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

Monday, September 13, 2010

Report on the Organic Food Festival

One of the pleasures of wandering around a food festival is the new discoveries you make of products or producers you didn’t know about and this weekend’s Organic Food Festival, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary, was no exception.

My only niggle is that I was overcharged twice. The Real Boar Co were charging £8 for 100g of Wild Boar Salami with Red Wine rather than the £6.50 they charge on their site (which at £65.00 a kilo is already quite enough in my opinion) while Healthy Oils, which imports the Naturalmente couscous range, charged £2 for a 300g bag of spelt couscous that cost me £1.60 recently in the Bristol deli Source.

The whole idea of a show like this is to encourage people to buy organic not to rip them off. Give the two stands the benefit of the doubt and say it was an error but this sort of overpricing gives the organic movement a bad name.

Focussing on the positive here are the discoveries I think are worth tracking down:

Laverstoke Organic Ale
I knew Laverstoke Park made very good mozzarella but didn’t know they produced beer (or milk, come to that). I tasted it with some trepidation as sometimes people who don't make beer for a living are a bit half-hearted about it but it was a good full-on malty brew. There’s an interesting insight here about how they approach it

Pertwood organic muesli with fruit and seeds
This won the cereals category in the Organic Food Awards. I’m not sure it could quite wean me off my current favourite cereal, Rude Health but it's a close thing.

Caws Cenarth Golden Cenarth - the cheese that won the dairy category. I've written about it on my cheese blog. A terrific cheese.

Sulphur-free Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m really interested in ‘natural’ wines which involve using next to no additives in the winemaking process. Normally they don’t come cheap but this characterful South African cab from organic specialist Vintage Roots is just £6.99. I actually like it better than their ‘Crazy by Nature' Cosmo Red which picked up the prize for best organic wine.

Clipper’s organic Assam tea
Which is Fairtrade too. Strong and fragrant - everything you want from a breakfast tea (and apparently Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s favourite tea to boot). Winner of the best non-alcoholic drinks category

Bertinet’s Sourdough Bread
The winner of the baked goods category (see picture at the top of this post). I’ve already raved about this but those of you who haven’t tried it should remedy that asap. It’s now available in Selfridges Food Hall and some Riverford organic veg boxes as well as direct from the Bertinets website and Bath Cookery School.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Super Souk Kitchen

Souk Kitchen seems to have been about to open for a very long time but the wait is worth it. It’s a well-situated caff in Bristol opposite the Tobacco Factory and just down the road from Aldi should you feel like topping up on your supplies of bratwurst.

The way to go, given the generosity of the portions, is either to graze through plates of mezze or have a single main. We mistakenly did both - and shared a fantastically good flourless chocolate, Turkish coffee and cardamom cake (below) which left me feeling as if I needed to go and lie down for a couple of days. (My husband frogmarched me off for a bracing walk but I still had to hit the Gaviscon. My fault for being such a pig.)

We barely scratched the surface of the mezze which in addition to the usual suspects (hummus, tzatziki and tabouleh) included Egyptian-spiced lentils with seasoned yoghurt and crispy onions (the yoghurt tastes homemade and is great), loubyeh (green beans with a spicy tomato sauce), an Afghan boulanee (a sort of spiced potato samosa with tamarind relish, below) and a baby gem, radish and feta salad with a saka jabin dressing which was perfectly nice but not quite as exciting as the rest.

My tagine of spiced lamb meatballs with a ‘cracked egg’ was terrific, delicately spiced with a luxuriantly rich tomato sauce though the accompanying couscous was a bit soggy. My husband had the equally good grilled chicken with lemon, chilli and za’atar, which given the calorific overload I almost wish I'd ordered instead.

They also sell a small selection of middle-eastern ingredients like pomegranate molasses and barberries together with some free recipe sheets to tempt you to make the dish you’ve just eaten, including the chocolate cake (below). Money from some of the dishes goes to Action against Hunger which is good to see and the restaurant is a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

Finally they do an interesting-looking breakfast menu which is served until 5pm. Should appeal to the large local student population - though grilled sardines may be a bit beyond them even at that hour . . .

All in all a great - and very reasonably priced - addition to the Bristol dining scene. The energetic proprietors apparently open a new chippy Fishminister on Whiteladies Road in a few weeks’ time. I’ll be interested to see what spin they put on that.

We ate at Souk Kitchen as guests of the restaurant.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Realm of Fig and Quince

I love high summer but think this is my favourite time of year for fruit. Apples and pears are less glamourous than berries but disappoint less too. Plums when they're ripe are a treat and seem to have been particularly good this year and then there's figs and quince, the subjects of this quirky and endearing book by Dutch author Ria Loohuizen.

I'm not going to even pretend that this is a 'must have' book - although who strictly needs cookery books these days with all the recipes on the internet - but it's the kind of book that restores your faith in publishing. It contains recipes and information you'd never find elsewhere*, it's celebrity-free, it is modestly priced (£9.99) and it would make a perfect gift for a friend with a fig tree or to accompany a bagful of quince you'd managed to pick up at the farmers' market.

I judge a book by how many recipes I want to cook and there are plenty of them here - oddly, mostly the sweet ones. (I don't have a terribly sweet tooth). They're divided up by country or region: I love the sound of Figs in Madeira with Rice Pudding, Figs in Wine with a Mascarpone Foam made with grappa and Fig Sauce with Balsamic Vinegar which sounds to me like the perfect accompaniment for duck. Quince dishes that appeal include Guineafowl with Quinces, a French recipe cooked with honey, cider and cream, Quince Aioli and an Algerian recipe for Chicken with Quince and Cardamom.

Some of the nicest suggestions are the simplest ones: "Fresh figs should be eaten as simply as possible" says Loohuizen. "At most sprinkle pomegranate seeds over them for a contrast in texture, marinate them for an hour in orange juice, orange flower water or Grand Marnier and dust them in ground cardamom". To a cardamom addict that sounds perfect heaven.

I'm less grabbed by the sound of the fish and fig recipes but to be fair I haven't given them a try and I'm surprised there's not more on the heavenly combinations of these two fruits and cheese.

If you're heading for the Abergavenny Food Festival the weekend after next you'll be able to buy it direct from the publisher Tom Jaine of Prospect Books who publishes many comparably off-the-wall titles. (Recipes from Corsica by Rolli Lucarotti is another I've been dipping into). He usually does a deal for festivalgoers which will no doubt tempt you to splurge more than you intend.

* the essay on sugar is fascinating

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Melito - the new Pret?

With a daughter working near Oxford Circus I frequently find myself casting around for somewhere to have a quick lunch with her. Scandinavian Kitchen, though I like it, is a bit of a hike, Polpo, a great favourite, just a shade too far but now along comes Melito, just north of Oxford Circus which is pretty well the perfect solution.

Actually I can't think why no-one thought of it before. It's a cross between a pizzeria and a salad bar selling 'Roman-style' pizza by the slice so you don't spend your afternoon in a great carb-induced slump. You either buy a couple of pieces (from £2.95) or, as we did, a focaccia sandwich. Mine was stuffed with goats cheese, red pepper, rocket and pesto, a pitch-perfect combination with a lovely thin crisp crust. We also shared a small chicken caesar salad (£2.75) - just in the interests of research, you understand - which was equally impressive for the price.

What I like about it is that the food hasn't been sitting in some chill cabinet for the best part of a day which is the kiss of death to flavour and texture.

They also have free wi-fi which makes it a good place for catching up on your mail so long as you manage to avoid getting pizza crumbs over your keyboard.

Whoever owns it is bound to be thinking of rolling out a chain so watch out for one opening near you. It sure as hell beats Pret.

Friday, September 3, 2010

September’s Blogs of the Month

Can’t believe it’s September already - where has the summer gone? Here are four blogs for you to dip into. With pleasure, I hope.

The Kitchn
The Kitchn (no idea why they dropped the ‘e’) is one of those incredibly glossy, massively successful American blogs that has taken blogging into a new commercial stratosphere. It even has a ‘mission statement’, a team and a goal “To connect people to the resources they need to improve their homes, while reducing their reliance on stuff.” (I can buy into that.) But it’s good and there’s more than of a sense of humour lurking there than you might think at first glance. Like this post on Daniel Craig as an 007 Ice Lolly. It also has some highly practical posts like this one on Tips and Recipes for Clearing out your Fridge which appeals to the frugal soul in me.

Hollow Legs
From her tweets you’d think Lizzie was permanently on a bender but her energetically updated blog suggests otherwise. She can cook, she can eat and she can write, all well. She even makes creamed corn - a dish I loathe - sound appetising. She’s always up for a bet, witness this steak-eating contest at my son’s restaurant Hawksmoor so don’t take her on unless you’re sure of your ground . . .

Been Doon So Long
This is hardly a blog in the conventional sense. Iconoclastic winemaker Randall Grahm adapts his discursive writing style not one iota for the shortened attention span we all seem to be suffering from (he included 26 footnotes in a recent post) but what he has to say is always stimulating and thought-provoking. He doesn’t post that often so Randophiles should also follow him on Twitter. Or read his splendid book.

The Traveler’s Lunchbox
Yet another American blog: this one - as the name suggests - on food and travel. It’s beautifully photographed and written by inveterate traveller and ‘sociolinguist’ Melissa Kronenthal. I’ve been wanting to go to Saigon for an age but want to still more after reading her recent post Saigon Seductions. You wouldn’t find a better piece in Saveur