Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Pickled Sushi Ginger

Having just bought a mandolin slicer after many years of suffering inconsistent thicknesses of my sliced ingredients (I know, a tragedy), I thought I'd put it to some use within a minute of getting it out of the box.

But what to slice? I didn't fancy coleslaw or home-made potato crisps for lunch.

After contemplating using my new purchase to shred some documents, I had a brainwave. Pickled ginger! I love sushi, and my own stocks of shop-bought pickled ginger are running low, so without needing any further excuses I ran down the road, leapt at my local greengrocery stall holder, bought a 'paaaaaahnd-a-bowl' worth of ginger and hot-footed it home.

After ten minutes of working out how to shred the ginger REALLY thinly, yet manage to avoid adding some fingertip into the mix, I set about the pickling liquor. White wine vinegar is too harsh and lemon juice too weak. So, with a quick rummage I came up with a bottle of rice wine vinegar - a perfect level of acidity and a bit Asian, to help keep some authenticity in the recipe. Perfect. I guessed that I would need an even ratio of sugar and vinegar.

Only one other thing: How to get the ginger to lose some of its own juice before pickling can commence. With all home pickling, you need to extract as much of the main ingredient's own moisture, in order that you retain maximum crispness and reduce bitterness. This principle hold true for all veggies - cucumbers, onions, courgettes, peppers etc.

So, with only a few ingredients and a sterilized jar, I set about doin' some picklin'. And what a fun half-hour it was. Truth be told, I haven 't yet tried eating the ginger. It needs about a month in the fridge to let the vinegar mellow out and the ginger to lose its raw taste. I'll let you know how it turns out. Oh, and don't bother trying to turn it pink like the shop-bought stuff. 99% of the time they use food colouring, unless the ginger is super young - which 99% of the time it isn't.

Cost wise, this comes in at £1.50 per kilo. The shop-bought stiff is a fiver for 250g. Cool.

Makes 1 kilo


1 kilo whole root ginger, peeled and very finely sliced
2 tablespoons of salt
150g sugar
150ml rice wine vinegar

Mix the ginger with the salt in a bowl and leave to stand for an hour. Drain and pat dry. In a microwave bowl, mix the sugar and vinegar and heat for a couple of minutes unto the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the hot liquid to a sterilized jar and add the ginger. Close and refrigerate fro a month to allow the flavours to develop. Serve with sushi, or cold meats and cheeses.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Mexican Scrambled Eggs

I'm such a fan of fancy egg dishes. How can something so banal and work-a-day be so delicious? Oh and they're really easy to cook and really cheap. This one is zippily jazzed-up with fresh spices and veggies - and I kid you not, would be as good as a fancy dinner party starter as a breakfast in bed.

The key is to cook some of the ingredients a lot, some a bit and some not at all. I fry chorizo first to leach out its paprika and garlicky oils, then I stew onions for the longest time to bring out their natural sweetness, then add sweet peppers, tomatoes and courgettes for a short time to retain their crunch and colour; then add fresh chillies and coriander leaves at the very end for their incandescent freshness and zing.

You can really go to town with a recipe like this one - maybe fiddle with the ingredients to come up with a dish from other regions. I reckon tiny lamb koftes...

[KOFTE RECIPE: 200g minced lamb, half an onion, minced, 1 clove of garlic minced, 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, dried mint, dried chilli flakes, paprika, cumin powder, coriander seed powder, powdered cinnamon, salt and pepper, handful of fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped. Mix all ingredients together and form into 2cm diameter kofta balls]

...instead of chorizo would make an unbelievable Middle Eastern style egg dish. Fab. Or seafood - change the chorizo for prawns and swap the coriander and chilli for parsley and peas - Paella Scrambled Eggs! Double fab.

Anyway, this type of dish is always well received. The only thing to really make sure you do is cook the eggs as little as possible by scrambling them very quickly in a very hot pan, and then serving them straight away on heated plates. By doing that, you won't end up with a puddle of watery condensation on your plate (the scourge of the average scrambled egg).

Cost-wise, my version comes in at £2.50 per serving - but your costing will depend on how extravagant your own ingredients are.

Serves 2 (very generously)


200g chorizo
1 onion, coarsley chopped
1 red sweet pepper, cut into 1cm dice
1 small courgette, cut into 1cm dice
1 large tomato, de-seeded, cut into 1 cm dice
6 eggs, beaten
3-4 fresh red chillies, cut into rings
Handful of fresh coriander leaves, torn

In a very hot dry pan, fry the chorizo until soft but not too coloured. Add the onion and cook until soft, then add the rest of the vegetables. Cook for a few minutes until they have lost their rawness, but are not cooked through, then add the eggs and cook quickly (no more than 2 minutes). Remove from the pan onto heated plates (v v v important) and then garnish with the chillies and coriander leaves. Serve IMMEDIATELY.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Instant Pear Sorbet

Ernest Glaces in La Rochelle makes the best ice cream in the world. Forget Italian 'gelato' or Pinkberry frozen yoghurt (NOT ice cream, whatever they may say) or other fancy concoctions, go to La Rochelle and tell Ernest that Reggie sent you. I will be reviewing Ernest properly in a later post.

So at Ernest's ice cream-a-porium, I ordered my favourite combination - pear sorbet and chocolate fudge ice cream in an attempt to recreate a 1970s dessert favourite of mine: Poires belle Helene - and it was like eating heaven. So, this weekend I thought I would attempt to re-live a holiday culinary treat and buy the same from an ice cream parlour in the UK. But...

Pear sorbet is surprisingly impossible to find in London.

I tried everywhere (except possibly Fortnum's or Harrods - but then I'm not really in the '£10 per tub' ice cream market), but had to use lateral thinking to come up with this dish in as short a time frame as possible. After all, I wanted to eat it NOW!!!

So an instant homemade miracle it had to be. Just check out the non-huge list of ingredients for this fantastic dessert. I really don't think you can call this a recipe - more of a technique to be used when you can't buy the flavour of sorbet you want from your local supermarket. Due to the huge success of this treat, I just bought a tin of mango pulp in syrup to add to my own range of flavours. I'll let you know how it goes.

I didn't bother to make the chocolate fudge ice cream - Ben and Jerry helped me out with that.

Cost-wise, a tin of pears at my local Waitrose is 69p, so the whole recipe is £1.38, which means less than 13p per serving. So at 2 Euros a boule in La Rochelle, I reckon Ernest Glaces is raking it in.

Makes 10-12 servings


2 x 400g tins of pear halves in syrup

Freeze the tins until hard, then remove the contents by opening both ends of the tin and using a wooden spoon to prod the pears through into a strong bowl. Using a hand blender, blend the pears until smooth and transfer to a freezer-proof container. You can serve the sorbet immediately (which will be fairly soft but still slushily frozen), or freeze until hard and then remove the sorbet from the freezer 20-30 minutes before serving to allow to soften slightly. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Chicken and Bacon Croquettes Tapas

So, having got back off our summer hols in sunny Biarritz (many incredible recipes and restaurant reviews from our two week road trip to follow really soon), I thought I'd post one of the recipes I cooked while using the kitchen of our sunny and very delightful holiday flat rental.

The thing is, Biarritz is really close to the Spanish border - just a hop, skip and a jump to fabulous San Sebastian (or 'Donastia', if you're a sycophantic Basqueophile) - so the tapas influence is strong in that southern part of France.

We ate at many tapas places, and I couldn't help but marvel at the many pinxos on offer. These tasty morsels, usually fried or atop a crispy slice of baguette, accompany the local plonk and are usually reasonably priced and intensely tasty.

So, one day, I decided to attempt a pinxo or two of my own and made these delightful little croquettes. Mrs Ribeye loved them. The chicken I used was left over from a very fancy and expensive locally reared artisan black leg, and so the recipe came in at a very reasonable £3 per dozen croquettes. If you use a cheap UK chicken, the results won't be vastly different to these fritters in taste, but you won't get to gnaw on some freaky looking roasted black chicken feet as a cook's treat.

Saying that, the last time I saw feet on a supermarket chicken in Britain was in about 1975.

Makes 12 croquettes


200g leftover cooked chicken, shredded
150g bacon lardons
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
50ml olive oil
2 tbsps plain flour
300ml milk
Salt and black pepper
Small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

To fry:
50g flour
2 eggs, beaten
100g breadcrumbs or matzo meal
Sunflower or vegetable oil for deep frying

In a medium hot pan, fry the chicken, bacon, onion and garlic in the oil until soft and translucent. Add the flour and stir to remove lumps. Add the milk but-by-bit until you have a smooth thick mixture and then add the seasoning and parsley. Allow the mixture to cool and firm-up in the refrigerator. Once the mixture is cool, form into croquettes. Dip them into the flour egg and breadcrumbs until well coated. Deep fry at 180c for 5-6 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with garlic mayo (aioli) or a spicy tomato sauce.