29 December 2015

The best ways to cook eggs plus a daft one!

I am a bit confused.
I have never, in the UK, stored eggs in the fridge, they have always been absolutely fine and so far as I know this has always been the norm here, indeed chicken shaped baskets for storing eggs attractively on the counter are readily available.

In the States eggs are kept in the fridge and I understand that European and American eggs are treated so differently that our eggs would be illegal in the States and American eggs would actually be illegal anywhere in the EU. Read more on how to store eggs here if you don't believe me!

In America it is law that eggs be washed before being sold commercially, in the UK it is the law that they must not be washed!  The reasoning behind these different laws are thus ...

~   The Americans’ take on the issue is that washing eggs makes them cleaner, which in principal one can’t argue with. The downside is that after washing the eggs must be dried very thoroughly indeed as any dampness will promote bacterial growth. Furthermore, because their natural protection has been washed off eggs in America are stored in the fridge and there is the danger that eggs may sweat when removed from the fridge, especially on the journey home from the shop, and bacteria will grow.

~   In the UK we prefer not to wash our eggs for the above reasons, careless cleaning being more dangerous than no cleaning. Washing also removes the cuticle which protects from contamination, it is because we leave the cuticle on that we do not need to refrigerate eggs in the UK.

Another point in our favour is that since the 1990s our farmers have been routinely inoculating hens against salmonella and it’s really worked. In the US eggs are kept below 40oF to stop salmonella developing.

Why then, I ask myself, and you, does my box of eggs from Tesco have “best kept refrigerated” on it?


What a surprise, have things changed and no-one has told me? 

Apart from freeing up space in your fridge storing them un-chilled is a boon when cooking as for best results they should always be cooked from room temperature.

Speaking of eggs I just tried something interesting-ish ...

Hard “Boiled” Eggs in the Oven

~   Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325°F/140ºC fan/gas 3.
~   Put 1 whole raw egg in each individual cup in a muffin tray.
~   Bake for 30 minutes.
~   Immediately immerse in a large dish of ice cold water.
~   When completely cold (about 10 minutes) peel and do with them what you will.

When I saw this I wondered to myself “is this another of those daft hacks I’ve been seeing recently?” but tried it anyway.  And the answer to my question? 

In short – a definite yes; daft and pointless. In more detail ...

~   Preheating the oven and keeping it on for 30 minutes is time consuming and costly compared to just boiling the buggers. If you have the oven on already I suppose it might be economical but not many things cook at such a low temperature.
~   The egg whites were discoloured, their texture was rubbery and they tasted strongly metallic/sulphurous.
~   The yolks tasted fine but seemed to have migrated to one side of the egg so not good for pretty presentation.
~   I noticed a distinct and long lasting eggy pong about the house which is not the case when boiling.


Don’t try this at home – or anywhere else!

Why are such peculiar ideas becoming rife when there are easier, pleasanter, safer, quicker, deliciouser ways to do things?  For more irritating “cooking hacks” see here.   

Eggs are incredibly useful and versatile so  here’s some actually useful info, tips and opinions about the most usual ways of cooking them.

How to Boil Eggs

"Put fresh eggs into cold water and allow them to boil for the
duration of a Paternoster or a little longer"
Aldo Buzzi

A Paternoster is the Lord’s Prayer which, hang on a minute … took me 21.36 seconds of slow praying (I am always very thorough in my research for this blog) and, that being the case, I think Mr. Buzzi is very much in error. *** More information on this matter at the end of the post.

I do agree with him, however, that although eggs can be boiled by plunging them into boiling water it is easier to do them well from cold, like this ...

~   If you are in America bring your eggs to room temperature for two good reasons; they can be timed more accurately and they are less likely to crack.
~   Put them in a small pan and add enough cold water to cover by about 1cm/½".
~   Bring to a boil over high heat then turn down the heat and simmer for the following times.

Very soft boiled with a still runny white – 3 minutes

Soft boiled with a runny yolk but a set white– 4 minutes

Semi firm yolks – 5 minutes

Hard boiled with a tender yolk– 8 minutes.

Really hard boiled – 10 minutes

How to Scramble Eggs

I have never, ever whisked milk or cream into eggs for scrambling, they are perfect just cooked with butter.

It is absolutely essential than any intended additions or accompaniments are ready before you start scrambling.

~   Melt a generous knob of butter (about 15g/½oz) over medium heat in a small pan – non-stick preferably for washing up reasons.
~   Break two or three eggs directly into the partly melted butter and immediately stir the two together.
~   Season and stir constantly over a low-ish heat.
~   As the eggs start to solidify fold them into the uncooked egg till you have a pan of softly cooked eggs.
~   Immediately stir in a little more cold butter or some cream simply because this will stop the eggs continuing to cook, any added deliciousness is purely incidental.
~   Serve absolutely immediately.

Using a goodly amount of butter makes the eggs rich and creamy both in taste and texture.

How to Fry Eggs

To fry an egg ...

~   Heat a tablespoon of oil or equivalent in butter (the egg will be more tender if cooked in butter, more inclined to "puntillitas" or slightly crisp browned edges in oil) in the middle of a preheated non-stick or well-seasoned frying pan.
~   Gently break the egg into the centre of the oil
~   Cook over medium heat for about a minute till the white is actually white and then do one of the following:

~   For sunny side up either serve as is or briefly cover the pan with a lid so that the top of the yolk sets lightly in the steam.
~   For slightly more set yolks, when the white looks pretty well cooked splash the hot fat over the yolk till it assumes a glazed look.
~   For over easy carefully flip the egg yolk side down and cook for about five seconds.
~   Over hard are the same as above but cooked till the yolk is firm.

How to make an Omelette

Omelettes are not as difficult as we have been led to believe; in fact they are quite easy. This is how to make an omelette for one person and as you should always make an omelette for just one person this is all the info you need. For additional people make additional omelettes, they only take a minute or two and work out much better than trying to double up ingredients.

~   Break 2 or 3 eggs into a bowl.
~   Season and lightly beat together just to break the whites into the yolks, there is no need to whisk till fully amalgamated.
~   Melt a knob of butter in a 24cm or thereabouts non-stick pan.
~   When the butter has melted and starts to foam swirl it about the pan and pour in the eggs.
~   Allow to sit over the heat for a few seconds and when you see the edges start to solidify gently lift them with a spatula, tilt the pan towards the spatula and encourage the runny egg on top to flow to the side of the pan and under the cooked egg.
~   Keep doing this till the top of the omelette is merely moist.
~   Add any fillings and fold one half of the omelette over the other.
~   Slide onto a warm plate.

You can add pretty well anything to the middle of an omelette remembering to pre-warm most fillings first (not cheese) as it will only be over the heat for a few seconds. I like to add crunchy croutons for a lovely texture contrast.

How to Bake Eggs – real ones that are actually good to eat!

A simple way to bake eggs ...

~   Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/160ºC fan/gas 4.
~   Butter one ovenproof ramekin per egg and break said egg into the ramekin.
~   Season to taste.
~   Pour over a tablespoon of double cream.
~   Bake the egg(s) for 15-20 minutes till the white is set and the yolk isn’t.
~   Serve with crisp hot toast for dipping purposes.

You can bake eggs in other things too – eg. a tart case, half a avocado, a bacon lined muffin cup or, as here, in a tortilla lined ramekin.

In Other News …

~   I hope you had an absolutely gorgeous Christmas full of good food!

~   I’m updating my writer website – have a look here and see what you think.

On timing boiled eggs!

*** Some years ago a reader wrote to the Daily Telegraph as follows …

If you boil an egg while singing all five verses and chorus of the hymn, 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' it will be cooked perfectly when you come to Amen.

I think this may be a more reliable method than the Lord’s Prayer.

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6 December 2015

Christmas Food Quiz – with some Really Useful Answers!

Hello and I'm so sorry I haven't written for a while.  I've no idea why, I just seem to have been busy.  I am planning to write about parsnips soon – I know, fascinating – but in the meantime here is a little Christmas Quiz I devised. 

Questions ...

1.   Which alcoholic drink (a perfect accompaniment to Christmas pud, incidentally) may have formed a crust called beeswing?

2.   Moose Milk – which of these is NOT Moose Milk

a)  A hot rum drink
b)  Liquid that comes out of a mummy moose’s nipples
c)  Ice cream with rum and Kahlua

3   What can be added to brandy to make Christmas Pud burn even more spectacularly?

4.  Which fruit is sometimes known as bounceberry?

5.  In which classic 19th century book were a poor family served

"ice cream – actually two dishes of it, pink and white – and cake and fruit and distracting French bonbons"?

6.  What Christmas food should only be eaten between and including Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night? (Tell that to Tesco!)

7.   Which fruit will keep  Christmas cake moist if stored alongside the cake?

8.   Which spice is traditionally used to flavour Bread Sauce?

9.   What was formed into the shape of a “husband” and baked in the hope of attracting the real thing?

10.   Senior Wrangler Sauce is a traditional Christmas sauce at Cambridge University, is it …

a)      Bread Sauce
     b)     Cranberry Sauce
     c)      Brandy Butter
     d)     Custard

11.  Which traditional Christmas food can be traced back to a cookbook written in Roman times?

12.  The Old Norse phrase "ves heill" evolved into which tradition and beverage in Britain?

One Last Question ...

Here is another question, not particularly Christmassy but I really want to know.

What is it with Oreos?

When I lived abroad I tried these a couple of times and was unimpressed and now here they are in the UK when we have so many much better biscuits available.  In fact and American friend of mine who owns a supermarket, when visiting us was very, very impressed with our selection of biscuits (and lots of other things – butters, creams, cheese, jams etc.)

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19 November 2015

Christmas Cake Recipe for Stir Up Sunday and beyond!

I made our Christmas cake yesterday because my real man gets a bit anxious this time of year in case we don’t have enough tonnage of food for the two of us to eat!

This is the recipe I use which, by making adaptations to various recipes through the years, is apparently getting close to what my real man’s Mam used to make. Also it is delicious. 

Christmas Cake Recipe

This is for a 23cm (9”) round cake tin –probably easier to buy a new pan than try and calculate for smaller or larger cake tins!

1 kg mixed dried fruit (mine included cranberries which is extra Chritmassy)
120g glacé cherries – cut into quarters
4 tablespoons brandy

~   Mix all of the above together and leave overnight to soak.

The next day …

275g soft dark brown sugar
275g soft butter
275g plain flour
a very generous pinch of salt – maybe ½ teaspoon
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
60g ground almonds
5 large eggs
grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup
a generous amount of brown paper
a length of string

~   Preheat the oven to 140ºC/275°F/120ºC fan/gas 1.
~   Grease the 23cm cake tin, line with baking parchment and grease again.
~   Cut two long strips of brown paper sufficient to tie a band round the cake tin plus cut a circle of brown paper the size of the cake tin and cut 3cm hole in the middle.

how to cream together

~   In a large bowl cream together the sugar and butter until really fluffy and well combined.  Don’t stint on this.

~   In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt and mixed spice.  Then add the ground almonds.
~   In another bowl beat the eggs together.
~   Stir the zests and the golden syrup into the fruit and brandy mixture.
~   Gradually, a little at a time, whisk the beaten eggs into the creamed butter and it is a good idea to add just a spoonful or so of the flour mix at the same time – this will prevent curdling.
~   When fully combined fold in the rest of the flour mixture. When I say fold I mean fold in, not stir– see below.

how to make fruit cake

~   Now stir in the fruit and all its juices – I know it seems a lot, I am perturbed every year but it works.

lining a cake tin
~   Decant into your prepared cake tin, level the top and tie the bands of brown paper around the cake tin, place the piece of paper with a hole on top and then put it in the oven.

~   Make a cup of coffee (or tea I suppose) and scrape the bowl.  For this reason it is best to make this when your family is out.
~   The cake will take 4½ - 5 hours and ignore for at least 4 hours.  It is really when a cocktail stick or similar inserted into the centre comes out clean.
~   Cool for a little while in the pan then carefully remove and finish cooling on a rack.

Store the cake wrapped in parchment in an airtight tin and every now and then pour a spoonful of brandy into its bottom till Christmas.

How to "fold in"

Although it is difficult to explain an action in words, for those of you unsure of how to fold in I’m going to give it a try because it is important - you want to retain the air that has been whisked in and even to fold in a tad more.

Using a large metal spoon or a spatula cut across the middle of the mixture, slide the spoon or spatula under it to the edge of the bowl and fold that portion over the rest.

It’s quite easy to do, just hard to describe. Keep cutting and folding from different angles, rotating the bowl, till everything is merged together in a light and airy way.

In Other Related News ...

I have just published my Christmas book in paperback as well as the original ebook. In it I give 50+ (much easier and quicker than above!) recipes to make cooking for Christmas a doddle!   

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1 November 2015

It’s British Leek Season – Hurrah!

Did you know that today marks the start of the British leek season which runs all the way through to April?

Jolly good too because leeks are seriously one my favourite vegetables and not just in an accompaniment kind of a way.  For me leeks are a delicious and important main flavour in numerous dishes. I almost always have a leek about the place and I recommend you do the same!

To mark this auspicious occasion I have been asked to write a little about these delicious alliums together with one of my favourite recipes so do please read on.

Firstly and importantly leeks do tend to have a little grit and dirt between their leaves so here is a good way of washing them …

How to Prepare & Wash Leeks

Pin for future reference!

The easiest way, I find, is to  top and tail the leek, run a knife along its edge and remove and discard the out edge. Split the leek in half lengthwise and then slice crosswise.  Put into a large bowl with PLENTY of cold water so that the sliced leek floats. Swirl about a bit, let the water calm down and then carefully lift the leeks out so that the soil and grit, which has sunk to the bottom, stays in the bottom where it belongs. Do not strain them.

Secondly here is a great way of cooking leeks which makes them sweet and tender and concentrates their flavour.

A Great Way to Cook Leeks

~   Heat a knob of butter (or olive oil or bacon fat) in a saucepan with a lid and toss and separate the washed and drained leeks in the fat to coat.
~   Sprinkle with a little salt.
~   Press something appropriate (a piece of foil, a piece of baking parchment, greaseproof paper or a butter wrapper) directly onto the leeks to cover completely. Try not to burn yourself on the side of the pan.
>~   Turn the heat down to low and put the lid on the pot; the leeks should not so much fry in the butter as gently steam in it.
~   Cook slowly until they are very tender – you can stir once or twice during this time and they should take about 20 minutes.

Leeks cooked this way are really useful being great in everything from soups (see here for details of my genius soup recipe) to lovely mashed potato, posh cheese on toast, Alfredo Sauce (for pasta and lots of other things), stirred through cooked peas and even in baked things such as scones or on pizza.  They are, however particularly good with seafood.  I often have them with salmon but a very delicious dish I ate in France a few years ago and then replicated at home is …

Breton Scallop & Leek Galettes

"Galettes" (Galettes de Sarrasin to use their full name) in Brittany refers to a particularly delicious (and, as a bonus, gluten free) type of crèpe made of buckwheat. They are light and crisp with a slightly nutty flavour. The galette recipe is below but if you haven’t got any buckwheat normal crèpes will stand in pretty well.

The main subject of this post is the scallop and leek filling – aha, we get to it at last!

Scallops in a Creamy Leek Sauce

Use either the little queen scallops or the larger ones, in which case slice them before cooking.

2 small leeks – cleaned and thinly sliced
30g butter
50ml dry white wine
150ml double cream
300g raw scallops
salt and pepper

~   Prepare and cook the leeks in the butter as above.
~   Add the wine or stock and allow to simmer for a minute or two.
~   Stir in the cream, bring to a boil then turn down the heat and simmer a few minutes.  Taste and season.
~   At this stage you could set the sauce aside to later.
~   To cook the scallops just reheat the sauce to boiling, turn down to a low simmer, add the scallops and leave on the heat just till the first bubble appears on the surface of the sauce. Set aside, covered, to finish cooking in the residual heat of the sauce. Scallops are very delicate chaps and any more cooking could toughen them.

Divide the creamy scallop and leek mixture between the hot pancakes, fold over the tops and enjoy.


Oh – I’ve just thought of another good leek idea; this is a fancy garnish I used to do a lot when cheffing …


Frazzled Leeks

Cut a leek into long thin strips, rub a little cornflour through them (this makes them crunchy) and deep fry for a few minutes till they are golden. Lift out of the oil with a skimmer and drain on kitchen roll. Sprinkle with a little crunchy sea salt.

Buckwheat Pancakes

This makes 4 large pancakes or more smaller ones, obviously!

100g buckwheat flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
300ml milk
50g butter – melted

~   Stir together the salt and the flour and make a well in the middle.
~   Break the egg into the well and start whisking it in gradually adding the milk till a batter the consistency of single cream is achieved.
~   Chill for a couple of hours then stir in the melted butter.
~   Proceed to make pancakes as per usual, ie. lightly grease a frying pan, bring to good heat and ladle in about 2 tablespoons of batter. 
~   Roll the pan to spread the batter thinly and cook till the underside is golden.
~   Turn with a deft flip of the wrist or more carefully with an implement.


So that's it from me but for lots more recipes, tips and info on British leeks go here.

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31 October 2015

"Oh Come all ye Tasteful"

~ The Foodie’s Guide to a Millionaire’s Christmas Feast – by Ian Flitcroft

I have been sent the most delightful quirky little book about Christmas food to review and I must say … I like it! So there you have it.

In more detail ..

I was hooked from the start, the first paragraph reads …

“For the unprepared Christmas lunch can be a veritable minefield. Like the Noel-tide truce in Ypres during World War I, this meal is often both surreal and dangerous.”

However be warned – this book, as its sub-title suggests, is about extravagance possibly beyond your wildest dreams, lovely to read and think about but not that easy to achieve.  On the other hand if you leave the gold leaf out of the roast potatoes, for instance, but follow the rest of the instructions then, as he roasts his exactly the same way as I do mine, I can confidently say you will still be very pleased with the result at a faction of the price.

His Scrambled Eggs Roulette recipe is a really fun idea and can be as cheap or expensive as you like as it would be easy to make substitutions for the foie gras and the truffles. I also agree with Mr. Flitcroft in his insistence that milk should not be used in scrambled eggs.  (I agree with him on a lot of things from which I deduce that he know what he is talking about!)

There is a truly gorgeous sounding recipe for Smoking Bishop, a mulled wine involving baked and caramelised oranges and a bottle of port, plus the wine, of course. I love mulled wine and make my own mulled wine syrup in the run up to Christmas so that I can enjoy a glass at the drop of a paper hat, but when I’m a bit flush I may try it. 

The partridge cooked with pears and port also sounds wonderful and if I never get round to cooking it I will certainly be trying the port and cocoa mixture it is cooked in, probably quite soon – Mr. Flitcroft says it is ...

“quite a heady mixture and worth a taste”.

I also love and empathise with his suggestion that whilst cooking one has an occasional glass of brandy and I hope one day to try fried lichen!

So – not your usual cookbook but very entertaining (especially for foodies) with some useful ideas such as how to roast chestnuts without an open fire or make your Christmas pud flame spectacularly. There are some good recipes which, if you are not a millionaire, you could adjust by leaving out some of the more extravagant ingredients, and some interesting information – I didn’t know you could get edible myrrh!

This little book would make a great present for any foodies you might know. I’m just trying to decide who to give a copy to.

Oh Come All Ye Tasteful is published by PaperBooks and you can get it from Amazon and probably lots of other places too.


Speaking of Christmas cookbooks - here is my contribution to the genre!

Yule be Glad you Read This!

Catering for Christmas can be time consuming, tiring and a bit stressy, so I thought I’d offer some suggestions to make it quicker, easier, more relaxed and perhaps more impressive! 

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