Snapper school

ImageA couple of weeks ago, I spent Saturday at Village East in Bermondsey. All Saturday. Not eating pancakes…


…or chips (although those were seriously excellent). No, I was there for educational purposes, at one of previously-mentioned-photographer-Paul’s food photography classes.


Oh, it was heaven. An entire menu of beauty, right there for the snapping, with no one complaining it was getting cold (or warm)…


or wanting, unreasonably, to actually eat what they’d ordered.

No weird looks, no awkward angles. Just hours and hours gazing lovingly at food through a viewfinder (which, tragically, did spoil – I would still have eaten most of it, but they’d put on a sumptuous lunch for us, which, for once, I didn’t feel the need to photograph).


It was super-fun… and I came away with lots of new ideas to go mad with. Watch out for some irritating perspective, coming to a blog near you. Although, knowing me, probably not any time soon.



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As anyone with an eye on twitter will know, I had a little photography lesson from the delightful Paul Winch-Furness last week. It was amazing (see above). And since then I have become absolutely obsessed with instagram. (Always late to the party, me. But sometimes that just means that all the crap wine’s been finished and the good stuff has come out.)

Anyway, I’m absolutely desperate to find out how to upload stuff from instagram automatically on to here, because at the moment, I have to email the pictures to my computer, and that’s a right old faff. I can’t believe WordPress doesn’t have a widget. Why is it ruining my life like this? What am I on this earth for if not to share artlessly bleached and randomly focused pictures of dinner with as many people as possible?

Once I’ve got over this disappointment, I might do a proper post. In the meantime, this is the pork belly with chilli and fennel that I cooked for Sunday lunch.


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Cheese, cheese, bit of snow, cheese


A couple of weeks ago, I went skiing. Well, more accurately, I went to Megève, fell over a few times, and then overcompensated with cheese. By God, they do cheese well up there. It’s definitely worth a couple of facefuls of powder (the cold kind), and all those mysterious bruises which serve as the longer-term memories of happy times on the slopes. (What a journey of discovery they make every trip to the shower.)

Anyway, before I went, I finally cracked and downloaded Hipstamatic, on the strength of an excellent article in this month’s Jamie magazine on food photography with phones. I’m still getting to grips with the angle though, as you might be able to tell.

Getting a 6am flight is definitely rewarded if this is the sight that greets you at the top of the mountain: tartiflette with cured ham and one of those simple green salads the French still kick our arses at. The nice bit about this was that Richard left me all the gooey cheese from the top. He is a great person to share food with.

The next day, we ventured further afield, to a restaurant you actually had to ski to. Admittedly, even I could make it down there in four minutes. I made a bad choice here. Raclette toasts (with typically unannounced ham concealed beneath – take that, les végétariens!). Good salad (although sun-dried tomatoes were an unwelcome taste of the nineties) but I should have had the Savoyarde omelette with ham, cheese and potato. I definitely would have skied better that afternoon.

Still, the next day’s lunch at the Alsatian La Raviere made up for it – even though the snow was so deep I fell over 72 times on the way. Sticking my snood on the stove and downing some of this cider steadied my frozen nerves somewhat, ready for the most incredibly gooey cheese tart I have ever eaten, a very serviceable onion version, charcuterie and cornichons galore, and this magnificent smoked sausage, served with rosti. They gave us an extra sausage by mistake, but no one could quite face putting it into their trouser pocket for the way home.

Which proved to be a bit unfortunate, because someone lost his ski, and then, thanks to an overabundance of snow, they closed the lifts, and we were left stranded. That sausage would actually have come in pretty handy. This is the view from the restaurant porch, where we enjoyed our digestif schnapps, unaware of the horror that lay ahead. It’s pretty snowy, as you can see.

The best tartiflette of the trip was at Les Mandarines on the last day – washed down with a crisp Campari. (Odd, and yet definitely satisfying combination.) I particularly liked the entire rind melted into the top, and the fact they’d used cream, which took it into dauphinoise territory. Cheesy, bacony dauphinoise. The dauphinoise from heaven.

And then, of course, the raclette proper. I’m not familiar with this style, where you heat individual pieces of cheese on a little shovel – we got the wrong end of the stick initially and put them on top of the heat, as in the photo, until the waiter came and told us off. Apparently they go underneath. Who knows what the top bit’s for.

Mmmm… cheese. No wonder we had a nice M&S edamame on the train home that evening.


January 17, 2012 · 11:14 pm

Stonking Stilton soufflés, brilliant brussels, marvellous mince pies…

It’s nearly Christmas (although I won’t feel fully festive until next week – for now my nervous energies are entirely focused on a three-tiered chocolate cake I’m making for a wedding this weekend), and Christmas, as we all know, is a time for sharing. So I thought I’d bring my newest creation to the buffet of bountifulness – a bumper selection pack of all the recipes you need for Christmas Day, in ultra-modern Electronic Form. Yes, this post is a big old plug. Here’s a nice picture of some booze-soaked fruit to make you feel better about it:

If you have a kindle, or an iPad, or any other sort of ebook reader, you can rip open 15 recipes for the rather splendid price of £1.99, some of them based on the ones I did for the Guardian last year – although, taking shameless advantage of my belief that perfection is a fluid and culturally specific concept, somewhat revised (particularly the turkey one: I had a bit of an epiphany on that front after visiting the lovely Paul Kelly, Britain’s actual Turkey King) – and some of them brand spanking new.

  • mulled wine
  • blini
  • Stilton soufflés
  • prawn cocktail
  • roast turkey
  • stuffing
  • gravy
  • nut roast
  • pigs in blankets
  • sprouts
  • roast potatoes and parsnips
  • cranberry and bread sauces
  • trifle
  • mince pies and brandy butter

I’ve already used them twice myself this year (best to get into practice before the big day), and I ain’t had no complaints, if you get my meaning. Even the Family Cloake claim to be looking forward to sampling it on 25th… although my three-year-old niece has taken charge of the Christmas pudding. No doubt it will be the best bit.

Click here…


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Moody food

I’m working at the very lovely delicious. magazine this week, which is always fun – great magazine, nice people, an almost endless supply of tea (which, to a freelancer, is like a miracle) and more often than not, suitably delicious food to test – but today the shock of eight hours of solid work finally hit me, and I had to cancel the evening’s beer-tasting plans (I know, I know) and scurry straight home. Well, I say straight, although it was the first time I’ve ever been on a bus which attempted a u-turn at a major junction, which gave me ample opportunity to contemplate my dinner.

When a cold lurks, I always reach for intense flavours – chilli oil, fermented black beans, coriander –  but after mandolining half my thumb off last week in pursuit of a stir fry, I was prepared to go for something a bit less labour intensive – kale with chilli and garlic perhaps. But kale not being a Turkish favourite, that meant a trip to Whole Foods which, praise be, brought me into contact with the winter’s first purple sprouting broccoli, all the way from Devon. I love PSB. And I didn’t make the most of it last spring, because I was deprived of anchovies thanks to a muddle-headed decision to go vegetarian for Lent, so I lost no time in making up for it. Nothing complex – some Sharpham Park spelt that I’ve been meaning to try out for a while, tossed with a pungent mixture of sautéed garlic, anchovies and chilli, and of course, lots of broccoli. Followed by too much butterscotch Angel Delight won in the Coach and Horses quiz and saved for just such a miserably eventuality.

§Not really a recipe, but here’s a rough idea of what I’m going to be finishing off for lunch tomorrow…

1 mug of spelt, cooked in boiling water until tender (about 20 minutes), and drained
Generous shake of olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 anchovies, chopped
3 stalks of purple sprouting broccoli, chopped
Chilli flakes, to serve
Extra virgin olive oil, to serve

1. While the spelt’s cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-low heat and soften the garlic and anchovies together until the fish dissolve into the oil (I often add some of the oil from the jar or tin to the pan too).
2. Turn the heat up and add the broccoli. Saute until al dente (or to your particular taste) – I often stick in some of the spelt cooking water once I’ve drained it to help things along – then tip in the spelt and a sprinkle of chilli flakes and stir to mix everything together well. Season (the anchovies are quite salty, but you never know) and scoff in a big bowl in front of Masterchef while feeling a bit sorry for yourself.


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Talisker toddies and tearing gales

A couple of weeks ago, I took Monday afternoon off to travel down to Lyme Regis on a foraging expedition – mainly for whisky. Unfortunately, God punishes those of us who skive off in favour of boozing, and, as we travelled south, the weather took a distinct turn for the worse. Here’s the lovely Helen Lewis-Hasteley of the New Statesman, enjoying all the fun of the seaside. Anyway, undaunted, we set off on a foraging expedition with Mark Hix, heads bent low against the driving gale. We found sea spinach…

rock samphire…

…and sea kale. Amongst other stuff.

Thank God we then returned to Hix Lyme Regis, where I managed to score two helpings of Nick Strangeway’s superb Talisker-sodden sea buckthorn toddy

and steal the ‘recipe’. I’ve come across sea buckthorn before, on a trip to Helsinki a few years ago, where we juiced it and had it for breakfast. It’s pretty common on the east coast of England in particular – I’ve certainly spotted it a few times in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

Back to those sea veg. Here’s an amuse bouche of a haddock Scotch egg with sea spinach – which could have done with some smoked fish for my taste.

And some tempura rock samphire, which was very good indeed.

After a brief break for hot baths and some quiet personal reflection on the Eurozone, dinner followed: red-leg partridge with elderberries and wood sorrel:

my favourite dish, Torbay silver mullet with Barra cockle and sea vegetables, which was wonderfully buttery – the salty, succulent shoots were excellent with the fish

then a Talisker whisky and walnut tart with local clotted cream, served with some superb cask-strength Talisker 25-year old.

Which Helen, Chris and I naturally dignified with the attention it deserved:

It was a fun evening – which has left me with two new resolutions. Firstly, to revive my long-cherished idea of a whisky dinner party, with matched malts for every course, as once experienced, never forgotten at Royal Lochnagar (a little drop of Talisker in the rock oysters, for example, knocks Tabasco for six) – and secondly, to make it up to Skye and visit the distillery for myself. It’s been a long while since that Patrick’s Day Bushmills trip. Oh, and I might extend my seashore foraging beyond the ice cream van in future.

Also, I somehow managed to come away with a Talisker umbrella. Which makes me very happy indeed.


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Last week, I was gifted an enormous bag of quince (quinces?). They look a bit like bulbous golden pears, sweet and juicy – but bite into them and they’re butternut-squash hard, and as bitter as a Bramley.  The obvious thing would be quince cheese of course, but that would just be an excuse to buy more Picos de Europa. So, having consulted Nigel Slater’s Tender, I decided to make a “fragrant winter breakfast” – quince stewed with apples, lemon juice and sugar. Never one to miss the chance to set the scene, Nige describes it as one “for those winter mornings when the sky is white and a sugar-frost has caught on the spider’s webs in the garden.” It’s pretty good – slightly too sweet for my taste, and I might well substitute honey for sugar if I did it again – but much more solid than simple stewed apple, with an elusive floral flavour.

The other dish, which I made to take to a dinner party on Saturday, was less successful. The donor of the quinces, Alex, expressed surprise at the idea of of a quince crumble, although in retrospect, the problem was less with the concept than the recipe (not the execution, obviously). The recipe, for four, called for 1.75kg of quince, which needed to be softened in butter “in a large frying pan” – I’ve got a big Le Creuset, but still, they took an awful lot longer than Nigel’s upper limit of 35 minutes to soften. Once they’d finally yielded (although, it turned out, only in places) I sprinkled on a laughably small amount of almond crumble topping, made with chestnut flour in deference to the gluten-free one, then boosted it with hazelnuts in panic it looked a bit mean – everything about this recipe, including the amount of sugar, seems designed for a much smaller amount of fruit. Everyone was very nice about it, but it’s undeniable that the quince were rather fibrous and crunchy, as well as a bit sour, and there wasn’t enough bloody crumble. And I didn’t make Bird’s custard. Still, there’s always next year.


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