Tuesday, September 27, 2011

4 more blogs

It's been a bumper month for new blog discoveries so I'm having difficulty restricting myself to four.

I'll cheat and count French cookery writer Trish Deseine's as one when in fact she has two. And she's not French, she's Irish but she was married to a Frenchman and she's huge in France. Big as Nigella, a well-worn comparison for which she probably won't thank me. What I particularly like about her though - and I met her this summer - is that she doesn't take herself at all seriously and writes funny self-deprecating posts like this one about what she has in her shopping basket. She also has this beautiful tumblr blog here.

Then there's Lazy Sunday - one of those scrumptious photo-led blogs I'm so jealous of created by food photographer Carole Fitzgerald. Can't remember how I came across this one - think it was through Twitter where most of my discoveries seem to take place these days. Not much in the way of text just lovely, lovely photos.

Next, Food and Think, the food section of the Smithsonian website. Full of stimulating, erudite writing of a kind that the Americans seem to be much better than us these days. Check out this piece on 'anthropomorphized' food artist Terry Border or this off-the-wall one on Five Funky Ways with a Peanut Butter Sandwich

And finally, Love & Olive Oil (above), another beautiful blog I discovered when its author, Lindsay, commented on my last post on blogging and family meals. Terrific pix and recipes like this decadent brownie pie. Brownie pie - now why didn't I think of that?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Do you cook for your family or your blog?

The arguments about whether or not you should take pictures or notes in a restaurant have been well rehearsed but what about when you eat at home? Should you hold the entire meal up while you style a plate and snap away or should you end up - as I often do (above) - snatching a blurry low light image of your dinner?

If anything it’s a bigger problem because it happens more regularly. My husband has got well used to the routine, sighing wearily as I plate up “I suppose you want to take a picture of that”.

And it’s getting more of a dilemma as the standard of photography goes up. The best blogs, many of which I’ve documented, have photography that wouldn’t look out of place in a glossy magazine and having seen Jaden of Steamy Kitchen and Béatrice of La Tartine Gourmande in action at Food Blogger Connect, probably takes as long to set up. So do you cook, like a professional photographer for the shoot, and expect your nearest and dearest to eat the leftovers? Or, God forbid, cook two meals?

And what about the equipment? What used to be a sideline for many of us becomes an expensive hobby as you invest in the latest flashy digital camera - or two (one for your 'studio' shoots and a pocket sized one for restaurants and food on the go)?

I guess it depends how ambitious you are for your blog and where you see it taking you. If you’re angling for a new career in food writing and photography you’re going to have to behave like a pro with the ensuing waste that involves. I’ve been on shoots where whole meals are discarded in the bin, something I can never quite get used to.

But what about the rest of us with day jobs and partners and families to feed? Are we consigned to a nether world of mediocrity because our photography isn’t up to scratch?

I’d love to hear your views but here's one (heretical) suggestion of my own. Which is to use one of the many wizzy camera apps on your phone to create special effects - or even, if you have a Mac, play around with iphoto as I've done to the rather grotty shot above. OK it’s not going to give your readers the clearest idea of the masterpiece you’ve created but at least it looks a bit edgy.

What do you think? (Not of my photos, obviously - at least I'd rather you didn't tell me - but about the whole issue!)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Six (actually about 10) recipes to make from Comfort and Spice

Publishers have odd ideas sometimes. What possessed Quadrille to call Niamh* Shields first book Comfort & Spice instead of Eat Like a Girl, the title of her hugely popular blog, I can’t imagine. It sounds like a Christmas baking book. Maybe the idea was it would appeal more to the American market? And perhaps they’re right but it in no way conjures up the discursive, leftfield tone of Niamh’s writing (you can actually hear her talking to you) or her wide-ranging choice of recipes.

What I like best about it, I must confess, are the small tips and ingredients made from scratch which, only someone as unashamedly greedy as Niamh - and I say this in the nicest possible way - would have come up with. I can’t wait to make a batch of ham salt, harissa croutons, rosepetal butter and passionfruit and lime curd (1) (All short recipes so I’m counting these as one choice.)

Probably the best section overall is the Eight Great Big Dinners . . . and what to do with the leftovers. The idea of making sausage roll style Lamb and smoky aubergine rolls (2) with leftover shoulder of lamb is genius and you should definitely try her signature two and six-hour pork belly (3) which can be turned into some wicked-sounding pork belly dumplings.

There are also some excellent tips for getting your crackling crisp which I shan’t pass on otherwise you might not buy the book . . .

Niamh’s Irish roots are evident in number of recipes out of which I’d pick the smoked salmon with potato pancakes and cucumber relish (4) using Frank Hederman smoked salmon, as she recommends, if you can get hold of it. She says she’s been making the pancakes since she was at school so they should be good.

I suspect the same is true of her simply named Prawn Curry (5) which she says all her friends now make - the downside of being generous with your recipes. It includes cloves, an interesting touch. Maybe that’s the ‘spice’ of the title’

As well as the butter I’ve mentioned, there are a number of recipes for home-made cheese including homemade paneer (6) which you could use to make her Mutter Paneer. What’s great about this book is how encouraging Niamh is. She almost knows you read a recipe, wondering if it will work then goes on to reassure you how easy it is.

Chicken and chorizo pie (er, 7. I was only supposed to pick six recipes, but never mind) is a winner too. In fact Niamh has obviously got a big thing going about chorizo which appears in rather too many recipes - my one small niggle with the book, apart from its title. But like the rest of this series it has immense charm as does its author. It would be a very good friend in the kitchen.

*Niamh is pronounced neev in Gaelic not nee-am-huh. Just in case you wondered.

Photos are from ‘Comfort and Spice’ by Niamh Shields, the fourth book in the New Voices in Food series, published by Quadrille (£14.99, paperback) Photography (C) Georgia Glynn Smith

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's hot at the London Restaurant Festival

The other night I went to a dinner at Nuno Mendes' Loft Project to publicise the London Restaurant Festival which opens in just over three weeks now. Annoyingly I'm not going to be here the first week (on a wine trip to Spain so don't expect you to feel much sympathy) but I am around for what sounds like the most intriguing event - unless you happen to fancy eating your dinner suspended half a mile above London.

It's a pop-up (what else?) 'dining experience' organised by a German company called Pret a Diner which will take place in the Old Vic Tunnels which will be featuring installations from a number of artists curated by gallery owner Steve Lazarides based on the Greek legend of the Minotaur.

The three chefs involved are Nuno himself, who also owns Viajante, Matthias Schmidt of Villa Merton in Frankfurt and Juan Amador of Amador in Mannheim. Tickets will go on sale tomorrow, priced £75 for three courses - not exactly cheap but cheaper than Thomas Keller's £250 French Laundry pop-up at Harrods. There will be two sittings a day at 7pm and 9pm from the 10th-25th of October. We don't see much in the way of German chefs over here which makes it good opportunity to find out what's going on over there.

Otherwise there are now some 700 restaurants offering Festival menus at four different price bands (£10, £15, £20 and £25) which you can find if you click on Book Table. (I only tell you this because I faffed around the site for 10 minutes trying to find out who was offering what. Even then you could do with a bit more info about what you get for your festival deal. Hawksmoor Seven Dials which I am shamelessly plugging because it's my son Will's restaurant is offering 2 'bridging drinks' (see their cocktail menu) and a mini chilli cheese dog or one bridging drink and a mini lobster roll, for instance.)

There are also going to be three Suppliers' Markets involving chefs' suppliers at Paddington (30th September), Waterloo (7th October) and Liverpool Street Station (14th October), an Eat Film series of screenings, signings and suppers and the annual LRF awards which are given for nicely quirky qualities such as 'bravery', 'passion' and 'fun'.

All in all a good 10 days to be in London.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thali Café's Bombay chips

It's become a bit of a ritual to head for our local Thali Café for a takeaway the first night we're back from holiday. The justification being we're too tired to shop and cook and besides, if we've been in France, which we usually have, we've had to survive two weeks without spicy food. And if we order the dairy-free, veggie thali it's healthy, we tell ourselves. Ish.

Unfortunately a new temptation lay in wait. On a sign just by the till, as alluring as the display of sweets by a supermarket checkout - Bombay potato chips.

Well, I had to try them, didn't I? In the interests of research.

And regrettably they were fab. Thinly cut from new potatoes, I would guess, dunked in pakora batter and deep fried they were probably as fattening as family pack of KFC. Good though. Oh-so good. Especially with a fresh coconut raita with (I think) mustard seeds.

And they cost just £1.95, drat them.

Just keep away.