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Spiced duck legs with pancetta & coriander potatoes

Spiced duck legs

Spiced duck legs

I do like spice, especially when it’s on some crisped skin. Chicken, pork crackling, duck… the fat on skin lends itself wonderfully to spicing, adding some flavour, and, should you choose it, heat, to the crispy skin with the unctous fat underneath. Swoon.

Last night I found myself at a loose end, mentally at least. Nothing agreed with me.

What  to do? Out, in? In, out? I wanted to go out but I didn’t want to leave the house. I was tired but I was restless. I decided to stay in.

I wanted wine, but I didn’t have any. I didn’t want to go out to get any. I had a half bottle of fino. Not quite the sleepy red that I had in mind but I do love fino, so that will do.

What to eat? I had duck legs and pork belly in the fridge. I couldn’t decide and I wanted both. So both it was. Until I realised that it was 10.30pm and the pork belly still wasn’t in the oven, plus the duck leg dinner was shaping up to be a sizable one, so I would stick with that. And it looked good.

Duck legs? Why not duck breast? Duck legs are delicious and saturated with flavour, fat and crispiness. Duck breast is delicious too but it’s more delicate and feels less rustic. I wanted rustic. I wanted bones. I wanted fat, and I wanted flavour. Lots of flavour and lots of crispy skin.

I wanted red wine but I was starting to get over it.

I placed the duck legs in a baking dish about an inch deep, so that I would capture the fat that oozed out of it. I sprinkled a little hot chilli powder over each leg and about twice as much five spice, I would estimate a half teaspoon of five spice and a quarter of the chilli powder. It need some sea salt to round it off and crisp it up. I rubbed it all in with a little groundnut oil, and made sure to wash my hands thoroughly after. That chilli powder can make your hands firey for hours after.

Into the oven, and I went back to watch Medium. I was firmly immersed in a marathon of it. I love that show!

After 20 minutes I parboiled some diced potatoes, skin still on, until soft, then drained them and chopped some pancetta, 2 generous thick slices. The duck by now was looking and smelling good and had released lots of delicious duck fat.

I removed the legs from the baking dish and put them on a tray with the pancetta. The idea here was to crisp the pancetta up to mix in with the potatoes.  I put the potatoes into the dish with the duck fat with some sea salt sand freshly ground black pepper and gave it a good mix. Then left everything for a further 10 minutes or so, when the duck was perfectly crispy and moist underneath, the pancetta crisped and the potatoes had roasted nicely in the duck fat. I added the pancetta to the potatoes and mixed in some chopped fresh coriander, about a tablespoon, and served it up.

It was delicious. So good I had to share. I hadn’t intended on blogging it so there’s no photo of the finished dish unfortunately, I was too keen to eat it and not keen on missing any more Medium. It was my Saturday night after all. Lazy, grazy and lovely! I hope you had a nice one too.

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The art of the tart and making an impression

Another week has gone by, and we’ve spent another Thursday at the market. This week started with a bang with me spectacularly locking myself out of my house whilst signing for some post. I wasn’t even wearing shoes, just a dress, whose hemline was too north of the knee, to feel anything but freezing and ill prepared for the situation.

I have a tricky relationship with my postman at best. He has told me off for “neglecting” my post. I explained I work(ed) for a living. Sheesh. So, you can imagine how we both felt when the door slammed behind me with me standing in my porch with nothing on my feet, bare legs, no phone, no keys, no wallet, and I don’t know anyone’s number.

No neighbours were in, I was well and truly stuck. Even if they were in, I am much shorter than the fences at either side of my garden. The postman, now transitioned from sworn enemy to personal hero, persuaded an elderly Caribbean neighbour two doors down of the severity of the situation and she allowed him to climb over her fence so that we could get at the one next to my garden. No small feat, the man is my height (= short). The relief when he opened the door and let me in, the poor guy was horribly stressed. I resumed my task of menu planning at the kitchen table whilst telling the twitterati my woes, wondering if it was too early to have a stiff drink to calm my nerves. It was.

Back to the task at hand! Prep was very busy this week as I changed the menu, so there was no blog post in advance. I was too busy standing in the center of a very hot kitchen wondering if I could possibly fall asleep on my feet, and how long for? I was feeling on the verge of a Rip van Winkle style coma following another extremely early start.

I did really enjoy the prep this time though, it was nice to have the variety. As much as I love brown Irish soda bread, if I had to bake another loaf, there may have been a soda shaped hole in my kitchen window or I may have just hit myself over the head with one to make the pain end.

For once, we had good weather. Actual sunshine and lots of it. We also had the fabulous company of fellow blogger Kavey of KaveyEats, who had a wonderful selection of condiments, jam tarts, jellies, nuts and jam tarts. You can read more about it on Kavey’s blog.

This week, I focussed on tarts, and quite by accident produced an entirely vegetarian range! All open, and savoury, with one exception, a sweet filo tart with blackberry, ricotta, mint & honey. All original recipes, I shall have to scrawl them down and share them. I enjoyed this little tart adventure with sweet foray, and will make more for next week. People seemed to like them too, and that is what this is all about after all!

I made 4 types of savoury tarts and two types of rolls. I reverted to puff pastry this week, filling the rolls with spinach, ricotta and roast butternut squash and spiced burnt aubergine with chilli, ricotta and roast tomato. The tart fillings were roast beetroot, goats cheese & mint; roast pumpkin, spinach and gorgonzola; spiced burnt aubergine with ricotta, chilli, feta & parsley and roast tomato, courgette and parmesan. All washed down with one of my favourite proseccos from Bisol: Bisol Jeio.

Not content with starting with a bang, I ensured that I finished with one also, with a spectacular fall in front of lots of people at the market whilst running to get some bread. The stunned stall holder, on the phone, stopped and said “Sorry, a girl has just gone flying through the air and is now lying on the ground. Are you ok?!”. I blame the cobbles. Others blame the prosecco.

All’s well that ends well, everyone was so shocked all we could do was laugh, and somehow I managed to gather a couple of impressive bruises on my left shoulder and right knee. I literally landed with a thud.

The verdict? We’re getting there, and I am still really enjoying it. I love making the food, and it’s great to meet readers, fellow bloggers & twitterers. Thanks to everyone that came and supported us.

We’ll be there weekly for the foreseeable future. Next week there’ll be more tarts, something sweet and one of my favourites – CHORIZO! Details as they evolve.

Thanks so much for all of your support and I look forward to meeting more of you, and cooking lots more food. I love it!

Ill stick with the cooking, I suck as a signwriter!

I'll stick with the cooking, I suck as a signwriter!

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A Lille Adventure

Lille

There’s a few perks to this little sideline of mine. We get invited to lots of things, we get sent things, or at least people offer to send us things. Some are crazy (surgical instruments anyone?) but sometimes we get invited to great events, nice restaurants and receive some products that I would actually like to try and would buy normally. I only ever write about them if they’re of interest. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Eurostar - St Pancras

This brings me nicely to last Saturday, a gorgeous sunny day which I spent in Lille in Northern France, in the company of fellow food bloggers, exploring the culinary landscape, courtesy of Eurostar, who, via the medium of our friend the internet, are raising awareness of their Little Breaks. I know that the Eurostar can bring me to France in less than a couple of hours, but it never occurred to me to do a day trip as it always seemed too far away. Crazy, when as a Londoner I will cheerfully sojourn 2 hours South for a couple of hours for dinner or to meet a friend.

Lille

Nevertheless, I was very excited at the prospect of a trip across the water. I’ve not had many opportunities to travel outside of the UK & Ireland for various reasons this past year or more. I want to travel more and I will. For now brief European breaks will be the band aid on that open sore, that need to travel.

I didn’t know much about Lille, I’d heard lots, that it was industrial and not really all that interesting. Some people had found it disappointing. Why bring us there then? There must be things that they had missed.Why else would they bring fussy food bloggers?

We gathered at 6am at St Pancras, one of my favourite London stations, it’s so vast and gorgeous. Another 5 am start, how many must I suffer in the name of this blog? I jest, but really, is this to become my regular wake up time?! Before I knew it we were in France. Chris announced that he was now on Orange-France, to which I asked, are we in France already? I was so sleepy, that I had missed the tunnel, literally with my eyes open. 1.5 hours after leaving St Pancras we disembarked in Lille.

A quick tour around Lille quickly dispelled any worried of over industrialisation, it’s a very pretty town with gorgeous architecture and lots of dainty little shops and cute eateries. It’s also quite serene, although, I know it’s August and most of France is on holiday so this may not always be the case.

macarons

We had a quick wander around, visiting a local chocolate shop (it looked lovely although I didn’t purchase here so couldn’t recommend), and then drawn by the colours of the gorgeous macarons and cakes, patisserie Patrick Hermand. I couldn’t help but treat myself to a box of 12 macarons which I devoured on Saturday night and finished for breakfast on Sunday morning.

merveilleux at meert

Next up, another wander through the winding narrow streets of Vieux Lille and stopped off at Meert, a lovely and decadent patisserie, shop and cafe. We were advised that the local specialities were waffles and merveilleux. I was drawn by the chocolatey decadence of the latter and overwhelmed by the enormity of it on its arrival. It was still morning after all! I coaxed some fellow bloggers into eating some by putting it on their table and walking away when they refused my offer to share. It was utterly delicious, mind, but I just couldn’t take it!

We followed this with a trip to L’Atelier des Chefs for a cooking class which was very pleasant, but I can do this in London, so perhaps may not do this in Lille again. I could see how this would be a lovely option for others, but I already spend way too much time in the kitchen. It was fun, but with just one day, I would prefer a lazy lunch.

l'atelier des chefs

l'atelier des chefs

l'atelier des chefs

5 am was seeming unwise at this point, and taking it’s toll, so I was glad of the sit down at La Capsule for a beer and cheese tasting. The cheeses, as you would expect in France, were superb. Strong and stinky cow’s cheeses and one more delicate goats cheese from Philippe Olivier, a notable local fromagerie, maroilles & mimolette were my favourite and I shall be looking out for those. The beer tasting was interesting, as I am not a beer drinker at all, these, however, were unlike those that I was used to and I could enjoy a glass or two, particularly the lighter Page 24, which I brought home to sup on at L’abbaye des saveurs .

beer tasting Lille

cheese tasting in Lille

This was followed by a frantic dash on my part to gather some interesting French food & drink that I could play with at home, notably a violet syrup and a violet liqueur, gorgeous and vibrant and purple, I can’t wait to play.

So, back to London we went, indulging in champagne on the Eurostar, and then champagne in the champagne bar at St Pancras on our return at 7pm. I would love to and will do it again, I loved Lille, and could imagine a sleepy, indulgent and stress free break there. I really need one at the moment. Just look how happy this local is?!

dog in Lille

Lots more photos on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niamheen/sets/72157622007356871/.

It was a pleasure to spend the day with fellow bloggers Chris, Helen, Helen, Krista, Liz, Margot, Michelle, Kang, Stephen and Kerri, Ms Marmite Lover and Andrew. Thanks to Eurostar and We are Social for organising.

Notes: Eurostar operates up to 10 daily services from London St Pancras International to Lille with return fares from £55. Tickets are available from http://www.eurostar.com or 08705 186 186. Fastest London-Lille journey time is 1 hour 20 minutes.

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Chorizo, tomato, cannellini bean & coriander brunch

I’m all about the brunch at weekends, and at the moment as I am not working during the week, I am all about the brunch all the time. It’s got to stop, my waistline is not so forgiving of my brunch whims, but what’s one week of indulgence? 2 inches you say?

A recent trip to Brindisa means I have lots of their gorgeous cooking chorizo. I like the hot one, and this is the one I have today. A recent trip to Celia Brooks Brown‘s allotment affords me some really delicious and juicy tomatoes, which diced and fried with the chorizo, create the most wonderful sauce. I had a pot of home cooked cannelini beans, soaked overnight and boiled for just over an hour, scooping the white scum from the top as soon as it gets to the boil. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, home soaked and cooked beans are infinitely superior to tinned ones. They have a firmer texture and don’t have the oversweet flavour that most tinned beans have. A cupful of these with the tomatoes and chorizo, and this looks like a very robust and delicious brunch. It needs something else though. It’s tasty but needs something to blend with the strong flavours and give it a bit of a lift. I have fresh coriander, and it’s the missing jigsaw piece. The citrus notes pair perfectly with the juicy sweet tomato base.

I liked it so much I made it again for dinner. Easy-peasy. If you want to recreate, I used two chorizo sausages per person, one big and very good tomato, a handful of beans and a tablespoon of fresh coriander added at the end. Fry the chorizo in some oil for about 5 minutes, add the tomato and beans, and cook for a further 5 before adding the coriander at the end.  Really great with some good bread to scoop up the sauce. 10 minutes, one delicious brunch.

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And to market! Today’s menu

Greetings from my kitchen! Once again, a late night, followed by a very early morning, making and baking. I want everything to be as fresh as possible and if that means I suffer in the sleep stakes, well, so be it.

We’ve broadened our offering today, and have a veggie alternative for those that don’t eat salmon, or who just want something different. Savoury rolls with a light pastry, filled with roast pumpkin, spinach, chilli and chevre (dellicious goat’s cheese). Frank Hederman smoked salmon with cucumber pickle on homemade brown soda bread will also be on offer as last time, only today you can up the ante and get cream cheese with it too. There will be jars of pickle to take home, as there were many enquiries as to why not last time. Last but not least by any means, we’ll also be selling the wonderful Bisol Jeio prosecco by the glass. I’ll try and drink less of it this time but I can’t promise anything.

So, back I go to the soda bread, it’s still in the oven. Hope to see you at the market today from 12-8pm!

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Keep Calm & Carry On

New Covent Garden Market

Gallery at cheese depot, New Covent Garden Market

Holidays! I love them but I don’t seem to know how to take one. Which for someone with a penchant for laziness as me, is a bit of a surprise, I expect a guffaw or two should any of my family read this!

How else could I explain getting up at 6.30am and going to New Covent Garden Market in SOUTH LONDON for lots of cheese, followed swiftly by a trip up river to London Bridge to a jar factory? A jar factory?!

Madness? Sleep deprivation gone so horribly wrong things are out of control? I am getting up early on my flipping holiday! EH?

Those that are worried (and I know you are) can relax, although not for long as I suspect more sleep deprivation lies ahead. Denise and I are once again doing the Real Food Market at Covent Garden. We had so much fun last time, and I am not working, so why not?

This week expect some more wonderful Frank Hederman smoked salmon on soda bread with some other home made treats, details to be revealed when I have more of a clue as to what they are. Of course, you can wash it all down with yummy Bisol Jeio prosecco.

So, do come down and see us. We’ll be there on Thursday from 12pm to 8pm (weather permitting), and I promise not to bite, no matter how little sleep I’ve had. I also promise not to lose *cough* the fridge keys.

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Sunday Brunch

weekend brunch
I love a good brunch, nay, I adore it. Lazing and grazing are the key ingredients for my perfect weekend morning.

The local newsagent opens at 9am, and I am usually there shortly after, purchasing the paper and any other accoutrements required for a successful weekend brunch. I have to have good coffee, I get very upset if I run out. The last time this happened, I found myself rushing to Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden, buying an extremely large bag of ground coffee, for fear it should happen again. Good eggs are also important, and these my local shop does not stock, so I try to keep a surplus of Burford Browns for this pleasure. Often, I like to include the wonderful but humble potato.

Like much other things my weekend mornings are routine. The first step, following such an exertion as a trip outdoors early on a weekend morning, is to head back to bed with a cup of fresh coffee, black with a little sugar, and the paper. First stop, the food pages to read the recipes, reviews and wine pages. Bliss. Then the tummy starts to rumble, and I start to think about breakfast, but I am lazy, and absorbed in my paper, so it’s inevitably a brunch, a little later, washed down with a second strong coffee.

What is the brunch? I experiment frequently, but I do adore a good hash. Fried boiled potatoes, with something porky, bacon or chorizo in the main, some onion, some herbs, and a fried egg. A simple pleasure, but one that keeps me very happy.

Today’s was some Gubbeen salami, brought back from my recent trip home, some fried onions, slightly over-boiled potatoes with just enough extra moisture to make them squishy while still holding their shape. I squished them some more with a fork and roasted them with the fried onion and salami for 10 minutes, just long enough to crisp them. As they were crisping, I fried the egg, bright white with a perfect golden yolk. I dashed to the garden for some fresh chives, snipped them into the potato hash and served it with the glorious fried egg on top.

Diets? Who needs them?! Weekends? More please!

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Covent Garden Real Food Market Stall: the recipes

And… drumroll! Now for the recipes.

I was really excited by how many people really enjoyed the brown soda bread and cucumber pickle. I was a little nervous about how they would be received, and at 6am, sleep deprived and coffee’d up, I had a thought: what if people hate it?! Thankfully no one seemed to, in fact lots of people wanted the pickle and bread to take home, so if I do it again folks, I’ll make sure that I jar some and make some extra bread (if that’s possible!).

As I said in my previous post, both of these recipes are very straight forward but with excellent results, it’s virtually impossible to mess these up. Depending on your taste you may want to alter the sugar/vinegar ratio in the pickle, I prefer it to be a little on the tart side. Both recipes are adaptations of Ballymaloe recipes. The original Ballymaloe soda bread calls for buttermilk, however, that’s not terribly easy to find in the UK, and when available it’s expensive. I substitute whole milk, soured a little with fresh lemon juice, about a tablespoon for every 850ml. You need the sour aspect to wake up the soda. The Ballymaloe cucumber pickle calls for onion and less vinegar so that it’s a sweeter pickle, I prefer to make with just cucumber and a little more vinegar.

This is utterly perfect with smoked salmon, but if you’re vegetarian try it with a robust cheese, like a good strong cheddar or Mrs Kirkham’s. It would work a treat.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Frank Hederman you can visit his site – www.frankhederman.com.

To get your hands on some delicious Bisol Jeio (it really is delicious!), you can order some from Bibendum. I will be.

Brown Soda Bread

Ingredients:

600g wholemeal brown flour
600g plain flour
850ml whole milk soured with 1tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 230 C.
Mix the flours, salt and sieved baking soda thoroughly.
Make a well in the center, and add the milk, drawing in the dry ingredients from the outside as you add it with your hand.
Mix until sticky but not too gooey, you should be able to pick it up and shape into a round.
Wash your hands and flour them and transfer your dough to a floured board. Shape into a round. Turn over onto a floured baking tray and shape once more, tidying the edges is necessary. It should be 1 1/2 – 2 inches thick at most.
With your knife, draw a cross in the centre (as per the picture) cutting down to the bottom of the bread. The idea is that it should come apart into quarters quite quickly. Stick the knife into the centre of each quarter to let the fairies out (yes!).
Cook for 20 minutes and then turn down to 200 C. After 20 minutes, take the bread out of the oven, turn upside down and knock on it. If it sounds hollow it’s done. If it doesn’t put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes, upside down, and try again. That should be enough.

Cucumber Pickle

Ingredients:

2 cucumbers, sliced as finely as you can.
240 ml cider vinegar
200g sugar
1 tsp salt

Method:

Heat the vinegar, sugar and salt just until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Allow to cool.
Pour over the cucumbers and leave overnight in the fridge (or for 5 hours).
Your cucumbers are pickled!
Keeps for up to a week in the fridge.

Enjoy!

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Covent Garden Real Food Market: the groundwork

There’s been time to digest (literally) and to kick back and have a glass of prosecco or two and to think about our stall at the Covent Garden Real Food Market last week. It was a lot of work, but more importantly it was a lot of fun, and a real pleasure to be involved and meet so many lovely and interesting people.

When I was first approached about this earlier this year, I was really keen and full of ideas. Working as I do as a contractor in New Media, there is some flexibility in my job, and I thought I might be free at that point and might have all the time in the world to think, organise and prepare. To come up with some dishes, new and old favourites. I had to do it.

I could only commit to doing it once realistically, as at that stage, caught in the middle of a recession as the rest of the world was (for it is not only about I!), I just didn’t know what my situation would be like, so I chose a date, and settled on that. Of course life has a habit of conspiring against plans, and some things happened which meant that I just didn’t have the time I wanted to do this the way I wanted. My lovely first niece was born, and I would be in Ireland for her christening for 4 days the weekend before the stall. I was also finishing a contract, and tying up all of the loose ends, so I couldn’t take more than a day off, and that was the day of the stall itself.

What to do? I really didn’t know. I approached Denise from The Wine Sleuth and asked her if she would be interested in partnering. We had spoken previously about doing a pop-up bar but it just hadn’t happened yet. She was keen and I was happy. But, still, what to do?

The most important thing was that we offered quality and something to be proud of. I also wanted to contribute and not just be a vessel to promote food products that I like. But I had no time! Time for compromise and thinking laterally.

I thought that it would be lovely if the food were Irish. People always slate Irish food or claim that the cuisine doesn’t exist, which might have been a fair claim in the time of impoverished occupied Ireland, but even then, there was a peasant cuisine, and a good one too. Now, the Irish food scene has a sturdy back bone and lots to offer. We have some superb quality produce, from dairy to meat to fish, oatmeal to flour. Industry is on a smaller scale and produce is generally excellent.

A perfect example of this high quality produce is an artisan one from Cork - Frank Hederman’s smoked salmon. I’ve long been a fan and love it when I go home on homemade soda bread and cucumber pickle. Oh, well, why don’t I do that?! Done.

I called Frank and arranged to visit and purchase some of his lovely fish. He was open to it and very helpful, and provided me with a box perfect for hand luggage (once you’re not flying Ryan Air!), which many Irish eyes queried as I walked past. I could see the internal commentary – WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! I smiled surreptitiously, and kept my glorious cargo by my side.

I was tired when we got in, spilling a whole bottle of sparkling water on the tube and thinking – argh! the fish! – thankfully it was untouched, the same could not be said for my clothes, but I didn’t care about that. Is the fish ok? Yes? Well, that’s fine then.

Roll on tube delays, little sleep and work the next morning. Home late, and a long day again the next day. Cut to me in the supermarket at 9pm on Wednesday night, the night before the market, buying my bodyweight in cucumbers, wholemeal and plain flour, cider vinegar, sugar and milk. I’d brought my wheels, a two wheel suitcase, drawing much confused attention from the cashier. Are you going on.. er.. holiday? No, I chuckled, but I need to get this stuff home.

And I did. I started slicing cucumbers with my mandoline, but the slices were too thick, so I commenced by hand, watching Sex & the City repeats and consoling myself with some wine as I went. 3 cucumbers. Getting there. 5. Only 5? 5 more?

Maybe I can do just 8? No, do 10. Argh! The torture.

Once complete, I felt relieved and congratulated myself with another glass of wine… Time to heat some cider vinegar with some sugar and salt, just enough to dissolve it, then cool, pour over the cucumbers, and leave to pickle in the fridge over night.

It’s 12am. Surely time for bed now? No, for I was wired. I’m a night owl anyway, and feeling invincible I surveyed by pickled kingdom, had a further tipple, and set off to bed at 1.30am, with the alarm set for 5am to commence soda bread baking.

Now soda bread is surprisingly easy. An old peasant bread, there was no time for aerating or fussing, just mix it all up, and bake it. Divided in four so that it could be quartered to eat in the fields, pricking a hole in each quarter to let the fairies out (yes, really). Cooked on a high heat for 20 minutes and then reduced for 20-25 minutes, you can tell it’s cooked if when you knock on it when turned upside down, it sounds hollow.

So, knock, knock, knock, any fairies there?! Eight loaves later, I surveyed the next batch and thought, I can’t do it. I can’t make another bread, let the fairies out, knock and see if they’re home, and repeat. So, I made a batch of scones, which had no fairies in or out, and finished.

9.30 am. Eeeek! Time to shower after all that baking and run to the market. I hadn’t factored in a number of things. Soda bread is heavy. Very, very  heavy. 9 loaves is bloody ridiculous. My wheels, as I said, are on a case, and I hadn’t the foresight to organise transport thinking that all would be ok. I am invincible, remember? And very, very strong. More problems, butter melts next to hot bread, I discovered this pretty quickly, and my departing and arrival stations both had steps. Bugger.

I am never one to give up, so with one big case, a beach bag (yes!) and a big canvas bag full of my wares, I made my way to Covent Garden to collect the prosecco, which was being delivered that day by the lovely people from Bibendum, who despite knowing me, agreed to my suggestion of meeting the courier on a street corner. Believe it or not, it worked out. Dan is a star for organising and trusting me despite all signs that he shouldn’t. I am one happy customer, and I will be buying from them again.

Time to setup. I whip out my new tablecloth, and borrow some markers, lay out our wares, and scribble our menu. It’s a gorgeous day, the sun is hot, people are smiling, and we are good to go.

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Covent Garden Real Food Market Stall: Roundup Part 1

Our day at Covent Garden Market last week was so much fun! The other stall holders were friendly and welcoming, and we met some lovely people throughout the day.  It was worth the holiday day, and worth all the trekking. I’ll leave you with a quick roundup and some photos now, and will come back to tell the story properly soon. I will also share the soda bread and cucumber pickle recipe as promised.

I learned a few things last week.

  • Slicing 10 cucumbers by hand is a tedious task. Buy a food processor!
  • 5.30am is very early, especially when you go to bed post pickling and slightly pickled at 1.30am.
  • Don’t sandwich packets of butter between piping hot bread straight from the oven. Should you do this and carry it in a bag on your shoulder, it will leak on your shoes. And on the tube floor. And you may get startled by the sight of the yellow blood on your legs and let loose an expletive in front of some shocked elderly men. Elderly men of Turnpike Lane, I’m sorry!
  • If the market manager says you have the keys for the fridge, it’s likely you do. Don’t tell him 3 times that you don’t, only to discover, when he has given up all hope, that they are in the bottom of your handbag. Sorry Ben!
  • Always prepare for rain, just because you are Irish doesn’t mean you are impermeable (although I should be).


I learned some other things too:

  • There are lots of lovely people in London, and I met a lot of them last Thursday. Thanks for coming by!
  • I love food and I love cooking, but I get so much pleasure from other people enjoying it, much more than what I get from eating it myself.
  • Frank Hederman is a star, and he makes phenomenal produce. Everyone loved it.
  • Another star, Roberto from Bisol represents a fine, fine prosecco, and is great fun to boot.
  • Denise from The Wine Sleuth is a fun stall partner, I haven’t laughed so much in ages.
  • I love markets, and I loved having our little stall. The day flew, so much so, I hardly ate myself! As queen of the snack in the  office, this was quite a shock, for me and everyone who knows me.
  • Sneaky glasses of prosecco over the course of a day can result in spontaneous bouts of singing in the taxi on the way home. And you are the only one that will appreciate it.

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Covent Garden Market Stall – almost there!

Frank Hederman at his market stall in Cork

And… breathe! Tomorrow is d-day for our Covent Garden Market Stall, sharing with you Londoners the wonder that is Bisol prosecco and Frank Hederman smoked salmon. Both are fantastic products and we’ll be selling them at really fair prices, so that you can try them and judge for yourself. I’ll be making cucumber pickle into the wee hours after work tonight and up at 5am tomorrow baking soda bread (and maybe soda scones?). On Frank’s recommendation I will also be serving the salmon with red onion and capers as they are a good match.

Setting up this stall has been no small feat but it has been a great experience. I loved calling around to Frank’s smokery in Belvelly, Cork. If he could bottle that smell he could retire. Such an interesting man too, a true artisan with loads of information to share. My mother proclaimed en route that she wouldn’t be eating smoked salmon as she couldn’t bear it, yet when Frank offered, and she reticently accepted (based on the smell alone), I caught her sneaking seconds when she got an opportunity. After dropping me at the airport she went home happily with her own packet of smoked salmon, stopping on the way for soda bread, which she gifted to my sister who was very happy indeed.

Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon and Pickled Cucumber

In Frank’s own words (from the Irish Independent):

How do I know it’s done? Well, this is what I do: I feel the fish through my fingers — imagine the inside of a salmon, the upper front. I put my thumb on the orange bit at the front and feel it at the back, at the skinniest part. I move my finger and go, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ It’s an instinct thing. There’s no law to these things. So when the fish is ready, the fish is ready, and when it’s not ready, it ain’t. You leave it until it is ready.

One journalist very kindly said that saying Frank Hederman smokes fish is a bit like saying Mr Steinway makes pianos.

We use beechwood chips, which we have specifically made for us in the UK. The size of the chip dictates the temperature at which it burns, which then, in turn, gives you the smoke that you desire. I suppose you could say that it’s bespoke timber. The curing process is the salting. We’re not Indians in pioneering America and we’re not trying to feed families for the winter. We add flavour, like Lea & Perrins or Colman’s do. When I was starting out, one very clever man told me: “Do not, under any circumstances, smoke volumes of anything. Smoke high value, low volume.” So we did that and it makes a lot of sense.

From the very beginning, we’ve been a low-volume producer, but a very high-quality one, and we have stuck to that rigidly. The Irish market is actually a very small part of what we do. The bulk of it goes to London. We supply all of Selfridges, we do the food halls, the Wonder Bar, the Oyster Bar and all the big restaurants, such as Richard Corrigan’s. We did the Queen’s birthday two years ago.

As for the prosecco, I’ve met Roberto from Bisol before, he’s a real character with a fantastic joie de vivre and lots of knowledge on his favourite topic – prosecco. Some tasting notes from him:

The wine is a straw yellow with a fine, bubbly mousse. On the nose it is fresh as a Spring morning, with hints of rich fruit and wild flowers. Taste it and you’ll experience an explosion of apples and pears. It’s round, generous and will leave you wanting more.

He’s going to join his tomorrow, so do come along, and join in the fun!

It’s rare to get an opportunity to taste and indulge these lovely products  in an informal setting and we’re delighted to offer it.

I am off to work for the day now, I suspect a high coffee intake lies ahead once I get home and get cracking on this enormous to do list!

So, see you tomorrow I hope!

Where: Covent Garden

When: 6 August from 12 noon to 8pm

Price: Bisol Prosecco at £3 per glass. Open sandwich of Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon on homemade soda bread £3.50.

An absolute steal, I am sure you will agree!

You can read my partner in crime, Denise’s details here. She has also got a video interview with Roberto from Bisol which you should definitely check out. Thanks, Denise!

Also check out the NY times on Frank Hederman’s Salmon “Mr. Hederman smokes fish, which is a little like saying Steinway makes pianos.”