Hold on to your hats! 2016 was a bruiser, and 2017 looks to be even more intense. Brexit. Trump. The horror of all of the wars and the refugee crisis. I don’t feel there is much to celebrate, but as always, life can be bright even in the shadows and we need to focus on that. We need to try and maintain hope for a better future while not losing sight of everything around us, in an effort to make it all better for everyone, not just ourselves. I know you know that, but I need to keep reminding myself.
I haven’t always love marzipan. In fact, I hated it before I even knew what it was. My first shocking bite was as a child. One morning when I got up to watch my raft of Saturday morning cartoons I spied a gorgeous wrapped hamper of sweets, shaped like fruits and brightly coloured. Shiny even. I took a bite and was horrified. What was that? The shock of my expectations of a sweet meeting a more savoury flavour, something very intense. A flavour that adults like and children don’t, well children like me at least.
Marzipan even came hidden in my treasured Christmas cake. Christmas cake made with tea, which my grandmother made for us every year, and beautiful sweet icing on top. Icing like a gentle snowy landscape, covering a shocking layer of yellow marzipan below. I would nibble the icing off, delicately remove the layer of marzipan putty and cast it aside, before devouring the cake.
It has been a while since I penned advice for aspiring food bloggers (5 years!) and it is woefully out of date. I have been writing this blog for almost 9 years now, and I speak at Professional Blogging Masterclasses at the Guardian (I am preparing for my fifth session in January), and I have previously organised and taught a full weekend course on food blogging there too. It is time to update my thoughts on here.
With 2016 starting to wave in the near distance, it is a good time to refresh the information here, in time for all of you looking to start soon, or for those of you who are new and are looking for guidance.
First things, first. There are two important things for successful blogs: great content & visibility (aka knowing how to make it visible).
Blogging has been around for a while now and there are many of us. It is a very competitive field, however, it is not unusual for a new blogger with their own style and great content to shoot out from the masses and be noticed. But no one will notice while the blog is just an idea in your head, right? It took me almost 3 years to start, I provided so many barriers to it (name / design / anything), I really wanted to do it but I was lacking in confidence. After a year (in 2005) I started on flickr posting food photos etc., and this, in turn, led to the blog in 2007. When I did start it was on an impulse, in the end. A burst fired by frustration and desire. I haven’t looked back since.
Write the blog you want to read
Simple and effective.
Be original. Why would anyone read your blog if it is a copy of something that exists already? Your blog should be as unique as you are, embrace it.
Cite Your Sources
If using another blogger or writers recipe, or if inspired by it, link to them. Don’t claim another persons work as your own (that goes without saying, but you know, I have seen it happen). If using a recipe from a book, drop the author or publisher a line (you will be promoting their work, so they will generally be happy with it).
A blogger is more than a writer
Writing is very important, you also need to learn to ruthlessly self edit. You need to spend time on photography (or for some, illustration), you need to understand how your website works, how best to host it and how to enhance it. You need to embrace social media.
What is your niche?
This can change over the first while as you discover how you like to do things, but your name should describe it, if possible, and it should be catchy. A catchy name will get you far (once you have the content to match it). Make sure the name is available as a URL and as a handle across all social media channels. If it is being used already, it doesn’t matter how much you love it, move on. Own your name on all spaces.
Name it and Host it
It is ok to start on wordpress.com but always with your own URL which you can pay to stick on there. Blog.wordpress.com, blog.blogspot.com etc are how most start but then when they want to change it, which inevitably they do, there is a lot of work to do. It just looks better too. Invest as much as you can in hosting, especially as your audience grows. Google cares a lot about site speed and has built this into their algorithm.
Look good, feel good
Given the option of two free magazines at the tube, or similar, you won’t pick up the one that looks thrown together and unprofessional, unless you already know you love the content. The same goes for blogging. Invest time in making it look better, or commission someone who can.
Be an authority on your topic
You need to be an authority for readers to trust you. That authority might be that you are learning to cook, or that you are already a great cook. It might be that you know restaurants very well (and tell people why) and that is why they should trust you are a good critic. If you are not an authority, why would anyone want to read you?
For cookery bloggers, thoroughly test your recipes
And also make sure the steps are clear. Imagine a poor reader spending money on ingredients and not getting a good result? I have been that reader. It is very frustrating.
Start small but continually grow and improve
Use the best camera you can afford, teach yourself about photography, composition and how to use your camera. Learn about light and how to style food, knowing that you will improve as you go (so don’t expect miracles at first). Learn to edit your photographs. Simple things like adjusting the light and a sensitive crop will make an OK photo great. Invest in the tools to do this (I have a monthly subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom). Your style will develop visually as it will for your writing. Give this time, but give it your all as you go. I am still learning.
Blog as frequently as you have great content
Fill the internet with gorgeousness and joy, moments of inspiration that will draw readers old and new back to your blog as often as you can. Try and make it once a week, at least. Moments of inspiration? I know, it sounds trite, but think about the sites you love and why. They make you want to cook, to travel, to go to the cinema, to go to a restaurant, whatever it is, they inspire you to do something. There are times where you will flag, blogging can be tiring and inspiring. If you have nothing to say on a particular day, don’t force it.
Learn about google & SEO (a bit)
I say a bit as this has always been my weakest thing, but I know how important it is and that my failure to attend to it has held me back at times. You need to know the very basics and everything new as it comes out. You need to know what nofollow and dofollow links are, you need to know what a responsive mobile website is and you need to have one, and you need a Google Webmaster Tools account hooked up to your site to keep an eye on things. You need to start keeping up to date with google algorithm changes. I know, you want to blog because you love to cook and write but you do need to know the geeky stuff too.
Delegate your weaknesses where you can
Again, a weakness for me, and the irony, but I recognise now that I need to start hiring people to do the stuff that needs to be done that I don’t have the time to do or the skills for. So, I need to hire a designer to fix up the site for a start, as I have been piecing it together for way too long. This will be liberating.
Embrace the social media platforms that suit you and your content
It is social media, so be social, simple!
Great photography? Focus on instagram. Prefer the words and a bit of banter? Twitter is for you. Are you an information hound and love sharing links with a penchant for an inspirational quote? Head over to facebook. Have you a great eye and are great at organising things? Pinterest is for you. Like to chat and do interesting things? Download periscope. I am currently enjoying snapchat for little recipe snippets and randomness.
The main point is, don’t try and be the square peg squeezing into the round hole. If it is a good fit, exploit it, find your community on there, be social but not pushy. Enjoy it! Share the love. Generosity with others content will carry you a long way too.
People monetise their blogs in many ways, but I would encourage you to establish your blog properly before considering it. Once established, look to your strengths and build a monetisation strategy around that. Partnership content is something I do, I also speak frequently at the Guardian and at conferences, I am working on a book which is currently a large cost but once it goes on sale, it will be a source of income, and while not directly related to the blog, all of the things I do are linked and support one another. I have taught cooking classes which I have organised myself and for brands also.
Be transparent, declare if meals were compensated, if items were gifted, if trips were sponsored. Respect your readers and they will respect you too. Keep abreast of ASA rules (ASA = Advertising Standards Authority). If people who want to work with you don’t want things declared (and this happens), insist that they have to be, or decline to work with them.
Don’t sell links
It is a bad idea, and Google will also penalise you for it.
Talk to people
It feels like no one really comments in the UK on blogs much anymore (and that is sad – I miss it!). When people do comment, talk to them. Enjoy the chatter. I think it is the ultimate compliment when people like your work and people want to talk to you about it. Of course sometimes it is for a clarification, and that is fine too. Talk to me, folks! :)
Learn from your mistakes
I have made a few. We all do. Lessons learned can be powerful and difficult. But, they will help you improve your blog as you go.
Almond crusted tuna frequently pops up my idea periscope when my mind wanders. I first had it in Sicily a few years ago in San Vito Lo Capo, when I was a judge for the International Cous Cous Festival (yes, I really was, and it was bonkers, and a lot of delicious fun). There are many almonds in Sicily, pistachios too, and they appear a lot in the cuisine. Almond crusted tuna was one of my favourite dishes that I tried, a fabulous alternative to breaded fish, the tuna remains crisp and is – obviously – nutty.
Today has been stressful. Yesterday was worse. Because of stupid but unavoidable things, in isolation fine, together brain stuffing. Delayed planes, trains and automobiles (yes, all three), a broken front door, mysteriously vanished side gate, and lots of other dull stuff. My brain was starting to tense, my heart was pounding and I was being taken away by fury, a red mist.
What a bloody nightmare, eh? What to do? Sort the essentials, ignore the rest, withdraw from the world for a bit, and think of curry.
Chicken curry to be precise, I don’t think you can beat it if it is made right. A nice plump chicken from a happy home, whatever cut you fancy, or the lot. I bought a small bird, brought it home and removed it from the carcass, which I will use soon for stock along with the chicken skin and wings. I removed the leg, thigh and breast, the legs I kept whole, the rest I diced chunkily, and added all of the meat to a creamy turmeric bath. I love fresh turmeric, but dried will do, added to yogurt and chilli, the colour and the possibilities lifted my spirits. I put it in the fridge and let it rest.
After a couple of hours, and I was starting to feel better, I sautéed some finely chopped onion in some coconut oil (any oil will do, I had that). It soothed me to see it gently sink into the oil and release its own tension. I gave it time and cooked it gently, until soft. Then I added ginger, garlic, and more fresh chilli. I toasted some spice, cardamom seeds, cloves and black pepper. I ground them until a powder, and added them to my onion mix.
Matcha noodles! Well, why wouldn’t you make them? You surely want to try them. I had the good fortune of eating superb matcha soba when I was in Kyoto last year, and they pop up from my memory to say hi frequently. Sure, you can buy green tea / matcha noodles in speciality shops here, and they are decent, but they are not a patch on the real thing. Of course. But, then you hear that it takes 3 years to learn soba making, 32 years to perfect it (!) and that it is very tricky. But you know what, you still really want to give it a go. Right?
Let us get down to the details. There are two things that we need to think about here. Soba and matcha. Soba means buckwheat or buckwheat noodle in Japanese. Buckwheat isn’t actually a grain, it is a seed that is grain like, and is not related in anyway to grass, it is actually closely related to rhubarb and sorrel (both very characterful plants, as is buckwheat). It has no gluten, so it takes skill and knowledge, the kind of knowledge that lives in your muscles and your palms, after years of getting to understand soba dough, to get the buckwheat to combine so elegantly with water to form noodles. Not just any old noodles but noodles that you would get on a train across town for, maybe even to another city, maybe even on a plane to Japan.
This is the briefest review that I have ever written but it really just a quick heads up for all you Londoners. Mayfields in Wilton Way is closing on Saturday 27th. It is a terrific restaurant and has had nothing but rave reviews. The food (from Matthew Young ex Wapping Project) is smart, flavourful and very creative. The room is bustling, run brilliantly by Clare Roberson (ex Shacklewell Nights), the wine list (from Borough Wines) is eclectic and very affordable. When I heard it was closing I booked twice, and this speedy post is a review of those visits, and to urge you to go, while you still can. It is a reminder too for all of us that we need to support great restaurants, especially local ones, or we will lose them. These photos are from my first meal last week. Must orders: lemon sole & grouse and not pictured from last night the mushroom, egg yolk, orange & seaweed; raw razor clams; chocolate mousse and octopus with lardo and dill bobby beans.
Price range: We paid approximately £50 each for 3 courses and wine.
Mayfields, 52 Wilton Way, London E8 1BG
020 7254 8311
A few weeks ago I met up with Marks & Spencer’s experts Tom (M&S Buyer of Beef, Lamb & Game) & John (M&S Food Innovations Chef) to cook some of their award winning salt aged sirloin beef, Japanese style with some tempura prawn and vegetables.
We had a great afternoon and made some terrific food that was uncomplicated and really delicious (yes, I said delicious, it was), using ingredients that are available in your local Marks & Spencer (yes, even those Japanese ingredients). I think you will like these recipes a lot, they are deceptively easy and impressive. Perfect for a crowd or a weekday evening. Check out the presentation too, I am so stealing that idea. Thanks, John!
The recipes are fairly straight forward. You can see how John puts together the steak (and how easy and impressive it is) in the video. I will share the tempura recipe with you now, but take a look at the video too to see how easy it is and also to see how golden you want it.
RECIPE: Prawn & Vegetable Tempura
I posted recently some thoughts on blogging, and I have been thinking a lot since. I have been chatting to contemporaries in the UK and also on my travels about how they make things work. Sometimes, as much as I love this, I find that the work that pays my rent takes so much of my energy that I have little left to pour in here. I never expected that when I went full time. The truth is, I am a full time food bod but not a full time blogger, and when recently I couldn’t blog for 3 weeks because of other distractions, that really made me think.
I have also been talking to people in advertising and business. Like every other established blogger I get pitched to many times a day and often that is exhausting too, because it is rarely beneficial and almost never relevant. But that has become smarter too, and I have recently started having conversations with a couple of agencies who get blogging and bloggers and don’t try to compromise them in any way when they work with them. What they want is great content that is associated with a brand, and they will work it out with a blogger so that everyone is happy. This takes time, but it is worth it.
The reality is this. Right now, as I ease into my eighth year here, I want it to be better and I want it to be the centre. I want to love it as much as I did in Year 1. I want to upgrade everything. I want to do videos, get a better camera, upgrade the design. To do this I need money.
Bloggers, blogging and money always feels a dirty subject, but why should it? You aren’t surprised to see advertising and advertorials in your favourite magazines and newspapers. Why not apply that logic to a blog? Is it that bloggers aren’t trusted to manage this, that this is always handled by an advertising team? Well, this way, that I am describing, I now have an advertising team, an agency that I have chosen to work with, I create content for them, and they help me work out which advertorials and brands work well with me.
So, the hope is this. By doing occasional advertorial work, I can support myself better, and have more energy to pour in here. That means: improved design and search functionality, more content, more recipes, more travel content (I want to do comprehensive travel guides that you can reference when you travel), and more recipe content from the times when I travel. I have so many recipes gathered from my travels that I have not had time to share with you here yet.
I know this won’t bother regular readers, you have always supported me before. But I want to be clear and transparent. So when there is sponsored content, I will mark that clearly at the top. My first one, which will be published immediately after this, is a piece that I worked on for Hellman’s Mayonnaise. The agency that I mentioned asked if I would be willing to work with them on an advertising campaign spread out across many blogs. They wanted me to come up with a list of my ten favourite sandwiches, make them, and photograph them. There was no steer on anything, everything was entirely my choice. I am really happy with the results and you will see it across the blogosphere as advertising, and also as my next post.
Here is to the future. Which I hope is brighter and easier. Bear with me as I learn while I go.
I just logged on to write a post to let you know what I am up to. And then I spotted a message from wordpress, letting me know that yesterday I headed into my eighth year blogging. How exciting is that? I never remember. Blogging, and this blog in particular, has opened the world up to me, brought some brilliant people into my life and made everything that bit more interesting. Thank you for reading and your lovely comments. I really enjoy them.
Hello there! Pull up a seat. How has everything been with you? Where have I been? Oh…
I really don’t like reading blogs that apologise for their absence. Why? This isn’t a newspaper, I don’t have an editor, I blog when I can and when I want to, and I would love to blog more. It becomes difficult though, when external pressures (book writing, bacon boxes, travel and other work that pays the rent and keeps me in Gremlins t-shirts). And here I am apologising, it seems. I just can’t help myself.
I am the sole writer here, and it will always be that way. That does limit content, and that is ok, as I am a big ole control freak, and I want everything to be just so and exactly as I saw it in my brain. Plus, this isn’t a place for food and travel stories, it is a place for my food and travel stories. I want to keep it that way. Ahem.
Blogging is a funny animal. When I started there was a few, and now there are a lot, which is great. But, I feel that there are a lot of people outside of blogging who want to define what a good blog is without maybe understanding blogging at all, and that creates pressure for bloggers (including me), when it shouldn’t.
“Square pastrami makes me so angry! I have to avoid that counter in the supermarket every time”.
An unusual conversation to be having in a park in North London, perhaps. Over a portable gas burner and a pot containing a vacuum packed bag of meat. Stranger still was that it was with a someone that I had never met before and knew vaguely only through the internet. However, I had heard great things about Jacob Harrison’s Montreal style pastrami and I had to try it. Even if that meant that we had to meet somewhere in between (to be fair, he had offered to meet me at my place and invited me over to his, but I only had an hour to spare so this was the best that we could do at the time).
Montreal smoked meat (aka pastrami) is famous. Schwartz’s Deli is a first stop for most travellers to Montreal – myself included. When I last visited and requested a sandwich, the waiter looked at me and said, “have you tried the pastrami from elsewhere?” He continued “I did and now I know why we have such long queues here.” It was so innocent and confident, yes, but deservedly so. On both of my trips to Montreal, I have eaten there.
Corey, the man behind Jacob Harrison, was missing it deeply. His family had a deli when he was growing up and this was his only connection, but tired of and so depressed by what we here consider pastrami, he developed his own recipe with his own spice mix, using rare UK beef. I tasted it, and not only was it fabulous, it was at least on a par with Schwartz’s. Moist and rich with fat (fat is key to flavour), it made a perfect sandwich with mustard and sourdough bread. Montreallers and pastrami passionistas, please note, Jacob Harrison’s pastrami is smoked, so it isn’t exactly like Schwartz’s, but they are not trying to copy Schwartz’s here, it is just my point of reference.
London is a very big city. That is not news but it frequently annoys me. It is the best and worst thing about London. I love that I can pop across to the other side of London and have a whole new and interesting experience. I also hate that I have to do that. I am a bit spoiled by it, I think we all are.
I used to live in the North East of London, so popping to Morito for tapas and a swift sherry was always easy. I have written about Morito before, if you are new and unaware of it, Morito is the smaller sibling of Moro, and is just next door. Now that I am down sarf, popping to Moro is a little trickier. It needs to be planned, and you know I hate to plan anything (as much of a key skill that is for any sociable Londoner). However, Morito’s annual seafood festival is a must, so I made sure I didn’t miss it.
Morito’s Seafood Festival runs only until October 6th. Lots of dishes that aren’t on the regular menu are available, and suggested sherry matches too. This year the menu isn’t set (as it was last year) so you can go a bit meaty too and I suggest that you do. The chicharrones de cádiz are unmissable (tender melting pork belly spiked with cumin and lemon) and the lamb chops are excellent too (I didn’t have the lamb chops this time but I have many others). The prices are very good, and you will want to order a lot. Do that too. I would suggest booking a table too (at lunchtime only – dinner is first come first served), as it is popular and always busy.
Morito, 32 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE
I may be in Lima in Peru (and really loving it), but a chunk of my food loving soul is very sad not to be in London as I will miss Meatopia. Meatopia is the meaty brainchild of Josh Ozersky, James Beard award winning food writer. We were always going to get along.
As Josh says in the recent brilliant Vice Munchies video (which you must watch), “Every aspect of my life is utterly immersed and overflowing with the juice of literature and the love of food”. Starting out as an academic and historian, he was diverted to food by his passion and knowledge, and started with the well respected delicious tome Meet Me In Manhattan: A Carnivore’s Guide to New York City. He hasn’t stopped since, and we are all very happy about that.
I met Josh when he was in London, and here follows a little about Josh, where you must hit at Meatopia, and some grill tips.
Tell me a little about your meat obsession?
I have, from a very early age, identified as a meat-eater. My tiny hands clutched
sausages and steaks from infancy onward, like Hercules strangling the steaks in
his crib. A long and unhappy life followed, which caused me to be a writer and a
glutton and I have brought these arts to bare on a great meat event — possibly the
greatest in history.
I know everything will be awesome, but give me a top 5 hit list for people to check out?
Tim Byres’ whole hog; Richard Turners ribeye cap with anchovy butter; Aaron
Franklin’s brisket, and of course Fergus Henderson’s meat magic…
Any grill tips for novices / amateurs?
Cook with wood or lump charcoal only, ever, with no exceptions; cover everything
with a LOT of kosher salt; and cook fast over wicked heat, finishing on the cold side
if necessary. That’s it. also, you can only end with good meat if you start with good meat.
Go to Meatopia if you love meat and a little fun. I would be there, if I could. And watch this.
Back once more to Wilderness and the memory of one of the most fun and delicious Sunday lunches that I have had in a while. The scene is the Banqueting Tent once more, and the chef this time, Mark Hix. Solid English cooking, more live music, the sun, and a hangover that I needed to work my way out of. Standard for a festival, isn’t it? This was medicinal, and a reminder that I need to revisit his restaurants in London again (and try the ones that I have not yet been to).
The food served was bright and vibrant, and how I love to eat. Big platters shared in the centre of the table and lots of everything. And who doesn’t love a roast chicken on a Sunday? The whipped broad beans were a revelation, but everything was good. As with the Polpo feast the night before this was generous and big. Wilderness know how to do food at a festival, I will be back next year.
This post follows on from my first Wilderness post: Feasting at Wilderness Part 1: St John Breakfasts, Moro Afternoons & Polpo’s Venetian Banquet
Many years ago, pre blog, when I was just a normal mildly obsessive individual idling on the streets, I had three passions: food, travel & music. Other stuff too, of course but the core directions I would find myself moving in centred around those. I read more music blogs than food blogs when I first started (which seems bizarre I would agree) but I always loved live music, finding great new music to listen to, and this was the best place to do this. Even as my life became increasingly centred on food, I still went to music festivals and gigs and always, almost without fail, despaired at the food there.
Bring on Wilderness, one of a new breed of festivals that takes food very seriously. Not just by inviting some of London’s best restaurants but also enabling them them to create sumptuous feasts. In the centre of the festival site, there is a large restaurant area with a banquet tent which hosted lunches and dinners from Ottolenghi, Polpo & Hix. Surrounding this was St John & Moro in their own tents providing feasts of their own, but also lifesaving take away food. J Sheekey had a van serving great fish and chips (and also randomly serving red bull). There was many more trucks including some of London’s favourites, but this is what I focussed on, so this is what I will describe here.
You probably know, but I really hate camping. The late nights and waking up with the dawn light results in a lack of sleep that I can barely cope with, never mind with a hangover. (Next time: glamping with a sleep mask). On this occasion I had a hastily purchased and tiny loathsome tent which I bounded out of promptly every morning and went to feed.
The best breakfast in that situation was a St John life giving bacon and egg roll in a slightly sweet brioche style bun. The bacon was cooked over a BBQ outside and there was coffee. There was also a ridiculous but fantastic welsh rarebit, so huge it wouldn’t fit on the plate. It is one of my favourite things on the St John menu, so it was only right that I should have it at Wilderness too. Wine too, if you were brave enough to have that with breakfast (I wasn’t). In fact, one of my top tips for Wilderness is to avoid the main bar and get your wine in the restaurant area. St John had a great list from the affordable & quaffable to more sublime.
Saturday afternoon was spent joyfully idling and soaking it all in with a mid afternoon snack of terrific Moro lamb chops, I only wish that I could have fitted in more there.
Roll on Saturday night and the decadent Polpo Venetian feast. The banquet hall was enormous and beautifully decorated. We were all given masks on arrival and everyone sat, chatted and laughed on long tables. There was live music from a small stage in the centre and the atmopshere was electric.
Starting with an aperol spritz, platters of baccala mantecato crostino, fennel salami & pickled radicchio grissini and carta di musica & sage oil with olives, we were still only at the appetisers. One of the meal highlights followed, the sharp and rich mackerel and horseradish tartare, served with arancini, fennel almond and curly endive salad and an excellent selection of salami and prosciutto.
We are still not even half way through, Rise e Bise came next, served tableside in bowls and the prelude to the main courses, of which there were several. Grilled lamb with salsa verde, spot on heritage tomato panzanella, runner beans with red onion and pecorino salad and one of my favourite parts of the meal, the whole grilled sea bream which was fresh and succulent and fresh off the BBQ from out the back (130 sea bream were grilled for the banquet that night).
For dessert we had a tiramisu, which was light as it was rich and strawberries with clotted cream and aged balsamic. A near perfect meal, the only criticism I would have is that there was too much of it, and how can that be a criticism at all?! It can’t be.
Music festivals, pay attention: this is how you do food at a festival. Part 2 soon which will be all about the Hix Sunday Lunch Banquet and a life saving bloody mary.
I popped along to the filming of Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube Summer Party, his live youtube show filmed in London. Irish food blogger, author & TV bod Donal Skehan was in town to cook on it, and there were some other Youtube characters involved too. I have to announce my ignorance here, I had no idea who any of the others were, save Donal and Crumbs & Doilies (I had a neighbouring food stall to them in Covent Garden some years ago). The Youtube food landscape is completely different to the blogosphere, and I am only beginning to explore it. It was a really fun evening, and also an education.
I have been talking about starting a Youtube channel for – oh – three years now, so my curiosity spurred me along. I love video. It is lively, engaging, fun and a great way of sharing stories of people and places. With food & travel, and travelling as much as I do, there is so much that I could do here, and I feel sad when I think back to trips to amazing places like Bangkok and Tokyo, and how much I could have done there. My problem is time, and lack of kit and technology. I am working on it and hope to launch soon.
Back to Food Tube. Jamie’s team had an alleyway decked out with bunting and cooking islands. I spotted Donal straight away, and behind him was DJ BBQ, in a superb branded spandex catsuit brandishing tongs near his smoker. Cheerful young twins from London sat nearby, these turned out to be JacksGap, their Youtube channel has over 2 million subscribers. They had quite a few superfans waiting outside for hours for an opportunity to have a photo taken with them after. Gennaro Contaldo was dressed as a pepper (or tomato? not sure!). Also in place were Pixie Woo, and the Chiappa Sisters.
The live video is gone now, but there are lots of videos from some of the above on the Food Tube Youtube channel so be sure to take a look.
I am sitting here indoors looking out at the summer sun. It is gorgeous. The only mild frustration being an idiot wasp who keeps flying in through my window, only to get stuck and freak out, buzzing frantically for at least five minutes every time. Initially I was helping him out with paper, but I have given up now and am trying to tune him out.
My garden in the mornings is like the cast of Despicable Me. The squeaky over enthused baby birds chirping randomness into the air from way too early in the morning. But it is summer, and it is sunny, and I will forgive these creatures their annoying habits. I am sure I annoy them too with my open windows and untended garden. However, I must remind them that I am the one paying rent here.
This time last week I was in Öland, making midsummer head dresses and eating dumplings, washing it all down with aquavit. It was a gorgeous day and is now a lovely memory. The dumplings are particular to this part of the world and remind me a little of Acadian poutine râpée which I had in New Brunswick in Canada.
Ninnis, where I had these, were kind enough to give me the recipe. You should be able to get most things easily. You can get potato flour relatively easily here, and you can certainly get it in Chinatown (it is sometimes called potato starch). For salted pork use uncooked ham, or treat yourself with a mix of (uncooked) ham and bacon. That is what I would do (and plan to).
Because these are boiled and the potatoes are starchy, they are a bit sticky but eased with a coating of cream and soothed with lingonberry jam. Very comforting, and very popular in Sweden. It is also common to eat them with butter, but this isn’t essential.
RECIPE: Ninnis Kroppkakor from Öland, Sweden
5 kg raw potatoes
300 g boiled potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup potato flour
1 kg salted pork
salt, finely grated allspice
Water and salt, to boil
Peel and grate the potatoes. Squeeze them into a solid mass. Grate the boiled potatoes and mix the potatoes with salt and potato flour. If the paste is hard, dilute it with water until it is like a dough and easy to manage.
Cut the pork into small dice. Peel and mince the onion. Mix the small pork cubes and the minced onion. Season with salt and the ground allspice.
Shape the mixture into balls. Flatten and add a hefty spoonful of filling. Roll into round balls.
Place the dumplings in boiling water, it is really important that the water is boiling! Allow them to simmer, without a lid, for one hour.
Eat hot with fresh cream and lingonberries or lingonberry jam.
I got a sneak peak of the new Shake Shack in London yesterday evening, via Daniel Young of Young and Foodish and his terrific Burger Monday. I am not a burger obsessive by any means, but I appreciate good food (natch) and when a friend brought me to the Shake Shack in Madison Square Gardens, NYC, I didn’t have very high expectations. A burger is a burger, right? Right. Well, not really.
I loved it. For the simplicity, the size of the burger, the flavour, moisture, sticky cheese slipping over the edge and the the lovely potato bun. It was a good solid burger, and I went back the next day. It became a favourite. Now, they have come to London, the burgers are made from 100% Scottish Aberdeen Angus beef, the SmokeShack (my favourite) features British free-range Wiltshire cure smoked bacon and the concretes (frozen custard blended at high speed, a rich elegant ice cream) include Paul A Young chocolate and St John Bakery products.
I focussed on the burgers last night, there is only so much that even I can eat. My favourites were the SmokeShack with bacon, chopped cherry pepper and ShackSauce and the Shack Stack which was a combination of the ‘Shroom Burger and Cheeseburger in one. The ‘Shroom burger is a rare thing, a vegetarian burger with deep flavour and texture, but I will continue to have mine with a cheeseburger ;) Get some cheese fries on the side too, crinkle cut chips topped with a creamy cheddar cheese sauce.
We already have some great burgers in London, but this is a good addition to the scene. It opens tomorrow, the 5th of July, so check it out, and expect some long queues.
Some pics for now, and I will be back to try the rest of the menu.
Shake Shack, 24 Market Building, The Piazza, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8RD
To refresh your memories and to introduce new readers, Posh Lunch Club is all about finding the best fine lunches at bargain prices. So set menus, and all that jazz. Mainly in London but also anywhere that I might find myself. Which is a lot of places, at times. I have a long list to hit in London, and will be focussing on that for the next few months.
I love Posh Lunch Club because it makes London restaurants so accessible. I really believe that you don’t need to have a lot of money to eat well, either at home or out on the town. When I first moved to London and existed on a pittance, I took advantage of the amazing ingredients available to me and taught myself to cook more, as I couldn’t eat out that much. Now I can, but I still relish a bargainous and delicious discovery.
Posh Lunch Club isn’t a real club. I have had requests to join but sometimes there is only one member – just me on an indulgent solo lunch – more usually it involves one other, and sometimes, many more. The membership lasts for as long as lunch, and that is that. The real idea is for you to use this as a guide for your own posh lunches. I will show you the best and most delicious places to spend your hard earned cash.
Let us begin.
My first Posh Lunch Club of 2013 was at Pizarro. One of my favourite restaurants, they have started doing a brilliantly priced Menu del Dia (as is typical in Spain) for £20 for 3 courses or £17 for 2. I have a confession, even though I normally stick to the menu, when in Pizarro I can’t resist going off piste and bumping things up a bit. I adore the jamon there (with a glass of fino, natch) and the cod fritters are very hard to resist. So we started with those.
The cod fritters are crisp with a fabulously light & fluffy center. The jamon is nutty, rich and melts in the mouth. I can taste it now as I type. The jamon that is served at José (Jamón Ibérico Manuel Maldonado) is sold at £1000 per leg retail elsewhere, so it is a bargain, even at £20 a plate.
On to the starters. There are three choices, but I can’t look beyond chorizo, even if I have no idea what Trinxat is (Trinxat, chorizo was on the menu). It turns out to be a refined sibling of bubble and squeak with tiny diced chorizo, fried and crisp on top and on the side with some crisp greens. The cake itself was just holding together and when I touched it, it seemed to sigh and fall apart.
For my main course, I went for the pork chops with jersey royal and apple. The pork chop was very large and with a big coating of fat. The pork itself was delicious but the fat was divine. I left none behind. It lay on some apple puree, not over sweet and still perky. The jersey royals played a small supporting role with a herb dressing. My friend had mackerel plancha, which was super fresh as mackerel should be (but often isn’t).
And this is where we stopped. No more food, and I finished with a coffee. But were I stronger, more greedy (or less greedy at the start), I would have had the Santiago tart. Really, I would.
A perfect breath of new life for Posh Lunch Club and about time I reviewed Pizarro. A wonderful restaurant, all heart and great food, those two courses cost only £17. There is a great sherry & wine list too.
It gets very busy, but there is almost always a seat at the bar. I have spent many a Saturday there. Enjoy it.
Pizarro, 194 Bermondsey St, London Borough of Southwark, London SE1
I am still experimenting with video. Here is a little one of Pizarro. A little shaky, but not bad for a phone at all. Imagine you are on a train as you watch it ;) (I think a little tripod for it would be very useful, I will perfect it!).
With thanks to Carphone Warehouse, who supplied the Samsung S4 which I used to take all photos in this post, and the video. Not bad, is it?!