Category Archives: restaurant

Claudia Roden’s cholent

A soup bowl of cholent: cooked brisket, carrot, onion and potato visible

A bowl of cholent cooked overnight – I cut the fat off before eating but was grateful for it for ’tis the fat that gives the dish flavour

Cholent

From my late mother’s The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, the cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist

Claudia Roden’s recipe is based on one by Shmulik and his wife Carmela, of  Shmulik Cohen Restaurant in Tel Aviv, which has neither changed its location (where it started as a street kiosk) or menu since it was founded in 1936 by Shmulik’s grandfather. Love a family business. 

This is the first time I have made cholent. What attracted me to this recipe were the marrow bones, a (cheap) nutritional powerhouse.  Also, I could cook it for hours and it was ready to eat when I got home from the Biodynamic Land Trust’s Land Whispering training.

Recipe
1kg (2lb) fatty beef – brisket, breast or rib

2 large onion sliced

Marrow bones 

1kg (2lb) peeled potatoes, whole if small, halved if big

100g (4oz) pearl barley (optional)

250g haricot or butter beans, soaked for one hour (or already cooked)

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and add whole peeled garlic cloves and a peck of dried chilli.

In a large pot or casserole with a tightly fitted lid, brown the meat (in its own fat or in a tablespoon of oil). Remove it, and fry onions till soft. Return the meat to the pot, add the marrow bones, potatoes, barley and beans around it, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Cover with water and bring to the boil. Remove the scum with a large metal spoon, then put the lid on and leave in the lowest oven (225F, 110C, gas 1/4) overnight.

A traditional dish to break today’s fast. Am afraid I did not fast, but I did feast.

It is autumn and harvest time. Happy new year!

Vegan Taster Menu at the Agape

So Nadia persuaded Julian to cook us a vegan meal. Not just any vegan meal. Julian made it a fine dining experience, concocting a taster menu that took us on a gluten-free vegan tour of the classics. 

Julian Miles in chef's whites

Chef Julian Miles

Loved this door-opening moment with Julian in his chef’s whites. Turned out Julian worked at Demuth’s, Bath (a vegetarian and vegan cookery school whose pioneering vegetarian restaurant is now with new owners, Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen).

Julian’s partner, Ellen, is vegan (and most of us were gluten-free). This night was a playful response to their experience of restaurants which barely cater for a free-from clientele.  

Where is the gourmet vegan food? Where is gastronomy for coeliacs?

Here is a taste of Julian’s taster menu.

Amuse gueule: Arancini, BBQ houmous with garlic chutney on melba toasts and smoky tempura

Chive and mushroom consommé with tamari-smoked and paprika-roasted mushroom slivers

Those tamari-smoked and paprika-roasted mushroom – I want the recipe.

Carrot lox, cucumber sushi rolls with tamari pearls, tofu ‘fish’ with curd bean skin, triple cooked chips, fresh pea mousse and apple cider vinegar jelly

A complex crispy succulent and fresh experience with taste sensations. Real Food Lover fave.

Another pic of my fave

I have no image that does justice to the refreshing bliss of Julian’s aromatic gin herbs and lime sorbet. Another keeper.

Tofu and vegetable fajitas, nachos and guacamole with home-fermented sriracha cream

Home-fermented sriracha cream with chilli, onion, and garlic  – want this recipe too.

Little gem lettuce, coconut ‘parmesan’ biscuit, and miso dressing

A kind of mayonnaise on the lightest crisp biscuit – using coconut was brilliant (instead of the ubiquitous soya).

Vegan creme brulee, light and dreamily-delicious

Crème brûlée

I adore cream but it does not love me so this creamily-delicious yet dairy-free crème brûlée was a dream.

Thank you, Julian and Ellen, for a creative taste-tastic evening at the Agape (as we dubbed it) Living Room restaurant. 

The Night is Long Without a Home

Blanket in doorway by EW

The Night is Long Without a Home is an exhibition of photographs by Ian Usher, documentary photographer and artist of homeless hostel residents and workers – in their own words.

In fact, the title is from a description by John of the loss and sorrow of homelessness.

The exhibition is organised by a few of us on behalf of Bristol Foundation Homeless Residents’ Association.

Due to drastic council cuts, the hostel residents may lose their hostel homes, and be made homeless again.

How many people would you say are homeless in your city?

According to Bristol city, only nine (this sometimes rises to 11).

This does not make sense. Alan Goddard, who runs a soup kitchen feeding about 600 every day in Bristol, says the number must be over 100.

I see evidence of people sleeping rough every day. Image

I remember before the 1980s, the only people you saw sleeping rough, were tramps – gentlemen of the road. But since then it has all changed – we see young people on the streets.

How can this happen in one of the richest countries in the world?

The UN makes visits to two countries every year to report on problems. This year, it was the UK’s turn because of its housing crisis. Here is the UN rapporteur’s report.

Empty offices lie empty, testaments of investment – while our youth sleep in doorways without prospect of employment or home.

If ONLY our society believed in kindness.

If ONLY our society understood that prevention is more effective (and less costly) than cure.

Give vulnerable people a stable home and a bit of support, and you cut down on other, more expensive, services, such as hospitals and prisons.

How we treat our homeless tells us all we need to know about the world we live in.

What has this to do with food? I mean, this is a food blog, right?

Plum compote and yogurt with expresso at Canteen by EW

Well, here is a breakfast (stewed plums and granola and yogurt with an expresso) I had last week at The Canteen in Hamilton House in Stokes Croft, Bristol.

OK, quick diversion as I explain link between Hamilton House and homelessness.

Hamilton House was a defunct office block the council planners wanted to demolish – now turned into a groovesome hub of creative activities run by Coexist. (I am proud to say my office is here, along with 200 other tenants, including Afrika Eye Film Festival, and Tribe of Doris).

Hamilton House’s visionary social landlord, Connolly & Callaghan, is also the key benefactor of Bristol Foundation Housing homeless hostels.

Bristol Foundation Housing houses and supports single people who would otherwise fall through the net, people who need support to break the homeless cycle but are not considered sufficiently ‘high priority need’ for emergency accommodation by Bristol City Council.

Working with the Probation Services and others around Bristol, BFH has reduced re-offending rates by more than 50%, probably saving the taxpayer some £20 million each year.

These are the hostels that had their funding lifeline cut in August. This (free) photographic exhibition features BFH hostel residents and workers, in their own words.

Hope you can get along to the exhibition in Hamilton House, Stokes Croft, BS1 3QY which opens tonight and runs until 9 pm, 5 November.

And please do sign the Bristol Foundation Homeless Residents’ Association petition at Change.org.

THANK YOU!

St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe at Christmas

I took this picture through the stained-glass window of St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe at the weekend.

Bristol is a mega-city but blessed by pockets of seclusion – enchanted sanctuaries such as St Werburgh’s.

This little corner of green near the M32 shields the eco-self-build houses, the Wild Goose space,  the Climbing Wall, the Better Food Company, St Werbugh’s City Farm and Cafe and more, and, as my luck would have it, is a ten-minute walk through the allotments from home.

The icy-cold weather of late has been leavened by such pockets of warmth.

Last night, for instance, we went through powdery snow in the empty allotments to the wildness of a contact dance improvisation jam at the eco-built Wild Goose Space where I lay on the floor watching this compelling film, Baraka, then dropped by afterwards to St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe for the drinks bit of the staff meal.

St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe has Wifi and real coffee, and a splendid selection of heart-warming home-made dishes many made with produce from the adjoining City Farm.

It’s run by Leona Williamson – unassuming, hard-working and friendly. She and her team won the 2008 Observer Food Monthly award for outstanding ethical achievement, calling it the “ultimate green eatery…(using) not food miles but food yards”.

I wrote about the Cafe in 2008, and – see comments – received fierce rebuke for praising the Cafe’s use of animals from the Farm. I am with Simon Fairlie and the Soil Association on the meat issue. Although I passionately believe factory-farmed meat is wrong – over-produced, cruel, unhealthy, unsustainable and unnecessary – a few creatures on a family farm is another matter entirely.

Back to last night: I met Jack, and discovered he is the Ethicurean now running the Walled Garden Cafe at Wrington, Somerset. I remet (I know this sounds like a poncy eco-roll-call but it wasn’t really like that) Andy Hamilton, of the Self-Sufficientish Bible,  who is finishing a book (a brilliant idea and once O.K-ayed it, I will mention here…) (and it is Booze for Free – good innit?), and Jamie Pike from Co-Exist at Hamilton House, currently congregating food people to make creative use of a communal kitchen at Hamilton House in Stokes Croft.

We talked about the recent Tesco planning fiasco and the importance of creating alternatives (as Jamie and co has done at Hamilton House).

As we left, Leona gave us a bottle of refreshing homemade rosemary and apple cordial from (very) local produce.

St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe is now closed for Christmas until 15 January.

Apparently Baraka (the movie) means: blessings in a multitude of languages, and this is appropriate, as I felt blessed indeed as we walked home through the moonlit snow.

Vardo, Venice

I walk the boardwalk from Santa Monica to Venice.

The sky is overcast (yummy, just like home in England). The locals call it June gloom.

I am hungry but nothing takes my fancy.

It looks touristy and, well, not real food.

I can’t get this restaurant out of my head that I had passed earlier.

The sign had said: ethnic, vegan, vegetarian…

I don’t like retracing my steps, or leaving the ocean.

But I am glad I did.

It is rare to find somewhere where I want to eat every dish on the menu.

This is the place for me.

An oasis. Delicate flavours, vegan and vegetarian delights, raw food desserts and all ingredients organic.

I had the aromatic gently spicy dhal and spinach curries and salad, beautifully dressed with homemade vinaigrette.

followed by this sweetheart of raw chocolate with fresh mint and coconut filling.

Vardo means gypsy in Roma.

And suited this gypsy queen down to the ground.

Eat organic – reduce carbon

Today I met my friend and ex-Soil Association colleague, Gundula Azeez, for lunch.

She wrote the Soil Association 2010 report, Soil carbon and organic farming.

I confess carbon used to confuse me.

As a journalist, my ignorance is my strength. If I can understand it, so can you.

Gundula kindly went back to basics for a beginner’s mind explanation.

Is carbon good or bad?

Carbon is both good and bad depending on where it is.

When it is in the soil, or locked up in oil and coal, it’s good.

When it’s in the atmosphere, it’s bad.

Carbon-in-the-air i.e. carbon dioxide is something we need to breathe OUT.

In the case of current planetary concerns, rising levels of carbon dioxide (or CO2) create rising greenhouse gases – too much of which contributes to climate change.

(Sentence rewritten following Georgie’s comment below).

Organic farming and the carbon cycle

Plants remove carbon from the atmosphere by breathing IN carbon dioxide.

That’s good.

When plants decay, the carbon is stored in the soil.

That’s good too.

Organic farmers uses this natural cycle to replenish the soil.

According to the Soil Association report, if all UK farmland were converted to organic farming, at least 3.2 million tonnes of carbon would be stored in the soil each year – the equivalent of taking nearly 1 million cars off the road

Not only that – but when carbon is stored in the soil, it does a LOT of good.

That’s because it is stored as organic matter which retains nutrients, soil structure and water.

Organic farmers create more carbon-rich organic matter through their farming practices.

They grow green manures and add compost to enrich the soil.

Soil life

Introducing soil microbes, the tiniest creatures on earth that perform vital functions to keep the soil healthy.

These soil microbes are exterminated by chemical farming practices but are actually encouraged by organic farmers.

Soil micro-organisms are essential to life on earth.

They help deliver nutrients to the growing plant.

They help it decompose when it is dead.

Thus creating more organic matter and its carbon-storage capacity.

Clods of earth

The soil actually clumps – or aggregates – around the carbon to protect it.

This delicious crumbly soil also provides a holding place for water, nutrients and air.

Which is why majority-world countries benefit from organic farming practices because they increase yield, and create water-retaining soil.

This gives developing countries more economic independence too.

They don’t have to pay the West for chemicals to feed the soil because organic farming does it naturally – by using the planet’s natural carbon cycle.

Lunch at Saint Stephen’s cafe

I had sweet potato frittata and salad – pictured – at Saint Stephen’s cafe.

The food is amazing – home-cooked and organic, seasonal, fair trade and local where possible.

Saint Stephen’s church cares deeply about the environment and this is reflected in its cafe food, conceived by one of Bristol’s best cooks, Edna Yeffet Summerel.

Nice to know when I eat organic food that I am enriching the soil and helping store carbon…

My night in Bristol’s rebel restaurant

Ra-ta-ta-tat on the big red door.

Entry into the wood panelled hall of Quay House.

Once Bristol’s customs house, now disused offices, the Quay House is squatted on behalf of Cloak and Dinner, Bristol’s rebel restaurant.

Seems criminal that such a place lies empty.

Good on the squatters, for invoking Section 6 and making such creative use of it.

For four nights, Quay house is host to what the Guardian calls the hottest ticket in town.

I pass the candlelit lounge where guests will be served gin and tonic.

Up another flight, past the red-curtained dining area, also wood panelled and candle-lit, where the diners will be served a four-course meal with vegan and vegetarian options.

Up the next flight to the brightly lit kitchen milling with volunteer helpers, which reduces to a core team of about seven, myself included.

An anarchist kitchen is the opposite of a  Gordon Ramsay one.

Amidst cries of “Table 7 just finished their starters” and “four vegetarian mains”, the kitchen is calm.

No one is throwing their weight around or shouting.

Anarchists believe – as do I – that human nature is basically cooperative.

And cooperate we did.

“Best borscht soup I’ve ever tasted,”  says a customer at the end of the night, the dreadlocked waiter reports.

Eve had made a soffrito of celery, onions, leeks – added grated beetroot and water to simmer. Blended when cooked. With Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar, grated lemon zest and sugar to taste. Indeed the best.

For starters: pillows of filo pastry filled with mashed pumpkin, carrots, wilted rocket and walnuts, served with Caerphilly cut from a truckle of cheese.

Steam rising on bean stew served on a cabbage leaf on top of potato mash flavoured with mustard seeds.

The venison comes from Fair Game in Nailsea. The young farmer shot the deer, skinned and butchered it last week. Chef Christopher cooked it with sloe gin and the bones until aromatically tender. “The venison was superb,” says another guest who visits the kitchen to praise.

Canterbury pie about to be plated. The recipe for sweetened pastry comes courtesy of Irish chef, Richard Corrigan, while apple puree topped with thin apple slices is from classic cook, Mary Berry. The vanilla ice-cream is homemade, by Eve.

The vegan option at the open window.

I make the pies, following Sarah’s  instructions, based on the available ingredients. No scales, just guess work. My sort of cooking.

Crush biscuits in a bag, mix with melted Pure organic marge (just enough to moisten crumbs). Press into a plate. Mash bananas with ground almonds and cinnamon. Drizzle melted dark chocolate, add hazel and walnuts and drizzle more chocolate. That’s it.

The banana mixture was too slurpy to cut cleanly so it became a concoction in a ramekin with chocolate and nut lattice broken to sit on top.

The washer upper working with grace all evening, backbone of the operation.

Darren, Saturday’s chef, sweeping the floor in readiness for his shift the next night.
His day job, The Kensington Arms, lent the linen for the rebel restaurant.

“Some people like vegging out in front of the TV. But something like this brings people together,” he says.

Cabbage in crates. Darren considers how to use them for his chef-shift.


Skye Gyngell’s cookery book, My favourite ingredients, amongst the coats.


Art by Libby in the lounge where gin and tonic is served as the punters arrive.

Happy customers.

“Most restaurants have no soul,” says a guest. He and his girlfriend heard about the rebel restaurant through Facebook. The 50+ covers a night got booked up as soon as word got out.

Each chef has £75 a night to conjure with, money made from a previous project, topped up with food donations from local food businesses.

People paid what they could afford. Last night we made £800 – to go towards the next project.

Everyone gives their time freely. I end the night with a heart full of love.