Prosecco prosecco prosecco

Matching food to wine or wine to food? Well normally I decide what I want to eat and then I think about what wine might go with it. I’m no expert at all, I stick mostly to ‘standard’ rules and also to wines I like. Occasionally I’ll go a bit off-piste, or someone will introduce me to something different, then I’ll revise my rules a bit. But its always the food first and the wine second.

In the last few weeks there’s been chance to turn this on its head. Try the wine and then wonder what to eat with it. Maybe if you have an extensive cellar this is a game you can play regularly….

“Darling I’ve found another bottle of that Puligny-Montrachet 1978 stuff, do you think it would be best with ……”.

These weren’t quite those kind of chances. Instead they were regular priced wines looking for new partners. First there was the Casillero cook off, great fun, great recipes and finding out that a wine I probably wouldn’t have looked at (I often avoid big brand names) was actually eminently drinkable. And now Niamh over at Eat Like a Girl is luring us with the possibility of prizes to try our hands at matching prosecco to food. Specifically Bisol Jeio prosecco and a chance to eat at the chefs table at Trinity.

Prosecco isn’t something I know much about and tempted by the possibility of a free tasting to help inspire food choices I popped over to Niamh’s (almost an institution) stall at Covent Garden on Thursday to see the lie of the land. I had a chat with Niamh about doing the stalls (hard work, great fun) and sipped the prosecco. Pears, peaches, off dry – but what to make to go with it. In my books prosecco, like most sparkling wine, makes a lovely aperitif but its maybe not quite so easy to have with food.

A little bit of googling and reading and a few thought came to mind…..pears…well they go well in salads with blue cheese and often walnuts. Pears and peaches…sometimes served with air-dried hams. A sweetish fruit and salty theme was emerging. I’d also got a hankering for something autumnal, earthy…

On the day I decided to experiment my husband turned out to be having beer in Bath, that’s the town in Avon and glass after glass of hoppy malty brown liquid, rather than any other beer/bath combination that might spring to mind. This meant that I had been abandoned/left to my own devices/was delighting in the perfect moment to do exactly as I wanted* (please delete as applicable). This was fortuitous, mostly he’s not a fan of sparkling wines, of blue cheese, or sweet/tart combinations and that’s right where I was heading.

Off to purloin ingredients from the local, erm, (super)market to combine with some goodies I already had in the fridge. I was aiming for English meets Italian. Italian wine, English inspired dish. This is where I ended up:

Goodshoeday’s autumnal sort of salad (for 2 people as a light meal or starter)


6 small beetroots
½ small squash
2tsp salsa di mostarda (I actually used some of the sweet pickle juices from my pickled cherry plums)
extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil (I like Hill Farm – and no they haven’t sent me any for free)
Blacksticks Blue cheese
Smoked cured ham (I used Richard Woodhall Black Combe Ham)
¼ savoy cabbage

Roast the beets in their skins for 1*1 ½ hours at R6/200C covered in foil. Top and tail, peeland cut into quarters (remember to wear rubber gloves), and keep war

Peel and core the squash and cut into small chunks. Roast in rapeseed oil for 40 minutes at R6/200C.

Shred the cabbage fairly coarsely and steam for 3-4 minutes so it retains some crunch.

Toss the beetroot and squash in the salsa di mostarda and some rapeseed oil.

Arrange 3 slices of ham on each plate with a gap in the centre. Pile the steamed cabbage in the middle then add beetroot and squash, add slivers of cheese and serve.

It was delicious though I have no idea whether it goes with prosecco of any type let alone the Bisol Jeio – the supermarket was clean out of prosecco all the other bloggers must have got their first.

The Young Ones (Students can cook)

Book Review: The Ultimate Student Cookbook

Back in the mid 1980s we had Maggie bent on breaking the unions, the birth of the Apple Mac and The Young Ones on TV. In their different ways all three have had a hand in where we are today, and where we are today when it comes to being a student is a very long way from 1984 (the year, not the Orwell novel).

Although the food in The Young Ones might have been a little bit exaggerated its highly probable that it’s much closer to what students were eating in the 80’s than the things students cook up now, or so it would seem from my review of The Ultimate Student Cookbook.

I have to confess here that I managed to get through college without haven’t to cook much at all. I had the good fortune to go somewhere that had a great kitchen and we could live-in for the whole three years. We were pampered. It was kind of like a Holiday Inn but with better food. You could have cooked breakfast every day if you wanted and boy was it good cooked breakfast. Huge salads for lunch or hearty stews and curries and then proper evening meals and that’s before the special events where it was rumoured the salmon and crayfish had perhaps not been acquired through the usual university purchasing channels. And this was not Oxbridge. I shudder to think how many calories we consumed, we were well fed though we learnt very little about cooking on a budget, that came later, after we left when it dawned on us how very lucky we’d been.

Food, like everything else, has moved on in leaps and bounds since the 80s with a proliferation of ingredients and a widening experience of world cuisines. And it’s the same for students, their expectations are higher but they’ve still got to cook on a budget (at least I assume they have, I don’t know many actual real live students).

The Ultimate Student Cookbook

So to The Ultimate Student Cookbook, which is a gathering together of the best recipes of The Beyond Baked Beans books and website that Fiona Beckett has developed over the last six years with additional insights from real students who really cook. And they do really cook, like really rather frighteningly well. In fact on my first flick through the book I thought ‘uh-oh these people might actually be off putting for the average student cook’. After all one of them has done a 3 month stint at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck experimental kitchen (Sig), one has honed his skills at Ballymaloe AND has his own catering company (James) and the third grew up travelling round Europe and thus sampled rather a lot of good food (Guy).


I’m a bit in awe of them.

And I’m probably just about old enough to be their mother, and I count myself as a pretty good cook, what’s an inexperienced 18 year old going to think? I sort of wanted there to be a cooking ‘rags to riches’ story, someone who’d learnt about good food and how to cook from The Beyond Baked Beans books but that was not to be.

Along with the students awesome level of food experience there was a bit too much of an English counties middle class feel running through the lists of kitchen kit and essential ingredients which was quite off putting, in fact almost irritating. It felt a bit like: “don’t bother reading this unless your parents kitchen was hand built by Smallbone, about as large a football pitch, stuffed full of must have gadgets and probably located south of Watford Gap….”. Didn’t they know that in plenty of places fresh coriander is still hard to come by, nam pla would be expected to be a violent video game and a real coffee maker a fanciful dream.

But I persevered and once I got into the core of the book this sense began to dissipate. Yes the three students clearly know their stuff, as of course does Fiona, but when you get to the recipes their voices start to work well together; a kind of conversation between some of your mates and the coolest mum on the block. The students come across as happy to eat fish-fingers gussied up 4 different ways, student classics such as Bolognese and Chilli, or frankly much more adventurous stuff and they are hugely genuinely enthusiastic about food in all its many guises, including I suspect the odd kebab van special when needs must. Fiona is like the best of guides, there when you need her to be firm and always quietly in the background letting things progress at their own pace the rest of the time.

Look: cheese on toast AND cheese toastie!
Look: cheese on toast AND cheese toastie!

After much to-ing and fro-ing through the book I decided it was time to try some recipes; I had to keep diverting my husband from the idea of the fish-fingers, that being his student staple. I think he’s disappointed that none of the four ways is a 2009 take on a fish-finger sandwich, no doubt he’ll be perfecting one and logging onto Beyond Baked Beans to tell the student populace all about it. Instead I chose to do the pan-fried toastie for a solo lunch one day and the umami salmon for a dinner later the same week. The pan-fried toastie because I love toasties but don’t make them often at home and I think this technique might be the answer, the umami salmon because it sounds a bit off the wall and it contains just about every single one of my husband’s favourite condiments all mixed together.

Looks pretty studenty to me....
Looks pretty studenty to me....

First up the toastie. I freewheel this a bit because I don’t fancy onion in it and I don’t have any cheddar to hand so I adapt Guy’s additional suggestion of blue cheese and bacon to blue cheese and salami. It’s really easy to make and quick and very tasty and probably simple to do for two with a big enough pan. Back in the day I used to do toastie making duty at the college shop – we had a proper grill and lovely metal cages to hold the toasties together, the bread would toast just right and the filling be just gooey enough without being too gloopy. I don’t think those funny little toastie makers that seal the bread together do anything like the same thing and its too easy to burn your mouth on the lava hot cheese. The pan-fry technique gives as good as result as those uni toasties I remember in. Some things never change – you can’t beat a good toastie. This recipe is a big win.

Umami in the making
Umami in the making

Next it the salmon – I’m a bit suspicious of the curious list of ingredients but Sig’s treatise on umami is fascinating and, having by this time, met Sig very briefly to do a cheese swap (via the curious power that is Twitter and the meeting point of the UKFBA food bloggers stall in Covent Garden), I feel I really need to give the recipe a go. So I knock up a batch of the umami mix, slather it on some salmon fillets and shove them in the oven as the recipe instructs, serving it with boiled new potatoes and spinach. The umami mix packs a reasonable punch although I think I may have added a little too much lemon juice and one of the ingredients dominates. The umami cuts through the oiliness of the salmon and the plain vegetables balance the whole meal nicely. It gets scored 7/10 and is deemed a good addition to the regular repertoire though we both think the umami needs a little adjusting, less mustard more of the other ingredients.

The rest of the book contains a good mixture of recipes from the basic to the more fancy and groups them as quick/easy for 1 &2, cheap/tasty for 3 & 4, flash/show off and dessert things, with some cocktails chucked in for good measure. They are a sophisticated lot these students cocktails I ask you! Each recipe is also clearly badged for vegetarian friendly, price, prep time and cooking time, these are one of the really useful features because being at the top right of the page you can quickly flick through for ideas that match your budget and time frame. There are clear pictures of pretty much every recipe so you can see what the finished dish should look like (they do look pretty real rather than glossy magazine styling) and throughout there are useful sections on basic techniques such as stir frying, making cheese sauces as well as how to make your food look good and whether measurements matter.

A quick search of Amazon reveals that there are a few other books you could choose from if you or your loved one(s) are off to college in the next few weeks and rather curiously they nearly all have ‘ultimate’ in the title! So which might be the ultimate of all these ulitimates? We’ll I’ve only had the chance to take a peek at one of the others (and to be fair in far less detail) it covers plenty of the same ground and although the title suggests it might be a carb-fest I’m sure there’s more to it than pasta and pancakes….the cartoon strip style layout is a bit odd and more likely to appeal to parents or grandparents than actual students. All the books seem to be pretty much the same price.

If you can’t reorganise your college place so as to get away with not having to cook for a further three years then I suggest you take three real students and one friends mum into the kitchen with you rather than a someone styled as a celebrity chef….because these Students Can Cook.

I really did start off by not liking the book but was won over which just goes to show that first impressions might count but often turn out to be misleading – so remember that during Fresher’s Week.

You can see other reviews here:

Purely Food Blog

Thanks to:

Absolute Press for providing me with a review copy of the book.
My husband Ian for his insights into his student cooking days (frighteningly like The Young Ones, it seemed).
Matt Inwood, Absolute Press’s Art Director for answering my many questions about how the student contributors were selected.
Sig and James for impromptu discussions on the making of the book generally and the umami salmon in particular.

Easy peasy BBQ baby chicken

Ahhhhhh its barbecue time of year and barbecue kind of weather: smell the grilling food, hear the chink of glasses, the laughter, the fun, the delicate aroma of firelighters, the burnt food, the lobster tinged neighbours. England, the summer.

But it’s be a shame not to join in with at least some of this, right? Correct.

BBQ PoussinHere’s the easy chicken (well poussin actually) we did last night:

2 poussin butterflied (dead simple this, lie it breast bone down, hold the parsons nose, cut along either side of the backbone and remove, flip it over, press down firmly on the breast to flatten, et voila. If stuck try YouTube for clips).

Marinade in lemon juice, zest, oil, garlic and rosemary for a couple of hours (use 50:50 juice to oil).

Light barbecue (using your preferred method: paper, firelighters, gas ignition) and wait for coals to be that delightful glowing cooking temperature.

Pop the poussin over the heat and cook for about 30 minutes turning regularly (cook it with skin side up more often than down, this way it cooks the meat from the inside without over cooking/burning the skin).

Meantime heat the remaining marinade in a saucepan and simmer hard to reduce to a nice glossy sauce.

Cut each poussin in half to make 4 portions. Eat with veg and carbs of your choice.

Lemony poussin, sourdough, broad beans, yoghurtWe had homemade sourdough bread to mop up the sauce/juices and broad beans tossed in minty yoghurt.


A simple lunch

I’ve been blogging now for a couple of months and I’ve been looking at some of the other food blogs out there to see what goes on in the food blogging community. I noticed that some bloggers run ‘events’ as part of what they do and I thought it might be fun to join in now that I’m starting to get used to (or possibly obsessed by) the whole blogging thing.

Early on I’d seen the ‘In the bag’ monthly event that is run jointly by Julia at ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ and Scott at ‘Real Epicurean’ and was disappointed to have missed out on the January deadline; then I got so absorbed in playing with my blog, adding (and subtracting) widgets, reading Blogging for Dummies, checking out other blogs – you all know how it is I guess you’ve been there too – that I didn’t spot February’s ‘bag’ until it was so close to the deadline I knew I wouldn’t have time to think something up.

So as not to miss out again I watched closely for March’s bag to be announced and then got to thinking about what I could do with these three ingredients (leeks, cheese and eggs) which feature frequently in my cooking but, I immediately realised, rarely in one dish.

So off I went to do some researching in my various cookbooks.

As leeks seemed to be the key ingredient I started by looking for different ways with them that also used both eggs and cheese (for this first attempt I didn’t want to drop one of the ingredients even though you are allowed to, that seemed way too easy). There were plenty of choices with leeks and cheese and a few with leeks and eggs but little that combined all three beyond the inevitable leek and cheese flan/tart/quiche – delicious but very obvious – I was hoping for something a little different and also a dish that could perhaps become a new favourite in my cooking.

I did spot a leeky Welsh rarebit recipe in Hugh F-W’s River Cottage Year that looked rather tasty but decided it felt a little too much like a hearty winter dish and I wanted something that would work well as a fresh and light spring dish. I was also reminded how versatile leeks are, its so easy to fall to just steaming them and serving as a side dish when with a little imagination they could shine in their own right.

Some of the ideas that I toyed with along the way but discarded were (some of my general sources of inspiration are shown in brackets for those who want to pursue any of these):

  • Chargrilled leeks with shavings of a hard sheep’s cheese, or with a mayonnaise or hollandaise (Sybil Kapoor, Simply British)
  • Lightly steamed, dressed with a vinaigrette and finely chopped hard boiled egg (Hugh F-W, The River Cottage Year and Simon Hopkinson, Roast chicken and other stories)
  • A la grecque (Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book and Margaret Costa, Four Seasons Cookery Book) – fundamental flaw with this one was that it didn’t use the eggs or the cheese – oops! But it is delicious.
  • With pasta in a kind of vegetarian carbonara style or with homemade pasta (using the eggs) and a leeky cheesy sauce (any Italian cookbook will help).
  • As a kind of French onion style soup with a nice melted cheese crouton (I think this was from a Jamie Oliver book where he does a three types of onion soup – I think its Jamie at Home but can’t seem to locate it right now – sorry).
  • In a risotto (any Italian cookbook).
  • As a gratin….

And so it went on – lots of fun delving in recipe books, finding great ideas, discounting them because they either didn’t use all three ingredients or they didn’t seem to fit with the fact the weather was getting wonderfully spring like. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t be submitting again this time…….

Then sitting flicking through River Café Cookbook Green, I noticed what seemed like

frittata after
frittata after

in the chapters devoted to March and April (with wild salad leaves, with sorrel, with spinach and prosciutto). Something started to stir – I really like frittata and other similar styles of omelette and I often cook one with a delicious fresh cheese called Buxlow Wonmil that I get when I’m in Suffolk.

There wasn’t going to be chance to get any of that particular cheese for this dish but I did want the refreshing tang that it has, so goats cheese seemed a possibility and thinking back to the leeky cheesy rarebit that I’d liked the sound of I remembered that Waitrose stock a Welsh goats cheese (Pant ys Gawn) that would fit the bill. I was beginning to feel like I might be in business. A spring frittata made with good British ingredients to be served, hopefully, with a side salad of early spring salad leaves (I was really hoping for some sorrel as I’d spied some in the herb section at Waitrose recently)

So off to the supermarket this morning to get the ingredients (sadly there isn’t a farmers market near where I live other than going into London to Borough market, which I love but rarely have time for, hence a huge reliance on the local Waitrose.). There was no sorrel left but I did find some English watercress and had to settle for some French lambs lettuce as none of the leaves seemed to be English just yet. So here’s the recipe.

For 2 as a light lunch you need:

4 medium eggs (organic for preference)
½ – 1 Pant Ys Gawn goat’s cheese (I used a whole cheese but see later) – or other fresh tangy soft cheese
1 slim leek
Maldon salt
freshly ground black pepper
Salad leaves of your choice

Make sure the grill is on and warm before you start

The Leek: Top and tail the leek and cut into chunks about 1 inch in length then slice these into quarters, rinse the leek thoroughly to remove any grit and drain or spin in a salad spinner. Heat a little butter in an omelette or other shallow pan (of about 6-7” in diameter). Add the leeks and allow them to soften for a maximum of 5 minutes, you are aiming for them to retain some of their crunch.

The eggs: break the eggs into a bowl; add a splash of milk and some salt and pepper. As soon as the leeks have softened a little pour the eggs into the pan and allow to cook slightly. Draw in parts of the sides a few times to create a little fluffiness in the texture. Once you think you have a good base but the eggs are still runny for most of the depth then…..

Add the cheese, which you have crumbled or cut into small chunks. Cook for a little longer and then pop the pan under the grill (be careful with the handle if its not heat proof) to cook the frittata from the top. This will take about 3-4 minutes if the grill is hot.

Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly, slice and serve with your chosen salad leaves.

I was pretty pleased with the result, the leek flavours showed through well and they were soft enough but still with some bite, the cheese contrasted with them nicely and had a good tang and the salad leaves (dressed with just a little extra virgin rapeseed oil) made for a nice soft balance. I think probably the whole goats cheese was a little too much as the egg flavour was a bit lost so when I make this again I’d probably scale back to ½ of the cheese. 

I really enjoyed the whole ‘In the bag’ challenge; it made me think about some ingredients differently, gave me chance to read lots of recipe books and generated lots of ideas for ways to have leeks that I’d either forgotten or not thought of before.

So I’ll be looking forward to whatever is ‘In the bag’ in April.

A pea soup for spring

It was the first day of spring on Saturday and the weather ran exactly to form – sunny and warm but with a slight bite to the wind. We all wanted something for lunch that fitted in with the weather – salad would perhaps be too summery and at first we though that soup would be too hearty. What we needed was something that was fresh enough to keep the mood of spring and summer to come but warming enough to take the edge off that wind.

After some time spent flipping through cookery books I found a recipe for pea soup that seemed to fit the bill. Now of course peas aren’t in season right now (and I’ve been working hard at cooking more seasonally of late) but in fact most of us never actually get to have really truly fresh peas straight from the plant, out of the pod and into the pot (or our mouth). Unless you grow your own peas, or know of an excellent source where you can be sure you will get the peas the same day as they were picked, then its very likely the case that the best tasting peas you’ll eat at home will be ones from the freezer. The frozen pea is actually pretty good, its well known that the time from picking to packing is very short and this preserves the sweetness (according to Bird’s Eye field to frozen is 2 ½ hours), and you can now get organic grown frozen peas to lessen the guilt of not buying fresh!

So we settled on pea soup. The recipe comes from a book called ‘The Little Book of Soup’ and was contributed by Gary Rhodes (it’s a nice little book and I’ve cooked a number of soups from it adapting as I go. It also supports homeless charities through donating 70% of proceeds). The recipe in the book suggests it feeds 4 as a generous starter but as we had 4 and this was our main dish for lunch I roughly doubled up the quantities (I didn’t actually have enough frozen peas to do double so I guess the original might be thicker in texture). Below I’ve listed the quantities I actually used and in brackets those quoted in the recipe:

1 litre of chicken stock (600ml water or stock)) – in my opinion stock is always a better base for soup as it gives an added dimension that helps lift the flavour up a level – but as you can see Gary suggests water and since he’s a Michelin starred chef and I’m not we have to grant that he might know a thing or two about making soup.
750g frozen peas (450g podded fresh peas or frozen)
salt and pepper
pinch caster sugar
2 desert spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt (100ml whipping or single cream)

The method is pretty easy you basically bring the stock to the boil add the peas bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until the peas are tender. Then you add the seasonings of salt, pepper and sugar and liquidise/blend the whole lot with whatever kitchen implement you have to hand for that purpose. Gary suggests you could push it through a sieve to get a really smooth finish and I imagine for a dinner party this might be worth the effort but for a quick light lunch with friends I’d say it’s overkill and time ill spent. Put it back in the pan and warm through adding the yoghurt or cream (or crème fraiche would also work well) just before serving. We garnished it with some fresh chopped mint leaves or for a more wintery take you could try crispy lardons or strips of salami.

Taste wise it was just what we had hoped for, fresh flavours with depth from the stock and just enough soupy warmth to make it a great dish for the start of spring.

Solo lunch

What to have for a quick and tasty solo lunch at home?

Often its down to what’s in the cupboards and fridge – it doesn’t make much sense to want something quick but need to go to the shops first to get ingredients (well possibly if you live right next door to a good shop then it just might but otherwise its going to slow the whole thing down somewhat).

So today we found eggs and bread and tomatoes. Ah ha that’ll be scrambled eggs on toast with some grilled or sauté tomatoes.


Its as easy as 123 (and just possibly 4):

1: Get the tomatoes on to grill or sauté

2: Eggs in a jug or bowl, splash of milk, salt, pepper, whisk lightly with a fork

3: Start the bread toasting

4: Melt butter, scramble eggs 

Its all ready – get it on the plate – EAT (or in my case take a quick photo first – some of the blogging stuff is just a bit weird!). 

Quicker to cook than it was to eat – just the job.