Monday, November 28, 2011

Minestrone Soup is a Once in a Lifetime Experience

I always feel a little apprehensive when I post a recipe like this minestrone soup. It’s the type of dish I never make the same way twice, and the fear is that someone will watch and assume that this is my “official” version.

You don’t need a recipe for minestrone, just like you don’t need a recipe for a great sandwich, or an epic salad. To make minestrone soup precisely same way every time, using a very specific list of ingredients and amounts, is to trample on the soul of this Italian classic.

Having said all that, what if you happen to make it so incredibly delicious one time that you want to experience the exact same shuddering soupgasm in the future? That seems like a perfectly sound reason for why you should write down the recipe…except cooking food doesn’t work that way.

Your perception of how a recipe tastes involves so many factors above and far beyond the list of ingredients. Remember that time you made that super awesome whatever, and it was so perfect, and then you made it again, exactly the same way, but somehow it just didn’t taste as great? This is why.

So, I hope you give this amazing minestrone recipe a try soon…but only once. Enjoy!

3 oz pancetta
2 tbsp olive oil
1 diced onion
1 cup diced celery
4 minced garlic cloves
4 cups chicken broth
1 (28-oz) can plum tomatoes, crushed fine
2 cups water, plus more as needed
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp dried Italian herb blend (mine was thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil)
red pepper flakes to taste
1 cup freshly shucked cranberry beans (aka shelling beans)
2 or 3 cups chopped cabbage
1 (15-oz) can garbanzo beans, drained
1 bunch swiss chard, chopped
2/3 cup raw ditalini pasta
extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and fresh Italian parsley to garnish the top


I decided today to end my new-recipe drought and cook something I liked the look of that I found in a colour supplement this weekend. It was a prawn and okra "gumbo" and it looked like my kind of thing. Stealth vegetables: tick. Spicy: tick. Easy: tick.

So after raiding Waitrose, I potato-sacked Kitty into her cot at 1pm, waved cheerio and thundered back to the kitchen with more enthusiasm than I've had in... months and months... to set about cooking this thing.

And it was - it still is, sitting down there greasily in its pot - DISGUSTING. It is like an orange glue-soup studded with chunks of raw onion and warmed-up red pepper. And the thing about red peppers is that they're fine raw and they're fine cooked long and hard, but anything in between is tastes like a microwaveable pizza from a service station.

Is that what gumbo is supposed to be like? Does anyone have a good gumbo recipe? I like the sound of it, mostly because the word "gumbo" is good. But this was just a travesty.

I'm racking my brains, here. I followed the recipe - from a staggeringly famous, usually terrific chef. I didn't shirk or get impatient or skip anything out. Just a bad, bad recipe. Maybe an error? A few of you may have seen it this weekend. Don't bother with it. I mean, like, FUCK I could have been asleep this afternoon! And what if I didn't have an alternative dinner?! What a waste of time and money; literally all going to go on the compost.

I'm in a simply foul mood about the whole thing. But at the very least you may as well benefit from this horrible misadventure, because I certainly haven't. 

On a lighter note these are amazing. No, they didn't send me any freebies, but if they'd like to, it would cheer me up enough to prevent me from sending Yotam Ottolenghi his gumbo back to him in the post. On fire.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rum Baller, Shot Caller?

I was playing with some rum balls today, for a video next week, and the first one I pulled off the silpat left this perfect chocolate smiley face. That has to be a great sign, right?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Smoked Ham and Butternut Squash Spaghetti – Short on Daylight, Long on Flavor

I never film at night, since I don’t like the look of the video when I use artificial lights. Sure, I could actually learn how to use a real lighting kit, but it’s easier for my simple brain to just film during the day.

However, once in a great while, I’ll starting making something, like this smoked ham and butternut squash spaghetti, that looks like it’s going to be so good that I don’t care about lighting quality, and film it anyway.

Other than this less-than-subtle warning about the lighting quality, there’s not a lot to say about this simple and very delicious winter pasta. It will work with literally any type of ham or smoked sausage; and as I mention in the video, bacon would also shine.

Despite the rich and decadent mascarpone, the sauce is actually pretty light when you consider much of the sauce is really just chicken broth and squash. By the way, I didn’t add it, but I think a squeeze of fresh lemon juice at the end would have been a great idea. I hope you give this hearty pasta a try soon. Enjoy!

14 oz package dry spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
4 oz thinly slice smoked ham
3-4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
red chili flakes to taste
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken broth, or as needed
3 cups diced butternut squash
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1-2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Know Your Cheese

As most of your know, I LOVE cheese, and two of the most commonly used varieties in my kitchen are fresh mozzarella, and mascarpone. In addition to this recipe, I’ve used mascarpone in several recent videos, and received numerous inquires as to which brand I used.

My usual go-to brand is Galbani, so I was thrilled when Michele and I were recently invited to an event hosted by Lactalis Foodservice. Along with Galbani, Lactalis owns many of markets’ top cheese brands, such as President, Sorrento, and Precious, just to name a few.

This Chef’s Table event was held at Farina, San Francisco, and not only did we enjoy a very nice meal, but we got to talk directly to the people making the cheese. One reason I love shopping at Farmers Markets is that you get to meet the people producing the food you’re about to cook, but it’s not often you get the same experience for a product you buy at the supermarket.

Here are a few highlights from the evening.

Pardon the poor quality photo, but I just had to show this Foccacia di Recco, featuring Galbani’s Bel Paese. It’s sort of like a stuffed pizza, which uses a very basic, unleavened bread dough that’s rolled, spun, and stretched very thin, before being stuffed with the creamy cheese. It’s baked in a very hot oven, where it puffs up, and gets crispy on the outside, while the inside stays soft and cheesy. It was awesome, and something I must figure out how to make!
Chef at Farina spinning the dough for the Foccacia di Recco. By the way, the videographer seen here is my friend Vincent McConeghy, a fellow western New Yorker, and author of the novel, Gastro Detective.

This was my favorite course of the night. A golden and red beet timbale with Istara Petit Basque and shaved black truffles. What glorious combination of flavors!

I want to thank Lactalis Foodservice for hosting such a fun evening, and the chefs at Farina for taking such good care of us! For those of you that requested more info about the mascarpone cheese, you can check out the official website here. Grazie!

Friday, November 25, 2011

On the Scene with Turkey Ballotine

I got a few of emails from people curious about how I ended up doing my turkey this year. Well, here you go! For the first time, I decided to serve a classic turkey ballotine. 

I removed all the bones, applied a generous layer of herbs and spices, and then some buttery, cranberry bread stuffing. I rolled, tied it up, and slowly roasted it until I had the crispy-skinned beauty you see below. It was so good!

Another highlight was this crisp and colorful winter salad of apples, pears, persimmons, pomegranate, walnuts, and Pt. Reyes blue cheese. When served with the meal, the green salad is usually lost in a sea of side dishes, and becomes nothing more than an afterthought. This time we decided to use it as a separate course to start the meal. It’s nice for doing toasts and giving thanks, since you don’t have to worry about food getting cold. After the salad, we took a short break while the rest of the meal was finished and served. 

I was so preoccupied with the food, I didn’t get many photos of the rest of the items, but we had a great dinner, and used several of the recipes you’ve seen posted on the blog. By the way, I’ll be back with a brand new winter pasta recipe video tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving weekend, and give my sincerest thanks for all the amazing support you give to this blog. I hope you're all fortunate enough to be able to enjoy a wonderful meal with your family today, and hopefully a few of our recipes found their way on to the table.

I'll be taking a few days off and getting away from the computer, so my apologies if I'm not able to respond to those last minute questions and comments. Have a great weekend, and as always, enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Christmas and fish pie (again)

I wouldn't say that I was panicking about Christmas - Dr O has put paid to the worst of my anxieties (and at only £120 an hour! Bargain!) - but I would say that it was definitely on my mind.

We are having everyone here. And when I say everyone I mean two sets of parents, two sisters, two infants, two cousins an aunt and an uncle. It adds up to 14 people. The fact that we don't have enough chairs for that many people is the least of my problems. I don't think we have enough glasses, either. Or cutlery.

We're so worried about the food that we are having a practise run on November 30th. We are doing the whole thing - brining the turkey, bread sauce, roast potatoes, the lot. I might even take the opportunity to put up a few Christmas decs to see how they look. I'm going for a very barnyard theme this year - all brown twine and chipped red jingle bells - you know the sort of thing I mean No tinsel, perhaps a bit controversially. I hate tinsel.

So I will report back after November 30th with top tips on how it all went.

For now, because I promised, I wanted to run through a childrens' fish pie recipe for a reader who requested it.

People make a lot of fuss about giving children fish pie - they think it's so marvellous and middle-class; but I do think that some children don't like it. Or at least don't like some elements of it. Very fishy fish, like salmon, is often not especially appreciated. And a proper fish pie is made with smoked haddock, which is very salty - so you might want to leave that out if you're touchy about stuff like that.

Personally, I make mine as bland as possible. When I was little I never, ever had to eat anything I didn't want to. I literally lived on baked beans, alphabites, scrambled eggs and spaghetti bolognese. My mother has a theory that small children can't digest brassicas (spinach, broccoli) very well and so that's why they don't like them. I'm not going to say anything pathetic like "It never did me any harm" because who knows?! But certainly I am very grateful to my mother for not being an "eat up your veg" nag. And I don't have a problem with vegetables now.

Anyway, I'm drifting.

Any fish pie is simply fish poached in a white sauce and covered with mashed potato or pastry and that's it. Anything else you add is entirely up to you and frankly, although it's not for me to tell you what to do with your child, I would be guided by any preference my child shows - eg parsley or no parsley, egg or no egg. I don't think you're supposed to give babies shellfish under a year but thereafter you could chuck in some brown shrimp. Yummy.

So the contents of a fish pie might look like this:

(makes several freezable portions)
1 quantity of white sauce (for recipe see "How to make a white sauce" - on this blog) - about 3/4 of a pint
1 quantity assorted white fish, eg haddock/cod/scallops - smoked fish if you want, salmon if you want
a few mushrooms if you like
2 eggs

1 Make the white sauce.

2 Chop up the fish into small chunks - about the size of dice (depending on child's age of course) and then plop into the white sauce. Let this stew together over a low flame for 15 minutes.

3 Hard-boil and chop your eggs, if using. Dice your mushrooms, if using, and throw those in too.

4 Decant this mixture into your bowls for freezing and top with either pastry or mashed potato. On re-heating defrost and cook for a good 25 minutes.

K.I.S.S. Turkey

After being inspired by watching dozens of celebrity chefs' favorite turkey techniques over the last few days, I decided to show a turkey being prepared using none of them. This goes out to all you terrified first timers whose heads are probably spinning with cryptic visions of brining, rubbing, marinating, injecting, smoking, and frying.

This also goes out to you grizzled veterans who realize the turkey is  nothing more than an edible centerpiece; merely an excuse to surround ourselves with the most delicious and decadent side dishes and desserts possible.

I’m not saying that all those tips and tricks aren’t worthwhile; they are, and I’ve used many of them at one time or another, but the fact remains that if you simply buy a great bird, rub it with a some butter, season it generously, and slow roast it – you’ll have a perfectly wonderful tasting turkey with magazine cover good looks.

Having said that, I don't really expect most of you to just settle for such a primitive method, but the point here is that you could if you wanted to. If you do decide to first use whatever brines, marinades, and/or spice rubs strike your fancy, this roasting method will still work very nicely. By the way, if you need it, check out this gravy post for what to do with all those pan drippings. Enjoy!

12-24 pound turkey
seasoning salt: salt, black pepper, and cayenne
3 tbsp butter
4 springs of rosemary
1/2 bunch sage leaves
1 onion
1 carrot
1 celery rib
*Roast at 325 degrees F. for about 15 min/per pound or until an internal temp of 175 degrees F.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gingerbread Porridge

I was sitting on the kitchen floor the other day with my iPad, half-in and half-out of the doorway to get some of the feeble WiFi reception that dribbles down from the modem upstairs; my  husband was nearby, pushing tiny strips of fish finger into Kitty's sparrow-mouth followed by a spoonful of beans.

"Na naaaaaaaaa," said Kitty, her mashed-up food slowly collapsing from its position on the roof of her mouth to flop onto her tongue. She then keeled forward gently to rest her forehead on her highchair tray, her fat grubby hands splayed on the plastic either side of her face. She's been doing that a lot recently; I don't know what it means.

Then an email arrived from someone I used to work with at The Times, called Claire. That makes me sound terribly grand, doesn't it? Like we used to write long witty pieces about the increasing popularity of traditional parlour games at Notting Hill dinner parties. In reality I worked part-time on the Times Magazine's reception desk and she was the chief sub-editor, which meant that if everything went perfectly no-one thanked her but if anything went wrong it was all her fault.

It wasn't the easiest place to work, the Magazine, especially not when you were a) the receptionist and b) part-time; it made you officially the lowliest person at the entire newspaper because at least the messengers got a bit of paid holiday and knew their way around.

And there were some horrible people. Not horrible, horrible - people always think working at newspapers is like All The President's Men and working at magazines is like The Devil Wears Prada but in actual fact it's just some grubby open-plan office with towers of dusty paper and the faint smell of lick.

Most newspaper or magazine offices could be anywhere. And the horrible people were just boringly horrible. They didn't make catty, arch, comments that sent you racing to the ladies' to sob, they just sort of refused to acknowledge you because you were so lowly and shit.

But Claire was always lovely to me. She looked me right in the eyes when she talked to me and never did a thing where I'd say something and she'd look at me as if my chair had started talking. Among other people who were nice to me were Hannah Betts, (with whom I became obsessed and started copying the way she dressed), and my husband.

I only spoke to my husband once on the phone when I was working at The Magazine - when he had so much post that I had to send a parcel van to his house to take it all and had to ring him to ask when he'd be at home to receive it. We had an unexpectedly nice chat. He is terribly friendly, my husband - much friendlier than you think he's going to be and I was astonished at his bothering to make jokes on the phone. When you work on reception and send people their post, no-one bothers to waste jokes on you or or tries to be charming. And when they do, you notice.

So I hunted him down and married him. Ha ha! (No, seriously.)

Anyway, so Claire emailed me and said Hiya, I'm working in PR now - do you want some free stuff? I usually absolutely catagorically say no to any freebies because it makes all this feel far too much like work. And it feels so self-important and crass to mouth off in some kind of superior way about what I think about this brand of biscuits or that kind of oat-free snack.

But you remember people who were nice to you when you were really little and shitty and want to do them a favour, for what it's worth.

So: Dorset Cereal's Gingerbread Porridge is actually pretty excellent. It comes in a chic brown box with a cute picture of a runaway gingerbread man on it. In the box are 10 sealed paper sachets of porridge that you can mix with milk and cook in the microwave or on the stove. I thought it was delicious and I don't even really like porridge.

Although it says it's limited edition, which probably means that it is only available in a few select branches of Waitrose within the M25.

That's the thing about PR: 50% of it really works - you just don't know which 50%.

Amy I haven't forgotten about your request for child-friendly fish pie. Coming soon. Like, tomorrow.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Make-Ahead Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes – Holiday Trick and Treat

I thought I was posting a video to show off the advantages of doing mashed potatoes ahead of time, but then I realized all that was nothing more than a diversion to distract you from the fact that I’m really trying to trick you into using an alternative to the standard holiday potato side dish.

These mascarpone mashed potatoes are certainly close enough to the classic recipe to keep any purists in the family happy, but the addition of the mild, creamy Italian cheese, a touch of egg yolk, and copious amounts of butter, elevate this to “special occasion” status.

Besides being a delicious change of pace, the advantages of the casserole delivery system are obvious. You don’t have to time your potato mashing so precisely, and this keeps warm in the casserole dish a long time, so it’s really nice for larger groups.

As always, feel free to alter this to your tastes. I do add a substantial amount of butter, but a few times a year I feel like I’ve earned that right, and do so unapologetically. I hope you do the same. Enjoy!

4 1/4 pounds russet potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne to taste
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup milk
1 egg yolk

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cranberry Mustard Salad Dressing – You’ll Be Tickled Some Kind of Pink

For whatever reason, pink sauces are considered somewhat visually offensive in the foodie universe, so when describing this cranberry mustard salad dressing to your friends and family, please use hipper alternatives like, “ballet slipper” or “rosy mauve.”

Whatever it’s called, I actually love the color of this vinaigrette, and think it’s especially gorgeous with the classic fall/winter salad palette. I served it over some endive garnished with persimmons, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds, and it tasted as bright and pretty as it looked.

One word of caution regarding the ingredient amounts listed below: I like my salad dressings on the acidic side, so be sure to taste and adjust the amount of oil you add. You want to be careful with the walnut oil, as too much can overpower the dressing, but you can add more vegetable or olive oil, until it’s perfectly balanced for your palate.

As I joke about in the video, this seasonal vinaigrette is perfect for the non-cook to bring to a family gathering. We’re talking about a minimal effort to get what could potentially be lots of loving praise, or at the very least, fewer disappointed glances. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 2 1/4 cups of dressing:
1/4 cup prepared fresh cranberry sauce
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
[note: you can use 1/2 cup of any vinegar(s) you like]
1/4 cup walnut oil
1 cup vegetable oil or light olive oil, or as much as needed to balance acidity to your taste

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Butternut Squash and Mascarpone Gnocchi – I Don’t Like Gnocchi, But I Love These!

When I tell people I don’t like gnocchi, I always have to clarify that I’m talking about the traditional, potato-dough style dumplings, and not the much easier and lighter, cheese-based versions, like this one featuring butternut squash and mascarpone cheese.

Unless created by the hands of a true master, traditional potato gnocchi are too often dense, gummy nuggets of disappointment. However, as temperamental as the classic recipe is, these cheesier, low-starch versions are really quite simple.

These are often made with drained ricotta, and you are welcome to substitute, but here we’re going with mascarpone, a very rich and luscious Italian-style cream cheese. Along with Parmigiano-Reggiano, all you need besides the cheese is some cooked squash, and just enough egg and flour to keep it all together.

Once your mixture is done, and you let it firm up overnight, you have a few options as far as final service. You can follow the spoon-boil-fry-serve method seen herein, or you can do the spoon-boil part ahead of time, and then fry in the sage butter when ready.

If you do want to make these ahead, simply fish them out of the boiling water as they’re cooked, draining well, and place on a plastic-wrapped sheet pan to cool. Once cooled to room temperature, they can be carefully wrapped up (in a single layer), and kept in the fridge for at least a day, until you’re ready to crispy up in the butter.

Either way, prepare your palate for some incredibly light, tender, and delicious gnocchi. You can use them for a first course, like I did here, or as a very special side dish to some roasted meat. I really hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 12 appetizer-sized portions:
2 cups cooked butternut squash
1 cup mascarpone cheese, or cream cheese, goat cheese
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 oz (about 1/2 cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (if you’re going to use fake Parmesan cheese for this, don’t even bother)
1 packed cup all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter for frying, used in batches
cayenne, salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sliced sage leaves

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Turkey Noodle Casserole – Getting Ready for Thanksgiving Leftover Leftovers

This recipe is not for your Thanksgiving leftovers. Those should simply be reheated and eaten the next day, as either a hot sandwich, or just as they were the day before. This delicious Turkey Noodle Casserole is for the leftover leftovers.

I don’t know about you, but after a few days of eating Thanksgiving leftovers, no matter how tasty they originally were, I want something that makes me forget there’s even turkey in it. Since ingredients like garam masala, spicy cheese, and peppers aren’t typically used in the meal, they work wonderfully here to disguise the last of the holiday bird.

By the way, you’ll also want to assess the rest of your leftovers before constructing this casserole. The recipe is perfect for using up the last remnants of those “why did we make so much?” vegetable side dishes; things like peas and carrots, green beans and onions, or even butternut squash will work very nicely.

I know we have a few weeks to go, but I’m posting this nice and early so you can be sure to have the necessary items in your pantry already. Thanks to all those Black Friday lunatics, the less shopping you have to do after Thanksgiving, the better. I hope you give this a try, and like it so much that you add it to your regular recipe rotation. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 Servings:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 1/2 cups cold milk
1 (10-oz) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 teaspoon garam masala, or curry powder
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup diced red bell peppers
1/2 cup diced green bell peppers
1 cup shredded pepper Monterey jack cheese
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
12 ounce package dry egg noodles
3 cups diced cooked turkey
5 oz bag potato chips, crushed into crumbs

All Gravies Are Sauces, But Not All Sauces Are Gravies

I got a bunch of emails after posting the Turkey Gravy with Porcini Mushrooms and Marsala Wine video, asking about the difference between a “gravy” and a “sauce.” Basically, a gravy is a sauce made from the pan drippings, both fat and juices, after a piece of meat is roasted. So, all gravies are sauces, but not all sauces are gravies. Got it?

So, my Turkey Gravy with Porcini Mushrooms and Marsala is technically a sauce, which I called a gravy purely for SEO-related reasons. This time of year, people are searching for turkey gravies, not turkey sauces.

Anyway, here’s a repost of a real turkey gravy, from our two-part Thanksgiving special we ran back in 2008. This just covers the gravy, so if you want to see how we got to this point, you can check out part one here. To read the original gravy post, click here. Enjoy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shoulder – “Seasoned” Perfectly

This pomegranate braised lamb shoulder is about as seasonally appropriate as it gets, and one of the best things I’ve tasted in a long time. Actually, that’s not technically true, since I ate this same dish at the neighborhood restaurant I stole the idea from last week.

The place is called, Bar Bambino, and if you’re ever in San Francisco, you should give it a try. Anyway, I was so impressed by the combination of fall flavors, colors and textures that I decided to replicate it here. I think it’s a gorgeous plate of food, and all modesty aside, it tastes even better than it looks.

As I joke about in the video, braised lamb is pretty tough to screw up. Simply cook it until it’s tender, and if it isn’t quite succulent enough, leave it in a bit longer. That’s the reason that shoulder chops work so well, as they have the right amount of fat and connective tissue for the long, slow braise.

By the way, if you don’t have a large skillet with a lid like I used here, simply transfer everything into a Dutch oven before putting it in the oven. In a pinch, you could even do this in a stockpot, on top of the stove, over very low heat.

Anyway, the timing is perfect for this lovely fall meal, especially with the roasted pumpkin I used to dress up the plate. I will show you that simple procedure in a future video soon. In the meantime, I really hope you give this a try. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 servings:
3 lbs thick-cut lamb shoulder chops (of course this would work with shanks as well)
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil as needed
1 sliced onion
4 cloves sliced garlic
2 cups pomegranate juice
1/3 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
8 whole mint leaves, plus more to garnish
1/4 tsp hot chili flakes
1 tbsp honey, or to taste
1 tbsp freshly sliced mint leaves
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shepherd's pie

My least favourite thing that people say to me is that they are tired. "I'm so tired," they say. Or, worse, "I'm just so tired." It's that "just" that really fucks me off.

I never tell anyone that I'm tired. Ever. Or ill. I keep it to myself. If you are tired, go to bed earlier. Take a sleeping pill. Inhale some lavender, bang yourself smartly on the head. Be really glitzy and hire a private doctor to dose you with propofol. Just don't tell me about it - because I don't care.

(Unless you have a small baby, in which case we will keen and wail together and I will make you tea and say there there.)

My second least favourite thing people say to me is "I'm so busy." Because when you say that, what I hear is "I am incredibly disorganised, I do not know how long an hour is and I don't know how to say 'No'. I am probably also late all the time, but think it makes me seem glamorous."

I do not respect that. I spend my whole life being the fucking bad guy, saying "No, I can't" because I know how long things take; I know what you can reasonably achieve in one day. And it's not very much.

But these days, I sympathise a bit more with people who describe themselves as being a "busy mum". I seem to be in a screaming spin all the time just now, (even though I hate my own guts for saying that), constantly patting my pockets for my keys and racing back into the house five times for bottles, nappies, wallets, shoes. I always seem to be in the car at traffic lights, revving the engine saying "Come on, are you fucking dead or what???!!!!" to the car in front.

Last night I went up to bed - although I didn't actually get into bed and go to sleep - at 8.30pm in order to re-create the kind of idleness I took for granted before I had a baby.

The thing is, Kitty is eating proper food now. Fish fingers and beans, peas, baked potatoes, fish pie, chicken. The whole lot. Nyum nyum nyum, she goes. So I can no longer get away with surviving on cheddar, own-brand chocolate mousse and tea, while spooning shop-bought puree into Kitty's weeny petulant mouth and doing no cooking beyond peeling the lids off takeaway. I have had to hit the stove again. And while I'm cooking for her, I  might as well cook for me. Which is good because it means I eat something. But bad because it means I'll probably get fat again. And it's so fucking time-consuming.

Anyway, that's a long way of saying that it's nursery food a go-go around here right now and today it was shepherd's pie. I've only ever made one once and I muffed it by thinking that I was making a bolognese and adding canned tomatoes, which doesn't work at all.

So here we go, shepherd's pie. Take 2.

Serves about four I'd say.
2 packs lamb mince - about 500g each
1 stick rosemary
2 bay leaves (optional)
2 small onions, chopped
some celery, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 large potatoes
chicken or veg stock if you have it - about 300ml
red wine if you have it - about a large glassful

1 Fry the onions, celery, rosemary stick, bay leaves and carrot together very gently for about 15 minutes. I say this every time because there's always ONE person out there who is very impatient and puts their onions on a really high heat and burns them and wonders why their dinner tastes horrible. Once the onions look translucent and sort of soft around the edges, throw in your glass of red wine and then turn up the heat high and bubble the wine down.

2 In another pan, fry off the lamb mince, then combine your lamb and veg and stock and simmer on the hob, very low, for 45 minutes. Chuck in some salt and pepper.

3 Now you can, of course, just boil and mash your potatoes, but if you steam (25 mins) and rice the potatoes instead, you will get a delicious crunchy potato topping. You can fashion a steamer out of a colander over a pan of boiling water. If you haven't got a potato ricer or a mouli legume then I suppose you're a bit stuffed.

4 Put your lamb mixture in a baking dish and cover with your potato, dot with butter and bake at 180C for about 25 mins.

Then go to bed, for fuck's sake.

Turkey Gravy with Porcini Mushrooms and Marsala Wine – Make-Ahead So You Don’t Get Behind

They say timing is everything; to which I would add, “was” everything, and “will be” everything. So, with that in mind I present this “make-ahead” turkey gravy with porcini mushrooms and Marsala wine.

The Thanksgiving Day kitchen is a busy, hectic scene that can intimidate even the most experienced cooks. As dinnertime approaches, you’re flying around the kitchen trying to get everything to the table, hot, looking delicious, and most importantly, on time.

While the turkey is resting under foil, you’re mashing potatoes, reheating sweet potatoes, warming rolls, and probably trying to finish a gravy. That’s a lot of stuff going on, and one reason new cooks are so afraid to try a big holiday meal.

However, by doing your gravy ahead of time, you make that last-minute production a lot easier, and your other offerings will benefit from the extra attention. That’s not to say I want you to throw away all those lovely turkey pan juices sitting in your roasting pan. Time permitting of course, strain them into a saucepan, boil them down, and add them to this sauce.

This recipe is made for adaptation, so feel free to use a drier white wine, sherry, or none at all. I highly recommend the caramelized porcini mushrooms, which are easy to find dried in any large grocery store, but you can also use any fresh varieties with delicious results. Anyway, if you’re looking to “gourmet up” this year’s turkey gravy, I hope you give this a try. Enjoy!

Turkey Gravy Ingredients (makes about 3-4 cups gravy):
For the turkey neck stock:
2 tsp vegetable oil
3-4 turkey necks
1 onion
1 rib celery
1 carrot
1/3 cup Marsala wine, or white wine
2 quarts cold water
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms
For the sauce:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms
3 tbsp flour
about 6 cups of the reserved turkey neck stock
2 tbsp heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Monday, November 7, 2011

French Onion Green Bean Casserole – It’s Soupy!

If someone calls your green bean casserole “soupy,” it’s usually not a compliment. Here though, it’s completely appropriate. I wanted to rework the iconic Thanksgiving side dish, and wondered what would happen if I brought in some of the tastes and textures that make French onion soup such a favorite.

Somewhat strangely, the final product didn’t remind me at all of French onion soup, but was quite delicious nonetheless, and would certainly be well received around your holiday table. Caramelized onions and melted Gruyere cheese are never a bad idea together, and would make for a great alternative to the old, canned fried onion-topped version.

One small change I would make next time, and that I’ve added to the ingredients list, is a small splash of sherry vinegar added to the onion mixture. As you hardcore foodwishers know, that is the secret ingredient in our famous French onion soup recipe, and I believe it would have better balanced out the sweetness of the dish.

Of course, it goes without saying that you can use just about any cheese you like, and a nice sharp cheddar would definitely work very well here. Anyway, as you start to put together your Thanksgiving menu, I hope you keep this “soupy” side dish in mind. Enjoy!

For the onions:
2 tbsp butter
2 or 3 yellow onions, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp sherry vinegar (stirred into the onions after they are caramelized)

For the white sauce:
2 tbsp butter
2 1/2 tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups milk
pinch of nutmeg
cayenne to taste
1/4 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:
2/3 cup panko or other style bread crumbs
2 tbsp melted butter

For the rest:
2 lbs green beans, trimmed, blanched
salt and pepper to taste
4 oz grated Gruyere cheese, divided
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Time to Get Out the (Tasty) Vote!

Thanks to your always inspiring support, we’re happy to announce that Food Wishes is a Tasty Awards finalist in two categories this year! If you’d like to help us seal the deal, please follow this link to vote for us in the “Best Food Travel Series: Web,” and “Best Home Chef in a Series” categories. Voting ends on December 8, 2011. Thank you for the love!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pistachio Crust – Save the Mini Marshmallows for Your Hot Chocolate!

Of all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, sweet potato casserole scares me the most. Luckily, for the vast majority of holiday meals, I’ve been the one who got to decide on and cook the menu. But there have been the rare occasions when I’ve been a guest at someone’s home, and subjected to the horror that is the mini marshmallow-topped dish of sweet potatoes.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to food, I’m as opened-minded as anyone...hey, one time, I actually ate a McRib...but I just don’t understand taking something already as sweet as sweet potatoes, and topping it with one of the sweetest ingredients ever.

Sure, my topping has some brown sugar in it, but I think it’s balanced nicely by the crunchy savoriness of the pistachios. I also forgo the usual scoop of sugar in the filling for a much smaller amount of maple syrup (which, contrary to what you learned in school, is a one-syllable word).

The result is a rich and decadent, yet not cloyingly sweet side dish. By the way, as I mention in the video, the sweet potatoes I used may be called “yams” at the store, but the fact is that all yams sold in American supermarkets are really varieties of sweet potatoes.

Having said that, my recommendation is for using “Garnet Yams,” if you can find them. If you can’t, literally any other variety will do. I hope you give this great side dish recipe a try. Enjoy!

For the sweet potatoes:
2 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes
salt to taste
2 tbsp butter
2 large eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of allspice
pinch of cayenne
For the pistachio crust:
1/2 cup chopped pistachios (I used roasted, salted)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 tbsp melted butter

Thursday, November 3, 2011

“Mango Cranbango” – Fresh Cranberry Sauce with Dried Mango and Ghost Pepper

Don’t let the ridiculous name fool you; this delicious cranberry sauce recipe would make a wonderful condiment for your Thanksgiving turkey. My wife Michele, a cranberry sauce aficionado, says it’s the best she’s ever tasted.

Conservative estimates have the number of different cranberry sauces she’s tasted over the years at somewhere around 37, so that’s very high praise indeed. While the taste of this sauce is an unmitigated success, the name is another story.

You’ll have to forgive me, but when you post as many recipes as I do, once in a while you just have to give “half the peace sign” to those search engine algorithms, and simply amuse yourself. The “mango” and the “cran” in the name are obvious, but the “bango” comes from a few drops of hot sauce featuring the infamous ghost pepper.

I’m not sure if it’s the hottest pepper in the world, but the Bhut Jolokia is right up there. You can get the actual pepper if you look hard enough, but I had a bottle of Dave's Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce in the fridge, which worked perfectly.

It’s amazing how hot this stuff really is, and a few drops were all I needed. Believe it or not, more than just providing a searing heat, the pepper is actually celebrated for its fruity sweetness as well. By the way, while it may look like blatant product placement in the video, I can assure you I was not paid to use this specific brand (not that I’d be above such a thing…Dave, call me).

Anyway, if you’re looking for a creative, unusual, yet still relatively familiar fresh cranberry sauce for your holiday table, I hope you give this a try. Enjoy!

12 oz fresh whole cranberries
4 oz dried candied mango
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 cup fresh orange juice, plus the juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp garam masala (or other Indian-style curry spice blend)
dash of hot sauce, to taste
pinch of salt

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Respect the Bird!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. A day dedicated to football, family, food, and giving thanks. Somehow this great American feast has avoided all the corporate commercialism that’s tainted the rest of our holidays.

However, while Thanksgiving itself has remained relatively pure, each year it seems the Christmas shopping season overlaps T-day a little more. We all grumble, but no one does anything about it. Well, that was until Doug Matthews came along.

Last November, Doug wrote a blog post on entitled, “Respect the Bird.” There he made his case for taking back Thanksgiving from Madison Avenue, and the response from the community was overwhelming. A subsequent national survey found that 82 percent of home cooks think Christmas is marketed too early, which results in the Thanksgiving holiday getting less attention than it deserves.

Do you agree with Doug? I certainly do, and favor any movement that will help keep that insidious Christmas music out of the stores for a few more days. To aid the cause, my friends at Allrecipes have created a dedicated site,, where you can show your support for this movement by taking the Respect the Bird Pledge.

I hope you head over to take a look, and as always, enjoy…a Santa-free Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Slow Cooker Braised Pork Shoulder Roast with Apple Butter Sauce – Reducing the Need for Roux

Man, I’ve been making a lot of rouxs lately (which you’ll be seeing in all their buttery glory in a series of upcoming holiday videos), but for this apple cider braised pork roast, I wanted to keep things a little lighter and decided to use a classic reduction.

We’ve done dozens of similar style sauces, but most of those were traditional pan sauces, where the skillet is deglazed with some kind of flavorful liquid, which is reduced down, and finally finished with butter.

This is basically the same technique; except here we’re reducing the braising liquid from the slow cooker while our pork rests. By the way, I keep saying “cider” because it sounds and looks better in print, but I actually used apple juice. Both work very well, but a just-pressed, unfiltered cider would be my official recommendation.

One thing to remember about these types of reduction sauces is that a little goes a long way. You’re taking an already flavorful liquid and reducing down to maybe 25% of its original volume. This is also the reason you shouldn’t season it until the end. After the cold butter is whisked into the sauce, and your herb of choice has been added, give it a taste and adjust for salt then.

Since we’re using a relatively small amount of braising liquid for this big a hunk of meat, I decided to use the slow cooker. You can certainly do this on the stovetop, over very low heat, or in a slow (275 degrees F.) oven, but neither is quite as convenient. Regardless of your cooking method, I hope you give this delicious pork shoulder a try soon. Enjoy!

4-5 pound pork shoulder roast (boneless or bone-in work fine)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp vegetable oil
a couple shallots or yellow onion, sliced
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups apple cider or juice
4 peeled garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
cayenne to taste
1 rounded teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cold butter cut into small cubes
1 tbsp fresh herb – parsley, sage, thyme, etc.