Happenings in my kitchen


Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

Office Cake Off, Volume One. 

Been wanting to eat these for a while now, so making them seemed a no brainer. Recipe is for a double batch. Shortbread recipe is from Mark Hix’s British Food.

There are a few stops and starts here because it takes a while to get the caramel made and several phases of cooling things off, but it is well worth it. 


  • 2lb 2oz All Purpose Flour
  • 8oz fine sugar
  • 25 oz Unsalted Irish Butter (3 packs of Kerrygold)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cans Eagles Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 5 100g Bars of Milk Chocolate 
  • 2 12 oz bags of Semisweet Chocolate Chips

Phase 1: Get a deep pot of water on the stove, place the two cans of *unopened* condensed milk in it, with enough water to cover them and bring to a gentle boil. Leave it simmering away for 3 hours. This will caramelize all the sugars in the condensed milk and leave you with a toffee/caramel sauce. Drop the cans in cool water so they dont explode when you open them, whip the caramel with a whisk until smooth and spreadable. 

Phase 2: Shortbread. Preheat the oven to 330ºF. Dice the cold butter, mix the flour and sugar in a big bowl and then using a pastry/dough blender, chop it into bread crumbs. Pour in the eggs and continue to mix until you get a nice dough forming. Butter and flour a baking pan and spread the dough over it at around a 1” thickness. Place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. 

Bake on the lowest shelf in the oven for 30 -40 minutes until it firms up, then let it cool, until it is cool to the touch. Spread the caramel over the base, and chill for at least an hour to allow it to set. 

Phase 3. Chocolate. Throw one bar of chocolate in the freezer for 30 mins. Throw four bars of milk chocolate and the two bags of semi sweet chocolate into a double boiler and melt until smooth. Pour the chocolate over the caramel layer. 

Using a peeler, shave the chilled chocolate bar and sprinkle over the top of the melted chocolate so that it looks all artsy and posh. Chill for at least an hour before you slice it up. 

Eat it with a cup of tea. Proper tea with milk in it, because no one likes a heathen. 

Barbecue Burgers

How does one make a burger with all the attributes of both a burger and a BBQ pulled pork sandwich? I reckon it should be something like this, with a real hit of homemade BBQ rub and sauce in the burgers, dipped before grilling and served with coleslaw and pickles like a pulled pork sandwich. 

My first ever experience with a truly All American burger was at the RAF Mildenhall Airshow, where the burgers were cooked on split oil drum charcoal grills and dipped in BBQ sauce as they were pulled off the grill and served with the 330 ml cans of Budweiser (which is appropriate beer for kids in the UK) and so I have always been a bit surprised not to encounter dipped burgers in the US in the last 10 years, (that may just be because it isnt a midwest thing?) but always sort of wanted to try my own hand at it.

Following the Memorial day grilling session, I had spare BBQ rub and spare homemade BBQ sauce, so it seemed a good time to give this approach a try.

My rough recipe for BBQ rub is largely based on whatever I have in the cupboard at any given instance, but basically is a 50:50 brown sugar to spice mix. The spice mix usually consists of lots of black pepper, cumin, salt, chipotle powder and then some sort of ready mixed BBQ seasoning such as Penzey’s or Stubbs’, with a good hit of ground mustard seed. 

For BBQ Sauce, I follow this recipe but swapping out a large can of crushed tomatoes for the tomato paste and a bunch of dried, soaked and deseeded dried mexican chili peppers. 

For the Burgers, I started with 2 lbs of lean ground beef and mixed in 4 Tbsp of the dry rub, and then added enough sauce to make the mixture nice and moist. After forming 6 burger patties, I dipped each one in sauce and rested them for an hour in the fridge before cooking.

As toppings, I made a quick red cabbage, carrot and radish coleslaw with a good hit of vinegar, to get that pulled pork sandwich effect, using apple cider vinegar, mustard and sour cream to make the dressing with some lemon juice. 

A slice of smoked gouda was dropped on top of each burger and I finished it off with a few sliced bread and butter pickles. 

The result was a thick, juicy burger with a good through and through barbecue hit, with all the flavour elements of a classic pulled pork sandwich. 

A nice reliable staple…

A nice reliable staple…

Friday night bolognese.

Friday night bolognese.

Purple Asparagus Hollandaise

I found some nice looking purple asparagus and combined them with some potatoes and citrus flavours provided by lemon, citrus mint and sorrel to make a nice summer supper for two using a classic hollandaise sauce to bind it all together. 

Grilled Asparagus:

  • Bunch of Asparagus Spears
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 2-3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • Salt & pepper

Toss the asparagus in the oil & juice and season well. Grill on a BBQ or griddle until tender. 

Potatoes with Sorrel and Citrus Mint:

  • 1lb New or Fingerling potatoes, cut to bite size pieces
  • 1 large spring of citrus mint, pluse 2 Tbs diced leaves
  • Handful of Sorrel leaves, sliced into ribbons
  • Splash of lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the sprig of mint and cook the potatoes until tender. Drain, season and drizzle with lemon, and allow to cool for a few minutes, then toss in the sorrel and mint leaves. 


  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 stick of butter, diced
  • Splash of lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt

Over a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks and sugar for 2-3 minutes until you have a nice smooth, light yellow consistency. Add the lemon juice and while whisking continuously, gradually add the butter, a few pieces at a time and whisk them into the sauce until all incorporated. Finish with the salt.

Plate the potatoes & sorrel, arrange the asparagus spears over the top and then liberally sauce with the hollandaise over the top. 

Buttermilk Buffalo Beer can Chicken

This was a pretty random idea that turned out really, really well, so I wanted to scribe down the recipe for future reference. I had a couple of chickens to smoke for the neighbourhood memorial day barbecue and decided to combine a few tried and trusted techniques for chicken:

  1. Marinade in buttermilk
  2. Flavour will buffalo sauce
  3. Cook on a beer can for added moisture and flavour

The results were pretty spectacular, with meltingly soft tender chicken and really good deep layers of flavour. In terms of seasoning, I simply combined two seasonings I had in the cupboard, Penzeys Northwoods Seasoning and Famous Daves Chicken Seasoning, you can use pretty much whatever you like, bearing in mind that it will be moderated by the buttermilk to a certain degree. 


  • 2 Small, whole chickens
  • 1 L Buttermilk
  • 2 Cups Franks Red Hot Original sauce
  • 1/2 cup Seasoning Mix
  • 2 12 oz cans beer (I used Modelo Especiale)

Mix the buttermilk, hot sauce and seasoning well. Clean out the chickens and pat dry, freeing up the skin from the body to make sure the marinade can penetrate it, then place in a gallon ziploc bag and pour the buttermilk mix into the bags. Seal them up and massage a bit to ensure the marinade gets everywhere, then pop them into the fridge overnight.

When you have your grill or smoker ready to go, crack open the two beers and take a good chug from each of them. Pull the chicken out of the bag, let it drip for a moment and then give it a beer can enema, so that it stands upright on the can.

I smoked these chickens over charcoal with a mixture of pecan and hickory wood, with more beer as a steam agent. They had around 5 hours at temperatures ranging between 200 and 250ºF. 

You could also cook these on a normal grill using indirect grilling techniques and soaked wood chips in a foil packet to get the same effect. 

Vegetable Pearl Barley Risotto

I quite like rice pudding, especially nice, thick and creamy with a blob of jam in it. On the contrary, I really don’t like thick, creamy risotto, I much prefer a slightly looser, lighter approach to it. One option to lighten a risotto is to change the type of grain, so in this case, I tried out some pearl barley to make a nice, light spring or summer vegetable filled vegetable with lots of textural bite, without being too creamy and pudding like which isn’t what you need on a 90ºF day like today was. I went with a largely vegetarian approach to this so I used some dried mushrooms to bolster the stock a bit, and then added a lot of crunchy veg at the end to contrast with the longer cooked ingredients. 


  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1lb pearl barley
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 small leeks, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1 packet of dried wild mushrooms
  • 1 small packet of button mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup diced sugar snap peas
  • 1/2 cup diced green beans
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons Penzeys Northwoods seasoning
  • 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 1 L veg or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese (parmesan or Romano)
  • Handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • salt & pepper

Soak the dried mushrooms in two cups of warm water for 30 - 45 minutes, drain and then mix the soaking liquid with the stock and bring to a simmer. 

Heat the oil and butter, and start to sweat the onions and leeks for around 2-3 minutes until they become translucent. Add the red pepper and roasted garlic, dice up the now soaked dried mushrooms and add them to the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the barley (possibly with a little more oil if needed) and saute it for a few minutes to toast it. 

Add the wine and lemon juice and let it reduce away, then add the tin of tomatoes and reduce the liquid. 

Add the thyme and seasonings and start ladling in the stock gradually and stirring as you would to make any risotto, gradually adding stock over low heat until the pearl barley is cooked through, around 30 - 40 minutes. 

Stir in the beans, parsley, peas and fresh mushrooms and cook them for around five minutes. 

Finish with cheese and check the seasoning and serve. 

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Tortellini

I dont make fresh pasta very often, because when I do it reminds me of what a complete pain it is to make it all by hand, as I dont have a food processor or pasta roller. For the most part, it is simply easier to open a bag or box of dried pasta, but for stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini, it’s worth the effort. Occasionally. 


  • 1 Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into a 1” dice
  • 1 Tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
  • 1 cup Ricotta 
  • Juice & zest of half a lemon

Toss the diced squash pieces in the oil and tomato paste to coat evenly, and season with salt & pepper. Roast in a 350ºF oven for around 45 minutes until the squash is cooked through. Let it cool off and then mash the squash and stir in the sage, lemon zest and juice. Mix in the ricotta and check the seasoning, which should be fairly potent as it will have to balance the pasta. 


  • 2 1/2 cups All purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Semolina flour
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups of tepid water
  • 1 Beaten egg for sealing
Combine the flours and salt on a work surface and crack the egg into a well in the flour. Start to combine with a fork, adding water gradually until you get a nice smooth dough that you can work with your hands. 
Roll the dough out nice and thin, I divided it into six parts and rolled each one out separately, then cut out 3” squares with a pizza cutter. 
Spoon a teaspoon of filling into the center of each square, brush the edges with beaten egg and fold over to make a triangle packet. Crimp the edges to seal them and then fold two of the points together and squish them to make a tortellini shape.
The tortellini take around 4-5 minutes to cook in a pan of salted boiling water. Cook them in batches to make sure they dont stick together. 
I made a simple pesto primavera sauce to go with the tortellini, using some tomatoes and asparagus. 
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves roast garlic, diced
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp pesto 
  • 2 large tomatoes, deseeded and diced
  • 6 spears of asparagus, diced
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt & pepper
Heat the butter in a skillet and gently sauté the onion and garlic until they start to caramelise, then deglaze with the lemon juice. Add the pesto, tomatoes and asparagus and cook until tender. Season well. 
Serve the tortellini over a base of the sauce and top off with black pepper and curls of parmesan.

Black Pudding Stuffed Leg Of Lamb

I remember watching Gary Rhodes do a rack on black roast where he wrapped a rack of lamb around a black pudding, way back when I was at University and had always wanted to try something similar. 

In this case, I ended up going with a leg, because they are easier to find fresh around here for whatever reason, so I  started from a boneless leg roast, unrolled it and applied a generous slick of rosemary, garlic and paprika paste similar to some of the summer barbecue experiments from last year.  The pudding went into the middle of the leg and I finished it off with a mustard and breadcrumb crust. 

The nice warm spices from the black pudding really complement the almost game-like flavour of the lamb, and also comes through in the juices from the roast as they are incorporated into the gravy. 

I served it with some springtime feeling vegetables, rather than the usual roast potatoes and trimmings and it made for a very enjoyable sunday lunch.


  • 3 - 4lb boneless leg of lamb, split open so that it can be rolled
  • 1 black pudding or blood sausage
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 Celeriac
  • 2 Onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • Sprig of Rosemary
  • Bay leaf
  • 1 L Stock


  • 3-4 tablespoons finely diced red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 heaped teaspon Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tsp ground black pepper

Using a wide bladed, heavy chefs knife, pulp the onion, garlic and rosemary down to a paste, and then mix in the spices and mustard. Spread this evenly over the inside surface of the leg of lamb. 

Place the pudding on the lamb and roll up around the pudding, then tie the roast up with butchers twine and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour. 


  • 2-3 Tbsp Dijon mustard. 
  • 1 cup of breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tsp fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 Tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt & pepper

Mix the breadcrumbs, rosemary and seasonings. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Coarsely chop the mirepoix, leaving it in big enough pieces to form a base to rest the meat on. 

Sear the tied roast on all sides in some hot fat until crisp, when seared, place a the mirepoix in a layer on the bottom of the pan and put the meat on top. Add Stock to come up just shy of the meat, then cover with foil and pop into the oven for around 25-30 minutes per pound. 

With 30 minutes remaining on cooking time, brush the roast with mustard. Press on the seasoned breadcrumbs for the crust, and finish cooking uncovered to crisp up the crust. 

Rest the roast for around 15 minutes wrapped in foil, strain the mirepoix out of the gravy, deglaze the pan with more stock, reduce and thicken with butter to make a nice gravy. 


Roasted Tomatoes

  • 6 - 8 tomatoes, halved
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil 

Arrange the halved tomatoes in a roasting pan cut side up (so you dont lose all the juices) sprinkle over the garlic, salt & pepper and drizzle with oil, and chuck in the oven for 20 minutes or so. 

Green beans & Scallions

Rather than the usual steamed or blanched green beans, I went for a bit of a stir fry approach, shredding the beans and scallions on the bias, and then sautéing them in some butter with a splash or two of chicken stock to help cook them until tender. 

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 lb green beans, shredded
  • 1 bunch Spring Onions, shredded
  • 2-3 Tbsp stock
  • 2 Tbsp sliced almonds. 
  • Salt & Pepper

Finely shred the beans and onions on the bias. 

Saute the onions and beans in the butter, until they start to get tender and then add a splash of stock and let it reduce off, repeat this until the beans are cooked to your liking. 

Check the seasoning and stir in the almonds.