Sunday, 30 December 2012

Chorizo, kale and mushroom pasta

After a Christmas comprised of sheer gluttony and wild food adandon, my thoughts have turned, true girl style, to my waist and those flabby bits that have appeared on my upper arms, which are commonly known as 'bingo wings' - with that in mind my post Christmas eating has become somewhat restrained, hence the inspiration for the following recipe.

Packed with kale and mushrooms it's full of much needed nutrients like essential B vitamins, which, coupled with the garlic/onions are great for your immune and circulatory system (both which could do with a massive boost at this time of year); the wholewheat pasta keeps you fuller for longer and contains fibre to 'ahem' deal with the meat overload that's rotting in your gut and the sprinkling of chorizo/parmesan adds extra flavour and a feeling of indulgence without too many extra calories/sat fats - but if you're being super keen, just leave these last two out.

I'm using mafalda corta as the pasta here - it's not the best for this type of dish, but a) I had it in and b) I really like how it looks/feels - the philosophy behind this restrained eating is to make it as pleasurable as possible, so you don't feel like you're cutting back (when you most certainly are). In this recipe use the very best you can afford, therefore packing a full flavoured punch to keep your mid-winter post-Christmas-restraint-blues eating interesting.

Chorizo, kale and mushroom pasta

serves two - prep five min - cooking 15 min


 - 75g chorizo (not cooking chorizo though you can use it here if you prefer), cubed - try and find an iberico bellota ring, it's more expensive, but tastes much better and the meat is much higher quality
 - 1 small onion, finely diced
 - 150g wholewheat pasta, I used mafalda corta, but feel free to use any wholewheat pasta you like - I would say use a good quality brand like Napolina as some basic lines of wholewheat pasta are very worthy/soggy/awful
 - 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
 - 1 pack of cavolo nero (about 150g), rinsed - can use normal kale, but cavolo has a better flavour/texture
 - 2 portobello/large chestnut mushrooms, sliced
 - extra virgin olive oil
 - sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
 - parmesan, to garnish
 - cooking olive oil as/if needed


1. Put a frying pan on a medium heat and immediately add the chopped chorizo - adding it to a cold pan and letting it heat up with the it will cause the paprika spiced oils to melt out in to the pan, adding loads of flavour. Put a full kettle on to boil.

2. Once the oil has come out a little, add the onions and cook until soft. After a three minutes or so, add the garlic and keep stirring every now and again to stop the onions/garlic catching - you may need to add a splash of cooking olive oil if not much is coming out of your chorizo (it's a natural product, so each one varies). Whilst the onions and garlic are softening, put the boiled water in a large pan and add a generous pinch of salt.

3. As the water reaches a rolling boil (ie very fast and bubbly), add the pasta and stir to stop it sticking on the bottom - make sure you keep the pasta on a fast boil and stir every now and again. Cook to the packet instructions, but a minute or two before the end of the cooking time, test to see how done it is - you want it al dente (slight bite).

4. Whilst the pasta is cooking, cut the mid-ribs out of the cavelo nero and slice finely - add these to the frying pan. Keep stirring to stop the onions/garlic sticking. Cut the leafy bits of the kale in to fine ribbons and set aside.

5. After a minute, add the mushrooms to the frying pan - mushrooms absorb all the tasty juices, but also make the pan very dry when they are first added, so you may need another splash of cooking olive oil, just to stop the onions/garlic catching.

6. In the last three minutes of the pasta cooking, add the reserved kale leaves to the pasta water and cook with the pasta.

7. Drain the pasta/kale in a colander and add back to the cooking pan (minus the water). Keep the pan off the heat and dress the pasta with a sprinkle of sea salt, a good grinding of pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add the contents of the frying pan and stir through the pasta.

8. Divide between two bowls, check the seasoning and grate over some parmesan - if you use a fine microplane, you'll use a lot less cheese and it will be more of a seasoning than a fattening additive (which is the idea here).

9. Enjoy your healthy food, without cutting back on taste or essential nutrients. Bon appetit.

Ps The meat and cheese in this recipe are merely seasonings and not the main components of the dish, so if the amount of these looks small in relation to the pasta/veg, that's how it's meant to look!

NB this recipe is also on the cheap side, great for restrained wallets as well as restrained diets.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Chocolate, Cherry and Almond Bread Pudding Recipe - Booths Cheers Secret Mission

If someone sends you some free booze with a ‘Secret Mission’ envelope strapped to it, what do you imagine is in there? Booze related nudity? Tequila based humiliation? A night in the cells/hugging the porcelain/day off work?

For the last few weeks I've been joining Booths (that wonderful Northern 'grocery store' and purveyors of fantastic produce) and other bloggers on Twitter to taste and discuss booze selected for us by Booths. It's been a fun way to meet new people, up my wine tasting skills and makes me feel like I'm not really drinking alone in my house mid-week (I'm with Twitter people, it's not alone!). This week Booths threw down the gauntlet and sent us bloggers a secret mission as well as the usual booze consignment.

Where all the cool kids have been hanging out!
The booze in question was a bottle of Crofts Indulgence Reserve Port and the secret mission was to create the ultimate comfort food to match it. Oh and to top it, for this mission I’d be pitting my creation against a recipe devised by Linzi from Lancashire Food. A competition? Competing? Going head to head? How could I say no to this? (Please don’t ever attempt to take me to a pub quiz or play board games with me, you have been warned).

I got the old grey matter working and, in the name of pure gastronomic/recipe research, got out the port glasses (ok, Moomin water glasses) and got my tastebuds on the case too – team effort, well done body! This port has a big berry nose and this translates down to the mouth; I was getting plums, cherries and currants with a bit of a chocolate note – little thinner than an LBV, but actually very good considering this is about half the price of an LBV!

The booze we're drinking this week - my picture was rubbish, Booths very kindly took a good one!

Initial thoughts were to run with the whole stilton, port and nuts thing – very classic, very Christmassy, very comforting and some big flavours to match the port. However, that chocolate back note got me thinking – I like to sup port in the evening, or after dinner, often after pudding AND I LOVE CHOCOLATE. How about I make a big comforting pudding that would match perfectly with the port? Shazam! An idea formed… (and then I went in to the kitchen, made it, ate it as soon as it came out of the oven and have subsequently received third degree burns in my mouth for my effort in bringing you amazingness. I am such a martyr for my art...).

Chocolate, cherry and almond bread pudding –

Serves 6 – 30 min prep, 30 min stand, 30 min cook

(Please note, I made this as a 2 person and scaled up, however I have made the recipe for plain old chocolate bread and butter pudding from this recipe before, so know it works for 6. It’s a tinkering of a Delia recipe I based my plain choc one on, which I now use all the time – good old Delia!)


• 9 slices of day old white bread, crusts removed, cut into triangles (the white sliced loaf from the supermarket bakery works well, the pappy packet stuff just tends to disintegrate)

• 250g dark chocolate

• 75g butter, unsalted – plus extra for buttering the bread/dish

• 425ml whipping cream

• 4 tbsp amaretto – or a few drop of almond essence if you want to omit the alcohol

• 110g caster sugar

• 3 large eggs

• Half a jar of pitted morello cherries in syrup, drained and cut in half

• 100g whole almonds

• Cream or custard to serve

• Shallow 18x23cm dish (mine's a few cms off this and it still works well)


1. Lightly butter the inside of the dish and each side of the bread.

2. If you are naughty like me – put the butter, cream, 150g chocolate and sugar in a pan on the LOWEST heat possible and melt them together. Stir when you see the chocolate and butter melting so the chocolate doesn’t burn. Take off the heat and stir all the ingredients together and then stir in the amaretto.

3. If you are a good girl then put the sugar, butter, amaretto, 150g chocolate and cream in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and don’t let the bowl touch the water. Take off when melted and stir to combine.

4. In a big, separate bowl whisk the eggs. Pour the chocolate mixture over the eggs, whisking as you go.

5. Put a 1cm layer of the chocolate mix in the bottom of the dish and then add a layer of bread triangles overlapping each other (use half your bread triangles for this). Pour over half the chocolate mix and use a fork or spoon to press it in to the bread and make sure every slice has a covering of chocolate custard.

6. Dot the reserved 100g of chocolate and the cherry halves all over this layer in a random pattern (or you can do it in exact lines if you have pattern OCD like me).

7. Add the remaining bread in overlapping layers and then spoon the remaining chocolate sauce over – again pressing and making sure each bread piece is covered in the sauce.

8. Cover with cling film and leave to stand for 30 mins on the work top or in the fridge. Whilst it is setting turn the oven on to 180c to warm up.

9. Take off the cling film and put the pudding in the oven for about 30 mins, it should be a bit crispy on the top and squidgy in the middle. Check after about 20 mins as the chocolate can sometimes burn and no one likes that taste! If it is catching, cover with a layer of tin foil/baking paper until it is ready.

10. Whilst the pudding is in the oven, put a heavy based frying pan on a medium heat. Once it is hot, add the almonds and toast till they are brown. Keep an eye on the as the oils in them can catch easily – you want them to be a nice golden brown. (You can do this in the oven at the same time as the pudding if you need to hob for other things; I just like keeping an eye on them on the hob).

11. Chop the almonds till they are slightly fine, but still with a bit of texture – you don’t want sand! Take the pudding out and dress with the almonds.

12. Serve warm with custard, cream or ice cream and a good measure of port.

Christmas Sparkle Hamper - Hampergifts

I love a good hamper – the pleasing creak of the wicker, the anticipation as you undo the sturdy leather straps, burying your hands in the oodles of filling to find the unknown treasures contained with in – and you can even use the hamper again once you’ve gorged on its innards.

I used to receive a hamper every year, however I’ve left that job and I know longer work for an employer who a) has a very small workforce and b) who believes sending us home on Christmas Eve with a bulging box of goodies is a worthwhile allocation of resources (you work for a charity – and no, the charity is not your belly – ed); so when Hampergifts asked if I’d review one of their hampers, well how could I say no?

How the hamper arrived

The Christmas Sparkle hamper is basically every accoutrement you’ll need for Christmas day; it would be great to take along with you to whomever is hosting you on the big day, or a good stock of things to send a house- bound grandparent or someone who’s celebrating alone.

My itchy little fingers pulled out three bottles of booze (and you know I like my booze) – a Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and a Crème de Blancs (ie a French sparkling wine made to the traditional method but outside of the champagne appellation). To line your tummy from all the booze there’s also posh pheasant pate and award-winning crackers, with mustard and chutney – you just need to supply the cheese.

What about sweet stuff? Don’t worry there’s a one person brandy pudding and a hefty wodge of Christmas cake. Not into the traditional sweetmeats of Christmas? There’s shortbread tails, fancy matchmakers (dark chocolate, mint covered things – may have eaten them as soon as the hamper arrived), perfumed Turkisk delight, toffees to pull out your dentures and a bag of fudge and raisins to keep the young folk quiet whilst you locate the spirits to dull the noise.

Everything you get - bar the Turkish delight, which I ate just after the chocolate sticks

And Hampergifts have also thought about the morning after – supplying bitter marmalade and strong ground coffee to slap you out of the post-Christmas Day booze food haze. How thoughtful!

Oh and there’s also a generous supply of nutmeg (with handy grater), because it’s illegal to have Christmas without nutmeg. FACT.

So how much is one of these hampers? It’ll set you back £84.95 – but considering you a) don’t have to go and shop for these things and mingle with OTHER PEOPLE b) the booze alone would set you back around £25 to start with c) you get it delivered so there’s no stress and d) you can use the hamper again (mine now has craft supplies in it, gee I sound so exciting) – it’s pretty good value. And it is Christmas after all.

Hurry, you’ve got mere weeks left to send a Christmas hampers from Hampergifts to granny! Just visit their site to get one.

Ps Hampergifts do a full range of gorgeous hampers, so there’s one to suit every budget .

Please note I was sent my hamper gratis but was not under any obligation to say nice things – I just liked what came in the box and had a few good days pretending Christmas had come early.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Umezushi - Manchester

Umezushi, Manchester’s newest sushi restaurant, has been on my radar for a while after hearing pleasing murmurs from a variety of sources. I’m a Japanese food lover and Manchester’s a little thin on the ground for great places to eat this type of food (Yuzu excepted), so as you can expect I went with my heart in my mouth and my tastebuds eager to be pleased.

Umezushi is hidden away in a railway arch at the top of Mirabel Street (by Victoria Station; I foresee them snaring me quite often on my commute home, damn them) – a small, simple, striped back interior ensures your whole concentration is focused on the balanced exactness that is the mainstay of Japanese food and which is recreated perfectly here.

Umezushi - the little hidden gem

And what food! A main gripe of mine about (now) living away from the sea is the lack of fresh fish – don’t get me wrong, restaurateurs in Manchester have access to an amazing market at Smithfields and at some places the fish is spanking fresh, trouble is it’s usually cooked (and I have a perchance for raw…) – still, many places are serving up flabby, rubbery, slimy lumps of fish I would think twice about cooking, let along snarfing down uncooked. Not at Umezushi; all the fish we had was tip top – firm, clean and plenty of iodine. To keep tastes fresh and of super quality, Umezushi has adopted an ever changing daily menu to reflect what’s best at market each day; often full of seasonal, British produce to boot.

To start, we were given a dish of homemade pickles; sweet, slightly sharp, with each piece of veg still retaining a satisfying crunch. Dishes come out when they are ready – so don’t go to Umezushi when in a massive rush, the food is prepped when you order it to ensure it’s super fresh, so there’s a little (but welcome) wait.

Fresh and clean - sweet little homemade pickles

Umezushi keeps things simple – you choose your fish first, then how you would like it prepped; sashimi, handroll, nigiri, maki etc, or you can leave it to the gods (well, chef) and chose the house selection. We ate buttery brill, softly melting sea trout, rich tuna, a lightly pickled horse mackerel and the rarest, most succulent slice of fillet beef. Only small issue is the rice, it’s slightly loose – much better than the claggy puddings you get elsewhere, but just a tad difficult to get in my mouth (I’m not the neatest of eaters in the first place, so a little assistance would have been appreciated).

Thing of beauty in taste and looks - brill handroll

To accompany the sushi (and to fill me up) we ordered miso (hot, salty and not minging = good), light as a feather tempura and, on the back of the success of the pickles, some homemade kimchee – a great wall of heat, relived by a sharp pickle slap, followed by that unmistakable fermenty fizz; if you can stomach spicy fermented brassicas then definitely order it as it’s some of the best I’ve had in Manchester.

Tiny tuna portion - was worth every little bite

Umezushi is a fab little find, I was in two minds about writing this up as it’s such a hidden gem with such limited space that I want to be able to get in when I next visit – however it’s so perfect that you need to know and of course, I need them to carry on trading! The food is exquisitely put together, the produce as fresh as can be, the staff are the perfect level of friendliness and it’s a comfy little bolt hole – the only (very tiny) negative is that portions are small for the price, but as I’ve said before, I’d rather have quality over quantity and you get simple quality by the bucket loads here.

Price for seven sushi plates, one miso soup, one kimchee, one tempura and two beers - £40.24

Food – 8/10

Atmosphere – 7/10 (we were there very early, straight after work)

Service – 9/10

Value for money – 7/10

Total – 31/40

Go again – Yes. I plan to become a regular. Maybe even with my own chair and special nod to the chef who just whips up his best/freshest/newest thing and hands it to me without a word (stop fantasising – ed).

Umezushi, 4 Mirabel Street, Manchester M3 1PJ – 0161 8321 852 –

Umezushi on Urbanspoon