Presisent Brie

Recently I was bought some President Brie from Waitrose.

This is a mass produced product which has little in common with proper French Brie and shows that France is as capable of producing rubbish food as any other country.

I posted a review on the Waitrose Website as follows:

It is sad such products are made
This was an accidental purchase by my mother who assumed this was a good brand. In reality this fabricated imitation of French Brie is so far from the true Brie de Meaux or Melun that it feels like a bad joke. It lacks the richness and pungency of the great cheese and leaves one with a questionable taste on the palate. We see this a lot with mass manufacturers, especially in the dairy industry, where they will take the famous name of a great idea and subvert it to sell to those who do not realise they have been mislead. Please, call your offering something else. If you want a cheap cheese, buy this, if you want Brie, do not.

However, it seems like Waitrose cannot bear to have criticism in their reviews and I was informed that my review was rejected:

Dear oldfoodlover,

Thank you for submitting a review of Président Brie. Unfortunately it didn’t meet all our website guidelines, so we’re afraid it can’t be published.

Now, tell me, which is sadder?  That this ghastly product is allowed to be called Brie or that Waitrose undermine their review pages by censorship?

 

Avlaki Olive Oil
Avlaki Olive Oil

I admit that I love olive oil. I am no expert and my knowledge is minimal, but as a grower of fine italian tomatoes, that time in late summer when I can sit on the patio, slice the richest red orb into delicate slices and splash them with golden-green oil, cornish sea salt and fresh ground pepper, is a priceless moment.

I was overjoyed to discover, therefore, that an old radio pal got herself into the oil business some years ago without me even noticing!

Dear Natalie
Dear Natalie

Natalie Wheen is one of those priceless people that if you don’t enjoy the experience, it is your fault for sitting in the wrong room. I worked with her on an arts review program played out on Concorde, loosely based on a radio 4 format. It was a delicate collection of personalities; the dulcet tones of Paul Vaughan held the program together, the truly wonderful Sheridan Morely trod the boards and dear Natalie massacred any classical performance that was not up to the mark. It was the highlight of my month, to be honest all those years ago, and I miss it to this day.

Well, about 15 or so years ago, she and a friend acquired a greek property complete with olive groves and over the years they have built a flourishing olive oil business, organic, award winning and I am completely jealous.  They now have two groves and Natalie is more likely to be seen entertaining the delighted crowds at a food festival than heard beating up some poor, overworked quartet.

This cannot be a review as I have not yet tasted the output from their groves on Lesvos, but I surely hope to and when I do, I will report back – promise!

In the meantime, Avlaki Oil is available at Amazon and more exclusive retailers.

Salt Beef
Salt Beef

A small collection of village folk arrived at the residence today for a luncheon. Well, in my own way, I felt this mostly Christian band could do with some good and honest Jewish sustenance, so Salt Beef would be the main event.

Where I was brought up many of our neighbours were Jewish, mostly from families who had emigrated to this country arriving in the East End of London.  Salt Beef was very much a part of their culture and when I visited with my friends, it seemed to be a regular event at lunch.

Now, I have to admit that I did not do the brining myself this time round as our butchers, Parrott Bros in Whitchurch, Bucks have a briner and were happy to do the job. They are also the proud owners of the famous, award winning Beechmoor Herd of Aberdeen Angus, so their beef is well worth trying.

However, I thoroughly recommend you do brine your own – it really is pretty easy and there are recipes everywhere.

So, onto the lunch.

Cooking Salt Beef
Cooking Salt Beef

I picked up the beef from its three week soak in the briner at the weekend, and at eight this morning, started cooking it in a large pot, completely covered with water and with added carrots, celery, a whole head of garlic, tablespoon of pepper corns, a teaspoon of nutmeg, some coriander seeds, an onion, and 3 red beetroot.

That lot cooked for four hours at a gently rolling simmer. I served it up hot together with Rye bread I made yesterday and pickled cucumber that we made a couple of months ago – a really, fresh tasting pickle with lots of spices in it.

It went down well, even if the genteel village folk insisted in eating it with a knife and fork. Well, except the one lady from Ohio, who took one look at the fare and shoved a huge pile of beef between two slices of rye, complete with mustard and pickle and sat there happily munching through the lot. Now, that was a lady who knows her salt beef!

Picled Girkins
Pickled Girkins

But however you eat it, do eat it! In the UK we have mangled the wonderful salt beef into tins of less than interesting corned beef and seemed to have forgotten this low cost but truly wonderful meal made from brisket. It doesn’t even need to be the best beef around! This will make a meal out of just about anything.

So, don’t let the trendy London media types in Soho be the only ones to eat great hot piles of beef and mustard, go buy a brisket and get brining! You will love it.

Smoked Haddock and Cabbage
Smoked Haddock and Cabbage

This is a gentle but warming dish for those who do not want to get stuffed, but want a rich taste to last the evening. It only takes about ten minutes to prepare and 20 to 30 minutes to cook and so is ideal for a working day.

You can vary the ingredients, to be honest, even moving it away from the East Asian influence I have here. The most important idea is that this is fish steamed in the oven over stock and served on a bed of cooked cabbage.

Ingredients for two people

  • 2 fillets of fresh smoked haddock
  • 400 mil fish stock
  • 2 tablespoons coconut cream
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 stick lemon grass
  • 1 thumb size of fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 spring onions
  • 1/4 bulb of fennel
  • 2 lime leaves
  • big handful green cabbage
  • small handful french beans
  • ground nut oil
  • Fist of coriander
  • 2 eggs
  • Good chilli powder

How to do it

The haddock will be steamed in an oven. So, take a small roasting tin or pan and cover it with thickly sliced fennel bulb and the carrots. Slice up the lemon grass very thinly and scatter over the top. Chop up the ginger and 2 of the garlic cloves and scatter this over too.  Finely chop up the stalks of the coriander, keeping the leaf for later, and scatter this over. Tear up the lime leaves and add them. Add the coconut cream and the stock.

Stir it all up and then gather the carrot and fennel in the middle. Lay the fillets of haddock on top and then cook in an oven for around 20-30 minutes at 200 degrees C.

While that is cooking, finely chop the cabbage, the other cloves of garlic and the spring onions. Stir fry them with the beans in a little ground nut oil, salting to taste and adding chilli powder so it has a gentle heat.  Do not cook this too hot or the cabbage will catch and it will be inedible! Just get a little toastiness to it.

In a separate saucepan, poach a couple of eggs.

To Serve

Pile the cabbage in the middle of two large bows. Place the carrots and fennel on top and then the fish. Ladle the stock out round the edge. Top with an egg and chopped coriander.

And that is your lot. Quick, easy, warming and delicious. Healthy too!

Drink slowly, but drink thoughtfully – that is how to enjoy the finest coffee

(Me, about two minutes ago)

Coffee right next to my desk
Coffee right next to my desk

Years ago, around 1997 I think, I had the privilege to record old man Illy in our studios in London. Ernesto, would that have been his name?

Today, I set up my coffee machine in my small studio at home (I am a composer these days) and made myself a wonderful Espresso – Illy, of course. It took me back to that interview.

Illy was accompanied by two young women and he was absolutely wicked, in a charming, mischievous way. But we did chat about coffee, something I am very passionate about. His English was dreadful, as I remember it, but one of the young ladies (who I think may have been a daughter or granddaughter) worked hard to keep up with the translating between the jokes.

He is among several people who have come to the studio and, though the work was simple, impressed me with their wit. Another was Michael Anderson, director of films such as the Dam Busters, Around the World in 80 days and Logans Run. I spent a week with him recording extra dialogue for his last film, The New Adventures of Pinocchio with Warwick Davis and Martin Landau. He sat in the studio, content to let me direct and just fill our week with wonderful stories from an incredible career – most of them completely unrepeatable. I also had a memorable couple of days with Alessandro Alessandroni. He wrote some music for Toby Russell, son of Ken, for a modern day marshal arts sequel of the famous Trinity spaghetti western films. Alessandro was another full of stories, and since I am also a musician, we quickly fell into swapping stories and jokes that completely alienated dear Toby and the producers. Oops! We did have a lot of fun, however.

Back to Illy, the old man really believed in the purity of good coffee and told me that whatever coffee I drank in any part of the world, always make sure it was an honest product. (And make sure it was Illy because he needed the cash!) He wasn’t exactly flattering about coffee in the UK and even less flattering about the growing chains like Starbucks. He pointed out that there was far more to coffee than what it looked like or how slick the barista was.

I agree. Back in the day, I used to buy coffee from the Algerian Coffee Shop in Old Compton Street, London. They did a special blend which I adored and I miss greatly since I moved out of London. But, Illy is good and now I have my machine up and running right next to my desk, I will continue to drink slowly, but thoughtfully and enjoy every sip.

So, tonight, I made myself a second cup and took a photo of it while I was at it – this cup is dedicated to that wicked Old Man Illy who died back in 2008 – it was an honour to meet him and talk about coffee.

Erika and Diogo from The Muesli Café
Erika and Diogo

 

I am always on the look out for new ideas, new ventures, new tastes. I come from a world which is all about invention and reinvention, the world of turning creativity into a product.

The problem with such a world is that finding people to back an idea with cash, even a great idea, is taking a crash course in futility.  Enter the world of crowdfunding, where for little financial risk, hundreds or even thousands of people can look at a project and decide that these people deserve that rare chance.

Such a couple are two, young-ish designers in the north of Portugal.

The Muesli Café

“She came up with the idea,” says Diogo Olivera, a talented web designer with a love of muesli – eating it, that is.

Erika Göbel, the German half of this enterprising duo, and the one with the cooking flare, explains why opening the Muesli Cafe in Porto is such a wonderful idea.

“It totally fits into the modern diet! Muesli is so easy to prepare and you can take it to the office or school. It’s a light meal, it boosts your energy and keeps you satisfied for a long time. You can use any ingredients you like, even if you are vegan, just use (home-made) almond milk instead of dairy products.”

One of many wonderful bowls
One of many wonderful bowls

But the philosophy is probably better explained by the photos on their website. If ever a dish deserved to have a colour palette named after it, muesli, or at least Diogo and Erika’s take on muesli, certainly does.

The idea is to open a small breakfast cafe in the vibrant, beautiful and cosmopolitan city of Porto on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. This city of colourful and historic buildings already has a café culture ripe for the picking and ready to try something new. “Muesli is not for any specific age,” Diogo explains, “and we want to create a place that doesn’t leave anyone out, although we understand that younger people will probably be more open to try something as new as muesli will be in Porto.”

The locals only taste of Muesli up until now has been the usual industrialised box loads in the supermarkets. “We will try to communicate that our muesli is much tastier than the industrial versions. People already connect muesli to something that is healthy, which is good, but now we have to show them that it is not a boring healthy thing, but the contrary!”

Crowdfunding in Portugal

Raising the money through crowdfunding, if they succeed, could give them more than just the cash they need to rent a property, get it looking they way they want, get staff in and get their message out to the locals.

“In our opinion, the advantage of crowdfunding is that the business happens only if there is interest. This dilutes the risk of failure after opening. We also get the opportunity of making great marketing even before the café exists.” It is a very good point. Another friend who has crowdfunded a games book knows he has a fan base waiting – they have just invested in him.

The crowdfunding site they are using is Portuguese venture website, PPL. This is probably a good move – they want investors who are not just interested in them, but want to come and gorge themselves on the product and then go away and tell more people.

Both Diogo and Erika are designers by trade and develop serious business websites. Diogo is also an accomplished illustrator and has put his skills to good use on their cheerful promotional video for the venture. The proposal is certainly both flavour and design lead, and that is important in food. People don’t just want a feast for the stomach, it must be for the eyes too and if they can get as much colour and flavour into the final venture as they have into their photographs, then surely they will make an impression on Porto society.

But, of course, one has to ask, do they eat Muesli themselves? I mean, every day?

“YES!” Erika shouts into my inbox, adding that her current seasonal favourite is Pomegranate muesli with Roasted Almonds.

“Well, sometimes I eat a typical Portuguese breakfast,” Diogo admits. I am not exactly sure what that is, but I am sure Erika will educate him in the error of his ways…..

Read more about the people and the venture at the Muesli Café Website.

If you are interested in funding this project, you can read all the details at PPL