Tonight’s dinner: haddock with leek and potato sauce and sautéed potatoes, from Heston Blumenthal At Home

My first chance to use both birthday gifts I received from my sister Hayley: a Kenwood hand blender (which I used to make the sauce) and a copy of Heston Blumenthal At Home (from which I took the recipe).

Turned out pretty good. Perhaps a little elaborate for a weeknight meal — the recipe (with some minor alterations) can be seen here if you’re curious. Wasn’t my prettiest plate of food; the fish had been manhandled by the fish counter staff in Morrisons so wasn’t holding together very well, unfortunately. I’m pleased with the composition of the plate, though. I’ve been putting a lot more work into how I present my food lately, and although I still have a long way to go, I feel like I’m at least making progress.

Tonight’s dinner: haddock with leek and potato sauce and sautéed potatoes, from Heston Blumenthal At Home

My first chance to use both birthday gifts I received from my sister Hayley: a Kenwood hand blender (which I used to make the sauce) and a copy of Heston Blumenthal At Home (from which I took the recipe).

Turned out pretty good. Perhaps a little elaborate for a weeknight meal — the recipe (with some minor alterations) can be seen here if you’re curious. Wasn’t my prettiest plate of food; the fish had been manhandled by the fish counter staff in Morrisons so wasn’t holding together very well, unfortunately. I’m pleased with the composition of the plate, though. I’ve been putting a lot more work into how I present my food lately, and although I still have a long way to go, I feel like I’m at least making progress.

Dinner tonight: risotto alla milanese, roasted silverside of veal, glazed carrots

The risotto was by the numbers. The veal was the last piece I bought from a food festival late last year, left to languish in the freezer ever since; I wrapped it in bacon to roast it, as silverside is a pretty lean cut and the delicate veal meat needs some protective fat to protect it from drying out. The carrots were glazed to the recipe from Heston Blumenthal At Home, which means they are essentially deep fried in melted butter. I was fine with that, although I’m not planning on making a habit of cooking carrots this way for obvious health-related reasons. One small variation there: I swapped the sugar out for a touch of maple syrup.

The veal came from Bocaddon Farm, which means it’s ethical veal. It’s true that veal has a very bad reputation, with many Brits associating it with distasteful animal welfare issues on the Continent. But the fact is that veal is a byproduct of all dairy farms; the male calves born to the cows are often shot at birth, as many as 150,000 a year, because there is no market for them.

Farmers like Bocaddon Farm and Jimmy Doherty are trying to reverse that wastage by creating a domestic market for so-called “rose veal” (because the calves are fed normal cow feed, rather than the traditional milk, so the meat is pinkish rather than the more typical off-white). It’s certainly an argument that makes sense to me, and I’ll be looking out for rose veal in my local markets in the future.

Dinner tonight: risotto alla milanese, roasted silverside of veal, glazed carrots

The risotto was by the numbers. The veal was the last piece I bought from a food festival late last year, left to languish in the freezer ever since; I wrapped it in bacon to roast it, as silverside is a pretty lean cut and the delicate veal meat needs some protective fat to protect it from drying out. The carrots were glazed to the recipe from Heston Blumenthal At Home, which means they are essentially deep fried in melted butter. I was fine with that, although I’m not planning on making a habit of cooking carrots this way for obvious health-related reasons. One small variation there: I swapped the sugar out for a touch of maple syrup.

The veal came from Bocaddon Farm, which means it’s ethical veal. It’s true that veal has a very bad reputation, with many Brits associating it with distasteful animal welfare issues on the Continent. But the fact is that veal is a byproduct of all dairy farms; the male calves born to the cows are often shot at birth, as many as 150,000 a year, because there is no market for them.

Farmers like Bocaddon Farm and Jimmy Doherty are trying to reverse that wastage by creating a domestic market for so-called “rose veal” (because the calves are fed normal cow feed, rather than the traditional milk, so the meat is pinkish rather than the more typical off-white). It’s certainly an argument that makes sense to me, and I’ll be looking out for rose veal in my local markets in the future.

This weekend was adventures with home-cured salt beef (that’s “corned beef” to you Americans), mostly because it’s been over a year since I last made it. First and fourth pictures are the hash I made for breakfast today; second pic is the salt beef sandwiches we had for dinner last night (with Emmenthal, tater tots and sweet pickled gherkins); third pic is the fresh-from-the-braise salt beef itself, in all its glory.

The hash was one of my more successful meals of late.

I let the leftover salt beef from last night cool before dicing it (that stops it falling apart, as would happen if you tried to dice it warm). Diced a small onion and a red pepper. Microwaved two medium sized potatoes for five minutes on high, then let them cool before dicing them, too. Threw in some tater tots I had left over from the night before.

Fried onions and peppers first over a medium heat for 10 minutes or so. Removed them from the pan, melted some butter, increased the heat, and added the potato. Fried to a good colour and crunch, then removed it, lowered the heat, and added the meat to rewarm it. Finally, I stirred the potatoes, onions, and peppers back through and put the whole lot in a warm oven while I poached the eggs.

Frying each element individually meant everything still tasted of itself, and helped stop the potatoes dissolving into mush from the stirring necessary while rewarming the salt beef. It also means I could use my smaller cast-iron pan, without having to step up to my largest frying pan, which is an inferior non-stick number.

I seasoned the potatoes with a little toasted caraway seed, in the style of Austrian hash. I liked this a lot — I’m mad for caraway seed — but Danielle wasn’t so keen.

Tonight’s dinner: roasted pepper and leek soup, followed by spaghetti alla bolognese

Sometimes you go out and shop for the perfect ingredients to make the perfect meal, and sometimes you open the fridge, find all the things that are about to go off, and throw them together. This soup came from the latter school of thought, and I got lucky; it was great.

Leek and roasted pepper soup

  • 3 peppers (I had one orange, two yellow), cut into strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 leeks, sliced into fine rounds, washed and drained
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 300 ml / 0.5 pint of chicken or vegetable stock
  • smoked sea salt (optional but recommended)
  • olive oil
  • double (heavy) cream, to serve

Put the peppers in a large, shallow roasting tray. Toss with smoked sea salt and olive oil. Roast at 200 deg C (400 deg F) for around 20-30 minutes, until just starting to char.

Meanwhile, melt butter or put olive oil in the bottom of a large pan. Sweat the onion, garlic and leeks for ten minutes until soft and golden.

Add the stock and the peppers. Bring to the boil and simmer for twenty minutes. Season to taste with pepper and smoked salt. Using a stick blender, purée thoroughly, adding water if desired to thin the soup. Serve immediately, decorated with a swirl of cream.

I’m a real fungi to brunch with

Just a (fairly) simple brunch I made today.

I melted some black truffle butter in a big pan and added a finely diced clove of garlic. Fried fresh chestnut and portobello mushrooms (about 300 g total), then added some dried porcini and shiitake mushrooms for good measure. After it had cooked down, I thew in the soaking water I’d used to rehydrate the dried mushrooms, reduced that to almost nothing, and stirred through a little double cream and some fresh parsley just before serving.

Pairing this with lightly toasted brioche is a really nice idea that I picked up from my fellow O:S! writer Nick. The sweet, rich bread is a lovely pairing with the earthy mushrooms.

I’m a real fungi to brunch with

Just a (fairly) simple brunch I made today.

I melted some black truffle butter in a big pan and added a finely diced clove of garlic. Fried fresh chestnut and portobello mushrooms (about 300 g total), then added some dried porcini and shiitake mushrooms for good measure. After it had cooked down, I thew in the soaking water I’d used to rehydrate the dried mushrooms, reduced that to almost nothing, and stirred through a little double cream and some fresh parsley just before serving.

Pairing this with lightly toasted brioche is a really nice idea that I picked up from my fellow O:S! writer Nick. The sweet, rich bread is a lovely pairing with the earthy mushrooms.

Smoked haddock chowder with seared scallops

I love chunky soups, particularly in the winter; they’re just so damned comforting when it’s cold and miserable outside. My wife made a corn chowder a little while ago which we both enjoyed very much, and we’re trying to eat more fish in general, so seafood chowders seemed like the next place to experiment.

I set out to make this Simon Rimmer recipe but the piece of fish I had was a bit on the small side. Rather than buy a second piece and have too much, I decided to add in some scallops; and rather than poach the scallops in the soup, I thought I’d fry them instead, in order to get a different texture — and because I love the caramelisation that occurs when scallops are quickly seared over high heat. I was very pleased with the result and is a meal I’m definitely adding to my rotation.

Recipe: smoked haddock chowder with seared scallops

Serves four. I didn’t find leftovers kept particularly well; the soup split slightly, which looked vaguely unappetising although it tasted fine so that didn’t stop me chowing down on it.

50 g (2 oz) butter
1 large onion, cut in half, then sliced into half-moons
4 thick rashers of smoked bacon, sliced, rind cut off and reserved
250 ml (9 fl oz) whole milk
200 ml (7 fl oz) single cream
400 ml (13.5 fl oz) fish stock
1 large baking potato, peeled, cut into 0.5 cm cubes
1 200 g (7 oz) can of sweetcorn, drained
350 g (12 oz) smoked haddock, skin removed, cut into large pieces (preferably undyed)
100 g (3.5 oz) spinach, shredded
12 scallops, removed from the shell, with or without the coral
2 Tbsp chopped parsley, to garnish
Crusty bread, to serve
This recipe comes together a lot faster if you do the prep for each stage while the last stage is cooking. So chop the onion, and while that’s frying chop the bacon, and while that’s frying dice the potato and measure out the liquid, and so on.

Wash the scallops, pat them dry, and arrange them on a plate. Season both sides with salt and pepper, then put them back in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them.
Add the butter in a large pan and melt it over a low heat. Add the onion and fry for 8-10 minutes, until soft but not coloured.
Add the bacon and cook for five more minutes.
Add the milk, cream, stock, and potatoes. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for ten minutes.
Place half of the sweetcorn into a food processor and blend to a rough paste. You use this to thicken the sauce.
Add the puréed sweetcorn and the whole sweetcorn kernels to the soup and stir well.
Add the haddock and cover the pan. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the haddock is completely cooked through.
While the haddock is cooking, put the reserved bacon rind in a frying pan over low-ish heat. Turn it a few times and leave it a few minutes until plenty of the fat renders out. Remove and discard the rind; then turn the heat up under the frying pan to medium-high.
Add the spinach to the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you have smoked salt handy this is a good chance to use it. I found it didn’t need much salt but it did benefit from a good bit of pepper.
Just before serving, with the bacon fat now smoking hot, quickly put the scallops in the frying pan. Fry for one to two minutes per side until nicely caramelised on the surface; be careful not to overcook as they go unpleasantly rubbery. 
To serve, pour into bowls, sprinkle with parsley, and put the scallops on top. Accompany with with good crusty bread.

Smoked haddock chowder with seared scallops

I love chunky soups, particularly in the winter; they’re just so damned comforting when it’s cold and miserable outside. My wife made a corn chowder a little while ago which we both enjoyed very much, and we’re trying to eat more fish in general, so seafood chowders seemed like the next place to experiment.

I set out to make this Simon Rimmer recipe but the piece of fish I had was a bit on the small side. Rather than buy a second piece and have too much, I decided to add in some scallops; and rather than poach the scallops in the soup, I thought I’d fry them instead, in order to get a different texture — and because I love the caramelisation that occurs when scallops are quickly seared over high heat. I was very pleased with the result and is a meal I’m definitely adding to my rotation.

Recipe: smoked haddock chowder with seared scallops

Serves four. I didn’t find leftovers kept particularly well; the soup split slightly, which looked vaguely unappetising although it tasted fine so that didn’t stop me chowing down on it.

  • 50 g (2 oz) butter
  • 1 large onion, cut in half, then sliced into half-moons
  • 4 thick rashers of smoked bacon, sliced, rind cut off and reserved
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz) whole milk
  • 200 ml (7 fl oz) single cream
  • 400 ml (13.5 fl oz) fish stock
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled, cut into 0.5 cm cubes
  • 1 200 g (7 oz) can of sweetcorn, drained
  • 350 g (12 oz) smoked haddock, skin removed, cut into large pieces (preferably undyed)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) spinach, shredded
  • 12 scallops, removed from the shell, with or without the coral
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley, to garnish
  • Crusty bread, to serve

This recipe comes together a lot faster if you do the prep for each stage while the last stage is cooking. So chop the onion, and while that’s frying chop the bacon, and while that’s frying dice the potato and measure out the liquid, and so on.

  1. Wash the scallops, pat them dry, and arrange them on a plate. Season both sides with salt and pepper, then put them back in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them.
  2. Add the butter in a large pan and melt it over a low heat. Add the onion and fry for 8-10 minutes, until soft but not coloured.
  3. Add the bacon and cook for five more minutes.
  4. Add the milk, cream, stock, and potatoes. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for ten minutes.
  5. Place half of the sweetcorn into a food processor and blend to a rough paste. You use this to thicken the sauce.
  6. Add the puréed sweetcorn and the whole sweetcorn kernels to the soup and stir well.
  7. Add the haddock and cover the pan. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the haddock is completely cooked through.
  8. While the haddock is cooking, put the reserved bacon rind in a frying pan over low-ish heat. Turn it a few times and leave it a few minutes until plenty of the fat renders out. Remove and discard the rind; then turn the heat up under the frying pan to medium-high.
  9. Add the spinach to the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you have smoked salt handy this is a good chance to use it. I found it didn’t need much salt but it did benefit from a good bit of pepper.
  10. Just before serving, with the bacon fat now smoking hot, quickly put the scallops in the frying pan. Fry for one to two minutes per side until nicely caramelised on the surface; be careful not to overcook as they go unpleasantly rubbery.

To serve, pour into bowls, sprinkle with parsley, and put the scallops on top. Accompany with with good crusty bread.

Sunday brunch: eggs Benedict

Few things I cook for breakfast strew destruction all around the kitchen quite like eggs Benedict. It’s all in the timing, this; poaching eggs, making sauce, toasting muffins, frying bacon (I was out of ham); all of them requiring careful timing, and even more so to bring the together at the same time. It causes extra special bonus devastation when (ahem) I completely screw up the first batch of hollandaise sauce and have to start over with the last two eggs in the house and no fallback if it went wrong a second time. Tightrope walking time!

First time around, I tried this method described by Felicity Cloake and based on the writings of God Amongst Cooks, Harold McGee. Cloake calls for you to put water, egg yolk, and butter in a pan and gently heat while whisking. Endearingly, this makes a minimum of mess. Rather less good, though, is that even a small amount too much heat and it splits. The line between “enough heat” and “too much heat” is too narrow a path for me to walk successfully. This recipe has only ever been a one-way ticket to splitsville for me. I think I’ve tried it three times now…

So I gave up, consigned the first batch to the bin, and did it my usual way instead: two egg yolks and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice in a bowl set in a saucepan over simmering water, apply gentle heat until it reaches 60 deg C, whisk in cubes of cold butter (125 g / 4.5 oz / 1 stick in total) one at a time, keep whisking until it reaches the desired thickness, season. Hold briefly in a just-about-warm oven or for a longer period in a pre-warmed vacuum flask.

More mess, but it always works for me, and has the advantage that if you’re careful you can pasteurise the egg yolks by heating them to 60 deg C and holding them for five minutes at that temperature, before adding the butter. This can sate any concerns you may have about salmonella from eating raw egg, particularly if you are going to hold the sauce in a flask for long-ish periods (as I have done before now when making béarnaise sauce to accompany steak). The addition of the acid — lemon juice in hollandaise, vinegar in béarnaise — allows you to reach these temperatures without the egg yolks starting to cook, although you’ll want to use a digital thermometer and not take it any higher than necessary.

Sunday brunch: eggs Benedict

Few things I cook for breakfast strew destruction all around the kitchen quite like eggs Benedict. It’s all in the timing, this; poaching eggs, making sauce, toasting muffins, frying bacon (I was out of ham); all of them requiring careful timing, and even more so to bring the together at the same time. It causes extra special bonus devastation when (ahem) I completely screw up the first batch of hollandaise sauce and have to start over with the last two eggs in the house and no fallback if it went wrong a second time. Tightrope walking time!

First time around, I tried this method described by Felicity Cloake and based on the writings of God Amongst Cooks, Harold McGee. Cloake calls for you to put water, egg yolk, and butter in a pan and gently heat while whisking. Endearingly, this makes a minimum of mess. Rather less good, though, is that even a small amount too much heat and it splits. The line between “enough heat” and “too much heat” is too narrow a path for me to walk successfully. This recipe has only ever been a one-way ticket to splitsville for me. I think I’ve tried it three times now…

So I gave up, consigned the first batch to the bin, and did it my usual way instead: two egg yolks and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice in a bowl set in a saucepan over simmering water, apply gentle heat until it reaches 60 deg C, whisk in cubes of cold butter (125 g / 4.5 oz / 1 stick in total) one at a time, keep whisking until it reaches the desired thickness, season. Hold briefly in a just-about-warm oven or for a longer period in a pre-warmed vacuum flask.

More mess, but it always works for me, and has the advantage that if you’re careful you can pasteurise the egg yolks by heating them to 60 deg C and holding them for five minutes at that temperature, before adding the butter. This can sate any concerns you may have about salmonella from eating raw egg, particularly if you are going to hold the sauce in a flask for long-ish periods (as I have done before now when making béarnaise sauce to accompany steak). The addition of the acid — lemon juice in hollandaise, vinegar in béarnaise — allows you to reach these temperatures without the egg yolks starting to cook, although you’ll want to use a digital thermometer and not take it any higher than necessary.