The Hungry Buck Cuban sandwich

A little while ago I watched a film called ‘Chef’ on Netflix starring John Favreau where he plays Carl Casper, a head chef at a major restaurant in California. He hits a snag when the owner of the restaurant tries to shackle his creativity and tie him down to cooking ‘classic’ proven dishes instead of being free to innovate and create something edgy and special. A high flying blogger and critic Ramsey Michel is heavily critical of Carl’s menu which starts a Twitter war between the two, Carl unfortunately being quite aggressive in his retaliation, not realising that Twitter is a very public forum to start a war of words. Ultimately this triggers a sequence of events that ruin his credibility and essentially ruins his career.

This gives Carl the opportunity to strip everything back and make something beautifully simple, tasty and fun. Traveling the country in a food truck making a huge impact with his iteration of the Cuban sandwich, he tries to rebuild his career and rebuild his fractured relationships with his family along the way. Its a brilliant film and I would recommend anybody watch it whether you are a food lover or not its a great ‘Feel good’ movie to watch on a Sunday night to help battle those lurking Monday blues.

Naturally I have spent a lot of time since watching the film researching the Cuban sandwich in its different iterations and disputed guises in and around the USA, making notes on equivalent ingredients to substitute the less available items on UK shores. Traditionally a Cuban sandwich is made from ‘Cuban’ bread which is baked in long, baguette style shapes with a crisp outer crust and a soft flaky middle, Ham, roasted pork, yellow mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles which is then pressed in a sandwich press called a Plancha. The bread being the main sticking point over here in the UK if you don’t have time to make it yourself.

In terms of the roast pork I wanted to give the sandwich a quick and easy alternative so slow roasting for hours for the sake of making one sandwich was never really a viable option for me! So I switched it up for some pork loin steaks and made a quick spice rub from salt, garlic, cumin, cinnamon and lime juice. So as blasphemous as this may be to the purists this is my homage to the iconic Cuban sandwich.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Panini roll
  • Honey roast ham
  • 1 Pork loin steak
  • Large pickles, thinly
  • 4 slices of Swiss or Emmental cheese
  • Half a lime

Sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon of each of the following onto a plate

  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Garlic powder
  • salt

Method:

  1. Preheat a griddle pan on a medium heat, cut the bread and lay the cheese onto the bottom half.
  2. Place to pork loin steak onto the plate and press into the spice mix, flip over and rub into the meat. Repeat for both sides.
  3. Add the pork to the pan, squeeze the juice of the lime directly onto the meat and cook for around 4 minutes each side. Remove and rest. Keep the pan on a low heat.
  4. Add the pork loin to the sandwich (you can slice it if you want) and layer the ham, pickles and any remaining cheese onto the sandwich. Add a good spread of the mustard onto the remaining bread and place on the top of the sandwich, Lightly butter the top and bottom of the bread.
  5. Turn the heat up on the griddle and add the sandwich to the pan, press down with a spare frying pan or plate to keep it compressed and on the heat. Keep it like this until browned and then flip it over to repeat.
  6. Remove your crispy Cuban from the pan and enjoy! Cut diagonally for really authentic detailing!

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Moyaux than meets the eye…

Travel broadens the mind. Travel provides us with the opportunity to see, hear and most importantly eat things that we wouldn’t be able to experience at home, making it as far as I’m concerned a very important part of life. So why is it then that I have not been abroad since I was 12? The simple answer being I am terrified of flying and cannot bare the thought of getting on one of those tubular winged terror machines.

Luckily France is not too far away and a ferry can get me there in no more than a few hours dependent on which port you arrive at. Huzzah! And I must say that driving off the ferry and onto the somewhat alien road system was an interesting experience but one that now seems like easy work after staying there for just shy of two weeks. We stayed in a small town called Moyaux, not too far from Lisieux in Normandy, on a a site called Le Colombier which was situated on an old apple orchard. The French countryside provides a really lovely base of operations for an exploration of the north western part of the country and Normandy provides a brilliant source of local produce to explore. Moyaux is a small town or even a village that doesn’t seem to have a lot going on in it but provides a true look into how French people really live, as opposed to a place that is hopped up and bloated to keep up with a bloated feeling tourism demand that pushes it’s inherent “Frenchness” onto the back burner to conform to what people want to see. It represents quintessential Normandy life and is a place build around its Church where everything closes from around 12pm until at least 2pm. For help with the mental image see the village in the film ‘Chocolat’ but without the pouting, pony tailed and guitar brandishing Johnny Depp and replaced with a fairly average looking food blogger in a Vauxhall Astra.

There were a few things that really stood out to me that seemed to represent the produce of the area that included but were not limited to; apples, which they used to create tarts, ciders and a distilled cider brandy called Calvados.  The local cheese’s and dairy produce such as the thick and rich creme fraiche, camembert which is said to have originated in Normandy in 1791, Pont-l’Eveque which is very much like a squared brie which I find slightly firmer and Neufchâtel which boasts a smooth, creamy texture with a flavour that lands somewhere between a young and fairly well aged taste. It is certainly a region worth visiting for the cheese-o-philes among us, great with fresh bread and a selection of cured meats that are not so good for the waistline but extraordinarily super for the soul!

Lisieux offers a market on a Saturday that really doesn’t seem to hold anything that special when walking into it from the side of the Basilique where we parked, as it seemed to just be full of clothing and cheap watches which tend to not really interest me if I am really honest. However when you turn the corner just to the left of the library you see just what you need to see in France. Wall to wall food. Vegetables, fruit, seafood (Not a cloudy fish eye in sight) including some lovely Moule/mussels that we enjoyed that night in a paella, fresh crepes, bread, some awesome fresh, cured and very living meats, preserves and pretty much anything you could think of that you would want to see in France when looking for a feed.

I wandered around for a few hours in awe of just how good it was and feeling very lucky to be able to see it frankly as at the time we visited the farmers of France were on strike in relation to the price of meat and milk being paid to them by the large supermarket chains. I had heard about the French supermarkets as something to behold in comparison to what we have in the UK and unfortunately it took a few days for us to get to the closest one due to the roads being closed due to farmers parking their tractors all around the hypermarket. We got around to it somehow one day before the strike moved on to Le Havre and found burning piles of cow feces, agricultural waste strewn all over the place and angry farm workers waving us off the exits which led to the store. An interesting experience to be in but if I am honest I totally support their cause and wish them luck in their endeavor’s, farms work damn hard to keep up with supply in countries all over the world and they deserve to be fairly reimbursed for their incredible amount of hard work.

Drink. Something that you need to cover when giving a run down of Normandy it seems as they are famous for their production of Calvados brandy, which is a really smooth drink for even me who is not in any way shape or form a Brandy drinker. It is actually very good when added to fried onions and put on top of a heftily loaded burger, however that is an expensive and wasteful practice to a true connoisseur! I basically lived off Grimbergen while I stayed there which seems to be a staple beer in France, It is available in some really tasty varieties such as poire/pear, kriek/berry, ruby, blonde and white to name a few that I can remember.

In summary, France offered some incredible experiences and I can’t wait to go back again. While there we visited the Bayaux tapestry, the landing beaches, Monet’s garden and the camp site was a wonderful place to relax offering a lovely little creperie just past the pool that offered take away food which I have to be honest, wasn’t perfect but it certainly filled a void if needed (heres to you Croque monsieur). Normandy is somewhere that I would recommend visiting to any person who loves food, drink and culture to visit as it has all three categories covered in droves, just don’t be scared to run off the beaten track and go somewhere other than the hypermarkets as Normandy in particular has so much to offer to reward your exploration. So if travel really does broaden the mind, consider my mind broadened.

Super sunday meatloaf

America has gone through quite the renaissance in terms of the worlds perception of their food in recent years, they are now supremely fashionable due to the popularity of their incredible barbeque recipes. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a new pulled pork product or a BBQ 20 hour beef option added to another menu at the bigger chains or even some of the smaller, more independent cafes and restaurants and for good reason.

America knows how to utilise great meat very effectively and create some incredible food. One dish in particular that I have always admired is the quintessential stateside family meal, the meatloaf. As somebody who grew up in the United kingdom watching shows from the USA I had always heard about meatloaf but never fully understood what it was until a few years ago when I put some effort into research. I have been working on a recipe since then and found a few pointers along the way to get the best from it and to be fair I am very happy with how it turns out now when I make it, as the first ones that I made were dry and a little bland. I didn’t really feel like I had captured the essence of the homely experience that the meatloaf represented to so many families across the pond, until now. I am happy enough with it to share the recipe for you to try at home!

What you’ll need:

  • 400g lean minced beef
  • 400g lean pork mince
  • 6 good quality pork sausage, removed from skins (I used pork and red onion sausage with 85% pork)
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stick, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic finely sliced
  • 1 medium egg
  • 75g wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • 100g smoked streaky bacon
  • 4-5 tablespoons of maple syrup
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil

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What to do:

  1. In a frying pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil and add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic and fry until slightly softened and the onions start to become milder in colour. Take it off the heat and leave it to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven at 180 degrees or equivalent.
  3. In a large bowl mix the beef, pork and sausage meat with the breadcrumbs, egg, parsley and season well with the salt and pepper. Add the now cooled veg from the pan and mix well to combine.
  4. In an oiled loaf tin pack the mix in to the top and turn out to reveal a nice uniform shape onto a lightly oiled baking tray.
  5. Wrap in the bacon so it is tightly packed in around the sides, leaving both end pieces exposed.
  6. Brush the maple syrup over the top of the bacon and around the sides and top with a bit of pepper.
  7. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour. until crispy on the outside or it reads around 77 degrees on a skewer.
  8. Remove from the tray carefully, and slice into even slices to serve to your family and friends! Best served with gravy or like I do with a sour cream and chive sauce, roast sweet potatoes and a big salad. Heaven.

As always play around with it and see what you can make of it yourself, this is but a blank canvas to get your juices flowing but it does certainly work as it is, so I implore you to give it a try.

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Thanks for reading and enjoy!

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Simple cod burger with gnocchi sardi salad

So, its now April apparently and it very much seems like March was one of those months that disappeared faster than a horse running at the national. The months seem to fly now that the clocks have changed and even though it is incredible to be having some lighter evenings to relax outside, it just seems like time goes a little bit faster when your enjoying yourself in pub gardens and having barbeques at home.

All the more reason to make the most of all this sunshine were currently having! The bank holiday was an absolute beauty weather wise and there certainly was no shortage of people taking their chance to have a pint by the canal at my local, the Fox and Anchor near Coven.

It is not very often I rave about a chain pub but I do love the Fox as it has a great ambiance in the winter when they light the log fires and even more so when they are buzzing with summer beer garden seekers. I even got a little bit sunburned. Which is not exactly hard as I burn like an ant under a blow torch.

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Now that we have all emerged from our wintery cocoons its time for some lighter food to compliment the bottles of Corona on the lawn (slice of lime optional but advised). White fish comes to mind as its quick, fresh and light on the pallet while being full of protein and really satisfying, paired up with this pasta salad which is the true star of this dish,makes a great meal. Enhanced further by the fact that its full of all the good stuff you can fit in without it becoming unbalanced, you’ll be feeling very pleased with yourself afterwards. No guilt. No hastle.

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Try this recipe on for size next time your feeling lazy on one of these warmer evenings.

Serves 4

For the burger:

  • 2 cod loins. Both halved.
  • 4 wholemeal buns.
  • Tartar sauce.
  • Soy sauce.
  • Pepper.
  • Few salad leaves of your choice.
  • Olive oil.

Pasta salad:

  • 400g gnocchi sardi.
  • 1 small box of cherry or small variety of tomatoes, all halved.
  • 1 courgette, diced.
  • 1 red and 1 orange pepper, diced.
  • 1 small can of sweetcorn.
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped.
  • handful fresh parsley, finely chopped.
  • 5 tablespoons of zero fat Greek yoghurt.
  • 5 tablespoons light mayonnaise.
  • 1 tablespoons dijon mustard.
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

  1. Cook the pasta to pack instructions.
  2. Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl and stir in all of the other ingredients apart from the courgette.
  3. Preheat a frying pan on a medium heat, add a tiny bit of oil and fry the courgette until it starts to brown a little, then remove and mix into the salad.
  4. Give a good few turns on a salt and pepper mill.
  5. Chill for 20 minutes.
  6. Use the preheated pan and add a little more oil.
  7. Add the cod loin halves and fry on a medium heat for around 4 minutes. Turn over and repeat.
  8. Turn the heat up to high and add a tablespoon of soy sauce, give the pan a shake so it reaches all of the fish, do this for around 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  9. Cut the rolls and put around a teaspoon of tartar sauce on both halves. Lay a few leaves on the bottom half, followed by the soy fried fish, along with anything else you want to add. (Go crazy, its a blank canvas).
  10. Finish with one big sprinkle of black pepper, cap it off with the top half of the bread and serve with a big spoon full of the pasta.

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Its another very simple but very effective recipe to fill a void after a hard day at work when the evening is best spent enjoying the sunshine outside!

Ultimate baked pasta

Hi all, today I find myself in the peculiar position of sitting in a Mcdonald’s eating breakfast (Only some porridge and a tea) waiting for my ride to work and taking advantage of their free WIFI facility. Peculiar only due to the fact that I am present in one of their ‘restaurant’s’ as I usually find their take on food as totally abhorrent and something I would never partake in, however I feel I’m safe with tea and porridge. Possibly. Cue the e-mails about their porridge oats being genetically manufactured in Scotland by mad scientists dressed as clowns.

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I am finding it hard to find slots in my time to physically sit down and write blog posts at present as I commute long distances for work but this is a good example of how I’m trying to fit it all in, between lifts and shifts. one could say I have an undying commitment to the cause, although this may possibly be a minor over-dramatization to the alternative of ‘fitting it in when I can’, so at present I would say a post every few weeks is a realistic target.

As some of my older posts have shown I am really keen on Italian food, I have always found its ability to combine artistry with simplicity incredibly attractive. Whether your an outright novice or an experienced veteran in the kitchen its a type of cooking that offers something for everybody. This dish present you with a relatively simple method but offers a show stopping flavour and combination of textures that elevate it beyond the typical ‘Pasta bakes’ of Homepride and Dolmio fame. The ingredients can be as cheap or as expensive as you can make them and you can finish the entire dish in around an hour, definitely one to please a few house guests at the weekend.

What you’ll need:

300g short tube pasta (Macaroni, ziti etc)
200g lamb mince
1 heaped Tbspn dried oregano
100g sliced salami
100g sliced pepperoni
Handful of red Leicester cheese
Large handful of fresh spinach
1 ball of mozzarella cheese
3 large fresh eggs
olive oil
salt
pepper

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons of red pesto
1 tin chopped Tomatoes
1 Tbspn mascarpone
handful of basil leaves
Salt
Pepper

Method:

1: In a bowl, add the lamb mince and the oregano with a little salt and pepper to taste. Combine well and roll into small meatballs. Around 1.5 inches in diameter.

2:Add pasta to a pan of boiling water and cook to packet instructions. Approximately 20 minutes in salted, boiling water.

3: Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to a frying pan and on a medium heat, lightly fry the meatballs until browned. This will take roughly 3 minutes. You don’t want to fully cook them yet. Remove from the pan to rest, leaving the fat in the pan. (We need it shortly)

4: In a blender blitz the tomatoes with the basil leaves. Add it to the frying pan on a medium heat with the reserved lamb fat. Add the pesto and the mascarpone, stirring well until well combined then leave to simmer for 5 minutes.

5: By now the pasta should be cooked, drain the pasta while reserving a little of the cooking water. Reintroduce the pasta to the pan with the reserved water and add the sauce and spinach. Mix thoroughly.

6: Preheat oven at 180 degrees or equivalent temperature. Beat the eggs together well in a cup or bowl.

7: In a medium to large lasagne dish, add a few tablespoons of the sauce to the bottom and create a layer of the pepperoni and salami in nice tidy rows. Add a big spoon of the pasta and spread evenly. Repeat until the dish is full, ending with a layer of pasta. This usually covers around 3-4 layers dependant on how big your dish is!

8: Add the meatballs to the top of the pasta and push in so they are half submerged in the pasta. Tear the mozzarella and scatter around the meatballs, then sprinkle on your red Leicester.

9: Take the beaten eggs and pour over the whole dish nice and evenly, it should seep through all the gaps and go down the sides of the pasta. Gives a few prods with a fork so it totally penetrates the pasta, it will bind together into a perfect harmony of cheesy, pasta goodness. Now add it to the oven and bake for around 30-40 minutes.

10: Remove from the oven and check the eggs are cooked through with a skewer or a knife, it should come out without any raw egg on. If still not cooked cook for further 3-5 minutes and check regularly.

11: Indulge it with your family and friends. Your onto a winner. Guarantee you’ll make it more than once. Best thing is it’s adaptable so make it your own, go to town add what you want and experiment.

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Penne in smoked salmon and saffron sauce

As promised this weekend on the Facebook page, here is the rather luxurious recipe for making penne something to right home about. I am aware that penne has become something of a boring choice nowadays when you look at the volume of types of pasta that is now filling the isles of the supermarkets. I do adore this in one respect as I love Italian food, so more choice within everybody’s grasp is great. These days I tend to go for wholemeal pasta’s too as I always make sure that we are eating well throughout the week, with the exception of the odd treat. This is one of those treats.

I will admit its not one for the budget cookbook. Saffron and Smoked salmon are both not cheap ingredients, but it is well worth it!

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What you’ll need:

  • A small pinch of saffron
  • 150ml double cream
  • 150ml white wine
  • 100g smoked salmon, sliced into tiny strips.
  • 250g penne pasta (Cooked to packet instructions, retaining a little of the cooking water)
  • 50g cherry Tomatoes
  • Handful of Spinach
  • 50ml water
  • 50g butter

Method:

  1. Get the water in a glass, and sprinkle in your bit of saffron to the water. Wait for the water to turn golden.
  2. Pour the wine into a pan and simmer on a medium heat. Reduce it right down.
  3. Add the butter and tomatoes to the pan.
  4. Pour in the double cream and add the salmon. Then a quick sprinkle of salt and the saffron/water to the pan, Leaving no saffron strands behind!
  5. Continue to simmer on a medium heat and stir. The sauce will thicken and turn a golden, buttery yellow. This will become more intense as you cook it.
  6. Add the pasta and the spinach and keep on a low heat, stirring to wilt the spinach and get the pasta to bond with the sauce.

Serve with some garlic bread and make sure you serve enough for everybody. Its tempting to keep it all to yourself!

The Honu burger

As some people are aware I am very much associated with burgers. Everybody always asks me if I have any new burger recipes or if I still cook the recipe I took to the battle of the burgers final in 2013, this in fairness is completely justified as I do love making and eating a nice burger! There are so many flavour combinations that can be slotted under an equal amount of buns or breads, its the gift that keeps on giving.

 

I have a huge passion for food as you can guess, but I also have an equal amount of passion for animals and wildlife. Birds and sea life in particular. I have been reading for the past few years about the decline in the sea turtle or “Honu” population and it was heart breaking to come to terms with the fact that they had got to a point where they were near extinction. Such a gracious, docile and beautiful creature driven to the precipice of oblivion, not surprisingly accelerated by the western world starting to haunt the shores of Hawaii. However there is an upside, populations are making a gradual recovery thanks to designated conservation sites and a huge effort from the sort of people who don’t want to see the beautiful gifts the earth has given us disappear.

You can read more about this here if you wish: http://www.wildhawaii.org/marinelife/turtles.html

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So its for this reason I have decided to write a recipe and name it in honour of an icon of Hawaii. A symbol of conservation in the western hemisphere and a wonderful creature that deserves our attention to keep it around for the next generation to appreciate. The fact it is slightly easier to pronounce than the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a burger also is a contributing factor! (The Hawaiian state fish)

Which brings me onto the ‘Meat’ of this sandwich. The recipe. It uses the zingy fresh tang of tropical pineapple to cut through the luscious beef patty and salty smoked bacon, creating an all round enjoyable experience that should hopefully bring a little bit of sunshine to meal time! Recipe should cover approximately 4 people.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 medium wholemeal buns.
  • 600g beef mince.
  • 12 pieces of smoked streaky bacon.
  •  4 rings of canned pineapple, chopped.
  • Your choice of salad leaves.
  • 4 slices of Emmental cheese.
  • Worcester sauce.
  • Salt and pepper.

Method:

In a bowl combine the mince with a tablespoon of Worcester sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper. Mix well with clean hands until well combined however try not to overwork it as the burgers will become tougher to eat. Get both hands in the bowl and work into a ball.

Break the ball of mince into 4 and squash into round shaped patties of equal size (around 1cm or so thick). Leave in the fridge for a minimum 30 minutes to rest. Make a small thumb print in the middle of the burger to stop it popping up too much during cooking.

pre-heat a frying pan and a griddle pan on a medium heat, lightly oil both sides of the patties. Add the burgers to the pan 2 at a time and fry for around 4-5 minutes a side. Pop the bacon in the griddle pan and dry fry until crispy on both sides (or to your own preference).

On the last turn of the beef, add a tablespoon of chopped pineapple, toped with the cheese. Turn the heat off and allow them to rest for a minute or two in their own juices. The cheese will relax and spread over the fruit, locking it to the top of the patty.

Remove the bacon and leave on a piece of kitchen paper to absorb any unwanted grease or fat.

Cut the buns, add a dollop of mayo or ketchup on the bottom half (your choice, go wild!) and a few of the leaves. Cross 3 pieces of bacon over the salad and sit the burger on top.

Pin it with a skewer so it doesn’t all try and escape…And your done! I served mine with roasted new potatoes for a healthier option to chips or fries.

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So there you have it. The “Honu” burger! A burger that in my opinion makes meal time a little sunnier. A tip of the hat to an ancient and very awesome member our oceanic heritage. Here’s to you turtles!