Food cooking and eating – stories and ideas from a passionate foodie

What to do to break up a 200 mile journey to your holiday destination? Lunch on the way, of course. And I can think of no better way to start a holiday than in The Glasshouse at The Salutation Inn.

Topsham is well served for food outlets. There’s straight pub grub and many a gastronomic pub. And a lot of restaurants. And this hotel, which converted what would have been the entrance for Carriages in the 1850s. A dead courtyard space has been glazed over to make an indoor outdoor style eating experience particularly pleasant.

There is one item if available on a menu that I find hard to resist. Moule Mariniere. I tend to stop reading as soon as I see it there. These are local, River Exe dwellers. What’s not to love? We only wanted lightish lunches, so J had an open local Devon Ruby beef sandwich. And I just had the starter size of the mussels.


Topsham Mussels

I just wish you could sniff too…


They arrived with the usual aplomb and accompaniments. Lots of bread for mopping up the unctuous liquour. A bit of salt free butter (on a tiny bit of slate – lovely touch). A finger bowl to wash up your stickiness afterwards. And reverential silence as you sniffed the fabulous mixture of garlic, shallot, wine, herbs and samphire.  And it’s that level of ingredient that sets this place apart.  Samphire – sometimes called Poor man’s Asparagus, (shape not taste, I think), – is just a perfect accompaniment to any fish. Far more expensive than just parsley or similar additions.  And it signifies  the attitude level of the chefs here.  Only the best ingredients are good enough

I am sorry the innovators of the IT world can’t let you scratch and sniff the photos yet. One day. Suffice to say I had to tell our servers that I felt I had died and gone to heaven. Perfect food. They suggested a dry Rose to complement the food, and boy, it did.

The beef wasn’t bad either…actually, it was amazing too.  Take a look…

Topsham Beef

Lovely non rushed service, tight and calm and professional and involved. What a fabulous start to a holiday. We managed to get the last table…book to prevent the potential for missing an absolute treat.

And here’s the other things you shouldn’t miss – the choice of Patisserie fantastical creations, and a beautifully constructed Macchiato – the king of coffees for my taste.  A sort of tiny Guinness style concoction, with the head on the Espresso replaced with frothy milk.  A fabulous ending…



Celebration Meals

It was my sisters big birthday – it had a zero at the end, and that’s as far as I will go! But what do you do when you are recently confirmed as Gluten intolerant? Or even Coeliac?

I am amazed to learn how many people suffer from this auto immune gut inflammation condition. It has many symptoms including bloating diarrhoea, nausea, indigestion, constipation, malabsorption, iron or Vitamin B12 deficiency, fatigue, and more. Just do a search – you will be amazed. And 1/100 suffer from it…which maybe an underestimate. Milder symptoms may lead to misdiagnosis as (e.g.) Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

And you will all know many people who have cut out Gluten as they are intolerant of it. Every supermarket has lots of gluten free products nowadays.

I had a couple of people away on a residential training course with me recently who were Coeliacs. 2 out of the 12 there…

Both said how much easier it was eating out nowadays, and the catering team at the venue really did know what was what.

Jean 60 family

Which brings me nicely onto our Jean’s birthday bash! She really did want to go out with the family, and had found a restaurant in Liverpool that catered very well for anyone who was Gluten intolerant. It didn’t major on that as its unique difference, but it made it quite clear that they did make sure that their food was suitable for all. I suspect the owner manager might have been a sufferer himself? Also, it is best not to just market as “the gluten free place”, as you might put off ordinary punters? Anyway, they seemed to be doing very well with afternoon tea and bubbles, especially for Baby Showers!

Jean sparker 60

Jam Restaurant (see their website here), was vibrant happy and noisy. The staff were very attentive and helpful, and also seemed to love what they were doing. That doesn’t always happen, as you are probably well aware from your own experience. The menu is light bite, to big appetite to afternoon tea level, to wine bar and snacks. As you can see, we had a grand old time – and a gluten free birthday cake at the end!

Jean birthday cake

Congratulations Sis. It was great to be there…X

This is the main event, and some bits to go with…

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Christmas Dinner in 67 Words

I had a panic text from a family friend last year, on Christmas morning.  Claire was helping her daughter to cook Christmas lunch – and they had not a single recipe book in the house with the advice on how to cook the turkey.  I managed to send them the entire recipe by text!.  If you can text a recipe, then it can’t be so difficult – can it?  Here it is, in its entirety:

“Turkey – 14lb, for serving at 1.45, cooked by 1.15, rested before carving. Start at 8.15 with bird at room temperature.  Loads of butter and strips of bacon on the breast.  First 45 minutes at 220C or 200C for fan oven.  Lower to 170 (160 fan).  Foil off / peeled back at 12.30.  Then lots of basting (every15 mins) to 1.15.  Usually takes longer than you think.”

67 words must be a record for a Christmas Turkey recipe! But at least with these timings, you can be confident of the main attraction being OK?


Cranberry Sauce – enough for Christmas Dinner and Leftovers

300g Fresh Cranberries

Zest and Juice of one Orange

½ Teaspoon each of powdered Ginger; Cinnamon and Ground Cloves

200g caster sugar*


Gently heat cranberries in a saucepan with the orange, spices and sugar.  Stir until they ‘pop’ (like popcorn) and the sugar is dissolved. Leave to cool slightly and then add 2-3 Tablespoons of Port.

*Cranberries are bitter and this has a sharp, ‘adult’ flavour so you may wish to add more sugar.

This can be made in advance as it freezes well.

and there they are - boiling away!


Brandy Butter – serves 8 (approx.)

250g Unsalted Butter

250g* Sugar – this can be light or dark soft brown; caster; or icing – or a mixture

5 Dessertspoon of Brandy (or Rum)


Cream the butter by hand with a wooden spoon, electric whisk or food processor until white-ish. Add the sugar a little at a time. *You may find you need less than the suggested amount.  I used a mixture of light and dark soft brown sugar and found 200g was sufficient.  Add the brandy a spoonful at a time. Add more to taste but not too much as it may separate.  If this happens, add more sugar.

This will keep 2-3 weeks in the fridge and also freezes well.



Next – stuffing!!

Stuffings – on Christmas Day

Get the kettle on at 7, and take your turkey out of the fridge.  Kettle is for your well-earned cup of tea for getting up early on Christmas Morn.  You should have taken the plastic bag containing the giblets out of the turkey, but check again just in case!  These bits are excellent to boil up for stock to make real gravy.  As you know, I always prefer to do most things from scratch, rather than using too many convenience foods (like gravy browning or stock cubes and the like). It feels easier to control salt, sugar, E numbers, antioxidants, and all the other additives that are in most convenience foods by doing this.  It tastes better too.

I have two favourite stuffing’s – Sage and Onion and Apple and Chestnut.  I will start with the second one – which may be surprising as you may think chestnuts could be a problem?

  • 1 pack chestnuts (Whole ones are good)
  • 1lb of pork sausage meat
  • 1 large cooking apple (Bramley is best)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Salt and ground white pepper (seems to be better than black peppercorns at not causing problems)

I think this is easiest to make in a food processor, because it will chop the onion and the apple very finely.  Peel the onion and apple first and chop them a bit to put into your food processor, and wiz for 10 to 20 seconds to chop them very finely.  Add the sausage meat a bit at a time and blend between each addition (say in 5 or 6 portions).  Then add the chestnuts,  whizz until they still have a bit of texture, then add the egg (which helps to bind it together) and the salt and pepper.

If you prefer Sage and Onion stuffing – here’s how to do that:

  • Two pieces of white bread
  • 1lb sausage meat
  • 1 dessertspoon of dried sage
  • 1 peeled onion
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and ground white pepper

Again, a food processor helps.  (This isn’t just to help with getting everything finely chopped to help prevent blockages – I think it helps with flavour enhancing and making a much better gastronomic experience).

If the following sounds too fiddly or tricky – then cook the stuffing separately… but this is how I do it

The best and safest place to cook the stuffing is the breast end of the bird, not the main body cavity.  This helps it to cook well – stuffing the body slows everything down. The breast is kept moist by the fattiness of the sausage meat.  You need to ease the skin off the breast itself, and you do this easily by easing the skin away from the breast with your fingers and pushing gently You will find it comes apart easily.  The middle bit of skin between the two breasts is slightly more of a sinew, and you will need to hook your finger to pull this apart.  You can then spoon your chosen stuffing into this cavity. Push it right in and pat it down, making a nice rounded end.  Not too tight or skin may crack open. You should seal the end by pushing a couple of cocktail sticks though the skin flaps (but remember to take them out at the end so no-one eats them!)  If there is some left over after stuffing the bird, you can put this in an oven proof dish and cook it with foil on top for the last hour before serving.


Curry Night at The Plaisterers.


Just occasionally I really do not want to write a blog.

It’s not laziness or because I never review anything that’s so bad I can’t write anything at all.

It’s this type.  When I am so enchanted, I just don’t want anyone else to know, in case I can’t get in.


Kamal, chef artiste at the Plaisterers Arms in Winchcombe, hails from Sri Lanka.  He does fusion so well, I suppose because he has lived it.  But it is just a fascinating and all consuming experience eating the standard menu (and that undersells it). But when he is in his own food history, his own element, the love gets deeper.


“Prawn,Chorizo & Lentil stuffed squid, Pickled Cucumber, Fennel & Onion salad, Mild Curry Sauce”.  Would you have chosen that starter? It’s a blimmin’ first chapter of a book! And omg, it told a story…look at the photo.  We are in a good drinking pub, Irish and dark and warm and friendly.  And then, you get this put in front of you…and your nose is assaulted with flavours ready to be savoured.  Nothing dominated.  Nothing was wasted.  Nothing was added that didn’t need to be.  Just lovely.

Two mains: Pork dopiaza, Tomato and cumin rice, Dhal Makhani, Mango Chutney.  And, Black Lamb Curry, Tempered Cassava, MalayPickle, Pumpkin and Mustard Curry.


Hard to know where to start! Ok. I had the lamb.  And it was black. And it was sumptuously energised by its sauce.  Which the Cassava (looking a bit like roast parsnip, but more floury?), just drank up and enjoyed…and we enjoyed them even more for their thirst! The Malay pickle was honeydew fresh.  The pumpkin – ridiculously scrummy!

The pork? Hit your taste buds less hard, but that softer feel was fun to experience in the one mouthful I was allotted….but that mango chutney was not like anything you have normally had in yer standard place…and that’s the whole point here.

Yes, it’s called a curry night.  Yes, we had lovely eastern background music.  Yes we had too much to eat ( did I add the pudding? Assiette of desserts? Gulab Jamun, Spiced Rim & Dark chocolate Wonton, Passion fruit mousse, Honey Hopper, (like a crispy pancake of honey), Rulag Aluwa. Sorry…forgot…), yes we had too much too eat…in case you forgot where we were…



The Assiette of desserts – Divine!

But you know what? It really wasn’t your standard curry night.  It really was in a different echelon.

Kamal patently is an artist.  A different league.  And lives it. And loves it.  And so do we.

(Please check at the next special curry evening when you try to book.  If my name isn’t on the reservation list, you will have to wait.  Sorry.  It’s my new law….)

Thanks Liz, Ash And team.  And especially Kamal.  Stunning.


Food Gifts

I’m talking about receiving here, not giving.  Giving, we will cover another time!

People have allotments, or growing patches in their gardens. Or a fruit tree. And they are often very generous with their produce!

Our lovely local, The Plaisterers Arms in Winchcombe had some very local plums on the bar last night. A very Lewis Carroll sign pronounced “Eat Me”. So we did. Ash told us they came from next door. They traveled well!

Later, she offered two enormous figs, which were not going to be eaten. We gratefully accepted them. They smelt gorgeous.


What to do with them?

You can see we fancied a starter sized snack.  I chopped them in half.  Added a roughly folded slice of Parma ham between them.  Hiding beneath the other bits A heritage tomato from Mudwalls.  Lovely colour and flavour. Cubes of cheddar – extra mature, and a sprinkling of Parmesan shavings. A squirt of balsamic glaze, some honey, and then cider vinegar drizzled on, leaves from our two week old living salad and a few basil leaves ripped over.  And a few strawberries left over from a cream tea extravaganza.  Squeeze of lemon, and Robert is most definitely your fathers brother.

Thanks Ash.  And next door for growing them.  Just unctuous. Mmmm.


Look. We are a wee town, Saxon origins, in the north Gloucestershire Cotswolds. Winchcombe is gorgeous. Don’t tell anyone, as we want to keep it that way! It feels more village in style, but we have a town hall, so we are a town. That’s it. Not number of inhabitants or churches (although you have to have a church too…and we have a few, and all very very welcoming, with really good choirs and supporters).

And we also have a large number of grand places to eat. Including a very new fish and chip shop. Great pubs with positively excited chefs and proprietors.

And a Michelin starred restaurant.  Amazing and so exciting to be able to walk to this grand establishment, for my birthday lunch, mid June.

It is a lovely and intimate place. Tables that have had a lot of dinners enjoyed on them – they have the patina of positive use. Chairs are like you’d expect with that level of comfortable table…and the rest of the experience is just as huggable.

The photos are just a phone. So cannot really do the presentation justice.  And as we have yet to perfect scratch and sniff on the computer screen (come on Apple – Microsoft is leaving you behind!) – you will miss out on the scents and sniffs and pre taste bud enticement that all great chefs seem to understand – and make happen all the time.



Our bouche was amused..

I want to describe just one part of the meal first. Something we hadn’t ordered. One of those Amuse Bouche things that just appear between your first amuse Bouche (squares of Welsh rarebit but with rhubarb below the cheese which was soufflé like).  This was the coffee cup of leek and potato soup. OK, I know. So what? I will tell you what. Gus had added something I thought was alchemy.  Chive oil.  I realise chefs are already saying ” is that it?” Well yes, it was. It must be based on extra virgin olive oil.  But whatever he does to the chives, they don’t die in vain. The liquid is bright emerald translucent and Jewel like.  It maybe 5% of the volume! but adds 50% to the flavour.  That’s what great touchy freely chefs seem to be able to do.  Get foods and flavours to love each other and amplify each other.  We had a reverential silence. And a thank you to chef. Wow. We had only just begun.

Gus does this fun bread thing – two bread cooked in one tin, on white one brown.  All this means is that you get full excitingly quicker.  Because they are impossible to resist.  And as you have to mop up any excess of the soup, well, churlish to refuse the opportunity?  But it comes with butter. And – oil and balsamic? No, nothing so effete !  Beef dripping! Like what your mum or granny said you had to eat in the war…but not at No.5…If no one told you, you wouldn’t guess the flavour.  As I knew. I sort of guessed, but hey, it was so subtle and so lovely….

Have you worked out yet that we haven’t even got to starters? I have already died and gone to heaven, and now the food we ordered is about to arrive?


Only I dared to have even more courses. Chicken liver terrine.  Just look and weep. Subtle and powerful and zingy in places and still loving the bread…


Now just admire the mains.  I had Guinea Fowl.  J had fish.

Doesn’t really do it justice does it…? OK – “Roasted cod, duck eggpasta, sweet and sour red pepper, braised lettuce, Samphire, pesto”  And mine? “Pot roasted guinea fowl breast, Pomme Puree, Grilled Fig, Oyster Mushroom, Rainbow Carrot, Port Reduction”.

It still didn’t do it justice.  Sorry team!

We finished with Caramelised grenadine Poached Pear and the cheese board between us. And ambled home very, very happy.


The Plaisterers Arms, Winchcombe



The Salmon – cured in Tiger Gin mmmmm!

This is our most local local….so has to be my first blog in Winchcombe! We have eaten out many times here, but we have only fully moved in recently.


Chef often pops out towards the end of service. Kamal has worked in other establishments locally, I understand. There is definitely a fusion of east and west feel to me. During the Home Nations rugby championships, I watched the last game with many Irish and English fans (and Liz serving too many beers to count, was biased towards green as you would expect if you know her). The half time snack, hot dogs with caramelised onion and thick cut chips. But when you bit in, there was a spicy feel. In the onions.  That’s just the style.


I went for both the specials. There is always a special or two. The salmon was cured in Garden Tiger Gin. It had mixed grain mustard Aioli. And just smelt gorgeous as it arrived.  It looked beautiful, as you can see. J had an amazing cheese soufflé. Light with bite, with a mild curry sauce (fusion again, I think we are seeing!). We only had starters, but we had already sent compliments to the chef….



Slow cooked pulled pork

I couldn’t resist the slow cooked pulled pork roulade. Cooked for 6 hours. With creamy mash, black pudding and red wine jus. It also was served with first pickings of Evesham Asparagus. Newly designated Geographically protected named product…and Kamal allowed the ingredients to sing alone, with no fusion of spice!  Again looked lovely, and was so full of variety of texture and flavour. J had the oven baked fish , lemon sole with crushed violet potatoes garlic, caper and lemon butter sauce, and it was grand too! I finished it off, just for research purposes, of course!


Baked Fish looking scrummy….

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