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.

Monday, 23 June 2014

On the Go - Lizi's Granola Pouches

Lizi's Granola - On the Go Pouches

I am rather partial to granola and a while ago, I reviewed Lizi’s Granola brand which I thoroughly enjoyed.  The team at Lizi’s have identified that preparing a granola based breakfast isn’t always practical with the hustle & bustle of daily life.  So they have come up with little pouches called ‘On the Go’ which make the ritual of cereal eating a little more convenient.  So I was interested to see how it would work when I was offered the chance to sample a pouch or two which included Original and Treacle & Pecan flavours.
Each pouch contains a standard ‘one person’ portion size of granola which is dusted with lactose-free dried milk, a ready to make cereal that comes with a folded plastic spoon to eat it with.  All that you need to do is add cold water, mix and it is ready to eat.
As you may have read in my other posts, I’m not a milk fan so making up a cereal which will turn into a milky mixture isn’t to my preference.  So I decided to eat mine dry (without the added water element) and I offered my family and friends the opportunity to try the pouches with added water.
The consensus was that although it took a second to work out how to open the packet, adding the required amount of water was easy to do.  As with the main Lizi’s Granola bags, the pouches possessed a good mix of seeds and a nice level of sweetness with ingredients such as coconut enhancing the flavour but not overpowering it.
I tested mine at the weekend as I need to take some breakfast with me whilst attending the Summer Solstice event at Stonehenge.  And although I didn’t add water to it, I just ate it dry, it was a great concept, handy and a  quick way to have breakfast and easy to dispose of afterwards – really good.
All in all, a convenient way to enjoy granola on the move (whether that be with hydrated milk or just dry) and with the summer season in full swing, it makes an ideal solution for car journeys, camping, festivals or even to have at work if you’ve not had the chance to eat at home.
Sponsored Post:  This post was written following kind receipt of Lizi's Granola On the Go pouches samples. 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, 15 June 2014

Provamel - Alternative Milk Drinks

I’m not a ‘milky’ person really  - might have mentioned that before.  Other than in tea and the odd cappuccino, I don’t really drink it.  Just a personal taste thing rather than for any other reason.  So, I always look for ways or products that will help me to embrace all things milk.

The team at Provamel might just have found a fair compromise for me.  Although an established brand already within the plant-based foods sector, they have recently adopted a new look with additions to their product range.

So why use Provamel over conventional cow's milk?  The products are dairy-free so it makes a perfect option for those that may be vegan or lactose intolerant as it promotes itself as a healthy alternative as it is a 100% organic and contains plant-based ingredients.

I was sent two carton samples to try - Oat Milk and Rice Almond.  As mentioned above, not being of the milk persuasion, I asked my family to be part of my testing panel.  So we started with the Oat flavour, which now contains more oats and fibre than previously.  All came back saying that it was delicious, certainly a noticeable difference to cow's milk, but in a good way.  Even trying it myself, I have to say I enjoyed it far more than cow's milk, although I could only sample a small glass due to my preference levels.

The Rice Almond milk, made with organic Italian rice, almonds and blended with spring water and a splash of agave syrup, when tested was a lot sweeter than the Oat Milk with a slight hint of nut (from the almond), although others enjoyed drinking it cold,  I found it was a little too sweet when used with tea or coffee. 

Smoothie drinks I do enjoy.  The combination of fruit with milk makes it far more palatable for me.  So, I made a batch of banana smoothies with both sets of milk.  Enjoying a good few glasses myself, I also made samples using both milk flavours for my work colleagues which in turn went down very well and they all couldn't believe it wasn't cow's milk and were all keen to know more about the brand.

Banana Smoothie

Available in health food stores (including Holland & Barrett), Provamel has a range of products, not just milk but also yoghurts, desserts and custards.  For more details on the range and for recipes, visit  I for one, will definitely be making more smoothies going forward, but I will keep them to myself - I won't be as keen to share this time!


Sponsored PostThis post was written following kind receipt of Provamel 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. 


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Prêt-à-Portea Afternoon Tea at The Berkeley

A little girly treat is needed from time to time, so recently, off my friend and I went to London to enjoy the much acclaimed Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley Hotel.

The splendour of the hotel’s Caramel Room plays host to the event labelled as a fashionista’s afternoon tea.  Named Prêt-à-Portea, it is a twist on the French fashion phrase – Pret a Porter, meaning ‘ready to wear’ .  The focal point is the confectionery - hand-made and emulating this season’s fashion themes and colours (think swimwear biscuits and marzipan hats), which differs from the traditional cream tea offering of scones and light cakes.

Our experience of the hotel’s customer service was second to none. Both of us being vegetarian, I’d communicated our preferences as part of our reservation and we were advised that they had all been recorded. However, on the day, it seemed to the contrary. Upon providing proof of the correspondence, the Berkeley team were profusely apologetic and made sure we had a wonderful vegetarian selection brought out to us incorporating all our preferences. In addition, as a token of their apology, we were given a glass of champagne with their compliments (welcomed with open arms) which indeed only added to the glamour of the event.

The china also forms part of the fashionista experience and is commissioned for The Berkeley and the Prêt-à-Portea event by Wedgwood and is exquisitely painted in hues of pink, pastels and gold on a white base and is available to purchase if you fancy an indulgent souvenir.


Wedgwood Berkeley China

Served in the said china, are a range of teas and coffees all depicted on the menu which include the bespoke Berkeley Blend to traditional Earl Grey and Darjeeling teas through to herbal teas. The service is such that the waiting team are just a moment away and when they see you are ready to pour yourself more tea, they are on hand to perform the ritual for you.

The delicately cut sandwiches featured quite a number of contemporary fillings such as red pepper & rocket, aubergine dip with gherkin and goats’ cheese & beetroot. All delicious and not being a fan of butter or spread on my sandwiches, they kindly prepared a portion to fit that request.

In conjunction with the sandwiches we were served savoury canapés consisting of cherry tomatoes with avocado, goats’ cheese & beetroot mousse pastry, tomato water and artichoke & papaya. The latter was our personal favourite and we asked for additional portions as we were insatiable for them!


Next came what Prêt-à-Portea is famous for and that is its confectionery/desserts. All of which I was assured were veggie friendly. Examples of which included: 

Christian Louboutin chocolate biscuit Pigalle Spike heel with fresh turquoise hue icing and signature red sole.

Karla Collecto lemon biscuit swimsuit with cherry red icing and pretty rosette-appliqued neckline

Victoria Beckham graphic geometric cherry and white chocolate mousse skirt

Simone Rocha pineapple and coconut Savarin shirt dress with a “wow” lime punk spun sugar.

Selection of Desserts

Even with my sweet tooth I couldn’t finish all the biscuits, but The Berkeley offer you a little take-away box, shaped like a handbag (keeping the theme), which they will place some biscuits inside for you, which is a delightful way to carry on The Berkeley experience once you leave.

Handbag Take-Out Boxes

Our visit served as an early treat for our forthcoming birthdays (which we had advised them of), and as a gesture from the hotel, we were given a ‘Happy Birthday’ platter complete with candle and truffles plus a fruity cocktail which really added to our experience.

Our Happy Birthday Platter

The whole event was a pleasure from start to finish garnished with extra touches for a memorable day. From a vegetarian’s point of view, the selection of sweet and savoury items were plentiful, with contemporary ideas steering away from predictability. Strict vegetarians are catered for and welcomed rather than been made to feel like an inconvenience which is a refreshing change.

I would love to return again, especially as the sweet/dessert selection changes each season, so each visit would a different experience to the last. One thing I would wholeheartedly recommend (in addition to going in the first place), is book in advance, especially if you need to accommodate a large group, as places are limited and are booked up months ahead – as I would hate for you to be disappointed and not be able to experience the charming afternoon that we did.


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Honestly Healthy for Life - Vegetarian Recipes for an Alkaline Diet

It was only a few weeks ago that I sat down and read in the Sunday papers about the benefits of an alkaline diet.   I remembered thinking what an interesting idea that was and what a feasible argument the article portrayed of how this change in diet can be advantageous.
So it was with great interest that I was given the opportunity to explore this concept in more depth by receipt of a new cook book called Honestly Healthy for Life which is offers vegetarian, alkaline diet inspired recipes.
Honestly Healthy for Life is written by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson who have fused their respective knowledge together to compile the book following the success of their previous title – Honestly Healthy
Natasha is a gourmet vegetarian chef  whose passion for cooking started at the age of 16 in the kitchens of her father’s restaurant which then led to an interest in nutrition based on a personal quest for a healthier lifestyle.  She is now a leader in alkaline cooking and has trained chefs to cook the Honestly Healthy way in 5-star hotels across the globe including London.  In addition to training, Natasha runs a food delivery service called ‘Fridge Fill’ which provides UK customers with bespoke ready-made plans.
Vicki is a well-recognised nutritional therapist and naturopath, practicing in London, Majorca and Miami helping people to understand how their bodies work and the nourishment they require.  As well as running international bespoke lifestyle retreats, she has also appeared on TV in series such as ‘Diet Doctors’ on Channel 5 and ‘Fat Nation’ for the BBC.
First of all, the explanation of why this lifestyle/diet approach is worth exploring.  (Of course noting that any change in diet should be done so with prior medical consultation if appropriate).  It isn’t a diet in the sense of a weight-loss plan which often involves a dramatic cull of food and a military strategy of exercise, this seems quite the opposite.  It offers an opportunity to assess your intake of foods and see potential advantages without any drastic compromises.
The book is split into two sections – the first section explains the principles behind the diet and the potential benefits for the body.    
Foods are grouped into two sections – acid based and alkaline based.  The body likes to be somewhere in the middle of these two groups in a ‘neutral’ capacity.  It is recommended that to achieve this status, diets are to be divided into consumption of 70% alkaline and 30% acid foods.  The associated benefits of eating alkaline foods is that it promotes energy and well-being, reduces bloating, minimises inflammation/ailments and hunger pangs.  The approach is majority vegetarian-led, with a recommendation of eating organic where possible with emphasis on vegetables, pulses, nuts and sprouted beans that assist with building proteins.  Typically alkaline foods include:  broccoli, kale, spinach, beetroot, peppers and cucumber to name a few.  Acidic foods include:  yeast, ketchup, dried fruit and dairy foods.
The one thing to highlight is that whilst some foods are acidic in their raw format, they convert to alkaline once cooked so be mindful of this change.  Equally, it isn’t the taste of food that assesses whether it is acidic or not, it is how that food is broken down and digested once consumed.
Consumption of excess acidic food can drain minerals from organs such as kidneys or the liver as the body fights back to return to a neutral PH level.
Interestingly, the book features a health questionnaire and if you suffer from any of the symptoms listed, you may well need to think about adjusting your diet as it may help to reduce those identified ailments.  The book also contains a useful guide of foods ranging from ‘Really Really Alkaline’ through to ‘Acidic’ making it easy to decipher the kind of foods suggested for adopting this diet and there is also a ‘larder list’ of essential store cupboard items to help support cooking alkaline based meals.
The second section showcases a wealth of recipes that encompass the diet’s principles and are sub-divided into real-life scenarios such as weekday suppers, lazy weekends, barbeques and Halloween etc.  All the recipes are vegetarian with plenty of desserts ideas for those with a sweet tooth.
Even if you don’t wish to follow the mantra of alkaline eating, the book and recipes featured are a delight for vegetarians and offer some great suggestions using everyday ingredients as well as ones that are more unusual.
Endorsed by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Lisa Snowdon and by publications such as Marie Claire and Sunday Times Style, it is hard not to follow suit.  I for one am very interested in this method of eating, the science behind it makes a lot of sense to me and of course it fits in beautifully with my vegetarian lifestyle.  I’m not sure if I would be able to follow it religiously, (life and preferences don’t always allow), but I feel after reading the book that it will make me more mindful of what I choose to eat and Honestly Healthy for Life proves an invaluable reference tool for the adoption of this lifestyle.
Sponsored Post/DisclaimerThis post was written following kind receipt of Honestly Healthy for Life.  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.  Please note that I am not endorsing this diet and I have not personally trialed it, I am simply commenting on the positive aspects of it and my expressing personal opinion of the advantages I have gleaned from the publication.  Personal research and personal verification of facts should be conducted to ascertain if diet changes are appropriate for an individual’s circumstances and any diet changes embarked upon should be done so with medical advice where applicable.