Ragu & Gnocchi Heaven

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Ok, we have all heard of spaghetti bolognese and I must admit it is a delight; nice spaghetti with a very rich tomato sauce. However, to Italians, there is no such thing as spaghetti bolognese. It is a dish that became common amongst the Italian immigrants who were arriving in America in their hundreds of thousands at the star of the twentieth century, escaping dire poverty in Italy, in particular the south. This is an important point, as spaghetti is much more common in southern Italian cuisine rather than northern. So this southern pasta was mixed with a tomato and meat sauce and you got spaghetti bolognese. After tonights ragu di Bologna however, I am not going back to spag bol!

Pasta debate aside, I actually took this opportunity to perfect my potato Gnocchi, little delightful pillows that resemble potato dumplings. These go well with any sauce as they absorb a lot of the flavour. To get the perfect Gnocchi, mix approx 150g of mashed potatoes (do not add any butter or milk or cream) with 100g 00 flour, 1 egg and a pinch of salt. You are looking for a nice dry dough, if it too runny it will result in soggy heavy Gnocchi. Take a handful of the dough at a time and roll out into a thing sausage shape, the with a sharp knife cut into roughly 2cm long dumplings. Take each individual Gnocchi and press into a fork to get a channel pattern, this is not for decoration it will help absorb more sauce! Now onto the sauce….

The thing that made the difference with this ragu was the inclusion of chicken livers. This gives an extra dimension both in terms of texture and of course taste. What I have discovered recently is that there are not many Italian dishes that do not include certain basics: carrots, celery, onion and garlic. So, add of all of these with some pork mince, chopped pork and some blended chicken livers. All you need now is some tomatoes, so add a good deal of tomato paste (to give a lovely concentrated flavour) and some delicious passata (sieved tomatoes). Another secret to this is to have it cooking for hours, you will not get the desired flavours if you only have it cooking for a short time,vin this case good things definitely come to those who wait! I waited for more than 4 hours today, and it was good good good!

Your Gnocchi will take only a few minutes to cook in boiling water and they will tell you when they are ready by floating to the top. I was overjoyed with my Gnocchi tonight as they were perfectly fluffy and soaked up the flavour of the ragu brilliantly.

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Add your Gnocchi then top with a good load of the ragu, sit back and enjoy. 4 hours in the making but a dish that will live with me for a very long time, food does that doesn’t it?

I have a group of old friends coming over on Friday night, I now know what I will be cooking them! I hope wherever you are you are having both your stomachs and your souls fed, happy eating everyone!

J

Scallops with Black Pudding and Pancetta

A few years ago I came across this dish as a tapas in a beautiful Spanish restaurant in Glasgow. Tough they served it with chorizo which gives a whole new dimension to the dish, I had none to hand and so replaced it with pancetta. This was a gorgeous meal, made in minutes. Please see the link below for the video I want to share with you. Again I apologise for any difficulties understanding my Scottish accent!

YouTube: Meals in Minutes

Happy eating everyone!

James

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Salmon with cabbage parcel & stuffed onion

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So I combined a number of different ingredients tonight with a surprisingly sophisticated result. I had salmon, cabbage, onions, and some leftover home made sun dried tomato pesto in the fridge. I did come across lovely stuffed onions in a classic Italian cookbook the other day with a mixture of mince, vegetables and herbs being stuffed int an onion and baked. I didn’t have these ingredients so I had to alter the recipe…….. How about a nice mackerel pâté? That would go well with onion wouldn’t it? I was, after all, serving it along with salmon??

So I blitzed some mackerel wit a good bit of extra virgin olive oil to make a pâté whilst I peeled and halved 2 large white onions. I scooped out several inner layers and filled with a tbsp of the mackerel pâté and into the oven at 190degrees.
I also thought I would make some cabbage parcels as well. I par boiled some Savoy cabbage leaves in boiling water for a few minutes, filled with some leftover tomato pesto and folded into nice little parcels. These 2 sideshows will surround the main events, some delicious fresh salmon.

I placed the cabbage parcels into the oven whilst I turned my attention to the salmon. Seasoned well with salt and pepper, I cook salmon for 3 minutes on each side (starting with the skin side down) and then for 2 minutes on each end and finally 1 last minute skin side down. The result is a deliciously crispy skin with a nice pink interior, bellissimo.

So here you have it folks, delicious Salmon with a pesto stuffed cabbage parcel and a mackerel ate stuffed onion. The salmon was divine, the pesto really complimented the heartiness of the cabbage and the baked onion was just sensational, matching the fishy stuffing spectacularly. It is just great to throw so many different ideas together, I recommend you all try it yourself!

Happy eating folks

J

Vegetable Mosaic

I was a lover of Taste Italia magazine and was devastated when it ceased publishing. I have a scrap book full of recipe cuttings from different issues ranging from slow roasted veal to lavender panna cotta. Another recipe that caught my eye was a Vegetable Mosaic, a mixture of different vegetables combined together with eggs and cream. So this is what I was going to try for tonight’s dinner to go along with a lovely salmon fillet.

I part boiled salad potatoes and carrots and combined with onions, artichokes, celery, kidney beans, mozarella, savoy cabbage and chives. I then added eggs with creme fraiche, salt and pepper and added to the vegetables, coating them evenly. I transferred to a savarin ring and placed into another oven tray filled with boiling water and paced in the oven at 190degrees. Bake for 30 minutes, and then take care to remove it from the savarin ring!

I served this with salmon, deliciously cooked with a crispy skin and bursting with flavour. This was a very filling meal, packed full of flavours, amazing textures and you can’t get much healthier!

Hope your weekends are full of food folks

Happy eating

J

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Sometimes, simplicity is perfection!

So, after a long hard day of work and exercise dinner had to be special, and it was. Vey special, yet very simple. A look in my fridge gave me leftovers; 1 uncooked chicken breast, a chilli and a small bunch of fresh chives. How could I possibly combine these leftovers? Well a quick trip to the shop around the corner from my house and I was good to go. No nonsense, I was going to make an omelette. Not just an omelette, a super omelette!

I fried off the chicken breast in some olive oil whilst I combined 4 eggs with chopped chives and chilli. Once the chicken was cooked through I chopped the breast into nice sizes and added to the egg mixture.
Omelettes are so simple to make, but they are easy to get wrong. You don’t want it falling apart, you don’t want scrambled eggs, you don’t want one side burnt and the other raw. I melted a good knob of butter in a small frying pan and once nice and golden, I poured in the egg mixture, ratting the pan to get as even a distribution as possible. The trick is to wait a minute for the edges to set, then with a spatula, lift the edge of the omelette and tilt the pan so the uncooked egg runs over the edge and onto the bottom of the pan. That way you will not burn the bottom side.

Once there was very little raw egg mixture on top it is time to flip, but just as I was ready to do this, I had an idea what if I was to pour over a tbsp of balsamic vinegar before folding? That way I would get a delicious layer of acidity in the middle of my omelette. Man I’m glad I tried it. Once folded over, push down on the omelette with a fish slice and cook for a further minute. Then you can scoop onto a plate and serve either with a salad, some lovely rocket, or simply on its own.

This omelette was the real deal; a tiny bit of heat from the chilli, freshness from the chives, delicious, juicy, tender chicken and of course some sweet acidity from the balsamic. Simple and delicious, you just gotta love the omelette!

The weekend is approaching and I have finally been paid! Not sure what is on the menu, but I can’t wait to find out!

Happy eating everyone and hope your weekends are all full of laughter and, of course, wonderful food!

J

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All you need is food

If I ever needed proof that food solves all your problems then I got some today. A rather dismal day at work forgotten in the time it took me to gather my ingredients for tonight’s dinner. I have been really healthy recently, and tonight’s dinner was no exception, Chicken with courgettes, sugar snap peas and some basil rocket.

You may have noticed already, but I don’t like doing too much to ingredients. I would go as far to say that I am put off by complicated recipes that have a huge list of ingredients. I say keep it simple and let the ingredients do the talking.
I very simply seasoned some chicken breasts and fried in a little basil olive oil on all sides until there as a little colour in them. I then placed the chicken into a pre heated oven at 180degrees for 10 minutes. Meanwhile I chopped a courgette into thin strips and added to some boiling chicken stock to poach for a few minutes.
That is all the cooking I am planning to do. I will mix some of the aforementioned basil oil in with rocket and serve the sugar snap peas raw. Raw peas take me back to my childhood when every spring I would get in trouble for stealing my mums peas from the garden. I just loved the texture, the freshness and the sweetness of these awesome vegetables.
10 minutes in the oven and my chicken was lovely and juicy. Do take care with chicken, I pierced the thickest part of the breast and looked for juices to run clear. Any sign of pinkness and it needs more time.
I served the chicken over the rocket, drained the courgettes and finished with a nice big pile of raw peas. Delicious, healthy, quick and very very simple. Happy James, and what was it I was so annoyed about? I can’t remember. Thank you food!

Happy eating everyone

J

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Lunchtime Kick

The weather is still foul here; gusty winds and horizontal rain, just horrible. On the positive side however, it is always good to turn to some classic dishes for comfort, this morning I made one such classic to help warm the coggles at lunch time, Penne alla Arrabiata with chilli and fennel sausages.

Yet again, this was a very quick dish to put together, taking the time it took the water to boil and cook the pasta. We got some delicious italian style sausages from our local supermarket bursting with fennel and chilli, they are very very special. I started off by frying the sausages wit some olive oil before turning my attention to the sauce….

I very simply chopped some garlic and onion and added to some passata. I then added 1 tsp of sugar and a whole chilli with all the seeds. I do love chilli, especially when the wind and rain are battering the windows. I cooked the sauce together for around 7-8 minutes as the sausages fried and the pasta boiled.

Once the sausages were done, I cut them into nice chunks and added them to the sauce. A few minutes later and my pasta was nice and al dente. Needless to say I couldn’t stop thinking about my inch all day and it did not disappoint. The mixture of fennel, chilli and tomato together with the delicious al dente pene, it was very special. I just love pasta, and garlic, and chilli and tomato sauce, and fennel haha.

Thank you to all who have visited my blog, I really hope you are enjoying my ramblings on food and do continue to keep in touch. There is no better way to interact with people than through food.

As always, happy eating everyone! Remember that so long as you have food on your plate, you have solved all problems for the time being!

J

Risotto lunch and my first video

Sorry I haven’t posted in a few days, I suppose I have some catching up to do….
On Saturday evening I made homemade beef sausages with some yummy lentils, very hearty and super healthy too. I used the old trick of shaping the meat into sausage shapes and poaching them in some boiling water for around 20 minutes so they kept their shape. I fried them off just as normal and served them over some hearty lentils and some crunchy homemade bread. Beautiful!

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Sunday ended up being pork day, delicious pork chops with a balsamic rocket salad and for dinner some yummy pork belly strips. The highlight of our family barbecues must be my mums pork belly which she marinades for hours in a lovely spicy sauce, delicious.

I also made today’s lunch last night as well, Risotto Milanese. The thing to say about this dish is that it looks incredibly inviting due to its yellow colour, the workings of saffron. I just love risotto and I would like to think that I have got pretty good at making them over the years. You need a lovely, creamy end product and the rice must be al dente, soft on the outside with a little bite on the inside. It is important to keep stirring throughout the cooking process and that you keep your stock cooking at the same temperature.

A Risotto Milanese is a simple combination of onions, arborio rice, saffron and some chicken stock (or vegetable stock for you vegetarians out there). I added the saffron to the stock and kept it boiling as I added it to the rice, bit by bit. I also experimented by adding some nutmeg and cinnamon, a surprisingly nice addition. When cooking you just have to try new things, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t (avoid post on my first attempt at molecular gastronomy hahahaha – Food or Science?) Once you have a creamy consistency, add a good knob of butter to finish it off.

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Tonight I made delicious turkey steaks, with some kale, chickpeas and courgettes. Instead of talking you through this recipe, I put together a video. I apologise in advance if you have difficulty understanding my broad Scottish accent, and also for the very amateur camera work and editing. It is not meant to blow your mind, but to show you that a lovely meal with only a handful of ingredients is possible in under 10 minutes. I hope you watch the short video and I promise they will get better as I grow more confident in front of the camera.

Happy eating everyone, and I hope you enjoy the video……..

James xo

Braised beef in red wine

So, you all had a little sneak peak at dinner tonight, a topside of beef sitting, marinating, in a bottle of red wine. If you didn’t, here it is again…..

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This produced one of the most flavoursome dishes I have ever made. Cooked at a low heat for 4 hours, the beef fell apart and melted in the mouth. The combo of different flavours as well; bay leaf, rosemary, fennel, tomato and of course wine was just out of this world. This is not a dish I would cook every day but I would thoroughly recommend putting this one together if you have people coming round! You will grin with pride as they all tuck in, using bread to mop up every last bit of sauce.

First of all, we are at Emily’s family home in Northern Ireland and we have 5 other people to feed! We are back to meet Emily’s gorgeous new niece Arya, a family occasion that called for good food. To begin with, something so simple and completely stress free, an antipasti platter. A selection of cured meats; prosciutto, bresaola & salamis served with olives, sweet peppers, and another Mediterranean mix, crusty bread and red wine, is there a better way to get a lovely family feast started?

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So, you dice 1 large white onion, 3 large carrots, 3 sticks of celery and 2 cloves of garlic. Season the beef joint well with salt, pepper and fennel seeds and place in a large bowl. Add the vegetables, some rosemary sprigs and several bay leaves and then pour the complete bottle of wine over everything. Leave to marinate for an hour or so.

Once well marinated, take the beef out and fry in some olive oil until brown all over. Set to the side and then add your vegetables. Return the beef to the pan and add the wine, brining to the boil for around 10/15 minutes. Add 3 tbsps of tomato puree with 6 tbsps of water and mix to get a runny sauce and add to the sauce along with 1 tbsp of sugar. Reduce the heat to a light simmer and leave for 3 hours, turning the beef around from time to time until the sauce has reduced and the beef is very tender. At this stage, the smell coming off this was filling the house…

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Once cooked, divide amongst your guests and I felt no need to decorate this dish with a side dish, just some crunchy bread to soak up this delicious red wine sauce. The beef melted in the mouth and the sauce was just bursting with flavour. I will definitely be getting my friends and family round to my house to make this again soon. For later on tonight, Emily is making a blueberry and pear crumble. She has already made the crumble mix and it promises to be delicious. Please check out her blog at Emily Clarke Food for the result and for other delicious recipes, she is terrific! I will of course report back to you with the verdict tomorrow!

A big thank you once again to Genaro Contaldo for bringing this dish into my life. I hope you try this; it is very simple, the ingredients do all the work for you and you will be mega proud of watching your loved ones mopping up their plates.

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Happy eating to everyone

J

A what burger?

On the day that I hear horse meat has been found in a supermarket burger, what else could I have for dinner tonight than a tasty burger. Fear not, no horses were harmed in the making of these burgers, only lambs. I love making burgers from scratch and mainly use lamb mince. I also like adding in a great deal of herbs for maximum flavour, a rake in the fridge reaped some coriander. I am very fond of coriander so I am looking forward to this new combo: lamb and coriander.

A homemade burger is a mixture of whatever you fancy, traditionally a meat mixed in with onions, herbs, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and an egg to hold the mixture together. However, as mentioned you can add whatever you like. I do love adding chillies, but I have none to hand this evening. I also want to try a Spicy bean burger, a mixture of puréed beans and chillies. Wow, delicious!

Today, it’s lamb, coriander, onions, some lime zest, and instead of the egg some lime juice. Simply shape the mixture into your burger, and grill for 10-15 minutes. Emily mixed some creme fraiche with lime to accompany the burger and we used some crunchy rolls from the local bakers. Fantastico!

My fiance Emily and I are always arguing over who cooks, she has an excellent blog up and running as well, check it out at: http://www.emilyclarkefood.wordpress.com. Last night she created the most delicious lemon tarts, they were just wonderfully Devine. I go crazy for lemon, so look forward to many lemon inspired creations later on in the year! Emily and I just love our food so who knows what the future holds. We dream of opening our own cafe in the future, but for the meantime we are just keen home cooks. One thing is for certain, we need a bigger kitchen!

Thank you to all for visiting and please spread the word to any foodies you know!

Thank you and happy eating

J