Gingered Puy Lentils for when the weather turns

Sometimes you can’t beat an old favourite. The weather recently took a turn and mentally I craved something a bit more autumnal rather then “summer fresh”.

 

A recipe I keep going back to is the rather fabulous gingered puy lentils. I love lentils with their texture and earthiness. I am quite happy just to run some finely diced vegetables through them. Adding some heat and sweetness though takes them to another level. As ever, I didn’t have all the necessary ingredients so I had to improvise but it ended up well.

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What makes a ‘local’ – Harringtons on the Hill

Its nice to have a “local” restaurant – a place which you can afford to go to quite often, where the welcome is good and where the food is pretty decent too. Its a place where you can take friends and family and it still has a human side. In the past it’s tended to be a local curry house or a little Italian.

 

In Kenilworth we have to walk past the Michelin-starred Cross to get to Harrington’s on the Hill. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to make a regular thing of eating at the Cross but its not to everyone’s taste. Some people can feel intimidated by the fancy menus, the price and some of the ingredients. It can also be a costly business.

 

And so we continue on with an appetite-building stroll for pre-drinks in the garden at the wonderfully set Queen And Castle overlooking the ruins of Kenilworth Castle. Its a nice start to the evening. It has delivered some of the best service and worst service in the past. There is an extensive bar with some cocktails and the essential summer Pimms (but some things are very expensive – the Coopers Sauvignon Blanc costs almost £40 a bottle here compared with £28 at the restaurant next door). We have eaten here too and enjoyed what we had but it still feels quite pub-like. 

 

Harrington’s is an unassuming double-fronted building but inside it has a nice cosy feel. I like that the tables don’t match and that there are little tucked-away corners. There’s an upstairs too which follows the same theme. Even the glasses vary according to where you are. The staff are young and happy and dress like mime-artists in the modern black vogue. Continue reading

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The best food is ‘Our Food’

I don’t claim to be anything more than a food enthusiast. I love eating good food and I attempt to cook it. There are two types of food however which rises above all the others in terms of how it makes me feel: My food, and the food of my childhood. 

 

Everyone remembers the roast chicken their Mum used to make, and the scones they had every Sunday. I’m here to remind everyone that ingredients and cuisine back then wasn’t anything exceptional. The thing about them is that you were brought up on them – they are imprinted on your brain as the best – probably because you were told and also because it was the benchmark for everything else. The newly hatched chick imprints on their mum not because its the best chicken in the world but because from that day on the nearest thing to them becomes the default Mum. My best memories of childhood food was of the recipes that came out for special occasions – a corned beef pie, Yorkshire puddings, ginger cake, date slice and pavlova. Everything else was fuel.

 

And then there is my food. Everything I create is great to me. Even the cakes that don’t rise, the bread that’s not quite cooked in the middle, the lamb that’s too rare and the crumble that’s just not crumbly enough. I think about the time and processing – the love that has gone into it all. My food isn’t going to win any awards but it is real, repeatable and it has heart. Continue reading

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Griddled peach, avocado and feta salad

peachI’ve never had much luck cooking with either pears or peaches. We struggle to get great fruit in season anyway in the UK and I’m not the most delicate of hands. There is something about fruit which makes it hard to get the flavours into them and so essentially you are left with the fruit itself as the main event.

With a slightly heavy heart I adapted a Tesco recipe for peach, feta and avocado salad. Peaches looked about as good as we get – think European quality and then reduce by 20% – and so I bought some with this in mind. While on the subject of quality I think we have a 66% success rate with avocados in Britain too – I’m sick of opening another brown one!

In my version of the recipe I swapped the bulgur wheat for cauliflower rice. Cauliflower rice is a bit of a faff to make compared to either couscous or bulgur wheat but it’s pretty healthy and has a lovely nutty flavour. I prepared a whole cauliflower and roasted until there was an even colour across it.

The thing I like about this recipe is that it involves making a paste to stir through the rice. I blitzed lemon juice, olive oil with spinach, red chilli and spring onions along with seasoning. I didn’t have any coriander so I just added more spinach and this made a fresh but zingy base which added colour and flavour.

After stirring some of this through the cauliflower until I was happy I added some shredded spinach leaves, some finely chopped red chilli and cubes of one avocado. I put slices of peach into a bowl and then sprinkled with olive oil, ground black pepper and plenty of salt before putting them on a hot griddle. This part of it actually worked really well – it softened the fruit, added to the flavour and gave a really nice colour to the dish too. The final part is to crumble some feta through and its finished.

I absolutely love it but I would say its probably not a side dish unless its with something really delicate – a piece of roast white fish would go well. It would be a hit at barbecues too I think. The combination of flavours is good but the quantities and seasoning seem really important to me – enough salt from the feta against the sweetness of the peach. The photo doesn’t really do it justice; I probably shouldn’t have combined so that the golden colour of the peach with the white feta and deep green spinach. Enjoy!

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Afternoon Tea at The Edgbaston

trayAs a person who prefers the savoury flavours afternoon tea would not be on my bucket list of meals. As a Wedding Anniversary treat this weekend we went to The Edgbaston in Birmingham to sample their version.

Its not that I haven’t had a few versions over the years. In my childhood we used to go to the Black Swan in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, as a way of appeasing my dad’s sweet tooth. I seem to remember they made the canny distinction of afternoon tea from high tea on the same menu with high tea being a slightly more savoury variation. In his later years Guy’s overlooking Scaling Dam was my father’s way of “reluctantly” eating vast quantities of home-baked cakes.

I’ve had the formal ritual of afternoon tea at the Savoy and the Landmark in London and thoroughly enjoyed it. Its not a meal – its at the wrong time of day and has terrible nutritional qualities – its just a snack that has got out of hand. Continue reading

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Smokestak enlightening

I love the idea of a smokehouse. It’s like a barbecue on steroids and, like barbecues, I’ve had some good and bad experiences. I’ve had some fabulous juicy and sticky ribs but also some horribly dry brisket which should have stayed in the expensive smoker and never seen the light of day.

I was really looking forward to a visit to Smokestak. Apparently the restaurant began as a streetfood provider and has now upscaled. There is a lovely progression from home cook to streetfood to restaurant in the same way that online retailer, to market trader to independent retailer works for me. I love seeing food entrepreneurship and talent being successful.

From the outside, during the daytime, Smokestak is very imposing. Continue reading

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Modern Brick Lane: Modern Britain

I’ve read the eponymous Monica Ali novel and I had an impression of Brick Lane by reputation but I’d never actually visited. My recent visit was a real eye-opener of modern London and what a wonderfully vibrant and exciting place multicultural Britain can be.

The long road is dotted with independent boutiques, bars, restaurants, and tattooists. There are few cars which pass through and so people wander along just gawping at the sights. Part of the view is an impressive collection of graffiti – big, small, topical, funny and angry. There were tour guides going from wall to wall.

There are some famous places here too. The Cereal Killer Cafe offers over 100 breakfast cereals from around the world at exhorbitant prices but had diners queuing out of the door. There are a couple of Dark Sugars outlets selling handmade chocolates and fabulous thick hot chocolate with added chocolate shavings on top.

The side streets are fascinating too. Continue reading

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A double helping of Parsi cafe

Over a thousand years ago a small group of Persians made the journey to seek their fortune in India. Many settled in Southern India but a small group eventually made it to Hindustan in the prosperous city of Bombay. They established a Zoroastrian community amongst the hustle and bustle and maintained their old Persian way of life whilst, little by little, adopting elements of their new surroundings. Legend has it that while setting around enjoying their Chai tea a stranger passed and asked for a glass in return for money and the Parsi cafe idea was born.

In Mumbai today there are some very distinctive Parsi cafes which are a feature for anyone who visits. They serve a distinctive menu combining the curry with the fragrance of Persian cuisine.

Having never heard of the genre until very recently imagine my surprise to find out Leamington Spa has just opened its very own Parsi Cafe. Continue reading

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In praise of lunch… and The Cross

On our recent lunchtime visit to Carters of Moseley my wife and I observed how refreshing it is to eat a lighter but tasty meal in the middle of the day compared to having a blowout in the evening.

Back in the 1980s I remember visiting the first TGI Fridays in the UK – the Hayley Road site in Birmingham. To this day, after a three course meal, its the fullest I can remember ever being. I also remember it as being a good thing – in the days before diet consciousness, heartburn, vegetables etc.

Since those heavy days it seems to me that the gap between the price of everyday pub food, everyday restaurant food and fine dining has narrowed. The average price of a pub main course is pushing up towards £10 where I live and a decent curry with rice averages at £12-£16 in most of the Indian restaurants. With a steady inflation in the cost of eating out and a growing interest in eating healthily its a good time to consider what we value. Continue reading

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Fabulous modern British cuisine (and just right on the ‘ponciness’) – Carter’s of Moseley

 

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For my wife’s birthday I planned a surprise day of events beginning with lunch. She loves good food she also wants to eat healthily and doesn’t want to worship it in the process. The word she uses to describe what she dislikes is ‘ponciness’. Most restaurant reviews don’t feature this description but I think we all have an interpretation of what she means – excessive fawning, pretentious, patronising, cloches, way too many tools to do the job, and ‘installation’ food with all its smoke and mirrors.

I chose Carters of Moseley – a new Michelin star for a modern British restaurant. I’d heard a few good reviews and I thought it may just fit the bill. Continue reading

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