Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christmas gifts for foodies...

If you’re looking for a gift for a food-lover/yourself, then check out my list of top foodie presents.  I would get almost as much pleasure from giving these gifts as receiving them.

 1. EXCELLENT BROWNIES

Is an average brownie better than none at all?  Not according to Sophie in Pear-Shaped and I heartily concur - so thank goodness for Blue BasilBrownies, a fabulous brownie maker based in Oxfordshire. They sell award-winning mail-order brownies, all wrapped up and delivered straight to your door in a box tied with string, and an old fashioned luggage tag - a perfect gift for any serious brownie lover. 
Their regular flavours are marvellous (Chockwork orange, anyone?) but at Christmas they surpass themselves.  My favourite is Rudolph’s Rumnut – an intense combo of dark rum, chocolate, brazil nuts and Christmas spices – in fudgy, smooth brownie format.   
It’s a winning combo, as is Coffee and Irish Cream, Cranberry and White Chocolate, Toasted Almond and Amaretto and the ultra gingery Dark Chocolate and Ginger. 

Order before 10am on Friday 19th December for delivery on Monday 22nd.


2. POSH OLIVE OIL

In one of my many previous lives I was an olive oil taster.  When I’d recovered from drinking an awful lot of oil (correct - not fun – but then again neither is drinking fish sauce neat, but that’s a whole other story) I came to the conclusion that for day to day use any regular high-street branded extra-virgin olive oil is good enough.  But for special occasions even a tiny drizzle of great olive oil can elevate a dish.  My favourite is this Sicilian oil from Planeta.
It’s so fruity and fresh and clean, you could actually drink it quite happily without gagging.  Every time I buy it, it seems to have gone up in price.  (I only treat myself to a bottle twice a year, and even then I feel guilty.  Still, it’s about the price of a cinema ticket in central London, and I’d argue offers more pleasure than many a Richard Curtis movie.)

Available at Carluccio's, nationwide.


3     ANYTHING FROM BREAD AHEAD IN BOROUGH MARKET

To say I’m mildly obsessed with Bread Ahead’s custard doughnuts would be an understatement.  
In fact they star in my new book, The Dish (out next year, hurrah – but you can pre-order on Amazon today…) But it’s not just about the doughnuts - frankly these guys can do no wrong.  Check out these beautiful breads!
For Christmas, swing by their stand in Borough market and pick up some mince pies - made to master baker Justin Gellatly's mum's recipe.  

They are entirely delicious: thick, crisp pastry that you almost can't tell is sweet until your teeth hit the magical sparkle of crunchy demerara on top.
And then the filling is a luscious, not too sweet, not too sharp mincemeat - perfectly in balance with its surroundings.  (Though I'd eat these pies even if they had air in them, the pastry is that good.)


And if you can’t make it down to Borough, you could always buy Justin's brilliant book, Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding - or better yet, buy your loved one vouchers for Bread Ahead's Bakery School so they can learn to be a master baker and make you wonderful treats such as doughnuts and bread and croissants and pizzas all year round.


      4. CHEESE FROM NEAL'S YARD


I once was so in love with a man I bought him almost half of Neal’s Yard as part of his Christmas present.  (Well, a good £30 worth of lovely Stichleton which it turns out was far more than he deserved.  He gave me a necklace that came from a cracker, then dumped me on Boxing Day.  Still, the moral of that story is – buy yourself nice cheese / don’t date mean men).
Neal's Yard Covent Garden and Borough stores are mini-temples to cheese, where everything looks beautiful - for example, look at these Cheddars and then tell me the British aren't the best cheesemakers in the world.
More importantly, every cheese tastes amazing.  Plus staff are super-knowledgeable and friendly and positively encourage you to try before you buy.
You can pre-order or buy for delivery on their website, or get in line at a store, along with a lot of fellow cheese-lovers, right through until 2pm on Christmas Eve.

5. FORTNUM & MASON'S CHOCOLOSSUS BISCUITS

If I were rich, I'd buy one of everything in Fortnum & Mason's foodhall.  Seriously, what is not to love about angry chocolate owl?

Or cutesy snowman?
A debonair bear?
Or a daily sponge pudding?
Cocktail chocolates?  Obvs.
Clearly a hamper wouldn't go amiss either...
But realistically, I can only buy one thing - and that one thing has to be under £20 - so therefore it has to be the greatest biscuit of all time, the heavyweight champion of chocolate, ladies and gentleman, open your mouths, wide, for THE CHOCOLOSSUS!
Modelled here by my lovely friend Lexie, who is herself six feet tall - so that should give you an idea of the scale of the thing!  It is an epic, super sized macadamia biscuit, dipped in ultra thick dark chocolate.
The Chocolossus is just so on the borderline of being almost too chocolatey, if such a thing were ever possible.
It is FULL ON, UBER chocolatey – you need a cup of tea with one, if you go for two, in my experience you then need a little lie down, but what is Christmas for, if not over-eating and sleeping?

They're not cheap - but I've found you generally get what you pay for in this world - and if you can't spoil the ones you love (that includes you) at this time of year, then really, what's the point?

Happy Shopping!




Thursday, 20 November 2014

My ideal Christmas dinner party...

Christmas is that time of year when dreams can come true, apparently.  So I thought I’d write down my Dream Christmas Dinner Party Guest List, in case Santa is taking note.  I know I haven’t behaved perfectly this year, but perhaps not as imperfectly as some (Tesco finance department, anyone?)

I only have seven chairs in my flat, two of which are wont to break if someone heavy sits on them – so I can’t invite my family (not because they’re too heavy but because there aren’t enough chairs – and besides, the Newmans have spent many a Christmas together.)

Instead, here’s my list of guests for the perfect Christmas celebration: 

1.     My friend, masterchef Marianne Lumb, who could cook for us.  She now runs her own restaurant in West London, but even cheese on toast made by Marianne tastes better than a lot of things I’ve eaten in restaurants this year.  
2.     Jamie Dornan, for obvious reasons – as long as he promises to leave his balaclava at home.

3.     Michael Fassbender – Eye Candy part II.  Well it’s my dream Christmas so I’m allowed more than one piece of Eye Candy, as well as real candy.

4.     Tina Fey – who manages to do funny and feminist better than anyone.
5.     George R R Martin – I would get him drunk on my friend Anna Potts’s homemade Sloe Gin - and force him to tell me the secrets of what’s in store for all my favourite Game of Thrones characters.
6.     Justin Gellatly of Bread Ahead – creator of the most extraordinary doughnuts in the world – and author of my favourite cookbook, and favourite titled book of 2014 – Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding.
7.     Gillian Anderson – my ex adores her and I used to get a bit jealous about that.  But then I saw her in Streetcar earlier this year and now I bang on about how amazing and talented and luminously beautiful she is far more than he ever did.

That sounds like a pretty fun party, right?  I’m willing to stand for the duration of the meal if it means I can invite all seven - though if Jamie or Michael wanted me to sit on their laps at any point in the festivities, I suppose that would be ok too. 

A Pear Shaped Christmas...

My first proper job was working in an advertising agency, Bates Dorland, on the Woolworths Christmas campaign.  This was in the late ‘90s, the year Keith the Alien starred in our campaign.  (The fact Bates Dorland and Woolworths both subsequently went out of business is not my fault – honestly, it isn’t.  I wouldn’t even blame Keith – he was endearing, in his own way, though no John Lewis penguin.)

But right from the start, my choice of day job seems to have messed with my Christmases.  Working on Christmas every day of the year might seem like a great idea – like eating chocolate at every meal – but inevitably you sicken of it far quicker than you’d think.

The last job I had, before giving up day jobs altogether, was the anti-Christmas job of all anti-Christmas jobs: looking after turkeys for a supermarket in the run up to Christmas.  I shall spare you the details  – I don’t wish to ruin your Christmas dinner too – but suffice to say: not a single bite of turkey has passed my lips since.

So anyway – there are lots of lovely, romantic Christmas short stories out there on the internet for you to download and enjoy.  As the title might suggest,  A Pear-Shaped Christmas is not really one of them.  Nonetheless I hope it brings you a small slice of festive cheer, and an idea of what really goes on behind the scenes in advertising.


Happy Turducken!


x

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

How on earth do French women not get fat?

One of my favourite things about writing books is that I can think of things I'd really like to do in real life and then make my characters do them - and I get to go along for the ride.  For example, in my third novel, The Dish (just being finished now, out in spring 2015, hurrah!) - the heroine, food critic Laura Parker, takes herself off to Paris for a month to research the perfect croissant.  So off I went for research - only for 12 hours sadly... And I can now report, unequivocally that there are some very fine baked goods in Paris...  but some of the very best can be found at Du Pain et Des Ideeés.
It's in the rather lovely, super-hipster Canal St Martin area


a fifteen minute walk from Gare Du Nord, tucked off a side street from the main canal.  Inside it is fairy-tale pretty...


But let's be honest - it's really never about the decor, is it?
It's about a simple croissant...
Elevated to a thing of beauty - golden, paper thin, super crispy flaky exterior, lush, ultra-buttery, multi-layered insides...
and then a chocolate pistachio swirl, warm from the oven...
Bad photo, I know - but try to imagine melting chocolate, soft, light, buttery pastry and creamy, mild, pistachios swirled throughout, being held warm in your hand, then rammed, gracefully into your mouth...
The bakery does other, fabulous flavoured swirls - praline, rum and raisin, lemon and nougat...  Also a host of other extraordinary treats - rosewater croissants, chocolate bread, amazing regular bread, etc....

Now Paris is obviously about more than just croissants.  It is also about les sandwiches...so one of the other things on my hit list for Laura was finding a place where she might go to for lunch - somewhere not necessarily obvious, but brilliant nonetheless...

Le Marais is probably my favourite area of the city - it's less snobby than other parts, has exceptional falafel, and is home to a vibrant gay and Jewish community.  It also has a lively food market, Le Marcheé des Enfants Rouges, which is home to many delicious smelling lunchtime treats - but most importantly - this man:


His name is Alain, he's on facebook and stuff...


He basically makes sandwiches and crepes, but, like, he is a Master.  I've put a character inspired by him in The Dish and called him Le Bowski - because basically this gentleman is a dude of the highest order.
He takes rather a long time to make the food

but this is because the man does not cut corners

He is a craftsman

very generous with his fillings (loads and loads of avocado and cheese).

And he's also a performer...
and an artist...

and also a dancer though I didn't get a photo of him dancing

but anyway, the point is, the end result is totally worth the wait (be warned: 56 minutes for a sandwich, but like I say -  WORTH IT!)

Phew...

So yes, waiting for that sandwich and watching Alain at work was possibly the happiest 56 minute wait for a cheese sarnie that I've ever had.

What else did I do on my day trip... Ah yes, found the only Parisian woman with cellulite...
She does not look dissimilar to me, apart from the bird poop on her head.  She lives in this beautiful park.
Wherein also lives this statue, who seems to be saying: Oui, naturellement Paris is superior to all other cities, and that is why j'habite ici, innit:

But, like, he has got a point because this is a city where if you want stuffed pasta, you can go and browse these stuffed pastas - 14 types, including Tortelloni stuffed with Ossobucco, or with four Provencal vegetables...

Or if you fancy a strawberry tart, you can choose one of these beauties...
Or if you just want some asparagus with a buttery Mousseline sauce (Hollandaise + cream...)
and some decent bread
and some sort of auberginey deliciousness


and some wine, because really you haven't had enough treats for one day - then no one will judge you or think you're greedy.  Anyway, like I said, it was all in the name of research.