Friday, 24 September 2010

Lost in the Larder moves home!

Lost in the Larder has moved home to a self-hosted wordpress site at Be sure to update your RSS feeders. The redirection of will be active shortly but to keep up to date and make sure you don't miss out, go to

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Dorset Charcuterie Company

British charcuterie is pretty scarce these days. You are more likely to pick up some Spanish chorizo or a German salami than dry cured meats from our own fair land. The Dorset Charcuterie Company operate from their butchery and tea room, The Purbeck Larder, on the outskirts of Lychett Matravers in Dorset. Ben and Lee are the young entrepreneurs who have established this business, both trained butchers and crazy about the practice of charcuterie. I went over one morning recently to learn a little more about breaking down a pig and to see the setup out there. I rolled up into the old farmyard and made my way into the converted barn. It was early, seven am, and the boys were already in full flow. This being my first experience in a working butchers I was absolutely mesmerised by all the meat, trays ram-packed full of lamb chops, buckets full of mince, half a cow being chopped up on one bench by Lee whilst Ben made his way through half a pig. I felt very manly stood there amongst the dead animals, blood and blades. I lingered by Ben and the pig and all I could think about was reaching out and getting a good old squeeze of that bum cheek, not Ben's I might add, the pigs. The ham was large and from the side I could see it had a beautiful thick layer of fat surrounding the meat. I breathed deep and let the aroma of dead animal fill my lungs, it was satisfying. Lee showed me round the fridge and I got to see the sheer size of the cow sections, "The cows come from that field just over there, sometimes we go and pick the ones we want out." Lee then showed me through to the curing room where panchetta, coppa and guanciale were hanging. A bucket full of salt sat on the floor with the trotters poking out the top from two large hams."All the pork is from a farm a few minutes up the road." Lee informed me. What is so nice about The Dorset Charcuterie Company, is that they really are just so enthusiastic, the meat as local as possible and the dedication to charcuterie is something which I wholeheartedly believe will become a fantastic alternative to European cured meats. As we wandered back into the kitchen a tall thin man came to greet the boys and gave them a big blue sealed bucket. "Caught these eels for you in the river Piddle this morning." (yes the river is really called the Piddle) Ben and Lee explain to me how when you cut the heads off, that the eels still writhe and wriggle for several hours. Eels freak me out and fortunately they put this to one side to deal with later. Don't get me wrong, I love eating eels, but live, they are too much like snakes for my liking. Victor Borg, of River Cottage fame, does the smoking for the boys down near Kimmeridge and in the fridges you can find packs of smoked eel, smoked pork tenderloin and smoked bacons alongside the offerings of pancetta, coppa, Bath chaps, lardo and nice big fat lardons. It was time for me to take a look at the breaking down of a pig. I have had many adventures with severed parts of the pig but never had I witnessed the dismemberment of the beast into the traditional cuts. Lee was busy and so I merely stood by and watched him do what he does best. It was a surprisingly short process and it has now got me playing with the idea of breaking a whole pig down myself. At around £200 a pig, I don't foresee it happening anytime soon, something Emma, my wife, is thankful of. Before I left Lee brought out a ham which he had dry cured and aged for nine months. Bolted into a Spanish style ham holder Lee took paper thin slices of the ham. The salty fat melted with the heat from my lips and the meat had a flavour that lingered throughout my mouth. I looked up to the rafters to see several hams hanging, some already have names on, pre-ordered for Christmas. The Dorset Charcuterie Company or The Purbeck Larder is well worth the visit. The cured and smoked offerings are tremendous and I know Ben and Lee are always happy to talk you through various process without you feeling a fool for not knowing.

The Purbeck Larder
Bere Farm,
Wareham Rd
Lychett Minster
BH16 6ER

Telephone: 01202 625688

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Crab Ravioli with Chorizo Oil

I'd been invited for dinner and was asked if I would mind making a starter. The thought of getting under someone's feet in their own kitchen didn't appeal to me. I wanted to be in, bang, and out. These Crab Raviolis seemed like a good idea because all the prep was done back at the flat, all I had to do was rock up with my tray of raviolis and drop them in some boiling water for a few minutes. They tasted brilliant, a nice strong flavour of crab meat with the cut of some drizzled chorizo oil and some peppery rocket. I made them quite large using a 10cm diameter cutter so each person got one nice big ravioli with the meat to pasta ratio just right. Pork products with seafood makes me smile immensely, my two favourite things. They work terrificly well together and a favourite in my kitchen arsenal is chorizo oil. A recipe for making some is found here.

Hunting down good produce down here is kind of fun. There are hardly any fishmongers in Poole, which is pretty appalling, but I managed to get hold of two Dorset brown crabs from Pete Miles. Pete distributes Othniel Oysters and also owns Storm seafood restaurant in Poole. I arranged to meet him early on a Saturday morning at the back door of his restaurant. Stood in the alleyway I felt more like I was about to do a drug deal than buy some fresh local Crabs, but after a short wait the door opened and Pete invited me in. At the back of his kitchens we went through two big containers of crabs as we rummaged through to find the two largest specimens. Pete even gave me a crab pick to extract the meat out. I bagged the lads up, (I think they were boys) and went home to set about them. I won't tell you how much I paid for the two large brown crabs but I will say that at those prices, I will be eating crab far more often.

You hear a lot of people say that pasta machines usually get used once or twice then sit at the back of the cupboard forgotten. I use mine about once a fortnight and subsequently it doesn't take me very long to knock up some dough, run it through the rollers and clean up afterwards. It really doesn't take that long once you have the hang of it, you could always just buy fresh lasagna sheets if you don't fancy making your own pasta.


This recipe makes 7 raviolis.

200g Tipo '00' flour
6 Egg yolks
1 tbsp Milk
1 tbsp Olive oil

You can still get good results with less refined flour if you can't get hold of any '00'. I've used plain all purpose flour before now.

2 Brown crabs, boiled and picked of all white and brown meat
Salt and black pepper to season.

Some washed wild rocket
Chorizo oil, for a lightly spiced porky pick up.

Place the egg yolks, milk and olive oil in a large bowl and add half the sieved flour. Use two bent fingers in a circular motion to bring it loosely together before adding the rest of the flour a bit at a time. You should end up with a flaky dough with lots of little flecks all at the bottom of the bowl. Tip all this out onto the side and work the dough with the heel of your hand for 10 minutes. During this time you'll find the dough becomes silky and all the small bits will come together. Wrap in cling film and stick it in the fridge for at least half an hour. You've made twice as much dough as you need here. You can use the extra another day for taglietelle or more Raviolis.

Once you have boiled your crabs, remove the flap that covers its bottom and separate the legs and body from the main shell. Remove the gills or 'dead mans fingers' (it is a myth that eating these will kill you but they will upset your stomach and make you need the toilet so make sure you remove them all.) Crack the legs and claws and pick all the fresh white meat. Make sure to pick the body and the sockets where the legs once joined. Now, pick the brown meat and add it to your bowl of white meat. The brown crab meat is where all the best flavour is in my opinion, it's also much wetter so add just enough to bind the white meat together into a coarse, thick paste. Season with plenty of black pepper and a little salt and set to one side. This is also a good point to add a splash of tabasco if you fancy a little kick but to appreciate the full flavour of these fresh crabs I kept it very simple with just salt and pepper. I cracked the crab shells and roasted them along with the legs and set them aside for a crab stock.

Cut your pasta dough into quarters and roll through the largest setting several times folding the rolled dough in half in between each motion. You will see the pasta become much smoother, now run through the machine settings until you have fresh lasagna sheets, I stop at the second the thinnest setting for raviolis. With a 10cm round cutter, cut 12 discs of pasta. I used to use a mug and then cut around it before I had one. With teaspoons place generous sized balls of your crab filling into the centre of the circles and brush water around the edge of the pasta. Place another disc on top and crimp the edges together with your fingers making sure not to squeeze any filling out of the other side and also not to trap air bubbles which could pop and split your ravs. With scissors trim around the ravioli approximately 1cm away from the edge of the filling to tidy them up a bit if necessary. Lay on a flour dusted tray and repeat until all your raviolis are done. Dust with more flour and cover with cling film and leave in the fridge until ready to cook. They will take 3 minutes in simmering salted water.

Dress your rocket in the chorizo oil and form into tight balls. Place a cooked ravioli on top and then drizzle with a little more of the chorizo oil.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Marred With The Efforts of The Kitchen

When I left home my mum handed me over two wooden utensils. A spoon and a spatula. I didn’t realise it at the time but these would soon become great allies. They have both become old and trusted friends of mine and although I have collected silicon and metal alternatives over the years, my fingers always reach for these when my eyes are on the pans. Metal peers of the utensil will never look old and weathered, they will never darken and smooth through love and excessive use. Simply cold and hard, uninspiring, bringing no warmth to the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lost in a fairy tale of enameled tin dishes, cast iron casseroles and Agas, quite the opposite. But I find the wooden spoon has been provoking me of late, nudging me. I’m sure every keen cook has an old wooden spoon with a smooth sheen and slight bend to the handle. Perhaps your wooden spoon has some black marks on the back of the face where it has been left idly in a pan while you answer the phone. As fundamental to my kitchen as the chefs knife, the fridge or even the oven, yet I can’t help but wonder whether the wooden spoon will one day be defunct. Inglorious health and safety inspectors have stamped out the likes of wooden handled knives and chopping boards in professional kitchens in favour of plastic, stainless steel and silicon. The wooden spoon has already been on the decline. In the want for minimal and clean looking kitchens, uniform stainless steel utensils have become a desired essential while the wooden spoon has been overlooked once more.
When I think back to when I was a child and reminisce of Sunday dinners and making cakes, I remember my mum creaming the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. There’s a certain romance with them. The images it conjures up in the imagination. I can be inspired to cook by simply looking across to my utensil pot and notice that cheeky friend eyeing me up. It may have taken on a slight odour of garlic but who doesn’t love that smell and although my wooden spoon is tainted yellow and orange from spices, functionality far outweighs aesthetics and matching my other kitchen tools. If I am bringing dough together, it won’t bend like its silicon equivalent. When tasting a little of my Bolognese, I am less likely to burn my lips as I would on its heat transferring metal counterpart. To own a well-used wooden spoon, tainted and worn from a history of kitchen conquests and catastrophes, is to own an autobiography of your cooking pilgrimage. The spoon wears its heart on its sleeve, it’s honest, it signifies time served, mistakes and hard work.
It shows you’ve been through something together. For all our victories won, we have also been outdistanced on occasions, we have shared those times at the cooker and it shows. Is your silicon spoon marred with the efforts of the kitchen? Or is it simply still black?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hurn Honey Farm - Dorset

There's a lot of love involved when it comes to bee keeping. Tremendous amounts. I had no idea quite how much back-breaking work was involved until I visited George Mantzikos on his honey farm in Dorset. George is from Greece, a country that has grown synonymous with honey. "Growing up in Greece, honey was everywhere", George explained. "I always knew that it took a lot of work to make honey." Much later, after making a permanent move to the UK and during his career in engineering, George's interest spurred him to begin keeping bees, on a small scale and just as a hobby. His interest grew and subsequently so did his colonies. It wasn't long before he acquired some land and in 1984 he not only built an impressive workshop but also his home, slap bang in the middle of his honey farm. "Beekeeping takes up a lot of your time and I wanted to be close to them". George now has over 300 colonies which equates to hundred's of thousands of bees.

George led us down the path to the hives he had to check on. As we drew nearer the theraputic hum of 150,000 bees lulls me into a calming numbness. I'm so relaxed about it that I don't feel the least bit worried when George tells me I should not have worn deodorant or aftershave, "The bees are going to be very interested in you but try not to panic." My Dad, who has joined me on this visit, looks like he is having second thoughts, especially when George tells us that he doesn't like to use smoke to calm the bees any more. "It's not nice," he says. Dad's eyes widen. Inside each hive is a series of frames which is where the bees construct the honeycomb. The full frames are lifted out and replaced with freshly cleaned empty ones. Each section of the hives is incredibly heavy and after moving a few I realise just how tiresome this can be. The bees start to become very interested in me and it's not long before both my dad and I are edging away from the area and back down the path.

Back in the workshop, the honeycomb has to be cut away from the frames, some is cut into neat rectangles and placed in plastic boxes to be enjoyed simply as the bees have left it whilst others are put to one side to have the honey extracted from the waxy comb. The wax is then melted down and sold off. Emma Dick, Buyer for Lush Cosmetics says, "We have been using Georges beeswax since we first started out making soaps."

After showing us how the honey is made we finally get to tasting some. "Some people don't realise that honey changes with the seasons, right now, the bees are making their honey from bell heather. Later in the year, when it is pure heather honey it sets like jelly, if someone offers you heather honey and it is runny then it isn't the real thing." I chomp down on a chunk of fresh honeycomb and instantly decide, that this is my favourite. All the empty frames then have to be boiled clean, bleached and then tightened up and stacked, ready to be used on the next swap over. "Cleanliness is very, very important. When you see dirty colonies, disease is close behind." I ask if Colony Collapse Disorder has been a problem. "We all have to deal with CCD on occasions. I have been a very lucky man and fortunately it doesn't happen very often here." Although George is telling us vast amounts of information, it is clear we are only scratching the surface and that there is a lot to consider. Each answer is delivered with a concerned pause that leads me to believe that everything is subject to change. That, with bees, you are constantly learning and adapting. George politely excuses himself to return to the mountain of work that lies before him over the summer. His time is very precious and so I leave him to get on with cutting out the honeycomb of what looks like around two hundred frames.

The next morning, I drizzle some of George's honey over my porridge. The amount of care, time, patience and love that goes into producing this honey is phenomenal, and that's before you even begin to consider the work of all those bees. It's so very easy to overlook how much work goes into the sweetening of my porridge and at just under £4 a jar, I think it's the best value for money to be found.

Hurn Honey Farm,
Barrack Road,
West Parley,
BH22 8UB
01202 593 040

Monday, 26 July 2010


Guanciale, or guancia is an unsmoked cured bacon-like product made from the jowls or cheeks of a pig. I had made an attempt at guanciale earlier this year when I hastily came home from our butchers with a pigs head, much to the bewilderment and shock of my wife Emma. Something went very wrong last time though, I think I had left them for too long before I started the cure and the god awful smell emitting from the jowls prompted me to abort the process and bin them. Some time has elapsed since then and I thought it high time I re-attempted guanciale. At only £1.68 for two plump pig jowls it seemed rude not to.
The first stage was the cure. A mixture of sea salt, sugar, peppercorns and thyme was massaged into the meat on all sides for several minutes before each jowl being laid on a bed of the remaining mixture in sealed tubs then placed in the fridge. Each morning the liquid drawn out of the jowls was tipped away, there was no funky smells this time, all I could smell was pungent thyme with a faint whiff of pepper. After a week there was little, if any, liquid being tipped off each morning and so began the maturing process. Plan carefully where you will hang your guanciale to mature. You need somewhere with air flow, out of direct sunlight and at a cool temperature no higher than 60F. A corner of my kitchen was just fine. This is something which I should have planned in advance as Emma now dances on the fringe of vegetarianism, don't worry we have had words and meat is still firmly on the menu. The problem began when I served dinner one evening. Emma sat down to her meal and dangling from the shelf above the table, at eye level and about eight inches from her face were my two guanciale. I was quite proud of my charcuterie whilst Emma was a little put off her food. In fairness the Guanciale were looking sweaty and some beads of guanciale juice had dripped onto the table by her knife. We ate dinner in the lounge for the rest of the maturing period though the trouble didn't end there. My guanciale was the subject of a few lovers tiffs during the three weeks, unfortunately I had absolutely nowhere else to hang them, I am now putting a rail up in a storage cupboard in the hall and finding homes for all the junk in there. This will become my cellar of sorts as I plan to get into charcuterie even more, though a fear of botulism has me re-reading a lot of books at the moment.
Today I had my first sample of home cured guanciale. I cut a few slices off and placed them in a hot frying pan, the ribbons of fat started to melt and quickly turned translucent. The sizzling meat gave off the most amazing smell with strong thyme and pepper notes. I ate a few slithers on their own whilst I quickly assembled a bacon sandwich with the guanciale, better than any bacon buttie I had had in years. I used no condiments in the sandwich and simply let the fat soak up into the bread. The meat has a deep, rich flavour and the fat is simply beautiful. It melts away and leaves a refined porcine taste in your mouth. The pig is still, unquestionably, my favourite animal to eat. Just do yourself a favour and make sure its not maturing near to where your loved one eats their dinner. For any other culinary related relationship advice, just drop me an email.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Flat Peaches - A Growing Dependence

Walking back from doing some errands in town last week I stopped in my local grocers, as I often do, for some fruit to eat on the walk home. There is always a table outside filled with what's new and in season. This time of year the table is always full of colour and like a child who has just seen Santa in the corner of a department store, I can't take my eyes off of it. A small handwritten sign reads, 'Stan's Tomatoes', and is placed above a huge basket full of them, all different shapes and sizes. Stan is a guy from a small town on the edge of The New Forest and for a few weeks each year you can spoil yourself on his exquisite, deep red tomatoes. There is a tub of yellow plums placed next to a tub of the regular variety which are from Devon. Cute little apricots are sat next to stacked punnets of local strawberries and there are bulbous globe artichokes lined up along the shelf. The best thing about my grocer is that there is almost always a local option, just like with the tomatoes. For new potatoes, there are some from a farm five miles up the road. Recent gooseberries have come from Wimborne, a neighbouring town, and an array of lettuces all come from Sopley on the outskirts of Christchurch.

What I really fancied today though, was a peach. I looked the peaches over and selected one that I felt would be sufficient for the stroll home. I was reaching across the table when I noticed the words, 'Spanish Flat Peaches', scribbled on a piece of card above a small wooden crate. I'd never had one before and so took one to eat alongside my other peach and compare them on the way home. No sooner had I reached the end of the road, I had to turn back. I was completely besotted by the flat peach. It was intense and subtle at the same time, its skin, which wasn't too fuzzy, broke under the gentlest pressure exposing the pale yellow, almost white flesh, swollen with juice. It was sweet, but not overly so, and as I worked my way around the tiny stone in its centre, my surroundings faded briefly into insignificance. The Big Issue sellers voice became a muffled bass line to the hypnotising hum of the traffic. Within moments, it was over, all that was left was a tiny stone and a few rogue droplets of peach juices dripping through my beard. I wanted more and I wanted it now. I bit into the regular peach, it came nowhere close. The Big Issue sellers gruff voice was grating on me now and I wanted to do anything just to get away from the drone of the traffic. In comparison it was sharp, tart and didn't emit as much juice. I would guess that this was because like most commercial fruits, my regular peach was picked before it was fully ripe. This means that the harvesters don't have to be as delicate with the fruit, it will take more of a beating without bruising. When picking fruit early, although the colour and texture of the fruit may continue to change, the flavour of the fruit will not. I cannot guarantee that my new favourite food drug, the flat peach, wasn't harvested in a similar way, but I very much doubt it due to the ethereal taste I had just experienced. I headed back to the grocers and filled a small bag with some more. They worked out at about 30p each, only 3p more than the regular peaches. I am sure there are many ways you can cook and prepare these flat peaches for desserts, coulis and juices, but I haven't got that far with them yet. Each time I have bought some, they are simply devoured as they are.

Fruits of the Forest
64 Seamoor Rd,
01202 761646

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Kings Cross With A Wok

I found myself wandering around the back streets near Kings Cross a little unnerved. In the stifling heat of the evening, I felt like a sitting target, "What's in the bag pal?" some boss eyed scouser hocked. I was not going to tell him I had a copy of Jo Pratt's latest book, In The Mood For Entertaining in there. I doubt he would have wanted it, if indeed he could even read, but I thought it best to something that made me sound tough, like boxing gloves, or better yet, ignore him and keep on walking. "'Ere mate, don' be likgh tha', come backgh". My pace quickened as I could see the entrance to the train station at the top of the road. They had armed me with a weapon of sorts, so as to give me a sporting chance, a wok which I was beginning to wish wasn't jammed in the bottom of the aforementioned bag. As I turned into the station I looked round to notice the unsavory gentleman from Liverpool had found someone else to bother, I believe it was a pound he was after, or perhaps a cigarette, either way his manners were appalling.

Tilda were the ones who had armed me with the wok, along with some samples of their new stir fry rice. A straight to wok product already seasoned and flavoured in four styles. I had been fed and handsomely watered with prosseco, which may or may not have added to my slightly paranoid state in the Kings Cross area that fateful Wednesday evening. Inside a beautiful Georgian townhouse at the cookery school, Food at 52, ten of us had been given a demonstration of recipes by the graceful Jo Pratt who has such a calming presence in a kitchen. Well I was calm until we were told it was our turn to cook. We paired up and set about the woks, I teamed with Mimi and in between reciting Flight of the Conchords songs we managed to pull together a fiery prawn and chilli dish with the Thai red rice. I did spend most of the time trying to get the lid off a bottle of rice wine, but thanks to Mimi, and a shared love for chilli, we had a fantastic plate of food. There were some really interesting dishes made using the new rice and the one that I recall in particular was a lamb stir fry where the lamb had been briefly marinated in sweet chilli sauce and soy I think, correct me if I am wrong. Over dinner, sat in the cute courtyard, we joked around, laughed a bit and drank ginger cordial, how very Enid Blyton.

Thanks to Food at 52, Tilda, Wildcard , Jo Pratt and all the lovely people who I shared the evening with.

Mimi is also hosting a Burmese pop-up at Matt Follas' Wild Garlic in Beaminster, Dorset on 1st October. Book now on 01308 861446. It will be a fantastic night I am sure.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

BANANAS!* Competition

My fingers begin to feel slightly numb as the handles of a weighty bag of fruit and vegetables digs in tightly to the crook of my elbow. Trying to peel a banana during my walk home from the grocers has often gone awry, the peeled, naked top half of my banana ending up on the floor followed by me standing still, staring at it, feeling like I am five years old and just dropped my ice cream. I pause for a little too long, then remind myself I am twenty-five and to be seen slightly tearful at this age over a banana could be a little embarrassing. Bananas have always been my favourite fruit, it comes in its own natural wrapper and its phallic embodiment never ceases to amuse me. My mothers fruit bowl was no end of jokes when I was younger, positioning one snugly between two oranges. I would like to say that my immature sense of humour has left me, but alas, my wife regularly shakes her head at my futile attempts to make her laugh. It doesn't matter though, I am always amused.

Whilst I had previously not given much attention to the story of the banana, recently I have become somewhat enamoured with the fruits history. In the 1920's, when bananas first took the hotspot of most popular fruit in Northern America, the fungus named Panama Disease took hold and began to obliterate crops. A solution of planting in virgin soil was proposed and the fruit companies United Fruit and Standard Fruit (now Dole and Chiquita) took land in Latin American countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua, often by force with the help of U.S government. The companies greed did not, unfortunately, end there.

The guys at Dogwoof productions sent me over a copy of their new documentary, BANANAS!*. I must admit, hearing it was a courtroom drama following the case of twelve Nicaraguan plantation workers against the Dole Food Corporation sounded a little testing. My instant reaction to 'courtroom drama' conjoured up images of Ally McBeal and that terrible CGI'd dancing baby. However, the documentary had me engrossed. The case is made against Dole for knowingly spraying pesticides over entire plantations that are seriously harmful to humans. The consequences have been shown to cause infertility in men and women. What unravels shows how Dole refused to stop using the pesticide even after constant advice and tests that deemed the chemical spray Fumazone seriously harmful to humans. Even when Fumazone was banned, Dole continued to use their stockpile of the chemical for a long time after spraying it over the crop, the land and the workers dormitories. It is a little disappointing that the Nicaraguan plantation workers change their statements and lie during the course of the trial, but the suspense throughout the documentary is immense and I definitely recommend watching it.

So Dole Food Corporation, not nice guys, and unfortunately, Chiquita is guilty of the same crimes. This documentary has me asking more questions though. What about the other food companies, where can I buy guilt free bananas, and what banana alternatives are out there? Well luckily my grocers don't carry either of these conglomerates produce, I am yet to find out on other major banana producers but I endeavour to do so. The thing is that due to their market dominance, Dole and Chiquita are the main reason that we most commonly only have one banana option, the Cavendish. More recently Plantain can be found much more abundantly and I have been lucky enough to get hold of some Manzano bananas. At this moment I am still yet to find somewhere that stocks Lacatan bananas but perhaps one day soon, I will find some.

The guys at Dogwoof have kindly given me 5 copies of BANANAS!* on dvd to give away. To enter simply email with your name. Winners will be picked at random and emailed for delivery instructions on Friday 16th July 2010.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Taking Mum for Afternoon Tea, The Print Room, Bournemouth

I hadn't been to see my mum in a little while, I'd decided to give her a break from my perpetual chatter on the subject of this blog. Mum had been busy lately on one of her projects and now things had eased up and she had some time I wanted to take her somewhere nice. I met her in Waterstones, a ploy to lull her into the thought we would just grab a quick coffee in the Costa upstairs. I mentioned I wanted to look in another shop first and led her down towards The Print Room. It was a muggy, humid afternoon and the high ceilings and cool floor of the old processing room of the Daily Echo made it a perfect place to relax over a pot of tea. I took a pot of a superlative lapsang whilst mum went for a breakfast tea, my mother drinks more cups of tea per day than anyone I have ever known. The used tea bag dish is always mounded up as high as possible and yet it gets emptied once or twice a day too! A tea fiend.

The classical spread of an English afternoon tea arrived on the obligatory tiered stand. Sandwiches, crusts removed, scones with clotted cream and jam and finally some cakes at the top. The Print Room have a night baker and everything from breads to cakes are made in house. We cut the sandwiches in half to share, egg and cress, ham and mustard, cucumber and smoked salmon. Exactly as a traditional afternoon tea requires. I want to point out that I wasn't being stindgy by only ordering one, I had a joint in the oven back home and had my mum wanted one all to herself then naturally I would have insisted that is what she have. Ever the mummy's boy, I like to make sure my mum's ok, the fact that she was quite capable of looking after herself long before I arrived on the scene, then took care of me and my sister for many years, is irrelevant to me.

Next we attacked the scones and more importantly, the clotted cream. There was a moment of panic as mum thought she smelt something burning, but on further investigation it was just my lapsang tea giving off its smokey aromas. Mum, now much calmer knowing the wooden booth wasn't smoldering, removed the top plate and sat it neatly on the table between us. The chocolate mouse cake didn't stand a chance and was devoured in a matter of minutes, then, both feeling a little guilty from making such short work of it, we took our time over the shortbread. Service was polite and subtle and I had a lovely afternoon with my mum. Afternoon tea at The Print Room is just £10.50 and includes one pot of tea, four sandwiches, two scones and two cakes from the in house patisserie. I think it's fantastic value.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Guilty Pleasures

Ok, so a kebab shop may not be the type of thing you would expect to read about on a food blog, but this is one of my guilty pleasures that once in a while I feel the need to indulge in, and besides, food for me is about what tastes good. I don't recomend having this kind of thing every night, but it should be up there with such great pleasures as the pork scratching. Many a drunken night has been underlined with a kebab. In the vicinity of Bournemouth and it's surrounding towns and suburbs, there are countless kebab places, most of which I have visited at some point over the years, but none come close to Kebab and Pizza Junction in Charminster. Raz, the proprietor, took on the shop just last year, then only doing pizzas, and immediately set about offering variations of kebab. It's been a long while since I have braved a donner kebab but the char-grilled chicken shish kebab wraps here get me very, very excited. Fresh made coleslaw, always crisp salad and house chilli sauce all wrapped up with the afore-mentioned chicken keeps me very quiet and occupied for all of about ten minutes. Emma turned to me on our latest visit and said, "I always know when your food is good because you don't speak." For those of you who know me you will appreciate that such reprise in my incessant verbal dihorea are moments which are few and far between, and are to be savoured. Raz's place isn't just a counter, firing off takeaways though, he has an area full of tables, it reminds me of the small street food eateries from my travels. It is always busy here, and not with drunken, dribbling louts, but with families and couples of all different nationalities. Sport is often on the big screen tv and there is even a room downstairs with a pool table. How many kebab houses can you go to eat, shoot some pool and pretend you are Tom Cruise or Paul Newman in The Colour of Money? As I mentioned earlier, this is one of my guilty pleasures, we all have them. But on those occasions when the lust for such foods arise, treat yourself, and get the best kebab in Bournemouth, Chicken Shish Wrap from Pizza, Kebab Junction.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Fish Man, Bournemouth Beach

I'm going to share a secret here, it may not be very heavily guarded but it has been one of my favourite finds for a couple of years now. Anyone who lives in the Poole / Bournemouth region will know that, surprisingly, though living on the water, we have hardly any fishmongers, in fact I think the nearest one would be Christchurch or Ringwood, some ten miles away.

I had always seen the cluster of rowing boats on Durley Chine beach, not far from the pier, but it wasn't until just a few years ago, when my wife Emma and I first moved into our flat, that during early morning walks to work along the beach we discovered a man hauling small nets onto one of the boats. I assumed this was merely a one off, but as the week drew on I noticed him further and further out each morning, sometimes I wondered how he rowed out so far, sat out a good few miles off the coast. I imagined how nice it would be to have fish, caught off my local beach, just a mile from my home and eat for lunch just hours after being landed. After a week or so I managed to arrive at the same time as the fisherman was bringing his boat ashore, laying down tied pairs of buoys acting as rollers to lift the boat off of the sand and bring the vessel back up a few metres away from the ebbing tide. I wanted to see what had been caught and as I started towards the sand I noticed that the few idling people on the promenade came together near a bench and started to form an orderly queue. The fisherman carried a big fish crate up to a small plastic table, washed his hands in a bucket of water and greeted his first customer. It seemed to be first come first serve but the box was full of beautifully patterned mackerel, a few pollock, some spotted grey mullet and a few red gurnard. I stood in line and bought a nice big pollock for £2. That walk home I must have had the biggest grin on my face, I was so incredibly chuffed and I knew I had found something special. The early bird definitely catches the proverbial worm. Over the seasons I tried lots of fish, all extremely reasonable prices and caught on my doorstep, you couldn't possibly get more local. I had Dover sole, plaice, mackerel, grey mullet, gurnard, I never had a set plan of what fish I would buy, I just wandered down to see what was caught. Some days he doesn't go out, but the added gamble of whether or not he is there, has gone out or even caught anything all adds to the anticipation. Dave the fish man has been fishing off the beach since 1959, "Back then there were loads of fishing boats being launched off the beach." he informed me, but if you walk along the beach early in the morning now, you will see that he is the only one. I am too polite to ask the age of Dave the fish man, but rowing a boat for over fifty years has served him well I am sure, he looks very young. I wondered why he always rowed though. "Magna Carta" he replied. The Magna Carta gives fishermen the right to fish the foreshore under rowing or sail and also the right for fishermen to sell their catch on the beach. On my latest visit I picked up a handsome pair of mackerel, the pattern on their backs mesmerise me. As I am sure many of you know, you can tell how fresh a fish is by looking at its eyes. They should be clear and slightly bulbous, not cloudy or sunken back. These two specimen caught half an hour demonstrated this perfectly. It seemed a shame to take a knife to them, but I was hungry and approaching an early brunch. I took the fillets off and pan fried them gently with some oil and chopped shallots, layed them on top of some boiled and crushed new potatoes and some griddled asparagus, before soft poaching an egg to sit atop the lot.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Hix Oyster & Chop House

From his career through Caprice Holdings, running the kitchens of the 'to be seen at' restaurant of the late 90's, to preparing Oscar ceremony dinners and now adding more and more restaurants to his own expanding empire, Mark Hix has been a longstanding and established face in the British Chef line up. To say I was excited about receiving a copy of his latest book was an understatement. Hix's food writing has a certain restful charm, quite polite really. Not too heavy on superlatives and even complex recipes seem so very relaxing to read. I must admit, I was a little dubious as to how he could follow up from his previous book, British Seasonal Food, but I needn't have worried. Hix Oyster & Chop House takes quite a different approach. It's a cook book to take with you to the beach or to flick through in a pub. A gentle read but informative and inspiring. It's also nice not to hear, "seasonal", and "local produce" every five minutes, which these days, can be words often tiresome to hear. With someone in Hix's position, you take it as a given, you need not ask.

The Oyster section is brilliant. After my recent trip out on the Othniel Oyster Farm in Poole Harbour, a place I source my own Oysters from, I was pleased to see that the guys got a proper mention for their outstanding product not to mention their unique and delicate way of harvesting them. The recipe for Bloody Mary Oysters will have me on the phone as soon as I have finished this post to go pick up some Rock Oysters this afternoon. I may even knock up one of the beef and oyster pies for supper.

Amidst all the wonderful recipes, (I don't mean to kiss ass but I really do fancy making all of them), The Bar section, I can tell now will become the most dog-eared of all the pages. Pork crackling with Bramley apple sauce, Quails egg shooters and deep fried scallop frills all look so simple to make and perfect for a sunny day alongside a drink. Which could be chosen from the British drinks list that Hix has created and written about. Perhaps, the white wine named collaboratively Tonnix by Mitch Tonks and Mr Hix, or the Nyetimber Sparkling white wine made in West Sussex from traditional champagne grape varieties.

'On Toast' could possibly be the next section to see quite a bit of use from me. Chopped livers, mackerel, tomatoes and Dorset crab all are making me reconsider my mundane cereal I had this morning. There are sections for every occasion and I think whether you are shy and intimidated in the kitchen, or incredibly confident preparing meals, I am sure you will find recipes that you will actually have a go at and cook, not just look at the pictures. If anyone ever dare contest or question what Britain has to offer culinarily, pick up this book and throw it at their head, if the spine end gets them somewhere near the nose, award yourself extra points. This book really has me excited about cooking at the minute, I must admit that recently I had been lacking motivation in the kitchen some evenings but with the added bonus that a lot of the ingredients are local to me in Dorset, I really have had an injection of enthusiasm.

Hix Oyster & Chop House is available from 2nd July 2010.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Mozzarella and Cannellini Bean Salad

So it's almost Summer, the suns out, I'm opting for the quicker dinners more and more often and the missus wants to eat a little more healthily too. I can't blame her, I did drag her round far too many burger joints on our recent trip away, as well as many a taqueria. Not to mention the heart attack inducing Roscoes House of Chicken and waffles. So when the request came in that we eat a little more consciously over the next few weeks, I naturally obliged.
The beaches here are so peaceful and with my cool bag topped up with a few cold beers I aim to make the most of the sunshine whilst it still hangs around. I've been growing courgettes again this year and the little ones, cut very thinly are a great addition to salads when raw and add a satisfying crunch to the mix. Anyway, it's sunny outside and I want to get out in it so here's a quick little salad I have been making recently, it's surprisingly filling. Stick it in a box and take it out with you. And close the door behind you on your way out.

2 tomatoes,
1 small courgette,
1 tin of cannellini beans,
1 red onion,
1 small yellow pepper,
1 large ball of mozzarella,
a good pinch of sea salt,
a crack of black pepper,
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
3-4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

Cut your tomatoes into 4, deseed and cut into thin strips, drop into large bowl. finely cut your onion, yellow pepper and courgette into wafer thin slices, drop into the bowl. Drain the cannellini beans and rinse under cold water in a seive before adding to the bowl of vegetables. Break and tear your mozzarella into thin short layers and add to the bowl. Add your salt, pepper, red wine vinegar and olive oil and toss with your fingers until well combined.

This salad is really fresh simply on it's own. Try swapping the mozzarella for tuna or some steamed mackerel with a little diced chilli.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Lost in the Larder: Food Inc Screening

I'd been wanting to put on some sort of food event for a while, something that would bring together people from South Dorset, and one day beyond. You see there isn't such a tight community of food bloggers down in Bournemouth as there is in central London. The guys up there in the big smoke have events or dinners to attend quite often and I myself have shown my face at a few before now. Having to travel up to London, sometimes staying overnight in cheap hotels, certainly makes a considerable dent on my wallet. There's always going to be more going on in a city but I don't think that makes too much of a difference, it just means you need to put a little more effort in. Seeing as I was traveling up to the city for meals, sometimes comprised of ingredients and produce from just five miles away from my home, I thought about trying to get a network started down here where we have so many amazing producers. The time had come and I decided to add another dimension to Lost in the Larder.

On Sunday 13th June 2010, the first Lost in the Larder event was held at Lighthouse Poole's Centre for the Arts. The girls from Green Deli had a lovely stand as did Louisa of Lulubelle's Cupcakes. The Olive Tree Cookery School were present with Giusseppe giving fresh pasta demonstrations and tastings from their Veru Truly Sicilian food products, Caponata Melanzane is my personal favourite.

Chef Jim Knight from the Lighthouse Bistro kindly gave a reduced rate for ticket holders and spoiled them with monkfish tails with confit chorizo and basil pesto. The guys at Piddle Brewery had looked after us and Piddle's blonde ale was just £1 a pint. Angus 'Vijay' Miller, gave incredibly interesting and extremely popular raw chocolate demonstrations whilst Brian Chamberlain of Wheatgrass World knocked out super-food smoothies, which was very welcome to those who were hungover from the football match the night before. I wasn't feeling my greatest due to attending a wedding the night before and I have to say that the beetroot, apple and wheatgrass smoothie not only tasted nice but slapped me round the face and brought me back to life again.

The film, Food Inc, went down really well. The insightful and investigative documentary on the US food industry seemed to open a few eyes and hopefully make people think a bit more about what food they buy.

Thanks to some generous support we were able to construct some great goodie bags and also a very impressive prize draw. I think we managed to send almost everybody home with a prize. The day was a success and I am happy to say that the next 'Lost' event will be surfacing later this summer. If you have any suggestions, or would like to get involved please email me at or join the facebook page for regular updates and plans of what's going on.

Thanks to Clipper teas, Quadrille Publishing, River Cottage, Casillero del Diablo, Dorset Cereals, Jamie Magazine, Ryvita, Piddle Brewery, Cafe Boscanova, Jim Knight, Penguin Press, The Olive Tree Cookery School, Angus Miller, Wheatgrass World, The Green Deli, Ebury Press, Lulubelle's Cupcakes and everyone who came to show your support and get involved. Also a big thank you to Mathilde for some behind the scenes help. If you don't already, you should follow Mathildes blog, always a gentle read and full of wonderful recipes and in-depth posts.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Apple Pan, West LA

When in LA recently, and feeling slightly down when a certain burger joint I had been hoping to eat at was closed, I happened across, completely by chance, The Apple Pan. I hadn't planned on visiting the place although it was featured on an invaluable list recently given to me. Discussion forums and other blogs had been indifferent on the place, some had commented "inglorious dive", whilst others opposed, "undeniably true burger". As I got closer and started to cross the road I could see just how busy the place was. Heaving. We squeezed in through the door and stood behind the cramped bar stools and waited for a space to come free. Apple Pan seems to have a fast turn around time and it was only about five minutes before we had two stools at the end of the bar. I took the Hickory burger with cheese and in a few minutes was presented with it. The buns they use in these kind of places in America seem a million miles away from the buns back home. As you pick them up your grip forces the surface of the bun to crack, even though it is so soft. The big chunk of iceberg lettuce, although crisp was bigger than the burger which was a bit weird but the hickory sauce was divine. Smokey yet subtle. The patty wasn't too thick but was cooked medium rare just right. The Apple Pan hickory burger again demonstrated just how wrong we often get it over here in the UK. I can't quite put my finger on it but there is something fundamental that we seem to miss or overlook or just frankly, get wrong. We had to try the apple pie and the happy old dude who had served us disappeared again before returning with a round apple pie that was absolutely massive. It was about six inches high and looked like something from a cartoon, think Desperate Dan's cow pies but without the horns. Although I would have given it my best shot, we settled on a slice each with some vanilla ice cream. The pie had a hint of cinnamon to the short crust that was light whilst the hot cooked apples in their sweet, juicy sauce melted the ice cream and swirled amongst each other. The old guy rung it up on the old fashioned till, which was probably as old as he was, and we went out into the California night. It had been a bit of a burger fest in LA and the calories were the last thing from my mind. But what I'll say is that if your going to eat fast food, you may as well have the best, and whilst this may not be the best, it is definitely up there as a strong contender for me so far.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Scandinavian Cookbook - giveaway

Scandinavia has been known for many things such as Hans Christian Anderson, the Vikings, Abba, Ingrid Bergman and even Ace of Base - fantastic early 90's roller disco tunes. They eat reindeer over there, can see the northern lights in certain areas, produce some of the worlds greatest snowboarders and it is believed that lapland is where Father Christmas has a second home, though it is yet to be confirmed as to which one is his primary residence. It appears that lately, Scandinavian cooking is seeing a great rise in popularity to rival even that of the Moomins. Jamie Oliver recently made a stop off to feature foraging, fjords and fermented tinned herring in his latest series 'Jamie Does...' The fantastic restaurant Noma in Copenhagen has just taken first place in this years S. Pellegrino "Worlds 50 Best Restaurant" Awards and it seems that as I leaf through one food periodical to the next, Scandie cooking seems to be popping up more and more often, highlighting that there is more to Scandinavian food than gravadlax and fermented fish. Trina Hahnemann's Scandinavian Cookbook arrived a few weeks ago and it took me several browses of the book before I even looked at what the recipes were. The photography, by Lars Ranek, one of Scandinavia's leading food photographers, is so gentle and calm. With pictures not only of the food but also many of Scandinavia's beautiful countryside and moody, city streets, the book takes a month by month seasonal approach demonstrating what can be had in even the bleakest of months. What got me most excited in this book was the winter month dishes. I have the recipe bookmarked for braised, stuffed pheasant with savoy cabbage, gravy and potatoes to use as soon as the season kicks in again later this year. But for now, the Smorrebrod, Kransekage: almond cakes and home made Danish pastries are more than enough to keep me occupied. The guys at Quadrille have kindly given me two copies of Tina Hahnemann's Scandinavian Cookbook to give away. For your chance to win a copy simply send your email address and name to The winners will be drawn at random on Friday 4th June 2010.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Kogi Truck

Of all the food trucks that have twitter followings in Los Angeles, the most popular, the one with the biggest cult following, is without doubt, The Kogi Truck. Kogi has grown since its humble beginnings, founded by Mark Manguera, Caroline Shin-Manguera and Chef Roy Choi who was named "Best New Chef" by America's Food and Wine magazine earlier this year, and it now boasts four trucks named Azul, Roja, Verde and Naranja as well as serving food from the Alibi Room in Culver City.

There have been a few negative reviews popping up here and there, saying overhyped and mentions that considering it's Mexican/Korean you won't see a single Mexican or Korean standing in the long lines outside the truck. On the other hand, there are a host of people who say quite the opposite, that it works, that it incredibly good, and well, the long queues speak for themselves. The LA Times published a podcast on Kogi Truck last year and ever since I have been wanting to go stand in line myself. Now in California I knew that I owed it to myself to track a truck down and go taste some Korean barbeque tacos.

We had been staying in Huntington Beach for a few nights and, as I had been most mornings since being in the vicinity of LA and Orange County, logged onto Twitter to see where the trucks would be stopping today, a system which up to now has obviously worked succesfully for Kogi. The Naranja truck was to stop outside the RVCA warehouse in Costa Mesa just five minutes up the road. So after battling the waves on the beach all morning we jumped in the car and made our way to RVCA. As chance would have it, RVCA were having one of their annual warehouse sales which was a welcome and pleasant distraction whilst we waited for the truck to arrive. Sure enough a line started to build and build and as we joined, about twenty places deep in the queue, the Naranja truck rolled up and set-up shop. There were many ethnic nationalities in the line, including Mexican and Korean to go against the negative Yelp review I had read. I took a kimchi quesadilla and a Korean spicy pork taco whilst my wife Emma took the Korean chicken burrito. Everything we had was remarkable. Fantastic! One of our favourite eats in California (which has included a lot). The Kogi Korean barbeque sauce, used in the Korean chicken burrito and most of the food served at Kogi trucks, has such a deep flavour. A peanut satay type undertone to a rich and spiced barbeque sauce. My spicy Korean pork taco was not as spicy as I would have liked but it was full of flavour. The kimchi quesadilla, which is on their favourites list, was the highlight for me, spicy bbq sauce with sesame seeds and the same slight undertone of satay amid the fermented cabbage sandwiched in a large corn tortilla. In my opinion, the wait in the line was absolutely worth it. The food was brilliant value for money, just $14, and I would highly recommend, to anyone visiting the area, to keep an eye on Twitter and somehow find your way to the nearest Kogi Truck one night and wait in that line. Kogi - believe the hype.

Follow Kogi on twitter @kogibbq

Friday, 21 May 2010

Marty's Burger Stand, West LA - The Double Chilli Cheese

Before arriving in Los Angeles I had been looking for recommendations of places to eat in the city. There was only one person I thought of and whose opinions I regard highly. Simon Majumdar, author of Eat My Globe and Eating for Britain has not only eaten his way around the world but is also now semi resident in LA had been kind enough to supply me with a great list for good eating in the city of angels. Many of you who follow the blog he runs with his brother, Dos Hermanos, will know that the double chilli cheese burger from Marty's Burger stand in LA is said to be his favourite and the best. Coming from a man who's mantra is "go everywhere, eat everything" and who has travelled the world over in the name of food, I made this one of my priorities and the intrigue had me waking up at 6AM every morning and counting down the sleeps before I would be able to taste it for myself. We drove into town around six thirty in the evening and headed straight for the crossing of West Pico Boulevard and Prosser Avenue and located Marty's Burger stand. Unfortunately it was closed. It was a Sunday though and so my disappointment was consolable. We settled on something else for dinner and the following day, we took a bus, up Santa Monica Boulevard and then walked for half an hour to taste the legendary burger. We arrived at six fifteen and again it was closed. My heart sank, I was worn out and tired and we were leaving LA the following morning. I sulkily walked over to the pay booth at the petrol station next door and asked when, if ever, Marty's is open. It turns out it is open from eight in the morning until six in the evening. I had previously, since coming away empty handed the first night, googled and scoured the internet looking for Marty's opening hours but to no avail. I had presumed, wrongly, that surely there would be more trade in the evenings. Now, after two longwinded visits I had finally found out the operating hours of the business. So there was only one thing for it.

Having the double chilli cheese burger for breakfast was a turning point in my life. I knew there was something so very, very wrong with me to even consider such a breakfast. Especially when I had been for a hickory burger at The Applepan just the night before, but west LA's finest burger beckoned and so at eight fifteen in the morning, just before I drove to Las Vegas, I wandered up to the counter and ordered the burger I have been so eager to try. The burger exceeded my expectations. The perfect amount of chili, not too spicy to dominate the flavour and not too much of it that it soaks into the bap and makes it soggy. Two patties of beef, not too thick, cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato and a lightly toasted bap. The result is a burger full of flavour, not too stodgy, not greasy and for just $5.50. I sat quietly on the side of the road eating my breakfast, so very wrong yet so incredibly good. I contemplated what I had become and what lay before me on this long and twisted road of eating I have embarked upon. The three trips across the city had all been worth it, ten fold. We have some catching up to do when it comes to burgers in the UK. Whether or not they should feature on breakfast menu's is another matter though.

As we drove towards the edge of the city I spoke relentlessly about Marty's and the burger I had just had. My wife turned to me after about twenty minutes and said, "I wish I had a bite." Then it struck me, not only had I turned into some sort of monster that eats double chilli cheese burgers for breakfast but had become so engrossed in the experience that I had neglected to share it with my partner. I felt bad for a moment and then realised. We will just have to come back again next week.

Marty's Burger Stand is on the corner of West Pico Boulevard and Prosser Avenue, West Los Angeles and is open daily from 8AM through until 6PM.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Big Sur Bakery, CA

The drive down through Big Sur is absolutely stunning. The coast line and forests are just jaw dropping and as we rolled up to Big Sur Bakery as planned, both the wife and I were ready to ditch the car and just stay in Big Sur forever. I took a coffee and a slice of the potato frittata whilst my the wife had the asparagus tart and a hot chocolate. This place isn't cheap but is phenomenal quality and for the money and location I think it is very good value. Due to the location, Big Sur Bakery can sometimes have trouble with produce deliveries and so the menu and food for sale changes almost daily reflecting not only what is in season but also what has been delivered. I think this shows just how versatile they are here. After looking at the pictures and recipes in The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook I was a little worried that, like quite a few similar cookbooks, the food would look great but be lacking in flavour. This was not the case here. Packed with californian asparagus, deep, light and with a dark shortcrust base the tart was not just an unusual breakfast choice, but a welcome one. Meanwhile the potato frittata was really thick and the potato was not overcooked as can sometimes be the case with frittata. We polished off our drinks and took a chocolate brownie and a lemon slice to go which we ate whilst meandering along the pacific coastline. Big Sur Bakery is such a peaceful and laid back place to be, it's not fancy and it over delivers with the quality and flavour of the food. Something few places ever do. If you're passing through, or even if you're not. This place is worth the trip.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Boccalone - tasty, salted pig parts in San Francisco

I had noticed, sometime before we left for San Francisco, that Fergus Henderson would be having a St. John evening at Incanto to promote his new St. John hotel just off Leicester Square in London. Incanto sold out within three hours of taking reservations but had thoughtfully reserved twenty-five spaces for walk-ins on a first come first serve basis. This is where I thought I would have a go and aim to get there in time to beat the queue. My wife and I walk most places we go, I don’t know why, we just do, and so when we got off at Market near The Castro and walked our way down Church Street I saw it was roughly 12 blocks away. What I didn’t take into account, foolishly, was that the blocks stem up and down incredibly steep hills.

After scaling the hills we stopped in Omnivore bookstore, which is San Francisco’s equivalent to Books For Cooks in London and is also just around the corner from Incanto. After speaking with Sam from Omnivore books she told me how people had been queuing round the block all afternoon and so decided to stay and browse the bookstore, which is phenomenally well stocked, and chat with Sam about places to eat and check out in the city. As we walked past Incanto, the queue now gone, I stuck my nose in just on the off chance they had had a late cancellation. They hadn’t. Fergus Henderson and Chris Cosentino were stood happily chatting before the rush of service. I had a nosey around, wished I was eating there and went home with a menu anyway. Next time I am here I will plan ahead more thoroughly and make a reservation well in advance. Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore also have a side business called Boccalone with the tag line ‘Tasty Salted Pig Parts’ and produces and sells exactly that. Boccalone’s outlet is based in the Ferry Building and amongst various salami’s are vac-packed guanciale, pig liver, porchetta di testa, coppa di testa, and whole array of, well, tasty salted pig parts. As well as sandwiches stuffed with your choice of porcine meat, one of the most popular snacks are the Boccalone meat cones. For $4.50 you can have a custom cone and choose three types of cured pig to have sliced. I chose the almost crimson red coppocollo, made from pig shoulder with some Coppa di testa and porchetta di testa, both made from the head. They were all gorgeous and if, like me, you love all food piggy, then this place could have you sat at the counter for hours. Unfortunately I don’t fly home for another ten days and so some of the more interesting and flavourful parts like the guanciale, would not last without refrigeration. I bought some salamis that would last the duration of my trip sat in my bag, said my tearful goodbyes and hoped that it wouldn’t be too long before our next encounter. Another great reason to come back to this city.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Chez Panisse - Berkeley, California

It seems, for the food enthusiast, that everywhere you turn in San Francisco Alice Waters gets a mention. Her name is almost eerily present and if you listen closely, you can hear it whispered through the cool Californian breeze everywhere from book stores, delis and farmers market. Ms Waters has most likely got signed books for sale on the counter too. A kicthen antique shop had a sign on the door reading "One of Alice Waters favourite shops". It seems the Waters seal of approval, whether official or not, is enough to draw in the crowds. I had planned to go and have lunch at Chez Panisse during my trip, but in my freewheelin' approach to holidays and travel I had neglected to make a booking. But we boarded a BART train from Montgomery and zipped along to Downtown Berkeley on the off chance of a walk in. We were surprisingly early and there was already a small queue almost an hour before they opened. We decided that rather than wait we would go and walk about some of the gargantuan University campus in Berkeley, it really is impressive.

We had no reservation but the old lady maitre'd greeted us with open arms and showed us to a table upstairs. I worried for a moment whether she would be okay to make it across the room without a zimmer-frame or walking stick but luckily she made it there without having to press her panic button and we were soon greeted by a very kind waitress who supplied the staples of water, bread and butter. It's quite dark inside Chez Panisse and considering the beautiful weather and vegetation around at first story height, all the windows have the shutters closed just that little bit too much. The age demographic seems to be the later side of 60 although the only other young person in the restaurant was a young girl of about twenty who wore socks and sandals. I said nothing but Mrs Lost in the Larder knew exactly what I had just noticed and pointed out that it was lunchtime on a Thursday which explained most of the pensioners but not socks and sandals. There's no excuse. They were pink socks too.

I took the roasted grass-fed beef bone marrow, toast with a salad of capers, parsley and celery. Fergus Henderson had just hosted a canape evening at Chez Panisse the night before and maybe this pre-empted a Chez Panisse version onto the menu, although the salad had too subtle an acidity to bite through the rich beef marrow. The marrow from my first bone was very nice but the middle was not quite as giving enough as I would have liked and the second bone of marrow was undercooked which I found to be a great shame as the taste of the more firm and undercooked, pale marrow was incredibly subtle compared with the much softer, brown-grey, roasted marrow which released a much richer, savoury taste. For my main course I had the house-made spaghetti with pesto and Riverdog sun dried tomatoes. It was superbly put together with the pesto and sun-dried tomatoes accentuated with salty peccorino shavings.

For dessert I had creamy light balls of honey ice cream with a slightly bitter tangerine sherbert and a syrupy confit of baby tangerines which was gorgeous.

I had a great house wine, the Chez Panisse Zinfandel red. It really was fantastic and before now I had not tried many Californian Zinfandel. This is a grape I plan to spend much more time on in future. I was very impressed.

When leaving Chez Panisse I was still puzzled as to why the place is so revered. Is it simply because no one else is doing what Alice Waters is? Alice Waters is said to have created and developed Californian cuisine, but what defines it to be Californian? It all seems very mediterranean to me. Don't get me wrong though, I had a great meal, in a wonderful restaurant, in a beautiful part of the world. But I would find it difficult to define the style of cooking as, "Californian Cuisine". Definitely worth the trip out from San Francisco and a welcome breath of fresh air from some of the restaurants in the city. Chez Panisse doesn't try to be anything too special, well at least I don't think it does. It's simple, seasonal, locally sourced food, cooked carefully in what looked to be a very calm, open plan kitchen. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse aren't just selling meals, they are selling a lifestyle, a whole new attitude to food for some and maybe this is why she is so cherished out here.