Pork crackling bruschetta

Last night I made dinner for my mum and her partner. I knew from the outset it was going to be the Tamworth belly ribs with red cabbage. But what to do with the pork skin and what other accompaniments? I came up with this crazy idea of of pork crackling bruschetta, replacing the bread with crackling and using a mix of antipasti on top to match the red cabbage.

Ok stick with me. My mother didn’t think it would work either but after she tried it she wanted the recipe.

Pork crackling
Oil spray
Maldon salt

Pickled artichokes
Sunblushed tomatoes
Pickled onions
Yellow pepper
Olive oil

(alternatively just use the filling from my foccacia with antipasti filling recipe)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees.

2. Spray a little oil and sprinkle salt on both sides of the pork skin then rub in. Place on a flat roasting try and pop it in the oven.

3. After about 5 minutes reduce to heat to 150 degrees. The. After and 15 minutes increase the heat to 180 degrees and leave until the skin is bubbly and hard.

4. Meanwhile roast the yellow pepper, remove skin and finely chop along with all the other antipasti. I specifically haven’t put in amounts because you need to find the balance of flavours that works for you. However it is important to have non-vinegar-based pickles in there to cut through the acidity. Squeeze in a little lemon juice, pour on a little olive and add a little freshly ground black pepper and mix through.

5. Cut the crackling into pieces and place the antipasti mix on top.


Warning, this can get messy when being eaten!


Spiced apricot and sultana bread

I was feeling the urge to make bread, having failed to exercise my kneading muscles for almost two months. Following is a recipe derived from one for currant bread. I’ve adapted it to my own tastes (not a big fan of currants), and because the original recipe was just plain wrong! This recipe makes two loaves and toasts really well for a delicious start to the day.

3 tablespoons of malt extract
2 tablespoons of golden syrup (honey is fine to use instead)
50 grams of butter
450 grams of white bread flour
0.25 teaspoon of ground cloves
0.25 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
0.5 teaspoon of ground ginger
(spices can be substituted with 1 teaspoon of mixed spice, if preferred)
10 grams fast acting dried yeast
250ml lukewarm milk
125 grams dried apricots
50 grams sultanas
2 tablespoons of milk
2 tablespoons of castor sugar

1. Grease loaf tins an set aside.

2. Gently melt butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Mix in the honey. Remove saucepan from the heat and gradually add the malt extract, quickly stirring it into the mixture as you do so. You need to be really careful because the malt can form hard lumps rather than a anion paste. If this happens, make sure to remove these before using this mixture otherwise you’ll end up with unpleasant crunchy bits of malt throughout your bread. When these ingredients are fully combined, set aside the mixture to cool.

3. Sift flour and spices together into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix the yeast into the milk, then stir this into the cooled malt mixture. Pour the liquid into the well and gradually combine to form a dough.

4. Turn out the dough and knead for about 10 minutes. I’m experimenting with not flouring my kneading surface at the moment. The way I see it, this is just adding an unknown amount of flour to the dough, bringing an element of unpredictability to the final product.

5. Once the dough is the right consistency, place it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.

6. Meanwhile roughly chop the apricots until they are about the same size as the sultanas. When the dough has risen sufficiently turn it out and knock it back, then knead in the apricots and sultanas. Divide the dough in half and shape into two loaves, then place one in each of the tins. Cover with cling film and leave to proof in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours, or until the dough rises to the top of the tins.

7. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 200˚C. When the dough has risen sufficiently, place the tins in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.

8. Meanwhile mix the milk and sugar into a thin paste to form a glaze. When the bread is cooked turn it out on a wire rack, place them the right way up and brush on the glaze immediately. Allow to cool sufficiently for the glaze to harden, then slice and serve warm spread with butter.


Roasted red pepper soup

Skyping with my brother on the weekend he specifically requested that I put more recipes on my blog. Far be it for a big sister to refuse her little brother such a reasonable request. So here is the recipe for the scrumptious roasted red pepper soup I made yesterday.

1kg red peppers
1 red onion
2 small carrots
2 sticks of celery
1 teaspoon of (sweet) paprika
1 tin of tomatoes
750ml of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

1. Roast the peppers either against the flame of a gas hob or in an oven. (Regular readers will know that I use the hob method. However this time, because of the large quantity of peppers I tried roasting them in the oven. It was a disaster! Hob method is definitely best). When the skins are sufficiently charred, allow the peppers to cool in a plastic bag before removing the skins, stems, and seeds.

2. Meanwhile roughly chop the onion, carrots, and celery and fry in a large pot with the paprika for a couple of minutes to develop the flavours. You need to stir it as it cooks to prevent the paprika from burning.

3. Add the tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for about 20 minutes.

4. Add peppers to the pot and using an electric blender, blitz until smooth. Gradually add the yoghurt, stirring as you pour to prevent the yoghurt from splitting. If you’re really worried about this, allow the soup to cool before adding the yoghurt, then gently reheat.

5. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and paprika. Ready to serve.


Kind of Bourride of Chicken and Squid

Many years ago a friend of mine gave me a cookbook called Cooking at the Merchant House. At the time, it was too sophisticated for my level of cooking, and frankly required ingredients beyond my budget (ah the joys of student life). However, I recently rediscovered this cookbook and the wonderful recipes it contains. One of the first recipes I tried was for a Bourride of Chicken. Not something I’d ever eaten before, let alone tried to cook. It is fully acknowledged in the cookbook that this is a quick version of a more involved traditional recipe. I made a few adaptations as I went along on the basis of learning from other recipes and was quite happy with the resulting meal. Still, I had some ideas about variations that could enhance the final product. This is the recipe I came up with.

500g of chicken thighs and legs
1 red pepper
1/2 a red chilli, deseeded
1 shallot, peeled
350-400g of new potatoes (peeling optional)
1 heaped teaspoon of saffron
1 pinch of cumin
6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
2 egg yolks
50ml of olive oil
50ml of sunflower oil
Salt, pepper and paprika to taste
1 chicken breasts, diced
2-3 small squid (enough to be 1:1 with the chicken), sliced
2 leeks, chunkily sliced.
1 bulb of fennel, sliced

1. Roughly chop half of the red pepper and fry with the chicken thighs and drumsticks and the shallot in a large saucepan until all elements are lightly browned.

2. Add the potato, saffron and cumin, then add enough water to cover all ingredients. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and cover and allow to simmer until chicken and potatoes are cooked through. This should take about half an hour, but do check and allow to cook longer if needed.

3. Meanwhile, make the aïoli that will flavour the base of the sauce. Crush the garlic and whisk into the mustard, vinegar, and egg yolks. Gradually whisk in the oil, adding a few drops at a time. Don’t rush this, it needs to be done slowly for the consistency to be right.

4. When the chicken and potatoes are cooked remove these elements from the pot. Bring to the boil and reduce the remaining liquid by about a quarter.

5. Remove meat from bones. Return the flesh to the pot and blend all ingredients until smooth. Gradually blend in the aïoli, adding and blending a little bit at a time to avoid cooking the egg before it’s integrated into the sauce. Season to taste and keep warm. As there’s no stock in this dish you are likely to need a good helping of salt to make sure there is sufficient depth of flavour.

6. Slice the remaining half of red pepper. Pan fry with chicken, fennel, leeks and squid. It may be easier to fry each component separately as cooking times vary considerably for the different ingredients.

7. Either throw pan fried ingredients in a pot and mix or if you want it to look pretty, pour some sauce on plates and arrange the other ingredients attractively on top.

As you can see, I went for the mix in the pot approach. If the potatoes are peeled they will turn a gorgeous golden colour as they cook in the saffron. However, there’s a lot of nutrition in potato skin, so it’s up to you what’s more important.


Beetroot and goats cheese ravioli

I’ve been wanting to learn to make pasta for many months and on the weekend I finally bought myself a pasta machine. The impetus stemmed from a recipe idea I developed while travelling home from work on Friday. Upon leaving the office I passed by an independent fruit and vegetable store and caught sight of some fresh beetroot. While musing upon the impossibility of sourcing such produce in supermarkets I struck upon the notion of a beetroot and goats cheese ravioli.

Before attempting my recipe I searched for a cookbook about making pasta. Unfortunately I could find no such thing. The majority focussed on pasta sauces, dedicating only a few pages to the act of making the pasta itself. In the end I resorted to the basic pasta recipe in Cook with Jamie.

6 small beetroot
1 head of garlic
3 sprigs of thyme
Olives oil
250 grams of goats cheese
Juice of half a lemon
Sea salt and black pepper
Half a portion of basic pasta dough
3 shallots
100ml strong olive oil
2 tablespoons of baby capers

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Wash the beetroot thoroughly. Top and tail them and cut them in half. Put in a roasting tray with peeled garlic and thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and shake the pan to coat. Cover the tray with tin foil and place in the oven to roast for about 45 minutes or so. They should be cooked, but firm.

2. Allow the beetroot to cool to room temperature then place in the fridge to cool further. When cold, grate coarsely with the flesh to the blade. The skin will naturally peel away and can be discarded.

3. Crumble the goats cheese into a bowl. The pieces need to be quite small so that each ravioli has a good mix of beetroot and goats cheese. Add the grated beetroot and lemon juice, and season to taste.

4. Roll out a potion of pasta dough into a sheet at the thinnest level, according to instructions. Cut in half widthways at the mid-way point. On one sheet, lightly brush with water then add teaspoons of the filling evenly along the sheet about 4 cm apart. Place the other sheet of pasta on top and press down around the filling, pushing out the air while doing so. Cut the ravioli into square with an appropriate pasta cutter. Place on a floured plate to dry.

5. Repeat until all the filling and dough has been turned into ravioli.

6. While the pasta is drying, make the sauce. Finely dice the shallots and fry in a little olive oil. When they start to become transparent add the capers. Lower to a minimal heat and add the rest of the oil. Leave for about 10 minutes to allow the flavour of the capers to infuse the oil.

7. Toss pasta in sauce and serve.

Making the pasta was very time consuming, but I was really happy with the end result. The filling is really tasty, even if I do say so myself. Next time I might try making it with yolks only to see how this affects the flavour.I might also purée the beetroot to give the filling a smoother texture.

Apple, onion and gruyère tart

It’s Sunday morning and we’re chilling out on the couch while I wait for my pastry to chill and my filling to cool. Brunch today is an apple onion any gruyère tart. It’s from a wonderful vegetarian cookbook, —. I bought it years ago got a vegetarian friend of mine and never quite got around to giving it to him. I know, I’m a bad friend, but I’ve gotten far more use out of this cookbook than he ever would have. It’s become one of my go-to cookbooks for brunch recipes. I also found the recipe online at 101vegetarianrecipes.com.

This is the first time I’ve tried this recipe. The type of apple to use isn’t specified, so I’ve decided to use granny smiths. I think the tartness will contrast nicely with the sweetness of the onions and the heat of the mustard. Also, granny smiths are my favourite apple and you’ve got to go with what you enjoy. I’ve also used butter in the pastry instead of margarine because I think it gives a better flavour. However this meant that I needed about 100ml of water instead of the two tablespoons specified in the recipe. The other alteration I made was to use thyme instead of a generic dried herb mix. There’s an onion and thyme tart recipe in the same cookbook, so I feel confident that these will work together.

Interestingly, both the recipe in the book and the one online both neglect to indicate when to integrate the cooked onion and apple into the tart. It seemed most logical to mix this into the egg mixture at the same time as the grated cheese. The other option would have been to add the onion and apple mix into the tart then pour the egg mix on top. However I thought this might lead to a layered effect in the tart, rather than a fully integrated filling.

It all worked out beautifully. The gruyère on top melted beautifully and developed a rich golden colour as it baked. And it tasted fantastic, although the apple was a little overpowered by the cheese. Something to think about next time. Other learning was that the pastry needed about another five minutes of blind baking before I added the filling. Otherwise, great recipe and definitely worth trying!

In search of the perfect bolognese part 1.

So I love pasta, and spaghetti bolognese is up there with the best of the comfort foods. However, I’ve never actually cooked it from a recipe. I don’t know why, there’s just something in me says “no”. Apparently I am determined to find my own way there instead.

One of the ongoing challenges I encounter in this quest for the perfect bolognese is that the flavour of the beef gets lost in the sauce. Even when I’ve tried cooking the meat and sauce separately, the mince just gets lost. This time I tried something different. Inspired by my lamb kofta on the weekend I decided to take the meatball approach. I know, not a traditional bolognese, but I’m more interested in flavour at this stage.

I took a very basic approach to the meatballs, mixing 500 grams of lean beef mince with a finely chopped onion (well as finely as I can, my knife skills definitely need some work!), an egg and salt and pepper. I usually use Maldon sea salt when cooking, but this time chose to use table salt. Sea salts are larger, so need time to break down. Given this, I felt that I couldn’t be confident that the salt would distribute evenly throughout the mixture in the time that it took to combine it. From this I was able to form 20 meatballs. I left them in the fridge to chill for about an hour before cooking them in a frying pan. I tend to use cooking spray wherever possible. when you like food as much as I do, it’s best to keep the additional calories down wherever possible!

I made the sauce separately, and added the meatballs once the flavours of the sauce developed. I’m not going to put my sauce recipe up because quite frankly, at this stage I’m still cheating and using an italian dried herb mix. One of these days I will start experimenting and finding the right balance of fresh herbs. However, at this stage I’m focusing on the meat. One step at a time (thus “part 1.” in the title of this post). In addition to the meatballs I added some freshly roasted yellow pepper. Actually “roasted” is a misnomer in this case. I take the grilling over a gas flame approach rather than actually roasting the peppers. I also added some pan fried mushrooms. I’ve stopped using white mushrooms in my cooking, and generally use chestnut mushrooms unless another type is specified. I find that the chestnut mushroom has a much stronger flavour. The contrast between the dark exterior and the white interior can also bring an interesting aesthetic to the dish.

Overall, I was really happy with my meatballs. By frying them I retained the flavour of the meat while ensuring that the meatballs remained succulent. Maybe now it’s time to move onto experimenting with the sauce.