Food Hero: Watercress

Unless you live in the southern hemisphere or in some kind of fantastic underground super villain lair, you may have noticed that the winter is almost upon us. It’s freezing outside, and with a million cold bugs attempting to force their germy feet in the door it’s time to review your nutrition if you want to ward off those seasonal sniffles.
Enter the perennial flowering angiosperm of the cabbage family that is Watercress. It’s leafy, it’s peppery, it’s a lovely colour and as well as packing a fairly serious flavour punch, it is massively good for you. So good for you infact that ancient Greek Hippocrates, oft touted as the father of modern medicine, built his first hospital on a river bank to ensure he always had a plentiful supply of the stuff.
Weight for weight, watercress will give you more vitamin c than oranges and more calcium than milk, plus 15 other assorted essential vitamins and minerals that your humble body needs to make it through these short, dark days. Watercress is so nutrient dense that many a pouting celeb has been known to endorse a diet made of a week of very little but watercress and vegetable stock. You will lose weight from this diet, unsurprisingly because it’s a green leaf so it is very low calorie. I wouldn’t recommend living on nothing but this shiny green wonder plant but you should definitely be getting some into your diet. Queen Victoria was a big fan apparently, and she lived to a ripe old age.

Super indeed.

A bona fide Super Food- watercress is touted by clever science types as a stimulant, antioxidant  diuretic, expectorant, cancer fighting digestive aid. Did I mention that it’s also very tasty? It’s characteristic hot, peppery taste comes from the mustard oils released when the leaves are crushed by chewing and compliments a number of other foodstuffs. In a shameless plug, you might want to try it in some savoury muffins with Stilton or cheddar cheese or add a handful to a give some kick to a sandwich. Add it to soups or stews the same way you would fresh herbs- in plentiful amounts right at the end of cooking. You’ll lose the flavour and some of the nutrients with long cooking periods (more evidence against the alleged benefits of the Watercress Soup Diet) so don’t over do it, infact I like to chop watercress raw into a bowl then pour in the cooked soup or whatever on the top- the heat will cook it through without losing the crunchy texture.
My favourite watercress recipe is easy to make and perfect to serve at this time of year. Peel and cut some white potatoes and put into a pan with three or four roughly chopped garlic cloves. Add a pinch of salt and cover with water, boil until the potatoes are cooked enough to mash. Drain, season heavily with sea salt and black pepper then mash with a big knob of butter and a slug of milk. When it’s smooth and ready to go, stir in several handfuls of chopped watercress then serve alongside some sausages or roast chicken. Deeee-lish.

And if you’re in the UK, watercress is grown in abundance here since being introduced a few hundred years ago by the Germans via France so get your patriotic bit on and support some home grown edibles as well as your immune system. Enjoy. Hurrah. Right that’s enough I’m off.


Eat Britain!

It’s a funny thing, Patriotism, and I think it’s probably a very sad thing not to be able to love who you are and where you come from. I say ‘think’ because I have no idea personally, I love my country! I love green fields and babbling brooks and muddy seasides where you can catch crabs and eat rock. I like the Queen and watching rugby and Vivienne Westwood and even that nobber John Lydon. I read Bridget Jones’s Diary at least once a year and haven’t missed an Only Fools & Horses Christmas special yet. Rain and queues and emotional repression are an integral part of my very being and I wont ever apologise for that. Yeah, I’m English, and British (yes you can be both) and I also love food. Standby for shock revelation- I love British food!
Years back, when MTV still had music on most of the time, I remember watching an interview with that bloke from Korn who was whinging on about being on tour in the UK because- and I remember it as clear as yesterday- ‘y’all have some horrible ass food.’ Really, funny little screaming dreadlocks man? Really? He went on to sing the praises of being in Germany on Tour because you know, they have good pizza in Germany. This little example affirms what I had always suspected of the value of this individual’s opinion but also comes back to haunt me frequently when crossing the views of my non countrymen on the cuisine of my fair isle.
I now invite you to get all the stereotypical ill informed gumph banging around your brain out in the open now. Come on. Warm beer, rubbery cheese, overcooked meat and wilting vegetables all served in a soggy crusted pie with some kind of crumble and lumpy custard. Done? Anything else to add? Good. Now shut up.
Great Britain isn’t just good at pumping out the best novelists, poets, designers, cyclists and crazy arse royals in the world. Our food is awesome. Our farmers are amazing and our chefs are second to none. There is a lot more to British grub than roast beef or cucumber sandwiches. I have never, ever eaten a cucumber sandwich by the way. And it’s time to shine a little more light on these culinary heroes, from planting to plating up and so we have a new blog section. Eat Britain!

Even the bloody French are starting to come around to the idea that we might know a thing or two about edibles on this side of the channel and you can click here for more on this little story but the jist of it is simply that British food should, and indeed slowly is, being seen on the world stage as cuisine rather than just sustenance. Not that there is anything wrong with a bit of sustenance, much as I’d love to have Heston Blumenthal banging out my dinners every night I’m a big fan of a simple pork pie or some Tiptree jam on toast, apple crumble or yes, yes indeed roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. And yes, I must confess that casual feigned racism aside I also dip willingly into French, Spanish, Indian, Polish and a whole bunch of other ethnically labelled foods a lot of the time. But I believe in shouting out for your team and standing up for local produce and Great Britain is my local.


Fairfields butter mint crisps, perfectly served next to your Friday night gin and tonic

Trotters bar is also my local and in there last week I discovered a fantastic idea that I’ll use for the purposes of this entry. Butter and Mint flavour crisps. Go on do it- eeeeeeeeeeeew! That’s what so many people have said, gross! Disgusting! You didn’t eat them did you???? Well yes I ate them, because you should always try new things that come in pretty packets and Fairfield Farm crisps haven’t let me down yet. They were yummy, and why wouldn’t they be? How do you make boiled potatoes edible kids? Yup, by covering them in butter and mint and some good sea salt. Think about it, why wouldn’t they work? It’s so simple, pleasantly different to your bog standard salt and vinegar or cheese and onion and a kick back to a classic. In an 80’s sunday lunch at your nan’s kind of way. And that’s what else I love about British food and British cooks. We all like a tikka masala or some crazy molecular gastronomic sausage with black pudding mash and some kind of wine sauce that others might call a jus, but we also love the classics and we keep them coming. Just like your mum used to make. Or your dad, or your gran or Phil who lives next door to your Auntie Jean.

So go British, even if it’s just to try it, and if you’re already here then for goodness sakes live it! There’s so much good eating over here, and plenty more to come in these pages. Stay tuned.

Got a local dish to tout? Work for a British producer or seller or in anyway food associated business? I want to hear from you! You can catch plenty of free publicity and hopefully I can learn some stuff too so please please get in touch either via WordPress or 

Not Au Vin

Chicken in cider, not in wine, and no whining on the result.

I did a great thing last night. An unusual thing. I blew out generations of classic French food law in favour of something Delia Smith half mentioned once upon a time. And that my friends was to basically make a coq au vin, without the vin. Hmmm. Now I do like the classic and I’ve made it quite a bit recently and even when I really enjoy it there’s often something not quite, well, I don’t know I feel it could be better. Yes, most things could be better and don’t we all know it but I have to say that following the successful experimentation last night of swapping the red wine for a bottle of cider, I will not be making anything Au Vin again for a while. The difference in depth of flavour was incredible, every morsel was a delight with the mingling notes of the smoky bacon and earthy mushrooms and a moreish salty-sweet finish. The perfect dinner for a frosty October evening. I repeat, a delight. Maybe the wine over powers the other parts in an Au Vin. Maybe the apple base of the cider just naturally pairs so well with the bacon to flavour the liquor. Who can say, but I would strongly recommend giving this a go next time you need a big fat comfort dinner, you wont be disappointed. I can also make this entire dish with locally sourced and produced ingredients, which makes me happy, but I’ll be harping on enough about regional shopping and the joys of native cuisine in blogs to come so enough of that for now.

To make your own follow this recipe here swapping the red wine for a medium or dry cider and cut back on the chicken stock, leave out the tomato puree and thyme altogether. Lots of freshly ground black pepper. Serve in a big bowl on a cold night when your system needs a little boost. Yummo. 🙂

I should add for the benefits of those readers across the pond that I am referring to British cider in this dish which is a sparkling apple based alcoholic drink, not the hot sweet thing you guys call cider and drink at Christmas! 

A Little Plug- The Essex Bee Keeper

I’m all for getting behind local produce, supporting local businesses and reducing carbon footprints and wotnot.  Getting your hands on local produce may not always be as easy as you think though- some time ago whilst shopping to assemble a tart tartin I made a purposeful detour past Tesco to a small independent greengrocers for the apples. He had two varieties on sale that day, both from New Zeland. Really? And before you ask yes it was apple season. Ludicrous. Not to put a slur on international foodstuffs but the UK has some amazing produce to offer and a seriously struggling farming community and picking lamb or strawberries or apples and pears that come from halfway around the world is only twisting the knife further in the proverbial back of the British Farmer. I’m not extreme enough to moan about imports of stuff that cannot and does not grow here, have all the mangoes and bananas you want, but quite frankly if you don’t buy local where you can then shame on you.
I could go on but this is a place of edibles not soap boxes so if those factors aren’t enough to make you consider your shopping trolley contents then maybe have a little think about all the wonderful morsels that might be right on your doorstep that you are missing out on. My little corner of England’s green and pleasant land is mostly known for oysters, which I love but don’t tend to like me an awful lot but I still attend various oyster themed food and drink events in and around town during the summer. The last one, as I have touched on before, was something of a disappointment however I was massively glad to come across these lovely people and their local honey. Webbers, I give you The Essex Bee Keeper:

Lovely people, flogging their lovely honey plus various bee friendly planting seeds with a nice sideshow of busy bees to entertain the kids (and me). Hurrah! Best stall of the day on this occasion if memory serves.
But honey is honey, right? Why should we care? Well to start off, honey is not just a pleasingly sweet goo that goes well on your toast. As well as being sweeter and more nutritionally sound than traditional table sugar, honey also contains various nutritional nuggets that aid your general energy use, cell repair processes and immune system function. It’s not really possible to run off a definitive list of components as this is highly variable depending on the bees and their diet and how individual honeys are processed but you can be sure on two things- honey is nice and it honey is good for you. The UK is pretty much smothered with honey producers and in broader terms I would encourage anyone to indulge in any of them, but let’s talk about this one from my locality.

Bzzzz. Beautiful bees. Look hard and you might spot a beautiful blogger reflected in the glass too!

And local is the word, this honey originates less than two miles from my humble abode which appeals to me for all of the before ranted reasons and also because I am laid to waste by terrible hayfever every summer. Snotty nose, streaming eyes, pounding head, it’s horrible and in fact worse for anyone who has to be around me while I’m suffering as I moan about it like the proverbial drain. Much as I’d love to spend two months of the year taking daily drugs to push back the symptoms, it is as easy and arguably as effective to take a little local honey every morning. Huh? There is science to this but basically bees+pollen=honey so by eating locally produced honey you are taking in a little local pollen at the same time, which your body becomes used to then hopefully doesn’t feel a need to react quite so violently to it come hayfever season. It’s a nice theory, a proven theory and a damn site healthier than pumping yourself full of cetrizine all summer long.
AND IT’S NICE!!!! This honey in particular is incredibly light and clean tasting, not over sweet and without that lovely cloying after taste your over processed supermarket brands might leave behind. And it’s not going to cost you a ridiculously small fortune to add to your cupboard either (I’m scowling at you, Manuka). And once it’s in your cupboard, it shouldn’t be for too long as you should be scooping it out and fooding it up! It’s not just for hot drinks when you have a cold you should be experimenting with honey in your baking and BBQ marinades, dressings and sauces and yes absolutely in your porridge of a winters morning (with some cinnamon. heaven.).
So go forth and buy honey, from these lovely people if you can manage it.

The Sweet Stuff.

you can contact the essex bee keeper on 


Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin au Boomboom

Much as it pains me to say it, the French do get some stuff right. Very right indeed. And if you’ve ever had a decent chicken in wine you’ll know why it has survived the taste test of time to become a bona fide classic. There are rumours it first came about shortly after Julius Caesar conquered those troublesome Gauls and was presented with a rather manky old rooster as a ‘yeah, thanks for that’ gift from his new minions. His cook boiled it in booze for some time then gave it back to the new recruits.

There is scope, as always, to argue furiously about the minutiae of a perfect and classic coq au vin and if you have the time to research back to that day and come up with the authentic absolutment, good for you. I don’t. This is how I make it, and it is good (good enough for Caesar infact), and you can make it too.

Coq Au Vin

Serves 5

10 assorted chicken thighs and drumsticks (or 5 whole legs) and a couple of wings if available
Butter & sunflower oil for frying
5 thick slices smoked back bacon
1 bottle cheap red plonk wine
300ml chicken stock
3 medium onions
3 cloves garlic
2 large carrots
2 celery sticks
300g closed cup mushrooms
2tbsp tomato purée

Start off with a big, solid pan with about 70g butter and a good glug of sunflower oil. Slice up the bacon roughly and cook off in the melted butter and oil- and leave the fat on the bacon for the love of Jupiter. You cannot go low fat on this dish. It’s pointless. Don’t panic, it’s not like you’re going to eat it every day.
Before it starts to brown remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Take your various chicken bits a couple at a time and brown lightly in the fat, which will start to darken and gloop up as you progress. This is normal, and good, just watch the heat doesn’t get too high. Remove the chicken when browned and set aside- try to work quickly.
Once the chicken is done roughly chop the onions and garlic and fry off in the meat fat- add a little more oil if needs be. Once the onions begin to go translucent add the celery and carrots- remember you’re aiming for chunky and rustic. If you slice too finely (due to the long cooking period) you will end up with chicken in boozy mush.
Once the celery is softened, return the chicken to the pan and arrange on top of the vegetables, then add the red wine.
Yeah, about the wine, someone once told me you should never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink. I don’t hold with this, partly because I’m a stuck up old pedant about my drinking wine and I’m not going to bloody well cook with a nice bottle that could be in my glass! Let your conscious or your wallet be your guide, but I have always had a fine result with a £3.50 bottle of Sainsbury’s nondescript Red Wine.
So anyway, put in the wine now and top up with chicken stock to well cover all of the meat and veg. Season well, bring to the boil then simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes.
While that’s going, roughly chop your mushrooms and fry off in some butter and a lot of black pepper. Once these are nicely browned, add to the pot with the tomato purée also and stir/jiggle the pan gently to mix.
The hard bit is to now leave it for the best part of another hour to do it’s thing. You can stir occasionally but there shouldn’t be much need. The chicken will be beautifully tender and once ready to serve more or less fall off the bone with little encouragement, so if you bother it too much towards the end of cooking it will start to come apart leaving you with a dish of separate meat, sauce, and bare bones. Season to taste and add some freshly chopped thyme if you like it.
Serve with crusty white bread or roasted or mashed potatoes, with a glass of wine that is too good for the pan if at all possible. If desired, say mon dieu or wear a toga. This can only enhance enjoyment.

Variations- Not many to be honest as in effect there are too many to mention! If the sauce is too thin by serving time take out about a cup of the liquor and mix with some cornflour to make a paste, then add back in to the pot and cook  for another couple of minutes. 


A Brief Interlude

Random image of my breakfast, now no longer in existence.

Yes, it’s been a while and these pages have been somewhat neglected of late. That’s not to say they have been entirely forgotten behind a deluge of day job and family affairs and the like, merely postponed. Now as I sit here, worshipping at the Church of Saturday Morning with a coffee and a fried egg sandwich I would like to share some hints of things to come (because I don’t have time to blog any of them today either). Teasers? Spoliers? Cynical diversionary tactic against the massive lack of fresh new content? Whatever. Here’s a taste.
Honey: I am LONG overdue a piece on the joys of honey and a good plug for some lovely locals who sell the stuff.
Coq au Vin: Like chicken? Like wine? Can’t go wrong. Only I’m not getting it 100% right at the moment but rest assured as soon as I do, it will be up here.
G&T Tutorial: A masterclass from the Essex Tanqueray Master also known as ‘Dad’.  You will be educated.
The Christmas Files: You may thing it’s too early for mention of The C Word this side of Halloween but some Christmas eats and drinks for giving and gobbling need to start earlier than you might think.
So there you are, I’ve not gone off the proverbial boil, but my simmering skills are required elsewhere for another little while. Back soon with lots more yummies and rants, I promise.

Chilli Non Carne

The musical fruit.

Ye Gods I’m going to start getting hate mail from the local butchers soon but here goes, it’s Vegetarian Day according to Google. I have unintentionally fallen into line with this by coming home and knocking up a big pot of spicy beans. This is because I still have stock to use up from the whole vegan experiment and have a busy couple of days coming up where it will be useful to come home and have a re-heat dinner on hand rather than actual cooking.

A chilli really is one of those staples you should have mastered by the age of twenty one, or considerably earlier if you ever lived in University halls. It’s easy, it’s hearty and unless you have some very dishonest grocers in your area, it’s damned cheap too. Versatile to boot, because now as my chilli bubbles away on the hob I’m torn as to what my carbohydrate accompaniment of choice will be. Rice, couscous or jacket potato? While I consider the attraction of each option, you can think about these fun health related facts about the two main constituent chilli ingredients.

Chilli peppers: high in vitamins A, C and K, magnesium, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and folate. The ancient Incas were so wary of the potent effect of chillies to warm up the human spirit that they were banned at funerals. Wowza.

Kidney beans: high in B vitamins, great for diabetics and contrary to popular belief unlikely to kill you if you don’t prepare them properly. They’ll give you a gut ache from hell though, so if in doubt buy canned!

I don’t hold to a set recipe beyond the two above ingredients- without fresh chillies and some kidney beans, it aint a chilli. You’ll find your own preference with it, so much so that I’m struggling to put down a full recipe because it’s so changeable. But here goes.

Vegetarian Chilli
Serves 4

Sunflower oil for frying
One large white onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 green chilli pepper
Whatever fresh veg is on hand- I like carrots, mushrooms and courgette
1 can red kidney beans
1 can baked beans
1 small tin of sweetcorn kernels
1 carton passatta
tsp cocoa powder
tsp sugar
Tbsp cider vinegar

It’s hard to mess this one up (unless you are so busy on a blog entry that you leave it on the stove on high and manage to weld the chilli to the pan base because it’s on too hot). Start by frying off the onion, garlic and chilli until the onions soften. Add now the cocoa powder and other vegetables. Most veg will work but mushrooms really are a winner, I’d avoid sweeter root veg like swede or parsnips. Cook off the veg mix lightly then throw in your beans and passata, sugar and cider vinegar. Stir well, remember to turn down the heat when it starts to simmer and leave for about half an hour. Put in fresh herbs of your choice at the end- I like some thyme but coriander or parsley will work as well. If you want to go with rosemary, chop very finely and add with the passata.

Spicy steamy beany goodness. Just don’t leave it bubbling this violently or you end up with blackened mush. Not good. Trust me, I know.

Keep it hot, serve it up with rice. Or baked potatoes. Or couscous. Or rice.

Variations: One chilli will give a medium hot result here, add more if you like your dinner more burny than warm. I will say though that a little too hot is preferable to a little bit bland so rather than err on the side of caution put all the chilli in and have some soured cream on the side to cool it down if needs be. Some sweet red peppers or fresh plum tomatoes will richen the texture of your sauce. If you can’t go without the carne used minced beef or pork and add at the beginning. Canned tomatoes will work if you don’t  have passata but I find the end sauciness is impaired if you go down this road.