Maybe it's because there's a lot of money sloshing around, but Hong Kong has always been known as the restaurant capital of the Far East, and a playground for international chefs. A stint in the Special Administrative Region has become a requisite for any decent chef on the move, and recently it has seen an influx of talent from Australia and Italy. Weathering Communism, SARS (...)
Why go now? Late March can be a mob scene in Seville with all the Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivities, so go now and beat the pre-Easter rush (20-27 March). Spring temperatures are mild and Ryanair's new route from Stansted makes it easier to get there. Where to stay The charming family owned Casa de Carmona (00 34 954 191000; casadecarmona.com), a 17th-century (...)
Why go now? We all need a little help with our New Year's resolutions - be they stopping smoking or losing weight, and the Thalassotherapy Institute can help you with both. Where to stay Miramar (13 rue Louison Bobet; 00 33 559 41 30 00). As well as some of the best facilities in town (pool, sauna etc), this modern hotel has one of the finest restaurants (Le Relais) (...)
This year don't let your holidays descend into a fortnight of bad television and boredom-induced family meltdown. Instead, take advantage of some of the hundreds of festive events around the country, from lantern parades to pantomimes. Most are closed on Christmas Day (unless otherwise stated), when you'll just have to suffer the TV turkeys or resort to an extended dog-walk (...)
Just because it's winter there's no need to hang up the walking boots and hibernate - quite the opposite. The Ramblers' Association estimates that on any given winter weekend, more than 400 of its groups strike out on organised walks. 'Walking is particularly popular in winter,' says Nick Temple, editor of the Time Out Book of Country Walks. 'It's a time of year when (...)
If an avalanche transceiver doesn't sound like a fun holiday accessory, there are plenty of opportunities for walking in the sun. Classic winter destinations such as Madeira, the Canaries and Cyprus offer a great range of walks from leisurely strolls to full-on mountain hikes; similarly Morocco and Jordan provide excellent trekking opportunities through stunning mountain (...)
Cold is pretty much guaranteed in the UK, but snow unfortunately isn't. So if the white stuff is high on your list of priorities for a proper winter walk, think about heading for the mountains. You don't have to strap skis or a board to your feet to enjoy the powder, though some of the trips listed below do entail wearing snow shoes to stop you sinking up to your knees. (...)
Czech Republic: Prague What's for breakfast? Ham, cheese, sausage and rye bread. Alternatively, if you have the stomach for it at that time of the day, hotdogs and beer. If you don't, then Cafe Louvre (+4202 2493 0949) serves Czech, continental and full-English breakfasts. What's for lunch? Try some excellent local fish dishes, such as the spicy fish soup or (...)
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So the press release was headed
Viagra may heat up one's sex drive, but chocolate can make it sizzle.
And the main content was from Nigeria. Let me see, Viagra and Nigeria... OK sounds like spam to me but anyhow, here's the rest of the release
The report, produced by Nigeria's national committee for the development of cocoa, may be a bit skimpy on double-blind scientific tests, but it does refer to the marketing campaign of a British trade association making similar claims.
Baptised "Feeding Your Imagination", the campaign will soon launch a product line of six energy chocolate bars containing essential oils said to enhance one's mood, and especially one's sexual appetite.
Costing about six US dollars (5 euros) per 100 grams, the bars are fetchingly named Sexy, Beautiful, Dreamy, Fantastic, Sensual and Lovely, according to the website foodnavigator.com.
Britons already lead the European Union in chocolate consumption, eating nearly 10 kilos on average per year, and Britain is thus considered a promising market for sex candy.
The bits I like are:
I couldn't find any mention of the Nigerian story on the website, but I did find this:
MXI Corp is set to build on its line of antioxidant-rich Xoçai dark chocolates next month with a chocolate bar containing omega 3 and omega 6 oils – seducing the US market by promoting the health angle.
This year functional chocolate has proven to be an ever-expanding market with dozens of new products being introduced globally to tempt consumers dissatisfied with ‘ordinary' treats or needing more of an incentive to replace milk chocolate with the bitter taste of dark.
This is astonishing, it's like a choclate version of Flora pro.active what's next, Carol Vordeman encouraging us to eat more chocolate?
I was up in Scotland over the weekend visiting my parents (more on that later). Naturally, porridge was on the menu. My parents are big porridge salters, but having fallen into southern ways, I prefer it sweet. I've tried the lot: bananas; maple syrup; chopped nuts; brown sugar, but my all-time favourite combo is oats with raspberries.
However, it being May, there were no fresh ones to be bought, but my mother had a box in the freezer. And a new favourite has been born: porridge with frozen raspberries. It's fantastic. The sourish ice explodes with flavour from the hot, rather bland oatmeal. I'm going to freeze some other fruits and see if it works as well. I'll keep you posted.
I really hate halogen hobs.
All my life I have cooked on gas and this new house I'm in has a ceramic cooktop. I detest it. It has the sensitivity of a surgeon in a catcher's mit, so I've been burning a lot of food recently. Also, plasticky things keen finding their way onto hot rings and fusing onto the ceramic. I'm just waiting for my cat to jump up and cauterise her paws, or worse still Clem, because there's no visual way of telling whether a ring is hot or not, and a small red h on a grid doesn't mean much to a feline or a three year old.
If someone has a fondness for halogen hobs, I'd be really interested to hear why.
Got some fantastic tea buns from Natural, the Japanese organic (maybe not?) shop on Goldhurst Terrace at Swiss Cottage this afternoon. Clem needed a boost so Dug picked up a bag (£1.55 for six) of very home-made-looking glazed red-bean buns. They look and taste a lot like brioche, but have this hyper sweet yet slightly fermented vein of red bean paste running through them, like cinnamon in a danish twist.
They were delicious. Clem loved them and scoffed two.
Made smoked mackerel pate today and it was absolutely revolting. There has to be good recipe out there somewhere.
Now here's a thing. Apparently the Brits make more cheese than the French. Hard to believe, I know, but there are now 833 different varieties being churned out in the UK compared to the French's 450. And I'm not talking just Cheese Strings and Dairylea, but proper stuff made from cow's, goat's, ewe's and even buffalo milk.
My question is how much of it do we eat? Let's hope this mean the arrival of a regularly replenished cheeseboard in restaurants and family homes but I have my doubts.
It had to happen, really. No neighbourhood can claim to be truly on the map until it's got itself a farmer's market.
So on the way to the park, Clem and I shuffled along to mingle with the so solid redwing, parka and toddlers on a string crew to admire the earthy parsnips and squeeze a few deserving caulis. There was meat and treats and even egg-'n'-dairy-free cupcakes to tempt the NW6 control mothers off the path of righteousness and self-abnegation. And I just know that copies of the River Cafe Green book are being dusted off right about now as the eager shoppers figure out what in the name of god they're going to do with the 2kg of cavolo nero they simply had to buy.
Delicious Lincoln sausages sizzled courtesy of Grasmere Farm (Clemmie wolfed down two stuffed in a lovely squidgy bun).
Today felt the first real chill of autumn so a coffee wagon was a welcome sight. However the lattes it was selling were made with unpasteurised milk and when I (being seven months' pregnant and a bit sensitive on that front) inquired after bastardised pasteurised, I could have sworn I heard "bloody townie" passing the homespun barista's lips. Insult your market, that's a good plan, you Hertfordshire tosser. Any old how, it was kinda sweet seeing the worthy hordes of NW Sixers washing down their mutton burgers with a swiftie from Starbucks which has also moved in down the road, more proof if it were needed that Queen's Park est arrivé.
All bitching aside, I'll definitely be going back for Grasmere's Lincoln bangers, the leg roasts of Gloucester Old Spot and punnets of green tomatoes. And let's face it, three big green cabbages for £1.50 is a good deal no matter what your postcode.
I've always wondered why Waitrose, a supermarket admirably dedicated to regionalism and diversity, utterly fails on the labelling side, particularly when it comes to its potatoes.
This is a small point, but one that has driven me nuts for ages. Why does Waitrose label its non-organic tatties clearly as Maris Piper, King Edwards, Desiree etc but can only muster "Red" or "White Potatoes" as a description of its organic range. Organic shoppers are many things, but I seriously doubt they are colourblind, so the least helpful thing that could go on the label of an otherwise transparent plastic bag is the colour of the spud therein. I can see they're red, but which variety are they? I (and I would imagine most other shoppers who choose organic) want to know how they cook not what to put them beside in the kitchen for maximum aesthetic impact.
So, this morning, I got on my high retail horse and I brought it up with the fruit & veg manager at the Finchley Road branch. Sensing a great deal of "yeah, yeah, whatever," in his response (although politely and attentively put), I thought I might just give the press office a ring and ask the same question along with some other stuff I needed to find out.
You could have knocked me down with a potato peeling when Peter Cook, the fruit & veg buyer, rang me up a couple of hours later with a full explanation of this labelling anomally.
So the skinny is this: Waitrose, true to its spirit of promoting the little guy, buy so many varieties of organic potato from so many different producers throughout the year that it would cost the company a fortune to print up bags naming all the spuds.
Fair enough, I said, but why not print up a paper shelf label identifying the spuds instead? They do it for mushrooms and apples and all manner of other stuff so why not potatoes, particularly at this time of year when the domestic tatty season is in full swing?
Good idea, said Mr Cook. We're working on our packaging as we speak and will bear in mind your suggestion.
So who knows? Blow off or customer service in action? If, all of a sudden, labels appear in Waitrose identifying organic Kerr's Pinks, Maris Piper or Pentland Hawk, you can send your letters of grateful thanks to me here and I'll forward them to the charming Peter Cook.
I wonder if he's as funny as the other more famous one?
For all those interested in what's what in the land of the spud, here's a link I dug up courtesy of our friends at the foodie supermarket
Friday 11 November is a sad day indeed. Not only for the Armistice Day ceremonials which are becoming more and more poignant as the peace rages in Iraq, but on a small personal level.
Today, I have called time on my SKK frying pan. This wonderful piece of kit has long been top gun in my kitchen battery but after only four years' service it has finally bitten the dust. Or at least has been officially demoted to the ranks of the mediocre and culpably sticky non-stick.
I know it's pathetic to become attached to objects, particularly cook stuff, but I loved that pan and did everything with it. It was so much more than just a frying pan. Happy were the days when we skipped hand in hand through the park, kicking leaves and laughing about...
OK. Not really, but seriously if you've never heard of SKK you should find out. They're great. They're German and as non-stick as Bill Clinton. Every pan is hand cast from heavy gauge aluminium so they all weigh a ton but give fantastic, even heat distribution. In the durability stakes they win by a mile. The non-stick is titanium-based meaning you can use metal implements on it and not damage it, you can cook on any surface be it gas, halogen, Aga or an open fire if the urge grabs you.
And it comes with a five-year guarantee. Is this worth pursuing, or after four years, three months and 20 days, will the manufacturer just shrug and say tough? Well, not that tough, actually. I (probably mistakenly) tend to believe that a guarantee is a minimum life expectancy, not a maximum, but here I could be wrong. Is i just guaranteeing what it guarantees and I could well have a point since my pan fell in sight of the finishing post?
Anyway, we'll see what the nice people at SKK say. If they tell me to get lost, I may find myself pledging allegiance to another flag, but if they're nice, I may find myself with a shiny, new, hard-as-nails pan and the prospect of at least five more years' happy cooking.
I just don't know about Delia Smith.
She's set herself up as the cooking mother of the nation, won the confidence of millions of non-cooks to the extent that she's got generations of Brits eating out of her pudgy, freckled, antiseptic little hands. I reckon she's sitting there in Norfolk in her brushed velveteen housecoat and Canaries' scarf, sipping her half of Norfolk ale and having a mighty good laugh as she checks her status on Amazon's best-seller list.
There are many things I would like to do to Delia, but right now, having just washed up after dinner cooked by my father-in-law, I would like to grass her off to the Environment Agency.
My pa-in-law, Jed, an otherwise very confident and creative fellow, but being the product of a certain generation, will tackle only a fistful of recipes. Top of his list is a decent rendition of Delia Bloody Smith's sausages in cider with mashed potatoes. Now, I'm absolutely not slagging off the chef, but will somebody please tell me why must you mash potatoes with a whisk? Why? What's wrong with a masher and a fork? Or a ricer if you must? But an electric whisk? It took me about half an hour and a gallon of water to extract all the mash from the damned thing's nookie crannies. But Delia says it must be an electric whisk so a whisk it will be.
I'm not a great one for censorship of any kind but it's bonfire night soon and I reckon that Ms Smith's How To... series would make good tinder. It could be as symbolically liberating as bra burning in the 1970s if it meant that thousands of whisk-bound starter cooks were released from the nonsense gadgetry peddled by La Smith and would revert to only a few well-chosen kitchen tools.
Bring back the potato masher. It's easier to wash, besides.
I swung by Mrs Kirkham's last week when I was on a whistle-stop trip to the North of England. It's a tiny dairy on a farm outside Goosnargh in Lancs, presided over by a very chirpy cheesemaker called Graham, the fifth generation of Kirkham. Out of a couple of barns and a steel bath, which pretty much describes this operation, Graham Kirkham, with the help of Fiona, his companion in curds, daily turns out roughly 12 to 15 10kg cheeses from the unpasteurised milk of his 75-strong Holstein Freisian herd ("There are no days off in cheesemaking," says Graham. "When the cows milk, there's cheese to be made".)
Mrs Kirkham's Tasty Lancashire is made to a very traditional recipe, blending three separate days' curds, salting, pressing, tightening and buttering by hand before sitting the 10kg truckles to mature for anything from six weeks to 12 months -- the longer the better. (The buttering is the trad bit -- Graham's great-grandma used to use full-fat, full-cream, salted butter to seal the cheeses until the 1950s when wax was introduced but, coming full circle, Graham has reverted to the 'old ways' and now brushes the truckles with the good stuff.)
The result is a sumptuous buttery, creamy -- almost fluffy -- cheese with a good lasting flavour that develops as you eat it. And if my word isn't good enough, it won a silver in its category at the 2005 British Cheese Awards last Friday.
If you're keen to try it (and you should be), you can find it on the cheese counter at Booth's supermarkets and Selfridges, or at cheese specialists Neal's Yard Dairy, Paxton & Whitfield, Jeroboams and Iain Mellis.
Just back from a couple of days in Cumbria (but more of that later) and rummaging through the post. A brochure for the Mind Body Soul exhibition threw up this classic bit of copywriting which has nothing to do with food but made me snort with laughter:
Former East End gangster Reiki Ron spent 17 years in solitary [confinement] for GBH and crimes of violence. Locked up, he discovered he had as much a gift for healing with his hands as he did for beating people senseless with them. Fed up with softly spoken, over-polite healers? Reiki Ron is the antidote.
Humour and healing? Who would have thought it. Reiki Ron can be seen at 3.30pm on Sunday 13th November at the MBS exhibition which takes place at Olympia 2 in London.
They say that the best time to eat carbohydrate is shortly after exercise because it gets burnt up faster rather than being laid down as fat. Which is a good thing because right next to the pool where I take my daughter Clementine swimming is the Churreria Española, and if you're looking for a post-pool hit of carbs, this is the place to get it.
I first tasted chocolate con churros in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia and marvelled at the way the spoon stood up in the cup of dense, dark, hot chocolate. But it did! It really did. And when you dipped the churro, the long, twisty, freshly cooked doughnutty thing, into the chocolate, it left an indentation that slowly covered over like swamp mud. Donuts and hot chocolate... man, what a breakfast.
Sensibly, the hot chocolate is served up at London's Churreria Española in espresso-sized cups. I guess they want to avoid lawsuits with families of clients who keel over and die after a caffeine OD. However, it has the same swamp-mud quality and it more coats than soaks the churros when you dunk them, which you must. I asked the cafe owner to reveal the secret but he swears that all he does is add milk to the Val Cao -- the brand of choc powder he uses. I didn't get to examine the packet ingredients but I reckon it contains slow-setting cement. In any case, it's deliclious and Clem happily sucks down two of the cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled churros while doing a Jackson Pollock all over her face and clothes with the cup contents.
Maybe one day we'll get beyond the snack course and try out some of the Churreria's tasty looking savouries too.
Katz's Deli on East Houston Street in New York's Lower East Side is a bit of an institution, and for good reason.
It's a barn of a place that's been going since 1888 serving up vast portions of salt beef, hotdogs and legendary pastrami to hungry locals who crowd and queue to get a table. And queue they do, because even though Katz's can accommodate 355 diners at one sitting, the weekend sees a long line of rumbling tummies and smacking lips patiently meandering down E. Houston in anticipation of a chilli dog or a pastrami-and-fried-egg sandwich.
We went there to satisfy a yen for salt beef (confusingly called corned beef, which I've always associated with the fatty, tinny-tasting stuff that comes in oddly shaped cans) and by god! did it hit the spot. How could it not when they pile 8oz of moist, melting salt beef into a Reuben? And Swiss cheese, onions, mustard and chopped pickles, which they sandwich between two pieces of chewy rye bread. This is all served up a by a legion of red-faced short-order chefs who work at breakneck speed behind a steamy counter the length of the room, with clearly defined sections for hotdogs and knishes, 'corned' beef and pastrami, salami, cheesecake, cream sodas and frothy New York beer.
No wonder Bill Clinton is a regular.
Recently, I've been swigging down litres of Belvoir (pr. beever) lime cordial.
I don't usually go in for diluting drinks but I'm making an exception for this one because it's a real joy to drink. It's deliciously clean, refreshing and made from completely natural ingredients in an old-fashioned way by an old-fashioned-sounding (though, of course thoroughly modern and thrusting) family company based in Lincolnshire.
They have a pretty long list of cordials and pressés (elderflower was the daddy in 1984) and I can't wait until next summer to get my hands on English Cherry which is sadly, but appropriately, in the seasonal range. In the meantime, I'm going to try Plum and Damson, the autumn offering, and keep swigging the lime.
For New Yorkers, bagels aren't just a bready breakfast food, they're closer to a way of life, practically a religion. Ask a New Yorker where to get the best bagels and he will come over all sectarian. It has to be H&H. No! Zaro's! Are you kidding me? Ess-a-Bagel. Ah, you poor fools, go to Brooklyn for Terrace Bagels, they're worth the trek. Yadda, yadda, yadda...
From where I'm standing it boils down to whatever is local. And I stand by that in London too, but I reckon I'm pretty spoilt in my own local bagel bakery, Roni's on West End Lane in West Hampstead. According to my ex-NewYorker husband, Roni's knocks the poppy seeds off the "challah-bread doughnuts" they punt in Brick Lane. Apparently, Roni's has found the right balance of crusty, chewy and doughy. A good bagel should endanger your crowns and threaten to stick to your teeth. If you say so, sweetcakes.
But, perhaps sacreligiously, I think the most interesting thing about the bagel is the schmear, the myraid variety of cream cheeses you can get in New York, from Amish plain whipped, to olive, mixed vegetable, lox spread and, my personal favourite, scallion and horseradish. Top that with some magnificent smoked wild salmon from Russ and Daughters and now you've got a breakfast to get worked up about.
God, another thing worth mentioning about Broadway Market which, incidentally is a little box of hidden gems, is the hog roast. Clearly, lots of people know about it already and they were queuing half way down the market for a ciabatta sandwich stuffed with succulent pork that was sliced before their eyes off the biggest rib roast I've ever seen. It even came with apple sauce. And then there were the crunchiest-looking bollos de arroz for afters if you had the room or were simply feeling greedy which, after 30 seconds in the vicinity of the rotisserie, I was.
Ah, lucky are the denizens of London's West Hampstead. An organic shop -- called That Organic Place -- has occupied a vacant spot on Mill Lane. It stocks all the usual worthy stuff: knobbly veg, spelt bread and a bunch of soya stuff (none of which exactly fills my foodie heart with joy), but the thing that does really excite me is the full range of Sheepdrove Farm meat, which is otherwise quite hard to find unless you buy online.
If you want a chicken that tastes like chicken ought to, get a Sheepdrove chicken.
I must register a protest at the Rosslyn Deli's decision not to stock Sikelia honey any more. I was a particular fan of the Eucalytus, a rich, pungent, granular honey which is gathered from from hives on the slopes of Mount Etna by raven-haired maidens of unimpeachable virtue. OK, maybe not. The Etna bit is true but I can't vouch for the rest.
Sikelia is a small, Sicily-based, family-run, artisanal food business. Its organic honey is particularly delicious and the Eucalyptus seems to have almost magical medicinal qualities (very good for treating coughs, sore throats and the like). So now I've had to resort to Seggiano to get my fix and although Seggiano is undeniably a fabulously slick and ultra-successful brand, I feel as though I'm letting down a mate.
Dropped in to Giraffe in Hampstead with Clem, my three-year-old daughter today for a swift post-ballet smoothie. My hopes weren't high - Clem's were: she was on a milkshake hunt, but nothing doing. Milkshakes must be perceived as downmarket, or certainly too plebeian for that particular strip of Rosslyn Hill. And as the charming waiter in Giraffe gently chafed: "Smoothies are so much healthier."
With hopes dashed and wrists slapped, we ordered up a Mango Mama and, boy, what a glassful. Mango blended with banana, orange and apple juice and a sexy swirl of strawberry that hovered around the midriff like a gauzy pink sarong. How do they do that? I'm certainly going to try it at home and feel very virtuous in so doing. But would it have killed them to whip up some strawberries in a glass of milk and hold the lecture?
Don't get me started...
A friend of mine (whippet thin yet pasta-loving, chocolate-chomping, rudely healthy) took her seven-month-old for a routine check-up at the health centre yesterday only to be greeted with much sucking of teeth and "good" advice. "This child," she was admonished, "is badly underweight. What she need is carbohydrates - CARBS, and lots of 'em. Why don't you buy some nice oven chips and feed them to her with mayonnaise, and perhaps a little ketchup...?"
Why not? Let me tell you why not.
For starters, the kid has only just gone on to solids (current wisdom being that you should give babies nothing but milk for six months). Second, mayonnaise is made from eggs and anyone with half a brain and a parenting book knows you're not supposed to feed eggs to babies until they are more than a year old. As for the contents of oven chips (salt, saturated fats, chemicals that sound nothing like food) or ketchup... Maybe this HV subscribes to Ronald Reagan's view that ketchup can be counted as a vegetable portion. Fortunately RR can no longer harm anyone with his misguided nonsense, but this HV is in a position of power, providing (one would hope) a source of good, sensible advice for mothers who are invariably vulnerable about something as basic and sensitive as feeding their children. A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. Clearly the health services need to be Jamie Olivered too, at every level.