- NEWS & ACHIEVEMENTS -

2011
Delicious Magazine Recipe Feature Recipes published in Princes Trust Charity 'Trusty' Cookbook Guest panellist on UKTV Food's 'Market Kitchen' Recipes published in 'Come Dine With Me Special Occasions' book Blog named as a "Media Must-Have" in Jan & Feb issue of Olive Magazine

2010
Launch of Sabrina's one-to-one private cookery tuition Guest critic on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' series finale Organised Top Chef Charity Banquet for Haiti raising £70,000 for 'Action Against Hunger' Seasonal Food & Recipe Writer for 'Blue Tomato'

2009
Winner of Channel 4's 'Come Dine With Me' (West London) 'Bronze' winner in professionally judged 'AA Home Cooking Competition 2009' Appointed resident cookery columnist for Foodepedia

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BANANA, NUT & CHOCOLATE CHUNK LOAF CAKE

You may remember a few weeks ago, I set myself a "4-Bake Challenge" to set out to teach myself to learn how to bake! I promised I would learn to confidently make one type of bread, cake, pastry and souffle... although the souffle is still awful and I haven't yet tried the pastry, the bread and cake are really rather successful!

I baked Jewish Challah bread a couple of weeks ago and it was fabulous! (See recipe here: http://www.foodepedia.co.uk/sabrina-ghayour/2009/dec/chollah_bread.htm) A real hit with my panel of trusty tasters and I also made a couple of cakes too! The first was a XXX-Rated dark chocolate oooey-gooey 'Moelleux' cake with an oozy middle. The second was my banana, nut and chocolate loaf cake... and it was a triumph. People are still cooing over it at work and thats just the kind of feedback you need to encourage you to experiment with the recipe and keep on baking! Its wonderfully moist, not at all sickly or overly sweet and the perfect cake with a nice cup of tea.

So I just wanted to share the recipe with you for the cake that got demolished so quickly, that only one very lonely-looking final slice remained (see picture above) You dont have to add nuts or chocolate, you can put in whatever you like. Use the banana as a base and mix in dried fruits, different nuts, grated orange/lemon peel, all bran cereal... anything you like! That's really the point of it... I had left over ripe bananas, some walnuts, flaked almonds and dark chocolate chunks, so I threw them all to the mix and it was a fantastic combination!


BANANA, NUT & CHOCOLATE CHUNK LOAF CAKE

1 x 2lb loaf cake tin (lined with oven paper)
2 large very ripe bananas
3 medium eggs
180g self-raising flour
180g caster sugar
180g of soft (almost melted) butter
1 teaspoon of good quality vanilla essence
Walnuts (about a handful) chopped roughly
Flaked almonds (a small handful)
60g of dark chocolate chunks/chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees (remember that fan assisted is always 10 degrees hotter, so reduce to 150).

In a mixing bowl, mash your bananas until virtually a paste. Add your eggs and beat well with the banana. Add your sugar, butter, flour, vanilla essence, nuts and chocolate and incorporate all ingredients well until the mixture is thoroughly blended and pour into the loaf tin, leaving just a centimetre of room only from the top of the tin and bake for 1 hour. Once done, remove and allow to cool before turning out your cake and thats all there is to it! The cake is moist, nutty and deliciously banana-scented but not overly sweet! Wrap the cake in cling film and it will happily last for a week... Thats if you can resist the temptation to devour it all, of course!!

Temptation is a terrible thing, but this is a winner for Christmas!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

IBERIAN PATA NEGRA HAM

Pata Negra is THE most expensive ham in the world. Made from 100% pure breed Iberian black-foot pigs bred in the lush green landscapes of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla Natural Park, pigs are fed on acorns which give the meat its signature nutty and aromatic flavour. These are some seriously pampered pigs and it is the years of experience, dedication, time and patience of an expert 'Master Ham-maker' that brings such wonderful meat to our table. No wonder it is so expensive... with whole legs reaching up to £1,600 in some London stores.
I have found a great company called 'La Pata Negra' that sell 30 month cured 'Sierra de Sevilla' Altus Iberico ham for nearly half the price of what it retails at in some stores in the UK. The wonderful ham has a fantastic and unique flavour, with sweet aromatic fat and a really nutty tasting meat that is absolutely delicious. It really is too good to be eaten any way other than by itself . I could quite happily chomp away endlessly on Pata Negra and never grow tired. The chorizo is also exceptional, with its famed smoky paprika (or Pimenton) making it so versatile, great eaten by itself, sauteed with potatoes, used in stews and Paellas, sandwiches and sandwiches... It really is a fantastic ingredient that turns an otherwise bland meal into something unique.
My good friends at 'La Pata Negra' offer top quality fantastic products from Seville, with a whole range of fantastic products like Acorn-fed Chorizo cream, Acorn-fed loin, Iberian spiced sausage and Iberian shoulder ham as well as many more products to look out for in the new year too. Check out their website and sign up to the mailing list for special offers and order your wonderful ham and other products in time for Christmas by visiting:
You'd be a fool not to serve up some Pata Negra at your Christmas table this year!

Friday, 27 November 2009

CHRISTMAS IS COMING ~ AND ITS NOT JUST THE GOOSE THATS GOING TO GET FAT!!!

As Christmas draws near, the stress of planning my meals on different days is getting to me. Why? (I hear you ask) Well, I'm on a diet. Yes... diet. Ughhh, I hate that word. But where does that put a food loving home cook like me? To be perfectly honest, i'm in hell... or something a lot like it. But the idea is that i shift some much needed poundage in time for Christmas, because inevitably (and whether you like it or not) the holidays are the season for over-indulgence and weight gain for the whole family. No one person is safe! So cutting back right now is the most sensible thing i can do for myself in anticipation of Christmas... and do it, i shall!

Christmas Day is pretty much sorted really. After years of slaving away for the best part of 8 hours over a traditional turkey with all the trimmings, my family felt is best to confront me (en masse) that they would really rather have rib of beef. I was mortified! Mortified at the fact that they didnt tell me this any earlier! Turkey is ok, but i can live without it and the 8 hour cooking session that comes with it. My lovely rib of beef means that i spend just 3 hours in the kitchen doing prep on Christmas days and get to spend time with the whole family as well as factor in some cooking time with my beloved nephews Cyrus, Darius and the latest addition to the family Cass.

I have decided to host an "Orphans and strays" day at my house over the Christmas period, where my friends are welcome to drop by and hang out with me, anytime through out the day either for lunch or just a quick glass of wine and a festive treat. So, these festive treats… What to cook? Hmmm… It has got me thinking. I want to be able to make trays of oven ready treats and I have recently discovered that ready made refrigerated pastry is the best friend you may have when you are in a pinch, especially over the Christmas period!

Having recently been ‘saved’ by a pack of puff pastry, I decided I will recreate that magic in miniature for guests arriving on my day for strays. I drew my inspiration for a delicious vegetarian option that I whipped up for one of my oldest friends Denise, who sadly (she’ll kill me) suffers from incurable vegetarianism. I made a wonderful puff pastry tart of mushrooms and thyme with a smidgen of cream and garlic. She said it was one of the best things I had made for her, despite its simplicity, it spurred me on to make it part of my regular repertoire of dishes for both veggies and carnivores. So here is the recipe for you;

Quick n' Easy Woodland Mushroom Tart

1 pack of ready-rolled puff pastry sheet (from the fridge section of supermarkets)
400g of mushrooms (I used 300g of Chestnut & 100g of Chanterelles)
3 stems of thyme
3 garlic cloves
2 long (or 3 small) shallots
150mls of double cream
Knob of butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
1 egg
Oven-proof paper

Lay your pastry onto an oven-proof paper lined baking tray and using a knife, gently mark a border around the perimeter of your pastry, about 1 ½ inches away from the edged. Do NOT cut the pastry, just score it lightly to create an edge around the centre that you will fill with your mushroom mix.

Finely chop your shallots, garlic cloves and thyme and wash, dry and slice your mushrooms (doesn’t matter what size they are, as long as they are sliced relatively thinly) and toss them into a preheated pan over a high heat and sauté them with a knob of butter and some olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and once the mushrooms are cooked through, turn the heat source off and move the pan away from the heat. Then stir in your cream and allow the mixture to cool down for about 15 minutes.

Beat your egg and using a pastry brush, glaze the border of your pastry well with the egg and that way, when the tart is done, the pastry edges that are exposed will be nice and glossy. Pour the mushroom mixture into the centre of your pastry and spread it out evenly within the scored line border and bake in the oven according to the cooking instructions on your pastry pack. (Which should be about 20 minutes on 220) and voila! Tasty mushroom tart… done!
~ ~ ~ ~

Don’t like mushrooms? They don’t stick to mushrooms. Using the scored pastry mixtures, take a jar of pesto and spread a generous layer of it across the pastry (within the border) and then dot with goats cheese (or mozzarella) black olives, sundried tomatoes and any other vegetable you like until the centre area is covered. Or how about making a sort of puff pastry pizza? Use passata or plain tomato sauce, topped with some of your favourite cheeses and pizza toppings… Delicious. But you don’t have to stick to savoury toppings, you can use fruits, chocolate, nuts and all kinds of things to make your ideal tart! Just experiment, don’t be afraid! It could be the key to stress free entertainment for Christmas!

Watch out for more helpful, speedy Christmas tips to ease the stress and strains of cooking over the festive period!!!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The "Matthew Walker" Christmas Pudding Challenge

A girl like me is always up for a challenge. My competitive streak is one of legendary proportions and nothing gets my juices flowing like a competition, where I can be creative and something I can inject a little flair and personality into… and this is one such competition.

The lovely people at Matthew Walker Christmas Puddings set a challenge to food bloggers to come up with a creative and unique recipe, using their famous Christmas puddings and that’s just what I did!

Ever the carnivore, I felt I had to do something that would work well with the sweet fruity pudding and what better meat to use than pork… that is commonly paired with fruits such as apples, prunes and apricots creating the perfect marriage, and so pork had to be the one for me.
To make my rolled fillet of pork stuffed with Chritsmas pudding, Sage and Parma Ham... I cut my pork fillet lengthways through the middle and flattened it out to make one even ‘sheet’ of pork. Using 8 thin slices of Parma ham, I lined the meat, then formed a long sausage shaped length of Christmas pudding and placed it in the centre of the Parma Ham. Carefully, I wrapped the Parma ham tightly around the Christmas pudding, then topped with sage leaves. Then I wrapped the pork meat around the Parma ham and Christmas pudding stuffing and tied it tightly using string.

I sealed the meat in a hot pan with some vegetable oil and a knob of butter, ensuring all sides are browned lightly and then straight into a preheated oven on 200 degrees for about 20 minutes. Ensure you allow the meat to rest for 5 minutes (covered in foil) and then remove string and slice into thick medallions. I would recommend serving this with roast potatoes or even creamy mashed potato. Delicious and WELL WORTH trying!

Monday, 2 November 2009

RESTAURANT CONFIDENTIAL


Grrrrrrr!!!! Nothing frustrates me more than poor service in restaurants and hotels. Unnecessarily arrogant and condescending mannerisms that should, quite frankly, get thrown out with the trash as far as I’m concerned. Eating out is the social lynchpin of business and private life alike and therefore deemed necessary, at times. So what worse way to spend an evening with a client, friend or date, than to be patronised by some jumped up, wet behind the ears, accent-laden, barely-older-than-myself waiter. One experience I recall, took place at a well known Italian eatery in London's exclusive Mayfair called Cecconi’s was precisely this. Although I must just inform you that I am nobody’s fool, especially when food is concerned and have ‘served my time’ in the industry, so I know exactly how to assert myself in order to instil efficient and courteous service in those who have served me.

“So, Lady… The special of the day is Tagliatelle… You know Tagliatelle? Iz-za flatta’ ficka’ pasta, justa like spaghetti but made with eggs…” His instant assumption that I was completely new to the concept of Italian food annoyed me greatly, but when you are with other people, you learn to bite your tongue. “And then this pasta comes with the sauce of ‘Amatriciana’, which is made with…..” (Interrupted) “Pancetta, chilli & tomato” I said, finishing his sentence and landing a look of severe shock on his face. He backed away with his tail between his legs and unsurprisingly service improved greatly, and the formerly patronising individual, became humble and attentive as he should have been in the first place. Despite my cool exterior, I was ever-so-secretly basking in silent victory. My clients were in absolute hysterics adding “Well he’s not going to forget you in a hurry!” But I mean come on… Tagliatelle? One of the most popular pastas in the world!

I believe everyone deserves a second chance and therefore he got his 15% service charge, which he had to step up the pace and work hard for. But forgiveness should always be a one-off, in every possible scenario in life, it should not become a regular fixture. Repeat offenders need not apply and if you are SO arrogant that you refuse to even acknowledge, let alone accept that you have done something wrong, then you can go ahead and “Kiss my Tagliatelle” – Catch my drift???

Having spent nearly 12 years in the hospitality industry I would like to share some inside knowledge with you and hopefully answer some of the most frequently asked questions as well as dispel some of the many restaurant-related myths that circulate;

1) Service Charge – It doesn’t always get given to staff. Often it is just a greedy restaurateur’s trick to coax the diner into giving them an extra 10%-15% to add to their profits. A way to get around this whilst ensuring your server receives their tip, is to give a cash tip, making sure service charge is struck off. However it should also be said that most respectable restaurants do give 100% of accrued service charge to their staff, which is the proper practice and of course just as it should be.

2) Chefs hate accommodating changes and substitutions to their carefully thought up dishes. This includes catering for vegetarians and those with food allergies and dietary requirement of any kind. Doesn’t matter how nice you are about it, they still see you as a pain in the ass. They will deny it, of course, but having worked with enough of them over the years, I can inform you that you are the single most annoying thing to a Chef when he is cooking for hundreds of people. Allergies & intolerances aside, if you can avoid making changes, then do, because flavours are married together intentionally to create an overall masterpiece. Most Chefs have very precious egos and cannot handle criticism or change of any kind to their skillfully created masterpieces. So if you are an over-cooked meat and potatoes person, then perhaps you should consider your next culinary destination more carefully.

3) Waiters and Chefs do not spit in your food - Just because you have been deemed a 'difficult customer'. This is a ludicrous thing to even think of, as you could be an incognito food critic or journalist and they would be nothing short of foolish to exposing this kind of behaviour, so it is not even worth it doing something as risky as this. HOWEVER this only applies to the high calibre restaurants… so if you are thinking of heading to your local pizzeria to make trouble, I would suggest you be very careful!

4) Wine pairing - There is no formal etiquette for selecting wines and if you don’t genuinely have any objections and are open to recommendations, then by all means consult a sommelier or manager for a good recommendation. DO NOT allow them to intimidate you into thinking you know nothing about pairing wine with food. Nobody can understand your palate, except you. Red wine is now acceptable with fish and some reds are greatly improved when served at lower temperatures than normal. White wines can also be paired successfully with red meats, so choose what to drink and don’t let them bully you into anything you aren’t comfortable with.

5) “Fully Booked” – This term is often absolute nonsense most of the time, particularly at the hottest eateries around the world. They do this to create an air of exclusivity and also a lot of restaurants over book by a couple of tables as sometimes people no-show. The best way to get a table is to ensure that you avoid calling during lunch service (12-2:30pm) as this is a peak busy period for most restaurants and you are unlikely to secure their undivided attention at this time. Contrary to what some of us may believe, calling up fancy restaurants and being arrogant will not secure a reservation, but rather a rejection. Friendly and unpretentious is the more appropriate way to coax someone into giving you what you need. I shouldn’t even have to tell you this, I’m sure you know already.

Some of the best restaurants are often the ones you drive past in your local neighbourhood that seem to be busy and teeming with families and locals alike. Spending a lot of time in top restaurants, there is definitely something special about them of course, but sometimes their drive to stay on top can often be what kills them off in the end.

Finding a handful of good, local and friendly restaurants can be a hard task. But I think for those of us who enjoy dining out regularly, it is important to have these handy places dotted around the neighbourhood. Sometimes more chic (and more expensive) restaurants aren’t always better, even with regards to ingredient quality and service standards. Some of the best meals I have had around the world are in total dives that just serve the most amazing and simple food… and when the food is good, “They will come”. A classic example (especially for any Persians who lived in London in the early 90’s) was a restaurant called 'Alounak' or 'The Shack' as I called it. The first of 3 venues opened since, it was a teeny-weeny, kebab-smoke-filled caravan parked in an open air car park in Olympia serving the best god damn kebab you ever had.
You could always spot the shack before you neared it, because there was usually a fleet of Mercedes, BMW’s & the occasional Rolls Royce parked vicariously around the shack. Man…those were the days. The cook, only known as “Mohsen” left to open his own fully fledged restaurant nearby (with proper brick walls, not just caravan walls!) The aptly named ‘Mohsen-Kebab’ is still considered by some as the best kebab in town, but it never really did it for me. As some of my fellow Londoners may also know…the tacky plastic garden furniture and pushy managerial flair of the owner’s wife can sometimes grate on the nerves of even the mostly saintly of saints. So I tend to limit my visits to takeaway only. (Plus I am still unable to forgive her for ruining a first date with a very hot guy I once went out with)

After all that is said and done, I still feel that the best meals aren’t always served in Michelin star restaurants with celebrity chefs. Dishes adorned with ‘Foams’, ‘Jus’ and ‘Gallettes’ of this and ‘Tians’ of that, can often be too fussy and just too much. The real deal is lovingly prepared courtesy of friends or family, wonderfully simple and deliciously uncomplicated. I have said it before and I will say it again, THESE are the kind of meals we should be having more of. Family meals around a table, children and husband in tow or dinner with friends both old and new, engaging in conversation and sharing stories. Memories are made of these. Whatever you enjoy and wherever you go to enjoy it, don’t let anyone take your pleasure away from you. Whether rude waiting staff or stuffy wine waiters, you are the customer and good service is what you are paying for, after all, so you may as well enjoy it!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

ART VERSUS SCIENCE - A RECIPE FOR DISASTER?

I absolutely SUCK at making pastry, cakes and generally anything that involves baking! I don't know why, but its almost as if I have developed a fear of baking. Inspired by Pierre Koffman's infamous Pistachio Souffle and also the heavenly Chocolate Souffle at "Equilibrium" restaurant at Fawsley Hall Hotel, I decided I need to "Get my bake on" - So to speak.

Never being the type of person to accept my own imperfections, I have throw down the gauntlet and challenge myself to make the perfect souffle as well as perfect one type of cake, bread and pastry by the end of the year. My “4-Bake Challenge”, as I like to call it, may seem a tad “Half-Baked” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) and although I may not be successful, I certainly am persistent in the ironing out this little flaw in my skill set.

Last week I made Chocolate Meringues that despite looking pretty dreadful, were absolutely delicious. That’s not a bad start, I guess? I don’t know what went wrong as I had ‘loosely’ followed a recipe online and it seemed to work up to the point I’d added my sugar to the whisked egg whites, suddenly the airy mix became more of a glossy mousse. Who knows what went wrong, but my meringues came out looking a little flat and whilst the inside was deliciously chewy, the top crust seemed to cave-in. Not my desired result, but I still managed to eat them all!

See? This is why I prefer normal cooking to baking. Baking is a science of exacting, weighing, measuring and skillful blending. Temperature, moisture and gentle technique will dramatically vary the exact same ingredients every time. What the hell is that about? I find it very frustrating at times. Whilst baking is a science, I feel cooking is more of a creative art. I like to take risks when I cook, taste things as I go along and add new ingredients to the mix in search of a higher level of satisfaction. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but what I have learnt is that there is no room for this kind of ‘riffing’ in baking.

I guess my fear of baking makes it easier for me to not only sympathise with those who are a bit scared when it comes to cookery, but actually empathise with them too. Many of the greatest Chefs in the world have confessed that they hate baking and making desserts, because again, it’s a very different type of cooking. I am no Chef, nor would I ever claim to be. I am but a humble home cook, someone who takes pleasure in feeding people and someone who is incredibly passionate about food, ingredients and the ‘magic’ that brings them together, which is cookery.

So anywa, I guess all we can do now is see what happens with my “4-Bake Challenge”, which I will kick-off with my attempt to make a perfect chocolate Souffle and some kind of bread. Who knows exactly which kind, but something rustic with herbs and cheese. I want to try and genuinely perfect these recipes so that I find the confidence to continue making them and experiment with other types of bread and other ingredients too. Next I will try cake and last will be the pastry and already I think I will be going for Choux pastry so I can learn to make Profiteroles in time for Christmas.

Lovers of baked goods, WATCH THIS SPACE!!!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

COOKING WITH THE KIDS

Something I like to do every year for Christmas, is whilst I'm making our annual Christmas Day bonanza feast, let my gorgeous nephews Darius and Cyrus help with the cooking,. I let them stir sauces, mix ingredients and generally get them involved in the process in any small way that I can. They absolutely love it and especially now that they are a little older (6 and 8) it really does make the whole affair much easier. I started with Cyrus when he was a toddler. He used to come into the kitchen and watch me and I would always make a point of talking to him and showing him what I was doing. He may not have been able to say more than a few words, but he was engrossed in it all.
Every Christmas, his interest seem to increase and he began to ask questions about the ingredients and processes and would stare intently into the oven, watching the roast. He used to refer to my rib of beef as the “big sausage” because he would see all the little sausages I would cook alongside the meal. I love cooking with my nephews, especially as their Mother (god forgive me) was never exactly the domestic type (sorry Lils) and now they are complete food-a-holics. In fact my cousin says that every time I walk through the door of their house, the kids expect a full meal courtesy of yours truly! Fair enough, as that’s usually what they get. But what has given me immense pleasure is the fact that my cousin is now cooking regularly, watching ‘Saturday Kitchen’ and other TV cookery shows and is taking a genuine, if not somewhat long overdue, interest in cooking and it really makes me smile.
Cooking with kids is something that so many people have problems with, but personally I can’t understand why. As in most things, true success often relies on an element of trust and you will need to find a recipe that you would trust your children to help you with. I myself, am one of the biggest perfectionists around. Did I say perfectionist? I meant control freak. But in the most loving of ways, of course. Being a control freak means you often find it hard to unload tasks on to other people, for fear that they may not turn out how ‘you’ want them to be. So trying to get Cyrus and Darius involved, began being a tad difficult, but you would be surprised at just how intently they listen and how carefully they carry out my instructions. Everything from crushing garlic, stirring sauces, opening packets, measuring things out and getting their hands dirty mixing anything from cake mix to burger mix in a big bowl. They absolutely love it all. Obviously they are too young for knife-work and I tend to make sure that A) They are no where near a heat source…. B) There are no knives or sharp objects anywhere… and C) Counter surfaces and floors aren’t wet or slippery, ensuring they don’t hurt themselves. As long as these 3 pointers are covered, they are “Happy as Larry” and you can kick back, enjoying the useful help that they are actually giving you!
Kids tend to relish cooking, where as most adults find it a chore. We don’t like to make mess, but they do! We don’t like to get our hands dirty, but they do! We don’t like to set the table, but they do! We don’t like to have to clean or wash up after, but they do! Get it??? They LOVE to do the stuff we hate, because for our little munchkins, getting involved with doing what you do each day, makes them feel grown up and gives them extra time to bond with you. They view it very differently than we do… and if you start ‘em young, when they are older they will be cooking meals and washing dishes for the whole family! If that isn’t a reward for good parenting, then I don’t know what is.
If I have children one day, I fully intend on packing intense flavour into their food from an early age. From the time they can eat pureed baby food, why should I spice it with some chillies or curry powder? It’s the very best time to introduce a little subtle flavour into their diet. Garlic, ginger, lemongrass etc. Its good to broaden a child’s palate from an early age. With my eldest nephew Cyrus, he is definitely more of a finnickety eater than Darius, his younger brother. I think this was because Cyrus was the first born and as new parents you don’t know what you should be doing, so you do everything to suit the baby, instead of suit your own life. Darius was raised eating whatever the adults were eating. As a result, Darius eats whatever you put in front of him. Spicy, raw, fruity, sweet… WHATEVER! He loves it all and never complains, unless it’s bland!
Some great suggestions for cooking with kids when they are young, is to start with cake making. I use Betty Crocker Chocolate Brownie Mix (see pics above) and then I get them to stir in the eggs and milk into the mixture and then buy a selection of goodies they can add in. Chocolate chips, pecan nuts, marshmallows etc, they love stirring the mixture and then spooning them into fairy cake cases ready for baking. Now they get involved in all the savoury stuff do and they are even quite cocky with it (which is great!) and say “Its ok Aunty, I know what I’m doing!” and they roll their eyes when I’m trying to show them something, because they now know exactly what needs to be done without me saying it! Little monsters, but I absolutely love them to pieces.
Try getting them involved in whatever you normally make at home. Don’t feel you need to go especially out of your way to accommodate the kids. They will be happy with any kind of task you give them. Just make it sound fun! Things like fishcakes are always great, burgers, lettuce wraps filled with any kind of meat, fajitas etc. They love food that can be assembled at the table, it makes it more fun for them and also is a good way to get them eating vegetables, if they have to ‘build’ layers of ingredients to get the end result.
Make one day a week a time when you all cook together. Involve them in any way you can, big or small. Don’t be scared to delegate tasks to them, as long as they are supervised, they’ll be fine. Most importantly, set this time aside and make it fun. Turn on the radio, sing together, make them really enjoy it and not feel like it’s a chore. That way it becomes something they love doing and look forward to each week. Don’t be afraid to let them choose ingredients in the supermarket, even if they choose a single ingredient and you include it in a recipe you make together, it will give them a real sense of achievement! Always reward them for their effort by complimenting them on their achievement, never making them feel bad if something went wrong.
Do all this and when they are older, they will be confident cooks that eat well and have a balanced diet. In times like these where obesity is at an all time high, having healthy children is one of the greatest gifts of all.

Friday, 25 September 2009

GAY PAREEEE… “NON, NON" or "OUI, OUI" ?

Is it me or are Parisians really hell-bent on ruining your experience of this beautifully culture-rich city of theirs? Having just come back from Paris this afternoon, never have I wanted to kiss the ground of my homeland, more so than today.

For the best part of two centuries, the French have been renowned for their flair and excellence in all things “Culinaire’. But alas, mes amis, we have reached a proverbial ‘forchette’-in-the-road and I think its time we took a look at the cold hard facts and said what needs to be said. Restaurants in Paris suck. I love France, so ardent Francophiles “Back down” I say! But somewhere after the end of the 1970’s and present day, food in Paris just isn’t what it used to be. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t some amazing places in Paris to eat but shamefully, even some of the best joints in Paris don’t offer food that is anything out of the ordinary.

Now this not to say that France doesn’t produce some of the finest food and wine in the world. We all love the three C’s – Cheese, Chocolate (and my personal favourite) Champagne! I definitely couldn’t live without my favourite ‘St Maure de Touraine’ goat’s cheese, Valrhona chocolate and of course lots of lovely bubbly. Sadly, despite the abundance of marvellous foods that France is so famous for, it seems Paris has become the exception to the rule and it is almost as if it has become its own entity, entirely separate from the rest of France.

We all know that Paris (and more so, Parisians) are famed for their rudeness and abrupt manner. Of course there are also some lovely Parisians, many of whom are my friends, but whilst the recession seemed to shower Paris with the rains of politeness for a while, I can say that the rainy season is well and truly over and drought of the rudeness is well and truly ‘En Vogue’.

So I decided it was high time I named and shamed a few restaurants in Paris, because somewhere along the line, bad food and bad service seems to have become perfectly acceptable. So here goes nothing;

~Le BAD~

‘La Cantine du Faubourg – It’s Paris Fashion Week and last night’s late dinner (10pm) at the Fashionista-clad ‘Cantine du Faubourg’ was a nightmare from start to finish. We arrive at 10:15pm, only to be told by the extremely rude waitress that she doesn’t yet have a table for us. At the end of a long day, it took me a matter of seconds to convey my message of expectation to the young lady in French “It is 10:15pm, we booked for 10pm. We are hungry and I want a table now.” – Bizarrely, we are seated within 2 minutes. I find it almost amusing to watch them be pushy and arrogant towards us Brits, yet be shocked when we push back and even better, do it in their own language. I firmly believe that as a Brit, you are at a disadvantage in Paris, because they have preconceived notions about us “Ros-Bifs” and generally, they don’t like being very nice to us, unless we demonstrate a flair for their language or even better, flash the cash and win them over. The meal itself was ok, but the service was atrocious and after 3 hours and about 100 Euros each, we left having given the waiting staff a piece or two of our collective minds. www.lacantine.com/

‘Barramundi’ - We walked in, waited 10 minutes in a near empty restaurant to be greeted, let alone seated, finally sat down. We waited 20 minutes before even seeing the waitress. Once she arrived, she refused to take our drinks orders and insisted on us placing our food order, but walked away mid-sentence. We waited another 10 minutes for her to come back, before walking out of the restaurant, much to her bemusement. Shocking, as very few restaurants in my life have ever merited a walk out. www.barramundi.fr/

~Le GOOD~

W Sens – (Rue de Ponthieu) – A really nice restaurant that although stylish, doesn’t compromise the overall experience through a mix of the usual bad food and service. Service is great, the staff are lovely and food is very good and not overpriced. The venue is also open late and turns into a club around 11pm. www.sensparis.com/

Mood – (Champs Elysee) – Trendy Franco-Japanese fusion in a funky multi-level restaurant in the heart of Paris’ most famous address. Food is good, not overpriced and for the wilder ones amongst you, it’s a great place to continue the party, as it has its own club nights on sight after dinner. http://www.mood-paris.fr/

Restaurant 1728 – Set in classic dining rooms that were once part of the mansion home of La Fayette, the interior of these wonderful Louis Sixteenth decorated rooms have been lovingly restored and in a contradictive strike, the food served is Oriental, yet delicate and superbly executed. An historic site and not just a culinary jewel, which is well worth a visit. http://www.restaurant-1728.com/

~Le FANTASTIC~

Le Bouillon Racine (Rive Gauche) – For one of the most authentic Parisian experiences in town, ‘Bouillons’ became the most popular restaurants in Paris in the early 1900’s where the working class of the City first met the rich and upper class, during the ‘Art Nouveau’ movement of Paris. www.bouillon-racine.com/

Relais de Venise (Porte Maillot) – Classic ‘Steak Frites’ in the original world famous branch of this restaurant, serving only Entrecote steak, fantastic thin cut fries and that special wll-guarded ‘secret’ sauce.

Le Train Bleu (Gare du Lyon) – Originally named ‘Buffet de la Gare de Lyon’ and the setting of so many famous films, this beautiful restaurant epitomises old world Paris with its ornate wrought iron and glass windows, muraled ceilings and elaborate and superb classic French cuisine. Loved by Brigitte Bardot, Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel, this is a must-see stop on your list of historic destinations in Paris. www.le-train-bleu.com/

Angelina (Rue de Rivoli) – Simply the most unctuous hot chocolate to be found anywhere in the world! Another Paris stalwart, established in 1903, this wonderful little gem serves superb desserts as well as their infamous hot chocolate! www.groupe-bertrand.com/angelina.php

Laduree (Champs Elysee) – For the most sumptuous Macaroons you’ve ever tasted, you must visit these cute little tea rooms that offers tasted! Established in 1862, Laduree has macaroons of every flavour and colour that you could possibly hope for! You cannot leave Paris without a visit to one of their branches. BUT the good news is you can find Laduree at Harrods and Burlington Arcade, W1 in London. www.laduree.fr

Thursday, 17 September 2009

RETRO REVIVAL - GROOVY BABY!!!

I pride myself on keeping my finger firmly on the culinary pulse of our nation.
How do I do this, you may ask? Well, I am hooked on foodie sites like Foodepedia (plug, plug, plug!) Am a loyal subscriber to Olive magazine, Delicious magazine and the new Jamie Oliver magazine, plus through my various Chef and Restaurateur contacts, I am always listening to what people are doing in their restaurants, speaking to Chefs about produce etc and what is and isn’t popular as well as monitoring new restaurant openings as well as inevitable closures. You could say I’m a total geek and you would be right on the money, because that’s exactly what I am! Some girls may obsess with fashion or celebrity gossip, but I am obsessed (not in a “bunny boiler” way) with Chefs, Restaurants, Food programmes and the wonderful commodity that is FOOD!

Having noticed lately that a lot of new restaurants are opening up, the first thing I do is view their menus and you would be surprised to see that we seem to be going all ‘Retro’ and 60’s all of a sudden. Even some of the not-so-new restaurants seem to be following suit and heading back to basics. I never thought the words “Rotisserie”, “Prawn Cocktail” or “Peach Melba” would ever make it onto the menus of restaurants in this day and age, but my friends, it seems that they have become ‘En Vogue’ again and are in fact the height of fashion!

So why have we travelled back in time to one of the most gaudy decades of the 20th century? I think it’s because the 60’s were very much a decade of culinary discovery for Britain. Sainsbury’s claim to have introduced the Avocado (or Avocado ‘pear’ as it was then known) to our supermarket shelves in 1962, although the authenticity of this fact is being disputed by Marks and Spencers - Supermarket wars are alive and well as usual! French cooking was becoming incredibly popular with us Brits, courtesy of Elizabeth David who released her book “French Provincial Cooking” in 1960. A new era was beginning in Britain and the recovery from the effects of rationing after World War II was almost complete for most and the nation was in full party swing. Dinner parties became an opportunity for people to show off their culinary prowess again, with new and sophisticated dishes from Continental Europe and ingredients from exotic corners of the world.

It’s funny how we seem to be going back to basics, back to days where food was simple and straight forward and not at all like the pretentious works of art that Chefs have been subjecting us to for the last two decades. Perhaps the credit crunch has affected us – on some level - in a positive way? By teaching us to scale back on unnecessary things and keep it simple, but delicious, when it comes to cooking. No more microwave meals that taste awful, aren’t fresh and cost more than a few simple ingredients would. Hallelujah! Could we at last be getting the bigger picture? Clearly people aren’t dining out as much anymore, as the restaurant industry has been suffering financially with many top restaurants having to close as a result of the downturn in the economy. People must be staying home more as 2009 has seen a drastic increase in the rate of pregnancy in Britain, if that’s not proof of staying home, then I don’t know what is!

So perhaps the penny has finally dropped and retro is once again very much back in! We are going back to our roots and what we once deemed as tacky is now top of the list of chic. So abandon your bikinis and summer attire, bring on the stretchy elastic-waisted bottoms and lycra-laden clothing, because its time to eat! Scotch eggs, Chicken Kievs, Pints-of-prawns, Crudités and Vichyssoise are all coming back!! But don’t go overboard and start digging out your flairs, platform boots and lava lamps! Only retro food is cool, “Everything else is just square baby, you dig?”…

Saturday, 12 September 2009

THE FABULOUS "BUTCHER" BOYS

Very few supermarkets these days can be credited, in my humble opinion, with offering good quality, reasonably priced, honest and humble meat. Although there are still some good exceptions, by and large the majority are unable to deliver to anything other than your average cheap “Kill it and grill it” beef steak, which has not been aged, grass fed or taken care of in anyway. I, for one, am not the kind of person to plump for a steak that is fire engine red, sweating profusely in its plastic packaging and sitting it a pool of its own blood for days on end until some poor desperate soul decides to buy it. If you think its only cuts of meat that can be a problem, then you are wrong. Think about water logged cheap bacon and dodgy sausages that contain only 30% meat (what the hell is the other 70% made of???) not to mention burgers, chicken and so many other things that just make my skin crawl.

Enough lecturing now, because it really boils down to a choice that each one of us decide to make based on what suits ourselves and our household. Should we be trying to eat smaller quantities or cheaper (or ‘forgotten’) cuts of better quality meat instead or are we going to stick to cheaper, but lesser quality, processed meat produce? This is one of those arguments that divides the nation and will always do so. People argue that cost is a problem, but as “Oranges are not the only fruit” nor is Fillet steak the only meat! The decision is yours.

When was the last time you went to your local butcher? These days the butcher shop, unable to compete with supermarket ‘2 for 1’ deals and slashed prices, is being forced into virtual extinction. BUT the good news is that as we are becoming more aware of poor quality food, the demand for good quality is on the increase and butcher shops are coming back. Local butchers are still the best but some butcher shops, like the illustrious “Lidgates” of Notting Hill (what I like to call a ‘Boutique Butchery’) charge astronomical prices, although do provide top quality meat.

My favourite butcher shop in London for the last 7 years is located conveniently near my office and they do not overcharge at all. “Porterfords” butcher shop is tucked away on Watling Street EC4, right by Bow Church Lane. They are a good, old school butcher shop offering every cut of meat to satisfy your inner carnivore, with thoughtfully selected cuts of meat that have been either stuffed, marinated or trussed to make life easier for us all as well as some superb hot food that is ready to eat and attracts hoards of City traders and bankers every lunchtime. Offering everything from pies to kebabs and wonderfully traditional as well as the more exotic variety of sausages, no wonder it's one of the busiest places in the area at lunch time.

I popped in to Porterford’s on Friday last week, as ever, not knowing what on earth I was gonna come out with. After my usual 10 minute chat and catch up with the wonderfully charming and lovely chaps that work there, my eyes spied a sight that literally took my breath away. The most wonderfully bountiful array of sausages I had seen for quite some time, beckoned for me to take them home… Like puppies in a pet shop, one look and my heart melted. I knew I just had to take them home with me, although these little puppies were gonna end up in my tummy, with a healthy side of good old Colman’s English mustard. Opting for some of each variety, they carefully wrapped them individually for me, taking the time to label each little parcel of porky goodness especially for me. If that's not top notch customer service, then i don't know what is!

In the above image, clockwise from the top left, we have: Smoked chicken and shallot, Italian Salamini, Spicy Italian, Chicken with Lemon and Coriander, Duck and Orange, Lamb and Mint and Honey Roast Pork. Nothing but nothing reads as orgasmicly as this list for me. It’s what I like to call “Gastro-Porn”. I love sausages. They are so versatile and now with so many different varieties available, not only using classic pork, but game, poultry and more exotic beasts like Wild Boar, Venison, Ostrich etc, there is something to suit everyone so there really is no excuse not to be a bit adventurous and try something new.

I think we should be supporting our butchers and not just going in there and grabbing the usual cuts and leaving. Butchers are greatly overlooked these days, because most supermarkets stick a spotty teenager on the meat counter with next-to-no experience or knowledge of the stale produce he is selling. Real butchers, like my “Fabulous Butcher Boys” at Porterfords, are skilled, trained and experienced individuals who are masters in butchery and not just knowledge of the meat itself, but also what to do with it, which cuts are best for certain methods of cooking, as well as being able to recommend different cuts that are classed as “Forgotten” cuts, such as skirt steak, lamb neck, pigs cheeks and so much more beside. So I encourage you to stop and chat for a bit and ask these ‘Maestros of Meat’ for some advice on tips for saving money by choosing different cuts, learning which cooking method suits them best, but also listening to their Pearls of wisdom, when it comes to meat and all the wonderful produce that is available at your butchers shop today, that you may not know about. Just because it isn’t in the window, doesn’t mean it isn’t available. Ask your butcher, if you don’t see what you are looking for. Now is especially a great time for meat, with us being in the prime of Game season and the more robust Autumn meats like Venison coming forth, your regular trip to the supermarket should be preceded with a quick stop at the butchers.

Don’t have a good butcher near you? Why don’t you come and see mine? They are reasonably priced, experienced and friendly and offer lots of lovely produce to suit everyone. Visit the boys at:

Porterfords – 72 Watling Street, The City, London EC4M 9BJ (1 minute from Mansion House tube station) Tel: 020 7248 1396

Tell them Sabrina sent you!

Monday, 24 August 2009

MORE 'CLANGERS' THAN 'BANGERS' AT SandM CAFE

No stranger to Sand M Café, I arrive and wait at the sign that asks patrons “Please wait to be seated”. A flurry of waitresses shuffle past me as if I was invisible. Two other diners walk in and are shown a table. I keep calm but interrupt the conversation of 3 waitresses standing inches away from me, who seemed to be startled by my presence as if to suggest I had crept up on them, and I ask to be seated. They walk me downstairs into the stuffy, air-less basement. From one empty room into another empty room and offer me possibly the worst table in the house, right opposite the volcanic temperatures of the Chef’s pass. The rickety fan in the corner of the room is doing very little to aerate the room. I decline that table as ask to be seated in the previous room and I’m shown a small table against the wall adjacent to the bottom of the staircase.

The words “Hello Lady” greet me as my upbeat Scouse waiter welcomes me. “What do you fancy?” he chirrups. “Ooh, perhaps a drink first?” I nod and order a Diet Coke. He yammers on a little more… “So you ready to order then? Know what you fancy?”. What I fancy is you stop chatting in my ear and give me at least 20 seconds to scan the menu to choose my lunch. “Shall I give you a minute then love?”. Yes please, I reply. 2 minutes later, he is back “Have you decided what you fancy?” Grrrr.

As I’m nursing a sore head from the previous nights partying, I decide to go for a steak and ale pie with mash, baked beans and gravy on the side. I couldnt possibly leave without having a sausage or two, so i chose two varieties, the classic ‘Lincolnshire’ and the rather quaint ‘Steak and Marmite’. My food arrives in less than 10 minutes, which was great as I was starving. I take a honking great dollop of Coleman’s English Mustard and prepare to tackle my sausages. The first bite, without mustard, of the Lincolnshire sausage was almost alien to me. A dark greyish meat content which made me think it couldn’t possibly be made of pork. The Steak and Marmite, was not any better, in fact it was worse. The salty character of the Marmite was subtly evident, but it was rock solid and as crude as it sounds, looked like a rather poorly-filled condom. The casing was disappointingly not a natural casing and where the sausage meat had not fully filled the casing, there was baggy bits of clear plastic casing, which just made it so much less appealing and gave it that 'baggy condom' effect. What a complete and utter let-down. Still, it could have been far worse… I could have chosen the ‘Steak and Marmalade’ sausage. God, what were they thinking? It’s the kind of ‘wrong-on-so-many-levels’ combination that makes you think they ran out of seasonings, looked in the cupboard and though “Oh look… Don’t panic, we’ve got Marmalade. We can use that!”

My steak and ale pie was pretty good though. A nice light, crispy and flaky puff pastry casing, housing generous chunks of tender cooked beef in an ale gravy. It’s a bit ironic that the pie is good, when the place is supposed to be famous for sausages! (S&M standing for ‘Sausage and Mash’) My pie was served with a very stingy portion of mash and my side of baked beans contained two rogue peas in them, all topped off with an authentic slap-dash glug of gravy, which in true ‘east-end-caff’ style trailed off the plate. Lovely jubbly, as Del Boy would say!

Having finished my food, I wait (and wait and wait) for someone to clear my plate. The whole time, waiters are running around like headless chickens in the now hectically-busy restaurant. Inconsiderately jumping down the staircase, resulting in a horrendously loud thump that shakes my fragile and hungover head to its very core, scaring the neighbouring table of tourists half to death. With the absence of my waiter and after about the fifth thunderous thump, I can begin to feel myself consumed with rage and I finally manage to grab my waiters attention by shooting him a furious look and request the bill. He keeps me waiting for 5 minutes, then another 10 minutes whilst I wait for him to stop chatting to other patrons. When presenting me with my bill he says “Oh and just to say that we don’t add service charge to your bill here at SandM” in order to ensure he gets a tip! What a flaming liberty!

Perhaps if my psychotically chipper waiter hadn’t spent the entire lunch time gassing to every single diner like they were life-long friends, service would be greatly improved. I found it ironic that he was conversing with the table behind me and he was actually recommending ANOTHER restaurant to them! “The food is great, they put a big slab of meat in front of you and its all you can eat at £22.50 per person!”. Still, I leave a 10% tip (and not my normal 15%) and get out of there.

I used to really like these quirky little cafés but hand on heart, I shall NEVER step foot into that branch again. If you are going for the sausages, I would say don’t bother! There is nothing quirky, fun or cheap about these little cafés, for £8.50 for a standard main course and £3.00 for 2 extra sausages, I know I could get better value elsewhere. Which is EXACTLY what I shall be doing next time!

If you want PROPER sausages that are top quality, reasonably priced and taste great, visit: http://www.simplyrealsausages.co.uk/

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

RELAIS DE VENISE

At times I find myself craving a simple meal. Something straight forward, that does not require a lot of thought or deliberation. But just because I crave simplicity, it does not have to be something plain or un-special. I want something fabulous, but I don’t want to have to think about it endlessly or make decisions whilst flicking through a 6 page menu, bemused at how many dishes I have to choose between. This is where next little 'gem' steps in.

Relais de Venise is not a new concept. The very first Relais de Venise opened in Paris, initially as an Italian restaurant, which was later taken over by a Frenchman named Paul Gineste de Saurs. The restaurant sits in the 17th Arondissement of Paris in Porte Maillot and to this day is my absolute favourite branch of this wonderful concept. But Relais de Venise itself was modeled on a restaurant in Geneva named ‘Café de Paris’ which opened in the early 1940’s and served a single 2-course menu, with no choice for the diner other than a salad followed by simple steak, with French fries and a special ‘secret’ sauce bearing the same name as the restaurant in which it was served, namely Café de Paris.

I remember the first time I ever had that classic ‘Entrecote’ steak with special Café de Paris sauce… I was just a kid, maybe eight years old. My Uncle opened the Café de Paris restaurant in London back in the 1980’s and we would always congregate in noisy groups of 20 or so Iranians, causing plenty of annoyance to fellow diners, as we waived our hands expressively whilst laughing loudly and yammering endlessly over dinner. Being a kid in London was fun and most of my memories involved my two favourite things… food and family.

The concept is simple enough… You start with a simple green salad with walnuts enveloped in a delicious and creamy vinaigrette dressing. The main attraction is Entrecote cut of steak (which traditionally is cut from the rib) served with an endless supply of thin cut, crispy French fries (or Frites) and that velvety-buttery-garlicky-oozily rich sauce that ensures every last bite of your meal melts in your mouth and ends with a stream of “Mmmms” and “Ahhhhs”. The sauce remains a secret to this very day and in all the restaurants that make this dish, only the Head Chef knows exactly what goes into it and they are sworn to secrecy. The best part of the meal is when the waitress comes over to you with a silver platter which holds the the second portion of your steak and sauce... Sacre Bleu!!! As if one portion wasn’t enough, the culinary Gods bestow a second serving on you. If that’s not great value, then I don’t know what is!

Dessert - generally - is for the foolish. (So where do I sign???) Never one to know the meaning of ‘limitation’ or ‘sensibility’, I order the house special dessert of profiteroles. But not just any profiteroles, but very special ones filled with vanilla ice cream, instead of the boring Chantilly cream and swimming in what can only be described as the most superbly decadent and devilishly unctuous slick of rich, dark chocolate sauce topped with a few flaked almonds. HEAVEN in every bite. This statement comes from a girl who isn’t big on desserts generally and would always choose savoury over sweet, but no matter how stuffed I am, I have to end the meal with their profiteroles.

At this point the button is popping on my jeans and my belly is screaming for mercy. If you poked me with a pin, I’m sure I would burst from being so full! But full of garlicky, meaty, potatoey, choux-pastry-chocolatey goodness… The kind that comes around once in a blue moon (or whenever I can’t be bothered with Weight Watchers) Its not such a bad life after all, is it?

Get yourself down to Relais de Venise and try this wonderful concept for yourself. £19.50 will buy you your starter salad and steak and French fry main course. The dessert will cost you a little bit extra, but it is worth every finger licking penny.

There are two branches in London to choose from in Marylebone and the City, visit their website at: http://www.relaisdevenise.com/ Bon appetit!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

LAMB SHAWARMA WITH POMEGRANATE SAUCE

These days we all seem to be rushing around so frantically, always stuck with a million things to do, when there don't seem to be enough hours in the day to do them. Times like this and cooking is literally the last thing I want to have to do. But not one to shirk responsibility - and more importantly - not one to settle for a crap meal, I have discovered that there are easy ways to create a great meal that is still quick and simple.

I mad this recipe up this evening...see? Creativity is important in life and what is even more important is to be able to use whatever ingredients you have in your store cupboard to 'jazz' something up and give it the 'Oomph' it needs. I love Shawarma sandwiches, those deliciously greasy, but oh-so-good Lebanese staples that now seem to be sold on every street in good old London town. Lebanese flat bread filled with either sliced lamb and a garlic tahini sauce or sliced chicken with a garlic yoghurt sauce and the obligatory, albeit often soggy, salad. My cheats version is similar, but a tad more up-market (or so I'd like to think!)

Using a cheap and cheerful 100g-150g trimmed neck fillet of lamb (or the more expensive lamb loin fillet, if you prefer) I marinade it simply in 2 tablespoons of pomegranate syrup and 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Leave it for 30 minutes to 1 hour tops. Pomegranate syrup is high in acidity and will ‘cook’ the lamb slightly if you over marinate it when undiluted. In a preheated dry frying pan on a medium-high heat, place the lamb in the pan and season with salt and cook for approximately 6-8 minutes on each side. It will caramelize and blacken because of the sugar content and colour of the pomegranate syrup, but this is fine. Once cooked on both sides, remove from heat and allow the meat to rest for a good 5 minutes at least.

Take a plain round flour tortilla wrap, using some Greek yoghurt (I use 0% fat Total) smear a layer of yoghurt over the wrap. Then thinly slice the lamb into juicy slivers, which should be nice and rare in the centre and arrange in a straight line on to the centre of the wrap. Slice up some cucumbers, red onions, fresh mint or salad of your choice and top the lamb with it. Drizzle some pomegranate syrup, directly over the lamb (don’t be shy, but don’t over do it) and wrap the sandwich up and slice it in half, ready to eat!

Easy, quick, healthy and delicious fast food at home! You can adapt the recipe and use beef, duck or chicken if you prefer. It works just as well. Dinners need not be a lavish affair, something quick, cheap and simple is often just the ticket. Sometimes we just lack inspiration, but if you have the patience, you can truly create something wonderful and make it your own.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

'E&O' - STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE???

It seems the summer has not entirely left us yet and with the sun shining brightly in the blue cloudless sky, what better way to spend a Saturday then lolling around in Notting Hill with a friend, beginning with a nice leisurely lunch and a few cocktails to boot.

“Meet me outside E&O” I said “There are lots of restaurants in that street, and we will go on from there”. I arrived on Kensington Park Road, grabbed the first Al Fresco table I could find at the first restaurant I could see and called my friend to smugly let her know I’d snagged a table for us. “You’re not at E&O?” she replied “I thought you said we were eating at E&O?” Somewhere along the line ‘meeting’ at E&O and ‘eating’ at E&O must have gotten mixed up. Still, who am I to tell the birthday girl, where she can and can’t eat.

I walk into the dark wood-clad restaurant and ask if there was any possibility of having an outdoor table for lunch. I was even willing to give them the old “Its my friend’s birthday” sob story to make sure I got the table. No need, apparently, the table was ours. Score! I sat at the table and peeked at the menus whilst waiting for my friend to arrive. “Nothing has changed here then!” I thought to myself. It’s not that I dislike E&O, I've always had great meals here, its just that I hate the idea of being suckered into paying over-the-odds at a restaurant just because its deemed as a ‘See and be seen’ type of hang out.

Once settled, our overly-friendly but funny waiter comes and takes our order, stopping to compliment me on my green eyeliner, that apparently matches my dress. Overkill? Hmmm, perhaps slightly. Most of my friends, it seems, have abandoned the concept of ordering food for themselves in favour of (much to my chagrin, at times) 'trusting' me to take the reigns and order way too much food for however many people we are at the time. Its not so much that I’m greedy, its mostly because I enjoy variety. A wise man once said “Variety is the spice of life” and who am I to argue with William Cowper?

The ‘Eastern and Oriental’ (E&O) feast commences with peppered tuna sashimi with a spicy aioli sauce, thick glistening slices of fresh yellow fin tuna, wrapped in a layer of crispy cabbage encased in a crunchy tortilla-like pastry outer shell. Tuna tartare with its own beautifully ornate ‘ice bowl’ that had delicate little flowers frozen into it. The tartare itself was superb, such a simple dish, yet it hit all the right levels of spice, sweet and sour that you could hope for, simply topped with a soft-boiled quails egg and a smattering of tobika caviar. Visually, it caught the eye of every passer by and the flavour was every bit as good as its appearance. We also chose the soft-shell spider crab sushi rolls, packed with deep-fried crunchy yet sweet crab meat and creamy avocado, were perfect with a fiery addition of fresh wasabi and soy sauce.

Next came salt and pepper chilli squid, served in a dainty little paper cone with a side of sweet chilli sauce. Crispy little morcels of tender squid which would have been more enjoyable had they been a tad less oily. We also had the signature salad, which was the perfect medley of crunchy cashew nuts, juicy and refreshing watermelon studded with meaty chunks of juicy duck mixed with a herb salad and a slightly sweet soy dressing. Steamed prawn and chive dumplings were a tad disappointing with a heavy rice pastry dough which let them down. Our recommended side dish of thin noodles with bean sprouts was again too oily and didn’t really deliver the promised ‘oomph’, but the leafy green ‘Po Xoi’ in a garlic sauce were a much better choice.

Whilst E&O is definitely no longer the ‘New kid on the block’ or by any means the ‘Coolest cat in the neighbourhood’, I can definitely still see the appeal and understand why it attracts hoards of trustafarians through its doors, year after year. I am not on these people though, it must be said. Style-over-substance is my biggest peeve when eating out. I believe food should always remain firmly top of the list of priorities when you choose a restaurant. The waiter confided that many locals often come here and push a few lettuce leaves around a plate or eat nothing at all! I just cannot understand why someone would go to a restaurant if not to eat! Surely a bar would be a better destination? Either way, E&O is still a great place for food and cocktails alike. Service is attentive and despite its perceived ‘snootiness’ and pricey reputation, it still beats the local competition and has much to offer. Its even better when you are sipping a tall vodka-spiked pomegranate cooler, basking in the Portobello sun on a lovely summers days. Dont believe me? Then see for yourself.

If you find yourself in the neighbourhood, or just want a great meal with friends, then visit their website for more information on E&O and its sister restaurants. http://www.rickerrestaurants.com/

Thursday, 6 August 2009

VIETNAMESE FOOD, BUT NOT AS I KNOW IT

“Wicked Crispy Frog”, “Piggy Grill Aubergine” and other such exotica await you at ‘Viet Grill’ restaurant in the east end of London. Nestled amongst a dozen other Vietnamese restaurants, I would say that Viet Grill is most definitely a cut above the rest. The interior is covered in a modern and chic flocked wall paper and the room is simple in décor, but the unmistakable sizzling of the woks, smell of the grill and – somewhat annoying – clattering of china and cutlery remind me that “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”.

I had worked myself into a proverbial lather at the thought of having some authentic Vietnamese food and if I can’t get to Hanoi, then what better place to eat it in then the London equivalent of ‘Little Vietnam’ on Kingsland Road, London E2.

Printed paper placemats proudly display the menu, a confusing plethora of dishes, each with the correct Vietnamese text above. Strange little smiley faces dotted all over the sheet and, unhelpfully, dishes aren’t numbered, which adds to the mayhem of trying to remember your place on the menu. Confusion confirmed when instead of ordering grilled sirloin steak served with pancakes, I had clearly lost my place and ended up with stir-fried Monkfish! Great. I did manage to correctly order some Vietnamese prawn rolls to accompany the Monkfish. I was pleasantly surprised that the Monkfish dish was actually a very lucky find for us, marinated with galangal, saffron and sautéed with fennel and dill it was fresh, light and delicious. The disappointing part being the bland, plain rice noodles it was served over. Nothing a dash of soya sauce and some chilli couldn’t fix.

More confusion with main courses, as all the dishes have Vietnamese names, which making absolutely no sense to me, made it all the more difficult to locate our agreed choices. A classic beef ‘Pho’, ‘Feudal’ sirloin beef steak and Sake lamb skewers with cumin and fennel all made the cut. The Pho arrived and straight off it looked unappealing. Thin quivvering slivers of meat, iridescent with oxidisation, yet grey and flabby with bits of unappetising, untrimmed fat and other unpleasant bits floating in a dull looking stock, covering some rice noodles and a few sliced spring onions. A side dish containing a few bean sprouts, some holy basil and a single small red chilli – that for me personally – couldn’t do any damage or impart any heat of flavour whatsoever. So I smash the chilli, bruise the holy basil and toss everything into the broth along with more of that soya sauce and chilli paste, but the result is still pretty inedible. My advice would be to steer clear of the ‘Classic Pho’ as it merely marrs what has the potential to be a perfectly good meal.

On the upside, the Sake lamb skewers were superb and had they brought the rice in time, perhaps I would have been able to enjoy them hot, but even cold, they were delicious and still very tender with a depth of spice infused by cumin. The ‘Feudal’ beef, whilst not strictly the Sirloin steak it has been advertised as, comes with a delicious sauce, which although flavoursome, was not as spicy as the waiter had promised. I'm beginning to think they are holding back on the spice factor to accommodate us Brits. Down with flexibility, i say! Up with tradition and authenticity!

At the end of the meal, I was definitely a little disappointed. The waiter was sweet enough to come over and ask what I thought about all the dishes and I told him quite honestly that I loved the meat dishes and was pleasantly surprised that the unplanned Monkfish dish was so good, but judging from my untouched ‘Pho’ he could see it definitely hadn't been the greatest of successes.

I guess I have always thought that Vietnamese food is a combination of fresh flavours, fresh ingredients and lots of heat from chillies and depth from spices. I don’t feel Viet Grill was a true reflection of the slice of Vietnam that I was after. However there is still hope, as their more authentic sister restaurant in Hoxton ‘Cay Tre’ is incredibly popular with queues outside the door! So why didn’t I go there? I was sucked in by the contemporary décor and slick menu…. Proof that you should never judge a book by its cover! How 'Hanoi-ing'... Get it?

Check out both restaurants at: www.vietnamesekitchen.co.uk

Sunday, 2 August 2009

COMFORT FOOD WITH A SPANISH ACCENT

I have created a monster by fusing Yorkshire pudding batter with top quality Brindisa cooking Chorizo to create a very different 'Toad-in-the-hole" - Spanish Style. The recipe is simple and the result is superb.... I'm not big on method and structure of recipe writing, but more on simplicity and ease! So here goes...

First, take your cooking Chorizo, whether you used the full size sausages or the mini ones like I did, in a hot pan, brown them off quickly in a dry hot pan, just to get some colour on them and extract some of their natural fat content. The idea is not to cook them through, but just to brown them a bit, as they will be cooked later along with the batter. Remove from heat and drain on some kitchen roll to remove excess fat.

Now onto the batter mix... My rule of thumb with Yorkshire pudding batter is equal volume of flour, as to eggs and liquid. I cracked medium sized eggs into a measuring cup, which totalled 200mls of liquid. Then I added 100ml of milk, 100ml of room temp water and about (roughly) 250g of plain flour. Mix the ingredients together well, until batter is quite thick but smooth and still fluid. Then add a dessert spoon of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar because that’s what I had, but white wine vinegar and malt vinegar also work) and mix well again. Using an ovenproof dish (I chose Pyrex) add a generous amount of oil into the dish, until it covers the surface, but not so much that is a pool of oil and place it into a preheated oven at 200 degrees. Let the Pyrex dish and oil heat up for about 8 minutes and in a very swift, but extremely careful motion, remove the dish from the oven and pour the batter mixture into. This will begin to bubble and spit a little, do not worry, this is just what you want, as it will make for a better and lighter pudding. Then dot your batter mix with your browned chorizo and bake for 20-25 minutes without opening oven door.

That’s all there is to it! It so simple, there really isn’t much else to do other than sit down with a few friends and tuck in to, although i have discovered, it keeps incredibly well overnight in the fridge and with a quick blast in the oven to reheat, it is quickly restored to its former glory. If wine is your thing, I would go Spanish and enjoy a nice robust Tempranillo, because the Chorizo aspect of the dish can most definitely hold its own.

Monday, 27 July 2009

A LITTLE "JE NE SAIS QUOI" GOES A LONG WAY!!!

I admit i have felt somewhat short of inspiration of late and when asked to booked somewhere exciting for lunch with a friend, i found it to be a struggle to say the least. Browsing through choices, i came across a French restaurant in Spittalfields and being lured by its promise of Charolais and Limousin beef, i made a last minute booking.

Le Bouchon Breton is a tucked away on the first floor of Spittalfields market in the City district of London. On arrival, we were sat on the lovely terrace area, which although not terribly busy, suited my mood perfectly. The staff are immaculately attired in classic black jacket, tie and crisp white shirt combination, a sight that for me personally, seems to have very much disappeared from the modern-day restaurant scene. A quick look at the menu and i decided to throw caution to the wind and treat myself to a starter of summer time classics... A whole lobster, giant prawns and homemade mayonnaise. And so appeared our mini seafood banquet on raised platters resting on a bed of ice... Gloriously decadent, juicy lobster with giant prawns bursting with a meaty sweet texture (none of those flabby watery tiger prawns)... simply dipped in unctuous mayonnaise, expertly whipped up. Perfection. Greedily i chose a salad of Dandelion and walnut with a warm Saint Marcelin cheese croute. Deliciously bitter dandelion leaves, reminiscent of a young chicory leaf, with a heady punch of rich and strong St Marcelin cheese, enrobed in a perfect vinaigrette. Just the ticket to kick-start a meal with the desired level of fabulousness.

The main course was a simple enough decision for us.... Cote du boeuf... or Rib of beef. Nothing (but nothing) could persuade me to choose anything else. As the restaurant themselves say "OUR BEEF IS A CROSS OF SCOTTISH BLACK ANGUS, CHAROLAIS OR LIMOUSIN BREEDS FROM A SINGLE HERD. FED SOLELY ON LUSCIOUS LANCASHIRE GRASS AND HUNG ON THE BONE FOR NO LESS THAN 28 DAYS" When something is put so beautifully as that, is there really any reason to seek alternatives? I think not.

The staff are incredibly friendly and attentive... a rareity in most other French restaurants the world over. We felt very well taken care of, but not overly observed or harassed or smothered. The table next us to were all French (always a good sign!) and all the staff, including waiters and Chefs, took their turn to spend a great deal of time talking with these diners. This is such a similar experience to France itself, as the French like to take their time to enjoy life's little pleasure and if that includes leaving the kitchen to speak to valued diners for 15 minutes, then why ever not? It endeared them to me greatly and reminded me of being in the South of France in the summer, where after lunch the staff would sit and chat endlessly with us over a few glasses of wine.

As the terrace grew busier with diners, a large group's main courses arrived, beef tartare, expertly made at the table by the head waiter with perfectly chopped fillet of beef dressed with the usual raw egg yolk, mustard, capers, shallots and what not. Like having your own personal culinary theatre at your table. The theatrics continue as the trolley is wheeled forward "Cote du boeuf!! Cote du boeuf!!" bellows the waiter. The beautiful piece of beef paraded as the magnificent beast it is, carved into juicy thick slices and served on a wooden board at your table with a simple accompaniment of a superbly made Bearnaise sauce, that is so good it should have its own billing on the menu and a deliciously rich, gravy-like peppercorn sauce as a second alternative. Classic, thinly cut French fries or 'Frites' and a simply mixed salad are also served. The whole experience was simple in content, but with an incredible impact, the likes of which i havent felt for the longest of times. "Vraiment delicieux!"

Only a fool would be able to eat another bite after such a banquet of seafood and a beast of a Cote du boeuf, as we'd had... But i, my friends, am such a fool. I prefer to be labelled a fool having satisfied the devil in me, rather than be sensible and end the meal without dessert. I literally could not help myself from ordering something sweet to round off my wonderful meal... I opted for the Mousse au Chocolat et Langue de chat, which translated is Chocolate Mousse with Cats Tongue. Ok they dont really eat cat's tongues in France... It is merely a term for a delicate little biscuit that is long in length with a delicate curvature at each end, reminiscent of a cat's tongue. I must admit, their was nothing 'Moussey' about this Mousse. It was a very dense and heavy dessert, but for chocolate lovers like myself, it was absolutely heavenly... I spread the chocolate dessert onto the little biscuits and devoured them at the speed of light. Who said i didnt have room for dessert?

You know, i really needed a pick-me-up... Faced with a 17 hour working day on Sunday, i wanted to enjoy every single second of my freedom on the Saturday... I arrived in Spittalfields but dined in France! With the best food, the greatest of service and a feeling that i could only liken to the freedom that only comes when you are on holiday... and the kind of holiday where you can leave your watch behind, because time is of no consequence! Overall it was a surprisingly good find and a truly outstanding experience. Very much the culinary lift and inspiration that i needed to get me through the weekend and more importantly get me writing again! And dont be surprised by the excellence of this restaurant, because on careful studying of their website, i discovered it is the brain child of one multi-Michelin starred Chef, none other than the heir of the Roux family empire, Chef Michel Roux Jnr or Le Gavroche. So if you want a slice of Roux culinary excellence, at a fraction of the price then visit Le Bouchon Breton or Le Bouchon Bordelais (in Clapham). Their website is: http://www.lebouchon.co.uk/ Vive La France!

Monday, 20 July 2009

IRAQI "KIBBEH HALAB" (BEYOND BAGHDAD, BEYOND DELICIOUS)

As a kid i was very fortunate to be exposed to food from many different cultures and i especially remember the family link to Iraq. Historically, despite being neighbours, Iran and Iraq havent always had the best relations (10 years of fighting beginning in the 80's) but we never really hated each other... and now that the rest of the world seems to have pigeon-holed the entire Middle East as terrorists, our unity has become tighter than ever! My Grandmas sister married an Iraqi over 65 years ago and she always did copious amounts of cooking at home, which was the complete opposite to my own Grandmother. I loved sitting in my Aunt's kitchen, watching her cook for the family (she had 5 children, who in turn had many more children) and the it was always a full house with people waiting to be fed at any time of the day!

Remembering the times spent sitting in her kitchen, perched like a hungry munchkin on a kitchen chair, I was just a little girl aged around 5 or 6 years old. A lot of the food she used to make, initially looked incredibly foreign to me. Exotic and strange dishes like Mussels stuffed with garlic butter and breadcrumbs as well as regular family favourites of Spaghetti Bolognese and of course lots of wonderful Persian dishes cooked to perfection. I loved her cooking, it was on a whole different level than that served at my own home. I remember every couple of weeks, a whole day would be devoted to making very certain special little dishes, which i later found out were Iraqi specialities. Some dishes stood out for me more than other... such as spicy "Shammi" kebabs, which from what i recall were little patties made with pureed chick peas, lamb mince which was blended together and dotted with tiny pieces of feta cheese, with an overall lethal kick of chilli. So delicious i cant even begin to tell you.

But for me, nothing reminds me more of my Great Aunts house than Iraqi Kibbeh. They are so good, i found myself having to turn to petty crime in order to feed my habit. As a kid, i used to sneak into the kitchen, after my Aunt has just cooked a fresh batch and used to gorge as many as i could stuff into my greedy little mouth, without getting busted by my Aunt! To anger my Aunt was a HUGE mistake! She never raised her voice, but just shot you a look that made you freeze on the spot from fear! So i really didnt want to tick her off by getting caught red-handed skimming Kibbeh off her laboriously accumulated pile. But man oh man, i was never one to be able to resist temptation and Kibbeh to this day is one of my absolute favourite Middle Eastern treats!

Many different countries in the Middle East have their own version of Kibbeh... But essentially they are all rounded little dumplings, almost egg shaped, but each corner ending in a pointy finish. The casings vary as do the stuffings, for example the most common Kibbeh found here will be the Lebanese version which is cracked bulgar wheat, mixed with lamb mince and the inside contains a mixure of more fried lamb mince with parsley and pine nuts, all delicately spiced with cinnamon and other such exotica. These, however, are my least favourite ones to be perfectly honest with them, as they lack the fabulous qualities i so very much adore of the Iraqi "Kibbeh Halab" version.

Crispy, crunchy, perfectly formed golden ocre-coloured little balls of perfection! The outer case made with delicately moulded cooked rice (sometimes tinted with saffron) shaped and then generously stuffed with a simple meaty filling. Pure heaven for yours truly and much lighter than their Lebanese counterparts! Literally every single time i make them, despite them needing to be deep fried at volcanic temperatures... as soon as they come out of the oil, a quick drain on kitchen towel and within seconds i inhale the whole lot as if they were never there. First one, then another, then suddenly the whole pile are gone.... Just like when i was a kid. They are insanely good and i still havent learn the knack of controlling myself.

I will be perfectly honest with you and admit that i am still very scared of attempting to make them, as i have always had a firm belief that some recipes should be left to the experts. However, should you wish to make these, you will need to search high and low for an accurate recipe, because Google has only managed to afford me the recipe of the more commonly known Lebanese bulgar wheat kibbeh... Alternatively you could head to your local Arabic supermarket and ask them if they have Kibbeh Halab (Iraqi rice kibbeh). This is exactly what i do when im craving them. You will find them in the freezer section and they simply need to be deep fried straight from frozen and thats all there is to do, except enjoy them!

To help you in your quest, here are the two places i buy these fabulous little treats from:

Green Valley Market - 36 Upper Berkeley Street, London, W1H 5QF / Tel: 020 7402 7385

~ OR ~

Archie Food Store - 14 Moscow Road, London W2 4BT / Tel: 020 7229 2275