Smoky Chilli Con Carne

Paulo and I have been making our famous chilli con carne for years but this is the first time we tried it on our new Big Green Egg. The recipe already adds smokiness by griddling whole red chillies but using hickory wood chips in the Big Green Egg gave the chilli con carne an even more smoky flavour.

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It’s not essential to have a Big Green Egg to make this recipe so I’ll provide the stove top and EGG versions. However, if you are considering getting a Big Green Egg I heartily recommend it (I’m not getting paid to write that!). It’s more of an oven than a barbecue and can be used year round. So on a crisp winter’s day, Paulo and I donned our Aabelard aprons and fired up the Big Green Egg. They helped keep us warm too!

aabelard-aprons

Aabelard aprons are top quality (again, not getting paid for this recommendation). Made with waxed cotton, double-faced Italian leather (it’s like butterrrr) and antiqued brass buckles, it’s the only apron I’ll ever need and the cross back strap makes it super comfortable. I initially got one thinking that I would share it with Paulo but it became apparent that we each wanted our own apron, so I bought Paulo one in his favourite colour and even got it personalised with his initials. And besides, there’s nothing like a bit of brass and leather to spice up our culinary experiences! Ooo-err!

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We used Big Green Egg’s Dutch Oven but you can use any cast iron pot, even an enamelled one. You won’t need the lid for this recipe.

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Tapas and Wines from Castilla-León with Qué Rico Tapas and Cambridge Wine Merchants, Cherry Hinton Rd – Cambridge (UK)

I’ve been following the events of Qué Rico Tapas for quite a while so I was delighted when I got my ticket to the latest tapas and wine tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants. Estefanía Led Ramos of Qué Rico Tapas is a talented, self-taught cook full of originality and passion. This collaboration of matching regional dishes with Spanish wines from Castilla-León brought out Estefanía’s wonderful creativity.

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The event, held in Cambridge Wine Merchants’ cosy wine bar at the back of the Cherry Hinton shop, featured five tapas and five wines. To kick things off, Estefanía addressed the group and ran through the menu. It all sounded so delicious! I couldn’t wait to see what the dishes would actually look like, based on her description of ingredients and flavours.

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The wine tasting was led by Cambridge Wine Merchant’s wine expert Alice Archer. She took us through the tasting notes of each wine with a brief explanation of the wine producing areas. She even gave us a map of Spain to show us where Castilla-León is located. The talk was light-hearted and informative. We weren’t bogged down with excessive details and had the opportunity to talk amongst ourselves between tastings.

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White Cottage Bakery’s French Breadmaking Workshop – Kingston, Cambridgeshire (UK)

White Cottage Bakery is located in Mark and Helen Underwood’s home, a charming white cottage in the picturesque village of Kingston, Cambridgeshire. Some of the most amazing bread has come out of that little bakery in Helen’s kitchen. I discovered Helen’s homemade bread last year at my local farm shops and I’ve been a White Cottage Bakery stalker ever since. Getting my hands on a fresh loaf is like winning the lottery! That’s because you can’t just pop into the bakery whenever you feel like it. The bakery isn’t open to the public. You need to follow White Cottage Bakery on social media (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) to see what Helen will deliver to select farm shops in Cambridgeshire. Helen bakes the amount of bread she can handle; no mass production there! Even so, it’s a testament to Helen’s passion and dedication to baking that she can produce as much as she does.

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Helen also runs a series of workshops, which are aimed at groups of 4 to 6 people. I had the privilege of attending one of White Cottage Bakery’s full-day courses: the French Breadmaking Workshop, held in Helen’s lovely farmhouse kitchen.

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All of the workshops are taught by Helen, an accomplished (and self-taught!) professional baker with decades of experience. The setting is friendly and cosy, as I was in a home and not a purpose-built cookery school. We were a group of 4 people and we were all made to feel very at home. We were led to the gorgeous dining room for a welcome breakfast featuring tea, coffee, jams and the bakery’s own bread. I especially loved the hazelnut and sour cherry loaf.

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Helen ran through the workshop with the group. We would be learning to make a lot of French breads… pain de campagne, baguette, bâtard, pain d’épi, fougasse and pain de mie. C’est magnifique! We received our own folders with the day’s recipes as well as blank sheets and a pencil for making notes.

As tempted as I was to stay in the dining room and admire all of the lovely artwork and curiosities (there’s even a stuffed badger!), it was time to begin the workshop. With my energy replenished with cups of tea and fabulous bread, I was more than ready and put on my White Cottage Bakery apron.

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Café Rouge – Cambridge (UK)

I’m born and bred in Quebec, the French part of Canada, so I grew up enjoying many of the French classics. When the crisp autumn air set in, I found myself craving comfort foods the French do so well, such as rich soups and stews. I was delighted to discover that Café Rouge have added some new warming dishes to their Autumn Edition menu to help make our farewell to summer a bit less painful.

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I’ve been to Café Rouge before (it’s one of my favourite chains) but never visited the location on Bridge Street in Cambridge. It’s housed in a lovely building with a cosy and charming ambience.

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Paulo and I were greeted warmly and shown to a table by the window. The extensive wine list offered a variety of tipples so we decided to pair our meal with some Prosecco. We were drawn to all of the new items on the menu, which included some of our favourite French dishes.

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My Persian Kitchen Pop Up at Espresso Library – Cambridge (UK)

My love for Persian food comes from my “brutha from anutha mutha” Ali, who was born in Iran. You can imagine my delight when I heard My Persian Kitchen were planning to bring their traditional fare to Cambridge through their new pop up and shared dining experience concept. In fact, the duo behind My Persian Kitchen, Sirous V Naderi and Abigail Plet, are no strangers to pop ups. You may remember them as Workshop Kitchen specialising in French and Italian cuisine, in which Sirous trained professionally. However, it is through Sirous’ grandmother and mother that he developed his passion for Persian cooking.

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Cambridge was definitely ready for something new and exciting. Their pop up at Espresso Library on Saturday, 22 October completely sold out! Attendees ranged from newbies intrigued by the menu to Persians who were proud to introduce this cuisine to their friends.

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Persian cuisine is exquisite and varied so there’s a lot I haven’t explored yet. My Persian Kitchen’s three-course menu included dishes steeped in tradition, made with quality ingredients. The menu wasn’t fussy or complicated but it was a great idea to have a description of the dishes printed in the back of the menu, as well as a brief history of Iran. Reading all about the dishes really helped set the tone for the evening whilst we waited for the food to be served.

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The ambience was welcoming and relaxed, with dimmed lights, flickering candles and a lovely jazz soundtrack. Espresso Library have a nice drinks menu so Paulo and I shared a bottle of Belstar Prosecco to go with our meal.

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Ely Markets Food Tour – Ely, Cambridgeshire (UK)

On 24 September 2016, I had the pleasure of attending a “meet and eat” food bloggers tour of Ely Markets, organised by fellow blogger Alex Higgs who is doing some work for the markets. Alex was accompanied by Ely Markets representatives Julia Davis and Lisa Quin and took us on a 3-hour tour, sampling the delights of the food and farmers markets.

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Saturdays are real foodie days at Ely Markets, especially every 2nd and 4th Saturday when they hold the Farmers Market in conjunction with the Food, Craft & Collectables Markets. The Market Square has a food aisle every Saturday, which includes excellent street food and other food traders. I was impressed by the quality and variety of food stalls. I will definitely return on a Saturday morning to do some foodie shopping! Paulo drove me to Ely (just over a half hour drive) but the market is also easily accessible by train. Parking was so easy to find, especially in the morning. The short stay car park has free parking for 4 hours, which allows plenty of time to wander the markets. If you want to spend more time in Ely, then the long stay car park is best.

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We tasted and nibbled our way through various delicious food and drink stalls and by the end of the tour I was happily stuffed!

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Lagona – Cambridge (UK)

There’s a welcome addition to Mill Road in Cambridge and that’s Lagona, a new Lebanese restaurant offering good, reasonably priced food. The location used to house Jaffa Net Café but now it’s a bright, cheerful restaurant that includes a separate shisha area at the back, if that’s your sort of thing. A little something for everyone… to me, that’s what Mill Road is all about.

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Lagona opened fairly recently, in July 2016, and judging from the steady stream of customers, word has already gotten out that this is a must-visit. They don’t have a website [update: they do now] and have very little social media presence so their custom is basically all word of mouth. That’s a good thing! I recommend this place for a casual, relaxed lunch or dinner. The portions are generous and service is friendly and helpful.

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We did encounter some minor problems but not anything that would deter us from returning. I believe the issues stemmed from being rushed in the kitchen, perhaps due to it being busy that evening. I have to say that the staff were excellent in dealing with our complaint and quickly rectified the issue. More on that later.

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Double Truffle Tagliatelle

I love truffles… the subterranean fungus, that is (although I’m quite partial to the chocolate sweets). I had the pleasure of meeting Will Bailey of Truffle Face, a Cambridge-based importer of high-quality affordable truffles from Orvieto, Italy. I interviewed him for Flavour, Cambridge’s food and drink radio programme (podcast here).

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Will even made me a truffle-laden lunch… The Ultimate Truffle Grilled Cheese sandwich (recipe here). What a treat!

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As we talked all things truffle, I couldn’t resist purchasing a pack of Tagliatelle al Tartufo, made by artisan company Margió, based in Umbria where Truffle Face source their truffles. I knew the tagliatelle would be tasty as the truffle is baked right into the pasta. You can actually see the yummy bits. All of Truffle Face’s products, such as truffles, pasta, cheese, oil and condiments can be purchased through their website.

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Camino – King’s Cross, London (UK)

Amid the new restaurants cropping up all over the King’s Cross area, Camino has remained steady and true. It’s a chain, but one that has maintained high standards and quality despite its multiple locations. There are currently four restaurants in London (King’s Cross, Bankside, Monument and Blackfriars) plus two bars (Copa de Cava specialises in cava and Bar Pepito in sherry). In fact, Bar Pepito is adjacent to Camino, both tucked away in Varnishers Yard in The Regent Quarter, a short walking distance from King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. Unless you are “in the know”, you could be forgiven for overlooking it. Its charming location in a hidden courtyard feels like a world away from bustling London.

Camino Exterior

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Camino’s interior is all brick and wood, with stunning circular roof lights letting in the sun’s rays. The place is well laid out with a sweeping bar and tables that are close together but don’t encroach on personal space. Lively music enhances the cosy ambience but doesn’t overpower it. Service is welcoming and friendly.

Camino Outside

Camino’s focus is on authentic tapas from all over Spain with a slight bias to the north as Executive Chef Nacho del Campo hails from the Basque country, widely recognised as the gastronomic heartland. Call them tapas or pintxos… either way they are supremely delicious. The menu features all of the better-known favourites such as patatas bravas, tortillas and croquetas but there are some other fantastic dishes for the more adventurous. All of the tapas go extremely well with Camino’s impressive drinks list featuring the best in wine, beer, cider, brandy, sherry and cava from Spain as well as gin (both Spanish and British) and cocktails with a Spanish twist.
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Tortiglioni with Tomato and Aubergine

Aubergine, eggplant… however they’re named, I just love them. Unfortunately, Paulo “not so much” so we hardly ever used them in our cooking. I knew I had to find a compromise and this is it! It’s a dish for those who don’t like aubergine, but I’m convinced it will convert all aubergine-haters. Once they’re fried, they have a meaty texture and any bitterness is eliminated.

Pasta Norma in pan

This recipe is basically what’s known in Sicily as Pasta alla Norma. It’s a famous dish named after the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini. Its flavours are definitely a work of art! The pasta shapes vary but I prefer a sturdy pasta, such as tortiglioni or rigatoni, to take on a sauce this thick and chunky.

The Sicilian way is to top the pasta with ricotta salata (salted ricotta) but it can be tricky to find. It’s a saltier, aged version of soft ricotta. Good substitutes are salty cheeses such as feta or Pecorino.

My version of Pasta alla Norma is quick and easy but still delicious. One day I will travel to Sicily and experience the traditional recipe!

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