20 December 2011

FOOD FOR THOUGHT


One of the things that made me first want to train as a chef was that I found myself becoming increasingly irate when spending good money on average run-of-the-mill restaurants. I now find myself being left seriously disappointed after emptying my wallet at some of the countries more established and award-winning eateries. Do you really get what you pay for?

In a world full of Michelin starred TV chefs, cheap pub food and pretentious brasserie grub, it’s easy to get caught out in a food whirlwind when you eat out as much as I do. So, I sat back and thought to myself… how do I analyse it all?

Low-priced pub grub is becoming increasingly popular in these hard economic times.  High streets are becoming awash with chain pubs offering ‘two for one’ deals or daily offers such as a ‘beer and a burger for £5', just as the old-fashioned British home cooked pub meal is becoming ever scarcer.  My foodie ethics hate to think where pub chains source their ingredients for their massive operations. Surely homemade classics like steak pie and chips or bangers and mash could be made with fresh meat from a local butcher (another community trade that suffers from today’s eating trends) whilst the quality of our local fish should mean we are able to serve up delightful fresh seafood delights? I for one would be willing to spend a pound or two more for fresh, local ingredients done properly, than frozen, mass-produced rubbish.

At the other end of the scale, I recently dined at one of Edinburgh’s most established and acclaimed restaurants where expectations were high. Maybe too high, but when you’re shelling out in excess of £65 for a three-course dinner, I believe it should be your right to expect it to approach grandiose heights.  

Often, these Michelin-starred restaurants are a little pretentious, failing to identify what the customer wants by fawning over what ticks the boxes of the alleged elite who award such culinary status symbols.  The prices in many of these establishments are so expensive, I surmise, because they have 49 waiting staff in the dining room; I know for a fact, though, that a lot of these kitchens have more chefs in their kitchens than they do reviews on Trip Advisor.

My philosophy is, or was, that you get what you pay for, but this visit dented my theory and resulted in further dissatisfaction with another much-coveted restaurant.  It left me thinking… what IS my ideal standard of cooking?

Realistically, I, like most people, couldn’t afford to blow £100 once or twice a month on a (disappointing) meal. It dawned on me that the best meals I’ve had have consisted of good, honest cooking that let the ingredients shine through when done properly, and at a price I'd call reasonable. 

No pretentiousness, no gimmicks.

The restaurants I found to my liking were not city establishments. They nestle beyond the Firth of Forth within the food Mecca that is Fife. The region is replete with award-winning eateries such as Ostler’s Close in Cupar, The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry, The Seafood Restaurant in St. Monans (Now Craig Millar), the Michelin-starred Sangter’s of Elie, and for me, the jewel in the crown- The Peat Inn.

They champion locally caught fish, use mushrooms foraged from nearby woodland, and meat and game reared and hung within 50 miles of these wonderful eateries. They run their kitchens with a fraction of the chefs and far fewer front of house staff than their city cousins, thus creating a personal touch in the dining room and a sense of pride in the kitchen that lets the ingredients they use do the talking. You certainly won't find overly flashy dining rooms here, and yes, if you look closely, I’m sure you could spot a bit of wear in the carpet or tear in the wallpaper. I can look past that because there's no attempt made to paint an illusion of grandeur because none is needed. They’re homely, welcoming, and bloody good at what they do.   

So next time you’re thinking of taking a trip to the city; think again… think local – you won’t regret it.

4 December 2011

Apple Parfait with Honeycomb and Balsamic syrup



Apples are bang in season and a great product of Britain that we should be eating on a more regular basis.  There's a lot of aspects to this dish, but it's definitely worth the effort.  A dessert that truly brings fine dining to the home.


Ingredients (serves 8)

Apple parfait
4 egg yolks
115g caster sugar
75ml water
4 Apples (i used Granny Smith)
1 tsp  lemon juice
400ml apple juice
3 ½ sheets of gelatine
150ml double cream
100ml clear rum

Honeycomb
75g caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp honey

Balsamic syrup
200mls Balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp  caster sugar


METHOD
1)  Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan by whisking on a low heat, then increase the heat and bring to the boil
2)  Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until pale and creamy.
3)  Bring the sugar syrup to the boil and allow to bowl for 3 mins. With an electric whisk on the highest speed,slowly trickle into the egg mix, whisking until it’s thick and smooth and has substantially increased in volume.The bowl should feel cool to touch.
4)  Peel, core and chop the apples, squeezing the lemon juice over them to prevent discolouring.  Put in a pan with the apple juice and bring to the boil.  Boil for a few minutes untilthe apples soften, then blitz in a food processor.
5)  Soak gelatine in cold water. Add gelatine to the hot mix, stirring to dissolve then cool.  When the egg and sugar mix and the puree have cooled, fold in the puree, whip the cream to soft peaks then gradually add the rum.  Place into desired dish and freeze.

Honeycomb
1) heat the sugar and syrup gently in a heavy saucepan until the sugar melts, then boil until it turns a deep, golden caramel. Whisk in the bicarbonate of soda, it will foam up quickly, so pour onto a tray lined with greaseproof paper.  Break into shards with a rolling pin.

Balsamic syrup
Stir the sugar into the vinegar on a medium heat, bringing to the oil.  Allow to reduce by half and take off heat.

To serve, place the parfait on a plate and put a few pieces of honeycomb on top.  Scatter a few pieces around the parfait and drizzle around the balsamic syrup.

15 November 2011

Recipe: Poached pears with homemade vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce

This dish uses an under used ingredient for me.  The British pear industry is in decline and it's time we started using it and supporting our local farmers rather than importing from abroad.  One of my pet hates in this country is that supermarkets dictate to farmers about size and shapes of product rather than making taste the important factor and this is the case with the humble pear.  It's time we changed!

This is dessert lends to a Christmas theme; the pears being poached in essentially mulled wine means this is a cracking dish for a festive dinner party!





Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

Pears
4 pears, peeled
Red wine (to cover)
150g caster sugar
1 Cinnamon
2 Star anise

Caramel
250g caster sugar
15ml cream
50g butter

Vanilla ice cream
300ml double cream
300ml milk
200g caster sugar
2 vanilla pods


METHOD
1)      First make the ice cream, remove the seeds from the vanilla pods and add to the cream, milk and sugar.  On a medium heat, whisk the sugar until dissolved then bring to the boil. 
2)      Put in an ice cream machine to churn or in a tub in the freezer, whisking every 15 mins to break up the ice crystals until firm. try
3)      Place the wine, cinnamon, sugar and star anise on a medium heat and whisk to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile peel the pear and place In the red wine.  Make a cartouche from greaseproof paper and place on top to prevent the pear from bobbing around.
4)      Next make the caramel.  Place the sugar in a pan on a high heat and leave to dissolve.  When starting to turn, stir with a wooden spoon to even out then allow turning to a light brown colour before carefully adding water to stop cooking. Take off the heat and add the cream.  Whisk in the cream and return to heat and bring to boil.  Leave to cool and place in squeezy bottle.
5)      Check the pears are soft by inserting a knife into them.  If soft remove from heat and slice the bottom off to give an even base.  Carefully cut a circle in the base and place on the plate.
6)      Crush up some biscuit to hold the ice cream and place a scoop on to the biscuit.
7)      Drizzle the caramel around and serve!

6 November 2011

Recipe: Twice cooked pork belly on puy lentils with fennel and apple and onion sauce

This is my signature dish and showcases one of my favourite cuts of meat - pork belly.  It's cheap and delicious if cooked properly and although the price is sadly creeping up as it becomes more fashionable (a lot like what happened with lamb shanks) it's still great value for money. The apple and onion sauce is a more modern take on traditional apple sauce and brings the dish up a level.  Happy cooking!


     INGREDIENTS

     1 tbsp coriander seeds
     2 star anise
     1 tbsp Fennel seeds
     1 tbsp salt
    * ½ a whole pork belly
    * handful thyme
    * handful rosemary
    *Rapeseed oil or goose fat to cover
   

FOR THE ONION & APPLE SAUCE

     25g butter
     4 onions , finely chopped
     2 Granny Smith apples , cored and sliced
     250ml chicken stock
     142ml tub double cream

FOR THE CARROTS

   12 Chantenay carrots, peeled

1 pack ready to eat puy lentils


METHOD

1) Crush the spices in a pestle and mortar and slash the skin on the pork belly into triangles with a sharp knife or Stanley knife.  Liberally rub with sea salt to crisp up the crackling and mix the spices into the slashed pork belly and the underside and leave to marinade for 24 hours.

2) Set the oven to gas mark 4.  Melt the goose fat in a pan whilst heating up a frying pan big enough to fit the pork belly.  Seal in the hot pan, transfer to a snug fitting earthenware dish and pour over the goose fat.  Place in the over for around 2 1/2 hours.

3) Meanwhile peel and core the apples and slice the onions.  Sweat the onions in a pan and add the apple.  Cook for 2-3 mins then add the stock and cook until the apple is soft.  Blitz until smooth and add the cream to enrich.  Set aside.


4)  At the same time, lightly brown the fennel in a hot pan and bash in the oven for around 20 mins.

5) Peel the carrots and cook for around 15 mins in the orange juice and stock.  Drain and set aside.  Colour in a hot pan just before serving.

6) Remove the pork belly and allow it to rest for five minutes.  Place the lentils in a pan with a little stock to warm up and reheat the sauce.

7) Place the lentils on the plate, slice the pork belly and place on top.  Half the pork belly and place it and the carrots around the plate then pour over the apple and onion sauce.

18 October 2011

Recipe: Seared scallops on black pudding with cauliflower puree and apple straws

This is a great dish to showcase Scottish produce; it requires little prep work and really brings fine dining into the home!  It's a great dish to convert non-seafood lovers onto fish, as scallops are quite meaty and sweet.



       Seared scallops on black pudding with cauliflower puree and apple

Ingredients
Serves 4
12  scallops
4 slices black pudding (grated)
1 cauliflower, broke into florets
500ml  milk (or enough to cover)
1 onion, finely diced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bramley apple, cut into straws
Oil
Seasoning
25g butter, cubed

Method
1)      Sweat the onion in a little oil, add the cauliflower florets and cook out for 3-4 mins, add the cumin and seasoning and stir in thoroughly, then add the milk and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 15 mins until cauliflower is soft, then blitz to a smooth puree, straining if necessary.
2)      Cut an apple in half, then into thin slices, then into matchsticks, leaving a piece of skin on the end.  Place in cold water with a splash of lemon to prevent discolouring
3)      Shape the grated black pudding to 1 ½ inch long pieces (just bigger than the scallop) using a small pastry cutter and fry for 1 ½ mins each side.
4)      Heat a non-stick frying pan and oil the scallop. Place a frying pan on a high heat, oil scallop and place in the pan, turning when caramelized (about 1 min)  Add few cubes of butter and baste for golden top.
5)      Place the black pudding at either end of the plate with a scallop on top.  Tear drop the puree either side and place a spot in between the black pudding for the third scallop.  Place the straws over the top to garnish.

12 September 2011

Recipe: Salmon fishcakes

Unlike some fishcakes you buy in shops, these bad boys aren't bulked out with potato which, for me, dilutes the true pleasure of eating one of Scotland's best products.   These fishcakes are bursting with fresh, zingy flavours that are truly delicious. You can easily make a larger batch to freeze for another day. 





Ingredients (serves 2)

2 salmon fillets
2 shallots, diced
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp capers
50g gherkins, diced
Bunch of parsley
Zest of one lemon
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Seasoning
3 slices of bread (slightly stale)
Flour
Rapeseed oil, for shallow frying

For tartare sauce
100g (about 7 tbsp) Mayonnaise
1 tsp capers, chopped
1 tsp gherkin, diced
¼ of a carrot, cut into brunoise (fine dice)
1 small shallot. Finely diced
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt


Method

1)      Preheat the oven to Gas mark 5
2)      Butter a piece of tin foil (one for each fillet) and sprinkle a little of the zest over the salmon fillets.  Place in the oven for around 18-20 mins until just cooked.  Coarsely flake into a bowl.
3)      Add all the ingredients (apart from the breadcrumbs) and mix together, then shape into desired shape (I like 2 smallish sized cakes for starters)
4)      Place in fridge and allow to set for around 30 mins
5)      Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the tartare sauce and place in fridge
6)      Sprinkle some flour onto plate, beat another egg into a bowl and have the breadcrumbs ready to coat the fishcakes.  Pop the cakes in the flour giving them a light coating, then pop them in the egg wash to coat. Place the fishcakes into the breadcrumbs and lightly press them down, trying not to move them around too much. Turn it over and repeat until covered, dust off ay excess.
7)      Once coated, place a frying pan on a medium heat and add enough oil so the pan  is just covered.  When the pan is hot enough (you don’t want it too hot or the outside will burn, leaving the inside cold) place the fishcakes in. It should make lightly sizzling sound.  Cook for about 3-4 mins until lightly golden, then flip over and repeat.  


      
     Peter Suggests... Chardonnay is the common theme with salmon - ideally unoaked and at just below room temperature.  Something like a Chablis would be excellent with this, as would a Chardonnay sparkling wine or Champagne.  On Champagne, the phrase Blanc de Blancs on fizz means it is made entirely of Chardonnay, but if you see it on a sparkling wine it just means it is made out of white grapes, so take a peak on the back label to see what grapes are in it.
Suggestions
2008 Chablis Denis Race (Burgundy, France) £15.00 (Independent Wine Stores)
2009 Plantagenet Omrah Chardonnay (Australia) £10.00 (Widely available)

6 September 2011

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Recipe: Trio of sliders (Turkey & Cranberry, Pork & Sage and Buffalo with mozzarella)

I thought this was a great dish for kids to get involved with and to use different types of mince that can be healthier or cheaper alternatives to beef mince.  Turkey mince is a great one as it's both cheaper and has less calories and saturated fat than beef as well as being widely available.

Buffalo is a slightly gamier meat compared to beef.  I fell in love with it straight away after buying it from a local butcher in Puddledub who were featured on Gordon Ramsay's F Word a few years back.  It again has alot less fat than beef and works well with the mozzarella.

Pork mince is underused for me.  It fits the budget as again it's cheaper than beef and works great made into meatballs with a nice tomato sauce and pasta.  I used fresh sage from the garden for this classic combo.  Enjoy.




Trio of sliders – Turkey & Cranberry, Pork & Sage and Buffalo with mozzarella

Ingredients: (serves 2)
150g each of turkey mince, buffalo mince and pork mince
2 medium onions, finely diced
2 tbsp dried cranberries (for the turkey burger)
6 sage leaves, cut into chiffonade (for pork)
50g of the best quality mozzarella you can afford (for buffalo)
2 eggs, beaten
Seasoning.
6 small rolls (Try making bread yourself; nothing smells better than a kitchen scented with fresh bread!)
Mixed salad for garnish
Olive oil for dressing

Method:
1)      Gently sweat the onion for 4-5 minutes until soft then set aside
2)      In separate batches, cleaning after each run, add your mince and a little egg yolk in a blender and season. Give it a quick whizz and add the cranberries with the turkey and sage with pork (Leave buffalo just now) Shape into small patties (just smaller than the roll) and place on a tray in the fridge to firm up.
3)      Mix the buffalo with the egg and seasoning  and again give a quick blitz in a clean blender.  Shape into patties then insert your thumb half way into the middle of the patty.  Place a ball of mozzarella inside and reshape the patty around it.  Place in fridge with the others for 15-20 mins to firm up.
4)      Pre-heat the grill to a medium heat.  Place the burgers under for 4-6 mins each side until nice and brown, turn over and repeat.   TIP: insert a knife into the centre of the burger for a few seconds and place on your bottom lip; if it’s hot their done, if cold, needs a few more minutes!
5)      Meanwhile mix the salad and season, place the burgers on the rolls (toasted if you like!) and dress the salad with olive oil.  Arrange on a plate and serve a little of the salad on the side. Voila!

Peter suggests...
Everything on this plate suggests a Thanksgiving dinner - turkey, pork, cranberry, sage, so I'm going for the perfect Thanksgiving wine - Beaujolais.  Ignore the (justified) prejudice against Beaujolais Nouveau, and look at proper Beaujolais.  Find Beaujolais Villages, Brouilly, Morgon and Fleurie and you will get a low tannin, bright, fresh wine without that confected fruit you get from Nouveau.  Turkey, cranberry and sage are all meant to go with the Gamay grape and you are now in a position to bring a bit of vintage variation into your choice.  If you prefer a larger, gutsier style of wine, pick a 2009 vintage as this great year produced rounder, juicier and fruitier wines.  2010 however is more 'classic', lighter, stone fruit with flavours of raspberry and cranberry.  Either would do fine for you.

2009 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages (Beaujolais, France) £9.00 (Widely available)
2010 Pierre-Marie Chermette Fleurie Poncie (Beaujolais, France) £15.00 (Independent Wine Stores)

31 August 2011

Recipe: Polenta cake with aubergine, portobello mushroom and mozzarella

This dish was spawned out of a college dinner service where myself, my lecturer Scott and team mate Robert had to come up with a vegetarian dish from what we had going spare in the fridge.  It totally changed my outlook on vegetarian food from bland and boring as this dish was so tasty.  It goes to show that vegetarian food is often passed off on menus where you'd prbably be pleasantly surprised.  Try it next time you're out for dinner; i'm converted, why can't you be?





Serves 2

Ingredients

500g Polenta
4 shallots, finely diced and sweated until soft
Handful parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped and sweated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Portobello mushrooms
1 pack of Mozzarella
1 Aubergine, thin half sliced, thick half diced into cubes
Rapeseed oil for frying
100g grated parmesan

Method

1)      Add the polenta in a steady stream to a pot with 2 litres of boiling water adding the sweated shallots, half the parsley and garlic. Whisking constantly until it comes away from the pan.  Then add the parmesan.  Reduce heat and cook until thick and creamy
2)      Spread evenly onto a rectangular plate lined with cling film (About one inch deep is ideal).  Cover and place in the fridge for 2 hours until set.  Then slice into rectangles  roughly the size of the mushroom and reserve.
3)      Lightly oil the mushooms and add the chopped garlic and place under a pre-heated grill and grill until soft with slight golden colour. Then add with the mozzarella until it slightly browns
4)      Meanwhile, heat a frying pan with the rapeseed oil and when hot, fry both the sliced and diced aubergine until golden. 
5)      Place a piece of the polenta cake in the centre of the plate and layer the slices of aubergine on top.  The place the mushroom on top.  Place pieces of the diced aubergine around the plate and sprinkle with parsley.    

     Peter suggests...
        Here we are off to Italy, and picking a Barbera.  Barbera is the third most planted variety in Italy, and due to its low tannin and high acid, it makes it the perfect grape for drinking young, and with food.  You do get bigger, chunkier versions from producers like Roberto Voerzio, but these tend to be more pricy.  I'd stay cheap and go with the lighter flavours of raspberry and cherries with hints of vanilla.  These will go so well with the musty mushroom flavours.  If you really wanted to push the boat out, try really old vintage Bollinger Champagne, as that tastes of mushrooms when it hits about 30 years old, but they are very expensive.
    
        Suggestions
        2008 Ca' Del Matt Barbera d'Asti (Italy, Asti) £8.00 (Widely available)
        2009 Prunotto Fiulot Barbera d'Asti (Italy, Asti) £12.00 (Independent Wine Stores)

                                                 
  


  


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