Thursday, 30 May 2013

Saffron Orzo & Asparagus (Solihull News)

I love orzo and yet it is often overlooked compared to its pasta counterparts of spaghetti or penne.  

Although it is a pasta, its shape resembles a large grain of rice, so could be used in risotto-esque meals or indeed in stews.

Here is my recipe for Saffron Orzo with Asparagus which has been printed this week in the Solihull News as a belated recipe for National Vegetarian Week 2013.

Saffron Orzo with Asparagus

In addition, to find out more about saffron, here's a post I wrote recently about identifying real vs fake saffron which you may find of interest.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Benefits of Asparagus

With the official asparagus season well underway, here's an article I wrote for The Birmingham Press about the benefits of asparagus, which I hope will encourage everyone to enjoy this delicious vegetable.  

In addition, by buying British asparagus, it's a great way to support local farming.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Growing Your Own Celery

It's been well documented across the internet how to grow your own celery.  So, based on this easy-peasy process, I thought I'd give it a go myself and write my own version of events.

First things first, all you need is a celery bunch with the root end still attached (ie: the bottom bit which keeps all the stalks together and not individual celery sticks).  Plus a ramekin or small pot with cold water.

  • Fill the ramekin/pot half full with cold water.
  • Getting the end of the bunch, remove some of the outer stalks if possible, cut about an inch (3-4 cms) above the root. 

Cutting the celery bunch
  • Place the root end into the ramekin/pot.

Root end in the ramekin

  • Place on a warm windowsill to ensure it gets warmth and light.
  • After a few days you'll notice green shoots appearing which signifies growth. 

Root end with shoots

  • Keep adding fresh water, as you'll notice the water levels dipping as the celery root end consumes it.
  • After a couple of weeks you'll notice even more growth and miniature celery stalks with leafy ends will appear.

Miniature celery stalks
  • When the root end becomes quite 'leafy', it will then be time to pot it into soil to promote further growth.

Leafy ends - ready for planting

  • In an average sized plant pot, place some multi-purpose compost and fill it half way.

Celery being planted before the final layer of soil is added

  • Place the celery root end on top of the soil and then  cover with more soil to the top of the pot.
  • Water well and place back onto the windowsill.
  • After a few days/a week, you'll see that the celery will appear through the soil.

Celery appearing through the soil

  • After a couple of weeks, you can re-pot the celery into a larger pot if you feel you'd like to grow a bigger plant or if you'd like to keep it as a smaller plant, you can leave it as it is.
  • At this point, the celery will be ready to use and eat.
Celery - ready to eat


And it's as simple as that!

Whatever you chop from the plant, it should re-grow (fingers crossed).  However, the stalks won't be as per the large bunches you find in the supermarket but they are still celery and are perhaps more suited as a salad garnish.

Seeing as when you buy celery from the shops, when preparing it, the root is always chopped away and disposed of before eating, but this is a great way of using it and creating a new plant for your own use. 

It's perfect for flat/apartment owners that don't have much capacity to be green fingered and it's also a fun and easy introductory indoor gardening exercise for children so that they can see how from a small root end, actually edible celery grows! 

Good luck!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Love Tea Ritual

I adore the ritual of tea making.  That is the full ritual of using tea leaves, tea pots and tea strainers.  However, modern life can get in the way and tea making often only results in a quick tea bag dip and a splash of milk.  Time and convenience being of the essence,  in my house it's often only tea bags that see the light of day and my tea pot sits redundant on the kitchen shelf and my poor strainer hidden from view in the drawer.

Himalayan Imperial Black Tea
So when I was kindly sent a pack of Himalayan Imperial Black tea by online tea merchants Love Tea, I took this as a sign to resurrect the tea making ritual in my house.

The last few weekends, Sundays in particular, have proven the opportune time to perform tea making and enjoy leisurely tea drinking whilst perusing the papers.

For instance, May Day Bank Holiday weekend this year saw a shift in the tea stakes and may be a combination of the extended weekend, it being my Ukrainian Easter celebration and the delight of good weather, led to making time for real tea.

Tea Bag Envelope
With the pack of tea, came a small envelope with little empty tea bags ready to fill with the tea leaves alongside a Love Tea information card.

Love Tea, Tea Bag

The card describes the excellence and organic certification of Jun Chiyabari, the boutique tea garden in Nepal's Hile region where the leaves are harvested from.  

Noted is that Jun Chiyabari creates new leaf styles and production methods which enhances the quality of the tea.

Instruction Card

The Himalayan Imperial Black tea leaves differ from ordinary branded loose tea as the leaves are straighter, longer, thicker and are flecked with golden streaks.

As per the instruction on the card, it suggests using 3g of leaves (which will produce 250ml of tea - ideal for one cup) plus hot water (ideally at 95°C) in a tea pot, allow to infuse for 2-3 minutes and then strain into a mug.

Tea leaves in the Tea Pot
Tasting it without any additions, it was deliciously clean, fresh and very palatable with a very evident taste of tea (as you would expect of course) yet not overbearing.  Referring to the notes on the information card and as a reference point for tea connoisseurs, the aroma produced is earthy and the red fruity acidity is released once infused which is counter-balanced by a rich cocoa-esque after-taste.  In a nutshell - thoroughly enjoyable.

Tea strained into a Mug

I then decided to have a second mug of tea but I made my own tea bag by placing the leaves into one of the bags provided which was easy to do and was a nice task to fulfill for a change. 

Creating a Tea Bag
Tea Bag in a Mug ready for Brewing

Lemon & Home-grown Mint 

Once brewed, this time I added a slice of lemon (black tea & lemon is very popular in Poland - my family over in Poland don't drink it any other way).  Plus I added some sprigs of mint from my herb garden, as mint is one of my favourite flavours and works well with lemon.  

Tea with Lemon & Mint

Again, very fresh with a fruity zest coming from the lemon, the tea tasted pure.  

Ukrainian Paska & Jam

Consumed during Ukrainian Easter weekend, it worked perfectly with a slice of paska & jam (a cake/bread which is traditionally eaten at Ukrainian Easter).

Love Tea provide a wide variety of packages in one, three and six month batches, ranging from the 'Mini' - excellent for those that like me that have re-discovered the art and pleasure of weekend tea making; to 'Classic' - for those that enjoy their daily cup of tea; right through to 'Tea Lover' which speaks for itself and is the ideal package for those that have an insatiable thirst for tea!  

In addition, Love Tea have £2.00 samples available which offer the opportunity to enjoy the ritual of tea-making whether it be an entirely new experience or if you just want to re-acquaint yourself with loose-leaf tea.

Love Tea have a 'no commitment' policy, so you can order without having to commit to a period of time/minimum orders which comes with the added benefit of free UK delivery.  Packages are such that they can fit through standard letterboxes so no inconvenient collections from the sorting office needed!

I have honestly fallen in love with tea making again and have made a resolve to make time at weekends to perform the process at home, with family/friends and to accompany it, if it's not paska season, then I'll bring out the chocolate biscuits!

If you yourself are looking to turn over a new leaf with regards to tea making, log onto Love Tea and see what's brewing....



Love Tea are offering 'Word In Veg Ways' readers a special discount!  You can receive 40% off your first month's order using the code:  VEGWAYS40.  Visit: for more information about the ranges/ordering process or contact to clarify the discounted offer details.

Disclosure:  This post was written following receipt of a sample from Love Tea.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Moseley Farmers' Market

Entrance to Moseley's Farmers Market

Moseley as a district is one of the jewels in Birmingham's crown.  An extremely popular destination for shoppers and revellers alike.  Once a month it hosts its award winning farmers' & arts market.

Attending last month, I took the time to peruse the market stalls and the local shops to see what goodies were available. Although Moseley is near to home, I don't always have the opportunity to venture there so it was great to have the chance to go.

Swiss Chard
Akiki Organics Stall

First stall to catch my eye was Akiki Organics.  Providing a range of home grown produce, I was particularly drawn to their swiss chard.  Lovely green leafage with multi-coloured stalks.  Having tried to source some via my local supermarket to no avail, it was great to find some here!  A bagful purchased, I started thinking what I could serve it with.... (I am forever meal planning)!

Curds & Whey Cheese Stall
Then I came across the Curds & Whey Cheese stall.  New to the Birmingham farmer's market circuit, they provide a wide variety of cheeses, many of which are suitable for vegetarians.  One of the cheeses that heightened my interest was the Pennard Ridge Red which is the only red goats cheese in the UK.  A lover of goats cheese and indeed red cheese too, this is the perfect combination!  A rare find, I simply had to buy a block - to not only to eat as it is, but ideal grated over pasta.
Pennard Ridge Red Goats Cheese

As always, the farmers market regulars were there too: chutney/jam makers Cuffufle Preserves, spice/jerk sauce makers Tan Rosie, veggie hot food vendors Kuskus Foods and Earlswood Fowlers Cheesemakers amongst others.

My shopping spree extended to Moseley's shops and there are two delicatesessens based around the market.  Nima Delicatessen which has a Middle Eastern slant but yet packed with veggie refrigerated goods and the usual deli stalwarts of flavoured oils, pickles, preserved lemons etc.

Lewis's Delicatessen has a whole host of Italian inspired foods with unusual pastas,  biscotti amongst other Mediterranean fine foods alongside goods from local producers.

Indigo Wholefoods based just by St Mary's Church is a treasure trove of vegetarian and vegan supplies with grains, pulses, vitamins and refrigerated items.  They have recently started a pre-order service for organic fruit and vegetable boxes.  Contact them for details. 

Food aside (just for a moment), my visit was combined with the opening of the new haberdashery & fabric shop/studio - Guthrie Ghani.  

Co-owned by BBC 2's The Great British Sewing Bee finalist Lauren Guthrie, the launch showcased the new shop (just past The Village Pub) as well as its creative studio where workshops and classes will take place to make seamstresses and knitters of us all!

Celebratory Cake at the opening of
Guthrie Ghani
The Great British Sewing Bee Finalist and shop co-owner -Lauren Guthrie

Whether you're a foodie 'so & so' or a creative 'sew & sew' or both, Moseley, its shops and its Farmers & Arts Market (held on the 4th Saturday of each month) will have you returning time and time again!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

National Vegetarian Week 2013 - The Birmingham Press

I've written an article for The Birmingham Press outlining how National Vegetarian Week should be used as a way of trying vegetarian food either via your weekly supermarket food shopping spree or when dining out.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Edge Magazine Feature - May 2013

'Edge Magazine' is a food, drink, culture, business, fashion and lifestyle magazine focusing on all the latest news from the Warwickshire, Worcestershire and West Midlands areas.

I am thrilled that Word In Veg Ways and my Gnocchi & Samphire Stir-Fry recipe has been showcased as part of the magazine's 'The Local Kitchen' feature.

As a taster, here are some images of the article.  But to get your own copy, you can find the magazine available free of charge from most gastro pubs, restaurants, cafes, office complexes etc in the Warwickshire, Worcestershire and West Midlands regions.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Al Fresco Dining & Table Talk with Leading Chef at Piccolino's Birmingham

DJ entertaining the guests at the Al Fresco Terrace Launch


Al fresco dining is often only really feasible in warmer climes and apart from a few sun speckled days in summer, England doesn't lend itself well to such experiences.

Exterior of Piccolino's Al Fresco Terrace

But Piccolino's has a wonderful solution to this issue.  Taking into account the unpredictability of British weather, it has officially launched its covered and heated al fresco dining terrace at their Birmingham Restaurant. 

Following on from the success of their al fresco offerings at their other nationwide restaurants, Piccolino Birmingham has utilised its outdoor space and has created a continental style, pedestrian level, al fresco terrace. Partitioned by glass panels, the stylish outdoor lounge with tables and
cocktail bar echoes those that you would
find in European outdoor dining establishments. 
Acknowledging the potential inclement
weather, creature comforts such as
warm blankets and heaters are on standby to
make dining comfortable yet chic.

Executive Operational Chef James Gingell and I

I was kindly invited to the terrace's recent launch which included the opportunity and pleasure of being able to interview Piccolino's Executive Operational Chef, James Gingell, who spoke about the new terrace area, catering for vegetarians and about his love for all things Italian.


Q:  Congratulations on the opening of the new al-fresco dining terrace at Piccolinos! The al-fresco element definitely adds a continental feel to dining and complements Piccolino's Italian offering. How do you feel this benefits the overall dining experience as well as benefitting Piccolino's itself?
A:   I think it gives a real touch of Italy as everyone in Italy likes dining out and they have better weather than we do. It's good in the respect that we can eat outside with the winterised terrace.  I've had a few customer comments saying that even in the middle of winter, it feels like they are sat in the Med.  It's a real nice touch and I think that customers  really like it.

Q:  How long have you been a chef for and how long have you been at Piccolino's?
A:  I've been a chef for 26-27 years and I've been at Piccolino's since the start when the first Piccolino Restaurant opened in Knutsford and I've seen it grow to the size it is now which is 21 restaurants.

Q:   Do you enjoy vegetarian cooking yourself?
A:  I do actually, because it is more of a challenge than the mainstream meat and fish meals. To make a dish like our 'Penne a la Norma' that customers enjoy is great and to be honest it's not just vegetarians that eat it.

Q:  Where do you get inspiration from?
A:  I watch a lot of Italian TV cookery programmes and I have my own house in Italy in the region of Albus.  So I do often go back to Italy and meet up with artisan suppliers, look at new products and take some of the other chefs out there to give them a taste of real Italy. A lot of Italian food in England has been anglicised and when you go to Italy you'll see a lot of what is presented on a plate is in fact very, very rustic.  What you tend to do is take an idea and bring it back to England and just put a commercial element to it because the English diner is different to the Italian diner and they have to be gently introduced to new ideas.

Q:  Piccolino's have just launched their new menu with great reviews. Could you talk through some of the highlights including the vegetarian options?
A:  We've just recently changed menu, including the pizza section and we've looked at a few elements on there included some vegetarian dishes.  We've also just introduced a few new salads and we've got a salad on there at the moment which includes artichokes, asparagus and goats cheese.   Salads are working very well and as soon as the weather hots up salads will be requested even more so.

Q:  How do you decide upon which vegetarian dishes to make/feature on the menu?
A:  Well it has to do with seasons, we change the menu every autumn, winter, spring and summer and so we look at what is available through our suppliers, what we can get within each 3 month period, for instance artichokes are very in season now, and that dictates what we put on the menu but we always bear vegetarians in mind.  

We've always looked at vegetarian options in different ways and we try a lot of new dishes on the menu. One of our successes at the moment is our 'Pasta a la Norma' which is a Sicilian dish with a spicy aubergine base, it works very, very well and we use all shapes of pasta. It is currently on the menu with spaghetti or you can serve it with penne. What we do is we finish it with a ricotta salata, using a salted ricotta and it is a success within our vegetarian menu at the moment.   

Q:  How/where are the ingredients sourced?
A:  We work very closely with our suppliers and if we're looking for certain ingredients we ask them to source them for us.  Our vegetable supplier is someone who has a large range of goods, we tell him what we want and he goes and gets the best product for us.  We do look at organics, including items like flour, and use them occasionally.

Q:  How long does it take to test and perfect dishes at the restaurant before they are included on the menu?
A:  What we do is develop all our dishes centrally, they are tasted by the management and then what we do is trial them at one of our restaturants for anything up to 3 weeks to a month.  We then we get customer feedback, see if it is liked and then what we do is bring all the chefs in for training on the dish, talk them through the components and then roll it out to all the restaurants.  Sometimes during testing if we realise that a dish hasn't been successful, we then have a re-think and start again.

Q:  How flexible can you be for vegetarian customers that may come in with different queries or requests?
A:   I like to look at the Italian menu as a large bag of ingredients that we tend to juggle. Sometimes we will bespoke a dish if a customer comes in and asks for a little of this and a little of that that isn't on the menu and we can accommodate that request.  This day and age you need to be more accommodating to the guest and we have a policy never to say no to a customer's request, if a customer wants something they get it.

Q:  People are always looking for easy ways to cater for a mixed dinner party (ie: with meat & vegetarian guests). If you had free rein, what you make?
A:  I get a lot of joy from making fresh pasta and I like making ravioli so that is what I would do.  For instance recently I've been looking at some new flavours for summer including asparagus/pecorino and spinach/ricotta, which is a little more mainsteam.  We're going to put those two up on the menu, assess their popularity and see which one will win.

Q:  What are your predictations for future ideas/trends for vegetarian food and could we see them on a future menu listing at Piccolino's?
A:   I think provenance is a big thing at the moment, it has been for a while, and it is kind of easy now and will always be there.  It's all about using good simple ingredients and using them well rather than over garnishing or overspicing them and that is what you will find with a lot of anglicised Italian restaurants.  We tend to use a classic idea and put our own interpretation around it.  

One ingredient that I've recently experienced which is up and coming is burrata.  Burrata, which is like a buffalo mozzarella, comes from the Puglia region of Italy and how it's made is by pulling it together, as you would with a moneybag.  The curds are a lot more softer inside than in a buffalo mozzarella.  Burrata has worked very well in London but coming up towards the Midlands and the North it's still a hard sell.  

Next trend in Italian food I believe will be a focus on pizza.  Pizzas are massive in London at the moment, so many outlets are opening up.   I think we will look at pizzas in more depth and we'll be looking at more pizza flavours.  If you go more gourmet, you can marry up a lot of ingredients and flavours onto a pizza.  I think we could innovate that area more.    Classics like Margheritas will always be popular but people are now asking more of their pizzas.  

With regard to future menu listings at Piccolino's, there will always be core favourites on the menu which will remain when we do our menu changes but we always look to change 10-15 dishes outside of that.  Although the core is hard to change, when we've taken core dishes off the menu in the past, it can upset our customer base as some of our dishes have a strong following so we keep them on.   In addition, a key trend is that people are lot more aware of seasonal produce these days and want to see that reflected in their dining experiences and ultimately on our menu.


I also had the pleasure of sampling the vegetarian offerings at Piccolino from the new menu which gave me the chance to get a feel for their acclaimed Italian cuisine with a seasonal focus.


Dining with my husband, he took advantage of the current asparagus season and chose the Asparagi dish to start with, which were asparagus spears and a poached egg with a herb breadcrumb.  The seasoned asparagus were cooked to perfection whilst still possessing a delicious crunch and the egg was soft and tender.


I had the Caprino, which was a goats cheese, artichoke, mint and asparagus salad. Topped with mixed salad leaves and a gentle dressing, the crunchiness of the seasonal asparagus provided a well matched contrast to the softness of the goats cheese.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage & Hazelnuts

For our mains, my husband had Sea Bass which as a non-vegetarian he wanted to try and exclaimed how delicious it was.  I however, opted for the menu's Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage & Hazelnuts for my main course.  

Potatoes with Garlic & Rosemary and Buttered Spinach


In addition, we ordered a portion of Patate all’aglio (potatoes with garlic & rosemary) and Spinaci (buttered spinach) to share as side accompaniments.  The butternut squash was totally delicious and had a certain sweetness to it which when wrapped in home-made ravioli pasta parcels made for a very filling dish, heightened when dipped in the sage infused oil/butter dressing that it came with.

Warm Chocolate Fondant & Salted Caramel Ice Cream

For our dolci (desserts) we opted for 
Tortino al Cioccolato (warm chocolate fondant, salted caramel ice cream) and Torta al Cioccolato (chocolate, bitter orange, almond tart, vanilla ice cream).   The Tortino's warm molten chocolate when released from its cake casing possessed a dense cocoa inspired richness which when mixed with the flavour du jour of salted caramel ice cream made for an ideal dessert, which was endorsed by our waiter. 

Chocolate & Bitter Orange Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream

The Torta's classic combination of chocolate and bitter orange with a hint of almond was an ambrosial dessert with a cornucopia of flavours balanced totally by the home-made vanilla ice cream.

Cherry Blossomed Oozells Square

Based in the cherry blossomed (as is in springtime) Oozells Square within Brindleyplace in Birmingham (next to the Ikon Gallery), Piccolino's is centrally located within the city but yet benefits from the gentle ambience of this renown dining/entertainment quarter but still possesses a positivity from the city's vibrant energy.

Not only is Piccolino's one of Birmingham's premium dining destinations, it also brings a flavour of rustic Italy to the city which can be enjoyed indoors or al fresco with warmth guaranteed for either.  The terrace is perfect for the height of summer through to the depths of winter -  for dinner with friends or for a romantic tête-à-tête.  

All in all, a great new dining concept for Birmingham's culinary scene and I am looking forward to returning with a table reservation for the terrace so I can experience the inside, out.


For information about Piccolino's Birmingham and the other restaurants in the group, visitPiccolino Birmingham
Individual Restaurants Group

Disclosure: This post was written following a kind invitation from Piccolino's Birmingham to the launch of their al fresco terrace and to experience their new menu. 
I extend my thanks to James Gingell, Piccolino's and SX Media.
This review was conducted with honesty, without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.