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

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…

Janie is always extorting me to embrace this basic truth.  “Shall we have another veg with this?”  “I think the vinaigrette needs something along with the other 9 ingredients…” . “I’m sure we should have some nibbles while people are arriving – oh, and how about if I did some Chicken Liver Pate too – and maybe I should make some Soda Bread too?”

OK.  I know.  It’s not just showing off.  It’s a basic panic over-reaction, in a just in case anyone starves – it won’t be at my table…

Not very confident, really?  You should trust to simplicity!  Maybe more people would cook from scratch then?

It does help if you start with top notch ingredients.  We were visiting our friends who have just moved to Winchcombe in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds.  We knew we were only having a light, soup level lunch.  So we popped into the local butchers, and grabbed a couple of pork loin steaks (being a butcher, they were cut from a joint – not cut two days ago and shrink wrapped…).

And yes, they were fab!

We had some Courtenay carrots (the little fat ones) – scrubbed, topped n tailed, blasted for 1 min in the microwave, then roasted in butter and olive oil at 170 in our fan oven. Added a bit of honey with 5 mins to go – they love it…

Small new spuds – again, just scrubbed and boiled.  Bit of butter and a pinch of  sea salt crystals.  Done!

I did the steaks slowly in a small frying pan.  Added a couple of mushrooms, some salt and pepper and a sprinkle of oregano.  The mushrooms bled a bit of dark – so when they were all cooked (about 12 minutes) I chucked in a glass of white wine.  And that made the sauce you can see below. Will try to keep keeping it simple…

Just fab, in 30 minutes

Just fab, in 30 minutes



Left over Phil

“We’ve had leftovers all day”. It felt like an accusation from Janie it wasn’t. It was a comment based in fact. And actually good taste – both eco and money wise, as well as in the tastiness of the food.

I did counter that at least our morning porridge wasn’t recycled!  Having said that, it was leftover led all the way from then on!

Lunch was simple. Half a pot of bought in soup (sorry, expediency does happen sometimes, midweek when you are desperate to have something quickly. Some seem quite good to me!). Adding some lemon juice, a bit of watering down, and a mushroom or two…and two day old bread (microwaved to revive it, as it was dried out). Plenty for lunch – and we managed a pud too. Left over from yesterday of course. Thanks Karin! Cold and with a bit of left over cream, a fabulous lemon soufflé .

Dinner? It had to be built around two sausages, kept in fridge last two days after cooking on Sunday. Just too good to miss. I chopped them into very small bits. Fried off a shallot ( just love their sweet power, but not their hyper lacrymating effect), a few almost wrinkly dark chestnut mushrooms, chopped finely, a few bits of old basil leaves (last day of an aged plant). Garlic, dried mixed herbs and a bit of lemon juice and Worcester Sauce. Threw in a few tomatoes, and tomato purée and Bob is your veritable uncle.

We had it with linguine. And of course, some grated Parmesan. Just love the warm glow that happens for what feels like a pretty free meal. Just do it more. You know it makes sense!

£700 per family – £12 billion a year in UK


I think Jamie Oliver’s Food Waste Campaign is spot on.  His web site has many ‘how to use leftovers’ tips, as well as how not to create too much in the way of leftovers in the first place!  See it here – click on the blue bit!


The website by-line does hit the mark here:

“Good food simply prepared well”

Visit the web-site, and you will see lots more, including the sample menus.  And you will wish your screen had scratch and sniff buttons.

First, we need to get back to the basics – before we go anywhere near the food!  What makes eating out a pleasure?  Ambiance? The team who serve you?  The style of greeting?  The décor?  Janie always says that the best decoration a restaurant can have is customers.  The Plough certainly have them.  And they also have people who work there who love what they do. The owners (the usual perfect set up of chef proprietor, and partner who is head of front of house) – Richard and Louisa set the tone and style.  Everyone was attentive on our two visits of the week.  They all know and love what they do.  And the food reflects that.

Meal one was after our long, dog-legged journey to get to our week long break.  So we were ready for the soup course (I broke my January fast with beer here – it was always planned!).  So, two pints of soup later, I was more than ready for my Moules, this time cooked in local cider (The fabulous Cornish Orchards – about 800 metres from the Plough).  Also, sweated leeks rather than shallots.  It was- considering this was my 3rd bowl of mussels in a week – just spot on.  Every mussel was fully open – like they should be – and sadly, sometimes aren’t.  Without asking, extra bread arrived for the essential mopping up of the unctuous liquor.  Janie commented how quiet I had become.  I go from garrulous to quiet gourmand when the food is this good….

Keeping it simple – J just wanted good old fashioned Steak dinner.  It was Sirloin – and medium here was just cooked through (like it is meant to be).

They know their suppliers well too, obviously.

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And now, the last night. We ate our way through most of the specials board… we shared a starter.  Scallops.  Just look at them.  None of these sea creatures died in vain.  Each would have been quite proud of the way they had been treated I feel.  J commented that they were perhaps the best she had ever tasted.  Shared?  OK – I muscled in (see what I sort of did then?) and had 3 of the 4. Jane was saving herself for the Smoked Haddock…and I followed fish with fish – OK – Gratinated Crab is not quite the same as Scallops – but I was certainly fished out by the end!  As was Janie – but just look at the food below…

And then silliness took over.  We were full – but had a fun dessert – Fangelico Affogato.  Translates as ‘flooded’.  Lovely local ice-cream, with a cold espresso to drown it in, and an Almond based liqueur to either drink with or pour over too.  (I originally wrote ‘purr’ – just a Freudian slip…).


We did photograph it – but too late – just emptiness and mess…sorry.  But we are not sorry to have found this gem of a place.  You cannot hide enthusiasm and being a food fan.  The team at the Plough don’t.  And neither will you.


The pudding just wouldn’t wait to be photographed…





Cote, Eton

We were having a committee ‘thank-you and get to know you better’ meet up.  As we are Windsor Speakers – part of The Toastmasters group of clubs (Worldwide, American originally, aiming to improve Public Speaking confidence and leadership skills), we met just over the bridge , on the Thames, the Eton (or Slough Comprehensive) side.


Dean – excited at the offering!

There’s more to Eton than the school.  Parking is a nightmare – because the school roads take up about 50% of the available spaces.  I bet they don’t own them, just make out they do…very annoying.

It got worse.  Jeannie, our chairman, runs an Event business.  She is good at organising stuff.  Cote weren’t.  We were 8 people.  They put half of us on one table, miles away from the other 4.  And we didn’t find each other for 25 minutes.  So a half 7 start, became a 9:30 main course.

Jean has much experience of sorting stuff like this. And she assertively (Geordie, little, sharp and feisty – and hates lack of professionalism) told the maître D just as it was.  When stuff goes wrong – in any organisation – the mark of the business is how they fix it.  Complaints are golden nuggets to improve from.  And they did sort it well.  Free starters, some bubbles, free bottle of wine and other nibbles meant the final bill – all dry, no wet – was remarkably small.  Well done to the team here.  Well led, well rescued.  And he put his best waiters – most experienced – onto our table.

Do you know, after that the food was actually excellent.  We have one colleague who is French and Italian extraction.  She ordered steak tartare as a starter.  Dean joined her.  Brave. He managed – but it looked hard!  Ironically, his lamb was served very rare (after asking for medium – but sorted quickly too) – so we assumed he had become a little hyper carnivore almost in the Vampire sense.  Once re-done – his lamb was really tasty and succulent – looked good.


Just scrummy Mussels…mmm!


Simple stuff was great – one had fillet steak, another home made fish pie.  Cassoulet created plate envy from me.  But I had Moules Frite – just one of my favourite meals (OK – I was still garlicky on Sunday from the Friday night – but hey…).  And they brought a hunk of bread to dip into the stunning creamy liquor after I had scoffed the mussels.  And the skinny chips – easy to do wrong – but these were immensely hot, steamy and crisp – and not overdone (as seems to happen a lot).  Loved it!

All too full to eat pud.  But we did.  A big fight over ice creams.  The chocolate puds looked to hit the spot (Tony was very quiet indeed – and didn’t offer it around for tasting…).


Lamb – pre re cooking!

It is a restaurant chain – yes – but feels franchised?  The staff resurrected what could have been a bad start going down hill very well.  And we had a rare old time (Somewhat too rare for Dean, at first!)  It is in a great position, right on the river – and has many fun, higgidly-piggidly, interconnecting rooms.  I will go again – but park in Windsor and walk over the bridge next time.  Worth a visit…

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