Nov 292013
 

I love France!

I’ve loved the French language since the first day we started learning it at school, rising from our seats when our French teacher entered the class room and settling back down on her crisp “asseyez-vous”. Born with a handy ability to mimic accents and blessed with a French teacher who was actually French, I found that speaking French came easily to me and I adored it. Indeed, I went on to study it at sixth form and university. My French is rustier these days, though still good enough for a rambling conversation with a rambunctious Frenchman and certainly sufficient to handle most situations that come up on holiday.

I quickly came to love both the food and the country too, following my first two visits as a child – a school trip to Boulogne and a family weekend in Paris (during which my dad couldn’t quite wrap his head around my lack of fluency after just a few months learning!)

At sixth form, I was so excited to take part in a language exchange programme but it nearly didn’t happen; my assigned partner dropped out less than a week ahead of the trip but to my enormous good fortune, another girl who’d originally not applied had just asked if she could participate; we were asked if we’d like to pair up, solemnly warned that we may have nothing in common as we’d not been matched on our interests. Serendipity stepped in and we bonded strongly, perhaps the best of all the pairs on the trip. Even today, over 25 years later, I still consider her entire family ma famille en France and feel sad that we’ve not caught up in person for a few years now. We have visited many times in the intervening years; she came to my wedding, I was proud to attend hers and I love receiving the news of her little ones every year.

Between sixth form and university my best friend and I both worked as jeunes filles au pairs in France. My family lived in a tiny rural village West of Paris and hers were out in the farthest Northern suburbs of Paris. We met in the city every weekend, where we delighted in trawling the sprawling Puces de Saint-Ouen (flea markets), finding cheap-as-frites prix fixe menus offering classic French cuisine, wandering around the tourist sights of Paris and popping in to the ever-present McDo for an affordable chocolat chaud to defrost winter-frozen fingers. Often, we unexpectedly found ourselves at the end of one or another metro line, having become so engrossed in our latest conversation that we missed our intended stop.

For a few years, I went back to Paris regularly, organising weekend trips with friends, my sister and with Pete; acting as tour guide to the main sights, finding cheap eats and being the mouth piece for all interactions.

But then Pete and I discovered the joys of taking our car across on the ferry, and later, through the tunnel. The freedom to drive where we fancied, staying overnight in modest little auberges or grand châteaux, was a joy and we developed a particular fondness for the Loire region, which we’ve visited many times. Whether it’s a gentle meander around a quaint traditional village, shopping for bread, cheese, fruit and cold meats in a bustling market and then enjoying them as a picnic lunch overlooking a serene bucolic landscape, visiting and buying direct from vineyards, admiring another impressive castle or lingering over so many magnificently tasty meals in all manner of restaurants across the country.

Always, before coming home, we fill the car boot with an enormous bounty of food and drink. Wine, of course, and sweet cidre for me and then cheese, pâté, salad dressings, chocolate, biscuits and so many other little treats and snacks we liked the look of.

These days, with so many exciting places to visit, we don’t get to France quite as often as we used to, though we still try to go at least once every couple of years. So we do miss our French treats.

Step in Bonjour French Food, who got in touch recently asking if I’d like to try their brand new service in which they send a selection of French treats directly to your UK address. The cost is £31 per box, including delivery and that drops to £29 per box if you subscribe for 3 or 6 months.

BonjourFrenchFood-october-box
I’ve used a website photo, as I accidentally deleted the ones I took at home. It is wholly representative.

The October box included

  • Marlette (organic) fondant au chocolat baking mix
  • Michel et Augustin petits sablés ronds et bons
  • Maison Papillon terrine de magret de canard with miel des Cévennes
  • Ducs de Gascogne tomato and sweet pepper spread with anchovy and garlic
  • Ducs de Gascogne wild boar terrine, hazelnut and tangerine
  • Tonton La Rondelle pepper-coated saucisson

Without a doubt, all the products are typically French and have clearly been chosen for their quality of taste and ingredients.

A little help from Google tells me that the selection above would retail for just over 27 Euros in France (without any postage included), which comes to a little under £23. Add on a little for packaging and postage across to the UK, not to mention the informative product information leaflet enclosed, and the £31/ £29 price point is actually quite reasonable; it’s a pretty heavy box.

On the downside, the selection of products seems a little random. There’s no theme to each box, nor can I envisage the products combining very well if served together. Instead, it’s a rather arbitrary collection. Whilst that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the various items – particularly the Marlette chocolate fondant baking mix – it does make me question the appeal of subscribing to this service in lieu of visiting an online shop which allows me to assemble my own choice from an attractive product list, according to my personal tastes. Customers could even be given a choice between basic cardboard boxes or more expensive wicker or wooden ones. Delivery fees could be based either on weight or order value.

Of course, the advantage of a pre-arranged box is when ordering either as a gift, especially if you’d struggle to choose individual products for the recipient yourself. It’s a lovely way to share a love of France with friends and family, or buy a treat for someone you know already feels the same way.

 

Kavey Eats received a review box from Bonjour French Food.

Nov 272013
 

Twenty one and a half years ago, Pete and I started dating. A few months later, I went down to Beckenham to meet my future in-laws. Of course, I had no reason to be, but I was pretty nervous all the same. Not only was I meeting his parents but three of his siblings and two of their offspring too. *gulp*

Baby Sam was about 6 weeks old. I remember how pleased I was when this tiny crying bundle calmed down and stopped crying as soon as I took him into my arms. That felt like a welcome, right there! Of course, the entire family was enormously welcoming and it was a lovely day. But the person who calmed me down the most was little Rosie. She was a two year old whirlwind of excitement and affection and from the first time we met, we were firm friends.

KaveyRosie1994 (1 of 1)

Here she is (with me) a couple of years later, at our wedding. That’s the date she and Sam (and a few months later, their younger sister Jennifer) officially became my nieces and nephews and I have loved being Aunty Kavey ever since.

Rosie has always been an active partner in keeping the relationship close, sending us cards and letters and calling on the phone. As soon as she was old enough, she came to stay with us for the weekend every few months. At first, Rosie’s mum Kate (Pete’s middle sister) would come with her on the train to Waterloo, I’d meet them at the platform for a handover and Rosie and I would hop onto the tube to our place. As she got older, she’d do the train journey on her own, mum dropping her off at one end and me meeting her off the train at the other.

We spent the weekends cooking together at home; eating out, introducing her to some of our favourite foods; talking about books all three of us had enjoyed reading – she’s a bookworm, like us, and loves science-fiction too; taking her clothes shopping, which was such a pleasure because she’s the complete opposite to the “me me me I want I want” generation.

I think she was about 13 when we took her to Paris. She’s a warm, friendly girl but rather shy, so I pushed her just a tiny bit into using her basic French skills to order her meals and ask for a carafe of water, in restaurants. I can still remember her genuine pride and delight when she did so, and the restaurant staff nodding in understanding and smiling encouragement.

These days, we share a fondness for trawling through charity shops, giggling at some of the outfits she tries on in her hunt for potential LARPing costumes and congratulating each other on our fabulous bargains.

She’s very clever too, did I mention that? All grown up now, she studied at Imperial College London for her bachelors degree in Biology and went on to do a Masters of Science in Ecological Applications. She’s also kind, generous, friendly, loyal and cares for the world around her.

The reason I’m telling you about my lovely niece is that Thorntons approached me recently with an offer I couldn’t refuse. They asked if I’d like to send a gift box of chocolates to someone who deserved them. Did I know someone who needed cheering up and spoiling? Well, yes I did, actually.

These last two years have been hard for Rosie. Last year, after a period of remission, her mum’s cancer came back and this time it was terminal. Rosie moved back home to help and spend time with her mum and younger sister. It wasn’t an easy few months. Kate wanted to die at home, so a bed was set up in the living room; she used the time to put everything in order, to organise her funeral, to sort out her will and decide what would happen to her various animals. This time was bittersweet too – we visited every week that Kate remained with us and enjoyed some of the best conversations we’d ever had, full of reminiscence and laughter and frankness and occasional seriousness. How unfair to lose her at the peak of her life! The months after losing Kate were difficult for everyone, her three children most of all, of course.

Rosie’s had a lot of other tough things to deal with too, since then. I won’t talk about them here, because you don’t need to know. What I do want to do is send a message to Rosie and let her know that everything will turn out OK, she will land on her feet and she will have a good and happy life, even though things feel like a struggle at the moment.

Rosie, my lovely niece, I hope this little parcel from Thortons put a smile on your face. I love you and I’m so proud of you. Chin up!

 

With thanks to Thortons for inviting me to take part in their Christmas Hero campaign.

Here’s a snap Rosie sent me of the goodies she was sent.

RosieThorntonsChristmasHero

 

Mendiant.

It’s an interesting word, isn’t it?

It usually refers to a disc of chocolate with flavours and toppings added. But what’s the origin of this chocolate treat?

Traditionally, a mendiant is a French confection described as a chocolate disc studded with dried fruits and nuts that represent the four mediaeval Roman Catholic mendicant orders of the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans and Carmelites; Mendicant comes from the Latin verb mendicans, to beg, describing the reliance of these orders on begging for charitable donations, following their vows of poverty. Figs, raisins, almonds and hazelnuts were chosen for their colours, each representing the robes of one of the monastic orders.

In Provence, the Christmas tradition is to finish the celebration meal with the 13 desserts of Noël, representing Jesus and his twelve apostles. The list of items varies among households but nearly always includes the four ingredients representing the mendicant orders.

Today, mendiants often have flavours added into the chocolate as well as a much wider range of toppings than the four original fruits and nuts.

BettysMendiants

This Christmas, Bettys have three different mendiants in their range.

I’m most intrigued by the Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh ones. Dark chocolate discs are flavoured with oils of frankincense and myrrh, and sprinkled with golden sugar crystals. The flavour is musky and citrusy and rather delicious. They are priced at £7.95 for 85 grams and come in a pretty presentation tube.

Crystallised Orange Mendiants are also wonderful. The crystallised citrus fruit pairs beautifully with the dark chocolate. They cost £7.25 for an 85 gram tube.

And last but not least are the Peppermint Mendiants, in which peppermint oil has been mixed into the dark chocolate. The sugar crystals on top are pepperminty too! These are also £7.25 for an 85 gram tube.

BettysMintMendiants-4167

 

COMPETITION

Bettys are kindly offering one Kavey Eats reader a set of all three chocolate mendiants above. The prize includes free delivery within the UK.

 

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, telling me what flavourings and toppings you’d use on a chocolate mendiant.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!
Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a set of chocolate mendiants from Kavey Eats and @Bettys1919! http://goo.gl/KdH90I #KaveyEatsBettysMendiants
You don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet.

Entry 3 – Facebook
Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

 

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 6th December 2013.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a set of three chocolate mendiants from Bettys of Harrogate , with free delivery within the UK.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Bettys of Harrogate.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You do not have to enter all three ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

 

With thanks again to Bettys for review samples.

This competition is closed. The winner is Jason Fallows (@smilingback2u).

 

I really wanted to love Kitchen Nomad unreservedly.

I think the idea is excellent – each month they pick a cuisine, create recipe cards and pack a box full of speciality ingredients required to make the five recipes provided. Thus far, the countries they have covered are Greece, Vietnam, Lebanon, Pakistan and Mexico.

Boxes cost £22 plus £3 delivery and the retail value of the ingredients will be pretty much around that mark.

In London, I can actually find specialist ingredients for many international cuisines quite easily – especially if I’m willing to travel around the capital to the area(s) that focus best on the cuisine(s) in question – but I appreciate that many of these items are much harder to find across the rest of the UK, which is another reason I really like the idea.

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Kitchen Nomad Greek box; Kitchen Nomad Vietnamese box

In practice, there are a few issues…

The first may not be a negative at all for many customers; indeed it’s probably a positive! On placing an order, customers don’t know the country that Kitchen Nomad will cover next, so the box they receive is a complete surprise. Of course, surprises can be wonderful but they can also backfire now and again. When I accepted Kitchen Nomad’s invitation to trial their new service, a few months ago, I was sent their very first box, full of Greek ingredients and recipes. Although I’m not a fussy eater, there are a handful of things I don’t like and a few Pete isn’t keen on. Between the two of us, the recipes within the Greek box featured five such ingredients – vine leaves, capers, olives, feta cheese and walnuts. Nothing wrong with any of those – just bad luck to find so many we dislike between us – but had I known in advance the theme was Greek, I could have suggested deferring delivery to the following month.

In my case, Kitchen Nomad kindly allowed me to pass the Greek Box on to a blogger friend who felt she might enjoy the dishes more than I would, and sent me a different box a few months later.

On a related note, it’d be nice to be able to order boxes from previous months as gifts for friends who might enjoy trying a particular cuisine, and that option isn’t (currently) available. I understand why on a practical level but from a consumer point-of-view, I think it would popular.

As the website makes clear, the box doesn’t include all the ingredients you need to make any of the recipes – indeed it doesn’t even contain most of them. Instead, it provides only the long life speciality ingredients, leaving you to buy fresh ingredients yourself. This isn’t a problem either, but it does mean that the cost of making the five recipes is far higher than the cost of the box. This is simply something I want to draw your attention to.

Then there are little things that make me cross. In that original Greek Box, one of the five recipe cards was for Prawn Saganaki, a dish of fresh prawns baked in a tomato sauce with feta cheese over the top. It calls for 300-400 grams of fresh prawns and 225 grams of feta cheese. And it contains a note that you can make it vegetarian by… not adding the prawns! This is sheer craziness – not only would this result in an unbalanced dish, the portions would no longer be suitable to serve the 4 people indicated! If you wish to suggest a vegetarian version, then make the effort to consider and propose suitable alternatives to the non-vegetarian main ingredient. Leaving out a couple of rashers of bacon where it’s a secondary ingredient used to add saltiness is one thing, but skipping the central ingredient completely is quite another!

A problem with containers that are too fragile and break open, spilling their contents, has already been resolved in the months since Kitchen Nomad launched. They have been receptive to feedback, which is good to see.

KitchenNomadVietnam-4152 KitchenNomadVietnam-4158

We first came a cropper when we made the Bánh Xeo (Crispy Crêpes) recipe provided in the Vietnam box. Having made our shopping list according to the instructions on the card, it was only when we came to make the batter that we realised there were no instructions given for that, and more alarmingly, the text printed on the back of the batter mix bag called for coconut milk and turmeric, neither of which had been mentioned at all. Cue a second trip out (on a cold and dark evening) to the shops for coconut milk, and we were finally able to get started. Sadly, we didn’t succeed at cooking crispy pancakes; though we tried different temperatures and cooking times, our pancakes remained fragile, and even when we got them to crisp up, they still collapsed to mush when touched. I am certain we got the batter mix wrong, for lack of any guidance.

We had similar problems with the recipe card for the Bo Kho (Beef Stew). A 60 gram tub of kho spice mix was included in the box but the recipe didn’t indicate how much to use, saying nothing more than “mix the kho spice mix into the meat”. Given how potent the mix was, we could see that the whole tub was obviously too much for the amount of meat, so we decided to use about 5-6 teaspoons – significantly less than half. The finished dish was robustly flavoured and pretty hot on the chilli front –  it would have been way too strong had we mixed in the entire amount. We had exactly the same issue with the annatto, used to flavour and colour the cooking oil. No amounts were given in the recipe, but the bag of annatto provided contained at least a couple of tablespoons worth. We Googled and discovered that a single teaspoon would be sufficient. And even with extra cooking time to try and reduce it, we found that the amount of liquid stipulated resulted in a very liquidy finished dish – so our dinner was (thankfully tasty) beef, carrots and potatoes in a lot of thin soup.

In both cases, what this suggests to me is that Kitchen Nomad don’t bother to test their recipe cards before sending them out to customers, and that’s hugely frustrating as it can result in unsuccessful dishes and wasted ingredients. The website lists the Vietnamese recipes as being written by my friend and Vietnamese food writer Uyen Luu, but I’ve since obtained a copy of her book, My Vietnamese Kitchen, and these recipes are definitely not sourced from that. Her book’s Bánh Xeo recipe provides full ingredients and instructions for the pancake batter and her Bo Kho recipe not only uses carefully measured individual spices, it also includes cornflour to thicken the sauce. Regardless of the original recipe source, customers are buying the recipes from Kitchen Nomad; I really think Kitchen Nomad should test the recipes themselves, enabling them to spot and correct omissions and mistakes.

It gives me absolutely no pleasure at all to criticise a new business, especially when I think the idea is such a good one. But having been invited to review and share my opinions, I am compelled to be honest about my experiences. As the boxes are good value for the ingredients included, perhaps the trick is to source (or at least sense check) the recipes yourself on the web, to avoid similar failures.

 

Kavey Eats was provided review samples by Kitchen Nomad.

 

A restaurant on the 40th floor of a shiny city skyscraper, with all of London spread out like a sparkling map below, could probably just let the view pull in the punters. But at Duck & Waffle, the view (admired through wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows) is secondary.

While the view is amazing, the food is even better.

DuckWaffle-2027

Of course, if you are plugged in to the food twitterati, are an avid reader of London restaurant blogs or just read a newspaper restaurant critic’s column now and then, this is old old news.

Duck and Waffle, with chef Daniel Doherty at the helm, opened in August 2012 and it received rave reviews from the get go. It still does, long past that “first impressions” period, confirming that it and Doherty are both definitely more than a flash in the pan.

At just 29, Doherty is clearly a Rising Star; indeed he was named just that by Tatler in their 2013 Restaurant Awards announced this spring. In the Backstory bio on the restaurant’s own website, I smile as I read how his mother, doing the laundry one day, found an application to the Academy of Culinary Arts Scholarship in the pocket of his jeans, quietly filled it in and submitted it without telling him. Aged just 16, Doherty won one of just 28 scholarships (out of 2000 applicants) and so embarked upon the balancing act of attending classes and taking exams whilst also working an apprenticeship under Herbert Berger at (Michelin starred) 1 Lombard Street. He considers Berger his mentor, and Berger has described Doherty as his protégée. The rest of his resume shows a quick rise from chef de partie to head chef. Depsite being so young, Duck and Waffle is not the first restaurant Doherty has opened, having developed the menu and opened The Old Brewery in Greenwich a few years ago.

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At Duck and Waffle, Doherty has a large and well-oiled kitchen team working with him to produce his innovative dishes. The menu changes regularly, though a few signature items like the foie gras all day breakfast and, of course, duck and waffles, remain available.

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At the top of the menu are a few snacks. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it!) I was the only one who liked the bbq-spiced crispy pig ears (£5), with their bacon-rind-like chew centre contrasting with crunchy puffed skin in spicy coating. Served in a paper bag with a (sticky backed) “wax” seal, the presentation was pretty cute!

DuckWaffle-2034

From the Freshly Baked Bread section of the menu, rosemary & garlic (£6) also had a mixed reaction. All three of us liked the flavour, and I particularly adored the caramelised sweetness of the whole roasted garlic cloves, but we all agreed that the bread was a touch undercooked, making it a little claggy in places.

DuckWaffle-2033

We only ordered one item from the Raw menu section, the fillet of angus beef / foie gras / truffle / pecorino (£15). This was just perfect. The beef was a deep ruby red and its inherent meatiness was beefed up by umami rich pecorino, buttery foie gras and the headiest truffle I’ve eaten for a while. I made “wrong” noises, eating this. Yeah, I know.

DuckWaffle-2032

The rest of our choices were from the Small Plates section, as we eschewed the large For the table dishes and Sides so we could try more different things.

First a bowl of fresh mozzarella / granola / sage / honey / amalfi lemon (£10) which was somehow one of the best salads I’ve ever had. Of course, the quality of the milky mozzarella was excellent. But the combination of textures and tastes was the thing. The little crunch of insanely thin strips of candied lemon zest gave the perfect high note. I could eat this every single day.

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Pearl barley and wild mushroom ragout / goat curd / 63 degree hen egg (£11) was simple, hearty and made special by the quality of the ingredients (and proper cleaning of the wild mushrooms). Oozing egg yolk is always good.

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Essentially devils on horseback, bacon wrapped dates / linguica sausage / dandelions salad (£9) were stuffed with a rich sausage meat filling, in place of the usual sweet chutney or cheese. The combination of meat and fruit is one I really like, and it worked very well indeed in this dish.

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The only word for foie gras creme brulee / butter roasted Scottish lobster (£21) is decadent. Add insanely rich, utterly delectable and almost too much for three people to finish and you’ll start to get the idea. Served with toasted slices of brioche.

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I ordered the spicy ox cheek doughnut / apricot jam (£10) because, as I just mentioned, I love the combination of meat and sweet. In fact, the doughnut had only a soft beef stew within, served with a sharp rather than sweet apricot sauce on the side. Pleasant but, for the three of us, lacking the wow factor of a number of the other dishes.

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A little full, we refused to miss out on desserts. First to arrive was the poached peaches / tarragon creme fraiche sorbet / white chocolate & pistachio biscotti (£9). Simply poached with lots of flavour, the peaches were well matched by the intensity of flavour but light texture of the sorbet. For me, the rock hard biscotti were superfluous, though perhaps others welcome the contrasting crunch.

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As is the way with olive oil cakes, pistachio & olive oil cake / english raspberries / rose-scented chantilly cream (£9) was a dense, rich, moist cake, green from the nuts. The cream transported this dessert to the realm of 1001 Nights, with fresh raspberries the perfect foil to all the sweetness.

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My favourite of our desserts was definitely the vanilla baked alaska / strawberry consomme / mint oil (£9). Although it looked like an alien life form, it was actually a classic baked alaska, lifted by a fresh strawberry sauce and a surprising but rather wonderful light mint oil. That hint of herb really was a genius touch.

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Although the first couple of dishes I’ve listed didn’t quite hit the heights and we didn’t fall hard for the doughnut, everything else really impressed. The meal was a fabulous feast of tastes and textures, beautifully presented and served with warmth and friendliness.

Duck and Waffle is a great choice for a special occasion, though it’s not so expensive that you can’t just go along because you fancy some great food.

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

 

Camilla Stephens began her culinary career developing food for (UK-based) coffee chain, the Seattle Coffee Company. When it was bought out by Starbucks, she stayed on board creating tasty treats to be sold across the chain throughout the day. Somewhere along the way, she learned to make really tasty pies. Fast forward several years to 2003 when Camilla and husband James created Higgidy, selling beautiful handmade pies – even though the business has grown phenomenally in its first decade, every single pie is still shaped and filled by hand and the product range now includes a variety of quiches too. There are more traditional recipes such as beef, stilton and ale in a shortcrust pastry case and bacon and cheddar quiche, as well as more inventive recipes like sweet potato and feta pie with pumpkin seeds.

Pete and I aren’t averse to buying ready made meals so we’ve enjoyed Higgidy products at home a number of times. The key to their success is that they really do taste home made.

So we had high hopes for Camilla’s recently-released Higgidy Cookbook, promising “100 Recipes for Pies and More”. We were not disappointed and it didn’t take long for me to bookmark a slew of recipes that appealed: chicken and chorizo with spiced paprika crumble, chinese spiced beef pies, no-nonsense steak and ale pie, giant gruyere and ham sandwich, melt-in-the-middle pesto chicken (filo parcels), hot-smoked salmon gougère (scuppered, on the first attempt, by our inability to find hot-smoked salmon in our local shops), rösti-topped chicken and pancetta pie, wintry quiche with walnutty pastry, smoked haddock frying-pan pie, cheddar ploughman tartlets, cherry tomato tarte tatin, sticky ginger and apple tarte tatin, pear and whisky tart, oaty treacle tart, chocolate snowflake tart and sticky onions!

Of course, many of these recipes are wonderfully hearty and perfect winter warmers at this this cold, dark and wet time of year.

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Pork and apple stroganoff pie with cheddar crust; lamb hotpot

So far, Pete’s made two recipes from the book and we have been delighted with both. The hearty lamb hotpot was a classic; simple to make, tasty and warming to eat. The pork and apple stroganoff pie with cheddar crust was fantastic. Oddly enough, after making (and blogging) an apple pie with an almost identical design on top (which I made before having seen the Higgidy pie photograph) I had been chatting on twitter about trying apple pie with a cheddar crust, so finding this recipe soon afterwards was serendipitous! It didn’t disappoint.

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Higgidy Pork and Apple Stroganoff Pie with Cheddar Crust

Equipment
1 x 1.4 litre ovenproof pie dish

Ingredients
For the cheddar pastry

230 grams plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
0.5 teaspoon salt
125 grams butter, chilled and diced
40 grams mature cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
2-3 tablespoons ice-cold water
For the filling
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
A good knob of butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 medium leek, thinly slievd
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
600 grams pork tenderloin, cut into 2-3 cm pieces
2 eating apples, such as Braeburn, peeled, cored and cut into small wedges
2 tablespoons plain flour
200 ml cider
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
150 ml full-fat soured cream
150 ml hot chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: We skipped the egg-wash, so our pie didn’t have the pretty glossy appearance of Camilla’s.

Method

  • To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a food processor. Add the chilled butter and pulse until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the cheese, then add the ice-cold water, just enough to bring the pastry together. Shape into a round disc, wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the filling. Heat a tablespoon of oil with the butter in a large non-stick frying pan, add the onion and leek, and cook gently for 5 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Spoon into your pie dish.
  • Increase the heat, add a splash more oil, then fry the pork for a couple of minutes only, just enough to brown the meat. Spoon into the pie dish.

HiggidyPorkApplePie-4097

  • Keep the pan on a high heat and fry the apple pieces in the remaining fat, until lightly browned and Beginning to soften. Transfer to the pie dish. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir well, to evenly combine.

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  • Pour the cider into the empty pan and bubble until reduced by half. Lower the heat, add the mustard, soured cream and stock and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and immediately pour over the meat in the pie dish. Give it all a good stir and set aside to cook completely.

HiggidyPorkApplePie-4099

  • Preheat the oven to 200 C / fan 180 C / gas mark 6. Brush the edges of the pie dish with beaten egg.
  • On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick and drape it over the top of the filling. Crimp the edges to seal. Cut a steam hole in the middle.
  • Decorate the top of the pastry with your pastry trimmings (cut into apple shapes or leaves) and brush the pie all over with beaten egg.

HiggidyPorkApplePie-4103

  • Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the filling is piping hot and the pastry is golden and crisp. Serve with wilted kale.

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The Higgidy Cookbook published by Quercus, is currently available (at time of posting) on Amazon for a very bargainous £7 (RRP £16.99).

Kavey Eats was sent a review copy of the book by Higgidy.

 

I am not a classy bird. The truth is that words like elegant, sophisticated and lady-like are not ones you’d choose to describe me… and that’s OK by me. On the inside, I’d like to think I’m intelligent, fun, passionate, surprising and all kinds of other interesting things… and I reckon those aspects of me are far more worthy of attention than my body, my clothes, shoes and handbag, how I wear my hair, the fact that I don’t wear make-up or that I walk a little pigeon-toed.

I say this because The Sportsman in Kent reminds me of myself in pub form.

On the outside, the pub looks a little tatty, perhaps even unkempt. If you judged it on its cover, you might not even bother to stop, let alone go in and get to know it. But step inside and it’s warm and welcoming. The space is stripped back and open, with wooden floors, (generously sized, uncovered) tables, chairs and panelling. There are dramatic paintings of seascapes hanging on plain pale walls. Early on an October evening, huge windows spill in lots of light; later candles and pendant lights keep things cheery. And the staff are full of smiles, as they bustle behind the bar getting ready for the dinner service. Throughout the evening they are attentive, eager to help and to share the delight of dinner in this wonderful place.

That’s what this place is famous for, you see.

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Self-taught chef-patron Steve Harris and wine-expert brother Phil took over The Sportsman in 1999, with financial support from another brother, Damian. Since then, it’s built a huge fan base of locals and visitors alike and was awarded a Michelin star in 2008. In an interview after gaining the star, former City worker Harris explained that he felt many top restaurants in ’90s London tended to alienate ordinary people “from the experience by all the flummery that goes with it”. He wanted to “democratise” good food by serving it without the frills and fuss. From the start, he focused on using local, seasonal ingredients – something that’s matter of course now but was far less so when he opened. Brother Phil created an affordable and appealing wine list. As a Shepherd Neame pub, the beer was already taken care of.

Our meal is exactly what Harris envisaged – the highest quality of food, cooked and presented skillfully and inventively, served in an informal and relaxing setting by staff who are friendly and knowledgeable rather than stiff or formal. It’s a wonderful combination.

Having made sure to request it in advance, we enjoy the tasting menu which gives us the opportunity to try a much wider selection of Harris’ cooking.

We are offered the choice of seeing the menu in advance or experiencing it as a surprise. We choose the latter, though I do cave and ask for the menu two thirds of the way through the meal! Several of the courses served aren’t listed, so a few hastily scribbled notes serve as a memory jogger.

TheSportsmanKent-1957

Pickled herring with crab apple jelly, cream cheese and soda bread and parmesan and Ashore cheese and tomato biscuits.

Tasty little bites to kick things off…

TheSportsmanKent-1959 TheSportsmanKent-1961

Egg yolk, smoked eel, parsley sauce and horseradish cream with sherry vinegar.

I could eat ten of these, though it’s as well I don’t, given all that is to come. Bursting with soft liquid flavour and colours that are each reassuringly robust and yet work with each other beautifully.

TheSportsmanKent-1962

Baked rock oyster, Jersey cream, rhubarb granita, crystallised seaweed.

I’ve eaten oysters plenty of times but never really understood what the fuss has been about. This dish, and the one after, really open my eyes to just how delightful the delicate flavour and texture of an oyster can be, when carefully paired with supporting elements.

TheSportsmanKent-1966 TheSportsmanKent-1964

Poached rock oyster, beurre blanc, pickled cucumber, avruga caviar.

If the previous dish opened my eyes, this one opens my heart to oysters! I’ll never look at them in the same way again. Yes, it’s that astounding!

TheSportsmanKent-1968

Bread, butter and salt.

Not only are the three breads home-made – rosemary and red onion foccacia, sourdough and malted soda bread – but the butter is home-churned and even the salt is made from Seasalter sea water. I like all the breads but the dark soda bread in particular is a source of joy.

TheSportsmanKent-1972 TheSportsmanKent-1974

Salt-baked celeriac, stewed apple and fresh cheese.

I’ve encountered salt-baked celeriac a few times in the last couple of years, in Scandinavian cookery demonstrations and classes, mostly. I really like it’s earthy taste and slight sweetness. I find the mustardy sauce a little too strong in this dish, though.

TheSportsmanKent-1977 TheSportsmanKent-1978

Crab, carrot and hollandaise.

I’m not sure the carrot adds much on the taste front and though the colour is pretty, I find the crunch a little odd against the crab. But the crab is super! Fresh and sweet and generous and gone far too quickly!

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TheSportsmanKent-1981

Slip sole in seaweed butter.

Slip sole, so Wiki informs me, is simply the name we give to small common sole; I haven’t come across it before. Firm, delicate and buttery but easy to slip off the bone, it’s fantastically well paired with the salty mineral flavours of the seaweed butter.

Later, at the bar, Phillip Harris tells me about how they dry the seaweed themselves; I’m minded to try some Mara Seaweed varieties mixed with butter and served over white fish or scallops.

TheSportsmanKent-1985

Brill braised in vin jaune with bearded tooth fungus.

This simple dish is my favourite of the whole meal. The way the vin jaune sets off the fish without overwhelming it is an utter delight. With a little sweet crunch from the beans and soft woodiness from the mushrooms, this plate is so tasty, so simple and so well-balanced I am left wondering why I don’t eat seafood more often.

TheSportsmanKent-1986

Lamb from Monkshill Farm (1).

Little two-bite breaded morsels of tender lamb belly are served with a fresh mint sauce. Unlike the usual vinegary condiment, this mint sauce is beautifully sweet and sharp and herbaceous and I find myself drinking sip after sip from the little cup, after the lamb is eaten. Of course, I haven’t realised another lamb dish is coming but our waitress doesn’t blink an eyelid and brings out more sauce before the next dish arrives.

TheSportsmanKent-1989

Lamb from Monkshill Farm (2).

The second serving of lamb includes a plump piece of rump and a cube of braised lamb shoulder. The first is a touch chewier than expected, but tastes very good. The second is marvellously soft and richly flavoured by its high fat content. I love the crispy charred spring onions and fresh sweet carrot but yearn for a little more sauce.

TheSportsmanKent-1992

Wild bramble ice lolly.

Essence of blackberries, the lolly starts to melt quickly. It’s served with a “cake cream” made from Madeira cake, cream and milk and the contrast between that and the juicy ice lolly is almost shocking to the palate. Fabulous!

TheSportsmanKent-1998

Meringue ice cream, sea buckthorn and seawater.

When I’ve had sea buckthorn before, this citrussy fruit must have been sweetened quite a bit. Here it’s very sharp, too sharp for me, and my jaws clench against the astringency. Pete, on the other hand, finds it delicious.

TheSportsmanKent-1994

Jasmine tea junket with rosehip sauce and breakfast crunch.

This dish isn’t on the tasting menu, but having spotted it on the à la carte puddings board, I asked earlier whether we might add it on as an extra or if one of us could swap out the meringue and buckthorn dessert. I’ve heard of junket, you see, but don’t think I’ve tried it before and I’d like to. Phillip graciously makes it a swap so Pete and share one of each between us. I am glad to try this, especially as the other dessert is too sharp for me. I love the wobbly nature of the set milk junket – though I struggle to detect any jasmine – and I enjoy the fruity sauce and the slightly incongruous crunch of granola and toasted seeds on top.

TheSportsmanKent-2001 TheSportsmanKent-2003

Petit fours.

Already full to bursting, we only just manage these tiny custard and raspberry and chocolate tarts; crumbly pastry, gooey fillings. A lovely full stop to an epic meal.

All of this for just £65 per head (tasting menu) is astonishingly good value; a hard-to-get-my-head-around kind of good value, honestly speaking. The food, the setting, the service and the price all make it a no-brainer that this place is as well-loved as it is. Reservations are most definitely needed. The tasting menu must be booked 48 hours in advance.

We stayed overnight in a seafront hotel in nearby Whitstable and drove home through the most spectacular sheet lightning display I’ve ever seen. Bright enough to light up everything around us like day – if I’d been told it was a lightshow put on by The Sportsman, I might well have believed it. They are awfully talented!

Sportsman on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

 

Known as Delights & Decadence, these tea and coffee chocolate caramel cups are one of London chocolatier Demarquette’s new ranges.

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Marc cites his inspiration as “our nation’s symbolic and emotional attachment to the calming element and graceful event of ‘Afternoon Tea’” but doesn’t overlook the coffee-loving half of the population either. The set includes four tea flavours and two coffee ones and retails at £19.75 for a box of 12.

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Of the teas, my favourite is Darjeeling Tea, in which a clear black tea flavour blends beautifully with the smooth caramel and dark chocolate cup.

Jasmine Tea is more subtle, so it’s more about the delicious caramel and dark chocolate.

Chai is all about the spices and marries well with milk chocolate.

Earl Grey Tea, also in dark chocolate, is another one I particularly enjoy; the citrus notes of bergamot are very refreshing.

Bedouin Coffee is the coffee drinkers version of Chai, blending Arabian spices and strong coffee together.

But the coffee one I like more is the lovely Viennese Coffee, containing a delicious coffee and fig caramel inspired by the indulgent coffee shops treats of Vienna.

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These are beautiful chocolates and would make a lovely gift for any chocolate, tea and coffee lover.

 

Kavey Eats was sent samples of the new range from Demarquette Fine chocolates.

 

Good news for North Londoners! Camden Lock Market, once a great place to find funky clothes, second hand records, gothic fashion and a fantastically random selection of junk and treasure is now also becoming a great food and drink destination. Chin Chin Laboratorists, purveyors of very fine liquid nitrogen ice cream have been joined by a growing band of small, independent businesses serving an eclectic range of delicious treats.

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Pete and I made a happy stop to visit Mighty Fine’s sweet little sweet shop on Camden Lock Place, to try their newly launched hot chocolate menu.

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To a rich, dark hot chocolate, customers can add one (or more) of 10 flavoured syrups and 10 toppings. The potential combinations give Mighty Fine their sales pitch of “Hot Chocolate 100 Ways”, though I urge you not to overlook option 101 – trying the hot chocolate plain, which is very good indeed.

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As if the hot chocolate menu wasn’t enough, owners Kit Tomlinson and Ross Newton also make and sell delicious fudge, chocolate slabs, chocolate truffles and honeycomb, made fresh within the tiny shop. Time your visit well and you’ll be able to watch Ross at work in the open corner kitchen.

The pair met whilst working in the food television industry but made the move to set up their own food business instead. Ross comes from a family of chocolate makers, though previous generations have been involved in much larger scale operations, rather than this hands-on, quality-driven business.

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After watching Ross roll and dip his freshly made bacon chocolate truffles, we tried a few of his creations including the recently finished bacon balls (not pictured) followed by fresh mint, cherry tobacco, salted caramel and passion fruit truffles. All were much enjoyed, though I’d prefer a little more tobacco kick to the cherry tobacco – the fruit flavour comes through more than the baccy. The mint and the passion fruit were particularly wonderful, full of really fresh and vibrant flavours. And anyone who loves sweet and salty combos will appreciate the smoky salty hit of the bacon balls!

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Of course, they are popular with the constant stream of tourists, but they are also building up a loyal following of regulars who come back for regular hits of their chocolate, fudge and honeycomb treats.

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Mighty Fine Chocolate & Fudge Kitchen are open 7 days a week, from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm.

 

Kavey Eats sampled products at the invitation of Mighty Fine.

 

Guest post by Diana Chan.

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Fried rice is a joyful food! A one-dish meal of rice, colourful bits of meat and vegetables, it is basically cold rice quickly reheated in a frying pan, to which you add tasty ingredients to make a fast and enjoyable hot meal.

Fried rice is my favourite food for lunch at home on the weekends, or on weeknights when I am eating dinner by myself and have some cold rice in the fridge. It is the perfect food to eat alone – there is nothing in it that requires cutting so you can eat it with a spoon or fork, leaving one hand free to swipe a tablet or turn a page. While a salad or sandwich has similar virtues, there is something much more comforting for me in a hot meal, especially in the evenings.

One thing I like about making fried rice is the process of assembling contrasting textures, colour and flavour from whatever suitable that happens to be around. To make fried rice attractive, think confetti. Yang Chow Fried Rice, a classic Cantonese dish served in many Chinese restaurants, is a tri-colour affair made with red-tinted diced barbequed pork, yellow egg, and green peas or spring onions.

Fried rice in restaurants is often very greasy because a lot of oil is needed to stop rice from sticking to the iron woks. You don’t have this problem when you make fried rice at home. Making a delicious fried rice is quicker than boiling an egg, and requires not much more effort.

There are 3 easy steps: soften, cook and mix.

First step – soften the rice

  • Put a little oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add the quantity of leftover rice you would like to eat. Cold rice will be in clumps. Let the rice heat while you prepare anything else that will go in later. When you start to hear a sizzle and pop from the pan, after about a minute or so, sprinkle a teaspoon of water over the clumps; it will generate enough steam to soften the rice. Do not use more water as it can turn the rice soggy. After about another minute when the steam has done its work, press on the clumps with a spatula to break them apart.

Set 1, 1 Soften

Second step – cook what needs cooking

  • When all the lumps have been dealt with, make a clearing in the middle of the pan, add a few drops of oil and fry anything that needs cooking, such as an egg. Break and mix up the yolk and white, and sprinkle some salt all over the egg and rice. Use the spatula to break the cooked egg into rough pieces.

Set 1, 2 Make a Clearing Set 1, 3 Cook

Third step – mix in anything else

  • Lastly, add anything you are using that is already cooked or is fragile or heat sensitive. While the rice (below) was heating I opened up a tub of pulled ham hock to toss in, and then snipped some spring onions with kitchen scissors right into the pan. Mix everything together, taste and adjust seasoning. The rice is now done: an attractive, tasty, piping hot meal that takes no more than 10 minutes to cook from start to finish.

Set 1, 4 Mix Set 1, 5 Done!

I often make minimalist fried rice with just egg and some fresh herbs. I then over-season the egg to get a flavour contrast.

Fried rice can be made with many colourful and tasty ingredients, as long as they do not ooze moisture and make the rice soggy; I would not recommend raw meat or tomatoes for this reason. Things which disintegrate easily are not a good idea either, unless they just need warming up and can be stirred in last. The added items are preferably in small bits, so that there is some of everything in every mouthful. There are exceptions, of course – I will make an exception any time for chunks of lobster meat, for example.

You can add as many things to the fried rice as you want, but bear in mind that the more things you add, the longer it will take to prepare. Also, the more ingredients you add, the less quantity of each you should need – fried rice should be predominantly rice, in my opinion.

The sequence in which you add the ingredients within the basic three steps of soften, cook and mix depends on how much time an item needs to be cooked or warmed up. Depending on what you use, you may also want to switch or combine the first two steps of soften and cook. For example, you could sauté a chopped onion first, before you add the rice to the pan to soften.

The less effort required to make something delicious, the more enjoyment I get from eating it. That’s why, to me, fried rice is a fast feast.

When I like some cooked vegetables on the side, I cook them first in the pan before making the rice, to avoid having one more item to wash. Usually I will start by choosing something tasty, then something aromatic and, if needed, something else to add texture and colour to the fried rice.

Set 2, Crab

Crab, Ginger, egg white, chilli flakes

  • Sizzle the chopped ginger in a bit of oil before adding the rice; the oil will help carry the fragrance of the ginger throughout. Fry a leftover egg white if you happen to have one. While I would not encourage dumping any old leftovers into your fried rice, it is an opportunity to make good use of some odds and ends. Stir in a tub of white crab meat to heat through, and sprinkle over chilli flakes.

 Set 2, roast beef

Rare roast beef, garlic, leek

  • Sauté the garlic and sliced leek before adding the rice. While the leek is cooking, chop up some leftover rare roast beef. Stir the beef in at the end so it warms up but doesn’t really cook further, to preserve its colour. Scatter with some chilli flakes, or give it a few grinds of black pepper.

 Set 2, chorizo

Chorizo, fresh thyme, onion, egg

  • Sauté the onion before adding the rice. Meanwhile, cut the chorizo into small pieces. When the rice has been heated, mix in chorizo and thyme and stir until the juices from the chorizo gives the rice a lovely colour.

Set 2, ham

Pulled ham hock, onion, sugar snap peas

  • Sauté the onion before adding the rice. While the rice is heating, snip sugar snap peas straight into the pan with kitchen scissors (if you likewise prefer to avoid washing a chopping board). Let the rice cook a little longer than usual so the sugar snap peas have time to become crisp tender. You can sprinkle an extra teaspoon of water over the rice to create some more steam. Stir in ham last, just to warm up.

Set 3, palette Set 3, roast chicken

Roast chicken, roughly chopped ginger, fresh chilli, coriander, sultanas

  • Sometimes I like to assemble a palette of colours before starting to cook. Start with sautéing the ginger. Add the sultanas to the rice at the beginning so they benefit from the steam and get plump. The sultanas give a burst of sweetness somewhere in every bite, and makes this fried rice especially delicious.

Set 4, onion Set 4, egg
Set 4,peas Set 4, Done!

Shrimp, ginger, onion, egg, peas and soy sauce

  • If you like the taste of soy sauce, you can always add a teaspoon or two of it to the rice instead of water at the beginning of the process. This fried rice is comparatively complicated as it has many ingredients, including frozen ones straight from the freezer. Cook the ginger and onions first, then park frozen shrimp on the rice to defrost while the egg cooks, and finally add frozen peas to the mix and stir the mixture around until everything is piping hot. If you used only one teaspoon of soy sauce, you would probably still need to season the rice with some salt.

The next time you have some rice left over, freeze it in individual portions. When you want to make fried rice, blitz it in the microwave for a minute or so and you are ready to go.

 

Huge thanks to Diana for her wonderful post on making quick and delicious fried rice.

Do let us know your favourite combinations to add to fried rice and if you follow Diana’s instructions, let us know how you get on.

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