Sicily

A glass of Sicilian red wine with Etna in the background

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My biggest surprise of this most sumptuous of islands is just how much the life is dominated by its fiery goddess Etna. She can be seen piercing the skyline with her smoke forever present in the daytime to give way to a glowing lava flow visible by dusk. As Dionysus casts his dreamy spell over the towns at Etna’s feet, the revelling mortals fill their heads with the glories of the Goddess’s fertile energy seemingly oblivious to the ambiguities of her smouldering passion…


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The local wines give immediate insight into the richness of the soil, the essence of the island’s power. The stunning medieval town of Taormina with it’s glorious stone architecture and breathtaking views formed the backdrop for my Sicilian introduction. A bottle of inexpensive Etna biancho did it for me straight away.

The minerality; so evocative of the volcanic ash from which it evolved is instantly recognised. Another of grillo grape variety was even more intense ….all extremely lovely.

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The views from the terrace restaurants in Taormina were indescribably beautiful. Two dishes from the amazing restaurant of the Timeo Hotel particularly stood out. The first was the amuse bouche of black cuttlefish on potato purée. The second was a dish of gnocchi and seaweed on a bed of seafood infused butter and cockles with tomato foam. This second dish has certainly got me thinking….a reconstruction of this perhaps with a forthcoming recipe? I’ll bear it in mind…

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Side Car




 

20140510_171257The origin of the sidecar is disputed but it appears to have been developed in Paris during the Great War. David Embury in ‘The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks’ attributes it to the invention of a an American army captain who rode to an unnamed Parisian bistro in a motorcycle sidecar. Another (disputed) theory links the invention to Frank Meier who worked at the Ritz Hotel, Paris. However it came into being, the side car is a very special treat.

 

 

3 parts Cognac/Armagnac

2 parts Cointreau/Triple sec

1 part lemon juice

Crushed ice

Lemon twist garnish

 

Combine the spirits, lemon juice and crushed ice in a cocktail shaker and shake rigorously. Strain out the cocktail into a cocktail glass. Sugar-rim the glass for extra effect if desired. This can be achieved by wiping the rim with a wedge of lemon and dipping the juice-coated rim of the upturned glass into sugar momentarily.

Slow cooked confit hen’s egg yolk with truffle cheese vinaigrette




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While the hen’s egg remains a staple food product throught the world, its amazing combination with a sweet truffle vinaigrette has been a culinary secret for far to long. The panko crumbs and sautéed filo pastry fragments provide a texture to the flavours. I have slow cooked the egg yolks giving them stability and a rich texture. I have used a sous vide bath which provides an entirely controllable, adjustable and reliable heat source for the yolks. This functions as an excellent hors d’oeuvre dish.

For the truffle cheese vinaigrette

3 shallots, finely chopped

1 cup (250 mls) water

1 tbsp clear honey

2 tbsp truffle oil

3 tbsp cream cheese

1 tbsp sherry or red wine vinegar

Salt and black pepper

First place the onions, water and honey in a covered pan and simmer for about thirty minutes or until the onions are very tender. Transfer the contents to a food processor, add the vinegar, truffle oil and seasoning and blend until very smooth. Transfer the contents to a bowl, add the cream cheese and combine them together until uniform and smooth. Add more vinegar and seasoning to taste if preferred. The truffle cheese vinaigrette can be stored in a container for a few days in the refrigerator.

For the confit egg yolks

Set the sous vide water bath to 63C

Sous vide

 

 

 

 

Half fill a small bread tin with vegetable oil and place it in the water bath. Cover with a lid using a small weight if necessary to keep the lid held down. When the bath has reached the required temperature, carefully add the egg yolks to the warmed oil making sure they are teased apart carefully with a spatula. Cook the egg yolks for 1 hour.

 

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The cooked yolk confit looked as silky smooth as if it were freshly cracked from the egg.

 

 

 

For the filo crumbs

Finely dice a small square of filo pastry and sauté the fragments in butter until they turn golden brown. Transfer them to a kitchen roll to cool and dry.

To complete the dish

Using a slotted spoon, carefully drain and transfer an egg yolk to the centre of a serving dish. Heap a spoonfool of the truffle cheese vinaigrette next to the yolk. Garnish the dish with a sprinkling of the prepared filo crumbs. For further texture and colour contrast add finely crushed panko crumbs.

Pork and aubergine hotpot




HomeAubergine and pork hotpot

 

I’m getting hungry as I’m writing this post. One of my favourite dishes from Chinese restaurants that is not available from most provincial restaurants. The magic of this dish comes from the way the aubergine absorbs the flavours so beautifully.

(Serves 8)

Ingredients

6 tbsp vegetable oil

1.5 kg pork shoulder, skinned and boned and diced into large chunks

4 aubergines, cut into large chunks

4 tbsp sugar

5 whole star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

4 onions, chopped

10 cm fresh root ginger, peeled and finely sliced

2 red Thai chillies, deseeded and sliced

2 tbsp Thai fish sauce

Water or chicken stock to cover

Juice of 2 limes

Fresh coriander leaves

Preheat an oven to 200C/390F/GM6. In an ovenproof pan, sauté the pork in half of the oil in batches until they brown. Remove the pork with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Add the rest of the oil to the pan and sauté the aubergine chunks until they too are brown then add the sugar, star anise, cinnamon sticks, onions and ginger. Sauté further for about two minutes then return the pork to the pan. Add the chilli and fish sauce then enough water or chicken stock to cover. Cover the pan and place in the oven for about 60 minutes. Add water to top up if necessary. Add the lime juice and some more fish sauce with fresh chopped chillies if necessary. Serve in bowls garnished with the coriander leaves.

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Smoked avocado

Smoked avocado with lemon verbena, crab & cucumber foam



          Home
This recipe serves 10 as an amuse bouche

When making this dish in advance, always remember that avocado flesh will turn brown very quickly when exposed to the air. There are a number of ways of preventing this from happening. For me, however, the best way is to vacuum wrap and refrigerate. Vacuum wrapping machines are available inexpensively at entry level and are vital for anyone who wishes to cook food sous vide. There is something strangely satisfying about storing food vacuum wrapped.

vacuum avocado

Vacuum wrapped sautéed smoked avocado

Ingredients

2 ripe avocados

5 leaves lemon verbena, finely chopped

Salt and black pepper

1 lemon

Meat of 1 cooked brown crab

1 cucumber, chopped into coarse pieces

Green food colourant (optional)

1 tsp food grade xanthan gum

Halve and shell out the avocado and cook the flesh on a smoking barbecue for 6 minutes turning the pieces half way. If making the dish in advance, store the avocado pieces by your preferred method as outlined above. Cut off the rind of the lemon and carefully cut out 4 segments with a pairing knife making sure there is no bitter pith left. Divide the lemon segments into thirds. Divide the avocado into chunks, season  and sauté them for about three minutes

Cooking avocado

Transfer the sautéed avocado chunks to a bowl and, using a fork, mash them together with the verbena. Place the cucumber into a food processor together with the food colourant if using. Add the xanthan gum. Blend until absolutely smooth. There will be a stable foam on the surface.

Complete the dish by layering the avocado in the base of a shot glass. Add two small lemon segment pieces and press them into the avocado layer. Add a layer of the crab pressing it firmly onto the avocado base. Top the crab layer with cucumber foam. The shot glasses can covered with cling film and refrigerated prior to serving. Garnish the dish with pithed and finely julienned lemon rind.

 

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