Sunday, March 28, 2010

Love Food - a real community festival

One of the problems I have with food festivals is that they've ceased to celebrate local food. Too many are dominated by celebrity chef theatres and big tents, producers who have travelled half way across the country to dish up food you could eat anywhere in Britain. Endless chutneys and cook-in sauces - basically not a million miles from the average supermarket aisle.

I'm ashamed to say today is the first time I've got down to one of the Love Food festivals which are held every couple of months in Bristol but it won't be the last. It was a real community food festival with lots of small local food businesses: beer and cider producers, cheesemakers, bakers, foragers and farmers - pretty well all from the south-west.

Barring veg - which it would have been good to see more of - you could have done most of your weekend food shopping there and certainly your supper. I took advantage of a fantastic offer on diver-caught scallops from Lyme Regis Scallops to which we'll be treating ourselves tonight along with some great cheese from Trethowans Dairy.

But the best thing was the food you could eat at the festival which wasn't the usual dreary fare of burgers and bangers but a huge choice of goodies from artisanal cheese toasties (again from Trethowans), to tasty chorizo and halloumi and rocket rolls from the Bristol Ethicurean (below) to Agnes Spencer's Jamaican jerk chicken (above) which my friend Marti actually admitted was almost as good as hers.

The chorizo rolls for example were put together from Freedom Food approved chorizo The Bath Pig, rolls from The Thoughtful Bread Company and Mayonnaise made from Fussels Westcountry rapeseed oil. Admittedly the halloumi was from Sussex but you can't have everything.

There were families and friends, loads of kids running round, local chefs out on their day off - just a great day out with good food. And you can't ask for more than that.

Check out the Love Food Festival website for upcoming events. The next is on May 18th.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bread by post

Now you can buy almost every other kind of food - and drink - online there seems no reason why you shouldn't buy bread but it feels slightly counter-intuitive. Bread costs so little that it seems a bit mad to spend half its worth in post and packaging charges. But I'm lucky enough to live in a city (Bristol) which has some excellent bakers. If I lived out in the country and didn't have the time or inclination to bake I'd probably regard it as a boon.

Anyway I discovered that one of our local bakers Hobbs House Bakery is now offering a home delivery service from their website. You can buy a selection of their breads as a sample box (for £35) or a 2kg spelt sourdough called The Shepherds Loaf for £21 - the one that was featured on the BBC4 programme In Search of the Perfect Loaf the other day (which at the time of writing you can probably still catch up with on iplayer)

Baker Tom Herbert claims that the service is an 'industry first' but in fact another local baker, Richard Bertinet, pipped him to the post by offering his bread online prior to Christmas. You can buy it on its own for a rather more reasonable £6.50 (for a 1.2kg loaf + £4.95 p & p) or as part of a Breadlovers' Gift Box (£40.25) which includes the wonderful Opinel bread knife I wrote about last year

Obviously these loaves aren't as expensive as they seem on the face of it: they're dense and they keep so you can use them for days but it does seem a fair amount of money to spend nonetheless.

What about you? Do you - would you - buy bread by post? If not where do you buy it or do you make your own?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wild garlic pesto

One of the things I love about Twitter is that it puts you in touch with people who share your passion and creates the most unlikely and serendipitous opportunities to work together. Like a request from Andrew Sartain of Wild Food Larder for me to find a wine match for his wild garlic pesto (right though the picture doesn't do justice to the glorious deep green colour it actually was.)

We met this morning, I tasted it and it was terrific - punchily garlicky, a genuinely British alternative to Italian pesto. I reckoned it would go well with Sauvignon Blanc, dry Italian white wines like Verdicchio and Picpoul de Pinet, a Muscadet-like white from the South of France, suggestions Andrew is going to put on the leaflets he's going to hand out at this weekend's Love Food Festival at Brunels Old Station at Temple Meads in Bristol.

He will also be selling it - and the charcuterie he makes - at the weekly farmers' market in Bath.

If you don't live anywhere near either you can find the recipe on his website - click on Recipes and scroll down.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Emergency - and non-emergency - chocolate

Weird though it may sound to most of you I don't spend a lot of time looking at or thinking about chocolate so I may well be passing on a discovery that's totally old hat but I love the witty series of chocolate bars produced by a New Zealand-based firm called Bloomsberry.

The best, I think is Emergency Chocolate "for immediate relief of Chocolate Cravings, Lovesickness, Exam Pressure, Mild Anxiety and Extreme Hunger." The directions for use are fun too: "Tear open wrapper, break off desired dosage and consume. Alternatively massage into the affected area. Repeat dosage as required until finished. If symptoms persist consult your local confectioner."

There are other bars in the same vein as you can see if you log on to the company website I particularly like Mother's Little Helper, Bochox and No Weight Gain Chocolate (I wish) but unfortunately it doesn't show the brilliant Flat Pack Easter Egg bars which I shall be buying for members of my family this Easter.

You can get them in Harvey Nichols and probably places like Selfridges. Oh, and the chocolate, which is actually made in Switzerland, is pretty good too.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A wine called Darling

You remember that running gag in Blackadder Goes Forth about Captain Darling who Stephen Fry, who plays the general, keeps calling 'Darling'? Well there seem to me to be plenty of similar possibilities with this wine, a South African Sauvignon Blanc named after one of the new up and coming wine regions. In fact it's a shame we have another 11 months until Valentine's Day: let's hope Tesco keeps it on the shelves till then.

It's a crisp, fresh Sauvignon with plenty of gooseberry fruit but without the overt asparagus and green bean character that I personally find over the top. I enjoyed it last night with some Thai crab cakes and noodles but you could drink it with almost any kind of seafood or salads. You can buy it for £39.84 a case (£6.64 a bottle) which not excessive for a wine of this quality though it's a shame that it's not included in the '2 for £10' offer that Tesco has on some of the other wines in its Finest range (The Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc should be good value though take care - it is the 2006/7 vintage. Chenin ages well so that shouldn't be a problem but don't buy a shedload before you taste it).

Talking of wine bargains, Majestic has 25% off their South African range until next Monday - which enables you to buy wines like Springfield Estate, Klein Constantia and Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc at a significant discount. Not as significant as the 25% might suggest - their prices tend to be pitched higher than the supermarkets but they do have wines that supermarkets don't stock. And you can now buy six bottles from Majestic if you pick them up yourself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The curious craze for ‘coffee’ Pinotage

Let me ask you straight out - would you fancy a red wine that tasted of coffee? No? Me neither but could be we’re in a minority. As I discovered on my recent trip to South Africa there’s a huge following for what has become known as ‘coffee’ Pinotage.

The craze actually started nine years ago at the Diemersfontein winery who were after a new style of Pinotage that would appeal to younger wine drinkers. (Pinotage is the country’s indigenous grape, a robust, rustic and occasionally rubbery blend of Pinot Noir and Cinsault)

Its creator Bertus 'Starbucks' Fourie then went on to create a similar wine at KWV (the Cafe Culture Pinotage) then moved to Val de Vie where he set up his own venture called Barista.

The flavour apparently comes from the way the oak staves the wine is aged in are toasted to bring out chocolate and coffee flavours rather than the traditional vanilla ones.

Fourie says his favourite pairing is “a blue cheese filled brandy snap with Belgian chocolate and roasted coffee beans” but claims that it goes with “most controversial desserts”. Whatever that means.

I tasted the original Diemersfontein one and have to say it wasn’t bad - not that different from the kind of flavours you’d get on a full-bodied Pinotage or Shiraz. I’m not sure I’d go down the chocolate route though - it seems to me it would go better with something that doesn’t have chocolatey flavours of its own like a chargrilled steak or South African game. (It went quite well with the Moroccan spiced quail I was eating.) You can buy it in Waitrose if you want to give it a try.

Does the idea of coffee-flavoured wine appeal to you?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

South African straw wine

I meant to announce I was off to South Africa on a wine trip but was so busy before I went away and so rushed since that I haven't had time to post for the last few days.

Lots about South Africa when I return but I just thought you might like to see that the country is now producing straw wine (an intensely sweet wine where the grapes are dried on straw mats.) This one came from a small producer called Mullineux up in the Swartland region and was absolutely delicious - a bit like a Vin Santo or a Passito di Pantelleria. It would be great with dark chocolate or a blue cheese like Gorgonzola.

I'll check my notes if I have a moment to see if there's a stockist.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Return of the rissole?

Two of the meals I had out this week included what passed for a rissole. Lunch at Riverstation in Bristol had some made out of lambs’ shoulder served with mash (and a taster course of tongue and parsley rissoles slipped to us by the chef Tim who knew my dining companion, his cheese supplier).

The other was at Bistrot Bruno in Clerkenwell in London where a ‘revised Lyonnaise salad’ (below) included delicious little deep fried fingers of shredded ham.

Of course in these recessionary times making rissoles (usually from leftover meat) makes abundant sense only it’s interesting that neither chef uses the ‘R’ word. Can’t blame them really. It does conjure up memories of tough, tasteless little cylinders made from overcooked grey meat, minced and underseasoned. Croquetas, Spain’s contribution to the world of deep-fried leftovers are so much more sexy. Even croquettes (which is what the Riverstation called theirs) sound better.

The style of cooking that lends itself particularly well to rissole treatment is slow roasting or braising which gives meat a delectable fall-apart texture without any loss of flavour. Given the fashion for all things retro at the moment I hope we’ll see more.

Have you ever made rissoles? Would you eat them in a restaurant?

Friday, March 5, 2010

How Elizabeth David made scrambled egg

When I was in Suffolk the other day the pub I was staying in, the Anchor at Walberswick, included among its splendid breakfast menu Elizabeth David's scrambled egg (above)

I didn't have time to ask the chef Sophie Dorber what was special about it and couldn't find it in any of my Elizabeth David books at home but finally tracked down the recipe on Google Books which has an online copy of French Provincial Cooking.

The secret is taking out one white in every four eggs you use which accounts for the unusually deep yellow colour. She also adds "a very large lump of butter' before she adds the eggs and another once they start to thicken then takes the pan off the heat once what she describes as the 'characteristic granules' begin to appear. Finished off in the residual heat it makes for a softer, creamier scrambled egg. She finishes by saying, in typically crisp fashion, that 'eggs for scrambling must be of the most absolute freshness'. And also 'very well beaten' before you put them in the pan.

What's your favourite way of making scrambled egg. Do you agree or disagree with Elizabeth David (if one dares say one disagrees which such a goddess).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March’s Blogs of the Month

As usual I've picked five favourite blogs this month instead of putting up a blogroll. Hope you enjoy them!

Oliver Thring
Ollie Thring, whose work also appears on the Guardian Word of Mouth blog and in the newly published Fire and Knives magazine is one of the most talented young British food bloggers whose writing is always a joy to read (even though we disagree about food and wine matching!). He can cook too, I’ve recently discovered. One to watch for the future.

David Lebovitz
An American in Paris, one of the original food bloggers, David Lebovitz is almost indecently talented with as sharp an eye for a beautiful shot as he has a waspish wit. He blogs regularly too, always interestingly. A must-read if you don’t already know his work.

Veritas in Vino
“I'm looking for the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world” says American wine writer Alice Feiring which says it all about her maverick approach to the world of wine. Opinionated, quirky, always entertaining, this is as far from the bland recommendation-based wine column as you could hope to stray.

Not Quite Nigella
The irony of Not Quite Nigella, which is written by Sydney-based Lorraine Elliott, is that she’s probably as talented a cook as her heroine. I’m sure the real Nigella would go gaga for her Mini Watermelon Jellies. Great photography, great ideas - one of the most popular Australian (and international) food blogs.

Dos Hermanos
Dos Hermanos, which is written by brothers Simon and Robin Majumdar, started off as a restaurant blog but has morphed into more of a travelogue (mainly penned by Simon, the extrovert globetrotting one). Always opinonated, frequently controversial it’s a must-read for those who want to keep tabs on London's restaurant scene. (They always manage to get a review up within a couple of days of opening).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Fairtrade liqueur

I'd been vaguely thinking I should write something about a Fairtrade product this Fairtrade fortnight when an opportunity presented itself in the unexpected form of a Goji-based liqueur called Fair. It's produced in the Cognac region - along with a quinoa-based Fairtrade vodka - by a couple of young Frenchmen who have formed The Fair Trade Spirits Company.

All sorts of health claims are made for Goji - including on the company brochure which claims it is considered to be "one of the most nutritious fruits on earth . . . worshipped by the locals [in the Himalayas, where it's grown] as a source of eternal happiness"

I can't really believe that a shot of Goji is going to transform your life but it's good to see another Fairtrade product and such a glamourously packaged one. I suspect it tastes rather better in cocktails than it did neat and warm when it bore an uncanny resemblance to cough mixture (albeit a pleasant one). The brochure suggests Goji-based versions of modern cocktail classics such as the Cosmopolitan and the Mojito but I suspect it would make rather a good Singapore Sling.

You can buy it in Harvey Nichols for £23 a bottle - and the vodka for a pricey £37. Think I'd rather have a whole lot of Fairtrade coffee for that . . .


Monday, March 1, 2010

The problem with bin ends

Having crowed about my bargains on Saturday, yesterday brought me down to earth with a bump: the Cuilleron Marsanne was badly corked. There's nothing for it but to take it back to the shop and get it exchanged, a task which my longsuffering husband has offered to undertake.

Of course there's no compensation for his time and trouble but at least we should get a replacement bottle. Needless to say we haven't drunk any and stoppered the bottle straight away in case of argument.

It does underline one of the problems about buying bin ends in that they may be of uncertain quality. It's possible they're reduced simply because there were a couple of corked bottles in the batch or because they were over the hill. As I mentioned Marsanne is long-lived for a white so I was reasonably confident about buying a 2006, particularly from a good producer but it does underline why so many winemakers have moved to screwcap.

It's always best to drink a bin-end within a couple of weeks of purchase otherwise you may have a problem getting the store to accept responsibility. Admittedly that's harder if you buy in quantity: I tend to buy one first then buy a couple more if I like it though even that carries some risk as there can be variation from bottle to bottle.

You also need to be careful what you buy. Light wines such as crisp whites and ros├ęs fade faster than more robust red wines so I wouldn't be inclined to pick up inexpensive wines from the 2007 vintage, say, or much older reds from the late '90s. There's a general belief that red wines only improve with age but that isn't the case.

It's also a good reason to avoid suspiciously cheap mixed cases which are usually made up of wines that have passed their peak.

What's been your experience with bin-ends? Have they proved good drinking or a disappointment?