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!

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Freshly baked ciabatta bread

So I’ve been mulling over this particular article for a while and today is the day I finally get my act together and get it live. I have never been, and have never claimed to be particularly good at baking, although recently I have a much keener interest in it.

I have started from the ground up and started with making my own bread and I can confirm I am now hooked. Its hard to describe the feeling of accomplishment when it goes right and you end up with a really attractive end product emitting that soul warming smell that makes your home seem that little bit more special. Its a hard feeling to beat.

So rather than me harping on about it, here’s a recipe for you to do it yourself. I challenge you to do this once and not want to do it again!

Ingredients

500g strong white flour
450 ml Luke warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon dry Yeast
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons garlic granules
2 tablespoons oregano and\or 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
Olive Oil

Method

Pre heat oven to 200C or gas mark 8

In a large bowl mix with clean hands flour, sugar, herbs and yeast

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Pour in the water and salt and mix in the bowl with your hands for 5 minutes. The mixture will be like a very thick paste.

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Lift parts of the dough up and fold it over itself to push in a few air pockets. Work the dough in the bowl for 5 minutes. If you have a food mixer, beat it with a dough hook but still finish off with the hand method to push the air pockets in.

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Flour a work surface and continue to work the dough until smooth.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil directly to the dough and mix into it by kneading for a few more minutes.

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Allow to prove in a clean bowl drizzled with a little more oil to stop it sticking, covered with cling film for about 1 hour or until it doubles in size.

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Pour the dough onto a well floured work surface and fold over like an envelope length ways to create the ciabatta ‘look’. At this point you can leave it as a loaf, cut into rolls or get creative and twist them up. Once shaped leave to prove for a further 20 minutes.

Lift dough onto a floured baking tray and (sprinkle some flour onto the top of the bread/s to create a more rustic look) bake for around 25 minutes, until golden and when tapped sounds hollow. Leave till cool on a wire rack or a spare grill pan for 15 minutes before serving.

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Burgathon edition #1: Southern american soul meets british beef

Hi everybody,

This post marks the beginning of a series of 3 recipes in celebration of the Burger, be it lamb, beef, pork or chicken as long as it is tucked up nicely in a bun of your choosing with a few tasty accompaniments it can really make your day tucking into a wholesome, home made burger.

The reason for this trio of meaty creations is my truly amazing experience in September competing in the grand final of the battle of the burgers competition… What more would somebody need to inspire them to carry on making something than to do what you love with some really great people. The smells, the taste and the textures always get me exited when it comes to any food but nothing brings out my inner child like a big, juicy burger.

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My experience in London was bordering on life changing, I met some fantastic people and felt like I came away a better cook. I took my A game and I came away proud of how well I had done, now having cooked for JB Gill from the boy band JLS, also wasn’t too shabby to put on my culinary CV. I made two appearances on local radio, one of which was back to back with an interview with JB, so that was interesting to listen to! My 15 minutes of fame did not go to my head though I promise.

So really quickly here is a picture of the final Bengal Burger, I was incredibly proud of it and will be back next year for sure to try and take the top prize.

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That brings us to the new recipe I have written for the first recipe of the burgathon. I call it the Mardi Gras burger and it is a tip of the hat to the bustling streets of New Orleans and the zingy kick of the Cajun and Creole styles of cooking that give southern America its soul and heart. I have combined the warmth of Louisiana style liquor with the zap of tangy tomatoes to create a sauce that is the perfect blanket for the spiced up beef burger. I hope every bite takes you straight into bourbon street, the trombones and whistles ringing in the background of your mind while the Cayenne crackles away, warming your inner Cajun!

The Mardi Gras burger

Ingredients:

The Mardi Gras burger sauce

  • 1 White onion, Diced.
  • 2 Tbspn Olive oil.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • 125ml Southern comfort/ Spirit of Louisiana liquor.
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes.
  • 2 tbspn brown sugar.
  • 3 Tbspn Worcester sauce.
  • 1 heaped tbspn good tomato ketchup.
  • Large pinch of sea salt.
  • 1 Tspn white pepper.

The burger

  • 600g lean steak mince.
  • 1 1/2 tbspn Cayenne pepper.
  • 1 tbspn Smoked paprika.
  • Large pinch sea salt.
  • Large pinch black pepper.
  • 2 Tbspn olive oil.
  • 4 slices of smoked cheddar.
  • 4 Good quality seeded buns.
  • Handful of mixed salad leaves.

Method:

Firstly you will want to get cracking with the sauce.

  1. Put the oil into a large frying pan and bring to a medium heat and spread the oil out evenly.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the garlic starts to soften and becomes fragrant.
  3. Add the Southern comfort and simmer for 5 minutes until it reduces to half its volume, cooking out the majority of the alcohol.
  4. Add the tomatoes, sugar, Worcester sauce, ketchup, salt and pepper. Cook on the medium heat for an additional 10 minutes, stirring regularly until the sauce thickens and the tomato juices reduce and begin to emulsify.
  5. Take off the heat and leave to cool, then drop the contents of the pan into a food processor and pulse a few times. This will give it a thicker consistency and thicken it up a little.
  6. Empty into a small container and put to one side to await its meaty vehicle.
Before and after... Father and son.

Before and after… Father and son.

For the burger…

  1. Combine the meat, cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well with clean hands.
  2. Split and roll into 4 evenly sized balls.
  3. Pat the balls down into approximately 2 cm thickness and lay on a plate, cover the plate with cling film.
  4. Refrigerate patties for 20 minutes.
  5. Preheat a griddle pan on a medium heat. Pre-heat your grill too.
  6. add a dash of oil to both sides of each burger and gently rub it in.
  7. Place 2 patties at a time on the griddle and cook for around 6-7 minutes on each side.
  8. At the end of the second sides cooking period, add the cheese to the top of the burger and leave to melt for a further 2 minutes.
  9. Take the Burgers off the heat and leave to rest in a warm place for 3 minutes.
  10. Cut the buns in half and grill each side until slightly browned.
  11. Add the mixed leaves to the bottom part of the bun, followed by the burger, top it with the sauce and cap it off with the top half of the bun.
This sucker got soul!

This sucker got soul!

Now tuck into the zingy little beast and enjoy with your friends and family. This baby has real soul!!… Can anybody hear a brass band!? I look forward to next week as number #2 is certainly a porky little number!

Phil

Introducing our new contributor!

Hello Gecko readers, I would like to firstly thank Phil for asking me to be a guest blogger and secondly I’d like to introduce myself.

My names Naomi and I have had a passion for food ever since I can remember; my dad often tells me that as a little girl I’d be asking what was for dinner whilst eating my lunch.

I grew up spending a lot of time in the kitchen with my grandma, who is from Jamaica, cooking was always based on using fresh ingredients and putting love and care into the food, not just throwing something in the oven or microwave. Cooking wasn’t about just about filling the hunger; it was about getting together as a family and sharing the love put into the food. The pleasure I got from watching my grandma put wonderful food together and the enjoyment I had from tasting the food and sharing the experience with my family was what really drove my passion for food in general.

My passion for baking (especially cakes) came when I was in primary school and I entered a Halloween cake competition; I made a cake that looked like Medusa, even down to the snake hair and I guess this is when I figured that baking was my thing.

The Skittles cake

The Skittles cake

What do I love about baking? EVERYTHING! I especially love cupcakes, maybe because I’m a girly girl and they can be made to look very cute. To me baking cakes is firstly about the taste, but they also have to look good, as they say we eat with our eyes first. The main thing I enjoy about baking is the enjoyment it gives to others. I love the reaction I get when people see something I have made then I wait for the reaction on their face when they bite into it.

I would like to share some of my work with you and hope that you enjoy it. I would like to show you how easy it can be baking for yourselves, its much more satisfying that buying from the supermarket and trust me, it will taste much better.

One of the first recipes I will be sharing is one of my favourites for this time of the year. Gingerbread and Nutmeg Cupcakes! The warmness of Ginger and Nutmeg is perfect for these colder days. Keep an eye out for the recipe… coming soon.

Naomi

Operation: Eat bunny

Hi all and welcome to the start of my personal mission. The aim of which is to convert people to a different way of thinking about what goes into their food.

I am an adventurous eater and I take an enormous amount of enjoyment in trying new things, while taking even more joy in introducing other people to new things. This has led me to what I am writing about now, as not nearly enough people can really appreciate the kind of great produce our country has to offer if they are limiting themselves to what is available at the supermarket meat counter. This is not the consumers fault, but supermarket’s specialise in providing people with products they think sell well, which includes the usual cuts of beef, lamb, pork and a sprinkling of ‘acceptably fresh’ fish and I see it as a real shame that butchers are closing down all over our country because we are preferring the corporate convenience to the art of providing real, local produce in a butchers shop. The supermarket chains are forcing us to not have an option, due to killing off all of the independent businesses in local areas around their stores with mass produced (and sometimes low quality) meats. They mostly care about profit margins not quality of produce, the recent horse meat scandal is a good example.

I have no issue with using supermarkets for things and I am certainly not saying they aren’t great ways to get a half decent range of foods and ingredients on your doorstep on short notice, especially when they are open 24 hours a day. My only gripe with it is they limit the opportunity to try new things because they have set products that they stock in every store, unlike your local butcher. who can give you what you ask for or maybe offer you something new, because they prepare it right in front of you with their vast knowledge of the animals they use.

My granddad was a butcher for a number of years so I have an appreciation for the trade, a trade that is dying. This is why I am concerned, not because I am standing on my soap box and hopping on my high horse trying to feel superior to people because I like to try new things and they don’t, what I am saying however is that because we are becoming so detached from the process of the butchering of animals, it is changing the way we see our food. Nearly gone are the days you see the pig hanging from the hook in the window as you go in to buy the joint for your Sunday roast, now all you see is the rows of air tight packaging and labels. There is no connection to the fact it has been reared on a farm, cared for, put down and cut into that form by fantastic, skilled people. I believe this is slowly changing us into fussier eaters. Which is not a problem but it is a real shame. As I really don’t like the idea of people missing out on some truly great food just because it is not on the shelf at ASDA due to them deciding it’s not what you want. Ultimately, there are less options out there for us as consumers without the family butcher physically being able to offer you different options and sticking to what we know from the shelf.

It’s for this reason certain animals and former staples in the UK are fading away and causing people to be desensitised to what actually goes on to produce what ends up on their plate. A perfect example is when I stated I was on the hunt for a few rabbits to experiment with and was met with absolute shock and awe by my friends. ‘That’s just wrong’ or ‘I couldn’t eat a rabbit its just plain sick’ and even ‘Your evil’ which really got to me, as I am not evil!. Less than 50 years ago it was possibly on par with chicken as one of the more commonly eaten meats in England. There are estimated to be over 40 million rabbits in the UK and getting your hands on one isn’t really hard, I got a whole jointed rabbit for £3.50 at my local butchers (Chandlers, Stafford road, Wolverhampton). The meat is darker than chicken, having much more depth in flavour and being more gamey. Although very similar to the untrained tongue, given to any unknowing chicken lover and I am pretty sure I’d get the thumbs up.

If you haven’t tried it yet I would encourage you to give it a go at least once, and if you don’t like it, fair enough, But….

 

The biggest problem in peoples thinking is this:

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I love animals. I do. I have a pet dog and I’ve had many pets in the past so I can, in one sense understand that the picture above has a certain warmth to it. He’s cute, nobody can deny it. But he still tastes pretty great and in these times of apparent austerity people don’t have the money they used to, while still spending on expensive cuts of meat and overlooking perfectly good alternatives because they used to have of rabbit as a pet when they were 7. I just don’t understand the logic when people eat lamb, but say rabbit is too cute to eat. Its well worth a go, it really is. Rabbit is just one option too, there are a vast range of game birds out there that are less popular today that make great eating like Grouse, Pheasant, Partridge, Wood pigeon or my personal favourite niche bird, Guinea fowl.

Your Lamb shank used to look like this!

Your Lamb shank used to look like this!

Something else that has been a point of discussion between me and a few friends is my willingness to get out there and physically find and hunt wild game, which was also met with mostly negative views of how I could kill something. I don’t have a problem with that view but it’s certainly how society has conditioned us to be. As I said above, we no longer look at a joint of gammon or pork and see a pig, we see its shiny plastic wrapping and the thick piece of fat that we all love and fight over when it’s roasted in its crunchy, golden glory. I believe knowing where your food has come from is a great way to get the best out of it in the kitchen, so this post is the beginning of my journey to do all the leg work so you don’t have to.

I am becoming more and more interested in being a part of the journey from field to plate and will be going to great lengths to experience hunting and producing the food we eat in the coming months from Signal Crayfish to game birds, visiting farms and butchers. Hopefully I will be able to give you everything you could ever wish to know, accompanied by some great recipes for you to try too. Expect a lot more on this very soon…

So to start off, here’s my recipe for all the culinary braves out there willing to try to battle their preconceptions and try eating some really great wild rabbit!

This is a brilliant but simple little recipe for you to enjoy with your family or to scoff all by yourself, with a changed attitude towards rabbit and genuinely bring a big food induced smile to your face. This can serve around 3-4 people.

I served this with black pudding and really luscious mashed potato, which I do also cover below.

Stewed wild rabbit. Using a slow cooker.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Whole jointed wild rabbit (available from a good butcher at under £5)
  • 4 large rashers of un-smoked bacon, chopped into lardons.
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 125ml white wine
  • 1.5 pints of vegetable stock
  • 8 chantenay carrots, tops cut off but left whole
  • 1 whole medium white onion
  • 2 celery hearts, chopped roughly into chunks
  • sea salt
  •  black pepper
  • Olive oil

additional ingredients:

  • 8 Large potatoes great for mashing, peeled and cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of butter
  • salt, white pepper
  • 6 even pieces of good black pudding

Method:

  1. Add the olive oil to a pan and bring to a medium heat. Pre-heat your slow cooker ON ‘High’,
  2. Add the rabbit to the pan and brown off evenly on all sides. You may want to do this in batches of 2 pieces at a time, then remove from the pan and put to one side.
  3. Add the bacon and garlic, cooking them in the rabbit enriched olive oil until the bacon starts to brown. Then remove the bacon.
  4. Turn the heat up to a medium-high heat and pour in the wine and 500ml of the stock, stirring well. This will bond all the lovely juices and fats that have escaped the meat with the liquid. Simmer for 5-6 minutes.
  5. lay the rabbit evenly in the bottom of the slow cooker, covering it with the remaining stock.
  6. Add the carrots, chopped celery, bacon, onion, big pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Followed by the reduced pan liquid.
  7. Give it a quick gentle stir without disturbing the underlying rabbit, pop the lid on and leave to cook for 4 hours.
  8. Around 40 minutes before the rabbit has finished its lazy 4 hours in its golden bath of yumminess, fill a large saucepan with water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil.
  9. Add the potatoes and boil until they slide from a skewer and are soft and fluffy, but not crumbling into the water. (Usually about 30-35 minutes give or take on high)
  10. Mash well with the butter, yoghurt, cream cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper to season. Pre heat your grill.
  11. Grill both sides of the black pudding until crisp and warmed through.
  12. Removed the rabbit from the stewed vegetables and stock and rest for a few minutes. Strip the meat from the bones with a fork. Be careful as there are some tricky little ones hiding in there.
  13. Serve the now shredded rabbit with a big ball of mash and a few pieces of black pudding.
  14. Add the carrots from the slow cooker on the side (which should now be beautifully tender and flavourful)
  15. Finally, take a few cups of the liquid from the slow cooker and add to a pan on a medium-high heat and reduce for a few minutes until it thickens slightly. (I do cheat sometimes and add a heaped tablespoon of onion gravy granules to thicken it up and create something quite unique and a little more intense) Add a few spoons worth over the rabbit, and the potato. Finishing it off nicely. It truly is heavenly.

I hope the recipe is to your liking and I will close with this, the only reason I have written this is because I care. I care about great food. I care about people making the most of what we have. I care about people not missing out on great produce and finally I care about great, skilled people being wasted and fading away. Don’t be scared, go to your local butcher or green grocer and buy something you wouldn’t usually buy and try something new. You might love it.

Phil

Self grown greenery: A brief look.

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Lately, I have started taking an interest in the difference between eating shop bought produce and doing it at home.  My father has been doing a small scale grow every year in a greenhouse at the bottom of the garden, growing tomatoes and cucumbers mainly but sometimes making a foray into other areas like red and green chili peppers.

The cucumbers are sometimes a little hit and miss but you cant beat a tomato straight off the vine, whether it be cut up into a salad or turned into a sauce. Now this little taste of it has given me inspiration to take a lot more of an interest in the next mini crop at the end of the garden. Were in August now and coming up to the end of the summer, the tomatoes we have are about to start the end cycle of their growth and the cucumbers are nearly ready to be pulled off, so I will be planting some  late in the year seeds once the next harvest has finished. I can see a big opportunity to grow some really great herbs and veg. Garlic is something I am certainly going to try to produce as I tend to use a truck load of it, same goes for basil and coriander.

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Now why would you want to?

In the current financial climate that is referred to over and over in modern media ( I guess I’m part of that now too) its more important than ever that some people look after the money they earn each week or every first of the month. While it seems like a lot of bother to grow anything yourself it can be really rewarding and can save you money if you put it into perspective. For example; in my local supermarket a bunch of Basil is priced at around 80p, whereas a potted basil plant is £1.85. So by buying the plant (or two, like id advise and keep them in rotation) can over time, if you look after it properly, produce a constant conveyor belt of beautiful, fragrant basil for you to toss into your salads or use in your next pasta dish sitting on the windowsill in your kitchen.

Here in Britain we can never rely on the elements to help us, sometimes even our summers can be cold. Don’t leave it to chance, grab yourself a greenhouse and even heat it if your aiming for something a little more tropical. Otherwise just do your research and move with the seasons. Our green house was second hand and apart from the elbow grease to put it up and prep the area where it was going, only cost us what the seeds were to buy as we tend to move with the seasons. After the initial graft, its only a few months of care and attention and it can save you a whole heap of money. Here are just a few options of what you can use a green house to grow; Tomatoes, cucumber, oregano, basil, parsley, aubergines, chillies, various varieties of pepper, beans, peas or courgettes. And that’s just a small amount of the possibilities.

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They say food tastes better when its free, I think it tastes better when you create it yourself.