Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Food apps on iPhone and iPad

I’ve spent a fair of time over the last few days playing with (er, researching) apps on my iPad and it’s amazing how many there are (3066 in the Lifestyle section alone)

What got me started was Mitch Tonks excellent Eat Fish (£1.79 until Dec 31st) which includes a series of videos on techniques such as pinboning, skinning, scaleing and filleting as well as information about what fish is in season and ‘fish facts’ and recipes for different fish.

Jamie O, as you'd expect, is there though I'm more impressed by his Jamie's Recipes than the free 30 minute meal timer to encourage you to buy his latest book which I note he doesn't promote on his site.

So, more surprisingly, is Antonio Carluccio whose Simple Cooking you can download for £3.99 (you could do with a sample video to decide whether to buy it) and Nigella fans can have access to the Voluptuous One’s Quick Collection for £2.99 until January 3rd (£4.99 after that).

Then there’s Flipboard, an app which enables you to create a stylish-looking magazine of the sites that most interest you (including a brilliant full-colour version of Twitter that shows your followees’(if that’s the right word) photos. You can also download excerpts from Bon Appetit but they frustratingly only give you a teaser on many items. For the whole story you have to go through to the website with an invitation to subscribe.

I prefer the approach of Food and Wine which enables you to download a couple of full sample issues (iPad is potentially a great way to subscribe to overseas food mags without having to wait for them to come through the post) and Epicurious’s Epi which is more like an e-zine. (You can see how they plan to make their money from the PEARfect dishes section sponsored by USA pears.) It also gives you the opportunity to sync your recipe box (for £1.19) if you’re an existing Epicurious fan.

Blogshelf (£2.99) which I discovered through Sarah of Bray’s Cottage, I suspect will become addictive. It’s a great way to keep up with your favourite blogs giving them glossy magazine values. The American site Serious Eats* comes pre-loaded and you can add whatever other blogs you like - the more visual the better.

And there are cookbooks too. Not so much from ibooks (can that survive?) but from the more extensive Kindle store where you can pick up books for free though I have to say Classic Cookbooks - 12 books on cooking before 1800 - is pretty indecipherable and I’m not sure I want 250 Slow Cooker Recipes even at 74p. But it’s worth downloading samples of books you might be interested in buying like The Food Stylists Handbook (hmmm, not on the basis of the download). Note Kindle editions may be different from the standard version and may not be much cheaper than a real live book.

Of much more interest is the stunningly photographed The Photo Cookbook and The Photo Cookbook - Baking with their crystal clear step by steps - a great buy for just £2.99 (through the App store)

I have two worries about all this. One is actually cooking from my iPad. Judging by the bespattered state of my cookbooks there’s a fair chance I’ll manage to destroy it by spilling boiling hot stock all over it.

And it does make me wonder if we’ll actually have food mags and cookery books in five years time. I hope so - I still think that books are nicer to handle - but I fear it means even more focus on celebrity titles that can spawn apps. What do you reckon?

*I've just discovered Serious Eats has its own list of iPhone and iPad apps including back issues of the late, lamented Gourmet magazine - more distracting apps for you to browse!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sipsmith Sloe Gin 2009

There's something about this weather that makes you turn to spirits. I've drunk . . . er, sipped . . . more whisky, Somerset Cider Brandy and rum in the last week than I have all year.

And now, just in time for Christmas, sloe gin. A new one - so far as I'm aware - from the excellent Sipsmith microdistillery in south London. At 29% ABV it's a few degrees higher in alcohol than Bramley & Gage, Plymouth or Gordons (all 26%), rich, fruity and ever so slightly medicinal. (I'm sure it's doing my cough good)

If you haven't tried it with Stilton - or even better Stichelton - you haven't lived.

Only a 50cl bottle which makes it expensive at around £21-22 though Majestic is apparently selling it at £20 (not on their website). You can also buy it for around £25-26 in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols or online from The Whisky Exchange but obviously not until after Christmas.

Worth every penny though. A great last minute present.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hobbs House G-Stone

To be frank, G-Stone sounds more like a sex toy than a loaf but it's my favourite new bread.

Tom Herbert of Hobbs House Bakery brought it along to Cheese School the other night. It's a small but perfectly formed stoneground loaf, moist and malty that's apparently made from - and I quote the website - coarsely ground wholemeal wheat flour, organic cut wheat, sea salt, yeast, planet-friendly organic palm fat (love that!), organic molasses and water. You can see its lovely crumbly texture below and on the slideshow-style pix on their website. It's great with cheese - especially cheddar but I'm enjoying it with honey at breakfast too.

I topped up my supplies in the Better Food Company's new Whiteladies Road store (below) yesterday but you can also buy it on-line as part of a bread selection along with the Hobbs House Shepherds Loaf which Trethowans Dairy uses for its legendary cheese toasties (which I've now worked out how to make at home). Last orders for Christmas are on Wednesday 22nd (I would have thought weather permitting) but you could always buy someone an online gift voucher.

It underlines what a brilliant place Bristol is for bread - the best city outside London I'd have said.

Oh, and apparently the reason it's called G stone is that it was named after a Hobbs House baker, Graham, who helped create it. And the fact that it's shaped like a stone. Quite prosaic really . . .

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The brilliant Bristol Cider Shop

Just two weeks before the end of the year I stumbled upon one of my best Bristol finds of 2010, the new Cider Shop on Christmas Steps. And would you believe one of the owners is called Peter Snowman? You couldn’t make it up.

Anyway great story. He and his partner Nick Davis came up with the idea a few months ago when they were sitting drinking cider in The Orchard. They wondered why there wasn’t a cider shop in Bristol, the heart of cider country and with very little knowledge of either cider or retail (Peter worked for the Prince’s Trust, Nick was a tree surgeon) decided to set one up - in the front room of Peter’s cottage.

Amazingly they got a licence and managed to open three weeks after that, stocking bottles from small artisanal producers from within 50 miles of Bristol and a changing selection of cider on draught. All are made from juice rather than concentrate. I tried three: West Croft Cider’s Janet’s Jungle Juice (6.5%) a pure, fresh appley medium dry cider, the crisp dry Wilkins Farmhouse (6%) and a pure fragrant Hecks Blakeney Red perry which were all terrific. Most are under £2 a pint.

You can bring in your own container or buy one from them or buy by the bottle. They’ll deliver larger orders locally for parties and if you’re stuck for a present and live in the Bristol area they even do cider hampers. They should have a fully functioning website early in the New Year. (At the moment they don't even take credit cards! Now remedied - see comment below)

You can keep track of what they're up to on their Facebook page

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dream custard creams from Hart's Bakery

Bristol is already unfairly well-provided with artisan bakeries but here's another one from Laura Hart who used to bake the fantastic bread and cakes at Lido and before that at Q.V. and Bordeaux Quay.

I met her today at the Made in Bristol Craft Fair where she was running a joint pop-up tea and biscuits stall with Kate Gover of Lahloo Tea. She'd baked some amazing-looking mince pies and these delicious heart-shaped custard creams which tasted almost exactly as I remember them when I was a child, only crumblier and slightly less sweet. (Apparently the secret is using Bird's Custard Powder in the filling.)

She also sells her bread, croissants and cakes in Hampton Lane (just off Cotham Hill) from 8am to lunchtime Monday to Friday and normally has a stand outside Planet Pizza in Gloucester Road from 9am to lunchtime on Saturdays.

You can keep tabs on any other outlets via her website

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Gay Hussar's Crispy Roast Duck

I went to a press lunch at The Gay Hussar this week and was relieved to find that it was almost exactly the same as when I last went 10 years or so ago to interview the manager John Wrobel (who I seem to remember was a Pole). It was opened in 1953 by the late Victor Sassi - there's a great account of its colourful history here)

It's one of those restaurants that's more about the ambiance than the food. For years, long before the days of New Labour, it was the haunt of Labour politicians and union bosses although there was a bloke sitting next to me who looked like the kind of MP who would have a duck pond so maybe the Tories frequent it these days. You can see why chaps like it. It's a clubby, congenial sort of place with cosy red walls lined with books and caricatures of its famous patrons.

The highlight of the menu is, as it always was, the roast duck which I suspect, given its extreme crispness, is actually deep-fried. It's served with red cabbage, apple slices and a slightly soupy mixture of potatoes and apple and is absolutely delicious.

The other dishes aren't really in the same league though I have to admit the goulash soup really hit the spot on a freezing cold day. And was surprisingly authentic given that the chef is Portuguese . . .

At £18.50 for two courses the Gay Hussar represents great value for a Siberian winter lunch. Save it for a post-Christmas treat.

* It's now currently owned by The Restaurant Partnership, the same company that owns Elena's L'Etoile

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December's blogs of the month

Another month, four more blogs. I was vaguely thinking of selecting ones which were full of brilliant decorating ideas, Christmas recipes and helpful gift suggestions but the ones I turned up were all pretty dull. (Example: “Christmas hampers are becoming more popular and are given by both companies and people to say thank you to, or to spoil the recipient.” If you know of one that’s a tad more exciting do add a link in the comments box.

Anissa Helou’s blog
I’m obsessed with Lebanese food since my visit last month so three of this month’s picks are middle-east related. This one is by Lebanese-born, London-based Anissa Helou who also leads tours to the Lebanon and Syria. Her blog benefits greatly from this insider knowledge but is far from romanticised. Those of a squeamish disposition may want to skip the vlogs on live butchery in Damascus and turn to the many absorbing posts on pastries and . . um . . belly-dancing instead.

Dirty Kitchen Secrets
It may sound a bit dodgy but this is the lovely blog of 'corporate dropout' Bethany Kehdy - another Lebanese expat living in the UK. Lots of enticing Lebanese recipes including this to-die-for Lebanese dip which I'm lining up for Christmas. Very useful guide to Lebanese ingredients too.

Salad Club
Hardly a ‘find’ as this well-regarded blog won the best blog at the Observer Food Monthly Awards a few weeks ago. Written by two Sarf London girls Ellie and Rosie it’s full of bright ideas, good writing and some great technicolour pix obviously processed with some fiendishly clever app I haven't managed to upload on my iphone yet. Reason for including them this time? Ellie has recently been to Syria and Beirut so I can really relate to her evocative post about Syrian food.

Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman
Not about food for once but a highly personal, compulsively readable blog from author and journalist Jane Alexander about life on, er, Exmoor with her husband (beer-writer Adrian Tierney-Jones), son and ‘delinquent terrier’ (Asbo Jack). I ran into her recently at a beer dinner (as you do) and she talks just like she writes. A very funny lady.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jolly good Royal Air Force tea

Continuing in presents vein here's a terrific gift for any buffer or tea lover of your acquaintance: a tin of Royal Air Force Tea. It's selected and packaged by the enterprising Henrietta Lovell of the Rare Tea Company inspired by a marvellous video she made for the Guardian.

As you'd expect it's a full-bodied black tea of backbone and character (no namby-pamby green tea for our chaps) but manages to be wonderfully fragrant and subtle as well. A million miles from the standard builders brew.

According to Henrietta's website it's blended from teas from the Makaibari Estate in Darjeeling and Satemwa Estate on Thyolo Mountain in Malawi. You can see the fine big leaves once you've strained the tea.

I also learnt from the enclosed leaflet that you shouldn't refill the pot once you've poured the tea but leave the leaves dry and then heat a freshly-filled kettle to just below boiling point and re-infuse them. They can be used at least twice which makes the purchase price of £5 for 50g less costly than it might otherwise appear (though 10% of the price you pay goes to the RAF Association Wings Appeal)

She also supplies refill boxes which means you can not only buy it as a gift but keep some for yourself. How could you not when it's "Calming in times of national peril and fortifying when courage is required"? And jolly refreshing to boot.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Somerset 20 year old cider brandy

Maybe because the temperatures have been sub-zero all week but I can't think of a better thing to drink right now than Julian Temperley's Somerset 20 year old cider brandy.

I admit I'm already a Temperley fan. I've been tasting his brandies which are the nearest thing Britain has to Calvados (some would say better) for some 15 or so years now. I particularly like the 3 year old and 5 year old but have had my reservations about the 10 and 15 year old which I've always felt lose some of that lovely natural West Country apple flavour that makes the younger brandies so seductive.

Julian insisted it was there in the 20 year old - and so it is, in spades. But more like a baked apple stuffed with vanilla-scented brown sugar and laced with brandy. It would make the perfect nightcap for this icy weather though I must admit I'm sitting here sipping it at 5.30 in the afternoon and it's warming me through far more effectively than the three layers of jumpers I have had on today.

The only downside? At £46 from the distillery's online shop it's not cheap but they only make one barrel each year so it has rarity value. And it would make the perfect present for a hard-to-please dad or grandad. (Yes obviously mums and grannies would like it too but it's the men who are always so hard to buy for). You can also find it in Fortnum & Mason.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My two favourite restaurants in Beirut

On the basis of a brief 24 hours acquaintanceship with Beirut I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Tawlet and Seza must be two of the most exciting restaurants in the city. They also happen to be a stone’s throw from each other in the upcoming neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael and each has a kitchen run by women.

Tawlet Souk el Tayeb which opened last year (2009), is the brainchild of food writer Kamal Mouzawak (above) who founded the farmers’ market seven years ago. it was created to showcase the produce from the market and Lebanon’s different regional cooking traditions but also to show how food can unite this war-ravaged country. "It’s about bringing people together who have killed each other for so many years around a common culture and cuisine." as Mouzawak, who heads up Slow Food in the Lebanon, puts it.

Each day a different group of women comes in and cooks the food from their region. On Saturdays there’s a lunchtime buffet which features some 12-15 dishes from all over the country.

The day we were there that included a coarse babaganoush salad with tomatoes, onion and pepper, bastouma (preserved beef rolls stuffed with cheese), aubergines stuffed with garlic, pepper and walnuts, roast cauliflower salad, spicy little sausages and cubes of raw lamb and liver. Like all Lebanese food, colourful, inventive and delicious.

They also stock a wide range of Lebanese wines.

Seza (above) was opened a couple of months ago by Seza Haleblian who describes herself modestly as a ‘good home cook'.

She was looking for something to do because her husband has to spend a lot of time away travelling. “My friends used to always say when they came round to dinner ‘When can we come back?’ I wanted to create a real home-style restaurant but to make dishes that are difficult to make at home.“

Having just had lunch at Tawlet we couldn’t do more than taste a couple of dishes which included some open stuffed dumplings called manti that were served with tomato sauce, yoghurt and sumac, lentil patties and kibbeh with sweet potatoes followed by the most stunning-looking plate of desserts which included a rice pudding with vanilla and cinnamon, a semolina dessert topped with pistachios and grated coconut (meghli) and some Syrian, or I guess Armenian-style - pastries.

Other dishes Seza recommended were the imam bayeldi, itch (a kind of tabbouleh), frogs legs with garlic, coriander and lemon and cabbage leaves and vegetables stuffed with meat and rice (sarma). Oh, and possibly less appealing, patcha a soup made with sheeps feet and veal. Armenian food she says is generally a touch spicier than Lebanese - with more use of pepper.

Such inspiring food makes you want to get straight into the kitchen yourself. I can’t wait to go back.

Tawlet (00 96 (0)1 448129
) Beirut, sector 79
naher street, n˚ 12 (Jisr el hadid)
Chalhoub building, n˚ 22 - Ground floor
Seza (00 96 (0)1 570711) Patriarch Arida Street, Mar Mikhael.

Have you been to Beirut and if so do you have any favourite restaurants to share?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November's blogs of the month

I seem to have less and less time to look at blogs which is a shame as they’re more and more worth dipping into. Here are four that appeal this month:
I can’t remember who mentioned this the other day on Twitter (maybe @eatlikeagirl) but they referred to the great illustrations - and they are. it’s written - and drawn - by Ailbhe, a ‘Dublin-born, London-based graphic designer' and she describes it as ‘a blog about cooking, eating, design and art’. Totally charming

Stir the Pots
A slightly geeky food blog I was put onto by Dan Lepard, mainly but not exclusively about bread (of which there are mouthwatering photographs) but also good goss about chefs and the food business. Jeremy Shapiro, the author, is the head chef of a private gentleman's club in New York. “It's so private, I can't share the name.” Go on - tell us, Jezza!

Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook
The beautifully photographed blog of Lucy Vanel who lives in Lyon in France, full of notes, musings and stunning images. PS how on earth does she get her Blogger blog to look like that? She must be a technical whiz too.

Chocolate Shavings
Confession time. I’m not that into chocolate. I’m one of the rare people who can have a box in the house and take over a week to eat them. But I can see the appeal and if you’re a chocoholic I urge you to take a look at Chocolate Shavings which is written by a Canadian recipe developer, food writer and photographer (can’t find her name online). Yes, more beautiful photos. Sigh.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chateau Tour du Haut Moulin 1999: a classy old claret

I've been ignoring the title of this blog lately which is, of course, Food AND Wine Finds. Trouble is most of my wine reviews go elsewhere. The bargain bottles into Credit Crunch Drinking. The stellar wine matches into Matching Food & Wine and natural wines into my new blog Wine Naturally.

So this blog mops up the rest - bottles like Chateau Tour du Haut Moulin 1999 which are neither cheap, natural or particularly amazing with some dish I've just eaten. But brilliant value for money.

I speak as someone who (somewhat embarrassingly for a wine writer) doesn't have a big thing about Bordeaux. So maybe Bordeaux aficionados won't rate it but I think it's remarkable for the price. The fruit is still vivid, the texture beautifully velvety. When I tasted it at a chef friend's the other day I thought it was at least twice the retail price which is a surprisingly modest £15.99 from Averys of Bristol.

Absolutely worth a try.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chinese Canteen at The Folk House

Another night, another . . . what shall I call it? Pop-up? Guest chef? Theme night? The nomenclature of these impromptu events is getting complicated. Anyway it was a Chinese meal at Bristol's Folk House Café cooked by Lily Wang who is apparently the stepmum of Claire who's a partner in the Cotham wine bar Flinty Red (to fill you in on the local connections). She was born in Beijing but has lived all over China and the food was mainly (I think) Sichuanese.

It was the sort of food you never find in a restaurant - hearty, home-style Chinese cooking. The seasoning was fascinating. There was a platter of fresh vegetables with a yellow bean dip, some green beans with ginger and sesame what was described as beef jerky but which was more like a dry fried beef with spices (star anise was the top note). Really delicious.

I wasn't mad on the soup (egg with edible tree fungus) which was rather glutinous for Western tastes but the fried dumplings - pork and vegetable - were to die for, fragrant and stuffed with filling. I could have stopped there but there was still braised beef (a hearty beef stew with, surprisingly, potatoes), hot and spicy bean curd (possibly home-made), kaofu an earthy dish of mushrooms and bran and chicken rice. Aaaah. The chicken rice. I could eat that every night for a week for supper.

The meal finished with some deep-fried mashed pumpkin balls - hard to imagine from the menu but which were a bit like those banana fritters you used to have in Chinese restaurants. Only nicer.

It felt a privilege to get to eat food like this, so tasty, so wholesome - very much in keeping with the ethos of the Folk House Cafe. Apparently they're planning other evenings including a jazz night and a Persian feast. They have a Facebook page if you want to know what's on.

PS According to Lily “eating a good meal is as worthy as reading a good book, because people can understand the world from the food.” How true.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jamie’s Italian is brilliant, but . . .

I finally got to my nearest Jamie’s Italian, some 2 years after it opened in Bath. To be honest the tales of the queues had put me off and I probably would have postponed the experience yet again had I not manage to blag a table courtesy of the local Milsom Place PR. (I know. I shouldn’t. But wouldn’t you given the chance?*)

There seemed to be plenty of people ready to brave the hour to an hour and a quarter's wait for a table, happily paying for the pleasure by ordering drinks from the bar (which I'm assuming weren't free).

Is it worth it? Well, yes, if you’re patient it is. It’s far, far better than any other chain I’ve been to from the point of view of food and service and brilliant value for money.

I ordered a ‘plank’ of seasonal meat antipasti (£6.95, above)- easily enough for a meal - which consisted of Tuscan fennel salami, pistachio mortadella, San Daniele prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, pecorino and chilli jam, olives and a great little salad of pickled root veg described by my server as ‘dry coleslaw’ (Jamie’s is wonderfully unintimidating). Followed by a ‘small’ (actually quite large) portion of pasta (though not the advertised pappardelle) with a chunky rustic rabbit sauce (also £6.95) which you’d be hard pushed to get in Italy for the price.

You could - and of course I’m going to - quibble. They should warn you when you’re dining alone that the bread basket (£3.50) is big enough for a table of 4. I suspect the focaccia had been baked the previous day. The wine by the glass could have been fresher and I think they could do better than their rather flabby house Chardonnay which is served from a Tetrapak carton (no problem with that other than its effect on the contents)

And I do wonder if all these queues are strictly necessary. There were a couple of empty tables around me for at least half my meal and they apparently close the top floor during the afternoon when you might stand a chance of getting in without an hour's wait. Could it be that queuing is part of the schtick?

But it’s good, honest, generous food served by incredibly friendly staff. You could take anyone there from a 2 year old to an 82 year old. Not many restaurants out of London offer that - particularly at the price. Good old Jamie.

* I did pay in full for my meal though, in case you were wondering . . .

Have you been to a Jamie's Italian and what did you think?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An underground supper at Montpelier Basement

There have been one or two pop-ups and underground restaurants already in Bristol but none looks more likely to succeed than Montpelier Basement, a new fortnightly supper club run by Elly and Dan.

It would be hard to find a couple who are more into their food. Elly’s day job is running an excellent local café and Dan blogs as Essex Eating (which is where he lived before Elly lured him out west). And rather than show us round the flat they showed us their cookbook collection. It was arranged by colour which prompted a big debate about how you should catalogue your cookbooks. (I arrange mine by subject, some do it by author or size. How about you?)

Since it was nearly Hallowe’en Dan had fixed up a projector which threw old black and white horror movies on the wall.

The menu was pumpkin themed - a fact which I’d cunningly concealed from my husband who would have almost certainly decided he didn’t want to come if he'd known. In fact he raved about the food which he pronounced better than many restaurants we’d been to recently. Which it was.

We kicked off with gougères made with Gorwydd Caerphilly and topped with a sprinkling of coarse-ground toasted pumpkin seeds. There were little bowls of pumpkin soup with deep fried sage and brown butter, beautifully fresh Cornish haddock with a pumpkin crust and shredded leeks, perfectly cooked onglet, with pumpkin jam and polenta chips and a great vegetarian option of mushroom and Ogleshield tatin with thyme, chestnuts and squash which I also managed to sneak a slice of.

The meal finished with spiced pumpkin and pecan cake with maple mascarpone, honey and toasted nuts and - how did we find room for it? - a final cheese course of Welsh rarebit fingers.

They’d obviously put a huge amount of thought into constructing the menu which was beautifully balanced and not at all heavy, despite the number of courses. (You can see how incredibly well organised they were from the checklist below.) We all told them they were mad to ask for a donation of just £20 a head for the food which was worth at least double that.

I hope some of the recipes will appear on their respective blogs (Elly has a new one here) particularly the pumpkin seed mix, the absolutely awesome polenta chips, the tatin and the cake.

In the meantime you can find one of their recipes in Xanthe Clay’s column in the Telegraph - she went to their first supper a couple of weeks ago.

The next two events are on the 13th and 27th of November. To keep track of ones after that follow @montpelierbsmt on Twitter or their ning page or email them at montpelierbsmtATgmailDOTcom

Friday, October 29, 2010

Waitrose’s flash new cookery school

Whatever’s happened to Waitrose? It seems to have woken up one morning and decided it was Harvey Nichols. It used to be just the supermarket arm of sober, sensible ‘never knowingly undersold’ John Lewis. Then suddenly it behaves as if it’s won the lottery splashing round money on expensive campaigns with Heston and Delia and setting up the flashest cookery school I’ve ever seen over its now massive flagship store in Finchley Road.

I got a sneak preview last week when I went in for a wine tasting and was absolutely bowled over. The space! The equipment! The cookery theatre! The staff - all proper chefs in their own right. The head of the cookery school Gordon McDermott used to run Rick Stein’s Cookery School in Padstow. The head chef James Bennington was head chef and won a Michelin star at La Trompette. The pastry chef, James Campbell used to be Head Pastry Chef for the Mandarin Oriental. And so on. They’re all absurdly over-qualified.

If you want to see what it all looks like there’s a video - a video, not just boring old words - about the school on the Waitrose website together with details of the courses that are coming up over the next two months. One day courses at £175 include Michelin star cookery, knife skills and - slightly oddly at this price - Boxing Day leftovers. You can also do knife skills as an afternoon course (£105) along with courses on afternoon tea, cupcakes (groan) and macaroons. Evening classes are the same price and demos such as the art of making and cooking perfect pasta, risotto and gnocchi are £65.

If someone had told me 5 years ago that Waitrose would be doing this I'd have thought they were barmy. Forget it - I’m booking myself in.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Where to stay and eat in Dartmouth

I’ve spent the last few days at the Dartmouth Food Festival - mainly giving talks so I didn't have much of a chance to scout around and make new discoveries but enough time to confirm my existing impression that it's a brilliant place to spend a weekend. And a great place to eat and drink.

It helped, of course that the weather was gorgeous - sunny and crisp - and that we were put up by one of the festival sponsors Coast & Country Cottages in a luxury pad that overlooked the Dart Marina (thanks, guys!). In our few idle moments we could kid ourselves we were members of the yachting set, sitting in our picture window (above) watching the ferry chug gently across the Dart. It was heaven.

We also ate a couple of great meals at local chef Mitch Tonks’ two restaurants The Seahorse and Rockfish both of which I strongly recommend. Rockfish is the newer - an upmarket but family-friendly chippy that occupies what looks like a converted beach hut on the front and just has the most brilliant fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. Super-fresh plaice (don't be put off by the picture below: the crumbs didn't look that orange), perfectly cooked chips and super-sloppy mushy peas to dunk them into. Although you could go overboard with flash seafood like lobster there are some really inexpensive options like breaded whiting for just £3 and the portions of chips were easily enough for two. We got away with a bill of £35 with wine.

The Seahorse is pricier and more upmarket with a serious wine list but it’s not remotely stuffy. Fish again is the main draw but if you’ve already OD’d on that there are other options like a rib of Devon beef to share and the wonderfully decadent wild mushroom and truffle linguini we had as a starter. They also have fixed price deals at lunchtime which are quite a bit cheaper. (£15 for 2 courses or £20 for 3.)

We also ended up one evening in the bar of a local boutique hotel called Browns (above) which has a tapas night every Friday which you can read about on my food and wine matching website here. It was a particularly friendly place and I imagine a good place to stay if you want to be more central. (The Marina is about 10 minutes walk away - though on the flat rather than up one of the precipitous hills that surround Dartmouth.)

Talking of hills I should also mention a good B & B we’ve been to a couple of times before called Mounthaven Guest House right up above the town which is very comfortable. We’ve never managed to book one of the front rooms that have an amazing view over the estuary but the owners, Rose and Shaun thoughtfully give you the best table for breakfast overlooking the same view if you've had the back room.

We’re lucky that Dartmouth is only a couple of hours from Bristol which makes it ideal for a short get-away-from-it break but now we know it so well I think we’d make the effort if we lived further afield. Although it’s a popular tourist destination it’s not overcrowded, particularly at this time of year, and it’s part of a wonderfully unspoilt bit of countryside and coastline.

(Another company that does rentals in the area is Blue Chip Holidays which sponsored the festival wine and cheese tastings I was giving along with local wine merchant Red & White.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blogs of the month

A very late blogs of the month post due to a long overdue holiday which I should have announced before I went away (for those of you who might have thought I'd abandoned this blog).

Anyway here are four to enjoy:

Ideas in Food
Food science and flavour combining are hugely popular right now, especially in the US so dip into this fascinating blog - and book - from Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot who met when they were working at Clio in Boston and now have a restaurant consultancy business. There are some fascinating posts - most recently what to do with grilled outer leek leaves and how to poach oysters at 48° and still retain the briny taste. Fascinating reading.

Eggs on the roof
A charming, quirky, beautifully written and photographed blog from Oxford-based journalist, writer and broadcaster Charlie Lee-Potter. The title apparently stems from her childhood when her mum's best friend told her that if she threw an egg over the top of their house, it would never break . . . Mainly but not exclusively about food but well worth reading even when it isn't

And another gorgeous looking blog from food photographer and writer Pascale Cumberbatch. Oddly, like Charlie, she lives in - or rather just outside Oxford. And also photographs landscapes and scenery. I love her intermingling of colour and black and white photography. Beautiful.

Jim's Loire
Jim is Jim Budd, a British wine writer who spends half his time in London and the rest in the Loire and Lisbon (long story. Don't ask.) Anyway he's a mine of information on what is happening in the Loire vineyards and to small producers all over France. (Like me he's very interested in natural wine.) He's also a fearless exposer of wine scams through his site Good bloke.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ivory Coast Chocolate

I've written before about my predeliction for plain chocolate bars (about my only concession to chocoholism) and here's my latest find which comes - astonishingly - from Tesco.

It's a 74% bar from the Ivory Coast and costs just 82p which is an absolute steal. It's dark, rich and mellow with a slightly fudgy texture, much less smooth than a bar like Lindt Excellence. Normally I don't like bars that are higher than 70% but it wears its extra cocoa solids lightly. I found in the small print on the back it was produced in France.

Will this appeal as much to those of you are chocolate obsessives? Maybe it won't be sweet or smooth enough but at this price you can afford to find out. I suspect it would make an amazing chocolate mousse.

PS I wondered whether to write about this here or on my Frugal Cook blog which you might like to visit if you're in search of bargains or suggestions of what to do with them