Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Butternut squash ravioli with sage and pine nut butter

Like all foodies, you can never have enough gadgets in the kitchen. (Unless your Mr Blumenthal) So when a good friend bought me a pasta machine for my birthday I was chuffed. Today I thought that I'd test drive it and I'm happy to report that it passed with flying colours of green and orange. Ok, if you're Mr or Mrs Bizzy Whizzy, making you're own pasta may not be on the agenda, but if you have time and a machine give it a go. It's most satisfying and in the case of ravioli you can make your own filling rather that the shop bought ones that mainly taste of very little. I borrowed the recipe from Rachel Allen by the way. http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/629530

The ravioli taste ok on their own, but the sauce really lifts them and the rocket and pine nuts add a few dimensions to the textures too. I actually tinkered with the size of the ravioli as I quite like 4 or 5 large ones rather that lots of little ones. In order to enhance the flavour, next time I think I'll roast the squash off with garlic and sage as I do for a risotto and then mash into a pulp.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

An Essex day out

A couple of questions. How does a foodie get to stuff their face with delicious food and not look like Billy Bunter? How does a foodie achieve this in Essex? The answer is actually quite simple, take a trip up the A12 to Constable country, walk 7 miles and check out a quaint little tea shop in the beautiful village of Dedham and then have a late lunch in a much acclaimed gastropub in the remote outpost of Mistley.

This so called "Essex" image is confined to a very small cesspit full of chavs, spivs and divs. Trust me, the county has many stunning places to visit and produced one of the country's best ever artists in John Constable. Dedham is a picture postcard of a village as you can see.

Anyway, down to the important part. The chosen pit stop was the Essex Rose Tea House http://www.trooms.com/index_essex.html It's very homely inside and so are the cakes. The offerings are traditional but if you want to really indulge, ask for the hot chocolate with cream, flakes and a couple of can can girls! You actually get served a jug which makes about three mugs and should see even the most ardent of chocoholics through to tea time!

I'd be a liar if I said I've even heard of Mistley before today. It's actually a very interesting village, full of history, architecture and swans. The chosen pub, despite strolling in at 4.30pm were happy to provide a very late lunch from their set menu, £11.95 for 2 courses which in terms of value defies belief. http://www.mistleythorn.co.uk/  The celeriac soup with truffle oil was well balanced and the perfect way to tickle the autumnal taste buds. The pan fried gurnard with new potatoes and tapenade was well cooked and despite utilising only a few ingredients was incredibly moreish. The Pork in cider and mustard sauce unfortunately didn't live up to the rest of the dishes. The sauce was too sweet which in turn infiltrated the mash. The meat was succulent though and was all washed down with some excellent Adnams Bitter. The pub is basically a hotel/restaurant and has received rave reviews from many of the country's leading food critics. As a fan of the Essex/Suffolk border area, I may make a return next year to sample the dinner menu.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Homemade Burger and Chips

I admit, as a child I though McD's was the DB's. I can't remember however the last time that I bought one of those things that look like someone has trodden on, which they pass off as a burger. Nevertheless, I still love the flavour and texture of biting into one and see no reason why kids shouldn't do the same. Making you're own Burger and Chips is so easy and tastes so much better. For a family of four, the cost of the following comes to about £1.50 per person. Please try it and compare to the commercial offerings. I often make these for my kids group and everyone agrees that the homemade version is much better. Instead of normal potatoes I like to make sweet potato wedges which I feel taste and look better and being roasted in the oven are healthier than fries. This
recipe will make 4 Quarter pounders.


500g lean beef mince, beaten egg, 1 chopped onion, tomato ketchup, salt & pepper, optional - horseradish, stilton, burger baps, 2 large sweet potatoes cut into wedges, olive oil

1. Heat oven to 220 / gas mark 7.
2. Cut potatoes into thick wedges, longways, leaving skin on. Toss in olive oil and season. Lay on Baking sheet.
3. Combine mince, onion, egg, seasoning and a good dash of ketchup. This is the base mixture. You can experiment with all sorts of additional flavourings. I like horseradish or a cube of stilton that I wrap the mince around. You could also use chili, coriander etc.
4. Wet your hands to avoid sticking and mould into burgers. I like to chill them for around 20 minutes in the fridge.
5. Meanwhile put the wedges in the oven. They should take 30-40 minutes
6. Heat a griddle until hot and cook burgers for 2 or 3 minutes on either side

That's about it. It's so simple, I feel like I'm insulting people's intelligence, but I guarantee they taste better than anything bought from a shop.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Cock - Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire

The journey from London to the East Midlands via the M11/A14 is not one that I would compare to Highway 1 down the west coast of America or even The Amalfi Coast in Italy. Its flat, boring and full of juggernauts cutting you up every 5 seconds. Alas, today I discovered a quintessential little English village with a beautiful pub to note, which is well worth paying a visit and only a mile off of the main road.

The village is basically one long street with a few little roads darting off. Towards one end is the Great Ouse River where one can walk the toe path. There's a gorgeous view of the church from this corner and the surrounding countryside. Anyway, to the pub. Apart from a dog being a man's best friend, The Good Pub Guide runs a very close second. Rarely does it fail me and today was no exception. This is the hostelry...

There were 4 real ales on, all from local breweries.The Autumn Gold by Oldershaw Brewery packed a hoppy punch whilst the Great Oakley's Wagtail was a more floral and fruity blend. We opted for the set lunch menu, 2 course @ £12, 3 @ £16 which is extremely good value. The Lamb hot pot was proper autumnal fayre. Tender meat, intensely flavoured with stock and veg and served with greens. The Butter Bean and Truffle Risotto was perfectly cooked, whereby the truffles in no way overpowered the delicate beans. Similarly, the Grand Marnier in the Orange creme brulee enhanced the dish in a beautifully subtle way. The Marmalade glazed bread and butter pudding unfortunately didn't live up to the standards of the other dishes. A tad stodgy and lacking in flavour. Nevertheless, for £30 including a couple of pints, a very pleasant lunch.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Sweet Potato & Salmon Fish Cakes

There are some dishes that appear on menus or that I see in supermarkets that despite my fondness for, never seem to satisfy me. Fishcakes is a prime example. Ive had wet ones, dry ones, ones where its debatable whether any fish actually went into its creation and ones where the texture has been more akin to baby food. With Lorraine Pascal currently capturing my culinary heart, I thought that I'd entrust her to provide dinner tonight. Unfortunately she couldn't make it, so I had to use one of her recipes instead from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Home-Cooking-Made-Lorraine-Pascale/dp/0007275927/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321740260&sr=1-1. It's very easy, tastes great and has the right combination of textures what with the crisp and crunchy coating and the comforting filling. Basically you poach the salmon and sweet potato in some fish stock until tender. Drain and then mash with paprika, lime juice, chives, seasoning and a beaten egg. This is then rolled in egg and breadcrumbs and in my case baked in the oven. This can be served in a bap with a crunchy lettuce based salad for texture or just some leaves. To add some zing, I made a lemon, pepper and dill mayonnaise. For around £3 per person, this is a great little no nonsense comfort dish that knocks spots off of all of the shop bought fish cakes I have bought in the past.

A Vegetarian Extravaganza!

I decided that my Saturday kids group would become vegetarians for the day. I often give them at least one veggy dish or a funky salad, however today they're going to get their 'five a day' all in one hit. One of the problems getting kids to eat veg is that people present them in an unappetising way which means that they don't want to taste them. I therefore try to incorporate the green veg into something more inspiring, whilst retaining the healthy aspect and of course delivering on flavour and texture.

The first dish was the Lazy Pasta recipe as described earlier in the week. The vibrant colours of the roasted peppers and sun dried tomatoes hid the fact that I had put some rocket and spinach through it and this went in a flash.

I then made a roasted butternut squash soup courtesy of Lorraine Pascal's excellent recipe book. http://coconutmonkeycatering.blogspot.com/2011/11/whats-it-all-about-alfie.html Again the rich golden colour was appealing to the kids and the sweetness of the roasted squash maybe masked the fact that they were eating a veg not a fruit. It's hard to emphasise enough how much better than tinned soup a homemade version is.

Finally, I made a slightly more time consuming dish, but if anyone ever doubted how flavoursome vegetarian food can be, this will tantalise your taste buds no end. The book I 'borrowed' this one from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ottolenghi-Cookbook-Sami-Tamimi/dp/0091922348/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1321738646&sr=8-2 is amazing and calls it Chickpeas and Spinach with honeyed sweet potato. It's somewhere between a tagine and a curry but the flavours just seem to be more vibrant. You basically poach the potato in water and honey and then add to a fragrant tomato sauce infused with cumin and finished off with chickpeas and spinach. To cut through the richness and acidity of the tomato you also make a cheeky little yoghurt dip with garlic, mint and lemon. Again the kids loved it and in many cases tried things for the first but hopefully not the last time. Anyway, the good news is that 35 hungry mouths have been fed including a selection of fresh fruit and all for around £30!!! The bad news is that it's only 1pm and I've still got to cook dinner tonight.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Lazy but Tasty Pasta

There are some days even for me when I just can't be arsed to spend hours and hours in the kitchen, yet still refuse to eat junk. Hence tonight I will be having the easiest pasta dish in the universe. All you need is some linguine, rocket and a fresh pot of antipasti. I usually get a small pot from Tesco which is enough for two. I cram it full with globe artichokes, roasted red and yellow peppers, sun dried tomatoes etc. So, boil the pasta as per normal. Meanwhile chop any large pieces of veg, I like a combo of sizes. Whilst draining the pasta, place veg and all the lovely flavoured olive oil into a pan and warm gently. Return pasta to pan and mix. If sauce is a tad dry you can add a little more olive oil and a squeeze of tomato sauce. Finally, add rocket, toss and serve. There maybe an odd cheat or two here, but it still tastes miles better than some of the shop bought sauces. Cost for two, approx £2 per head.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic

I'm currently going through my Middle Eastern / North African phase. Having purchased both of Yotam Ottolenghi's books recently I find myself on a mission to tick off every recipe before Christmas. I love the simplicity of the recipes which still generate immense flavour and are largely fairly healthy. In his restaurant, one of the signature dishes is Broccoli. Not exactly something that normally carries a wow factor, but this recipe is inspired. To compliment the veg, I marinated some chicken thighs in a moroccan rub that a friend brought back from Marrakesh and served with some lemon and chili infused cous cous. For two people the cost was around a fiver.


400g broccoli, 60ml olive oil, 2 garlic cloves thinly sliced, red chilli thinly sliced, salt & pepper, thin slices of lemon.

1. Blanch the florets of broccoli in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl full of ice-cold water. Once cool, drain and pat dry with kitchen roll. Add to mixing bowl and toss in 20ml of the oil and the seasoning.
2. Heat a griddle pan for 5 mins until very hot. Cook the broccoli for approx 5 minutes until charred on each side.
3. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a small pan and add the garlic and chili. Cook until garlic starts to turn golden.
4. Pour the infused oil over the broccoli, toss and dress with very thin slices of lemon.
If this offering wets your appetite, check out the book


Let's just get one thing straight. I have been clinically diagnosed with Gastromania. No, I'm not on fifty Imodium a day and permanently wearing bicycle clips, I am merely obsessed with food. However, rather than seek a cure god forbid I have chosen to share my thoughts, recipes, restaurant reviews etc in the hope that I can find solace in other similarly infected Gastronauts out there. Please note that the recipes provided are my adaptations of the published ones.

Having a catering company, ooh time for a plug. http://www.thecoconutmonkey.co.uk/ ,cooking most days of the week and eating out the rest just isn't enough. I plan holidays around food, days out around food and if I have to go and buy a shirt or pair of jeans, it'll be near a restaurant, gastopub or market that I fancy checking out.