Month: April 2020

Of Home Stays And Take Aways

The last time I sat down to eat anywhere other than my house was March 19th. It was in The Plough, the perfect neighbourhood pub which was a huge contributing factor in moving 60m away last November. Inside the mood was a sombre one: thirty or so people having lunch in a space usually occupied by several hundred, each practising a level of hygiene well above the norm; sanitising hands and cutlery and bottles of hot sauce in between slices of pizza and calzone. The Plough closed the following day, their spirit of community living on through the NHS rainbows which adorn the front windows, sent in by local families.

The elapsed time since then has been a blur of panic and confusion. Lockdown UK is a 24 hour assault of news and fear and graphs where everyone has an opinion and that opinion is lambasted across all forms of media without anyone really knowing what is going on, or any real proof to substantiate what is said. Where every picture of the outdoors comes with an immediate disclaimer that this is the one form of exercise for that day, self-policed in a world where everyone else’s movement is somehow more crucial than theirs to the planet’s survival. A crazy time that should be used for self-reflection, yet has become somehow about what we have or haven’t done to have contributed to this mess, splayed out across Facebook and Twitter for everyone to see.

It’s understandable to some extent. The majority of us have a lot of time on our hands to indulge in the voyeurism of the pile-up happening outside that heavily secured front door. In the last three weeks I’ve gone from petrified to scared to numb. From full time professional to full time house husband. My interactions with the outside world are few and far between; the make-shift gym in the spare room means that I have little reason to leave the house other than to buy food. And I miss it. I miss the bickering with my family. Miss seeing my friends and regretting the previous night’s actions the following day. Miss the faces of strangers, and the pubs, and the pub gardens, and the luxury of being able to sit in a restaurant eating nice food and drinking nice wine. I miss restaurants so very much.

I decided back at the start of quarantine that I would continue to pay for other people to cook me dinner as long as it was possible. The duty to support an industry that has been the backbone of this hobby is an important one for me. We started the Friday before the lockdown with a dinner from Harborne Kitchen that was a little out of the norm. I asked what I could do to help and they said I could purchase some ingredients to assemble at home. That night we sat down to liver parfait, then pork belly, finally washing down the apple tart with cocktails purchased from Couch the prior evening. It felt special, a little bit of our favourite places in the sanctuary of our own dining room/temporary office. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said “only when it is dark enough can you see stars”, and I’m trying my hardest to follow that optimism, despite how bleak it looks outside.

Since then our dining table has hosted some of the stars of Birmingham: pizza from both Poli and Baked in Brick, and back to Baked in Brick for those bargain 10 quid Sunday roasts. I’ve answered the door to Dom from Caneat in nothing but a dressing gown before eating his obscene pork kimchi ragu pasta, waved at the guys from Baked as they dropped off cakes, and been accused of waiting in the window for my cheese and wine by Chris Connolly of Arch 13. Chris, it was my office, I promise. I’ve left cans of beer on the street for Rich from Fat Snags and then exchanged pictures later; him drinking Heineken in his garden, and me scorching the top of the cheesey spicy pasta he’s knocking out too cheaply. Forgive me, but you may have noticed that we’ve been throwing money primarily towards those we really like. Apart from Gabriel’s. That was just a really bad hangover.

The hard bits have been the least expected. I could have cried opening the door to Luca Laghi and not being able let him through to share a whisky as we did a few weeks before this started. I have so much admiration for that man, more so now that Laghi’s has now closed so that he can concentrate on his hospital work. The same for James Wong, a friend whose wedding I sabotaged long before this blog was ever considered. James will kill me for saying this but I’ve spoken to him enough over the phone to know the amount of burden he has placed on himself to help his community. We ordered to support that and he delivered it himself, dressed like a cheap backstreet surgeon with a grin that could be seen either side of his surgical mask. We’ve had excellent food from Royal Meal that turned up late because Cyd took a detour to pick me up a burger from OPM on the way. I asked if I could give Cyd the money for the burger and he told me to fuck off in his heavily accented voice. I took that as a no.

I keep telling myself that this will be quickly forgotten once the best times return. That the first lunch at Opheem is going to make it all flood back, and that by the time my mate comes for lunch at Harborne Kitchen the fear will be replaced with a newfound positivity. But right now that seems so far away. Earlier today I was asked to film a brief snippet for a friend who is keen to spread some positivity. I stuttered and stumbled my way through three awkward takes before delivering a mumbled message of stay home, stay safe and see you soon. It’s all you need to know. I’ll see you on the other side when the good times return.

Pan-Demics, part three

It’s day I dunno of however many days of quarantine. The days are now longer, which is great for an increased sense of panic from the 24 hour news vessels intent on spreading dread. My two outfits are on constant rotation and my face now resembles a wrinkled Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf. On the plus side I’m winning at Monopoly. I’m personally keeping away from the TV as much as possible, filling my time exercising, reading, writing, and cooking. If the latter is of interest to you, then I hope you enjoy part three, which features some great recipes from people within hospitality who have been very generous with their time

1) Meena Sharma of The Indian Streatery – Family Friendly Vegetable Kofta (GF)

Recipe: Combination of seasonal vegetable formed into balls, blended with herbs and home roasted spices in thick aromatic tomato gravy. Get the kids involved with the formation of the balls! It was a dish that our Mother (Head Chef) would make to disguise how much vegetables are in one meal! A cheeky way of getting us to eat all those vegetables we would normally run a mile from. A recipe made with love from The Indian Streatery x

Ingredients-serves 5-6 (12-15 balls):

Kofta (in tandem with method):

2 carrots

1 courgette

1⁄2 white cabbage

1 medium potato

Handful of shredded spinach

1⁄2 teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds

1⁄2 teaspoon of toasted crushed coriander seeds

1 teaspoon of salt

4 tablespoons of gram flour

Sauce/Curry (in tandem with method):

2 tablespoons of oil

3 medium onions

1 teaspoon of garlic

2 fresh green chillies.

1 teaspoon of salt

4 cloves

2 cardamom pods.

3 curry leaves

1 teaspoon of ginger

1 teaspoon of turmeric powder

Small handful of fresh coriander.

1 can of pureed tomatoes

1 tablespoon of crème fraiche.

1⁄2 teaspoon of coriander & cumin powder.

1⁄2 teaspoon of masala.

Tablespoon of dried fenugreek


Start with the Kofta balls- grate the carrots/courgettes/cabbage/potato and add to a blender. Once blended- in a bowl mix the veg with the other ingredients- spinach/cumin/coriander and salt. Add the gram flour. The natural water from the veg should allow the ingredients to blend and form the balls. (If not add 2 tablespoons of water).

Form 12-15 medium size balls and fry (in rapeseed oil in a deep frying pan on medium heat) until golden brown. Place on baking paper to allow them to rest.

Now for the sauce- add the three tablespoons of oil to a pan. Add onions, garlic, chilli and salt. Once onions have browned slightly must add cardamoms, cloves curry leaves after 2 minutes. After another 2 minutes add ginger, turmeric, fresh coriander and tomatoes.

After 15 minutes add crème fraiche alongside fenugreek, masala and the coriander/cumin powders. Add the Kofta balls to the sauce. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

And there you have it an Indian Streatery family favourite. Enjoy & please share any photos on social media. Spread the love. See you soon! Have fun cooking!


Use any vegetables that are readily available around the house.

If you happen to think coriander ‘tastes like soap’ just take it out- don’t worry it is not essential for the recipe.

If no fresh chillies available, chilli flakes will also provide the same kick!

Have some fun; the balls don’t need to be perfectly round!

For the meat fanatics- use minced lamb (with same spices) instead of the vegetables.

Exclude the crème fraiche to create a vegan option.

Pairing suggestions- rice/roti/flatbreads/pitas/wraps with a large bowl of salad & yogurt on the side.

2) How to Make A Pizza from Otto

So before I give you our pizza recipe, I should probably say I don’t think it’s the best recipe for making pizza at home. It’s nice because it’s proved for a really long time and cooked really hot, neither of which are so practical for home.

Here’s a link to a website I use if I’m making pizza at home:

For regular, circular pizzeria style pizzas, both the ‘foolproof pan pizza’ recipe and the Jim Lahey no knead pizza recipes are great. The Jim Lahey recipe page has a video on how to shape too.

I’ve had the best results at home by starting the dough in a hot, dry frying pan and then finishing the top under the grill on full power. I think that’s the best way to simulate a really screaming hot pizza oven. You might burn one a bit on the bottom on the pan, but once you get the pan temperature right, it’s a killer method. Pizza Pilgrims recommended it when they were selling their pizza kits.

The other great thing about serious eats is that they have a range of pan pizza recipes, all different and all great in their own way. They make an excellent family style meal and, being slightly enriched doughs, keep a lot better too so can be fridged and reheated nicely. Most of these doughs also work well un-topped as focaccia.

Anyway, if you want to give ours a try, the recipe is:

Makes about 5 10” pizzas, takes 2 days (you could do this all on the same day with more yeast, but it won’t taste as good)

500g water (room temperature to tepid)

750g strong white bread flour (we use pizza flour, but bread flour will be fine)

20g salt

3g instant yeast (or 7 if you’re doing it on the same day)

In a mixer:

Add 400g of the water and yeast, mix and leave to stand for a couple of minutes

Add half of the flour, mix until combined (a minute or so)

Stop the mixer, tip in the rest of the flour and the salt and leave to stand for 20mins

After 20mins, start the mixer again and pour the remaining water slowly around the edges. This will help to get all of the remaining dry flour incorporated and (hopefully) leave you with a clean bowl at the end.

Mix until fully combined, smooth and elastic. Probably no more than 3-5mins.

Transfer to a large bowl (at least double the size of the dough)

Cover the top of the bowl with cling film and leave for an hour at room temperature (doesn’t need to be a warm place, just not cold)

Check the dough – it should have grown, but not necessarily doubled. If it hasn’t grown much, leave it another 30mins.

Punch the dough back and put in the fridge overnight, or for a maximum of 3 days. Make sure it’s well covered by the cling film, or in an airtight container to stop it drying out.

If you’re doing this without the overnight rest in the fridge, punch back and divide into 5 equal sized balls. Leave for another hour and then skip to the shaping.

When you want to use it, remove from the fridge 2 hours before cooking and cut into 5 equal sized chunks. Roll these into balls, cover and leave for 2 hours.

In the meantime, get your ingredients together (sauce recipe below) and preheat the grill a little in advance of cooking so it’s really hot.

Shape the dough balls into pizzas – use plenty of flour to stop them sticking to the work surface, and to your fingers. I like to press the balls firmly from the middle to the edge, leaving a nice untouched crust around the edge of about 1-2cm thick. Imagine pressing down on bubble wrap to burst the bubbles, but leaving the bubbles around the edge intact. The finished pizzas may not be totally round, but should be something like 10”.

When you’re ready, put a large frying pan, 20-30cm on the hob at medium to high heat (no oil). When it’s hot enough, transfer one of the pizza bases (shaking gently first to remove excess flour) into the pan, pulling and pressing gently so that it fills the pan. Watch your fingers!

Cook in the pan for a minute or so, or until the crust has puffed up a little and the dough doesn’t look totally raw.

Spoon your sauce into the middle and spread, sprinkle your ingredients over the top. Less is more!

While you’re doing this, keep checking the bottom of the pizza. Some black spots are fine, we actually want a bit of char, but you don’t want to burn it. You’re just aiming for a crispy, cooked bottom here, a bit blistered like a naan bread or tortilla. The grill will do the rest. You’re not aiming to cook the toppings at this stage either.

Before the bottom becomes charcoal, transfer to under the grill. If your frying pan is safe for the oven (ie no plastic or rubber handle for example), put it straight under the grill, no more than a few cm from the element. Otherwise, you can slide the pizza out on to a tray and do it that way.

Keep an eye – it will go quickly – and remove when the cheese is melted and the crust takes on some colour. Again, it’ll get some black spots (mostly the bubbles will catch first) and this is fine. Just don’t let it totally burn. The absolute ideal is a speckled, leopard print looking crust, and the toppings JUST starting to catch a little on their edges – ham or salami should be just threatening to crisp up, and the cheese should be melted but not crispy or overly browned. But that’s just me!

Bear in mind that the first one is almost always a dud. Don’t use up all your favourite ingredients on the first one, save your truffles and caviar for later! Here’s where you want to adjust the temperature a bit if it’s burnt or underdone.

A few extra tips:

Fresh basil and dried oregano are pretty much essential, it’ll taste so much better. Finishing with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a bit of parmesan is great too.

Fresh mozzarella is really great for this (although you could use grated, or even other cheeses). If you use fresh mozzarella, cut into small strips or chunks and use sparingly.

Too many ingredients will ruin it – it’s so tempting to chuck all your favourite things on a pizza, but the best ones are not overladen. For one, it’ll make the pizza soggy and harder to cook. For another, you’ll taste everything so much better if you stick to maximum 3 ingredients.

On the subject of avoiding sogginess and overloading, most vegetables (especially ones containing lots of water, like peppers) really benefit from being roasted a little bit beforehand. You don’t need them browned – the grill will finish the job for you -just softened a bit. Otherwise, cut them really thinly and they won’t release all their water in a soupy mess on the pizza.

The sauce:

There’s a million ways of doing sauce. Cooked or uncooked, herby, garlicky, with or without sugar, oil, you can honestly do whatever you want.

I love a cooked sauce on deep pan pizzas, but I think if you’re making pizza this way in a hot pan and grill, you don’t need anything other than tinned tomatoes – one tin will be more than enough, blitzed until smooth (or even a little chunky), seasoned with a bit of salt and a pinch of oregano. Add a pinch of sugar if they’re really acidic. You can blitz your fresh basil into the sauce, but honestly I think it’s best to put whole leaves on the pizza where it’ll fry a little and be really fragrant.

Let me know how it goes!

3) 20hr Beef Lasagne by Angelino Adamo of Tutto Apasto


250g braising beef steaks, or brisket or even mince (whatever you can get your hands on)

2 sticks celery

2 carrots

100g mushrooms

1 large onion

Sprig of thyme

Tomato paste

Chopped tinned tomatoes

Half bottle of red wine

Beef or brown chicken stock cube


3 eggs

100g ricotta or mascarpone

100g wild garlic

Fresh Lasagne sheets or for the pasta :

3 eggs

400g oo flour


Saffron if you have it


100g butter

100g flour

500ml milk

Half an onion

Sprig of rosemary


100g red leicester/ cheddar/ mozzarella, I use a mix of all three

100g parmesan

1 lemon

Tsp dijon

1 egg yolk

Tsp worcestershire sauce

1. For the ragu, I did this the day before in a slow cooker

2. Start by dicing the mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery) into small cubes and sweat off with a knob of butter

3. Put into a colander and set to one side

4. In the same pan fry off sliced mushrooms

5. You can put in some diced bacon too, but this is quite rich anyway, so ill leave it to you..

6. Dice all the beef if it’s not mince, coat in seasoned flour and fry it off giving it great colour

7. Add everything back into the pan

8. Add a table spoon of tomato paste and cook out

9. A dash of white wine vinegar, and some sugar

10. Reduce this until nothing

11. Then add half your bottle of red wine or enough to just cover everything in your pan

12. Reduce by half

13. Add a beef stock cube and a tin of chopped tomatoes

14. If youve got any leftover salad toms, chuck em in, it’ll only give it more flavour

15. Bring to the boil, season it, but be sure to not finish the seasoning as it’ll take more at the end

16. Stick it in your slow cooker and forget about it

17. Optional -Boil up three eggs and grate or chop (something they do in agrigento, a town in sicily where my parents are from)

18. If you’re making pasta, I use a food processor to start me off, saffron is just to get a golden colour but it’s not a big deal.

19. If your using fresh pasta sheets, i soaked them in water for 5 minutes, an old trick nonna taught me to get a real quick bake and ‘the crispy part of the lasagne’

20. For the mornay sauce, melt your butter and cook out your flour, infuse your milk with the half an onion, rosemary and peppercorns

21. Once hot, add your milk slowly and keep whisking, make a little wetter than usual

22. Add in your cheese and then season, as parmesan is quite salty

23. Squeeze a lemon in, your dijon, worcestershire sauce and i like to add an egg yolk off the heat  just to enrich it a bit more.

24. When about to assemble- after the 20 hrs of cooking, your ragu should be falling apart and awesome, add your roughly torn up or chopped wild garlic to your ragu. If you don’t have wild garlic, grate a garlic clove in when your sweating off your mirepoix

25. Assemble any way you want, I normally go, ragu, pasta, boiled eggs, dollops of ricotta or mascarpone, extra grated parmesan, mornay sauce, ragu, pasta… and so on. The top layer of pasta, just cover with mornay and a mix of cheddar and parmesan

26. Bake and 190 for 25-30 mins depending on how large/deep your tray is.

4) Max’s Caldo Verde by Cliche Guevara

This is possibly the most simple recipe that I could do but it’s a dish I cook at home at least once a week because it’s ingredients we always have in the house. Serve it with a big chunk of crusty bread and you’re good to go!


1 onion slices

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped

200g chorizo diced

1 kilo potatoes peeled and diced 2cm

1.5 litre chicken stock

250g Cavolo Nero stalks removed and thinly sliced.

Olive oil

Fry the onion and garlic until then add the chorizo and cook until everything starts to brown and the oil is released from the chorizo.

Add the potatoes and continue to cook for 5 minutes to allow them to absorb that beautiful chorizo oil.

Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are just cooked.

Add the sliced Cavolo Nero and cook for a further 5 minutes and check seasoning. The potatoes should be breaking up a little bit giving the soup a nice thick consistency but not gloopy. It’s now ready to serve, just finish with some nice olive oil on the top because us chefs like to be all fancy and that.

5) Paneer saag by Breaking Bread Podcast

This curry is super simple to make and is based on a healthy Tom Kerridge recipe. If you’re not fussed about being healthy then you can swap the fry light for butter and the light single cream for full-fat single cream. I like my curries hot! If you do not, don’t add the chilli or add to suit your own taste.

Serves 3-4


250g paneer cubed

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp salt

Fry light

1 white onion diced

1 tsp cumin seeds

795g can of spinach puree (I use KTC)

200ml veg stock

4 garlic cloves finely chopped

2.5cm ginger finely grated

3 long green chillies sliced down the middle from half way down

1/3 tsp garam masala

50ml light single cream

200g tomatoes diced

Salt and pepper

1. Toss paneer in the turmeric and a pinch of salt

2. In large pan (I use a wok) put on high heat, spray some frylight and fry paneer till golden brown on all sides, then remove from pan a put to one side. 4-5min

3. More fry light to pan and add onion and cumin seeds. Cook for 5 min or until light brown.

4. Add garlic, ginger, chilli and garam masala and stir for 2 min.

5. Add spinach, paneer, tomatoes, stock and cream. Bring to simmer and cook for 5 min.

6. Season with salt and pepper and serve with what you want.  I serve with rice and chapattis

Gusteau’s, Paris

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.

Last night I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto, “Anyone can cook.”But I realize only now do I truly understand what he meant.

Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more. It was a great night. The happiest of my life. But the only thing predictable about life is its unpredictability.