Beautiful Little Barley, Beetroot and Black-Eyed Pea Salad


I very rarely make pulse or grain based dishes, yet am always drawn to them when on a menu at a restaurant, particularly any restaurant that offers culinary fare that has its origins in the Middle-East. I love the taste and texture of dishes made with lentils, varieties of beans and in particular pearl barley. In fact pearl barley has always been that homely grain that in my mind always sits wonderfully in a beefy broth. Most of my pulse intake as a kid was limited to a well-known brand of baked bean, although I must say that my grandma and mum did both make a wonderful ham shank and lentil soup, which I absolutely loved and would welcome with open arms (or a dropped mandible) if it was put in front of me now. Black-eyed peas had always fascinated me and hearing of them used in a dish such as black-eyed peas, chicken and stuffing again, I find, has a real family and homely ring to it – actually that dish I’ve just mentioned I’m sure is a lyric in one of the songs from the group  with the same name as the aforementioned pulse.

However, it was during last year’s World Cup that I became more intimately acquainted with the black-eyed pea when I cooked the dish acarajé – a Brasilian deep fried fritter. From there I experimented with a combination of black-eyed pea and pearl barley when I created the dish ‘Slow Braised Lamb with Barley and Black-Eyed Pea Pilaf‘. But I’ve always wanted to do a salad with them and for a while I have envisioned them in combination with fresh mint, olive oil and some lemony zest.

From a preparatory perspective pearl barley and black-eyed peas are one of the few grains/ pulses that do not require an overnight soaking, and can be simmered to a perfect consistency in under an hour. Using them as a base I decided to go with the combination of those aforementioned flavours – you know the mint, olive oil and lemon – but found these alone were not enough to constitute a balanced and hearty salad. I opted on adding an earthy sweetness; roasted red beetroot was a perfect contender. I then added chopped ripe tomatoes for that hit of umami and a crunchy refresher in the form of diced cucumber. Finally, the mint alone, although really good, needed some herby foil, and parsley fit that role to a tee. And there we have it, Barley, Beetroot and Black-Eyed Pea Salad.


Serves: 4 as a main or up to 10 as an accompaniment
Preparation: 30 minutes soaking + 30 minutes Prep.
Cooking: 1 hour (most prep. can be done during cooking)


For the Salad:
200g  Pearl barley |
150g  Black-eyed peas |
1 medium-large  Beetroot | Peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes.
Glug  Olive oil |
Seasoning  Sea salt and cracked black pepper |
Spring onions | Outer layer removed, cleaned and cut into 1cm pieces – both white and light green parts.
Lebanese cucumber | Diced. That’s a small cucumber – if using the larger European variety deseed and use half of it.
2 medium  Ripe tomatoes | Peeled, deseeded and diced.*
1  bunch  Fresh mint | Finely chopped.
½ bunch  Fresh parsley | Finely chopped.


For the Dressing:
1 lemon  Zest of | Finely grated.
2 lemons  Juice of |
The tomato liquid  from the discarded seeds | Optional (see below) – but it does add great flavour.
200ml  Olive oil |

Salt and pepper to taste
Drizzle of olive oil to finish

*Preparing tomatoes like this is known as concasse. To peel the tomatoes score the skin at the tomato base with a cross and put the tomatoes in boiling water for about 10 seconds. Transfer them to ice cold water for about 20 seconds. The skins should be easy to peel. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and scoop out the seeds and any hard core. Retain these for a little trick. Dice the remaining tomato flesh.

The seeds and jelly like substance around the seeds contain a lot of tomato flavour and that amazing taste, umami. It’s a shame to waste it so take the seeds, jelly and any other bits of discarded flesh and blitz them in a miniature food processor until a smooth pulp is formed. Push this pulp through a fine sieve and you’ll be left with a fantastic tomato liquid – use this in the recipe here.



In separate bowls soak the pearl barley and black-eyed peas in enough cold water to cover them. After 30 minutes drain the pearl barley and rinse. With the black-eyed peas, gently scrunch them in your hands whilst still under water to loosen the skins. Remove the skins (this is finicky and requires patience but the reward is in the eating) and then drain and rinse the black-eyed peas – it’s nigh impossible to remove all skins, so a few left on won’t spoil your dish.

Put the pearl barley and black-eyed peas in a large pan together with a couple of pinches of salt and cover with cold water so that the level of water is twice the depth of the barley and peas. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down and gently simmer for 45 minutes.

In the meantime – preheat an oven to 200 deg. C (390 deg. F). Put the diced beetroot in to a roasting tin and then season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Drizzle over a glug olive oil and mix until all the beetroot is covered. Put in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes,  or until softened but still having some resistance. Put aside to cool.

When the barley and peas are cooked, drain and then wash with cold water until completely cooled down. Drain all excess water until the peas and barley are dry.

For the dressing, add the lemon, lemon zest and tomato liquid (if your are using it) to a medium sized bowl. Now slowly drizzle in the olive oil whilst vigorously whisking. Once all the oil has been added you should have consistent dressing i.e. not split. Taste and season accordingly.

To construct the salad add the peas, barley, roasted beetroot, spring onions, cucumber, tomatoes, mint and parsley to a large salad bowl. Gently mix with a large metal spoon taking care not to squash the peas or barley (this can be stored in the fridge up until service). Just prior to serving drizzle over the dressing and gently mix. Taste. If you’re elated with it then drizzle over a little olive oil and serve**.

Serve in big portions as a main or in smaller portions as an accompaniment.


**If you think it needs a little more then add extra mint, parsley, squeezes of lemon and/ or seasoning according to your taste, gently mix and then add a drizzle of olive oil.

Oxtail, Pilsner and Pea Steamed Puddings


Oxtail is another of those great cuts of meat that give more pound for pound than many of their more well-known and affluent cuts. Being the tail of the bovine, oxtail, like beef cheeks, spends its time working overdrive in its assigned job; the tail spending its life whipping and thrashing at the rear of the animal. Such arduous action leads to flavoursome yet inherently tough muscle. In addition each of the vertebrae of the oxtail is cushioned with cartilage, sinew and fat, and as such it needs long slow cooking to break them down. Once this cooking process is complete the cartilage breaks down into gelatine, which gives the meat it’s moist and really, really tasty character.

Suet will ring alarm bells for many – its image has changed from the Eliza Acton years where it was regarded as an essential addition to unctuous sweet steamed puddings and meaty pies. It’s probably fair to say that its high calorific value and high level of saturated fat make it one of those ingredients that the modern day culinary wizard avoids. I am in the once in a blue-moon corner, where its propensity to contribute to a melt in the mouth, yet sturdy, pastry outweighs anything perceivably bad about it.

For those unaware, suet is the protective fatty layer of a cow’s kidneys. I acquire my suet as a solid piece from a local butcher. To rid of any sinew, blood or cartilage I render the fat in a warm oven over a few hours, at which point the unrequired solids have aggregated at the bottom of the dish, set apart from the liquid suet. Once filtered the liquid sets at room temperature, the result is the pure suet. I then freeze it in disposable cups and grate it when required.  Of course, if available, packeted shredded suet can be used.

This recipe is honour to a winter’s day, and something you would imaging Will Shakespeare feasting on  after a long day’s inscribing of witty and dramatic tale in the environment of a harsh English December; suet pastry, succulent and slow cooked oxtail in a refreshing pilsner ale, and a splattering of fresh sweet popping garden peas. (ok, pilsner is a little after Will’s time, but I am sure you get the gist).


Serves: 4   |   Preparation:  1 hour 15 minutes   |   Cooking: About 5 hours 40 minutes



2 Carrots | Peeled and sliced.
2 sticks  Celery | Sliced.
6 Parsley stalks | Tied in a bundle.
2 tbsp. Olive oil |
90g Field mushrooms | Sliced.
1 tbsp. Olive oil |
2 Brown onions |Finely chopped.
2 Cloves |
1 Cinnamon stick |
1 Star anise |
2 tbsp. Olive oil |
10 Black peppercorns | Coarsely crushed.
1kg Oxtail |
2 tbsp. Olive oil |
330ml Pilsner beer | European style like Stella Artois.
400g Diced tomatoes | Tinned are perfect for this dish.
200ml Veal stock | See here for a recipe.
150g Fresh peas | Blanched for 2 minutes.

For the Pastry                 
320g Self-raising flour |
160g Suet | Grated or shredded. Fresh or packeted is fine.
½ tsp. Sea salt | If using flaked salt grind it before adding.
1 ½ tsp. Baking powder |
10g Butter | Melted. Used to grease the pudding bowls.
1 Egg | Beaten. Used as an egg wash.



How To:

First let’s get the oxtail slow cooking. Preheat an oven to 130 deg C. (265 deg F.).

In a medium sized frying pan over a low to medium sweat the carrots, celery and parsley stalks in 2 tbsp. of olive oil until softened, but not browned.

Remove the carrots, celery and parsley stalks add 1 more tablespoon of oil to the frying pan, along with the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms until browned and softened and remove from the pan. Now add 2 more tbsp. of olive oil to the pan and then add the onions, cloves, cinnamon stick and star anise. Sweat until the onions are soft and translucent, but not browned. Remove from the pan and turn the heat up to high. Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and when the oil is very hot place the oxtail pieces, side down, in the pan. Brown the sides, tops and bottoms and then remove from the pan.

Drain away any fat/ oil left in the frying pan and then put it back on a high heat. Deglaze the pan with 100ml of the beer, using a wooden spoon to scrape away any delicious brown bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.

To a casserole dish add the oxtail, all the sautéed vegetables and spices, black peppercorns, tomatoes, rest of the beer and the veal stock. Do not add the peas as these will go in later. Cover the casserole dish with a double layer of foil and the lid (this prevents liquid loss during cooking) and cook in the oven for 4 hours.

Meanwhile, we’ll make the pastry.

In to a clean bowl mix the self-raising flour, suet, salt and baking powder. Sprinkle 150ml of iced cold water over the mix and then bring together using your hands until a dough is formed. Knead the dough lightly until it is smooth and then let it rest in a fridge, wrapped in cling film, for 15 minutes.

Divide the dough in to 4 equal portions and roll each portion into a circular shape approximately 4mm in thickness. Take 4*250ml (1cup) pudding basins, brush the insides of  each with a little melted butter and then line each one with a pastry circle, ensuring that the dough sits flush against the basin. Using a small, sharp knife trim the excess pastry from each basin and form all the off-cuts into one ball. Split this ball into 4 portions and roll out each one in to a circle large enough to form a lid for each pudding. Each lid will be about 6mm in thickness.

After 4 hours remove the casserole dish from the oven and carefully pick out all of the oxtail and any meat that has fallen from the bone, then leave to cool in a clean bowl. Drain the cooking gravy through a fine sieve and discard the vegetables and spices. Return the cooking gravy to the casserole dish and on a medium to high heat reduce it by about two thirds. Meanwhile when the oxtail is just cool enough to handle pick the meat off the bone and flake it, and discard any hard fat, gelatine or bone. To the meat add the half of the reduced cooking gravy and the blanched fresh peas. Fill each lined pudding basin with the oxtail and peas.

Use the egg wash to moisten the edges of the pastry and then fit a lid on to each pudding, pinching around each circumference to seal the lid to the pastry wall. Trim off any excess dough. Place a small square of baking paper over each pudding, securing it with an elastic band. Put the puddings in to a wide pan and then fill the pan with hot tap water until the level is about ¾ the way up the side of the pudding basins. Bring the water to a simmer and cook the puddings for 35 minutes. When cooked, carefully remove the puddings from the basins and just prior to serving inject each pudding with some of the warmed left over reduced cooking sauce. Serve right away…

Coconut and Pandan Ice Cream


It was a sticky, hot and humid day as we disembarked from the small boat and clambered on to terra firma. Having just visited the most amazing floating market on the Mekong, we were now in a little Vietnamese village. When I say village it was a few shacks with a local shop. Although we were one of many visitors to this village, the children still came running out, giggling, to meet us. We refilled our bottles of water and took respite from the midday sun. In the shade of the shop a few children were playing keepy-uppy with a large white feather that had been weighted at the quill with a few beer and soft drink bottle tops. It was quite ingenious, and these kids were pretty skilful at keeping this object airborne. Being the Englishman I am and with the footballing aficionado rivalling the best and with a somewhat misguided notion that the practical skills match the knowledge I entered the game with the kids. Initially it started off great, some sharp little skills and some showboating; I was also fervently perspiring. But then I had to do the typical dad thing – at that time I was years off being a father but the instinct was there nonetheless. I attempted to do a head height roundhouse kick to knock the feathered object back into the circle and I as I did so – well nearly anyway – the sound of an almighty rip penetrated the air. I was wearing some light long combat pants that I had bought in Saigon, and as I looked around the kids were on the floor rolling around in hysterics. I looked down and saw a rip along the whole inside seam from one ankle to the other. I retreated sheepishly. It was funny though.

The significance of this story and its relevance to the dish is more about the visit to the sweet factory immediately after this jocular pit stop. When I say factory it was another shack that housed a roaring fire with an enormous wok over it – where they made the sweets, an area for the sweets to set and a packing area. The sweets were then loaded on to a boat for delivery. It is here, however, that I discovered one of my all-time favourite Vietnamese flavour combinations; coconut and pandan. The flavour of these sweets has never left me and so years later I have recreated the flavour in the form of this super little ice-cream.


Serves: A few   |   Preparation:  1½ hours   |   Cooking: Resting overnight plus 2 hours



430ml Full-fat milk |
450ml Single cream | Approximately 35% milk fat solids.
270ml Coconut cream |
5 large Egg yolks | Large eggs are roughly 58g each with a yolk yield of about 18g.
250g White sugar |
10 Dried pandan leaves | Pandan can be bought at Asian grocers. Fresh can be used also – maybe half the amount as fresh leaves have more oomph than dried.


How To:

To a heavy based pan add the milk, cream, coconut cream and pandan leaves; bend the leaves so that they fit into the pan and become submerged. Gently bring the milk and creams to just below the boil then remove from the heat, cover with a lid and let the pandan leaves infuse for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile add the egg yolks and sugar to a bowl and with a sturdy whisk beat until you have an airy and smooth mix. The consistency should be ribbon-like when you pick some up with the whisk and let it gracefully flow back in to the bowl.

Through a sieve, slowly pour the milk and cream mix into the egg yolks and sugar (therefore removing the pandan leaves), whisking continuously to ensure that the heat of the milk does not curdle the egg. Put the resulting custard mix (it is now officially a custard) in to a clean pan over a low heat. Using a wooden spoon continually mix the custard until it thickens – do not let it boil or else you will scramble your custard. A good test is to run a finger down the back of the wooden spoon and if the mark remains the custard is ready. Remove from the heat.

Put an ice-cream container (one that has air-tight lid) over a bowl of ice, and through a sieve pour in the custard mix. Stir for 5 minutes or so until the custard cools. Put the lid on the container and put the custard in the fridge overnight.

Churn the ice-cream in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you are using a compressor based churner, turn it on about 10 minutes prior to churning the ice-cream so that it is chilled. The reason being is that it is really important to freeze ice-cream as quickly as possible to ensure a smooth result.

Once churned freeze for a further two hours before serving.



  • To serve the ice-cream it is good to remove it from the freezer about 15-20 minutes prior to serving. Not will it be at perfect temperature to eat, it will also be easy to quenelle  if you are at all feeling ‘cheffy’.

Thai Coriander and Black Pepper Aubergine Curry


A few years ago my wife and I attended a book launch and signing by the renowned Asian food writer and cook Charmaine Solomon. It was in the early days of my culinary enlightenment and an event like this was like looking in to a food kaleidoscope; so many colourful and varied combinations of ingredients to produce exquisite and aesthetically stunning patterns, or dishes. I loved gigs like this and this book launch was no different.

I went on to learn the absorption method for cooking  rice, smelled and tasted a variety of spices, herbs and vegetables, and had a couple of glasses of the old jumping grape. I remember vividly an attendee in the audience asking Charmaine what her views on fusion food were. This was at a time when the melding of different food cultures was becoming a fad. Her reply stuck with me, although in ink (or digitally written) it sounds corny. She said

I think a lot of fusion food becomes confusion food.

It was another profound moment for me, because it got me thinking that clever food, tasty food, great food must be about the harmony of the ingredients in the final dish; not the perception of how clever a cook/ chef can be by using unusual ingredients or techniques. I say this not to be dissuaded from trying unusual flavour pairings or textural combinations; I adore this kind of cooking. What I am trying to allude to is that whatever is delivered on the plate, harmony must always take precedent over a confusion of flavours, or even textures.

As is customary at a book launch and signing we bought a book and had Charmaine sign it. I was like a kid in a sweet shop; overwhelmed and excited to be in the company of such a revered food authority.    When it came to the signing she asked who to make it out to. My wife replied “Nick and Mitali”.

Some get confused with my wife’s name, albeit only 6 letters and it being spelt exactly as it sounds. It goes well to the Mickey Mouse ditty M-i-c-k-e-y…M-i-t-a-l-i…na,na,na,na,na, as comedian Lee Mack once pointed out in a show we were at. Anyway, Charmaine asked for the spelling, and when happy proceeded to write in the book whilst we chatted amongst ourselves. Charmaine looked up and said “there you go”. I looked down smiled and then read her words “To Mitali and Dick” …confusion indeed.

This dish is in honour of Charmaine Solomon (well it is one of hers). Simple, yet wickedly tasty and intense.


Serves: 2 to 4   |   Preparation: 45 minutes   |   Cooking: 45 minutes



For the Paste
2 tbsp. Black peppercorns |
1 Fresh bay leaf |
200g Fresh coriander | Roughly chopped, including the stems and roots – warning: wash very well, especially the often sandy roots.
3 cloves Garlic | Roughly chopped.
2 tsp. Sea salt | I use Maldon.
½ lime Juice from a lime |
½ lemon Juice from a lemon |

For the Curry
700g Aubergine (eggplant) | That’s about 2 medium ones.
1 litre or so Grapeseed oil | For deep frying – any other non-fragranced oil such as groundnut or canola can be used.
2 tbsp. Grapeseed oil
3 tbsp. Coriander and black pepper paste | See above.
300ml Coconut milk |
200ml Water |
2 tbsp. Fish sauce |
1 tbsp. Palm sugar | Grated. Palm sugar has a treacle like taste which is excellent in Asian cooking.
½ lime Juice from a lime |
2 Sprigs Fresh coriander | Wash, pick the leaves and chop.



How To:

For the paste, firstly preheat an oven to 180 deg. C (360 deg. F). Spread the black peppercorns and bay leaf on a baking tray, put in the oven and toast for 5 minutes. Catch the marvellous scent as you pull the tray out of the oven.

In a small mortar and pestle, mince the garlic with the sea salt until a smooth paste is achieved (or do it on a chopping board using the flat of a knife). In a large sturdy mortar and pestle crush the peppercorns and bay leaf until coarsely ground. Now add the roughly chopped coriander and begin to pound. This takes a little work but it’s worth it (this can be done in a food processor but I think the results are better when done manually).  Now add the minced garlic, lemon juice and lime juice and pound until paste like. Put the paste in a clean, sterilised jar and store in the fridge for up to 3 months.


Now for the curry: heat the oil in a deep saucepan or wok until it reaches 180 deg. C (360 deg. F) – if you don’t have a thermometer, get one, it will be one of the best purchases you make. Cut the aubergine in to 2 cm cubes. In 3 separate batches deep fry the aubergine cubes until they start to take on a nice golden brown colour. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper.

Heat the 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a large frying pan or wok, on a low heat. Add the coriander and pepper paste and cook for about 2-3 minutes. There will be a sensational fragrance given off. Increase the heat to medium, add the coconut milk, stir well, add the water and then bring to the boil. Add the fish sauce and palm sugar, stir, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Then add the aubergine and simmer for a further 10 minutes or so, until the aubergine is tender. Finally, add the lime juice and a half of the chopped coriander, stir and then serve immediately. Use the remaining coriander as garnish.



  • Goes great with jasmine rice, or as I have served it here, sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice – which actually doesn’t contain gluten).

168 Year Old Christmas Pudding – The Eating


A wonderful Christmas is over, one in which I had plenty of time to be let loose in the kitchen, to fervently eat all day and to participate in a tipple of the old jumping grape for breakfast without the worry of having to drive somewhere. It was just me, wifey and the two ankle biters. But of course I could wax lyrical for an eternity without answering the most poignant question you are just dying to spit out: how was the 168 year old Christmas pudding? Well, I am most glad you asked. In short, it was cracking (in English vernacular that means great).

Although one tends to over-consume during Christmas lunch, there is always room left for a slice of rich, boozy pudding and accoutrement, and of course Christmas 2013 was no different to past years. Before I get to the pudding though I am going to run through the menu – if not for your pleasure, which I am sure it will be your pleasure, then for mine, if only to reminisce.

Starter: A resolute request from my wife, a classic prawn cocktail, but with Queensland tiger prawns instead of the usual shrimp sized prawns, homemade cocktail sauce (with a little help from Heinz and Lea & Perrins), cubed Hass avocado and iceberg lettuce chiffonade.

Main: The plan was goose, but bad news was broken to me by my butcher two days prior to Christmas day – one could not be procured. In a state of frenzy, in an even more frenzied butchers shop, I had to make a plan B. With help from my great butcher I bought a 4.5 kilogram organic turkey and a 5 kilo leg of ham. The final dish was:

Slow cooked (and pre-brined) turkey; ham cooked in Coca-Cola and glazed with Dijon mustard, clove and treacle; homemade sausage meat and chestnut stuffing; vegetable timbale (layered set purees) consisting of fennel puree, roasted red pepper puree and carrot puree;  roast potatoes; and a sauce of ham and Coca-Cola reduction with cranberry jelly and aged red wine vinegar.

Pudding: Of course, 168 year old Christmas pudding with simplicity itself, single cream.

So the pudding: in the end I deviated only slightly from Eliza Acton’s recipe primarily to add a couple of ‘secret ingredients’ and to increase the richness by reducing the flour and breadcrumb content. The secret ingredients were homemade thick-cut marmalade and Calvados. The final pudding was beautifully rich, and created a nuance of haziness in one’s head due to the booziness of the Calvados. It was moist and although sturdy broke away at the deftest of prods from the dessert spoon. In essence it was spot on, and I can only conclude by thanking the 168 year old recipe from one of the most influential cooks of the 19th century; Eliza Acton I bow to thee.


Serves: Makes a 1.5 litre pudding  |   Preparation:  20-30 minutes  |   Cooking: 6 hours + 2 hours to reheat



90g Breadcrumbs | Blitz old bread in a food processor.
100g Self-raising flour |
300g Suet | I use my own grated rendered suet but it can be bought shredded. I guess vegetable suet or butter can be used but the unique melting point of beef suet gives the pudding its delectable texture.
300g Currants |
300g Raisins |
150g Candied peel | Ideally making your own would be great but packeted works fine, and that’s what I use.
100g White caster sugar |
50g Dark Muscovado sugar |
⅔ of a lemon Lemon rind | Finely grated.
⅓ of a pod Nutmeg | Finely grated.
20g Mixed spice |
1 tsp. Sea salt | Finely ground if the salt is flaked.
2 tbsp. Orange marmalade | I use my own homemade which is packed full of orange rind – a good quality bought one would be good if time and inclination is of the essence.
6 large Eggs | Beaten.
150ml + drizzle Calvados | The drizzle is for serving.



How To:

To a large bowl add the breadcrumbs, flour, grated/ shredded suet, currants, raisins, candied peel, both sugars, lemon rind, nutmeg, mixed spice, sea salt and marmalade. Give it a hefty old stir to mix all the ingredients. Now add the eggs and stir again. Finally add the calvados and ensure that the mixture is completely homogenous (well mixed in layman’s terms). The final mixture is quite sloppy in texture.

Pour the mixture into a 1.5 litre pudding bowl until about 1 cm from the top. Cover with a square piece of baking parchment that overlaps the sides of the bowl. Now add a square of muslin cloth over the baking parchment. Tie the parchment and muslin cloth securely with string around the rim of the bowl – if you can muster a string handle also this will help you to remove it from the boiling water later.

Put the pudding in a large pan and pour boiling water between the pudding and pan wall until the level is about two thirds the way up the pudding bowl. Put the pan on a low-medium heat so that the water comes to a simmer. Now cover the pan with a lid and boil the pudding for 6 hours. Check regularly that the water level does not drop – if it does top up with boiling water.

After 6 hours carefully remove the pudding from the pan of water and allow it to cool for an hour. Remove the muslin cloth and baking parchment. Place some fresh baking parchment and a clean tea-towel (or pudding cloth) over the pudding and secure with string once again. The pudding can be kept for a few weeks.

To reheat, repeat the boiling process above, but only for 2 hours this time. After 2 hours remove the pudding from the pan of water, leave to sit for 10 minutes and then remove the tea-towel and baking parchment. Using a thin knife, loosen the pudding from the sides of the pudding basin and then turn it out onto a serving plate and drizzle with Calvados. Serve hot with cream or whatever tickles your fancy.



  • To make an impressive entrance you can warm the Calvados in a ladle over direct heat and when hot light it. In front of your gasping guests pour the flaming Calvados over the pudding!

168 Year Old Christmas Pudding

I have never made a traditional Christmas pudding before. Why? I have no answer to that suffice to say that it is something that I have had on a cooking to do list since I can remember. I am sure for many, at least those from the ol’ country that is England, there are fond childhood memories of Christmas pudding finishing off Christmas dinner (lunch). I remember the smell of spices, the brandy, the delectable fruit, and the sweet steaming, and often alcohol laced, custard. For me it was the pinnacle of all food at Christmas. I remember being incredibly excited at my primary school Christmas lunch, as hidden within the pudding were foil covered coins – and 1 lucky recipient would find the only hidden pound note – it was a most marvellous time, and one that wasn’t clouded by the need for public liability insurance (or whatnot) in case a kid choked – which never happened in my time at the school. No, we just all loved it.

The school I went to was over a century old, having been built in 1876. I remember the old dark stone building which just exuded Victorian character. I remember the smell; it smelt old. I recall the smells of mustiness, ink, wooden pencil shavings, mashed potato and meat pie at lunch time, and of horse chestnuts (conkers) in summer as the boys and girls vied to be the top dog – it smelt only of what I can describe as a school smell. But the greatest smell of all was at Christmas.

I was recently thinking about what a Christmas pudding would have been like at that school back in the 19th century, and from there I started to research recipes from that era. One cook in particular stood out; Eliza Acton.


Modern Cookery - Eliza Acton

Modern Cookery – Eliza Acton


Eliza Acton was an amazing woman, who was first a poet, but became more famously know as a cook. Her book Modern Cooking for Private Families, published in 1845, was her most accomplished effort (as well as her book about bread making). Contemporary chef Delia Smith is quoted as having called Eliza Acton, “the best writer of recipes in the English language”. Eliza’s book long survived her, remaining in print until 1914, with her recipes still in wide circulation today.  You can see how many modern chefs have derived recipes from works such as hers. There’s a Mock Turtle soup in there, which in the last few years has been made famous by Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck.

If you have any interest in food, in particular historical recipes, I can’t recommend highly enough reading this book. The book is now in the public domain, and I found its availability as a free download via Google – this is the link

After being absorbed by the text of this book for the last couple of weeks, I came across Eliza’s recipe for Christmas pudding (or Ingoldsby Pudding as it is in the book). It just exuded simplicity, but contained all those lovely rich ingredients that I associate with Christmas pudding, including the calorie rich beef suet. This is the recipe and method as written in the cookbook (revised edition published in 1860):



Mix very thoroughly one pound of finely grated bread with the same quantity of flour, two pounds of raisins stoned, two of currants, two of suet minced small, one of sugar, half a pound of candied peel, one nutmeg, half an ounce of mixed spice, and the grated rinds of two lemons; mix the whole with sixteen eggs well beaten and strained, and add four glasses of brandy. These proportions will make three puddings of good size, each of which should be boiled six hours.

Bread-crumbs, 1 lb.; flour, 1 lb.; suet, 2 lbs.; currants, 2 lbs.; raisins, 2 lbs.; sugar, 1lb.; candied peel, ½lb.; rinds of lemons, 2; nutmegs, 1 ; mixed spice, ½ oz. : salt, ¼ teaspoonsful; eggs, 16 ; brandy, 4 glassesful: 6 hours.

Obs. – A fourth part of the ingredients given above, will make a pudding of sufficient size for a small party: to render this very rich, half the flour and bread-crumbs may be omitted, and a few spoonsful of apricot marmalade well blended with the remainder of the mixture.*

* Rather less liquid will be required to moisten the pudding when this is done, and four hours and a quarter will boil it.


I have added/ amended a couple of ingredients to add a little more fruitiness to the pudding, as well as adjusted the breadcrumbs and flour. I have yet to eat the pudding, of course, but should it turn out to be the spectacular one that I am hoping for I will post my variations and a modern day recipe after Christmas day.


Christmas Pudding Mixture

Christmas Pudding Mixture

Beetroot and Wensleydale Risotto


As a Brit arriving in Australia I was fascinated by the penchant of this antipodean nation for a food that can be found everywhere and in everything ‘Aussie’. One may be thinking of the imperious Vegemite (I’m a ‘Marmiter’, of course) or even the notion of throwing a shrimp on the barbie – which is as ridiculous as a Brit roasting a shrimp for Sunday lunch – you will find steak and snags (sausages) on any barbie here. No, Aussies have a fascination with beetroot, and given the title of this piece I am sure that you were not hanging by a thread in expectation of what the food was.

I remember visiting a certain burger joint in my early days here and seeing advertised an Aussie version of a burger. In high expectation of some added seafood or a Kangaroo patty I was somewhat disappointed to find out that this version was ‘Aussie’ due to a slice of beetroot. I think beetroot is magnificent, and I am sure that I have eaten more pickled slices and spheres of this vegetable as a kid in England than probably anyone, but I was a little perturbed that I had travelled ten thousand miles to be greeted by beetroot being Aussie. And it’s not as if there is a history of magical concoctions and gastronomic delights, or any new awakenings to the power of beetroot; it’s pretty much been the tinned variety which has been a staple here for the last 50 years or so. According to the main processor of beetroot in Australia the only plausible reason for the popularity of this ‘tinned’ vegetable is that the English migrants brought over a love of beets and pickling recipes with them.

Now, in high-end gastronomic restaurants we are seeing a multitude of coloured baby beetroots, usually pickled or candied, that shows off the real potential of this root vegetable. The real success behind beetroot’s prowess, however, is the combination of earthiness and sweetness which is wonderfully offset by acidity (hence the pickling obsession) and saltiness, or both.

So as a testament to Australia, where I still reside, and Yorkshire, my home, I have created this brilliant flavour combination in a risotto base. The beetroot is juiced and reduced to produce an intense sweetness and a deliciously crimson-like aesthetic. It is then offset by Wensleydale cheese; a white crumbly cheese from Yorkshire that has a calm but noteworthy sourness to it, a mild saltiness and underlying creaminess. Together with the earthiness and sweet beet sugars we have ingredients that will form a lifelong relationship.


Serves: 4   |   Preparation:  20 minutes   |   Cooking: 35 minutes



1 kg Fresh beetroot | When juiced this yields about 400ml of beetroot juice.
25g Butter |
1 Red onion | Finely diced.
300g Arborio rice | Italian short grained rice, ideal for risotto.
125ml White wine | I use a Chardonnay – just avoid a sweet wine.
200ml Veal stock | Recipe for veal stock is here. For a vegetarian version of this dish use vegetable stock.
200ml Water | Used to make up the liquid content to 600ml.
1 tsp. Sea salt | For seasoning.
100g Wensleydale cheese | Cut in to small cubes. A mild goat’s cheese can be used – I feel feta is too salty and not acidic enough so doesn’t work well.
30g Butter | Cut in to small cubes.
To season Salt and pepper |



How To:

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C (360 deg F).

Take the beetroot and cut into pieces that will fit through a juicer. Juice the beetroot and then pass the juice through a fine sieve. You should have about 400ml of beetroot juice. Put the juice in a pan and gently reduce it by half to yield 200 ml.

Add the veal stock and water to the reduced beetroot juice (we are looking for 600ml of liquid as the ratio of rice to liquid should be 1:2) and heat until just below boiling. Turn off the heat.

Put a dish that is both flame-proof and oven-proof (and has a lid) e.g. a cast-iron casserole, over a low heat. When warmed add the 30g of butter and when it starts to foam add the red onion. Cook over a low heat for about 6-7 minutes until soft and translucent, but not browned. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the rice. Toast for a minute or so whilst continually stirring – the rice should have a nice straw colour to it. Now add the white wine and wait until it is has completely reduced/ absorbed. Now add the beetroot and stock mix. Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and stir. When the liquid starts to boil put a lid on the dish and put it in the oven for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes remove the dish from the oven, remove the lid and check the rice. All the liquid should have been absorbed and the rice a great texture. Gently stir the rice to loosen it. Now scatter the cubes of butter and Wensleydale over the rice. Put the lid back on the dish and leave to rest for 2 minutes. Remove the lid, gently stir the rice so that the cheese is well distributed and the butter has completely melted. Season with salt and black pepper, according to taste.



  • This one was served with blanched asparagus and shaved baby fennel coated in a herb and balsamic dressing.
  • You will notice that this version of risotto does not involve the traditional method of adding stock a ladle at a time and continually stirring. It was a revelation when I tried it about a year ago and I cook many of my risottos like this. However, some risottos like risotto alla Milanese I still cook the traditional way to get a more ‘free-flowing’ consistency.


Veal Stock


Stock is the magic in the kitchen; it’s the process of turning waste in to wealth. You have your fish and chicken stocks which are the nice little quaint ones that dance around on their tip-toes delicately displaying their dainty flavour profiles. Imagine them to be the Enya of the stock world.

Now let’s bring in some heavy grungy rock and forthrightly introduce the big boy of the stock world – veal. This stock swans around grunting and growling letting all and sundry know that if he’s on your plate he will steal the show.

For all the grace and finesse of the French they do love to let their Gallic hair down and get serious with some really big flavour; and our veal stock will do this in spades. He may initially seem just a step up in flavour from monsieur poulet, but get him bubbling and simmering for a while and he turns in to demi-glace, a blindingly meaty, complex and startlingly fine sauce base. If you want to turn him into some thrash metal god that will do to your taste buds what the music will to your ears and head then reduce him further and you’ve got the king; the glace.

For all its bravado however, leaving the veal stock unreduced highlights its versatility as it delivers finesse and subtlety, especially in fish sauces. The veal stock here can be used for gentle sauces or reduced down to a demi-glace or glace.


Serves: 2 litres   |   Preparation:  1 hour + settle overnight   |   Cooking: 4 hours



2kg Veal bones | Cut into 10-15cm pieces.
2 Carrots | Peeled and sliced.
2 Brown onions | Peeled and roughly chopped.
125ml White wine | I used a pinot grigio – but a nice light, dry and fragrant wine is good.
2 Celery stalks | Finely sliced.
60g Swiss brown mushrooms | Finely sliced.
Small Leek | Use the outer layer for the bouquet garni below. Finely slice the white part.
1 clove Garlic |  
400ml Tomatoes | A tin of diced tomatoes is good. Otherwise use 6 medium ripe tomatoes (peeled, seeded and chopped).
1 Bouquet garni | See Bouquet Garni for Chicken and Meat.



How To:

Preheat oven to 230 deg C (450 deg F). Put the veal bones in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, turning occasionally so that the bones are browned all over. Now put the carrots and onions in with the bones and roast for a further 10 minutes.

Transfer the bones, carrots and onions in to a stock pot. Deglaze the roasting tin with the white wine ensuring that all those dark crusty bits (the flavoursome ones) are lifted from the tin. Pour the deglazed wine and juices into the stock pot. Now add 4 litres of cold water to the stock pot and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and skim any foamy scum that rises to the surface. The best way to do this is to take a small ladle or tablespoon, swirl the water until the foam moves outwards and then skim. When the water is clear add the celery, mushrooms, leek, garlic, tomatoes and bouquet garni. Bring back to the boil and then put on a very low simmer for 3 hours, leaving the pot uncovered.

When the three hours are up strain the stock through a fine sieve and then allow it to cool. Put the stock in the fridge overnight. The fat will solidify and rise to the surface. Strain the stock through a sieve lined with muslin cloth to remove all of the fat.



  • The stock keeps for about a week in the fridge; otherwise freeze in portions.
  • Reduce the strained stock by one third for a demi-glace.
  • Reduce the strained stock by one half for a glace.


Spicy Caramel Pork Loin with Vietnamese Papaya and Apple Slaw


This dish is a great combination of healthiness and ephemeral non-healthiness; that being from the spike of sugar. Well, there is also the long-term consideration of the effect of belly pork on one’s rotundness if one eats the original dish from a great restaurant called Red Spice Road in the centre of Melbourne. I have eaten at the restaurant and made the exact dish at home. It’s spectacular with a fatty, sugary, spicy and salty meaty kick, off-set by acidity, tartness and fragrance from the slaw.

I had the in-laws over last weekend, and as is now customary, and because I chuffin’ love being in the kitchen cooking all day – seriously I do – I decided to do a partially experimental 3-courser. Partial in that some of the processes and elements I am cool with but some of the flavour combinations I had not tried before.

This post, however, is all about the starter.

The original version of the chilli caramel pork and apple slaw is a real filler and is best suited to those of a ravenous disposition, as a main course. The flavours are just majestic though, so I set about converting the dish to an entrée. Out went the belly pork for leaner chops of pork loin and there was a reduction in quantity of the chilli caramel to just a wet coating rather than a sticky ocean. I added green papaya to the slaw, as this was something I had done when making a salad when in Vietnam and I really liked the freshness and texture of it. A green papaya is unripened and therefore only takes on a very mild flavour compared with its ripened form, but with the addition of herbs and a great zesty, salty, spicy and sweet dressing it is transformed in to the miraculous.

In fact thinking back, I first saw green papaya being prepared by my uncle’s partner in Thailand. I remember her peeling away the skin and then chopping in to it with a cleaver to about an inch deep. After a fair few chops she then peeled the flesh and the fine papaya strips fell away. This is how I prepare green papaya now.

I have modified the slaw and the nước chấm to what my palate thought was a good hit. Also, some cooking times have been modified from the original. I have also introduced some crunchy texture by adding crumbled five spice pork crackling as a garnish on the dish.

The result was a classy dish that managed to capture everything I had done with the original dish, but with the benefit of still leaving plenty of room for the main course (dessert one can fit in anyway regardless of the quantity one has already consumed).

The main course was a poached sole fillet on a bed of wild rice and finely julienned squid, topped with a very smooth and silky Sri Lankan curry sauce. And dessert? A Chocolate fondant with a salted caramel centre topped with chocolate sauce and cream (a Raymond Blanc classic). These will come later.


Serves: 4 as a starter   |   Preparation:  20 minutes   |   Cooking: 2 hours 30 minutes



For the pork loin:    
2 x 250g Pork loin chops | Remove the fat; it will be used for the crackling.
Enough to cover the pork loin Chinese master stock | Recipe for Master stock is here.

For the crackling:    
2 strips Pork fat | From the pork loin chops above.
2 pinches Chinese 5-spice powder | Recipe is here, but it can be bought from Asian grocers – or you may have your own version.
2 pinches Sea salt |

For the Chilli Caramel Pork:    
50g Arrowroot (tapioca flour) |
1 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder | See here for recipe.
½ litre Grapeseed oil | For frying. Other non-fragrant oils can be used e.g. groundnut or canola.
1 serve Chilli caramel | Recipe for 1 serve of chilli caramel is here.

For the Slaw    
65g Green savoy cabbage | Cut chiffonnade.
½ medium Granny Smith Apple (green) | Core the apple and thinly slice. Cut the slices in to fine matchsticks (julienne).
20g Green papaya | Thinly shredded.
12 leaves Mint |
Vietnamese Mint 12 leaves  
12 small sprigs Coriander | A small sprig has about 3 leaves.
To taste Nuoc cham | Used as a dressing, the recipe can be found here.



How To:

Pre-heat an oven to 150 deg C (300 deg F). In to an oven proof dish place the pork loin chops (with the fat removed) and then pour over the master stock until the chops are completely covered. Tightly cover the dish with foil.

Score the pork fat strips on the outer side (that is, the side that was not attached to the flesh). Sprinkle the sea salt on to a bench surface and then press the scored side of the fat into the salt. Now sprinkle the Chinese 5-spice powder over the scored side. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and place the pork fat, scored side up, on the sheet.

Put the pork loin in master stock on the top shelf of the oven, and the pork fat on the bottom shelf. Cook for 2 hours. After 2 hours remove the pork from the oven, take it out of the master stock and place on a cooling rack until completely cool. The master stock can be reserved (see master stock post).

Put the pork fat on the top shelf of the oven after the 2 hours are up and the ramp it up to 220 deg C.  Cook for a further 15 minutes until the crackling is bubbled and looks really crispy. Remove the crackling from the oven, leave it to cool and then crumble it so that the pieces are big enough to give a nice crunchy texture.

When the pork loin has completely cooled, carefully, using a sharp thin knife otherwise the pork may flake, cut it into strips.

To a bowl add the arrowroot and teaspoon of Chinese 5-spice and mix. Now carefully, so as to avoid breaking them, coat the pork loin strips with the powdered mix shaking off any excess.

Heat the grapeseed oil in a wok or deep frying pan until the temperature hits about 180 deg C. In batches of two or three fry the pork loin strips for about 3 minutes until the coating has browned. Set the strips aside.

Now prepare the slaw. Put the mint, Vietnamese mint and coriander in iced water for about 10 minutes to ‘crisp’ them up. Put the julienned apple, chiffonnade cabbage and shredded green papaya in a non-reactive bowl. Drain the herbs from the iced water, and tear them up into the slaw.

Warm the caramel chilli in a wok (low-medium heat) until it becomes liquid. Add the fried pork strips and stir until well coated and warmed – this will takes about 2 minutes.

Add the nước chấm to the apple slaw, enough to wet the slaw but not so much that it is calling out for a life-jacket. Mix it with your hands.

To serve place a neat pile of caramel pork strips onto each plate and pour over any excess caramel (share it of course). Carefully place a handful of the apple slaw on the pork and finally sprinkle over some crackling crumbs. Chúc ngon miệng.

Chilli Caramel


As a prelude to a dish that I will post in the next few days I have recently shared recipes for nước chấm and Chinese master stock. The final of these basics is a salty chilli caramel which throws the taste buds into frenzy; saltiness from fish and soy sauces, intense caramel sweetness from refined sugar, and a spicy prod from a heat stick named chilli. Add to this the sticky texture and it makes a great saucy coating, for pork in particular.

The key element of getting the consistency and taste of this sauce spot on is the caramelisation of the sugar. Sugar is an incredible substance especially when it is heated. It transforms from a sweet odourless compound into something that is richly aromatic containing acidic and bitter notes. The bitterness develops more as the temperature of the sugar increases, to a point where it becomes acrid, burnt and inedible. It’s important therefore to catch the caramel at the precise point required.

Traditionally there are two ways to produce a caramel: the wet method which involves mixing sugar with water and then heating, and the dry method where the sugar is heated on its own. There a couple of advantages when using the wet method: firstly, as it takes longer to caramelise there tends to be a greater development of flavour, and secondly the presence of water means that you can cook the caramel on a higher heat (than for dry) from the onset without the risk of burning the sugar. The dry method requires more attention but it is a quicker method to caramelise sugar.

This recipe uses the wet method. For it we require a straw coloured caramel, the colour of which will start to appear at about 165 deg C (330 deg F). The precision of temperature is not vital here, unlike when doing sugar-work at lower temperatures. I therefore just use my old mince pies (eyes) to tell when it is done.

A word of note to folks that are inexperienced using heated sugar –  just go careful as the temperatures are far hotter than boiled water, and caramelised sugar will create a nasty burn or two if it comes in contact with your skin (I still have the scars). I read recently that Heston Blumenthal suggests that you visualise your cooking and techniques before performing them. In this way you can have everything ready in preparation. For example when the caramel hits the straw colour ensure that you have your other ingredients at hand, as it is amazing how quickly caramel can burn if you turn your back.

The fun really happens when you add the liquid (fish and soy sauces) to the caramel as it creates a boiling effervescence that rises sharply in the pan. For this reason when creating this sauce it is necessary to use a large enough pan so that the effervescence does not over-flow.

The addition of chilli, star anise, coriander seed and cinnamon give a great South-east Asian character to this sauce of which I am sure you will think is just irresistibility.


Serves: 4  as part of a meal   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking: 20-25 minutes



160g White refined sugar |
160ml Cold water |
1 Bird’s eye chilli | Sliced.
3 pods Star anise |
⅓ stick Cinnamon |
1 tsp. Coriander seed |
70ml Fish sauce | Use real fish sauce i.e. not a synthetic one that contains ‘flavouring’.
60ml Light soy sauce | With light soy and fish sauce just the right balance of saltiness to sweetness can be achieved.



How To:

Add the sugar and water to a pan and put over a medium to high heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve without stirring. If any crystals of sugar develop around the pan then wash them with a pastry brush dipped in water. This will dissolve them. If these crystals are not dissolved they can cause the mixture to crystallise rendering the caramel gritty and unusable.

When the mixture starts to caramelise and has turned a straw colour add the sliced chilli, star anise, and coriander seeds. Next add the fish sauce and soy sauce. The liquid will boil and rise up the pan so go careful. Now start stirring, and reduce the heat to low.

Stir continuously for 5 minutes, during which any solid caramel will dissolve back into the sauce. The caramel sauce will also develop a deeper, richer flavour. Take the caramel off the heat and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Now strain the caramel through a fine sieve and put aside until required.

To use the caramel later just warm it gently until it liquefies.