Interviews with restaurateurs, food writers, fellow bloggers, food and drink producers and others.

 

Cooksister is one of the longest standing food blogs around and has gone from strength to strength in the last decade. I’ve been reading for several years, so it’s with great pleasure that I interview Jeanne Horak-Druiff for this week’s Monday Meet The Blogger.

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Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hi – I’m Jeanne!  I am a South African who has been living in London for the past 14 years and loving it more with each passing year. My blog started as an outlet for my writing more than anything else, and has morphed into an outlet for my cooking, writing and photography.  Although I started as purely a food blog, I now see myself as 50/50 food and travel.  I try to post a recipe, a restaurant review and a travel piece per week – so expect food, photos and faraway places!

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

A koeksister is a plaited, deep-fried, syrup-soaked pastry that is hugely popular in South Africa.  I figured that I needed to anglicise the spelling a bit to make it non-threatening (!) but I knew that any South African looking down a list of Google search results seeing my blog name would definitely recognise a kindred spirit and click on it.

JeanneShortHairPortraitAug2010 KaveyKoeksisters

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who / what inspired you to cook?

The first thing I ever learnt to bake were scones – I was probably not ten years old yet and it became my party trick to back them after school at friends’ houses without a recipe. It was definitely my mom who taught and inspired me to cook – she was always a working mom, so she did not bake her own bread or make preserves.  But she loved to cook and taught me that there is no shame in customising an out-of-the-box or tin ingredient.  She said her greatest achievement as a cook was to cook dinner for the family year in and year out and not bore herself (and them) to death. I now get what she meant ;)

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

A combination of what’s in season, what’s being harvested on our allotment, and what dishes stuck in my mind from our travels.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Hah – there was that time when I we had dinner guests over and had been drinking rather a lot by the time I went to get the Schweinsbraten pork roast out of the oven and prepare the gravy, I clearly should not have been operating heavy machinery.  As I poured the gravy out of the roasting tin into a small saucepan, the heavy roasting tin slipped, tipped over the saucepan and sprayed hot, fatty, meaty liquid all over the countertop, the cupboards, the floor, the skirting boards… you name it. How I missed my feet, I do not know. After hubby mopped up a bit, I made Bisto gravy and served the roast.  Entertaining under the influence: don’t do it, kids!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Salt, cheese, garlic and olive oil.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I love everything about Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries – from the ethos of using leftovers to make stuff to eating seasonally, to the simple but beautiful photography.  I also love his recipes. Donna Hay’s books inspire me visually but I have yet to cook from one of them…

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

For the starter I’d keep is simple with these astonishingly good tomato, olive and basil bruschetta;  followed by chicken in a creamy mustard, rosemary and preserved lemon sauce; and to finish, a South African classic:  coconut tart (klappertert).

KaveyTomatoBruschetta KaveyMustardChicken KaveyCoconutTart

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without? (It doesn’t have to be electrical)

Excellent sharp knives, and my WMF boiled egg shell chopper (a sheer indulgence, I know!)

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

A piping bag and some nozzles.  A baker, I ain’t!

Palmiers SpicedPlumSemifreddo KaveySmokedSalmonPeapasta

Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?

I have a long-standing love affair with French cooking. But I have never yet been known to turn down an Italian meal!

Which single dish could you not live without?

An excellent Caesar salad topped with a grilled salmon fillet. Simple heaven.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

Rude staff, and too much noise (either from music or from fellow-diners)

Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)

Club Gascon (their set lunch is outstanding value for money); L’Atelier Joel Robuchon; Vinoteca Farringdon

What’s the strangest / funniest / best / worst (pick one or more) thing that’s happened to you in a restaurant?

I once took some visitors to the capital out to dinner and was obviously keen to make a good impression. We ordered sole and what arrived, at the premium price of sole, was quite obviously cheap plaice. We complained to the waiter who looked like a bunny in the headlights and fetched The Most Supercilious Manager in London.  His opening gambit was: “Is there a problem?  Because the fish you ordered is almost exactly like sole… [pregnant pause]  but it is in fact plaice”. When we objected to being served a substitute without being given the choice of ordering something else, he blamed the fact that sole was not “in season”.  When we then objected to paying the price of sole for cheap plaice, he disagreed that there was a price difference until we Googled both from a fishmonger and showed him the results. He then grudgingly agreed to comp us desserts. It was a total PR/service fail from any angle you care to look at it and I have never been back.

What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?

This is a non-topic as far as I am concerned, wheeled out by the press periodically when they need a bit of blogger-baiting to increase their engagement. It’s my food; I paid for it and I will photograph it if I like.  I am not using my flash and I am not taking pictures of other people. I am not expecting other people at my table to wait for me to do my thing – I only photograph my own food.  I cannot see how this is any more distressing to fellow-diners than somebody checking their text messages at the table.  And restaurants who panic about it need to remember that free publicity is a rare and beautiful thing.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that appeals to your readers / differentiates you from traditional journalists?

Bloggers are not constrained by available column inches like print journalists are, so I can give a blow-by-blow account of a meal, with accompanying pictures.  I have often said that I am not a restaurant critic – my intention is for you to feel as if you are there with me, experiencing everything I experienced. In my opinion, this gives people a good basis for deciding whether to spend their hard-earned cash on an expensive meal at a restaurant I have visited.  When I am booking restaurants in foreign cities, I often seek out blog reviews rather than critic reviews, because I want this sort of blow by blow account. And I figure if this is what I look for, then there may well be other people looking for the same kind of thing.

If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

The Swan at the Globe – both for the view and the consistently excellent, unpretentious food

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What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

The seafood trip I took to West Sweden.  I had never thought about Sweden as a food e destination and this trip totally changed my perspective. On the first afternoon we went on a mussel safari, which involved going out into the archipelago in a boat to look at the baby mussels on their ropes, and then mooring up beside a tiny island where we stopped off and hosts Adriaan and Lars made us some of the freshest, most delicious moules mariniere I have ever tasted.  We sat on the rocks eating mussels and sipping wine in the late afternoon sun.  Bliss.

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (Make it a top 3 if you prefer)

Canada, Japan, India.

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

The first overseas trip I took was with my parents when I was 14.  We flew to Nice from Johannesburg and rented a car; and then we drove around France for 3 weeks, Chevy Chase-style.  Nice to Bordeaux; Bordeaux to Brive; Brive to Rennes; Rennes to Mont St Michel; Mont St Michel to Paris; Paris to Chamonix; Chamonix to Monte Carlo; Monte Carlo to Portofino; and then back to Nice.  It gave me a passion for France (and for travel) that I cherish to this day.

Where are you going next?

Jersey, Paris and Australia!

What three things can you never travel without? 

My phone, my camera, my earplugs

What’s the best/ worst travel experience you’ve ever had?

Best travel experiences have been my stay at the utterly breath-taking  One&Only The Palm in Dubai; and my Business Class flights to Singapore. I have not had any utterly appalling travel experiences – other than the odd bit of delayed luggage.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Japan!  Because you could show me the ropes!

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

My style of writing has become less like a diary and more like a magazine –I now prefer to write something that might still be relevant in 5 years (e.g. a city guide) rather than breathlessly telling you where I’ve been.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

I never ever have enough time to do all the things I want to do. I always feel there is some aspect of my blog that I am neglecting…

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

It’s the satisfaction of creating something from nothing. A dish, a story and a photo, all combined together. It cheers me up even if I have had the worst of days.  And of course the fab friends and connections that I have made through blogging!

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Loving the deluge of sweet, home-grown summer tomatoes. There is also much barbecuing going on while the weather holds…

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Sautéed Brussels sprouts. Who knew?

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Oh there are loads.  But I will restrict myself to this one: gem squash with a cheesy, spicy creamed sweetcorn filling.

 

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Blog URL – http://www.cooksister.com
Facebook page –  https://www.facebook.com/Cooksister
Twitter handle – https://twitter.com/cooksisterblog
Pinterest profile – http://pinterest.com/cooksister/
Instagram handle – http://instagram.com/cooksister
Google+ profile – https://plus.google.com/+JeanneHorakDruiff

 

Neil often has me oohing with envy when he shares the details of his latest press trip. Even worse when he tweets photos of his borrowed Bentley by the Great Wall of China or the latest American road trip featuring lobster or real deal barbeque meat. In addition, Neil (and his wife Mrs Dine Hard) are our allotment neighbours, so it’s lovely to spend time with them there. Let’s be honest though, it’s Mr Kavey Eats and Mrs Dine Hard that do most of the hard work…

Lambshank

Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

My name is Neil Davey and I’m a freelance journalist. I blog as “The Lambshank Redemption” because originally I’d intended to cover both film and food. My break in journalism came through reviewing films, but it was the food side that I came to enjoy more, hence the original plan was to combine the two with a “night out” – a restaurant review and a film – and a “night in” – a recipe and a DVD review.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

When it came to the name, it was always likely to be a film and food pun. Funnily enough, The Lambshank Redemption was my second choice as I much preferred Dine Hard, but someone had already registered that and, annoyingly, never done anything with it. Still, I managed to snap that up for my Twitter handle instead, which is good because it’s much shorter and easier to remember than “LambshankRdmptn”. Bite Club was also kicked around for a while…

I started the blog at the suggestion of William Leigh. I was between editorial jobs and keen to boost my name as a food writer, and the blog seemed a good way to try and do that.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

It’s probably a combination of my mother and my grandmother. My mum, sister and I used to make a great date cake – a recipe I really must dig out soon – in school holidays and my grandmother was also a great baker: because of her I will never turn down a rock cake. The other things I always associate with her and my granddad – aside from fond memories of a sweet tin containing neat, uniform slices of Mars Bar – are pickled cucumber and onion, and bowls of stewed fruit. I think much of that sprang from WWII-inspired frugality. The first thing my granddad did when they moved closer to us in 1981 was to find the local greengrocer and persuade them to sell him all the battered and bruised stuff that other people didn’t want. He’d often return, proudly clutching a bag of grim looking fruit and vegetables that had cost him a few pence, and within minutes, they’d have transformed it into elegantly sliced simple pickles or a big bowl of stewed apple or plums or whatever, that would become breakfast or dessert for the next few days. More often than not, we still do the same, the only difference being much of our pickled / stewed / transformed produce is home grown.

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What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

The influences come from all over these days. In the course of the job, I’m very lucky to travel the world, usually to eat or hang out with chefs, and often pick up a technique or an ingredient (or a chilli sauce!) on these trips. I don’t think there’s a single particular influence, although until recently, I was very focused on BBQ for a piece I was compiling for delicious. magazine. In all cases though, I do err on the side of spicy…

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

The most recent one involved my first attempts at Syrian food, from a book I’m supposed to review called Almond Bar. The potato salad – with loads of lemon juice, paprika, tomatoes etc – was utterly delicious. Just as well really, as the falafel came out incredibly salty and the rosewater ice cream… For the falafel I’m pointing the finger at a typo: the recipe calls for a tablespoon of salt and, based on my second, actually edible attempt, I think that should read teaspoon. The rosewater ice cream though, I’ll throw my hands up and take a fair chunk of the blame. I’d never used rosewater before and didn’t realise quite how much the concentration varies between different manufacturers. I also just tipped the entire bottle in without tasting as I went… the result was a litre-and-a-bit of bright pink, insanely bitter custard that went straight down the plughole.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

At the moment, with the sunshine doing brilliant things in the polytunnel, it’s tomatoes. A good tomato sandwich – bread toasted on one side, lashings of mayo, loads of salt and black pepper – is one of the joys of life. I couldn’t live without chillies either, either whole, dried or in sauce form. And mashed potato… as a kid, it was about the only thing I ate and it’s still my favourite, comforting form of spud.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

If I ever think my mojo has gone missing, I tend to re-read Anthony Bourdain. I’m loathe to use the word “passion” when it comes to food – I hear Giles’s voice asking if I’d be willing to be nailed to a cross for it – but in this case I think you have to as Bourdain’s enthusiasm is palpable. I also re-read Jeffrey Steingarten on a regular basis, as I adore his commitment to the tasks at hand and his essay on salt should be essential reading for everyone with an overbearing health freak in their life. Recipe wise, I’d be lost without Madhur Jaffrey and Delia for many basics but meander through the rest of the collection on a regular basis, sometimes for an exact recipe, but more frequently for a little inspiration. I also still have vague plans to do the Julie & Julia thing and spend a year going through Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book or Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

These days when we entertain it’s all about the advance prep. Back in the day, I’d happily do all sorts of elaborate stuff but that meant never seeing guests and spending every hour in the kitchen. These days I quite often sous vide meat hours in advance, so that can be finished off in a pan or in the oven: I’ve had particular success with steaks marinaded in a ssam jang sauce recipe I got from Judy Joo. So you’d probably get something really straightforward – soup, bangers and mash, apple crumble and custard – or a big Korean feast, with lots of meat, lettuce wraps and fermented side dishes. In all cases though, as a former Neal’s Yard Dairy employee, there’s going to be a killer cheeseboard. That’s a given.

Lurpak Cinnamon Simple Pleasures

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I LOVE my Global knives. I think you can do without much kitchen equipment, but a good knife is an absolute essential. That and a really good pan. The Le Creuset sauté pan I got sent recently is a cracker. The non-stick is excellent, so it washes up like a dream, and because it’s a sauté pan, the sides are that bit higher so I often pull that out instead of a saucepan.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

Good question… I know I don’t use the Kenwood Cooking Chef as much as it deserves, although the grinder element of it does get a daily work out around coffee time. There’s an air fryer I got sent ages ago which hasn’t been plugged in for over a year now, so that’s probably the one.

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Rodells Lloyd Lambshank Lobster Benedict

Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?

Not at all. I like all sorts of cuisines.

Which single dish could you not live without?

I’m not sure there is one although if I hit a proper old school pub anywhere and they’ve got ham, egg and chips on the menu, well, that’s my decision sorted.

How do you decide where to visit next?

A lot of what I do has a work element, so often the requirements of a commission dictate where I go. Otherwise, PR information, word of mouth, friend’s recommendations… all play a part.

What current / upcoming trends in the restaurant scene do you find the most exciting?

Ah the trend question. I’ve got a new writing gig where I’m supposed to look at upcoming trends and I’m really struggling with it. My mind doesn’t really work like that. I do think that Korean food will spread across the UK in the next couple of years though and that makes me happy.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

“Can I explain our menu to you?”

As a restaurateur mate always replies: “Is it a list of food that I order and you bring? In that case no, I’ve done this before…”

Or, possibly worse, “chef will send out the food when it’s ready, not in any particular order.”

As the same restaurateur says, “is chef paying for my meal? No? In that case chef can send food out when I want it not when it’s convenient to chef…”

Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)

I often get asked for recommendations. At the moment, thanks to the travel writing, I’m actually eating out more abroad and outside of London, so I’m way behind on new openings in my home town. Accordingly my current Top Three is going to be a deeply pretentious list of places all around the world while my London Top Three is probably out of date. Accordingly I tend to stick to a couple of stalwart places and a wild card if anyone asks. Depending on who’s asking, you can perm any three from…

Goodman – Great steak, great cooking, great front of house, great atmosphere. Same applies to Burger & Lobster. You know what you’re going to get and, in these instances, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The Heron has to be in there too. It’s so brilliantly unlikely and it’s certainly not for everybody but it’s probably the best place in London for a chilli-based endorphin rush. Besides, I was always a fan of the late lamented Dive Bar so basement rooms in slightly grungy pubs are always going to score highly.

I’ve also got to say The Coach & Horses, of course. It’s absolutely my favourite pub in London – it’s a proper old school boozer, and so am I – and Leigh Norton can fry better than just about anyone I’ve ever met. If that sounds like I’m damning him with faint praise, it’s not meant to. He can also really cook. When the restaurant opens “properly” later this year, and he can have a run of his more creative stuff… oh boy. Can’t wait. Earlier this year he was serving a risotto of caramelised sweetbreads with sherry vinegar that’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in London in the last two, three years. They have a pretty good food and drink quiz there too, I’m told…

Of recent(ish) openings, I was very impressed with Lyle’s – a great small plate menu – and The Typing Room, and recently had a fantastic supper at Mazi in Notting Hill.

What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?

I always take photos but: a) do it discretely; and b) just take photos of what I’ve ordered, rather than stop everybody else from eating… unless they’re taking photos too, in which case I might. I really cannot see what harm that does. If I was setting up a tripod and asking the restaurant to change the lighting levels or insisting the waiter pour the sauce from the other side or something, then yeah, I can see it’s annoying. But quick snap or two, no flash, on my phone or camera?

Lambshank SDW Dog Lambshank clams
Lambshank - Bens Chilli Bowl Food Lambshank - Bens outside

What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Probably Maine. MSN sent me out in July 2012 to live blog from the Maine Lobster Festival and to compile a top ten of great things to eat on the East Coast. With the help of the brilliant TV Food Maps – a website that has plotted pretty much every place ever featured on a Food Network programme by state and city – I had a couple of days walking and eating around Brooklyn, a day through Connecticut stopping at some superb diners, a night in Rhode Island, then up to Maine to consume my bodyweight in lobster rolls before looping back for a couple of days in Boston. The food was terrific, the people lovely and the scenery in Maine is like driving through a Richard Gere film. My favourite moment was when I stopped at Miller’s, a lobster shack on the water in a place called Spruce Point. It’s not in any of the books, but was recommended to me by Michael Salmon, the chef at The Hartstone Inn and it’s this beautiful, idyllic spot and the lobster roll was absolutely first class., plus as you eat , you’re looking over the waters the lobster was fished from, and there are fishermen hoisting more pots up and bringing fresh lobsters in to the restaurant’s tanks… I asked the waitress how long ago the lobster in my roll would have been in the water. She blushed, apologised profusely and said, well, you’re here slightly out of season so it might have been, like, four hours?

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (You can make it a top 3 if you prefer)

I know I need to spend a LOT more time in Italy, so that’s a constant on the list. Chicago has been a target for a while – fingers crossed I’m there in September – and probably Australia. With luck I’ll be in Melbourne for the food festival next year.

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

As a kid, probably a family trip to Devon. In those days I didn’t eat a whole lot but that was the trip when I first discovered seriously good cheddar. There was also a café that did this incredible orange ice cream.

Where are you going next?

Depending on when you publish this, I’m going salmon fishing in Alaska on Sunday! After that I’m heading to South Carolina for a food festival, plus a few days exploring BBQ shacks around Charleston. And then, if all goes to plan, I’m in Chicago for a three days…

After that, I’m actually hoping for a holiday, probably Portugal.

What three things can you never travel without?

These days it’s all about the chargers and leads. A couple of years ago I found this brilliant adapter plug with a couple of USB sockets that goes everywhere with me. I left it in San Francisco a couple of years ago, bought a replacement that wasn’t as good… and so paid for the hotel to post it back to me in London. I always carry a complete change of clothes and washbag basics in my hand luggage, just in case my suitcase doesn’t make it through. And I have a portable battery pack that holds about 60 hours of charge, that’s come in very handy a few times.

What’s the best/ worst travel experience you’ve ever had?

Best… probably a trip to this incredible ranch in Montana. That or getting upgraded.

The worst… same trip to Montana. Everything that could have gone wrong with the flights went wrong, we ended up having to sleep in Denver airport overnight and United Airlines were worse than useless. I’ve subsequently turned down trips because it’s meant flying United. A bit first world problem I know but they’re an utter chocolate teapot of an airline.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Now there’s a question. I’ve still not been to India so going with someone who’s very familiar with the food could be great fun. Or Korea, seeing we’re both obsessed with Yijo restaurant in Finchley?

Hickory Pit Nashville Sauce Hickory Pit Devilled Eggs

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Less love, more necessity but it’s that time of year to get creative with courgettes. I’ve become a whizz at frittatas as a result…

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Funnily enough, with all the international travel and stuff featured, I’ve just checked and it’s this post. On Hitchin, in Hertfordshire.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Nice idea… but traffic wasn’t the reason I started the blog so I rarely look at the traffic figures. I just throw ‘em out there and if they stick, they stick, if they don’t, well, I’m not going to change my style or try and focus on popular subjects. It’s all just a bit of fun, really.

 

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Blog URL: http://thelambshankredemption.blogspot.co.uk
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/DineHard
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/DineHard

 

A blogger after my own heart is fellow Londoner Leyla Kazim, who is as enthusiastic about eating out in London and as excitable about travelling and eating around the world as I am myself. Find out more about Leyla in today’s Meet The Blogger.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello! I’m Leyla and I’m a twenty-something lover of all things gustatory living in South West London. I started my blog in October 2012 – it’s intended to be a personal anthology charting the places I visit, the cultures I experience, the food I eat, and the impressions they make upon me.

My mum is Mauritian and my dad is Turkish-Cypriot – to say I was brought up surrounded by some pretty exceptional cooking is an understatement, and I have little doubt it’s because of my parents that food is such a huge part of my life today.

I studied Astrophysics at university and worked in a software company for several years – neither of which automatically marry themselves with the love of food. But I got to that age where I came to realise what I actually enjoyed doing with my time and what meant the most to me. So my work now is writing about food or photographing it. And when I’m not working, I’m eating.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what what inspired you to cook?

Despite my mum being a pretty great cook, she was always very territorial in the kitchen. No one was really allowed to get involved or in her way, so I first learnt to cook rather late in life when I moved out of home to go to university and had to feed myself. It was the first time I had free range in a kitchen, and I was in my element. I started out not even being able to make an omelette, but quickly learnt a lot and soon found myself cooking whenever I wasn’t busy getting drunk.

A lot of my family on my dad’s side have been in catering most of their working lives. My parents themselves own a café / restaurant and I started working in it at the age of 12 on Saturdays. I did everything front of house and my dad was in the kitchen. Nowadays, I’m mostly found on the other side of things as a guest in restaurants. But I suppose you could say I’ve been in that sort of environment, one way or another, for most of my life.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I made a sorbet once, with egg whites. It tasted of frozen egg white. God, it was awful.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Lemons. The juice of them may as well run through my veins. That’s the part-Turk in me.

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Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?

I’m attracted to food of the Levant like a homing missile. For me to delay a visit to a newly opened Middle Eastern restaurant for much longer than it takes to glance over the online menu, is nothing short of sacrilege. I guess it’s ‘in my blood’, as they say.

My two other favourite cuisines are Japanese and Spanish. Gah..

Which single dish could you not live without?

Bread. I can give up anything else you throw at me (with some protest). But I could not give up good bread. Did you know bread is considered sacred in Turkey and if people find a piece on the floor, they will pick it up and put it on a wall or something out of respect. You can have that little nugget for free.

How do you decide where to visit next?

Through much torture and deliberation. There are so many restaurants to visit in London alone and not enough time / money / metabolism / willing dining partners to even begin to make a dent. And I’m in restaurants more than the average Jo. Nowadays, I just slam my finger down on a map with my eyes closed and see what’s good in that area. That, or take recommendations.

What current / upcoming trends in the restaurant scene do you find the most exciting?

Middle Eastern food has had some sort of second coming of late, what with Sabrina Ghayour’s fabulous cook book Persiana, new London openings such as The Palomar and Arabica Bar & Kitchen, and Alan Yau is opening a lahmacun place on Shaftsbury Avenue soon. See you there.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

Bad table manners. Oh my, I cannot abide it. I can’t stand people chewing with their mouth open, loud chewing, talking with your mouth full, licking of fingers, wiping of fingers on jeans. And so on.

Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)

I had lunch at Lyle’s last week and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was. I’m 100% returning for their evening menu.

One of my favourite restaurants to date is Café Murano for exquisite Italian.

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What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in a restaurant?

I was on a date once in a very posh restaurant and managed to set the menu on fire. It was a good ice breaker.

What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?

As long as you’re not setting up a tripod and reflector box between tables, then I really can’t see a problem. Photos are ultimately taken to share with others through some sort of online channel, so it’s all free press for the restaurant. Thankfully, most seem to be entirely fine with it. I’m yet to be asked not to take photos, but then I haven’t eaten in Paris for a while..

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that appeals to your readers / differentiates you from traditional journalists?

I think people read national press reviews to enjoy the read, not necessarily to then pick up the phone and book a table at that restaurant. With bloggers however, I feel people are more likely to actually visit the places we have said are good. It’s the voice of the people – while there is more than enough room for both journalists and bloggers (and I do swing between the two), there’s no denying that bloggers have a very big influence.

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What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

The blog has only been running for two years, and there were a lot of places I visited prior to it that I haven’t written about. One highlight was Naples and the pizza that left me and my partner starting at each other wide-eyed after the first bite, with expressions of ‘Errr.. are you getting what I’m getting? Holy sh*t this is one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.’

In more recent times, Japan. All of Japan. All three glorious weeks travelling around and eating my way through Japan. The fish is so iridescent and so luminescent that it doesn’t look like it can possibly be real. It’s all a bit incredible there, really.

Where are you going next?

Do I have an answer for this.

From December, I’ll be embarking on a nine month travelling expedition. I’m basically hitting all the countries that I’ve been desperate to eat in for as long as I can remember. There’s been some hard saving that’s gone into this, and I can’t quite believe it’s finally within grasping distance. The countries include: India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico.

As long as I don’t get hit by a bus in the meantime.

What three things can you never travel without?

Sun cream – I have no desire to age prematurely. Some sort of GPS device for every moment of every day when I am lost – I have a terrible sense of direction. A notebook – if I don’t write it down, it didn’t happen (I also have a terrible memory). And a fourth one is my SLR.

What’s the best travel experience you’ve ever had?

We stayed overnight in a Berber tent on the fringes of the Sahara once. I woke up to find the nomads climbing some mighty sand dunes under a bruised sky just before the sun was due to come up. They were climbing to watch the sun rise over the desert – we joined them. It was incredible.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

I think it would have to be Japan Kavey, right?

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Blog Class (Entire section is optional)

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

If my writing hasn’t improved over these two years, then I quit. I started pretty terribly, so there was really only one way to go.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Procrastination is a pain in the arse. But it’s a bit like exercise – once you start, you remember you quite enjoy it. Oh, just me then..

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

It’s the journal of my life, really. I get a lot of pleasure looking back on what I’ve done, places I’ve been, and I’m a person that loves to record things. I plan to post something weekly while I’m travelling – it will be an invaluable chronicle of what will be a once in a lifetime adventure.

Plus, people seem to like it – that’s always nice to hear.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I’m desperately searching for some fresh hazelnuts but can’t find them anywhere – ahhh. Also, my plum tree in the garden is in its first year of fruiting. I picked four ripe ones yesterday. They were small, but goddamn they were the sweetest most exquisite plums I’ve ever eaten.

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Something about ribs – one of Gordon Ramsay’s recipes that I decided to cook and blog one day. I know nothing about SEO but something I did on that post has seen its hits rocket off towards the edges of the universe. I think that’s a strange anomaly and so I mostly ignore it. So the second most read blog is my 10 Things to Eat in Istanbul post – a lot of research, time and love went into it, so it’s really nice to see it appreciated.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Hows about a big up for my cousin’s gaff in Stamford, The Mad Turk. He’s doing the Turkish-Cypriot cuisine proud with the food coming from his kitchen. Great restaurant, wonderful food, and he’s a lot of fun.

 

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Twitter handle https://twitter.com/LeyLaLaa
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If you ever attend a blogger event and spot a whirlwind of energy and smiles, a warm and exuberant character with a truly deep love for Indian food, you can be sure that you’ve found Zoe, aka The Spice Scribe. More recently, she also launched a second blog to share her love of chocolate.

Find out more in my third Meet The Blogger interview…

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

I’m Zoe Perrett, or, as most folks know me online, The Spice Scribe. I write about Indian food and the wider culture surrounding it. What perplexes people is that I’m a white, Essex-by-way-of-East-London girl – and my only tie to the country whose cuisine I so love is its food! I also blog about chocolate just for fun – but Indian food is my ‘true culinary calling’.

On Culinary Adventures of the Spice Scribe I share information on regional food, the UK Indian food scene in terms of restaurants, street food and supperclubs (the latter two both big loves of mine), food books, ingredients, produce guides, interesting characters, festivals… basically and broadly, anything related to Indian food that captures my heart and imagination which I think might resonate with readers.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

Hours of endless mulling… and a well-documented love for alliteration. The name of its ‘chocolate offshoot’, ‘Culinary Adventures of The Cocoa Nut’ clearly identifies it as a sibling, and, happily, manages to get in a pun to boot!

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Why did you choose to blog about Indian food and culture?

I don’t know if I chose Indian food. Maybe it chose me. Perhaps it was simply ‘Korma, Kheer and Kismet’, as the title of a new Indian food book I can’t wait to read puts it, that drew me in! Indian food just got under my skin. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and for some reason, I feel deeply connected to it. Sometimes just a whiff of a particular ingredient or dish will provoke a deep and unexplainable emotional response in me.

Does blogging about Indian food and culture present any particular challenges?

There’s too much to ever hope to cover if I were to learn – and type – 24/7! Even Cyrus Todiwala, one of the foremost authorities on Indian cuisine, concedes that if one were to devote many lifetimes to understanding India’s endlessly complex and varied kitchens, they would barely be able to scratch the surface.

Then there’s fact I don’t have a natural tie to the cuisine, which I find both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, it means some are quick to dismiss you as someone who knows nothing on the topic; on the other, it drives me to learn more and better in order to disprove that notion – something that only serves to benefit my own development in the long run!

Thus far, the many who champion what I do far outnumber the few who criticise – fingers crossed that remains the case…

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With Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Despite the ‘Indian thing’, my strongest memories are of cooking with my paternal grandmother – Nanny Win. More and more I’ve realised that this could be why Indian food ignites the feelings that it does within me.

She may not have used spices or Indian recipes, but when I eat things like keema and the soft, slightly sweet bread rolls called pav; the Indian rice pudding ‘kheer’, or milk-based sweetmeats, it takes me straight back to Sundays spent eating her savoury mince and nutmeg-topped milk puddings made rich with tinned ‘Tip Top’ cream.

I recently wrote a ‘food memory’ piece for my Parsi friend the Bawi Bride – it was all about Nanny Win’s cooking – and how, strangely, it actually had many parallels with ‘Parsi bhonu’.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

My go-to flavours are generally Bengali or Keralite. For the former, I’ll use mustard oil, dried red chillies, white poppy seeds, the mustard-mango relish called ‘kasundi’, slit green chillies and panch phoron – a mixture of 5 whole spices that speaks to me louder than any Indian masala… except, perhaps, for South Indian sambhar powder.

For the latter, coconut oil and grated coconut meat are ever-present in my kitchen – I’ll make simple vegetable stir-fries – ‘thorans’ – tempered with the oil in which I’ve fried mustard and cumin seeds, dried lentils (interestingly almost used as a ‘spice’ in this manner down South), curry leaves, chillies, and turmeric, and finish them with coconut.

I’m also currently obsessed with ‘pittu’ – a mixture of lightly-fermented rice flour that’s rolled to resemble irregular grains of cous cous, layered with fresh-grated coconut, and steamed in log-shaped moulds. You eat it with coconut gravy, sambhar or relishes. Traditionally it’s a breakfast item but I could live off it!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Mustard oil, ghee, kasundi, curry leaves… there’s more on my own essentials here.

My cupboards are ridiculous, with spices shoehorned into any and every kind of container; multiple masalas; many types of dal, rice, and flour; condiments and esoteric speciality items. I also can’t resist a bargain – so there’s evidence of bulk buying. I might not be Indian, but I think my kitchen might fool you!

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational?

Food writers – Chitrita Banerji. Culinary anthropologist Ammini Ramachandran. Pamela Timms, another ‘outsider’ drawn into India by its edible allures. Chefs – Cyrus Todiwala AND his wife Pervin – who many forget is a great chef in her own right. The family has done great things for ALL kinds of Indian food, but particularly with promoting Parsi and Goan fare.

Palash Mitra (Scarfes Bar), Gautham Iyer (Iyers Cafe), and Ashish Bhatia (Turban Street Cafe) are all doing interesting things and share my obsession with understanding all they can about the history, tradition and cultural issues around Indian food – as do the boys at Brighton’s Curry Leaf Cafe.

I also think streetfood and supperclub chefs deserve to be held in just as much esteem. Jhalmuri Express’s Angus Denoon never stops yearning to learn more from the Kolkata street food-wallas from whom he learned his craft. And working at the Damn Good Curry supperclub, Nilanjani Pai’s devotion to perfecting the last detail of each and every dish so that it’s absolutely as authentic as she can get it never fails to astound me.

Are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I have about 200 Indian cookbooks and foodie memoirs. They’re all pretty special – but some favourites include Chitrita Banerji’s ‘Bengali Cooking – Seasons and Festivals’; Rinky Bhattacharya’s ‘The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles’; ‘The Calcutta Cookbook’, given to me by my great mate Angus Denoon, owner of The Everybody Love Love Jhal Muri Express street food business; and a load of funny little finds I wouldn’t part with for love nor money. Many are on Indian regional cuisines; priced in rupees and written by Indian housewives. My Ceylonese cookbook from the 1950s is also a treasured gem.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

I wouldn’t – I’d take you to Nel’s (Nilanjani’s), safe in the knowledge that her version would knock anything I tried to make into a cocked hat! But if I had to, probably poha – a tossed-up mix of flattened rice, spice, and all things nice, followed by Bengali bhapa ilish (river fish steamed with chilli-ed mustard paste), white rice, and a nice ‘dry’ (gravy-less) dish of spinach with a pinch of panch phoron. Dessert would be mishti doi – an amazing Bengali sweet yogurt set in clay pots which absorb the moisture. It develops a crust like clotted cream and is no less lovely.

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I’m really low-tech in the kitchen, but an electric spice grinder (mine’s James Martin brand; I’m not proud!) is a godsend for making masalas. Ideally I want to get my hands on a wet-and-dry grinder soon, too. Other than that it’s a dabba (spice tin) filled with little katoris (dishes) containing my most commonly-used spices and kept close to the cooker. And, of course, a pressure cooker. Once you learn to cook by number of ‘whistles’ rather than ‘minutes’, you’ve cracked it, and dal is near-instant.

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Filming a recipe for charity campaign, Curry For Change

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Cooking: Picking my way through interesting regional recipes in Pushpeth Pant’s ‘India’. I find preparing a certain ingredient, like pumpkin, in a number of different ways ultimately instils a great instinct for recognising the provenance of a dish.

Eating: As I also blog about chocolate as The Cocoa Nut, I often have some lovely things to try lying around at home – at the moment I’m trying to eke out a box of Marc Demarquette’s ‘African Queen’ chocolates, newly awarded 3 stars at the Great Taste Awards – and I can tell why!

Otherwise, it’s Sri Lankan short eats (savoury snack items) I pick up from the hot cabinet at a local corner shop, or fish vindaye, octopus cari, and £1 fresh-rolled dal puris from the Mauritian guys at a chicken shop in Walthamstow.

Doing: As always, introducing people to new Indian ingredients, regional cuisines, foodie folks, cookbooks and places that make their eyes light up. There’s nothing more satisfying than someone falling in love with something you’ve been able to show them.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

My Own Mahabharata – an Indian Vegetable Epic’. This is a guide to – and ambitious attempt to demystify – the endlessly fascinating world of the weird and wonderful vegetables (and a few fruits) that you see in Indian stores.

It’s by no means definitive – I still see many, many items that leave me scratching my head today, and people from different regions will use the same name to describe a different beast from their neighbours, or use a totally different name for a common vegetable.

But I do think it’s a useful primer, and I tried to make it as accessible as possible to people from all over so that they’re game to actually buy and try a few of whatever catches their eye in an Indian supermarket!

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Probably ‘The Indian food places at which Indian foodies scoff’ where I asked many of my foodiest friends to share their top tips for eating Indian (and Pakistani) food in London.

Lots of lesser-known regional, neighbourhood-y places are mentioned; all endorsed by people that I know know about good food! If you want to know where chefs like Cyrus Todiwala and Vivek Singh eat with their families on their days off, you need to read this post.

 

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Blog URL: Indian food: http://culinaryadventuresofthespicescribe.wordpress.com/ and Chocolate: http://culinaryadventuresofthecocoanut.wordpress.com/
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Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/TheSpiceScribe and https://twitter.com/The_Cocoa_Nut
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/zoeperrett

 

For the second of my new Monday Meet The Blogger series, I talk to Miss South, one half of the sibling duo behind North South Food.

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Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

I’m Miss South, one half of North/South Food. (Mister North is the other half and he’s my big brother). We set the blog up in 2010 to allow us to talk to each other about our love of food and how it was different in our two parts of the world. He’s in the North (West Yorkshire) and I’m in south London (Brixton) and we thought it would be interesting to see how who two people who grew up together cook in our different worlds now.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

We tried to think of all kinds of clever puns and then realised that simple was best. Plus it abbreviates nicely…

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who / what inspired you to cook?

My parents cooked and my granny was a traditional Irish farmer’s wife who baked brilliantly. I grew up around food and was encouraged to be interested in it, so promptly rebelled and at the age of 19 could barely make toast. I lived on dry cereal and instant noodles. I developed gallbladder issues (genuinely not connected to my terrible diet!) and became very ill. From my sickbed on the sofa, I was forced to watch Ainsley Harriott turning his way through Ready Steady Cook and realised I could either let him annoy me or get up and learn something. So oddly enough, I owe it all to Ainsley Harriott. Not sure many bloggers can say that.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I’m actually getting MORE obsessed by my slow cooker. I thought I’d have reached peak slow cooker when I finished my book Slow Cooked in March, but no. I’m constantly adapting recipes and trying to create fresh deep flavours in there. I’ve also been combining this with loads of lovely salads in the recent hot weather.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I will let you into a little secret. I have kitchen disasters quite often. I think the worst recent one was when I misread a slow cooker recipe and added 4 teaspoons of baking powder to a pudding. I ended up with 3 and a half LITRES of rubbery salty steamed pudding that tasted metallic and soggy. I was cooking for someone I’d never met before and while their mouth said ‘it’s not that bad’, their eyes said ‘they asked you to write a cookbook’? I then re-made the recipe and it was fantastic. Unfortunately only I ate it though.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

I am an umami obsessive. I can’t do without savoury things like parmesan, anchovies, miso and tomatoes. I also worship at the shrine of butter. Margarine is like a swear word to me. And you will pry my potatoes from my cold dead hands.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I have always been Team Nigella. I went straight from Ready Steady Cook to her columns in Vogue in the 90s. The first few ‘proper’ recipes I cooked were from those. I bought myself How To Eat and it was my first ever cookbook and still the one I use the most. I had a collection of recipes from early in my cooking career clipped from magazines, family members etc. and it got lost in a house move 10 years ago. I still miss it and now clip obsessively into Evernote instead.

Most of my food influences are women. I don’t know if that’s coincidence. I adore Lindsay Bareham and cooked so much stuff from her Evening Standard columns when I first moved to London in the early 2000s. My family swears by Marcella Hazan. I would trust Claudia Roden with my life. I’m loving Sally Butcher’s books and I’m obsessed by Diana Henry and Bee Wilson’s writing at the moment (books from both are by my bed currently.) I particularly enjoy reading cookbooks at night. Gives me interesting dreams.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Honestly I have no idea. But I would never have cooked it before. I have a slightly stressful habit of cooking new and complicated dishes for people who come round for dinner, usually something I have no idea how to cook and basically winging it. I’m surprised people come back. If I was sensible, I’d just roast a chicken…

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If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

It would probably have to be in Brixton Village if I were in author/tourist guide mode after writing Recipes from Brixton Village. I particularly like Okan for okonomiyaki or El Rancho De Lalo for hearty Colombian.

However if I was relaxing and money was no object, it would be the Hawksmoor or somewhere serving mountains of seafood.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

In fantasy land I’d either like to go to Japan (and you’d make a great tour guide) or the Deep South. In reality, I suffer from agoraphobia and the thought of travelling really doesn’t do it for me. This is why London suits me so well. One can feel like you’ve gone places without having to travel.

Maybe I’d take you to my home city of Belfast though and feed you an Ulster Fry. You could travel the world off one of those.

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

Sometimes I find it hard to believe how much my style has changed since I started blogging. It’s much tighter and more concise. I find it much easier to sit down and write than when I first started. I blog for different publications now and practise makes it much easier. I also started out blogging my attempts to learn to cook and early posts featured me being hesitant, making mistakes and not blogging my own recipes. My confidence and skills in the kitchen has increased so much I find it hard to believe I’m the same person!

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Definitely the photography. I just don’t find it very interesting and I’m also not very good at it. I can spend longer trying to get a decent photo of certain things than cooking them. Mister North however is a supremely talented photographer (he shot the images for Slow Cooked in fact) and if I could, I’d get him to take them all.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

Quite simply I really really enjoy it. I love to write and the blog allows me to do that. I also enjoy the structure it gives my week. Having something to come up gives me focus and interest. I’ve found since going to once a week posting on a Sunday, the routine works well and I don’t have to think about it as mud, it just falls into place.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

As I said earlier, as long as I have my slow cooker, I’m a happy bunny. I’m playing around with cooking offal and off cuts in it especially at the moment. I’m also enjoying baking. It must be the GBBO effect. I’m determined to finally master pastry. I loved writing both Recipes from Brixton Village and Slow Cooked but having done well over 350 recipes between the two books, I am enjoying being able to cook in a leisurely fashion right now!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

The two most popular blog posts are the ones where I talked about my experiences of living on benefits and the issues around food poverty from the perspective of someone who understands why it isn’t as simple as buying 10kg bags of rice and lentils. Food for Thought won me a Young British Foodies Award last year and A Letter to Jamie Oliver went properly viral last summer, leading to the blog being featured on the Food Programme on Radio 4.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I think I’ll let the readers just dip in and out as they fancy it. I’d feel weird picking a post of my own, but Mister North’s experiences of making black pudding with fresh blood is worth a read…

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What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?

Not probably a question you’d have asked, but I think it makes sense to explain. We blog under pseudonyms because it was easier to start with and now it’s become my persona so I keep it separate to my day to day ‘me’. That’s why there’s no ‘real name’ or photo.

 

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Twitter handle @northsouthfood
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I’m an avid blog reader. That may seem an obvious thing to say as a blogger myself but I know many bloggers who rarely read more than a handful of other blogs, and few outside their circle of friendship. I regularly read a few hundred blogs – easy to do with an RSS reader – and I also read individual posts from several hundred more, most of which I stumble across via various social media platforms. There are so many really great blogs out there; an astounding number actually. I’d really like to share some of my old and new favourites with you.

Today, I’m starting a new series in which I approach bloggers I admire and ask them to tell us a little more about themselves and their site.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello! I’m Gary and I’ve been writing Big Spud since 2007. I keep it as a record of things I’ve cooked and enjoyed, but continually amazed that other people want to read it. I have a focus on potato recipes, but genuinely interested in all foods and cuisines. I use Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal as inspiration for a lot of my cooking, and it ranges from the everyday to the flashy.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

I had the nickname Spud as a boy, and when my son came along he inherited it. I can’t be Spud any more so I’m now the Big Spud! I’ve been using the name online for years.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking and who inspired you to cook?

I always hung around the kitchen on a Sunday helping Mum with the roast. But it wasn’t until I left home and had to fend for myself that I really picked up the wooden spoon.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I love all cuisines and especially Italian-influenced food. But another food blogger MiMi of meemalee.com has just released a book all about Asian noodle dishes and I’m cooking a lot of those lately!

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I had an annual tradition of making cheese straws on Christmas Eve growing up. I preheated the oven and carried on making my pastry. 20 minutes or so later, once I’d rolled and cut out my straw shapes, I opened the oven to find the Christmas Day turkey sat there in its carrier bag where Mum had left it to defrost. The plastic had emblazoned the bird with the Tesco logo! Still tasted OK the next day though.

It was less funny when I did exactly the same thing the next year…

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Salt and pepper may be an obvious choice but I must have Maldon salt. The flavour is irreplaceable.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I adore the gung-ho can-do spirit of Jamie Oliver. Everything he makes looks achievable, delicious and fun – and it usually is. Whatever you think of the person, his cooking is excellent. At the other end of the scale Heston Blumenthal strives to make every meal the most exceptional it can be. By focusing on each detail you end up with a dinner very much the sum of his parts. His recipes are rarely simple, but the results are always worth it.

I try to capture a little of both personalities in all the cooking I do.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

I would have to make you a roast chicken with roast potatoes and other trimmings. It’s a bit of a signature.

 

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

A couple of my best Heston Tojiro knives. Easily my best friends in the kitchen.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

I try to be fairly ruthless, but I have some beautiful Chinese porcelain spoons that I mean to use every week but I’ve probably used three times in about ten years.

 

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

My photography is awful. I want to snap and eat straight away, I don’t have time to prep a stage for the photo. A decent camera + lenses would help. But that’s another expense I don’t need!

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

Seeing how people react. I only ever set out to write this blog for myself, but I love getting Tweets, Facebook comments or blog comments discussing the latest post.

I only write when I have something to say. And because I’m cooking every day, more often than not something comes up.

 

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Stir fry noodle dishes are a staple right now – with MiMi’s book for inspiration we’re tearing through them in our household. So much variety!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

It’s a no-brainer: perfect roast potatoes. It was the culmination of a loooot of research and it’s also a popular question: how do you make perfect roast potatoes? When Christmas Eve rolls around this post goes nuclear.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Heston’s fish pie, influenced in part by his famous Sounds of the Sea Fat Duck dish, can be a notoriously difficult and time-consuming dish to pull off. I spent a lot of time thinking about the recipe and reimagining it as a simplified salmon dish that captures the essence of it. It didn’t really get much attention at all relative to the thought I put into it. In hindsight it probably only clicks with people who’ve tried the Heston fish pie and would be grateful for the short-cuts!

 

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An affordable recipe perfect for alfresco dining, making use of British ingredients.

That’s what I was asked to create when vouchercodes.co.uk invited me to film another recipe video with them. (For my first, I shared the recipe for my mum’s tandoori roast lamb, an alternative suggestion for Christmas dinner.)

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This time, I made a frittata, opting for a combination of chorizo, spinach, onion & potato.

I’m calling this a frittata but it’s probably more accurate to say it’s a combination of an Italian frittata and tortilla Espanola. From the Spanish tortilla I’ve taken the combination of eggs, potatoes and onions and from the Italian frittata, the addition of meats, cheeses and vegetables.

The dish is very versatile – it can be served hot, warm or cold, works for brunch, lunch or dinner, stores well in the fridge and is easy to transport. That makes it perfect for picnics or alfresco dining in the back garden.

It’s wonderfully easy to adapt this recipe by switching out the chorizo and spinach. In place of chorizo, try cubed pancetta or bacon, or for a vegetarian option, goat’s cheese is fabulous stirred in or scattered over the top just before grilling. Instead of spinach, use peas (I use frozen petit pois) or long stem broccoli, parboiled ahead of being added to the pan.

You might also take inspiration from kookoo, a Persian version in which eggs are loaded with lots and lots of chopped mixed fresh green herbs. Mint, basil, dill, parsley – all would work well here.

Chorizo, Spinach, Onion & Potato Frittata Recipe

Serves 4 as a main or 6-8 as part of a wider selection

Ingredients
3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
100 grams British cooking chorizo, diced (0.5 cm)
400 grams white onions, thinly sliced
350 grams large floury potatoes, peeled and diced (1 cm)
100 grams baby spinach leaves, washed
6 large free range eggs, beaten, with salt and pepper

Method

  • Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan.
  • Cook the diced chorizo in the oil for 4-5 minutes over a medium heat.

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  • Remove the chorizo with a slatted spoon, leaving the coloured oil in the pan.
  • Add the sliced onions, stir to coat in the oil and spread evenly across the pan. Cover and cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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  • Add the diced potato, stir to mix into the onions and oil. Cover and cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the pan looks dry at any point, add a few teaspoons of water. The potatoes should be cooked through.

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  • Uncover the pan and turn up the heat a little. Fry for a couple of minutes, to give the potatoes a touch of colour.

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  • Add the spinach leaves and stir until wilted – this doesn’t take long.
  • Make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed, drizzle a another teaspoon or two of oil around the outside edges of the pan and then pour in the eggs.

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  • Preheat the grill on a medium setting.
  • Cook the frittata for about 5 minutes, drawing the edges in a little until the base sets.
  • To check whether it’s set, use a spatula to lift up the edges and shake the pan to check whether the frittata will come loose.
  • Transfer the pan to the grill and cook for 2-3 minutes, to cook and colour the top of the frittata.
  • Place a large plate over the pan and turn over plate and pan together, to remove the frittata from the pan.
  • Use a second plate to turn the frittata right side up, if you prefer.
  • Serve in slices, hot, warm or cold.

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Thanks to vouchercodes.co.uk for inviting me to create this recipe video, and Tall Order Films for doing such a great job of filming and editing. Kavey Eats received a fee for creating this content.

 

Call myself a foodie* and never been to the home of the pork pie? Shame on me!

Luckily, an invitation to attend the Artisan Cheese Fair in Melton Mowbray gave me the chance to fix this oversight and Pete and I made our way North on the first Saturday in May.

Held in the Cattle Market, which itself is in the heart of this ancient market town, the Artisan Cheese Fair is now in its fourth year and bigger and better than ever. We spoke to organiser Matthew O’Callaghan about how he came to create the event.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXF4NIsHvgM&feature=share&list=UUKdQswQXJXh8KiDjuikxOPg

Unlike other cheese festivals we’ve attended, entrance is just £1 and there are no hidden costs to worry about. Free on site car parking is available and the various talks and musical entertainment don’t require additional payment.

The majority of the stalls were given over to cheese, as you’d expect, though of course, the famous local pork pie was represented by a couple of producers, as was locally produced beer. There were also a few non-cheese stalls selling fudge, cakes, bread and other bakery goods, a variety of alcoholic and soft drinks, ice cream, jam and samosas (though, surprisingly, no paneer-filled ones!)

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Hunt Cake and Pork Pies at Dickinson & Morris aka Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe – I can recommend both!

As Matthew said, over 50 British cheese makers were represented, most of them showcasing multiple cheeses. We spent a few hours at the Fair so I was able to sample at least one cheese from nearly all of them. Here are my top picks.

Kavey’s Favourites From The 2014 Artisan Cheese Fair

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Quickes Oak Smoked Cheddar & Goat Cheddar

Smoked with oak chips from their own woodland and made with milk from their own dairy, the Quickes oak smoked cheddar had a beautifully natural smoke flavour which was perfectly balanced with the cheese itself – in so many smoked cheeses, the only flavour is the smoke itself. The texture of the cheese was lovely with a pleasing creaminess from the fat content and I liked the level of salty sharpness.

The Goat Cheddar was also fantastic, indeed it’s one of three cheeses I purchased to bring home.

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Cote Hill Blue

Mary Davenport’s family have been dairy farmers in Lincolnshire for 40 years, but turned to making cheese 9 years ago when the falling price of milk made running the business solely as a dairy less viable.

I loved Cote Hill’s soft mild blue cheese made in particular; though the cheese is mild, the blue flavour comes through clearly and the rind is lovely. The Cote Hill Reserve was also delicious – a semi-hard washed-rind cheese which uses Tom Wood Beers’ Bomber County to add flavour to the rind.

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Cheesemakers of Canterbury’s Canterbury Cobble

This stand had a wider range of cheeses on display than most exhibitors, as well as butter and biscuits. It was their Canterbury Cobble that appealed the most. Cheesemaker Jane Bowyer explained that it is made like a brie but then matured into a hard cheese. It was creamy but sharp, with a lovely hint of lemony citrus.

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Belvoir Ridge Rutland Slipcote

Jane and Alan Hewson from Belvoir Ridge Creamery were showcasing a new soft curd cheese called Colwick, having recently revived an old 17th century recipe. It was perfectly pleasant but it was the oozing Rutland Slipcote that stole my attention, and was another cheese I purchased to bring home. Slipcote is a white mould-ripened cheese and is delightfully pungent and gooey when ripe. The Hewsons make their cheeses with milk from their rare breed Red Poll & Blue Albion cattle.

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Hafod Welsh Organic Cheddar

As she cut me a sample, Rachel Holden explained that her father Patrick (who was busy cutting and wrapping cheese) looks after the family dairy while she and brother Sam make cheese. The milk from their brown and white Ayshire cows produces a creamy nutty cheddar with a distinct brassica flavour. It’s the kind of cheese you could accidentally eat far too much of!

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Thimble Little Anne & Dorothy

I confess I ended up spending ages chatting to cheese maker Paul Thomas and his wife Hannah Roche. The couple have been in the cheese industry for many years and Paul is also the head cheese maker for Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers. Their own cheese making business is in its first year and currently has just two adorable little cheeses called Little Anne and Dorothy. Little Anne is a fresh lactic cheese and Dorothy is a soft washed-rind cheese; both are made from unpasteurised raw cow’s milk.

Paul also teaches cheese making classes at the The School of Artisan Food.

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Hampshire Cheeses Tunworth

I almost didn’t stop at the HC stall, as I’m already so familiar with Tunworth – it’s a cheese a buy nearly every time I visit Neal’s Yard Dairy. But I saw a window of opportunity when the stall was miraculously free of fellow visitors and took the chance to chat with cheese maker Stacey Hedges.

Of course, the Tunworth was delicious as always, but I was particularly excited by Stacey’s news that they started making a new cheese last year. Called Winslade, the new cheese is wrapped in a band of spruce bark, which adds flavour to the rind. It’s currently produced in limited volume, but she told me to look out for it in Neal’s Yard Dairy.

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Whitelake’s Goddess

I didn’t mean to make cheese maker Peter Humphries blush when I asked if one of his cheeses was named for someone in particular but his embarrassed expression as he said “yes” was utterly charming. As too was his cheese. It was the oozing yellow centre making a break for it that drew me to the stall – the cheese is (commercially) known as Goddess and is produced (for musician-cum-cheeseman Alex James). Made from Guernsey milk, this is a delicious mild and creamy soft cheese.

Ticklemore Harbourne Blue (no photo)

Ticklemore had three cheeses on sale – Devon Blue (made from cow’s milk), Beenliegh Blue (made from sheep’s milk) and Harbourne Blue (made from goat’s milk). The Devon was a bit plain and the Beenliegh too acidic but the Harbourne Blue was a wonderfully tasty cheese. The balance between sweet, salty and blue was delicious and the rich full fat creaminess was a real delight. This was another of the cheeses I bought to bring home.

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Sparkenhoe Red Leicester

I wasn’t able to chat to anyone at this busy stall as they were busy selling cheese but did taste both their hand made Red Leicester and a mild and chalky blue cheese.

 

Talks & Entertainment

Luckily, we learned a lot about the history of Red Leicester (and exactly how anatto came to be used to give it that distinctive bright colour) by attending one of the free talks, An Unusual History of Cheese. In this entertaining and hugely informative talk, Matthew O’Callaghan shared a light-hearted history of cheese that was perfectly pitched to convey lots of information in a very engaging way. His abiding love for cheese itself and for local and national history was self evident!

Outside, visitors were entertained by the Melstrum Ukulele Band and the New St Georges Morris Dancers.

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I was drawn to a recreation of an old milking parlour, set up in an open-sided trailer.

 

The Melton Cheeseboard

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A special thank you to Tim Brown of The Melton Cheeseboard, a local shop specialising in a wide range of British cheeses and local specialities, for his very warm welcome and the generous selection of cheeses and local products he gave us. His shop is located in the heart of Melton Mowbray at 8 Windsor Street and is open 6 days a week.

 

* Actually, I’m more likely to refer to myself as a greedy glutton than a foodie, but you catch my drift…

Kavey Eats was a guest of the Artisan Cheese Fair. Thanks to Matthew, Lin, Rachel and Tim.

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.

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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.

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Back in June I spent a lovely weekend attending the Oxford Food Symposium, held in St Catherine’s College, Oxford. It’s very remiss of me not to share the experience here on the blog, as I had a wonderful time attending delightfully diverse lectures, meeting fellow delegates and appreciating the excellent catering. But I made few notes and took no photographs, so it’s unlikely to make it onto the blog…

One of the best things about the weekend was making new friends. Diana and I discovered we had a huge amount in common: not only our interest in food, which was a given for all those attending the symposium, but our style of eating and cooking and much about how we view life and choose to live it.

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When we meet again in London, the week after the symposium, we exchange home made preserves. I am very taken by the beautiful hand-printed card Diane has slipped inside the cellophane around her kumquat marmalade.

I ask her to explain the design. She tells me about a well known proverb in Chinese that goes, “eating a small amount of something increases the enjoyment of its taste”. Diana adapted this to create her own motto, “knowing how to eat increases the enjoyment of tasty food”. When she talks about it, it’s clear how well it encapsulates her passion for food and the way that learning more about the history, traditions, techniques and recipes of the world enhances her enjoyment of food.

Chinese Seal

As for the stamp itself, that’s another lovely story: During the years she and husband Tack lived in Brussels (where they met), the Imperial Palace Museum of Beijing was invited to show an exhibition of cultural items at the Belgian Royal Museums for Art and History, which lasted for 6 months. One of the staff accompanying the exhibition from China was a master in traditional seal carving. Tack persuaded the master to take him on as a student and attended lessons with him every day until he, and the exhibition, returned to China. In the years since then, Tack has designed and carved many beautiful seals including this stunning one for Diana.

During some of our many rambling chats at the symposium, Diana mentioned how she loved the idea of sharing some of her own recipes and cooking tips but didn’t want to start a blog of her own. So I cheekily asked if she’d be interested in being a guest writer for Kavey Eats.

Tomorrow’s post is her first contribution and I hope there will be many more. Please take a moment to leave an encouraging comment for her and if you give her stir fry recipe a go, let us know how you get on!

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