What’s In Store?

“The super-snob is the gastronomic snob. One of his greatest affections is to despise tinned food.” Ambrose Heath, Open Sesame, 1939

Open Sesame

The early months of the year can be bleak in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables. Pickings from the garden or allotment are limited. Fortunately, supermarket shelves are stacked with imported fresh produce which means we can have strawberries in February and asparagus in November. But there are other ways to source your five-a-day that can involve fewer air miles and be just as tasty. I am of course referring to tinned and frozen food.

It’s interesting how attitudes to tinned things haven’t really changed. Heath’s comment above was made as the UK teetered on the brink of war. Food rationing was yet to be introduced and refrigeration was still a novelty in the domestic sphere. And yet certain sectors of society sneered at the prospect of eating something out of a can and still do. While products like pulses have gained a degree of acceptance (mainly because negate the long winded cooking process – no pun intended) others, like tinned fruit, are largely scorned.


I was encouraged to see Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing’s The Corner Shop Cookbook last year which embraces some of the convenience foods within our reach. Recipes like Linguine with Tinned Crab are just what you need if you are watching the pennies or even can’t be bothered to cook and prepare a crab from scratch. Not all convenience food is bad. Fruit is often packed with natural juice with no added sugar. You can also buy vegetables and pulses that aren’t excessively salted. Plus if you buy a tin of something and decide you don’t want to use it immediately it will sit happily in your cupboard for ages until you do decide to use it (unlike the quiche you fancied but never ate and is now past it’s use by date).

“My business is to make [tinned foods] palatable,” explained Heath. “And to offer my readers dishes which, by the artful combination of tinned and fresh, are in their way well worth eating, if only in honour of our modern civilisation which brings so many marvels to our board.”

And in this post I aim to do the same.

Store Cupboard Romanesco

I’ve used Pepperdew hot peppers here rather than dried chillies for a less fiery result. If you want to ramp up the heat add a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes.

Romanesco B


  • 3 cloves garlic, whole
  • 25g hazelnuts
  • 75g sun dried tomatoes in oil (I used smoked tomatoes from Terre à Terre)
  • 8 Pepperdew hot peppers, drained
  • 1 tbsp dry sherry
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • small handful of parsley (about half a 28g pack)
  • ¼ tsp salt and a little pepper
  • Olive oil (from the tomatoes if possible)
  • A pinch or two of dried chilli flakes (opitional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 200℃. Place the garlic on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes then add the nuts and roast for a further 5 minutes.
  2. Put the nuts, garlic, dried tomatoes, hot peppers, sherry, balsamic vinegar, parsley, salt and pepper in a food processor. Add the olive oil while the motor is running. Start with 2-3 tablespoons then add more if you want a runnier consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning adding some dried chilli flakes for a hotter sauce.

Romanesco A

Mango Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie was a family favourite in my childhood. I was particularly pleased when my mother made it with a biscuit base rather than in a short crust pastry case. Feel free to use a pastry case that has been baked blind first to ring the changes. The cooking time should be the same.

Mango Meringue Pie A


  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 250g digestive biscuits, crushed
  • Zest and juice of 2 limes
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 5 medium eggs
  • 425g can mango purée
  • 100g caster sugar + 280g for the meringue
  • A few drops of lemon juice


  1. Preheat the oven to 140℃.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan then stir in the crushed biscuits. Line a 22cm loose bottomed tin with foil. Press the butter biscuit mix into the tin, including the sides, effectively lining it. Place in the fridge while you make the topping.
  3. Put the cornflour and zest into a jug. Gradually stir in the lime juice ensuring there are no lumps followed by the mango purée and 100g caster sugar. Separate three of the eggs, reserving the whites for the topping. Add the remaining 2 whole eggs to the yolks and lightly beat. Mix this into the mango and pour into the prepared case. Bake for around 1 hour until firm (it’s OK if it’s a little wobbly – it will firm up as it cools). This can be done in advance.
  4. Turn the oven up to 200℃ (or preheat it if you made the base in advance). To make the meringue, put 280g caster sugar in a saucepan with 75ml cold water. Cook over a high heat until the sugar syrup reaches 120℃. While the syrup is cooking put the egg whites in a food mixer with a whisk attachment along with a few drops of lemon juice. Whisk on a medium speed until you reach firm peak stage. When the syrup has reached the required temperature reduce the speed then pour the syrup in slowly. Increase the speed to maximum and continue to whisk until thick and glossy (about 2 – 3 minutes).
  5. Spread the meringue over the cooked base and filling. Use a spatula to make peaks. Place in a hot oven for no more than 5 minutes – 3 may be enough. You just want the peaks to take on some colour.

Mango Meringue Pie B

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Spud U Like?

The humble potato struggled for approval from us Brits when it was introduced to our country by Sir Francis Drake in the sixteenth century. The Irish soon twigged that the potato was easier to grow than barley or oats but it took a while for the English to see it as anything more than a novelty ingredient at best or simply downright dangerous. Things that grew underground during this period was generally regarded with a hefty dose of suspicion.

Gradually, this tuber gained admission to our dinner plates. By the mid twentieth century it would be inconceivable to serve a meal without some form of potato. However, it seems in the twenty-first century we are beginning to turn our backs on the spud once again as we eschew carbs and embrace quinoa and other ‘healthy’ grains.

Perhaps what is needed to reinvigorate our love for the potato is a rebrand. Out with the fat drenched stodge and in with something lighter and more elegant. The Italians found such a solution years ago in the form of gnocchi.

Uncooked potato gnocchi (Image: Clare Kitts)

Uncooked potato gnocchi (Image: Clare Kitts)

Until I met food writer and cookery tutor Ursula Ferrigno recently at The Kitchen Academy at Kingscote Estate, I regarded gnocchi very much as a dumpling – something heavy and leaden. For this reason gnocchi is not a dish I would usually order in a restaurant.

Kingscote Barn

The Kitchen Academy at Kingscote Estate (Image: Clare Kitts)

“Not many people know how to make good gnocchi,” conceded Jethro Carr, owner of The Kitchen Academy and Ursula’s co-tutor for the day. I nodded in agreement knowing that I was one of those people.

Kingscote CC Jan 16 A

Ursula Ferrigno

Fortunately, Ursula is not one of those people. Originally from Amalfi she has lived in the UK for many years. Her passion and expertise is firmly rooted in her Italian heritage. She showed our small group on the Cento per Cento cookery course how to make not one but three types of gnocchi. All slightly different but equally delicious and (most importantly) not in the least bit stodgy. In fact, so good are Ursula’s gnocchi they were the reason her husband proposed to her. The secret to wonderfully cloud-like potato gnocchi is apparently in the ingredients.

Studenti making gnocchi

Studenti making gnocchi

“Get the ingredients right and cooking is easy,” Ursula assured us.

The right ingredients are old, floury potatoes like King Edwards or Desiree (anything that you would usually mash) – the older the better as they contain more starch; fresh free range eggs and 00 flour (which means it has been milled twice to make it extra fine). Ursula told us that the latter should be Italian (rather than English) as it has a lower gluten content and therefore the end result is lighter. The potatoes should also be baked in their jackets before the flesh is scooped out and pushed through a sieve or potato ricer. This preserves the starch and intensifies the flavour. These ingredients are mixed together with some liberal seasoning (including aromatic nutmeg) to form a dough which is rolled by hand into long ‘sausages’ then cut into small dumplings. No fork indentations are required as this is evidently ‘old hat’.

Final result - gnocchi with ragu & Kingscote wine

Final result – gnocchi with ragu & Kingscote wine

It seems unlikely that the trilogy of potato, eggs and flour could produce something in the feather weight category. The little pillows even sank ominously when they were first introduced to the softly boiling water. But within a very short while they bounced to the top of the pan, all puffed and pert, ready to receive the ragu that had been gently simmering along side.

Semolina gnocchi with roasted tomatoes

Semolina gnocchi with roasted tomatoes

The two variations on the dumpling theme were ricotta gnocchi made with cheese rather than potato and semolina gnocchi, which are possibly the oldest form of this dish. Indeed a few days after the course I came across a recipes for semolina gnocchi in Mrs C S Peel’s Eat Less Meat Cookbook of 1916. The semolina is prepared in the same way you would make polenta then left to set before rounds are cut out, placed in a greased shallow dish, scattered with cheese and baked. Once again these were surprisingly light and far more delicious than the semolina pudding I remember from my primary school dinners. And proof, if ever you needed it, that our fascination with Italian food goes way back.

Eat Less Meat Cookbook Cover Gnocchi Recipe ELM

I believe one of the true marks of a good teacher is someone who manages to disseminate their knowledge in an interesting way and without seeming to lecture or look down on their studenti (as Ursula fondly referred to us). Ursula was at ease with our small group and I felt more like I was being cajoled by a favourite aunt than being taught in a student-teacher scenario. With her charming demeanour Ursula demystified the art of pasta and gnocchi making, peppering her tutorial with anecdotes about her nonna’s  approach to cooking and economising tips, like using off cuts of pasta dough to make malfatti (which means badly formed) for use in soups.

Making pasta

Making pasta

Tortelloni uncooked

Uncooked tortelloni

Kingscote CC Jan 16 I

Cooked tortelloni

We packed a lot into the morning from making gnocchi and pasta to an orange tart, all of which would form our lunch along with a glass of Kingscote Bacchus Chardonnay. The results were impressive (even if I do say so myself). The precariously thin pasta parcels miraculously retained their fillings and the ragu cuddled the gnocchi like a small child hugging it’s favourite fluffy toy. One of the big hits at lunch was the rotolo (a spinach and ricotta pasta roulade) which has the bonus of being a dish that could be easily prepared in advance and looked stunning once it had been grilled. Stodge had been duly banished. The culinary uses for the potato and semolina have definitely been revitalised in my mind.

Kingscote CC Jan 16 D

Grilled rotolo

Ursula will be returning to Kingscote to deliver more Italian cookery courses later this year. She also has a new book coming out in April on Sicilian food. In the meantime, if a culinary adventure in the Sussex countryside tickles your fancy you can find a list of the forthcoming courses at Kingscote on the cookery school website. The next one on 24 February, hosted by Jethro, is on sushi.

With thanks to The Kitchen Academy at Kingscote Estate who invited me to attend the Cento per Cento cookery course as their guest.

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Leek & Brie Flan

Leek & Brie Tart

I love a cheese board but always tend to go overboard when I buy a selection. As a consequence I’m often left with a few cheesy odds and ends once my guests have had their fill. I’m always looking for ways to use up these scraps and made this flan shortly after Christmas. You don’t have to remove every little bit of the rind (which is tricky if the cheese is particularly ripe. Remove the rind as soon as you take the cheese out of the fridge) but it doesn’t add anything to the dish so get rid of as much of it as possible.

Incidentally, the word flan is derived from the medieval ‘flawn’ or ‘flathon’ and (according to Mary Norwak in English Puddings) usually contains cream and eggs. But feel free to call this a tart if you prefer.


  • 50g butter
  • 500g leeks, washed, halved lengthways then finely sliced
  • 80g pancetta pieces (optional – leave out for vegetarian version)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 spring rosemary, finely chopped (about 1 tsp)
  • 75ml white wine
  • 100g creme fraiche
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 500g block puff pastry
  • 75- 100g Brie or Camembert (weight after rind is removed), roughly chopped
  • Salt, pepper and nutmeg to season


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200℃.
  2. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the leeks and cook gently until softened (around 10 minutes).
  3. If using the pancetta, fry in a little oil in a separate pan until crisp and golden. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper and reserve until required.
  4. Turn up the heat for the leeks then add the garlic, rosemary and wine to the pan. Allow the wine to bubble until it has more or less evaporated. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Mix the egg yolks with the creme fraiche. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir into the leeks with the pancetta (if using).
  6. Roll the pastry out to line a rectangular loose bottomed flan tin measuring approximately 20 x 30cm ensuring the pastry is large enough to cover the sides of the flan tin as well as the base. Spread the leek mixture on top of the pastry then scatter over the cheese.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is cooked and the top is golden. Serve immediately with a crisp, green salad.
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Whisky Galore!

I can’t profess to be a whisky drinker although I am coming around to the idea that it isn’t all poison. I do love the warmth it adds particularly when combined with citrus (think hot toddies). I also believe it has a place in the kitchen and here are two fairly simple recipes using it to it’s best effect.

Duck with a Marmalade & Whisky Sauce

Serves 2

Duck with Whisky & Marmalade Sauce

This is a quick version of Duck à l’Orange where I have used grapefruit instead of the traditional citrus. This produces quite a bitter sauce which I think compliments the rich duck. However, feel free to substitute this for orange or sweeten the sauce with a little honey.


  • 2 tbsp grapefruit or orange marmalade
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 2 tbsp whisky
  • A small sprig of rosemary, bruised with the blade of a knife
  • 1 pink grapefruit or a large orange
  • Honey to sweeten (optional)
  • 20g butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 duck breasts
  • Salt and pepper to season


  1. Preheat the oven to 220℃.
  2. Combine the marmalade, orange juice, whisky and rosemary in a small pan. Heat gently until the marmalade has melted stirring and bruising the rosemary as you go. Try not to let it boil. Leave to infuse whilst you prepare the rest of the dish.
  3. Using a sharp knife, remove the peel from the grapefruit or orange then segment the fruit. Reserve the segments until required.
  4. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat then fry the shallot until golden. Add the shallot to the marmalade sauce. Season the sauce and taste. If it’s too bitter for your liking add a little honey to sweeten it.
  5. Increase the heat of the frying pan then add the duck breasts skin side down. Cook for around 2 – 3 minutes or until the skin is nicely browned. Remove the duck from the pan and pour the excess fat into a small bowl. Place the breasts in a small roasting tray this time skin side up. Roast in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes.
  6. Whilst the duck is roasting deglaze the frying pan with the sauce then add the grapefruit or orange segments and keep warm over a gentle heat. When the duck is done (ideally it should be served pink) put the breasts on the serving plates. Remove the rosemary from the sauce and pour over the duck. I like to serve this dish with some swede mashed with a little blue cheese such as stilton and perhaps a green vegetable on the side.

Rice Pudding with Whisky Drenched Raisins and Caramelised Walnuts

Serves 2

Rice Pudding with Whisky Raisins 2

A gaelic twist on a classic.


  • 2 tbsp raisins (about 40g)
  • 2 tbsp whisky
  • 50g pudding rice
  • 25g golden caster sugar
  • 400ml milk (you could substitute the cows milk for almond milk)
  • Zest half and orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 25g walnut halves


  1. Several hours before you plan to make the rice pudding (or even the night before) soak the raisins in the whisky.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180℃.
  3. Lightly grease an oven proof dish. Combine the rice, 25g golden caster sugar, milk, orange zest and vanilla. Pour this into the prepared dish then stir in the whisky drenched raisins. Cover with foil then place in the oven for 1½ – 2 hours.
  4. Whilst the pudding is baking, put the remaining 25g caster sugar in a small pan with a tablespoon of water. Cook over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves then turns a rich, nutty brown. Immediately, tip in the walnut halves and coat them in the caramel. Spread the caramelised nuts on a baking tray lined with baking parchment or a silicone liner and allow to set. Once the mixture has hardened crush the caramelised nuts with a pestle and mortar, rolling pin or in a food processor if you prefer a finer texture.
  5. To serve, spoon the pudding into bowls and sprinkle over some of the crushed caramelised nuts. A bit of cold double cream wouldn’t go amiss either!

To find out more about the pleasures of drinking whisky pop over to the Lunar Life blog written by Rosemary Moon.

If you fancy having a crack at making your own marmalade you may be interested in some of the courses run by Vivien Lloyd. She’s running one in Sussex with Miranda Gore Brown on 23 February 2016.

With thanks to Gressingham Duck and Holy Art for kindly supplying the duck and marmalade for these recipes.

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Festive Food & Drink Book Round Up

Christmas is galloping up to greet us and with it will the inevitable gamut of food and drink books. The big hitters like Jamie and Nigella will undoubtedly top the cookbook sales this year but sometimes it’s nice to think outside the box (or book…) and perhaps consider an unfamiliar but equally fascinating or delicious author. Here are a few books that have caught my eye recently.

For those fond of a tipple or two….

I’m not a particular fan of cocktails either drinking or making them (they always seem like far too much hard work) so I really didn’t think Good Things To Drink With Mr Lyan and Friends would appeal to me. However, what Ryan Chetiyawardana has produced is a book filled with innovative cocktails that are easy to make and sometimes with surprising ingredients (chocolate wine anyone?). The Mulberry Smash which uses mulberry jam instead of a syrup is a fantastic idea and drink. Chetiyawardana is the man behind the award winning White Lyan and Dandelyan bars in London. He demystifies the cocktail making process by talking you through the essential equipment required (or providing suggestions for regular household alternatives) and basic techniques used in a funkily illustrated section at the front of the book. I also love the way he encourages you to experiment with other flavours and spirits. Divided into chapters based around different drinking occasions like ‘Alfresco Days’ or ‘Fireside Serves’ this would definitely suit someone who fancies themselves as a bit of a mixologist or even a cocktail making novice like me.


Good Things To Drink With Mr Lyan and Friends by Ryan Chetiyawardana (Frances Lincoln, £20)

Drinking beer with food is hardly a new concept but until relatively recently the practice had fallen by the wayside. The renewed interest in craft beers has rejuvenated this beverage from something to be supped by bearded CAMRA enthusiasts to an altogether more sophisticated drink. If you doubt this assertion then pick up a copy of Stephen Beaumont’s The Beer and Food Companion. This respected journalist explains the different characteristics of beer and how best to pair beer with food. There’s even a helpful chart at the back of the book with food and beer recommendations. This book extends beyond the ‘what you should drink guide’ (it’s not that prescriptive, which is a good thing as it avoids any snobbery around the subject that you often get with wine books). There are also insightful interviews with beer sommeliers and chefs from around the world as well as recipes for cooking with beer (I’m looking forward to trying the Hop ‘Hot Smoked’ Salmon and Beer Hollandaise). A must this year for any beer aficionados although I wouldn’t class myself as one and I really enjoyed this book.


The Beer and Food Companion by Stephen Beaumont (Jacqui Small, £25)

For the health conscious….

Most of us know that we should really eat less meat but for some people the thought of crossing into vegetarian territory is rather daunting. Nicola Graimes’ latest book, The Part-Time Vegetarian could offer a potential solution. The book promotes flexitarianism, that is a predominantly plant based diet that occasionally includes meat and seafood. There are sections on breakfasts and light meals through to weekday suppers and food for sharing with beautiful photography to accompany the recipes. I’m rather partial to vegetarian food myself so I find it hard to believe that any of Graimes’ delicious recipes could be enhanced further by the addition of meat or fish. But at least the option is there should you want it and it could be a very useful book if you are trying to convert someone to a more plant centred diet.


The Part-Time Vegetarian by Nicola Graimes (Nourish Books, £20)

If on the other hand you or someone you know has decided to ditch all animal based products then The Vegan Bible is definitely worth adding to the Christmas wish list. The author Marie Laforêt is a food blogger and photographer from France. As unlikely as it sounds that a country famous for force feeding geese should produce an authority on vegan cooking, Laforêt’s book is the best selling book on the subject in France and is now available in English via Grub Street. It contains over 500 enticing recipes on everything from making your own vegan cheese to the perfect vegan barbecue. There is even a chapter on vegan nutrition which provides advice on how to achieve a balanced diet. Each recipe is also headed with little pictorial code to let you know whether it is Quick, Easy or Economical to make. This is a great tool for anyone entering the realm of veganism for the first time or even a confirmed vegan looking to reboot their cooking repertoire.


The Vegan Bible by Marie Laforêt (Grub Street, £25)

For lovers of Italian food…

Mezzogiorno by Francesco Mazzei is a book to salivate over. Peppered with anecdotes about his life and inspiration and with beautiful imagery, it showcases the cuisine of southern Italy. The recipes are rooted in the cucina povera tradition (cooking of the poor) although they are rich with mediterranean flavours and colours so beloved of those of us living in less sunny climes. Mazzei is the chef-patron of L’Anima (and will soon be reopening Sartoria in London’s Mayfair) but his recipes are more grounded than haute cuisine. Rustic dishes like Orchiette with Turnip Tops sit comfortably alongside more adventurous offerings like Cod Marinated in Liquorice or Aubergine and Chocolate Cake. Being inspired by the south there is plenty of spice in the form of chillies and n’duja sausage plus there are some great veggie options too.


Mezzogiorno by Francesco Mazzei (Preface, £25)

Something a little more mature perhaps….

In a recent Food Programme podcast food writer Bee Wilson said she feels that sometimes food books are judged too quickly. She believes it is better to see how they stand the test of time, and I have to say I agree with her wholeheartedly. So the following recommendations are not ‘new’ books but I think they are the enduring kind that will be a pleasure to read and to cook from in the years to come.

The first is A Good Egg by Genevieve Taylor (2013). Whether you keep hens or just love eggs this is a inspirational seasonal cookbook for making the most of those ‘versatile heroes of the kitchen’ (as she likes to refer to eggs). Taylor has a relaxed style of writing and has produced some mouthwatering recipes from Fig & Oloroso Upside Down Cake to Malaysian Egg & Aubergine Curry. A great addition to any cookbook shelf particularly if you’re a hen owner like myself!

A Good Egg low res

A Good Egg by Genevieve Taylor (Eden Project Books, £15)

The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee (2014) was by far my favourite read in 2015. It charts the history of citrus fruits in Italy which have fascinated nobility and mafioso for centuries (although for very different reasons). I’m the first to admit that food history books can by a bit dry but Attlee’s narrative neither plods nor waffles and remains engaging and fascinating at all times. Even if you’re not that ‘into’ food this book would appeal to gardeners or travel enthusiasts (or be an ideal companion to Mezzogiorno above as it covers some of the same areas of Italy). She also won the Food Book of the Year in the 2015 Guild of Food Writers Awards which is praise indeed from her peers.


The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee (Penguin, £9.99)

And if you really want to go vintage check out the selection of pre-loved classic cookery books available from Refried Books.

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Chicken & Other Birds (Book Review)

We are a nation of breast lovers. Not the Page 3 variety. The chicken variety. Around 750 million of these birds are slaughtered every year to sate our hunger. But mostly it is the bland breasts we crave. The tastier thighs barely get a look it unless they are attached to a whole roast. And let’s not mention the livers….

You can probably gather from the start of this post that I am not the biggest fan of chicken. That is to say I’m not a fan of the mass produced birds that can be sold in supermarkets for as little as two for a fiver. It’s the cottonwool like pappiness as you chew it I can’t abide. It’s hardly surprising that supermarket chicken is so tasteless when you consider the average bird only ‘enjoys’ 56 days of life before it is dispatched. This is a shame because chicken can be a succulent and tasty meat, providing the creature it came from has been given the opportunity live beyond puberty before it dies. These chooks will cost a bit more but are worth the extra expense. You can usually find them at a decent butcher or through online retailers like Pipers Farm. For tastier options I find less intensively reared birds like duck and guinea fowl offer more flavour for your money.

If you want some inspiration for how to cook your birds you may find this book useful.

Recipe Chicken & Other Birds

What is the essence of the book?

Chicken & Other Birds is a collection of recipes based around different methods of cooking various fowl and poultry. These include chapters on roasting, oven baking, barbecuing, braising and smoking as well as a few extras such as recipes for stuffings and sauces.

About the author

Paul Gayler is a renowned chef who spent 22 years at The Lanesborough Hotel as their Executive Chef. He has also written numerous recipe books on everything from vegetarianism to sausages.

Who will like it?

If you like chicken but fancy stepping over to the darker side of poultry (in terms of the meat colour rather than quality) then you’ll like this book. It’s also great for anyone who likes entertaining as it contains plenty of interesting ways to present your feathered friends at the dinner table.

Who won’t like it?

Vegetarians or anyone who is happier buying their Murgh Makhna (a.k.a. Indian Butter Chicken) from the local take-away rather than making it themselves from scratch.

What do I like about the book?

The book begins with a chapter on Getting to know your birds which includes step by step instructions and photographs on how to joint a bird. For me this is probably the most useful part of the book. So often recipes advise you to ‘ask your butcher to joint the chicken’ which is fine if you are buying said bird from a butcher. The reality is that most people buy their chicken from the supermarket. If we forget (for the moment) about the way these chickens are reared, it is still far more economical to buy a whole chicken and joint it ourselves than paying for somebody else to do it for us. Think about all the wastage there must be to keep the supermarket’s stocked up with those flabby breasts, for which the consumer will pay a premium. Fortunately, Gayler provides plenty of delicious recipes for the other, less choice, cuts from birds such as Chicken Thighs with Feta, Lemon and Oregano. There are also plenty of recipes for duck, quail and guinea fowl as well as ‘World Classics’ like Chicken Chasseur.


What aspects am I not so keen on?

As you would expect from a chef of his stature the recipes are inventive and are beautifully photographed. However, I can’t help feeling that these images are a little too cheffy and as a consequence would put a less confident cook off or mean that the book is only referenced when a dinner party is in the offing.

Would I cook from it?

Probably. It would be easy to say there is no place for it in my recipe book collection as I have so many already but there are some lovely recipes in here and I love the fact it extends beyond the overrated chicken.

Where can you buy it?

Chicken & Other Birds by Paul Gayler (Jacqui Small, £19.99)

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Deliciously Wheat, Gluten & Dairy Free (Book Review)


What is the essence of the book?

As the title suggest this is a book dedicated to wheat, gluten and diary free cooking. Containing over 120 recipes the book includes sections on starters, fish, meat, vegetarian dishes and a substantial section on desserts and baking. There are also ‘Master Recipes’ for things like gluten free short crust pastry and homemade ricotta cheese (yes, really!).

About the author

Antoinette Savill has written many books on allergy-free cooking over her 25 year career after discovering that she herself is intolerant to gluten. Her other books include The Food Intolerance Bible and Lose Wheat, Lose Weight.

Who will like it?

Anyone with a food intolerance (particularly a newly discovered one) will like this book. Equally if you find yourself in a position where you have to cater for someone with a food allergy (as I did recently) you will find this book invaluable.

Who won’t like it?

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to eat anything then this may not be the first book you would reach for. That said, it seems that more and more people are being diagnosed with food intolerances these days so I would reiterate what I have said above.

What do I like about the book?

Fortunately, I can eat anything and I will confess that I was initially quite dismissive of this book when it landed on my doormat. However, having had a good rummage through its pages and cooking some of the recipes I can safely say that my opinions towards gluten/dairy free cooking have changed. I’d always felt rather sorry for coeliacs and had assumed that their diet must be quite restrictive and rather bland. This book proves that nothing could be further from the truth. The food looks appetising in the accompanying images and the sheer variety of innovative recipes is quite impressive. Frankly you could serve this food and nobody would be any the wiser as to whether or not it was gluten free. Some recipes do require specialist ingredients, such as rice flour, but many of these are now available from the supermarket. I also like the short introduction Savill includes at the beginning of the recipe.

What do I dislike about the book?

Real bread or rather lack of it. Sorry, but bread made with gluten free flour just isn’t the same. I made the Zucchini Bread (with pumpkin instead of courgettes) which was tasty but not nearly bready enough. Luckily for me I can eat the real stuff but I have increased sympathy for coeliacs who have to avoid it. That said, I wouldn’t use the lack of real bread recipes as an excuse not to buy the book.

Would I cook from it?

Already have. I cooked the Asian Prawn Fritters on p25 at my first supper club for two guests who are gluten and dairy intolerant. In retrospect I should have included them as part of the whole menu for all the guests, they were that good.

Where can you buy it?

Deliciously Wheat, Gluten & Dairy Free by Antoinette Savill (Grub Street, £14.99)

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How To Eat Outside (Book Review)

How to Eat Outside low res

I read with some dismay last weekend that the popularity of bonfire night is dwindling in favour of the highly commercialised halloween. I’ve never been a fan of the latter and have become more averse to this ghoulish ‘celebration’ since I had my children. It seems somewhat discordant to encourage our little ones to effectively beg for sweets at a time when childhood obesity rates are soaring.

I love bonfire night because it is a peculiarly English tradition. Now granted when you try to explain the reasons behind these festivities to a foreigner it probably seems equally macabre (if not more so) than halloween. The burning of a Guy must appear particularly barbaric to an outsider (never mind the fate that befell the real Guido Fawkes). Never the less there is something about the smell of wood smoke and gun powder in the air which is an essential autumnal ritual for me.

Whilst I may not share food writer Genevieve Taylor’s opinion that most of the best meals are eaten outside, I do have fond memories of the food served on bonfire night. Hot jacket potatoes served with a cube of hard butter that liquifies when it meets the smoky sweet flesh or steaming tomato soup served from a thermos. Sticky ginger bread and toffee apples. All of these make an appearance in this book in one guise or another and serve as a reminder that no celebration is complete, whether indoors or out, without a supply of real food.

What is the essence of the book?

How To Eat Outside is divided into five chapters covering all manner of outdoor eating events such as picnics, barbecues, bonfires, campfire cooking and wilderness eats. Each chapter includes recommendations on useful equipment to acquire for each scenario, which is great if you are an outdoor cooking virgin like me.

Eating Out, Bonfire Night - Genevieve Taylor (10th October 2014)

Eating Out, Bonfire Night – Genevieve Taylor (10th October 2014)

About the author

Genevieve Taylor is a food writer and stylist who lives in Bristol. She has published many books on food including A Good Egg (a particular favourite of mine) and also presents food films online.

Who will like it?

If like Genevieve you are an outdoorsy type and want to jazz up your food offering the next time you go camping, you’ll adore this book.

Who won’t like it?

Whilst I like being outdoors for exercise I can’t say I’m wild about al fresco eating in the UK. Sandy sandwiches, irritating buzzy things and generally freezing my butt off do not do it for me. If you share my sentiments about outdoor eating then you probably won’t be attracted to this book.

What do I like about the book?

Despite what I’ve just said, if any book was going to entice me from my warm, dry, cosy kitchen this would do it. Genevieve’s reassuring style makes these recipes seem eminently doable even given the vagaries of cooking over an open fire. She also provides lots of helpful tips on how to make cooking outside less stressful which are particularly handy if you have kids in tow. The photography is suitably scummy too.

Eating Out, Bonfire Night - Genevieve Taylor (10th October 2014)

Eating Out, Bonfire Night – Genevieve Taylor (10th October 2014)

Eating Out, Bonfire Night - Genevieve Taylor (10th October 2014)

Eating Out, Bonfire Night – Genevieve Taylor (10th October 2014)

What do I dislike about the book?

On the whole I think this is a well constructed book in terms of the way it has been written and presented. So whilst the subject of al fresco dining and cooking doesn’t immediately appeal to me, I do believe it would make a cracking present for someone who does like the outdoor way of life.

Would I cook from it?

Interestingly, I probably would although it’s unlikely I would cook outside (many of the recipes are prepared inside to begin with anyway). As Genevieve says “good, simple un-mucked-about-with food is absolutely central to life’s pleasures”. How To Eat Outside provides an array of tasty, easy to prepare recipes which I’m sure can be enjoyed indoors just as well as outdoors.

Where can you buy it?

How To Eat Outside by Genevieve Taylor is available from Amazon priced £13.49

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Duck in Pumpkin Seed Sauce

Serves 4

Duck with Pumpkin Seed Sauce and savoury pan de muerto

Duck with Pumpkin Seed Sauce and savoury pan de muerto

This recipe is an adaptation of Pechugas al Pipiàn in Lourdes Nichols’ The Complete Mexican Cookbook. The original version calls for chicken breasts but I’ve found it works well with duck. Made with tomatillos it is perhaps not the most appealing colour but don’t let that put you off. The finished result is delicious. Should you have any sauce left it’s great in quesadilla’s.

Many thanks to Gressingham who supplied the duck for this recipe and MexTrade for the tomatillos.


  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil plus a little more if required.
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 800g tin tomatillos
  • 12 sprigs fresh coriander
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ ground black pepper
  • Dried oregano
  • 4 duck breasts, skinned
  • A large pinch of sugar
  • 2 green chillies, finely chopped
  • 50 – 100ml water
  • 100g ground pumpkin seeds plus 1 tbsp to garnish
  • Salt & pepper to season


  1. First prepare the tomatillo sauce (salsa verde). Heat 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil in a deep frying pan or saucepan. Fry one of the onions and one of the crushed garlic cloves until soft but not coloured. While they are cooking place the tomatillos and their liquid, fresh coriander, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ ground black pepper and a pinch of oregano in a food processor. Blitz until smooth then add to the onion and garlic mix. Simmer for around 25 – 30 minutes until the sauce has reduced slightly and has thickened. Reserved until required.
  2. Mix the remaining two crushed cloves of garlic with ½ tsp salt and a large pinch of sugar. Rub this into the duck breasts while you heat 2 tbsp oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Brown the garlicky duck in the oil. Add the remaining onion, chillies, a pinch of oregano and 50ml water. Simmer gently for 30 mins turning the breasts from time to time. Add more water if the pan looks dry.
  3. Add the salsa verde and ground pumpkin seeds. Return to a simmer and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes, turning the breasts frequently. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds just before serving. Serve with rice, refried beans and guacamole.

Duck with pumpkin seed sauce 2

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Historical Dining Rooms (Restaurant Review)

Behind an unassuming black door to the rear of the Star and Dove pub in Bristol there is some culinary alchemy at play. To enter this realm of skuets and lozenges I first have to pull the handle of a Victorian butlers bell. As I hear the muffled jangle of the bell within I half expect Lurch to answer the door. But no, I am greeted by a delightful young woman who bears no resemblance whatsoever to Lurch or any other member of the Addams family.

HDR interior

As I step over the threshold into the Historical Dining Rooms I am aware that I am leaving 21st century Bristol behind and entering an era where dinner was more of an event than a ready made meal popped in the microwave so often served today. Mahogany coloured panelling, which property developers often discard without a second thought, adorns the walls of this Victorian building. Everything from the antique furniture through to the hand painted wall paper and the muted lighting conveys the feel of a Regency dining hall minus the stern faced personnel found plonked in the corner of such rooms in England’s stately homes and museums.

HDR Interior 2


So even before I peruse the Bill of Fare it’s clear that Leigh Pascoe, Tim Denny and Matt Duggan, the chefs behind the Historical Dining Rooms, take the historical provenance of food very seriously indeed.

Roof top garden

Roof top garden

Capturing the flavours of the past and keeping a keen eye on the seasons are so important they have a roof top garden where rare and largely forsaken varieties of vegetables and herbs are grown to supply the restaurant. This includes Rat-Tailed Radishes (favoured by Queen Elizabeth 1 as a digestive) and a Victorian delicacy, Daubenton Kale. I’m initially introduced to this as an hors d’oeuvre served with a frothy glass of Mrs Beeton’s lemonade (a deceptively innocuous cocktail with the propensity I’m sure to knock you for six if more than a couple are consumed). The crispy leaves sprinkled with instant vinegar powder arrive at my table in an old fashioned toast rack. I can safely say it is the most original and possibly tastiest salt and vinegar crisp I’ve ever eaten.

Rat Tailed Radish

Mrs Beetons Lemonade

Mrs Beeton’s Lemonade

But before my historically inspired culinary journey can begin I am instructed to refresh my hands in Thieves Vinegar, a fragrant recipe devised by Hannah Glasse in 1747 infused with herbs from their roof top garden. I regularly remind my children to wash their hands before dinner but had never considered the ceremonial significance of the act. It was common practice among the ancient Greeks and with medieval European nobility but has largely fallen by the wayside, except evidently in England. I have to confess it’s hard not to feel a little affronted when, as an adult, you are asked wash you hands although they did indeed feel refreshed and not in the least bit vinegary.



Rather than being rooted in one era the menu skips around the centuries. The initial course of ‘Snacks’ commences in the mid fifteenth century with the enigmatically entitled roasted milk (a mild, milky mousse topped with honeycomb from their own hives which also live on the roof); dips back to the late fourteenth century with a crunchy Lozenge (an early form of pasta, in this instance fried until crisp) topped with cream cheese and crushed long pepper; then zips forward to the eighteenth century with a Regalia of Cowcumber (a delicious warm roundel of breaded cucumber, served with lamb bacon and red wine). It’s worth mentioning here that the bread served at the same was accompanied by homemade whey butter and dripping topped with crushed crackling. Why more restaurants don’t serve bread with dripping (an underrated spread in my opinion) is beyond me. Dripping has a savoury intensity you simply don’t get with butter. If you haven’t tried dripping on toast or warm bread you haven’t lived.



But I digress. Those of a nervous disposition when it comes to eating offal should really try the Skuets. The original dish from Eliza Smith (author of the Compleat Housewife) dates back to 1753 and featured sweetbreads skewered with bacon then grilled and served with a fricassee of sheep’s tongue. At the Historical Dining Rooms the veal sweetbreads are served cunningly disguised as small sausages and arrive in a glass presentation box shrouded in smoke. As for the fricassee of sheep’s tongue your tastebuds would have no idea that they had been metaphorically licked by shaun the sheep so tender and un-tongue-like was this morsel. If you need convincing that historical food is not all stodgy pease pudding or over spiced ‘rotten’ meat then Skuets would do the job. This dish is highly accomplished in its execution and is an absolute pleasure to feast on visually and literally. (Sadly whilst the subtle lighting works wonders for the overall ambience of the restaurant it did me little favour when taking photos. These images really do not do the food justice!).

Pea Mousse

Pea mousse pre starter

The flavours Leigh and his team employ are robust but not over powering. The pickled components such as the black walnuts and wild garlic kernels in the Stockfish course are piquant without being astringent. The candy striped vanilla and chocolate sponge encasing a delicately flavoured green tea ice cream in the manner of an Arctic Roll (but far more sophisticated than Captain Birdseye envisaged it) served with a whipped chocolate cream contains an appropriate level of sweetness. The salty porkiness captured in a cloud like pea mousse seemed impossibly tasty for something so light and was perfect as a pre starter. The wines were also beautifully matched to each course and were largely English too. The whole meal was served at a considerate pace and with impeccable grace with sufficient time allowed between each course to reflect on the culinary experience. And everything is presented with the panache befitting a top end restaurant. Something of a surprise perhaps when you consider the restaurant’s humble location.

Rum Syrup Jug Wine

If time travel were possible would I really want to do it? There are so many questions I would like to ask, events I would like to witness and forgotten foods I would like to taste. Yet there is a certain mystique about the past. Surely, one of the reasons we find history so alluring is the fact there is so much we don’t really know? It’s exciting to interpret people’s vague words and to guess at what they really meant particularly in the kitchen. The Historical Dining Rooms prove that it is possible to re-imagine the flavours of the past in a very 21st century fashion whilst reminding us that some ingredients (and customs) are well worth revisiting.

With thanks to Leigh Pascoe and his team who allowed me to dine as their guest at The Historical Dining Rooms.

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