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CHEF ALEX MACKAY COOKS MERCHANT GOURMET FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

Three ways with Polenta

Merchant Gourmet and Chef Alex Mackay

Merchant GourmetMerchant Gourmet recently launched a brand new web site www.merchant-gourmet.com. As well as an online store to enable you to easily order Merchant Gourmet products a recipes section has been created, into which video guides have being incorporated from top chef Alex Mackay.

Merchant Gourmet was started by Mark Leatham in 1985. He spent his time looking for the cream of the crop, and talking about it to la crème de la crème.

Today, Merchant Gourmet now has over forty products that you will find on the shelves of major supermarkets. Mark is still looking for more, newer good stuff, and working with their suppliers. The rest of the team spend a lot of time cooking and tasting.

The range includes everything from Chestnuts to Porcini Mushrooms, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Balsamic Syrup. Merchant Gourmet wants people to use them all the time, rather than lose them in the back of the cupboard. The big idea is that a bit of something special can elevate your lunch or dinner. One ingredient makes all the difference, if you will.

For written version of recipe please scroll down page

Alex Mackay . . . the Cook, the Teacher, the Writer and the Father

Chef Alex MackayCooking is everlasting, ever changing, magical fun. I cook all the time, very often three times a day. I cook for work, I cook to relax, I grow things that I want to cook and I read about how best to cook them. And I really love to talk and write about it.

Nearly fifteen years ago Raymond Blanc called me in Bermuda to ask me to come back to Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons and run his Cookery School. That was the day I started to become less of a chef and more of a cook.

These days I'm learning to be a father as I write, appear on television, run Delia Smith's Cookery Workshops at Norwich City Football Club and spend as much time as I can with the wonderful Kids Cookery School. And as you can see I have also become the Merchant Gourmet Cook.

I write a monthly recipe feature for Sainsbury's Magazine. I won The Guild of Food Writers Cookery Journalist of the Year 2006 and was runner up in 2007 and 2008. My book "Cooking in Provence" won the Gourmand World Cookbook award for "Best Book on French Cuisine in English" and was in a short list of three for "Best First Book" at the Guild of Food Writers Awards.

I am a regular on Ready Steady Cook on BBC 2 and I have featured on This Morning and Too Many Cooks on ITV. I was a regular for five years on UKTV's Great Food Live and made three thirteen part series for Carlton Food Network.

My cookery workshops at Norwich City Football Club with Delia Smith are now going into their seventh year.

I started working in restaurants completely by chance after being asked to leave school in New Zealand at fifteen. I washed dishes for a year before starting an apprenticeship and then as soon as I finished I bought a one-way ticket to France. I spent nearly three years working in the kitchens of two starred Michelin restaurants in Burgundy, Tours and Courchevel. After this I went to work for my great friend and mentor Raymond Blanc. I was promoted to Sous Chef after six months. I left a year later to get a little rest in Bermuda where at the age of twenty-three, I was runner up in Bermuda's Chef of the Year Awards. It was then that RB called to ask me to the come back to Le Manoir as Director of L'École de Cuisine and Head of development for Blanc Restaurants Ltd in charge of all its publishing and consultancy activities.

This time I spent three years at Le Manoir working on Projects as varied as Raymond Blanc's books and food for Virgin airlines. I then opened my own school, Le Baou d'Infer, in Provence. It was soon placed in the world top ten by the Sunday Times and Conde Nast Traveler as well as being voted one of the Worlds Finest by House and Garden Travel. The cookery school is now finished after fulfilling its five-year plan and, apart from the first year, always being fully booked.

My projects these days are ever more varied, but food, and people that want to learn about it are always at the centre.

I live in Oxford with my wife Jess and sons Jake and James.

Delia Smith from her foreword to Alex Mackay's book Cooking in Provence:

"Alex Mackay is, first and foremost, a brilliant chef. Yet at the same time he is much more than that. He has a rare and special gift, which goes beyond simply creating beautiful dishes. That gift is the ability to teach, inspire and enthuse others who want to learn how to cook."

Raymond Blanc from the booklet for Alex Mackay's former Cookery School Le Baou d'Infer:

"I have watched Alex grow with great pride from a fine chef into a fine teacher and listened with pleasure to the many guests who have enjoyed his free style of teaching and learnt so much in their time with us. The sadness I feel as he leaves is overwhelmed by the joy of seeing a pupil become a master."

Information taken from Alex Mackay's own web site www.alexmackay.com

THREE WAYS WITH POLENTA RECIPE

A great bubbling pot of Polenta changes in stages and I am going to show you how. Polenta has to be the most convenient of all accompaniments, it can be anything you fancy; a soft soak for gravy, instant dumplings with tomato sauce, yummy chips with fish, or cut in roast potato sized cubes to catch the juices around a roast chicken or a pan of roast vegetables.

This is all before it is flavoured with anything; you can make herb Polenta, cheese Polenta and porcini Polenta; at the moment I particularly like garlic Polenta and roast garlic Polenta and I’m sure I’ll discover more soon.

Three ways with Polenta

Ingredients

400ml, milk, stock or water
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
80g polenta
50g grated cheese
25g butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

  • Bring the stock to the boil. Turn off the heat; add the Polenta in a slow, steady stream while stirring non-stop
  • Turn on the heat, bring the Polenta to the boil and stir for 1 minute for soft Polenta or 3 minutes for hard. Be careful as it will boil volcanically
  • Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese and butter
  • If serving soft, serve now with sausages and onion gravy
  • You can also spoon some into ice cube trays to freeze so you have small quantities of an instant and tasty carbohydrate to serve with any baby or child’s meal, or as little roasties next time you’ve got a chicken in the oven
  • If making dumplings, spoon into a frying pan, fry for 2 minutes each side or until golden and then serve with tomato sauce
  • If you’d like chips, spread the Polenta 2-3 cm thick in an oiled tray or container. (I use old take away containers for this) Set in the fridge for half an hour, cut into chips, shallow fry in a hot pan then serve with salmon, mushy peas and sunblush tomato salsa

Prep Ahead:

The Polenta can freeze or will happily keep in the fridge for 2 days. I always make two or three times the recipe and keep some in ice cube trays and ready cut into chips in the freezer.

Kids Corner:

Polenta has become a friend I reach for when I need an accompaniment quickly. Both my boys, aged 2 and 4 at the time of writing, like it soft or as “chips”. James last shoved it into his mouth with his hand to get it more quickly, and he likes it best with cheese. When they were both babies, the Polenta in the ice cube trays was invaluable for us, we’d mix two cubes of this with one or two cube-sized spoonfuls of vegetable and one of meat or fish. One of the great advantages of plain Polenta is that it makes a fine accompaniment for everything, so what ever we were serving or had left over, we could add a cube or two of Polenta and have a lovely meal for them

Serves: 2 (generously)

Merchant Gourmet

www.merchant-gourmet.com

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