Monthly Archives: January 2011

Supper menu w/c 31st of January

Can’t believe next week is already the end of January 2011 …

It feels like it’s been a long, grey and cold month, but we’re doing our best to cheer you up with delicious, warming & nutritious meals to ward off colds, flu and worse!


Gnocchi alla Romana with a chunky tomato sauce, rocket salad 


Spiced lamb meatballs, rice ‘n beans, pilli-pilli sauce


Chinese-style noodles with tea-marinated salmon, sugar snap peas & toasted sesame seeds


Griddled chicken thighs with lemony Puy lentils, wilted spinach and minted yoghurt


Salt cod & sweet potato fish cakes, red pepper sauce, watercress salad


Winter minestrone with parsley-walnut pesto,  wholegrain multiseed bread


Coconut turkey breast fillets, chilli & thyme roasted butternut squash, green beans

“How I cook” by Skye Gyngell

How I cook

How I cook is an original collection of over 100 recipes by award-winning chef and food writer Skye Gyngell.

It’s a book dedicated to the simple pleasures of home cooking: delighting, nurturing, others through food – with an ease, generosity of spirit and unprentiousness that are so typical of Sky’s approach to food.

In this, her latest book, Skye reveals the secrets of how she cooks at home for friends and family.

Her home cooking is influenced by the seasons, recipes are straightforward and use ingredients that are easy to obtain, with useful tips on techniques, flavours and sourcing the best. 

The book is filled with inspiring meal ideas: from breakfast, to seasonal Sunday lunches, a moveable feast for eating alfresco, an elegant and easy afternoon tea to simple late night suppers and suggestions for a birthday celebration.

Recipes that caught my eye include

Easter cake: a not-too-sweet cake from Bologna decorated with candied orange slices

Oeufs en cocotte with spinach & Parma ham

Gratin of white beans to serve alongside roast lamb, or slow-cooked belly of pork

and Skye’s ideas for “time to spare” cooking: edible gifts, marmalade, cordials …

The book is illustrated with beautiful, evocative pictures shot by leading photographer Jason Lowe.

Sky Gyngell

 Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries Cafe in Richmond.

Skye’s cooking at Petersham Nurseries has won many awards and last week the cafe was awarded its first Michelin star – and rightly so!

Located in what can only be described as a shed (spacious, light and furnished, but definitely a shed), it’s the sort of place where you’ll see the chefs popping out of the kitchen to pick herbs from the garden: rustic simplicity perfected. Dirt floors, rickety furniture and food grown in the gardens or bought directly from tiny organic farms all over Europe are laid-back but o-so chic.

Weather pending, this has all the makings for an ideal Valentine’s treat …  a relaxed meal, prepared with love, in a romantic location.

The restaurant is currently closed and will re-open on the 2nd of February.


One of the true seasonal cheeses, Vacherin becomes available in December, heralding the start of Christmas eating. By February it will be gone for another year.

So, if you’re quick you may be able to lay your hands on a Vacherin Mont d’Or (the Swiss version) or Vacherin du Haut Daubs (the French version made with unpasteurised milk).

A small cheese, 400g, serves 8, a medium-sized cheese, 800g, serves 10-12 as a cheese course or snack.

Left-overs, once the cheese has been warmed, are still edible the next day but the taste  texture won’t be quite the same.

I like to serve the cheese as part of an informal meal, with small, boiled potatoes and cornichons, or with drinks accompanied by a spoon, some walnuts, grapes and good bread.

To warm the cheese, pre-heat the oven to 160C.

Slice a lid from the Vacherin.

Add any of all of the following: a glug of white wine, slivers of garlic, a sprig rosemary or thyme.

Replace the lid, wrap the cheese in foil and replace in its wooden box.

Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is warm and soft to the touch, but not oozing out of the box.

Allow an extra 5 minutes for a medium or large, 1.2kg, cheese.

Dinner menu w/c 24th of January


Mushroom and chestnut Stroganoff, served with quinoa


Italian baked pollack fillets with potatoes and green olives, tenderstem broccoli


Rose harissa chicken thighs + roast butternut squash, Savoy cabbage


Spiced cauliflower, spinach and eggs, wholegrain basmati rice with toasted almonds


Griddled mackerel with salsa verde, braised Puy lentils and green beans


Penne with Chianti baked Aberdeen Angus meatballs, chunky tomato sauce, rocket salad


Honey roast chicken, lemon + rosemary potatoes, curly kale with horseradish

Dinner menu w/c 17th of January


Baked pancakes with spinach, mushrooms and Gruyère, balsamic roast tomatoes


Baked salmon on leeks, anchovy-parsley vinaigrette, boiled Charlotte potatoes


Spiced, griddled chicken thighs with preserved lemon yoghurt, purple sprouting broccoli, basmati rice


Chinese style noodles with shitake mushrooms, mangetout + toasted sesame seeds, fried duck egg


Pan-fried trout fillets in an oat and mustard crust, roast beetroot salad, chive creme fraiche


Honey roast chicken, lemon & rosemary potatoes, curly kale with horseradish


Moroccan lamb tagine with chickpeas and prunes, served with bulghur wheat

Kitchen cupboard detox

Cooking from the cupboard?

With a well-chosen cooking “wardrobe” + a few fresh ingredients it’s easy!

Here’s how I do it. 

Shopping list

Here is my list of essentials that make up my basic “cooking wardrobe”, with fresh, seasonal ingredients as the dynamic accessories that provide colour and texture.

When shopping for fresh ingredients, think of your fridge and freezer working alongside the cupboard: together, their contents are your cooking must-haves!

If you have a well stocked cupboard, fridge and freezer, then cooking a fresh & delicious meal from scratch will be so much easier and more of a pleasure!

The list below reflects what works for me: feel free to edit and add to it in keeping with the kind of meals you like to eat.


Dried pasta

Thin: linguine, spaghetti, angel hair. Great for thin or oil-based sauces. Particularly suited to seafood and simple, bold flavours like lemon, chilli, garlic and herbs.

Short: orecchiette, macaroni. More dense than the thin pasta and ideal for chunky vegetable sauces such as broccoli. Can also be used in soups and broths.

Wide: pappardelle, ziti, fettucine. Best with robustly flavoured sauces: cream or tomato or meat based.

Round: penne, rigatoni. The wide shapes are easily coated with sauce and excellent for holding it. Also make a great base for baked pasta dishes.


Basmati: long grain and fragrant. Its low starch content means the grains stay separate after cooking. Particularly suited to Indian foods or dishes with a similar spice base.

Short grain: a great standard rice for a multitude of sweet and savoury dishes. Unlike long-grain rice, has no distinctive flavour. The grains just stick together after cooking.

Arborio, carnaroli, vialone: grown in the Po valley in Northern Italy, these types of rice contain more starch than other types and will withstand long, slow cooking. As the rice cooks, starch is released which gives risotto its creamy texture.

Jasmine: fragrant and slightly perfumed. Delicious with Chinese, Vietnamese, or Thai-style dishes. Rice contains enough starch to keep the grains together after cooking, making it easy to eat with chopsticks.


Egg: wheat noodles which have been enriched with egg. They come in varying thicknesses. Cook in boiling water before mixing with other ingredients

Rice: made from ground rice and water, these noodles need to be soaked or boiled before being used. They come in varying thicknesses.

Wheat, ramen, soba: tend to be similar in thickness as spaghetti and require boiling in water before being added to a stir-fry, soup or broth.

Grains + lentils

Cannellini beans and chickpeas: canned beans make a fantastic base for a simple meal, soup or salad. Simple drain, rinse and add at the end of the cooking time so they retain their shape and texture.

Lentils: red lentils take only a few minutes to cook and can add texture and volume to stews and soups. Du Puy are small and green-brown to blue with an earthy, nutty flavour. They can be simply boiled, mixed with olive oil as a side dish and complement meat and fish equally well.

Couscous: made from semolina and wheat, the grains vary from medium to coarse and have a very mild taste. Cook by soaking in hot stock or water until swollen.

Bulghur wheat: similar to couscous but with a nuttier flavour and more knubbly texture. Boil in hot water or stock until the grains have soaked up the liquid.

Quinoa: pronounced “keen wa” is a tiny seed used as a cereal for more than 5,000 years. Regarded as a sacred food by the Incas who called it “the mother seed”. Provides one of the best sources of vegetable protein and its flavour is comparable to couscous. Cook like rice.


Dried: they are generally not a substitute for fresh herbs, but some varieties are better dried than others. Only use dried herbs in cooked dishes, never in raw foods such as salads. Use a quarter of the amount of dried herbs as you would use fresh ones. Store cupboard basics: rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, bay leaves and tarragon.


A mixture of ground and whole: they are essential for flavouring food. Buy the nutmeg whole and grate it as you need it rather than buying pre-ground. Keep some cinnamon sticks as well as ground cinnamon for flavouring compotes and tagines. Good quality sea-salt is a must for its purity and flavour.

Ground cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, saffron, ginger, sweet and smoked paprika, black peppercorns, sea salt.


Canned tomatoes: good quality tinned plum tomatoes are preferable to inferior, tasteless fresh ones out of season. Choose a good brand.

Olive oil and olives: use a good quality olive oil for frying, and an extra virgin single estate for drizzling over soups, bruschettas and to dress salad. It is a seasonal product and when first harvested and pressed in November has a completely different taste and colour. Choose firm, unblemished olives with a good colour and wash before use if preserved in brine. Kalamata olives from Greece are my favourite for their strong, salty and distinctive flavour.

Capers: small and green, they are the buds of the caper bush and can be bought packed in brine or salt. Rinse well before use.

Tuna: for maximum flavour, choose canned in olive or sunflower oil over brine. The only tuna not listed as endangered is skipjack. Trawling for fish using nets puts dolphins at risk of getting caught. Check labelling on cans to ensure it contains “dolphin friendly” tuna.

Anchovies: salted or tinned, which are very different in character, but both are useful melted into a sauce to dress pasta or vegetables.

Balsamic vinegar: is grape juice boiled for a long time then transferred to wooden vats for ageing for up to 50 years for the most expensive. The older the vinegar, the darker in colour and the more intensely sweet.

Harissa: a hot and spicy Middle Eastern chilli paste that traditionally accompanies couscous. Use sparingly to add flavour to tagines, sauces or a simply griddled piece of meat or fish.

Dijon mustard: the smooth and wholegrain varieties are both medium-strength which makes them good all-rounders for dressings, marinades and sandwiches.


Soya, fish and oyster sauce: these salty sauces are essential for Asian cooking. Soya sauce is made from fermented soybeans, varies in intensity and sweetness and also comes in a reduced salt variety. Fish sauce has a pungent aroma, but the taste is addictive!

Sweet chilli and hoisin sauce: these two offer sweetness with a subtle kick. Ideal for stir-fries and marinades or as a dipping sauce.

Rice wine: or “shao hsing” has a mild taste. You can use medium or dry sherry instead.

Sesame oil: adds a unique taste of toasted sesame to vegetables and other foods. Use sparingly as a flavour maker not for frying.

Thai red and green curry paste: the red paste is made from ground red chillies, garlic, lemon grass, ginger and fermented shrimps amongst other things. The green variety includes coriander and green chillies. Keep in the fridge once opened.

Miso paste: this very thick paste is made from fermented soya beans and rice. It has a nutty flavour and is a bit salty. Generally the darker the colour, the stronger the miso.

Coconut milk: pressed from the kernel of ripe coconuts, this is a mainstay of Asian and Caribbean cooking and can be used to flavour curries, soups and desserts. I use the reduced fat variety without any loss of taste or eating quality.

Sambal oelek: a paste made from fresh chilli peppers which can be used as a convenient substitute for fresh chillies.


Flour: stone ground plain (white or brown) flour for bread making and soft wheat flour, sold as plain or self-raising flour, for cakes and pastry making. Plus cornstarch for thickening sauces and for baking, in combination with other flours, to give a finer texture.

Cocoa, minimum 70% chocolate and vanilla: remember, the better the quality the better the flavour! Use vanilla extract instead of vanilla essence and use a vanilla stick to flavour sugar for baking.

Almonds and coconut: ground almonds produce a buttery flavour in baking when mixed with flour. Coconut is readily available dessicated (dried and very fine) or shredded. Both are high in fat, and make cakes and biscuits moist.

Baking powder, bi-carbonate of soda, cream of tartar: are all leavening agents. Baking powder, out of the three, has the mildest taste and leaves no residual flavour.


Honey: made by bees from flower nectar and stored in their hives in a maze of waxy honeycomb. In general, the darker the colour the stronger the flavour. Any mild coloured honey is suitable for baking.

Sugar: white, caster and icing sugar are all white sugars with a different texture. Brown, dark brown and Demerara sugar all have residual molasses that have not been removed during processing and which gives them a caramel taste. Buy fairly traded products where possible.

Blackstrap molasses: is a natural sweetener with a rich, bittersweet taste. It is a good source of minerals and vitamins and the flavour enhances many dishes including cakes, chutneys and stews.

Date syrup: made from the juice of fresh dates, it’s got a distinctive sweet-sour taste.

Jam: can be used to make a quick dessert as well as eaten on a piece of toast.



Natural yoghurt

Single cream or crème fraiche

Butter: unsalted

Chunk of Parmesan

1 other cheese you love: goats cheese or a piece of blue cheese for example.

Tub of ricotta: if you like fresh cheese, but be aware that it does not have a long shelf life and needs to be eaten fairly quickly once you have opened the tub.

Coffee: freshly ground or beans which you grind yourself as and when needed; best kept in an airtight jar for freshness.


Peas: frozen can be superior to fresh, unless very recently picked

Soya beans: soya protein can help maintain a healthy heart but make sure its non-GM.

Berries: as I write, I still have two plastic bags of blackberries waiting to be turned into a apple & blackberry crumble or whizzed into a nutrient packed smoothie with some natural yoghurt, seeds and tablespoon of oats.

Tub of good quality vanilla ice cream: goes well with fresh fruit and most desserts

Stock: make and freeze your own into an ice cube tray or buy in tubs. A “must” as a base for soups and quick meals in a bowl with pasta or noodles.

And …

Eggs: medium, free range organic

Tea: I keep a few different types, loose and teabags, black, green and herbal to suit different moods and occasions

Marmite: love it or hate it?

Good luck with sorting out your kitchen cupboards: I bet once you’ve got a good store + system going, you’ll never look back and will find scratch cooking + shopping so much easier.

As always, I am keen to hear your comments!


Monique x


Supper menu w/c 10th of January


Curried quinoa with winter vegetable pilaff with toasted coconut


Baked buttermilk chicken with a herb crust, honey + mustard sauce, Roseval potatoes and tenderstem broccoli


Ricotta, Parmesan and spinach gnocchi with a chunky tomato sauce, watercress and toasted pumpkin seed salad


Griddled lamb leg steaks with roast vegetable bulghur wheat, minted yoghurt


Baked lime & mint trout fillets with cucumber basmati rice, edamame beans and toasted sesame seeds


Chicken thigh fillets baked with cannellini beans, tarragon, white wine and creme fraiche, served with January King cabbage


Fragrant beef tagine with rose harissa, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, served with couscous

How not to get Fat: your daily diet

How not to get Fat: your daily diet

As I am writing this review, I have listened to Radio 4 Woman’s Hour on diets and the diet industry with, amongst others, Arabella Weir who has struggled with weight all her life and whose latest book is called “The real me is thin”.

From listening to the introduction to the programme, where women recount the many and varied (mad) diets they have tried, it is abundantly clear that although many of us know more about food and nutrition than ever, diets don’t keep the weight off (diets have a 97% failure rate!) and as a nation we are generally becoming fatter.

I have also watched Channel 4’s documentary “Britain’s Fattest Man”  which looked at Britain’s most desperate cases of overeating and the nation’s rising tide of obesity: at 57 stone, the 49-year-old Paul Mason is the tragic object of tabloid scrutiny, logistical nightmares and extreme medical measures. One thing is for sure, there is no dignity for the super-obese!

Of course, it is hard to relate to extremes, but Paul Mason wasn’t born fat. He grew fat, and fatter and fatter still.

Dieting is big business: worth £2.6b in the UK alone.

We believe fad (read “quick fix”) diets will quickly deliver the desired weight loss and the concept of “healthy eating” has become a muddled term. “Weight management” and “nutrition” are often confused as  a diet based on food choices focused on nutritional content can still lead to weight gain.

So, if you are among the millions of people for whom day-to-day-dieting is a way of life, what now?

The Author Ian Marber

Ian Marber, also known as The Food Doctor , believes there is another way to eat.

One that enables you to manage your weight, promotes energy, reduces hunger and still provides the good nutrition you require.

This is what his new book “How not to get Fat: your daily diet”, due out on the 11th of January, is about.

I must state here that I have never been keen on The Food Doctor’s ready meals and salads: they lack imagination, look “messy” in their plastic containers and every single meal has been generally sprinkled with mixed seeds.

Bit I do rate Ian Marber, MBANT Dip ION, regular contributor to leading magazines and publications, prolific writer, founder and principal consultant at The Food Doctor Clinc and his no-nonsense approach to nutrition.

In his latest book, Ian Marber takes us through the basic science of how food becomes energy, in particular glucose management, how much glucose different foods create and their effect on your energy levels and how soon after eating you feel hungry again.

This section is excellent: it explains in layman terms how food is turned into fuel by the body’s digestive system. In particular, Ian explains glucose management, which is such a vital aspect of weight management, in detail.

In my work with clients at SavvyCook and children and parents at SavvyKids I am very aware how confused many people are about food and what constitutes appropriate eating.

Earlier this year I wrote in this blog about glycemic index and glycemic load in an effort to demystify glucose management and to explain some simple facts about how the human body works as well as offer tactics to manage bloodsugar levels.

Ian Marber goes on to apply the understanding of glucose management to knowledge of other food groups, fat and protein.

A vital concept in the daily diet is always to eat protein and complex carbohydrates together and to eat every two and a half to three hours, starting every day with breakfast.

The book then goes on to provide information on 50 typical healthy foods you might choose to eat, including advice on how to choose, buy, prepare and cook these foods and offers over 200 suggestions on how to turn them into easy but appealing meals and snacks.

I was pleased to see a wide range of ingredients described, including some less well-known grains, pulses, different kinds of meat and a wide range of vegetables. More information about provenance and seasonality under “what to look for” would have been welcome, although I appreciate that in the context of this diet these factors are largely irrelevant.

The recipes + meal suggestions are imaginative, practical and should be easy to follow by even not very confident cooks.

I liked the dry roasted chickpeas with chilli, cumin and cinnamon snack suggestion, curried quinoa and vegetable pilaff with toasted coconut and braised steak with olives, tomatoes and orange zest.

Suggestions on batch cooking are included plus ideas on what to do with left-overs.

I am no fan of freezing food: domestic freezers are not really equipped to freeze food really fast so no ice crystals are formed in the process. More often than not, the eating quality of a previously frozen meal is compromised as a result.

Nuts and seeds play an important role in “the daily diet”. One of the ultimate convenience foods, seeds are an instant way of adding protein, fibre and “good” fats to a dish.

I was surprised not to read a recommendation to grind the seeds to make the absorption of the nutrients by the body much easier.

In the final section of the book, Ian shares a number of food planners, including his own (!), based on different ages, circumstances and lifestyles.

The food planners aim to show you how easy it is to follow the plan. You simply work out which case study most closely resembles your situation and use the food planner as a blueprint that you can adapt.

All in all this book is an excellent addition to the plethora of books on weight management already on the shelves – and perhaps on your shelf if you are among the millions of people who have happened to gain weight and are considering a(nother) diet?

I like the fact that the focus is on understanding the science of turning food into fuel, the effect of glucose on your body, energy levels and mood, not calorie counting, and the importance of eating little and often.

Naturally, as with anything in life worth having, eating well does take time, thought and effort.

Not having the time to eat well is not an excuse in my, or Ian Marber’s, book! Time, or lack of, is an issue for all of us, but this a question of priorities and eating well does not have to be complicated.

I’d like to finish here with a delicious recipe for French leek and onion soup, with the novel addition of a poached egg over which the hot soup is ladled just before eating.

French leek & onion soup with poached eggs

Serves 4

This is what you need:

3 tbsp sunflower oil

2 fairly large onions (about 350g total weight), halved and sliced

2 large leeks, well-washed and sliced

4 tbsp quinoa

1 litre strong beef or vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

freshly ground black pepper

4 eggs

85g Gruyère or Cheddar, grated

This is what you do:

  1. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick, saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and leeks and fry, stirring until they begin to soften and colour, for about 4 minutes. Then reduce the heat as low as possible, cover and cook very gently for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, turn up the heat and fry, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until golden. Stir in the quinoa.
  2. Add the stock, the bay leaf and some seasoning. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  3. Pre-heat the grill. Break the eggs, one at a time, into a cup and slide each into the simmering soup. Simmer for 2-5 minutes, depending on how well-cooked you like your eggs. Carefully lift out the eggs with a slotted spoon and place in 4 flame proof  soup bowls. Don’t worry if there are bits of egg white left behind. Ladle the soup over.
  4. Cover the top of each bowl with the grated cheese and place under the grill until melted and bubbling, about 3 minutes.

Bon appetit!