Saturday, February 27, 2010

A bin end bonanza

If there's one thing that beats raiding the reduced items in the supermarkets for bargains it's doing the same thing in a posh shop. Harvey Nix to be precise where today I found a shelf with all sorts of goodies that were too good to pass up. The best one was some seriously classy egg tagliatelle (right) reduced from ££3.25 to £1.62. I would have bought all four packs if my husband hadn't restrained me but probably it's as well he did as they would have no doubt joined the other 'bargain' buys lurking in my store cupboard.

There there was a pack of bottarga reduced to £1.47 - something I've always meant to try, a pack of my favourite snack, deep fried broad beans, at 95p instead of 1.25 and best of all 20% off a bottle of Yves Cuilleron Marsanne (£11.25 reduced to £9). A 2006 vintage would be a bit dicey with many whites but Marsanne ages well and Cuilleron (better known for his Condrieu) is a good winemaker.

So I suppose you could say (and some would) that I spent 13 quid on things I didn't really need but my argument would be - and I'm an expert at convincing myself - that these knock-down prices give me a chance to try things I might not otherwise feel I could afford.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Time for a pink peppercorn revival

It's funny how things go in and out of fashion. There was a time back in the 80s (I think) when every dish seemed to incorporate pink peppercorns. Then a period, which arguably extends to the present day, when nobody would be seen dead with them. I bought some last summer in the market in Nice and promptly forgot about them 'til I rediscovered them the other day and started using them. On fish, in salads and on fresh young goats' cheese. And you know what? They're delicious.

They don't have the heat of black pepper or the spiciness of white which is not surprising when you find out they're not actually a peppercorn at all but a berry. They come from a species of tree called Schinus Terebinthifolius which grows mainly in Réunion, Mauritius and Brazil (or so I discover from the excellent Pepper: the spice that changed the world by Christine McFadden). The French, who are rather keener on them than we are, refer to them as baies roses.

McFadden also recommends using them in sweet dishes like jellies, biscuits and cakes, and gives a splendidly kitsch recipe for Pink Pepper Blondies which might be worth making a mental note of for Valentine's Day next year. I can also imagine them being good in shortbread . . .

Do you - would you - ever use pink peppercorns and if so for what?


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Seaweed caviar

Having spent the past couple of days writing about caviar - and bemoaning the fact that my budget doesn't run to even the less expensive farmed stuff (which in fact makes up practically all the caviar that's on sale these days) - it was good to discover that there's a low cost substitute: seaweed caviar which I was sent by Porter Foods of Wallington in Surrey.

My first reaction was that there was no way this could give an iota of the gratification of the real thing and that's true but that doesn't mean it's not a perfectly good product. It does taste faintly fishy and the texture IS - amazingly - bubbly. It would be fine for canapés, served Russian-style with chopped egg and onion or dolloped on top of a baked or boiled potato and sour cream. And it's only 80 calories per 100g which makes it the perfect diet food (so long as you hold the sour cream and spuds, obviously)

The main downside - and it's a major one - is that it's not vegetarian which seems to me to be missing a trick with any caviar-craving veggies out there. It contains cod liver oil, squid ink and 'black caviar flavour' which may or may not be fish-based. And while I accept that seaweed contains health-giving vitamins and minerals I'm not wholly convinced by the claim on the jar that it's "loaded with antibiotic properties", a quasi-medical claim I'm surprised they can make.

Still, if you want a dinner party conversation-stopper it fits the bill nicely. And at £5.99 it won't break the bank.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Suffolk Heritage apple juice

One of the advantages of getting out into the country is that it increases your chances of drinking good apple juice. This russet apple juice from Suffolk Heritage Orchards was on offer at breakfast at the Anchor at Walberswick where I've been staying for the past couple of days (so much nicer than packaged orange juice) but I seem to remember having it before in Orford just down the coast.

It's the kind of drink that makes you feel that being teetotal need not be a penance - not that I'm contemplating it in the near future . . . Beautifully pure, flavoursome and healthy-tasting, it apparently comes from three different kinds of russet apple and is pressed at the farm

It's the kind of product England does particularly well. It reminds me of one I tried a while ago at Barley Wood Walled Garden in Wrington near Bristol. You can almost certainly find a similar one somewhere near you.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Bristol Beer Factory's Milk Stout

Bristol, I'm coming to the conclusion, is a pretty good beer city, the latest evidence being the Bristol Beer Factory who the other day sent me a sample of their Milk Stout.

It's a rich, malty, slightly sweet style more akin to a Mackeson than a Guinness and one which apparently used to be brewed on the same site as the brewery now occupies some 100 years ago. I thought it was called Milk Stout because it was given to nursing mothers but according to the BBF it's because it contains lactose sugar.

Personally I think this style's main virtue is as a cooking beer which sounds derogatory but it isn't. The BBF themselves were busy tweeting today that they'd cooked a joint of brisket in it with great results and I've used them to make terrific gravies, stews and even bread and fruitcake.

According to the label it was the Champion Beer of Bristol in 2006 and 2007 which doesn't sound like a massive category* but it went on to pick up first prize in the stout section of CAMRA's National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester last year. Nice to see a historic style being revived.

*Wrong here, apparently! Bristol Beer Factory tells me "the CAMRA Bristol Beer Festival has about 120 beers at it, so Champion beer isn't that small a victory." Agreed! I take it back . . .


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cut price pink fizz

It may be a cliché but pink fizz is a good buy around Valentine's Day whether you're making a romantic gesture or not.

True, the discounts are not all they might seem. This bottle of vintage Cava isn't worth £12.49 IMO but it's worth at least three quid more than the £5.99 Tesco is currently charging for it. And is far better value than a lot of much more expensive rosé champagne.

The truth is that supermarkets are falling over each other to lure you through their doors on big-spending occasions like Valentine's Day which this year coincides with the Chinese New Year, a double opportunity to part you with more than your usual weekly shopping budget.

Ironically this is a bottle that will serve you well for both celebrations. Fruity rosé is a good partner for Chinese food as well as being a classic Valentine wine. Cordoniu is a decent producer and this vintage rosado, a blend of Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Pinot Noir, is well balanced and dry without the confected boiled sweet flavours than you might expect from the depth of the colour.

If your local Tesco still has some I'd lay in a few bottles for summer drinking

Friday, February 12, 2010

Eclairs: the new cupcakes?

There's nothing a food writer likes more than the sniff of a new food trend so when my colleague Scandilicious sent me a link to a write-up of an eclair tea at a new hotel called The Arch I knew we had to get down there double quick.

Their eclair menu had apparently been suggested by the guys at Gorgeous Group who are consultants to the bar and included savoury as well as sweet variations. I'm ashamed to say we ordered the lot - purely in the interests of research you understand - and proceeded to scoff our way through them.

Highspots were the Crab and crème fraîche eclair and the Strawberry and Veuve Clicquot eclair (presumably London's first sponsored eclair as it was offered paired with a glass of Veuve Clicquot). I couldn't pick up the champagne in the splendidly kitsch pink filling and thought they might as well have gone for broke by serving pink champagne but it was appealingly fresh and summery. A perfect Valentine's tea if you could get over there on Sunday though given the time it took for our eclairs to arrive I'm not sure how they'd cope with a rush.

Attempting to sharpen our critical faculties under the sugary onslaught, we also rated the Chocolate and Green Tea eclair (though reckoned they could have upped the matcha), quite liked the Coconut and Kaffir Lime Leaf one (nice idea - not quite enough coconut) but thought the Amalfi Lemon and Biscotti and White Chocolate and Violet ones were unnecessarily encumbered by their chewy biscuitty toppings (the lemon one,as you can see above, inexplicably imprinted with an image of Van Gogh's sunflowers). Sig also tried the foie gras and Sauternes eclair (I don't eat foie gras) which she said was terribly rich.

Possibly they're just trying a bit too hard. Part of the appeal of eclairs is the contrast between the crisp pastry (full marks on that score), creamy filling and shiny icing. They didn't really need all the extra bits and pieces and could have just had a great range of multi-coloured eclairs Pierre Hermé macaron-style. (Just to verify that we swung by Selfridges to check them out ;-).

Still all credit for being the first (so far as I know) to do them and for relieving us from the tyranny of cupcakes. I'm sure they'll catch on.

A final thought. The bar is actually a bit corporate and masculine for such a frivolous tea. I'm not sure they don't need an eclair boudoir. Painted pink, natch.

We ate at the Martini Bar as guests of The Arch.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fun at the Hart & Fuggle

The problem about pop-up restaurants is that by the time you hear about them they’re gone. Or are totally booked out as was the case with Hart & Fuggle which is currently being run off Brick Lane by Alice Hart and Georgie Fuggle

Fortunately I knew one of the chefs for the night who tipped me off: James Ramsden aka The Larder Lout aka one of my co-authors of The Ultimate Student Cookbook. Another contributor, Signe Johansen and I decided it was a great opportunity for an authors’ reunion so along we went with Sig's boyfriend Tom.

The meal was held in a building called the Rag Factory, no doubt at one time a clothing sweatshop but now a very cool space. The tin-topped tables (above) looked amazingly pretty. Alice and Georgie had borrowed them from the Petersham Café and decorated them with pots of spring flowers. Even the jugs of water, filled with finely sliced lime, looked inviting.

James’s meal was more Moorish than the Moroccan Night billed on the menu. A very Moro-esque chestnut soup with chorizo (and a nice hit of cumin), a gently spiced lamb tagine with pomegranate couscous (above) and spiced roast carrots and a Tunisian orange cake (below). He also threw in some babaganoush and homemade warm flatbread to keep the wolf from the door when we arrived and homemade chocolates and fresh oranges with mint tea to finish. All delicious (though obviously we were biased). And there was a cute pot of ‘St Clement’s Curd’ to take away.

The cost was £30, not unreasonable for that amount of food and the amount of effort that must have gone into getting the restaurant up and running. And half the proceeds went to Centrepoint so I doubt anyone is making much if any money on it. Good for them.

We were discussing at table whether pop-ups are here to stay. At the moment they have the virtue of novelty - getting in is like managing to get tickets for a rare gig by a cult band or being invited to a very large, rather cool dinner party but that may wear off as more and more people get in on the act. Anyway it was a great evening - the best Monday night I’ve spent for a long while. Well done, James. Well done, Alice and Georgie.

Have you been to a pop-up and what do you think about them? Do you think they’ll last?


Monday, February 8, 2010

The power of the P word

A recent exchange on Twitter reminded me how excited we all get about the word pudding. No sooner had someone mentioned one than we all piled in exchanging tweets on Queen of Puddings, bread and butter pudding and steamed syrup sponge.

Savoury puds seem just as much of a turn-on. Once I read that Le Café Anglais was doing a game pudding (the moment has passed unfortunately) and had introduced a sage and onion pudding to accompany their trademark rotisserie chicken I knew I had to get down there pronto and try it (as the rather blurry photograph above bears out)

It was actually much lighter than I had envisaged - more like a fluffy little dariole mould of bread sauce with the merest hint of sage but none the worse for that. Apparently chicken sales have doubled since they introduced it.

Other happy hunting grounds for pudding-lovers are The Walnut Tree where Shaun Hill currently offers parsnip pudding with roasted root veg (mmmm), Rules which has an entire pudding menu including Spotted Dick and that splendid English institution The Goring.

Are you a pudding aficionado and if so, which are your favourites? And do you, like me, like savoury ones as much as sweet?


Saturday, February 6, 2010

February's blogs of the month

It somehow seems to be February 6th already and I haven't got my blogs of the month up. So, together with it being a short month I'll make that an excuse for only having four.

Pinch of Salt
I've always thought A Pinch of Salt was a great title for a blog but found it taken when I tried to register. Obviously, I discovered, by Katy Salty, features editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated whose personal blog it is. It describes itself as a 'London Food Blog' and does exactly what it says on the tin: which is to post - very wittily - about eating in London (usually in restaurants but there are some good home-based posts too). Good reading.

What's for Lunch, Honey?
I discovered this great looking blog from fellow blogger Kavita of Kavey Eats and assumed this was one of those drop-dead gorgeous bits of food porn the Americans seem so good at but actually it's written by an Indian-born blogger called Meeta who lives in Germany. She describes herself as a foodographer because of her emphasis on photos which are certainly way up there with the glossies.

Ruth's Words
I'm a huge fan of Ruth Reichl, the former editor of Gourmet - or perhaps I should say the editor of the late Gourmet as it was the magazine which folded rather than dispensed with her services. Anyway this is where you can find her most recent writing which she describes as a journal rather than a blog. Always worth reading whether it's a recipe, a tale of travelling or a snippet of autobiography.

Wine Anorak
The assiduously updated blog (almost always daily) of wine writer Jamie Goode. As a former scientist he is at times quite anorakky but as a record of what a wine writer's daily life is like there's nothing to touch it. Some nice personal touches too about his dog RTL (you'll have to read it to find out what that stands for) and passion for Manchester City - one I don't share but respect!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Basil and ginger slaw

Since the onset of the latest lurgy about 10 days ago I've been making a real effort to boost my immune system by eating more raw fruit and veg. And tonight's experiment came out so well I thought I'd share it with you. (I didn't expect it to be as good, hence no photo.)

Basically it was a coleslaw with extra oomph from a clove of garlic, a good chunk of fresh ginger, some lemon juice and fresh basil. Sounds weird but it worked really well.

Coleslaw is so easy, healthy and economical to make I don't know why it's gone out of fashion. Well, actually I do. The shop-bought versions are so disgusting they're enough to put you off it for life. You can vary it endlessly depending on what you have available. I use cabbage - obviously, otherwise it wouldn't be a slaw though I have used raw sprouts - carrot, something oniony and usually a pepper. Sometimes I add a chopped apple and some herbs, as tonight. Sometimes I chuck in a few seeds. Here's the recipe:

Serves 6
1/2 a pointed hispi cabbage, outer leaves and core removed and very finely sliced
1 shallot, peeled and finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated,
1/2 a green pepper, de-seeded and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely grated
1 chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
Juice of half a lemon (about 2 tbsp)
2 heaped tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp olive oil
3 or 4 sprigs of basil

Slice the cabbage and shallot and put into a bowl of iced water while you prepare the other veg. Mix the garlic and ginger with the lemon juice, mayonnaise and oil. Drain the cabbage and shallot and mix with the grated carrot and pepper. Mix in the mayo mix thoroughly, cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour. Tear the basil leaves and fold them in just before serving.

I can't help feeling this would be great with the post Christmas turkey and ham but any cold meats would be pretty nice. Feeling frugal (and lurgified) we simply had it with a baked potato.

Do you make coleslaw and, if so, what do you put in it?