Friday, 11 July 2014

Cherry & Almond Strudel

Cherry & Almond Strudel

The soft fruit season is always a time of too much arriving too quickly and then come the cherries, sometimes before we've had time to eat our fill of strawberries and raspberries.  This year is racing along on the fruit front.  The cherries are here and very soon we'll be feasting on plums too. Checking the the allotments' communal plum trees today, it looks like we're in for a bumper crop.  The boughs are laden with clusters of green fruit just beginning to show a streak of purple.

So, while I continue to pick raspberries and gooseberries, and now the first blackcurrants, am busy bottling fruit and making ice cream, there are cherries to consider.  So, what to do with the first of cherries?  Well, as I have a few sheets of filo pastry left over from making a chicken pastilla, strudel immediately comes to mind.  A recent visit to Trieste, where a Mitteleuropean cuisine still fights for supremacy with Italian food, reminded me that strudel is not only about apples. Cherry Strudel was much in evidence, a legacy of Trieste's Habsburg era.

Cherries have an affinity with almonds.  Not surprising when you consider the tiny kernel inside the stone of cherries, apricots and peaches (all stone fruit in fact) has an almond flavour and is known as noyau.  Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest you take a hammer to the cherry stones here.  If you do want to try extracting the noyau, apricots are a bit more rewarding.  Add a few to an Amaretti biscuit mix for a delicious hint of bitter almond.  I have to give the warning to use sparingly as they do contain tiny traces of cyanide, though you'd have to eat quite some quantity for it to have any effect..

Cherry Strudel & cream

Having very good juicy, sweet cherries with just a hint of sharpness, (variety Summer Sun) I didn't want to interfere with their flavour too much so I've kept the filling simple for this one.

Cherry & Almond Strudel
(Serves 4)

350g (12oz) cherries (weight before removing stones)
60g (2oz)caster sugar (depending on sweetness of cherries)
1 level teaspoon of cinnamon
30g (1oz) finely chopped almonds or hazelnuts of a mix of both
30g (1oz) roughly chopped almonds (preferably skins removed)
2 sheets of filo pastry (about 45cm x 25cm)
60g (2oz) unsalted butter, melted
1 heaped teaspoon of icing sugar

Heat oven to 180C (160C Fan)/Gas 4.  Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Remove the stones from the cherries and mix with the caster sugar and cinnamon.
Combine both the fine and roughly chopped nuts.

Place first sheet of filo  pastry on a clean tea towel, narrow end closest to you, and butter the sheet, leaving 1cm unbuttered on the end farthest away from you.  Brush that strip lightly with water.
Scatter the nuts over the pastry to within 1cm of each side.
Add the cherries in a heap at the end closest to you about 5-6cm from the edge and leaving 3-4cm either side uncovered.
Place the uncovered pastry nearest to you over the cherries then use the tea towel to help roll almost to the far edge. Tuck the right and left edges up into the parcel to help seal-in the contents and finish rolling to the end.  Make sure the water-brushed pastry strip seals to the parcel.  Place it on the lined baking sheet.  Brush with melted butter.
Repeat STEP 2 with the second pastry sheet and then bake the parcels in the oven for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut each pastry in two, dust with sifted icing sugar and serve. 
Good with double cream or vanilla ice cream.

Note: It's also almost time for the Brogdale Cherry Festival - this year it's 19-20 July.

Other recipes using cherries:

Cherries with almonds & Sabayon sauce

Summer Pudding with cherries

Cherry frangipane tart

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Trieste - is that Italy?

Chiesa San Spiridione

How to begin a piece on Trieste?  I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked "Trieste, where is that?" Jan Morris associated the city with a sense of "nowhereness".  In her book Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere Morris writes "People who have never been there generally don't know where it is.  Visitors tend to leave it puzzled and, when they get home, remember it with a vague sense of mystery."   Admittedly four days is not long to try to get under the skin of a city, but it was long enough to feel a certain dislocation, in place and time, walking the streets of Trieste.  

Arriving in the late evening, stepping from the airport bus into grey, quiet streets is not the best introduction to a city.  Such a lack of exuberance seems thoroughly un-Italian - no honking horns, no fearful step onto a pedestrian crossing, no loud conversations at caffè tables.  A few minutes of walking and our eyes are no longer fixed to grey stone but sunset over the Adriatic - a satisfying dish in lieu of the dinner we searched for in vain that night.

Piazza Unità

Next morning the sun performed its magic, bathing the grey stone in a more welcoming tone and revealing a teal blue adriatic sea.  That evening we caught the sunset from the Piazza Unità a little earlier, just as it illuminated the gilding on the Palazzo di Governo.

Palazzo di Governo, Piazza Unità

Trieste is a curious city, reflecting its location and past.  It occupies the last sliver of Italian soil a mere 5 miles from the Slovenian border and petering out into Croatia to the south.  Originally an Illyrian coastal village trading in fish, salt, olive oil and wine, it was colonised by Rome, occupied by Venice and France, before being protected and declared a Free Port by the Habsburgs. Its position, and its enterprising merchants, turned Trieste into a major link between Europe and Asia until the break-up of the Habsburg empire.  Giacomo Casanova sojourned in Trieste; James Joyce lived in the city; Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, passed through its streets in their coffins 5 days after being assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip.

Following the First World War the city came under Italian rule.  In the mid-1930s Mussolini's fascists made Trieste one of its showpieces.  When Italy turned against the German Reich, the city was annexed by Germany and became the only piece of Italian soil to have a concentration camp. Trieste was occupied by Britain, America and Yugoslavia and briefly become an Independent Free Territory under the United Nations.  In 1954 the port city of Trieste returned to Italy and its surroundings were handed to Yugoslavia and became, as Jan Morris puts it, "Italian by sovereignty but in temperament more or less alone".  The years of uncertainty sparked race riots in Trieste but these days the Slovene language has official parity with Italian.  Jan Morris' observation that "the further you walk out towards the perimeter of the city, the more slav it feels" still holds true.

On the road to Duino

In the heat of summer Trieste has a languorous air but, in winter, a vicious wind known as the Bora whips through the city.  While in Trieste, Joyce wrote A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and devised much of Ulysses along with his play Exiles.  The city is clearly proud of the association, and in this otherwise most un-touristy city, there's a James Joyce trail.  Our visit coincided with the annual 'Bloomsday', celebrating all things Joycian.  A display of paintings, both amusing and lewd, by Ugo Pierri  hosted by the Joyce Museum was, for us, the highlight.

The leafy hillside of Colle Capitolino leading to the Museo and Cattedrale St Giusto and Basilica Romano and the narrow streets of the old town below provide relief from the heat.  The Teatro Romano, nestled between the two, is impressively preserved but not overly restored. 

Dome - Chiesa di San Spiridione

The Serbian Orthodox Church of San Spiridione on Via San Spiridione was far and away the most impressive church we saw in Trieste.  Recently renovated, it's spectacular inside and out yet feels quite intimate.  The main food market housed in an interesting, if neglected, modernist building is mainly made up of fruit & vegetable stalls with just one or two fish and meat counters.  Much better was the small outdoor market beside Canale Grande (close to Chiesa San Spiridione) where a cluster of stalls were stacked with 'bio' fruit and vegetables seeming, from the vehicles, to have been brought in from nearby Slovenia.
Caffè San Marco
So, what of the food in Trieste and what of the coffee? - this is the home of Illy after all.  I'm not a particular fan of Italian coffee but, of the 'names', Illy is the best-respected.  The Caffè San Marco on Via Cesare Battista, with its spectacular eagle-topped Copper Elektra machine, produced the best espresso.  Dating from the Habsburg era, though substantially rebuilt after WWII, it has retained the look and feel of a Viennese cafe.  On a smaller scale Pasticceria Pirona is pretty unmissable too.  Dating from the same era, it's a lovely place to stand with your macchiato and choose a tiny cake from one of the polished wood and glass cabinets.  Both places have been popular with poets and writers for over a century.

Spaghetti alla Vongole
Hostaria Malcanton


There is still a Habsburg influence on the food in Trieste.  What we had of that was on the stodgy side so we preferred to feast on seafood and pasta, following up with gelato - in this, at least, Trieste felt like Italy.  Hosteria Malcanton on Via Malcanton in the old town was a good starting point. It's an honest, checked-tablecloth kind of place with good-value local wines.  A generous plate of Spaghetti alla Vongole with asparagus and a plate of Monkfish risotto with crisped lardo were all we needed for lunch.  The bill for two with a carafe of the hostaria's Friuli wine came to 38 Euros.

Mezzeluna Ripiene
Alla Dama Bianca


The village of Duino is a short bus ride away from Trieste.  With the road hugging the coast north out of the city we saw what "going to the beach" means for locals.  The 'Barcola' is a long concrete promenade on the road to Miramare Castle.  The lack of sand seems not the least off-putting to the dedicated sun worshippers with the Adriatic to dip into.  Snaking our way through tiny mountain villages the bus arrived at the quiet, picturesque village of Duino complete with its 14th century castle.  The classy but relaxed Alla Dama Bianca proved the perfect antidote to the heat of the city.  We idled away an hour sipping prosecco on a shady terrace and envied the swimmers their cooling dips in the sea (go prepared).  

Tagliolini Marinara
Alla Dama Bianca


Lunch was simple and perfect - a  buttery dish of seafood Mezzeluna Ripiene, given crunch by a scattering of poppy seeds, a plate of Tagliolini Marinara followed by a shared Grilled Orata with vegetables and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.  A bottle of Vinnae from the local Jermann vineyard at Collio and coffee afterwards brought the bill to just over 100 Euros.  If you want to stay somewhere quiet, they have rooms at Alla Dama Bianca.

Grilled and filleted Orata & vegetables 
Alla Dama Bianca

You'll have no difficulty finding a gelateria in Trieste but I recommend Gelato Marco on Via Malcanton.  The gelato is made on site, there is every flavour you could dream of, both dairy and non-dairy, and the Nocciola is outstanding.

When the diners, drinkers and gelato-eaters have had their fill there is undoubtedly an air of melancholia about Trieste.  Maybe it's the relics of its turbulent past, its rusting warehouses, overgrown railway lines and abandoned jetties, disregarded in favour of new industries.  Then there's that mysterious overgrown, padlocked garden we stumbled upon, seemingly lying unused for decades.  Trieste has many things to like but Jan Morris is right, the city is a puzzle.  But, given all it has experienced, it's not surprising it leaves you with the feeling that you didn't quite get under its skin.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Honey & Co - Food From the Middle East

Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East

I wrote about Honey & Co the restaurant back in March 2013.  I mentioned "the pavement stumblers".  People like me caught out by the dip in the pathway a moment after my attention was drawn to the eye-catching display of cakes in the window.  Now I know the cakes were Honey & Co's PR campaign.  It proved a fantastically effective advertising tool for a restaurant being created on a shoestring budget, and already there's a book.

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 pine nut rice.  How they sneered at each others 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".

I wanted to do this review without being influenced by my visits to the restaurant, but even before I finished the "Welcome" page I knew this was going to be impossible.  Itamar explains my difficulty: "We wanted to write this book to capture the essence of who we are - not just the two of us but also our little restaurant and the hive it is, the people we work with, the people we feed and the customers who became friends, and the tasty, easy, homey food that brings us all together."  This book fulfills the promise of that sentence.  Sometimes you aren't sure who's 'voice' you are 'hearing' but that matters not a jot.

They start with a few base recipes such as Sweet spice mix and Baharat, a savoury spice mix.  Neither has a massively long list of ingredients and the alluring photograph of spices makes you want to get roasting and grinding.  Mezze takes up a large part  of the book: raw, cured, canned, pickled, breads, dips, spreads, purees, baked, fried and cracked - from sweet Uri buri prawns (with a sweetly romantic association) and rich pastry Borekitas to spicy Turkish Kisir.  Salads of Beetroot & plums in a rose & walnut dressing and an aromatic plate of Poached quince with curd cheese and honeyed hazelnuts are followed by dishes such as Lamb Siniya, like a Middle-Eastern shepherd's pie; a festive tagine Madfunia; Slow-cooked lamb shoulder with plums and roses, needing only a mound of rice or couscous to serve; Octopus in meshwiya sauce with celery salad and Cauliflower 'shawarma' which makes use of that Baharat spice mix.

I've already mentioned my love of Honey & Co's cakes and here you will find recipes for Cherry, pistachio and coconut cake and vibrant Saffron & lemon syrup cake.  Amongst the dessert recipes I know I'll make is Marzipan & almond cakes with roasted plums, and their sumptuous signature dish of Feta & honey cheesecake on a kadaif pastry base.

Aubergine Sabich - Photo: Saffron Strands
Recipe: Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East

So many recipes I really want to make, but what have I tried?  First up, Aubergine Sabich.  As the authors say, "there is nothing sophisticated here".  It's an easy recipe, just good ingredients, freshly prepared and pepped-up with a good dressing but everything comes together deliciously.  There's really no excuse for not making your own pitta bread here.  I've never felt an affinity with yeast so choosing to make pitta was a deliberate test of the instructions.  My hand was held all the way and the oven yielded beautiful domes of puffed-up bread.  I now have an urgent need to make Bukhari bread and Milk bun.  Goodness, I've become a bread baker at last!

White chocolate, pine nuts, olive oil & candied lemon zest - Photo: Saffron Strands
Recipe: Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East

Next came a dessert of White chocolate, pine nuts, olive oil & candied lemon zest.  I chose to make this dish because I, too, generally,"see no point in white chocolate" but was seduced by the assurance that this would be wonderful, and so it was.  It's a bit rich, but I was warned.  Again, the instructions were really clear and it was a pleasure to make. My version is tinged green due to the particular unfiltered oil used.  The flavour was delicious.

Each section of this book is lightly spiced with just the right amount of anecdote and memory.  It's blindingly obvious that hearts and souls and a great deal of love have gone into it.  That's not something I come across too often in a cookbook.  It also made me laugh out loud more than once.  Photographs by Patricia Niven capture perfectly the warmth of the place, food and the owners.  And if you're wondering about those falafels they're both in here; Jerusalem-style for Itamar and Haifa-style for Sarit, plus a Yemeni-style one for family roots.

Book courtesy of Salt Yard Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton

Thursday, 5 June 2014

All about Origin at Monmouth Coffee

Finca El Guamal, Huila, Colombia
Farmed by Guillermo Libardo Ome

Two cups of coffee a day is my limit.  One filter and one double espresso.  Modest by the standards of most coffee drinkers, positively wimpish to many.  What I drink has to be good and I'm happy to pay for it.  Not that I'll hand over my hard-earned money to just anyone with a shiny La Marzocco - not twice anyway.  Call me what you will - connoisseur; addict; coffee snob; or worse - but it's taken me a while to arrive at this place and I'm happy to be here.  So where is "here"?  It's appreciating the work that has gone into a carefully sourced coffee, the growing, the exporting, the roasting and the serving, whether it's beans to take home or a shot on the go.  Most of all it's a thoughtfulness about what I'm buying because I now understand why coffee 'origin' really matters.

ORIGIN: beginning, foundation, root, starting point

Our thirst for coffee is growing.  Certainly in London there seems to be an endless stream of new coffee shop openings, both chain and independents.  But the cultivation of the Coffea plant is suffering a three pronged attack: climatic oscillations, disease and low pricing.  Most of the coffee industry is still based on purchasing at the lowest price, even in the speciality coffee market.

I asked AJ Kinnell, head of quality assurance at London's Monmouth Coffee, to explain to me the effect of farm-gate pricing.  She told me "If you're a farmer you have to sell 100% of your coffee. You'll have a speciality coffee and you need a market for your lower grade as well.  If the lower quality doesn't go somewhere the good quality can't be grown and the farms go out of business, so big buyers have a role" in taking that coffee.  In the speciality market, however, she feels "buyers could be doing so much more to help growers" just by paying a little bit more.

"The speciality coffee business is about real people...... 
Real product in a cup, the fruit of real effort somewhere 
at the end of a remote track in Guatemala or Rwanda 
or Somalia."
Mercanta, The Coffee Hunters

The impact of low prices on producers and the benefits from paying a premium for top quality have been brought home to Monmouth by their direct sourcing in Colombia.  Practically and financially it has taken many years for them to be able to source in this way.  AJ told me they'd been having difficulty finding good quality Colombian beans over a period of time so decided to step it up a bit.  Instead of going in and buying a predetermined amount of beans, they spread the word to small farmers that they were to hold a competition. There were lots of entrants and they selected 22 small lots of coffee"One of the coffees was only 2 bags because the farm it came from only produced 2 bags of top grade beans that season.  The farmer still had to find a buyer for the lesser grade of beans he produced but he earned a lot of money for those 2 bags and he got to sell his coffee for the first time with his own farm name on it.  For a long time it had just been put into a generic blend."

Monmouth's Chief Buyer, Flori Marin, told me how emotional the competitions are.  "The farmers know we are going to pay a premium.  It's a massive thing for them.  If the grower simply sells to the market they are paid what people think the coffee's worth.  Sometimes it's bought even without tasting.  The coffees we tasted and selected in Colombia the first time were amazing".  There were 86 entries for their first competition and by the second, 6 months later, 360 entries.  "We were able to pay a significant premium over the market rate and people were talking of using the money to pay off their mortgage or move their home down the hill so their children could get to school more easily". Paying a premium price for top quality beans improves the lives of the farmers and enables them to invest in their farms and families to secure viability for the next generation.  Seeing directly the effect of their actions has only made Monmouth more determined to play the long game and work with the farmers to improve coffee origin.

Monmouth don't often talk about themselves.  They've been around for more than 30 years and are focused on sourcing and roasting rather than serving cups of coffee.  The shops are there so that customers have the opportunity to taste the coffees before buying a bag to take home - though that doesn't stop Monmouth being a regular pit-stop for many London coffee lovers.  Their passion is for improving the quality of coffee and the lives of the coffee growers.  Anita Le Roy explains, "The area I wanted to develop focused on origin and quality.  We don't publish vision and mission statements, but we do know what we want to achieve.  The aim of the company is to have a positive impact on quality and price at origin and a positive impact on service and quality for the consumer."  Having only three direct London outlets is a deliberate policy to retain focus on what's important to them.

"The growing number of good independent coffee shops is 
welcome but it's an increase in the number of independent 
roasters that will really raise the bar for good coffee and 
give a better deal to the growers".
Anita Le Roy
Monmouth Coffee

A market for quality coffee has to exist and I asked Anita what she thought was needed to raise customers' expectations for their daily drink.  She told me that although the growing number of independent coffee shops is welcome, "It's an increase in the number of independent roasters that will really raise the bar for good coffee and give a better deal to the growers.  In the 1980's when things were very difficult for us to buy better coffee, with more traceability, I knew what would change things was if there were more roasters asking for high quality.  That would have changed what the suppliers were offering.  Whenever I asked for different coffees I was told no, there was no demand for it".  Throughout the 1980s and 90s "there were so many times when we would show interested people what we were doing.  Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia came to see us in the mid-90's before they started supplying the Seattle Coffee Co (they later went on to set up Union Coffee).  It was only about 6-7 years ago that the floodgates opened.  We're really happy about it but I think we still need more roasters."

Coffee Facts:
2009/10 coffee exports US$15.4 billion (est)
2nd most traded commodity after oil
25+ major species of Coffea
60%+ of world production is arabica and canephora (robusta)
26 million workers employed in 52 producing countries

More often than not these days it's beans from one of those Monmouth Colombian coffees that go into my burr grinder.  Currently it's Finca El Guamal grown by Guillermo Libardo Ome at Huila but the coffees come in small lots, so whats on the counter changes regularly.  It's not entirely altruistic on my part as the Colombian coffees Monmouth source are exceptional. Buying better coffee can make a huge difference to the farmers allowing them to invest in the future.  It's what Monmouth Coffee see as "sustainable, fair and equal trade" and it's why these days I'm more thoughtful in my coffee buying habits.

Monmouth Coffee Company

Sources and further reading:
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens
A Coffee Crop Withers by Elisabeth Malkin - The New York Times May 5, 2014

Friday, 23 May 2014

Bristol fashion

Ox cheek ragu with ricotta & sorrel dumplings
at Bell's Diner, Bristol

It had been a while, but the first Bristol Food Connections 11-day festival this month was the perfect excuse to pay another visit.  The format appealed because it necessitated visiting different areas of the city instead of the usual crowded events around the quayside.  It was a day-trip which meant we couldn't stay for any of the organised evening events; not even a tempting Cheese School event at Hart's Bakery.  With names like Joe Schneider of Stichelton Dairy; Tom Calver of Westcombe Dairy; Charlie Westhead of Neal's Yard Creamery; and Todd Trethowan of Trethowan's Dairy plus The Wild Beer Company and Raef Hodgson of 40 Maltby Street/Gergovie Wines, it was not an easy prospect to pass up.  But let's start where we did, with breakfast at Hart's Bakery.

Hart's Bakery, Bristol
Tucked under the arches of the approach to Temple Meads railway station, its location couldn't be handier for a train traveller.  Two minutes off the London to Bristol service we were nursing cortados made with locally roasted Extract Coffee and tucking into toasted spiced, fruity, Festival Loaf with muscovado butter; light, moist, lemon cake and apple crumble slice.  With the bakery occupying the far end of the arch space, there's the irresistible aroma of baking breads and croissants, cakes and tarts, pasties and sausage rolls to lure the hungry traveller.  The front space is taken up by a shop counter and cafe.  The feel is more like being invited into someone's kitchen than a commercial space and it's all the better for it.  Good coffee, great food, lovely service, a welcoming atmosphere and you get to take home a damn fine loaf of bread.  I know for sure that next time I visit Bristol, not breakfasting at Laura Hart's Bakery is unthinkable.  

Bristol is a city made for walking.  Gorgeous Georgian architecture, green squares, candy-coloured terraced house overlooking a revitalised harbour side, and thankfully there are plenty of good independent coffee shops and restaurants in between.  I was never going to stick to my usual 2 cups of coffee  a day in this city so we stopped off at Full Court Press (FCP), supplied, amongst others, by Clifton Coffee Roasters (already familiar thanks to its recent weekend guest appearance at Kaffeine).  The skilled and knowledgeable barista was happy to share local knowledge as well as good coffee.  We found FCP was just around the corner from Small Street Espresso which was also on our hit list so, sadly, had to give that a miss - next time for sure as this is the place that kick-started speciality coffee in Bristol.  Later we made it to Didn't You Do Well on Park Row which hadn't been on our list but came up in conversation on the day.  It proved to be a good recommendation - HasBean coffee, shots pulled on a Slayer Seattle-made machine in a beautiful, calm, pared-back room.

Didn't You Do Well

So where to lunch?  There were lots of recommendations so the final choice was made on proximity to where we found ourselves at the right time.  Bell's Diner, in the Montpelier district, won out. We checked with locals several times en-route to make sure we were going in the right direction and every single person said "Oh, Bell's Diner, it's great", and it was.  At lunch it's that, lately much-derided, 'small dishes' kind of place and it's a formula I like.  A dish of fresh peas in their pods came with slices of Manchego; Imam Bayildi was tender, smokey and silky; succulent, sweet scallops on cauliflower puree were topped with earthy morels and brown butter; and ox-cheek ragu was suitably melting beneath a trio of featherlight ricotta and sorrel dumplings.  I can't comment on the puddings as we didn't get that far but Prosecco was on tap and a house Molino red was an easy-drinking bargain.

Scallops with morels & cauliflower puree
Bell's Diner, Bristol

There were so many more places on our list.  Apart from Small Street Espresso there's The Lido; Flinty Red; Wallfish Bistro; The Rummer; Edna's Kitchen.  I'm also very keen to get back to Bristol soon to eat at newly-opened BIRCH in Southville for simple, locally sourced and home-grown food. OK, I admit I know owners Sam and Beccy, but believe me you too need to go.

My go-to person for Bristol food recommendations is local food blogger Food With Mustard. She's a mine of information and all round good egg.

Now, if only Hart's Bakery was open beyond 3pm (to fuel the journey home)  Bristol would be getting dangerously near to perfect.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

The decider was the finding of my ancient cast-iron pan.  I hadn't set eyes on it since the flat move, three whole years ago.  It was the pan I always reached for when caramelisation was on my mind - and only that one would do to burnish sugar to the perfect degree.  Scrabbling around in our dimly-lit store, piled high with 'stuff' we couldn't discard but didn't have room for in a tiny flat', my hand grasped a familiar handle, and it felt good.  After trying to decide for days what pudding to make for a special dinner, here was the serendipitous answer - it had to be Tarte Tatin.  

At 20cm it's the perfect 4 portion size.  I use the word 'portion' rather than 'person' with deliberation because second helpings are more than welcome when it comes to Tarte Tatin. Anyway, it's mostly apples, well mine is because being mean with the fruit in a Tarte Tatin is a sin. No slabs of pastry and a few mimsy slices of apple thank you very much.  Apple halves please with quarters allowed only to plug the gaps.  I'm a fundamentalist about the pastry too.  Purists look away now - I use rough-puff, not puff, and not just because it's easier to make.  It is ridiculously easy but it also produces a pastry with 'bite' to perfectly balance the filling.

Now, I'm as keen as anyone to shop seasonally and locally and there's an English apple for most occasions, but the fact is our apple stores are now bare and expecting a Brit not to eat apples for 4 or 5 months a year is just too cruel.  My apple of choice for this dish is the Braeburn but there are over 3,000 varieties of apple and if we don't use them, we will lose them. These days Braeburns are grown in southern England but were discovered in New Zealand where they're just finishing harvesting this year's crop.  In England they're picked as late as November and store well for up to 4 months.  The fruit is firm and crisp with just the right level of sweetness to stand up to a bit of caramelising without collapsing into a mush.

I must have consulted a recipe the first time I made Tarte Tatin but it's so long ago I no longer remember who to credit.  Still, it's a classic and it's lovely and my pastry recipe is courtesy of the Roux brothers.

Slice of Tarte Tatin
with double cream

Tarte Tatin
(Serves 4 or two greedy people)

You need 150g (6oz) Rough-Puff 
This makes double the amount you need:

125g (4 oz) soft plain flour
125g (4 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Pinch of salt
60ml (2 fl oz) iced water

4 apples (preferably Braeburn or similar), halved and cored
60g (2 oz) unsalted butter
60g (2 oz) unrefined cane sugar

To make rough-puff pastry, add the salt to the flour and place on a work surface.  Add the butter and rub it into the flour.  When the butter cubes are small and half squashed, form a well and pour in the iced water, gradually mixing with a knife until everything holds together - do not knead or your pastry will be tough.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 1cm thick.  Fold in three, bottom to mid-point, then top to bottom, and turn 90 degrees.  Roll out again to a rectangle and fold in three again.  You have now completed '2 turns'.  Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  (If you only want enough pastry for one tart, cut in half at this point and freeze the unwanted half for later and, when you want to use it, defrost, roll and give it 2 more turns).
Roll out the pastry to a rectangle again and repeat the folding process to complete two more turns.  Rest in the fridge for a further 30-60 minutes.
Roll out the pastry thinly (cut in two first if you decided to make two rounds) to a rough circle and cut a disc(s) of around 22cm/9".  Place on a lightly floured tray in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 220C (Fan 200C)/Gas 7
Melt the butter in a 20cm (8") heavy-based, oven-proof pan.  Add the sugar and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes to caramelise.  Add the apples, round side down, and cook for 5 minutes.  Top with the chilled pastry disc, tucking the edges down inside the pan, and cook for 2 minutes.  Place the pan in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 4-5 minutes.  Place a serving plate on top of the pan and invert to turn out (take care not to burn yourself with hot caramel).

Good with double cream or vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Creamed Morels

Creamed morels on toast

I am a reluctant mushroom hunter.  I just don't trust myself to sort the edible from the deadly unless I'm with someone who really, really knows.  Black Morels (Morchella elata) or Yellow Morels (Morchella esculenta) are more distinctive than most.  Beware though as even they can be confused with the False Morel (Verpa bohemia) which bears a slightly less pitted cap.  I do my mushroom hunting at market and am now on the lookout for Morels which are just coming into season.  That said, Morels are less predictable than most mushrooms.  Conditions have to be just right before they will make an appearance.  Amongst other demands is a temperature which doesn't fall much below 5C.

An earthy flavour and the deeply ridged, hollow caps make morels a perfect match for cream, imparting a boskiness to the sauce which willingly coats their creases and crevasses.  They are a brief and expensive treat but you can make them go further by incorporating them into a risotto or a dish of scrambled eggs.  The recipe below is the simplest, and is my favourite, way of celebrating the season.  Morels have an affinity with anise but personally I find tarragon a little too harsh.  I much prefer the subtle anise flavour of chervil but its delicate leaves need to be added just before serving.  This recipe, minus the toast, is also good served with plain roast chicken.

I almost never wash mushrooms, preferring to use a pastry brush to dislodge any debris.  The fissured structure of morels though demands a thorough cleaning so I usually cut them in half and immerse them briefly in water.  Let them dry thoroughly afterwards.

Creamed Morels on Toast
(Serves 2)

25g (1 oz) unsalted butter
1 small shallot, peeled and very finely diced
1 handful (about 50g/2oz)of fresh Morel mushrooms, sliced in two (more if large), washed and dried
150ml (5 fl oz) double cream
Salt & pepper
2 slices of sourdough bread
A few sprigs of chervil

Melt the butter in a small frying pan.
Add the finely-diced shallots and cook gently until completely softened.
Add the morels and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.  Season with salt and pepper.
Add the cream and cook gently for 1 minute until slightly thickened.
Toast the bread.  Pile the creamed morels onto the toast.  Add the chervil and serve.

Friday, 11 April 2014

John & Elena Fruit & Veg Company at Spa Terminus

Lemons at
John & Elena
Fruit & Veg Company

If you already shop at Spa Terminus on Saturdays you'll be pleased to hear that two familiar faces from nearby Druid Street have arrived.  For those who miss Tony Booth's fruit and veg arch, which closed its doors a couple of weeks ago, this is very good news.  John & Elena, who between them have years of experience in the business, are ready to raise the shutters and welcome old and new customers to their new arch at Spa.

As well as being the base for their new  wholesale fruit and veg business, they will open at the arch for retail trade 8-2pm every Saturday.  Expect top quality fruit and veg staples along with highly seasonal produce and store cupboard must-haves.  You'll find John & Elena trading close by existing Spa Terminus traders Carrington Brown Flowers.  It's great to see another new business putting down roots in the area.

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

Update 27 April 2014: Open 3 weeks now and living up to promise and a regular destination on my Saturday shop.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions), Barcelona

Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions)
Passatge de Sert 12, 08003 Barcelona

It has to be said, the coffee scene in Barcelona is still very traditional.  Not that there is anything wrong with tradition, but anyone who has spent time in London is likely to be looking for something different.  The sourcing, roasting, brewing and serving of coffee has developed in leaps and bounds in London over the past few years.  We are spoilt for choice with the likes of Monmouth, Square Mile, Union, Workshop, Nude and more.  It's a coffee scene that is driven and sustained not only by Brits but with a high input from our Antipodean friends and the many others from around the world.

After honing his roasting skills at Nude Espresso and operating his own 'Nomad' coffee cart in London's East End, Jørdi Mestre has now returned to his home city of Barcelona to set up Cøffee Lab & Shop (Nomad Productions).  Opening only a month ago, it's already attracting positive attention.

Sometimes I want a straightforward hit of good coffee to wake me up or provide a boost.  In Barcelona I might head for El Magnífico on Carrer Argenteria.  Sometimes I want to appreciate great coffee as I would a fine wine.  Then I'd turn down the Passatge de Sert in El Born.  I'd sit on a three-legged stool in palely beautiful room and watch the master at work.  He'll grind carefully measured beans from one of his own roasts, use a double filter in an Aeropress for a cleaner flavour. He'll use water at the perfect temperature and when the coffee is made he'll pour just the right amount into a fine ceramic bowl.  Or maybe I'll take a Tallat made with fresh milk (not common in Spain where UHT is the norm).  There will be no sugars or syrups.  It's a place to switch off your phone and laptop and just take a few minutes to appreciate the coffee and have a conversation.

If I lived in Barcelona I know I'd be here every day.  I would visit when I was not in a rush and I'd take time to appreciate the  beautiful simplicity of the place.  Here's a link so that Jørdi can tell you about the Cøffee Lab & Shop in his own words, and thanks to Foodie In Barcelona for pointing me in the right direction on my latest visit to Barcelona.

Cøffee Lab & Shop by Nomad Productions
Passatge Sert 12
08003 El Born
Twitter: @nomadcoffeebcn
Current opening times Mon-Fri, 9.30am-3.30pm
Directions: Passate Sert runs between Carrer de Trafalgar and Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Hofmann Pastelería, Barcelona

Kouign Amann at Hofmann Pastelería   
C/ Flassaders 44, 08003 Barcelona

I'm not the biggest fan of creamy cakes but, had I stayed any longer in Barcelona, I would certainly have been unable to resist the lure of those on offer in Hofmann Pastelería.  If cream cakes are your thing then I'm sure this is the place for you.  Buttery pastries, however, are another thing altogether. Here they caught my attention in a big way.  They were so good I made no fewer than 3 visits on a short trip - I know, I know!  The classic Kouign Amann (above) was soft and flaky inside and caramel-crunchy outside in the way you hope for, but so often don't get.  Croissants were filled with the finest quality almond paste.  I thought the glaze of icing sugar was surely an unnecessary extra - but what do I know?  It was perfect.  You'll also find exquisite looking loaf and special occasion cakes, tarts, biscuits, chocolates, jams and ice creams.

Hofmann is no secret in Barcelona.  Although the Pastelería is only 5 years old, the Hofmann restaurant and cookery school are both nearby,  These are where they first made their name.

Cakes at Hofmann Pastelería
C/ Flassaders 44, 08003 Barcelona

If you want to eat your purchases a la fresca, head for the Park  Ciutadella just a 5 minute walk away.  It's a lovely place to sit - as long as you don't mind the squawking parrots.

Hofmann Pastelería
C/ Flassaders 44
08003 Barcelona
C/ Flassaders is easy to miss.  This narrow street runs between Calle Princesa and Paseo de Born.