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. 

Monday, 24 November 2014

'Merry & White' Christmas Menu at MPW Birmingham

As we now lean into the latter part of November, the jollity of Christmas is only a heartbeat away and thoughts turn to celebrating the festive season.
The beauty of Christmas is that you can justify treating yourself to something a little extra when it comes to eating out whether that be with family, friends or work colleagues.   

Views of Birmingham
For those who are au fait with Birmingham, already know Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse (MPW) in The Cube and that it provides an ambience of that kind of ‘something special’, unrivaled views of the city and that it is a popular haunt for those that enjoy the experience of eating and drinking at height (the restaurant is on the 25th floor). 
Introducing the ‘Merry & White’ Christmas menu at Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse, myself and a number of other local bloggers were invited to experience the menu and the private dining facility.  I for one was there to sample the Steakhouse’s vegetarian offering and to see how they cater for those that observe meat-free diets.   
It was Friday night and the main restaurant was alive with diners surrounded by views of the gloriously twinkly lit-up Birmingham suburbs below offering a preview for the evening ahead.

Bloggers in the Private Dining Room (Photo: S.Morris)
Taken into the private dining room for the meal, we were greeted by a beautifully laid table in the middle of the room surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views of the city below with the Birmingham wheel and annual German Christmas Market in our eyeline.

Dining Table
The Head Chef Simon, introduced the courses by stating that the vegetables used are sourced locally, (purchased from farms he passes on the way to work), and are seasonal where possible.  

Table Decorations
For vegetarians, although the menu only has one option on it, the restaurant is open to enquiries and can discuss the feasibility of offering alternatives or indeed can accommodate additional dietary requirements.

Roast Vine Tomato Soup
My meal started with the Roast Vine Tomato Soup With Aged Balsamic.  Creamy, tasty and richly intense it was a delicious way to start the meal and others that had that option too were of the same opinion.

Goat's Cheese Fritter
My main course was the Goat’s Cheese Fritter, Fine Beans, New Potatoes and Blush Tomato Tapenade.  The vegetables and potatoes were perfectly cooked and the tapenade acted as a delightful sauce for them.  The fritter worked well with the vegetables although it did benefit from some additional cranberry sauce that I asked for which helped to break up the sharpness of the cheese.  But a nice vegetarian course nevertheless.

Christmas Pudding with Brandy Sauce
For dessert I opted for the Christmas Pudding with Brandy Sauce.  The pudding was suitably rich with plump dried fruit but I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t made on-site although it comes from a local supplier which ties in with restaurant’s ‘sourced local’ approach.

Table Decorations
The private dining room is a unique opportunity to enjoy having your own retreat within the restaurant and enjoy the views whether that be day or night (both have their own beauty), which over Christmas will only add to your experience and one that I thoroughly relished myself.
Although I know some vegetarians won’t be comfortable eating at a Steakhouse, but do consider that vegetarians are catered for at MPW,  that it means your dining party will all be accommodated for and you will have a joyful experience to remember.
So yes, that was my first 2014 Christmas encounter and I hope that you will have the opportunity to make it part of your Christmas festivities too and in the words of Marco, hope your Christmas plans are ‘Merry & White’!

Notes:  For details about the Private Dining facility and/or for Christmas bookings, contact the Events team via or call 0121 634 3433. 
Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from MPW Birmingham to sample their Christmas menu and private dining facilities.    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. 











Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Pumpkin/Butternut Squash, Miso & Black Garlic Recipe

I was reading the Daily Mail’s You magazine Sunday supplement recently and there was a really interesting article in there about fermented food and the benefits of it for health and diet which have been documented in a new book called ‘Cultured Food for Life’ by Donna Schwenk. 
The fermentation process has been in existence since ancient times with many cultures using it as a method of food storage in a time before the luxury of refrigeration.  Global examples of which are kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables), sauerkraut in northern/central European regions and fermented soya beans (miso) in Japan.  Endorsement is wide with quotes in circulation such as:    Until 100 years ago, many of the foods we ate were fermented in some way and this made it easier to retain the balance of good bacteria in our bodies,” says nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shaughnessy ( “Our bodies have evolved to thrive on this kind of diet.”   
Quite a concept for further investigation and consideration I feel.
So how apt that I receive a jar of Yutaka’s Organic Miso Paste to try – a perfect example of fermented food and also a great opportunity to increase the fermented principle into my diet a little.
As mentioned above, miso paste is made up of fermented soya beans and is a staple in Japanese cooking used in everything from soups to stocks.  It is extremely versatile from that perspective and has a soury-vinegary tang but is yet very tasty.
For my first trial of it, I spread a little on a Quorn Chicken-style fillet, grilled it which worked well and I served it with a salad, quinoa grains and mange tout.
Quorn with Miso Paste & Quinoa
Spreading my culinary wings a little more but yet steering away from the obvious soup and stock options, I saw a recipe online from Feasting at Home which used miso as a spread for roasting and so I decided to replicate the recipe for myself.   I have to say, we enjoyed it tremendously and will include it occasionally as part of our Sunday roast ritual going forward.  Plus, it gave me a chance to use some deliciously indulgent black garlic cloves which added a nice molasses-balsamic vinegar edge and also a fine way to use up the  last of my pumpkin stocks (although butternut squash makes an excellent alternative).

Pumpkin Wedges with Miso Paste & Black Garlic
Black Garlic Bulb
Black Garlic Cloves

Pumpkin (or Butternut Squash) Roasted in
Recipe adapted from Feasting at Home
*  1 Butternut squash (peeled, deseeded and cut into long wedges)
    Half a small Pumpkin (peeled, deseeded and cut into wedges)
*  1 Heaped Tablespoon of Yutaka Organic Miso Paste
*  3 Cloves of Black Garlic (chopped into pieces)
*  Vegetable oil for roasting
*  Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5.
*  Peel and deseed the butternut squash or pumpkin.
*  Cut into wedges.
*  Drizzle the oil into a roasting pan.
*  Place the wedges into the roasting pan and turn them over so that the whole wedge is    
    covered in oil.
*  In a bowl, mix the Yutaka Organic Miso Paste with the black garlic.
*  Using a pastry brush or palette knife, paint the paste/black garlic mix onto each wedge.
*  Place in the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes or until roasted through and soft.
There are dozens of recipes online for use of miso paste (including on the Yutaka site) and personally, I can’t wait to try more -  especially with the news that a little more fermented food in our diet can only be a good thing!

Disclosure:    This post has been written following receipt of a complimentary sample of Yutaka Organic Miso Paste.   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. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Growing Popularity of Indian Wine - Express & Star Article

I have written an article for the online version of West Midlands publication Express & Star about the Indian wine industry, with a focus on Birmingham's Soul Tree Wines, their commitment to Indian farmers and their vision to get Indian wine on a par with winery counterparts from Australia, New Zealand and the like.

Soul Tree Wines in Birmingham, offer 100% vegetarian wines produced in India.  With the Indian wine industry well and truly growing in popularity, it is now the ideal opportunity to find out more and sample a drop of Soul Tree for yourself.

Click here to read the article.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Waitrose Cookery School - The Art of Michelin Cooking Course

A friend of mine regularly attends the different courses at Waitrose Cookery School in London and has always regaled tales of the wonderful things she has cooked and experienced.  Her story of the Spanish themed event springs to mind where she enjoyed the fruits of her labour with copious amounts of red wine and sangria.  Tempting for anyone I say.
Waitrose Cookery School Reception Area
So when I was invited by Waitrose to try a course at the Waitrose Cookery School, I needed no persuasion to attend!
I was able to choose from the wide programme of events organised for the year and I opted for The Art of Michelin Cooking as I knew that would be completely different to anything I have experienced before and therefore a prime opportunity to explore this particular culinary arena.
Conveniently situated just by Finchley Road tube station, the school is only a 15 minute tube train ride from central London. 
Upon arrival, I was welcomed with a choice of beverages, granola mixes and pastries which acted as breakfast and was gratefully received after a long train journey!  The waiting area was bright and airy with shelves adorned with various cook books from celebrity chefs.
The class started with an overview of the day before we were invited into the lecture theatre to commence our course.  We were each given a folder with the recipes for the day and a section to make notes in which was really useful not only whilst we were there but also afterwards at home to have a reflective read-through. 
Kitchen Demo given by Lisa from the Waitrose Team
The itinerary ran as such, whereby before going to cook ourselves, the Waitrose chef team took it in turns to provide a demonstration of the techniques to use for each of the dishes we would make.  This demonstration was conducted on a purpose-built kitchen workspace and was supported  with cameras and screens to show close up images which really helped to illustrate what we needed to do.  We would then go back to our kitchen workstations to then cook the food ourselves.  This was repeated for each of the dishes we made.
Waitrose Cookery School - Kitchen
With the course topic focusing on Michelin style cookery, it would be impossible to make every element from scratch, so the Waitrose team prepared some of the stages for us in advance and we did the remaining techniques, (where time allowed), the final cooking parts and the overall presentation.
As the token vegetarian on the course, the Waitrose team really looked after me and did a lot of specific preparation for my bespoke menu and they took on board all my dietary requirements which I submitted ahead of attending (for instance - jelly used was veggie friendly jelly).
The courses we made were:
Gazpacho Jelly with Avocado
Gazpacho Jelly with Avocado
Matching Wine: Avigue Solutre Rock Macon-Solutre 2012 Burgundy, France
Mushrooms with Gnocchi & Truffle Emulsion
Mushrooms with Gnocchi & Truffle Emulsion
Matching Wine: Cave de Beblenheim Grafenreben Riesling 2009/10 Alsace, France
Aubergine Tower with Polenta Fries, Olive Puree & Sauce Vierge
Aubergine Tower with Polenta Fries, Olive Puree & Sauce Vierge
Matching Wine: Les Dauphins 2013 Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cotes du Rhone
Orange Cake with Marmalade Cream and Cointreau Caviar
Orange Cake with Marmalade Cream & Cointreau Caviar
Matching Wine: Brown Brothers Special Late-Harvested Orange Muscat & Flora 2012 Victoria, Australia
One of the wines served with the course
L-R:  Carmen and myself at our workstation
Even though I attended the course alone, I partnered up with another lady called Carmen  and together we became ‘station buddies’.  As a lot of the cooking  is done jointly (where you share the ingredients and utensils), you have to find someone to work together with.  The beauty of this type of course is that many of the attendees are like minded so it is so easy to quickly become acquainted and work together.  The atmosphere was really friendly and jovial so it was very easy to mix with everyone and find a partner if needs be.
Wines to accompany the courses
As the day drew to an end, we were all awarded our attendance certificates  which was a nice way to acknowledge our tuition.   I for one was thrilled that I chose The Art of Michelin Cooking course as I was able to try out different techniques I wouldn’t ordinarily have the time or the equipment to do at home, making it informative yet fun.  Knowing that if I did want to replicate any of the more elaborate techniques, I could go online and buy the necessary equipment or ingredients (such as for the Cointreau caviar).  For a special dinner party, it would be tempting to do so!  It also gave us the chance to enhance some of the basic techniques we already know and learn a chef’s method by comparison, such as chopping a particular way.
Also, it offers suggestions of new ingredients to try and in our case, Carmen and I were intrigued by the Thai basil that we were using.  Neither of us had tasted it before and we were elated to have found a new herb for our kitchen repertoire.  Although looking like standard basil,  Thai basil  has somewhat of an aniseed aftertaste which is rather pleasant yet punchy and would pep-up a salad or vegetable dish beautifully.
Courses come in half or full day packages and range from making macaroons and bread to cuisine specific courses, varying in complexity, but most definitely there is something on offer for everyone.  I would wholeheartedly recommend the course I attended and look forward to seeing what is available for next year. 
With Christmas on the horizon, the courses or course vouchers, make for a wonderful experiential gift idea for that special someone who enjoys creating a little magic in the kitchen!
Disclosure:    This post has been written following receipt of a complimentary course voucher for Waitrose Cookery School .   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.