Thursday, 24 July 2014

July 2014 Favourites List

Phew! What a scorcher!

London and most of the UK has been basking in the warmth of a fantastic few weeks. Nobody is in any danger of not being able to get a tan this Summer. Far more likely many of us will have bags under our eyes through failing to get any sleep on the clammier, humid nights!

But we mustn't complain! It may be "very British", but this hot Summer is exactly what we spent all of the Spring speculating over. Don't we all remember wondering aloud whether this Summer would be a good one?

I'm enjoying being able to wear some lighter clothes both in weight and colour. Summer is such a lovely time to be able to celebrate and enjoy brights. 

Of course, food is also a lighter and brighter in the heat. As the produce of the season changes, we have vivid reds from Summer soft fruits and ripe tomatoes. Salads, grills, and barbeques become the order of the day.

The Summer of gigs and festivals continues apace, and so this month's pictures are from my very memorable day at British Summer Time on 12 July where I saw some fabulous live music and the brilliant Franz Ferdinand gig at Somerset House. 

Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand

It was fabulous to be able to see living legend Neil Young play live, after I have admired his records and songwriting for 20 years. A huge influence on several generations of musicians, he played a career spanning 2 hour set which I and the crowd completely lapped up.

I also got to see the incredibly talented young singer-songwriter Lucy Rose, who I managed to have a chat with. She is working on the follow up to Like I Used To, an album well worth investigating.
Lucy Rose
But back to the July 2014 Favourites List....

Blogs Worth Following:


Inspired by Gujerati cooking, Kay's Spicy green beans with toasted sesame seeds looks like a completely fab side dish!

Love movies? Love popcorn? Love chocolate? How about a white chocolate edible popcorn snack bowl!

Snigdha meets Lucy Rose
The Urban Rajah's perfect Basmati rice is a gently spiced pilau:

Saw Cyrus Todiwala on Saturday Kitchen? Did you know he supports Find Your Feet's Curry For Change campaign? Catch his fantastic Bhaji recipe here:

Turkey is low fat and a healthy meat to eat. Here is recipe by Vivek Singh for a spicy marinade to pep up turkey breast, served with a moong dal "kedgeree" (khitchuri).

Neil Young

Grill time! Ottolenghi does veggies, chicken and prawns:

Pissaladiere is a Provencale classic. It's a oozy, oniony, non-cheesy pizza with a little anchovy umami:

The National

Glut of courgettes? Or lots of end-of-bag pasta accumulating? Let Linzi show you how to use it up:

Articles/Know How:

Knife skills demonstrations: Chiffonade (ribbon cut herb leaves - particularly useful for easy to bruise basil and coriander), Slice, Julienne, Dice, Bias cut:

Reading wine bottle labels, how to sort the wheat from the chaff:

Half Moon Run




Joni Mitchell – Blue

Neil Young – Harvest

Neil Young - Zuma

Lucy Rose – Like I Used To

Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action

Tom Odell

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Orecchiette, Butter bean and Cauliflower salad

This Summer has been pretty delightful in the UK. There's been lots of warm temperatures and sunny days. Weather that puts you in mind for barbeques, of course! 

Barbeque food is fun, informal and easy. Marinaded cuts of meat, burgers, sausages, the main element of the food is simple to prepare. Barbeque cooking on the grill does require a certain element of skill, but the prep is a doddle. But what do you have with your bangers and burgers? One answer is a salad.

But barbeque salads have to be more than just leaf. Or it seems like an afterthought. A gesture of "I'm expected to do this, I'm not that fussed, so here you go". 

Being the middle of Summer, how about making something fitting for the season? Something with sunshine and perhaps Meditteranean flavours... To me, nothing says that more than the flavours of Italy. But I don't want to do something textbook, I want to take those typical Italian flavours and ingredients and give them a twist.

So here is a pasta salad with some very able co-stars, butter beans, rich in fibre and protein and cauliflower, a much neglected vitamin source. I decided to dress it with a very thick dressing, a paste to be precise. The paste used as a dressing here is my spin on pesto. 

I would recommend you use the hand-made Orecchiette pasta, because of its thickness. It has a slightly more chewy texture as a result, which contrasts well with the cooked cauliflower and butter beans. However, if you can't find any, then machine made Orecchiette or Conchigle pasta will do. 

Serves 4 as a main course or 6-8 as a side salad for a Barbeque


Juice of half a lemon (you might want to juice the other half and keep it to one side)
3 tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp pine nuts
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 can (400g size) butter beans, drained and rinsed
Half a cauliflower, washed and cut into small florets
125g Orecchiette pasta (or conchigle)
8 halves of sundried tomato (one third to one half of a 340g jar)
1 small handful (about 3 tbsp) chopped flat leaf parsley
15-20 large basil leaves, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt
Twist of ground black pepper
Olive oil to drizzle (optional)


Put a large saucepan full of water onto the heat and leave to come to the boil.

In a small pan, lightly toast the pine nuts until they are golden. Beware; they burn very quickly and become bitter and unpleasant. Leave to cool down.

Put the butter beans into a large mixing bowl.

Once boiling, put the Orecchiette pasta into the saucepan, and set a timer for 5 minutes.

When the timer goes, add the cauliflower florets. 

Reset the timer for 6-7 minutes, depending on whether you like the cauliflower al dente or just cooked.

Take all the remaining ingredients and blitz in a food processor to make a paste. 

When cooked, drain the Orecchiette pasta and cauliflower, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking water. Rinse with cold water to arrest the cooking process. 

Put the cooled Orecchiette and cauliflower in the mixing bowl with the butter beans. Scrape out the paste, and fold into the beans, pasta and cauliflower thoroughly.

Taste the salad and check the consistency, and add either more lemon juice for more acidity, or the cooking water to loosen up the salad or seasoning as required.

Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

June 2014 Favourites List

Hello everyone!

Here is my June selection of lovely stuff. 

They say that the Summer is "Festival season" and Glastonbury will soon be upon us. But although I love music, and live performances, I really don't see myself as the festival going type. It's a camping phobia which puts the mokkers on it for me. Sleeping in a tent? Chemical toilets? Facing the prospect of not showering for 3 days and smelling of sweat and baby wipes? No, even my favourite acts aren't worth that level of discomfort! And sadly, I am not paid anywhere near enough to contemplate "glamping" at Glastonbury.... (Any rich patrons reading this, if you feel a pang of sympathy and you'd like to fund the whole silver-Jetstream Winnebago and hot shower experience, you will have my lifelong thanks!)

If you are going to a music festival, however, I do wish you the best time. We're all different, and life would be dull if we all liked the same things, right? Rock out and sing along to your favourite songs extra loud, just for me.

This Spring and Summer although I won't be going to any festivals, I have been catching lots of superb live music. So in honour of the season, I am featuring pictures from some of the recent gigs I have been to.

I hope you enjoy the pictures and my collection of links and recommendations. Perhaps you don't have time to go through it all right now, but perhaps you might just come back to dip in and dip out.

Blogs Worth Following:

Josh Homme, acoustic


6 Nations Rugby themed menu by the wonderful Incredible Spicemen - Todiwala and Singh.

From Antonio Carluccio's new pasta book, Curried red mullet linguine, India meets Italy:

Aaloo Palak Paratha (Potato & Spinach Paratha) recipe - on Mamta's Kitchen. (FYI - Mamta's Kitchen is the online cookbook by Mamta, the mum of Kavey (Kavey Eats) Well worth having a browse through - so many brilliant recipes!)

I might just make some of this and try to smuggle it into the cinema – Mark Hix’s chilli popcorn:

Another popcorn recipe from Mark Hix, but one for Sunday’s roast chicken leftovers….

Nigel Slater investigates garlic: Sirloin steak with aubergine, Chilli pesto garlic bread, Roasted garlic mushroom tart and more:

A lovely make-ahead packed lunch for work or picnic dish, Rice salad with black beans and sweetcorn:
We mere mortals can’t get a table at Chiltern Firehouse for love nor money… So we can cook this Nuno Mendes dish instead and pretend…
A mashup of all the best pasta sauces -- tomato, asparagus, and carbonara -- with surprisingly harmonious results.

Regine and Win, Arcade Fire
Articles/Know How:

Useful and informative for any Indian cooking newbies or curry virgins:

A food scientist uses chemistry to tell us how to have the perfect barbequed meat!

Inside Claudia Roden's kitchen.... her kids preferred beans on toast to her excellent Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking - WTF?!

This week is English wine week. Here are Fiona Beckett's picks of the best... with some surprises!

Damon Albarn

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle


Courtney Barnett

The Black Keys - Turn Blue

Jack White - Lazaretto

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Tilda Mums Helping Mums Cookbook Recipe Road Test

Tilda Basmati rice has long been a family favourite. When I was growing up, back in the 1980s, proper basmati rice was not available in the supermarket. You had to go to the specialist Indian grocers, which in our case, meant a trip to colourful, vibrant Southall. Those Saturday trips were an adventure; lots of traffic, the parking was a nightmare, the High Street was heaving with people. It was exhilarating. We would then visit one of the grocers there to buy a very big bag of rice. Tilda was the brand my mum would buy, and ever since then I have done the same. I've tried others, but there is something about the fragrance and fluffiness of the cooked Tilda that I prefer.

I was very pleased to hear that Tilda are involved in a charitable campaign to help new mothers and expectant mothers in developing world countries. It is called Mums Helping Mums. To do this, they have posted a free cookbook with recipes donated by many of the UK's most famous mums. Some come from musicians, such as Cerys Mathews who shares her Potato and Tomato Bhaji recipe, Cheryl Baker (of Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz) gives her recipe for Fish Shish Kebabs, singer-songwriter Jamelia has contributed two of her family’s treasured recipes. Equally rock and roll are recipes from Masterchef winner Dhruv Baker (his perfect chicken curry) and Anjum Anand (Chicken and vegetables in aromatic coconut sauce). TV's Nina Wadia, Konnie Huq, Esther Rantzen and Arlene Phillips CBE also contribute.

Tilda as part of this "Mums Helping Mums" campaign are currently selling a special silver Mums Helping Mums 1kg bag of rice (priced £4.49). For every pack, a meal will go to a new or expectant mum to help ensure her good health and nutrition. It is well documented that poor nutrition, particularly in expectant mothers can lead to low birth weight. The resulting low birth weight can seriously affect a baby’s physical and cognitive development. Last year's campaign resulted in a million meals for new and expectant mums. Tilda are keen to beat that target.

I downloaded the cookbook and liked the look of many of the recipes. But the one I decided to try out here as a Recipe Road Test turns out not to involve any rice at all!

The recipe I chose to make was by TV cook, food writer and stylist Jo Pratt. I have seen her on television many times, and always found her to be knowledgeable, engaging and full of great recipe ideas. Her recipes, which I have tried in the past, are always reliable.

Jo Pratt's "Easy Tray Baked Chicken" seemed like a brilliant way of breaking the monotony of regular Roast Chicken for a Sunday lunch. The fact that it was a single cooking implement meal, using only one large roasting tray was another factor. However lovely it is to make Sunday lunch at home, the washing up it creates is ridiculous! Not what you need on a late afternoon or Sunday evening as you contemplate going back to work the next day.

The ingredients were all available in the supermarket, although I bought whole chicken thighs and had to skin and de-bone them at home. We have a thriving rosemary bush in the garden, so I only had to pop out of the back door to grab a couple of sprigs. Thankfully on our arrival back from the supermarket, Him Indoors put the oven on to pre-heat, or I would be telling a more cautionary tale of missed timings and rumbling tummies!

Baby potatoes, chunks of pepper, carrots, onion  and lemon wedges, and whole cloves of garlic were prepared and assembled in my large cast iron casserole dish (a far better fit than my roasting tin, which was far too big). Lemon juice, paprika, rosemary, salt, freshly ground black pepper and olive oil would provide the flavourings. The chicken thighs and pancetta were mixed in with all the other ingredients by my getting my hands stuck in.

As you can see, before the cooking started, I had a wonderfully colourful array of ingredients.

The casserole dish was then heated on the hob, and stirred around to bring the ingredients up to a decently hot temperature before being put in the oven. The lemon, oil and paprika were beginning to give off their fragrances by this point. If only you could have smelly-vision, right?

At the half way mark, the casserole dish was hauled out of the oven, runny honey added, everything was thoroughly mixed together once more, and it was time to start on the home straight.

This was the finished product, before being served up on plates.
Our verdict is that this is an easy, achievable meal that anyone inexperienced in cooking can make. It is a very tasty and enjoyable meal, which needs no other accompaniments. We thought it was an excellent alternative to a Sunday roast, particularly for busy people who don't have either the time or energy for the full roast preparation and cooking experience.

I also think it is a brilliant basis for experimentation and development according to your own personal tastes. Thyme or a little chopped sage could be added. You could use up leftover vegetables languishing in the fridge such as mushrooms, courgettes or aubergines. Adaptability will keep it fresh, so you can make it repeatedly and not get bored. 

In fact, we revisted the recipe only this weekend, adding some mushrooms and thyme as we had some in the house. Here are the results:

If you want to download the Mums Helping Mums Cookbook, you can get it for free here: