Vive La France! At least for 2 weeks

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I am on a countdown to our annual escape to France, and already hungry in anticipation of the food treats ahead. Not sure if it makes us dullards, or just greedy, but we have been to the same part for the past 3 summers, and still each year we find new places to try, new foodstuffs waiting to be tasted. The area around La Rochelle has done us proud on all counts in recent years, and expecting this year to be no exception.

Whilst I am really hoping for some new stuff, there are some old favourites most definitely worth a visit. If you’ve never been to the area (and La Rochelle is perfect for a quick weekend getaway) then some of my must do’s would be:

* The market at La Rochelle

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Beautiful in every way - the food market in La Rochelle

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Stunning looking building, fantastic produce, and great range. Cheese stall to do die for inside, and the foie gras pate with figs is on my treat list. Ok, so hate me. I wrote last year about when is local food not all right, and foie gras is one of those traditions that still divides. Not my photo, comes courtesy of mksfca on Flickr.

* Ice creams from Ernest in La Rochelle. Looking forward to seeing what new flavours he has this year, although the mojito sorbet is still calling to me

* Lunch at Bistrot du Marin in Saint Martin on the Ile de Ré, especially if the Cote de Boeuf is on. Go hungry.

* Exploring Brouage further. Really interesting walled town, that both happened to be near where we stayed, and got a lot of mentions in the book I was reading, Cod. And there is some terrific eating to be had, from high end to casual. Will be heading back.

* Head a bit inland and go to Cognac. Beautiful place, and almost obligatory to tour on the houses. We did Hennessey and it was great, even a little boat trip thrown in. Then head to Hotel Heritage for a great lunch, hopefully out on the terrace.

* For probably the best meal I’ve ever had at a “tourist attraction” I would head for the restaurant at the Corderie Royale in Rochefort. Fantastic lunch, great children’s menu with no sign of a burger but plenty of fresh fish.

So, those are my treats that I have in mind already, does anyone have anywhere in the area to recommend? I’m thinking this time we should experience the cooking of at least one of the family Coutanceau, as they do rather dominate La Rochelle, but with huge variety between father and sons. Any thoughts or recommendations gratefully received!

Now all I need is the arrival of HSA and HSU, which are my lovely house sitting aunt and uncle. More to follow on the foodstuffs I stock up on for their arrival!

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Eating our way around Mallorca

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Dr T, MGG and I have just returned from a week in Mallorca. The quiet part, as I hastened to tell people. Which is a bit unfair to Mallorca, as the majority of the island is beautiful and bears no resemblance to Magalluf. As you would expect, we did a fair bit of eating. Not the Michelin starred type of eating, although this is entirely possible for a whole week in Mallorca, as there are a large number of places with stars. No, this was much more down to earth, good food, good atmospheres, and keeping all the family happy. Here’s a few highlights:

Pan fried salmon with cumin

A not very Mallorcan dish to start, and not a very Mallorcan place to eat. In fact, my foodie heart sank slightly at the sight of the Scottish brunch on the menu. But La Font del Gall in Pollença is about good food, not just catering to Scots abroad. The Scottish brunch was followed on the menu by a salmon brunch, and a very decent menu of the day. A little off the main drag, but worth finding on Calle Montesion.

Hake served with taste and a view

Sometimes, simple is best, and this is the fresh hake and chips at Balada del Agua del Mar in Port de Pollença. Sit outside, under the fig tree, enjoy the view and some good simple cooking. The plate of Mallorcan cheeses with crudites made a great starter too.

Table with a view

Of course, you don’t go on holiday somewhere like this for rain, but on Easter Sunday I was grateful for it. If it had been dry, we might have got out and walked round Porto Christo to find lunch. Which means we’d have missed a great lunch in Porto Colom. We chose the place that was busiest, filled with Mallorcan families (18 at one table, with about 4 generations) and were richly rewarded:

Dates wrapped in bacon. Bliss
Peppers stuffed with tuna
Squid, simple

Not only did we get a great lunch, but the rain went away and the sun came out. An Easter miracle indeed.

You  may find yourself praying for miracles and deliverance if you take the mountain roads up to Soller (or cheat and pay the toll to go through the tunnel). Worth it though, as Soller is beautiful, and the train journey down to Palma and back is atmospheric and memorable. It’s worth seeking out the bakers further away from the station, which is not as fancy but equally not as pricey. Both will provide you with good picnic goods though, with empanadas and different kinds or pies and pastries.

Perfect picnic for a train ride through the orange groves
Pies, Mallorcan style
Marzipan mountains and chocolate goodies

Of course, it wouldn’t be right to be somewhere like this without tapas. We had a chaotic tapas lunch at a place in Palma, that involved ordering twice, getting the bill for someone else’s table, no drinks arriving for ages…but pretty tasty fare being delivered.

Tapas, eventually

But like many memorable meals, it can be as much about the company you keep as the food you eat. We had a great tapas lunch, overlooking the sea in Port de Pollença with a family we had a met. It’s not often you sit down with a Falkland Islander and a recreational lobster pot man, a former air hostess and family, but we did and 18 different dishes arrived, most of which swiftly disappeared. Along with the wine.

Tapas by the sea

So, this wasn’t lunch at Son Brull’s restaurant, but it was memorable, tasty and fabulous. We weren’t ensconced in luxury at Reads Hotel, but if you’re travelling with kids under about 12, or are keen cyclists, then the Pollentia Club Resort is a great base. Although I think their chefs might need more to do…

When chefs have too much time on their hands

Needless to say, didn’t eat the cheese off the buffet next day!

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The Friday Five – Travels with Food

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Everything but the squeal! - a great reading book gift for a food lover on holiday

 

As you may know by now, we’re away for Easter and no, my housesitters don’t extend their duties to blog sitting! One of my favourite pre-holiday preparations is choosing my holiday reading. I always try to have at least one book based in the country or culture I’m visiting, as it adds something in my view if you’re reading it in situ. And, of course, I like it to have a fairly strong food content. So here are a few of my favourites, or hopefully soon to be favourites!

1. Everything But the Squeal – this is my choice for this trip, although it’s a bit of a cheat as we’ll be in Majorca and it’s based in Northern Spain. In fact, I should have had this when I toured that part of Spain, and it did involve a lot of pig derived eating. A very under-rated part of Spain, but this book promises to bring it to life, from both a cultural and a food perspective.

2. Eat My Globe: One Man’s Search for the Best Food in the World – if, by any remote chance, your destination doesn’t have a suitable book written about it, then I would add Simon Majumdar’s book to your suitcase. By the end, you may come to the same conclusion, that Simon has eaten stuff so you never have to. Honestly, I don’t need to eat dog. But do share his admiration for Mrs King’s pork pies. A great read, highly recommend it.

3. Hokkaido Highway Blues – I’ve been really lucky to have several trips to Tokyo with my day job, and this has come with me each time. Whilst it’s based in places I haven’t got to, the culture it describes is familiar, and alien in the way that Japan gets you. Although this is a bit of a road book, then, being Japan, eating also figures high up on the agenda. Not to mention drinking!

4. Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips and Recipes – not the obvious book by Peter Mayle, but I really love this little tome. Great stories, and great recipes, it really gives you a sense of the work behind your morning croissant or batard. It’s fluffy and not a difficult read, but really enjoyable.

5. Adventures on the High Teas: In Search of Middle England – if you’re having a staycation, then Stuart Maconie’s book is a great one to have along for the ride. There are so many laugh out loud moments, and I hadn’t really appreciated from listening to him on the radio that he was a bit of a foodie. Everywhere he visits is measured by its tea rooms and local delicacies. If you’re staying in the North, then buy Pies and Prejudice. Or just go mad and buy both.

So, I’m hoping to have made my way through number 1 some time very soon, and will be working up to some new ones for France and Cyprus later in the year. Although nothing could possibly possess me to reread The Olive Farm, or anything that followed it.

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Channelling Juliette Binoche

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Channelling Juliette, hoping for Mr Depp

 

Today is Juliette Binoche’s birthday, who I think is the most amazing actress. I also think she’s incredibly stylish, not to mention the fact she has that French flair of being comfortable in her own skin, and seems to have avoided the lure of the plastic surgeon.

My favourite, favourite film of hers is Chocolat, probably for many obvious reasons. And then of course there’s the chocolate. And Johnny Depp wasn’t bad either.

You could decamp to France, with the film mostly being filmed in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in Burgundy. As you’d see in the film, it’s a beautiful medieval fortified town, but also turns out to be pretty quiet and still off the tourist trail. Although it is famous for its aniseed balls, which is a little different to chocolate I guess.

I can’t find any hotels in the town, but Le Verger sous les Vignes is only a couple of miles away, and the reviews describe it as a hidden gem. If you want to go a bit more upscale, then the Chateau Les Roches sounds great, with some good cooking at a weekend.

There doesn’t seem to be a huge number of restaurants listed in Flavigny itself. Le Relais de Flavigny has a decent enough menu, with one of my favourites, foie gras with pain d’epices. It is a beautiful part of the world though, and even though there may not be great dining here, a trip to the area would reveal great epicurean delights. I love Alastair Sawday’s books, and would expect that when Go Slow France comes out in April there will be some good recommendations for this area.

There were some fabulous food scenes in the film, with chocolate being used in so many different ways, not just the obvious sweet ones. I’m a big fan of Willie’s cacao, and the savoury recipes in his book are interesting, and always cause a stir when you tell dinner guests what they are getting. So I think I’m going to channel her (I have a new frock from Jigsaw that makes me think of her) and create a chocolate feast. Just as soon as half my friends have stopped giving things up for Lent.

Not that that stopped her character!

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What will 2010 bring for food & food lovers?

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What trends does your crystal ball show?

 

It’s coming round to that time of year when everyone and his dog has the crystal ball out to look at the year ahead and tries to work out what will be up, down, in or out in the year ahead. I did this last year for food, and can’t believe it’s that time again.

This year though it feels much harder to read the year ahead. Last year the only thing that seemed certain was that it was going to be tough, which would probably drive hunkering down kind of behaviour: making do and mend, doing it ourselves, food for free. And 2010? Less certain, but here goes with my thoughts:

1. More of the same. Not an economist, but it feels like, from an average person’s point of view, that it could continue to get tougher this year. We’ve saved the bankers, but the rest of us might continue to pay and feel the fall out. So I think we’ll continue to rediscover homemade skills, or refined the ones we picked up last year. Homemade jam and chutney will continue to grow, the joy of homemade bread to go along with it could grow. The dream of self sufficiency may be pursued, but many may find how unsustainable that is without a lot of work, and quite a lot of land. But doing a bit is better than doing nothing at all.

2. No economist, and certainly no political commentator, but it feels like a change is likely to come with the election we will have before the end of May. And if we have a shift to the right, maybe there will be a slightly more nationalistic approach to cooking. I think there has already been a resurgence in interest in traditional British cooking across all regions, but perhaps 2010 will see us exploring even more. It may also be a slight nostalgia, and a slight fear, of time passing by ever more quickly, and of things being lost. I loved the Quaking Pudding at the Hinds Head in Bray, and that Sussex Pond Pudding was on the menu too. More of this I think.

3. With Istanbul being European Capital of Culture for 2010, I would expect to see a surge of interest in Turkish food. Really interesting though looking at the official site that food is not immediately obvious as part of the events. How can food not be involved in culture? Some of us would argue that food and eating are at the very heart of culture. Responsible Travel have a great cooking tour of Istanbul, that has you cooking lunch and dinner along with other culinary visits. Sounds like a good starting place, as it’s just 4 days. Want to try it at home first? I could be tempted by The Sultan’s Kitchen as a starting point, but maybe the year will see a plethora of new launches around the subject.

4. In the usual cycle of trends, it’s normally around 20 years till something is trendy again. Which would give us the Nineties. Annoying Budweiser adverts, the advent of the Diet Coke break. Although it did bring the genius of the John West salmon ad. It was the start of the next phase of supermarket domination with the first Tesco Metro opening in Covent Garden in 1992, but also the arrival of Lidl and Aldi. And the rapid rise of pre-packed salads. Not much good. Throw out the trend cycle I say and get sowing your own salad. Kids love this, most of us have room for something, and nothing tastes better than freshly picked leaves. I’ll be working my way through Seeds of Italy’s finest, or go the lazy but effective route and choose the Salad Garden from Rocket Gardens and they’ll deliver little plants already to go.

So four possibilities from my Mystic Meg crystal ball. I am sure other than that that those of us who love food will continue to do so, and continue to explore the best, tastiest, most sustainable, local ways to getting great dishes to the table.

Here’s to the year ahead! Happy eating!

Fabulous photograph by Richard Lamb Photography

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Making the most of the Boxing Day sales

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Not how I want to do my bargain hunting!

 

It’s Boxing Day evening, the turkey is pretty much stripped, the relatives are beginning to grate, and there’s no Doctor Who to distract you.

What do you do before you go completely Boxing Day bonkers?

How about getting prepared for your next foodie gift need for less with the best of the Boxing Day sales that are available from the comfort of the fireside? Or, if you’re the foodie, then either treat yourself for less or give your less foodie friends the gift of good taste. Here’s a few suggestions from my sales roundup:

1. John Lewis – middle England’s favourite has a pretty good sale going on. Plenty on offer in all kinds of kitchenware, stuff for eating off and stuff for clearing up with afterwards. Tea towels not only make great gifts, but they are great for wrapping up collections of other things that you buy, or make, like a collection of jams for example. And if you’ve always wanted a fuchsia pink juice extractor, now may be the moment to buy one! Truly though, I’d go for the hampers which are now half price. You can recombine them to make other gifts, or just indulge yourself!

2. Cook in Style – big sale going on here, and I use this for all kinds of equipment that you can’t necessarily find on every high street. Need an electric meat slicer for your home-cured meats? They’ll do you one and give you up to £25 off. KitchenAid Mixer? All sorts of colours available with £30 off. They’ve also got a small but concise selection of cookbooks with 50% off, so worth a look.

3. Buy A Gift – great bargain hunting here as they have at least 25% off everything, with code JANSALE, and they have a great selection of cooking courses available including sushi making and home food smoking. These don’t go out of date for a year, so worth stocking up at the discount price.

4. Pedlars – another of my favourite shops, especially at sale time. There are discounts on a lot of the Joseph Joseph stuff, and I love the melamine Sea Life dinner plates. Lots of stylish mugs and tea towels on offer too, which always make good standby gifts, or parts of gifts. And not necessarily foodie, but I love the Cityscape Tea Light holders, which would give beautiful lighting and interest to any dinner table or gathering!

5. Amazon – you know me, can’t resist a good cookbook, and there are over 200 in the January deals on Amazon, from Jamie’s America through to the new Larousse Gastronomique. Good place to spend your Christmas money, as it will stretch further with 60% off.

6. Thorntons – a British institution, going for less. The chocolates. Not the company. That’s someone else.

So go on, run away from the family chaos and stock up, or else plan a long trip. Up to you whether or not you take them with you!

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The Friday Five – All treats, no tricks, for Halloween

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I think it’s probably clear I don’t need much encouragement to buy a new cook book! But even I think and pause when it’s around lesser holidays. I mean, I have a couple of titles devoted to Christmas which is, lets face it, just one day. So why nothing for other one day events? Well, with one heading our way, and great enthusiasm for it in this household from MGG, here are five options for inspiration around Halloween.

 

Halloween Fun & Food - gift of a cookbook for a food lover at Halloween

 

1. Halloween Fun & Food – this does the lot! Not just spooky recipes but games and decorations for the home. Work through this lot and it’ll be a Halloween to remember! I like the sound of Spider Web Pizzas, sure the kids would love both making and eating these! Plenty of punch recipes, for big kids and small!

2. Halloween by Martha Stewart – I’ve got a bit of a thing for Martha Stewart, and before I had MGG then me and Martha were on good terms in the run up to Christmas. Funnily enough though, I ran out of time for all those twiddly things when MGG was little. Now she’s 7 I think I could start again, and maybe Halloween is a good place to do so. Knowing Martha, there will be the most amazing recipes for good and unusual stuff, as well as wonderfully artistic and tasteful decorations.

3. Ghoulish Goodies – the kids will love this one just for the cupcake on the front! Bet you get requests for that one! In addition to creature feature cupcakes, it promises monster eyeballs, bat wings and witches knuckles. I would love to do these instead of ready packaged stuff from the supermarket and I’m sure kids would love an unusual cookie, rather than another gummy blob. Definitely a good one for the bakers amongst you.

4. Madam Witch’s Halloween Witchery – I love this one just for the title really. Again, it’s a combination of recipes and crafting, but this looks the opposite of Martha. Not very slick looking, but fun and definitely home made!

5. Wormy Apple Croissants and Other Halloween Recipes – again, another great title for getting the kids involved. And if you start with Halloween, you may just get them really into food and cooking all year round. One day wormy apple croissants, the next it’ll be beef wellington!

As Halloween falls on a Saturday then it’s the perfect day to prepare your own treats, rather than the prepackaged stuff. It’ll give the kids something great to do all day, and then something fab to eat all night.

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My foodie holiday reading

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One of the best parts of a holiday is choosing your holiday reading, and I am happy to have got through 3 books over the fortnight that have a definite foodie flavour to them (somehow, I can’t really say A Year in the Merde counts, although it was a good trashy read). In case you or your loved one need some inspiration, these were my three:

 

Cod - the fish that changed the world - great gift for a food lover looking for a good book

 

1. Cod A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky

This was on the bookshelf in our gite, and I swapped A Year in the Merde for it, and am really pleased I did. An unlikely subject, but really fascinating. I may not be dashing into the kitchen to try some of the recipes though. Salted cod tounges anyone? I know it’s not a new book, having won the Best Food Book at the Glenfiddich 1999 Food & Drink Awards, but it is worth a read

2. Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this book, being a good Northern girl myself. Plenty of food references, from Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls through to the best black pudding on Bury market. Easy read, but worth every minute of reading it.

3. Eat My Globe by Simon Majumdar

Simon exists so I don’t have to try things like dog and rat. I feel like a very poor foodie in relation to the things he’s tried, but quite happy not to! This is a world tour like no other, and worth reading wherever you are in the world.

Should keep you going for a little while at least!

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Home (food) thoughts from abroad

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Enjoying the very best of the British weather by thinking of the best of British food

 

I am sat looking out at the British summertime i.e. the pouring rain, after nearly 3 weeks in France, musing on the things we missed. This was a conversation over a few Kirs one night with other people who were staying at the same gite, and I think the general conclusion was not much.

I mean, we were in South West France, with all its amazing flavours and fresh fish and seafood on tap. But there were just a few things that people were determined not to miss, and so had carried with them by land and sea. Our house had its supply of Yorkshire tea, because coffee is great, but nothing beats that first cuppa.

The Dutch family had brought Gouda cheese with them, as apparently, like the French, the stuff they send outside of the Netherlands is not as good. Why is this always the case with cheese? Although there only seemed to be Cathedral City cheddar in the local supermarket, so pot kettle black syndrome may be in place here.

The Scots had brought peanut butter. I like my peanut butter but it wouldn’t have been top of mind. However, having tried to find it in the supermarket for a recipe I was testing I found that a) the French don’t eat peanut butter much b) it sits in the exotic world foods aisle c) there was only a choice of two and d) it was the best part of €4 for a very small jar.

Consequently, I shall be taking my own next year!

Meanwhile, we will be making a big pan of Rogan Josh any moment now. Oh happy day! Bring on the naan bread.

What food do you miss when you’re away from home?

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