Scallops and Lemon Sole Supper

I can’t seem to go to my local market in Herne Hill without spending about 50 million pounds. It really is just TOO GOOD. The fish man is always what gets me as it’s the only place I can get fresh fish locally that hasn’t been flown in from God knows where. Last weekend there were some particularly delicious looking hand-dived scallops which I couldn’t resist and by the time our conversation was over I’d walked away with a couple of lemon sole as well.scallopsandsole

The best thing about the fish man (formally known as the Portland Scallop Company) is that he always suggests new ways to cook whatever it is you’re buying which is normally incredibly simple and incredibly delicious. So the below is all thanks to the fish man and his fantastic fishes.scallops


This recipe only really works for scallops if you can find them in their shells as that’s what they cook in. Detach the scallops from their shells using a teaspoon. Add a small dollop of garlic butter to the shell and a mere sprinkling of cayenne pepper on top of the scallop. Grate some parmesan on top. Place under a hot grill and let them cook in their shells until the Parmesan bubbles – a matter of a few minutes. Serve the scallops in their shells.

scallops parmesanscallops cooked

The lemon sole was just as simple. Make several diagonal slices on the skin side of the sole. Season well and then place under a hot grill, tummy side first. Cook until golden brown (approx 4/5mins) and then remove from the grill and turn over. Smear a generous amount of garlic butter onto the skin side of the fish, making sure you work it well into the incisions. Squeeze some lemon juice over the fish before returning it to the grill for another 4/5mins. This would work just as well on the barbecue and is just brilliantly easy. Serve with a salad or summer greens.

solesole cooked

Hake and the Wimbledon Final

I’ve been meaning to attempt this dish for quite a long time now and was really pleased by how well it turned out. This was inspired by one of the many delicious things we ate at The Shed a few months ago so I hope they won’t mind me pinching their idea. I actually used dry flageolet beans when I cooked this as that’s all I had but have put canned here as the dried ones took an AGE to cook.

I’m writing this 3 sets into the Wimbledon final so please forgive any spelling mistakes!

  • hake – 2 good sized fillet slices
  • 1 can of flageolet beans
  • a couple of spicy Italian sausages or just good quality normal ones
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • double cream
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • curly kale

Begin by cooking the crispy kale. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Toss the kale in some olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and bake it in the oven until crispy and just beginning to brown at the edges. This will only take 5-8mins.

SausagemeatCrush the fennel seeds using a pestle and mortar. Next take the sausage meat out of the skins. Heat a heavy based saucepan over a medium-high heat and add a bit of olive oil; fry the sausage meat, breaking the meat down all the time with the back of a wooden spoon. As it begins to brown add the fennel seeds and stir in well. Continue to cook until the fat has rendered and the meat is like a coarse mince and has a lovely golden colour. Set aside.

Strain the flageolet beans in a sieve, empty into a saucepan and heat gently for a couple of minutes. Add enough double cream just to give it a bit of a sauce and then add a tbsp of capers and the lemon juice. Season to taste.

For the fish season well on each side of the fillet. Heat a generous knob of butter in a frying pan over a relatively high heat – I did this in the same pan I had just cooked the sausages in. Cook the hake skin side down, holding it down firmly for the first few seconds, for about 4 mins until the skin is golden brown and the fish starting to cook through. Turn it over and cook the other side – it will only need another minute or 2 on this side. Remove from the heat to rest for a minute.

To serve add the sausage meat to the beans and spoon onto warm plates. Place the fish on top and then arrange the kale around the outside.

My hake

I’m not normally one for surf and turf but this works brilliantly. There is a wonderful richness to this dish and the sausage meat and fennel seeds adds a bit of warmth and spice. As such you would need a wine with body and a bit of spice that can support these flavours. I would recommend an oaked Chardonnay for this. A decent Burgundy would be delicious but a southern French Chardonnay would do the job admirably well. If you go for a New World Chardonnay try to make sure there’s not too much tropical fruit on the palate as this will override the subtleness of the fish.


Sweet sweet sweetbreads

Offal has never been my thing. No matter how much I like the taste or wish I could get on board I just can’t cope with the texture. It’s something I think I was expecting to grow into – a bit like olives and anchovies – and as such I end up tentatively trying something ‘offaly’ about once a year. Last year’s attempt was at the brilliant Soif on Battersea Rise where I had some rather impressive looking calf’s liver with beetroot. The combination worked well and I really really wanted to like it more than I did – it’s a real, “it’s not you, it’s me” situation when it comes to things like this and I wish it wasn’t the case.

That was until I tried sweetbreads a few weeks ago and they turned out to be a total game-changer. I’d never really been sure what sweetbreads are – for some reason I think I always thought they were testicles (??!!) – and so it’s no surprise I’ve always given them a wide berth. When my Dad brought them home the other day my brothers and sisters and I started a quiet grumble of “I don’t think I really like sweetbreads” before prodding them suspiciously in the pan in front of us. And then – “oooh these are really quite good. In fact, these are absolutely delicious”!! The texture is nothing like other offal I’ve tried in the past – much less dense and instead really quite tender with a lovely subtle, delicate flavour.

And it turns out they’re not testicles (or at least not most of the time) and are glands – I’d rather not know which glands but that’s what they are. So when we went to Vinoteca with friends a couple of weeks ago I jumped at them when I saw them on the menu, and they were just as good the second time round. Our friends were equally as skeptical as I had been but I think were pleasantly surprised when forced to try them.

I think the sweetbreads would have gone with either red or white wine but the one we were recommended that evening was a Bobal from Valencia in Spain. Bobal isn’t a grape variety I’ve ever come across before but it was a red wine that was smooth and velvety with a medium body and dark fruit characteristics. Vinoteca was complete heaven for me with a wine list of over 300 wines and I really can’t think why it’s taken me so long to go. We started the evening with a fantastic Vouvray Sec; the waiters were extremely patient with my wine questions and everything we ate and drank was phenomenal.

As for the sweetbreads, if you’re brave enough to try them, I would recommend them the way my Dad cooked them. Buy them from your butcher and make sure they’ve been prepared (they need to be soaked for quite a while and removed of any sinew) before pan frying them in butter in a heavy based frying pan with some dried breadcrumbs. They will only need a couple of minutes each side.

Italian comfort food and the easiest cake in history


Winter doesn’t seem to be shifting quite as quickly as we’d like. The problem is that I always forget about February. January I’m prepared for; I protect myself from the hideous post-Christmas-blues and the financial hardship that accompany them by making sure I’m as busy as possible. You don’t mind the fact that it’s colder than December and November put together because January is still ‘proper winter’. But really my patience runs out at about this time of year when it’s still showing only TWO DEGREES (feels like -12) on my Met Office app.

This weather calls for comfort food; something slow cooked and delicious and hopefully cheap (because let’s face it – the financial hardship almost always continues into February). For this particular Sunday lunch I decided to cook a Beef Ragu with Pappardelle. I scouted round for a recipe online and predictably settled on a Jamie Oliver that I think comes from the original book Jamie’s Kitchen. The recipe said serves 4 but we found it more than enough for 6 (with seconds)!

  • One 28-ounce piece braising meat (beef/venison)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 handful each of fresh rosemary and thyme, stems discarded and leaves finely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, finely chopped
  • 2 wineglasses Chianti
  • 2 tins of plum tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons pearl barley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pappardelle
  • Unsalted butter
  • 2 handfuls grated Parmesan (plus extra to serve)

Season the meat with salt and pepper and cut into 2-inch chunks. In a hot casserole-type pan, fry your meat in a little olive oil until golden brown on all sides. Add your herbs, onions, garlic, carrot and celery. Turn down the heat and continue to cook for 5mins until the vegetables have softened.

Add your red wine and continue to simmer until the liquid has almost cooked away but left you with a fantastic colour and fragrance.

Add the plum tomatoes, pearl barley and just enough water to cover the meat by 1/2 inch. Make yourself a cartouche (cut out a piece of baking parchment to the size of your pan). Wet it with a little water, rub it with a little olive oil, and place it over the pan. Put a lid on the pan as well as this will help retain as much moisture as possible while cooking. Cook over a really low heat for 2-3 hours depending on the tenderness and type of meat. It’s ready when you can literally pull the meat apart in tender strands.

At this point season the braise carefully with salt and pepper to taste and allow to cool slightly before removing the meat from the pan. Using 2 forks, pull apart all the lovely pieces of meat. Skim any fat from the surface of the braising liquid. Put the meat back in the pan over a low heat. (At this point we felt something was still missing – Mr F suggested I stir a teaspoon of Dijon mustard into the sauce and it somehow brought the whole thing together)

It’s now ready to serve so cook your Pappardelle. Once cooked, drain it in a colander, saving some of the cooking liquid in case the sauce needs a little loosening. Remove the pot of stewed meat from the heat and stir in a large knob of butter and the Parmesan with a little cooking water – this will make it juicy and shiny. Serve immediately with the sauce spooned over the pasta and extra Parmesan on top. We put a pot of basil on the table and mixed the torn up leaves in with the sauce. 

Since the recipe had called for Chianti I decided to keep things simple by serving it with just that. This is a great demonstration of one of the basic rules of wine and food matching – that the wines from a particular country often match perfectly with the local cuisine. Chianti is predominantly made from the Sangiovese grape and is naturally quite high in acidity which goes brilliantly with the classic Italian tomato based pasta sauces. This particular one was reduced to £5.99 in Sainsbury’s and not bad at all with straightforward cherry fruit, and smooth tannins.  

I absolutely cannot finish this post without adding in what we had for pudding as it was so brilliantly simple that it’s going to become my staple ‘easy-pud’ of 2013. It came from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries and you could adapt it to whatever fruit you happen to have in the house at the time:

  • butter – 130g
  • unrefined caster sugar – 130g
  • ripe pears – 2
  • eggs – 2 large
  • plain flour – 130g
  • baking powder – a teaspoon
  • blueberries – 250g
  • a little extra sugar

Set the oven at 180 degrees. Line the base of a square cake tin with a piece of baking parchment. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Peel and core the pears and cut them into small chunks. Break the eggs, beat them with a fork, then gradually add them to the butter and sugar. Sift the flour and baking powder together and add them gently into the mixture. Scrape into the lined tin then tip the blueberries and pears on top. Scatter a couple of teaspoons of sugar over the top. Bake for 55mins, then test for doneness with a skewer. Eat warm and serve with cream and/or ice cream.

fruity cake

Recipes taken from Jamie’s Kitchen by Jamie Oliver and The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater.

Wine and food matching with L’atelier des Chefs

AndreI’ve never really done any kind of cooking classes before. I know lots of people that went off to terribly grand cookery schools at some time or another – some have gone on to become really brilliant home cooks, some not so much. For me I’ve always seen that kind of thing as luxury I can ill afford. I’m also not very good at being told what to do and have therefore always been ‘tricky’ in that kind of school environment – combine that with the high stress environment of a kitchen and it could be a recipe for disaster (excuse the pun)!

But how wrong I was. Last week I went to a class at L’atelier des Chefs; they are a cooking school currently with two sites in London who offer classes of different lengths starting from 30mins (for an extremely affordable £15) to 4 hours for their more specialised Master Classes. I have done a 30min class in the past and couldn’t believe that it a) genuinely took 30mins, and b) you got such fantastic food and quality produce for the price. Last week was particularly relevant as it was a food and wine matching class. The theme for the evening was Thai food with a lineup of 3 fantasticClass dishes – Thai spiced mussels, barbary duck with Asian greens and a soy and chilli glaze and mango and lime tart tatin for pudding. Each dish was matched with a wine; they were all from Majestic but it would be easy to find a suitable equivalent elsewhere. Thai food is so immensely popular yet is something a lot of people are afraid of cooking themselves at home due to the plethora of complicated ingredients and flavours. Similarly matching wines to these dishes can be a daunting prospect for the same reasons. Brilliantly there was almost nothing in these dishes that would have been difficult to find in a large supermarket making them all possible to reproduce at home.

The thai spiced mussels were matched with a Gruner Veltliner from Austria. Gruner Veltliner is a particularly good grape to match with food as it’s got a relatively full body but retains its elegance with delicate flavours and a lovely mineral streak. This restrained character allows the subtle flavours of the mussels to shine through and complimented the delicate spice and flavours of the sauce.Mussels

The barbary duck was matched with a pair of wines and the results were split pretty much 50/50 as to who liked what best. The pair was the Waimea Estate Pinot Gris and Waimea Estate Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Pinot Noir is quite a natural match for duck as it’s a lighter style of red wine with red fruit and soft tannins. The trouble is that this duck is again cooked with delicate Thai spices which can easily be overpowered by a red wine – this is where the Pinot Gris came in. Slightly off dry it complimented the chilli spice in the dish and the fattiness of the duck which had caramelised during cooking; it also gave room for all those gorgeous aromatic flavours to show off. As I said, both went down extremely well but for me the white won by a nose. Duck

Finally the mango and lime tart tatin with passion fruit drizzle – my goodness this was a beautiful pudding; a bit fiddly but by no means complicated and looked just stunning. It was matched with the Brown’s Brothers Orange and Flora muscat. The dessert wasn’t as sweet as I had expected as the lime gave it a real kick – it needed a wine with fruity sweetness to compliment the mango and with high acidity to match the lime and stop it all becoming too sticky; this worked admirably. Shockingly, orange muscat tastes orangey which gave it the desired fruit character – the flora is what gives it body and colour. A lot of people admitted not normally liking dessert wines but this was a real hit and something you wouldn’t often try yourself at home.Mango tatin

I couldn’t recommend L’atelier des Chefs highly enough – the school is set up beautifully with a shop at the front which is lethal for anyone who is as easily tempted as I am by exciting things like kitchen tongs and cook books. Our chef Andre was amazing and extraordinarily calm considering he had a kitchen of 16 people to keep under control. As well as learning 3 delicious recipes there are constant tips throughout the evening from basic knife-skills to how long you should rest meat for after cooking.

We were all emailed our recipes after the class and they have generously allowed me to share one with you…

Barbary duck breast with Asian greens and soya and chilli glaze (Serves 6)

  • 6 duck breasts
  • 5cl soy sauce
  • 20g honey
  • 2 red chillies
  • 2 limes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 sweetheart cabbages
  • 3cl groundnut oil
  • half a bunch of thai basil

For the meat – Preheat the oven to 180’C. Trim the duck breast to remove any excess fat and sinew. Score the skin. Place into a cold dry pan skin side down and cook till crispy draining away the fat as it renders. Turn the breast remove from the pan and roast in a 180’c oven for 6 minutes. Allow to rest before carving.

For the vegetables – Finely dice the chilli and puree the garlic with a pinch of salt. Zest and juice the lime. Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove the tough core and thinly slice. Colour the cabbage in a a hot pan with some of the duck fat, add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further minute. Add the honey and the soy and start to reduce to a glaze, constantly basting the cabbage. Finish with the lime juice and half of the zest.

To plate – Carve the duck into 3 pieces and serve on top of the cabbage. Drizzle the glaze on top and garnish with the Thai basil and a sprinkling of lime zest.

This dish was match with Waimea Estate Pinot Gris and Waimea Estate Pinot Noir both from Majestic Wine.

With thanks to L’atelier des Chefs for their fantastic recipes and a wonderful evening.