Cooking The Books: a Review of Jamie Oliver’s ‘Everyday Super Food’

I was pleased about reviewing this book.  I could be confident that the recipes cooked wouldn’t result in me bulging out of my trousers as can be the case when I’m testing recipes. All the dishes looked around the 500 calorie mark which calorie wise would fill me up without jeopardising my waistline.

We really really enjoyed cooking from this book.  It’s beautiful to look at and the photos are so tempting – it was fun picking dinners and largely fun cooking them too.  I would say that it’s more of a weekend cookbook – although the recipes are easy they are a little fiddly and you might not be in the mood for that after a long day at work.  My other caveat is that the recipe descriptions occasionally gloss over a process without giving  full instructions.  For example – when making samosas you are told to put your filling onto the filo pastry and ‘make samosa shapes’.  Well it ain’t that easy! Even after watching a few videos on YouTube I was still struggling! So we had samosa lumps.  Oh yes, my very final piece of advice is use more spices than Jamie Oliver suggests. Our curries would have been a bit bland if we hadn’t.

I can honestly say every recipe we cooked was a blinder, so sorting the 8 we cooked into ‘favourites’ and ‘runner ups’ is going to be hard, but here we go.

The Favourites

  1. Harissa roasted aubergine, pomegranate and pistachios – this dish was MAGICAL! Firstly it looked magical with the jewelled effect of the pomegranate seeds, but the taste was exquisite, the smoky aubergine with the sweetness and tartness of the pomegranate was something else.
  2. Skinny carbonara, smoky bacon, peas, almond and basil.  You can’t argue with a guilt free carbonara.  I’d go as far as to say this was better than the heavy overly creamy classic.  The pea puree, bacon and almond provided all the flavour you needed without the heaviness of the traditional cream. And you still get a creamy kick from the yoghurt and egg that are thrown in at the end.
  3. Beef, onion and sweet potato samosas – I was delighted that we actually made samosas (however lumpy they were!) – what an achievement.  And the spicy meat mix was so tasty.
  4. Delicious squash daal and  special fried eggs – I loved this – the egg was fried in garlic, chillies, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves – and I agree  – the egg really was special  – it was alive with flavour.

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    Harissa roasted aubergine, pomegranate and pistachios
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Skinny carbonara with smoky bacon, peas, almonds and basil
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Beef, onion and sweet potato samosas
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Squash daal and special fried eggs

The Runners Up

Truthfully, nothing really deserves to be a runner up, I should really have done 8 favourites!

  1. Mighty mushroom curry – a superbly creamy and spicy curry – absolutely no sorrow here about having no meat – the flavour and wholesomeness of the dish was quite enough.
  2. Seared golden chicken, mint sauce and spring veg fest.  This was gorgeous and fresh and I loved the creamy saltiness of the feta that was sprinkled on at the end. My only complaint is where are the carbs? I was still hungry after.
  3. Crumbed pesto fish, roasted cherry vines, spuds and greens – just plain excellent – fish and veg can be a pretty bland and virtuous dish.  Not this one! The crunchy breadcrumbed pesto took all the worthiness of this dish away and twisted it into something exciting.
  4. Bombay chicken and cauli, rice and spinach – this was very tasty and cauliflower roasted in cumin and black mustard seeds was a revelation.
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Mighty mushroom curry
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Golden seared chicken, mint sauce and spring veg fest
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Crumbed pesto fish, roasted cherry vines, spuds and greens

 

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Bombay chicken and cauli, rice and spinach

Writing this up has made me extremely sad that this review is over and that I have to move onto another cookbook – Jamie Oliver Everyday Super Food I will return to you I promise! I’ve been flicking through and there are too many recipes I still want  cook.  Every recipe we tried was inspiring, colourful, beautiful, delicious and healthy.  You can’t really ask for more.

Raising The Bar on my Snapping Skills: Food Photography Workshop

On Saturday I rocked up at Clapham Studios  in Lavender Hill, London to attend a food photography workshop. I had no idea what to expect – but as I’m trying to build a career in food marketing I figured it would be pretty useful.

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Carole sets up for the morning session

Pictured above was our lovely tutor Carole.  In the morning we focussed on technical talk. Aperture, shutter speed, how to make the most of lighting, why it’s important to use a tripod, colour theory etc. Ok this totally was not my favourite bit of the course, but it really was bloody useful.

Next up Aimee the second tutor on the course styled a cake for us, creating a scene for us to photograph.  The cake (a four tier butternut squash cake – yum) got adorned with beautiful flowers and the background was made up using autumnal influences, ingredients from the cake and vintage accessories – so things like ivy, leaves, apples, blackberries and butternut squash.  It was very informative to see how Aimee put the display together.  I’ve always been a bit unimaginative and literal about my food photography  –  for me it’s just an aerial photo of a plate of food and job done!  I now know better.

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An autumnal cakey scene

After a lot of snapping of this styled piece we were treated to a very tasty lunch of homemade quiche and salads and obviously great big slabs of cake! Get in!   Lunch was a nice opportunity to get to know everyone in the group – we had bloggers, a personal chef, a pastry maker, a cookbook writer. It was really interesting to hear about everyone’s motivation for doing the course.

The afternoon session was the most fun because we got to be creative. We started with Carole demonstrating a flat lay – i.e. – creating a scene on the floor which you photograph from above.  Carole talked us through her creative thought process as she laid out her accessories – making sure to create some layers and movement within the scene. Then it was our turn and we were given free rein to put together our own scene . I got very enthusiastic and did three!

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Flat lay 1
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Flat lay 2

 

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Flat lay 3

The final part of the class was doing a three dimensional side view picture, so again the tutor showed us what to do – and here layering and getting the sizes of accessories in an eye pleasing order was particularly important.  This was my attempt below.

 

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Side view

The course gave me so many ideas about how to set up pictures and to be indulgent about really taking my time to get it right.  I’ve been practising since and I’m pretty pleased with the outcome! Have a look below.  I think my photos are really starting to look professional. I’ve also been shopping for accessory nick nacks on amazon and in charity shops – hence the nice tea towels and vintage crockery. And I bought a white box with lighting (very cheap online) which also makes a big difference to how bright my photos look.

 

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Jamie Oliver beef and sweet potato samosas
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Jamie Oliver skinny carbonara

If you’d like to find out more about the courses that Carole and Aimee run here are the links to their websites:

 

http://www.mademoisellepoirot.com/

http://www.twiggstudios.com/

 

A Tremendous Tour of Trellick Tower With Open House London

If you’ve not heard of it, Open House London is an annual festival where buildings and homes of architectural interest are open to the public to have a browse.  Sounds excellent, but it’s actually really difficult to get into any of the buildings! The best ones you have to sign up to weeks in advance online.  We failed to do this. However on Sunday we thought we’d chance our arm (s) and hang around outside the iconic Trellick Tower near Portobello Market and see if we could get on a tour anyway.

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Beautiful graffiti at the foot of Trellick Tower
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Precariously balanced graffiti artists

By a complete stroke of luck, we got squeezed on a tour.  But by now my expectations were low.  It’s such a striking building from the outside, but when you get close to the building the area around it is very run down and the building itself looked pretty grotty and unloved. Was it worth looking inside?

However, first good sign – our tour guide was sprightly, clever and fun, and in the lift we got, up to the 18th floor.  And wow! We were greeted with a pop of bright yellow! There was shining yellow tiling everywhere – all around the lift shaft and up the corridors.  It was so cheering and contemporary – it looked amazing.  I couldn’t believe the tiles looked so good after over 40 years (Trellick was built in 1972).

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Apparently all the other floors have different coloured tiles.  The Brutalist architect Goldfinger chose to use these upbeat tiles and a lot of big windows in the corridors to ensure residents got a good burst of light in their flats and would feel uplifted as they walked down the corridors to their homes. Very progressive thinking for social housing in the 70s.

And excitement, we were going to to see two examples of Trellick flats.  I love nosing around people’s places, especially if I can steal interior ideas.

First of all we walked into a one bedroom flat (which was as it turned out owned by the tour guide) – it was very compact: small bedroom, small lounge, small kitchen – but it was rather lovely and most importantly the views of London were stunning!

Next up we went into a three bedroom flat, the friendly owner and his enthusiastic fluffy dog greeted us at the top of the stairs.  It was an attractive, tasteful flat packed with great vintage furniture and most of the rooms had incredible views.

I was particularly enamoured with the kitchen – and was keen to find out how I could replicate the yellow kitchen cupboards.  Cue me bothering the owner who kindly explained how to achieve the look (Ikea cupboards and Farrow and Ball paint if you are interested).

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Kitchen envy
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Best bedroom view ever
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Me having a vertigo moment – looking over the balcony at 18 floors was frightening
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View of the basketball court from 31st floor – don’t fall!
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Iconic stained glass windows – all a bit Doctor Who!

In just half an hour I felt that we’d been transported into another world! It was a very interesting, enjoyable and even better – completely free – tour.  We felt privileged that the tour guide and his neighbour so generously gave up their time to let us trample through their homes.

 

10 Great Places to Eat in Manchester

I’ve been doing A LOT of eating in Manchester this year.  Jamie and I made it our mission to eat in as many of the best restaurants, supper clubs and cafes in Manchester as we could.

Here’s a little countdown of some of our faves from 2016 in no particular order:

1. Yazu, Chinatown

This is a tiny, very homely and simple restaurant that sells beautiful honest Japense food. We had stunning sashimi and tempura, and the atmosphere was delightfully low key and pleasant.

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Sashimi and veg tempura

2. Rudy’s Pizzas, Ancoats

Do incredible stonebaked pizzas.   The white pizza below called Ancozzese, with wild broccoli and tuscan sausage, was sensational.  Rudy’s is a gorgeous and effortlessly trendy glass fronted venue in a pretty square in Ancoats.  The staff were lovely and the venue was buzzing.

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Ancozzese pizza on left, and jolly Jim the owner on the right

3. Hawksmoor, Deansgate

This is a glamourous art deco venue and they serve fabulous meat – steaks are the focus although other options are available.  The service is impeccable and it feels like a treat being there.

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Steak and chips!

4. Trove, Levenshulme

I love going to Trove just for a coffee or lunch.  But they also do brilliant supper clubs.  We recently went to the Maple supper club – every dish had maple syrup in it.  It was mouth wateringly good food.  In the photo below, on the left are homemade pittas, falafels, pickles and courgette salad and on the right is lemon almond tart with balsamic strawberries.  I didn’t want the food or the evening to end.

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Falafels, pitta and pickles and the best lemon almond tart

5. The Buttery, Levenshulme

I met Neil Buttery when he was running a pastry class with Cracking Good Food.  As he was such an ace pastry chef I wanted to try his new restaurant, the Buttery.  It’s an intimate venue, with arty vibes and a welcoming atmosphere and just damn good pies, beers and wines and all at very good prices.

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Jamie downing some top notch ale at The Buttery

6. El Gato Negro, King Street

This classy new venue opened at the beginning of the year.  The interior is elegant and stylish and their tapas is equally excellent.  Along with some other wonderful dishes, I ate the best tortilla of my life – moist, rich and herby.

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El Gato Negro – it’s just classy

7. Lunya, Deansgate

We popped in here for a cheeseboard one evening.  Lunya feels so spanish.  Sitting up at the bar (which is next to their deli), Lunya felt alive with hustle and bustle, and the cheeseboard was divine.  We came back a few days later to try their restaurant upstairs, but the atmosphere just wasn’t the same as the buzzy excitement of the bar area.

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More cheese please!

8. The Walled Garden Vegetarian Supper Club, Whalley Range

In May I went to Eddie Shepherd’s supper club for the second time.  He’s a charming host and his 14 courses of experimental and delicious vegetarian food were just as good as the first time.

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Eddie’s experimental vegetarian cooking

9. Brassica Grill, Heaton Moor

On hearing that Brassica Grill had been nominated for a Manchester Food and Drink Festival Award , we were keen to try it out.  Whilst my starter and main were good, they weren’t memorable, what stood out was the delightfully relaxed and friendly atmosphere of the restaurant and the staff were adorable.  AND most importantly my pudding was off the scale: raspberry souffle and lemon thyme ice-cream.

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A raspberry souffle to die for

10. The Allotment Vegan Restaurant, Stockport Old Town

The recently opened Allotment vegan restaurant is one of the best meals I’ve had this year. Taking vegan food to another level.  It’s high end food, I’d say on a parr with the quality of food served at the French.  The shiitake terrine with berries blew my mind, the creamy rich pate complemented by the sweet sharpness of the berries.  And the aubergine chargrilled ‘steak’ was so beautifully seasoned it would give any meat steak a run for it’s money.

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Shiitake terrine and aubergine steak

And ten of the places I still want to eat (I could easily make this a list of 30 if I wanted to – there’s too many good restaurants!)

  1. Grafene, King Street
  2. The Refuge at the Palace Hotel, Oxford Road
  3. The Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom
  4. The White Hart, Saddleworth
  5. Where the Light Gets in, Stockport (due to open soon)
  6. Hispi, Didsbury Village
  7. San Juan, Chorlton
  8. Grays Larder, Chorlton
  9. El Rincon, Deansgate
  10. Manchester House, Spinningfields

What are your favourite places to eat in Manchester? Please comment below so I can add them to my wish list!

 

Cooking the Books Retro Style – a Review of Nigella’s Classic ‘How to Eat’

Nigella’s How to Eat is considered to be a cooking bible for many.  It’s held up for it’s beautiful prose and her ability to empower the reader to cook confidently and intuitively. It’s also known for being good for explaining classic recipes in a really straight forward way – roasts, stews, pastry, victoria sponges, trifles – it’s all there.

I fully expected to be wowed by this 1998 legendary cookbook. It had been sat on my shelf for two years untouched apart from a stunning mushroom ragout I made as part of the 69-er cookbook challenge. Neglecting this book had actually been more to do with it not having any photos than anything else. But I felt duty bound to review read it as part of my  ‘Cooking the Books’ series because I’m such a big Nigella fan.

My Nigella experience until this point has been a heady one.  I’ve been cooking her recipes for over seven years and everything I’ve ever cooked (with perhaps two exceptions) has been not just a success, but a true triumph.  Her recipes combine incredible and exotic flavours with an idiot proof recipe – allowing me to be lavished with praise by work colleagues and dinner party guests in exchange for very little effort on my part.  Favourites included the toffiest banoffee cheesecake, the sweetest, juiciest egyptian tomato salad, a fragrant courgette and lime curd cake, a dense chocolate guinness cake and the laziest, but most impressive cherry cheesecake. In fact I could fill the page with my Nigella wonder dishes – she’s done a lot for me (and my popularity!).

But How To Eat was a different deal.  It was classic food (little of her more recent fun stuff) and if I’m honest a little on the dull side!  And the sprawling way it’s written and designed makes it an uphill battle – there’s Nigella ramblings about general cooking and eating advice, interspersed with haphazard recipes on the same page and with NO photos.  I really wanted to like it, but I found it a drag.  However as you can see below we did still enjoy some really tasty food so I won’t knock it too much! I guess I just didn’t find it punchy and inspiring like her other books.

The Favourites

  1. Pea orzotto – effectively pea risotto made with pearl barley instead of rice with loads of cream and butter! Unsurprisingly it was creamy and rather tasty.
  2. Mushroom risotto – just an easy and delicious risotto with some porcini mushrooms thrown in.
  3. Lebanese moussaka – not a moussaka as we know it. In fact barely anything like it.  A stew of tomatoes, chickpeas and aubergines with cinnamon and all spice. Earthy, sweet, spicy – a great dinner.
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Pea orzotto, mushroom risotto, lebanese moussaka

The Disappointments

  1. Vegetable Curry – as curries go this was again ‘alright’ but quite bland for a curry. The raita saved it, but it wasn’t even Nigella’s.
  2. Sausages and onion and wine gravy – I think we didn’t help ourselves by buying crap sausages – butchers’ ones would have made a big difference.  The gravy was just very average if I’m honest – for the 30 mins of simmering you would expect it to pack a punch and it didn’t.
  3. Fish pie – again, I thought – a Nigella fish pie, she’ll take it to another level.  She didn’t.  It had some porcini mushrooms in it which I thought might spice things up, but nope, there was nothing special about this pie.
  4. Beer braised beef – I thought this would be amazing – it was just quite nice.  The prunes were a lovely touch though!
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Vegetable curry, sausages and onion and wine gravy, beer braised beef, fish pie

I’m glad I did this How To Eat immersion, just so I can say I’ve read it as it’s held in such high regard.  But it’s definitely not a book for contemporary recipe inspiration! Yes it was written in 1998 so you can’t expect it to be that modern, but Nigella’s Domestic Goddess was written in 2000 just two years later and is bursting with adventurous, inspiring bakes that still stand up in 2016.  Clearly things got better on the recipe front for Nigella after this first book.  But that’s my slightly negative experience of the book, if you like Nigella’s writing style and want to learn how to cook some classics in an idiot proof way – fill your boots!