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Another Year Over

So, that was May and what an interesting month it was. A month that I had set aside and cleared to allow myself the space to figure out what I do next, and to sort my life out a little bit. I cleared every single weekend except one. I need to do it more often.

Head cleared and getting back in shape, life is starting to feel quite good again, instead of just chaotic and a little crazy. I was trying to do too much, and it was all getting a little silly. When I wrote that post about the major downside of being a food writer, I had reached as far as I was willing to go (actually much further). It was time to change things. I wanted my life and my body back.

I started to think about this past year. It was great in many respects. My first book, Comfort & Spice, was published by Quadrille. It was an intense period writing it. My body took a battering for it, and my head a little bit too. I am proud of that little book though, it was worth it, and I have learned a lot about how to do the next one (not commissioned yet but working on ideas before you ask :)

When I finished, I needed to get out of my flat and out of London, so I went to Argentina for a month, and kick started almost a year of reasonably intense travel. I won the OFM Blog of the Year Award, was short listed for the Red Hot Women Award. Recently, I was short listed for the Guild of Food Writers Blog Award (hearty congratulations to Poires au Chocolat who won last night). Absolutely wonderful and so flattering, there were a few tears.

It was a really good year but I worked very hard and I got so tired. I have written this blog for over 5 years without a single break. So I have decided that I am going to take one, and come back refreshed and energised.

Not just yet, as I have a few things that I want to share with you, but I won’t be blogging as often as before, just for a little while, and then I am going to take a break. Maybe for a month, I need to think about it. I want to love writing here again and enjoy every post as I write it, and I want to feel inspired by what is around me.

I will still be running my cooking classes, which I really enjoy doing. I hope to see some of you there. There are still places available for all of them. People assume they book out immediately but there are always places so, come along, and join in the fun.

For now, I am off to celebrate my birthday. Just a little, as despite the queen trying to steal my thunder with her big jubilee celebrations, I will celebrate properly over the weekend with friends. Of course I haven’t organised it properly yet, it is all a bit last minute. There will be no procession of gold boats going down the Thames for me, but I do have lots of lovely drinks and lovely people to share them with too. There may be some food.

Older, not much wiser, and hugely looking forward to it. Have a lovely day, people. Thank you, as always, for reading.

PS. that bird that was keeping me awake in my recent post? Well, one morning I didn’t wake at 5 and thought, great, I must be used to them! I plodded about waking slowly while inhaling coffee. Later on I went out into the garden, only to be greeted by a traumatised bird corpse. A local cat or similar had killed it. I felt terrible. I only wanted them to be a little quieter, I never wanted something to kill them. Poor birds. The cheeping now is less frequent, and sounds lonelier.

PPS. Voting has opened for the OFM Awards again. Vote for all your favourites, and don’t forget the little blog category in there too :)

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Comfort & Spice Cooking Class & Next Classes Available to Book

This blog has become a little cooking class obsessed, which must be annoying for those of you outside of London. They have slightly dominated my life this last few weeks. Planning them, setting them up, teaching them. Working out the kinks, figuring out the best way to do them. I think I am there now. Normal service will resume promptly.

Candied Maple & Tamarind Bacon Fudge

Bacon class was fun and very tasty. People often look a little confused when I mention bacon fudge (there are now two versions: candied maple & tamarind bacon fudge and bacon jam fudge), but when they try it, without fail their faces become joyful. So wrong it is right, and before you know it you’ve eaten it all. A few of you have requested the recipe by email or twitter. I have decided not to share these recipes until later in the summer, as I want them to be unique to the class. I will share them eventually though.

Blaas & Homemade Butter

Comfort & Spice Cooking Class (with recipes from the book and at the request of the students also bacon jam and bacon jam fudge) was a lot of fun and we cooked lots. Maybe too much in reality as the class became 5 hours instead of 4. We made blaas (fluffy Irish bread rolls), homemade butter, 2 hour roast pork belly (using Ginger Pig pork belly) with puy lentils, chocolate mousse with honeycomb, bacon jam and bacon jam fudge (made with Denhay bacon). Intense but nonetheless fun and delicious and everyone had a good time.

2 hour roast pork belly

We had lunch at the end and washed it all done with some fino and cava. I was worried that maybe it had been too much but charmingly, on Sunday morning, I had emails from everyone who had attended the class saying how much they had enjoyed it, and they all want to come back. Which is so encouraging – thank you.

I kept costs low to begin with as I wanted the pricing to be accessible for everyone. I still do, but I use only the best ingredients and rent a lovely cooking school to host them in which costs a lot of money. I am going to keep them low for the next lot of classes, I think it is important, but I think that realistically I will need to raise them after this in order for the project to be sustainable, if I decide to continue with them.

Central St Cookery School

I am only releasing Thursday dates right now. Soon some Saturday dates, later in the summer and also some dates for Brunch Club which will be resurrected soon. I have also been asked to provide private cookery classes (in homes and in alternative schools outside of London) and have been scheduling some of these. I am open to pretty much most things, so if you have an idea, just get in touch and we can work something out I am sure :)

Upcoming Cooking Classes – to book please email me at niamh at eatlikeagirl dot com

Thursday 14th June – Bacon Masterclass
6.30 – 9.30, £60
Recipes: Candied Bacon, Bacon Jam, Bacon Jam Fudge, Bacon Vodka

Thursday 21st June – Comfort & Spice Bread, Butter & Homemade Cheese Class
6.30 – 9.30, £60
Recipes: Soda Bread, Soda Farls, Blaas, Homemade Butter, Paneer, Ricotta

Thursday 12th July – Bacon Masterclass
6.30 – 9.30, £60
Recipes: Candied Bacon, Bacon Jam, Bacon Jam Fudge, Bacon Vodka

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Welcome Summer & Hello Elderflower

Lovely elderflower

Isn’t it lovely to have summer finally arrive? Just glorious! But like all good things, it comes and then you remember the things that are slightly annoying about it. Like the sunburn, the hay fever, the heat rash and those terribly chirpy birds in the hedge who wake with the light and go CHEEP CHEEP CHEEP. Tiny and sharp and irritating (at 5am), like little chirpy pneumatic drills that invade your head and your sleep.

This bird, and her chicks, wake me up every-single-morning. Sleepy.

But I do love summer. Even though I am Irish and pale and my body can’t actually cope with the heat. I think we operate best between 10 and 16 deg C.

Spring is best. When the flowers start to peep out and release their gorgeous fragrance, when the parks rush towards lush and green. The evenings are longer and people are happier. I love to wander in the local park, especially in the mornings.  If I can motivate myself I will even go before I start work. I always have a bag so that I can forage all of the delicious things like nettles and elderflower.

Elder tree at the end of the garden

This year is even better. Some of you will know that I have moved Saf, as we say here. South of the river in London that is. A new departure for me, I have always been a creature of the North and the East. There are many new things to discover, a gorgeous local park and woodland, lots of wild parakeets (really!) and at last, my little flat has a lovely little garden. In that garden is an elder tree. Perfect.

Elderflower, picked and ready to become cordial

I love elderflower. It brings me back to childhood and possibilities. Our hedgerows were full of elderflower, and I was easily amused so I would spend hours making elderflower cordial and trying to make elderflower perfume. The perfume never really worked for me, but the cordial has stayed. I would also make turkish delight in the microwave – a long story for another post – so I think it is only right that the two should finally meet.

So elderflower a go-go it is here right now. I have been making cordial for cocktails – bellinis and elderflower collins – as it is my birthday next week and I like a little excuse to party. I am also about to fritter some and dust them merrily with icing sugar. Tomorrow I will make that elderflower turkish delight. I can’t wait for the gooseberries to arrive so that I can make gooseberry and elderflower turkish delight which will be just gorgeous.

My elderflower cordial and bellini recipe are in my book, but the others are new to here. I will carry on perfecting them, and I will be right back with them for you to try at home on a glorious sunny evening.

Bye for now! Enjoy the lovely evening.

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Natural Wine at the RAW Fair (and food and wine at the Georgian Supra)

RAW Fair at the Truman Brewery

I love natural wines, and I love Georgia, so it is no great surprise that I should be pretty excited when the two collide in London. It’s a great week to be here, with the RAW Fair, Real Wine Fair and the London International Wine Fair all going on.

Terrific rich reds from Roagna – becoming a firm favourite

Natural wines, for the uninitiated, are wines that have had little interference – chemical or technological –  in the growing of the grapes and making of the wine. They can have a little sulphite in them, which acts as a preservative. Lots don’t even have this.  Some say they are the purest expression of terroir.

My wine of the fair from Batič

For me, at a very basic level, I just really enjoy them. I like life to be eclectic and interesting and I like my wine to be eclectic and interesting too. I like to eat food that hasn’t been mucked around with too much, why not the same with wine? Some say they don’t taste good. True, some don’t. There is good and bad natural wine, just like there is good and bad everything.

Loved this Hungarian Pinot Noir

RAW fair, organised by Isabelle Legeron – otherwise known as That Crazy French Woman and a Georgian Food & Wine obsessive – was on at the Truman brewery this past Sunday and Monday. It was a brilliant venue streaming with light and bright white walls. There were so many producers there, I could only really scratch the surface but it makes me excited to try more. I was very happy to see some of my favourites there: Roxanich from Istria and Batič from Slovenia. In fact the Batič Angel Grand Cuvee was my wine of the fair, full bodied and rich with a lovely elegance and ripe fruit. I could drink it every day.

Georgian Supra at RAW fair

The Supra was everything a Georgian Supra should be. Abundant delicious food, lots of singing and toasting and lots of wine. All of the leftover wine from the fair was placed on the floor at the end of the room, and we all dug in.

The cat who got the cream – foraging for wine at the Supra at the RAW Fair

I must dash now to the Real Wine Fair which finishes today. I will be back with a video of the Supra and details on the food amongst other bits and pieces.

Enjoy the sunshine folks.

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Bacon Masterclass: Some Photos

Bacon Masterclass

Bacon Masterclass has been and gone. It was as much fun as I hoped it would be. I worry sometimes that maybe people will think I have stepped too far away from where food should be, but last Thursday everyone was agreed that all things bacon were good. Everyone got to bring home two large jars of bacon jam, a big box of candied bacon fudge and lots of bacon vodka.

We made 4 bacon recipes with delicious smoked streaky Denhay bacon (only the best – without good bacon to start with, why bother?). We made bacon jam, maple syrup and tamarind candied bacon, candied bacon fudge (new favourite thing) and bacon vodka (with Grey Goose vodka).

Bacon Masterclass

Before you ask, the recipes won’t be made public for a bit, the only way to get them is to come to the class. Is that a bit mean? Maybe I will cave and blog them sooner. I have so many bacon recipes now, I might change the recipes for the bacon class quite often. I have received a lot of emails requesting them.

Bacon Masterclass

I will be starting my brunch club again soon on Sundays. I have found a great little location on Petticoat  Lane market in London. It will be bacontastic – bacon bloody mary, bacon fudge –  but it won’t be all about the bacon and there will be plenty of food and drink for veggies too. I will announce details this week once we have decided how it will go.

Just some of the Bacon Masterclass spoils

For those interested in a cooking class, my next one is this Saturday 26th. It is 4 hours and is £90 (including lunch and wine). The school is more expensive at the weekends so my prices must go up, I am afraid. I was going to keep it Comfort & Spice style with homemade butter, 2 hour pork belly, chocolate mousse with honeycomb and other treats. I now think it needs a lot of bacon action too – so bacon jam and bacon fudge.

One other thing, several have asked if I will do bespoke classes for groups, the answer is a firm YES, so please just get in touch. I am happy to come to your homes too.

If you fancy next weeks class, or any of the above, email me to book or enquire on niamh@eatlikeagirl.com.

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ANNOUNCING: Comfort & Spice Cooking Class on Saturday May 26th

OK folks! Cooking class number 2 is ready to book (the first is my Bacon Masterclass this Thursday- I have had 2 cancellations so email if you’re interested!).

Comfort & Spice Cooking Class

My second class will be on Saturday 26th May for 4 hours – from 10am to 2pm – and will include lunch and a glass of wine.

Recipes will include homemade butter, homemade paneer, blaas (fluffy Irish bread roll), two hour pork belly and chocolate mousse with honeycomb. The cost is £90, to reserve a place please email me on niamh@eatlikeagirl.com

Stay up to date on classes by emailing me to add you to my Cooking Class mailing list, and by keeping an eye on the new Cooking Class page on this site.

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Recipe: Black Pudding, Bacon & Egg Empanadas

Black Pudding, Bacon & Egg Empanadas

I am getting dangerously close to the jumbo breakfast roll. I know, I know. But trust me, this is a little more refined.

This month, I have planned to dedicate my time to sorting all my crap out – which is a lot of crap. I have had a brilliant time travelling post book writing etc., I definitely needed it after the intensity of the previous year. Lots happened in all areas of my life and I felt like I needed a breather. So I grabbed one.

Now, I want to be in London a little more. I want to finally sort out all of my stuff, and start my cooking classes and other things that have been in the pipeline for a while (there are still spaces for Thursdays bacon class by the way!).

So, if I haven’t lost you yet, yesterdays sorting out primarily consisted of me trying to change a light bulb. For ages. On my own. Productive, eh? I am rather short and the ceiling rather high.

It was beyond me for a while (I was a little sleepy after a reasonably late Saturday night), but I needed to do it as it was a shouty symbol of my disorganisation. That bulb blew a while back you see. So eventually, I dragged the dresser over, climbed on it and changed that bulb. I am my own DIY hero now (the bar was set very low for those surprised).

After all that exertion I was starving and deprived of any stimulation (do I have ADHD?). So, I started moving stuff around, disgruntedly, and found lots of photos of when I went to Argentina. I saw pictures of empanadas, had a very happy recollection of a lovely day, and that was it, attempts at organisation over. I had to make some.

Fantastic Empanadas in Mendoza

Empanadas, for the few of you not aware, are small packages of glory. Blistered pastries filled with deliciousness. The classic Mendocino empanada – which is the best for me – is filled with beef, olives, eggs and other loveliness. For the very best, you need to cook them in a wood fired oven. We stopped at a random house in Mendoza and bought 8 from an old lady. I thought, EIGHT! How will I eat all those? I made quick work of them. They are still one of the best things I have ever eaten.

I asked lots of people for tips on making empanadas when I was in Argentina, particularly when I was in Mendoza. The top tip was lard. It absolutely has to be lard or pig butter I believe one called it (can’t we change the name to that?). Flour, baking powder, lard and salt with enough chilled water to bring it together. Some people use half butter / half lard, but I have some Iberico lard in the fridge (rendered fat from the delicious Spanish pata negra pig), and I decide to use only that.

Empanada Filling

Filling? Well I have no beef but I do have lovely black pudding (Irish of course), I have tomatoes, I have eggs, onions and a few other bits. I spy the makings of a rather delicious empanada, a little fusion born of an Irish lass inspired by a lovely trip to Argentina. It worked a treat.

Empanada Pastry

Learn from me: try to plan a little in advance. I nearly drove myself crazy with hunger waiting, and ate half the filling before the empanada dough was fully chilled. Still delicious though, and that is the main thing.

Making Empanadas

Black Pudding, Bacon & Egg Empanadas

Ingredients

Empanada Pastry

450g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (good sea salt)
125g Iberico lard (or normal lard, or butter, or half and half)
enough chilled water to bring it all together
2 eggs for sealing & glazing

Filling

350g black pudding
1 tin tomatoes
1 red onion, finely chopped
5 slices streaky bacon
small pinch of chilli flakes
4 eggs
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

Method

First of all make your pastry. I have warm hands so I use my mixer. When making pastry it is really important that you are as hands off as possibly. You really just want to bring it together and have the pastry figure out the rest. Chop the lard into small cubes and mix with the other ingredients until you get a breadcrumb texture. Then add your chilled water bit by bit until it holds its shape (without being too wet). Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.

While this is refrigerating get on with the filling. Sauté the bacon (in its own fat) for a few minutes over a medium hear, then add the onion (there should be enough bacon fat but if there isn’t add a little oil), until soft. Then add the chopped black pudding and cook for a few minutes so you get a little crust. Then add the tomatoes and chilli and cook gently for 20 minutes or so. Allow to cool.

Boil the eggs for 6 minutes (by adding them to boiling water). Refresh under cold water, peel and dice.

Add the eggs and the parsley to the cooled black pudding mixture and stir gently. Leave to the side.

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C.

Roll the pastry thinly on a floured surface, and gently (don’t over roll – be as hands off as possible). Cut circles of pastry with a saucer (I prefer as small as possibly so actually used a little bowl

Fill each empanada with approximately a tablespoon of filling (depending on the size of your empanada) and brush the edges with some beaten egg. Bring the edges together and crimp with a fork. Pierce the empanadas with the fork so that air can escape while they cook.

Glaze the empanadas by brushing with beaten egg and bake for approx 12 – 15 minutes, until they are golden and crisp. Eat hot and enjoy!

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Announcing: Cooking Classes! Starting Thursday with Bacon

Bacon Jam – as good as you’ve heard, maybe better :)

Forgive my disorganisation and for being so late announcing this, you must be used to it by now.

I have run cooking classes for some years in an ad hoc manner and have long wanted to run proper cooking classes outside of my home, but costs have been prohibitive. I wanted to run classes that were accessible and fun. I didn’t want costs to be excessive for you either.

Tamarind & Maple Candied Bacon

I am not sure I have figured it out, but I am going to give it a try. I have found a wonderful new cookery school in Old St that I can rent and I am starting this Thursday. If successful I will run weekly courses, one at the weekend and one during the week on an evening (so roughly every second week there will be a weekend one and in between a week day one). I am starting with a month trial.

Central St Cookery School

The course I want to start with is something that I have been obsessing with this week and that will be really fun: BACON. Because everything is better with bacon, isn’t it? Fun is key, taste is hugely important, I want these to be really individual and quality produce – the best bacon here – is very important too.

Making Candied Bacon Fudge with Maple Syrup

I will be working mainly with new recipes that nobody has seen yet. At the end we will have a little bite and a drink and you will get to bring the goodies home with you. Expect lots including bacon jam, candied bacon, candied bacon fudge and bacon vodka (which will become bacon bloody marys).

DETAILS: the class will run from 6.30 – 9.30 in Old St, cost £60 per person, and will include food & drink on the night and everything you cook you will either eat or take home.

TO BOOK: email me on niamh@eatlikeagirl.com to arrange payment (in advance) and I will send you the details , then I will see you on Thursday for some cooking action and fun.

Details on further classes soon! Expect Comfort & Spice Cooking Class, Home Cheesemaking, Homemade Sweets etc.

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Quebec, Poutine and all that Jazz (or Country Metal Music)

Quebec City

Charming Quebec. Shiny metallic roofs in silver tin, aching blood red and duller tones of tarnished green copper and grey. Some of the grey ones blend seamlessly with the Spring grey sky. It all feels a bit dreamy at times.

Quebecois Restaurant

The capital of Quebec province, it is a small city, much smaller than Montreal with a population of just over 500,000. It really reminds me of Cork, where I studied and lived for years, a city that I have great affection for. It may be petite but there is so much individuality and few chains that it feels a lot bigger (it is rare to see a chain here as in Montreal).

Quebec

I especially adored all of the second hand book shops, of which there are many. I even found an old MFK Fisher gem in a box under some shelves for $3.99. I resisted lots of gorgeous glasses, cutlery, plates and other loveliness in many antique shops. My case is already full to bursting. It did actually burst in the end.

Wonderful second hand book shops in Quebec

I had to try poutine, that famous crazy dish that originated in Quebec city, or very near to it in any case. There are lots of claims on it, Chez Ashton seems to have a solid one, and the locals said I must go, so I did. Chips, fresh curds of the day and a sharp savoury gravy make up a basic poutine. I got the small size – yeah, I didn’t think it was small either. I also had to try the Hot Dog Au Lac, a hot dog with mayo, lettuce and chips on top.

Small Poutine at Chez Ashton, Quebec

What did I think? INTENSE. At this point, I have already tried the foie gras poutine at Au Pied de Couchon in Montreal, which was intense but a lot more gentle, almost soothing. This poutine squeaks. SQUEAKS. It rubs against your teeth in what feels like a slightly inappropriate manner. It is tasty though and I can image in the depths of minus 40 degrees which it sometimes gets here in winter, it is the best thing you could ever eat. I doff my cap to them. I am determined to crack a recipe for this soon (including the curds if you are wondering) as it is a cracking guilty pleasure.

Crazy Hot Dog Au Lac & Small Poutine – I did not / could not eat all of this, but I had to taste

The Hot Dog was just ten shades of weird – hot dog dates chip butty, both parties undecided as to whether they should kiss at the end of the night. Maybe it needs to be 2am post lots of wine to enjoy that. I think I might too.

Delicious Quebecois Ice Cider at the local market

Dinner at Le Cercle was a wonderful affair. When I arrived I knew I was home. It is exactly my kind of place. I was worried a little when I saw how trendy it was, it is a bar, restaurant, art gallery & gig venue, and in my experience, very stylish places rarely deliver on the food.

Le Cercle, Quebec

I was wrong. The food here was clever, flavourful and quirky. Lots of things I had never had before, a lovely wine list with lots of natural wines and great wine matches. All very well executed too, this chef knows his stuff. I started with rabbit rillettes with carrots (because rabbots love carrots – love that) and had several wonderful courses which I will detail in a seperate post soon. A lovely option on the menu is to have the chef bring what he likes to you and I did that. One course was so enticing, I only realised that I hadn’t photographed it when I was almost finished.

Wonderful food & wine at Le Cercle, Quebec (more on that soon in another post)

After dinner I couldn’t help pop in to the gig. Nashville Pussy were playing, a surprising blend of metal and country, it worked and was so much fun. Like the poutine of music.

Popcorn shrimp at SSS, Quebec

Ribs (half portion!) – excellent and also served with great chips & coleslaw – at SSS, Quebec

On my last night I dined at SSS, near my hotel. By this time, I am full and sleepy but I am instantly perked up by the tiny popcorn shrimp, so deliciously fresh and sweet, with a spiced aioli. A half portion of ribs seemed manageable for mains until I saw them – HUGE – but very delicious. Spiced and cooked for 18 hours gently. I had to have Quebecois cheese as I haven’t really had any yet with a pear and apple aperitif. They remind me of my journey home the next morning. I happily go back to my hotel to sleep.

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Montreal: Cooking Demo, Book Signing & Au Pied du Couchon and that Foie Gras Poutine

Au Pied de Couchon

You must go to Au Pied du Couchon, ran the chorus. Pied du Couchon meaning pigs trotter, I knew there was a likelyhood that I would agree. Famous for rich food, especially the foie gras poutine, I booked a table for after my demo and book signing at Appetite for Books.

My taxi driver got lost, and I was clueless, so I worried when we ended up in what seemed like mountains nearby. Eventually we reached Appetite for Books, and I was delighted and a little surprised to see a full house. I crept up the side and started getting ready in the kitchen.

Demo at Appetite for Books

My book has just come out here, and this is the first signing / demo I have done in North America. A few blog readers have turned up (which was lovely!), and I get started on my chocolate mousse and honeycomb, which went down a treat. Little lentil shepherds pies from Comfort & Spice were also on offer. It was a fun evening.

Chocolate Mousse with Honeycomb

As I signed his book, one gentleman asks where I will spend my last night in Montreal. Au Pied du Couchon! I reply. And he says: Oh! It is rich! I had my first proper crise de foie at 3am after a meal there.

I love that term, and love even more that it only exists in the French language. A crise de foie is “a set of digestive and neurological manifestations are not serious, such as vomiting and headache, usually in response to a meal too rich.”

Piffle, I am not worried, I am made of tough stuff. I love my food and have eaten many rich things in my time. It sticks at the back of my mind though as I head out for dinner.

Pork rinds

Who can resist the pork rinds? Fantastic they were too, like chicharones and light as air while beautifully crisp. A little foie gras cromesqui looks petite and innocent, one bite and my mouth is flooded with unctous liquid foie gras. Wow, this meal is already very rich. And very lovely.

Foie Gras Cromesquis

The special of gnocchi with veal ragu just had to be tried. The gnocchi were light as air and tender with a perfect bite. The ragu rich and deep. I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t finish it.

Gnocchi with veal ragu

The foie gras poutine was next. It arrived and it looked a mess. Poutine always does, I mean how can you make it pretty? It smelled amazing. It tasted divine. Woah. I couldn’t stop eating it, but I had to for I was headed for my own first crise de foie.

Foie Gras Poutine

No dessert, just a digestif of calvados. I feel like a womble as I trundle home (would they like poutine?). What a meal though, flavour in spades. Unashamedly punchy, big and delicious. What all food, for me, should always be.

http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.mca/

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Chat, Food & Book Signing at The Mount St Deli on Tuesday

Mount St Deli

On Tuesday 8th May – next Tuesday – I will be at the Mount St Deli in Mayfair talking about my adventures in blogging & social media. Some food from Comfort & Spice and this blog will also be about to munch on. I will also have some copies of my book available to sign and buy.

It should be fun, it is a lovely spot. Hope to see you there! The Evening Standard write about it yesterday – you can read that here.

The event costs £10 per person to attend. to book call 020 7499 6843. Credit card payment must be given on booking. themountstreetdeli.co.uk.

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Cooking Up a Flavour Bomb in Montreal (Potato, Tomato, Spinach & Morel Bake)

Potatoes, spinach, tomato and morels in a delicious bake – flavour bomb!

Greetings from Quebec, the train to Quebec city to be precise. They have wifi on the train which is wonderful, I can keep myself entertained and work. I had planned to snooze but who has time to sleep anyway? Not I right now.

Lots of you are asking, so I should clear up this Richmond stuff. In brief, a few months ago in grim January, when all of life seems hopeless just for a brief time, a friend spotted it and messaged me and asked if I had applied. I had no idea what she was talking about but quickly discovered, as she enthusiastically recounted, that Richmond in Canada were looking for a food blogger to go there for a year, they would pay them, house them etc. I could write my second book there and have an adventure.

It seemed perfect. I threw my name in. 1500 people applied. I didn’t think of it again for a bit.

Then I found out that I had made the shortlist of 12. That was exciting. Online voting would determine one of the final 3 and the others would be chosen by a panel. So I asked you to vote for me. Bizarrely, I was the only non North American selected. A couple of days later – last Thursday to be precise – I had a detailed hour long chat with lots of people in Richmond over Skype and discovered that the expectation would be that I wouldn’t leave Richmond even once over 365 days, they wanted the blogger to be there every day. I thought about that and decided it wasn’t for me. So I didn’t ask you to vote again.

It also made me think about my life in London, the UK and Europe and you know, I quite like it! I don’t really want to leave, not now anyway. I just hate January. I do want to continue travelling, maybe a little less than I do now in truth, but we will see. Life is good to me right now and so I will stick with it.

Back to Montreal. I spent a lovely second day in Montreal yesterday. I stayed in the flat and local area for most of the day, shopping for food, I even bought a new cast iron pan, and cooked up something indulgent and delicious, a bit of a flavour bomb. It was such a lovely bright kitchen well stocked with everything I needed, I couldn’t resist it. I want to bring it back home to London with me.

My lovely Montreal kitchen

Foraging is big here, the winters are so harsh that they pickle, can and dry lots of things. I found wonderful selections of dried mushrooms everywhere, and treated myself to some dried morels, which are much cheaper here than in the UK anyway.

Slow roasted tomatoes

I decided to make something vegetarian as eating out here is a very meaty affair, but I wanted something that packed a flavour punch. So, I brought the morels back to life by submerging them in boiled water for half an hour, then I chopped them finely and added them and the morel water (passed through a sieve to remove the grainy bits) to some cream (350ml) with some chopped garlic (2 cloves) and a couple of tablespoons of fresh tarragon. I brought it to just below the boil and cooked it gently for about 5 minutes.

In this time, I had roasted some really good tomatoes, chopped in half, drizzled with oil and a little sea salt for an hour or so at 120 degrees until they were a little jammy (my tomatoes were small, if you want to recreate this it will depend on the size of your tomatoes but trust your eyes and nose). I peeled and sliced two potatoes and kept them in some water to the side so they would stay nice and white. I blanched some spinach in boiling water for just a couple of minutes to soften it and strained it dry.

Layering the vegetables

I then layered them in my lovely new cast iron pan. A layer of potatoes, half of them, then tomatoes, then spinach. I added some of the morel mushroom cream ensuring about half of the morels themselves were on this layer. I then added another layer of tomatoes, the rest of the potatoes and drizzled the rest of the cream on top. If you want to be even more indulgent some cheese would be good now. I didn’t add any, but only because I forgot.

I then baked it for about 50 minutes at 180 deg C until the top was brown and the potatoes soft. It was lovely. Pure comfort and flavour, bright juicy tomatoes playing with earthy savoury morels and the comfort of spinach and potatoes.

Now, what could be wrong with that? Nothing.

… et voila!

I stayed in my apartment in Montreal as a guest of Housetrip – details on my apartment here.

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News! Shortlisted for the Food Blog of the Year Award by the Guild of Food Writers

Did you just read that? I did! *pinch*

I am so excited. This is the first time that the Guild of Food Writers have recognised blogs explicitly  – they have had a broader new media award which was difficult for blogs to compete in as it was usually very big sites that made that shortlist, with rare exception. A blog is an individual and imperfect adventure, it is not sub edited and anything beyond that is something else.  It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that not only have the OFM recognised us with an award, so too have the GFW with this.

Anyway, I am quick to ramble. I am obviously thrilled to have made the list and congratulations to my two wonderful co-shortlistees (is that even a word?). I look forward to raising a glass with you on May 30th and may the best woman win.

Food Blog of the Year Award

Eat Like a Girl (www.eatlikeagirl.com) by Niamh Shields

The English Can Cook (www.marmitelover.blogspot.co.uk) by Kerstin Rodgers

Poires au Chocolat (www.poiresauchocolat.net) by Emma Gardner

http://www.gfw.co.uk/

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In Montreal: Bagels, Smoked Meat Heaven & Liverpool House

St Viateur Bagels in Montreal

So now I am in Montreal. I love it. It is quirky, friendly, independent in spirit and has a near permanent circus (Cirque du Soleil comes from here and is in a giant circus tent in town). I have seen so many restaurants, a raft of independent shops near my rented flat and hardly a supermarket. This is my kind of city and I am glad I found it.

Montreal is rumoured to have more restaurants per capita than any city in North America. In parts of the down town area and Old Montreal, there are 74.3 restaurants per square kilometre (figures from 2009). A mix of normal every day bistros, delis, cafés and more upmarket restaurants. That is a lot to explore in just a couple of days.

It is quite a challenge but I compiled a list. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hit everything on it as Joe Beef was full and there were no cancellations (but there is a fine reason to come back). I went to their excellent bistro style restaurant Liverpool House instead. So, here are some highlights before I bound out into the day again.

Smoked Brisket Sandwich at Schwartz Deli

Smoked Brisket at Schwartz

Schwartz deli is the deli of legend, with queues every day even in the deep winter snow. The smoked brisket sandwiches are immense and if that isn’t enough, Leonard Cohen lives around the corner and is rumoured to eat there.

Brisket

Hunks of smoked brisket sit inside the window. It is salted and spiced, cured for a bit, smoked and then steamed. The result is tender flavoursome brisket. The queue was short when I arrived and when I asked what I should order, I was told the smoked brisket sandwich with pickles and a cherry cola. Done. The waiter asked how I liked it, I said medium. Which means medium fat. You need it for the flavour.

Schwartz Deli

How was it? Deserving of the hype, the deli was bustling and fun and the food really delicious.

St Viateur Bagels

St Viateur Bagles

My next stop was St Viateur bagels. People travel for miles for these (and also Fairmount Bagels – locals feel very strongly about which they prefer). Arriving at the shop I note bags of flour and an instant smack of amazing hot fluffy bagel smell. A sirens call for a food lover. Inside there was a pile of dough that I wanted to bounce on, bagels pre boiling, post boiling, dipped in sesame seeds, in the oven and then ready for me to eat.

St Viateur Bagels

OH MY. I had just had my huge sandwich at Schwartz’s so could only have a bit. I stored the rest in my bag and every time I opened it, it was like a little delicious tickle of my nose that made me want to eat it. I resisted, I had yet more to eat.

Liverpool House

Liverpool House

Liverpool House is ever the bistro. First impressions were that it was dark, candle lit, and there was lots of wine. The large daily changing menu was in French and written on a big blackboard. My French is rusty, so I almost missed the sweet breads ($16), which were cooked like buffalo wings, crisp and spiced with crudites and dip. Honestly folks, this is a death row dish if ever there was one. The best thing I have eaten in a while, I love twists on perceived dirty foods and this was wonderful.

Veal sweetbreads, buffalo wing style at Liverpool House

I couldn’t resist the fiddleheads, as you know I am obsessed, so I ordered the capeletti with fiddleheads and pork ragu (also $16), it was wonderful although I will say it was very difficult to follow those sweetbreads and I should have eaten this first.

Cappeletti with Fiddlheads & Pork Ragu at Liverpool House

Cappeletti with Fiddlheads & Pork Ragu at Liverpool House

For mains, I had to try the onglet, very reasonable at $25 and with a perfect char, almost bark, bright pink inside and tremendously flavoured. They are sourcing their meat very well. It was served with leaves, mash and gravy, all perfect. With the onglet I had a wonderful natural red wine, Roagna, which was as ballsy and flavourful as the steak itself. Recommended by the waiter and a perfect match.

those amazing maple beignets at Liverpool House

Desert was irresistible maple beignets with smoked cheddar (forgive my terrible French translation!). You can imagine that by this point I am starting to fill up. But these were like crack. WOAH. Such a well priced meal and packed full of flavour,  I was very impressed and I need to go back.

A lot of food, eh? I can hardly move today, although it is nothing that a brisk walk can’t sort out.

http://www.schwartzsdeli.com/
http://www.stviateurbagel.com/main/
http://www.joebeef.ca/ (Liverpool House info is on the Joe Beef website)

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Living Like a Local in Williamsburg: NYC Hipster Stylee & Where To Eat of an Evening

Fette Sau

Greetings from Montreal, folks! I have just flown in from NYC this morning where I spent the weekend. Regulars will know that my book has just come out there, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to pop up to a city that I have long wanted to visit, to eat, explore and squeeze in a book signing and cooking demo at Appetite for Books (on Wednesday, 2nd May at 6pm – do come if you are in the area).

Fabulous beer taps at Fette Sau

Before I can talk about any of that, I must tell you about my weekend in NYC. I stayed in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, somewhere that had lots of appeal for many reasons. Across the river from Manhattan, it is a lovely borough with lots of great things to do, brilliant places to eat and some bars thrown in for good measure. It is relaxed, sleepy, and energetic, it sounded like my spiritual home.

Fette Sau

We had an apartment rented through Housetrip (who I previously went to Paris with). We were by the river looking over Manhattan, the weekend flea market and brilliant food market (and part of the flea) Smorgasburg. Great coffee shops, lots of bars and restaurants, it seemed like the perfect location for me. On my first sleepy night, a New Yorker friend of mine who lives in Manhattan and is herself like a tourist in Brooklyn joined me to investigate. I had it semi mapped out, but it was so easy, everywhere we wanted to visit was on the same street.

Fette Sau

We started with some wine at Barberry, for convenience more than anything, but it turned out to be a little gem. A quick canter down the road post vino brought us to Fette Sau, a great little BBQ spot. I was a little sceptical, everyone I have ever spoken to about BBQ from the deep South slams anything outside it, but this was very good. Especially the pork belly and the beans. Prices are by weight and we got everything on that tray for just under $40. Check out the fantastic beer taps and whiskey selection too. Predictably, I was drinking wine but we had a lovely and very reasonably priced bottle.

BBQ at Fette Sau

Not much room left but Momofuku Milk Bar is down the road and I have to visit. I have heard a lot about crack pie, but I wanted to try the cookies. They were fantastic, especially the corn cookie which became my breakfast dish of choice for the weekend.  I turned into a bit of a cookie monster. The pork bun with pickle is lovely too, and for $10 I had it with a double espresso and kimchi coleslaw. A lunch time special and absolute bargain.

Momofuku Milk Bar

Not a bad start to a weekend, now, is it?