Wednesday, 26 November 2014

NEW RECIPE!! Rhubarb & Ginger Nut Ice-Cream

Ice-cream. Not my usual recipe post I know, but I've been hanging out with Gingers' Comfort Emporium over the last year or two, and obviously Miss Kelsey's ice cream genius has been rubbing off on me!  If you've not seen her book Melt, you're missing a trick there.

I'm a super fan of rhubarb. It's easy to grow, it's so very northern and I do love a bit of tanginess in my puddings.  So here it is, rhubarb and ginger nut ice cream. Using Claire's no churn technique, and you can cheat by using ginger nuts from a packet, but you won't get the full hit of ginger that you get from making your own.


To make the rhubarb compote:
500g rhubarb
3-4 tbsp caster sugar
1-2 tsp cinnamon powder

To make the ginger nuts:
340g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2-3 heaped teaspoons ginger powder
40g stem ginger, chopped (optional)
100g butter
160g brown sugar
1 large free range egg
4 tbsp golden syrup

To make the rest:
2 large egg whites
75g icing sugar
350ml double cream


  1. To prepare the rhubarb, trim the ends, wash throughly and cut into1" pieces. Scatter on baking tray and place in a low oven, about 120C, for 10-15 mins. You want the rhubarb to be just soft and not too mushy. 
  2. When the fruit is softened, tip into a bowl and gently mix together with the caster sugar and cinnamon powder. Taste the mixture and add more sugar if required. There should be a good balance between sour and sweet. Set aside to cool completely.
  3. To make the ginger nut biscuits, heat the oven to 180C, then grease and line two large baking trays.
  4. Add the flour, bicarb, ginger powder and butter to a large bowl. Rub together to make a breadcrumb like texture. Then add the sugar, stem ginger (if using), egg and syrup. Mix well to form a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill the dough for 30 minutes in the fridge.
  5. Roll out the dough on a well floured surface, and cut out rounds using a cookie cutter. Lay onto the baking trays, then bake for 10-15 minutes. This mixture will make about 35 biscuits, but you only need about half of them for your ice cream. Once they are fully cooled, break up about 18 biscuits into pieces. Try to ensure the chunks are about 1-2cm in size, with none too small or large.
  6. Next, whisk the egg whites in a clean dry bowl, to make firm peaks (meringue), than add the icing sugar and whisk until the meringue mixture is thick and glossy.
  7. In another bowl, whip the double cream until just whipped into soft peaks (be careful not to over whip). Then fold in the meringue, then the rhubarb compote, and finally the ginger nut pieces. Tip into a large tub and freeze overnight. Prior to serving, leave in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to soften.

Monday, 17 November 2014

NEW RECIPE: Eton on a messy gap year!

Here's a little twist on an old favourite. I was just going through some old recipes from this time last year, and this was a seasonal crowd pleaser. This makes a lovely fusion dessert for an Asian inspired dinner.

I had some leftover ingredients, and knocked this up one quiet afternoon. Credit goes to Max, my old chef, who came up with the name. Super easy to prepare in advance, but don't construct until just before serving or you'll end up with soggy meringue.

Eton on a messy gap year

4 free range egg whites
115g icing sugar, sieved
115g caster sugar
120g pistachio nuts, toasted & roughly chopped
500g plums
1 tsp cinnamon powder
60-80g brown sugar (to taste)
4 or 5 green cardamom pods, crushed & seeds well bruised
250ml double cream

1. Heat the over to 90 C, and line a large tray with a non stick liner. Foil and baking paper tends to stick, so baking parchment or liners work better.
2. To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites in a large bowl (not plastic) until they form light fluffy peaks, then add the caster sugar, whisking as you go. The mixture should become glossy and thick.
3. Sieve the icing sugar in to the bowl, a little at a time, gently folding or whisking in the mixture, until it's thick and well mixed. be careful not to overmix or you will knock out the air.
4. Blend half the pistachios to make a smooth paste and then fold into the mixture. Then scoop the mixture onto the tray to make several rough rounds of meringue. Place in the oven and bake for 2 1/2 hours. Once cooked, leave to cool fully, then break into large pieces. The pistachio meringue will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.
5. In a small frying pan, gently toast the cardamom pods and then mix well into the cream. Gently heat the cream in a small pan, but don't boil. Leave to steep and fully cool. Then pour through a fine sieve. Lightly whip the cooled cream.
6. To make the plum compote, remove the stones from the plums, and cut into quarters. Place the fruit into a pan with brown sugar, cinnamon powder and 30ml water.
7. Bring to boil and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes until fruit is softened and starting to break down. You still want to have chunks of soft fruit, so avoid over-cooking.
8. When ready to serve, take a tall glass and add a few pieces of meringue, then add layers of plum compote, cardamom cream and meringue, until glass is filled. Top with cream and some of the remaining pistachio nuts. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Hungry Gecko Shop is open!

I've been so busy, it's been a tricky few months juggling dining pop ups with events, and launching my online shop. I'm hoping to launch the pad Thai sauce very soon. But for now, you can buy my delicious shashlik paste in my new online shop or check out the local suppliers.

My Indian shashlik paste is an authentic marinade for paneer, vegetables, meat and fish. Each product is hand made by me, from toasting the authetic spices and roasting fresh ingredients, to blendingand testing to ensure the highest quality product.  The perfect marinade for BBQs, grilling and roasting. The paste can also be used to amke a delicious spicy curry and fried Indian snacks.

This product is 100% vegan and gluten free.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

MORE courgettes!!!

They just don't stop coming do they? I've got three grow sacks with courgette plants in my garden. I must admit, my seeds went in a little late (I had to to do a second sowing after the mice ate the first ones). So I've still got courgette flowers as well as lots of courgettes of varying sizes. Then my brother-in-law sent me some super-sized ones (basically their neighbour gave them some plants, and they just forgot about them!) so I guess they're marrows. 

The last time I was this swamped in courgettes, I posted a blog of some of my favourite courgette recipes. I think it's time to add to this list.

Courgette & spilt channa dal

Since the shift in the weather and feeling a bit chillier, I needed to eat something warming. I made a big batch of this at the start of the week, so it's fed us well on several occasions. The dish is only gently spiced, and has more of a fragrant cumin hit than chilli, so very child friendly dish. Serve with a soft flat bread such as chapati or roti, or steamed basmati rice. I had a dollop of hot pickle on the side with mine too.

2 cups of split channa dal (soak in cold water for one hour prior)
3 courgettes, chopped 1" pieces
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp black cumin seeds
couple of pinches of asafoetida
2 fresh or dried large red chillies, finely chopped
2 onions finely chopped
3 tsp of sambhar masala powder (use garam masala as alternative)
2 large tomatoes, chopped
handful of fresh coriander
pomace oil
3 pts water

1. Put half of the prepped onion into a heavy bottomed pan with a little oil. Saute until softened, then add courgettes, turmeric, salt and drained channa. Cover with water and bring to boil. Simmer for 1-2 hours until channa is soft (but not mushy and falling apart). Add more water as dal cooks to maintain a soup like consistency.
2. In a small pan, add oil with cumin and asafoetida. Fry until seeds splutter, then add fresh or dried chillies, diced onions, tomatoes and sambhar masala powder, and cook until onions and tomatoes and completely soft, and oil has separated.
3. Pour tempering mixture over the cooked dal and stir well. Serve scattered with fresh coriander.

Bean & courgette soup

A little variation on a French pistou soup.

2 large courgettes, chopped, bite size pieces
1 med onion, finely chopped
250g green beans, fine sliced
1 tin of haricot beans, washed and drained
1 tin of black eye beans, washed and drained
3 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of fresh basil
3 medium tomatoes
salt & black pepper
1 tbsp parmesan cheese (or similar) grated
olive oil
2 pts water

1. Gently soften the onion in 1-2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the green beans, haricot, black eye and courgette and then cover with water and bring to simmer, for about 15 minutes.
2. Put the rest of the ingredients in a blender, and add about 1-2 tbsp olive oil to make the pistou.
3. Just before serving, pour the pistou into the soup and stir well. Serve with a few fresh basil leaves and grated parmesan on the top.

Courgette & feta frittata
This is one of my favourite frittata combinations. A protein packed meal for a vegetarian, which I like to eat with a big tomato salad. And makes a great alternative to sandwiches for a packed lunch, as it will keep for a few days in the fridge.

150g new potatoes, quartered & boil until tender
1 red onion, fine sliced
80g feta cheese
2 courgettes, fine sliced
1-2 tbsp olive oil
large sprig of fresh thyme
salt & white pepper
6 free range eggs

1. Saute the onions in the olive oil until they start to soften, then add the sliced courgettes and the thyme leaves, and cook for three minutes. Add the cooked potato quarters and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
2. Beat four of the eggs together. Separate the whites of two eggs and set aside. Beat the remaining four eggs with the egg yolks from the other two. Then whip the egg whites until fluffy and meringue like, and gently fold into the main egg mixture. This is what will  make your frittata light and airy.
3. Crumble the feta over the vegetables, then pour over the egg mixture and cook on a very low heat about six to eight minutes. Then place pan under grill and cook until eggs are fully set.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Trip to Nanban

I don't get to eat out much when I'm working in the kitchen. But having hankered to taste some of Tim Anderson's Japanese soul food since our filming days together during MasterChef 2011 (usually limited to sneaky tastings when production staff weren't looking), I made the determined decision to go to his current pop up while working down in London this last week. Nanban, Tim's Japanese soul food, currently has a residency at Market House Brixton during August.

It was definitely one of my better eating out decisions. The food was incredible, and for my part as a vegetarian, I was sincerely wowed by the reimen dish, a Korean influenced chilled noodle soup with yuzu, chilli and a tea pickled egg. Where so much restaurant vegetarian food feels like an after thought (and indeed if any thought has been taken), the yuzu-chilli reimen stands out as one of the best vegetarian dishes I've ever enjoyed. Zingy, punchy and refreshing, with the kind of depth of flavour that demonstrates a chef who understands umami in food. Thanks Tim. It was truly a joy!

Joined by Mat Follas and Zam, our bus sous chef, as well as a couple of dear friends who live nearby, we ordered everything on the menu. 

We all wolfed down the lotus root crisps before Mat arrived, so we showed him a photo, which seemed to make him more cross ;) The bacon wrapped peppers (kushiyaki) vanished almost as soon as they hit the table so I had to get a photo from Tim's Pinterest page. I snaffled the shitake mushroom ones before I got a picture. 

The chicken kaarage was clearly addictive, as Tim kept sending more boxes that were very quickly emptied. The butter shoyu sweetcorn was so perfectly cooked and flavoured, I even braved stealing some more from one of Mat's plates after finishing mine! The enormous bowls of ramen broths and sticky udon noodles were beautifully constructed, punchy and deep, and the others voted the yuzu-chilli reimen and the kumamoto ramen (with pork belly) as their favourites. Although Donna then changed her mind when she found she couldn't stop eating the kaarage despite being full.

Tim brought over some of his new Nanban craft beer and ice cream for us to try. I'm hoping his beer might join us at the IMBC dinner in October. The Whippysan ice-cream was delightful, and we all agreed that a big mouthful of the chilli chocolate whippysan was perfected by following it with a big spoonful of the peach flavour.

You really should go folks, while you have the chance. The food is simply very very good!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Events Update

Thought it useful to post a few more upcoming event dates on here. I'm bringing Barbarella to some selected events around the country over the next month or two (as well as putting the hours in with the MasterChef street food bus team). 

First up, I'm down in London village with the MC bus, bang in the middle of Covent Garden. You won't miss us! We've got a great new summer menu, and I'm really looking forward to working with my old mate Tom Whitaker and Jack Lucas from this years final.

From Friday 22nd August, right through to the bank holiday Monday (woo hoo!) I will be at Bolton Food & Drink Festival. This is a fantastic Northern food event with an array of fantastic North West producers (and probably one of the most well organised events I've ever been to). I love it. Bolton is an old school friendly place too, which always makes life that bit better. My gas regulator failed on the bank holiday, the last time I was there. After I tweeted the disaster, a local camp shop came to the rescue with a set of little butane stoves. Then my old tow car left me stranded in the town centre. Once again, a local driver with a Landcruiser saved my skin. You've just got to love Bolton.  Hopefully, it'll be all the fun again with none of first year teething problems!

I'm then taking Barbarella to London, where I'll be serving my food outside the Blue Fin building. The building is hosting the MasterChef pop up for six weeks from the start of September, and for some of that time on weekdays only, you can come and get some lunch with me. I'm very excited about a proper street food stint in London!

On the weekend of 20th & 21st September, I'm joining forces with the talented foraging chef Mark Lloyd at the Great Taste Festival of Food & Drink. Clumber Park is a stunning woodland park between Mansfield and Sheffield. You can even camp there for the weekend!

The weekend after that (following a few more days at Blue Fin) I am bringing my vegan street food to VegFest at Olympia in London for Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th September. The last time I joined these guys in Bristol, it was one of my best events and I'm excited to showcase some new vegan dishes for the crowds.

There are still a handful of tickets left for the Indy Man Beer Con dining event at Victoria Baths in October. Spent a wonderful evening with the IMBC gang tasting beer and testing the menu. It's a hard life sometimes ;0)

And last but not least, come November, I'll be back down to Derbyshire with the team at Seasoned for a great day of cooking and eating. There are still a few places left on the Malaysian and Thai cookery day, and the Flavours of China cookery day.


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Halloumi-gate (part 2)

I went on holiday for 10 days and came back to a new menu on the MC street food bus. It was the 'roadshow' menu. As a result of limited prep time and storage, and with all round challenging logistics, we had somehow ended up with portobello mushrooms and halloumi cheese.  For those of you that remember halloumi-gate part 1, it should come as no surprise that I wasn't overjoyed! So after much discussion I was given the go ahead to turn it into something that could be a burger. I came up with this...

We didn't know what to call it, as it was a hybrid of the simple (and lazy chef) griddled portobello halloumi. The idea came from one of the few restaurants that do something more with halloumi than stick it on a griddle. Halloumi menander is a much loved Mughli menu item, served with a tangy tamarind dip.  So I took the idea of a menander batter, giving it a little twist with the fabulous ajowan seed (all hail the ajowan seed!), wedged the halloumi inside the mushroom, dunked it in the batter and fryed it.

We served it with all the goodies going on in the smoky chicken burger.  This veggie burger flew out and morphed into a gluten free special with no roll, which we thought made a lovely dish in itself.  Mat Follas reckons everything tastes better with bacon, so we had a third special of halloumi, mushroom & bacon going out by the end of the week. 

So here's the recipe.

4 portobello mushrooms, remove stalk, dust off any soil/residues
1 pkt of halloumi cheese, cut into 60mm slices
3 cups of gram flour
1/2 tbsp turmeric powder
3 tbsp ajowan seeds
2 tbsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp chilli powder (add more chilli if you like it spicy, or perhaps fresh chopped)
3 tbsp paprika powder
salt to taste

Toast the seeds in a pan, once aroma is released add the powdered spices and toast for another 5 minutes.  Leave to cool. Mix gram flour with cold water to make a thick pancake like batter, then add spices and seasoning. Whisk well and taste batter to check seasoning.

Heat deep pan of oil or fryer to 180.  Fill mushroom with halloumi slices, then dip in batter.  Gently place in fryer, with halloumi side facing upwards. After 2-3 mins, gently dunk using tongs so that the batter seals the halloumi in place. Cook for a further 2-3 mins on each side.

Turn onto kitchen roll, halloumi side down to allow any excess oil to drain away.

We served our burger in a milk roll, with Tim Anderson's gochujang burger sauce, Mat Follas' smoky tomato sauce, homemade pickles and salad leaves.  To serve as a gluten free starter, we lay the salad leaves into the box, drizzled with burger sauce, added the spice battered mushroom halloumi burger (yeah crap name I know), then topped with smoky tomato sauce and some pickles.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Slow Cooked Vegetable Ragu

Recipe time!

This is one of my stock recipes for having something delicious, healthy, quick and ready to eat during the week, when we’re all busy and the last thing I want to do when I get home from a ten hour day is chop more veg!

I make this slow cook vegetable ragu every other week at home. Instead of making it this week, I'm blogging it, after a special request from a local yoga teacher. A big batch usually goes on the stove on a Sunday afternoon while I’m making dinner, and consists of whatever vegetables are knocking around in the fridge drawer. Core stock ingredients and often a few Mediterranean veg that we all eat regularly like peppers, courgettes, aubergines and the like.

The ragu makes a great pasta sauce on it’s own, but I often add a veggie mince for a Bolognese or use it to make lasagne or an aubergine bake, sometimes with cooked puy lentils. I'm making some gnocchi to go with ours this week, or how about ricotta dumplings. It’s great for a ready-made homemade dinner after a long day at work and I can hide a few veg the teens are less keen on (teen girl isn’t keen on cooked carrots and teen boy doesn’t like aubergines or mushrooms as he thinks they have a weird texture). No matter, the secret to this sauce is to cook slowly and for a long time.  A Creuset style pot is best, and once the ragu is simmering, put it on the smallest gas ring on low.

The ingredients vary. Start with 2-3 onions, fine chopped. Then any number of the following that you may find lurking in that fridge drawer, all diced…
Aubergine, carrot, leeks, peppers, celery, mushroom, courgette, fennel (no more than half a bulb or it will overpower the flavour) etc etc

Saute all your veg in a large heavy bottomed pan, with a good splash of pomace oil. This needs a gentle sauté, for at least 15 mins, so that the veg is a bit sticky and soft. Then add water. The next part all depends on quantities of veg used. The more veg, the more water and seasoning you will need. I added 2 litres to the pan above. Add the following seasoning per litre of water:

1 tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp black pepper
1 small sprig of fresh rosemary
small handful of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tins of tomatoes
1-2 tbsp dark soy sauce or 1/4 tsp marmite
little squeeze of lemon or vinegar

Then bring to full simmer, and turn down heat to lowest. Place a lid on the pan, and leave to cook gently for 1 - 2 hours.  Check up on it every 40 minutes or so, and see if there is enough water. Add a little more as necessary.  This dish should have a soft velvety texture.  If you need to hide the veg a bit further, I sometimes give it a rough mash. Add salt and pepper to taste. This will keep in the fridge for up to 7 days. Enjoy!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Upcoming Events & Pop Ups

I have some exciting events and pop ups coming up.  For more details go to the events page on the website.

Hosted by our lovely friends at Polocini Coffee Shop in Romiley (Stockport), I will be taking over their kitchen for the day and serving up some of my classic street food dishes.  We'll be serving from 12.30pm til 6pm, on Saturday 10th May


We are proud to announce a special 4 course meal* with matched beers from IMBC. A fantastic event in a unique setting!
Places are limited to 30 per sitting, the meal will take place in the Victoria Baths cafe :
Thursday 9th October / 7pm
Friday 10th October / 7pm and 8.30pm - a few spaces left
Saturday 11th October / 7pm and 8.30pm SOLD OUT
Tickets are £37.50 they include four courses with matched beers + entrance to the festival – purchase HERE
* Meal will last one hour

Join us for an action packed and fun filled day learning to some classic recipes from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and China.  Seasoned Cookery Courses are held in South Derbyshire at the beautiful Catton Hall.

Follow this link for Thai & Malaysian course

Follow this link for Flavours of China course

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Family time & the art of relaxed eating

I've learned as well anyone might during the last few years, just how precious family time is. The last year has been tough on my own family.  In the past, I've been quite privileged to have worked in some comparatively balanced working environments as a researcher in the public sectors. The difference between this and running your own business is quite a shock to the system.  Oh what I'd give for 30 days paid annual leave (never mind a rather slick 37.5 hour salaried week).

Anyway, back on topic, family time and the art of relaxed eating... it's such a joy when it comes together, so I thought I'd share this successful menu, hopefully for some inspiration and practical tips to aid a few more relaxed family get togethers at home. I don't think there is anything particularly clever or challenging about this menu. It's more of case of some lovely dishes that just go beautifully together.

I've got quite a big family these days (probably as I'm now properly middle-aged!). I was struggling to find a booking for fourteen people locally that could offer that Mediterranean and Middle Eastern relaxed style of food (that would taste awesome of course).  And family groups can differ so much in their eating preferences these days, then add a decent cohort of vegetarians and other varieties of fussy eaters, it becomes a bit of a culinary minefield.  Chilli spice is off the table due to little appetites and a hiatus hernia. 

When I worked at Ottolenghi during a couple of stages, I remember thinking that the deli looked like his books come to life. Beautiful, sometimes simple, sometimes complex, nourishing and that aubergine salad.. to this day, it continues to astound me with flavour and texture. There was always a piece of perfectly cooked beef and fish, surrounded by stunning salads piled high like colourful little mountains. Then I remembered I had leftover stock in the freezer. So that was that, I would cook for everyone and for the first time in ages I was very excited about it.

I've been eyeing a few recipes in Simon Hopkinson's The Good Cook lately, so I decided to usurp Ottolenghi's aubergine dish for Hopkinson's.  The Good Cook recipe is passed on from his friend, with Simon claiming it was the best aubergine dish he ever had. So that was going on the menu. I also had a delicious salad a couple of weeks ago, from Wendy Swetnam, a talented vegetarian chef who was doing a bit of cooking at new local cafe, Cowherd.  I'm not normally one for putting fruit in my savoury food, but radish, apple and fennel are seriously good together.

My lovely stepmum agreed to help and we made enough to feed twenty or more people. You could easily cut some dishes out from the menu.  After all, I had the benefit of some prepped stock in my freezer, but then that shouldn't stop you doing exactly the same. Arancini are far less fiddly to make than cauliflower cheese bonbons, if you want to save some time.  And both can be prepped in advance and even frozen.  We had a great family dinner and I spent very little time in the kitchen, and got to be with my family.  Just how it should be!

The Menu

Arancini with leek & Montagnolo Affine*
Cauliflower cheese bonbons*
Roast sirloin of Cheshire beef
Scrumpy braised gammon with roasted mustard glaze*
Jumbo king prawns with garlic, lime & chilli (deseeded)*

Aubergine salad with garlic, parsley & feta*
Rocket salad with pear & Grana Moravia (vegetarian hard cheese)
Fennel, radish & apple salad with parsley, lemon, maple & sumac
Mozzarella & basil salad with balsamic
Artichoke hearts with sun dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, capers & olives
Greek salad & marinated olives
Roasted sweet peppers stuffed with mozzarella & basil
Guacamole & red pepper humous

Local artisan bread
Cheese board
Pavlova with berries, mango & passionfruit*

Recipes*, Cooking Tips & Suppliers

Arancini with Leek & Montagnolo

First up, let's talk arancini! Possibly in my top three love your leftovers recipes. For a start, you get a fabulous first meal of delicious risotto. I always make more, just so I know I will have enough to make these gorgeous little crispy sticky balls.  I decided to reduce the phaff of stuffing them with mozzarella, and made a leek and blue cheese risotto with Montagnolo Affine, a divine vegetarian soft blue cheese from Epicerie Ludo. They tell me it's their bestseller, which is no surprise at all!

6 large leeks with green tops, sliced into 5mm rings
2 crushed garlic cloves
4 sprigs of thyme
800g risotto rice
2 litre of good quality veg stock
280g Montagnolo Affine
Pomace oil
Panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs
2-3 free range eggs

Serves 4 for dinner, then makes approx 40 arancini balls

  1. Heat 50ml of pomace oil in pan, add sliced leeks and cook until start to soften.  Then add garlic and thyme.  Cook gently for a few minutes.
  2. Next add rice, and a little more oil if needed.  The rice should be shiny from the oil and not sticking at all.  Then start adding stock, a ladle or two at a time.  Keep stirring and adding stock until rice is cooked (al dente of course) and there is a medium thick porridge like consistency.  It should be nice and creamy.
  3. Finally add the crumbled blue cheese, remove from heat and stir until all the cheese has melted.  Serve risotto immediately.  Set aside leftovers to cool and refrigerate overnight.
  4. The leftover risotto will be quite firm and perfect for rolling into small tangerine sized balls.  Lay on greaseproof tray. 
  5. Fill medium sized pan with oil for deep frying and start heating (but keep an eye on it).  Set up three bowls.  Whisk 2 or 3 eggs into one bowl. Half fill the next bowl with plain flour and a pinch or two of salt and the remaining one with panko breadcrumbs. Roll the risotto ball into the flour then coat in egg, and then panko. Lay back on tray. COOK'S TIP: If you are making the bonbons too, prep them also to this stage, so you can do all the frying at the same time.
  6. Deep fry balls in batches of five or six, until golden brown. Personally, I prefer to deep fry something quite quickly (so not too golden brown) and finish cooking in the oven, to make it less greasy. Drain and cool the balls on kitchen paper. If preparing prior, refrigerate or freeze at this stage, once completely cooled. They crisp up again perfectly in the oven, on about 180 (170 fan) for 10-12 minutes.

Cauliflower Cheese Bonbons

I first served these for the England home game during the Six Nations rugby, with a tomato and 'nam prik' chutney. I've been obsessed with making savoury bonbons ever since Tom Whitaker served up crab bonbons with some fish during our MasterChef stint. These little beauties had barely been up for a fortnight on my Six Nations menu posters, when a neighbouring (more famous chef) was cooking them on TV that following Sunday. Well you know what they say about imitation, flattery and all that!  He used goat cheese, which you could too and it might be easier to work with. But my OH is less than keen on goaty produce, so I stuck to simple soft cheese.

1 medium cauliflower
500g full fat soft cheese
150g Applewood smoked cheese, grated
1 tsp English mustard
Pinch of salt & white pepper
Pomace oil
Panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs
2-3 free range eggs

Makes approx 40 bonbons

  1. Cut the cauliflower into small florets. I found the trickiest part was getting the cauliflower florets the right size.  Whatever the widest point of the piece is, this will be the diameter of your ball, so aim to cut florets no wider than one inch.
  2. Mix the cream cheese, grated cheese and mustard in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Set up three bowls.  Whisk 2 or 3 eggs into one bowl. Half fill the next bowl with plain flour and a pinch or two of salt and the remaining one with panko breadcrumbs.
  4. Take a small ball size of cheese mix and push a cauli floret into middle. Roll the cheese to make a ball and fully cover the cauliflower. You may need more cheese to do this. Roll in the flour, then dip in the egg and then panko. Set onto a tray with greaseproof paper.
  5. Deep fry balls in batches of five or six, until golden brown. As with the arancini, I prefer to deep fry something quite quickly and finish cooking in the oven, especially if I'm not serving it immediately. Drain and cool the bonbons on kitchen paper. If preparing prior, refrigerate or freeze at this stage, once completely cooled. They crisp up again perfectly in the oven, on about 180 (170 fan), for 12 minutes.

For the roast sirloin of Cheshire beef, I seasoned and pan roasted a 900g sirloin from Frosty butcher. Twenty minutes in a medium oven, then same again resting. My beef loving brother in law thought it was perfectly cooked. Not bad for a vegetarian I thought.

The scrumpy braised gammon with roasted mustard glaze was leftover from making croque monsieurs at the pub during the Six Nations.  I braised the gammon in scrumpy cider, with onion, leek, celery, five spice, cloves and cinnamon for about two hours. I then mixed some honey and mustard for the glaze, and roasted in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes.

I source my seafood from Out of The Blue, and their jumbo sized tail on king prawns are really good quality.  I marinated them in juice of two fresh limes, 1 crushed garlic clove and finely sliced deseeded chilli (I couldn't help myself - how can one not use chilli), then skewered them into threes. A quick blast on both sides under a hot grill just before serving. Of all the dishes, these flew off the plate the fastest. No chilli allowed. Pah!

Simon Hopkinson's
Aubergine salad with garlic, parsley & feta

Blimey this dish was good. Bit fiddly, but also a strangely relaxing task. Ingredients are simple enough, as per the title with some good quality virgin olive oil and salt. I used three medium aubergines (Hopkinson recommends using the long thinner variety). You score in a circle around the top, just below the skin and then at 3cm intervals down the sides. I put them under a medium grill, turning occasionally until the skin changed colour and the aubergine was quite soft (but not blackened in the same way you would for babaganoush). Leave to cool.

In a bowl add one crushed clove of garlic, mixed with 1/2 cup of olive oil, a large handful of fresh chopped parsley and a pinch of salt. Set aside while you peel the aubergines. If using bigger aubergines like I did, cut them lengthways in half, keeping half the stem top on each piece. Then peel the skin away and lay the the aubergine on a big plate. Cover the plate with a single layer of the pieces of aubergine, then cover with the garlic and parsley mixture and crumble feta over the top.  The flavours infuse if you set aside, but don't serve straight from the fridge as these kinds of flavours work best at room temperature.

Michel Roux's
Pavlova with berries, mango & passionfruit

Of course it was amazing! A) because it's Michel Roux's recipe (well his wife's actually) and B) because it was made by my teen daughter, a bit of a patisserie chef in the making (once she's had a money making career - her words, not mine).

I don't think I need to detail the recipe, as it's a simple French style meringue. Keep the double cream softly whipped and I used alphonso mango puree for extra sauciness (fresh ones aren't great at the moment), along with fresh raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and passionfruit (which are great at the moment).

All of the other vegetables, fruits and other ingredients were bought locally in Chorlton. We are incredibly lucky to have Elliotts Fruit and Veg in our precinct, a proper greengrocers with an eye for seasonal and delicious specials. I also picked up a selection of bread (and cheese) from Ludo's. Their baguettes are almost famous and you can order to pick up fresh and warm from the oven, simply by tweeting them. Almost worth tolerating trolls on Twitter just for that.

Artichoke hearts in olive oil are my favourite vegetable cheat for antipasto. I roasted some peppers and added a mix of sundried tomatoes, olives and capers.

The salad recipes are as simple as their names suggest, but big on flavour. I got someone to bring me a new supply of sumac powder from Ottolenghi's deli. Don't worry if you can't get hold of it easily. Substitute with some pomegranate molasses (pick up in any Asian grocers) and just omit the maple syrup.

Then sit back and enjoy! :0)

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Open a restaurant... you must be mad! (PART 2)

For those of you familiar with my ramblings here in the early days, I once blogged about the whole open a restaurant? you must be mad! It feels a little odd to reflect on my old thoughts now. Not that they were that off key, but the complexity of this business of food is still far more challenging than I imagined back then.

My latest existential crisis (of which I seem to have many these days) is about something I've observed for quite some time now. The elusive holy grail for so many chef-led food businesses and restaurants.  I know that when I'm in the kitchen, the food doesn't leave the pass unless it's of the right standard.  But the fact is, I can't be in the kitchen all the time, every time we are open.  I would like to be, but it's simply not sustainable.  From the minute you're not there, consistency is at risk!

We need to start with some context. I work 7 days a week, as do most people who run their own small business. Some days, maybe two if I'm lucky, it might only be 3 or 4 hours. More often, it's a good 10 hour day, sometimes 12 or more.  About a year ago, I really wasn't feeling too good health wise and then last summer, I was diagnosed with Graves disease.  It's an auto immune disorder where the body attacks itself causing the thyroid to become hyperactive and causing damage to the eyes and vision. Working long hours in a hot kitchen is not an ideal situation for someone with this condition.  Whilst I freely admit I'm naturally loud, perhaps a little shouty at times and often over excitable, this disease did me no favours at all.  It's the reason I had such a short fuse last summer and left me reeling from stress. So just as a note to those troll-like people who took to Trip Advisor to complain about my 'attitude' during some of my worse episodes last summer, I hope one day when you fall down, you don't get to feel what it's like for someone to kick you while you're down there. Anyway, the long and short of this story is that I cannot keep working excessive hours or I may lose my sight.

I'm sharing this story because I want to show a little about what it's really like trying to run a small business, and still deliver the standard of food that I want to achieve and am passionate about.  But the more variables that exist between me and the food that goes out, the more problematic that standard and consistency becomes.

This is the thing I miss most about my dining club, as there was little that stood between myself, the food and the person eating it.  I won't deny I am slightly envious of how Sara Danesin has established her food in such a setting, but for me, the crossover of this with my home life wasn't tenable as a regular event.  I also wanted to establish a business I could grow. Like Wahaca. I love that place. Delicious food of consistent high quality that's accessible.  But the dream of building a food business that could grow into something bigger feels hindered just now. Because I am only one person.  And I can't be all things at all times, so the dreaded delegation has to happen.

I've tried various approaches to date and I'm yet to be convinced of the success of any of them.  I had quite a good head chef on board at one point. But the alcohol and drug issues became an issue. And this sometimes had an impact on consistency (amongst other things!).  I've got a decent prep chef helping me these days, which works well with the new prep kitchen, but this just means I get to complete prep in one day instead of two, but always under my close supervision.  It just seems to go awry when I'm not there.  And I've yet to understand why everyone doesn't use checklists.  But no matter how perfect I keep product control at the prep stage, there's still the issue of service at the pub.

I've taken the Pret A Manger approach to this stage of service (they let me in their prep kitchen a year or two ago). Bulleted clear lists with photographs. How difficult can it be?  But it is. All the time. The stress of managing other people makes me enjoy the kitchen less and less, and I just don't know what the answer is. I can't be in the kitchen all the time. I can't ensure the food is exactly how I want it to be when I'm not there. I'm not saying my staff don't try, but they lack experience and at the end of the day, the hospitality industry in full of casual workers with little commitment to a business. I tried pay increases. I tried being nice. I tried shouting.  This last one works for about a week but they all walk round with faces like my teens in a bad mood, so I go back to being less 'boss like' and more just my usual self, and then standards slip again.  It's not dissimilar to having teenage children.

Even the best kitchens have this problem. I recently had a terrible meal in a well reviewed Manchester restaurant. I found out later, the head chef was off that day. Boy could you tell! For the record people, Maldon sea salt flakes are for cooking with, not sprinkling liberally over the plate just before service! I remember reading criticisms of John Torode's old restaurant, which centred around his absence from the pass and slipping standards.  Surely people didn't expect him to be working the pass all the time?  It makes me wonder whether this is really a young persons game. No commitments, no family and no doubt boundless more energy than this middle aged woman.  And that the old adage is true, that a restaurant is only ever as good as it's chef.

So I've figured out that I don't want to employ wage monkeys. I'm not entirely convinced I like employing people full stop if I'm honest, but people who just want a wage and have little more care than that, is not really where I'm at in my life.  I've also come to a point where I can't work excessive hours week in and week out.  So you can see why I've been feeling reflective about just where things are going.

Sadly, I've reached the end of my time at the pub.  But for me, there is actually some relief in this. For all the problems I've already mentioned, and this has only been made harder during the demise of my working relationship there and feeling compromised.  I'm looking forward to being in charge of my own food again, and deciding when and where I will work.
Barbarella will be going into storage for a little while, while I catch up with my life, friends and family. And there are plans afoot for some new adventures, so I've got more than enough to keep me busy and cooking.  And I might take a little break. I think I've earned it, don't you!

With regard to the loyal and hardworking staff I have been lucky enough to employ over the last two years, I realise I should have given them more acknowledgment here. I didn't think I needed to clarify this in a public space, as I am now good friends with a number of them, and as I talk to them in everyday life, they know how much they are appreciated and liked.  Obviously, I now see that the 'public' could misinterpret this within this blog.

What I was trying to do was blog about some insights I have learned about the hospitality industry and how elusive consistency is in trying to produce great food.

Unfortunately the best staff in this business are either a) unaffordable skilled and experienced chefs or b) people who have great talents elsewhere, but can apply themselves to the job, as they are hardworking, bright and passionate.  I usually employed type b. Which meant I lost the best of them back to their full time university studies. And they all eventually move on to pursue their own personal ambitions and adventures (or they get poached ;0).

So HUGE thanks to my lovely staff, you know who you are!!!! I couldn't have done it without you! Jxx

Thursday, 20 February 2014

This week's menu... Nasi is back baby!

DELIVERY:  2 mile radius.. Chorlton, Whalley Range, Stretford, etc

CALL 07591 984 655  (Thurs - Sat, 6pm to 10pm)

Don't forget to order your fine ale or wine. See menu here


NASI GORENG, traditional Indonesian egg fried rice with roasted aubergine, purple sprouting broccoli &  cauliflower (V)

- Simple & seasonal (V)                     £4.50
- Veggie special with fried duck egg & crispy kale (V)    £6
- ‘Frosty’ free range chicken & prawn crackers             £6.50
- ‘Out Of The Blue’ jumbo prawns & prawn crackers      £7.50
- Five spice ‘Frosty’ pork belly & crackling straws             £9

SMALL PLATES                                                                                                           
Pani Puri, Indian street food snack (V/Vg) Crispy puri w/ spiced chickpea, potato & tamarind sherbet, 3/5 pcs    £3 / £4.50*

Dal Bowl, daily special dal, w/ rice or flaky roti (Vg/GF)  £4.50 TODAY'S DAL: Roti Canai

Baked Spring Rolls, two crispy rolls stuffed w/ Hoi sin ‘veggie’ duck  (Vg) or ‘OOTB’ Whitby crab & crayfish   £4.50*/£5*

Pad Thai Traditional egg fried rice noodles with crispy tofu (V/Vg) or ‘OOTB’ jumbo prawns   £4.50 / £6.50*  ADD a fried duck egg £1.50

Shashlik Roti Wrap, marinated hand made spiced paneer with cachumba salad in soft desi paratha wrap (V)    £5*

Laos Style Squash, Chilli & Coconut Soup, fire roasted butternut squash & chilli with coconut cream (Vg) £3

Indonesian Fish Curry w/ OOTB Cornish hake & prawns in lemongrass, tamarind & chilli broth (GF )£7.50

**Pimp my fish!** + 'OOTB' jumbo prawns & flaky roti   £9.50

Malaysian Beef Rendang w/ slow cooked grass fed ‘Frosty’ beef, with lemongrass, chilli & coconut (GF) £6.50

Indonesian Jungle Curry, fragrant cashew & peanut curry w/ green jackfruit, cauli & aubergine (Vg, GF) £6

All of above served with Asian ‘slaw & steamed rice or desi paratha

Rhubarb & Custard, crispy rhubarb samosas w/ rose glaze & star anise vanilla custard (V) - 1 pc / 2 pcs    £2 / £3.50

Fire & Ice Brownie, sticky rich brownie with hint of chilli, served with raspberry sauce & vanilla cream (V)    £3.50

EXTRAS 30p hot pickle / mango chutney / daniya / raita
EXTRAS £1 desi paratha / flaky roti / salad bowl / basmati rice / prawn crackers / crispy kale / crackling straws     

Friday, 14 February 2014

Updated Menu & This Week's Specials...



NAM PRIK PAO, traditional fried rice & veg with our own Thai chilli jam

Veggie / 'Frosty' free range chicken / 'OOTB' jumbo prawns
£5 / £6.50 / £7.50  Add fried duck egg +£1

SMALL PLATES                                                                                                           
Pani Puri, Indian street food snack (V/Vg) Crispy puri w/ spiced chickpea, potato & tamarind sherbet, 3/5 pcs    £3 / £4.50*

Dal Bowl, daily special dal, w/ rice or flaky roti (Vg/GF)  £4.50 TODAY'S DAL: Roti Canai

Baked Spring Rolls, two crispy rolls stuffed w/ Hoi sin ‘veggie’ duck  (Vg) or ‘OOTB’ Whitby crab & crayfish   £4.50*/£5*

Pad Thai Traditional egg fried rice noodles with crispy tofu (V/Vg) or ‘OOTB’ jumbo prawns   £4.50 / £6.50*  ADD a fried duck egg £1.50

Shashlik Roti Wrap, marinated hand made spiced paneer with cachumba salad in soft desi paratha wrap (V)    £5*

Laos Style Squash, Chilli & Coconut Soup, fire roasted butternut squash & chilli with coconut cream (Vg) £3

Indonesian Fish Curry w/ OOTB Cornish hake & prawns in lemongrass, tamarind & chilli broth (GF )£7.50

**Pimp my fish!** + 'OOTB' jumbo prawns & flaky roti   £9.50

Malaysian Beef Rendang w/ slow cooked grass fed ‘Frosty’ beef, with lemongrass, chilli & coconut (GF) £6.50

Indonesian Jungle Curry, fragrant cashew & peanut curry w/ green jackfruit, cauli & aubergine (Vg, GF) £6

All of above served with Asian ‘slaw & steamed rice or desi paratha

Shashlik Lamb Chops or Handmade Paneer, Marinated ‘Frosty’ lamb or spiced paneer (V, GF) w/ dal, rice & salad £9/ £7.50

Rhubarb & Custard, crispy rhubarb samosas w/ rose glaze & star anise vanilla custard (V) - 1 pc / 2 pcs    £2 / £3.50

Fire & Ice Brownie, sticky rich brownie with hint of chilli, served with raspberry sauce & vanilla cream (V)    £3.50

EXTRAS 30p hot pickle / mango chutney / daniya / raita
EXTRAS £1 desi paratha / flaky roti / salad bowl / basmati rice     

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

This week's specials...

This weekend SPECIAL SIX NATIONS Bar Snack Menu

Kale & potato pakora with Guinness (Vegan option available) £2.50
Scotch Egg with wild Haggis or with a Manchester Twist (V) £3.50
‘Best of Local Produce’ Croque Monsieur   £4.50
Make it Croque Madame, with a fried free range Cheshire egg +£1
Or make it Veggie, toasted cheese & free range egg (V)  £3.50

See last weeks blog post for the February menu...

Kali dal, lightly spiced creamy black lentils with garlic & ginger (Vg/V)

Kimchi noodle soup with local pak choi & ginger tofu (Vg)

£4.50 for 1 litre, plus £2.50 returnable bottle deposit

House ales: 
Landlord, Golden Best, Golden Pippin, Black Sheep, 
Hobgoblin, Old Rosie

Guest ales: 
Ruddles County, Wainwright, Summer Lightening, Gold Bullion

Wine £10, Carlsberg bottled, 4 for £5

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Winter break is over & time to prep...

I like the winter lull in street food.  It fits with my preference for getting cosy by the fire and plotting new dreams and schemes.  And there's lots of plotting afoot for 2014...

We've moved into a new prep kitchen in Manchester.  This is a very exciting time for us as we can now grow our capacity in lots of ways.  So watch this space for updates on our new developments.

We re-open at The Beech Inn on Thursday 30th January, with a revised winter menu and a brand new delivery service. Yes, you heard that right! We'll deliver gourmet street food inspired dishes along with fine cask ales right to your door.  We thought it was about time someone started delivering quality food and then thought, why not some fine ale to go with it.  Why not indeed!

The menu will be available online, on our main website and also posted here on the blog, Twitter and our Facebook page, to help keep customers up-to-date with the ever changing menu.  To start, we will be delivering within a 1 mile radius of the pub.

New opening hours at the pub:
Thurs & Fri 5-10pm
Sat & Sun 12-10pm

Delivery 07591 984 655 (6 til 10pm Thursday to Sunday every week)


SMALL PLATES                                                                                                                 
Pani Puri, Indian street food snack (V/Vg) Crispy puri w/ spiced chickpea, potato & tamarind sherbet, 3/5 pcs    £3 / £4.50*
Dal Bowl, daily special dal, w/ rice or flaky roti (Vg/GF)  £4.50 TODAY'S DAL: Roti Canai
Baked Spring Rolls, two crispy rolls stuffed w/ Hoi sin ‘veggie’ duck  (Vg) or ‘OOTB’ Whitby crab & crayfish   £4.50*/£5*
Pad Thai Traditional egg fried rice noodles with crispy tofu (V/Vg) or ‘OOTB’ jumbo prawns   £4.50 / £6.50*  ADD a fried duck egg £1.50
Shashlik Roti Wrap, marinated hand made spiced paneer with cachumba salad in soft desi paratha wrap (V)    £5*
Kimchi Noodle Soup, korean style hot red pepper broth with kimchi, ginger tofu & local pak choi (Vg) £4 / £5*

Indonesian Fish Curry w/ OOTB Cornish hake & prawns in lemongrass, tamarind & chilli broth (GF )£7.50
**Pimp my fish!** + 'OOTB' jumbo prawns & flaky roti   £9.50
Malaysian Beef Rendang w/ slow cooked grass fed ‘Frosty’ beef, with lemongrass, chilli & coconut (GF) £6.50
Indonesian Jungle Curry, fragrant cashew & peanut curry w/ green jackfruit, cauli & aubergine (Vg, GF) £6
All of above served with Asian ‘slaw & steamed rice or desi paratha
Shashlik Lamb Chops or Handmade Paneer, Marinated ‘Frosty’ lamb or spiced paneer (V, GF) w/ dal, rice & salad £9/ £7.50

EXTRAS 30p hot pickle / mango chutney / daniya / raita
EXTRAS £1 desi paratha / flaky roti / salad bowl / basmati rice     

Rhubarb & Custard, crispy rhubarb samosas w/ rose glaze & star anise vanilla custard (V) - 1 pc / 2 pcs    £2 / £3.50
Fire & Ice Brownie, sticky rich brownie with hint of chilli, served with raspberry sauce & vanilla cream (V)    £3.50

And don't forget our new SIX NATIONS inspired bar snacks being served at the pub. Host nation inspired dishes, bringing you the best of local produce...