Peri peri sauce

Food & drink
Peri peri, or piri piri sauce

What are friends for, eh?

Well, sometimes, they’re useful for helpfully pointing out that your lovingly crafted peri peri sauce looks like a medical sample, suggesting that you might want to get that checked out at the special clinic, and then bombarding you with inappropriate You Tube clips, including the Manic Street Preacher’s Slash and Burn.

Be assured, this is not a very, very alarming medical emergency.

This is a bottle of peri peri (or piri piri – it seems not to matter) sauce. Incidentally, the bottle came from the local uber-trendy homeware shop, and whilst I concede that it does look like it might be at home in a laboratory, it’s an excellent vessel for storing dressings, sauces, etc, in an oh-so-hip way. I’m not bitter about the whole sauce/sample incident, honestly.

So, this peri peri sauce. There’s a fair amount of conjecture about what constitutes a good peri peri, but the constant theme is an absolute shit load of chillies, something tart, such as lemon, vinegar or both, and a bit of sugar to balance it all out. And there’s the rub – it’s all about balance, about adjusting those mammoth key flavours until they line up just how you want them. Easy.

There isn’t a lot to this.

You just need a blender.



Vanilla Table: The Essence of Exquisite Cooking from the World’s Best Chefs, by Natasha MacAller

Vanilla Table: The Essence of Exquisite Cooking from the World’s Best Chefs

What is it?

It’s a book about vanilla. Just vanilla.

A bit limiting, no?

Well, you’d think that, wouldn’t you? Of course, there’s a vanilla ice cream in there, which should come as absolutely no surprise to anybody, but there’s plenty more besides, nearly 240 pages or thereabouts, in fact.

Mostly desserts, then?

Again you’d think so, but not entirely.

Yes, there are a fair number of dessert dishes – vanilla is a natural dessert ingredient, a friend of the sweeter end of the culinary spectrum, but it also has uses in savoury dishes, and for every vanilla layer cake recipe, there’s a recipe for baked beans, made with cider and – I’m not quite sure about this – vanilla. [click to continue…]


Riverford’s new recipe boxes

Food politics
Riverford Recipe Box

Years ago, I used to ‘do’ veg boxes.

Every week, a weird selection of vegetables would land on my back doorstep. I’d peer into the box early every Wednesday morning to see more kale to add to the mountain of kale from the week before.

Nobody really likes kale, except the people who run veg box schemes.

Eventually, I tired of the whole thing, bored of the same vegetables week in, week out, and frankly, at the alarming cost, which seemed totally at odds to the prices I was seeing when walking through the market every morning on the way to work. Then there was the issue of half the stuff going badly off before I managed to do anything with it …

That was a long time ago, and things have changed. These days, there’s far more choice, and far more control over what actually ends up in a veg box. Kale can be entirely banished. A very good thing.

But, but, but … it’s still a box of vegetables, a big box of dirty veg. There needs to be something else, because – and this may or may not surprise you – there are many times in the week when I just can’t be bothered to think about cooking, and concocting something good out of a vegetable I’ve never heard of before just isn’t going to happen on a wet Wednesday evening after a hard day at work, a cramped train journey home and a bout of ferrying kids to and fro.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to eat well, because I do, and I will, but that normally means falling back on a small repertoire of trusty classics that seem to surface all too often, most of them involving pasta of some sort.

So, what to do, what to do? More…


Beef bourguignon pie, with homemade puff pastry

Eating out, Food & drink
Beef bourguignon pie, with homemade puff pastry

A few months ago, we spent a weekend in Berlin, an edgy, intoxicating, graffiti-covered city tortured by its own past, the streets forming the canvas on which the horrors of the last century were played out.

It was cold.

Very cold. A type of unrelenting cold that attacked at the very core, damp, miserable, wretched, weather to match the Soviet-era concrete and gloom.

We’d tramped around Kreuzberg for a morning, and got to that point where we needed something to eat, pretty much immediately. I was at the ‘OK, I’m eating whatever the next place that sells food has, whatever it is’ stage, and that next place was a little café selling pies with either mashed potato or salad, but nobody was buying the salad, unsurprisingly. I skipped the vaguely jerk chicken option (10% off if you sung the chorus from No Woman, No Cry … I’d have happily paid double, triple even, not to have to do that) and we ate steak and Guinness pies that tasted like manna from Heaven … pure fuel, delicious beef encased in a pastry that was just soggy enough underneath, just crisp enough on top.

It was the best pie I’ve had for a long time, not least because of its magical abilities to restore some warmth to our frozen bones, but because it was simple and elegant, carefully flavoured, carefully made and unpretentious. It was a pie. A glorious pie.

As we ate, I noticed a familiar book on the shelf behind the counter – Dean Brettschneider’s Pie, of which I’ve sung the praises several times before.

Of course, on returning home, I dug that book out again straight away and set to work.

The basis of any pie – all pies – is good pastry. It’s what makes a pie a pie. Without pastry, a pie is a stew.

Good pastry need not be a problem. It’s very easy to make, and even easier to buy. There is no shame whatsoever in buying a block of commercial puff pastry. It’s generally an excellent product, and a very useful thing to have tucked away in a freezer in case of dire pie-related emergencies.

All that said, there’s something fulfilling and basic about making a decent pastry from scratch, and even a puff pastry of exceptional quality is well within the reach of most people.

So, here’s how to do it… More…


Lobster ravioli, and 15% off some lobster

Food & drink
How to make lobster ravioli

A lot of mystery surrounds the humble lobster.

Firstly, it isn’t particularly humble – these creatures cost a lot of money. Whichever way you look at it, they’re expensive.

Secondly, they’re a faff to prepare, a task which normally involves shipping a live lobster back from some market somewhere, agonising about the best way to despatch it, and then actually doing the deed.

It’s all fairly straightforward, but it’s understandable why people are squeamish about it. Death in the kitchen is never a pleasant experience, even if it’s just a crustacean.

There’s an easier way, though – just buy a pre-prepped pack of meat, more on which later.

Once all that’s done, there’s the issue of what to actually do with the thing. You could slather it in butter and garlic and just eat it, which is a very fine thing to do, but you might want to go a step further …

These ravioli are a good example, a canvas to highlight the richness and luxury of lobster meat. There’s some work involved, and a few technical elements that need mastering, but it’s all do-able and within grasp.

Ravioli requires pasta. Fresh pasta. Pasta you’ve made yourself. There’s no way around that, so crack on. More…