Best-ever ragu

My long-time friend, Toni de Coninck, from Belgium came over for a whirlwind visit.

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He is a fellow foodie and we met ten years ago at Gourmand World Cookbook Awards where my cookbook, The Kundalini Yoga Cookbook, was a finalist. Toni says, “Too bad I don’t have time to cook my ragu for you.”

We all have our heirloom ragu recipe – mine has marmite.  Toni’s different.  But however different, homemade ragu always tastes nothing like the sweet, sticky goo you get if you make it with mass-produced sauce.

He sent me his recipe. Here it is, in his own words.

The secret is time. Time and a decent red wine. First you fry your sofrito in olive oil: 1 chopped carrot, 1 branch of celery, 1 large onion or 2 big shallots. Finely chopped, fry until the onion looks glazed.

I most commonly use 50/50 minced veal and minced pork. Now some people add the meat to the sofrito in this stage, but I fry it in a separate pan so the meat can fry golden brown and in somewhat larger chunks. I find this important because it gives more substance to the later sauce.

Season the meat with black pepper, salt, herbes provencales and if you can find it sweet paprika or pimenton de la vera.

If fried, add the meat to the sofrito, put the whole thing under red wine (half a bottle will do) and bring to a boiling point until all the alcohol has evaporated.

Then add stock or water and 1 large tin of tomato paste or Spanish tomato frito. Put it to simmer, and let it simmer slowly for 3 or 4 hours until it all comes together.

Now, commonly I would use linguine or tagliatelle and it is important to add the sauce to the pasta before serving, so it kinda clings itself to the starch.

Only use freshly grated parmigiana and drink it away with the rest of the red wine.

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Chocolate lava mug cake

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I love “nursery food” as there is something very emotionally satisfying about eating food from our childhood.  I made this quickie chocolate cupcake today for my 17-year-old daughter, but here’s a sophisticated version for an adult dinner party:

INGREDIENTS

120g butter butter
4 ounces dark chocolate drops (I used Dutch chocolates)
1 1/4 cups soft brown sugar
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons Cointreau (omit the Cointreau for small children 🙂  )

METHOD

Preheat oven to 420 degrees.

Put the butter and chocolate in a small bain marie and melt.

Stir in the sugar until well blended. Whisk in the eggs and egg yolks, then add the vanilla. Stir in the flour. Divide the mixture among the custard cups. Add 1 tablespoon of Cointreau into each cup.

Bake until the sides are firm and the centers are soft, about 13 minutes. Let stand 1 minute. Serve with a generous dollop of  ice cream.

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Barge House (London) loaded bread bowls

My friend Jane sent me this clip.

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(CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE TO VIEW)

This deli in London sells more than 500 of these each weekend – these loaded bread bowls have become a sensation! No brainer, as it combines the best of two breakfasts: English cooked breakfast and nice (French) bread. At the Barge House, you have 5 combos to choose from. I made The Original.  It is easy enough: hollow out a sourdough, fill it with spinach, bacon, sausage, tomato, fried mushroom, egg yolks and grated cheese, and bake until the cheese is melted but the egg yolks still gooey.  My word, it was DELICIOUS and we literally licked our fingers!

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Sourdough – it’s about the happy bugs in your house!

I used to remember waking up in my parents’ house to the smell of warm bread in the oven. Yes, sourdough. I love it. Because it is about the happy vibes in my mother’s kitchen.

But asking my mum for any recipe is a nightmare, because she cooks by feel rather than precise measurements – haha, pot calling the kettle black, I do the same too! So I told my friend I wanted to bake a simple sourdough and she laughed at me.

“You?” she said. “You need patience!”

Anyway, where I live at the moment, it costs a whopping £6 for a loaf. So I decided to make my own. OK, what’s beautiful about sourdough is that it does not use dried yeast but airborne microbes to ferment the flour, so you get this lovely, lively starter to bake your bread with. I have lots of happy bugs in the house. It is such a happy house. So why not? I decided to add apples for that lovely background taste to my sourdough (note: use organic apples!)

TO MAKE THE STARTER:

Chop up one apple and mix with 50g rye flour and 50ml cold water.
Mix well and store in a clean jar, covered on top with a clean towel.
FEEDING THE STARTER (5 days)

Everyday, add 1tbsp flour and 1 tbsp water. Mix well.
Cover mixture in jar as per day 1.
On Day 5, it must smell bubbly and doughy. If it smells alien, junk the whole mixture!

STAGE 1: STIFF STARTER

Add 50% of your starter (about 45g) to 85g of strong bread flour (up to you whether you throw away the other 50% or bake 2 loaves) and 45ml of cold water. Mix well.
Store for 8-12 hours.
STAGE 2: THE KNEADING

Put 145g of the starter above in 400mls of tepid water. Mix the starter into a colloidal form in the water.
Add 400g of strong bread flour, 50g of rye flour and 50g of wholemeal flour into the colloid and knead well. Knead for about 10 minutes and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
Then add 12g of sea salt and knead again, thoroughly mixing in the salt.
Put the dough in an oiled mixing bowl and leave to rest for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, knead it for a few minutes.
Repeat for 4 kneads and rest periods.
Then line a colander with a clean towel. Put the dough in it and cover with the other half of the towel.
Place in the dough in the fridge overnight.

STAGE 3: BAKING IT

Turn oven up to 250deg (max!)
Warm up a cast-iron casserole dish in the oven for 10 minutes.
Put the dough in there. Dust with semolina, and make two slashes with a knife.
Bake for 35 minutes with lid shut.
Remove lid and bake for another 25 minutes or until browned.
Cool, and leave for a few hours before slicing….though it tastes absolutely delicious when warm!!!!!

Note: I had a fun time with baking this. The whole family got involved with the multiple kneading stages, we sat around and enjoyed it with an Irish friend (with a glass of wine), gave half a loaf to another, and here’s my daughter’s faux pas which is part of our crazy happy household:

PS: The loaf was not perfect and the edges fell apart when I sliced it. But hey, they made a yummy simple aperitif !

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Healthy alternatives: apricot and cranberry flapjacks

I absolutely love homemade fudge, especially those sold in farmers markets in my county.  Unfortunately, fudges are chock-full of sugar, which research tells us is more harmful and more addictive than cocaine.  Indeed, Britain’s love of sugary stuff has plummeted drastically (spending on cake-making ingredients has slumped by £26.8 million) despite popular programs such as The Great British Bake Off (according to analysts Kantar Worldpanel).
So when I was at a farmers market over the weekend, I bought a bag of sweet apricots instead and baked some yummy, healthy flapjacks instead.

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This was how I made my sugarless apricot and cranberry flapjacks:

  1. Toast 1 cupful of organic porridge oats and 1 cupful of nuts and seeds in a 200degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle some coconut oil over the oats, nuts and seeds. Watch carefully to ensure that they do not burn.
  2. Blitz 1lb of apricot with 3 tablespoons of honey in a blender.
  3. Mix all together with 1 cupful of dried fruits. I used more cranberries proportionally but it is up to you.
  4. Bake in a greased tray for 20 minutes until firm but still spongy.
  5. Cool and cut into slices.
  6. For extra indulgence, you could top your flapjacks with melted chocolate.

Good for packed lunches!

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Dairy-free, gluten-free breakfast

I was writing and photographing on the topic of healthy breakfasts to tempt small children for my new book Facebook page, and I thought this would make such a lovely dairy-free breakfast.

I love milk and dairy products, and know that perhaps I should just cut down a little.  This base of mango and banana puree is a wonderful alternative to milk for cereals.

I served this with homemade granola, made from organic oats. According to many website sources (google gluten free oats), non-contaminated, pure oats are gluten-free. They are safe for most people with gluten-intolerance. The main problem with oats in gluten-free eating is contamination. Most commercial oats are processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye (this is from kitchn.com).

You can make all these the night before for a lovely, colourful breakfast.

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Georgina’s Gnocchi with sage and garlic butter

Gnocchi is so expensive in Asia, though it is made of nothing more than flour and potatoes. My daughter made this, and it was absolutely delicious. That’s with some modification to the traditional recipe (we added some pumpkin because we didn’t have enough potatoes).

INGREDIENTS:

Two cups of diced potato and pumpkin (she used 3/4 potato to 1/4 pumpkin)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 egg
Salt and pepper

For the butter:

1/2 a cup of butter
5/6 cloves garlic
A sprinkling of dried sage (or chopped fresh ones)

Boil the diced potato and pumpkin until tender (but still firm). This would take about 15-20 minutes. Mash them up and all the other ingredients. Roll the dough out into tubes and cut the tubes into bite-size portions.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop in gnocchi and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until gnocchi have risen to the top; drain and serve.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a small pan. Saute the garlic until soft but not browned. Add the sage. Pour over the gnocchi.

True soul food ❤

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Cheap eats

My children’s father came from a family where cash was tight, yet all the children grew strong and healthy. My late mother-in-law (my God, how I miss her) was an expert in making a little money go a long way, and she was famed for her huge family parties which cost very little.

She would spread Sunday roast with stuffing, so that the little meat goes a longer way, fed more people. Till this day, I make stuffing in honour of her. Her sausage rolls too had always been supplemented with breadcrumbs, carrots and apples, all to make the little meat stretch that little more. So even though I am not constraint by finances, my sausage rolls always have lots of additional bits in them, not just meat.

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My mother-in-law never wasted anything. Even carrot shavings had their uses, either in sausage rolls or cakes. I urged her to write a thrift recipe book, because there is something beautiful about ‘free’ food. I hate wastage.

One of the things my mother-in-law used to do with meat carcasses was to boil them down into nutrient-packed broth. Sometimes, she would add pearl barley to make a meal out of it; at other times, she would just make her children drink it. And yes, her children did grow big and strong – my sister-in-law, a marathon runner, was one of the torch-bearers at the London Olympics.

So I continue her tradition. I boil down meat carcasses with vinegar, so that no part of an animal that give its life goes to waste. I normally throw whatever I have lying around into the pot.

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Today, I made a clear broth. Feeling like trying something different, I added ginger, lemongrass stalks and coriander seeds to the pot, amongst my usual leftover fruits and veggie.

I ladled the fragrant broth over this and it was absolutely delicious Asian noodle soup, as well as being healthy and almost free.

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Roasted root veggies -a quick, nutritious sides

My family’s staple is potatoes, and I sometimes get bored with roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, jacket potatoes and oven-fries. Here’s my variation:

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  1. Par boil root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beetroot, parsnips).
  2. Spread on a baking tray.
  3. Add chopped shallots, herbs (fresh and dried) and a sprinkling of salt.
  4. Drizzle generously with olive oil and bake in a preheated oven until cooked.

Because root vegetables grow underground, they absorb a great amount of nutrients from the soil. if you are bored with potatoes the classic ways or are grain-intolerant, try this.

Pie n mash for my ‘arf Cockney child

I am a strong believer in teaching children about their heritage, and as I have half-Cockney children, they must eat pie n mash (though I draw a line at making jellied eels).

There are pie n mash shops all over South East London and the ‘house’ recipe, handed down from one generation to the next, is fiercely guarded. It is said that this recipe can make or break a pie n mash shop, so there is no chance for me to obtain one. Therefore, I did it in the simplest way possible.

The ingredients are of two parts: the meat and the pastry.

The meat:

500 grams of minced beef
1½ tablespoons of plain flour
250 ml of beef stock (I used Bisto)

(no, you can add anything else if you want authenticity – no onions)

Fry the meat, sprinkle on the flour and when browned, add the stock. Cook for a few minutes. There must be thick, slurry liquid in the pan. Cool.

The pastry:

350 grams of plain flour
200 grams of suet (I used Atora)
½ teaspoon of salt
Water (at least 400ml)

Method: Sieve the flour into a large bowl and carefully mix in the suet using a knife. Mix in the water. Knead until it feels like clay. Leave in the fridge for 30 mins. Then roll it out to about 2-3 mm thickness, line a pie dish with it. Spoon the meat into a pastry. Add a lid. Pierce some holes on the lid for steam to escape. Bake at 170 degrees until browned.

And there you ‘ave it, them bleedin’ good pies. Bees’ knees, they are.

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