30 August 2014

Breaking News on Fastest Cake in the World!

Q.   What’s the fastest cake in the World?
A.   Scone

I’m afraid I haven’t posted anything for over two weeks the reason being that I have been busy eating scones.  Life’s never easy, is it?

I am writing another book, the fourth in an occasional series, on useful key recipes. The first three are:   

~  a really easy faff free no churn way to make wonderful dairy ice cream,

~  a small companion book to the above on sorbets and granitas

~  as it says on the cover; (almost) the only soup recipe you will ever need. Honestly!

See my Author's Page on Amazon for more info and links to look inside.

Each book in the series gives one simple key recipe, lots of recipes based on that key recipe including some surprising ones, helpful information and tips plus extra recipes for additions and accoutrements. Oh – and a few jokes, anecdotes and asides. The idea is once readers have the key recipe in their brain or other safe place (Kindle?) they will go on to start creating their own dishes.

This new book is about one very simple, very useful dough (basically a scone dough) which is so flexible that really I imagine one could manage with very little else in the dough department. There are a really surprisingly large variety of scrumptious things that can be made from the key recipe, in fact I have to keep delaying publishing the bugger whilst I test out more ideas!

What a problem, eh?  Just look at what I’ve been up against in the past few days.

I’ve been testing:

Sweet Scones ...

... and Cheese Scones,

Glazes and Toppings,

Griddle Cakes

 ... and Regional Variations

But that is just a start, there are so many delicious possibilities with this simple recipe.

Hopefully I’ll stop coming up with good ideas soon and get this thing uploaded to Kindle. In the meantime if you’d like to go here you can ...

~   Download a free copy of "219 Cooking Tips &Techniques you might find useful"
~   Sign up if you like, it’s not compulsory, for Sudden Lunch to be delivered straight to your inbox.

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In other news:

~   I was very surprised to read my name in an article about Antony Worrall Thompson, no less, and excellent Holy Lama Spice Drops – turns out I am "well known"! 

~   We had a primrose in flower last week – does this augur the end of the World do you think?

Sorry about the poor quality of the photo – I was startled!

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11 August 2014

Have your Cook’s Treat firmly in mind before you start cooking.

Despite having been aware of the fact, for over half a century, that one day I would become 60 I am still surprised that last Saturday it actually happened! So far I feel just the same ... or do I? 

I just had what may be considered a senior moment! Last night I made a lovely Dark Chocolate Caramel Sauce  to go with homemade double vanilla ice cream (it’s easy peasy and in the book) and homemade choc-chip cookies.

Only seconds after putting the dirty sauce pan in the washing up water this morning I remembered what I should have done with it! Because of the caramel element this leftover sauce sticks quite hard to the pan so the correct way to deal with this is thus ...  

~   Add water (enough to fill your favourite mug or cup and no more) to the chocolatey pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve all the loveliness.
~   Make a cup of coffee with the chocky-water.
~   Sit down, relax, sip and grin.

What a dickhead I am!  This prompts me, however, to remind my readers how very important it is to have your Cook’s Treat firmly in mind before you start cooking.  

If you are unsure exactly what constitutes a Cook’s Treat well, according to Wikipedia, it is 

“ ...a portion of the prepared ingredients not served as part of a dish, but which is nevertheless tasty and enjoyable and may be eaten by the cook.”

Some Cook’s Treat Suggestions

~   Obviously scraping the bowl is a time honoured cook’s treat but have you thought of extending this to the food processor (which, incidentally, I advise you to turn off first)? If I make hummus I wipe out the processor bowl with a piece of good bread and eat it, if I make vinaigrette (see here for lots of ideas) I wipe out the bowl with a piece of lettuce and eat it. And so on.
~   Also obvious is the “checking for quality” of random pieces of fruit as you prepare it.
~   Similar to the above I always (so far, I hope I don’t start forgetting) bake a small tester when making scones, for instance, or cookies. I’m just being greedy assiduous.
~   When starting a new, crusty, delicious loaf it’s quite likely, especially if you concentrate, that the first slice or so will be too small to make a sandwich or toast or it may be that you just have a few crusts over.  Either way dip them into some good olive oil and enjoy yourself.

~   Pastry scraps can be used to make all sorts of treats – see here for lots of ideas and here  for Brown Sugar Doo Dahs which make a pleasant treat for one.

~   Not enough batter left to make a final pancake?  Well fry some rags for yourself and drizzle with maple syrup.

~   Chicken Oysters – these are the two little pieces of delicious sweet tender dark meat that you’ll find either side of a whole chicken's backbone. Whilst the chicken is resting and you are waiting for the veggies to be ready scoop these out and eat them unobtrusively over the sink – they might cause you to dribble.  (If you’d like to save the oysters for yourself when cutting up a raw chicken there is some useful info here and remember that other roasted birds have oysters too, of course. 
~   Whilst on the subject of chickens you might as well have the liver for yourself too!  They contribute nothing other than bitterness to any giblet stock you might be making and on the other hand they contribute a great deal to toast, butter and brandy.

     Chicken Liver(s) on Toast

       ~   Remove the liver from the giblet bag and trim it of any stringy and/or greenish bits.
       ~   Sauté the good bits in a little butter and when turning brown but still a bit squidgy add a
            spoonful of brandy (away from the flame), a good grind of black pepper and a little salt
            and turn your liver in it, so to speak.
       ~   Mash onto a sippet of toast.

~   Chickens again – whilst serving the dinner pop a few scraps of chicken skin back into the oven to crisp up and tease your appetite with them before joining your guests at the table.
~   When slicing cheese it is often a good idea (and is actually de rigueur in the case of Cornish Crackler) to eat any crumbs that fall off accompanied by a sip or two of “chef’s coffee”.

~   Related to the above – you have probably been asked to taste the wine when dining out, don’t you owe it to your guests that you also taste a little before serving it to them?
~   Crispy bacon crumbs should always be eaten by the cook either just as they are or sprinkled onto something accommodating such as ice cream with a drizzle of maple syrup.
~   A spare anchovy is surprisingly good crushed onto hot toast and topped with ... clotted cream!  Ta da!!!
~   Leftover gravy is great finished up by dipping bread into it. 
~   Leftover stew is good on toast even if it’s just the scrapings left on the bottom of the pan.
~   Chocolate – this is taken directly from my book "The Leftovers Handbook"

Although I have given what I believe to be the most commonly held definition of Cook’s Treat Urban Dictionary gives this alternative ...

“Street name for coke used by senior chefs.”

... and I don’t think they are talking the sugar loaded fizzy drink!  I have oft been a senior chef but never took coke in either form and I don’t blame me!


Please click on the links below ...

~   Have your Cook’s Treat firmly in mind before you start cooking.
~   Cook’s Treat Suggestions ~ do you have any more ideas?
~   A spare anchovy is surprisingly good crushed onto hot toast and topped with ... ?

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3 August 2014

How to Cope with an Abundance of Sage!

Last night my excellent neighbour Julie gave me a bunch of sage from her garden, and when I say a bunch I really mean A BUNCH! 

The house smells wonderful!

After admiring and sniffing for a while I decided to put some aside for later so I froze a batch in oil, have some drying and made sage butter.

To dry herbs

In the case of sage this may also keep evil spirits away from the house – certainly burning sage leaves does!

~   Remove all damaged leaves and make sure the leaves and stalks are completely dry.
~   Assemble a few small branches of your herb and tie together.
~   Poke a few holes in a large brown paper bag and insert the bundle of sage, leaves first.
~   Gather the bag opening around the stems and tie shut making sure to leave the sage plenty of room in the bag.
~   Hang upside down somewhere nice and airy.
~   They should take about 2 weeks to dry but keep an eye on them.
~   When fully dried out store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.
~   Keep them whole dill needed then crush – this way they will release the most flavour.

1 teaspoon of crumbled dried herbs is about the same as 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs.

As you can see I’m doing a bit of lavender too.

To freeze herbs

There are several ways to freeze herbs, which are ...

~   Stuff them into a freezer bag till well packed and squeeze out as much air as humanly possible. Freeze.
~   Coarsely chop or keep small leaves whole, divide between hollows in an ice cube tray and top up with your choice of water, stock or olive oil.  This works really well as once frozen the cubes can be decanted into a freezer bag and then you can add a cube here and a cube there as needed.  I didn’t do this with mine, this time, however as I didn’t want to contaminate the freezer with lots of sage flavoured ice cubes – my real man might object. 
~   Purée torn leaves with twice their volume of olive oil and then freeze in an airtight container. The beauty of this method is that the purée doesn’t freeze very hard so you can actually scrape out what you want. 

Herb Butter

I have written a lot before about compound butters, see here and use sage!

Two other way to save sage for later ...

Sage Vinegar

Put clean sage leaves in a sterilised jam jar, enough to loosely fill it. Add enough cider vinegar to fill the jar then put on the lid.  Keep for 2-3 weeks before using but do give it shake every now and then.  This, of course, makes great vinaigrette or marinade for porky items – see here for info. http://suddenlunch.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/how-to-make-vinaigrette.html

Sage Honey

Same as above but using runny honey!  This is very good brushed on pork, ham and bacony things or drizzled over cheese.  See here for lovely Honeyed Stilton on Toast

This left me with ...

So here are lots of ideas (I’m going to need lots) for using sage.

Quick ideas, links and recipes

~   Add a little chopped fresh sage to cheese scones.
~   Sage leaves either as naked as the day they were born or dipped in a light batter and deep fried make a great crispy garnish.
~   Mashed potatoes - warm a little chopped sage in a tablespoon or so of melted butter and allow to steep for a few minutes before mashing into hot, freshly cooked potatoes.
~   As sage goes so very well with pork try mixing some in with minced pork and make pork burgers and bit of grated apple would go well in these too.
~   Toss chunks of parsnip and of apple in olive oil together with fresh sage, salt and pepper and roast to serve with pork.
~   White Bean and Fresh Sage Dip – information on bean dips her– use  cannellini beans, fresh sage and lemon juice or whatever combo you fancy!
~   Add sage to polenta, it works really well.  See here for howto make polenta, you’ll have to read down a bit for the recipe
~   Add a bit of fresh sage to egg dishes as in this chorizo, asparagus and sage scrambled eggs that I had for lunch yesterday.

~   Sage and Cheddar Cheese Straws – see here and add sage!  Did you guess? 
~   Make a dipping oil for good bread, or, related to this ...

Sage and Walnut Pesto

60g walnuts –preferably toasted for deeper flavour
2 cloves garlic
30g of fresh sage, coarsely chopped
30g fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
60ml cup olive oil
30g grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

~   Coarsely chop the garlic and walnuts in a food processor.
~   Add the herbs and chop in with the nuts and garlic.
~   Gradually process in the olive oil.
~   Stir in the cheese then taste and season.

This can also be made with a pestle and mortar which results in a more rustic and very pleasant variation.  Toss with hot pasta or add to sauces, cheese on toast, sandwiches, dressings etc.

~   Sage goes brilliantly with squash so add some when roasting or top butternut soup with a drizzle of sage pesto or a little sage butter.

This soup, which I've just eaten, was made using my key recipe which I explain all about in “Soup (almost) the Only Recipe You’ll Ever Need" which gives 50 delicious soup recipes, instructions for stock making, guidance on adding herbs, spices and other flavourings plus additional recipes for roasted garlic, pepper coulis, frazzled leeks, compound butters and other garnishes and accoutrements.  

Sage and Onion Stuffing

Traditional Sage and Onion Stuffing probably springs to mind for most people at the mention of sage. I always make my own stuffing, sometimes with and sometimes without sage – here is a loose recipe or guideline.

~   Fry coarsely chopped onion together with your choice of carrot, celery and garlic in a little oil till starting to take colour. If adding raw meat eg. bacon or sausage do so now.
~   When it is turning golden in places add a handful or two of diced or torn dry bread and just enough hot stock to moisten it.
~   Add a knob of butter, cover and set aside for about 20 minutes.
~   Stir in the butter and make sure that the bread is thoroughly soaked through but not sitting in liquid. If it is drain it off.
~   Taste, season and add any cooked meats, herbs (time for the sage!) or spices.
~   Stuff into a bird, roll in a joint of meat or put in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with a little more butter and bake alongside the roast for the last 20 minutes or so of cooking. The top should be crisp and golden.

Brown Butter and Sage Sauce – serves 3-4

A simple but famous sauce which is excellent on pasta, gnocchi and especially butternut ravioli.  Make the sauce whilst the pasta, gnocchi or whatever is cooking.

60g butter
10 medium sage leaves – cut into shreds
juice of half a lemon
50g grated Parmesan

~   Melt the butter in a frying pan and then continue cooking over medium heat till it turns a golden brown.
~   Add the sage leaves and remove from heat.
~   Stir in the lemon juice and set aside till needed.
~   When the pasta is done add spoonful or two of the pasta cooking water to the butter sauce in the pan and then drain.
~   Reheat sauce, add the cheese and toss with the pasta, or whatever!

Apparently sage has many attributes healthwise but I’m not getting into them here other than to mention that apparently it was oft said in Roman times ...

"Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto?"
('Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?')


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26 July 2014

DON’t buy an ice cream maker ~ be one!

I've said it before and I’ll say it again; making ice cream is a useful way to use up leftovers and one of the leftovers that can be put to use is, tada ... leftover cream!

My real man, being a bit of a health freak, always has double cream for his breakfast, with his porridge or cereal, so I buy 600ml every week.  Well imagine my horror when putting away the new shopping I found that he hadn’t finished the last lot.  Slacker! So it being so gloriously summery I made Maple Syrup Ice Cream which is a piece of **** aka very easy.  It’s it also the first recipe in my book“100+ Luscious Ice Creams without a Machine – or much time or effort or having to mash the stuff as it freezes” which I have reduced for the summer to just £1.81.

Maple Syrup Ice Cream

You thought I’d start with vanilla, didn’t you?  Maple flavoured syrup, such as Lyle’s Maple Flavour Golden Syrup for instance, is even sweeter than pure – you will need a little less and your ice cream will not be quite so refined, my dear, but still very good indeed.

500ml double cream
200g condensed milk
120ml pure maple syrup OR 90ml artificial

~   Whip the cream till thick.
~   Fold in the condensed milk
~   Fold in the maple syrup.
~   Freeze.

I am very partial to salted roasted nuts especially pecans so when I have a bag of mixed nuts I always eat these separately and appreciatively.  For my serving of this ice cream I coarsely chopped the few pieces of pecan I could find and sprinkled them on top – divine combo!

Whilst making the ice cream I decided to have a bit of a play so separated off a little of the basic mix and divided it into two.  With the first half I made ...

Sautéed Peach and Brown Sugar Ice Cream – 2-3 people, can easily be doubled.

I absolutely love the little sweet white flat peaches, called Doughnut Peaches, available at this time of year. I have one every day for breakfast with Greek yogurt, nutty granola and a drizzle of honey - lucky me.  I did a small experimental batch of this ice cream, making it up as I went along, with half the mixture I had set aside. Here are the details, scaled up to be a real recipe ...

5 or 6 not too ripe doughnut peaches – coarsely chopped (no need to peel first)
30g butter
50g light brown sugar
a drip or two of vanilla extract
250ml double cream
100g condensed milk

~   Sauté the chopped peach in the butter till very tender and maybe starting to take a little colour.
~   Stir in the sugar and vanilla and stir all together till the sugar has melted.
~   Set aside to cool completely.
~   When cold whisk the cream till stiff.
~   Fold in the condensed milk and the cooked peaches plus all their juices.
~   Freeze.

With the second half I made ...

Preserved Lemon Ice Cream

I have a jar of Preserved Lemons in the fridge, thanks to Olives et Al – see here for all about them, I’m very impressed!  I recently had a lovely lunch of potato and sea bass salad with preserved lemon mayonnaise and that set me wondering how the lemons would be in ice cream, now was my chance!

I finely, finely chopped about a quarter of a tablespoon of the preserved lemon, folded it into the basic mixture and added a little vodka (I’m sure you understand!) as, in the absence of a sugary addition such as maple syrup a little alcohol helps a lot with the texture of ice cream (read more in my aforementioned book!).  For 250ml cream and 100g condensed milk I reckon 1 tablespoon of finely chopped preserved lemon and 20ml of vodka.

The resulting ice cream is utterly brilliant; sweet and lemony as heck with a very slight salty bite from the pieces of preserved lemon. This new recipe is a keeper for me.  

~ Savoury, Interesting & Peculiar ~

Perhaps because of July being National Ice Cream Month there has been a fair bit of talk on the net recently about unusual ice cream flavours so to simultaneously jump on the bandwagon and whet your appetite here’s a list of the unusual recipes in the appropriate chapter of “100+ Luscious Ice Creams without a Machine

Cracked Black Pepper Ice Cream
Strawberry Balsamic Ripple
Werther’s Original Crunch - and beyond?
Blue Cheese Ice Cream
Blue Cheese & Port Ripple
Blue Cheese and Baked Pear Ice Cream
Salty Liquorice Ice Cream
Popping Candy
Goats Cheese & Hazelnut Ice Cream
Roasted Beetroot and Chocolate Ice Cream
Smoky Bacon and (the aforementioned) Maple Syrup Ice Cream

To read more about this flexible key recipe for easy no machine (no faff, no eggs, no custard, no churn, no additives, no bother) ice cream go here and for pictures of some of the ice creams I have made using this recipe have a look at my appropriate Pinterest board here

"Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn't illegal."
Voltaire 1694-1778

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In Other News ...

I have just finished readingHow to Eat Out” by Giles Coren and I am jealous. I am jealous because I would love to write like that, with no thought as to whether I might offend someone.  As an example see above when I said that making Maple Syrup Ice Cream is a “piece of ****” (which it is) – well I wish I could have just typed “piss” (oops!) instead.  He is so real, down to earth and opinionated (opinions that often resonate with my own), is such a good writer and he always makes me laugh. I love it!  I recommend this book for your delectation.

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21 July 2014

10 (+ 2) Commandments of Cooking Well

A while ago I wrote about how important  it is to learn to cook for all sorts of good reasons; not least that once you can cook you can eat exactly what you fancy whenever you like.  See here for the other good reasons.

I realise, however, that whilst for some happy reason cooking comes naturally to me it is quite daunting to many people so to help with this I recently wrote a short ebook “219 Cooking Tips & Techniques you might find useful”.  Download this for Free (see how helpful I am!) here.  Although it's in pdf there is also a useful link to convert it to kindle.

12 Important Commandments ...

1.            1.   Learn to use a knife.

Get a good sized chef’s knife, 8” is just about perfect.  I very much favour the kind of knife known as Santoku but the traditional shape may work better for you. Once you are adept at using it prep time will really speed up.

To learn how to use a knife have look here or search on YouTube.  With enough practice (say 30 years) you will able, like me, to slice onions like this without looking!

Whilst on the subject, do keep your knives sharp because they are safer that way!  It may seem a strange thing to say but with a sharp knife little pressure is needed and there is much less risk of the knife slipping.  Furthermore good knife skills removes the need for all sorts of kitchen gadgets and knick knacks, many of which are more than adequately replaced by said sharp knives.

2.           2.   Use Real Food if humanly possible (which of course it is)!

Use fresh fruit and vegetables (except perhaps peas which are actually great from frozen) whenever possible and certainly not tinned green veg, fruit, mushrooms or potatoes. Tinned beans such as chickpeas, kidney beans etc. are fine and so are tomatoes although I prefer these in a tetrapack or whatever it’s called as I don’t fancy the thought of acidy tomatoes reacting with the lining of the can. That’s not a commandment, however, just a thought.

Avoid processed stuff such as the American sliced “cheese” that goes on burgers, use butter rather than margarine, make your own salad dressing (see here), don’t compromise on quality.

3.       3.   Read and Understand a Recipe Before you start cooking it.

I haven’t got much else to say about this – just do it!

4.          4.   Know your weights and measures.

Recipes may well be written using metric or imperial measurements or the American cup system.  If you are not familiar with the scale used then avail yourself of Google and look it up before you start or there are several useful links under the appropriately named Useful Foodie (and drinkie!) Links in the side bar. Maybe print off a set of conversion charts and keep them in the kitchen.

5.            5.   Prepare everything possible in advance. 

This is known in the trade as "mise en place" which is actually French for establishment. To us cheffy types this means having ready and easily to hand all the ingredients, ready prepared, that are needed to cook whatever is planned. This includes cut, sliced, chopped veggies, trimmed pieces of meat, ground spices, washed and chopped herbs, weighed and measured items and so on.  This then enables you to cook quickly and smoothly once started, without interruption.

6.            6.   Always rest meats before serving.

By this I mean roast, grilled and pan fried meats, not stews. The reason is that whilst resting the meat relaxes, becomes more tender and any juices that have fled to the middle of the meat to escape the harsh heat flow back into the relaxed protein and make it juicier.  Rest roasts for up to half an hour (loosely covered with foil), steaks and chops for 5 minutes or so in a warm place.

7.             7 .   Waste nothing. 

This is very close to my heart.  Even the smallest leftover, scrap or trimming can usually be turned into a garnish or cook’s treat or perhaps added to a freezer collection.   

I love cooking with leftovers, if I have a bit of that, a tad of that and a smidgen of wotsit I can usually come up with something worth eating – actually that is why I started this blog.  I've even written a book about it ~  “The Leftovers Handbook: A-Z of Every Ingredient in Your Kitchen with Inspirational Ideas for Using Them”

8.            8.   Experiment ~ don’t be afraid of flavour.

            At dinner with friends recently I was surprised and impressed to see our host, Tony, divide his coleslaw into seven small portions to each of which he added a little something; lime juice, hot sauce, a pinch of sugar, lots of black pepper, 2 things I can’t remember and Malibu rum!  Now that’s the way to learn – respect!

            I suggest you do the same or something similar, the more you cook and eat the more you will learn about what goes with what – play with your food!

9.            9.    Baking is a science – don’t experiment!

Successful baking relies on chemical reaction in the presence of heat and should not be messed with unless you are very confident.  Stick to recipes here – you can, of course, play with fillings, toppings and accompaniments.

10.   Taste before serving.

Season at the start of cooking (salt steaks and roasted meats before cooking, add salt to potatoes before boiling, add seasonings according to the recipe and so) on but make bloody sure to taste the finished dish at the end before serving.  This is, in fact, why so many recipes end with the instruction “taste and season”!

Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers.”
William Shakespeare

When at home I just bung my finger in the food and then lick it but in a professional kitchen or when cooking for others that is really, really not the way. To do the thing properly use a clean spoon each time you taste a dish OR 2 spoons; one for dipping, one for tasting OR drop a little of the food to be tasted onto the back of your hand and then lick it.  Then wash your hand.

Adjust the flavour to make you happy; maybe a little more salt or a touch of hot sauce, a pinch of sugar, a grind of black pepper or a squeeze of lemon.  Be guided by your palate.
                11.   Serve food attractively

Not only is this more pleasing but it actually stimulates the appetite. It's not necessary to arrange a plate to look like a Picasso but I am not averse to making sure the prettiest lettuce leaf is on top, cutting a nice shape or adding a suitable drizzle.

12.   Clean as you go. 

Um, I say this but, well ... do as I say not as I do! 

It is a good idea, especially in a small kitchen, to clean as you go so as to have a useable and pleasant working area.  I agree with this but, on the other hand, I tend to bung it all in my large sink and then wash up in the morning.  For me the evening meal marks the end of the day and the start of relaxation time and I have never, ever regretted leaving the washing up till morning.

Some or maybe even all of these suggestions are included in my aforementioned book “219 Cooking Tips & Techniques you might find useful” but that still leaves 207 other useful ideas so please feel free to download it here if you haven’t already!

I also have a Pinterest Board "Tips & Tricks" where I collect good ideas from around the web which might be of help. 

One final piece of advice

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Julia Child

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