My good friend Linda is over from Spain this week and I wanted to cook something a little special when she came round for supper last night. I decided to recreate a meal I’d cooked at the weekend with my daughter Nicola, after the Whisky Festival in Birmingham. It was Nicola’s idea to make a vegetable tagine to go with some fish and it worked so well I was keen to do it again and thought Linda would enjoy it. I decided to add a little extra though by making a spicy Chermoula to spoon over the fish. I used recipes in Ghillie Basan’s Tagines & Couscous.
I made the tagine in the afternoon ready to heat up when we ate as I didn’t want to be doing a lot of cooking once Linda arrived. I cut 1 red onion, with the grain, and put it in a tagine with 2 tablespoons olive oil. (If you don’t have a tagine just use a shallow pan with a lid.) Once that had softened I added 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds ground with 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 pinch saffron and 1 teaspoon dried mint. Sir around and then add 4 waxy new potatoes cut into quarters and toss around to coat them with the spices. Pour over 200ml stock or water. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
The recipe used fresh artichokes but as nice fresh artichoke hearts are hard to come by here, I used some from a jar. I added 8 pieces – 4 each. Also add about half a small bunch of coriander, chopped roughly. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.
Now add 120g peas (fresh or frozen) and 1/4 preserved lemon (remove flesh and finely chop the skin). At this point the tagine needs another 10 minutes cooking but if you’re planning to reheat it later, turn the heat off now so it doesn’t overcook. Then gently reheat and simmer for 10 minutes just before serving.
Chermoula is mostly used as a marinade, particularly for fish, in Moroccan cooking but I thought it would make a great sauce, just as I often make a pesto to serve over fish. It’s a wonderfully spicy sauce with hot fresh red chillies, but also fresh tasting with the addition of lemon and fresh coriander. See the recipe where I used it as a marinade for my A Girls Only Valentine Dinner by clicking here.
I bought a lovely Gilt Head Bream from my local fishmonger, Sandys, and got them to fillet it into two portions for me. It only takes a few minutes to cook. Score the skin and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Put a small amount of oil in a pan – just to smear it really – and when it’s hot, add the fish fillets skin side down. Allow to cook until you can see the fish turning white where it is cooked through, around the edge and gradually moving inwards. When it’s almost cooked, flip over and finish off with the skin side on top. I placed it on a plate, spooned a little of the chermoula along the top and put the rest of the sauce in a bowl on the table.
I served the tagine separately too so we could take just as much as we wanted.
It was all very delicious. The chermoula is wonderful with the fish; the vegetable tagine a perfect accompaniment.
Special meals should have a dessert but I wanted something light and easy. I found a recipe in another of Ghillie Basan’s books, Flavours of Morocco, for Fresh Figs with Walnuts and Honey. This was wonderfully simple. All you do is pan-toast some walnuts till aromatic and browning then crush coarsely in a mortar and pestle. Trim off the stalk of a few fresh figs and carefully cut down into quarters but not all the way through, so you can gently open the fig out into a flower shape. Lay the figs on a plate. Drizzle over some runny honey. I used a gorgeous Cretan honey flavoured with thyme and pine that Stavia gave me at Liquid Gold Cave after the interview I did with her (click here). Finally scatter over the walnuts.
I served it with some Total Greek Yogurt on the side. Ghillie says that the Moroccans think figs aid digestion so with our ‘healthy’ honey it was not only a delicious way to end the meal but pretty healthy too!
It was a lovely meal and so nice to cook for Linda who does a lot more (and wonderful) cooking for me when I visit her and George in Spain. But most of all it was great to have a long evening to sit over food and wine and talk with my friend.
What better way to start the week than by heading off to one of my very favourite restaurants – the wonderful A Cena in Twickenham – on a Monday evening for one of their brilliant Regional Dinners. This was the third Regional Dinner I’d been to with Jonathan and Lyndsey and we were all looking forward to food from one of the most exciting regions of Italy for food: Piedmont, or, in Italian, Piemonte. We were joined by my friend Elsa who, being Italian too, knows a thing or two about Italian food. As I discussed with A Cena’s Head Chef Nicola at the end of the evening, there’s no one like an Italian for being precise and knowledgeable about the food of the different regions. Which, we agreed, it something we love.
Piedmont and its capital, Turin, are home to some of the best food and wines in Italy: risotto rice from the Po Valley, white truffles, porcini mushrooms, metre-long grissini, vitello tonnato, salame, zabaione and bagna cauda. Then there are the wines: that king of Italian wines, Barolo; Gavi and Barbera wines. We knew we were in for a treat.
Entering A Cena is such a great experience: sleek sophistication and yet so warm and welcoming too. I was a little early (and anyone who knows me will be laughing at that: I always am!) and was pleased to see owner Tim Healy who brought me a glass of prosecco and I sat at the bar for a while.
Soon my friend Elsa arrived; a few minutes later Lyndsey. Jonathan had been delayed at work but turned up only 15 minutes late, arriving in his leathers, his motorbike parked outside. Well, it was an Italian restaurant so very appropriate. If you’ve ever been to Naples you’ll know what I mean! The restaurant was busy; these Regional Evenings always sell out quickly. We sat at our table and saw the grissini – long, gorgeous breadsticks for us to nibble on as our first glass of wine was brought and we made our choices from the menu.
As usual, there were three courses with matching wines – all for £30 a head. Three of us chose Fettucine al Burro Aramatizzato – Homemade Egg Pasta with Rosemary Butter, Parmesan & White Oil Truffle – for our starters; Elsa chose Bagna Cauda – Hot Anchovy Dip served with vegetables – a true Piedmont classic. Our wine choice was a white wine: Deltetto Roero Arneis ‘San Michele’ 2012. A 100% Arneis grape, this had a wonderful nose of exotic fruit, apples and vanilla with a minerally character and fresh finish. It was delicious.
The tagliatelle was AMAZING. It was truly wonderful: exactly the right al dente bite; the truffle oil adding a glorious richness yet not overdone. Sublime.
Elsa’s bagna cauda was very good too; she gave me a little taste – and I gave her a taste of my tagliatelle. Well that’s what lovers of good food do – share and discuss! We all chose the same main course. There was a great sounding chicken dish – Pollo Bollito – with vegetables and a tarragon sauce, but we all wanted the Beef Braised in ‘Sant Andrea’ Barbera wine with Vegetables and Soft Polenta.
It was magnificent: the rich and delicious red wine sauce, meltingly soft beef and lovely creamy polenta. We drank red wine with it: Vigne Marina Coppi ‘Sant’ Andrea Barbera 2011 – the same wine the meat was cooked in. Bright ruby-red in colour, it had a nose of good intensity with black cherry and strawberries; a complex, rounded wine with a delicious fruit character. (I should add that the wines helpfully came with Tasting Notes which is something else I really love about these evenings.)
There were two desserts to choose from or some Taleggio cheese (one of my favourites) served with honey and walnuts. Three of us went for Pannacotta con Caramello – vanilla cream with orange caramel, while Jonathan chose Budino di Cioccolato – a chocolate pudding with hazelnut cream.
Antonio Carluccio says the Pannacotta from the Piedmont region is the original pannacotta and probably a derivative of the French creme caramel. Thus it was very appropriate to serve this one with the caramel sauce that had a lovely hint of orange.
The chocolate cream was surprisingly light – yes we all tasted Jonathan’s! And very delicious too. We were given a dessert wine to go with it: G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2013. This was a delicate fizz with an apricot and peach character and a clean, fresh finish. I thought it was a delightful ‘alternative’ dessert wine with its soft, mousse-like sparkle – but then I do love fizz!!
I love these dinners and I’m so pleased there are still lots of regions to go. Where next? I asked Justine on the way out, willing to give encouraging ideas like Lazio with its Roman food, Campania and Naples, Sicily … well fortunately one can go on for some time. I can’t wait to find out what’s next but meanwhile we all had a great evening – as we told head chef Nicola as we were leaving. Jonathan thought it was the best regional dinner yet … but really, all the regions of Italy have such wonderful food, and A Cena’s food is always so good, how on earth do you choose!
If you want to know more about A Cena’s Regional Dinners, visit their website and sign up for their e-newsletter: www.acena.co.uk
After a great time at Whisky Birmingham 2014 on Saturday it was lovely to meet the founder of The Birmingham Whisky Club, Amy Seton, the following morning and talk to her about how she came to start the club and her plans for the future. I was interested to know whether the Club’s beginnings came from Amy’s love of fine whisky or her business sense telling her it could be a good commercial enterprise. It seems it was a bit of both: Amy does enjoy whisky and has become very knowledgeable about it – even while she admits she still has much to learn – but she also saw a gap in the market for something like the club in Birmingham.
I also asked Amy how a woman starting a whisky club had been received; had she experienced any overt sexism. She told me there were positive and negatives aspects to this. In the main, she’d caused some curiosity, especially amongst the old school guard of male whisky drinkers. But she was pleased to see – particularly at Whisky Birmingham on Saturday – more and more women getting involved in whisky drinking and learning about the drink. I certainly witnessed this myself, sitting next to a wonderfully friendly and whisky-informed woman, Jazz, in the masterclass I attended, and also being led to my ‘dream token’ choice – a tasting of a special whisky – by a woman. Amy admitted that a positive aspect of her being a woman had been that it had generated a lot of press for the Club and, indeed, she was named one of the five faces in food to watch in 2014 by the Birmingham Post.
Amy has a real passion for whisky itself. She sees and loves it for the wonderful drink that it is (you can tell I’m a whisky drinker too!), but also for the wider qualities it encourages and nurtures. There’s an ‘intellectual curiosity around whisky’ she told me. Serious whisky drinkers are curious about the world, they like to understand things. There’s a slightly geeky aspect to whisky as any serious drinker will want to know about the different distilleries and everything peculiar to a particular brand: what makes the whisky from one distillery different to another, and at the top end, so special. The environment, weather, water and soil are all contributory factors to variations, as are the casks used and bottling, yet it is more than even this. Three distilleries in a small area on a Scottish island can produce quite different and distinctive whiskies and aficionados will be able to easily tell one from another.
Whisky comes with a long and distinguished history. Amy likes the fact that there’s a lot to learn and to discover – hence the intellectual side to whisky. There’s a rich tapestry of stories; there is craftsmanship. There is a mystery around whisky that bonds its fans into a kind of natural club. If you know anyone who is serious about their whisky they won’t have just one for you to try: they’ll have a collection. And they will want to share and get you to try different ones; they’ll want to discuss the benefits of one to another; the smoothness; how peaty it is; whether it would benefit from a dash of water or should be drunk neat. Whisky creates its own club of drinkers, but it is this sense of community that Amy has captured in The Birmingham Whisky Club. There’s no other club in the country quite like it. She told me that there are whisky tasting companies that organise tasting events nationwide, but because they are formulaic going to one in one place will be much like going to one in another part of the country. However, the thing that’s different about the Birmingham club is it’s a local club that makes the most of local expert knowledge – even if outside experts are sometimes brought in for events. The club is run from a local base, furthering the sense of community. Thus at the festival yesterday there were local retailers there; local cheese and chocolate producers came to discuss the matching of whiskies with their products; local restaurants came to provide food.
This all fits with Amy’s other reason for wanting to start the club. Not just to connect to all the passion and curiosity that surrounds whisky, but to promote Birmingham. Having lived in Birmingham for 12 years, Amy was a little tired of people running it down. She spoke enthusiastically about the regeneration of Birmingham in recent years with things like the NEC, and that it’s now seen as a foodie destination, indeed it was voted food capital of Britain by Olive magazine in 2011. And the Michelin editor praised the Birmingham food scene last year too, saying it was ‘world class’. I could understand Amy’s feelings. When my daughter Nicola moved to Birmingham five years ago, some of my London friends were incredulous: Birmingham!!! they stuttered, as if it was the most awful place anyone could choose to live. But thankfully, our nation is beginning to understand – especially with people like Amy promoting it – that Birmingham is a city rich in culture and a fantastic place to both live and visit.
The success of The Birmingham Whisky Club – Saturday’s festival was sold out – has meant that Amy has had to put on hold the next phase of her business plan, but she’s now moving ahead with other things. She’s sees the Club as a kind of fabric that could be introduced to other cities, not in a formulaic way, but using local talent and knowledge in the same way as she has done in Birmingham, so each is unique. But with her background in event management she wants to encourage more big brands to Birmingham and promote other foods and drinks.
Meanwhile, she is a planning a ‘dram fine summer’ later this year with film evenings with a whisky connection; food matching with different cuisines; day trips to whisky distilleries; classes and a whole range of other whisky-based activities. So, if you love whisky, don’t be left out. Visit the Club’s website and sign up to receive their latest news: www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk - or follow it on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheBirminghamWhisky Club
I’ve been following The Birmingham Whisky Club’s events for some time but today was the first time I’d managed to get along to one – mainly due to it requiring a two-hour drive up the M40. The Club was started by Amy Seton, a friend of my daughter’s; hence my coming to hear of it. It’s grown into a big operation with regular events and today’s Festival was sold out with about 380 people attending.
The venue was packed with people and stalls bringing together major distilleries and brand owners from all over the world – including Japan, which is now recognised as producing some great whisky (even if maybe the Scots might not agree!). For an entry fee of £25 this was a must-go-to event for all lovers and aficionados of whisky. With over 200 whiskies to choose from, including some exceptionally fine and rare ones, this was a fantastic opportunity to expand one’s knowledge and experience something different to one’s normal dram. On arrival you had to pay a £5 deposit for a whisky glass and were given a small bottle of water (Scottish, of course) so you could swill your glass clean between tastings. You were also given a ‘dream token’ that gave you a tasting of an extra special whisky of your choice. I headed first to a stall with BenRiach and GlenDronach whiskies.
The first whisky I tasted was an 18 Years Aged GlenDronach, Allardice, which had been matured in premium oloroso sherry casks. It was quite sweet, fruity and spicy for a whisky but I really liked it. Later I tried the 16 years aged classic Speyside BenRiach, which was beautifully smooth. While at this stall a woman came and talked to the stall holder about their ‘dream token’ choice, a Glenglassaugh (that retails around £275) and how amazing it was, so I decided to go with that as my choice and it was really wonderful.
There were loads of stalls and whiskies to choose from but I did purposely limit my choice. We’d arrived at midday and there’s only so much whisky I can happily consume during the day! I really love whisky – a love learned from my father who had a large collection of single malts – but I rarely drink spirits these days so had to pace myself. But for the more practised drinker this was whisky heaven. Stalls like Hard to Find Whisky were offering tastes of some whiskies you wouldn’t easily find elsewhere.
There were a number of Masterclasses going on, for a extra £15 fee, with things like whisky and cheese matching, a beginners’ guide to whisky, and a cigar and whisky masterclass. I was given a ticket (as a blogger) to the Whisky and Chocolate Matching Masterclass. Now this is a pairing that doesn’t immediately spring to mind yet proved a wonderfully surprising and delightful one.
We were given three whiskies ranging from a smooth classic single malt to one heavy on peat (which I’m not so keen on) and three different chocolates – all coming from Kneals Chocolates, a local artisan chocolate maker. We were also given some raw chocolate to taste (in the pot in photo above) that only served to prove that chocolate really does need some sugar! Raw, it’s not very pleasant. The first whisky – a complex and delicious blend – came with some Ghana chocolate that had a caramel flavour and raisin nose. The second whisky from Speyside didn’t have a strong nose but a full and good flavour which matched a 66% cocoa chocolate that had a passion fruit taste. The final peaty whisky from Taliskers came with a fantastic salty chocolate with butterscotch crunch and we were told how well dark chocolate and salt match. It was really interesting to learn how these whiskies and chocolates matched and complemented each other.
By the time this masterclass ended, I’d had rather a lot of whisky and nothing other than chocolate to eat. My daughter (who is not a whisky drinker and therefore completely sober) led me to Pop-Up Dosa, a fantastic Kerala cuisine street food stall, also run by some friends of hers. Nicola has been telling me for ages how great they are so I was really pleased to have an opportunity to try their food.
Here we chose a Masala Dosa (a dosa is a kind of pancake) which came with a smoky lentil sauce, a fresh coconut, chilli, lime, coriander and mint chutney and a vegetable curry.
It was all delicious and absolutely perfect on a sunny yet cold day in the courtyard. We were also given an extra dish of a kind of fishcake made with tapioca rather than potato to try and that was fabulous.
Next up whisky-wise was a special bloggers’ event. We met in a room – about a dozen of us – and were given a very special bottle of Glen Moray to taste.
This 1960 vintage is quite rare – No.534 of a limited edition – and retails at about a staggering £549 a bottle.
The was one very special dram! It really was quite smooth and wonderful and I simply had to finish my taste. Yet I also have to say that I’m not sure I could bring myself to spend that much on a bottle of whisky. But then I enjoy whisky but am not an aficionado. However, as you can see below, I certainly enjoyed my wee dram and it definitely put a smile on my face!!
What a fantastic event it was. We left after about 3 hours but it was going on well into the evening. This was the second year the festival had run and it’s set to become a regular annual event, especially after its sell-out success this year. I’m sure I’ll want to go again next year and while I have the luck to have a daughter living in Birmingham to stay with, it’s really worth any serious whisky lover heading to Birmingham specially for the event. You’ll have a whole day of tasting fabulous, special and rare whiskies; some great food to eat alongside it, and it’s a really fun event. There was a good, friendly buzz and everyone was enjoying themselves. I found people were willing to talk and share as you stood at a stall tasting so it was a great social outing too.
To find out more and about other events, check out www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk
This is another recipe that came about by chance and had me searching the internet – I had no luck finding a recipe for Tenerina cake in my books, despite having over 200 cookery books on my shelves! A couple of weeks ago my daughter-in-law had a birthday party at Ruben’s Refettorio and they had made a wonderful chocolate cake for her that was brought out after we’d eaten our pizzas, complete with lit candle for her to blow out and wish upon. The cake was wonderful – made by Igor’s wife, Lucy – and I’d never tasted such a light and delicate and fabulously chocolatey cake. Then a day or two later, my friend Lucia told me she’d been at .IT Wine Bar the previous evening and they’d made a Tenerina cake. Not knowing what this was, I searched the internet and pretty quickly decided this was the sort of cake we’d had at Ruben’s. I was keen to try making it myself.
A Torta Tenerina comes from Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna in the north of Italy. It was invented in 1900 for King Vittorio Emanuele III’s wife, Elena. It’s a wonderful soft cake: a light crust on the outside and incredibly light – and tender – within. Tenerina comes from the Italian word tenero, meaning tender; the -ina ending making it ‘very’ tender. It’s similar to a very light chocolate brownie – but I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a brownie this light and soft.
It’s simple to make: melt 200g dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, taking care to not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. When it has melted, slowly 125g butter which you’ve cut into pieces, and stir to melt the butter and combine. Leave to cool.
Now beat together 2 egg yolks with 100g caster sugar until thick and pale. Add the chocolate and butter mixture along with 1 tablespoon plain flour, beating well.
Whisk 2 egg whites with a pinch of salt until you reach the stiff peak stage. Add this to the chocolate mixture spoonful by spoonful, very carefully mixing in with a cutting motion to retain as much air as you can. Pour the mixture into a prepared 24cm cake tin which you’ve greased and lined the bottom of with parchment paper. Put the cake into a 180C/160 Fan oven for 25-30 minutes.
When it’s done it will have risen slightly – it’s quite a shallow cake – and there should be a slight crust but it will still feel wobbly. Turn the oven off and leave the cake in it, with the door ajar, to cool. Then remove it and transfer to a rack. Dust over some icing sugar and transfer to a plate.
I served it with a little creme fraiche and a few raspberries.
The cake was delicious and its delicacy makes it really special. It’s very rich and quite sweet so I liked having the slightly tart creme fraiche and raspberries to cut through the richness a bit. I was really pleased with my first attempt but felt I’d overcooked it slightly by about 5 minutes. When I checked it at 25 minutes it still seemed so wobbly still I didn’t think it was done and put the timer on for another 10 minutes. But actually, it was probably OK and left to cool in the oven would have be fine once served. Thus, although it was very light and very good it wasn’t quite as soft as I remember Lucy’s. But then I also have the perfect excuse to make it again soon in my search for perfection!!
Some of the best things in life appear to happen by chance. Though some would say there’s no such thing as chance and it was all meant to be. But something out of the ordinary was definitely going on last Sunday for I unusually headed a little further down the riverside at Richmond than I normally do. I was with Rachael, waiting to meet up with Nicola, and she wanted to see the riverside. I remembered that I’d been told of a wonderful potter on the riverside by Tinello – who have some of Christina Gascoigne‘s beautiful plates and dishes in their restaurant. I suggested we took a look. And as we moved along the river from Richmond bridge, past The White Cross pub to a series of caves where I knew the pottery was, we passed Liquid Gold Cave and couldn’t resist going in.
Wow! It was an Aladdin’s cave of nature’s treasures that reminded me so much of Yiannis’s cave in Kardamyli. There were bottles of wonderful olive oil, packets of herbs promising natural remedies, gorgeous honey flavoured with thyme and pine; there were soaps and creams, teas and olives. We soon got talking to Dr Stavia Blunt about the shop and Liquid Gold Products. I was so intrigued and excited by it all, I asked if I could return at a quieter time (than a sunny Sunday afternoon!) to talk to her about what she does.
By happy chance the sun was making its way through a cloudy sky this afternoon to bring brightness to the world as I crossed Richmond bridge to head to Liquid Gold Cave. The cave is pretty much right in the middle of the photo above, but for a closer look:
What a fantastic location. It was so nice to see Stavia again and she made me some tea and we sat down to talk. Stavia’s background to setting up Liquid Gold is very interesting. She worked as a doctor and then consultant neurologist for 20 years but, she told me, became increasingly disillusioned by the lack of an holistic approach in traditional medicine. People were coming to see her far down the path of disease and she felt that an earlier intervention with nutrition and lifestyle changes could have made a difference. More and more she wanted to get away from the use of drugs where possible (although she’s aware they are sometimes necessary) and look at the importance of things like diet, sleep and exercise. She moved from the NHS to private work and found a lot of people were being referred to her – particularly women – with things like chronic fatigue and she realised that a lot of disease was related in a complex way to lifestyle. She wanted to move into doing something health-based and holistic that reached a large number of people and took a big leap and gave up medicine completely.
Stavia is half Greek and was intrigued to find out more about the ‘healthy Mediterranean diet’. She realised that it was not just about what people ate but their lifestyle too: living with the rhythm of life and seasons, the light of the day. She studied the work of the renowned American scientist Ancel Keyes who studied the effect of diet on health. His work narrowed the healthy Mediterranean diet down to Crete being the most healthy place to live. And by more chance – you see how ‘chance’ works! – Stavia’s Greek teacher, Alex Lazou, is half Cretan. Together they talked through a plan to bring olive oil and other Cretan products to UK and with Alex’s connections in Crete, Stavia’s research and both women’s passion for their subject, Liquid Gold Products was born.
I was keen to find out whether Liquid Gold Products was some large company that Stavia worked for when I arrived, but was delighted to discover it involves just her and Alex and a small number of dedicated people whose help they’ve enlisted. I got totally caught up in Stavia’s enthusiasm. Olive oil is the key to what they’re doing and the shop is named after Homer’s liquid gold in The Odyssey. Odysseus was given olive oil to bathe in after his shipwreck.
Stavia told me the preparation of olive oil – the whole process from picking the olives to pressing and bottling – is very important to its final quality and health benefits. Liquid Gold’s olive oils are high quality with very low acidity and high in polyphenols and bursting with antioxidants. Apparently a lot of Greek olive oil goes to Italy to be re-labelled and Stavia wanted to bring this ‘gold’ from Crete direct to UK. Provenance is important to them; making sure that the oil is Fair Trade and the people who grow the trees and produce the olives get the money they should. I asked Stavia about the controversial issue of whether you can cook with olive oil and she said yes, definitely, but it should be a good quality EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). She told me it has a higher flash point than any other oil apart from avocado. They are also now working with a guy in the Peloponnese who has just been awarded the first Fair Trade certification for olive oil in Europe. Stavia also works closely with Charles Quest-Ritson who was the first Englishman to qualify as an official olive taster in accordance with EU Standards at the International Organisation for Olive Oil (ONAOO). He’s written articles and books and his palate is so good that Stavia told me a story of him tasting some oil that had been sent to her to sample and telling her (correctly as it turned out) that it was the previous year’s harvest, not the new one. They’ll be running a workshop about spotting fake oils and identifying exceptional ones in May (contact Stavia via www.liquidgoldproducts.co.uk).
Apart from the oil, there are packets of wonderful herbs. Stavia told me how important herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme were for health.
Their honeys are raw and unprocessed and have a natural antibacterial activity.
There are soaps and creams and other natural beauty products.
It’s a wonderful shop and not only can you get the very best products there, but you can get the very best advice from Stavia about what to use and what may help you.
There are great things to buy for yourself but lovely things for gifts too. And a bonus is that it’s also just one of the prettiest parts of London and the Thames to go wandering!
It just turned out that way. My daughter Nicola and her partner Rachael were coming down from Birmingham on Friday afternoon for the weekend to celebrate my daughter-in-law Lyndsey’s birthday tonight (Saturday) – a pizza party at Ruben’s Refettorio. With restaurants full of couples eating meals marked-up for Valentine’s Day (even M&S’s usual 2 Eat in for £10 had risen to £20), it was decided we were staying in and I was cook. Then I invited Lyndsey as my son was away and she brought friend Liz. So it turned into friends and family sharing love, good humour, good conversation – and a glass or two of champagne!
To get into the spirit I’d bought heart-shaped candles and paper napkins with hearts on them. Nicola came bearing real gifts for us, wrapped up in pretty paper with cards. They were opened to reveal wonderful chocolates.
We began with champagne – of course! – and an eclectic mix of starters that I’d bought: a fantastic large buffalo mozzarella from Sapori TW1 with some sweet cherry tomatoes, some sushi-style salmon from Waitrose; salted almonds, habas fritas, taralli from Corto Deli, vinci olives from Carluccio’s and a gorgeous baguette from Paul. For a food blogger who normally likes to keep to one ‘theme’ throughout a meal, i.e., all Italian, or French, or Moroccan or whatever, I was obviously in free spirit mode and willing to go wherever my fancy took me. The main course though was definitely all Moroccan: two tagines – Aubergine & Tomato, that I’ve made before (click here) and a fish tagine that I hadn’t tried before. So here is the recipe:
Fish Tagine with Preserved Lemon & Mint
I found the recipe for this gorgeous fish tagine in Ghillie Basan’s Tagines & Couscous. I loved the sound of marinating the fish pieces in a spicy chermoula for a couple of hours before cooking the tagine. And making the chermoula is where the recipe begins. Pound 2 garlic cloves, 1 red chilli seeded and chopped and 1 teaspoon sea salt in a mortar and pestle until you have a coarse paste. Now add the leaves of a small bunch of coriander and pound until that is mixed in. Add a pinch of saffron, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and then mix it all together with 4 tablespoons olive oil and the juice of 1 lemon.
I bought 1 whole fillet of cod from Sandy’s fishmonger in Twickenham weighing almost 1kg, but any firm white fish will do. Cut it into largish chunks and then add all but 2 tablespoons of the chermoula and mix well (save the 2 tablespoons for later). Cover the dish and refrigerate for 2 hours.
To make the sauce to cook the fish in, gently fry 1 finely chopped red onion, 2 finely chopped carrots and 2 finely chopped celery sticks in 2-3 tablespoons oil. When they are softened, add 1 preserved lemon, finely chopped, with the 2 tablespoons of chermoula you saved. Add 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes and stir well. Cook gently for 10 minutes then add 150ml white white and 150ml water. Bring to a boil and then gently simmer for about 10-15 minutes.
At this point you could turn the sauce off – as I did – and save the last-minute cooking of the fish until you want to eat. Toss the marinated fish in the sauce and cook gently for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add a handful of chopped fresh mint. I put both tagines on the table for people to help themselves with a bowl of couscous and a green salad.
The aubergine tagine is one of my favourite dishes but this ‘new’ fish tagine had a wonderful flavour and was a great hit with everyone. I’d made two tagines because Rachael is vegetarian – but she occasionally eats fish and tried the fish tagine too and even had seconds!
Our meal ended with Orange & Polenta Cake served with some creme fraiche and little heart-shaped chocolates.
Then I made a big pot of coffee and we ate some of the chocolates Nicola had bought with it. It had been a great evening and Valentine’s Day had provided a good excuse for a little extra indulgence, which was appreciated by all!