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The Christmas blog post roundup

christmas lunch veg

You’ve seen my traditional Christmas lunch. What did the other food bloggers do? Not everyone has posted yet (cough, Helen, yes I am looking at you ;-), but I thought it might be nice to do a roundup.

Su-Lin, at Tamarind & Thyme, had a porky Christmas, dishing up slow roasted pork belly with fennel, chorizo & potato croquettes and lemon and passion fruit roulade, amongst other wonderful things.

Aidan Brooks had a wonderful Christmas lunch. Thai scallops to start, followed by roast goose with goose-fat roast potatoes, roast carrots, truffled Brussels sprouts, puréed parsnip, stuffing and gravy made from the goose giblets and roasting juices. Followed by Christmas pudding made in October. And yes, they’re his words from a comment he made here. Thanks Aidan! Truffled brussel sprouts sound wonderfully decadent.

Lizzie, over at Hollow Legs, had roast goose and gravadlax. Board games and Guinness too. Sounds perfect!

Fred and Ginger, at Dinner Diary, had roast goose, and made roast goose pie with the leftovers. I’d like some of that pie right now!

Chris, at Cheese & Biscuits, didn’t tell us about his Christmas lunch, but he did tell us about his reservation for El Bulli. Lucky him! I look forward to reading about it. I’m not jealous at all, really. Not even one little bit. Really.

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And so that was Christmas

Traditional Christmas Dinner

Traditional Christmas Dinner

Christmas has come, and gone. How was yours? We had a fantastic day. Lots of food, wine, chocolate, crisps and lots of tv. I feel as stuffed as the turkey today.

As much as I love to cook, I never cook on Christmas Day, as this is traditionally my sister’s domain, now my sister and brother-in-law. They are both fantastic cooks, and it’s always gorgeous. We went retro this year, and had prawn cocktail to start, followed by potato and thyme soup, then the traditional turkey & ham with all the trimmings washed down with a lovely albarino. This was followed by sherry trifle, many hours later as everyone was just too full.

Today is St Stephen’s Day, a very big day in the social calendar as in Ireland, as Christmas Day is a “black day” and nowhere is open, especially pubs. It is illegal for them to open, although, sometimes if you know the right people, you might get a drink in one after the Christmas swim.

So, no recipe today, just some photos, but I’ll have one for you soon. Enjoy the rest of your Christmas!

Roast parsnips and cumin buttered carrots

Roast parsnips and cumin buttered carrots

Goose fat roasted potatoes

Goose fat roasted potatoes

Prawn Cocktail

Prawn Cocktail

Potato & Thyme Soup

Potato & Thyme Soup

Sherry Trifle

Sherry Trifle

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Merry Christmas!

A bauble from our tree

A bauble from our tree

A very happy Christmas to everyone! Or Happy Hanukkah! Or, just enjoy the few days off if you don’t celebrate either :-)

I’m in Ireland for Christmas. Dungarvan, Co. Waterford to be exact. My hometown, on the sea and nestled in the mountains. Well, Irish mountains, they’re not that big! I come home every year, at least I always have done, it’s a great time to meet family and friends, almost all of whom are home at this time of year. This one is the exception to the rule, I have (I think) 9 first cousins and a brother in Australia this year.

Christmas dinner this year is at my sister’s house, her husband is cooking, and it promises to be a lovely meal. We’ve been tucking into spiced beef all week, and as of an hour ago Christmas ham. I’ve brought one of my favourite wines from London, a bottle of As Laxas Albarino from Brindisa, and I’ll be having that with my turkey.

Whatever you do, and whoever you spend it with, enjoy the festive season. See you here on the other side of Christmas!

Our Christmas table, set and ready for Christmas lunch.

Our Christmas table, set and ready for Christmas lunch.

The Crib, at Abbeyside, Dungarvan

The Crib, at Abbeyside, Dungarvan

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Another exciting adventure: judging the Cuisine Cup

It’s been an exciting year, and I’ve had lots of opportunities to do things that I’ve never done before and attend really interesting events and meet some wonderful people. Recently, I had the honour of being invited to judge a cookery competition in London, the Cuisine Cup at L’atelier des Chefs. The competition aims to be a showcase for amateur culinary talent and is held in the UK, in several locations in France, and in Belgium, with one qualifying candidate from each location competing in a final in Paris.

There were four judges. Two chefs: Pascal Aussignac, chef at Club Gascon & Will Torrent, an up and coming confectioner and pastry chef, Jerome from L’atelier des Chefs and one blogger (me). Starting at 9am, the 12 qualifying competitors started with breakfast and then started to cook. The only requirement was that it should be an original recipe with salmon as the focus. Recipes had been submitted in advance and the best chosen for the competition that day.

The entrants were staggered to allow us sufficient time between entrants to judge the (10 minutes between each). The entries varied wildly, with some really good examples of well executed solid cooking, with, at the other end of the spectrum, some really interesting creative and modern dishes. The four qualifying dishes were:

Luke’s: roasted salmon served with spinach, roasted tomatoes and pesto, perfectly cooked and seasoned, I would be very happy to have this served to me in a good gastropub
Ilya’s: grilled salmon, smoked milk, matcha and avruga meringue
Emmanuel’s: roasted salmon, lime condiment, black and yellow polenta fingers
Nathalie’s: spicy marinated salmon skewers, leek frayed scented with clementines, ginger and passion fruit foam.

On to lunch, which naturally I couldn’t fit, as big an appetite as I have, all that tasting was sufficient for brunch. It was lovely to meet everyone and chat to them about their dishes and get to know them a bit better.

Next step, the last four went on to cook rack of lamb. The rules were that they had to create an original dish for 4 people, ready in 90 minutes with a rack of lamb and a selection of accompanying ingredients, plus one special ingredient that they could bring themselves. Again, there were some really interesting dishes but the simplest and best executed won out, and this came from 15 year old Londoner Luke, who impressed with his natural flair. The chef’s were fighting to have him in their kitchen, and indeed, he will do a stage with each.

It was a lovely and very inspiring day. All the entrants had such passion, and very different approaches to food. It was genuinely inspiring and it was a real pleasure to meet everyone and to judge in such esteemed company. I had lots of fun and I wish Luke all the very best with the Paris final and his future career in the world of food.

Thanks to everyone at L’atelier des Chefs for asking me to judge and to all the entrants for entering such wonderful dishes.

(Photos courtesy of L’atelier des Chefs. Read their blog post here.)

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Lunching at Konstam in King’s Cross

Pork Belly Sandwich from Konstam

Regular readers and fellow twitterers will know that I am a big fan of pork belly! An inexpensive but delicious cut of meat, that is transformed into a thing of crispy wonder when given the right amount of care and attention. Spiced with star anise or sweetened with cider and sporting a crispy coat of crackling, it is one of my favourite things to eat in this world.

Konstam at the Price Albert

So, you can imagine my delight when a restaurant local to work started serving pork belly sandwiches at lunch time. Not just any restaurant either, but Oliver Rowe’s Konstam at the Price Albert, a restaurant where most of the produce (where possible) is sourced from within the M25. Many of you will be familiar with it from the TV show, The Urban Chef, that tracked the setup and opening of this fine establishment.

Prior to opening Konstam at the Prince Albert, Oliver ran a cafe of the same name (Konstam). of which I was a big fan and I was disappointed when it closed in favour of the restaurant. Not that I don’t appreciate the fine dining options on offer there, it’s simply not in my price range for a regular lunch. The new lunch menu is of a similar ilk to the old cafe. It changes regularly and features the finest sandwiches including my favourite hot roast pork belly, remoulade and parseley sandwich; chicken and dill mayonnaise; roast winter squash marjoram and lemon; Quicke’s cheddar, marrow chutney and mizuna and many more. The salads are wonderful, fresh, vibrant and dressed beautifully and the soups are packed with flavour and colour e.g Hillingdon beetroot and vodka soup with sour cream and roast butternut soup with Norbury blue & walnuts. There are also more traditional main courses at normal a la carte prices like pan roast Mersea sea bass, jerusalem artichoke pierogi, slow-cooked shoulder of Amersham mutton and braised Amersham pheasant legs.

salad plate at Konstam

Most of the menu is available for take away and I really can’t recommend it enough. It takes a little longer than your average sandwich but that’s because it’s not your average sandwich and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch the chef take the enormous pork belly out of the oven and cut your bit, placing it tenderly between two slices of sourdough, caressed by remoulade and tickled by parsley. The delicate flesh and the crispy crackling, with the fat seeping into the bread. Sounds wrong but it’s oh-so-right. Oh god, I want one now.

I’ve tried a number of dishes and the food, as a rule, is delicious and freshly made while you wait. If you don’t believe me, they were featured in the Time Out lunch feature last week, which reminded me, that I should really blog about the wonder that is the Konstam pork belly sandwich.

So, if you’re in London, try it out! I doubt you’ll be disappointed, I’ve dragged most of my friends there by now and they’re in agreement with me. If you’re not in London, I recommend you try a homemade version for a winter lunch. It’s medicinal and food for the soul and will get you through these next dark days leading to the Winter solstice.

pork belly sandwich at Konstam

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A Visit to La Boqueria in Barcelona

The Boqueria, Barcelona

La Boqueria, Barcelona

When in Barcelona, what does any self respecting food blogger do but visit the Boqueria! I’d been told by so many people that it was a must, and had seen it on tv and read about it on other blogs. So, on my recent hectic weekend trip to Barcelona, I made sure there was an afternoon free to fit it in.

Aidan at the Boqueria

Aidan at La Boqueria

Many of you will know Aidan Brooks, food blogger and chef, up until recently he was working in Michelin starred Comerç 24 in Barcelona. I am a very big fan of Aidan’ blog, it’s always interesting and entertaining. I shared a lovely meal with him at The Providore’s over the summer and had always planned to visit and eat at Comerç 24 while he was still working there. It wasn’t to be, as he had moved on already by the time I finally got there. We arranged instead, to meet and tour the Boqueria on a Saturday afternoon last month.

The Boqueria, Barcelona

La Boqueria, Barcelona

Barcelona is a lovely city, and this particular weekend in November it was gorgeous. It was so bright and sunny! Having just left London I was armed with a heavy coat, but it was too nice to wear it. I wandered the streets under an enormous blue sky in a t-shirt and cardigan – in November!

Tapas bar at the Boqueria, Barcelona

Tapas bar at La Boqueria, Barcelona

The Boqueria is an enormous indoor food market off of one of Barcelona’s main and iconic streets, La Rambla. It’s a series of stalls, shops and tapas bars, heaving with locals and tourists and selling almost anything you could imagine you’d want to buy. I saw all kinds of shellfish, offal, blood, porchetta, chorizo, jamon, mushrooms, herbs, really, anything your heart may desire seems to be available at the Boqueria.

Padron Peppers

Padron Peppers

First thoughts? It’s like the English Market in Cork, only bigger. That just goes to show how good the English Market is, to my mind, as many rate the Boqueria as one of the best in the world. Ok, it’s alot bigger but when it comes to vibe, produce and authenticity, it’s a near match! I loved finding out all about the local produce (thanks Aidan) and soaking up all the smells and colours.

Jamon! Boqueria, Barcelona

Jamon! La Boqueria, Barcelona

I really wanted to eat there especially after spending a few minutes watching someone frying razor clams and scallops at a tapas stall there and boy did I want some. It was way too busy though so we went elsewhere. I’ll definitely be going back to complete the experience and blog about it thoroughly, but maybe not on a Saturday.

Pigs! Little uns, big uns. Boqueria, Barcelona.

Pigs! Little uns, big uns - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Fishmongers - Boqueria, Barcelona

Fishmongers - La Boqueria, Barcelona

All sorts of dried fish - Boqueria, Barcelona

All sorts of dried fish - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Mushrooms - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Mushrooms - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Jamon Iberico Bellota - La Boqueria, Barcelona

Jamon Iberico Bellota - La Boqueria, Barcelona

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An evening with Ferran Adria

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Ferran Adria, mastermind behind the revered ElBulli north of Barcelona in Spain, visited London last week as part of his book tour, promoting A Day at ElBulli. Now, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t just be going to see Ferran Adria talk, but I would be going to ElBulli to sample his food, me and 2 million other people that is. Every year, ElBulli gets 2 million requests for 8,000 places, so as you could imagine, the odds are stocked against me. I’ll persevere.

The talk was to take the format of a Q&A with Observer critic, Jay Rayner. I am not a big fan of Q&A sessions. In my experience, the people with most to say and offer never do, and the people that want to make themselves heard with painful random and often stupidly technical questions are the ones that speak up. I am speaking mainly of film Q&A’s here as I’ve never been at a Q&A with a chef before. So, I put these thoughts aside and made an exception for Ferran Adria. I was curious, and I wanted to see.

The food blogging community were out in force: Chris, Helen, Krista, Charmaine, Su-Lin, Silverbrow, Jeanne and Bron. There was more too, these were just the ones I knew would be there. I also spotted a few chefs including Pascal from Club Gascon that I had met the day before at the Cuisine Cup (more on that later), but I was running for a train so didn’t stop to say hi.

The session started, and, curiously, it started with a slideshow. I am not a fan of slideshows and firmly believe in “death by PowerPoint” but this was good! It was fascinating with clips and photos of ElBulli itself and his wonderfully creative food. Wonders were unveiled like a tomato shell created in a balloon with liquid nitrogen, an artificial strawberry made with real strawberry, sounds rubbish I admit but it looked amazing, Chris of Cheese and Biscuits describes this better than I could hope to at this point, I’d recommend you look there if curious. Other curiosities included an almost pornographic clip of a middle aged couple thoroughly enjoying their meal at ElBulli. That, I must confess, was odd and I just felt weird and jealous watching them.

On then to the Q&A. Armed with a prop of a baguette, Ferran, via his interpreter was at pains to explain that his food was not scientific, it was simply food, and that he, Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller really wanted people to understand this. Asked what the secret to getting a table at ElBulli was, he really couldn’t say. It’s handled by one person and there is one rule – 50% of customers every year are new and 50% have been before. Other than that, he recommended sending a nice email! How can any one person get through 2 million emails? It seems insane.

Most of you will know that ElBulli is only open for 6 months of the year and the other 6 months is devoted to coming up with new ideas, they never serve lunch, Ferran explained that if they didn’t do both of these things, they simply couldn’t serve food of the standard that they do.

So, thoughts? He seemed like a fantastic guy: passionate, real, humble and a creative genius to top it. He’s the kind of guy that you’d love to go for a drink with, and I am sure it would be a fun night. While in London, he was brought to Manze’s by the Evening Standard, a trip which he claimed to enjoy as he was eating some thing local and a slice of history. He especially liked the liquor and I love him for that. There was lots of chatter about this online the next day, and the community at large seemed to be agreed that we would take him to Tayyab’s in Whitechapel.

Hopefully, one day in the future, I’ll get to try ElBulli. Until then, I might take a look at the book.

If you want to read about this in more detail, Silverbrow did a great job of live blogging it – take a look!