Anita’s anchovy tapas

I first had these as a summer starter but they were so delicious we forgot about the main course and simply made some more! Brings a colourful taste of the Mediterranean into these grey autumn days.
What you need
One red, orange or yellow pepper per person.
Tin or jar of anchovy fillets in oil.
Olive oil.
1-2 tins canned tomatoes.
2 crushed cloves of garlic.
Salt and pepper.
What you do
Preheat the oven to 180c.
Cut the peppers into halves, if they are small, or thirds if they are large.
Splash oil across the bottom on a roasting dish or eartherware dish.
Place the pepper pieces in the tin.
Place a small amount of garlic in each.
Place an anchovy fillet in each.
Add a tomato to each piece.
Season with salt and pepper.
Bake in the oven for 25-35minutes.
Verdict: So simple yet totally delicious. Can be served with other tapas dishes as part of a spread but will also stand as a lunch served with fresh crusty bread and a green salad.
Do you have a recipe for me to share? Let me know by submitting it below or drop me an email.

A heavenly meringue experience

A little bit of heaven on a plate. That’s the only way I can describe the blackcurrant meringue I was fortunate to sample at Betty’s in Harrogate yesterday.
I don’t know why the picture came out like this – perhaps I was taking it so fast to get back to the dessert that it came looking as though it was travelling at speed – perhaps it’s the visual manifestation of a sugar rush!
Regardless of the picture, this delicacy was simply divine. For anyone who hasn’t had the Betty’s experience, I’ll try to sum it up here. First you arrive in the attractive Yorkshire town and your heart gives a little skip as you approach the door.
But then it’s dashed – oh look at that queue!
There’s always a queue – I’m certain it’s a deliberate policy. Yes, it is popular but I spied some empty tables at one point and the queue was still maintained.
It’s not a problem. I’ve come to the conclusion that the queuing is a necessary part of the whole pleasure experience. Waiting quietly surrounded by displays of chocolate truffles, tea breads and exotic teas merely builds up the anticipation.
I first spotted this meringue when the queue had shuffled forward sufficiently to allow us a view of the staircase and the trolley full of fancies for the ground floor restaurant was just visible in a tantalising glimpse.
I eventually got mine after we’d been ushered down to the basement dining area and already managed to demolish one of the house specialities – the fabulous smoked chicken and mushroom rosti in a creamy, wine sauce (pictured).

But is was the desert that made the visit memorable. The meringue base crispy fell apart when invaded with the fork but melted in the mouth.
The blackcurrant filling with strategically placed blackcurrants was sweet but not cloying and the texture of melting snow on the tongue.

It was beyond improvement.
Leaving the café behind, I remarked to Himself that every single trip to Betty’s (both in Harrogate and Northallerton) had been memorable.
But yesterday was also blogably notable. A return visit is guaranteed.

Taste test: SunBites

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Aaahh crisps. One of life’s little pleasures – but sadly one that makes you wobbly. Personally I love them but in these sad middle aged days it’s a rare treat so the grail of crisps which aren’t so fattening is a marketing message worth risking a few pence on. Or is it?
Walkers this week launched a new range of crisps which they not only claim to contain 30 per cent less fat but that also contain more than a third of the suggested amount of wholegrain.
All very laudable I’m sure but they do cost 41p so what do they taste like?
Three packs of SunBites arrived in the office so we tried them out. As well as myself, three other intrepid tasters subjected themselves to the task in hand.
Here’s the rather mixed results:
I tried the oven roasted onion and rosemary flavour which was delicate and not soapy as rosemary has a tendency to be. They had a light texture which was almost a bit melt in the mouth.

While have to acknowledge Walkers’ endeavour for putting another healthy snack option on the market, SunBites overly wheaty taste and cardboard-like texture simply results in making healthy eating seem even less appealing. Sadly one in the eye for the full fat alternatives. Lawrence.

Tastier than they look and more of an authentic crisp texture than some other healthier options. James

Sour cream and cracked pepper had a subtle flavour without being drowned in the whole grain wheat. More satisfying than fat-free crisps, but too much of a hint of the healthy option. Crisps, after all, are not meant to be good for you. Mark

Tell me what you think below.

My sweet corn soup

Spotting a bargain at the grocers this weekend, I suddenly found the need for a sweet corn soup recipe. My local grocer has reduced corn to such a price that I think they’ll start paying me to take it away if it gets any cheaper.
I had a buzz round the internet and then made it up and came up with something between a “cream of” and a “chowder”. A “creamder” or a “chow of”?
Whatever it is, it’s a winner and really simple too. You could probably make it with a lot less corn – I used so much purely because I had it.
What you need
5 corn on the cob.
2 carrots.
1 celery stalk.
Half an onion.
Two mugs of chicken stock.
Small tub of single cream.
Splash of olive oil.
Salt and pepper.
What to do
Remove the kernels from the cobs. (I followed these instructions).
Clean and chop the onion, carrots and celery.
Saute these in a splash of olive oil in a large saucepan.
Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the corn kernels and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Blend the mixture – you may find it easier to do in batches and this way you can add/reduce liquid to the required consistency.
Add the cream.
Season to taste.
Reheat to serve but avoid boiling.

Lunch break: Don Giovanni’s

When the surrealist artist Magritte accompanied a picture of a pipe with the words “this is not a pipe” it was something of an intellectual exercise and one which forced people to look at the world in a different way.
While we are now accustomed to reciving mixed visual messages (although I’m still baffled by what the fantastic drumming gorilla has to do with chocolate ) it ws Magritte who came to mind during my unsuccessful lunch visit to Don Giovanni’s in Oxford Road yesterday.
When this restaurant first moved across the road to its stylish new premises it was generally not well received. One of my colleagues’ responses was fairly typical.
But never one to jump on the bandwagon, I wanted to wait until they’d settled beyond the impress the media or difficult staffing issues of the early days to see for myself and give them a proper assessment.
But I’m sorry to say it wasn’t pretty. After being shown to our table for two in the cavernous (almost empty) space which the new premises now offers, the glum waiter appeared to take our drinks order. “Could we have two San Pellegrino water please” I inquired.
There was a shrug. “We have water. Similiar but not San Pellegrino” he muttered and talked off. While musing on what sort of Italian restaurant doesn’t have San Pellegrino (I thought it must come out of the municipal taps in the homeland it’s so universal) we received first one smeary glass and then another less so and then – two bottles of San Pellegrino.
OK something of a misunderstanding but who cares, we got what we ordered. Not so with the mains – my spaghetti pescatore(pictured) arrived, his spinach and rocotta tortellini arrived but the green salad is presumably still growing in a field somehwere far from Manchester.
The food was very ordinary. My seafood sauce was full of the creatures of the sea but the sauce was without any depth or interest. Himself found the sauce very rich in the way of extra cream and butter and we both had pasta which was overcooked.

It’s the food of drinkers – fullsome and with a first hit of flavour but with none of the intricacy and passion which has given the Italian nation is deserved reputation.

Desserts (choc fudge cake pictured) were similarly large, overly sweet and accompanied with a garish squiggle which looked like something the artist known as Prince might have left on the plate as he fled for an eaterie with more purple.
But what the food lacked in passion – the waiting staff certainly lacked in even basic civility. On being presented with a bill with said in capital letter across the top “THIS IS NOT A RECEIPT” I politely requested a reciept.
After being gruffly told it was a reciept by one waiter who gestured rudely towards me and spat out “you deal with her” to another younger and rather embarrased colleague I was assured that, despite what it actually said on the bill, this was indeed a receipt.
So, with a nod to Magritte, all I can say to you is that Don Giovanni’s isn’t an Italian restuarant.
Don Giovanni’s Ristorante is at 11 Oxford Street, Manchester. 0161 228 2482.
More pictures on my Flickr site.

Is it the squeezy that’s turned Paddington?

Paddington Bear Sandwich.jpg
Paddington Bear has finally got with the script. No more marmalade, he’s turned to my mate marmite for his sandwiches.
A new ad campaign featuring the childhood favourite is out – catch it here!
Whether the squeezy version is sweeter or thinner is still up for debate.
But the duffel wearer isn’t the only one changing his habits. According to posh supermarket Waitrose, marmalade is also being ousted from the shelves by squeezy honey.
The move to squeezy follows the chain’s latest statistic showing that honey is now outselling marmalade by 25%.
So is it the marmalade that’s being replaced or is it just that anything squeezy is more popular in our lazy kitchen lives?

Cooking the new rock ‘n’roll? It’s a soap!

I’ve recently taken to having the television on while I’m cooking. And increasingly its becoming a somewhat merged activity. Take last night as an example.
While busy sautéing some onions, mushrooms and peppers ready for a vegetarian lasagne, I chanced across Jamie at Home (Channel 4 8pm).
While being completely envious of his produce-stuffed garden and amazing outdoor kitchen, I watched as Jamie busily rolled multi-coloured carrots and beets in olive oil, vinegar and herbs before producing the most amazing looking roast veg.
But this programme had problems. 1. What’s with the shorts Jamie? Seeing those pasty little legs poking out of those baggy pants was reminiscent of a Tory leadership candidate on his hols. And 2. Try to remember that you’re not cooking with the children all the time. While appearing relaxed in front of the camera is one thing, seasoning a steak while enthusing “Mr Pepper likes to visit steak” is almost as cringeworthy as those shapeless pantaloons.
Onto Cook Yourself Slim (Channel 4 as well) which promised much – being able to eat fish and chips without guilt or weight gain. That’s just what I need ( lack of weight gain that is – there’s never any guilt with me when it comes to fish and chips!). But alas this show was cruelly mis-sold. A large lady whose entire life appeared to be spent eating cakes and takeaways was then shown how to eat more healthily and surprise, banana surprise she lost some flab. Well considering what she started with that was never going to be much of challenge was it? Just stop gorging cakes woman!
Finally back to Hell’s Kitchen (ITV1 9pm). With most of the action now going on in the house all the celebrities share, this is fast becoming more of an adult Big Brother than it is a show about food.
Jim Davidson has now (thankfully) left the show after disgracing himself with various unpleasantness he tried to pass off as being age-related and WAG Abigail looks set to win the show with her mix of cooking skills, pleasant demeanour and a hard-grafting nature.
So what’s the result of this exotic blend of culinary progamming? Will the world be a place where food is given more importance? Will the obesity crisis be averted by health conscious gourmets?
Unlikely. Maybe there will be better mashed potato thanks to the lovely Barry McGuigan’s whisking demonstrations in the Marco Pierre White kitchen or maybe armies of gardeners will be inspired to sow more adventurous veg thanks to Jamie.
All I know is that I really do need to get out more.

All those gin-soaked mums to be!

“There are the poor, the old, and the miserable, who look and feel “half-dead,” as they themselves express it, unless they are “lighted up” every two or three hours with a glass of spirits. Many of these have become so habituated to drink that they care but little for food, and very rarely partake of a substantial meal; a pennyworth of boiled shell-fish, such as whilks or mussels, an oyster or two, or a trotter, or sometimes a fried fish – all of which are borne into into these places by hawkers every hour of the day – maybe taken as fair samples of the food consumed by these regular drinkers.” Illustrated London News, May 6, 1848

Fast forward a hundred plus years and the arguments don’t seem to have changed too much! “If the poor are given money – they just spend it on drink” seems to be message dropping from the wine soaked lips of the “right-thinking” commentators when faced with plans to give pregnant women cash for food.
The government announced yesterday that mothers to be would be eligible for a grant and some nutrition advice. How shocking! To hear the hullabaloo this story created you could be mistaken for thinking that hordes of ladies with bumps would be clogging up the pubs and clubs of Britain, chain smoking, renewing their tattoos and dropping Es until every last penny of the money-pinching taxpayers cash is spent.
Even here, some of our online contributors have felt the need to jump on the “they know not what they do” bandwagon. Already 68 per cent have voted against this proposal in the M.E.N online poll!
But there seem to be a whiff of misogony about these protestations. After all, does anyone ever check that pensioners aren’t having a sneaky extra sherry with the winter fuel payments? Or that child benefit is actually spent on the child? No, so it’s obviously just women who can’t be trusted then.
So before indignant Daily Mailness takes over, just look at the shocking facts surrounding birth weights and health in the deprived areas of our region.
* Some 9.5 per cent of babies born in Manchester in 2005 were classified as ‘low birth weight’, compared to 7.9 per cent in England as a whole.

* A total of 48 children under one died in the city that year – an infant mortality rate of 7.2 per 1,000 births. The national average is 5 per 1,000.

* Manchester also has high levels of teenage pregnancy – 70.2 per 1,000 girls between 15 and 17 conceived in 2005, compared to 41.4 per 1,000 across England. The teen pregnancy rate has risen by 6.3 per cent since 1998. Across the country, it has fallen by 11.1 per cent.
* Fifteen per cent of schoolchildren in Manchester are clinically obese, although the rates vary with deprivation levels. And the proportion of adults getting exercise of ‘moderate intensity’ three or more days a week is 20.8 per cent, which is in line with the national average of 21 per cent.
(Read more on this here) So what would YOU do to address it?
OK, human nature and the cynicism of experience tell us that some women will abuse this grant and spend it on something to alleviate the daily horror or simple drudgery of their days.
But there’s also a chance that some, even if it’s a minority, will see the impending birth and that miracle of recreation to be a turning point in life and receiving this support at such a vital time could be a life-changing experience for them and their unborn child.
Surely, given the scale of the problem, that’s worth a try.

Carluccio’s @ Trafford Centre

There seemed to be something fitting about popping to Carluccio’s on the day of Pavarotti’s death and the CD of Italian music for sale in the entrance almsot re-inforced the fact as we were welcomed through to the overstated Caffe in the Trafford Centre.
It’s been five months since I ventured along to its opening night which semed a decent enough length of time for everything to have settled down and a review to be a fair refelection.
So what did we find? To start we decided to share the cruditee with piemonese sauce which was to be “warmed at the table”. This arrived with much haste – in fact too much haste as the delicious, creamy, piquant anchovy sauce was only warmed by its small candle heater as the last dipping carrot stick was wielded.
But the pace soon slowed and it semed an age (about 25mins) before the mains arrived. It may be something of a victim of its own success in this regard as, even on a dull Thursday evening, the place soon filled and even in the cavernous space of the shopping centre’s latest extention, the eaterie had a bustling atmosphere fitting of any popular Italian.
The mains were worth the wait. The spaghetti with clams(£7.25) (my all time favourite dish and widely sampled both home and abroad!) was never going to match that served in Venice purely – because nothing could for me – but was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of chili and a refreshing lack of oil.
Himself spluttered when he saw the measlieness of the rosemary potato portion (equivalent of two spuds for £2) but forgave all when he tucked into the special of lamb steak which was tender, succulent and so perfectly cooked that his plate looked as if it had been washed after every last scrap had been enjoyed.
Inspired, we even made it onto the desserts (after another long wait) with the ice cream and espresso (affogato £3.65) and a chocolate meringue (£4.95) with raspberries which was the stuff of whipped sugar dreams ending our meal.
Verdict: While its location means that going specially for a meal is unlikley, Carluccio’s is a welcome addition to the dining on offer while out shopping. Yes, it does feel a bit formulaic and yes, the waiting staff are a little over pushy when it comes to getting those extras ordered but, if you’ve got the time to wind down, the food is worth the wait and is mostly well-priced.
Click here to download Carluccio’s menu.
More pictures at my Flickr site.

Tell us something we don’t know

TWO reports out today are enough to give you that déjà vu feeling. First up, did know that food additives can make kids hyper? Secondly did you know binge drinking kids get into trouble?
Yes today’s the day when research is published that proves what we think we all know.
The esteemed journal The Lancet has carried out scientific study on food additives. It’s report out today found that the deterioration in behaviour after consuming the additives occurred in children in the general population, not just in those identified as suffering from hyperactivity.
Professor Jim Stevenson, who headed the Southampton study, said: “We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservative can adversely influence the behaviour of children. There is some previous evidence that some children with behavioural disorders could benefit from the removal of certain food colours from their diet.”
The binge drinking report should make sobering but equally unsurprising reading to youngsters and parents alike.
The authors of the study, Dr Russell Viner and Professor Brent Taylor, from the Institute of Child Health in London found they were 40% more likely to use illegal drugs, 40% more likely to suffer mental health problems and 60% more likely to be homeless.
They were also 40% more likely to have suffered accidents, almost four times as likely to have been excluded from school and 30% more likely to have gained no qualifications.
The binge-drinkers were almost twice (90% more) as likely to have criminal convictions, the study found.
Click here for more information about E numbers.