Food cooking and eating – stories and ideas from a passionate foodie

Archive for July, 2011

Chilli Con Carne

I’m just guessing all of you will have seen those signs at roadside restaurants, usually in the USA, saying ‘Hottest Chilli Ever – free if you finish the plate!”.  I always think this is the ultimate in macho stupidity – I can never imagine a woman contemplating the challenge at all (please reply if I am wrong!)  But it is one of the difficulties with the species that is ‘chilli’.  It is hard to know how hot they are before you cook them.

Why are they hot?  BBC food site suggests the evolutionary pressure was to stop mammals eating them.  Birds are not susceptible, so eat the pods, and then disperse the seed far and wide, with a lump of ready-made fertilizer.  Ain’t nature grand!

A substance called capsaicin gives the hotness, but amazingly it stimulates our skin and tongue sensors for pain and heat – so a bit of fooling really.  The higher the dose, the hotter it feels to our brains.

When a friend gives you some tiny home-grown chillies, you have no idea of their provenance or growing conditions.  Thanks to Peter Cook (The Rock and Roll Business Guru’s Blog – see 
for these. And see photo of Peter in Chilli Stetson below! (Go and see hs blog – you might find what he really looks like…)

Now, I can stand fairly hot food – don’t mind at all (and have been out with Indian work colleagues who have asked me to have a go at eating what they describe as a green pepper to see my reaction – and I passed the hot chilli test every time!), but my wife doesn’t.  Faced with this unknown level of strongness, what do you do?  I put two in, and scraped out the seeds first.  (The capsaicin concentrates in the seeds, so this is a sensible precaution. Now – recipe:

  • 1lb low-fat minced beef (about 450g)
  • 5 button mushrooms
  • Tin of Red Kidney beans (you can get them with mild chilli sauce, which helps)
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 de-seeded and chopped chillies from Peter Cook
  • One large finely chopped onion
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • Olive oil – table-spoon – for frying

Serve with white hunky bread or Perfect Rice (see previous blog)

Start the mince off in frying pan over medium heat.  break it up as it warms with the back of a wooden spoon – you want the mince to end up like equal sized breadcrumbs, really. While it is browning, chop your onion (again, in previous blogs and on-line at You Tube (may need to cut and paste into your browser bar)

Keep it all stirring around – wash and chop mushrooms, and put them into the mix.  About 5 minutes to 7 minutes should see all the meat equally brown with no pink bits left.  And now the finely chopped chillies – but for less than a minute – the longer you heat them the hotter the taste will be. Now stir in the two  cans – beans and tomatoes – and the crushed garlic. (I never fry garlic, just warm it at water boiling point – it is the main reason why it is bitter in most cooks hands, i think – keep it cool, don’t fry!)  Stir a lot, add salt and pepper to taste and leave over a low heat.  20 minutes is enough – but one hour and a slight cooling period (5 minutes with the lid on) is good to develop flavours.  Serve with fluffy rice, and a dollop of creme fraiche if it is too hot!  Enjoy.

Peter Cook on stage

25 years as Pub Landlords – wow!

We go to a proper local.  The sort of English pub people think has died a death, squeezed by cheap supermarket booze and huge taxation hikes from the government (because we are all in this together – except the rich and fabulously bonussed).  (More than £1 of every pint you buy in a pub is now taxation.  Makes you spit doesn’t it?)

We had an invite to our local pub, to help celebrate the land and lady lords (you know what I mean) Silver Anniversary.  How many more times will that happen?  It really is a dying breed – a long serving landlord.

Bil and Anita Green have run The Crooked Billet through 4 recessions, and 4 booms (it is hard to get rid of boom and bust – sorry Gordon Brown…).  They still stick to a tried and tested formula of lunch time food seven days a week, in their lovely one-roomed pub.  They live above the shop in this 400 year old building.  The garden is a magnificent array of potted bedding plants, lovingly tended by Bill.  Evening is just for drinking, not eating.

There were 120 regulars there on Saturday.  A great array of buffet food, and too many pints to mention.  We need this sort of place to keep going, and we need to stop non pub politicians making stupidly short-sighted decisions about taxation.

Save our pubs!

Lemon butter chicken

A perfect lunch pre Wimbledon ladies final. (And wasn’t it good to see that the quiet one won!  Maria Sharapova may be stunning looking, highest paid female sportsperson in the world, and pretty good at the old ping-pong, but blimey, the grunts do get to me!)


I cobbled this together with some ideas from Gino D’Campo’s iDiet book.

Need to get everything together in the kitchen first – once you start cooking, there is no time to whizz off and get anything you have forgotten.  You need:

  • A chicken breast (boned  and skinned) per person
  • A lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of plain flour
  • Some mushrooms, washed and chopped
  • 2 dessert spoons of butter
  • A good handful of parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Mixed leaves to serve onto

I zested some of the lemon peel first with my Lemon Zester – great tool to have in any kitchen.  Chopped this in with the parsley – removing the tough stalks.  Juiced the lemon – old fashioned citrus juicer – made of glass (not the gorgeous metal Philip Starcke one, which I cannot make work!).  Get the leaves ready and on the plate, with their dressing already on.  Chop each chicken breast in half side to side, so you end up with a skinny escalope – like a thin steak.  You need a sharp knife for this.  Then, cover them in the flour, – easiest to do this by spreading the flour out on a plate, and mixing in the salt and pepper.  Have some olive oil heating in the frying pan, and put the dusted breasts in to fry.  When you have turned them over (after about 4 to 5 minutes), add the mushrooms around the side.  When chicken is done, take them out and keep warm (on a hot day, I just piled them on a plate to keep each other warm…), then add a the butter to the pan – reducing the heat to minimum.  Add the lemon, and a glass of white wine – or chicken stock if you are a chef, or a bit of boiling water if you are me, anda touch of balsamic vinegar with a bt of honey and the parsley plus lemon rind – and pour this mixture into the frying pan.  Let it bubble for a few mins while you place the chicken on the leaves.  Then pour the sauce over the chicken and serve quickly so the leaves don’t wilt too much.  Serve with hunks of bread to dip into the lovely juices at the end.

Light, breezy, easy quick and summery.  Spot on.

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