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.