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

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 220 C or 200 C 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?

Perhaps you would like a little more detail?  And something to go with it?  Not unreasonable requests, I suppose!  Well, tune in again later today!

(I am re publishing this blog by request – of Claire, the originator of the panic text!)


Can Men Cook?

OK. Three hours of cooking and washing up…just for once, it felt like being in a professional kitchen.  You know, that horrible feeling of lack of control because you are prepping 5 different dishes.  Only one casualty. A plastic egg slice got too close to the flame…so it is in the bin now.  Otherwise, ok!

Here’s the bits:

  1. Get the beef in beer stew fried off and into the slow cooker
  2. Make the cranberry sauce
  3. Make the Chicken Liver – orange infused – Pate
  4. Wash up….
  5. Make the sage and onion stuffing
  6. Make the Chestnut and Apple stuffing

Beef in beer was easy – just fry off an onion, then the beef (coated in flour and paprika) and a mushroom.  Wash out the pan with London Pride beer.  Add a bit of salt and pepper, Lea and Perrins and mushroom ketchup.  It sitting there now, waiting for us later…will put…

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OK – two stage move to the Cotswolds.  Currently, staying in Cheltenham.  And enjoying some fine dining, and some good pub grub.

We discovered The Royal, near the Church in the centre of Charlton Kings on our first night after moving – recommended by The Charlton Kings Hotel (we were B&B there).  Very tired after the packing, we walked down, and quite frankly couldn’t begin to remember what we ate!  Asleep at 9…but resolved to return.  We did, then booked in for a ‘welcome to new home’ family and friends Sunday Lunch.

(see their web site here)

Eight of us.  One smaller person who can eat more than someone 10 times his age!  And 7 adults.

The Royal

We all went for the Roasts – lamb, beef or pork.  With Crackling.  And extra gravy (M has to have extra gravy.  At home, she always goes last, and finishes it after the same sentence “Everyone had gravy?” – followed swiftly by pouring and glugging sounds!).

Let’s get this Sunday lunch stuff straight here.  It is now the biggest service of the week in most places we go to.  It does vary – from sad carvery, with frozen mixed veg, to pretty presentable, but obviously bought in, to the posh end where chef not only loves what goes out of her or his kitchen, but it always looks good when you get to see it.  This is why you pay £5 a head or £20!  The Royal is not exorbitant in pricing, but is absolutely top end in style, food and ingredient quality and in presentation.

What always makes a difference too are the staff.  The kitchen is semi open.  You can see and hear the hard work – but it is quiet.  And the front of house team?  Just love what they do, are attentive and modern interaction (not old fashioned obsequious and over humble).  Leanne led the team on the day in our section.  And they couldn’t have been better with us and with the little guy.

Cant fault the place.  Great for a drink or a full on 32nd anniversary meal (4 days after Sunday Lunch).  Leanne said to someone else on the staff (I overheard…nosey person) “They were here Sunday…”  Nothing more said – but they obviously want you to keep returning.  And they used raspberry coulis to write a 32 on each of our pudding plates!

Great team.  great food.  Lovely atmosphere.  And yes, we will return!


Traditional Country Pub in Bucks - Xmas Pub Lunches Marlow

Bills Fab Garden

(web site – click here )

OK – we are moving house.  And one of the many hard things to say goodbye to, from our home in Marlow, was to our local (actually, we pass three pubs to get to it!).  The Crooked Billet in Sheepridge Lane, between Little Marlow and Flackwell Heath.

Our last Saturday evening was one of those special nights at the pub. They serve food 7 days a week at Lunchtime – evenings is for drinking.  But they do have occasional food nights – special occasions, like Queens Jubilee, Valentines Day, Bank Holidays and the like.  And, after a day at Ascot Races, the weary (and some squiffy!) coach riders arrive back for an evening of song entertainment and food.

Anita and Bill Green have run the Billet for 30 years now.  A 400 year old building, (Bill isn’t that old, but there are rumours…), one room pub, with an amazing award winning garden.  Will that sort of landlord longevity ever happen in future?  Will this sort of pub survive?  Will we find an equivalent in Gloucestershire?

I hope the answer is no, yes, yes, but suspect the last will be ‘no’.  It’s just such a special place, from Bills jokes (and he can tell them many times, to a new audience every ten minutes…) to Anita’s super home cooking, solidly pub grub – from Chilli, to excellent Lasagne (this is an in joke), to Ham Egg and Chips to Turkey with Chips and Salad – one of my favourites.  We had the English Curry with papadoms on the night – mild, and gorgeous.

“When are you off – not yet, we hope” said Billy as we left on the Saturday.  “We are still packing boxes, but we leave on Monday”, said myself.  “Too soon – are you coming in tomorrow?”

So we got up very early (5;30) raced through the final packing, and arrived at 2 pm, just after the last Sunday dinners were coming out (great value too – and really excellent beef and yorkshire puds, and all the usual roasties…).

We were totally taken aback.  The regulars had all signed a leaving card, and Bill had a framed photo of the pub for us to take away.

It was quite emotional.  And the memory will be cherished.  And we will be visiting back often!


A Big Birthday


60. Just a number.  Glad to join the club.  Your health is centrally important – and to all my friends who are fighting stuff at the moment, I am always thinking about you and am in awe of your positivity.


Janie and me – prior to feast!

Also central to any big celebration – food!  Its why we call these gatherings ‘a feast’.  Well, we feasted!! (That is a word – in spell check….who knew?)

Panoramic 34.  So called because you have panoramic views over my home town of Liverpool.  And it’s on the 34th floor of an apartment block.  You can see miles out over the Mersey to the Irish Sea, and all the towns south of the river, as well as a gorgeous vista over Liverpool itself.

We were an intimate family dinner, and a couple of old friends (“Less of the old!”).  The a la carte menu is worth a look.  We split into 2 camps.  The Scallops and the Pork Belly to start (although my sister had Textures of Beetroot – have a look!).

I had to have the scallops. I do like anything sea foodie – and one of my pressies was a day at Rick Steins Cookery School.  Cant wait to learn how not to overcook a scallop!  They already knew here…I love pea with scallops.  The freshness hits hard.  And cumin foam – so delicate as to be almost not there – rather than overpowering as many are.  Pork belly suited our big meat eaters.  And Keith even ate the caramelised turnip puree – even though it just might have been healthy!  had a bit of plate envy seeing the textures of beetroot…but hey, you can’t have everything, even on your birthday!


Scallops – wish you could sniff them!

Just as all good food should do, silence descended.  Followed by the sigh of many a foodgasm! (That is not in spell check, and I apologise to those of a nervous disposition….).  It really was big, tasty presented stunningly, and smelt divine.



So – mains anyone?  Two main groups.  Beef fillet.  And Pan Fried Turbot.  The Beef – plus pickled onion royale, pressing of potato, heritage carrots and pale ale poached onions.  And my, did that sing.  Just reverential silence.  The Turbot had crab and lemon grass consomme – which didn’t overpower (not like sometimes when I have had the like – some chefs seem heavy handed on the stronger flavour.  I want the fish to be the boss – and it certainly was here). Served with clever simplicity – Spinach and Celeriac and Crab Remoulade (whatever that was, it looked and tasted great!).


Can you almost taste this?  Lovely beef…

Oh, and yes, we did do pudding, after sharing a couple of cheese plates between us first – like the french still do.  I can’t remember what everyone else had (I don’t have a copy of the bill – thanks Janie!). I had to have the Pistachio and Teff Grain bread.  Mainly because I had no idea what Teff Grain Bread was! Pistachio, chocolate, Chantilly cream and chocolate ice cream.  With me now?

What a way to spend a big birthday.  The staff were just superb.  From initial contact through the many changes to the front of house on the night – to the chefs and kitchen gangs – all of the highest quality.

Thanks team – and thanks to all who could join me – and especially to Janie for organising it all.


…yes, it was! x


I’ve had a lot of celebratory meals recently – had a big birthday!  That will be for another post…but for now, some lovely simple stuff, which after much pushing by my wife, I am finally learning to stick to her mantra!


Roasted Ham with honey and soy sauce

So, here we go. This first is cheating. The ham cooks in 50 minutes, and it comes with it’s own sachet of sauce. Can be part of a £10 deal, as this was. (we all know who we mean…). It says ‘serves 2 or 3’. We find with judicious additions of good vegetables, it serves two meals twice for us…Easy to carve, too.  I made the sweet potato, carrot and parsnip mash.  The broccoli in cheese sauce?  Cheated, in oven for 25 mins.  Delish!

Next day? See below.  Second half of the broccoli. Chips, done in the oven (Peel and chip your spuds. 5 minutes microwave on full. Drain. Then,into a baking tray with hot (olive) oil, and sea salt. 25 mins at 180c. Turn a couple of times during cooking). And lovely weather to eat outside.

Tomatoes were a 5 mins in with the chips, late addition.  They warm through, look good as a splash of colour, and taste divine.  Small, vine ripened, and you can taste the difference!

Next?  Fish pie.  £3 for a fish pie mix from a supermarket. This is it just molten – having been 25 minutes at 170c in the oven.  I poached the fish in milk first for 5 minutes.  Used the milk to make a cheese sauce (cheddar plus some fresh Parmesan – adds zing).  I used cornflour to thicken for speed, rather than a roux (Chefs – just stop moaning – it’s not for customers it’s for me and Janie!) Finely mashed potato – slightly overcooked, and more milk than I would use if this was for plain mash.  Makes it lump free easier, and stops it drying out. Used Parmesan and a few dots of butter on top.  I also covered it in foil for in the oven, to stop drying, and then took it off for last 5 mins, to let it brown.

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Just out of the oven

Does that fill the ‘simple enough’ criteria? OK – cheese sauce a bit of a fiddle, but I much prefer knowing what I have put in it than buying a ready made one…And mash is one of life’s hyper comfort foods, don’t you think?





And here it is ready to eat.  And again, we got 4 meals out of this – making it quite a bargain.

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Fish has had mudrooms added…

Looks good enough to eat!  Loved it, and felt quite summery. Again, keeping it simple with just some peas.  As the say “You have to give Peas a chance” (Sorry)






What next? Finally – a simple and wildly exotic salad. Yes, outside again. Just layering the salad to fully cover the plate, add the cooked bits and eat quickly. Healthy, fast and simple!

Happy cooking. And keep it simple.

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Pan fried lamb steak, with large mushrooms mixed salad and balsamic dressing, plus tomotoes

Beef stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff and a few ripped parsley leaves

Yes, and I added a few tomatoes later…

This is one of my standards.  We all have between 5 and 10, apparently, where we do not need a recipe, and can almost do it blind folded!

Just for once, we couldn’t find fillet steak in a small enough pack (sorry butchers, this was a spur of the moment thang…and we only had boring supermarkets to choose from…) So, an excellent piece of rump (the butchers favourite.  It just takes a little longer to cook.

Ingredients: (serves 2)

  • One red onion, peeled and chopped into large chunks – so cut in half, then 90 degrees to that.  Petals of onion really
  • Steak – chopped into caterpillar sized pieces – about 6 to 8 ounces
  • Large flat mushroom – same shape and size as the steak
  • Glass of white wine
  • Half a tub of crème fraiche
  • Salt, pepper, and NUTMEG – unusual but essential for the different flavour sensation
  • Rice to serve with – we use Basmati.  13 minutes on minimum water method.

Start the rice first – 5 fluid ounces of rice (look, I know it’s not liquid, but get your measuring jugs out!).  Put an acorn of butter in a saucepan.  Boil a kettle – you only need haf a pint for this.  Add the rice to the melted butter.  Swizzle it around.  Ad salt, and some (1/2 tsp) of dried powdered coriander if you like it).  Then add 10 fluid ounce of boling water.  Swiggle that around, making sure al rice granules are under water.  Put lid on.  Minimise the heat.  Set timer for 13 minutes (exactly).  Then don’t touch it!

Get the frying an going with a dessert spoon of oil in it.  When warmed, ad the onions.  Let them get to glistening point (keeping them moving) – about 3 minutes.  Add the steak (would do this later for fillet).  Keep it moving for 3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms – swiggle about again.  Another 3 or 4 minutes, add the wine, salt and pepper.  Add the crème fraiche, and the 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. Heat to minimum.  Rice should be ready, so serve it, and the steak mixture.

Recently had this with purple sprouting broccoli – fab too.

It’s one of those dishes that is different every single time, and I don’t know why!

So, what are your ‘turn to’ dishes?  here’s mine:

  • Beef stroganoff (as above!)
  • Spaghetti Bolognese
  • Any Roast Dinner – especially chicken
  • Apple and/or rhubarb crumble
  • Porridge
  • Phil’s oven chips with ham and eggs (and anything else!)
  • Lasagne
  • Sausage Mash and Onion gravy
  • Beef stew and dumplings and mash
  • Beans on toast!!!

I’d love to hear yours…

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