Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Camper Van Cookbook

I confess I got a review copy of Martin Dorey’s Camper Van Cookbook for a reason. Not because I’m a camper but because my mate and erstwhile boss Sarah Randell wrote the recipes and the publisher (Saltyard Books) is also doing a project with my former assistant, food blogger Signe Johansen. I was frankly curious to see what they’d come up with.

A book that’s a huge amount of fun is the answer. Even if you have no intention whatsoever of going camping and I haven’t - or at least hadn’t until I read the book - it makes you want to. I love the playlist for the Best Camper Van Driving Album Ever, the fact that full words are included for The John B Sails and the 10 Best Excuses for not Making it to Work on a Monday Morning. Or, more practically, tips on how to forage (and how to keep an eye on the tides when you go shrimping), how to build a fire and how to make infusions from hedgerow plants.

The recipes, as I expected, are a joy. For years Sarah, who is currently food director of Sainsbury’s magazine, has worked with Delia Smith on her books so they’re faultlessly clear and easy to follow, but more to the point, meals you really fancy making. If I wasn’t currently in the middle of writing a book of my own I’d be getting stuck into pasta with sausage, fennel and spinach, chicken couscous with apricots and pistachios, fire-baked seabass with leeks, samphire and tarragon and sticky toffee pecan apples. They’re not only good for campers and picnickers but anyone who has limited cooking facilities. Students immediately come to mind (well, maybe not for the seabass)

This is not just a recipe book but a hugely practical, funny, inspiring introduction to camper van living. A cult book in the making, if I'm not mistaken.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In praise of carrots

I don't know why people don't get more excited about carrots. They're seldom fêted by chefs yet they're delicious, colourful and versatile. And so cheap. This was one of a couple of organic bunches I bought at the Bristol weekly farmers' market yesterday for £2. As wrinkled as a centenarian, no supermarket would have looked at them but they were so fresh and crunchy - almost sugar-sweet.

I decided to use them to make a Moroccan-style carrot salad to eat with a home-made chard and spinach paté, crab and asparagus tart and various other bits and pieces we'd put together from our market visit. I recommend it.

Moroccan(ish) carrot and olive salad
Serves 4-6

A bunch of young carrots
3 tbsp light olive oil
A good pinch each of vegetable bouillon powder (I use Marigold) ground cumin and ground coriander
10-12 olives, stoned and sliced
2 heaped tbsp chopped coriander

Cut the carrots off their feathery tops and give them a good scrub. Trim each end and slice the remainder of the carrots thinly and diagonally. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium-sized saucepan or casserole, add the spices and seasoning, stir, then tip in the carrots and turn them in the flavoured oil. Add a splash of water, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 3-4 minutes until just tender. Tip the carrots into a dish, cool for 10 minutes or so then mix in the sliced olives. When the carrots have completely cooled down add the chopped coriander and remaining oil. Serve at room temperature, ideally without refrigerating first.

Are you a fellow carrot fan and if so what's your favourite way of preparing them?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Self-publishing's on a roll

Having had a go at self-publishing last year (quick plug for A Very Honest Cook, written with Stephen Markwick) I'm intrigued to see how many authors and organisations are taking this route.

Two recent examples: The Bristol Community Cake Book, a good-looking small cookbook produced by The Group of Seven in aid of the Bristol charity one25 and an Australian food and wine matching book In Search of the Perfect Partner (The Food and Wine Matching Formula) by Karyn Macdonald and Cordelia Smiley aka Ryn & Cordie which I've recently reviewed on my website here.

Both are strikingly good looking books with high production values. Both are affordable. I bought The Bristol Community Cake Book from my local Waterstone's which I guess/hope must be waiving their take but Ryn & Cordie's book, like mine is sold direct from their website and supported by a vocal Facebook and Twitter campaign.

As publishers become more and more unwilling to take on authors who are not on TV and more design companies go into producing and packaging books, self-publishing is becoming an increasingly attractive option, particularly if you bypass the middle man as we did.

The fact is that authors get a lousy deal from bookshops who not only take a fair slice of their profits but don't pay for weeks and reserve the right to return any books that they don't sell. Amazon is even worse taking 55/60% of the cover price than slashing the price so that it destroys the market for any direct sales (which is why we resisted their blandishments to have an Amazon listing)

So even though I still have conventional book projects in the pipeline I'm more and more interested in what self-publishing has to offer. What about you?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My new passion for Chilean Carignan

This is a real Damascene conversion. I've spent most of my life disliking Carignan - the workhorse grape of the Languedoc - and now I find myself bewitched by its Chilean incarnation. I'm told the grape is the same but I can't believe it. Chilean Carignan is much finer with a subtler, more complex flavour and balancing acidity - more like a Syrah or a Cabernet, depending on the producer and whether it's a 100% Carignan or a blend.

I tasted a range at the London Wine Trade Fair this week which I'll be writing up on my website but here's one that's reasonably easy to get hold of - if you're a member of the Wine Society (which I have to say is enormously worthwhile). It's the T.H. - standing for Terroir Hunter - Carignan from Undurraga sourced from fruit from Maule, the area that was most badly affected by the recent Chilean earthquake.

It's a big, vibrant wine, the sort you would imagine drinking with a steak but fresh enough to enjoy - as we did tonight - with a relatively light supper of cold roast chicken and chips and a cucumber salad.

Incidentally if you want to donate something to victims of the earthquake which include many of the winery workers in the region you can do it through Levantando Chile, the approved charity of Wines of Chile.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wine bargains at Sainsbury's

It's a bit of a while since I've written about wine - hell, it's a bit of a while since I've written about anything Swept up by pre-election fever and post-election drama, suddenly inundated with work (Paid-for. Hurray!) the poor old blog has been suffering a bit. But I came across some good buys at the Sainsbury's wine tasting this week which I thought I'd pass on.

First a lovely Loire red. Sainsbo's has been selling the Domaine du Colombier Chinon for some time but for some extraordinary reason have chosen not to jack up the price - probably because they never do promotions on it. And at £5.99 it's a total steal - most Loire reds cost at least another £3 or £4. It's 100% Cabernet Franc, with a glorious fresh mulberry flavour (berries and leaves) that's everything I want from a summer red. You should drink it cool with anything you like but it's would be great with seared tuna or grilled chicken and herbs.

They also have a new range called House Wines which sounds a bit more enticing than 'budget' or 'cheap plonk' but that is effectively what it is. Most of the wines were a bit weedy (the whites) or a bit over-jammy and coarse (the reds) but there were some real bargains - a very decent dry Chilean rosé - the House Dry Rosé at £3.99, a fresh cherry-flavoured House Valpolicella that is better than it has any right to be at £3.79, a surprisingly decent inexpensive House Chianti at £3.86 that would be perfectly good with a takeaway pizza and - best bargain of all - a good gutsy Carignan and Grenache-based House Red from the Languedoc for £3.49: the sort of carafe wine you find in old-fashioned French bistros. All are available from June 1st.

There's also an excellent new Blanc de Blancs champagne under their own label for £16.99 which is based on wines from the 2006 harvest and made for them by Duval-Leroy. Of course £16.99 is not exactly cheap but it's great value for champagne. A bottle of this quality would cost at least £10 more from one of the Grandes Marques. And if you hang on until there's a special offer or Sainsbury's is discounting wine across the board you'll really hit the jackpot.

Monday, May 3, 2010

May’s Blogs of the Month

Another month, another selection of blogs. I do enjoy compiling these shortlists which enable me to get to know a few blogs better. I hope you do too.

In the kitchen and on the road with Dorie
Dorie Greenspan isn’t that well known in the UK but is a much-loved food writer in the states, especially among bakers. I’ve met her a couple of times and she’s incredibly nice - and absurdly modest, given her experience and talent. She splits her time between New York and Paris which makes for interesting reading. Brimful of enthusiasm and passion.

Nordljus is my beautiful blog of the month. It’s written - and stunningly photographed - by Japanese-born Keiko Oikawa who now lives in Suffolk in England. It’s been going for a good few years but I’ve only just become aware of it. Mouthwatering.

My wine words
A fun US wine blog from Peter and Allie who make some great videos on the My Wine Words Channel on YouTube. Peter is a wine pro, Allie describes herself as an enthusiast. The way wine blogs should be going

I have to declare an interest here. Signe Johansen - aka Sig - has worked with me on many projects including The Ultimate Student Cookbook but is now a star in her own right with this blog and forthcoming book Scandilicious. Absurdly talented she speaks six or seven languages. She’s gorgeous, a great cook and a very funny girl.

James Ramsden
And I couldn’t mention Sig without mentioning James, another brilliant young blogger to watch. He was one of the other authors of TUSC but has now gone on to greater things as a regular contributor to the Times and Sainsbury’s Magazine. His blog, which I rather regret is now soberly called James Ramsden rather than it’s original title of The Larder Lout - is clever, sharp and witty. He also runs an underground restaurant called The Secret Larder.