Monday, 24 October 2011

Spiced apple chutney

You might have a great pile of apples and are wondering what to do with them. Well, you could do a lot worse than stockpile some jars of this delicious spiced chutney. Home-made chutney is a great staple for the larder and is more useful than you might think. This spiced apple chutney goes brilliantly with sharp, mature cheddar and other hard cheeses. It's also a bold accompaniment to coarse, rustic pâté, sausage and mash, hearty pies. Alternatively, try stirring it into casseroles for a bit of extra oomph. This recipe is based on one that appears in Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess.

Spiced apple chutney (this quantity makes about a litre)
500g apples
1 medium onion
2 bird's-eye chillies
250g brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground allspice (or a mixture of nutmeg and cinnamon)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
half a teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 heaped tablespoon chopped or grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
350ml cider vinegar

Peel and roughly chop the apples – you might need to pick them over first to remove any badly bruised flesh (ours came from my parents' garden in Hertfordshire). Chop the onion. Seed the chillies and chop finely. Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil.

Cook over a medium heat for 40 minutes or so, until the mixture thickens. Spoon into sterilised jars. Try to wait a few weeks before using as it needs time to mellow, otherwise, it will taste too acidic and vinegary.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Guilty pleasures: Butterkist Toffee Popcorn

I was at the cinema earlier this week and one of my friends had bought some Butterkist Toffee Popcorn. God it was good. I can't remember the last time I had it, but crunching through the toffee coating into the soft mallowy popcorn instantly reminded what a fabulously guilty pleasure it is. I know that popcorn has come back into vogue. I've had some rather smart smoky bacon popcorn at Texture restaurant and there are lots more examples of 'gourmet' popcorn, but, I have to say, good old Butterkist takes some beating (although this fancier – salted caramel version from Joe & Seph's at Selfridges looks tempting, too). Empty calories don't get much naughtier than this.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

French food markets: Cap Ferret

I'm easily pleased on holiday. Point me in the direction of a food market and I'll happily amuse myself strolling around gazing, salivating and taking photographs. This summer we spent part of our holiday with friends in Cap Ferret on the Atlantic coast in France where we enjoyed plenty of mouthwatering seasonal produce and local delicacies.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Collioure: gorgeous place, great wines

Collioure is a gorgeous place. It's an old French fishing port close to the Spanish border on a craggy stretch of coastline where the Pyrenean mountains tumble into the Mediterranean. Historically it's more famous for its anchovies than for wine, although the spectacular terraced vineyards that overlook the town have produced wine for centuries. A large, but declining proportion of this is bottled as Banyuls AOC (its southerly neighbour). Whereas Banyuls is a sweet port-like fortified wine, and one of the few wines that's reliably good with chocolate, Collioure AOC produces supple flavoursome red and white dry unfortified wines, often with a distinctive saline tang. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre perform beautifully here, being well suited to warm, coastal locations. Whites are drawn from a broad palette of grapes including Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Marsanne, Rousanne and Vermentino. I'm rather partial to Collioure as we regularly spend holidays in this part of France. (Apparently, Brigitte Bardot seriously considered Collioure before settling on St Tropez as her holiday retreat. That decision was fine by us – it keeps this generally overlooked corner of France within our budget.)

I am often drawn to quirky wines and particularly like Collioure Blanc. We bought this artistically labelled bottle on holiday in the summer. I admit I do like the picture on the label – well, the wine is called Cuvée des Peintres – and, at about 8 Euros, it was quite a reasonably priced example.

It was surprisingly good with complex layers of flavour: tropical fruit, savoury and nutty, with a powerful underlying saline minerality. Impressive stuff from the local Cave de l'Abbé Rous co-operative and memorably good with our recent butternut squash risotto with chorizo and sage.

The Wine Society currently stocks some great examples of this style of wine both from Collioure and from the broader region which are labelled Côtes du Roussillon or Vins de Pays des Côtes Catalanes. Expect to pay in excess of £10 or £15 for these and £23 for Domaine de la Rectorie Collioure Blanc l'Argile 2010. However, Sainsbury's are currently stocking a Languedoc Blanc in their reliable Taste the Difference range. It's made from a similar blend of grapes (in this case Grenache, Marsanne and Vermentino) and is a big, satisfying, complex wine that, at £7.99, really punches above its weight (and is selling well – the big Camden branch had sold out when I was there last week).

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Galvin at Windows

A few weeks ago I had a call from a friend who was between jobs, suggesting a girls' lunch as a special treat. I've always been a huge fan of the set lunch at Le Gavroche, but it was too late to secure a booking there, however, scanning through places with a sense of occasion and luxury, Galvin at Windows (on the 28th floor of the Hilton on Park Lane) looked just the ticket for some midweek glamour.

Given that we both had school runs later that afternoon, we met for an early lunch and, thankfully, the skies were clear, so the views were spectacular. We settled on the menu du jour (two courses for £25, three courses for £29) and the accompanying flight of two glasses of wine for £9. They also offer a fuller set lunch deal of three courses with half a bottle of wine, water and coffee for £45 per person (on par with the set lunch at Le Gavroche). There were three choices for each course: for starter I was really tempted by the deliciously seasonal sounding poached breast of wood pigeon, pine nut purée, beetroot and elderberry jus. My friend had grilled mackerel, mackerel brandade, pickled cucumber and tomato dressing.

The keenly priced set menu wine selection included several impressive names, spanning the world and offering a broad range of styles. We enjoyed discussing the wines with enthusiastic and knowledgeable sommelier, Ashraf Saleh who had just visited Bordeaux. The impressive full main wine list includes a tempting selection of Champagne and sparkling wine (given that it's an ideal venue for celebrations), many wines by the glass and even some natural wines.

I was drawn to the rosé, Terra Alta Más Amor Rosado (Cataluña) by Christophe Brunet and Franck Massard (who met while working at Torres in Spain – and who I liaised with closely while I was the company's PR consultant). This was great with my pigeon, its spicy red fruit complimenting the sweetly gamey meat, beetroot and berries. It was also good with the flavoursome mackerel and salty brandade.

My friend was skipping wine with her main course, but I fancied some red with my slow cooked pork belly with puy lentils, swiss chard and clams. The Little Yering Pinot Noir struck me as the best choice – supple and fresh, but the sommelier also poured a small glass of Guigal Côtes du Rhône which worked well, too, with a little more earthiness and spice. The pork was meltingly tender and the clams provided a tasty contrast – a fulfilling, complete dish. My friend's steamed fillet of plaice, caper and raisin purée, romanesco and jus Véronique was delicate and subtly flavoured, the foam adding an appropriate touch of glamour. A perfect light lunch dish.

These were all excellent dishes with a lovely seasonal feel, but my only criticism is that the portions were limited. I felt as though I could have devoured everything in the bat of a heavily mascara'd eyelid. Consequently, we had plenty of room for dessert – again, beautifully judged, delicious dishes. We shared spiced honey glazed black fig, goat cheese Bavarian cream with pain d'épices ice cream and carrot cake, caramelised walnut purée, lime and coriander sherbet. The sommelier also kindly treated us to glasses of sparkling dessert wine to round off our lunch.

The goat cheese cream was a welcome tangy contrast to the decadently sweet fig and the lime and coriander sherbet was fresh and palate cleansing alongside the light-as-a-feather carrot cake. There was another glamorous touch with the delicately flavoured carrot foam. The Ice Cuvée was a light and perfumed and made a very pretty accompaniment.

We concluded our lunch with fresh mint tea, chocolates and home-made marshmallows while chatting to general manager, Fred Sirieix, before a quick tour behind the scenes through the kitchen and onto the staff balcony (see opening picture). We felt thoroughly spoilt and it was a great end to an already memorable lunch. We headed off on our respective school runs, me clutching a goodie bag of marshmallows which my daughter and friends were treated to in the park. Lucky girls!

Galvin at Windows
The Hilton Hotel
22 Park Lane
London W1K 1BE
Tel 020 7208 4021