Gluten Free Fresh Pasta – A Tale of Two Pastas

Gluten Free Fresh Pasta

Now no-one is going to chance upon these recipes and think ‘Good Lord! I can finally have pasta again!’. These days even the dingiest supermarket will have some kind of gluten free pasta on their shelves (the best is Salute from Waitrose, in case you’re wondering). But still, if you’re thinking of making your own ravioli, lasagne or even just for a special occasion, it’s a good recipe to have in the arsenal.

Rather than start from scratch, I thought I’d try out two very different recipes. The first is from Shauna James Ahern of glutenfreegirl.com, which has the rare benefit of being an American recipe that gives the ingredients by weight, rather than volume.  The second is from Michela Chiappa, a Welsh-Italian (or perhaps Italian-Welsh) cook who presented the show Simply Italian on Channel 4. Continue reading

How to Portion a Chicken in Five Minutes Using Only Kitchen Scissors

I’m reading a book called ‘The Undercover Economist’ by Tim Harford. It’s very much in the gist of books like Freakonomics, brimming with anecdotes that cause one eyebrow to raise, beard stroking to commence and the reader to emit tuneful humming noises. The book recounts the never-ending ambition of big corporations to find new and inventive ways of drilling more money out of consumers when they least expect it. It makes some points that are almost terrifyingly obvious, and yet that most of us get duped by every day. I work with businesses accounts, finances, revenue, profit margins and other thrilling conversation-killers on a regular basis and yet I was genuinely shocked to realise that it doesn’t actually cost a cafe an extra 50 pence to pile squirty cream and marshmallows on to my hot chocolate.

As corporations go, supermarkets are a particularly wiley bunch, happily embracing organic, fair trade and high welfare food as they can jack up the price well beyond what the genuine additional cost is. When you pick up one of these ‘ethical’ choices, you’re telling them that you are happy to pay more, not just the actual extra cost, but much more. Continue reading

Filleting Wrasse – Knowing this could save you a lot of money

Wrasse and Bream

Look at the two fish above.  Fairly similar size and weight, both caught within the last 24 hours, so about as fresh as you can get. But the price difference between the two is huge – the bream at the bottom cost £6.51 ($10.22), while the wrasse was £1.34 ($2.10)!  And bream isn’t really an expensive fish – if we were comparing Monkfish, it would be around 10 times more expensive per kg than the wrasse. Continue reading

Using Dried Chillies

Dried Guindilla and Nora Chillies

A friend who makes chilli sauces once gave me a jar full of various exotic dried chillies, then gave me a concerned look and said “You do know how to use dried chillies, don’t you?”. I snorted and rolled my eyes a few times to imply that, yes, of course I did, how could anyone not know, but then sheepishly admitted, “No”.

And to be fair, most people would probably look at a dried chilli and make very little connection between this and a finished meal, but using dried chillies in cooking gives you a great resouce that unlike fresh chillies is always available.  Some chillies such as Chipotle (dried and smoked jalapeno chillies) can just be thrown in the pot whole with other ingredients and removed at the end, but traditional Spanish chillies such as the Guindilla and Nora from Brindisa Spanish Foods in the photo above require some simple preparation before use, as follows: Continue reading

Quick and Convenient Fresh Pesto Cubes

guindilla chilli pesto
There’s not better topping for pasta than fresh pesto, it’s a whole lot better than the stuff you get in jars that the Italians call ‘dead pesto’. Unfortunately, it can be a hassle to make and tends to only last for a few days in the fridge, and you hardly want to eat it for several days in a row… A great tip is to make a quantity of fresh pesto (or any intense pasta sauce) and put it into an ice cube tray.  When it’s frozen, pop the cubes out and keep them in a plastic bag. When you need one, take it out of the freezer and throw it in the still warm cooked pasta. Stir round the pan a little to help it melt, and voila, fresh pesto in no time at all! The flavour is retained by freezing, and you can toss in as many portions as you require. Continue reading

Hello Kitty Cupcakes

Hello Kitty Cupcakes
These are from a while ago, but I couldn’t resist putting them on here. They were made using a *Sanrio ‘Hello Kitty’ vegetable cutter on *roll out icing, icing tubes (*normal and *glitter), and any light and fluffy cupcake recipe with butter frosting that you fancy. If you want to make them, here are the Amazon links:

Cold Smoking

Home Smoked Cheese

As far as I’m concerned, everything tastes better smoked.  Meat, fish, cheese, chillies, salt (weird but true), shoes, car, cat, smoke it all I say.  From a handful of woodchips chucked on the barbecue, to a tea smoked chicken breast, I’ve always loved finding ways of adding smokey flavours to food.  But this only covers cooked or ‘hot smoked’ food.  What about reproducing the delicate flavours of smoked trout, or smoked cheese?  These foods are produced through ‘cold smoking’, whereby smoke is produced away from the food and funnelled through so the temperature of the food remains low (usually less than 30 degrees C).  As it sounds, this usually requires complicated and expensive equipment, but not always… Continue reading

Roasting on a Kettle Barbecue

charcoal
Photo: Stefan Wagner, trumpkin.de

We’ve all enjoyed crispy black sausages with that soft pink centre from the hands of enthusiastic but inept barbecuers, and most of us have probably been responsible for our own crimes against cooking over coals – but there are a few sure-fire methods that guarantee success on the barbie.  One of the best is done by turning the whole barbecue concept on its head and using it to roast rather than grill…

Singed Eyebrows

A few years ago, a friend cooked some burgers on a battered old kettle barbecue we’d found in the back garden of our rented house.  They were fat and round, hand-made and juicy, but the way he cooked them was unlike anything I’d seen before – he put the lid back on the bbq during cooking!  He claimed he was trying to reduce the temperature and cook them evenly from all round.  I thought he was mad – reduce the temperature?!  What about the roaring furnace heat that we all know is an essential part of barbecuing?? How can it be a barbecue without singed eyebrows? But sure enough, when he took the lid off a few minutes later – they were cooked evenly, top and bottom, and with no burned bits.  It was like magic.  And they tasted incredible, the way you imagine bbq food should (but never does) taste. The way I barbecued would never be the same again…

When it comes to barbecue cooking, we have to look across the pond to the US for the real expertise.  Now this is a nation that knows how to barbie – rows and rows of huge meat joints draped over grills the size of aircraft hangars which make our disposable foil tray barbies look rather pathetic (‘How you gonna fit a cow on that boy?’). Kettle barbecues (such as those made by Weber) are as commonplace as sandwich toasters, and few Americans would let the season or climate dictate whether they could fire up the grill.  Dare I say it, if fine cooking is French, then barbecue most definitely belongs to the Americans.

Smokey Barbecue Flavour

American ribs, Photo: Christian Matias

                                               Photo: Christian Matias

Roasting on the barbecue instead of cooking directly over the coals is a great way of reducing the heat, increasing the overall cooking time available, and making the whole process more friendly and familiar like oven cooking, while maintaining the fantastic flavour that you get from barbecue cooking.  Many recipes advise starting in the oven and finishing on the barbie for 15 minutes, but by roasting on the barbecue you’re getting as much smokey barbecue flavour as you can into your food.

You’ll need a kettle barbecue (i.e. one with a lid) which are now widely available.  Maintaining a consistent heat in a kettle barbecue can be fraught with difficulty; at any one time the temperature is either going up or down, but never remaining constant. It can be like navigating a barge – you only see the results of your actions when it’s too late to make any changes, or you over compensate and end up way beyond where you aimed for.  One easy way of maintaining a constant temperature with no fuss is the ‘Minion Method’.

BBQ Roasting – The Minion Method

Like all great discoveries, the Minion Method was created as a result of not reading the instructions.  In an astoundingly relaxed approach to competitive cooking, Jim Minion bought his first Weber Smokey Mountain (an elongated version of a kettle barbecue used for smoking) on the morning of a tournament, and essentially invented this method on the fly rather than waste his time looking at the manual.  There are several variations, most with the aim of allowing ‘low and slow’ cooking periods of 10 hours plus at 100-120 C (225-250 F), but for the hungry and impatient the method I’ve outlined below is a great way of turning a kettle bbq into a consistently heated oven for a period of around 4-6 hours maximum.

1. Place 8 briquettes on one side of the kettle (on the bottom grate), then a firelighter and 8 more briquettes on top, as in the diagram below.  Light the firelighter using a long match.  Put a foil tray on the other side of the bbq with a small amount of water in it (and some herbs such as rosemary and sage if you like). Allow the briquettes to burn in the uncovered barbecue for 20-40 minutes until all of the charcoal is grey.

Minion1

2. Arrange 32 more briquettes in 2 layers around the lit charcoal making sure that all charcoal is touching another piece (meaning each piece will light off the one next to it).  Put the top grate on, place the lid over the kettle and bring the temperature to around 175 C (350 F – this should take around 5-10 minutes), then put your joint above the water bath and put the lid back on.

3. Leave the bottom vent on your kettle open, and reduce the top vent to around half open:

kettle bbq temperature gauge

Tips
– Use the best quality briquettes you can, as some have nasty chemical additives that can taint the food – Australian Heat Beads are a safe bet and available at most supermarkets or online.
– Baste the joint every 30-45 minutes, preferably with a liquid containing a high amount of fat (if you can get to the liquid collecting in the water bath then this is ideal).
– The joint will brown as it is cooking – this method is ideal for cooking joints that will roast for a long time (4 hours+) such as pork shoulder or pork belly/ribs, or it can be used to barbecue a whole chicken.  If you find that the skin is not crisp enough at the end, finish it in a very hot oven for around 15 minutes (alternatively you can do this at the start before cooking on the bbq). You may also be able to crisp it up by moving it over the coals near the end of cooking, making sure you turn it often.
– If you need the cooking temperature higher or lower, begin with more or less lit briquettes (the added coals don’t effect the cooking temperature, only the length of cooking). If you are looking for a smokier flavour, scatter pieces of woodchip throughout the unlit coals to produce a constant stream of smoke.
– If you own a Weber kettle barbecue they have a handy temperature indicator built into the lid, alternatively you can use an oven thermometer or even just close your eyes and hope for the best! 
– If you want to cook other items at the same time, you can put fast cooking food such as steaks, burgers, sausages and small meat portions on top of the coals, but try to lift the lid as little as possible in order to maintain the heat.
So instead of treating your family and friends to the usual blackened burger/sausage combo this bank holiday weekend, why not try roasting whole chickens or pork shoulder joints on a kettle bbq.  And don’t let the British weather stop you – as long as the air vent holes are not directly above the coals or meat, there’s nothing stopping you from cooking in the rain (you’re on your own keeping yourself dry though).