Food Blogger Voices

I follow the Cooking Frog’s Blog, authored by a French woman in Vancouver, and was laughing out loud recently at her amusing piece on having to fly all the way back to Aix-en-Provence to find a rabbit to cook her favourite roast rabbit with Dijon mustard.  Canadians surely must have been grateful for rabbit meat at some point in the development of their nation, though  apparently now they are appalled at the very idea of eating Bugs Bunny.  And her stuck-up Canadian butcher kind of scoffed at her when she asked if they stocked such a thing.

What I like about her blog–other than the particular slant of her humour–is that she talks/writes her way through making a dish, often with no lists of ingredients, no precise measurements and scant methodology–such a simple and confident way to present what you are cooking in your life.  She blogs about normal family French cooking, the food of her.  And the pix are what please her, a skinned rabbit on a plate for example.

It pleases me too. We need no more than she offers to be engaged and feel that we could easily replicate her food.  I admire too her quiet authority and the sense of a deep history of good cooking.

Ah, there could be a Canadian theme developing.  Chocolate & Ginger’s owner in Alberta, for example, has quite a different take.  She is a highly energetic marathon runner/all round sporty person and designer (e.g. not in the least like me).  Her recipes are well illustrated, typically with a quartet of foodie nouns strung together to describe them: –Honey Rosemary Cornbread Muffins–Mango Almond Coconut Quinoa–Apple Cheddar Rosemary Scones…

I defy you to wonder about those and not click on….and then to wonder at finding Chocolate and Ginger’s cheddar is (deliberately) 6 years old, her freezer contains ground elk meat, she picks up Jamie Oliver spices in London and invites her pals to Paris.  Her meals are healthy too for Gawd’s sake.  Is it the lifestyle wrapper I like?  Am I so shallow?  I do like too that she takes other people’s recipes, acknowledges, fiddles, healthies them up, names them better and bends her life around it all in a blog where she is just off skiing shortly (fyi) but rustled up this fab sounding dish even though there was no food in the cupboard ‘cos she is just off skiing and had cancelled the grocery delivery. I kind of only half believe it, and then slap myself for being cynical.  And then I chill and enjoy.

So, here is (perhaps) what I am ruminating. Today, we could be admiring *ownership* and *identity*.  The confidence or smarts to own the food that is in your life and to give it an identity, such that it ends up in someone’s/anyone else’s purview, in a blogosphere whose collective stomach must be groaning…well, that’s something of note.

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John Kirby’s Recipe: Crabmeat Ravioli with Sage Butter

Well, a guest post!  I was contacted by John, who for 25 years has developed Hampshire company, “Dovetail Workers in Wood”.  They make the most beautiful bespoke kitchens and have a new blog to showcase their work:

I was drooling, really. I would adore a kitchen like this.  John Kirby is a bit of a foodie himself (as you might imagine) and offered a guest post recipe for a mention.  My pleasure.

–0O0–

John Kirby’s Crabmeat Ravioli with Sage Butter:
John Kirby 1 

This is enough for a starter for 4-6 people, depending on how dainty you want to be.

For the pasta…
200 Grams 00 flour (most supermarkets sell pasta flour nowadays)
2 Free-range eggs
1/2 Teaspoon salt

For the stuffing…
100 grams Crab Meat (pre-cooked)
250 grams Ricotta Cheese
A few chopped Chives
A smidge of finely chopped Chilli
Freshly milled Black Pepper to taste an a Pinch of Salt

For the sauce…
A large knob of Butter
A handful for freshly picked Sage from the garden

Method…

Mix together the flour, eggs and the salt and kneed into a ball. Wrap in a bit of cling film and rest in the fridge for 15 mins or so.

Whilst the pasta dough is resting…mix together the all the stuffing ingredients. Taste it to check the seasoning!

Kneed the pasta dough and whack it through a pasta machine (get the kids to help wind the handle. Loads of fun!). Roll the pasta really thin and lay it out in strips on the floured work top.  Place lumps of the stuffing about the size of an acorn on one sheet and cut another sheet into 3” squares. Place a square over the lump of filling and carefully work our the air and press it down with your fingers.

Cut the pasta with a scone cutter (about 2 ½ “ diameter) and place the newly formed little beauty onto a floured plate.  You can put the off cuts back through the pasta machine to make more sheets.  Repeat until you have used up all the stuffing.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Whilst it is coming up to heat, make the sage butte, chuck the butter into a small shallow pan, and get some heat under it till it bubbles. Chuck in the sage after you have shredded it into strips. Keep some little sprigs back for a fresh garnish. Take the pan off the heat after 30 seconds or so, we don’t want to over cook the sage.

Drop 3 or 4 of the raviolis into the boiling water for about 1 ½  mins, they will come up to the surface when they are ready. Lift them out of the water with a slotted spoon and slip them into the butter then onto a warm plate. Repeat for the other portions then pour the spare butter over the raviolis on the plates and garnish with the sprigs that you set aside earlier.

Yum!

Cupcakes are the “My Little Pony” of Baking…

First Cupcake

My First Cupcake

…Or so says my husband.  He thinks cupcakes are an utterly twee and girly obsession, much like the My Little Pony phenomena, and while I don’t bake, I had bought a tray of some very nice cupcakes a couple of weeks ago which the man and boy were sort of fighting over after dinner.  Tweeness not necessarily an obstruction to scoffing then…

So, baking in all probability would be rather well received round our house, and above is my very first home-baked cupcake.  But, more of the provenance of my lovely cake (and BTW my very first attempt at piping frosting) later since in all probability this is likely to be the pinnacle of my achievements in this competitive field.  There are much better blog sources to go to for cupcake inspiration/porn/sheer wonder.  And there sure are some weird and wacky innovations in the cupcake world; what women can achieve in their own domestic environments amazes me…and slightly horrifies at the same time.  All that creative energy poured into paper cake cases and sprinkled on butter cream icing.

Or, indeed, delicately spooned into actual egg shells.  Easter cupcakes baked inside a hollowed out egg shell?  Check out this amazing feat in not just one blog but two: Cupcake Project and Delicious Days.

Cupcake flowers are very popular. Heaven is a Cupcake have some stunning examples of bouquet baskets, and claim to have originated the concept.  Cupcake wedding cake tiers to me are a bit “yesterday” but an actual cupcake wedding bouquet?  See this super example over at Souperior.

Cupcakes can celebrate every life stage, from baby showers to birthdays, marriages, divorces and remarkably, cupcakes can even mark the final event.  Sympathy cupcake bouquets (wreaths?) are being made and blogged about, e.g.over at Cakecentral.com.  The baker used “devil’s food cake mix” for the sponge and I am not entirely sure the irony was intended.  If it was, then that is bloody hilarious. I am thinking about putting in an advance order for a couple of folks I know who are unfortunately still with us.

Celebrations aside, cupcakes can also accompany you through life’s traumas.  We could all do worse than check into Cupcakes on Bedrest with a few words of encouragement for the blogger recovering from serious illness and distracting herself with cupcake making.  Don’t mention though the site http://www.cupcaketherapy.com.au, a commercial venture with the incredible tagline: “They taste so good you won’t want to be cured“.  Only in Oz.  And for experiments in pink champagne cupcakes (now that’s my kind of therapy) checkout a WordPress blog also called Cupcake Therapy.  Yet another therapy site–www.cupcaketherapy.biz of Baltimore–could send you a carton of their rather frankly named “piglets” or perhaps half a dozen “southern comforts”.  Eat, drink and be merry…all in a cupcake.

An amazing resource and a great place for generally surfing the world of cupcakes is the self-proclaimed #1 Blog about cupcakes, “Cupcakes Take the Cake“.  Their blogroll is truly awesome, hundreds of sites listed either dedicated to or that include the art of making pretty wee sponges.  Random browsing through their roll, I love/hate the vegan blog “Post Punk Kitchen” and can’t decide whether it is too sickly to be postmodern, or the epitome of post-postmodernism.  All I can say is that I won’t be making a punk rock cookie jar.  Or buying one of their naff aprons.  But, enough folks must like such kit(sch) or they wouldn’t have an online shop. (I should say in fairness that if they did oven gloves I might be tempted into a purchase myself.)

And so to the provenance of my own (and in light of all of the above, rather pathetically feeble) efforts.  My blog is about making family cooking easier, not harder.  Et Voila 😉

Spanish Restaurateurs–Take Back Your Terraces, We Beg You

No recipes on this post–there is a story that needs telling.  We holidayed this year in one of the “white villages” that spill out like tipped-over sugar cubes down the mountainsides of Andalusia.  And a very nice time we and friends had too. Our villa was rambling and full of character, the boys spent hours splashing about in the pool, we were adopted by the most loving little black cat who joined us for pre-dinner drinks on the villa terrace every evening, the donkeys brayed their lungs out and the hunting dogs started off the general dawn cacophony at 5 am.  Marvelous. 

Natch, none of us were that keen on cooking in the heat, so every evening it was the old “where shall we go for dinner” routine: umming and ahing over Trip Advisor apps on our phones, guide books, the villa’s info folder and so on.  Every single time we were a tad too disorganised to book anywhere and ended up in Spanish tapas bars, we had great food and a jolly good time of it without breaking the bank.  When we did get our acts together to book somewhere that sounded nice, we ended up in largely English-run restaurants on terraces with great views but spending an awful lot of money for poor quality food and a poverty of menu choices.

One particular restaurant stands out for its sheer bizarreness.  Our hostess was a large, loud and possibly Irish-American lady (no slight intended to my US readers, just telling it like it was) with a raging ego who confused patronising theatricality with friendly service.  She intruded on people’s conversations, asked stupid questions–she asked a little girl in earshot of the entire terrace if the restaurant’s carbonara was better than back home, the little girl was nearly in tears because she had to say no, it was not–and generally annoyed her guests.  Our menu arrived along with the cheap, shop-bought bread sticks.  And how disappointed were we by the lack of choice and imagination? For main’s it was — I kid you not — “Indian Curry”, steak and chips, spaghetti carbonara or poached salmon and chips.  Oh, and the chips were frozen ones, along with frozen peas, sliced carrots that had curled and dried up sitting in water for hours and some flaccid, transparently sliced but admittedly fresh courgette. This, from a restaurant whose recent comments on Trip Advisor included glowing reviews like “a vegetarian’s dream” when in reality there was not a single veggie dish on the menu and some other stellar comment that it should be Michelin starred when it serves tough rump steaks and rubbish chips at a third or more than a chain pub in the UK. Trip Advisor has received my complaint and we await the outcome of that with interest. I will report back on what they say.

If this was not enough already, there was more to come.  When our food arrived, so did the English “chef” in his stained overalls.  He acted like he expected a round of applause as he dipped from table to table to announce his presence and tell us all about his “secret” ingredients.  For steak and chips, this was parsley butter.  For “Indian Curry” it was fenugreek.  Would you get that behaviour in a Harvester?  It was excruciating. 

It got worse.  We book terraces because it is hot, some of our group smoke and this is Spain we are talking about–smoking is practically compulsory.  My friend and I lit up after dinner and our hostess went totally bonkers, raised her voice at us while flapping and projecting to every other diner about her non-smoking policy when the wind was in the wrong direction.  There were no signs on the terrace, none on the menu and none on the one-page website I checked later that said anything about smoking, wind-mediated or otherwise.  She could not have made us more uncomfortable or embarrassed if she had tried.  We asked for an ashtray to stub out, and when that was brought she came back for round two.  And to be quite candid and fair, after she noised us up yet again asking very loudly if she had been offensive in any way to us, I did say that we were leaving to have desserts and another bottle of wine and possibly some liqueurs elsewhere. That led to her shouting out that I was “snide” and how dare I say such a thing to her, while attempting to DRAG ME OUT OF MY SEAT to try to show me a tiny notice allegedly hidden at the bottom of the stairs.  She did not succeed and we left. It was an awful experience, simply horrendous and not something I have experienced in a restaurant in all my years travelling round the world.  My husband got badgered again when he was paying up the bill (over 200 Euros) and he ended up telling her the food was no more than “OK” and not to expect us back.

The next night, she and her chef put out the lights on their empty terrace at 10 pm and leaned over to watch us munching lovely tapas in the rocking bar in the square below.  The boys all thought this was utterly hilarious and vastly entertaining.  Me, I am still mad as hell about that experience, this was OUR HOLIDAY we are talking about.

My view is the Spanish should take back their terraces (forcibly if need be) and start running nice establishments with moderately sane hosts, a semblance of Spanish food and locally sourced ingredients. I can see that down the Costa del Sol it’s all Brits and fish n’ chips, but up in the hills in ancient villages where people are hiring private villas, this is a totally different type of customer.  We all know elBulli lost money, but we would not want such a high fallutin’ experience.  Surely there has to be another market for interesting local menus with decent food priced accordingly, or is that too much to expect?  I would not be surprised to hear there are such places, but perhaps not in numbers and concentrations to make it worth staying around a particular village area for any length of time.  It is unlikely that my friends and ourselves would book a summer holiday like that in Andalusia again because of these food issues–there is only so much calamari and meatballs tapas you can eat in a fortnight–and that is a real shame.  Any similar Spanish experiences/disappointments anyone?  Or were we just spectacularly unlucky?

Quick, Cheap and Delish Pate Recipe

chicken liver pate
chicken liver pate

Chicken Liver Pate

I don’t have a story to tell, just that this is a “save money” dish, costs far less to make than to buy and takes hardly any time at all.  And, if I say so myself, it is wonderful.  This is another “Billy the Chef” (my cousin) recipe, and very lovely it is too.  The quantities below would serve 4 for a starter.

Ingredients:

  • 500g / 18 ounces of Chicken Livers, chopped
  • 2 slices of Smoked Bacon, rinds removed and chopped into small pieces
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 2 Tbsp Brandy (any old cheap rubbish will do, for Gawd’s sake don’t break out the good stuff for this)
  • Pinch of Herbs (I used Herbes de Provence, but Thyme works very well too)
  • Squeeze or Tablespoon of Tomato Puree (this adds depth of colour and helps keep its colour in the fridge, pate has a nasty habit of going grey…)
  • 125g Unsalted Butter
  • Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to Taste

Method:

Dry fry the chopped bacon, ie with no oil in a large frying pan.  Add in the shallots and butter and fry gently until the shallots are very soft (only 5-8 mins).  Add in the chicken livers, tomato puree, herbs, seasoning–be careful not to oversalt due to the saltiness of the bacon–along with the brandy and cook at a medium heat for about 15-20 minutes giving the odd stir.  There is real satisfaction to be had in breaking down the livers with the back of a wooden spoon, not sure why this might be…?   Leave, covered, to cool, check the seasoning before blending in a processor to a smooth but grainy texture.  Place in a dish and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours or so before serving.  It will keep, covered, for a few days.  Don’t bother faffing around with clarified butter seals, that only extends its natural fridge life for a few days and only if you do not break in there and eat it first!

1 Year Anniversary: Food Blogging, Where are We Going?

Well, this is a whole year of Hampshirecook’s Blog.  I have learned so much about blogging and promoting and tweeting and commenting and rankings and spammers…and taking (or not taking) reasonable photos of food in the middle of winter!  I have found some really nice people, helpful and caring bloggers so willing to share their knowledge, and I have developed a rather different perspective on the power of t’internet and what we academics call “communities of practice”. 

There have been real developments in food and cookery publishing in the last 12 months, with some horrible recipe conglomerate sites falling way down the google page rankings, and other, better sites emerging as more dominant.  When I research in food blogs, recipes too seem to be becoming more “professional”  in terms of writing and presentation, with less long, long diary introductions to wade through before you reach the bit you were really interested in…and lots of very high quality food porn photography.  There is also more commercial sponsorship of blogs and posts and I see the community really struggling to balance its conscience and independence with its desire to “monetize”.

With comments, I am also seeing “jumping on the bandwagon” one-line, six-word comments (Great dish!  Will definitely try this!) on popular food blogs, where dozens of other bloggers pitch in on every new post to get the links back to their own sites.  I do wonder if publishers realise we can be a community who feeds off itself, and that if a blogger has hundreds/thousands of visitors, there are no guarantees that any one of them would go out and buy a hard-copy cookbook by the same blogger.  Hampshirecook could have more comments in terms of numbers (see below) but I get annoyed and have deleted some obvious link chasers when they get on my nerves.  My view can be either leave a real comment that shows me you have actually engaged, or don’t bother.  Too harsh, or too old fashioned maybe?

I am also finding less informed opinion & interesting posts to read.

Are people scared of their own views?   It feels like there are many food bloggers chasing the dream of a book deal, but very few with a unique voice and the courage of their convictions that might hook and land such a prize.  Are these would-be Delia’s and Julia’s and Nigel’s self-censoring to appear publishable perhaps?  Will a range of good themed recipes (regional, family, cupcakes?) and nice pix be picked up by publishers and more importantly, make anyone significant amounts of money? My view is probably not, something more than this is required, though of course there are some visually lovely new cupcake books out there. And books on macaroons. And soup is the new soup, etc…but if I ever want to look at lovely cupcakes, I don’t need to spend any money at all to do that.

If I was back in “proper” publishing now (my first degree is in publishing and business) I would be looking for strong voices, unique or singular propositions, utterly trustworthy recipes with no hint of sponsorship to make me suspicious, social media friendliness and lots of visual treats.  When anyone can google and find multiple recipes for any dish that they would ever want to cook, the reasons for buying a hard-copy cookbook become less clear.  Depressingly, the easy-peasy publishing proposition seems to be celebs with (oh, the shock!) an oven: Gwyneth Patrow, Eva Longoria and Sheryl Crow have all launched their own cookbooks latterly, but surely these are just one-shot deals headed ultimately for the remainder bins? Interestingly too, these ladies seem to be relying on very old-style PR and done-to-death propositions with their fame as a somewhat shallow USP. I do wonder if they are making back their advances…though in the weird world of publishing, this is not always the aim.

So, that’s a taste of my 12 months of food blogging experiences and the random thoughts that flit through my head when I am in this blogging world.  To finish, and in the spirit of sharing with the community, some Hampshirecook stats:

  • 60 posts
  • 200 comments
  • 11,500 views
  • 220 views on my “best” day so far (thank you very much Foodpress!)
  • Traffic 50-50 USA and RoW

It took 4-5 months to really get going in terms of driving traffic (though to be fair, I was never really aiming for this) and to my utter astonishment, Hampshirecook was No. 1 in Google for a few search terms and remains on the first page for several more.  That is quite a buzz.

Now for Year 2 — do I really need to develop some commercial aims and ambitions for Hampshirecook, or is that just vanity and a misplaced work ethic, i.e. if you spend time on something, it ought to generate an income?  Is it not enough to have this as a really nice hobby, that gives me a sense of achievement, a place to keep all my recipes together and a voice in the food world about things that might bug me or interest me?  I guess it is “watch this space”.

My Meatloaf Recipe

Sliced Meatloaf

Sliced Meatloaf

Yes, the blogosphere is stuffed with meatloaf recipes….well, this is how I make mine, with absolutely no fuss or fancy stuff.

Ingredients (to serve 4):

  • 300g Minced Pork
  • 500g Minced Beef
  • 1 Onion, chopped very finely
  • Large pinch of Herbes de Provence
  • Tablespoon of Breadcrumbs
  • 1 Egg, Beaten
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Tablespoon of Tomato Sauce

Method:

Mix the pork, beef, breadcrumbs, egg and chopped onion together with the seasoning and herbs.  Mould into a loaf shape on a non-stick baking baking tray or place in a loaf tin.  Spread over the tomato sauce and cook in a medium hot (190 degrees Celsius) oven for about 50 minutes-1 hour, until the meatloaf is firmed up.  Allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a chopping board and slicing and serving.

Fresh Fruit Salad: Recipe for a Spiced Syrup Glaze

Fresh Fruit Berry Salad

This post is a recipe for a thick, spiced syrup glaze for fruit salad.  It comes from one of my great Oxfam second-hand cookery book purchases: The Prawn Cocktail Years.  The authors, Simon Hopkinson and Lyndsey Bareham, have been writing cookery columns and publishing recipe collections since the mid-90’s, racking up scores of books and a great library for the ordinary family cook.  This particular book deconstructs British bistro and restaurant fayre from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and then tells you how to make the dishes properly, so if you ever want to know how to make authentic spag bol/weiner schnitzel and a host of other favourites that many of us grew up with, then this is your resource.  Nostalgia, only much better than you remember…

Ingredients (makes more than enough for a large bowl of salad to serve 6):

  • 300g/1.5 US Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 200 ml (6.75 US fl oz) Water
  • 100 ml (3 1/3 US fl oz) of a fruity White Wine (I used a Muscat dessert wine, it was truly wonderful)
  • 3 Cardomom Pods
  • 2 small Bay Leaves, torn
  • 2 Cloves
  • Blade of Mace
  • The original recipe has 4-5 strips of pithless lemon peel, I did not use this but put in a squeeze of fresh lemon instead, again, it was fab.

Method:

Put all of the ingredients into a heavy-based teflon or similar coated pan on the stove (the mix can react with aluminium uncoated pans), whisk together and stir over a low heat until mixture comes to the boil (only five minutes or so) and then simmer for a further five minutes, keeping an eye on it and stirring as necessary.  Take off the heat and leave covered to cool, and then strain through a seive into a jug.  Serve over mixed fruits, which you can prepare in advance of the rest of dinner…

Any excess can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container for a very, very long time. I would be happy to store this for a couple of months or more.

Fruit Salad Combinations that Work:

The authors say “less is more” with fruit salad, and I tend to agree.  Balancing cost and taste, three fruits in combo seems just about right to me.  I also never use apples in fruit salads, but that is probably just my prejudice.  In truth, simple ripe pears with this syrup glaze would be just as lovely.

Very Berry Fruits: Strawberries, Cherries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Seedless Red Grapes, Pears, Sweet Plums

Tropical Fruits: Lychees, Pineapple, Melon, Kiwis, Grapes, Passionfruit, Watermelon, Peaches, Mango chunks, Papaya, Banana (cut and add slices at the last minute; if you expect leftovers, then don’t use banana at all as they dissolve into brown slimey mush)

Luxury Fruits: Figs, Melon, Seedless Green Grapes, Pipless Orange / Clementine Segments, Apricots

“The Prawn Cocktail Years” is still available from amazon in the paperback version for only a couple of pounds/dollars: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Prawn-Cocktail-Years-Simon-Hopkinson/dp/0333725948/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1310136023&sr=8-2