Monday, 17 March 2014

15 Minute Meals - Recipe 2

It's a struggle to find the time to cook new recipes these days, let alone blog! But, cooking and writing are two of my favourite things so I do make the time for the them.  I'm not that special at either, but you know what, that's not going to stop me! So, here's my 15 minute meal number 2 - an idea inspired by a Sainsbury's recipe card and a cracking little dish for all the family. 

I say 15 minutes, but that's once you're familiar with doing it and then you've got to add 10/15 minutes cooking time on realistically. Still quick and easy though and if you want to eliminate the bacon to keep the calories down, the flavour will still be great.

Spaghetti tossed in a Pea & Mint Pesto

with spring onions, bacon and poached egg.

Serves 4What you need:

  • Food Processor
  • Saucepan for spaghetti
  • Frying pan

  • 300g spaghetti
  • 200g baby spinach (optional)
  • Pack of smoked back bacon
  • 5 spring onions
  • 300g frozen petit pois peas
  • 3 large sprigs of fresh mint
  • 40-50g  pine nuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 40-50g of parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar (for the egg poaching)
  • 4 large 'happy' green range eggs

What to do:

Boil some water in your saucepan and get your spaghetti done. When draining, hold back 150ml of the water to use later. Toss your spinach, if you're using it, in the spaghetti so that it wilts.

Meanwhile, start frying your bacon and spring onions in either a little olive oil or butter (naughty, but nice!). 

Grab your food processor and throw in the garlic, peas, mint, pine nuts (toast them a little first to maximise the flavour) parmesan, pasta water and oil. Once blended, set aside in a bowl ready to use.

Now get some water boiling/turning in a pan for your poached eggs and add the wine vinegar. Gently crack in your eggs, two at a time and cook gently for 2 minutes. Repeat with the other two and place them on kitchen paper to absorb excess water if you need to. 

Now your bacon should be crispy and spring onions soft and gooey, so throw them in with your pasta and spinach, then gently turn the pea pesto in to the mix too, so that everything is nicely combined and ready for you to pop your perfectly poached egg on top of and serve.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

15 Minute Meals

Like many of the Mums in this country, I'm a big fan of Jamie Oliver and I couldn't wait to crack on with his 15 minute meal recipes, because there's never enough time in the week to spend any longer cooking. 

Having said that, everyone knows in our house that 15 minutes will end up as 30, and 30 will end up an hour. If I've made it a few times, then I can shave a bit off that. These days I can knock something nutritious up pretty quickly myself that contains fresh veg and good protein. This was one of those.  I scanned the 'almost bare' cupboards to see what I had and came up with this. 

Warm Salmon & Lentil Salad

serves 2-3

1 packet of pre-cooked (!) Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils with sun-dried tomatoes & basil
2 or 3 salmon fillets  - 'wild' preferably as they contain less fat
1 large courgette
1 medium red onion
1 pack of green beans
1 red pepper
tablespoon Olive Oil
knob of butter
ground rock salt & peppercorns to season
Watercress & Rocket Salad to serve with cherry tomatoes
Crusty Bread - optional


1 large frying pan with lid


Start by chopping your vegetables. Finely slice and halve the courgette. Finely chop the onion & pepper. Cut the green beans 4 times into quarters. 

Warm the oil and butter in the pan over a medium heat then throw in all the chopped veg and keep stirring until it softens a little. Don't let it get too soft, you'll be cooking the goodness out of it and it's got a little way to go yet.

Season to taste. I used plenty of red & black freshly ground pepper, because I love it!

Meanwhile, chop your salmon fillets up into small bite size pieces, removing the skin as you do. Then clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the salmon. Move it around gently so it gets coated with some of the pan's juices/oils, then pop the lid on for a minute or two so it steam cooks. Keep an eye on it though so it doesn't stick. 

In the meantime, grab your Puy lentils and gently break them up while still inside the pack, then sprinkle them into the pan with all the other ingredients. Stir and fold everything in gently before removing from the heat.

Prepare your plates with some watercress, rocket and chopped cherry tomatoes. Dress it with a tiny drizzle of walnut oil & balsamic. Serve your Salmon & Lentils next to it once they've cooled a little, and if you're craving some bad carbs, have some crusty bread with it too!

Tasty grub in just 15 minutes. I didn't think to take a picture, sorry, next time....

It's not a Jamie, it's an Issy, but I hope you like it.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Pollen Street Social

There’s something quite misleading about the name, Pollen Street Social. It conjures up images of working men’s clubs, not a smart, fine dining restaurant off Regent Street. Or is that just me? Throw the word ‘social’ into the mix and somehow it lowers the tone. But perhaps that’s exactly what owner/chef Jason Atherton intended. Is this his way of removing the stuffiness out of fine-dining, stripping away the pompous air that we’ve all come to assume is part of the deal, with the ‘social’ being the kick up the backside that ‘pretentious’ needed?

Mr Atherton may be of fine stock, having earned his stripes in Ramsey’s fold, not to mention a stint at El Bulli, and what he puts on a plate may be a million miles away from social club grub; but he’s not courting the whole fancy fine dining thing with this concept and visually, first impressions don’t impact me the way I thought they would. However, once you ease yourself into this space (a ‘Pere Asino’ cocktail helps) and take in the understated, no-nonsense styling, the subtle detail pulls you in – handsome, practical furnishings and lots of earthy oak. It’s smart but comforting and banquette seating de-formalizes the main dining room further, with a relaxed buzz that’s a clear indication of un-intimidated, relaxed folk, loving this new approach to the fine dining scene.

Contemporary art punctuates plain cream walls and floor space - there are some really quirky pieces here including a bronze sculpture of a ‘cote de boeuf ‘ a nod to Damien Hirst perhaps? But Jason’s creativity and flair really shines through in his food, and that of course is the whole point. The meticulous attention to detail and original, clever, often fun combinations; this is art,
his art, on a plate.

So, the art we chose for our lunch was from the set lunch menu at £22.00 for 2 courses. Reasonable we thought, considering the artist! Slow-cooked egg, (which appeared under-cooked but certainly didn’t taste it) with home-smoked haddock and curry puffed rice suggested something more substantial but was instead a delicate little mound of perfection and a modern take on kedgeree. The haddock, flawlessly smoked, flaky and moist, and content under the oozy rich, silky yellow yolk, was delightful and moorish. But this is fine dining, so put any ideas of generous portions out of your head and embrace quality over quantity! Next up, for me, a rather plentiful portion, I thought, of braised ox cheek with charred eggplant and smoked potatoes. Whoa, they’re good at the old smoking malarkey here; the baby spuds were just perfect. The meat too, was faultless; a rich and unctuous knoll of juicy cheek that fell apart under the gentlest pressure. My D.P had the Yorkshire partridge which was luscious, plump and pink, although the skin could have been a little crispier we thought.  An unusual sauce of game Bolognese came with this and neither of us knew quite what to make of it. The flavour was good, but the grainy, quorn like texture let it down I thought.

On to dessert and the opportunity to move to the dessert bar to enjoy it. Ordinarily I can’t imagine leaving a comfortable table just to sit up at a bar and eat dessert (innovative perhaps, but it felt a little unnecessary to me – dessert & digestif lounge, maybe!) but the advantage of this is, shift your eyes to the right and the glass-fronted kitchen reveals a tight, calm and talented brigade at work, with none other than the man himself, Jason, on the pass.  For a chef groupie (not in the ‘actual’ sense, of course!) like me, this was a real treat! Men, in a kitchen, cooking….ok, enough said!  We tucked in (decorously, naturally, just incase Jason glanced our way) to complimentary lime & fromage frais, and passion fruit sorbets – beautifully light and cleansing. Then just when we realized we’d underestimated the impact of these fine dining portions and prepared to call it a day, a pretty little tiered creation in a glass appeared before us of citrus posset, blackberry granita and sangria foam, drizzled with olive oil. Hold on, olive oil on dessert you’re thinking; well, yes, olive oil on dessert; and lovely it was too. The creamy, zingy punch of the posset with the cold crunch of the granita was an ideal partnership; but somehow the sangria foam and olive oil brought it all together - totally ingenious and instinctively natural.

All the while we drank some excellent wines; there’s a good selection of wines by the glass, so ideal for lunchtime lightweights like us! A German Pinot Noir and a fuller-bodied Spanish Tinta Fina were wisely suggested as good accompaniments to our meaty mains, and they were exactly that. With our desserts a plummy-pinkish, slightly fizzy dessert wine, Pétillant Naturel de Raisin, wasn’t too sweet and dangerously quaffable at 9% vol; whereas the Muscat de Rivesaltes was golden, honeyed and more alcoholic. The wine list was predominantly European (but the New World isn’t forgotten) and interestingly, even Greece gets a look in, which I suppose they could do with right now!

Service is, as you’d assume, precise and polished, although our waitress lacked the ability to be anything else and struggled to engage on any ‘real’ level. Efficient is no good without a little charisma, but their sommelier demonstrated the two, which served her well when she was nudging us up towards those unlikely and unexpectedly elegant (pricey!) wine choices.

Of course, the likelihood is you’ll be taking a trip to the bathroom while you’re there, so you’ll pass the meat ageing room, where spectacular cuts of meat are boldly and proudly displayed, opposite a 14 cover private dining room where all sorts of things go on apparently – mostly wine tastings and dinners though I’d have thought!

So, as we tore ourselves away, when so many look settled for hours to come, a departing gift was presented with our coats - a charming little bag containing ‘afternoon tea’ – a tea bag and delicious frangipane cake – an endearing little detail that leaves you smiling and keen to get home to put the kettle on.

So, at £121 for two it isn’t cheap, (and that was with complimentary desserts – not sure how we swung that!) but hey, this is food to get excited over people, it’s not just any old social, this is Pollen Street Social, where a world class culinary artist resides.

Pollen Street Social                  
8-10 Pollen Street                                 
London W1S 1NQ                                                       
020 7290 7606

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Veeraswamy - A rather Fine-Dining Experience

Veeraswamy – London’s oldest Indian Restaurant.

For a long time I assumed that one would have to travel to India to experience great Indian food, (but then my palate had been agonizingly subjected to local takeaways, where every dish tastes the same just with varying amounts of heat) until just recently, when a friend introduced me to Veeraswamy; and now, my love affair with Indian cuisine has truly begun. I feel a sense of commitment that I’ve never really felt before and a deep longing to return and try everything Veeraswamy has to offer.  I’m finding myself planning trips to Regent Street that aren’t strictly necessary, but are somehow crucial for my happiness.

Of course, it does help that it’s located in a beautiful part of town, on the corner of Regent and Swallow Street, with the dining room on the first floor overlooking swanky shops and twinkling city lights. It couldn’t be more chic and romantic if it tried and we girls do love a bit of glamour & romance! The entrance is discreetly tucked away in Swallow Street and when we arrived we were greeted by a charming young doorman, clad in traditional colonial Indian costume. It all felt very swish and majestic, a bit like entering a private member’s club with cool décor (that was just a little bit ‘disco’) leading to a cosy elevator that prolonged the excitement further.

As you enter the main dining room the elegant and sophisticated Bombay-Bollywood theme opens up before you with multi-coloured glass lanterns punctuating the dramatic ceiling, and an original 1920’s Venetian chandelier deservedly takes centre stage. The lighting is so gentle and soft it could complement even the most unfortunate and the elevated views over Regent and Swallow Street give you a wonderful sense of grandeur and importance. Delicate crimson rose petals are lightly scattered on each table; elegant wine glasses reflect the room’s vibrant colours and silk Maharaja’s turbans line the walls. Everything is so beautifully appointed, shimmery and sexy; even the pearlescent menu sparkles!

If you, like me, are not an authority on Indian cuisine, or if your knowledge only stretches as far as Dopiaza and Aloo Gobi, then sit back and let the exceptionally conversant and polite staff guide you through the menu; they clearly enjoy doing it and you’ll learn something in the process. We had a starter we’d never have considered trying had it not been for their knowledgeable cajoling, which turned out to be an absolute triumph - Raj Kachori – puffed puri (an unleavened bread) filled with vegetables, sweet chutney and yoghurt, then topped with pomegranate seeds. 

I’m afraid that no description I give this dish will do it justice, it simply has to be tasted. I also discovered Bishop’s Weed, a fragrant little seed-like fruit spice (which I first mistook for cumin) which apparently has “Ayer Vedic qualities”, or was that just meant to distract us from the calories that lie ahead? Many typical and indigenous spices are used here, harmonising and enhancing first-rate ingredients that clearly don’t require any chaperoning, but are however, lifted from the introduction. Lamb cutlets were achingly tender, scallops were unctuously plump and bouncy, and sauces were luxuriously rich but never overpowering. The problem with food this good is you convince yourself you can eat huge quantities of it! I was soon releasing a notch on my belt and trying to get to grips with my wide-eyed gusto by consciously slowing myself down.

We ended this sublime experience with a silky rich crème brulée and green tea ice cream which were both wonderfully light and refreshing. It was a struggle though if I’m honest and anything heavier would have just broken the belt, so this was the perfect ending to a lovely evening.

Folks, round up your partners, lovers, husbands, wives or whoever and make Veeraswamy your next stop. It ticks every box and is now safely positioned in my ‘Top 10’ for sure. In fact, the sooner I get back there, the better.

Veeraswamy, Mezzanine Floor, Victory House
99 Regent Street, London W1B 4RS
(entrance on Swallow Street)
tel: +44 (0) 20 7734 1401
fax: +44 (0) 20 7439 8434


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Freggo Review

Forget meeting your friends in a pub before you head out clubbing, apparently the ‘thang’ to do now is ‘shake and cake’! Well, I say that, but it hasn’t entirely wiped out the popularity of bars and pubs just yet, of course, as there are very few places like Freggo around to cope with the demand of this growing trend. Another of Swallow Street’s little gems, Argentine Ice Cream Bar Freggo is related (as in, ‘sweet’ little baby sister status) to Gaucho (big ‘beefy’ brother) next door. Don’t think of it as an ice cream parlour, because it’s not. It’s far funkier than that. This place oozes cool, from the mirrored & deep purple padded walls, to the funky retro stools and cocktail bar ambience, all enhanced by Ibiza style tunes - think Blue Marlin on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll get my drift.

My date for the night was probably not as appropriate as I’d originally thought. I assumed that my 7 year old son, an ice cream and shake-aholic, would be the best person to judge how good this place was. And, give him his due, he offered some very insightful observations about various flavours and textures. However, once we’d tucked ourselves nicely into a cosy banquette corner (surely designed with lovers in mind, sharing cake and licking hot chocolate from one another’s lips) the crowd descended. Cool, edgy, pre-club, straight off the pages of Style or Grazia magazine; relaxing, chatting over espresso and ice cream… all felt so chic and cosmopolitan and I suddenly longed for my ‘cool friends’ and wanted to ditch my son! Then, a young family with children who clearly considered Freggo their local, bobbed in for a huge tub of take-away ice cream and Alfajores (traditional Argentine cookies filled with sweet caramelised milk); followed by some tourists, then some nearby office workers, then some more funky-looking clubbers……it was just an endless stream of interesting looking people. I could have sat, people-watching all night. Dangerous though, because I reckon you could put on a stone in this place in under an hour!

Meanwhile, we were tucking in to an array of gorgeous Argentine yummies. Sweet stuff for me isn’t a natural preference so I insisted on having a 3 cheese tart to start – stilton, parmesan and mascarpone – clearly the Italian links were coming through here. It was good. Quite subtle, but enough to satisfy my savoury craving and there’s a pretty good selection of other savoury things too if, like me, you can’t just go steaming straight in to the sweet stuff. ‘Better have the Alfajores’ we thought, ‘If the regulars are having that.’ This was the lightest shortbread biscuit I’ve ever had, covered in coconut and filled with sweet ‘dulce de leche’ caramelised milk. One was enough. Lovely, but enough. My little man had the cheesecake; a crafty forkful told me this was more my kinda sweet thing. We fought, we shared, and we ordered more. All the while, Grace, Freggo’s very ‘dulce’ manageress, patiently explained everything, bringing us a ‘taster’ selection of ice creams and sorbets, one containing red wine which I devoured in seconds.

Now I know why ice cream culture is so big in Argentina, where Freggos (Freddo over there) are two a penny and there’s on average 50 varieties of ice cream to choose from and it costs more than beef! Apparently, the biggest question the cool crowd ask themselves before going out is, ‘Ice cream or clubbing?’ and it would seem that ice cream wins hands down. Well, actually, here you kinda get it all – the tunes, the atmosphere and the ice cream.

So, before heading off in search of Father Christmas and pretty lights, I sipped a dark, orange & cinnamon hot chocolate; silky, rich, and utterly indulgent that left me feeling like Juliette Binoche in Chocolat. It had the cutest little meringues floating elegantly on top that, once popped in your mouth, dispersed like sweet clouds and left you wistfully craving more. A Freggo shake left my son dreamily muttering the words, ‘Mummy, it’s like heaven in here for me you know.’ ‘I know darling. I said the same when I met Freggo’s big beefy brother, Gaucho.’

Freggo Ice Cream Bar,
27-29 Swallow Street,
London, W1B 4QR

Phone: 020 7287 9506

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill

11 – 15 Swallow Street


T: 020 7734 4756

Sandwiched in between Piccadilly and Regent Street, but somehow sheltered from all the madness, mayhem and shopping frenzied tourists of the West End, is a little haven of charm; Swallow Street, just tucked in nicely, with its own little vibe. And Bentley’s restaurant is pretty much the same. Salient and somewhat grand, (without being fussy and affected) it feels cool, comfortable and solid, so a reflection of its owner I suppose. In fact, I’m such a fan of Richard Corrigan that I’d love to write this whole piece on him; but I suppose I’ll be doing that anyway as the emphasis with Richard is always on his food, not his ego, of which he has little of when compared to many Michelin starred chefs. His personality is so apparent in the vibe of this place; not just in the food, but in the considered selection of a rather tight front of house team who genuinely looked pleased to be there. So, whilst it’s important to mention the integrity of the interior - rich, elegant and masculine fabrics and fixtures - and the food, as implied by the décor, also very accomplished, it was the solicitous service that left a lasting impression.

I think Corrigan has cracked it with this little lot – or as near as damn it – because this was such a slick, competent and sassy team of people who moved so effortlessly around each other that it just made you sink into your chair, in a secure fold, feeling like you were in large, cupped hands. From our charismatic Romanian waiter Octavian, (well informed by a passionate kitchen team and a sense of humour more Richard Corrigan than Ceausescu,) to the chirpy sommelier who, having decided on Riesling or Vertliner, had a change of heart when this 'lady', ‘moi’, mentioned ripe, lush fruit. Before we knew it, his double-act, a mature and self-assured bar steward stuck his comical two-penneth in and we landed up with a biggish, flavoursome Verdicchio from Marches, which pulled and tugged at our taste buds in a surprisingly unexpected way.

We barely got beyond the special’s board when ordering the food, everything was screaming out to be eaten. So we opted for an ‘amuse bouche’ in the form of an anchovy & olive tartlet; clean, zippy flavours but strewn with rocket which looked rather like an after-thought than an intended garnish. Starter of crab on toasted Irish soda bread with glistening samphire was all it was cracked up to be and by the time I stretched my fork across the table to try it, was all gone. Big, succulent, curvy pieces of crab are hard to share, I admit, so all I got was a measly mouthful of the soda bread. Hold on, “when did soda bread get to be this good?” I asked. Apparently, it’s all down to the black treacle, Octavian assured me, which gave it a pleasing colour and nutty sweetness; so good infact, it inspired me to buy Richard’s book, ‘The Rattle of Forks & Spoons’ with the recipe in it. My starter of squid had the pleasing acrid flavour of the char-grill with a fresh, bouncy texture (which has a tendency to 'go on a bit'; but hey, that’s squid for you) and a subtle chilli dressing which was slightly overpowered by the ‘fly me to the moon’ proportions of wild rocket it came with.

My DP moved on to steamed plaice (in its seasonal pomp) with wilted lettuce, artichokes and Chanterelle mushrooms, which was very good, if slightly virtuous. No doubt the chef had slipped a knob (or two) of butter to cook the mushrooms, but felt the plaice itself was almost too fresh, too plump and too pure to dress up! £24 for my half a lobster, (even a native) another veritable heap of rocket (!) and chips, seemed a bit rich, like the pungent garlic butter that accompanied it indulgently. But somehow this dish is indicative of what this place is about; it feels special and posh like lobster, but it’s just as down to earth as chips! And if you’re used to eating chips without cutlery, nobody looks at you like you’re a throwback. No time for dessert, I’m rather embarrassed to say but we managed to scoff a few hand-made chocs with our coffees; incredibly moorish and not a strand of rocket in sight.

Bentley’s is a great advert for London dining and almost an institution in the mould of Sheekey’s and Le Caprice. It has a corner for every occasion, from our cute little two-seater by the window, to a snug booth with friends, or the formal dining room for ‘important people’ (my words, not theirs) upstairs. I’m not so sure they’d want me up there though, because I do have a tendency to eat chips with my fingers.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Salmon & Prawn Noodle Salad

Salmon & Prawn Noodle Salad
Ingredients for 4 people

4 pieces of wild salmon
200g packet of cooked king prawns
Packet of fine egg noodles – approx 250g
1 whole Chinese leaf – finely sliced
Small bunch spring onions – finely chopped
1 orange pepper – cut into long thin strips
1 red pepper – cut into long thin strips
½ cucumber – cut into batons with soft seeded centre removed
Packet of green beans – approx 150g
Packet of baby corn – approx 150g
1 red chilli – de-seeded and cut into the smallest pieces you can manage.
1 small packet of radishes – finely sliced
Decent handful of fresh coriander

For the dressing:

1/2 bottle of sweet chilli and lemongrass sauce by ‘Thai Taste’ from Sainsbury’s Otherwise any other good quality sweet chilli dipping sauce
½ bottle of dark soy sauce
Approx 5-7 tablespoons of stir fry oil (Sainsbury’s), or sesame oil.

I made the dressing up as I went along, so these measurements are a rough guess. I suggest you blend equal measures of the chilli and soy sauce, then add the oil slowly. When the consistency looks right, taste and add more if you think it needs it.

What to do….

Ok, start by getting the annoying, boring stuff out of the way; steam/boil your green beans and baby corn for about 3 mins so they are still crunchy, then leave to cool.
Cook the noodles according to the instructions then drain and rinse under cold water, separate them with your fingers and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, pan-fry or bake your wild salmon. Remember it won’t take so long if it’s wild because it’s less fatty, so don’t overdo it as it’ll dry out. Leave it to cool off.
Now, prepare the rest of the ingredients as described above. Get them all in a big bowl then add your cooled beans, corn, noodles and prawns. Toss them all around really well – get in there with your hands, don’t pfaff about. Serve into individual bowls. Now gently break your salmon into pieces and scatter over the top of the salad. Prepare your dressing, as above and allow everyone to use as much as they like. I had to make extra because we all loved it so much.
This is healthy grub that feels naughty, because it’s so good. Tuck in. Extras allowed with this one!