Monthly Archives: November 2010

A hearty beetroot and feta soup to warm on a winters day

The lovely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Yes, I admit I have a thing for him and his cooking; I find that combination of posh, combined with down to earth practicality strangely sexy) comes up trumps again with this amazingly simple, yet complex wintry soup. The combination of roasted tomato, garlic, good meaty stock and salty feta cheese, produces an intensely rich (don’t have too much of it!) but totally satisfying lunch or supper dish. In fact it is so hearty that you really don’t even need bread with it.  I ate mine accompanied by a simple salad made with the (very) last of the Moelyci tomatoes and baby cucumbers, some winter lettuce leaves, a couple of small peppers (diced) another crumble of feta cheese, some olives, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and a glug of good olive oil.

The soup recipe is:

3 to 4 apple sized beetroot

tablespoon olive oil

1 onion finely chopped

500ml good beef stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarians)

Roast tomato sauce (see below)*

a good crumble of feta cheese (125g or so)

salt and pepper

*Roast tomato sauce: 500g ripe tomatoes, 3 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss everything in a roasting tin and stick in the oven (gas mark 4, 180 degree C) for about 35 minutes until soft pulpy and starting to char a little. Push through a sieve to remove seeds and skin.

Peel and grate or dice beetroot (to avoid the unattractive purple hand look wear marigolds). Finely chop the onion and sweat gently in olive oil until just soft. Add beetroot, stock and season well. Bring to the boil and simmer until the beetroot is tender (about 10 minutes if grated, maybe a bit longer if diced). Add the prepared tomato sauce and blend until smooth. Check seasoning and serve with a good helping of feta crumbled over the top (and bread if you really want a bit extra). Eat by the side of a big roaring fire and you will feel warm from your nose to your toes!

PS. I have to warn you, eating this much beetroot does tend to have a strange side effect….I will let you find this out for yourselves)

Denise x

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Parmesan Dauphinoise with autumn veg box salads


golden topped potato dauphinoise



One of my all time  favourite dishes is potato dauphinoise. Soft and melting potatoes, slowly cooked in a rich,creamy, buttery sauce. Yumm… I absolutely adore them and can’t think of anything more warming and comforting to come home to on a wet and windy autumn evening (of which we have a fair few here in Wales). The one problem when you have hungry kids and you’ve just come in from work is that they take so long to cook and what I want as much as comforting food when I get in from work is quick food.

My pleasure was complete when I found a recipe for quick dauphoise in Jamie Oliver’s book ’30 minute meals’. I was given the book by my mum, who I think had got it for someone else but it turned out they had it. I’m very grateful for this recipe alone because it actually works! I have found through experience that there really is no point in trying to cook a dauphinoise quickly. You either get undercooked potatoes, a burnt top or the cream doesn’t have a chance to really soak into the potatoes so that they melt in the mouth. In this recipe Jamie uses Parmesan and olive oil for richness instead of butter and single cream to make it a little lighter.


1 red onion thinly sliced

1 kg Maris Piper potatoes

grating of nutmeg

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

300 ml single cream

parmesan cheese

bay leaf

small bunch of fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7, 220 degrees C. Wash potatoes and leave the skins on. thinly slice on a mandolin or in a food processor. Tip the onion and potatoes into a large roasting tray and season with salt and pepper. Grate over a pinch of nutmeg, add the garlic, pour over the cream and grate over a good handful of parmesan. Add the bay leaf and some chopped fresh thyme then mix it all together with your hands. Put the tray over a medium heat and pour in 200 ml of boiled water. Cover tightly with foil and leave on the heat, giving the tray an occasional shake to make sure it doesn’t stick. Leave for 10 minutes or so.

Take the foil off the potatoes, grate over another layer of parmesan, add a few more thyme leaves and drizzle with some olive oil and stick in the oven for about 15 minutes until its bubbling and golden brown.

I served mine with a grated carrot and ginger salad and mixed winter leaves with the last of the Moelyci cucumbers, feta and roasted red peppers (preserved in oil).


two autumn salads


It’s important to remember that the secret to Jamie’s quick dauphinoise is to really slice those potatoes thinly and it does work, although I would argue that it’s still not quite the same as a slowly cooked one, but it still made a fantastic, quick vegetarian supper for the family.

Denise x

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Home in Lymm (near Manchester)

I’m not altogether comfortable with restaurant reviewing yet. It’s not that I don’t eat out, or have anything to say when I do, it’s just that I haven’t made it part of my writing vocabulary. This is primarily because

A/ I am to skint to eat out. To be a food reviewer as far as I can make out you generally need money or at least a certain amount of disposable income. My money pays bills, school fees and all the overheads that having an expensive teenager entails. Eating out is generally way down the list these days.

B/ You need to live in London. There is such a poor choice of restaurants around North Wales. If I do eat out locally nine times out of ten I end up thinking that I could have cooked the food better myself. There are a couple of places that I do love, but of course like anywhere if you go there every week it simply becomes dull.  Ye Olde Bulls Head in Beaumaris is my most frequent and favourite haunt, either with the kids in the Brasserie or at the rather posher loft restaurant. I don’t think I have ever complained there.

C/ You need to travel widely and have the time to visit all these wonderful foodie establishments. For reasons why I am unable to do this see A. Much as I’d like to write about food all day, visit foodie places and sample all these delights, I am not earning enough from writing/supper club/anywhere else to do so (all sponsors/offers of work /requests for catering gratefully received!!)

On top of this, being a chef has inevitably made me a picky diner. Having said this I have actually eaten in some really lovely places this year, Stevie Parle’s ‘Dock Kitchen’ being a particular highlight. Other gems include The Vine in Sevenoaks and San Carlo’s in Manchester but as yet I have failed to write about any of them!

I thought it was time I started!

Home, in Little Bollington near Lymm is a converted manor house, now revamped as an unpretentious, family friendly bar and restaurant. It’s what you’d expect from a place that welcomes kids, families and offers a simple bog standard children’s menu and small choice of maybe half a dozen starters and main courses. Over the past three years they have worked hard to prove themselves as high quality providers of fresh, local, home cooked food at amazingly reasonable prices. I visited with a large mixed group of adults (varying in age from 20 to 80) and one child after the wedding of two close friends. A small, understated but beautiful and emotional, ceremony followed by lunch and a few drinks. I have to say initially I was somewhat dubious at their ‘£6 credit crunch lunch’ deal, wondering how they could possibly offer two courses (which included choices of lobster and venison) at £6 a head, but of course as a guest of the bride and groom I wasn’t going to turn my nose up. I wasn’t the only chef at the table, so at least I had a co-conspirator with whom I could moan about the food if it was terrible.

I opted for risotto with pan-fried scallop and lobster, followed by venison with potatoes and seasonal vegetables.


risotto, with scallop and lobster


The risotto was beautifully cooked, with plenty of intense flavour and looked lovely on the plate, but it only accompanied by one scallop, a poached egg (which I wasn’t expecting and which I gave to Sean) and a tiny serving of lobster. Everything tasted lovely and was perfectly cooked, but there just wasn’t enough of it for me. Obviously though this was a £6 for two courses lunch and with some trepidation I awaited my main course; I hoped it would be more substantial than the starter.

The main course was certainly bigger. There was nothing particularly artistic about the presentation, it was simple, hearty, unpretentious food. My main criticism? The venison was perhaps a little tough and the potatoes could have been crisper, but for £6 a head I wasn’t going to complain.

My dinner companions were also pleased with their choices opting for pork and venison comfit with chutney, pan-fried sea bass and steak and chips!

We all opted for dessert and coffee (and after downing a number of bottles of Prosecco, frankly we needed a hefty sugar and caffeine injection). I went for the cheesecake with ice cream, particularly because it stated it was ‘home-made’. I wanted to test out their home-made claim. My dinner companions opted for sticky toffee pudding (usually my favourite) and a sort of banoffee gateaux type thing. The cheesecake wasn’t particularly inspiring and was slightly overpowered by the vanilla in it, as was the custard served with the sticky toffee pudding. The pudding itself was very light, with lots of treacley bits on the top, but I have to say I prefer a slightly denser pudding with loads of dates packed into it. Sean’s banoffi gateaux was unfortunately not so good. It was heavy, rich and very sickly. To be honest I couldn’t actually tell that there was banana in it. The presentation was lovely and at a little over £3.00 should I really complain?


sticky toffee pudding


Banoffee gateaux thing


Our waiter was very attentive throughout the meal and with his over-the-top Italian accent and liberally scattered expressions of ‘bello Signora’ ….(much to our companions annoyance as she quietly muttered ‘it’s signorina actually’!) he had us in stitches. We were totally convinced that once he got back to the kitchen the accent would be dropped, as he returned to his true broad Mancunian.

All in all we shared a lovely lunch, with lovely people on a very wonderful day, and that’s what mattered.

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Simple home made pizza

Kids are often a challenge to the gastronomical parent. Personally I don’t believe that simply feeding your children a variety of fine foods from a young age will educate their young and immature palate. I admit I am guilty of it. I almost obsessively fed my first-born a wide variety of dishes, flavours, tastes and the majority of the time she enjoyed it all, but once she reached the stage of having a mind of her own, somehow her tastes reverted and she lost the ability to love anything except bland food. Now as a teenager, she hates vegetables (except those that are generally not seasonal in Britain…avaocados, peppers for instance) hates meat and fish (except chicken). She likes pasta, risotto and fajita’s.  My youngest, in contrast loves nothing better than his meat and two veg, but won’t touch risotto or anyhting with sauce. Despite the challenges of juggling varying tastes I have never really pandered to the idea that you have to cook several different meals, and in my house its a case of eating the food on the table or starving.

The one ubiquitous dish that all kids (including my own) seem to love and crave is pizza, large circles of crispy base liberally spread with a sweet and herby tomato sauce and topped with stringy melted cheese. Many high street pizza places in the UK offer the Americanised (and for me totally adulterated) version of the original Italian dish. Those thick doughy stuffed crust pizzas don’t really match up to the light, crispy based Neapolitan ideal. Even though my kids would jump at any offer of a meal out, I have heard them complain on the rare visit to places like Pizza Hut that the pizzas not as good as the ones we make at home.

Pizza has been around since greek and roman times, with flat breads being seasoned with herbs, garlic, oil or honey, but pizza as we know it, with tomatoes and cheese, was not developed in Naples until the 1800’s. Ostensibly a poor man’s dish, but it became popular throughout Italy once local aristocracy developed a taste for it. Initially sold by street vendors, they soon gave way to shops or Pizzeria’s.

Pizza’s are also a simple, fun, interactive dish that kids can be involved in preparing. What better way to interest kids in cooking than to get them to roll their own dough, top it with sauce and cheese and then add their own unique toppings.

I use two recipes for pizza base; one a traditional Italian yeast base (the kids favourite) and one a very non-traditional potato base, which is much quicker, but probably a bit less predictable.

For the bread base I use:

250g plain flour (or Italian OO), 1 sachet of quick yeast (or a dessertspoonful), half a teaspoon of salt, 150ml warm water, two tablespoons of olive oil.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl then add water and olive oil to make a dough. Knead for 5 minutes or so until smooth and springy. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave top rise in a warm place for about an hour or until its doubled in size. Set oven to gas 7 / 240 degrees C.

After an hour knock back and knead again briefly before rolling out as thinly as possible to fit a pizza plate (or baking tray).

For the potato base I use:

225g boiled potatoes in their skins, 50g butter, 150g self-raising flour pinch of salt and pepper.

mash the potatoes with butter and season well. Sift in flour and gently with your hands mix to form a soft dough. Knead very lightly until smooth then roll out to fit your pizza tray. It should make a 10 inch pizza.

Set oven to gas mark 6 / 200 degrees C

For the pizza sauce I simply place a small pan on the heat with a tablespoon of olive oil, when hot add a crushed garlic clove and a teaspoon or sprinkle of oregano, basil, marjoram (either a little bit of all three or a choice of any) sweat for a minute then tip in a tin of chopped tomatoes. Allow to cook fairly briskly until reduced to a thick, jam like consistency. It needs to spread easily, but not run off the pizza base (for maybe 20 minutes or so). Check seasoning. You may have to add a pinch of sugar to the tomato sauce if it tastes to acidically sharp.

Spread sauce over the base and then sprinkle over enough good buffalo mozzarella to cover (alternatively use any decent mozzarella, or mozzarella for pizzas).

Now comes your own personal touch. Time to add your own distinctive toppings and this is generally where my desire to make beautiful Italian pizzas goes awry. The kids will inevitably add the decidedly un-Italian ingredient Pineapple, mixed with either Pepperoni, ham, olives or red and green peppers. My own favourite? Seafood, anchovies, olives, mushrooms or goats cheese and rocket.

For the bread based pizza bake in the hot oven for about 20 minutes or until the crust sounds hollow when knocked (keep an eye on it though so it doesn’t burn) and for the potato base cook for 40 minutes. You may have to cover the top lightly with foil after about 20 minutes to prevent it burning.

The former is best eaten around the table with fingers and napkins…just dig in! The latter will probably need a fork and a plate as the crust isn’t so robust…either way they are both a big hit!

Denise x

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The Joys of Pumpkin (Pumpkin soup with chilli and ginger)

Halloween, followed closely by bonfire night, is a well entrenched tradition for our children and their friends, highly anticipated, planned and enthusiastically enjoyed by all. Therefore it was with some disappointment that I reluctantly cancelled our Halloween dinner. I’d looked forward to a vampire theme menu and dressing up but the usual problem prevailed, not enough bookings. Themed nights are still a bit hit and miss for me, but that doesn’t stop me trying and so I will continue to do so.

Despite no ‘official’ dinner, the night was duly marked and enjoyed with all the trappings of a traditional Halloween; pumpkin carving, masses of sweets (for trick or treaters), dressing up in spooky costumes, the consumption of plenty of hot pumpkin soup, followed up by tarte tatin with its luscious caramel apple centre.

Vampires abound

Gruesome gangsters

a few hags…well two actually. Notice the teen looks rather beautiful, hhmmm

Pumpkin itself tends to be overlooked and hugely underrated. Most people will simply carve theirs out and throw away the flesh, under the impression that it is a watery and insipid vegetable. I’m amazed at how many people I hear say they don’t like pumpkin, but I often wonder what kind of experience they’ve had of it.  Perhaps in a bland and tasteless pie, or mashed to within an inch of its life, or even in a thin, uninspired and under seasoned soup. I simply think that with the right kind of advice on what to do with it most people will warm to pumpkin soup.

My own Pumpkin  soup with chilli and ginger (adapted from a River Cafe recipe) seems to have won many Pumpkin haters over recently. With the glut we’ve had at Moelyci I seem to have a constant pot of it on the go. It’s so easy everyone should have a go at making it!

Simply peel and finely chop a couple of red onions and fry gently in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and 50g butter. When soft add a couple of crushed garlic cloves, the leaves from a few sprigs of fresh marjoram, about an inch or two of fresh ginger peeled and grated and cook for 30 seconds before adding 1.5kg (that’s about 3 and a quarter pounds) of pumpkin and 150g scrubbed and diced new potatoes. I say new, but generally its main crop potatoes at this time of year and I can’t see much difference really. Cover the vegetables in the pan with good vegetable stock and season with salt, pepper and a small crumbled dried red Chilli (or use fresh if you would like it to knock your socks off). Simmer gently until cooked, about 20 minutes or so. Allow to cool briefly before blitzing in a blender. Check the seasoning then serve with toasted crostini (basically ciabatta, crisped in the oven or toasted under the grill, drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic), and a bit of grated parmesan.

This soup cries autumn! It’s warming and comforting, not just for Halloween, but for the whole of the season, well at least until those pumpkins run out.

Even Vampires and hags need pumpkin soup!

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