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Showing posts from 2021

Provence comes to Harrogate

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A couple of years ago, I wrote about how a trip to Nice in Provence had rekindled my love of France and French cuisine. ( http://blog.theaperitifguy.co.uk/2019/11/falling-in-love-again-weekend-in-nice.html ) I haven't bothered much with Provençal cooking in the past but decided recently to give it a go. Provence is the region where the Rhône meets the sea. The hills are abundant with vines and olives, the plains with tomatoes, melons and all manner of sun-loving fruits & veg. Stretching along the Mediterranean is the Camargue, an area of salt-marshes and lakes famed for its flamingos, horses and the annual Gypsy pilgrimage. It's also the pasture for unique cattle and sheep and the source of delicious, nutty-flavoured red rice. easyrab,  Danse gitane Saintes-Maries ,  CC BY 2.0 Provençal cuisine is full of colour and flavour. The sunny climate ensures that the foods ripen well. The sea provides glistening fish, deep red crustaceans and many-hued clams. Typical herbs of the r

Pintxos - the creative spirit of Basque cuisine

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The first time I visited Bilbao was in the late 1990s. My friend was a student there. It would never have crossed my mind to visit otherwise: ETA was still active; the town itself was sadly post-industrial (like so many Atlantic ports), and the only flights from the UK went via Brussels on an airline that was heading for bankruptcy. The Guggenheim Museum had recently opened in the old port district, to much disbelief and bemusement - why would any forward-thinking arts organisation open a prestigious gallery in such a town? Who would risk the disruption of separatist action to visit such a gallery?  Image: P Hodkinson Well, I was visiting and, as it turned out, so have many millions of people since. The Basque government had actually been very far-sighted when they approached the Guggenheim Foundation with an offer of significant financial investment in a gallery of contemporary art. What I found in Bilbao was a proud town that was not going to be defined, either by its declining marit

Heroes (4/4) - Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 - 1826)

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We all have heroes, people we admire and want to emulate, perhaps to impress. Some of them will be distant figures who may have lived generations before us, others will be members of our own family. All of them make us who we are. A few years ago, I gave a series of dinners in celebration of some of my culinary heroes, the final of which marked my admiration for Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of La Physiologie du Goût (the physiology of taste). Unlike the three previous heroes (Elizabeth David, Anton Mosimann and Auguste Escoffier), Brillat-Savarin never left us a single recipe. He produced instead a finely written collection of meditations on the value of good eating, which guide us through an approach to food that is at once careful and exploratory. Modern psychology might recognise in many of his meditations what we would call "mindful" enjoyment of the pleasures of the table. That his master-work has not been out of print in French since its first publication is t

Heroes (3/4) - Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935)

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We all have heroes, people we admire and want to emulate, perhaps to impress. Some of them will be distant figures who may have lived generations before us, others will be members of our own family. All of them make us who we are. A few years ago, I gave a series of dinners in celebration of some of my culinary heroes. This series of posts explores the lives and influence of those people and recalls the atmosphere and style of each dinner. My edition of Escoffier’s Ma Cuisine is dated 1991. I must have bought it for one of the first dinner parties I gave. I was living and working at Loyola Hall at the time, a Jesuit-run retreat centre in Merseyside, now, very sadly, closed. With my every basic need provided for, I had begun to feel the need to entertain. I had found that a stall on the local market would get me lobsters at a reasonable price and decided they should be served à la termidor . I’d never eaten lobster thermidor, and didn’t know what was in it, but I knew it had cachet. I

Heroes (2/4) - Anton Mosimann (1947- )

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We all have heroes, people we admire and want to emulate, perhaps to impress. Some of them will be distant figures who may have lived generations before us, others will be members of our own family. All of them make us who we are. A few years ago, I gave a series of dinners in celebration of some of my culinary heroes. This series of posts explores the lives and influence of those people and recalls the atmosphere and style of each dinner. In a dinner I called "Clean Air, Cold Water," I celebrated the great master of Nouvelle Cuisine and Godfather of Modern British cooking, Anton Mosimann. From its opening in 1931 until the 1970s, the kitchens of London’s Dorchester Hotel, and indeed every London hotel, had served mainly classic French cuisine. With its vast brigades and extensive kitchens, the hotel was well prepared for a style of cooking that can conjure an almost infinite variety of dishes out of five “mother” sauces and an array of pre-prepared flavouring ingredients. Th

Heroes (1/4) - Elizabeth David (1913 - 1992)

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We all have heroes, people we admire and want to emulate, perhaps to impress. Some of them will be distant figures who may have lived generations before us, others will be members of our own family. All of them make us who we are. They show us how to be, in certain circumstances of our life or work. A few years ago, I gave a series of dinners in celebration of some of my culinary heroes. The first of these dinners celebrated the food writer Elizabeth David. It is nigh-on impossible to write anything original about Mrs David. Even to say what she has meant to me personally, as a reader, cook, host and now writer, is to repeat what so many others have said before. Let me start at the end: quite simply, she is one of the most influential women ever to have lived in Britain. Her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ends: “David was the best writer on food and drink this country has ever produced. When she began writing in the 1950s, the British scarcely noticed what was on

Getting ready to have guests again

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The pineapple: a traditional symbol of hospitality As we slowly emerge from lockdown, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to offer hospitality to friends and looking forward to having them back around my table at last. The French writer J-A Brillat-Savarin once wrote that   "to receive guests is to take charge of their happiness during the entire time they are under your roof."   That’s quite a responsibility, I know, but I also think it’s a privilege. We “take charge” of someone’s happiness when they have trusted us with it. When my partner and I got together, we decided we wanted our home to be somewhere people felt able to show up uninvited, where they would always be welcome, regardless of the circumstances. It was a principle I was brought up with. Back in the days before phones in every home, when families couldn’t arrange a visit as easily as we do now, my Mum kept a stash of tinned ham and salmon in the back of the cupboard, ready to be turned into a sand

In Praise of Asparagus

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Living close to the wonderful agricultural belt around Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, I find myself getting more and more excited each year as the end of May approaches and the first of the local asparagus starts to appear in the shops. Nothing compares to English asparagus in season. It’s fresh-tasting and fragrant, slightly sweet and a touch astringent at the same time. Its effect on the kidneys is the stuff of mythology and makes a fascinating study in itself, while the shape and sensuality of eating the stems have been said to be aphrodisiac. I shall confine my comments, though, to its taste. The earliest asparagus to appear is the sprue, fine stems that have been thinned out to encourage the plant to grow thicker. It has all the taste of the bigger stems but is sold more cheaply. You won’t find it in the supermarkets, though. It’s considered almost a by-product of the main crop and not worth bagging up. Farmers tend to sell it loose to local markets and greengrocers. Because th

Absinthe - Madness, Murder and Misinformation

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Drinks, like most other things in life, have a cycle of fashions. Cocktails have come and gone several times since their 1920s heyday. When I started buying wines, riesling was the white wine of choice for most drinkers. That was replaced by chardonnay, then pinot grigio, and now it's sauvignon blanc, with a suggestion that riesling might be the next big thing. Some drinks become so fashionable that their popularity can be described as a craze. Think of the current wealth of gins available and the almost insatiable appetite for new gin experiences, new flavours, new mixers. Between the 1860s and 1914, that same crazed appetite was seen in much of Europe in relation to absinthe. Absinthe is a high-alcohol, herb-flavoured spirit (anywhere between 55% and 74% ABV). It is usually green in colour, due to it being subject to a second maceration of herbs after distillation. Three herbs in particular are used to give it its characteristic look and taste: green anis, fennel and wormwood. An