National Toast Day and the Best Ever Hangover Cure

Wholegrain Toast with Bacon Jam and Fried Egg

It is National Toast Day so I want to share with you one of my favourite recipes. When you read the title, you might think I’ve lost the plot ( again ) but there is definitely something very, very moreish* about the combination of sweet onion, salty bacon with just a tickle of chilli heat. You will also probably think that this is quite an expensive dish to make with a lot of bacon** but rather like marmite this is something to use sparingly on your toast, and unlike marmite there will be no polarisation, I’m sure everyone who tries it will LOVE it.

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This recipe for bacon jam is my adaptation of any number of American recipes, each perfectly wonderful, reflecting the availability of ingredients and my own personal preferences. You can try substituting Maple syrup for the honey and adding more chilli if you want more kick in your finished jam. Other recipes I looked at substitute a cup of ground coffee or beer for the water. Next time I am going to use Guinness and I’ll let you know about the result.

*Everyone I know who’s tried it, and I’m a bit of a bacon jam evangelist, always asks for more. It is the ultimate hangover cure on thick toast topped with a fried egg.

**Ask your local butcher if he has any bacon and gammon offcuts this will help with the price.

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Bacon Jam

500 gr quality dry cure Smoky Bacon ( this is better if it is quite fatty )

2 large Spanish Onions, peeled and finely sliced

2 large cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed

200 ml White Wine Vinegar

100 ml Water

250 gr soft Brown Sugar

100 ml runny Honey

1 medium Red Chilli Pepper, finely diced

2 dried Bay leaves

10 – 12 Coriander Seeds

3 – 4 Cloves

½ teaspoon freshly picked Thyme

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

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Slice the bacon into half inch thick strips ( any smaller and they tend to burn ). Put the bacon strips into a large, heavy-bottomed, pan and place over a medium to high heat. Fry the bacon stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning until the bacon is nicely brown, caramelised and crispy. The bacon will cook in its own fat which will melt down, this process is called rendering. When the bacon is cooked remove it from the pan and strain to drain off the excess fat. This can be stored and used for cooking*. Once the bacon is cool, chop very finely into very small pieces.

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Add the onions to the pan in sufficient bacon fat to allow them to fry. Cook over a medium heat, for ten to fifteen minutes or until clear. Add the garlic, stir well and cook for another two minutes. While the onions are cooking blitz the spices in a coffee grinder ( you can, of course, use a pestle and mortar ). Add all of the remaining ingredients and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the bacon and reduce the heat until the jam is simmering. Stir frequently and cook until the onions are meltingly soft and the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup. Be careful due to recipes high sugar and honey content you must keep stirring to prevent the mix sticking and burning.

Remove pan from the heat and allow the mix to cool for fifteen minutes. Process the jam using the pulse setting in a food processor to help break up the onion, If the result is still quite liquid return to a pan and bring back to the boil. Simmer to reduce the liquid further stirring all the time. Using a funnel transfer into sterilised glass jars and seal tightly. The jam will keep in the refrigerator for a month. Served warm or hot on toasted bread or breakfast muffins and top with a fried egg.

*I’m unashamedly old school just as you cannot have too much butter, cream, alcohol or garlic in your cooking, pretty much anything tastes better fried in bacon fat. Pour the melted bacon fat through a piece of muslin cloth and keep in the fridge in an airtight container.

Valentines Ruby Red Velvet Cake

Ruby Red Velvet cake is an American classic but easily adapted for a special Valentines treat. A traditional velvet cake has layers of moist deep red crumb cake with white vanilla buttercream or frosting. In the recipe below I have included a cream cheese frosting recipe. Ruby Red Velvet cake was made famous at  New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and in fact was named Waldorf-Astoria cake*, it is, however, a Southern recipe and is popular at restaurants such as the soul food based Amy Ruth’s in Harlem**. If you have ever seen the film Steel Magnolias the Armadillo shaped groom’s cake is a red velvet cake.

The Science Bit

Most modern recipes use red colouring but the traditionally the acids in the vinegar and buttermilk reacted with red anthocyanin in the cocoa and developed its colour. The buttermilk also helped keep the cake moist, light, and fluffy. Modern chocolate has often undergone Dutch processing, which prevents the colour change of the anthocyanins.  When foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beetroot juices to enhance the colour of their cakes. Sugarbeets are still found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also add sweetness and help to retain moisture, rather like the carrot in carrot cake. Adams Extract, a Texas company, is credited with bringing the red velvet cake to kitchens across America during the Great Depression era, by being one of the first to promote the use and sales of red food colouring use of point-of-sale posters and tear-off recipe cards.

I like this cake because if you follow the recipe it is light and moist and tastes delicious. The frosting is very rich but addictive, all in all, this is a real heart pleaser.

*Rather like the illustrious Savoy hotel in London the Waldorf-Astoria had a tradition of the Chef’s creating dishes for their guests, Thousand Island Dressing is another creation from the hotel’s kitchens that we still use today. At the Savoy the famous hotelier César Ritz and his Maitre de Cuisine  Auguste Escoffier created dishes like Pavlova and Omelette Arnold Bennett for their illustrious clients and for the famous Australian opera singer Nellie Melba both Peach Melba and Melba Toast.

**So Harlem is about as far from the deep south as physically and politically possible but it is where I first tried Velvet cake it’s on the menu as Inez Bass, named after the founder’s Mother. 

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Ruby Red Velvet Cake

For the Cake

250 gr Plain Flour

60 gr Cocoa Powder

150 gr soft Unsalted Butter

260 gr Caster Sugar

2 large free-range Eggs

200 ml Buttermilk

1 tablespoon Red Food Colouring ( approximately )

1 teaspoon pure Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon Distilled Vinegar

1 teaspoon Baking Soda

¼ teaspoon Salt

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

250 gr soft full fat Cream Cheese

250 gr Mascarpone Cheese

100 gr Icing Sugar

1 teaspoon pure Vanilla Extract

175 ml Double Cream

For the Cake

Preheat your oven to 350F / 175C / Gas mark 3, then butter and line two twenty-centimetre cake tins with baking parchment. Into a large mixing bowl sift the flour and salt. In a second large bowl beat the butter until very soft, add the sugar to the butter and beat until light and aerated. Whisk the eggs together and slowly add to the butter and sugar, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Should the mix start to separate and curdle, beat in a little flour before adding more egg, when finished beat in the vanilla extract.

Whisk the buttermilk together with the red food colouring, you may need a little extra depending on the depth of colour. Fold in the buttermilk and flour to the creamed eggs, sugar and butter in three batches using the edge of a large metal spoon. In a small cup combine the vinegar and baking soda. Allow the mixture to begin to fizz up and then fold into the cake batter. Quickly divide the batter evenly between the two prepared tins and tap to remove any large air bubbles.

Bake in the oven for around twenty-five minutes until a metal skewer inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool totally. At this stage, you can freeze the cakes or wrap in cling film to store overnight.

For the Frosting

In a large mixing bowl beat together the cream cheese and mascarpone until smooth. Sieve in the icing sugar and add the vanilla, whisk until thoroughly combined. Slowly add the cream, whisking until a thick but spreadable consistency is achieved.

Using a large serrated knife carefully cut each cake layer in half. Spread three cake layers with a layer of frosting. Place all four layers of the cake on top of each other and frost the top and sides of the cake. The cake is traditionally garnished with fresh or desiccated coconut.

My Thanksgiving Ham Recipies

During the holiday season particularly for Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving in America, many families include a large cooked ham in the culinary celebrations. I first enjoyed this tradition when I was invited along with my then boss Steven ( the short wearing Springbok ) and his family to dine with Russ and Teresa. They lived with their lovely family near Cambridge and Teresa worked in the Red Lion with us. As a serving member of the American air force man, Russ bought a ham of epic proportions, ingeniously spirally sliced and then glazed, from the massive air force hypermarket on the local base. It was a stunning meal with great company and a great day.

The Thanksgiving meal has evolved like a traditional English Christmas dinner into a celebration of good food and a table laden with sides, sauces, and vegetables. Sweet potato casserole topped with fluffy toasted mallow pieces, cornbread dressing ( a type of stuffing ), cranberry sauce, creamed potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese, wild rice pilaf, green beans with creamed mushrooms, glazed carrots and lots of pan gravy. Then to finish a veritable array of pies from pecan to pumpkin. Yummy.

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Traditional Bake Ham

Ask your butcher to source a traditionally prepared dry cure ham and to tie it for you. A dry cure ham will shrink less during cooking and produce a better quality easier to cut joint of meat. Now for the crafty part, poaching the ham before finishing the joint in the oven also improves the carving quality and produces a flavoursome stock from which you can make traditional pea and ham soup. I added a selection of my favourite glazes for you to try out.

1 whole or piece of boned and rolled dry cured ham around 3 to 4 lb is a nice joint

( ask your butcher to weigh it this is important for cooking times )

1 to 2 White Onions, peeled and quartered

2 large Carrots, peeled and halved

2 sticks of Celery, washed

2 Bay Leaves

4 Cloves

Around 10 whole Coriander Seeds

5 or 6 Black Peppercorns

 

Place the ham in the pan and cover with cold water. Place on the cooker and bring to the boil. Carefully take to the sink and pour out the water and wash off any scum from the ham. This initial boiling will help reduce excess salt in the finished ham. Cover again with cold water and add the carrots, celery, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Pierce the bay leaves with the cloves, pin to the onions and add to the pan. Bring back to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer and cover with lid. Cook for twenty minutes per pound of raw weight. Once the cooking time is finished turn off the heat and leave to go cold in the cooking liquor. This can be done the night before.

 

For the Delicious Glazes and Baking

 

Wholegrain Mustard and Honey

4 tablespoons Soft Brown Sugar

4 tablespoons Runny Honey

2 tablespoons Wholegrain Mustard

Mix the sugar and mustard together in a small bowl. Rub in half of the mustard and sugar mix. Pour over one tablespoon of honey and put in the oven. After fifteen minutes spread on the remaining sugar, mustard and honey. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Spicy Mustard with Apricot and Peach Preserve

4 tablespoons of Apricot Jam or Preserve

1 fl oz Peach Schnapps

3 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

Heat the preserve in a small thick bottomed pan until it melts whisk in remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. Spread half the mixture over the ham and place in the oven. After fifteen minutes spread on the remaining mix. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Wicked Bourbon and Coca-Cola Glaze

1 can of Coca Cola

2 fl oz Bourbon Whiskey

2 oz Soft Brown Sugar

½ teaspoon ground Allspice

½ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

Pour the coca cola into a small heavy bottomed pan. Reduce by two-thirds, simmering over a medium heat until you achieve a thin syrup. Add the sugar, whiskey, and spices and reduce again by half. Spread half the mixture over the ham and place in the oven. After fifteen minutes spread on the remaining mix. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Cinnamon and Mustard

2 oz Soft Brown Sugar

1 tablespoon French Mustard

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Spread half the mixture over the ham and place in the oven. After fifteen minutes spread on the remaining mix. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Traditional Spiced Christmas Ham

2 tablespoons soft Brown Sugar

2 tablespoons English mustard

½ teaspoon ground Allspice

¼ teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

A large handful of cloves

Mix all the ingredients, except the cloves, together in a small bowl. Spread half the mixture over the ham and then stud the fat with cloves pushing the pointed ends down in towards the meat. Place in the oven, after fifteen minutes spread on the remaining mix. Finish off glazing in the oven for another fifteen minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.

 

Weekend Top Tip

Burger

As we are about to hit peak season for barbecues in the UK and everyone loves a char-grilled burger this is just a simple tip to help your delicious homemade burger keep its shape when cooking. All meat contracts slightly as it cooks and as the proteins in your burger heat up it will pull together. To keep a nice round shape simply press your thumb gently into the center of the burger as you put it on the grill leaving a slight imprint. As the meat contracts, the burger will not end up the shape of an orange but retain its perfect burger patty pattern.

 

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo literally ‘Five of May’ is a celebration commemorating the Mexican Army’s surprise victory over a French force in 1862. This was an important military encounter; Napoleon III was looking to secure a base to support the Confederates in the American Civil War. President Lincoln did not want to get involved and end up fighting the French and the Confederates at the same time. The much larger and better equipped French Army, unbeaten for almost fifty years was defeated by the outnumbered Mexicans. The French did return a year later, overran ran the country and Napoleon installed a puppet monarchy. But enough history you want some authentic Mexican cooking and I am going to give you Nachos.

Nachos is a Mexican dish of fried corn tortillas covered with cheese or cheese-based sauce and pickled Jalapeño peppers, often served as a snack. They were first made by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, around 1943 in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. The story goes that the wives of America soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Duncan were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip, and arrived at the restaurant after it had already closed for the day. Ignacio, the maître d’hôtel, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen. There always seems to be just enough available in the cupboard in these stories such as Caesar Cardini and his celebrated salad, maybe they are just more inventive than the rest of us.

 

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Nachos have since developed and many versions exist now, including large ‘loaded’ platters of Nachos ‘Grande’ or ‘Supreme’ consisting of tortilla chips smothered with layers of refried beans, Chilli con Carne, grated cheese and topped with Pico de gallo or Mexican Tomato Salsa, sour cream, Guacamole and garnished with Jalapeños, coriander (cilantro) and chopped chives or spring onions.

So we are going to need a fantastic Chilli con Carne, with lots of flavour and heat and then a pile of crisp tortilla chips, some delicious ewe’s milk Queso Manchego cheese, fresh tomato salsa and some sour cream, Guacamole and we are ready. The classic Mexican tomato salsa is called Pico de Gallo and here is my simple, authentic recipe.

 

Pico de Gallo / Mexican Tomato Salsa

6 Tomatoes, cored, de-seeded and chopped

1 small Red Onion, peeled and very finely chopped

1 tablespoon of Jalapeño Peppers from a jar, drained and finely chopped

1 clove of Garlic, peeled and crushed

1 small handful of Coriander, roughly chopped

Juice of 1 freshly squeezed Lime

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

 

Stir all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Chill.

 

For some more detail on Chilli con Carne and a very tasty recipe please click on the link and visit Beignets and Barbecues .

 

My Mardis Gras Cajun Gumbo

And so it is Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, and today I am cooking a Cajun classic, Gumbo. Gumbo is a type of stew from southern Louisiana combining the ingredients and techniques of a melting pot of cultures, including French, Spanish, German, West African, and Choctaw. In general, a Creole gumbo generally contains shellfish, tomatoes, okra and filé * powder. Native words for either of the last two ingredients are the likely root of the word gumbo. A Cajun gumbo is generally based on a dark roux made from fat and flour and is spicier. Both use a ‘ Holy Trinity ’ of ingredients,  chopped onion, celery and green pepper as a base,  developed from the classic mirepoix. Andouille sausage * or ham is often added to gumbos of either variety. After the base is prepared, vegetables are cooked down, and then the meat is added. The dish simmers for a minimum of three hours, with shellfish, filé and extra spices added near the end.

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*Gumbo filé powder is a necessity for cooking authentic Creole or Cajun cuisine. Filé powder is the powdered leaves of the sassafras tree. When ground, they have a rich, spicy flavour with a hint of eucalyptus. Andouille sausage is a staple of Cajun and Creole cooking brought to the United States by French immigrants to Louisiana. It is a course pork sausage flavoured with garlic, pepper, onions and wine.

If you are going to cook Cajan then you can get in the mood with this version of the Hank Williams classic. My Gumbo recipe is no exception, the only time I waiver from the truly authentic is adding a little extra butter to my chicken, sausage and prawns to produce a rich sauce to top the finished dish. As they say in New Orleans,

” Laissez les bons Temps Rouler -let the Good Times Roll “

My Cajun Gumbo                                                                                      serves 4

12 large prawns, peeled and de-veined

4 chicken breasts, butterflied

200 gr Andouille sausage, sliced

200 gr Long Grain Rice

150 gr Butter

50 gr Flour

1 litre quality Chicken Stock

50 ml Olive Oil

1 Large Onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 sticks of Celery, washed and chopped

1 Green Bell Pepper

6 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and finely chopped

4 tablespoons of Cajun-style seasoning

2 tablespoons Filé powder ( available from a good Deli )

2 Bay Leaves

1 teaspoon Tabasco hot sauce ( you can use more if you prefer )

Juice of 1 Lemon

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

Freshly chopped parsley

In a medium bowl mix the prawns, chicken half the sausage and 2 tablespoons of the Cajun style seasoning. In a large heavy-bottomed, saucepan heat the oil over a medium heat and cook the onion, pepper and celery for ten minutes without burning. Remove from the pan and reserve. Melt half of the butter and stir in the flour. Cook out the roux over a gentle heat, stirring continuously until a dark nut brown. Add the cooked trinity, the seasoned chicken, garlic, bay leaves, the sausage, the remaining Creole seasoning and Tabasco sauce. Pour in half of the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook over the lowest possible heat for two and a half hours. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

In a second pan, cook the rice by bringing the remaining stock to the boil, add the rice and place on a tight cover. Simmer for five minutes then remove from heat and leave to steam for ten more minutes. Add the prawns to the gumbo and reduce the cooking liquor down by a third until the prawns are cooked. Add the filé powder, the lemon juice, butter and check seasoning. Finish the gumbo with chopped parsley then divide the cooked rice into bowls using a slotted spoon and top with a piece of chicken, prawns, sausage and some cooking liquor.

My Cajun Seasoning

3 tablespoons Smoked Paprika

2 tablespoons Onion Powder

2 tablespoons Garlic Powder

1 tablespoon Hot Mustard Powder

1 tablespoon Cayenne Pepper

1 tablespoon Dried Oregano

1 tablespoon Dried Thyme

1 tablespoon Salt

½ tablespoon ground Bay Leaves

½ tablespoon ground Black Pepper

Mix in a food processor and store in an airtight container.

Super Bowl 50 & The Best Buffalo Wings Ever

Sunday is a milestone in American sport the fiftieth Super Bowl. Now I am no expert on the game but I know that the Super Bowl is always celebrated in some style. I imagine that for the fiftieth the celebrations will be spectacular and as millions gather in bars or at home to watch, food plays a massive role. So what are the top snacks piled on the table tops across the USA? Heaps of Nachos with spicy dips, bacon stuffed crispy potato skins, beer broiled Hot dogs smothered in onions, cheese, mustard and ketchup, buttered corn-on-the-cob and sticky BBQ ribs all washed down with ice-cold beer will all be popular but THE Super Bowl snack is the Buffalo Wing.

As a professional chef a long time ago potato skins were what your potato came in and they were as likely as not peeled off. The only time you saw a chicken wing in a hotel or restaurant kitchen was in a stock pot. At home the chicken carcass, neck and wings made a base for hearty soups, and nothing was wasted. With the advent of commercialization of poultry farming and of mass refrigeration throughout the food supply chain from a producer, supplier, distributor and in the home, customers became ever more able to pick and choose their favourite part of the bird. People wanted the thigh, breast and leg consequently butcher’s almost paid the chef to take away the wings which no one wanted.

And then……

On October 30, 1964, in Buffalo, New York, at the now legendary Anchor Bar*, the owner Teressa Bellissimo created a late-night snack for her son and his friends. At hand, a surfeit of chicken wings, which she deep fried, dressed in a sticky, sweet chilli flavoured butter sauce and served them with celery sticks and a creamy, blue cheese dip. The buffalo wings, they are from Buffalo, I knew you were going to ask me about that, became popular and for a while they were free on the bar for regulars. Is it me but do all fridges seem to have celery and blue cheese lurking within ready for late night culinary inspiration, and anchovies and olives and Parmesan, actually that is more like a small deli and perhaps for another article.

Since that day chicken or ‘ Buffalo ’ wings have become a little more popular and on Sunday night, it is estimated a mammoth 1.25 billion wings will be eaten during the 50th Super bowl. Chicken wings are now universally popular and come in numerous sauce varieties from sweet, oriental to smoked or hickory style.

* The city of Buffalo has designated July 29 as “Chicken Wing Day,” and today, the Anchor Bar serves up more than 70 thousand pounds of chicken per month. The Anchor Bar original recipe for hot sauce is now sold commercially.

Buffalo Wings 5-2-2016

 

Oven baked Buffalo Wings                                                                 makes approx. 24 pieces

Buffalo Wings are a personal favourite I love the mix of spicy chicken, cool full of flavour blue cheese dip and crisp celery. This easy convenient recipe bakes the wings instead of frying. It is a little more healthy –  just and so much easier.

For the Wings

1 kg Chicken Wings (about 12 wings)

3 tablespoons Butter

4 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and very finely crushed

6 tablespoons good Tomato Ketchup

1 tablespoon bottled Hot Pepper Sauce

1 tablespoon Honey

2 tablespoon Dry Sherry

1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika

½ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

 

For the Blue Cheese Dip

125 ml Sour Cream

125 ml Mayonnaise

100 gr crumbled, mild Blue Cheese ( I use Danish Blue )

1 tablespoon quality Cider Vinegar

1 Clove Garlic, peeled and very finely crushed

A generous pinch or two of Celery Salt

Freshly ground Black Pepper

 

Celery sticks

The parts of the wing used will also vary from person to person and restaurant to restaurant. Some will cut off the wing tip and separate the remaining wing pieces. Some cook all three parts together. I know some people who will eat the wing tip bone and all if it is fried up nice and crunchy. A good butcher will prepare the wings as you like.

For consistent, even cooking in the oven I cut up the wings by first removing the wing tips, they can go into the freezer ready for the stock pot. Then cut wings into two pieces, at the joint. Put chicken wing pieces in a large glass bowl, season generously, cover with cling film and set to one side. ( Make sure you thoroughly wash the board you cut the raw chicken on ).

In a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan melt the butter and sauté the garlic over a low heat, without burning for two minutes. Add the ketchup, hot pepper sauce, dry sherry, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper and cook for five more minutes stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and allow to thoroughly cool down. When cold pour all but a couple of tablespoons of the marinade over the chicken pieces in the bowl. Cover with fresh cling film and place in the refrigerator and marinate for at least two hours.

Preheat your oven to 375F / 190C / Gas mark 5. Drain the chicken pieces and place on a wire rack over a metal roasting pan. Bake for thirty to thirty-five minutes, until the chicken is tender and no longer pink. The sticky marinade may char, don’t worry this all adds to the flavour. Remove from oven and baste with reserved marinade.

Serve with celery sticks and blue cheese dip

For the Blue cheese dip, combine dip ingredients – sour cream, mayonnaise, blue cheese, vinegar, and garlic – in a blender or food processor. Blend or pulse until smooth. Cover and chill. The dip can be made ahead and will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator.