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Farewell to 2009! Another Year Over [Part 5]

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And so, not so speedily to the conclusion, the final part of the 2009 roundup.

I left you mid-way through September, where I was now becoming firmly established at the market and enjoying the camraderie, meeting customers, and they liked the food. Fantastic and heart warming, it urged me to continue, given I had the time now in the absence of work. Some lovely people came back and told me how much they had enjoyed it. Long time readers introduced themselves, including one lovely lady that was visiting from the US. I really got a buzz from it, even when up at 5am. And folks, I am no morning person.

Covent Garden Real Food Market - Week 6

The year would not be complete without speaking of the Blaggers’ Banquet. Conceived one night at an Action Against Hunger launch, we proceeded to take over Hawksmoor, some weeks later, and cook and serve all of the food, took care of the drinks, had an auction, and ran the auction online for a month following.

It was perfectly imperfect. Perfect because the diners loved it, the food and drink was great, there was such good feeling and we raised a lot of money. We’re almost there, hoping to announce the total and hand it over in the next few days. Imperfect because we had little time to do it, lots of things were rushed and we made some bad choices. Hello ebay and paypal, due to become a nightmare for those working on the auction, especially poor Kavey. They cancelled our account at one point, which meant that we couldn’t auction everything that had been donated, but we did what we could. But, more about all of that soon.

Lunch at Iberica

What else? I had a lovely lunch at Iberica, but never found the time to blog it. Eat with your eyes – lots of photos here.

I went to the Koffman popup on the roof of Selfridge’s and thoroughly enjoyed it. Review here.

Pierre Koffman - Restaurant on the Roof at Selfridge's

Pierre Koffman - Restaurant on the Roof at Selfridge's

I had a fantastic time at Ham Class at Brindisa, Borough Market.

I did a market stall in Soho, and 4 days in a row at Covent Garden Real Food Market for London Restaurant Week. I managed it all, solo, coming out the other side of it a dash frazzled.

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A brief trip to Portugal for the European Wine Bloggers Conference, a really interesting and fun weekend which I wrote about here. I met lots of new wine folks, and learned a lot from them. Portugal itself was a revelation, the people were so generous and warm, particularly on the trip to the Douro and some wineries, which I still need to write about. Life started to get really busy after this, and I have a number of posts to catch up on.

European Wine Bloggers Conference

Time started to whizz by, and before we knew it the Blaggers’ Banquet arrived in a flurry and was gone.

And, already it was December. Life was intense, there was lots going on, particularly lots of challenges, I felt I was barely keeping up. I made a comforting Gammon & Cabbage Soup with some leftovers, wrote about my beloved lahmacun, and had a great day at Covent Garden Real Food Market, sharing my stall with Sig of Scandilicious, which was a happy accident, the market was oversubscribed that day, so we shared.

I had some fantastic bangra sausages and chilli vodka and did a spot of Irish dancing with tuition at new supper club, The Civet Cat Club. I had a very good lunch with some excellent wines at the cavernous Galvin La Chapelle.

Lunch at Roast with matched Chapel Down Wines was a lovely exploration of English wines with some very English food, overlooking Borough Market.

My last day at Covent Garden Real Food Market came around, and it was a lovely one. A busy Saturday, with lots of cheerful festive customers, lots of friends popping by, and lots of prosecco. We did the market through the snow which was mighty cold, but very pretty. We finished the evening at one of my favourote spots, Terroirs, I really must blog Terroirs soon! I hope to go back to market this year from April. I will announce here when details are confirmed.

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I had two lunches that I’ve yet to blog, a great wine lunch at Rousillon matched with McGuigan wines and a lunch at Alimentum in Cambridge.

Last recipes blogged for the year were Toasted Pita with Mozarella, Tomato, Onion & Roast Tomato Dressing and a delicious mulled wine.

And that’s it! Bye bye 2009, I can’t say I’ll miss you, we weren’t always friends. It’s taken me so long to finish this series, it was a lot of work, going through all of my photos, and tidying things up. I wanted to do it though, and I hope it wasn’t too painful for you!

2010 looks very cosy, and I look forward to settling into it. I am anticipating lots more cooking and a new camera to replace my stolen one (soon, I hope!). I plan to explore video, visit lots of new places here and abroad, and am anxiously awaiting investing in some new gadgetry, starting with a kitchenaid with some attachments, some sous vide gear and that’s just the beginning. I am excited and full of plans for food, travel, and fun.

Bring. It. On. I say, I am ready! What’s that you say, it’s already started?! Best get my skates on then.

Bringing the gear home from the stall

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Farewell to 2009! Another Year Over [Part 3]

Farewell to 2009! Another Year Over [Part 3]

A smattering of lost January, June, July and a little bit of August

Champagne Room at the Annual Bibendum Wine Tasting

I was a bit remiss in the first portion of my 2009 round up forgetting a number of things that happened at the start of 2009. Little things like an enormous wine tasting taking over the entire Saatchi Gallery from Bibendum Wine which was an amazing introduction to so many wines. The gallery was divided into rooms, champagne room, fine wines room, French room and many more.

Not content with having all of this wine to sample, we also had a Twitter Taste Live there a multi location wine tasting where tasting notes are shared online in 140 characters, over twitter. It was fantastic fun. Anthony Rose, wine  writer for The Independent joined us for a while.

Twitter Taste Live at The Saatchi Gallery

I had lunch beforehand at Scotts of Mayfair, which was perfectly nice, but didn’t blow me away, and a mention in the Independent in June 2009 as a Grub 2.0 food blogs to devour, which was another lovely surprise.

I also forgot a few little things from June. Well, that’s a lie, I just wanted to finish the post as quickly as possible so neglected to include them, as the post was starting to addle my tired brain. You see, while in Ireland, I only had mobile internet via a Three dongle, and could only get reception when perched at the end of the couch by the corner of my sisters living room. At that it was slow and constantly cutting out. Do you see how devoted I am to this cause?

Now I am en route home, via many trains, and my dongle has given up the ghost, having lost its identity after the trip to Ireland, it no longer knows its number, and I am damned if I do. So I am researching flickr on my phone, searching those photographic memories, as my actual memory just doesn’t do the job. I am stuck in a freezing cold waiting room, thanking all that is good and holy that I had the foresight to wear an enormous bulky jumper, trying to ignore the smell of pee, and the myriad selection of teenagers socialising and desperately trying to impress each other. I am trying not to snarl, but I am doing a very bad job of it. I am tired people, this is difficult.

Hot Stuff, Vauxhall

So, in June, now a proud member of the work Curry Club, I went to Hot Stuff in Vauxhall with some colleagues. A local and very popular restaurant, I had heard a lot about it, and it was high on my list. It’s been compared to Tayyab’s in the quality and price range, it also appears to have a similar cult status. We descended en masse, well a masse of 9 or 10, and ordered almost everything on the menu. It was all light and fragrant, and mostly delicious. It impressed and I want to go back.

I attended a book launch for a self published book by Aneke Spacie, Twisted Favourites, and Tony Hadley turned up! All true. It was really interesting, and inspiring to see someone who is so fired up. The food is lovely too. Further details here.

Tortilla pizza!

I resurrected the tortilla pizza with a myriad of different ingredients, this was my favourite version with smoked buffalo mozarella & oak roasted tomatoes, topped with chilli fried rocket.

Broad bean & prosciutto carbonara

I made marrow lasagne, an old favourite I have yet to blog and a good one for the veggies. I also rolled out some summer pastas, prosciutto and broad bean carbonara and crab linguine.

marrow lasagne

I experimented with Bavette from Jack O’Sheas, Mark Hix style, marinading overnight in olive oil. It was sensational.

Bavette

The next culinary stop was Tapas Fantasticas off Brick Lane, a mini festival showcasing Spanish wines and food, featuring Spanish restaurants from London and some chefs that had come from Spain. Sadly it disappointed as we had to queue for far too long, and when we got in there, I found the crowd all elbows and rudeness. Having sampled some really good food, and some ok wine, we decided to leave. I am sure there was great wine there, but I was finding the experience stressful, and was happy to go relax elsewhere. I often think that these free festivals would benefit from a token charge of even just £5, as the crowd control, queuing and competitive elements would be very much reduced. We’ll see, hopefully this year they will agree. One of my food highlights there were these little Moro kebabs which were like kebabs squared with regard to flavour. There were also wonderful little croquetas from Asador Sagartoki in Spain.

Tapas Fantastica

Tapas Fantastica

Also in June, I was experimenting a lot at home, and created a flickr photo set entitled “Experiments with Minced Meats”. I had lots of fun with this, creating a new and favourite spiced lamb meatballs in an aromatic tomato sauce, chorizo and pork meatballs, and lots of different types of burgers. I wasn’t regimented with these as they were the early stages of recipe development and so quite loose, so they weren’t blogged, but I hope to complete these soon.

Chorizo & Pork - the meatball experiment

At the end of June, I had one of my favourite culinary and London moments of 2009. I went into work very early, determined to sample the new Fernandez & Wells breakfast. So early in fact that I was too early for them, and had to go for a cup of coffee nearby. The breakfast was great, featuring Italian pancetta and a fried egg on a superb and enormous Flour Station muffin, with a Monmouth filter coffee for company.

Courgette flowers

I walked through London afterwards, edging towards my offices in Victoria, and with plenty of time to spare took a detour through St James Park, bumping into the allotment on the way. Curious, I peered my head around, and started talking to one of the allotment gardeners. I spied juicy tomatoes, bountiful herbs, and bouquets of courgette flowers. COURGETTE FLOWERS! Oh, how I want them. They are so hard to find, especially looking like as healthy and glorious this.

Deep fried courgette flowers

I asked the gardener what they did with them. I give them to a lady friend of mine, he replied, she cooks with them. Oh, I retorted, disappointed. He asked what I would do with them, and I listed a flurry of possibilities. He looked around and said, well, she won’t be in until later this week anyway, so do you want a few to take home. YES, PLEASE! I was delighted, they were so pretty and bright, here comes the vegetable bride.

So, off I went, excited and full of stories of great breakfasts, new found enormous breakfast muffins, and altruistic gardeners, but I was first in the office that day, so reluctantly I consigned my floral cargo to the fridge and uploaded my photo to twitter to share my bright yellow news. Later that evening I stuffed them with Irish cheeses Crozier Blue a bold and creamy sheeps blue cheese, and Knocklara, a sharp and tangy sheeps cheese made locally in Waterford. I battered them with tempura batter, deep fried them, and then drizzled them with honey, as they did at Dehesa and Salt Yard, and proudly presented them to a visiting friend. We devoured them in seconds. If a courgette could shriek, it would have done so that night. Blog post here.

Then July rolled in. Summer was here and I was happy as could be with long walks in St James Park soaked in sometimes sunshine at lunchtime. The only downside was the appalling lunch options in Victoria, and my lack of time to make any of my own. I was out and about too much you see.

Next, a fillet steak dinner at home with rocket and horseradish cream. I had a fresh horseradish root to play with and I fancied a change. This was followed later that week by a trip to one of my favourite London restaurants, the Peter Gordon’s Providores in Marylebone, this time to the Tapas room, the cheaper and more casual downstairs option. We munched on ginger and garlic roast pumpkin with goat’s curd, grilled artichokes, cape gooseberries, black vinegar dressing, walnuts and sumac lavosh, crispy crab and tapioca cakes with sriracha yoghurt,  Cyprus lamb and bulgar wheat köfte with orange and olive salad, Turkish yoghurt and pomegranate molasses dressing, sautéed garlic snails on chorizo mash with oloroso and parsley, twice cooked middlewhite pork belly on massaman lentils with spinach and sambal bajak and spring rolls of confit duck and chicken, shiitake and feta with green chilli jam. It was an excellent meal, and the wine list is really great, offering some lovely wines by the glass, allowing me to try a few different ones.

Now even more obsessed with courgettes than before, I was desperately seeking a courgette plant at precisely the time when nobody was selling them, they were no longer seedlings you see and all the sensible folk and the planners had snapped them all up. I had just given up, when I happened upon an unlikely supplier, a flower stand in Covent Garden Jubilee Hall market that had one courgette plant and one aubergine plant, which I nabbed immediately and proudly carted home to North East London. I am one of those people that desperately wants an allotment, but I can’t even get on the waiting list for my local one, so two little plants in my small rented garden were the height of my gardening achievements last year, and at that, the aubergine bore no fruit. I do have my herbs of course, but they hardly count. I want to grow vegetables. Some chickens would be nice too.

My courgette plant

The rest of the month I stuffed mushrooms, made salads and went home to visit my tiny new niece. Five spice duck breast was a flavoursome mid month supper.

I attended the launch of Cherry Aid at Le Café Anglais, sample lots of wonderful English cherries and wolfed down some excellent cherry based canapés from chef Rowley Leigh. That was a really interesting day, and a very worthwhile cause, cherry farmers were there promoting their English cherries, some of which are breeds which they are trying to revive. As with almost all producers that I have ever met, they were passionate and knowledgeable, and trying their very beast to succeed in a world which is increasingly dominated by blandness and chains. So, this year, get out there and try them, if we don’t they will surely disappear.

Cherry Aid
Cherry Aid

Following this I attended one of my favourite wine tastings of the year, an effervescent Italian Wine Tasting at Bibendum Wine. Representatives of each wine were on hand to tell us all about them, feed us fantastic food favourites being the Venetian nibbles to match the Bisol Jeio and Credo. We had a great night, and wandered home with a box of cherries and wine leftovers (shame? Us?). The next day, there was a trail of cherries reminiscent of the breadcrumb trail in Hansel and Gretel, it would have been easy to find us, if you could be bothered.

Bibendum Wine Tasting

Eeek, it’s still only July! Are you still with me?

Roast mushroom soup failure revealed a delicious bruschetta with chive cream, and there were many further interpretations of brunch. I roasted some pork belly for friends and paid a first strip to would be favourite Jai Shri Krishna.

Roast Spiced Pork Belly

Visiting friends gave me lots of opportunities to cook. Pea soups, spiced roast pork belly, chickpea and pomegranate salad, burnt aubergine, peppers and tomato salad, lentil & spinach soup with harissa croutons and strawberries with balsamic vinegar and honey.


We ended the month perfectly with Dine with Dos Hermanos at Casa Brindisa, a great event with lots of interesting people, good food and delicious wines and sherries. Thanks Simon!

The Spanish theme continuted with a Tio Pepe sherry & tapas evening at Camino in King’s Cross, somewhere I had frequented regularly during my many years working locally. It was a really fun evening. Charles Campion came along, and sadly (for him) had to briefly endure some sherry fuelled ranting from me.

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I had been approached about doing the Covent Garden Real Food Market, and thought that it might be fun. I also really liked the idea of, for once, having people taste and eat my food. What to cook though, that was the question that rattled my petite addled brain. As I was working full time, I could only commit to one time, so we settled on a date. It would be difficult, as with the project I was working on, I couldn’t take any days off around it, but I wanted to do it, so decided that I would make it happen.

What to serve, given the time constraints? It had to be high quality, and something I would be proud off. It should have some cultural relevance. I am very proud of Irish food, and am always slightly dismayed when people with no experience of modern Irish food culture disrespect it. But, I had no time.

Belvelly Smokehouse

Then, a brainwave. What about Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon? One of my favourite things in the world. In Selfridge’s it retails at somewhere around £70 a kilo, so that wasn’t an option, besides it wasn’t always in stock, but what if I went home and went straight to the source? I would love to visit and see the smokehouse anyway. That was it, a perfect plan was starting to hatch.

On Holiday In Ireland

On Holiday In Ireland in August

Fishy Cargo

So, I contacted Frank and arranged a visit on a rainy trip home for my nieces christening, and after a lovely half hour at the smokehouse, wandered back to London with an enormous box of smoked fish, that fellow passengers eyed with caution and perplexity, and airline staff ignored. Clearly I wasn’t travelling RyanAir. I felt it was only right to have an open brown soda bread sandwich with Frank Hederman smoked salmon in the airport bar which I thoroughly enjoyed, save the iceberg lettuce, but that is one of the downsides of lunching in an airport bar.

Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon on Soda Bread at Cork Airport Bar

I then embarked on a culinary adventure that would carry me through to the end of the year. What a lovely surprise. Come back and read my next installment for the details.

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Another Year Over! End of 2009 [Part 2]

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

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

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

So, my favourites of 2009 are:

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

Wine Tasting at Vinoteca

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

Le Beaujolais

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

Fernandez & Wells

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

Chilli Cool - Stir Fried & Stewed Jack Beans

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

Chilli Cool

Le Café Anglais, Bayswater - Parmesan Custard with Anchovy Toasts

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

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

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

Blogger's Dinner at Tayyab's

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

Hawksmoor Burger

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

Bibendum Wine Tasting

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

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

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

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

Chorizo with cider

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

Brunch! Chorizo, tomato & cannelini beans w/ coriander

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

Birthday '09 - 7 hour roast shoulder of pork

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

Charring Aubergine

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

Chorizo & potato hash

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

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Farewell to 2009! Another year over [Part 1]

Chinatown, London on Chinese New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top recipe posts of the year:

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

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

January

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

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

New Tayyabs

Roast Pork with Kale

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

Finally, we had snow.

View from my kitchen

February

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

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

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

Franco Manca

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

Bacon and egg rolls

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

March

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

Bruno Paillard Lunch at L'atelier de Joel Robuchon

Bruno Paillard Lunch at L'atelier de Joel Robuchon

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

April

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

Le Cafe Anglais

Le Cafe Anglais

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

Le Cafe Anglais

Salt Yard, Goodge St

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

Salt Yard, Goodge St

Salt Yard, Goodge St

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

Oyster & Champagne Tasting at Galvin at Windows

Oyster & Champagne Tasting at Galvin at Windows

Oyster & Champagne Tasting at Galvin at Windows

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

Selfridge's Wonder Bar - Venison

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

Selfridge's Wonder Bar - Frank Hederman's Salmon

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

Wine Tasting at Vinoteca

Wine Tasting at Vinoteca

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

Chocolate Festival

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

Hawksmoor Steak Tasting

Hawksmoor Steak Tasting

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

Celia Brooks Brown's Allotment

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

Chilli Cool - Grouper Hot Pot

Chilli Cool

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

May

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

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

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

IMG_9506

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

IMG_9719

June

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

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

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

Dine with Dos Hermanos at Casa Brindisa

Dine with Dos Hermanos at Casa Brindisa

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

Fair Cake Cupcake Classes.

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

Taste of London

Taste of London

Taste of London

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

The Secret Ingredient

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

Spiced lamb meatballs

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

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

Thanks for reading, as always! Comments appreciated :)

Article

A Very Merry Xmas to You!

Guinness Fairy Lights

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

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

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

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