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Posts tagged ‘Cooking’

Wholemeal lemon and rosemary cake

I was sitting just next to my little blooming lemon tree, breathing in the subtle perfume of its abundant blossom one morning before work when I saw the recipe for a lemon polenta loaf cake go up onto the blog of my phenomenally talented (and heavily pregnant!) blogger friend Lady Aga. It was undoubtedly the heady combination of lemon blossom and her tantalising looking photos which immediately inspired in me the certain knowledge that I was going to make this cake at the first opportunity. And last weekend, lemon, rosemary and olive oil at the ready, I did! Sadly for Lady Aga’s wonderful recipe, and perhaps also for my resulting cake, I was a little too keen on the uptake. Midway through, I realised I lacked polenta and a loaf shaped tin. It quickly became clear that I might have to disembark from the Lady Aga road slightly.


So recipe a little altered, and a round cake tin employed for the purpose, I opted instead for  wholemeal not-so-loafish cake using the integral flour which we have in stock in an attempt to be healthy. I also blended a load of his trusty breakfast porridge oats as Lady Aga suggests, and with the rosemary growing fresh on our terrace, it worked a treat. I won’t recite the recipe here seeing as Lady Aga has it penned so well, but whether you decide to go with my wholemeal approach or the undoubtedly better polenta recipe, this cake is surely exquisite.


Fresh out of the oven, its sugary lemon juice drizzle still a little sticky, we eagerly devoured a slice or two of this delicious cake in the creamy afternoon (terrace photos happily intermingled with model-shots of cake above). Accompanied by a steaming earl grey, the lemon and rosemary flavour couldn’t have made for a better British-Mallorquín afternoon tea, and as for the wholemeal flour, while I worry that it may have made the cake slightly drier than the polenta version, the result is a cake which made every appearance of a morally highbrow, persuasively healthy teatime treat. Thank you Lady Aga!

Soller lemon posset with gold-covered raspberries and a ginger crunch

It’s been a long time since I shared a recipe on The Daily Norm, but the recent occasion of a dinner party with special friends Alejandro and Maria in our new Mallorquin home meant that it was time to take out my pots, pans and finest dinnerware and to show my Spanish friends what the English do best. And with that in mind, and after a locally-inspired starter of Mallorcan tumbet on puff pastry, and a main of pistachio-stuffed chicken with caramelised oranges, I decided to give the final course an English twist, with a theme characterised by the delicacy of afternoon tea, all brought together in a bone china tea cup.


The dessert was a lemon posset, certainly an English favourite, although given the Mallorquin twist thanks to the abundance of citrus fruit grown on the island (I used lemons from the lush mountain valleys of Soller).  It’s awfully simple to make – in a small saucepan you simply bring 300ml double cream and 75g of caster sugar slowly to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, and allowing the cream to bubble for 3 minutes, while stirring, once it has come to the boil. This mix should then be removed from the heat, and the juice of 1-2 lemons added (adapted to your taste – sweet and tangy is best) while continuing to stir. At this point the mix should thicken slightly and can be poured into containers of your choice and refrigerated over night.

I gave this indulgent creamy dessert a much needed crunch with some crushed spiced ginger biscuits, and topped this with a few golden covered raspberries. Refined English elegance for a sultry Spanish summer’s evening.

Discovering Palma: Mercat de Santa Catalina

This weekend, rather unbelievably, we will be marking two months since we moved to Mallorca – in some ways surprisingly long, in others surprisingly short. For we have already discovered so much about our incredible home city of Palma de Mallorca – from its winding old town streets, to its hidden tapas gems, nearby sandy beaches and even a cinema showing films in English – that it is hard to accept that we have only been here a mere matter of weeks. But despite many an exploration made, there is still much left to discover, as our recent gastronomic sojourn in the Santa Catalina market demonstrated.

We had heard much about the Mercat de Santa Catalina (or Mercado in Castellan) before we ventured there ourselves. Half the problem was that despite its excellent reputation, we could never quite seem to find the market, despite wandering always close by. But this time we had the market firmly marked on the map and did not miss it.

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Compared with the Mercat de Olivar, a market on an almost industrial scale, the Mercat in Santa Catalina is a far more select affair, and for that reason is characterised by a clear focus on gastronomy rather than economy – a clear case of quality, not quantity in this refined temple of food. Walking amongst its compact and well stocked aisles,  any chef or food lover cannot help but get emotional at the sensational food on offer, from an abundance of fresh fish in glittering silvers and soft pinks, to fruit and vegetables so perfectly rounded and robust in colour and quality that they look picked straight from Eden.

Happily if, like me, you become a little overwhelmed with all that is in offer, so astounded by the impact of the produce that all cooking ideas float straight out of your head, you can at least sample some of the best food from the market in a series of popular bars dotted around the periphery. Such is their popularity however that you must jostle for a space, and that meant seizing upon such opportunities to reach a bar as arose. For us that meant finding ourselves squeezed into a small space at the bar of the Tallat a ma S’agla, which was a fine piece of luck, because the Salamancan bellota ham we indulged in was amongst the finest I have ever eaten.

The Mercat de Santa Catalina can be found bridging the Carrer de Servet and the Carrer d’Annibal just East of Palma’s centre.

Catalan shellfish orzo paella

Nothing continues the memories of a wonderful holiday better than bringing the food of that holiday destination home. There is nothing quite like the process of cooking, and eating international food to tease each of the senses with memories of the good times. So one of the first things I did after my return from my recent weekend in Barcelona was to recreate that exquisite noodle paella which I had so enjoyed on the quayside of the Port Vell over our last lunch. Using durum wheat pasta noodles rather than the traditional rice resulted in a delicious textural twist on the normal paella, while cooking without moving any of the ingredients so as to caramelise the fish stock into a golden crunch at the edges made this paella something to die for.

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I found a similar recipe in a new cook book I have recently picked up, My Barcelona Kitchen by Sophie Ruggles. Unfortunately my supermarkets were less in tune with the noodle paella approach, and finding something similar to the recommended short durum wheat noodles required by the recipe turned out to be the first hurdle to cross. So thinking laterally, I decided to go for a durum wheat orzo instead – for these little beads of pasta very nearly replicated the short length and texture of the noodles we had hungrily devoured in Barcelona. As for the rest, buying myself a good heap of different shell fish, from tiger prawns to langoustines, as well as plenty of squid, mussels and some mixed fish, meant that I was plying my paella with as much fish as it deserved, and in probably more generous portions than had ever been lavished upon us in a restaurant.

First up was to make the fish stock, which is an important element to the dish since it is this which really gives the paella its distinctive flavour and ensures that that caramelisation is as rich and delicious as it deserves to me. However, I admit to cheating just a little bit, as I started off with 1 litre of fresh supermarket-bought fish stock to use as my base, before further enrichening this with a chopped and wilted white onion, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 diced tomato, half a teaspoon of smoked (sweet) pimenton, a pinch of saffron threads, a whole load of prawn shells, heads – you name it. This was left to simmer away for a good 45 minutes or so to ensure full development of the flavours before being sieved to remove all of the chunky bits, leaving behind a flavoursome stock.

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Then came the paella itself. I started off by coating the base of what should have been a paella pan, but in my case had to be a wok (I am yet to own a paella pan, but I will change this) and in that oil cooking 6 unpeeled garlic cloves for 2-3 minutes. I then added the uncooked orzo and coated in the oil before cooking, tossing frequently, for around 5 minutes until golden brown. I then removed the orzo and garlic and set aside, before then cooking the prawns and langoustines and again setting aside.

Finally, bringing everything together, I cooked my calamari for a few minutes (until the liquid had disappeared), threw in some pieces of mixed fish, my orzo, mussels and all of that delicious stock, and scattered the rest of the seafood including all of the prawns on top. I then cooked untouced over a medium heat for around 10 minutes to gently caramelise. I cheated on this aspect too, placing the whole paella under the grill for a few minutes at the end to further enhance the caramelised area – I just can’t get enough of that caramel!

And there we have it – my orzo paella, which can also be made with noodles, and just calls to be varied with all the different kinds of fish and shellfish that you desire. Buen provecho!

Provence Odyssey | Avignon: Le Dîner – Coin Caché

Finding a good restaurant when you have no reservation is almost always a matter of luck. All too often, the temptation of every tourist is to dine at one of the very visible, very central tourist-based restaurants of a town, rather than risk wandering off into the great unknown and finding yourself walking, endlessly for hours until a restaurant is eventually found. However I learnt my lesson the hard way in Madrid when, one spring evening, clueless where to eat and with time ticking on, my family and I opted for one of the many restaurants which line the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square. And my god, some two years after the event, that meal remains the worst of my existence – lamb so chargrilled that it was all bones and ashes, fish so hopelessly dry that it bore more resemblance to a sun-dried lizard corpse which had been rotting in the desert heat for 5 months. And the prices! Now they were worthy of one if not two Michelin stars just on their own, running well into three figures for eating brick dust.

On the approach to the squares behind the vast Papal Palace…

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So that lesson learnt (and my tip to any Madrid visitor would be to avoid all of the Plaza Mayor restaurants at any cost!) I ensured that on our second night in Avignon, we walked further afield than the main Place de l’Horloge where similar tourist honey-pots seemed to be lurking. We walked for some time, finding that, since it was Sunday, many a guide-book recommended restaurant was closed, and just as we were starting to give into the realisation that it would be tourist-fodder or no-fodder, we stumbled upon the most magical square in Avignon – the Place des Chataignes.

Set against the backdrop of St Pierre’s gothic church, around the corner from the huge natural rock cliffs into which the Papal Palace is built, under the cosy shelter of huge plane trees and surrounded by little shuttered French houses and restaurants straight out of the picture-books, this square was a gem to behold, and had to be the discovery of the trip thus far. And yes, while the 3 or 4 restaurants filling the square no doubt catered for tourists, their superior quality was obvious – with one rather chic affair in particular catching our eye and beckoning us closer: Coin Caché.

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Coin Caché offers something of a contemporary twist on French cuisine, serving up innovative treats such as chocolate hamburgers for dessert and miniature cauliflower cakes to start. It benefited from a stunning setting right in the centre of the square, and boasted its own resident fluff-ball of a cat – “Pom-Pom” – who kept us entertained with her fussy demands as to why pickings from our dinner were unfit for her sophisticated taste-buds.

Our own sophisticated taste buds on the other hand were kept aptly satisfied by the meal that was served up to our romantic candlelit table. I started with a melt in the mouth goat’s cheese and courgette bake, which was topped by salty cheese a crumble which was sweet like honeycomb. This was all balanced well with a side salad of sundried and fresh sweet baby tomatoes, flaked parmesan and croutons. Dominik, meanwhile, had that cauliflower cake of which I spoke – a creamy light affair, akin to a soufflé and deliciously caramalised on top.


Mains followed suit – for me, a rather sensational duck, perfectly cooked and tender, in a red wine reduction and served on a bed of rather unctuous pan friend gnocci and french beans. For Dominik, the winner of the evening had to be a soft flakey cod loin resting on a creamy rich pea and mint risotto. Simple fare, but delicately cooked. A little too delicate you might say for the accompanying 2000 vintage Chateauneuf du pape to which we treated ourselves that night in celebration of our 4th anniversary… But then as we were in the papal city, we could hardly leave town without a taste of the red stuff. It goes without saying that the wine was sensational – almost knockout in both alcoholic content and rich velvety flavours.


For dessert we were roundly finished off with a double dose of “chocolate hamburgers” which basically consisted of a “bap” made from a soft brioche like biscuit, with a “burger” of dense chocolate mousse and a generous helping of salted caramel “relish”. ‘Twas heavenly. But one would have done four times over – each coping with this overload of chocolate and caramel after a meal not lacking in generosity of portions, creams and cheeses was a struggle, but one which frankly I wouldn’t mind engaging again.

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Coin Caché has no website, but their number is +33 490 820 731. A must on any visit to Avignon.

Dulces de Convento

I’m not sure what it is about Easter which makes me think of Spain’s greatest export, marzipan, as I gather that the little soft almond sweets are more the preserve of Christmas time than Semana Santa. But then again, mazapan, as the spanish call it, is a sweet originating from the closed convents of one of Spain’s most fervently religious strongholds, Toledo, and it is perhaps understandable therefore that my mind drifts to this very sacred city around this Easter time.


I was never a great lover of marzipan as a child – perhaps the almond flavours were too bitter for my very junior tastes. But when I visited Toledo a few years ago with my mother, I became completely seduced by these little sweet treats, which could be found everywhere, from little corner shops to cafes filled with little (slightly surreal) dolls of nuns captured in the act of marzipan making.

The beautiful city of Toledo

The beautiful city of Toledo


A Toledo cafe

A Toledo cafe

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While marzipan lasts a fair length of time (they contain no dairy, so stay fresh for a while), even those I bring back from Spain each visit in earnest do not last for long (partly because I scoff them fairly rapidly). It’s come a great relief therefore to learn that marzipan is so easy to recreate in your own home – if you’ve got some ground almonds and sugar, you’re pretty much there. For an Easter treat I decided that the Norms needed to become manifested as marzipan forms. But feeling like a little variety, I also made these delicious panellets de piñones – a succulent, slightly coarser lemony marzipan surrounded by a pine nut shell – delicious!

Mazapan de Toledo

My marzipans are adapted from the recipes of Claudia Roden (in her 2012 book, The Food of Spain) which are in turn a treasure-trove of recipes collected from across the multifarious gastronomic regions of Spain. For the Marzipan Norms, all you need to do is whizz up 200g of ground almonds with 200g of icing sugar in a food processor. Add around 3 drops of almond extract (being careful not to add more as the flavour can become overpowering very quickly) and 2-3 tablespoons of water, one at a time. You don’t need much water as the almond oil holds the mixture together. Knead into a smooth soft paste and then you are ready to start modelling.

My Norms, awaiting their fate

My Norms, awaiting their fate


The beauty of marzipan is that the world is quite literally your oyster. You may want to model yours into Norms, but equally, why not try little balls, or as in Toledo itself, how about a mixture of figuritas shaped into fish, snails, shells, saint’s bones…whatever takes your fancy. Once they’re shaped, leave the marzipan figures out on a baking tray. They’ll soon go harder on the outside. After a few hours, lightly whisk up the whites of one egg with a tablespoon of icing sugar and brush a very little on the marzipans to create a glaze (you really don’t need much). Place them under the grill for a minute or in the over at 200C for 2 minutes until slightly browned.

Panellets de Piñones


These panellets are a delicious, slightly more complex version of plain marzipans, but the method is similar. Whizz up 200g ground almonds with 150g caster sugar and the grated zest of 1 lemon, with 2.5 tablespoons of water. Plend for a few minutes until the almond oils start to really bind the paste. Break this into equal sized pieces and roll into balls (I got around 16 at around 4 cm in diameter each). Then comes the tricky bit. Roll the balls in a lightly whisked egg white and then into a bowl of around 200g of pine nuts. Press as many as you can into the marzipan in the palms of your hands. But inevitably some with fall off so you’ll have to fill the gaps with the nuts by hand, pressing them in slightly. This is slightly time consuming and fiddly, but SO worth the effort. Once you have a complete “shell” of pine nuts, roll again in egg white and set out on a baking tray.


Once all your balls are all covered, pop them into an oven at 200C for 10 minutes until slightly golden. Once done, you’ll need to leave them to cool slightly before taking them off the tray, or they will quickly break apart.


All that remains is for me to wish everyone reading The Daily Norm a Happy Easter, and a fiesta of unapologetically unrestrained chocolate egg and marzipan indulgence!

Patatas a lo Pobre

Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest. One of the greatest pleasures for me is going along to a classic family-run Spanish restaurant on the corner of the Paseo Maritimo in Marbella heading East towards Cable Beach. It’s off the tourist track, and far from the glitz and glamour of the Golden Mile and Puerto Banus, and that is why the restaurant, frequented as it is by the Spanish locals, serves some of the best food along the Marbellan coast, albeit cheaply and without pomp or ceremony.

Pretty much every Sunday when I am in Marbella (and how I wish I was right now) I head to that café on the corner, to eat a simple serving of squid with salad and, on the side, a large plate of oily, simple Patatas a lo Pobre. Literally translated as potatoes of the poor man, this typical Andalusian dish is awfully simple (it comprises mainly potatoes, onions and peppers), but completely delicious. And so, when a cold chill nipped at my spine this week, and when all I did was yearn for my beloved España basked in the summer heat, I set about recreating my favourite Sunday lunch.

My adored Marbella

My adored Marbella

Its calm winter beaches

Its calm winter beaches

The fisherman's huts of Cable Beach

The fisherman’s huts of Cable Beach

The patatas are really simple to make. Take one large onion and slice. Sauté the onion gently in oil until it softens, and add to that two chopped red peppers (deseeded), 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely, seasoning, a small teaspoon of pimenton and a few bay leaves. This should all be cooked, again,  until the pepper is softened. To that, add around 6-8 peeled potatoes chopped into bitesize pieces and a good glug more of olive oil, and cook the whole dish further until the potatoes are tender, but not falling apart (I find that peeled new potatoes work best for this as they can be sliced into neat round disks and keep their shape easily).

Serve your patatas drizzled in further good quality olive oil and, if you want to recreate the whole experience, some grilled squid and a hearty side salad (sadly I was unable to get my hands on any huge squids like those so frequently available on the Med, but when in London…well, we have to put up with seafood on the smaller side). This dish guarantees a burst of Spanish flavour with the added benefit that, as the name suggests, it’s really very cheap to make – highly suitable for that post-Christmas poor man’s January then.

My patatas

My patatas

And some very small squid!

And some very small squid!

¡Buen Provecho!

Pizzetta by Polpo

It’s official, I’ve gone Polpo-loco. Following Saturday’s octopussy success, on Sunday I went Pizzetta crazy, producing some 12 mini pizzas as inspired by the London eatery Polpo‘s glorious cookbook which was undoubtedly my favourite Christmas gift this year.

I was a little put off by the prospect of making my own dough, what with a day of painting ahead and a pile of Sunday-night ironing to get through and very little time for kitchen disasters. However, the toppings were almost too tempting to bare, and there was no way I was going to contaminate the fine flavours with a shop-bought pizza base. So, following the Polpo recipe, I set about making my pizzetta dough which, as it turned out, was as easy as it was enjoyable – all that kneading was both a stress reliever and January workout for the arms, which is good, because two weeks in and my new year’s resolution to workout daily is failing abominably.

My dough, ready to go...

My dough, ready to go…

To make the dough, you just take 500g of strong white flour, and mix this in a bowl with 300ml of tepid water, 15g of salt (2 teaspoons) and a 7g sachet of fast action dried yeast (or 15g if you can get your hands on fresh). Once mixed into a ball, you knead the dough for about 10 minutes on a floured surface, stretching the dough and then bringing it back into a ball, doing this again and again until the dough feels springier. I kneaded mine while watching Francesco Di Mosto’s BBC Venice series – a perfect accompaniment to my Venetian culinary adventure.

Once kneaded, place your dough in a bowl covered with oiled clingfilm and leave somewhere warm until the dough doubles in size (at least 30 minutes). Then, divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll out each into an approx. 20 cm disk and then get creative with your toppings. I tried the following…

Prosciutto & Asparagus and Zuccini, Chilli and Mint

Prosciutto & Asparagus and Zuccini, Chilli and Mint

Pizzetta Bianca and Anchovy, olive and basil

Pizzetta Bianca and Anchovy, olive and basil

Spinach with a soft-cooked egg

Spinach with a soft-cooked egg

Mortadella with gherkins and blue cheese/ Salami Milano with fennel

Mortadella with gherkins and blue cheese/ Salami Milano with fennel

Rosemary and potato/ Prosciutto, mushroom and blue cheese

Rosemary and potato/ Prosciutto, mushroom and blue cheese

Salami, sundried tomatoes and torn basil

Salami, sundried tomatoes and torn basil

The combinations above are pretty self-explanatory, and who needs a recipe when you have the blank canvas of pizza dough before you. But a few tips: I started off with a basic cheese base of half grated parmesan and a scattering of good quality mozzarella. Don’t overload your  pizzetta with cheese or they will be soggy.

If potato and rosemary is your thing, thinly slice a potato and blanch the potato in boiling water for about 30 seconds before placing on the pizza. Do the same with the asparagus if using it with prosciutto as above. The spinach combination is a large handfull of wilted spinach chopped with half a clove of finely chopped garlic and a tablespoon of creme fraiche – cover your pizzetta base with the spinach mix and crack an egg over the top before placing straight in the oven – be sure not to overcook – that egg needs to be nice and runny. Oh, and don’t forget to season your pizzas as you would any other food, and a good douse of olive oil certainly adds the magic touch just before serving.

Re cooking, restaurant ovens are around 300C. My oven only goes up to 275C which was good enough – but make sure you heat your baking trays before hand so the base of the pizzetta’s go nice and crispy. Each pizza should only take around 6 minutes.

These pizzetta’s are so easy to make and somehow less daunting than full sized pizzas. Plus, you get to sample a more varied palate of delicious Italian ingredients in a single meal. Buon appetito!

Polpo by Polpo

It took me almost a week to take down my Christmas decorations. What with last weekend being my partner’s 30th, I had to risk superstition and undress each Christmas tree, one evening at a time this week after work. Finally, on Thursday night, I put away the last strand of tinsel and wrapped the last of my vast bauble collection and started turning my mind to the summer.

It’s not the easiest of tasks when a glimpse outside of the window presents a vision of dreary grey England, leafless trees straining to hold onto their roots in a blustery winter wind, and people wrapped head to toe in their winter woolies. Yet while the eyes may face the disappointment of a continuing wintery outlook, the other senses remain open to the invitation of an early summer. And so, to my kitchen I have headed, ready to tempt my taste buds and my nose with the smells and flavours of a verdant green and azul blue summer. For in my opinion, there is nothing quite like bringing the food of the Mediterranean into your home to kick away those winter blues.


At Christmas I received a beautifully presented cookbook (after much well-placed hinting), Polpo, a book of Venetian-based cuisine flaunting the flavours of that deeply charismatic little island and the delicate tastes of the Adriatic beyond. The book is a collection of recipes from the London based eatery of the same name, whose philosophy is simple: to capture the essence of the Venetian backstreets, where quaint little bacari serve a plethora of deceptively simple but delicious Italian treats.

polpo-restaurant-london-soho-cookbookI couldn’t wait to delve into this book, littered as it is with sumptuous views of Venice, and offering some 140 recipes inspired by the dazzling city. It is perhaps no coincidence that the first recipe I tried was the very thing that the restaurant was named after: octopus, or polpo. However, it wasn’t actually the book which engendered this desire to eat polpo. Rather, having spent the last two nights occupied in another of my winter-beating activities, looking for summer holidays, my search through holiday deals in the South of France and the Italian riviera brought to mind a delicious yet simple dish of polpo with potatoes which I devoured, with a glass of chilled prosecco, in San Vincenzo in Tuscany last summer. This was my inspiration, and to my great pleasure, Polpo had a recipe which was perfect in fulfilling my desire to recreate that hot July day in January.

San Vincenzo's version of the salad

San Vincenzo’s version of the salad

and the Prosecco

and the Prosecco

So, to make a warm octopus salad, you need (for 4 persons) a medium sized octopus. Frozen is as good as any, not least because this helps to tenderise the flesh. I got mine from the local fishmongers, although it was Spanish in origin, and weighed in at 1.5kg. Defrost the octopus (and if it’s not frozen, consider freezing it first to get it nice and tender) and place in a large pan of unsalted water with a couple of roughly chopped celery sticks, the stalks of a bunch of parsley, an onion chopped in half, and a fennel bulb also chopped in half. This should be simmered for around 40-60 minutes until a fork can easily pierce the flesh. Mine was closer to 40 mins. Watch out you don’t overcook it.

Meanwhile, peel and chop 3-4 waxy potatoes into bite sized pieces and simmer until cooked. Again make sure these aren’t over cooked. They need to hold their shape, not crumble.

Beautiful raw octopus

Beautiful raw octopus

The octopus cooking

The octopus cooking

When the octopus is done, chop it into bite sized pieces, removing the eyes, claw etc if you still have them on, and remove as much of the slimey under skin layer if you can (you can leave the nice pink skin around the tentacles – it’s the best bit). Rinse these pieces under clean warm water and place in a large bowl with your cooked potatoes, a finely chopped clove of garlic, a handful of chopped parsley, a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes, a good glug of good quality olive oil (mine comes direct from said town in Tuscany) and the juice of around half a lemon. Season well and serve.



And chopped

And chopped

The finished dish

The finished dish

The flavours of the Med (and Venice, I suppose) are just sublime, and guaranteed to brighten any cold winter’s day with the thoughts of the summer. Right, I’m off to book that summer holiday…

The culinary bounties of a Christmas Day feast

As the saying goes, the show must go on, and despite news which rocked my family to its core, the most important thing, for me, was to keep the flame of Christmas burning, despite the grief all around. In that vain, I decorated, I cooked and I ate to my heart’s content, and here within are the fruits of my labour (and product of my hefty post-Christmas weight gain)…

A starter of Scallops with clementine, ham, almond and an oloroso dressing


This starter was taken from a recipe by Richard Corrigan in the style section of The Sunday Times a few weeks back. It made for a refreshing, bright and beautifully balanced start to what can often be a heavy Christmas feast, and brought a burst of Spain into an otherwise traditionally dressed English dining room. (Serves 8)

I started by making a dressing for the salad. For this, to the juice of 2 clementines I added 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, 4 tablespoons of oloroso (or other dry) sherry, 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar, 12 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Setting aside the dressing for now, I peeled the outer leaves from a 750g bag of brussel sprouts (leave the centres for a further sprout dish later) and blanched them in boiling salted water for around 30 seconds before plunging them into iced water to bring out the green and stop any cooking. I then assembled my salad – I broke up 8 clementines and placed these into bowls alongside the drained brussel sprout leaves, 16 slices of torn up parma ham and a scattering of salted almonds.

I then set about frying my scallops (3-4 per person) for around 2 minutes on each side (less if they’re smaller) and placed these atop my salad as the crowning glory. All was finished with my Spanish dressing and some seasoning.


The main event – Guinea fowl with sweet potato and marshmallow gratin, sauteed brussel sprouts (with chestnuts and bacon), red cabbage and apple, and spinach and parmesan stuffing balls. 

The Guinea Fowl

I hadn’t eaten guinea fowl for years until I sampled it again at the wedding of my friend Celia and realised how delicious it is (I believe my propensity not to eat the bird was probably down to my fondness for guinea pigs when I was younger and the inevitable confusion which may have ensued). So, with my two guinea fowl in tow (these should feed 4 easily, 6 at a squeeze), I wrapped the birds in 16 slices of pancetta, enclosing a few sage leaves underneath. Placing the birds in a pan, I then doused the lot in a little olive oil, two ample blobs of butter, 200ml of white wine, seasoning and a few more sage leaves. The birds were then ready to go into the oven at 170 degrees centigrade (if it’s a fan oven, up to 190 if not).

My guinea fowl pre-cooking

My guinea fowl pre-cooking

After an hour, I turned both birds onto their breasts, turned the heat down to 150 (170 if not a fan oven) and cooked for a further hour. I should note that I did use foil for around an hour of the cooking to lock in the moisture and prevent the pancetta from burning. However the same effect can probably be gained from regular basting. Once the birds are done, make sure you rest them. I rested them in their pan (covered in foil) for a good 30 minutes which ensured the meat was moist, unctuous and literally fell apart in the mouth.

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