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