Apr 302010
 

Oh brioche, how I love thee! I love thine fine golden colour and amber crust. I love thine rich buttery flavour. I love thine soft, yielding fibrous texture. I love thee! I yearn to eat thee!

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Pete’s been promising to make me brioche for ages. Why does Pete have to make it, you might ask, why can’t you make it yourself? Because Pete is definitely the master baker in this household and I’m happy to admit to being the weaker sex in the bread domain (I said bread!)

The trouble is, he doesn’t really like brioche himself (though he’s partial to a slice of it toasted, alongside a lump of fine, fried foie gras). But the challenge of the bake and, I like to think, the love for his Mrs, has seen him agree to giving brioche a go. Then again, he’s been promising me this brioche for the last few years!

I even picked up a bag of brioche flour in France last summer – though I didn’t really look at it much, I just spotted it and threw it into the trolley during a ginormous supermarket shop!

So when Pete finally set a date to make me breakfast brioche, I fished out that bag of flour. Looking at it’s ingredients we discovered that it’s regular flour with added milk powder.

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I showed Pete the several brioche blog recipes I have bookmarked, pointing out the repeated reference to how much stirring and kneading the dough needs to develop the distinctive fibrous texture of this bread. He picked one from La Tartine Gourmande and got to work.

I “helped”, which mostly meant asking annoying questions and taking photographs!

La Tartine Gourmande’s Most Simple Brioche
Ingredients
250 grams all-purpose flour (we used that brioche flour, above)
75 grams butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon dry baker’s yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
80 ml warm milk
1 pinch salt
1 egg yolk for glaze

(Bea provides measurements in ounces and cups. I’ve converted them to metric).

Method

  • In a bowl, mix the flour with the yeast.
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  • Make a hole in the middle and add the warm milk, mixing with the tip of your fingers.
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  • Add the sugar and a pinch of salt, then add the soft butter, piece after piece, waiting each time that each piece is absorbed.
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  • Then one by one, add the eggs, mixing well between each. Work the dough until it is elastic and detaches from your fingers more easily (or from the bowl of the stand mixer).
  • Cover and let rest in a warm place, away from drafts, for two hours, until it doubles in size.
  • Work the dough again for 10 min and divide it in four balls. Place them in a greased rectangular mold and cover. Let rise for an hour again.

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  • Preheat the oven at 400 F.
  • Brush the brioche with the egg yolk mixed with a dash of sugar.
  • Place in the oven to bake for 10 min then reduce the heat to 350 F and bake for about 20 to 30 min.

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  • Remove, unmold and let cool on a rack.

To my delight, the finished brioche looked just like the one in Bea’s blog post photographs – like a proper brioche! I love a reliable recipe, so a big thank you to La Tartine Gourmande!

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How was it?

Well, it was good – very good, in fact, for a first attempt.

But it wasn’t my dream brioche.

I want a sweeter version, and one which has a slightly denser texture with those long fibres which I associate with brioche. I shall keep bookmarking likely recipes and call on Pete to have another go.

It may be that I have finally found cause to get my hands on a shiny, pretty Kitchenaid, though Lord knows where it’d live!

If you have any recipes you think might give me the result I’m looking for, please share the link (or recipe) in the comments, below. Thanks!

 

When I read, in Richard Vines’ food news round up, that Raymond Blanc was opening a branch of his Brasserie Blanc chain in London, and that there was a 50% soft opening discount being offered, I thought it would be a good chance to reassess the chain after my previous visit to the Bristol branch.

I was joined by my husband, Pete, fellow food blogger, The Ginger Gourmand, my food loving friend, Foxie and a London-based twitterer, Sue, who’d seen my tweets about booking a table and expressed interest.

The first challenge each of us faced was finding the restaurant – its address is 60 Threadneedle Street, in the heart of the city. But when one arrives at number 60, one is faced with a huge, modern office building with no restaurant in sight. In fact, the entrance is tucked down a side street at the side of the block; not very obvious at all. I wonder how long it will take before the staff at the building’s main reception get sick of giving directions and insist on a sign being erected!

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So, given it’s location in such a modern glass and steel building, how is the restaurant styled? Unlike the Bristol location in a former Georgian Quaker meeting house, this is not a beautiful historical building in which the designers could get creative whilst incorporating both a touch of traditional bistro comfort and a dose of steel and shine. The design team clearly aimed for a similar blend of modern and traditional, and certainly they created a comfortable and attractive space, but not one that works as well as the Bristol space. The main floor has a pleasant, open feel, due to the very high ceilings. We were seated in the cosier mezzanine floor, which overlooks the main dining area. There is also a bar area on the ground floor.

Once we were all assembled, one of the waiting team looking after us handed out menus and we were quickly absorbed in the choosing process.

Whilst ordering, my evidently pregnant friend politely asked the waiter if it would be possible to have the cod and mussels main dish without the mussels, because of her pregnancy. She quickly added that should this be difficult, she would be happy to choose something else. The waiter assured her that this would absolutely not be a problem and, orders placed, we relaxed in our booth until the starters arrived.

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Foxie expressed surprise that the Burgundian snails in garlic herb butter were so herby – when she’s had snails in France, they’ve been more about the garlicky oil and less about the parsley, though I’ve had them in France served in very much this way, so perhaps it’s a regional variation? She judged the dish good but not remarkable, and the snails well cooked, rather than rubbery.

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Pete’s basil and parmesan soup was laden with the wonders of a spring garden, light and well flavoured with generous chunks of vegetables and pasta shapes.

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Unfortunately, the entire centre of the hot oak smoked Loch Duart salmon with vegetable piccalilli was raw and un-smoked, and therefore inedible. The parts which were cooked were pronounced good. The pickles were nice – not too acidic but sharp enough to balance the richness of the salmon.

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The crispy goat’s cheese parcel with tomato chutney was pleasant. A case of “what it says on the tin” rather than anything particularly special, but that’s probably what one’s looking for from a brasserie.

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My bleu des Causses cheese soufflé with pear and walnut was probably the best starter, I think. Turned out of the dish it was cooked in, the presentation of a somewhat collapsed pile of soufflé wasn’t the most attractive, but the crispy exterior and soft interior textures and the gentle blue cheese flavour made up for that. The pear and walnuts were a simple, classic accompaniment.

I don’t have a photo of the cod fillet, samphire, mussel and saffron sauce minus the mussels. Because, despite our waiter’s assurance that this request absolutely wouldn’t be a problem, when the mains were served (by a different member of staff) the dish came with mussels. By the time a replacement dish arrived, the rest of us were at least half way into our main dishes – if we’d waited they’d have been stone cold!

The cod was well cooked, but under seasoned. The saffron sauce was gritty and tasted earthy (and not in a good way). Especially after the mix up and wait, the dish was very disappointing.

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Raymond’s smoked haddock, leek and Gruyère fish cake was deemed “quite nice”. It was a generous patty with a reasonable fish to potato ratio and a nice flavour. Pete would probably have been more positive about it had he not found a large, sharp fish bone in it!

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The steak and chips were decent, nothing earth shattering.

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The slow cooked veal, castle potatoes was tender, with nice flavours and a simple selection of vegetables.

N.B. I found the English translation of pommes château a bit forced, I think it would have made more sense to leave it in the original French, myself.

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I ordered a pork belly special that came with apple and cabbage. Whilst the pork meat was ok, and fairly tender, the crackling was oddly blackened just on the surface, as though it’d been blowtorched just before serving – the burnt bits did not taste good! The cabbage, apple and gravy were all tasty.

Only three of us had space for dessert!

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The passion fruit soufflé had risen nicely, and was described as gorgeous! Light, airy, not soggy and with a nice flavour. It came with an ice-cream, also passion fruit, I think, which was also good.

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The flaming baked Alaska (for 2) was quite a show. Alcohol was poured over and lit at the table before we waited for the flames to die out and tucked in. A historical classic well worth reviving!

So, what’s the low down? Service was friendly but variable in efficiency – it didn’t help that, despite the restaurant being so quiet, our table of five was shared by two members of staff who didn’t seem to communicate much. I’d put some of this down to teething problems – it was a soft opening after all – but our waiter did mention that he’d been transferred from another branch of the chain so there was some experience of the operation and menu. As you can see from the review above, the food varied from poor through acceptable to a few pretty good dishes but in the most part it was rather ordinary, even a little mundane.

I have to remind myself that much of the clientele will be men in suits from nearby offices, men in suits more interested in the business talk at the table than what they are eating. In such an environment, surprising though it might be for central London, the food really doesn’t have to be fabulous for the restaurant to succeed. But I can’t see it becoming a destination for food lovers any time soon.

Brasserie Blanc on Urbanspoon
Apr 272010
 

Having heard great things about both their steak and their burgers, I was delighted to join fellow food bloggers Luiz, Catty, Aaron, Mr Noodles and Uyen for an evening at Goodman, the New York style steak house tucked away in Maddox Street, near Oxford Circus.

The decor hits a nice balance between relaxed informal and attractive but personally, I found it a tad too dark. And it has poor acoustics – noise bounced off the walls and ceilings so much it wasn’t buzzing so much as roaring and I found it hard to hear either the waiting staff or my dining companions.

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It took only a few moments for consensus to be reached – of course we were having starters first! Deciding between steak and burgers was a far more agonising dilemma – the table split 4:2 in favour of burgers!

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My starter of tiger prawn tempura, avocado, mango and cajun mayo (£11) was tasty though not outstanding. The batter was crispy though quite heavy, with a nice spicing and big juicy prawns inside. The salad and dressing worked well with it.

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The seafood risotto, tiger prawn and salmon, lobster butter and chive (£9) was disappointing. Heavy, claggy and so creamy it was verging on unpleasant – I assume extra cream was added rather than allowing the natural creaminess of the starchy rice to do it’s magic. Even more galling when one of the waiting staff, on asking how our starters were, agreed it was the weakest on the menu and that it was being taken off the menu when it next changed. If you don’t think it’s good enough, take it off now – don’t charge customers good money for it!

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For once I managed to resist my normal addiction to anything foie gras but two of the table ordered the paté, chicken liver and foie gras, onion jam and toasted brioche (£7.5).

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The star of the show was Aaron’s sweet herring, traditional Russian presentation with hot mustard (£7) which was, luckily for him, a generous enough portion that all of us could try it without leaving him too bereft! A perfect balance between sweet and sour in the moist pieces of fish and a nice array of accompaniments too. Really, really good and I’ll definitely order this next time I visit.

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Having visited previously, for the steak, some of the gang were keen to compare the Goodman burger to Hawksmoor and Byron offerings. But, I’d not been to Goodman before and, as our waiter took us through the available cuts, Mr Noodles and I were easily sold on steak. We both ordered the rib-eye. My only disappointment here is that the smallest cuts for virtually all their steaks are much larger than I’d like – the smallest rib-eye available was 400 grams! Why not offer a few at 200 grams and 300 grams?

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The burger, which came with chips (£12) was very well received. Garnished with lettuce, pickle, tomato and onion it was a fine specimen. I’m not sure where the burger eaters are classifying it, in the great burger ranking table, but it was damn tasty.

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The rib-eye steak was good too. And so it should be for £29 (without sides, we paid an extra £4 for each side dish of chips and vegetables). Both of us ordered our steaks medium rare but found the cooking very inconsistent with one end medium to medium well and the other nearer to rare. Luckily the quality of the steak was good enough to overcome this, but it wasn’t ideal. The chips were excellent – golden and crispy without and soft and fluffy within. The béarnaise was good rather than excellent; I usually finish what I’m given and am clamouring for more but ate only a little of this one.

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I had absolutely no space for dessert (though of course, I had a taste of each when they arrived) but the table did order one each of the baked New York cheesecake with a berry compote (£6.5) and the frozen caramel parfait with Maldon sea salt and milk chocolate (£6.5). The cheesecake was nothing special, a so-so rendition at best. The caramel, sea salt and chocolate parfait went down much better; a nice balance of flavours deftly combined.

It was a lovely evening, chatting to fellow food bloggers, and sharing some great food. Whether I’d appreciate the very noisy environment for a quieter tête-à-tête, I think not. The bill was about £50 each (our resident accountant made sure us steak eaters weren’t subsidised by the burger gang) which is a touch on the high side, really, even taking into account the central location.

Goodman on Urbanspoon

Apr 252010
 

La Fromagerie in Moxon Street … who knew?!

This little gem of a shop is tucked away in a back street, just off Marylebone High Street, next door to The Ginger Pig. I worked just a few minutes walk away on Baker Street for over a year, a few years back, and never stumbled across this lovely store, even though I’d idle away lunch breaks in Daunt books, also close by.

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I hadn’t realised that the store is far more than a cheese shop, but more of a deli selling charcuterie, fresh produce, bread and baked goods, honey, all kinds of preserves, chocolates and candied fruit…

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So how did I come to find it now? I was invited to an event organised by Vive Le Cheese and hosted by La Fromagerie.

Vive Le Cheese is a campaign to promote the enjoyment of French cheeses – not just the handful of bries, camemberts and roqueforts that are most widely consumed in the UK, but the full diversity and wonder of France’s cheeses.

In their own words: “the objective of the campaign is to raise awareness and make consumers more familiar with French cheeses, their flavours and styles and, above all, the ways in which they can fit into a modern European lifestyle, adding a certain “je ne sais quoi” and pleasure to everyday moments.” The literature also mentions their intension to appeal to a younger age group (18-35).

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20 or so bloggers duly assembled in the shop of a weekday evening and, as we waited for the event proper to start, explored the store, chatted, enjoyed the proffered drinks and cheesey canapés.

After welcomes and introductions from Katrina Alloway (the food and wine writer who organised the event) and Patricia Michelson (La Fromagerie’s owner) we are divided into three groups for the three sessions.

My group, serendipitously the smallest, begins with the cheese tasting.

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The handsome Jean-Bapiste Manin, hailing from the ballad to gastronomy that is Lyons, took us through 10 french cheeses, 9 of which I was already pretty familiar with and one I’d neither heard of nor tried before.

The cheese was pretty good, (see my tasting comments below). Some of the cheeses were new to some of our little blogger group, and it was actually lovely to be able to watch peoples’ first tastes and reactions to these wonderful cheeses.

Tasting something fabulous for the first time is a magical moment indeed!

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Here are my tasting notes:

Saint Marcellin from Isere/Dauphin
How can one not be drawn to a delicious little cheese that comes in it’s own darling little clay dish? This pale medallion shaped cheese has a greyish-white bloomy mould and, when ripe, it oozes in a most delightful way. It’s not a smelly cheese, which will suit those who can’t abide the “smelly foot” stink of some cheeses. It’s soft and yet dense, feels creamy and smooth in the mouth and has a slightly acerbic taste.

Emmental Français Grand Cru, Savoie
A young Emmental doesn’t do that much for me, though it’s very mild sweetness is popular with some. But a well aged specimen like this is a different thing altogether! Sweet, nutty, waxy and yet still softer and bendier than other cheeses with similar flavours, it’s great as both an eating and a cooking cheese.

Camembert Fermier, Normandy
A traditionally farmhouse-made Camembert can so easily become lost amongst the mass produced versions of this famous French cheese. This one has a reassuringly farmy smell, is wonderfully soft in the middle – I’m not so keen on the chalkier texture of less ripened camemberts – and is a good choice for those looking for a milder cheese.

Brie de Meaux, Ile de France
When you buy Brie, you really ought to choose a decent one. As with Camemberts, there are so many insipid, cheap versions. Brie de Meaux won’t disappoint – the golden yellow flesh has a very rich, creamy, almost oily texture surrounded by a satisfyingly thick, bloomy white rind – my favourite bit! One can definitely taste the umami in this cheese – it has an almost meaty richness of flavour.

Comté d’Estive, Franche-Comte
“Comté man”, as I think of him, has long been a popular stall holder at Borough Market. Because a good, aged Comté is a wonderous thing. Well-aged beauties with their pale yellow solid interior and unassuming brown rind have a distinct fruity, nutty flavour and delightfully granular texture. I love the salty-sweet balance of this cheese.

Reblochon, Savoie
This is a cheese I buy often for cooking, though that’s not to say it’s not a lovely eating cheese too. Semi-soft yellow flesh inside a pinky-orange washed rind, it’s a gentle cheese with a squishy texture and mild, slightly nutty taste. An essential ingredient in tartiflette, I really like it in Pete’s Cheesey Potato Bake, alongside a stronger hard cheese such as a Comté and a third cheese such as a blue or perhaps some Epoisses. Although this is a mild cheese, the La Fromagerie sample is a particularly mild one. Jean-Bapiste recommends Abbaye de Tamié as a more strongly flavoured alternative.

Saint Nectaire, Auvergne
I first came across this cheese whilst staying with friends who run a B&B in the Corrèze, in Limousin. It’s made in the neighbouring departement of Auvergne and available for sale in the fantastic produce market at Brive. The one I bought there was older than the one served us by La Fromagerie, and had a harder texture and more robust flavour. This younger one was much softer but still had the mushroom and straw taste I remembered, albeit only mildly so. I think this is a good choice for those who want to venture out of their normal range for semi-hard and hard cheeses without being overwhelmed by too strong a taste.

Epoisses Affine, Burgundy
My friend Dan thinks Epoisses smells and tastes like a dead body (though the mind boggles that he’d know ;) and he’s not wrong that it’s a stinky, stinky cheese. When ripe, its interior is oozingly soft, just short of cloying, and the Marc de Bourgogne-washed rind is sticky and stinky in equal measure. But oh, the taste, it’s sublime! Pungent, yes but rich. And awfully hard to put into words!

Fourme d’Ambert, Auvergne
I think this blue is pretty well known in the UK. Often sold in disc-shaped slices this is an easy blue to like. It’s very, very creamy, has a salty sharpness but not too much so and I detect a little sweetness in the aftertaste. It’s a good balance between the raw aggression of some blues and the weedy subtlety of others.

La Fromagerie also sell this cheese macerated in Sauternes which I’ll definitely have to seek out, next time I’m in one of their stores.

Vache Porte d’Aspe,Valley d’Aspe, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
This cheese is a shocker! It’s so strong that it makes my tongue tingle. Actually, it feels like it’s burning, a strange chilli-burn sensation. From a cheese! The flavour is rich and complex with hints of minerals and ammonia. It’s like nothing I’ve had before and I can’t quite decide whether I like it or not.

I buy some for my husband, as I’m a chilli wuss whereas he’s keener on that mouth burn feeling and, like me, he likes strong cheeses.

When I get home I can’t find out much more about it. The tasting sheet lists it as “Vache Porte d’Aspe” but there’s not much at all on the interwebs. I think another favourite of mine, Ossau-Iraty, a hard sheeps milk cheese, is made in the same area.

A bit of an enigma, this one, but certainly different and it got us all exclaiming and talking about it!

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Our group’s second session was the wine and food pairings.

Two regular whites, two reds and one dessert wine (all French, of course) were provided and a number of hot dishes featuring French cheese. I’m not a fan of regular wine so I stuck to the lovely Sauternes and focused on the dishes themselves. The others were encouraged to try each of the five wines with each of the four dishes and decide which wine they felt best matched each dish.

The reblochon fritters and spiced butternut squash soup were tasty. I liked the rich, sweetness of the soup against the salty savouriness of the cheese.

The emmental, smoked lardons and cherry tomato quiche was nice enough, though the lardons and tomatoes overwhelmed the emmental. That said, the kitchen chose to make miniature quiches and, by the time the lardons and tomatoes were added, there probably wasn’t much space left for the cheese!

I rather liked the camembert and fig tart with hazelnut and parsley vinaigrette – the subtle creaminess of camembert always works so well with fruit. The nuts gave a nice crunch and the vinaigrette balanced the sweet with a little sharp.

I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy the roquefort and walnut soufflé with spiced pear chutney. For me the chutney was the best thing on the plate. Neither the flavour or the texture of the soufflé won me over, and yet I’m both a fan of roquefort and of savoury soufflés. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t thrill to this dish so perhaps the recipe or execution was a little off.

As for the dishes themselves, the recipes are part of the Vive Le Cheese campaign and can be found on their blog.

Lastly, we made our way into the glass-panelled cheese room, from where cheese is sold, for a talk from La Fromagerie’s affineur, John Peglar, known as JP. The bulk of their stock is stored and properly aged in three cellars (near the original Highbury shop, I think). John explained how he cares for the cheeses. It’s not just a case of storing the cheeses, as most cheese retailers do, but of applying whatever actions are needed to bring out the best in each cheese – the French art of affinage. This can involve anything from simply ensuring a cheese gets enough but not too much humidity and is stored at the right temperature, to creating and applying a wash to a washed-rind cheese, which can change the finished flavour quite significantly, depending on what is in the wash.

I confess I don’t remember much beyond that – perhaps the cold, cold room dulled my brain.

I did manage to keep it together sufficiently to select and buy a few cheeses to bring home with me, much to Pete’s appreciation. (He was intrigued by the strange Vache Porte d’Aspe too).

As both a Francophile and a turophile, I certainly enjoyed the evening. And I am all for any campaign seeking to bring the joys of French cheese to those who haven’t already discovered it.

 

The Real Food Festival 2009 brought together a huge selection of small-scale producers, and I really enjoyed sampling and buying their wares as well as talking to them about their products and businesses.

What I liked was the opportunity to meet so many smaller producers – these tiny businesses can seldom afford to attend the big food shows, and as a consequence, one sees the same few brands again and again and again. Whilst I did, as an ardent food lover, know a few of the producers at the show, most of those I encountered were new to me – something I found very exciting.

I’m looking forward to attending again this year and I have a pair of tickets to give away so two more food lovers can enjoy the show too!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post, including your name and email address, before midnight (UK) 30th April.

Last year, I particularly loved:-

And many more!

Here are just a few of the producers from last year’s show:-

This year’s festival takes place at London‘s Earls Court from the 7-10 May.

As well as being able to talk to and buy from the many stall holders you can also see great chefs such as Oliver Rowe, Thomasina Miers, Giorgio Locatelli, Cyrus Todiwala and Vineet Bhatia in action. The show also features Chocolate Unwrapped, showcasing some top chocolate artisans. And if you want to play farmer for the day, you can try your hand at milking and butter churning not to mention say he-e-e-e-llo to the stars of the Sheep Show!

For all the latest information about this year’s show and exhibitors, visit the Real Food Festival 2010 website.

Apr 232010
 

Lahloo Tea is forever twinned in my mind with a quilted lady with chicken legs between her thighs.

No, Lahloo haven’t launched a (bizarre and raunchy) marketing campaign – I’m talking about the surreal and funky window displays at Liberty, where I met Kate Gover, founder of Lahloo, for a tea tasting, along with a handful of other tea lovers. Always paranoid about being late, I arrived before Liberty opened and the collection of strange tableaux kept me entertained until I the doors opened!

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arriving and wandering around

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those window displays!

Lahloo Tea is part of the wonderful tea revolution that’s finally gathering momentum in the UK. As someone absolutely devoted to tea (but a bit meh about coffee) the proliferation of high quality tea suppliers is good news all the way.

So what’s the Lahloo story?

As a child, Kate was convinced she hated tea. Her Yorkshire grandmother made real tea strongly brewed and milky and Kate wasn’t a fan.

And yet, she had a historical connection to tea through her great-great grandfather who worked aboard one of the many tea clippers plying the seas during the 19th century.

Kate didn’t discover that there is more to tea than her grandmother’s cuppa until she was all grown up. After discovering she liked good coffee (and focusing pretty single-mindedly on learning and experience more) she started to think about whether there might also be more to tea than she knew of it. She says, “if I don’t like something I like to try and find out why I don’t like it.”

Her first positive experience with tea was with a Japanese green tea. In her own words, this very intense gyokoro tea “opened my eyes and blew me away!” After that it didn’t take long for a fixation to develop – “an obsession with finding tea that made me want to drink it”.

Her inquisitive nature saw her embarking on a sensory journey that soon saw her travelling regularly to Paris (a hub of the serious tea trade) and further afield just to find great tea and her newly found enthusiasm meant she couldn’t resist introducing others to the riches she had found.

From there it was just a small step to establishing her own business, less than two years ago.

And why Lahloo? Because it was the name of an iconic 19th century tea clipper – the very same one her great-great grandfather sailed aboard and which brought high quality teas back to an appreciative and excited customer base, just as Kate aims to do today.

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the tea tasting begins

Once all four tasters are assembled the tasting begins. The session is a wonderful mix of chatting about our love for tea and, of course, tasting Lahloo Teas while Kate talks us through them, teaches us all kinds of interesting tea facts and tells us about how she came to start the business (see above).

Snow Jewel

A translation of the Chinese name for this white tea, Snow Jewels is a subtle brew. Only the tiniest buds are picked from wild tea plants making it essentially a silver needle tea. Such spring bud teas have a very very brief window for picking, just as the buds shoot through. The window lasts just a couple of weeks, and the buds need to be picked within a day of two of emerging. As it’s a white tea, there’s no processing – the leaves are simply left to wither in the sun for just a couple of days.

Kate recommends brewing this tea in water that’s at about 80 degrees, for about 3 minutes. (Handily, her advice for optimum water temperatures and brewing time is provided with each tea). Smelling the leaves before infusion, I can detect a distinct peachy aroma but it doesn’t carry through to the tasting for me, until the second infusion, when suddenly, that peachy fruitiness comes through to the palate.

It’s always worth remembering that, whilst good quality teas seem expensive on first glance, they can be re-infused several times over the period of a day, making the price per cuppa much more reasonable.

I can understand exactly why some people love the delicate, refreshing nature of this tea, however, for my palate, it’s simply too light and subtle. As white teas can be infused for longer, up to 10 minutes without becoming too strong or acrid, I’m going to see if the flavours come through more for me with a longer brewing time, though I’ll need to balance that with the tea being too cold by the time it’s ready.

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Mr Aoki’s

Tea farmer Mr Aoki and his son produce this energising green tea on a small farm in Kyushu, Japan. The tea plants are surrounded by mikan (small satsuma) trees; the soil enriched by a natural, organic fertiliser. Although Mr Aoki steams his green tea (Japanese style) rather than pan frying it (in the Chinese way) he diverges from Japanese sencha by retaining the whole leaf, veins and all.

The first taste, as one sips, is a vividly grassy and mildly acidic flavour; the quintessential characteristic of green tea, in my mind. But the aftertaste, that builds upon the tongue after the tea has been swallowed, is a completely unexpected and surprisingly robust taste of mango – really fruity, wonderful mango! This is new to me, in green tea, and very welcome indeed.

Smelling the leaves, a few minutes after the tea has been poured, gives something else yet again – an intensely meaty, deep umami odour. I’m not disappointed that this doesn’t come through in the taste, I have to admit!

This tea gives a caffeine kick that can be very welcome to combat that flagging feeling during the day. If you prefer less caffeine, discard the first infusion, which should absorb much of the caffeine from the leaves.

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Orchid Oolong

This beautifully aromatic, honey-coloured mi lan xiang oolong tea is from Phoenix Mountain in China’s Guandong province. Oolongs range from lightly oxidised, like green tea, to more heavily so, like black. This one is in the middle and has a complex, mildly smoky flavour that I absolutely adore.

This is one I have been enjoying for a while and remains my favourite of the Lahloo Teas I’ve tried.

For a more lightly oxidised oolong, try Amber, a tie guan yin oolong from Nantou county in Taiwan.


Darjeeling Second Flush

This tea has won best Darjeeling in the World Tea Championship for three years in a row; no mean feat in such a competitive industry. Made in the Himalayas this beautiful tea delivers the complex, full flavours of black tea with a subtlety and delicacy many blacks lack.

it’s a perfect choice for those who’d like a top quality traditional afternoon tea.

Sobacha

Soba means buckwheat and cha means tea. This isn’t a real tea but an infusion of roasted buckwheat nibs from the Japanese mountains. It originated as a peasant tea during a time when real tea was the preserve of emperors only.

Fiona Beckett describes sobacha as “a bacon sandwich in a cup” and that’s the perfect label for this oddly umami cereal water!

I don’t care for it at all, but others at the tasting are much keener.

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Cake

During the tasting we’re treated to fruit loaf and lemon loaf cakes. The lemon was good but, oh my, oh my, the fruit loaf was incredibly good! I really can’t put into words just how good it was. It was soft, moist, dense… the crust was crunchy… it had a light but rich flavour that wasn’t too sweet. Really, really, really good!

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All to soon, our lovely tea tasting comes to an end. A lovely few hours indeed.

Thanks Kate!

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Lahloo Tea @ Liberty’s ground floor cafe

Apr 222010
 

I’ve been meaning to pop into the Polish restaurant, Polska Chatka, at the top end of North Finchley high street for ages. I finally made it for lunch recently.

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The interior is pretty casual, good for a relaxed meal out. And there’s a very low corkage charge on BYOB – I think it’s £2 or £3 per person. And Polish beer, of course!

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I’ve not had Polish food much before, so couldn’t comment on it from authenticity perspective, though my friend who knows the food better said the mixed pierogi she ordered were good.

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Pete loved his chicken breast marinaded [sic] in special sauce, fried and served with chips and cabbage. The chicken was moist and well-cooked and the flavours of the sauce were good. The cabbage is much lighter than German sauerkraut but still with a pickled flavour. Not bad.

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I asked for a cucumber salad instead of the cabbage with my pork chop in breadcrumbs, which also came with mash potato. The chop was nice enough but nothing special, a little soggier than I’d like. The cucumber salad was delicious!

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I’ll definitely pop back and try a few more unfamiliar items from the menu.

 

There’s been quite a buzz in the London food blogging and twitter community about Bob Bob Ricard in the last couple of months, not least because, since my visit back in January, Leonid has run a number of vodka and zakuski tasting events for bloggers, which have gone down very well indeed.

But saying good things about BBR on twitter has had one person ask me if I’m their new PR (er, no, I work in IT!) and another make disparaging comments about the many blogger recommendations coming only at the expense of free vodka. I think that’s rather unfair – I’ve read many comments by many bloggers about places they’ve been to on a complimentary basis (including that invidual) and, believe me, not all of them are positive by any stretch of the imagination! Besides which, quite a few of us BBR fans have been on our own buck and still loved the place.

I like Bob Bob Ricard for the outrageously kitch decor, the suitably delicious food and the air of flamboyant fantasia about the place. It’s eccentric. And that’s what I love, quite frankly!

One of the things I had been dreaming about, since my first visit, was the airy light, crumbly shortbread biscuits that are part of the bromley and cox apple jelly dessert. Following that first visit, I asked Leonid if there was any chance his chef might teach me how to make them!

To my delight, James Walker, the head chef of the BBR kitchen, kindly agreed and Pete and I went in one fine Monday morning to learn the secret! And secret it shall remain – the recipe was brought into the kitchen by chef Robert Panek and I am honouring the request not to make it public.

We did have a lovely morning, thank you James and thank you too for the eye-opening tour of the kitchen and explanations of all the amazing appliances. I was so impressed with that ice-cream maker, that machine that makes hot sauces such as bechamel, those ovens that can introduce as much or little humidity as you decide and all the other specialist equipment.



To read some reports about the vodka tastings visit these lovely blogs:-
Gastrogeek
The London Foodie
Meemalee’s Kitchen
Greedy Diva
Cheese & Biscuits
Essex Eating

Other blog posts and media reviews:-
Marina O’Loughlin for the Metro
Jay Rayner for the Guardian
London Stuff
Gastronomy Domine
From Donuts to Delirium

 

My family call this sauce imli (tamarind) chutney. The word chutney comes from the Hindi chaatni which describes a tangy condiment that makes you lick your lips at it’s flavour! Although the verb chaatna means to lick I think lipsmacking is the most appropriate translation in this case!

I refer to it as a ketchup or sauce because I’ve found that most people in the UK think of chutneys as condiments with chunks of fruit and vegetables in them rather than smooth sauces like this one.

Traditionally, it is used in chaat dishes – snacks which again make you want to lick your lips (and your fingers) clean of every last morsel! They are often sold as street food – though many families enjoy them at home too – and are usually hot, spicy, tangy and with a contrasting mix of textures.

The chaat dishes I’m most familiar with usually include a dough-based element such as gole-gappa (crisp puffed-up fried breads) or maybe something like vadas (lentil dumplings) plus natural yoghurt, tamarind chutney (or ketchup, as I’m calling it), a combination of spices and herbs and perhaps also some boiled potatoes, chickpeas, salad items and green mango coriander chutney. I like for there to be something crunchy in the mix against the softer potatos and chickpeas, myself.

Oh and my parents also like an accompaniment called jal-jeera (fire-water) which I reckon is an acquired taste and one I’ll never acquire!

Recipes for all these dishes can be found on our family recipe website, Mamta’s Kitchen. (Mamta is my mum).

But the sweet sour spicy flavour of tamarind ketchup should not be restricted to such a small niche – I also like it as an alternative to regular tomato ketchup with anything from burgers and chops to chicken fritters and if you mix it with yoghurt it makes a lovely dip!

Mamta’s Kitchen Tamarind Ketchup

Ingredients
400 gram packet of dry tamarind pulp, with stones/skins intact
Approximately 1 litre hot water
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
A large pinch of asafoetida powder
6-7 teaspoons salt. *
100 grams jaggery or brown sugar or muscovado sugar *
1 teaspoon chilli powder *
2 teaspoons roasted cumin powder
1-2 teaspoons garam masala

*The quantity of these ingredients should be adjusted during cooking, according to taste. The tarter the tamarind, the more salt and sugar it will need.

Method


Dried tamarind block, broken into pieces
  • Break the tamarind block up as best you can and soak in hot water for an hour or longer. This will soften up the dry tamarind. It should be squishy.
  •  Massage the pulp to help separate seeds and skins. I follow my mum’s advice to wear rubber gloves as tamarind is quite acidic.

 

As I’m making a large quantity here I’m doing the mashing and squeezing while a friend is pushing the resulting liquid through a sieve to remove any rough bits
  •  Mash and squeeze the pulp to release a thick liquid of the flesh and water. Mum usually uses a colander or sieve to squeeze the pulp against for this step however the most recent time I made the ketchup, I was at a friends and found her steaming set a great help – a large pan with small colander-sized holes in the base that fits snugly on top of a large saucepan – much more stable than mashing into a colander or sieve balanced in a pan or bowl!

More mashing and squeezing
  • Depending on how well you’ve extracted flesh from the seeds and skins, you might want to re-soak the remnants in a smaller volume of hot water and make a second pass of mashing and squeezing. I do usually do this.
  • You should end up with a large quantity of thick liquid.

Sieving the liquid to remove any remaining bits of skin and fibre
  • If you used a colander for the previous step, you may wish to strain the liquid through a sieve to get rid of any remaining lumps of skin or seed but if the liquid looks smooth and lump-free, don’t bother.

Discard seeds and skin
  • Discard the seeds, skins etc.
  • In a large pan heat the oil.
  • Add the cumin seeds and asafoetida powder. When the seeds splutter, pour in the tamarind liquid and all the other ingredients except the garam masala.
  • Allow it to boil briskly, stirring from time to time.
  • Taste and adjust salt, jaggery/sugar and chillies to reach your preferred balance of sweetness, acidity and heat.
  • If the liquid is too thin continue to heat to reduce volume and thicken up. Note, this ketchup is not intended to be really thick and gloopy but of a pouring consistency.
  • Add garam masala and stir in.
  • Take off the heat and allow to cool.

Bottled
  • Pour into sterilised, airtight bottles or jam jars.

The ketchup will last well in the fridge for a few months. Jars can also be kept in a freezer, indefinitely.

 

Apr 162010
 

A few weeks back I was invited to attend a factory tour and visit to the Thorntons factory and head office, up in Derbyshire. Not a huge fan of their more established product ranges, I am open minded – they have a (relatively) new head of development who I know is keen to add ranges that appeal to a different palate. So I was delighted to go along and learn more.

On arriving at the Alfreton site, we were greeted by Emma Tagg, the PR Manager, who ensured we were properly suited and booted (OK, white coats, blue plastic shoe covers and very fetching white hair nets not to mention ear protectors) before being taken on a factory tour.

The tour was fascinating, not least because this is a genuine working factory, with no concessions for hoardes of tourists – our little group were lead around by Ian Clay, the Technical Manager. And we were clearly as much of a curiosity for staff as they were for us!

What struck me most strongly during the tour was how much is still done by hand. Yes, there are fancy machines that are fascinating to watch, but there are also many, many processes that need skilled, human labour. Knowing how big Thorntons are, and how much they must therefore produce, it was actually quite a surprise to me to learn that they still use so many traditional techniques – whether boiling up, tipping out and spreading fudge or spreading chocolate evenly inside plastic moulds or applying chocolate details such as eyes to Easter rabbits and swirls to eggs.

Of course, it was fun being shown all the various different sections and processes, being talked through them by someone who is passionate, knowledgable and articulate. I was also interested in seeing some of the steps I hadn’t thought about – for example, for each recipe, whether it’s a praline filling or a turkish delight one, a team carefully weight out all the required ingredients according to a recipe sheet and lay them out onto a pallet. When we walked through the ingredients store I noticed boxes of free range eggs, butter in a cold store, fresh cream and milk. Perhaps wisely, they didn’t take us to the corner where champagne is decanted from bottles into larger containers ready to be used in their champagne truffles!

The atmosphere was calm and efficient and all the staff seemed to be very happy at their work, chatting to colleagues and manning their stations. Staff loyalty is clearly high and we were told that many of the staff stay with them for years, decades even. They believe in training and retaining staff and the commitment seems to be two way. It might sound odd that I am so surprised but I guess this is one of those occasions where I’ve been influenced by media “insights” into factories full of miserable staff, drained by their jobs and the environment. Minus mark for Kavey and her unfounded assumptions!

After pausing for a lovely pub lunch nearby, we next enjoyed a session with Keith Hurdman, Thorton’s master chocolatier. Keith joined the business only 18 months ago and has been hard at work to improve the product range and quality of products. As I discussed at lunch wtih Peter Wright, Marketing Director, Thorntons has a difficult task in that it must keep happy it’s large and loyal existing customer base, most of whom want to buy the same products they have known and loved for decades and a newly emerging and growing sector of the market who are looking for more sophisticated and adventurous chocolate. A huge challenge!

Keith introduced us to some of the chocolates he’s currently working on, only a few of which will likely make it into production. There were some that I absolutely loved, far more than the old product ranges, and the recently launched blocks. Fingers crossed that the white chocolate bar we all raved about makes it through to production and without any major changes.

We left with gifts of chocolate – a box of Melts and a box of their Metropolitan range, neither of which I’d tried before as well as a stunning special edition Easter box containing a limited edition designer egg, some smaller sidekick eggs in eggcups and a couple of those colourful blocks. The box itself is a thing of beauty, let alone the contents, and shall be gracing my brand new bedroom once emptied of it’s chocolate bounty.

So have I been converted? Well, whilst I liked the smoothness of the Melts, and their praline centre, like much of the range, I found them too sweet. The Metropolitan box I liked a lot more, though there isn’t much of a range, just lots of the same few chocolates. They can’t compete with my favourites such as Artisan du Chocolat or Paul A Young or, more recently Matcha Chocolat,but nor do they carry the same hefty price tag. I didn’t love the blocks I tried recently either.

But, I was excited by some of what I tasted in Keith’s development kitchen, though I know both from Keith’s own comments as well as a long (IT) project with the food development division of a large supermarket that many things tried by developers never make it to the shelves, and if they do, they’ve often been tweaked to use less expensive ingredients or less fiddly production methods. I shall certainly keep my eyes and tastebuds open!


Sadly, there’s no chance of pretending I got lost and stowing away overnight!


The ingredients store, ingredients in use, a huge tub of hot white chocolate on the move…





The various production areas making Easter eggs

Giant mixers! The pink goo is rose – it smelled fabulous!



The fudge team

Following a processing line for a praline centre, I think!

Processing line for one of the chocolates from the Metropolitan range, I believe

The tour

Miscellaneous


Men and women at work




Chocolate tasting with Keith Hurdman; the limited edition gift box and the large egg inside; some of the also-ran designs for the limited edition egg; chocolate teapots!

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