Monday, 3 February 2020

Food and Fitness

A Pilates Retreat might not immediately strike you as a food diary experience but the day at Champneys Eastwell Manor organised and run by the knowledgeable and talented Evelyn Duro (Assistant Fitness Manager) proved to be just that and more.

Pilates Retreat Programme

We started with a delicious wake up smoothie. After a pilates class the extensive Champneys Spa healthy buffet breakfast was devoured. Breakfast is served every morning to Spa guests and is excellent value in a very beautiful recently renovated setting.

A walk was certainly then needed so we avoided the mud and visited the ruined St Marys Church Eastwell by the lake where snowdrops are already in full bloom.

Back to the Spa it was time for talks on health and nutrition from Evelyn who is well informed and passionate about her subject.

A late lunch was chosen from the two course menu again in the Spa restaurant. Every plate was beautifully presented and there was plenty of choice including duck, chicken, seabass and pasta all cooked in modern and imaginative ways.

Mine was Cauliflower served in a variety of styles, topped with crunchy dukkah (roasted nuts, seeds and spices) and pomegranate. Followed by a generously sized vanilla and raspberry panna cotta. Winter fruit crumble with ice cream was also a very popular choice.

Cauliflower with dukkah and beans

Free time followed with some opting for relaxation by the pool, some for beauty treatments and the rest engaging in more lively health talks with Evelyn.

The day ended with another pilates class this time focusing on stretch and relax. Tea and rich chocolate brownies were then offered and our group of eight each left with a bountiful goody bag full of food and beauty treats.

Top goody bag gift!

More goody bag treats

We all loved the day and the time spent making new acquaintances.  It was exceptional value at £49 for members and £99 for guests. It is worth keeping an eye on the Eastwell web site for future dates. I certainly have a number of friends who will want to be there.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

No such thing as a free lunch, or is there?

There really is such a thing as a free lunch or free tasty snacks anyway. The provinces of Almeria and Granada in Andalucia Spain still follow the tradition of each time you buy a drink you get a free tapas. This is not only with the first drink but with every single one.

On a recent mini road trip totalling just five days to the cities of Almeria and Granada and town of Nijar we experienced this brilliant hospitality at every stop.

From iberico ham served over crunchy patatas frites, melted cheese on crispy toasted bread to slow cooked pork in a curry sauce served in tiny bowls with couscous the variety was exceptional. Then in Granada we were offered generous portions of bread olives and meat which appeared just on ordering two glasses of vino blanco.

Bread, olives and cold meats

We also experienced a some delicious full meals. Fresh sardines and vibrant crunchy salad eaten by the sea in the sunshine in San Jose Almeria.

Sardinas Asadas

Ensalada Mixta

Two days later it was mussels in sauce in a cosy taberna in Granada where temperatures outside were closer to zero with snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains closing roads and causing us to alter our route back to the coast.


At breakfast or more usually brunch we made the most of the delicious bread with crushed tomatoes topped with ham and cheese. This impressive "breakfast boat" took first prize

Jambon Iberico & Queso

Then at our final stop Nijar a typical small town in the foothills  (incredibly well located for Almeria airport) and famous for its contemporary pottery we ate a dish translated as "Neighbours Potatoes" I think this is a bit like a set menu we once had in France supposedly "What the chef has found in the market today" but really whatever there was a glut of in the restaurant. However the potato dish was delicious. It included roast potatoes, chips, various sausages, mushrooms, liver and the famous padron peppers topped with fried egg. Perfect for a rainy day in Nigar.

Papas Vecinas

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Food and Wine in Lisbon

One highlight of a recent short break in Lisbon was a Taste of Portugal food and wine walking tour Lasting almost four hours this tour led by guide Darida explored three of Lisbon's oldest neighbourhoods in the east of the city. We learnt about past and contemporary life stopping often at local and family shops and restaurants to sample a range of delicious food and drink.

Cheese & Quice Jelly, ham & port
These tours cater for small groups and we were ten (from Dallas, San Francisco, Philadelphia, UK & Germany via the Dominican Republic) a great diverse mix sharing a love of good food and wine.

Meeting at the stunning Rue Augusta Arch in Baxia we learnt about the elegant buildings constructed after a massive earthquake in 1755. Then we we wandered off the crowded main streets to the first stop a specialty family run food shop which has been open since 1890.

Arch Rue Augusta

Meats and cheeses
It was here at Manteigaria Silva that we sampled the cheese, quince, ham and port while admiring the stunning range of produce for sale.

Salt cod and sardines

Our walk then took us north east into the medieval streets of Socorro where we sampled salt cod salad and delicate vino verde.

Salt cod and bean salad (photo from Taste of Portugal)
Then a trip into Mozambique to a well established restaurant showcasing the diversity of the people and food. Generous portions of samosas, vegetable curry, coconut rice and yogurt.

Darida serving our samosas

Next stop took us into the Alfama district to Muralha a typical tavern or wine bar. Octopus salad, chorizo and the black sausage morcela with red wine were the offer.

Flaming chorizo

And finally a sweet treat of coffee and cakes at Fabrica Pastel Feijao also located in Alfama. A modern variation on the traditional and very delicious Pasteis de nana (Portuguese custard tarts) this bakehouse and cafe produces cakes with a creamy vanilla filling and crunchy exterior.

Pastel de Feijao

This tour was exceptionally good, the selection of food and drink were varied and the portions generous. We were well guided by Darida who is knowledgable, personable and clearly proud of the Lisbon culture and culinary scene. It was worth every bit of the £56 we each paid. We left full and much better informed about the history, people and food of Lisbon 

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Asparagus (bacon and eggs)

Asparagus is in my view a delicious treat it also has to be currently the most written about vegetable. Pick up any recent food article or supplement and you will find that this green delicacy features. The short English season started last week on St Georges Day and will carry on until June.

I have a very small asparagus bed, just a couple of rows, even so I get enough for a meal about every two days, just for me obviously as it is is too good to share. It almost seems to grow as you watch.

Armed with my crop of 8 spears I decided to pair it simply. I had some particularly great bacon purchased at a recent Northern Irish food event held in Borough Market. Kennedy bacon dry cured by hand in Omagh brands itself as "Bacon at its best" I have to agree Luckily this is sold at Belfast International Airport so a supply can be topped up regularly.

A gift of eggs from Himley Browns Park Farm were just perfect to complete the dish.

I had a quick scan of recipes for inspiration and followed Tom Kerridge's cooking method for the asparagus in just a small amount of water and some butter.

The dish was asparagus, crispy bacon and poached eggs topped with a dressing and fresh chives. for the bacon this method cooked in the oven worked brilliantly

So the ingredients comprised of

  • lightly poached asparagus (5 minutes)
  • crispy bacon cut into cubes
  • poached eggs
  • salad dressing
  • fresh chives
For the dressing I mixed 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a splash of dill oil, 1 tablespoon apple vinegar (also from the Northern Ireland food event) a dash of runny honey, 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard and some salt and pepper and gave it a good shake up in a jar.

Pour the dressing over the asparagus, bacon and eggs and top with fresh chives.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Fordwich Arms

Saturday lunch at the Fordwich Arms Sturry was by far one of the best meals and dining out experiences us five food loving friends have enjoyed in a long while and certainly up there with the best.

The early success of Fordwich Arms has been well documented by many names in food writing. It appears regularly in the weekend supplements and the hype is well deserved. In October last year a mere ten months after the restaurant opened this team of three young (they are all 26) and their crew were awarded a much coveted Michelin star.

The atmosphere of this 1930's former pub is warm, inviting, and relaxing.  We at in the bright bar sitting on deep velvet banquettes. There was a great buzz of conversations from fellow diners and locals who are still very welcome to enjoy a pint at the bar. There is also an oak panelled dining room which is close to the river and the dog friendly garden.  The amiable, attentive and knowledgeable service from the staff was exceptional. Then there was the food.

 First there were the pre starters, three different types exquisite and bursting with flavour. One of our group is cows milk intolerant he had his own equally beautifully presented variations.

Delicious bread selection followed with different types of butter. We hadn't even begun on the starters yet.

Here are some of them duck liver parfait, pork jowl and trout take a look at the menu for full descriptions I cannot begin to do them justice with my culinary communication

Next mains two chose lamb, one pork, one duck and as you can see a lot more elements came too.

and the vegetarian option was a delightfully named "Wood roasted celeriac, hen of the woods mushroom, grelot onion, pear and Perigord truffle"

For dessert it had to be the new to their menu take on a Ferrero Rocher which was chocolate heaven

Of course there were drinks before, during and after, a cheese trolley and a tin of handmade petit fours to go with the coffee.

The Fordwich Arms is a place for special occasions. Its not cheap but spending a wonderful four hours over a lesiurely lunch on a cold bright February Saturday was worth every penny (or pound).

Monday - Friday they offer a 3 course set lunch for £35 no doubt with some extras. I shall be back soon.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Mixed Fish with Crunchy Topping

Fish is a favourite but it can be expensive, not so when I recently visited Iceland and snapped up all three of these bags for just £10

The Iceland web site describes their approach to sustainable fishing which looks pretty good, they aim for "responsible sourcing from sea to shelf"

I was also intrigued by a recent article saying how Iceland has launched a new mixed bag sustainable selection of white fish including whiting, megrim sole and grey gurnard which can sometimes get thrown back into the sea by fishers. Called 'What the Fish' you can read about it here

Unfortunately the £8 mixed bag was no where to be found in my local branch but the selection I bought worked fine.

Using half the fish pie mix and a little cooked seafood I was able to put together a tasty dinner of fish in white sauce with seafood and peas topped with breadcrumbs and cheese

First of all defrost the fish and assemble the other ingredients

Then make a white sauce with butter, flour and milk. Season well with salt and pepper. For added flavour I often add part of those handy chicken stock pods.

Assemble the dish by mixing the raw fish (not the seafood) and frozen peas into the hot white sauce in an oven proof dish. Then add the prawns, mussels and calamari. Top with fresh breadcrumbs and cheese (I used a mix of left over ready grated Gruyere and Parmesan)

Salmon, hake, smoked haddock & peas in white sauce
Add cooked seafood
Top with breadcrumbs and cheese
Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) for about 25 minutes until brown on top.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Seafood Soup

My kitchen has been out of action for a while; so cooking has been more basic. Happily the new and much improved facility is now up and running so the recipe experimentation can resume.

My version of a quick seafood soup uses as a base a bag of frozen mixed seafood any variety will do but I find uncooked better than pre cooked.

A recipe for fish soup has appeared before in Ann's Food Diary however last weeks version was even more tasty.

Preparing all the ingredients in advance and particularly taking a picture of them is definitely showy (sorry) but makes for a rapid cook of precisely the right amounts.

I started by gently frying the onion, red pepper and courgette in mix of olive and dill oil. This Cotswold Gold brand is a current favourite  Add the garlic and cook for about a minute before adding spices cumin, paprika, black pepper (a teaspoon of each) a pinch of saffron and a tablespoon of tomato puree stir, cook for two minutes.

Once the vegetables are soft and the spices combined its time for the seafood. I cut the squid rings into thirds and added these to the pan along with the prawns and scallops mixing well to incorporate with the seasonings.

Next pour in the stock. My mix was 200ml part tomato juice part chicken stock. Fish stock works well as does a splash of wine or brandy. Bring this to a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes then add the mussels (these are already cooked)

Finally stir in some double cream (or milk) and make sure its hot but not boiling

Top with grated cheese and serve with a crusty roll