National British Sandwich Week

Apparently, according to Jonathan (aka @Browners) who writes a Sandwichist slot, its National British Sandwich Week this week. Right. Yes. You already knew that didn’t you?

Anyway Mr Browners is fed up with pre-packed sandwiches and I’m fed-up with look-a-like Pret’s all over the place. Pret was good once (honestly) back in the days when it was just starting and only had a few stores, it was a revelation as well as independent. Like many good things they expanded and expanded then they needed big corporate money. I guess there might a place for that kind of thing when you visit a town you know nothing about and are desperate to eat and have no time to find real recommendations – it makes acceptable food on such occasions, but day to day it get a little dull.

But there are LOADS of independent sandwich shops out there (some good, some bad) plus you could always try your hand at making something yourself. Browners asked for people to go in search of great sandwiches – so we did.

I decided to do not just one but two sandwiches. One from a shop, one homemade.

First up the shop one. Its from Caradell in Red Lion Street, WC2. Caradell is a nice little deli close by where I used to work so I’ve been there often but having moved on job wise I’d not been in nearly a year – time to try it again. What I always liked about the place is that its busy, service is fast, the sandwiches are made to order and, most of all, pretty much everything is a variation on the classic ham and cheese. Well that might not be quite right but in my view you can’t easily beat ham (or salami, or chorizo, or jamon etc etc) and cheese so maybe I just home in on those choices. On this occasion I went for proper British cooked ham off the bone with Emmenthal (no British cheeses in sight boooooo) with Cumberland Sauce – on bloomer of course. 

As you can see its pretty chunky and not for the delicate – its quite hard to eat (all their sandwiches are packed full of filling). It was a great combo but I’d prefer there to be some British cheese as an option. The Cumberland Sauce was nice and tangy, so good stuff all round. At £4.60 its pricey (but it is big and its quality ingredients) and in my view worth it.  I can also vouch that their other ham/cheese variations are also excellent.

And on to today when I decided to rustle up a quick sandwich myself. I went for all English using Village Bakery Pain de Campagne (sourdough), Hawkston cheese from Suffolk (a bit like mild Lancashire), glass grown tomatoes from the Isle of Wight (via Waitrose) and some Stokes Lemon Mayonnaise. Yum – and probably not £4.60!

An English twist on kir royale

Those who know me well know that a kir of any kind is one of my favourite drinks. When I, occasionally, run out of cassis I am at rather a loss. I’ve made it with the classic white burgundy, with any dry white wine I can get my hands on, with red wine (first tasted in Paris and known as kir communard, its good in the winter) and of course with champagne (or other dry sparkling wine) as a kir royale. It’s probably my first choice of cocktail. I love it.

So what to make of Peronelle’s Blush, made by Aspall’s of Suffolk, a Suffolk cyder with a dash of blackberry liqueur ready mixed? Sounded interesting, and in my quest for eating and drinking locally whilst at the Suffolk coast I thought it deserved a try.

It comes in 500ml bottles and is 5.4% abv – against what I’d guess to be about 14% for a kir/kir royale.

Apples and blackberries are such classic English ingredients (think autumn crumbles after collecting blackberries in the local lanes, of such are childhood memories made), so I’m expecting it to work well. It gives a pleasant hiss of bubbles when I open the bottle and is a delicate pinky/red when poured. The aroma of fresh apples is predominant but with a subtle hint of the blackberry underneath. It’s fizzing nicely but not madly in the glass and its time to take my first sip.

It’s very refreshing, not as strong as I make my own kirs but I suspect I go rather heavy on the cassis compared to the classic mix. The blackberry gives it a subtle sweetness and smooth berry flavour. Its good. I like it. I can see it becoming a good summer alternative to kir.

The story on the bottle (and website) is rather lovely, it’s apparently named Peronelle after the rosy glowing cheeks of the grandmother of the current generation of the Chevalier family (who’ve been making Aspall’s for eight generations since 1728). She sounds pretty amazing lady living to 102, running the business for 30 years and then travelling the world in later life. I’d say that the current Aspall family have created a lovely tribute to her with this drink and an excellent English take on a classic French drink.

There’ll be some supplies in my larder again soon.

I think you can find it across the UK in branches of Waitrose, Sainsburys and Tesco as well as locally across Suffolk.

PS: the bottle of organic cyder in the picture was drunk by my husband, its one of his regular cyder/cider choices. He declined to provide tasting notes – sorry.

In season: wild garlic

Wild garlic had been popping up on my radar for a couple of weeks as being very much in season and ‘very now’ i.e. a thing it seems we should aspire to be seen eating. Never one to want to miss out on an emerging trend I thought I’d best give it a go.

I didn’t fancy going off to forage for it – it mostly grows in woodland and by river banks – neither of which are that common in East London (and those that there are you’d probably not want to harvest wild garlic from). It’s apparently easy to identify with mid to dark green glossy leaves about 6 inches or so long and the garlicky smell is a give away – I remember that from woodland walks in Wales. Anyway I thought I’d keep an eye out to see if there was any on sale.

Eventually I struck lucky at the farm shop in Middleton, Suffolk – no I didn’t go to Suffolk to find wild garlic I was going anyway- there it was for sale by the bag looking pretty fresh and perky to me.

I did a bit of searching around for suggestions as to how to use it – most books and sites saying it could be substituted for chives or garlic though its milder than the latter. Spring herb soups also seemed to be recommended and salads. All good sounding stuff. After a bit more thinking about how to incorporate it into our meals over the next couple of days I decided on two different options:

Sautéed with a mixture of chard and kale to give a flavoursome mix of greens (about 1/3 of each would be about right). I chose to use rapeseed oil (which I’m currently switching to for quite a lot of my cooking, and because I was challenging myself to get as much of the meal locally as possible). I served it as a side dish with chargrilled lamb cutlets and new potatoes. It was pretty good but as I had only used about ¼ wild garlic and as the cooking softens the flavour it was a little bit lost – I’d try it with 1/3 wild garlic next time I think and perhaps add it after the other greens to preserve more of the flavour.

The second time I used it I decided to do a warm potato salad with a vinaigrette made from 1 part white wine vinegar to 4 parts extra virgin rapeseed oil and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard all shaken in a jar. I did lots of potatoes (local grown Charlotte – so a good waxy salad potato) and after simmering them for about 15 minutes I allowed them to drain for about 10 minutes (covered) before tossing them in the dressing then adding the chopped wild garlic and tossing again. This was really very good. The warm potatoes brought of the garlic flavour well and they were nicer, I think, than either spring onions or chives done in the same way – spring onions can be too harsh and chives not strong enough – the wild garlic was just right. It was just as good next day cold. 

So if you can get your hands on some wild garlic, either foraging or from a farm shop, then give it a go. These are two simple recipes to get you started but there’s lots of other good ideas out there too. I’ll certainly be trying it again.

In season: mussels

Last night I had mussels just as they should be – wonderfully fresh, plump, sweet and with a tang of salty sea-ness about them. Cooked in the classic style of mariniere – butter, white wine, shallots, parsley and served with crusty bread to mop all the delicious juices.

I have to confess I didn’t cook them myself – I’ve always been a bit scared about preparing shellfish at home, maybe I just need to find a reliable local source and give it a go. The instructions in books always seems a bit of a faff – lots of leaving the shellfish in a bucket of water for days (!), swooshing them round to get out any grit, tapping them too see if they are dead or alive (and I don’t mean the 80s band from Liverpool), scrubbing, scraping etc etc, all before you get to cook them for about 5 minutes. I like the hard work to be done by someone else sometimes and I just do the eating.

So these were my starter at Regatta in Aldeburgh (after a bracing walk and a quick pint of Adnams). I followed them with salt beef, home made piccalilli (homemade by the team at Regatta not by me!) and new potatoes. But the mussels had been so lovely and such a generous portion (the amount some places would give you as a main to be honest) that I stalled part way through the salt beef – and now I’ve got a little take out to make a sandwich with for lunch tomorrow ?.

I’d say these were the best mussels I’ve had by far ever and I’ve eaten a fair few in my time. Just goes to show how good local produce (there’s plenty of mussels produced on the Essex and Suffolk coast) fast from the producer to the table can be. So good I might even venture to cook some myself this season.

No pictures sorry, was too busy eating!

A simple lunch

I’ve been blogging now for a couple of months and I’ve been looking at some of the other food blogs out there to see what goes on in the food blogging community. I noticed that some bloggers run ‘events’ as part of what they do and I thought it might be fun to join in now that I’m starting to get used to (or possibly obsessed by) the whole blogging thing.

Early on I’d seen the ‘In the bag’ monthly event that is run jointly by Julia at ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ and Scott at ‘Real Epicurean’ and was disappointed to have missed out on the January deadline; then I got so absorbed in playing with my blog, adding (and subtracting) widgets, reading Blogging for Dummies, checking out other blogs – you all know how it is I guess you’ve been there too – that I didn’t spot February’s ‘bag’ until it was so close to the deadline I knew I wouldn’t have time to think something up.

So as not to miss out again I watched closely for March’s bag to be announced and then got to thinking about what I could do with these three ingredients (leeks, cheese and eggs) which feature frequently in my cooking but, I immediately realised, rarely in one dish.

So off I went to do some researching in my various cookbooks.

As leeks seemed to be the key ingredient I started by looking for different ways with them that also used both eggs and cheese (for this first attempt I didn’t want to drop one of the ingredients even though you are allowed to, that seemed way too easy). There were plenty of choices with leeks and cheese and a few with leeks and eggs but little that combined all three beyond the inevitable leek and cheese flan/tart/quiche – delicious but very obvious – I was hoping for something a little different and also a dish that could perhaps become a new favourite in my cooking.

I did spot a leeky Welsh rarebit recipe in Hugh F-W’s River Cottage Year that looked rather tasty but decided it felt a little too much like a hearty winter dish and I wanted something that would work well as a fresh and light spring dish. I was also reminded how versatile leeks are, its so easy to fall to just steaming them and serving as a side dish when with a little imagination they could shine in their own right.

Some of the ideas that I toyed with along the way but discarded were (some of my general sources of inspiration are shown in brackets for those who want to pursue any of these):

  • Chargrilled leeks with shavings of a hard sheep’s cheese, or with a mayonnaise or hollandaise (Sybil Kapoor, Simply British)
  • Lightly steamed, dressed with a vinaigrette and finely chopped hard boiled egg (Hugh F-W, The River Cottage Year and Simon Hopkinson, Roast chicken and other stories)
  • A la grecque (Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book and Margaret Costa, Four Seasons Cookery Book) – fundamental flaw with this one was that it didn’t use the eggs or the cheese – oops! But it is delicious.
  • With pasta in a kind of vegetarian carbonara style or with homemade pasta (using the eggs) and a leeky cheesy sauce (any Italian cookbook will help).
  • As a kind of French onion style soup with a nice melted cheese crouton (I think this was from a Jamie Oliver book where he does a three types of onion soup – I think its Jamie at Home but can’t seem to locate it right now – sorry).
  • In a risotto (any Italian cookbook).
  • As a gratin….

And so it went on – lots of fun delving in recipe books, finding great ideas, discounting them because they either didn’t use all three ingredients or they didn’t seem to fit with the fact the weather was getting wonderfully spring like. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t be submitting again this time…….

Then sitting flicking through River Café Cookbook Green, I noticed what seemed like

frittata after
frittata after

in the chapters devoted to March and April (with wild salad leaves, with sorrel, with spinach and prosciutto). Something started to stir – I really like frittata and other similar styles of omelette and I often cook one with a delicious fresh cheese called Buxlow Wonmil that I get when I’m in Suffolk.

There wasn’t going to be chance to get any of that particular cheese for this dish but I did want the refreshing tang that it has, so goats cheese seemed a possibility and thinking back to the leeky cheesy rarebit that I’d liked the sound of I remembered that Waitrose stock a Welsh goats cheese (Pant ys Gawn) that would fit the bill. I was beginning to feel like I might be in business. A spring frittata made with good British ingredients to be served, hopefully, with a side salad of early spring salad leaves (I was really hoping for some sorrel as I’d spied some in the herb section at Waitrose recently)

So off to the supermarket this morning to get the ingredients (sadly there isn’t a farmers market near where I live other than going into London to Borough market, which I love but rarely have time for, hence a huge reliance on the local Waitrose.). There was no sorrel left but I did find some English watercress and had to settle for some French lambs lettuce as none of the leaves seemed to be English just yet. So here’s the recipe.

For 2 as a light lunch you need:

4 medium eggs (organic for preference)
½ – 1 Pant Ys Gawn goat’s cheese (I used a whole cheese but see later) – or other fresh tangy soft cheese
1 slim leek
Maldon salt
freshly ground black pepper
Salad leaves of your choice

Make sure the grill is on and warm before you start

The Leek: Top and tail the leek and cut into chunks about 1 inch in length then slice these into quarters, rinse the leek thoroughly to remove any grit and drain or spin in a salad spinner. Heat a little butter in an omelette or other shallow pan (of about 6-7” in diameter). Add the leeks and allow them to soften for a maximum of 5 minutes, you are aiming for them to retain some of their crunch.

The eggs: break the eggs into a bowl; add a splash of milk and some salt and pepper. As soon as the leeks have softened a little pour the eggs into the pan and allow to cook slightly. Draw in parts of the sides a few times to create a little fluffiness in the texture. Once you think you have a good base but the eggs are still runny for most of the depth then…..

Add the cheese, which you have crumbled or cut into small chunks. Cook for a little longer and then pop the pan under the grill (be careful with the handle if its not heat proof) to cook the frittata from the top. This will take about 3-4 minutes if the grill is hot.

Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly, slice and serve with your chosen salad leaves.

I was pretty pleased with the result, the leek flavours showed through well and they were soft enough but still with some bite, the cheese contrasted with them nicely and had a good tang and the salad leaves (dressed with just a little extra virgin rapeseed oil) made for a nice soft balance. I think probably the whole goats cheese was a little too much as the egg flavour was a bit lost so when I make this again I’d probably scale back to ½ of the cheese. 

I really enjoyed the whole ‘In the bag’ challenge; it made me think about some ingredients differently, gave me chance to read lots of recipe books and generated lots of ideas for ways to have leeks that I’d either forgotten or not thought of before.

So I’ll be looking forward to whatever is ‘In the bag’ in April.

Tasting oil

I’d been curious for a little while about one of the products I’d spotted in the farm shop I like to use when I visit Suffolk and then a couple of weeks back two things conspired to make me get on with trying it out.

First I was reading Hugh F-W’s weekly slot in The Guardian (‘Trickle treat’ on 7 March) and then I went out for dinner at ‘The Lighthouse’ in Aldeburgh and when they brought the bread with oil and balsamic they explained that the oil was a local product made from rapeseed (in fact just theone I’d been eyeing up).


Now I know most of us probably think the following about rapeseed:


  1. Oh that terrible stuff that blights the English countryside in May covering all the fields in a yellow haze of flowers.
  2. Grrrr that’s the stuff that gives me major hayfever as soon as I step anywhere outside of a town centre and nearer to the countryside.
  3. Isn’t that grown for them to feed to cattle or something like that?
  4. Isn’t that just horrible industrial extracted oil used in ready meals and other stuff that’s bad for us?
  5. Don’t they use that in bio-diesel?

But maybe we haven’t got all this quite right.

Firstly not all rapeseed flowers are yellow – you sometimes see purple ones, but they are mainly yellow and they are a bit of a blot on the landscape when in flower. We should however remember that the English landscape (as any other) is a changing thing, after all it used to be mostly woodland before it was rolling hills with wheat waving in the gentle breeze. But we are also right to there be concerned that a crop takes over an area and we get a monoculture.

I’m not a doctor so the link to hayfever and asthma is not my specialist subject. A quick search via Google (see for example Wikipedia and also The Independent as examples) however suggests that the link is not definitive, as rapeseed does not have wind born pollen. I imagine there’s plenty out there would testify that it triggers some kind of reaction for them.

Yes they do use it in cattle feed, yes some of it is extracted using industrial means but some is now produced like virgin pressings of olive oil; and yes they do use it in biodiesel.

But does that matter and does it taste any good?  

I decided to do a comparative tasting of three 


oils: olive, rapeseed and hemp, all cold pressings. The tasting was not conducted blind. The actual oils I used were (all available in my local Waitrose store and all a similar price):

Hemp: Good Oil Original cold pressed
Olive: Waitrose Organic 100% Italian extra virgin
Rapeseed: Hill Farm cold pressed extra virgin  



Colour wise the differences were pretty marked; the hemp was a dark green and slightly cloudy, the rapeseed a soft yellow and the olive a mid green. The viscosity seemed pretty much the same when I looked at how they coated the back of a spoon. Smelling them started to hint at the taste differences to come and this was confirmed by tasting directly from a teaspoon and with bread (Village Bakery Organic Campagne – a sourdough loaf).

So to the tasting results:  

Hemp: this is very unusual and a bit of an acquired taste – this actual tasting is the third time I’ve tried it since buying the bottle and it is growing on me slowly but I’m not quite convinced just yet. It has a strong flavour, which comes across as earthy and almost woody. The finish is quite long. It was better on the bread that it was ‘pure’ and contrasted the sourdough quite well. It makes a good change from olive but I doubt some people will ever be convinced that it’s a good substitute.

Olive: this was fairly fruity with a slight tang and peppery endnote. Its not a very strong oil but its nicely mild with the classic Italian notes. It was good with and without the bread but lets remember that this is the oil I have been using for a couple of years now as my basic olive oil so I’m used to its flavours.

Rapeseed: this has a mild and mellow taste. There’s a slightly nutty fruity seeds flavour that I couldn’t quite identify (I’m not sure its grassy like HFW says but then I was tasting a different brand). It was good on its own, but stood up to the bread test less well. The loaf though has a very distinctive sourdough flavour so this oil might work better with a milder flavoured loaf – it was certainly good when we had it at ‘The Lighthouse’ with balsamic. It’s also a good cooking oil – less distinctive than olive oil so better in some dishes and also with a nice high flame point making it better for sautéing.

Overall? I’ll stick with olive for a lot of things but the rapeseed is a definite permanent addition to the kitchen and I’ll keep trying the hemp but I’m not sure I’m ever going to be a big convert. Hugh FW suggests it more sophisticated than the rapeseed but actually I just think it’s stronger and more unusual but unusual does not always tally with sophistication and in this case I’d say it’s quite hard to get to know and love.



Suffolk seaside treats

Up on the Suffolk coast for brisk walks and tasty food this weekend. Love it up here and there is plenty to keep a food addict happy – from great farm shops to favourite restaurants, good beer and excellent fish and chips. Too much to fit into one weekend so we are pretty regular visitors.

This weekend we have picked up a lot of goodies at the Friday Street Farm Shop – some to eat now, some to take back home.

We always get something by Purely Pesto (who don’t just make pesto) – this time it was some soups for lunches – beetroot and also curried parsnip. They taste great  – freshly made, no additives, smooth and creamy but not overbearingly so – plus the beetroot is just a beautiful colour! The portions are a little small for 2 for lunch, more a starter size portion  – but still recommended.

We also picked up organic eggs from Maple Farm which are currently priced at £1.50 per half dozen – great value and makes you wince at supermarket prices….as well as some shin of beef from Cratfield. We have had various of their cuts before and its always very tender and well flavoured, really demonstrates the difference you get from well reared and properly hung meat. That’s just a few of the highlights from this weekends haul.

After a bracing walk along the seafront to Thorpeness and back to the Martello Tower we decided to brave the cold again and have a couple of Adnams beers (and a quick blast of 12 bar blues from the Smokin‘ Hogs) at The White Hart before going to eat at Regatta – one our ‘regular’ choices when we visit Aldeburgh. They seem to have the ability to fit you in for dinner no matter how busy they are – you might have to be prepared to eat quite late (9pm) but they will almost certainly find you a slot. The place is always lively, the service very friendly and the food consistently good. There is always a strong specials board which, as you might expect on the coast, has a particular focus on local fish and seafood.

I went for the French style country pate with prune and onion chutney followed by the quartet of smoked and cured seafood – both from the regular menu. Both portions were generous and with bread, salad and new potatoes alongside I failed at the final hurdle on the fishy platter and had to leave a few smoked prawns  – perhaps next time I’ll opt for the smaller portion size. The pate had just the right coarse chunky texture you want from a country type pate with the prune and onion chutney complementing it well, rich yet tangy and good enough to make we want to look out a recipe for something similar.

I should confess here that oniony chutneys and marmalades are a particular weakness of mine and I regularly spend days bubbling up batches of onion delights with which to win friends and influence people :) so it was pretty inevitable that I was going to like this dish.

The smokey and cured platter consisted of gravadlax, smoked salmon, brandon rost (hot smoked salmon) and smoked prawns – each with their own appropriate garnish/sauce. All were of a very high standard and all are cured or smoked at the restaurant – you will also find you can source similar local delights at various farm shops and delis in this part of Suffolk (the village of Orford being particularly well known for smoked products). Last night the gravadlax was on especially top form, nice thick slices, lightly cured but with a refreshing amount of dill and a spot on mustard sauce to accompany it (sharp but not overpowering). I was rather sad not to be able to finish the prawns as their rich smokiness was going very well with the Californian red wine we were trying for the first time (J Lohr Wildflower Valdiguie 2007) – a pairing to remember for another visit.

My other half had the gravadlax to start (and was similarly impressed) with braised lamb shank on a bed of swede puree to follow (from the specials board). Again portions were generous and although a man of few words when eating he was suitably impressed leaving not a scrap on his plate. Overall another very enjoyable meal at Regatta.

Right time to go and search for onion and prune chutney recipes.