Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Vegan Christmas recipes: mushrooms à la grecque

Mushrooms à la grecque, 'in the Greek style', with olive oil and lemon, is a classic 'traiteurs' dish, sold in all French delicatessens. This was the type of dish, easily reproduced in the UK, popularised by Elizabeth David's exploration of Mediterranean food; it became a 1970s dinner party favourite. Using olive oil, lemon and white wine vinegar, the mushrooms are lightly pickled, à l'escabèche, and can be served warm or cold, as a starter or as a side.
When I get a punnet of button mushrooms in my organic vegetable box, I'll often make this dish. It's so addictive to eat, I'll end up scoffing the lot by myself, straight from the saucepan. Whole coriander seeds are rather essential, I also add a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme.
For a vegan Christmas dinner, a bowl of mushrooms à la grecque will offset the richness of a nut roast, the fat and fluff of good roast potatoes, the sweetly bitter Brassica notes of Brussels sprouts. I also added a lengthy splash of a minerally Greek wine, Assyrtiko Wild Ferment, Gaia. This is an interesting wine; the grapes are grown not on a vine but coiled in a wind-resistant basket shape on the volcanic ground.

Mushrooms à la Grecque recipe

Serves 4 or one greedy person

50ml olive oil
400g whole button mushrooms, any dirt brushed off (if larger, then slice)
Juice of half a lemon (make sure no pips)
2 or 3 tbsps of white wine vinegar
Splash of white wine (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 fresh bay leaves
1 heaped tablespoon of whole coriander seeds
2 fresh sprigs of thyme
1 tsp of Maldon's sea salt
Ground white pepper, to taste

Heat up the oil gently in a medium saucepan on a medium heat then add your mushrooms. Then add the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for around ten minutes then serve or leave to cool and serve later. Can be kept in the fridge for up to two days.

Monday, 15 December 2014

New Years Eve Swedish midnight tea party

I met Swedish Chef Linn Soderstrom a few years ago when she first visited my supper club then I returned the favour by visiting hers in Stockholm. Now we've decided to put on a joint supper club on New Year's Eve, combining the Swedish recipes and Midwinters theme from my book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party. 
Menu ideas:
Glogg (Swedish mulled wine)
Smorgastarta (Swedish sandwich cake)
Danish Open sandwiches (cured herring and smoked salmon sandwiches)
Pepperkakor gingerbread biscuits
Cinnamon buns
Cardamom buns
Swedish 'cats eyes' saffron buns
and plenty of other goodies.

Bring your own champagne for midnight. 
Signed copies of my new book will be available for sale.

This is all rather last minute but I'm thrilled to be working with Linn again. She's a huge talent.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Christmas cheese board tips and what wine to match it with

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Christmas shopping and eating in Dublin

On my visit to Dublin, I was struck by the optimism and creativity but also a rueful realism. One taxi driver cheerfully said to me: "We had no money, then we got money, we pissed it up the wall and we lost all the money. Now we are on the up again. Hopefully." There was almost a mood of post-trauma jubilance. Things were so bad in Ireland post-crash, much worse than in the UK, that there is now widespread relief that the bubble has been replaced by a groundswell of solid young artisanal businesses.

Dublin is a good place to visit coming up to Christmas - the people are warm, the shops are interesting, the town isn't too big to walk around and Irish food has had a tremendous revival over the last few years. There is still enough remaining Georgian architecture left in the centre of town to make it an attractive place to walk around.
I was led to some of these locations by Eveleen Coyle of Fabulous Food Trails. She gave a fascinating quick run down of Irish food and dietary history. The potato grows so well in rainy Ireland and by the 1800s, 80% of the population was entirely dependent on one ingredient, the potato. (This is one of the reasons that coeliac disease is so common, one in ten, in Irish people.) From 1845 to 1847, there were three years of no potatoes due to blight. This meant starvation with a slow recovery. In the 20th and 21st centuries, Ballymaloe's Myrtle Allen and her daughter in law Darina Allen have led the way in rediscovering the Irish larder. 
Fallon and Byrne, dublin

Fallon and Byrne, Dublin
The Dublin equivalent of Wholefoods is a treasure trove of a food store, every aisle packed with interesting foodstuffs from around the world. They also have a restaurant and lunch bar.
Blazing salads, Dublin

If you want to pick up something both tasty and healthy for lunch, try Blazing Salads deli in the centre of town. They sell Nobo (gaelic for no cow) dairy free icecream, a food business that recently won the best start up award (worth 25k euros) at the Lovin' Dublin food awards. This business, only started two years ago by Rachel and Brian Nolan (above) is headed for great things, their ice-cream is absolutely delicious.
Scenes from Dublin
3) As my blogging colleague Food Stories said on her visit, Dublin has proper pubs. Even if you are not usually a pub person, and I'm not, you will love them. The bar people will talk to you, the customers propping up the bar will take the piss out of you (gently, with a twinkle), someone is bound to get out a guitar and start strumming. It appears, according to my brief foray, that everyone in Dublin can sing. Office workers, middle-aged mums, the people sitting next to me, the drunk guy at the bar - everyone can chip in with perfect harmonies.
Pub recommendations:
Mary's bar and hardware store, Dublin

Mary's bar and hardware store, Dublin
Mary's bar and hardware store where you can buy a pack of nails, a roll of sellotape and a pint of Guinness at the same time. I love hardware stores anyway.
The International Bar does the best cheese toastie (grilled cheese) according to the cheese toastie map of Dublin (which is as good as any other way of mapping a city. I feel this needs doing in London. In fact, why stop there? Let's have a cheese toastie map of the UK!) Created by graphic designer Eoin Whelehan, here are his top 6 toastie recommendations and his 10 toastie commandments. Do note, vegetarian readers, that a cheese toastie in Dublin automatically contains ham, in fact it's considered so intrinsic to the 'dish' that they don't even mention the ham in the title. Delicate negotiation is required to get pub staff to remove the ham element.
The Swan pub, Dublin

Landlord of The Swan pub, Dublin
The Swan pub offers an atmospheric welcome, along with generous pours of vintage Jameson's whiskey (from Dublin) and well-settled pints of Guinness. The present landlord's dad, Sean Lynch, was the only champion rugby player for the Ireland side who was also a full-time publican. He'd play a match on the Saturday afternoon and be behind the bar pulling pints in the evening. "That was when men were men", grinned his son. The walls are decorated with his rugby shirts, dark wooden panels and bullet holes from the war of independence against the British.
Irish cheese at Sheridans cheesemongers, Dublin
4)) Sheridans cheesemongers. Dublin's cheese shop is run by, bien sûr, a Frenchman, John Leverrier, but he champions Irish cheeses as well as French. Cheese in Ireland tended to be either industrially made or homemade in farmhouses until recently. Now there is a burgeoning craft scene but it's a tough life. They are currently selling off the very last Glebe Brethan cheeses made by the recently and tragically departed David Tiernan who, on a trip to France, fell in love with Conté style cheeses and imported Montbelliard cows. He made cheese 40 days a year using summer milk. His sons aren't interested in taking over, one works for Google. Says it all, doesn't it? Who wants to do the hard, cold physical craft of cheese making when you can earn a good deal more working for the brave new world tech companies, many of whom are located in Dublin.

This place is credited with revitalising the coffee bar culture of Dublin. They do a tasting menu of coffee plus classes, brewing and barista workshops.
Powerscourt Town House shopping centre, Dublin
Powerscourt Town House shopping centre
Powerscourt Town House shopping centre, Dublin

The Pepper Pot, Powerscourt Town House shopping centre, Dublin
6) The Pepper Pot at Powercourt Town House in located in an impressive Georgian courtyard with many trendy boutiques. The Pepper Pot makes and bakes its own sourdough bagels which are stunning, you can have lunch there, on the balcony.
George Street ARcade, Dublin
I was actually tempted to buy this christmas pudding costume at George Street Arcade.
Lolly and Cooks, Georges Street Arcade, Dublin
7) Georges Street Arcade is a little Victorian market with clothes, souvenirs, cafés and a baked goods stall such as Lolly and Cooks. 
Little Museum of Dublin
8) Not an eating place but well worth a visit: the Little Museum of DublinThis museum was crowd-sourced, not just for funding but also for the exhibits. You will see souvenirs of Dublin life, a walk around a historic Dublin sitting room, great photos on the walls, spread over two floors of a Georgian townhouse. On the top floor they currently have a U2 exhibition from stuff donated by the band. Curator Simon O'Connor does a fascinating talking tour every hour.
Marco Pierre White talking to Niall Harbison, Lovin Dublin awards.
Marco Pierre White talking to creator of Lovin' Dublin, entrepeneur Niall Harbison, who gave away his book 'Get Sh*t done: from bedroom to boardroom in 1000 days'.  Marco said "I've spent time in many cities in the world, but Dublin is the one that has shown me the most kindness".
Halibut and chips, Marco Pierre White grill, Dublin

Girls getting dolled up in the toilets, Dublin
I love taking pictures of women in toilets, it's where all the best stuff goes on.
Girls getting dolled up in the toilets, Dublin
9) Marco Pierre White's steakhouse and grillNow I realise this is not trendy, Marco doesn't cook there and the menu is simple and protein driven. But you could say that White saw the move towards dude food way before it became hip, but here it is done with classic French flair and good Irish ingredients. If you want a steak, you won't find it better cooked. I had a halibut steak, which was perfectly seasoned and twinned with a bowl of thick twice fried chips. The atmosphere is luxurious with white leather banquets, dim lighting and moody black and white photos on the walls of a young hollow-cheeked brooding Marco tossing his greasy but sexy mane. The manageress Geraldine gives an Irish welcome and is a great craic, I found her not only backcombing and spraying her own hair in the loos but also doing an impromptu beauty makeover on some of the customers. Restaurant and beauty salon combined, what is not to like?
Coppinger Row, Dublin

Crab claws, Coppinger Row, Dublin
Buttery crab claws
10) Coppinger Row restaurant specialises in Irish ingredients including the freshest Atlantic seafood, cheeses, meats and vegetables. 
guinness drinkers, Dublin
I asked if I could take a picture of these guys drinking Guinness? Why? Because it's typically Irish! They laughed and said 'But we are English'. 

Irish designer Orla Kiely's shoes at Clarks. Now why didn't I buy them?

Winter sunlight: it doesn't always rain in Dublin.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Poverty, Fortnum and Masons and Christmas

I do feel very lucky. Seven years ago I was a single mum on benefits, struggling to find a job. I couldn't find one so I started... not only my own business, but a whole new type of business. It was risky and sometimes frightening starting a restaurant in my living room and blogging about it. I haven't really let people know about the pressure I've been under at times, legally and in every other way, to keep going. Hell, the crap I've been through. And all I was ever trying to do is earn a living.
So blogging, which was an essential part of my story, changes lives. Another person for whom blogging has changed her life for the better is Jack Monroe who had in some ways a similar story to my own, being a single mum on benefits. I've never really blogged about being on welfare. Why? Because I was ashamed of it. I didn't know how to get out of that situation, I felt trapped, humiliated and helpless. My only difference of opinion with Jack is that, once the terrible bureaucratic nightmare interim period of not getting your benefits has passed (and yes, I was so broke my mum had to come over with a pint of milk so I could give my three year old a drink), the ONLY THING you can do on welfare IS eat. It's the most economical form of pleasure, a holiday in your mouth. That's why poor people in Western countries are fat. Carb me up, boost my serotonin, stop the feelings, anaesthetise the pain and the loneliness. Caitlin Moran wisely said in 'How to be a woman':
“Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that's why it's come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It's a way of fucking yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren't indulging in the "luxury" of their addiction making them useless, chaotic, or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn't inconvenience anyone. And that's why it's so often a woman's addiction of choice. All the quietly eating mums. All the KitKats in office drawers. All the unhappy moments, late at night, caught only in the fridge light.”
The borough next to where I live, Brent, has the highest diabetes in the UK - 23,000 people at the last count. This is partly because it has a large Indian sub-continent community where overweight starts at a BMI of 23. It is also because of inner city poverty, of which a large proportion are single parents and their children. It seems counter-intuitive but Diabetes 2 is inextricably linked with poverty.
So in the last six years my life has changed for the better. It's still tough to be freelance, especially in an economic climate where you have to stand your ground to be paid for your work. You never really relax when you have your own business: no paid holidays, no sickness pay, the lack of security, the feeling that you are only as good as your last blog post, recipe, dinner or book. 
But this is not a whinge fest. I am celebrating. 
Earlier this year I won the award for Best Online Food writer at the Fortnum and Mason awards which, seeing as it's one of my all time fave London landmarks and food shops, I was pretty damn pleased. They've just sent me their little Christmas booklet featuring contributions from la creme de la creme of British food and drink writing: Rose Prince, Diana Henry, Pete Brown on beer, Nina Caplan on wine, Victoria Moore on spirits, Yottam Ottolenghi, the Hairy Bikers, Dan Saladino for Radio 4's The Food Programme, Claudia Roden, Matthew Fort, Helen McGinn of the Knackered Mothers Wine Club and others. So you can see my work is in unbelievably exalted company. It's a very pretty turquoise and gold (F and M colours) booklet with fine illustrations (plus they sent me a box of salted caramels to munch on while I read it.)
The book features my classic gingerbread house recipe from my new book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party. Even if I say it myself, this is a perfect Christmas present, have you ordered yours yet?
Oh go on.