A few weeks back Julia at ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie‘ was offering 5 Mayan Magic Chocolate kits to food bloggers who promised to blog the experience. Sounded like fun and as I love chocolate I rushed in and bagged one. It arrived a few days later but it sat untouched for a while – I was busy and wanted to do it justice and also blog as much of each step as I could…..so here is what you get and do:
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.
Police and protesters; they’re ranged up against each other outside the Bank of England spoiling for a fight about something, anything, important or otherwise.
So lets just try to take a balanced look at things (because I’m sure Gordon and Barack will be aiming for balance today and tomorrow, if not dietary then economically at least).
Mr Oliver has apparently been given a brief to create a menu that showcases the best of seasonal British food and cooking including finding things to represent each of the parts of the United Kingdom. Now some of you may think that ‘best’ ‘British’ and ‘food/cooking’ in the same sentence is something of an oxymoron and that St Jamie is a fool to have accepted the gig. But as we know from past form there is nothing like a challenge to get Jamie’s enthusiasm racing away with him and him saying ‘YES’ before anyone has any chance of stopping him. Even the imminent arrival of his third child is not enough to stop Jamie pouncing on this chance.
Remember it’s a BIG BIG GIG.
So as we proceed through this analysis of the menu lets remember the brief is ‘BEST SEASONAL BRITISH’ cooked for people from 20 different nations with all the restrictions that entails. Because if you were on The Apprentice doing this and you junked the brief straight off Mr Sugar would be firing you right back to where you came from in no time.
You’ve probably seen it already but lets see if and how it sticks to the brief:
Baked Scottish Salmon with Seashore Vegetables, Broad Beans, Herb Garden Salad, Mayonnaise and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda bread
Vegetarian option is Childwickbury Goat’s Cheese with Roast Shallots, Seashore Vegetables, Herb Green Salad and Wild Garlic-scented Irish Soda Bread (no mayo)
Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Welsh Lamb, very first of the season Jersey Royals, first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms. Mint Sauce and Gravy
Vegetarian option is Lovage & Potato Dumplings with first of the season Asparagus and Wild St George Mushrooms
Hot Bakewell Tart with Home-made Custard
A quick look in any seasonal cooking book or any of the various online seasonality resources will show you that Jamie is potentially quite restricted in some areas e.g. fruit = pretty much nothing, meat = wild pigeon!. And once he has to factor in a whole range of dietary requirements the options get cut further. So lets just be clear here: the guy has to create something uniquely (and identifiably) British and WOW that fits with a plethora of dietary restrictions and a rather thin set of seasonal choices.
So his only option is to get top notch ingredients and try to make them sing.
Salmon: in season, very recognisably British, represents Scotland (still part of the UK last time I looked despite the best efforts of may a Scotsman and woman). Obvious choice but shellfish is probably a no no and many might squeal at eel.
Seashore Veg: identified on most sites as sea kale and samphire. Well he’s on the mark with sea kale but I’m a bit doubtful about the possibility of samphire – it’s a shade early for that really but he can hardly have had it grown in a poly tunnel so he must know a secret source. I have seen it growing on the mud flats of Maldon fairly early in previous years so its not impossible. And its very British.
Broad beans: pretty British, very early so these have got to come from under glass, possibly from somewhere like the Isle of Wight or Channel Islands. And before we all go off on one about producing things early under glass lets just remember that they’ve been doing it since way back in the 1500’s – what do you think they used Chelsea for before they built posh houses and football clubs on it!
Herb garden salad: definitely seasonal, not especially British but that will depend on the actual herbs selected and what’s available. Hopefully he’ll have some sorrel or watercress or early spinach in there.
Mayonnaise: not reknowned for being particularly British but it is tasty and we could make a slightly weak argument about it allegedly being brought back from Mahon in Minorca after Richelieu defeated the British there in 1756 (bit tenuous though). I think he should have plumped for a dressing made with rapeseed oil and a herb or fruit vinegar.
Wild garlic soda bread: wild garlic is definitely in season and grows across much of the UK; and soda bread is found both North and South of the border in Ireland so it fits (regardless of your politics on the UK/Irish matter).
Vegetarians: sadly its goats cheese again for them it seems (a stock answer to ‘oh dear how do I cope with the veggie people’) but since good goats cheese is so lovely and a staple of the British food scene these days I’d be happy to opt for this and they get to have the same supporting vegetables.
Main: This is a tough one to call. The options are limited and some of the things on the menu are VERY early in the season. I imagine there’s been a lots of frantic sourcing going on to get some of this stuff but the choices are all well known British options and show the range of possibilities from across the UK
Lamb: of course it is now April! Its a bit early in the season but not impossible to get lamb that’s mature enough – I suspect since its being slow roasted it’ll be close to 1 year old rather than new season. Pretty tough call to find another option when pork and beef are probably both of the menu due to dietary restrictions and everyone would simply roll their eyes if its was chicken being served up.
Jersey Royals: if they are ready I say bring them on, fantastic.
Asparagus: after the cool winter I’m doubtful this is really in season yet but he must have managed to get its somewhere – I love asparagus so I’m quite jealous.
Vegetarians: good to see that the supporting notes are the same as for the meat option, veggies are so often just palmed off with a totally different mushed up irrelevant dish whereas this references back and adds lovage which will be in season.
Dessert: oh dear this is where the controversy really warms up. For a start most people say the real thing is Bakewell Pudding and it’s pretty easy to search out bucket loads of supporting evidence for that assertion. But many of the same sources also suggestion that Bakewell Tart is not such the chav newcomer most of us would have and recipes can be traced back at least to the mid 1800s for dishes that are more tart like less pudding and indeed tarts akin to Bakewell have a heritage going back further across most of the UK. So, as long as St J isn’t just opening a pack of Mr Kipling’s then I’m sure things will be okay. Pudding, dessert, whatever you want to call it there must have been lots of options to consider. I think he’s slightly lost the seasonal plot though here as he could have done something interesting with new seasons rhubarb (like the a wonderful dish I tasted at Northcote Manor in Lancashire earlier this year of Rhubarb Carpaccio, Custard Crumble Parfait, Rhubarb Granita which was real wow), even a simple fruit fool would have done the trick I think (and stopped the arguing about tarts and puddings).
So overall has he met the brief?
Well I’d say he’s well over 90% of the way there with this menu, plus its relatively simple and accessible and crucially for him straightforward to prepare. It’s a meant to be a working dinner not an off the scale gastronomic experience. I can quite imagine that St Jamie will pull it off again and by tomorrow when those who tasted comment we’ll be hearing about how great it was. And if not, well then I’ll eat my words or at the very least some seasonal British food.
Think you can do better? Look out for tomorrow’s post to join in the debate and have the chance to create your own G20 menu moment and also find out some useful resources on British food.
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).
- Oh that terrible stuff that blights the English countryside in May covering all the fields in a yellow haze of flowers.
- 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.
- Isn’t that grown for them to feed to cattle or something like that?
- Isn’t that just horrible industrial extracted oil used in ready meals and other stuff that’s bad for us?
- 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.
I decided to do a comparative tasting of three
Hemp: Good Oil Original cold pressed
Olive: Waitrose Organic 100% Italian extra virgin
Rapeseed: Hill Farm cold pressed extra virgin
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.
Last week I saw Pizza Express were running a 2 for 1 offer again (available until the end of February I think) and as I was meeting a friend for a quick lunch thought that in these credit crunched times we should give it a whirl. To get the voucher I had to register my email address (so that will be unending email traffic from Pizza Express for ever more I guess) and print off the voucher – all pretty easy. Then off to Pizza Express to enjoy the main course of my choosing (with friend in tow – I don’t think the offer was eat 2 main courses yourself and have one free but that might work for the very hungry).
We settle in, we peruse the menu, they no longer do my friends favourite main course salad, this could get difficult. The offer is ONLY for two main courses and she wants the salad (and I don’t blame her it used to be pretty good) so we negotiate with the waitress. She’s a little stern at first insisting that it’s only an offer on two main courses and even having a double portion of one of the starter salads won’t count. We wheedle a bit – she looks like she might relent and she disappears (presumably to check with the manager but maybe just to get away from us trying it on).
The food comes, its good in the way that Pizza Express is always good, it does exactly what it says, and service was prompt – they allowed us off piste with the offer. Which, considering how busy it gets when these offers are on (be there at 12.30 or think again where you are lunching), was very fair of them, they could have said no and if we had gone then they would easily have filled our table.
It was pretty noisy because it was so busy; add to that the half terms crowds (big mistake by us picking half term week) and if it’s a peaceful lunch you are after then this isn’t for you. If you are looking for value though this is a pretty good offer; there are plenty around at the moment and signing up to Money Saving Expert or Money Supermarket will point you to them – just remember where ever the offer is for it will get VERY busy and they might not be as flexible as Pizza Express were on this occasion.
For the record we ate at Pizza Express, New Fetter Lane, London and had a La Reine pizza on a romano base with extra egg (soft cooked) and a double portion of mozzarella and tomato salad with a side of dough balls.
Yesterday I met up with a good friend for lunch and a catch up and we went to Vine on Gray’s Inn Road. We have been there plenty of times before but not recently as it has been shut for a while due to a change of ownership. Time to see what had changed we thought.