A little blog about food with recipes, reviews, commentary, and honesty.

I also offer event catering and private chef services; check out Earls Barton Eats! for more details.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Coconut Tempura

Tempura is a very common thing and I'm sure many of you have eaten it umpteen different times, but this batter is different to the traditional. The coconut milk gives it a subtle sweetness, rather than a hit of heavy flavour, and when paired with fresh white fish and green vegetables it's  both light and incredibly moreish at once. 

Ingredients to serve 2: 

100g of plain flour - If you're making this recipe GF swap this for a GF white flour mix; don't use extra cornflour instead as the coconut milk needs something heavier to carry it. 
100g of cornflour
6 tbsps of coconut milk
200ml of sparkling mineral water, cold
1 large pinch of sea salt
Vegetable oil for frying

You can use the batter with any white fish and vegetables but I used: 

1 lemon sole fillet, deboned and cut into 2cm-wide strips
1 sea bass fillet, deboned and cut into 2cm-wide strips
3 baby courgettes, halved
1 small aubergine, cut into 1cm slices
6 tenderstems of broccoli

Firstly heat the oil to 190c; using a deep-fat fryer is safest but you can use a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan if you don't have one, just be careful.

For the batter sift the plain flour into a large glass bowl, add the cornflour and mix together. Then add the coconut milk and salt and stir into the flour; this'll make a bit of a dry, lumpy mess but don't worry. Next whisk in the water bit by bit, until the batter is smooth and has the consistency of double cream. You may not need all the water, hence adding it gradually to get the best consistency. 

When the oil is at temperature start dipping the fish and vegetables into the batter, covering the pieces completely. Add the pieces in batches of 4-6 so that they don't stick together. Gently drop the pieces into the oil rather than placing them into the basket, as the pieces will stick to the basket, but remember to be careful as the oil is super-hot! The fish and vegetables that I used will all take 3-4 minutes to cook; thicker pieces of fish or denser vegetables will take longer. 

When the tempura is cooked serve hot accompanied with either a soy or vinegar dip. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Healthy Chilli Beef Tacos

Alright, alright, so that title is a bit of a fib. Not the healthy bit, these are *really* healthy and they don't compromise on taste to do it. 

But they do compromise on the tacos, because there aren't any. The tacos are substituted with lettuce cups to save on calories; similar crunch, similar feel in your hand, but HEALTHY. 

And healthy is important. HA, sorry I couldn't keep a straight face whilst typing that, seeing as this blog is normally full-fat. But it is important; it is *sincere face*.

Ingredients to serve 4: 

500g of extra lean beef mince
1 small white onion, diced
2 fat cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
400g of chopped tomatoes in juice
250ml of beef stock
1 tbsp of tomato puree
2 tsps of smoked paprika
1 tsp of ground cumin
1 tsp of chilli powder
1/2 tsp of dried chillies
3 tbsps of chopped coriander
1 tsp of sea salt
 1 tbsp of olive oil
2 little gem lettuces, leaves separated.
Sour cream, to serve

Firstly fry the onion in the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, until the onion is soft but not coloured, then add the garlic for about a minute to soften. Turn the heat up to high and then add the beef mince and fry for a couple of minutes until browned. 

Now add the spices; paprika, cumin, chilli powder, and chillies, and stir into the beef. Then add the tomato puree, tomatoes, beef stock, and sea salt and mix together well. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the chilli for 35-40 minutes until it's thick and glossy. 

Remove the chilli from the heat , allow to cool for a few minutes (don't serve straight from the heat or it'll wilt the lettuce), and stir through the coriander. Then serve spooned into the lettuce leaves and top with a dollop of sour cream. 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Quick Cassoulet and Roasted Duck

When I say "quick" I mean that this dish will take about an hour to prepare and cook, rather than the more traditional 5 hours (plus overnight bean-soaking). So not exactly a 15-minute meal. 

Traditional cassoulets put the 'slow' in slow-cooking and are full of flavour because of it; this one is not only quicker but it packs the same punch of flavour. It's also lower in fat because of the roast duck legs instead of the traditional confit. 

Ingredients to serve 2: 

2 duck legs
120g of smoked bacon lardons
3 fat sausages, cut into large chunks (I used a Toulouse sausage; flavoured with garlic, red wine, and smoked bacon)
1 x 410g can of Haricot beans
1 small white onion, finely diced
9 cloves of garlic (3 peeled and sliced, the rest left whole)
1 large carrot, diced
1 celery stick, diced
1 tbsp of tomato puree
30ml of red wine
1 bouquet garni
3 tbsps of chopped flat leaf parsley
30g of panko breadcrumbs (for crunch)
300ml of chicken stock
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Firstly preheat the oven to 170c/160c fan. Use a heavy knife to lightly crush 6 cloves of garlic in order to release the flavour (there's no need to peel) and place them in a non-stick roasting tin. Place the duck legs on top of the garlic cloves (so that the garlic acts as a trivet), skin side up, and then drizzle the duck with olive oil and sprinkle over a teaspoon of sea salt. Place in the oven to roast for 1 hour. 

While the duck is roasting you can cook the cassoulet. Fry the onion until soft, but not coloured, in a little olive oil over a medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, then add the bacon lardons and continue frying for a couple of minutes. Then add the 3 cloves of garlic and sausage and cook until the sausage starts to brown (3-4 minutes). Then turn up the heat and when the pan is really hot pour in the red wine, being careful of the sizzle, and cook for a further 2 minutes. Turn the heat back down to medium and add the haricot beans (there's no need to drain, you can add the water too), tomato puree, carrot, celery, chicken stock, bouquet garni, and seasoning. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, with the lid of the saucepan on, until the sausage is cooked and the cassoulet is thickened. 

After 1 hour remove the duck legs from the oven and discard the garlic cloves. When the cassoulet is done remove the pan from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of the flat leaf parsley. Serve the cassoulet with the panko breadcrumbs sprinkled over and the crispy, roasted duck leg on top. Finish with a final scattering of parsley. 

Based loosely on recipes from Nigel Slater and Raymond Blanc.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Review: Food and Drink, BBC2

I've just finished watching the new, updated version of Food and Drink on BBC2. I'm underwhelmed. 


I remember (the later stages of) Food and Drink the first time round; Oz Clarke always being a tad too sloshed, Anthony Worrall Thompson's facial expressions knocking on the door of pervy, and Jilly, oh Jilly... Think of the shambolics of The One Show combined with the cosy familiarity of early Grossman Masterchef; it was charming and witty and comfortable. 

And any programme which was referred to as "the most disgusting programme on television" by Delia Smith has to be worth a watch, or twenty. 

So, although it was never a big ratings winner, the BBC revived it's peaceful corpse with everyone's favourite fantasy-uncle Michel Roux Jr at the helm. When I first heard the news I was quite chuffed. 

Then I watched it. 

The format is tried and tested and works well (recipe, VT , chatter, VT, recipe), but the production is too slick, too airbrushed (has Michel had his teeth whitened?), too insincere. 

It's a very personal thing but I despise those graphics which show words on-screen because they're faddy and distracting and were first pioneered on Hollyoaks FFS. At least they didn't include ridiculous QR codes as featured on Simon Hopkinson's The Good Cook or I'd have been forced to bring criminal charges.

This week's special guest was 2 Michelin starred chef Tom Kerridge, a personal favourite of mine who I've interviewed in the past, but who was reduced to acting as Michel's commis. Why, oh why, bother bringing on a talent such as Kerridge if you're not going to get him to cook anything?!

I would discuss the new wine expert but she was instantly forgettable so I sort of can't. 

I might watch next week; the preview shows Mary Berry as the guest and they allow her to cook (BERRY BUT NOT KERRIDGE?). But if I miss it I won't be too disappointed. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Review: Franks Hamburger House, Northampton

I'm going to go ahead and declare the 2010s The Decade of Meat.  This is unashamedly carnivorous, American-style, hulking, slap you round the chops, slabs of meat; there is nothing that's dainty or subtle about The Decade of Meat. Our inner cave-people would be highly satisfied; although they may raise an eyebrow about their meat being served on chi-chi wooden boards. 

And so to Franks of Northampton; two restaurants (the Steakhouse and the Hamburger House) dedicated to worshipping good meat. And (spoiler alert) what very good meat it is.

The decision to go for the Hamburger House was purely based on economics; with steaks from £14-£38 the Steakhouse may have to be saved for a (very) special occasion. However with starters from a cheery £2.50 and a burger for a blindingly good £8.50, the Hamburger House is more of a budget choice.

Now there is something I have to point out before I continue: if you don't like Radio One, you won't like sitting in Franks for long. Because there is a soundtrack to your meal, a rather loud one in fact, and it consists of Wiley and Cheryl Cole. There should be a sign outside warning you of the risk of prolonged exposure to Flo Rida. It's all a bit...youth.

Maybe the Wild West-esque wooden cladding on the walls is an attempt to dampen the sound system. Nevertheless the interior is comfy yet whimsical; rough wooden cladding, rough wooden tables, rough wooden benches, and, er, Union Jack cushions to pull it back from the brink of cowboy. 

All served on the now-obligatory wooden boards we got a selection of starters; deep-fried whitebait with aioli, garlic ciabatta, and the Franks scotch egg with an onion relish. The whitebait were crispy perfection, the scotch egg lacked a bit of flavour but was saved by the spiky relish and gooey yolk. 

And so to a quick note before we get to the burgers: all the ingredients (including the beef) are locally sourced, the burgers are all 100% steak mince (and gluten-free; ring ahead if you also want a GF bun), and the meat is all cooked over charcoal giving it an authentic taste of smoke. This passion for locality and quality is the main reason I wanted to go to Franks; it's a rare focus in this neck of the woods but the difference in taste is astounding.

The burgers are awesome. I could just leave it at that but here's why; the charcoal, the quality of the local beef, and the use of 100% steak mince with no bulk like breadcrumbs mean that the burgers are juicy, tender, and full of beefy flavour. All the burgers come in ciabatta rolls with different toppings (some, like the Express Lift Tower, named after local landmarks); I went for Swiss cheese, smoked bacon, and a spicy tomato relish. The chilli and lime in the relish cut through the rich juice of the burger a treat. By the way, as the name of the place suggests, all the mains are some form of burger; if you don't like burgers, well then you're in the wrong restaurant.

There was, however, a bit of a bump in the road: flaccid fries. Luckily I kind of like them like that but T wasn't a fan and a couple more minutes in the fryer wouldn't have hurt. 

Somehow there was room for dessert, although I'd eaten enough to see me through the Winter. The dessert menu consists entirely of sundaes (all for around £5); the Banoffee Pie Sundae featured the most lustrous toffee sauce over fresh banana and a (disappointingly small amount of) biscuit crumb. 

Three courses, two people, two drinks: at Franks Hamburger House that'll be around £35. For that price the quality of those ingredients are too good to miss and Cheryl Cole can be tolerated. The Hamburger House may be a budget alternative to the steaks, but it's a star in it's own right rather than the supporting act. Everyone just go; do it for the meat. 

Franks Hamburger House 
159 Wellingborough Road, Northampton.


01604 948 904           @Frankssteak

Please note: there is no private car park and parking outside the restaurant is very limited; use the pay and display around the corner, about a 1 minute walk away.