Saturday, 14 December 2013

Coventry's First British Restaurant

I realise things have been a bit quiet round here lately: I've been very busy working on my dissertation.

I just thought I'd link to a post I did over at my history blog, all about the first British Restaurant in Coventry, as it has links with food too!


I hope you like it!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Easy after-work recipes: Chicken, leek and mustard stew

This is a fabulously tasty and healthy winter warmer which I threw together recently, and I thought it would fit well with my 'easy after-work recipes' series (which I realise I've been a bit lax with lately). I used chicken breasts because that's what I had, but this would probably work even better with some diced boneless chicken thighs.

Chicken, leek and mustard stew
 Serves 2
Prep. Time - 15 minutes
Cooking time - 25 minutes
1 tsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
2 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 tsp dried thyme
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper to season

1. Cook the onion, carrot and leek in a large-ish pan over a low-medium heat until they are glistening and starting to soften. Add the dried thyme. Then add the chicken breast and cook until nicely browned.
2. Pour in the stock and wholegrain mustard. Season and stir.
3. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer for about 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the stock has reduced down a little.

Serve with lashings of mashed potato.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Garden Update: a few Autumn jobs

Things have really slowed down with the garden now we are well into Autumn. I have also been very busy of late with other commitments, so have not had time to go and do any work in the garden for weeks. This was my first free weekend for a while, and I managed to get out in the garden for an hour after Christmas shopping this morning. 

It has also massively slowed down on the food front. I had a small crop of potatoes from a growbag, but I made a mistake and dug them up too early really, so they were a bit on the small side. My butternut squash plant never did too well in the end, only producing one very small squash - the plant got very attacked by slugs which I think were brought out by the wet weather - I didn't have much problems with slugs before the damp early Autumn weather arrived. I also wondered whether it got a little too wet for the plant, given that we didn't have much let up from the rain for a good few weeks. I've still had some leeks growing up until today, but that's about it. Next year, I'll perhaps try to plan to have more winter vegetables growing, such as Kale and maybe some parsnips.

Lack of free time meant I hadn't yet got round to planting my pea and broad bean seeds until today. I had meant to do this in November, but I'm hoping that 1st December is not too late. I've covered them with fleece, just in case, and also to keep the cats and birds away! My green manure is still growing well, so it's nice to have things growing even if I can't eat anything at the moment!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Nigel Slater Dish of the Month: A soup of bacon and celeriac

It's quite surprising that I've never taken part in Farmersgirl Kitchen and A little bit of heaven on a plate's Dish of the Month before considering how much I enjoy cooking Nigel Slater recipes. Just another one of those things I've never got round to yet, but suddenly felt inspired to join (Can you tell I have a dissertation deadline coming up?!). 

This week, I got a celeriac (such an underrated vegetable!) in my veg box and decided I wanted to make a soup with it. I've made this recipe before, and enjoyed it - it's a good one if you like the fragrant smell and taste of celeriac.

I knew the veg-phobic husband would not be so keen on that particular recipe though, so I was searching around my cookbooks, when I found a recipe for 'A soup of bacon and celeriac' in The Kitchen Diaries II (p. 7); and I thought the addition of bacon and wholegrain mustard would help make the soup more palateable for my husband, as well as making a tasty meal for me!

Brown soup, brown worktop...
As you can see from the picture, the result was a slightly brown concoction - not the most appetising looking of soups, but it was very flavourful (I loved the addition of bacon and mustard!), as well as being thick and creamy. 

I pretty much stuck to the recipe, adjusting the quantities a little as my celeriac was quite a small one (plus, I am rubbish at chopping the skin off and usually end up cutting off half the celeriac as well...). I only have a stick blender, and knowing my husband's preference for thick soups, I just blended the whole thing rather than blending just half in a blender as the recipe suggested. If I make it again (which I might well do) I might add a peeled and chopped potato or two in with the celeriac as well to bulk it out and make it go further.

A hearty and warming soup for a chilly day. Thanks, Nigel. :)

Friday, 8 November 2013

Random recipes: Shortbread
Check me out, taking part in the Random Recipes challenge for the second month in a row! As there were a lot of newcomers last month (myself included), it's back to a basic challenge this month, where we basically just had to select a random recipe. I used a random number generator (cue my husband attempting to explain to me why they are actually pseudorandom number generators...) and then counted along my shelf to pick my book, and then opened it randomly on a page.

The book I got was Rosie's Pantry Baking: Perfect Cakes & Bakes. This was a gift I received for Christmas and I believe it was from Boots, and doesn't seem to be widely available on the internet. I don't own very many baking books - in fact, I think I own two - because I don't do a lot of baking. So, it is probably a good thing that this challenge has forced me to do a little more.

I was quite relieved, however, that the page I opened the book on was for Shortbread (and I didn't cheat I promise!). I had never made shortbread before, but the recipe is pretty simple and suitable for baking novices like me.

I was interested to read in the book that shortbread dates back to at least the 16th century; although according to this blog it goes back to at least the 12th century, where it stated life as 'biscuit bread'.

Here is my cooked shortbread just out of the oven:

Yeah, I went a bit crazy with the sugar on top. You guys know by now that I don't do presentation, right? Also, what you can't see is that when I pressed the dough into the tin, I didn't quite have enough to fill the tin properly, so there is a gap in the shortbread just out of shot! I suspect my tin was too big for the amount I made. Oh, well!

Also, I scored the triangles out before cooking, but clearly I didn't do them deep enough because I couldn't even really see them once it had been cooked.

The good news is that it tastes very nice and the texture is really crumbly which means I didn't overwork the dough. I did however overbake it a little. Mary and Paul would not be impressed. But my husband is happy, so who cares? :)

Slightly more appetising picture of shortbread...
According to my book the secret to making shortbread is usually one part sugar and two parts butter to three parts flour. This recipe has also taught me the difference (and that there is indeed a difference) between caster sugar and golden caster sugar.

So, a good learning experience all round. Maybe one day I'll get the hang of presentation...

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Easy after-work recipes: Lamb, tomato and cous cous

I've decided to start a series on my blog called Easy after-work recipes. A lot of the food I throw together is done fairly hastily, in a tired and grumpy sort of way, either after a day of work or a day of studying (or a day of work plus studying). Working part-time and studying part-time admittedly does allow me some flexibility with cooking, but having worked full-time for most of my working life, I know full well what it's like to get home at 6pm or later and then have to try to think of something to cook which is quick and doesn't require much energy, but at the same time provides us with some nutrition, and helps us to keep off the takeaways!

I will be using an 'after-work recipes' tag, so please go there if you want to see more of my recipes as I add them.

I hope these recipes will be useful to people and will at least give ideas for quick and easy things that can be done in a fairly short amount of time. I'm not claiming '15-minute meals' or anything, but things that don't take too much effort and should have you fed within the hour. My recipes are usually inspired by what's available in my fridge and store cupboard, and on the whole should be fairly adaptable.

Anyway, on with the first recipe!

Lamb, tomato and cous cous
Serves 2
Prep. time - 10 - 15 mins
Cooking time - 20 - 25 mins

Olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
100g mushrooms, quartered
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lamb steaks, sliced
1 400g can tomatoes
1 lamb stock cube (or vegetable stock cube)
1 tsp dried thyme
100g Israeli cous cous
2 tsp frozen chopped parsley
salt and pepper

1. Fry the red onion, red pepper, mushrooms and garlic on a low-medium heat for a few minutes until starting to soften. Add the lamb slices and continue to fry until brown.
2. Add the can of tomatoes. Crumble in the stock cube and add the dried thyme. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has reduced a little.
3. Add the Israeli cous cous (or regular cous cous). Israeli cous cous takes about 10 minutes to cook; regular cous cous takes about 5 minutes. If it's starting to look a little dry, add a bit of water. Keep an eye and stir occasionally so it doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the frozen chopped parsley at the end. Season with salt and pepper (I didn't add any extra salt because I used quite a salty stock cube).

This is a very adaptable recipe: you could vary the veg according to what you have in the fridge. I think this would work with chicken instead of lamb, and you can could use a vegetable stock or a chicken stock cube. You could use whatever dried/fresh/frozen herbs you have available. I realise that Israeli cous cous isn't always the easiest thing to find in shops, so regular cous cous would be fine, or you could use orzo or even small soup pasta. You could also cook some pasta separately and serve the sauce on top.

This was an easy, tasty meal cooked after a long and tiring day and being a one-pot meal also did not generate much washing up. Hurrah!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Random Recipes: Rub-a-dub venison and caribbean mash

 I've been meaning to take part in Belleau Kitchen's random recipes challenge for ages now, but somehow I never get round to it. I've even got as far as randomly selecting a recipe before, but then not got round to making it. Utter fail.

This month, however, was different. Inspired by the 'random local ingredient' theme of this month's challenge, I decided that I would definitely join in. 

I chose to think about a local ingredient I could use first, because living in the middle of a city does sometimes mean that local products can be limited. Dominic used Lincolnshire sausage for his dish, but there's not really a similar iconic product for Coventry... But then I remembered about Charlecote Park venison, which would surely be in season at this time of year.

We used this as an excuse for a trip out to the aforementioned Charlecote Park on Sunday - a National Trust property quite near to us, which includes acres and acres of parkland as well as a house and gardens. Apparently, there has been a herd of deer in the parkland since the tudor period (presumably not the same herd...)

Despite the forecast for yet more torrential rain, it actually turned out to be rather pleasant on Sunday morning, and we very much enjoyed a walk around the park and gardens in the autumnal sunlight (particularly as we got to watch some deer as well), before heading to the Gatehouse Shop where we purchased some venison leg steaks for my random recipe.

I was also delighted that the plant and vegetable shop on site was selling a really very impressive array of squashes.

If I hadn't already have bought the venison, I would have bought one of these for my random recipe!

Anyway, local venison procured, I then had to choose a random recipe. I recently joined a website called Eat Your Books, which is like a catalogue of all your cookbooks, so you can search for ingredients and see which books have suitable recipes in them. I searched for venison amongst my cookbooks and the first recipe that came up was 'Rub-a-dub venison' from Caribbean Food Made Easy by Levi Roots (p. 88). 

I hadn't cooked anything from this book in years, and yet it is a book which has some absolutely wonderful recipes in it, so I grabbed the opportunity to make use of it. I also thought it would be great to take a local ingredient and give it a Caribbean twist. The recipe involves marinating the venison steaks in a jerk rub - fairly easy to put together but you just need a little bit of time for it to marinate (a couple of hours or overnight). The blend of spices (allspice, ginger, chilli powder, thyme, garlic, all bound together with some oil) smelled wonderful, and promised good things.

Here are my steaks after marinating and about to go in the oven.

I followed Levi Roots's suggestion and made the Caribbean Mash to accompany the steaks, which is sweet potato, and a bit of nutmeg and allspice to season. I also steamed a bit of spinach as an extra accompaniment.

I was good and followed the instructions to make the steaks a bit rare, despite my tendency to overcook things! The steaks were delicious - very juicy (and really quite large!), and spicy and flavourful. The caribbean mash was great too - I loved the subtle hints of nutmeg and allspice.

So, I think we can say that my first random recipes challenge has been a success. 

Now, if anyone has any ideas for what I can do with the leftover marinated and cooked steak, do let me know. I'm thinking maybe some kind of stew, perhaps?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Garden Update: Autumn is here

It's been a while since I did one of my garden updates... I feel like Autumn has almost passed me by so far - the soggy grey days seem to be whizzing past at a phenomenal rate, but I'm going to try and take a step back and enjoy all that this time of year has to offer. 

Our abundance of veg is pretty much over now. I still have some leeks growing, and I have a butternut squash and potato plant, but nothing like the Great Courgette Harvest of the Summer.

Leeks and butternut squash, slightly battered by last night's rain

My one butternut squash which is currently growing... fittingly resting on a page from the Organic Gardening Catalogue!
My other raised bed which had previously been home to the monster courgette plants, has now been planted with a green manure. I couldn't decide which green manure to grow, so I chose a mix of four different ones: crimson clover, mustard, red clover, and Italian ryegrass. It's doing pretty well.

Green manure
A ladybird defending my green manure from pesky aphids
The plan is that I will cut the green manure before it flowers and then dig it into the soil - most likely in early spring.

Next month I will be planting my broad beans and peas, so I'll let you know how that goes. For now, I will continue to enjoy the rest of my Autumn produce.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Restaurant review: Miller & Carter, Mailbox, Birmingham

When I went on the infamous Mailbox Cocktail evening, I noticed that there were a lot of very nice-looking restaurants around, including Miller & Carter Steakhouse, where I sampled a very nice cocktail.

Just over a week ago, my husband and I travelled to Birmingham in search of steak. You know how sometimes you just really need a steak? This was one of those times.

First of all, I love the location of Miller & Carter - it overlooks the canal and offers very scenic views. The restaurant itself also has a very nice atmosphere: warm and cosy. And while it is a Steakhouse, it is quite an upmarket steakhouse, and the atmosphere and decor reflect this. My husband, Ian, even wore a shirt for the occasion, so it must be a bit posh.

They have some amazing-sounding starters - I was particularly tempted by the Black Pearl Scallops (£8.50), but I figured I probably wanted something quite light as a starter as the main was likely to be quite filling, so my husband and I opted to share the trio of bread and olives (£4.50).

This was tasty: the olives were nicely marinated and the different breads were nice and fresh.

The red wine we ordered was very nice and complemented both the bread and olives and the steaks. 
This lovely Rioja will set you back £21 - pricey, but a good quality wine.

It seemed rude not to have a steak for our main course, even though Miller & Carter do offer other dishes. I went for the 8oz fillet (£22.95), and my husband had the 14oz T-bone (also £22.95). While the steaks are on the expensive side, they are very good quality and also you get quite a lot of sides included - you get a choice of fries or a jacket potato (we had fries, of course), an onion loaf (this was more like an onion rosti-type thing - but very nice!), an iceberg lettuce wedge with a choice of sauce, and a choice of sauce on your steak. 

Ian's T-bone

My fillet
I had the five mushroom chasseur as the sauce for my steak, which I really enjoyed - it was very rich and really brought out the meatiness of the steak. My husband had the peppercorn sauce, which he wasn't that overwhelmed by. Although he seemed to do better with his wedge dressing: he had the bacon and honey mustard, which he really enjoyed, whereas I found my classic cocktail with croutons nothing too special and a little difficult to eat. 

The steaks themselves were pretty delicious, and the fries were very nice too. Ian says he would recommend the fillet over the T-bone and he would suggest following the recommendations on the menu for cooking style (he was offended that I chose to have my fillet steak cooked medium instead of rare as suggested...). He also thought the fries were some of the nicest he's ever had, but he still prefers larger-cut chips.

Seeing as we had travelled all the way to Birmingham, it would have been rude not to have pudding. And indeed cocktails. For my dessert, I had the banoffee pie (£5.25).

This was very nice, but I actually preferred Ian's intensely chocolate-y brownie and ice-cream (£5.95).

We both chose cocktails to accompany our puddings. Ian chose the Velvet Elvis at £6.95 (he liked the name), which he liked; but I struck gold with my cocktail choice of the Chocolate Martini (£6.50) - it tasted like alcoholic chocolate milkshake.

The flash has washed the picture out just a tad - my cocktail was actually a light chocolate colour. Other than the steak my cocktail was definitely one of the highlights of the meal.

Overall then, a quite expensive meal, but in lovely surroundings with very good service and delicious food and drink. We will be returning with friends in the future.

Disclaimer: We were given a discount on the meal for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Recipe: Fruit Smoothie - The Immuniser from Loveshake

Recently I was sent a recipe to try from Loveshake, a smoothies and thickshakes bar located in West Orchards Shopping Centre, Coventry.

The recipe is for a smoothie called 'The Immuniser', designed to stave off winter colds with a blend of fruit rich in vitamin C. Given that I woke up this weekend just gone with a sore throat, I thought it might be a good time to give the recipe a try.

The trick is to use equal parts of strawberry, kiwi and pineapple, and then top up with apple juice. I used the following amounts, which made about 2 glasses:

160g Strawberries
160g Kiwi fruits
160g Pineapple
250ml fresh apple juice

Stick it all in a bowl/blender and blend!

Loveshake use frozen fruit in their smoothies in order to give a crushed ice texture, but I hadn't been that organised. The smoothie was still very tasty, however, and it made me feel very healthy! It was also surprisingly easy to make (although the fruit was a bit expensive to buy) - I had never made a smoothie before and I wasn't sure how well it would work given that I only have a stick blender, but it actually turned out pretty well. I only found one small lump of fruit in my drink, so I will chalk that up as a win.

For those local to Coventry, you can pick up the Immuniser smoothie when you're out and about doing your shopping from Loveshake at West Orchards for only £2.70 (12 oz.).

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Restaurant review: Michael Wan's Mandarin, Blackpool

A few weeks ago it was my 30th birthday, which I spent in Blackpool. There are a number of reasons Blackpool was my destination of choice for my birthday.

1. I had never been before.
2. I love run-down seaside towns.
3. There was a really good deal on Amazon Local for a 2-night stay at the Blackpool FC Hotel.

Yes, Blackpool is rather run-down in places, and I have also never seen so many slightly tired and out-dated B&Bs along one seafront in my life, but I also thought it was amazing. I lost count of how much money I spent on the penny falls; the all-too familiar copper smell stayed on my fingers for the entire three days I think, and the cheap and tatty keyrings I won felt like wonderful victory.
Penny falls galore at the North Pier
 On my birthday itself I woke up to an unexpected birthday present of a shiny Google Nexus 10. The plan is that this will help me with my blogging! After a very filling Full English Breakfast at the hotel, we wondered out into the street and hopped on a tram towards the Sealife Centre to make use of one of our many 2-for-1 Merlin vouchers carefully cut-out from cereal packets. The Sealife Centre was a bit small, but we enjoyed the behind-the-scenes talk and the Pirate Mini Golf at the end.

Pirate Mini Golf
Obviously, we had to go up the Blackpool Tower. Tell me this view isn't amazing?

While we were gazing down at the view, I startled my husband by suddenly exclaiming, "Spoon, jar, jar, spoon!"

My favourite Tommy Cooper skit is immortalised in the concrete below the Tower (click the photo to make it larger).

Sealife and Tower fun done, we rested a bit before it was time for dinner. I had of course done my research into the best places to eat in Blackpool and had settled on Michael Wan's Mandarin, enticed by the promise of crispy duck and a £5-off voucher for signing up to their newsletter. When making the booking, I may have mentioned that I would be celebrating a special birthday.

When we arrived and were seated, we found our booth decked out in balloons and birthday decoration, which was awesome.

We ordered some prawn crackers to start, which came with a lovely sweet chilli dipping sauce.

We decied to share a starter as we were also planning to have a duck course. We had Garlic Mushrooms, which were delicious, but VERY garlicky (luckily, we like garlic). We were not in any danger of being attacked by vampires that evening.

Then it was time for duck. For some reason, my husband seemed to think we needed to order half a duck. It was a lot of duck - crispy as promised. It was absolutely delicious. My husband said it came close to duck he had in China. We were quite quickly very full of duck.

We had both also ordered main courses which we soon realised was a mistake. I managed a little of my chicken chow mein, but I can't really comment on it because I was so very full of duck. The waiter offered to put it in a doggy bag, but unfortunately we couldn't accept due to staying in a hotel, and not having any fridge facilities.

We refused pudding because of our very full bellies, but then a complimentary dessert arrived in honour of my birthday.
Yes, we ate a little before we remembered to take a photo. Fortunately banana and ice-cream wasn't too filling and we managed most  of this (would have been rude not to).

All in all, great service, delicious food, and reasonable prices (check out their menu). If I ever find myself in Blackpool again (which I very much hope to), we would definitely return. Maybe have a little less duck next time. Or maybe not. 

After our gorgeous meal, we waddled from the restaurant and down the seafront to enjoy the illuminations. Magical.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Recipe: Pot roast Chicken with chorizo and white wine

My meals are planned around two major things: 1) what is on offer on the Ocado and 2) what vegetables are available from the garden (or in season). I'm a bargain hunter and can't resist a good deal - and a good deal is not necessarily the cheapest thing, but something of quality for a good price. This week just gone Ocado had free range chickens and chopped chorizo on offer, so of course both items were purchased. (I know I could most likely get a whole chorizo sausage for cheaper even with the offer on, but sometimes it is handy to have some chorizo in small quantities, especially if there are only two of you.)

There were a few carrots not yet dug up in the garden and my leeks are starting to get to a decent size. 

 I couldn't be bothered with the faff of a regular roast last night (nor all the washing up), so I decided to go for a pot roast instead. What better meal to have on the Autumn equinox? Taking inspiration from my favourite pot roast recipe (Nigel Slater's Pot Roast Guinea Fowl with Sausage and Apple), I came up with the following and it was pretty delicious.

serves 2

60g chorizo, chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped into chunks
1 large leek, roughly chopped into chunks
2 - 3 large carrots, roughly chopped into chunks
2 medium potatoes, chopped into chunks
1 small chicken, about 1 - 1.3kg (mine was 1.1 kg)
100ml dry white wine
2 bay leaves

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
2. Meanwhile, place a large casserole dish over a low-medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook for a few minutes until it starts to release its oil. Add the onion, leek and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes more until the veg starts to get a little soft.
3. Move the veg to the side, up the heat a little, and brown the chicken on all sides (I use a couple of big spoons to turn the chicken over when in the pot - this is probably not the official method, but it works for me).
4. Add the wine and the bay leaves and let simmer for a minute or two.
5. Put a lid on the casserole and put the pot in the oven. Cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken - I cooked my 1.1kg chicken for 1 hour and 5 minutes (plus 10 minutes browning on the hob). Check the packet of the chicken as a guide, or allow 45 minutes cooking time per kg, plus an extra 20 minutes.
6. At the end of cooking, check the chicken is done by inserting a skewer into the thigh - if the juices run clear, it is done. If the juices are not clear, whack the bird back in the oven.
7. The result should be a nicely cooked chicken and a big gooey mess at the bottom. The gooey mess is normal. This is pure concentrated flavour. (You could always check during cooking if you need to add a bit more liquid.)
8. After leaving the chicken to rest for 10 minutes (or 2 minutes if you're hungry), remove it from the pot and carve. And then serve with vegetables and the gooey mess.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Cov Food Fest, 21st September 2013

I was delighted to learn that Coventry would be holding its own food festival in the City Centre this weekend. So, yesterday we headed over to Broadgate to see what it was all about.

Cov Food Fest consisted of a number of stalls promoting their wares and some cookery competitions and live cookery demonstrations.

The number of stalls were fairly limited and I do hope if they put on this event again it will increase in size and also generate more publicity. It was good, however, to see a number of local restaurants and businesses represented at the festival - including Etna's Ristorante, Chi Bar, The Establishment, Garden Organic, Coventry Market, and The Heritage Cake Company. However, it would have been good to see even more local restaurants and businesses - although Coventry is not exactly teeming with restaurants, there are plenty more to choose from than were at the festival and I believe there is some very good food to be found in Coventry; it just tends not to shout too loudly about it!

We had a wander around the stalls - they were fairly busy, and it was good to see people getting involved. Sadly, by the time we got there there weren't many samples left! I did however buy a couple of Coventry God Cakes (more info here and here) from The Heritage Cake Company.

Coventry God Cakes are basically mincemeat in puff pastry - they are very delicious. It was great to try something which is particular to Coventry's history.

We also decided to check out one of the cookery demonstrations. It was pretty entertaining (and smelled wonderful!) although there seemed to be some issues with the equipment they were using (wrong pans and they had trouble with the hob, which I'm guessing was induction style). 
The demonstration we watched (at 12pm) was given by the 'top fish guy' from Coventry Market (whose name now of course escapes me) and Carmelo, the head chef from Etna Ristorante (Etna's has been at the same site in Coventry city centre for 32 years). They demonstrated how to prepare fresh seafood and how to make some simple Italian pasta dishes. Technical hitches aside, it was great to see local business owners promoting Coventry food, and to get some good tips about buying and preparing fresh seafood, and how to make some simple Italian dishes at home.  

I hope the Cov Food Fest takes place again and that it gets bigger and better. I feel that this could be a really good annual event, and I hope more local businesses get involved, and that it becomes a great way to promote and celebrate good food in Coventry.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Restaurant Review: Playwrights, Hay Lane, Coventry

Playwrights is a restaurant that we have eaten lunch at many, many times - mostly because they do a good selection of chunky sandwiches, tasty salads, and jacket potatoes, as well as some larger meals such as fish and chips, chilli con carne, etc.

Despite being frequent lunch visitors, we had never eaten at Playwrights for dinner, so we decided to rectify this state of affairs a few weeks ago. We were a bit worried as we hadn't booked and it was a Saturday night, but we decided to turn up early and find another restaurant in the city centre if they couldn't seat us.

As it happens, we needn't have worried as the restaurant was empty when we arrived. This was worrying in itself at first, but it did start to fill up later on in the evening.

The service was really good from the start: relaxed but very friendly and helpful.

First of all we ordered some wine, which was Hidden Road Shiraz at £15.75 a bottle.
This was a very nice bottle for the price (well, as restaurant prices go...) and it complemented the spices in our food nicely.

For starter I had the Mozzarella, tomato & olive salad, finished with rocket & balsamic oil priced £4.25. Now, you can't go too wrong with a dish like this, and needless to say it was nice - it tasted of all the ingredients it was supposed to taste of. It perhaps could have done with a little more rocket to give it a bit more crunch, but otherwise, no complaints from me.

My husband had the Smooth Brussels pate, red onion jam, toast & mixed leaves for £4.75. Not a bad price at all for a very tasty starter.

Playwrights tend to do a fair bit of Mexican food, including Mexican nights on the last Saturday of each month. We weren't there for Mexican night, but we both chose something with a Mexican theme from their menu, as it had been a while since we'd had any decent Mexican food.

I chose the vegetable chilli burrito, white rice & salad (£8.95). I had never tried a burrito before, but it sounded like the sort of thing I'd like. There was a good variety of vegetables in the vegetable chilli, but perhaps could have done with a few more beans to add to the texture. It was fairly spicy (as you'd expect) and I had to ask for some sour cream to cool it off a bit - the waiter was very obliging. I thought there was probably a bit too much rice on the plate considering it was quite a large burrito, but having said all of that, it was on the whole a very tasty meal and I would quite happily order it again in future. 

Regular readers of this blog will probably not be surprised to hear that my husband had the Tex-Mex grill – A half rack of pork ribs, chorizo sausage & Cajun chicken breast, served with hand made battered onion rings, home made coleslaw, hand cut chips & salad (£14.95). He very much enjoyed this Mexican twist on his favourite meal, although he found the chicken breast was a little too dry and he would have preferred chunks of chorizo sausage rather than wafer-thin slices. Still, pretty impressive, I think you'll agree.

Desserts at Playwrights tend to be of the classic British variety. We were both pleased with our choices of Chocolate fudge cake served warm with vanilla pod ice cream (£4.50) and Treacle sponge pudding & custard (£4.50). 


Overall then, we had a lovely evening at Playwrights and would happily return for dinner again. The food is reasonably-priced and is tasty, home-cooked fare, the service was good, and it has a central location on historic Hay Lane. Perfect for an impromptu relaxed and cosy meal on a Saturday night.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Things to do with courgettes

Growing courgettes this year has made me realise two things: 1) how big a courgette plant can actually grow, and 2) how much fruit one courgette plant alone can produce. It's a good job that we like courgettes! Recently, many of our meals have centred around courgettes, so I thought I'd post a few ideas of things to do with them.

  • An obvious Summer classic, which is a good use of courgettes, is Ratatouille. This is the recipe I tend to use, as it's fairly simple, quick and tasty. I don't always serve with the sourdough, though. I like to serve it with white fish or lamb steaks. I usually make enough for four and then serve the rest the next day with some pasta.
  • I recently tried this vegetable & bean chilli as a healthier alternative to regular chilli con carne. It was really tasty, although I amended the recipe slightly: instead of 1 tbsp chilli powder, I used 1 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp paprika and 1 tsp ground cumin. I also used just one tin of chopped tomatoes and a smaller tin of butter beans, but it was still enough for about 4 people! I served it with rice. Leftovers were very tasty for lunch the next day.
  •  This courgette & tomato linguine is one of my go-to courgette recipes, although we tend not to have it too often because it is not as healthy as some of the other recipes I cook.
  •  I cook my recipe for roast mediterranean vegetables, garlic chicken and cous cous fairly regularly in the Summer - it is quick to prepare, easy to cook and very tasty! Since I published the recipe on Jo's Kitchen I have changed the recipe slightly, in that I tend to throw the chicken breasts in with the roast vegetables and cook it all together (for about half an hour), rather than cooking the chicken separately in a frying pan, which makes it even easier and healthier!
  •  If you get fed up of eating courgettes for dinner, my Master Gardener, Vicki, has a fab recipe for courgette and lemon cake!
  •  If you really get a glut all in one go (I picked three marrow-like courgettes the other day, and they weighed in at just over a kilo...), why not try this spicy courgette chutney? I thought I had mustard seeds, but I realised I didn't as I got to the point in the recipe where I needed to add them, so mine is probably slightly less than spicy chutney. As I had about a kilo of courgettes, I doubled the recipe in order to make a double batch. Yummy!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Recipe: Peppers Stuffed with Israeli Cous Cous

Although I am not growing any peppers this year, last week I ended up with quite a few because I'd bought a pack of four and then my in-laws gave me some more from their garden. I am, however, also getting quite a lot of courgettes now from my garden, so have been trying to think of new and different ways to use all my veg.

I think I was probably inspired to make this dish after watching an episode of Celebrity Masterchef recently, where someone made stuffed peppers in the mass-catering round. I decided to try and make my own tastier version, as apparently their stuffed peppers had been quite bland! 

I used Israeli cous cous in this recipe, but regular cous cous would also work. Also, I didn't have any lemons to add lemon juice when I made it, but I definitely think the addition of lemon juice would be a glorious thing, so I have included it in the recipe.


Serves 2

2 bell peppers, tops cut off and deseeded
2 tsp olive oil or rapeseed oil
1 onion, diced
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 courgette, diced
100g Israeli cous cous
125 - 150ml vegetable or chicken stock
juice of half a lemon (optional)
handful of fresh herbs (whatever you have available - I used thyme)
salt and pepper to season

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put the peppers in a roasting tin and drizzle with half the oil. Cook in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, until the skin is starting to brown.

2. Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil in a saucepan. Add the onions, and cook gently for about five minutes. Add the courgettes and garlic and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes, until everything is soft. 

3. Add the cous cous and stock and simmer for about 8 minutes, uncovered. You can add water if it starts to get too dry. Add the lemon juice and herbs, stir and cook for a couple more minutes, until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed/evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

4. By this time, the peppers should be ready. Take them out of the oven and carefully move them onto a plate. Spoon the cous cous mixture into the peppers. 

5. Eat


As you can see from the photo above, I served mine with some homemade potato wedges. Yummy!

(Incidentally, did you know that potatoes are rich in vitamin C? Those 5-a-day people just don't want you eating chips all the time! I think we should all love the humble potato a little more!)

Next on the blog, I will be writing about some more ideas for cooking with courgettes. (Yes, we've been eating A LOT of them lately...).

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Garden update: an abundance of vegetables

Apologies that  it's been quite a long time since I posted here. I've been pretty busy with the studying, and also setting up a new history blog (because one blog is just never enough, right?).

I just wanted to check in though, and update you on my vegetable progress. We are starting to get a good stream of veg being ready now, and I've now got to the point this week where I actually didn't really need to buy any veg from the shops - there's enough from the garden to feed my husband and me for the week. Our plot is very small really, and there's no way we'll ever be self-sufficient from it, but it is a nice feeling that it is now starting to make a significant contribution towards our meals.

Freshly picked carrots
My first (rather fat) courgette
At the moment I've got carrots, courgettes, fennel and beetroot ready for picking and eating. I have some tomato plants in pots and hanging baskets, which have yet to fruit, and I have some leeks in one of my raised beds which will hopefully be lovely and big by the Autumn. My lovely Master Gardener, Vicki, has just given me a butternut squash plant, which I plan to plant today. I never got round to planting any potatoes earlier in the year, so I have bought a variety which I will plant this month (in a growbag) ready for Winter. I also have plans to plant some broad beans and peas (dwarf varieties) in November ready for next Spring. And I will probably grow a green manure in the other raised bed over Winter to rejuvenate the soil. My plan is to continually have things growing because bare space is just boring!