December, 2013

Dec 13

Chard, broccoli and mushroom bake


Sometimes some of the most surprisingly delicious meals happen quite unexpectedly. This is definitely one of them. I was wondering what to make having received my Abel & Cole Gourmet ingredient box the other week, and to be honest, I really wasn’t sure what to cook. Of course all the vegetables were lovely, but I really was at a loss as to what to do with them, aside from serve them as vegetables with other dishes, which I really didn’t want to do.

This bake really was made up as I went along. It’s a essentially an adaptation of cauliflower cheese. The addition of the herbs and mustard in the sauce gives it a real depth of flavour. You could serve it as a side, but I thought this was so good, I had it on its own for

lunch. And I’ll be having it again very soon. It’s utterly delicious.

Chard, broccoli and mushroom bake


For the bake

500g chard, cut into 4cm slices

250g broccoli, cut into small florets

20g butter

200g mushrooms, thinly sliced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

20g unsalted butter

20g plain flour
(gluten free if needed)

300ml whole milk

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only

½ tsp Dijon mustard

75g strong, mature cheddar, grated

For the topping

75g breadcrumbs

50g parmesan cheese, finely grated


Preheat the oven to 190C. Set aside a large ovenproof dish.

Quickly steam the chard and broccoli until just al dente. This should take around 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter and cook the mushrooms in the butter for around 10 minutes until softened. Drain the broccoli and chard well, place into the ovenproof dish, add the mushrooms. Mix them together and spread them evenly over the base of the dish. Season well.

Now it’s time to make the sauce. Melt the butter for the sauce in a medium saucepan over a fairly low heat, then stir in the flour to form a smooth paste. Cook gently, stirring continuously for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and add a third of the milk. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or whisk until you have a thick, smooth paste. Add the rest of the milk in one or two lots, stirring it in until smooth. Return the sauce to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring. Let it bubble for two minutes, stirring every now and then, to “cook out” any raw flour, then turn the heat right down. Add the bay, thyme cheddar, and mustard, stir gently until the cheese melts into the sauce – don’t let the sauce boil, or it may curdle – and season.

When you’re ready to assemble the dish, fish the bay leaf out of the sauce and stir well. Pour the sauce evenly over the vegetables in the dish. Scatter with the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and bake for 20 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

Dec 13

Lisbon: A foodie’s guide


Lisbon, Europe’s westernmost capital city is a brilliant destination for a city break. At just under three hours away from London by plane, it’s a beautiful, historic and characterful capital city, which is perhaps less well known for its food.

I recently paid a visit to discover the foodie delights of Lisbon, digging a bit deeper than salt cod and custard tarts, so here are my tried and tested top foodie picks from Lisbon.


If you like fish, you are absolutely spoilt for choice in Lisbon. Can the Can in Praça do Comércio or Trade Square is a newly opened restaurant situated in the square, with plenty of outside seating with views across the square and of the river. Its menu, unusually, features a variety of canned fish, which is extremely popular in Portugal, as well as fresh fish, such as octopus and a rare find – Portuguese dry cured tuna, which is only made by one elderly gentleman in the country. A rare combination of great food served in a fantastic location.

La Tasca da Esquina is a small neighbourhood restaurant on Rua Domingos Sequeira. It has a great local feel, a warm, open kitchen and is a favourite of local residents.

5 Oceanos at the Doca de Santo Amaro is a particularly nice restaurant for lunch and dinner. The views from their outside seating area are stunning, and their fish is excellent. Try the seafood to start: the garlic prawns, fresh clams and crab in mayonnaise are all excellent. Try the whole baked sea bass for the main course. Simple but delicious.

If fine dining is more your thing, then Lisbon has some exceptional restaurants offering world-class dining. Portuguese celebrity chef José Avillez is one of the leading figures in food in Portugal. He owns four restaurants in Lisbon, with Belcanto his flagship venue. Situated in a very discreet building in upmarket Chiado, it is a must for any keen foodie, or if you are celebrating a special occasion.

Feitoria restaurant in the Altis Hotel is also exceptional. With one Michelin star, chef João Rodrigues cooks a blend of international and Portuguese flavours in his menus. The tasting menu is excellent and dining at Feitoria is a glamorous affair and feels like a really special occasion.

Visitors with a sweet tooth will be spoilt for choice in Lisbon. The Confeitaria Nacional is a famous Portuguese cake shop and tea room, founded in 1829 and is a fantastic centrally located spot to visit at any time of day. Popular choices are thick doorsteps of toast, or cinnamon French toast, served hot and buttered.


The Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, founded in 1837, it is the home of the famous Pasteis de Belém. These Portuguese custard tarts are made to a top-secret recipe, as they have been for nearly 200 years. These little tarts are exceptional – so much better than any you’ll try elsewhere.

If you enjoy wines, then Portugal has some really lovely regional wines to try. Viniportugal in Praça do Comércio is a must. Choose as many or as few wines as you want as you pay per sample.

If you are able to get out of Lisbon, José Maria Da Fonseca in Azeitão wine makers offers a tour of their premises and a tasting to visitors. Their Moscatel is particularly special and is just 5 Euros a bottle. Azeitão is around 45 minutes in the car from Lisbon and is a lovely, quaint town to visit. Stop off at Casa das Tortas, opposite for delicious, authentic cakes and good coffee.

Where to stay

Hotel da Estrela is a great independent hotel, which was recently a school. It is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and is a clean and comfortable base in a lovely part of the city.

How to get there

TAP Portugal operate a regular flight schedule from London Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.

For more information, please visit the Turismo de Lisboa site.

Dec 13

Festive entertaining – Christmas drinks


As Christmas approaches, I wanted to share some of my favourite drinks and homeware with you for the season. Be it to enjoy at home, with friends or at a party, these lovely drinks will instantly have you feeling in the festive mood.

Sparkling wine is just lovely to enjoy at this time of year. Although Champagne may be the first thing you think of when it comes to sparkling wine, I am increasingly choosing English sparkling wine over Champagne as it turns out, we’re getting rather good at making it now. I recently tried Knightor Brut NV which was very good indeed. Made in small quantities with an emphasis on quality, it is light, floral and immensely enjoyable.

Try making a Christmas cocktail by juicing fresh clementines and adding the juice of half a clementine to each flute, and topping up with English sparking wine.

My favourite cocktail of the season has to be a festive Behind the Sheets. Mix equal parts of brandy with white rum and triple sec. Stir well and serve. I make my own festive brandy in advance, using a simple recipe like this one,and use it in my cocktails. The brandy is also very nice served with lemonade as a mixer.

I love to make a big jug and to serve it in lovely Italian glasses from Luigi Bormioli at Denby. Be sure to make plenty to serve to your guests with some nibbles on a lovely big tray, such as this fantastic handmade oak tray from Make The Most Of – essential for festive entertaining.

For a festive non- alcoholic drink, try making a Christmas coffee or chocolate by adding 1 tsp sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a cardamom pod to a cup of freshly brewed coffee or hot chocolate. Add double cream instead of milk, or top with whipped cream. I love to a good festive mug at this time of year, and these from Susie Watson Designs are totally gorgeous and by far the best I’ve found this year.


Watch this space for top tips for your Christmas table.

Dec 13

Eating out in Dubai – top tips


Dubai is a great destination for foodies. Visitors are almost overwhelmed for choice in this truly international Emirate, as there really is something to suit everyone.

The good news is that food is safe, and food preparation standards are generally good, with the only thing to avoid without fail  is the local water – it’s not drinkable, so mineral water is the only way to go. It’s not expensive, and hotels generally offer a decent supply free of charge in guest rooms, which is replenished daily. So, salads, and seafood, and all the things one might avoid abroad are definitely on the menu here and worth trying.

Hotels generally offer breakfast and the choices tend to be very wide, catering for guests from all over the world. The choice often includes the usual suspects, such as cooked breakfasts, with omelettes being very popular, and fruit, yoghurt, cereal, pastries and charcuterie all available, extending to pancakes, curries, noodles and fish quite frequently. The only thing you might not find is bacon and sausages made from pork – chicken or beef sausages and turkey bacon are generally offered as an alternative. Pork bacon and sausages are sometimes available, but are served in a separate station.

Food allergies are readily catered for, and restaurants and hotels are aware of food allergies. It’s always good to phone or email ahead, but Dubai is very geared up to receiving visitors with special dietary requirements.

Despite the cuisine being very international, there is a surprising amount of local produce available. Much comes from more agricultural Emirates, such as Fujairah, and you can easily find local Gulf seafood, and dairy produce on offer. UAE milk and yoghurt is particularly nice.

In terms of regional cuisine, Lebanese and Iraqi food is popular in Dubai. Karam Beirut offers very nice regional dishes from the familiar, such as excellent fattoush, hummous and grilled halloumi, to some more unusual dishes, all served with piping hot, fresh pitta bread and a giant plate of delicious fresh vegetables, herbs and lemon.

For a really authentic Emirati experience, Bait Al Wakeel on the Dubai Creek is the oldest restaurant in Dubai, which is situated on a jetty on the creek, close to the Abra (water taxi) stop. Service and food isn’t the best, but it is an interesting experience for those wanting something a bit more local and informal.

In complete contrast, Dubai is home to some of the very best restaurants in the world which have opened up local branches.

Hakkasan is a great example of this, located in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel. It is slick, modern and gorgeously decorated, serving the most exquisite oriental food, wines and cocktails you can imagine. Dining, or even stopping here for a drink is an unforgettable experience and absolutely worth trying.

Rivington Grill is also an absolutely superb restaurant, situated in two gorgeous Dubai locations: Jumeirah Madinat Jumeirah  and  Souk Al Bahar. You may think it’s mad to go to a British restaurant in Dubai, but the food here is absolutely sensational – simple ingredients cooked fantastically well, and served with a great view. Unmissable.

Those looking for more informal dining will find plenty of choice in Dubai. As previously mentioned, there are a huge number of international chain restaurants in Dubai, some good, some more average, but offering lower cost options. Bear in mind though that food is not particularly cheap in Dubai – you won’t find much on offer at a lower cost than in the UK. Some cafes found on both sides of the Creek and surrounding areas are very popular with the locals, but offer less familiar foods in an environment where English is not spoken as widely – definitely for the more adventurous.

Alcohol is available in hotels and more international restaurants. The quality varies from very average to seriously good, as there are numerous limits imposed on imports, which affect the quality, and price of wine available. Those that get around this by paying a premium to import their own wines generally have a wonderful selection, but it is not cheap. Beer too can easily be £8 a pint or bottle.

If you’re looking for some foodie gifts to take home, the farmers market which takes place every Friday morning in the gardens of the Jumeirah Emirates Towers is worth a visit. Stock up on Yemeni Sidr honey and blocks of jaggery sugar for an alternative gift. Otherwise, food gifts are not that easy to find – there are a small number of little supermarkets peppered around the more central areas of Dubai – or there is a giant Carrefour supermarket located in the Mall of the Emirates.

Dubai is a fantastic place for all foodies to visit – and there is somewhere and something new to try every time.

Dec 13

Festive entertaining – Christmas lunch


Without wishing to pile on the pressure at this time of the year, Christmas lunch is probably the most important meal you’ll cook all year. If you are a meat eater, like me, choosing your meat can be very stressful. I want to ensure I choose the best meat that I know will cook perfectly and taste divine on the day.

So, here are my tried and tested top recommendations for Christmas lunch.

Starting with turkey, the obvious choice for Christmas meat, there is nothing better than a Copas turkey. Self-titled “very, very special turkeys”, these juicy, finely flavoured birds are reared to the most scrupulous standards, resulting in a superior Christmas turkey. These magnificent turkeys are delivered to your home with complete cooking instructions and a pop-up cooking timer which are really easy to use and ensure perfectly tender meat. All products in their range are excellent – I favour the turkey crown, which involves much less waste and mess than cooking a whole carcass. Worth every penny.


In my house, we love beef for our Christmas lunch as it is simply our favourite roast of all.  The very best beef we have tried is from The Traditional Beef Company, who supply multi award-winning beef to your door. Based in Wiltshire, the cattle is grass fed, and the meat is hung for a whopping 4-6 weeks, then expertly butchered, resulting in the very finest meat. The beauty of this is that you’re buying your meat direct from the farmer, too. The two best cuts for a roast are the fore rib, with a deliciously rich flavour, and the super lean and tender sirloin joint.  This beef is melt-in-the-mouth tender with an exquisite flavour. The best money can buy.

For all the other bits and pieces for a perfect Christmas lunch, here are my favourite recipes:

Vegetarian lunch

Roast potatoes

Roasted vegetables


Cranberry sauce

Bread sauce and gravy

Next: Top Christmas drinks

Dec 13

Gastronomy of Italy, by Anna del Conte


Gastronomy of Italy…a distillation of my personal reflections on the many recipes I have cooked, foods that I have tasted, books I have read and regions I have visited” Anna Del Conte.

Anna Del Conte is widely recognized as the leading authority on Italian food in the UK. Although not a household name like some celebrity chefs, she is the author of a number of cookery books which have been widely praised for their detail and authoritative voice on Italian cookery.  Over the years, she has won many awards, including the Premo Nazionale di Cultura Gastronomica Verdicchio d’Oro prize in 1994 for her contribution to the dissemination of knowledge around authentic Italian cooking, and in 2011 the Guild of Food Writers Lifetime Achievement Award.

Del Conte is also the muse for many celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, who describes her as “beyond doubt, the best writer on Italian food”.

Del Conte’s latest book, Gastronomy of Italy is an up-to-date definitive guide to regional Italian food, covering the regions in detail, ingredients and techniques, including the classics: pasta, polenta, gnocchi, risotto and pizza, and Anna’s versions of favourite Italian dishes, such as peperonata and osso buco. Gastronomy of Italy is a beautiful book featuring over 200 recipes with plenty of gorgeous photographs to accompany the recipes. It is a truly invaluable book for all those who enjoy Italian food, and would make a great Christmas gift for any keen cook. Read from cover to cover and take part in Mastermind.

I’m delighted to be able to share a wonderful recipe with you with kind permission from Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy, published by Pavilion. Photography by Laura Edwards.


Milanese vegetable soup

You can add small tubular pasta to this soup instead of rice, although the classic Milanese minestrone is always made with rice.

Serves 6–8

150g/5½oz/¾ cup dried borlotti beans, soaked for about 12 hours in
cold water

50g/1¾oz/4 tbsp unsalted butter

50g/1¾oz pancetta, chopped

3 onions, sliced

4 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 courgettes, diced

100g/3½oz green beans, diced

100g/3½oz/2⁄3 cup shelled fresh peas

200g/7oz Savoy cabbage, shredded

1.5–2 litres/3–4 pints/1½–2 quarts meat stock (page 61) or chicken stock or 3 good-quality bouillon cubes dissolved in the same quantity of water

350g/12oz floury (starchy) potatoes, cut in half

225g/8oz ripe fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled, or canned plum tomatoes, drained

salt and freshly ground black pepper

175g/6oz/scant 1 cup Italian rice, preferably Vialone Nano

75g/2¾oz Parmesan cheese, grated


Drain and rinse the beans.

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot, preferably earthenware, and add the pancetta and onions. Sauté gently for 5 minutes or so and then add the carrots and celery. After 2 or 3 minutes, add the borlotti beans. Sauté for a further 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the courgettes, green beans and peas. After 5 minutes or so, mix in the cabbage. Stir everything together for about 5 minutes to coat in the fat.

Add the stock, potatoes, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer over a very low heat for about 3 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, lift out the potatoes, mash them with a fork, then return them to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the rice and cook for about 10 minutes, until al dente. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the Parmesan and serve the remaining cheese separately.

Dec 13

Sausage, chorizo, butternut squash and lentil casserole

Chorizo stew

This casserole is wonderful at this time of year. It’s full of tasty morsels and is good for you too, being a complete meal in one. This casserole is very easy to make – it is best cooked slowly for as long as possible, but the amount of time it takes to prepare is fairly minimal. I assembled all the ingredients and left it to bake in my lovely new cast iron casserole dish from Pro Cook. It looks rather smart and is it makes life even easier, as it looks good enough to serve on the table.

This is a seriously delicious, hearty winter-warmer that is great served with some steamed vegetables.

Sausage, chorizo, butternut squash and lentil casserole

Serves 4 generously


2 tsp olive oil

8 good quality pork sausages

200g chorizo, chopped into 1 cm dice

1 butternut squash peeled, seeds removed and diced

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

300ml chicken stock

400g cooked green lentils, diced

2 tsp thyme leaves, fresh or dried

Sea salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 140C.

Start by adding the oil to a large non-stick pan. Add the sausages and cook for 10 minutes until the skins are well-browned. Now, add the chorizo and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Transfer the sausages and chorizo to a large, lidded casserole dish. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir well and bake with the lid on for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve with fresh vegetables. Any leftovers keep well, freeze well too and taste even better the next day.

Featuring WPMU Bloglist Widget by YD WordPress Developer