Saturday, August 22, 2009


Living in London, I'm frequently surprised with the constantly changing face of the streets around me. Every couple of weeks a shop or restaurant will close, only for another to open in its place. Sometimes this is sad, as in the case of the excellent independent toy shop which metamorphosed into a Costa coffee. But sometimes it is exciting, as in the case of the lovely new bakery and cafe which recently opened on the Northcote Road.

Earlier this year, I was intrigued when wooden boards went up around a high street building society. These boards were plastered with Jamie Oliver's name and I wondered what on earth to expect. Surely he wasn't opening the latest branch of Fifteen in the shadow of Clapham Junction tube station?

Indeed, no he wasn't. A few months later and the boards were removed. Behind them was a branch of his new venture 'Recipease'. This shiny new store has been attractively Jamie-fied. At the front, shoppers can buy all kinds of Jamie merchandise, including some rather lovely wooden chopping boards. There is also food for sale, much of it packaged in over-sized Kilner jars. Imagine mustards, chutneys and jams. And bread too. Lots of bread. Foccacia. And the most expensive Chelsea buns you are every likely to eat. The busy shopper can also buy pseudo ready-meals freshly prepared instore to take home and throw in a pan for supper. You can even buy the wine to go with it.

But at the heart of the shop are several huge workstations where you can assemble your own meals. There is a pizza station where you can create your own signature toppings. Or you can select from a changing menu of different dishes to prepare. All the chopping and preparation is done for you - you just book a session, turn up and create one (or two) of Jamie's mouthwatering recipes.

As well as this, you can also book in for cooking lessons focusing on a particular skill - knife skills, risotto, cooking the perfect steak, pasta to name just a few. The best news, these classes are a great deal cheaper than many other cookery demonstrations in the capital.

I haven't sampled the 'ready-meals' and nor have I booked in to assemble my own Jamie recipe. But recently I took part in a very fun hen party that included a pasta-making session at Recipease. Upon arrival, we were greeted with glasses of wine (...tea, coffee and soft drinks were provided too but these were rather ignored in favour of the wine!). We then set to work with our excellent and highly enthusiastic chef. She showed us how to make pasta dough and then we all headed to our own workstations to make our own. Once all twelve of us had enough spaghetti, tagliatelle, ravioli and caramelli to feed an army, we then made a super sage butter sauce to accompany the ricotta and spinach stuffed pasta shapes. Divine!

I would thoroughly recommend a private party at Recipease of this type - it was great fun and a real ice-breaker. I think we could have used another member of staff as twelve novices making pasta was somewhat chaotic and our chef could only help one of us at a time! However, it was great fun and despite making a horribly dry-feeling dough that fell apart in the pasta machine, I ended up with some quite delicious pasta. I clearly need practise...

Recipease, 48-50 St John's Road, Battersea

Friday, August 14, 2009

A low-fat chicken curry that is rather good

A strange thing happened to me on Wednesday night. I was preparing a butternut squash for roasting and, after I had peeled it, I noticed that my hands were becoming most uncomfortable. Sort of tight and dry. No amount of hand cream or washing would relieve the feeling. I then watched with some alarm as the skin of my hands started to peel off. It was revolting and rather unnerving. Thank heaven for google! I raced to the computer and typed in 'strange skin reaction to butternut squash'. It seems that this is a quite common problem - many people experience the tightness but the peeling skin is quite a strong reaction. Oddly, I've handled butternut plenty of times before with no ill effect... I wonder if anyone else has experienced this? One article likened the effect to that of a chemical peel - perhaps I should be grateful for the now soft and rejuvenated skin on my and?

Anyway, moving swiftly on. The flower-sender and I are trying to eat a little more healthily in order to shift a few pounds before the wedding in May. We are keeping this a secret as I don't want to feel under any pressure to transform myself into someone I'm not. Frankly, we both love food far too much to ever be as thin as we might wish. I'm not planning to give up my love of cake just so I can fit into a smaller wedding dress. But it would be nice to be a little healthier and so we are trying to change a few things.

One of our initiatives is to try and make healthier versions of favourite high-fat dishes without compromising on taste. We are particularly pleased with this recipe which we found in a Weight Watchers cookbook called
'Delicious'. We loved the creamy, rich-tasting tomato-based sauce and the aromatic flavour of the ginger and lime leaves. We tinkered a little with the recipe, adding some extra vegetables. We made this with left-over roast chicken which worked very well, but the recipe below gives directions for cooking the chicken. If you want to use leftovers, add the chicken to the pan once the initial veggies have softened - just before you add the liquid. The addition of thinly sliced mange tout is far more than just a garnish - the refreshing crunch really adds something to this curry.

Fragrant Chicken Curry
Based on recipe from
Weight Watchers Delicious cookbook
Serves 4

low fat cooking spray (or tbsp oil)
600g skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 red pepper, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
150g sliced mushrooms
1 bag spinach
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 freeze dried lime leaves
1 tsp mild or hot chilli powder
1 tbsp mild curry powder
50g low-fat soft cheese
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
150ml chicken stock
handful chopped fresh coriander
large handful mange tout, shredded finely lengthways

1. Heat a non-stick saucepan or wok and spray with cooking spray/add oil. Add chicken chunks and cook for around 5 mins until sealed all over. Remove and set to one side.

2. Spray/add a little more oil if necessary and add the pepper, onion, mushrooms, ginger, garlic and lime leaves. Cook for a minute or so until starting to soften. Stir in the chilli powder and curry powder and return the chicken to the pan, stirring constantly for a minute.

3. Add the soft cheese, tomatoes and stock. Bring to boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes until thickened and the chicken is cooked. Serve with rice, topped with the coriander and shredded mange tout.

For anyone who is interested and knows how Weight Watchers works, this curry (without rice) is amazingly just 2.5 points per portion. And the portion was pretty generous - we felt very full afterwards.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Summer squash and sweetcorn salad

Since I am now mainly cooking for two people, rather than one, I decided that it was time to re-instate my weekly veg box order. This week I was delighted to receive a rather attractive pattipan squash. I usually associate squash with the autumn and had a brief moment of depression when I wondered whether summer really was over already.

I then read the accompanying recipe sheet and realised that this was a variety of summer squash. I also read the accompanying recipe and decided that it sounded rather good. It was for a salad of roasted squash and corn (torn off the cob rather than from a tin!) with rocket, feta and a sweet chilli glaze. We decided to roast a chicken and serve it alongside the bird for a summery supper.

I made the classic error of not reading the recipe through before I started and I then realised that both the corn and squash needed time to cool before adding to the salad. I didn't have time for this and the squash was fresh out of the oven when I added it to the peppery rocket leaves*. It actually didn't matter a bit and was perfectly delicious as a 'warm' salad. As we were eating it immediately, the leaves didn't wilt at all. However, we did have to throw the excess away which was a shame. Next time, I'll make it with more time to spare and try a cold version to take for lunch at work.

Summer squash and sweetcorn salad
Serves 4 as a starter or side-dish (2 as a main)
Recipe from Abel and Cole


1 summer squash (we used a pattipan squash, the recipe suggests onion squash)
1 garlic clove peeled and chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cobs sweetcorn
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp red chilli jam (I used
Jules and Sharpie red pepper jelly)
1 bag fresh rocket leaves
100g feta cheese (recipe suggests 200g, but this seemed too much to me)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Halve the squash and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Cut into small wedges or chunks of around half and inch square. Keep the skin on as it is very thin and helps the squash keep its shape.

2. Place squash in a roasting tin with olive oil, garlic and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and mix together with your hands to ensure all is well coated. Roast for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, remove husks from corn and place in a large saucepan of water. Bring to boil, put a lid on the pan and simmer for around 20 minutes until tender. Drain and cool (run under cold water if short of time). When you are able to handle it, cut the kernels off the cobs trying to keep them in large panels rather than individual kernels. Use a sharp knife for this - the panels should come off fairly easily.

4. Remove squash from oven and add butter to pan immediately. Dot the chilli jam over the top and pop back into the oven for then minutes to give squash colour and a sticky glaze. Remove from oven and cool (optional)*.

5. Take a large salad bowl or plate and add the rocket. Add the squash and toss together. Add corn and fold through. Finally, crumble the feta cheese over the top.