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

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Hot Gingernuts

Hot Gingernuts

In my last posting Breakfast, Lunch, Tea I promised you a recipe based on one from Rose Carrarini's first book, and here it is - Hot Gingernuts.

It must be the change of season.  Root, powder or crystallised, I can't seem to get enough of warming ginger at the moment.  The truth is I've been enjoying these hot little ginger nuts for years at 40 Maltby Street without knowing that Kit, the maker, based his recipe on that of Rose Carrarini.  And hers, in turn, is based on a Sally Clarke recipe, kindly gifted for the opening of Rose Bakery in Paris.  In the way of most recipes, each baker has tweaked the original here and there.  True to her principles Rose's recipe turns up the flavour a notch with extra ginger and reduces the sweetness.   In her pursuit of flavour here she has maximised the quantity of ginger, and even suggests a touch of cayenne pepper.

Hot Gingernuts
ready for the oven

In the spirit of "feeling free" I leave out the cayenne but would suggest unless your ginger is really good quality and fresh, you might need to add a little bit more than is shown in the recipe below. On Kit's advice, I roll the balls of uncooked dough in demerara sugar before baking for extra crunch. The quantities of both ginger and bicarbonate of soda seem a lot but it does work.  They're meant to be crisp on the outside and soft within.  If you want completely crisp biscuits leave them in for a few extra minutes, but watch they don't burn.

Hot Gingernuts
- large and small, cooling

Hot Gingernuts
(makes about 24 large or 48 small)

200g (7oz) unsalted butter, softened (plus a little extra to grease trays)
440g (16oz) self-raising flour
150g (5½oz) caster sugar
3 tablespoons ground ginger
1½ tablespoons bicarbonate of soda
240g (8½oz) golden syrup
40g (1½oz) treacle
A little demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan)/325F/Gas 3.  
Butter and line trays with baking parchment.
Mix all ingredients, except the golden syrup and treacle, in a food processor until well mixed.  If you're not using a food processor, cut the butter in small pieces, rub into the dry ingredients and mix well.
Warm the golden syrup and treacle together in a small pan.  Add to the mixture and stir to form a stiff, glossy dough.
Break off pieces and roll in your hands to form smooth balls.  The size is up to you, but I like them on the small size, about 2cm across.  Roll the balls in demerara sugar or sprinkle a little on top, placing them well apart on the prepared trays and bake for about 10-12 minutes depending on size.  They will rise then fall back.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Once cooled they should be crisp on the outside and chewy soft within.

Recipe based on Hot Gingernuts in Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini, published by Phaidon
Rose Bakery (no website)
46 rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris
and now branches in London, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Tel Aviv and New York

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini

Page of Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini
- Broccoli Cake

Not to have recommended Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini, first published in 2006 by Phaidon, until now is a serious omission.  In truth I bought two copies, the first before I started writing this blog and a second copy from one of its several re-prints.  Why two?  Water damage.  A neighbour.  Don't ask...  It was only when I bought Rose Carrarini's second book, How to Boil an Egg, published in 2013, that I remembered I had to catch up on my favourite book reviews.  So, anxious as I am to tell you about the second, I need to get my books in order.

A little about the author.  In 1988 the Anglo-French team of Jean Charles and Rose Carrarini set up one of the most influential food shops cum café/restaurants in London.  With their treasure of an epicerie fine, Villandry (not to be confused with the present Villandry nearby), they drew people from all over the capital to their little space. It was one of the few jewels in what was then a rather jaded (imagine that) Marylebone High Street.  Jean Charles and Rose Carrarini were pioneers and everyone in London who aspired to open their own deli checked out Villandry first.  I've written about the Carrarinis before so click on here if you want to read more about their time in London and Rose Bakery which they opened in Paris in 2002.  

Rose Carrarini is not a trained chef and this book is not simply a list of recipes but an expression of her learning and instincts; a philosophy if you like.  As with Sally Clarke who opened her inspirational restaurant in Kensington Church Street 30 years ago, Rose cites Alice Waters as a strong influence.  Richard Olney and Elizabeth David informed her thinking, too, as she evolved her own pursuit of simplicity, seasonality and intensity of flavour. Breakfast, Lunch, Tea is based on the seasonal food prepared every day at the tiny one-time chartil which is Rose Bakery.  The book conveys a deep love of good ingredients and Rose's passionate belief that "life is improved by great food and great food can be achieved by everyone".

Not many cookbooks stress the importance of feeling "free to add different ingredients or change things as you go along" to suit your own tastes, because "That is what cooking is all about".  But it's important to remember, "the secret to getting a wonderful result lies ultimately in the ingredients.  So choose them well."  The Breakfast section of the book includes recipes for Fruit Taboulé, a delicious alternative to a bowl of muesli; pancakes from classic to gluten-free and vegan; Maple Syrup Scones; no-nonsense Perfect Scrambled Eggs; as well as juices, smoothies and cereals.  The chapter on Lunch keeps things 'light' to suit both the way Rose Bakery customers want to eat in or take-away.  Soups include Spiced chickpea and lemon soup and Cold Beetroot soup with a hot potato; Salads such as Carrot and seed and Quinoa and pepper are packed with flavour; the Pastry section includes recipes for Rose Bakery's singular square vegetable tarts like Artichoke and pea tart and Ricotta, tomato and thyme tart and a take on Pissaladière; Rice features, including a new combination to me Tomato, Aubergine and mint risotto.  I love the idea of a main course dish of Cod in tomato water (alternative white fish are suggested and sustainability emphasised).  This takes us through to Tea, and a much longer recipe list including Chocolate, orange and ricotta tart; Pistachio cake; Brocolli cake; Almond, cinnamon and meringue biscuits; Jam sandwich vegan cookies; coconut custard slices; and puddings including classics like Apple Brown Betty and Summer Pudding; and finishing off with a Japanese influenced Red Bean sorbet.

This is a very freeing recipe book.  It's not prescriptive and hand-holding to the point where you feel you must follow the recipes slavishly.  Rather, it encourages you to follow your instincts.  It's my kind of cookery book.  The photography is by Toby Glanville.  From a flour-strewn pastry table to a portrait of 'Jacob, our kitchen assistant', he captures the mood of Rose Bakery perfectly.

Check back in a couple of days for a favourite recipe from the book.

Coming soon, book two, How to Boil and Egg.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Fern Verrow

Crab apples
at Fern Verrow

Like many people I find I'm eating more and more fruit and vegetables these days so I thought it was time to write about some of my favourite places to buy what I can't grow.  I'm lucky to have a small biodynamic allotment.  It's impossible to explain biodynamics in one sentence but both organic and biodynamic gardening has an emphasis on the soil rather than, as in conventional gardening, the plant.  The idea is to work with nature rather than try to dominate or subdue her. Biodynamics goes further than organics in that, as the Biodynamic Association puts it, practitioners believe "vital soil = vital food".  Follow the link to the Association if you want to know more.

at Fern Vera

I know from talking to friends there are many good independent greengrocers in London, so if I'm going to tell you about some they had better be pretty special.  I'm starting with the cream of the crop, Fern Verrow.  Before I got my hands on an allotment where I could put my enthusiasm into practice, I bought from Fern Verrow every week.  Back then they set up stall at London's Borough Market on Saturdays.  The 16 acre farm, in the foothills of the Black Mountains in Herefordshire, is farmed by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley to biodynamic principles.  Truly seasonal, almost everything is outdoor grown with one greenhouse for tomatoes, cucumbers and some salad leaves. The farm produces over 300 varieties of vegetables. Pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry are reared. These days Fern Verrow harvests on a Friday and makes the round trip to London setting out their produce on Saturdays at Spa Terminus  in Bermondsey.  Almost everything you will find is grown on the farm.  Anything that isn't is carefully selected from like-minded organic and biodynamic producers.

'Custard' Pattypan squash
at Fern Verrow

As a biodynamic grower I can appreciate the amount of effort that goes into the produce harvested from this system.  If you are in any doubt about biodynamic growing being worth the effort, just take a look at the produce here. Squeaky-fresh cabbages follow the seasons from pale green Spring to autumn/winter's spectacularly beautiful green/purple January King; heads of super-fresh lettuce keep for days, not because they've been kept cold in bags pumped with gases but because they are bursting with real freshness and goodness; summer sees sweet soft-necked Florence Red onions and courgettes, straight and crook-necked; soft fruit arrives in the form of raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, jostaberries and, if you're lucky, their own farm-grown peaches.  From late summer, potatoes make an appearance and several varieties take the season right through into the following year.  In autumn/winter squash and pumpkins take centre stage along with leeks, parsnips, chard, and brassicas.  These are joined by apples and pears.  Apart from a scant few weeks in mid-winter, the seasonal bounty keeps on coming all year round.  Some excellent meat from the farm's pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry also makes it to the table.  From spring to autumn there's a stunning selection of flowers thanks to a cutting garden and meadow.

at Fern Verrow

Seeing what Fern Verrow grow has inspired my own planting over the years.  I almost wish I didn't grow quite so much myself so that I could sweep up the bounty from those laden trestle tables each week.  Growing biodynamically is as labour-intensive as cultivating can be. Food of this quality doesn't come cheap but Fern Verrow really is as good as it gets.  Even though, or maybe because, I grow some of my fruit and vegetables biodynamically I am in awe of what Fern Verrow achieve.  I do  grow a fair proportion of what my household needs but, sometimes, a few special things still find there way into my shopping bag on a Saturday.  If you want the very best, it's definitely to be found in this little corner of Bermondsey.

Fern Verrow
Tel: 01981510288

Fern Verrow trade Saturdays 8.30-2pm at:
Spa Terminus
Unit 10
Dockley Road Industrial Estate
London SE16 3SF

Spa Terminus map 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Chocolate Brownies

Double Chocolate Brownie 1

I never thought I would post a recipe for chocolate brownies.  There are a million-and-one takes on the brownie out there but not one has lived up to my expectations.  There are the tooth-jangling over-sweet versions, the much too 'cakey' ones, the brownie that's really a chocolate and the 'let's throw everything in' options.  Finding a recipe that suits everyone is a challenge.  The kids don't like the chocolate too bitter; the adults don't want it too milk; others can't abide nuts.  I give up.  At least for a while.  Then inevitably someone utters those dread words "can we have brownies", and I'm back on the quest for a good recipe.

Double Chocolate Brownie 2

I reach for my cuttings file - am I the only person who still does this in the age of the internet?  Biscuits to Vegetables by way of Eggs, Game and Preserves, scraps of paper carefully filed away in case they should disappear into the ether of the on-line world, or a fat finger should find the delete button.  There it was, an, as yet, untried recipe filed under 'Puddings, incl cakes' (such is my patent filing system).  OK, I didn't have all the ingredients - the wrong chocolate and nowhere near enough walnuts - so a bit of artistic licence would be coming in to play.  But look where sticking rigidly to recipes had got me up to now.

Double Chocolate Brownie 3

So thank you Tom Kitchin for the sound recipe, and excuse my tweaking it out of necessity.  By using two-thirds dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) and one-third milk (34% cocoa solids), hardly any walnuts and going easy on the vanilla, I produced a brownie everyone liked - even me.  Finally, I've got my recipe.  Just need to make sure I file that scrap of paper.

Double Chocolate Brownie (adapted from Kitchin Suppers by Tom Kitchen)
(makes 15 pieces)

200g unsalted butter, diced
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
100g milk chocolate (34% cocoa solids), chopped
90g plain flour
A pinch of sea salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
3 medium eggs
250g soft dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g walnuts, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 170C (Fan 150C)/Gas 3.  Line a 30 x 20cm x 4cm baking tin with baking parchment.  
Put the butter, 150g dark and 50g milk chocolate in a heatproof bowl and place of a pan of simmering water until melted.  Stir until smooth then remove the bowl from the pan and allow to cool a little.
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together into another bowl and set aside.
In a third large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until slightly thickened. Fold in the melted chocolate/butter mixture then gently fold in the sifted flour followed by the remaining chopped 50g dark and 50g milk chocolate and the chopped walnuts.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking tin, gently spreading it into the corners. Bake for 20-25 minutes.  The top should be nicely crusted but the brownie still soft in the middle.  Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.  Carefully lift the cake out of the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting into 15 squares.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Give a Fig - stuffed and roasted

Roasted stuffed figs

It's peak fig season and if you were in any doubt that this has been an exceptional summer in the UK, check out the English figs reaching markets this year.  Yes, keen gardeners do plant fig trees but outdoor grown figs at best amount to a semi-ripe handful of fruit; at worst, a maddeningly unripe crop of waxy green globes.  Summer's lease usually expires right when we're thinking just one more week of sun, please.  So, if you don't have your own fig tree, the chances of getting even a single English-grown fruit is, usually, a forlorn hope.

The fig is a member of the mulberry family.  Notable European figs include Black Ischia, (dark purple in colour with golden flecks and a luscious violette-red pulp); Adriatic, (a green fig tinged with purple or red with a deep red interior); and the sweet Marseilles, (coloured yellow/green with green flecks and a white pulp).
"... couldn't give a fig"
meaning: to care little, or not at all

The Romans brought figs to England but very few of the more than 800 recorded species can be grown in our damp, cool climate.  They can do well grown in containers if placed in a sunny spot and brought into a cool frost-free place to over-winter.  Unlike Mediterranean areas where two harvests a year are expected, we're lucky to get a single useable crop.  Figs will not ripen after picking so fruits need to be harvested when they are yielding to the touch between September and October.  A droop in the stalk is a good invitation to try your luck.  RHS advice is to remove any large fruits that have failed to ripen in autumn but leave any pea-sized embryonic fruit.  If they survive the winter, these are the fruits that could provide you with a useable crop.  Fruits formed in the spring may ripen on trees grown in a greenhouse but rarely on outdoor trees.

Ripe fig

The best varieties of fig for our English climate are Brown Turkey.  Its skin ripens to a rich coppery-brown with whitish flesh shading to pink or light red; Violette de Bordeaux is a small purple/black fruit with a strawberry coloured pulp; Madeleine de Deux Saisons bears yellow, amber-tinged fruits with flesh a delicate shade of pink; and the Brunswick fig which ripens to yellow with red flesh.  If you yearn for your own fig tree, you might enjoy this recent piece by Anna Pavord on the subject.

Figs respond to both sweet and savoury pairings.  They go deliciously with a good pecorino or a slice of prosciutto.  As a dessert, a perfectly ripe fig is perfection just as it is.  Some need a little help to bring out their best, but less is definitely more - a sprinkle of sugar or a spoon of honey and a little heat work wonders.  If you want it to look like you've made an effort, try these almond stuffed figs. This recipe is based on a memory of a Rose Carrarini way with figs, which must go back 10 years or more.  I looked in vain for the recipe in her book Breakfast-Lunch-Tea.  My recollection is bound to be not quite accurate, but this buttery, orange scented almond mixture works for me.

Stuffed & Roasted Figs
(Serves 4)

8 large (or 12 small) ripe figs
50g (2oz) unsalted butter, softened
25g (1oz) unrefined caster sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
50g (2oz) almonds (skin on), roasted then ground
Zest of 1 orange

Pre-heat oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4.
Beat the butter and sugar until pale in colour.  Incorporate the ground almonds and orange zest.  Slice the top of each of the figs and keep to one side.  Scoop out a teaspoon of pulp from each and mash it into the creamed mixture.  Spoon the mixture into the figs - pile it high - and replace the caps.  Place in a baking dish and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Test if ready by giving a fig a gentle squeeze - if it feels soft and releases a little juice they are ready.  Serve straight away with a little cream or crème fraîche.  However, you choose to treat them, give a fig!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Autumn in Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Can four years really have passed since I was in Berlin?  Four years since that visit during the spargel  (asparagus) season when there was no time to take a train to Dessau to see the Bauhaus Foundation.  Ah, well next time.  So, let's try again.  A visit to the icon of modernism had to be top of the list.  But first it was time to get our bearings and renew acquaintances.  You'll notice there are very few photos of food in this piece.  It just doesn't feel right in Berlin to be photographing your food, so let's eat. Maybe it'll start a trend!

Kreuzberg, Berlin

We left our bags at the hotel and headed south into Kreuzberg where the Turkish influence is strongest.  There are many things to like about Turkish culture but, for me, Turkish Coffee is not one of them so we held out until we found the 'Coffee Roastery and Cake Shop' Five Elephant on Reichenbergerstr.  A couple of cortados each and a slice of walnut and honey pie were life savers, but, but ...  there was such a difference in the delivery of the the two coffee orders that I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a lack of consistency - perhaps just down to different baristas.  The pie had a good filling but was spoilt by too much pastry.  I'd say it's worth a try if you're in the area but I'd probably head for Companion Coffee 5 minutes away on nearby Oranienstr.  OK, they don't roast their own coffee but they do brew up some fine guest ones including one of my favourites, a roast from Denmark's Coffee Collective.  Sometimes it's Square Mile or Workshop from London.  The Belleville (Paris) espresso, on when we visited, isn't one I'd seek out but there's no doubting the care and attention Companion Coffee pay to what they do.  They also serve up a delicious banana cake and the set up, in Voo clothing shop in a quite yard off the main street, is a bit of a haven.

The Barn, Berlin

I've saved the best for last.  The Barn roast their own coffee and it's the place in Berlin that reminds me most of my favourite London roastery, Monmouth Coffee.  I don't know The Barn well enough, yet, to be sure but there's a similar sense of sincerity that translates from what they say about themselves to how they deliver - keep close to the farmer and focus on quality and service. The Barn describes their roast style as "rather light" but it has never been too light-roast for me and I have an aversion to the new light roasts favoured by some roasteries.  The Barn, we soon learned, was the only place to go when breakfast called - a cortado goes rather well with a pot of Bircher müsli.  Sandwiches and cakes here are very good too.  Expect consistent standards.  It's tiny, so also expect to spill out onto the stools outside.  

A Mitte roofline, Berlin

There are a couple of useful places in Mitte district worth knowing about, particularly if you're looking for German/Austrian cuisine with its emphasis on meat.  Aigner close to Gendarmenmarkt serves up very good Beef Consommé, Wiener Schnitzel and various game dishes with, maybe, plum dumplings to finish.  The Kupferkessel (copper kettle) way with beef is particularly good.  Everything is done very properly but without fuss.  Rotisserie Weingrün is Aigner's sister restaurant where the, mostly meat, menu's success is down to careful sourcing and the flame grill.  Both restaurants stock good wines, some from their own 'Horcher' vineyard.  

Restaurant Pauly Saal, again in Mitte, had been recommended to us more than once.  Housed in a former Jewish girls' school, just down the road from The Barn, it's an easy place to miss.  An understated frontage conceals a courtyard dining area, a gentleman's club like bar and murano chandelier bedecked dining room.  No reservation and a pretty off-hand delivered "two hour wait" meant we went down the road to Cordobar instead.  This German/Austrian collaboration proved much more welcoming, despite the place being rammed with locals and no tables available.  OK, it's a bar but with really good wines, some natural and biodynamic served without making a big thing of it.  As partner Willi said to us, what's most important to them is that they "serve good wines".  We really enjoyed the natural wines we tried, all from Austria, all delicious, and none we had tried before. The fine glassware helped the flavours develop nicely.

A regular changing menu of small sharing plates is titled "Cold Bites, 'Warm Bites' and 'Sweets'.  I am, seriously, recommending you order the Bread & Butter - the best rye bread I've tasted comes with a bowl of whipped butter and it's a heavenly combination.  A Fritz Blomeyer cheese plate  was an eye-opener as to how good German cheeses can be (regrettably, I don't think these find their way beyond their homeland).  I would have liked a little more generosity for 15 Euros but every portion was perfect and the fig chutney was beautifully spiced.  You might find Oysters with almond emulsion & dill flower or Ribs with Jerusalem artichoke chips & a smoked vanilla dip on the menu, and maybe a chocolate cake with passionfruit cream.  If we'd had a table instead of standing at the bar we'd certainly have ordered more food.

Autumn in Tiergarten, Berlin

Despite several visits to Berlin we'd never managed to penetrate Charlottenburg in Berlin's far West.  So we walked along Unter den Linden, passed through the Brandenberg Gate and ambled through Berlin's green lung, the Tiergarten.  My expectation of a more conspicuously wealthy Western Berlin was turned on its head.  The former West looks much like the former East to my eye, the architecture being quite functional and there is generally a lack of conspicuous wealth.

Smoked Sardines at Rogacki, Berlin

Rogacki deli has been around since 1928 and here on Charlottenburg's Wilmersdorfer Str. since 1932.  It's very green - in colour rather than in credentials - and I have to agree with Foodie in Berlin that if it was in London it would have had "half a dozen facelifts" by now and probably be the worse for it.  Needless to say it's a German institution.  Although I'd give some of the food counters a miss - bakery and cheese are particularly underwhelming - the meat, poultry, game and fish sections are musts.  In their raw state they're impressive enough but the variety of smoked fish in particular is outstanding.  We paused for lunch at one of the standing bars where I confidently decided 'Krabbentoast' had to be Crab on Toast - it turned out to be prawn salad!.  Fortunately the staff are hugely tolerant of non-German speakers and, with the help of local diners, we were offered either North Sea (peeled prawns) or German Sea (brown shrimp) . The firm favourite that day was clearly the Fish Soup so that's what I had.  A huge bowl of good mixed white fish in a clear broth topped with chopped dill, the brown shrimp salad, bread and two glasses of Reisling and the meagre bill was under 20 Euros.

Manufactum, Berlin

Charlottenburg is also home to a Manufactum store.  With two floors of traditionally made household and gardening products, food and clothing, its presence just off Ernst Reuter Platz was like a honeypot to a bee.  Expect to see everything from a boot scraper to a dinner gong.  All is top quality and not necessarily German.  The prices reflect the quality, but it makes compelling browsing.  There's also a good-looking bakery/cafe next door called Brod & Butter which I wish we'd had chance to try.

Bauhaus Dessau 1

Bauhaus Dessau was calling and this time I would make it.  The train from Hauptbahnhof in Mitte takes less than 2hrs.  Once clear of Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf it cuts through the 827km Naturpark Hoher Fläming so the ride is far from tedious.  I'd waited so long to see the Bauhaus building and suddenly, 5 minutes after stepping off the train, it was right in front of me.

Bauhaus Dessau 2

A collective that lasted only 14 years, 7 of the most productive in Dessau between 1925-1932, the Bauhaus movement continues to influence art, architecture and design.  Recently restored, the building is once again brought to life with students attending classes in the Bauhaus Lab, College, Summer Schools and Workshops.  It's also now occupied by the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.

Bauhaus Dessau Masters' Houses

The Bauhaus building and the nearby Masters' Houses, designed, furnished and worked in by their occupants - including Walter Gropius, Laszlo Moholgy Nagy, Lyonel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - are open to the public every day. You can even eat in the newly re-opened Bauhaus Canteen (though I have to say there is still room for improvement on the food front), and stay overnight in the Studio Building.  Well worth a 2-hour journey.  I made it!

Back in Berlin, Museum Island will keep you occupied for days.  A central area of the City where the greatest of Berlin's treasures are gathered - the architecture is a big draw in its own right.  My pick would be the Neues Museum, recently restored by the British architect David Chipperfield, where the surviving war damaged parts of the building have been beautifully integrated into the new.  Amongst its great works is the famous, and stunningly beautiful, bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti presiding over a room of her own.  Frustratingly, although we joined the queue for the Pergammonmuseum, we simply ran out of time to visit so this is top of my list for next time.  The closed-in architecture of the Jewish Museum Berlin adds to the experience making this the most affecting museum I've ever visited.  If you can't catch the train to Dessau, you can get a Bauhaus fix at the Bauhaus Archive right in the centre of Berlin.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Hedone London Sourdough - Food Find

Hedone London Sourdough Bread

There are sourdoughs and there are sourdoughs.  There's the one that has a good crumb texture; the one that has great flavour depth; and the one that has the perfect chewy crust.  Rarely do all three come together - unless you're making it yourself, of course.  I'm not one of that happy band. For some of us, the search for the perfect sourdough is almost as obsessive as the search for the perfect baguette in London - you feel it must be out there but doubt it will ever surface.

For a while, Mikael Jonsson has been producing sourdough for his restaurant, Hedone, and I knew it already had its own fan base.  It was a fantasy sourdough for me.  One I knew, sometime, I'd have to try - but Hedone is located in Chiswick so I was never going to be a regular.  It surely wasn't going to turn up in Bermondsey, where I do my Saturday shop, was it?  Well, it just did.  Amongst the many excellent traders at Spa Terminus is Dynamic Vines, which just happens to supply wines to Hedone and many other good restaurants.  Three weeks ago I spotted the fabled sourdough amongst the wine bottles.  A nice bit of cross-border cooperation is going on and right now it's making this shopper very happy.  

The flours used are declared free of additives and chemicals and natural slow fermentation techniques are used.  The process is a high absorption one which means a wet dough which is more difficult to form so loaves vary a bit in shape.  The complex flavours range through nutty and dark treacle to an almost liquorice one reminiscent of some of the best Parisian sourdoughs.  Truthfully, in London now there are some pretty good sourdoughs but I think this one from Hedone is exceptional.  Now, how about that elusive baguette?

Nb.  Spa Terminus is open for retail sales Saturdays only.  Check the Producers List for individual trader hours.