Bombay Lunchbox is a compact cookbook, filled to the brim with sweet and savoury tiffin recipes and the sort of photography that makes the reader’s tummy rumble and feet itch. When I received it for review, I was unprepared for how this little book would make me feel once I turned the first few pages. The illustrations go far to make it less of a read or instructive kitchen tool and more of an experience, like a city break on paper. It’s so evocative that you can almost SMELL India on these pages.
So, Bombay Lunchbox arrived in the post. Before I knew it, I’d tabbed the pages of recipes I’d decided to try. Next, came the necessary spice inventory to ensure I could properly make myself an authentic little tiffin. There was then an outing to a nearby Indian spice merchant to fill the ingredient gaps, and the dusting off of my cake stand, ready for loading with cucumber sandwiches spiked with spicy mint and coriander chutney and miniature masala papad. Darjeeling tea was brewed along with a little dish of sugared fennel seeds, which I could quite happily shovel into my mouth by the handful. To complete the scene, should I watch a Bollywood classic, or snort my way through the antics of Clarkson, May and The Hamster in the Top Gear India special?
In fact, the tv remained resolutely cold as I decided instead to google all things tiffin, such was the effect of reading Bombay Lunchbox. Nibbles of warm, oozy chilli cheese toasties fuelled my surfing. And this is what I found:
It’s a proper, four-tiered tiffin tin – which, if you don’t have a wallah to deliver your lunch in such colourful style to the office, could act as an original serving tool for an Indian food-fest at your place. It could also be combined with a copy of Bombay Lunchbox and some Indian spices to create a wonderful gift for an Indian food-loving friend. Then all that remains is to make a date to cook up a tiffin storm together and settle in for some back-to-back Bollywood.
Bombay Lunchbox by Carolyn Caldicott, photos by Chris Caldicott, RRP £9.99
Hand-painted tiffin tin currently £39.99 on Amazon UK (by Indian Tiffin)
I don’t SUPPOSE many of my readers start buying presents for loved ones in October. Then again, you might. Please do correct me if I’m wrong. Anyway, when I visited my local supermarket yesterday there were plenty of chocaholic advent calendars on display, which makes me think that if I start buying the odd present now, December won’t be so painful.
Bring on http://www.suppose.com/
This is a site where you look at their wares and track them. If the item is on Suppose, it’s already likely to be cheaper than anywhere else you might buy it. Register yourself and you’ll be able to track the price of your chosen item, and Suppose will let you know when it reaches the level you’re comfortable with paying.
Suppose asked me to look at blue-eyed Paul Hollywood of The Great British Bake Off fame and one of his books: How to Bake.
The cover price for this particular cookbook is £20.00. When Suppose sent it to me it was £4.00 if you bought it from their site. These prices do tend to go up and down, but given that Christmas isn’t far away, I’d recommend checking out Suppose and its other offers. It could well save you a fortune in the run-up to crazy Crimbo.
Anyway, if you want to get Mr Hollywood’s How to Bake at a steal, have a look at Suppose here: http://suppose.com/howtobake
I was recently enticed all the way across London in heat wave temperatures to hear about London’s food trends and sample a selection of John Quilter’s recipes using Loyd Grossman sauces. As I exited Old Street tube station, dripping with discomfort following a long, airless tube journey, I hoped the evening would prove worthwhile. As I sat, chilled espresso martini in hand, listening to Charles Banks pronounce on London’s food trends, I forgot the make up sliding down my face for a while. Self-lubricating, re-energised thanks to the caffeine in hand, this was my kind of event – educational and not just about stuffing one’s face whilst murmuring an appreciative ‘ah, delicious’.
Charles Banks is co-founder of the agency known as Food People. It consults on food trends, working with clients to build product and strategy appropriate to the current market. These folk know their onions, in a literal sense. Here’s the Food People’s breakdown of what’s hot on the London food scene right now:
- Trends include American and Mediterranean food. Neither are new to London, but both are ramping up their volume a notch. Diner food like burgers and hot dogs has never been so gourmet. Chase them down with bubbly or bourbon cocktail, or think gimlet for an All-American experience. As for nosh from the Med, it’s expanding its perimeter and becoming more aware of seasonality. Recent TV jaunts around the area see chefs waving their whisks amidst the landscapes of the ancients. Given the delights of Mediterranean produce coupled with animated cuisiniers and the landscapes that wanderlust is made of, it’s little wonder that the food of the Med is seeing a revival, an update and a resurgence of popularity.
- Mash ups are essentially the creative merger of two meal concepts with unexpected results. Nacho lasagne uses layers of nacho chips and cheese to replace the usual pasta layer. A ramen burger places the meat pattie between buns made of compressed noodles; and soup with mac ‘n’ cheese sees a dollop of the latter dunked into the former.
- More styles see Small Plate Dining coming to the fore. The idea is to order a lot of small plates to share. The popularity of cicchetti-inspired eateries and Peruvian restaurants with an accent on small quantities with big flavour is where the appeal lies. It’s also far from being a burden on the waistline.
- Dude Food is a style for the carnivore. Think meat, spice and the fire turned way up.
- Everyday Food Done Better is where you take an everyday homemade meal and play around with the ingredients to make it same same but different. Think cheese on toast but replace your classic cheddar with gorgonzola and garnish with fresh pear. Or take fried chicken and add some Korean influence – a touch of sesame, a cup of gochujang – for a different taste entirely.
- According to the Food People’s research, the trending flavour for 2014 is chilli. There certainly seem to be more colours, flavours and varieties available than ever before. My tip: get a selection and experiment with them at home so you know your jalapeño from your habanero.
- Future flavours are predicted as being Persian, Israeli and Greek. This excites me. All things cardamom and saffron, chickpea and spice. Who said Falafel?
- Fusing Flavour and Format is where you take the flavours of one cuisine and present them in the format of another. Think confit de canard with caramelised onions and chèvre presented burger-style in a brioche bun. Oh-so-very French, but within an American format.
- Then there’s the developing trend for sensory restaurants. We’ve all heard about the one where there’s no light, in order to heighten the diner’s sense of taste. Well, now we’re seeing new concepts like the Edible Cinema, where you snack on particular items at key points during the screening of a film, each food relating directly to the current sequence and intended to add to the sensory experience, through taste, sound, sense and touch.
- Further trending flavours feature Savoury in Sweet – for example a strawberry spinach salad or marmite caramel cupcake.
- Lastly, there’s the age-old classic ingredient: alcohol. Slow cook some brisket in beer and hickory barbecue sauce or stir piña colada into a pannacotta. I think it’s time to dust off my retro-Cointreau chocolate mousse recipe.
John Quilter, Food Busker
Following a rough pregnancy and even rougher ‘special delivery’ of our small person this summer, I seriously doubted I was up for a trip to France. Two months into parenthood, still feeling battered and bloated and somewhat embarrassed to be seen in public, I somehow lost the family holiday debate to the ever-persuasive Monsieur and we set off for his motherland for the first time with buggy and baby seat loaded into the car, not to mention our BABY.
One of the highlights of this trip was a stay in La Baule. It’s one of those French Atlantic seaside towns with whimsical, slope-roofed houses shaded by soaring, aromatic pines. I loved it from the very minute we arrived. However, I soon found that this was a vacation spot for the chic, slim, sparrow-boned French and every time I passed a reflective surface, my image screamed HEFFALUMP! How ever could I hold my head high in my current, still-swollen state, whilst surrounded by such studiously-maintained examples of the human form? If it’s one thing I’ve learned since meeting my Frenchman, the French are extremely efficient at commenting on one’s size and think nothing of discussing diets at the dinner table. I hoped the presence of my dear, precious child might cut me some slack this time.
On top of my confidence crisis, Monsieur and I were so new to taking our baby out that you could have hung L plates around our necks and called us Learner (Baby) Drivers. Just the thought of dining out with her was enough to make me itch with anxiety. What if she cried and we couldn’t soothe her? Would the restaurant have changing facilities? Did we have enough milk with us? Nappies? Wipes? Would restaurants even WANT us there, now we had a small child? It all seems so silly in hindsight, but at the time these were very real anxieties for us. The good thing about travelling so early on in our baby’s life was that it threw us into the parenting pool’s deep end and we were forced to swim which, with practice, we did.
Our first day in La Baule we decided to take a stroll along the promenade, in the hope of finding lunch with a view. I was positively dizzy with all of the above concerns, not to mention the heat. We reached one eatery on the beach, but it was down on the sand with no ramp, only stairs. There was no way we could get the buggy down to the door so we walked on. Eventually, we found Nossy Be, a smart establishment, also on the sand, but with a navigable ramp leading down to the entrance. So far, so promising, but once inside my heart sank. It was so super-hip modern that if a mirror ball had suddenly started twirling to the latest euro-beat, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. As for the patrons – they were all perfectly bronzed, in crisp polos and Bermudas, or ethereal kaftans with the style of sandal that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a goddess lunching at Mount Olympus. I, by contrast bright white and elephantine, was absolutely certain that we weren’t their kind of desirable and prepared for the ‘I’m sorry, we have no free tables,’ brush-0ff, especially as I couldn’t see any space for us in the bustling restaurant. I was wrong.
A waiter and his colleague asked us to wait for a moment, then busied themselves finding spare seats to position around a low table not far from the bar. In a flash, the table was set and we were seated, with ample room for the baby in her buggy. Menus arrived, as did chilled water – Ferrarelle, an Italian brand that I rate for its gentle bubble and faintly salty taste. So far, the brownie points were accruing fast in this eatery’s favour.
Monsieur and I shared a starter of melon and prosciutto – the melon fanned across the plate in fine slices, contrasting with the insouciant tumble of ham.
I followed on with a starter size of red tuna tartare, presented South-East Asian style, with a garnish of small beads of wasabi that looked just like luminous, green caviar might. A verrine of refreshing petits pois soup and mint ‘nuage’, or foam, accompanied the plate.
Monsieur ordered a stir fry of rice with King Prawns, which he pronounced ‘excellent'; this is praise indeed from a particularly particular eater. It arrived atop giant petals of watermelon radish – at once arresting on the plate, but also cooling against the spice of this dish.
This place was a revelation for an anxious new mum. We were impeccably looked after, were placed sensitively with ample room to care for our little one, the food was excellent in all respects AND we had a sea front view. With a glass of chilled rosé I felt less harried and more human. More human, that is, until a whiff of something a little earthy floated up from the buggy and I found out the hard way how important it is to find eateries with baby changing facilities. Trying to change a wriggling two month-old on a loo seat is far from fun, especially when there’s a queue of the be-jewelled and be-kaftanned lined up outside and your baby is letting out wails to rival the loudest siren. Blessedly, this was the only blip we experienced at Nossy Be.
In summary? Food – superb and not too calorific. Views – of beach, sea and excellent for people-watching. Staff – you’ll seldom find such helpful individuals. Family-friendly? Definitely. There were other babies and small patrons present – all accepted without fuss and kindly catered for. Downside? No changing tables for small babies, but the food and service were so good that this is just nitpicking. Budget – above average but acceptable, given the quality of produce. On my dime – anytime. Reservations – we walked in without one and were generously accommodated, however, another time I’d reserve, especially in high season.
Nossy Be, Beach and Lounge Restaurant
02 40 604 225
Plage La Baule, opposite 15 boulevard Darlu
Every year, as Christmas approaches, I make a mound of sherry truffles. They’re lovely to have on hand as a sweet treat for the end of a meal – just one or two will satisfy any sugary craving. Sherry truffles also make a special gift for the grown ups on your pressie list – I bottle mine in preserving jars, which not only look attractive but are also practical in that they may be later reused, once the truffles have all been scoffed greedily down.
Here’s my recipe:
150g rich tea biscuits
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup icing sugar
1 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
2/3 cup raisins
6 Tbsp sherry (I used Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez (PX)
Blend the biscuits into a breadcrumb consistency and reserve.
Blend the butter, cocoa, icing sugar and coconut in a food processor.
Add the blitzed biscuits and sherry to the mixer and blend again until the mixture becomes a ball.
Remove from processor, place in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave overnight. This allows the consistency to settle and not be too sticky when you roll it into balls.
Using a teaspoon, take lumps of mixture and roll them between your hands until they form a shape similar to a small ping pong ball.
Then roll the balls in a shallow dish of sherry before rolling them again in another dish filled with coconut. Not only does this help the coconut to stick, but it adds extra wickedness and sherry flavour to these rich, sweet mouthfuls.
May be served either with a cup of coffee at the end of a meal, or with a naughty little glass of post-prandial sherry, just in case the balls aren’t sherry enough for your tastebuds!
**I was sent a bottle of Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez (PX) for the purposes of making my annual batch of sherry truffles. Whilst any sweet sherry will work with this recipe, the Pedro Ximénez has some deliciously intense notes, such as licorice, black treacle and chocolate, adding depth and extra flavour to this already moreish treat. RRP £21.76
In our house, sherry is one of those Christmas staples: somehow the holiday just wouldn’t be the same without a taste of the stuff. This year, I’ve followed some Harveys suggestions to update our sherry repertoire. Sherry on the rocks with a squeeze of fresh orange (just a small squeeze, mind you!), garnished with a slice of orange not only looks the festive goods but is also refreshing – perfect for cooling down the rellies when they get a little flushed and flustered during the family charades tournament.
Another brilliant take on the winter sherry tipple is mulled apple juice.
Slowly heat 200ml of Harveys Bristol Cream with 500ml of premium pressed apple juice, 6 cloves and 50 grams of sugar. Simmer for around 15 minutes – an ideal length of time for the liquid to warm and flavours to mingle.
Strain into a warm jug, garnish with slices of apple and serve in glasses with a star anise.
This is a beautifully warming beverage to warm everyone up after those bracing post-prandial route-marches. The sherry content can also be upped to a pleasant 300ml to 500ml of apple juice – giving it a little extra oomph without overpowering the mulled effect.
**Harveys sent me a bottle of Bristol Cream for the purpose of experimenting with their winter cocktail concepts. RRP £9.41 but I’ve spotted loads of pre-Christmas specials out there so keep your eyes peeled for special deals.
Christmas 2013 will be rather special in the Epic household for it will be our first with a baby: the Crevette. It may seem early to be gearing up for this but I find that with a very small, dependent person around, everything takes a lot longer than usual. (It just took over half an hour to type out the above two lines because of a loose bottle cap that spilled formula all over the baby, requiring a change of clothes for a wriggly child more intent on her next mouthful than being dry. Sound like anyone you know?) So, to avoid being a terrible Mrs Santa I’m starting my silly season to-do list NOW, just as the first Christmas cards are hitting the shops.
Everyone says that wrapping paper is more interesting to most babies than the presents themselves; I’m sure The Crevette will find the same. And I’m not a huge one for over-emphasising all things material at a time which really should be remembered for spiritual reasons. That said, I would still like to give the little shrimp something memorable – and durable -to mark her first Christmas with us. So, as she will be embarking on solids (way heeeey!) by then, this is what Mrs Claus will be leaving under the tree:
It’s a lovely set for kids from three years on, so I’m a bit ahead of the game here. I figure we can put it away until such time as the Crevette can be trusted with her own mug and is hopefully past the throwing-food-and-eating-accessories-at-Mummy phase.
Then, when it’s time for The Crevette to start a little business supplying the neighbours with baked goods, or to start training for the Junior British Bake Off (no pressure, ma puce!), Le Creuset have the perfect set to start her off:
Or if quiche and clafoutis are more her thing, we could always invest in the pie baking set:
So that should take care of the next three Christmases for the Crevette. Given her already evident fascination with food and mastication I’d be most surprised if these gifts don’t prove to be a hit.
It’s sometimes surprising to think of London as France’s sixth biggest city, with a French population greater than centres like Bordeaux or Nantes. With so many French people living here, Monsieur included, there’s a definite demand for French food to stave off their homesickness for familiar edibles. Factor in a large population of Francophiles and the market grows unquantifiably larger. Even Ocado, the supermarket delivery service, has seen fit to introduce French supermarket staple brand Reflets de France to its warehouse shelves.
Now there’s a new kid on London’s French food block, called Bonjour French Food. For a monthly subscription fee of £29.00 (express delivery direct from France included) you can elect to receive their boxes of French food products, one per month, each with a theme. Each box contains between five and seven French food products for you to try, along with a little bilingual magazine crammed full of product information, recipes and food news. If you don’t want to subscribe, you can always order one-off boxes for £31.00, either for yourself or as a gift, and if you’re feeling particularly generous you can arrange gift subscriptions of multiple months. Bonjour French Food can also arrange for corporate gift quantities, if required.
October’s Bonjour French Food box had the theme of l’apéro, the French institution of pre-prandial drinks with a snack. Here’s what it contained:
- petits sablés, little buttery biscuits a bit like French shortbread, only not nearly so chunky,
- chocolate fondant pudding mix by the brand of Par Marlette, using all organic ingredients and a little salt from the pans on the exclusive Île de Ré,
- wild boar terrine blended with mandarin and rocket,
- duck breast terrine with honey and walnuts,
- dry sausage rolled in pepper – beautifully stinky, just as it should be,
- and a tomato, capsicum, anchovy and garlic spread.
When my box arrived, I was jiggling with excitement because I had no idea what might be inside. After carefully opening it I found that everything was safely wrapped in shredded paper with vibrant blue tissue and nothing was included that could have either broken or perished en route. The product sizes allow just enough for a taster or two for two people, although the pudding mix caters for up to six people. That works, though, because you wouldn’t serve the pudding with the apéritif; it’s really just a sweet extra to round off the box and give the glutton another occasion to sit down with French food, and a digestif, perhaps, at the other end of a meal?
After the unwrapping, and a good, hard sniff of that sausage, I worked my way through the little Bonjour French Food magazine, which is beautifully presented and includes background to the manufacturers of the box contents – particularly useful if you’re not familiar with the brand. The website is easy to navigate, there are opportunities to give box feedback via Facebook and Twitter, and there are competitions to win further products – for free!
If you’re keen to indulge with a Bonjour French Food box, there’s currently a £5.00 off code if you visit their website, http://www.bonjourfrenchfood.com
Follow Bonjour French Food on Twitter: @BonjourFrFood
**I received one Bonjour French Food box, free of charge, for the purposes of this review.