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Chasing Pineapples

an English girl tasting her way around the world

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December 2012

Satisfying my Sweet Tooth in Selfridges: Our Mates Pierre and Chloe!

My last day in London saw a petite réunion of some of our little crew who formulated in France a couple of years ago. Alex (my Nantes housemate with whom I shared many a moment of delirium during the seven months) and I took a trip to Selfridges one Saturday morning. And you know what Selfridges means.. Selfridges Food Hall.. an emporium of the world’s finest food in one magical place!

Alex Checking Out some Pâté and the Likes!
Alex Checking Out some Pâté and the Likes!

After dawdling past the Pie Minster stand, taking a pause to sample and purchase for later, we made our way to the Willy Wonka worthy sweet area. First stop was good old Pierre Hermé. Now, when meandering around Paris for macaroons, Gala and I walked a solid twenty minutes in search of this artisan macaroon maker only to purchase one single macaroon. But how it was worth it.. named ‘Mogador‘, this macaroon was chocolate flavoured with a tangy passion fruit zest to cut through the creaminess. Here in London I tried the same again and it did not disappoint. Now, the person to whom we owe our thanks for working very hard to launch this name into Selfridges is actually a lady who I had the pleasure of working with at Marks & Spencer’s last week in the Dessert Buying Team. I therefore sent her a personal thank you for making these bites of heaven accessible to all who come to Selfridges! Thank you Carrie!

A Treasure Chest of Sweet Colour at Pierre Hermé
A Treasure Chest of Sweet Colour at Pierre Hermé

Next was a very special meeting with our favourite chocolatier.. Chloe Watt, another of our motley crew that assembled in Nantes. Chloe’s family has recently become involved in the Sir Hans Sloane chocolate company. A little history lesson, Hans Sloane was an Irish physician who encountered cocoa on his travels in Jamaica. He was given a hot chocolate to try mixed with water, with which upheld was not impressed at all. He therefore decided to experiment a little and mix the cocoa with milk, brought the recipe back to England, and the rest is history!

Chloe the Crafty Chocolatier
Chloe the Crafty Chocolatier

On this particular morning Chloe was selling chocolate praline slabs which can be decorated as one pleases (with a personal message written beautifully in pure white chocolate). The slab base was built from a layer of smooth milk chocolate, followed by a thick layer of praline, and finished with another layer of chocolate. A truffle but in sandwich form I guess! It was absolutely divine and definitely one for tasting! Alex and I caught up with our amie whilst sneakily helping Chloe whittle down the large pile of chocolate to taste. It was great to see her in action, competing with Godiva next door, and she did a jolly good job, we were sold! Merci Chloe and sorry for stealing your samples!!

Macaroons and Sir Hans.. Lucky girls!
Macaroons and Sir Hans.. Lucky girls!

That’s quite enough for one morning in Selfridges, à la prochaine (until next time)…

Sir Hans Sloane website: http://www.sirhanssloane.com/

Gingerbread Farm Survives the Wrath of Charlie…

Earlier this week I realised that I had never before made a gingerbread house. This is surprising as I love the sweet yet spicy gingerbread taste and also I am shocked that I have previously not bounced at the opportunity to get creative! The latter I decided to take to the next step by creating not a gingerbread house, but a gingerbread farm (more in keeping with the food tour and my love of farmyard animals).

I asked my friends Charlie and Izzy to accompany me in my quest to help out and to provide ‘festive ambiance’. They turned up on my doorstep one cold winters night dressed in Christmas jumpers and bearing gifts of cake decorations and piping utensils galore!

Izzy took charge of baking and I focused on creating animals and decorating. Charlie helped create festive cheer whilst terrorising the farm and the animals with kitchen appliances…

Festive Jumpers, Smiles and Baking
Festive Jumpers, Smiles and Baking
Izzy tends to the gingerbread whilst Charlie Terrorises her with a Wooden Spoon
Izzy tends to the gingerbread whilst Charlie Terrorises her with a Wooden Spoon
Charlie Silently Terrorising Izzy and the Gingerbread
Charlie Silently Terrorising Izzy and the Gingerbread

Despite the typical male’s best efforts to terrorise the animals at the farm (I must admit, it is rather difficult to resist temptation), no one was harmed during the process (except some of our animals were unfortunately lost in baking due to rapid expansion…).

The Finished Product Under Threat from Kitchen Utensils...
The Finished Product Under Threat from Kitchen Utensils…

A few days later some of the girls came round to do the honours in demolishing the farm along with Champagne in antique tea cups… How festive!

gingerbread and Champagne... Festive!
Gingerbead and Champagne… Festive!

An Ode to Joe… A Fabulous Chef!

My friend Joe has recently finished training at Leiths Cookery School and is now a Demi Chef de Partie at Terroirs in Covent Garden (William IV Street). Therefore when he invited me for Sunday roast I knew I was in for a treat..

When back in London on a flying visit between Spain and France, I stopped by to see the chef in action and to have a taste of what he casually whips up on a daily basis.. ‘no biggy’.. Unfortunately I was not in town for long so I only managed to have a quick catch up over an exquisite charcuterie plate whilst he took his break. He promised that next time he would whip up something at home in a more relaxed environment where we could spend some quality time together. And this he certainty did: he gathered together some school friends and cooked up a storm!

Due to my previously mentioned inexperience with the overwhelming size of London and its transport system, by the time I arrived on the Sunday evening in question things were well on their way.. I walked in to the warm house to smiles from familiar faces and the unmistakably sweet smell of lamb roasting in the kitchen.

Joe Hard at Work
Joe Hard at Work

After a couple of glasses of wine ‘grub was up’ and all eight of us piled in to the charming little kitchen full of expectations and excited anticipation. Henry and Jamie did the honours of shredding the lamb, not that it needed much help as I have never seen meat fall off the bone quite so effortlessly! To accompany the main event were dauphinoise potatoes perfectly golden and crisp (even after eating my way around France for a month these homemade ones hit the spot!) and also some humble kale spiced up with some anchovies and pickled walnuts (oo lala!). All was lightly covered with a gravy including a dash of port and red currant.. Delicious!

Henry Helping the Lamb off the Bone...
Henry Helping the Lamb off the Bone…

Everyone dived in, no room for manners, and there were a good few seconds of silence in appreciation (very rare amongst our friendship group!) before the eruption of compliments all round. To quote Jamie, ‘Well Joe, you have really outdone yourself!’ I couldn’t put it much better myself, so I shall leave you with that and a big fat THANK YOU to Joe for a glorious evening and a superb spread. Can’t wait until next time (hint, hint) .. cheeky!!

A Close Up of the Lamb to Leave you With..
A Close Up of the Lamb to Leave you With..

Shepherd’s Pie Sunday… Baaaa Humbug!

Dad Diving In!
Dad Diving In!

This dish encapsulates Yorkshire and all that I have previously described as the perfect heart homemade meal over which the family is brought together. It is always slightly different, it never lasts very long! Living up to its name, this one was made with minced lamb from a whole half (if you can make sense of that!) of a lamb that mum was given not by a Shepherd, but by a local farmer friend. You can never guess what is on the menu over the next few days in the lead up to Christmas.. baaaaa humbug for the poor little lambs, but lucky Crossley family! I will keep you posted!

Dad Waiting in Anticipation for the Bubbling Shepherd's Pie
Dad Waiting in Anticipation for the Bubbling Shepherd’s Pie

Polpo: Ladies Who Lunch in London

When in London I always make sure I set aside time for exploring some of the many restaurants that pop up on every corner. I can’t wait until I move down to the capital whenever that may be, and have all of these exciting and innovative haunts on my doorstep.

I am very lucky to have two groups of girls with whom I can experience these breakfast and lunch spots, the York girls now mostly settled in the big smoke, as well as my seven housemates from our time studying in Bath. We usually send a message round asking who’s free, and whoever can come does so and those who are busy wait for the next one! This weekend unfortunately there were only three representatives for our house, but this was probably for the best as booking a table for 8 on a Saturday lunchtime in central London may not be the easiest of tasks.

Naomi, involved in events management, found us a great little place to try in Covent Garden called Polpo. I was a tad late (not yet London Underground savvy!) and I had to fight through the crowds of Christmas shoppers dragging my suitcase along, ‘excuse me’-ing and ‘sorry’-ing away, generally causing quite a kafuffle. Despite thus arriving a little flustered, I instantly took a liking to the warm and friendly environment where the waitress helped me with my bag. The ambiance was a real mixture between a trendy New York bar with its shabby chic loft ambience, and ‘homemade’ with its authentic hearty cooking and the menu written before us on brown paper place mats. They got the balance just right and the place had that perfect ‘buzz’ that a successful restaurant should have: enough background noise to make you relax and to give it a bit of excitement, yet not so noisy that YOU HAVE TO SHOUT OVER THE MUSIC!

Looking around us, we observed that this was apparently the place to be for ‘ladies who lunch’. The term lady here used very broadly, with tables full of chattering girls ranging from us 22 year olds, to the young professionals next to us, the yummy mummies next and on the other side some more mature women having a sophisticated birthday treat. Ania observed that this was like a timeline of the future, hopefully growing up together and sharing our separate lives over wonderful lunches.

Ladies Lunching in London
Ladies Lunching in London

We took a pause from our nattering to do my least favourite task of deciding what to eat. I always want everything, don’t want to order the same as anyone else so as not to be boring, yet get serious food envy when I prefer the look of someone else’s. To avoid this, I shared with Ania. Naomi was set on her cod cheeks with lentils, a solid choice I must say (and she let me try so she gets extra brownie points!). The food is Venetian theme, with small sharing platters traditionally named ‘cicheti‘ and the meatballs are their speciality. We went for the Classic Beef and Pork variety which, as it’s name highlights, was the most traditional. The sauce was deliciously rich and slightly sweet and the meatballs were definitely… well… meaty! We also had Duck and green peppercorn pappardelle which was GREAT. Fresh pasta as you would expect in an Italian joint and a delicious sauce with a generous helping of duck and a slight kick as the peppercorn said it’s hello.

The portion sizes are on the small size, however the waitress informed us of this, the idea being to share a few- the Italian take on tapas! We got a side of Focaccia to solve any hunger issues which was lightly toasted allowing the golden unmistakable taste of olive oil to cut through the crunch. I must say I prefer focaccia to speak for itself without any fuss of toasting etc, but it was a nice appetiser!

A Few Italian Treats to Share!
A Few Italian Treats to Share!

Next time (and there definitely will be a next time) I will make sure we have time for dessert as tiramisu in a pot and intriguing nutella pizetta rather tickled my fancy!

After a quick goodbye, I raced back through the crowds so as not to miss my train (I never learn from my mistakes!) on which I reflected another wonderful weekend with the girls! Until next time chicas!

Naomi, Ania and my Luggage After a Delicious Lunch!
Naomi, Ania and my Luggage After a Delicious Lunch!

Tip: We visited the Polpo in Covent Garden (6 Maiden Lane), but this is only one of a small … dare I say it… chain. Check out the others at 41 Beak Street, Soho and 3 Cowcross Street, Smithfield.

Yorkshire Roast: It Can’t Get Much Better!

YES Yorkshire! That's why I came back!
YES Yorkshire! That’s why I came back!

Over the past few months I have trekked every corner of France and Spain in search of exotic European dishes and produce. I certainly found what I was looking for and have many new favourites and flavours to experiment with. However, it was on my first Sunday upon returning to Yorkshire that I realised that wherever I travel and whatever I taste, it can’t get much better than home-cooked Roast Dinner, complete with the essential county-classic Yorkshire Puddings! A plate piled high with tender chicken breast, crispy chicken skin (yes, I am a skin eater!), fluffy and crispy roast potatoes and the veg providing some sweet and crunchy colour to the platter; this is the food that dreams are made of!

Food and Wine Tour Comes to an End: Merci, Gracias, TA!

The food and wine tour of France and Spain has come to an end. Kicking off the trail in Tarifa back in July seems like an eternity ago, with so many memories along the way. These include (deep breath…) fresh hand-caught seafood dinners with local friends in Tarifa, meeting the ham man and blind nuns in Ronda, a sherry winery tour in Jerez, a home-cooked Spanish Sunday lunch in Valencia, the two-hour visit for suckling pig, playing families in Galicia, cider and farmyard fun in Asturias, dancing chefs in Logrono, molecular gastronomy and pinchos in the North of Spain, Michelin Star chef Ferran Adria’s fairground tapas in Barcelona, hunting Paris for macarons, wine tasting along the Loire, cooking mussels roadside during a storm in Cognac, stuffing ourselves with duck in the Dordogne, a midnight tour of a restaurant in the Basque Country, market exploring in Toulouse, the bouchon experience in Lyon, a secret wine room and restaurant in Burgundy, an international gastronomic festival in Dijon and not to forget the potato farm in Franche Comté… (pause for breath!!!)

Back in Tarifa for lift-off!
Back in Tarifa for lift-off!
'We love our luggage' on the road again!
‘We love our luggage’ on the road again!

The list goes on and on and just goes to show the vast amount of experience that we have packed in to two months. Travelling up Spain by bus (with many a near miss due to ‘I love my luggage’ disasters!) and then around France in the little GB-stickered car, which also provided our home and shelter for nine nights along the way, we have certainly come a long way. My favourite travel companion will be greatly missed: the pet pig.. no, just kidding; the creative cook that is my friend Gala! We have managed to do all of the above, living in each other’s pockets 24/7 for the past 3 months with not so much as a single cross word.. I think that’s pretty impressive! Thank you for being your weird little easy-going self, constantly putting a smile on my face and putting up with my cringe iPad moments!

'Cheers!'
‘Cheers!’

So many people have helped us along our way.. our fellow language students at the University of Bath who directed us towards their favourite year abroad haunts, university lecturers sharing their wisdom on local culinary traditions, and even a supermarket product developer. Our fabulous hosts have also shown us things we would never have found without their local insight. So thank you to Lara, Flekki, Loren, Sergio, Chris, Francisco, Churro, Beto, Sonia, Angelina y familias, Pedro, Clovis, Nathan, Arthur, Johan, Béatrice, Romain, Jordane, Zoe and David. Each one of you made our journey that bit more special adding that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to our experience!

Our local guide and friend in Valencia
Our local guide and friend in Valencia
Galicia family dining
Galicia family dining

So all good things come to an end. And come to an end has this chapter, but my culinary journey of exploration through the world certainly has not. As one door closes, another one opens, and I am privileged to at some point in the near future be moving to one of the most culinary diverse cities in the world: London! Other journeys of discovery are also beckoning, next projects including the likes of Italy and Central America. Bring it on!!

Thank you for following my journey so far. Your comments, recommendations and accompaniment are all valued highly and i hope that you will continue to travel with me, wherever I may go,

Alex

Franche Comté: Local Hearty Produce and POTATOES!

Franche Comté is the region where Britain’s most famous French chef, Raymond Blanc, was born. Here, the focus is on hearty mountain food and Raymond’s saying that you ‘don’t have to be rich to dine like kings’ is certainly true in the local area, with most dishes we came across consisting of the same regional products:

Champcomtoise Potatoes
During our exploration of Besancon and the Franche Comté countryside, our duo became a trio thanks to our American friend Zoe. She kindly showed us around the local area and took us to a cosy little café and in return we took her to a very glamorous, very luxurious… potato farm. Afraid that someone outside of our little foodie bubble would consider us completely bizarre, we were pleasantly surprised that Zoe embraced the farm experience! We drove off the beaten track to a warehouse full of crates and crates of potatoes. The farmer, used to selling large quantities wholesale, thought it was rather charming that three young girls had come all this way to buy one sack of potatoes and thus stopped his heavy chores to have a chat. We then went exploring the potato maze and hopped back into the car in search of the rest of our ingredients.

Chatting to the Potato Man
Chatting to the Potato Man
Getting Lost Amongst the Potatoes
Getting Lost Amongst the Potatoes

Comté Cheese
This delicious mild and slightly sweet cheese first produced in 12th century forms the heart of the region’s cuisine. The Montbéliarde cows from which it is produced have a minimum space of one hectare to graze in and they are fed fresh and natural food- very happy cows! However, this AOC product is taken very seriously with an affineur (a cheese man!) regularly ‘ringing’ the cheese to understand the texture and each one is graded according to appearance, rind quality, texture and taste. Those with a bell symbol are the most sought after in all the land! We were guided to a cheese shop in the city centre to choose our slice from a huge round wheel… rather exciting!

Morteau sausage
This is a sausage that is smoked for 48 hours using wood fires in Tuyé chimneys. These smoking houses of the region contain a large wood fire beneath hundreds of hanging sausages. Due to this process, each authentic Morteau sausage has a tiny piece of wood and a ring attached. We went to fetch our fat sausages from a local specialist boutique called Doubs Direct. We even met a cow!

Meeting a Cow on our Produce Hunt
Meeting a Cow on our Produce Hunt

Cancoillotte
Cancoillotte is a liquidy cheese that is a key part of the local culture. Traditionally the cheese of the poor mountain folk, this concoction has made its way into the restaurants of Besancon and can be found in a variety of flavours including garlic- delicious poured over potatoes to slightly warm and melt!

Vin Jaune
The nearby Joura countryside is a wine growing area, with its most renowned product being their unique Vin Jaune which uses a process similar to that of Sherry production with the formation of yeast. This is a very rich wine which is paired with Comté cheeses (try mixing them to create a regional take on the traditional fondue!).

We added all of these ingredients together to create a warm version of a Comtoise salad recipe. It was very easy, using the ‘shove it all in’ method and it was everything a dish from the region should be… warming, hearty and FILLING!

Here is another regional recipe to try for Crispy Franche Comté Potatoes

Ingredients (serves 4):
– 1 kg Champcomtoise potatoes
– 250g Tomme cheese
– 50g butter
– 1 chicken stock cube
– Mixed pepper (3g Sichaun, 2 cloves cardamom, 2g green pepper, 1g coriander)

Recipe:
– Peel the potatoes and slice
– Preheat the oven to 180°C
– Butter a dish and arrange a layer of potatoes, 80g Tomme goats cheese in fine slices, 15g thinly sliced butter, season and repeat twice.
– Baste from a bowl of chicken stock and bake for 45 minutes until golden and tender.

(They should look similiar to Dauphinoise potatoes!)

 

Pinching Tasters and Recipes at Dijon Gastro Fair!

I could claim that our one day in Dijon magically coincided with its International Gastronomic Fair, but this would be a lie. When getting an itinerary together back in July, I had planned for us to travel France clockwise from Paris with our first destination as Burgundy and ending up in the Loire. However, when I discovered that this unmissable foodie gathering was happening for this particular week only, I completely turned the route on its head to end up in Burgundy and thus Dijon on this date. A bit drastic you may say, but it was definitely worth it! This renowned event attracts a quarter of a million foodie fanatics of all kinds… chefs, artisans, entrepreneurs, and those who just love to eat! Its presence completely dominates the city, with posters and road layout changes managing the flock that turns this already gastronomic city into a flurry of food!

The event takes place in a huge warehouse, with 3 exhibition halls. Safe to say that as we entered this gastronomic oblivion, we were overwhelmed by the maze of stalls before us, chefs calling out their recipes, producers promoting their goods and individuals indulging on the offerings… a sheer wonder for the senses!

Getting Involved with Choccie Mousse Samples
Getting Involved with Choccie Mousse Samples

We were lucky enough to see two demonstrations (and consequently sample the delicious results!) for one of which I have translated the recipe for Anglophones to try out. We saw the dishes being created in front of our very eyes (ever the keen beans with a front row close up) therefore I have included some tips that are not included in the recipe but are essential to replicate the true dish!

Suprême de Volaille à l’Époisses (Chicken Supreme with Époisses Sauce)

Ingredients (serves 6):
– 6 supremes (boneless and skinless chicken breasts)
– 250g Époisses cheese
– 250 ml crème fraiche (this doesn’t need translating!)
– 400 ml brown stock
– Salt, pepper, olive oil and butter

Recipe:
– Whip the cream until thick and store in the fridge.
– In a saucepan, fry the chicken with olive oil and a knob of butter on a low heat until  golden. Pour away any fat.
– Break the époisses into pieces (not too small!) and add to the chicken with the stock, allow to simmer and reduce.
– When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan.
– Add the whipped cream to the sauce, gently fold and then gently whisk until consistent.
– Pour the sauce over the chicken, and dress with a sprig of rosemary.

Happy Chefs!
Happy Chefs!

The result was absolutely divine and not the heavy cheese sauce you would expect with so many rich components! We wanted a whole portion, but high demand of the mini tasters meant we had to wander elsewhere to satisfy our appetites. We did pretty well, pinching samples of duck with blackcurrant coulis, caramelised waffles, macaroons, chocolate mousse and a big bow of Gaulois soup from a huge brewing cauldron. The icing on the cake was a tasting of an array of exotic varieties of Dijon mustard along with the classics (being in its birthplace it would be rude not to really!). We were also delighted to find that this particular producer supplies “bahhh do you know zee English shop Sainsbury’s?” so we can stock up back in England!

Mustards of Dijon stand to Attention! (Get Involved at Sainsbury's)
Mustards of Dijon stand to Attention! (Get Involved at Sainsbury’s)

We left extremely satisfied with our morning of tasting, all for £3 entrance! I think a trip to the 2013 fair may be necessary…

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