It is T minus two days until Father’s Day and I’m in a bit of a tizz. Pa Berg has requested weedkiller for Father’s Day! Weedkiller?! I’ve offered to take him out for lunch (to the Old Boathouse in Amble, which I’m desperate to try) , for brunch (to the Mal, because I’ve been waiting for an excuse to sample the new menu for months)  and even to the cinema (as I fancy a bit of picamix and seeing the Great Gatsby) but all he wants is weedkiller. “Dad, we can’t consume weedkiller!” Why can’t he be more like Ma Berg, who gratefully received her Mother’s Day gift of a trip to La Bodega when I wanted to test their tapas? (review here).

The usually very hungry Daddy Berg has even gone as far as banning me from buying him anything he ‘doesn’t need’, which I think sort of goes against the sentiment of the day. In a way I think many dads are quite unassuming on Father’s Day and don’t like to make a big fuss. Personally, I consider cheese a bit of a necessity and he seems to really enjoy meat every Sunday lunch time, so I’m pondering making a purchase from the TASTECLUB’s Father’s Day collection. I had hoped to win their Foodie dad competition and circumvent the whole rule about ‘buying him anything he doesn’t need’ but alas, I just checked the winner’s details and it’s not to be. So, in the running for Dad’s special gift, along with a bottle of weedkiller, is…

A turophile tour

Northumberland Cheese Company Cheese tour

Cheesemaking tour and tasting £25 (photo courtesy of TASTECLUB)

 A mountain of meat

a mountain of northumberland steak

Luxury steak board (£65), photo courtesy of TASTECLUB

My thinking is that if he really doesn’t want anything, I can at least help him get rid of it when it arrives (ahem), which is definitely not possible if I opt for the weedkiller. Plus, I’m almost 100% certain if I did buy him the weedkiller he’d go in the huff like the time I made him a mini-breakfast (he’d already eaten toast, I was trying not to bloat him).

So, what’s it to be? Weedkiller? Cheese? Steak? Is anyone else’s father being a total grump this year? Should I respect his wishes and not buy him anything? Guidance, please!

A review of Lulu’s Chinese cookery class, Newcastle

I’ve been dying to write up my review of this Newcastle cookery class since I went along a few weeks ago because the evening was simply too good to keep to myself. It was the perfect Friday evening – there was food, new friends, laughs and a real belly-bloating serving of seriously sensational carbs.

This is no exaggeration: every single day since I went to the Xi’an noodle making class held by the very lovely Lulu at her home in Newcastle, I have found myself drifting off and dreaming of these noodles. Several times I have found myself salivating at the wheel on my drive home from work as I replay the eating of these noodles in my mind  – they tasted that good!

The handmade noodle class is just one of the events Lulu, originally from the Xi’an region, holds at her home. It’s a cross between a supperclub and a cookery class and you can find out about other classes/events she has coming up on her website here. You’ll also find lots of easy to follow recipes on her blog and details of her appearances at regional food events with her authentic street food.

My friend and I paid £36 each to attend the Friday night class, for which we received an extraordinarily warm welcome into Lulu’s home, a hefty starter, several hours of extremely hands-on cookery tuition, a shed load of giggles, some new friends, a superior supper and a take home goody bag too! As with my previous review of Maunika Gowhardan’s Indian cookery class at Blackfriar’s – I won’t be sharing all the secrets of Lulu’s class here as it’s very much in your best interests to head along and experience it for yourself, but I will be touching on some of the simple things I learnt and sharing some snaps I took on the night. it’s also worth  noting that the recipe we cooked didn’t require lots of hard to find ingredients and Lulu gave insiders tips on where to buy items we might need in the future.

Chinese ribs and cucumber at Lulu cooks Chinese

A truly lip smacking starter

The evening started with a pile of ribs and a truly lipsmacking cucumber salad, which Lulu prepared before our eyes. Cucumber as the feature of a dish is a strange concept, but we couldn’t stop eating it, despite it being seriously difficult to pick up with chopsticks. The secret was the garlic, chilli and oil Lulu poured on the dish to flavour it. The chilli, which came from Xi’an had a heat that made your lips tingle and tickle but wasn’t so hot that it overwhelmed everything else, it did make you pout a lot though. The ribs were soft and sticky and I stopped eating them only because I was afraid I wouldn’t have room for my noodles.

Lulu cooks Chinese style bolognese sauce at her home

Lulu adds her meat to the sauce

Lulu started the cookery demonstration by showing us how to make the sauce that would accompany our handmade noodles. The dish itself was a little like a Chinese bolognese and she explained there was some shared ancestry for the dish. Rather than cooking the meat first (pork mince and shredded chicken) she added it directly to the sauce base, which is a tip I’ll be using to keep my meat sauces more moist – Chinese or otherwise.

The very laborious task of kneading the noodle dough for the class was performed by Lulu in advance of our arrival, though she did demonstrate it for us – armed with a chair to allow her to put all of the weight of her petite self behind it while working on her wooden work surfaces (which I eyed enviously).

Perfectly prepped handmade noodle dough

Perfectly prepped noodle dough

The main task of the evening – which somehow locked both my shoulders and had us all in fits of giggles – was the noodle slapping. The process of stretching Chinese noodles is all in the wrist action and involves tapping (or more slapping for me and my fellow pupils) the dough off the bench. Here’s my friend Danielle making it look easy:

Handmade noodle making

Danielle shows us how to slap ’em

I’m not sure how long I was slapping my noodles for but it felt like hours and I certainly worked up an appetite doing it. Whether it was my poor technique or just my general arm weakness – by the end of this activity I felt a bit like I’d taken part in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. However, my efforts were rewarded when Lulu served up my bowlful of noodles topped with sauce and a generous helping of the lip-smacking chilli that transformed that cucumber. This topping with the hot oil dripped through it added a whole other level of flavour to a dish that had been slow cooked with Chinese spices.

Pork and chicken noodle dish at Lulu cooks Chinese

I just can’t get you out of my head, noodles

My noodles came in a proper deep bowl, as noodles should and though I did eat them with chopsticks at first I was soon shovelling them in with a fork. They were moist, almost sweet and with that slight tingle from the chilli. As a real greedy guts I managed to finish my plentiful portion but some of the other pupils took leftovers home in boxes Lulu thoughtfully had on hand.

For those looking for authentic Chinese food or a different dining experience, Lulu Cooks Chinese will really hit the spot. It’s a bonus that you can take along your own booze to make the evening even cheaper and the teaching group is so small (6-8) that you get a lot of individual attention and very generous servings of food. I’m watching Lulu’s website closely (in a friendly non-stalker fashion) to see where she’s appearing next in an effort to get my hands on some of her street food. Meanwhile, I’m once again daydreaming about these noodles.

“My favourite type of diet is seafood, I see food and I eat it!” It’s a proper dad joke but it’s also pretty true – I do love seafood and there’s nothing in life I like more than a good buffet. Forget fine dining, if I ever get married there’s going to be a buffet of dreams at the reception. In fact, forget the wedding – let’s just have a buffet.

I was recently invited to try out the Brunch menu at the Hotel du Vin on Newcastle’s Quayside. I’m quite a fan of brunch and I’m glad it seems to becoming a more established meal time on these shores – as far as I’m concerned it’s express permission to have your breakfast really late and eat more to make up for it. When I found out one of the four courses of the £19.95 Hotel di Vin Sunday Brunch was a seafood buffet course I said I would be there with bells on – though what actually happened was I got lost en route and turned up so late I missed drinks in the beautiful bar and the soup course.

Hotel du Vin Newcastle's bar

The very pretty bar I didn’t get to spend time in (photo:Hotel du Vin)

I was offered belated soup (vegetable) but decided to save space for the other three courses. My meat-free month lingers on in my memory and the opportunity to graze on plentiful seafood and meats from the French-inspired market table made me apply common sense and sidestep the liquid course. I also opted for wine instead of a cocktail, though I did steal some very pleasing sips of my dining partner’s Kir Royale – It was good.

Kir Royale cocktail at Kir Royale Newcastle

Kir Royale £7.50

I paid two gluttony-fuelled visits (one meat, one seafood) to the market table and spoke with the very knowledgeable chef about the impressive spread.

The spread at the Market table at Hotel du Vin Newcastle

A peek at the market table (photo:Hotel du Vin) 

The sheer volume of quality meat, fish, prawns, mussels and oysters on offer would easily be worththe £19.95 fee alone  and this was without the breads, pastries and condiments to accompany them.

A plate of seafood at Hotel Du Vin, Newcastle

A very fish plate

On hand during the meal was Hotel du Vin’s sommelier in residence who recommended the perfect fresh, crisp, white for me to wash my salmon down with before embarking on my main course. I’m happy to admit that I’m just as likely to visit a cafe with a BYO policy as a bistro with a sommelier, but on this and during previous visits to Hotel du Vin bistros the sommelier has always been approachable, helpful and never hit a bum grape note. I was so impressed on this occasion that I asked if the hotel ran any wine-focused events (they do, see their site).

Unlike the majority of my fellow diners I decided to plump for a juicy burger rather than a roast for main course. This was in part because Ma Berg has been generously feeding me a roast every single week since my repatriation (I’m getting roast-tund). The roasts looked great, but when my burger arrived complete with a pot of very French Fries any Yorkshire pud envy I may have had disappeared. The burger was nicely pink in the middle and came oozing with gruyere and topped with crispy bacon.

The Bistro Burger at Hotel Du vin with bacon and cheese

A belly-filling bistro burger

After failing to finish my fries I was a little edgy about making room for dessert but it turns out there’s always room for ice cream, and profiteroles. I always tend to order starter instead of desserts in restaurants, which is a habit I formed after being fed too many pre-packaged, sub-par desserts. However, the profiteroles at Hotel Du Vin were freshly made and came filled with not-too-sweet and creamy vanilla ice cream, along with a good ladleful of milk chocolate sauce.

I’m always very particular about giving a fair representation of all the places I review – whether I’ve paid for my feed or not and on this occasion I’m happy to give Hotel Du Vin and their brunch a bloated thumbs up. At £19.95 this four course brunch really is a bonanza and a great choice for a special family gathering or catch up with friends and I’ve already recommended it to several people looking for somewhere to eat over the weekend.

Of course, Hotel Du Vin are not the only ones pushing brunch at the moment and having happily adopted this extra meal of the day into my eating routine I’ve been trying out brunches far and wide since dining there to see how they compare. My efforts have been concentrated out of town so far but I’m hoping to try out the American-inspired fare at the nearby Mal shortly, which is also offering a £19.95 Sunday Brunch Menu. All other brunch venue recommendations are gratefully received (and brunch buddies)!

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Despite my good intentions I always seem to be writing about my foodie penpal parcel of the month about five days after reveal day. Reveal day is usually on the last day of the month and the idea is that everyone who takes part in foodie penpals Europe and America posts a link to their blog on the Lean Green Bean site so we can all take a look at what everyone else has received. As a former journo I’m extraordinarily nosey so I love taking a peek at what everyone else has received in their parcels and it always incites inspiration and jealousy in equal measures (even if I have a fantastic present on my table at home). Moving forwards I’ve decided to be extra strict with myself to try to meet the posting deadline, in fact, I’ve decided to spring clean the blog in general over the Bank Holiday weekend and polish up part-written posts and semi-perfected recipes, as well as having a bit of a restructure.

Anyway, enough of my weekend world takeover plan, here’s a little look at what I received in this month’s foodie penpal parcel, which came to me all the way from the lovely Lina in Lithuania.

Lovely Lithuanian treats

Lina had a hard job as I’ve been trying (and failing) to diet this month – so she put together a parcel of authentic Lithuanian foods including Lithuanian crackers and  sweet vanilla biscuits (great for tea dunking), as well as some other healthy-ish bites. There was a lot of variety in this package, which included everything from meat marinades and oats to add to smoothies right through to a coffee bean lollipop! I’ve recently become semi-addicted to the chocolate beans from Hotel Chocolat and I’m pretty sure this lolly was a lot kinder calorie-wise. It was also a lot kinder to my pocket as at £3.99 a packet the beans are an expensive new addiction – does anyone have a good recipe/technique for making their own? The package element I’m dying to try is the dried mushrooms – I got really into mushroom consumption during meat-free March and I’m contemplating putting these into a pasta or risotto dish.

I sent a parcel to Stephen in Belfast he doesn’t have a blog and I unfortunately forgot to photograph the goods before I sent them over – but I went for a mix of sweet treats and Asian cooking ingredients, which I’m hoping hit the spot. If you’d like to get involved with foodie penpals, take a trip over to Thisisrocksalt and read up on the fantasticness that is Euro foodie penpals.



Confession: Why I’m now Newcastle cookery class mad

I like to pack as many things into my life as I can and a lot of these things (as my expanded waistline pays tribute to) are food based. I hate feeling like I’m not being productive in some way and though I love socialising – more often than not I’ll try and tie in testing out a new restaurant or a new bar if I’m meeting with friends and as I edge out of twenties (ouch) I find myself looking for options other than gannin oot on the lash at the weekend. Recently I’ve translated my geekery/food love and fear of hangovers into a hunt for food-based learning fun and first on the list was a cookery class with the exceptionally talented Maunika Gowhardan.

I headed along to one of Indian chef and food writer Maunika’s classes held in the workshops at Blackfriars on a cold evening at the end of last month and it was money exceedingly well spent. Not only did I get to eat some fantastic food, which was much appreciated during the month of bland dairy-carb overload, but I also picked up some tips and advice I know I will be able to use whenever I cook with Indian flavours from now on. The class itself was extremely good value at £40 for three hours tuition, a three course meal, wine, recipe car and a goody bag to take home and instead of picking up a nasty hangover I caught the cookery class bug (can anyone recommend any in the area?).

I won’t be revealing all of the secrets Maunika shared during the course of the evening – it would probably take me a week to write a post long enough. The class itself was very relaxed and interactive and Maunika covered everything from tackling people’s personal indian cookery issues right through to recommending her favourite Indian restaurants across the country and she did it all with infectious enthusiasm. I might be gushing a bit as I think I have a bit of a girl crush on Ms Maunika, but not only was she incredibly helpful and friendly but she was a cooking neat freak!

All prepared for the Maunika Gowardhan Class: ingredients

Maunika is a neat cook

As a bit of a newcastle newb I was slightly late to the class, but when I did get there I was greeted by some fabulous indian pancakes and chutneys including a mint pickle, which was almost like a pesto and so very different to the raita usually served in restaurants.

On the menu at the Maunika Gowardhan class

  • Bengali Murgir
  • Mattar Paneer
  • Spiced Cabbage Thoran
Maunika guided us through the preparation and cooking of each dish, answering questions along the way – even covering where to buy ingredients or possible alternatives to use. One of the best bits of advice I picked up was concerning the addition of heat to a curry. For too long I’ve been adding extra chilli powder or spice near the end of cooking, which is a big no-no that results in a powdery taste and I’m thankful to Maunika on shining some common sense on this by pointing out that powdered spices need to be cooked through.
Maunika Gowardhan during her curry class

Maunika at work

When the various curry dishes were cooked we were quickly served up a generous portion and I was sorry to be missing out on the delicious smelling Bengali Murgir with it’s tender looking chicken, until I tucked into my paneer along with some roti, cabbage thoran, rice and chutney.

A plateful of mattar paneer

Creamy mattar paneer

I did brave a lot of dairy in this particular dish but it was worth it – the full fat yoghurt gave the sauce a creamy taste without feeling too heavy and though I’d never had paneer not in a light batter (and it is soooo good in a light batter) I’m a complete convert and will be eating it in batter-free guises from now on.

Dessert came in the form of a kulfi and spiced barfi, which slipped down effortlessly despite the hefty amount of food that came before. I’d never had barfi before and found it delicious – somewhere between a sweet and a cookie and thoroughly moreish.

Pistachio ice cream and Indian cookie

Pistachio ice cream and barfi

And there were even some essentials from the class to take home to help us recreate the evening in our own kitchens.

Maunika's spice mix and damson chutney

Take home treats

If you fancy a fun, tasty and hangover free activity or are looking for an original gift – I’d strongly urge you to give the class a go. I’ve got a fair few Indian cook books but the insight Maunika gave into why you need to do a particular process at a particular time or why a specific ingredient is used was very helpful – as were her restaurant recommendations, which I’ll be signing friends up to try out as soon as possible. I’ve now well and truly caught the cookey class bug and went along to another class Lulu cooks Chinese this weekend  and i’ll be posting my review on that soon!