Tuesday 29 March 2011

New Online Cookery School Directory: lookingtocook.co.uk

Dear Artichoke followers,

I hope that you still find this blog is a useful resource for seasonal food. Please see below for exclusive details of my new venture - www.lookingtocook.co.uk - you are the first to find out about it. Lookingtocook.co.uk is the only site on the Web that offers independent reviews of the best cookery schools and courses in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The website currently has more than 80 reviews of cookery schools that are easily searchable by region, course type and cost. For example, learn how to make artisan bread in a clay oven in a Birmingham back garden or Michelin-starred dishes at the home of Jean-Christophe Novelli. New reviews are added weekly and are also searchable by an interactive map. There is a news section featuring the latest openings and cookery events, and competitions, discounts, giveaways and kitchen gadget reviews coming soon. 

It's a work in progress but I'd love to hear your feedback on any ideas or tweaks that could improve the site, about any cookery schools that we've not covered or upcoming cookery events that you'd like me to feature. 

You can also follow me at www.twitter.com/lookingtocook. I'm going to offer a prize of some new cookbooks to one lucky Artichoke follower who has spread the word and followed Looking to Cook either on the website or Twitter by Good Friday April 22nd.

Bon cooking,


For more information: Email lookingtocook@gmail.com

Monday 8 March 2010

In brief season: blood oranges

In season around now, blood oranges are the most elusive of citrus fruits. They appear briefly for a few weeks each year with unpredictable timing.

The fruit’s name comes from its garnet flesh and scarlet juices. It derives its colour from anthocyanin, a pigment more common in red fruits and flowers. Fuji and Red Delicious Apples, for example, owe their dark red skins to the pigment.

The most popular varieties are Tarocco (grown in Sicily), Sanguinello (Spain) and Moro (US). Blood oranges have a sweet taste with a hint of summer berries. They are best enjoyed eaten alone, freshly squeezed in juices and in desserts, bearing in mind that the colour dims when baked or heated.

Alternatively, a few segments add a rosy hue to a salad of grilled tuna, chicory or fennel, finely sliced purple onion and a strong vinaigrette or serve alongside warm cooked beetroot with a sherry-inspired dressing. For a simple finale plate try slices of blood oranges with Manchego and toasted almonds.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Baby leeks

In France, baby leeks are considered the poor man’s asparagus. Sweet, oniony and tender they can be braised in a pan in a little water then, while they are hot, dressed on a plate with a good vinaigrette and crumbled with sheep or goat’s cheese and cracked pepper.
Alternatively, soak 4 small leeks in cold water for 15 minutes, melt 2 tbsp butter on a heavy skillet then add the wet leeks – cook for 5 minutes then add a quarter cup of chicken broth and 1 tsp lemon zest. Braise leeks, covered, for 5 minutes, or until very tender, and season with salt and pepper.

The chef Jean-Christophe Novelli uses baby leeks in a quiche with poached salmon and blue cheese. They also work well in a frittata with sorrel, or mixed in with a soft-textured polenta topped with Parmesan cheese.

A Johnson Family Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009, South Africa (£7.98; Asda) is a crisp and zesty white that knows its onions.

Monday 1 March 2010

Britain's newest vegetable: the flower sprout

Britain has a new vegetable. Perfectly named to bridge two seasons – winter and spring - the flower sprout is a cross between a Brussel’s sprout and kale.

Cultivated by British growers in the Cotswolds, this new vegetable is coloured purple and green like kale but tastes more like sprouts. It is best eaten steamed or as part of a stir fry (marksandspencer.co.uk).

Purple sprouting broccoli is also in season now, bringing colour to plates and a sign that spring is just around the corner. Buy it in handfuls at farmers’ markets for best value and look for stalks that snap cleanly.

To make a tasty side dish of sprouting broccoli with garlic breadcrumbs heat a knob of butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add 1 garlic clove, finely chopped, and after one minute 50g fresh breadcrumbs. Fry for three more minutes until crisp and golden. Cook the broccoli until just tender in salted water. Drain and serve scattered with the garlic breadcrumbs.

Perry - is it going pear-shaped?

Perry, or pear cider, slipped into decline more than 150 years ago when farmers replaced pear trees with shorter cider apple trees that stood up to the wind and didn’t take as long to reach maturity.

That said, in the name of artisan produce, there has been a renewed interest in proper perry pears and more trees are being planted. Perry pears are not eaters, they have a harsh acidic taste but produce a sparkling drink that ranges from “gin bright” to golden in colour with a fragrant hedgerow aroma and a happy balance between tannins and the sweetness of unfermented sugars on the palate.

The winner of CAMRA’s recent National Cider and Perry Championships 2009 is Broadoak Perry of Clutton, Somerset, which was picked from 20 perries from around the country and declared “a lovely, drinkable perry with a true pear aroma that starts with a medium sweet taste and is followed by a dry finish.”

Runners up were Seidr Dai, Painted Lady Perry, from Glamorgan and Gwatkin, Blakeney Red from Abbey Dore, Herefordshire. Gwatkin’s Yarlington Mill also won gold medal for best cider.

Banh mi - London's sandwich du jour

Tired of the same old sub, sandwich or panini? Currently budging over the burrito for London’s hottest ethnic street-food is the banh mi, a Vietnamese snack that’s arrived here via New York.

Not for the faint hearted, the banh mi (pronounced "bun mee") consists of a baguette made with 50 per cent rice flour to ensure that it's light and crispy, lined with homemade mayonnaise and pork liver pâté, then filled with Vietnamese salad of carrots and daikon (white radish), thin slices of cucumber, coriander and chilli, and finally, a generous helping of slow-cooked pork.

The bread and pate element are a legacy from the French occupation of Vietnam in the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet somehow the combination of sweet, salt and sour flavours hits the palate’s jackpot.

Try banh mi at Mo-Me market stall at Spitalfields, Caphe House on Bermondsey Street; Loong Kee Café on Kingsland Road, Shoreditch; Viet Baguette in Fitzrovia; Banzi in Surrey Quays; Café Bay in Denmark Hill, and the Banhmi11 stall in Broadway Market.

Sunday 1 November 2009


Now is the time to be eating pomegranates, a so-called superfood with a leathery skin and fragrant sweetsharp juice that has been used in Central Asian and Middle Eastern kitchens for centuries.

There are about 800 juicy seeds in an average fruit which is high in vitamin C, antioxidants and iron.

A generous sprinkling of the ruby-red pomegranate seeds adds a festive flavour to a whole range of dishes from starters to desserts. Try the fruit capsules with a warm duck breast salad or Shaun Hill, co-owner of the Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, Wales serves a winter salad with pomegranate, pine nuts and chicken livers.

As well as adding a fruity kick to muesli or hoummous, pomegranate seeds go well with other Middle Eastern ingredients such as honeyed almonds, dates, rose water and lemon juice. Crushed with ice they make a refreshing and good-looking base for a number of aperitifs - Jamie Oliver whizzes up a pomegranate and gin cocktail shot in his early tome Jamie’s Kitchen. For a seasonal toast, try floating fresh pomegranate seeds in champagne, sparkling cider or ginger ale


Leeks have been lurking for centuries in our regional dishes such as cock-a-leekie (made by simmering beef with a capon, leeks and prunes), Welsh mutton pie and Cornish leek pie.

Small and medium sized leeks are best for cooking as they tend to be sweeter and more tender than chunkier ones. To clean, remove the outer leaves, the tough green tops and stringy root. Cut along the length of the stalk, halfway through, and put into a bowl of water; swill around a bit so that any dirt will be washed out of the leafy layers.

Try shallow frying leeks with a pinch of thyme or tarragon, some shredded spinach, and grated carrots or beetroot. Lightly blanched leeks can be baked with ham in a cheesy sauce or added to salads and pair well with seafood.

The Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, voted best regional restaurant in Wales according to Hardens 2009 restaurant guide, serves poached leeks cold in a mustard dressing with shavings of parmesan and black truffle. Chef Shaun Hill recommends an unoaked Louis Jadot Nuits-St.-Georges pinot noir for its jammy farmyard flavours.

A simple leek and potato soup is a good match for a glass of rose. Eyes peeled then for ex-footballer and winemaker David Ginola’s soon-to-be released Coste Brulade, a rosé from his Provencal vineyard, which won a silver award at this year’s International Wine Challenge.

Quince upon a time

Forgotten member of the apple and pear family, the quince is an ancient fruit native to the warmer climes of southwest Asia.

Quince trees are now relatively rare in Britain but Norton Priory, in Cheshire, oversees the national collection, protecting more than 20 varieties.

Although the trees are aromatic, the fruit is bitter and hard when eaten raw. When cooked, however, quinces release a sweet, fragrant flavour. They also contain pectin, which make them ideal for jams and jellies.

Norton Priory hosts a quince festival this weekend with tours, tastings and recipe demonstrations (nortonpriory.org). Like Spanish membrillo, the jelly is best eaten with cold meats and Manchego cheese or used in fruit tarts with apples. Quinces poached with sugar and lemon juice are a good match for Greek yoghurt and honey or a soft goat’s cheese.

Bramley and Gage produce a quince liqueur (£11.64; bramleyandgage.co.uk), that won “best drink” in the Taste of the West awards last year. This home-grown version of a dessert wine has aromas of dates and figs and uses the pear-like “vranga” variety grown at Clay Barn Farm in Essex.


Gusty early November is the perfect time to go gathering nuts. Rule number one for nutty foragers is not to confuse edible chestnuts with conkers. A wild sweet chestnut is one third of the size of most conkers with a pointed end.

Chestnuts differ from other nuts in that they have a high starch and water content, but low protein and fat levels, so they can be dried and ground into a meal for breads, batters, cakes and stews.

The majority of chestnuts available in supermarkets are from Europe rather than Britain, so look for home-grown chestnuts at farmers’ markets.

If you don’t have a toasty open fire, remove the prickly green husks, make a small incision in the chestnuts (so they don’t explode) and “roast” them in a dry frying pan for about 10-15 minutes. Make that two minutes if you’ve got a George Foreman-style grill contraption.

Use fresh chestnuts in risotto, mash or stir fried with Brussels sprouts and pancetta. They work well roasted alongside game and root vegetables, as a stuffing for turkey and pork or to give a savoury-sweet autumnal stamp to a chocolate torte topped with spiced pears.