Moving to London has been a two-edged sword for my cooking. On the one hand, I have access to a dizzying range of fantastic produce that I could only dream of back in Wales. But on the other hand, the kitchen in our temporary apartment’s kitchen is beyond tiny, I don’t have any of my cooking gear, and I’m home too late and tired from my new job to actually tackle any ambitious cooking. Overall, it’s a net loss, although that’ll change soon when we move to our permanent flat.

Still, to prove I haven’t completely lost my touch (or forgotten about this blog), here’s tonight’s effort: pan roasted veal chop (from acclaimed butcher the Ginger Pig) with morel mushrooms. Accompanied by a salad that Danielle made: spinach, avocado, shaved parmesan, and balsamic dressing.

Modernist Cuisine mac & cheese

This is quite a revelation. It’s based on a simple idea: a cheese sauce is an emulsion, a smooth mixture of tiny particles of fat (from the cheese) evenly distributed through the water base of the sauce. But flour is a pretty poor quality emulsifying agent, so the fat particles clump together in larger lumps than we’d like, which can make makes the sauce pasty or gritty at worst. Even at best, it can still have a cloying mouthfeel.

So why not use a more powerful emulsifying agent? Modernist Cuisine suggests trisodium citrate, which is a commercial food additive. By molecular gastronomy standards, this recipe is very easy to make, requiring nothing more complex than a precision weighing scales (accurate down to 0.1 g), the additive itself (easily and cheaply available online, I paid £3 for a 500 g pot which is probably a lifetime’s supply) and an immersion blender.

I’ve made it a couple of times now and if anything the method is more straightforward than the traditional make-a-roux, add-milk, stir-in-cheese approach. You dissolve the trisodium citrate in cold water, bring to a simmer, and add grated cheese a spoonful at a time. Between each addition of cheese you blend the sauce with an immersion blender to ensure it is thoroughly mixed. The results are glorious: a perfectly smooth sauce which packs a real wallop of strong cheese flavour. And it passes my unofficial cheese sauce test — it’s so strong it’s hard at room temperature!

In the picture above, I added to the base sauce a caramelised leek and some chopped ham, stirred it through pasta, then baked with Panko breadcrumbs on top mixed with pecorino. The cheese mix was 80 g mature cheddar, 110 g gouda, and 20 g pecorino. This produced a good mixture of balanced flavours but of course you can take the cheese mix in any direction you want.

Modernist Cuisine mac & cheese

This is quite a revelation. It’s based on a simple idea: a cheese sauce is an emulsion, a smooth mixture of tiny particles of fat (from the cheese) evenly distributed through the water base of the sauce. But flour is a pretty poor quality emulsifying agent, so the fat particles clump together in larger lumps than we’d like, which can make makes the sauce pasty or gritty at worst. Even at best, it can still have a cloying mouthfeel.

So why not use a more powerful emulsifying agent? Modernist Cuisine suggests trisodium citrate, which is a commercial food additive. By molecular gastronomy standards, this recipe is very easy to make, requiring nothing more complex than a precision weighing scales (accurate down to 0.1 g), the additive itself (easily and cheaply available online, I paid £3 for a 500 g pot which is probably a lifetime’s supply) and an immersion blender.

I’ve made it a couple of times now and if anything the method is more straightforward than the traditional make-a-roux, add-milk, stir-in-cheese approach. You dissolve the trisodium citrate in cold water, bring to a simmer, and add grated cheese a spoonful at a time. Between each addition of cheese you blend the sauce with an immersion blender to ensure it is thoroughly mixed. The results are glorious: a perfectly smooth sauce which packs a real wallop of strong cheese flavour. And it passes my unofficial cheese sauce test — it’s so strong it’s hard at room temperature!

In the picture above, I added to the base sauce a caramelised leek and some chopped ham, stirred it through pasta, then baked with Panko breadcrumbs on top mixed with pecorino. The cheese mix was 80 g mature cheddar, 110 g gouda, and 20 g pecorino. This produced a good mixture of balanced flavours but of course you can take the cheese mix in any direction you want.

A simple and light barbecued dinner for a blazingly hot Sunday: Simon and Garfunkel grilled chicken (because it’s seasoned with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme…), caramelised baby leeks, caprese couscous salad. The chicken and leeks were cooked on the barbecue with applewood chips.

The herby dry-rubbed chicken was an experiment, the first time I’d tried this seasoning mix. It was very good and was a nice change from the more typical barbecue flavours like paprika, sugar, and cayenne. I think you could serve this as part of a meal with pulled pork or brisket or pork ribs and it would be able to hold its own, to still have a sense of identity.

A simple and light barbecued dinner for a blazingly hot Sunday: Simon and Garfunkel grilled chicken (because it’s seasoned with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme…), caramelised baby leeks, caprese couscous salad. The chicken and leeks were cooked on the barbecue with applewood chips.

The herby dry-rubbed chicken was an experiment, the first time I’d tried this seasoning mix. It was very good and was a nice change from the more typical barbecue flavours like paprika, sugar, and cayenne. I think you could serve this as part of a meal with pulled pork or brisket or pork ribs and it would be able to hold its own, to still have a sense of identity.

Tomato, courgette and chorizo risotto

Very pleased with this, I’d was craving a tomato risotto for a while and improvised this together based on what I had in the fridge. To be fair, it’s hard to go far wrong with risotto…

Fried one courgette (diced), half an onion (diced), a clove of garlic (minced) and 100 g of cooking chorizo (also diced). Added the rice (200 g). Added about 4 Tbsp of double concentrate tomato puree and continued to fry briefly. Made the risotto as usual with chicken stock (about 0.75 l). At the end, I stirred in a few Tbsp of mascarpone cheese and some grated parmesan, left it to stand for a few minutes with a lid on, then stirred throughly before serving with roasted Tomkin tomatoes.

Tomato, courgette and chorizo risotto

Very pleased with this, I’d was craving a tomato risotto for a while and improvised this together based on what I had in the fridge. To be fair, it’s hard to go far wrong with risotto…

Fried one courgette (diced), half an onion (diced), a clove of garlic (minced) and 100 g of cooking chorizo (also diced). Added the rice (200 g). Added about 4 Tbsp of double concentrate tomato puree and continued to fry briefly. Made the risotto as usual with chicken stock (about 0.75 l). At the end, I stirred in a few Tbsp of mascarpone cheese and some grated parmesan, left it to stand for a few minutes with a lid on, then stirred throughly before serving with roasted Tomkin tomatoes.

Tried some new things tonight; no particularly recipe I was working from, I was just free-wheeling based on what I had in the fridge:

  • scallops stir-fried with chilli, ginger, garlic, pak choi, onion, spring onion
  • courgette roasted with sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, and sesame seeds
  • egg fried rice

Very pleased with how it turned out. The courgettes were excellent, with lots of flavour from a fairly long roast (to drive off the liquid) and the caramelising effect of the honey and soy. The stir fry was something I would typically make with prawns, but I saw small (“queen”) scallops for sale today and decided to give them a try. They were a nice change from prawns, particularly as they required no fiddly deveining.

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes with blueberry balsamic syrup

Man, do I ever love me a good Sunday brunch. And this is a good Sunday brunch. The Americans are really on to something with the use of buttermilk in pancakes — the faintly tart taste gives them a lot more depth of flavour.

The original pancake recipe came to me via Smitten Kitchen; this version has been lightly adapted to use UK units and pack sizes. It makes 8-10 four-inch pancakes, serving two to four people depending on appetite.

For the pancakes:

  • 140 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 300 ml buttermilk (one standard supermarket pot)
  • 55 ml milk
  • 30 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 100 g fresh blueberries (half a standard supermarket punnet)

Stir together the dry ingredients in one bowl, and in another beat the egg with the buttermilk and milk. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet, then whisk in the melted butter. Smitten Kitchen claims you don’t need to be too fussy about the whisking because a few small lumps won’t hurt; I’ve never noticed any ill effects.

Fry the pancakes in batches, pouring four-inch circles of batter into a pan lined with a little melted butter over a lowish heat. Immediately after pouring out each pancake, scatter some fresh blueberries over, pushing them down into the batter. It’s much easier to evenly distribute the blueberries this way than how most recipes work, which suggest you whisk the blueberries into the batter.

Cook the pancakes lower and slower than you would for thin British style pancakes, to give the leavening time to rise and the batter time to cook through. They’re ready to flip once the underside is golden, the edges are cooked through, and the still-liquid top is covered in plenty of bubbles. There’s some more tips on technique in that Smitten Kitchen post.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, make the syrup:

  • 100 g fresh blueberries (the other half of your punnet)
  • 2 Tbsp demerara sugar, or more to taste (I like 2.5 Tbsp)
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 tsp ground arrowroot made into a paste with 1 tsp water

Bring berries, sugar, syrup, and water to a simmer over a low heat for five or so minutes. The blueberries should pop and thicken the syrup up. Add the arrowroot and thicken further to your preference. (Pectin would probably be the more logical choice here, but I hardly ever have that to hand.) You can use cornflour instead of arrowroot but that can make the syrup taste a little floury.

Serve the pancakes with the syrup and, for the full American diner effect, fried streaky bacon.

Update: my friend Dan adds:

Another big advantage of buttermilk is that its acid reacts with the baking soda to release CO2 which adds fluffiness. Also: try using 2 parts flour, 1 part medium-ground yellow cornmeal.

Lemon, garlic, and rosemary hasselback potatoes

This is long one of my favourite ways to cook potatoes, being surprisingly easy to do for a result that looks great and is uncommon enough to impress guests. You take a baking potato, slice a bit off one side so it sits flat, then make lots of parallel cuts almost — but not quite — all the way through. You can put a chopstick or wooden spoon on either side of the potato and use that as a guide for how deep to cut. Then roast as with a normal potato. You get fluffy roast-potato texture at the bottom, and crisp fried-potato texture at the top.

Tonight I tried a slightly different technique from Chris Scheuer that involves brushing the potatoes a few times during cooking with melted butter and oil infused with garlic, lemon zest, and rosemary. I tasted plenty of lemon in the finished potato but less garlic than I wanted (disclaimer: I really like garlic). I will probably revert back to my earlier method of placing a sliver of raw garlic into each cut in the potato next time.

Lemon, garlic, and rosemary hasselback potatoes

This is long one of my favourite ways to cook potatoes, being surprisingly easy to do for a result that looks great and is uncommon enough to impress guests. You take a baking potato, slice a bit off one side so it sits flat, then make lots of parallel cuts almost — but not quite — all the way through. You can put a chopstick or wooden spoon on either side of the potato and use that as a guide for how deep to cut. Then roast as with a normal potato. You get fluffy roast-potato texture at the bottom, and crisp fried-potato texture at the top.

Tonight I tried a slightly different technique from Chris Scheuer that involves brushing the potatoes a few times during cooking with melted butter and oil infused with garlic, lemon zest, and rosemary. I tasted plenty of lemon in the finished potato but less garlic than I wanted (disclaimer: I really like garlic). I will probably revert back to my earlier method of placing a sliver of raw garlic into each cut in the potato next time.

Burger ‘n’ fries (from scratch)

Well, not really from scratch, of course. As Carl Sagan once said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” I’m afraid my commitment levels don’t include creating a universe, nor even growing my own wheat or rearing my own cattle. Still, as a weekend project I decided to go as far back to basics as I could and make, to the best of my ability, a simple burger and chips — shorn of trendy adornments like pulled pork, bacon, chilli jam, or chipotle mayonnaise. I find this quite difficult because my natural cooking style is to pile on flavour after flavour. Lately, though, I’ve been making some efforts to reign this in, such as working hard on my six-ingredients-only spaghetti alla Carbonara and this burger is in that spirit.

So here’s what I made:

  • A steak burger I ground myself from rib of beef (approx 1.5 kg) and skirt steak (approx 150 g). I formed quarter-pound patties in a ring mould and sprinkled some salt on the outside; in keeping with my “as simple as can be” principle there was nothing mixed in with the meat. I fried them to medium-rare.
  • A “light brioche” burger bun I baked, working to this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The bun was split and toasted — I really enjoy the little extra crunch of a toasted bun.
  • Hand-cut chips (well, I used a mandolin), triple cooked (i.e. boiled, then fried at 130 deg C, then fried again at 180 deg C). This gives a fluffy interior and a crisp exterior.
  • A slice of processed cheese (I vehemently believe that burgers call for processed cheese only; I don’t feel they are improved by strong cheddar or blue cheese or what-have-you.)
  • Shoestring fried onions, using this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. I figured I might as well make some, as I had the oil hot to fry the chips anyway; these were the one extra thing I allowed myself to add to the burger.

It was delicious, which is just as well as I have enough meat in the freezer for another eight patties. The burgers were succulent, thanks to the generous amount of fat running through the beef, and with a bit of extra beefy taste from the addition of the skirt steak. Reasonably economical too — although the rib of beef is a premium cut, it still only cost £21 from my butcher, plus £2 for the skirt steak (skirt is technically an off-cut so pretty cheap). That works out to £2.30 per burger, which is a bit more than you’d pay for a steak burger in my local supermarkets but not outrageously so.

One of my favourite things to eat (and by extension, cook) is a traditional British Sunday lunch and my go-to meat to roast is chicken (because I can’t afford a rib of beef ever week!) Of course, having gone to the effort of roasting a whole chicken for just me and Danielle, I typically choose a big one so there’s leftover meat to use in a quick weeknight dinner or two.

This means I’m often trying to come up with ways to use up leftover roast chicken, which is admittedly no bad problem to have. This week, I decided I was bored of fajitas and stir-fries, and I’d already used some of my leftovers to make a tomato pasta sauce we’d eaten with gnocchi. So I was searching for inspiration. Pies are another obvious answer for leftover meat of all kinds but it’s rather a lengthy process for a weeknight dinner, even with store-bought pastry.

So I decided to cheat, sort-of make the pie filling (but leave the pie out) and serve with some vegetables that I had lying around and needed eating up.

Here’s how I made the sauce, if you’re curious. Note that this was a rather improvised process, so all quantities are approximate.

Fry 1/2 onion and 1 clove of garlic until softened.
Add about 125 g of mushrooms (chunky dice), fry until they’ve stopped giving off water.
Add a glass of dry white wine, deglaze the pan, and boil until reduced to about 1/3rd
Add some thyme leaves, a dash of mushroom ketchup, another dash of Madeira, and about 300 ml of chicken stock.
Continue to boil and reduce. My aim here was to only have enough sauce to coat the chicken, not to make a casserole.
Add cornflour to thicken the sauce.
Reduce heat to low. Stir through several tablespoons of double cream.
Stir in the shredded cooked chicken, put a lid on the pan, and leave for five minutes or so to (gently) reheat the chicken.
I served this with some charred purple sprouting broccoli and some sweet potato wedges, roasted with cumin, paprika, and smoked sea salt.

One of my favourite things to eat (and by extension, cook) is a traditional British Sunday lunch and my go-to meat to roast is chicken (because I can’t afford a rib of beef ever week!) Of course, having gone to the effort of roasting a whole chicken for just me and Danielle, I typically choose a big one so there’s leftover meat to use in a quick weeknight dinner or two.

This means I’m often trying to come up with ways to use up leftover roast chicken, which is admittedly no bad problem to have. This week, I decided I was bored of fajitas and stir-fries, and I’d already used some of my leftovers to make a tomato pasta sauce we’d eaten with gnocchi. So I was searching for inspiration. Pies are another obvious answer for leftover meat of all kinds but it’s rather a lengthy process for a weeknight dinner, even with store-bought pastry.

So I decided to cheat, sort-of make the pie filling (but leave the pie out) and serve with some vegetables that I had lying around and needed eating up.

Here’s how I made the sauce, if you’re curious. Note that this was a rather improvised process, so all quantities are approximate.

  1. Fry 1/2 onion and 1 clove of garlic until softened.
  2. Add about 125 g of mushrooms (chunky dice), fry until they’ve stopped giving off water.
  3. Add a glass of dry white wine, deglaze the pan, and boil until reduced to about 1/3rd
  4. Add some thyme leaves, a dash of mushroom ketchup, another dash of Madeira, and about 300 ml of chicken stock.
  5. Continue to boil and reduce. My aim here was to only have enough sauce to coat the chicken, not to make a casserole.
  6. Add cornflour to thicken the sauce.
  7. Reduce heat to low. Stir through several tablespoons of double cream.
  8. Stir in the shredded cooked chicken, put a lid on the pan, and leave for five minutes or so to (gently) reheat the chicken.

I served this with some charred purple sprouting broccoli and some sweet potato wedges, roasted with cumin, paprika, and smoked sea salt.