Archive for Oils

When work is snatched by play

It’s the Real Food Festival and I’m off, following my taste buds, with Gill Thomas who is the brainchild behind the Chiswick Food and Drink Festival. She is testing the potential for a full-blown festival in 2011 by organising a smaller food and crafts fair before Christmas, so we were on the hunt for local (to us) producers or specialist, one-off products that would appeal to west London’s greedy foodies.

Why was I there? Keen to work with restaurants and food businesses I was on the hunt for clients. So, this was genuine work. Until my stomach – and greed – took over. Yes, I came home with a heap of business cards and as many good intentions but I’d spent more time sidetracking myself when there was good tasting to be done (as well as, sadly, when it fell a bit short of expectations).

Attending trade fairs or exhibitions is part of every freelancer’s life. Going with a sense of purpose – and achieving it – requires planning. And that means arriving early to scour through the exhibition guide, marking the stalls you want to visit on the map and planning your route through the hall – and then doing that first, before your feet start complaining. Indulging yourself visiting stalls for personal purposes is a reward served best as afters.

If only I could do as I say. When the subject of your work is your passion, the passion can overwhelm the work. Resisting the urge to stop on my journey to taste and taste again proved hard, especially as it was all presented to me on a plate. I lost focus; I gained weight.

I waddled out well after lunch – annoyingly having forgotten to buy one thing that really grabbed my tongue by the throat – a silky olive oil from Tuscany made by Suzie Alexander. She didn’t lose focus and now lives the dream having moved from St Margaret’s (just across the river from Richmond) to buy an olive grove in Val di Chiana (near Siena) where she is surrounded by other family-run smallholdings making artisan products. She had brought with her the local Pecorino cheese which even had non-cheese loving Gill declaring it delicious. Depending on the season she might also bring farro (spelt) flour, lentils and chick peas, Prosciutto, saffron, truffles and sweet treats such as panforte. You see how I get sidetracked?

So, on this very untypical day, snitching my way round the Earls Court exhibition centre (wood shavings on the floor, livestock in pens – all very Good Life), this was my lunch …

Snatching snitches at the Real Food Festival (Cholesterol and calories)

  • thin mini-slices of ciabatta steeped in Secolare olive oil from a grove of mature olive trees, some of which are hundreds of years old, and a nibble of Pecorino: Suzie’s Yard (www.suziesyard.co.uk)
  • tiny slivers of Organic milk chocolate infused with cardamom made by Hove-based Holly Caulfield. Holly is also an artist and designed the gorgeous packaging which she makes up herself. She produces 100 bars of chocolate a day, one flavour at a time, and golly, Holly, was it good: Chocoholly (www.chocoholly.com).
  • small cubes of Winterdale cheddar, plain and smoked, made by hand from Fresian cows’ milk by the farmers who own the herd. The milk goes straight from the cow to the cheese vat in under 20 minutes which makes the Betts family the nearest farmers to London who make cheese from their own cows’ milk – instead of what most cheesemakers do: use milk bought from other farmers. Not only that … the cheese is matured on their farm in an underground cave deep in the chalky soil of the North Downs in Kent, giving it a rich, nutty and long-lasting flavour. It was obvious to me why it was a gold World Cheese Awards winner in 2009: Winterdale (www.winterdale.co.uk).
  • curls of smoked sirloin steak (unusual and delicious, giving bresaola a run for its money) and smoked salmon (gloriously mild, moist and moreish), a knob of smoked Cropwell Bishop stilton and a drizzle of smoked olive oil (delicious as a marinade or for dipping, too strong as a dressing in my view). The steak was moist and the smoking subtle; it could easily feature in another lunch on these pages. They also produce smoked garlic, but had run out by the time we reached their stall: The Artisan Smokehouse (www.artisansmokehouse.co.uk).
  • smears of pickles, chutneys and sauces on tiny bits of cream cracker, zinging round my mouth and, in the case of the Scotch Bonnet chutneys, bringing tears to my eyes. The sweet lime chutney was a delight – nothing like a lime pickle, more like a tangy, spicy marmalade. I’d met their maker, Chris Smith aka The Pickle Man, about six months’ ago when having a coffee in Munson’s in Ealing with a foodie friend; he was at the table next to ours and, intrigued by our non-stop talk about food, joined in, giving us each a jar of Brinjal pickle to try. Everything he, son of St John and Dolly Smith whose names are on the labels, produces (to his grandmother’s original recipes) is authentic and far better than any other pickle I’ve ever tried: St John and Dolly Smith’s pickles and chutneys (www.thepickleman.co.uk).
  • a sip of Sipsmith gin and barley vodka – all the way from Hammersmith where it is distilled in a copper-pot still called Prudence. Look out for it in the smartest hotel bars in London: Sipsmith (www.sipsmith.com).

Showing great self-control (by not eating the brochures or packaging).

Snitching was what we did as a family, when no one was looking. In the days of having a larder, there was usually something hanging around just waiting to be snitched – the remains of a roast or a steak and kidney pud, one of my mother’s legendary beef curries, cold roast potatoes, carrots or marrow in a white sauce, gravy, sprouts sprinkled with buttery toasted almond flakes left in the pan after the trout meunière had been devoured. And then there was the snitch box – an old Quality Street tin with “Snitch Box” stuck on the front, a Dymo label willingly punched by me aged about nine (and I still have it – the tin and the Dymo kit). We never knew what my mother had left for us but it was always worth the anticipation.

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Chicory with Roquefort and walnuts

It’s another appallingly environmentally-irresponsible day. I’m in a quandary. It seems impossible to support my local independent shops and limit my impact on the environment.

This recipe works well with ripe, juicy English pears – but I’m supposed to keep my sugar intake down and I broke that rule earlier this week with the Alphonsos. So Dutch chicory it is. I could use English stilton but the silkiness, and slight sweetness, of Roquefort lifts the glory of this dish into the stratosphere. At least it’s only travelled from France to Mortimer & Bennett. Walnuts? Bought from my local health food store, they’ve come all the way from Argentina. I will try to do better next week.

If you are in your fifties or older, you’ll have had these delicious mouthfuls hundreds of times, as a dinner party starter or drinks party nibble. It’s still useful for both but, as I don’t currently give dinner or drinks parties, lunch is where I slot it in. Infrequently (because of the cheese-cholesterol concern and as my nutritionist might be reading this).

I’ve tried variations on a theme. Feta doesn’t work ever, not even with pears – it’s too one-dimensional and dry. Stilton works better with pears than with chicory – the mix creating a better salt-sweet balance. Dolcelatte, Picos blue, Gorgonzola, Saint Agur, Fourme d’Ambert, Cheshire blue, Bleu d’Auvergne … anything blue and sticky will do. Including the late and very lamented (by me) Lymeswold, derided as the Blue Nun of cheeses but of which I was particularly fond.

The disadvantage of serving this at girly lunches (they happen rarely, but they do happen) is that everyone always says how wonderful it is, they ask if I’ve ever served it as a starter – and then go off and replicate it. In my mother’s day, recipes were only passed on (or pinched) on the understanding that the recipient (or thief) would never serve it to someone in the originator’s circle. No such rules apply these days. Which is why it’s my personal indulgence. It’s perfect for sitting in the shade in the garden on a sunny evening, a drink in the other hand. If only I had a bit of outdoors.

Perfection on a plate

One head of chicory

2 ozs or so of Roquefort (or other strong blue cheese)

Four walnut halves

Avocado oil (or olive oil or walnut oil)

  1. Separate six chicory leaves (or as many as your hunger dictates)
  2. Cut the Roquefort into small chunks (many recipes say crumble it but I find it’s too sticky, even for a finger-licker like me)
  3. Chop the walnuts into small chunks
  4. Dot the chicory leaves with the Roquefort and chopped walnuts
  5. Drizzle your choice of oil along each leaf

Yes, I've overloaded the leaves and, oops, was a bit heavy-handed with the avocado oil.

I ate them with my fingers. And ended up making more.

The very best avocado oil, in my view, comes from Chile. A Chilean networking colleague of mine was going to import it and invited me round for a taste test. We tasted blind and both preferred the organic extra virgin version, which is what I used today. It’s golden, thick and very full-flavoured – but all of them were better than the widely available Californian version which is thin, pale and watery. The New Zealand version is marginally better. But if you can find Chilean, I urge you to buy it.

I suppose this all adds up to another bunion on my carbon footprint.

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