Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Glasgow: where to go, what to do

I'm part Scottish, just like many others in England. My Irish great grandfather married Isobel Anderson from Glasgow. My grandfather, John Harris Rodgers, born in Glasgow, was known as 'Jock' Rodgers. Jock came down to London at the age of 16 with his parents. They lived in Islington, in poor flats, near to my grandmothers' Italian family, who were Italian. Catholics marry Catholics. 

My grandfather married Carmela. He was mostly unemployed, for this was during the Great Depression. Regular employment came in the form of War World Two, when he was called up to the Royal Air Force. Being short, his role was as a tail gunner in bomber planes. This position was hazardous, the most vulnerable target, on the small cramped turret at the back of a plane. Tail gunners generally had a short lifespan.

Carmela caught tuberculosis. She had two children, Marianne and my father John. She was in hospital again, ill and pregnant with her third child Sandra, when my grandfather asked for leave to visit. It was turned down. Jock was killed on the 30th operation of his tour, the last flight. He never saw Sandra the baby. Carmela died seven years later of grief and a brain tumour. My father was left an orphan.

My dad thinks that if Jock Rodgers were an officer he would have been given leave to see his sick pregnant wife and baby. Therein begins the innate hatred of my family towards the establishment. This feeling has been passed down: we are all dyed-in-the-wool outsiders and rebels.

I wanted to visit Mary Street in Glasgow, to see the tenement building where my Glaswegian family lived. But a stonking great motorway, the M8 divided the city in the 70s, knocking down the streets where my forebears lived, where my dad and aunt went to escape the London bombing. 

Who were the morons that okayed this? Why are such poor planning decisions made in our great British cities?  (While we are on the subject: who were the idiots that knocked down The Cavern in Liverpool, The Hacienda in Manchester?) Those tenement buildings, modernised, would have been more attractive than what replaced them. It's cheaper to demolish, though, than refurbish. 

Glasgow architecture is haphazard. There is the odd Zaha Hadid architectural gimmick, bits and bobs from Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but also cheap and nasty modern blocks not befitting a great merchant city. Glasgow has grand buildings but it is poor. Amongst the hipster restaurants there are pawn shops and Poundstretchers. There is also a McDonalds Bakers with a suspiciously similar typeface to the more famous McDonalds. I guess they couldn't be sued. The MacDonalds clan come from Scotland after all.

Despite the best efforts of town planners to deter you, I recommend a visit to Glasgow. 

Here are some ideas:

1) Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings

the lighthouse, Glasgow
I ascended The Lighthouse, an art gallery and building featuring the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, to the top, where the visitor can survey, under dark weighted skies, a panoramic of Glasgow. You can also visit the Willow tea rooms, the Glasgow School of Art, and the building that houses the Stereo cafe/bar mentioned in my piece on vegan Glasgow, amongst others.

2) Buchanan Street

Down Buchanan street, the Oxford street of Glasgow, every shop had hopeful sales. In TKMaxx off Buchanan street, they sell mostly anoraks - it's too cold to wear anything else.

3) Glasgow Necropolis

I climbed the Necropolis, a multi-denominational graveyard, on Sunday morning for the view. Glasgow was almost unrecognisable in the sunshine. The sun glinted off the cathedral while chimneys burped smoke in the Gorbals. There are free walking tours available.

4) Glasgow Cathedral/St Mungos

The cathedral and the surrounding area are interesting to visit. You will see the lampposts featuring a tree, bell, bird and a fish with a ring in its mouth, which also form the arms of Glasgow.  These are the symbols of St Kentigern, who is known as St Mungo. Top picture features a street mural of St Mungo.

5) People's Palace

I enjoyed this museum, which documents the lives of the poor, in particular the tenements, some of which housed 20 people in one room. The population of Glasgow grew rapidly in the early part of the 20th century and housing was overcrowded. In the People's Palace, you see the kinds of food they ate, their clothes, games and reproduction of a typical tenement kitchen. They also have a gorgeous cafe area in a large greenhouse.

6) Kelvingrove art gallery and museum

Kelvingrove museum is in a gorgeous Victorian building on the outskirts of Glasgow and is well worth a visit. My favourite galleries displayed vintage jackets in tartan, a heart-breaking painting of the highlander clearances, Charles Rennie Mackintosh furniture and china (blue willow). There are also dinosaurs, a spitfire plane, strange hanging heads, so look up as well as around.

7) Tennents Distillery

Tennents is Scotland's oldest beer distillery, probably the most popular drink after whisky, buckfast and Irn Bru. You can do a tour around the distillery. As part of our press trip (comprised of European travel bloggers) we got to hear very talented local musicians, part of Celtic Connections, a winter music festival in Glasgow, playing in the Tennents on-site pub.

8) Police boxes

Fans of Doctor Who and of old British street furniture will be delighted that four of these Police Boxes can be spotted around Glasgow. They were originally used as mini police stations. The above can be seen in Cathedral gardens.

9) Pubs and drinking holes

Drinking alcohol is a Scottish national pastime and part of their skillset. Glaswegians make very congenial drinking pals.

The Old College Bar, Glasgow's oldest pub, was built circa 1515 and incredibly, it's being threatened with demolition. (PLEASE Glasgow STOP KNOCKING DOWN THE PRETTY PARTS OF YOUR TOWN).

For some reason our (Scandinavian) tour guide (in fact most of Visit Scotland seem to be French, the auld alliance in action) said this was Glasgow's most dangerous pub, full of criminals. That just made me want to visit more but I didn't have time.

If you are a whisky fan, visit The Pot Still, which has more than 600 whiskies (as recommended by Rachel McCormack author of 'Chasing the Dram') and Dram in the West End.

10) Billy Connolly murals

Glasgow's most famous son, comedian, actor and musician Billy Connolly had a series of mural portraits painted to mark his 75th birthday. This one didn't look very much like him. 

11) Buy a kilt

Think of a kilt as a woolly sari. A kilt outfit can cost upwards of £600; the most traditional will contain 8 yards of wool tartan, socks with 'flashes' or garters, a sporran (basically a handbag as kilts don't have pockets), a kilt pin. Those shown in the pictures are weekend or walking kilts because they are already pleated and probably not wool. I think all men should wear kilts not trousers. It's just so much sexier. 

Try Slanj Kilts or MacGregor MacDuff for Outlander swoon-worthy macho dressing.
Remember, your clan and tartan are descended from your mother's side, so in our families case, it'll be Clan Anderson, which is a 'sept' (or sub clan) of Clan Mackintosh. 

12) The oldest house in Glasgow

Built in 1471, the Provand's Lordship is one of only 4 medieval buildings they haven't yet managed to demolish in Glasgow. I only saw the outside but there is a museum and garden to visit.

13) Walk along the river

The river Clyde runs through Glasgow and it is a pleasant walk. Now shipbuilding is no longer a big industry, Glasgow is developing the river banks, rather like the Thames in London.

I travelled to Glasgow via the Caledonian Sleeper, courtesy of ScotRail. In 2018 this train will be upgraded to include double beds and wifi.

In Glasgow I stayed at the Abode hotel, which features a 1930s 'cage' lift. The staff were very helpful, especially when I flooded my bedroom. Sorry.

This visit was courtesy of Visit Scotland.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Vegetarian Christmas Wreath Recipe

Sunday lunch is one of the few occasions when we feel obliged to entertain and eat as a family. Christmas day dinner is the daddy of all Sunday lunches, enough to stress out even the most competant cook. Added to this, entertaining today is even more complicated with every guest having, seemingly, a different food requirement.
In particular, what to do about the vegetarians and vegans? A traditional Christmas dinner is actually more veggie friendly than you might think. It's one of the meals where we serve the most vegetables: roast potatoes, parsnips, peas, brussel sprouts and carrots, to name a few.
But as a host/ess you want to give vegetarian and vegan guests the same spectacular, luxurious, over-the-top banquetting food that everyone else will be getting. Christmas dinner is the ultimate winter feast and you want to serve a meat-free centrepiece to be proud of.
Vegans and vegetarians are normal people really. (Although I once had a Christmas day guest who claimed she was allergic to the modern world. I had to turn off all phones and the wifi for the day. Her flat is lined with silver foil.) Here are a few tips and tricks to survive a meat-free Christmas:
  • Be aware of what cooking medium you use for the vegetables. Roast potatoes in duck fat will not be welcome. Strict vegans won't eat brussel sprouts coated with butter nor carrots doused with honey. So always reserve a portion of the vegetables to be cooked in vegetable oil, coconut butter or nut oils.
  • Gravy must be vegetarian/vegan. 
  • Keep emergency supplies, such as halloumi and firm tofu, for surprise vegetarians. Wrapped in puff or filo pastry, you can always cobble together something appealing.
  • Use fresh herbs to garnish your dishes. They add vitality and zing, and we need our greens in winter.
  • Some wines contain egg whites and fish scales for 'fining'. Consult sites such as WineTrust for lists of vegan and vegetarian wines.

Vegetarian Christmas wreath

This can be prepped in advance and popped in the oven in time for serving. You'll need a bundt tin, a pastry brush and 2 clean damp tea towels for covering the filo dough while you work.

1 large butternut squash, skinned, deseeded, cubed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sea salt
6 to 8 sheets of filo pastry
100g of butter (or coconut oil if vegan)
1 tbsp of cinnamon, ground
100g of walnuts
200g blue cheese, cubed (replace with either vegan cheese or smoked tofu if vegan)
3 tbsp sweet and savoury cranberries (below)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC
Prepare the butternut squash and lay in an oiled baking tin, seasoning with the salt. Roast for 25 minutes or until tender. Then remove and cool.
Mix the butter or coconut oil with the ground cinnamon.
Brush the bundt tin with the butter/cinnamon or coconut oil/cinnamon mixture.
Working carefully with the filo pastry, keep it covered with the damp cloth, removing sheets one by one.
Drape the sheets in the bundt tin, covering the inside and leaving the extra to flop over the sides (this will be folded in later). Brush all the filo with the butter/oil/cinnamon mixture as you go. As you complete the lining of the tin with the filo, cover the exposed parts with the other damp cloth so that the pastry doesn't dry out.
Do at least 3 layers of filo brushing with the butter/oil/cinnamon.
Put the butternut squash in the bundt tin, spreading it around evenly.
Then add the walnuts and cubes of blue cheese.
Finally drizzle the sweet and savoury cranberries around the inside of the tin.
Once you fill the bundt tin with the stuffing, you will remove the cloth and cover the top of the tin with flaps of filo surrounding the tin.
If not cooking immediately, cover with cling film and place in the fridge.
Remove from the fridge, let it warm to room temperature.
Bake at 180ºC for 25 minutes.
Serve with extra sweet and savoury cranberries in the centre.

Sweet and savoury cranberries

This can be used in the recipe above, also as a chutney to go with cheeses or packed in pretty jars to give as a gift.

350ml apple cider vinegar
350g white sugar
1 heaped tsp or 15 all spice berries
1 heaped tsp or 15 peppercorns
1 heaped tsp or 15 juniper berries
5 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
300g frozen or fresh cranberries

To a medium sized saucepan add all the ingredients, bring to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Vegan Glasgow

bbq jackfruit taco

Last time I visited Glasgow was during the 1980s. I was working as a photographer for Cosmopolitan, covering the city. Somehow, after a night snapping pictures in a bar, I ended up with a Glaswegian stranger in a tenement flat in the Gorbals. The bedroom I found myself in, for I was very drunk, had an artex interior, walls and ceiling. Big swirly white polyfilla dips and crests. It was the thickest plastering I'd ever seen. Woozy with booze, I felt like a fly trapped in the interior of an artic roll, or a climber toiling up the North face wall of Everest.

I saw this lad again, returning for a weekend visit to see if I still liked him when sober. I didn't. I couldn't understand anything he said, spending much of the weekend saying 'Pardon?' He called people 'folk'. He read Balzac not Brett Easton Ellis. His fridge was empty save a paper bag of mince meat bleeding onto a white plate.
'Aw me ma left that fe us,' he exclaimed fondly. 
This sassenach was a vegetarian even back then. The horror. Outlander it was not. It didn't help that I was a bit of an '80s fashion snob.

Glasgow is infamous for the lowest life expectancy in Europe. But one of the reasons vegan food works so well in Glasgow is precisely because they combine the local urge to deep-fry everything in batter with the vegan regime. In Scotland, vegan food is not a joyless, brown, full-fibre sober health cure but delicious comfort food.

I visited two of Glasgow's vegan restaurants: Stereo and Mono, both, along with The 78 and a couple of others run by vegan restaurant supremo Craig Tannock. True to Tannock's musical background, music plays a big part in the restaurant names and ethos. Mono has an in-house vinyl store and hosts live bands.
Stereo Cafe/Bar is hidden down a rainy alleyway; dim Northern light leaking onto the front tables. Outside there was snow, not too much, but enough to add drama to the monochrome of Glasgow architecture. Service is courtesy of a fragile waiter with a gentle manner and Harry Potter glasses. He recommends the pine needle soda, which reminds me of Canadian Spruce beer. I eat a broccoli burger with chips and a warming golden syrup pudding with vegan ice cream.

The next day I went to Mono for lunch. The building itself is beautiful, with a domed skylight over a large sunlit room. Imposing steel brewing tanks line the side of the room where artisanal sodas such as ginger beer are brewed.
I apologise for being late, explaining, 'I've just flooded my hotel room'.
I get a tolerant grin and a 'nae problem' from front of house.

I order 'tof-ish and chips', golden billowy crunchy battered firm tofu with seaweed, a side order of pulled jackfruit, the vegan cheesecake and the home brewed ginger beer. It's all fantastic.
A record shop is attached. I bought Dusty in Memphis and Astral Weeks on vinyl. On another table in the restaurant is a young woman in a fur coat. A strange choice of garment for a vegan restaurant.
'Is that a fur coat I'm seeing over there?' I ask the waitress.
'Maybe it's fake?' replied the waitress.
'It looks real to me.'
'I don't know, I've never seen one.'
It's unlikely that you have seen or touched a real fur coat if you are under 40. I asked the young woman if it was real fur.
'Aye, but it's vintage,' she murmurs a bit defensively.
Scots vegans are much more tolerant than London ones is all I can say.

Inspired by my visit to Vegan Glasgow, I've made a 'Scottish' BBQ jackfruit taco. Jackfruit, an enormous khaki green carbuncle, the size of a watermelon, which looks similar and is related to the breadfruit, is grown in the tropics. Like the durian which it also resembles, it can, when ripe, emit a strong but infinitely more pleasant aroma.

In Kilburn, North West London, where I live, you can buy it fresh. Failing that, look for tinned green jackfruit in water not syrup. The fruit itself has three elements to it, a central core that you discard, a 'pleated' outer ring, known as 'arils', that you can rip in the manner of pulled pork and seed-like structures which can also be eaten.

Jackfruit is popular on vegan menus, providing a meaty texture and fibre. It's sometimes known as 'tree-mutton'.

Whisky 'BBQ' Jackfruit Taco Recipe with pink pickled onions

bbq jackfruit taco

I happened to have the pink pickled onions in my fridge (I've always got a jar on the go, they are pretty and sour) and the whisky roasted sugar in my store cupboard.
You can use any 'slaw, salsa or citrussy salad to jazz up this taco however.

Pink Pickled Onions
1 red onion, skinned, sliced thinly
300ml White wine vinegar
3tbsp Sugar
1tbsp Salt

Whisky-roasted Brown Sugar
150g Soft brown sugar
1 dram of whisky

For the Jackfruit
1 tin of young green jackfruit in water, core discarded.
1 tsp dried smoked garlic or 2 cloves, crushed, of black garlic
1/2tsp cumin, ground
1tsp sweet paprika, ground
1/2tsp white pepper, ground
3tbsp whisky roasted brown sugar (recipe below) or plain brown sugar
1tbsp smoked salt
A few drops of liquid smoke
2 chipotle en adobo and some of the sauce, either buy or do recipe in link, it's another good store cupboard essential.
2tbsp olive oil

4 to 6 Corn tacos
Lime juice

For the pink pickled onions, put the sliced onions in a jar.
In a pan on a low heat, add the sugar and salt to the vinegar, stir until dissolved. Leave to cool.
Then add to the onions.
Leave for at least an hour or overnight until the onions turn pink.
This can be left in the fridge for 3 weeks.

For the whisky roasted sugar, preheat the oven to 170ºC.
Spread the sugar on some parchment paper (or a Silpat) on a roasting tray.
Sprinkle with the whisky.
Roast for 15 minutes or so.
The sugar will go hard if left (it lasts forever) but I break it up in a pestle and mortar.

For the jackfruit:
Prepare the jackfruit, then add all the list of ingredients including the chipotle en adobo and mix together.
In a pan on a medium heat, add the olive oil, then the jackfruit mixture. Fry gently for five minutes.

To combine:

Take a corn taco, add some of the jackfruit, a scoop of pink pickled onions, a squeeze of fresh lime. Season with salt to taste and eat!


I travelled to Glasgow via the Caledonian Sleeper, courtesy of ScotRail. Next year this train will be upgraded to include double beds and wifi. I adore sleepers, so romantic.

I stayed at the Abode hotel which features a 1930s 'cage' lift. The staff were very helpful, especially when I flooded my bedroom. Sorry.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Best food and cookery books of 2017

Colour coded food books for 2017

Here is my annual food book round-up, published in mid-November to help you decide which books to buy for Christmas. I've divided my book selections into sections: 
  • Food from around the world
  • Food anthropology or memoir
  • Ingredient-led cookbooks
  • General cookbooks
  • Vegan
  • Books by Doctors

Most of the books were sent to me by publishers, so there are well-known cookbooks that I haven't reviewed despite in some cases requesting copies (the latest Nigella, Nigel Slater, Olia Hercules, Sabrina Ghayour, for instance). But I don't get paid for this blog and I can't afford to pay to publicise people's work I'm afraid. (You can help me by purchasing their books through links on this post; I get a teeny kickback from Amazon, which I use to buy other cookbooks.)

No mind, there are so many food books coming out each year and I know the writers above will be well-covered by the press. None of them are going to starve if I don't review their books. 

I'm not sure there is much need for general cookbooks anymore. The greats have covered it. Every basic recipe is to be found online either through the BBC or Delia or a trillion others. People will only buy a general cookbook if it's relying on a cult of personality or a celebrity, or if they are new to cooking. 

Food books from around the world perform the necessary task of guiding us through exotic or new cuisines and ingredients. As an author I'm slightly at a disadvantage because I'm English (with Italian, Irish and Scottish blood) and I don't cook that much British food. Mainly because I don't cook or eat meat, which much of British food is centred around. I like spice and flavour. 

Ingredient-led cookbooks are a way around this for British food writers. I'm a big fan of them. My supper clubs are often themed, sometimes around a single ingredient, or a particular country's cuisine.

Vegan cookbooks are a growing category. My book V is for Vegan was probably the first self-declared big budget vegan book in the UK. This is a bandwagon I'm very happy that people are wanting to jump on. Although I attended an event the other day in which two young men, calling themselves Bosh! TV (eyeroll - so Jamie Oliver), gained a 250k advance from Harper Collins for their first cookbook. News like this is so bloody depressing for those of us who know our subject and only eke out a living. Judging from the content on their site and the avocado brownie they claim to have spent "three days making", Harper Collins have wasted their money. But, hey, who needs talent and experience when you can have 'influencers' teaching you how to cook? Michel Roux Senior said you shouldn't write a cookbook until you are 50. Increasingly I tend to agree with him. 

At the other end of the scale is food memoir or anthropology; the thrilling work of black food writers such as Michael W Twitty or Yemisi Aribisala is hard won, emotionally exposing, interesting, poetic, explorative, drawing upon politics and sociology. In Europe I love Regula Ysewijn's passionate treatise on Belgian cafe culture and its gradual disappearance. Work like this is valuable.

Finally, books by doctors. Some are good, some just sound like bullshit. Mostly they can't do the food bit. I'm assuming the recipes are ghosted. But at least they aren't just a bunch of pretty, youthful faces that the publisher's marketing department hopes will do well.  

Make no mistake, it's marketing and sales that choose books nowadays. They choose the cover (which is sometimes why the cover of a book is so at odds with its interior). Every publisher has a bunch of loss leaders that they simply believe in: fantastic writers like Diana Henry are not going to sell as many copies as Deliciously Ella. If you aren't 'lifestyle', or aspirational, and - god forbid - actually eat the food you cook, please disappear. 

But Diana and Xanthe and Felicity and now Meera and Rachel and all the other old and new grand dames of cookery writing have the contacts, class and talent to get the big columns in the papers. Columns mean book publishing deals. (But not necessarily telly. If you are female, middle-aged and waistless, you are consigned to 'daytime'. If you're lucky.)

Nothing has changed: it's still the posh, the connected, the well-married, the young, the beautiful and the slim who make money out of food. Especially if you are a woman.

Food from around the world

Junk Food Japan, Addictive Food from Kurobuta by Scott Hallsworth (Absolute Press)

I ate at Hallsworth's Marble Arch restaurant Kurobuta. It was delicious but expensive. (Name drop; I was with Marina O'Loughlin, the Sunday Times new restaurant columnist.) This book is your opportunity to make this food at a fraction of the price. Australian Hallsworth spent 6 years at Nobu, where he fell in love with Japanese fusion cooking. Unlike most chef books, this one seems to be actually written by him. The punk styling can seem a little forced (the man was born in the mid-70s) and there is a touch of macho Bourdainism with the swearing, but the recipes are doable, creative, simple and alluring. He knows of what he speaks, mentioning new season sushi rice, which needs less water than older rice. Energetic, nicely styled photography by David Loftus.

I want to make: broad bean tempura with wasabi salt; iced sweet and sour nasu; Jerusalem artichoke chopsticks with truffle ponzu.

Mountain Berries and Desert Spice, sweet inspiration from the Hunza Valley to the Arabian Sea by Sumayya Usmani (Frances Lincoln)

Sumayya used to be a neighbour, living in Queen's Park before bolting to Scotland. Her second book (the first being Summers under the Tamarind Tree) focusses on Pakistani desserts. The book explores the landscape and ingredients of Pakistan, sandwiched between India, China Afghanistan and Iran. Out of all the books I reviewed, this one had the most post-it notes stuck between pages, for recipes I want to make. Beautiful styling, propping and photography by Joanna Yee.

I want to make: Parsi wedding custard with rose petals and apricots, turmeric Jalebis, saffron caramels and poppy seeded cones of kulfi.

Two Kitchens, family recipes from Sicily and Rome by Rachel Roddy (Headline)

I'm going to say that this book is even better than the award-winning Five Quarters. Apart from the jarring cover, I love every page. Rachel's recipes are very relatable; they look messy and homely. It's not the alien aspirational food of high-end chefs. The best food often doesn't look great on Instagram; it can be brown or beige, shiny and cooked. Unstyled. You feel like you can pick up the food and eat it. Roddy's food books are intimate and domestic with casual chiaroscuro photographs of family moments.

I want to make: mandarin orange jelly, taralli al limone, nociata, broad bean, fennel and mint salad.

Fress, bold flavours from a Jewish Kitchen by Emma Spitzer (Octopus)

Emma Spitzer is a local (North West London) food writer who competed on MasterChef. This is very much a family cookbook with a genealogical tree in the introduction and her children featuring in the photographs. Emma seems like a superwoman: four kids, a travel business AND dedicated cook. She's honest about her homely food - portions err on the generous and plating is something she had to learn on MasterChef. Her Jewish food hails from both traditions, Eastern European Ashkenazi and Iberian Sephardi, including both smoked salmon schmear (love that word) and schupfenudeln (a potato noodle). Nice photography and styling by Clare Winfield's team.

I want to make: Amba spiced courgettes with barberries and labneh, Chrain (a horseradish and beetroot sauce), fennel and potato latkes, chocolate babka.

Wild honey and rye by Ren Behan (Pavilion)

Since Poland became part of the EU and the Polish diaspora moved to the UK, sparking a wealth of Polish corner shops, I've been interested in what you can make with the intriguing ingredients. Ren is a food blogger of Polish heritage and I've been waiting for a smart publisher to commission her to write this book. It doesn't disappoint. She talks of her childhood going to Polish church and visiting the Polish Ex-Combatants Club but the recipes in this book are modern, lighter than traditional Eastern European food. Appealing photography and styling by Yuki Sugiura and her team.

I want to make: apple mashed potatoes; homemade dill pickles; pierogi.

The Curry Guy by Dan Toombs (Quadrille)

I always thought Dan's book would sell, which is why I recommended him to my agent. Just like in other areas of life, men buy books written by men. Typical curry house recipes are exactly the sort of thing men want to cook. Dan has investigated curry house tricks by going into Indian restaurants all over Britain. There are all the old curry house classics and a few tips for prepping large quantities of curry sauce and pre-cooked potatoes. This is his first book, and he's been signed up for several others. 

I've made tandoori beetroot paneer, and it was delicious.

Saffron Soul by Mira Manek (Jacqui Small LLP)

A pretty book, with 'health, vegetarian, heritage recipes from India'. Right up my street. There are photos of Mira with her mum and grandma; it's a book that celebrates the matrilineal DNA of the Indian kitchen. Mira's family is from Gujarat, the state where many corner shop owners come from. She's young and attractive, a bit of a millennial yoga bunny, not averse to the lure of the selfie. Her book is a pleasure. The atmospheric photography and styling by Nassima Rothacker is done well. 

I'd like to make: charred masala corn cobs, carrot halwa, thandai, saffron limeade.

Lisboeta by Nuno Mendes (Bloomsbury)

This is almost more of a photo travelogue than a cookbook. Last year I predicted that Portugal would be the next big place - now even Madonna has moved there (to support her son David Banda's budding football career). I ate at Mendes' 'The Loft' supper club and out of all the experimental food he served, the simply cooked Portuguese fish dish was the most sublime. 
This hefty book has almost too much to say: tucked between glossy pages are smaller matte pamphlets on Tascos (neighbourhood Lisboan restaurants), cafe culture, fish, beach life, Santo Antonio.
Great photography by Andrew Montgomery.

I'd like to make: runner bean fritters with clam broth; tomato soup, all the pastries, potatoes with caramelised onions and melting cheese.

Catalonia by José Pizarro (Hardie Grant)

Beautifully designed book on a very news-worthy topic, Catalonia, the part of Spain around Barcelona that seeks to become independent. Recipes somehow both traditional and unusual; a Miróesque cover; lovely reportage and food photography by Laura Edwards.

Food anthropology and memoir

The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty (Amistad)

An extraordinary journey into the origins of Twitty's family, the roots of Southern food, of slave cooking, of an uprooted people and how they attempted to retain their African foodways. Foods such as ackee, yams, sorghum, all come from Africa. The enslaved cooks adapted Southern ingredients to recreate Ghana, Senegalese, Nigerian and other West African dishes. 

Longthroat Memoirs, soups, sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala (Cassava Republic)

I interviewed Yemisi earlier this year. We had a fascinating conversation about Nigerian food, religion and slime. This is a well-written, intimate, even poetic, memoir.

Belgian Cafe Culture (Luster)

There are no recipes in this gorgeously photographed and designed book by Pride and Pudding's Regula Ysewijn, also known as Flemish food blogger Miss Foodwise. For years Regula has been an Anglophile, recreating historic and regional British recipes. Hugely disappointed by the Brexit result, she has now turned her attention to her own culture, especially the beer, whether Trappist, lambic or gueuze. Flanders is losing the distinctive café culture, the living room bars open only at breakfast, lunch and dinner, run by housewives, now elderly. This book documents the "fragile heritage" of the remaining cafés, the 'zageman', the savings cupboard, the dice and card games. Note the delightful touch of shiny 'wet' rings on the cover.

Ingredient-led books

The Oxford Companion to Cheese edited by Catherine Donnelly (Oxford University Press)

A heavy volume. Comprehensive. Entries include Bog butter, butter preserved for decades in Ireland or Scandinavia, in tree bark in cold places; Yak cheese, how the Himalayan version of the cow produces high protein milk, American Goat ladies, the young women who visited Europe in the 1980s and brought to the States a taste for artisanal small batch goat cheese. Endlessly interesting. 

Mushrooms by Jenny Linford (Ryland, Peters, Small)

This book of recipes isn't trendy but there is so much you want to eat. Veteran food writer Linford guides the reader through cultivated and wild mushrooms, meets growers, dips into the mysteries of truffles. My daughter wanted to steal the book; it's very cookable. And mushrooms are the umami beefsteak of the vegetarian diet.

I want to make: truffled fries; mushroom paneer and pea curry; Thai mushroom soup.

Citrus by Catherine Phipps (Quadrille)

Stingy and sour, a cheering ray of sunshine in the depths of winter, I love citrus for its colour and the lift it offers dishes. A book on citrus is such a fantastic idea, I wish I'd written it. Catherine is one of our most knowledgeable food writers and it shows. The recipes are, as always, excellent. I would have liked more of them - with Bengali limes, Meyer lemons, key limes - although I know some of those more unusual ingredients can be difficult to get hold of in the UK.

I'd like to make: dhal with lemon or lime curry; orange shortbread; deep fried citrus slices.

The Marley Coffee Cookbook by Rohan Marley (Quarry)

Rastafarianism is a love of nature, and reggae superstar Bob Marley was born on a farm. One of his sons, Rohan Marley, who was also married to Lauryn Hill, returned to Jamaica after a sports career in the US, determined to go back to his roots and his father's dream and build a coffee farm. This book, written in conjunction with chef Maxcel Hardy III and food writer Rosemary Black, is a collection of coffee-centric recipes, a fantastic idea. I've often thought of doing a coffee-based supper club. The photographs are somewhat inconsistent, differing in style one to the next, but I love the retro coffee-themed design in the cover

I'd like to cook: sweet potato waffles with a pecan coffee syrup; grilled salmon with a coffee, maple, and ginger glaze; fried plantains with coffee sugar; coffee-spiced vegetable tacos.

Herbs, spices and flavourings by Tom Stobart (Grub St)

This is a handy, novel-sized alphabetical guide to all the above. Written by a food writer, traveller, and documentary maker who died in 1980, the guide ranges from Ajowan (Bishops's Weed), to Zedoary, a kind of turmeric. The book itself smells good, the shiny new pages whiffing of ink and turps. A book for ingredient freaks like me. 

Wine lover's kitchen, delicious recipes for cooking with wine by Fiona Beckett (Ryland, Peters, Small)

Fiona is the Guardian's wine columnist. But she's also an accomplished cook and recipe writer, and in this book she displays both skills. The food is, for the most part, French influenced or European, the cuisine for which wine was built. So many recipes are improved with the addition of wine, from soups and sauces to moules marinières. Useful notes on matches with wines or sherries.

I'd like to make: white onion and bay leaf soup with raclette and toasted hazelnuts, courgettes and mushrooms à la grecque. 

What to Eat and How to Eat it by Renée Elliot (Pavilion Books)

It's been said that to eat well, you must shop well. Renée is the American-born founder of Planet Organic, an organic food emporium in London. She's been in the healthy eating game for decades and persuasively argues the case for eating organic. Here Elliot presents 99 ingredients from açai berries to maca to tempeh. Yup, all those weird ingredients you might have scratched your head over, that you want to try but aren't sure what to do with. This is very much a shopkeeper's cookbook: her starting point is what is on the shelves. The dishes are generally vegetarian, with the occasional pescetarian recipe thrown in and a couple of pages mentioning chicken and bone broth. The recipes are mostly standard classics from the health food repertoire, but there is the odd American recipe such as sloppy joes.

I'd like to make: mushroom sloppy joes, paprika and mushroom soup.

The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer (Square Peg)

This book is cooking method-led and it's a great concept. As an Aga owner I cook 80% of my food in the oven. Although I usually love photography by David Loftus, here I feel the food is let down by the lacklustre lighting. The food looks a bit cold and lifeless.

I'd like to make: mackerel and rhubarb.

General cookbooks

Smitten Kitchen Every Day, triumphant and unfussy new favourites by Deb Perelman (Square Peg)

Not as good as her first book, which I loved. But examining it further, and trusting Perelman's recipe writing (she often tests 12 times), I gradually realised the book was better than I first thought. The recipes are very much those of a busy mother of young children, a stage I'm past. Neither are her recipes original. I've cooked similar dishes, but everything works perfectly, which is more than you can say for most cookbooks. Deb has a lovely writing voice, honest, humorous and relatable. 

I'd like to make: olive oil shortbread with rosemary and chocolate.

Eat what you love by Ruby Tandoh (Chatto and Windus)

I like that Ruby Tandoh criticises millennial clean-eating bores such as Deliciously Ella and the Hemsleys, that she bravely highlights the posh rich privileged side of food writing. But she has her own privilege: that of a slim, young, beautiful woman who was picked to star in a baking game show. Does she know that?  The baking section of this book is, perhaps predictably, the strongest. I made her lemon, buttermilk and black pepper cake, and it may be one of the most impressive cake recipes of the year.

Vegan/vegetarian books

Vegan: The Cookbook by Jean-Christian Jury (Phaidon)

Massive, glossy, colourful volume by French professional chef Jury who, a decade ago, had a heart attack while working in London. This caused him to reconsider his lifestyle and eating habits. He decided to go raw and vegan. Not only does this book have literally hundreds of original vegan recipes from all over the world but it also has a guest chef section with contributions by Michelin starred chefs.

What I'd like to make: jackfruit curry, cheese and potato curry, tofu and paneer tikka masala, tofu and mandarin orange curry, banana blossom in coconut cream, potato and kalamata olive stew, carrot fudge.

Vegan Recipes from the Middle East by Parvin Razavi (Grub St)

While the German-based author hails originally from Iran, the simple dishes span the Middle East, whose cuisine perhaps surprisingly does lend itself to the vegan diet. The book is divided by country: Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Armenia, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey. In between each section there are illustrations of vegetables. There is a whole section on Persian ways of preparing rice. The recipes are not unusual, the classics - stuffed vegetables, roast vegetables, dips and stews - are all there but they do look tasty. A good book for a vegan or flexitarian cook.

I'd like to make: Persian saffron rice pudding, borek stuffed with squash.

Naturally Nourished by Sarah Britton (Jacqui Small LLP)

This is the second book by My New Roots blogger Sarah Britton. She does that Anna Jones formula thing of how to create a recipe: build a foundation, make it interesting, add something special, sauce it up, give it some flair. You might start with a base of quinoa, the interest is sweet potato, the something special is chickpeas, the sauce is romesco, and the flair is coriander. I like the 'rollover' section at the end of the recipe, in which Britton suggests ways of using up the leftovers from each dish.
Photography is a bit wishy-washy and doesn't show dishes to their best advantage.

I'd like to make: brown butter carrots with pistachios; charred cabbage with toasted walnut sauce.

Veggie Desserts and Cakes by Kate Hackworthy (Pavilion)

Some very original dessert and cake recipes here from accomplished blogger Kate Hackworthy of the site I'm impressed. She has new ideas! Lovely styling and photography by Clare Winfield's team.

I'd like to make: pea and vanilla cake with lemon icing, salted sweet potato biscuits, sparkling carrot lemonade.

Books by Doctors

The Pioppi diet by Dr Aseem Malhotra and Donal O'Neill (Penguin)

In the 1970s American scientist Ancel Keys moved to Pioppi, a small village south of Naples, to study the Mediterranean diet. In Pioppi the people live to 95, never get diabetes or have a heart attack. Dr Malhotra and his colleague Donal O'Neill, a documentary maker, recently followed in Keys footsteps. All you have to do is live a stress-free life, drink wine every meal, eat no processed food, eat fat, eat dessert once a week, eat very few carbs, do not sit down for more than 45 minutes, and fast for 24 hours once a week. In other words all the health advice that everybody else is giving. The authors are saying that if you can do this for three weeks, you will be cured. I guess it's worth a shot. Although I'd prefer to live in Pioppi for three weeks and see if this does the trick. 

The Salt Fix by Dr James DiNicolantonio (Piatus)

Finally someone has written this book. The NHS has spent a great deal of money telling the country that salt is bad for you, despite evidence and scientific studies to the contrary. They recommend that you eat less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day, including cooking water. Most people, given freedom to eat as much salt as they like, eat around 2/3 teaspoons a day. Any extra you piss out. 

Dinicolantonio argues that salt is not the demon, sugar is. Restricting salt makes you more likely to eat sugar. Throughout history salt has been valued: in the past people ate more salt than today. 'In the 16th century, Europeans ate 40g of salt a day'; 'in the 18th century, intake was up to 70g a day'; 'In Scandinavian countries [...] in the 16th century [...] daily consumption of salt was 100g a day'. 

Today 1 in 3 adults in the USA has high blood pressure. Something is going wrong here.

Dr DiNicolantonio recommends several different kinds of salt: Hawaiian red and black, Himalayan pink, Kala Nemak sulphurous black salt, Celtic sea salt. He explains why you should avoid ordinary table salt that only contains two ingredients: sodium and chloride.

I highly recommend this brave and original book - now to persuade doctors!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Yorkshire's Carlton Towers

Carlton Towers, Yorkshire

Making fresh cheese with Cryer and Stott, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Carlton Towers is a Gothic Victorian house, a fantasy mash-up of Hogwarts and medieval castles. Situated an hour south of York, scenes from the TV series 'Victoria' were set in this historic house.

The Lord of the castle, Gerald Fitzalan-Howard and his wife Lady Emma hosted myself and other journalists in the palatial Venetian Drawing Room for an evening banquet. Gerry, as we were permitted to call him, believes that the series Downton Abbey was based on their house. Certainly below stairs is a Downtonesque warren of rooms along a dim tiled corridor: the great kitchen, the game room, the dairy, the housekeepers' sitting room, all add to this impression.
The Venetian Drawing Room, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Upstairs, a sequence of enormous state rooms, linked by tall double doors, is a triumph of baroque extravagance. Start with the Venetian roomclad with linenfold oak panels, many decorated with paintings, dominated by an enormous crested stone fireplace, crowned by a moor's head within which roars a log fire. Above the panels twinkle walls embossed with Venetian gold dusted polished plaster. Overhead opulent crystal chandeliers cast a warm glow. Terracotta and green silk curtains with tasselled velvet tie backs frame the tall windows, elsewhere the walls are studded with bevelled mirrors, the floors with Persian carpets, the tables boast sprigs of local flowers in vintage silver, while blue and white porcelain and majolica-ware perched on the shelves. At my dining place I found a gold embossed name card.

Lord and Lady Gerry are fun hosts; typical English eccentrics, fond of a drink and a laugh, feeding the dog at dinner. They are one of Englands oldest families, dating back to William the Conqueror. Tracing their lineage to just after the Norman Conquest; they are even mentioned in the Domesday book. Lord Gerry quipped:
'We were big in the middle ages!'
The Fitzalan-Howards have plans to turn Carlton Towers into foodie central: it now runs cookery courses in probably the most magnificent kitchen I've ever seen. I've now got serious kitchen #goals: pale marble surfaces by a Middlesborough stone mason, old coal stoves, the original encaustic tiled floor, butler sinks, gleaming copper saucepans, hand built wooden cupboards.
Lord Gerry has planted a walled vineyard, we discussed natural wines. Just behind the house, is Little Black Dog, a craft beer brewery which also makes beers to order, for instance 'wedding beers'. We had a class in cheese making, cheese tasting accompanied with story telling of their trip around France, with Yorkshire affineurs Cryer and StottCarlton Towers are currently looking for a baker to set up a sourdough bakery on site. They aim to promote and use, wherever possible, local Yorkshire produce. 

Other activities are available: I got to drive an expensive 4x4 through the forest, negotiating steep hills and muddy ditches. The jeep can tip up to a 30 degree angle and as an amphibious vehicle, it also has a snorkel.
Cryer and Stott cheese affineurs, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
4x4 driving, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
bedroom Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
cheese from Cryer and Stott, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
housekeeper's living room, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
staircase, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
hallway, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Lord Gerald Fitzalan-Howard, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
the royal family, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire

Carlton Towers

Carlton Towers, Carlton, Yorkshire, DN14 9LZ
01405 861662
Cooks courses
A three night stay, all inclusive, Queen Victoria Experience is from £899 per person.
Bookable at Super Break