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Not so long ago I had a really memorable lunch at Vinoteca in Farringdon. It’s a really relaxed, unstuffy little restaurant with wooden floor boards, a huge (285 if you want to get precise) selection of wines to drink there or buy to take away and a very fine menu of seasonal tasty food. I had this wonderful hake and beans dish with pardon peppers, spinach and aioli and flecks of dill. It was SO good I swore I would  replicate the dish at home and share it all with you.

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For the fish connoisseurs among you you will notice that I have replaced hake with cod. My preference would have been to use hake but as I had recently bought cod to make cod fritters I decided to use that up instead. If you can find hake however I would suggest using that as it holds together far better than cod, which tends to be flakier. In fact any firm white fish would work well.

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The hardest parts of this dish are making the aioli which can be tricky. In an ideal world I would have liked mine a little less runny but the taste and creaminess were spot on. Cooking fish can also be tricky as you want it to have crispy skin and for it not to dry out. You want to make sure the fish is completely dry before cooking so place it on kitchen paper and then add a splash of oil to the skin and season with salt and pepper. Heat a non-stick pan and when it is hot place the fish skin side down for around 4 minutes and then turn over and cook for a further 3. You then should remove from the pan and let it rest whilst you plate up the rest of the dish. If it breaks up, don’t worry it will also taste great in pieces within the beans instead of on top of them.

Padron peppers are available right now in the larger super markets. They come from Southern Spain and Morocco and complement this dish really well. They take a couple of minutes to cook so are quick and easy to prepare like the spinach.

A lot of my blog followers have told me how much they love my ‘chickpea, chorizo and cod stew with fresh parsley‘ so I hope that this one will also become one of your new go-to recipes.

Crispy Skin Cod with White Beans, Padron Peppers, Spinach, Dill and Aioli 

Serves 4

Homemade Aioli

1 garlic, finely grated

1 large egg yolk

2 tsp water

1/4 tsp salt

sprinkling of freshly ground pepper

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

4 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lemon, juice only (or to taste)

1. In an electric blender or whisk, blend the garlic, egg yolk, salt, water and pepper together. Then add the Dijon mustard and blend again.

2. Then add the oils a teaspoon at the time, continuing to whisk as you do so. Keep doing this until the sauce has thickened and emulsified.

Taste and add more lemon or salt as you require. Place in the fridge until ready to use.

Crispy Skin Cod with White Beans, Padron Pepper, Spinach and Dill 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

1 carrot, finely sliced

1 garlic bulb, finely chopped

540g white beans (this will include the water that they sit in)

1 vegetable stock cube

100ml boiling water

175g fresh fish per serving (700g if feeding 4 people)

135g padron peppers

260g fresh spinach

handful of fresh dill

1 lemon, cut into 4 to serve

1. Heat a pan and add the olive oil and when it is hot add the shallots, carrots and salt on a medium heat.

2. After 5 minutes add the garlic and cook for an extra couple of minutes before adding the white beans (including the water they are in). In addition add the extra boiling water and a vegetable stock cube.

3. Simmer on a low heat for up to 10 minutes, adding more boiling water if it becomes too dry.

4. Meanwhile heat a different non stick pan. Clean each portion of fish and pat dry with kitchen paper. If it has skin place a little olive oil onto the skin along with a pinch of salt and pepper. When the pan is really hot add the fish skin side down for around 4 minutes. Do not move the pan of fish for this time as it will make the fish fall apart. After 4 minutes, gently flip the fish over and cook for a further 3 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to rest on a warm place whilst you prepare the spinach and padron peppers.

5. Using the same pan as the fish add a tablespoon of olive oil and add the pardon peppers. Move them around the pan so that they burn slightly on each side and begin to wilt and soften. This will take around 3 minutes. Place to one side on a warm plate.

6. Using the same pan as the pardon peppers add the fresh spinach and a splash of water and move around the pan for up to a minute, by which time it will have wilted.

To plate up add the beans and carrots stew then add the spinach and pardon peppers. Lay the fish on top and then pop a dollop of aioli by the fish and sprinkle some dill over the dish. Add a quartered lemon to each serving.

Serve immediately so it is nice and hot.

Apr 15_Tastes like home

 

Happy Easter Bank holiday everyone. I’m really excited to share with you the news that my ‘Chingri Maach – aka Bengali Prawn Curry’ is featured in the April edition of Delicious Magazine. So please go out and get your own copy so that sales for April sky rocket and Delicious Magazine want to feature me again ;o). It just so happens that the front of the magazine this month has my favourite cakes of all time – Portuguese custard tarts. They look so temptingly delicious that I will be trying to make them myself shortly.

So what are you waiting for….go grab yourself a copy and do try my prawn curry. The background to the curry is explained in the article. If you are in the US/Canada/India/Australia/NZ etc…then perhaps you could leave me a comment below telling me which are your favourite Food/Lifestyle Magazines in your country so that I can get in contact with them for future features.

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Recently I was asked to create my own version of one of the vegan dishes offered on the menus of ‘The Wynn Resort‘ in Las Vegas. The hotel has recently teamed up with famous vegan chef Tal Ronnen so I was eager to bring my own twist to the menu.

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I decided to alter his version of ‘royal trumpet mushrooms with a soy reduction’ at the Lakeside Restaurant and create my own umami rich mushroom dish. Mushrooms, tomatoes and black garlic are all ingredients that are bursting with umami. I wrote an article for Country & Townhouse Magazine on umami which you can read here. My ingredient that brings depth of flavour and an interesting twist though is black garlic – see another article here. It is now becoming increasingly easy to get hold of and can be sourced at some of the large supermarkets here in the UK. I can only imagine the same can be said for the US. If not there is a business opportunity out there for someone as this is a seriously magic ingredient.

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It is so straight forward and quick to prepare and bake that these can be easily rustled up in no time at all. I find them hugely satisfying and perfect if you want a vegetarian flavoursome meal.

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I like to sit the mushrooms on a bed of steamed spinach with a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes and a splash of lemon juice. So Tal if you are reading this how about adding this to the menu? Do let me know if you do.

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Portabella Mushrooms, Sun Dried Tomato and Black Garlic Pesto and Steamed Spinach

Serves 2

2-4 large portabella mushrooms (depending how hungry you are)

70g sun dried tomatoes

3 black garlic bulbs

20ml sun dried tomato oil

200g fresh spinach

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

fresh lemon, quartered to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

2. Cut the stork of the mushroom if it is protruding and place in a hand blender. Add the sun dried tomatoes, black garlic bulbs and sun dried tomato oil. Blitz so that it forms a pesto like consistency.

3. Spoon the tomato pesto onto the mushrooms evenly and place in an oven proof dish. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes.

4. Steam the spinach or simply place the spinach in a pan with 1 tsp of cold water which will make it wilt. Move it around the pan for a minute so that it is all wilted. Add the chilli flakes and serve on to a plate.

5. Place the hot stuffed mushrooms onto the spinach and serve with fresh lemon on the side.

Please note you will not need to add any salt to this dish as the umami flavours more than make up for flavour and depth. 

 

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Increasingly more and more people are balancing their diet with vegetarian food and cutting out meat completely on some days of the week #meatfreemondays. Whilst I do eat meat and fish I am consciously eating less meat and more fish and vegetables. A balanced diet is important and I do enjoy eating meat but I am in the camp that it is unnecessary to eat it everyday.

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My recipe here ‘Butternut Squash, Lemongrass, Coconut and Spinach Curry’ will hopefully convert even the meat lovers amongst you. It is packed with so much goodness and tastes really good, with a lovely chilli kick reverberating through the dish. For those who claim they can’t cook, seriously try this one. It is very easy to make and you can cook it in under 30 minutes. The hardest part is peeling the butternut squash. *Inventors* out there I would love you to come up with a device that makes it quick and easy to peel any type of squash or pumpkin. I use my regular peeler and knife and whilst it does not take long I know it can be done faster.

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This recipe shouts SPRING to me, although that maybe because I put daffodils in the photo shoot. The bright yellow orange hue coming from the butternut squash and turmeric sings to me and makes it wonderfully appetising to look at and eat. I also love the burst of green from the spinach, fresh herbs and lime.

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I have used fresh ginger paste and garlic paste, as I always have pots to hand in the fridge and for speed they are wonderfully helpful, but by all means use fresh ginger and garlic and then simply finely grate them so they become more paste like.

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The sweetcorn adds a lovely crunch and texture to the dish alongside the soft butternut squash and spinach. I have added kaffir lime leaves as I often have some in my fridge/freezer. They freeze well and you can pick them up at the big supermarkets.

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I don’t bother to take out the kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass when serving. I quite like the rustic, throw it together look. I also find the dish is a great pick me up if you are feeling a little under the weather. The ginger, turmeric, garlic, spinach and chilli really flood the body with so much goodness that a sense of wellbeing hits you almost immediately.

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I would love you to give it a try and please let me know how you get on. Butternut squash (uncooked) last for weeks so I always have one ready to use.

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Butternut Squash, Lemongrass, Coconut and Spinach Curry

Serves 4-6

3 tbsp ground nut oil

3 banana shallots (or 2 medium onions), finely sliced

1 tsp salt

2 lemongrass, outer leaves taken off and both ends and then bashed gently with a rolling pin

1 heaped tsp of ginger paste

1 heaped tsp of garlic paste

2 small red chillies, thinly sliced

3 kaffir lime leaves (optional)

1 tsp ground turmeric

200g chopped fresh tomatoes

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3cm cubes

500 ml of vegetable stock

1x 400ml can of coconut milk (I find Pride is nice and creamy)

1 tbsp Thai fish sauce

1 fresh corn on the cob, corn sliced off the cob

200g fresh spinach

handful of fresh coriander, to serve (optional)

handful of fresh mint, to serve (optional)

1/4 fresh lime per portion

1.  Finely dice the banana shallots and then heat the oil in a large deep pan. When it is hot add the shallots and turn the heat down. Add the salt and stir into the shallots. Allow the shallots to soften, which will take a few minutes.

2. Add the garlic and ginger paste and stir into the shallots. Then add the chillies, lemongrass, ground turmeric and kaffir lime leaves. After a further minute add the fresh tomato and stir once again. Add the butternut squash and stir into all the other ingredients.

3. Add the stock and the coconut milk and simmer gently for around 20 minutes, by which time the butternut squash will have nicely softened. If it needs a couple more minutes to soften adequately, carefully monitor as you do not want to over cook as mushy butternut squash is not so appealing.

4. Turn off the heat and add the fresh spinach and gently submerge in the sauce, which will wilt it perfectly.

5. Serve hot in bowls either with some jasmine rice or noodles. Add fresh coriander, mint and lime to suit individual tastes.

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If you click on the comments button below you will also see the option to like. I know it’s a little hidden away but have a look and don’t forget to click the *LIKE* button and if you are feeling extra brave do leave a comment as I love to hear from readers.

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Savoury food for breakfast has always been my kind of thing. Other than the pain au chocolat craving I had when I was pregnant with my first, savoury food has always been my go to breakfast choice. As such Asian food in general is my idea of heaven. Curry for breakfast, a bowl of hot steaming Vietnamese pho or Vietnamese Bahn Xeo (Vietnamese pancakes), and I am in culinary nirvana. These kind of foods I could eat all day so I am not necessarily suggesting you start cooking Vietnamese pancakes before the school/office run but having the recipe in mind when you want to try something new at any time of day.

 

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Banh Xeo (pronounced Ban say-oh – see video below if you want to sound like a pro) are thin crisp pancakes made with rice flour, coconut milk (or beer in fact), turmeric, and water. Traditionally they are filled with both pork (thinly cut pork belly strips) and prawns, but for mine I have omitted the pork and used just prawns. If you are vegetarian you could equally use some fried tofu, which would taste really good. Xeo actually means ‘sizzling’ in Vietnamese and it is this sound that you want to hear when the pancakes are crisping up. They are also known as ‘happy pancakes’ and you’ll see why after you have tasted your first mouthful.

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I pick up my rice flour from my local Asian supermarket or you can easily buy it online, it’s also only a matter of time before the bigger supermarkets will start stocking it too. I rather love the packaging of the one that I use – it’s got happy flour written all over it!

 

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The turmeric gives the lovely bright yellow hue to the pancakes and I also put in coconut milk. Some central parts of Vietnam do not use coconut milk and instead opt for beer to give the pancakes an extra crispiness, but I personally love the coconut taste to the pancakes.

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Now eating the crispy pancakes can be done in a couple of ways. You can either simply use a knife and fork and eat it like that, or in Vietnam you are often provided with a spoon and large lettuce leaves along with fresh herbs such as coriander and mint. You break off a little of the pancake …..like so

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and then place it on the lettuce leaf, along with the herbs …..

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and then roll it so you are able to pick it up and dip it in your nuoc cham dipping sauce. Easy hey. I cannot stress how delicious this is, so much so that I am craving more of these writing this post. Seriously seek out rice flour and give these a shot – I promise you you won’t regret it.

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Vietnamese Pancakes – Bahn Xeo

Serves 4

Pancake batter

175g rice flour

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

pinch of salt

250ml coconut milk

150ml cold water

*******

1 tsp coconut/groundnut oil (to go into the pan for each pancake made)

 for the filling

200g king prawns, shelled and deveined

4 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal

125g beansprouts

a handful (per person) of mixed herbs: coriander, mint, thai sweet basil

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

2 tbsp cider vinegar (or rice vinegar)

5 tbsp fish sauce

2 small red chillies, finely chopped

2-3 tbsp caster sugar

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

200ml cold water

1 lime, juice only (optional)

1. First you want to make the batter. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk so that the mixture is smooth and not too thick in consistency. You want to make it a similar consistency as if you were cooking regular European pancakes. Place to one side to rest ideally for at least 30 minutes.

2. To prepare the nuoc cham dipping sauce place the garlic and chilli in a bowl followed by the water, sugar, fish sauce, vinegar and lime (if using). Stir well so that the sugar dissolves. Place to one side.

3. Next prepare the filling. Place a small amount of coconut oil in a pan and cook the prawns on a medium low heat for 3 minutes, turning and stirring as you do so. Once they have become pinker in colour, transfer them to a plate.

4. Heat a large non stick skillet or frying pan and when it is hot add 1 tsp of coconut oil (or ground nut oil) and then ladle in one spoonful of the pancake mixture. Move it around the pan immediately so that it is completely covered. Lower the heat and let it cook for 3 minutes.

5. Place some beansprouts over one half of the pancake, along with some spring onions and place a lid on the pan for a further 2 minutes.

6. Now remove the lid and place the prawns on top of the beansprouts and spring onions. Cook for one more minute checking to see that the underside of the pancake is beginning to bronze slightly and crisp up. Place some fresh coriander, mint, Thai basil on top of the prawns and then fold one half of the pancake over the other. Leave to cook for 20 more seconds and then place on a serving plate with more fresh herbs and some lettuce.

To Serve:

Serve immediately when it is hot. Cut a bit sized portion off the pancake and place on a lettuce leaf. Add a few more herbs and then roll so that you can pick it up and dip it into the nuoc cham dipping sauce.

The video below shows you how to eat it.

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I have a weakness for broths, pho and laksa. Seriously I dream about eating hot, steaming broths in road side cafes in some Asian country that has been lovingly created by the mama or papa of the household. My favourite eating experiences have been these low key affairs that are often quite unexpected. It’s the balance of sweet, sour, spicy and saltiness that gets me every time.

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I regularly try to replicate them here at home in London. The flavours, smells and textures take me to those foreign lands without the need for stepping foot on a plane. I guess that generally is the way I like to cook – foods from foreign lands that excite the taste buds and give you a warm inner happy glow. It sounds cheesy but it is so true. One of my mini me’s is a bit under the weather but has not lost her appetite so I said I would cook her a feast for lunch that would perk her up. Ok, it was kind of an excuse for me to have another broth pick-me-up too in all honesty.

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I decided to work with some big bold flavours such as the lemongrass, garlic and ginger and give them the centre stage in this dish. The sour came from the lime and kaffir lime leaves, the saltiness from the fish sauce and salmon, the sweetness from the tomatoes and a sprinkling of caster sugar and the spiciness (for me only) with the red chilli. I then added layers of crunch and flavour with the spring onions, fresh coriander and fried shallots. Instead of adding fish stock I added chicken stock which I think works far better for this type of dish.

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Crispy shallots are seriously addictive and add a wonderful crunch and flavour to the meal. I chose to add rice noodles that partly filled the bottom of my bowl and then added the broth on top. It wants to be 3/4 broth 1/4 noodles.

 

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Take a look at that close up. It’s making me hungry again just looking at. I adore fresh coriander and mouthfuls of that with the broth, sweet tomatoes, chilli, shallots and spring onions is absolutely sublime. Seriously you have to try it.  You heard it hear first. Give it a go and let me know. My kids LOVE it so don’t presume that because it’s a little ‘exotic’ they won’t. I just leave out the chillies of course!

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Fragrant Lemongrass and Ginger Salmon Broth

serves 4

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

vegetable oil to fry the shallot

2 lemongrass, roughly sliced

4cm fresh ginger, peeled and roughly sliced

5 garlic cloves

1 tbsp groundnut/olive oil

2 kaffir lime leaves

1 litre boiling water (or 500ml if using fresh chicken stock)

1 chicken stock cube/500ml of  fresh chicken stock

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tsp caster sugar

10 small tomatoes, halved

60g sugar snaps

4 handfuls of fresh spinach

juice of 1/2 a lime

200g fresh salmon, thinly sliced

150g rice noodles

To Serve

fried shallot (from above)

handful of fresh coriander

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle

2 red chillies, finely sliced (optional)

 

1. First warm a small pan with vegetable oil and heat. Add a small slither of shallot and if it fizzles it is ready to add the whole sliced shallot. Keep it at a high heat, but not so hot that they burn, and stir at intervals. After around 6 minutes the shallots will bronze and crisp up. At this stage remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a plate with kitchen paper to soak up the oil.

2. Place the ginger, garlic and lemongrass in a small blender and blend. Add 1 tablespoon of water and 1 tsp of oil and blend into a smooth (as possible) paste.

3. In a large, deep pan add some oil on a medium heat and then add the lemongrass paste and kaffir lime leaves and move around the pan for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, boiling water, fish sauce, lime juice and caster sugar and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Cook the rice noodles according to the packet and place to one side.

5. A couple of minutes before serving add the fresh tomatoes, sugar snaps and spinach.

6. A minute before serving add the salmon so that it just cooks through completely but still holds together well.

7. To serve place the noodles in a bowl followed by the broth, vegetables and salmon and then place the spring onion, fresh coriander, fried shallots and red chillies (if you need some extra heat) on top. Serve immediately with chopsticks and a spoon.

Slurping encouraged.

 

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You’ll have to excuse me for this blog post. It slightly pains me to post it if I am being honest as the photographs are all wrong…in the sense that I took them in the evening with no light. This is a major no no for food photographs and normally I always shoot in daylight but for this post I could not reheat the dish and as much as I love scallops I really did not want to eat them for lunch and supper. So please overlook these dark shots and believe me when I tell you this is a seriously quick, tasty and stylish dish that is guaranteed to please anyone you present it to.

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Fresh scallops are wonderful, but I sometimes buy frozen from my local fishmonger and they work pretty well and are relatively good value. I am also a HUGE fan of black garlic. I wrote an article about black garlic for Country and Townhouse Magazine which you can read here. It will tell you all about them so have a peek at the article. Black garlic is beginning to pop up in some supermarkets but I sometimes just order it directly from either The Garlic Farm,  Merchant Gourmet or The South West Garlic Farm.

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Some people are squeamish about black pudding, but please people seriously there is nothing to get worked up about, unless you are vegetarian/vegan then I apologise. The fact is the saltiness from the black pudding works brilliantly with the scallops and the black garlic adds a umami (I wrote an article about this too – read here) sweetness that bursts in a flavour explosion in your mouth. I have added a balsamic jus to bind it all together and then added little quenelles (oval shape mounds of food) of pea and mint puree.

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The colours and flavours are magical. I think it probably works best as a starter or you could just add a few more scallops and black pudding to turn it into a main.

Scallops with Black Garlic, Black Pudding a Balsamic Jus and Pea & Mint Quenelles

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

16 1/2 inch slices of black pudding

1 tbsp butter

16 scallops

16 slithers of black garlic

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp boiling water (optional)

300g frozen peas

8 mint leaves

salt and pepper to season as required

1. First place the oil in a frying pan and when it is hot add the black pudding slices and cook on both sides for a couple of minutes, by which time they will have darkened in colour and crisped up slightly. Set aside in a warm place.

2. In a separate pan boil the peas and add the mint to infuse. After 5 minutes, drain and then puree using a blender. You can add a little chicken stock at this stage if you want a smoother more runny puree. Set aside in a warm place.

3. Using the pan that you cooked the black pudding heat the butter. Once it is melted and hot, but not burnt, add the scallops and gently heat for max 2 minutes on each side, so that a slight bronzing occurs on both sides. Add the black garlic once you have cooked one side of the scallops and then add the balsamic jus just before you take the scallops out of the pan. Ladle the balsamic jus over the scallops and then place them on a warm plate.

3. Raise the temperature slightly and add the boiling water if you want more of a jus and boil for a few minutes so the jus reduces and thickens slightly.

4. To plate up (use pre-warmed plates) add the black pudding followed by the scallop and then the black garlic. Next create quenelles with the pea and mint puree. They are easy to do. Watch the quick video below to show you how to do them.

5. Finally pour the jus over the scallops and around the plate.

Serve immediately so that it is still hot.

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