15 January 2013

Jarlsberg tart

I love this dish.  It’s one that was always on the menu at The Seafood Restaurant when I was a commis on the larder section.  It reminds me of cooking quiches with my mum when I was a young boy. She still uses the same quiche tin over 20 years on!

I am a huge cheese lover and this is the sort of thing I could just sit and devour the whole lot.  Jarlsberg is one of Norway’s most famous food exports and is a fairly inexpensive cheese, especially compared to a decent cheddar.   
It also works great for cheese on toast with a dash of Worcester sauce if you fancy a midnight snack!

I find making my own pastry very rewarding and this is a brilliant recipe that guarantees an excellent, short pastry.  Much better than the packet stuff from the supermarket, easy to make and it also freezes well.

The wholegrain mustard was my own addition to the restaurant’s version.  I think it works well personally but maybe that’s just because I love the stuff. 

This dish is a cracking lunch time dish or dinner party starter.  It will keep for three-four days easily in the fridge, so can easily be made in advance and is also a super vegetarian option.    

We served it with a tasty red pepper and pineapple chutney in the restaurant but feel free to add what you like.

Recommended wine: I reckon a dry white would suit this dish and would opt for a Riesling or Chablis.


300g Jarlsberg, grated
200ml Double cream
150g Onion, finely diced
50g Butter, melted
2 Eggs, beaten
50g Chives, chopped
Tsp, wholegrain mustard (optional)

For the pastry (Two tarts)
350g Plain flour, sieved
200g Butter, cubed and at room temp.
2 Eggs

   1) First make the pastry: Season the flour and rub in the butter to a breadcrumb consistency
   2) Make a well and add the eggs, mix and lightly knead to a smooth ball.  Wrap in cling film and   place in the fridge for 10-15 mins to rest.
   3) Whilst the dough is resting, grate your cheese and dice the onion and combine all the ingredients in  a bowl.  Season.
   4) Pre-heat your oven to 180c.  Roll out the pastry to the thickness of about two 20p pieces.  Lightly flour the bottom of a flan ring and line with the pastry.  Take a scrap of the dough and push the dough right into the flan ring so it’s nice and snug.
   5)  Let the pastry rest in the fridge for 10 mins whilst you tidy up.
   6)  Place a sheet of cling film straight over the the flan ring, then another sheet horizontally and fill with baking beans, cover and blind bake for 15 mins.  Remove the beans and dock the pastry with a fork, then pop back in for 5 mins to allow the base to cook.
   7) Add the filling and pop back into the oven for around 15 mins.  You want it to have a slight wobble but be set at the same time (it’ll firm up when cooling).
  8)  Serve hot straight from the oven or cool down and serve cold – I prefer mine this way!

9 January 2013

My guide to improve how we use recipes

WHEN PEOPLE tell me they ‘can’t cook’, I look out a simple recipe and take them through the steps of the dish.  By helping them to understand these steps you give them the confidence to produce a dish and belief they can do it. Here is my guide on how to organise and interpret your recipes in order to get the most from them…

Think about it… what is a recipe? It’s a step by step instruction guide to allow you to produce something from the ingredients stated.  You see the principle everywhere in life, whether it be flat pack furniture, using a computer, reading instructions on cleaning products… the list is endless and we all use similar guides.

Understanding a recipe breeds the confidence to produce great dishes and break down that stigma that cooking is difficult. So… what can we do to help build confidence?

First of all, I like to read the recipe through a couple of times, just so I have a rough idea of the processes in my mind.  Then I’ll gather my ingredients or ‘mise en place’, as chefs call it, to see what I’m working with and form a rough idea of motions I’ll be going through, without needing the actual recipe.

Preparation is crucial when cooking.  I always take a saying I saw on a Police flyer once: ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’.  Books like ‘Jamie’s 30 minute meals’ rely solely on the reader having everything prepared to start cooking.

By measuring out your ingredients and doing small jobs like chopping an onion in advance for example, you’re giving yourself the best start possible and reducing any stress that may come about.

I remember when I was a commis at the Seafood restaurant working with a chef called Greenie.  I worked the larder section across from his pastry area because it was cooler than the rest of the kitchen and we used to chat away between services.  Greenie was always happy to pass his knowledge onto me and correct me if something wasn’t right, which I really appreciated.

One day I asked his advice on cooking in competitions and he told me that you should just know every step and every process off by heart before you go in there, then get our head down and push.  That way you give yourself the best chance of winning, make the most of your time and do yourself justice.

So… Be organised; have your equipment laid out or close by and make a mental map of the processes in your head.  If you’re doing several dishes for a dinner party or large numbers, write down a brief plan of attack and tick it off as you go – remember get the jobs that take longest, braising meat or setting a dessert for example, done first.  Chances are they are the most important part of the respective dish.

Now some people will tell you a recipe is just a rough guide.  I’m not entirely in agreement with this.  I remember a lecturer of mine, Norman Bendex, at the Adam Smith college giving one of my classmates a bollocking because they tried to be smart and deviate from the recipe.

Norman was a proper old-school teacher who commanded respect.  He went nuts, shouting ‘do you think that person (the chef) just guessed what goes in a recipe and wrote down any old shite?’ he said. ‘No, they bloody didn’t.  Chances are they probably put a lot of work into that dish and you’ve disrespected it by thinking you’re Gordon Ramsay.’

For me he made a valid point that whoever came up with the recipe, whether it be Gordon Ramsay or your granny, probably cooked that dish several times to get it right.  I’m not saying don’t let your personality come out BUT I would say, especially if you’re a beginner, cook the dish by sticking to the recipe, at least for the first time.  If you’re happy with it, why change it?

Once you’ve gained confidence and experience, THEN by all means play about with the dish and put your own slant on it.  You never know, you might create a new dish or even better it!

One of the key factors to a recipe for me is breaking down the elements in the dish.  I learnt this skill by reading a cookbook (my favourite book actually) called ‘Essence’ by a two Michelin starred chef called David Everitt-Matthias. 

It taught me that just because a part of one dish is in a certain recipe, doesn’t mean it can’t be used in another dish.  As a result, I now look at elements of a dish almost as separate dishes and keep them in firmly in my repertoire when coming up with new concepts.

My cauliflower puree in my Scallops dish in my blog is a prime example; that puree could go with my pork belly dish or my roasted pigeon quite easily.  Food is versatile, so keep these separate elements in mind and READ through all the notes in your cookery books – knowledge is power.

I hope this has helped when it comes to interpreting and getting the most out of your recipes.  Whether a dish works out well or not, just remember – we all make mistakes but if you learn from them, that’s what’s important.  And don’t forget – cooking is fun!

6 January 2013

Slow cooked leg of lamb

I RECEIVED a number of kitchen gifts over Christmas; most notably a Kenwood mixer and a slow cooker.  I had always been a bit sceptical about the later, mainly because I am a cook that actually likes to cook… if that makes sense.

My mum always raves about her slow cooker, ‘I just pop the ingredients in, turn it on, go to work and it’s ready for your dad and I coming in’ she says. Where’s the fun in that?

A couple of days after Christmas, my mum and I were discussing why it’s sad so many people don’t have a proper dinner on New Year’s day nowadays, when Dad walked in and presented me with a leg of lamb and a neck of lamb joint from his friend’s farm just a couple of miles down the road.

The quality of the meat was stunning; lovely creamy white fat, a rich ruby red coloured meat and a beautiful scent of fresh lamb.  You could just tell it had been reared properly and was a far cry from custom-bred crap you get in the supermarket. This was perfect for the occasion… and my slow cooker.

I was a little surprised there wasn’t a great range of slow cooker recipes online and although I was tempted to purchase the new James Martin slow cooking book, I decided it was best to trust my instincts and knowledge.

I love rosemary and we grow it in the garden, so that was always going into the recipe.  I thought I’d keep it pretty classic and cook the lamb in red wine with the rosemary and a lot of garlic, which would also become stunning gravy whilst the leg rests.

I didn’t really jot down a proper recipe for this but I’ll explain my method and allow readers to take it from there.

Firstly, I removed any excess fat from the leg of lamb, then pierced little holes all over and studded them with rosemary and garlic.  I then marinated it in soy sauce for about four hours to season the meat.

The beauty of this was I prepared it a day in advance in order to celebrate on Hogmanay and not have much to do on the day itself (crucial in the event of a bad hangover!).

To cook I simply turned the base of the cooker to ‘low’, placed the removable pot onto the hob, added a dash of oil then (it is designed to go on a hob, don’t put a ceramic pot on a naked hob but simply sear it in a frying pan and deglaze with the wine before adding to the slow cooker) seared the lamb all over.  Removed it and set aside.

I then put an onion, stick of celery and a carrot (classic mirepoix) into the slow cooker, after the lamb and allow them to colour slightly, throwing in a whole bulb of garlic, split in half, three sprigs of rosemary and a good twist of pepper.  I gave that another minute or two then pour in a whole bottle of wine.

I brought that to the boil and popped the lamb back into the slow cooker and topped up with fresh lamb stock, just below the maximum capacity stated in the instructions. Finally, I put in about 75ml of Worcester sauce and a good squeeze of tomato puree.

Then transferred the dish back into the slow cooker unit and popped the lid on. The i turned the setting to ‘high’ until I could see the liquid bubble slightly, then popped it back too low to start the cooking. Turning the lamb every hour or so would ensure all those flavours were absorbed into the meat and i repeated this for about eight hours.

So, with that out of the way, I was left to enjoy some fine wine, a little bit of bubbly and the fireworks in the good company of friends and family.

On New Year’s Day itself, i simply put the pot onto the hob and brought the liquid back to the boil.  Transferred it back into the base, going through the motions of watching for bubbles as before, and then turning to low.  A good 40mins to an hour to reheated the meat, then I set it aside to rest, covering it in tin foil before making the gravy.

For this i strained the liquid into a clean pot and brought to a rapid boil to reduce it down to a gravy consistency ready to serve.

The lamb just fell from the bone, it was so tender - justice done to this lovely meat.  My REAL gravy went down a treat as well, which makes me wonder why so many people resort to packet rubbish, especially when it's so simple to make.

The great thing about slow cooking in this instance was it allowed me to focus on the other parts of the meal, safe in the knowledge the meat course was ‘boxed’, as we say in the kitchen. You can never really over cook pieces of meat like leg of lamb in a slow cooker; it’ll always stay moist and you can make the wonderful gravy while the meat rests.

You can get a decent slow cooker for around £20-25 so it’s a pretty cheap and cheerful addition to any kitchen if you ask me!