Monday, 28 October 2013

Raspberry Eton Mess

Eton Mess is a traditional English dessert consisting of strawberries, broken-up meringues and whipped cream.

There are many conflicting stories on where the dessert got its name, but one thing that is not in doubt is how delicious it is in its simplicity. The dish has been known as Eton Mess since the 19th Century, named after Eton College where it was served at the school’s annual cricket game against Harrow College.

I have a particular fondness for fresh raspberries, so that is what I tend to use, but it goes without saying that there are loads of variations to the basic dessert. It is most famously made using strawberries but Autumn blackberries are also delicious.

You can use shop-bought meringues, but I regularly have home-made meringues lurking around the place, so that’s what I use. Essentially what I am trying to show you is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to making Eton Mess. Basically, I recommend experimenting using different fruits and whatever is in season! You can also ring the changes by including a splash of alcohol such as brandy or use some fruit flavoured liqueurs. A few toasted nuts are also a nice addition.

I have kept it simple here and just used raspberries, meringues and some softly whipped cream. Don’t overwork the mixture when combining everything.  You want to achieve a “messy” appearance where the different elements retain some of their individual qualities!


250mls single cream
1 punnet of raspberries
3 or 4 meringues


1. Whisk the cream until it holds its shape in soft peaks. Do not over-whisk it.
2. Roughly crush the meringues into bite sized pieces. Crush a few of the raspberries but leave some whole as well.
3. Fold the raspberries and broken meringues into the cream and pile into individual glass serving bowls. Do try to use glass bowls because then you see the full “messy” effect.

Serves 4

Chicken with a Chestnut & Cider Sauce

I am constantly on the quest to find new things to feed my gang.

Without a doubt their favourite meal is a Roast Chicken Dinner with all the trimmings which most importantly (from their points of view) must include roast potatoes. These have to have a crispy exterior, but fluffy on the inside.

The next on their list of favourite dinners is chicken curry! In fact chicken would probably be the main ingredient in the majority of the dishes that they enjoy eating. In this way, we're probably not that different from most families as statistics show that each year we consume a phenomenal amount of chicken per capita.

The challenge for me is to come up with new ways of cooking chicken that incorporate different flavours and ingredients.
The great thing about chicken is that it can easily take on so many different flavours. In my opinion, this is also the problem with chicken as it is so often served; the flavours introduced too often swamp the actual taste of the chicken meat. I am not going to get into the arguments for and against free-range versus battery-reared chicken. Yes, I tend to buy free-range chickens, but I honestly believe that people should make their own decisions and buy the best that they can afford.

The recipe that I give here uses chicken breasts, because that is what I had to hand on the day I made the dish, but it could easily be made using chicken joints. I do think that it is important to get joints that still have the skin on as this adds to the overall flavour, but if you're not a fan of skin, remove it before consuming.
This is a recipe that I developed using ingredients that I had in the fridge and store cupboard and if I say so myself, it was very tasty. My eldest daughter was "traumatised" by the fact that it included cider and chestnuts, but even she had to admit that it was delicious! I served it with mashed potato which was ideal for mopping up the sauce.


2 tblsp of vegetable oil
large knob of butter
6 chicken breasts (skin on)
4 rashers of streaky bacon cut into this strips
50g cooked whole chestnuts, sliced
2 crisp eating apples, peeled, core and cut into wedges
500ml can of dry cider
4tblsp crème fraiche
Salt and pepper to season


1. Heat the oil and butter in a large, wide sauté pan until hot. Season the chicken breasts and add to the pan skin-side down and cook until the skin is nicely browned. Turn the chicken breasts over and add the bacon, chestnuts and apple wedges.
2. Continue to cook until the bacon, chestnuts and apples are lightly caramelized. Add the cider and allow simmer. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for approximately 20 minutes. Remove the lid for the last ten minutes of cooking time to allow the sauce to reduce by about a half.
3. Add the crème fraîche and stir through. Allow to cook for another 5 minutes. Serve.

Serves 6.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


I love the decadent frivolity of meringues!

Meringues have a reputation of being difficult to make, but provided you follow a few simple rules, they are actually incredibly easy to make.
So what should the perfect meringue taste like? It should be crisp on the outside, but still soft and slightly chewy in the centre.

The recipe that follows is made with Italian meringue where the egg whites and sugar are gently heated in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water until the sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, the egg whites are whisked with a hand-held electric mixer for about ten minutes until the meringue is fluffy and holds its own shape and has cooled down. This is a very stable meringue when made and creates the most delicious meringues. The pavlova that I make and which is one of my fail-safe desserts is not made using Italian meringue, but employs the more traditional method of whisking the egg whites to the soft peak stage and then gradually whisking in the sugar - I will post that recipe separately.

I like to pile the mixture onto baking parchment lined baking trays in large blobs to create pretty looking clouds of sugary delight! A few flaked almonds sprinkled on top prior to baking do not go amiss and give a very pleasant nutty crunch.

Once the basic meringue mixture is made, you can adapt the recipe slightly to ring the changes. For example you can fold in some finely chopped nuts, or add a few drops of food colouring to make coloured meringues. Imagine a mountain of meringues casually piled up on a plate in a range of pastel colours… Beautiful!

Finally, I should mention that I have found that weighing the egg whites creates more accurate results, so that’s what I do here, but 115g egg whites equates to roughly three large egg whites.

Rule 1: All your equipment must be scrupulously clean. If there is even a speck of grease, your egg whites will be much more difficult to whisk. Some cooks recommend rubbing the mixing bowl with the cut side of half a lemon to get rid of any grease. I’ll be honest, I don’t do this, but if you are in at all anxious that there is some grease present, do it.

Rule 2: Use a large metal or glass mixing bowl to whisk the egg whites as plastic bowls are far more inclined to retain fat or grease. Using a large bowl, allows more space for air to be whisked into the egg whites. Again I will stress, make sure that the bowl is spotlessly clean.

Rule 3: When separating the eggs, make sure that is absolutely no trace of egg yolk in the egg whites. I always separate the egg whites individually into a small bowl first of all and when reassured that there is no hint of egg yolk, I then empty it into the mixing bowl. The reason that I do this is because, if some egg yolk gets into the mixture, I only have to discard one, rather than the whole batch.

Rule 4: Use caster sugar for the meringues. Granulated sugar does not dissolve correctly in the foamy egg whites when whisked and creates a grainy meringue. Some recipes use icing sugar, but I think that it creates a powdery meringue.

Rule 5: Bake the meringues in a pre-heated oven at a low temperature for the specified time. At the end of the cooking time, turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool completely in the oven. For this reason, when making meringues or pavlova, I usually make them the night before they are needed and let them cool in the switched off oven overnight.


115g egg whites
225g caster sugar
A handful of flaked almonds


1.                  Pre-heat the oven to 110C/Fan 100C/Gas 1/4.
2.                  Put the egg whites and caster sugar in a large bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the water directly. Stir with a clean spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are slightly warm to the touch. This will take about ten minutes.
3.                  Using a hand-held electric mixer, whisk the egg white and sugar mixture for about ten minutes until a stiff meringue has formed and the mixture has cooled. The meringue should be quite stiff and hold its own shape without collapsing.
4.                  Using a large tablespoon, pile large blobs of meringue onto parchment lined baking trays. Scatter a few flaked almonds over the top of each meringue.
5.                  Place the trays into the pre-heated oven for 1 hour and then switch off the oven and let them cool completely.

Makes 8-10 meringues.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Guinness Brown Bread

You have got to try making this bread. There is very little to it, other than weighing and measuring out the ingredients and popping it in the oven to bake.

The bread is slightly sweet because of the sugar and syrups that are used, but this is countered by the nuttiness of the wholemeal flour and also the bitter edge that the walnuts and Guinness contribute.

Given my great love for butter, it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I recommend having a liberally buttered slice (or two) whilst it is still warm from the oven. Delicious! Well… it is important to check that it tastes OK!
The bread stays moist for two or three days and is lovely toasted. It is particularly nice thinly sliced when cold and topped with some Irish smoked salmon, with a squeeze of lemon juice, a small spoonful of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of some finely chopped chives.
Like traditional brown soda bread, this bread uses bicarbonate of soda as the leavening agent. However, there is no buttermilk and the liquid that is used is Guinness. Like a lot of beers and ales, Guinness has many uses in cooking and baking. I use it in my Christmas puddings and also do a beef stew where the main ingredient in the sauce is Guinness.

Arthur Guinness started brewing ales in 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. Guinness is a stout – a type of dark beer made from water,  roasted barley and malt extract, hops and brewer's yeast.  The roasted barley gives Guinness its characteristic dark colour and bitter taste. Guinness is also colloquially known as “the black stuff” and a “pint of plain”. Interestingly, although Guinness appears to be black, it is in fact a very dark shade of red.

Other stouts can be used in this recipe but personally I like the “tang” that the Guinness gives to the finished bread.


315 g stoneground, wholemeal flour
150 g plain flour
30g caster sugar
1 level tsp salt
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
60g porridge oats
375ml milk
60g roughly chopped walnuts
55g golden syrup
110g black treacle
35g melted butter
100ml Guinness


1.                  Pre-heat oven to 140C/Fan 130C/Gas 1.
2.                  Sieve the plain flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Add the wholemeal flour,  sugar, salt, oats and walnuts. Mix well with a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the ingredients.
3.                  Form a well in the centre and add the milk, golden syrup, black treacle melted butter and Guinness.
4.                  Mix well together, making sure that there are no pockets of dry flour. The mixture will be quite wet and a porridge like consistency.
5.                  Grease a large 2lb loaf tin and lightly flour. This is to ensure that the bread does not stick. You can also baseline it with a little greaseproof paper.
6.                  Bake in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes and then increase the temperature to 180C/Fan 170C/Gas 4 and cook for a further 25 minutes.
7.                  To test whether the bread is cooked, remove it from the tin and tap it. It should sound “hollow”.
8.                  When cooked, remove from tin and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Makes 1 loaf.

The Workman’s Friend
When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night -
A pint of plain is your only man.
When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -
A pint of plain is your only man.
When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,
A pint of plain is your only man.
When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare -
A pint of plain is your only man.
In time of trouble and lousy strife,
You have still got a darling plan
You still can turn to a brighter life -
A pint of plain is your only man.
Flann O'Brien (Brian O’Nolan) 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Braised Fennel with Parmesan and Pernod

Fennel is definitely an acquired taste, but I love the gentle aniseedy, licquorice flavour it possesses.

This recipe is based on one that I saw being made by chef and author Simon Hopkinson.

Yes - this IS a rich dish but it tastes wonderful! You can serve this as an accompaniment to grilled or barbecued chicken or fish, or as a dish in its own right. I have adapted the original recipe to include a good glug of Pernod – just to give that extra anise kick!

Fennel is a curious plant with a long history of use for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The bulb, foliage, and seeds of the plant are widely used in cooking in many parts of the world. The seeds, which are brown or green when fresh, can be dried and used as a spice. The leaves of the are delicately flavoured and, in shape, reminiscent to those of dill. The bulb is crisp and can be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled and also eaten raw. Fennel can be used is both sweet and savoury dishes but it is far more commonplace used in the latter.

Fennel has been grown throughout Europe, particularly around the Mediterranean Sea since ancient times. Ancient Roman texts extol the merits of the plant for its aromatic seeds and succulent, edible stalks. The Romans introduced fennel to Britain and it was first cultivated in America in the 18th Century. The root of the plant was one of the flavourings used in Sack, an alcoholic beverage featuring mead that was popular during Shakespearian times and it is also one of three key ingredients in another alcoholic drink - absinthe.
Fennel bulbs are a good source of vitamin C, manganese and potassium and are also high in fibre. Fennel seeds are high in manganese, iron, calcium and magnesium. Fennel is used a remedy in herbal medicine for menstrual pain, to treat coughs and digestive problems. It is also believed to have properties which increase the production of breast milk in nursing mothers.



2-3 fennel bulbs,trimmed and halved but reserve the trimmings
50g butter
50ml Pernod
50ml water
60g parmesan
Salt and pepper to season


1.                  Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.
2.                  Melt the butter in a casserole dish over a low heat. Place the fennel into the butter cut-side down, and scatter around the trimmings. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and increase the heat.
3.                  Add the Pernod and cover with the dish with a tight fitting lid. Cook in the pre-heated oven for approximately one hour, turning the fennel half way through the cooking time.
4.                  Remove from the oven when the fennel is cooked through and tender.
5.                   Preheat the grill to high.
6.                  Remove the fennel from the dish. Place in a warmed shallow oven-proof dish cut-side up, cover with foil and place in the oven while you make the sauce.
7.                  Pour the trimmings and cooking juices through a fine sieve suspended over a small pan. Warm through and add 45g/1½oz of the parmesan. Blend with a hand blender until smooth and creamy (about the consistency of pouring cream).
8.                  Pour the mixture over the fennel and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Place under the grill and cook until the surface is pale golden-brown and slightly bubbling around the edges.
Serves 2.