Monday, 18 August 2014

Spasa - Ukrainian Fruit Harvest

As summer’s finale begins in the latter half of August, so does an extremely important set of three religious dates in the Ukrainian calendar which are known collectively as ‘Spas or Spasa’.  These are also referred to as ‘Saviour Days’ and respectively celebrate the harvesting of honey, apples and nuts.
The most important festival of the trinity is the Second Spas, religiously known as the ‘Feast of Transfiguration of Christ’ or is commonly known as ‘Apple Spas’ and is celebrated on 19 August marking the year’s apple/fruit harvest.
In the Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities worldwide, baskets of apples are taken to church and are blessed in a special mass and then afterwards, are eaten and/or cooked as part of the festivities.
As with every festival, in the Ukraine, each region, village or family would celebrate it in their respective way and I have often been told of my family’s memories of spasa.  In the region of Zboriw, Spasa was celebrated with extreme enthusiasm and my father as a young boy would eagerly anticipate the arrival of the funfair carousel that was enjoyed during the Spasa season and which was one of the area’s annual highlights.  Equally, my maternal Grandmother observed a ritual whereby she wouldn’t eat any of her apple harvest until it had been blessed and only then would she enjoy her crop.
As Apple Spasa approaches, it creates the perfect opportunity to enjoy the harvest yield and perhaps make a Ukrainian apple cake classic such as Yabluchnyk - an ideal accompaniment with coffee or as dessert for a late summer picnic.

Yabluchnyk (Ukrainian Apple Cake)
Recipe Acknowledgement - Adapted from:


210g plain flour, sifted
50g sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
100g butter, diced
1 egg
60ml evaporated milk
4 apples




* Pre-heat the oven to 190°C or Gas mark 4/5.
* Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl then stir in the sugar to combine.
* Add the diced butter and rub in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. * Separately, beat together the egg and the evaporated milk.
* Add this to the flour mix a little at a time, until the mixture comes together a firm dough.
* Transfer the dough into a greased baking tray (suggested size: 25 x 20 cm) and pat into the base and sides.
* Peel and core the apples then cut into thin slices.
* Cover the pastry base with the apple slices.
* Combine the topping ingredients of sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl and scatter this mixture over the layer of apples.
* Dot a little butter at various points across the apples to help with the baking process.
* When ready, transfer the cake onto the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the apples are cooked.
* Serve hot with sour cream.
Note: This article and recipe have also been published in the Ukrainian Thought newspaper, printed in London for Ukrainians and those of Ukrainian descent in the UK.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Latest Gastro Superstar in Soho - The Palomar

The Palomar's Kitchen Team

Seeing the buzz on Twitter for Soho’s latest addition to the restaurant scene – The Palomar, I felt I have been let in on a new gastro secret which is on the verge of being turned into a phenomenon.  So what better way of getting in on the action than treating my husband for his birthday and having the opportunity for us to experience the hype first hand.

The Palomar's Kitchen
Yes, you can risk it by walking in speculatively, but taking no chances I rang a few days prior to make my reservation.  First thing I noticed during the conversation was how enthusiastic Amy the reservations lady was about my booking and as it was for a birthday, she wanted to make sure everything was right.  She said we’d have to be seated at the kitchen bar as opposed to the main tabled area which was full, but she assured me it would be more personal and fun, so whilst I was a bit tentative about it at first, I soon warmed to her suggestion.
At our booking time on the day, we walked in and we were greeted with such warmth, almost like we were old friends and you instantly knew you were going to have a nice time.  Seated on the kitchen bar we were face-to-face with the chef’s team who introduced themselves, offered us some sweet potato crisps as an amuse bouche and then guided us through the menu with suggestions, especially great for myself being vegetarian (and there were plenty of veggie choices).  One excellent suggestion was having their ‘Daily 6’ as a starter between the two of us.
Yemeni Bread

The ‘Daily 6’ are 6 mezze dishes (which rotate regularly) and on our visit consisted of:  baked aubergine, labenah cheese, lemon pearl barley to name a few and all vegetarian.  We decided to have some Kubaneh (Yemeni pot baked bread which came with two ramekins of tahini and spiced grated tomato) to accompany it.  The Kubaneh bread was soft and fluffy and is made freshly on site.  The Daily 6 is a fabulous way to enjoy different dishes, almost a snapshot taster of the menu which grabs elements of Middle Eastern/North African/Jewish/Levant cuisine throughout, which incidently is how the restaurant market themselves -  as a cultural, contemporary mix of food from modern day Jerusalem. 
Onglet Steak
My husband had the Onglet Steak with latkes, spring onions and fried Clarence Court egg for his main which he exclaimed as “beyond delicious” and I had the Labenah Tortellini with a butternut squash cream, tomatoes, confit garlic and mange tout.  The pasta for the tortellini was freshly made and the labenah cheese (which is an Israeli cheese made from goat’s yoghurt) is also made on site using the traditional muslin technique.  A great opportunity to consume this cheese, as it isn’t widely available, and made into tortellini parcels was a nice way to present it as a main course dish.
Labenah Tortellini
Tahini Ice Cream
The dessert menu, was again influenced by Middle Eastern flavours.  I opted for the Tahini Ice Cream (cardamom crème Anglaise, brulee figs, filo delight & honey).  You can taste the grainy extracts of fig within the tahini ice cream, complemented by the filo crunchy square wafer which is similar to the pastry base of a baklava.  It was sweet yet refreshing.  As a huge chocolate fan, my husband chose the Chocolate Cremeux (puffed rich crunch, pomegranate coulis, cocoa tuile & almond streusel) and simply said it was “divine”.  It did look it, I have to say.
Chocolate Cremeux
By way of a petit four, we were offered the opportunity to sample some homemade Earl Grey chocolate truffles which were rich and moreish and a perfect way to end the meal.
A wide variety of drinks were available, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic but one thing I was impressed with was there was a cover charge of £1 per head for water and your glass was replenished frequently – a big plus point for me.
The camaraderie between the chef’s team was contagious and they involved you with their banter which was great fun.  Equally, they weren’t intrusive if you were having a private conversation and were very intuitive towards those that didn’t want to join in which demonstrated great respect.
Just as we were greeted, we were bid farewell with the same gusto and the team genuinely thanked us for taking the time to visit and for our custom which we appreciated.  I have to thank Amy for her recommendation of being seated at the kitchen bar.  It really added value and complemented an amazing (veggie friendly) menu.   Already that has stood us in good stead to return again. 
As the plaudits continue to roll in for The Palomar, I predict this little gem will soon be introducing a waiting list to dine, so I would recommend you go there as soon as you can and jump up on the stools by the bar and have an eclectic meal experience – it is worth it.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Halloumi & Strawberry Salad

Salad can get quite samey this time of year so it is nice to have an incentive to jazz things up.  I was invited by Florette to create a salad from their product range with my own spin.

I perused through a lovely recipe book called ‘A Salad for All Seasons’ by Harry  Eastwood (from Channel 4’s ‘Cook Yourself Thin’ series).  There are so many salad variations in there, beautiful photography to help depict each recipe complete with specific notes for vegetarians and which have a focus on different ingredients thus steering away from predictable salad bar options - great inspiration.  In addition, I was inspired by a salad I had seen on the menu at The Jockey Club restaurant in Ibiza earlier this summer - for Goat’s Cheese & Strawberry Salad and had made a note to try that some time.  But twisting that idea again, I ended up making Halloumi & Strawberry Salad.
I decided to make it pretty rather than just functional, (for speed, functional is how I make salads to have with my evening meal).  The salad was to accompany my mini barbeque for my husband and I  it was nice to have some salad greenery to balance out the other goodies from the grill.
I grilled my pieces of halloumi on the barbeque, although you can of course cook them on a griddle pan.  Then placing them on a bed of mixed soft/crispy leaves (I used the Florette Classic Crispy leaves), I added sliced beef tomatoes and wafer thin sliced cucumber.  The saltiness from the cheese with the sweetness of the strawberry contrasted well, combined with a balsamic glaze (that is renown to work with both elements), it provided the tastebuds with a medley of flavours and textures.
Certain fruits work well with salad and this is definitely the case with strawberries. 
Taking the salad to a further glamourous level, I added some edible flowers, which in this case were multi-coloured violas purchased from Waitrose.  Away from my barbeque dinner, this would make for a nice dinner party salad or a pretty side dish for a girly lunch.
Florette do have a nice range of salad bags that contain varying leaves according to preference – traditional leaf mixtures through to more unusual leaves (such as lollo rosso) and for those that like a fiery salad, there are peppered versions too.
Currently, Florette are running different salad recipes to give consumers ideas of how to vary salad intake – which is great either for your lunchbox, barbeque (as I did) or to give the wow factor at dinner parties.  Just take a look at the website:
In the meantime, here is my Florette salad recipe which I hope you will enjoy too!

Halloumi & Strawberry Salad
Halloumi Cheese & Strawberry Salad
Serves 2
100g Halloumi Cheese (cut into strips)4  Strawberries (thinly sliced)100g of Florette Classic Crispy Salad
Drizzle of Balsamic GlazeDrizzle of Extra Virgin Olive oilGrinding of Pink Himalayan salt¼ of a Cucumber (thinly sliced)½ Beef Tomato (cut into cubes)
Scattering of Edible Flowers
*  Barbeque or fry the halloumi strips in a griddle pan until golden brown.  Set aside.
Place the Florette leaves into a bowl.
Add the tomato, cucumber and strawberries.
Season with pink Himalayan salt.
Place the halloumi strips on top.
Drizzle the whole salad with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze.
Scatter the edible flowers over the top.
Salad is ready to serve.
Sponsored Post:  I was re-imbursed by Florette to cover my expenses for the Florette salad and was sent a complimentary copy of  'A Salad for all Seasons' book.  This post was written honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review of the product purchased.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Nuances of Bengali Food (Warwickshire Life Magazine)

Food Demo at Stratford Food Festival - Moushumi Moran from The Cardamom Pod
Recently meeting local Bengali cook and tutor Moushumi Moran from 
The Cardamom Pod, led me to finding out about the specifics of Bengali cooking as a standalone cuisine rather than it hiding under the general banner of Indo-Asian food.

I took the time to find out a little more about the cultural/social side of eating Bengali style and had the myth dispelled that not everything is covered in spices as is naturally assumed!
This made for an informative article for  Warwickshire Life magazine.
To read the article and find out more, please click onto the link here:  
Warwickshire Life Article – Bengali Food.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Pasta Bake Alla Puttanesca

Pasta alla Puttanesca is a romantic sounding dish, but yet when translated from Italian into English it means - harlot's pasta - perhaps compromising its enchanting image but certainly not compromising on taste.

Invented by an Italian restaurant owner in the mid-20th century,  he created a dish for a group of late night diners using only the few ingredients he had left in his kitchen.  Its popularity led to it becoming a regular feature on his menu and he called it Spaghetti alla Puttanesca.  Named as such, making reference to the inadequate ingredients he'd used for the dish (in his eyes), twisting the words puttanta the Italian noun for 'worthless' and puttana  meaning 'harlot' - the dish was a favourite amongst the restaurant's patrons and was soon glorified en masse.

Beyond Italy, its popularity has spread worldwide and has been featured by many celebrity chefs in cookbooks and TV shows alike.  It's a dish that is easy to make and yet provides a variation to good old pasta with a basic tomato sauce.

Bearing this in mind, when I was approached by Central England Co-operative to contribute to their 'Easy Eating' campaign, this dish instantly sprang to mind.  The 'Easy Eating' campaign promotes non-complicated meals and recipes using ingredients from  Co-operative stores that are easy to make whether you are looking for a post-work supper or a weekend lunch.

My version omits anchovies (used in many versions) thus making it vegetarian and is a nod to many of the Neapolitan forms in existence.  The saltiness synonymous with the recipe is retained by the use of additional olives.  Its format as a pasta bake makes it easier to serve as a table dish in its baking tray - ideal for families or for an informal lunch with friends.  Equally, by making extra portions (multiplying the ingredient quantities as appropriate), it is great to heat up the next day for a quick lunch or to have as an instant meal after work when the last thing you want to do is cook from scratch after a long day!

Pasta Bake Alla Puttanesca

Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients purchased from The Co-operative

250g Penne Pasta
400g Tin of The Co-operative Chopped Tomatoes with Garlic & Oregano in Tomato Sauce
330g Jar of The Co-operative Green Olives Stuffed with Sun Dried Tomatoes (Truly Irresistible range)
275g The Co-operative Closed Cup Mushrooms (Button mushroom size if possible)
50g Peppadrew Piquante Peppers (from a jar)
2 Cloves of Garlic (chopped/sliced)
200g The Co-operative Mild Cheddar Grated Cheese
Chilli Flakes (Optional)
Oil for frying
Serve with:  Fresh Parsley and a The Co-operative Garlic Bread baguette


*  Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (or equivalent).
*  Cook pasta as per packet instructions in salted water.
*  Place the olives (without the oil from the jar) into a food processor and blitz until you have a paste.  Set aside.
*  In a saucepan, fry the garlic and mushrooms in oil (keep them whole if possible, but slice if too big).
*  Add the chilli flakes if using.
*  Add the olive paste, Piquante Peppers and the chopped tomatoes.  Mix well and heat gently.

Tomato/Olive Sauce Cooking Through

*  When ready, drain the pasta and add to the tomato/olive/pepper sauce and mix well.
*  Transfer to an ovenproof dish and cover with grated cheese.

Pasta  Bake Alla Puttanesca - From the Oven

*  If serving with garlic bread, place the baguette in the oven as per packet instructions.
*  Place the pasta bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese has melted.
*  Serve the pasta bake alla puttanesca with a garnish of fresh herbs.

Pasta Bake Alla Puttanesca served with Garlic Bread

Sponsored Post:  I was re-imbursed by Central England Co-operative to cover my expenses to create the meal.  This post was written honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review of the products purchased.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 


Monday, 14 July 2014

Birmingham Independent Food Fair - 13 September 2014


For those that enjoyed last summer's #FutureFoodies event in the city, then here's something for your diaries in September - Birmingham Independent Food Fair. 

Birmingham’s vibrant independent food and drink sector is set to shine, at a new event showcasing over forty different producers, restaurants, drinks merchants and street food traders.
Organised by local food guide, Dine Birmingham, and supported by Visit Birmingham, the food fair will take place at Millennium Point on  Saturday 13 September 2014. Early Bird tickets have just been released.

Venue - Millennium Point and Eastside Park

The city’s rich and varied culinary range will be well represented, after the organisers received a flood of applications from the local food and drink industry.

Popular venues such as Thai Edge, Le Truc Cafe, Min Min Noodle Bar and Epi Restaurant will be serving up samples of cuisine to try and buy. Meanwhile, a pop-up will be operated by sponsor Don Diego Bar de Tapas, using specially-sourced ingredients to create authentic Spanish paella, tapas and churros.

Popular independent coffee shop Six Eight Kafe will be at the fair

Other food on offer will range from Greek deli food and artisan chilli sauces, to handmade chocolate and gluten-free confectionery. Outdoors, street food traders will serve up Polish cuisine, Indonesian curries and wood-fired pizza.

The fair will feature a Spirits & Wine section, sponsored by Langley’s Gin. Here visitors will be able to taste the Birmingham-distilled premium spirit, and also explore tipples from other local vendors including Cellar Door Drinks, and Soul Tree Indian Wines.

 Martini made with locally distilled Langley's Gin

Bitters ‘n’ Twisted, the independent company behind Island Bar and Bodega, will be offering special cocktails at their stand. A craft beer bar will cater to the well-established taste for locally-sourced, high-quality brews.

Sally Bowen, Director at Midlands gourmet dining club The Gastro Card, said:

“The volume and breadth of businesses taking part in this event is a real credit to Birmingham’s thriving food and drink scene. With everything from chef-prepared dining to beer and deli foods on offer, there will be something for everyone at Birmingham Independent Food Fair.”

Discounted Early Bird tickets have now been released for the food fair. These can be found, along with further information, on the official website. 

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Jockey Club - Salinas - Ibiza

“You have to go there!”  “Honestly, it is a must, make sure you go!”  These were the verbal reviews I had of The Jockey Club before I headed off to Ibiza recently.  So armed with these plaudits, I felt I had to find out for myself if it lived up to its reputation once I landed on the ‘white isle’.

Set in the resort of Ses Salinas near to Ibiza airport (renown for the island’s salt production), The Jockey Club is a beach bar/restaurant which plays host and offers respite for the ‘beautiful people’ and the celebrities that adorn its beach area and who come and enjoy the chilled out ambience that The Jockey Club provides through its cocktail list, restaurant menu and DJ music.
Arriving in early June as I did, I was fortunate not to have to book a table but my understanding was that in the height of season (July/August), booking would be mandatory.  Getting a table for lunch we were shown to a large wooden bench table which we had to ourselves (these are shared in full season so I believe, in order to accommodate everyone).  The prices are not cheap, so take my advice of familiarising yourself with the menu ahead of going so that you are au fait with what to expect.
Appetisers at The Jockey Club
I was pleased to see that there were a few vegetarian choices on the menu which doesn’t always happen in Spanish restaurants as I’ve found over the years.   I chose the Stuffed Calzone Vegetal which was packed with aubergine, pumpkin, peppers, onion, carrot and cheese served with a side salad costing €19Euros.  The portion was massive!!  A rare situation occurred whereby I gave some to my husband to sample and share, and he agreed, it was delicious.  I was also tempted by the Goat’s Cheese & Strawberry Salad but in the end, I chose the Calzone, feeling that it would be more hearty.  My husband opted for one of the specials of the day which was Beef with Beetroot and Wild Berries – he enjoyed it tremendously (alongside a section of my calzone)!
Calzone Vegetal
Beef with Beetroot & Wild Berries
Of course, seduced by holiday fever and the mellow atmosphere, my scrumptious calzone was washed down with one of The Jockey Club’s Caipiroska Tropical cocktails which was a welcomed refreshment as the temperature was soaring towards 30 degrees.
Jockey Club Cocktail
Outside The Jockey Club, you can hire their sun loungers and enjoy the waiter-cocktail service all day as the DJ plays the beats and again, my understanding is that come July, getting a spot either inside or outside of The Jockey Club will be tricky due to its popularity.
The Jockey Club lends itself well for all ages with older people present down to small children and provides something for everyone.  I cannot praise it enough and as per what my friends were telling me, I’m saying to you all – “You have to go there!”   

Inside The Jockey Club

We had a truly wonderful, relaxing time there rounded off by some sunbathing on Salinas’ golden beach with echoes of the DJ in the background.