Cooking The Books: Dale Pinnock’s ‘The Medicinal Chef’

I’m a sucker for a good healthy cookbook, but the recipes need to be delicious too.  On first impressions the title Medicinal Chef is a bit off-putting – it sounds rather clinical and dull, but in fact it really delivered.  The recipes were not only incredibly fresh and tasty, but they were quick and easy to knock together.

Here are the favourites:

  1. Prawn and salmon skewers and citrus quinoa salad – this was such a hit for us.  I thought it looked a bit plain in the cookery book, but it was far from it.  The quinoa was mixed with parsley and the juice and zest of a lime and really lit up the meal.
  2. No cheese chocolate cheesecake – made with avocados, a nut base and honey instead of sugar.  It was not particularly sweet, but once you got your head around that you could enjoy the subtle earthy flavours of the cake and feel smug for being so healthy.
  3. Immune-boosting king prawn curry – as good as any curry we ate in Goa.
  4. Sweet potato and spinach curry – a really delicate curry – and I loved the toasted almonds on top.
  5. Grilled mackerel with sauted fennel and leek – the photo of this below does not convey how good this dish was.  Fresh, fragrant – you felt virtuous while you were eating it but thoroughly satisfied by the excellent flavours.
Healthy 2
Prawn and salmon skewers with citrus quinoa salad
Healthy 3
No cheese chocolate cheesecake
Healthy 4
Immune-boosting king prawn curry
Healthy 10
Sweet potato and spinach curry
Healthy 5
Grilled mackerel with sauted fennel and leek

And as we liked absolutely everything we cooked, here are the also very goods:

  1. Vegetable crumble with cheesy oat topping – a great way of using up all the leftover veg in our fridge.  I thought the oaty cheese crumble mix on the top was genius.  Especially the oaty twist.
  2. Thai green vegetable curry – our motivation again was to get rid of old veg and what a delicious way to do it.
  3. Mackerel marinated with beetroot and horseradish – I choose not to put a photo up as it looked revolting. It did however taste very nice – the horseradish with the beetroot was a great blend and I love the taste of mackerel.  And did you know mackerel is super cheap?
Healthy 6
Vegetable crumble with cheesy oat topping
Healthy 7
Thai green vegetable curry

Dale Pinnock’s Medicinal Chef may not be as sexy and on trend as Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food, but is the same premise.  Delicious, easy to make healthy food.  I marginally prefer Jamie Oliver’s book – perhaps it is because the photography is so good and the dishes jump out at you from the page.  But Dale’s recipes are quicker to make and require only a few ingredients – so I’d big Dale up for convenience.  I’d thoroughly recommend giving Medicinal Chef a go – I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s helped keep my waistline in check in the lead up to Christmas!

Chateaux, Pigs, Good Cheese and Sexy French Men: Five Memorable Days in the Loire Valley

I knew the writing course I’d signed myself up to would be good.  The description of the workshop seduced me on the spot.

Five days of scoffing french food; a truffle hunt; local food market and winery visits; accommodation in a renovated 16th century mansion – now a hotel, and I would be taught by two accomplished food writers.  Everything about the course screamed out to me – food is an art form in France and I was desperate to immerse myself in their food culture.

Over the course of the trip I rammed smelly cheeses, light wines, sweet radishes, quiches and saucisson down my gullet.  And let’s not forget the superb patisserie.  There was very little that passed my lips that wasn’t exquisitely fresh and locally sourced.  And eating was always delightfully social.  Long breakfasts around the fire in the morning, chatty picnic lunches between classes, brilliant nights out in local restaurants.  The whirlwind of gorgeous meals and the French reverence towards eating that went with it cultivated the perfect environment to learn the craft of food writing.

For all of us the truffle hunt was a huge highlight. Which had a lot more to do with the the handsome and energetic truffle hunter Louis Houette than his descriptions of the complex ecosystems of truffle farming.

French: Truffle Hunter
Louis the truffle hunter

Next in the hierarchy list of interest on this trip were the excitable piggies Speedy and Gonzales – Louis discovered he couldn’t actually use them for truffle hunting because although they’d find the truffles, they would just eat them. So he decided to keep them as pets/tourist attractions.

French: Truffle Pig
Speedy the pig

Following on from the piggies here’s the order of my remaining truffle hunt highlights:

  • Louis’ Border Collie, Touk Touk – the true truffle hunter – a wildly affectionate and obedient dog who can sniff out truffles from 50 metres away.
  • The two inquisisitive and friendly horses on the farm who nearly knocked me over in their enthusiasm to get to know me.
  • The magical truffle butter and baguette we sampled at the end – what a creamy heady buttery hit that was.
  • And lastly the elegant Houette family chateau that we nosed around while eating our buttered treats.
French: Baguette and Truffle Butter
Butter and shaved truffle on baguette
French: Chateau
The Houette family home – I have chateau envy

On another day we were sent out with notepads to Chinon’s food market.  We were to observe and jot down what we saw – colours, shapes, sounds, movements, people and events. I have never approached writing like this.  For me my writing process involves a rambling memory based effort, so I rather liked having to tune in and focus all my senses on this experience.

And after two hours of lots of listening, watching and scribbling, I returned icy toed and numb fingered to Hotel Diderot to share my writing with the group and to eat an enormous picnic of our joint purchases.  14 people sharing local cheese, sausages, breads, fruit, salads, rottiserie chicken and patisserie creates a spectacular spread.  If only I could lunch like that every day!

On the Winery visit we were yet again dazzled by a sexy french man.  Sebastian (below) runs Chateau du Petit Thouars with his father.  He was literally bouncing with enthusiasm and humour.  Just like our truffle tour, I found myself rather more interested in Sebastian himself than his talk of appellation and soil composition.  The outing was completed with a wine tasting and pot eu feu (beef stew) and tarte au verginon (apple tart with wine jelly) for lunch – the experience made all the more interesting by Sebastian’s flamboyant hosting style. The six wines were delicate and delicious  – the most popular being an 8 euro cremant – a sparkling wine that tastes just like champagne.  My workshop buddies stocked up while I cursed myself for flying with hand luggage only.

French: Sexy Sebastian
Sexy Sebastian – I didn’t really listen to anything educational he said but his enthusiasm and humour were infectious
French: Chateau in the sun
Sebastian’s chateau – he lives in this enormous chateau with his wife, two kids and his dad!
French: La tarte au vigneron
La tarte au vigneron – made with jellied wine, this tastes quite like a boozy trifle but with a delicate crispy pastry bottom

My time in France was such an adventure. If only all learning could be so hedonistic.  The interesting activities, delicious food and the nurturing and safe environment created by the teachers Dianne Jacob and Jamie Schler enabled us all to learn with ease and excitement.  I’ve come back to England inspired.  I feel focussed and confident about how to improve my writing. And the passion and intelligence of the French food artisans we met and the quality of the food that they produced has made me very sure that I need to discover and blog about people making great food in my area.