Monthly Archives: June 2010

Guest Post from Linda: Three P’s Risotto

Hi Everyone, I am still in a field in Shropshire so today to tempt your taste buds, you have Linda from With Knife and Fork. Enjoy and I will see you all soon. Happy Cooking! Jo🙂

With monotonous regularity someone somewhere will go on about how an education system founded in “the 3 Rs” is just what we need to get back to basics and raise standards. Its always worried me a little that these three R’s don’t all start with “R”, hasn’t anyone but me spotted or is it phonetics for adults. Perhaps, despite the huff and puff that is was better in the past, its assumed those basics didn’t ever get through and so none of us know that only Reading actually begins with the letter R and that wRiting and aRithmetic start with other letters than “R”. Granted the “W” in wRiting is pretty silent in pronunciation but the “A” in ARithmetic isn’t, although there is an argument the R is for ‘Reckoning’ not ‘aRithmetic’. But the fundamental point of the three R’s is: get the basics right and all the rest will follow as day follows night. There is at least a grain of truth in the idea that basics are important but it’s usually touted at the cost of freedom to experiment. It’s as if only one approach can work, basics or experimenting, not both. Perhaps we should find a place for AND instead of OR because in reality you need some of both to get along.

And so it is with cooking, no idea of the basics can lead to a fear of making mistakes, thinking things are harder then they are and perhaps not even trying to cook. Too great a spirit of experimentation can give us inedible dishes and disasters (from experienced chef and novice alike), whilst sticking to the tried and tested without daring to experiment leads to never trying anything new. A lack of one or other means no chance of looking in the fridge and working out how to create an interesting meal from what is there to hand. Knowing what might work together doesn’t only come from having cooked for years and around every cuisine. It can come from a wider range of places, meals others have cooked, cookbooks flicked through, food programs watched and magazines studied. We might think there is too much by way of TV programs, books, magazines, new places to eat, food blogs but each can form a part of someone’s education about food and cooking. If more people are inspired to get in the kitchen for whatever reason to learn some basics AND experiment then we are a little nearer to better food.

So in a spirit of using basics and experimenting here is “Three P’s Risotto”, cooked up by me using a technique I know, ingredients I had and a bit of background knowledge but without following a recipe. Here are the P’s:

P1 = Parmesan

P2 = Pancetta

P3 = Peas (fresh in this case but they could be frozen)

All three were lurking in my fridge this week and all needing to be used up. Rice and legumes are a classic combination in more than one cuisine, I know this from books but I’ve never actually cooked Risi e Bisi or Caribbean Rice and Peas. But knowing they exist and knowing the basics of risotto making means I can look in the fridge and come up with my own variation that, whilst it might make an Italian Nona turn in her grave, certainly tasted pretty good and was nice and easy too.

Here’s what I used and how I made it, for two people:

  • 4oz risotto rice
  • 1 mug/cup of shelled peas (frozen is fine)
  • 1 pack of ready cubed pancetta
  • 1 onion chopped
  • as much or as little Parmesan as you like or have to hand
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 500ml of stock (water will do)
  • oil, olive for preference but what ever you normally use
  1. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion over a low heat until translucent (about 10mins).
  2. Add the pancetta and cook for several minutes.
  3. Add the rice and cook, stirring for 2 minutes to coat in oil.
  4. Add the glass of wine and bring to the simmer, stir, keep simmering until the wine has nearly gone, stir regularly but there is no need to stir continuously.
  5. Add the stock (best if its already hot) a ladleful at a time and continue cooking at a simmer and stirring regularly, as the stock is absorbed add another ladle full until it’s nearly all used.
  6. Test the rice to see if it’s nearly cooked. It should still have a bit of bite. This can take anything from 20-40 minutes I find that despite what lots of books say it’s rare for it to take under 30 minutes. Maybe I’m not doing it right, so what!
  7. Add the peas and cook for a few minutes more. Add the Parmesan reserving some for people to add at the table.
  8. Serve. Season at table. Add more Parmesan if you wish. Eat. Enjoy.

And if you don’t have peas well broad beans would work too and of course it could work with bacon or even salami or just with the peas. If you don’t have risotto rice well then look what you do have and adapt it to pasta or some kind of pilau or stir fry with the things you do have. Whichever way some knowledge of basics and some experimentation will stand you in good stead. Simple tasty. Not authentic but it’s good and you made it yourself.

Guest Post From Gary: Trio of Canapes

Hello everyone, I am currently in a field in Shropshire doing some archaeological digging. Therefore, Gary from Grubblog is looking after you today. Thanks for doing a guest post Gary and I hope you all like it.  See you soon. Happy Cooking! Jo🙂

First off, thanks to the effervescent Jo for giving me a spot on her blog. Jo was one of the first food bloggers I got to know fairly well, swapping recipes and ideas on Twitter. I maintain Grubblog, literally somewhere I can keep a note of things I’ve made, good or bad. It’s a way I can save all those messy bits of paper scribbled with hasty notes getting lost. I saved something a little special for Jo:

A trio of canapés

One of the drawbacks of being a foodie is the heady prospect of cooking for other foodies. While all of my wonderful friends would be perfectly happy if I served up a bowl of salad, a lasagne or a roast chicken, I see it as a personal challenge to offer something a little different.

Cathy (of was on her way round and I wanted to serve something fairly sophisticated. I have these beautiful china spoons that are perfect for the occasion. That said, I didn’t have an awful lot of free time so I needed impressive starters that could mostly be prepared in advance and relatively low-maintenance.

I settled on a cauliflower puree, broccoli with pine nuts and a chilli and orange sorbet. I was very pleased with the results, both in preparation and the flavours as well. You can be a little heavy-handed with the flavours as they are in such bite-sized portions, yet they can also be scaled up for a full size course. Don’t let the pretentious presentation put your off, they’re all dead easy and two of them can be made well in advance. The cauliflower puree makes a lovely side with grilled red meat and greens, the broccoli can be grown into a rich side-dish and the sorbet is refreshing at any time.

Cauliflower puree (makes about 500g):

  • 1 cauliflower head, broken into florets
  • ½ onion, diced
  • Vegetable stock
  • 100ml double cream
  • A knob of butter
  • Dried onions (come in a tub for use on salads)

1. Put the cauliflower in a saucepan and add enough vegetable stock to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Remove the florets from the stock but keep the liquid for now.

2. Meanwhile in a frying pan, fry the onion in a little oil until browned.

3. Put the cauliflower in a blender and blitz with a little salt and pepper. If the mixture is looking a little thick add a couple of tablespoons of the stock. When it reaches a smooth consistency add the cream and butter and whiz a little further. Check for seasoning – it should taste rich and very cauliflower-y! At this point you can refrigerate the puree for up to 48 hours.

4. Serve on porcelain spoons or as a side dish with grilled lamb. Top with dried onions.

Broccoli with pine nuts:

  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  • 5g comté cheese
  • A few drops of white truffle oil

1. Simmer the broccoli in water until knife tender. Place some nuts on a porcelain spoon, top with a broccoli floret, grate over some cheese and add a drop or two of truffle oil.

Orange and chilli sorbet (makes about 500ml):

  • 300ml water
  • 150g sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange, sliced into very thin strips
  • ¼ red chilli, finely diced
  • 300ml fresh orange juice
  • Juice of ½ lemon

1. In a saucepan bring the water and sugar to the boil. Add the orange zest and chilli and simmer for 5 minutes.

2. Strain the zest and chilli off and keep for garnish. Add the orange and lemon juices to the syrup and freeze in a suitable container.

3. When required put the frozen juice into a food processor and blitz to a slush. Serve immediately and garnish with the orange and chilli pieces.

Going Digging!

I am going away on an archaeological dig in Shropshire for a couple of weeks, turning Jo’s Kitchen into Jo’s Field Kitchen. As we have an ex-army field kitchen to feed up 35 students and staff as we camp in a field next to our dig site. There is no internet access where we are.  Therefore, I am leaving my blog in the care of four excellent fellow food bloggers who will each be doing a guest post for me while I am away.

They are:

Linda from With Knife and Fork

Gary from Grubblog

Charlene from No Love Sincerer

Louise from Comida y Vida

I hope you have a lovely time with them and I will back soon with more recipes and another giveaway.

See you soon

Happy Cooking !:-)

BBC Summer Good Food Show 2010

This weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to the BBC Summer Good Food Show as a guest of Miele. Part of the deal to us being invited to show was that we had to take part in a live on stage version of the Masterchef Invention Test and do a cook-along with a Barney Desmazery from BBC Good Food Magazine. I was very nervous and excited about taking part in both but fortunately I was not alone. I was joined by my friend James from Eat The Midlands, and fellow bloggers Kavey, Meemalee , Bron and Ailbhe. We were given basic store cupboard items and a bag containing secret fresh ingredients that were not revealed to us until two minutes before we went on stage. In our bag we had: chicken, bacon, Stilton, celeriac, mascarpone and fresh berries. I decided to cook a chicken and bacon pasta dish. The recipe is at the bottom of this post.  I unfortunately did not win but I am very pleased that Kavey did with her excellent pancakes, mascarpone and berry sauce. Matt Follas and Dhruv Baker were there on stage to offer us help and John Torode and Greg Wallace came along to check on our progress and do the final judging. The videos below  shows the entire invention test in two parts  so please have a look and see who you know on there.

After the invention test had finished Marie, Ali and I had a look around the show. Our first stop was to visit James on the Eat The Midlands/ Gourmet Life stand where Louise from Comida y Vida and a member of the Midlands Food Bloggers was helping out. I brought some chocolate from James stand from Chokolit which I intend to do some baking with soon. We then moved on,  to Supreme Sausages where we each brought our own weight in lots of yummy looking sausages that are now filling from freezer and I cannot wait to cook with them. We then got slightly distracted by the alcohol section as we tried Crabbies Ginger Beer and then went into the Beers of the World Live where you can lots of tasters of many beers and get educated about them as well. While looking round, I brought myself a Kin Knife (which I used on the Invention Test) as a birthday present to myself. (I turned 25 years old on Sunday) We also found a company called Goody Good Stuff that makes sweets that are virtually everything free (except sugar- which is the natural sugar from the fruit). Stuart and I love sweets and I thought these were excellent, especially as they are much better for you than the majority of sweets you buy, with lots of chemicals and additives in. They virtually give you permission to eat lots of them! After a quick stop at Grants for a Whiskey cocktail, it was time for me to do the Miele Cook-along and appear on stage again.

The Miele Cook-along with Barney Desmazery was much harder and a lot more nerve racking than the Invention Test. We had 30 minutes to cook three dishes in following the chef, Barney.  This would been ok but some of my equipment and ingredients were missing so I spent the first 10- 15minutes catching up with everyone else. Barney also moved along at chef speed instead of our normal home cook speed so he had to keep waiting for us to catch up. I think the cook-alongs are a good idea but they need to allow more time for them, for people who do not cook at chef’s speed. We made marsala chicken skewers  that we cooked in the Miele steam oven, with a tomato and red onion salad and Za’atar spiced flatbread with a strawberry, hazelnut and toffee tart for pudding. I will give you the recipes for these when I make them again at home myself soon. My Invention Test dish recipe is below if you want to make it yourself at home.

Spicy Chicken, Bacon and Peas Pasta- My Masterchef Dish

Ingredients (serves 1)

  • 1 skinless and boneless chicken breast, chopped into bite sized chinks
  • 3 rashers of streaky bacon or pancetta, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped finely
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder(or more if you like it spicier)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Small handful of frozen peas
  • salt and pepper
  • 100g pasta of your choice


1) Cook pasta as per the packet instructions. Drain and set aside.

2) While the pasta is cooking, add the olive oil into a pan and allow to heat up. Add in the onions, garlic, bacon pieces and some salt and allow to cook until softened slightly. Add in the chicken and lightly brown all over.

3) Add in the chopped tomatoes, along with the paprika and chilli powder  and allow to simmer gently until chicken is cooked through. Add water or chicken stock to the sauce if it starts getting a bit thick. Add in the frozen peas near the end so they are just cooked.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Once the sauce is cooked, add parsley in at the last minute before adding the cooked pasta and mixing it with the sauce. Serve in a bowl on its own or with garlic bread. Enjoy!

Overall, We had a fantastic day at BBC Summer Good Food Show and I would like to thank all these wonderful people for making it so good:

  • Nicola, Roxy and Caz  and everyone at Miele
  • The Students from the Birmingham College of Food and Tourism who helped us out so much on stage
  • James Day and Louise Sims, who are both true foodie friends
  • Kavey,Meemalee , Ailbhe and Bron and all the other food bloggers who were there taking part or supporting us.
  • The staff at the Grants stand
  • Melissa from Goody Good Stuff
  • Andi Peters, Greg Wallace, John Torode, Barney Desmazery , Matt Follas, Dhruv Baker, Tim Kinnaird, Alex Rushmer for being so supportive and having a laugh with us backstage.
  • And a very big thank you goes to my  friend’s Marie and Ali for being there to support me and for being true friends.

Happy cooking!🙂

Giant Cupcake Challenge

I am sure you all must think that this is turning into a cupcake blog. Well, I just want to reassure you that it’s not. I tried to do another post earlier this week, about one of my favourite meals as a child but I have been super busy and was unable to finish writing it so you will just have to wait a bit longer for that one.

Today, I would like to tell you about the challenge of Marie and I’s first paid cupcake and giant cupcake order. Yes, you heard me correctly, giant cupcake. Before we did this, I knew giant cupcakes existed (there is lots of info on the web about them) but I never ever thought I would attempt to make one. Marie and I made the cake for my work colleague, Lisa’s daughter Katie whose 10th Birthday it was and the cake was to share with all her friends and family.

As we had never attempted a giant cupcake before, I did a practice attempt a few days before. The results of which is below. The giant cupcake is effectively 4 Victoria Sponge layers put together and to make it, I used a double quantity of the Victoria Sponge recipe here. The buttercream icing quantity was 1 standard batch of icing which is 500g icing sugar to 250g of unsalted butter. I was not entirely happy with my first attempt. The cake was not as light or fluffy as I hoped but my work colleagues seemed to like it, as it was eaten very quickly. I am glad I made a practice one as it gave me a bit more confidence for the second one.

I was still a bit nervous when it came to make the real one that we were getting paid for, but I need not have worried. The sponge seemed much better this time and the buttercream icing was a much better consistency. I was not brave enough to attempt to pipe the icing on so Marie did that, as she has had much more piping practice than I have. The results were fantastic in my opinion and we just hoped that Lisa and Katie liked it too. Marie made 12 normal sized cupcakes to go with the giant one and it looked lovely with all them on the tray together. Driving the cakes to my work where Lisa was going to collect them from was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I was so concerned that the cakes were going to fall over and lose their decoration however I did manage to get them to work in one piece and Lisa and Katie loved the cakes. Marie is going to start doing more cakes from home, so if you have an event coming up and need cupcakes or a birthday cake and live within 25 miles of the Birmingham B63 postcode, please email and I will put you in contact with Marie.

Many thanks to Sarah from Blue Door Bakery for the loan of the giant cupcake tin.

Tate and Smile!

I have recently been contacted by Lisa who has sent me lots of sugar from Tate and Lyle. Tate and Lyle have a fantastic new website called Tate and Smile which has lots of great recipes and inspiration on it. They also have a Facebook group called We Love Baking which is becoming an excellent baking community so if you love baking as much as I do, you really have to join. I will be doing lots of baking with the sugar soon so stay tuned for more recipes to follow.

Many thanks to Lisa and Tate and Lyle for the sugar.

BBC Summer Good Food Show

The BBC Summer Good Food Show is currently taking place at the NEC and I will be there tomorrow, with my friends Marie and Ali. Miele have invited me to take part in Masterchef Experience, by doing the Invention Test live on stage so if you are at show, please pop along to the Masterchef stage and watch me cooking live at 10am. I am very nervous but also very excited about it. I would like to thank Roxy and Nicola from Miele for the opportunity and I will tell you all about it next week.

Hope you all have a lovely weekend

Happy Cooking!🙂

Cirencester Cupcakes Decorating Class

I am sure that you all know by now, that I love cupcakes and have been trying to improve my skills in making and decorating them. Therefore, I jumped at the opportunity when Louise invited me to her new shop in Cirencester to learn how to decorate the cupcakes in more detail.

Cirencester Cupcakes was set up in 2009 by Louise (on Twitter: @Happy_Food) and she originally worked from her home supplying cupcakes. However, by 2010 her business was expanding so much she moved to a shop in Swan Yard, Cirencester and this is where the decorating class took place. I have known Louise for a while now, through Twitter and the wonderful world of food blogging. Her personal blog is here and the cupcakes have their own blog here. Louise is also in joint command of the Midlands Food Bloggers group with me on the UK Food Bloggers Association and Facebook.

The decorating class took place on a Sunday morning in the shop. I was joined by Maria and Cara (on Twitter: @CaraLaw) for the decorating class. Cara has a fantastic food blog, please check it out here. Louise started by telling us a little of history about how she started baking and how the shop came about. We then moved onto our first decorating technique which was Glacé Icing. This is something I have always had problems with, but with Louise’s help, all three of us cracked it quite easily. It turns out that there is a perfect pouring consistency for Glacé Icing which is shown in the video below.

Next we learnt how to decorate the cupcakes with Royal Icing and how to colour the icing correctly in right shade of whatever colour you want. Louise also showed us how stick the Royal Icing to the cupcake using buttercream and a small palette knife. The video below shows you how to prepare the cupcake for placing the Royal Icing on top of the buttercream and how then to build the cupcake icing up if the buttercream is to be the only icing on top of the cupcake. After learning how to do this, we had a bit of a play with embossers to put decorations into the icing. We then used edible lustre spray (spray paint) to enhance the embossed effect in the Royal Icing.

The final part of the session was to learn how to pipe buttercream on to the cupcakes. I already knew how to do this, due to my other cupcakes class with Kiss Me Cupcakes but more practice always makes perfect. Louise showed us a handy trick of putting the piping bag into a pint glass (I knew they would be useful for baking for something!) to allow you to put the icing in easier and not get you or the piping bag covered in excess icing. The video below shows Louise demonstrating how to pipe onto a cupcake. We then were left to play with all the sprinkles and sparkly things to decorate our other three cupcakes. We were all talking and having so much fun, that the session ran over by an hour. It didn’t matter though, we loved it!

Once we were all finished, we posed for photographs with our lovingly made and decorated cupcakes and then we went left to enjoy the rest of our already fabulous Sunday and eat our beautifully decorated cupcakes.

Thanks to Louise, Maria and Cara for a fantastic day!🙂

My First Gourmet Life Event: Loire Valley Wine and Food Event at Brockencote Hall

A few posts ago, I told you about a scheme called Gourmet Life that allows you to support local producers and lets you save money on while you are doing it. Every so often, Gourmet Life hosts special foodie events at locations across the Midlands and Stuart and I were lucky enough to go to one such event last Thursday night.

This event was to celebrate Loire Valley wines which all came from one family, Domaine Cady from St. Aubin-de-Luigine. It was hosted by local esteemed food and wine writer, Philippe Boucheron at Brockencote Hall in Chaddesley Corbett, Worcestershire. All the wines that we drank were matched to a wonderful four course menu created by the head chef John Sherry.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Philippe who gave us a glass of Domaine Cady Crémant du Loire NV, which was a crisp and refreshing sparkling wine that tasted better than most champagne in my opinion. We tasted a few glasses of this, just to check it was lovely of course! After relaxing for a short time in the hotel lobby, we were invited to take our seats in the private dining room.

Once seated, we were given an Amuse Bouche of chilled pea soup with smoked olive oil, served in an espresso cup. I forgot to take a photo of this but I can tell you it was very yummy and was devoured by everyone on our table quite quickly. We were then served the wine to go with our first course which was, Domaine Cady Anjou Blanc 2008 which was a full bodied wine from the Chenin Blance grape. This was to accompany:

Crottin* de Chavignol Coulant Salade de Céleri branche, btterave et noix caramelisées


Soft Centre of Chavigon goats cheese with a salad of celery, beetroot and caramelised walnuts

*Crottin is local slang for tiny black goat’s droppings

Stuart and I are not great fans of beetroot, walnuts or goats cheese so this dish was not exactly our favourite, however we felt the wine complimented the dish perfectly as it was strong enough to shine through the goat’s cheese. The next wine for the fish course was then brought out, which was Domaine Cady Anjou Blanc Cuvée Cheninsolite 2008 which is another Chenin Blanc from a single select hectare on the Domaine Cady estate. The wine was golden in colour with fruit aromas and hints of vanilla, which accompanied:

Lassagne d’ Araignée de Mer à la Truffle et Soupe d’ Asperges


Spider Crab and Truffle Lasagne, Asparagus Soup

This dish was one of my favourites of the evening. It was a triumph. I have never tried spider crab before but in this dish, it was perfect. So light and full of flavour which the truffle and the asparagus soup complimented beautifully. The wine brought all the flavours together and let them all shine through on your palette. Two wines were then brought out to accompany the main course. The first and the cheaper of the two was, Domaine Cady Anjou Rouge 2007 and the second was Domaine Cady Anjou Villages 2006. Philippe wanted us to try both wines before the food and tell him which we thought was best and it was the second one. The first one was nice but not as smooth on the palette as the second one. These were to accompany:

Grenadin de Veau de Lait rôti et sa joue croquante

Galette de pomme de terre, petit legumes primeurs, créme de Morilles


Roast Fillet of Veal, Crispy Cheek

Potato cake, young spring vegetables, Morille cream

This dish was fantastic. The veal was cooked perfectly and the veal cheek was incredible. I have never tasted anything so good. It crispy and crunchy yet soft and sweet in the middle. I could eat an entire KFC style boxful of these beauties. It was the surprise of the entire evening and I loved it. The wine choice also changed as well as the less expensive bottle of wine tasted better with the main than the more expensive one did. This is strange but it does show how much food can affect the way you taste wine. A dessert wine was then brought out to conclude our meal which was Domaine Cady Coteaux du Layon St. Aubin 2007 which was another wine from the Chenin Blanc grape. I am not very keen on dessert wines but thought that this one was quite good as it was not as sweet as some of the other dessert wines I have tasted previously. This was to accompany:

Tarte aux Poires et aux Amandes

Ave Glace au Roquefort, Gelée de Muscat Noir et Caramels Salés


Pear and Almond Tarte Fine

With Roquefort Ice Cream, Black Muscat Jelly and Salted Caramel

I forgot to take a picture of the pudding as I think the vast quantities of wine that were going round had started to affect my head. Unfortunately, there were not too many things on this dessert that I liked. I loved the tart and the caramel. They were superb but I dislike blue cheese and I hoped that its flavour might be slightly muted as it was in the ice cream. However, it was not to be and the ice cream along with the harsh Muscat jelly took over everything else on the plate in my opinion. This was a shame as the other dishes were so good but I think Stuart and I were in the minority for disliking the dessert.

We had such a fabulous evening that I was even inspired to cook something from the meal at home over the Bank Holiday weekend. I decided to cook asparagus soup using some of the last of the current season’s asparagus. I roughly followed this recipe from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver and it was delicious. It was not quite good as the one I had at the restaurant but still very tasty and it will be my lunch at work for the next few days.

I would like to thank Philippe, James, Alison and all the rest of team which made the evening a great success. I will definitely be going to another Gourmet Life soon and I really want to go back to Brockencote Hall for another meal too.

Until next time, Happy Cooking!🙂