Posts Tagged 'Food'

The British Pie Awards…

…and the mysterious dissappearace of Elisabeth Luard.

British Pie Awards 2010

I (and my fellow judges) ate all the pies

It is to Mrs Luard that I owe the slight queazy feeling in my stomach this evening. I was invited to be a judge at the second British Pie Awards sponsored by Colmans held in St Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray. Upon arriving I was duly assigned to judge class 12, Football pies. My fellow judges were George Mount, Proprietor, Roots Farm Shop and Sean Hope Chef & proprietor, The Olive Branch at Clipsham and The Red Lion at Stathern as well as the elusive Mrs Luard who sadly didn’t show up.  Consequently instead of splitting into two teams of two and tackling 18 odd pies between us, the three of us had to tackle all 37 pies. That’s right today I’ve sampled 37 pies from football grounds around Britain.

This class was open to any baker or butcher supplying any football ground. The pie could me made up of any ingredients as long as the finished weight was under 600g. They were to be judged hot – Game on.

The tasting was all done blind, but our winner turned out to be a steak and potato pie made by J.W Mettrick and Sons for Glossop North End. It was a cracking pie, although there was a great chicken curry entry, and a fantastic steak and ale one in which you could really taste the booze but sadly let down by poor pastry.

A great day though, well organised and held again in St Mary’s Church in the centre of the town. This year all entries were judged in the church itself, will the pews cleared out. Though there’s not a religious bone in my body is was nice to see a church being put to use like this, smelling of warm pastry and festooned in bunting.

Supreme pie of pies went – again – to Walkers Charnwood Bakery, and Elisabeth owes me a pack of Rennie.

British Pie Awards 2010

Ian with the winner

Pot Heston

In tonight’s episode of Heston’s Feasts things go back to the 70s. However that doesn’t mean a three day week, eating by candle lights, and the rubbish piled up in the street outside. Instead he’s concentrating on things such as Angel Delight, Smash, and Pot Noodle. Curry Flavour Pot Noodle was known as ‘Cuzzah Pot Noog’ in our house when I was a teenager, and formed part of a Friday night ritual. Of course eating pot noodle always left me looking like an Ood from Doctor Who, noodles all down my chin. Needless to say I’ve not had one for years, like acne and awkwardness with girls, Pot Noodles in my mind are a phase you go through. Unlike the rest of the series so far I’ve not seen a preview of this episode so it’ll be interesting to see what he does. (you can catch previous episodes on 4oD)

And next week, we’re in the 1980s, which to me means either nouvelle cuisine or the sexual chemistry of Anthony Head and a cup of Nescafe… But until then below are some PR shots of Heston’s 1970s Pot Heston.

Pot Heston

Heston making Pot Heston

The Ultra Local Box Scheme


The rise (and some might say fall) of the vegetable box scheme has been one of the hallmarks of the change in the way we get produce through our front doors in recent years.

The problem for me with box schemes however was not so much the lucky dip contents of the box*, but the ‘we’re in your area on Friday and can leave it by your door’ delivery. My front door is shared by two other households, and is 4ft from the street, there’s no garage, neighbour or porch to leave my valuable vegetables in. And so this is where, for me and indeed many others who aren’t at home during the day, the box scheme falls foul of the cheek by jowl nature of most residences in the capital.

There are something like 600 box schemes running in the UK today, and one of the newest is established in 2009 by Robert Baker. His scheme however, is a little different from the big boys like Riverford or Able and Cole. As well as being a lot smaller, it serves at present only one area of North London.

Last summer Robert took premises in an old building a mere mirror, signal and manoeuvre from the thundering thoroughfare that is the Holloway Road. The road, and the A1 it leads to lies at the end of a route for produce into London from the North since the Roman’s laid the first stone of Ermine Street.

Robert found a lot of producers were making night time runs into town to deliver to the wholesale markets, or shops. And so got them to drop stuff on on the way in. Customers browse his website, order what they want by the Thursday, then the orders are delivered on Saturday and Sunday, when most people stand a chance of being in. Delivery costs a few quid, but if there’s another residence in your street also signed up, it’s free.

Incidentally Tim Heywood did an interesting interview with Guy Watson from Riverford recently, where he talked about how relatively efficient lorries are at moving large amounts of produce about. What’s less efficient is the vans out delivering the boxes. Because of the smaller foot print of Robert’s business, and the fact it is, in his own words, ‘no frills’, he’s averaging eight drops an hour. The boxes meanwhile are just simple wooden fruit boxes, and maybe it’s just me, but people are less likely to sling out wooden things than cardboard or polystyrene?

But crucially you can go and pick your box up at a time that suits you, and not the other way round. When I first met Robert in the summer of 09 he’d just taken delivery of a fridge from M&S, and had a handful of customers on his books. Last week the place was packed with people nipping in and picking up their boxes.

He’s begun to carry items for sale directly now too, meaning existing customers who collect can top up, increasing amounts if needs be. This retail element also acts as a way to get people in off the street so Robert can explain the process and get a leaflet in their hand. On my last visit had like jeruselem artichokes, fresh herbs, celeriac, goose eggs, as well as more mainstream items like carrots, apples and spuds.

And so to cost. Robert’s admits he’s operating on small margins, but he also has very little overheads, so produce from him works out rather competitively.

2 x Quail £4.49
Lincs Poacher cheese £3.70 250g
British Beef Topside (everyday selection) £9.49 per KG

4 x Quail £6.50
Lincs poacher cheese £3.37 225g
Organic Topside from Beatbush Farm £9.49 per KG

That’s right, organic beef from Essex for the same price as Ocado’s budget range – a range I’ve nothing against, but the above goes to show that farm-direct doesn’t hit you in the pocket. And then there’s things that you never see in a super markets, such as wild garlic from Martin Mackey Ripple Farm Organics, Canterbury, Kent and a mere £1.35 for 90g, Marfona Potatoes, a haunch of venison, or the charming ‘3 chicken eggs and 3 duck eggs’, yours for £1.50.

Farm-direct does a great job of getting small producers products together in one space and selling them at a very competitive price to people who want them, including it seems, live chicks for a customers garden, you can’t see Ocado doing that can you?

Food Britannia off cuts: The first food blogger

Note: The follow is probably going to be cut from my forthcoming book – Food Britannia – for space and style reasons. However, rather than have it lie on the printing room floor as it were, I thought I’d post it here.  I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on it

The First Food Blogger.

Food, like football, fashion and philately, has enthusiasts; people who are interested in eating for eating’s sake rather than as a means to end. You’re probably one yourself, that’s why you’re reading this book. In the past to express a joy of eating earned the label of gourmand, and had vague associations with gluttony, pleasure in food was a sin. Few foodies these days would describe themselves as a gourmand, and those that do need a reality check. No, like many other hobbies the internet has allowed amateurs – in the original sense of the word, amour – to devote considerable time, effort and disposable income to exploring the world of food and telling us the results.  An awareness of food bloggers is now part of any eatery’s online strategy. Technology has allowed comments, photos, and opinions on what’s in their mouth to be broadcast before they’ve even finished chewing. Restaurants may fear this, but all that’s happening is a faster version of what people have always done, telling people about a good or a bad meal or cooking experience.

Back in 1995, we didn’t have mobile phones, let alone access to the internet, and multi-media meant typing a letter while listening to CD at the same time. What online activity there was was mainly confined to a few academic institutions and telephony companies. But the blokes (and it mainly was blokes back then) who used those early connections started asking and telling other each other where to get a good bite to eat. For younger readers and the less tech savvy, these conversation postings were all conducted on something call Usenet, which allowed like-minded folk gathered around a particular subject, think of them as proto-Facebook groups.

One of the earliest was on which Tim Duncan posted news of Daruma-Ya, a new Japanese restaurant opening in 1995. And where did this iconoclastic digitally-heralded opening take place? Not the Soho media land but on the docks of Leith, Edinburgh. Sadly Daruma-Ya didn’t survive, maybe Edinburgh wasn’t ready for the small clean refinement of Japanese cooking in 1995.

Another pioneer was Graham Trigg, who in 1994 inspired by the late Richard Binns’ French Travel books, put up a website.  “I started writing notes as dining out was expensive and as time passes all that’s left is a hazy memory and a receipt” says Graham. Graham’s background was in IT, and he was using a system called CIX, or Collaborative Information Exchange even before Usenet.  A project for the airline industry meant Graham had to understand web technology and how to build these new things called websites. Research, work and a personal interest came together. “My first Web site was built in early 1996 and reviewed 17 London restaurants” says Graham.

He also explored a few places outside the capital, for example eating both lunch and dinner at Gidleigh Park in Devon cooked by a 27 year old Michael Caines. The hotel was established by Paul Henderson and was one of the first to have a decent website, not doubt due to Paul coming from San Francisco to set up the place in 1977.

There’s some lovely reviews from the early days of ‘Cool Britannia’ British restaurateuring on Graham’s site. Think back to the mid 90s when the River Café seemed fresh, edgy and modern – Italian without the gingham tablecloths and canon-sized pepper mills. Graham has a 1996 review of lunch at La Tante Claire, then ran by Pierre Koffman, under whom Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Marcus Wareing all work at various points. It’s now the site of Gordon Ramsay Hospital Road. He also has notes on Pied a Terre,  another early adopter with a website in the late 1990s. And to those that think fine dining is expensive, Peid a terre’s degastion menu in 2001 was £65 for eight courses, and in 2009 it’s £85 for 10. Not bad. Finally there’s a lovely review of the Walnut Tree in Wales.

All this is remarkable because all this wasn’t that long ago, and though a lot of the venues Graham visited have gone – Coast, Bank etc – many are still there. Now nearly every restaurant has a website, if only with a phone number on it. I asked Graham how restaurant’s website have changed over the years he’s been viewing them.  “In the early days there was too much style over substance and no consideration for the connection speed of the customers i.e. dial-up. The big problem [is] content not being kept up to date, but to be fair this was, and still is, a global web disease.”

leftovers to go please

Ahoy! Like a lazy Frenchman I took the whole of August off blogging to concentrate on learning the ropes of dadhoodness. Surfice to say I think I’ve about got the basics sorted now. So some sort of service will resume on these very pages.

Dinner at St John

Dinner at St John

Now, August is a bit ‘too hot can’t be bothered’ month for food, but it does have the glorious 12th, and that means grouse.  I had one at Saint John on the 29th. The little fella had been hung for 4 days or so to firm up a little, and was then roasted. They served it pink, very pink, so pink in fact a good vet could have brought it round. The liver and other good bits came pated on a crunchy square of toast, there was the traditional bread sauce. and the obligatory water cress protruded from it’s derriere.

Dinner at St John

Yum, bloody tang

Very nice it was too. But here’s the rub. Very hard to really pick all the meat off with a knife and fork, and though I got stuck in there with my fingers for the legs, I still felt it had more to give. Rest assured this grouse did not die in vain. With as much meat extracted as possible in a smart busy restaurant wearing a light colours shirt and on a date with my wife, I asked for the carcass to take home.

Stock with grouse carcass

Roasting the poor thing a second time

Here, late at night it was put the oven, to roast once more, before being slowly simmered in root veg and onions till dawn, when the cockerel call of my baby daughter had us up with the lark.The next day I used it along with a half a bottle of white wine as a base for braising a shoulder of lamb. This was stunning, you could pull it apart with the slightest nudge. After straining off the fat in my trusty gravy separater, I made a gravy by reducing the cooking liquor down.

braised lamb

lamb, veg, stock, time = delicious

Now a small amount of that gravy was left over, and because of the high fat content set solid, I duly popped that in the fridge.  Today’s the 8th September and I made a squid and chorizo stew, for a tiny flavour push I added the last of that gravy, and so the final essence of the grouse slipped under the surface of the stew like Arnie at the end of Terminator 2.

And so I say this. Yes to doggy bags, yes to restaurants giving you the bones, yes to walking out full with a warm foil package under your arm. I did the same at Hawksmoor in May. The fore rib was 40 odd quid and my wife ordered the fish. No probs though, we just had the remaining beef in sandwiches the next day, then a curry, and the huge bone went on to again make stock, which went into French onion soup, with brings us round quite nicely to end on a French note, where we began – bon ap.

Eyedropper’s excellent eggy bread

Of all the things to reach for,
to quell both stomach and head.
There is but one true winner,
My old friend eggy bread.

Eggy bread

Eat it fast, eat it hot

Like most people I have on occasion been known to over indulge. That ‘one last round’ to make the debit card amount up over a tenner, the night’s cash having just ran out, we’ve all done. it.  The morning after, a touch delicate and with culinary skills not quite up to par, there’s one thing to reach for: eggy bread.

And let’s clear one thing up, it’s eggy bread when made this way, not French toast, not pan perdu, not dusted with icing sugar and served with a fruit compote. The only way to eat it is mouth blowingly hot, straight off the chopping board while the next one’s in the pan cooking.

However, in a nod to health but also texture, I take a leaf out of Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’ and like my (eggy)toast done on one side. Toast on one side you say, but how? Well, you can do it under the grill obviously, but that require keeping your eye on both hob and grill – far too much effort. Besides if you’re going to bother waiting for the grill to get hot you might as well get some bacon on, and a tomato maybe, hell go the whole hog to a fry up, and that’s a whole other exercise.

See I’m lucky enough to have a Dualit toaster that can take four slices, I simply switch it to ‘two mode’ but place each slice in the ‘cold’ slot so that the element only heats one side. The opposite ‘raw’ side then gets to slip into the eggy bath and soak while the oil and butter in the frying pan heat up. Then it’s straight in and twisted round to gather up any straying egg. If you are doing the grill method my advice is lightly toast four pieces of bread at once, it won’t matter if they go cold as you can easily reheat by flipping in the frying pan.

Eggy bread

Why go to all this effort? Well I just find that keeping things ‘toast’ on one side give you both ridgidity, texture and crunch. Egg on both sides, even on good bread but especially on cheap thinly sliced white bread, gives too much sogginess and grease. And the last thing you want with a hangover is a greasy eggy gag.

And who knows, maybe one day, I’ll be hungover enough to experiment with eggy-one-side-fried-the-other-bread™ ?  I won’t insult your intelligence with a recipe, just try the above technique and see if it works for you.

Picnic recipes

Birthday picnic

Sunday was the nicest day of the bank holiday weekend, it was also the chosen day of my birthday picnic.  I’d spent Saturday making things and getting bits marinating. It was mainly salads and cold things, but also a few kebabs and koftas that needed cooking.

Now, I’m not really a fan of those disposable barbecues, it’s very difficult to control the heat, and they chuck out loads of smoke so that everyone gets a bit sick and smells of smoke for the rest of the day.

Far better to use a small cooking stove and a pan, with this you can cook in small batches as needed, the heat can be controlled and it doesn’t taste of charcoal.

But a picnic wouldn’t be a picnic without some salads, so here what I made.

Puy lentil salad

Half a pack of puy lentils
One packet of feta cheese
One tomato or half a pepper
Large handful of mint leaves
Olive oil

Boil the lentils as directed on the packet. Drain and cool. Cut the feta into small cubes, finely dice some red pepper or small tomatoes to provide a few flecks of red. Wash and chop the mint. Combine all the ingredients with the oil, season and serve.

Chorizo and chickpea

1 tin of chickpeas
1 chorizo (unsliced)
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 tin of tomatoes
Splash of pepper sauce
Pinch of saffron
Teaspoon red wine vinegar
Fresh parsley

Put the chickpeas in a small saucepan and boil gently, this will help soften them. Fry the onion and garlic in a frying pan and add slices of chorizo.  Add the cooked chickpeas, the tin of chopped tomatoes and all the other ingredients, season and cook slowly for 20 minutes till combined. Add the fresh parsley at the end.

Birthday picnic

Handful of minced beef and pork
Finely diced onion and garlic
Tea spoon cumin
Tea spoon chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
Chopped mint and parsley
Pinch curry powder
Handful breadcrumbs
1 egg

Fry the onion and garlic until translucent and leave to cool. (I find adding cooked onion keeps the moisture content in the koftas down) Add the onion to the meat along with the other ingredients and mix. The egg and the breadcrumbs help bind the mixture. Another tip is to use two bamboo sticks in each one. This gives extra grip and stops the chance of the meat spinning round when turning. Squeeze the meat tightly on and chill before cooking.

There were some ‘also ran’s’ that you can kind of figure out from the description.

Chilli beef kebabs – These were just cubes of beef marinated in oil, lime juice, chill flakes and pepper sauce and then skewered on sticks.

Minty lamb kebabs – Lamb, lemon juice, mint and natural yoghurt marinated and skewered.

Tuna and sweet corn salad – Dead basic this, can of tuna, sweet corn, chopped celery, parsley, mayonnaise – mixed up.

Potato salad – Boiled new potatoes, mint, mayonnaise, whole grain mustard.

Tomato salad – tomatoes deseeded and chopped, olive oil, balsamic and basil

Fennel and celery salad – fry the fennel and celery with onion and garlic, cool, and add to salad leaves. Add the fronds of the fennel and celery leaves too.

Sticky chicken wings – marinated in honey and soy sauce then cooked in a hot oven.

Add to the above bread, humus, wine, and some halloumi kebabs for the veggies and we all proceeded to get nicely smashed in the sunshine. Mmmm.

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January 2020
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