Food Gift with Long Shelf Life: Subscription to Independent Food Magazine

What publications do you turn to for interesting, evocative and inspiring food writing? I've been asking a lot of people that question recently and the "umms" and "hmphs" I get in reply speak volumes. Unfortunately there aren't many widely-printed publications putting much stock in food writing these days. I'm not talking about recipes and product guides — those are printed in abundance and make up the content of most food magazines now. But essays, investigative pieces, profiles and nerd-tastic treatises with an edible bent have been quietly disappearing from the printed page.

So hurrah for independent publishers! There are some truly brilliant food magazines being produced in various corners of the world that will satisfy your hunger for quality food writing and illustrations.

A gift subscription to a lovingly-crafted independent publication is a gift that delivers food for thought and a treat for the eyes throughout the year. Two of my favourite ad-free food magazines are 'Fire & Knives' and 'Remedy Quarterly'. Why would a subscription make a good gift? What can we look forward to seeing from them in 2012? I conducted a little Q&A session with the publishers to find out...


Give Tasteful Gift Vouchers: Cooking and Baking Classes in London

We all have so much STUFF. Instead of wrapping up more of it as a Christmas or birthday gift, consider giving — and asking for — a cooking or baking course voucher. That one little slip of paper will bestow upon the lucky recipient several hours happily spent improving their kitchen tinkering abilities, meeting new people, tasting the fruits of their labour and then hauling a sack of it home to enjoy later. Bit better than another sweater or box set, eh?

I highly recommend the following two cooking and baking instructors in London for their enthusiastic, engaging manner and varied course selection. Maria Mayerhofer and Anna Colquhoun both offer vouchers for their courses, which are seriously good value compared to other culinary classes in the city. 


Instructor: Maria Mayerhofer
Location: The Baking Lab, Swiss Cottage, London
Website: www.bakewithmaria.com
Vouchers: Click here


Page Tasters: Rachel Cooke, Observer Journalist & Food Magazine Columnist

For someone who considers herself a creature of culinary habit, Observer journalist Rachel Cooke has a hell of a lot of recipe options to hand. She adores books — one of the reception rooms in her North London home is used solely as a library — and an ample part of the collection is of a cookery nature.

Some 200 cookbooks can be found lining her bookshelves and sitting in neat stacks in the dining room. It's only down to regular donations to a charity shop that her collection does not explode much beyond this figure.

Rachel regularly writes book reviews, refreshingly non-formulaic profiles, and a column in Observer Food Monthly magazine. She's my favourite writer at The Observer and I got in touch with hopes of interviewing her for the blog. Happily, she agreed to meet. I went round to her North London home, which has an enviably grown-up decor (love the drinks cart) to talk about pages of taste.

We had a chat at the kitchen table where she divulged which cookbooks she takes to bed, what it’s like interviewing celebrities over a meal, recipe pet hates, and “the greatest thing that has ever happened” to her (hint: it involves a cookbook).


Bake the New British Celebrity: Soda Bread

A remarkably humble baked good has recently attained celebrity status. It’s not French. It’s not covered in gold foil. And it certainly doesn’t take years of training to perfect. Soda bread has become a media darling, simply for being a quick and trustworthy loaf that the beginner baker can accomplish.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Lorraine Pascale, and Nigella Lawson have all baked soda bread on their TV programmes recently. There are two cookery trends that have helped push soda bread into the spotlight — home bread baking and 'simple' recipes.

The convergence of these two trends set off a flurry of encouragement to make soda bread. Why does it fit the bill so well, for so many? This bread doesn’t require many of the steps that fill new bakers with fear and loathing: kneading, proving, and shaping. Even if you do feel comfortable baking, soda bread is a delight because it can be ready in under an hour.

Recently there has been a massive swell of interest in bread making, and baking books and classes have been popping up in abundance. First time bakers, keen to get their hands in and start making their own, can easily feel deflated if their initial loaves don’t meet expectations.

It doesn’t help that everything is touted as being just SO easy and quick to make now. Or to translate that into Jamie Oliver speak; while preparing a dish for his 30 minute meal TV series he exclaimed: "Even a raving lunatic can do this!"

The problem with, uh, encouraging sentiments such as this is, when you’re in your kitchen trying to prepare a simple-easy-quick-lunatic-friendly recipe and it’s not going well, you feel so raving inadequate.

I’m here, as someone who has taken a couple of bread making classes but still struggles to consistently get all the elements quite right (there are good loaves and there are what-the-hell-happened-there loaves), with assurance that you can make soda bread.

With its pillowy centre, crusty shell, and comforting nostalgic fragrance, soda bread will become a staple once you take the plunge and make your first batch. It's a gate-way bread — once you bake it, you'll be eager to try other bread recipes. That’s an addiction I’m happy to enable.

This article was written for the Bake with Maria website. Click here to read the remainder of the article and try the recipe! While you're over there check out Maria's brilliant selection of baking classes, which take place at her Baking Lab in West London. I've taken classes taught by Maria and heartily recommend. 


Pumpkin and Rice Soup with Za'atar Croutons Recipe

If it looks as though I've been applying fake tan lately I can explain. I've been eating a LOT of pumpkin; so much that an orange hue has surely seeped into my pores by this point. I've tried a few new pumpkin recipes, in search of an interesting dish full of flavor and spice. The one I'm sharing with you here, which the writer calls 'the comfort blanket of the Middle Eastern soup world', allows the pumpkin's flavour to shine as it crackles with an exotic mix of spices.

Around this time of year cheery jack-o-lantern festooned recipes crop up everywhere, all calling for pumpkin as their primary ingredient. Frustratingly most pumpkin recipes I've seen give no guidance on what type of pumpkin is best to use, thus many cooks undoubtedly buy a big orange guy and are disappointed with the results. It's become common practice to substitute butternut squash for pumpkin, as 'carving' pumpkins have flesh that is quite watery and tasteless.


Tasting Menus: Spuntino, Soho, London

Is it possible to be simultaneously sleek and comforting? Cool yet cosy? Spuntino, the popular 'diner' in Soho, is like Kate Moss's greedy twin, devouring carbs and heavy cream then licking her lips with delight. She's on-trend and she unabashedly loves food.

As a former New Yorker I had a strong sense of deja vu as I approached Spuntino. There is no sign out front, just a black facade with a building number. They don't take reservations. Even the website is elusive, seemingly designed by the creators of Lost. The interior wall tiles bring to mind the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. The friendly staff are tattooed and pierced. And the dangling exposed light bulbs, well whoever created those things must sleep on a towering bed of cash. Tis the ubiquitous lighting of all establishments working a vintage look.

But there ain't nothing wrong with all of the above. These qualities combine for an attractive little place that adds a hint of downtown NYC to London. Why, it's even in Soho.


Remedy Quarterly Article Featuring Blackberry and Apple Crumble Recipe

In this screen-staring age it's still nice to be a part of a publication that you can hold in your hands and feel proud of.

I recently wrote an article for Remedy Quarterly, a gorgeous food journal published in Brooklyn, NY. Started by friends who wanted to document and share food memories and recipes, it's now on its sixth edition. 

'Stealing' is the theme of the latest issue, to which I contributed. I'm thrilled with how the finished pages look, and have really enjoyed reading the other pieces. Help support independent, creative and environmentally-friendly publications! These 100% ad-free booklets are sold online and at these stockists. And they smell nice too, like a book that's sat on the shelf a while.

To read the article click on the images below or click Page 1 and Page 2 to download full sized images. Try the Blackberry and Apple Crumble recipe, it's a much-loved British classic, perfect for this time of year. There are plenty of apples out there waiting to be plucked and put to good use...


Smoky Black Bean and Roast Tomato Soup Recipe

I've been craving dinner earlier than usual recently. My appetite gets discombobulated in the autumn, as the sky darkens at an ever-quickening pace, similar to the confusion jet lag inflicts. Alex has poked his head round the kitchen door a couple of times this week exclaiming, "Are you already making dinner?" If I was married to an 80 year old my timing would be spot on.

Not only is dusk nudging in but the temperature has turned officially chilly — I feel the need to insulate from within. Soup season has arrived.


Tasting Menus: Trangallán, tapas restaurant, Newington Green

The London neighbourhood of Newington Green flies somewhat under the radar. Tucked next to Stoke Newington and Dalston — two areas oft-mentioned in the media as havens of trendiness; where cafes, delis and restaurants seem to open weekly — it houses luminaries such as myself, but not many restaurants of note. So when a defunct shopfront shows signs of development, those of us obsessively on the hunt for new edible experiences hope something tasteful and tasty will arise.

Trangallán has teased us for a while. The smart striped monochrome facade has been in place for many months. The word on the street was... 'tapas'. The suspense is now over, it's open, and I'm tipsy with relief after my first visit. Newington Green is now home to a cosy and charming restaurant that I look forward to revisiting.


Apple, Cardamom & Sour Cream Muffins

I love the Internet: a quick jaunt on the WWW and next thing you know a cancer research scientist in Boston and a Punjabi Southern belle in Houston are helping me bake muffins.

Last week I bought a new muffin tin and a few days later I happened across a lovely apple tree while walking in the countryside. New tin + abundance of collected fruit. I needed a recipe! I searched my cookbooks but couldn’t find any suitable ideas. Time to call on my good friend Google. I asked him, Google, where can I find a nice apple muffin recipe, preferably with sour cream (key defender of dry bakes) and cardamom (a spice used in Nordic baking, which is quite fashionable at the moment. Obviously I only want muffins that are on-trend).


Rainbow Beet(root) Tart Recipe

My sister-in-law Nicole made this mouthwatering multicoloured tart while we were on holiday together in Portland, Maine. The pastry here acts as a canvas, showcasing just how stunning and varied a humble root vegetable can be.

I love beets (or 'beetroot' as it's known in the UK). They taste like earth. This may well be what puts some people off them, but I adore the hearty soil-tinged flavour touched with a bit of sweetness.

And I'm not alone, when Nicole put this stunner down on the dining table, it was inhaled with glee by family from the age of two to, uh, significantly older than two.

I asked Nicole to share the recipe with me, and you, so we can all put such an eye-catching earthy treat down on our own tables soon.

First, obviously, you need to procure bunches of beets in varying hues. Nicole bought hers at the Portland Farmers' Market, a showcase of vibrant fresh produce.


Tweet Bites

I follow hundreds of food obsessives on Twitter, so you don't have to.

Pull up a chair and I'll dish out the week's edible highlights, oddities and amusements...
  • Time to wade into the cheese wars, my friends. Be warned, it gets stinky. This week was saw former Blur bassist turned farmer Alex James launch a range of flavoured Cheddar cheese at Asda. He'd previously gained cred in the food world producing an award-winning goat cheese, so this transition to processed cheese 'blankets' and pre-cut melting cubes in flavours such as Cheddar & Salad Cream and Cheddar & Tikka Masala had the Twitterati tutting...


Tasting Menus: Portland, Maine

After five steamy days in New York City we drove north — the heatwave followed us, but we fought back with a breezy sunset sail and buckets of ice cream. Stay cool as I dish out some edible highlights of a few day's respite in Portland, ME.


Tasting Menus: New York City (Brunch!)

There are many things I miss about living in New York City, but the brunch scene has got to be in the top five. Typically it went like this: Sunday you wake up late, feeling slightly woozy from the previous night's libations. Then whenever it takes your fancy you head out to meet friends for happy plates of comforting food, washed down with spicy, reviving Bloody Marys.

At least, that's how I remember it was back then. Now I'm a visitor in town; I arrive at brunch before noon, usually with assorted family members, bummed to hear there's a long wait. By the time we sit down everyone's starving and grumping. Maybe the scene has changed, or more likely, maybe we've just gotten old. Anyway, the consistent crowds are a sign of just how well this city's restaurants can turn out a brunch and I encourage you to go. Like walking over the Brooklyn Bridge or arguing with a taxi driver, it's a classic New York City experience.


Tasting Menus: New York City (Lunch, Dinner, Drinks)

I'm back from a holiday in the USA, adapting to a five hour time difference, lack of daily brunch, and a 25 degree temperature drop. Yes, we timed our visit perfectly with The Heatwave. I sought a good dose of summer weather, and Mother Nature wrapped me in a sweaty bear hug. If only my body could conserve that 100 degree heat and dole it out when the English summer is chilling me to the bone.  Anyway, enough on the weather, there is SO much good menu tasting to report! Following are some amazingly delicious yet affordable dining and drinking suggestions...


Tweet Bites

I follow hundreds of food obsessives on Twitter, so you don't have to.

Pull up a chair and I'll dish out the week's edible highlights, oddities and amusements...
  • "Best Restaurant in the World" Noma, in Copenhagen, is famous for its use of ingredients found in the wilds of Denmark. Chef Rene Redzepi shared this photo of their Master Forager, a job role that sounds at once incredibly ancient, and indicative of modern restaurant trends. Have we discovered how Santa Claus spends the warmer months? (Source: @ReneRedzepiNoma)


Little Squares of Bitter Sunshine

Is there a foodstuff that you love everything about... apart from the taste? You want to like it, you've given it a go several times, but so far your taste buds remain stubbornly unconvinced. This is how I feel about marmalade.

Just the word alone — marmalade — it's lovely to look at, lovely to say. A jar of marmalade sat in the sun is a joy to behold, the light creating a bright orange glow, illuminating flecks of peel like rigor mortis specimens suspended in a laboratory jar.


Salad Soup

It's kind of a soup. It's sort of a salad. From certain angles it could even be seen as an open-faced sandwich. But one thing's for sure — this delicious dish is a big bowl of summer freshness that makes a perfect mid-year supper.

Now I love slap-you-in-the-face flavours, but this recipe celebrates the delicateness of June produce. Combined, the seasonal vegetables and herbs create a surprisingly zingy taste sensation. The textures of this dish elevate it to a level where you stop saying it's good, and just make pleasing noises while you spoon it in. Lettuce, wilted with a bit of crunch still in it; crusty chewy sourdough toast; creamy bites of broad bean and a broth laced with velvety olive oil. She ain't bad to look at either, the varying shades of gentle green sit atop the sunny golden toast, all dusted with a white flurry of parmesan.


A Radish Revelation

When dining at a Michelin starred restaurant, one expects to be wowed by fancy pastry work, complicated cooking techniques, and food presentation striking enough to warrant space at the Louvre. During my recent meal at The Kitchin I was amazed by a radish.

The simple root veg was presented whole, leaves in tact, as part of a complimentary crudites starter. Figuring anything they put on the table was going to be of a high standard I decided to be brave and try a radish — a vegetable I've done my best to avoid ever since I grew teeth. To me they were just bitter watery disks, lurking in salads, requiring a swift removal. But this one looked different; more stunted-carrot in shape, with a colouring bleeding from hot pink to white tip. I crunched down, and it was a revelation. Crisp, peppery, refreshing and spicy, I'd never tasted such a radish. Do I like radishes? By the time you get to your 30s you don't have many moments when you realise a food you detested as a child is actually nice, most of those transitions happened more than a decade ago. But for me it obviously took a multi-award winning restaurant to restore the humble radish's reputation.


Tasting Menus: Edinburgh and Glasgow

Recently Alex asked me to set aside a long weekend, he'd planned something to celebrate our anniversary. Four days, hmm, enough time to venture to another climate. In giddy anticipation I impulse-shopped a sun hat and a new pair of shorts. Just in case, you understand. "We're going on a Scottish city break!" he announced the night before our departure. Quietly, I tucked away the summer wear, and undertook a flurry of food research. Twitter is a fantastic resource for restaurant recommendations when you're short of time. I was happily overwhelmed with suggestions.

While I'd wrongly gauged the climate, he had very rightly gauged where to go. For years I've talked about wanting to visit Scotland's metro gems — Edinburgh and Glasgow. He listened. He planned. We went! And it only rained for half a day! We canvassed many acres of pavement throughout these two beautiful cities, and worked up quite an appetite. This is by no means a travelogue of everywhere we ate. These are the true stand-outs, the menu choices that I'll still be thinking about next anniversary.

The Kitchin
This one he chose. And he chose so very, very well. Run by a chef who was christened to cook, Tom Kitchin, the restaurant is located in Leith, a dockland area about 10 minutes from Edinburgh centre. The Kitchin's slogan is 'From Nature to Plate' and I've seen the chef on TV enthusiastically divulging how he really gets to know the people who provide the restaurant with ingredients, sometimes even accompanying them foraging or on fishing trips. His love for cooking with seasonal ingredients is evident the moment you open the menu. There is a Celebration of the Season daily specials menu, alongside the seasonally-minded a  la carte menu. The space manages to feel simultaneously decadent, friendly, buzzing, and relaxed. A huge window allows diners to watch the action in the kitchen and extends a bit of drama into the room.


Happy Anniversary

A year ago you made me a very happy woman, a beaming bride. Time has passed but my love for you has not diminished, my appetite remains strong. I long to re-create that special moment and to devour you once again. Happy anniversary, wedding food.

Gather round y'all and feast your eyes on a photographic tribute to the buffet of Southern classics served at my wedding in Savannah, GA, last May. Fiddly fine dining is not welcome at a party in these parts. Spicy shrimp-n-grits, tomato pie, mac-n-cheese, fried chicken, and peach cobbler — at a wedding? Yes ma'am!

Grab a plate and pile it high...


Frying Pan Cake

Say "upside-down cake" to someone and just watch their face. Their eyebrows may elevate in delight. A smile will start to spread and an "oooh" may form on their lips. In the lexicon of recipe titles, this one is near the top of the fun list. Its topsy-turvy name and nostalgic appeal is so stellar even Diana Ross sang this baked treat a groovy tribute.

While upside-down cake shouts good times, it also invites thoughts of panic about 'the moment' of turning said cake on its head, and brings to mind the need for specialty baking pans, which you probably don't own and would have to run out and buy in order to make it.

Stop. Stay where you are. All you need to bake this cake is… a frying pan. That’s right, gyrate on into the kitchen and whip out your skillet. It’s baking time.


Tasting Menus: Padstow, Cornwall

Edible highlights of a mini-break in Padstow, Cornwall. 'Tis a lovely little place by the sea, its size belied by the numerous opportunities for eating and drinking well.

Fifteen Cornwall

Just a few miles down the coast from Padstow is Watergate Bay, a stunning sweep of beach with a Jamie Oliver restaurant/charity tucked into its side. Before any food hits your table you'll already be impressed by the uninterrupted view of sand, sea, and many surfers. I was attracted to this restaurant for its position and lunch offer, a three course set menu for £27.  Seemed a good time and place to try a Jamie joint for the first time. The menu offers a taste of fine-dining in a beachy, bright place, buzzing with happy staff and casually dressed diners. Naturally I was tempted away from the set menu, by a starter not included in the deal — 'Insalata of gooey burrata, St Enodoc asparagus, Buttervilla's funky leaves with orange and poppy seed dressing'. You had me at gooey, Jamie.


Royal Wedding: Menu for Commoners

For a country that supposedly isn't interested in the royal wedding, there sure are a lot of restaurants betting otherwise. And I'm not talking about the type of joints that royal wedding tourists would happen across. My local pub The Alma is just one of many I've noticed advertising a special menu celebrating Friday's pomp, vows and circumstance. Offers of big screen TV broadcasts and traditional British grub have blossomed across sun-soaked London lately.

The Charles Lamb, a lovely little pub tucked away in a residential area, recently announced that tickets to their royal wedding street party have sold out. Sounds brilliant — there will be a brass band, a big screen TV for nuptial gazing, 'Royal Punch', a three-course pub banquet, a royal wedding dress code, and even a dog show! Will the dogs be dressed as royalty? Corgi's revenge? If you drink enough of that special punch I'm guessing anything is possible.


The Great British Scone

Since Wills and Kate set the date, a convivial phrase has become part of the daily lexicon: The Great British Street Party. Although I've lived in the UK for six years, until recently I'd been ignorant of this phenomenon. This may be because commoners only seem keen to gather outside their dwellings in such organised bunting-clad celebration when a Very Important Royal Event is held.

 Street party celebrating 1937 coronation of George 'King's Speech' VI
(courtesy of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea)
This tradition finds neighbours bonding together to enjoy a day of festivities and heaps of food in their street. It sounds like something people did in the much ballyhooed 'good ol'days' (back when a man knew his neighbours and children could play outside!) but in the year 2011 would only be written about by lifestyle journalists desperate for royal wedding fodder. Yet according to Streets Alive, an organisation that encourages al fresco fetes, and several people I actually know, there will indeed be roadblocks and merriment.

Whether you'll be hanging bunting and hoisting furniture into the road; sitting round the kitchen table gossiping about The Dress and The Kiss; or (let's be honest here) sprawled on the sofa, basking in the glow of Kate's shiny hair, while your own remains unbrushed — there will be food involved.


Smoking Hot

The claims printed on packaging are usually laughable, but sometimes they preach the truth. On the side of a tin of La Chinata Pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika powder) read the words "It is a condiment which cannot be missed in your kitchen". Si, si, quiero que mi pimentón! (y gracias a Google translate).

Welcome to one of my favourite flavours - smoky heat. This Spanish spice is so beloved it has been designated 'Denominación de Origen Protegida' by the EU, thus can only be called Pimentón de la Vera if it is produced in La Vera region of Spain.

This type of paprika is distinguished from others by its characteristic smoky aroma which it takes on after being dried using smoking oak. The pimentón is available in three types: dulce (smoky sweet), picante (smoky hot) and agridulce (smoky bittersweet). Me? I'm a smoking hot kind of girl.


Tarragon Twosome (part two)

This recipe was originally called Pea, Tarragon and Cream Cheese Pithivier. Pithivier is a word of French origin, that, according to Wikipedia "is used on English menus as a pretentious way of saying pie". I'll get straight to le point and call it a pie, particularly as I've shaped mine into mini pies (as opposed to a hump) using a muffin tray.

One day Alex ducked into a kitchen shop and bought me a much-desired muffin tin, not realising the enormity of its cups. It's fine if you like making muffins modeled after those found heaving on shelves in coffee shops; cakes covertly operating as breakfast food. But I've found it more useful for pressing pastry into and producing personalised pies (say that five times fast). This method works a treat if you'd like to bake pies with different fillings at the same time, as I did on this occasion — half were veggie, half were meaty.


Tarragon Twosome (part one)

I hate to waste food, but find fresh herbs all too regularly end up in the compost caddy. You buy a pack of say, sage, for a recipe, use the tablespoon required and then the poor delicately scented little lamb’s ears get tossed back in the fridge, the last they hear is murmuring about how you’ll use it again. It holds out hope — surely she’s coming back for me — and then a week later it’s nestled in amongst the peelings and coffee grinds ready for composting. I’m sorry sage. I’m trying. This weekend another herb had better luck, as I chose two recipes to make on the same day that call for tarragon; a plant that would look at home swaying on the bottom of the sea.

Tarragon is a divisive flavour, and it certainly does not disappear in a dish. But I disagree with the common notion that it tastes of liquorice; based on the indisputable evidence that I detest liquorice and I like tarragon. Fennel, with its subtle sweetness, is a closer match. But trying to compare tarragon to other flavours is like trying to compare Bjork to other singers. Its taste is fascinatingly odd and unique.


It all started with chocolate

My first memory of being excited by food was triggered, unbeknownst to me at the time, by deceit. It was maternal deception, ripe for Greek tragedy. You’ll understand I’m not being dramatic when you hear I was brainwashed to believe I didn’t… like… chocolate.

For the first three years of my life my mother told me this, and naturally, I believed her. Instead, as a 'treat' I was offered carob. If you just involuntarily gagged reading that you'll appreciate the situation. This bitter, chalky, so-called chocolate substitute must've been thrust upon thousands of us born to hippie parents hellbent on healthy upbringings; marring what should've been happy chocolaty moments.
Exhibit A:

My mom laughs recounting the inevitable day I came running into the house shouting “Mommy, mommy, I DO like chocolate! I do!” I was breathless with discovery and giddy from my first kiss; a Hershey’s Kiss. No one remembers who gave it to me now, but I salute you, cocoa hero. My mom says her reaction to my epiphany was, “This kid is smarter than we thought,” (uh, thanks) and she knew the times, oh they were a changing. From then on, the healthy upbringing continued, but chocolate was allowed for special occasions. Victory!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...