Sunday, 30 April 2017

Mountain Berries & Desert Spice

I absolutely loved Sumayya Usmani’s first book – Summers Under The Tamarind Tree with its introduction to Pakistani food and culture brought to life by stunning imagery, anecdotes, memories and family stories. 

Sumayya has continued her culinary journey capturing a wider geographical base but niching it to all things sweet and dessert led with her new book published by Frances Lincoln:  Mountain Berries & Desert Spice – Sweet Inspiration from the Hunza Valley to the Arabian Sea.

The book is split into chapters denoting region and/or celebration type.  Woven in are descriptions of Pakistani food whose origins stem from a cultural melting pot influenced by migration, the multi-national borders it shares and the remnants from nomadic tradesfolk of the Silk Road route.  As such, Pakistan yields a sweeping cornucopia of ingredients ranging from the traits of sweetness of goods from the north to the spicy tones of the south, all of which are reflected in some shape or form within the book.

The introduction to each chapter captures one’s imagination with beautiful flowing storytelling and photographs that illustrate landscapes and markets which subsequently bring to life the recipes that follow on.

Sweets/desserts in Pakistani culture play a paramount role forming the basis of gift-giving, wedding feasting and general socialising.  These eventualities feature in the book with suggestions for each ranging from informal caramels and ‘fruit leathers’ to more intricate desserts that use deluxe, exotic ingredients, although some of the items listed will need to be sourced from specialist shops or suppliers to gain an authentic taste. 

Spiced & Floral Truffles
Image:  Joanna Yee:  Courtesy of Frances Lincoln
With so many Asian restaurants now providing culinary spicy twists on traditional English Afternoon Tea, the ideas within Mountain Berries & Desert Spice will give scope and ideas to replicate a Pakistani afternoon tea in the realms of your own kitchen.  

Again, Sumayya’s passion for cooking coupled with her desire to keep her heritage alive is so strongly evident throughout and her ability to creatively showcase the diversity of sweet/dessert types, makes Mountain Berries & Desert Spice an absolute pleasure to read.


Food Roots Interview with Sumayya Usmani

Disclosure:    This post has been written following a complementary copy of Mountain Berries & Desert Spice.  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, 22 April 2017

Put St George's Day on the Calendar

It is one of my bugbears that St George's Day here in England isn't celebrated with the gusto that it should be.

My article for Express & Star explores why and suggests that we should make it an occasion to be proud of, even if it is just making a meal packed with English ingredients.

Take a look, see if you agree and Happy St George's Day to you all!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Supercharge Breakfast with Manuka Honey

My BFF Sonia is endeared with the fact I have a 'weekend' breakfast cereal.  Whilst Monday-Friday is a quick, easy, practically put together affair, at the weekends, I like to put something together that's a bit more of a showpiece that I can enjoy leisurely and in peace.

When Holland& Barrett asked me to take part in their Supercharge campaign, I knew it would fit into my daily/weekly schedule and equally into my weekend cereal routine very well.

Supercharge promotes enhancing your daily routine by making small and easy changes to the things you do every day with the use of Holland & Barrett products.  Adding items such as Manuka Honey or Spirulina into your meals can prove that the little things can make a big difference nutritionally.  


Taking the example of using Manuka honey in porridge, I made my porridge firstly by using low fat Greek yoghurt with a smattering of Manuka honey and then I left it overnight in the fridge to absorb fully.

Next morning, I added summer fruits to the centre and circled the edge of the bowl with quartered baby fresh figs.  I then dotted the figs with a little more Manuka honey to bring extra sweetness to the fruit.

My porridge ensemble left me feeling full, boosted by the thick consistency of the yoghurt, the textured fruit and the sweetness of the Manuka honey. 

Manuka honey has a more solid form and an authentic sweetness rather than some of the more economical honey available.

So why Manuka honey and not standard honey?  Elizabeth Wall, nutritionist at Holland & Barrett explains that it is a natural alternative to sugar.   Manuka honey is made by bees gathering nectar from the Manuka bush, found in parts of New Zealand.  Manuka honey contains different active constituents which have been shown to have anti-bacterial effects. It is also widely thought to have immune system boosting effects, anti-viral effects, anti-fungal effects has been linked to promoting digestive health.   Manuka honey is a natural alternative to refined sugar that makes a tasty addition to tea, toast, cakes and bakes and even adds a natural sweetness to snacks, sides and smoothies.  And for a healthy breakfast option and natural sweetness, Manuka honey on porridge is a superb pairing.

My Manuka Honey Porridge recipe can be scaled back to its basic form of porridge/yoghurt/Manuka honey for busy weekdays and dressed up with fringes of fruit for elongated weekend mornings.

Manuka Honey Porridge

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

50g Porridge Oats
2 tbls Summer Fruits
2 tbls Greek Yoghurt
2-3 Baby Fresh Figs
1-2 tsps Manuka Honey


*  Place the porridge oats in a bowl and swirl in the Greek yoghurt and half of the Manuka Honey.

*  Cover the bowl and leave it overnight in the fridge to absorb.

*  Next morning, uncover the porridge, add the summer fruits to the centre.

*  Cut the figs into quarters and place around the edge.

*  Drizzle a little more Manuka Honey around the fruit.

*  Ready to eat!




Information:  For more information about Manuka honey and the Supercharge campaign, visit Holland & Barrett’s website.  #superchargeit



Disclosure:  This review was conducted following receipt of a complementary sample of Manuka Honey from Holland & Barrett.  The review was conducted honestly without bias. For further information about reviews, please see the Disclosure tab on this website.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Lunch at Leon Restaurant

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Leon Restaurants.  Somewhat a popular outlet in many a London borough and it made its way up to Birmingham at the end 2015 as part of the restaurant ensemble for the re-vamped Birmingham New Street station.
Photo:  A Kobic

It’s funny as I’d not really had Leon on my radar before and then all of a sudden Leon was everywhere I went!  I spied them in London when on my travels (bizarre how I hadn’t noticed before) and I even clocked one of their cook books on the bookshelf of the set of The Saturday Show on Channel 5 with Gaby Roslin.    Leon was all around me.
Photo:  A Kobic

So what is Leon?  Now with over 45 stores, it was set up in 2004 by John Vincent, Henry Dimbleby and chef Allegra McEvedy, their mission was to make it easier for everyone to eat well.  The menu is inspired by the flavours, variety and natural healthiness of Mediterranean cooking.  Their families have Mediterranean roots, so it was a natural fit to weave that into their business ethos.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Having received a vintage style postcard inviting me to try out their wares, myself and friend Adela headed off to sample the menu.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Must do a shout-out here: Adela writes Beau’s Breeches – a fabulous blog for bookworms everywhere and those that like a little social commentary, please do take a peek.
Photo:  A Kobic

Now do be mindful, there are two entrances to Leon within Grand Central/Birmingham New Street station, one which is for people that have come especially to dine there ‘off the street’ so to speak and the other one, is for those who have gone through the ticket barrier and are ‘train side/Grand Central side’ of the station.    We did spend a few minutes perplexed how to get in, so bear this in mind when you visit.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Upon entry, the colourful Moorish floor slates adorn the threshold whilst modern white tiled walls are all around you with hints of Mediterranean and Latino d├ęcor breaking up the stark whiteness. 
Photo:  A Kobic
Occasional bookcases are packed with Leon’s literary merchandise (a la the cook books as seen on The Saturday Show).  It’s fresh, vibrant and vintage without trying too hard to be. 
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Leon adopts a ‘fast food’ discipline so the food was presented in boxes with disposable cutlery on trays making it suitable to dine in the restaurant itself or it bears the versatility to take it away.  Very much a canteen style of dining, we enjoyed the informality of it and the fact we were just being left to eat our order in peace rather than having the constant waiter/ess service.
I had: Sweet Potato Falafel Vegetable Mezze, fries with Tarragon Mayo and a Clean Green Shake.

Adela also had the fries with Tarragon mayo, Clean Green Shake but she had a Chicken Quinoa Salad.
Photo:  A Kobic

Although Adela anticipated hot chicken rather than chilled, it didn’t deter her enjoyment of it and it had a good, almost smoked flavour.  A varied dish which was given a fruity element c/o the pomegranate seeds.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
My mezze had variety with a mixture of textures and was filling, the hint of tarragon in the mayo gave a cool, herby contrast to the fries.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The Clean Green Shakes made us feel like we were ‘being good’ by counterbalancing the fries we were eating.  The shakes consist of a mix of avocado, spinach, apples, ginger, lemon and pear juice and consistency-wise, an equilibrium between smoothie and shake.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

There were many vegetarian options on offer which made a nice change and it was a joy to have a number things to choose from instead of the usual one or two token items. 
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The ‘meal deal’ offers are good value and with a variety of sides and drinks to choose from, it offers that pick ‘n’ mix element which is even better when there are more than one of you as, for example, as you can share different side orders.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Adela felt Leon was almost like a Mediterranean Pret a Manger and I can kind of see what she meant as they have a similar stance of providing good food quickly.

Photo:  c/o Leon Website
We came away enjoying our experience at Leon and I would definitely go back when I’m in need of a quick, healthy meal whether that be here in Birmingham or elsewhere.  It’s in an ideal location for commuters who can buy and then go with a healthy meal in hand.  In fact, I’ve even recommended it to my work colleagues when they’re working away and are in search of good food with a quick turnaround - Leon can certainly do that.

Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from Leon Restaurants to sample their meal deal.  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.  **Our visit was a year ago, so all food descriptions are as of the 2016 menu.**.