Wedding gifts for foodies

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

From tree to can with Nudo

 

It’s difficult enough to get a gift for one foodie, but what do you do when one marries another? I did read a piece encouraging local delis and food shops to start wedding lists, which I’m all for. Until then, then these are my suggestions.

1. Buy something they wouldn’t buy themselves. I adopted an olive tree with Nudo for two foodie friends (it was more interesting than buying towels), and they really enjoyed both the bragging rights of their tree, but also the produce that arrived. Think about a particular food they love, and then look for the best, the newest, the most unusual and treat them to that.

2. If the honeymoon is not top secret, then perhaps see what the foodie options are. Many top hotels offer food courses with their chefs, so it’s worth getting in touch to find out the options. Or try Isango, they offer options all around the world for experiences and trips, and there are good foodie ones. How about private cookery lessons in Rome, or shopping at Parisian markets and then making lunch? A sunrise tour of Hanoi followed by a class in Vietnamese cooking? Any of these will make a real treat, and certainly be a few hours to remember.

3. If hampers conjours up visions of things in leaflets that the milkman leaves on the doorstep, then think again. There are so many wonderful options, and would make something nice to come back to post honeymoon. Not on the High Street always has some interesting options, like the Touch of Provence hamper or the appropriately named To Have & To Hold. This is lovely, but a touch on the expensive side, but you could steal the idea and put your own together for less. To be honest, nice glasses and cava and a homemade cake would be just as well received!

4. Whilst they might not have thought to have put it on their wedding gift list, then check out if they have wishlists on Amazon, which is bound to have a stack of food titles in it. If they don’t have a list, then either give them book tokens, do a bit of espionage on what titles are on their shelves and buy around that, or check out the lists and recommendations that get generated.

5. You could go kitsch, and get them Mr & Mrs aprons, perfect for side by side cooking!

6. If you spend time having a small glass or two of wine together, then you might know what their favourites are. This is a good chance to buy around their fave: same grape, different country; same country, different region; new maker; old maker. You name it, there are plenty of choices for you to put together an interesting half or full case. I like Adnams for something a bit different, or Weavers if I am in Nottingham. If you’re feeling very generous, then you could get them a wine subscription with someone like Laithwaites or Virgin Wines.

7. You could perhaps see if you can score them a table at somewhere they’ve been longing to eat, sort of date night for some time in the future. Depending on your budget, you could put money towards the meal, the wine, whatever you can afford. To be honest, with some places, just having the patience to keep on to get the table will be gift in its own right! You could present them with the time and the date within the cookery book of the restaurant (come on, name me a hard to get into restuarant that doesn’t have a cook book!).

So, there’s my lucky seven to start with! If in doubt, I would still go with the make them a big cake option!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

Helping heroes with cooking

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

This isn’t really the post I thought I was going to write today, but sometimes events converge and the topic makes itself. Several things are going round my head: the death of Harry Patch over the weekend, the last of a quite remarkable group whose bravery and sacrifice can never really be measured; being at the Memorial Centre for History yesterday and trying to explain two World Wars to our 7 year old daughter; having a very good dinner at La Cremaillere on Juno Beach on a very tranquil evening that made it harder than ever to imagine the living hell that would have been unleashed around there just over 65 years ago.

 

Help for Heroes Cook Book
Help for Heroes Cook Book

 

And finally, today, the, in my view, despicable action of the government today to reduce compensation payouts to those injured in combat who develop later complications.

So today I am asking you, foodie or not, if you buy only one cook book this year please buy the Help for Heroes Cook Book. This is much more than a cook book, with personalities and servicemen and women writing about who their heroes are and why, and what they would cook for them, with some fascinating stories, and great recipes. You can buy the book directly from the charity here, or Amazon also stock it.

Please support the work of Help for Heroes in supporting wounded servicemen and women. This is a non political organisation, in their own words they “recognize that wars happen under any government… are non critical, preferring to get on with the job rather than talking about rights and wrongs.”

For my heroes, I am choosing my mum and dad. My dad has Alzheimer’s and at a pretty early age, and so is a hero for living with it. My mum, like many, many carers, is an absolute hero and they deserve our respect and recognition too. I would cook them whatever made my dad happiest, which was roast beef and Yorkshire pud last time they were here.

Go ahead, show your heroes you care and support all the other heroes out there.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

A great birthday lunch

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

Lunch on the Ile de Re

 

Should you wish to whisk a foodie loved one off for a birthday lunch with a difference, can I recommend Bistrot du Marin in Saint Martin on the Ile de Ré? The island is stunning and worth the €16.50 to cross over the bridge, and lunch alone would have made it worthwhile.

In a stunning location overlooking the harbour in St Martin, the Bistrot du Marin is the sort of place I love. No printed menu, just what was on the blackboards. We’d already had the Cote de Boeuf recommended, and this is an amazing dish for two. Coming out with a stack of chips, a blue cheese and a mustard sauce, this is how a rib of beef should be cooked.

Sadly, we didn’t do it complete justice, sending a few slices back, but it was fantastic. Follow it with a walk round St Martin and then an ice cream. You don’t need to know the name of the shop, you can’t miss it. Indeed you won’t want brain space occupied with the name, as there are so many flavours to work through, translate and then decide upon. I didn’t see many people order the Oyster and Caviar ice cream, but who knows? Someone would love it!

It was, all in all, a perfect location for a birthday lunch, with perfect weather. The only thing that would have made it even more perfect would have been to have stayed overnight and start all over again the next day!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

A foodie tour of La Rochelle

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

My favourite market: La Rochelle - great place for a food lover

 

I love La Rochelle, and would happily spend my days here (note to the housesitters, yes, we will be home. Unless we win the lottery).

It has everything you could want, especially if you want good food. You can do everything from fine, Michelin star dining through to just a quick coffee, but it’s all here, and in great surroundings.

My starting point would be a morning coffee, really anywhere overlooking Vieux Port. You could push the boat out and have a croissant too, but you won’t get hurried away regardless of what you have. I would then make my way up to the market. It’s on every morning, and to me it’s what you want every food market to be like. Full of colour, and characters, the best produce of the local area, and you really are spoilt for choice. Get there early, and you’ll be rewarded with the best of the days catch, great fruit and veg, and then inside for the rest of your lunch.

You begin to understand the huge variety of French cheese when you stand in front of one of the counters here and know that this is just from one small part of one region. As long as you’re not dairy intolerant, you will be spoilt for choice. You can move through the various charcuterie products, and fabulous cuts of meat, mainly from local animals. I’ve already described my love of the foie gras pate with preserved figs from one of the producers, but there are all kinds of other pates on offer, of every conceivable combination.

It must surely be heading towards lunchtime by now. I would say you had two choices really: seafood or the best of French high cuisine. For seafood, then Andres is an institution, and is possibly worth the visit at least once. I’ve had a great lunch in there, and I’ve had terribly rude service as well, so I’ve probably done my one visit for this lifetime. For myself, I would go to A Cote de Chez Fred on Rue St Nicholas. Lovely people, great atmosphere, and fabulous fish and seafood.

For fine dining, then one family dominate the town. The name of Coutanceau is over the door of not one but six places at the time of writing and is sure to expand. The original now bears the name of father and son, Richard and Christopher Coutanceau, and has an enviable position overlooking the town beach. This is two star Michelin dining, and deserves the stars. Needless to say, you need to book in advance!

You may get luckier with a walk in at my favourite, Le Comptoir Des Voyages, run by the eldest of the two brothers. This is a more eclectic approach to eating, particularly unusual for France, with influences from around the world. Also unusually for France the wine list is dominated by non French wines.

I’d enjoy lunch, then maybe take a walk around the aquarium, or walk the walls to work some of it off. You could also go to the small but interesting perfume bottle museum. Obviously put together by real fragrance afficionados and lovers, it will only take you about 15 minutes, but will cover fragrances you’ve never heard of, as well as those you have long forgotten.

 

None of this one for all business - ice creams from Ernest

 

All of this is really activity to make sure that I have room for a scoop or two at Ernest, glacier par excellence in my book. If you love ice cream, or possibly only like it a little, this is a must visit, to see just how far you can stretch ice cream from plain vanilla. I’ve not been yet this year to see what is new, but last year I had turkish delight, that was delicate beyond belief, but not dull, or too subtle, with a plain chocolate laced with cracknel and pink peppercorns. A seriously sophisticated taste that I have hankered after ever since.

After that, I’d probably pop into La Belle Iloise from some tinned fish, and go home. Otherwise the temptation would be another coffee, a pre dinner aperitif, and to move onto dinner. Which is no bad thing now!

If you need to get there, then Easyjet and FlyBe fly in from the UK. I’ve always been staying in a gite outside of the town, but for perfect location I would stay at The Yachtman – everything on your doorstep and it has it’s own outdoor pool. It’s also just round the corner from Chez Fred.

Go and discover this beautiful part of France, even for the weekend. You will come back euros lighter, pounds heavier but stress lightened!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

The Saturday Session – Have a BBQ with a difference!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

How to barbecue a mussel - something different for a food lover to get up to

 

 

This week’s Saturday Session is a foodie approach to a BBQ that may amaze your friends. It may also test your patience quite considerably, as it’s all in the prep!

Now you might not think barbecued mussels sounds that exciting, but we were treated to them the other night, and this is not just a case of chucking a few on the barbie!

First, you need to have a piece of well seasoned wood that’s been through the fire a few times. Then the patience to assemble your fresh mussels on the wood, pointed end up. This may be a great dish to do for a few people, as catering en masse will take significant effort!

Now choose your combustible material. We had two selections: vine cuttings and pine needles. The difference was subtle but noticeable in the finished dish. Cover your mussels completely.

The high tech came next, as the material is set alight with a blow torch. This is most definitely not a moment for using fire lighters!

After about 5 minutes, the edges of the wood seemed to get damped down in order to generate some steam, and the ash was fanned off the mussels. And that was pretty much it. The usual rules apply, only eating the ones that are open, and enjoy! It went down pretty well around the table, and was certainly an experience to remember.

Should you not wish to try this at home, then you’ll need to give the owners at Les Salines de Brouage 48 hours notice, and they’ll do this for you. Not to mention the most wonderfully fresh seafood platters. They’re not a restaurant as such, but they grow oysters, and every other kind of seafood is on their doorstep. Definitely not fine dining but most definitely fine eating.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

The spirit of Cognac

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

Cognac Summit the drink of summer 2009

 

Before you read this, you might want to mix yourself a drink:

Cognac Summit

Put a piece of lime zest and four thin strips of fresh ginger into a glass. Pour in 2cl of Cognac VSOP. Press lightly 2 to 3 times with the aid of a drumstick (I think my translation may leave something to be desired here, for those with better skills than the dictionary, the word was un pilon).

Half fill the glass with ice cubes, stir for 5 seconds with a spoon. Add another 2cl of Cognac. Add 6cl of lemonade and a piece of cucumber peel. Stir for 5 seconds and serve straightaway.

Now, I am not sure if that is a good use of Cognac or not, but it is the drink of the season from the Cognac trade association! And what an association it is, with some of the most famous names in the spirits trade involved! If you want to give the foodie in your life a trip to remember, without breaking the bank, then I suggest a long weekend in Cognac and working your way round a few of the houses.

Within easy reach from the UK with a number of the cheap airlines, you can fly into La Rochelle or Bordeaux and be in Cognac in a couple of hours if you rent a car. You can almost smell the Cognac in the air as soon as you arrive. As with whisky, they refer to the amount they lose into the atmosphere as the angels’ share.

My favourite tour, particularly with children, is Hennessy, if only because it involves a short boat trip from their modern looking HQ on the town side of the river to the warehouses on the other. There are tours in English, and you will need to book in advance. There are amazing barrels of Cognac from centuries and centuries ago, which you can only imagine how valuable they are, or what the flavours will be like.

Of course, the foodie will be interested in the whole process from start to finish, and also the many evolutions of design of bottles. The good news is there is a tasting at the end of it all! For the nominated driver, there is grape juice, for everyone else there is Cognac of varying qualities, depending on how expensive you wanted to make your trip. The basic trip ticket involves a very acceptable Cognac (this is Hennessy after all) but you can upgrade to something you may never get to buy a bottle of.

But don’t just go and do the visit and leave, as the town itself is glorious. If you fancy an overnight stay, then I would recommend the Hotel Heritage, and even if you’re not staying for the night then I would go for lunch. When the weather is great, then you sit outside on a very pretty courtyard, covered with wisteria, and needless to say have a very relaxed lunch. For little foodies, there is a children’s menu, but don’t go expecting the regular jambon frites option, more likely to be steak and chips.

The rooms are charming, warm and cosy, in feel rather than overbearing temperature, and the bar has a great choice of all drinks, not just Cognac. But as with most drinks, and food, there is something to be said about drinking Cognac in the town of which it bears the name, and generally just enjoying the whole atmosphere.

Cognac makes a great base for exploring the area, or just for a getaway with a difference. If you are flying back through La Rochelle, try and make time to visit the market, which is open every day except Sunday. It is exactly the kind of French food market every foodie dreams of, and is definitely worth the detour.

If you want more background knowledge on Cognac before you go then either check out the official Cognac site, or I enjoy the posts over on Bibendum.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

Not flailing around for a good meal

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest

The Plough & Flail at Mobberley

I’ve been on a bit of a great North run around over the past two days, which involved an overnight stay in Sale. And dinner at the Plough & Flail in Mobberley. One of those places that is pretty hard to find, but very much worth the effort.

It has all the cues of gastro pub, which can be good or bad. Too many times, there seem to be places that think just slapping up some Farrow & Ball paint makes them a gastro pub. All style, no substance. Not this place. It was one of those menus where you could have ordered everything and anything.

There was everything from great fish to great comfort food. I went for a homemade steak and onion pie, with fabulous hand cut chips, not to mention something described as sticky red cabbage, which was delicious.  Not sure what recipe they used, but there’s one here on the BBC Good Food website that sounds like it would be close.

It’s very close to Tatton Park, so a good stopping point if you are going to an event like the RHS Flower Show in a couple of weeks time. I would suggest whenever you go that you book. We were there at 7pm on a Monday night, and it seemed to have a good amount of tables occupied. There is plenty of outside space as well, but I would imagine it would be packed on a Sunday lunchtime. The food would make it worthwhile though.

If it’s too busy, you could always go and visit the alpacas next door!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Facebooktwitterpinterest