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Another Year Over! End of 2009 [Part 2]

The epic adventure continues. The first 6 months of 2009 were busy, busy, busy!  The second half of the year got only busier, although busy from an industrious perspective as opposed to socialising. In that respect the year splits easily into two halves. Before I launch into that, I want to share something else with you.

Another important part of summing up 2009 is sharing my favourite places and experiences, from that superb burger at Hawksmoor, to Txacoli at Terroirs, to black pudding and egg mayonnaise sandwiches at Fernandez & Wells. Oh, and don’t forget their fab breakfasts. Huge breakfast muffins from The Flour Station, discovered first there and purchased from them at market since, every day bubbles from Bisol Jeio Prosecco, which became a strong feature of the year via Bibendum Wine & my stall at Covent Garden, blosoming courgette flowers given to me by the gardener at the allotment at St James Park, to be later stuffed with cheese, battered and deep fried. Those lamb chops at Tayyab’s sizzling and sashaying their way from the kitchen. Wonderful meat from Paganum. Bones for stock and marrow from my friendly butcher at the new Ginger Pig in Lower Marshes when I used to work nearby. These are my fond memories and favourite experiences. Hope you get to enjoy some of them too.

Some of the pics are iphone pics so please forgive the poor quality.

So, my favourites of 2009 are:

Terroirs - Natural wine bar Terroirs off the Strand in London was one of my favourite haunts in 2009. Great wine, lovely food, decent prices, and a lovely bar that is conducive to a solo hour here and there with a good book, particularly for me after work or before a gig, the cinema, meeting a friend, whatever fills the later part of the evening. Go for sparkling red Boisson Rouge or Basque favourite Txacoli. The downstairs restaurant boasts a cosy atmosphere and delicious bavette. There’s bavette upstairs too with caramelised onion. It’s where I bring visitors and treat myself.

Wine Tasting at Vinoteca

Vinoteca – another very special wine bar in Farringdon, another place with excellent bavette, I love Vinoteca. I attended tastings, dinners, and had wine with friends. Each evening was great. It’s a wonderful place, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Try the Arco Nova Vinho Verde.

Le Beaujolais

Beuajolais – At the other side of the divide is London stalwart, French wine bar the Beaujolais. Cosy and rustic, I go to the Beaujolais to escape the madness, listen to good music and share bottles of pinot noir with friends whilst gobbling hard boiled eggs with chilli sauce.  The very best thing about it is the atmosphere and the friendliness, it reminds me of a good Irish pub, except they sell wine. I love it. I’ve not eaten here, so can’t comment on the food, but I have enjoyed the cheese board in the past.

Fernandez & Wells

Fernandez & Wells - great breakfasts, fantastic lunches, lovely wine to sip on in the evenings while you tease a potato with some raclette. Cosy and bright with well informed attentive staff. I love it here. Go for the cassoulet at lunch (not every day), fab rolls with chorizo and manchego, huge bowls of salad and breakfast of english muffins with fried eggs and Italian sausages.

Chilli Cool - Stir Fried & Stewed Jack Beans

Chilli Cool – my favourite Sichuan restaurant in London, of those I have tried (Angeles, Bar Shu, Snazz). I love the firey cuisine, the flavours and the colours, Go for the grouper and tofu hotpot and the stir fried and stewed jack beans. Really great prices too. I think they achieve what higher end versions like Bar Shu do, but at much lower prices, without the frills and with all of the flavour. I hope they maintain it now that they’ve expanded.

Chilli Cool

Le Café Anglais, Bayswater - Parmesan Custard with Anchovy Toasts

Le Cafe Anglais -I’ve had several good meals in 2009 at Le Cafe Anglais. It’s gorgeous and decadant with excellent food, and really it’s as pricey as you make it. When not feeling flush, I have an hors d’ouevre and main course with some good wine, and it’s super affordable. Perfect pork belly with lentils, excellent label anglais roast chicken from the rotiserie, and lovely Sunday brunches. My favourite is ham and eggs with a bloody mary and, of course, that parmesan custard with anchovy toast, pictured above. I love it there, and I am sure that you will too.

Le Café Anglais, Bayswater - Belly of Gloucester Old Spot Pork with Fennel Seeds, Rosemary & lentils

New Tayyab’s – Spiritual home of the spiced lamb chop, with fasntastic curries and dals, favourites are masala fish, lamb chop, slow roast leg of lamb, and their fantastic vegetarian curries. An absolute bargain and BYO to boot. It’s near perfect.

Blogger's Dinner at Tayyab's

Hawksmoor - ever before the advent of the Blaggers’ Banquet, I have been a fan of Hawksmoor. The best burger in town for me, fantastic steaks, great cocktails and a lovely convivial atmosphere. It deserves to be as popular as it is, and I look forward to Girls Steak Club there next month, and their new central location later this year.

Hawksmoor Burger

Bibendum Wines – from the annual tasting in the Saatchi gallery ( I can’t believe I forgot this in the January roundup – it was immense!), to the bloggers tastings through the year, to the many wonderful wines that they introduced me to, Bibendum and the people involved, particularly Dan & Willie are responsible for my fantastic wine education in 2009. I’ve always loved wine, but my knowledge was limited. These guys, with their lack of pretension and great range, are now my supplier of choice. I eagerly await the annual tasting at the Saatchi Gallery in a few weeks time.

Bibendum Wine Tasting

Antepliler - local Turkish restaurant on Green Lanes, I love Antepliler for many things, partiuclarly their lahmucan. Turkish flatbread with minced lamb, spices and onion, woodfired in their enormous wood oven. Friendly, traditional and extremely local, it’s a real gem. I’ve eaten there many times this year and look forward to my first meal of 2010 there. The only thing I wouldn’t recommend is the “spicy carrot juice” which I think is made of turnips and vinegar. Turkish people love it but my palate, not so much.

Yasar Halim – Fantastic Turkish food shop, bakery and patisserie on Green Lanes. The first time you see the goat head in the butchers, it’s a shocker, but beyond that is the feta and halloumi counter, the great and very cheap fruit & veg, and all of the Turkish specialties including wild garlic yogurt. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, baked ricotta cheesecake or apple strudel next door should sort you out, or borek for those who are savoury minded. If you have a child, they have child sized trolleys, which are the cutest things I think I have seen in a while.

Jai Shri Krishna – a local vegetarian Indian restaurant in Turnpike Lane which is fresh and fantastic value. Family run and really friendly, I don’t understand why Jai Shri Krishna isnn’t packed to the rafters every night. It’s BYO so bring a bottle.

Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon – From decadent lunches in Selfridge’s with champagne, to packets purchased and coveted at home, Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon was one of my favourite products of last year. I loved my trip to visit his smokehouse in Cork, and it was the first product that I sold on the stall with home made cucumber pickle and soda bread. Also recommended are his smoked mussels in vinaigrette which are nothing short of divine.

Chorizo with cider

Brindisa Chorizo – my favourite chorizo is the cooking chorizo from Brindisa in Borough Market and lots of good delis around London. Spiced and piquant, it graces soups, brunches, breakfasts, sometimes it just sits on top of toast having been braised in cider. Whatever you do with it, it’s always perfect, I love it! It was a big hit at market in the chorizo and pork sausage rolls.

Brunch! Chorizo, tomato & cannelini beans w/ coriander

Slow Roast Pork and Pork Belly - it was the year of pork, wasn’t it? Particularly the slow roast. I experimented with recipes and learned alot. Slow long cooking is the very best, but good pork to begin with is the secret. My favourite is cooking for at least 8 hours so that the pork is in shreds and you can pull at it with your hands. So flavoursome and intense. Delicious.

Birthday '09 - 7 hour roast shoulder of pork

Burnt Aubergine – I have slayed many an aubergine over the gas flame on my stove. It’s now my favourite way to eat it. Smoky and creamy, I’ve made relsihes and dips with it, and look forward to further experiments next year.

Charring Aubergine

Brunch – BRUNCH! Now that was what 2009 was. I’ve always loved the brunch, but this year, a weekend hardly went by without a decadent one. The humble potato meets porky pig in a frying pan, add herbs and various or no accoutrements,a  fried, poached or baked egg, and, kabam, fabulous brunch.

Chorizo & potato hash

And those, my friends, are my favourite things of 2009. Looking forward to what 2010 and the next decade brings. I’m ready and waiting!

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Farewell to 2009! Another year over [Part 1]

Chinatown, London on Chinese New Year

When I think back to this time last year, it feels like a very long time ago. So much has happened since then, personally, professionally, and on this lil blog of mine, that I almost feel like a different person. I’ve certainly been through the mill in some respects and learned a lot. Of course that mill was mostly operated by me. The worst boss you’ll ever have is yourself, I just never give myself time off. There was lots of good stuff too that’s worth celebrating. New recipes, fun events, trips abroad and lots of new people and some fond new friends. So, let’s delve in!

I took a quick look at the posts that I wrote at the end of last year (here and here) and the year before. It made lovely nostalgic reading. It’s a little hard to believe that this is my third New Year blogging – 3 years! It feels like such a long time.

It was a year of new challenges and adventures. I moved house twice, and had several jobs. Sounds dodgy, eh? Fear not, I am not on the run, I work as a contractor now. This is perfect for me, as it allows me to free patches of time up to focus on hobbies and  travel in between intense spurts of work.

I’ve tried lots of things, not always successfully, but I took the risk and when they paid off it was worth it. When they didn’t, well, they didn’t, and there’s no point dwelling on that. Lessons have been learned and stored away, I am sure I will benefit from them in the future.

On the downside, I made some promises to myself, that I didn’t keep. I’ve yet to redesign and move to my own server, I am working on that now. Remember the monthly round up? I lasted three months. I started a new job and wasn’t blogging as much as I would nomally, and a round up in April seemed overkill. Then it seemed pointless to resurrect. Overanalysis? Perhaps. Regardless, I will aim to rekindle the monthly roundups this year.

2009 was a very interesting year from a blogging perspective. Blogging in the UK, certainly in the world of food, really exploded. At the start of the year I felt that I knew most UK food blogs, and now, I can’t keep up. There are new ones appearing all the time. This is fantastic, it really enriches the virtual culinary landscape with so many different perspectives, cultures and attitudes to food. I’ve met lots of new people, many of them food bloggers and lots of wine bloggers too. It’s been a year of fun and lots of education. I’ve learned so much, and hopefully have shared a lot of that here.

So, as is custom at this time of year, I am going to be a little indulgent, and do a review of the year, a retrospective, from the ELAG point of view. I didn’t blog everything, as 365 days isjust not enough (heh heh), but I did photograph everything, so I will link to flickr photos of things that didn’t make it here. My busiest month was the quietest on the blog, as there simply wasn’t time to write and attend everything, or at least I didn’t make time. I blame work! I’ve self flaggelated now, and will make sure that doesn’t happen this year. I did have fun though. In my defence, I did twitter and flickr almost everything, so it was all covered, just not in one place. That’s ok, right?

Brace yourselves – this is a big ‘un, and part 2 has yet to come.

Top recipe posts of the year:

  1. Salmon Fish Cakes
  2. Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry
  3. Prawn Curry (again)
  4. Roast Pork Belly, cooked simply
  5. The taste of summer – Israeli cous cous
  6. Slow Roast Pork Shoulder
  7. Spiced Chickpeas with Spinach
  8. Slow Roast Pork Belly with Cider & Lentils
  9. Pea & Ham Soup
  10. Spiced Roast Pork Belly

50% of them have pig in them! I wish the Salmon Fish Cakes would move off No. 1. I hate the photos in it, it’s from the very early days. So, I’ve decided to make them and blog them again, an updated version with proper photos… once I replace my camera, of course.

January

Between jobs and housesitting, January felt like a displaced month. My heating broke, and it snowed, life seemed to be working against me for a time. I had some fantastic meals out to cheer the soul though, starting with a dinner with the winemakers from Dinastia Vivanco and Rob of the Wine Conversation at Fergus Hendersons seminal restaurant St Johns in Farringdon, where I feasted on an epic steak and kidney pie of Desperate Dan proportions. It wasn’t my first visit, I went in 2008 also, but it was was lovely, and my second time in the private room. The next time I will be there will be in a few weeks for the suckling pig. I fell in love with the Dinastia Vivanco wines that night, and have been a firm fan since. Flickr photoset of all of our dishes here including the famed bone marrow, chitterlings, kid goat and teal.

I had my first trip of 2009 to Tayyab’s, although it was far from my first dinner there, and had the slow roast lamb for the first time. Delicious! Tayyab’s became my most visited restaurant of the year, visiting again later in January and many more times over the year, it’s still a favourite. Photoset of this visit here.

New Tayyabs

Roast Pork with Kale

Roast Yorkshire Pork was the perfect antidote to the grim weather and the cold and Salsify & Roast Garlic Soup was a lovely creamy support and culinary adventure. A trip to Baozi Inn, Chinatown, London with visiting friends was a lovely and cheap and cheerful affair (although their brusque manner has wound me up since). We were there around Chinese New Year, which was lovely. Chinatown was busy and very pretty, the perfect spot to bring visiting friends.

Finally, we had snow.

View from my kitchen

February

February was all about the comfort snack. King of these was the Tortilla Pizza. My passion for a good and indulgent brunch continued, and reached a new high, with what became a regular feature Brunch Baked Eggs. We held our first Guilty Pleasures Dinner Party, which was fantastic fun. I made a guilty macaroni and cheese with lots of bacon and pork fat.

Time Out listed me in their feature“London’s Best Food Blogs and Websites”, which was really exciting and very flattering. I was thrilled. I didn’t know until a friend texted me after she had seen it.

I had a fantastic meal at my first Dine with Dos Hermanos at Vinoteca (photos here), star dishes for me being one of the starters of squid with harissa and a rich and gorgeous  mutton pie. I even managed to sit opposite an Arctic Monkey, a really nice, friendly and interesting guy, dining with his girlfriend who is a fan of Dos Hermanos. I finished the month with Roast Pork Belly, cooked simply, which I cooked for a friend who was moving to Japan.

Franco Manca

I went to Franco Manca, famed pizza establishment in Brixton. Sadly, and unlike most, I was very disappointed. I was really excited about trying the buffalo mozarella, as I had read that they had flown a Neapolitan cheesemaker over to teach the folk at Alham Wood farm, but there was none on the menu, the white was wine terrible, and my pizza was served cold. I clearly caught them on a very bad day as most people love it, but I’ve not been back to check I was so discouraged. I will visit soon and report back.

Bacon and egg rolls

Finally, I went to the breakfast launch of Taste of London, and indulged in champagne and tiny bacon and egg sarnies cooked up by Giorgio Locatelli. Theo Randall and Shane Osborne were also cooking the likes of tiny eggs benedict. I, of course, overindulged. Lots of fun.

March

A very quiet month for ELAG, with only two blog posts, I was out and about more than that though. We had a superb bloggers dinner at Tayyab’s – how have I not blogged Tayyab’s yet? For St Patrick’s Day I made Chilli Roast Salmon and Potato Salad with Frank Hederman’s superb chilli roast salmon from Selfridge’s. I also paid a visit to The Underground Restaurant, my first trip to a supper club, and not the last.

Bruno Paillard Lunch at L'atelier de Joel Robuchon

Bruno Paillard Lunch at L'atelier de Joel Robuchon

I had a fantastic lunch, matching Bruno Paillards champagnes to some fantastic food at L’atelier de Joel Robuchon. One of my favourite lunches of the year, and my first champagne tasting over several vintages and disgorgements. I took lots of photos, as always, and you can see them here.

April

I moved house, gained a fantastic kitchen and had a fabulous Easter Sunday lunch with friends.
Asparagus season started early and I stocked up. I love it, it’s the start of the fantastic slew of seasonal veg which grace our markets in Summer. I started with New Season Asparagus with a Poached Egg and also had another lovely asparagus breakfast, and I met Dan of Food Urchin and fantastic side project, Where’s My Pork Chop to collect a wild garlic plant from him back garden, with which I made Wild Garlic, Cream Cheese & Roast Tomato Pate on Toast.

Le Cafe Anglais

Le Cafe Anglais

Socially, I had a wonderful dinner at Le Cafe Anglais with co-owner Charlie McVeigh and some other bloggers. The parmesan custard was sublime as with my previous visit, new favourites were pike boudin, spinach mousse with morels, smoked eel salad, duck confit and the roast chicken. There was a terrific rhubarb dessert also. I’ve been a fan since it opened but this trip cemented that for me. I can’t believe I didn’t blog it. What’s wrong with me?! Charlie was shocked at our gluttony, and rightly so. You can see for yourself, he posted the mammoth menu on his blog.

Le Cafe Anglais

Salt Yard, Goodge St

Another new favourite emerged when I discovered Salt Yard. It had been on my list for a while, having tried and loved their sister restaurant Dehesa. The food was superb, but I think I prefer the vibe at Dehesa. However, I did go to Salt Yard a second time with a visiting friend who also loved it. We had their fantastically meaty and unctous meatballs, kidneys, pork belly, squid, croquteas, jamon, and their signature courgette flowers stuffed with monte enebro cheese, tempura battered, deep fried and drizzled with honey. Go for those alone. Lovely wine list too, we indulged in some Txacoli from the Basque region in Spain, which was one of my favourites last year.

Salt Yard, Goodge St

Salt Yard, Goodge St

Now for the glamour, the Oyster & Champagne Tasting with Bibendum and The Wright Bros at Galvin at Windows. This was a terrific event, and my first time dining at Galvin at Windows. I have yet to have dinner there but will rectify that soon. We matched Galvin & Bibendum champagnes to oysters of varying origins, some cooked and most raw. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to more interesting events like that this year. And I’ll write about them! Such a shame as this one was really interesting. Lots of photos though as always, and the full photoset is here.

Oyster & Champagne Tasting at Galvin at Windows

Oyster & Champagne Tasting at Galvin at Windows

Oyster & Champagne Tasting at Galvin at Windows

My heavily pregnant sister and brother in law visited and we went to The Wonder Bar in Selfridge’s, where I was rudely accosted for taking photos of my meal. I say rudely, because it was handled so badly and obnoxiously, referring to non existent and invisible rules in a haughty manner. The gentleman in question insisted that I delete my photos, which I refused to do. So sue me. Heh heh. Of course, as a result of the interruption, the photos aren’t as nice as they could be but hey-ho.

Selfridge's Wonder Bar - Venison

We had my favourite Frank Hederman smoked salmon, sliced thickly as it should be, and some venison The food was delicious, but unfortunately, there was a sour aftertaste after the rude handling of the situation. I understand if they don’t like the camera, but the obnoxious handling of it was offensive.

Selfridge's Wonder Bar - Frank Hederman's Salmon

Champagne tasting done, it was time for an Iberian wine tasting at Vinoteca with Catavino. An educational and fantastic experience, lovely wines, interesting people and great food. It launched me firmly into the world of wine tasting, I attended many more, and learned a lot throughout the year.

Wine Tasting at Vinoteca

Wine Tasting at Vinoteca

April is not over yet. A trip to the Chocolate Festival at the Southbank where I sampled Damien Allsops wonderful chocolates, and finally met Petra of Chocstar, who towards the end of the year would become a market buddy at the Wish You Were Here market in Soho. Her martini shots and brownies are to die for. Go get yourself some.

Chocolate Festival

How can I top that? Can I? Yes I can! How about a rare breed steak tasting at Hawksmoor? Ha! Brilliant. A fantastic selection of steaks hot of the chargrill in Hawksmoor, from diverse georgraphical locations and breeds. Top for me was their Ginger Pig Longhorn, gorgeous taste and texture and the fat tastes like blue cheese, which is a very good thing. Sophies Choice though as almost all were delicious. Lots of pictures here.

Hawksmoor Steak Tasting

Hawksmoor Steak Tasting

Via twitter, and a perpetual hunger for rhubarb, I made a trip to Celia Brooks Brown’s nearby allotment in Tottenham to get some of her home grown produce. It was the first of many trips. I am very excited about her book on urban farming, our in early 2010.

Celia Brooks Brown's Allotment

Finally, a return visit to one of my favourite Sichuan restaurants in London, Chilli Cool in Bloomsbury. I’d been the previous year with some friends, including a passionate native from Chengdu. He highly rated Chilli Cool and ordered a banquet for us. I was so impressed, and, as always, took many photographs. All set to blog it, it wasn’t to be, as in my idiocy and whilst hungover I wiped my memory card clean. Favourite here is the grouper and tofu hotpot, which I get every time. Gorgeous, gentle and tender white fillets of fish nestle with tofu in a spicy and oily broth, surrounded by the sharks that are dried chillis and sichuan peppercorns, famous for their heat which is both numbing and spicy. I am addicted.

Chilli Cool - Grouper Hot Pot

Chilli Cool

And… that was April. How did I do it? I was working full time. No wonder I couldn’t blog most of it.

May

May is a busy month. Blog birthday, my birthday, and this year, my first niece was born. Exciting times. Lots going on in the world of food also, of course. Starting this year with the fantastic project, Eating Eurovision, brainchild of Andrew Webb. I chose Sweden at our draw at the BBC, and promptly started researching everywhere I could, most successfully on twitter, where the Swedish-London food contingent came out of the woodwork. It was enormous fun, and we ended up at Garbo’s in Little Sweden in Marylebone (who knew?!), eating at a restaurant once frequented by Roxette for album launches. Love it. The owners, while hating the Eurovision, were really friendly and welcoming and we had a great evening, moose and all.

Eating Eurovision is covered in an epic three posts: We’re eating eurovision and I am Sweden, Eating Eurovision Part 1 – the research, Eating Sweden for Eating Eurovision.

It was the third birthday for ELAG although I was in Ireland, so it went unacknowledged on the blog. I wrote a piece about Twitter, Twitter me this, my lovelies , indeed my rhubarb escapades were documented on the Times Online. I made Asparagus and Truffle Carbonara. I worked with Ryan & Gabriella from Catavino to host a London Food & Drink Bloggers wine tasting at the Westbridge in London, which was a fantastic success, gathering as many wines as bloggers in one room for an enormous and varied tasting. It was the first of many over the year.

IMG_9506

More wine, with a trip to Brightwell Vineyard in Oxford, arranged by Andrew of Spittoon for English Wine Week. We had a great day with a tour of the gorgeous winery, a tasting, and further tasting of more English Wines with fantastic English cheeses at Andrews. It was a wonderful day, we need to do more of that this year. Brightwell also rear pigs and sell them by the half. Cute, aren’t they? Even nicer by the half I bet! I am tempted this year.

IMG_9719

June

I cooked the first of many Slow Roast Pork Shoulders for my birthday feast along with a leg of lamb with anchovy, rosemary and garlic. Both were a hit, although, I must confess that I found catering for such large numbers very stressful, which is pretty crazy considering that I ended up cooking for a lot more at Covent Garden Real Food Market and loving it.

I made a lovely and fresh Crab Linguine with Cornish crab, delicious Fresh Garlic, Chorizo & Pork Burgers and participated in Where’s my pork chop? delivering Prawn Curry to culinary barterer Dan of previous wild garlic fame.

Another Dine with Dos Hermanos was hosted at Casa Brindisa and was another great success. The food, in the main, was great, with the smoked anchovies, tortilla, croquetas and jamon were favourites for me.

Dine with Dos Hermanos at Casa Brindisa

Dine with Dos Hermanos at Casa Brindisa

I attended cupcake classes organised by Shikhita of Fair Cake. It was a lovely day, decorating the cupcakes was the most fun, and really educational. Her white chocolate and limoncello cupcake is delicious – you can get the recipe here [PDF].

Fair Cake Cupcake Classes.

I scooted back from Woolwich to Regent’s Park as quickly as I could to catch the Taste of London Fringe Festival, run from a boat on the Regents Canal by the Guardian Word of Mouth team. I only caught a bit but it was superb, a fun idea, and running contrarily to what has become a very corporate and overpriced event. Which is a shame, as everyone loves food, don’t they? My wrath is reserved for the organisers though, the producers work hard, and pay a lot as I understand it.

Taste of London

Taste of London

Taste of London

Another day, another supper club. This time, The Secret Ingredient in Islington, run by Horton Jupiter and his girlfriend. A really cosy and intimate affair with very pleasant food, we had a really good time. I must explore the scene further this year.

The Secret Ingredient

Throughout June I was experimenting with different types of meatballs, spiced lamb and pork and chorizo being the favourites. I never blogged about them but shared them on twitter and flickr. I will make them again and blog the recipe.

Spiced lamb meatballs

And that’s it.  Half the year is done. I’m exhausted, that felt like it took forever! I feel I need to be dropped into the centre of an ice cold lake now, like they used to do to hysterics in the Victorian era. It was fun to relive it though.

I’ll be back tomorrow, with the rest of the years round up, and my favourite places of 2009.

Thanks for reading, as always! Comments appreciated :)

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A Perfect Evening for Mulled Wine

Mulled Wine

If lazing and grazing were a sport, I would be a gold medallist. I treat it as an art form. Cosied up in the finest of fleece pjs, I slink around, from bed to kitchen to sofa, and many other possible permutations, munching on treats, planning the savouries, brewing some coffee, and catching up with myself, my books and some films.

Lazy? I am afraid so. In my defence, I have been so horribly busy that I have had no time to laze, and not much time to graze for many months now, so I am making up for lost time. In fact it’s an absolute necessity, I’ve reached the point that if I don’t stop volunatarily, my body will make the decision for me, and I will get ill. I can feel it in my bones.

What a perfect day St Stephen’s Day is for this (we don’t have Boxing Day here in Ireland). After the build up and heavy weight of expectation that preceeds Xmas Day, the sluggishness following the epic Xmas feast and the mellow crevice that is the 26th is most welcome.

Traditionally in our house, we went to Cork to visit Grandparents and relatives. We loved it when we got there but the departure was always traumatic. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was always on TV and we were always distraught at missing it, even though we’d seen it many times. I still love that film, it’s the perfect balance of good and sinister with bright colours, sweets, songs, oompa loompas, what’s not to love? Let’s not speak of the Tim Burton version.

More than any of the above, St Stephen’s Day was always about the ham sandwich, with leftover Christmas ham in bread. We never had leftover Turkey, I was always envious of those who had, but ham we had a lot of, and on arrival in my Grandmothers house we would be greeted with a plate of it.

We would watch the Wren Boys arrive, an old Irish tradition, where children would dress up, and parade around with a fake captured wren on a stick, and knock on the door singing “The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, St Stephens day got caught in the furs”. They would be rewarded with some money, and we would look on enviously. It seemed like a second Halloween to us, but the tradition is very localised, much celebrated in Cork and Kerry, but not so much in Waterford, where I am from.

Those days are gone now and we spend Stephen’s Day at home, but we still have the ham, and better still goose. Leftover roast potatoes, some oxtail this year, and stuffing. Chocolate cake, which I keep sweeping past and cutting slivers off, convincing myself that it’s not very much, then washing it down with a truffle.

For perfect lazing and grazing, I reach for the cheese (Irish of course), spiced nuts, hot port and mulled wine. Hot port is a traditional Winter drink in Ireland and you can get it in every pub. It’s a warming and comforting drink, how I wish the tradition would catch on in the UK. I make them at home, and on occasion treat myself to one at The French House in Soho, the only pub I know in London that serves them. Anyone know any others? I have my own recipe for spiced nuts but that’s for another day.

Today I am all about the mulled wine. Fiona Beckett posted a lovely piece about mulled wine here, and I have followed her advice,  but my recipe includes some of my own additions. I love the fragrance of fresh bay leaves and nutmeg in addition to the cloves, cinnamon and star anise. I also like to include a whole tangerine per bottle, tangerines are so Xmas-y, and I love the citrus and the sweetness.

I wholeheartedly agree with Fiona, never mull a wine that you wouldn’t drink, the same goes for cooking. If it tastes bad before you cook it, it ill still taste bad after, so don’t. Today I am using a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, it carries the spices & fragrances nicely and has enough body to stand up to them. I use whatever port I have to hand, a nice rich one, today a vintage one, about a wine glass full, roughly 175ml.

I stud the tangerine with about ten cloves, and cut it in half, adding it to one bottle of wine, 175mls port, a cinnamon stick, one star anise, a fresh bay leaf and a little fresh grated nutmeg. Be warned, the nutmeg grated finely will be floating in the end product so if you don’t like it, leave it out. I think it’s worth it for the flavour. To sweeten, about 4tbsp of caster sugar will do, although this is to taste and depends on the wine and your own preference. Bring to the boil, and leave to infuse for half an hour or so. Pour through a sieve and heat the wine gently, taking care not to boil the alcohol off, and serve.

Perfect Xmas fare with minced pies, cheese, spiced nuts. Also on its own with a cheesy Xmas movie :)  Enjoy!

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A Very Merry Xmas to You!

Guinness Fairy Lights

I made it. That epic journey from London to Chester (train)  -> Holyhead (ferry) -> Dublin (train) -> Waterford  -> butcher – > bank – > post office – > supermarket -> HOME!  I am still in 1-2-3, no, one piece! It’s exactly 24 hours since I left my house in London, and I’ve had an hour to sit down. Hardcore, I am sure you’ll agree ;)

I am pretty tired, nay shattered, and have the look of a squirrel that was plugged into some electrical device. Frazzle dazzle, frizzy hair, shell shocked face. The one advantage that I have over such an animal, is that I can have a glass of wine and sit in front of a roaring fire contemplating some culinary adventures. They, I expect, are out looking for some nuts somewhere, and I have loads here. Heh heh.

So, what will the Christmas period bring? Mulled wine, spiced nuts, chocolate salami, and that’s just today. Glazed ham, goose, roast rib of beef. Pear bellinis, great red wine, and some of my favourite hot ports. Catch ups with friends, walks on the beach. I will not be making all of this fantastic food, some of it is being cooked for me, but I do promise to come back with recipes for that which I do make.

For now, I wish you all a wonderful and very merry Xmas. Here’s to you, and a smashing 2010. Cheers, or as we say here, sláinte!

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Festive snack: Toasted Pita with Mozarella, Tomato, Onion & Roast Tomato Dressing

I expect that I am not the only tail chaser this close to Xmas. Running around, doing last minute laundry, frantically packing suitcases, checking presents. Have I everything? Yes-I-think-so. I do, don’t I?

Time for a snack! I am about to embark on an epic overnight trip to Ireland. Train to Holyhead, ferry to Dublin, and then train to Waterford, followed by an hour car drive home. Long, eh? And you thought Ireland was close to England, didn’t you?!It’s as close as you make it, and with all of my recent trips home, a budget jaunt was called for. So, the ferry it is.

What to have? Not much in the fridge, so I slipped and slided to the shop, along the shiny reflective river of glass that my street had become. I contemplated and tried not to fall. Something light is required, for I am not a good traveller. I will also be awake through the night. I quite fancy some mozarella, and I do have slow roasted pulped tomatoes with a nice pinch of chilli which would make a fruity dressing, with something bold like parsley, and maybe some pomegranate molasses for sweetness and umami, and sumac for sourness to balance the sweetness. Done.

I spy some pretty, sweet and perfectly ripe baby plum tomatoes, pita breads and some buffalo mozarela bocconcini. I slip-slide home, cargo in hand and starving.

Quick, delicious and light and a festive red and green into the bargain. I feel healthier for it. A perfect quick snack which works very well with some rocket on the side. The pepperiness and texture is a good addition.

I wish you all well on your journeys home this Christmas, if you’re making them. I am off to embark on mine, wish me luck and see you on the other side!

Ingredients (per person):

1 pita bread, toasted and opened
4 baby plum tomatoes/cherry tomatoes, quartered
Some red onion, sliced finely
3 buffalo mozarella bocconicini (or 1 normal ball)
some flat leat parsley to garnish

Dressing (enough for 4/5):

3 tbsp roasted tomatoes or the equivalent in small juicy ones
a glug of extra virgin olive oil
a handful of flat leaf parsley
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
a pinch of sumac
S&P to taste

Method:

Make your dressing by mashing everything together. Blend if necessary but only lightly.
Arrange the mozarella, red onion and tomato on one half of the open pita and drizzle with the dressing. Grill until the mozarella is starting to melt. Just a minute or so.
Serve with a garnish of parsley while still warm.

Enjoy!

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And that’s it folks…

And, that’s it folks.  No more crazy early mornings filled with  intense baking sessions, vats of soup and spiced bramley apples. No more frenetic tweeting of mes petits désastres. No more waking to the intense  savouriness that is the smell of  kilos of slow roasting pork, wading through the aroma and the sleepiness down the stairs, and opening the oven to a rush of steam and porky goodness. The draining of the fat and the crisping of the crackling. Dipping my hand into the meaty cavern and pulling out the tender shreds of juicy meat.

That’s it The last week is down. A snow filled Wednesday, but cheery to the end and committed to the market, we carried on. We went out with a bang. Yeterday at market was a fantastically busy day and a perfect day to go out on.

The night before, I was exhausted, and really not in the mind for cooking. On the way home from work, I stopped at Selfirdge’s, knowing they had Brindisa chorizo which I wanted for my stew. Sadly, I was too late for Brindisa itself. Then  a quick pit stop in Covent Garden to collect my enormous stock pot, which I had loaned to Denise of The Wine Sleuth, who had taken my place at the market for the previous two days while I was at work, selling her Spicy Tortilla Soup and toasties. Finally, a quick stop in King’s Cross, to see a visiting friend from Tokyo.

By the time I got home, lugging pots, chorizo, kilos of Bramley apples, and what was left of me, I had no energy to cook.  But I had to. That pork ain’t going to slow roast itself. So, in I went, preheated the oven to 220, prepared the pork, put it in the oven, and went to wait the 20 minutes before turning it down to allow it to roast gently. Perfect, no?

No. I fell asleep. I was so very tired, and it was only for half an hour or so, but that was enough to destroy that precious crackling. Luckily I had some extra meat in the fridge, so I could start again. Although, I felt terrible, guilty and annoyed. What a *waste* of lovely meat. I could save the inner portion for my own use later, but I would not be selling it at market.

I decided against boiling the soaked dried chickpeas for the stew, as clearly, I could not be trusted to stay awake, and left this for the morning, setting the alarm a little earlier to fit it in. I went to bed annoyed and, ironically, unable to sleep, worried that I would not have enough food for Saturday, or the time to prepare it

Roll on the morning. I am tired, and it is very cold, I’ve had very little sleep. A peer out the window reveals a carpet of snow on the roof tops.  Shivering, I proceeded down the stairs, by now loathing that porky fragrance.  I sorted out the pork, boiled up the chickpeas and started the stew; sauteeing onions, garlic, chorizo, paprika and adding several good glugs of good red wine, before adding the tomatoes and the chickpeas. Things were smelling good. Bay leaves for extra fragrance, and then it was  time to start the spiced apple, peeling all of those apples, how I’ve come to dread it! Some time later, they’re bubbling in the pot,their sturdy mass  slowly giving way to the water, the spices and the sugar, and transforming to the sweet and spicy condiment that would nestle next to the pork, conspiratorial in their bread blanket later that afternoon.

All done, it’s time to turn my attention to me, and get ready. Bolstering myself with layer after layer, fleece socks over wooly tights, thermals under polo necks under jumpers. Time to call the cab, and collect the bread, get to Covent Garden and set up the market.

At the market it’s busy, and things are looking good. I set up, ask my neighbouring Argentinian stallholder to make me a quick coffee (as that is what he does), and, lastly, as always, I reveal the pork. I’ve come to learn that once this is exposed, I get busy, and there really is no time to do anything else.

It’s the last day, and it’s nearing Christmas. There’s a lovely atmophere. Lots of smiles, is it me or the mulled wine? I expect the latter. It’s lots of fun, and non-stop for 3 hours. I am desperate for a break and a bowl of my lovely Chorizo and Chickpea stew, for I have not eaten since I got up. A girl cannot live on coffee alone.  In the end I have to steal bites in between customers, and in the end consume most of it cold. But who can complain, when everyone is enjoying what I am serving? It makes me very happy.

Several hours later, the pork is gone, and I am relieved. The stew follows shortly after, and friends arrive. We chatter, and indulge in some Bisol Jeio Prosecco. We eat gorgeous shot sized desserts from The Dessert Deli, chocolate mousse and panacotta, and follow with chocolate marshmallows from Sugar Grain. We’re indulgent and we’re having lots of fun. It must be Christmas.

It’s time to pack up! Hooray, it’s been a long day.  I hate this bit normally, but I have lots of helpers, and swiftly, the stall is deconstructed, the wash up is done, everything is put away and it’s time for dinner and wine at Terroirs.

And that’s it. No more market until mid February 2010. Hopefully, I’ll be back. Market days are rumoured to be Fridays and Saturdays next year, which hopefully is true, as I can no longer do Thursdays and I want to continue and explore further. Who knows, maybe I will learn to drive, get some equipment, try new things. I really, really want to.

It’s been a fun 5 months. 5 whole months! I can’t believe it either. Getting out there, cooking, trying new recipes, selling my food, seeing what people like, talking to people about my recipes and getting tips from them. I’ll miss the regulars, I never would have imagined that I would have lunch time queues. Most of all I’ll miss the camraderie with my neighbouring stallholders. Even in Wednesday’s snow, people were smiling, and that helped me smile too.

End of a chapter, but not of an era. Bring on 2010 and it’s culinary adventures.

PS. Photos are from my iphone, forgive the poor quality.

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A Roast Lunch with English Fizz

December 09 001

Borough Market is a frequent stomping ground, and as many years as I have been going there, there are some nooks still unexplored. One of these was Roast, a restaurant dedicated to British cooking using seasonal produce. I had sampled their breakfast wares on occasion, and they do a scoffable scotch egg, but on this occasion, I had an invite to lunch from Chapel Down Wines, one of our fantastic donors for the blaggers banquet and one of the market leaders in the budding English wine industry.

Chef Laurence Keogh

Chef Laurence Keogh

I know the sparkling well, I’ve had it many times, and I really like it. I also really like the Bacchus 2006, a fine white wine, but their other wines, and new beers were unexplored territory. Roast were making a lunch with some blind matches aranged by the chef and the winemaker. I really enjoy this kind of lunch, as it gives me an opportunity to learn some more about matching, and to speak to the people that produce the wine and make the food. We’re too dissociated from our food and drink, used to viewing items on supermarket shelves and not thinking of the winemaker, perfecting his craft and tinkling with his wine recipes (if that’s what they are called :) We rarely get a chance to speak to the chef, ask him how he came up with his dish, how he sources his food and what inspires him. It’s a rare opportunity to strip the facade and get to the bones of the matter, and I love it.

Winemaker, Owen Elias

Winemaker, Owen Elias

Nothing I do is without drama and this is no exception. I was flying from home that morning, and with my camera stolen, had precisely half an hour to locate my old camera, a memory card and charge the battery. No problem! I had had a 5am start, and an exhausting few days, so was very pleased to be handed a glass of Chapel Down Brut Rose on arrival. A lovely sweetish sparkling, with lots of strawberries on the palate, a nice appetiser.

Roast is a lovely space, upstairs in Borough Market, with lots of big windows perring down to the market below and letting in lots of bright grey November  light. It’s quite busy, lots of people what lunch and the place is abuzz right unil we finish our lunch.

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A quick perusal of the menu revealed a starter of smoked Lough Etive Trout with Dorset Crab Cakes, black pepper and lemon matched with Chapel Down Pinot Reserve 2004 and Chapel Down English Rose 2008. The smoked trout was delicious, a revelation. Smoky and peaty, it reminded me of Frank Hederman’s wonderful smoked salmon from Cork, in that it lacked oiliness and spoke only of delicioius trout flavour and the smokehouse. The crab cakes were a real nice light addition, and my preferred match was the Pinot Reserve 2004.

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The next course was Ramsey of Carluke haggis with celeriac and oxtail sauce, with a glass of Chapel Down Rondo Regent Pinot Noir NV. I like Haggis a lot, it’s aligned with black and white pudding in that family of foods made from unspeakable things that people are afraid of. But why? Ok, so it’s offal stuffed with offal, spiced and boiled for hours, but the result, is a fantastically savoury and intense dish, and if you didn’t know what it was and just ate it, you would love it. I found that the oxtail dominated it a bit too much sadly, but it was still a lovely dish. The Pinot Noir was light and had some nice spice which went nicely with the oxtail and haggis. We also had a Chapel Down Vintage Reserve Brut, which was great with the dish. You just can’t beat sparkling!

December 09 030

The star of the show, our main course, and favourite of mine was next. Slow-roast Wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce, served with a glass of Roast Bacchus Reserve 2007. The pork belly was crisp and unctous and the Bacchus Reserve was quite floral and had a lovely acidity which made it a great match. The mash was again, Robuchon esque, more butter than sense, but who needs sense, when you can have great mash?!

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Desserts next, two of them. A very festive one too to start. Spiced clementine custard with anise biscuits, followed by a Warm Chestnut and Conference pear cake with hot chocolate sauce served with a glass of Chapel Down Nectar 2007. The first dessert was my favourite, nice and light but still indulgent and the citrus picked up some nice citrus notes in the wine.

Roast impressed as did the Chapel Down Wines. I look forward to exploring both further. They have put together a special menu and wine deal for readers, which screams excellent Christmas gift to me. Enjoy, and let me know if you try it.

Thanks to Chapel Down and Roast for a terrific lunch.

********************************************************

Offer details:

– On arrival, a glass of Chapel Down Brut Rose

– Ramsey of Carluke haggis with celeriac and oxtail sauce, with a glass of Chapel Down Rondo Regent Pinot Noir NV

– Slow-roast Wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce, served with a glass of Roast Bacchus Reserve 2007 (NB this will be the full sized portion, not the sampler size you had yesterday)

– Spiced clementine custard with anise biscuits, served with a glass of Chapel Down Nectar 2007

– Tea or coffee

To take advantage of this menu, including the wine at just £44.50, quote Chapel Down Roast Bloggers’ Dinner when they ring the restaurant to book – 0845 034 7300.

As an extra special offer, Chapel Down have offered the fabulous Pinot Reserve 2004 for a remarkable price of £99 for a case of six including delivery to any UK mainland adddress. This wine would normally be £150 plus delivery. Christmas gifts sorted!

All you need to do is call the vineyard on 01580 763033, ask for Lizzie or Wendy and quote Blogger offer.

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Festive Frolics at Covent Garden Real Food Market

December 09 049

I’m not one for noticing detail. One market day recently, I glanced upwards after the lunch time rush, and spotted evergreen gracing the top of my stall.

Of course! We’re getting close to Christmas, and the market is embracing it. We have chocolate salamis and spiced pecans, gorgeous homemade Christmas puddings and mulled wine. I’m serving up my 8 hour slow roast pork with spiced apple, but I am also including spiced soups to warm the senses on these very cold days. Recently I served up a very traditional boiled Irish gammon sandwich, we always have these over Christmas, particularly on St Stephens Day (Boxing Day in the UK) and it filled me with a surge of nostalgia and a longing from home.

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I would love to do more festive dishes, like Irish spiced beef, very popular in Cork. Cured for weeks with spices like cloves, allspice, ginger, mace & bay, it’s then boiled and served up over the Christmas period. I adore the leftovers in a sandwich. It’s not to be this Christmas period though. I simply don’t have the fridge space for pork shoulders and spiced beef, not to mention the food I eat normally week to week. Maybe next year. I have however, rolled out the Christmas decorations, and have a new festive red tablecloth, which kept me cheery through the bitter cold.

December 09 001

Soups this week, were all aromatic. Thursday was pumpkin and lentil with a spice paste made from galangal, lemongrass, red chillis, garlic & ginger. Kaffir lime leaves and bay also added some fragrance. A similar base graced Friday’s white bean, pumpkin and spinach soup.

willie-market

This last week was particularly special, as Sig, blogger behind Scandilicious, had a Scandi Christmas stall On Thursday and happily shared mine with me. She served up some delicious specialities Gingerbread with Lemon Icing, Chocolate & Cardamom Cake and my favourite Potato Pancakes filled with Cinnamon Buttercream. Sig has posted the recipes on her blog, with a fun photos of us, where I am Michelin Man esque (in size only), I blame, in part only, multiple layers of thermals, that market is bloody cold.

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We had lots of visitors, and there was much quaffing or prosecco, pork and cake. The simple pleasures life brings! I had a great day, thanks to Sig for being such charming company. Normally by 4pm I am bored and wondering who I can ask to cover my stall while I nip off for a loo break.

December 09 040

Not only that, the market is all inclusive and we also had latkes for Hannukah from Daniel of Young & Foodish. I adore latkes, I’ve blogged about them before, both the traditional latkes with apples sauce and some more avant garde beetroot ones with goats cheese. Daniel’s latkes were delicious, served solo, or with sour cream and salmon roe. Very popular, he sold out early both days, and I, nipped down to catch the last two, as I was desperate for seconds.

December 09 008

So, one more week left of market, and then we close until mid February. This week, it opens Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I will only be at market on Wednesday and Saturday this week, but I am lining up a guest stallholder to take my place on Thursday and Friday. Watch this space!

Come by and say hi! It will be the last of my slow roast pork, soup, and Bisol Jeio Prosecco, for a couple of months. I do plan to come back in February though. I initially only committed to Christmas, but I really enjoy it and want to see if I can push it further. Maybe it can become a real business? Right now it only supplements work, and on bad days when the weather is grim, I am lucky to break even, but I’ll give it a try. The only question is, when combinging it with work, how long will I be able to work 7 days a week for?! I think I can manage.

Some photos are from my iphone, so forgive the quality. Thanks to Willie Lebus for the photo of Sig & I.

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Lunch at Galvin La Chapelle

The Galvin brothers have moved east and opened a new eatery in Spitalfields, or rather two, Galvin La Chapelle for high end dining, and attached, Galvin Cafe de Luxe for more relaxed dining. I’ve been pretty lax this year for checking in on new openings, so when Fiona Beckett, prolific author, blogger and twitterer invited me there for lunch, how could I say no? I couldn’t.

Housed in the former church hall of St Botolph’s in Spitalfields, on the new and spruced up Spital Square, an area once full of character, but sadly now more full of chains, Galvin La Chapelle sits on a corner. Behind an imperial grey doorway lies an arresting cavernous restaurant, with high vaulted ceilings and a glass walled mezzanine area housing the toilets at the back, and a private dining area at the front. It’s very impressive, and screams decadence. The clientele are, given the location, predominantly city types, donning designer suits and brandishing brandy. I am relieved when I spy Fiona, relaxed and smiling at a table by the back.

Fiona was perusing the wine list and in discussions with the somellier. We decided on the food and then asked the sommelier to provide matches by the glass, we also ordered a glass of hermitage to sample with the mains, which retails via an enomatic for circa £50 a glass. Mommmeeeeee, I was excited.

Fiona chose the Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle 1994 which would be matched with our mains of tagine of squab pigeon and harissa sauce for me and veal cheek for Fiona. First our starters, and again I must apologise for awful photos, my Canon DSLR was stolen (I may have mentiond), and my little camera is a disaster for me, as I have a benign and utterly harmless lifelong tremor, which means photography on less evolved devices with no flash = BLUR. Ah well.

For starter I went with lasagne of dorset crab, chanterelles and chervil which was matched with a robust glass of white from the Douro, which for me was too dominant, although a delicious white on it’s own. Fiona had the salad of red leg partridge with pomegranate and maple dressing which was deliciously sticky and festive. The Douro went really well with this so we traded our wines. Fiona’s lighter white (which I can’t recall sadly), went really well with my light, foamy and delicate starter.

Mains next, and this is where things were getting exciting. My pigeon tagine arrived. I eyed it with suspicion. My tagine is lived in and the lid is coated with tagine splutter and stains. This one was spick and span and when I touched it, cold. Eh? The lid was removed and underneath was an unexpected and very composed and deconstructed tagine with the squab pigeon in the centre squatted on a pile of cous cous. It wasn’t the unctous comfort food I was expecting but it was delicious and moreish. It went fantastically well with the Jaboulet Ainé Hermitage La Chapelle 1994, which, aware of how much of a treat this was, I sipped with caution and delight. The veal cheak was rich, with great depth, and served with a buttery and intense Robuchon style mash. Both dishes were great.

Next for dessert. I chose the blueberry soufflé, coulis and milk ice cream, and Fiona the pear tart tatin with crème fraîche. The blueberry soufflé was fantastic, a glorious and lively shade of lilac, which sadly the photgraph doesn’t show. It was light and very flavoursome, full of airY blueberry goodness and particularly good with the milky ice cream. I had a sparkling red dessert wine with it, Contero Brachetto d’Acqui, of which I wanted a lot more and will be seeking out again.

I really enjoyed it, and look forward to trying the more informal and cheaper Cafe de Luxe next door soon. I very much enjoyed the lunch, but Galvin La Chapelle’s prices are at the high end of the gourmands spectrum with my starter at £11.50, main at £22.50 and dessert at £8.50. The lunch set menu, however is a great deal, offering an enticing boudin noir with apple and pommes mousseline on the day we were there,and priced at £24.50 for three courses, it’s a bit of a bargain. Many thanks to Fiona for treating me to a delicious lunch.

Fiona’s Decanter Review.

Galvin La Chapelle, 35 Spital Square, London E1
020 7299 0400
www.galvinrestaurants.com

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The Civet Cat Club

Another day, another supper club. It would be easy to be cynical, but this trend of challenging the established, and the chains, and doing your own thing, utterly independent and free from any driving force but your own, is to be championed.

What’s to lose? At worst: a poor evening, at best: a fantastic experience, sometimes: in the middle, offering something utterly pleasant and different, an insight into another home, chatter with your neighbouring guests, and a warm fuzzy feeling on the way home.

Recently, I had the pleasure of an invite to a new supper club in Newington Green, London: The Civet Cat Club, nestled in the loft of a gorgeous flat, that filled me with such envy and admiration that I was happy to sit there and pretend that it was my own, if only for a few hours.  Seated at a communal table with the ever charming Gastrogeek, we tucked into our prosecco (you know I am a fan!) and stole a few moments to catch up, before chatting to  our neighbors, sharing lots of laughs and wine (from a vineyard local to a co-seatee from Italy). Much fun.

The food? Lovely. Particularly the delicious Bangra bangers, which I woke up on Saturday mornng with a craving for that could not be satiated. BANGRAS! I wanted them. Beautifully spiced and deliciously firey pork sausages from a recipe that has been handed from grandfather to grandson. I am told that they will be available soon for the public, of which I count myself a patient member.

Otherwise? Expect a charming hostess, good food, chilli vodka. And… if you’re lucky, a drunken Irish lass may teach you to Irish dance after said chilli vodka… but that costs extra. Namely, you have to bring me ;)

I really enjoyed it. The informality, charm and friendliness, the lovely food and the banter with new people over shared food and wines made for a really pleasant evening. They promise variety, a different combination of friends will cook each time, offering a unique experience. Time will tell what these will be, but doesn’t that make it interesting?

http://thecivetcatclub.wordpress.com/

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It’s time for an Ode! To Lahmucun

Lahmacun

Ah, sweet Lahmucun. Gorgeous woodfired crispy flatbread, slathered with minced lamb, spices and onions, and crisped to curvy perfection. Lined up like gorgeous crusty soldiers, waiting for me and I am waiting for them.

LAHMACUN!  How I love you. Saviour of my Wednesday market ingredient shop. Laden down like a packhorse I creep into Antepliler, lodge my request, and patiently await, 120 seconds, maybe 180. It feels so long!

And then, we are one. Crispy, crispy goodness meets frazzled overworked senses. Rolled around salad and wrapped in paper, I tear the top and tuck in.  And I trot geefully up the street, cargo in tow, lahmacun in hand. I am happy.

Lahmacun @ Antipliler, 46 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay, N4 1AG – £1.30.

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Auction Against Hunger

What are you doing here reading this?!  Shouldn’t you be over on ebay salivating over the fabulous goodies up for auction as part of the Blaggers’ Banquet Auction Against Hunger for Action Acgainst Hunger? Shouldn’t you be planning many culinary operations and adventures with the prizes that you succeed in winning?

There’s still lots of fabulous prizes we’ve yet to auction. The generosity of the donations has been astounding, and they’re still coming in. They’re not normal prizes either, lots of them are unique experiences, that money can’t buy (except for now in our auction).

Still here? How can I entice you…?

Dinner for 4 in Bob Bob Ricard’s Owners’ Salon
15 hours left to bid – bid here

Dinner for four in the Owners’ Salon at Bob Bob Ricard with Beef Wellington and a bottle on 1983 Chateau Palmer. Includes any 4 starters, 4 sides, 4 deserts and all soft drinks.

The 3lb-plus Beef Wellington is made with 28-day aged fillet of Aberdeenshire Scotch Beef. It is perfectly matched by the 1983 Chateau Palmer, “wine of the vintage” and the best Palmer since the legendary1961. Guests will be free to order any four starters, sides and deserts to accompany their meal from the entire Bob Bob Ricard menu without restrictions; all soft drinks are also included. Before dinner Bob or Ricard will join the guests to introduce them to vintage Russian vodka. 1963 Croft will be added at £500 & 1985 Krug at £700.

Thomasina Miers Wahaca Cookery Class for 2
6 days left to bid – bid here

Wahaca created this fabulous one off cookery class especially for the Blaggers Banquet Action Against Hunger auction. The cookery class will be run by Thomasina Miers, Master Chef winner and co founder of Wahaca.

Attendees will get to spend the afternoon with Thomasina Miers at one of the Wahaca restaurants and learn and cook some of her favourite Mexican recipes.

The class is for 8 people. This auction is for 2 places in that class. The date will be confirmed through emailing cecilia@wahaca.co.uk who will coordinate a date that all voucher winners can attend.

Tasting Menu for 2 at Tom Aikens Restaurant
4 days left to bid – bid here

Tom Aikens has donated a meal for two at his restaurant – his special Tasting Menu no less. Incliudes a bottle of wine.

And there’s more. Over the coming days/weeks we will be adding a dinner at Galvin at Windows; a Belted Galloway Malhamdale Grass Fed Beef Box from Paganum, my meat supplier; a Champagne & Sunday Brunch for two at Vinoteca (frequently voted best wine bar in London and a personal favourite) and lots more surprises.

STILL HERE?! What’s wrong with you?!*

*only kidding, we really appreciate everyones support, as does Action Against Hunger. Thanks!

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A Recipe: Gammon & Cabbage Soup

I am not much in the mind for cooking, that is new, and possibly a bit worrying. I cook so much now for others, with a full day of prep, followed by 2 days at the market, and two 16 hour days in a row at that, that I find I have little enthusiasm for cooking for myself at home. Call me jaded.

I do however, crave something really healthy. My body is battered and I feel a bit weary. I also want to hide out at home and eat here.  It has been a very challenging month. Something quick that I can make that sings of hearty full flavour, that will settle my tum, and soothe my frazzled senses. It sounds like I need a good solid soup.

But, what soup? I am not really in the mind for something complicated, I want it to be fresh and wholesome. I am thinking back to my pea & ham soup that I made for the market on Thursday, and sadly forgot to photograph! The absence of my DSLR is making a very bad blogger of me. I am so disappointed with the results from my old point and shoot, I find that I am demotivated on the photographic front, so until I replace it and get my mojo back, please forgive the crap photos.

Back to the soup, it was very good in my humble opinion, and as an Italian customer said, it had the essence of the pig. You really can’t beat a good soup at this time of year and this one  is one of my favourites, made simply with Irish ham hocks, lots of fresh veg for stock, and an abundance of peas, nestled in a gentle and translucent onion & garlic base.

But, what for now? Sadly, I have no ham hock or peas so I can’t recreate. I do have some fantastic leftover gammon, savoy cabbage, lentils and lots of vegetables. That sounds like a soup to me! It also sounds comforting and nurturing, which is just perfect for today. And a little naughty with that glint of salty ham. I don’t want to be too good after all!  I love that it’s that fabled Irish combination of bacon & cabbage, that we were all raised on, like it or lump it. I lumped it at the time, and hated the sulphurous odours emanating from the kitchen, however, I have matured into a bacon & cabbage loving lass, so bring it on.

So, this really is not posh or glamorous, but it’s good home cooked food. There’s lots of body from the lentils mingling with chunks of ham, ribbons of cabbage, and the occasional sweet carrot.  It’s frugal, it’s tasty and I’d wager that it’s healthy. I served it with some home made croutons made with seasoned day old bread fried in oil until crispy. Perfect.

Makes enough for 4. Tuck in!

Ingredients:

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
1.5l good stock, ham if you have it, chicken otherwise
300g red lentils
300g chopped cooked gammon (can substitute bacon)
Small head of savoy cabbage (can substitute other greens), shredded

Method:

Saute the onion and carrot in olive oil over a medium heat until the onion is translucent.
Add the garlic and saute for a further 30 seconds.
Add the stock, the lentils, bay leaves and the ham. Cook for 15 minutes or so until the lentils are mushy.
Remove the bay leaves and add the cabbage.
Cook for a further 5 minutes until the cabbage is just soft but still a lovely green colour.
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Serve immediately with good crusty bread or croutons

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A Wine-ding Tour of Portugal

European Wine Bloggers Conference

I’ve much bemoaned the lack of travelling I’ve been doing of late. Get out your tiny violin and let me tell you that I’ve not been to anywhere but Ireland for more than 5 days in over 2 years. Now, what is that about?! I’ve been working hard but playing less, in the last few months particularly, so I figured it was time to do something about this somewhat depressing state of affairs, and headed to Lisbon for the weekend.

Why Lisbon? The European Wine Bloggers Wine Conference was there this year, and having met, and tasted much wine with Gabriella & Ryan Opaz and their co-organiser Rob MacIntosh this year, I had to go. They’re great people and extremely innovative, whatever they were organising, it was sure to be good. There’s also been much talk of organising a food one over a few days next year, since last March in fact so it made sense to see how it was done before getting that moving after the Blaggers’ Banquet. The bonus was that I had never been to Portugal and was keen to explore.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

How was it? Well, great. The Portugese people, in the wine world and without are open, friendly and beyond hospitable. I had a somewhat twisted expectation that I may be seen as a fraud deeply entrenched in the world of wine, but really, that says more about me than them, as my experience was quite the opposite.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

Highlights were Friday nights tasting and dinner with the Douro Boys, a meander through the Portugese wine stands on Saturday trying gorgeous ports, tawnys and many wines featuring the national grape touriga nacional, a wonderful canape and wine session at michelin starred restaurant Eleven, followed by a mildly misjudged dancing session in Lisbon, a superb trip to the Tejo region and winery Quinta Lagoalva, featuring a tour of their cork farm and a sample of theirs and the regions wines, followed by lunch with the winemakers. Such a treat.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

European Wine Bloggers Conference

More still, a wonderful dinner, lots of delicious wines, and more dancing at Alfandega in Lisbon. Where things got really special, however was, bus journey aside, for I am a terrible bus passenger, especially after much dancing, wine swilling and little sleep, a trip to the Douro and to (for me) two wineries. This was a wonderful exposure to the wine and food culture in Portugal and the really lovely people. There was no pretension, just warm, friendly people and lovely food and wine. Thanks so much to Francisco Olazabal of Quinta do Vale Meão, Cristiano Van Zeller of Quinta do Vale D. Maria, Jorge, Tomas and Miguel Roquette of Quinta do Crasto for a wonderful experience.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

Throughout all of this I had exposure to a whole new community of bloggers, the wine bloggers, who are enormous fun and very knowledgable. I look forward to seeing them next year, and before then in some cases.

That’s the overview! I’ll write more about it soon. Thanks to Gabriella, Ryan, Rob and Andre and the boys from Adegga for a superb weekend. They did a wonderful job.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/niamheen/4073785596/” title=”European Wine Bloggers Conference by Niamheen, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2696/4073785596_63d873fb7d.jpg” width=”500″ height=”333″ alt=”European Wine Bloggers Conference” /></a>