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January in food and frolics: the roundup

It seemed like January was never-ending, truly a bottomless pit of rushing to work while skidding on ice and low heavy skies. Skies that were so heavy, I felt like chicken licken, and wanted to roar to the world “The sky is falling in!”.

But then, it was gone. Gone! Just like that. And suddenly it was February. How can that be? To stay so long, then leave so quickly. My sense of time is distorted, and now what do I do that I no longer have January to blame for everything?

As much as I proclaimed the misery of it all, the heart wrenching, grey boredom that January cruelly bestows on me, there were some culinary moments that may make my best of 2010. Some really fun and utterly delicious adventures. An evening where I was demolished not by January, but by vodka and my own lack of sense, some time in the kitchen with Francesco Mazzei, a Bisol cookoff, a very good pie crafted by my own fair hands, and a new way with pork, for me at least.

How can this be? You’ve only read of the pork. COUGH. Like I said, I blame January. Be patient with me, I promise to give you the details soon. For now, here’s my summary.

Vongole at L'Anima

January started with an evening that I had been waiting for, for some time. The vongole evening at L’Anima, where I would get a chance to spend time with Francesco Mazzei in his kitchen, where he would demonstrate his technique for cooking linguine vongole (linguine with clams). It was a lovely experience. Francesco is a lovely guy, and very knowledgable. L’Anima is a lovely place too, with a kitchen that is enviable, I watched every beautiful pot and pan, envied their piles of vongole, and watched with glee as he took us through it, step by step.

Vongole at L'Anima

The kitchen was hot, I was beetroot red, which and impending video will testify for me. It was a treat though, and I enjoyed watching him cooking the linguine by absorption, a great technique for extruding the creaminess of the pasta without adding dairy by adding water or stock slowly and stirring, not too unlike making a creamy risotto. I do this at home all the time, the end result demands it. I should really blog about that soon too, shouldn’t I?

Vongole at L'Anima
The cooking was followed by a dinner, themed on vongole and shellfish in a luxurious private room at the restaurant. The vongole was stand out, as was the mussel starter, the mussels had been cooked in a Josper charcoal oven for only a minute until they popped open revealing a tender meaty interior, bathing in some salty sea water that the mussel had retained when it closed its shell for that last time by the sea, before it ended up in the L’Anima kitchen. We also had a wine that I loved, it was worth going for that alone, San Michele Soave Classico, perfect with the vongole, and delicious to drink on its own. I found it online circling a bargainous £12 mark. I will be stocking up on it soon.

Vongole at L'Anima

From one lovely wine to another, the next adventure was the Bisol Jeio Prosecco Cook-Off at Bibendum Wines, where three finalists that had entered the competition on this blog, cooked furiously and presented their dishes to be judged by Roberto of Bisol, Rupert of Trinity and Gal of Bibendum Wine. All entrants were excellent, a crisp and clean sea trout dish from Ailbhe; a creamy, rich and indulgent pork dish from Dan and the winning entry, a warm Winter pheasant salad from Danny. It was great fun, and we decamped to the pub after where the two Irish lasses appeared to overwhelm those Essex geezers. It seemed they could not keep up with our chatter and were mildly amused by it all. As were we!

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Bisol Jeio Food & Wine Matching Cook Off

Some time at home followed with a Moro recipe, Lomo Con Leche, pork cooked in milk with cinnamon and bay to you and I. Delicious it was, but could do with a few tweaks I think. I look forward to experimenting.

Pork cooked in milk with cinnamon & bay

Brunch baked eggs became a Sunday feature, well eggs en cocotte this time. Eggs cosied in individual ramekins sitting on a cushion of fried bacon, leak and shallots, with a cream and gruyere topping, and baked in a bain marie. Sounds complex and fussy, but they’re quick easy and wickedly indulgent. Take that, January!

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Pigs (plural) was about to feature in a very big way. Starting with a fantastic Pig Masterclass and wine dinner at Trinity, where I got to try some great Alsace wines from small producer Trimbach. Jean Trimbach talked us through them, and we had matched food from Trinity, including their fantastic trotter dish, more on that soon.

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St John Restaurant, famed for it’s offaly goodness, was next on the menu. A group of us were trying the suckling pig. I’d always wanted to try this so was quite excited. The suckling pig was tender, moist and full of flavour. I even got to try a bit of the tongue which had a dense texture and intense piggy flavour. Starters of bone marrow and crab were perfect. I am not really a big fan of the desserts chosen, so I didn’t pay much attention to these. All in all, a successful food adventure, even with a few problems with slow service.

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A Sunday indoors was perfect with a roast loin of pork with spiced apple sauce.

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The annual Bibendum tasting at the Saatchi Gallery was immense as always, with fantastic wines. It was lovely to see Alice of Bruno Paillard and the Chapel Down Crew again. It was a great day.

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We’ve clearly headed from the pig section to the alcohol section. I had a lovely evening at Thorsten of the Wine Rambler‘s house, sampling some German wines with food. We had a really interesting German Syrah from Pfalz (Knipser 2003). I also discovered the delights of chocolate baklava which I bought for dessert from a local baklava salon.

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An exciting vintage vodka tasting at Bob Bob Ricard managed to be both the high and low point of the month. High point: wonderful food, lovely hosts and superb vodka. Low point: there should be a heigh requirement, noone my height can drink that much vodka, be coherent and manage a normal day the day after. The food was great, lots of Russian food that I hadn’t had before, including a superb ox tongue in aspic, which was elegant and graceful, a fantastic egg mayo with anchovies, some caviar with blinis, delicious creamy lardo, and some standout meaty dumplings which were rich, dense and creamy. There was lots more which I’ll write about in more detail soon. The vodka was very good indeed, all Russian and served at -18 degrees.

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And that was it. I think we defeated January. Ka-pow!

Thanks for reading, as always :)

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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 :)

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And that was 2008! What for 2009? Part 2

Yesterday, I blogged the fist part of my annual sum up, And that was 2008! What for 2009? , with the promise of returning with the second part. I know you’re all just dying to read it, so here it is.

Last year was a sociable one for food bloggers, putting it mildly, we had many meetups and events. It was a busy few months prior to Christmas, so much so that I didn’t blog half of what I did, and wondered at times if I should have a second blog, as it seemed that recipe posts were being dwarfed by everything else, if only because I had no time to cook. I will change that this year. I love to cook, and I need to. I love playing and creating, tasting and eating, photographing and styling, but there was just no time.

Ah, blog guilt.

After our first bloggers meetup, we had many more, my personal highlight was the macaron classes at L’atelier des Chefs with 18 other food bloggers. I’ve always wanted to make these scary little things, but never had, and was very excited at the prospect of being taught by a chef. More than this, it was such a fun day, I laughed so much, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I want to run my own little class at home for friends now, a kind of macaron party, but my kitchen right now, is too small for that!

At the start of November, I went to Barcelona for the weekend and paid a trip to the food mecca that is La Boqueria, Barcelona’s enormous food market. I met fellow blogger Aidan Brooks while there, and had a lovely afternoon, soaking in all of the colours, smells, flavours, and that lovely November sunshine.

Another highlight involved L’atelier des Chefs. They invited me to be a judge for their annual cooking compeition, the Cusine Cup, with fellow judges Pascal Aussignac, chef at Club Gascon & Will Torrent, an up and coming confectioner and pastry chef. It was an inspiring day and a very worthwhile experience. I am looking forward to seeing how our winner, Luke, fares in final in Paris this year and I wish him the very best.

Ferran Adria paid a trip to London as part of his international book tour, how could I miss that? It was a really interesting evening where Ferran led us through the magic that he creates in his kitchen. It was fantastic. I just hope that some day I get to eat there!

We’re coming to the end now, if you’re still reading, I am flattered, as I am rambling! The year ended on a high, when Eat Like a Girl was included in The Times Online Top 10 Food Blogs in the World. I was very honoured and flattered to be included. It still brings a very big smile to my face when I think of it.

Another big feature for 2008, was twitter. I’ve had many moments laughing and sharing ideas with fellow food bloggers, friends, and peers from all over the world on there. We started lunchtweets! It’s enormous fun and a huge distraction when you allow it to be, but it’s worthwhile. Follow me on twitter if you are on there.

Any regrets? I try not to have any as a rule, as I find them negative and destructive if you dwell on them, but you can learn from them too. It’s best to live in the moment and enjoy what you can, do all you can well and be proud of what you achieve. But, what I will change, is that I will blog more. There were times last year where I was blogging terribly infrequently, but I don’t want to blog for the sake of it, and only when I have done something worth sharing and have the time to do it justice. So, I’ll create more of those food moments this year make sure that I have the time to write about them.

This year, I will make sure that posts don’t linger in drafts, as so many did last year, I am looking at you: Chicken Noodle Soup; Chicken, Chorizo & Kale Stew; Black Bean Chilli; Linguine with Courgette, Tomato & Basil, Sherry & Food Matchingw ith Heston Blumenthal; Whitley Neill Gin Tasting and Gallery Chocolate Tasting. Perhaps I should finish them and publish them throughout this month anyway! What do you think?

So, having reviewed this, and pieced it all together, I’ve just had to exhale. 2008 was a charmer! It took me by surprise and brought me to great places. I met some great people and fellow food bloggers, and I look forward to meeting them some more. I wait with anticipation for the joys that I hope 2009 will bring.

Next post: 2008 food highlights. Mine & your top posts.

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The Christmas blog post roundup

christmas lunch veg

You’ve seen my traditional Christmas lunch. What did the other food bloggers do? Not everyone has posted yet (cough, Helen, yes I am looking at you ;-), but I thought it might be nice to do a roundup.

Su-Lin, at Tamarind & Thyme, had a porky Christmas, dishing up slow roasted pork belly with fennel, chorizo & potato croquettes and lemon and passion fruit roulade, amongst other wonderful things.

Aidan Brooks had a wonderful Christmas lunch. Thai scallops to start, followed by roast goose with goose-fat roast potatoes, roast carrots, truffled Brussels sprouts, puréed parsnip, stuffing and gravy made from the goose giblets and roasting juices. Followed by Christmas pudding made in October. And yes, they’re his words from a comment he made here. Thanks Aidan! Truffled brussel sprouts sound wonderfully decadent.

Lizzie, over at Hollow Legs, had roast goose and gravadlax. Board games and Guinness too. Sounds perfect!

Fred and Ginger, at Dinner Diary, had roast goose, and made roast goose pie with the leftovers. I’d like some of that pie right now!

Chris, at Cheese & Biscuits, didn’t tell us about his Christmas lunch, but he did tell us about his reservation for El Bulli. Lucky him! I look forward to reading about it. I’m not jealous at all, really. Not even one little bit. Really.