Midweek Magic in Minutes

We’ve all been there; peered in the fridge and realized that the weekly shop wasn’t done quite as comprehensively as it could have been but a decent meal still needs to be prepared. The options go a little something like this: eat out somewhere that may or may not be that great or make do with whatever random items you have to cook. Today’s post is all about the latter; working magic and creating something delish. The key is to have these four core food hack ingredients: garlic, onions, a green leafy vegetable of any description and finally pick a protein, any protein to act as the star of the show.

Pork Chop with Sautéed Vegetables

Difficulty rating: Easy Peasy


2 Pork Chops

1 Onion finely chopped

2 Cloves of Garlic finely chopped

Approximately 100grams of Green Leafy Vegetable sliced if necessary

¼ of a Red Bell Pepper finely chopped*

3 cooked potatoes cut in half*

Approximately 50mls of Sweet White wine*

Salt (to taste)

*entirely random and completely optional, a case of they were also in the fridge so I decided to incorporate them too, just call me greedy!

Midweek cooking is all about short cuts, there are still full two work days ahead so it is here that one wants to get their food hack hat on. I am a great believer that anything and I mean truly anything tastes better and feels special with my essential food trio: Garlic, Onions and any Green Leafy Vegetable with the protein of your choice. Apart from providing you with your essential nutrients, they all go so well together and are super quick to make. I had two pork chops knocking at the back of the freezer, but this could work just as well with chicken breasts, fish fillets or Tofu.

The protein is going to take the longest to cook so put this on first. As I was using pork chops I put them in a large frying pan, fat side down and let the fat render down. You might have to stand over the chops so that they do not fall over and cook on their flesh side as this will dry out the meat. As the fat is rendered you will end up with a chop that has a crisp on the outside, sinfully juicy on the inside rind of fat. You have options with the fat itself: either discard (boring!) or put aside to make something delicious later. Once the fat side is cooked through, reduce the heat on the frying pan and lie the chops flesh side down and cook until the juices run clear. You will know the pork is cooked as juices will run clear once pierced with a fork. This shouldn’t take too long as the chop would have been cooking whilst the fat was being rendered, but it is important to make sure with pork or indeed chicken that it is fully cooked and there is no pink flesh in the middle. Wrap in foil and put aside so they do not get cold. You can deglaze the pan with the sweet white wine on a low heat stirring vigorously so that you don’t lose any of the meat’s juices but the alcohol burns off. Put this liquor to one side for use later.

For the sautéed vegetable medley, it is important that you have done your chopping before you start cooking as you don’t want your protein to get cold. In the same pan that you have been cooking the pork or whatever protein you are using (hey, this is all about minimal washing up too!), put a tablespoon of the oil of your choice and fry your onions until they become translucent, then add your garlic, so that it doesn’t burn. Next add whatever leafy vegetable you are using, in my fridge was a Nigerian vegetable that the chap in the market called ‘Green Leaf’ but which looks and tastes like a variety of Chard. I also put the remainder of a red bell pepper in the mix and sautéed for less than two minutes as I have a profound dislike for over cooked vegetables. Remove from heat and put to one side, stirring in the deglazed liquor if you made one into the vegetables.

Next re-heat your pork fat and fry the potatoes, the potatoes will colour, which always makes thing look professional kitchen worthy and also the pork flavor will give the illusion of them having been roasted – results all round!

To plate up put a puddle of the vegetables at the centre of the plate, balance your pork chop so the rendered fat side is showing in all its glazed glory, begging the diner to eat it and casually scatter your cheat potatoes in a semi-circle. Wednesday just got tasty.

Wednesday Night Feast

Wednesday Night Feast


Autumnal Feasting

Gastrotastic has been on a bit of an extended break: let’s just say summer slipped into September and before I knew it, it was October. Not to say that I have been slacking, the recipe creating has been going apace so expect more delish options to try.

As the weather is undeniably getting colder, my mind has turned to one pot cooking. You know the deal: your favourite meat or poultry and some vegetables and stock that quietly get on with becoming a delicious and hearty meal and leave you with time to do other things like be social with whoever you’re sharing the meal with.

Today’s meal features chicken and lentils. Surprisingly, poultry hasn’t had much of a look in so far on Gastrotastic, and for those who’ve switched off at the thought of lentils, I am going to do a quick one sentence plug. Lentils are easy to cook, very tasty, healthy and not in an earnest life-in=monochrome- way either and finally they are cheap. There, done it. In the recipe below I have added some chorizo – but it is not essential  and for those who may doubt the simplicity of these dishes there is a video of me doing it all in less than a minute and a half on the all new Gastrotastic you tube channel – so do subscribe. The ingredient quantities below will suffice for two very hungry  people but you can always double up portions if you are cooking for more.

Playing in the Gastrotastic kitchen today was Sister Sledge’s Thinking Of You. For those who fell in love with Nile Rodger’s guitar genius on Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, hear him here at the height of his powers: the opening solo bars are worth the price of admission alone and a blog post all of its own!    

Chicken and Lentil Stew

Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy


2 Chicken legs (thigh and leg with skin on)

200 grams of green lentils

1 tin of plum tomatoes

1 red onion roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped roughly

20 grams of fresh thyme chopped finely

250mls of Chicken or Vegetable Stock

150mls of white wine (anything knocking about in the fridge should work)

100 grams of chorizo sausage (optional)

Salt (to taste)




As said before one pot cooking is very simple and a great place to start if the prospect of cooking brings you out in a sweat. First things first, chop the chicken so that the drumstick and thigh are separate. Do not remove the skin as this will add depth of flavour and will ensure the meat does not dry out in the pan.


Next, chop your onions and garlic and thyme and if you are going to add chorizo chop that into one centimetre thick slices. Heat a heavy based pan and pour some olive oil so that the bottom of the pan is evenly covered and fry the onions and garlic, taking care not to burn the garlic by reducing the heat. Once your onions have begun to soften, add the chicken into the pan and brown fully. Once the chicken is browned add the tin of tomatoes, stock and wine and bring to the boil before simmering for ten or so minutes. It is at this point that you add the lentils the thyme and if you are using it, chorizo, cover the pot and leave to simmer for a further twenty minutes. Really, that’s it.  I like to serve stews like this in outsize deep white bowls and if you’re having carb withdrawal a slice of wholemeal bread is perfect for mopping up any final mouthful. I guess longer nights aren’t looking so bad after all.






The Feeding Of the 5000*

(*Okay, not quite the 5000, but a rather large crowd nevertheless)

Summer is still going, the weather is pretty much still holding which means that al fresco entertaining is very much the order of the day. As some of my readers already know, I am a big believer in miracles and a lover of entertaining of the mass kind. The two passions got a chance to converge when I threw  a cocktail party at my church’s annual holiday up in the wilds of Lincolnshire a couple of weeks back. You can check out the more spirit led details and observations at http://www.coolchicandinchrist.blogspot.co.uk

I had more than a few challenges: I was cooking in a caravan so space was an issue both in terms of storage and prep. Meanwhile, because this was a Gastrotastic affair rather than a Glasto grungy affair, I still wanted to keep things pretty and stylish rather than gritty and grim. The food and booze travelled up from London rather unceremoniously in an old suitcase of mine that finally gave up the ghost, and the ‘tablecloth’, made from multi-coloured tissue paper, took a battering from wind and a brief but torrential downpour.

This being a church holiday, the menu was all loaves of fishes with some Wedding at Cana worthy drinks in the mix. Follow the recipes in a normal kitchen, and this should all be a cakewalk. As with all mass entertaining, my three rules of thumb for the canapés were that they must deliver on flavour but be easy to make,  be pleasing to the eye but not give you a heart attack in their assembly and finally have the guests hovering around for the serving trays to be refilled so that they can demolish some more.


All of the recipes listed below will make approx. 50 servings or 70 if you use smaller bases. In the spirit of keeping things non-partisan I shopped in Sainsbury’s where previously I have shopped in Waitrose. So without further ado, onto the party food!


Harissa Sardines on Toast

Difficulty factor: Easy-Peasy


8 120grams tins of Sardines in Olive Oil

3 Loaves of Wholemeal Bread

3 400grams Cartons of Chopped Tomatoes

3 Red Onions finely chopped

4 Cloves of garlic finely chopped

1  90grams Jar of Harissa Paste

3 Tablespoons of Mixed Herbs

3 90grams Packets of Fresh Parsley

Juice of 2 Lemons

3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Large (approx. 250mls) glass of Red Wine (optional)

Salt (to taste)


This dish is all about patience – for a quantity of this size I would recommend starting cooking as early as possible so the stew which is essentially what you are making, has a chance to come together and also that the tomatoes will reduce to an almost paste like consistency, for assembly later.

First chop your onions and garlic and pre=heat a saucepan with some olive oil. Be generous with your Olive oil pouring as you do not want either the onions to stick to the bottom of the pan or the garlic to burn and give the sauce a bitter taste.


When the onions start to clarify add the tomatoes and the mixed herbs. If you are adding the optional glass of wine – this is the point to do it as it is important the alcohol burns off before you introduce any of the other ingredients. Allow to simmer on a medium heat for 30 minutes, by which point the sauce will have begun to reduce.

Next add the sardines. I add them in whole, they will break down in the cooking process, but it is also attractive to have the odd, not punctured bit of silvery black skin glinting through the sauce. When you have added all your sardines, empty out the jar of Harissa Paste and cover the saucepan and cook for 1.5 – 2 hours on a medium/low heat. Intermittently check that the sauce is not sticking to the bottom of the pan, and, if necessary add some water, but remember the objective is a sauce that reduces to an almost but not quite paste quality.



Whilst the Sardines are doing their thing, toast 4 loaves of bread and allow them to dry on a rack so that they do not get soggy. Cut into squares when they are bone dry to assure easy assembly.

Another fiddly but worthwhile job is removing all the leaves from the fresh parsley. Don’t discard the storks – instead chop them up finely and add to the sauce – parsley always freshens up a sauce and in this instance it will bring a hint of luxe to the otherwise packet and tinned ingredients.

At the two hour mark remove from the heat and allow to cool for twenty minutes. Do not assemble whilst the sauce is still hot otherwise it will leak through the toasts and make a mess. When tepid, take a spoonful of sauce place atop of the toasted squares and finish off with a parsley leaf as a garnish.



Smoked Salmon and Dill on Blinis

Difficulty Factor: Over 5’s and above can join in


8 Packets of Smoked Salmon Trimmings (I used Sainsbury’s Basics to keep things keen)

2 90grams Packets of Fresh Dill

Juice of Four Lemons


If you are making canapés with some little people or friends who are not confident in the kitchen, this is a great one to get them involved with, as it needs minimal skill and you won’t be looking over their shoulders to spot mistakes.

Place the Salmon Trimmings in a large bowl,  and stir through the lemon juice into all of the salmon.

Next remove the finer Dill leaves from the thick storks and add to the bowl with the salmon. This will take you a little while but it is a great job to get kids involved with, or to gossip with a friend. I did this particular job whilst the Sardines were cooking.

Blinis need to be toasted, otherwise they have a powdery consistency. If you are using cocktail sized ones the best way to do this is in the grill function of the oven so that they do not get stuck in a toaster. Toast for a minute and put on a rack to cool, again avoiding the same soggy vibe as we are with the toast.

To assemble put a teaspoon of the mixture on a blini and they are ready to serve.



Mini Tuna Nicoise-Lite on Toast

Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy


6 130grams Cans of Tuna in Spring Water

3 Loaves of Wholemeal Bread

500grams of Cherry Tomatoes

2 Red Onions

300 grams of Capers (a spoonful more if you like more zing)

450 grams of Black Olives

Juice of Four Lemons

6 Table Spoons of Olive Oil

3 Table Spoons of Balsamic Vinegar

2 Table Spoons of Dijon Mustard

2 Red Chillies (Optional)

Black Pepper (Optional)


Before the pedants come out in force – I know that this is not a Nicoise per se. Where is the potato and the egg you may ask? Omitted for ease and cost. If you are blowing the proverbial budget, you can substitute the toast for a New Potato, hollowed out in the middle with a scoop of the filling. For an egg variant and staying in the luxe zone, a quail’s egg, sliced in half can slide between the tomato and the olive that form the garnish on these canapés.

First finely chop your Red Onions and if you are choosing to use them, the red chillis. Also halve the olives you are using and put in a separate bowl and halve the tomatoes and put them in a separate bowl. Dull and repetitive as this job is it will make assembly all the more easier.

Next decant the tinned Tuna into a large bowl and break up with a fork.  Add the chopped red onion, chillies, capers and half of the olives from your bowl  into the mix. Next mix in the olive oil, balsamic, lemon juice and the Dijon mustard and pour over the tuna. If you like a sharper tang to your dressing you can increase the mustard and balsamic accordingly, but I have gone for a more one-size-pleases-all -palate in making this dish. It is important to mix the dressing through, allowing for all the tuna to be coated and all the ingredients to be evenly distributed.



As with before, toast bread, leave to cool on a rack and cut into squares .

With assembly, put the tuna in a mound on the toasts, now balance as best as you can half an olive and a tomato. Some of them will fall down, if they do, try, try and try again!



Caviar, Cream Cheese and Chives on Blinis

Difficulty Factor: Super-Simple if your hand is steady


1 Jar of Lumpfish Caviar

1 90grams Packets of Fresh Chives

1 Packet of Cream Cheese

Cocktail Blinis (approx. 50)


Sometimes ingredients are just so full-on that they need minimal help. Lumpfish Caviar is admittedly the poor cousin to  the stuff produced by her Sturgeon friends (I am a Sevruga rather than Beluga girl when in full blow the budget mode), but these eggs are also yummy and certainly look every bit as impressive when served to guests who aren’t regular Caviar chow-ers.

This canapé is all about assembly. Simply toast the blinis as previously, allow to cool then spread some creamed cheese on them and then carefully spoon some lumpfish caviar. Cut the chives into small enough batons to balance atop the caviar and cream cheese at a jaunty. And serve. 



And to Drink

As I already said, space and that rather boring word, cost, was an issue. I opted for the one drink rule so everyone was offered Raspberry Bellinis. A case of pouring a glass of Prosecco, adding a dash of Chambord and a fresh raspberry. Yes, it really is that simple. Although as you can see below, keeping cases of Prosecco cold in a caravan took a rather back to basics turn using ice and the kitchen sink!



For my teetotal guests I served Orange juice with fresh raspberries pulped in the bottom of the champagne flute and a fresh one adding colour at the top of the glass.

And onto those glasses, purchased from, drumroll a Pound Shop, they were pimped with diamante stickers also brought from the very same Pound Shop…This is a fun thing to do for an al fresco party where bringing out the crystal will only break you out in a cold sweat but you still want to keep things festive and let the guests feel special.



A final shot from the morning after the night before…


The Paschal Lamb or a Special Sunday Feast

I failed entirely in my intentions for Easter Sunday. After a Lent spent fasting (to read more on that check out my JC focused blog at www.coolchicandinchrist.blogspot.co.uk) I had thought that I would cook a feast and then blog diligently about it. However, I got so involved in the ensuing chow-down (it had been a while since I had enjoyed eating in the middle of the day) that the post didn’t quite happen. So here it is two days late, but still very delicious. Lamb cooked two ways – a classic leg of lamb with roasties and braised savoy cabbage and an altogether “What Jesus would have eaten” Middle-Eastern influenced Lamb and Fig Stew with Pomegranate and Almond Couscous.  Let the Eastertide feasting continue!

Roast Leg of Lamb, Goose fat Potatoes, Garlic Carrots and Braised Cabbage

Difficulty Factor: Master the Timings, Master the Meal


1 Leg of Lamb (a joint between 1 – 1.2kgs will feed 6 hungry people)

9 – 10 sprigs of Rosemary

2 Heads of Garlic cut horizontally

6 cloves of Garlic peeled

6 – 8 carrots cut lengthways in half

1 kilo of Maris Piper potatoes

295 grams of Goose Fat

1 Savoy Cabbage cut in thick strips

20 grams of unsalted butter

Salt (to taste)




A good roast is all about timing; the Holy Grail as it were is moist meat that’s been properly rested, piping hot potatoes, and vegetables that add rather than detract to the main event which is the meat. If you’re feeling energetic, then a home-made gravy is great or even as I did deglaze the roasting tin and create a jus that will ensure your guests leave smiling. Also key is an acceptance that this is a fatty dish. Potatoes cooked in goose or duck fat substitutes are just not as yummy as ones that cook swimming in the lard of a water dwelling bird. Nor is cabbage that has not been braised in a large/kind of massive nob of butter, ever as much fun as the stuff that is. Well, maybe there is a case for the merits of Chinese Stir-Fry cabbage, but to truly feast one has to put the calorie counting maths to one side and enjoy the roast in all its excesses.


First, heat the oven to 220 degrees centigrade (Gas Mark 7). Whilst the oven is heating, take your lamb out of the fridge and allow it to get as close to room temperature as possible. Putting an icy cold piece of meat into a piping hot oven will make the meat a little fibrous, and already your roast is in jeopardy. Whilst your meat is out make incisions along the skin and place the peeled cloves of garlic and sprigs of rosemary inside, season all sides of your meat.



Second cut your carrots lengthways and put at the base of the roasting tin/tray you will use for your lamb, add any remaining Rosemary you may have had from piercing the joint, I also through in some Sage as there was some knocking about in the fridge. In addition to this put the two horizontally chopped whole garlic among the carrots. As the roast cooks they will imbue the carrots with a rich aroma.



Meanwhile either scrub or peel the potatoes and cut into similar sizes and bring to the boil in a large sauce pan. Drain and put in a large roasting tin with the whole jar of goose fat and some sprigs of fresh thyme.


Put the lamb on the top rack of the oven. Cook on high for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 180 degrees centigrade (Gas Mark 4) for the remainder of the cooking time. The rule of thumb for a perfect roast leg of lamb is 20 minutes in the oven per 450 grams with an additional 20 minutes at the close. If you like your lamb pink then dispense with the final 20 minutes cooking time, if you like it medium to well, keep the 20 minutes in.



To ensure the potatoes cook at the same rate as the lamb, add them to the oven after the initial 15 minute blast for the lamb. We all love a potato that is crispy on all sides, so to make sure this is a reality take your tray out of the oven every 20 minutes and give a quick turn. If you were cooking fewer potatoes the cooking time would be 45 minutes but with the amount in this recipe it is 60 minutes which means both lamb and potatoes will be ready at the same time.


The cabbage is braised in a heavy based pan with 10 minutes to serving time.  Melt the nob of butter, season the cabbage and braise for ten minutes. Cabbage is best still a little crisp and a vibrant green. The less it resembles the horrors served in school dinners, the better!



Lamb, Fig and Aubergine Stew with Pomegranate and Almond Couscous (AKA what JC would Eat)


Difficulty Rating: A little Prep and it will do the Rest




For the Stew:

1kg of Lamb neck fillets

1 Large Aubergine, sliced and then cut in quarts

2 Red Peppers sliced in roughly the same size of the Aubergines

250 grams of Dried Figs cut in half

500 grams of Passata

1 Red Onion

3 cloves of garlic

2 heaped tablespoons of Rose Harissa Paste

Olive Oil

Salt (to taste)


For the Couscous:

500 grams of Couscous

200 grams of flaked almonds

200 grams of Pomegranate Seeds

I small red onion

50 grams of Chives

50 grams of flat leaf parsley

Juice of 1 Lemon



I created this recipe as a culinary RS project of sorts. I thought to myself, what would Jesus eat or rather what would I cook if he were to come over for supper? I know, very random thought, but it resulted in this rather delish dish. I took middle-eastern flavours and ingredients as my starting point and threw in some biblical references too – hence the lamb and the figs. This dish relies on preparation as the flavours pretty much combine with minimal effort on the cook’s part.

First thing first, chop the lamb fillets into two inch slices. Place in a bowl and season with salt and combine with the two heaped tablespoons of Rose Harissa Paste in a large bowl. Cover in cling film and leave overnight to marinade.


Chop the onions and garlic and fry until the onions begin to clarify. Add the marinated lamb into the saucepan and fry for a few minutes. Next add the remaining ingredients for the stew: the passata, aubergine and red peppers and figs. Bring to the boil and then reduce to gentle simmer and cook for 2 hours or until the lamb is melt in the mouth soft


For the couscous, boil the kettle, place the couscous in a large bowl and slightly cover with freshly boiled water. The couscous is ready when all the liquid is absorbed and it is not granular when you bite into it. If it is still granular, add a tiny bit more water ( be careful: too much and you get porridge) and allow for absorption to take place. Next add the juice of the lemon and the olive oil and fork through the couscous, do not overwork otherwise the consistency will change for the worse.

In a separate heavy based frying pan, heat some olive oil and lightly toast the almond flakes, keep an eye on them and turn frequently as they have a tendency to burn easily. Put the almonds aside in a bowl to cool off and drain excess oil. Whilst the almonds are cooling add the parsley, chives and red onion to the couscous and do the same fork through process. Next add the almonds and finally the pomegranates. It is important the pomegranates are added last as they will burst, and your diners will miss out on the sweet burst of flavour when they bite into them whole.


Plate in whatever way works for you: the room temperature couscous is a delightful accompaniment for the rich intensity of the lamb and fig stew and better yet can be enjoyed all on its own as well if you have veggie guests. A testimony to this dish is that it’s the Tuesday after Easter Sunday and I just had a furtive bowlful as I typed this recipe.  I am ever up for a spot of confessional, especially when it involves things that are beyond delish!


Mum In A Million

It doesn’t take much to convince me to create a feast, but with Mother’s Day less than 24 hours away, it felt right and proper to share two recipes that will have the woman who made you feeling all not only well fed but well loved.

Some of you might notice a pudding course, but today may I suggest that one cheats and buys this in? And if you live in London then may I promote a carrot cake courtesy of the good people of Wholefoods…we don’t believe in stressy chefs at Gastrotastic and we’re sure the soon to be spoiled Mummys across the globe would agree to taking it a little easier.

A Bijoux Seafood Platter is the perfect Amuse Bouche (*BTB*)

At Gastrotastic we believe in feasting the eyes: we begin the Mother’s Day feast with a Dressed Cornish Crab some toasted blinis, smoked mackerel pate and sour cream.

We cheated a little and relied on the offerings of The Cornish Crab Company – they make all sorts of amazing takes on Dressed Crab and best of all they are stocked in Waitrose. No, I do not have shares in the The Cornish Crab Company although I sorely wish I did. If you’re in blow the budget mode serve this pre-starter up with smoked mackerel, sour cream, a glass of champagne and smiles all round.

Dressed Crab Seafood Platter

Starter: Salmon, Grapefruit and Avocado with Sesame Dressing

Difficulty Rating: Easy-Peasy


125 grams of Smoked Salmon (try and buy as expensive a

1 Red Grapefruit

1 Chinese Leaf Lettuce

1 Ripe Avocado

For the Dressing:

2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon of Sauvignon Blanc Wine Vinegar

1 Tablespoon of Grapefruit juice

1 Teaspoon of Tamari Soya Sauce

10 grams of Sesame Seeds


This dish is all about balance and is based on the amazing salad I was served as a starter at Grainger and Co but that I have slightly altered.

First pull four leaves from the Chinese Lettuce, wash under cold water and allow it to dry naturally. Whilst the leaves are drying heat a heavy based pan and put a dash of olive oil in the pan and toast the Sesame seeds until they begin to brown and put aside. Some of you keen readers will notice this is the third time sesame seeds have made it into Gastrotastic – let’s just say I am on a health kick and a big bag is still in need of getting through!

Next, tear the salmon into generous strips and place in the leaf.  After you have done this cut the grapefruit into quarts and then halve again and place the flesh of the fruit in the leaf. Finally do the same with the avocado. I say do the avocado last because if left in the air it will discolour and take on a grey colour; far from festive or cute. For the dressing combine the ingredients in a separate bowl and then spoon on to the mixture and serve.


Main Course Seared Coriander, Lime and Ginger Tuna Steak with Peanut Coated Noodles and Stir Fry Vegetables

Difficulty Rating: Slightly Tricky  – prep ahead to avoid elements that are cold


2 Large Tuna Steaks *BTB

125 grams of Egg Noodles

100 grams of Tender Stem Broccoli

100 grams of Mange Tout

50 grams of Baby Corn

25 grams of Peanuts

10 grams of Coriander

10 grams of Ginger peeled and sliced

2 Limes

1 Clove of Garlic

2 tablespoons of Tamari Soya Sauce

1 tablespoon of Clear Honey

1 tablespoon of Crushed Chilli

Olive Oil (for the tuna)

Vegetable Oil (for the noodles)

Tuna is expensive, there is no way around it. But you only have one mother so if you’re not willing to spend on her, then who will you? I went to a fishmonger and asked for steaks that were cut an inch and a half thick. The trick with this dish is to let the tuna marinade for as long as possible.


First put the Tuna Steaks in a bowl and add the juice of 2 limes, the ginger which can be either be peeled and sliced or if you’re feeling lazy out of a jar and the coriander which should be roughly chopped. Put in the fridge and allow to marinade for at least an hour.

Onto the stir-fry, the surprise element in this dish is the crushed peanuts which unlike with Pad Thai are cooked with the noodles. I crushed the peanuts ahead of time in a mortar and pestle.


To make things generally easier, buy your vegetables already prepped and have all the ingredients measured out so that when you come to cooking it is speedy and nothing is left to get cold. Heat a wok or as large a pan as you have and add the Vegetable Oil, when it is hot add the vegetables, garlic and soya sauce. Stir for a minute and then add the honey. Next add the noodles and the peanuts and the remaining ingredients. Stir for another minute and cover.

Now for the tuna: Heat your pan as high as you can bear, when the pan is smoking hot, place the tuna and cook for 20 seconds max. I am a believer in rare tuna – cook it through and you might as well have not bothered. Now serve up and watch your mother tear up as she sees what a superlative meal you have made! Happy Mother’s Day one and all!


Into the Deep – Carb Light Feasting and a Plating Masterclass

Two weeks to go and apart from the Herculean task that is cooking Christmas Dinner the festive season means relatives, guests and assorted hangers-on rocking up and expecting to be fed, ideally well. Whilst we all accept a kilo or two may be added to one’s weight, no-one wants to end up looking like the proverbial bloater come twelfth night, so we at Gastrotastic have come up with three recipes that are big on flavour, low on carb and best of all look pretty on a plate:

Scallops wrapped in Pancetta with Quails Egg, Asparagus and Hollandaise (please note the Blow The Budget, BTB hereafter item which is Quails Eggs)

Difficulty Factor: Easy Peasy


Four Scallops with their coral (that’s the deep orange claw shaped flesh)

Four rashers of Pancetta

12 spears of Baby Asparagus

Four Quail’s Eggs

Hollandaise Sauce* (today we cheated and bought Waitrose’s fresh version  – as egg yolks, tarragon vinegar and lemon juice would make this recipe BTB all the way – but if you have a blender you can make from scratch)

Black Pepper (optional)



This dish relies on you getting your timings spot on as both the prep and equipment used are pretty back to basics simple. First things first prepare your scallops by separating the coral from the main scallop and wrapping each in a strip of pancetta. The pancetta should go round the scallop once and when you do cook them cook them on the ‘join side’ first, thus allowing for the fat on the pancetta to act as a natural adhesive.


Heat a heavy based frying pan with just a drop of olive oil and cook the scallops for approximately one and a half minutes. Ever putting JC at the centre of much of what I do I normally time it to my saying the Lord’s Prayer thrice before flipping over, or if you aren’t religious, take the pancetta as your cue – deep pink in colour with slight crisping of the fat is the sign for the scallops to leave the  frying-pan party.

Meanwhile you would have a separate saucepan with boiling water in which you would have plonked your quail’s eggs in for precisely two minutes – any longer and they will be very hard boiled and you won’t get that cheffie two-toned yolk that always makes guests ooh and ahh before they have tasted anything.

In the same water pop the asparagus spears for two minutes (this way everything will be ready and hot at the same time) remove and leave in a sieve ready for assembly.

If you are cheating this is the point where you gently warm through the shop bought Hollandaise in the same pot you used for the eggs and the asparagus. Why? Because you do not want to put Hollandaise be it freshly made or shop bought on a high heat stove as it will make it more likely to curdle. To avoid the dreaded curdle, keep whisking rapidly and do not on any accounts bring to the boil.

All the elements are now ready to plate up and serve.

On Plating

We are all visual creatures. We’ll notice a winning smile before we discover the winning character and the same is no different with food.  Plating food is rather like fashion, trends come and go, from the precision of molecular gastronomy, to the home spun rustic where chunkily cut veg will have a protein casually resting a top. Or a hearty carb will be dressed in an inky rich sauce that goads you to mop up the remnants with bread or if needs must, one’s own finger.

The above dish has been plated up two different ways. The first is best described as old school classic – ideal for a sit down dinner where the best porcelain may be out and a deal needs to be struck somewhere between the pudding and the cheese course.  The asparagus is laid out like paving the scallops sit atop, the quails egg is cut in half and the sauce arranged in circular dots around the plate. 


In contrast the second is plated in a more contemporary style, think puddle of sauce, asparagus in a criss-cross formation a scallop and claw nestling both between and atop and the quail egg betwixt the two. The plate is cosy yet still yummy, ideal for a kitchen supper where you still want to wow, without looking like showing off, it is the culinary equivalent of the no-make-up make-up look or the perfect pullover thrown on with just the right side of worn in jeans. You get the picture.


As you can see there is no ‘right’ or wrong way to plate but do not think about it and the meal might not be as gastro-tastic as it could be as the eyes need to be fed too!

Seasonal Salads – Two Cracking Ideas

Salads may not be associated with winter, but these two combine exotic ingredients to make everything altogether more festive, after all why should only Northern Hemisphere ingredients have a starring role; some of us may be dreaming of warmer climes! Better yet, they are easy to prepare in advance and have on standby for additional guests, or for those who are done with their carb-comas and cannot face another roasted potato or parsnip!


Baby Octupus Chick Pea, Tomato and Coriander Salad

Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy


Four Baby Octupus

One Clove of Garlic

Juice of One Lemon

A Can of Chick Peas

A bunch of Coriander

Two Large Vine Tomatoes

2 Table Spoon of White Wine Vinegar

4 Table Spoons of Olive Oil

Salt and Black Pepper  to taste

Seeded red chilli (optional)



Season the Baby Octupus and place under a grill or an a grill pan on a medium high heat for two to three minutes.  When cooked, cut into irregular slices, put aside and mix with half the clove of garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and some olive oil.

In a separate saucepan place the remaining clove of garlic and add the chick peas cooking on a low heat for five minutes – do not stir too much as this will break up the chick peas, add the coriander and stir through for 30 seconds


Cut in quarts then half again the vine tomatoes stir them into the bowl that has the chick peas and coriander mix, then add the remaining olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and black pepper. If I am preparing this meal for an adult crowd I would have also flung in the seeded pepper as an introduction of heat to proceedings.

Now place the octopus artfully on top, remembering some of the visual tricks from before and serve with wedges of lemon on the side for guests to squeeze to taste on their own serving. If you are not keen on Octupus you can substitute with king prawns instead, but trust me the Octopus rocks.


Warm Chorizo, Roasted Pepper and Spinach Salad

Difficulty Factor: Easy Peasy


One Ring of Chorizo

Four Red Peppers

Four Cloves of Garlic

One Red Onion

500 grams of Baby Spinach Leaves

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to Taste



First things first preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade (Gas Mark 6)

Cut the Red Peppers length-ways into sixths; not too thin otherwise they will burn, not too thick otherwise they’ll take forever. Peel the garlic and put in whole, cut the red onion roughly and put in an oven proof dish, drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, and cook for 20 minutes,

Remove and turn over, so that the bake is cooked evenly and add the roughly chopped chorizo to the tray and cook for a further 20 minutes taking care to make sure that the chorizo does not burn.


Remove from oven and combine the spinach leaves into the tray – the spinach leaves will pretty much wilt due to the heat of the other ingredients and allow to cool to warm/tepid before serving


These two salads work excellently together – think surf and turf but remixed!





The Barnsley Chop That Kept on Giving…Two Ways With One Dish!

Barnsley Chops with Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables and Feta and Mint Couscous

Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy:


4 Barnsley Lamb Chops

2 Red Peppers

2 Yellow Peppers

4 large Tomatoes

1 Aubergine

2 Red Onions

12 cherry tomatoes halved

30 grams of Rosemary

30 grams of Thyme

50 grams of Parsley

50 grams of Mint

3 cloves of Garlic

2 Red Chillies

300 grams of Couscous

250 grams of Feta Cheese

Sea salt (a pinch or maybe two)

Juice of one lemon


First things first put the oven on at 200 degrees Centigrade – and whilst you’re doing that slice the aubergine and gently fry in a heavy based pan. The days of salting Aubergines to let bitter juices run are thankfully over so all one needs to do is let them brown and bung them back in the large roasting dish where all the vegetables will be cooked.




Now add the remaining raw vegetables into the dish. I am a great believer in the glories of a one-pot dish especially in the winter when any effort can seem that little bit harder…besides if you are cooking this for guests you’ll want some time for beautification whilst the food is doing its thing in the oven. Some might be afraid of the  garlic content but keep them whole rather than chopped and you needn’t require a breathalyser. At this point also fling in the thyme (roughly chopped) and the rosemary (leaves only) and add as much or as little salt as you wish. Finally a generous coating of olive oil and put in the oven for about 30 – 40  mins, turning at the 20 minute mark to avoid sticking.


Meanwhile in a large bowl empty out the couscous. Bring a full kettle to the boil and pour boiling water over the couscous covering the grains by a centimetre or so. Leave the couscous to rise and cook all on its own, again add salt to personal taste.

On a separate chopping board, chop up the parsley and mint. Now is the time to get a little ‘cheffy’ and chop as finely as you can bare/be bothered to, as this enhances the pretty factor.  You will also be adding the finely chopped chilli into the couscous and finally the juice of the lemon and a generous swirl of olive oil. Yes, I love me some olive oil, but it makes everything taste better and it is not the devil’s helper unlike butter….

The Feta should be cubed and added to the couscous and finally the cherry tomatoes that would have been cut in half. Try not to stir too vigorously as this will break up the component ingredients and then you end up with something that looks like savoury porridge. Not cute.


Now onto the meat: which should be dealt with last as the timings on cooking it are pretty key, for this dish you can use any type of chop but I like the Barnsley Chop because it is a double chop, thus you are guaranteed to be full rather than scratching around for a snack an hour or two later.

With lamb, the fat content can be a little bit frightening, especially if you see a future where you can rock a body con dress or a slim-fit shirt and blazer on a regular. I always sear the lamb fat down for a couple of minutes…it gets rid of the excess lard factor and then when you transfer the lamb for 8 minutes in the oven (do not be tempted to do for any longer – lamb chops are best pink in the middle, not cooked to oblivion) all is delicious and not heart attack inducing.


Now it is all about assembly time. In this instance I kept it simple: a mound of couscous in the middle, a chop to the side and the veg on the other. To find out altogether sophisticated plating tips tune into the next Gastrotastic blog…


Waste not Want Not: Who’s for Mazzi’s Mint Martinis?

A brilliant way to use up the remaining Mint ( bought in a supermarket rather than grown in your Victorian Kitchen Garden thus bagged with a taunting use-by date) and at the same time keep guests chilled whilst the chops do their 8 minute thing is  to serve a Mazzi Mint Martini.


Mash up the remaining mint you didn’t use in the couscous in a mortar and pestle. Put the mint mash in a sieve and through the sieve pour a good double measure of the Gin of your choice (I am a Tanqueray or Hendricks Girl) into a martini glass. It will look like some sort of Green-Health Drink at this point, but do not be alarmed. Next top up with tonic and serve to your waiting guests (or indeed yourself – after all you are cooking and require creative sustenance). For those who don’t drink or have some adventurous kids in the mix, lemonade rather than gin can be poured through the mint mash in the sieve, thus making for an altogether more elegant soft drink.


Waste Not Want Not Part 2: The Following Day Feast

At Gastrotastic we believe  that leftovers need not feel budget, A great way to make this meal work for a packed lunch to work or for the following evening is to chop up the remaining meat off any chops that were not consumed, grill for one minute (au revoir pink meat but you are going to be something different now) slaver in a chilli paste ( DIY style by simply chopping up the remaining chillis, plus a teaspoon of olive oil and a teaspoon any coagulant type condiment you may have, say honey or if you are feeling uber adventurous damson jelly) and then add all this loveliness  to the cold couscous remaining. The net result is In a word bliss. As in each mouthful you have cooling mint, rich roast veg that has now taken an antipasti type guise, and intense flavoured meat that does not speak of cold dreary nights in but warmer sunnier climes…You’re smiling and it’s cheaper than a holiday!