Monday, 28 November 2016

Pretzel recipe using lye

Home made pretzel

Home made pretzel
 It's well known that bars give free salty snacks to make you drink more alcohol. One of my favourite drink snacks is the pretzel, shaped to represent the crossed arms of children in prayer. I like all pretzels, thin and crispy or fat and soft.  
I remember as a child visiting a German beer garden in Munich, impressed by the sheer quantity of empty 'steins', the tall ceramic beer tankards crowded on tables. Some of the gardens are so large, it is hard to make a meeting point with a friend. Part of the appeal of the Munich beer garden or hall, is their egalitarian atmosphere: you will have rich and poor, all ages, all  drinking next to each other. Any decent beer garden worth their salt, will have giant pretzels hanging from hooks, ready to be consumed with a few pints of lager.
Recreate the beer garden vibe by making these pretzels. I might even dust off my dirndl costume. 
Home made pretzel

Giant soft pretzel recipe

Makes around 6 big ones

Basic recipe:
7g dried yeast (double it for fresh)
1 tbsp sugar or malt extract syrup
410g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
230g warm not hot water

For boiling:
1 litre water
 2 tbsps baking soda (more authentically use food grade lye, using the appropriate safety procedures, available from ). This gives a fabulously shiny brown crust to the outside....

See the rest of the recipe on

Home made pretzel

Monday, 21 November 2016

Vegan autumnal curry recipe

Vegan Coriander, Butternut Squash and Green tomato curry
Fresh herbs are often the difference between a dull dish and one zinging with flavour. Coriander is the most frequently used herb the world over, used in several continents comprising both Asian cookery and Latin American food. 
For years parsley was the most popular herb in Britain, but it now has a slightly dated and naff reputation. Curly parsley, in particular, is used mostly as a garnish. Flat leaf parsley is preferred by cooks under 50. 
Today coriander has taken over. According to, who supply most British supermarkets, it is number one in the herb parade. The biggest coriander fans are Londoners and cities with high Asian populations such as Bradford and Birmingham. Why? For their curries, of course.
Don't forget to use every part of coriander: the stems and leaves, but also the pale roots for Thai-style curries. 
 This is a great way for gardeners to use up the last of their tomatoes, some of which are still green. 
In this recipe I've also used fresh ginger and turmeric roots. I keep them in the freezer and grate them directly into dishes as and when I need to use them. Kashmiri chillies are also the key to an authentic curry; they provide depth of flavour without too much heat. Order them online. To use dried chillies, soak them in boiling water for half an hour then snip off the stems and deseed. 
Vegan Coriander, Butternut Squash and Green tomato curry

Vegan Coriander, Butternut Squash and Green tomato curry

Serves 4-6

3 dried kashmiri chillies, soaked, deseeded. 
50ml of ground nut or vegetable oil
1tsp mustard seeds
1 large black cardomom
1tsp of cumin seeds

Go to for the rest of the recipe

Find more vegan recipes in my book V is for Vegan
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Vegan Coriander, Butternut Squash and Green tomato curry


Friday, 18 November 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas 2016: food books

The art of the cheese plate by Tia Keenan (Rizzoli)
In this game-changing book by New York cheese chef Tia Keenan, cheese is paired with potato crisps, goats' cheese with matcha marshmallows, blue cheese with smoked chocolate chips, baked Camembert enrobed in Greek kataifi (a shredded pastry). It gives recipes for crazy chutneys, and explores the state of American artisanal cheese making. This is not the cliché ridden rusticity of usual cheese tomes. Inspiring and visually stunning.

Seven steps to happiness by Stella Newman (Headline)
Not a cookbook but a novel in the spirit of Nora Ephron's Heartburn. North London author Stella Newman, has written her fourth tale about love and food. Whizz through this witty and intricately researched insider's look at the food world. Intelligent chicklit with an appetite.

The Edible City by John Rensten (Boxtree)
Londoner John Rensten hosts foraging walks around the city. This small book, perfect for slipping into a bag, is a diary and illustrated guide of what to look for on walks and how to cook with those finds throughout the year. November calls for Hawthorn relish and pickled chanterelles, while cockspur berries went into a jelly on Boxing Day. Perfect present for a dad or a foodie.

Pride and Pudding by Regula Ysewijn (Murdoch)
Possibly this year's most beautiful book. It was written, styled and photographed by Belgian blogger Regula, whose maternal tongue is Flemish, and designed and illustrated by her husband Bruno Vergauwen. Regula is in love with British food and culture and there are both savoury and sweet 'pudding' recipes. Mums, sisters and grandmas will love it.
Josh, better known as Guyrope Gourmet, is an expert on camping food. In this slim volume, he explores the history of hunger in Britain, from food riots and cod wars to today's food banks. For the serious foodie or activist.
To my mind, the most important book of this year is by Louise Gray, former environment correspondent for the Telegraph. For a period of 2 years, she was determined to only eat meat or fish from an animal she had killed herself. This is a brave, intimate, visceral and heart-wrenching account of what it means to take a life. It opens up essential questions on the ethics and provenance of the food we eat. It's also a lively read - not a turgid do-gooder exercise. 
Beautifully written tales and illustrations from award-winning veteran food writer Elisabeth Luard. Each chapter recounts a foodie journey from forest (Maine), island (Crete), river (Danube) or desert (Gujurat). You can dip in and out or gobble down the whole thing in one go. 
The fifth book from one of my favourite food writers, the owner of Persian corner shop 'Persepolis' in Peckham, flame-haired Sally Butcher. The recipes are creative and easy, even humorous (chip stew!). The tone is irreverent but practical with nuggets of cultural information from the fertile crescent. 
Felicity, with her Guardian 'How to make the perfect...' column, is one of the most useful food writers around, a reference point for the rest of us. Here, she gets to be more creative and delve into her favourite ingredients. I also love the illustrations.
Fuschia Dunlop went to China to train as a chef, learning fluent Chinese and how to expertly wield a cleaver along the way. This book explores a lesser known Chinese cuisine, more subtle and seasonal than Cantonese or Sichuanese. Jiangnan is the titular 'land of fish and rice', which includes the coastal province around Shanghai, rivers and lakes. I've tried some of the recipes in this book, and they all work.
I don't usually hold with reality show contestants but Chetna Makan, a graduate of The Great British Bake Off, has talent if this gorgeously photographed, richly styled cookbook is anything to go by. She creates a fusion of British traditional baking and Indian spices. I want to bake it all.
American food writer Young has been researching pizza for years to create this thick encyclopedic volume with a cover reminiscent of a pizza box. He calls in help and essays from pizza chefs, pizza journalists (yes, they exist) and pizza people from around the world.
Former teacher Monika Linton kick-started the tapas movement in the UK with Brindisa, a shop that provided authentic Spanish food, and, later, several restaurants. This book, five years in the making, has fascinating in-depth explanations of key Spanish ingredients and fantastic recipes.

Miso Tasty by Bonnie Chung (Pavillion)
Miso is one of my favourite ingredients in both sweet and savoury dishes, acting as instant 'umami' deliciousness. Bonnie has written 60 recipes, from the simple sweet white miso grilled aubergine that some might recognise from Japanese restaurants to a miso cheese toastie. She takes you through all the different types of miso from rice to barley, from white to red. For the adventurous cook.
As a chilli-head, I love this informative little book, which arranges chillies in order of Scoville ratings, from sweet and mild to super hot. Good stocking filler or dad present.
A reissued paperback classic by American journalist John McPhee, this is an absorbing reportage on the orange business. This ranges from interviews with orchard owners to the history of the fruit, its journey to America and how concentrate overtook fresh. This may sound dull but McPhee obtains sparkling quotes from his interviewees, such as 'the sex life of citrus is something fantastic'. Instead of a satsuma in the toe of the stocking, pop in this book. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Portugal's tall green wine: Vinho Verde

quinta da gomariz, vinho verde, portugal

vinho verde portugal
vine climbing a tree, vinho verde , portugal

I first tasted vinho verde wine when visiting Lisbon. I recall teetering in a tiny wooden straw-bottomed chair at a 45 degree angle at a table for two on a steep hilly pavement outside a hole in the wall restaurant. We had grilled sardines with fresh mint, yellow waxy potatoes and a carafe of bracing, fresh, young white wine. Situational drinking at its best. 

So I was thrilled to be invited on a press trip to the vinho verde region in the northernmost part of Portugal. It also gave me another chance to visit Porto, which so impressed me earlier this summer. 

Vinho verde is directly translated as 'green wine'. It's drunk young: after the harvest in September, it'll be in the shops by February, a mere six months later. I suppose it's a little bit the Beaujolais Nouveau of Portugal. It perfectly complements the food: the grassy olive oil, the fish, octopus and shellfish, the hearty regional cooking. 

On this journey we ate at a variety of places, from local favourites to Michelin-starred hotel restaurants. We visited numerous wineries, from grand houses to small vineyards. 

The Grapes

I discovered that I'm a fan of the Alvarinho grape, which is the Portuguese version of the Spanish Albarino, just over the border in Galicia. Vinho verde is usually a white wine, with a slightly acidic, fruity, sparkle but it also comes in red and rosé. The grapes used for white vinho verde are LoureiroArintoTrajaduraAvesso, and Azal

The red wine grapes are the VinhãoBorraçal and Amaral. The vinhao grape is particularly noteworthy because it's one of two grapes that actually produce a dark purple liquid. Most grape juice is colourless and the red colour is created by the skins.

The north of Portugal has always been poor so the resourceful landowners used to grow their vines up trees rather than in vineyards. In this way, they could make use of the ground beneath the vines for growing other crops. However harvesting was rather hazardous on ladders. Today the wines are grown in traditional style vineyards although you can still see places where vines grown on trees as above. 

Food Matching

Vinho verde goes well with sushi, fish, spicy foods. The Portuguese are obsessed with bacalhao, salt cod, for which they have 500 recipes. Strangely they never eat fresh cod. Salt cod today is mostly obtained from Norway. 

Portugal does have some vegetarian food, such as tempura. We think of this as a Japanese speciality but it was taught to them in the 16th century by Portuguese merchants. Green beans are dipped in wheat flour, sparkling water, then deep fried and served with olive oil and lemon. 

Vinho verde is very on trend in the USA, where it matches perfectly with light Californian-style cuisine. 


guimaraes, portugal
guimaraes, portugal

We toured the historic northern Portuguese town of Guimaraes, the founding city of Portugal, where the first king of Portugal was born. Similar to Bordeaux, this place has been refurbished and cleaned. Many buildings are tiled on the outside, a sign of wealth. Medieval squares that were used as parking lots have been pedestrianised. 

A laudable approach to town planning was taken, which isn't usually done with gentrification: the same mixed population, working, middle and upper class, was retained. They didn't force all the poorer people out to the suburbs. The houses were repaired and the same residents were moved back in. Hence you see washing hanging out of windows over historic buildings. This gives it authenticity and a touch of reality that some places, newly Disneyfied, don't have. 

Vinho Verde wineries

Casal Garcia

casal garcia, vinho verde, Portugal
cellars casal garcia, vinho verde, Portugal
casal garcia, vinho verde, Portugal
mermelada, quince jelly, vinho verde, portugal
Casal Garcia is the largest vinho verde producer. They buy in many of the grapes from small farmers in Northern Portugal. The grand house above is used almost as a time share by the huge family who reserve a week or two a year. Portuguese inheritance laws are similar to those of the French: there can be hundreds of inheritors, all with equal shares.

They have a nice gift shop selling mermelada, which - be warned - is actually quince jelly.

Quinta da Lixa

Carlos Teixera, winemaker at Quinta da lixa, vinho verde, portugal
Quinta da lixa, vinho verde, portugal
Monverde hotell, Quinta da lixa, vinho verde, portugal
This vineyard, owned by the Meireles family, has a wine hotel attached called Monverde. It is worth visiting, designed by architect Fernando Castro Coelho with an installation by sculptor Paulo Neves, which suspends 365 wooden vine leaves from the ceiling. You can see the height of the vines (vinhao) compared to the height of the winemaker Carlos Teixeira above. Yields are quite low, 2.5k plants per hectare, compared to say Bordeaux where you have 6k plants per hectare. The plants are are quite far apart with a gap of 2.5 metres, while the lines are 2.8 metres apart.

Quinta de Gomariz

quinta da gomariz, vinho verde, portugal
Pruning quinta da gomariz, vinho verde, portugal
We arrived just as they were picking, from the top of a truck, the grapes from the pergola overhead. Chickens and ducks ran around the vineyards. I stuffed a bag of inky walnuts in their skins from a fresh windfall. Physalis fruit grow like weeds in Portugal. We were met here by the marketing manager (in fact we met fewer winemakers and owners on this trip because many of them do not speak English). He showed me how to prune the vines; count four buds from the spur and cut. They produce several monovarietal (single grape) wines of high quality. The alvarinho is citrussy, honeyed and floral. The loureiro was dry, mineral and acidic.


Lunch with the winemaker at a local restaurant tasting his citrussy 100% Loureiro wine was pleasant until he mistakenly offered me a plate of croquettes with ham inside. When I go on press trips I usually state: no meat, no shellfish, no beetroot. But I forgot something. I was presented with a roasted leg with suckers.
Ugh, I'm not eating that.
Why? You eat fish!
That's not a fish. I state. (I wonder, is it?)
Yes, it's a fish.
I'm sorry, in future I will state no cephalopods.
Why don't you eat them?
They are intelligent.
Cue confused and hurt look on the face of my hostess. They simply couldn't understand it. Octopi also have an alien gene. So when Earth is invaded by ETs I'm going to be just fine with our alien overlords. You lot, however, will be in big trouble.

Anselmo Mendes

I had dinner in one of Porto's most famous restaurants, O Gaveto, with the winemakers from Anselmo Mendes, one of the leading vinho verde makers. Together with fantastic food, such as the roasted whole fish with tomatoes and potatoes above, these were some of the most complex and rich wines that I tasted during the trip.

tall vinho verde vines, portugal

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Bordeaux for dummies

Bordeaux is arguably the best-known wine in the world after Champagne, but it has an image problem. Since the 1980s, younger people prefer to drink wine from elsewhere – usually the New World, meaning Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, America. Our consumption of Bordeaux has decreased from 50% to only 25% since the 1980s. This sea change in wine consumption was provoked to a certain extent by a blind tasting in 1976, the celebrated ‘Judgment of Paris’ in which French wine experts, somewhat embarrassingly, preferred Californian wines to French.
I was invited on a press trip to a newly refurbished Bordeaux city during the harvest. This year has been particularly good: the vines displayed large low-slung grapes in abundance. The weather – just enough rain, plenty of sunshine – has helped. The winemakers were relaxed and welcoming, and had time to bring in the harvest. Some years they don’t have much time. A winegrower recalled a year in which they had only two days, at the weekend, to pick the grapes. Everyone gets involved (nan and granddad, friends, family, children, the village) to avoid the whole year’s crop being merely next year’s fertiliser.
Bordeaux is incredibly complicated; the inaccessibility may be one of the reasons that it isn’t as popular as before. This trip gave me an opportunity to get stuck in and attempt to unravel Bordeaux wine. This blogpost is Bordeaux for dummies like me and some of you.
Read the rest of this post on Bordeaux for dummies on Would appreciate clicks and comments! 


Saturday, 5 November 2016

Parched peas recipe for Bonfire Night

parched peas with balsamic vinegar  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

Parched peas are a traditional Guy Fawkes snack up in the north of England. They sell them in polystyrene cups from vans or in Preston, from brown paper bags. Rather like chips, they are doused with salt and malt vinegar.

You can use dried peas or tinned. This pea is a dark maple or Carlin pea (British pea growers Hodmedods sell it) and they have a nutty, firm but fudgy flavour. Carlin stems from an ancient regional word for old woman or, for Halloween purposes, witch.

If using dried, soak for 24 hours, then boil in salted water for an hour. If you like them 'al dente' as they do in Lancashire, that should be enough. Other areas in the North prefer them softer. They are referred to as 'parched' because there is no stewing liquid, being quite dry apart from the vinegar. Once they are cooked or if you are using tinned, follow the steps in the recipe below. I've added a luxury touch, balsamic vinegar, to dress them.

These can of course be eaten at any time of the year. We should all be increasing our intake of pulses, good for diabetes, the menopause and the winter diet.
Try this warming, comforting, healthy recipe to eat around the bonfire this weekend.

parched peas with balsamic vinegar  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

Parched Peas for Bonfire Night recipe

Serves 1-2

1 or 2 tbsp vinegar (any sort)
1/2 tsp of salt
2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar for garnishing

Heat up the peas on a medium to low heat in a saucepan.
Simmer for around five minutes.
Serve them in a china or enamel mug with balsamic vinegar poured on top. Eat hot or cold with a teaspoon.

parched peas with balsamic vinegar  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Espelette pepper pasta

world pasta day spaghetti with espelette butter

world pasta day spaghetti with espelette butter

world pasta day spaghetti with espelette butter
I'm going back to Bordeaux tomorrow. One of the popular ingredients from thereabouts, grown further down the Atlantic coast in the Northern Basque region is espelette pepper. I like it because not only does it give an attractive orange colour to food, espelette is not too hot. It adds flavour, even some acidity rather than a tongue-numbing heat.
After years of touting good sea salt, Pepper is now in my culinary spotlight. And where better to use it than on my favourite serotonin-boosting anti-depressant food, pasta. A few weeks ago I gave a simple recipe for the Roman dish, pepe e cacio spaghetti, or pepper and cheese on pasta, as inspired by the award winning Padella restaurant.
I bought espelette pepper flavoured butter from Bordier, on my recent visit to Bordeaux where I met the French food blogger Anne Lataillaud of Papilles et Pupilles who inspired this pasta recipe.

Get the recipe for Spaghetti with espelette butter here.