Dec 312010
 

Most years, at about this time, I start ruminating on how quickly the year has gone by. This year, that feeling seems stronger than ever, and I can’t get my head around how it can possibly be the end of another year already.

And yet, it’s been a full year indeed with much happening, so it’s not as though I’m looking back wondering where it’s gone – I have lots of marvellous memories of just what I’ve been doing with my time.

So, what have been my food highlights of the year?

January

ScotchEggs-1465 BobBobRicard-0531 ChickenPie-1587

We minced pork and made quail scotch eggs.

I first met the charming, vodka-savvy Leonid during my first visit to Bob Bob Ricard.

We made our very first pie. Mmmmm, Pie!

February

Pigfest-0606 JamSunday-1612

I ate lots of pig with lots of ladies.

My friend Carla shared my ever-growing obsession with making jam.

March

MacCheese FLIP-1515 KVEats Falklands-1653 Racine-7620 ChilliGingerPickle-0869

I won a Food Debate by championing cheese.

We spent four wonderful weeks in the Falkland Islands photographing penguins and albatross. Food was hearty.

I discovered fine quality French cooking at Racine.

I made a hot chilli and ginger pickle so hot it even blows my dad’s head off!

April

Billingsgate-7508 Billingsgate-7515 ThorntonsFactory-7331 ThorntonsFactory-7415

We cooked ox cheeks for the first time, following a lovely recipe from Pascal Aussignac’s Cuisinier Gascon.

We learned how to scale, gut, fillet, skin and cook fish at The Billingsgate Seafood Training School.

I got to see the inside of the Thorntons factory and watch chocolates being made.

I shared my mum’s recipe for Tamarind Ketchup.

May

Crab-1306 Borough-1288 Polpo-1271 Garden25-4-10-1407Garden25-4-10-1424

I cooked my first crab. It took me hours to pick the meat out!

I had a lovely meander around Borough Market.

My thoughts turned to memories of Venice in London’s first Venetian-style bacaro, Polpo.

I attended Rachel’s inaugural Catalan Cooking class.

We pottered in our kitchen garden.

June

PophamLittleChef-1726 CoffeeChoux-7949 WildGarlicForagingLunch-1960 ParksideStrawbPicking-2655

I interviewed Celia Brooks Brown about allotment gardening at her own London allotment.

We voluntarily ate in a Little Chef. Twice!

We made our first choux buns, filled with coffee custard.

We went foraging with the very lovely Mat Follas of The Wild Garlic.

Pete Drinks launched!

We went strawberry picking for the first time in years.

July

SnowFlakesMeatballs-2674 ScandiCheeseTart-2814 Koffman-3025 PickledGherkins1-2468

It was Scandinavian month with a Jane Lawson meatballs recipe and Trina Hahnemann’s delicious Swedish Cheese Tart.

Pierre Koffmann proved he still has what it takes, opening a permanent restaurant after the success of his pop-up, last year.

I remembered being drunk. A lot. On vodka.

We grew our first ever gherkins. And then I pickled them!

Kavey Eats was recognised in the Times newspaper’s Best Of The Blogs feature.

August

Yquemtasting-2617 TurkDelightCollage Dishoom-3462 Paramount-2895

Four vintages of Chateau d’Yquem, tasted side by side, made me weak at the knees.

I learned and shared some fabulous food styling and photography lessons from Alastair Hendy.

I got my Dishoom on at London’s first Bombay Café.

I fell in love with views of London from above, at Paramount.

We visited and interviewed traditional cheddar makers and bacon farmers, Denhay Farm.

September

Empanada-8375 L-Anima-2946 MacallanArtisan-2648
Divine85NigellaChocLoafCake-8113 BakedParsnips-3533

We made empanadas!

Fritto misto at L’Anima made me wonder if I’d died and gone to heaven.

We made a rather Divine dense chocolate loaf cake.

I asked about your feel-good food smells – and you responded!

We discovered how very nice parsnips are with Lancashire cheese.

We visited Pacific Plaza. We still miss Oriental City.

I finally shared my experience cooking under pressure at Masterchef Live.

Pete and I discovered the fascinating taste experience of matching whisky and chocolate.

October

GardenVeg-8164 LuizLondonCookingClubReikoNt-3691 Tetote-3662
DelhiGrill-3825 MeemsPopup - notext-3942 RomanescoCauliCheese-4047

I shared my love of lahmacun and kookoo sabzi.

On the 10/10/10 we got some good news – we have an allotment!

I had a blast at The London Cooking Club’s Hashi Cooking Night.

We fell head over stomach for the home-style cooking at Delhi Grill. It’s as good as my mum’s!

My dear friend, Meems, ran an astounding Burmese Pop Up at The Wild Garlic.

We visited handsome and lovely British beef and lamb farmer Chris, of Paganum. (Discount code in blog post)

We made green romanesco cauliflower cheese.

I carved my very first Halloween pumpkin. And a Halloween courgette too!

November

LauncPlaceTasting-3909 RAFTea Beer-4016 marble-beers NilsenQuicheLorraine-4696

I met the charming Josceline Dimbleby.

We enjoyed a spectacularly fabulous blow-out meal at Launceston Place.

I remembered the RAF for Remembrance Day.

Pete posted his first brewery tour at home, with Marble Brewery.

I cooked for Green & Black’s Head of Taste, making up a fab pear and ginger chutney recipe.

We rediscovered how good Angela Nilsen’s Quiche Lorraine is.

You shared the foods and drinks you most love and hate at Christmas.

December

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I had more great chocolate at the Southbank Chocolate Festival.

I made my very first gingerbread house at the most excellent LexEats supperclub.

I stayed at one of the very best hotels I’ve ever experienced, a veritable Love Shack, in Cornwall.

Friends helped me put some Christmas Puddings to the test, including the much-hyped Waitrose Heston Hidden Orange one.

I shared 36 great gift ideas and 30 great books on food.

Believe it or not, that’s just a selection of posts from Kavey Eats this year, not to mention the many food experiences I haven’t managed to blog yet… If 2011 is half as much fun, it’ll be a great year indeed!

Wishing all of you a very happy new year, from myself and Pete

x x x

Dec 302010
 

daas-1

Mainland Europe makes some wonderful beer, entirely unlike our own domestic ales – that is to say, the styles are entirely different, not that our domestic ales aren’t equally wonderful!

Belgium, in particular, produces fantastic, big flavoured (and frequently strong!) beers which are always worth seeking out. (I’m partial to the occasional Kwak myself). But in the UK your options are fairly limited; I can only think of a handful of Belgian brews readily available.

Daas have been brewing beer for more than 900 years (which is fairly old even for a Belgian brewery) but have only recently started pushing into the UK market*. Having encountered them at a food show, I quickly bought some of everything and looked forward to a Belgian brewery tour. I hesitate to call this a proper “Tour-At-Home”, because three small bottles hardly feels like a tour; nonetheless it’s a sampling of the full range.

The range itself is organic, and bottle conditioned. It’s missing a ‘Brune’, which you would have thought after 900 years they could have worked into their output, but that might be my prejudice showing!

daas-witte

First up is Daas Witte, a wheat beer at 5.0%. It’s a slightly murky, pale straw colour with a thick, lingering head. It smells of yeast, and fresh green fruit with a distinct sharpness. In the mouth it has a nice firm body, the refreshing yet strong taste you expect from a wheat beer, not very sweet with more hints of green fruit and just a slight bitter, dry finish. The bubbles fill your mouth in just the right way. Given that it doesn’t taste that sweet, there’s a strange lingering stickiness that you’d expect to come from something much sweeter. It’s curious; not bad, but I’m not blown away.

daas-blond

Next, Daas Blond, a traditional Belgian blond beer at 6.5%. Similarly murky, with a nice golden colour to it and a thinner but still quite lingering head. On the nose, there’s a sweet richness of malt, and more yeast. A similar mouthfeel to the Witte; that rich maltiness, almost honey is still there but there’s a curious acidity to the flavour too. There’s a definite darkness to the flavour which you wouldn’t necessarily expect from the colour alone – although to be fair it’s not unusual for a Belgian blonde. The bubbles are still a little intense, but I’m liking this one much more – although I’m not sure it compares favourably to, say, a Leffe.

daas-ambre

Finally, Daas Ambre, also at 6.5%. Unlike the others, this pours clear, in a rich amber tone with a thinner but still foamy head. It has a similar rich malty, almost toffee-like nose and taste. The mouthfeel, if anything, is lighter than the others, although you can still taste the strength. There’s a slightly unpleasant bitter tail to it; not with any real hoppiness, it’s just … bitter. It has an almost dry taste; it’s a perfectly drinkable but it’s an unremarkable Ambre.

To sum up then; there’s nothing exactly wrong with any of these beers, but neither do they get me particularly excited.

Daas is available from myBreweryTap and various organic retailers for around £2.49 a bottle.


*We’ve been contacted by Daas Beer to make a correction to our post. They have been brewing beer for just 4 years, not 900, as we said above! We were thrown by the text on their website that reads “Das premium organic beers uphold our Belgian tradition of brewing excellence lasting more than 900 years” and even more by the “1096” in their logo. Both refer to the Belgian brewing tradition in general and not to Das Beer specifically!

DasBeer

Usually, We’d simply edit the original text. But we’re curious – does anyone else think using the year 1096 in their logo more than implies that Daas themselves have been brewing since that time? Or that they are using a recipe from that date or even that their brewery is on a site that has been a brewery since that date…?

 

A force of nature has arrived at Bob Bob Ricard. (Yes another one, in addition to the eccentric, generous and rather lovely owners, Leonid and Richard).

Lady Lavinia is in the house, ladies and gentleman, and she’s a (rather stunning) force to be reckoned with.

Previously maitre d’ and reservations manager at some of the very best establishments in London, New York and elsewhere, Lady Lavinia is now creative director, looking after guests of the newly refurbished Bobby’s Bar.

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Already, in her few weeks at BBR, she’s not only won new admirers to add to her very long list of adoring fans, she’s also shaken up the bar menu with the introduction of some rather fine bar snacks in the form of luxurious little tarts.

“I like a bar full of hot tartes,
And gentlemen full of relish…
Hence the creation of my favourite nibble.”

Before moving on to some of those nibbles, we thought we’d try some of the hot winter cocktails, to get a little colour into our frozen cheeks and hands.

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Pete’s gooseberry and ginger hot toddy was suitably warming (and comfortingly alcoholic) – the ginger came through far more clearly than the gooseberry. My Rose Petal Blush served equally well to defrost me, inside and out and was delightfully presented too, with it’s whole cinnamon stick to stir. But it had far too many cloves stuck into the orange slice, resulting in a strongly medicinal flavour.

Once warmed, we switched to the regular cocktail list and quickly moved our attention to the tarts!

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Cherry Tomato & Parmesan with Goats Curd and Baby Watercress (£4.50)

The tomatoes are intensely sweet and utterly delicious. The goats curd is sharp; it provides a nice contrast. I don’t detect the parmesan but imagine it’s what contributes the salty, umami aspect. The “baby watercress” tastes more like basil to me, but perhaps that’s down to what my brain is expecting. The juice released from the tomatoes makes the base soggy and therefore droopy, which makes this tart hard to eat without cutlery.

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Gentleman’s Relish & Anchovie Fillets with Nostraline Olives (£5.50)

What a marvellous tart! The pastry, whilst oily, is still crispy and has a thin base. The flavours are balanced perfectly to provide salty, savoury bites of joy. I don’t usually like gentleman’s relish but it’s bloody fantastic in this.

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Tarte Monsieur with English Mustard and Black Truffle (£6.50)

The first thing you notice, as you lift a slice of tart towards your mouth, is the intense waft of aroma from the grated black truffle. It’s earthy, muddy, woody and rich and really rather heady. Inside the tart, on the same outrageously rich pastry, are layers of a mild cheese and ham that work well with the mustard. I love the way these combine with the taste of truffle. Oily overall but that’s no bad thing in winter!

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Tarte Madame with English Mustard and Quails Egg (£6.50)

The Tarte Madame, is, as you’d expect, much like a Monsieur but with the addition of an egg. But for me, that little quails egg just can’t deliver on flavour like the glorious black truffle so I’d advise you to be sexist and go for man tart.

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Fig & Blossom Honey with Mascarpone Cheese (£4.50)

To be honest, I had a feeling I’d rather like this as soon as I heard the description from Lady Lavinia the previous time I’d dropped in to BBR. Oh my, it’s even better than I expected! The kitchen has taken care to source decent figs with good flavour – it’s so easy to buy bland and mealy figs if not careful. The combination of thin slices of this magnificent fruit with a sweet, subtly flavoured honey and rich, creamy mascarpone, not to mention generous sprinklings of pistachio, is unbelievably good. Droopy again, making it messy to eat, especially as that mascarpone starts melting and dripping fast, it’s best not to worry about trying to look elegant in front of your companions and just cram this into your mouth as fast as you can. Mmmm!

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A couple of the tarts are a little expensive, given their small size and their role as bar snacks, but they are really rather good.

Do pop in to Bobby’s Bar and try them out for yourself. If you’re lucky, you’ll also meet the rather gorgeous Lady Lavinia…

Bob Bob Ricard on Urbanspoon
 

BlueberryBeer-0808

Name: Coach House Brewing Company Blueberry Classic Bitter

ABV: 5.0%

Bottled/ Draft: Bottled, unconditioned

Colour: Pale

Head: Pours like a fizzy drink, with a head that didn’t last long enough to photograph

Mouthfeel: Tizer

Taste: Overwhelming blueberry smell as you open the bottle, and that carries through to the taste as well; sweet, almost cordial-like.

Comment: Fruit beers have a lot in common with fruit teas; if the balance is right they can be delicious, but it’s oh so easy to get them wrong. At one end of the spectrum you have beers (and teas) with a tantalising fruity aroma, but when you come to drink them they just taste of beer (or tea). While there’s nothing with that – I’m a big fan of both beer and tea – I find the disconnect with smell and taste frustrating.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have things like this beer. The pure-fruit nose is reflected in a pure-fruit taste – it’s closer to an alcopop than a beer; stickily sweet, fizzy, fruity with no hint of malt and just the barest hint of bitterness at the very end suggesting some light hopping. In itself, it’s not an objectionable drink – but it’s not really much like an actual beer.

BlueberryBeer-0810

 

PeteDrinks-0801 PeteDrinks-0806

Name: Clemens ohne Filter (Unfiltered)

ABV: 5.4%

Bottled/ Draft: Bottle conditioned

Colour: Deep amber

Head: Fine bubbles feeding a lingering, foamy, good sized head.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, the bubbles lingering in the mouth without becoming fizzy.

Taste: Rich, full of sweet maltiness, with a warming alcohol sharpness.

Comment: As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the fact that I’m known to like my beer, results in the joy of a friend bringing me their local brews to try. On this occasion the friend in question is from Bavaria and brought me a local beer I haven’t even seen in my favourite online beer shop!

It’s a delicious smelling beer with the sweetness of the malt and the yeastiness that comes from the bottle conditioning. Those smells strongly bring to my mind the smell of a brewery, giving you a connection to production often lacking in beer – although I often find that a good whisky’s nose will transport me to the warehouse in a similar way.

It’s just as delicious on drinking, with that deep, rich sticky sweet malt and a surprisingly strong alcohol edge to it; it manages to taste as if it’s a fair bit stronger than the 5.4% on the bottle. The fine bubbles give a lovely texture in the mouth. “Very tasty, very drinkable” I have on my tasting notes, right next to urgent questions of “where can I find in this country?!”.

The last word, however, has to go to the Haerle brewery themselves; my German is fairly rusty, so I shall let Google do the translation of the beer’s tagline for me – “Clemens without a filter – the beer for ironing”.

clemens unfiltered

OK, then.

Dec 252010
 

Wishing you a Merry Christmas (or your chosen Season’s Greetings) and a Happy New Year!

Courting Kings copy

Nurture copy

Photos from our first trip to Antarctica in 2004.

 

Long lists of ingredients – some familiar, some exotic; instructions on how to transform them into delicious treats; vivid and tantalising photographs and even an insight into other cultures and cuisines… I love cookery books!

I kinda, sorta agreed, about a year or two back, to a moratorium on the purchase of new cookery books. Of course, I found loopholes – finding bargains in second hand shops and boot sales, receiving them as gifts (it’s no accident that my Amazon wish list is full of cookery book suggestions) and being sent them to review by kind publishers and PRs.

You understand, though, right? I mean, it’s an addiction. I have to have them. I need to have them. My precious!

Here are twelve I’ve been enjoying using this year and eighteen (out of 100s) on my current wish list:

Twelve I have

The Ultimate Recipe Book

I’ve recently rediscovered The Ultimate Recipe Book by Angela Nilsen. Published by BBC Books in 2007, it’s based on her popular Ultimate series in which she chose a classic recipe, researched variations, garnered advice from fellow industry experts and then experimented until she achieved her ultimate version.

Here’s my post on Nilsen’s Ultimate Quiche Lorraine.

The Scandinavian Cookbook

The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann is one of the front-runners in a growing library of books on this increasingly popular cuisine. Published by Quadrille in 2008, it presents the recipes by calendar month, leading us gently through a year of changing seasons and ingredients. The photography, by Danish photographer, Lars Ranek, really draws me in.

Ever a lover of cheese tarts, here’s my post about the book and Trina’s recipe for Swedish Cheese Tart.

Fifty Recipes To Stake Your Life On

Many know Charles Campion as a food critic but have forgotten that he was once a hotelier and restaurateur. Fifty Recipes To Stake Your Life On, published by Timewell Press, is both cookery book and culinary memoir and thus fulfils the role of entertainment as well as cookery book. His recipe for banana cake is my absolute favourite.

Real Fast Food & The Kitchen Diaries

I know, I know, that’s two books but they’re both by Nigel Slater so I’m listing them together! I really like Slater’s approach to food – he clearly adores food but he’s not a snob about it; he appreciates eating well but understands that people don’t always want to spend hours preparing and cooking and he’s very much a proponent of adapting a core recipe or idea based on what’s in the fridge and store cupboard.

Real Fast Food, as its name suggests, focuses on recipes and suggestions for preparing tasty meals quickly and easily. The beef stroganov recipe is one we cook regularly.

The Kitchen Diaries is half recipe book, half food diary. Presented seasonally, there are plenty of great recipes that fit the changing seasons and available ingredients. We have enjoyed making (and eating) a number of recipes from this book since we bought it a couple of years ago, so I’m resolved to rectify my omission in not having blogged any yet!

(Different editions of Slater’s books are printed by a range of publishers).

Cuisinier Gascon

Pascal Aussignac is the Michelin-starred chef proprietor of London restaurant, Club Gascon. Cuisinier Gascon, his first book, was published by Absolute Press in 2009. It’s a really beautiful book, full of mouth-watering recipes and beautiful images, not just of some of the dishes but also of life in Gascony and I love how it celebrates the food traditions, culture and recipes of his home region. I made the braised ox cheeks Bordelaise earlier this year.

Eggs & Sauces

Michel Roux’s Eggs, as you might expect, is a collection of classic egg recipes from omelettes, poached and fried eggs to sauces, custards and soufflés, the book provides a 100 recipes. I blogged baked eggs and scotch quails’ eggs.

Sauces is, in some ways, an even better reference book, providing recipes and techniques for over 200 classic sauces. Roux has updated the 2009 edition to reflect today’s tastes for healthier, lighter sauces without sacrificing flavour or texture. We were happy with the sauce suprême with sherry and mushrooms, which required a number of steps but was not difficult to achieve.

Hix Oyster & Chop House

Mark Hix’ book, Hix Oyster & Chop House, was published by Quadrille a few months ago. Just the one recipe I’ve cooked so far, the Baked Parsnips with Lancashire Cheese, is enough to earn it a place on this list! I am also keen to try the shipwrecked tart, especially as I’ve had a pre-Christmas delivery of walnuts from my friends in Limousin.

Complete Book of Preserves & Pickles

I only started preserving last summer and now I’m somewhat addicted to making jam, pickles, ketchups and chutneys… I found the Complete Book of Preserves & Pickles by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew a huge help on understanding the basic techniques and giving me a starting point for recipes. Published by Lorenz.

The River Cottage Meat Book

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book is a hefty tome. First, the book introduces you to meat – understanding it’s provenance, the food chain and the impact of our own purchasing choices. This it does without preaching or patronising. Next comes guidance on how to cook, broken down by method (from roasting to slow cooking to preserving and more). Although I’ve read quite a bit of the first section, I want to delve more into the cooking chapters. Thus far, we’ve really appreciated the incredibly simple but tasty suggestion for leftover roast chicken croquettes.

The Billingsgate Market Cookbook

Written by C J Jackson, the Director of the Billingsgate Seafood Training School, the most useful aspect of The Billingsgate Market Cookbook for me is the reminders on exactly how to prepare fresh fish. Earlier this year, Pete and I learned how to scale, gut, skin, fillet and bone fish when we attended a course at the school and we bought this book as a primer on the skills we learned.

There are, of course, many more books on my cookery book shelf that I would happily recommend, but I have tried to focus on those I’ve used this year.

Eighteen I want

At Elizabeth David’s Table

Elizabeth David is credited with changing the face of British cooking, introducing the nation to the delights of Mediterranean cuisine at a time when it was just coming out of a period of post-war austerity. This new collection of her recipes has been published on the 60th anniversary of her first cook book and, unlike previous titles, the recipes are illustrated with beautiful colour photographs. At Elizabeth David’s Table: Her Very Best Everyday Recipes was published a couple of months ago by Michael Joseph.

Tender: Volumes I & II

Having grown more and more of our own vegetables over the last decade, we’ve just taken on a full size allotment plot. Now, more than ever, I think we’ll be able to appreciate Slater’s guides to eating vegetables and fruits, knowing that he also loves to grow his own. Volume I deals with vegetables and Volume II with fruit.

Pastry

Of course, having enjoyed Eggs and Sauces (see above), I’d like to complete the set with a copy of Michel Roux’s Pastry, published by Quadrille. I imagine this will be another great reference guide to all the classic pastry recipes, from choux to shortcrust.

Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia

The latest opus by Greg and Lucy Malouf, Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia, has just been published by Hardie Grant. I picked up a copy at a friend’s house last week and suddenly a few hours had raced by and I was on page 135! The book is a work of art – large, coffee table format; rich and vibrant photographs, bronze metallic pages with intricate fretwork windows at the start of each chapter. In reading the opening chapters I learned more about the history, religions, culture and food of historic Persia and modern day Iran than I have from years of following news and current affairs. Then came shorter chapters relating the Maloufs’ experiences as they toured the country. And of course, lots of recipes. I am hoping to get my hands on my own copy of this beautiful book soon so I can finish reading the text and try making some of the recipes.

As we’re going to Lebanon in April, I am also hoping to pick up the Maloufs’ previous book, Saha: A Chef’s Journey Through Lebanon and Syria.

How I Cook

Although I don’t have Skye Gyngell’s first two books (A Year in my Kitchen and My Favourite Ingredients) I have flicked through both recently, at a friend’s house. Gyngell is the renowned chef behind Petersham Nurseries Café and many friends have praised her recipes to me. All three of Gyngell’s books are published by Quadrille. My friend had also just got Skye’s latest book, How I Cook, published by Quadrille, as are the others and it was this third book that most caught my eye.

Roast Chicken And Other Stories & Week In Week Out

I’ve long been intending to get a copy of Simon Hopkinson’s much lauded Roast Chicken and Other Stories, published by Ebury. Of course, I’ve tried his roast chicken recipe and am a convert to his instruction to liberally apply butter all over the bird. I’m also very tempted by Week In Week Out with stories about and recipes for 52 ingredients.

Around My French Table

Dorie Greenspan is well known for her baking books of which there are several. However, I first came across her name relatively recently, in blog reviews for her latest book Around My French Table, published recently by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In this book, Dorie shares more than 300 recipes that she enjoys cooking in her Parisian kitchen. From the reviews I’ve come across, I think there’s an emphasis on French cooking but with forays around the rest of the world too – Dorie herself describes the collection as eclectic. However you describe it, it looks good!

Potty

I’m very lazy at heart so I can’t resist a book based on the premise of reducing washing up! Clarissa Dickson Wright’s Potty, published earlier this year by Hodder & Stoughton, shares 100 recipes that can be cooked in one dish. And of course, as I associate Dickson Wright with full flavoured, comfort food, I figured they’d all taste good too.

Ottolenghi & Plenty

Late to the party, I don’t yet have Yotam Ottolenghi’s first book, despite the uniformly glowing reviews from friends and critics alike. And yet, I’m already pining for his latest offering, Plenty (both published by Ebury). Known for his skill in transforming simple, fresh ingredients into something much more special, I’m particularly interested in his recipes for vegetables I normally don’t love, like broccoli or beans. I like the reputation his recipes have for working well and faithfully recreating what he sells in his London shops.

The Essentials of Italian Cooking

Marcella Harzan’s name comes up quickly in conversations about Italian cooking. Her 1990 title The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is due to be reissued next summer by Boxtree and I hope to pick it up then, if I haven’t found a second hand copy of the original edition already. Fans tell me that the recipes are accurate, straightforward and authentic.

Cured: Slow Techniques for Flavouring Meat, Fish and Vegetables

It’s one of those things I’m always meaning to try – curing my own meat and fish. (Not so fussed about the vegetables). Apparently, Cured: Slow Techniques for Flavouring Meat, Fish and Vegetables by Lindy Wildsmith is just the ticket, with informative text and helpful illustrations.

The Oxford Companion to Food

Every now and then I’ll ask some obscure food question on twitter and wait for the replies to roll in. It’s better than Google, as the twitter fooderati are a superb filter, resulting in the most useful or entertaining answers – usually a mix of both. A friend who often replies most helpfully has revealed her secret weapon as Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food, edited by Tom Jaine and published by OUP Oxford. This impressive encyclopaedia contains over 2,650 alphabetical entries on foods, cooking terms, culinary tools, countries and traditions plus biographies of chefs and cookbook authors. It’s not a cookery book, but still, I covet it.

I’d also quite like New Larousse Gastronomique and Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking but perhaps three such tomes might be overkill.

Forgotten Skills of Cooking

Speaking of tomes, Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking, published last year by Kyle Cathie, has over 700 recipes! Owner of Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Allen is one of Ireland’s best known chefs and TV food presenters. Her daughter-in-law Rachel Allen seems better known here, but Darina shares decades of skills and experience in this book. I love the idea of relearning forgotten cookery skills, from making one’s own butter and yoghurt (my sister and I used to fight over the thick top layer of my mum’s home-made yoghurt) to smoking fish and curing bacon.

Macaron

My go to expert for macaron advice is the talented Edd Kimber (more on him on the blog soon) but until he writes his own gorgeous book, I’ve been lusting after a copy of Pierre Hermé’s Macaron. This French language book was published by Agnès Viénot in 2008 – an English translation is apparently on the cards. (Both the macaron books I already own are in French too, so I guess I can dust off my language skills once again for Mr Hermé.

Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook

I am a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s series on The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I’ve been to Botswana twice (on safari) and been warmly welcomed, though never encountered anyone quite like Mma Ramotswe. I love Stuart Brown’s idea to create Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook, based on this larger-than-life fictional force of nature. The recipes are apparently pretty good and interspersed with quotes from the book, suitable illustrations and sumptuous photographs of the food.

 

Since it was published in 2002, Unwrapped: Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes has sold more than half a million copies. Its recipes for chocolate coffee and walnut cake, chocolate truffles, chocolate pecan pie, chocolate salted caramel tart, white chocolate cardamom mousse, chocolate flapjacks, chocolate ginger cake, chocolate brownies (is the word “chocolate becoming redundant yet?) have proved enduringly popular.

Much excitement has therefore greeted the sequel, Green & Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes: The New Collection, edited by Micah Carr-Hill, Green & Black’s Head of Taste, especially since there is now a much-expanded range of Green and Black’s chocolate to use.

Micah has asked for chocolate lovers to contribute their favourite recipes and has collated the best put forward by chefs, celebrities, food writers, bloggers, chocolatiers, bakers and cake-makers and competition winners. Just reading the list of contributors in the acknowledgement section at the beginning of the book made me lick my lips in anticipation!

The book covers a lot of ground, from cupcakes to cookies to cheesecakes to tarts to soufflés to pies to puddings to ice-creams to truffles… I had wondered whether the book could possibly offer as tempting a selection as the first book without covering the same ground again or providing more obscure recipes, but I shouldn’t have worried. It’s an excellent collection of recipes in its own right and definitely a worth successor to Unwrapped.

A few months ago, I was kindly invited to the book launch event at Great Queen Street, where we were treated to delicious savoury titbits from the restaurant’s menu and lots of sweet treats made to recipes in the book. Even before being given my own copy of the book to take home, I had already picked out the first recipe I wanted to try – Chocolate Meringue Pie.

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As well as being one of the recipes Micah wrote himself (which I wanted as it would be sorta, kinda, vaguely like having him cook for me – I cooked for him recently, after all!), it’s also heavy on the eggs, and would allow us to use some of our goodie bag of Clarence Court eggs, received after a wonderful egg evening at Hix Soho. I’ve bought these eggs before, from Waitrose and they really are fabulous; the yolks in particular have a very good flavour (and colour). And if you think eggs are just eggs, I’d urge you to do a side-by-side comparison of Clarence Court against your supermarket’s regular free-range eggs and any others you usually buy. You will notice the difference in taste!

Note: Micah advises that you need electric beaters or an electric mixer for this recipe as the meringue is a hot meringue, for which the egg whites are heated by the sugar whilst they are being mixed. He also suggests investing in a blow torch for browning the meringue, though we managed without.

Micah’s Chocolate Meringue Pie

Ingredients
Pastry
140 grams plain flour
30 grams icing sugar
75 grams chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 large free-range egg yolk
Custard
4 large free-range egg yolks
45 grams caster sugar
20 grams plain flour
350 ml full-fat milk
70 grams dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate, chopped finely
Meringue
300 grams caster sugar
5 large free-range egg white

Note: This recipe is for a single large tart made in a 24 cm tart tin, to feed 6-8. As you can see, we made smaller individual tarts instead.

Method

  • To make the pastry, sift the flour and icing sugar together before rubbing in the butter to achieve a breadcrumb texture. Add the egg yolk and mix until the ingredients come together, adding a tiny splash of cold water, if needed. We did both steps in our food processor, as we usually do for pastry.
  • Shape into a ball, flatten slightly, wrap in cling film and chill for at least an hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

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  • Micah suggests grating the pastry into the tart tin and pressing it evenly into the base and edges. We stuck to the traditional rolling it out technique. Once the tart tins were lined, we cut some of the excess away but left the pastry flopping over/ above the edge a little to allow for any shrinkage.
  • Prick the base and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

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  • Bake the tart shell for 10-15 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

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my new Kitchen Aid mixer – Intergalactic Unicorn

  • Meanwhile, make the custard by whisking together the egg yolks and sugar, sifting in the flour and whisking it in. Heat the milk to boiling point then pour it onto the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to the boil over a low heat, still whisking. When it comes to the boil, continue to whisk constantly for another 5 minutes, still over a low heat. It will be thick and smooth.
  • Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until fully melted and incorporated. Pour into a bowl, cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool.

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  • To make the meringue, reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees C. Pour the sugar onto a baking tray and place in the oven for 7 minutes. Meanwhile beat the egg whites until stiff. Remove the sugar from the oven and quickly decant into a heatproof jug. We found this much harder than it sounds. Set the mixer onto a low setting and slowly pour the hot sugar onto the egg whites, taking a couple of minutes to do so.

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  • To assemble, pour the chocolate custard into the cooled pastry case and spread to form an even layer. We had made four pastry cases but had enough custard to fill three to a decent level. Pour or spoon the meringue over the custard. You can smooth it with a knife but we and Micah both prefer the natural mounds and peaks.
  • As we had a lot of meringue left, we filled our leftover fourth pastry case wholly with meringue! If you make individual tarts like we did, you may want to adjust the ratios of custard to meringue. If you stick with Micah’s one large tart, they’ll presumably be just fine.

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  • Micah advises using a blow torch to brown the surface of the meringues but we found a short stint under a very hot grill worked very well.

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The pastry was light and sweet and simple and Pete had rolled it super, super thin, which was fantastic.

The chocolate custard was a little too liquid though it tasted great. I’m not sure if this is how it is meant to be though, as the photograph in the book shows the finished pie – no chocolate custard in sight! Perhaps we didn’t leave it to cook long enough after bringing it to the boil, as we didn’t time the five minutes and it seemed to thicken pretty fast and you can see it looks like a pretty thick custard in the photos above.

The meringue was sweet and light.

I’d really like to use both the pastry and the chocolate custard in other recipes.

Can you suggest any ideas?


Green & Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes: The New Collection is currently available from Amazon for just £9.19 (RRP £16.99).

 

The Scarlet Hotel‘s restaurant is in the very capable hands of Ben Tunnicliffe, formerly of The Abbey in Penzance, where he earned a Michelin star for his cooking.

Ben gives a frank, informative and sometimes amusing account of his cooking career on the hotel’s website. He also reveals his food philosophy which boils down to making people happy, by focusing on “flavour first and foremost, simplicity second and aesthetics last”, whilst sourcing locally and seasonally as far as possible. This isn’t just lip service – Ben is proud of the relationships he’s built with suppliers, some of whom he’s used for many years. And he won’t compromise on seasonality just to give guests what they might expect. No orange juice for breakfast in winter (when European oranges are not available) – instead a delicious local apple juice.

Having enjoyed a lovely meal in the restaurant on our first night, we very much enjoyed meeting Ben the next day to find out more.

(I should mention that several of the hotel staff were taking part in Movember, in case you’re wondering about that impressive ‘tache!)

The video interview done and dusted, we had some fascinating off the record chitchat (about the industry in general and some of those who work in it in particular) and a tour of the kitchen. And, gosh, Ben’s vast purpose-built kitchen would be an absolute dream for many chefs – it’s several times bigger than even the larger ones I’ve seen in London!

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The sign on the door of Ben’s office, within the kitchen, put a smile on our faces!

The restaurant space is, like all of the hotel, designed to look out to sea. On a winter evening, it’s far too dark to see the beautiful view, but I would be glued to the window during the summer, I’m sure.

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We ate in the hotel restaurant on 2 consecutive nights.

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Friday’s menu

Dinner is priced at £39.50 for 3 courses; the menu doesn’t give a price for 2 courses or just a main on it’s own.

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With each course a wine (available by the glass, 50 cl carafe or full bottle) is recommended. The full wine list is Europe-based (to reduce air miles) and The Scarlet aim to support smaller producers, including a number of organic and bio-dynamic wines.

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The bread basket were a thing of wonder. On the first night, our three breads were white, walnut treacle and cinnamon raisin. The next night the cinnamon raisin was replaced by a fennel and paprika bread. All fresh, beautifully textured and delicious.

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Pete’s spinach velouté with egg yolk ravioli was a welcome shock of colour. The consistency was excellent – not too thick, not too runny and slippery silky smooth. It had a punchy fresh vegetal flavour. And when Pete broke into the raviolo a perfect soft yolk spilled out and added it’s colour and flavour. The pasta wasn’t gossamer thin but thin enough and cooked al dente, which gave a nice bite against the the liquid soup, though it could have done with a few more seconds, ideally.

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My seared scallop, confit pork, hogs pudding, chorizo, caper and raisin was very enjoyable, overall. The scallop was lovely, seared to add a touch of char in flavour and texture, yet still sweet and just cooked within. The pork belly was absolutely spot on with plenty of fat cooked till meltingly soft with a lovely cap of crunchy chewy skin. The hogs pudding (which was presented as a slice of a larger sausage) didn’t do much at all for me; I found it very bland. I’d wondered whether the chorizo, raisins and capers would overwhelm the more delicate pork and scallop but instead, they enhanced and complimented. With the exception of that hogs pudding, I thought this a great appetiser; it made my mouth water for what was to follow.

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Both of us chose the loin and slow braised shoulder of Boccadon farm veal, wild mushrooms, sherry lentils, onions, raisins and thyme. The slow braised shoulder was very, very tender, though we both found the herb flavours too strong. The loin was fabulous – soft, pink and with wonderful flavour. For me, the star of the plate was the selection of wild mushrooms which included girolle (also known as golden chanterelle), black trumpet and cep (also known as porcini). And, oh my god, the rich, sticky, incredibly umami gravy with the merest hint of sweetness was the perfect finish. Usually not a fan of lentils, the sherry lentils went a long way to converting me. Even more surprising, a light cabbage pickle was light and refreshing – not overpowering, as I usually find pickled cabbage. The iron-rich purple sprouting broccoli was just the right vegetable to finish the dish.

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We had a hankering for cheese as well as dessert so ordered an extra course. We liked that our waitress immediately asked whether we’d prefer it before or after dessert, rather than simply imposing a preference on us, as many restaurants do.

The selection of cheeses changes every day. On this day, our three were Keen’s cheddar, Shropshire blue and Epoisses, which made me squeal in delight because I adore Epoisses and resulted in a lovely chat with our waitress who had not tried it before. I warned her it was a fairly strong one but encouraged her to try it for herself! The cheeses were served at room temperature and were beautifully ripe to just the right level. They were served with some honey-sweet grapes, a chutney that we felt was rather too weak against the robust flavours of these cheeses and crackers which again, for my taste, were not a great combination with the cheeses, but would have made nice snacks on their own.

Before desserts, I mentioned to the waitress that I had a sore throat. She immediately offered a hot drink to soothe it and when I asked for mint tea, she went to make it (with fresh mint) straight away. I really appreciated her clearly genuine concern and thoughtfulness.

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We didn’t love Pete’s dessert of poached quince, gingerbread mousse, white wine jellies. The quince was too mushy soft. The wine jellies had an odd grainy texture and not much flavour. But the gingerbread mousse served on a slice of gingerbread cake was absolutely delicious.

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My honeycomb parfait, banana compote, roasted pistachio brittle was also a mixed bag. Overall it was extremely sweet. Too sweet, even for a very very sweet-toothed person like me. The parfait was decent, with a good honeycomb flavour. The banana compote was essentially posh cubed bananas in custard; pleasantly school dinners. The pistachio brittle tasted delicious but was a bit thick and heavy, I think.

On Saturday, we again dined in the restaurant. First out was the bread (see above).

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Pete chose a trio of salmon preparations for his starter – mi-cuit, rillette & fishcake, apple & beetroot. The filleted piece of salmon was very lightly cooked, allowing the delicate salmon flavours to shine. The rillette was a nicely balanced soft, wet salmon pâté. The spherical fishcake was tasty. All worked well with the pureed apple and tiny beetroot cubes.

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I really enjoyed my potted crab, brown crab mayo & crispy egg too. The tower of crab meat is more generous that it looks in the photographs and was fresh and sweet. I loved the fresh, hot crunch of my crispy egg, with it’s perfectly soft, runny yolk. The brown crab meat mayo was a winner; deeply, deeply flavoured.

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Pete’s breast of Cornish duck, Jerusalem artichokes, pressed confit leg, sprout top choucroute, date & lemon was an intriguing choice – I wasn’t sure how the artichokes, choucroute, date and lemon would balance. The duck was cooked just right with crisped skin and pink flesh. The Jerusalem artichokes were nicely cooked and much more appealing than when I’ve encountered them before. The sprouts and bacon were very seasonal; I would not have picked them to go with duck but I liked them. The confit leg, pressed into shape and bread crumbed, was very good indeed, moist inside and picked up by the crunchy coating. We figured the sauce must be where the date and lemon were hiding, though they didn’t come through particularly strongly. All in all, a decent dish.

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Although it was perhaps a little similar to my choice the previous night, I could not resist fillet of beef, wild mushrooms, veal sweetbreads, rosti potato. The beef was really excellent. Soft yet firm and with great depth of flavour. The mushrooms and morsels of sweetbread were another savoury umami hit and perfect on a rain-lashed winter’s evening. Dark green cabbage gave us that iron-rich vegetable balance (in place of last night’s purple sprouting broccoli). The rosti was crunchy, oil-soaked naughtiness – perhaps a touch too much oil but oh so good. And the whole thing was pulled together once again by a rich, sticky, concentrated sauce that I had to stop myself licking off the plate.

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I adore banana desserts, especially when the banana has been cooked and caramelised so could not resist the banana upside down, vanilla ice cream, maple banana, lime compôte. The banana was very, very soft and the caramelisation had gone a little too far, giving too much of a burned sugar flavour for my tastes. I did like the combination of the tarte tatin style pastry with banana pieces in a maple sauce; they were very good. The ice-cream was so-so – not particularly rich, creamy or vanilla-tasting. I don’t recall the lime compôte at all and can’t spot it in any of my photographs; I wonder if it made it onto the plate?!

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Better overall was the lemon tart, satsuma sorbet, crème fraiche. The lemon custard was just set and had a lovely wobble and a good balance between tart and sweet. The pastry was excellent. The sweet sorbet was subtly flavoured, and worked very well. It’s sweetness was offset by the crème fraiche. Simple but very good.

Over all, we very much enjoyed our two dinners in the hotel’s restaurant. I think, for the price, it would have been nice to have one or two tiny tasters in between courses, as one often encounters in London restaurants at a similar price point. But given the quality of the ingredients and the cooking, the prices are certainly reasonable.

The restaurant is open to non-residents, so do book yourself a table if you are visiting the area. Better still, indulge in a night or two at the hotel to enjoy the full Scarlet experience.

 

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Name: Little Valley Ginger Pale Ale

ABV: 4.0%

Bottled/ Draft: Bottled, conditioned

Colour: Golden

Head: Enthusiastic! Escaping from the bottle, but short lived in the glass

Mouthfeel: Light

Taste: Also light; better on the nose than the tongue

Comment: Little Valley are one of the few breweries who make a point of producing only certified organic beers – in this case, the beer is also Fair Trade (the ginger and sugar). When I saw that I was a little puzzled as to why you would need sugar to make Pale Ale – I still don’t understand it, although I think it’s reflected (and not in a good way) in the final product.

Now I love ginger. I love beer. A proper ginger beer (by which I mean, an actual beer fortified with ginger, rather than something like the most excellent Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer) is a fine thing indeed. This, however, isn’t it.

On opening, the beer is escaping from the bottle – frankly, as this is bottle conditioned, I only take that as a good sign but in the glass the head is a big-bubbled, short lived affair that is gone by the time I’m drinking.

On the nose, there’s plenty of great ginger, but in the mouth it’s just a hint. There’s no malt in evidence, a little bitterness, some citrus notes and, well, not much else. It smells the part, but then fails to deliver.

Looking back at my note on their Withens IPA, it seems that maybe the Little Valley brewers just don’t like malt in their beer – unless I’ve just been unlucky with the ones I’ve picked so far.

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