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Week 7 at the Market and a Recipe for Blaas

blaa

I can’t quite believe I’ve just typed Week 7 at the market, have I really been there 7 weeks? And I am but one day away from week 8. For something that happened organically and was quite unplanned save for the first week, it’s become quite a feature in this life of mine. Less major dramas and stress, there’s a routine in place at last, although I will continue to vary the produce to keep it interesting for me and for you.

There was one minor stress last week relating to transport to the market, namely it didn’t arrive, so apologies to anyone that got down there early to discover that I wasn’t there. I felt very bad about that. Onwards and upwards, I’ll ensure that doesn’t happen this week. I normally leave with enough buffer time to handle traffic etc. but if the cab doesn’t turn up, well, there’s nothing I can do about that. What’s that you say? Learn to drive? Buy a car? All in good time, all in good time.

The pork loin was popular as always and we were down to our last sandwich by 3pm. The bread sold out earlier than this and we had to top up with some lovely bread from fellow stall holders The Flour Station (they’re excellent – do check them out). There were a couple of new things this weektoo, two tarts. A potato, bacon and camembert tart and caramelised onion and goats cheese tartlets. The onions were caramelised in butter for over an hour and were rich and delicious. I struggled not to eat them all, a dual challenge last week as I struggled to avoid the crispy crackling which tempts me every week and, now also, the caramelised onions.

The crackling brought with it some bother last week. It is very crisp and tempting, glistening and winking at passers by from the stall, and several people requested some, some for free, and others tried to buy. There is never enough crackling, and every sandwich must have some, so I had to refuse, prompting one bizarre response from one girl who expected me to give it to her for free, stating quite crankily that I must be psychically very voluptuous. Eh?! As always though, most people were lovely. One couple had the sandwich then came back for some tart and prosecco, and then some more prosecco. My kind of people!

My bread at the stall has attracted much comment, and the recipe has been requested several times. Having made it several times, and feeling fairly confident in it, it’s time to share it. To recap, a blaa is a traditional bread made almost exclusively in Waterford, the county in Ireland where I grew up. I’ve been told that it’s also made in Newfoundland, as many people from Waterford emigrated there during the famine in the mid 19th century and brought the recipe with them. It’s light and soft and quite fluffy, I don’t know why it’s not more widely known. Sadly, I don’t know any bakers in Waterford, but I found a recipe on wikipedia of all places, and tweaked that a little so that I could use dried yeast. I followed it to the letter the first few times and also used fresh yeast. The dried yeast works perfectly fine and is easier to source so this is what I use now.

A word about yeast, it’s a living thing and it is possible to kill it, so ensure that the water is only lukewarm. Lukewarm to wake it up and start it reproducing, hot water will kill it, and kill your bread. Sugar feeds it and gets it going. Most recipes don’t call for sugar but this one does, and gives it a nice subtle sweetness as well as really livening the yeast.

The recipe takes some time but is worth it. Do ensure that that you knead the dough thoroughly, for 10 minutes or so. Also ensure that you sift the flour and introduce air this way. These steps are both key to producing a light bread.

Enjoy, hope you like it. Makes 8 blaas.

Ingredients

500g extra strong white flour, plus extra for dredging
10g salt
10g butter
10g active dried yeast
10g sugar
275g water, lukewarm

Method

1. Dissolve yeast and sugar into water. Ensure that the water is warm, not cold or hot. Leave for 10 minutes. It should get nice and frothy, indicating that the yeast is alive and well.
2. Sieve dry ingredients, introducing air.
3. Rub butter and dry mixture together.
4. Add wet to dry ingredients, mix until combined. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. It will go from rough to a little shiny
5. Proof for 45 mins in a bowl covered in clingfilm in a warm part of your kitchen. Remove from the bowl and knock back, pushing the air out the dough. Rest for 15mins. (The short rest times gives the gluten time to relax, making shaping easier).
6. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
7. Rest for 5mins, covered.
8. Roll out to an round shape and place the balls side by side in a square baking dish (that has some flour on) to proof. Dredge with flour again .
9. Final proofing for 50mins. Nearly there! Dredge with a little extra flour.
10. Bake for 15-20mins at 210c.

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Hawksmoor – The Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger

The Hawksmoor Burger. Everyone loves it. Often touted as the best burger in London by the food bloggerati, I had to try it. Fast forward to a Friday lunchtime and a decadent solo lunch.

Not everyone loves solo lunches, but I do. Every now and then, there’s nothing nicer than being very nice to yourself, allowing yourself some quiet time. You, a nice meal and a glass of nice wine in nice surroundings. Enter a book that’s grabbed your attention, and for me, that’s a perfect couple of hours. Of course, I also love more gregarious ones, they’re the most fun of all, but life’s about balance and contrast and to appreciate one you need the other.

Hawksmoor at lunchtime on Fridays is busy. Very busy. Lots of people, lots of chat, lots of steak on the tables and lots of people drinking wine. I like it. I seat myself at the bar and on the barman’s recommendation (I told him I would be ordering the burger and would like a red wine with body but also some fruit), ordered a glass of Main Divide Pinot Noir, 2007 from Pegasus Bay in New Zealand. I love NZ Pinot Noirs, and yet this one takes me by surprise, it’s really fruity yet has lots of structure. It feels like a delicious and naughty interlude while I wait for my burger. It’s only 1pm after all.

The Hawksmoor burger is at the high end of the London burger market at £15, but then Hawksmoor is no ordinary steakhouse. They carefully source their product, after much research settling on the Ginger Pig Longhorn cattle. They serve, in their words, dictionary- thick steaks from North Yorkshire dry aged for at least 35 days. Their philosophy is simple, they source high quality steak and do very little to it, simply searing it on a blisteringly hot charcoal grill, and delivering it with a gorgeous char ready to be devoured. I loved it when I was there last time and the burger now awaited me.

It was time – the burger arrived. I put down my wine glass and my book and surveyed this delicious looking creature. Delivered with triple cooked chips, pioneered by Heston Blumenthal and now replicated elsewhere, the burger glistens from beneath a seeded brioche, smelling intensely meaty and covered with a thin coating of Ogleshield Cheese from Somerset with a little salad. Just a little.

Burgers are to be eaten with your hands, and even though this is a big one, this is what I did. It’s a burger! Eat it the way it should be eaten. The flavour was so rich and gorgeous, full of umami. I felt like, in the best possible way, I was licking a roasting tray having slow roasted some meat over night. It was gorgeous, intense, moist and fatty. People complain about fat, but that’s where the flavour is, a good burger needs it. The chips were good, but I really didn’t care about them now, I wanted only the burger. The wine was a lovely accompaniment, I was only sad that I could only have one glass. It is lunchtime and I must have some standards. Occasionally.

Why is the burger so special? Like most deceptively simple things, it’s the attention to detail that delivers something that stands out. Consisting of of 100% Longhorn, it includes old fashioned cuts like Clod and Sticking and small nuggets of bone marrow. Ah bone marrow, now I understand the intensity.

So, hats off to Hawksmoor for delivering the finest burger that I have tasted in London. I look forward to trying it again, with a delicious glass of that lovely Pinot Noir.

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Covent Garden Real Food Market Menu – Thursday 24th September

Good morning! No time for photos I am afraid, but there is a menu – I believe that’s called progress! Two vegetarian options today, so come on down vegetarians, we’re not all about the swine. We’ve a leaner cut of pork today, the more decadent and luxurious loin, I thought I would treat you. Great meat again from Yorkshire.

I best get my skates on! See you soon.

Eat Like a Girl @ Covent Garden Real Food Market Menu

- Thursday 24th September 2009 12-7pm-

Roast loin of pork sandwiches w/ spiced apple relish in homemade bread £4.50

Potato & Bacon Tart £3/slice

Beetroot, Tomato & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets £3 (v)

Caramelised Onion & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets £3 (v)

Pork & Chorizo Sausage Rolls in homemade butter shortcrust pastry£3

*********

Bisol Jeio Prosecco £3.50

Bisol Jeio Rosé Prosecco £3.50

Pear & Elderflower Bellini w/ Bisol Jeio Prosecco £4

(v) = vegetarian

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A Little Cookery Course

Raspberry, mint & ricotta tartlets w/ honey

A friend recently asked if I would consider running a cookery course for his wife’s birthday. She loves food, but doesn’t like to cook so much, and likes the kind of food that I make. I was very flattered but, I’ve not formally done anything like this before so was a little reticent to begin.

When I was in university, a flatmate used to follow me around the kitchen with a notebook and pen following my culinary movements. It used to drive me crazy, but we’re still friends :) I worried for this reason, that, perhaps I haven’t the right temperament. A  birthday present is a very big deal after all. I agreed, but insisted that no finances would change hands. I had been asked to do this before but hadn’t explored it due to time constraints. I thought it was worth a try. If it worked well, I’d consider doing it again, and if it didn’t, we’d hopefully at the very least have a nice meal and some good wines.

Once we agreed on a date, I relaxed, and didn’t worry too much. I thought we should definitely have some pork in the mix, some shellfish and a quick dessert. At first I thought that prawn curry might work, but then after some discussion we agreed on pork belly. At this stage I could make it in my sleep so wasn’t too worried. We settled on scallops for starters. Dessert was another issue as they really aren’t my forte, primarily because I rarely have them and am more inspired by savoury things, however, I did make one blackberry tart with mint, ricotta and honey recently, and loved it. So, that was it, we were all set.

The days building up to it were phenomenally busy, things always seem to happen this way! On the morning, I was struggling to complete an online task that had been deferred for longer than was healthy, and by the time it came to go to Borough Market, I hadn’t had time for lunch and was a little frazzled. Not the ideal start. I was really keen that the evening should be a worthwhile birthday treat and that they would not regret it.

We met at 3pm and wandered around Borough with our shopping list. We hit our first hurdle, I should have asked if she liked blackberries. She wasn’t a big fan so we switched to raspberries. We sped around the market, knocking off most items from our list: hand dived scallops, pancetta, chorizo, pork belly, salad stuff, herbs, ricotta, and the birthday girl had spotted some samphire and was keen to try it so we threw it in. Time to dash home, picking up lentils on the way, and get started.

The best evenings start with a glass of prosecco, in my humble opinion, so we indulged. In hindsight, this may not have been terribly clever, but it was a birthday celebration. We started with the spice rub for the pork belly (recipe here), preheated the oven, prepared the pork as I always do, some boiling water on the skin to start the crackling, pat dry, and rub in the spice rub. Placing it in the oven dish with some carrots and garlic as a vegetable trivet, it was good to roast.

We started it at 230 degrees celsius for half an hour. While this was happening we switched our attention to the homemade sweet shortcrust pastry, which when complete, we stuck in the fridge to chill  for an hour or so. For 6 small tarts sift 225g plain white flour, add 2 tbsp sugar and 110g very cold butter cut into cubes, and with your fingertips blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. At  this stage, add one egg blended with the same amount of water, a little at a time until the pastry pulls together but is not too wet. It’s best to use a knife for this stage.

At this stage the timings were looking good, the half hour for the pork was just coming to an end, and it was time to open the door, review the impressive crackling and turn the heat down to 170 degrees, for 45 minutes with a glass of cider.

Just one problem – where was the impressive crackling?! This was one piece of unenthusiastic meat. I’ve never had this problem before, in fact I am extremely proud of my crackling, and there’s photographic evidence to prove its existence. How disappointing, but I knew we could rectify by sticking it under the grill after it had finished roasting for a couple of minutes at a high heat. I started to get anxious though, and continued to drink wine with the birthday girl. I must remember to remove the wine from the equation (on my part) next time.

Moutabal on toast

Moutabal on toast

At this point we veered off course, although I don’t regret that. I had an aubergine and we started discussing moutabal, so we decided a quick snack would not go astray. This went down very well, as long as you don’t taste the aubergine skin before peeling it off. I was reliably informed that it tastes of cigarettes! I started to feel better, with that stubborn uncrackly pork skin glaring out the little glass door and taunting me from my oven.

Skillet bacon jam with heritage tomatoes on toast

Skillet bacon jam with heritage tomatoes on toast

Another brain wave – you’ve got to try my bacon jam that I bought from the US! It’s GREAT! Did I mention the wine? It is great, and we really enjoyed it on toast with some bright yellow heirloom tomatoes. We were now two unplanned appetisers in. Not too shabby, also not too clever, people were getting full. Normal people don’t eat as much as greedy me.

Scallops with samphire & pancetta

Scallops with samphire & pancetta

We persevered, now having a glass of champagne and prepared the scallops, removing the veins but leaving the roe. We had rinsed the samphire in several changes of water to reduce the saltiness somewhat and fried some diced pancetta and garlic before adding the drained samphire. At this stage, we started to chargrill the scallops for a couple of minutes on each side, taking care not to overcook them, as they are best still spongy and tender in the center. We gobbled these up, served in the shell with a squeeze of lemon and with a glass of lovely birthday champagne. This, for me, was the star dish of the meal.

It was time to turn our attention to the pastry once more, rolling thinly (perhaps a mm thick), and lining buttered tartlet trays (we used 4 inches across) with a layer. We blind baked these for 10 mins, covering each one in greaseproof paper and a layer of rice. I’d usually use dried beans here but had run out. We added the lentils and some cider and water to the pork (a glass of water and a glass of cider), and let this cook for another 45 minutes. We mixed the ricotta with the raspberries, and some mint, sweetening with honey. This was a nice mix but the raspberries are a lot more bitter than the very ripe blackberries I had tried, and in my enthusiasm I added too much mint. It was a little too fresh but nothing a little honey couldn’t help with. And we continued with some delicious red wine.

The pork was done, hurrah! I tortured that crackling, no friend of mine, with a couple of minutes iunder the grill and watched with glee as it blistered. Having rested for 10 minutes we served it on top of a bed of lentils with a rather tart salad on the side.

Almost there! All that was left to do was to fill the pre-baked pastry shells with the ricotta mixture, and bake for a further 5 minutes. Served with a drizzle of honey, we were finished.

Time to relax, and review. Imperfect at a first attempt, but really enjoyable. I’d do it again, with more planning, less wine, and perhaps less lengthy dishes. Prawn curry might have been a better option after all. But, that’s what this was, a trial, and a lovely evening with friends. I just hope the birthday girl enjoyed it, I certainly did.

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Covent Garden Real Food Market Update: Week 6

At last, a week where everything went smoothIy, I was beginning to lose hope. I was most pleased with my produce for last weeks market. Overnight slow roast shoulder of pork was delectably tender with a gorgeous crispy crackling. I upped the spicing on the apple relish slightly, and enjoyed the extra kick nestling in the unctous pork. I made many blaas, those fluffy Waterford bread rolls, I’m definitely getting that recipe down now.

Slow Roast Pork Shoulder & Blaas

Slow Roast Pork Shoulder & Blaas

Blaas

Blaas

With regard to the rest, the sausage rolls were the most perfect yet, looking uniform and less like distant reformed relatives. The beetroot tartlets ( recipe here) revealed themselves, almost by accident, pretty pink and juicy with a light goat’s cheese blanket. The new addition on the wine front  – Bisol Rose – went down a treat.

Chorizo & Pork Rolls

Beetroot Tarts

Beetroot, tomato, goat's cheese & mint tartlets

All perfect so far. Unfortunately, the market was quiet last week. It’s impossible to predict how these things will go. It’s almost safe to say that my level of organisation or otherwise serves as a good barometer for the busyness of the market or not. When I am organised, it’s quiet, when I am disorganised, we sell out early and there’s nothing left. Go figure. Regardless, overall the day worked well, and I was happy at the end of it.

How long more can it continue? Good question! It seems the options are I ramp it up and do another market on other days buffering my diminished income, and making it a realistic prospect, or I retire quietly and gracefully while the going is good, and get back to work. I am really not sure which way it will go right now, but I’ll be at the market once more this week, menu details tbc.

Bisol Rose Prosecco

Bisol Rose Prosecco

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Fight Hunger. Eat Out. Get Involved.

I’ve learned to say no to anything on Wednesday evenings which may distract me from the all important task of preparing for the food stall at Covent Garden on Thursdays. I stick resolutely to this (almost!), but, last Wednesday was different. I was invited to the launch of Fight Hunger. Eat Out (an Action Against Hunger Campaign) at Konstam (my favourite lunch haunt last year)Restaurants Against Hunger was founded in 1998 – an international movement of restaurant owners, chefs and food writers supporting Action Against Hunger and its goal to end child hunger. I am very interested in this charity, they do great work and I was keen to know more. The sweetener was the fact that one of my favourite singers – Beth Orton – also a supporter of the cause, would be playing a set. How could I not go?

Beth Orton
Beth Orton

The evening started nicely with some fantastic and interesting canapes by Chef patron and Action Against Hunger ambassador Oliver Rowe with Bob & Roberta Smith. These included eggs with carrots replacing the yolks, and fantastic very thin pizzas, which, sadly I have no photo of. It was lovely to see a few familiar faces, and to meet a twitter buddy that I had never met in the flesh before. Supporter of the campaign, Fergus Henderson of St John, was in attendance. I was too shy to say hi, although he was extremely busy, everyone wanted to talk to him.

On to the meat and two veg of the evening, the campaign itself. An inspiring campaign, they were very careful to stress that their goal is extremely challenging, but are aiming to do what they can in a difficult area where few NGO’s fear to tread. Action Against Hunger works in over 40 countries to carry out innovative, lifesaving programmes in nutrition, food security, water and sanitation, health and advocacy. Every year, 6,000 aid workers help over 4 million people worldwide.

Oliver Rowe & Fergus Henderson
Fergus Henderson & Oliver Rowe

Growing up in Ireland, we were ever aware of the problem of hunger in this world. Education was predominantly by the religious orders, and many of these teachers had spent time in the third world, so there was always a keen awareness of these issues. At home, if we left food on our plates, we were scolded for this, when so many children in this world had none. We raised money for third world charities in school campaigns, collected in Christmas campaigns for third world charities, delivering proceeds to the convent after. We even knitted vests for children with few clothes of their own when we were 9 years old. I really hope my baby lemon knitted baby vest I made was of use to someone! We did many sponsored 48 hour fasts, collected money over the lenten period for the third world that would normally have been spent on sweets, and every morning a money box in the shape of the globe would travel the school and we were all encouraged to add something ever day, even if it was just a penny.

Now, I was no saint. This kind of behaviour was entirely normal. Charity in Ireland is very strong and something that is widely encouraged and participated in. In recent years I’ve been lacking, preoccupied with my own concerns as many of us urban dwellers tend to be. So, this seemed like a good opportunity to participate.

I was impressed and inspired by what I had heard of the Fight Hunger, Eat Out campaign, and following on from a couple of conversations on the night, have started to arrange a blogger fundraiser to (hopefully) coincide with the campaign, and support their great work in some way and help get the word out.

Bloggers based in London, if you would like to get involved in our fundraising event, we will need a lot of participants and volunteers. I’ve had a fantastic response already which has been wonderful but we need more. If you are keen in getting involved please get in touch, and I will email you with details once they are confirmed.

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Beetroot, Tomato & Goat’s Cheese Tartlets with Mint

Every now and then I make something on a whim, expecting it to be nice, and I am pleasantly surprised when it tastes even better and becomes an instant favourite. Enter beetroot, tomato & goat’s cheese tartlets with mint.

Last week at the market I was really stretched for time and sadly had no opportunity to make a vegetarian option. This was noted by a number of people, and I felt dreadful as some had come down especially for the tarts that I had made before, so I promised to make it up to them and did this week with tartlets.

I don’t have a precise recipe as I was making them in bulk and on the hoof, however, they’re really straightforward. I used little tartlet cases but you could use a bigger tart tin. Line the greased/buttered tart base with homemade butter shortcrust pastry, it really is far superior to shop bought, and is very quick too. I had a fear of it for a long time after my Home Economics teacher, horrified at my efforts, yelled: it’s pastry you’re making, not leather! I also have very warm hands. However, when making it, I do my best not to touch it, using very cold butter and binding the pastry with a knife, putting it straight in the fridge to chill, and then rolling in as much of a hands off way that I can manage. It seems to work well.

Start building the tart with a layer of mascarpone, just enough to cover, and spread some shredded mint sparingly. Layer boiled or roasted, peeled and sliced beetroot, for tartlets about 3/4 slices with 2 slices of tomato wedged between. For a bigger tart arrange beetroot and tomato slices overlapping so that the mascarpone is covered. Add some goats cheese, I used a soft goat’s cheese from Somerset, but chevre or similar would work well too. Don’t cover it, just enough to taste. Finish with a light and fine grating of parmesan. Bake for 10-15 mins at 200 deg celsius until the pastry is browned.

Reading this it could do with a step by step picture guide, I’ll do one soon, maybe for next week’s market. Hopefully you get the picture (boom, boom!). It really is very easy, and really delicious. The sweetness of the beetroot and tomato, the tart goat’s cheese, the freshness of the mint, and the creamy mascarpone nestled in the butter shortcrust base is a real delight. It’s on the favourites list now, and I’ll be making it for veggie friends when they visit.

Here’s the pastry recipe. A note on the eggs: they’re not essential but give it a lovely richness. Use the best you can afford, I love the pretty blue Old Cotswold Legbars or Burford Browns. At the very least free range, if you can.

Homemade Butter Shortcrust Pastry Recipe

(enough for two large tarts or many little ones – this is the amount that uses exactly one packet of butter)

Ingredients:

250g chilled butter

500g plain flour

2 beaten eggs, and the equivalent amount of cold water

Method:

Sift the flour. Add the butter in cubes and mix with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the water and eggs a little at a time, blending in with a knife until it starts to take shape. Don’t let it get too wet, it’s fine if it’s a little crumbly (wet pastry, like a wet gizmo, makes a gremlin ;). Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roll on a floured surface to your desired thickness, taking care not to overwork it.

And, that’s it! Not so scary, eh?

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Guilty Pleasures: Part Deux

Guilty Pleasures: Part Deux. This time its serious!

Guilty Pleasures: Part Deux. This time it's serious!

It’s always fun to be a little naughty, let the hair down, do something different. It doesn’t come much better that indulging in your guilty pleasures. Things you know you shouldn’t have, because they’re not good for you, they’re horribly processed or they’re frowned upon (although that doesn’t bother me, frankly). So, following on from our first Guilty Pleasures Dinner Party, I hosted Part Deux last night. The premise is that all attendess bring a guilty pleasure, some food and others wine/beer. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, what I was most guilty of was being under prepared. I have a stupidly long to do list of things that need to be achieved by the end of this week, and I only started getting organised 10 minutes before the front door bell rang, and my first guest, Helen of Food Stories arrived. I had intended to go to the shop to buy wine glasses, as my flatmate had lovely ones that I used, but she has just moved out and I am left with those tiny wretched ones which reek of the eighties amongst other things. Perhaps perfect for Guilty Pleasures, except I hate them. Unfortunately, I had no time and it was raining so heavily, I was also lacking in motivation with regard to actually leaving the house. So that put me in a bit of a position at the very last minute for I didn’t have the materials for my own Guilty Pleasures. I improvised and everything seemed fine.

Except it wasn’t. That essential appliance, the fridge, decided it no longer wanted to be cold, favouring a temperature more suited to a summers day. I tried everything I could, given I had no knowledge at all, and in desperation called the miele customer service line. Little did I know I was about to enter an alternate dimension where I could be given no info on how to fix this, without my landlords precise details, for there are data protection issues when it comes to giving out information on fridges. Eh?! It’s just a fridge, not a nuclear missile!

Helen & I poked and prodded, but no joy. So we did what we could and eventually it righted itself, sadly not quickly enough to chill the lovely Bisol Jeio Prosecco. So, we moved the Bisol portion to the end of the evening, which actually worked rather well.

Along came the other guests. Chris had with him many guilty pleasures, cheese strings, pepperami, lots of beer. We were off!

First up, was a toast to the late Keith Floyd. Dan of Bibendum said that Floyd had said the best wines for him were those from the South of France and cheap, so Dan brought along a bottle of Domaine de Montplo, Chrysalide 2005, a fine red, I think Floyd would have been happy with our choice.

I was making little chorizo pizzas with homemade dough. As I hadn’t left the house, cheese was lacking so I improvised and used mascarpone and a light covering of parmesan. After fridgegate, I hadn’t the strength to worry or do anything about it, so I just got on with it. I put the spiced pork belly in the oven to roast and Lizzie started on her spam pancake, for she is a lover of spam.

Helen prepared her boiled eggs with anchovy soldiers, saving her piece de resistance, David Lebovitz’s candied bacon ice cream until last. Now, that was fantastic! I am actually going to buy an ice cream maker just to make this stuff. Creamy with crisp pieces of bacon and bacon on top, as David himself says, bacon and eggs, what’s not to love? I have to agree.

Dan brought his superb and extremely hot sleazy cheesey chilli nachos. Lots of fun, having lots of chillis AND Dave’s insanity sauce. Dan was organised and brough his chilli already made. Added to this, we sampled some truffle popcorn. Yes, really! Reactions to this were mixed but I really liked it, and look forward to having it again. It’s very naughty and seems wrong, but tastes oh-so-right.

Denise and Dan brought lots of wine, less guilty than surprising and some delicious. There were some gems in there and I’ll be seeking them out. I expect some info on these from Denise & Dan soon on their blogs.

All the best parties have a gatecrasher and we had one too. A tiny snail crawled in the open window and sat watching from his vantage point. I didn’t even see him, hooray for Dan who gently put him outside, although we think we may have cracked his shell, he was really tiny.

So, another fun night and another culinary adventure. Guilty Pleasures Parties are my new preferred mode of entertainment! Do have one. It’s recession proof raucous fun.

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Raising a glass to Keith Floyd

Keith Floyd
The culinary landscape has been robbed of one of it’s brightest stars. Keith Floyd died yesterday. At the tender age of 65, Keith Floyd died after a heart attack, having previously suffered a stroke and bowel cancer.

I’ve always had an interest in cookery, and Floyd was one of my earliest inspirations. There was no pretence, just passion, knowledge and a natural skill. Gregarious and hilarious, he was brilliantly entertaining. He changed the course of TV cookery and made it an informal and accessible place. He travelled the world seeking out local gorgeous food. And the wine, well, he loved the vin rouge.

I’ve been seeking a particular clip to show you, unfortunately I have been unable to find it. In an episode from his series “Floyd on Britain & Ireland”, he visited Cork, a county I am particularly fond of, it’s where my mother is from and where I holidayed as a child and spent my University years, and some years following.

Now, Cork has a bit of a reputation. They have a sing-song accent, full of drama and song and Corconians declare Cork the real capital of Ireland much to the chargrin of Dubliners. It’s the biggest county, lush, and green and it’s no surprise that Floyd moved there for a bit, for they have a lot in common with their mutual gregarious natures. In the series, he paid a visit to Skibbereen, a small town in rural Cork and cooked with a local lady. It was fantastic, and hilariously subtitled, for the benefit of people unable to cope with the variance in pitch and the speed with which speech is delivered in this part of Ireland.

A particularly personal memory for me is, many years ago, having returned to Ireland after a stretch of travel finishing in Naples and experiencing real Neapolitan pizza and great Italian food, a friend gave me a copy of Floyd on Italy, which I still have. I adored it and read it voraciously, and it’s thanks to Floyd that I made my first homemade pizza. His passion for real people eating real local food was wonderful.

His tv career was quite accidental, and started with a phone in radio show, which led to brief tv appearances, and eventually 19 tv series. Not a buinessman, he was to declare bankruptcy and sell up a number of times. In his life, he owned several restaurants and wrote 25 books, his first was published before his tv career and his final one, his autobiography, is about to be published.

Somewhat coincidentally, Channel 4 last night screened a documentary, Keith on Keith, where Keith Allen decamped to Avignon, in search of Floyd and interviewed him. I was quite shocked when he appeared on camera, he looked very old, much older than his years. Nonetheless, his zest for life was still there, bubbling under the skin. I was surprised to hear that despite appearances, Floyd’s background was not wealthy, and he had grown up foraging out of necessity, getting up early to pick mushrooms before school. This was to serve him very well in his career. Sadly, I only caught half of the show, but intend to view it on 4OD, where it will be available for a further 29 days.

RIP Floyd. We’ll miss you and I will be raising a glass of vin rouge in your honour this evening.

Floyd’s Official Site

Obituary on The Guardian

A tribute to Keith Floyd from Jay Rayner on the Guardian (word of mouth blog)

Beef with Oysters and Guiness recipe – Floyd on Britain & Ireland – BBC

How to make a pizza – Floyd Cooks – BBC

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Week 5 at the market – Slow Roast Pork Shoulder Baps

Slow Roast Pork Shoulder - looks small but it was enormous!

Slow Roast Pork Shoulder - looks small but it was enormous!

I promised myself that I would be more organised last week, I really did. And I thought that I was. Why then did I run out of time again? Ack, it became so frustrating and exhausting I really started to question if this was worthwhile.  Can I make a go of this realistically? I want to, I really do, but it’s difficult.

I have made some progress. I’m now getting my meat delivered, saving me a trip to the butchers. This may not seem like much but it’s a few hours all in all, and this makes an enormous difference. Online farmer’s market Paganum, who I have used in the past, seemed like the perfect solution. I can order those large & heavy cuts of meat, know that they are well sourced (all Yorkshire produce), and Chris will ensure that these are delivered to me on time, saving my wrists, and time. One step forward. Hooray.

How then did I find myself lost in Tottenham, on Wednesday afternoon when I should have been in the throes of pastry making, chorizo chopping, industrious tart production etc. HOW? It’s completely ridiculous, I had a list, and I knew what I had to do, but then I had an idea, and I had to act on it. Brilliant if you’re cooking dinner for a few people, but when mass producing (ish) to deadline, and trying to do it well, best to be practical and stick to THE LIST. Lesson learned. Creativity is useful and important but practicality is very important too. Balance, where are you? Hoping for a visit next week.

To that end, I need to source more of my products online and have them delivered, allowing me more time to make. I adore Natoora and use them for my personal shopping, they have a fantastic and seasonal range and a great delivery service, but I am not sure this is right for the stall. I need somewhere I can buy large amounts. Any ideas?

Pork & chorizo rolls in homemade butter shortcrust pastry

Pork & chorizo rolls in homemade butter shortcrust pastry

This week I varied the offerings. I will continue to do this, perhaps not every week, but I feel it’s important, however, practicality deems that old favourites should remain, and so I made pork and chorizo rolls again, and had return visitors to buy them. In fact, what has been really lovely is we have now built up a stream of regulars and this week had a queue, which was fantastic. The downside to this was that I wasn’t prepared in terms of volume and we were sold out of our main offerings before 2pm.

So, what was this? This week I slow roasted a shoulder of pork, and made some homemade blaas, a traditional bread peculiar to Waterford (where I am from), a gorgeous fluffy bap with a little sweetness that was great with the pork. I served the pork in the blaas with spiced apple relish and rocket. It was a labour of love, as most good things are, but the results were lovely, a delicious moist pork with a smashing crackling, also spiced. I really found it difficult not to devour it there and then.

Homemade blaas

Homemade blaas

The blaas, I made fresh on the morning with a not so delicious early start, but bread has to be fresh, otherwise, what’s the point? Waking up the yeast with a little sugar and warm water, coaxing it from sleep, I wished I could be as easy to wake up. I was struggling last Thursday morning, motivation was at an all time low. Several rounds of kneading, proving, rising, proving, rising again, and finally (!) baking, produced fluffy white paps, which were a great home for the pork and spiced apple relish.

We had a different wine this week which was a gorgeous match with the pork and rolls, Macatela 2006, a spanish red from Tierra de Castilla. A delicious organic wine at a bargain £3.50 a glass, more on that over on Denise’s blog – The Wine Sleuth. Some regulars were asking after Bisol, and I must confess that I missed my glass or two of it, it’s so good, so it will return next week. We will have both the rose and the white prosecco, and also a matched wine courtesy of Denise. Variety is the spice of life, to use the cliche.

Denise and the delicious vino

Denise and the delicious vino

Sadly, time as always was limiting, so apologies to people who came looking for tarts, these will return next week. I am also hoping to do some sweet treats for the afternoon.

Another new development this week! I will be sending the menu by email, so if you want to receive the weekly menu by email, sign up here.

So, we’ll continue, and look forward to seeing you next week! We’ll have more food and will hopefully run out, but not as early as last week. Get down early and tuck in :)

By the way, if you have suggestions for food you’d like to see on the stall, I would love to hear them. Please get in touch.

Pork & Chorizo Rolls

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Dine with Dos Hermanos at The Bull & Last

A bit of a photostory for you today. Last night I had the pleasure of attending another wonderful Dine with Dos Hermanos at The Bull & Last in Highgate. It was a great night with really excellent food, and fun company. The theme was Best of British and was fantastically well executed.

Favourites (and it’s tough to chose) were a wonderful hand of pork, shoulder of mutton with lentils, steak tartare with quails egg yolk and fried cornish skate cheeks with tartare sauce. It really was all wonderful. There wasn’t a weak dish, and the deep fried calves brains were intriguing, almost like a mozarella fritter, I now know why a brain dish is called head cheese!

Starting with the snacks while mingling and drinking martinis, we proceeded to the main course and dessert, which we ate at one enormous table, family style. I was a little worried about this, as my memories of family style usually mean some eat really well and others badly. That was not a worry here, there was so much food. Courses were matched with drinks starting with a fine martini made with Plymouth Gin and finishing with Compass Box Oak Cross Whisky. The dishes in between were matched with some great beers that I’ll be seeking out. All at £40 a head inclusive of drinks, bargainous.

Simon excelled himself once more. The Bull & Last was gorgeous, intimate and friendly, I would highly recommend it and I will be going back. If you are interested in future Dine with Dos Hermanos, be sure to join their facebook group.

Simon and the chef at The Bull & Last

Simon and the chef at The Bull & Last

I’m off now to raid my enormous goodie bag from last night. LOOT!

The Bull & Last, 68 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, NW5 1QS, Tel: 020 7267 364

View the full photoset on flickr.

THE “BEST OF BRITISH” @ THE BULL & LAST

ENGLISH SNACKS

Fried Cornish Skate Cheeks (Tartare Sauce)
Scottish Razor Clams w/ Tomato, Garlic & Parley
Steak Tartare (Quail Egg Yolk)
Arbroath Smokie & Horseradish
Caerphilly Sticks, Pork Scratchings & Marinated Caper berries
Deep-Fried Calves Brains w/ Gribiche & Pickled Cabbage

DRINK: Plymouth Gin Martini

STARTER:

Rare Hare Loin, Roast Pumpkin, Walnuts, Hairy Bitter Cress & Cabernet Vinaigrette

MATCHING BEER: Fuller’s London Pride

MAIN COURSE:

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Mutton, Prunes & Bacon
Roast Hand of Pork, w/ Apple Sauce
Served with Black Cabbage, Creamed Potatoes & Roast Salsify

MATCHING BEER: Badger

DESSERT:

Trifle
Eton Mess

MATCHING BEER: Thornbridge Brewery Jaipur IPA

CHEESE: Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

Coffee & Petits

DRINK: Compass Box Oak Cross Whisky

Fried Cornish Skate Cheeks (Tartare Sauce)

Fried Cornish Skate Cheeks (Tartare Sauce)

Arbroath Smokie & Horseradish

Arbroath Smokie & Horseradish

Deep-Fried Calves Brains w/ Gribiche & Pickled Cabbage

Deep-Fried Calves Brains w/ Gribiche & Pickled Cabbage

Scottish Razor Clams w/ Tomato, Garlic & Parley

Scottish Razor Clams w/ Tomato, Garlic & Parley

Steak Tartare (Quail Egg Yolk)

Steak Tartare (Quail Egg Yolk)

Rare Hare Loin, Roast Pumpkin, Walnuts, Hairy Bitter Cress & Cabernet Vinaigrette

Rare Hare Loin, Roast Pumpkin, Walnuts, Hairy Bitter Cress & Cabernet Vinaigrette

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Mutton, Prunes & Bacon

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Mutton, Prunes & Bacon

Roast Hand of Pork, w/ Apple Sauce

Roast Hand of Pork, w/ Apple Sauce

Eton Mess

Eton Mess

Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

Leagram Dairy Tasty Lancashire & Curd Cheeses served with oak cakes, pickled grapes & Damson Cheese

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Julie & Julia – in 3 Parts

Warning: contains spoilers

There’s been a lot of buzzing and hashtagging of Julie & Julia on twitter of late and I couldn’t help but be intrigued, given I read Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously last year, and read her follow up Cleaving last month. Always keen to engage and align with other food obsessives, I looked forward to reading about her adventures.

I hadn’t heard of the book but was browsing a remainder book shop last year and spotted it. The cover roared chick lit but I read the blurb and bought it – the obsessive foodie nature of the project reeled me in. Julie Powell, desperate to escape the quotidian banalities of her job and life, started blogging a behemoth project, cooking her way through the entire of Julia Child’s tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. 536 recipes in 365 days and she had never eaten an egg. It seemed like the kind of overly ambitious, introspective project that I would find myself in. An indulgence, a divergence and a challenge.

I had heard of Julia Child but I didn’t know much. Despite basing her book on French cuisine, she doesn’t seem to be very well known this side of the pond. So, I picked up Julie Powell’s book about cooking through it, dived in and powered through it.

I could identify with the stresses and strains of unrealistic and to the outside observer pointless deadlines. I loved her geeky obsessions, and found her relationship with her husband and childhood sweetheart charming and endearing. It was self indulgent, as all of these books are, but with a happy ending, where she dragged herself from her circadian corporate nest and pursued a career in food, living happily ever after with her husband.

Seems too perfect? It was.

I picked up Cleaving, the follow up, in a local Oxfam over a month ago. I hadn’t heard about it and was surprised to see it. I was really curious about what had happened after that first book. Had she pursued food writing, and made a career of it? Had she another project?

In short, yes, she was now an apprentice butcher, and this was exciting, but the book was only half about this. The other half was about an obsessive affair with an old college friend, horribly depressing flings saturated in self loathing and otherwise destructive behaviour. I was surprised and in truth a little dismayed.

Genuinely, I am not one to judge but I did feel for her husband, he may never read this book, but everyone else surely will, and he will be horribly exposed. It seemed extremely selfish. I hoped that maybe it was a clever scheme to make more money. It was clear that the first book was too good to be true, at least in the long term, and for them I guess.

I really didn’t know what to make of this, it felt like it wasn’t what I had signed up for and was now spending a lot of time reading. I pursued it and Julie and I had a breakthrough of sorts half way through, when I started to feel empathy, or maybe sympathy. She had lost control and I think we can all relate to that to some extent. She was lost. It is an interesting read, but be prepared for graphic descriptions of the flesh, human and animal. And there’s no happy endings this time, perhaps it’s more realistic than the first book.

On to the film. How would Julie be portrayed? Why wasn’t Cleaving yet published in the US but is available here? Are they afraid that it will affect box office figures? The twitterati loved it and I was keen to see.

Sadly they stripped out most of Julie Powell’s geekiness and, for me, she was portrayed as a lot more mainstream than I gave her credit for. I found this slightly annoying, although I am sure that those that haven’t read the book won’t give a hoot. The real gem in the film and inspiration was Meryl Streep’s amazing performance as Julia Child. Stunning, engaging and entertaining. Never giving up and putting everything she had into writing her cookbook, rejected by publishers, going on for 8 years, relentlessly. Embarking on a new career late, at a time when she would have been thrust on the scrap heap as a childless woman in her forties. I would recommend that you go see it to see her alone. It’s unashamedly sentimental but I loved it for this.

I got a copy of Julia Child’s memoirs – My Life in France – at the screening and am looking forward to reading that. Now I just need to get my hands on a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I want to make that Boeuf Bourgignon!

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Junior Apprentice and 6 Hour Slow Roast Pork

A title you wouldn’t see very often, or would you? Junior Apprentice branched into cheesemongering this week and were my neighbours at the Covent Garden Real Food Market. It added a little spark to the day, and nosey ole me kept a close eye on proceedings, although I was careful to dodge their camera, having no ambition to appear on any form of The Apprentice, even as an innocent and very nosey bystander. I can’t bear the show.

I have been in front of the camera before. I have been on TV before in a starring role on ” A Prayer at Bedtime”. I jest but also it is true, it was a favour to a friend producing them at the time. It was laced with ironies, and every elderly lady in Cork loved me for a time, and that, my friends, was my brief sojourn into TV.

This one was quite funny as they seemed to have a mix of the usual characters, some grafters working hard, persuading people to buy cheese, not stopping in their efforts and quite understated in their dress. And then there were the others, there to make an impact, sporting striking clothes, one a bright white beret and sparkling red lipstick. Who am I to judge? She may be the brightest of the bunch and did manage to sell £50 worth of cheese to a neighbouring startled trader. Although,  I did also heard her describe one of the many cheeses to a customer: “well, it’s basically, like, a blue cheese”. I sound like a snob. In truth, I would have been the same at that age. It was amusing to witness however. I’ll take what I can get.

Lingering in the background all the while was a large production crew, frantically scribbling notes, guiding, instructing, ordering, directing. Sternly overseeing all junior apprentice activity was Nick Hewer. I caught him glaring at me and my camera at one point. Haha!

Junior Apprentice aside, this week had the usual mix of drama and high activity. In my fourth week now, I am still coming to grips with how these things work and I am, as ever, a horrible chronoptimist (defined by the urban dictionary as a person who always under estimates the time necessary to do something or get somewhere – HELLO, c’est  moi). This week, culminating with me in a state of slight panic the morning of the market wondering how I could get everything done, having utterly stretched myself. Ambitious as always, aiming to deliver too much and not as organised as I should be. I always do this, and always get very annoyed if what I do is even slightly under par. I felt as I did before all exams, underprepared and extremely annoyed with myself, hoping to scramble through. Stressful.

I made it though, and I survived.

The drama started ever before I approached my kitchen with the sourcing of ingredients. Last week I asked my butcher if I could order bone in shoulder of pork and he assured me that I didn’t need to, that they always have some out the back. I was surprised, following the high drama associated with getting one for my birthday. So, off I trundled on Wednesday, ready to purchase my shoulder of pork, bone in. They had none. CRAP. Already I was having problems with the bread with no time to make it, and through the advice of the wonderful Willie Lebus of Bibendum, had managed to secure a new order via Sally Clarke’s bakery (fabulous bread & service, I will be using them again).

What to do? I couldn’t use bone out, I wanted to slow roast it, and needed the bone to retain the moisture and add flavour. I wasn’t sure how pork belly would work cold in a sandwich, without experimenting it was too risky to try. They did have a leg of pork, bone in. I was a little worried as this is a much leaner cut of meat, and the fattier cuts lend themselves better to a slow roast. I thought I should give it a try. They’re a great butcher and the meat is high quality, it’s as good a place to start as any.

Anxiously I wheeled my third leg home in my new bright pink shopping cart, wondering how best to do this. It was heavy, as was the chorizo and minced pork I had also purchased, and my wrists were starting to ache. I was getting stressed, and I needed to reel it in, so that I could get everything done, and do it well.

I prepared the roast, exactly as I had done with the shoulder. Pouring some boiling water over first, drying and salting with a sea salt and fennel seed rub. Roasting at maximum temperature for 40 minutes to crisp the crackling and reducing to a little lower than the shoulder as there was less fat to protect the meat, 150 degrees this time for 5 hours or so, basting occasionally, turning the temperature up for the remainder, or until the crackling was perfectly crisp all over.

The result? A perfectly good roast leg of pork with great crackling, but I don’t find these leaner meats as appealing to slow roast, and as they cool they can dry out. The meat close to the bone was moist and delicious but that closer to the skin, despite being protected by a layer of fat, for me just wasn’t as good as it could have been with a fattier joint. I know fat isn’t healthy, but it is tasty, and you do need it for this.

I served it with a celeriac and parsley salad, although in hindsight something like a remoulade might have been better, the leaner meat could probably have done with the extra moisture while cushioned in the bread. The bread was really great, half was a white buttermilk roll which was sweet and light, and the other half a nuttier wholemeal, with some butter in the dough. Both good partners for the pork.

In addition I made chorizo and pork rolls. These I played with for some time, knowing that cold they would not have the unctous fat providing moisture. Encased in a homemade butter shortcrust, they were quite popular, selling out early in the day. I’ll be making more of these this week, with a couple of tweaks.

If  you were vegetarian or weren’t a pork fan for religious reasons or otherwise, there were three vegetarian tarts: beetroot, ricotta & mint; pumpkin, spinach & roquefort and last weeks start burnt aubergine with feta and also red pepper this week. There was no wine this week unfortunately as Denise had to work, and so I sailed the ship solo. However, my aforementioned hero, Willie, arrived on the scene with two bottles of delicious red, proclaiming them perfect partners with the pork. A bottle of D’Arenberg Derelict Vineyard Grenache, 2006 & Chianti Rufina Fattoria di Basciano 2007. He was right, and we enjoyed a glass, as did several other visitors who I gave tasting portions.

No sweet treats this week, these I had to shelve as I was running out of time. Learning, as I am, this week I’ll be more realistic, and I will endeavour to have some there.

So, that’s it. Another day at market, another frantic day of prep, and 16 hour Thursday. The Thursday is actually the best day, as I do get a buzz from being there. The build up is a killer though.

This week: less chornoptimism, more organisation, and help from Dan from Food Urchin should make it a thoroughly enjoyable week. I’ve also ordered the shoulders of pork this week and hope to have them delivered, saving my wrists and my sanity. And I may attempt the bread. I’ll plan it out on Tuesday, so watch this space. Denise will be matching the wines this week, she’s going to get back to me and let me know what these are, and I in turn will share here.

Thanks to everyone who came again, it warms the heart so it does. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did.

The full photoset is on flickr.

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Wikio Listings Preview for September

A quick post from me this morning, as I am recovering from yesterdays market escapades (read: I am absolutely shattered, mentally & physically).  Dan from Wikio asked if I’d like to do a preview of the latest Wikio Gastronomy Top 100 blogs (for September). These are updated monthly and usually revealed via a food blog.

It’s something that I am doing tentatively, as these lists are based on links to your blog and not necessarily quality as there’s no human analysis. However, I do agree in the main, as the blogs on this list tend to be my favourites and ones that I read regularly. Of course, all that aside, I am very happy to be included in at number 3.

If there’s some blogs on this list that you’re not already aware of, I’d heartily recommend a read.

1 The guardian – word of mouth (=)
2 Food stories (=)
3 Eat like a girl (+2)
4 Hollow legs (=)
5 Gastronomy domine (+30)
6 Spittoonextra (=)
7 Thring for your supper (+10)
8 Ambrosia and nectar (-5)
9 Cheese and biscuits (-1)
10 World foodie guide (-1)
11 Dos hermanos (-1)
12 A slice of cherry pie (-5)
13 Ice cream ireland (+13)
14 Kavey eats (+8)
15 Dinner diary (-1)
16 London eater (+2)
17 Greedy gourmet (+3)
18 Intoxicating prose (+3)
19 The foodie list (-8)
20 The cottage smallholder (+13)
21 Londonelicious (-9)
22 Domestic goddess in training (-9)
23 Coffee and vanilla (+5)
24 An american in london (+8)
25 Crumbs and doilies cupcakes blog (=)
26 Cherrapeno (-11)
27 Culinary travels of a kitchen goddess (+2)
28 The london review of breakfasts (+2)
29 Tinned tomatoes (+7)
30 Antics of a cycling cook (-14)
31 Joanna’s food (-12)
32 Chocablog (-8)
33 Tamarind and thyme (+4)
34 Annes kitchen (-11)
35 The graphic foodie ()

Ranking by Wikio