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.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Red's Java House - San Francisco

We covered a lot of ground on our first full day in the city. After getting caught out in the rain the evening before and eating in a place that can only be described as a soup kitchen, we had some catching up to do. Tuesdays is one of the days the farmers market is present outside the ferry building, to be honest I felt let down by the size of it. Supposedly one of the foodie capitals of the country and this was all that could be mustered up. What didn't come anything short of fantastic was the ferry building shops. The breads from Acme Bakery look amazing and after settling on a small sourdough round I wandered just a few feet up the way and came to the Cowgirl Creamery and bought some of the stinkiest cheese I could find. Boccalone is also inside the ferry building which is the side-business of Incanto duo Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore. Boccalone and their tasty salted pig parts are incredibly popular, so popular in fact that the queue was bent out the entrance and trailed off down the hall. After browsing the mushroom stores and the wine shops we decided to walk along to Fisherman's Wharf and see what that was all about, who knows, maybe some shellfish....

Fisherman's Wharf is a car crash. Something Disneyland has chewed up and spat out. If you like the theme park environment, Hard Rock Cafe and Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurants then you might like this place. If so then please stay there. We took a silent walk along Fisherman's Wharf where the pair of us were in shock, knew each other hated it, but carried on regardless. We were hungry and no amount of sea lions were going to take our minds off it. I'd seen some Anthony Bourdain clips on youtube a while back and remembered that on pier 30 was a little dive bar that serves cold beers, chili cheese fries and burgers. I stated I would rather eat in the soup kitchen from last night than at Bubba Gumps on Fisherman's Wharf and with my wife in tow, made our way back along the Embarcadero to the Bay Bridge where Red's Java House lies. Any extra revenue generated from the spotlight Bourdain's No Reservations show shone on Red's has almost certainly not been spent on smartening the place up. Which is good because without the character of the place, you would quickly be turned off. A chilli cheese burger and some chilli cheese fries for me, I was hungry. It was a scorching day so we ventured out back onto the terrace area where I quickly felt at ease and ordered a beer from the makeshift drinks bar out back. Red's seems to take all kinds here. There were two miserable old guys on the table next to us who reminded me distinctly of Waldorf and Stadtler from the Muppets. Some people just clocked off work, some people probably never been to work, a mexican family with their young boy. One demographic that was nowhere to be seen to my great pleasure, was the suits, no tall skinny latte drinkers here. Our burgers came and I suddenly realised how much I'd ordered. There may be burger connoisseurs who have not rated this place particularly well, but for someone from the UK, where good burgers are few and far between, the burger lasted all of two minutes. Red's doesn't try to be anything, it's simple, booze and some food on the side. I relaxed, properly this time, like I haven't done in ages. The sure sign of a place worth going. As I lay back in the plastic chair, felt the breeze on my neck and sipped my beer I felt a nudge in my side. It was the wife, "That little bird is eating up the sick from under that table," she whispered. "Well maybe he's hungry too."

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Othniel Oyster Farm

Oysters have long been considered a rich mans food, a luxury. But some time ago oysters were a cheap way to bulk up casseroles and stews when meat was not so abundant or affordable. There are in fact many traditional recipes for Lancashire hotpot that call for oysters to be included. It seems the cheaper cuts, offal and seafood that were once seen as paupers food have come full circle and are now the mainstays on high-end restaurant menus around the world. With higher demand and an increasing popularity, I was surprised to find out that there is an exceptional oyster farm on our doorstep here in Poole. The Othniel Oyster farm has been established since 1985 and now produces around 400 tons of organic rock oysters a year. I’ve long had a penchant for oysters and to hear that there was a farm just a few minutes drive from my house, I had to go and try some. Gary is a happy guy who’s passionate about his farm and is more than prepared to take the time explaining the methods and engineering that he has developed to make the Othniel Oyster farm what it is today. I met Gary and his team on Poole Quay and boarded the barge along with two pallets of oyster seeds. I was handed my lifejacket and leant against the cab whilst we pootled across the shipping channel and over to the farm. After a short journey we moored up at the mouth of the old Sandbanks chain ferry that Gary has bought, converted and anchored just off of Brownsea Island that’s now converted into a floating warehouse, processing and seeding unit. Eight years ago, the time came for the Sandbanks chain ferry to be replaced. The Othniel Oyster farm was operating from several rafts that featured internal cages to seed the oysters. Obviously this entailed a lot of logistical problems between rafts and also man-power. During the crossover period Gary managed to buy the old chain ferry and had it converted into what is essentially a warehouse unit that floats. The ferry, now painted blue, has many seed cages fixed to the outside, increasing the speed in which they can bring oysters up to a size that the crabs and fish can’t break into. Gary has also acquired a forklift truck that obviously saves a lot of time and man-power when getting the sacks and pallets of oysters ready for shipment. This seems to be the nerve centre of the operation and with the added mystery that not many people know this place exists, it left me feeling a little like James Bond discovering a secret hideaway, sadly without a Bond Babe in sight. We have such rich waters here in Dorset and mixed with the position of the farm Othniel’s oysters grow much faster and consistently than in other regions. Due to the nutrients and food in the water, from a thumbnail sized seed to a respectable sized oyster takes just eighteen months. Gary produces around five million oysters a year and has recently been awarded organic status from the Soil Association due to the delicate and ethical way in which they farm and harvest.

The method of harvesting oysters varies from site to site and subsequently Gary has engineered a unique process that he has also replicated for other farmers on similar sites in Canada. The grounds dry out very rarely on the Othniel Farm and so a conventional tractor based harvesting process can’t be used. Gary has, over time, developed a unique conveyor harvester that blows the shellfish out of the substrate using water jets. They are then gently transported into the boat via a stainless steel mesh belt where the correct sized oysters are picked whilst the smaller mollusks not yet fully grown continue along the belt and fall back into the water. Standing in Gary’s converted chain ferry, anchored just off Brownsea island, I endeavoured to find out where most of these oysters end up. A large proportion of the oysters wind up in Hong Kong and China and amongst vast customers across the UK. I am told Mark Hix uses these oysters in his restaurants and was recently out on the barge to check out the operation. Hix has a restaurant in Lyme Regis and obviously has many suppliers available. His choosing to use these oysters, really does speak volumes of their quality. Just before we were about to head back to Poole Quay, Gary called me over the conveyorbelt, shucked a palm-sized oyster open, cut the anchoring muscle and flipped it over in its own juice for me to taste. I had, after a long day, finally managed to taste what I had come out here for and it was easy to see why Mr Hix, who has cooked at the Oscars ceremony in Hollywood, buys Oysters from our very own Poole Harbour.
Some of you will want to take advantage of yet another great producer here in Dorset. If you are interested in getting hold of some of these locally farmed mollusks, get in touch with Pete Miles.

Pete Miles, who distributes these oysters is also a keen and multi tasking foodie to boot. Pete not only owns and operates Storm restaurant in Poole but also fishes prawns, crabs and lobsters amongst other fish and seafood which he supplies to his restaurant. He is a keen horticulturist and his own crops of veg can be found on his menu along with his county fair winning honey produced from the bees he keeps. Some people just don’t let time get in their way. Pete is a thoroughly nice bloke and should you have any enquiries for Oysters, contact him at Dorset Oysters.
01202 666057 or visit