Sunday, 9 December 2012

2012 Christmas Chilli

There is nothing so satisfying as spending ages contemplating, growing, procuring and preserving chillies. It kind of perpetuates their freshness and individual flavours, far beyond the usual shelf life of freshly picked produce.

I'm going to keep this article short and sweet. I've just made four batches of chilli, red, green, homegrown and imported and it took ages. People often say I should sell them, but I say it takes all the fun out of it. I only do it a few times a year and purely so I can enjoy the pleasure of giving it away to friends, family and clients.

Each 4 oz jar is individually lableled and if you want one, all you have to do is this:

- Post a comment on this blog
- Send me your postal address by email to

Naturally, my regular readers from the UK, Ireland, US, Europe, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines (and you know who you are) are first in line. So get your addresses to me and I promise you a little treat in the post. I also promise to keep your personal details supremely confidential. It doesn't matter where you live, it's Christmas after all.

Enjoy the photos and I look forward to hearing from you!

The home grown stash from the freezer

One of my two trays on the window cill, early in the season

Extra ingredients for the first home grown batches

The home grown batches in jars

My special order, 2000 Indian green chillies

A daunting task

So fresh!

and the big ones were much quicker

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Beef & Venison Bourgignon in the Potjie

A twist on the French classic dish, and cooked over an open fire. Perfect.

We had planned a Friday evening dinner party, so we needed something that could be prepared and cooked the night before. Our brazier had been extremely neglected for far too long so I was champing at the bit to fire it up and enjoy the still, dark autumn evening.

Originally, the bourgignon was going to be just venison, but my Thursday visit to the local butcher across the road from our office forced me to do a swift re-think. They had only half the amount of venison I needed to feed eight, so I decided to top it up with beef chuck steak and hope for the best.

There is a fair amount of preparation involved, mainly the painstaking task of peeling what seems to be a never-ending pile of tiny shallots. Don't shortcut however, as the effort is totally worth it.

The potjie is just ideal for this type of dish. Hot at first to sear the bacon, meat and mushrooms, then a long gentle cook using just about anything that burns as fuel. Unlike the fire needed for an open grill, a potjie fire is very forgiving. I used offcuts from a bookcase I made for our Luca over a few 'spare' weekends, plus bits of a broken oak toilet seat I had secretly stashed in the garage. My wife insisted that it be thrown away and NEVER be burnt to cook with. So I smiled sweetly and hid it, knowing exactly what I was going to do with it.

This recipe can be cooked on the hob or in the oven, so if you don't have your own potjie (a traditional African three legged pot) don't let yourself miss out. This recipe is to die for. But on the other hand, you could go and get one and enjoy an outdoor fire on a beautiful, still, cold evening.

For the quantities for my shopping list, I started with a Gordon Ramsay recipe I found at However, having made plenty of bourgignon's in the past, I was thinking of ways to make it outstanding. So here are a few tips. Firstly, the sauce needs thickening, so I added a heaped desert spoon of plain flour early on. Secondly, to add some real punch,  immediatley before serving I stirred in a mixture of finely chopped garlic, thyme and mushrooms, leaving some aside for a fresh, pungent, and colourful garnish. I seasoned the dish heavily, with lots of black pepper and sea salt, ground in a pestle and mortar.

All those aromas combined with the rich, glossy sauce and tender slow cooked meat packs some serious punch, and leaves a lingering peppery aftertaste. It went down a treat, our guests loved it.


- 1.2 kg of beef/venison shoulder, 3-4cm dice
- 1.5 bottles of red wine
- 200g cubed pancetta or finely chopped streaky smoked bacon
- 400g chestnut mushrooms, halved
- 50g chestnut mushrooms finely chopped for garnish
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme or marjoram (keep some for the garnish)
- 500g shallots, peeled, whole
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, whole
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped for garnish
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 heaped desert spoon plain flour

Frying the bacon first to release the fat


Start by preparing all of the ingredients. I wish I had noticed Gordon Ramsay's tip about pouring boiling water of the shallots... it makes the skins slip off, rather than the painstaking way I peeled each one individually... next time!

Heat up the potjie over a small fire, then add the bacon/pancetta. No oil needed as the bacon fat does the job. Once the bacon is cooked, remove it, leaving the fat in the pot. Then brown the beef/venison with the thyme and remove it from the pot. Brown the shallots and remove them also. The pot needs to remain really hot during this stage. Finally, fry the mushrooms and tomato for a few minutes before returning the previous items plus the tomato puree to the pot. Add the flour and stir it through, then add the wine and bring it to a gentle simmer.

Browning the meat

I hate using a flash at night, so I tried using a torch instead

Check that the fire remains low and stir from time to time. After about one hour, taste and check for seasoning. Add lots of pepper and a bit of salt. Cook for a further hour and remove from the fire.

I left mine in the pot in the kitchen overnight before re-heating on the hob the following evening. When hot and ready to serve, check for seasoning again (go on, add more pepper and a bit more salt), add the finely chopped garlic and stir through. Serve onto hot plates and sprinkle over more finely chopped mushrooms and the remaining fresh herbs.

We served the dish with crispy roast potatoes, roast chanterey carrots and steamed green beans. Hearty, wholesome, aromatic and peppery. What more could you want at this time of year.

For a starter, I made a light and refreshing salmon mouse and my wife made a delightful pecan pie for desert.

Our lovely Lolly sniffing around for tidbits

Luca's book case, the offcuts provided fuel for our meal

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The 99p Cooked Chickens from Waitrose

This was a Sunday afternoon experience I did not expect. Our weekend was thrown into turmoil as a result of taking on a new town centre office and having to do out of hours work getting it fitted out.

My lovely wife was running around after kids and their Sunday activities, and I was on the tools installing bespoke magnetic display panels. Normally I'd be at home preparing our traditional Sunday roast, but that afternoon it was not possible. As a consolation I offered to go to Waitrose for a pre-cooked chicken before 4pm closing so all I'd need to do was roast some small chipped potatoes, steam some greens and make a sauce. Sounds simple and quick, I'm sure you'll agree.

It was simple I'll admit. But getting there involved an experience I had not predicted. I rushed to the nearby Waitrose at about 3:50 and headed straight for the cooked chicken counter panicking that there may be none left. I was in luck.

I spent a few minutes pondering over whether one large or two small chickens would meet our needs whilst I felt mildly ignored by the three assistants behind the counter as they seemed to be just chatting to the only other customer beside me. I'd just made my decision (2 small ones) when an announcement came over the PA. I was so fixated with my need for chickens I didn't hear a word of it. The next thing I was aware of was the giggling behind the counter as the assistants announced 'all chickens 99p' as the shop was about to close. The eyes in the back of my head sensed a swarm of customers approaching, and to my front the staff were saying 'quick! buy the lot before the usual mob grab them all!' Jesting I said 'I'll take them all for a tenner' still not aware of the 'usual' crowd building up behind me. All of a sudden I became acutely aware of the tension around me, I slowly turned around to see about 20 anxious people, hovering around nervously with empty shopping baskets, each one jostling for position hoping not to miss out on one of the dozen or so 99p bargains. Not a queue, just a sort of wriggling gathering.

I feel a bit mean writing this, as I truly understand how that for some the need for value for money food is so real, but my mind couldn't stop speculating... 'the usuals'? I thought. I imagined the same bunch of people visting the supermarket at a specific time, anxiously wandering around with empty shopping baskets, hoping to score the cooked chicken for a quid. They all know each other I'm sure, but are afraid to acknowledge that in case it jeopardises their chances at the counter. And they just might miss out on that 99p Sunday treat bargain.

One chicken did the job for our Sunday dinner, and the second one became a Thai green chicken curry the next day. And a bargain at that.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Roasted Sea Bass in the Weber


Somehow August managed to get the better of me. Two and a half weeks in France and four days in Northern Ireland, and for the first time since I started this blog over four years ago, I failed to meet my own target of at least one blog per month. Shame on me. OK, a fire ban in France was no help, and desperately trying to keep up with self employed work commitments also got in the way. I'm just trying to convince myself of course, as there is NO excuse. So here I am, visiting friends in Ballymoney in Northern Ireland, about to tell a story about an evening we had in Herefordshire, just before our summer holiday. And somehow, it's September already.

Remember my South African foodie mate Ben? Most recently he gave me a cast iron potjie for my birthday (the one that fell off the Vespa), and he also saved up a special cockerel for one of our visits (A Tale of Two Cockerels). I also designed a purpose made outdoor braai for him in Oxfordshire before he sold his house and moved to paradise (aka Bringsty Common). We have much foodie stuff in common and so much look forward to seeing the Van Vuurens at any opportunity.

We were counting down the days and squeezing in as much work before departing for our traditional two weeks in France. A chance phone call to the VV's and we found that we were all free to meet up the weekend before we travelled, and at very short notice. So off we went to stay with them one Friday evening.

Ben had decided on sea bass as a main course, baked over a bed of herbs and vegetables. His starter was an incredible assembly of smoked duck, blue cheese, strawberry and broad beans with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Beautifully presented and amazing to eat.

The great thing about Ben's sea bass main course is that it is a one pot dish, fish and side dish of herby vegetables all cooked and served from one dish. The fennel complements the fish beautifully and the potatoes are perfect for soaking up all those lovely juices.


- 500g new potatoes, parboiled
- 20 Cherry tomatoes
- 1 large bulb of fennel, sliced
- Chopped chives
- Chopped oregano
- A few knobs of butter
- 4-5 whole seabass, cleaned
- Olive oil
- Sea salt


Lay all of the ingredients (except the fish) in a baking dish and bake uncovered in the Weber (or oven) for about 30 minutes. Make a few slashes in the skin of the sea bass, rub in some olive oil, place the fish on top with some extra fennel leaves and finish with a dose of coarse sea salt. Bake for a further 20-30 minutes until the fish has cooked through.

Ben's amazing smoked duck breast starter

Monday, 16 July 2012

Char-grilled Pork Tenderloin with Sage Butter

Get the ambulance on stand-by. This is decadence on a plate. Supremely tender pork fillet, intense fried sage leaves and a buttery sauce. See what I mean?

I was desperate to light some fire, after what has proved to be the wettest, coldest July since records began. The 'forecast' predicted a dry but cloudy Sunday. Good enough for me. The recipe idea came about following a visit to wonderful friends last weekend. We were served pan seared pork fillet with a mushroom and cream sauce to die for.

The lack of rain (and time) got me thinking about a similar, simple, flavoursome Sunday family meal, cooked over charcoal based on marinating and grilling a pork tenderloin fillet, and complimenting it with a sage flavoured buttery sauce.

Pork tenderloin is an underrated cut of meat. Superficially expensive, but in fact one fillet easily feeds four people. This fillet cost around £7 and proved to be superb value for money.

Years ago, I stumbled across a Tuscan recipe involving sage leaves fried in butter. I gave them a go, and I promise you, once you get your lips around one of these bad boys there is no turning back. The sweet, salty, aromatic burst you get when you bite into one is unforgetable. The effort involved in making them is truly worth it.

So somehow, the Tuscan recipe memory, and the recent tenderloin dinner resulted in an idea for a slightly different family Sunday meal. I thought that by frying the sage leaves in butter, not only would I get the crispy green treats, but I'd be left with a wonderfully flavoured base for a sauce. This actually was not the case. Although the leaves fried beautifully, the butter was by then properly hammered and had that burnt, bitter taste that you would best want to avoid.

I re-thought the whole thing as I went along. OK, the sage leaves were good, but the sauce would need to be made again from scratch. So, I gently melted (loads) more butter, added some of my favourite secret chicken stock powder and a bit of cream. You do not need much of this (remember the ambulance), but wow, it packs some serious punch.


- Pork fillet
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- handful of fresh rosemary
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- handful of large sage leaves
- 200g lightly salted butter
- 1 tsp of secret chicken stock powder (ask me and I will gladly tell)


Start by marinating the pork fillet in the olive oil, garlic and rosemary. Rub the fillet with the oil and herbs and wrap in cling film. Keep at room temperature for a few hours, or overnight in the fridge.

Prepare a charcoal grilling fire, then sear the fillet for about 15 minutes, before wrapping in foil and allowing to rest in a warm oven for a further 20 minutes or so.

Melt half the butter in a small pan until it foams, then 3 or 4 at a time, gently fry the sage leaves until they become crisp without changing colour. Lay the fried leaves out on kitchen paper until needed.

Melt the remaining butter in a small pan, add the secret stock powder and cream and keep warm until it's time to serve.

Carve the pork into thin rounds, drizzle the seasoned melted butter over the meat and serve with 4 or 5 crispy sage leaves.


Friday, 29 June 2012

Still Life with Potjie

They say a picture tells a thousand words, and to me, this one certainly does. First there's the story of my lovely new potjie (that's pronounced 'poy-kee' by the way).

My South African foodie mate Ben bought it for me for my recent birthday. I can't tell you how thrilled I was. He's recently moved to Herefordshire, so he ordered it from an obscure village post office-cum-purveyor of all things South African, not far from us here in Oxfordshire. He'd given me some advance warning and all we had to do was wait for his cheque to clear and I'd get the OK to go and pick it up. I go right past the shop each time I go into Oxford so I arranged to get it on my way back on the afternoon I was given the all clear.

To make it a bit more fun I thought I'd travel on my son's Vespa. He's touring Asia on his gap year and he encouraged me to get my motorcycle training sorted out so I could make use of it while he's away. So that I did and I've been scooting around on this thing for some time now, and I absolutely love it.

I called in to the South African shop to collect my gift, announced the reason for my visit, and the three South African guys working in the shop greeted me with a very nicely sung 'Happy Birthday to You......'. They seemed as thrilled as I was and all came out to help me secure my new gift to the rear rack on the scooter. They put it in a box and I had two decent straps to hold it on. It took a good fifteen minutes of trying different ways until we were all happy it was secure. I asked one of the guys to take this photo using my phone so I could send it Ben and Tersia to say thanks.

The journey back was about 6 or 7 miles through a couple of villages and mainly on country roads. About two miles from home, I was belting along a busy A road at about 50 mph when I heard this almighty crashing noise behind me. I glanced in the mirror and there it was. I could see the box and lid in the middle of the road about 100 yards behind me. There was no hard shoulder, so I pulled up as close to the edge of the road as possible and walked to survey the damage. I felt gutted. I got to the box (empty) and lid (still in one piece) but there was no sign of my potjie. I trawled the dense bushes on the side of the road as I made my way back to the bike and couldn't see it anywhere. When I got to the bike, there it was! Miraculously dangling from the rack on the strap that had been looped through the eye where the handle attaches. It was hanging barely an inch off the road. I can not describe the sense of relief I felt.

I reminded myself that there were lorries flying by in both directions and I should not really be lingering around. It was when I was re-securing the pot in the box that I realised the mistake us three blokes had made. The three legged pot was in a cardboard box, and what had happened was the legs had punctured the bottom of the box, and the pot then dropped just far enough to slacken the tension on the straps.

Even with traffic flying by in both directions, I worked out that the best way was to put the pot in the box upside down. Not that I will ever need to use that knowledge again. Had the chunky cast iron pot hit the road at 50 mph I'd have been collecting in two or three pieces. It's still a miracle that the lid survived. It has a small scratch which will be there forever to remind me of the experience.

I got home, rang Ben to tell him the story and took his instructions on seasoning my new miracle potjie. Casting iron is a greasy dirty process and leaves nasty residues that need removing before the pot can be used. The process involved boiling water in the pot, washing it, boiling more water, washing it again, then cooking something fatty in it for the first time. He suggested bacon, and so my pot was christened and is now nicely seasoned.

Now back to my still life (and this is 750 words so far by the way), because it's not just about the potjie.

This blog is really a bit of a desperate round up for the month of June, and it is my first ever blog without any recipes. My self imposed discipline of writing at least one article per month has been stressing me so much that I just had to drop everything and get it done.

Through the window in the photo is my trusty old Weber. We had a dinner party recently that would have been a perfect opportunity for a good story. I so wanted to make pork belly on my garden rotisserie, but was defeated by our lovely English weather. My fall back was to do the pork belly in the Weber, twice cooked. Can you believe I over fueled the fire on the second cooking, and the fat in the baking dish actually ignited. The pork was black around the edges and underneath and 10 people were on their way. It looked beyond rescue. Somehow I managed to stay calm (unlike my wife) and reviewed the disaster. The crackling still looked ok which was a start. So I carefully removed the charred edges and divided the pork into 10 servings (albeit a bit smaller than intended). I swear, you'd never have known and inside, the pork was perfect.

In the photo, the Weber is missing something... yes it's the handle that should be on the lid. I still haven't fixed it, not since mentioning it in a post last November.

There are two more stories my picture has to tell. My lovely chilli plants on the window cill, planted from seed back in March and now starting to fruit. There is another pot just opposite and they look so lovely. At the same time I planted some herbs which are in my little plastic greenhouse on the deck. Secondly, it's the lack of sun. This month has been dire as far as the weather is concerned, so there have been few opportunities for outdoor cooking. Wind and rain. Relentless.

Work/life pressure has kept me off the blog radar a bit too much this month, and I would like to apologise to my favourite food bloggers whose blogs I've been unable to keep up with. The loss is mine and I will be doing something about it!

So my picture has now said 1,168 words. The myth has become true.

Coriander blossom and tomato leaves
Tomato flowers
and basil in abundance

Monday, 21 May 2012

Monkfish Kebabs

Cooked over charcoal embers

Planning a dinner party for pesco-vegetarian guests was a bit of a treat. We probably don't eat enough fish in this household so this was a perfect excuse to do something about it. Fire was to play a part too as it looked like we were in for some dry (relief!) and mild weather for a change. Having had the wettest April since records began, May hadn't been much better, so we were determined to make the most of it.

During the previous manic working week, I had been thinking about the meal in the background but it wasn't until the Saturday morning, the day of the dinner party, that I was able to plan it properly. I started by grabbing a dozen or so of my favourite cookbooks and sat in bed checking all the indexes for fish recipies ideal for the barbecue. It wasn't too long before I was seduced by a photograph in Jamies Kitchen of some gorgeous looking fish kebabs. I checked out the recipe and it got even better. Marinated in ginger, lemon, chilli, mint, yogurt, garlic and turmeric, these were guaranteed to be a winner.

Grinding the herbs and spices in the yogurt

Jamie's kebabs also had boiled new potatoes and were skewered onto sprigs of rosemary. I omitted the potatoes as I was already serving roasted chipped potatoes with the main course. The rosemary sprigs were very pretty in the photo, but at the end of the day they'd just get burnt to a cinder, so I thought my rosemary was best left on the bush, and I used stainless steel skewers instead. I was also particularly taken by the shaved zucchini 'zig-zags' in the photo. A nice bit of colour and creative presentation I thought.

The zucchini 'zig zags' were made with a veggie peeler

Monkfish is one of the few fish that is firm enough to be skewered and barbecued. Unlike most fish, it doesn't flake apart when cooked. Jamie's recipe (and the seductive photo) is available on line as I found later when I Googled 'monkfish kebabs' before writing this article, just to see what else was out there. Lo and behold, Jaimie's recipe came up at position no. 1.

I had some frozen king prawns in the freezer, so they went on the barbecue too

Once the menu was decided I made a frantic call to my local Waitrose to make sure I could actually get hold of some Monkfish. Luckily they had some and put about 800g aside for me. Had they not, I'd have had to make a trip into Oxford for it. And that I would have done.

These little pots worked a treat

My 'Go Anywhere Weber' came out of the garage as it was the perfect size to grill the kebabs without wasting too much fuel. I used fast burning English charcoal as these things would only take about 5-10 minutes to cook.

The first course I've been doing fairly frequently lately since my sister-in-law prepared it for us on a recent visit. Little pots with smoked trout, horseradish, cream cheese and chives served with mini hot Yorkshire puddings. It's great because the pots can be prepared in advance leaving just the Yorkies to be baked before serving. This one also came from a Jamie Oliver book: Jamie's Great Britain.

Our lovely guests, Jo and David

For desert there was home made pavlova, and I even made fresh custard with the left over egg yolks (in the past I've been struggling to think of what to do with them, but from now on it's sorted).

We had a fabulous evening with Jo and David. After the main course, I used the coals left over from the barbecue to start a proper fire with some of my treasured foraged oak branches. We were blessed with a cool, still, dry evening and spent hours chatting around the fire and gazing into the embers.

...chatting around the fire...

... and gazing into the embers.

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