Sunday, 22 February 2015

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Coleman Coffee Roasters

You've probably noticed I have very few recommendations for coffee on my blog.  There are, of course, any number of places in London where you can drink a decent coffee, and plenty of guides pointing the way.  There are a few I'll happily call in at but then there are the independents whose focus is on their own roasting.  If they'll brew me a cup and sell me the beans directly, that's perfect. So here's one for you.

Jack Coleman grew up in a flat above the original Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden with the aroma of coffee permeating every corner of his home.  With that introduction it could have gone either way - coffee hater or coffee lover.  Fortunately for us it was the latter.  Fascinated by coffee, he was working in the Monmouth shop as a barista from his early to late teens before helping set up the original Fernandez & Wells.  Then an Otto SwadloV3 roaster was going begging and the idea of bringing it back to life was irresistible.  The machine was in pieces but with a bit of TLC and a lot of application, Summer 2008 saw Jack Coleman roast his first batch of raw coffee on the 58 year old Viennese beauty.  With modifications for ducting, insulation, pressure gauges, fans and thermometers, it's now producing some of the best coffee roasts in London.

From his small south-east London roastery Jack Coleman specialises in Arabica coffees, buying his raw beans based on quality and traceability.  Roasting is in small batches of around 3.5kg, which is as much as the Otto Swadlo V3 can cope with.  On Saturdays he crosses the few metres from his base, brings the Marzocco up to temperature and serves shots of excellent expresso.  You can also pick up a bag of his freshly roasted beans.  The fact he shares this retailing space with The Little Bread Pedlar bakery who make, for my money, the best croissants in London, makes this the perfect place for a Saturday breakfast.  Handily, there's a fantastic choice of independent food traders clustered around the Spa Terminus location.

If you can't get to Spa on Saturdays, you can get a taste of Coleman Coffee in London at some of the best places like Leila's Shop, Italo Deli and Brunswick House.

Piccolo from Coleman Coffee

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Ricotta Pancakes for Breakfast, Lunch, Tea

Ricotta Pancakes
with banana and maple syrup

It's almost Shrove Tuesday.  I know because I'm getting the usual hints and reminders that pancake making needs to be factored-in to the food plans soon. With its approach comes the usual thoughts of what kind of pancakes to make?

Buttermilk Pancakes with their tangy, ripe fermented flavour and open texture that sucks up syrup like a sponge. Their satisfaction quotient belies the fact that buttermilk has only a 2% fat content, being the liquid leftover from the butter-making process.  If you can get true buttermilk, rather than the supermarket 'cultured' variety, your pancakes will taste so much better.  However, my favourite pancake for this day of the year, and probably yours too, is the one who's mixing I don't even have to think about; the one I've made 'forever'.  My Shrove Tuesday Pancakes, I've learned, fall somewhere between Jane Grigson's "Pancakes for the Poor" and "Pancakes for the Rich".  This is almost certainly the one I will make on 17 February.  There will be sugar and fresh lemons on the table, and Lyle's Golden Syrup for some (me).

Folding in the egg whites

But I've already offered you recipes for both of these pancake mixes.  So here's a Ricotta version.
Ricotta is a soft Italian cheese made from milk whey left over from cheesemaking.  The resultant pancakes are richer than the buttermilk version, having a higher fat content, and producing a similarly fluffy-texture.  For me, the taste is not as good as a buttermilk pancake, but that could be down to the fact I can get good quality buttermilk, at an affordable price, more easily than an equivalent ricotta I'm prepared to treat this way.

This is my go-to recipe for Ricotta Pancakes.  It's adapted from the one in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery in Paris and includes the reminder: 'when adding "wet to dry" never knock the air out of the mixture by over-mixing the batter.  In fact at this point you should "turn the batter over with a large spoon no more than eight times!'

Ricotta Pancakes
(Serves 4 - makes around 8 pancakes)

100g(4oz) ricotta cheese
100ml (3½ fl oz) milk
2 medium eggs, separated
75g (2¾ oz) plain four
½ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
A little unsalted butter for cooking

Beat the ricotta with the milk and egg yolks until smooth.
In a separate large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add the wet mixture to the flour and stir very lightly.
Beat the egg whites until stiff then fold them into the batter.
Melt just a little butter in a small frying pan and add 3-4 tablespoons of batter.  Tilt the pan to get an even thickness of batter.  
Cook on a low to medium heat until the pancake is lightly golden on the bottom.  Turn and cook for another minute or so until cooked through.  
Cook the rest of the pancakes in the same way, adding a little extra butter to the pan for each.
Serve hot with your choice of fruit or sauce.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Radicchio and red onions on white bean purée
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry
Photo by Evie

I think most of us now accept that eating less meat and heavy foods is the way to go - though "meat-free Monday" still annoys the hell out of me.  Truth is meat has only been on my menus a couple of times a week for years now, sidelined for more vegetables, grains and fish, and I know I'm far from alone in moving to a healthier, more thoughtful way of eating.  That  doesn't make Diana Henry's latest book, A Change of Appetite, any less welcome.  In fact it's a book for the way many of us eat now and, certainly in this house, it's finding an appreciative audience.  

The focus of the book is the author's perception that people want to eat more healthily and the acceptance that it would be good for her to make some changes to her own diet.  This book came out of curiosity about what 'healthy eating' means and how to achieve it without compromising on the sheer enjoyment of food.  The guiding principle for the author was that dishes had to be delicious, their healthiness being a bonus, and there would be a thoughtfulness about the ingredients borne out of wide reading (there is an impressive bibliography).  This is not a diet book. Diana Henry doesn't tell you what you can't eat - that was a relief because frankly no-one is going to take away my cake - but what you can.  In that vein, I share Diana Henry's belief that "The problem isn't with what you eat at one meal, but what you eat across the board".

A Change of Appetite offers the, now, familiar format of the four seasons, each with reminders of ingredients that are at their best early, mid and late in the quarter.  Along with stand-alone recipes there are menus to help bring balance of flavour and nutrition to a meal.  Recipes globetrot with dishes like Vietnamese Rice paper rolls with nuoc cham; a Lentil and roast tomato soup with saffron from India; an Italian dish of Lamb scottadito with summer fregola;  a North African Spiced mackerel with kamut and as pretty a Persian Salad as you'll ever see; a recipe for Georgian Roast chicken with walnut sauce and hot grated beetroot; and there are dishes from Northern Europe like Citrus marinated salmon with fennel and apple salad and Braised venison and beetroot with horseradish.  Puddings are on the menu but with an emphasis on fresh and light, like Blood orange and cardamom sorbet; Raspberries with basil and buttermilk sherbet and Blueberry and gin jellies.  Happily, you'll find Pistachio and lemon cake and a Blackberry and apple rye galette too.

It's important to know that as Diana Henry says "there is lots of big front-of-mouth flavours, such as chilli, ginger and lime, the kind of thing you want when you aren't eating starchy or rich food". Spices are a prominent feature and, if they're something you're not used to, the first time you make a dish you may want to reduce the quantities just a little in some recipes.

Yoghurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Photo by Evie

So, what have a I tried so far?  Radicchio and red onions on white bean purée with its mix of bitter, sweet and earthy, felt healthy and satisfying eaten on its own for lunch but there are suggestions for what to serve it with and how you can change the basic recipe (a feature of many recipes in the book).  Yogurt with honeyed saffron syrup, almonds and apricot compote was a big hit. The combination of apple juice, cardamom and citrus infused dried apricots with yogurt and a saffron and orange-flower water syrup is a delicious one and visually it's a stunner.  I didn't have agave syrup so substituted a slightly lesser amount of honey.  It's easy to overdo saffron, so be cautious.  Cardamom too needs to be used sparingly for as Diana Henry says, cardamom "needs to move through a dish like a ghost" .  Once all the elements of the dessert were put together, all was perfection.  Citrus compote with ginger snow is another visually arresting dessert.  I'm a big fan of lime so appreciated its liberal use in this dish.  The "snow" is a granita that packs a big ginger punch and could be a little too powerful for some.

Citrus compote with ginger snow
from A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry

Photo by Evie

Dishes I'm really looking forward to trying include Smoked haddock with Indian scented lentils, inspired by Kedgeree; Red mullet and saffron broth with corfu garlic sauce; Roast tomatoes and lentils with dukka-crumbed eggs; and, when summer arrives, a Middle-Eastern inspired Cucumber and yogurt soup with walnuts and rose petals and Poached white peaches with rosé wine jelly.  I could go on.

I'm wary of the blurb on book covers but in this case Yotam Ottolenghi's "Everything Diana Henry cooks I want to eat" quote sums up my own feelings about A Change of Appetite.  All this and Diana Henry's scholarly and engaging writing style.  If you're still wondering if this book is for you, take it from the shelf and read the two pages at the back of the book ''Final Thoughts'.  Full of good sense reminders for a more thoughtful way of eating.  I think you'll be convinced.

A Change of Appetite
by Diana Henry

First published 2014 by Mitchell Beazley
Photo by Evie

As ever, with Diana Henry's books, the photography, by Laura Edwards, is beautiful and evocative.  I love this book and it's already earned its keep on my bookshelf.  I know I'm going to make a lot of the recipes, and I'll feel all the better about having my occasional cake.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Artusi in Peckham

Ricotta & braised radicchio
at Artusi Peckham

It's easy to tell when an area of London is heating up property-wise.  The nearest parade of shops start to get a lick of paint and an air of fresh-thinking.  SE15 is a case in point where the traders on Peckham's Bellenden Road now include ex-Ginger Pig butcher Charlie Shaw with his own Flock & Herd butchery; popular Thai street-food restaurant The Begging Bowl; Melange chocolate shop and cafe; and the very special grocer General Store where the shelves groan with foodstuffs from many London producers.  Here too is a little gem of a restaurant, Artusi at No. 161.

Taking its name from *Pellegrino Artusi, this determinedly Italian restaurant has Jack Beer as Owner and Chef (ex-Clove Club and Peckham Bazaar).  It's a relaxing kind of place with a short, understated menu and charming staff.  Simply furnished, the tables for two can be pushed together the length of the banquette seating to accommodate groups and a Long Table in the back, right by the kitchen action, can be booked for parties (seats 18).

The Evening menu may offer a starter of Seared Beef Heart with peppers or Burrata with braised radicchio.  Mains might include Venison Haunch with root vegetables or Cod with broccoli.  Expect a choice of a couple of desserts, maybe Chocolate Mousse, Tiramisu or Olive Oil Cake.  At Sunday lunch there's a set 3-course menu for £20.  Weekday lunches are even more pared-down.  The small, wholly Italian, wine list is reasonably priced starting at £20 a bottle/£4 a glass going up to a Barolo at £62.

Linguine with Duck ragout
at Artusi Peckham

This is simple Italian food of the kind that is so often done badly.  There are no hiding places, no tricksy flourishes or sauces to hide a multitude of sins. I've had several lunches at Artusi.  Each one has been exemplary.  They have included a dish of radicchio - two varieties, one intensely bitter and one mildly so - charred and paired with a whipped ricotta and dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Another time, pillowy ricotta served with braised radicchio and tomatoes.  Both dishes were juicy and big on flavour.  Squid with Potatoes was no looker but was a pleasing plateful of tender squid and waxy potatoes brought together by a fish stock-based emulsion.  The pasta dishes are served in two portion sizes at £6.50 and £10.50.  Spaghetti Puttanesca was punchy perfection, Linguine with Duck Ragout was flavoursome and well balanced.  A deeply comforting bowl of Beef and Pork Meatballs in a herby tomato sauce was simply served with parmesan.  A light as air Olive Oil Cake came with baked thyme-infused pear and caramel sauce.  Scoops of Ice Cream a - one Coffee and one Salted Honey - were served exactly as you hope, just-melting softness in a cold bowl.  It takes confidence to serve up ice cream quite so plainly but here it's not misplaced.

Expect to pay about £50 for two at lunch.

Coffee ice cream and Salted Honey ice cream
at Artusi Peckham

There's a modesty about Artusi.  It's the word that came to mind when on one visit a party of 5 arrived for a wedding celebration straight from the ceremony.  In a world where thousands of pounds are spent on the 'big day', this was a model of restraint and a delight to observe.  I applaud the Happy Couple's choices for their big day, and for the sweet way Artusi welcomed them.  Let's have more modesty, I say.

161 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4DH
Tel: 020 3302 8200

*Pellegrino Artusi made his fortune as a silk merchant which funded his twin passions of literature and food.  In 1891 he self-published La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte de mangiar bene (The Science of Cookery and The Art of Eating Well).  He was the first to include recipes from all regions of Italy in a single cookbook and is credited with helping to establish a national Italian identity following unification.  By the time of his death in 1911, sales of the book exceeded 200,000 copies.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas Gifts for Food Lovers 2014

Basket of wrapped teas
at My Cup of Tea

As usual with my Christmas gift list, I've chosen things that are modestly priced but highlighted some things a little higher up the price scale for those who like to spend a bit more on their very own food-lover.  Many of the gifts can be bought on-line but, as I live in London, I've mentioned where they can be bought over the counter in the capital.  Most of the sources are small businesses.  I hope this list gives you some inspiration.

Hand-carved Tea Scoop
at My Cup of Tea

A beautifully wrapped packet of tea blended with care.  My choice would be from my favourite tea blender My Cup of Tea.  Maybe the slightly malty-flavour of the 2nd flush Assam Halmari at £15/100g, a special Uji Gyokuro green tea with a lovely balance of sweetness and mild bitterness at £40/100g or a pack of Spicy Turkish Apple Muslin Teabags at £14.

Cherrywood tea caddy
at My Cup of Tea

In addition to the delicious blends of tea and tisane, this shop is a treasure trove of beautiful individual tea-related gifts.  A wooden scoop hand-carved from a single piece of wood.  Each one is subtly different reflecting the nature of the natural material £18; a Japanese hand-thrown tea bowl, around £40; a Japanese handmade Cherrywood tea caddy, around £80.

Monmouth at
Borough Market

A packet of coffeee beans or ground coffee.  My favourite at the moment is Monmouth Coffee Company's Sukari from Kabare Town Mt. Kenya with a lovely light acidity for £27 kg and an outstanding mountain water-process decaffeinated organic Granja La Esperanza from Colombia which I've taken to drinking at night. It has lovely toffee flavours and low acidity £26 kg.  Monmouth don't do gadgets but you can pick up a ceramic filter for £9 or my favourite Pannetone made by the Ulcigrai family near Trieste for £17 (imported by Leila McAlister and also,stocked at her shop on Calvert Avenue E2).

Pierre Herme
Chocolate Selection

Macarons or chocolates are always welcome at any time of year and Pierre Herme does both very, very well.  You can buy them in various box sizes or just a few in a packet (budget around £1.90 per macaron).  The chocolates are top-notch and I'd advised including some of the Infinement Vanilla with its combination of Tahitian, Mexican and Madagascan vanillas - a box works out at just under £2 per chocolate.  There's also a small collection of exquisite cakes £15-20.  New branch just opened on Monmouth Street, Covent Garden.

Friends of Arnold Circus
Hollyhock Seeds

Leila's Shop (and Cafe) on Calvert Avenue E2 is a great little place for gifts for food-lovers.  Look beyond the baskets of fantastic fruit and veg and you'll find gifts like a £1 packet of Hollyhock Seeds gathered from the nearby public amenity garden Arnold Circus - all proceeds go to the Friends of Arnold Circus charity.

Friends of Arnold Circus water bottles
at Leila's Shop

Boxes of Colavolpe chocolate-coated clementines are £10 and boxes of sticky Calabrian figs are £9.80-£12.  Here too you'll find stainless steel Arnold Circus Water Bottles for £10 - proceeds from sales go towards a drinking-water fountain for Arnold Circus.

Wooden Kitchen String Box© David Mellor

British company David Mellor has been making cutlery and kitchen products in Sheffield since 1969.  Their shop, just off Sloane Square, is the place to go if you're looking for quality.  This acorn-shaped Alderwood String Box caught my eye at £23.  There are David Mellor glass bowls in a range of jewel colours 10-13cm priced at £16-24 each.  Wooden products are a bit of a feature including the work of Irish woodturner Liam O'Neill whose bowls are made using timber only from trees felled through old age or natural disaster and range in price from £29-£134.

Mons Cheesemongers' counter

Mons Cheesemongers is the place I'd head to for a selection of French cheeses.  Ones I'm enjoying right now are an unpasteurised goat's milk Charolais with a mineral nuttiness at £8.90 each, a buttery pasteurised cow's milk Persille du Beaujolais at £22 kg and a fruity raw cow's-milk Beaufort at £33.60 kg.  Also, it's the season for Vacherin Mont d'Or and Mons have a fantastic one at £11.95 (11cm size).

This is my last posting of the year so, to all of you who are celebrating, Happy Christmas and see you in 2015.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Books for Food Lovers 2014

Looking back to last December, I note of the six books I wanted to read in 2014, I managed to devour four.  As usual, my end of year recommendations aren't all for books first published in 2014.  One is a book of Middle Eastern food filled with love; another takes inspiration from the same part of the world and beyond and is stuffed with 'accidentally healthy' recipes; there's a reminder of the indispensability, and beauty, of a food we take for granted; an exploration of sun-drenched citrus groves through art, history, horticulture and cooking; a bread-making book that just might turn me into a baker; and a history of kitchen tools and techniques that is anything but dry.  

Honey & Co - Food from the Middle East by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich has to be my pick of 2014, and I'm far from alone in this choice.

Honey & Co - Food from the Middle East 
by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich
with photograph by Patricia Niven

It's not unusual for a book to grow from the seed of a restaurant.  Most will start off telling the reader about the restaurant, the author, the inspiration and philosophy.  Few will tell you how the owners fell in love over oven-fresh burek and pigeon stuffed with rice and pine nuts.  How they sneered at each other's introductions to "Haifa's best falafel" and "Jerusalem's best falafel", each secretly enjoying both.  Few will introduce you to the staff, from the loveable front-of-house Rachael to "sweet, funny" Carlos the kitchen porter.  Fewer still will feel a tale of a "big-hearted broad-shouldered London cabbie and an industrial mixer" worth telling.  Then there's the habit of attaching names and personal stories to familiar faces.  These are the things that are important to Itamar Srulovich (former Head Chef at Ottolenghi) and Sarit Packer (former Head of Pastry at Ottolenghi and Executive Chef at Nopi), owners of Honey & Co the restaurant and, now, authors.  After a frantic 6 weeks of work they walked into their little restaurant kitchen for the first time and chose to preserve lemons.  They put the jars on the little shelf in the restaurant "to place our hope in a fortunate future".... Read more

Photography by: Patricia Niven

This book was supplied courtesy of Salt Yard Books, but I would happily have paid for it and I'm eagerly awaiting Honey & Co's baking book due out in 2014.

A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry is next up, and I don't even have my own copy yet!

A Change of Appetite
by Diana Henry

with photograph by Laura Edwards

This is the one I daren't buy for myself as I'm absolutely certain it's going to turn up under the Christmas tree.  To feed my desire for A Change of Appetite, I've pulled a copy from more shelves of friends and bookshops than I can count for a sneaky read.  Despite, or because of, these clandestine forays, I can't wait to unwrap this book on Christmas Day.  If I've guessed wrongly, you can be sure I'll be buying it for myself when the bookshops re-open.  Diana Henry's book is based on a desire for less heavy meat-based food and more fish, vegetables and grains.  It is not a diet book.  It doesn't tell you what you can't eat.  No ingredients are off limits in the recipes but there's a little red meat, plenty of oily fish, some sugar, lots of olive oil, and vegetables.  A way of eating we all, by now, know makes sense.  Here we have a collection of delicious "accidentally healthy" dishes with an emphasis on the 'delicious', so you won't feel you're missing out.  Fresh, seasonal, unprocessed are key words and dishes are pepped up with herbs and spices.  A fragrant dish of lentils with roasted tomatoes and Dukkah crumbed eggs; Red mullet and saffron broth with Corfu garlic sauce, and a vibrant and refreshing recipe for Citrus Fruits with Ginger Snow give a taste of her predilection for big flavours.
Diana Henry is one of the best-read food writers out there and has a lyrical and poetic writing style which is beguiling.  If you want to makes some changes to your appetite, and most of us think we should, these recipes will not disappoint and you get a damn fine read along the way.  There's also a great bibliography at the back of the book.  Once I get the wrapping paper off I'll give A Change of Appetite a proper review in 2015.

Photography by: Laura Edwards

The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee

The Land Where Lemons Grow
by Helena Attlee

The Land where Lemons Grow charts the citron's migration from the Himalayan foothills to southern Italy and how the fruit's manipulation and cultivation affected Italy's cultural, culinary and political history.  The chronology of citrus cultivation in Italy started in AD70 when citrus was brought to Calabria by Jews fleeing Jerusalem.  This is no dry history book.  Attlee takes the reader on through the arrival in 1500 in Liguria of the first chinotto from Vietnam and the first truly sweet oranges from China in the 17th century, through pestilence, war, enterprise and exploitation up to the present day.  We learn why blood oranges grown on Sicily really are the best and how those wonderful candied chinotto I ate in Genoa became so special.

There's the odd recipe too, such as Tagliolini alle Scorzette di Arancia e Limone, Torta alle Bergamot Nosside and a highly alcoholic and authentic Limoncello, though I think I'll pass on the 16th century Tortoise Pie!  Incorporating travel, history, horticulture, art, politics and food; I can't think of a better book to take on a tour around Italy, or for a bit of armchair travel.

How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery

How to Boil an Egg
by Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery
with illustration by Fiona Strickland

I was asked if I would like to review another 2014 publication.  Turning to a section on scrambled eggs confirmed to me I couldn't review the book.  Any author who takes a page and a half to explain how to scramble an egg is not for me.  Instead I reached for a book that was already on my bookshelf.  In How to Boil an Egg, Rose Carrarini offers 84 simple and nutritious ways to cook this most alimental of natural foods.  As for scrambled eggs, well, all is explained in three sentences - which really is enough instruction for anyone.  Covering basic boiled, poached, scrambled, fried and omelette dishes to sauces, breakfast, lunch and tea recipes, the writer simply demonstrates the versatility of the staple we take so much for granted.  There's a take on oeufs en cocotte in the form of Eggs Baked in Dashi, Poached Eggs in Tomato and Fennel Broth and variations on Chawanmushi (Japanese savoury custards), Purple Corn and Blueberry Cake and classic îles Flottantes.  There's hardly any dish you won't want to make.  The appeal of the recipes is greatly enhanced by the, frankly astonishing, illustrations by botanical artist Fiona Strickland, enticed to put her outstanding artistic talent to food illustration for the first time.

I'm currently cooking from this book and will be reviewing it more fully early in 2015.

Illustrations by: Fiona Strickland

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork
by Bee Wilson

Food writer and historian Bee Wilson's book, Consider the Fork, was first published in 2012.  In this 'History of How We Cook and Eat' she explores the myriad of kitchen tools and techniques humans have devised to feed themselves.  Taking the reader from the pre-historic discovery of fire to the 21st century high-tech kitchen, the writer declares "From fire onwards, there is a technology behind everything we eat, whether we recognize it or not."  We are shown that the seemingly unsophisticated wooden spoon is actually a well-thought-out invaluable tool being non-abrasive, non-reactive, gentle on the food, and a poor conductor of heat.  From a basic piece of wood for stirring a pot, through knives, forks, pots, graters and grinders to the high-tech dehydrators, centrifuges and sous-vide machines, Bee Wilson scrutinises the inventions we have adopted, and some we have rejected, to bring us to the well-equipped kitchens many enjoy today.  It tells of the agricultural, scientific, industrial and military influences on our kitchens.  Above all, the book is about "the everyday sustenance of domestic households: the benefits that different tools have brought to our cooking - and the risks."

There are countless histories of food but few writers have turned their attention to the tools that change the way we prepare our food and how that has changed us.  I love Bee Wilson's writing and Consider the Fork is a completely absorbing read.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

Tartine Bread
by Chad Robertson

with photograph by Eric Wolfinger

Around 20 years ago I turned to page 216 of my copy of Chez Panisse cooking by Paul Bertolli and Alice Waters and came upon a recipe for 'Spontaneously Leavened Sourdough Bread'.  Thus I made my first serious foray into making my own bread.  Taking the book down from the shelf today the break in the book's spine attests to the fact I gave it a good go.  In truth I never got my bread to where I wanted it to be. I found it too sour.  A few months later, I went travelling and abandoned my leaven.  Now, nobody would abandon their leaven.  They'd take it with them because baking today, thankfully, is celebrated.  If you aren't making your own sourdough you can pick up a decent loaf in most parts of town.  I've never quite got over a sense of failure in the fermented baking department so, to remedy it, I figure Chad Robertson is my man.  Working in Massachusetts and rural France with high hydration, long, slow-fermentation baking, he searched for "the loaf with an old soul".  Back home in North California he perfected the wild yeast leaven dough that baked to a loaf without the 'sour' properties everyone else was producing.  In 2002 Tartine cafe bakery opened in San Francisco and Chad Robertson's name became synonymous with the very best of bread.

Tartine Bread is all about the use of natural leaven (sourdough), which French bakers used for bread, croissants and brioche until the 1930's when commercial yeast became available.  In this book Chad Robertson takes you from the basic sourdough loaf recipe and guides you through pizza, baguette, brioche, croissant and English muffins and dishes you can make from the basic recipes. After years of believing I could never produce a good loaf in a domestic oven I'm putting my faith in Robertson's assurance that "The baker's skill in managing fermentation, not the type of oven used, is what makes good bread.  This fact makes Tartine Bread possible.  I would not attempt a book with the home baker in mind if the results could never live up to the images. They can, and they will.  As always, it's in the bakers' hands."  So here goes.

Beautifully photographed by: Eric Wolfinger

Honey & Co - Food from the Middle East by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich Pub: 2014 Salt Yard Books
A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry Pub: 2014 Mitchell Beazley
The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee Pub: 2014 Particular Books (Penguin)
How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery Pub: 2013 Phaidon
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson Pub: Hardback 2012/ Paperback 2013 Penguin
Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson Pub: 2010 Chronicle Books

Thursday, 4 December 2014

John and Elena Fruit & Veg, Bermondsey


I wrote recently about my favourite biodynamic farm, the very special Fern Verrowand promised to tell you about more independent greengrocers.  For me, it would be wonderful to eat biodynamic produce all the time but for most of us it's just not possible financially or geographically.  Here's a London greengrocer that works hard to find the best produce available. Some of it will be organic, some not.  Some will have been sourced direct from the farm, and close to London, perhaps  grown without the use of pesticides, not certified organic but simply farmed responsibly.  Advice changes but there seems to be a consensus that apples, celery, grapes, spinach and strawberries retain residues; but, asparagus, aubergine, cabbage, onions and sweet potatoes don't or, at least, are less affected.  Most of us take a judgment, I think, and if you shop with an independent you trust it's easier to make that call.

Vegetable staples

John & Elena Fruit & Veg Company run a wholesale business in Bermondsey but from 8-2pm on Saturdays they welcome in a steady stream of shoppers to fill their baskets.  I wrote about them briefly back in April this year when they were lifting the shutters for the first time.  I've been shopping there very happily for eight months now.  The Saturday crates are filled with produce bought on Friday and Saturday morning.  You can expect to find mostly seasonal, quality, fruit and veg along with store cupboard essentials such as Cicchetti, dried borlotti beans and lentils, olive oils, salts, rices and dried pasta.

The excitement of all that spring and summer produce has passed and colours have changed from pale greens, pinks and reds to dark greens, orange and luscious purples.  Last week, along with the cabbages and carrots, sat British Chanterelle mushrooms and English pumpkins; vibrant green Romanesco alongside grizzled Celeriac Root; parsnip-shaped Purple Radishes with Purple Sprouting Broccoli; wonderfully fresh heads of Italian Puntarella and Cime di Rapa; and the  new citrus season was evident in a basket of vibrant Sicilian oranges.

Sicilian Oranges

John & Elena are putting their heart and soul into this business.  Formerly employed by fruit and veg legend Tony Booth at Borough Market and Druid Street before he closed his business, they have between them some 40 years of experience in the trade.  In the past few weeks Jacob's Ladder Farms and KäseSwiss have moved into the next door space at Spa Terminus, so on Saturdays you can buy groceries, meat and Swiss and Dutch cheeses from their shared retail space.


John & Elena
Fruit & Veg Company
5 Voyager Estate South
Spa Road/Rouel Road
London SE16 4RP
Spa Terminus Map

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

General Store, Peckham

General Store

The opening of any independent grocery store is something to be celebrated.  Almost 4 years ago to the day I wrote about Leila's Shop in Spitalfields and said "every neighbourhood should have a shop like this".  Back then, as much as I wanted to see it happen, it seemed a bit of a forlorn hope. The grip of the supermarkets was vice-like and becoming ever-more insidious as they moved into corner-shop territory with smaller neighbourhood stores.  Now the big 3 are facing their own competition and shoppers are realising there are alternatives involving not only other multiples but small and local too.

Small independents are never going to be able to compete line-by-line with supermarkets on price, but that doesn't mean they can't have better prices on individual items.  With good quality they can offer better value.  They can also identify and form close personal relationships with local producers and specialist suppliers and this is the direction that General Store in Peckham has chosen. Actively seeking out the locally produced wherever possible, there's a commitment to supporting other small business allied with a commitment to quality and provenance.

On the shelves
at General Store

So, what is on the shelves?  London produce includes sourdough Cafone loaves from Bridget Hugo's BreadBread bakery in Brixton; breads and pastries from Bermondsey-based The Little Bread Pedlar; Coffee from the Clerkenwell roastery of Workshop Coffee; fine British and French cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy and Mons Cheesemongers, matured under railway arches in South London; jars of honey from Bermondsey's The London Honey Company; some of the best preserves in the capital from Lily O'Brien's Hackney-based London Borough of Jam; and bottled beers from Kernel Brewery who were at the vanguard of London's recent micro-brewery movement; and natural wines are now available from Gergovie Wines too. Then, there's a good range of Spanish foods from importer Brindisa; rice from The Real Basmati Rice Co; organic flours from Shipton Mill; chocolate from bean-to-bar makers Pump Street Bakery in Suffolk sit alongside bars from influential Mast Brothers of Brooklyn; and, always, a selection of top quality seasonal fruit and vegetables.

at General Store

Then there's the service.  The young owners, Merlin and Genevieve, get the balance just right.  If you're happy to browse, that's fine.  If you want help or advice, it's knowledgeable, and friendly. Look out for their 'Meet the Supplier' events.  As see from a flyer that in the run-up to Christmas you'll find Neal's Yard Dairy setting up table outside on 6th December, followed by Mons Cheesemongers on the 7th.  Christmas orders can be placed up to the 15th December with specials like smoked salmon from Hansen & Lydersen's Stoke Newington smokery; Melrose & Morgan Christmas Puddings and Cakes; and special prices on wines and beers by the case.

Peckham is up-and-coming but still rough around the edges so perfect hunting ground for those looking for more bang for their buck property-wise.  The General Store is a great addition to the Asian, African and Caribbean stores. Shops like Persepolis, bring A taste of Persia to Peckham. There is also traditional British butchers Flock and Herd.  For more about food shops in Peckham, The Skint Foodie has a great list.

Fruit & vegetables
at General Store

Trying to compete directly with supermarkets is still a road to nowhere.  Independent grocery stores are a different breed from what they used to be but, little by little, they are returning to a neighbourhood near you - grocers for the way we live now.

General Store
174 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4BW
Tel: 0207 642 2129