Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Food and Drink!

Christmas food and drink presents from my sister, sister-in-law, daughter and the Old Bat. Pork pie, cheddar, piccalilli, pickled onions (Barry Norman's...and why not? - truly excellent), diabetic chocolate and shortbread (to help off-set the pork pie).

 To drink, I have more of the increasingly difficult to find Lifeboat tea, a South African Merlot, four Badger beers (to celebrate the badger in the garden this year - and also the fact that is what the Old Bat looks like if she can't find her hair dye) and, finally, a gift set of the new Thames Side Brewery's beers from my home town of Staines (only on sale in two shops in Staines at present.

I saw an excellent programme called Victorian Bakers' Christmas last night that said that, before the Prince Albert version of Christmas, British Christmas celebrations would last from Christmas Day until Twelfth Night. Charlotte and I intend to follow this tradition with our food this year. Why pig out on just one day when you can pig out on twelve?

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Scotch Woodcock

I first had this savoury, often served at the end of a meal in Oxford colleges, in my first term at university in 1979.  It makes a better breakfast or brunch than the end of a meal and here is how I cooked it today, after coming back from the Warfare wargames show at Reading..

Ingredients are very simple: just three (or four if you are hungry like I was) eggs per person, bread for toast (I had Dutch rye bread) a tin of anchovies and some black pepper and butter

Reserving four of the anchovy fillets mash up the remainder of the anchovies with half a teaspoon of butter and add some black pepper.  Many people use Gentlemen's Relish instead of mashed anchovies which is fine if you can take the rank, cat food smell and the rank, cat food taste.

Scramble the eggs with a knob of butter, add black pepper and optional cayenne pepper.   Toast the bread, spread the mashed anchovies on the toast, add the scrambled egg (and maybe some chopped fresh parsley) and top with the four reserved anchovies.  Ideally eat with a relaxed redhead...

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Tour de France food and drink Stages 6 to 8: a new wine

My time shifted viewing of the Tour de France continues (yes I know it finished weeks ago) as the race approaches the Pyrenees so what can we enjoy to accompany it?

Passing over the viticulturally barren Stage 5  we head south-west where the route of Stage 6 between Arpajon-sur-Cere and Montaubon passed jus south of the town of Cahors which was one of my father's favourite intermediate destinations on the rambling routes we took south to reach our holiday house near Perpignan when I was small.  Cahors, I seem to recall had a famous market and one of the famous things they sold in their famous market were hats.  Famous hats.  Now the Legatus has no interest in hats whatsoever and is deeply suspicious of men who wear them.  They are nearly, but not quite, as dubious as men who wear bow ties with suits or coloured waistcoats (Old Glory UK springs to mind here). There is always that faint air of narcissistic foppishness about them.  "Hello! I am going to wear an eccentric hat in the hope that no-one notices that I am actually really boring.!"

The Cahors hat is far from foppish, however, is made from the wool of Pyrenean sheep and has something of the hunter about it.  When we used to travel up high into the Pyrenees in the sixties we sometimes used to see isolated houses with bearskins pinned to them, as the diminishing bear population was still being hunted,  No doubt such hunters wore Cahors hats.  It looks not unlike the English Civil War Montero but probably should be worn while striding up the foothills of the Pyrenees heading for the Spanish border while accompanies by a large dog from Belle and Sebastien as you out fox the pursuing Nazis (or Germans as we are now not allowed to call them).

Anyway, enough of hats and on to the real contribution of Cahors to world civilisation; it's black, Malbec dominated red wine.  Unlike the Languedoc wine which was grown in my childhood, the Cahors always had an air of quality.  I  had my first glass down there when I was six or seven and even at that age I could tell the difference between it and the mouth puckering Corbières from further east.  My father used to stock up on the way down so we didn't have to buy the local stuff when we got to the house.  I got this one at about one third off in Sainsbury's and it is still traditional enough to sport a cork.  Surprisingly fruity with blackcurrants as well as blackberries and a bit of oak, A bargain for £5.50.  Probably should have had porc aux prunes with it but no time to cook much this year so more saucisson and cornichons.

Julian Alaphilippe gets the white jersey from the splendid Elsa Boirie (left)  He is standing on a box and her hips are still higher off the ground than his. 

Stages 7 and 8 took the Tour right down to the gates of the Pyrenees and growing down there is the Tannat grape, which these days is popular in the New World as well.  The Tannat is the principal grape of a wine I have never had before: Madiran.

I had this with French Pyrenean ham and more cornichons, inevitably.  No doubt the people who produce this wear Cahors hats.

This was a good buy from Tesco at about 25% off, taking it down to under £5 a bottle.  It was certainly unusual; tasting like a claret that had been produced in the Southern Rhone.  Still, an old style wine with  a lot of character for the price.

Stage 7

Next we will hop over the Spanish border for the Legatus' signature dish: alubias rojas de tolosa or, as it is know to my family, sausage splat.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Tour de France food and drink Stages 3 to 4; Memories of delicious things

A fairly traditional route this year

The Legatus always looks forward to following the Tour de France on TV (and in person on four occasions) but this year I will miss nearly all of it due to a two and a half week business trip to Botswana.  Grr!  So, no real opportunity to match food and wine to every stage this year. I was concerned that ITV 4 had dispensed with the mellifluous tones of classic commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen for Ned Boulting and David (drugs cheat) Millar but actually their cycling commentary is actually better than Liggett's and Sherwen's, even if it removes some of the nostalgia for past Tours.

 Green jersey for points (sprints)  Symmetrical!

 Polka dot jersey for mountains  Hippy!

A good part of the appeal of the live TV coverage is looking at the aerial shots of mountains, pretty villages and chateaux in the biggest advertisement for the French tourism industry of the year.  In fact my very first memory is of the Tour de France, in St Malo in 1962, when I was two and a half.

White jersey for the highest placed young rider  Flirty!

Red number for the most aggressive rider on the stage  Elegant!

Speaking of the acceptable faces of France; another important thing to consider every year is the standard of the Tour hostesses, who present the various jersey's and prizes on the podium at the end of each stage.   One year, unusually bowing down to pressure from feminists, the Tour organisers had a couple of podium boys but it was an experiment that was not repeated!

Yellow jersey for the overall leader  Smart!

Stage winner  Odd!

The yellow jersey podium girls are the most conservatively dressed (and have the longest hems) but some of the other outfits have been a bit strange in the past (some of the Coca-Cola sponsored mountains jersey girls' outfits were very avant garde).  Nothing too controversial this year (except perhaps for the trousers of the stage winner's girls).

 A start in Normandy (the team presentation took place in D-Day's Sainte-Mère-Eglise - with the teams being driven in in World War 2 vehicles) with the finish of Stage 1 being on Utah Beach, meant Normandy cider to accompany the coverage.  Last year when the Tour was in Normandy I managed to get a Normandy cider in Waitrose but it has disappeared this year, sadly.  I have really noticed, over the last few years,  the gradual disappearance of French produce in our supermarkets.  Even things like saucisson sec are getting harder to find (you can still get it in Waitrose)  with sliced cooked meats now only coming from Spain or Italy.  While you can get Brie and Camembert easily, other French regional cheese is more difficult to find.

Château d'Angers in 1983

It's three years since the Tour has been to the Loire but this time we have two stages there, (3 and 4).   I have always liked the wines of the Loire since a wonderful holiday there in the summer, after I finished law school, in 1983 (something of the atmosphere of this trip can be found in this post, which I wrote during 2014's Tour).  Stage 4 finished in Angers, somewhere I visited during this bucolic two weeks; which contained a lot of food, a lot of wine, a lot of chateaux and a lot of fun with young ladies.

The food was provided by the charming little hotels we stayed in, which all came from a book by Arthur Eperon.  We didn't book ahead but just rolled up in a little village at about four pm using Eperon's infallible guide.  My male friend, B, and my immediate ex-girlfriend, J,  would go for an hour's walk and explore the village, locate bakers and grocery shops etc. while my girlfriend of two months, V, (she had seamlessly followed on from the other one) and I  'relaxed' (she drove the car (she was the only one who owned a car) and I navigated - all very stressful!).

The Hotel Splendid in Montreuil-Bellay, which is still there 

We would then all meet up, let the others show us what they had discovered and have dinner at about eight. Then the other two would go for another walk after dinner while V and I 'relaxed' again.  It was a very relaxing fortnight, especially when we managed to arrange relaxing morning visits to the bathroom as well, although a surprising number of the hotels had a jug and ewer, rather than a washbasin in the room. Washing V with a sponge one morning, as she stood in an enamel metal bowl, with cold water from the jug was all very La Vie Bohème, although she squealed a lot.  She looked like the subject of a Bonnard painting.

Not having time to cook anything special this week, as I try to remember how to pack for a two week  trip, I am going for simple food like pate, cornichons and from the Loire, Port Salut cheese, which I first ate when I was small, on the way down to the house the family spent the summer in, in Roussillion.  This Pays de Loire cheese is not as old, historically, as some (it celebrates its bicentenary this year ) but was created by Trappist monks at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  It doesn't exactly have a lot of character but goes well with saucisson sec and originates in a town, Entrammes, just a few miles east of stage 3, in the north of the Loire region.  There are some fabulous regional cheeses from the Loire but you can't get them here.

Dried sausage, cheese and pate are  all very Loire anyway and their is no real signature dish for the region (although they eat quite a lot of game, often with mushroom sauces).

Probably the most characteristic dish is rillettes, which come from around Le Mans, some way east of Stage 3.  Waitrose to the rescue again, here.  It's very rich so this pot kept me going quite a few days.  They really need the acidic cornichons to offset the fattiness.  Somehow I don't think that the World Health organisation would approve.

V in the gardens of the Château d'Angers in 1983  What a splendid young woman she was

Anyway, the wine choice for Stage 3 was easy, as the race finished in Angers, somewhere we visited on our 1983 trip.  So the accompanying wine had to be a Rosé D'Anjou, a wine I have not had for many years.  It used to be quite cheap and was popular with lady friends in the eighties (until I met girls with more expensive taste in wine as the decade went on (stinky C, the paratroopers daughter springs to mind, who had a penchant for classed growth claret).  On our Loire holiday V started with quite unsophisticated taste in wine (was it my sister who called her a 'Niersteiner'?  Surely not!) so was fond of the Rosé D'Anjou but gradually, as we discovered the Loire reds, her tastes changed.  You always had to give her full marks for trying new things.

So, off to Waitrose to find a pink Anjou and they had Champteloup Rosé d'Anjou reduced from £7.99 to £6 something.  Honestly, I remember when you could get a bottle of this for £1.99!  I was expecting this to be too sweet for my tastes but it was actually really rather lovely and while still fruity, quite dry.. So nice that if it is still on offer I might get another one just in case we get a summer. As Waitrose say on their website: "a perfect match to charcuterie".  Easily the nicest pink wine I have had for a long time.

Off to Sainsbury's

Early on Stage 4 the peloton went through the little town of Montreuil-Bellay, where we had stayed 33 years ago.  While V and I had a particularly satisfying relax, B and J had made a discovery which they wanted to share with us.  For there, in the shadow of the Château, was the very producer (as we identified by the large palettes of bottles stacked outside) of Sainsbury's Rosé d'Anjou  - V's favourite!   It was a Saturday evening and we popped into the local church for a look, where we were instantly grabbed by some of the locals who wanted us to do the readings in church the next day, as they thought we were very exotic.  V, a Catholic, readily agreed on behalf of us all.  V's French was very good (A-level) whereas B did all Maths A-levels and struggled with English, and J was a nuclear physicist (despite looking like Alice in Wonderland - when people asked her what she did she used to say "a secretary" as no-one believed her real job.  She was actually the first women in the world to 'drive' a nuclear reactor and was in all the papers at the time).  My French was largely confined to culinary terms, parts of the body and words relating to wine (like terroir and remuage).  Fortunately, they wanted us to read in English.  Next morning we all performed and V read a passage in French too, much to the admiration of the locals.

Anyway, as Stage 4 started in Saumur I had a Saumur red with the (time shifted) live coverage.  Of course a sparkling Saumur might have been more appropriate but with the rise of Cava and now Prosecco there was no chance of tracking any of this down.  This was a nice, slightly smoky, herby cabernet franc.

Unlike Sainsbury's or Tesco, Waitrose still do packs of French charcuterie and this went perfectly with bread and more cornichons.  It all took me back and tasted like the lovely V (well, actually, she tasted like oysters)!

Mountain jersey podium girls Marie and Sabrina probably don't eat anything during the Tour

Hopefully, my Tivo box will have recorded the mountain stages and the highlights programmes so I can explore the cuisine and wines of some of the other stages when I return to England in a week's time.  There is a dip over the border into Spain and that means the recipe for one of my favourite dishes.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Call that a breakfast? The diabolical Hemsley sisters and their veggie mania.

Jasmine and Melissa  Aren't we thin?

Now the idea of two attractive young sisters presenting a cookery programme in floaty dresses should be ideal for the Legatus.  But I have just been driven to distraction by watching Eating Well With Hemsley + Hemsley which had its second episode today (note the trendy replacement of the ampersand with a plus sign to make them look like an architects firm or a trendy lifestyle brand  -which is obviously what they want to be). "We can't believe we have our own TV show!" gush the girls on their website.  No, we can't believe it either as your on screen style is extremely irritating, as you twitter around like Kiki the Frog from Hector's House

Kiki the Frog shows what happens to you if you eat too many vegetables

Melissa and Jasmine are half Filipina which explains their slightly exotic look and their insistence on cooking everything in ghee (which used to be considered really unhealthy but is now considered healthy, apparently).  Jasmine used to be a model so had to be a professional twiglet but both look seriously underfed.  Their healthy eating blog/TV show/recipe book is also full of meditation/mind-body interface New Age hippy nonsense. They are believers in biodynamic agriculture; a 1920s precursor to organic farming with added metaphysical and spiritual elements which "embraces the mystery of all life processes, including the subtle and energetic realities that are not necessarily easy to measure or justify using current scientific methods." Hopeless bunkum, therefore. If you can't measure it by scientific methods it's just fantasy!  Biodynamics has the planting of crops guided by the moon's position in the constellations of the zodiac. Three constellations are connected to each element, and each element is related to a part of the plant: thus, Earth – root; water – leaf; air – flower; fire – fruit.  Good grief!

Today, they showcased their "healthy" cooked 'full monty' breakfast.

You can tell everything about this horrific concoction by looking at a picture of it.  A full monty?  Perhaps, if you are a twittering, metropolitan, meditating twiglet girl. There should be no green food at breakfast. Ever! Asparagus?  Spinach?  Seriously?  Even worse, it is all baked in the oven!  Baked spinach with baked eggs on top! Argh! Disgusting.  I am sick of people (such as the Old Bat) banging on about how delicious vegetables are.  You know, they're really not! People eat vegetables because they are told they are healthy, they actually have no sense of taste or they are too squeamish to eat meat.  No one really likes them!  Except girls and that is because they are fixated on being thin, as they worry more about what they look like rather than what they do.  Courgettes, broccoli, leafy green vegetables etc. all taste of water with added iron filings.  Swedes, carrots, parsnips etc. taste like wood.  Ugh!

They then made a disgusting bolognese ragu with far too much grated carrot and served it with cold spiralised courgettes.  They seem to be the leading prophets of the incomprehensible spiralised vegetable movement in the UK. They have their own branded spiraliser, of course. I will not be watching them again!

In contrast, I have been enjoying Rick Stein's cooking series, where he goes to a European city for a long weekend.  He has been to Bordeaux, Reykjavik, Berlin and Vienna.  Stein (unlike the twittering Hemsleys) has a very engaging TV style   He doesn't faff about with healthy cooking methods either.   Taste is king.  In fact the amount of butter he uses alarms even me!  He has a fundamental flaw, though, which to me is as incomprehensible as a love of vegetables.  He has an inexplicable fixation on fish.  It is almost a fatal flaw from the point of view of cooking programmes.  So when he visits somewhere like Berlin or Vienna, which are both meat eating centres, ostensibly he goes back to his kitchen to then cook a local dish from the city he has visited.  But in the last two episodes not having had any fish in the city, he then goes home and cooks fish dishes.  I know he has made a career out of being Britain's Mr fish (who on earth voluntarily eats fish in a restaurant?) but really this is cheating!

Shudder!  Fish and vegetables!  I need to cheer himself up now.  This is a proper breakfast, which I had in February at Morrison's supermarket cafe.  Note the complete lack of green! The banana is to take home to the Old Bat, Another worthless foodstuff, bananas taste like slimy, compressed cotton wool. Fruit is for monkeys!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Corned Beef Curry

This was one of my mother's most complex dishes and often had a smoky flavour as, inevitably, she let the bottom of the pan burn.  Last autumn, I revived this memory of former times at home due to a bumper apple crop in the garden. It is far from a sophisticated dish and bears little resemblance to anything you might eat in India, Bangladesh or even Birmingham but on a cold dark day is quite a solid, cheering meal to eat while watching Eggheads or Great British Railway Journeys.  Anyway, the ability of British cuisine to absorb elements from many other countries is what makes cooking in Britain superior to, the literally preserved in aspic, French cuisine, for example.

There are four core ingredients: apple (sorry), onion, corned beef and, latterly I have added red pepper.  My mother's version didn't have red pepper (try and buy one of those in the seventies and see how far you got) but did include sultanas, something I eschew in favour of peas.  I chop the onions, peppers,corned beef and apple into cubes and gently fry it. Eventually the corned beef breaks down and once the onions are browned you add a tin of chopped tomatoes.  Liberally douse with black pepper and curry powder of your choice (again back in the seventies and eighties you could only get one sort), add a dash of tomato puree to thicken it and after ten minutes or so it is ready.  About five minutes before serving I throw in some frozen peas and maybe a bit of turmeric.

This is foreign food as interpreted by a housewife from over thirty years ago and is very different from the cooking my father did, as he strove for authenticity in trying to cook continental food in the sixties and seventies. 

Even more inauthentically, I chose to serve it with lemon and coriander cous-cous, although of course basmati rice is best, except my doctors have told me to cut down on this, unfortunately.

More about corned beef on my main blog here.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Dinner at Piquet, Newman Street, London

Piquet is a recently opened restaurant (October) run by Chef Allan Pickett in his first venture (he was previously at Chez Nico, Aurora, Orrery and Plateau in Canary Wharf).  General Manager Alain Morice used to be sommelier at one of the Legatus' favourite City restaurants The Don, opposite Rothschilds in St Swithin's Lane.  When we arrived there I realised that it was literally next door to a previous office of mine although the whole area is currently blighted by Crossrail construction work.  I seem to remember that when I worked there what is now the restaurant was then the entrance to an underground car park.

Upstairs there was a bar but there wasn't a single person in it when w went in or when we came out three hours later.  This does not make the restaurant downstairs look very inviting.  Behind the bar is a rather peculiar painting of a Victorian man and a reclining lady in nineteenth century underwear and black stockings.  To say she is posed in a provocative way is an understatement (perhaps fortunately, you can only see her top half in the picture above).

Downstairs the restaurant was rather odd.  Overlit for my taste and the tables were made of some dreadful plastic (I'm sorry but I do like tablecloths in a proper restaurant).  The kitchen was one of those which you can look into which again, I don't like in case I take against the look of any of the chefs and think "I don't want them touching my food!"

So, not a very promising start (it wasn't my choice) but then we got to the food which was really the best I have had for a very long time.  They have a set menu for lunch and dinner if you order before 18.45 which is a very reasonable £19.50 for three courses.  The mineral water (still or sparkling) that is offered is a flat rate charge of £2.50 a head but it does keep coming.  I went for the a la carte menu and for my first course had pressed suckling pig, prunes, black pudding (fabulous) and cauliflower purée (also fabulous).  This is not big food (it would suit the willowy ladies who work at Elizabeth Arden which occupies, now as then, the ground floor of my old office building), although for a starter, it was more than adequate.  However, my companion's crab raviolo (note the singular) was very small indeed and she said it wasn't as good as the ravioli you get at Latium around the corner.

For a main course I had loin of venison, braised cabbage, quince purée & chestnuts.  It was accompanied by a small faggot (it's an English food, American people!) which was utterly splendid. Again my companion was lessy happy with her choice of seared sea trout but that serves her right for choosing girly, fishy food.  We had a Villa Saint - Jean Pays d'Oc, essentially their house wine, which was very nice indeed and a descoberta branco, Casa da Passarella, Dao, from Portugal which she enjoyed a lot (I only got  a half glass!)

Although after two bottles of wine and small food we were enjoying pretty much everything a lot.  Service was attentive but not overpowering although it was only just over half full so what it gets like if it is busy I'm not sure.

All in all I would certainly go again although probably not at lunch time when I gather it can be very quiet.   With a few tweaks (and I know they have done some already, like turning off the music and I gather the painting's days may be numbered) this could be a very good restaurant indeed.  7/10 (9/10 for the food).