2010, on reflection, was a great year for eating here at FGH Towers. Some were fancy, many were not. Most were with good company, although I had a couple of memorable meals on my own in Hong Kong. Some involved new things, some were old favourites. But they all added something to the experience of interesting food experiences! These are my highlights (and an exceptional low).
January was all about eating up the leftovers, and generally trying to waste an awful lot less food. It’s a theme that’s continued throughout the year as we adopt more frugal measures for economic reasons as well as just being more environmentally sound. Faux pastor has figured large in the year, I highly recommend it as a great standby recipe for using up leftover roast.
I think I missed out on February’s best meal, as MGG went to The Field Canteen at Riverford. There were lots of vegetable dishes, but MGG was most impressed by the puddings. One day I’ll get there too, just have to settle for the veg box deliveries and the great recipes that come in the box.
March was about getting ready for Easter, for which I wasn’t very well prepared on the marzipan front. But I did get a great recipe from Domestic Jules for a Simnel loaf.
In April, we skipped off to sunnier climes, and ate our way round Majorca. Lots of memorable meals, lots of good tapas, and something to show you why you should always keep your chefs busy:
There was some glorious weather in May, and one of the hottest days saw us at the Derbyshire Food Fair. Plenty of good food, both for eating then and there, and lots to bring away for another day.
June. Oh, I remember June. It goes down as the only time in my life that I have been served a starter that looks like an arse. Really.
By July we were heading off to France, and it was the usual couple of weeks of eating and drinking, still discovering new places and new things to eat. We had great breakfasts, and we had an amazing dinner at Sa.Qua.Na in Honfleur, which really was dining at the next level.
August was about barbecues, but obviously good ones, as no photographs exist. In September I was in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and discovering the joy of food courts out there.
I might be heading back there in a few weeks time, great dim sum, and very cheap.
In October we had a great day at the East Midlands Food Festival, where it was all about wood fired pizza ovens, and particularly the great pizza from Hot Rocks Artisan Pizza. It disappeared pretty darn quick, hence no photo.
And so to December, which always bring great food. Our Christmas Day was team cooking with BFF to turn out some spectacular beef, pretty decent soup and some great puddings. But most of all it was a chance to share a great dinner with great friends and family. Which for me is really what food is all about. So here’s hoping for lots more of the same in 2011, and the same for you and yours.
As MGG has been at Brownie camp, I took the opportunity to escape for a night away, and have had a fantastic night at The Crown Inn at East Rudham. It appears I did very little from the time I arrived except eat and drink, unless you count a long walk on Brancaster beach. Which I do, as a way to feel less guilty about the amount of great stuff I’ve tried.
The Crown Inn belongs to the The Flying Kiwi Inns group, and I would gladly stay at any of their places. Comfy, friendly, attention to the important details and very laidback. And a great focus on local food, really well cooked. It felt busy but efficient for service last night, and the menu gave some great choices to make. There was the smoked haddock and gruyere tart with a perfectly poached egg, and then the chicken won tons, mainly to see if all the menu was homemade. And if these weren’t, they were from a very good supplier, incredibly tasty with fresh herby seasoning, and a sweet chilli sauce with a bit of a kick.
First night was about the steak, because I’d been talking about the Lads That Lunch evening with owner Chris Coubrough on the Science of Steak. I took it to mean that they would understand what made a great steak, and how to cook it properly. And given that medium rare really meant medium rare then I think it’s safe to say they do! And I still don’t know how I made my way through the pile of very hand cut chips, but they were delicious.
Night two I went for sea bass with chickpeas, chorizo, roasted pepper and a cod beignet. Not mad on beignets, bit cheffy for me, but it added a great bit of crunch to the dish’s varied, but complementary, flavours. Tasty dish and not so heavy that I couldn’t make my way back to the dessert menu.
I tried a chocolate option, and a gooseberry fool. Beautifully served in a kilner jar, this was probably twice the size it needed to be, but was a great combination of sharpness and sweetness, bit more texture from some amaretti biscuits crunched on the top and a buttery piece of shortbread to top things off. Divine.
A 5 minute walk round the green to convince myself I’d walked off dinner, and then up the stairs to bed. Room 6 is small and perfectly formed, with interesting angles. Whoever has the uphill side of the bed shouldn’t roll over too quick as it could be disastrous for the one on the lower side! Divinely comfy bed though, so I don’t expect you to toss and turn much all night. If you’re country bumpkins like me you may find the road noisy, but I imagine most people will hardly notice it.
Breakfast was a proper English, with decent bacon, proper sausage and even a very respectable black pudding. Very relaxed feeling, as there are only the 6 rooms so breakfast is never going to be a mass stampede. I was asking where they would recommend I went to buy a crab. Firstly, A M Frary in Wells Next The Sea, was their recommendation and where all of theirs comes from. But as the kitchen had a couple going spare I bought one all ready to go, packed in ice for the trip home.
So I had the crab, we just needed bread. And the Village Deli at Thornham provided not only great bread, but a decent latte and two Bray’s Cottage pork pies, which are as amazing as everyone has said. Considering my afternoon tea companions are all Mrs King’s fans, these disappeared very quickly, with no complaints about a non Melton Mowbray pork pie being served up.
It was a very quick breeze through, but certainly wetted my appetite for all the many attractions, flavours and tastes that Norfolk has to offer, so I am sure I will be going back sometime soon. I would very happily stay at The Crown Inn again, or The Crown Hotel or the latest from this group, The Ship at Brancaster. Anywhere that puts me that close to great food and a comfy bed is my idea of heaven!
Time for the trek to Somerset, tents at the ready, for Glastonbury. Will there be rain and mud, or just endless sun? And will there be anything to eat?
And, to be honest, I’m never going to find out for real as I cannot imagine that this is ever going to be my scene. It’s the word tent that lost me. And possibly the mud. But pleasantly surprised to see that there is some great eating to catch as well, including fine dining at the Rocket Restaurant. If you’ve already booked.
Sadly, the official Glastonbury site is much more set up to tell you all about the music, and not so much the food. Possibly the serious food lover is not quite their target market. But from looking at different posts, it seems variety is the key to the food offer as well as the music, and you have no need to go anywhere near a naff burger, or eat the same meal twice.
I never used to care about my mobile phone. First it just made calls, then texts, and then I really went upmarket and had one with a camera.
And then that one died.
And on a bit of a whim, plus curiosity, I bought an iPhone. And, other than the appallingly short battery life, I love it!
Officially, love it.
Especially for the world of apps that it brings to your fingertips. Before I owned one, someone said to me at a party that you could tell a lot about a person by their apps, and not having one probably told him a lot too. But a look now would confirm what most people know: I love food, drink, eating out, eating in, more food.
There are a lot of food and drink orientated apps out there, with a lot, of course, directed at the US. So, purely in the interest of research, I’ve been playing with some that seem more intended for those of us here in the UK. Here’s my thoughts:
Jamie’s 20 Minute Meals– had to start here I guess, given how many zillions of downloads there have been of this. The cheeky chap meets high tech and delivers some pretty good after work dinner recipes in his own style. I like the instructional videos for things like the best way to slice and chop an onion, and also how to organise your kitchen. So yes, this is not aimed at the most experience cooks around, but there will be some people who find this great. Recipe groups include soup, risottos, quick curries, salads and even pudding, something for all kinds of tastes. The very inexperienced cook may find it helpful to have a photo of turning the knob on your oven to the lowest setting, but I think most of us can manage without. I’ve used this at work for quick inspiration, used the shopping list feature and then just knocked something out at home. Pretty good, as long as you don’t have your fingers in a mess for when you need to swipe the screen and you can keep it somewhere where it’s not going to fall in pans of stuff whilst you cook. Currently £2.99.
Nigella Quick Collection– where Jamie leads…well, the only amazing thing is that it’s only Nigella from the roster of UK chefs and cooks that seems to have followed. Recipes are sorted, possibly in a Sophie Dahl tribute, by food mood, including comfort, romantic and nibbly. Recipes do have a nifty voice control for going forwards or backwards through the steps, avoiding the possibly messy swiping involved with Jamie’s. The videos look like clips from the TV programmes so not ideal to cook along to, but you can email the recipe to yourself and print it out. The invite function is a cute little quirky extra, and I really like that you can set the units and retailers to UK or US. Is it worth £4.99? I’m not sure, you could buy How to Eat for less than that and have a whole host of meals at your fingertips.
Ocado – this is my favourite app, if only because I normally end up in bed reading Olive or something similar and adding stuff straight away to the next delivery. I love that it gives me options to add everything I’ve had before, or some of it, recommends stuff I might like based on other stuff I’ve bought, and is good on highlighting offers. Bit short on inspiration, but high on convenience.
Zagat – this is obviously a paid for app based on the best selling guide, and does give you the benefit of being a lot lighter to carry around than all the guides. The UK coverage is focused pretty much on London, with over 2,200 entries, compared to 1 in Cardiff. I also find it a bit difficult to navigate, as it’s not intuitive how to go back a step, and seems to need to go back to the start each time. Reviews are concise but interesting, features opening times, credit card policies, and other categories, that include cheese tray served, dessert specialist, game served and winning wine list. I love the out-takes from places that you don’t want to try that pop up too. At £5.99 it’s not the cheapest app, but there’s a lot to it, if you like Zagat’s style.
9 to 5 Food – this is billed as quick, money-saving recipes for busy people, so I guess a little similar to Jamie without the celeb name or production values. And at the same price, I would question whether it really is worth it, and who would buy it other than those of us interested in researching foodie apps. I would say it was pretty basic, very text based and the writing is not that compelling. I wouldn’t waste your money.
iCook– there is a huge range of cookery styles available in the iCook series, and I’ve been trying iCook Curry. For 59p it’s ok, you could probably Google all the recipes quite easily, but it’s convenient and gives you 18 recipes. Some on here were quite normal (Chicken Tikka Masala) but then included things like Persian Biriyani and Murgh Chana Balti. Instructions are clearly written, but not extensive, but I imagine most competent cooks would be fine with them. The series includes cupcakes and gourmet burgers, and also some more generalist volumes too. Would probably give it a B minus, and could try harder.
GoodFood – the magazine has two apps, festive recipes and healthy eating. I’ve got the latter, although would probably like the recipes in the former better. There’s a pick of the day, recipes for each meal and videos for things like preparing a whole fish or how to grill peppers. It’s okay but not particularly inspiring. At £1.79 I’d save up and buy a copy of the magazine.
Good Food Guide– You don’t need this and Zagat I would say, and this is obviously much more comprehensive in its coverage of the UK. I like the near to me function, giving you everything around where you are, or you can combine this with keywords. The listings include those places that won Reader awards as well as Editors’ awards, those with notable wine lists, and those that have been in the list the longest. I would say this was £4.99 well spent if you want to eat out a lot.
I am sure I’ve not exhausted the list of apps available, as it increases every day, so I’d love to know what you’ve found, what you think I should have a try of. And there are gaps. I can’t find anything relating to farmer’s markets (although you can get a National Farmer app), or much from the big wine makers or retailers. You would have thought that wine pairing would be great as an app. I am sure it will happen!
Meantime, I’m off to the Little Chef to test out their Afghan menu!
Me, I shall be exhibiting some very bad dance moves under the influence of half a shandy at Party in the Park. Which is a serious dent in my foodie credentials (not to mention cool rating) as I guess I should have been heading to Taste of London. And having read Niamh’s review of her preview of the food over on Eat Like a Girl then I’m quite sad that I won’t be there.
From Niamh’s post, I would be making a beeline for Salt Yard’s stuffed courgette flowers, and Bentley’s fish and chips. If you head over to their Facebook page you can see all the menus, and I’d have to add The Modern Pantry’s chermoula baked sea bass, Odette’s whipped goat’s cheese and pickled beetroot, and the fois gras parfait from Tom’s Kitchen. Quite how many dishes you can fit into one visit I’m not sure, love to know what anyone’s record is!
And then there’s the shopping as well. I’d have a few tins of Nudo extra virgin olive oils in my bag, some Munchy Seeds for the journey home and then a tasting selection from Paul A Young’s gorgeous chocolate. None of which would do my waistline much good, but what the heck? You could go the whole hog and go for the whole weekend. Even stay within stumbling distance and still have great food at your beck and call with a night at York & Albany.
There is still time to book and buy your crowns, which is a great system I think, as you get to set your budget in advance. I would allow a little leeway though, you just know you are going to get tempted by something additional on your way round!
I loved this photo of the event from another year by acme over on Flickr. Enjoy if you are going!
So the spectre of the volcanic ash cloud returns, combined with BA cabin crew, ready to disrupt the plans of many to get away for Whitsun (ourselves included). Seems should have made plans that didn’t involve flying, but who knows, may get lucky.
If I was planning a treat of a trip that wasn’t going to be disrupted by strikes or Eyjafjallajokull, then I would choose to head to Dartmouth. Again, as it’s a trip I’ve done quite a few times, and there can be no more perfect meeting of food, wine and scenery anywhere. What’s not to love? Well, other than the crowds in summer, but if I could get round that I would be busy trying to fit in the following:
* Starting as many days as possible with breakfast at Cafe Alf Resco, with a strong cappucino and their cinnamon toast. No juggling of days now, as they have gone to being open every day, but that possibly just means more days to have trouble getting a seat. Still, if you’re happy to share, you can normally squeeze in. And you never know who might share with you (Kevin McCloud last time I went). Sadly, they have stopped opening in the evenings other than for private parties, but there are plenty of other choices.
* Buying scones from the Sloping Deck, ready to get covered in clotted cream and jam later.
* Buying pasties from Pasty Presto. I know the Sloping Deck do pasties but have always found these to be slightly more tasty.
* Eating fish. Now,usually this has involved buying fish from Moby Nicks and cooking it myself, which I would still be very keen to do. Great choice, very fresh and always good advice on what’s best that day. But of course now there’s the Seahorse. Choices, choices… I think the answer is to do both. Or buy fish, and have more fish at the Seahorse, or else whatever meat is on the grill that day.
* Deciding yet again not to eat at The New Angel. And after Giles Coren’s legendary review, am even less likely to do so. This is one of my favourite reviews ever, and I love the fact that the Seahorse used it on their website. The twist of the opening paragraphs still make me laugh out loud. Read it, then book the Seahorse.
*Being a bit more active and heading out to Slapton Sands for a bit of kite flying. Followed by lunch at the Rocket Cafe. If it’s raining, skip the kite flying. If you really want to wake up to the bracing air of the coast, then book one of the rooms at Seabreeze and you’ll get lungfuls of the stuff. Decor is delicious, as is the homemade soup. Or if you want to go a bit further on, then Blackpool Sands is thankfully nothing like its namesake, but is great for pebble collecting. Rubbish for sandcastles though. Lunch can be taken care of by The Venus Cafe, who have a great local and green food sourcing policy, which makes them very popular. You never know who might be in the queue behind you (Kevin McCloud last time I went. Yes, I was beginning to get a bit twitchy). Great wine choices too from Sharpham.
* Upping my veg intake by having lunch at Riverford. You may know that there is a slight sense of jealousy in this household as MGG has done this already, for me it just remains as a dream for my next visit. She waxed lyrical about pretty much everything, except the rhubarb. You can walk the farm, or do a tour, and stock up in the shop for everything you need for your next meal. If you’ve got any room. Very popular, so you’ll need to book. And of course being family style dining, you never know who might be sitting at the table with you. Yes, I’ll be watching out for him.
* Heading down Foss Street to buy something from Simon Drew. His sense of humour appeals to me and I have quite a lot of pieces on my tables and in the kitchen. I am still rather fond of Shepherd Spy and Cat a Meringue. Not to mention Cod Moving in Mysterious Ways.
* Squeezing into the DA for nachos and pizza. Because all that fish and veg needs a counter balance, and this is where I would choose to do it! Usually heaving, but worth it.
* Eating with MGG at Kendricks. This still remains one of our favourites, and if you’re travelling with kids of any age then this is a great choice, without being a “child friendly” downgrade of the eating out experience. For those of you wanting to be away from kids, don’t worry, they are corralled upstairs. Not exactly fine dining, but great eating, great atmosphere and always worth a return visit in our book.
There are many choices of places to stay, although we have always tended to book a house. After all, with all these great places to eat and shop, why would you want to be limited? We usually book through Coast & Country Cottages, who have a great choice of places in Dartmouth and the surrounding area, and I’ve also been grateful for them having a nearby office on a few occasions. Amongst others we have stayed at Lake Street Mews, which is extremely central with its own garage (although a very uncomfy bed at that time). But if I could stay in any house, then it would be 12 Horn Hill. Fabulous views, lovely inside and straight downhill to the Cherub. Perfect.
In fact, there are only two things wrong with Dartmouth that stop it being my perfect foodie break. One, it’s a five hour journey from here. And two, the (now ex) father-in-law lives across the river. In every silver lining…! Still, that shouldn’t stop the rest of you! Oh, and unless you have access to a boat, avoid Regatta Week.
Just a quick note to say Buy A Gift have a weekend promotion of 20% off all gifts. This is a great site for gift experiences in particular, for foodies and non foodies. With 20% off it’s even better, and lets not forget Mother’s Day is not that far away (14 March, in case you don’t know).
If it’s for a foodie mum, then my best suggestions are:
* Full day curry cookery course for two – six hours of private tuition for two of you from Curry Club founder Pat Chapman, so you will really get a great insight into a wide range of Indian dishes. A real treat for a spice-loving mum, you get the tuition, lunch and a goody bag at the end of the day. After the discount, this will be £336, not cheap, but it is for two, and will bring you a lot of experience in a very personal environment.
* If she’s a creative kind of mum, then how about a day course in sugarwork, where she can give full rein to her artistic and creative flair in a foodie environment. There’ll be sugar cages, spirals and praline galore by the end of the day, all under the tutelage of chef Nigel Brown. The course is up in North Lincolnshire, and if you order it this weekend it will be £120.
* If she likes a drop of the fizzy stuff, then a day of champagne tasting should do the trick. She’ll get to taste 8 different champagnes, learn about how to distinguish between the houses, and matching champagne to food. Sounds like a good way to spend a day to me! After the discount, for two of you this will be £108.
* If mum doesn’t live near you and you’re not close enough to take her out for lunch or cook her lunch, then there are a whole heap of dining out options, from breakfast to afternoon tea to the chef’s table at Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. You could spend from £24 to just under £1000, there are some interesting options there.
So, if you want to not leave your gift choice for Mother’s Day to the last minute, and these take your fancy, then use code PANDA20 at checkout to qualify for the 20% off. Offer finishes midday on Monday, see site for details.
It’s that time of year when everyone thinks about change. They give change lots of thought. Sometimes they even take action! Anyway, here are some things that foodies might be resolving for the year ahead, which might change their actions. Which means if you are shopping for something for them, then you might want to think differently too.
1. Waste less food – a carry on from this year’s make do and mend mentality, this will be the year of the leftover. It makes sense on every level, from economic to social. It will get a boost when The Ministry of Food exhibition opens at the Imperial War Museum in February(put that one down as a foodie day out). In the meantime, there might be more meal planning, more list writing (only shopping for what you want/need, and not what Tesco et al want you to have) and more creative reworking of what’s left. Stockpots at the ready!
2. Use your cookbooks – I think by now it’s probably obvious that I love my cookbooks and the shelves would testify to that too. My personal resolution is to use them more. Which is the easy part. It possibly goes back to point 1 about planning, not to mention creativity with the leftovers. The unspoken part is to buy less of them. Does keeping half a resolution count?
3. Try something new – this shouldn’t be a difficult one for a foodie, but I think really the focus is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. Wander down a different aisle at the supermarket, chat to a different stall holder at the market, dig something out from the back of the cupboard…in fact, do that one first. Most of us food lovers are guilty of this one, we will have hoarded stuff and not tried it. Make 2010 the year you do. I have preserved limes and sumac to use. Now I just need to wade through the recipe books to find out what to do with them!
4. Eat out for the food, not the glory – I’ve never quite understood the obsession with ticking off Michelin starred restaurants. Make it all about the food, the total experience, not just about the stars. Of course the two combine, but eating should be an all round experience, memorable for every aspect. I would take the counsel of those you respect, and those who share similar tastes, which may or may not be Michelin starred!
5. Grow more – lets face it, most of us do not have the space, or time, to be self sufficient. But we can all grow a bit. Grow herbs on your windowsill, potatoes on your patio, strawberries in a compact little tower somewhere. But every bit you grow will taste better, and it’s a great way to get kids into food. And keep your compost bin going with the peelings.
Shop with these in mind and they’ll be grateful that you found foodie gifts with a 2010 twist. In the meantime my resolution came from @ecjc on Twitter: when in doubt, do it. Given two choices, do the fun thing. This I think I might be able to keep!
It’s hard to believe we’re nearly at the end of another year. As always in this household, there’s been a lot of eating over the year, from eating in to eating out, eating in the UK and eating overseas, eating alone and eating with friends. In fact, eating with lots of friends. So, here’s my year in eating:
Not a clue what we did in January. No photos of food. The calendar says we had dinner at the Red Lion, which is always a treat.
Photography by Mini Gourmet Girl, taken at Jamie’s Italian in Bath, completely out of focus. Brilliant night out, great restaurant concept, great food, pretty stunning mojitos. Staggered back to our home for the night, the Queensberry, which I would highly recommend.
March brought the arrival of the breadmaker, and a whole lot of flour of all kinds. We were busy supporting Whissendine Mill, as well as The Flour Bin, ordering in all kinds of wheat and gluten free flours.
Easter brings a whole heap of chocolate, and also my first attempt at Simnel cake. I adore marzipan and so this is my idea of a heavenly cake. I’ll be doing it all over again in 2010. With perhaps more marzipan.
May saw me in one of my favourite cities in the whole world: NYC. Making news in the UK around the same time was the Babycakes bakery, so I headed down to the Lower East Side to see if they could make gluten and wheat free cakes good. You know what, not bad at all! Although later in the year I would discover that I preferred all the recipes in Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache to anything from Babycakes.
June was eventful. I took the plunge and decided to commit myself to writing The Foodie Gift Hunter, whilst letting Problem Presents look after itself. Right decision. I also helped cater for 150 for a surprise birthday party. I know slates have come in for a bit of slagging off recently, but I loved how these starters looked. They were a bit of a joke really, as the birthday girl’s husband is a builder, the slates really are roof tiles costing about 75p each, and probably are now on a roof.
We were raiding some new to us local foodstuffs in the school holidays. Staffordshire oatcakes were interesting, especially when pimped up with black pudding and apples. Stichelton became a regular item in the fridge.
The end of the school holidays saw me convert MGG from her usual request for Chinese on our trip to London to some great Turkish delights at Safra. She just requested to go back next week. I’ve put my neck out to say I think Turkish food will be on the up in the year ahead, and it’s definitely got 1 vote from MGG.
With Halloween falling on a Saturday, MGG and I spent a fun afternoon creating trick or treat goodies from scratch. Kids seemed genuinly surprised and happy when they got dragon eye cookies, zombie eyeballs and crunchie bones in a paper cone.
Ah, November, month of memorable eating in Blackpool! To be honest, would rather remember making Osso Buco for the first time, although there weren’t so many laughs!
For some, December is all about Christmas. For me, I can’t worry about Christmas until I’ve created MGG’s birthday cake. This year involved less terrible language than usual, possibly due to reading the instructions in advance and buying the right kit.
So, here’s hoping that 2010 is just as interesting from a food perspective, with new recipes, new places and new experiences.