Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

To mark the end of the year, here is my last post for 2014.

Thank you so much for everyone's support and for taking the time to read my posts, I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

I would just like to wish you all a fabulous and peaceful Christmas and every good wish for the new year.  Season's Eatings!

Love Anna xx

Monday, 22 December 2014

Festive Dining at Marco's Stratford Upon Avon

Thoroughly enjoying the VIP night I attended a few weeks ago at Marco’s New York Italian Restaurant in Stratford upon Avon, I was delighted to have the opportunity to return and enjoy the restaurant in its more usual guise. 


The restaurant purveys an eclectic mix of Italian food infused with influences of New York dining, ultimately inspired by the Italian immigrants and their descendants that settled in the US over a century ago and who (as is quoted by the restaurant team), have given rise to one of America’s most vibrant, delicious and important cuisines that is a celebration of both resourcefulness and culinary invention.


Arriving on a Wednesday evening at 7pm, we saw the last trickle of early diners leave (pre-theatre diners one assumes) and a number of tables were already occupied, gradually filling up as the evening went on.


The room was lit, although atmospherically dimmed, which fitted the Tudor timbered character of the building well.   Glancing around, amongst the discreet Christmas decorations (enough to mark the occasion but not overly done to be intrusive), portraits of Marco Pierre White himself adorn the walls with a reminder of whose hospitality you are enjoying!   


My carnivourous husband dined with me and we decided to eat from the two menus available that night, so he had Marco’s Festive Menu and I chose my courses from the a la carte menu.


The Festive Menu is available throughout December until the 24th for lunch (£20 per person) and dinner (£29.50 per person) and whilst it incorporates a lot of traditional seasonal traits, there were still elements of the restaurant’s raison d’etre with Italian influences woven in which made for a nice equipoise. 


My husband chose the Classic Bruschetta with Tomato Basil and Garlic to start with.  He commented it was tangy with a nice hit of garlic and was not too heavy as a starter.


He then opted for the Rib Eye Steak with Calabrian Spice Butter which came with Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables.  Succulent and cooked exactly as per his instruction, the Calabrian Spice butter complemented it well and the vegetables were cooked perfectly.


For dessert he had New York Cheesecake with Mulled Winter Fruits.  The cheesecake was light and the fruit compote added a nice sharp contrast.


From the a la carte menu, I chose the  Roasted Beetroot & Goat’s Cheese Salad with Aged Balsamic Dressing as a starter portion.  Although there were a lot of rocket leaves present, the beetroot was well roasted and a good match for the sharp goat’s cheese.   I felt the dish needed some bread to accompany it which was eagerly given to me when requested.


For my main course, I opted for the Wild Mushroom Risotto which I had with a side dish of Seasonal Vegetables.  Risotto can be a bit of a hit and miss dish when dining out and I was pleased when my (generous) portion came featuring meaty textured mushrooms, it was filling, nicely creamy and the vegetables gave variety to the dish.


Choosing Marco’s Tiramisu as my dessert option, I was informed it was made on site (which is good) and it was layered well, soft and slightly boozy.


One thing that I was impressed with was at the point of ordering our dolci/desserts, the waitress knowing I was vegetarian, advised me of the desserts that contained non-vegetarian ingredients which helped me to make my decision a lot easier.  This kind of level of customer  care was very much appreciated, especially as a vegetarian and I felt that it added value to the whole dining experience.


There are a good few choices for vegetarians from the a la carte menu which was great, but just to create a little more balance, I would however like to see a veggie choice in the burger section and perhaps a more creative veggie pasta dish as that would enhance the menu well.


As an overview,  the restaurant is classy, with a monochrome interior yet possessing a cosy bistro feel in ye olde Stratford Upon Avon, with echoes of New York and Italy, offering delicious cuisine with excellent customer service in a relaxing setting.


Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Marco's Stratford to sample their menus.    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. 
















Thursday, 18 December 2014

Food Entrepreneurs on the Rise - Warwickshire Life

Walking round food fayres and markets I have come to recognise that so many of the traders there are independent businesses, many of whom have started out as companies run from home.

Sally Daniel from Henley Chocolates

Exploring this phenomenon a little more and focusing on Warwickshire business Henley Chocolates, here is my article for Warwickshire Life!

Click here for article link.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Franzls - Austrian Restaurant Birmingham

The German Christmas Market in Birmingham has now become an annual event in the city, attracting tens of thousands of visitors and its ambience of European style Christmas cheer and Germanic influenced food is what brings people back year after year.
Franzls - Bar Area

And keeping with the German inspired theme, I have to be evangelical about a gem of a restaurant in Bearwood, just 3 miles from Birmingham city centre, called Franzls and it is the only Austrian restaurant in the Midlands.
Franzls - Interior
Set on the corner of a residential road amongst Victorian/Edwardian terraced houses, it is a restaurant that you go to because you know it is there rather than you ‘stumbling’ across it.  Echoes of Austria, the restaurant’s décor emulates the country’s rustic charm with a wooden carved bar downstairs and  traditional trinkets surrounding the dining tables.
Wall Art - Franzls
The food is prepared by an Austrian chef who worked as part of the catering team on the set of the 1964 film ‘The Sound of Music’ when it was filmed in Salzburg and along with his wife, they take care to bring you hearty portions of Austrian classic home cooking.  The menu also includes vegetarian dishes and the sides that come with it are usually potatoes, greens and delicious red cabbage – click here to view the menu.
I know that their thoughts for the forthcoming year (or so) are to leave the catering business behind and enjoy retirement otherwise, which for purely selfish reasons, I shall be sorry to see.  It has been a venue where we have celebrated numerous occasions with friends and every time we introduce someone new to Franzls, they fall in love with it too!
So, whilst the German Christmas Market will be with us for many years to come, it is worth taking advantage of Franzls  whilst it is still here.



Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Gołąbki - Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

This week, are looking for Christmas Polish recipes that you could make for your date.  In response to this, I have created a vegetarian version of the Polish classic dish – Gołąbki.

Gołąbki (go-lom-b-ki) are stuffed cabbage rolls which are served with a sauce, either as a standalone course or as a side dish.  As well as being served all year round, they are a popular feature in the hugely celebrated Polish Christmas Eve evening banquet – ‘Wigilia’ which is made up of 12 dishes.

Literally translated, Gołąbki means ‘little pigeons’ because when made and placed in a roasting dish for the final stage of cooking, they look like little pigeons all huddled up together.  Beef/pork mince is the most popular filling for Gołąbki, but my vegetarian version is made up of long grain/wild rice and mushrooms with a béchamel style tomato sauce.

It is the perfect dish to serve on cold winter evenings and ideal if you are looking to offer your dining partner a taste of Poland – vegetarian style!

(Makes 10)

1 head of Savoy Cabbage
150g Long Grain/Wild Rice (this combination can be purchased at supermarkets)
15g Dried Mushrooms (plus 240ml Hot Water)
200g Chestnut Mushrooms (chopped into small, fine pieces)
Vegetable Stock Cube (for the rice)
1 Onion (chopped into small, fine pieces)
Oil (for frying)
Salt and Pepper (for seasoning)
A Squeeze of Lemon Juice

A Splash of Dessert/Sweet Wine

Tomato Sauce:
1 small finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon Rapeseed oil
1.5 tablespoons Plain Flour
240ml Cold Vegetable/Mushroom Stock (use the mushroom water from the dried mushrooms plus a little extra vegetable stock)
2 tablespoons Tomato Puree
Salt/Pepper/Sugar (to taste)

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover in 240ml of hot water.  Allow to infuse for at least an hour to allow the mushrooms to hydrate.

Cut 10 leaves from the cabbage head and scrub each leaf thoroughly clean in cold water.

Place the leaves in a large saucepan, cover with water and boil until the leaves are soft and cooked through but are still pliable.

Cook the rice as per packet instructions.  In addition in the rice water, dissolve a vegetable stock cube so that the rice will have extra flavour.

Whilst the cabbage leaves and rice are cooking, in a separate frying pan heat some oil and fry the chestnut mushrooms and the onion.

Carefully take the re-hydrated mushrooms from their liquid (but keep the liquid for later).

Chop the re-hydrated mushrooms into small pieces and add to the other mushrooms/onion in the frying pan.

Fry together and season with salt, pepper, dessert wine and lemon juice.

Once the mushroom/onion mix has fried through, add to the rice (once that has been cooked) and mix thoroughly.

At this point, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (or equivalent).  Prepare a roasting dish with a little splash of oil ready for the gołąbki.

On a chopping board, lay down a clean tea towel or a sheet of kitchen towel.

Using tongs, carefully take a cabbage leaf from the saucepan and lie it down stalk-side down.

Using another tea towel or kitchen towel, absorb the excess water from the leaf.

In the dip of the leaf, place a good spoonful of the rice/mushroom mixture. 

Then fold the leaf to make a ‘parcel’ shaped roll as follows:  *Fold the edge nearest to you over the mixture.  *Fold the left edge into the centre.  *Fold the right edge into the centre.  *Roll the whole parcel over away from you and the parcel should be a neat package.  But don’t worry if a little rice falls out.

Place the parcel in the roasting pan fold-side down.

Repeat the process until all the leaves are used.  Any rice left over can be eaten for another occasion.

To Make the Sauce:

In a saucepan, fry the onion in some oil.
Stir in the plain flour and vegetable/mushroom stock and whisk.
Add the tomato puree plus salt, pepper and sugar to taste and mix together.

Pour the sauce over the gołąbki in the roasting pan and then place in the oven for 20 minutes so that it all warms through together.

Serve hot with lots of love!

Disclosure:  I was re-imbursed by (Polish dating section) to cover my expenses to create the meal.  This post was written honestly without bias.  Please  note that I am not affiliated with and neither do I endorse their services.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Foodie Tuesday Interview - BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire

I had the pleasure of being invited onto Phil Upton's Drive Time show this week to be featured on his 'Foodie Tuesday' slot on BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire.
We spoke about Ukrainian Christmas feasting traditions and vegetarianism in general.
For a little while longer, it is available on iPlayer via this link:
Choose show from 02/12/2014
Select Play - Fast Forward to 2 hrs 18 mins - Select Play 
Or you can listen via this link:  Interview Link
Select:  Download then Open
Happy Listening!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Vegan Bites Cookbook

I know as a vegetarian, when you attend a buffet it can either be a feast or a barren land, depending very much on who is catering and how much consideration has gone into veggie supplies.  So, I do sympathise with vegans who no doubt have the same issues as me, if not more, when it comes to buffet grazing.
A really useful book has come my way which is called Vegan Bites by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes published by Fair Winds Press and outlines lots of snacks and buffet items aimed for the vegan demographic.
The book has been written for an American readership primarily and this is noticeable in the use of language and also a number of the ingredients listed are items that are found in the US as opposed to the UK, but I am sure this can be overcome with a little research to find alternatives.  But in essence, the recipes and principles are universal and are denoted in both US and UK measurement scales.
Very user-friendly, the language used is informal and although there aren’t supporting pictures for each recipe (which I find very handy if that is the case), there are symbols present which indicate if a recipe is:  ‘Make Ahead’, ‘Quick & Easy’Gluten Free’ which is great for those on time restraints and/or for those with allergy issues.
For larger events, like a buffet for example, the book has some menu suggestions which would make an ideal guide for anyone catering en masse for a vegan party and no doubt some of the dishes would lend themselves as main course options (if ingredients are adjusted accordingly).
Recipes include: Black Lentil Endive Cups, Mediterranean Meatless Balls, Jamaican Jerk Tempeh Skewers to name a few.
All in all, a handy book for vegans, for those catering for vegans or for anyone that wants to try some meat-free/dairy-free options.  A good reference guide, especially as Christmas feasting becomes a focal point this time of year.

Notes:  Published by: Fair Winds Press.


Disclosure:  This post was written following kind receipt of a complementary copy of:  Vegan Bites by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes.  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, 30 November 2014

Food Roots Interview - Sami Tamimi

I am a huge fan of the Ottolenghi deli group in London, (a former blogpost of mine tells you why), and whenever I am in the capital, I endeavour to stop-by at the nearest deli to where I am, buy myself a take-away box and enjoy a little alfresco dining in one of London’s many fabulous parks.  As well as buying ready-to-eat food, I love stocking up on pots of sumac and za’atar whilst I’m there, in an attempt to re-create a little deli magic when I return home.

Combining my love for all things Ottolenghi and following the launch of my ‘Food Roots’ blog feature, I have recently had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Ottolenghi Group's Executive Head Chef - the wonderfully talented Sami Tamimi

However, many will recognise Sami’s business partner more readily - Yotam Ottolenghi Chef-Patron of Ottolenghi delis and Nopi Restaurant.  Yotam’s TV credits include his ‘Mediterranean Feasts’ series which was aired on More 4, along with BBC4 documentary, ‘Jerusalem on a Plate’.  Running alongside his best-selling cookbooks:  Plenty (his collection of vegetarian recipes), Ottolenghi : The Cookbook and Jerusalem;  is his well-received weekly column in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine.  Yotam’s much-anticipated new cookbook Plenty More was released this autumn.

Whilst Yotam’s media presence may be more evident, Sami’s involvement with the Ottolenghi Group is instrumental.  As well as Sami being co-author of the above mentioned bestselling cookbooks: Ottolenghi : The Cookbook and Jerusalem, (which won the James Beard ‘Best International Cookbook’ award and the Observer Food Monthly ‘Best Cookbook’ Award, amongst others), Sami’s role as Executive Head Chef is paramount across the three Ottolenghi London-based delis.  He is in the kitchen every day, creating new dishes and innovative menus as well as developing and nurturing young kitchen talents.    

I have over time, enjoyed following Sami on Twitter as he often Tweets about his work and shares photographs of the culinary dishes he prepares, many of which are vegetarian, creatively contemporary and are a complete joy to see.

Fascinated where he gets his inspiration from, my interview explores Sami’s years growing up in Jerusalem, how his roots have influenced his cooking methods today and the importance of carrying on the traditions he was brought up with.

Sami Tamimi

Describe your food memories of living in East Jerusalem and do you still practice any feasting traditions from your years growing up there?
Food has always been a huge part of my life and my memories of growing up are totally connected with food. Fresh fruit and vegetables were part of our every day.   For example, huge pomegranates bashed over the sink for the seeds to fall away ready to be eaten then and there or sprinkled over whatever was being cooked that day.  Eating fresh pitta with minced lamb with chopped parsley and coriander, syrupy sweet black figs, chopped cucumber and tomato salads, stuffed vegetables with rice, smoky chops, crumbly tahini cookies, olive oil, lemon juice, olives, burnt aubergine salads, roasted vegetables drizzled in tahini sauce, chopped liver - the food memories are not so much a list as an avalanche.  
Preparing food, having a house full of people willing and ready to be fed, sitting around tables full of people and a spread of dishes, something always bubbling away on the stove - these are my memories.  I don’t practice specific feasting traditions so much as love creating a similar atmosphere in my own London kitchen now.  Feeding people reminds me of my childhood.  That makes me happy.
How important is it for you to use Middle Eastern influence in your cooking repertoire and how much influence from your roots is reflected in your recipe development?
It’s really important.  It’s there in every dish I make, every squash I roast, every platter of food I prepare.  The influence of my parent’s cooking, the influence of the food markets I grew up going to -  where piles of fruit, vegetables, pulses and grains were presented in a way which was both bounteous and precise.  The time I spent in kitchens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv learning how to cook - these things all have a huge influence on my everyday repertoire now.  
Do you feel you have to alter Middle Eastern ingredient strengths to accommodate a British palette?
No, not at all. We’ve always found our customers really ready and willing to try new ingredients and be surprised by bursts of flavour they may not be used to.  This receptiveness grows year on year.  Any reservations we used to have about the ‘audacity’ of ingredients like chopped preserved lemon skin or sumac – both very astringent or even a little bit shocking if you are not expecting them in a dish – are positively celebrated now. If anything, we almost have the opposite problem, if a dish doesn’t sing from the rafters and wow with every bite, some people will say that it is not very ‘Ottolenghi’.  We’ve never wanted our food to shout for the sake of it, though, it’s about making food which both comforts and surprises at the same time.
Working with Yotam Ottolenghi and both hailing from Jerusalem, do you feel that that has strengthened your working relationship together?
Our relationship has always been strong. We’ve got a lot in common besides both coming from Jerusalem. Our palates, plans, pals and passions are all very similar.
With a considerable bias towards vegetarian food in many of the Ottolenghi books that you have worked on and the food that is sold in the London delis, where/how do you get your inspiration from to keep on producing new vegetarian recipes?
Neither of the books I have co-authored with Yotam – the first Ottolenghi book and Jerusalem – are vegetarian but, yes, so many of our recipes are a celebration of vegetables, pulses, grains, seeds, nuts, leaves and fruit. We both like to eat and cook meat and fish but, again, the way we were brought up with food was never the ‘meat main and two veg on the side’ approach to a meal - everything has always had equal status on our tables, whether it’s a leek or a lamb. We’re never short of ideas of new recipes to produce. For every one vegetable there are so many ways to ring the changes – different toppings and sauces and combinations of textures, different ways to cook or cut something.
Does your pantry possess products/ingredients that reflect your roots and if so, what are the 'must have' items that are always in there?
Olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and yoghurt.
Notes & My Thanks: 
I would like to thank Sami Tamimi for his time in participating in the interview.
For more information about Sami Tamimi and/or the Ottolenghi Group, please visit


Saturday, 29 November 2014

South Indian Curry with Rhythm Coconut Milk

Those classic autumn/winter Saturday nights.  The echoes of fireworks lingering in the air - Christmas on the horizon.  As much as I love going out and painting the town red, sometimes, I relish staying in, PJ’s on and tucking into something hearty whilst watching  the back-to-back TV schedule of Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor.   These Saturday nights are the ones that you can leisurely spend creating new recipes without the pressure of feeling rushed and I love it when one of these times comes round.
I have been waiting for one of these Saturday nights to occur in my diary for a while so I can have that leisurely cooking time and to also use a pack of Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk that I was sent to trial. 
Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk as well as being vegetarian, dairy free, with no added preservatives, no added sugar, is one of the richest dietary sources of lauric acid and when present in the body helps to destroy any bad microorganisms.  All Rhythm products are made using a unique cold-pressing technique to ensure they remain 100% raw (uncooked), natural and nutritious.  Unlike many coconut milks currently available, Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk is made by pressing the flesh of the fully mature coconuts just once. This ensures Rhythm’s milk contain only the freshest tropical flavours.
Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk is available at an RRP of £2.99 (per 200g pouch) from Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic, As Nature Intended, Holland & Barrett and other independent health food stores nationwide.

Rhythm Coconut Milk
Rhythm Coconut Milk Pouch Ready to Use
Opening it up, the coconut milk was thick, almost solidified which when you started cooking melted into the pan and was very easy to use.  Even tasting it as a standalone ingredient it was delicious (and I’m not a milk kind-of-a-person) and I know it would lend itself beautifully for a whole host of recipes.  If it had a re-sealable packet that would have been useful had I only wanted to use part of it.  As it happened for the dish I was making, the pack was ideal to accommodate a 2-person portion.  It is definitely one of the best coconut milks I have used when cooking and one I would recommend and buy again.
Thai curry is the normal go-to option when it comes to using coconut milk and although I didn’t use my pack to make that, I did adapt a recipe I found in Nigella Lawson’s ‘Kitchen’ book for South Indian Vegetable Curry.
I made a spicy chicken version for my carnivorous husband and a mild paneer/Quorn Chicken-style version for me to accommodate our respective preferences.  Again, another example of having a meat + veggie meal and only having to use one extra saucepan!  Catering for both our demands is tremendously easy with a meal like this and this principle can be extended to family suppers or dinner party groups.
So as the curry bubbles away on the stove and I change into something more cosy and fleecy, it is these nights in that I enjoy with good food, nice wine and a chance to re-charge the batteries on the sofa with no particular place to go or timetable to adhere to.
Here is the recipe:


South Indian Vegetable Curry
(adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'Kitchen' cookbook).
Serves 2
Vegetarian Option Per Person:  100g Quorn Chicken Style Pieces (or Paneer Cheese)
Meat option Per Person:  100g Chicken Fillets (cubed)
Ingredients for both curries (if making a vegetarian and a meat portion, split the ingredients between the two pans):
Vegetable oil (for frying)
1 onion (diced)
2cm piece of Fresh Ginger (peeled and cut into cubes)
Pinch of Salt
4 Garlic Cloves (chopped)
½ tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Mixed Spice
1 x 200ml pouch Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk
300ml Vegetable Stock
½ tsp Sugar
1½ tsp Taramind Paste
175g Cauliflower Florets
50g Fine Green  Beans
100g Sugar Snap Peas
Optional:  ½ tsp Chilli Flakes
Optional:  Handful of Pea Aubergines (available in World Food Aisles in supermarkets)
Serve with Naan Bread and/or Rice
*  NB:  If making a vegetarian and a meat portion, ensure that you use separate saucepans.
*  Fry the onion in the vegetable oil with the garlic and ginger.
*  Add the Quorn Chicken Style Pieces or Paneer to the pan.  (Do the same for the chicken meat in the separate saucepan if using).
*  Add the turmeric, mixed spice (and chilli flakes if using).  Fry until cooked through.
*  Add the Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk, the vegetable stock, salt, tamarind paste and sugar - mix thoroughly.  Add the pea aubergines if using.
* Once it has come to the boil, lower to a simmering heat and add the cauliflower florets and fine green beans and cook for 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally.
*  Add the sugar snap peas and cook for a further 5 minutes.
*  Once all vegetables have been cooked through, the curry is ready to serve with naan bread and/or rice. 

Disclosure:    This post has been written following receipt of a complimentary sample of Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk.   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.