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

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.

Diana'sKumquatMarmalade-140808

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!

 

A few weeks ago I was asked to film a video recipe for Vouchercodes.co.uk. They were looking for alternative ideas and twists for the Christmas day dinner. I made my mum Mamta’s Tandoori Leg of Lamb, which can be served with all the normal roast dinner trimmings, as we do in our house, or as the central dish to an Indian feast.

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My video recipe is now live on their site, as are other delicious ideas from fellow bloggers. Check them out too!

Here’s the shorter edit that Vouchercodes.co.uk are sharing. I have a longer version that I’ll share with you soon.

Mamta’s Tandoori Leg of Lamb

Ingredients
Leg of lamb, approximately 2 kg
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and 2 halved
1.5 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons besan (gram) flour (leave out if not available)
1 tablespoon coriander powder
A few strands of saffron, soaked in a tablespoon of warm water
3-4 bay leaves
1 inch stick of cinnamon
3-4 cardamoms
6-7 black pepper corns
5-6 cloves
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 tablespoons good quality oil
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 small carton of creamy, natural yoghurt
Salt to taste

Note: You can replace the bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamoms, black pepper corns and cloves with 1 tablespoon of good quality garam masala. Home made is best, as cheap ready made ones are bulked out with other, cheaper spices.

Method

  1. Make slits in the leg of lamb, insert a few halved cloves of garlic into a few of the slits, and set lamb aside.
  2. Optional: Grind the whole spices (see Hints & Tips).
  3. Place all ingredients except yoghurt into a blender and blitz until smooth.
  4. Transfer paste to a bowl, add yoghurt and mix well.
  5. Taste and adjust spices. Remember that the spice paste has to give enough flavour to 2 kg of meat, so it has to taste a little over-salted and over-spiced at this stage.
  6. Spread the spice paste over the lamb, ensuring that some is worked into the slits.
  7. Leave to marinade at least overnight. For best results, 24 to 36 hours.
  8. Place on a baking tray and cover with aluminium foil.
  9. Cook at 375 F, 190C for 1 1/2 hours for pink meat (or 2 hours for well-done meat).
  10. Baste from time to time and leave uncovered for last half hour, so that the spices and meat turn brown.

Hints & Tips

Ingredients

  • Make sure you use full fat yoghurt for this recipe as low fat yoghurt often splits when heat is applied. Thick Greek-style yoghurt works well.
  • If using frozen lamb, defrost thoroughly and drain resulting liquids before applying marinade.
  • Instead of buying tiny jars of spices from the supermarket, it’s more economical to buy in slightly larger quantities from Asian grocery shops. However, spices fade over time, so if you don’t use them up quickly, they’ll lose their intensity of flavour. I’d recommend storing a small amount of each one in easy-to-access spice jars, keeping the rest in your freezer and replenishing as and when you need to.
  • Fresh ingredients such as ginger, coriander and other key ingredients for Indian cooking are also often cheaper in Asian and other ethnic grocery shops. If you don’t have an Indian or Pakistani shop near you, look in stores specialising in Chinese or Caribbean food, as there are many cross-over ingredients.

Tips

  • If your food processor or blender is not very powerful, grind the whole spices in a spice or coffee grinder first, before combining them with the other ingredients. If you have a powerful food processor or blender, add the whole spices with the other ingredients and grind in one step.

Alternatives

  • You can use this marinade recipe on any meat or fish from larger joints or whole chickens, to smaller cuts such as lamb shanks or individual portions of chicken. It also works well on whole fish, though will need far less marinating time.

Serve with

  • We love this tandoori roast lamb with traditional British trimmings – roast potatoes and parsnips, carrot and swede mash, savoy cabbage and gravy. We serve it with either a mint raita or mint jelly. For Christmas, we add chipolatas and stuffing and brussel sprouts for my sister who adores them…
  • Of course, the lamb leg also works as the centrepiece for an extravagant Indian feast. I recommend my favourites such as chicken curry, stuffed aubergines, an additional vegetable dish such as cauliflower and potatoes, a daal or red kidney bean curry, some chapatis and rice on the side. To start, maybe pakoras or samosas and afterwards, a vermicelli kheer, similar to rice pudding but made with vermicelli pasta. Recipes for these dishes can be found on my mum’s site, Mamta’s Kitchen.

Leftovers

  • Use leftovers just as you would with those from a plain lamb roast – make shepherd’s pie, lamb hot pot, a simple lamb curry, lamb and potato cakes or enjoy it sliced cold in sandwiches or wraps, with some of the minted cucumber and onion raita.

TandooriLegLamb1

The introductory segment was filmed right at the end and it was after 11 pm by then, so I’m blaming my odd bounciness in that bit on my tiredness, but the rest is not as cringe-worthy as I feared! In fact, although I’ve long felt I have a face for radio, I’m really happy with it! Really hoping I can work with Voucher Codes on more of these in the future.

Nov 062012
 

Tools For Self Reliance Cymru collect old and unwanted hand tools, mostly those used by gardeners, and their volunteers clean, repair and sharpen them. They send their refurbished tool kits to grass roots community groups in Africa.

As they explain, "Tools mean work, and the chance to shape their future, just as important to a young person in Tanzania or Ghana today as it is in Britain."

Abergavenny-2003

In addition to sending tools to Africa, TFSR Cymru also buy tools and items made by blacksmiths in Africa, those they have supported in the past, and bring them back to the UK for sale.

TSFR Cymru also sell a large number of tools that they receive for refurbishment but which are not required by their African partners, either because they are easily made locally or are not needed there. These tools are also cleaned and sharpened, fitted with new handles where necessary and often have much more character than modern tools.

Abergavenny-2004

We encountered TSFR Cymru at this year’s Abergavenny Food Festival when their box of rakes, hoes, cultivators, dibbers caught our eye. When we saw how reasonable the prices were, Pete could not resist purchasing a cultivator, which shall be put to good work in the garden and allotment in coming months.

There were also some smaller gardening and other tools available which would be ideal for gardeners, or as gifts for gardening friends.

Abergavenny-2005

Tools For Self Reliance Cymru are an independent registered charity based in Crickhowell in South Wales, and they collect tools from across Wales.

For those outside Wales, if you have friends and family closer to TFSR Cymru  or are planning a holiday, do look at whether you are able to contribute any old and unwanted tools for them to refurbish. TSFR Cymru have four groups in Wales as well as a network of collectors who also help them gather suitable tools.

 

(There is also a separate UK Tools for Self Reliance organisation which does similar work and may have centres near you).

 

With thanks to Abergavenny Food Festival for press passes to attend the festival.

 

In a recent post, I shared our cooking class with chef Lee Groves, during a seafood holiday to Cornwall.

Lee has kindly given this interview for Kavey Eats, and shares his recipe for Ray Wings in a Pepper Butter Sauce, below.

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Can you give us a little potted bio of chef Lee Groves? How did you get into cooking? What path has your career taken? How did you get to where you are now? And I remember you telling me that your 2010 Masterchef experience was hugely important to you because it came at a time when you were reevaluating where you were at and where you wanted to be. Can you tell us more about the experience itself and how it shaped what came next?

I always wanted to be a chef, i remember telling a friend at infants school!

I never sat on my Gran’s knee podding peas, or fly fished with my Grandfather, no one else in my family is in the trade, just something I always wanted to do. After 2 years at college, my first job cooking(age 17) was in the local pub, at which I had been working on the bar. But, I knew scampi, gammon and frozen lasagne wasn’t me! Then I was lucky enough to land a job at The Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, under the highly acclaimed Franco Taruschio, one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was my building block. Three years later, after stints at Gidleigh Park and Gary Rhodes, I returned to Wales. It didn’t last long and at the age of 23 I landed my first Head Chef job in a busy seaside pub just outside Exeter, (I say landed, blagged morelike!).

After a couple of years, a new restaurant was looking for a Head Chef, in the same area…my first proper role in high end fine dining. Even though the accolades came in very soon, the restaurant wasn’t making enough money. That took me to Oxford, where I gained lots of recognition within prestigious guides, it was here I won my first Chef of the Year competition, and then I got the bug. After many competitions, and winning, I knew for definite the sky was the limit.

A few years later, and more accolades later, I found myself out of work, temping here and there was o.k., I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to continue cheffing and nearly left the industry, but I wanted to get my teeth into something. Then I watched Masterchef 2009, The Professionals, and thought to myself I can do that! So applied online, not knowing what to expect……Then the call came, I had been chosen for the last 36 to be filmed, (out of 10,000), and thought oh! here we go!

4 months later, after alot of blood, sweat, tears and overnight travelling, the fire was back! And I wanted to be better than ever.

Having found Scott & Julia on an advertising website, they were looking for a head chef in St. Ives, the rest as they say is history. After only being open for 18 months now we have won many accoldes and taken St. Ives by storm.

What is your cooking ethos and style?

My cooking ethos is use fresh, don’t accept rubbish ingredients, and half the battle is won. Alot of chefs mask the main ingredients with many sauces and flavours, yes be creative but have confidence in what you are using.

What’s your favourite comfort food or meal?

My favourite comfort food/meal, can vary, from a Fray Bentos pie, to a lovely roast dinner with all the trimmings, fish and chips or a good hot homemade curry.

And what would you cook for a special occasional meal, at home not in the restaurant?

At home I tend to experiment, but for a special meal, it would have to be game, in season, (can’t wait for my first Grouse next week, and the first Partridge in a couple of months time), or a piece of fresh Seabass.

I loved everything you showed us during our cookery classes. But as you know, I was particularly blown away by the ray wings in a pepper and brown butter sauce. Could you give me your recipe and any tips and tricks to achieve the best results?

There isn’t an exact recipe, it’s all about feeling and understanding the ingredients, flame control is very important too, as you don’t want that lovely buttery sauce to split.

So pan fry the freshest ray wing in hot olive oil, season, it should be golden brown, so about 4 minutes either side, add a spoonful of capers or soft mixed peppercorns, reduce the heat, add a good slug of balsamic vinegar, add 3 or 4 nuts of cold unsalted butter, and gently stir in and around the fish to form a glossy piquant dressing, the fish should still be slightly pink on the bone so it peels off into the lovely, meaty strands.

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Our visit to Cornwall was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company (and Riverford Organic Farms). They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available.

 

A while ago, I was sent the beautiful book Modern Flavours of Arabia by Suzanne Husseini.

Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, Suzanne’s family emigrated to Canada when she was just 4, and started a new life there. Suzanne’s mother continued to create the Arabic dishes of the Middle East, and although Suzanne learned many other cuisines, it was Arabic cuisine she loved most strongly and which she has shared in her first book.

The book is filled with Suzanne’s versions of a range of traditional recipes, plus modern dishes with an Arabic twist. She conjures up the Middle East kitchen with ingredients that have, thankfully, become much easier for global cooks to find in their local shops – cardamom and rose, pistachios and dates, chickpeas and bulgur and many more.

She kindly gave me the interview below to share with my readers.

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Firstly, congratulations on your beautiful book and thank you for giving this interview to Kavey Eats.

My pleasure.

You explain in your introduction that your family emigrated to Canada when you were very young. Where did you emigrate from and do you have any memories of your birth country from before the move? Were there things you and your family particularly missed (other than people)?

My parents were living in Kuwait at the time when we emigrated to Canada. My parents are both of Palestinian origin. My parents decided to start a new life in a new country with 4 small children. I was the eldest. I know my young mother was barely 24. Of course this move was very exciting for us as children but it was most challenging for my mother. She left family, friends, and special memories. We arrived around Christmas time in Canada . The cold and snow was quite a novelty for us but it made my mother even more homesick for the warm surroundings she grew up in.

She always mentioned how much she missed certain fresh ingredients, typical Middle eastern supplies and after tasting many fruits declared that they were ‘tasteless’. She made the best of this situation and reconnected us with our roots by cooking the most amazing meals that always brought us comfort and joy on the coldest of days.

You mention that you found a way to make friends with curious classmates through the exotic (for them) foods that your mother made for your lunch box, and when they visited your home. Was it that easy, or was the food a way to open the avenues of communication, in contrast to some of the harder and crueller experiences of being an immigrant?

When I was taking my strange sandwiches to school I was about 7 years old. I think the fact that I was so young and innocent and really didn’t see what all the fuss was about…. So when they teased me about my food choices and made fun of my heritage it didn’t affect me as much as it would of if I was older where you become truly sensitive to cruel remarks. I overcame all that by inviting my class mates to my home often and bringing foods like Falafel to school to share with them.

As a child , I didn’t realize or was aware how powerful the act of feeding people can be. It did indeed open the channels of communication for me. My classmates accepted me and my differences and understood this very profound message. Food is love. I have always and still do take every opportunity to seek understanding by feeding my friends. It is the perfect recipe to forge new friendships and promote peace, love and understanding one plate at a time.

My parents came to the UK from India before I was born. Mum certainly cooked lots of wonderful Indian food during our childhood, but also learned to make British classics, as well as international dishes from China, Greece, Italy, France… Did you have a similarly multi-faceted exposure to food, or did your mum tend to stick more closely to the cuisine of her home? Did you always embrace Arabian cuisine, or did you find yourself drawn to it more as you got older?

My mother made her own Arabic/Pitta bread from scratch. She made Falafel when people still didn’t know what it is. She would shop for the freshest fruits in season to make her own jam. Homemade yoghurt was a staple in our home. She delighted us with homemade traditional Arabic desserts. She drew from her memory and made mostly Arabic inspired meals that she knew best. I fell in love with Arabic cuisine from day one. As I got older , I experimented with other foods but always was drawn to the familiar flavors of the Mediterranean and I would find that in Italian, Greek and Southern French Food particularly.

Many immigrant families will be familiar with the challenge of recreating traditional dishes without access to all the usual ingredients. How did your mum cope with this issue? Were there many recipes she had to adapt during your childhood?

If she couldn’t find it she would improvise and make her own version of a dish and make it as close to the original as possible. I think her godsend was discovering Italian and Indian supermarkets that would carry herbs like basil, coriander and spices. She would make a trip to the farmer’s markets that were frequented by the Italian community and find vegetables like tomatoes, lemons, parsley in abundance.

Of course there were items that she just couldn’t find and she would rely on new friends traveling back to the Middle East to bring her some unique supplies.

Are there any tips you have for readers who might find it difficult to find some of the specialist ingredients?

Really the ingredients that I have used throughout my book are easily found in anyone’s supermarket. Now that Middle Eastern Grocers are common it’s not hard to find the once considered exotic ingredients like Tahini, Pomegranate Molasses, Zaatar, Sumac, and Grape vine leaves.

Many items can be substituted like spinach instead of swiss chard for instance or if purslane is difficult then watercress is a good choice.

I notice that both your father and yourself describe yourself as Arabian rather than from a specific country? Is this because you don’t really identify with one country in particular, or because you prefer to rise above the divisions and differences of nationality in favour of wider cultural and regional similarities?

My parents are both very proud of their Palestinian heritage which is a part of the larger Arabian picture. When you refer to yourself as ‘Arabian’ means you share a language, a culture, the hospitality, a history, a story that is common to all people of Arabic origin regardless which country they come from. The divisions are only on the map. We grew up in a household where my family showed us how to be proud of our Arabic heritage and celebrate it. We also grew up loving everyone regardless of their differences be it religion, color, or nationality. I will always be thankful for parents who instilled in their children such values.

I am proud to say that my dining table is not only laden with food but is always graced by the presence of dear colorful friends from all corners of the world.

You explain that your recipes are not intended to be a “historical account of Arabic cooking” but a collection of recipes you grew up with, influenced by what you’ve learned during your years of cooking and teaching since. How close are the recipes in Modern Flavours of Arabia to what one might find in the kitchens of the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East? Would you describe them as fairly traditional or more of a personal and modern interpretation of Arabic food?

All of my recipes are certainly Arabic in one way or another. I have all the traditional dishes that have become common to all like Hummus, Tabbouli, Baba Ghanouje which are not my personal creations. But I do add a little of this and a dab of that. I re introduce a traditional that’s been made one way forever and give it a makeover. In my modern interpretations I do try to maintain the integrity of the dish. My aim is to respect it , be authentic and only change something if I feel it is complimentary. So as you must know by now , I’m not a fan of fusion food where you bring two opposing food cultures to collide to create or distort a dish for sake of being ‘new’.

My food represents mostly the flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean as it is the most varied and by shear history and geography has evolved into one of the most amazing cuisines of the world. That also includes North Africa, the Gulf and the neighboring countries of the Middle East who naturally influenced this diverse and sophisticated food culture.

Was it hard to narrow down the recipes in your repertoire to the number you needed for the book or did you know instinctively which ones must be included?

I had many more recipes to share but my publisher at the time advised me to cut back so the book wouldn’t be too big. So I had to make the difficult choice of deciding which ones would make the cut for the time being. I am cooking up a second book now and a lot of those recipes will make make an appearance.

Were there recipes you chose not to include because your audience might not appreciate them, or because they might struggle to find the ingredients?

Not at all, all the recipes are accessible and have been tested on many good friends who love to eat them and with their encouragement I decided to include them. When I’m cooking , I go through the same process as everyone else. I go to shop for my ingredients and get inspired to cook that way. I don’t have any secret location where I buy certain thing. It’s all home cook friendly.

Which is your favourite recipe in the book, either because you love the dish, or have a personal memory associated with it?

I love all of the recipes which is why they all made it to be part of my book. The cover photo depicts my Arugula Salad with Roasted Aubergines and a Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Dressing. That is one of my favorites… The peppery Arugula leaves are complimented by the sweet buttery aubergine, the bite of the onions and the delightful crunch of the pine nuts. The pomegranate dressing pulls it all together.

What is next for you? Another book, or another project? Can you tell us about it?

As I mentioned earlier I am working on a new book with a collection of new recipes.

I am working on a new special TV cooking show highlighting the beautiful Arabian cuisine that I adore.

I have begun my cooking classes again to keen students wanting to unlock the mysteries of Middle Eastern cuisine.

This summer my ‘modern flavors of Arabia’ will be launched in Canada and the US. I am very excited to be on tour cooking , signing books and sharing my food and stories with everyone.

 

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Sumac Eggs with Potato Rosti, cooked from Suzanne’s recipe

 

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Modern Flavours of Arabia.

Jul 222012
 

Ever since Dom launched it, I’ve really enjoyed Belleau Kitchen’s Random Recipes challenge, where he invites fellow bloggers to use various techniques of random selection to choose a recipe from their collection of cookbooks and blog it. It often results in some rather unusual recipes, the ones you probably wouldn’t choose to make if you were flicking through the book and choosing normally. It’s a crapshoot, and I love it!

But I’ve never managed to take part, not least because I often have a pile of books waiting to be reviewed in order, and when I have the time and inclination to try a new recipe, I turn to that pile.

So when he posted this month’s challenge – to share some photos of our cookery books – I knew it was time to participate.

I adore books and I particularly adore cookery books. “Food porn” is an overused term, but it’s still good shorthand to describe the almost visceral feeling of satisfaction to be found in flicking through page after page of recipes that make your mouth water with anticipation. Isn’t that pretty much what porn does?

Having amassed far too many cookery books already, a couple of years back I agreed a moratorium on buying any more for at least a year. Of course, this coincided with the (lovely) situation of having publishers offer me review copies via the blog. So the collection continues to expand at vastly increased rate. I did send two large boxes of cookery books to two charity fundraising projects last year, but it’s definitely time for another round of thinning the cookery book shelf!

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So here are my cookery book shelves, nooks and crannies.

The main unit (above) has books two deep. I have no idea what’s in there any more…

That hideous cushion is one I found in a samples sale at previous job, when I needed something for my back. Hey, it’s ugly but it only cost me 50p! I love the chair though, with it’s corduroy cover. We inherited it with the house…

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Plus I have two other small collections of more recent additions – the one on the right is the “to review” set – which were both piles on the floor until our recent spate of de-cluttering and tidying.

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Are you a book addict? Which are the favourites in your collection?

 

I’ve always been happy in my North London suburban neighbourhood. But The Victoria in East Sheen is one of those places that seriously makes me dream about moving South.

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This cosy neighbourhood pub and restaurant is located in an incredible peaceful suburban neighbourhood just a couple of minutes’ walk from Richmond Park. The exterior probably hasn’t changed much since it was built in the mid 19th century.

There’s a car park at the back, and plenty of street parking on the road, but I’m guessing most of the customers are locals, quietly giggling to themselves in glee at their bloody good fortune.

The current incarnation was taken on by restaurateur Gregg Bellamy and chef Paul Merrett in 2008 and the pair have created a gastropub with a warm welcome and an appealing food and drink menu.

Paul is a top level chef with an impressive CV. He trained under Gary Rhodes at The Greenhouse and Peter Kromberg at Le Soufflé. He gained an excellent reputation for his cooking at the Meridien Hotel in Piccadilly. Whilst at the Interlude, he was awarded his first Michelin star. After that he returned to The Greenhouse, where he earned another Michelin star.

In our video interview (below), Paul tells us that, like many young and talented chefs, there was a time when cooking that style of food and winning Michelin stars was all he wanted. But after he settled down and had children, his goals in life changed. After helping launch Fulham gastropub The Farm, he yearned for a gastropub of his own. Before finding The Victoria, Paul took some time out to take on an allotment and he wrote about his experiences in his book, Using The Plot: Tales of an Allotment Chef.

Paul also co-wrote Economy Gastronomy: Eat Better and Spend Less with friend Allegra McEvedy.

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Much of the Victoria is set up as a traditional pub. All are welcome, including families with children and locals with pet dogs. In the conservatory at one side is a slightly more formal dining space, though still relaxed and friendly with no stiff upper lips in sight.

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Paul is committed to sourcing ethically and the back of the menu provides information about some of the pub’s suppliers.

Several of the menu starters appealed, as did the day’s special which Paul told us about earlier in the evening. When I asked our waiter whether he’d choose the Manouri cheese starter or the rabbit special, he immediately suggested we try the special as an extra course between starters and mains. You can imagine that this went down quite well with me!

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I was very happy with my choice of Serrano ham with pan fried Manouri cheese, kalamata olives, thyme blossom honey and figs (£9). Having never encountered Manouri cheese before I was somewhat sidelined by the featherlight texture, having expected something more solid like halloumi or feta. But the light and mild cheese worked well with silky, salty Serrano ham, sharp olives, really peppery rocket, sweet ripe figs and that drizzle of honey. The bread deserves a mention too – again it was super light, with wonderful crunch and charred flavour from the toasting.

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Pete’s new season green pea and potato soup, sheep’s cheese crostini (£6) was a summery delight. Struggling to describe it, Pete earnestly told me how “pea-y” it was. I tasted it. “You mean it tastes utterly of really fresh peas?”,  I asked. “Yes, fresh! That’s what I meant!”, he exclaimed. He also made special mention of how well balanced the dish was in textures and tastes; in the soup a few peas were left whole and on top was that thin, light, crisp crostini topped with mild and creamy sheep’s cheese, more peas and micro salad. A simple dish but very, very well executed.

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After our starters came a second shared starter, the daily special: rabbit loin and livers with charred long stem broccoli and morel mushrooms (£7). This is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in the last few years. So simple and yet, once again, every element in perfect balance. The loin was full of flavour and not at all tough, as rabbit can be when not cooked well. The livers, much larger than I imagined a rabbit’s to be, were like calves liver, and again, just right. Paul had described earlier how he’d be charring the broccoli and indeed, it worked beautifully – like vegetables cooked on the barbeque, the charring gave an additional flavour dimension. The generous helping of morel mushrooms were their usual familiar spongy texture, woody meaty in taste. Underneath all, a buttery chargrilled slice of toast. Over the top, oily meat juices. And the whole lot made to look more beautiful by vivid purple potato crisps. An absolutely exceptional dish!

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Pete’s main of oak smoked trout risotto, new season peas and broadbeans, poached eggs and pea shoots (£13) was beautifully colourful, even more so when he broke open the Clarence Court egg and it’s orange yolk spilled out into the risotto. Every element of the dish contributed to flavours and textures, and again, everything was in perfect harmony. Superbly tasty and satisfying.

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My 28 day aged 7 ox South Devon rib eye steak with thrice cooked chips & béarnaise sauce (£18) was, as I expected by this point in our meal, very good. Great meat, cooked as requested; enormous and fabulous triple cooked chips and a spot-on béarnaise.

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I loved that Pete’s white chocolate panna cotta with English strawberries and shortbread (£5.50) was served in a Bonne Maman jar; much cuter than the contrived efforts of places that buy in brand new jam jars in which to serve drinks, all pristine and identical, rather than the mixed bag of genuinely recycled used ones. The panna cotta was soft and creamy, though the white chocolate was a little understated. The strawberries hadn’t been oversweetened but were at just the right stage of sweet and tart. The shortbread was very short and crumbly.

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My pecan and walnut baklava with roasted plums and honey ice cream (£5.50) was probably my least favourite dish of the meal. The flavours of the baklava were good, but the filo was chewy and difficult to cut, rather than the light, crunchy texture it should have been. The plums were tart, so tart they caused my jaw muscles to tighten painfully against the acid and I left them uneaten. I wasn’t able to detect any honey flavour within the ice cream; though there were pretty lines drizzled over the top, they didn’t linger on the taste buds.

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Coffee was served strong, and was good quality.

With the exception of my dessert, what struck us most strongly about our meal was the impressive balance Paul achieved in each dish, not just in terms of flavours but textures and colours too. Combined with a lovely pub in which to enjoy a drink before and after dinner, a warm welcome and good service from staff and very reasonable prices, you can see why I wish we had a place just like this as our local.

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After dinner, Pete and I spent the night in one of The Victoria’s 7 bedrooms.

All are doubles, but 2 can be set up as twin / family rooms and all are ensuite. Prices start at £120 for single occupancy and £130 for double, with additional charges for cots and campbeds.

Our bed was extremely comfortable, with a new, good quality mattress. Instead of wasting space on a large wardrobe or chest of drawers, a clever shelf with hangers beneath was perfectly adequate and attractive too. I also appreciated the tea and coffee making facilities on a tray on the desk.

Our bathroom, with shower but no bath, was a little small though servicable. An extra light above the shower cubicle would be welcome, as I found it a little dark. I’d also appreciate a night light that could be left on during the night.

Best of all was the quiet – even with our window open to let in a cooling breeze, we were amazed at how silent the neighbourhood was during the night and into the morning. Much quieter than our suburban home address!

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Room rates include a continental breakfast which is self service from a table laden with cereal, fruit, pastries, yoghurts and juices. A basket of bread sits by a toaster on the side board and coffee and tea are ordered on arrival.

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We opted for two choices from the cooked breakfast menu. My eggs benedict royale (£7.50), had decadent slices of smoked salmon, poached Clarence Court eggs and another beautifully judged sauce in the Hollandaise. Pete’s croque madame (£6.50) might better be described as a ham and cheese grilled sandwich made from thick slices of the same lovely bread we enjoyed before our starters came out the previous evening. In a now familiar refrain, Pete commented admiringly on the perfect balance between the ham, cheese, egg and thick bread fried in butter.

 

The Victoria is a 15 minute walk from Mortlake train station, from which trains to Waterloo take 25 minutes. This is also a great place to stay for London visitors with a car, as parking is free and there are several spaces in the car park behind, and free parking on the street too.

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Interview with Paul Merrett

Kavey Eats was a guest of The Victoria.

 

I’ve been interviewed by Zagat on their blog.

Read my interview and restaurant picks here.

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Just over two years ago, I first met Katie Christoffers, just as she was planning the launch of her new business, Matcha Chocolat. I loved her gutsy packaging, her delicious tea-inspired chocolates, and her perfectionist attention to detail.

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Yesterday, March 1st, was the 2nd anniversary for Matcha Chocolat. In just two years, Katie’s chocolates have won a slew of golds in the Great Taste Awards and a silver in the Academy of Chocolate ones.

 

I caught up with Katie (and her chocolates) to find out what’s been happening:

Question: Last time we met, you were a couple of months out from launching Matcha Chocolat, full of nerves about what people would think of your chocolates, whether they would sell well, and whether your transition from biology researcher to self-taught chocolatier would prove successful. Now you are approaching your second anniversary, how would you sum up your first two years?

Immensely challenging is what comes to mind first. It’s been a good two years though. I’ve learned so much and it’s been personally very rewarding for me to have taken on the task of running an artisan chocolate business, especially as I don’t have a formal background in chocolate making. As you mention I trained as a scientist and actually now that I think about it, it’s quite fitting to say that the past two years as well as the lead up to launching Matcha Chocolat have been my most enjoyable and fruitful experiment to date. From creating my method for making artisan chocolates, to developing the idea for my business, to launching… and now two years in it’s been a real period of exploration and creativity and I hope that some of that excitement and passion has been translated through in the chocolates that I make.

Question: What have the greatest challenges been for you?

As I mentioned, the feeling I’ve carried with me across the last two years has certainly been one of excitement. It’s been a real change of course for my life to take up artisan chocolate making. The other side of the coin of taking up a new endeavour is, of course, finding your way through an entirely novel set of challenges.

Overall I would say that the greatest challenge for me, and I think this is the same for a lot of small business owners, is that you have to take on a wide variety of roles. For me that involves everything from making chocolates on a daily basis, packaging and posting them, to accounting, website administration, product development, PR, blogging, writing newsletters, and keeping up to date via Twitter and Facebook. There’s no one task that stands out as particularly challenging, it’s just finding the time for them all!

Question: And what about the highlights? I’m guessing that the awards from Great Taste and The Academy of Chocolate must be in there, am I right? And what else?

The awards were really exciting of course! For me though, it’s probably been seeing the business grow over the last two years that has been the highlight. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I launched, so to see it develop has been really exciting. It’s also been amazing getting to know so many people, from customers, to food bloggers, and to be able to share my passion for artisan chocolates.

Question: What are your plans for the coming year? I know you’ll be focusing on upcoming dates in the calendar such as mothers day and Easter, but do you have any broader game plans for taking the business forward?

I’ve created new selections for Mother’s day, Easter as well as Father’s day, so I will be busy making chocolates for holidays for most of the beginning of this year. After that, a lot of my time will be taken up with planning for Christmas. One thing that’s become apparent to me during these first two years is just how seasonal a chocolatier’s work is. The holidays are a flurry of activity but it can go a bit quiet for an online shop like mine during periods such as the summer, so it’s worth putting a lot of effort into planning for the holidays. Product development is high on my agenda as well as getting new photographs together for next Christmas’s selection.

Question: Of all your chocolates, classic and new, which is your personal favourite?

Well, I have to admit I’m a bit of a morning person and I have this habit I like to call ‘pre-breakfast chocolate’. I get up early in the morning and tip toe off to the kitchen to enjoy 3 or 4 chocolates in the peace and quiet of the early morning hours.

Your palette is so much more sensitive in the morning so I really look forward to the fist chocolates of the day and there are certainly a few chocolates that I find myself reaching for time and time again. In no particular order I would say my the top four on my list, for now at least, are Vietnamese Cinnamon, Matcha & Pistachio Truffle, Masala Chai Caramel, and Jasmine Pearls.

Question: What do you think is the next trend in artisan chocolate making?

I think people are much more open to creative pairings with chocolate and have even come to expect that there might be one or more challenger flavours found in a box of proper artisan chocolates. So overall I would say that innovative flavour combinations have become a familiar and established trend. With that in mind, particular flavours stand out. For instance over the past few years flavours like chilli, bacon, and sea salt, have emerged as innovative flavours that went on to became trendy and then eventually quite commonplace.

Yet, beyond these creative and unusual flavour combinations, I would say another trend that has been evolving within the world of fine chocolate is the exploration of food cultures through the medium of artisan chocolates. Having myself launched an artisan chocolate company inspired by the love of pairing Japanese ingredients, such as matcha tea with chocolate; I’ve been watching with keen interest the growing popularity of Japanese inspired flavours. Wasabi has clearly become a trendy flavour in the savoury market. Yet, I think the interest in Japanese ingredients, as well as Japanese design and aesthetic have been taken further in the world of fine chocolate.

Chocolate is such an amazing medium to work with and can accommodate so many flavours. So certainly from my perspective it’s the ideal medium to explore a diverse range of food cultures in new and inventive ways. In the future I presume that people will continue to push the boundaries out with innovative flavour combinations, but I think there will also be more focused and in depth explorations of specific countries’ cuisine and aesthetic as has been seen with the growing trend in Japanese inspired chocolates.

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And now, a review of Katie’s current mixed collection:

Chestnut & Japanese Whisky

This chocolate uses a single origin chocolate from São Tomé, contains Yamazaki 10 year old single malt whisky and chestnut puree and is topped with toasted sesame seeds. It’s a delicious chocolate with a clear alcoholic note, but for me, neither the chestnut nor whisky flavours come through clearly enough.

Earl Grey

This is what I consider to be a classic Matcha Chocolat product and I absolutely love it! There’s a fabulously strong kick of black tea taste with a lovely hint of bergamot, and the ganache is wonderfully smooth, as are all of Katie’s fillings. This is a winner!

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Masala Chai Caramel

Another Matcha Chocolat classic, bringing the flavours of masala chai to chocolate, this is not only beautiful, with the blue and white swirls on a dome of dark chocolate, but also really tasty. The shell is dark but sweet, with a satisfying solidity and crack as one bites through. The caramel filling is silky and strongly flavoured with the chai spices. I love the hint of salt too.

Rosemary, Raisin & Walnut

This dark chocolate combines fresh rosemary, minced raisins and a little walnut oil – a classic in savoury dishes, but not something I’ve tried before in chocolate form. I can’t detect the walnut but I do love the robust flavour punch of the rosemary and raisins. My only negative about this chocolate is the strangely slimy texture of the rosemary leaves.

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Matcha & Pistachio

The first time I tried one of Katie’s matcha chocolates, I didn’t think the matcha taste came through strongly enough. But this time, it’s loud and clear and absolutely delicious, and is such a perfect combination with its colour-matched pistachio. The tea comes through first, and then the pistachio on the finish. And the crunchy topping is a delightful contrast against the smooth filling. This is another exceptional chocolate!

Yuzu

Yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit with a distinct taste and aroma, is an ingredient that’s been growing in popularity in the West over the last decade. Katie uses it to great effect here, combining pureed fruit with dark chocolate to create a lovely balance between the bitter sweet chocolate and the refreshing zing of citrus. Unlike the more familiar orange, lime or lemon citrus that I’m more used to, this reminds me (oddly but pleasantly) of childhood sweets such as Opal Fruits and Refreshers!

Jasmine Pearls

This is a magnificent chocolate! Katie’s talent lies in bringing the taste of both tea and jasmine to the forefront, and this is absolutely like drinking a cup of fragrant, high-quality, jasmine pearls tea and having a nibble of delicious chocolate, between sips. I love this and could happily eat a box full!

Cardamom & Banana

Cardamom and banana are two of my favourite ingredients, so I was very excited about this chocolate! The cardamom was wonderfully heady, aromatic and tasty as I expected. However, try as I might I just couldn’t detect the banana at all. I’m sure the pureed fruit gave its texture to the filling, but for me, the taste wasn’t there. I liked this chocolate, because of the cardamom, but had it also given me banana, I’m sure it would have been another favourite.

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This was a lovely box of chocolates – beautiful to look at, intriguing flavour combinations, great textures and a pleasure to taste.

My three favourites are all classic Matcha Chocolat tea chocolates; they just blew my taste buds away!

 

Win

Katie has kindly offered a Matcha Chocolat Mixed Selection box to one lucky reader of Kavey Eats.

How to enter

You can enter the competition in 2 ways.

Entry 1 – Answer the question
Leave a comment below, answering the following question:
If you could be a chocolatier for a day, what flavour chocolate would you create?

Entry 2 – Tweet
Tweet the (exact) sentence below:
I’d love to win a @Matcha_Chocolat Mixed Collection box from Kavey Eats! #KaveyMatchaChoc

Rules & Details

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 9 March 2012.
  • One blog entry per person only. One twitter entry per person only. You do not have to enter both ways for your entries to be valid.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The prize is a Mixed Selection box of chocolates from Matcha Chocolat and includes delivery to UK mainland addresses only.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for cash.
  • The prize is offered directly by Matcha Chocolat .
  • Valid entries must contain either an email address or twitter account, for contacting the winner. For those leaving a comment using their blogger/ Google ID, please make sure an email address is visible in your profile.
  • The winner will be notified by email or twitter. If no response is received by the end of Tuesday 13 March, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

*If you don’t have a secondary email address already and are nervous about sharing your main email address on the internet, why not set up a new free email account on hotmail, gmail or yahoo, that you can use to enter competitions like this?

Kavey Eats received a complimentary sample box from Matcha Chocolat.

 

This competition is closed. Congratulations to winner goodfoodetc.

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