Sunday, 24 July 2011
If, like me, you thought that the people behind the popular Rough Guides only did Travel Guides, think again. They may be known for highlighting the best drinking holes in Melbourne and the most sacred areas of Istanbul (they currently cover over 200 destinations) but they also have a vast selection of 'Reference Guides' to choose from. Their 'Rough Guide to Food' jumped off the shelf (visually, not literally) and into my hands during my last trip to my trusty local library.
I must admit that I was curious about how they would pitch a basic guide to food. The book touches upon most of the basic issues and topics, weighing up the positives and negatives of the common options. It's relatively balanced and even though its biased towards organic produce, it is sympathetic to those (like me) who can't afford to go completely organic for their regular shop.
It's a good all round book to challenge your thoughts on food, the ingredients we cook with and the places that we buy from. From the money we spend with the Big Four (our major out-of-town supermarkets) to the trials and tribulations of growing your own, there's certainly food (ho ho) for thought within its pages. It's a great starting point if you're interested in food but don't know where to start.
Published in 2009, the book could already do with an update as it covers such topical issues, it seems a little behind the times. It has a wealth of stats and graphs but these seem a little irrelevant even though they're only 2 years old. It doesn't cover Waitrose recent growth in the marketplace, for example. I suppose anything that covers the retail market is almost out of date before its published.
The layout isn't the easiest to read as the main text is interupted by fact boxes, quotes and facts which distracted me. I'm not the most dedicated of factual readers, I must admit, but the layout doesn't help. Saying that, it does break up the bulk of the text which, I imagine, makes it more appealing to first-time non-fiction readers.
There's a fantastic stockists and suppliers list at the back of the book which is split into regions. The 'South West' section suggests some familiar names but also has some new suggestions. An interesting further reading list follows with more specific resources if you'd like to find out more about a particular area. Each section has links to websites and services relevant to the passage that you've just read. It can be used as a reference book though I think it's possibly a little basic to make it on to my bookshelf. Saying that, I've already made notes of some of its suggestions.
I would seriously recommend this book if you're curious about food, its production or the environment but don't know where to start. I've felt a little lost when it comes to making a balance between eating healthy, nutritious food that's frugal, tasty and ethically sourced. This book gives you a good starting point and suggests further reading to boot.
Friday, 22 July 2011
Everything is relative. When I first started cycling to work about a year ago, I thought that sixteen miles was a long way to cycle. Now, it feels reasonable. A little wimp-ish even. It might be something to do with having friends who are seasoned road cyclists and will do a hundred miles in a weekend without batting an eyelid. I now cycle between 30 and 50 miles a week and am hoping to up it as the weather improves (it’s going improve, right? Right??). Anyway, on a similar vein, time is also relative. Half an hour might not be very long to wait for a meal in the grand scheme of things but when you’ve just finished a sixteen mile ride in the rain, it seems like an eternity. My tummy isn’t very big either but it can feel like an echo-y cavern when it’s not been filled with tasty things.
This particular trick of time and space was my quandry just the other day. And once again the cupboard was bare. Our fridge sported a pack of mushrooms, a little butter, some milk and a wizened nugget of parmesan. Oh great. My hunger was starting to peak after my ride and my stomach was making it clear that it was very unhappy indeed. Thankfully, my windowsill herbs have been flourishing so I had fresh parsley and basil at my disposal.
Cue, the crisis food. This dish would probably be lovely with cream cheese, crème fraiche or even cream if you have it knocking around but we didn’t. A roux (butter and flour) thickens the milky mushroom-y mixture so that’s its deliciously warm and satisfying. Just what I needed.
Emergency Mushroom Pasta
Feeds two hungry people
1 onion, sliced
150g mushrooms, sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
150g pasta or spaghetti
100ml semi-skimmed milk (or whatever you have)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
50g parmesan cheese, finely grated
Small handful of parsley or basil, chopped
Sunflower or Olive oil
- Sweat the onions and garlic in a large saucepan over a low heat in a little oil for around five minutes or until they are completely softened and sweet.
- Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes until tender.
- Put your pasta on to boil.
- Pour in the milk and stir until it is just off simmering.
- In a bowl, cream the butter and flour together into a paste.
- Take a ladle or two of milk from the mushrooms and whisk into the flour/butter paste until smooth. Add this into the saucepan and gently heat through, stirring as you do so, until the sauce starts to thicken.
- Add the grated parmesan and continue to stir until its mostly dissolved
- Once your pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it, reserving the cooking water, and add to the saucepan of sauce.
- Loosen the mixture with a little cooking water until it’s to your preferred consistency – I was in the mood for a light sauce so I made it relatively thin.
- Throw in the herbs, stir through and serve immediately with extra parmesan shavings and a whole lot of gratitude.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Photo from a fellow visitor, Tripadvisor
Walking along the main shopping street in Somerset’s prettiest of towns Wells, my ears rang with the sound of tyres screeching and police sirens wailing.
“Cornetto?” The Boy turned to me and said, in his best West Country accent with a hint of a smirk. Anyone who has seen Hot Fuzz, which was filmed in and around Wells, will understand. Anyone who hasn’t seen it... Where’ve you been? Watch it now.
Just off the Market Place and across from the beautiful sandstone arch, you will find Goodfellow’s Restaurant. Consisting of the patisserie-by-day/brasserie-by-night and fish restaurant within the same establishment, their website describes the ground floor dining room, which also houses their kitchen, as having a 'theatre in the round' atmosphere though I wasn't so sure. The ground floor is a little cramped but, despite my reservations, it was really interesting to watch the chefs at work.
We were led to our table by Martine who runs front of house and - we later found out - is married to Adam Fellow, head chef and name sake of the enterprise. I was impressed that we were asked if we had any allergies or preferences in terms of our food when we sat down. Both The Boy and I will eat pretty much anything as a rule but for my Mum, who is at pains to explain to every eatery she attends that she has a gluten intolerance, this would be a refreshing start to a meal.
We'd gone for the tasting menu which started with a glass of Prosecco while we perused the wine list. The fizz was great - not overly bubbly or dry and very drinkable. A good start. Next, we were presented with a gorgeous selection of homemade breads to munch on, which were delicious if a little dense. The tasting menu consisted of six "smaller in size, delicate in construction but intense in flavour" dishes. I couldn't wait to give it a try.
It wasn't long before our first course of chilled gazpacho with crayfish tails and pesto arrived. I must admit that I don't think I've tried gazpacho before but cold soup didn't really float my boat. It was nice enough but I wondered if their interpretation of "intense in flavour" actually meant "seasoned within an inch of its life". Oh dear. Anyway, onwards and upwards.
Our next course was a Seared Tuna Carpaccio with Nicoise salad which was very pretty on the plate. The tuna was perfectly cooked and very flavoursome while the juicy fresh tomatoes contrasted well with the salty olives and anchovy fillet. When this course arrived, I was chastising myself for not bringing a camera but I often worry that taking photographs of my food will be a bit conspicuous and/or makes me look like a mental case. Since then, I read Em's review of Berwick Lodge and their tasting menu on Bristol Bites where she was able to take a photograph of every beautifully presented dish. I'll have to work on my covert snapping skills.
Next up on our culinary adventure was Smoked haddock brandade with pea purée. Again the fish was perfectly cooked and fell apart as you brushed it with your fork. This was a close contender for our favourite dish but then the Sea bream with cucumber spaghetti and a champagne sauce arrived. Wow. The sauce had a spice to it that I wasn't expecting and the ribbons of cucumber were surprisingly refreshing. The Boy and I were both quiet for the first time that evening while we devoured our respective portions before we erupted into praise.
Our final savory dish was a pan fried scallop with black pudding, honey-roast bacon and a red wine and star anise reduction. The scallop was beautifully cooked, as was the black pudding which was still moist and slightly crumbly. Scallop and black pudding is a tried-and-tested winning combination so, although it was enjoyable, it didn't blow our minds. The honey-roast back was a fantastic morsel - sweet and salty, crisp and yielding. The plate was decorated with, what we thought was, a purée of scallop coral which was an interesting use for it and nice to see that there was very little wasted.
Finally, we were presented with our dessert, a trio of Sicilian lemon desserts. This made for a nice palate cleanser at the end of a rather gargantuan meal though it hasn't stuck in my memory. Our menu included a hot drink with homemade chocolates to end the meal but neither of us were in need of a caffeine fix so we passed. I was curious to see what their homemade chocolates were like so next time, I'd definitely leave space.
Each dish was announced to us as it was served and we were topped up on bread and water throughout the meal. As my first tasting menu experience, I'd recommend it. I was surprised that I didn't walk away feeling too full despite the large meal we'd just enjoyed. All in all, the service was friendly and attentive but unobtrusive. The fish, as you'd expect from a speciality restaurant, was all beautifully cooked though some of our dishes were over seasoned for our tastes. If you're planning a romantic meal without any distractions, I'd ask for a table in the upstairs dining room but if you're interested in seeing a professional kitchen at work, go for a table downstairs. I would certainly recommend them to our friends who live locally and feel its something of a hidden gem.
Goodfellows can be found on 5 Sadlers Street, Wells, Somerset BA5 2RR. Tel: 01749 673866. The tasting menu is £55 per person.
Friday, 15 July 2011
This time last year, I was trawling the food markets of Bristol and whipping up mayonnaise in search of a suitable birthday tea for The Boy. You may (or may not) know that The Boy has a passion for sushi - we're regular Yo Sushi dwellers (despite his best intentions) and he has been a domestic sushi master since a course earlier in the year. He loves the process of making maki and California rolls as wells as quick-and-speedy hand rolls.
This year, I ordered some fresh sushi-grade fish from the amazing Source in Bristol who have a fantastic selection of fresh meat & fish as well as lots other delicious and tempting things on offer. You can get everything from nori and local chili sauce to freshly baked cakes and marinated olives. It's amazing and, to top it off, the staff are friendly and pretty knowledgeable too. It's well worth a visit. They also have a café restaurant that I'm dying to try. One day! Anyway, I went to pick up my order of filleted mackerel, salmon and scallops but a handful of samphire and a piece of salted caramel and cherry brownie somehow found their way into my basket. I really couldn't resist!
Samphire is a fantastic post-season alternative to asparagus. It's actually a kind of seaweed which is in season from June until September. It's a natural partner to fish but it's also great with meat too. It's versatile and really refreshing if you cook it right - thankfully, this isn't difficult. I would recommend picking through the samphire when you're ready to cook and removing any brown or squishy bits. I thought that it'd be a lovely texture in the sushi so I blanched it for minute and then refreshed it in cold water to keep it succulent.
The Boy and I then spent a very companionable half hour making sushi. It's therapeutic and difficult in equal amounts - if you're a perfectionist, it may drive you mad but you do get to eat your attempts whether they're millimetre perfect or not. We made maki with raw salmon and samphire which was absolutely delish as well as mackerel california rolls and scallop nigiri.
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Having anchored our boat in a quiet bay, The Boy was feeling intrepid and ventured out onto the scratchy, barnacle-clad rocks in search of little fishies. After a period of disappearance, he returned, pink cheeked with pride bearing all sorts of goodies. His bucket contained a variety of delicate, spritely fish, an baby starfish and five shrimps.
The incy, wincy starfish (only an inch or so across) was coo-ed over and then gently placed back into its pool but we held on to the shrimps - good eatin' to be had there! Our seas and beaches are full of gorgeous goodies that anyone can make the most of if you know where to look.
Buoyed by his successful hoard, we went to for a wander along the surf and what did we find? Several mammoth rocks encrusted in midnight blue mussels which, in turn, were stuffed with silvery barnacles. We grinned gleefully at one another and picked eagerly at the shells. They weren't as stuck fast as I expected - I had memories of a mini-me whacking unsuspecting limpets with rocks in an attempt to knock them off their home rocks before they suckered themselves on. Mussels are far easier to harvest, as it turns out.
After a quick google (the wonders of Smart phones) and some advice from our elders, we made quick work of collecting a box full. They were quite easily teased from the rocks by twisting them which broke their 'beards' away - the delicate strings that fix them to the surface of the stone - without damaging the mollusk. We mostly picked from the waterline and chose mussels which stayed in the water for as long as possible - our intuition told us that these would be the freshest but I've no idea if this is correct. We mostly went for mussels which were 6 - 7cm long and avoided the baby ones (less than 5cm). As with all foraging, we only took what we would be able to eat and left more than we took (we wouldn't want to spoil it for others now, would we?). Since our expedition, I've read that mussels actually spawn between May and August so harvesting is generally discouraged during this time. We stored them in a large plastic box which was filled with fresh sea water and kept them in the shade for the trip home.
Back at our rented caravan, we prepped our goodies. Have a look at the instructions above if you haven't done it before and are curious. It's a bit labour intensive but it's well worth it. Myself, The Boy and my Mum-in-Love stood around the sink and chatted away while we worked so it was no hardship. After the cleaning was done, there was one dish in the fore front of all of our imaginations that would showcase these little treasures of the sea.
Serves five as a starter
1.5kg prepared mussels, rinsed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
100ml white wine or cider
120ml single cream
Sunflower oil or butter
- Sweat the onion and garlic in a splash of oil or knob of butter in a saucepan large enough to take all of the mussels until completely softened.
- Add the mussels and stir well so that they're completely coated in onion.
- Turn up the heat and pour in wine and cream. Cover and simmer for 3 - 4 minutes or until the majority of the mussels are open. Shake the pan every so often so move the mussels about.
- Stir in the parsley and ladle into bowls. Serve with crusty bread to mop up any juices. Discard any mussels that have not opened during cooking.
Thursday, 7 July 2011
I made marmalade for the first time this year. It was a mixed bag of citrusy success but it did get me into the preserving mindset. It's surprisingly addictive! Consequently, we had several jars of my own grapefruit brew and some lemon too (to please The Boy who thinks that grapefruits are a favourite of the devil). Our jar tower was added to considerably by my Mother in Love who gifted us with jars of deliciously dark seville orange marmalade and a fabulous friend who gave us a sample of her first batch of orange marmalade.
With a self-catering weekend away approaching, I wanted to make some cake for those lazy afternoon tea moments where you're in need of something to tide you over until dinner and a biscuit just won't do. Usually, I'd make lemon drizzle cake as it's something that The Boy adores but my marmalade mountain was staring me down as I reached for my recipe book.
I must admit that marmalade cake isn't something that I'd normally go for. I'm a recent marmalade convert so I suppose I assumed that a cake flavoured with it would be a little full on. This recipe, however, is basically just a great tea cake with a hint of citrus tang. It's a great way to use up marmalade that hasn't set as well as you'd hoped; my grapefruit and lemon concoction is quite a soft set so it's ideal for this.The mixed nuts really make a difference and I was toying with the idea of adding soaked sultanas too but decided against it for my most recent batch. If they take your fancy, soak them for as long as you can (ideally overnight) in orange juice, cold tea or water (depending on your tastes) and fold them before you pop them in the loaf tin.
Take a thick slice into the sunshine and enjoy with a cup of tea!
Makes 12 - 14 slices
175g butter, softened
225g self raising flour
175g light brown muscovado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking powder
100g mixed nuts, roughly chopped
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
140g (homemade) marmalade
- Preheat your oven to 180c. Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper and set aside.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg together into a large mixing bowl.
- Stir in the sugar then add the butter and eggs into the bowl with all but 2 tbsp of the marmalade.
- Beat the mixture until it is pretty much smooth. If you can, do this with an electric mixer. I didn't have one which made it a bit of a time consuming process.
- Fold in the nuts and spread the mixture evenly into your prepared loaf tin.
- Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out without any batter sticking to it. Cover the cake with foil after 30 minutes (or when the top is golden brown) so that it doesn't burn.
- Put the cake to one side to cool slightly while you prepare the marmalade glaze. Mix the marmalade with a tablespoon or so of boiling water - you want it to be the consistency of runny honey.
- Prick the cake with a skewer or fork and pour the glaze over the top, spreading out with the back of a spoon to ensure that it is coated.
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
The view from Polruan to Fowey, Cornwall
When Summer curls her languid fingers across her warm palm and beckons in the warm weather, all I can think about is getting outside to enjoy it. The Boy and I followed our seasonal calling and drove our batter little car down to Fowey to spend a glorious long weekend in Cornwall. We couldn't have struck it better with the weather, which my shoulders will vouch for. Here are a few of the delicious places that we discovered that we tried while we were out and about...
Cone Zone, 4A Webb Street, Fowey
A stones throw from the harbour, Cone Zone sells amazing ice creams from the awesome Langage Farm as well as some tempting sandwiches and hot drinks (should the English weather take a turn for the worst). Ask for a hot chocolate dip with your cone - your choice of ice cream (a single scoop is £1.80) is popped into a cone and then rolled in melted chocolate which solidifies providing a pleasing contrast in texture. The cool snap of chocolate gives way to smooth creamy ice cream in a way which can only be described as totally flipping YUM. I love their chocolate chunk ice cream while The Boy thinks its a complete heresy to have anything other than their blackcurrant and cream concoction. Thunder and Lightening honeycomb ice cream is pretty special too.
The Galleon Inn, 12 Fore Street, Fowey
For a drink or two after a day spent at sea, pootle no further along the quay than The Galleon Inn. A friendly pub that offers live music (even if it is slightly dubious "jazz"), a relaxed atmosphere, estuary views from their terrace and delicious Cornish cider. Pay a visit on a Sunday afternoon as any left over roast potatoes and gravy from the Sunday lunches are left on the bar for everyone to enjoy. It might sound weird but don't knock it 'til you've tried it. A pint of Cornish Orchard cider in one hand and a crispy roast potato in the other makes for a very contented afternoon.
Kittows, 1 - 3 South Street, Fowey
A sunny weekend calls for a barbecue. Many barbecues (barbecii? No.) if possible. Our digs had a chiminea so with our burning implements sorted, we needed meat to cremate. Kittow's provided meaty sausages and juicy marinated spare ribs as well as a free bag of sausage scrag ends. We grilled the sausages and ribs over hot charcoal which lent a fabulously smokey flavour to the meat. We enjoyed the sausage meat for breakfast the next day and were all the more flavoursome for being free! They offer nationwide delivery through their website and also offer a very tempting deli.
Fowey Fish, 37 Fore Street, Fowey
Having caught and foraged for some fantastic fishy treats, we wanted some bits and bobs to go with our seafood feast. We spotted some samphire in Fowey Fish's window which looked perfect. We got a huge bag for a mere £1.80. Bargain!
Crumpets, 1 Fore Street, Polruan-by-Fowey
Hop on the ferry across the estuary to Polraun or pootle across in your own vessel and climb the hill to find this quaint little tea room. They have a lovely selection of homemade treats on offer - look out for the "Things on Toast" section of the menu. Freshly made crab sandwiches (£5) and Cornish pasties (£4) are available to enjoy from the comfort of their sunny café or to take away and devour elsewhere. We were kept entertained by their amazing sugar pots with integral tongs...
Simple things for simple minds like us...
Fishermans Arms, Fore Street Goland, Fowey
Take a short pootle up the estuary, a left fork next to the china clay depot and then pop under the railway bridge on the left hand next to a level crossing on the river. Less than ten metres on your left will be the Fishermans Arms and you can moor up more or less right outside at high tide. There's space to park on the road in front but beware as the road is liable to flood (though its still passable) when the tide is high. They have a lovely little menu but the specials board is where its at. We enjoyed whitebait and breaded mushrooms (both £5) to start - pub grub perfection! I had a smoked fish platter (£10.80) while The Boy had a vegetable curry with sweet potato and chickpeas (£8.50). Both were lovely though the curry was a real revelation - nicely spiced with plenty of fragrance.
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
I like to think that this recipe is slightly more virtuous than your average cheesecake. Whether it actually is or not is neither here nor there... It’s made up of reduced fat cream cheese and a dairy product called Quark, which is far less alien than it sounds. It’s virtually fat free and doesn’t have any of the bitter, grittiness than you often get with fat free yoghurt or cream cheese. These two ingredients alone won’t solidify so to this you add the naughtiest ingredient – white chocolate. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate on its own but it certainly makes this cheese cake for me. Fold in some raspberries (fruit therefore healthy) and spread over a base of reduced fat biscuits and crushed nuts (also good for you).
When I was looking for a heavenly cheesecake recipe without the sinful calorie or fat, I came across lots of baked cheesecake recipes but none that involved chilling to set the cake. I've tried baked cheesecakes and they're great but they do add another level of complication to the process. They're temperamental; if you don't bake them a certain way, they can crack which doesn't affect the taste but does make them look a bit unsightly. This cheesecake is pretty much fool proof and is a great dinner party dessert that can be made in advance.
I think this would also work with dark chocolate and cherries if you’re looking for a variation. I would use the darkest chocolate possibly to ensure that the cheesecake doesn’t set a strange grey colour. Swirl in some kirsch or maybe Bailey’s for a more adult version.
Raspberry & White Chocolate Cheesecake
Makes 12 servings
300g reduced fat cream cheese
300g white chocolate 200g British raspberries
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa powder
50g reduced fat digestive biscuits
30g mixed nuts
- Preheat your oven to 180c. Prepare a 25cm spring form tin by lining the base with parchment and the sides with clingfilm.
- Melt the butter gently over a low heat or in the microwave.
- Pulse the biscuits and mixed nuts in a food processor until they are finely chopped. If you don't have a food processor, chop the nuts as finely as you can and bash the biscuits, wrapped up in a clean tea towel, with a rolling pin.
- Stir the cocoa powder into the butter and add the biscuit and nut crumbs.
- Press into the bottom of the tin with a flat bottomed tumbler as evenly as possible and bake for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of boiling water then leave to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, mix the cream cheese and Quark together until combined then add the cooled melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Beat together and then add the raspberries.
- Pour the mixture on top of the biscuit base and level with a spatula. I like to push any raspberries that have ended up on the surface to the bottom and smooth the creamy mixture around them to give a smooth top.
- Chill for two hours or until firm.
Friday, 1 July 2011
Having had yet another Mother Hubbard moment, I concocted this dish from the odds and ends that had been frequenting our fridge. One sad and solitary potato, the heart of a sweet heart cabbage and some bits of bacon that were left over from a pasta dish. I quite like the challenge of a near-empty fridge - sometimes too much choice can be a bad thing and an excuse for dithering.
With broad beans coming into season, this is a great way to use these deliciously savoury legumes. Ideally, they'd be fresh from the pod and into the pan but if yours aren't quite ready to eat or if, like me, you don't have a vegetable patch at your disposal then the frozen ones are great. If you're not a fan, substitute with peas though I'd probably go for finely chopped mint instead of parsley.
Super-simple flavours. Incredibly easy cookery! Great for summer - chuck everything in a pan to flash it with a little heat and then enjoy outside on your patio chairs. In our case, we'd be huddled on the back step. We just ate at the dining table but the sun was streaming through the window.
Bacon and Broadbean Hash
1 large potato, cubed
125g (smoked) bacon, sliced
½ onion, sliced
¼ sweet heart cabbage, chopped
100g broad beans
Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped - with a few whole sprigs reserved to garnish (if you're feeling fancy)
- Par boil the potatoes for three minutes. I like to do this in the microwave because it seems more efficient.
- Meanwhile, dry fry the bacon in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. The bacon should colour up and expell any fat into the pan.
- Mop up some of the fat from the pan with kitchen towel, leaving about a tablespoon remaining. Drain the potatoes (reserving the liquid) and add along with the onion and cabbage.
- Keep everything moving around the pan so that it doesn't stick or burn. Fry for about four minutes or until the potato starts to colour.
- Add the broad beans and a splash of the cooking liquid. Keep stirring and cook for a minute or two until they're cooked to your liking. If you're using frozen broad beans, cook for four minutes or until piping hot all the way through.
- Just before serving, stir in the chopped parsley then pile onto your plates.