A Corny Story

I love sweetcorn. I love cheap and seasonal food. I love being in New Zealand in May when the harvest is coming to an end and there is a glut of corn cobs available everywhere, sometimes less than 20c for each kernel encrusted delight.

Corn on the cob cooked incorrectly can be soggy, waterlogged and tasteless or burnt and dry. I am surprised by the amount of times I have had corn that has been very substandard as it is sooooo easy to cook!

My fool proof way to cook corn on the cob is also very simple and more flexible than a sub prime mortgage company pre 2007. It is forgiving on timing (you can easily double the cooking time if something else isn’t quite ready) and temperature (cook for longer on lower temperatures and less on higher).

When buying corn, choose cobs that feel heavy for their size and are free of mould or insects.

Step 1

Don’t peel your cobs, get the whole cobs and run them under the tap for 5 minutes or so. If you live in an area where water is precious, place them in a sink full of water for a similar length of time.
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Step 2

Put the soaked cobs still in their skins in an oven between 140C and 200C (don’t worry if it is a bit hotter or cooler).

Step 3

If you are cooking at around 160C, cook for around 10-15 minutes minimum to 30 or so minutes maximum. Adjust timings for hotter or cooler ovens. In an emergency (is there really such a thing as a cooking emergency?) after 30 minutes, dip the cobs in the sink full of water again and return to the oven – it should buy you some more time.

Step 4

Peel cobs and dress with butter, salt and pepper (or for a fat free version that is surprisingly good, squeeze lime and sprinkle with smoked paprika).

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Holiday Home Roast Ham

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I remember when I was a young lad that a public holiday would always bring relatives scurrying together from all over the country to gather at my grandparents house. Chief amongst these holidays were Christmas and Easter. I think it had something to do with the double public holiday that meant (as was the case in late 1970s and early 1980s UK) that everything would stop, work, shopping and regular life. The only things that would occur would be cooking, eating, drinking and the playing of games.

The games were my favourite part of the festive season, particularly hours spent playing cards (and watching others playing). Card games would often go on until the early hours and would be sustained by my dear grandmother producing seamlessly endless platters of tasty sandwiches made with home made bread and home cooked meets. Favourite amongst these was the home cooked ham, so different from supermarket bought wet, flabby insipid pink blancmangey stuff that was in vogue at that time. Firm, with a hint of smoke, mustard and honey, it really only needed a smear of chutney to make a great sandwich.

Even though there will only be a few of us together for Easter in Gisborne, New Zealand this year, I still cant resist cooking a holiday ham – I justify that we will get plenty of meals from it, but really it gives me a chance to indulge in some introspective nostalgia and remember the laughter and fun filled holidays of my childhood – Happy Holidays.

Serves: Around a million rounds of late night sandwiches

Ingredients

2.5 – 3kg smoked gammon joint (size is not key here!).
About 20 peppercorns
Around 10 cloves
2 Star Anise
Cinnamon stick
4 Bay leaves
2-3 Tbsp Maple syrup
2-3 Tbsp English mustard

For the glaze

2-3 Tbsp Manuka Honey
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp English mustard
2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp oil
Several good grinds of black pepper

Method

  1. Get the biggest pan (cauldron?!) you can lay your hands on.
  2. Open your gammon from its vacuum sealed packaging and rinse under cold running water for a good two minutes, turning it frequently to get a good rinse all over.
  3. Place your gammon in your massive pan and pour enough cold water on to just cover it.
  4. Add all of the ingredients listed above (before glaze listing) to the pan.
  5. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
  6. Put lid on pan and leave to simmer for 2 and a half hours
  7. Take off heat and leave to cool
  8. Preheat oven to 180C
  9. Take out your boiled ham and with a small sharp knife remove any string and also the skin on the gammon. The trick here is to remove the skin, but leave as much fat as possible on the ham.
  10. Mix up all the ingredients for the glaze.
  11. Score the fat of the ham, and brush and pour the glaze over the fat of your ham.
  12. Place on a baking tray and straight into your hot oven for around 15 minutes until the glaze has browned/blackened and is bubbling on the fat.

Serve hot with eggs and chips or cold with your favourite salad, cheeses, crusty bread and chutneys.

Chicken, Tarragon and Ricotta Slice with Dunedin Salsa

Beginning our three month tour of New Zealand, the first place we landed was Dunedin, in the south of the South Island. The place is a bit of a foodie mecca and my wife was gracious enough to buy me an evening cooking course with one of Dunedin’s best chefs Judith Cullen.

Talking with Judith, she told me all about a great Farmer’s market held down by the (disused) railway station every Saturday morning. I of course went and was amazed by the great selection of fresh produce available. We visited in mid February (late summer) and there was an impressive selection of local vegetables. The stars emongst these organic gems seemed to be the avocadoes, corn cobs and fantastic tomatoes. They were all abundant and at great prices.

As often happens, I buy what is in season, good and cheap. Much to my wifes frustration, I rarely shop with a meal in mind, or if I do, I will end up changing it halfway through my shop. I create meals from what is available (sometimes I have great diasters, sometimes amazing successes).

Having returned to our holiday rental in Dunedin’s Mornington suburb pleased with my haul of vegetables and some great fresh herbs, my wife reminds me that we need something to go with all the veg – your daughter needs protein! (I had intended to get some great New Zealand lamb, but got carried away with the green stuff).

Quick as a flash I had a brainwave “I thought we would use up the rest of the roast chicken in the fridge”. I had got away with it.

Picking the meat off the carcass of last night’s chicken is a particular pleasure, finding all the delicious juicy bits that seem to have grown overnight.

So here is my recipe for a delicious summer meal that can be cooked quick as a flash…

Serves: 4

Ingrediants

Around 2 cups of cooked chicken
Small bunch of taragon
Salt & Pepper
Around 200g ricotta cheese
A little chicken stock or water (30-60ml)
2 sheets puff pastry (make your own if you have a spare 9 hours or so, otherwise use ready made)
Optional – a handful of chopped mushrooms

For the Dunedin Salsa

About 15-20 dried cherry tomatoes (very easy to make your self or use sun dried tomatoes)
2 ripe avocadoes
Small bunch coriander
2-3 Tbsp Caramelised balsamic vinegar
3-5 Tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
4 or 5 pickled ‘pepperdew’ peppers
1 tsp smoked paprika
Corn from 2-3 cooked cobs of corn (or one large can)
Salt & pepper
Method

Set oven to 185c
Combine cooked chicken, tarragon, ricotta (and mushrooms if using).
Add sufficient stock/water to loosen up the mixture a little without making it too runny. Exact quantity depends on how runny your ricotta is, how dry your chicken is, which way the wind is blowing etc, etc.
Taste mixture and season to your preference.
Divide ready made pastry sheets into two equal sized rectangles.
Add a good dollop of your filling into the lower half of each rectangle.
Wet the edge of the pastry all around and fold over the rest of the rectangle to make a square with the filling in the middle of it.
Press the moistened edges of the pastry together firmly with your fingers tips. Once pressed all round, fold over 5mm or so of the pastry on the 3 press together sides to make a neat edge.
Brush the filled pastry square with water all over and make a couple of holes or slits in the top.
Transfer your pastry slices onto a baking paper lined tray and place in oven for around 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Whilst cooking, prepare the salsa

Chop avocado.pepperdew peppers and cherry tomatoes into smallish pieces.
Chop coriander roughly
Combine the rest of the ingridents together in a large bowl and then add the stuff you chopped up.
Taste and season

Serve the slices warm with a good portion of the salsa – have salsa spare as everyone always seems to want seconds…

Tarka Dhal – so good on a cold blustery night

So, our time in France is coming to an end and my mind is drifting to the other side of the channel and what I can cook tomorrow night after a long day of travelling. I want to cook something that is tasty, healthy, quick and easy and most importantly requires little if no shopping. Finally, after eating bland meals on a ferry, I want something that has a kick and brings my palate back to life – tarka dhal is just the ticket.

I love spicy food and curry is something I crave when I am away fro uk for any length of time. I am always amazed just how good this tastes and how quick it comes together – it tastes like it has taken days to cook. My brother introduced me to this a few years ago, and I think I have improved on his version with a few touches.

This was my version put together from what I always have in my cupboards and fridge – so quick and easy to make, but good enough to get people asking for seconds and the recipe!

Serves: 4 people easily, can stretch to 6 with more water.

Ingredients

around 25 grammes butter and a little oil
1 brown onion
2 good cloves garlic
1 inch chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
good grind of black pepper
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 regular size can of plum tomatoes
1 can (med size – smaller than the toms) coconut milk
up to 1 pint chicken stock
1 cup lentils
fresh coriander (cilantro to my American chums)

Method

1 Chop onions finely, crush garlic and grate ginger.
2 Melt butter in oil until just sizzling.
3 Add garlic, onion and ginger to sizzling butter and fry until transparent.
4 Add spices to onion mix and fry for less than 1 minute (if mixture begins to burn add some water to stop this.
5 Add toms, coconut milk and chicken stock to mixture and stir
6 Add lentils (be warned at this stage the whole thing looks like a hideous mess, but trust me, you won’t believe what a difference time makes!).
7 cook for around 20 mins or until lentils are tender. You will need to stir hard every now and again as this loves to try sticking to your pan.
7 Just before serving, add juice of lemon and plenty of coriander to taste
9 Taste and add some more salt or pepper if required

The Best Roast Potatoes

Normally I like quick and simple to prepare dishes that look really difficult.

I find that the best roast potatoes tend to be almost the opposite of this; they need some careful and time-consuming prep to produce in essence something simple.

However the results are well worth it – nothing goes better with a British Sunday lunch than great roasties, soft and fluffy in the middle and oh so crisp on the outside. The treat of stealing one fresh from the oven whilst waiting for the rest of the lunch to come together is a guilty pleasure indeed…

The secret to this dish is to use a large enough baking tray so that you can get a good layer of fat and that the potatoes have enough space to move around.

Make plenty as if any are left (unlikely) they are not bad cold, sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper and dipped in mayonnaise.

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

12-14 medium potatoes (marfona or other floury variety)
Goose fat or beef dripping sufficient to give around 3-5mm depth in your chosen roasting tin.
Sea salt

Method

1. Peel potatoes and cut them into decent size chunks. (tip: this is a great job to get someone else to do!)
2. Preheat oven to around 200c.
3. Parboil potatoes in a large pan of salted water for around 4 or 5 minutes.
4. In the meantime, place the goose fat or beef dripping in the roasting tin and place in the hot oven.
5. Drain potatoes and return them to pan away from the hob. Keep the hob on high as you will need it again in a second
6. Place lid on pan of drained potatoes and shake them vigorously for 5 seconds to rough them up a bit. Place to one side. Take great care and use tea towels with this as everything is very hot and if your grasps not good and firm, it is easy to end up covered in hotter than he’ll potatoes.
7. Take roasting tin from oven and place on your hot hob.
8. The oil will be smoking so you need to work quickly (but carefully as everything is hideously hot) and place the roughed up potatoes into the roasting tin on the hob. The potatoes should sizzle.
9. Whilst the potatoes are still sizzling on the hob, turn them around so they are well covered in the hot oil.
10. Return the tin to the hot oven and roast for around 40 minutes. Halfway through cooking, turn the potatoes again.
11. Take out from oven and drain the roasties on absorbent paper, sprinkle with salt and serve.