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What Flavour Fest Plymouth reveals about British food obsessions

September 28, 2014

It was a rainy day in Plymouth (Devon, UK) but the crowds were still out to sip, taste, nibble and sample their way round the stalls of Flavour Fest. Pick up a newspaper, leaf through a magazine, drive through a village and read the signs – in the past few years there has been an explosion of food festivals in the UK, especially during the summer. They range from big ones like Taste of London, the Foodies Festivals, BBC Good Food Shows and The Big Feastival, festivals centred on one place such as the Ludlow Food Festival,  Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival  to specialist events like the Tavistock Real Cheese Fair, British Asparagus Festival and Dorset Seafood Festival. Top of my own personal wish list is the Ballymaloe Literature Festival of Food and Wine in Ireland (not UK I know).

Having a look at what was on offer to eat and drink, I couldn’t help thinking that the stalls gave a snapshot of our food obsessions as a British nation. Here’s my not very scientific rationale…

Celebrity chefs

Like the minor ‘slebs’ I’ve never heard of that populate the pages of OK and Hello, it seems that every chef has star status these days. Of course there are those in the stellar reaches of the chef-o-sphere like Rene Redzepi and Ferran Adrià (who do pop up occasionally); TV chefs come next with Jamie and Nigella as royalty trickling down to past contestants on the Great British Bake Off; then there are a whole herd of regional chefs from Michelin-stardom to just having the gift of the gab and a boyish smile. Whoever they are, we all want to watch them cook (and taste their food).

Over the three days in Plymouth, the Tanner Brothers and Mitch Tonks were the big names. The rest of the schedule was filled by chefs from renowned local restaurants. Ben Squire & Jack Noades of the Boat House Cafe, Stephane Beneteau of  The Glassblowing House, Dave Jenkins from the Rock Salt Cafe, Nick Barclay of The Blue Plate, Benjamin Palmer of Glazebrook House Hotel, and Joe Draper & Andy Richardson of the River Cottage, Royal William Yard were among many who took the stage.

Bring on the booze

Drink is everywhere, and by this I mean the hard stuff. From the proliferation of bargain booze stores to the displays in supermarkets to signs outside pubs it does seem like we Brits are obsessed with it. Having lived in the Middle East for over two decades, the ability to sample, buy and drink alcohol in the street is an extreme novelty.

A food festival is the place to root out artisan brewers and distillers; in Plymouth there was an array of cider, ale, wine, liqueurs and a gin producer. My favourites were Crispy Pig ale from The Hunter’s Brewery, Devon Mist from Sandford Orchards, I also tasted blueberry beer and Tarquin gin (and met Tarquin!) I didn’t taste any Old Cock (raised by hand) or Lazy Sod from Direct Beers “Giving good beer a bad name”. Fnarr, fnarr.

Passion for pork

It is now obligatory to have a hog roast at every food event of any size (there were two here). I naturally gravitate to these as it’s difficult to order pork at restaurants in Dubai and impossible to eat on the street. One gourmet burger stand tempted with hand salt and herb rubbed crackling. In the end I made do with a bite of elder teens pulled pork bun with crunchy slaw as something else turned my head lunchwise. A lady, passing this stall, asked “What’s everyone queuing for here?” “PORK” the man in front of me answered. Enough said.

Who ate all the pies?

Once upon a time, the only pasty you found outside Cornwall was a rather industrial-looking, plastic wrapped Ginsters in a chill cabinet. These days they are everywhere and thankfully of much better quality. Our passion for pastry extends to pies too. Chunk of Devon were doing brisk business (although they came bottom of this year’s pasty eating charts). We bought a very rustic and homemade looking steak pasty from Red Earth Kitchen (good) and one from Cornish Country Meats (which won the award for the unfriendliest stall holder and most stingy amount of filling). KP takes pasties very seriously.

Farmhouse cheese

The stalls of Worthy Cheddar, Cornish Cheese Co and Norsworthy Dairy Goats were hard to get near. British farmhouse cheese making, nearly killed off by proposed over-regulation in the 1950’s and saved from extinction by cheese fanatics such as Major Patrick Rance, has never been more exciting, diverse or inviting.

Scones

While people were tucking into real ale or cider rather than a cuppa, the British love for tea and cakes is alive and well. What could be more typical than a freshly-baked scone? Even when my sister and I struggled to find a decent evening meal in Derbyshire this summer, the quality of the cakes was never in any doubt.  Several high-end establishments were handing scones out in Plymouth to eager takers. Slathered in clotted cream and jam? Need you ask.

A taste of the world

All very traditionally British up to now? How about a dish of curried goat (from Afro Caribbean Pot), a plate of paella, a taste of Tom Yang Goong (Thai Style) or a cheeky quesadilla (Sabor de Mexico)?  The world has come to Britiain and we’ve welcomed them a a plate, literally. Our enthusiasm and reinvention of Bangladeshi and Indian curries is well-documented (balti and chicken tikka masala). So many other nationalities have made their homes in the UK including Jamaicans in the 1960s, Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, Vietnamese boat people in the 1980s. Our multiculturalism is served up from pots and saucepans.

Flavour Fest Plymouth mycustardpie.com

The evil chilli purveyors

Faves from the fest

  • The BEST TARTS I HAVE EVER EATEN IN MY LIFE. The lightest, crumbliest pastry, home cooked in an Aga and filled with combinations such as Devonshire goats cheese with dandelion greens and onion marmalade, Lundy crab, Cornish chorizo, and wild Exmoor venison. Big Bellys I am making a date with you again next summer.
  • Smokey BBQ pulled pork with tangy slaw in a bun and Moroccan spiced lamb with giant couscous and herb salad in homemade flatbread from Field and Kitchen. Winners of the Exeter street food festival 2014 serving up sustainable food from local, seasonal ingredients. They seem super nice too.
  • The hottest chilli sauce I have ever tasted, no joke. I had to run over to Sandford Orchards and beg for a swig of their sweetest cider after a taste of their bhut jolokia mash. This should carry a health warning South Devon Chill Farm (oh, actually it does have skull and crossbones on the label).

N.B. All (slightly dodgy) pics taken on iphone (which then died) as I didn’t risk the DSLR due to very inclement weather in the morning. Here are a few more… click on any pic to view the gallery…

Have you been to a food festival this year? Do you recognise anything about the food festivals you’ve visited in this description from the US (Why you should never, ever go to a food festival)? What do you think of the food festivals in Dubai?

Tomato, lentil and spinach vegetarian lasagne

September 26, 2014

Tomato lentil and spinach lasagne reccipe on mycustardpie.com

Much of my time leafing through cookbooks is about finding something to please vegetarians and meat eaters. With our family down to three (with elder teen at Uni) the cooking and eating dynamics have changed. Instead on the veggie vote being one quarter, it’s now up to a third and yes this makes a difference. I’m much less inclined to cook a separate vegetarian meal for one and a meat-focused for two.

Then there are all the individual food preferences to take into consideration. Is it difficult to find one meal that everyone really likes (not just will eat) in your house? Veggie teen has a blind-spot about tomatoes and likes her sauces smooth (I’ve given suggestions if you like a chunkier sauce).

This recipe was born out of trying to please everyone, eat at different times (I spent the whole evening watching younger teen play netball) and not spend a horrendously long time in the kitchen (masses of work on right now). My Vitamix took the strain at several points for speedier prep. There was more than enough for us for two nights – I LOVE leftovers.

I put a tray of sausages into the oven, alongside the lasagne, for 20 minutes, a good one if a crowd of carnivores and veggies are coming round for supper. Serving with a crisp green salad including some baby spinach leaves would make it perfect for me.

Tomato, lentil and spinach vegetarian lasagne

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 200g dried, red lentils (or a can of lentils)
  • bay leaf
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 400g tin of tomatoes
  • a large handful of oven-dried tomatoes or fresh tomatoes chopped or a small tin (227g) tinned tomatoes
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped for Vitamix cooking or finely if conventional
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or to taste)
  • 1/2 dried chilli
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  • 50g butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 400g milk
  • pinch nutmeg, fresh grated
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 500g leaf spinach, washed and tough stalks removed
  • 9 dried, green lasagne sheets, non-precook type (approx depending on the size and shape of your pan)
  • 300g Parmesan, Grana Padano or vegetarian hard cheese (grated) plus extra

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 220 C and get out large oblong or square baking dish or lasagne dish (minimum 20cm x 20 cm)
  2. Put the dried, red lentils in a medium-sized pan with the bay-leaf and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer until cooked (about 25 minutes). Drain, remove the bay-leaf.  Skip this step if using canned lentils.
  3. Saute the onion until softened but not brown (about 5 minutes), add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Put into a Vitamix or power blender with the tinned tomatoes, carrots, oregano, chilli and Worcestershire sauce (if using). If you want a smooth sauce add the oven-dried and/or fresh tomatoes at this stage. For a chunkier sauce, stir them in at the end. Switch the Vitamix on, turn up to 10, then cook on full power for 7 minutes until the sauce is warm and smooth. Alternatively continue to simmer all the above ingredients in a pan with the onion and garlic until the carrots are tender (blend if desired). Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Pour sauce into a jug and rinse out the Vitamix. To make the Bechamel, melt the butter in a non-stick pan, stir in the flour and cook the paste for a few minutes. Add the milk and pour into the Vitamix adding a good sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg. Blend on high until warm, thick and silky (about minutes). Season to taste. If using a pan, add the milk a splash at a time stirring constantly until all incorporated and thickened (then add seasonings). You can also put the butter, flour and milk directly into the Vitamix and blend but I think you can still taste the uncooked flour this way.
  5. Wilt the spinach over a medium heat in the same pan you sautéed the onion. Remove and chop roughly.
  6. Stir the lentils into the tomato sauce. Spread a layer over the base of the baking dish. Place 3 lasagne sheets in a row. Spread a thin layer of Bechamel over the pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan and dot over half the chopped spinach. Repeat this using the other half of spinach. Repeat so that the last layer is Bechamel and a good sprinkling of cheese.
  7. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the lasagne is soft and the top is brown.

A note on making this strictly vegetarian. Animal rennet is always used in traditional Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano so find a cheese that specifically mentions it is without this. Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce is not vegetarian as it contains anchovies, but you can buy vegetarian alternatives or make your own.

What to drink?

I’m on a Rhone roll right now after my Grenache tasting plus a Rhone evening by Le Clos this week. Traditionally, the acicity of Italian reds is first choice (e.g. Chianti Classico) but the brightness of grenache blends would also work with the spiciness of the tomato.

STEAL: M. Chapoutier, Belleruche, 2013 Côtes-du-Rhône – luscious hedgerow fruits, herby, smokey and a touch of sweaty horse (this is a good thing). Great value Rhone.

SPLURGE: René Rostaing La Landonne, 2010 Côte-Rôtie  – still dreaming of this wine from the Le Clos tasting. It smells like you’ve trodden through the countryside in your wellies on a damp Autumn day – green foliage, berries and smoke. Full bodied and intense.

Thanks to Laura for reminding me to use my Vitamix for white sauce with her roasted veg lasagne recipe. I found fresh garlic in Carrefour this week – it would be perfect for Elizabeth’s grilled veggie lasagne with wild garlic pesto. Katie has similar issues with her boys about smoothness so the Vitamix takes the strain for her veggie packed lasagne. Dannii uses ricotta for a lower cal, healthier version in her roasted veg lasagne. Kellie takes all the comforting qualities of a meaty, cheesy lasagne and makes it veggie/vegan friendly and super-healthy with butternut squash and spinach. Note to self: use more nuts in veg recipes.

Do you make an effort not to eat meat e.g. meat-free Mondays? What do you serve for a mixed crowd of veggies and meat-eaters? If you are vegetarian, would you ever cook meat for friends?

Where to eat British food in Dubai

September 22, 2014

Where to eat British food in Dubai on mycustardpie.comImmigrants always bring their food with them and as Dubai has more expatriates than locals, there are restaurants from every corner of the globe. British expats were always catered to by the odd thing on the menu (fish and chips) and a clutch of pubs (avoid at all costs), but about five or six years ago the wave of modern British cooking hopped on a plane and landed in the Emirates. Whether you are visiting and want to experience traditional food with flair after a day on the beach or a new expat who craves a taste of home, there are plenty of options.

COMFORT FOOD

These restaurants have a lot in common with very good gastro-pubs in the UK. However, expect to pay more at a UAE licensed premises; don’t focus on the bill but the beautiful view and the lovely weather instead.

 

Rivington Grill

There are two branches of RG; book (way ahead) to eat on the terrace of the one at Souk Al Bahar if you want a good view of the Dubai fountains. Otherwise the Madinat branch offers a casual bar upstairs and lovely vista across the sea taking in the distant Palm and the nearby Burj Al Arab depending on where you are sitting. Fish and chips will always be on the menu, as well as their famous Scotch egg, and Eton Mess plus a ‘pie of the day’. If all this sounds a bit working men’s club, think again. Solid, white monogrammed china, white linen, and a menu which definitely falls into the more Modern British category without pearls and foam. The ingredients are seasonal – i.e. British seasonal – so expect to eat samphire or rhubarb, flown in from the UK. Highlights from their summer menu included. Call me a cliché, but this is probably our most-visited non-street-food restaurant in Dubai (plus KP and his mates hoover up chips in curry sauce from the bar snacks menu).

Where to eat British food in Dubai on mycustardpie.com

Bread and butter pudding at Reform Social and Grill

Reform Social & Grill

This restaurant moved into the clubhouse space within The Lakes, a high-end housing development, so it’s a favourite of expats rather than tourists. Open verandas look out onto a swimming pool and the dark wood interior has a few quirky decorations like daleks and Cluedo for a stamp of Britishness. As well as comfort-food favourites, and an alcohol license (and some very good cocktails) it has a pork license which is much more of a rarity. Expect to book ahead for Friday breakfast because of the latter. It has some very silly, thin board things that the starters perch upon which I dislike. However, the puddings are a real highlight and come with a jug filled generously with real vanilla custard and the menu encourages you to ask for more (custard heaven). Pies, steak and pork belly – plus fish and chips of course – make this a real gastro-pub style British menu.

Other options: The Dhow & Anchor at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Alfies at The Boulevard, Emirates Towers, Girders at Ocean View Hotel (I am tipped off that they do a mouth-watering haggis there).

MODERN BRITISH

Expect more formal service, swish surroundings, fancier food and to splurge more.

Rhodes W1 and Rhodes Twenty Ten

A Michelin-starred British chef who came and stayed (Gordon came and went), Gary Rhodes is almost part of the community now. Both restaurants serve his signature dishes and he visits several times a year. Rhodes W1, is a brand new reincarnation of his old restaurant (Rhodes Mezzanine) and opened this weekend at The Grosvenor House Hotel, Dubai. The interior is bright white, with bleached wooden floors, modern chandelier and yellow furniture. The menu is very modern British and very Rhodes: buttered cabbage, cider steamed cockles, new potatoes, peas and crispy ham; roast rack of lamb; summer pudding. It’s described as casual, but this is in Dubai terms. I’d call it dead fancy and you’d definitely need a posh frock on to visit.

Rhodes Twenty Ten at nearby Le Royal Meridien is a steak restaurant with dashes of Brit influence such as cauliflower mac and cheese, Welsh rarebit topped champ potatoes, and yes, fish and chips.

Wheelers of St. James

Marco Pierre White has put a few of his toes in the Persian Gulf and Wheelers seems to be the most successful to date. Situated in Dubai Financial Centre, it’s best to enter from the Al Sa’ada street entrance. A soothing, minimal, plush interior sets the tone. If you want a sophisticated brunch with impeccable service and very pretty food, this is the place. I sampled their elegant Celebration of Wheeler’s menu but this has just been relaunched to include many more traditional British favourites like Welsh rarebit, and a carvery with serving different cuts of meat throughout the season including salt marsh lamb and grass-fed beef. Desserts include sticky toffee pudding, and rhubarb and custard (hooray).  You are welcomed with a glass of Pimms and each course is matched with a different wine. Portions are dainty – KP would hate it; sophisticated, bright, young things love it.

The Ivy

Not nearly as smart or as starry as its legendary namesake in London, The Ivy in Dubai has quite a casual atmosphere, thoughtful food and impeccable service (charming Irish Alan has been there from the start). The menu is a shade fancier than the Rivington Grill (same group) but the vibe more chilled, with a dark wood, Art Deco style interior and a really good crooner or jazz band for entertainment. The menu is seasonal British (ingredients flown in) and follows British trends and regional influences. Lobster macaroni cheese is on the new Autumn menu for instance. Steak tartare and Dover sole rub shoulders on the menu with Asian-spiced crab with mango and kimchi pickle, and caviar. You can add a Welsh rarebit topping to your hamburger and finish with Banoffee pie but take your gold credit card. By contrast, on a Wednesday, eat fabulous cheeses matched with excellent wine at really great value. (Forgive the pics: it’s very dark plus two taken on iphone)

Other options: Marco Pierre White at The Conrad

FISH AND CHIPS

If you want your fish and chips out of newspaper rather than on fine china, there are a few options. While they won’t rival a really good chippy in the UK (Simpsons in Cheltenham, TJ’s in Tavistock and Squires in Braunton), when the craving sets in they are perfectly good for a takeaway.

Rock n Sole Plaice

A very British chippy experience beamed down in Jumeirah (and Green Community). Choose from battered imported cod, plaice or more local varieties like ‘rock’ and hammour (overfished so please don’t order) with chips. Fish cakes, scampi, mushy peas, pickled eggs, pickled onions – everything you’d expect is on the menu. Some friends order children’s portions for their parties which arrive hot, fresh and wrapped in paper which are devoured instantly.  I just noticed they now deliver, which is very dangerous news indeed.

Other options (not tested by me): The Fish and Chips Room, London Fish and Chips, Salt and Pepper Fish and Chips (who I’m told do deep-fried, battered Mars bar). For high end fish and chips and an array of seafood, Geales Urban Seafood and Lounge – the London original comes highly recommended by a friend and there’s now a branch at Le Royal Meridien.

BRITISH CURRIES

Of course you can choose from hundreds, thousands of wonderful places to find a curry in Dubai.; from meaty Pakistani to fragrant South Indian and everything in between (and I hope you do). But where do you turn for a Birmingham-style Balti or where they’ll know what you are talking about if you order chicken tikka masala? Onion Bhaji, dhansak, korma, jalfrezi, rogan josh will also be understood. That particular tomatoey, slightly creamy, saucy style of curry which has now been recognised as a British export is being served, complete with regional accents, from a few curry kitchens.

British Tandoor

This tiny hole in the wall near the Mazaya Centre was the first place to serve British curries (formerly known as the Ajman Tandoor). Good quality, reasonably priced and always helpful and punctual delivery. Details here

Brick Lane

Serving the new communities of Dubai from Al Barsha, another friendly and reliable supplier. Details here

Other options: BritBalti (similar menu but they need to improve their delivery time and accuracy). And then of course there’s Michelin starred Atul Khochar’s Rang Mahal for a totally different experience of British-origin Indian cuisine.

BRITISH BRANDS

Carluccios Dubai inside and out

Carluccios Dubai

Also worth mentioning are British names renowned for afternoon tea. Visit the Ritz-Carlton for cucumber sandwiches under the parlour palms. Fortum and Mason is a new arrival with a tea terrace overlooking the Dubai fountains; their Welsh rarebit is irresistible but I have it on good authority that the service leaves a lot to be desired (hope it improves).

There are several British restaurant brands which are taking the world by storm and have branches in Dubai. Hakkasan is elegant, modern Chinese food with a lovely bar and excellent wine list. Gaucho serves the best Argentinian cuts of beef in a dramatic black and white dining area – with a fantastic South American wine list to match. Sadly Jamie’s Italian hasn’t lived up to its UK equivalent as far as I’m concerned. And Carluccio’s makes up for the lack of a wine (it’s dry) with a great view of the Dubai fountains. And for drinks there are clubs like Embassy and Mahiki

Rivington Grill

Rivington Grill Madinat Jumeirah

Disclosure: I was a guest of Rivington Grill to sample their summer menu (although have been there countless times under my own steam), Reform and Wheelers (would recommend both) – opinions my own.

and This article coincides with British Food Fortnight. Are there any great purveyors of British food in Dubai that I’ve missed?  Do you make a bee-line for British food when traveling or avoid it for exciting alternatives?

What to drink on Grenache day

September 19, 2014

Grenache Day mycustardpie.comHappy Grenache day.

What am I talking about? The third Friday of September has been appointed by the Grenache Association to celebrate wines made with or predominantly with a grape variety called Grenache. Of all the annual varietal days (Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot) this is my favourite one to toast to.  But why you may ask (or maybe you won’t but I’ll tell you anyway)?

1. Rhone wines are so beguiling…. and no I’m not jumping on the new fashion for all things Rhone (she protests weakly). As well as the famous appellations (more of that later), I’ve always found that if in doubt in a wine shop or on a menu, choosing a bottle of Côtes du Rhône will rarely let you down. It’s the combination of the juicy texture of the Grenache, the hedgerow herbs and berries of the Syrah (aka Shiraz in Oz) and tannic backbone of the Mouvedre (often known as GSM) which combine to make an honest, balanced, structured wine with depth of flavour that’s eminently drinkable. (I wrote imminently there by accident which is a Freudian slip if I ever heard one).

2. Grenache was pushed out in the cold for a while by the fashion for a handful of varieties exacerbated by EU and Australian vine-pull schemes and centralised buying (via supermarkets and big retailers). Vast swathes of Grenache vines were grubbed up and replanted (particularly in France, South Africa and Australia) disregarding climate and tradition. Those old vines that remain are now yielding fruit that is, in many cases, going into interesting, highly prized and highly priced wines. As it’s suited to growing in warmer climates it’s also very versatile to changes in conditions caused by climate change.

3. It’s not a showy grape and while, in some growing conditions, it can provide very forward tannins, it’s the soft, ripe voluptuousness and sometimes an alluring spiciness which it adds to a wine that appeals to me. Grenache is so versatile – no wonder it’s one of the most widely planted grape variety in the world, from Rioja to Priorat, Southern Rhone to Roussillon, Swartland to Barossa Valley. It makes great rosé too.

4. It provided an excuse for an impromptu wine tasting evening with S, D and S…..

Grenache Day – what we tasted

A scout around the shelves of the local offy (Dubai is not dry but there are rules about buying alcohol) revealed that the big five are all very much in evidence (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc) meaning I had to search for my bottle of desired grape. Some 2011 The Custodian made by Chester Osborne, a bonkers winemaker of D’Arenberg in McLaren Vale was what I came away with. Have been meaning to write up the wine night in Dubai with Chester for ages but I think those particular brain cells might be permanently deceased.

Appetisers of tomatoes stuffed with cheese and pesto and blue-cheese stuffed mushrooms arrived on the table (thank you Drina), along with some delicious duck-filled samosa things from Sarah, wraps of sweet, juicy lamb from Moti Roti (via Sam) and figs with a cheese board (Keen’s Cheddar, Corra Linn, Auld Reekie and Dunsyre Blue), stocked up from Ian Mellis in Edinburgh by me. And then we got onto the wines:

The Custodian Grenache 2011 d’Arenberg, McLaren Vale

Really interested in this old vine Grenache as the grapes are grown biodynamically and the wine made with little intervention (such as food-treading and basket-pressing). The label says ‘minimal sulphites added’.

This was the only pure expression of the single Grenache grape we tasted so started with it first. The nose was slightly waxy, with pea pods, green peppercorns and fresh herbs with flavours of raspberries and liquorice and wild thyme.  Sarah detected hints of kalamata olives.  A luscious soft texture in the mouth, easy drinking on its own and would be fantastic with barbecued lamb or a comforting spicy cassoulet.

Domaine des Sénéchaux 2011, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Now under the ownership of Cazes family of Château Lynch-Bages, this was the most expensive wine of the evening that we tasted and from one of the most well-known and renowned appellations where Grenache predominates, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Made up of 62% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 17% Mourvèdre and 1% shared between Vaccarèse and Cinsault and aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.

With aromas of raspberry, dark plums and horse’s bridle, you sink into the flavours of plums, blackberries and raspberry jam with smokey hints of charcoal and chocolate. This is a crowd pleaser and we all kept going back for another taste. Bookmark this to have with your Christmas roast turkey.

Les Hauts de Castelmaure 2011, Corbières

Corbières is a large and unglamorous AOC in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France. This wine made by the local village cooperative, and made from Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes hand-picked from 760 local plots, with vines aged up to 80 years old around the tiny village of Embres-et-Castelmaure.

This was the great value surprise of the evening. A round, well-balanced deeply savoury wine with a perfumed nose of hibiscus, redcurrant and rosehips, and deep pluminess tempered by wild thyme.  If you see it, buy some.

Salmos 2011, Torres, Priorat

The understudy to Temperanillo in Rioja for so long, Garnacha is having a fine wine revival in Spain especially old vines grown of the black schist slopes of Priorat. Made of Cariñena (Carignan), Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) and Syrah it undergoes malolactic fermentation in French oak casks. Finally, it is aged in new and second year French oak barrels for between 14 and 16 months, followed by ageing in the bottle.

I was excited to taste this and wanted to like this wine more. Although Torres is a giant producer, it’s capable of great things and I have a great respect for its environmental credentials.  Perhaps it was the dominance of the Carignan (40%) so the softer, fleshier flavours and textures of the Grenache (30%) did not shine through as much. It was dramatically different in style to the other wines. Jagged, rich, herbal, tannic, bright, acidic, smokey are my tasting notes. I think this needs time and a slab of charred, pink lamb fresh from the barbecue. To be revisited.

All in all an interesting and delicious tour of some Grenache based wines of very varied styles demonstrating what a versatile and enjoyable grape it is.

Where to buy in Dubai

The Custodian Grenache 2011 d’Arenberg, McLaren Vale – MMI.

Domaine des Sénéchaux 2011, Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Dubai Duty-Free

Les Hauts de Castelmaure 2011, Corbières – MMI

Salmos 2011, Torres, Priorat – MMI

On my list to seek out: Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache – available at Cave, The Conrad Dubai and Zuma, Dubai via A+E

Did you open something for Grenache Day? Is this a new grape for you or an old favourite? Any wines quaffed you’d like to share?

Three people you should know about if you care about food

September 13, 2014

Three important people in foodJust a short word (for me) but I just had to share this. While walking over the rugged moors of Dartmoor and picking my way through the breezy countryside of Gloucestershire, catching up with family and friends and juggling work while in the UK, I missed loads of my favourite Radio 4 programmes on podcast. Driving back from dropping KP at Heathrow, I listened to a series of Food Programmes and couldn’t stop thinking about three people and the impact they’d had on other people’s lives through food. If you missed their stories, they need to be told:

Steve Glover – the Severn Project

“I really love growing salad, but I really love seeing people develop into fully fledged members of the community, because I had to do that myself, it’s not that far from my own story.”

Steve Glover set up a business that seeks to address, in a very practical way, the reason why ex-drug addicts, ex-offenders and those who have fallen out of mainstream society, often go back to their old ways in a circle of dependency. The Severn project is an urban, community farm growing a wide variety of salad leaves to supply to local restaurant businesses.

Steve, a former addict himself, obtained a degree in addiction counselling and worked in residential units. He became frustrated that people left with good intentions, goals and resolutions but once they returned to their original environment without any real support or provision they went back to drugs or offending. His motivation for setting up a horticultural business was not about creating employment but rather empowerment for people to support themselves – to encourage people to be dependent on their own initiative not subsidies.

His rationale behind choosing horticulture is that exercise and outdoor work stimulates systems that you have in your body which provide endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. These are the three neurotransmitters that are artificially stimulated by substances, so growing things replaces a chemical high with a natural one. They grow salad because it’s quick. Steve knew from experience that addicts want instant gratification, they don’t have the patience to wait through a long growing cycle and want to see instant results.

This is a sustainable business on many levels and receives no grants or funding. The product is in demand by local chefs; The Severn Project supplies fifteen varieties of seasonal organic, salad leaves which can be on restaurant plates in 24 hours or even less.

The impact, simplicity, integrity and sustainability of this community food business makes you wish there were many more people with such a vision as Steve Glover. Read about The Severn Project here…

Steve Glover

Steve Glover ©thesevernproject http://thesevernproject.org

Clare Millar – Eat for Victory

Eat for Victory is an idea and campaign by nutritionist Clare Millar to bring back some of the eating and lifestyle habits adopted during the Second World War in the UK. It may have been a time of perceived deprivation but actually we are much unhealthier now than we were then. She espouses slogans from the time of rationing such as Grow Your Own Food, Don’t Take More Than You Can Eat and Don’t Waste Good Food which are still useful today. When Clare started talking, she really got my attention with the way she articulated her mission and with these words in particular. She may be harking back to the past but she’s addressing issues that are bang on right now.

“There isn’t as much mindfulness in our eating”, says Clare. “Eat for Victory is all about inspiring people to shop, cook and eat more healthily and sustainably. I saw a need for simplicity. I think now that there’s a lot of information and not all of it is being fed to us from the right sources. Nowadays we get a lot of our education about food and diet from people like advertisers, food products and marketing and we used to get it from our parents.”

Clare’s simple messages are in tune with the Michael Pollen school of thinking i.e. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants but with a wider look at where we source our food and how by working as a community we can regain control of our food supply, live better and more healthily.

It’s not all ‘make do and mend’ doom and gloom as this recipe on Clare’s website demonstrates:

Eat for Victory

©Eat for Victory http://eatforvictory.co.uk/

Diana Kennedy

A British woman who has dedicated her life to Mexican cooking, Diana Kennedy’s life reads like an adventure novel. After leaving the UK to visit some interesting parts of the world, she first moved to Mexico in the 1950s to marry Paul Kennedy, the New York Times Mexico correspondent, and has spent the past 30 years tracking down traditional recipes from every corner and small outlying village of Mexico. At the age of 91 she lives for most of the year in an adobe house in Michoacan and still has the avid zeal of a collector to record and preserve a culinary heritage which has become almost unrecognisable since she first moved to the country. She was initially driven purely by curiosity and wanted to recreate the dishes she was served in people’s houses. She was often referred to cooks who in turn referred her to their villages.

After moving to New York in the 1960s, she was widowed within a year and started teaching Mexican cookery classes as a means to support herself. Her reputation grew and she published the first of nine cookery books, five of them written before she moved back to Mexico in 1976. A stickler for absolute authenticity and attention to detail in the preparation and ingredients of even the simplest meals she has inadvertently recorded an anthropological study of Mexico via cookery.

Recently she was described as the Mick Jagger of Mexican food.  In one book, a dedication from her publisher reads “If her enthusiasm were not beautiful it would border on mania.”

The story of Mexico’s regional cuisines gathered by this English cook is now being seen as  one of the most precious resources for Mexico’s food future, a country with some of the world’s biggest food-related problems on the planet.

She’s quite a force to be reckoned with, a formidable reputation precedes her, but you need a certain amount of guts to travel alone around on dusty roads across the one and half million square miles of extreme topography, in an old LandRover with just a sleeping bag.  Her admirers in the British Isles include Darina Allen and Thomasina Miers and she’s received many accolades.  Needless to say, her books are now on my cookery wish list.

“I wish I’d written better notes” she says wistfully when talking about the past, “when I think of what has been lost, when I think of my memories…” I didn’t realise at the time how valuable the recording of this might be for the future.” The period of time during the 1950s and 1960s in Mexico was then described as ‘The Miracle’ – although no-one calls it that now – when the country was industrialising at break-neck speed. To look at the countryside, the villages and the ingredients the way Diana did, was very unusual. She says it was the discovery of something that no one had written about that excited and drove her.

Cookbook author Diana Kennedy

Diana Kennedy

These three people restore my faith in the world and make me get out of bed in the morning with renewed purpose and vigour. There is hope for our societies and food system. The programmes about all these amazing people are available for the next year over on The Food Programme – do go and listen.

Back home…and something is missing

September 2, 2014

As I unpack my suitcases from my annual trip to the UK you’ll be expecting my kitchen counter to be laden with West Country cheeses. Sob, sob, alas and alack (you can see I’ve been home too long), this was always my intention but my bags would not expand enough to accommodate them – so I’m cheese-less. I nipped round to Jones the Grocer and bought a large wedge of Quickes cave-aged Cheddar. Not as interesting as my favourite unpasteurised Cheddars from Keens, Montgomery and Westcombe in Somerset but it helped sustain me as I commenced the grand unpacking and counting of spoils.

Oh my goodness, did I bring that many books? I sincerely hope that KP isn’t reading this. Some I bought, some I acquired, but all will earn a place on my shelves. “Are you still reading that book?” KP enquired with amazement on the afternoon I bought the Nathan Outlaw fish book and we sat in my Mum’s conservatory for a couple of hours.

There’s a tale to tell behind everything in my kitchen this September:

Gin was firmly on my ‘to do in UK’ list. The renaissance of small artisan distillers and an experimentation of flavours and distilling methods has really taken hold over the last few years. Even before I happened upon a Sunday afternoon gin tasting in Cheltenham (more about that to follow soon) I found this intriguing bottle in Nailsworth (top left, left); actually younger teen spotted it when I was doing a bit of impromptu wine tasting at Raffles Fine Wines. “You like gin Mum” she enthused and so this was the first thing to be earmarked for excess baggage. It’s from a very small producer called Psychopomp which makes a really limited number of bottles a year. The Sacred Spirits Company claims that all their gin is made by someone called Ian. A very juniper-heavy London dry gin which goes really well with tonic and a slice of lime (stocked by Le Clos – see below).

If the guy on the South Devon Chilli Farm counter had a secret video camera I think he would win all the prizes on ‘You’ve been framed”.  Our entire family has a high tolerance to heat but right after I dipped a cracker into this chilli sauce at the Plymouth Flavour Fest I ran over to the neighbouring cider stall and begged him for a swig of his sweetest brew. For a full hour afterwards my tongue, throat and even the roof of my mouth was tingly-numb. Made from Bhut Jolokia and Habanero chillies this leaves the Scorchio, which I brought back last year, in the dust. Not actually sure why we bought some – to offer people as a dare?. The Jail Ale Mustard made by Hogs Bottom, near Lifton was bought from the lovely, new farm shop in Lydford (which sells great pasties).  While I can get the Swiss Vegetable cubes at Organic Foods and Cafe, I bought this lovely big tub at Kilworthy Kapers in Tavistock; it’s the only powdered stock allowed in my kitchen.

Some serious bread intentions here – the scraper is considered essential by Richard Bertinet in his book ‘Crust‘ so I picked up a couple from Manna From Devon. I’ll be picking Celia’s brains about using the banneton. Fingers crossed for some gorgeous looking loaves. Ever since watching Linda Barker make ‘dog biscuits’ on an episode of Come Dine with Me I’ve been searching for this shape of cutter. I couldn’t resist one of the British Isles but goodness knows what I’ll do with it (especially if Scotland votes for Independence!)- both bought at Kitchener in Cheltenham.  Good to see that food mags are back on track with real cooking instead of assembling ingredients. Both these issues are packed with ideas (sad to leave those hedgerows of blackberries behind).

Gifford’s Circus was as marvellous as ever. Veggie teen and I traveled to Oxford to see ‘The Thunders’ this year and, as usual, my face ached on leaving, mainly down to Tweedy the clown. The souvenir mug is by Emma Bridgewater and the spotty pottery jug from ‘Made in Stroud‘ to add to my collection (it’s in my genes – my Mum has a thing about jugs too).

Who brings home a box of old china rifled from their Mum’s garage? A food blogger who swore not to get any more props, that’s who. Also couldn’t resist this little wooden box of handwritten recipes dating from the 1940’s.

KP’s on a mission to grow tomatoes as good as my Mum’s so she gave him a packet of ‘foolproof’ seeds. She bought this set on grapefruit spoons in a sale in the 1960s and they are still in the box unused. Great excuse to do a brunch at home soon.

And all those books…. well I love Felicity Cloake’s ‘How to cook the perfect‘ series and her ‘Perfect Host’ has some really good ideas. And then I found the James Ramsden ‘Do Ahead Dinners’ in Waterstones and, dare I say it, might be even better. The Xanthe Clay book should be on everyone’s shelves (another thing I relieved my Mother of) and Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen was bought when fired up from doing the fish course (the Mitch Tonks book is also on my wish list). Viticulture (growing vines for wine) has to be some of the most intensive farming in the world. Some producers have turned organic, some biodynamic and some use such minimal intervention when wine making that the term ‘natural’ has been applied to them. It’s a vague term and fascinating subject which Isabelle Legeron (aka That Crazy French Woman) investigates succinctly and personally. Anyone interested in farming without chemicals should get this. I can’t remember why I bought the other wine book but it’s a good read!

These bubbles are taking on the French (no joke). KP and I had a glorious day out to the Camel Valley Vineyard (hope to write up soon). July was so warm and sunny in England that Pimms was in great demand. I finally found the Sipsmith version which I can’t wait to try.  How nice to be welcomed at the airport with some bottles of nice wine. I ordered ahead from Le Clos (by email but you can visit the shop on your way out of Dubai airport) and was met just before passport control.

Another thing is missing…

The sound of elder teen’s voice in the house as she’s stayed in England prior to her move to Edinburgh for University. I’ll be joining her as a mobile cash dispenser to get her settled next weekend and I’m feeling decidedly odd about it all. The silver lining? Cheese in my next suitcase.

For the past few summers I’ve been taking a themed picture each day with Fat Mum Slim‘s #FMSphotoaday challenge. It seems to distill a special moment every day and I love looking back on them. If you’re interested you can find July here and August here (and all my FMS photo a day posts here). Let me know what you think.

What’s in your kitchen this month? Celia’s drinking Moscow Mules in hers (among other things). You can peep into a whole load of other kitchens from the links there too.

Pear, ginger and raw honey flapjacks

August 31, 2014

Pear, ginger and raw honey flapjack recipe on mycustardpie.comAnyone else find that you bring excess baggage back in more places than your suitcase? I’m in danger of developing a serious muffin top and it’s got to go.  I’ve had a wonderful time back in my home country enjoying a really beautiful English summer buy number one on my list since I returned is ‘eat more salad’. Why am I sharing a flapjack recipe? The problem with wonderful thing about flapjacks is that they are folded together with delicious, sticky, rich golden syrup.

Going away for a while makes me look at my house, life and routine with a fresh pair of eyes. I’m on a mission to do a radical clear out. This means ditching old clothes, deleting computer files, donating old books and whittling down the stuff on my kitchen shelves.

KP is the ruthless, organised one in our house. I inherited a strong hoarding gene from both my parents and find it hard to let go of things. We both agree on the topic of minimising food waste though and left-overs are a regular feature on the weekly menu. Some disappointing pears needed to be dealt with, a banana was turning to the dark side and a bulk purchase of oats was toppling out of the cupboard. I’d read about using banana as a binding agent for biscuits so I thought I’d try it out. Now I’m not claiming that these flapjacks are healthier than salad but they are held together with banana, nut butter and raw honey; there is no other added sugar apart from a wee, drizzle of ginger jar syrup (which is optional). They are moist, slightly less sticky and a lot less tooth-achingly sweet than your average flapjack.

Using raw honey is important – I don’t buy any other kind now. Most honey in the supermarket is flash pasteurised with heat which robs it of the most important nutrients. Bulk producers also treat their bees with antibiotics to make them live longer and feed them sugar solution so the bees will produce more.  My first choice is Balqees from Yemen, which is collected by nomadic beekeepers from wild bees that collect pollen from remote areas not affected by industrial agriculture (which Yemen has little of). The taste is rich and toffee like – perfect for flapjacks. UAE local honey is also good (available from The Farmhouse) but it has a much stronger, less refined taste. Or use whatever local, raw honey you can get your hands on.

These flapjacks are very easy to make. Just the thing to have as a reward after the plank challenge or 7 minute workout (yes things are that bad)…. or with a nice cup of tea. The mug in the picture is designed by artist Elaine Pamphilon; her naive-style art follows in the style of Alfred Wallis, a painter from St Ives whose work hangs in the Tate there. Using the mug today reminded me of our last visit to St Ives and the glorious Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. It’s such a tranquil place despite many visitors, a calm, soothing feeling comes over me just thinking about it. We went when the teens were at an age where they were totally disparaging about the modern sculptures. I do hope they grow to love them as much as I do. Otherwise I’ll just have to bribe them with tea and flapjacks.

Pear, ginger and raw honey flapjacks

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 50g unsalted butter plus extra for greasing
  • 6 tablespoons of nut butter (I used cashew butter made in the Vitamix)
  • 6 tablespoons of raw honey
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 ripe pears, grated
  • 2 pieces of stem ginger, chopped (plus 2 teaspoons of ginger syrup – optional)
  • 250g oats (rolled or jumbo)
  • 60g sunflower seeds
  • 25g sesame seeds

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180 C and put a baking tray into heat up. Grease a non-stick, 20 cm square baking tin.
  2. Put the butter and nut butter into a non-stick pan and heat gently to melt. Add the raw honey and stir to combine. Take off the heat.
  3. Add the other ingredients and fold together with a wooden spoon. Tip the mixture into the baking tin and level the surface.
  4. Place on the heated baking tray and bake for 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to 160 C and bake for a further 55-60 minutes until the flapjack turns golden brown and is cooked through.
  5. Leave to cool in the tin then turn out onto a board and cut into 16 pieces. Store in a tin at room temperature for 1 day or up to 4 in the fridge.

Variation: You can use any combination of seeds that you like.

Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden - mycustardpie.com

If you live outside the UK, a flapjack might mean something completely different to you. These are ‘British flapjacks’ which was a staple in our lunch boxes when I was growing up. My Mum would say ‘this will stick to your ribs’ which describes the gooey-er kind made with syrup. You might like to try my recipe for date flapjacks, one that uses fresh blueberries on Tinned Tomatoes, chocolate drizzle flapjacks on Fab Food 4 All or these apple and cinnamon flapjacks on Botanical Baker. With pears just coming into season here in the wider Middle East I’ve entered this for Simple and in Season hosted by Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary this month (for Ren Behan).

Have you been away this summer? Do you feel the urge to change things when you get back? What does ‘flapjack’ mean to you?

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