Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Jamie Oliver's slow roast shoulder of lamb with root mash and two sauces

This was our Christmas Eve meal. And what a meal. It's one of those recipes that, like the Brisket Chili, you will cook again and again.

I was cooking for 5 on Christmas Eve and our butcher suggested a whole shoulder would be required. At £10 this seemed like good value and an affordable way to feed a few people. It was certainly a lot more affordable than using a leg of lamb - less than half price in fact.

The original recipe calls for rosemary and garlic to be added to the lamb for roasting, but I didn't bother. I simply browned it in the roasting pan then covered it tightly with tin foil and put it in a very hot oven. As soon as it goes into the oven the heat gets turned down low, to about 170, lower if you've got a hot oven.

After an hour or so you can start to smell the lamb cooking, which certainly doesn't hurt the appetite!

With about half an hour to go I prepared 2 large carrots, 1 large celeriac and a few potatoes. They all went into big pot of cold water and then went on to boil. A few recipes I've read suggest cooking root veg from cold to ensure proper cooking throughout. Whether it is important or not, the veg always end up very tender.

Once cooked, the veg is drained and allowed to steam for a few minutes to help reduce any excess moisture. Then it's mashed with as much butter as you like, ideally quite a bit, and some salt and pepper. You can go for a smooth, uniform texture if you want, or leave it chunky which I think is more visually appealing.

When the lamb is ready, after about 4 hours, take it out of the oven and rest it on a clean chopping board covered with tin foil and a tea towel or two. Use the roasting pan juices to make a great gravy. You can either do this the English way and add some browning and thickening agents. Or go French/Italian and just reduce the juices slightly for a sauce that is thinner but just as tasty.

To go with the lamb I made a couple of sauces. Well, one sauce and one dry seasoning. I made a simple fresh mint sauce using a little water, some sugar, lots of fresh, chopped mint and some white wine vinegar.

I also made some Dukkah, an Egyptian dish of various seeds (cumin, coriander, sesame) and almonds which are roasted then crushed and spiced with paprika. The result is a wonderfully nutty, crunchy and spicy tasting seasoning which works with just about everything. It's great with oily/fatty foods like lamb and fish such as mackerel and herring. It also works very nicely with bread dipped in oil.

If success is clean plates, then this was a success. There was nothing left. The meat could be 'carved' with a spoon and just about fell off the bones and was devoured by everyone. The root mash was a similar hit, and everyone seemed to enjoy the dukkah as well.

What can I say? Give it a go. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 18 December 2011


What a great name for a Turkish patisserie and bakery - Bristanbul. And what a great place for lunch or a snack. Me and the missus grabbed a bite to eat there yesterday whilst we were shopping on Gloucester Road for steaks (from Murray's).

We had these very tasty pastry rolls. Well, actually we shared a mince and parsley 'roll' first. This was a roll of filo like flaky pastry rather than bread. The pastry was crisp and covered in sesame seeds so it had a lovely nutty taste, with a nicely spiced filling which was a bargain at £1.60. The missus then went back in for a potato and onion roll which was, if anything, even tastier. (I stuck with the burger from Murray's, but it was a tough decision).

You can eat in as well as takeaway, and I suspect they do amazing coffee. It's a shame that Bristanbul is a little bit too far up Gloucester Road for me to be able to make it up there and back in a lunch break or I'd be there every lunchtime.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.

Sunday, 4 December 2011


Demuths has been around for, ooh, about as long as I can remember. It's not a place I have eaten at often, largely because it is a vegetarian restaurant. But that was exactly the reason why I went there today.

It was the missus' birthday on Monday, and she has been becoming increasingly keen on exploring the idea of vegetarianism. I think that anyone who thinks a lot about the food that they eat will at some point examine the way the feel about eating meat. Some may end up thinking it's unnatural and stop eating meat, others may simply have a greater respect about where it comes from and what it means to eat meat. Which is the camp I'm in. The missus is still undecided.

With that in mind, and with the thought that we both want to expand our repertoire of vegetarian dishes and try to have better ideas about preparing vegetarian meals, I thought I'd take her out to lunch to one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the area.

I had been considering going to a vegetarian restaurant in Bristol - Cafe Maitreya - but the lunch menu at Demuths looked a bit more interesting. And I was also taking the missus along to the Field of Lights at the Holburne Museum.

A small restaurant, Demuths is probably best described as intimate. Although booking ahead and mentioning that it was for a birthday did mean we got a secluded alcove which helped it feel more private.

When we sat down, at about 2.30pm, we seemed to have arrived about 5 minutes after quite a few other tables who all ordered before us. I was dreading a long wait until we would get our meals. But the kitchen is obviously well run (by Head Chef, Richard Buckley) and we didn't notice any delay. Full marks for service.

I chose the Blue Vinny Tart with potatoes and salad. On reflection exactly the sort of uninspired stuff that I wanted to try and avoid - quiche. But that doesn't do it justice. Although it lacked a real punch of blue cheese the quality of the tart and the skill that had gone into making it were obvious. The portion was, for me, a little small. But I enjoyed eating it, and didn't feel like I hadn't had enough. The preserved lemon oil used to dress the salad was delicious.

The missus went for Port Poached Pear with ewe's milk cheese, hazelnuts, spelt and fennel seeds and was very, very pleased. We seem to have gorged on pears this year. I've lost count of the number of times we've made Pear, Beetroot and Feta Salad. I didn't taste any due to the hazelnuts (I've got a nut allergy). But she loved it and she has a great palate, so I trust her judgement.

Meat free certainly feels like a nicer way to eat sometimes, and though this meal may not have provided a great deal of inspiration for home cooking it has made me more inclined to consider eating at other vegetarian restaurants. Cafe Maitreya next on the list I shouldn't wonder.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Braised Pig Cheeks with Apple Risotto

This is Autumn on a plate. Succulent, falling apart, pig cheeks with a seasonal apple risotto.

This dish came about through a couple of things. One of those things was a great lunch at the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna. I had pig cheeks with pigeon breast and lentils, never having had pig cheeks before, and after eating them once I was hooked. Slowly cooked these morsels of meat become melt-in-the-mouth tender and have a richer pork taste than most other cuts. They're a bit like the the dark thigh meat on a chicken.

The apple risotto part of the dish was inspired by watching the Hairy Bikers. They put theirs with guinea fowl, which I'm sure tasted amazing, but I was keen on pairing it up with pig cheeks. I don't often put meat with risotto because the texture of vegetables of fish works much better. But when meat is as tender as pig cheeks get after 4 hours in the oven there's no problem.

So, pig cheeks first. You'll need to go to a butcher to get these, and not all butchers will have them in, but a good butcher will get them in for you. You'll want at least 3 per portion and they shouldn't cost any more than 60p each.

Dust them in seasoned flour and fry them on a medium high heat so they get a crispy coating. Remove from the pan and then add finely chopped stock veg. When that's soft, add about a pint of liquid which can be stock or water, or a mix of both with, possibly, a slosh of booze. Calvados would work a treat. Add dried herbs, bay leaf and sage mandatory but anything else you particularly favour could go in. Pop the pig cheeks back in and then put the pan (or pot) into a pre-heated oven set at 140 Celsius. Leave it for 4 hours.

Towards the end of the cooking time of the pig cheeks, make your risotto. A simple white risotto will do. Soften finely chopped onion in butter - how much onion you use will depend on how many you're cooking for. Add your risotto rice when the onion is soft and fry for a couple of minutes before adding a small glass of dry white wine or vermouth. Let this evaporate whilst you stir. You should notice the rice start to release some of its starch.

Then add hot stock (chicken or veg) a ladle or so at a time, and stir this into the rice.

Meanwhile, blanche some peeled and sliced apples in acidulated water. Towards the end of the cooking of the risotto, add the blanched apples. Then add either Parmesan, butter or mascarpone. Philadelphia works as well. But Parmesan or butter would be best to prevent the overall dish from being too sweet.

Then its just a matter of plating up. Put a ladle-full of risotto into each dish, then add your pig cheeks adding a good spoonful of the cooking liquor over each cheek. If you want you could garnish with some further apple slices that have been fried in butter, or maybe some fried sage leaves.

This is nice alternative to Sunday lunch, but one which will still fill the house with wonderful cooking smells, and which will satisfy the most demanding appetites.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Spyglass

The Spyglass has been a feature of the harbourside in Bristol for quite a few years now. When it first appeared it seemed to offer everything that had been lacking in the centre of town. Good value, tasty food in an interesting setting.

I remember long summer nights when me and a few friends would have some beers on King Street and then queue up for 30-40 minutes for a table. It was ridiculously popular, but there really wasn't a lot like it.

That it is still there says a lot about it's enduring popularity with Bristol diners. But the last couple of times I've been I have been disappointed. Relaxed seems to be edging towards lazy.

On Saturday I met up with a group of friends to celebrate moving back to Bristol after a misguided move to The North. Nice place, but no work.

So we met up and had a few beers and watched the England match in Hort's. Which, by the way, seems to have turned itself into exactly my kind of pub. Big, with a nice mix of people, decent house beers and good guest ales.

After the match we all wanted to eat, and I needed to choose a place that would suit all tastes and all wallets. Particularly mine as it's a few weeks until I get paid (but at least now I have a job!).

After sometime away from Bristol I struggled to think of somewhere which was within easy walking distance of the centre. One of our crowd was on crutches due to a squash injury so we could go to far, and Park Street didn't seem like a good option. We also wanted to stay close to town for a couple more beers after we'd eaten.

The Spyglass was about all I could think off. And, to be fair, it served a purpose. It also served a pretty tragic looking chicken breast to one of my mates. It's all very well putting the main of the main on a plate by itself with accompanying sides, but when that is a chicken breast with a dollop of red sauce on it, you can't help but feel a little bit let down.

I can't honestly say that any of the food was bad. It wasn't. But neither was it particularly good. Why can't anywhere do proper chips!? It's not difficult or expensive and they are so much better than oven chips. My 'Cubano' Burger had absolutely nothing in common in Cuba, but, you know, it wasn't bad.

It wasn't cheap either. Our bill came to about £130 for 5 of us. I think we ended up paying about £27 each, which is way too much for a burger and a beer. Ok, a couple of beers. Maybe three. We had some olives and bread to start as well. But it was far too much for what it was, which I think sums up The Spyglass.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Souk Kitchen - Bristol

We've been down in Bristol visiting my mum, before we move back here in a week's time, and she treated us to an alternative Sunday lunch at Souk Kitchen in Southville.

Me and the missus ate here just after it opened last year. We went intending to have just the lunchtime special, but that was so tasty that we asked for the menu again and ordered a selection of the hot and cold mezze, before ordering dessert. The food was memorably tasty and we have always looked forward to visiting again.

Standards haven't changed in the 18 months since we first went.

A large part of the enjoyment and excitement of eating here is the lack of familiarity with the food. Without knowing what something is (zhoug, anyone?) it's hard to expect what it will taste like, and that's something I find very enticing. Thankfully the front of house staff are patient enough to deal with a long list of questions.

They are also comfortable with making sure the kitchen accomodates dietary requirements. I have a fairly severe nut allergy and need to make sure food doesn't contain nuts and won't be affected by cross-contamination in the kitchen.

And so to starters. As my mum isn't fond of overly spiced food we thought we'd start things easily with dips and bread. A suprisingly colourful treat:

There were three different dips: cauliflower and olive, carrot and rosewater and beetroot and tahini, served with freshly made flatbreads. The cauli and olive dip was subtle and satisfying. The carrot and rosewater at first tasted like fine turkish delight but then developed into a very carroty savoury taste which was totally moreish. It was a similar story with the beetroot dip which had the beetroot flavour turned up to 11.

We had a range of mains. My mum went for lamb kebabs as she'd been advised that this would be a mild dish. Which it was. The kebabs were succulent and well flavoured and came with saffron rice which contained sultanas and caramelised onions.

My missus went for a Persian fish curry which she reckoned was the best curry she's ever had, and she had a few of a very high standard during our travels around South-East Asia. The fish had been cooked delicately in freshly made curry sauce full of bright yellows and greens.

I went for a beef koresh with omani limes and prunes, which was a well balanced blend of fruity, savoury and meaty. It seemed unusual to have beef in a middle eastern recipe but it worked really well.

I can't wait to go back to be honest. The hot and cold mezze menu demands some attention, as do the evening specials which change regularly. Goat shwarma was on offer when we ate, and I think offering goat on a menu speaks volumes about the confidence of the kitchen. A confidence which is not misplaced here.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Great British Burger

Saturday night this week found me trying to find the perfect topping to a burger. It's a search that I am more than happy to undertake, you should understand, as I love burgers. Not crap, fast-food burgers, although there is occasionally time made for a Whopper. But McDonald's taste far too sweet these days. They may not advertise to kids as much any more, but they certainly cater solely to their tastes.

So my perfect burger is not a mass-produced one. It's made at home from minced beef. Good mince is the key, and it's not always possible to get ahold of. The stuff I used this weekend wasn't that great, but this was really just a battle of the toppings.

On, or rather in, one hand was a burger topped with grilled portabello mushroom, Swiss cheese, ketchup (such a satisfying word) and American mustard. In the other hand, and straight out of left field, was a burger topped with horseradish and sliced beetroot.

The thinking behind the mushroom and cheese burger was memories of the Mushroom Double Swiss which Burger King used to offer. And it really wasn't bad. But the title of best burger topping belonged to beetroot and horseradish.

Beef and horseradish work great as a Sunday roast, and I thought they would pair really well in a burger. But I wanted another dimension, and thought that the sweetish earthiness of beetroot would work well. And it did. The overall taste was a meaty, sweet and sour taste. But with really pronounced tastes.

The taste of all the ingredients seemed to turn up the taste of the others. Beef and horseradish brought out the sweetness of the beetroot. That in turn contrasted nicely with the savoury beef and the heat of the horseradish. Great British ingredients teaming up to make a great British burger.

I never imagined my perfect burger would be one without cheese or relish. I have always thought a bit of lettuce and onion or tomato was vital. Which just isn't the case. At least for me it isn't. But I will keep checking on that.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Use a sprat - and leave it at that

It's sprat season. Not that it receives much attention. These little oily fish can't really compete with the glamour of the game season. But what they lack in glamour they make up for in taste, and versatility.

It was the missus who spotted them for sale in Asda, at 45p a pack. There was about 20 of them in the 225g pack, which is a reasonable portion when split between two.

Traditional recipes keep things simple and don't involve much more than frying them and serving them with brown bread and butter - wedge of lemon optional. But we fancied something with a bit more kick, specifically a kick of chilli.

We could have gone Indian, oily fish seems to work really well with curry flavours. Or Moroccan, with a rub of ras el-hanout. But we went instead for Chinese.

The chilli kick was delivered by the best chilli sauce I have ever tasted, made by the missus with bird's eye chillies, rice wine vinegar, sugar, lime juice and dried chillies. Shop bought stuff pales in comparison. It was sharper than it was sweet, and perfectly hot.

This worked really well with the little sprats, which were simply dusted in flour and fried.

We had some noodles hanging around at the back of the cupboard so just chopped up some onion, garlic, ginger and peppers and put that together with a bit of soy and some more lime.

I honestly don't think we could have had a better meal for about 40p a portion. It was such a good way of getting some oily fish into our diet, which we're not very good at, and one that didn't break the bank. It was also a very satisfying dish for the determined carnivore, as sprats must be the biggest fish you can eat whole. Like whitebait for grown-ups. Don't waste them on catching a mackerel.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Maxi's Rotisserie

I passed through Leeds today on the way to a kind of job interview in Tadcaster. I was cutting it fine but left myself just enough time to visit Maxi's Rotisserie, famed for its cheap eastern eats. And rightly so. You get loads!

If the hallmark of a good Asian restaurant is the presence of 'locals' (Chinese people) then Maxi's is good. I was the only white face in there, in the middle of Leeds. For a fiver I got more food than I could eat, which happens very, very rarely. In fact, I can't remember it happening. I reckon I got a whole pork loin's worth of char sui, nice char sui, on a substantial bed of rice with a little garnish of steamed cabbage. I also went for a bit of the chilli sauce which was...intimidating.

The 'locals' were scoffing down the three meat special, which may have been a better bet cos that amount of char sui almost became monotonous. Almost. And I like char sui a lot.

It's not something you'd take a picture of, but I'd choose Maxi's over any chain fast food every time. A meal deal in Burger King/McDonalds/KFC/Subway is getting on for £5 these days, if not more. Why have that when you can have your choice of chicken, duck, roast belly pork or char sui or a combination thereof? It's a no-brainer.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Risotto with crab and roast butternut squash

Last week the missus made a cracking soup of roast butternut squash. It was simple to make, just roast a squash, some shallots, garlic and chilli then blend it all together. I haven't tasted many better soups to be honest. So it was a surprise that we had some left over. But we did, and I had my mind set on using it in a risotto with some crab.

Risotto is a favourite dish of mine, and there's already recipes on this blog for others - risotto with braised celery and prawn and broad bean risotto.

The basics are nearly always the same. Soften some finely chopped onion or shallot in some butter or oil, butter gives a creamier taste to the final dish. Then add your risotto rice and stir it around to get it coated in the melted butter. Stir until you see the edges of the rice turn slightly see-through.

At this point you can add a glass of dry white wine or vermouth, but if you don't have any just start with adding the stock. Ideally use a stock which matches the main flavour of what your cooking - fish, meat or veg.

Stir the risotto a lot when you add the first few ladles of stock, as this will make sure the starch releases which makes the risotto creamy.

Towards the end of cooking this particular risotto I added the leftover butternut squash soup, adding a little at a time so that the risotto didn't cool down too much. That done, I then added the back end of a block of grana padano, some creme fraiche and two small tins of dressed crab. I used the dressed crab as it's made with the tastier brown crab meat. I find white crab meat can be a bit 'fine' for a dish like this and the taste just gets lost.

Using the dressed crab is this instance meant that the crab taste was prominent in the final risotto. And it worked really well with the squash. Definitely one of the tastiest combinations for risotto in my opinion.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Pancho's Burritos

Today we returned to the Arndale Market in Manchester with one aim in mind, to have a burrito from Pancho's Burritos.

When we were last in the market I'd bought some habanero salsa from Pancho's which was excellent. And very hot. The quality of the salsa made me and the missus think that we would be daft not to eat there the next time we went to Manchester.

There's plenty of choice, including chili con carne and pork stew, but it was the burritos which drew us in. A fresh tortilla is softened over heat, then topped with rice, refried beans (actually tasty refried beans), chili salsa, lettuce and sour cream and a choice of meat. I went for beef with extra chipotle chili in adobo sauce, the missus went for pork with extra guacamole.

They were both excellent, the pork was a kind of pulled pork from a slowly-stewed shoulder. The beef was finely chopped rather than minced, and equally as good as the pork. All the separate components were tasty and really complemented each other. The superb chipotle in adobo fired things up nicely and the refried beans and rice helped cool things down when the heat threatened to get too intense. I was left with lovely smokey, meaty taste which lingered and lingered.

This cosmopolitan little food court is definitely my favourite place to eat in Manchester. You simply can't beat the value, quality and choice.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Thank You list

Have you ever been in the middle of eating your tea and stopped to think how many people you would have to thank for the food on your plate?

How many people would you end up with? There might be farmers and growers, pickers, sorters, packers, drivers, pilots, more drivers, warehouse staff, more drivers, shelf stackers and the checkout lady. Not to mention the buyers, sales & marketing, finance and HR departments of the supermarkets.

It might be fair to say, then, that the shorter the list, the better the food.

Judging by the steak I've just eaten I'd say that's a fair bet. The thank you list for my steak? Farmer, butcher. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I even said a little thank you to the cow. The list doesn't get a lot shorter than that, not for meat anyway. And steaks don't get much better.

The great thing about buying steak, or any meat for that matter, from a butcher is that you can get exactly what you want. I wanted a big sirloin with a decent amount of fat on it. And that's what I got. A thick slab of deep red meat with a good edge of creamy white fat.

I covered this in freshly ground black pepper and laid it in a hot pan which had a crushed clove of garlic frying in it. I rubbed the garlic of the cooked side when I turned the meat to impart a nice garlic flavour which I think really complements beef. After cooking for around 8 minutes I laid it on the chopping to rest for a few minutes before I ate it.

It tasted every bit as good as I hoped it would, which made me consider who I needed to say thank you to. So thank you, Maskill's of Hebden Bridge, farmers and butchers. And thank you, cow.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Halifax Food and Drink Festival

Well, I say festival, but farce might be closer to the mark. It wasn't very good.

It's hard to believe that the Halifax Food and Drink Festival has been going for 5 years. In that time I would have thought that the organisers would have learnt how to promote it. I live in Hebden Bridge, about 7 miles from Halifax, but I only heard about it when I saw a poster in Manchester Victoria train station. I saw nothing about it in Hebden Bridge, nothing in Todmorden, and nothing in Halifax, come to think of it.

Promotion that bad almost guarantees low attendance. And starting the festival on a Friday wasn't a good idea, aren't most people at work on a Friday?

To call it a festival was just downright misleading. There was nothing at all like a festival about it. It was like paying to get into a market, and I've been to better markets. Apparently Friday and Saturday had been so quiet that some of the stallholders didn't return on the Sunday. There was only 7 or 8 there on the Sunday, which was very disappointing.

Making matters worse was a painfully embarrasing cooking demonstration from Anthony Worral-Thompson. He thought we was somewhere near Darlington! He'd heard that Darlington was in 'the North', and obviously assumed that as he was in 'the North' he must be near there. Oh dear. He then took an hour to cook steak and chips and drank red wine from a bowl. I guess he'd had a few before he even got on the stage.

If Calderdale Council decide to continue with the festival they would do well to do a bit of market research beforehand to find out what people want from a food festival, and whether they want one at all. Assuming people do, then it would be worth asking them what they want, and maybe looking at other more successful festivals which take place around the area. Getting local restaurants on board would seem like a good idea as well - I'm sure they need all the help they can get at the minute.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Wings at Manchester's Arndale Market

We've just come back from a day out in Manchester, but for a moment it felt like we'd had a day out in Kuala Lumpur.

In the Arndale Market, situated in a corner of the Arndale Centre, is a food court. But it's not one of those food courts which are packed out with fast food chains. Here there are independent outlets offering a range of Chinese, Greek, Indian and Mexican food and more.

The Chinese outlet is called Wings and will look familiar to anyone who has eaten in the hawker centres of South-East Asia. Fast service at the counter behind which stand steaming pots of rice and stock, and hanging up behind a glass shield are whole roast ducks and hugs slabs of roast pork. It looks so inviting, and the long queue suggests that this is the place to eat.

And it is. That's not to say that the other places aren't good. I'm sure they are, but we couldn't resist a taste of out travels. I had roast duck and char sui on rice, the missus had roast duck and roast pork ramen. The meat was excellent, succulent and authentically tasty. The ramen broth was equally good. I'd go back in a shot, but next time I'd leave with a whole roast duck, a bargain at £11.

Instead, this time we came home with a kilo of mussels from the fish stall (£3.50) and a little pot of fire (habanero salsa) from the Mexican stall. If the rest of the Mexican food is of the same standard, then we'll have to go and eat there as well. Though I think I'll choose something a bit milder than the salsa - it would be insane to eat too much of anything that is that hot!

As we left we walked through the grocery area where durian fruit was on sale. It's sickly-sweet smell hangs thickly in the air around Bukit Bintang, the area where we spent much of our time when we were in KL. That smell, together with our Asian lunch and the table of noisy, chattering chinese behind us when we ate transported us right back to Malaysia. The feet are getting itchy again.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Jamie Oliver's Brisket Chili

Without a doubt this is the finest Chili you will ever eat. And if you like this, then I would recommend giving his braised oxtail a go, just as easy and just as tasty.

I made the chili for 2 hungry adults, and it fed us handsomely.

First of all, finely chop an onion, a chilli or two and a couple of cloves of garlic and soften over a low heat. I used some Hotel Chocolat Cocoa & chilli oil to try and add a bit more flavour. 

Whilst the onion, garlic and chilli mixture are cooking score a 1.5lb piece of brisket. Season the meat and then rub in some ground cumin seed, dried oregano and a good amount of paprika. This then goes into a casserole or pan which can go into the oven. Fry the meat over a medium heat, to get some colour. Turn it regularly to ensure it gets browned on all sides.

Add the onion mixture to the casserole along with a cinnamon stick, 3 bay leaves, about 400ml of good beef stock and about the same amount again of passata or a tin of chunky chopped tomatoes.

Turn up the heat and get everything simmering vigorously, the put it into a medium oven (160 Celsius) for about 3 hours, until the meat pulls apart with little effort. If you want you could add some kidney beans a few minutes before serving to add a bit of texture.

True enough, just like on the tele, the meat fell apart. And it tasted very, very good. I now understand why Jamie and Gennaro react they way they do to some of the stuff they cook. It made us go "umm" and "cor" and make bold statements of intimate activity to each other. Satisfyingly big chunks of rich meat, and some small slithers, in a moreish, slightly sweet, spicy, savoury sauce. It didn't stand a chance. We finished the lot off in two big bowls each. Writing this I simply want to eat it again right now.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Spaghetti Vongole

Us Brits are a nation of animal lovers, apparently. A fact reflected in what we eat. Although there are an odd few who keep chickens, sheep and even pigs as pets the vast majority of us don't. Because we want to eat them.

Admittedly some of those who keep farm animals as pets do end up eating them, but I can't imagine a chicken called Sally tastes a great deal better than one called £5.99 from the butcher. Familiarity may breed contempt but it doesn't guarantee flavour.

There is a more practical view of animals in other parts of the world. Dog may not feature on many menus seen by tourists in South-East Asia but it does appear in the diet of ordinary people at home in Vietnam and Cambodia. France hasn't produced any famous jockeys and I can't help but think that the reason is because they'd rather eat horses than watch them run round a field.

Put simply, some animals are meant to be eaten and some aren't. There was no heartache, then, when we recently said goodbye to our clams.

We had only had them for 24 hours before we decided that they would make a much better spaghetti vongole than a house pet - having said that, we live in a flat so they weren't such a bad idea. We bought them from the excellent fish market in Kirkgate Market (terrible website alert!) in Leeds.

The stalls at this market sell a range of fish that I haven't come across in this country. Fresh conger eel, clams, parrot fish are some of the more exotic varieties on offer. The stalls also provide the restaurants of Leeds with their fish so it would be safe to assume that there is a high turnover of produce, which means the fish is fresh.

Once you've got some clams making spaghetti vongole is straightforward. We used about 100g of clams per person, and cooked them in a pan along with 4 cloves of garlic (we like garlic), half an onion, a small glass of wine, a chilli and olive oil. The clams cook till they open and then get mixed with cooked spaghetti.

This is the kind of meal that would cost the best part of a tenner in a restaurant, yet at home it can be made for a couple of quid. It's well worth it.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Rabbit with pasta

There is something gloriously retro about eating rabbit. Not that it featured a lot, in fact at all, in my 1980's childhood. It went out of fashion long before that. I suspect that once the country was spared the hardships of rationing, and was introduced to convenience foods, rabbit went off the menu completely, only to be seen again following the rise of the TV chef.

It was a TV chef (Jamie Oliver) inspired recipe which provided the basis for this dish of rabbit with pasta.

First of all the meat is marinated in olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and fresh herbs. We picked some lemon thyme and fennel from the Incredible Edible beds in Todmorden yesterday so that's what I used. Incidentally, we picked the herbs from the beds at the police station, which must be one of the few times some has reached in through the bars of a police station, rather than reaching out.

After marinating for about 4 hours the meat was browned in a big saucepan and then following it into the saucepan went a glass of white wine, 3 bay leaves, a chopped up lemon, salt and pepper and enough water to just about cover the meat. This went into the oven, at about 170-180 degrees, for a couple of hours.

After the rabbit had cooked for a couple of hours it came out of the oven to cool down, and I then picked the meat from the bones and strained the cooking liquid. The shredded meat I added back into the liquid, with a good knob of butter and heated it through whilst I cooked some pasta.

It made a really nice change from chicken and beef, and with a couple of tweaks is something I'd do again. I'd leave out the fennel next time, as it had a slightly medicinal edge to it, which may have been exacerbated by the Aussie viognier I used. Pinot Grigio never fails when I use it in Italian food, it has such a well rounded taste it can go with just about anything. The viognier had too much of a mineral taste.

From a rabbit costing £3.50 there was enough meat to feed 4 people, which makes it really good value. As it is the extra is now sitting in the freezer waiting for a day when cheese on toast for lunch just won't do.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Grilled mackerel with minted potato salad

This lovely dish couldn't be easier or cheaper.

We had some egg yolks left over after making some coconut macaroons (2 egg whites, 160g dessicated coconut, 100g sugar - whisk then put some blobs onto some baking paper and bake in the oven at 180 for 12ish minutes) which were, well still are in fact, delicious. With the egg yolks we made some mayo. Homemade mayo really will put you off shop bought for good.

If you want arms like Popeye then whisking mayonnaise is the way forward. But if you want to make your life a lot easier then a blender comes in very handy. All it takes is 2 egg yolks, a teaspoon of dijon mustard (and some english mustard if you fancy), a dash of white wine vinegar and some oil. We tend to use normal vegetable oil (which more often than not is rapeseed oil) so that the mayo doesn't take on a taste of oil, but some recipes I've seen suggest olive oil. So use whatever takes your fancy.

Put everything except the oil into a blender and give it a couple of short bursts, then switch to constant and start trickling in the oil. It'll take quite a bit, something like 150-200ml. It's done when you have a thickish pale yellow sauce. It will need a little bit of seasoning, which is best done at the end. If you're using pepper, use white rather than black to prevent very visible black bits in the mayo.

We had a mackerel in the freezer and felt like having a light Sunday lunch, so we thought we'd have it with a potato salad made with our homemade mayo.

It doesn't take a lot of explaining really. We boiled some new potatoes, cut them in half and then mixed them with some mayo, some chopped gherkin and some fresh mint for a very tasty potato salad. We simply topped that with a grilled mackerel fillet, and there you have it. A very rewarding tea for very little effort.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Lamb meatballs with Romesco sauce

We had a trip to Ilkley. There's a few good reasons why you might go to Ilkley, for us it was meat and cold water.

The cold water in question was the Ilkley Lido. Its about 15 minutes walk out of the town centre, near the rugby club and offers a heated indoor pool as well as an unheated outdoor pool. After getting a lot of enjoyment out of the Lido at Portishead when we lived in Bristol we were keen to go to Ilkley's pool.

It is a very picturesque setting, with Ilkley Moor just a short way up the hill, and the water is very cold. Well, cold anyway. But for the perverse this is all part of the fun.

For the meat we went to Lishman's. Makers of the Yorkshire sausage and an award winning banger - the Champion. Its one of those butchers where you just want to buy a bit of everything. We bought some sausages, we just had to, some pig cheeks and the lamb mince for this dish which I had been wanting to do for a while.

It was extraordinarily good meat. I could almost smell the field that the lamb had been gamboling about in.

Using a pound of mince for two people I seasoned it with salt, pepper and paprika in the absence of pimento - although I don't know if there's a lot of difference. I made the seasoned mince into 10 meatballs and fried them slowly in some olive oil. Once they were nice and brown I added the romesco sauce and just heated it through for a few minutes, and served them with rice.

Romesco is a Spanish, or to be more precise Catalan, sauce of tomatoes, peppers and almonds. I googled for a recipe and found this one.

It was a lovely dish. Rich, slightly spicy and a little sweet with a nice toasted nutty flavour from the almonds which went really nicely with the browned meatballs. Definitely one for the repertoire.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Cornerhouse

If there's one thing I hate it is making a bad choice when I'm eating out. It was a shame, then, that I made a bad choice when eating out yesterday.

It was an all too rare occasion for us to eat out. We're both out of work so it has required a close eye on our finances to enable us to go out for something nice to eat.

We went to Cornerhouse in Manchester, home to the best pizzas in Manchester apparently. Perhaps that was my first mistake. I didn't have a pizza. But not many other people were choosing pizza so if they are the best in Manchester it must be a well kept secret.

The popular choices last night were the steak sandwich and the spanish meatball sandwich. I had the steak sandwich, the missus went for the spanish meatball - a wise choice it turned out.

On the face of there was nothing wrong with the steak sandwich. The steak was ok, it had some taste and eating it didn't turn out to be a fight with gristle. Although there was a couple of moments when I had to grab the meat and pull it away from my mouth. Never a good thing.

It was meant to come with mustard mayo, but instead it came with Hellman's. A good mayo can be the missing dimension in a good steak sandwich so the kitchen at Cornerhouse really missed a trick there. Hellman's is fine, even fantastic, with a chip. But a steak sarnie really demands better.

Although I was no longer hungry at the end of my meal, I was sated rather than satisfied. And at nearly 9 quid the steak sandwich really should have been better.

The spanish meatball sandwich, on the other hand, was closer to triumph than disaster. The amount of meatballs in the sandwich was more than generous, and the use of chorizo in the sauce meant it really had a lot of taste. In fact, it had almost too much taste and would have benefited from something sharp on the side to balance things out. But that's splitting hairs really. At less than 8 quid this felt like a much better choice than my steak sandwich.

I'll make sure I have a pizza next time.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Risotto with braised celery

The last risotto post I did seems to be popular, so I thought I'd do another. This time, however, I used a proper homemade stock and a good slug of decent wine because I wanted to try and get the best flavour possible.

I started with softening some finely chopped onion in butter. I used half a smallish onion for a risotto for two. After it had softened for a few minutes over a medium-high heat I added the risotto rice - in this instance Arborio. That got turned over for a couple of minutes to get well coated in the butter, then I added a small glass of dry white wine. I used Pinot Grigio, it seems apt to use a Italian wine.

This got stirred for a couple of minutes and then I started adding the stock.

I used the stock I'd kept from preparing a gammon. All this involved was boiling a gammon joint with stock veg - carrot, onion and celery - along with some bay leaf and a few black peppercorns. I finished the gammon off in the oven with a mustard and brown sugar glaze. It was delicious and was great in sandwiches for lunch. I simply strained the stock and froze it for future use.

After getting the risotto underway I started to braise the celery, using a method I got from Delia online. Very simply, just some softened onions, chopped celery, a hint of sugar and some of the gammon stock. Delia's recipe includes other veg and there's no reason why you couldn't use whatever you fancy. Fennel would be good.

The celery continued to braise whilst I kept adding stock to the risotto, stirring all the while.

Towards the end I added some frozen peas into the last of the stock, warming them through before adding them to the risotto. Adding frozen peas straight into the risotto would cool it down too much I think. Whilst there was still a little stock unabsorbed by the rice I added a good handful of grated parmesan and some chopped parsley. Then I put the lid on the pan and let the risotto settle for a couple of minutes.

All that I had to do then was serve. Risotto, then braised celery and some of the rich braising liquor. A little bit more parmesan and it was done. It seemed to go down well with the missus, and the braised celery went really nicely, especially with the braising juices which added a nice depth to the overall taste. The Pinot Grigio that hadn't gone into the risotto went nicely with it as well.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Homemade bread

This isn't something I can take the credit for. It's the missus. She's been trying to make decent homemade bread on and off for over a year, but just recently she's cracked it.

When she first started trying to make bread at home we were going through a bit of a farmhouse kitchen phase. We were even making butter from scratch. Which, by the way, is fairly easy and gives you some buttermilk as a by-product which you can use to make some tasty pancakes.

The first efforts were not a success. Small, dense loaves which refused to rise, regardless of the state of the dough. Thankfully she didn't force it on me so I could still enjoy stodgy white supermarket bread - as we all know, this makes the best toast.

However, we have plenty of time on our hands at the minute as we're out of work and the extra impetus of saving some money prompted a second go at making bread at home.

The key is strong bread flour. Previous attempts with normal flour were total flops. But the first go with strong bread flour produced a properly risen, recognisable loaf. Further tweaks to the technique mean that she now bakes a near perfect loaf of 'farmhouse white'. It bulges over the side of the bread tin before it's even gone in the oven.

To achieve perfection she first warms the flour. It's a Delia suggestion, and that can't be questioned. In fact, everything needs to be warm, including your kitchen. Cold kitchens do not make for good bread.

The only thing that doesn't need to be warm is the oven. That needs to be hot. About as hot as you can get it, and then work backwards from there. 230 degrees Celsius in our oven made the crust a touch overdone. 220 degrees seems to be much more like it.

At first I was reluctant to shift from supermarket bread. But now she's cracked how to make it at home I'm converted. Which is good, considering how much bread I'm eating at the moment. I don't think I've ate so much cheese on toast since I was a student. But it's a cheap and satisfying lunch option so I'm stuck with it for the moment. At least making bread at home means we're paying about 45p for a loaf, rather than £1 or more at a supermarket.

Update - 16.11.11

Well, things have gone full circle and the student is now the master. I have assumed pretty much all bread making duties. Baker's fingers, apparently. We've been really enjoying baking and eating half and half loaves. Half white flour and half wholemeal or rye. It feels a bit healthier and the flavour which rye flour adds is really nice, satisfying and nutty. There's nothing quite like the first slice cut from a still warm loaf, slathered in butter. That alone is worth the effort.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Pony & Trap - Chew Magna

Being unemployed places some pretty severe restrictions on eating out. The local chippy does a 2-4-1 deal which we've used a couple of times, but anything you might consider gastronomy is well out of reach. So I was over the moon when my Mum decided to take us out for lunch when we went to visit.

The venue was the Pony & Trap which has just received a Michelin star. The pub is in a small hamlet a couple of miles from Chew Magna.  The setting is great, with views across a valley of well groomed farmland. Inside, the owners have retained the look of a proper pub but also provide a marginally smarter dining room out the back, which makes the most of the views. It had been a long time since we'd been sat in such a nice place for a meal.

If I'm honest, the starters on offer were not particularly enticing. A couple of soups, a pate and a terrine, a salad and moules marniere. Nothing you wouldn't see on a good pub menu really. Perhaps that was the point. This was still pub grub, but very, very good pub grub.

I went for the Duck Liver Parfait with Smoked Duck Breast, Red Onion Jam and Toast. It came with some tiny cornichons that packed a piquant punch and a sliver of pickled carrot. The serving was generous, almost too generous really. The toast was two thick slices of farmhouse white rather than melba toast, which felt like a lot of bread for a starter. Having said that the contemporary and slightly pretentious black slate went back clean (is there any need to serve food on anything other than a plate?). Although I did give my smoked duck away - it was far too smokey and not nearly ducky enough.

Others in the party went for the same starter and we were all complementary and satisfied. My missus chose the Spicy Spider Crab Soup, displaying a clear yearning for our days of travelling in South-east Asia. It was a very nice soup, if unspectacular.

Mains, however, were a different matter.

I had Char-Grilled Pigeon Breast with Braised Pig Cheek, Puy Lentils, Cauliflower Puree and Caramelised Red Onion (which looked suspiciously like the Red Onion Jam of the starter). Fantastic. Rich and deep, with each flavour complementing the other. The star of the show was the pig cheek. I only wish the portion had been as generous as my starter.

Others in our party chose steak and were, understandably, very happy with their choices. A professional kitchen can produce the perfect temperatures for cooking and so can properly sear a steak to give it a crisp, nutty crust while retaining enough moisture to keep the middle soft, moist and pink. The chips were good as well.

My partner opted for the Cornish Cod with Pine Nut & Herb Crumb and Saffron Cream Sauce with clams. I love clams and was lucky enough to get a taste of one which was deliciously sweet. The cod was generously portioned and the cream sauce was well balanced and not at all cloying.

It was such a welcome treat to go out for such a nice meal. And one which will provide lasting enjoyment because my pigeon dish is definitely one which I'll have a go at doing at home. Although it's likely to be with just the pig cheek, or perhaps ox cheek, so that it isn't too expensive to make.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Pork in Dandelion and Burdock

The idea for cooking pork in dandelion & burdock came to my while I was sitting on a park bench eating a bag of chips. I nearly always have a can of dandelion & burdock with fish and chips, and for whatever reason this time it occurred to me that the sweet aniseed taste would make a good sauce to go with pork.

I'd heard about a South African dish of chicken cooked in coca cola. So pork in dandelion & burdock didn't seem too outrageous. And on the most recent series of Masterchef the winner, Tim Anderson, had done a dish of belly pork braised in coca cola. It was his recipe that I referred to for the technique for my recipe.

I started of by browning a 600g piece of belly pork in a frying pan and heated the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Whilst doing that I made up my braising liquor:

450ml dandelion & burdock
100ml rice wine vinegar
100ml soy sauce
2 star anise
1 heaped teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
1 hot chilli (pierced and left whole)
1 cinnamon stick

With the pork browned on all sides I poured the liquid into the frying pan and brought it to a boil. Then I gave the meat a quick baste and put it in the oven to cook for a couple of hours, basting every 20 minutes. After cooking I let the meat rest for 15 minutes whilst cooking some rice and spring greens. I also reduced the braising liquor to a thick sauce.

I hesitate to use the word triumph, but it did taste really good. The meat was juicy and tender and the sweet and spicy sauce went really nicely with it. The plain rice and greens were a good, bland, accompaniment.

In terms of technique I wouldn't change anything, but I would use less cooking liquid, 1 can of dandelion and burdock would be enough. And the sauce could have done with being a bit more savoury. Worcestershire sauce would have helped, or some light stock, or a mixture of the two.

If you give it a go, let me know what you think.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Lentil and egg curry

If you thought pear and beetroot salad sounded odd, I guess lentil and egg curry is going to sound even odder. But don't judge a dish by its name - this one is based on a Delia recipe and tastes fantastic.

We both love a good curry but so far have struggled to make anything which can compete on taste with a curry from a good curry house. I suspect that's because we shy away from using (a lot of) ghee. However, this lentil curry has come up trumps, if you'll pardon the expression.

The key to getting a good result with this is time. You need to cook the onions for a minimum of 30 minutes on a low heat to get a good caramelisation which gives good depth of flavour to the curry.

To start with chop an onion (or more than 1 if you're cooking for a crowd) quite finely. Get some oil, or ghee, hot and then add your spices. We use about 1/2 a teaspoon of ground fenugreek, ground ginger and ground turmeric. A teaspoon of cumin seeds also goes in along with a teaspoon of garam masala. We've been using Schwartz curry powder for our garam masala as it has a strong taste of clove which is essential in a curry. Stir this around for 30 seconds or so. Add the chopped onion, mix thoroughly then turn the heat down really low. Add a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and a chopped chilli or two. Put a lid on the pan and leave the spiced onions to caramelise for at least half an hour.

Make up some coconut milk. We use blocks of creamed coconut to do this as its pure coconut. How much you'll need will depend on how many people you're cooking for, so use the guidelines on the amount of liquid your lentils will need to cook in. Add the coconut milk to the cooked onions. Add the lentils (we've been using red lentils which are a bit sweeter than green), a generous teaspoon of lime pickle and throw in a Cinnamon stick. Simmer.

Keep and eye on this as you might need to add more water if the curry looks like it is getting too thick.

About 10 minutes before your curry is done do some soft boiled eggs - eggs into cold water, bring to the boil then cook for 7 minutes. When done, put them into a bowl of cold water then peel them when they're cool enough to handle.

Stir some chopped coriander into the curry, if you fancy, then serve in bowls with the halved boiled eggs on top. Flatbreads go nicely with this curry and I prefer using them rather than serving the curry with rice.

Lentils, friend of the student and the vegetarian. And now firm friend of the unemployed.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Pear and beetroot salad with feta and parma ham

To most people, including me, pear and beetroot salad doesn't sound that enticing. But the flavours in this salad are great. Me and my partner have eaten this 3 times a week some weeks! If you're cooking for 2 you'll probably end up having it twice to make sure you don't throw half a block of feta away. Not a bad thing.

The original recipe, in Cook with Jamie, uses a mix of raw beetroot. We've used pre-cooked beetroot and it's still very tasty. It's simple to make as well.

Peel and core your pears then slice thinly, a pear per person will do. Do the same with your beetroot and mix with the sliced pears. Crumble over half a block of feta then pour over a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice and season. The original recipe uses mint but we prefer to use thyme to make the taste a bit more savoury. You could leave it at that, but parma ham works really, really well in the salad and seems to make it more of a meal.

That's it. From start to satisfied in about half an hour. Make it once and I guarantee you'll make it again and again.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Chorizo and Butterbean Soup

This is a real winner - quick, simple, cheap and tasty. Chorizo and butterbeans is a classic combination, the sweetish blandness of the butterbeans seems to accentuate the rich spiciness of the chorizo.

I usually make this soup for two but if you're cooking for more just add extra ingredients as required. To start, finely chop a red onion and soften it in olive oil. Add some chopped garlic, you can be generous with this, or not, depending on your preference for garlic. Put a couple of sprigs of thyme in if you have them. If you don't have thyme you could use bay 2 or 3 bay leaves, oregano would be nice as well.

When the onions and garlic have softened and have started to give off that wonderful aroma that cooking onions always do turn up the heat and add some chopped chorizo. There's no need to be shy here, if you like chorizo put plenty in. The better the chorizo the better the taste of the soup, so use as good as you can get.

When the red oil is coming out of the chorizo add a tin of drained butterbeans, if cooking for two, and pour on enough boiling water to cover the beans. A bit extra won't hurt, but make sure you use enough water or there won't be a lot of liquid to your soup. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Before serving add a good amount of fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon, then season and serve.

It's something I cook again and again because its easy and very tasty. You can use it as the basis for some other dishes as well. You could use chick peas instead of butterbeans and add some squid for something a bit fancier. Or some chicken for a more filling soup. Merguez sausages could be used instead of chorizo and you could pep things up with a dollop of harissa and a stir of sour cream. Mmm, I'm going to have to get hold of some merguez sausages and give that a go myself.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Bolla e squittiscono (Bubble and squeak)

I have no idea whether the translation in the title is accurate or not, but a couple of online translations suggested 'Bolla e squittiscono' as a translation for 'bubble and squeak'. And even if it isn't right, I like it.

This isn't a dish of fried sunday lunch leftovers, it's done with fresh ingredients - potatoes, dried pasta, greens, herbs and cheese. Just reading what's in it you know it's going to taste good, even if pasta and potatoes together seems odd at first.

Cooking it couldn't be simpler because you'll only need one pot.

Peel and slice some potatoes, enough for the number of people you're cooking for. Then get everything into a pan of boiling water. Our favourite version so far used potatoes and pasta (fusilli) with spring greens, frozen peas and frozen broad beans.

Once everything is cooked, drain it and get a serving dish. Put a layer of the mixture into the serving dish then scatter over some cheese. The original recipe calls for Fontina, but we haven't managed to get any of that so we used cheddar when we first made the dish. Second time around we used ricotta which was delicious. Anyway, a layer of the boiled mixture gets scattered with cheese, some salt and pepper, fresh or dried herbs (sage is good, or mixed italian herbs) and some olive oil. A grate of nutmeg adds a nice flavour as well.

Keep layering as above and then cover with grated parmesan (if using) at the end. You could pop it under the grill now to get the parmesan melted and browned slightly.

It might not sound much, but this is a very tasty and satisfying dish, so much so that's its worth making more than you think you might need.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Prawn and Broad Bean Risotto

Risotto is not a hard dish to do. All you need is the right rice, Arborio or Carnaroli, some decent stock (make your own, buy fresh or use a cube) and something to go in it, like some prawns and broad beans. Or chicken and herbs, fresh vegetables perhaps, crabmeat and roasted squash, whatever you fancy really. Here's a link to a post about one I did recently - risotto with braised celery. And if you're in the mood for something a bit different, try this - Italian bubble and squeak.

Most recipes start with finely chopped onion or shallot softened in butter or olive oil. However, on Saturday Kitchen at the weekend Antonio Carluccio was in Italy with the 'King of Risotto' and the King didn't use onion or shallot. So if you haven't got either, don't worry.

Another common feature of risotto recipes is a glass of dry white wine or vermouth. Again, good for flavour but not vital and not having any wine to hand shouldn't stop you from cooking risotto.

The most important thing is technique. You need two pans, one for the rice and one for the stock. Get the stock simmering on the hob so that you always add warm liquid to the cooking rice. To start, cook your rice for a minute or so in hot butter or olive oil - with or without onion/shallot/wine. When the rice starts to turn see-through at the edge start adding hot stock, one ladle at a time.

Stir the rice a few times every time you add stock and add another ladle of stock before the rice cooks dry. A good rule of thumb is to add it when you leave trails in the rice when you stir it. There's no need to stir constantly, if you do it'll take ages for the rice to cook.

Add the rest of your ingredients according to how long they take to cook but not before the rice has had about 10 minutes and is well on the way to looking like a risotto. If you're adding chicken cook it beforehand or just add it at the end fully cooked. Peas and other small veg can be warmed up in the hot stock. Herbs should go in right at the end to ensure they retain their flavour.

After about 20 minutes you should be ready. The risotto should be thick and saucy. Try a little - the rice should have a little bit of firmness in the middle, but only a little. If its at all chalky or dry add more stock (or warm water if you've run out) then stir and wait a couple more minutes, then try it again. The liquid should look glossy and creamy.

Before serving let the risotto stand for a couple of minutes off the heat and for a really good flavour add a good knob of butter, a generous scoop of mascarpone or a handful of grated parmesan. Check the seasoning.

With the basics taken care of (rice, stock, stir, rest) risotto really is easy. It's a great for veggies and meat eaters and works with pretty much all meat and fish. It can even be a sweet dish, like an Italian rice pudding, using fruit like blueberries or strawberries, fresh brambles or mulberries would be pretty good as well I reckon.