Hospital Food

Check out Cirencester Community Hospital and its brand new restaurant. They are serving some really tasty, freshly prepared food to staff, patients and visitors. Its an amazing new premises with a well motivated kitchen brigade… and it’s open to the public.

I always had a perception about hospital food but when I see the work at the production kitchen at Stroud Maternity, the kitchens at Cirencester Community Hospital and the Gloucester Royal I am often impressed. Good ingredients simply prepared in some of the cleanest conditions I have ever seen with well trained staff.

Maybe I have been lucky I don’t know – what are your experiences of Gloucestershire Hospital meals? Be great to hear the good news… and the bad (if there is any).

Rob Rees MBE is The Cotswold Chef™


Chocolate – Is It All Bad?

ChocolateFor Chocolate Week 2009 Rob Rees, the Cotswold Chef, tells us what he thinks:

I adore chocolate. My wife is making me give it up – in fact it’s been nearly 3 weeks now without it (although I have fallen off the wagon a couple of times for a Wispa Gold). Is it good or is it bad? The science seems to be mixed about chocolate. As a chef I know that in terms of taste there is a massive variety in terms of quality due to the mixture of fat versus bean. Chocolate Week is a real celebration of chocolate starting on 12th October. I may get permission to indulge in a bar or two – maybe some Divine Chocolate as I love it. What are your views on chocolate?

Rob Rees MBE is The Cotswold Chef™

Feb 09 – Rob’s pancake recipe

pancakePancake Day is one of those days when every parent or grandparent has to “give it a go”. What can be cheaper to do than pancakes? Not only is it relatively cheap to cook but the value that everybody gets from having hours of fun together in the kitchen is immeasurable.

Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday does have a serious religious message. It was the feast dinner before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. What follows is 40 days of fasting till the arrival of Easter. Shrove Tuesday allowed early Christians a chance to cook eggs and fats that where likely to go bad during the fast. On the same day Christians are encouraged to go to confession where they would be “shriven” meaning “absolved of all sins”. A special pancake bell would ring from churches in London to summon parishioners to confession. Even in lean times pancakes where eaten on Candlemas Day-the day that all candles are blessed-and still are-for use at home and in church during the following year. Around the world many would process through the streets with lanterns and the blessed candles. In Paris women and children would walk along the river singing hymns and at the end of the procession they would indulge in a feast of crepes.

Now here in the UK and around the world we can indulge in pancakes any time of the year. There are indeed many worldwide varieties of pancakes such as the Scottish one (similar to dropped scones) or Russian versions called blinis used as a traditional garnish for caviar and off courses the well know French crepe-simple with butterscotch sauces or Suzette style with Grand Marnier and orange zest.

Tossing also stems form the Candlemas feast and many issues of fortune telling games. If the lady of a household can toss a pancake perfectly on the first go then she will never be short of money. If however it fails then the first pancake would be given to the chickens so that they would lay eggs in abundance during the forthcoming summer or it may be thrown into a tree for the crows to eat so that they would show gratitude by giving warning if the fox was about.

Whatever flavour you decide to do this year, sweet or savoury- just have fun. As a chef I say that whenever you do any food it is all about the organisation. Pancake Day however is different its about having a go. It is one of our most humble of fares soaked in festive history. See what is in the fridge chop it all together and chuck it in.

As for the tossing if you want to impress members of your family you may need to practice secretly first. The tip for a good “toss” is to have the pancake of the right thickness and indeed nicely cooked on the bottom side. You need the minimal amount of fat so it does not go all gloopy and then a good firm flick of the wrist.

My Recipe

Ingredients for basic batter:

  • 200g flour
  • 250ml milk
  • 150ml single cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • knob of butter

Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the cream, eggs, sugar and oil and beat all well till a smooth batter. Leave to rest for 1 hour. Beat again just before cooking. The above will make 20 pancakes 15cm or 6 inches in diameter. To cook them melt a little butter in a shallow frying pan or crepe pan if you have one. Pour of any surplus fat. Tilt the pan a little, pour in some batter and swirl it around the pan to spread evenly and waffer thin. Once golden and firm on the bottom either toss or flip with a wide palette knife.

To serve: Fold the pancake in half and sprinkle with caster sugar and squeeze of lemon juice. Fold into quarters and serve. Top with fresh vanilla ice cream. Ideas for fillings; apricots in rum, hot chocolate sauce, maple syrup and almonds, wild mushrooms, goats’ cheese and watercress, bananas and butterscotch, cherries and sour cream, pineapple and coconut or honey and lime.

Dec 08 – What’s Your Christmas Feast?

rob_christmasWhat’s your favourite Christmas food?

Rob Rees tells us his…

December is a month so full of traditions and for me the winter larder is a massive contribution to the tradition of Christmas. Here in Gloucestershire we are lucky enough to be living in an area well placed to bring the foody Christmas traditions to fruition.

Many of the region’s butchers bring us a variety of game, which is rich in flavour and natural goodness at this time of year. By its very nature it is extremely difficult for game to have been manipulated at the hands of mass production and the unadulterated meats sold by the man who has shot, hung and plucked it have a rich, raw and wholesome flavour unrivalled in today’s culinary world. Venison will always be a favourite for me at Christmas time. Whether it is a slow roasted haunch steeped in rich red wine, juniper and sage or perhaps some quick grilled medallions served as a winter salad or with “neeps”, it is always a winner.

Goose is always a great bird for the festive feast itself. Often now it is second best to the turkey, which is a shame. If you are thinking about goose this year then you need to take care during the cooking process to ensure maximum potential from your bird. Its important to add as much flavour as possible by filling the cavity of the bird with aromats such as thyme, bay leaf and garlic, maybe a studded onion and even pickled lemons or cooking apples if you like.

You also need to make a small incision under the wing of the goose and around the back by the parson’s nose – this will allow the fat to escape from the gland. As with turkeys and contrary to tradition it is best to cook any stuffing in a separate container so that the heat can penetrate all of the bird thoroughly till the juices are clear and safe to eat.

Whilst in the oven the goose still requires our respect. Before placing in the oven cover the legs with tin foil. I would then cook the bird on its back for the first hour and then turn it over. Take care to continue to baste with the excess fat keeping the bird moist. Cook till the back is golden brown and then recover with some foil. Cook for a further hour depending on the size of your goose – still keeping the legs covered. Sprinkle the back of the bird with a touch of sea salt, flour and cracked pepper to crisp up the skin in the final 30 minutes of cooking.

As with all meats you need to allow it time to relax once removed from the oven. 20 minutes should be enough time before your start to carve as required. Off course it has to served with great classics such as bread sauce, watercress and even game chips – simply shallow fry some thinly sliced washed and peeled potatoes to make your own crisps.

‘Tis the season to be poorly?

Of course turkey remains a firm favourite, but whatever meat you choose, make sure you know how to cook it safely to avoid the danger of food poisoning. See the FSA’s guide to seasonal food safety.

Five – a – day…

It always amazes me how we struggle to get the population to eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day and yet on Christmas day we consume absolutely tonnes of the stuff. I say keep it simple, don’t go over the top – try to balance it out over the other 364 days!  

The classics are always there – Brussels sprouts are vibrant, succulent and extremely earthy. Cross the stem, parboil till al dente then sauté with some spices, bacon and herbs. Bunch carrots and parsnips once scrubbed are delicious roasted with rosemary and honey. Remember that around Christmas time we are likely to have had a number of frosts – this is great news as the starches turn to sugars giving vegetables an even sweeter taste. With this in mind adapt your traditional recipe to cut back on the added sugar.

Say cheese…

As always the “pièce de résistance” has to be the Cotswold cheese board with the many local pickles and chutneys we have to choose from.

The cheeses produced in the Cotswolds are the best in the world. Forget the foreign imports. Don’t touch the ones with bits of apricot or cranberry just go for the real quality natural flavoured cheese.

I would actually suggest that this year you take time out from endless fiddly canapés and only offer a gem of a cheese board with freshly baked breads and some mulled wine.

What a year with so much food in the headlines. Let’s hope that the next actually achieves a cultural shift for the better in terms of foods we choose, cook and eat. 

Merry Christmas everyone and a very Happy New Year to all.

Oct/Nov 08 – May Contain Nuts


Rob Rees asks:

Should we label food more clearly for allergens? Should eateries be trained in giving adrenalin? Have we just turned into hypochondriacs?

Imagine the scene on a busy Saturday night at one of my restaurants  – a packed dining room full of guests. The kitchen is a buzz. Then one of my waiting staff enlightens me to the fact that one of the customers is finding it hard to breath. “Should we call an ambulance?” Don’t panic was the thought. Phone 999 and in the meantime don’t forget to keep the other guests happy.

Almost instantly the lady had symptoms of tingling in her tongue and a rash on her skin, her breathing was becoming difficult and as her blood pressure started to drop there was danger of her experiencing unconsciousness and a fall blown anaphylactic shock.

But enough about her for now…

Food Allergy in the UK is an increasingly growing problem. Along with other allergic problems such as asthma and eczema food intolerance cases are increasing. But there may be a bit of a worry culture here in Britain with almost 30% of the population actually believing they suffer from an allergy. The reality of the figures though is that perhaps 5 – 8% of children and 1 – 2 % of adults are serious food allergy sufferers. It is thought that 10 people per year die from anaphylactic shock.

The mismatch figures are best explained by the fact that allergy and intolerance are different. A full-blown allergy will attack our human immune system causing a serious chemical reaction in our bodies. An intolerance, whilst often very unpleasant and alarming, will not affect your immune system. Of course there may be stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea and feverish temperatures but it is not anaphylaxis. These sufferers are having a very unpleasant aversion to a particular ingredient. To be more specific it is an allergen in a food that is causing the problem for anaphylaxis sufferers.

The most likely suspects that contain such allergens are peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, nuts, sesame seeds and shellfish. That doesn’t rule out others though like watermelon, kiwi fruit, orange, lactose, various additives and all kinds of other products that may contain a combination of allergens.

So what can be done about it?

There are a number of things that we all have to do.

  • Sufferers themselves need to be aware and let friends, family and when eating out caterers know.
  • Your eating experience need not be spoilt as long as those cooking for you are informed and also the food that you buy is correctly labelled so that you are not limited to your selection or put at any greater risk.

‘May contain nuts’ doesn’t really go far enough does it?

  • Industry needs to either say it does or it doesn’t. I spent a day going shopping with a lady called Hazel Gowland from the Anaphylaxis Society and was appalled as to the limitations and dangers that lurked in the supermarket commercial wilderness. To be fair many are starting to improve their production systems, but more needs to happen and faster. It is actually really pleasing to see that at Gloucestershire Farmers Markets product diversity is including gluten free sausages, diabetic chutneys and other growing consumer product needs. Many of those who have such a problem will ware a bracelet stating their particular allergen nasty – this is so that medics will know how to appropriately deal with them.
  • If somebody asks you if a particular dish contains a certain ingredient – don’t blag it, find out the truth. The customer or friend really won’t mind waiting if you do it in the appropriate manner – you may be saving someone’s life.
  • Young people and young adults who suffer need to inform their friends. That late night Chinese takeaway after a club session could cause a problem with all the nuts and satay sauce. Just don’t take the risk. You will still be cool and you are not alone. Schools are more geared up to the problem than ever before, but if in doubt mention it to the teachers and make sure that a policy is documented.

As for my lady guest her special occasion did turn into a nightmare but the great work of the ambulances saved her. She didn’t know she was a sufferer, which proves for some it can have an onset at any stage in life. Adrenalin was administered and as quick as the shock arrived it began to recede and a nighttime stay in casualty monitored her recovery. I made it my problem in those early days of my career as I do now to question clients if they have dietary needs and I clearly label my menus and monitor my processing systems in my kitchens. It’s routine and should be for others in the catering and food-manufacturing sector. They need to make it their problem.

What do you think?

Aug 08 – Attention further education colleges

So we thought it was just schools that where involved in the Government health drive. Well not any more. Further Education Colleges will be asked to look at developing Healthy FE Schemes that involve their staff and pupils. This will cover everything from drugs and alcohol advice to sexual health and well being.

What about food? I would love to see development sessions for staff to inspire them to good food and information around healthy eating that will add value to their work and lives. Not only that but what about standards for food provided for students in FE settings and a ban on the poor quality vending machines – why should it just be about the schools. If you are a staff member at a FE college or a student lets us know here about the good, bad and ugly of what goes on around food provision in your college.

Rob Rees
Rob Rees MBE is The Cotswold Chef™

Aug 08 – Here’s an update on Get Gloucestershire Cooking…

From September 2008 Get Gloucestershire Cooking reaches out to three of Gloucestershire’s Pupil Referral Units. It will be working with the students and staff to help develop hot school meals cooked by the youngsters themselves and meet all the new standards……fantastic, and inspired by the young people.

Not only that but Get Gloucestershire Cooking will be delivering 20 masterclasses to staff and parents in Early Years settings across the county. It’s never to early to start… I know that there are so many more cooking projects for all ages in the county, it’s time to shout about them and list them here on the blog.

Rob Rees
Rob Rees MBE is The Cotswold Chef™