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Introducing… Comfort & Spice

I am so excited that I am fit to burst! I am very happy to announce that my first book, Comfort & Spice, will be out later this year. I’ve been working on it for a while, but quietly, and now that we’re getting close, I just had to share :)

Comfort & Spice will be published as part of the New Voices in Food series by Quadrille. It will contain 100 recipes, mostly new and many of which I served at the market (but intentionally never blogged), and others that I have developed over the years. I will continue to blog here, of course.

If you are curious, and interested in recipe testing, do drop me a line. Best get back to it for now, but I look forward to updating you as I go.

 

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Lyon: A Bouchon Lunch at Cafe des Federations

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

How lovely to visit Lyon again for the Bocuse D’Or last week. It’s such a warm city, charming and obsessed with food. I am definitely the last and so I always feel at home there. My trip last August was brief, and there was one bouchon I neglected to hit, Café des Federations. I didn’t miss it this time.

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

I was there on a grey Thursday. I wandered by the Saone and meandered up the narrow streets, suitcase in tow. My French isn’t great, but it’s enough to get me by, and stumblingly, I secured a table for one for lunch.

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

I love solo lunches, I can’t think of anything nicer than lovely food, intimate ecelctic surroundings, some delicious wine and a great book, whilst cosy in a corner with the occasional bit of people watching between chapters. It’s fairly uncommon here in London, not so in France.

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

At the banquette ahead of me were two other solo female diners, one young Japanese lady, in town also for the Bocuse D’Or, and a wonderful elderly French lady, dolled up to the nines with perfect make up and hair and a big fur coat for company.

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

At Les Café des Federations, you are not given a menu. Shortly after sitting down, you are presented with a selection of nibbles, this time charcuterie lyonnaise, two types of sliced sausage with cornichons; another dressed meat (which I think was tongue) and caviar de la croix rousse, a gorgeous and incredibly moreish peasant caviar, a puy lentil dish in a tart cream dressing.

Once these were finished, I was asked which dish I wanted from a list recited by the waiter. All the Lyonnaise bouchon classics were on here: Tete de Veau (calf’s head), Andouillette (Lyonnaise sausage made from the er… business end of the bowel, otherwise known as chitterlings), Quenelles en Brochette (lovely light fish mousse type thing shaped into a quenelle in a light fish soup), Boudin Noir (black pudding) and the one I chose, Poulet au Vinaigre (Chicken in Vinegar). I also chose a spritely house white to wash it down with.

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

My French chicken was seductive with rich dark meat, crispy skin with a sliver of fat underneath, and the tart cream vinegar sauce was delicious. Served with rice, it was great comfort food and a lovely lunch. Although I did have an enormous pang of regret when a couple nearby got the boudin noir, and the gateaux de foie looked superb also.

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

St Marcelin cheese was offered, which I love, but I instead chose the Pear in Red Wine, which was served cold and was perfectly light and fresh and aromatic with cinnamon and nutmeg. It was really refreshing, and felt healthy and light (for a dessert!).

Lunch at Cafe des Federations

The food was charming and the bouchon lovely. It was an indulgent and soothing couple of hours  and came in at €23 or so. I did prefer the overall experience and the food at Le Garet, but Cafe des Feds (as they call it) is worth a visit too. We need a few bouchons in London, I think, although they just wouldn’t be the same here, would they?

http://www.lesfedeslyon.com/

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The Bocuse D’Or: Scandinavia Storm Lyon, Denmark Takes Gold

Bocuse D'Or

Scandinavia stormed Lyon at the Bocuse D’Or, often described as the International Culinary Olympics. Paul Bocuse, chief of the old guard, pioneer of French Nouvelle Cuisine and now in his eighties, visibly flinched (of course this could have been humour), when he read the name of the winning country. Bronze to Gunnar Hvarnes of Norway, Silver to Tommy Myllymaki of Sweden and Gold to Kofoed Rasmus of Denmark.

Things have changed, cooking has progressed and we increasingly look to Scandinavia for inspiration. Two of the best selling cookbooks in the UK are from Denmark, Trina Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Cookbook and Rene Redzepi’s Noma. Denmark is already home of the Worlds No 1 Restaurant, Noma (according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) and now to the Gold Bocuse D’Or, the most presitigious award in professional cooking.

Bocuse D'Or

The cooking at the Bocus D’Or was seriously impressive, chefs had battled through various levels over 2 years, winning regional heats to qualify to compete at the Bocuse D’Or in Lyon at all. Representing the UK, Simon Hulstone and Jordan Bailey finished 13th out of 24, and they were disappointed. However, they did all of this with £15K funding, whilst running (and cooking at) Michelin starred Elephant in Torquay.

Bocuse D'Or

And there is the rub. How can Britain compete? Other countries are heavily funded by their governments (in excess of £1M in some cases), affording some the possibility of taking time out of work to dedicate to the Bocuse D’Or full time. The UK funding of £15K is not enough to allow this which prompts the question, why is it so little? If the UK wants to position itself at the forefront of gastronomy, it needs to invest.

Hopefully, Simon Hulstone and Jordan Bailey will have raised the profile sufficiently for those with the purse strings to take some notice, and offer some much needed financial  support for the next candidate. In the meantime, they should be proud of their achievements, and we should all raise a glass to celebrate it. Chin, chin.

With thanks to Laetitia Attali for her photos.

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Vuvuzelas and High Cuisine! Who knew? The Bocuse D’Or

Bocuse d'Or (by Laetitia)

So, the Bocuse D’Or, what’s that then? Well, it’s only a huge international cheffing competition in Lyon – gastronomic heart of France – that we don’t know about very much in the UK. Started by Paul Bocuse It’s huge everywhere else, Barack Obama even sent an official letter wishing luck to the US team. Why don’t we know about it?

Bocuse d'Or (by Laetitia)

There is a UK team here led by Simon Hulstone of Elephant Restaurant at Torquay (sadly no Irish team), and they have just served up their delectable looking nosh, which is being judged right now by 10 chefs including Thomas Keller and Mathias Dahlgren, so no pressure there then. It was sheer torture watching the plates come out, I wanted to nose dive on to them and eat every bit.

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The energy here is frenetic and a little insane, likened to a football match but I wouldn’t know anything about that. All I know is that this is great fun, a little deafening (vuvzelas, drums, giant cow bells, that kind of thing) and really inspiring. I don’t envy the judges their job.

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We are now waiting to hear who has won. It’s TENSE. My heart goes out to them. Fingers crossed for the UK team to win!

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A Quick Recipe for a Glorious Brunch: Turkish Eggs

Turkish Eggs 009-1
The first time that I had Turkish Eggs at The Providores in London, I was hooked. Hooked and a little obsessed. I ordered it as I just didn’t know how it could work, but knew that it wouldn’t be there if it didn’t, right?

The Providores version is non traditional, poached eggs on thick yogurt with chilli butter. It is utterly divine. It prompted me to go home and do some research on Turkish Eggs. I wanted to know more, I wanted to make it, I needed to eat them often! What would I get in Turkey? I found out, and this brings me to this recipe, traditional Turkish Eggs.

The rewards are huge for such a simple dish. Greek style yogurt at the bottom of a bowl, 2 poached eggs on top, and sage leaves fried until crispy in a decent chunk of butter. You won’t regret the extra butter I promise you! Scatter the crispy sage leaves around the eggs and drizzle the butter. And swoon and eat. Now I want some more.

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Competition! Win tickets to the Freixenet Vintage Tea Party

Ok follks, this one is a quickie and a little girly, and it’s in Brighton. It looks like great fun. Freixenet Cava are running a Vintage Tea Party (with lots of cava) this Thursday in Hotel du Vin. The competition will run for only 24 hours, finishing tomorrow at 3pm. Three winners of a pair of tickets each (worth approx £50) will be chosen at random from the comments on the post.

Details: The Brighton Freixenet VIP event on Thursday,  is an exclusive party in the impressive Dome at the Hotel du Vin. Following welcome drinks of Freixenet Strawberry Bellinis there will be a glamorous, cabaret-style dance class with feather boas. Then guests can get glammed up with professionally applied retro style make-up. Classical mime artists will add a vaudeville touch, while dainty afternoon-tea style sandwiches and indulgent cupcakes from Brighton Cupcakes will round off the perfect evening. And, of course, cute little black bottles of chilled Freixenet Cordon Negro will be the accessory of choice!The tea party is on the 20th January 2011 from 6.30 – 10.30pm.

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Light Lunch: Calamari with Cous Cous,Jammy Roast Tomatoes, Scallions, Pine Nuts & Parsley

Light Lunch: Calamari with Jammy Roast Tomatoes, Scallions, Pine Nuts & Parsley

So, you’ve bought some squid to make the last recipe, and you’ve a little leftover. What to do with it? Lunch! Or supper. Make this lovely light dish in no time at all. It’s packed with flavours and textures and is really delicious. Don’t tell anyone, but I think it might even be healthy too!

I had this today, and in the interest of speediness and keeping it light, I didn’t egg-and-cornmeal the squid as before but just dipped it in seasoned cornmeal on its own, which resulted in a super light and delicious calamari. The cous cous was easy, just normal cous cous, covered in (boiling) hot water in a covered bowl, and left for 10 minutes or so until it absorbs it and becomes fluffy.

I’ve taken to roasting tiny tomatoes at a high temperature until they caramelise and become rich and jammy, they are like a gorgeous flavour bomb when you hit them as you eat. Scallions, well they’re sharp and have a great texture that bounces against the rest. Toasted pine nuts are rich and lovely, who can resist adding extra? Not me. Parsley and lemon juice lift it all.

What more could you need?

Calamari with Jammy Roast Tomatoes, Scallions, Pine Nuts & Parsley

Ingredients

1 squid, cleaned and cut into rings
a handful of small juicy cherry tomatoes
75g cous cous
3 scallions/spring onions, chopped
a handful of chopped parsley
a handful of pine nuts
extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon

Method

Heat the oven to 200 deg C and roast the tomatoes with olive oil and S&P for 10 minutes or so until caramelising/about to burst. Take out and put to the side.

Place the cous cous in a bowl, season lightly and just cover with boiling water from your kettle. Place a plate on top or cover with cling film for 10 minutes or so.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan (no oil) over a high heat for a couple of minutes until turning darker brown, but not too dark as they will turn bitter.

Season a bowl of fine cornmeal with S&P, and dip the squid in. It will coat lightly.

Heat some oil in a deep pan, or a frying pan, to 200 deg C, and fry the calamari for no more than a couple of minutes when they are brown or crisp. If you cook for too long they will get tough.

Fork the cous cous and dress with some olive oil and the lemon juice. Toss with the parsley, scallions and pine nuts. Put the tomatoes on top (they will be too delicate to toss) and serve the calamari on top of everything.

Enjoy!

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January Charmer: Calamari with Blood Orange & Fennel

Calamari withi Blood Orange & Fennel

January should be the worst month of the year, and it has all the potential to be. The build up to Christmas is lengthy and intense, Christmas itself whizzes by in a flash and, thud, hello January. Quiet and long, we’re all reeling from spending too much money and January just doesn’t have anything going for it. Or does it?

It does, it really does.  And I love January for it. At least, I do at times. I love it for two reasons, both bright and varying shades of red. Fruity and juicy and special, January is the month of the bright red blood orange and spindly, pink, sweet and sour forced rhubarb.

These are possibly two of my favourite ingredients, particularly after the sensory deprivation of the preceding weeks of kale, cabbage and sprouts. They are intense and bright and – smack – that flavour when you bite into them is so big, sweet, sharp and divine. Fantastic in sweet dishes as you would expect, but they are both equally brilliant in savoury.

Tonight I had some blood orange with fennel in a salad. Nice, eh? Now imagine that on top there is crisp fried calamari, coated in fine cornmeal, and really, what more could you want?

Squid is great January fodder, healthy and fresh, and really reasonably priced. The cornmeal provides a delicate coating with gentle flavour, panko or very fine breadcrumbs would work too, this is just what I fancied tonight.

This dish is a perfect January one for me as it’s healthy and light, but a little bit naughty, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It comes together so quickly, the squid takes only a couple of minutes to fry, and there is only three ingredients to prepare. You can buy squid pre-prepared, which would make this even quicker. If you do prepare your own, it’s best to ask your fishmonger to take the ink sacs out for you, as these can get a little bit messy. And I am messy enough as it stands!

Calamari with Blood Orange & Fennel

Ingredients (for two)

2 average sized squid
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced as finely as you can
2 blood oranges
1/2 lemon
a bowl of fine cornmeal (or panko/breadcrumbs) to coat, seasoned with S&P
one egg, beaten
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A little parley to dress (optional)
Enough oil to deep fry in a pan or a deep fat fryer

Method

Half one of the oranges and juice, saving the juice for the dressing. Remove the skin and the pith from the remaining one and a half and slice thinly.

Juice the half lemon, and add to the blood orange juice you have set aside. Add the same amount of extra virgin olive oil, and season with S&P to taste. Dress the sliced fennel, and put to the side.

If you’re preparing the squid, remove anything inside, there may be membranes and/or remnants of the ink sac. Remove any coloured membranes from utside (excl tentacles) and you should be left with white flesh.

Slice the squid into rings (excl the tentacles if attached which you can fry as they are). Dry, and dip in the cornmeal, then the egg, then the cornmeal again. Set aside.

Heat some oil in a deep pan to 390F/200C, and fry the squid in small batches. Don’t crowd the pan. Each batch should take no more than a couple of minutes, they will be done when they are brown. Don’t overcook them as they will get tough.

Dry on some kitchen paper and serve with the dressed fennel, some parsley and sliced oranges. Pour some of the dressing on top, but not on the calamari, you don’t want it to go soggy.

Enjoy!

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The Beauty of the Bird: Another Lovely Duck Breast Recipe with Soya and Spice

Soy & Spice Marinaded Duck Breast

More duck?! So sue me, I love eating duck. It’s definitely been the bird of choice this winter. I generally love all poultry, but duck is so rich in flavour, so receptive to marinades and so easily available that it has featured heavily in this winters cooking.

One of the things that I love about cooking birds is the variety of textures and flavours possible with each. Take duck, as we’re talking about that. The breast is tender and gentle with lovely tender skin coasting a slim layer of bouncy delicious fat. Cooked properly with the fat rendered out slowly, you’ll get a gentle slightly crispy skin and tender pink flesh. The legs are wonderful slow roasted so that the skin is super crispy and the meat dark and falling off the bone. The flavour is intense and rich, and ok it’s fatty, but so what? As long as you’re not eating them every day, you’ll be ok.

Duck loves fruit, duck loves spice. Hey! So do I. We can be a kitchen dream team. I have been experimenting a lot with it, and have a host of new recipes, including a new favourite recipe which I have made 3 times this week, seeing how it worked with legs and breast and playing with the spicing. A slow cooked roast leg was lovely, but the breast, which has the bonus of cooking really quickly, was much better for me.

I love it and I hope you do too. There are a lot of ingredients but they all contribute and don’t let them put you off, it’s easy peasy, just make sure you take the time to marinade it. The cooking time for the duck will depend on the size of the breast, cut into it to see if unsure, you want it to be pink.

Soy & Spice Marinaded Duck Breast

Soy & Spice Marinaded Duck Breast

The marinade will cover 4 breasts in an dish that fits them compactly or a freezer bag

Ingredients

Marinade:

75ml soy sauce
50 ml rice wine
2 tbsp honey
3 star anise
1 red chilli, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
5 cloves
1 large cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
sea salt & black pepper

4 x duck breast, rinsed, and wiped dry

Method

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade, season with S&P to taste. Bash them about a little with a rolling pin or pestle to get the flavours talking to each other.

Slash the duck breast at intervals of a cm or so just to the skin, but not through it.

Cover the duck with the marinade in a compact dish or a freezer bag and rub it in with your fingers. Marinade for as long as possible, at least 2 hours if you can, or over night.

Wipe the marinade from the duck breast and fry on a low to medium heat, skin side down for 8-10 minutes or so, to render most of the fat out and crisp the skin. No oil is necessary, there’s lots of fat in the duck already.

When the skin is crisped slightly (it won’t go like roast skin but will go gently crisp) turn over and turn up the heat to medium. Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, until breast is still light pink but cooked. Let rest for a couple of minutes.

Serve sliced on top of stir fried pak choi or noodles fried with a little sesame oil, coriander and spring onion.

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Recipe: Quick, Tasty Supper of Roast Chicken Legs with Squash, Spinach & Porcini

Roast Chicken Leg with Squash, Spinach, Porcini & Roast Garlic

I declare January 2011 as the month of frugal food. Or at least frugal shopping for ingredients and using what’s in my cupboard. If there ever was a month that should be frugal and spartan, this is it. 2010 was brilliant, but wildly indulgent, I feel I need an honest return to the kitchen, and some fun as I play with the ingredients of my larder, and otherwise basic everyday ingredients.

One of my larder staples is dried mushrooms, particularly porcini (or ceps if you are French). They smell grim. All you rural types, they smell like grain feed for cattle and I will never forget finding my head next to a mouse nest in a grain feed store when young, so that smell fills me with fear and loathing. Like lots of things like prawn paste, they smell grim but taste great, when soaked for half an hour or so in hot water and that dustiness and farmyardiness is gone, they become supple and impart a depth of meaty, and of course, mushroomy flavour to any dish.

Chicken legs are cheap and massively underrated. Full of flavour and moist as the meat is right on the bone, lots of crispy chicken skin, and when roasted on top of some veg they impart lots of gorgeous chicken fat which adds a flounce to all flavours, a richness but not a greasiness. It’s not a whole chicken after all and there is a limited amount of fat, just the perfect amount for depth of flavour.

I love squash, although butternut squash I find the most bland, it is the most available, so on my first day back yesterday, seriously lacking in energy to go seeking out my favourite kabocha squash, I purchased a butternut. Roasting releases some of the water and increases the flavour, so I would always recommend roasting a butternut squash first. One small one would suffice.

I used whole cloves of garlic as I love the richness and nuttiness, the add lots of flavour to the dish, but popping them out of their skins and eating them imparts an intensity and distraction as you eat your dish. I love little touches like this, otherwise I find big dishes can get very dull. Perhaps I have ADHD! I do know that I like my food to be interesting and full flavoured.

Roast Chicken Leg with Squash, Spinach, Porcini & Roast Garlic

The prep for this is quick, and the ingredients inexpensive, save the porcini mushrooms and pine nuts are a little splurge but they are worth it. The dish will do well without them if you don’t have them in your store cupboard. The chicken is perfectly moist and delicious, and for me doesn’t need a gravy or sauce, but you could make one from the porcini soaking water which would be great with it.

This recipe will serve 2.

Roast Chicken Legs with Squash, Spinach & Porcini

Ingredients

20g dried porcini
2 chicken legs
1 bag of baby spinach
6 cloves garlic, whole with skin on
20g pine nuts
400g butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes (roughly)
A little olive oil

Method

Soak the porcini in enough boiling water to cover them for half an hour or so. Drain and chop finely. Save the porcini water for your next soup or stock.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius. Oil a baking dish big enough to hold both chicken legs, and deep enough to hold the veg. Add the squash, garlic and chopped porcini, toss with a little olive oil to coat, and season with salt and pepper.

Wash and dry the chicken legs and place on top. Drizzle some oil on the skin and rub in with some salt and pepper to season.

Roast for approx 50 minutes until the skin is crisp and brown. The chicken legs I used were very big, so keep an eye on them from about 40 minutes or so.

When they’re almost done, toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a high heat, watching them as they will burn very quickly and taste bitter. Add some oil to the same pan and wilt the spinach.

When the chicken is done, take the legs out and let them rest for a few minutes. Add the spinach to the squash mixture and leave for a few minutes in the oven.

Add the pine nuts, and serve with the chicken on top.

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The Roundup is OVER, Bring on 2011

Local Parisian Food Market #6

Some tomatoes for some colour, hello 2011!

I killed the roundup, I killed it dead. I was dreading writing the next bit, when I thought, well I don’t have to, do I? One thing that is for sure, if I don’t enjoy writing it, it will be a nightmare to read, and there’s no fun in that, now is there? Instead, I will do my favourite books from 2010 justice by covering them properly over the next month. They deserve more space than the roundup would allow anyway.

So, what’s for 2011? It’s here, isn’t it? I have lots of big plans which are exciting, not all I can share here as details are in discussion, but I should be able to announce soon. Other than that, let me share a few of my 2011 ambitions with you :)

TRAVEL

Lots more travel, I love it and I can’t get enough of it, I want to do more and I want to write about it more. I want to photograph every detail, taste every morsel, devour every shred. And then come back and tell you all about it and share the recipes that I have discovered. A new travel guide seciton will appear this year too.

Trips in the planning stage are: Argentina (finally!), Japan, Canada, Denmark. Lots of trips to my Irish native shores too, to uncover some more culinary gems.

RECIPES

More recipes, more regularly, starting this week. More sweet things too, as I don’t write about them enough. I have a list of recipe ideas that I can’t wait to tackle. I do hope that you will like them.

CAMERA

I am going to upgrade again, and hopefully soon. The camera that I have is handy, portable and does enough, but I want to be better.

VIDEO

I started doing videos last year but rarely posted then as I had no time to edit them, I plan to change this and make them a regular feature this year. I will need a little laptop upgrade to achieve this, so it may not be immediate, but it will be soon. 

GET IN SHAPE

I know everyone says this but, really, I got quite a fright when I saw myself on Market Kitchen just before Xmas. I was a slender size 10 less than 2 years ago (that’s a UK 10 for you US readers :) and, well, I think it’s fair to say that I have ballooned in the last 18 months, especially the last 12. It has been fun, but it’s time to call it a day and get back to normal.

I was in denial about it, but seeing myself on that TV box was the shock that I needed. I have never in my life dieted (and have been quite proud of that as I hate obsessive dieting, it seems like a cruel and unusual punishment), but the time has come to accept it.

I will not be going utterly low fat as life is too short and fat is too tasty, but I will be more careful and I will also up the exercise (well, actually do some, if I am honest). So, expect some tasty and healthy recipes from me too.

GET ORGANISED

I do a lot, I know, but I always plan to do more and I am sure that I could if only I could be a bit more organised. This includes THE REDESIGN that has haunted me for the last near 2 years that I have been talking about it. Coming soon (really!).

FINALLY

Thank you all for continuing to read and sharing this culinary topsy turvy journey. Welcome too to all of the new readers that joined in 2010. You’re all very welcome here in my little corner of the internet :)