Not flailing around for a good meal

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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!

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Inspired by Roger Federer

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For a nostalgic 70s night in

 

Don’t panic, this is not a post about how to get as fit and strong as Roger. Which probably doesn’t involve eating cake. No, it was more that I decided I would write a post based on foodie gifts inspired by the winner’s nationality.

Of course, having written about great American recipes yesterday, there was no bias in this household, but lets just say I’m pleased to be thinking about foodie gifts inspired by Switzerland.

Well, possibly. I mean, what’s the first thing that springs to mind?

Toblerone. Hardly a gastronomic delight, but obligatory if you are passing through any airport duty free shop any time soon. You could always convert it into cheesecake.

No, my favourite contribution to the world of gourmet delights is the fondue. Beloved of 70s dinner parties, hijacked by chocolate, and kitsch beyond compare, there is nothing to beat a night around the fondue. In fact, it was a Christmas Eve tradition in our household. No, we’re not Swiss, just kitsch. So, as we may be heading into another winter of discontent in a very 70s style, now may be the time to get one in for your loved one.

Of course, it’s not terribly healthy with all that cheese, but all that gruyere and emmental is just so fabulous. And you’ll need to get great bread too. I have a very 70s looking cookbook too, which is chock full of all kinds of suggestions. I’m not a big fan of the boiling oil version, just call it an aversion to mixing boiling oil and small children.

If you want healthy, not to mention a step up the foodie ladder, then it would have to be Shabu Shabu, which is the healthier Japanese version. Meaning swish swish, you cook very thinly sliced Kobe beef in broth, and serve it with rice and vegetables. It is quite fun, it’s very tasty if you can get great quality beef (buy the best you can afford if you can’t find Kobe). If you’re in London, you can try it at Mitsukoshi.(UPDATE, sadly Mitsukoshi is now closed)

And for more foodie brownie points, then how about some Swiss wine? Nick Dobson apparently has the widest range of Swiss wine in the UK, and it’s certainly not one you see on wine lists very often. There is great rarity value then in serving up one these, and there are some good mixed cases for a trial tasting.

Now, where did I put that Toblerone?

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Bring back afternoon tea

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What Sunday afternoons are made for

 

Not all of us can afford, or want to go to, tea somewhere posh, but that doesn’t mean we should miss out. Afternoon tea is one of my favourite meals (it’s right up there with breakfast. And lunch), and we had a lovely one with friends today. Which is a great excuse for baking! This is my Victoria sponge from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Family Cookbook, the one where you have to weigh the eggs!

Odd instruction, but tasty results!

So to foodies everywhere, I say flex those baking muscles and treat everyone to tea! Bring back one of the things we do best, with fabulous regional variations, throughout the UK, which is why it’s mimicked around the world. Bake and be proud!

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The Saturday Session

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4th July, an excuse for some comfort cooking!
4th July, an excuse for some comfort cooking!

I love Saturdays, it’s when I get to cook properly, thinking about it, without just needing to feed everyone. And particularly I get to bake, which I love. So the Saturday session is just a chance to reflect on some great recipes, as the best gift you might be able to give your foodie, or yourself, is just the time to do something different in the kitchen.

And as today is July 4th, it seems appropriate to have some American themed recipes. I was looking for Nigella’s brownie recipe, but got waylaid by the recipe for pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. At least once on any trip to the US, this is my indulgent breakfast at choice. I wish I’d been organised enough to make it for this morning’s breakfast!

But for a taste of the US, and suitable for my cream tea tomorrow, then I’m going to go for Red Velvet Cake. I’m never sure of the history of this cake, but it definitely seems to be an American thing to me. I love this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and the observations about the cake. There are better tasting cakes, but nothing can beat people’s reaction when they see the colour. It would also make a perfect Halloween cake for kids!

So, start flipping those burgers, get The Boss on in the background, and bake up a storm. For once, it looks like we might have weather worthy of those Independence Day gatherings you always see on Martha Stewart!

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The Friday Five – let’s start at the very beginning…

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If, as a foodie, you’re at all like me, you will have shelves groaning with cookery books, food writing and magazines about food. The food and drink section of any bookshop will be your first stop, where you will lovingly eye up titles. Sound familiar?

So I’ve decided to feature 5 books each Friday, about different aspects of food and drink, some serious, some not, some for true foodies, some for dabblers, but always something that you can add to your wishlist. And let me know what yours are on each subject, love to hear! May just find a new title to add to those bookshelves!

For the first outing of the Friday Five, I’m starting at the beginning, with the 5 books that really fired my love of food.

 

The Be-Ro Home Recipes Book

 

1. The Be-Ro Home Recipes Cookbook – I still have my mum’s copy of this that is probably at least 35 years old, but love each and every recipe. When I’m feeling nostalgic, or just need comfort baking I turn to this. If you missed out on this, there’s a 40th anniversary edition available.

2. Delia Smith’s One is Fun – I had this when I first left home, and cooked from it lots. When I left one particular flatshare, I discovered that although I could cook most of the braised steak au poivre blindfold, I couldn’t finish the dish. This because my flatmate always did the last bit whilst I made the mash. The chocolate mousse is still my go to recipe.

3. Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater – any book with recipes for bacon sandwiches and smartie sandwiches is absolutely fine by me. Spoke to the need for good food, in a hurry, possibly the worse for wear. Which happened quite a lot.

4. The New Moosewood Cookbook – my godmother sent me this. I think she knew I was cooking from number 3 a lot. There aren’t a lot of smarties in this one. Or bacon. But I did cook quite a lot from it in attempts to be healthy.

5. A La Carte Magazine – not strictly speaking a book, but in the 80s this was food porn at the highest level! My mum used to buy it and I used to spend hours looking at the recipes and photography, which was luscious. Can’t even find any on eBay, but Gastronomy Domine has a recipe on her blog from there, so have to make do with that!

Love to hear what were the books that stoked your interest in food! And if anyone has any copies of A La Carte, be interested in hearing from you! With the resurgence of dinner parties, it must be time to bring back the Black and White dinner parties!

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For the BBQ Kings & Queens

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Lets face it, with the temperature soaring, there’s not much inside cookery going on round here! There’s the nightly smell of food on a hot grill, which can have varied results.

If your foodie continues their endeavours outdoors too, then here’s some great suggestions to make this their best season of outdoor cooking yet!

Smokin' Rigs and Great Recipes
Smokin' Rigs and Great Recipes

1. Show them that barbecue can be an extreme sport, not to mention a technique for mass catering, with a copy of Extreme Barbecue: Smokin’ Rigs and Real Good Recipes. If they start building contraptions in the garden, then it’s probably something out of here!

2. Buy them a barbecue that will be real talking point! Have a look at the Nordic barbecue, which is a tower barbecue, which is different. It’s said to cook things more healthily than normal, as food cooks next to the heat source and you get no flames from dripping fat. And apparently all that makes the food taste better, which will be key for the foodie! They’re also pretty new, so will be a real wow when they have friends round. If it’s a competitive foodie environment, they score big brownie points!

3. If there’s likely to be steak on the grill, then how about a branding iron? Firebox have one that you can personalise, so you can put everyone’s name on their steak, or any message you like! It’s a bit of fun, but serves a practical purpose!

4. Buy them something fabulous to slap on the grill. A good time to check out your local butcher, farm shop or farmer’s market. We used to live in Hampshire, and would make a summer weekend trip to O’Hagan’s Sausages to stock up with something unusual. Drunken Duck sausage anyone? We’re also enjoying some from Jimmy’s Farm that we bought at a country fair recently. We had the lamb sausages, and also the gluten free classic sausage, so perfect if your foodie suffers with an intolerance.

5. They might need something a bit more special than HP Sauce and Heinz Ketchup to go with those burgers. I’m quite impressed with the ones Jamie Oliver is offering, the tomato one in particular. It’s a bit special, and very tasty!

They should also try checking out the BBQ Blog, this is about serious bbq’ing complete with competitions! We have such a long way to go here in the UK! There’s a great entry on a barbecue road trip, so if you want to treat them to a very different trip across the US, this might be for them!

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We all scream for ice cream

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Another glorious day, more temperature records broken…even more need than ever for great ice cream! Now you could pop out to the corner shop for a Fab or a Strawberry Mivvi, but the true foodie is not going to be happy with that! Unless your local stocks something fab like Minghella’s, or Roskilly’s for the Coconut Ice Cream.

 

Be cool with great taste! The Gaggia ice cream maker with built in freezer compartment

 

So I would suggest if they are an ice cream aficionado, then it’s time they started making their own. I’m reliably informed by an ice cream addict that the Gaggia is the Rolls Royce of ice cream makers. It’s fantastic in that as long as you have bench space, it stays out ready to go all the time. With others, you have to know in advance you’re going to want to make it, or wait until the bowl has frozen.

Or if you want a bit of interactive fun with a tasty end result, then how about the ice cream ball? You put everything in, play a bit of footie with it and hey presto, ice cream! Got to be one of the most fun ways of making dessert!

For ice cream inspiration, then check out the Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book, for chunky, flavoursome ice creams or perhaps The Ultimate Ice Cream Book for equally flavoursome but slightly more sophisticated offerings.  And if you’re just going to dish up vanilla, then you’ll need to make a great sundae or knickerbocker glory! So pick up some hundreds and thousands whilst you’re down the shop!

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A taste of summer

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Lime Squeezer - all juice, no mess

 

It seems like it’s been a true summer’s day all over the UK today, although tempered, of course, with heavy downpours in places. So I’ve been thinking about warm summery flavours, of which one of my favourite is lime.

It’s tropical but sharp, and goes with all sorts of great things, from fruit to griddled halloumi (one of my favourites). But it can be a so and so to get the juice out of, and doesn’t really love having to use the same juicer as the lemon gets! So if your foodie is a gadget gatherer, then one of their gifts has to be this lime squeezer.

With that vivid green colour, there’s no mistaking what this one is for! It easily squeezes out all the juice and doesn’t drop in any of the seeds, pulp or peel. And at under £10, it’s also a perfect credit crunch gift, with the only thing getting squeezed being the lime, not your bank balance.

What are you going to do with all that lovely juice? Well browsing around I came across this great recipe on The Cottage Smallholder for Coriander and Lime Juice Pesto, which sounds amazing. This would make a really great light summery supper stirred through pasta, with a crunchy green salad on the side, and possible a glass of something white and chilled.

 

Bill Granger Everyday

 

It credits Bill Granger with being the inspiration, who is one of my favourite cooks. I’ve never eaten at any of his places, or even stepped onto Australian soil, but a great many of his books line the bookshelves here. It all looks invitingly fresh and healthy, but not dull. The sort of flavours you want to eat when it’s hot, but not when it’s February.

I am working my way through Bill’s Food and Every Day, as well as Holiday. Now the warm weather is, hopefully, here for a bit, they are just perfect. If your foodie needs some new recipe inspiration, then try these. Just don’t look at them on a wet day, you will feel jealous!

Or else, just book yourselves on that trip to Australia and visit his resturants. That’ll be like all their foodie gifts come true at once!

 

Update

Since I wrote this, I’ve had the joy of a trip to Australia, some amazing eating and a trip to Bill’s very first restaurant. It wasn’t a let down.

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A fabulous foodie treat of an afternoon tea

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Laura Mercier Perfume Tea

 

Buying gifts for foodies doesn’t just have to be things. In many ways, experiences will last longer than many physical things you can buy. And if your foodie fancies a bit of a treat, then I love this new afternoon tea at Harvey Nichols.

The Laura Mercier Perfume Tea is a fabulous combination of tea, cakes and fragrance, so ticks lots of boxes. Inspired by Laura Mercier’s Vanilla Gourmande fragrance, Fifth Floor executive chef Jonas Karlsson has designed the most wonderful tea, that is just a bit different to your average afternoon tea. The store’s in-house tea blenders were commissioned to create a new infusion, creating a bespoke blend of jasmine, vanilla, rose and green tea to complement the vanilla orchid, liqueur, bourbon, musk, heliotrope, daylily, sandalwood and amber notes of Vanille Gourmande.

Once you’ve got a cup of tea poured, then you can choose from a whole range of themed delicacies including smoked salmon and horseradish, cheese and pickle and egg mayonnaise finger sandwiches; scones with kumquat and vanilla marmalade and clotted cream; a vanilla and lemon-infused cupcake; a chocolate praline mousse cake; a raspberry éclair with rose and raspberry cream and chocolate, pistachio and peach macaroons. I know, I could eat all of that right now.

Whilst not cheap compared to a cup of tea and a slice of cake at Starbucks, it’s hardly comparable and so the £19.95 per person could be money very well spent. You can upgrade in various ways with champagne and gift wrapped bottles of the perfume, it depends on your budget!

I have to admit to loving this idea, and it’s one I’ve used myself. I was thrilled to be involved in the relaunch of Girard fragrances last year, with a launch at The Dorchester. The team there created canapes and cocktails that matched with the key ingredients of the 5 fragrances. I can’t take credit for it being an original idea, I was inspired by the amazing sounding dinners that Chandler Burr, the fragrance critic for the New York Times, created. I wish I’d been at a few of those too!

If you fancy the food but not the bill, then I found a recipe for Kumquat Vanilla marmalade on Lick My Spoon, which would make a great treat and change to the usual raspberry or strawberry. And if you want the fragrance then you can order it from Harvey Nichols but their delivery charges are quite steep. Stop by your nearest Space NK, they’ll have it but they don’t stock it online.

I’m off to see if I can recreate those macaroons!

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A very British delight

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The Full English Scotch Egg

We’ve been introducing a friend’s American girlfriend to British culinary delights today, starting with the Scotch egg. No summer picnic is complete without them, but if you’re going to do them, do it properly! Truly, you need to be getting your eggs from The Handmade Scotch Egg Company, these are the eggs to end all eggs!

As gifts for foodies go, it’s not the first thing that would leap to mind, but these guys will send your loved one a mixed box, large ones or small ones, with flavours including tarragon and garlic, smoked bacon, paprika, chilli…even one based on an Irish white pudding recipe! I promise you, they will never look at the ones in the garage fridge in the same way again!

If you don’t want to buy online, then check out their events page to find out where they are going to be next.

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