Food TV Review: How To Cook Well (Raymond Blanc) Friday, Aug 2 2013 

Raymond Blanc’s latest series, How To Cook Well, seemed for us to be the promise of Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course, French-style. Ramsay takes you painstakingly through a variety of cooking techniques and tips, from how to sharpen knives to how to make brilliant breakfasts. Even though Blanc’s series is shorter (6 hours as opposed to about 10), it seems on the face of it to provide more than just a whistle-stop tour, going through widely-used but perhaps less fully-exploited techniques, including baking, poaching, roasting and slow-cooking.

There are many good things about this series (which is at the time of writing is just over halfway through, with all aired episodes available on iPlayer), not least the jovial Raymond himself, who frequently enlists the help of the long-suffering Adam. Always a delight to watch, he is highly reminiscent of cartoon chef Gusteau from Ratatouille, and it’s not just the accent: at any moment he can be expected to utter something that, in essence, reminds us of Gusteau’s catchphrase: “anyone can cook”. He is accessible and encouraging at all moments, whether he’s boiling an egg or making exquisite ravioli. Equally, the recipes are built up nicely throughout each episode, ranging largely from the very simple (“anyone can cook” indeed!) to the jaw-droppingly complicated (reminding us of the sheer scale of his talent). Every episode leaves viewers feeling like they want to make – and eat – what he has made, thanks to the refreshing use of the traditional techniques explored.

The one disappointment (possibly due to the length of the series) is perhaps that the individual techniques used (within the broader category of roasting, baking et cetera) are not fully explained – but for this, one supposes, purchase of Blanc’s books is necessary. The devil’s in the details, and so, it seems, is the money, but that’s usually the case with cookery programmes. In any event, the series comes highly recommended – and with episodes on frying and grilling still to come, he should have some French ideas that are perfect for a British summer.

Going back to my roots Sunday, Jan 20 2013 

As many of you who peruse this blog may know, I used to be a vegetarian, but gave it up on my move to the land where “everything is good in a pig”. However, I still eat a mostly vegetarian diet at home, and am constantly on the lookout for new recipes, as many which sound tempting on paper are dreadful in practice (such as a three-veg pudding that I read about in “Cooking from an Italian Garden”, which actually turned out to basically be baby food. NICE.).

However, Saint Ainsley of Harriott has come along to save me with a recipe for root veg and nut crumble. Yeah, I know – it may not sound that appealing. And it may not be what you would expect from the lively Jamaican guy best known for brightening up every episode of Ready Steady Cook:

BUT this recipe is not only tasty, cheap, healthy (you can get ALL of your five a day from this recipe alone), and easy to make, but it also reheats brilliantly and leaves you feeling full for ages.

So, for your cooking pleasure, here’s the full recipe, which has been shamelessly copied from the Flour Advisory Bureau’s website:

Not a picture of mine, but theirs looks basically the same, and they are better photographers too…

Fry 900g of chopped prepared root vegetables (a mixture of carrot, swede, parsnip, turnip, and butternut squash) in 25g butter. Cook gently for 10 minutes before adding 2 cleaned and sliced leeks. After 3-4 minutes, sprinkle in 50g flour, and stir it in before adding 300ml vegetable stock, 150ml milk, and 200g chopped tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the crumble topping: rub together 50g butter and 100g flour (OR just fry up 100g wholemeal breadcrumbs in the same amount of butter) until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in 100g grated Cheddar cheese, 75g chopped mixed nuts (I used hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts), and 1tbsp each of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Season to taste, and then season the filling as well. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 190°C, and serve with extra veg (e.g. broccoli) if you like. Serves 6.

The first time I made this, I halved it to make 3 portions, which did me one great dinner and then two easy-to-freeze portions for work lunches. This doesn’t disintegrate on defrosting or microwaving, or lose flavour – it tastes just as good after a spell in the freezer. Its versatility is also another winning point: you can just chuck in any root veg you have (even potatoes!) and mix up the nuts and seeds for variation (I used a bag of “Omega Sprinkle” from Holland and Barrett that I had lurking in my kitchen cupboards). In addition, it definitely ensures you’ll be able to get through your afternoon without having to make a dash for the vending machines.

I really think that Ainsley, through his work with Ready Steady Cook (as well as other shows like More Nosh, Less Dosh, and books like his Meals in Minutes series), has really helped to show that you can make decent food on limited means (whether that means time or money). It’s my view that this recipe only furthers that cause – and urge you to give this winter warmer a go at the earliest opportunity.

The challenge Sunday, Jul 25 2010 

We have decided between the two of us, for better or for worse, to have a challenge.

The challenge will be as follows.

Person A will give Person B €25. Person B then has to shop for ingredients for a four-course meal (starter, main, cheese, dessert) AND also for the wine. They will then bring all this home and make a gourmet extravaganza at home for two. Meat/fish, wine and cheese will probably be the main affronts to the budget.

But it’s going to be ace. It’ll be like Ready Steady Cook, only better (although the absence of an Ainsley Harriott style figure will be felt keenly. Perhaps a cardboard cutout?!). Can’t wait 😀