- NEWS & ACHIEVEMENTS -

2011
Delicious Magazine Recipe Feature Recipes published in Princes Trust Charity 'Trusty' Cookbook Guest panellist on UKTV Food's 'Market Kitchen' Recipes published in 'Come Dine With Me Special Occasions' book Blog named as a "Media Must-Have" in Jan & Feb issue of Olive Magazine

2010
Launch of Sabrina's one-to-one private cookery tuition Guest critic on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' series finale Organised Top Chef Charity Banquet for Haiti raising £70,000 for 'Action Against Hunger' Seasonal Food & Recipe Writer for 'Blue Tomato'

2009
Winner of Channel 4's 'Come Dine With Me' (West London) 'Bronze' winner in professionally judged 'AA Home Cooking Competition 2009' Appointed resident cookery columnist for Foodepedia

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Friday, 27 November 2009

CHRISTMAS IS COMING ~ AND ITS NOT JUST THE GOOSE THATS GOING TO GET FAT!!!

As Christmas draws near, the stress of planning my meals on different days is getting to me. Why? (I hear you ask) Well, I'm on a diet. Yes... diet. Ughhh, I hate that word. But where does that put a food loving home cook like me? To be perfectly honest, i'm in hell... or something a lot like it. But the idea is that i shift some much needed poundage in time for Christmas, because inevitably (and whether you like it or not) the holidays are the season for over-indulgence and weight gain for the whole family. No one person is safe! So cutting back right now is the most sensible thing i can do for myself in anticipation of Christmas... and do it, i shall!

Christmas Day is pretty much sorted really. After years of slaving away for the best part of 8 hours over a traditional turkey with all the trimmings, my family felt is best to confront me (en masse) that they would really rather have rib of beef. I was mortified! Mortified at the fact that they didnt tell me this any earlier! Turkey is ok, but i can live without it and the 8 hour cooking session that comes with it. My lovely rib of beef means that i spend just 3 hours in the kitchen doing prep on Christmas days and get to spend time with the whole family as well as factor in some cooking time with my beloved nephews Cyrus, Darius and the latest addition to the family Cass.

I have decided to host an "Orphans and strays" day at my house over the Christmas period, where my friends are welcome to drop by and hang out with me, anytime through out the day either for lunch or just a quick glass of wine and a festive treat. So, these festive treats… What to cook? Hmmm… It has got me thinking. I want to be able to make trays of oven ready treats and I have recently discovered that ready made refrigerated pastry is the best friend you may have when you are in a pinch, especially over the Christmas period!

Having recently been ‘saved’ by a pack of puff pastry, I decided I will recreate that magic in miniature for guests arriving on my day for strays. I drew my inspiration for a delicious vegetarian option that I whipped up for one of my oldest friends Denise, who sadly (she’ll kill me) suffers from incurable vegetarianism. I made a wonderful puff pastry tart of mushrooms and thyme with a smidgen of cream and garlic. She said it was one of the best things I had made for her, despite its simplicity, it spurred me on to make it part of my regular repertoire of dishes for both veggies and carnivores. So here is the recipe for you;

Quick n' Easy Woodland Mushroom Tart

1 pack of ready-rolled puff pastry sheet (from the fridge section of supermarkets)
400g of mushrooms (I used 300g of Chestnut & 100g of Chanterelles)
3 stems of thyme
3 garlic cloves
2 long (or 3 small) shallots
150mls of double cream
Knob of butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
1 egg
Oven-proof paper

Lay your pastry onto an oven-proof paper lined baking tray and using a knife, gently mark a border around the perimeter of your pastry, about 1 ½ inches away from the edged. Do NOT cut the pastry, just score it lightly to create an edge around the centre that you will fill with your mushroom mix.

Finely chop your shallots, garlic cloves and thyme and wash, dry and slice your mushrooms (doesn’t matter what size they are, as long as they are sliced relatively thinly) and toss them into a preheated pan over a high heat and sauté them with a knob of butter and some olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and once the mushrooms are cooked through, turn the heat source off and move the pan away from the heat. Then stir in your cream and allow the mixture to cool down for about 15 minutes.

Beat your egg and using a pastry brush, glaze the border of your pastry well with the egg and that way, when the tart is done, the pastry edges that are exposed will be nice and glossy. Pour the mushroom mixture into the centre of your pastry and spread it out evenly within the scored line border and bake in the oven according to the cooking instructions on your pastry pack. (Which should be about 20 minutes on 220) and voila! Tasty mushroom tart… done!
~ ~ ~ ~

Don’t like mushrooms? They don’t stick to mushrooms. Using the scored pastry mixtures, take a jar of pesto and spread a generous layer of it across the pastry (within the border) and then dot with goats cheese (or mozzarella) black olives, sundried tomatoes and any other vegetable you like until the centre area is covered. Or how about making a sort of puff pastry pizza? Use passata or plain tomato sauce, topped with some of your favourite cheeses and pizza toppings… Delicious. But you don’t have to stick to savoury toppings, you can use fruits, chocolate, nuts and all kinds of things to make your ideal tart! Just experiment, don’t be afraid! It could be the key to stress free entertainment for Christmas!

Watch out for more helpful, speedy Christmas tips to ease the stress and strains of cooking over the festive period!!!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The "Matthew Walker" Christmas Pudding Challenge

A girl like me is always up for a challenge. My competitive streak is one of legendary proportions and nothing gets my juices flowing like a competition, where I can be creative and something I can inject a little flair and personality into… and this is one such competition.

The lovely people at Matthew Walker Christmas Puddings set a challenge to food bloggers to come up with a creative and unique recipe, using their famous Christmas puddings and that’s just what I did!

Ever the carnivore, I felt I had to do something that would work well with the sweet fruity pudding and what better meat to use than pork… that is commonly paired with fruits such as apples, prunes and apricots creating the perfect marriage, and so pork had to be the one for me.
To make my rolled fillet of pork stuffed with Chritsmas pudding, Sage and Parma Ham... I cut my pork fillet lengthways through the middle and flattened it out to make one even ‘sheet’ of pork. Using 8 thin slices of Parma ham, I lined the meat, then formed a long sausage shaped length of Christmas pudding and placed it in the centre of the Parma Ham. Carefully, I wrapped the Parma ham tightly around the Christmas pudding, then topped with sage leaves. Then I wrapped the pork meat around the Parma ham and Christmas pudding stuffing and tied it tightly using string.

I sealed the meat in a hot pan with some vegetable oil and a knob of butter, ensuring all sides are browned lightly and then straight into a preheated oven on 200 degrees for about 20 minutes. Ensure you allow the meat to rest for 5 minutes (covered in foil) and then remove string and slice into thick medallions. I would recommend serving this with roast potatoes or even creamy mashed potato. Delicious and WELL WORTH trying!

Monday, 2 November 2009

RESTAURANT CONFIDENTIAL


Grrrrrrr!!!! Nothing frustrates me more than poor service in restaurants and hotels. Unnecessarily arrogant and condescending mannerisms that should, quite frankly, get thrown out with the trash as far as I’m concerned. Eating out is the social lynchpin of business and private life alike and therefore deemed necessary, at times. So what worse way to spend an evening with a client, friend or date, than to be patronised by some jumped up, wet behind the ears, accent-laden, barely-older-than-myself waiter. One experience I recall, took place at a well known Italian eatery in London's exclusive Mayfair called Cecconi’s was precisely this. Although I must just inform you that I am nobody’s fool, especially when food is concerned and have ‘served my time’ in the industry, so I know exactly how to assert myself in order to instil efficient and courteous service in those who have served me.

“So, Lady… The special of the day is Tagliatelle… You know Tagliatelle? Iz-za flatta’ ficka’ pasta, justa like spaghetti but made with eggs…” His instant assumption that I was completely new to the concept of Italian food annoyed me greatly, but when you are with other people, you learn to bite your tongue. “And then this pasta comes with the sauce of ‘Amatriciana’, which is made with…..” (Interrupted) “Pancetta, chilli & tomato” I said, finishing his sentence and landing a look of severe shock on his face. He backed away with his tail between his legs and unsurprisingly service improved greatly, and the formerly patronising individual, became humble and attentive as he should have been in the first place. Despite my cool exterior, I was ever-so-secretly basking in silent victory. My clients were in absolute hysterics adding “Well he’s not going to forget you in a hurry!” But I mean come on… Tagliatelle? One of the most popular pastas in the world!

I believe everyone deserves a second chance and therefore he got his 15% service charge, which he had to step up the pace and work hard for. But forgiveness should always be a one-off, in every possible scenario in life, it should not become a regular fixture. Repeat offenders need not apply and if you are SO arrogant that you refuse to even acknowledge, let alone accept that you have done something wrong, then you can go ahead and “Kiss my Tagliatelle” – Catch my drift???

Having spent nearly 12 years in the hospitality industry I would like to share some inside knowledge with you and hopefully answer some of the most frequently asked questions as well as dispel some of the many restaurant-related myths that circulate;

1) Service Charge – It doesn’t always get given to staff. Often it is just a greedy restaurateur’s trick to coax the diner into giving them an extra 10%-15% to add to their profits. A way to get around this whilst ensuring your server receives their tip, is to give a cash tip, making sure service charge is struck off. However it should also be said that most respectable restaurants do give 100% of accrued service charge to their staff, which is the proper practice and of course just as it should be.

2) Chefs hate accommodating changes and substitutions to their carefully thought up dishes. This includes catering for vegetarians and those with food allergies and dietary requirement of any kind. Doesn’t matter how nice you are about it, they still see you as a pain in the ass. They will deny it, of course, but having worked with enough of them over the years, I can inform you that you are the single most annoying thing to a Chef when he is cooking for hundreds of people. Allergies & intolerances aside, if you can avoid making changes, then do, because flavours are married together intentionally to create an overall masterpiece. Most Chefs have very precious egos and cannot handle criticism or change of any kind to their skillfully created masterpieces. So if you are an over-cooked meat and potatoes person, then perhaps you should consider your next culinary destination more carefully.

3) Waiters and Chefs do not spit in your food - Just because you have been deemed a 'difficult customer'. This is a ludicrous thing to even think of, as you could be an incognito food critic or journalist and they would be nothing short of foolish to exposing this kind of behaviour, so it is not even worth it doing something as risky as this. HOWEVER this only applies to the high calibre restaurants… so if you are thinking of heading to your local pizzeria to make trouble, I would suggest you be very careful!

4) Wine pairing - There is no formal etiquette for selecting wines and if you don’t genuinely have any objections and are open to recommendations, then by all means consult a sommelier or manager for a good recommendation. DO NOT allow them to intimidate you into thinking you know nothing about pairing wine with food. Nobody can understand your palate, except you. Red wine is now acceptable with fish and some reds are greatly improved when served at lower temperatures than normal. White wines can also be paired successfully with red meats, so choose what to drink and don’t let them bully you into anything you aren’t comfortable with.

5) “Fully Booked” – This term is often absolute nonsense most of the time, particularly at the hottest eateries around the world. They do this to create an air of exclusivity and also a lot of restaurants over book by a couple of tables as sometimes people no-show. The best way to get a table is to ensure that you avoid calling during lunch service (12-2:30pm) as this is a peak busy period for most restaurants and you are unlikely to secure their undivided attention at this time. Contrary to what some of us may believe, calling up fancy restaurants and being arrogant will not secure a reservation, but rather a rejection. Friendly and unpretentious is the more appropriate way to coax someone into giving you what you need. I shouldn’t even have to tell you this, I’m sure you know already.

Some of the best restaurants are often the ones you drive past in your local neighbourhood that seem to be busy and teeming with families and locals alike. Spending a lot of time in top restaurants, there is definitely something special about them of course, but sometimes their drive to stay on top can often be what kills them off in the end.

Finding a handful of good, local and friendly restaurants can be a hard task. But I think for those of us who enjoy dining out regularly, it is important to have these handy places dotted around the neighbourhood. Sometimes more chic (and more expensive) restaurants aren’t always better, even with regards to ingredient quality and service standards. Some of the best meals I have had around the world are in total dives that just serve the most amazing and simple food… and when the food is good, “They will come”. A classic example (especially for any Persians who lived in London in the early 90’s) was a restaurant called 'Alounak' or 'The Shack' as I called it. The first of 3 venues opened since, it was a teeny-weeny, kebab-smoke-filled caravan parked in an open air car park in Olympia serving the best god damn kebab you ever had.
You could always spot the shack before you neared it, because there was usually a fleet of Mercedes, BMW’s & the occasional Rolls Royce parked vicariously around the shack. Man…those were the days. The cook, only known as “Mohsen” left to open his own fully fledged restaurant nearby (with proper brick walls, not just caravan walls!) The aptly named ‘Mohsen-Kebab’ is still considered by some as the best kebab in town, but it never really did it for me. As some of my fellow Londoners may also know…the tacky plastic garden furniture and pushy managerial flair of the owner’s wife can sometimes grate on the nerves of even the mostly saintly of saints. So I tend to limit my visits to takeaway only. (Plus I am still unable to forgive her for ruining a first date with a very hot guy I once went out with)

After all that is said and done, I still feel that the best meals aren’t always served in Michelin star restaurants with celebrity chefs. Dishes adorned with ‘Foams’, ‘Jus’ and ‘Gallettes’ of this and ‘Tians’ of that, can often be too fussy and just too much. The real deal is lovingly prepared courtesy of friends or family, wonderfully simple and deliciously uncomplicated. I have said it before and I will say it again, THESE are the kind of meals we should be having more of. Family meals around a table, children and husband in tow or dinner with friends both old and new, engaging in conversation and sharing stories. Memories are made of these. Whatever you enjoy and wherever you go to enjoy it, don’t let anyone take your pleasure away from you. Whether rude waiting staff or stuffy wine waiters, you are the customer and good service is what you are paying for, after all, so you may as well enjoy it!