Monthly Archives: October 2010

Halloween scary? My top 10 foulest foods: be very afraid …

Casu marzu cheese

Casu marzu, or rotten cheese is a type of Pecorino cheese from Sardinia. What makes this cheese different from others is the added ingredient of maggots. Cheese flies are allowed to lay their eggs in the cheese. The maggots that hatch then help the cheese to ferment to create that special casu marzu flavour. Those rule-mad European bureaucrats have deemed casu marzu not hygienic and so it cannot be sold legally in Sardinia, meaning that if you do want to sample some of this maggoty cheese, you’ll have to track it down on the black market. If you want to try it out, make sure to eat it before the maggots die—if even the maggots haven’t survived in the cheese, then there could be trouble. But watch out, the larvae are known to jump out of the cheese, so you need to shield your eyes while eating it.

Black pudding

The name might make it sound like a dark chocolaty delight that any vegetarian would be happy to tuck into, but black pudding—essentially a blood sausage—is a far cry from a dessert. Along with blood, pudding ingredients include pork fat, oatmeal, onions, pepper and herbs, all stuffed into a sausage casing. White pudding is a similar creature, but without the blood, and red pudding is a Scottish delight made from bacon, pork, fat and colouring, among other things.

Kopi luwak coffee

Kopi luwak, from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste, is a type of coffee that gains its distinctive flavour thanks to the beans having been digested by an Asian palm civet before they make it into your brew. The civet eats coffee berries, and while the beans pass through its digestive system they undergo a process that is said to remove the typically bitter taste of other coffees, leaving a sweeter and expensive bean.

Hundred-year eggs

A hundred-year egg, popular in China is created by taking a normal egg and coating it in lime, ashes, and salt before burying it for a few months. When the egg is dug up, its yolk will have become greenish-black, while the albumen, formerly white, will now be dark brown in colour.

Birds’ nest soup

A delicacy in South East Asia and China, this is not one of those things that, like Bombay Duck, isn’t quite what it says it is. With birds’ nest soup you get exactly what it says on the tin. The bird’s nests in question are built by Oriental swiftlets and constructed not of leaves and twigs but rather from a cement-like substance secreted from their salivary glands. This becomes gelatinous when made into soup. The nests are traditionally collected from caves, although nesting houses have also been built to make collection of this key ingredient easier.


Various different types of chicha are drunk in countries across South America. The key ingredient, which can be maize or yucca, is cooked, chewed, spat back out, and then fermented to make the drink.

Fermented shark

In Sweden, Surströmming—fermented herring —is a delicacy. The herring are placed in barrels and then left in the sun for a day before being stored for one to two months to ferment. After being canned, the fermentation process continues, leading to the cans bulging ominously on supermarket shelves. In Iceland they take things one step further with Hákarl—fermented shark.

Cow urine

The brainchild of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organisation, a soft drink made from cow urine mixed with herbs is under development in India. Opposed to imported Western soft drinks, the group believes that its drink will have medicinal benefits.

The mescal worm

Mescal, similar to tequila, is a Mexican drink made from fermented agave plants. While you might think that tequila bottles come with a worm floating at the bottom of them, this is in fact not the case—you get worms in bottles of mescal. The worms live in the agave plants and are removed before the heart of the plant is baked and then fermented. To enjoy mescal at its best, knock back a shot, and then bite into a wedge of orange or lime that has been liberally sprinkled with “sal de gusanito”—a blend of spices and dried, crushed worm.

Stinky fermented bean curd

Stinky fermented bean curd is fermented for over six months and is also popular due to its strong creamy flavor. However due to its strong acrid smell, this variety is an acquired taste!  I’d describe the smell as a mixture of old socks, boiled cabbage and Stinking Bishop cheese. In Taiwan, a green version is popular and made with sake lees crushed leaves and a green mould. It is then fermented for 12 hours.

Dinner menu w/c 1st (!) of November

British Sausage week + Love Cooking 2010 at The Royal Festival Hall. See you there!


Pumpkin gnocchi with sage and crispy Parma ham, watercress + toasted pumpkin seed salad


Spicy chickpea & spinach salad with cumin-scented griddled lamb leg steak, minted cucumber yoghurt


Salmon baked on leeks & cannellini beans with parsley-anchovy vinaigrette


Black pepper chicken, basmati rice and purple sprouting broccoli


Pan-fried mackerel in an mustard-oat crust, chive creme fraiche and roast beetroot & dill salad


Griddled Toulouse sausages on soft Parmesan polenta with thyme roast vegetables


Smoked haddock & wilted spianch gratin, Charlotte potatoes

A tale of two soups

Beautiful soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!

Who for such daintiness would not stoop?

Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish,

Game or any other dish?

Who would not give all else for two

Pennyworth only of beautiful soup?

(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865)

I love the versatility of soup.

The endless possibilities that it offers at different times of the year and the variety of accompaniments that go well with soup.

From the tang of a chilled summer starter, to the intense flavour  of a consomme, restorative power of a nourishing broth, the enveloping comfort of meal-in-a-bowl of chowder or a chilli-spiked Vietnamese pho …

soup is one of the most versatile dishes you can think of.

Soup and health are often linked and understandably so: it is soothing, easy to eat and digest and can demonstrate that lots of flavour and texture + calories do not have to go hand-in-hand.

Antoine Careme, arguably the greatest chef of all time and founder of haute cuisine summed it up by saying “there is a whole world of health and eating pleasure in soup”.

Trying to eat more locally grown ingredients can be a challenge, but it’s easy at this time of year.

The two recipes that follow make the most of  British vegetables that are plentiful now.

You can easily substitute other veg for the ones I used in the minestrone, but I urge you to give watercress a try in the pesto. It really is rather wonderful. If you can lay your hands on them, cob nuts make a nice, seasonal change from hazelnuts.

If you want to add pasta to the soup in addition or instead of the pearl barley, I recommend that you boil it separately and add it to the plates just before serving. In case you have soup left over, the pasta in it does not re-heat well and because too soft.

I keep the rinds of Parmesan and other hard cheeses to flavour minestrone and leek & potato soups; it really makes  a huge difference to the depth of flavour.

The field mushrooms for the mushroom soup are roasted first with garlic and lemon juice, then blitzed to an almost black pulp with their juices before being gently simmered with breadcrumbs and balsamic vinegar. The result is a thick, dark and deeply savoury, almost “meaty”, soup.

Serve with some garlicky bruschetta made with stale sourdough.

Here goes … both recipes serve 4 generously.

Autumn minestrone with watercress & hazelnut pesto

Minestrone with watercress & hazelnut pesto

This is what you need:

  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • thick slice of celeriac, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 1 leek, washed and finely shredded
  • 4 leaves of cavolo nero, central nerve removed and shredded 
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 60g pearl barley
  • 600g stock (homemade chicken stock or made with a good quality stock cube – I like Marigold and Kallo)
  • one of more hard cheese rinds

for the pesto

  • small bunch of watercress, stalks included
  • small handful of whole hazelnuts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or rapeseed oil if you want to keep ingredients 100% British)

This is what you do:

  1. Dice the onion, carrot and celeriac into pea-sized pieces and keep them separately
  2. heat the oil in a non-stick sauce pan over medium heat
  3. add the onion, reduce the heat to low and fry for 5 minutes until just beginning to brown
  4. add the carrot and celeriac and fry for another 5 minutes, stirring the vegetables occasionally so the pieces colour evenly
  5. add the stock, cheese rinds, thyme sprigs and pearl barley
  6. simmer for 25 minutes or until the pearl barley is cooked but still has some bite
  7. in the meantime make the pesto by shopping the hazelnuts, then adding the watercress followed by the oil; season to taste with salt and pepper
  8. when the pearl barley is ready, add the leeks and cavolo nero and simmer for another 5 minutes
  9. fish out the cheese rinds
  10. serve the soup in deep plates with a tablespoon of pesto and some good bread

Dark, deeply savoury, "mysterious" roast mushroom soup

Roast field mushroom soup

This is what you need:

  • 750g field mushrooms, wiped clean
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp thyme leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 slice of wholemeal or sourdough bread, blitzed into breadcrumbs
  • 600ml stock  (see above)

This is what you do:

  1. pre-heat the oven to 200C
  2. arrange the mushrooms on 1 (or 2) baking trays in a single layer
  3. pour over the olive oil and lemon juice, scatter with garlic and thyme
  4. bake for 25 minutes
  5. liquidise the mushrooms and their juices with the balsamic vinegar and a ladle of the  stock in a food processor
  6. tip the mush into a pan, add the rest of the stock, stir in the breadcrumbs and simmer gently for 10 minutes
  7. taste and season with salt and pepper

Bon appetit and happy slurping!


Dinner menu w/c 25th of October


Oven-baked chestnut mushroom & porcini risotto with poached duck egg & Parmesan, little gem & toasted cobnut salad


Crab cakes with red pepper sauce, Charlotte potatoes and watercress


Coconut chicken with chilli & thyme roasted butternut squash, green beans


 Veal, sage & lemon cannelloni with a chunky tomato sauce, rocket & Parmesan salad


Salmon fillets baked on curried leeks, served with basmati rice & toasted almonds


Baked buttermilk chicken with a herb crust, creamy honey & mustard sauce, mashed potato and purple sprouting  broccoli


Spiced lamb meatballs, rice ‘n beans & pilli-pilli sauce

Butternut squash & ricotta cake

Butternut squash & ricotta cake

Squashes, pumpkins and gourds.

Crown Prince, Turks Turban, Harlequin, Onion, Gem, Wee be little, Gold Dust, Howden Big Boy, Sumo, Rouge de Temp, Munchkin ….  

I can go on and on and on!

One of autumn’s most versatile vegetables, I really love the squash family which also includes courgettes and marrows.

The harvest is in October, but as they store well, the pumpkin season can last until January. When buying pumpkins look for unblemished skins. They should be heavy for their size, which indicates ripeness.

Munchkins: almost too cute to eat, but delicious stuffed + baked

I usually roast pumpkins, cut into slices and well seasoned, because this concentrates the flavour, before using in soups, risottos and pasta.

They also add wonderful bite when added in chunks to curries and stews.

To ring the changes from savoury, here follows a recipe for a wonderful cake that makes the most of pumpkin’s inherent sweetness and dense texture.

Based on a recipe by Leela, author of the beautiful and inspirational food blog this is without doubt my favourite cake at the moment!

Light as a feather, soft and with a texture best described as a cross between a cheesecake and a sponge cake.

Autumnal, easy to make, delicious with (whipped) cream this cake can easily double as a dessert.

Perfect for those of you who are not that keen on regular cheesecake (me included: too rich, too claggy) or traditional pumpkin pie.

To lighten the cake somewhat, I have replaced the mascarpone (40% fat) with ricotta (8% fat). I used large eggs, slightly less milk, a smaller spring form and also reduced the baking time.

Use good quality, free-range (and organic), eggs. It really makes a difference. I love Burford Browns but they are too small for this recipe.

The whiskey and vanilla come through (more as a scent than a flavour especially when the cake is still warm), but they don’t overpower the subtle flavour of the ricotta and pumpkin providing just a hum in the background – as it should do.

Instead of butternut squash you can ofcourse use any other squash or pumpkin. They’ll all give the cake a subtly different colour.

Leela says its OK to use canned pumpkin but I don’t see the point of that when squashes are so plentiful at the moment. If you are going to make this cake, having to boil + puree a chunk of pumpkin should not hold you back.

I urge you to give this cake a try – you won’t regret it!

This is what you need:

A buttered, bottom lined with baking paper, 8 inch/20 cm spring form or round cake tin

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 240g pumpkin (I used butternut squash), boiled until soft + pureed until lump-free and left to cool completely
  • 140g granulated sugar
  • 125g ricotta
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp whisky
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (not flavouring!)
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 65g plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Just out of the oven, lightly puffed up + tops cracked slightly

This is what you do:

  • pre-heat the oven to 170C
  • in a large bowl, mix the ricotta with the milk
  • using a handheld electric mixer, whisk in the vanilla extract, whiskey and melted butter until the mixture is smooth
  • add the egg yolks, one by one, whisking (on low setting) to make sure each egg yolk is fully absorbed before you add the next one
  • using a spatula, mix in the pumpkin puree
  • gently whisk in the flour and salt
  • in a freestanding mixer/food processor, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar
  • add the sugar in 3 lots, continuing to whisk until the mixture is glossy and starting to form peaks
  • using a large metal spoon, lightly fold 1/4 of the eggs whites into the squash puree until absorbed
  • mix in the remainder of the egg whites until well combined and the mixture is streak-free
  • pour the cake mixture into the prepared baking tin
  • bake for 50 minutes and then check to see if the cake is done: the cake should be golden brown and the middle should feel firm but springy when pressed lightly with a finger
  • if not add continue baking and check at 5 minute intervals
  • remove from the oven and leave the cake to cool completely in the baking tin before turning the cake out

Perfect with a cup of tea - in the garden whilst catching last few rays

I love the soft sheen on the top of this cake and its pale orange colour and therefore prefer to leave it unadorned, but you could dust the cake lightly with icing sugar.

Serve as it is or with whipped cream.

Hello autumn – happy baking!


Dinner menu w/c 18th October


Mushroom parcels with basmati rice  and toasted pumpkin seeds


Baked buttermilk chicken with a herb crust, runner beans and sweet potato mash


Griddled salmon fillets with spicy lentils and wilted spinach


Moroccan spiced lamb stew with chickpeas and carrots, served with couscous


Sticky lemon & ginger chicken with egg noodles and pak choi


Butternut squash, tomato and spinach curry, wholegrain basmati rice and toasted almonds


Jerk chicken skewers with coconut rice, peas and beans

Dinner menu w/c 11th of October


Chianti-baked beef meatballs with penne, griddled courgette salad


Trout with an oat & mustard crust and chive creme fraiche, roasted beetroot salad


Spiced baked chicken with purple sprouting broccoli, basmati rice and preserved lemon yoghurt


Stir-fried rose harissa lamb, roast vegetable couscous and minted yoghurt


Salmon baked on leeks with anchovy-parsley vinaigrette and Roseval potatoes


Griddled chicken with lemony lentils and green beans


Chinese style noodles stir-fried with shitake mushrooms, sugar snap peas and toasted sesame seeds