food recipes


Cassoulet can be as quick and easy or as long drawn out and complicated as you make it. Ditto for the costs! Everyone makes it differently, below is my preferred method/mix. Confit duck legs are a traditional part ingreditent. If you want to confit them, recipe follows, but you need start 2 days to 2 months in advance. Apparently they improve with age. I’m a bit unsure about that, as I’m not sure of my skills at providing a cover fat cover thick enough to keep all mould at bay. So I would start about a week in advance. If you forget completely you can either buy confit duck legs (very expensive) or just slow fry them in their own fat for about 2h whilst you’re putting the rest of the cassoulet together.

I have to admit using tinned beans is much quicker & easier…

To make the enough confit duck legs for 2 cassoulets (takes 2 days): 4 large duck legs
50g rock salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4-6 thyme sprigs
5 broken bay leaves
10 crushed garlic cloves
750g extra rendered goose or duck fat (in a tin, I don’t bother though)
48h before you cook mix the above except for fat, rub into the skin & meat of legs of duck & put on a tray in the fridge for 24h, then remassage. After 48h scrape off the seasonings & put to one side.
Heat a frypan to moderate, put the legs in skin down & brown, then turn & brown. I then return the seasonings, turn them back on their skin (to render out the fat) & shallow fry in their own fat at a low heat with a lid on for about 2h, turning occasionally.
Alternatively after browning, put the legs in a preheated oven (150 deg C) with the extra fat & seasonings & cook for about 2h. To preserve them place in a large jar with lid, & pour over enough warm liquid fat to cover completely. Let fat go hard & cover with lid, keeps for months in the fridge. If you don’t have enough fat, smear them in fat & wrap in clingfilm

The cassoulet itselt:

2 confit duck legs
500g – 700g shoulder of lamb (or leg if you prefer), deboned & diced to about 3cm pieces
3 Toulouse sausages (or other coarse garlicky sausages
if you like 500g fresh pork belly in 3cm cubes (I don’t usually use it)
1 large onion chopped
6 garlich cloves, chopped
5 large tomatoes, chopped
150g breadcrumbs

The Beans:
600g dried beans soaked overnight (I use a mix with lima, haricot, borlotti, haricot is traditional)
1 large onion, peeled & stuck with 4 cloves
2 peeled garlic cloves
1 bouwuet garni (bay, thyme, parsley stalks)

Drain the beans, cover them with fresh cold water about 3cm higher than bean lever, add the other bean ingredients, bring to the boil & simmer until beans are tender but retain their shape (1.5-2.5h). Add a little extra water if they start looking dry, but allow the liquid to thicken & become saucy at the end of the cooking. Season, remove & discard the onion & bouquet garini.

Whilst the beans are cooking melt 2tbs of duck fat & brown all the meats one after the other, sausages last & set them aside separate to the other meats. Cut the duck legs into chunks & the sausages into 4 chunks. Then add the onion & garlic to the pan & cook on low until softened. Add the tomatos & a little water & simmer ~ 20min until you have a rich & pulpy sauce.

The cassoulet will be cooked in an around 3L crockpot (we’ve got an IKEA Le Creuset imitation), so if you think your beans & other ingredients won’t all fit in your pot, reserve some of the beans (you can freeze them for next time). When the beans are cooked stir in the tomato sauce & check the seasoning (don’t forget the meats are salty, esp. the duck), stir in the meats (except for the sausage). Sprinkle over a layer of breadcrumbs (no more than 1/3 of them) & then drizzle some melted duck fat over them & place uncovered in a preheated 140-150 deg oven for 2-2.5h. Check occasionally & break teh crust & add more crumbs. If the mixture becomes too dry, make a hole in the crust & pour in some water. Before the final layer of breadcrumbs (1/2h before it is finished, press the sausage chunks into the beans surface so they become crusty too, then add the last layer of crumbs. The beans should be melting & creamy & the meats tender, the crust deep, crisp & golden. Serve with a rustic red wine – something strong & tannic e.g. a nice ‘black wine’ from Cahors or Madiran would be appropriate.

I like to make servings slightly smaller & have heaps of broccoli on the side.

food recipes

Our Ideal Chilli con carne

the chilli con carnage made with my friend’s roadkill wallaby was good, but this is better!

This is a pretty simple recipe, just start a good 2.5h in advance & don’t forget to soak the beans overnight if you’re using dried ones. (Or cover them with heaps of boiling water about 4h before intended use if like me you forget!)

Quality of ingredients is paramount, try to get your cooking chorizo from a spanish specialist & ask for one that is best suited to stewing. We got our meat from Riverford (organic) & it tastes superb, maybe it is what made the difference so I’d recommend a quality organic if possible (from the producer rather than a supermarket).

500g beef mince
500g beef stewing steak diced
250g cooking chorizo (probably 3-4 sausages depending on size)
I used approx 250g each of haricot & lima beans soaked overnight in heaps of water
+ one tin of kidney beans (400g)
2 large onions, chopped
4+ cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp spanish hot paprika (smoked) – I used El Ruisenor brand (yum)
2 tbs vinegar of your choice
2 tsp dark brown sugar
2 x 400g tins of nice tasting tomatoes
6 chopped prunes
2 bay leaves
scant 1 tsp oregano
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Drain & rinse the soaked non-tinned beans and put them in a large pan of fresh water. Bring to the boil, boil hard for 10min then simmer gently until soft (time depends on size can take up to 2h), drain, reserving 500mL of the cooking liquid.

Whilst the beans are cooking brown the meats in batches, transferring the browned meat to a large saucepan. Then sweat the onions & garlic in the oil left in the pan (adding a little water if necessary) until transparent. Add to the meat along with all other ingredients except for the beans. Bring to the boil & simmer gently, stirring regularly. If it begins to look dry use some of the water from the beans. Cook for around 1 – 1.5h until the meats have softened & mixed with the sauce. Add the beans for the last 20+ minutes of cooking, season.

I served it with toasted pittas and creme fraiche.

food recipes vegetarian

Pasta with pumpkin, sage and mozzarella

Pasta con zucca, salvia, e mozzarella

I found this great recipe book in my local bargain basement bookshop, the thing I really like about it is that the recipes are regional and authentically Italian: not just the standard dishes found in every Italian restaurant! The measurements used are mine, as the recipe book uses ounces….

Ursula Ferrigno’s Trattoria: A passion for Italian Food

I have been contemplating using ricotta rather than mozzarella & butter, but my friends say it was perfect as is, so don’t meddle with it!

Serves 4
Olive oil
~ 600g pumpkin
1 bag of mozzarella in brine (220g I think?), drained & diced
30-40g butter (i.e. a lump a little bigger than the 25g marking on your pack)
2 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
12 fresh sage leaves, plus extra to serve
juice & zest of 1 lemon
400g pasta (conchiglie or orichette, as per below)
grated parmesan

Put the mozzarella, butter, garlic, sage, lemon zest & juice, salt & pepper into a food processor & blend to a coarse paste. Make into a roll in cling flim & wrap with alfoil & chill.

Chop the pumpkin into small pieces (I leave the skin on, but it’s up to you!) season with salt & pepper, coat in olive oil & roast until tender & golden-brown – I use the vegetable roasting function on my combination microwave oven which is very quick, easy & tastes just as good as pure oven roasting.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, cook the pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or if you’ve made the pasta yourself until it rises to the top – usually 3 mins.  Drain well.

Add the pumpkin to the drained pasta and slice in the mozzarella roll (crumbly texture), toss until the cheese has melted and it’s well mixed and divide the mix between 4 bowls, topped with parmesan and the reserved sage.

food recipes

Making orichette

Last night I thought it would be easier (& nicer) to make my own orichette than to buy commercial conchiglie.  Well it definitely tasted good.  Making pasta is pretty simple really – as always start with good quality ingredients – I used 00 organic ‘pasta’ flour from my local online retailer (Ocado) which had a grittiness different to normal flour & really worked well, & of course free range organic eggs.

Take  one medium egg to each 100g of flour, add some olive oil if the dough doesn’t form a mass hanging off the dough hook of your mixer after about 5 min.  Room temperature eggs would definitely help!  Some recipes suggest that adding salt to the dough causes it to take up water so I don’t do this.  After the dough is mixed (it should be really stiff, don’t add too much oil or water!) wrap it in cling film and leave it to relax in the fridge for an hour or so.

After struggling making little thumb hats for about an hour Julian came to my help with an array of YouTube videos which he played sequentially so that I could watch them whilst making (the advantage of being in a tiny appartment).  The problem though is that the Nonna’s are so fast that it’s hard to track what they do!  So below is my description of how it worked best for me, refer to said videos to get a graphic impression!

Roll a piece of dough out into an approx 1cm diameter roll.  Using a sharp flat bladed knife (I used my Santoku knife) slice a 3-5mm thick slice off the end, then turn the knife on its side to smear out the pasta, as the pasta appears from under the knife (I needed to use quite a lot of pressure) put your thumb on it and as more pasta is extruded, move your thumb onto the new part (this gives the dough it’s typical hat shape).  When the slice has been completely smeared, turn the hat inside out & there you have your orichette!  It took me 2.5h to make 400g of flour worth of pasta, but the result was worth it and I expect to get quicker.

N.B. on one of the videos the nonna said she mixed the flour with a couple of tbs of boiling water, rather than egg, each egg being approx 60g & if we assume it has a slightly greater density than that of water, I would expect maybe 50ml per 100g of flour????  I would however be cautious and test it out with half the amount first up!

Also I estimate 100g of flour per person, though I used only 2/3 of the 400g pasta for 4 people – the exact amount depends on how many men are eating and how hungry people are!


Cherry Heering: very cheering!

I just spent a few days work related at the Birmingham Good Food show & the discovery of the show was Cherry Heering – an absolutely awesome liqueur.  It tastes of black cherry with the stone (i.e. nice almondy notes) – quite viscous and very intense.  I’m thinking mixed with gin, OJ & soda (maybe a dash of lime) or just go for a classic with the Singapore Sling.  Anyway we’ve got through half a bottle playing around in one evening between the two of us, which is recommendation enough in itself!


Cullen Skink

those Scots eat some crazy stuff (stuffed haddock heads, fish haggis in a fish stomach! etc.). This is actually pretty good. Below is how I made it, adapted from a recipe in

The name of this rich, tasty soup comes from the fishing village of Cullen, in Morayshire. “Skink” is a soup made originally from a shin of beef. But in this case, the main ingredient is smoked haddock.

Approx 225g smoked fish (I’d prefer less but Julian liked it so) – I used smoked mackerel but you could be traditional & use haddock or try salmon
1 medium onion, finely chopped.
300ml milk
2 massive potatos, mashed (or 5-6 small potatos)
1 bay leaf
Chopped parsley
Cover the fish with water, in a shallow pan, skin side down. Bring to the boil and simmer for 4/5 minutes. Take the fish from the pan, remove skin and bones. Break up the fish into flakes, return to the stock and add the chopped onion, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Strain, remove the bay leaf but retain the stock and fish. Add the milk to the fish stock and bring back to the boil. Add enough mashed potato to create the consistency you prefer (don’t be afraid to make it rich and thick!). Add the fish and reheat. Check for seasoning (my fish was salty & peppery enough not to need any).

Serve with chopped parsley on top. This is a rich & filling meal in itself


Now to the ‘learn from my mistakes’ section

Sherry is never good in salad dressings.Okra is better cooked for a short period of time and hey, maybe that Jamaican goat curry just doesn’t need okra!

There is such a thing as too many chickpeas!

Relatedly, yes you can use too much saffron – if in doubt when the Moroccan tagine recipe says use 1tsp, just use a generous pinch of strands….

And getting back to my first serious cooking disaster as a 10 year old: 2min noodles cannot be jazzed up using mince meat & even freeze dried peas & tomato sauce won’t save your camping holiday meal from complete disaster!

Happy cooking!

Oh and getting to more recent culinary misadventures – does tinned tomato ever taste good?

And yes red wine spilt in the fridge & forgotten about can go mouldy & stink incredibly…..

Stay confident & pushy in job interviews – as soon as you lose the ‘I am your next…..’ you lose your edge 🙁


The ‘ok’ (Julian might debate this with me)

I am the first to admit that my ‘own recipe’ veg food is not always outstanding. However there is a certain male-female bias in how food should taste is my impression. I.e. men seem in general less keen on having a meat free night….. Anyway below are some of my more recent efforts.

Frittata, take 12 eggs, whatever veg you have left in the cupboard, slice said veg & microwave until done. Fry up some onions & garlic, chop some parsley, chives, thyme, oregano & whatever other herbs you have. Break half the eggs & whisk to mix with salt & pepper. Drain off any water on the veg & mix in with the egg – if there isn’t a good covering of egg on each slice of veg then add more eggs. Pack into greased baking tins (don’t use springform!!!), bake in a preheated oven say 160 deg for about an hour until they’re cooked. Serve with a salad.

Veg lasagne. Ideally make your own pasta & precook the sheets, however I realise Latina is easier! Roast whatever veg you have (ideally including tomatoes, root veg – potato, sweet-potato, parsnip), either cook some red lentils or use hommus. When the veg is cooked, mix with a 500g pack of creme fraiche & some herbs, season. Grease some loaf tins or other lasagne holder, if you have lentils mix with the veg, if you have hommus spread on the bottom sheet of pasta, layer otherwise as usual, using a quiet cheese (I found the feta a bit strong, so cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, etc.). Add some water if you’re using dried pasta, if you’ve made & precooked your own, it’ll be fine. Put in a preheated oven say 175 deg, check after 30mins to see how it’s going (the baked veges will mean that the whole thing is quite warm already) and make a judgement call on how much longer if any is necessary.


Laal Maas

my version

from Curry: fragrant dishes from India, Thailand, Malaysia & Indonesia, foreword by David Thompson

If you enjoy a curry from many different countries but don’t want to get too in depth I’d really recommend this book – great recipes, great photography, a good introduction to the different styles of curry. So getting back to Rajasthan (North India).

I made this last night, but didn’t have any yoghurt and used creme fraiche instead, which was just as good!

1tbs dried capsicum flakes (i bought by accident thinking they were chilli), 5-10 dried thai chillies, stalks off; 1.5tsp cloves; vege oil; 250 natural yoghurt; 2 tsp roasted cumin seeds (do under grill or in a frypan, careful not to burn!); 20g ground coriander (ideally you’d grind your own seeds in a mortar & pestle or a dedicated spice grinder); 1/2 tsp chilli powder; 2 tsp salt; 3 bay leaves; 10 green cardamom pods; 6 black/brown cardamom pods (necessary, they are a different species to the green & give a distinctive earthy note, you can get them in little delis, indian & asian stores); 2 heads of garlic finely chopped (trust me it’s good!); 250g onions finely chopped; 1kg goat shoulder in cubes (or lamb if you must!); 750mL lamb stock or water; finely chopped leaves of 1 bunch of coriander.

Set aside 2 chillis & soak the rest in water. Also set aside 6 cloves. Mix the yoghurt, cumin, ground coriander, chilli powder & salt in a small bowl. Heat some oil (1 tbs) in a heavy bottomed large pan, add cloves, bay, both cardamoms. WHen they begin to crackle & change colour add the garlic. Saute for 2 mins or until garlic changes colour, add the onions & cook until golden brown (10 min). Stir in meat & cook for a couple of minutes before adding soaked chillis with water & cook until the liquid has evaporated a bit (if possible) & meat browns. Add spiced yoghurt & cook 10-12min until liquid has evaporated. Depending on how much water evaporates, add some of the heated water/stoc, bring to the boil & simmer until the meat is tender (1-3h, depending on what you get, cooking in the microwave seems to tenderise quickly if you’re running out of time, not that I recommend this step ;-)) Now to boost the flavours, heat a small pan with another tbs of oil & fry the reserved cloves & chillis, cook 1-2mins until the spice smells good. Pour over the curry, sprinkle with the coriander leaves & serve with basmati rice.


Coconut basil perch fillets

from the Age many years ago, still a favourite. Again for this recipe you whizz up a few ingredients in the blender, marinate & fry. I used whole sea bass this time. At first when I went to Peckham Rye (an area in the south of London) I was worried about being ‘in da hood’ & felt a little uncomfortable. Nowadays I keep my valuables close & enjoy the produce – Jamaican & African shops, Irish & Jamaican butchers (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall may bemoan the difficulty of procuring goat meat – I don’t, it’s easy) & a wonderful fresh fish shop where the eyes are unglazed, the crabs wiggle their legs & I choose my fish which are then scaled & gutted for optimal freshness. Mmmmm fish.

Revision – I gutted fish recently, as the Billingsgate fish market don’t do the work for you & it’d be easy if you took the head off first – having decided that I wanted to bake fish head on it was a little harder to persuade the fish to part company with it’s trachea & oesophagus. Doing it yourself means that you’ve got great fish heads & backbones to make fish stock from! And trust me even just boiling a carrot, some leek & an onion in water for half an hour is better than using bought stock!

Actually I’ll give you the recipe below:

serve with Jasmine rice & bok choy (I actually cooked runner beans & carrot in the same pan as the fish)

5 fillets of sea perch (or any firm white-fleshed fish); 2 tbs fresh ginger, roughly chopped; 2 tsp fresh turmeric roughly chopped (or 2 tsp powdered); 2 tbs galangal chopped (wasn’t available so I added some lemon rind & juice, not quite the same); 2 garlic cloves chopped; 2 small red chillies sliced; 4 tbs coriander roots or stems, well washed & finely chopped; 14 kaffir lime leaves sliced (I had to use frozen – the asian store has mangosteens, but not fresh kaffir lime…); 1.5 cups thai basil leaves roughly chopped (the unlabelled leaves on branches with an aniseedy smell usually); 4 tsp white palm sugar, grated (or equiv raw sugar); 4 tsp lemon juice; 2 cups of coconut cream (not available here – I used 1 tin of milk); sea salt

Cut 1 cm deep slits throughout the fillet (to slide in basil leaves). Put everything except 1/2 cup basil leaves, coconut cream & salt in blender & puree, use a little of the coconut cream to make blending easier. When smooth add the rest of the coconut cream & mix. Put half in the fridge & pour the rest over the fish to marinate for an hour in the fridge. Take the fish out. Put the remaining basil leaves in the slits in the fish, dust with salt & fry it in a pan on med-low heat with a lid so that it is just cooked, flipping half way. I can’t bear to waste the sauce so I put all the marinade in the pan to heat up to a simmer (& kill all fish germs). Serve on rice drizzled with the warmed reserved sauce from the fridge (don’t boil it!)