Archive for May, 2011

Seasonal swag

After a marvellous night at The Southampton Armsin Kentish Town, the only specialist pub selling independently produced ciders and ales in London, a typical overcast bank holiday weekend dawned in the UK today. The upshot of which is that the produce at the farmer’s market hadn’t nabbed before me.

I get so excited over the provenance of my meals. Today, asparagus picked at 4am! 1kg of ungraded for £6! This is my drug. I asked how long until the end of the season, “next Wednesday”, she said. Eeeeep! Get your skates on folks, or it’s gone until next year. Unless you’re happy to get it flown in from Peru, up to you of course.

Broad beans at last, and 4 bundles of rhubarb for jam. It’s going to be a busy and filling weekend. Enjoy!



Beetroot risotto with broad beans, goats cheese & lemon-fennel oil

When I saw the vibrant photos of this dish in Denis Cotter’s new book, I knew two things. I was going to have to sneak the book into the house past cook book customs, and then I’d have to make it.

The first of the broad beans are hitting the shelves in the UK right now, but it seems that whenever I go shopping someone has been in moments before and cleared the shelves. Swines. Even so, this tasted good even using frozen broad beans, but I expect if they’re fresh it’ll be even more delightful. We didn’t plan any for the allotment this year but now the weeds have been cleared we’ll have space next year.

For a weekday evening it can be a long dish to make if you get home at the hour I do, so you can make boil & peel the beetroot the night before which means you just have to roast it whilst chopping the onion/shallots and garlic for the risotto. Don’t lose track of time like I did the first time, and leave the boiling of the broad beans to the last minute. It takes a while to peel the blighters, and even though you may be tempted not to, it’s well worth the effort.

Lemon-fennel oil
100ml olive oil
Grated zest & juice of half a lemon
2 fennel leaves finely chopped (you’ll find enough on a supermarket bulb of fennel)

The risotto
250g beetroots (I used 3)
2tbsp olive oil
150g risotto rice
Small onion or a few shallots
2 garlic cloves
125ml red wine
30g butter (a large knob)
100g broad beans
60g goats cheese, crumbled
600ml vegetable stock (about that, if you need more just add some hot water)

Make the lemon-fennel oil: put all the ingredients in a jug or jar and shake or whisk thoroughly.

Boil the beetroot for 30-40 mins. Test the biggest one for tenderness by poking it with a knife. When tender, drain, peel by rubbing the skins under running cold water. They should just slip off in your hands. This also stops the beetroot making your hands look like they’ve been murdering, and keeps your chopping boards pristine. At least until the next bit.

Chop the beetroot into 1cm sized chunks, place in a roasting tin and toss with the olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven at 180C for 15 minutes.

Remove half of the beets from the oven and add to the stock and blend. Denis recommends you sieve it, but it works well without so it’s not worth the hassle in my opinion. Return the rest of the beets to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes or so until they caramelise.

Meanwhile, start the risotto by heating 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion/shallots and garlic for 5 mins. Then add the rice and cook for a further 5mins stirring often. Then add the red wine, and avoid scalding your hands from the busy fizz as it hits the pan. Stir now and again to avoid it sticking and start adding the beetroot stock a little at a time until it’s absorbed. This should take about 20 minutes.


Get the broad beans going in a small pan for about 5 minutes. The skins should puff up a bit and look pale when they’re done. Then peel the skins off, place in a bowl and add 1 tbsp of the lemon-fennel oil.

When the rice is done add the roasted beetroot and butter and stir.

To serve add a few spoonfuls of risotto to warmed bowls, drizzle the lemon-fennel oil around and scatter broad beans and goats cheese over.

It’s probably the most gorgeous risotto I’ve ever seen.


Beetroot risotto arancini with a baked thyme mushroom

This is a great way to use up leftover risotto, but it needs to be a cold, wet risotto to hold together as patties. There’s no hard and fast recipe for it, you’ll need a good portion’s worth of risotto to do it.

Beat an egg and place in a bowl.
Take two good handfuls of breadcrumbs and place in another bowl. The bowls should be wide enough to roll a small tennis ball around in.

Take half a handful of risotto rice and press into your palm. Add a cube of goats cheese or cube of garlic butter.

You’ll want to work fairly quickly here to keep the risotto cool and more solid.

Press another half handful of risotto over the top and press to seal. You don’t want to see any cracks or it will fall apart in the pan and leak that lovely filling everywhere. It’s happened to me before and I just scraped it up and ate it anyway, but it’s not picturesque.

Roll in the egg to coat and then in the breadcrumbs. Set aside on a plate while you do the others. When they’re all done, place in the fridge for half an hour or so to firm up again.


Heat a deep fat fryer, or if like me you don’t have one use a combination of shallow frying and oven baking. Heating 1cm of oil in a frying pan until hot should do the trick, and preheat the oven to 200C. You then fry the risotto balls in the oil until golden. A few minutes on each side should do the trick. The shallow oil won’t heat the balls to the core, so once they’re golden put the Arancini on a baking dish and place in the oven for 30 minutes.



For the mushroom, just dot a large mushroom with some butter, a squeeze of lemon juice or even vermouth, a few sprigs of thyme and place in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Serve with a large leafy salad and a baked mushroom if you like..


The Bird, Leeds

After your average days 50km mountain bike race in gale force winds and hail. After losing your car keys and trading up borrowing your mother-in-laws car, you’re going to fancy a curry. The Bird came up in the TopTable results, had good reviews so we dropped in.

Don’t be put off by the casino, the restaurant is on the first floor and is tucked away in the corner so you won’t notice the wheels and dealers. I’ll spare you the introduction to Michelin-starred Vineet Bhatia, you can read all about him on the menu.

Our new motto when eating out is to look at the dessert menu first. If its not attached to the menu, ask for it. Enjoy the bewildered look on the face of your waiter/waitress. It helps us plan our attack on the menu, and we hate to be too stuffed for pudding. Definitely do it here, because even with the nice touch of half portions, it’s a close run thing. It certainly helped us sidestep the inevitable ‘oh god, we’ve ordered too much’ scenario that happens every night in thousands of restaurants around the country. Which was to their benefit as we were able to squeeze in desserts.

I wouldn’t normally choose to have a samosa. Like those disturbing images of maltreated bears in confinement, I see them suffocated in plastic, cowering in the fridge section of late night shops harbouring goodness-knows what bugs; I’m never certain that they’re sensible to eat. The Achari Pea and Potato Samosas at The Bird beat my expectation of a tired pastry that’s sat around too long, only to be perked up with a blast in an oven or fryer. Three small samosas arranged on a banana leaf with a dark black dip were presented. Filled to bursting, fresh tasting with a gentle but progressive spicy heat that grew and grew, these were more-ish, and excellent after dunking in the date tasting dip – a welcome accompaniment.

The traditional Handi Lamb and potato curry was, for me, as good as a curry could be. So many lamb dishes are tough and chewy, which is a huge turn off for me in a curry. This however was full of meltingly tender lamb that you could squash into the sauce with a fork, a pleasantly spicy stew that was thick enough to be mopped up with the naan.

Oh the Rosemary & Olive Oil Naan. Alongside the other bread staples like a garlic & coriander and Keema naans was this piece of leavened beauty. Sprinkled with freshly chopped rosemary it went superbly with the lamb dish.

Malai Kofta in an onion korma sauce looked interesting, with long lumps of ‘kofta’. It was a good effort, but it seemed to be made almost entirely from plantain. Not the most flavoursome of fruit, I had expected a kind of mixed vegetable croquet of some sort. I think it’s fantastic that The Bird are coming up with interesting dishes for vegetarians so they have something other than mixed vegetable curry.

The Punjabi Chickpea Masala was slightly heavy on the onion/garlic paste, but the ginger and sour amchoor notes were perfect. I’m still searching for the chana masala recipe that’s better than the one served by The Tiffin Tin in Tufnell Park.

Pulao rice was simple, slightly buttery, but not overly so.

So the desserts. No laminated pudding photo sheets, none of that cash ‘n’ carry pre-made stuff here.

We were told that the fresh Rose Petal and Vanilla Bean Kulfi was their most popular dessert. We can see why. It was beautifully presented, the kulfi was fragrant and slightly chewy. The three baby gulab jamun were a great foil and didn’t assault the dish with too much sweetness. I normally hate rose flavoured sweets and desserts. They always remind me of my Gran’s plastic air fresheners from the 1980s. Ugh. This, though I would come back for.

I’d been tempted by the Orange and Ginger pudding with cardamom custard and cinnamon ice cream, but I feared a strike from the scythe of the Grim Sleeper. Not when I had 3 hours drive home to finish.

So the Chocomosa with Madras Coffee Ice Cream it was. Fearing huge samosas, the two tidy packages that arrived looked the part. Unfortunately the pastry was too hard to eat with a fork and shattered. Much easier to use your fingers and dip in the coffee ice cream which was perfectly acceptable. The samosa filling seemed to be a chocolate paste with finely chopped hazelnuts and almonds.

Service was efficient, chatty and charming. The whole experience was a great finish to our weekend.

The naysayers may complain that this isn’t Michelin-starred dining. Strictly speaking, maybe it’s not, but it’s sophisticated and affordable Indian cuisine. What’s not to like?

Dinner for two with soft drinks came to £36.

Last night: mushroom burgers with thyme aioli and chip shop chips

Our capital exodus starts today and I’ve been working like a busy little, um, blighter putting in the in lieu hours to get me out early to avoid the Friday evening car park of the M25.
Home at 8.30 after shopping for nice breakfast bits for my parents on Monday morning. I wish I had time to make croissants and pain au chocolat myself, but it would be silly after a bike race and a 5 hour drive from Yorkshire.

So after buzzing round the shops after work, I got the grumps. It always happens when I’m hungry. It’s frustrating that something like that can derail me. So, my plans yesterday morning for a pear & cardamom tarte tatin and something magical with portabella mushrooms were all scrunched up and lobbed behind me by the time I got through the front door. Junk food beckoned, and were partially conceded to with chip shop chips, but hey, with a griddle and baps, you have chargrilled burger buns, which are (in my humble opinion) the biggest contribution to a decent burger. Throw a grilled mushroom in, and hey presto a burger!

How to elevate it a little though? Mushrooms love garlic, lemon zest, thyme, so I thought about a thyme aioli. You can make fresh mayo if you want, but if you’re exhausted all you need to do is grind a small clove of garlic with a pinch of salt in a pestle & mortar, add Helman’s or another mayonnaise. Just add some sprigs of thyme with the garlic and grind it all up. Or try rosemary. Just think of all the times you’ve had a bland burger and thought ‘it could just do with…’ and then throw it in!

Have a good weekend!


Earl grey ice cream

This is me playing catch up posts. It’s been a wonderful week of cooking at home, one of those times when I’m infectiously enthusiastic about it. The Mrs and I are off to visit her parents up in Yorkshire for the weekend arranged around a mountain bike race on Sunday. My parents are coming up to stay for my Mum’s birthday on Sunday so we’re buzzing around trying to get the house tidy, presents bought and bikes tuned all around the current zeal for cooking.

Oh yes, and clearing the fridge of food that may change into brightly coloured fluff by Sunday night. So far that’s pulled up Norwegian goats cheese and beetroot (beetroot risotto with broad beans & goats cheese), leftover risotto and more Norwegian goats cheese (beetroot risotto arancini with a chicory salad and grilled portabella mushrooms). And one pot of cream that I bought for Early Grey ice cream.

The recipe is an adaptation of Denis Cotter’s rosemary ice cream. I know there are an awful lot of ways that you can make ice cream, some I find too cloying, others are brittle to scoop, but so far I’ve found that this ice cream is just right for me. As ever, please leave comments for other recipes and I’ll be sure to try them out. That’s the way we get better at all this.

Earl Grey ice cream
375ml milk (I use semi-skimmed)
5 egg yolks (save the whites for kulche badami)
125g caster sugar
125ml cream
2 Earl Grey tea bags or 2 tbsp of Earl Grey tea leaves

Put the milk and tea bags in a pan, and bring slowly to a boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for thirty minutes.
In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Strain the infused milk through a sieve into the egg mix. Heat this custard gently for ten minutes or so, stirring all the time, until it has thickened slightly.

I find that if I listen to the sound of the custard when you return it to the heat it sounds ‘sloshy’, and the waves of custard slop around very quickly. When it thickens the sound changes, and it doesn’t slosh as much, if at all. It should leave a thin coat on the back of a wooden spoon without running straight off, which you can run your finger through.

Cool it completely, and when cool, stir in the cream and freeze the custard using an ice cream machine.

I served it with some roast Conference pears that were a bit bland, tonight I hope a pear & cardamom tarte tatin will perk the last of the pears up.


Elderflower cordial

One of my healthy obsessions is mountain biking. As with many things that I do, even when cycling my thoughts turn to food. Speedily swerving through snaking single track I’ll be glancing at the woodland floors for mushrooms and pondering how to learn about foraging. Certainly after identifying elder trees and seeing how many there are surrounding us, spurs me to learn more about foraging, so please post in the comments if you have any suggestions for blogs or people to get in touch with to learn more about foraging. I’d love to finally learn which mushrooms are edible in our woods amongst other delights.

A few of the people I follow on Twitter (@ginandcrumpets and @rachelsfood) started talking about picking elderflowers and thanks to their help and a bit of research I figured out where to get them. I see elderflowers everywhere now, and wish I could keep picking them. I may turn to home brew, much to the consternation of Mrs Fly.

Elderflowers are an umbellifer, i think of it as umbrella-like white flower clusters. It looks similar to hemlock, but elder (or Sambucus for the Latin name) is a tree with a woody stem as opposed to the soft stem of hemlock. The leaves are another indicator. They are pinnate, that is multi-divided along both sides of a common axis, with 5-9 leaflets (rarely 3 or 11) per leaf. The flowers should smell nice and sweet, and I’m told you should pick them when the sun is on them. To pick, you just need to push the pedicel or stem of the flower up or down near where it connects to the branch, it’s very easy and you shouldn’t need secateurs. I wanted some nice depth of field in the photos, but the wind seemed to prefer them in soft focus. You get the idea.


I used the recipe from UKTV food and it’s amazingly easy!


20 heads of elderflower
1.8 kg granulated sugar, or caster sugar
1.2 litres water
2 unwaxed lemons
75 g citric acid (you can find this in most pharmacies, just ask behind the counter)


1. Shake the elderflowers to expel any lingering insects, and then place in a large bowl.

2. Put the sugar into a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved.

3. While the sugar syrup is heating, pare the zest of the lemons off in wide strips and toss into the bowl with the elderflowers. Slice the lemons, discard the ends, and add the slices to the bowl. Pour over the boiling syrup, and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and then leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

4. Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with muslin (or a new j-cloth rinsed out in boiling water), and pour into thoroughly cleaned glass or plastic bottles. Screw on the lids and pop into the cupboard ready to use.



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