Italian-style breakfast muffins

Italian-style breakfast muffins

I normally eat muesli or have a freshly made smoothie for breakfast Monday through Friday, but on the weekends I change things up a little. I love wandering the farmers markets of North Carolina on a Saturday morning, with a cup of coffee in one hand a freshly made warm muffin in the other; it’s a great way to feel energized for the start of a fun weekend.  After I get back and have time on my hands I might make sweet potato pancakes, a big breakfast (that the boys love) or sometimes I’ll make these herby little muffins that taste wonderful and smell divine. They only take about 10 minutes to prepare and around 30 minutes to bake in the oven, then you have a warm comforting breakfast for you and the kids, but you can always take them with you if you’re out and about, making the most of the weekend.

When you’re adding ingredients like feta cheese, roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes, sprinkled with freshly chopped oregano and parsley you know you’re in for a tasty treat, so spice up your weekend and try these easy to make healthy muffins.

Italian-style breakfast muffins

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1 cup self-rising flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium egg

½ cup almond milk or semi-skimmed milk

½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

½ cup roasted peppers from a jar, plus 1 teaspoon of oil from the jar

½ cup cherry tomatoes cut into quarters, keeping 6 quarters for decoration

1 tablespoon freshly chopped Italian parsley

1 tablespoon freshly chopped oregano

Line a 6 deep-hole muffin tray with cases and pre-heat oven to 360’F

How to make:

Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt into a large bowl, then make a well in the middle and stir in the milk and egg, until just combined.

Stir in the feta, peppers, oil, tomatoes and herbs, be careful not to over mix the batter, mix it so the ingredients are just combined.

Divide the mixture evenly among the cases and top each with a slice of tomato. Then pop the tray into the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

Remove the tray from the oven and cool slightly on a wire rack, then serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of Greek yogurt, if liked.

Flatbread, eggs, herb yogurt and sambal

Flatbread, eggs, herb yogurt and sambal

Quick easy tasty and nutritious are my cooking mantra words these days. Trying to get as many families back in the kitchen as possible is the best way to communicate with your spouse and kids, and it can be fun. I try to make things as simple as possible with my 3 boys, so Jon fills and empties the dish washer, Matt gives me a rundown of what we have in the fridge and pantry and James sets the table, as for me I’m deciding what we are having that evening.

Then the fun starts! I make a few suggestions, the boys chose and we all join in making dinner. It’s not only a great way to find out what the boys have been doing at school or work, but it’s also a great teaching moment, as you can normally tire any tit bites of wisdom into a food story. Plus it’s a great way for the boys to learn a life skill – like cooking!!!! Really we don’t learn this anymore at school. As important as food is, we don’t know how to prepare, cook and in some cases eat the food that our bodies need each and every day.

So let’s get the family in the kitchen and start with one day a week. You don’t have to be like me and leave the planning of the meal until that night. You can plan ahead, decide what the family meal will be, decide who in the family is doing what part of the recipe or better still draw straws, make it fun and exciting. Then roll up your sleeves, wash your hands and enjoy a night of trial and error, no matter what happens it’s going to bring the family closer together making that dinner a memberiable experience at least once a week, who knows just like me it might end up being five to seven nights a week.

I’m telling you it can be crazy, but in a good crazy way, when my wife passed away 3 years ago, this one act of cooking together, kept us from falling apart and made our bond as a family that much stronger. Happy Cooking!!!!

Flatbread, eggs, herb yogurt and sambal

Serves 4

4 large eggs

½ cup Greek yogurt (full fat or low in fat – you choose)

2 tablespoons freshly chopped chives

2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

2 warm flatbreads

2 tablespoons sambal sauce

2 cups arugula

Sea salt (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

How to make:

Take a medium saucepan and fill 2/3rds with water, place on the stove and bring to a slow boil, carefully lower the eggs into the boiling water and cook for 6 minutes. Then transfer the eggs into a bowl of iced water and let sit until cool enough to peel off the shell.

Take a small bowl and mix together the yogurt and herbs, then gentle add the eggs and mash everything together until you have a chunky egg mixture.

Spoon the egg mixture on to the 2 warm flatbreads, finish by drizzling over the sambal sauce and scatter over the arugula, season with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, cut the flatbread into even size portions, serve.

 

Thai Sauce

Thai Sauce

When visiting a new country, if you’re like me I try and take something home with me to remind me of that special time. It might be a souvenir, a bottle of the local alcohol, a piece of jewelry, a painting or something that will remind you of that place you visited with your partner or family. I always try to find interesting new restaurants to sample their menus’ hoping I’ll find that “something” to take home with me, a recipe for an appetizer, entrée or dessert, possibly a cocktail or snack that was on the bar, something unique to that region or country.  While I was working in Singapore I had a wonderful Thai sauce with fish one evening at a local hawker stall, I asked the name of the sauce and was told “Traditional Thai fish Sauce” with a smile – He must have been thinking silly foreigner as he shuck his head smiling into the sauce.  Anyway after about the fourth night of pestering this guy he finally showed me how to make the “Traditional Thai Fish Sauce” as with most Asian recipes, is simple to make, very fresh and tastes amazing. Having tried this on most things now (not just fish), it really works well with everything, especially if you’re in the mood for something a little on the spicy side. I dropped the “traditional” and “fish” part of the name and just called it “Thai Sauce” as you can use as a marinate for your protein items, or you can serve it hot as a sauce or even as a cold dipping sauce for sushi or lettuce wraps to wontons.

Thai Sauce

Ingredients:

2 limes juice and zest of

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 inch ginger grated

1 jalapeño chili (or Thai red chili), chopped

1 tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint

Method:

Place everything into a blender; blend for 30 to 60 seconds and your ready serve this little hot and spicy sauce with grilled meats, fish, sides or salads

 

Anchovy & butterbean dip

Anchovy & butterbean dip

I’m always looking for new dips as I love eating raw vegetables with hummus, curried yogurt, charred corn and tomato salsa or freshly made guacamole. Fresh and tasty is what I’m looking for, but I’m also looking for a dip with good nutrition. I’m a strong believer in the food you eat should have great “nutritional value” to it – otherwise you’re not feeding your body with the foods to help ward-off infection, inflammation and disease. My rule of thumb is to eat 80% nutrient dense whole foods (whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and beans) and 20% lean meats, such as chicken, fish and shellfish and naturally processed foods that contain five or less ingredients.

One day I found a half open can of anchovies in the fridge from making a pizza for the boys. I remembered having butter beans in the pantry, and an idea sparked in the mind and a new creative dip was made by adding them together.

I’ve always loved butterbeans when added to a nice rich braise or heartwarming stew, or mashed with parsley, garlic and spread on warm toasted bread. One cup of cooked butter beans contains approximately 216 calories. Of these calories, only 6 come from fat, making butter beans an excellent low-fat food option along with 15 grams of protein. The total carbohydrate count for this serving comes in at 39 grams, or 13% of the RDA.  These carbohydrates may be further broken down into 5 grams of naturally occurring sugars and 13 grams of dietary fiber.  This fiber level equals over half of the RDA, coming in at 53%.  Diets high in dietary fiber not only increase intestinal health, but can lower the rate of colon cancer.

Anchovy & butterbean dip

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 peeled and chopped small onion

4 peeled and crushed cloves of garlic

1 can rinsed low in sodium can of butterbeans

8 anchovy fillets

½ fresh lemon

¼ to ½ cup low sodium vegetable stock

¼ cup fresh parsley leaves

2 tablespoons washed and dried capers

How to make:

Take a medium size saucepan and place over a medium heat, add the oil when the pan is hot, followed by the chopped onion, cook for 2 minutes then stir in the garlic, cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.

Tip the contents of the pan along with the butterbeans, anchovies and lemon juice into a food processor and blend until smooth, add the stock if too thick juice, taste (season if needed), place into a serving bowl, scatter over the parsley and capers, serve with bread sticks, vegetable crudité or toasted pita bread.

Gluten-Free Banana Bread


Gluten-Free Banana Bread

One loaf

I can’t remember a day that I didn’t eat a banana. Did you know it’s actually the number one selling fruit in America-kids love them, parents love them, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy biting into the soft creamy texture of that fruit. I’m sure some people don’t like them, but for me a day without eating a banana would be like a day not brushing my teeth. It seems to be part of my daily routine. So I’m always looking for new recipes to try with bananas, especially the ones that get a little over ripe.

I have the perfect job working with food every single day. A big plus is that my job involves developing recipes, and it’s pretty easy to come up with creative ways to use certain ingredients. So, here we go with banana bread, yep I’m sure there are 100’s of banana bread recipes on the web, so there is nothing new here, but this recipe is a gluten free with the added bonus of almond butter, pecan nuts and raisins to add texture moisture and flavor. So, if your craving a slice of deliciousness give this recipe a try! You won’t be disappointed – it’s naughty but nice – enjoy!!!!

Gluten-Free Banana Bread

One loaf

Ingredients:

3 medium very ripe bananas, peeled

3 large eggs

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (certified gluten free)

½ cup almond butter

½ cup pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup raisins

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°f and line a 2lb bread pan with parchment paper.

Place the bananas, eggs, oats, almond butter, maple syrup, baking soda, vanilla, and salt into a blender. Then blend until you have a smooth batter, about 1 minute. Turn off the machine and fold the pecans and raisins into the mixture.

Spoon the batter into prepared pan and bake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the bread comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool completely, if you can’t wait, slice while still warm and enjoy.

 

Fresh crab with lime Chili vinaigrette on toasted avocado bread

Fresh crab with lime Chili vinaigrette on toasted avocado bread

I have a love and passion for all things from the sea. Lobster, mussels, clams, halibut and Alaskan wild salmon name just a few, but my all-time favorite is crab!!! You just can’t beat a fresh crab, with firm but creamy flesh, seasoned very simply with lime juice, freshly chopped parsley or to add a little heat cilantro or Thai red chili, is just divine. For this dish I’ve added a very healthy fat in avocado, on top of some freshly baked artisan bread from my local baker here in Charlotte. So here you have a complete meal that is simple to prepare, literally takes minutes to knock up, and looks and smells fabulous.  I’m sure you’re going to enjoy every bite and mouthful.

With its diverse range of nutrients, including copper, vitamin B2, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids, crab is a wonderful food for cognition and the activity of your nervous system. By strengthening myelin and protecting the nervous system, while also reducing inflammation and plaque in neural pathways of your body. If you are at high risk for osteoporosis or are getting older and want to guarantee an active lifestyle in the future, high-phosphorus foods like crab are very important to a healthy diet.

I’m not a big meat eater anymore, but I still have fish or shellfish once or twice a week. So when I have the opportunity to have something sooooo special as crab, I savor the time making it and enjoying it with a chilled glass of buttery Chardonnay or Pinot Gris to a smooth dry Riesling. Enjoy!!!! Cheers!!!!

Fresh crab with lime vinaigrette on toasted avocado bread

Serves 4

Ingredients;

1 lime, juice and zest of

1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

1 tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro

1lb fresh crab meat

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Thai chili sauce or 1 minced Thai red chili pepper

1 ripe avocado, stone removed, flesh diced

4 slices of artisan whole wheat bread, toasted

How to make:

Take a medium size bowl and whisk together the lime juice, zest and herbs.

Then add the crab meat, season to your liking with salt, pepper (if needed) and chili sauce then lightly combine everything together, add the diced avocado and stir once more to coat.

Pile even amounts of the crab mixture on the four slices of warm toasted bread, then serve and enjoy.

 

Chickpea Bread

Chickpea Bread

Believe me this is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO easy and as an added bonus very little clean-up and no waste guaranteed, I promise you. Healthy, fabulously delicious, vegan, gluten-free & addictive (in a healthy way) Need I say more? I mean, really? Enjoy!!!!

Chickpea Bread

One 8inch pie

Ingredients:

1 cup chickpea flour

1 cup water

Cooking spray

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

1 teaspoons chopped rosemary leaves

Ground black pepper to taste

1 pinch sea salt to taste (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 450’F, spray an 8 inch pan with oil

How to make:

Whisk chickpea flour, water, oil, thyme and rosemary together in a bowl until smooth. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Pop into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a clean chopping board, sprinkle over black pepper and sea salt, then cut into 8 portions and serve while still warm.

Green lentil dip with cilantro & pistachio nuts

Green lentil dip with cilantro & pistachio nuts

I love hummus, but every now and again I like to change things up with lentils. These are a super beast of nutrition – 18g of protein per cup with an incredible 16g of fiber, 37% of your daily allowance of iron and 49% of manganese which is fabulous for growth, reproduction and wound healing, great for brain function and proper metabolism of sugars, insulin and cholesterol. The lentil has been around a very long time, in fact as far back as 8000 BC the Greeks used to use lentils to make fresh bread, in the Middle East especially in India they’re cooked and turned into a puree called dahl, or dried out and crushed to make flour and used to make crisp paper thin crackers called pappadams. In fact pappadams go great with this dip – try and see! Enjoy.

Green lentil dip with cilantro & pistachio nuts

Serves 4 to six

Ingredients:

4 green onions, chopped

1 cup green lentils

1 tablespoon curry powder

3 cups low sodium vegetables stock or water

1 cup cilantro

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon crushed pistachio nuts

How to make:

Place the greens onions, lentils, curry powder and 3 cups of stock into a medium size saucepan, place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer, cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Place the cold lentil mixture in a blender along with the cilantro, oil and lime juice and blend until smooth, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle over crushed pistachio nuts (if needed) serve with raw veggies or toasted pita bread

*If too thick add a little more stock or water.

Fig Shrimp and Arugula Flatbread Pizza

Fig Shrimp and Arugula Flatbread Pizza

While at the local farmers market last weekend I came across some beautiful figs. They’re actually in season at the moment- delicious, succulent, full of favor and goodness. I just love biting into the soft moist texture, letting the juices drip down my chin, then licking  my lips when I finish, it always excites me, what can I say – I love food!!!! I tell people I’ve been a chef 37 years but have never worked a day in my life. The people I’ve worked with (and become lifelong friends with) the places I’ve traveled to, the restaurants, hotels, schools I’ve worked in have always been pleasurable, even now in corporate American I can honestly say I love what I do. Yes at times it’s been hard, no chef will tell you otherwise, cooking for people to make a living can be stressful, as now everyone’s a food critic, but if you have the drive and passion, then life as a chef can be pretty dam awesome (and you’ll never go hungry).

It’s like everything in life you have a learning curve to get over, when you feel confidence in knowing how a kitchen or food operation works, then the job becomes natural and exciting. To be that person who can put a smile on someone’s face to me is truly amazing. To this day I still love to hear those words – “chef that was amazing” and it’s always said with a big smile, what other profession can you get pure instant appreciation from???? Obviously the food has to taste great, which means your mise en place has to be right, the execution right and the timing right and all that comes with experience and passion.

Last week I was in California giving a presentation to Disney Lucasfilms and 30 food bloggers from around the country. I’ve been working closely with Lucasfilms and developing recipes for the release of the new Star wars movie the “Last Jedi”. How does that happen to a kid from Newcastle Upon Tyne in England ends up presenting at Disney and on the movie he fell in love with at the age of 13 back in 1977. I remember bugging my mother to make blue milk when we got home after watching the movie, all she did was mix cow’s milk with blue color dye, after a week she told me we couldn’t have anymore because I was going to school each morning with blue teeth (funny, but true). So I presented my version of the iconic “Tatooine Blue Milk” it took 30 attempts to get the formula just right, but at the presentation last week I heard those words “chef that’s amazing” to this day it still gives me that high, it also tells me I’m in the right profession and I always have been, what can I say. I’m a lucky guy and “culinary works for me”.

Back to the recipe at hand, using the four leftovers figs I had after eating most of them while walking around the market, I thought what can I use these with to make an evening meal. I added flat bread, mozzarella, a little thinly sliced red onion, and diced shrimp. I popped it into the oven to bake, and finished it off with a splash of balsamic glaze, a scattering of arugula and a twist of freshly ground black pepper.  Simple, but tasted amazing – enjoy.

Fig Shrimp and Arugula Flatbread Pizza

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

2 naan flatbread (preferably wholegrain)

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

¼ cup thinly sliced chopped red onion

4 large fresh figs, stemmed and quartered

1 cup raw medium shell of shrimp, diced

Balsamic glaze, for drizzling (about 2 tablespoons)

1 cup fresh arugula

A twist of freshly ground black pepper

How to make:

Preheat the oven to 450’F

Place the flat breads onto a sheet pan, then divide the cheese, red onion, fig slices and diced shrimp between each flatbread.

Pop into the oven and bake for between 8 and 14 minutes depending on how crisp you want your flatbread to be, remove from the oven when the shrimp has cooked and the cheese is golden brown.

Drizzle with balsamic glaze and top with the fresh arugula and a twist of freshly ground black pepper. Slice, serve, and enjoy!`

The “Red Blazer” Sashimi of Salmon with Ginger and Sesame Oil

The “Red Blazer” Sashimi of Salmon with Ginger and Sesame Oil

Serves 4

If you’re looking for something so simple to make tonight try this recipe! You’ll be amazed how easy and delicious it is to make and taste.

I’m very fortunate as one of my very best friend’s lives six months of his life in Florida and the other six months in Alaska, so he’s always bringing us wild Alaskan salmon, and I’m always trying to come up with new and exciting dishes to make with it. We met in Alaska 20 years ago while I was teaching at the Martin Luther King Jr. King Career Center in Anchorage, on a one year’s Fullbright teacher exchange program back in 1998. Jim Hollis is one of the most amazing guys I have ever met in my life and I have the privilege of calling him my friend. I could tell you loads of stories of this amazing gentleman but I’m going to tell you just three. This is why Jim is so special to me and my family.

1) We arrived in Anchorage late August to start school in September, if you’ve ever been to Alaska the summers days are long with usually 22 hours of daylight. People are cutting their grass at 2am in the morning, trying to do as much as they can before the short fall and winter days arrive, when you only get 5 hours of daylight. Jim was a teacher at the same school that I would be teaching at, he turned up with a box full of goodies for the boys the day we arrived in town. The boys loved him from that day on, my wife Alison always had a soft spot for him (if you know Jim-he’s a ladies man) but for me it was like meeting a brother, he was kind, generous to a fault, always willing to help out at the drop of a hat, I knew then we would be lifelong friends.

I started work, enjoyed each and every day working with the culinary students. The only problem I had was the fact we only had one car, so when I left for work, my wife Alison was left stranded in the house for 8 to 10 hours each day. At the time we only had Jonathan (2yrs) and Matthew (14 months) and James was just a twinkle in my eye back then. The house was 10 miles outside of Anchorage and since only five other houses were in our neighborhood, brown bear would often wander down the street, meaning all the kids were locked inside. A family of moose lived in our back yard, so even venturing just outside your own home at time could be dangerous.

2) You can imagine my wife was pulling her hair out most days, new country, two small boys to look after and no transport until I got home from work each day. Jim turns up one day with a bright red Ford Blazer, he hands me the keys, tells me he’s insured the truck in my name, it has a full tank of gas and its mine until I leave Alaska, what a guy!!!! I’d only just met him a month earlier.

3) In April that following year my youngest son Matthew became ill, we were told by the doctor he had a bad case of flu and would be better in a few days, well a week later and we were really worried as he was getting worse not better. It turn out he was a type 1 diabetic, he was so close to going into a coma because his blood sugar was through the roof when he was finally diagnosed that he was immediately rushed into intensive care and stayed there for the next 7 days until his blood sugar dropped back down to some what normal. Again Jim steps in, he taught horticulture looking after all the green houses at the school and working with the most demanding of students. He would have his class covered, put on my chefs jacket and takes my role as chef instructor, running the culinary class while I’m visiting Matthew each day in hospital and looking after Jonathan while my wife stayed with Matthew the entire time he was there.

What a guy, over the last 20 years I could tell you more stories of the amazing man. Jim used to wrestle and was also a wrestling coach to hundreds of students from Alaska, he’s a fighter. He now faces his biggest battle and I’m glad to stay this time I’m here to help him in any way I can, like brothers we’ll face this together.

BWT the red blazer was a wreck of a car and Jim would be the first to tell you that, the windscreen was smashed in numerus places, the heater didn’t work, I had to dress like the Michelin man each day to keep warm, and wear the thickest gloves I could get on my fingers to keep warm and from sticking to the steering wheel, while still managing to drive the damn thing. It used to skid all over the icy roads and it stunk of gasoline, Jim actually told me a year after we left Alaska, that he was afraid it might blow up on me, but he reassured me I would not have felt anything if it had. “BOOM!” he said, “You would have felt nothing, and I would have looked after Alison and the boys for you”. One thing in its favor, it did stand outside all winter, yet it always started first time without fail and always got me to work and back.

That gift from Jim saved our year in Alaska, (probably my marriage as well) as my wife was ready to return home, back to Swansea her home town, back to a normal life (without bears and moose) to family and friends to help out with the boys, to a more normal life and who would have blamed her. So thank you Jim, In return this dish has been name the “Red Blazer” because of the red color of the wild Alaskan salmon, I hope you enjoy!!!!

The “Red Blazer” Sashimi of Salmon with Ginger and Sesame Oil

Serves 4

For the dressing;

¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 fresh pink grapefruit, segments and juice of

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into very fine strips

1 teaspoon pickled ginger, minced

To serve:

12oz of wild salmon, cut into 12 medium to thin slices

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

A twist of black pepper

How to Make:

In a small bowl, stir all the dressing ingredients, arrange 3 pieces of salmon on each plate and pour over equal amounts of the dressing, sprinkle over the cilantro leaves along with a twist of black pepper and serve.