Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I am the egg man (deluxe edition)

This minimalist egg cup-cum-toast rack – a recent gift – is about as sophisticated as my breakfast gets, unless a) I'm in a hotel, or b) someone's making hotcakes, the recipe for which is available strictly on dead-tree media and sadly unlinkable.

Still, it's a substantial step forward from what until recently was a breakfast policy of 'no breakfast'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

AA Hospitality Awards 2009-2010

I'm just back from the AA's big annual awards bash at the Park Lane Hilton, and it's been a fascinating few hours in the company of - or at least in the same room as - some of the nation's finest hob-hoggers. From my seat at table 42, I could see Glynn Purnell, Tom Aikens, Simon Radley, Richard Corrigan, Helene Darroze, Marcus Wareing, Shaun Hill, John Burton-Race, Claude Bosi and Sat Bains, and that was without turning round. Aiden Byrne, from round our way in Lymm, had picked up his three-rosette plate for The Church Green earlier, but told me that his new project, The White House in Prestbury, will now be delayed until 2010.

If you're after the full round-up of gongs, you're best off with Caterer, but from 20 awards, the highlights were a nice spread of out-of-London winners and Raymond Blanc's acceptance of his lifetime achievement award. We were treated to archive film showing off Blanc's luxuriant haircuts past, before halfway through a humble, earnest speech, a tired and emotional John Burton Race leapt onto the stage. I thought it was going to go a bit Kanye West, but the white-haired kitchen lothario kept it to, "He's the most fantastic bloody cook we've got. I love him!" before bounding off.

Other winners, who received an air kiss from host Natasha Kaplinsky, resplendent in cerise, included Sat Bains for his new ranking of five AA rosettes, Marcus Wareing, a very popular winner of the Chefs' Chef award, and Richard Corrigan, whose Mayfair restaurant was chosen as AA Restaurant of the Year London. Predictably, though, given that the audience was largely men of a certain age, the biggest whoop whoop went to Glynn Purnell. Apart from being a figure of merriment and delight in the industry and winner of AA Restaurant of the Year England, he took it upon himself to kiss and squeeze Kappers with the enthusiasm of a sailor home on shore leave.

Monday nights, when many restaurants close, are a fine time for this kind of event, but the tiredness was showing for chefs who may normally be snoozing on their night off. Poor Helene Darroze looked thoroughly exhausted and made her excuses soon after the lovely people from The Connaught, whose table I was on, picked up their award for Hotel of the Year London. And as I passed Angela Hartnett on the way out, she could be heard to respond to the suggestion of further drinks and dancing with, "Christ, no. It's Monday night!" A woman after my own heart. And so to bed.

Cake introspection

It's not an attractive habit, but once I've fed people, I tend to mull over the success or failure of the snacks provided. If I've used a new recipe, then so much the mullier. The weekend's get-together of university friends, which featured a bit'o'lunch, is ripe for consideration.

Helen, Liz, Natalie, Lindsay, Rachel, Kelly and I lived in the same Manchester halls of residence, Owens Park, and more than ten years on we still get together a few times a year. There's a wise head for every problem and it's a set of friendships which I value hugely, so I aim to provide an acceptable level of cake when they come to Hale and Hearty towers.

With Lindsay in LA and Kelly delayed, there were five round the table for Jill Dupleix's grilled tomato soup and bread from Barnby's in Hale, plus ham and some truly horrible pickled onion cheese that I got from Sainsbury's for a story. I didn't make them eat it.

For the three pregnant ladies, we followed it up with the babycakes pictured below, the only drawback being that the Jelly Belly beans which are an appropriately pale pink are the bubblegum ones. There were also some oaty flapjacks. The real challenge, though, was the production of a low-fat cake.

Helen's off the bad fats for a while on doctor's orders, and after rifling through my books I found an apricot and hazelnut cake in Annie Bell's Gorgeous Cakes (there are some similar ones here). It involves dried apricots, spices, ground hazelnuts, six eggs and no flour or fat, and the lift is supposed to come from folding the whisked egg whites into the base mixture just before it hits the heat.

In the book, it looks elegant. In reality, it looks like a cowpat – a low-fat cowpat, mind. But if you close your eyes and think of pretty things, it tastes delicious: damp, slightly spiced with cardamom and cinnamon, fruity but not wildly apricoty. And because everyone else was busy with the babycakes, there was plenty for Helen to take home.

FACT: some cafes are better than others

After a hard day's Scouse shopping yesterday (I'm going to the AA Hospitality Awards tonight. I don't have a black tie, so the least I can do is find some shoes that match my frock), I was greatly looking forward to the crown of the week. My friend Carmel has been living in Sydney for three years and she's back on a whirlwind tour of Europe. In Australia, when she isn't eating lovely breakfasts or running on the cliffs at sunset, she's a film festival kingpin, and her nothern England tour culminated in attendance at FACT's Abandon Normal Devices film festival.

It seemed only right, not to mention convenient, that we should conduct the reunion in the FACT cafe. Even on a dull Sunday it's got what they call a good 'vibe', all laptops and big wodges of cake, so I hate to reveal that it is really Not Much Cop. Service is excruciating – our fella avoided eye contact until he'd finished fiddling about with his trolley, gave me the wrong drink, forgot to charge Carmel for hers and generally made me ashamed to be British.

My sausage and chutney sandwich (I always go for the classy option) also contained thick slices of cheese and, even more of a surprise, a small chunk of chargrilled chicken which tumbled unbidden from the bready depths. We didn't risk coffee – after Carmel's three years in a city where it's a matter of considerable pride, ordering a cup in a food operation where pride is scant is really not wise. Nice films, shame about the caff.

And while we're talking FACTs, let me share this: according to OK!, not only does England cricketer James Anderson live in an 'exquisite home' in Hale, Cheshire, but Freddie Flintoff lives round the corner. I'd like to know their chosen venue when, as James informs us, they meet up and go for dinner. Surely not Piccolino?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pitter patter patisserie

We've got the babycakes, now all we need is the babies

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kitchen essentials

No.1: The Kenwood Chef

Curry in a box, for the box

Generous screenings of Masterchef: The Professionals mean there is barely time to cobble dinner together in time to throw it at Gregg 'pudding face' Wallace and his nonsensical talk of citrus lemon and deep rhubarb.

Nonetheless, we persevere.

This week's duff-looking curry comes courtesy of Michelle Hart, a Manchester PR who persuaded Danny Moore of Intafood to send me something nice in the post. Now, freebies or no freebies, H'n'H does not endorse rubbish names, and Intafood is most definitely one of those. But they have had a good idea which is especially useful if you live in the land that integration forgot. Away from the urban whirl, we're no more likely to be able to score lime leaves than a bag of brown, so Intafood's Thai green curry recipe pack (£2.99 inc postage) is a marvel.

You get a pack of little sachets containing green curry paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, Thai holy basil and lime leaves, and a shopping list for bits like coconut milk, aubergine and whatever protein you fancy. Follow the instructions on the back, adding the contents to the pan in order, and you end up with a curry that has the correct tangy whiff of fish sauce, lime and unswept streets which Tim recognises from past Thai holidays.

The greens won't like it – there are too many bits of plastic – but we did, especially because, unlike a lot of off-the-shelf curry action, it has a bit of poke to it. The Inta dudes also do packs for teriyaki, Sechuan and other dishes, and they all include at least one ingredient that's hard to find. It's a business plan with a natural end, of course – it wasn't too long ago that coconut milk was a mystery to most supermarkets, and baby, just look at us now – but for the moment, it's not a bad idea.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Think global, act local

It is, apparently, "the last bargain left on Earth". But whether or not the current deal at Joanne's (£2 for a meat and potato pie with chips) lives up to the billing, this Altrincham chippy merits a visit.

Having occupied the same site on the corner of Borough and Massey Roads since 1901, its hours are unfashionably traditional – lunchtimes only Monday to Friday, plus a short evening service on Friday itself – and its fare deviates little from the classic model. 

Vimto is touted in the other window, but not in the cutesy off-the-peg style of a thousand theme pubs. Partly concealed, the impression is that these banners remain simply because no one has seen fit to remove them when there's serious frying to be done. And Joanne's serves up pretty good stuff, too.

Those opening times mean it helps if you're a schoolkid, work locally or otherwise spend your days in or around the terraces near Stamford Park. But when did a properly good deal ever come without a bit of effort?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Scone me: the search for the perfect cream tea

I occasionally think that, at 30, I may be spiritually more suited to middle age. This happens especially when I am assessing the quality of a scone, or pointedly barking ‘thank you’ at a shop assistant who has failed to meet the minimum qualifying standards of politeness.

The first episode in what I’m sure will be an extremely pleasurable occasional series allowed me to do both. The teenagers behind the tea counter at Altrincham Garden Centre are unfailingly sullen, but the scones they push over the counter with a grunt and a scowl are home made and often still warm. So it was that, looking out over the sheds and planters of the nursery, we conducted Hale and Hearty’s first Cream Tea Appraisal.

It was my friend Bryony who first alerted me to the notion that we may have an award-winning scone on the doorstep (she lives in Sale). Since then, it has become our Sunday afternoon refuge of choice, and we have tackled many thorny issues – work, mainly, leavened by the occasional family trauma – in the garden centre's conservatory. We may be sporting decorating trousers and greasy hair (it’s the weekend, innit?) but by virtue of our relative youth, it’s the one place we still look pretty dashing. 

The cream tea, £2.69 for a scone the size of a man’s fist, a pot of Rodda’s, a jar of good jam and tea, has always been rather good. It’s the kind of sod’s law that afflicted my Metro column that as soon as I rock up with my review head on, everything turns to shit.

The fruit scone was overbaked, dark and far too crusty, and the plain one, though light enough inside, lacked the kind of scone magic conjured at The Wolseley (although I have heard bad things about it recently), the Ballymaloe House cafe, and – very occasionally – in my own kitchen via Delia and some rare good luck. As the Apprentice voiceover man would say, Emma’s search for a good scone continues. And if I get to the south west before the baby’s born, it’s going into overdrive. Who could deny a pregnant woman a cream tea or three?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let us now hail... Port

Yesterday I finished a bottle of port acquired in the run-up to last Christmas. While the second part of that sentence isn't unusual, it strikes me the first probably is.

Port's one of those fringe-interest festive accoutrements that, like those peculiar dials of candied orange and lemon segments, tends to find its way into the trolley on an 11th-hour trip through the supermarket. That's not to deny its healthy year-round fanbase, of course – merely to pinpoint its place in the average 21st-century household.

Here, the bottle is normally a few inches down by home time on New Year's Eve. Otherwise it's untouched. Jokes about gout and the singer from Keane may follow. But here I am, staring at the label and wondering when it would be politic to line up my next fix.

It probably helps that this particular port arrived as part of a wine case won in a Guild of Food Writers raffle. So it is – was – a good one. That's it in the DIY pack shot at the top of this post: a Fonseca Terra Prima, non-vintage but made from organic grapes grown in Portugal's famous Douro Valley.

As you'd expect from a fruit-based alcoholic drink fortified to 20% ABV, it's full-bodied and warming. But there's a moreish, mellow spiciness to the blackcurranty flavours here that had previously eluded me. The bottle looks great, too – and that proper stopper beats a cork every time.

Perhaps it's something to do with the context; the absence of an already alcohol-soaked seasonal binge. Perhaps it's because there's been very little red wine in the house. I'll settle for saying that any recommendations for my next bottle will be well received.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Oil be back

The house of H'n'H is riddled with extra virgin olive oil after a taste test which was in the paper bit of the Guardian, but too flimsy to go online, a couple of days ago. We've got some in the cupboard, some on the spice shelf (which is feeling a bit sticky after an apple sauce fermentation incident) and the overflow in the wine rack. Even in my pregnancy-enforced sober state, it looks very exciting until you get closer and realise that the lovely bottles are not the habitat of fine wine. It reminds me of the much-bandied notion that when wine writers call in to see other wine writers, they take a bottle of interesting oil. Killjoys.

Even after donating some to my sister's new home food fund (she moves in today), much oil remains. This means that for once, I won't feel horribly profligate doing what I was taught to do at cookery school at Ballymaloe, which is to fry everything (everything suitable, that is: not porridge) in extra virgin olive oil.

In my tiny mind, I know that the heat destroys the delicate flavours of, say, Castillo de Canena's banana-inflected First Early Royal (pretentious, olive oil?) but I can't shake the memory of the marvellous, headstrong, slightly crazy Darina Allen, a whirlwind in class and out of it, insisting that the only olive oil used for cooking on her premises would be extra virgin.

She wouldn't use it anywhere the strong flavour might cause havoc - in the mayo we made over and over again, for example - but three years on the smell of a pan of warming olive oil, perhaps ready to fry the onions for Diana Henry's chicken with chorizo and rice (you'll have to buy the book) takes me back to the Ballymaloe school kitchens. As they say about things far more dramatic than three months piddling around cooking in the company of pleasant but overprivileged teenagers, it was the best of times and the worst of times. And it certainly was oily.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A farewell to Floyd

It's been a long day of collecting tributes to Keith Floyd, who died yesterday, for Word of Mouth. So much so that, while listening to everybody else's recollections of him, I hadn't processed my own reaction until we sat down for what is known in Hale as tea.

Of course, the only way to celebrate a departed chef is to cook one of his recipes. In need of comfort, we rejected the gumbo-ridden pages of Floyd's American Pie, one of my favourite charity shop purchases, for his nice, safe chicken korma. Made with whole spices, softly fried onions, thick yoghurt and a whole lotta ghee, it's a good one, although as you can see from the picture, it doesn't look as nice as it tastes.

In 2007, I went on a cookery course hosted by Floyd and his wife Tess (they split not long afterwards) at Linthwaite House hotel in the Lake District. It was designed to make the most of his ebullient personality, and it was clear from the excitement among the attendees, mainly middle-aged couples, that the most prized experience was not the cookery lesson but sitting down for dinner with him the night before class. He didn't disappoint, and artfully aired some eye-watering industry gossip and a few less-than-PC anecdotes before leaving us with a fair few bottles and his encouragement to enjoy them.

The next day, he rolled through a handful of classic French dishes, including a rich langoustine soup, and exhorted us not to be hogtied by the need for precision and measurements. Though he waggled a glass of red because it was expected, whisky was his preferred tipple. During a mid-morning fag break he asked me, in a theatrical whisper, to be a good girl and take his glass back to the bar before anyone spotted it. I did as I was told. No one could refuse Keith Floyd.

No TV masterclass

Something is missing from BBC 2's latest cookery contest, and not just John Torode. The second series of Masterchef: The Professionals started last night, and for the most part fun was not on the menu. If that half-baked metaphor – and that one, and this next one – is past its sell-by-date, that's only fitting: this is seen-it-before-only-better TV.

Admittedly my tolerance for Masterchef, if not that of all at Hale and Hearty, is largely dictated by novelty. Its very availability as something to watch in January saw me through the early stages of 2009's amateur effort, even if the final phase sprawled interminably. But at least eventual winner Mat Follas, he of the intriguing eyebrows and oft-referenced family, was on the requisite reality-show journey. Here, the contestants cook for a living. And it's boring to watch.

Pairing Michel Roux Jr with Gregg Wallace doesn't help. In such globally respected company, the veg man's bulk seems inversely proportional to his judicial heft; the sense that he's taking his cues from Roux difficult to shake. He also talks far less entertaining rubbish than before. There will be no parties in his mouth here, let alone figurative baths in chocolate pots.

Roux's profile means he doesn't cast judgment until the final cook-off, so early rounds are co-hosted with brittle efficiency by his sous chef, Monica Galetti: sadly no TV natural, even if she has grasped the shouty-talking-head thing. Michel doesn't shout, of course; it's unbecoming. But the puffed cheeks and calm tones as last night's intake did bad things to bream are no substitute for the once endlessly quotable Gregg'n'John show.

Yes, there is peril in Masterchef: The Professionals. It's hard to see what any of the contestants really stand to gain by taking part, particularly set against the very real risk of ridicule on both sides of the pass back home (pity the head chef who flunked last night's spatchcock and lemon curd tasks). But equally, it's hard to care about them. Gregg's aspirational questions – 'How far do you think you can go in this competition?' – are especially pointless when put to the pros. Why, actually, are they here? And, more pertinently, why are we?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cocoadance: still feeling Peaky

Much as I love the Peak District, traipsing over the Cat and Fiddle pass in the name of research has become rather old cat. The deadline for my book chapter about the food of the area looms early next week, though, so barring last-minute dashes to oatcake makers, I won't be back for a while. As finales go, yesterday's visit to Castleton chocolatiers Cocoadance was pretty tasty. 

David Golubows and Bridget Joyce run their business from a National Trust farmhouse under Mam Tor, halfway up the old, precarious road to Manchester. They've been making chocolates for about 15 years and they understand the industry, and their customers, well. Several of their truffles, including one which includes a generous splash of Thornbridge Brewery's bestselling pale ale, have won Great Taste Awards, but they also do a nice line in safe, friendly moulded shapes made with creamy Belgian couverture. 

There are exceptions to the old cliche that food people are nice people, but not in Castleton. Bridget and David are open and patient, and their Chocolate Experience workshops, held in their mini production facility, offer a rundown of chocolate history followed by a chance to get extremely sticky while wearing very camp cloth hats. 

When we arrived with five other students, they'd already done the hard work: vats of tempered dark, milk and white chocolate stood ready for dipping, piping and moulding, with a selection of liquorice allsorts, strawberries, fudge chunks, marshmallows and other sweet bits ready for making into our own chocs. Inspired by a recent visit by a hen party, David demonstrated how to make bondage jelly babies, but we stuck to – what else? – a graffiti-style Hale and Hearty plaque, plain chocolate fish studded with crystallised ginger and rough-looking but delicious milk chocolate truffles.

I'm working on a feature about Chocolate Week (October 12-18) at the moment, and there's a lot of very posh chocolate in the house, as well as the slightly cock-eyed stuff made from good-quality but easy-to-like milk choc we brought home over the hills yesterday. I've also got a copy of world-beating chocolatier Paul A Young's new book, Adventures With Chocolate, in which he lovingly recalls ripping the paper off a classic box of Thorntons. If he's got room for both delicate 66% Caribbean dark and sweet Belgian milk in his life, then so have I.   

Friday, September 11, 2009

Out now: tasty produce from Stately

Stately Homes Of England have recorded a new EP – and what's more, it's out now. Five fresh slices of aural goodness remixed from the eponymous Stately debut double, the cunningly titled Remixed is available as a free download here. Suffice it to say that tempos are generally raised and it's all rather jolly. If you would like a dubbed cassette with hand-drawn sleeve to a design of your choosing, you can make arrangements via the website. Or you can burn your own CD. Why not try your hand at a lathe cut?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Leah's Pantry: exceedingly good cupcakes

I went back to the Peaks - or just over the hill near Macclesfield - today for a lesson in cupcakery with Leah Stevenson. The making and eating of these little fellas is not the fashionable pursuit it once was, and not everyone can handle a gobful of buttercream. Nevertheless, the revival means that there's now lots of sparkly decorations even in Alty's shops, and I can't argue with that.

There are a few cupcake purveyors within range of Hale and Hearty, including Katja's Kupcakes at Alderley Edge (I hate the extra K, but she's whizzy with the buttercream, as seen here) and Chorlton's Sweet Tooth Cupcakery, which is up for an award at this year's Manchester Food and Drink Festival.

Leah does sell her cakes around and about, but for £45 you can go up to her beautifully-appointed kitchen near Rainow and learn how to make excellent cupcake bases (we did chocolate brownie, raspberry and white chocolate, blackberry and almond and lemon), decorate them and toddle off home with a smart box of different cakes with which to impress your nearest and dearest. Leah also has a very steady hand, and I found that if you ask her nicely she'll ice the name of your new blog onto a trio of cakes.

I'm a cack-handed but geekily keen sugarcrafter, and though I enjoyed the chance to hone skills like the making of sugar roses, for me the valuable part of the day was getting ideas for a forthcoming 'do' chez H'n'H. When you make cakes, you become part of all sorts of celebrations. A few years ago, I made a cake for my friend Liz's hen party. It was all sugarpaste L plates and cunningly crafted appendages, and though we were all too drunk to appreciate the soft, fudgy high-cocoa sponge, we found the fondant knobs quite amusing.

In a couple of weeks, Liz and the girls are coming for the weekend. Three of us, including Liz, are pregnant, and to celebrate I'll be making afternoon tea with a much purer theme. Apparently you can do quite a good baby's footprint using jelly beans and writing icing. I can't wait to give it a go. The only question is whether to buy blue or pink jelly beans; in this instance, I think yellow would be a cop-out.

An Apple a day... every day

Cross purpose: A rare break between photo-ops in Abbey Road, July 2009

The Beatles were never really a rock band, whatever today's video game release and its attendant hoo-ha might have you believe. I'm with the late Ian Macdonald on the Fabs' attempts to rock out. He nails Helter Skelter in Revolution In The Head, his essential chronicle of their music and times: Macca makes for an unconvincing bellower as the band slog through 'the requisite bulldozer design but on a Dinky Toy scale'. There's no question Macdonald loved The Beatles; he simply accepted their limitations.

It's that human fallibility – that The Beatles were 'just four lads from Liverpool', if you draw your sentiment from the mawkish end of the pond – that makes their achievements all the more remarkable. And by setting the Rock Band TV ad in Abbey Road, the makers of the Rock Band TV ad have got something right. There's no Beatles landmark – no British pop landmark, really – like it.

Sure, The National Trust will take you for a nose around John and Paul's childhood homes. You can pose with the statues in Liverpool's 'Cavern quarter', but the original venue is long gone. There are city tours and museums. It's just all so, well, laid on. The closest counterpart to Abbey Road in the north-west isn't on Merseyside at all, but in Salford, where the Lads' Club is an enduring destination for Smiths fans bent on recreating the inner sleeve of The Queen Is Dead.

If Abbey Road is inevitably far busier, the appeal is the same. The dense graffiti on the walls outside the recording studios is testament to that: from dawn to dusk, you'll often see groups waiting for their go on the zebra crossing. But hold the traffic for a few minutes, and you get to be a Beatle. Apple Corps doesn't get to control this part of the band's legacy. In Abbey Road, every day is Beatles day. The studios even operate a webcam.

If The Beatles had stuck to the original plan and given the album the almost parodically rocktastic title Everest, it would all have been very different. But they were barely talking by then, and a trip to the Himalayas seemed a continent or two too far. Too bad for the tradesmen and couriers who navigate this particular stretch of St John's Wood.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I am the egg man

The Good Food Guide 2010: Go The North!

The Which? Good Food Guide 2010 is officially published today, and although I must admit to a little light bias, I think it's a bit of a triumph both for the book, which is clearer and more comprehensive than it has been, and for the north.

It's a delight to look through the newly-expanded list of top 50 restaurants and see new entries for Ramsons, The Yorke Arms, Purnell's and my favourite, Fraiche (careful in the picture there Marc, those wafers look a bit sharp) alongside the bankers such as L'Enclume, Antony's and the reliable but oft-overlooked Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor.

The purest foodling joy comes, though, from seeing Da Piero, an Italian restaurant in Irby on the Wirral, pick up the award for Best Newcomer. It's a husband-and-wife operation in the middle of nowhere, and the interior scheme is more auntie's sitting room than slick modernity, but the food (home-cooked Italian, definitely no red sauce) and the welcome are second to none. Oh bloody hell. I might cry a bit.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Bake ye well

I'm writing a chapter of a new guide to Britain, to be published by the people behind the much-excerpted Wild Swimming. Unless there was a posh picnic waiting for me on the far shore of a heated and filtered loch, I would not contemplate swimming in untamed waterways. Happily this book is about food.

Because I used to look after Peak District Life magazine's (very polite) food coverage, I've been assigned the book's Peaks chapter, and I spent Saturday roaming Bakewell and the Hope Valley with my friend Bryony. She drives a car that's already buggered, so she doesn't mind careening down unmade tracks in pursuit of farm-made ice cream, but the real aim of our nice day out was the purchase of as many Bakewell puddings as we could carry.

Dos Hermanos's Simon Majumdar recently trotted north to uncover the mysteries of the Bakewell pudding, and he relates its history here, but suffice to say that in the town it's named after, Mr Kipling's finest do not cut the mustard. Their shortcrust pastry, thick white icing, glace cherry and cakey frangipane are unfamiliar to the bakers of Bakewell, whose pudding is a plainer, uglier affair. It's a shallow round of flaky pastry spread with jam and topped with a kind of sweet, opaque almond custard baked to the colour of eighties Ronseal, and it is the one thing that, judging by the bakery queues, you must not leave Bakewell without.

They can be bought from four major sources in the town: the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, the Bakewell Pudding Parlour, Bloomers bakery and the unhelpfully named Bakewell Tart. All bag up the eggy frisbees in brown paper for takeaway, and if you leave them wrapped for too long, the butter from the pastry spreads and stains. Best to stick them into a low oven to warm through at the earliest possible opportunity. Cut with care - these mothers are flaky - and eat with cream.

A weekend taste test revealed the Old Original's pudding as by far the best, with crisp pastry, just enough jam and a filling with a natural, not synthetic, almond flavour; perfect post-Sunday lunch or, indeed, for Sunday lunch. Food tourism isn't as big as it could be in the Peaks, despite the handsome scenery and some very decent products, and it was gladdening to see all the shops doing a brisk trade in puddings. After all that sweet nutty jamminess, we needed something savoury for tea. Ken Hom's fragrant five spice spare ribs were just the ticket, although Chilli Heatwave Doritos make an acceptable substitute.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

'Freshly made just for you'

OK, that's probably not true. But sunny Sundays will always mean sundaes at Hale and Hearty. This snap was taken at Lymm's annual rushbearing festival – an event with roots in the medieval practice of parading bullrushes to the parish church for use as a kind of analogue-age carpeting.

Today, of course, this requires a police escort along the A56, traffic snaking back while morris men throw shapes to The Floral Dance. But it also brings the dust-covers off ice-cream vans. This year's parade will be chiefly remembered for our first double 99 of an unimpressive summer: super soft, certainly, and with the addition of raspberry sauce, unarguably twin-flavoured.

It's hard to tell which tradition needs protecting most. While the rushes are now purely symbolic, these evocatively decorated rigs and their distinctive smell – created by a second motor powering the soft-ice machine – are becoming a lesser-spotted species. Ben & Jerry's Phish Food might alliterate, but it sure doesn't chime.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Jill Dupleix is a genius

I've got too much respect for Jill Dupleix and her book royalties to reproduce her recipe for tamarind fish curry here, but let me say that it is a fine dish indeed. Tim regards it as 'fiddly' because there's some grinding of spices involved, but with cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, turmeric, coconut milk and a big dollop of sweet-sour tamarind paste (which is much sharper ready-made from a pot than reconstituted from one of the dry blocks of fruit and seeds), it's got the lot. 

With some Saino's basics salmon (yes, I know, but it's sustainable, a bargain, and the Hale fish man is too 'eccentric' to mingle with unless we need some really special stuff) and a load of ripped-up coriander, it's lovely for spooning up in front of the telly. It's from Dupleix's last but one book, Good Cooking: The New Essentials, which is packed with other gems including pork chops with a maple syrup glaze and chive brot, rye bread spread with cream cheese and dipped into finely-snipped chives, which looks like a croquet lawn-made-canape. 

I highly recommend both book and curry, and now she and king Durack have moved to Australia and there'll be less of their lovely writing about, Good Cooking has a bit of extra savour. And if you're looking at the rice in the picture and thinking it looks a bit overcooked, you're right.  

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Sitcoms as sandwich shops: an occasional series

Catering in the terminus leaves plenty to be desired and, well, you can't get a train to Hale there. But Victoria station – the Manchester one – has its charms. The intricately paned exterior canopies are a treat, and then there's this place.

A yellowing sign in the window informs us that it doesn't sell cigarettes or phone cards but, as the vacant glass chiller makes clear, it doesn't sell anything else these days, either: another prime site going begging at the Urbis end of town.

Make your own TV chef

The Hairy
Bikers: Small
screen, big

I got a call yesterday from a development producer from a well-known broadcasting corporation. In one breath, she offered me the kind of power I have only ever imagined. We’re looking for new food talent, she said. Can you suggest anybody? Let it be known: I am a kingmaker.

I imagine that this kind of sweeping-under-the-stairs goes on every six months or so, but it’s the first time I’ve been involved in the process. The producers are based in far-off Brizzle, and it’s gratifying that once they’ve exhausted their stock of bright young Londoners, they’re keen to look, as Mike Neville so gently used to do, north.

The criteria for this low-key talent search run thus. Ideally, the chosen cook will be ‘brand new’, which means they haven’t done any telly, at all, before. They’ll be young, but not BBC3 young (which is lucky, as the only youths I know are the Skins who live two doors down, and they’re always stoned). They will be down to earth, which is a polite way of saying that one Valentine Warner is enough.

When I work in the screening room at Radio Times (a little cubby with three desks, lights that dim automatically, and excellent gossip), the TV editor thoughtfully puts the odd bit of food telly aside for me to preview. Specialist subject and all that, and while I’m watching The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour of Britain, I can’t be irritating my colleagues by weeping over a fly-on-the-wall doc set in a teenage cancer ward. So recently I’ve enjoyed the sunshine food, if not the slightly forced demeanour, of Levi Roots’ Caribbean Food Made Easy, and narrowly missed out on Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers, which starts on Wednesday and can only, like everything the quiet Observer cook-hero does, be a good thing.

Not all food telly works, and not all food characters work on screen, but I had a handful of suggestions. Canadian Jennifer Klinec, who runs cookery school Eat Drink Talk in Clerkenwell, is knowledgeable, striking and animated, and the viewers don’t need to know how scarily exacting she is to work for (I did two shifts as her assistant, one involving leaky croissants, and was never asked back). Abdulla Naseem, known as Naz, is a Maldivian chef cooking extremely good Italian food at Ramsons in Ramsbottom, where the dynamics of owner Chris Johnson’s team are fascinating to behold. Lisa Allen, the award-winning chef at Northcote in Lancashire, could easily follow her boss Nigel Haworth onto the small screen.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that a handful of young, vital, talented food people will make it ahead of a dollybird or boy with a tenuous link to cooking and a ‘passion’ for whatever foodie subject the primetime, daytime or digital audience hasn’t yet been exposed to. But for a brief moment, it felt like they just might. And yes, I did ask the nice lady to keep me in mind when casting food critics. When Kate Spicer frowns her last, that slot on MasterChef is MINE!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Come Together

Latest phase of the Beatles reissue programme. £28 ONO.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Archived links to Emma's work

Links to older examples of Emma's will be archived here.