St John an admission that will surprise few) ‘Best independent local retailer (these guys, just outside of Cambridge who posted all the lovely Masterchef messages) and ‘Best cheap eats’ (oodles of noodles? Yes please)

Pootle over to the Observer website to cast your votes. There are prizes too if you need further incentive.

There’s also a ‘Best UK Based Food Blog’ category. Just saying, is all…

Two ways with Ox Heart


[Warning - this post contains offal]It was supposed to be three.Three ways with heart.A hat trick of heart-y preparations to entice the brave and convert the wary whilst trying all the while not to scare off the timid.The third of these was to be a long, slow braise. I had visions of spoon tender meat in a rich, beefy gravy similar to the French Laundry braised beef short ribs. The reality was a little disappointing.Most meat that needs slow cooking is a network of fibrous muscle protein and connective tissue layered with strata of fat. As the meat cooks it becomes tender (due to the break down of the collagen) and very tasty.A braised lamb shank is the classic example – cooked properly a gentle shove with a fork should have the meat collapsing off the bone like a tower block undergoing a controlled demolition.But heart, I came to learn, is different. The meat is lean, tightly packed and without the necessary additions of collagen and fat that make a truly rib-sticking braise. Rather than falling apart into tasty strands, the meat constricts and seizes up into dense, rubbery nuggets that taste nice enough but texturally are not pleasant.It was with a heavy heart (arf arf) that I admitted defeat on this one and fed the chunks to some very grateful cats who I doubt appreciated the time, effort and bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that had gone into the dish.So, two ways it is.The first thing you notice about an ox heart is its sheer size. They are great, hulking vast rugby balls of meat. Weighing in at a shade under three kilos, even accounting for the necessary ‘trimming’, there is plenty of meat here. A similarly sized rib of beef would set you back around £45. A three-kilo piece of sirloin closer to £70.The heart cost a tenth of the price – about £7. Even if it merely served to slake my curiosity it was still cheap.Once the whole thing had been trimmed of anything that looked even vaguely unappetising (no mean feat considering its size), a third of the meat was thinly sliced to be marinated overnight, a third cut into chunks to braise and a third finely diced for a ragu.The braise, being something of a failure as already discussed, is probably best not dwelled upon so we shall move swiftly onto the more successful preparations.RaguThe first of these was a simple ragu. Finely diced heart meat browned in oil then cooked long and slow with a soffrito of onions, celery and carrot, a little cured bacon, half a bottle of wine, some good beef stock and a tin of tomatoes.Five hours under a cartouche in an oven barely warmer than a Swedish sauna was enough to create a tasty sauce that works well over pasta but isn’t even close to being as good as one made with cheek.Far more successful though was the following:AnticuchosA South American preparation, anticuchos seems to be a fairly generic term for ‘meat on skewers’ and can be made with almost any type of meat. The most famed, though, are made with beef heart.Marinated overnight in ground cumin, garlic, chilli and oregano mixed with olive oil and red wine vinegar, the thinly sliced heart is then concertinaed onto wooden skewers before being grilled over hot coals.Cooked quickly like this means the meat has little opportunity to constrict and toughen up. The light charring of the barbecued meat adds a warm, deep savoury note and the marinade, pepped up with the sharpness of vinegar, really lifts the dish.After 5-6 minutes over hot charcoal, the meat was picked off the skewer onto a hot flatbread and served with rocket, a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise and the leftover marinade cooked down with some tomato puree.‘This is a conversion dish,’ claimed the GF, whose initial trepidation evaporated once she got a whiff of the hunger inducing scent that is created when meat is i[...]

'Still got the cake' - Life after Masterchef


It’s all over. Those weeks and months of hard work and secrets. The challenges, the travels, the interviews and (just occasionally) the cooking.My time as a Masterchef finalist is done and I can look back with pride at what we all achieved: heaving hot boxes through the courtyard of a thousand year old castle; working alongside some of the best amateur chefs in the country and then progressing to the final and running a restaurant with two of the nicest chaps I could ever have hoped to meet; cooking Alain Ducasse’s own signature dessert and serving it to the legendary man himself (not to mention a table full of Michelin starred chefs); transforming offal and other seldom used cuts of meat into dishes fit for a prime time BBC1 cooking show. To name but a few of the once-in-a-lifetime challenges that we faced.Except it’s not over. It’s only just beginning.By Thursday morning my inbox was registering almost 700 unread emails that had come in since Wednesday’s final episode. Amongst them were job offers, enquiries from agents and, most lovely of all, messages from people I have never met. People who were kind enough to take the time to write and say how much they enjoyed the show and send their congratulations at my reaching the final.Thank you to you all. I will reply, I promise - but I may be some time. In a real sense rather than an ominous Captain Oates sense.There are a number of very exciting projects in the pipeline, amongst them a book and a restaurant - both of which, I must add, are in the very early stages of development. But as soon as there is more news, it will be announced right here on my blog.So watch this space.In the mean time, the chocolate and coffee pot recipe that dazzled the critics is available here, on the BBC Food website (but don’t freeze the espuma!). However, if you’re looking for something more hearty and warming, might I suggest this lamb breast recipe, which is currently slow-roasting in my oven, albeit a more spiced version. It’s amazing what you learn from cooking in India for a Maharajah.Oh, and I’m on Twitter: please drop by and say hello.Wicked-cool spaghetti pics by the amazing @photolotte[...]

A little more trumpet blowing...


For the first time in the history of Just Cook It, you can now read one of my recipes on the BBC Food website.

The roasted lamb rump with spiced date puree, glazed carrots and cinnamon cous cous that I cooked for the critics is available right here. Here’s hoping you like it as much as Jay Rayner et al did.


If you do try the recipe, don’t feel the presentation has to be fine-dining: it can easily serve as a hearty lunch or supper for a hungry mob – a big pile of cous cous topped with pink lamb and glazed carrots then smothered with a sticky lamb gravy. A nice twist on an Easter classic.

If you’ve still not had your MasterChef fill, there is also an interview with the three finalists in today’s Express.

The final starts tomorrow at 9pm on BBC1 with the most incredible on-location challenge that the show has ever featured: cooking breakfast al fresco battling 40 degree heat in a 500 year old mountain top castle. In Rajasthan, India. Oh, and we cook for some royalty, too. Don’t miss it.



(Shameless self-promotion alert. Hey, I don’t get on TV very often so I’m making the most of it)

Ahead of tonight’s semi-final, here’s a little interview with me talking about food, cooking and John and Gregg.

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If you would care to relive what has become known as the ‘WI Debacle’ then it’s available on iPlayer. If you’d prefer to sit tight and wait for the next instalment it’s on BBC1 tonight (1st April) at 8:30pm.

Oh, and have a decadent decadently long weekend x

Note: It seems that the video is too large for my little blog and is spilling over onto the sidebar. I don't know how to fix this. If you'd prefer to watch it without bits of text covering it, you can see it here instead

Celebration Steak


As weeks go, the last seven days have been quite surreal.There’s not much that can prepare you for making your debut on national television. It’s a little like getting onto a rollercoaster in the dark with no clue as to how the ride will pan out.Thankfully, there have been no major hiccoughs. The heats and quarterfinals have been safely navigated and I’ve come out the other side as a MasterChef semi-finalist. It’s truly wonderful to be able to write those words.The response has also been fantastic and genuinely heart warming. Thank you to everyone who has phoned, written, texted, emailed, tweeted or shouted across a car park. Thanks even to the person who suggested I might be Chris Martin and Stephen Merchant’s offspring (but only because you’re a Radio 1 DJ).But my favourite response has been this:It was quite a surprise when we pulled up in the car park at the butcher/farm shop/deli/food nerd’s nirvana that I go to and saw that sign, usually reserved for far more important matters like proclaiming the arrival of the season’s first rhubarb or new potatoes.We were there to pick up a meal worthy of a celebration - and to my mind few things shout ‘hooray’ better than a whopping great steak. Whilst individual pieces are all well and good, practicality, economy and taste favour a shared piece of beef, especially if cooked rare and sliced tableside.A hearty single rib (côte de boeuf if you wish to get all Gallic about it) from a Red Poll raised a mere four miles away was ideal. Aged just over four weeks the meat was dark red and looked tender enough to eat as was. Instead it was liberally seasoned, vacuum packed and submerged in a water bath to bob around merrily for a couple of hours at 52 degrees.The logistics of the operation presented some slight problems: on realising that my largest pan was not big enough the bone had to be trimmed away and the rib-eye seared on both sides for about five minutes in order to put a tasty crust on the outside.It was served with chips, an artery-clogging amount of béarnaise sauce and a heap of steamed broccoli as a concession to health - although once dipped into the rich buttery sauce the beneficial effects were possibly negated.After waiting two and a half hours for a steak there was little that could have prevented us from falling on it like a pack of wolves hence the distinct lack of well composed, perfectly lit photographs.In this case the lack of picture says a thousand words.* * *The MasterChef quarter final can be found here, on the BBC iPlayer and the first of the semi finals will be broadcast on BBC1 on Friday 26th March at 7:30pm.And I'm also on Twitter.[...]

'Is that Alex from Just Cook It on Masterchef?'


Oh crikey. I’ve made it through to the quarter final of Masterchef UK.If you’d like to see my television-based adventures so far (and you’re based in the UK) it is available on the rather brilliant BBC iPlayer.Dear regulars: you have no idea how hard it’s been to keep this secret. Thank you hugely for your continued visits and your funny, insightful and inspirational comments over the past couple of years.And for any newcomers: hello. Welcome to my little blog, Just Cook It – pull up a chair and have an explore. To give you an idea of the sort of thing I do, here’s a small selection of some of my favourite posts to get you started:MainsFive hour steakBeef short ribsMomufuku style steamed pork buns Deep fried pig’s brain Dessert Lemon and chilli pepper tartWhipped Chocolate mousseInstant sponge pudding Misc. tastinessPork PieEccles CakesHot DogsPork ScratchingsNew posts may be sporadic over the next few days but if you’re feeling starved, I can be found on twitter at @justcookit. Hope to hear from you soon.More madness to follow shortly - the Masterchef Quarter Final is on Monday 22nd March at 8:30pm on BBC1.[...]

Beef & Stout Pie


The transformation of ‘stew’ to ‘pie’ by the simple addition of a pastry case or lid is a great one.Although little more than starchy filler, hiding slow cooked meat within the confines of a flour and fat housing does wondrous things to the contents. Wondrous, magical things.A cheap staple food with a lengthy and sometimes less than illustrious history, the pie has undergone a renaissance of late. Artisanal and gourmet offerings now jostle for space alongside mass produced efforts with less than stellar provenance. The pie is becoming a shining beacon of all that is great about British food. Hearty, wholesome and delicious. Food we should rightly be proud of.The most satisfying of pies, though, are the ones that you nurture yourself. A tender, slow cooked meaty filling and a suet exterior that manages to be both crunchy and yielding at once. A barely audible crack as the pastry gives to the pressure of cutlery and a waft of richly scented steam as the contents spill out onto the plate.‘Double carbing’ is a point of contention. In most cases desire trumps sensibility and a mound of buttery mash will be on hand to capture the gravy. If not then a couple of slices of bread, generously spread with butter, will be needed to mop up the overflow. Once you’ve gone for pie, you may as well ignore the guilt.The best meat for cramming into pastry is a cut that needs slow cooking. Chuck steak, brisket, oxtail or short ribs are all ideal but shin probably tops the list.Beef shin, onion and mushroom pieHalf a kilo of boneless shin should be enough for four people and definitely won’t break the bank. Expect to pay no more than 3 or 4 quid.500g boneless beef shin, cut into chunks6-8 small onions, each about the size of a ping pong ballHalf a handful of dried mixed mushrooms – porcini and shiitake are idealA tablespoon of tomato pureeA couple of bay leaves and two sprigs of thymeA can of stout – Guiness or Murphy’s are both good500ml of stock, either dark chicken or beefAs many button mushrooms as you want, cut into quartersSalt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce for seasoningYou will also need a favoured pastry recipe.Peel and quarter the onions trying to leave the root end vaguely in tact.Toss the beef in seasoned flour and brown in oil over a high heat, in batches if necessary so you don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain the meat on a couple of sheets of kitchen roll and brown the onions in the pan for a couple of minutes. Return the meat to the pot, add the tomato puree and cook for a couple of minutes before pouring in the stout and stock.Poke the herbs and dried mushrooms into the liquid, cover with a cartouche and cook in a very low oven for 4-5 hours. Add the button mushrooms and cook for a further hour then remove from the oven and leave to cool whilst you make the pastry.Line a large pie dish or a series of individual ones with the pastry, spoon as much of the beef and mushroom filling in as you can then top with more pastry. Brush with egg, poke a little hole in the top and cook for 35-40 minutes at 160-180 degrees centigrade.Serve with peas and either mashed potato, bread and butter or both and a sticky onion gravy if you’re craving extra richness.For more meaty chunks, follow me on Twitter[...]

Beef Cheek Ragu



Beef cheeks can be a little hard to find. Legislation passed in the wake of the BSE scare of the mid 1990s meant they were completely off menu for quite some time and even now a quiet word in your butcher’s ear will likely be necessary to score the bounty.

A general rule of meat cookery runs thus – the more work it does, the longer it cooks. A beef cheek is probably the natural end point of the scale. There aren’t many calories in grass so – being a ruminant – a cow has to get through an awful lot before it feels full and it’s all got to be chewed. At least twice. That’s a lot of work.

The upshot of this is a supremely tasty fist-sized nugget of meat that can be braised in red wine and stock until it’s ready to be balanced on a heap of mashed potato and covered in a rich sauce. The slightest prod with the tines of a fork should have it collapsing into tender meaty strands.

It also makes a staggeringly good and achingly rich ragu. Done this way, two cheeks should be enough for four people.


Trim any excess fat or sinew from the meat, cut into chunks, season with salt and pepper and brown in hot fat in a casserole. Deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar then sweat down some finely diced carrot, celery and onion in olive oil.

Return the meat to the pan with the vegetables, add a large glass of red wine and a carton of passata and cover with a cartouche. Braise the whole lot in a very low oven for six hours by which point the volume of liquid will have halved and the meat should be falling into the sauce.

Serve stirred into pasta and be ready to pledge not to use minced beef again.


Boiled Tongue


As far as titles go, the above is probably about as enticing as ‘How to Par-tay the Mormon Way’ but bear with me on this one. Please. Granted, taken in turn neither of the two words is particularly exciting and together they create some sort of force field that for many will result in the gag reflex kicking in with gusto. Admittedly even I approached this one with a small amount of trepidation. Like a badly executed kiss, it started with a tongue. A great big flapping, fresh, wet, grey, spikey tongue. Curled up on the chopping board it resembled some sort of Mephistophelean re-imagining of an evil pet, like a prop from an early David Cronenberg film. Its size, its weight, its appearance, its texture – everything conspired against it becoming a foodstuff were it not for the good reports I’d had regarding its utter brilliance when cooked. Although technically offal, there is no reason why tongue should provoke such revulsion. It is muscle in the same way topside or fillet steak is muscle. However, due to the amount of work it does – daily tearing kilos of fresh grass from the earth – it needs some serious cooking. To stop it from drying out it also needs brining. I gave it 5 days but if you’re tempted to try this at home (please do) I’d let it spend at least a week in the brine bucket, possibly even ten days. To stop it being overly salty it went into fresh water for 24 hours before being slung into the stock pot along with the usual suspects – carrot, celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns and a couple of bay leafs. Four hours at the merest quivering simmer was enough to cook it through. I’d been reliably informed (thank you once again Fergus Henderson) that tongue is easier to peel (!) when still warm. Even so, a sharp knife was necessary and the process was more of a paring than a peeling. Although not a pleasant process by the time the tough barbed outer skin was removed what sat in front of me was recognisably meat that looked at least as good as a slab of tasty salt beef. Which is exactly what it was. Assuming that it would be best fresh from the cooking pot and still warm, it was thinly sliced and crammed into a bagel along with a generous slick of mayonnaise, a handful of rocket and some sliced pickles. The whole lot was topped, inevitably, with the lurid yellow mustard so reminiscent of New York’s finest culinary offerings. By now any feelings of trepidation had long since evaporated and the first bite was an adventurously large one. It was delicious. It’s as simple as that. Perhaps made even more so by the timidity with which it approached. ‘Under promise and over deliver’ seems to be the mantra of marketing. If so, tongue is the marketer’s dream. Don’t be surprised if it joins cheeks, shanks and trotters in the ‘forgotten cuts’ section of supermarket. Now that will set tongues wagging.[...]

(Almost) Instant Sponge Pudding


Meals don’t feel complete without at least a morsel of sweetness to round them off. Most of the time a square of dark chocolate or scoop of ice cream is enough to satisfy but sometimes the cravings require something with a bit more substance.Inevitably these desires are strongest when the cupboards and freezer are bereft of anything sugar based. Yes, one could turn to the fruit bowl but a pear or apple isn’t fun – it has no air of decadence or whiff of naughtiness and thus little ability to satisfy.It was this combination of empty shelves and niggling desire for sweetness that led to the creation of insta-pud: a hearty late winter warmer that expanded the stomach, delighted the senses and induced a state of near comatose happiness soon after finishing the last mouthful.As far as sponge puddings go, it won’t win any awards. It certainly doesn’t have the artery clogging density of a steamed suet based effort or the deft lightness of a well worked cake. But what it lacks in technique, it more than makes up for in brevity.From raw ingredients to finished product it takes no more than five measly minutes. Just enough time to whip up some Bird’s custard, in fact. Perhaps not quite instant in the truest sense of the word but, hey, it’s all relative.Microwaved Jam Sponge PuddingOf course you could replicate this with countless other flavours – golden syrup, lemon, ginger, chocolate – but for a little whiff of summer, raspberries take some beating.Size wise, this is easily large enough for two. Unless you’re feeling particularly greedy.50g butter50g self raising flour50g caster sugar1 egg, beatenSome jam (only you know how much jam you like. For me it has to run down the sides like rivers of scorching lava)Use a spoon to mix the butter and sugar together. Add the flour then the beaten egg. Stir to combine. Spoon the jam into the bottom of a microwavable container then pour the sponge mixture over the top. Microwave on medium power for 3-4 minutes until the top of the sponge is set in the middle. Go easy, if you do it too long you’ll end up with something that bounces.Serve with custard and an episode of Arrested Development then lapse into a carb induced coma.On the subject of cake, you should watch this – a neat little short that documents the British love affair with afternoon tea. Suggestions and recipes for favourite cakes are encouraged, especially if they can be made in an advert break.For more near instant gratification, why not head on over to Twitter?[...]

Steamed Quick Duck Confit


Confit is one of France’s finest gifts to humanity. Tough pieces of meat cooked long and slow in a thick jacuzzi of fat until it is meltingly tender and supremely tasty? Hand it over. Immediately.Traditionally a method of preservation, the meat would sit quite happily in its fatty suspension for months on end – the surrounding lard preventing bacteria from scuttling in and spoiling the delicious meat within.Not the most practical thing to do at home, especially in small quantities, confit duck is something I eat only rarely which is why I was intrigued by an alternative method discussed over port and candied fish.Not only does it require a fraction of the amount of fat but reportedly yields results on a par with the traditional method. Some even go so far as to say superior. Everything that is good about confit in a neat domestic kitchen friendly method. A challenge too tempting to pass over.Quick Duck ConfitBuy a whole duck. Seriously. Don’t bother faffing about with legs and breasts. Just buy the entire bird and get busy with a sharp knife. It’s much cheaper and you can then render your own fat from the leftover bits and bobs.[Steamed bum-plings, anyone? Dim Bum?]Sprinkle the legs with a little salt then put them in a steamer over a pan of water into which you’ve dropped some aromatics – cinnamon, star anise, chillies, peppercorns. Whatever takes your fancy. Bring to the boil and steam gently for 50-60 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool.Bag the legs and refrigerate them for at least 12 hours. Freeze them if necessary but they should keep for 3-4 days in the fridge.When you’re feeling peckish liberally spread a teaspoon or so of duck fat over the legs , sprinkle with a little salt and roast for 8-10 minutes. If you want crispy skin – and I can only assume you really do – then pop them under the grill for two minutes each side.The results? Crispy, salty skin. Sweet, juicy tender meat. The merest hint of warmth from the spices. As close to food nirvana as it is possible to get. Whatever your menu plans tonight, change them immediately and do this. You won’t regret it.More tasty titbits can be found on Twitter[...]

Japanese Sugar Coated Fish


You read that right. There are no typos or Monday induced mistakes. These really are candied fish.Despite proclivities to slam two disparate ingredients together in new and interesting ways, this was not one I dreamt up. A tart made with lemon and chilli, perhaps. Tiny shrimp, needlefish and whitebait dried then dipped in sugar syrup? Not one from my brain, nor even from this country.Japanese through and through, these were brought over by a friend currently plying his trade in Tokyo. ‘They’re good,’ he reassured me before suffixing it with ‘if they are what I think they are.’Three, four, five bottles of something down and drawing close to 3am, happy on port and still full of steak, the box was opened.Expecting a dock-like stench, aching under the niff of a thousand trawler decks each with rotting nets, it was a pleasant surprise to find the odour was subtle. Faintly fishy, of course, but no more.There were tiny pink commas of shrimp, near translucent they were so small. Next to them skewers of larger fish, threaded onto cocktail sticks in order of size. Brown and grey needlefish were piled up in the centre of the tray and another hierarchy, this time of prawns, completed the set.Everything was glossy, shining under a neat coating of lightly caramelised sugar like Poseidon’s homage to St. Valentine. A cross-cultural melding of something possibly lost in translation.Knowing the largest fish were the inevitable dénouement of this whole episode, itself threatening to turn into an exercise in extreme eating machismo, we began with the smallest offerings – the tiny needlefish and the small pink shrimp.The flavour was oddly pleasant. Texturally there was a little crunch, the whole shellfish offering a bite of resistance before yielding and giving up their sweet-savoury contents.There was an unmistakable flavour of the sea, slightly fermented with the pungent intensity that only comes from preserved specimens but it was neatly countered by the caramel exterior.Finding our stride we went back for more gathering pace and gusto with each mouthful until we ended with the largest complete fishes clamped between chopsticks. Heads, tails and guts in they went to be chewed up and chewed over. Savoured and swallowed. Sweet, bitter, salty – was this the elusive umami flavour neatly captured in a single morsel?We didn’t finish the entire tray. It remains in the fridge but not for reasons of disgust. On the contrary – they were very pleasant indeed and would make the ideal companion to a few chilled beers and a bowl of steaming, salty edamame beans. I’m just waiting for the right occasion.[...]

Sourdough for Dummies


There is an air of mystique surrounding the making of sourdough bread.Any fool can knock together a simple loaf using bought yeast cultures but it takes a special type of fool to attempt catching and nurturing these teeny organisms then harnessing their unique power to create a loaf of bread.Sourdough appeals due to its infinite variety: the special combination of flavours, textures and smells that results from the singular terroir of an area. As pretentious as that sounds its true – the airborne yeast cultures, the flour and the water are all unique. Sourdough bread made in Paris will be noticeably different to one made in San Francisco.Previous efforts have invariably resulted in failure. Flat, puddle like breads that spread out over trays like an overly ripe cheese. Bitter tasting efforts with dense centres more suitable for constructing buildings than contributing to breakfast.But, by Jove, I think I’ve cracked it.After two days relentless study and nearly a month of stirring, waiting, mixing, kneading, waiting and baking here is a completely foolproof, day-by-day guide to making that most magical of breads.Sourdough BreadThis is undoubtedly slow food. But it’s certainly worth the effort.Sourdough is made in three stages: first you create a starter dough. The starter dough is then used to make a sponge and the sponge used to make a loaf with a little held back as the next starter.Beautifully and simply cyclical.All you need to do is remember the following ratios:50:5060:4070:30That is to say, the starter should be half flour and half water. The sponge 60% flour and 40% water and the final loaf around 70% flour to 30% water.Other than that the only ingredient is salt.Salt performs two functions. Firstly it adds flavour to the bread but more importantly it inhibits the growth of bacteria which can quickly spoil a starter dough.You’ll also need a largish jar with a lid.Day One – mix together equal parts of white bread flour and water. Stir and pour into the jar. Leave the lid off for a few hours then loosely close it. Let it stand overnight in a warm place – between 16 and 18°CDay Two – Pour off half the mixture and discard. Stir in equal parts flour and water, a little salt, close the lid and leave in the fridge. Why? Bacteria struggle to multiply at lower temperatures whereas yeasts flourish.Day Three – repeat as day two but add some rye flour to the mix. Rye flour is high in natural yeast cultures. The mix should be bubbling away now and giving off a slightly acidic smell. This is good. If you fancy speeding up the process, leave the jar out of the fridge for a few hours to accelerate the fermentation.Days Four, Five and Six – Repeat as above.Day Seven – After a week your starter dough should be nicely fermented with a healthy ‘sour’ niff. It might even smell faintly boozy. Give it a stir then tip into a mixing bowl to make the sponge. Add flour and water to a ratio of 60:40 (go for about 180g flour – a mixture of white, wheat and rye if you wish – and 120g water) and a sprinkle of salt. Stir well and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 12-24 hours.Day Eight – Pour half the sponge back into your (now clean) starter jar, stir in a 50:50 mix of flour and water and pop it back into the fridge. This only needs refreshing once every few days now.Add flour and water in a ratio of roughly 70:30 (for a large loaf or two small ones you will probably need 420g flou[...]

Lemon and Chilli Tart


Lemon tart is the dessert for people who don’t do desserts.There is a neat dichotomy in the world. For some the very word ‘gateaux’ is enough to bring on excitement bordering on the erotic.The prospect of a delicately crafted assiette complete with tuiles, spun sugar sculptures of the Sydney Opera House and eight hundred garnishes can weaken the knees and moisten the brow.For dessert fans, the starter and main course are but palate readiers for the sweet treats to follow be they frozen, baked, chilled, fried or covered in chocolate. In many cases all of the above.Pud-heads pay homage to the goddess of sugar, offer sacrifices to the sprits of the saccharine and prostrate themselves at the altar of pastry. And then there are those like my dad. The dessert menu is briefly perused before being dismissed with a request to move directly to coffee. Do not pass Gü. Do not put on two hundred pounds.Indeed, the word ‘meh’ could have been coined for this very situation.But the one exception that proves the rule is the lemon tart. It is the non-pudding lovers’ pudding. The sweet richness of the filling is tempered by the bracing acidity of the citrus fruit and despite the vast quantities of butter, sugar and eggs needed to make most incarnations, it is a surprisingly light end to a meal.A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the Cambridge Chilli Farm. Amongst their many artisanal products is the intriguing Lemon Drop Sauce made with aji lemon chillies. It was recommended as an addition to seafood or chicken but by that point the cogs of invention were chugging into place.I’ve long been fascinated with the Thai approach to flavour balance – the careful interplay between the sour, the spicy, the sweet and the salty is a great basis for a culinary philosophy and I wondered if it would work with desserts too.This presented the ideal opportunity to try.After consulting innumerable sources (none of which had a recipe for lemon tart flavoured with chilli) I created the following recipe combining elements of Larousse, Stephane Renaud and the Almighty himself, Mr Thomas Keller.It is by no means a classic lemon tart – the filling cooked over a bain marie, hollandaise style, before being poured into the prebaked tart casing. But the resultant dish is a thing of beauty. The balance between sweet and sour, so essential for a lemon tart, is there but the chilli brings something new. The heat comes late and readies the palate for the next mouthful making each bite as tasty and as satisfying as the first.But from what I can tell it is a genuine original. Would you look at that? I think I’ve created a signature dish.Lemon and Aji Lemon Chilli TartThis uses a basic pâte sablée or sweet short crust for the pastry case. Feel free to pep it up with some grated lemon zest or even a smidgeon of dried chilli flakes.250g plain flour125g butter, at room tempterature70g caster sugar1 eggBeat the butter and egg together until light and fluffy then add the sugar. Sift in the flour and use your hands to make a dough. Try to handle it as little as possible, just incorporate the flour then wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least half an hour.Once chilled roll out the pastry – I find it helpful to do so between two sheets of greaseproof paper – to a thickness of about half a centimetre and line a loose bottomed tart case with it. Press the pastry into the corners (corners? [...]