24
Dec 13

Last minute Christmas gifts for foodies

If you still need to sort some Christmas gifts, here are some great ideas for any foodies in your life.

Knives. Good knives are just essential in the kitchen. They are expensive, but will last a lifetime. Start with a 10Ccm fruit and veg knife, a 16cm and 25cm knife and you’ll be well away. Wusthof makes my favourite knives.

Aprons. You can’t have enough aprons in my book. I love the designs by Sophie Allport.

Shoes. If you’re on your feet all day, you can’t do better than these for comfort and practicality from FitFlops

For the serious cook, Le Creuset is simply an investment – their casserole dishes will last you a lifetime.

Happy Christmas to you all!

 


23
Dec 13

Festive entertaining – The Christmas Table

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With Christmas nearly upon us, you might be thinking, as I am about how to decorate your Christmas table. I do not go in for fancy decorations, but do like the table to look just right.

 Here are my top tips for a lovely Christmas table:

1)   Ensure any table cloths and napkins are really well-ironed. I use a professional steam-generating iron to get them just right

2)   Make sure your cutlery and glasses are lovely and clean.

3)   Some form of table decoration is nice, but less is definitely more.  As the table is often rather full, a simple lit candle or two can be lovely, rather than flowers or festive decorations

4)   Choose some lovely china. I love this range by Sophie Conran.

As you never know who will be dropping in over Christmas, and where you are likely to go, here are some favourite recipes of mine, to make in industrial quantities over the next couple of days.

Happy Christmas!


23
Dec 13

Festive entertaining – Christmas drinks

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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.

1Mug

Watch this space for top tips for your Christmas table.


19
Dec 13

Eating out in Dubai – top tips

1Dubai

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.


19
Dec 13

The Westin Mina Seyahi, Dubai

1Westin

Dubai is one of the world’s hottest holiday destinations right now. It’s also a great destination for families to visit due to the fantastic weather and extremely wide range of activities available. It’s also really not too difficult to get there, too – you get great weather but without a long-haul flight to get it.

The Westin Hotel Mina Seyahi is a top family-friendly hotel offering a brilliant combination of 5 star luxury with its own private beach. Rooms are spacious with large marble bathrooms, and ones with a sea-view look out over the Palm Jumeirah and the hotel’s manicured gardens and pools. The hotel operates a super-efficient concierge service from a Bedoin tent in the lobby, which is on hand to help you plan your perfect holiday in Dubai. The Westin is a favourite with Emirati high society and is an extremely popular place to meet for tea and evening drinks. The Arabian influence is felt from the moment you arrive, and are greeted with a delicious local drink of chilled apple juice with cinnamon and juicy fresh dates.

All bedrooms are spacious with large beds, bathrooms and all the facilities you might need to hand, including large televisions, Nespresso coffee machines and a small terrace with a table and chairs. There is an excellent choice of restaurants on site with Spice Emporium Thai restaurant a must for its delicious, authentic food and fun atmosphere, complete with authentic Thai dancing every night. The menu offers a wide selection of dishes which diners choose to share between the table, and then the portion size is adapted accordingly. The Thai coconut soup and Beef red curry are superb. Breakfast is a very extravagant affair with practically every type of International cuisine you can think of available for guests to enjoy and is served buffet style. There is an emphasis on superfoods, and the fresh, super-healthy juices are a definitely worth trying.

If you are in need of being pampered, then a trip to the Spa is a must. Treatments are highly relaxing, featuring unusual but very enjoyable Swedish massage techniques and gorgeous Aromatherapy Associates products.

The real draw of The Westin is the beach. The hotel has green gardens and a white sandy beach and safe, clear bathing area in the sea, looking out to the Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah. There are a good number of shaded sun loungers available, and a good choice of water sports available from the beach. There is a choice of lovely swimming pools in the hotel gardens, with a super shaded children’s pool available, and a Penguin Kid’s Club to give parents a rest.

Despite being an enormous hotel, the service is friendly, helpful and keen to please.

For more information on activities in Dubai, take a look here.

Getting there:

Dubai is around 7 hours away from London and there are regular flights running from all over the UK.

Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.co.uk / 0844 800 8624) offers 5 nights at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi, including flights with Emirates Airlines and private transfers in resort.

Prices for 2014 from £1039* per person based on two sharing (*based on travel between 3-24 July 2014).

 


10
Dec 13

Festive entertaining – Christmas lunch

1xmas

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.

 12xmas

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

Sprouts

Cranberry sauce

Bread sauce and gravy

Next: Top Christmas drinks


10
Dec 13

Gastronomy of Italy, by Anna del Conte

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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.

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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.


09
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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.


22
Nov 13

The Magdalen Chapter

2MC

At nearly 18 months old, The Magdalen Chapter hotel has quickly established itself as the place to go in Exeter. Formerly the West England Eye Hospital, the hotel how occupies the large red brick building situated just five minutes by foot from the heart of the city centre. The building has been sympathetically renovated, retaining many original features whilst adding plenty of twenty-first century comforts.

The Magdalen Chapter is owned by Chapter Hotels, who have a sister hotel in Cheltenham. Down in Exeter, there are 59 bedrooms, a library, a bar, a spa, pool and gym, and of course, the dining room. We arrived at around 9pm on a Friday night and found the hotel buzzing. The bar was lively, with the evening in full swing, and plenty of people coming into the hotel to drink and dine.

We stayed in a feature room – one of the largest rooms in the hotel. We were shown up to our room by Richard, one of the duty managers who was very welcoming. Once we’d been shown around the room, we were handed an iPad which would be ours for the duration of the stay, and can be used to play music and find out most things you need to know about the hotel.

Our room was large with two bathrooms – one with a bath and the other with a shower, which were particularly luxurious and equipped with REN products, which are made locally in Devon.  Technology is a feature of the rooms, as we were able to listen to the TV and music in the shower room. We also had a control panel through which we could play our own music. Our room had a complimentary mini bar, containing some beer (which we swapped for wine, being wheat free), soft drinks and chocolate, and we had a Nespresso coffee machine, too.

The Magdalen Chapter restaurant sits at the back of the hotel in a large conservatory overlooking the gardens. Head chef Ben Bulger, formerly Head Chef at Riverford Field Kitchen, is guided by TV chef and restaurateur Simon Hopkinson, who acts as a consultant at Chapter Hotels. Their focus is on cooking locally sourced, seasonal British food.

Whilst we stayed, we enjoyed an evening meal and breakfast.  We did find breakfast a bit chaotic whilst we were staying, but the food was very good indeed. The choices available for breakfast offer a wide selection of interesting and tasty hot dishes. The food was very good indeed – great quality ingredients cooked really well. The service did let down the experience though – unfortunately when we visited, it was rather un-coordinated and a waitress took our menus away from us within five minutes of us having sat down, without taking our order. We had to then get up and retrieve our menus from the table on the side of the dining room. We also had to intercept our breakfast items from being served to other tables twice.

Our dinner experience was a lot better – the food was absolutely delicious and the service was charming. Technology weaves its way into the dining room here too, as diners are presented with an iPad wine list. It may sound gimmicky, but it was quite a straightforward way of choosing wine – by the glass, by price and so on.

I finished our stay with a 30 minute massage at the in-house spa with Jade, one of the therapists. It was absolutely lovely and Jade was a delight, running me through the range of REN products in great detail.

All in all, we had a very pleasant visit to the Magdalen Chapter. The communal rooms are lovely spaces in which to relax and the restaurant and spa are excellent. It is worth noting that there is very little parking – the car park was full and double-parked for the duration of our stay, and if you can’t get in, parking is around £7 a day in a nearby car park. We would recommend it as a comfortable and relaxing place to stay.


19
Nov 13

L’Eto

L'Eto

L’Eto on the King’s Road in London is a smart, chic cafe open all day long for breakfast, lunch and dinner, both to take away and eat in.

As you walk in you are greeted with enormous platters of delicious looking salads in front of you alongside delicately decorated cakes and gorgeous chocolate truffles piled onto silver platters. It all looks very inviting and is available to takeaway throughout the day. Not only would it make an excellent lunch, they do a brisk trade in takeaway quiches and meats for supper, too.

I decided to sit in and try the restaurant menu. To start, I tried a Crab and Avocado salad with soy and lime dressing, made with generous chunks of avocado, crab, black sesame seeds, fresh coriander leaves and finely chopped red chilli. It was vibrant and fresh tasting but substantial for a starter.

For the main course, I tried the Steak marinated in garlic and rosemary. The flavour of the steak was superb. It was juicy and tender, and full of flavour. With this, I tried a side of spring greens, which was a mixture of Tenderstem broccoli with kale, cooked al dente and topped with toasted flakes almonds. It was a really substantial side and would be enough for two people to share.

To finish, I managed around half a piece of the 73% chocolate cake. It’s described as chocolate fudge cake, but I’d say it is more of a deep and dense flourless chocolate cake. It was very rich and intensely flavoured and was a great way to finish a meal with coffee.

L’Eto is a lovely place to stop for a drink and food at any time of the day, and is highly recommended for its fresh, delicious food served in generous portions.  Lunch will set you back around £10-15 if you eat in, £7-10 for takeaway and dinner varies from £15-40 per head.

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