Cornish pasties, best of British cuisine

A long time ago, my mum told me that the edges were crimped so miners could hold the pasties with their dirty hands to eat, and then the crusts would be thrown away. I love Cornish pasties, but the problem is, the mass-produced, cheap ones taste nothing like the real thing. I hated the plastic-tasting pastry and the bland, poor quality meat of the ones that you buy packaged in supermarkets.

Thus, I would always buy Genuine Cornish Pasty from the cart whenever I am in Waterloo station or arriving at Gatwick to fly off somewhere. Imagine my delight when I found the recipe online, from the Cornish Pasty Association!

As pastry is not my thing, I was slightly apprehensive. But the recipe was easy to follow and tada…..made my own! It was so delicious, the pastry was flavoursome and the filing (despite being just beef, swede, bit of carrots and onions) was so moist, juicy and tasty.

PS: Important thing is to really go over-the-top with (good quality) pepper, as it is the only seasoning, and so yummy when you take a bite and taste the beef and pepper.

Full recipe here:

http://www.cornishpastyassociation.co.uk/about-the-pasty/make-your-own-genuine-cornish-pasty/

A very rich and moist chocolate (and Guinness) cake

I don’t like cakes and I don’t like sweets. But I love dark chocolate. And it’s hard to find chocolate cakes that are moist (instead of dry and crumbly) with that heavy, chocolatey taste. After some experimenting, here’s my recipe.

Note (important):

  1. DO NOT substitute Guinness for anything else (it’s OK for kids – cooking evaporates off the alcoholic content and Guinness is full of goodness anyway);
  2. DO NOT use cheap cocoa, which will give you an insipid, synthetic taste. This is what I used. I think it’s only £3 anyway:

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  • 130g unsalted butter
  • 110ml Guinness
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g plain flour
  • ¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • tiny pinch of salt

Sieve the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda together. Melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the Guinness and cocoa powder. When the mixture cools slightly, so as not to cook the eggs, stir in the other ingredients.

Mix throughly. Poured into a greased cake pan and bake in a preheated oven at 160-180 degrees, or until the fork comes out clean when poked into the cake.

You can see the texture….so good!

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Breakfast in bed – instructions for non-cooks

Breakfast in bed – cooked breakfast in bed – is such a treat.But what happens if you are the cook in your household, and no one else you live with can cook even the basics?

Here’s my tip: even children can manage to make this (under supervision of an adult, of course, who doesn’t have to know how to cook).

  1. Save an old milk carton. Wash and dry it properly.
  2. Put all the dry ingredients for the pancake batter into the milk carton the night before.
  3. All your non-cook then has to do the next morning is add in a cup of milk and an egg and half a tablespoon of butter, shake hard, and cook. There are surprisingly little lumps in the pancake.

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DRY INGREDIENTS FOR THE PANCAKE BATTER (enough for four fluffy pancakes):

  1. 120g flour
  2. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  3. 1 tablespoon sugar
  4. 1 pinch salt.

The next morning, add:

  1. 1 egg
  2. 1 cup milk (240ml)
  3. 2 tablespoon melted butter (or oil)

Screw the lid on the milk carton and shake HARD and vigorously to ensure that there are no lumps. Cook with a little butter in a pancake pan or ordinary pan over the stove (note: we bought a cheap pancake pan from Lakelands and it has been a good investment).

I was very impressed when my non-cook brought me this in bed this morning x

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Bouillabaisse

This recipe is from my friend Nico’s French cook, Madame LeFavre. Quite painstaking, I would say, but et voila, you get this achingly sophisticated and authentic French soup.

Step 1:

Boil together salmon bones or prawn skins (the more the better) in a pot of water, together with the peel of one large orange, peppercorns and a bay leaf.

In addition, I added 1 carrot and half an onion (for sweetness and heartiness), though Madame sniffed haughtily when I told her what I did.

Boil for a few hours, until you have a rich broth. Aim to end up with about 10 cupfuls of broth.

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Step 2:

To make the base, sweat 1 finely chopped onion, one leek and 1 fennel bulb in olive oil. Add 8 cloves of garlic. Cook until softened, then add 6 chopped tomatoes.

The herbs Madame uses are fresh thyme, fresh marjoram and saffron. I added some basil leaves.  Add a large pinch of cayenne pepper. Season generously with freshly ground pepper and coarse salt.  Add 1/2tsp brown sugar.

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When everything is mushy, add 2 generous glasses of full-bodied white wine. This is important, because it is the wine that gives the base its flavour. Don’t worry about the alcoholic content (which gets burned off) – French kids eat wine in food and they seem to do fine.

Simmer on very low heat for about 1-2 hours.

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Step 3:

Strain both the salmon broth and the base into a saucepan (combine both). You should have a thickish soup (as per main photo). If you like a thicker soup, add some of the mushy veggies that you used to make the base.

Into that soup, add mussels, clams, fish, anything you wish. Boil the seafood until cooked. Season to taste.

(I added deep fried salmon bits because I like crunchy fried salmon).

Serve piping hot with French baguette (of course). It may sound like a lot of hassle compared to my Englishwoman’s version, but I promise you, it’s worth it.

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I had the leftovers the following day, and it tasted even better.

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The store cupboard/freezer version:

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I made this during the COVID-19 lockdown, and I didn’t have white fish, prawns or clams: I just had frozen salmon in the freezer. I didn’t even have fresh tomatoes and used canned tomatoes. I added some frozen peas (!!!) and spring onions.  But it still tasted good, with a poached egg on top for variation!

Parmesan-crusted chicken cutlet and creamy potato gratin (and “free” lunch)

It’s a good time to go back to eating frugally these days, I think, and a fun challenge too. Because of the lockdown, we try to make do with what we have in the house, and this calls for ‘creative cooking’, namely making resources stretch and experimenting with substitution.

I am making parmesan and garlic chicken with lemon and butter sauce for dinner. And then it occurred to me that I could debone the chicken to make a wholesome soup out of chicken bones, to which I could add spinach leaves and pasta to make another meal out of.

Recipe for the chicken:

  1. Debone two chicken quarters.
  2. Mix 2 cloves of minced garlic in one lightly beaten egg. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Marinade the chicken in the mixture for a few hours, better overnight.
  4. Mix half a cupful of flour with quarter a cupful of grated parmesan cheese.
  5. Coat the chicken in the mix.
  6. Fry in hot oil until the surface is slightly browned.
  7. Bake in oven for 30 minutes to cook the meat, and until the skin is crunchy.
  8. To make the sauce: saute 3 cloves of garlic in 6 tablespoons of butter. Add some chicken stock (about ¼ a cupful). Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce achieves the right consistency and smells fragrant. Season to taste.
  9. Pour sauce over the chicken. Serve piping hot.

Recipe for the potato gratin:

  1. Peel, rinse and pat-dry potatoes. Slice the potatoes thinly. (I used about 1 kg)
  2. In a large pan, place the sliced potatoes, 1 clove of garlic, 4 fl oz of milk, 4 floz of double cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a pan.
  3. Simmer gently until the cream has thickened.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in about 100g of grated cheddar or gruyere until the cheese melts.
  5. Butter an oven-safe dish. Transfer the potato mixture into the dish. Top with more cheese if you like.
  6. Bake until the top is golden brown and the potatoes soft.

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Recipe for the soup:

  1. Boil chicken bones with ginger, spring onions, carrots and whatever vegetables you have.
  2. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to extract the marrow.
  3. Boil for about a couple of hours.
  4. Season with salt and pepper at the end of cooking time. Add spinach.
  5. Cook the pasta separately and add to the soup (this goes better with smaller pasta but I didn’t have any at home).

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So good that I made it again a couple of days later.

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Polish Sauerkraut Soup

He is off travelling for business on Monday.

“I will cook you posniacki, so that you will think of home and me when you are in the US,” I told him as we ate breakfast on this beautiful Saturday morning in January.

“Posniacki?” He looked alarmed. “Are you sure?”

“Of course!”

“Bosnian people? You will cook Bosnian people?” He stared at me incredulously.

“No, silly, sauerkraut soup!”

“Oh, KAPUŚNIAK!” He exclaimed. “Honestly, you’re the limit!”

Anyway, here’s the Polish sauerkraut soup. One problem is we cannot get Polish sauerkraut in central London, only German ones, as most Polish stores are in the suburbs. Still, it didn’t taste too bad as I used homemade beef stock. Here’s my version:

INGREDIENTS:

  1. ½ rack of pork ribs
  2. 6 slices of thick smoked bacon, roughly chopped
  3. Pork meatballs
  4. 1 jar sauerkraut
  5. 1 large onion, chopped
  6. 2 potatoes, cubed
  7. 2 carrots, sliced
  8. 2 pints good quality beef stock (if you can’t be bothered to make this, but it fresh from Waitrose or local butcher’s)
  9. Butter
  10. ½ tsp majoram
  11. ½ tsp caraway seeds
  12. 4 bay leaves
  13. 1 tsp all-spice
  14. Pinch of sugar
  15. Salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Cut ribs into single bones and season with salt and pepper. Fry in butter to seal the taste but not burnt.
  2. Add stock and the spices and simmer until tender (approx. 90 minutes).
  3. Whilst this is simmering, saute the bacon and onion in butter.
  4. Pour the bacon and onion (including the fat) into the pot with ribs.
  5. Add the sauerkraut.
  6. 20 minutes before serving, add the potatoes and carrots and simmer on low heat.
  7. Serve piping hot.

(Note: I also added some wild mushrooms in).

Whilst it’s simmering away, have some vodka (chilled in the freezer) to get into the mood.

Note on sauerkraut: Polish ones are different. I will make some soon. Must speak to mama first. But today, I used German ones which are more vinegary – so rinse first if you like a milder taste.

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My friendly concierge, who gave me her honest verdict before I served it.

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Chicken Soup (for the soul)

The best dish in the world is chicken soup made by someone you love especially for you. I had quite forgotten the magic of this simple soup that nourishes the soul until someone who loves me made it for me a week ago. He said, with a wry smile, there are seven jewels of Asia in it.

I paid if forward today and made it for someone I love deeply. I can’t quite figure out all the seven jewels of Asia, but here’s my version:

  1. 1 organic chicken quarter (I used chicken breast)
  2. 10 red Chinese dates
  3. A quarter cupful of goji berries
  4. A fee shitake mushrooms
  5. 3 cloves garlic, roughly smashed
  6. 3/4 inch ginger
  7. 1 chilli (or less)
  8. Szechuan peppercorns
  9. Bok choi
  10. For garnish: fresh flat leaf parsley
  11. For garnish: spring onions
  12. Salt and pepper

Boil everything except the boy choitogether (I boiled mine for 2 hours, with a dash of cider vinegar). In the last 2 minutes before serving, add the book choi. Season and garnish. Serve with love ❤

(I love the delicate flavour of this version, as opposed to my usual more hearty one)

Adobo – a much-loved Filipino dish

My youngest child’s godmother is Filipino, and when she and her daughter came to stay with me in London for a few days, I decided to make her national dish. It does take a lot of work but it is well worth it – what a heart-warming comfort food! It was actually a joint effort – I started it off and she finished the cooking process. This is our version (she added Worcestershire sauce and fried onions and fried garlic as garnishing).

Step 1:

Pork belly, preferably with a thick layer of fat

¼ cup salt

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp ground black pepper

1 star anise

3 bay leaves

3 cloves garlic chopped

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1 cup water

Cut the pork into thick long strips, about 1 inch wide.

Mix all other ingredients thoroughly and pour over the pork. Marinade the pork in this overnight (I do this in a casserole dish that I just put into the oven the next day).

The next day, roast the pork in its marinade, after wrapping it on top with parchment paper and wrapping the top of the casserole dish with tin foil.

Bake in an oven (235F/160C) for approximately 3 hours.

Put on a wire rack to cool and then refrigerate overnight.

Step 2:

Deep fry the pork in hot oil until the skin is crispy. Slice the thick pork strips up.

Step 3 (making the gravy)

1 cup water

1 cup soy sauce

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp sunflower oil

3 bay leaves

2 tbsp black pepper

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2/3 cup coconut milk (this is optional, Rona said her daughter prefers it without).

Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes until rich and thick.

Step 4:

Heat up the pork and put in the gravy.

Fry sliced onions and garlic in sunflower oil to garnish.

Slice spring onions to garnish.

Serve with boiled rice and poached eggs. This is our simple Filipino dinner.

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PS: It tastes even better as leftover. Woy took it to work in a Tupperware – rice at the bottom, meat ladled on top and sauteed vegetables on the side. he said it’s almost as good as his bigos, the Polish national dish – recipe coming up next!

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“Gourmet Challenge” Quiche

When my children were tiny and right up to their teens, we often spend the summer in our family hideaway on the Sierra Tramuntana on the isle of Mallorca. Here, for the blissful weeks of summer, we would live and eat simply.  What’s lovely is that over the years, many friends joined us at Melcion and the love grows.

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Photo: my father and my son Jack.

One of our favourite family games at Melcion is Gourmet Challenge. The premise of the game is very simple: you have to rustle up a gourmet feast just from the ingredients you can find around the house and the garden.

The idea is quite simply Waste Not, Want Not. I abhor gratuitous trips to the supermarkets just to pick up one or two missing ingredients – what a waste of petrol, what a waste of time and what a waste of money, because you always end up buying more than what you set out for.

And the best thing about a Gourmet Challenge is you never really know what you’re going to get, and it is fun!

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Photo: my little gourmets.

So, on this rainy day, I made a “Gourmet Challenge” Quiche. I found an old bag of spinach in my freezer that had been thawed and refrozen so many times, a leek (slightly off), two tomatoes and half an onion. I had the usual staples in my house – milk, cream, cheese, butter, eggs, garlic.  I even made the pastry from scratch!

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C/350 deg F.

For the pastry:

  • 100g unsalted butter, straight out of the fridge
  • 200g flour, sifted
  • 6 tablespoon cold water.

Cut the cold, hard butter into small cubes (save the wrapper for greasing the flan tin).  Rub the butter and the flour until they resemble breadcrumbs.

Add the water. Knead the dough, but not excessively, because you are not making bread! Shape into a ball, wrap the dough in beeswax wrap (or cling film, if you don’t have it) and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Grease the flan tin with the butter wrapper. Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough.  Line the greased flan tin with the dough. It doesn’t matter if your dough crumbles – you can see from this photo that mine didn’t come away neatly in one large piece and I had to patch it up!

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It is highly recommended that you pre-bake the flan before adding in the filling, but I didn’t. If you wish to do things by the book, here’s how (as my mother would):

Line the pastry with foil and weigh down with baking beads or beans. Place the tin on a baking tray, then pop in the hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove the beans and the foil, then return to the oven for a further 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden.

For the filling:

Here’s the thing: baked cheese tastes good, no matter what.  This quiche that I made was especially yummy because I crumbled garlic Boursin into it (such decadence).

  • 3 large, organic eggs
  • 50g grated cheddar
  • 1/4 a garlic Boursin
  • 6 tablespoon creme fraiche
  • Approximately 50ml cooking cream
  • Salt and pepper

Mix all together until you have a thick slurry – adjust the volume of cooking cream used. Season generously.

These are the possible vegetable filling for your Gourmet Challenge Quiche (only the first four ingredients are important, the others are up to you):

  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • One red onion, sliced
  • Half a bunch of thyme
  • Few rashers of bacon
  • Frozen spinach, thawed, and water squeezed out
  • Leeks, sliced

Saute the garlic in olive oil until fragrant. Add the rest and continue to saute until thoroughly coated with the garlic-olive oil. Pour this into the prepared flan dish and finally, pour in the cream-egg-cheese slurry.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the filling is almost set. Leave to cool slightly, then carefully remove the flan tin. Delicious either hot or cold, and lasts for a couple of days in the fridge….enjoy 🙂

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My cookbook, The Ca’n Melcion Cookbook which chronicles the food of those magical summers, is available on Amazon. Click on this link for a free preview.

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Classic Stroganoff

I went for dinner at my dear friend Alan Thatcher’s, and it seems sublime that we were sat in his English garden on Phuket island eating this traditional fare from home.  I literally licked the bowl clean and recreated it (without Alan’s pizzazz, of course) two days later.

Here it is:

  1. 500g fillet steak (this recipe works equally well with pork)
  2. 1 cup good quality beef stock
  3. 1 large Spanish onion (sliced)
  4. 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
  5. 1 cup mushrooms (quartered)
  6. 50ml sour cream
  7. 1 cup brandy
  8. Pinch of paprika
  9. Juice of 1 lemon
  10. Knob of butter
  11. Salt & pepper to taste

(I added frozen peas whilst Alan used sliced carrots).

  • Sear the meat in butter. You must sear the meat.
  • When browned (about 30 seconds in a hot pan) add the onion and garlic. Saute until both are soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and stir for a minute or so.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT the sour cream.
  • Bring to boil until you get a thickish gravy.
  • Add the sour cream, stir in until thoroughly mixed.  If you are adding frozen peas, now is a good time. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes, adjusting the consistency.
  • Season generously.

Delicious with pasta or boiled rice. My kids loved this!

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