Sunday, 20 April 2014

Traditions of Ukrainian Easter Breakfast

Falling on the same day as Western Easter this year, Easter for many Ukrainians is more of a celebration than Christmas.  As well as it being the celebration of Christ rising, Easter also acts as an event to welcome in the spring and denotes the end of the solemn period of Lent that precedes it.

Breakfast is the focal meal on Easter Day which consists of a feast that would have been blessed either the day before or early on Easter morning in a special holy service.  Typically, the feast would be an elaborate continental style breakfast compiling of items such as cold meats (namely kovbasa style sausages or indeed vegetarian versions), cheeses, breads and salads which form the lion share of the table.  Emphasis is placed on hard boiled eggs which are usually eaten first and seen as a symbol of new life, depicting Christ’s re-birth. 

The main centrepiece for a Ukrainian Easter table would be Paska.  Paska is only really baked at Eastertime, is somewhat exclusively unique to the Ukraine and taste-wise, it is a cross between a cake and a sweet bread which is eaten with butter and jam.

Easter Table Display

Equally making an appearance on the feast table for many households would be fresh horseradish.  A traditional condiment which plays an integral part of Easter breakfast in the Ukraine.  Over the years I have enjoyed hearing my father’s tales of foraging for horseradish as a young boy with his friends in Western Ukraine around the village he grew up in, selling it to elders for their breakfast tables and spending his earned profits on Easter treats.  

Eaten on its own, horseradish possesses a strong, fiery taste but when mixed with other ingredients, it provides a gentler flavour without compromising its power.  An example of which is Tsvikly, which is combination of grated beetroot and fresh horseradish which is favoured as the perfect accompaniment for cheeses, eggs and meats; is a stalwart on all Ukrainian Easter breakfast tables and yet of course can be used all year round for any occasion.



(Use of fresh horseradish is traditional, although creamed horseradish sauce is a suitable alternative.  Quantity of horseradish in the recipe is indicative, more or less can be used as per personal preference).

Serves 2 – 4 people

300g Beetroot (Ready to use, vacuum-packed in natural juices)
1-2 tsps Freshly Grated Horseradish (or creamed horseradish sauce)
1 tsp Cider Vinegar
½ tsp Brown Sugar
Pinch of Salt

Place the freshly grated horseradish (or creamed horseradish sauce) into a bowl.

Add the brown sugar and salt.
Discard any beetroot juice and grate the beetroot into the horseradish mixture and mix thoroughly.
Add the cider vinegar and mix well.
Taste to ensure it is to your preference.  Increase the ingredients if required.
Serve straightaway or place into a sterilised jar and store in the fridge.

Happy Easter - or as they say in the Ukraine - Hrystos Voskres!
 Note: This article and recipes have also been published in the Ukrainian Thought newspaper, printed in London for Ukrainians and those of Ukrainian descent in the UK.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Paris Mash

I used to work with a couple of girls who (like me), used to enjoy perusing through online recipe sites and picking out meals to make at home.  One conversation led to the question – “Have you ever tried Paris Mash?”  Answer to that was no.  They enthused about its qualities as a gloriously, smooth mash that arguably excels the home-made rustic style mash most of us make for bubble & squeak and such like.
I parked the idea of Paris Mash for a while and it has only been recently that I have resurrected the thought of it again following my husband’s request for something “potatoey yet different”.  Googling the recipe, I saw that it is a signature dish at Bistro Guillaume in Australia, with a legion of fans and is often described as 'creamy and dreamy'.  Time to find out......
Trying to add a bit of ‘joie du vivre’ (keeping the Parisian theme going there!) into my version of the recipe, I thought about using some ingredients that I love albeit that I use sparingly.  So, to add a little colour and spice, I added some saffron threads to the hot milk element and some earthy Truffle Hunter delights I have in my pantry to finish the dish with, namely chopped  black truffle carpaccio and a drizzle of Truffle Hunter truffle oil.
In my husband’s eyes I completed the “potatoey yet different” challenge with aplomb, combined with the plaudit of “you have to do this again” echoing in my ears.  Who I am to argue?
Here’s the recipe if you want to try a little Paris Mash yourself and feel free to add whatever you like make it your own.

Boiling the potatoes
Saffron infused hot milk

Potatoes once mashed
Paris Mash served with Grilled Asparagus Spears

Paris Mash
Serves 4 as a side dish
4 large potatoes (almost jacket potato size)
200ml Hot Milk
Pinch of Saffron threads
1 large slice of Black Truffle Carpaccio (diced)
Drizzle of Truffle Oil (I used Truffle Hunter)
·         *  Peel and cut potatoes into cubes/wedges.
·         *  Boil in salted water until soft, drain and place back into the pan.
·         *  In the meantime, place the saffron threads into the milk.
·         *  Either boil or microwave the milk until it is warmed through.
·         *  Give the milk a stir so that the saffron can infuse into it – allow it to infuse for as long
         as possible.
·         *  Pour the milk into the pan with the potatoes in it.
·         *  Give it a stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
·         *  Using an electric blender stick, blitz the potato mixture until it is smooth and all lumps
         have been removed.
·         *  Add in the diced Carpaccio slice and drizzle the truffle oil on top of the mash.
·         *  Serve as desired.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Meridian Nut Butters

Peanut butter is much of a muchness – right?  Well, as I’ve come to discover this isn’t strictly true. 

Having being used to the clay-coloured spreads that adorn most supermarket shelves, I was keen to try new nut butter spreads and Meridian sent me 3 products from their range to sample.
Meridian’s focus differs from other brands. Containing only nuts, it boasts a 100% totally natural approach with no (controversial) palm oil, sugar, salt.  

I started my nut butter fest with Meridian's Crunchy Peanut Butter spread. Made from roasted peanuts, it is darker in colour and tastes lighter than traditional spreads, a little rustic in appearance with a pleasant, subtle taste.

The omission of palm oil, is the reason behind the lighter taste and Meridian roasts all its peanuts with the skins on for a nuttier crunch. 

Rich in vital minerals, peanuts not only have a low glycaemic index of just 14, they are packed with 25% protein and are a healthy source of mono and polyunsaturated fats, with 75% of the fat in each peanut being unsaturated.

A great alternative to peanut butter, is almond and cashew nut butters.  Not only for the provision of variety, but also an option for peanut allergy sufferers to experience nut butters without the associated difficulties.
Meridian roasts its almonds to lock in fibre and retain nutrients.  Loaded naturally with vitamin E, almonds boost the immune system and they are rich in essential monounsaturated fatty acids and phytosterols. 
The almond butter is similar in appearance and consistency to the peanut version, yet has a slight sweeter taste and works well on sandwiches or toast.
The cashew nut butter, probably my favourite of the three, is the one that looks-wise resembles the solid texture and ecru colouring of standard peanut butter products.  Upon taste, it has a delicious gentleness as you would experience with raw cashew nuts.

Cashew nuts have a lower fat content than most other nuts and 75% of their unsaturated fatty acid content is oleic acid, the same heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil.  They are also high in protein, magnesium, zinc, iron and phosphorus vitamins and minerals. 

Available from selected Ocado, Sainsburys, Tesco, Holland & Barratt, Waitrose and independent health food stores, the jars retail from £1.99 to £2.79 dependent on product and size.  A little more expensive than standard offerings, but the justification is you get a purer product.  With almond and cashew versions available (amongst others), it offers a solution to those that like the idea of peanut butter but suffer from allergies.
Although I've enjoyed sampling these on toast, which is my favourite way to eat nut butters, equally there are numerous ways of consuming them including using them in cooking.  For a catalogue of recipes, visit:
Meridian spreads are definitely the ‘luxury’ end of nut butters and are worth splashing out on for the natural and ethical values the brand represents.
Sponsored PostThis post was written following kind receipt of Meridian Nut Butter products.  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, 23 March 2014

Gourmet Gossip with James Sherwin from 'The Taste'

James Sherwin

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting James Sherwin who appeared on Channel 4's 'The Taste' with Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre.  Although he didn't win the contest, he made a great impression with the judges with many of his dishes (or in the theme of the show I should say, tasting spoons), receiving fantastic plaudits.

Meeting James at Restaurant Epi's pop-up event, I had the chance to find out a little more about James' passion for cooking, his plans for the future and of course what it was like to work with some of the world's most renown culinary glitterati.  


Why did you become interested in food and venture upon a career in cooking?

Cooking is fairly new to me; I only really fell in love with it 7 years ago around the birth of my first daughter. I’ve always been a fairly creative person or at least been interested in the creative side of things, cooking is an extension of that. As for a career in cooking, being on 'The Taste' had a bit of a profound effect on me, I was around like minded people and it really showed me what I love and what I want to do.

Although you cook a variety of cuisines, what do you like vegetarian wise and how do you view vegetarian food?

I was a vegetarian for around 13 years and still have those memories of the awful watery vegetable lasagnes you would get in pubs at the time. I’m not a huge fan of lazy vegetarian food, in that the dish is the same, other than the meat being replaced by some substitute. However 'vegetarian' food can be amazing if given the same respect, I challenge anyone not to look at golden beetroot or rainbow chard etc and not be excited about how it could taste. The beauty of 'vegetarian' food is that it really challenges you to produce something special as there isn’t that central protein to take all the glory. I was reading the new Noma recipe book a little while ago and so much of that could be termed as vegetarian, and that can only be a positive.

With the advent of spring, thoughts turn to a fresh harvest of seasonal food such as asparagus. Do you observe seasonal cooking?

As much as possible, definitely with my pop-up restaurants I do, maybe I’m a little looser at home. I’m very lucky that my partner’s mother has a beautiful vegetable garden so I get produce at its best. One of my favourite moments of last year was seeing my daughter's face as she ate a strawberry she picked herself that was still warm from the sun.  You could see that she had never had a strawberry like it before, for me that encapsulated in a moment why seasonal cooking is so important.

Why did you apply to appear on 'The Taste'?

I kind of fell into by accident, I filled in a questionnaire about food I saw on Twitter, which led to the production team calling me, then an audition with food and eventually an offer. I went with it as it was a bit of fun and then all of a sudden I get a phone call saying that I’d been shortlisted.

What was the best thing you learned/took away from the show?

On a professional level it gave me the confidence and some know-how to come away and set up my pop-up restaurants, I’d never have done that before the show. On a personal level, some of the comments I got from the mentors was phenomenal, having Bourdain describe something I cooked as, “pretty damn incredible” is something that will always stay with me.

How was it working with the celebrity judges (Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre)?

It was all very surreal, just being around these 'TV characters' it’s almost as if they aren’t real and then all of a sudden Ludo would come up to me and say, "add a little more salt" or "that tastes good". One of the more surreal moments for me was after spending years watching Nigella on TV, having her come up to me while I was cooking, address me by name and ask me how to use the pressure cooker, I think that was my one moment of being star struck.

Has working with them changed your approach or outlook on cooking?

It’s not necessarily changed my outlook but working with Ludo definitely encouraged me to trust my creative side, he pushes boundaries and encouraged us to do the same, and that really resonated with me.

Do you still keep in touch with any of the other contestants?

I keep in touch with quite a few and it seems that we are all doing bits and pieces with each other.  On April 3rd I’m doing a pop up in Yorkshire at Broughton Hall, 'Wild Yorkshire' with Debbie and Kalpna.  Justin has also been a great source of advice for me. I’d like to think however that at some point soon we will have a big Taste get-together with some good food and a lot of drinks.

What plans do you have for the future and will you be appearing at any food festivals during the summer?

At the moment I’ve got a few other pop-ups planned (details on my website)  with some more in the works. I’m doing a couple of local food festivals (Shrewsbury Fringe and Cosford) hopefully there’ll be a few more, I love talking to people about food. I’m also working with a fantastic local chef (Chris Conde at Henry Tudor House) gaining experience in a professional kitchen. As for the future, lots of hard work will culminate in my own restaurant serving £200 per person tasting menus -  hehehe (!), in all seriousness though, the dream is to keep working on my own projects and others, learning who I am as a cook and we will see where things lead.

Where can people contact you and find out more information about your forthcoming projects?

I can be contacted via my website or via Twitter @jamesinaspace.   Get in touch!!!


I would like to thank James Sherwin for his time in conducting the interview and wish him every success for the future.


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Rosehips On A Kitchen Table

The very title - “Rosehips on a Kitchen Table” may conjure up images of country life, but it is as relevant to those in rural dwellings as well as to those who live in city suburbs.   This delightful book, which I've been given the opportunity to review, offers a snapshot overview of the kinds of foods that can be grown or foraged near to home and recipes how to cook them.
Published by Frances Lincoln and written by Carolyn Caldicott, who has written numerous vegetarian books previously including the World Food Cafe series, this book is predominately vegetarian and features ideas how to maximise your excess vegetable patch produce to what to do with items you have foraged.

Starting with an introduction to basic foraging, it provides an overview of useful things to know before starting out on your picking adventures. 
The section on Gleaning offers a run-through of how to pick your produce which although doesn’t offer a full guide, it does offer enough information to begin your journey with.  Each product featured is denoted by an introduction to the item, tips on sourcing it, a sketched black & white image to help identify it and recipes of what you can make with it.  Showcased items include wild garlic, nettles and elderflowers.
The Grow Your Own chapter – discusses how to grow your own produce, even in a limited space.  As with the Gleaning chapter, it offers the same identification illustrations and recipes.  Produce featured includes stalwart rhubarb as well as more unusual suggestions of sorrel, Jerusalem Artichokes and chard.
A whole chapter entitled Gluts outlines when there is an abundance of seasonal produce and what to do with a high yielding harvest.  Delicious ideas feature for tomatoes, fruit and runner beans.
The final section offers a solution when you find yourself asking "What On Earth Do I Do With This?"  With recipe ideas for those vegetables and fruits that aren't popular or that people aren't familiar with - beetroot and quince to name a few.
Another vegetable finding itself in this section is the celeriac.  A knobbly, some may say unattractive root vegetable, shaped like a swede, whose appearance can leave people bewildered how to tackle it.
The recipe below has been taken from the book and is a well known favourite for St Patrick's Day dinner.

Celeriac Champ
Celeriac adds a nutty flavour to this St Patrick’s Day favourite, traditionally made from potato mashed with spring onions and topped with butter. 
1 medium celeriac, peeled and cubed3 medium mashing potatoes, peeled and cubed2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered110ml/½ cup whole milka bunch of spring onions, thinly sliceda good knob of butter1 heaped teaspoon grainy mustard75ml/¼ cup thick double cream or full-fat crème fraîchea large handful of finely chopped curly parsleysalt and black pepper
To serve:  extra butter, at room temperature
  • Simmer the prepared celeriac, potato and garlic in boiling water until soft. 
  • Drain the vegetables, return to the pan and steam dry over a low heat for a few minutes. 
  • Heat the milk and sliced spring onions in a small pan until nearly boiling, reduce the heat and gently simmer for a further couple of minutes. 
  • Add the milk mixture along with the butter and mustard to the drained celeriac and potato. Mash everything together until smooth. Stir in the cream and chopped parsley and season to taste. 
  • To serve in the traditional way, pile the champ into a bowl, make an indent in the top with the back of a serving spoon and fill with a large knob of butter room temperature. 
  • Serve immediately as the butter melts.

With Spring now in-situ and a full year of foraging and gardening ahead, this is a great book to begin getting acquainted with what is on your doorstep and when and where you can find it.  An ideal gift for Mother’s Day or splendid addition to your cookery book collection, if you find yourself with rosehips (or foraged fruits) adorning your kitchen table, then you'll know which book to turn to!

Special Offer:  to order Rosehips on a Kitchen Table at the discounted price of £7.99 including p&p* (RRP: £9.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG97. 
Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to:
LBS Mail Order Department, Littlehampton Book Services, PO Box 4264, Worthing, West Sussex, BN13 3RB. 
Please quote the offer code APG97 and include your name and address details. 
*UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Sponsored PostThis post was written following kind receipt of Rosehips On A Kitchen Table .  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. 

Friday, 28 February 2014

Benefits of Buying Food Locally

Purchasing and eating food that has been produced/grown locally has now come full circle in popularity with demands for food produced nearer to home favoured over foods flown in from all corners of the world.  As well as supporting one's local infrastructure, there are reported health benefits for adopting this lifestyle choice.

I recently wrote an online article for Warwickshire Life magazine about the buying local food with a focus on food vendors - Platinum Pancakes and their approach to providing an offering which is totally local.

Hope you'll enjoy reading it and in turn take time to see what food is around you and on your doorstep.  Click for Article Link

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Veggie Sushi for Valentine's Day

I’ve always by-passed sushi as it’s fish-based, so it’s never really been on my radar and I’ve never paid any attention to it.  However, I’ve been made aware of larger supermarkets now stocking vegetarian sushi, but still, I’ve never really entertained it.
But I was recently approached to trial a sushi kit for two where I could make my own vegetarian versions and I thought this would be an opportune time to see if I could be turned.

The kit, made by Yutaka has ample ingredients (bar fillings) to feed two people and it comes with a bag of rice, two large sheets of nori (pressed seaweed), sachets of shredded ginger, sushi vinegar, soy sauce and wasabi paste plus a rolling mat to help you assemble your sushi.
Using the instruction leaflet, I boiled the rice in its bag, let it rest, then prepared it in a bowl with the sachet ingredients.  I did however only use a little of the sushi vinegar (as it can be overpowering) and I omitted the wasabi paste (due to personal preference).

Laying the nori sheet on the mat, I placed a layer of rice on the sheet followed by some griddled vegetables I’d prepared earlier (asparagus, ribboned carrots and very thin slithers of red pepper).

So far so good. 
Crossing my fingers for a moment, I then embarked on creating the sushi roll.  The mat was a blessing and again, following the instructions, I ended up with a sushi roll that resembled the images on the pack.  
But before I succumbed to complete smugness, I did notice that my roll was somewhat portly compared to the benchmark pictures on the packet but not letting size be the issue here, I was pleased to find that they cut well and formed sushi parcels albeit a little bigger than anticipated.

The creation of sushi is indeed an art form and for a novice like me, the mantra of practice makes perfect is certainly applicable.  The key here is to keep the layer of rice and filling thin as once rolled, it becomes very padded which detracts from the original idea and although it tastes great, it becomes difficult to eat (as I discovered).  

But I am definitely going to make it again, now that I have grown a little in confidence with it and now that I have switched my mindset that vegetarian sushi is possible, tastes delicious and can be alternated with so many different vegetable combinations.  

Sushi-making and sushi-eating is a romantic way of spending Valentine's Day together and a quirky, healthy change from the usual 3 course fayre served with red roses, so this could be an option for all those looking for something different this weekend.
Now I've had my rehearsal, I hope my next batch using the Yutaka kit will be just as more-ish but perhaps I'll use a little less filling and exercise a little more practice in making them just like they are on the packet!
Yutaka’s Sushi Kit for 2 can be bought for £4.99 from Sainsbury’s supermarkets or from a variety of online stores.

Sponsored Post: 
This post was written following kind receipt of Yukata's Sushi Kit for 2 .  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.