Friday 26 November 2010

Do you come from a land down under?

This photograph is titled: "Stop going to Waitrose to buy dinner you arse".

It follows a distinctive pattern. Plan to stay in to save some money. Head to Waitrose intending only to buy 'reduced' items. It always starts off well, then with equal certainty, rapidly descends into farce. Half price monkfish, tick, 30% reduced wine, so cheap I'll buy two, a few accompaniments (the bill suddenly rockets as this includes unpasteurised cheeses and all other kinds of nonce nonsense) and then I spotted these chaps.

So alive they were moving their little sign around... "New Zealand Clams £10.99kg". I've been awaiting their appearance in Glasgow's malnourished Waitrose for some time. Yes, I am that sad. They caused a flood of mixed emotions when spotted in the Monmouth store last summer. Wonder that live clams, from the other side of the world, could be sold in Wales, a triumph of human ingenuity. Yet simultaneously a rush of profound disappointment that we were actually doing so. These shores are crawling with wonderful shellfish, why the hell are we flying clams first class across the globe? Then I tasted them. And that's why food love costs so dear.

Tonight they went with some half price Monkfish. A few years back a guy on the fish stall in another Waitrose told me they only ever keep fresh fish three days and the stuff they buy in the first place is spanking. So to this day it's the only place I'll buy reduced price fish.

Cooked with shallot, garlic, flat leaf parsley, olive oil, butter and white wine. The clams and the juices were immense. The monkfish dry with that odd watery texture fish gets when it's been badly frozen. First time I've been seriously disappointed with Waitrose fish.

Anyway, seemed appropriate to drink a Kiwi white with a Kiwi clam. The reduced price Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc was tasty. Better as it warmed up too. Great value at £8.99 so a steal at £5.99. Drunk while playing the clams final request before getting steamed... they got a glass of it too. At least, I think this is the song they were asking for, clams are terrible mumblers.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Fastish Food: Crab Spaghetti with Beaujolais

Beaujolais is a beautiful, jolly name and nowadays one of the most reliable of all the French regions. They make wines here for most occasions and best of all they're delicious to drink with and without food.

Tonight's choice came from the region's latest 'best ever vintage', 2009. Hot on the heels of the many other 'vintages of the century' the region claims to have been blessed with of late. This time though, the hype maybe right because every wine I've tried from 2009 has been delicious. This was too and went unexpectedly well with my latest 'Fastish Food' invention... crab spaghetti.

While the spaghetti's boiling fry a clove of garlic and a chili in olive oil for a few minutes.

Loosen up a few tablespoons of tomato puree with water then pop it in the pan with the garlic and chili. Fry briefly then add in sliced asparagus tips. Cook a few minutes more pour in a small tub of double cream.

Boil till it thickens add a tub of mixed white and brown crab meat.

I spied some left over Russian vodka so popped a drop of that in too.

Heat through and season. By now the spaghetti should be cooked, drain and mix with the crab sauce. That's it. Ten minutes start to finish. Seriously tasty.

Beaujolais-Villages, Louis Jadot 2009. Currently on offer in Waitrose @ £6.99 a bottle. Bargain.

Thursday 18 November 2010


Ferries still excite me. The prospect of sailing across the sea in a little Noah's Arc filled with all the things that probably shouldn't get saved come the floods.

The smell of chips cooking slowly in old fat. Patterned carpets that could start a fit. Fun Zones. People.

Freed from the insulation of the car, a motley collection of this shore's inhabitants get a captive audience and the chance to express themselves. If you ever fancy shining a light into contemporary Britain, ferry travel gives 'Come Dine With Me' a run for it's money. The only drawback being, unlike TV, once on you can't turn it off.

My formative ferry years were different. Back then it was called 'abroad'. We'd leave these floating sociological melting pots and drive out, onto the wrong side of the road, into smells of garlic, seafood and real coffee. Cherbourg, Le Harve, Santander... nowadays it's more like Dunoon, Stornoway and on this occasion Brodick. At Brodick you disembark straight into the smell of fish and chips.

Despite the greeting aroma, Arran's gone to some lengths to punt itself as the home of great food. Unfortunately, the impressive "Taste of Arran" marketing campaign doesn't seem to have made getting hold of the stuff on the island particularly easy.

In a small complex on the outskirts of Brodick several businesses group together. Creelers, a restaurant that's closed for winter but also a fishmonger is ok, the Arran Cheese Shop has been good to me in the past but this time their Arran Blue was well past it's best. Across the road at the local brewery they were selling my favourite of their brews Arran Blonde for £2.12 a bottle. In Brodick's Co-op it was £2.10. It was even cheaper in Sainsbury's in Glasgow the week before. Am I being penalised for visiting the brewery in November?

After a beautiful walk through cliffs, bogs and endless startled wild deer, I popped next door to pick up something local.

Determinedly I walked up the driveway to a lean-to on the side of a house. After negotiating my way past a man intensely staring at the gravel he was sweeping, I went in. "Yes?" asked another man behind a tiny display counter, which also happened to be empty. "Hello, I'm staying next door for the week"... "Yes"..."Well, funnily enough I'm after some meat"..."Any particular sort?"..."I was thinking something local would be nice"..."All I've got local just now is venison". Stewing venison it was then. I bought some onions and carrots too.

This is what I did: Sauted an onion till golden in clarified butter. May have been local. Popped the onions into a casserole, reserving the oniony butter in the frying pan to brown the meat with a bashed clove of garlic (skin still on). After browning, put the meat with the onions then added a tablespoon of flour to the left over butter in the frying pan, stirred until lumpless then added Arran Dark Ale a bit at a time. Used about half a bottle. Added something sweet to balance the bitter hops... a tablespoon of heather honey found in the cupboard. Brought it to the boil, poured over the meat and onions, popped the peeled carrots, lid on and into an oven at 160 c for about 2 hours.

Quality bit of venison in a really tasty, straightforward dish served with tagliatelle. Something they do a lot with rich daube stews in Provence. Although tagliatelle's not strictly local there either it works brilliantly. Unfortunately the Arran Dark Ale was so tasty it was gone by the time the stew was ready. So drank this from the local Co-op instead....

This has to be the best value red wine I've had all year. Delicious blackberry fruit and a nice, dusty mid palate with good structure. The fruit's so powerful even the vanilla oak taste, presumably added for the English speaking market, seems in balance. Utterly incredible value for £5.19.

Actually Brodick Co-op's wine's worth a mention. It stocks one of the best Cru Beaujolais I've ever drunk, the 2004, only ever found by me in Stornoway's Co-op way back in 2007, was sublime. This one would have been fermenting while I was drinking Stornoway's bounty, it's good, but maybe needs a year or two to show it's charmes.

It's in good company too. The shelves boast cru class Bordeaux, Muga Rioja and good German wines.

They've also got a tasty own label Chablis and a selection from the US that goes beyond Blossom Hill. Not exactly a taste of Arran, but damn tasty none the less.

Tuesday 9 November 2010


Picked this up in Oddbins tonight because it was new and I was curious, although I suspected it would be a rotten match with what I'd bought for dinner. Turned out to be a light, nicely acidic rustic drop of grog with a dusty aftertaste, not unlike the aftermath of cycling accidents when you end up with a mouthful of grit. Reminded me of the wines you can buy from the barrel in French campsites. In fact, I'm pretty sure a wine very similar to this came out of a fountain all night during a village fete once. Messy.

Lupe Pintos sell really good tortillas... in overly generous packs. Having bought some for my previous post I'll be eating them for a week. So tonight I decided to try a trick learnt from my friend Jo... tortilla pizzas.

Preheat the oven to as hot as it goes with the baking tray in. Smear the tortillas with some passata and a splash of habenero sauce. Sprinkle some precooked seafood and sliced spring onion onto the sauce. Top with torn up mozzarella. Into the oven for five minutes.
Then came the revelation.

While the 'pizzas' cooked I nibbled some of the left over seafood then had a slurp of wine. Unbelievable. A perfect match. That strange dusty gritty flavour and the wine's lightness were a perfect match. Just to make sure I tried another mussel followed by another a slurp of wine. Yup. Better try a cockle with the wine... yup, that works too. Mmm, what about prawn... yup. Squid... just in time the cooker beeper sounded.

So the first red wine I've ever had that really, properly goes with seafood. It's high acidity worked a treat with the tomato, chilli and cheese on the pizza too. Remarkably unexpected. I'll definitely buy it again to serve with a seafood platter to freak people out. Otherwise, as a wine, it's a tad overpriced.

Domaine Mas Theo's organic Coteaux du Tricastin: £8.99 Oddbins.
A red wine for seafood.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Lupe Pintos - The Half Canned Cooks

Recently I started introducing myself in all the places I've been going to for years in relative, or at least nominative, anonymity. One of my first 'outings' was in Lupe Pintos. Now, I've been using this brilliant deli for years but somehow never got around to saying hello.

Aside from an incredible array of hot sauces, chillies and tortillas, their cooking chorizo and morcilla from Asturias are as good as you'll get, and, where else in Scotland will you find the Spanish air dried tuna 'mojama' or a bottle of the thirst quenching Basque wine Txacoli?

I accept not everyone finds themselves suddenly short of cave aged Manchego of an evening, but it happens to me and the fact this place has been here a decade suggests I'm not entirely alone.

So, not long after introducing myself, as Keith Floyd might say, '"my latest chum Ian" tells me Lupe Pintos have just launched a wine list of purely Spanish wines and are having a free tasting on Friday. Result. Then on the Monday he tells me there's the shop's cookery book launch where, for the price of the book you get to sample some of the recipes, a talk by the author and a signed copy of the book. I decide that introducing myself to people is a very good thing indeed and resolve to do much more of it.

Two decades back Doug Bell started a wholesale business distributing tortilla chips, refried beans and Monterey Jack cheese in Edinburgh. He sold the wholesale business in 2007 but kept the delis in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The book launch was in Mancini, a restaurant next door to Lupe Pintos, a place with an admirable selection of wines by the glass. While waiting for the author to say a few words everyone flicked through the book and nibbled nice nibbles. While he seems rather shy and withdrawn initially, I'd seen at the wine tasting a few days earlier that once Doug gets going he's quite a captivating speaker.

Utilising props from a suitcase, Doug had a dig at the homogeneous nature of supermarkets and the absurdity of celebrity chefs. As he poked fun at people trying to make restaurant food at home I stared awkwardly into my wine glass recalling times spent stuffing quail legs.

The admirable ethos of this book is that food should be good, fun and not a faff to prepare. No need to soak black beans for 24 hours and boil them for 2 when you can open a tin. The book's intention is to help people make the best rendition of a dish possible with the least amount of fuss. Fortunately for Doug's deli businesses you'll not find a lot of this stuff anywhere else!

My first foray into cooking from the book came tonight. Pollos Asados De Dos Hermanos With Salsa Boracha. The book explains the name's a tribute to one of US televisions best ever series 'Breaking Bad' in which a roast chicken business is used as a front for mass distribution of meth amphetamine produced by a terminally ill chemistry teacher.

Oh, and you shove a half finished can of beer up the chickens jacksey. Keeps the breast moist apparently. The little white container holds the deli's own achiote seasoning.

Well this was pretty damn tasty. Lovely unusual flavours combining deliciously together. An impressive start. Only one thing to drink with this really...

Very pleased with my first foray into The Half Canned Cooks. But next up a real challenge. One of the recipes is for a seafood paella made entirely from tinned fish. It goes against the grain for me... but I have to try it. Will post the results soon along with a few of the very tasty wines they're now selling there.