Archive | local delicacy

Chicken Noodle Broth with ginger recipe and Ginger sauce recipe

Feast From the East

Walking through the food market and brushing past piles of curry leaves that released their exotic scent into the warm Singaporean morning certainly put a spring in my step.  Curry leaves have a whole heap of nutrients and other health benefits including helping to protect the liver.  This may have been useful for many of us to know before the first big party I had offered to help with took place.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing…

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San Miniato Truffle Festival and where to eat in Florence and Pisa

Diamonds are a chef’s best friend

and a spoon with a stew

“Darling, I am taking you to Italy and we are going to buy a diamond”!

Although many a person would be disappointed when they discovered that rather than a sparkling stone to be worn, your lover was talking about an edible underground fungus that resembles a dirty pebble, any food enthusiast (like myself) would be totally excited. The tuber Magnatum Pico a.k.a. the White Winter Truffle, White Alba Truffle or ‘diamond of the kitchen’ is one of the most prized, unique and decadent ingredients you can eat. Current London prices can be as high as £10,000 a kilo.

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Hello ….

When Adele took an unbelievably long break and gave us nothing new in what seemed an eternity she instantly won our forgiveness and grabbed back our attention by belting out the simple word “hello” !

I am no Adele. I do I realise I have also been absent a long while, in blog terms that is. I am not sure you would all appreciate me singing at the top of my lungs to you some slow lament that was likely to induce tears, for one reason or another, so I hope this picture of a very pretty dessert of apricot clafoutis will do the trick.

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White truffle and butter Taglierini


Diamonds are for… dinner.

With various Christmas parties to cook for in West London last week I was racing around town to some of my favourite food shops hunting and gathering the various delicious seasonal offerings currently available.


In Holland Park, besides the landmark butchers Lidgates and the impressive wine merchant and deli Jeroboams there is an excellent old school fruit and veg shop called Michanicou. Not only is their produce top notch but so to is the service. Outside and inside the shop there are towers of boxes and crates stuffed with beautiful ingredients. The routine is you go in, stand in the middle and spiel out your order, the numerous staff then leap round the shop selecting it for you whilst engaging in shop keeper banter – this time it was mostly at my expense as we all tried to decipher my shopping list.

“5 x orang-utans” they chuckled …”3 x ridiculous lettuces ,1 x spaceship, why yes miss, of course, coming right up”!


On the spare inch of wall without actual produce I noticed a sign that announced they could source white truffles upon request. “Mmmmmm”, I thought.

Having asked a few questions as to how the season was going (a little late this year) , how much I would need to order one in advance they proudly told me how they sometimes store them overnight in their elevenses biscuit tin.   From various taste tests they informed me that although truffle infused shortbread is delicious, Garibaldis were frankly just weird (good to know).


White Truffles, known affectionately as diamonds of the kitchen are highly prized. They are generally available between October and December/January.


As cultivation is generally not successful the wild treasure has to be foraged. Sometimes done with female pigs (the scent apparently similar to the male pigs pheromone) but more often with well-trained dogs as they cause less destruction to the habitat, are less likely to scoff the truffle and of course are easier to pop in the back of the car. The hunters go out in dark and secretive early hours of the morning, often taking elaborate routes so as not to be followed.


When I got a thumbs up from my client that white truffle should indeed be on the menu I was on the other side of town so decided to pay Tartufaia in Borough Market a visit. I love buying food (and shoes) from the Italians. Unlike the French whom as much as I love and respect can make you feel like you really don’t know anything, the Italians are more than happy to indulge in answering all your questions.


We opened the jars and sniffed , we chatted and went through what I wanted to do with my truffle, we debated and discussed what I should and shouldn’t add and both nearly had watery eyes of joy as we discussed just how special these fruiting bodies of subterranean tuber fungus are.


Points of note I learnt were:

Never store in rice as it will dry them out (store lightly wrapped in kitchen paper in the fridge.

They will last up to two weeks from being dug out of the earth – but the sooner eaten the better.

Clean with a slightly dampened (new) toothbrush.

Although most famously the white ones are from Alba in the Piedmont area of Northern Italy they can also be sniffed out in other places like Emilia Romagna, Tuscany , Croatia and Slovenia.

Once we had finished our natter over the truffle (and had I paid) I excitedly headed back to West London to start the preparations for that night’s party. The menu read as follows

Christmas Clementine Mule – clementine juice, lime, vodka and ginger beer

Canapé -Black olive tapenade crostini

Starter – White truffle with Taglierini and butter

Main – Slow cooked ossobuco in milk, sage and garlic with saffron risotto, braised cavalo nero and roasted carrots with garlic confit.

Dessert – Salted Caramel chocolate mousse.

It was a great joy to serve steaming bowls of hot pasta with lashings of white truffle shavings on top and to see the delight of guests as they were bought to the table.


The next day the house was reset and ready to welcome 20 ladies for lunch and then it was time to pack my bags, don my country coat and head West.

This week;

Clementine: Mince Pie ratio 3:1

Every home should have: a mandolin

I’m loving : London’s Christmas Lights

White Truffle bought: 64g

I’m traveling: by Underground

I am delighted to contribute to the wonderful Yapp Brothers wine merchants a Christmas food and wine matching piece.



Taglierini with white truffle and butter.

Serves 6

30g white truffle

300g fresh egg taglierini pasta

1 yolk

100g freshly grated Parmesan

100g truffle butter


This is not so much of a recipe as an instruction.

If serving truffle as a starter you want about 5 g each, make sure you have a truffle slicer or mandolin ( I had to visit 3 cook shops in W11 before I could find somewhere where they hadn’t sold out) to get the perfect thin slices.

Do not use truffle oil to enhance the flavour but you can use truffle butter like I did.

Don’t be tempted to add parsley to the dish. Just don’t.

Prep the truffle by brushing any dirt of with a slightly damp new toothbrush.

Cook the fresh egg pasta in a large pan of salted boiling water then drain (reserving some of the water).

Whisk a splash of hot pasta water with the yolk then add the Paremsan, toss through the butter and pasta.

Pile onto a warm serving bowl or share between warm starter plates then immediately shave over the truffle in very thin slices.

Next postcard from a pheasant shoot weekend in Herefordshire…



Recipe | Pan fried duck breast with fennel, hazelnut and orange salad and a white bean, sausage and tomato salad


 Getting your ducks (and goats, sheep, pigs and alpacas) all in a row

Well here we all are the other side of Easter. I hope disrespectable amounts of chocolate were eaten and you are now thoroughly gorging on anything you gave up for lent.   I had a great week cooking for a lovely family west of Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrénées .  Besides the party of amorous frogs (the amphibian kind) outside my bedroom croaking their love songs all night it was a very tranquil setting.  Surrounded by lush green undulating fields and a landscape spattered with huge  farmhouses, you really felt you were in deep rural France.


As rural as we may have been there was of course a local boulangerie and weekly market.  The nearby Monday one in Samatan was very traditional. As well as the butcher vans, vegetable stalls of which asparagus and artichokes were clearly in season, massive lumps of nougat for sale and barrels full of olives, there was also a huge shed filled with live animals for sale.


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It turns out the family I was cooking for found it nigh on impossible to visit without buying some new livestock to add to their already delightfully eclectic menagerie, of which I was strictly forbidden to incorporate into any of the weeks menus.


I was however encouraged to use one of the major specialities of this area – duck.  Every other crossroad seemed to have a casual hand painted sign for foie gras with rustic shops in the farm yard selling their home made patés, terrines, sausages, fresh and mi cuit foie gras lobes as well as their delicious duck meat. I was particularly keen to get hold of some Magret Duck breasts, which is the meat from the corn fed birds that produce the foie gras. Magret duck breasts are extremely tender and tasty and so it was no wonder we decided to serve this as our Easter feast.



The Sunday Lunch menu went as follows:

Blanched White asparagus with hollandaise

Seared Foie Gras on brioche with stewed rhubarb and apple


Pan fried Magret duck breasts

Orange and fennel salad with hazelnuts and lime

White bean salad with tomato, pork sausage and parsley

Whole globe artichokes with French vinaigrette



Rhubarb mille feuille

 For this postcard I wanted to share the method for cooking the duck breasts to get that perfect crispy skin and juicy tender pink meat with tasty salads to accompany it that pay homage to the local dish of cassoulet and the classic Duck a l’Orange.



This week in numbers:

6.28 kilos of French cheese

56 spears of asparagus

0 pets from the field eaten


Job done and au revoirs said, I am heading off next to cater for a fashion shoot in the UK, where I ashamedly would be happily paid in luxury goodies….



Pan fried Magret duck breasts

serves 6

Magret duck breasts are larger than most other ducks so 1 breast should serve 2 people as a main course.

3 duck breasts

salt/ pepper


To cook the duck breasts score the skin being careful not to cut as far down as the meat and season with salt.

Lay skin side down in a cold frying pan ( with NO oil or fat) and turn on the heat to medium.

Leave to cook there until the skin goes crispy and brown (about 10 – 15 minutes).

A lot of fat will be rendered off the breasts which you should keep pouring into a pan and keep for future use (roast potatoes or fried bread?…)

Once the skin is crispy turn flesh side down and fry for another 5  – 8 minutes. Take off the heat, season with pepper and loosely cover in foil to rest for another 5  – 8 minutes.

Slice at an angle and serve warm.

Fennel and Orange salad with toasted hazelnuts

2 fennel finely sliced

2 oranges peeled and finely sliced

3 tbs roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts


1 lime

1 tbs olive oil

1 tbs roughly chopped mint

It is important when using nuts to think about what kind of flavour and texture you want them to give the dish. For this salad you want to toast the hazelnuts to give a fuller and crunchier flavour.

To make the dressing zest and juice the lime, season with salt and pepper then whisk in the oil and chopped mint.

To make the salad:

Mix the sliced fennel, oranges and chopped nuts together and toss through the dressing.


White bean, tomato, sausage and parsley salad

I heartily recommend starting this salad from scratch and using dried beans, although I confess I have occasionally had to use last minute emergency beans from a jar which still made a very tasty end product.

250g dried beans, soaked over night in cold water with 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

2 large ripe tomatoes – blanched in boiling water for about 10 secs then peeled and roughly chopped

2 tbs chopped parsley

2 tsp red wine vinegar

3 tbs olive oil

300g good pork or duck sausages cooked and cut into rounds

100g raw sausage cooked into rounds


To cook the beans pour away the soaking water and wash well in a colander.

Tip the beans into a saucepan and cover with above with about 5 cm of cold water

Add the 100g of chopped raw sausage, ground black pepper and some parsley stalks.

Bring to the boil and simmer until cooked – this could take from 1 – 2 hours.

Once cooked if there is lots of cooking liquid pour away some until the level is just below the beans then while still warm season with salt, the olive oil and chopped parsley.

Leave for at least half an hour to let the beans soak up the flavours.

To serve

Add the rest of the cooked sausages and the tomatoes and mix well, check for seasoning then serve.



Postcard 13, a tricky treat for Halloween


           Are you sitting uncomfortably………………….?  Good. Then let me begin.

For my Halloween special I thought you might like some sweet treats that are fun to bake with the family,cup cakes that look like mummies and that have scary faces on them.




Too unoriginal?

How about something that used up all that scooped out pumpkin, like pumpkin pie or pumpkin gnocchi with nut sage butter?  I am yawning myself.

Which is why I decided, what I really wanted to share with you this cold and dark Halloween (I am in Scotland so the chances are high of it being really cold and dark and possibly wet too) is the secret behind this rich…  Chocolate Truffle Mixture.




Ha! Trick!

That is actually a bucket of cooked blood that was about to be made into delicious Black Pudding.

On my last few jobs, cooked breakfasts have been required, some asking for everything you could ever hope to find on you plate in the morning, others requesting a more bespoke twist – Lightly scrambled garden eggs, streaky bacon and avocado or Black pudding, fried duck egg, granary toast and apple jam – a plate I would very happily start my day with.




Having long been a great admirer of black pudding and it’s Spanish spicier cousin morcilla, I thought it would be fun to go and watch it being made.  Most importantly I think it is delicious but I also have the approach that if the animal is going to be killed and eaten then we should use as much of it as possible, including the blood.




My first job in London was at Lidgate butchers in Holland Park, so I am well versed in butcher banter and so happily trotted off to  William Ovens in Lanarkshire, a local butcher to the good folk of Biggar and whose haggis is so good private jets have been charted in to collect them, but thats another story…

The two butchers Iain and Ian, presided over by the boss Mr Jimmy Bogle happily welcomed me in to witness the weekly Tuesday making of the 22 kilos of black pudding they sell every week.

“ You’re  not squeamish  are you?”

Iain inquired with a glint in his eye as he came out the cold room with a big bucket of blood.

I am not at all squeamish , unless of course I am presented with a child’s nappy to change, so we pressed on.


Firstly they take beef suet, which is kidney fat, and run it through a mincer with 10 litres of cooked blood.  It looks a bit like chocolate turron ( a spanish soft nougat).






Next into the mammoth mixing bucket goes about 12 oz of fine sea salt, 7 lbs of oatmeal, and a good few handfuls of seasoning that includes cloves and cinnamon.  Its given a good mix around then a 3 litre bucket of 1 or 2 day old blood is poured in.




Surprisingly the blood was ox’s and not the more commonly used pig’s.  Ian or was it Iain(?) delighted in telling me it was the apprentices job in the abattoir to keep the fresh blood moving before it coagulates and to keep removing any lumps and strands that formed. The poor apprentice is practically stuck under the carcass performing this task.  At this point he looked up again to see if he could detect signs of queasiness from me. I am made of sterner stuff having grown up with animals that were reared purely for our family dinner table, one gets very practical about these things, although I have to admit I would not want to be the said apprentice, especially after a heavy night out.   Once fully stirred the mixture gets packed into the sausage machine and is pumped into the skins that have been soaked for about 1/2 hour to make them more pliable.




They are cooked in a water bath at 80 c for 2 hours before being cooled down to sell.




This is unlikely to be something I ever try at home unless I try and reenact the ways of “The Good Life” but it was extremely interesting to watch.  If you would like to add black pudding to your Halloween menu why not serve it fried as part of a salad with spiced buttered quince and frisee lettuce with mustard dressing or crumble it up once cooked and toss it through a hearty thick ribboned pasta with cream, parmesan, chopped watercress and egg yolks.






I am now off to the North Yorkshire moors for to cook for a grouse shooting party which looks set to be fun, though not for the grouse..




Heading for the Scottish hills

Having patted the dog, waved goodbye to my folks and navigated the hills and winding lanes out of the West Country I have to admit I felt slight pangs of loss.  What could I do to buck up my spirits?  Find a new taste sensation of course. My journey to Edinburgh to cook for a bon voyage lunch just happened to be perfect timing to visit the Royal Highland Show and so discover a tasty delicacy.


For those of you who have not been to this great event and own a tweed suit or even a Barbour, you have completely missed the party.  The Royal Highland Show is a celebration of all things country, indeed it is regarded as the highlight of the Scottish Farming calendar.


Upon arrival, having first checked out the farriers, sheep shearers and country land owners tent I was heading off to find the gun dog demonstration when I became distracted by a queue of people calmly standing in billowing clouds of smoke.

Some Scots are known to thrifty , so it came as great surprise to witness a whole long line of them eagerly handing over their cash in exchange for a paper plate, a wooden spoon and a smoked fish. I joined the line, happily parted with three pounds and tucked into the flaky morsels of my first Arbroath Smokie. Wow, I had almost forgotten that smoked fish could be as good as this, no alarming orange flesh or acrid bite just a delightful creamy bronzed smokey fish.



Now with geographical statues – i.e. you have to be a haddock, hot smoked in an up turned whisky barrel within 5 miles of the town of Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland, to win the title of the Arbroath Smokie, this delicacy has protection from poor imitations.  The internet shows many suppliers that will send Arbroath Smokies to your door, I was eating ones produced by the renowned Iain R. Spink  –



Having gobbled all mine I rejoined the queue and bought some for the lunch party the following day.


Setting out the table for guests to select from the groaning spread ( there was honey roast ham / new potatoes with basil mayonnaise, fried garden sage and toasted  almonds / celery, apple and fennel coleslaw / Lanark blue cheese, puy lentil and walnuts with crab apple jelly dressing / arbroath smokies and more..) the table looked like it needed just one more thing- a few bunches of flowers.  Heading outside, the garden had some magnificent lilacs which I knew would look great and then looking over the vegetable patch I had an idea.  The curly kale, now finished but bearing beautiful yellow flowers and about to go on the compost would make an excellent arrangement.

Feeling in an adventurous mood I nibbled  a few of the curly kale flowers on the way back to the kitchen, very edible I thought so sprinkled a few on the potato salad, decorative and edible; how useful.



The next Postcard;

Hopping on a plane I am heading for warmer climates, swapping my old worn out Barbour for my summer dresses, sunglasses and flip flops I am off to one of my favourite regions to work in, Provence…


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