Get Involved – The English Italian Awards

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As the launch of the English Italian Awards is nearing (Spring this year), I thought I would share with you some further details on the awards themselves and the ‘low down’ on what’s involved. A little bit more of the ‘nitty gritty’, if you like, on these new kids in town!

I met face to face with Michael MacFarlane – the Press and Events Coordinator for the awards, as well as Michael Allen and Warren Paul the Event’s Organisers. Three lovely, humble, down to earth guys who love food and spectacular events, and who are on a mission to find England’s best Italian food spots. After all, being Scottish, they have already done this in Scotland – so now it’s our turn…

The awards are free to take part in, and any Italian business can enter (as long as the business uses Italian produce or is Italian run – you can enter). Once you have registered your interest, you will be sent a Voting Pack from the Italian Awards team. Then – the race begins, voting opens in Spring and the task then is to ask your customers to vote for you! The top 5 venues with the most votes for each category will be entered into the final – which involves an independent judging process. The Gala Awards final will be held later on in the year, a big event with lots of press and even Italian chef Aldo Zilli present on the night as celebrity judge!

Below is a full list of this year’s categories:

  • Favorite Italian Business
  • Best Italian Restaurant
  • Best Pizza
  • Best Pasta
  • Best Bistro
  • Best Multiple Operator
  • Best Fish and Chips
  • Best Front of House
  • Best Newcomer
  • Best Wine List
  • Best Family Restaurant
  • Most Romantic Restaurant
  • Best Marketing Team
  • Best Restaurant Design
  • Best Deli
  • Best Barista
  • Italian Chef of the Year
  • Best Ice Cream Parlour

When I met the team, I put a few questions to the guys, before chowing down on some scrumptious Italian food in Manchester. Over dinner we discussed their plans in detail, but I have summarised the most important pieces of information below. Remember, for a little more background on the awards, you can click here to go to my previous post. For now, here is all the detail you need to know on how to get involved:

Q. How do restaurants/businesses sign up to be nominated for an English Italian Award?
A. They simply have to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email us (events@paramountcreative.co.uk) and let us know they want to be involved. We will then send an information pack out when voting opens in Spring.
Q. Can restaurants/businesses apply for multiple categories – if so, how many?
A. There are no limits how many categories a venue wants to go for.
Q. Are there any geographical limitations? I.e. Manchester area or UK wide?
A. No limitations, venues across the whole of England can compete should they wish to.
Q. Who decides the short list?
A. The public vote decide the short list, the top 5 with the most votes go to the final.
Q. What happens next?
A. The top 5 are then individually judges by a panel of industry experts and scored on a scorecard which is also created by the experts. The winner of each category will be chosen within the 4 week judging process, and announced on the Gala Awards night.
Do you think you have what it takes to win one of these prestigious awards? Or do you know of a venue who would compete well against others in some of the categories?  THEN GET INVOLVED! THE BEST MUST WIN!
If you have any further questions, please contact:
The Italian Awards | info@italianawards.co.uk | www.italianawards.co.uk | 0141 774 5272
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Thai Chicken Noodle Broth

It’s really easy nowadays to create authentic tasting Thai curries and broths with very, very little effort. Obviously you can’t beat the real deal, and there is nothing better than a homemade curry paste to really inject your food with fresh, full and pungent flavours. But, for a mid-week dinner to rustle up after a long day a work, Thai curries are one of my super easy, quick, no-fuss dinners to whirl together in next to no time. The classic Thai red/Thai green flavours are delicious with chicken, king prawns or just veggies. I either serve them with steamed basmati rice or very thin rice noodles (the noodle version is more like a broth as opposed to a curry – the perfect warming dish for a cold, wintery night).

I like to add lots of fresh chilli, ginger, lemongrass, basil/coriander and lime juice to really give the flavours a boost, without too much effort.

Thai Chicken Noodle Broth
Thai Chicken Noodle Broth

Here is the recipe for my classic Thai Chicken Noodle Broth, which serves 2 and takes about 30 mins from wok to bowl.

What you need:

  • 2 skinless free-range chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • 2 red chillies, finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 3cm piece of ginger, grated
  • 2 fresh limes
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, outer layer removed
  • a teaspoon of fish sauce
  • handful of fresh coriander (leaves removed and stalks finely chopped)
  • 1 400ml can coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons Thai Red curry paste (I use Taste Thai which you can get in most supermarkets and some delis)
  • 2 nests of rice noodles (I use Sainsbury’s)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • prawn crackers, to serve

What to do:

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a large wok over a high heat. Once melted, add the chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes until slightly brown on the outside
  2. Add the sliced garlic, half of the sliced chilli and all of the chopped coriander stalks and continue to stir fry for another minute
  3. Once the ingredients start to release their fragrance, add the curry paste and continue to stir, coating all of the chicken
  4. Add the fish sauce and stir-fry for another minute whilst you bash the lemongrass stalk with the handle end of a knife to help release its fragrance
  5. Add the tin of coconut milk and the bashed lemongrass to the wok, and turn the heat down to a gentle simmer
  6. Simmer the broth for about 8-10 mins until the chicken is cooked through
  7. Whilst your curry broth is simmering, prepare the rice noodles as per the packet instructions (I use Sainsbury’s nests of rice noodles which cook in 3 mins)
  8. Drain the noodles and divide them into 2 warm bowls
  9. Take the broth off the heat and remove the lemongrass stalk. Squeeze in the juice of one whole lime and stir well
  10. Use a ladle to divide the broth into the two bowls of noodles
  11. Top the bowls with the rest of the sliced red chilli and finely chopped coriander leaves
  12. Serve with prawn crackers, and a wedge of lime!
Thai Chicken Noodle Broth
Thai Chicken Noodle Broth

Hope you enjoy this one! Sophie -x-

Exclusive Tasting Evening at Don Giovanni’s, Manchester

Antipasti Italiana
Antipasti Italiana

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to an exclusive menu tasting evening at Don Giovanni’s, by the lovely Ghida – who came across my blog on Twitter and thought I’d be a good addition to the guestlist, which mainly featured other food bloggers and some of Manchester’s food journalists and website contributors. What a compliment 🙂

The purpose of the event was to sample some of their new dishes, and we were treated to a fabulous 7 courses – including wonderful nibbles upon arrival and the most decadent dessert to finish off the evening. We were also there to test out Don Giovanni’s new function room – which has recently undergone a £30,000 refurbishment.

The Food

Nibbles: huge, plum, juicy, salty green olives. The most perfect little dough ‘pillows’ accompanied by a fresh basil pesto for dipping. The perfect combination to wet your appetite before starting any meal – the dough pillows we light, fluffy and small enough not to fill you up too much. The pesto was really fresh and complimented the olives and pillows well. Very morish, but I knew what was ahead, so had to restrain myself from eating one too many…

Dough Pillows
Dough Pillows

Wine: the meal was accompanied by a wonderful white wine (there was a red on offer too, but I stuck to white). Crisp, refreshing and perfectly palate-cleansing between bites. I’m no wine connoisseur (although I do drink my fair share when dining!) – but this bottle seemed like a fantastic and carefully chosen accompaniment.

Starters: to start things off, we were treated to a wonderful platter of Antipasti Italiana (pictured above) – a generous selection of cured meats, aubergine, courgettes, olives, mozzarella, peppers & tomato served with grissini sticks. So fresh tasting and the perfect starter to chose if you’re undecided and like to share with friends/family.

Selection of Mains: 

The first main course dish we sampled was the Ravioli di Spinach, which is egg ravioli filled with ricotta & spinach, served in a butter and sage sauce. I love ravioli, I just think it’s such a comforting and satisfying way to serve pasta – this version didn’t disappoint.  The pasta itself was indulgently eggy, the filling light and fresh – with an even coating of the rich buttery sauce topped off with sharp shavings of parmesan cheese.

The next we sampled was the Insalata di Polpo – a warm octopus salad with potato, celery, olive oil, red chilli and lemon juice. At first, I thought this was quite a strange concept, as I’ve not come across this combination before. It did however prove to be very tasty indeed – the octopus was plump, fresh and juicy and I actually really enjoyed it alongside the wedges of well-seasoned potatoes.

Insalata di Polpo - Warm Octopus and Potato Salad
Insalata di Polpo – Warm Octopus and Potato Salad

Next was the Tagliata di Manzo – thin slices of 10oz sirloin steak, served with rocket & parmesan shavings and cherry tomatoes. This was a very popular dish – everyone seemed to really enjoy it. The meat was so tender, pink throughout and seasoned really well. It was lovely alongside the sharp and creamy parmesan, juicy sweet cherry tomatoes and the fresh rocket salad.

Tagliata di Manzo - sliced sirloin steak with rocket and Parmesan
Tagliata di Manzo – sliced sirloin steak with rocket and Parmesan

The final of the main course offerings ended up being my favourite of them all – the Capesante Casereccie. This is a fantastic dish of seared King scallops on a pea puree, with sliced fresh red chilli, pea shoots and red currants. The scallops themselves were huge and cooked to absolute perfection. They still had the roe attached – my personal preference as I think this part of the scallop has so much flavour. The chilli was present but subtle, and the pea puree was creamy savoury – balanced so well with the juicy red currants. This really was a lovely dish – presented absolutely beautifully as well. Very impressed!

Capesante Casereccie: King Scallops with Pea Puree, Pea Shoots, Red Chilli and Red Currants
Capesante Casereccie: King Scallops with Pea Puree, Pea Shoots, Red Chilli and Red Currants
Capesante Casereccie
Capesante Casereccie

The dessert: What better way to end an Italian feast than with the mother of all Italian puddings – the classic homemade Tiramisu. As you can probably tell from my blog, I don’t have the sweetest tooth – so I am usually happy to skip the decedent puddings in favour of a simple Affogato or a scoop of ice cream. In this instance, however, I was prepared to make an exception. When the Tiramisu arrived, there was a slight gasp from all in the room. It was huge and finished to perfection – it looked absolutely divine. Once we had all taken our photos of it (typical foodies!), it was carefully sliced by the tentative waiter who served us all a slice. The taste really did not disappoint, it was incredibly light, fluffy, creamy – with a wonderful light touch of coffee and Amaretto flavour. A truly fantastic end to a wonderful evening of great food, fine wine and excellent company.

Homemade Tiramisu

Homemade Tiramisu
Homemade Tiramisu

I have since returned to Don Giovanni’s – but this time to dine in the restaurant which is elegant and modern, yet still has a warm, intimate feeling. The function room is great – it has loads of space and in total can accommodate 50 people seated and around 80 people standing for a canapés style party. It’s equipped with a full PA system and a projector, which I’d say is ideal for a range of private or business events. It also has its own iPod dock, if you want to play your own music.

The staff at Don Giovanni’s are very friendly, knowledgeable, polite and attentive. They are always happy to discuss and recommend dishes from the menu (if you’re indecisive, like me) and tell you more if desired about the ingredients and how they are cooked. Overall, I would say Don Giovanni’s is a highly recommended establishment, and I look forward to dining there again soon.

To find out more about Don Giovanni’s, or to book a table online, please visit: dongiovannis.co.uk.

Matti P’s Ultimate Veggie Burgers

Here’s one for meat free Monday. You can even make these bad boys ahead on a Sunday, ready to bake to perfection come Monday evening. These aren’t just any veggie burgers, no. They are Matti P’s ultimate veggie burgers. Healthy, easy and hella satisfying. This recipe makes 6 burgers, and takes about 50 mins to prep and cook. Once cooked, they will keep well in the fridge for a couple of days – and they make a great addition to a salad if you wanted to save one for work in the week. You can add more or less fresh chilli, depending on how spicy you like it…

What you need:

  • 2 and a half cups of Quinoa (cooked and cooled)
  • 3 spring onions
  • 3 sticks of asparagus
  • half a red chilli
  • one third of a courgette
  • 2 handfuls of spinach
  • 1 jar of Aldi’s Tomato and Mascarpone stir-in sauce
  • olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder (Matti notes, NOT garlic salt)
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 50 g cheddar cheese, whichever variety you prefer, grated
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato purée
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning

What to do:

  • Cook the quinoa and leave to fully cool
  • Cut the spinach as fine as possible and add to a large mixing bowl
  • Slice the other veg as fine as possible, mix together whilst chopping, then add to the mixing bowlveggie burg
  • Add in the garlic powder and paprika
  • Add the jar of tomato and mascarpone sauce. Grind in some salt and pepper to taste – Matti notes ‘don’t go overboard on the seasoning!’
  • Add the grated cheddar cheese to the bowl, as well as the tomato purée
  • Prepare a baking tray by lightly brushing it with oil, then add the quinoa to the mixing bowl
  • Combine all ingredients in the mixing bowl together thoroughly using your handsveggie burg 3
  • Once thoroughly mixed, split and compact the mixture into burger shaped patties – how many or how big is up to you. Matti likes his big, so he got 5 out of this mixture – but it makes up to 6!veggie burg 4
  • Place the patties onto the baking tray, and cook at 180 degrees for 35mins in the centre of the oven
  • Cook until golden brown
  • Enjoy on a flatbread with fresh salad and grilled halloumi!

Hope you enjoy this one, Sophie -x-

The Italian Awards come to Manchester

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So, the day is almost here. Tomorrow is the day I finally get to meet Michael and the team in person – the organisers of The Italian Awards UK. In their own words;

“Italian Communities across the UK are a vital and integral part of our hospitality industry; everyone has their own personal favourite Italian, and here at The Italian Awards we aim to recognise the true favourites across the country.

We strive to recognise excellence, and pick out the very best in categories ranging from “Best Pizza” to “Best Interior Design”. Giving initial voting power to the general public allows us to generate finalists that truly are the nation’s favourites, battling it out to become the best of the best.

Come join the family and help us decide this year’s worthy winners.”

Exciting concept, right? Well, this year, 2015, is the very first time The Italian Awards are coming to Manchester. Usually based out of Glasgow, the awards are a spectacular event celebrating all things Italian food in the UK. I’m am delighted to tell you that I have been chosen as an official blogger for the awards. I will be helping Michael and the team along with Taste Today and a few other great bloggers from the Manchester area. The awards themselves are set for September this year…Very exciting times!

Photo credit: http://scottishitalianawards.co.uk
Aldo Zilli, photo credit: http://www.scottishitalianawards.co.uk

I should also tell you that they have a celebrity judge on board, who joined them last year in Scotland and will again this year in our very own Manchester… The one and only Aldo Zilli! (@AldoZilli on Twitter). If you don’t already know, Aldo Zilli is an award winning celebrity Italian chef and restaurateur. He was the founder and chef-patron of some of London’s most exciting and innovative restaurants, Signor Zilli, Zilli Fish, Zilli Green, Zilli Café and Zilli Bar. He has also done consultancy work to help out other famous Italian restaurants such as Prezzo, and he has released many fantastic Italian cookery books. He’s also done countless TV appearances, and in 2012, he helped launch the upmarket Italian restaurant San Carlo Cicchetti in Manchester and London’s Piccadilly. He is now in partnership with San Carlo Group, who have 14 restaurants in the UK and four overseas. IMPRESSIVE!

Please keep posted for more regular updates on this wonderful affair. After tomorrow’s initial meeting, I will be able to tell you much more about our plans. If you think you can add value to the awards in any way, please feel free to contact me on sophiesscran@gmail.com, and I will be happy to see if there is something you can assist us with!

Ciao for now!

Sophie -x-

Mushroom & ‘Smokehouse’ Smoked Streaky Bacon Risotto

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As some of you may know, I wrote my first article for Taste Today last week, and it was based on the wonderful Cheshire Smokehouse, their history, their food and their amazing shop based just on the outskirts of Wilmslow, Cheshire.

As part of the article, I chose a product off their shelves and with the help of the Smokehouse’s owner Darren Ward, told the readers all about the full life cycle of their wonderful smoked streaky bacon. I then put it in this wonderfully indulgent, satisfying and creamy risotto.

You can read the full article on Taste Today’s website by clicking here, but for now, please enjoy the recipe from it! This scrumptious dish serves 4 people, and takes about 35 minutes.

What you need:

  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 6-8 rashers of The Cheshire Smokehouse Smoked Streaky Bacon, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1L good quality chicken stock
  • 300g risotto rice
  • Handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 100ml dry white wine (plus extra, for sipping whilst stirring, if desired!)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese, grated to serve

What to do:

  1. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or ceramic casserole dish and cook the onion and Cheshire Smokehouse Smoked Streaky Bacon for 5 minutes until soft.
  2. Add the mushrooms, garlic and bay leaf, and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes – until the mushrooms really start to release their juices.
  3. Stir in the rice and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the wine, and continue to cook (and stir) until all the liquid and juices from the mushrooms have been absorbed.
  5. Next, add the stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring well and waiting for most of the stock to be absorbed before adding the next ladleful. This process with take about 20 minutes – so I recommend you grab yourself a glass of wine as a reward for all this laborious activity!
  6. Continue until all the stock is added and the rice is cooked.
  7. Once the rice is cooked, removed the risotto from the heat and add the lemon zest, fresh parsley and season to taste with the black pepper.
  8. Serve with a little extra parsley and some grated Parmesan.

Hope you enjoy this one, love Sophie -x-

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An Introduction to Taste Today

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Hey foodies, it’s been a little while since my last post. The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest, but I have some news for you…

I am now a writer for Taste Today, which is a brand new website promoting everything to do with food in the North West and beyond. It’s an online magazine style site which promotes, praises and publicises all things food in the region, and really celebrates local produce and independent producers.

Taste Today delivers the latest food and comment from across the whole industry, plus features recipes, offers and competitions. I am so glad to be part of a team which champion local produce and aim to get it into the shopping baskets and onto the plates of local people. We want to raise awareness that everything we need is locally available, and more often than not is produced with love, care and pride!

I will be writing a range of features for Taste Today, mainly falling into the Dining In and Dining Out categories. Here is the link to my bio on the website: tastetoday.co.uk/about, please keep your eyes peeled for my first article featuring the wonderful Cheshire Smokehouse! I will be posting regular updates from my Twitter account (@sophiesscran) and you can also follow Taste Today directly – so please do (@TasteTodayHub)!

I sincerely hope you enjoy taking a look around the site, please let me know what you think. If you think you know of a story which would feature well on the site, you can contact Jo Cooksey (Editor and Founder) on hello@tastetoday.co.uk, or drop me an email direct on sophiesscran@gmail.com.

Thanks for all your support!

With love, Sophie -x-