Irish Lady at Bari Tea

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A beautiful cup of Irish Lady, one of the guest teas at Bari Tea in Alnwick.
This is a very unusual black tea with floral hints. It’s amazingly fruity and full of flavour. Perfect for a quiet afternoon with a book and feet up.

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Whistling Frog Cafe – Catlins, NZ

Oh Boy.

The Whistling Frog Cafe.

This was a find and a half. We knew it was there but we weren’t expecting much. We went on the wettest day we spent in New Zealand. It also happened to be the day we were doing the most walking. We were soaked through. So wet that our trousers were clinging to our legs, our waterproofs were almost useless by 11am and my ‘water resistant’ hat took two days to dry out.

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We were walking in rainforest. We expected rain. We hadn’t expected the best pecan pie we’d ever eaten. But we got that too.

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When we checked into the ferry to cross over to the South Island from Wellington, the lovely lady who was taking our bags told us that she was thrilled we were both spending so long exploring and that we were going right to the Southest of the South. She was from the area and was tired of people going no further South than Queenstown. The Catlins were amazing, things went wrong, we stayed in some very unusual places but it was so beautiful we didn’t care.

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I feel a little bad that all we tried was breakfast and cake and coffee while we were at the Whistling Frog but we had to press on and couldn’t go back. But I really wish I could. The couple at the next table had lunch and it looked gorgeous. We had eggs and bacon, pecan pie with butterscotch pecan ice cream, EB tea and a latte. The pie was just the right level of sweetness, the pecans were beautiful and it wasn’t too hard to eat, the pastry held together but then crumbled as you ate it. Perfect. Oh and that ice cream. I could have eaten a whole bucket and grinned the whole time. The bacon and eggs were delicious, well cooked and beautifully sourced. The coffee was just the right temperature, savoury without being bitter, smooth and just what I needed after a wet waterfall walk.

They have free wifi (a real rarity in the Catlins), a mini gift shop, kind and helpful staff and a very sweet little dog. It’s not just a cafe you can actually spend the night there at their holiday park – and that’s exactly what we plan to do when we go back.

The Whistling Frog Cafe

9 Rewcastle Road, Chaslands, New Zealand
+64 3-415 8338
stay@catlinsnz.com
Open 9.00am to 9.00pm (may be subject to change)

A Lot on Her Plate

Plate

A Lot on Her Plate – Rosie Birkett
Hardie Grant – 2015
Photography: Helen Cathcart

There’s something about a book that comes from a cookery blog. The recipes are always well tested and usually have great alternatives, the style is personal and consistent and the photographs are always wonderful. It’s a hard sell – a book where many of the recipes are online but I happen to think blogs and books have two very separate purposes even when they are written by the same author. Blogs tend to be found when you are looking for something specific and read on a daily/weekly basis. Books are for leafing through on quiet afternoons, piling up to flick through quickly looking for what to do with leftover roast chicken, for keeping close. And I’ll certainly be keeping A Lot on Her Plate close as I work my way through all of the recipes.

The book is beautiful and passionate. Birkett is an experienced writer and it shows in both the recipes and the pages of prose. She tells a story with her food. The chapters all start with extended notes but they are fun and easy to read rather than being long explanations of what you’re about to read.

A Lot on Her Plate is exciting. The recipes are simple but the ideas are grand. It’s hugely original without being complicated or faddish. The balance between fish, vegetarian and meat dishes is so good that it feels deliberate. There is a wide range of everything used here, you’re bound to find something you want, something you need, something you can cook with what’s already in the cupboards. The images are sublime, they make you want to cook and want to eat.

My favourite recipes are the Oxtail French Dip Sandwich, the Maple Glazed Pear + Hazelnut Tart, the Warm Salad of Roasted Aubergine + Broccoli with Anchovy Lemon Dressing and the Radicchio, Gorgonzola + Walnut Break-Up Lasagne. My favourite section overall was the little chapter of essentials at the back of the book – spend a day pottering around making all of these cupboard/freezer staples for the week(s) ahead.

The real take-away message from A Lot on Her Plate is that all of the small touches make a huge difference, whether that is shopping at your local butcher, putting the right sauce on the side of your dish or making sure you mix good food and good company.

Grab this book. Make the recipes. Join me in waiting for the next one!

Cantina

cantina

Cantina: Recipes from a Mexican Kitchen – Paul Wilson
Hardie Grant – 2014
Photography: Chris Middleton

I’ve had Cantina on my review pile for a while, not being sure how to approach it. So here’s a bullet-point review of this amazing Mexican cookbook.

  • Everything is made from scratch, you can try your hand at sauces and doughs and marinades
  • As healthy or hearty as you choose to eat, loads of options for all sorts of tastes and diets
  • There’s a massive range of ingredients used, some familiar and some hard to find but all wildly inspiring
  • The photographs are gorgeous but more are needed, especially as so many of the dishes are regional specialities and so the titles aren’t always enough to represent the dish
  • Great balance of meat, veggie and fish but a lot more savory than sweet
  • Awesome glossary that comes in very useful when you’re starting out using the book
  • Faves: Chia Pudding with Stone Fruit, Agave and Vanilla; Skirt Steak Veracruz with Buttermilk Onions & Salsa Verde; Pumpkin Mole with Pistachio Salsa Picante

All in all a gorgeous and impressive cookbook with a brilliantly insightful look into a cuisine so often badly misunderstood. Cantina will make you want to eat, and then get on a plane to Mexico.

The Good Table

Good table

The Good Table – Valentine Warner
Mitchell Beazley/Octopus – 2011
Photography: Jonathan Lovekin

The Good Table is a very entertaining cookbook with some outstanding recipes. The introduction is well written and clear. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it although I suspect that may, at least in part, be because Warner and I share an almost identical outlook on food and cooking. His food philosophy is quite extensive but Warner is such a good writer that it is easy to read; he stresses that knowledge of food makes it possible to eat a better quality of food and spend less money. His recipes generally follow seasonal and regional connections between ingredients.

Both the photography and styling of the food is excellent, sometimes the recipes chosen to have pictures are a little odd and overall the book would really benefit from having a few more images. The photos that are included are brilliantly matched to the recipes and all look incredibly tasty.

Warner remarks that he has an interest in rediscovering lost recipes as well as making wholly new innovations, this leads to an interesting blend of quite radical and also reassuringly familiar recipes. There are definitely some new and quirky recipes but none that are so outrageous as to put anyone off cooking them. The range of seafood used is both impressive and laudable – not just a token effort but a real push for lesser used ingredients (razor clams, cod roe, and pollock all feature). The vegetarian dishes are probably the most inventive and there are many that I couldn’t wait to try.

The balance between the different sections in The Good Table is handled well. The ‘Meat’ section is generally better than the ‘Birds’ part but both the ‘Fish & Shellfish’ and ‘Veg & Foraged Foods’ hold their own and there is a lovely little section called ‘Toast As A Vehicle’.

Having looked forward to it all the way through the book I was unfortunately disappointed by the puddings, there were not nearly as many as I had been hoping for and it is one of the weaker sections of the book. There were a couple of dishes that stood out but reading through almost none of them really grabbed my attention.

Most of the meals in The Good Table are not quick and simply thrown together – and thank goodness for that. There are enough fast suppers in here to give you inspiration if you need it (Baked Potatoes with Garlic and Cream, anyone?) but this is a real celebration of food. Warner notes that we currently seem to love televised cookery programmes, cookbooks and competitions but have lost the love (and skills) of actually cooking for ourselves. Quite a high number of the recipes are very long and go over several pages, which can get annoying when you are cooking and need to keep referring back to the ingredients at the start. On some of the recipes it is hard to tell where the notes stop and the instructions begin, however the ingredients are clearly listed and very nicely broken down into sections for different parts of the meal.

My favourite recipes were the Courgette Soup with Chard Bruschetta, the Heaven and Earth, and the Chorizo in Cider. I will keep my eyes peeled for more of Warner’s books, I really think that this cookbook would be a great addition to every kitchen shelf.

UPDATE: Three years on this is one of my most used cookbooks. Seriously good.

Breakfast: Morning, Noon & Night

breakfast

Breakfast: Morning, Noon & Night – Fern Green
Hardie Grant – 2015
Photography: Danielle Wood

You’ve got to love a book where ‘On Toast’ is a category! Breakfast is full of great writing that pulls you in and keeps your attention.  The wonderful thing about breakfast is that it can be anything you want – sweet or savory, healthy or indulgent, fast or slow and this cookbook has it all.

Surprisingly the ‘Healthy’ section was actually my favourite – I wanted to try out all of the recipes straightaway. There is plenty throughout for veggies and with the range included probably at least a little bit of something for everybody.

The photography is droolworthy-gorgeous. Full of colour and life and so tempting.

With an idea like ‘breakfast’ the book could very easily have been samey but the ideas are beautifully original and there’s a huge amount of originality as well as comfortingly familiar ideas.

It’s not an absolutely beginners book – things like instructions for substituting buttermilk or more detailed descriptions of how to do some of the dishes, especially baking are missing, but there’s nothing that couldn’t be attempted by cooks of any skill level.

My favourite recipes were the Egg and Bacon Udon; the Eggs on Bubble Cakes with Black Pudding; Blueberry Almond Pancakes with Cinnamon Sauce; the Crispy Courgette Soldiers; Buttermilk Blueberry Hotcakes with Coffee Mascarpone.

Breakfast is easy to read and fun to flick through as well as guaranteed to make you look forward to trying these recipes any time of the day. Or night.

Fäviken

Fäviken – Magnus Nilsson
Phaidon Press – 2012
Photography: Erik Olssen

Fäviken narrates the journey of Magnus Nilsson’s food and the restaurant itself with very in depth explanations and some highly original recipes.

Nilsson grew up near to the restaurant that is fast becoming a buzz-word for foodies worldwide. This is a reinvention of old familial cookery where the produce, each ingredient comes first and the past is an inspiration rather than a set of rules. Location centric food means that it would be very difficult for most of us to get the ingredients that Nilsson uses; but the idea behind it, of noticing and connecting to nature is applicable everywhere.

Fäviken is a gorgeous book from the layout and font right through to the photography which is clean and well lit. The pictures are not bright and splashy but show the natural beauty of the food as well as Jämtland where it all comes from. It is a hugely original book but much harder to cook from than most. Nilsson’s philosophy however makes it work as you are being shown techniques and an approach to food rather than being given a list of instructions.

“If it tastes good, it is right, and if it doesn’t taste good, try again.”

There are few easy recipes but some would work in a home kitchen, most need plenty of time and would involve a lot of shopping and new techniques. There is a great deal of detail about the reason behind the techniques that Nilsson uses which is really helpful even if you don’t end up using it in a recipe from the cookbook. Puddings are a rare inclusion and it is almost all savoury but there is a good balance between the meat, fish and the vegetable parts with it all integrating well together to create a whole.

My favourite recipes included the Herb Vinegar, the Black Grouse in Hay, the Rakfisk and Sour Cream and the Vegetables cooked with Autumn Leaves.

There are extensive introductory notes to each broad section – you are encouraged to read straight through the book rather than just dipping into the recipes themselves so that the principles make more sense as a whole. It is all beautifully written. There is a complete write up of a day at Fäviken Magasinet including the full workings of the evening’s service which is a bit over the top. There are an awful lot of notes with everything talked through, not just the food that is being cooked.

Near the start of the book Nilsson has included a section on how to use the recipes, which includes the style of cooking. It won’t be for everyone as it is a very instinctive way of preparing food. Few of the ideas have times of temperatures attached because Nilsson wants people to have a personal recipe rather than trying to simply replicate his exactly – reflecting his move away from the rules of traditional French cooking that he learned while working in Paris. You are encouraged to follow the principles rather than a set of rules. The recipes include few ingredients used very well.

The book feels like a way to document the radical experimentation of a wandering mind. Dedicated but prone to bursts of genius that cause big diversions. Fäviken is the perfect antidote to the vast numbers of quick supper cookbooks; it makes you think more deeply about food. It is not a standard cookbook that you can use on a weekly basis but all the more beautiful for it.

Out of the Pod

out of the pod

Out of the Pod – Vicky Jones
Ryland Peters & Small – 2015
Photography: William Reavell

A whole book about legumes is a serious challenge, they are a tricky thing to cook and an even harder sell for people not already in love with them. However if you want to try cooking with more beans and pulses or you need some new recipes then this is the book to get. Out of the Pod starts with lots of preparatory information that’s useful but not crucial and a bit heavy all up front in one place. It includes a great round up of the most common legumes – everything from lentils to pinto beans.

The soups that start the recipes are my favourite section. There’s a wide range of food cultures included in the book, everything from Italy to Cuba. With such a specific theme to the recipes it’s kept interesting with the global nature of the cookbook.

The notes throughout the book are well worth reading but a little heavy, it feels in places like passages from a textbook, less connected to the recipes themelves.

The photography is bright and cheerful and on the whole appetising especially as it’s really hard to make stews and one pot meals look gourmet!

There’s a good mix of basics and more novel ideas combining ingredients that are likely to be in your cupboard with more unusual ones. The book on the whole was less adventurous than I was expecting but I love the ideas in it and there’s a great selection of recipes to use and re-use.

My favourite recipes were the Senate Bean Soup; the Georgian Bean Pies; the Bean Torta with Walnuts and Lemon and the Hungarian Red Bean Hotpot with Smoked Ham and Barley.