Thursday, August 25, 2011

Latest food and wine blog finds

Another eclectic selection of blogs for you to dip into:

Poires au Chocolat (@poireschocolat)
One of the great blogs I discovered through participating in Food Blogger Connect the other weekend. I picked this one not only because it's a beautiful, well-written blog but because its author, Emma, has only just finished her degree at Oxford. Apparently she wants to be a pastry chef. I'm sure she'll succeed. I love the look of this Rose and Pistachio layer cake.

Best Emerging Chefs and Creators/Thinkers in the Kitchen @scoffiermag
Not the catchiest of titles, admittedly but an incredibly useful resource if you're interested in the latest hot talent round the globe. Written - surprisingly - by a Frenchman who calls himself S Coffier and intended as a precursor to a magazine. I'm slightly embarrassed to find I hadn't clocked one of his UK finds, Paul Foster of Tuddenham Mill.

Wine Woman & Song @winewomansong
Juel Mahoney has already built a formidable reputation as a wine writer through her clever and original blog Wine, Woman & Song. She recently posted a brilliantly argued riposte to my recent post about what food bloggers could learn from journalists called How to be a Blogger as a Journalist which you should definitely read if you haven't already done so. She also has an Italian wine site called Vinissima.

Turntable Kitchen @TTableKitchen
A San Francisco-based blog by Kasey and Matthew. which matches food and music. Like Wasted Time and Minted Zucchini, Pea and Lemon Cucumber salad. This, I think, is exactly what Juel (above) is on about. You need blogs to express these fresh, zany ideas. Lovely food photography too.

And finally - nothing to do with food - check out a slightly nutty site which catalogues pictures of libraries including Celebrity Libraries and Government Law libraries. A must for geeky bibliophiles. Like me. Here's mine by the way.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Six recipes to cook from . . . Everyday and Sunday

Anyone who thinks that books are dead should pick up a copy of Everyday & Sunday, the latest book from Guy Watson and Jane Baxter of Riverford Farm in Devon, Britain's best known veg box supplier.

The 362 pages are packed with imaginative recipes, mostly based on the veg the farm grows. As the name of the book suggests, they're divided into everyday and weekend meals (though I'd be more than pleased to have someone cook the midweek ones for me) and is divided up month by month.

So it's useful and practical but far more than that because 'Bax', as she's known to her friends, has plenty of attitude and a vigorous, engaging writing style. The pictures (by Ed Park) which are sparingly but tellingly used as are the illustrations by Leanne Shapton that open each chapter. It's a satisfyingly chunky, well-designed book and at £12.90 - the price Amazon is currently charging for it - an absolute steal.

So, which recipes? This is a tough one - so many of them appeal - but if I'm forcing myself to pick six let's start with

* French and Runner beans with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and basil (August, p 201)
A typical Bax recipe, simple, seasonal, slightly off-piste, with the helpful advice that the beans should be blanched until 'not al dente but squeaky when bitten'. I know EXACTLY what she means. Perfect for a runner bean glut

* Corn and courgette soup (September, p 233)
Another good idea for this time of year from one of Jane's co-chefs Anna Colquhoun who used to work at Chez Panisse. Thriftily the cobs are used to make a stock then the kernels are cooked with the courgettes, blitzed and the soup topped with a herb and chilli-flavoured butter.

* Chard, mushroom and walnut tart (September, p 244)
The answer to the problem of what to serve for an interesting veggie main. Great combination of flavours. Good tip that you can bake the filling in a gratin dish rather than in a pastry case which I suspect would be equally delicious

* Quick roasted cauliflower cheese (March, p.60)
Crème fraîche, mustard and gruyère instead of fiddly bechamel, no soggy cauliflower - a clever reinvention of this family favourite.

* New potatoes with crab, chilli, parsley and lemon (June, p. 144)
I normally make this sauce, as Jane does, with pasta but the chance to combine it with new potatoes is too good to miss

* Apricot brioche pudding (July, p. 187)
I've chosen this out of the many outrageously good desserts in the book simply because I tasted it at a demo Jane, Mitch Tonks and I took part in at the Dartmouth Food Festival last year. Basically it's an apricot bread and butter pudding. Gorg.

I could easily have picked out another six. And another . . .

What's really good about this book (and its companion volume, the award-winning Riverford Farm Cook Book) is that you could go off to the farmers' market and buy whatever produce looks most appealing without any clear idea what to do with it, bring it home and find a fabulous way to cook it. Now that's what you want from a recipe book.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Henry Herbert's Scotch Eggs

Henry Herbert's Scotch eggs are a thing of beauty. Not that you'd know it from this hastily snatched photo while I was interviewing him for my article in the Guardian today. He used to be head chef at the Coach & Horses in Clerkenwell where they were his signature dish.

They are served warm (if you're lucky and get to his Chipping Sodbury butcher's just as he's made them), crisp on the outside with the yolk just the right side of runny, gently oozing into the perfectly spiced sausage casing. I almost wept when I ate mine. Oh, alright, I didn't but it was good. The best Scotch egg I've ever eaten.

Apparently there was quite a buzz about them a year ago when he did a Scotch egg masterclass reported here by Cara of Gourmet Chick.

Henry also makes scrummy-looking pies, (I say looking, because I haven't got round to trying them yet), meatballs, terrines and homemade chicken kievs.

At Ruby & White in Whiteladies Road in Bristol, the other butcher I visited, they make up their own marinades which they sell in little pots for £1. I tried a Moroccan-style lemon and saffron one with a guineafowl I bought from them which was really tasty. If you had to buy the ingredients from scratch you couldn't do it for that price.

They also have lots of cheaper cuts like shin and shortrib, and veal offal such as sweetbreads and kidneys as well as supermarket-style 3 packs for £10 offers. So butchers don't have to be expensive.

With their energy and imagination I hope they'll both succeed. They're making the effort to go the extra mile with late opening hours or, in Henry's case, deliveries so it's up to us locals to use them.

Incidentally there's a great follow-up discussion on Word of Mouth about butchers here.

Adam Denton, co-owner of Ruby & White.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How to blog like a journalist

The great thing about having to give a talk or make a presentation is that it forces you to collect random thoughts about the subject that you might have been having for a while. So it was with yesterday's talk on writing style I gave to the food bloggers' conference Food Blogger Connect.

The first thing you have to say - and I did - is that there's already some fantastic food writing out there from bloggers who have brought some brilliant fresh ideas and voices to the genre. And as many bloggers are now getting commissioned by national newspapers and traditional print journalists like me now blog the dividing line between the two is getting more and more blurred.

But writing for someone else involves more discipline than writing for yourself and for new bloggers or those of you who have ambitions to turn professional it may be helpful to focus on what those differences are. And how a bit of journalistic know-how might help your blog.

* Blogging is about me, journalism is about you - and them
Most blogs are self-centred. I mean that not in a pejorative way, simply that they are generally about the writer and her/his thoughts and feelings about food. Journalists are basically reporters, asking questions, gathering facts, finding individuals to quote that will add life to their piece. I think bloggers could look outwards more and be more investigative (within the obvious constraints of fitting their blogging around a full-time job).

* Journalists have to write in a style that suits the publication and the audience they're writing for
Develop the art of writing for a broader audience. Don't get too cosy chatting with a loyal, but possibly small coterie of followers. And if you get commissioned by a publication - or are looking to approach them - read it first. (A recent edition, obviously, not a two year old copy you found in a doctor's waiting room!)

* Journalists should be (though admittedly aren't always) detached, critical and impartial
Bloggers don't have to be. That's good in a way. You need a bit of attitude but sometimes I find bloggers go overboard in their praise of restaurants, products or books, especially where commercial interests are involved. In the press that would be called an advertorial.

* Journalists have to be accurate
Names, spellings and dates need to be checked, grammar cleaned up (especially commas and apostrophes). That doesn't mean you should abandon your natural writing style. Just read through what you've written and, if you're not confident about your proof-reading skills, get someone else to read it through too. Try to avoid long, rambling sentences and lengthy paragraphs, clichés and repetition. Especially of the word 'lovely'.

* Journalists have to write to length . . .
Ah, length. The bane of many new blogs. It's so tempting to tell your audience everything about that special meal you had or the best friend's wedding you went to but hold back. When I was doing the research for my talk I found some blogs that took 800-900 words to get to the point. People have short attention spans these days. If you want them to stay and read your blog - and revisit it - keep your posts short. Or short-ish. If you're commissioned to write a piece ask for the word count (how long the editor wants the piece to be) and keep it that length.

* . . . and on time
If you're given a deadline stick to it. Editors like writers who submit their copy promptly.

* Journalists need to engage the audience straightaway
That's what your editor expects. And if you don't get to the point quickly your sub-editor may rewrite your intro - possibly in a way you might not like. Draw the reader in with a startling fact or statement or by painting an evocative word picture. Or by relating the piece to a concern you know your readers share. (Like losing weight.)

* Blogging is immediate. A piece of journalism may not be published for several months.
That's actually one of the drawbacks of journalism as the editors who have to work on Christmas features in July and August will tell you. (The average lead-time for a magazine feature is around four months.) Bear in mind that some, at least, of your content needs to have enduring relevance.

Do you agree with my analysis or do you think the differences are overstated? And what have bloggers got to teach journalists?
- Plenty it appears! Look at this brilliant riposte from Juel Mahoney of Wine, Woman & Song.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rocksalt: Posh fish in Folkestone

Living in Bristol, it’s not often I contemplate lunch in Folkestone 4 1/2 hours away but once I’d heard about Sarge’s mackerel pasty, that was it.

Sarge (aka Mark Sargeant), of course, is not just any old cook. He was Gordon Ramsay’s right hand man for years but has now gone off, as so many of Ramsay’s former acolytes have, and set up a restaurant of his own called Rocksalt.

But in Folkestone, a south coast port which can hardly be described as Britain’s most glamourous seaside resort?

Albeit with a certain faded grandeur . . .

Well, turns out he comes from that neck of the woods and maybe it’s a smart move. You get the sense that Folkestone is busy reinventing itself now it has a new high speed rail link to St Pancras (just an hour). And now is a good time to go as it’s in the middle of its Triennial (of which see more below)

Anyway, That Pasty. When I first heard about the fact that it contained mackerel and sausage my reaction was *eeew*, followed by an avid curiosity to see what it tasted like. I can never resist a good pie. As you see it’s mackerel shaped and full of flaky fish with just the merest hint of something savoury and porky and the most fabulous pastry which I suspect you couldn’t possibly replicate despite the fact that the recipe is available online. At £14.50 it must be the most expensive pasty in Britain but it’s so, so worth it. Order it as a main or one between two. (If you can. Have learnt it isn't always on.)

There were some other nice things on the menu: some good nibbles such as radishes with anchovy sauce (anchovy mayo with a little cream, I’d guess) and steamed broad beans served edamame style with mint sea salt (great idea)

Smoked coley brandade with spring onions which was a bit like a mini fish pie. (Delicious)

And a superb, sweet Dover sole.

I was marginally less impressed by the steamed sea bass with samphire and fish cream mainly because I was expecting a samphire and fish cream instead of Samphire. And fish cream. And it was very slightly underdone. I like my sea bass seared. But it could have been that I was too full of pasty to appreciate it.

Red herring was not the East Anglian speciality but a very smokey mackerel tinged with beetroot. Not quite as exciting as it sounded.

And you probably won't like the Famous Folkestone whelks unless you're into whelks. Which I am. Sort of. When I'm in Folkestone at any rate.

Rhubarb fool, while pretty, was a bit too creamy and not rhubarby enough for my taste.

But elderflower and strawberry jelly was divine.

But the thing that made it such a wonderful meal was the setting. It overlooks the harbour and on a blissfully sunny day felt just like being on the Med.

I don’t think you’d want to stay in Folkestone for long, but for an overnight stay, particularly until September 25th when the Triennial ends it would be great. This was an installation in an old church (below). There are many other exhibitions and installations we were sorry we didn't have time to explore.

Rocksalt has rooms in a neighbouring building which also houses Sarge’s posh chippie. Small but nicely decorated and good value though one of them smelt slightly worryingly of fish (a Fawlty Towers kipper moment but I’m sure they’ll sort that out). Book the top room if you can.

And find time for a drink in the bar which has been cleverly designed to feel like sitting on a pebble beach.

Rocksalt is at 4-5 Fishmarket, Folkestone, Kent, CT19. Tel: 01303 884 633. A meal with wine will probably set you back around £60 a head from the a la carte menu. There's a set lunch for £14.50 for two courses, £17.50 for three.

I ate at Rocksalt as a guest of the restaurant.