N is for Noodles

Cutting it fine on the November challenges…  Jamie Oliver Food Revolution challenge number two:

“N is for November, and nectarines, and nutmeg… we want to see your recipes for dishes beginning with the letter N or using ingredients with the letter N.”

N for Noodles

Noodles are such a great store-cupboard staple.  This dish is a classic example of how you can make beautiful meals by raiding the freezer (broad beans, chillies, chicken breast, broccoli) and cupboards (udon noodles, miso, togarashi and/or furikake, garlic). There’s almost always enough there to make a similar dish.

Whether fresh or dried, egg or vermicelli, gluten free or even acorn, they’re as versatile as pasta and worth exploring.

I think I need to make some from scratch; new year’s resolution perhaps…

Holiday Traditions

November challenge #3 for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolutionaries: ‘Holiday Traditions’.  I instantly imagined this as a bit of a montage as I’m completely smitten with all things Christmas.

So, holiday traditions and food for your family gatherings… Easy.  I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have a ‘Christmas Book’ and start planning a couple of months in advance (you have to if you’re going to make all the good stuff from scratch…).  Heavily booze-soaked Christmas cake and sloe gin are well worth the early effort.

Let’s start with…

  • Hampers.  Who doesn’t love a hamper? I’d use an interrobang at this point if only my keyboard supported it.  I’m not sure I’m even too fussed what it contains, a hamper is a both exciting and practical whatever the festivity.

xmas hamper

It’s even more special when someone makes up a hamper from scratch for you.

Next on the agenda;

  • Christmas Ales.  I love dark, heavy and flavoursome beers and it’s a real treat when all of the special festive brews hit the shelves.  Even better if it’s Belgian.  Here’s a favourite of mine.

Christmas Beer

  • Brussel sprouts (Brassica oleracea) on the stalk.  For some crazy reason, you only seem to be able to buy sprouts on their stalk at Christmas.  What’s with that?

Brussel sprouts (Brassica oleracea)

  • Christmas Butter.  Useful stuff for poultry of any kind.  You can make it well in advance and pop it in the freezer.  I usually use cranberries, orange and lemon zest, sage and all the generally festive ingredients.

festive butter

  • Santa Sustenance.  I suspect I might get a little dreary about this tradition one day, but hopefully the children will have sussed it all out well before then.  That said, the port is particularly welcomed by the time I get to finally indulge.  Do reindeer even eat nuts?

Treats for Santa

  • Hash.  Continuing the leftover theme, I honestly look forward to boxing day more than the main event.  This is probably the ultimate in comfort food eating.  We are all guilty of cooking far, far too much food at Christmas, but use fantastic ingredients.  The rule; there isn’t one.  The beauty is that you can use whatever you happen to have left (plus eggs and maybe some hot sauce depending on how late you partied…).

Christmas hash

  • Pie.  Again, this tends to be a boxing day dinner based on cooking too much the day before.  Never be without a block of puff pastry in the freezer during the festivities. Turkey, ham, mushrooms, crème fraîche and a couple of leeks.  Heaven. Obviously this also lends itself to pretty much anything you have to hand.

pie filling at christmas

Have fun, indulge, and above all, spoil the younglings.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Happy Holidays

Faith Restored

The hunt for real food is top of my agenda every time I visit the USA on a work trip.

It never fails to shock me just how difficult it is to get hold of food and drink that isn’t highly processed and loaded with corn syrup.  Obviously America is a big place and I shouldn’t make such sweeping statements, but I’m usually confined to the big cities.

How do the locals manage it…?  Generally, they don’t.  Enough said.

The lack of healthy options is insane – hotel fruit bowls are too often ‘just for show’, and breakfast contains enough calories for an entire day.  Whole Foods is usually my saviour; we’ll make a beeline there to pick up supplies shortly after landing.

The standard diet in America hits me hard.  My teeth actually ache from all the sugar, and after a few days of Eggs Benedict and enough beef to march an army across the globe, the desire for anything even slightly green becomes insatiable. Maybe my metabolism would adjust after a few weeks/months.  I’m certainly not willing to test the hypothesis.

And then there’s the exception to my dietary principles…  Adventure.  Anything that’s both local and new is simply irresistible. So, after the misfortune of experiencing Chick n’ Ruth’s of Man v’s Food fame, all was looking fairly bleak until Cantler’s Riverside Inn stepped into the ring…

This place is a veritable oasis.  Reassuringly understated and refreshingly unpretentious, Cantler’s of Annapolis is exactly what it is: A Crab House.  In my eyes, the simple things tend to be the best.  No fuss.

Simple dining American Style

American Rustic

Given there were a few of us sharing a bench in the casual family atmosphere, we made the most of it and sampled an array of dishes, accompanied of course by cold local beers.

Oysters Riverside at Cantlers

Of all the oysters I’ve ever eaten, I can’t believe that I’ve never had them baked before.  These little bad boys were baked with horseradish, bacon, jalapeno and cheddar.  I should have ordered more.

Side salad and Drunk’n Mussels?  Go on then.

side salad

drunk'n mussles

And now for the main event.  I probably didn’t need to order both the King Crab and the Snow Crab whilst sampling the local Blue Maryland crabs, but hey, adventure!

Snow Crab and King Crab

Steamed to perfection and served with some rather large onion rings, coleslaw, Old Bay and fried green tomatoes (we are in America after all).

The Old Bay seasoning is a local Maryland delight traditionally made with paprika, celery salt, mustard, bay leaf, crushed red pepper flakes, black pepper, cloves, allspice, mace, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom.

blue swimmer crabs

It’s all fairly healthy if you can resist the drawn butter with its nutty allure.

Now here’s a new one on me that I’ll be replicating this Christmas; ketchup laced with horseradish… stunning.

 horseradish ketchup

This place even has free docking for customers arriving by boat!  Well worth a visit if you’re ever in Annapolis, hell, if you’re ever in Maryland.  Top marks.

Have a look at http://www.cantlers.com for more info.  458 Forest Beach Road, Annapolis, Maryland 21409.

Short Rib of Beef

November Challenge time for Jamie’s Food Revolution Ambassadors.

Slow Cooking! We live in a fast food world, but this month we’re asking you to slow things down, try out and share your slow cooked food recipes with us.”

I’m forever searching out great cuts that lend themselves to slow cooking.  Not only is there something terribly satisfying about transforming hunks of meat into monumental dishes that make your guests smile from ear to ear, but they’re always fantastic value for money too.

I love picking up things that I haven’t cooked before, or that I’m not really sure how to deal with.  The internet provides us all with the confidence to go out on a limb as we’re spoilt for recipes and advice.

At this time of year it’s easy to go off anything that’s ‘quick cooked’.  When it’s cold and tempestuous outside, can a rare fillet steak really beat a daube de boeuf, belly pork or 6-hour shoulder of mutton?

So here we go.  Our local Waitrose have started stocking Short Rib of Beef (a great price and also on introductory special offer: £4.66/kg). Cooked it before?  No.  Know how to cook it?  No.  Perfect.

Short Rib of Beef First of all give them a good searing in a hot pan.

Short rib of beef

Once they’re nicely browned, set them aside and using the same pan, fry off some onion, celery, leek and garlic.

Frying onion, garlic, celery, leek and garlic

Combine everything in a roasting tray with some sprigs of thyme.

Short Rib of Beef

Add a tin of tomatoes, a large glass of red wine and about 300ml of beef stock.  Pop them in a pre-heated oven at 170 degrees centigrade and cook (uncovered) for about 2 hours 30 minutes or so.

Whilst the anticipation builds, think about preparing some greens to accompany the short rib.  Cavalo Nero is a firm favourite in our household.

Fresh Cavelo Nero

A beautiful buttery mash potato is a perfect accompaniment to the dish…  Hey presto:

Beautiful Short Rib

Surprisingly straight forward, yet elegant and suitably satisfying.

Next time you see an ‘unusual’ cut, a whole tongue or some tripe, be brave!  Buy it, and then you’ll have no choice.  Treat it with respect and a dash of love and you’ll be overwhelmed by the results.

Not All Service Stations Are Created Equal

It feels particularly odd to be writing an article about a motorway service station, but this one really is something extraordinary. The newly built facilities between junctions 12 and 11a of the M5 Northbound have been stunningly crafted to blend into the rolling countryside.  Step inside and you’ll be won-over by the beautiful architecture and plethora of fantastic local produce.  Not only are they stocking goods from 130 local suppliers (within 30 miles) and 70 regional suppliers (within 30-50 miles), but they’re fairly competitively priced too!

I’m starting to wish I commuted…

Gloucester Service Station

Why here?  Because ‘Gloucestershire and its surrounding counties are practically unrivalled in the quality and abundance of their food produce’.   

I’m so glad I popped in to satisfy my curiosity, I’m certainly feeling proud to live in Gloucestershire.

Now imagine if all motorway services were like this…


produce at gloucester servicesbaked goods