Bloke in the Kitchen. Barbecued seafood with avocado and palm hearts


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

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Shrimps on the barbie: this lot are pretty small, but see what you can find

Seeing actual fish on a barbecue is relatively rare and there is a reason for that. Food tends to stick to the bars on a barbecue and fish is soft, so it is too easy to tear it, break it, and generally make a mess of it. With a nice big steak from some chunky fish such as salmon you might be okay, but other than that it is quite a challenge.

It helps if the bars are shiny and clean, but that means you have to cook the fish first, and anyway, how many of us have the time or inclination to get the thing back to pristine condition? We’ll clean it, yes, scrub it with a scouring pad and maybe take a nostalgic trip down Brillo Pad Lane, but there are likely to be brown spots where it should be gleaming like a lake in a fairy story.

If you’re a real fish fiend and determined to have a go, the best thing is to buy some of those fish-shaped sort of cages. You put a fish inside and close it, and the flesh doesn’t actually touch the barbecue at all. The cage does, and the fish is right next to it, so it cooks but doesn’t stick.

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Fish holders, cages, baskets, contraptions. Whatever you call them, they keep the delicate flesh from sticking to the bars.

The best I can find as a technical term is “fish holder”, so if you’re trying to explain it to the assistant in the shop that sells this kind of thing, you’re going to be doing some descriptive business with your hands.

Alternatively, you could wrap a piece of fish in aluminium foil and slap that on, just as you put it in the oven. A fish fillet, a slice of lemon or some herbs on top, place it on some foil and wrap it up. It won’t have any of the barbecue flavor, but it will cook.

Remember, too, that fish generally takes less time, so however you choose to do it, make sure you don’t overcook it.

Far easier is to use prawns, or some other kind of seafood such as scallops, and because these are relatively small, they are often done on skewers (permanent steel ones or single-use wooden). This means you get kebabs, and you can either make a whole skewer of, say, shrimps, or mix in pieces of pepper or other roastable vegetables.

If you do that, try to make sure the pieces don’t stick out much further than the shrimps or scallops, or they will get burnt before the shrimps are done.

Cheap disposable barbecue, wooden skewers, some prawns and rings of squid. Elementary, my dear Watson

Squid does pretty well on a barbecue. If you use baby ones, you will need to clean them to get all the gunge out, but once that is done, sling them on the bars for a couple of minutes and they’re ready. For preparation, check out my recipe for Sea-Flavoured Squid: on the homepage, click on the search tool and type squid.

The most important thing to remember when barbecuing anything is that it’s not the smooth, predictable process you find in a good kitchen. Out there you’re thinking on your feet, making it up as you go along and just getting the job done.

Which brings us to the accompaniments. To go with fish there is a great, easy sauce called Chermoula. Click the search tool on the homepage and type chermoula.

Knock up a potato salad. Cut the spuds into chunks and boil them, then cool and drain them and mix in some mayonnaise plus a sprinkling of chopped parsley (mainly for decoration). Don’t be stingy with the mayo. A little salt and pepper and there’s your bulk, your carbohydrates.

You could do something similar with pasta (fusilli, farfalle, penne etc.): cook it, cool it, drain it, add some mayo or even just olive oil and herbs, maybe some diced tomato or cucumber. Radishes, capers… Do what you like: it’s not governed by the Ten Commandments.

As for vegetable salads etc, it is tempting to knock up a standard-issue lettuce-based number, but we all know people only eat a few forkfuls out of a sense of duty.

But if you want to give your guests something they will actually like, here is a fantastic quick salad dish: avocado with palm hearts. It depends on there being some nice ripe avocados available, but let’s assume there are. Any decent supermarket or deli will have cans of palm hearts. They come in a sort of brine to keep them in good condition, and the hearts look like white candles, not a million miles away from asparagus, but with a flavour all their own.

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Palm hearts: the avocado’s secret love

So, peel and slice the avocados – nice big slices if people are sitting down, or you can cut them up if everybody’s standing up, juggling with wine glasses. Open a can of palm hearts and drain off the brine. Lay one or two over the avocado (again, cut them up if people are going to find it difficult to use a knife and fork).

You will hear one three-part question: “What are these things, where can I get some and why have I never noticed them before?” Then a statement-question: “Aren’t they just perfect with avocados.”



Bloke in the Kitchen. Barbecuing meat


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Here’s a question for you: what is barbecue sauce? And more importantly, what is it for?

Is it like barbecue-flavored snacks, in that it gives the flavor of  barbecued food?

Well if it is, why put it on food that actually has been barbecued on a proper charcoal unit?

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The source of the magic: smouldering charcoal is the king of cooking fuels

There seems to be some confusion about this, and because Bloke in the Kitchen is all about keeping things simple, let’s start with a basic point of view: when you cook food on a barbecue, you don’t need to then smother it with something to make it taste like it has been barbecued. That’s like going on a beach holiday and basking in the sun but using fake tan on your skin too. If you’re going to do that, you can save the air fare and just bronze yourself out of a bottle in the privacy of your chilly northern bathroom.

If you’re having a barbecue, by all means have a sauce or two available for those who want one, because burger joints have taught many people that no meal is complete without ketchup. If they want to engage in that practice, that’s up to them.

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Shop-bought or homemade, who really needs it?

We had a teenager staying with us recently and I made Spaghetti Bolognese for us. She immediately stood up, went to the fridge, took out the ketchup and slathered it all over.

Well I’m sorry, but I didn’t take that very well. Okay, the Bolognese possibly didn’t merit words like “exquisite”, but it was pretty tasty, rich and juicy and it certainly didn’t need a squeeze of red colouring and sugar to make it edible.

But that’s another story. With a barbecue, anything goes, really, so there’s no harm in providing some gunge for those who automatically reach for it.

Make your own if you like: mix some tomato ketchup (yes, that) with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, honey and whatever else takes your fancy, and let those who are that way inclined gorge themselves on it.

Some people smear the meat with it before they cook it, but they are confusing it with a marinade, which we will come to in a minute. But if you do cover the food in sauce and then place it over the heat, you’re boiling and burning it. If you’re in a household where such sauces are seen as essential and you will be lynched if you don’t do it, try to get away with giving it a quick coating when it is almost cooked and ready to serve. That way everybody is happy.

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That’s a pretty civilised plate of food: chops, vegetables, potatoes, and not a plastic bottle in sight

However, if you are indisputably  in charge (or if you can get away with it), just cook it as nature intended.

A marinade can help get some flavor deep inside a piece of meat, but that means a liquid, which can penetrate the stuff, not a slimy substance that stays on top.

For chicken, squeeze a couple of limes or lemons into a bowl and crush some garlic into it. If you have some lemongrass, you can add that and let it infuse (give up its flavor to the liquid), before removing the strands and steeping the chicken in it.

Even then, though, bear in mind that you will have given the chicken a new flavor, when it has a perfectly good one of its own, so unless you’re convinced it is better, maybe you should do half with the marinade and half without.

With sausages, marinades do not work. They have a plastic skin that will keep the flavor out. You need to buy tasty sausages, and there are plenty around, from the local butcher’s own creations to some fancy ones in the supermarket.

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The barbie chef’s friend, the humble sausage

Burgers: well, they’re a piece of cake, aren’t they? And they really can benefit from some sauce.

Now, the serious meat. As mentioned last week, it might be tempting to add a touch of class to the meal by including some steaks, i.e. beef, but in fact it’s asking for trouble. Unless you get some pretty expensive stuff and you’re skilled at cooking it, it could well end up tough and dry. If you insist, however, you could use a marinade, but a better option is to rub it with some spices. Sprinkle on some paprika and a little chilli pepper, perhaps, and rub it in so it’s not just on the surface. And a knob of butter is always well received by a steak.

A better idea, though, is to use pork or lamb chops. They are far more cooperative, more forgiving. Make sure the pork ones are cooked through, because undercooked pork can be dangerous. Having taken care of that, you’ll find that chops do the trick of making it seem more like a proper meal than just a barbie, and they’re no problem. Throw them on, make sure they’re done, singe them a bit around the edges and Robert is your mother’s brother.

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And just to show you’re not a complete moron: some pieces of meat

Next Saturday: fish, seafood and side dishes for barbecues


Bloke in the Kitchen. Getting a charcoal barbecue going


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking


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Small is beautiful. A barbecue like this doesn’t cost much but if you know what you’re doing, it can bring a lot of fun

When we eat outdoors, it often involves a barbecue, which can be great fun, but many people struggle to get the thing going when it’s a proper charcoal-fired one. Gas is easy, but charcoal? It’s a bit of an art.

Actually, it’s an art the same as making boiled rice is an art, which is to say it’s not difficult at all. You’ve just got to understand a couple of things.

First, you need a bag of charcoal, preferably fresh and dry.

Secondly you need a packet of firelighters.

And matches – preferably big ones.


Start early. Half an hour before you need to start cooking, your first coals should be smouldering.

So, break a firelighter brick out of the block and put it in the middle of the barbecue.  Then start making a pyramid of charcoal over it, but leave a bit of room for it to catch. Fire needs air. Try to build yourself a little access hole or tunnel. A dozen pieces of charcoal should be enough to start with – enough for the flame to get to work on, but not too much, or you’ll suffocate it.

The idea is to get something going and build on it once it’s lit.

So, light a match and poke it through the hole you’ve left so the firelighter catches. It should lick up around the closest coals and in a minute or two they will start to burn a bit.


If you don’t have any firelighters, soak a piece of paper kitchen towel in cooking oil and use that in the same way. It won’t burn for as long, but  if you use several you should get it going.

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There’s too much flame going on here. The coals need to be sedate and white.

Charcoal doesn’t burn like crazy: once it gets going it just smoulders, and that’s what you want. If there is a lot of smoke and flame, it’s not ready. You have to let the gases burn off, because they smell – not like wood but like petrol, and you don’t want that permeating your food. It may flare up briefly when fat drips onto the coals, but that’s different.

If you have a larger barbecue you can build two or three pyramids and gradually they will spread into each other so you have one whole hot mass.

The charcoal should be white when you start cooking: that doesn’t mean it’s nearly spent (finished), it’s just the  surface, but it means the gases are not horrible like they were at the start. When the coals look peaceful and old, like Meryl Streep and Sidney Poitier playing grandparents, that’s when they’re ready.

Now, the food. And please note: this is not for the perfectionist.


I think part of the reason women who normally do the bulk of the cooking hand this over to their man is because it’s not the smooth, orderly process they are accustomed to. It’s a bit more like pirates cooking on a beach or cowboys around a camp fire. If that analogy doesn’t reflect the dynamics in your relationship, forgive me, but it’s how the situation often is in my experience. If in your household the man is the one who likes to take things slow and easy, and the woman is the one more likely to do it off the cuff, on a wing and a prayer, that’s just how it is. Similarly, if you are same-sex partners, you will do it how you do it.

Can we carry on now? Thank you.

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Looks like there’s some steak involved here. Good luck with that.

The cooking instructions for barbecues are the very essence of Bloke in the Kitchen: approximate. You don’t know exactly how hot the coals are or the distance between them and the metal grill the food is on, so  you have to keep having a look. Get a good pair of metal tongs and remember, you can’t turn the heat down on a charcoal barbie: if something is cooking too fast, all you can do is move it out of the centre, to the less scorching area around the edges.  And the pieces that start round the edge will probably have to go nearer the middle at some point. You have to keep picking things up, turning them over, and moving them around.

If you’re barbecuing in the dark, or if you start in the daylight but you’re still going when the light has gone, you need to have some source of illumination so you can assess the food. Crucially, you need to be able to see how pink the meat is, because chicken and pork particularly need to be cooked through and you only know that if the blood has gone.

If you can’t rig up an electric light or a camping gas lantern, use a nice big torch.

As for the stuff you use, sausages and chicken wings work well; steaks can be hit-and-miss, tough and yet raw, or burnt, dry and unappetizing.

It’s better to sacrifice your Michelin stars for the evening and just knock out something basic and tasty, if unsophisticated. Burgers rather than entrecote.

But that’s enough for now. Whack a few sausages on the barbie and keep it simple.

We’ll look at the food in more detail next Saturday.


Bloke in the Kitchen. Cachapas (corn pancakes)


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Cachapas are corn pancakes, dead easy to make and good for a meal at any time of day. What’s a corn pancake? A pancake made of corn. That’s whole kernels of corn, not a can of the creamed variety, although you do smash it up a bit.

Cachapas are ideal for breakfast, lunch or dinner

Also known as maize, corn is a plant that produces fruit as small, pea-size units on a fat stalk which we call a cob. The fruits are known as kernels.

Cachapas are popular in Venezuela, where in many families they are regarded as a treat, much as what you might call “ordinary” pancakes are in other countries.

Importantly, cachapas are best when you use fresh corn, rather than frozen or canned. They are served with slices of white cheese and a little butter.

A good cachapa tastes mellow and fruity. The first time I had them I couldn’t believe there was no other fruit involved.

Q. Why not use frozen or canned corn?
A. Because cachapas just work better with fresh.


Two corn cobs per person

A block of pale cheese (in the UK, Cheshire or Wensleydale are ideal). It should be crumbly and just slightly sour.



Rip the leaves off the cobs and get rid of the silky strands that surround the kernels. Then stand the cob on its flatter, thicker end and, using a good strong knife, cut the kernels off. You know how big corn kernels are and you can see at the top before you start, anyway. So place the blade there and slice downwards. Don’t worry if you stray a little either way; as long as you end up with little yellow balls, you’re okay.

Put the kernels in a blender and blitz them. You need to break them up and make them slightly mushy, but not soupy. Prod and mix them with the handle of a wooden spoon until they are at least clinging together a bit.

No, it’s not scrambled eggs. This is what the corn mixture looks like when it’s ready for the pan

Wipe or spray a little oil in a pan, just enough to stop the mixture from sticking. When the pan is hot, turn the heat down to half. Spoon the mixture in and make pancakes about 6 to 8 inches wide. If you make them bigger than that they will be difficult to turn.

Give each cachapa a couple of minutes and then flip it. It should have golden singe marks.

Maybe a little dark for some people, but pancakes are not an exact science

Serve with a little butter and slice some cheese on top. No salt or sugar is needed: the corn and the cheese take care of that.

Two cachapas each will be enough for most people.


If you can’t get fresh corn, you can use frozen or canned, but get it dry before blitzing it. If it is too sloppy, ideally you add a little Harina PAN (see arepa recipe  a few weeks ago). If not, try a little plain flour. You may also need to add salt and sugar – try one first before you make a whole batch.




Bloke in the Kitchen. Mackerel with chermoula


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking


Cooking a simple fish dish is the easiest thing in the world. You grill or fry it with a little butter and Bob’s your uncle. But it will only be delicious if the fish itself has flavor, and for me there can only be one winner: mackerel.

When I was a kid in Guernsey, some summer afternoons you would hear a small van driving slowly through the lanes with one man at the wheel and another hanging on at the back, shouting “Mackerel! Mackerel!” because they had suddenly got lucky and caught dozens of the shimmering blue-black-silver fish, and in those days such things were sold and eaten quickly rather than being frozen and kept for another day.

So every housewife on the route would take two or three, depending on how many mouths she had to feed. She would gut them, fillet them and fry them along with some potatoes and maybe some vegetables.

What she wouldn’t do was serve a green, fresh, tangy, herby cold sauce called chermoula with it – but that’s because she didn’t know any better and didn’t have access to foreign ideas and non-British herbs, as we do now. She might give you a wedge of lemon to squeeze over it, but probably not even that.

Mackerel is perfectly capable of looking after itself flavor-wise, but with chermoula it’s even better. Does a beautiful woman need a gorgeous dress and arousing perfume? No, but if she’s got them, why not?

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Mackerel fillets: No scales to worry about, and the brown bits are the tastiest of all

If you don’t have access to fresh mackerel fillets (the frozen steaks  from very big mackerel are nothing like it), there are several choices. First, you could move somewhere that does have fresh mackerel. Or you could talk to a local fishmonger and find out what the closest thing is where you are. Mackerel is an oily fish, and so is herring, so that’s a possibility.

I used barracuda once in the Caribbean and that was fun but very different: a group of us had just been out on a boat and caught it, so it was the occasion and the chermoula we enjoyed, rather than the flavor of the fish.

So, you’ve got the fish, which will probably be already cleaned and filleted, and there are no scales to worry about. All you do is fry it quickly in a small amount of oil, or grill it or put it in one of those medieval-looking barred cases and stick it on the barbecue. There is a strip of brown meat in there, but don’t discard that – it’s the best part.

And now the bit that lifts the whole thing: chermoula.

Green heaven: chermoula can elevate any fish to delicious


Cilantro (coriander leaves)

Garlic (crushed)

Olive oil

Fresh lemon or lime

Cumin powder

Paprika (sweet or hot)


(You can judge the quantities yourself. For four people you need a soup bowl-full of the sauce – maybe more if they like it a lot. Use plenty of cilantro, not too much garlic and use the oil for bulk, but be careful. It should be mainly herbs. If you run out of cilantro, top it up with flat-leaf parsley.)

Chop the cilantro and place in a small mixing bowl

Add the crushed garlic

Pour in a large slug of olive oil

Mix well

Squeeze in  half a lemon or lime

Sprinkle in some paprika

Grate in the zest of half the lemon or lime

Adjust the quantity with more cilantro, oil and juice, add a little salt and pepper, taste and add more spices if it needs it. As ever, a touch of something spicy-hot is an option

Serve with boiled new potatoes or shallow-fried potato wedges, and a green salad.

Place the chermoula bowl on the table so people can help themselves, either putting it straight on the fish or making a pool on the plate.

For the potatoes, check out a previous recipe (on the home page, click on the search tool and type Sea Flavoured Squid with Potato Wedges).

Bloke in the Kitchen. Chakchouka: Moroccan tomato-poached eggs


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Chakchouka: Moroccan tomato-poached eggs with (optional) flatbread

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This is the kind of thing, but in this case you see it’s chopped fresh tomatoes.

This is usually used as a breakfast, but in many respects it is more like a dinner. It’s just that eggs are often seen as a morning thing, and here we’re basically making a spicy tomato sauce and poaching eggs in it.

Some people say this is a good hangover cure, and maybe it would help, but not so much because of what it contains. It may help your hangover if you’re the one making it because it is the only breakfast I know that makes you think and keeps you busy for half an hour, taking your mind off how you feel.

There’s a bit of flatbread-making involved, which takes a while but is not difficult even if you’ve never made bread before. It’s not like a loaf that contains yeast to make it rise: it’s just flour, oil and water, really. If you’re going to do that, it needs to be done (or at least the dough made and ready to cook) first. Alternatively you can use any kind of bread, from ordinary toast or French to naan, all of which will serve the purpose even if they’re not authentic.


If you’re a complete novice at bread-making, have a go in private some time so you can make a few mistakes and it doesn’t matter. But really, it’s childsplay and you’ll get a kick out of it if it’s even half-decent.


The bread doesn’t have to be perfectly round. You’re going to rip it apart and use it to scoop up the sauce and eggs


Plain flour

Olive oil




Put three good  handfuls of flour plus a pinch of table salt into a mixing bowl and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix it up so the oil is absorbed and the flour is not powdery. Add a cup of warm water and mix well with something like the handle of a wooden spoon.


Q. Why use “something like the handle of a wooden spoon”?
A. Because once you add water, until you get the consistency right it’s going to be very sticky. If it is too wet and you use your hands it gets stuck between your fingers and is hard to get off and generally a pain in the artichoke.

When the dough is tamed and spongy but not wet, knead it thoroughly with your hands.


Q. What does knead mean?
A. It is the process of squeezing, leaning, punching etc. that gets dough ready.

Keep the flour handy and use a little on the dough and your hands if it’s still sticky. When the dough springs back a bit when you press it, it’s ready.

Spread some flour on a flat surface (chopping board, worktop etc.), divide the dough into small handfuls and roll them one at a time in the flour, then dust the rolling pin with flour (again, to prevent sticking) and roll the dough out so it’s about the size of pitta bread but a bit thicker.

Heat a frying or griddle pan without oil so it’s pretty hot, and drop your bread in for five minutes or so. Keep an eye  on it and check underneath. When it’s a bit singed on one side, turn it (with just one in a pan you can flip it like a pancake, but easier).

INGREDIENTS – MAIN DISH (for two people)

One medium tin of chopped tomatoes (400 grams)

Green pepper (1)

Onion (1)

Garlic (1 clove)

Chilli (one, deseeded, chopped small) or chilli flakes (half a teaspoon)

Eggs (one or two each)


Heat a good, heavy frying pan, big enough to keep the eggs apart while they cook but small enough that the tomato mixture is at least half an inch deep.

Chop the onion quite small and fry gently in a little olive oil until it is translucent.

Add the chopped green pepper and continue gently until that is soft.

Add the chopped or crushed garlic and the chopped chilli or chilli flakes and continue for two minutes.

Pour in the tinned tomatoes, add a little salt and pepper and let it bubble gently for 15 minutes.

Make small wells in the tomato mixture (push in a cup, small bowl, orange etc.) and crack an egg into each. Let them cook there for a few minutes until the whites are set.

Serve on dinner plates with a flatbread each.

I told you it was a bit labour-intensive, but with this process plus some juice,  coffee and tea, any hangover should be receding. If you started off with a clear head, good for you.

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Bloke in the Kitchen. Gazpacho


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

There are people – even some intelligent people whom I know and like – who dismiss gazpacho as cold tomato soup. Well guess what: it is a kind of cold tomato soup. But it’s not just tomato soup that’s gone cold: it’s special.

And – the two vital considerations for Bloke in the Kitchen – it’s delicious and it’s easy.

It’s a starter really, but can be your whole lunch if you like.


The concept of chilled soup is alien to many, because in the cool countries we’re brought up with the idea of soup as a meal to warm us up on a cold day. But just turn that on its head: in a hot country or on a hot day, soup can be something that helps cool you down.

And it’s all raw vegetables; think of the vitamins and minerals you’re getting.

It takes about ten minutes to make and then it needs to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours to get really cold. Some people put ice in it, but remember, ice is water and water dilutes flavours. So just give it plenty of time to chill.

This is a starter really, but could be your whole lunch if you like.

Juicing a bucketload of tomatoes would take a long time, but you don’t have to do that. We’re going to use V8, which is tomato juice with other vegetables – beets, celery, carrots, lettuce, parsley, watercress and  spinach.  And it is already liquid, so all we have to do is open it. Then we add cucumber (just the flesh – peel it and scrape out the seeds, keeping the juice if you can) and some spices to enrich the flavor.

This recipe has a kick at the back of the throat, partly from the hot pepper but also the garlic.


Large bottle of  V8 vegetable  juice.

Cucumber (a six-inch piece is about right for two people, peeled, deseeded)


Garlic (one clove, crushed)

Ground black pepper

Celery salt

Cumin powder

Jalapeno or cayenne powder

Lime juice

Olive oil

Worcestershire sauce


If you want to make this really spicy with the sort of kick that will stop the cynics in their tracks, use a fresh chilli, but be careful to taste the soup and make sure your guests can handle it. And warn them. If it’s too hot, all you can do is add some more of everything else to spread out the heat.


Shake the juice and pour into a blender.

Peel and deseed the cucumber, cut into three-inch pieces.

Crush the garlic and add to the mixture

Add a little celery salt and some table salt, plus ground black pepper, a dash of cumin and a little shake of the hot powder. Squeeze in a dash of lime or lemon juice and give it a splash of Worcestershire sauce and a slight glug of olive oil. Take it easy with all of these. You can add more later but you can’t take them out.

Blend it until the cucumber has disappeared.

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Pour into a large bowl, such as a salad bowl.

Chill it for at least two hours. If time is short, put it in the freezer for a while, but don’t forget it.

Serve in soup bowls or pasta bowls, each with a cilantro or parsley leaf floating on top – just for garnish.

Eat with some fresh, crisp French bread and butter.



Bloke in the Kitchen. Beef Bourguignon


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

This is easy – it’s a stew, and anyone can make one of those. Make it right and it’s a delicious stew.

The most difficult part of this is pronouncing it: boorggee nyaw. All it means is it comes from the Bourgogne region of France. That’s what we call Burgundy, but it’s their country, and they can pronounce it how they like.

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“Hearty” is the word people tend to use about stews: they make you feel like they’re doing you good, or preparing you for a steamy French affair.

So, it’s a beef stew, and how do you make a stew? You put some meat in some sort of savoury liquid and cook it slowly in the oven. Can we all manage that, ladies and gentlemen? Of course we can.

So without further ado:


Stewing/braising steak

Onion (chopped)

A carrot (chopped to about a quarter of an inch rounds)

Red wine (burgundy if you can, just to be traditional)

Tomato puree


Bay leaf

Mushrooms (sliced)

Cocktail onions

Plain flour



If you can find something red with Bourgogne on the label, you’re in the right place. Or you could use a Pinot Noir from anywhere (pinot noir is the name of a grape widely used in Burgundy). Or you could use just about any dry red wine. In many countries including the UK, all the reds you see are dry, but some places have this strange liking for sweet stuff. In this case it would be like making stew and adding sugar – and you don’t want to do that. If you use cheap stuff, make sure it’s okay. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it.

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Here the carrot is chunkier and the onions have been added at the last minute. Great: it tastes pretty much the same


Fry the onion and carrot (preferably in butter) until the onion begins to brown, then add the chunks of meat and the mushrooms. Just fry the beef quickly to seal it on all sides, so there are no raw red faces.

Stir in two tablespoons of flour (this will thicken it later) and mix it all up well with a wooden spoon , then add a splat (or a good squirt) of tomato puree. Mix again. Pour in a long splash of wine and stir/scrape to get the good stuff off the base of the pan.

Transfer to a casserole dish, add the thyme and bayleaf and a few cocktail onions, plus half a bottle of wine. This might seem extravagant, but we’re using it instead of water, so there has to be plenty. You might even need more if there are more than two of you. And think how much tastier it is than H2O.

Put it in a medium oven for two hours.

Serve with boiled potatoes and green beans (or more carrots, mashed swede, peas – you’re in charge).




Bloke in the Kitchen. Baby octopus in tomato and bayleaf gravy


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

If ever there was a word designed to inflame the vegetarian, it has to be baby, and I have to admit it does make me feel a bit funny when I  mention this dish. It’s in the same bracket as veal and lamb, and I’m sorry if that upsets people.

But there my apology has to end. The thing is, mature octopus is as tough as old boots if you’re not careful, but the young ones aren’t. They come in frozen packs and if you’ve got a large pack you will probably have to break it up.


To break up a block of baby octopus, squid, chicken legs etc, take a screwdriver or chisel and wash it thoroughly, then sterilize it by holding it in a flame for a minute.
Place the frozen block, still with wrapper intact, on a chopping board, maybe with a couple of tea towels to absorb noise and limit damage.
Next, take a hammer and bang the tool into the line where you want to break the block. Knock it all the way through, then do it again somewhere else on the same line if necessary.
Still with the wrapping intact, go outside and, like some sort of culinary madman, bang the thing on a concrete surface until it cracks.
Obviously hygiene is vitally important, so wash the pack before opening it and generally be careful.
Alternatively, you could prop up one end of the pack on a chopping board and have a go at the line you want with the back of a meat cleaver, being careful not to damage the work surface. Good luck with that.
Another option is to let the block thaw, which will take several hours, and then you either have to eat everything or throw the rest away, because (talking of hygiene) you can’t refreeze this sort of thing.

Much of the flavor of this dish comes from the humble bay leaf, and it is influenced by  something my Mum used to make. We lived in Guernsey, which is an island between France and England, and one of the local delicacies was the ormer. This is better known as its close relative, abalone, which is popular in Australia and Japan, and it is a shellfish that sticks to rocks just below low tide mark.

My Mum used to stew ormers with bay leaves, and I must have been 16 before I realized that the flavor I loved was not the ormers themselves but the herb.

We’re doing the octopus in a tomato sauce, and it’s laughably simple.


Baby octopus, three or  four per person.

A can of tomatoes

A little red wine

Worcestershire sauce

Bay leaves


Place the octopus in a casserole dish or high-sided baking tray.

Pour in the tomatoes.

Add a splash of wine and Worcestershire sauce, plus a quick shake of something hot if you like (jalapeno powder, chilli powder, whatever you have).

Submerge three or four bay leaves at intervals through the dish. If you don’t have leaves, use a good dusting of the powder. Mix everything up well.

Cover with foil and cook in a medium oven for about two hours. Have a look after an hour to see how things are going, and add more liquid if necessary (water, wine, tomato juice), plus a little celery salt if it needs a lift.

Serve with boiled wholegrain rice or mashed potato.


Bloke in the Kitchen. Chop suey


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

chop suey 1
Just because it’s foreign, that doesn’t mean it’s difficult.

As with chow mein, chop suey is a simple Chinese-style dish that can be adapted to what you happen to have in the kitchen. There is no universally-agreed recipe, but wherever I have eaten it, the common denominator has been bean sprouts, so that is what this recipe is based on.

Many Chinese recipes use monosodium glutamate, but we’re going to do without it. It is a kind of salty flavor-enhancer that occurs naturally in certain foods, but eventually some scientist made it as a powder. It’s about as traditional as chicken nuggets, so you can live without it. The Chinese did for thousands of years.

We’re using chicken, but you’ve seen a Chinese menu: you could do it with pork, beef or prawns. The chicken is pre-cooked – maybe the remains of a roast. Just pull it apart into strips a few inches long.

The way I see it, this is a light dish full of vegetables, with plenty of gravy at the bottom, the meat or seafood for protein, and rice on the side for energy and bulk.

Vegetables are mainly water, and bean sprouts particularly so. That is probably why there is that old thing about having a Chinese meal and being hungry again an hour later. If that happens, though, it just means you didn’t eat enough rice.

The water chestnuts are there purely to add to the Chineseness of the dish. If you’ve never knowingly eaten them before, they don’t have a pronounced flavor but they do have a surprising  crunchiness.

The ingredients are just suggestions. The only must-have is the bean sprouts.


Bean sprouts

Sugar snap peas

Pak choi (chopped)

Water chestnuts (canned)

Strips of chicken (already roasted or fried)

Garlic (finely chopped or crushed)

Soy sauce

Chicken stock


Heat a little oil in a wok or a big frying pan and quickly do the garlic, but don’t let it burn. Add half a cup of water and half a chicken stock cube,  then the sugar snap peas and the pak choi. When the vegetables have cooked down a bit, add the bean sprouts and  water chestnuts and stir well to get everything juicy with stock.

Then add the chicken and season to taste with soy sauce, salt and pepper. If you like a lot of gravy, add some more chicken stock.

Serve with boiled rice and lap up the compliments from people who think you’ve done something difficult.


If you don’t use pak choi or sugar snap peas, just get something green in there. Savoy cabbage, celery tops, broccoli florets or spinach, maybe. You can slice some mushrooms thinly and add them early on with the garlic. If you can’t find any water chestnuts but you do see bamboo shoots, use them. You’re not slavishly following orders – you’re creating something.