Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Food apps on iPhone and iPad

I’ve spent a fair of time over the last few days playing with (er, researching) apps on my iPad and it’s amazing how many there are (3066 in the Lifestyle section alone)

What got me started was Mitch Tonks excellent Eat Fish (£1.79 until Dec 31st) which includes a series of videos on techniques such as pinboning, skinning, scaleing and filleting as well as information about what fish is in season and ‘fish facts’ and recipes for different fish.

Jamie O, as you'd expect, is there though I'm more impressed by his Jamie's Recipes than the free 30 minute meal timer to encourage you to buy his latest book which I note he doesn't promote on his site.

So, more surprisingly, is Antonio Carluccio whose Simple Cooking you can download for £3.99 (you could do with a sample video to decide whether to buy it) and Nigella fans can have access to the Voluptuous One’s Quick Collection for £2.99 until January 3rd (£4.99 after that).

Then there’s Flipboard, an app which enables you to create a stylish-looking magazine of the sites that most interest you (including a brilliant full-colour version of Twitter that shows your followees’(if that’s the right word) photos. You can also download excerpts from Bon Appetit but they frustratingly only give you a teaser on many items. For the whole story you have to go through to the website with an invitation to subscribe.

I prefer the approach of Food and Wine which enables you to download a couple of full sample issues (iPad is potentially a great way to subscribe to overseas food mags without having to wait for them to come through the post) and Epicurious’s Epi which is more like an e-zine. (You can see how they plan to make their money from the PEARfect dishes section sponsored by USA pears.) It also gives you the opportunity to sync your recipe box (for £1.19) if you’re an existing Epicurious fan.

Blogshelf (£2.99) which I discovered through Sarah of Bray’s Cottage, I suspect will become addictive. It’s a great way to keep up with your favourite blogs giving them glossy magazine values. The American site Serious Eats* comes pre-loaded and you can add whatever other blogs you like - the more visual the better.

And there are cookbooks too. Not so much from ibooks (can that survive?) but from the more extensive Kindle store where you can pick up books for free though I have to say Classic Cookbooks - 12 books on cooking before 1800 - is pretty indecipherable and I’m not sure I want 250 Slow Cooker Recipes even at 74p. But it’s worth downloading samples of books you might be interested in buying like The Food Stylists Handbook (hmmm, not on the basis of the download). Note Kindle editions may be different from the standard version and may not be much cheaper than a real live book.

Of much more interest is the stunningly photographed The Photo Cookbook and The Photo Cookbook - Baking with their crystal clear step by steps - a great buy for just £2.99 (through the App store)

I have two worries about all this. One is actually cooking from my iPad. Judging by the bespattered state of my cookbooks there’s a fair chance I’ll manage to destroy it by spilling boiling hot stock all over it.

And it does make me wonder if we’ll actually have food mags and cookery books in five years time. I hope so - I still think that books are nicer to handle - but I fear it means even more focus on celebrity titles that can spawn apps. What do you reckon?

*I've just discovered Serious Eats has its own list of iPhone and iPad apps including back issues of the late, lamented Gourmet magazine - more distracting apps for you to browse!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sipsmith Sloe Gin 2009

There's something about this weather that makes you turn to spirits. I've drunk . . . er, sipped . . . more whisky, Somerset Cider Brandy and rum in the last week than I have all year.

And now, just in time for Christmas, sloe gin. A new one - so far as I'm aware - from the excellent Sipsmith microdistillery in south London. At 29% ABV it's a few degrees higher in alcohol than Bramley & Gage, Plymouth or Gordons (all 26%), rich, fruity and ever so slightly medicinal. (I'm sure it's doing my cough good)

If you haven't tried it with Stilton - or even better Stichelton - you haven't lived.

Only a 50cl bottle which makes it expensive at around £21-22 though Majestic is apparently selling it at £20 (not on their website). You can also buy it for around £25-26 in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols or online from The Whisky Exchange but obviously not until after Christmas.

Worth every penny though. A great last minute present.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hobbs House G-Stone

To be frank, G-Stone sounds more like a sex toy than a loaf but it's my favourite new bread.

Tom Herbert of Hobbs House Bakery brought it along to Cheese School the other night. It's a small but perfectly formed stoneground loaf, moist and malty that's apparently made from - and I quote the website - coarsely ground wholemeal wheat flour, organic cut wheat, sea salt, yeast, planet-friendly organic palm fat (love that!), organic molasses and water. You can see its lovely crumbly texture below and on the slideshow-style pix on their website. It's great with cheese - especially cheddar but I'm enjoying it with honey at breakfast too.

I topped up my supplies in the Better Food Company's new Whiteladies Road store (below) yesterday but you can also buy it on-line as part of a bread selection along with the Hobbs House Shepherds Loaf which Trethowans Dairy uses for its legendary cheese toasties (which I've now worked out how to make at home). Last orders for Christmas are on Wednesday 22nd (I would have thought weather permitting) but you could always buy someone an online gift voucher.

It underlines what a brilliant place Bristol is for bread - the best city outside London I'd have said.

Oh, and apparently the reason it's called G stone is that it was named after a Hobbs House baker, Graham, who helped create it. And the fact that it's shaped like a stone. Quite prosaic really . . .

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The brilliant Bristol Cider Shop

Just two weeks before the end of the year I stumbled upon one of my best Bristol finds of 2010, the new Cider Shop on Christmas Steps. And would you believe one of the owners is called Peter Snowman? You couldn’t make it up.

Anyway great story. He and his partner Nick Davis came up with the idea a few months ago when they were sitting drinking cider in The Orchard. They wondered why there wasn’t a cider shop in Bristol, the heart of cider country and with very little knowledge of either cider or retail (Peter worked for the Prince’s Trust, Nick was a tree surgeon) decided to set one up - in the front room of Peter’s cottage.

Amazingly they got a licence and managed to open three weeks after that, stocking bottles from small artisanal producers from within 50 miles of Bristol and a changing selection of cider on draught. All are made from juice rather than concentrate. I tried three: West Croft Cider’s Janet’s Jungle Juice (6.5%) a pure, fresh appley medium dry cider, the crisp dry Wilkins Farmhouse (6%) and a pure fragrant Hecks Blakeney Red perry which were all terrific. Most are under £2 a pint.

You can bring in your own container or buy one from them or buy by the bottle. They’ll deliver larger orders locally for parties and if you’re stuck for a present and live in the Bristol area they even do cider hampers. They should have a fully functioning website early in the New Year. (At the moment they don't even take credit cards! Now remedied - see comment below)

You can keep track of what they're up to on their Facebook page

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dream custard creams from Hart's Bakery

Bristol is already unfairly well-provided with artisan bakeries but here's another one from Laura Hart who used to bake the fantastic bread and cakes at Lido and before that at Q.V. and Bordeaux Quay.

I met her today at the Made in Bristol Craft Fair where she was running a joint pop-up tea and biscuits stall with Kate Gover of Lahloo Tea. She'd baked some amazing-looking mince pies and these delicious heart-shaped custard creams which tasted almost exactly as I remember them when I was a child, only crumblier and slightly less sweet. (Apparently the secret is using Bird's Custard Powder in the filling.)

She also sells her bread, croissants and cakes in Hampton Lane (just off Cotham Hill) from 8am to lunchtime Monday to Friday and normally has a stand outside Planet Pizza in Gloucester Road from 9am to lunchtime on Saturdays.

You can keep tabs on any other outlets via her website

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Gay Hussar's Crispy Roast Duck

I went to a press lunch at The Gay Hussar this week and was relieved to find that it was almost exactly the same as when I last went 10 years or so ago to interview the manager John Wrobel (who I seem to remember was a Pole). It was opened in 1953 by the late Victor Sassi - there's a great account of its colourful history here)

It's one of those restaurants that's more about the ambiance than the food. For years, long before the days of New Labour, it was the haunt of Labour politicians and union bosses although there was a bloke sitting next to me who looked like the kind of MP who would have a duck pond so maybe the Tories frequent it these days. You can see why chaps like it. It's a clubby, congenial sort of place with cosy red walls lined with books and caricatures of its famous patrons.

The highlight of the menu is, as it always was, the roast duck which I suspect, given its extreme crispness, is actually deep-fried. It's served with red cabbage, apple slices and a slightly soupy mixture of potatoes and apple and is absolutely delicious.

The other dishes aren't really in the same league though I have to admit the goulash soup really hit the spot on a freezing cold day. And was surprisingly authentic given that the chef is Portuguese . . .

At £18.50 for two courses the Gay Hussar represents great value for a Siberian winter lunch. Save it for a post-Christmas treat.

* It's now currently owned by The Restaurant Partnership, the same company that owns Elena's L'Etoile

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December's blogs of the month

Another month, four more blogs. I was vaguely thinking of selecting ones which were full of brilliant decorating ideas, Christmas recipes and helpful gift suggestions but the ones I turned up were all pretty dull. (Example: “Christmas hampers are becoming more popular and are given by both companies and people to say thank you to, or to spoil the recipient.” If you know of one that’s a tad more exciting do add a link in the comments box.

Anissa Helou’s blog
I’m obsessed with Lebanese food since my visit last month so three of this month’s picks are middle-east related. This one is by Lebanese-born, London-based Anissa Helou who also leads tours to the Lebanon and Syria. Her blog benefits greatly from this insider knowledge but is far from romanticised. Those of a squeamish disposition may want to skip the vlogs on live butchery in Damascus and turn to the many absorbing posts on pastries and . . um . . belly-dancing instead.

Dirty Kitchen Secrets
It may sound a bit dodgy but this is the lovely blog of 'corporate dropout' Bethany Kehdy - another Lebanese expat living in the UK. Lots of enticing Lebanese recipes including this to-die-for Lebanese dip which I'm lining up for Christmas. Very useful guide to Lebanese ingredients too.

Salad Club
Hardly a ‘find’ as this well-regarded blog won the best blog at the Observer Food Monthly Awards a few weeks ago. Written by two Sarf London girls Ellie and Rosie it’s full of bright ideas, good writing and some great technicolour pix obviously processed with some fiendishly clever app I haven't managed to upload on my iphone yet. Reason for including them this time? Ellie has recently been to Syria and Beirut so I can really relate to her evocative post about Syrian food.

Diary of a Desperate Exmoor Woman
Not about food for once but a highly personal, compulsively readable blog from author and journalist Jane Alexander about life on, er, Exmoor with her husband (beer-writer Adrian Tierney-Jones), son and ‘delinquent terrier’ (Asbo Jack). I ran into her recently at a beer dinner (as you do) and she talks just like she writes. A very funny lady.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jolly good Royal Air Force tea

Continuing in presents vein here's a terrific gift for any buffer or tea lover of your acquaintance: a tin of Royal Air Force Tea. It's selected and packaged by the enterprising Henrietta Lovell of the Rare Tea Company inspired by a marvellous video she made for the Guardian.

As you'd expect it's a full-bodied black tea of backbone and character (no namby-pamby green tea for our chaps) but manages to be wonderfully fragrant and subtle as well. A million miles from the standard builders brew.

According to Henrietta's website it's blended from teas from the Makaibari Estate in Darjeeling and Satemwa Estate on Thyolo Mountain in Malawi. You can see the fine big leaves once you've strained the tea.

I also learnt from the enclosed leaflet that you shouldn't refill the pot once you've poured the tea but leave the leaves dry and then heat a freshly-filled kettle to just below boiling point and re-infuse them. They can be used at least twice which makes the purchase price of £5 for 50g less costly than it might otherwise appear (though 10% of the price you pay goes to the RAF Association Wings Appeal)

She also supplies refill boxes which means you can not only buy it as a gift but keep some for yourself. How could you not when it's "Calming in times of national peril and fortifying when courage is required"? And jolly refreshing to boot.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Somerset 20 year old cider brandy

Maybe because the temperatures have been sub-zero all week but I can't think of a better thing to drink right now than Julian Temperley's Somerset 20 year old cider brandy.

I admit I'm already a Temperley fan. I've been tasting his brandies which are the nearest thing Britain has to Calvados (some would say better) for some 15 or so years now. I particularly like the 3 year old and 5 year old but have had my reservations about the 10 and 15 year old which I've always felt lose some of that lovely natural West Country apple flavour that makes the younger brandies so seductive.

Julian insisted it was there in the 20 year old - and so it is, in spades. But more like a baked apple stuffed with vanilla-scented brown sugar and laced with brandy. It would make the perfect nightcap for this icy weather though I must admit I'm sitting here sipping it at 5.30 in the afternoon and it's warming me through far more effectively than the three layers of jumpers I have had on today.

The only downside? At £46 from the distillery's online shop it's not cheap but they only make one barrel each year so it has rarity value. And it would make the perfect present for a hard-to-please dad or grandad. (Yes obviously mums and grannies would like it too but it's the men who are always so hard to buy for). You can also find it in Fortnum & Mason.