Christmas Stuffing Quail Scotch Eggs

Try these full-on flavoured bad boys as an impressive, festive, crowd-pleasing winner. The quail’s egg instead of the chicken’s egg not only gives this traditional British stalwart a Spanish twist, but is great party finger food to boot.

Makes 18 scotch eggs

1 onion, finely chopped
3 rashers streaky bacon, diced
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
2 tbsp chopped sage
2 tbsp chopped thyme
18 quails eggs
500g pork mince
1 handful dried cranberries
60g chopped chestnuts
Zest of 1 orange
Salt and pepper to taste
4 quails’ eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp plain flour
4 eggs (beaten)
8 tbsp breadcrumbs
Oil for deep frying

Heat a tbsp. of oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan. Add the onion, bacon and herbs and fry over a medium heat for a few minutes until softened. Allow to cool and add to the pork mince along with the cranberries, chestnuts, orange zest and seasoning. Combine the whole mixture thoroughly.

Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the quail eggs and boil for 2 ¼ minutes. Immediately refresh under ice cold water. Peel the eggs and set aside.

Divide the mixture into eighteen equal-size balls, flatten out on the palm of your hand, place a quails egg in the middle and wrap the meat mixture around the egg and completely seal up in a ball.

Roll each scotch egg in flour, then transfer to the beaten egg and then roll in breadcrumbs. Fry in a deep fat fryer at 175ºC until golden brown (about 4-5 minutes). Drain on kitchen paper and serve.

Beyond Bread

Mini bread tart cases

Get this: UK households throw away 24 million slices of bread….EVERY DAY! So, here’s a tasty little idea for making the perfect edible vessel for transporting those salsastic leftovers from the other day from bowl to bouche.  Those cases will freeze perfectly too. So, every time you’ve got some tasty left overs – from cottage pie to spag bol, jus chop it up small, get it in the tart cases and freeze. Eventually you’ll have ready-made canapé’s in the freezer to provide for a full house party. To serve, just de-frost, top with grated cheese and bang in the oven for a few minutes.

Makes 12 mini cases

6 slices of bread
Oil for drizzling
Scattering of dried herbs (obviously optional)
Seasoning

Pre heat the oven to 180˚C. Cut off the crusts and set aside for the bread crumb recipe (coming shortly). Roll out each slice with a rolling pin until as flat and thin as apancake. For a 5cm diameter muffin tin, use a 6cm diameter cutting ring. You will get two discs per bread slice.

Brush the muffin tin recesses lightly with oil and press a bread disc into each recess. Brush lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle some dried oregano or Italian mixed herbs too if you fancy.

Bake in the oven for about 7 minutes, or until they lightly brown around the edges. Remove and cool. These can now be stored in an airtight container for weeks in a cool, dry place.

Chilli & cheese breadcrumbs

Use the bread trimmings from the mini bread tart cases  – or use fresh or stale left-over bread. They make a great base for a savoury cheesecake, a sprinkle over cooked green veg is pretty transforming   Simply spread the trimmings on a baking tray, drizzle with oil, grate liberally over with cheese, sprinkle over chilli flakes, dried herbs, or any herbs and spices of your choice. Bake for several minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool, and then blitz to crumbs in a food processor. Store the breadcrumbs in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

Crostini

The crostini is the magical metamorphosis of slightly past it baguette to crisp and tasty dipping utensil or canapé base.  Just slice the baguette into ½ cm slices; arrange in a single layer on a baking tray; drizzle over some olive oil and sprinkle liberally with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in a 180˚C pre-heated oven until lightly golden around the edges (about 8 minutes),  and allow to cool. They can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place (not the fridge) for days. Of course, you can use fresh baguette too.

Salsastic

A combination of some brilliant fibre-based diet demos at Waitrose summer fest by the irrepressible Happy Pear, and my own work as a love food hate waste ambassador has inspired me to dig these little gems out from my recipe archive.

Serve them up with a pile of crostinis using less-than- fresh baguette, or in little bread tart cases. Recipe for those to follow!

Mango and courgette salsa
½ mango, chopped
1 small courgette, finely diced
Juice of ½ a lime
1 tsp coriander, finely chopped
¼ tsp crushed – then finely chopped chilli flakes
Pinch of salt and black pepper

Apple and celery salsa
1 apple, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 tsp. Parsley, finely chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper to taste

Carrot and kidney bean salsa
¼ – ½ carrot, grated
220g tin kidney beans, drained & rinsed
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp olive oil
Pinch chilli flakes
Pinch salt and pepper

Tomato and red onion salsa
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ red onion
2 tsp basil leaves, finely shredded
1 tsp olive oil
Pinch salt and pepper

Smoked haddock Welsh rarebit, poached egg, bacon crumbs

When the organisers of Worcester food and drink festival asked me to do a Brunch theme for my first mid-morning demo of the day, a wonderful little back catalogue of dishes jostled for top spot around my brain like the clacking balls of the TV lottery gadget. Finally, a whose who of retro classics spilled out for final selection causing me to ditch my delicious daily porridge fix for an entire week in favour of the likes of eggs Benedict, Omelette Arnold Bennet, and the final winner: smoked haddock Welsh rarebit.

The girlfriend was overjoyed. We were both forced to up the exercise regime. It was worth it.

Posh cheese on toast or not, once you’ve lathered this special mix on your toast, baguette, smoked haddock, dressed crab or whatever edible platform takes your fancy, ordinary cheese on toast just won’t cut the mustard anymore. You can even do it as a little amuse bouche for a dinner party with little flakes of smoked haddock on a crostini, topped with the grilled rarebit and finished with a soft boiled quails egg.

Serves 2
For the Welsh rarebit:
350g mature cheddar
85ml full fat milk
25g plain flour
25g breadcrumbs
1/2 tbsp mustard powder
85ml full fat milk
A few drops of Worcester Sauce
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
4 rashers dry cured streaky bacon

500ml full fat milk
1 bay leaf
400g smoked Haddock loin
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 eggs (for poaching)
2 medium tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the Welsh rarebit: put the 85ml of milk and the cheddar into a heavy based saucepan. Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the cheese is melted. Don't over-heat as this will split the cheese. When the cheese has melted, stir in the flour, breadcrumbs, mustard powder and Worcester sauce. Stir vigorously over a low heat until thoroughly combined and it starts to ball together and pull away from the sides of the pan.

Set aside for several minutes to cool.

Meanwhile bake the bacon in a 180C degree oven for ten to fifteen minutes until dark brown and crispy. Remove from the oven and immediately drain on absorbent kitchen paper to remove excess fat from both sides. When cool, blitz in a mini food processor or crumble by hand to fine crumbs.

Set aside.

Finish the rarebit by beating the 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk into the mixture until fully combined. This is quicker and easier in a food processor. Keep in the fridge in an airtight container until required.

Heat the milk with the bay leaf in a saucepan until just about to boil. Put the smoked haddock in the pan, turn off the heat and cover with a lid. Allow to stand for ten minutes in which time the haddock will have just cooked through gently in the residual heat. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon or fish slice and pat dry with absorbent kitchen paper.

To serve: Slice the tomato as thin as possible through the equator. Divide the slices between two serving plates and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Meanwhile, bring a pan of water, with the vinegar added, to a rapid simmer. Spread a thick layer of rarebit mix on top of the haddock and place on a metal tray under a hot grill. While the rarebit turns golden brown under the grill, poach the egg in the simmering water until soft. Drain the egg carefully on absorbent kitchen paper to remove any water.

Place a piece on the sliced tomato and top with a poached egg before sprinkling over the bacon crumbs.

Omelette Arnold Bennett

classic omelette

There’s a reason why old school classics are exactly that: they taste fantastic. I don’t think I’d cooked this up since catering college, so what a joy to do it again this last weekend at Bolsover food and drink festival. I’m delighted to report that the reactions of the good people of Bolsover have ensured it won’t be long before aim doing it again.

Makes 2

300ml milk
150ml double cream
1/2 onion studded with 2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp peppercorns
Pinch of grated nutmeg
200g smoked pollack, or smoked haddock
60g butter
30g flour
2 egg yolks
4 eggs, beaten
30g Parmesan, finely grated
1 tbsp chopped chives
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper

Heat the milk with the clove-studded onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and nutmeg until it comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stand for 20 minutes. Strain the flavoured milk and heat until just about to boil. Add the smoked fish and immediately remove from the heat. Leave to stand for 10 mins so the fish is just cooked through.

Remove the fish from the milk and flake into a bowl. Heat 40g of the butter in a small saucepan until it melts and then add the flour. Cook the flour and butter over a low heat for about four minutes, stirring regularly. Gradually whisk in the flavoured milk, a little at a time until you have a smooth sauce. Combine the egg yolks with the cream and stir into the sauce.

Heat a frying pan over a high heat, add 10g of butter and as soon as it foams, add half the beaten eggs. Make an omelette by whisking the mixture with a fork, scraping it down from the sides of the pan and agitating the pan. This should take no longer than a minute.

While there is still a thin film of runny egg on the surface, remove from the heat, and slide the omelette into a shallow,move proof serving dish. Wipe out the omelette pan and make another omelette in the same way before sliding into another oven proof serving dish. Divide the flaked fish over the two omelettes. Spoon over the white sauce and then sprinkle over the Parmesan. Place under a hot grill until it starts to bubble and turn golden.

Sprinkle with the chives and serve immediately.

Sweet wine basted chicken, apple and fennel slaw

In praise of the rotisserie barbecue attachment

There’s something slightly theatrical about food that needs to rotate slowly in order to cook.  I don’t mean in a microwave kind of way, where the heat is generated by some kind of hidden neutron particle blitzing contraption that requires a PhD in nuclear science to really understand.

Oh no, the rotating I’m talking about goes as far back as mankind himself: The ethereal combination of naked flame and slow turning food to ensure even cooking, succulent texture and deep brown patina  like polished mahogany. If you haven’t got a rotisserie attachment for the BBQ, then just use the old fashioned method of fixing up a pole above an open fire. But be careful!

1 whole chicken

1 lemon

Large bunch of thyme

Handful of garlic cloves, peeled

250ml sweet dessert wine, decanted into a plastic spray bottle

 

For the slaw:

2 egg yolks

½ tbsp white wine vinegar + ½ tsp

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

225ml veg oil

25 ml extra virgin olive oil

1 bulb fennel

1 red onion

400g white cabbage (about ¼ of a large whole cabbage)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Firstly, fire up the rotisserie on your BBQ, or build a rotisserie frame over an open fire like you’ve seen in the movies. Place a metal tray in the bottom of the BBQ, and then another smaller one inside that to collect the cooking juices. Remove the chicken from the fridge at least half an hour before cooking.  Season the chicken inside with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rub the outside of the chicken with oil and season that liberally with sea salt.

Halve the lemon and squeeze the juice over the chicken. Stuff one half of the squeezed lemon inside the cavity of the chicken, followed by a handful of fresh thyme sprigs and the peeled garlic. Plug the whole with the other half of the lemon. Thread the chicken onto the rotisseries spike. Cook, lid down for about an hour and a half, basting every ten to fifteen minutes by spraying the wine over the chicken as it turns immediately followed by a good basting from the juices that collect in the tray. The best method to test if its cooked is with a meat thermometer. It should read 70°C before you remove the chicken and then rest for 15 minutes before serving, covered loosely with foil.

While the chicken is cooking, make the slaw: Put the egg yolks, ½ tbsp of the white wine vinegar and the mustard in the bowl of a food processor.  With the lid on, and the motor running, slowly drizzle the veg oil into the bowl down the opening in the lid. As it forms an emulsion and thickens, you can pour in a faster stream. Finally add the extra virgin olive oil and season with salt to taste. Set aside in the fridge. Finely shred all the veg on a mandolin, or slice very thinly by hand. Add the ½ tsp of white wine vinegar; combine well with the reserved mayonnaise and season to taste. Refrigerate in a covered container until required.

Dorset Seafood Festival Recipes

Sometimes work can be a full-on, stress-inducing, head-scrambling, giant waking nightmare – like when I’ve been delayed by sub-standard transport infrastructures and forced to throw together a cooking demo mis-en-place in thirty seconds – just before knocking up a three course dinner in front of a hundred people in thirty minutes; or when I’m planning a computer admin day combined with a number of copy deadlines and my dodgy internet has decided to take a day off to go surfing – or wherever it goes when it’s not my house.

This weekend in Dorset was none of those things. This weekend in Dorset was why I do what I do. Firstly, the sun shone like a giant beacon of love, caressing all involved in a huge embrace of warm reassurance for the marathon that lay ahead. The organisers’ pre-event briefing documents – requiring constant attention prior to the event, and which at times, to a tired old hack such as myself, had seemed a little over-zealous – revealed their true worth. Even cynical, event-jaded techies seemed to have the skip of a spring lamb in their step. The signs were good.

But above all, the great and the good that came on down in their droves, displaying a passion, enthusiasm and a love for the whole fish fest of an affair were down right inspiring. Football folk talk about the crowd being the twelfth man; musicians – in pub or stadium – gain a live performance edge generated by the energy of the crowd, and so it was on this sun-soaked Dorset beach front location that I, fuelled by the pure, wanton, inhibition-free gastro-revellers felt able to let rip with a verve and freedom that I last remember in a sweat-soaked basement club of an 80’s house party. While the following recipes were written and rehearsed in the more controlled environment of my practice kitchen, I have made a few tweaks to the originals based on the creative buzz gifted to me by the generous supporters of the 2017 Dorset seafood festival. Thank you to all.

Steamed Pollack, cauliflower and fennel couscous

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

80g butter

140g fennel, cut into small dice: (save the excess from 1 bulb for fish stock)

1/2 banana shallot, finely chopped

350g cauliflower (about 1/2 a cauliflower)

1 tsp garlic paste

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon (reserve the remaining half lemon)

110g peas, cooked

3 tbsp capers

2 tbsp chopped parsley

50ml extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

600g pollack loin, skin on, cut into 4 pieces

40g butter (cut into thin slivers)

4 bay leaves

100 ml white wine

Salt and pepper

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil and 40g of the butter in a frying pan over a low to medium heat and add the fennel and shallot. Cook for several minutes, adding the garlic after about five minutes, and cook until the fennel has started to soften. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon zest and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, cut the cauliflower in 2cm thick slices from florets down to stalk so that it looks like a cross section of a tree. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of the oil and 40g of the butter in a wide, heavy based saucepan. Place the cauliflower flat side down, plus any additional florets that have fallen off into the pan and cook for a few minutes until golden brown. Turn over and repeat on the other side. Turn the loose florets as necessary, so they are evenly browned too. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Cut the large pieces down into smaller pieces, and put these, along with the florets into a food processor and blitz to the consistency of a coarse couscous. Put the cauliflower crumble in a large bowl. Drain the fennel mix on kitchen paper and add that to the cauliflower along with the lemon juice, peas, capers, parsley, olive oil and seasoning. Set aside.

Bring a pan of water to the boil, turn down to a simmer and set a steamer with a lid over it. Take four large rectangles of kitchen parchment paper, large enough to form a loose parcel completely around each fish fillet. Place each of the fish fillets in the centre of each paper and bring up the sides, scrunching them together to form a bag in which the fish is now sitting. Season the fillets well with salt and pepper. Place the slivers of butter over each fillet and top each fillet with a bay leaf. Pour the white wine over the fish and seal the parcels by scrunching the paper along the top. Carefully place each parcel in the steamer over the simmering water. Put on the lid and steam for ten minutes, or until the fish is just cooked.

While the fish is cooking, cut the remaining half lemon into four wedges and cook on a pre-heated griddle pan on all sides until nicely charred.

Carefully remove the fish parcels and pour the cooking liquor from each parcel over the cauliflower mix. Stir well to combine.

To serve, spoon a portion of the cauliflower mix onto a plate and top with a piece if fish and a wedge of char-grilled lemon.

 

Garlic & herb grilled mussels

about 24 grilled mussels

500g live mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

60g butter

2 tsp garlic paste

65g fresh breadcrumbs

2 tbsp chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the garlic paste, simply blend 175g of skinned garlic cloves with 75ml of water. You can keep this in the freezer in an ice-cube tray and simply take out and de-frost what you need as required for any dish requiring crushed garlic.

Discard any mussels that don’t close when tapped on a hard surface. Pre-heat a heavy based pan with a tight-fitting lid over a high heat for a minute or so. Add the mussels, put on the lid and steam for a few minutes until they have opened. Drain in a colander and leave until cool enough to handle. Remove each mussel from its half shell and discard the shell half that the mussel was attached to. Save the other half shells. Discard any mussels that are still completely closed.

To make the garlic and parsley crust, melt the butter with the garlic. Add the parsley to the breadcrumbs and then combine thoroughly and evenly with the melted butter and garlic, and season to taste.

Place a mussel in a half shell and cover completely with a heaped teaspoon of the mixture. To serve, place the mussels on a baking tray and grill for three or four minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.

 

Fish Tagine, cous cous, flat bread

Serves 4

Fish stock:

1 tbsp olive oil

Fennel trimmings from 1 bulb

¼ celery stick, chopped

¼ leek, white only, chopped

½ banana shallot, sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled

400g white fish bones & heads, gilld removed & cleaned well in cold water and roughly chopped

1 sprig parsley

1 thin slice lemon

400ml water

2tbsp olive oil

2 onions, sliced

1 tbsp ginger paste

1 tbsp garlic paste

1 tbsp tomato puree

1/4 tsp flakes

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 cinnamon stick

Generous pinch saffron threads 2 tbsp honey

Juice of ½ lemon

500g firm white fish fillet, cut in large chunks (Monkfish, Pollack, Gurnard are perfect)

200g mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 handful chopped fresh coriander

2 tbsp flaked toasted almonds

To make the fish stock, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a wide saucepan. Add the fennel, celery, leek, shallot and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes over a low to medium heat until softened but without colour. Add the fish bones, cooking gently for a further couple of minutes and turning regularly. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Skim off any scum and discard and then add the lemon and parsley. Simmer gently for twenty minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine seive and add the saffron strands.

Meanwhile, in a deep sided frying pan, heat the 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion and fry over a low/medium heat until softened and slightly caramelised (about twenty minutes). Add the ginger and garlic and fry gently for a minute before adding the dry spices. Stir well and fry gently for a further couple of minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for another minute or so, stirring constantly to avoid sticking. Add the saffron-infused stock to the onion mix and stir well. Bring to the boil and uimmediately turn doen to a gently simmer. Add the lemon juiice and honey, and maintain the simmer.

Add the chunks of fish and cook gently for a couple of minutes. Add the mussels and continue cooking at a constant simmer until the mussels open.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the fresh coriander and toasted flaked almonds.

Serve with the couscous and flat bread.

 

Lemon and pea couscous

1 red onion, finely diced

250ml couscous

Zest of 1 lemon

250ml boiling water

1 cup garden peas (defrosted frozen peas)

A good slug of extra virgin olive oil

A good handful of parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the couscous, heat a tbsp of oil in a saucepan (which has a tight fitting lid). Add the red onion and lemon zest and cook gently for a few minutes until softened but without colour. Add the couscous and coat well with the red onion mixture. Bring the water to the boil and add to the couscous. Bring back to the boil, put on the lid and immediately turn off the heat. Leave to stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Once cooked, remove the lid; add the remaining couscous ingredients and combine well, fluffing up with a fork as you do.

 

Roast garlic & fennel seed flat bread

250g SR flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 bulb roasted garlic

150g full fat Greek yoghurt

1 tbsp fennel seeds

Oil for frying

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and then knead for two or three minutes until soft and smooth. Add a little more flour if the mixture is too sticky and a little water if too dry. Leave to rest, covered for about twenty minutes. When ready to cook, divide the mixture into 8 equal size balls. On a lightly oiled surface, roll out each one as thinly as possible. Carefully place over a direct heat on the pre-heated barbecue and cook for three or four minutes on each side until bar-marked and dark brown. It doesn’t matter if they blacken and blister a little – in fact so much the better.

Tandoori chicken

To an impartial observer, tearing off the protective wrapping of my Broil King Keg immediately after its delivery, I must have resembled some crazed child at Christmas with arms windmilling in a blur, while plastic, cardboard and polystyrene, flew up in the air like autumn leaves caught in a wind tunnel. And this was just my level of excitement before I clocked the smart little round temperature gauge on the lid. I was fully aware of its specialist function as a long slow cooker, let alone its power for some traditional, direct charcoal grilling. What hadn’t occurred to me was the fact that this bad boy could get up to 400°C and therefore not far off the proper working temperature of a traditional Tandoori oven. This is my very first attempt at the revered dish on the Keg and it worked a treat. Watch this space for more Keg inspiration.

Serves 4

 

1 whole chicken, skinned and spatchcocked (backbone removed and chicken pressed flat so the legs splay outwards)

For the marinade:

 

150g full-fat Greek yoghurt

1 tbsp garlic paste

1 tbsp ginger paste

1/2 tsp cayenne

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp ground all spice

1 tsp ground cumin

1tsp ground coriander

1 tsp fennel seeds, ground

2 cloves, ground

 

To make the garlic paste, simply blend 175g of skinned garlic cloves with 75ml of water. To make the ginger paste, use the same proportions and method with fresh peeled and chopped ginger. You can keep this in the freezer in an ice-cube tray and simply take out and de-frost what you need as required for any dish requiring crushed garlic.

 

Combine all the marinade ingredients well in a bowl. Score the chicken all over and coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover, refrigerate and leave to marinate for a minimum of 2 hours and overnight if possible. When ready to cook, pre-heat the Keg to 400°C. To do this, start with the events fully open. When the flames have died down close the lid and move the vents to number 3. As soon as the temperature has reached 400°C quickly open the lid and place the marinated chicken, breast side up on the grid. Close the lid and move the vents to number 1. The chicken should cook through and start to blister on the outside in twenty five minutes. Use a meat thermometer to ensure an internal cooked temperature of 70°C. Remove from the grid and leave to rest, loosely covered in foil for ten minutes before serving.

Shakshuka? I should say so!

Normally I will run a million miles from anything that smacks of a new trend, fad or fashion, which while explaining a great deal about my general appearance and wardrobe, does not explain my new found obsession with Shakshuka. Five years ago, the mention of this Tunisian classic would be more likely to raise eyebrows than glasses – sounding more like a dubious gambling game played furtively out of view of the authorities. The truth is, you would have struggled to find this simple, but perfect platter of spiced tomato and eggs anywhere but the most authentic of Middle Eastern and North African eateries. These days, venture down to your aspirational neighbourhood Sunday brunch spot and you are more likely to find the single estate Lattes accompanying just-cooked eggs nestling into the shallow recesses of a rich, smokey and delicately spiced gooey tomato base, than a great British fry up.

I cooked this dish for the first time, at home a couple of weeks ago, for exactly that occasion – brunch for a small gathering of good friends who’d stayed over the night before. Breaking my golden rule of never cooking a new dish for the first time for anyone other than oneself and most loved one, I soldiered forth and delivered the finished dish, centre-table, in all its vibrant, bubbling glory. Now, when it comes to any kind of cooking for anyone but myself, my default routine on serving up is to ignore all protocol and dive in for a first taste of reassurance – before sitting back with, hopefully, a barely disguised sigh of relief before gesticulating to the assembled to dig in and enjoy. The breaking of the aforementioned rule gave me a heightened sense of anticipation and nervousness as first fork-full homed in on target: a squint of the eyes, smack of the lips and sharp exhale and then I felt like the goal-scorer having to hold it in after banging one in against the club he’d supported as a boy, and played for as star player. I wanted to throw back my chair, leap up punching the air in frenzied celebration. Instead, I opted for quiet reflection and gracefully acknowledged the Mmmmms and Arrrrrrrs of satisfied friends.

The thing is, this dish is unbelievably easy – for anyone; seasoned pro or rank amateur. I would never have broken that golden rule for anything that wasn’t stone-wall simple. But its exotic flavour, luxury duvet on a winters day-style comfort and great eating occasion suitability defy the basic cooking procedure. And then came my moment of revelation and clarity: sometimes there’s a reason why things gain main-stream popularity with the exponential pace of a steam locomotive. They simply deserve to. No point in running and hiding from this bad boy. All aboard now.

Serves 3-4

 INGREDIENTS

 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 red pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp cayenne pepper

2 tbsp tomato puree

400g tin chopped tomatoes

400g cherry vine tomatoes, halved

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

6 eggs

Small handful of parsley, chopped

 

 

METHOD

 

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet or heavy-based frying pan (approx 25-30cm diameter). Fry gently, without colouring for three or four minutes until starting to soften. Add the red peppers and continue to cook for a further three or four minutes. Add the garlic and dry spices and cook for another minute stirring to combine. Add the tomato puree and continue gentle frying for another couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add the tinned tomatoes, stir well to combine and cook for ten minutes at a gently simmer. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and cook for a further ten minutes continuing at a gentle simmer until most of the liquid has disappeared, but the mixture is not too dry. Make six indentations in the mixture by pressing down with the back of a ladle or similar shaped implement. Carefully break the eggs into each recess. TIP: Break the eggs into a small cup before tipping gently into the pan. Once all the eggs are in, cover the pan with a lid or another upturned frying pan and continue to cook on a low heat until the egg white has just set and the yolks are still runny. Turn off the heat, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.

 

 

Ode to The Pub

So, there I am – a couple of years back – one of those lazy, hazy summer days before the madness and mayhem of my current life, sat in this pub with a mate just chewing the fat. You would think that all’s well with the world. Except it isn’t, because the ‘pub’ in which we find ourselves ensconced, isn’t really a pub at all. For a start, there’s not a real hand pull in site – I’ve seen more decent pumps at the local Q8 than in this dubious boozer. And talking of boozers, it doesn’t really fit that description either. That would imply an assortment of colourful characters philosophising, jovially haranguing, and speculating on how to find love in a dark place. This gaff is wall-to-wall Girls Aloud – okay, could be worse. Except this proliferation of totty is a major distraction from the serious business of getting a little toasted. And then there’s the problem of what to drink. There’s nothing on the gleaming chrome taps to give the slightest hint of what carbonated nonsense is going to pour forth. One thing’s for sure – whatever does come out will be cold. In fact, judging by the ice-clad, dispensing sculptures, it’ll be bloody freezing.

With a heavy heart, there’s nothing for it but to hit the top shelf and reminisce on the good old days. And then the magic starts to happen. Gradually, through hazy, starry eyes, those ‘Angel of The North’ size bar taps take on the good old phallic shape of pumps gone by; the chinking glasses of Chardonnay against Pinot Grigio becomes the resonant clash of the titans as eye-wateringly hoppy IPA meets viscous, dark stout. The Thai prawn and guava Cajun tortilla wrap combo morphs into a golden globe of free-range Scotch egg, while the bottle-tossing barman seems to be suddenly delivering an aerated pint of the finest, pillowy-headed bitter. Happy days, and me and my mate are in full flow – waxing lyrical about beer and food; imagining flavours long since gone, and atmospheres of a bygone age. Maybe we’re just a couple of old farts getting pissed in a place we simply don’t belong. But then again – maybe not, because do you know the best bit of all? Girls Aloud are still alive and kicking, crystal clear and gazing in our direction. By George, I think we’ve just conceived our perfect pub. Cheers!