Plate Up

Food Notes for Families in Snowdonia and Beyond

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Ode to the Pomegranate

Yet another cold and rainy July day here in Snowdonia sets me thinking about pomegranates, and how wonderful they are. Their burnished skin is like old leather and they have strange star like core that juts from it, and they are kind of misshapen and full of promise at their most ripe. When you cut them in two and you see the papery chambers that contain all the little jewel-like seeds, like shining red pearls. Then you start to break them free, so easily, from their compact compartments. Sometimes the seeds spray blood red juice across your fingers and the counter, and then they pile up in the bowl like so much treasure, glisten with goodness, smell of freshness.

The colour of pomegranates
You take a mouthful of seeds and break into that gorgeous sharp yet sweet juice, not quite blackcurrant or raspberry or elderflower or peach but a little like each, and really it tastes of red berry juice and sunshine and then you chew upon the seeds, the crisp yet yielding seeds that take a while to chew yet release their own sweet green flavour, and the combination of textures is so moreish, like fruit popcorn. I like it mixed with Greek strained yoghurt, the creaminess of the yoghurt is a perfect foil to the pomegranate, the juice mingles and softens and melts on the tongue while you still enjoy the crisp texture of those seeds.

Not only is it a feast for the eyes, for the texture and taste, pomegranate is really good for you too. They contain substantial doses of vitamin A, C, E, iron, and other antioxidants plus of course dietary fibre. A great addition to your five-a-day. They can be used in salads and eastern cookery and pomegranate molasses is a wonderful addition to the store cupboard particularly for Persian dishes.

Pomegranate is thought to be one of the earliest cultivated fruits, originating from Iran and spreading via the silk road to be cultivated across the Mediterranean and China and subsequently of course in Florida and California. It was valued by the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Greeks (who linked the fruit with Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, and with the story of Persephone), as well as Zoroastrians, Jews, Buddhists, and Christians. It is said that Catherine of Aragon may have brought the fruit to Britain and King Henry VIII may have planted the first pomegranate tree in England.

In childhood I cannot remember having pomegranate very often and we were taught to pick at each seed one at a time with a needle. I can only imagine this was some kind of awful Victorian restraint still bearing down on such a lush fruit! Thankfully pomegranates are more plentiful and the sweet ‘wonderful’ large versions are in supermarkets – Lidl has them for a good price in season. Of course they take a little time to break open (cut across the belly, turn upside down over a bowl, gently bash leathery skin with a spoon so the seeds fall into bowl) but they are worth taking the time for. If this does not work gently break free the remaining seeds with your hands, picking away the inedible papery membrane. Sometimes your hands are covered in dark juice by the end but that only makes the enjoyment of the fruit more sensual and truly a treat to be savoured. It’s probably some kind of spa treatment for your hands! Often I will do this while our main course is bubbling away so that pomegranate will be ready to refresh us as desert, and it is a way to enjoy the warm evening light that floods into our kitchen and flows like syrup over the ruby seeds. It is also a fruit to seek out when in season and particularly in mid-winter, to remind you of the bounty that the sun stores up and which can still be enjoyed even when it is dark at supper time and we are almost at our furthest point away from the sun.

So as we depart solstice and approach high summer in the northern hemisphere I pay homage to you, lovely pomegranate, to your utter voluptuous goodness and juiciness, our European cranberry, our biblical treat to break open and share with others, long may you continue to grace our table! (Despite the cold rainy summer and uncertain political climate of Brexit).

Monday, 30 May 2016

Oxford, 4500 miles from Dehli

We sampled the fine dining evening menu at 4500 miles from Dehli recently. The restaurant is only a few hundred yards from Oxford Railway station in Parkend Street (there is another branch in Bristol). We enjoyed an impressive spicy meal, beautifully presented, in a relaxed atmosphere. The restaurant uses chefs from Dehli and devotes itself to this region’s cuisine, using only the finest freshest ingredients to replicate its flavours – the menu has a guide to the heat of each meal (a one two or three chilli grade) to ease you into the near Thai standard of spiciness involved!

Our starters were the chicken shashlick, the chicken malai tikka, and home-made poppadum with dips. The vibrancy of the marinated chicken was matched by its tender textures; there was mellow fruit and spice in the accompanying sauces that could be cooled further by the raita and salad accompaniment.

For main course we selected king prawn tak a tak, chicken bemisaal, and hydrabadi lamb. These we sampled each in order of escalating spice and we were rewarded with intense hits of precise flavours.

The Prawn tak a tak was fresh and clean in the cooking of the prawns and peppers to succulent al dente, which was matched by the background richness of the sauces in the chicken and lamb dishes that had been slowly simmered and prepared to perfection. The chicken bemisaal was tender, with a broad hint of dried chilli to punctuate the fragrant tomato sauce flavoured with garlic cinnamon and clove. Our favourite however was the lamb dish – the hydrabadi lamb was really tender and melted in the mouth mingling with the rich heat and savouriness of the background gravy flavoured with garlic cardamom ginger and (new to us) kewra essence. We accompanied the meal with a bottle of cobra beer and water which balanced the chilli well.

Although there were busy tables at the other side of the restaurant with lively crowds we could unwind and enjoy our meal in an intimate atmosphere with friendly attentive staff checking on us regularly but not obtrusively. The kitchens were open plan and the head chef could be seen periodically as he supervised the evening menus. There was another couple, clearly regulars, who received dish after dish at their table, alternately sizzling in kaharis or steaming in round pots, that suggested the menu held yet more intriguing surprises! Next time perhaps we could try these out…

More info and bookings at 4500 miles from Dehli website.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Joy (and Caffeine) to the World – Some (More) Coffee Taster Notes

It is gift-buying season and there is one gift we received last year which, as foodies we  really appreciated – Whittards collection of nine ground coffees from around the world.  It certainly educated me in a pleasing way about the various subtle flavours of coffee available according to where the coffee bean is grown and how it is fermented or roasted.  It provides a palette history of this fascinating beverage, still one of the most important food commodities to this day.

I must confess as a Northern British tea drinker the subtleties of coffee have previously been lost on me but it was a delight to sample a different flavour every few days and familiarise our palettes to a variety of tastes comparable to the tasting range of red wines or artisan chocolate.

To see the world in a cup of coffee, and taste history in a sip....
At intensity level ‘one’, the subtle and fruity flavours of the Kenyan and Ethiopian varieties are light and almost tea like.  In fact the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is slightly fermented before roasting to bring out its refreshing sunshiny flavour which is great for summer mornings.

At the next level Monsoon Malabar was smooth but which dark and deep notes – very similar to a French coffee, with a sweet rich undertone which would go well with croissants.  This bean is stored in a way to replicate the long sea voyages the beans used to have to endure to reach Europe, which gave the beans a particular flavour the Europeans came to love, and is dark roasted to bring out the depth - and this ‘distance’ - of flavour.

Then there are the rich Java and Sumatra coffees, also deep-roasted for a full intensity of dark flavour - a great strong hit of caffeine that could be balanced with milk or cream if you so wish but the smooth flavour is lovely in its pure form. The Santos and Java variety blends Brazilian and Sumatran beans to bring out the rich yet creamy quality of the coffee. They are great coffees to savour after dinner.

There are also single blend examples of the South American coffees, such as San Augustin in Columbia.  This was soft, mid palette and very pleasant to drink with dark chocolate and strawberry undertones, also a hint of citrus and cloves.

We look forward to exploring coffee further, with the help of a good coffee maker we recently invested in, and are eager to explore the many other varieties.

Whittards is certainly a good place to start and their website is informative about the types of beans and roasts they have to offer.  The Coffees of the World selection, I believe, is still available in their clearance sale.  Also they offer a coffee club, which sends you two varieties per month with tasting notes, which sounds like another possible Yuletide gift.

The Algerian Coffee store also provides a wealth of expertise and information about coffee to help you order from its website (though it is worth a visit to the original London store if you are in the area - it is quite magical just to smell the aroma).

We hope this may help you to select the perfect foodie gift, or the right coffee for a breakfast pick-me=up, or an after dinner coffee to savour, over the festive period!

(It is also worth spreading the comfort and joy that good coffee is a festive indulgence which is actually good for you.  Health benefits can include protection from colon cancer, kidney cancer, gall stones and dementia when you drink up to three cups a day.  More on this in the New Year!)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

International Coffee Day

Today is the first ever International Coffee Day - about time too! Coffee has along and exotic history. Legend states its scarlet berries were nibbled by goats in Kenya and a resultant friskiness was noted by their goatherds who decided to give the coffee beans a try. From there to Arabia, whirling dervishes and coffee houses. The Arabica beans were boiled when sold for trade to avoid propagation. Later a plant was gifted to Holland. Louis XIV of France also received a plant. A series of passionate and sometimes desperate acts brought coffee to the rest of Europe, its colonies and then on to South America. Coffee has a good reputation when it comes to health benefits. Back in the 1970’s it was villified but now two good cups of coffee a day is considered beneficial and an aid to longevity. As for taste and method of preparation, this is often an ongoing quest. We were gifted a Whittard selection pack of ground coffee which ranges from Kenya, to Java and Monsoon Malabar and each have their own distinctive flavour and mood. We hope to offer tasting notes as we discover particular favourites – and then there is the whole adventure of grinding the beans to look forward to... So Happy Coffee Day! More information can be found at and

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Best Breakfast in Cyprus

The Amphora Hotel has received a well-deserved award for its breakfasts – the buffet is sumptuous and it caters for all tastes and ages. You are greeted by the courteous and efficient waiters, seated at a suitable table (there are some small tables on the balcony looking out to sea but inside is air conditioned!) and offered a choice of tea, coffee, hot chocolate. Then you can help yourself to whatever is on offer. There are fruit juices (orange or grapefruit) to refresh the palate before you select. At the far end are large ceramic bowls full of cereal, fruit, dried fruit, yoghurt, and serving pots of jams and honey. There is usually a slight variation of fruits to choose from – pineapple rings, grapefruit, peaches, fruit salad – a plain Greek yoghurt (yummy) and strawberry yoghurt, dried raisins and cranberries, figs and prunes, and a bowl of almonds too. Next to this is a wonderful cold buffet of sliced ham, cheeses, olives and tomatoes. The cheeses are local ones (halloumi, and one carob flavoured cheese almost like a solid ricotta was on offer) as were the absolutely gorgeous green and black olives, so well-seasoned. The tomatoes were delicious too. On the other side of the room was the hot buffet – all you would expect from a traditional English breakfast; bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, beans, mushrooms, grilled tomato, ‘grits’ – and there was a chef making fresh pancakes who could also cook fresh omelettes on request (ham and cheese and totally delicious). There were also a variety of breads available to toast for yourself in the conveyer belt toaster (apparently so easy to use no one ever burnt the toast)! There were sometimes croissants and Danish pastries available too. We usually started with an omelette and finished with yoghurt and fruit and this set us up royally for the day. Well done Amphora for your high standards – it is easy why even Cypriots from Nicosia choose to stay for a great family holiday by the sea, as well as us tourists!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Slowly slowly

All good things...

Throughout the winter (and in the recent wintry weather!) we have luxuriated in comfort food made in the slow cooker.  It so useful to set up a hearty meal before work, or going out for an afternoon hike with the dog at the weekend.  It is great to come home to the aromas of a good casserole or curry and know our evening meal will take moments to prepare.

It is also a great way for keeping the diet and budget in check; there is no temptation to stop off for a take-away on the way home! 

Slow cooking is a surprisingly versatile way of cooking and we have been trying out recipes from the Good Food website (there is a lovely simple recipe for split pea daal, filling wholesome and good value) and different recipe books we have purchased or borrowed from the library.

There are so many slow cooking recipe books available I am sure I have yet to discover even more brilliant recipes.  But the one favourite I have so far is SLOW COOKING by ex Saturday Kitchen host Anthony Worrall Thompson.

It covers one pot recipes for the oven also, but the slow cooking recipes we have tried so far are brilliant, always delivering on texture and flavour.  The recipes are do-able and those that seem more complicated than others always reward your efforts.

Favourite cookery books are quite personal and passionate I suppose, because the writer shares your palette and approach in the kitchen already to some degree, but takes you a few more steps on the journey to culinary enjoyment and proficiency.  I have yet to try the recipes for puddings and cakes in the slow cooker but there is a cheesecake and chocolate brownie, which was popular at his own bistro that is served with ice cream and looks very tempting!

The savoury recipes such as Buttered chicken and tomato  curry and Venison winter stew with herb dumplings we have cooked many times and always enjoy because they are so flavoursome.  And as AWT observes they are adaptable – the venison recipe can work equally well with beef or other game meat, such as wild boar or kangaroo.

Here is a simple vegetarian recipe for Italian Leek stew that really brings out the best in leeks and is always popular at our house.  You can alter with substitution of feta for mozzarella if you wish to avoid cow’s milk, and other pulses are just as good.

Italian Leek Stew

1 tbsp. olive oil
1kg leeks, cut into 3cm chunks and washed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp cayenne pepper
55g Kalamata olives, stoned and roughly chopped
400g tin topped tomatoes
180ml water
400g tin Borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
1 ball of cow’s mozzarella, finely diced
12 large basil leaves torn into pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve; brown rice

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the leeks, onion, garlic and cayenne.  Fry, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.  Transfer to your slow cooker.
2. Add the olives and tomatoes, the water and the beans, then stir to combine.  Cook on low for 5-6 hours.
3. Turn the slow cooker to high and stir in the mozzarella and basil.  Cover and cook for a further 15 minutes
4. Season to taste and serve with brown rice

So simple but so good!

More information about Anthony Worrall Thompson, his restaurants the Kew Grill and Greyhound, and his other cookbooks can be found at  his official website .

 Other recipes are available at bbc food.
This book currently available from amazon second-hand and probably in your local library.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Carluccio's 2015

If you are thinking of eating out with family this Easter may we recommend Carluccio’s?  We recently ate at the Brunswick Square restaurant and were once more impressed by quality of food and service.

The set menu for adults of chicken liver pate starter followed by chicken Milanese with salad is absolutely brilliant with a cold draught Peroni after a busy day trekking around museums.  The pate is so delicious and smooth, rich with sage and a little layer of butter on top and is served in such a generous amount you struggle to pile it on the slices of toast it is served with – and the side order of caramelised onions is a lovely touch.  The chicken Milanese schnitzel style is tender and spicy and goes well with its salad of rocket and wedge of lemon. 

And Carluccio’s is excellent for kids.  They have their own menu, where breadsticks arrive more or less straight away, and their mains with our starter, and their pudding with our mains, so we are all keeping pace with each other.  There is ham and cheese melt, chicken Milanese but served with rosemary potatoes, ravioli, macaroni cheese or they can select their own type of pasta (penne or spaghetti) with their own choice of sauce (tomato, pesto, meatballs or ragu).  They receive a soft drink as part of the package and of course a serving of delicious Carluccio’s own ice cream for pudding or a fruit salad.

In addition youngsters are provided with entertainment as part of their keepsake menu – for little ones it is a jigsaw to colour in (types of cute mushrooms etc.) and for older ones an ‘Italian journal’ which allows for all sorts of doodles and provides info on types of pasta, how to cook your own tomato sauce etc.  A souvenir small packet of colouring pencils is included. Brilliant for keeping them interested if you linger for dessert or a second beer!


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