Saturday, June 19, 2010

A more than drinkable party wine

One of the downsides of going to big events is the quality of the wine they generally serve. That's not being snobby, just realistic about the economics of catering for large numbers. Coupled with the fact that you - or at any rate, I - almost always end up drinking more than you intend to it's an almost inevitable recipe for a significant dip in productivity the following day.

But not yesterday. Because the night before at the Guild of Food Writers' awards they served a wine called Nerola from the very decent Spanish producer Torres which was not only delicious but, being organic, presumably had far fewer nasties in it than most commercial wines. I remember drinking it once in Barcelona with Asian food (can't remember why) and it certainly sailed through the assorted, mainly salmon-based canapés at the event. (It's a blend of Xarel-lo, the grape variety that is used to make Cava and Garnacha Blanca but actually tastes much more characterful than you'd expect from those grapes: more like an oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc or Sauvignon-Semillon)

Needless to say it must have been heavily subsidised (Torres was one of the sponsors of the event) as it's not what most people would consider a party wine price. The lowest retail price I could find was £8.99 from Bennetts Wine Warehouse while was charging £84.78 a six bottle case - or £14.13 a bottle which seems more than a little cheeky for a by-the-case rate. You'd need to check the vintage from Bennetts though as they might be trying to clear old stock. If I track down any other stockists I'll let you know. (And I finally have! Apparently a website called will be selling the 2008 vintage from July 1st at £9.49)

Incidentally if you are thinking of buying booze for an event or to stock up for summer entertaining I'd do it this weekend. Chances are there will be a heavy hike on duty in Tuesday's emergency budget. (Well, wrong there for once!)

You can read about the GFW award-winners here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Voices in Food: two stars in the making

For those of you who - like me - have become increasingly depressed at the way cookbook publishing has been gripped in a celebrity stranglehold over the last few years Quadrille’s new series New Voices in Food is like a breath of fresh air. The idea is to give a platform to budding young food writers - without them having to have secured a TV slot first.

The first two titles - Stevie Parle’s My Kitchen and Alice Hart’s Alice’s Cook Book are a delight - inspiringly written and full of luscious things to cook

Parle’s is probably the most challenging. As befits a graduate of the River Café he refuses to compromise on ingredients which occasionally leads him down some pretty obscure alleys, cooking with ingredients that even I as a food writer would find tough to source. Typical meals and recipes are a romesco sauce with three kinds of paprika (one agrodolce which I’ve never seen) and a glass of Albarino (like his mentor, the late Rose Gray, he obviously believes in using decent wine for cooking) and a Malaysian breakfast that he just happens to rustle up for friends who’ve popped over from Paris. There’s certainly no dumbing down here.

That’s not to say there isn’t some thoroughly useful information. I love the step-by-step illustrations of how to prepare an artichoke and how to cut a mango (there are, refreshingly, no glossy photographs in his book and few in Hart’s) and the focus on less common ingredients make this an inspiring read for the more experienced cook. If Elizabeth David had back-packed round the world you feel this is the book she’d have come up with.

Hart’s, by contrast, is a more conventional cookbook but that’s certainly not to damn it with faint praise (she has, after all, a degree in physiology and neuroscience and this year’s must-have accessory, a camper van). She writes with great energy, verve and humour, making you want to try every one of her simple, delectable recipes. (Top of my list currently are the roast carrot houmus and raspberry custard cake, the latter part of a ‘Holiday Lunch for Six to Eat Outside’.) There are also some additional pages of quick ideas which are as good as the full recipes - a generous bonus.

If I had to crudely categorise them I’d say that Parle was the new Sam and Sam Clark (of Moro fame) and Hart the new Nigella - which sounds faintly derogatory until you remember what a joy her first book How to Eat was. I already know they’ll become great friends in the kitchen. They should be in book shops by the beginning of next month.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why South Devon crab is special

My first clear memory of crab was eating crab sandwiches in a pub in Winchester with a boyfriend 30-odd years ago. I can’t remember the boyfriend but can remember the sandwiches (story of my life . . . ) and I’ve been hooked ever since.

And although I could tell good crab when I came across it I had no idea why - until this week when I went to a lunch at Mitch Tonks’ Seahorse restaurant in Dartmouth organised by South Devon Tourism who are trying to promote this delicacy as an alternative to the ubiquitous cream tea.

They say - and obviously would - that the brown crabs that are fished off that part of the coast are the best in Britain but they have some basis for the claim. For a start they’re bigger. There is a minimum landing size for crabs locally which is 16cm across for males and 15cm for the females or ‘hens’ which also can’t be lifted if they’re full of eggs. They're also particularly sweet.

Crabs are in season between April and November but at their peak in the autumn when there is a higher proportion of brown meat - a rich source of Omega 3.

But best of all they’re sustainable: there’s plenty to go around or would be if 60% of it didn’t go abroad, mainly to France and Spain. It should ideally, of course, be eaten on the spot, freshly cooked which removes the need for pasteurization.

The campaign is also trying to get across - slightly less persuasively - how easy it is to pick a crab. Mitch was also on the BBC’s Countryfile this week opening a crab on a beach and cracking the claws with a large pebble but I can’t honestly see many visitors to the area doing that.

Anyway this is how we had it for lunch (above, with a gorgeous great glob of homemade mayonnaise) - and the next day at the South Sands hotel down the coast (below) which I’ll be posting about separately. I love crab in recipes like linguine but you just can’t beat it served simply. Except maybe in a sandwich . . .

I attended the lunch as a guest of South Devon Tourism.

Friday, June 4, 2010

June’s blogs of the month

Only four this month. I’ve been slacking on my blog-spotting . . .

Eat like a girl
An overdue mention of Niamh Shield’s Eat Like a Girl - not that she really needs one: she's one of the UK’s best known food bloggers and was recently listed by the Times among their 40 bloggers who really count. I’m not sure how she finds time to work as she’s always popping off to have lunch for her new Posh Lunch Club feature, or going to tastings or writing up recipes or running a market stall or masterminding last year’s famous Blaggers’ Banquet but she’s a great girl.

Love and a Licked Spoon
A wry, sharply observed, self-deprecating blog from food writer and editor Debora Robertson who I think I’m right in saying once worked for what is now Waitrose Kitchen (née Waitrose Food Illustrated) You won't find this sentence on their pages: “Cake: the shortest measurable distance between now and then, something about its comforting sweetness pulls memories from their recesses better than any truth drug. Cutting into a big, soft slice is the culinary equivalent of ‘Once upon a time…’ And that’s the real joy of blogs

Recipe Rifle
The strapline of Recipe Rifle is ‘getting recipes wrong so you don’t have to’ but that doesn’t really do its creator, journalist Esther Walker, justice. She doesn’t get them THAT wrong for heaven’s sake - or at least no more wrong than the rest of us - and besides she writes prolifically and brilliantly, in a non-stop stream-of-consciousness that would be worth reading even if you weren’t into cooking at all. She also seems to have quite a short fuse which must make for an interesting domestic life. Her husband - as of a month or so ago - is the self-confessedly choleric restaurant critic Giles Coren to whom she is touchingly devoted.

Taste Languedoc: a blog about the wines of the South of France
I feel slightly embarrassed I didn’t know about this blog until the other day, not least because we have a house in the Languedoc and its author Rosemary George as well as being a fine wine writer is a neighbour - well 20 minutes away which almost counts as foreign in French village terms. Anyway it is - exactly as it says - all about Languedoc wines and winemakers and very well-written and authoritative it is too.