Mirepoix (Not the Place), Tasty Stuff & January’s Foodie Experiments

Photo 17-01-2018, 20 02 51January has been very difficult, Flu has been the significant event and I think I have seen Floyd cooking in India, The Far East, France, Italy and South Africa to name but a few! There is a common thread in many of the recipes he shows, the Mirepoix.

I am starting to get a bit more adventerous in my approach to cooking in that I am looking for ‘guidance’ when attempting something and then veering off-piste and seeing where I end up!

The Pie is one such example, cooked well they are a thing of beauty but make a mistake and yuch, and unless you can find a pie brand you really like going it alone and making your own is definitely the way to go.

I decided to use a home made rough-puff pastry using a Michel Roux recipe, it’s brilliant and only takes a few minutes to make if you follow the link HERE. I scaled down the amount as I was making a small(ish) Pie and went for 125g each of flour and butter.

The filling was Beef Mince and Peas, but the flavour started with a Mirepoix of Onion Carrot and Celery cut Brunoise (small dice), this was to feature a lot in Januarys cooking experiments. You just sweat the vegetables gently and not brown them, if you then add tomato pureé as I did, it becomes a pincage! I did add some finely chopped bacon before this stage to build on the flavour layers which adds a smoky element. Don’t forget to Season to taste at this stage.Photo 17-01-2018, 18 55 10To shape the Pie I used one of those White Enamel tins, lined with some cling film after I had rubbed some oil over the surface, the Pastry was then laid into the dish on the film, add the (cooled) filling and cover. The Pie can then be (gently) lifted out, inverted and the edges sealed with a fork, It worked a treat as you can see above adding an Egg Wash to brown before cooking.

So back to our Mirepoix again, this time with a dish inspired from more distant shores, but first some mise en place.Photo 06-01-2018, 18 42 43Stuffed Mediterranean Vegetables are another one of those dishes that can be ergh, nice or amazing. I’ve done them a few times but decided to see what could be done with some refinement and playing with flavours. Previously I have only done a Pepper version as they are easy, just cut the top off and bake with a filling, job done.Photo 06-01-2018, 16 47 41Let’s introduce the Aubergine into the recipe and look at the process of baking and using the centre as part of the stuffing. I used the paring (small) knife to gently cut around the edge of the Aubergine about 1 cm in, you can see in the top right picture, then carefully cutting a criss-cross pattern using the larger knife, remembering the shape and altering the depth as you cut, the middle is deeper than the edge! Photo 06-01-2018, 17 44 32Brushing liberally with Olive or Rapeseed Oil and seasoning with Salt and Pepper they were baked for about 30 minutes at 180 degrees. I turned them over flat side down and gave them another 15 minutes after another brushing of Oil as the top did not seem cooked, you can see the final result below. You then need to carefully scrape out the cooked centre and chop, ready to add to the filling later.Photo 06-01-2018, 17 45 23So we now start with the Mirepoix again, this time I swapped an Onion for a large Shallot, which is a bit sweeter. Add the Lamb and brown, some Garlic to taste, the chopped Aubergine, some Tomato Paste. Going for a Middle Eastern angle further enhancements included Rose Harissa, Coriander, Cumin and Preserved Lemon finely sliced and some chopped Mint and Coriander Leaf. Texture came with some toasted Pine Nuts.

I have not included quantities as I tasted as I went, so for example Cumin is quite Pungent, so I used less then Coriander Powder. Don’t forget to season with Salt and Pepper before moving onto the next stage.Photo 27-01-2018, 12 45 05The lamb mixture can then be used to fill the hollowed out Aubergine and in my case Red Pepper’s with the tops and pith/seeds removed, then baked in the over for about 35-40 minutes. Photo 06-01-2018, 17 26 47.jpgServed with some Greek Yoghurt with added Rose Harissa and chopped Mint its absolutely delicious and worthy of any dinner table as you can see below.Photo 06-01-2018, 19 45 11A new book came through the letterbox and hit the floor over Christmas, ‘Comfort’ by John Waite it’s a great addition to the bookshelf although it’s spent more time in my hands thumbing through the pages seeking more cooking inspiration.

I was looking for something different to try one Saturday and had Fish and Potato on my mind, remembering a recipe I found it in John’s book, but not having all the ingredients I slipped off-piste again and here is how it went!Photo 19-01-2018, 19 20 31Firstly, a baked Potato which I always start by piercing all over with a fork, and then rubbing butter all over the skin to ensure a crisp finish, followed by a sprinkling of Sea  Salt.Photo 19-01-2018, 18 11 42.jpgI had some red Romano Peppers in the Organic Veg Box so started to think about a nice Piquant Sauce to make, so popped one in the oven to roast for about 15 minutes, this makes removing the hard indigestible skin easy and heightens their sweetness.

The Mirepoix was again the starting point, this time the humble Leek was also finely chopped and added to the rest of the sweating vegetables. I also added some Plum Tomato’s from a tin, but removing the seeds by hand first so only the flesh went into the saucepan. Finally I added the roasted pepper which had been chopped up first.Photo 19-01-2018, 18 42 23.jpgA couple of pieces Cod had been removed from the Freezer earlier and popped in the Microwave to cook, not ideal but time meant that it was the easiest thing to do and as the Fish was going to be mixed with Potato it was the way I went on this occasion. Once cooked it was mixed in with the scooped out potato and Ras-Al-Hanut spice added along with Salt and Pepper to season.Photo 19-01-2018, 18 22 40Once the Mirepoix/Pepper/Tomato mix was cooked it went into the Ninja processor and got a good whiz as you can seen above.

I wanted to add some more texture so used some old Sour Dough Bread to make Breadcrumbs, added grated Grana Padano Cheese and mixed in some Rapeseed Oil.Photo 19-01-2018, 19 01 18The Potato Skins were fried to make them crispy again, and then filled with the Potato?fish mixture before being topped with the Breadcrumbs/Cheese and going in the oven to finish. The sweet (piquant is more appropriate) Pepper Sauce was gently warmed on the hob and we were soon ready to serve.Photo 19-01-2018, 18 41 46So what started out as a John Waite dish (which I do intent to make), turned out as my own version with a quite spicy Sweet Pepper Sauce, with the crispy Potato and Fish filled skins it tasted delicious.

Next time I will cover off Mexican experiment and see where it took me and the Ox Cheeks, I hope you enjoy the January efforts and please feel free to let me know if there is anything you would like to me have a go at.


……………………………Until next time…………………….L8ers………………



Revisiting Rendang Pedas Ayam & Malaysia, oh, And ‘Oca’!

Photo 23-12-2017, 22 06 27It did not take long after the trip to Malaysia to get the urge to cook something that would remind me of fun times. I have cooked ‘Rendang’ twice before, one at ‘Season Cookery School’ with the fabulous Jackie Kearney aka The Hungry Gecko of vegetarian and vegan food fame using Jackfruit, and previously I have attempted a Rendang using Beef Short Ribs which didn’t go quite right and needed more cooking.

Norman Bin Musa is a bit of a super hero when it comes to Malaysian food and has won many awards and accolades for his skill and expertise in all things Malaysian.  Honoured with being appointed the Kuala Lumpur Food Ambassador by the KL Mayor in 2015, and being featured on such programs as Toms Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch he is a pretty damn fine Chef, winning such prizes as Chef of the Year at the Asian Curry Awards in 2012 and many more!Photo 23-12-2017, 16 38 56I have several Malaysian cookery books in my ever growing collection, one being Normans’ ‘Amazing Malaysia’ it’s a cracking book and contains an authentic recipe for a Chicken Rendang, one his mother used to made so off to the Asian Supermarket for the ingredients and we were good to go.Photo 23-12-2017, 17 32 44To accompany the Rendang I decided on plain Basmati Rice and Pak Choi, enhanced with some of the flavours above, Kecap Manis a Sweet Soy Sauce being one along with the Sesame Seeds to add some texture and crunch.Photo 23-12-2017, 17 42 33A unique flavour to Malaysian cuisine is Kerisik which is grated, toasted and ground Coconut. The last time I made this I used a microwave oven, which worked but things got very hot indeed so this time I followed another method which involves melting some creamed coconut from a block, and cooking it in a saucepan until the right colour has been reached.Photo 23-12-2017, 17 46 54You can see the start and the end of the process in the pictures above. The aroma of Kerisik is like a ‘Toasty Caramel Coconut’ flavour and to me Is very unique in this style of cuisine. I am working on a dessert using Kerisik at the moment and have been publishing the ‘slow’ progress, it is heading in the right direction nicely though and the full version will get released when it’s completed over the next few months.Photo 23-12-2017, 19 02 24The spice paste, once processed in the bender needs to be fried off, the deep orange colour is due to the fresh Turmeric I used, rather than powdered it’s more intense in both colour and flavour being very ‘earthy’! The recipe calls for 20 dried chilli’s soaked in water which might seem a lot, but the dish was not as hot as you might think.photo-23-12-2017-19-12-42.jpgThe Chicken is then added and given a good mix to cover the meat in the delicious spices, then some bruised Lemongrass to add some freshness, finally the Coconut Milk and the whole thing bubbles away until all is done.Photo 23-12-2017, 19 18 03The Tamarind, Kerisik and Kaffir Lime leafs are almost used as a seasoning, I found the dish needed more Tamarind to balance the flavours but that may just be my palate, it was a delicious dish with flavours dancing around on the tongue, I think the best Rendang I have done so far by a long way.Photo 23-12-2017, 19 59 13The Pak Choi is simply put into a saucepan with a little water and as it cooks add some Kecap Manis and sprinkle the Sesame Seeds. It only needs a few minutes to cook and adds a slightly bitter, irony dimension to the whole meal.Photo 23-12-2017, 20 07 48If I had a New Years resolution, it would be to practise plating, and remember to wipe things clean before taking pictures but I usually end up just wanting to serve and eat, and things end up a bit rushed #musttryharder!!

I finished the plate with some Crispy Fried Onions and a sprinkling of Coriander and all was done. It’s a very tasty dish and quite easy to make if you have the ingredients to hand.

It’s worth investing in Norman’s book, there are lots of recipes that are quite simple to make as long as you read carefully and follow the text. At the back of the book there is a great chapter on ‘The Malaysian Storecupboard’ with pictures and details on the fresh and dried ingredients you will need.

So, Oca.

Photo 04-01-2018, 10 43 35In this weeks Organic Veg Box delivery there was a surprise, Oca, what the hell is Oca!! There was a description on the box and a quick look on the internet and all was clear, New Zealand Yam!  Opening the box revealed some knobbly tuber like critters the size of a thumb, they can be eaten raw, as well as roasted or boiled like a Potato.Photo 04-01-2018, 10 42 23So I decided to cook some for tea just to see what they were like, not really expecting much as they don’t look particularly appetising, but how wrong that was to be!Photo 04-01-2018, 20 24 50 I think it’s the Chef James Martin that says everything tastes better with Butter! In a small pan they went with some Oil and a bit of Butter, roasting for about 25 minutes and giving them a shake every 10 minutes to make sure they were cooked all the way through, then briefly drained on some kitchen paper.Photo 04-01-2018, 20 40 23So, Oca, wow! They were absolutely delicious, slightly crispy on the outside, tender flesh in the middle, with a hint of lemon. I had noted some people commenting on there being no Lemon flavour, with ours it was definitely present, and very nice too. They could probably have been seasoned a bit harder with s touch more salt, but this is one vegetable I will be looking our for, thank-you Riverford Organic for introducing this fine produce to your customers.

…………………….Until next time………………..L8ers………………


Rillettes – French Deliciousness (If you like fatty stuff)! and Tamarind Springs in Kuala Lumpur

Photo 20-12-2017, 12 22 59Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is on, streaming to my iPad as I pen the 1st blog of 2018. River Cottage HQ is about to open and rather than let one of his prize pigs go, the menu will be based on Beef rather than Pork, along with an Asparagus starter, all 40 portions. Fish is also on the menu, trying to find a ‘monster’ Lobster in the locale fails and it’s actually a massive Conger Eeel that ends up on the plate!Photo 20-12-2017, 12 29 12I have very fond memories of past trips to the South of France where my brother lives, the preferred time being late Autumn when the Olive picking season is in full swing. He has some trees in his garden and the process of picking and taking down to the ‘Olive Pressing Co-Operative’ is an annual ritual. It was during one of these trips that I discovered ‘Rillettes’, similar to Pâté it’s rich, fatty and delicious spread on crusty Bread.

You can buy it in a ‘well known higher end super market’ but at over £2.50 for 110g its not cheap, so why not have a go at making it myself! At a recent cookery class at my favourite school ‘Richard Bertinet’s’ we had some Rillette’s and after asking, Richard was more than happy to share the recipe, it’s in one of his books ‘Cook: In a Class of Your Own with Richard Bertinet’ published in 2010 and subsequently I found a second hand copy in excecllent condition, complete with CD, It’s now sitting on the shelf along with Crust, Dough etc. I think I have all of his books!Photo 20-12-2017, 12 39 46Taking 1Kg of cheap pork cuts (shoulder and belly), and some Duck or Goose fat a very slow confit takes place over several hours, the addition of flavours such as Garlic, Thyme and Rosemary add extra interest to the final dish.Photo 20-12-2017, 15 37 20You might find, as I did that the Pork had not broken down completely due to the low and slow process (3 – 3/12 hours give or take), the temperature was not high enough to break down the connective tissues so I turned the heat up a bit and within 30 minutes the job was done.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 24 43At this stage you will need to KEEP the cooking fat AFTER draining it, don’t throw it away, it’s integral to the dish!! The Pork does not look particularly tasty at this point but carefull pulling and tugging to seperate the meat from any unedible bits and we are nearly there.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 43 15Given some time to cool a bit you will have a dish of ‘pulled Pork”, the drained and strained Fat, and Salt and Pepper. I added 60%-70% of the fat into the meat before starting the next process, I did warn it’s fatty stuff but believe me, it’s delicious and you don’t have it that often.

This dish needs LOADS of seasoning, you will need to add, taste, add, taste, add and taste until that magic moment happens and you pallette will say YEEEEEESSSSSS.Photo 20-12-2017, 18 59 28I had some Kilner jars which were sterlised in the oven for about 20 mins at 115 degrees. In Richard’s book there is a section where it talks about various ways of potting the Rillettes but you will have to invest a few pounds to find out like I did, it’s worth it, it’s a very good book with lots of hints and tips.Photo 20-12-2017, 19 06 06Once the Rillettes is packed into the jar, some of the Fat is poured over the top to seal in the goodness before adding the lid and popping into the fridge to cool down, job done.

We tried some a couple of days later, my in-house taster agreeing that it was amazing and took us both back to fond times in southern France. The cost worked out out just over £1 per 100g and I had just over 1Kg worth sealed in the fridge for the future.

So, back to Malaysia and a trip to Tamarind Springs, a lovely restaurant about 20 minutes outside the city. We arrived on the Harley-Davidson motorbikes we had spent the morning on, touring the sites with the Police escort which I still keep thinking about.Photo 24-11-2017, 10 32 00The dishes were varied and delicious taking in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam tastes dancing over the pallette. During lunch we had a tropical downpour which was a welcome release from the heat, it poured it down.

The restaurant was very good, friendly service and awesome food, another experience that will not be forgotten.Photo 26-11-2017, 06 52 47The following day we were on the island of Langkawi and had some free time to wander around. A group of us hired a taxi for the most of the day and toured around the island a bit which was great fun, especially finding the hawker stalls selling home made fresh food to passsers-by.

That’s it for now, I hope you have a go at the Rillettes recipe, it’s very tasy and really quite easy to make.

………………………Until next time………………L8ers…………………




A Vacancy in Langkawi, My Take on Spiced Toffee Apple Streusel Cake and Marini’s on 57, Kuala Lumpur!

Photo 05-12-2017, 14 18 48Things have been a bit manic since the last post. A trip to Kuala Lumpur, busy at work and sporadic cooking has meant the blog has been a bit sparse despite time in the kitchen so hopefully with time off, over the next few days I can catch up and share some of the kitchen experiments and food experiences.

The Trip to Kuala Lumpur was #Epic, eating in some very good restaurants and tasting some stunning and delicious food was an experience not to be repeated, a reward for doing a great job at work it included a trip across town on the back of a Harley Davidson, with 39 others following with a 5 bike Police escort waving us through red traffic lights and keeping the traffic out of the way!Photo 31-12-2017, 15 43 14Some free time enabled us to explore for ourselves and I put together a fews hours of time to visit numerous temples and markets which was great fun. Back street butchers provided an interesting insight into the daily life of Malaysians, along with the Fish Head Curry Restaurant and numerous hawkers selling an array of amazing tasty food at affordable prices.

One of the stand-out restaurants was Marini’s on 57, which surprisingly is on level 57 of one of the Petronas Towers in central Kuala Lumpur. It was an un-expected treat, I have not been on one of these trips before so was surprised to be visiting a high end ‘Italian’ restaurant in Malaysia!

The stand-out dish for me (and I was blown away), was Sous Vide Pink Prawns with Hollandaise Sauce and Sevruga Caviar Powder!Photo 24-11-2017, 13 06 57I have never had such a beautiful soft, packed with flavour prawn in my life, it was stunning!

On the flip side of cuisine, equally delicious was breakfast, Roti Canai (flaky flatbreads), Curry Puffs, Fish Curry, Dhal and Sweet Tea, it was such a change from the usual ‘British’ breakfast that many of my colleagues went for, they really don’t know what they were missing.Photo 23-11-2017, 23 52 24So, back to the U.K. and with a team meeting on the horizon I was looking for something to bake for the team, alongside the obligatory Moroccan Sausage Rolls which are are demanded, I wanted to do something a but different, and was inspired by a Toffee Apple Cake Recipe by Sophie Thompson, a Celebrity Masterchef Winner, you can find the original HERE Photo 05-12-2017, 12 12 19 You start by making a batter as per the recipe, flour, eggs,  ground almonds etc. My additions were to make it a bit more festive and I added the zest of 1 Orange, 1 Lemon, a sprinkling of Mace and some Cardamon (remove the green outer and crush the seeds, about 2 – 3 Cardamons should do it).

The Toffee Sauce was ‘salted’ with Flour de Sea. You need to add, taste, add, taste until you get the balance right, its delicious when you hit that magic spot.Photo 05-12-2017, 22 04 01I used two types of Apple, Pink Lady and Bramley, the 1st going in the centre and the 2nd on top. My other change to the original recipe was to add a Streusel topping on top of the Apple and Toffee Sauce top layer.  I used 25 grams Flour, 1/2 Tsp Cinnamon, 50 grams cold Butter and 45 grams roasted chopped Hazelnuts. Photo 07-12-2017, 14 11 32The result was delicious and the team loved it as much as I enjoyed making it, I also provided some Clotted Cream to serve, well it was the Christmas meeting!

That’s it for 2017, hope you have enjoyed the blog as much as I have writing it. I will be adding the rest of the remainder of 2017 in the coming days.

…………………………………….Until next time L8ers…………………..


Continuing the Dessert Development, Vanilla Black and Oklava (2 Awesome Restaurants)

The continuing saga of dessert development goes on! The 1st bash had gone ok, but there is much work to do to get things to the point I would be happy, and make a completed version of Pistachio Dacquoise, Roasted Pineapple Jelly, Kerisik Mousse and Chocolate Glaze, for friends to try.

From the last session, I had been considering how to notch things up a bit so looking through the various components, Dacquoise, Mousse etc. I decided to focus on the Pineapple and see if I could improve things, so how do you make Pineapple special?The 1st version used Pineapple that had been roasted with some sugar in the oven, it was ok but quite sharp. I could add more sugar, like Muscovado to add more depth but decided I would try something new and make a ‘Spiced Caramel‘ to roast the Pineapple in, never done that before. Adding 2 parts Sugar to 1 part water and slowly bringing to the boil you can start to smell the Caramel aroma fill the kitchen. Looking through various books and posts there are loads of methods published explaining not to stir the mixture as its creates crystals and wiping the sides if the pot with a wet brush to ensure all the sugar is dissolved.The spicing would come from a range of aromats, added once the Caramel is made and cooled a bit to prevent burning the spices, the sugar mixture is EXTREMELY HOT. The Sugar/Water mixture started to boil rapidly and change colour from White, to Tan to Brown, job done. I source my herbs and spices from Steenbergs, my favourite supplier and they were to feature heavily in the added flavours. Organic Lemon and Orange Oil, Cinnamon, Cardamon, Star Anise, Sanscho Pepper (from Japan) and grated Tonka Bean. I did not use the Ginger as shown in the picture above in the end, I might try some fresh Ginger next time round.I let the Caramel cool for quite a while and then added the spices as you can see above, I used about 1/2 a grated Tonka Bean, the flavour is similar to Vanilla but subtly different, buy some to see what I mean. The Japanese Pepper adds a delicious bite to the Pineapple and an extra edge!I used two fresh Pineapples, removed the core and skin and cut into rough chunks as above. The oven was set to 180 deg, I poured the caramel over the apples and mixed well, removing the spices with a sieve beforehand and set the timer to 2 hours. I checked the Apples every 30 minutes and gave then a good mix up to make sure the Caramel was coating them well.It was noticeable that the moisture from the Pineapple had ‘diluted’ the Caramel so unlike last time, the cooking was extended to about 2 hours and 20 minutes, you can see the results above. I think in hindsight I could have taken the Caramel to a much deeper colour in the first stage to make it even richer but thats the point of experimentation in the kitchen.I didn’t go through the jelly stage this time round, we had the Pineapple warmed through with some clotted cream and it was really very tasty. Learnings for next time are:

  1. Take the Caramel much further to a deeper colour
  2. Let the spices steep for even longer to allow the flavours to infuse even more

Next time I will be focussing on getting the Pistachio Dacquoise into better shape, and then looking at the Kerisik Mousse but all this will be when I am back from Malaysia, a trip I am extremely excited about.

In the last few weeks I have had to spend some overnight time in London, and been lucky enough to try out a couple of new restaurants, Vanilla Black and Oklava, both at different ends of the foodie spectrum so here was my experience at both.

A Night at Vanilla Black!

Lets start by saying I am NOT a vegetarian, but Vanilla Black IS a Vegetarian and Vegan establishment situated in Tooks Court near Chancery Lane in London.

So why the hell did I, a meat eating carnivore who loves the finer side of Ox Cheek, Jacobs Ladder, Liver, Heart and who knows what else decide to pay very good money to try this ‘vegetarian’ place out? Because the food looked AMAZING, and other reviews had suggested this was not your run-of-the-mill place to eat Nut Roast, Stuffed Peppers, Vegetarian Lasagne and all the other variations of meat dishes, with the traditional protein replaced by ingredients like Quinoa, Cous Cous, Haloumi or other products that could be used in more imaginative ways, just like Yotam Ottolenghi is pretty damn good at!

So I sat at my table, a little earlier than planned as my 30 minute walk turned out to be only 15 minutes and perused the menu. I had already chosen to be honest, I was going for the Vegetarian Tasting menu with matching wine flight, might as well do things properly. The restaurant was already pretty full and buzzing, most of the eateries I has passed on the way were either empty or only had a very small clientele, a good sign I thought.I was presented with a glass of bubbles shortly after arrival which was a nice surprise, and some home made bread and butter to nibble on to get things going. The 1st of 2 amuse bouche was a delightful mouth cleanser as my waitress explained, a Carbonated Apple drink with small pieces of Celery and a dusting of Parsley powder it certainly did the trick, refreshing with some lovely texture it set me up for what was to come.Hmm, here we go, course number 1: Cucumber, Sticky Rice and Ginger Purée, Pickled Cucumber Ketchup and Seaweed, what the hell was going on in my mouth, it was just stunning. When you read the ingredients and think, sounds a bit, you know…The Sticky Rice was surrounded in a crumb so you got oodles of texture, all the other flavours just danced around, it was very good indeed, the ginger doing a really good job of reminding you it was ever present.  The wine that accompanied this dish the waitress explained was a Hattingly Sparkling Wine which really worked very well with the various flavours.So onto dish no.2: Baby Fennel, Creamed Lemon and Toast, Fennel Purée and Ice, Basil and Lime, served with a Tempranillo Blanc. I was writing notes in between each course on my iPhone, to remind me what I was tasting. I particularly remember this dish as the contrasts between the temperatures were a real hit, quite magical on the palate.Things were getting interesting, if not already exceeding all my expectations. The service from the young Hungarian waitress was impeccable, taking time to explain each course, and why the particular wine matched. I asked for a list of the wines as I had not taken detailed notes and she arrived back with a piece of paper with them all written down for me, she was very passionate about the food being served.

Annoyingly, I was so wrapped up in the ‘vegetarian’ experience I forgot to capture the 2nd Amuse Bouche which was based on Buratta, I’ve had the pleasure of a private trip to an artisan cheese producer in Puglia and tasted it fresh along with Mozzarella and Ricotta, still warm from the production process it’s fabulous.

So dish no.3? Tomato Shortbread, Sheep’s Milk and Brocoli, Gem Lettuce and Egg Yolk, served with a Sancerre. This was frustratingly good, warm Shortbread, sorry no, Tomato Shortbread it was warm and delish with the Sheeps Milk Centre (Cheese of course), again with different texture and flavours bouncing all over the place.It was all going very well, nothing to get the slightest bit ‘oh, not sure about that’, and before too long it was course no.4: Baked High Cross and Charred Spring Onions, Roasted Onion Purée served with a Rioja Promesa, very nice too. The only ‘minor’ challenge with this dish was the Spring Onions which were slightly stringy, but otherwise another amazing piece of food engineering.Unfortunately it was time for dessert, and I am Type 1 diabetic, but on occasions and this was to be one of the them (two actually, more in a moment) I thew caution to the wind as the Cep Mushroom Fudge, Roasted Cocoa and Honey Ice Cream, Salted Lavender Honeycomb and Brioche landed in front of me, complete with a Tokaji Dessert wine. Bugger, it was so so so delicious, I could argue at least one of my five a day was on the plate. Cep Mushroom Fudge WTF!! Just Brilliant, the sweet wine a perfect match that was me done for the evening, or that’s what I thought!Next thing I knew I was presented with another dessert, this one from the Vegan menu! Coconut Sorbet, Toasted Rice Mousse and Coffee Coconut Crumble and Coffee Sponge, thank-you Chef a really nice touch it was another stunner, but for me the Cep Mushroom Fudge is definitely the winner on this occasion.

So, I guess you can tell I am now a Vegetarian! No, not quite but the evening at Vanilla Black was beyond outstanding, why, because it was Vegetarian and everything I was served was amazing (spring onions excused), I went in with an open mind and came out astounded at how they could produce some of the best plates of food I have ever eaten, so thank-you Andrew, and your brilliant team.

If you fancy trying something a little different and prepared to have your mind messed with, I whole heartedly recommend the tasting menu for a whole new experience, it was awesome.

Now on to Oklava!

Selim Kiazim was on Saturday Kitchen this morning on BBC1, she is a fantastic Chef and I was lucky enough to get a place at her restaurant Oklava a few weeks back, with a book recently published of the same name it sits proudly on my shelf nestled amongst Yotam Ottolenghi, Sabrina Ghayour and Bethany Kehdy, to name a few middle eastern favourites.

Turkish Cypriot food is on the menu, with the option of a table or sitting at the ‘pass’ watching the food being prepared it’s a very warm and open environment.

This was my second night in London, and after Vanilla Black, was looking for something different, and Oklava hit the mark. I managed to get a booking the day before and also managed to arrive 45 mins early this time, the underground was running very well and walking distances on my side had been completely over estimated. The place was buzzing just like the previous evening which again bode well for a great night to come.

This evenings menu included meat and fish too but strangely, I did opt for a Vegetarian option for one of the courses, more of that in a moment.

I was given the option of sitting at the end of the bar and had a fantastic view of all that was going on, which was really great. Seeing Selim and her all female team in action was really interesting as the orders were placed, and the food prepared in front of me, the open fronted oven in the background used for roasting various menu items.

There is a nice menu selection which should cover most tastes, mine was to start with the Spiced Chicken Parfait, Cracker and Pickled Apricots which I watched being prepared before me.

Really very nice indeed the Parfait was very smooth and packed full of flavour, the spicing tickling the tastebuds enough to say ‘hello, i’m here’! The home made cracker was an interesting addition, replacing the usual heavy bread which can fill you up too much before a main course.I was being looked after by a lovely American lass, who had arrived in the UK about 3 months previously and certainly knew the menu well, making recommendations and suggestions as to what would work. To go with the food i picked a Turkish Wine from Northern Anatolia, Diren Collection 2015 which is made from a grape i had not heard of, Narince which was very tasty.

My next dish was a bit unusual, in that it was that ‘vegetarian’ feeling taking over me again, Chilli Roast Cauliflower, Red Onion, Parsley and Pistachios was ordered and arrived after getting the roasting treatment from the open oven. It’s in Selim’s book, also called Oklava so i am looking forward to having a go in the future myself. I reckon it could stand up as a main course all on it’s own with maybe some salad as a side. It was very rich and packed full of flavour, i am glad i picked a lighter main course.For the main even i went for Lahmacun, something i have wanted to try since seeing Rick Stein munch through one on his series Mediterranean Escapes in 2010! Spicy lamb mince on a home made wood fired flat bread, topped with a zesty salad and lemon juice then rolled and eaten it was very very nice indeed.

No dessert for me that evening as the night before had taken my quota for the month, it was a great evening with lovely food, the service was very good, attentive and unfussy Oklava deserves the positive accolades it receives, highly recommended and one to return too in the future.

Selim kindly signed a menu for me to take home during service to keep with the Oklava book I proudly own.



……………………………………….Until nest time…………………….L8ers………………………….









A Michelin Masterclass with Angela Hartnett MBE (Plus a look at the Michelin starred Woodspeen Restaurant)

I was sitting in Cafe Lucca in Bath and my heart was pumping for a couple of reasons, I had just walked up the hill from the station which is something not attempted before, and I was going to be spending a day learning from a food hero Angela Hartnett MBE, who also happens to have a Michelin Star, no mean feat!

Cafe Lucca was also a new experience, my trip to Bath has previously landed me at the station with just enough time to get a taxi to the cookery school, this time the timetable had changed and I was over an hour early, enough time to grab a bite to eat.It was a really tasty plateful, Pancetta, Boiled Eggs that had been coated in Parmesan and stuck under the grill, Roasted Tomatoes, Toast and Marmalade with a pot of Assam Tea, it was all very tasty.

I’d been looking at twitter that morning and Richard Bertinet, the owner of the School had been posting the odd picture of food that we would be using that day. A massive crate of wild Mushrooms including Trompette and Girolles, it was going to be a great day. I’d booked this course in May as a Birthday present so it was a long time coming.So the menu for the day included Pumpkin Tortelli, Partridge with Turnip and Mushrooms and Plums with Ricotta, seasonal dishes that as we found out, would require a lot of skill and technique to prepare, no ready made Pasta, that was to be done by hand along with preparing the Partridges, they were whole, Heads, Wings and Guts!!Angela is an absolute delight, taking the 12 of us students through the process of making the pasta by hand, understanding the  look and feel once it was ready to roll, cut and shape as required, imparting lots of tips on the way it was great fun. We were grouped into fours and encouraged to interact our group starting chatting away sharing experiences as we went on.I have made Pasta by hand before in Italy, but it was over four years ago (sorry, my food experiences have meant that I am never trying a particular country or region for that long)! It was a really good session, I had never used a Pasta Machine before similar to others in the group so it was interesting to see the difference not having enough Flour in the mix made, it was slightly too wet and produced interesting results when put through the Pasta machine.I’d never heard of Tortelli before, they are like a rectangular Raviolli, where you place the stuffing close to the edge nearest you, flip over, egg or milk wash the front and sides, and in between the covered filling and flip over the other side like a blanket, mine were by no means perfect but the looked ok once finished.Before preparing the Pasta, we had quartered a Pumpkin, seasoned and placed on oiled baking trays for a session in the oven to soften.  Angela encouraged us to answer questions and shared many of the experiences working with the likes of Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing which was really interesting and very amusing indeed !!I LOVE Partridge, in fact our 11 year old son loves Partridge too, and cooks it himself when available (with parental assistance of course). We were each given one to prep after being shown how to do it by Angela, removing the legs in the right place, (you can go further down the joint towards the body which makes for an unstable cooking experience as it wobbles in the pan)!

Then the Wings, the Head was removed close to the Head, rather than close to the body and the Neck was to be used in the game sauce we were to make. The next bit was interesting, food digestion is a slow process and the cavity between the Neck and the Body contained all sorts of Seeds, bits of food that the Partridge was still ‘processing’. Next the Guts, Heart, Lungs etc. We kept the Heart and Kidney to add to the Game sauce towards the end to add extra richness and flavour.We were prepping and cooking for several hours, it was hard work but really good fun. One of the students had come all the way from Norway to attend the 1 day course, she owned a Bakery and had been to the school before to learn advanced bread making techniques which the owner Richard Bertinet is a master at, this is an awesome cookery school and Richard attracts some seriously good chefs to come along and share their knowledge and experience.We worked tirelessly from about 10:00 till 12:30, then a break for refreshments, and a quick snack of Cheese and Ham Toasties with Bechamel using Richards famous Bread, they were very tasty indeed. The ‘Baker Girls’ or Bertinet Backstage are the great team that assist, wash up, clean and generally help things go smoothly and as usual, they did an exceptional job.Earlier, we had removed the legs from the Partridge ready for a bath in Duck Fat, Garlic and Thyme, we were going to confit the legs and add to a Salad with Pickled Walnuts. Before the ‘Duck Fat Bath’, the legs were fried in Olive Oil to colour, there was lots going on during the course, loads of different cooking techniques were learnt on the way it was excellent value for money and everyone was sweating in the heat of the kitchen.The Partridge Crowns got the Pan treatment, in LOADS of Butter and Thyme, a few minutes before hitting the oven for finishing off.Angela was more than happy for us to video, take pictures, selfies and was a real joy to spend time with, her knowledge and experience is just something  you don’t often get the chance to access, I need to practise my photography from a selfie perspective although we were right by the hob, and everything was hot in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, due to train timetable changes I had to leave earlier than expected and only managed to sit down for the Pumpkin Tortelli starter which was really tasty, I was given some Partridge Breast, some of the Mushrooms, and the Turnip dish we prepared and had them in the evening for tea, very tasty indeed. I really can’t wait to book my next session at Richards Cookery School, its ‘Bloody Brilliant’.

This is the eighth course I have completed at Richard Bertinet’s Cookery School, each of them have had their own qualities, this was equally as enjoyable as the previous seven, but made more special but being taught by such an iconic chef, full of energy, passion and Angela is just a lovely person, thank-you Angela. If you get the chance, just book and your will be guaranteed an amazing time.

A Birthday Treat At the WoodSpeen Nr Newbury

Where to go to celebrate my Birthday? It took less than 10 seconds to reach a decision and a booking at the local Michelin starred restaurant, ‘The WoodSpeen’ was completed online. I’ve eaten here before with a good friend, but only for lunch and we had their lunchtime special which was very good, this time it was to be the ‘Full Monty’ a la carte.Sat at our table an Amuse Bouche arrived, Courgette Soup with Black Olive. I am not sure about Courgettes, I eat them a lot but they tend to be part of a dish and not going solo, the soup was really very tasty, quite a surprise but a good one. We had been given some lovely home made bread and polished off the dish before more bread arrived, very good attentive service.For starters I opted for the Roasted Scallops, with Chicken Thigh, Cauliflower and Hazelnut, OMG it was so very tasty. The Scallop was perfectly cooked, the Chicken tender as it could be and really rich the whole dish just sung ‘eat me’.My partner in crime opted for the Woodspeen Smoked Salmon, Beetroot, Goats Curd and Apple which was apparently delicious and was demolished quite effortlessly, with a big smile of satisfaction to finish.We were then surprised with another Amuse Bouche, Buratta with Heritage Tomatoes and Olive Crumb, another exceptional taste bomb that really cleansed the taste buds, this was going really very well indeed.I adore fish and the Bass did not disappoint, with Clams, Squid Ink Gnocchi, Fennel and Champagne Sauce. Everything was cooked perfectly and the Champagne Sauce is THE best I have ever had, seriously tasty and moorish, I could have drunk it out of a cup it was that tasty.Steak was the choice for Mrs R, with Garlic Mushrooms, Onion Ring, Triple Cooked Chips and Bearnaise. We usually find steaks are ‘OK’, either the meat is not the best or the cooking is not quite right, this was spot on perfect, and the chips, oh my we thought we had found the best chips locally and they are very good, but these WERE the best, praise indeed.It was my birthday so I WAS having a dessert, the Pina Colada sounded really nice. Coconut Parfait, Macadamia Crumble, Pineapple and Lemongrass Sorbet. I was in heaven, it was yum yum yum the tastes and textures dancing around on the tongue it was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

The Woodspeen is highly recommended, the food is excellent, the service is excellent un-fussy but very attentive, we will be definitely going back very soon.  I think it’s great value for money considering the quality of the service, ingredients and cooking.

Thanks you to the team at The WoodSpeen for making my birthday very special.


……………………………Until next time……………..L8ers………………….



Developing a New(ish) Dessert – Pistachio Dacquoise, Rum Roasted Pineapple Jelly & Kerisik Mousse Pt1 Inspired By Jackie Kearney, The Hungry Gecko.

My mojo has been depleted for a few months, close deaths on both sides of the family, our 11 year old who has been unwell for several years has finally been diagnosed with suspected PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections),  and work has been very busy, which is not a bad thing so my last post was back in June!

I have a treat booked in October, a day with Angel Hartnett at Richard Bertinet’s cookery school so I have decided to try and invent something to try and kick start my mojo again, at least construct from different components so this is the first ‘development’ blog, capturing the good and bad of my foodie experiment.I had a number of thoughts about savoury and sweet and as most of my posts have been on the savoury side, I have opted for a dessert, something hopefully a little bit different, using some of the flavours that I love so much such as pistachio, pineapple, coconut etc. but it needs to be edgy, not out of the box.Not so long ago I was in the safe hands of Jackie Kearney on a Vegan cookery course, we used an ingredient in the Green JackFruit Rendang which was called Kerisik. Kerisik is toasted Coconut and a component of Malaysia cooking, I am hoping to visit Malaysia later this year, I remember the description of taking a block of Creamed Coconut, putting it in a heatproof dish like a pyrex, and sticking it in the Microwave on high power for a couple or 3 minutes, stirring, then back in until a deep brown colour.The aroma of Kerisik is amazing, toasty Coconut both rich and slightly sweet. This could be a perfect component for the dessert so a quick tweet to Jackie asking if she had used it in such a way, yes in a ‘Panna Cotta‘ so I decided I would have a go at using it in a Mousse. BEWARE – It very VERY VERY hot so make sure you use a Pyrex or similar.

The Idea and recipe/ingredients further up the page took a couple of weeks to get too. What would the base be, Sponge, Biscuit, Joconde, Dacquoise, Meringue, Genoise the choices are endless. The base also needed to have flavour, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Pecans, Orange, Lemon, Lime, Pineapple?

I opted for Pistachio as I had a large bag in the cupboard and Coconut and Pistachios have a lovely flavour and would work with the Coconut, the base that I have initially opted for is the Dacquoise, like a Meringue but softer and more chewy in texture.I invested in a bag of really good quality Pistachios a few months back, I use them a lot (when I am cooking and the mojo is not missing!) and recommend The Sous Chef. They were not cheap at £47.50 for a Kg, but the quality is very good and they are skinless so ideal for patisserie with no waste and faffing to get the skins off. You will need 100 grm which need to be processed to a rough powder before roasting to intensify the flavour and remove moisture which you can see above.I’ve never made a Dacquoise before and unfortunately got disturbed by an excited son just as I was at what I suspect was an important stage. I had not ‘set’ the whisked egg whites enough and the mixture ended up sloppy rather than firm enough for piping so I am going to have to have another go at this stage of the dessert, that’s development for you!The next thing to consider was other flavours and textures, Coconut, Pistachio and……Pineapple. Not any old Pineapple, this was to be roasted in Brown Sugar, Rum, Vanilla and Lime Zest and made into a Jelly using Agar Agar, something else I had not used before, the idea of this exercise being to teach myself new skills on the way.Time to finish, I decided that I had learnt enough, made a few mistakes but was a good way forward to creating something really tasty, I had been in the kitchen over 4 hours so I decided to cook the Dacquoise by sitting a large cooking ring on baking paper, and slowly pouring in the mixture hoping it was thick enough not to leak out everywhere!!

The Pineapple was processed in the ‘Ninja’ and set with the correct amount of Agar Agar in a smaller metal ring lined with cling film, and placed on a plate before popping in the fridge to set.

The picture above is of the base and roasted Pineapple Jelly, which was very tasty indeed, although the base was more soggy than chewy the Pineapple Jelly was really very good.

Next time I will be focussing on the base again and looking at making the Kerisik Mousse.


………………………………Until next time…………………….L8ers…………………………


I Love India – A Day With The Delightful and Very Talented Anjum Anand, At Bertinets’ Cookery School

Cookery Books can be a fantastic source of inspiration and simultaneously just as frustrating, when the dish you have spent ages preparing turns out really disappointing, and in some cases inedible! I LOVE cookery books, especially where the content takes you on a journey with the author through a period of life, or travels through an unfamiliar land of exotic and tingling flavours.

When a I received a call the other week, “Hey hun, there is a nice looking Indian Cookery Book called ‘I Love India‘, by someone called Anjum Anand, do you want me to get it for you?”, my immediate response was “Yes Please”. I knew of Anjum, I had one of her earlier cookery books, and had seen some of her television series so I felt sure it was going to be good, this was to be her eighth book and as they say, practise makes perfect ;-).

I don’t know why I ended up looking at my regular Cookery School’s web page later that day, Richard Bertinet In Bath but there it was before me, “A Day with Anjum Anand, I Love India”.

Minutes later the course was booked and would be taking place a couple of weeks after my annual cookery trip to France, talk about overloaded with cooking!!!I’m very familiar with the setup at Richard’s School, this would be my six course, having spent days with the likes of Mark Hix, Dhruv Baker, José Pizzaro and Omar Allibhoy as well as the master Bread Maker himself Richard, you are always guaranteed high quality chefs, a relaxed atmosphere, great support from the team of lovely ladies that organise and clean (esp. newby Charlotte), and teaming up with like minded enthusiasts all ages, and from all walks of life who want to learn new skills. After the usual Tea, Coffee and Toast (Richards Bread is just fab) with home made conserves we were introduced to the menu we were going to prepare, in 2 groups of 4 people. Anjum explained that we were going to be all hands-on, no demonstrations as she would be working with us, explaining the necessary techniques on the way which sounded just perfect, and just ask questions if you are not sure.

The starter was to be ‘Goan’ Prawn & Coconut Cakes with Tangy Coriander Chutney, for main course we would prepare ‘Kutch’ Chicken Biryani with a Spinach and Dill Raita and Four Seed Tomato Spiced Okra, dessert being Chilled Mango, Coconut and Pearl Pudding.

Goa /ˈɡ.ə/ is a state in India within the coastal region known as the Konkan in Western India. It is bounded by Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east and south, with the Arabian Sea forming its Western coast. It is India’s smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Goa has highest GDP per capita among all Indian states………………….

Kutch, is a region in the extreme west of the western Indian state of Gujarat, can be traced back to prehistorical times. There are several sites related to Indus valley civilisation in the region and it is mentioned in Hindu mythology. In historical times, Kutch is mentioned in Greek writings during the time of Alexander The Great.

Biryani is an Urdu word derived from the Persian language, which was used as an official language in different parts of medieval India, by various Islamic dynasties. One theory is that it originates from “birinj”, the Persian word for rice. Another theory is that it derives from “biryan” or “beriyan” (to fry or roast).

So take what looks like a simple description of food and start to interpret the description, next minute you are in a time warp back to 5th Century India and ancient dynasties that evolved over time, as did their cuisine, taking influence from food 4000 years ago, food is not boring if you take a little time to get under the skin of its origins! Click on the various links in the text above to explore for yourself.So we started to prepare the Goan Prawns and accompanying Chutney, this is where being with the author of the book really helps, as it’s very difficult to explain texture, smell and flavour in a book, preparing it with the cook in the room and you start to pick up all the important hints and tips to get the best out of the recipe. This was a case in point with the texture required for the Prawn Cakes which needed blending, but not to extinction!!!! The correct balance of ‘glue’ to texture would provide the desired effect and so we took a step by step approach so we could see what was required.There is only one book (that I am aware of), that takes this issue full on and that’s Marcus Wareings’ “How to Cook The Perfect”, which goes a good way towards addressing the challenge of subtle technique, and is highly recommended.

So how big do you need to make these savoury Goan delights, well that would depend on whether making for an hors d’oeuvre, starter or main course, if you cannot get Panko breadcrumbs are white breadcrumbs ok, the questions kept coming, all relevant and important to the person asking them, and useful for the rest of the budding cooks.As we carried on with our preparation more questions followed, the subjective issue of herb quantities for the Chutney, to join the Goan Prawn Cakes we were making a Tangy Coriander Chutney, the ‘Tang’ provided by Lemon, with some texture from Pistachios, with Mint and Garlic to add to the flavoursome accompaniment. The consensus was that at the end of the day, everyones palate is different and adjust to what YOU like but we all agreed testing the Chutney without having some Goan Cake at the same time was the only way to ensure the flavour profile was appropriate. Shock, Horror, OMG, its delicious, we made that!!

There was happiness and surprises as we progressed to the more complicated dishes. Food from this continent is more familiar to me having had the pleasure of spending a day with Dhruv Baker, but also a couple of days with a cook from Pakistan, Sumayya Usmani where I had learned to cook a Biryani amongst other dishes of the region. But there is more than one Biryani!I love Biryani but here in the U.K. we have a little problem, I am yet to have eaten a Biryani in a restaurant or takeaway, nope, definitely not a proper Biryani, not one that even comes close. Today we MADE A BIRYANI, a proper one, from the Kutch region of India, a result.Kutch district (also spelled as Kachchh) is a district of Gujarat state in western India. Covering an area of 45,674 km², it is the largest district of India. The population of Kutch is 2,092,371. And THEY know how to make a proper Biryani.

It’s a complex dish with several stages like making a marinade, frying some dry spices, making crispy onions (not burn’t) from scratch (you can cheat, but won’t have the fragrant oil left over!), preparing the rice etc. It was great fun as we all did our bit to contribute towards the final dish.Anjum is an absolutely lovely lady, patient calm, full of enthusiasm and abound with knowledge about the food and region, her life story is really interesting and forms the start of her book I love India where the recipes for the cookery session came from. She was really happy to answer all the questions we threw at her, at times it must have seemed like a ‘barrage’ during a 17th century attack on a ‘Fortified Castle’, relentless!!

We had prepped the Goan Prawn cakes and were leaving the breadcrumbs to the last minute, the Coriander Chutney was done, Crispy Onions done,  I was on Rice duty and that was good to go too, the morning was rushing by and we needed a break.Those that have been to Richard’s School will know about the late morning break, those of you that don’t, pick a course, book it and find out for yourself as it’s part of the experience, ’nuff said.

After refreshments we carried on finishing the various dishes, the Biryani needed layering, Rice, then the Chicken that we had pre-cooked in the marinade, then more Rice. During the morning each of us had learned so many techniques, like how to tell when Garlic is properly cooked, how to make the perfect Rice, seasoning, these are the things that are so difficult to explain in a book as they involve smell, taste and texture.So what about dessert. Charlotte, one of the lovely ‘BackStage Girls’ as they are know who clean, make tea, prepare as necessary mentioned ‘Frogspawn’ a couple of times!!!

Pearl Pudding was the description in the recipe notes we were given, ah, Tapioca ‘Pearls’, aka Frogspawn for those that remember from their school days. We were given another idea which I am not going to mention, book some time with Anjum to find out more. We prepped Mango cubes, made a Mango and Coconut Cream heavy ‘soup’, with the consistency of Double Cream, boiled the ‘Frogspawn’ and soon everything was done and we were sitting down to a very enjoyable lunch.The Goan Prawn Cakes and Tangy Coriander Chutney were outstanding, really tasty and the Tang of the Chutney went very well indeed. I reckon (only a personal opinion), this could be served with the addition of a Kachumber, a salad of Onion, Tomato and Cucumber (with a Tamarind Dressing), which would be a perfect match and make a lovely lunch or light supper.It was so nice to be eating a proper Biryani again, light, fragrant with textures and pings of flavour from the addition of Currants and Almonds fried in Ghee, and the Fried Onions I had prepared earlier. It was bl@@dy tasty as they would say in Australia!

As I was travelling to the venue in Bath, I was searching YouTube for any Videos of Anjum and came across a hilarious live recording from an Australian breakfast show a few months back, 3 women who seemed to be clueless about Semolina and the difference between YoGhuurt (not a typo, they make it sound like that), and Milk, it was really funny. Anjum was getting it from every direction and still managed to do a great job. We discussed the experience in the morning which was really enlightening, thanks Anjum.

Time for Dessert,  And an apology!We were all so busy commenting on the starter and main, asking Anjum so many questions and having a great foodie conversation I forgot to take a picture of the dessert. We could not get ‘proper’ Mango’s and those we had didn’t have the best flavour, although the result actually tasted Ok.

There was no consensus on the Tapioca pearls, I was a bit contentious and suggested using Maftoul or Moghrabieh  from the Middle East, larger sphericals and used for savoury dishes I reckon they would work really well, so something I am going to try in the future as an experiment.

So another days cooking at Bertinet’s with the lovely Anjum Anand, a brilliant day as usual, learnt loads, cooked lots, ate a bit too it was great fun and I cannot wait until next time. If you see one of Anjum’s course I would highly recommend them. Usual rules apply, I paid full price for this course and all views are my own. I have not been coerced in any way.


……………………………….Until Next Time…………..L8ers…………………………….







The Cathars of the Languedoc, Original ‘Bubbles’, not Dom Pérignon & Another Michelin Starred Restaurant, Oh, and some Chocolate – but not in that order!

2017-05-24 12.30.38The weather is getting better and better (and hotter), it’s breakfast on Wednesday and we are all still talking about the previous nights amazing dinner and the theatre involved in its delivery.

We have some trips today, a respite from frantic mise en place and intense cooking, spending 3 hours a session ( 2 a day) on your feet in the kitchen has had its impact, all our ankles are swollen with what is probably water retention!!P1030802The story goes that a Monk called Dom Pérignon was visiting the area around Limoux in the Languedoc and stumbled across fellow monks that in 1531, had discovered a method to make sparkling ‘wine’, the Monks were based at the abbey in Saint-Hilaire, he pinched the idea and ‘Champagne’ was born!

Dom Pérignon (1638–1715) was a monk and cellar master at the Benedictine abbey in Hautvillers and obviously very good at marketing, the rest is history!p1030804.jpgWe were going to visit a small local family producer in Limoux that makes the two varieties of wine, Crémant and Blanquette. The tour was ‘interesting’, they had invested in some high-tech visual presentations that seemed to miss something, in fact quite a lot but it was still fun nonetheless.

At the end was the tasting session and we got to try a variety of their produce which is extremely good, and excellent value for money at 10€ to 15€ a bottle. They have a website and can ship to England, the quality was very very good and it was difficult to distinguish between what we were drinking and the more expensive Champagne which is often overpriced and way too acidic.

All-aboard, back into the mini-bus and we were off to the village of Saint Frichoux.moz001-_-IMG_8512Behind the simple (but very thick) walls of La Belle Minervoise built in 1895 hides a stunning Chambres d’Hôtes, or French Bed and Breakfast owned by the lovely Jean-Claude and Sophie who are also professional Patissier’s and Chocolatiers, the reason for our visit to the tiny hamlet of Saint Frichoux, very close to the Canal Du Midi and not far from Carcassonne.2017-05-24 15.46.28I recently learnt how to temper Chocolate the modern way using ‘MyCryo Cocoa Butter Powder‘ with Mark Tilling, the Great British Bake Off Crème de la Crème winner in 2016 which was a real honour but this was equally a humbling experience.

Jean-Claude has been following the manual method of tempering for many years and met his life long partner Sophie who is a Pâtissier, got married and subsequently jointly owned and ran an establishment just outside Paris, before moving South for a less hectic lifestyle.

They welcomed us with open arms and we were treated to a masterclass (with hands-on), to the art of manual chocolate tempering over a slab of marble.  It takes time and patience heating the Chocolate, reducing the temperature on the slab until you can see Crystals form on the surface etc…. it took time but audience participation added to the experience.2017-05-24 16.30.20Once the process has been completed which took quite a while as, despite the thick walls the room was still too warm, you can use the Chocolate to fill moulds and Jean-Claude started with small simple shapes.2017-05-24 17.19.52After dipping some Marzipan to make some traditional treats we were shown how to deal with moulds, which is not as easy as you might think. Done properly you will end up with a glossy sheen and no ‘bloom’, or white markings which is the Cocoa Butter that has not been tempered properly.

We had great fun with Jean-Claude and Sophie they were very hospitable and if you check out their B&B on Tripadvisor you will see nothing but positive comments. P1030827It was unfortunately time to move on so we all clambered into the mini-bus again and headed to the small village of Lastours which is about 7.5 miles away from Carcassonne, our gastronomic destination for the evening being ‘Le Puits du Trésor‘, which means The Well of Treasures.

We made a short detour on the way, only 5 minutes and hidden behind a small touring park you can see the famous ruins of the Châteaux de Lastours, 4 structures that formed a defensive bastion for hundreds of years. I plan to go back to this part of France to learn more about the Cathars and visit some of the historical sites which I find absolutely fascinating. 2017-05-24 18.33.30As we headed down a steep windy road (there are quite a few of those around here!), we turned a sharp corner and before us was a significant building, an ex textile factory nestling against the backdrop of the Montagne Noire, the ‘Black Mountain’ with the River Orbiel running alongside.2017-05-24 18.35.49Jean-Marc Boyer achieved his Michelin Star in 2007 after years of training in some of the best 2* and 3* restaurants in France, and has continued to receive the accolade on an annual basis to this day, as well as the restaurant he also runs a Bistro,  ‘Auberge du Diable au Thym’ at the opposite end of the building which offers lunchtime light eating at very reasonable prices.

Jean-Marc was a very good tutor when he spent two days with us, had a lovely manner, lots of patience (believe me, he needed it with us lot!),  and a really great sense of humour which kept us on our toes. His approach is market fresh produce, simple ingredients cooked and prepared to perfection.

The restaurant menu is VERY dependent on what produce is available, mood of the Chef, and weather,  so you don’t know what you are going to eat until you sit down and the plate is placed before you, exciting stuff!Photo 24-05-2017, 19 31 26The Hors d’oeuvre arrived to whet our appetites and tickle the taste buds, some beautiful Salmon with a macerated Strawberry ‘sauce’ with Basil Chiffonade, it was very tasty indeed and set the scene for the dishes ahead.Photo 24-05-2017, 19 52 43The starter was simply delicious, perfectly prepared and beautifully presented. VERY fresh Asparagus, served in a lovely light, crispy Puff Pastry case (Jean-Marc does not buy Pastry, it was home-made and FULL of buttery richness), the sauce was Mustard and Citrus, Lemon in the Sauce but with some strategically placed Orange confit tricked the palate, damn it was really so good. SIMPLE done Brilliantly!Photo 24-05-2017, 20 21 59The mains arrived next, Stone Bass, a very meaty fish found swimming around wrecks, a bit like a Grouper, which was served with an ‘assiette’ or selection of Vegetables that had been supplied market fresh that morning. Again simple but well cooked food, accompanied by a very complex but tasty sauce, another winning dish. Freshly made Bread helped mop up any leftover sauce, it would be rude not too!photo-24-05-2017-21-12-26.jpgFinally dessert, and there were two of them. Firstly, an imaginative crispy pastry base, with a Strawberry Soufflé filling, never had this before and it was very good indeed, offset by a home-made caramel Ice-cream. A lightly macerated Strawberry ‘Stew’ with more home made ice-cream finished the meal off, a very satisfying finish to a really good day.P1030064C’est Tout, that’s it. Another adventure over, more foodie friends made. Vasily, the Russian from Switzerland who was a Cheese addict and made us all laugh in so many ways, Paul and Sue from the U.S., our political commentators ably joined by Marc, the ex Chef, Journalist and Travel Writer. And the adorable Ali and Sue, keen foodies who had met on a previous cooking vacation, kept in touch and carried on the tradition.

Massive thanks must go to Moira and her able team of helpers, and the star Chefs, Robert and Jean-Marc, who’s attention, patience and teaching helped us all achieve new culinary levels.

………………………Until Next Time………………L8ers………………………..

(P.S. I Paid full price for this vacation and have not been bribed or coerced in any way! The French House Party is named Top Retreat in the National Geographic book by American travel writer Pam Grout: “The 100 Best Worldwide Vacations to Enrich Your Life”.

If you are interested in learning more, then please point your browser at http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu You can see the blog of my previous adventures in 2015 which start HERE)


It’s Tough, Really Very Tough – A Night of 2 Michelin Starred Gastronomie in Carcassonne!

2017-05-23 17.09.35I’ve been to Carcassonne before, a couple of years ago when I was last a guest at The French House Party. It’s a magical place Carcassonne, having a similar feel to Tallin in Estonia (highly recommended too, had a day trip there on a cruise a few years back). Narrow cobbled streets, Coffee shops to sit outside and watch the world go by, we arrived late in the afternoon when the majority of the crowds had gone home, it gets very busy here!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 50 30How can I describe La Table De Franck Putelat…………Bloody Brilliant!  The whole experience is just so different.

I have had the pleasure of eating here before, a restaurant with 2 Michelin Stars you expect it to be good, but it’s the theatre as well as the food that takes it to the next level. From the Flame in the Glass Cabinet, that warms the Bread Basket placed on top it’s an amazing experience that, given the chance I would recommend to anyone.Photo 23-05-2017, 19 56 17Hmmmm,  a little Appetizer was passed to each of us the waiter then described what was in our hands…………..Duck Foie Gras Lollipops with a Grapefruit Emulsion….. Gulp! How they made the Emulsion stick in such a uniform way was mind-blowing, it tasted pretty damn good too!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 58 41Ah, I am sure I didn’t have these the other day!…… Tapioca Crisps perfumed with Aioli, Tapenade and Mushroom Cream, crispy and very very tasty, my mouth was already salivating after the previous tastes and textures. The others in our group were also amazed at these little tasty delights.photo-23-05-2017-20-02-29.jpg‘What’s this’ we all declared as a bowl of ‘Smoking Something’ was placed before us! Dry Ice used to great effect, the delights were Cromesquis of Pig Feet (errkk)! Crispy Morsels that had a lovely light crunchy coating they are like a Croquette, and a soft melting pork centre with some lemon jelly they were so so good, and this was just another appetiser!Photo 23-05-2017, 20 25 51Bread is the life blood of France, just ask my occasional Tutor and owner of Bertinet’s Cookery School in Bath Richard Bertinet, I am sure he will agree. There was a great choice of Bread, all homemade and displayed on the ‘Fire Cabinet’, with the waiter cutting on demand as we all tried to decide what to pick!photo-23-05-2017-20-27-45.jpgMy Choice was the Spelt Bread which had a great crust, and the Thyme Bread which was like a Croissant but shaped like a traditional Beehive they were both really delicious. There are little ‘nods’ to the surroundings and very obvious was the ‘chain mail’ place mat, and wooden butter knife being linked to the Knights that used to occupy the City.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 28 44The ‘Theatre’ carried on, not a dish with a block of butter, or the usual ‘curls’ they have a paddle like wooden butter dish, with ordinary and one laced with Seaweed to provide the salt component, very tasty on the home-made bread.photo-23-05-2017-20-29-53.jpgThe last delight before the 1st course was ready, came in a beautifully designed porcelain Chicken Foot,  a perfectly cooked Egg, covered in a rich and decadent Mushroom Cream with a bit of Truffle for added decadence! Boy it was so tasty, and we had only completed the appetisers, that set the bar high for the remainder of the meal.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 39 57So onto the starter, let’s see if the food was as good as last time. Duck Foie Gras Rougié, Palourdes Cranquettes de Méditerranée, Pistils de Safran à Gégé. It was a full (and I mean FULL) flavoured broth with seared Foie Gras, beautiful Clams and an assortment of vegetable brunois (chopped really small)!

The comments around the table sort of went like, ‘this is amazing’, ‘this is sooo delicious’, ‘oh my god, how do they get so much flavour into this’, ‘Jeez this is really very good’……. We sort of knew ho they got so much flavour into things as the 1st two days of our cooking course had been just that, spending hours frying, boiling, reducing, adding more flavours, reducing etc… The starter was a hit with everyone. Photo 23-05-2017, 21 04 51The main course soon arrived and was equally as tasty. I don’t think I have EVER had a fillet of Cod so perfectly cooked! It fell apart, melted in the mouth, was so light and flaky, no rough or slighty stringy edges it was PERFECT. The flavour of the vegetables and broth were perfect with subtle flavours and did not overpower the fish, it was just fab, and all of us had come to pretty much the same conclusion (until the next day, more of that later)!photo-23-05-2017-21-49-25.jpgIt maybe a personal thing but the thing most people rememeber about a restaurant is the dessert, it’s the last thing they eat before departing and will have (In good restaurants), a significant visual impact as we knew from our own efforts over the last couple of days. Our dessert had visual impact, lots of it! Pavlova ananas, infusé aux bais sancho, sorbet céleri branche. It was a Pineapple Pavola (deconstructed), infused with Sancho Berries (Japanese pepper) and Celery Sorbet (and some White Chocolate).

This dish divided the group, it was the Celery Sorbet that was the bone of contention. The thing was, if you had a bit of each element the Sorbet worked a treat, cleaning the palate especially with the sweet White Chocolate. The textures were great too, soft, crunchy, smooth melting I personally loved it, a lot. So that was it, multiple courses all great and we had a fantastic time, and experience. But there was a bit more to come yet!!photo-23-05-2017-22-10-51.jpgThe service had been exemplary all night, each dish being described as it was delivered to the table, the final little teaser being little crisp tarts with a fresh Raspberry filling, and some light jelly delights, I cannot remember what they were but I think coconut from memory, we had eaten so many tasty flavours it was still delicious.photo-23-05-2017-22-13-04-e1495818627716.jpgAll of a sudden, our waiter came to the table, picked up the flower pot which the delights were resting and threw it onto the table, more theatre the pot was made of Chocolate smashed into pieces and threw more hand made delights all over the table, we all burst into laughter not having experienced such fun as the Chocolate cracked, and various delights were exposed…….!!

That’s it for now, I landed back in the U.K. last night and only have one more post to write, the final day and another restaurant review, that of 1 Michelin starred Chef (and our tutor for 2 days), Jean-Marc Boyer.

…………………………Until next time………………L8ers……………..