Monday, 12 December 2011

Love Music Love Food: The Rock Star Cookbook

Sing-for-soup days couldn't be further from the minds of the influential contemporary musicians contributing to this impressive rock-food-portraits book.

The brainchild of renowned food photographer Patrice de Villiers, The Rock Star Cookbook was published late last year in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Patrice and the Trust exercised their influence, prompting generous contributions from the legendary, the great, and the good.

This may not be a cook's book (there is no recipe index, and the recipes are somewhat buried), but it is a feast for the eyes. The lavish portraits, comical, outlandish, bold and decadent, show the musicians with their favourite foods, with accompanying interviews exploring their culinary obsessions and spilling the beans on their riders. Concluding each interview is a specially commissioned recipe, based on their favourite dish, created by Sarah Muir, a chef who has spent many years touring with bands and cooking for rock royalty. I tried Sarah's recipe for Goldie' Lookin' Chain's prawn curry - in a hurry, and it was speedy indeed, delicious, and great with chips. I'm betting she has her own book deal in the pipeline.

Music and food are fast becoming best buddies, just check out the posh gourmet fare available at festivals, Alex James making cheese, and - I kid you not - British Sea Power's band-brand fudge. All we need now is a band-brand jam.

However, many of the featured artists admit they're no good in the kitchen, and confess to predictable food weaknesses; curry, chips, sushi, roast dinner, fish and chips, and pizza, which Sarah cleverly transforms into Russell Norman-style instantly desirable recipes. A handful of artists have a more intriguing relationship with food. Just try keeping a straight face when Brian May talks about the cosmic resonance between the sun and a grapefruit, and who'd have thought Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand loves growing beetroot.

This is ultimately a musical portraits book, despite a foreword by Heston Blumenthal. A glossy book of interviews. But get someone talking enthusiastically about food, and they often open up more than they intend to. It's worth buying for the interviews and food-fantasy portraits alone; the opportunity to eat like a pop star is just the icing on the top of a very rock 'n' roll cake.

Many thanks to Quadrille for sending me a review copy.

Read more about Patrice's collaboration with The Teenage Cancer Trust here:
Love Music Love Food

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


A second departure from my culinary comfort zone this week, this time to give a shout out to Nightjar.

A classy subterranean speakeasy-style bar, the entrance sits between two caf├ęs just a few yards north of Old St tube, on City Road (look for the nondescript black door).

The cocktails, inspired by Prohibition era blends and their own homespun brews and infusions, are heady, complex, and brilliantly executed by a team of talented mixologists and bartenders (who I fear may be poached by the Royal Ballet given the performance we were treated to).

Be prepared to wait, as it's sitting room only and first come first served, though you can reserve tables for large parties. The queue outside can be considerable. Our 1 hour wait on a frosty Saturday night at 1am was made a little more tolerable by the sweet doorman (yes, there is such a thing, it seems).

I highly recommend the Fog Cutter. Enveloped in dry ice, it is a giddy and seriously damaging combination of rum, cognac, gin and sherry. Inebriated as I was, I can remember it vividly. The Bobby Burns, Benedictine, whisky and vermouth, laced with Absinthe, is a clever concoction, too.

Expect top-notch live music - jazz, honky-tonk, blues - most nights, with a modest cover charge/entrance fee of around £7 on a Friday or Saturday night, less on a week night. Cocktails are priced at around £9.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Christmas gifts: cheap and gorgeous

I don't know about you, but it's unlikely I'm going to be getting a KitchenAid for Christmas (about as unlikely as me being found trotting around Belgravia in bright red Louboutins and a mink shawl). The coveted food mixer has been popping up in the weekend supplements for weeks, as an ideal 'foodie' gift. A gift that costs over £300. Yeah, right.

As a child, I remember giggling as I discovered a hidden stash of Christmas cards my mom sent out to open-minded friends and relatives. The size of a postage stamp, they simply read 'Life is shit, times are hard, here's your fucking Christmas card.' I'm not a scrooge, neither is she, but Christmas is complicated: families, budgeting, cooking for large parties, booze... a toxic mix.

To make life just a little easier, I've done some research and found these beautiful, fun and desirable objects - all available online - that will please your wallet as much as they will delight the most hard-to-please recipient. I hope they provide inspiration. (Last year most gifts came from my kitchen, but it didn't prove to be a budget-friendly exercise. A few still will, but canny online shopping is key.)

Under £10
Spectacular Sourdough A loaf of Richard Bertinet's sourdough (Bertinet Kitchen Shop) £5.60
2 Person Paella Pan From the venerable purveyors of Spanish food (Brindisa) £8.95
Tea Towel Creative, fun designer tea towels (ToDryFor) £9.50
Floral and Bird Teapot Dainty tea time fare (Graham and Green) £9.50

London Lunchbox A trendy way to transport your office sandwiches (V&A) £5
Mezzaluna Set Stylish herb chopper, half price at time of writing (The Cook's Kitchen) £7.65
Glass and bone door knobs Add a glam, retro touch to cabinets and drawers (Graham and Green) £2.95-£3.95 each
Salt dish Adorable, totally frivolous; I want one (Anthropologie) £8

Under £20
Sari Measuring Spoons Cute, pretty and useful (John Lewis) £11
WRAP Christmas Goody Bag For design geeks (WRAP) £20
Sweet Shop Jar Nostalgic treats in a retro jar (Hope & Greenwood) £16.99

An English Rose A bare root rose plant for garden lovers (David Austin Roses) From £12 each
Spice Bundle The famous Spice Shop's selection of their favourite spice blends £10.55

Coffee Cup Beautiful, and ageless Scottish pottery (Highland Stoneware) £12.25
Iridescent Glass Jar Add a bit of glamour to your bathroom or vanity desk (Willow and Stone) £17.50

Dr Hauschka Hand Cream This smells intoxicating, and works like a dream, leaving no residue (Look Fantastic) £12.95

Pinchito Tapas

Pinchito Tapas (one of two London branches) sits on an unpromising, scruffy street, a stone's throw from Old Street underground, not exactly asking to be found. But with a relatively healthy reputation online, and the decent Brighton-based Pinxto People as founders, I thought we had little to fear.

Our night got off to a bad start, with a confusion over the booking, and a long wait for a table, but a decent Old Fashioned helped soothe the nerves. It was a Saturday night and the bar was heaving with wannabe Shoreditchers.

Service was laughably crap. We were harassed into ordering the moment the menu arrived, and were attended to by three different waitresses, who were so hurried that our food was literally slam-dunked onto the table without a word.

I can't describe the food in detail, because there was no detail to describe. Absolutely everything - tortilla, pork, calamari, baked chorizo, patatas bravas - was heavy and smothered in, or drowning in grease. I suspect underneath all the butter and oil were some half decent ingredients (the boquerones and chorizo were nice enough), but our experience doesn't compel me to praise them for their sourcing. I'd rather send an appeal to the chefs to be less heavy handed, and let the ingredients speak for themselves.

A special mention must go to the 'pork and mango'. It was horrid. The pork belly fat hadn't rendered properly, and the 'mango' was a slick of greasy sweet orange sauce smeared over the plate.

They claim to offer Basque pintxos, but these cumbersome platefuls bear no resemblance. For a far superior and satisfying experience, head to Barrafina, Moro's bar, Morito (next door to Moro), Salt Yard, Dehesa, or Jose.

Our meal cost around £30 a head (incl. drinks).

Pinchito Tapas on Urbanspoon

Friday, 2 December 2011

At Home: Chicken Pot Soup

For those of you sneezing, snuffling and generally feeling miserable about your lot, let this simple, soothing soup comfort, revive and revitalise you.

Cloves and saffron add a rich, heady note and a satisfying bittersweet edge to the slow-cooked carrots and onion. But you don't need them. There are as many versions of chicken soup as there are cooks who make it, so adapt it to your own taste. Just make sure your chicken is on the bone, and include as many fragrant herbs and root veg as you can get your hands on.

Niki Segnit suggests, in her wonderful Flavour Thesaurus, adding chicken's feet to give the finished soup 'a pleasantly gelatinous texture'. Go for it, if you have a Chinese supermarket nearby.
Serves 4
  • 1 chicken, cut into portions
  • 1 large onion, studded with 6 cloves
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • Bouquet garni of 1 whole bunch of celery tops, bay leaf, and a bunch of parsley
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 500g cooked noodles
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced (optional)
  • Toasted slivered almonds (optional)
In a heavy-based casserole or saucepan, place the chicken, onion, carrots, bouquet garni, saffron, seasoning, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. Remove the surface fat and bouquet garni, and boil rapidly until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the chilli, if using.

Remove the meat from the cooled chicken pieces, shred, and return to the pan. Warm through, and serve in generous bowls with piping hot noodles, and scatter with toasted almonds and freshly chopped parsley.

Charlotte's Organic Home Baking

If you're a regular visitor, you'll know I seldom promote products, unless I come across something very special. Charlotte Woodbridge's sweet stuffs are just that.

Charlotte started trading earlier this year. Family experience with food allergies and intolerances led her to quickly conclude that not only were there not enough wheat- and gluten-free products out there, but what was on offer often lacked in taste what it lacked in allergens.

A period of illness led her to reevaluate her life, and compelled her to take the plunge and start her own business. After months of kitchen trials and research, and a series of rigorous taste tests, her chocolates, cakes and preserves were ready to sell.

'I love to bake, and nothing makes me happier than to be in the kitchen', she tells me. Her laudable mantra is that her products must be indistinguishable from their gluten-laden counterparts. And I'm delighted to confirm that they are, particularly her delectable chocolate brownies - moist, sticky, and rich - and boozy chocolate truffles. Believe me, you will not taste the difference.

Charlotte's sweets and treats are an ideal gift for anyone with a weakness for sweet things, not just coeliacs, or those with an intolerance to wheat and gluten.

Oh, and all her products are organic, too.

You can order her products direct (contact and sales:, find her on Twitter, Facebook (where all new outlets are announced), or visit her on the 9th, 10th and 16th Dec. at The Green House Community Market, Letchworth, HERTS.

Check out these recipe websites for excellent gluten-free savoury and sweet recipes:
La Tartine Gourmand
The Baking Beauties

If you'd like to learn how to make gluten-free bakes, join Sarah Jones who has just set up a baking course.