Sunday, 28 June 2015

Culinary Captures - June 2015

Welcome to Culinary Captures! 

This will be my monthly (or thereabouts) round-up of food and/or food related goodies that  have come my way or that I have seen on my travels and want to share with you!
I hope you will enjoy reading about them and that it will give you a snapshot and flavour of different things to investigate or try!


Whilst in Herefordshire recently, one of England’s cider counties, I enjoyed a rather smooth yet appley pint of Robinson’s Cider.  Nothing beats a chilled drop of cider in the counties that it is made in!



With so much emphasis on protecting the bee population right now and labouring the rather sober fact that without bees we won’t have crops, it was nice to see a positive side. 
At one of Herefordshire’s National Trust properties Croft Hall, I saw they were having a honey tasting session whereby you could sample of the local honeys for sale at their gift shop.  As well as being a functional spread or baking ingredient, it was nice that the honeys were being sold in aid of a good charitable cause.




New Shirley/Solihull eatery Frais Living is renowned for its gluten-free menus and of being purveyors of healthy food in general at their Parkgate Centre outlet.  They were recently testing out a potential new item for their drinks menu which is the Jellynut. 
A tropical fruit (same principle as a coconut but more mango looking) which when you slice away the top and piece the pith with a straw, you can drink the refreshing nut water.  A great alternative to a soft drink and much fun to consume!  I hope their trial was successful and that they add it to their menu as a standard item.





Now then.  This funny, spikey little fruit when prepared resembles something that could be mistaken for a Bushtucker Trial item in ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’! 
These are known as Rambutans.  When you cut them open, you will see they are quite small, a white ball with a stone in the middle.  This Thai specialty is lychee-esque surprisingly sweet when eaten and I chose to have it with my cereal which against the crumbly granola granules, it makes for a contrasting texture.
I purchased my pack of rambutan from my local Tesco supermarket but they can be purchased at speciality food stores also.


When attending last month’s Asparafest (see my post), one of the stallholders I came across was selling Croome Cheeses, a Worcestershire company that specialise in different flavoured cheeses.  Many flavours were for the taking, but I have to give a special shout out to the Worcestershire Honey & Fig one. 
On a Cheddar-esque base, the sweetness from the honey and fig comes as an aftertaste and is truly scrumptious.  I used it as a topping for my aubergine parmigiana this week and it worked a treat.  But to have it on a cheeseboard arrangement will have you receive plaudits at any dinner party you host!


How I smiled when I saw the Bhangra Bus!  As one of the catering vendors at the Lunar Festival in Tanworth In Arden Warwickshire this month, I loved their attractive decoration and their Indian inspired food and drink. 
As festival season is now in full flow, I hope you come across it yourselves and if you do, then try their mango lassi or if you want to warm your bones then a nice cup of chai!


Walking past my local Le Creuset store in Solihull, I was greeted by one of their team who presented me with a very vivid Le Creuset shopping bag with a number of recipe booklets inside. 
Noting their new aqua coloured ‘Cool Mint’ range, a contrast to their trademark orange, the booklets highlighted the various recipes which could be achieved using their dishes/pots.  With a number of vegetarian offerings to try, it’s tempting to purchase one of their orange (or cool mint) beauties to road-test the recipes in!


Everyone is going mad for spirilizing their veg right now and with the mighty success of the carb-free ‘Courgetti’ (courgette-spaghetti), the guys at have introduced Spoodles which using the same principle are sweet potato noodles!  With some recipes online, take a look to see what you can make.  What are your thoughts on spirlizing?



New Indian restaurant Umami has opened its doors in Harborne Birmingham.  Mandeep Bajwa, formerly of central Birmingham restaurant Itihaas has taken over the reins as chef and is a welcomed addition to the ever growing food scene of Harborne!  


Note:  All items/services featured have been personally selected and I have not received any incentive or compensation to feature them.

Demoing on the Wot's Cooking Trailer - Asparafest

Regular readers of my blog will know that I love all things asparagus and I have, over the years, written about my days out at the Asparafest event.

Asparafest is a food and music festival held near Evesham in Worcestershire and has grown from being a small community festival at The Fleece Inn celebrating the asparagus season to it now being held on farm premises in Badsey (on the outskirts of Evesham town centre) with live music and camping.

The festival falls right in the middle of English asparagus season (which is from St George’s Day (24 April) to Midsummer’s Day (21st June) and the foundation and heart of its purpose remains focused on championing one of Evesham’s most hailed crop – asparagus. 

At the event itself you can buy locally grown asparagus and some of the other food vendors have asparagus inspired goods for sale as well.  And to really maximise getting the most out of your asparagus purchases, the food demonstration sessions are on hand to give you some inspiration.

Whilst in previous years, I’ve watched the demonstrations eagerly, however this year, I was centre stage on the ‘Wot’s Cooking’ trailer with local restaurant owner (of Fusion Brasserie) and renowned Worcestershire chef Felice Tocchini helping him conduct his demonstration.   
Felice & I on the trailer

Scheduled in for 12pm on the second day of the festival (Sunday 31st May), Felice suggested we cook steamed aubergines, mushrooms and of course asparagus using different seasonings and to show how they could be cooked in a low-fat method which doesn’t compromise on taste.

Some suggestions he made during his demonstration were:
  • Eat asparagus spears raw – full of vitamins, they taste of peas bizarrely – lovely!
  • Keep the ends you trim off your asparagus bunch, dry them in the oven, then blitz them in a food processor.  It will give you an asparagus powder that can be used for stock for risottos or soups anytime!
  • Wet fresh herbs in cold water, then chop them.  Herbs benefit from the water’s oxygen and brings their flavours out.
  • Use cheese that has been out of the fridge for a little while, it will taste better (although be mindful of food hygiene rules at all times).
  • Don’t wash mushrooms as they soak up all the water.
  • Place mushrooms in a bowl with a sprinkle of sugar for a little while before using them, the flavours will be enhanced.
Talking through what we were making

Being part of Felice’s session I enjoyed not only helping him with the food preparation but also chatting through each step of the meal and exchanging food tips.   

Felice made me feel very welcome and despite the inclement weather, we enjoyed cooking up a delicious vegetarian feast albeit we were somewhat windswept during the process!

At the end of the Demo with our finished goods!

It has certainly given me the taste for more food demoing in the future so do come by and say ‘hello’ if I appear at a festival near you!

In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of the English asparagus crops around and put the dates in your diary for next year’s Asparafest on 4th/5th June 2016! 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The One Pot Gourmet Gardener

There are plenty of cookery books on the market right now that feature recipes only and so I was intrigued with the twist within this book when I was given the opportunity to review The One Pot Gourmet Gardener (written by Cinead McTernan & Jason Ingram – published by Frances Lincoln Ltd Publishers).

How it differs is that the recipes featured are supported by recommendations and instructions how to grow the ingredients to make them, thus giving you a 100% full cycle experience.

The book recognises the differing garden spaces people have and that not everyone has a huge plot of land to create a vegetable or orchard arena in.  There are suggestions for those predicaments yes, but also there are ideas for those with more modest garden arrangements or even those with just plant pot areas/window sills.

There is plenty of information present on how to prepare for the crops you want to plant, sowing techniques, compost types and things to be considered (eg: how much light you would get in the garden, what crops work well together in the same plot etc).  A nice, topical touch, is that those crops that encourage visits by the bee population are highlighted in the book.  Encouraging bees is something many are considering these days when planning a garden layout.

The recipes are sub-divided into ‘Grow Me’, ‘Harvest’ and ‘Eat Me’ categories.  As would imply, the ‘Grow Me’ section concentrates on how to plant and nurture the ingredients, ‘Harvest’ advises the best way of reaping the yield and ‘Eat Me’ provides the recipe of how to cook a dish using those ingredients. 

The recipes are predominately vegetarian, although for strict vegetarians, do check the ingredient listings as in some of the recipes not all items are totally veggie-friendly.  There are some firm favourite recipes within such as Gazpacho or Beetroot Soup, but there are some lovely contemporary ones such as Sage & Broad Bean Custards or Lemon Verbena, Rose Geranium & Thyme Posset to try.

Whilst it may be too late to action some of the gardening ideas for this year, the book will prove a useful reference guide ahead of next year when thoughts turn to crop planning again.

Ideal for Father’s Day this year, this is a delightful book which encapsulates the opportunity of having a ‘Good Life’ experience, however your home dictates and provides food for thought (literally) on how to maximise your harvest with some gorgeous ideas what to do with it once grown and kitchen bound.

Disclosure:  This post was written following kind receipt of a complementary copy of:  The One Pot Gourmet Gardener by Cinead McTernan & Jason Ingram published by  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. 


Saturday, 6 June 2015

Review of Marco's New York Italian - Kenilworth

Having enjoyed the hospitality at other Marco Pierre White venues, I welcomed the opportunity to sample the ambience and menu at  Marco’s New York Italian restaurant in Kenilworth.

Kenilworth, famous for its English Heritage castle, is geographically in a quadrant with Warwick, Coventry and Royal Leamington Spa, firmly in Warwickshire’s terrain.  Having a small town High Street with a number of restaurants already in-situ, Marco’s is a welcomed addition.

Marco’s is within the Holiday Inn Hotel building at the top of the High Street and although signage is present, it is good to be acquainted with this fact ahead of travelling as some may be looking for a standalone restaurant rather than knowing it is part of another establishment.  Having taken over from the previous restaurant incumbents, Marco’s patronage includes hotel guests, tourists and locals.
Similarly to its Stratford Upon Avon counterpart, the d├ęcor consists of Italian/New York inspired object d’art and the signature MPW black, studded seating and red tableware is present with pictures of Marco himself adorning the walls.   The Italian/American influence is evident throughout and taking a sweeping glance throughout the menu, there were a good number of vegetarian options available.  However, I would’ve liked to have seen a vegetarian option in the Burger section as it would’ve been nice to sample Marco’s burger offering (veggie style).

Dining with my Mum recently one Saturday lunchtime, we started off by enjoying a selection of Breads & Olives with a cocktail each.  The bread was warm and fresh and came with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip and the large olives were well marinated  making the whole ensemble delicious as an appetiser.

The Cocktail and Mocktail list contained a good selection, using a wide combination of ingredients.  Mum had the Ciroc Sour which was vodka and melon based with hints of lychee and elderflower, which she said was refreshing with just the right amount of alcohol for it not to be overpowering.  I had the Forest Fizz Mocktail which had a seasonal fruity base with cranberry juice and almonds topped with cream and it was absolutely delightful, although with the cream content, I feel I should have chosen it after dessert as it would work more appropriately post-meal.  I also tried the Pear Mojito (pear juice, mint and lime) which was fruity yet palette cleansing and moreish.

For Starters, Mum chose the Baked Field Mushrooms with Spinach and Blue Cheese.  She commented it was a pleasant, enjoyable dish.  The cheese wasn’t too strong which she liked, but she did feel there was a little too many rocket leaves and she would’ve welcomed something in lieu of the excess leaves perhaps and a little extra seasoning for the mushrooms would have enhanced them.  But overall, a very nice starter.

I had the Goat’s Cheese Arancini Risotto Fritters with Tomato & Basil Salsa.  It worked very well as a starter, the rice and cheese combined gave a nice sticky texture and the salsa that accompanied it was definitely needed and was a good contrast against the arancini balls.

For our Main Course, I opted for the Pumpkin Tortellini with Sage Butter and Mum had the Lamb Rump with Italian Beans and Rosemary & Garlic New Potatoes.  We had side orders of Seasonal Greens and Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables to share between us.  The greens consisted of broccoli spears, broad beans, courgettes and spinach whilst the vegetables included peppers, onions and courgettes which were seasoned well.  

My tortellini came as a good, hearty portion, they had a strong, salty flavour but it worked well and had a delicious aftertaste.  The side dishes were definitely needed to break up each forkful of tortellini as it would have been too much of the same thing otherwise.   But a really, nice dish and one I would definitely have again.

Mum chose how she wanted her lamb cooked, but upon receipt of it, she decided to have it cooked a little more which our waitress was more than happy to arrange for her.  This was mentioned at the time of ordering that it could be re-done if required which she felt was a positive gesture and gave her the confidence to ask for this when it was needed without her feeling awkward.

The potatoes that accompanied the lamb she described as gorgeous and she enjoyed the additional Italian Beans that came with it and stated they were tasty and pleasantly lightly spiced.

For Dessert, Mum chose Marco’s Tiramisu which she commented had a nice blend of flavours, the alcohol soaked sponge made it punchy and overall, it was a very light, lovely dish.

I had the Melting Chocolate Truffle Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream. I did also have my eye on the Limoncello Ice Cream Float and not being able to choose between the two, I asked if the ice cream that came with the cake could have a splash of Limoncello– so I could have the best of both desserts!  Indeed with my cake, I was given a shot of Limoncello which I drizzled a little on the ice cream and drank the rest doubling up splendidly as a liqueur to conclude the meal with.  The cake was rich, fudgy and dense and a must-have for any chocolate fan!


As a finale for our meal, we both had a cappuccino for which we had bespoke requests for and they were brought to us as we had ordered them which was good.  The size of the cappuccinos was also just right – not too small, not too big.


Overall, a good selection for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike teamed with a tempting cocktail/mocktail menu.   The restaurant encompasses a stylish, contemporary yet relaxing setting with excellent customer service on hand to complement your dining experience at Marco’s.

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