Those of you of a certain vintage - like me - will well remember the ‘Onion Johnnies’, the Breton farmers and vendors who travelled across to the UK from Brittany to sell their strings of onions slung over their bicycles.
It was always an exciting moment for me as a nipper when I spotted a heavily onion-laden bike being pushed up the street by a man, sometimes wearing a beret and striped shirt, and I would run in to tell my mother, who would usually buy a string of onions, whether she wanted them or not.
The onions they sold where from the Roscoff area of Brittany, which has a certain kind of soil which gives the onions a pink hue and a sweetness that means they are great raw in salads as well as cooked. And almost best of all - they don’t make you cry!
They are even AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) approved - just like a good French wine or cheese.
Alas, the Onion Johnnies have fizzled out these days, so it was with great surprise - and joy - that I noticed my local farm shop had a fantastic display of Roscoff onions, shallots and garlic.
They had been delivered only a few days previous by a modern day Onion Johnny, across from Brittany, and were strung in the traditional way, like on the bicycles.
Obviously, I had to buy some (whether I needed them or not) and it did give me a nostalgia hit from when I was a nipper.
You might think that poaching an egg is the simplest thing in the world - it is.
But achieving the perfect poached egg certainly isn't.
I've had so many disasters over the years, I'm surprised I can even look an egg in the eye (or shell) these days, never mind poach them.
White and yolks separating, the white looking like the tail of Halley's Comet, a hard yolk, an almost raw white, I've experienced them all.
So I made it my mission in life to produce the perfect poached egg like the ones you are served in restaurants and good cafes for breakfast,
No poacher pans or rubber pods you float in the water. Once I even tried submerging an egg in the simmering water for 30 seconds to 'set' the egg before cracking. Disaster!
So this is the method I use these days, which gives very consistent results, and in my eyes, the perfect poached egg.
There is just one caveat. If your egg is fresh it will poach perfectly. If it isn't, it will resemble a supernova from the Big Bang!
Heat a two-thirds full pan of water to simmering point. Don't boil the water, once you see the bottom of the pan covered in bubbles, hold it there.
With a whisk (not a spoon), create a vortex in the pan and pour the egg right in the centre of the swirling whirlpool.
The egg will wrap around itself to give nice tight oval shape. Leave for 3 minutes (depending on egg size), remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
When I'm cooking more than one egg, I just drop them into a large bowl of iced water. This quickly stops the eggs cooking and you can keep them in the fridge for hours.
When your guests are all ready and down for breakfast, all you need to do is pop them into a pan of hot water for a minute to heat through.
see Duck Confit Hash.....
In my CRAB MACARONI CHEESE recipe I use two kinds of mustard - Yellow or American mustard, and English mustard, so I thought I'd share a few interesting facts about the stuff.
Yellow mustard is the kind you see in movies, slathered over hot dogs and burgers during a scene in New York’s Times Square, where the grizzly almost retired cop is showing his new rookie partner the best places to eat on their beat.
Obviously, that isn’t the only place you find it, as it is the most popular kind of mustard in America.
It's made with only yellow mustard seeds, which are the mildest seeds of the mustard family, with brown/black seeds being the most pungent and strong.
In American mustard, the yellow mustard seeds are blended with turmeric and spirit vinegar plus a few other spices, to give a mild but sharp flavour without the searing heat of an English mustard.
It's widely available in supermarkets, etc with French’s being the main brand.
English mustard, on the other hand, is made with brown and yellow mustard seeds, with turmeric for its yellow colour and no vinegar.
The brown seeds give this mustard its searing heat, and needs to be used with care, unless you want to start crying and sniffing when you tuck into your roast beef sandwich (I talk from experience).
Again, this is widely available with Coleman’s the iconic brand.
Apparently mustard is also full of nutrients and antioxidants, so get spreading!
A court bouillon is a light stock that can be as simple as some salted water, a bay leaf and some lemon juice. But adding some white wine and vegetables such as onions, leeks and celery, along with a few black peppercorns and parsley makes an aromatic liquid perfect for poaching delicate foods such as fish and shellfish.
Unlike a normal stock, it is very quick to make and imparts a lovely subtle flavour, and your seafood can be cooked within 30 minutes or less.
In fact, I've found that starting your fish fillets, such as salmon, in a cold court bouillon, then heating up on the hob, gives a much better texture.
The important thing is not to boil the liquid, this will toughen the food you are cooking. The liquid just barely needs to reach a gentle simmer and then poach until just done.
Try this technique next time you have seafood or even a chicken breast.
I was a real traditionalist when it came to stock making.
I used to think I could make stocks like professional restaurants, and have a cauldron of bubbling animal bones and vegetables sitting on my hob ready for use any time of day and night.
But of course, I'm not in a professional restaurant and have neither the room nor the time to devote to such a thing. The occasional chicken carcass after a Sunday roast is the nearest I get to real stock-making.
And then I discovered powdered stocks by a company named Essential Cuisine, run by half a dozen chefs in Cheshire.
I found them being sold in a local farm shop and thought I would give them a try.
They have transformed my cooking, giving soups, stews and sauces a depth of flavour I could never previously achieve.
Better than any other stock cube or powder I have used before (and I've tried them all!) I literally couldn't do without them now. They are just like using traditional stocks but without the hassle of chopping, peeling, roasting, boiling, simmering and the attention needed for the 'real' thing.
You can find them in good farm shops, delis and online.
Why use San Marzano Tomatoes?
Well, the short answer is you don't have to, but if you wish to get anywhere near the authentic Neapolitan Pizza of Naples then these are the ones to use.
They are Italy's most important plum tomato with low acidity, fewer seeds and a sweet taste.
In fact these are the only tomatoes allowed by the AVPN, the Association Verace Pizza Napoletana on a Neapolitan pizza. This organisation protects the authenticity of the Neapolitan pizza and rules the use of ingredients with an iron fist.
Pizza dough has only 4 ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt.
Flour must be '00' Italian flour.
Tomatoes must be San Marzano, harvested from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.
Cheese must be either Buffalo or cows milk fresh mozzarella with a little Parmesan to enhance the flavour.
They also insist that the pizza dough must rise for minimum of about 8 hours, and be cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven at a temperature of 485℃.
Oh yes, and be cooked by a trained and registered Pizzaiolo Verace (True Pizza Maker).
But for us mere mortals, the use of the widely available San Marzano tomato will at least make us feel a little more authentic.
I just wanted to have a quick chat about marbling in beef, and steaks in particular.
In my Thai Seared Beef Salad with Mango & Peanuts recipe, I recommend that you seek out Flat Iron steak. Not just because it is cheaper than sirloin or rump, but in my opinion has a superior flavour and texture.
This is mainly due to the marbling in this cut of beef.
When fat forms between the muscle fibres in a piece of meat, it can often look like faint pale streaks running along the length of the dark muscle, and gives the meat a marbled look.
This is good to see, and it is this marbling of fat, known as intermuscular fat, that completely melts away and keeps the meat moist and juicy while cooking.
The grain in a piece of steak is simply the direction that the muscle fibres (marbling) are running in. To slice against the grain is to slice 90° or so to the direction of the muscle fibres.
If you slice with the grain, you will have long muscle fibres that will be chewy in the mouth. Slice against the grain and you are cutting short the muscle fibres, making them easier to chew and thus more tender.
I know it sounds a bit pedantic, but it is amazing the difference it makes to the enjoyment of a steak (or any meat) if you slice against the grain.
One of most difficult things I find to do in the kitchen, is to boil a pan of frozen peas.
I just couldn't manage it without the pan boiling over. Even standing hawk-like at the hob waiting to turn down the heat as it reached a boil proved fruitless.
At the crucial moment of boiling point, something would always break my concentration (phone-call from mother, dog barking for no reason, toast burning, need the loo) and half the contents of the saucepan would pill all over the hob - again!
Then I discovered a tip, where placing a wooden spoon over the top of your pan in the centre, prevents it from boiling over.
Obviously, I completely dismissed this as an old wive's tale, but after another half dozen pea tsunamis on the hob, I decided desperate measures were needed and gave it a try.
Don't ask me how, and it's not 100% foolproof, but it's something to do with the spoon being cooler than the liquid in the saucepan , so when the water boils up ready for its freedom, the bubbles burst when they hit the spoon and the liquid reduces. Wow!
It works nine times out of ten, which is good enough for me, and now boiling a pan of peas is part of my culinary repertoire.
Oh, and it works for things like pasta too.
A few of my recipes have the judicious use of chilli sauce in them and I just wanted to share with you the kind I use, and prefer.
There's a multitude of different hot sauces on supermarket and deli shelves these days, but my favourite is Sriracha.
This is a hot sauce from Thailand, made from chilli peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt.
Unlike some hot sauces you can get with names like 'Psycho Juice', 'Hot Headz' and even 'Grim Reaper The Evil One' (honestly), Sriracha has a tangy, spicy and even slightly fruity rounded taste that can be used to give a lift to most dishes where you need a kick of heat.
I even squirt it on fried eggs instead of ketchup - try it, it's delicious.
Lingham's is my favourite brand but any Sriracha will transform your cooking.
One of my favourite kitchen gadgets has to be a pastry blender.
Until I got one of these, my pastry making technique was very hitty-missy, due to the fact I have the hottest hands this side of Dantes Inferno.
Before I could rub my cold butter into the dry ingredients into small breadcrumb size lumps, it had already started to soften and melt, which is bad news for pastry making.
However, by using this metal bladed blender, the butter remained cold, allowing it to be cut into the flour/sugar to whatever size needed.
If you have, in the words of the late Charlton Heston, "Cold Dead Hands", then you probably don't need this gadget. But for mere mortals like me and my super heated digits, it's been a boon to my pastry making.