Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Quick and Easy Homemade Takeaways

We all love a good takeaway. There are times when you get home from work and the last thing you want to do is cook and you reach for the menus, make a call and less than half and hour later you're eating. It tastes nice, it's easy and quick. But if you take just a little time you can cook your takeaway favourites for at least the same or a lower cost and it takes the same time or even less to do. Below are just two examples of classic takeaways that you can do at home and they take no time at all.

Mushroom, Sweetcorn and Spinach Pizza

I have to admit, pizza is my favourite takeaway. Bread, cheese and meat is always a winning combination in my book. For this though, I've gone for a vegetarian pizza that is so quick and so easy it takes twenty minutes (at the most) to prepare and cook. 

Firstly, make the pizza dough - 

250g plain flour
150ml warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix together the flour and salt, then add the olive oil to the warm water and stir. Slowly combine the water and oil mix to the flour and knead until dough-like. Roll into your desired pizza base shape (who says it has to be round), place on a baking tray and then add the toppings. 

I like to use passata on my homemade pizzas as it is so quick but you could easily make a tomato sauce. Passata also costs just pennies to buy. Mozzarella is traditional of course but on this occasion I used grated cheddar which works just as well, then I added the mushrooms and sweetcorn. Put in the oven at full temperature for 8-10 minutes and place a few spinach leaves on top after cooking. That's it. Great tasting pizza in twenty minutes and for half the price.

Pan Roasted Duck and Mushroom Korma with Fragrant Lemongrass Basmati Rice

Curry is just one of those things most people get a craving for every now and again. This is a great one that is better than any you can order in. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients. Once you make your own curry you'll never order another one again. Duck is just a fantastic and versatile meat and I think it goes superbly in a curry. First of all the duck - you need a hot pan. While your frying pan is heating up score the fat on your duck breasts with parallel lines approx one centimetre apart. As duck has a thick layer of fat you don't need any oil in the pan as the fat will render down. Fry fat side down for a few minutes until the fat is crispy. Place a saucepan of water on the boil for the rice while you do this. Turn over the duck and place in the oven at 200C for eight minutes. Duck is at it's best cooked medium rare. If it's not pink, it's ruined.

By now the water should be boiling. Add basmati rice and throw in a stick of lemongrass blunted slightly by the back of a knife. Cook as normal. While the rice is cooking start with the korma sauce:

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
1 onion, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons tomato puree
100ml chicken stock
2 tablespoons ground almonds
4 tablespoons double cream
4 tablespoons plain yoghurt

Fry together the garlic and onion then add the ginger, chilli powder, cinnamon, turmeric, pepper, tomato puree and stock. Combine and then add the almonds. Cook all this off for a minute or two. Take the duck out of the oven and slice along the score marks made earlier. Add to the spice mixture and then add the cream and yoghurt. Cook gently for another minute.

The rice will be cooked by now. Remove both the rice and curry from the heat and serve. It's that easy!

So next time you fancy a takeaway resist reaching for the menus and get in the kitchen!

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, 26 July 2012

Bringing America Back Home

It's been a long time since my last post. I blame that on the amount of daydreaming I've done about the food we had whilst in America (see previous post). As mentioned in that post I mentioned that the best place we ate was the Top of the Hill Grill in Brattleboro, Vermont. The smoky pulled pork, perfectly grilled chicken, fall-off-the-bone ribs and moist brisket all topped off with great cornbread, baked beans and coleslaw. Just fantastic. Exactly the kind of food I love to cook as well as eat.

I wanted to try to recreate, as close as possible, the meals we had there. I thought the cornbread, coleslaw and to a certain extent the baked beans would be relatively simple. I decided to omit the chicken and the brisket and keep my task to a minimum.

I started with the pulled pork. It surprised me how easy this was in a slow cooker. It came out just slightly dry so in the recipe below I've reduced the cooking time. I used Dr Pepper but if you're not a fan Coke would be a good replacement. It worked well, I suppose it's there to keep it as moist as possible as opposed to flavour.

 Next the cornbread. I found literally hundreds of differing recipes for cornbread. It just seems like one of those things that everyone has their own way of doing it and everyone thinks their way is the best. I found one that looked good and adapted it slightly. The recipe called for quite a bit of sugar but after researching classic Southern cornbread has little or no sugar so I reduced that amount.

I used the cooking liquor from the pork to coat my rack of ribs as well as adding brown sugar and barbecue sauce and left the ribs alone in the oven at a very low heat for around 4 hours. When they came out the aroma was something special and the meat was fall off the bone tender.

The slow cooker was again used for the baked beans. And again, it was simple. I used a tin of butter beans, an onion, passata, ketchup, BBQ sauce and brown sugar. Throw it all in and leave it. I don't think I'll buy a tin of beans again!

The coleslaw was of course the easiest of the lot. I used one of those stir-fry vegetable packs you can buy at all supermarkets and added 4 tablespoons of mayo and 2 teaspoons of wholegrain mustard and mixed until all combined.

Now for the recipes. There's quite a few but the methods are easy so bear with me!

Dr Pepper Pulled Pork

6 Pork Steaks (or a pork joint)
330ml bottle Dr Pepper
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp Cayenne Pepper
2 tbsp Paprika
2 tbsp Brown Sugar
200ml Apple Cider Vinegar


1. Place pork and the dry ingredients in your slow cooker (set to LOW) and then pour over the liquids. Leave for 3 hours if using the pork steaks, 5-6 hours if using a joint.

2. Remove meat from cooker and use two forks to shred the meat. Smother in BBQ sauce and enjoy!

Sticky BBQ Ribs

One rack of pork ribs
Cooking liquor from the pork
Brown sugar
BBQ sauce


1. In a large, deep baking tray pour the cooking liquor from the pork. Place the rack of ribs on top.

2. On top of the ribs put a layer of brown sugar and another layer of BBQ sauce.

3. Set oven temperature to 100C and cook for approx 4 hours or until meat is tender.

Baked Beans

One tin butter beans (or haricot)
One jar/carton passata
Squeeze of ketchup (to taste)
Squeeze of BBQ sauce (to taste)
One onion, chopped
2 tbsp brown sugar


1. Place and pour everything in the slow cooker, set to LOW, cook for approximately 5-6 hours. That's it!


200g Cornmeal (I found this in the world foods section in the supermarket, polenta will work too but classic cornbread is always with fine cornmeal)
65g Plain Flour
100g White Sugar
2 Eggs
115g Unsalted Butter
235ml Buttermilk
1tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt


1. Melt butter in a saucepan, remove from the heat and add the sugar then quickly beat in the eggs.

2. Combine the buttermilk and baking powder and add this to the butter, sugar and egg mixture.

3. Combine the cornmeal, flour and salt and add this to the mixture. Stir together until few lumps remain. You can then transfer the batter to muffin tins or I just used a standard loaf tin.

4. Bake in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes. Insert a knife into the middle of the loaf, if it comes out clean it's cooked.

Hopefully you try one or all of these recipes. I'd recommend the cornbread especially. It's incredibly versatile and can be made more sweet or savoury, just add or remove sugar. For a true taste of America, try it all together!

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

American Food Trip

So I have recently returned from my mini American road trip and after catching up on some sleep and shaking off the jet lag I have been reminiscing about my time there, especially the food. Before we left I fantasised about the food I could have a chance of eating - juicy burgers and crispy fries, succulent BBQ and stacked sandwiches - and I wasn't disappointed. Every single meal I had was incredible and there were absolutely no let-downs. I don't have pictures of everything because some simply looked and smelled to delicious to wait but later on in this blog there'll be a few pics to make you feel jealous!

After flying to Newark in the State of New Jersey we found a place in Red Bank called Broadway Bar and Grill. It was the kind of diner-esque place I thought we'd see everywhere. From the outside it looked nothing particularly special but we were all hungry and, personally, I wanted my first American meal to be a classic burger, or a variation thereof. This place proves that appearances can be deceptive. The food was incredible. Firstly, I was asked how I would like my burger cooked - this has never happened to me before and means that the meat must have been fresh and of good quality. Secondly, when it arrived, it was the best burger I have ever had. That includes my own, which I happen to think are pretty good! I went for the bacon and blue cheese burger and it was fantastic. Crispy American bacon and the not-too-strong blue cheese which complemented the whole thing perfectly. It was a great start.

Day one continued with the first of a few long drives to Philadelphia. What a city! I could have easily stayed there, maybe even permanently. The weather probably helped as it was beautiful but it was so clean and everyone seemed welcoming and friendly. We were too tired and full to eat anything else that first night but we made up for it the next morning at Mrs K's Koffee Shop. Again, I wanted something classically American so (more) bacon and maple syrup were a requirement. And again, it tasted amazing. Perfect way to start a busy day.

As we were in Philly, a cheesesteak was a necessity and I had to have the best. We could have had one from anywhere. They were available in most restaurants, diners and food trucks but after doing my research I wanted my first taste of a Philly classic from Pat's King of Steaks. Pat lived up to that claim as the cheesesteak was, up until the very last night of the trip, the best meal I had. I didn't want anything to take away from the cheese and the steak so I had mine 'widout', which means no onions. I think it was a good choice as was having it with cheese wiz instead of provolone or American cheese. Although it is essentially fake, processed cheese and not something I'd usually eat, it tasted great. The cheesesteak brought our all too short time in Philadelphia to a tasty, juicy, cheesy finish.

From Philly we stayed in the State of Pennsylvania but left city life for a few days and went to Lake Ariel. We rented a cottage right on the lake with it's own mini pier and fishing boat. It was idyllic and a welcome change of pace. Unfortunately the weather turned while we were there but still managed to get some time on the water and make use of the barbecue there. Near the cottage was a shop on farmland that reared there own cows and buffalo so we stocked up there. Buffalo burgers and hot dog sausages worked really well on the BBQ, as well as some New York strip steak, which all tasted flame grilled to perfection.

I'm more of a city boy myself and, as beautiful as the lakeside cottage was, I was looking forward to moving on to Boston. I was looking forward to some great seafood, fresh from the harbour, and some good sandwiches, especially from Sam LaGrassa's which I was determined to find! The 'Boston Steak Bomb' sandwich was great. Lots of juicy medium rare steak with roasted peppers on an Italian roll - the best sandwich I have ever had. I also had a side of chowder which, although tasty, was blown out the water by the New England Clam Chowder I had on our final night in Boston. More on that later. We knew that Boston was likely to be our most expensive destination so I thought it would be best to accept it and enjoy, especially when it came to food. The first night there we visited Little Italy and, as much as I love the burgers and the steaks, I was craving something different. I had veal in azzuro, a white wine sauce, and it was just what I needed. Same with everything we had, it was cooked perfectly and the side of spaghetti it was served with was fantastic too.

The Hard Rock Cafe was our destination the next night and despite it obviously being a chain of restaurants, after looking at the menu I decided I wanted my first taste of American BBQ food. I went for the pulled pork sandwich and I couldn't begin to describe how good it was, just fantastic. Tender and juicy, everything I imagined it would be.

 On our final night in Boston my and my fiance Emma decided to really push the boat out and so for some seafood. We knew it would be expensive but we also knew it would be some of the freshest you could get anywhere and plumped for the Atlantic Fish Company. This is where I had the best chowder I reckon I could find anywhere. Just perfect, flavourful and complementary, no ingredient overpowered another. Emma went for the 'small' one and a quarter pound lobster and you could just taste the freshness. As I was struggling to choose just one thing from the menu I had the 'Captain's Platter', as massive plate full of fried haddock, clams, shrimp and scallops and it was fantastic. Worth every penny.

I have to be honest, Boston was not the greatest part of the trip. Although it is a lovely city we all felt there was not a lot to do and (as we found a few times) it is a very easy place in which to get lost! The food saved it for me, and would return, maybe just for a day, for some seafood. It really was that good.

From Boston we headed to Brattleboro, Vermont. Our final destination on the trip and there for our friend's wedding, it truly is a beautiful place we will return to one day. I have to be honest, I wasn't expecting a lot from the food there but I am very glad to be wrong thanks to one place - The Top of the Hill Grill. A proper barbecue joint in a great location with mainly outdoor seating, I ate there three times in three days. Chicken, ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, fajitas, quesadillas, hot dogs and much more, it was the best place I ate in America. The pulled pork in particular was sensational. There's no photos as it never lasted long enough to take one! Brattleboro - I'll be back.

I would be wrong not to give an honourable mention in this blog to Dunkin' Donuts. I expected to see plenty of McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC and Wendy's while in the States but I think we saw more Dunkin's than all of those put together. In the seven states we visited or drove through I estimate, with no exaggeration, we passed about 150 Dunkin' Donuts. We may have also frequented a few too.

All in all, the trip was an amazing experience and I was not let down one little bit by the food. One day I will go back to America and try many other dishes I didn't get a chance to this time. Until then though, memories will have to do. If only you could eat your food memories!

Thanks for reading!


Friday, 25 May 2012

New Job, Tiredness and Hard Work

I know it's been a while since my last post and a lot has happened in that time. On Tuesday I started a new job. The kitchen job at the pub chain was good and I was enjoying it but like I said in a previous post, I was simply pushing buttons on a microwave, there was very little cooking involved. When a friend let me know there was an opening for a chef at a local golf club and wanted to put my details forward I of course said yes but as it was a proper chefs position I wasn't holding out a great deal of hope. I heard back from them on the same day and the day after I was invited for a chat and then a short trial where I cooked a couple of dishes. Despite over-seasoning my salmon dish I was offered the job, surprisingly, and started the very next day. Over the last two days I have already made, from scratch, pork pies, hummus, walnut focaccia, smoked mackerel pate, an amazing blue cheese dressing and some fantastic burgers. I can't quite believe I am being paid to do this and I'm loving every minute of it. 

The golf club is a lovely place and from what I've heard they are only looking to expand and develop, especially the food side of things and it all sounds like there are exciting times ahead. I find it strange that only a couple of months ago I decided to become a professional chef and now, hardly any time since, I can call myself a chef. It's very hard work, very long hours and I'm very tired but it's a chance I intend to grab with both hands. A big thanks goes to Tom, the friend that made me aware of the job and passed my details on. Without him I wouldn't have the job as I don't think I would have even applied for it if I saw it advertised due to lack of experience or even confidence. I'll let you all know how it goes as I continue.

Less than a week now until we head off to America. I can't believe it's come round so quickly and now I just can't wait to get up in the air and on the way. The food, the travel and of course the wedding at the end of it, it's all going to be pretty incredible.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

National Sandwich Week

I am ashamed to say I did not know at least three months in advance that this week is National Sandwich Week here in the UK. This is criminal as I cannot express in words how much I adore the sandwich. The ultimate convenience food, there's not many things you can't do with a sandwich and I love the fact that there are no rules. There is nothing to stop you adding something, taking something away or re-inventing your favourite fillings. Don't like butter? Use mayo. Not much for white bread? Use brown. You can keep it simple or go for something a bit fancier with focaccia or ciabatta bread. You can have hot or cold fillings. Meat eater or vegetarian, you've just got to love a sandwich. The possibilities are endless. Below are my top three favourite sandwiches.

There's one sandwich that, for me, is head and shoulders above the rest. Unsurprisingly, it contains meat. In fact, there's two meats on my favourite. Chicken and bacon. It's a classic combination, the meat held together with a little bit of mayo, the less the better in my opinion. Just enough to keep the meaty filling solid and together on the bread. I believe that brown bread works best with a chicken and bacon too. Two different types of meat on a sandwich? And one of those is bacon? Sold.

Number two in my list is an absolute classic - the BLT. The bacon has to be as crispy as possible without being burnt. Crisp, crunch iceberg lettuce and fresh, thick sliced tomatoes, it's a wonderful combination. I feel it's more of a summer sandwich, the salad bringing a refreshing coolness to a warm day. Plus it has bacon on it, need I say more?

I'm going to be a bit controversial with my third favourite sandwich, it also used to be considered frightfully middle class. The prawn mayo. Again, I think it's a refreshing sandwich, the filling almost seems to clean the palate. As opposed to the chicken and bacon, I want more mayo on this sandwich and some nice fresh prawns finish the simple filling off nicely.

These are my three favourite sandwiches - for now. As I mentioned in my previous post, my America trip is fast approaching and I would think if you're an American reading this you'll think I'm mad and my choices seem so uninteresting. The UK doesn't really have a thriving sandwich industry. We love to eat them, we invented them, but most sandwiches, let's face it, are boring. The States seem to have a lot of independent sandwich shops with a lengthy menu with thousands of potential filling combinations. You could go every day for a whole year and not have the same sandwich twice. It would be great to have something similar in Stoke. I have a sneaky feeling my holiday will take my love of the humble sandwich to new heights with the lobster roll, pastrami and BBQ pulled pork just some of the sandwiches possibly fighting for a place in my top three. I will let you know.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, 11 May 2012

New Job Update and America Research

It's been far too long since my last post. No excuses I know, but I have been working a lot and it's made me pretty tired! The problem with working in an office for years is you get complacent and lazy. Going from that to working in a kitchen is a complete change. You are always kept on your toes, physically and mentally, and it's taking some getting used too. This definitely is not a complaint mind you, just a change of habit and we all know how difficult those are to break! It's going really well at work though. I feel myself learning new things that I'm sure will stand me in good stead in the future and just being in that kitchen environment is great experience. I can't help but feel frustration though, as there's not a lot of actual cooking that goes on, with it being a pub chain. I suppose a better job title would be microwave technician. I'm not at all surprised however, I knew what it would be like but I am worried I could potentially pick up bad habits, but I'm not letting it worry me, it's just something I think I'll have to be mindful of going forward.

At the end of May and into the beginning of June, me, my fiance Emma and three other friends - Bram, Eloise and Rich - are off to the East Coast of America on a mini road trip for ten days on our way to our friends wedding. We will be visiting and travelling through four states - New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and finally we will be heading to Vermont for the wedding itself. I've spent hours looking for attractions and things to do in the cities of Philadelphia and Boston where we will be staying but mostly I've been looking at the food that will be available to us. I have to say, it all looks incredible. I'm looking forward to sampling an authentic Philly Cheesesteak (and the subsequent run up the Rocky steps to work the calories off) and the Reading Terminal Market seems to have all possible cuisines under one roof! The fresh seafood from Boston harbour promises to be something special. The lobster rolls, fresh crab and 'chow-da' all look great. I love my meat but sometimes you simply can't beat fresh from the sea, well cooked fish. What I've found could fill plenty of future blogs, in fact it probably will do!

I promise not to leave it as long before my next post!



Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Humble Burger - Do's and Dont's

Whenever there's a barbecue, I'll be there with my burgers. As much as I love to cook pretty much anything I think my burgers give me, and hopefully my friends, the most satisfaction. The beauty of a burger is you can make them exactly as you want. Making them from scratch means you can add any flavours you want in there or even make them with a different meat rather than the standard beef. I like to keep things simple though. More often than not my home-made burgers are beef mince, salt, pepper, mixed herbs and an egg for binding the ingredients together. Just get your hands in there and mix it all together and that's it. Sometimes I will add mustard and ketchup for an added flavour to my standard burger and, for example, I have also made spicy burgers with chopped chillies, cayenne pepper and chorizo added to the mixture. Simpler the better when it comes to burgers, that's the key.

Burgers, like most meat, taste better when barbecued over coals but when the weather has been like it has recently and that isn't possible, pan frying them is a more than adequate alternative. Depending on the meat you've used you shouldn't need much, if any, oil as the meat should have enough fat in there. Burgers need fat, fat equals flavour, just treat yourself. Also, depending on the size of your burgers they shouldn't take long to cook either, four minutes either side is usually more than enough and if you've made them yourself you can afford to have them medium-rare, with a lovely bit of pink the middle. I like to seal both sides of the burger on a high heat then turn the heat down slightly and keep flipping them until cooked. Don't overcook though, a dry burger is a very disappointing moment that you never quite get over. As I said before, I like to keep it simple and that includes my burger toppings. A slice of mature cheddar cheese melted on top compliments the meat perfectly. If you can, steam the cheese on top of the burger. It's actually easier to do this on a hob, just cover your frying pan with a lid if it has one, if not use a plate or something similar, as long as the burgers are covered and the steam can't escape. Just leave it for thirty seconds to a minute and the cheese will be melted perfectly. Serve your burger between a toasted bun and eat immediately. Heaven.

A couple of home-made burgers do's and dont's:

  • Keep it simple - the flavour of the meat should be enough.
  • Season well - make sure there's enough salt and pepper in your mixture. For a standard 500 gram pack of beef mince I'd say a teaspoon of salt is ideal to bring out the meat flavours.
  • Steam the cheese - this really makes a difference.
  • Concentrate on the cooking process - keep your eye on your burgers in your pan. You don't want to burn them.
  • Go for extra lean meat - burgers need fat. Lean mince is the minimum fat content you should go for.
  • Press down on the burgers as they cook - this just releases flavour and dries the burgers out.
  • Use breadcrumbs to bind your mixture - I want as much meat as possible in my burger. Use an egg instead.
  • Overcook - just thirty seconds overcooking can ruin a burger.
Like I said, you can have your burgers however you like but if you follow these rules and you can't go wrong. Enjoy!